In the new boastful atmosphere being encouraged by Tony Blair, where Britons are supposed to take pride in the notion that we make the best vacuum cleaners, the best pop music, design the best cushions, nobody has had much to say about the nation’s writers. In fact, it was noticeable that once again in this country’s richest fiction award, the £30,000 Orange Prize, the shortlist of six this year comprised four American women, one Irish and only one Briton – Pauline Melville, of Guyanese descent, for her novel The Ventriloquist’s Tale, set in Guyana.
It is true that there is no tradition in Britain for honouring or even acknowledging writers. The feeling among educated folk is that any of us could write if we set our minds to it, and a certain amount of resentment attaches to those who get themselves printed. They seem