Journalist and novelist Will Self is favourite to win the Man Booker Prize tonight.

He is shortlisted for the first time for Umbrella, a novel with no chapters and few paragraph breaks, and which judges described as both "moving and draining".

"Those who stick with it will find it much less difficult than it first seems," they said of the book, which is set across an entire century.

bookershortlistauthors Left to right: Tan Twan Eng, Deborah Levy, Hilary Mantel, Alison Moore, Will Self, Jeet Thayil,


His closest competition looks set to come from previous winner Hilary Mantel.

The 60-year-old won the £50,000 prize in 2009 for Wolf Hall, the first book in her fictional trilogy on Thomas Cromwell.

If she scoops the title again with her follow-up, Bring Up The Bodies, she will become the first British writer to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction twice.

Judges said Mantel had shown "even greater mastery of method, powerful realism, and the separation of past and present and the vivid depiction of English character and landscape" in her latest work.

Also in the running for the prestigious prize at tonight's event, at Guildhall in central London, is Swimming Home by Deborah Levy, a novel which was originally rejected by traditional publishers.

Set on the French Riviera over a single week, it hit the shelves after being published by a small company which uses a subscription method to bring out many of its books.

Two of the books on the list are debut novels - 53-year-old Indian performance poet, songwriter and guitarist Jeet Thayil's Narcopolis and Manchester-born Alison Moore's The Lighthouse.

Narcopolis, which judges praised for its "perfume prose", is set in the Bombay of the 1970s.

The Lighthouse is the story of a middle-aged, recently separated man, who crosses the Channel by ferry after the failure of his marriage.

The sixth book is The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, about the survivor of a Second World War Japanese prison camp. It is one of three books on the shortlist from small, independent publishers.

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Last night the six authors posed for pictures at the Royal Festival Hall in south London for a preview event.

Bookmakers William Hill have made Self 2/1 favourite with Mantel 9/4.

Moore and Eng are both 4/1, with Levy at 9/1 and Thayil at 10/1.

Chair of the judging panel Sir Peter Stothard, editor of The Times Literary Supplement, described Mantel and Self as "two of the great established radicals of contemporary literature" but added any of the six shortlisted authors could win.

"This has been an exhilarating year for fiction. The strongest I would say for more than a decade," he said.

"We were considering... novels, not novelists, texts not reputations. We read and we reread. It was the power and depth of prose that settled most of the judges' debates."

The judging panel, which includes Dan Stevens who plays Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey, ploughed through a longlist of 145 titles.

A spokesman for Waterstones said: "The Man Booker is still the most commercially important prize in the UK, and whoever wins can look forward to rivalling 50 Shades of Grey and the new JK Rowling novel next week in the bestseller charts and in the weeks to come. Equally importantly, the title 'Man Booker winner' is one that will benefit the author for the rest of his or her career - it is a phrase that carries huge weight in the eyes of publishers, booksellers and, most importantly, readers."

Last year's winner, The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes, has sold more than 300,000 print editions in the UK.

In 2011 the judges, chaired by former MI5 chief Dame Stella Rimington, were accused by some of dumbing down the prize, and omitting big names.

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  • When John Berger won the prize in 1972 with <em>G</em>, he protested against capitalism in an acceptance speech that accused Booker of contributing to the Caribbean's poverty through 130 years of sugar production there. Berger donated half of his £5,000 prize to the British Black Panther movement.

  • Although the annual shortlist usually consists of about six novels, in 1975 only two made the cut. These were <em>Heat and Dust </em>by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and <em>Gossip from the Forest </em>by Thomas Keneally. Needless to say, a lot of other authors were pretty offended.

  • Hurd but not heard? When Chair Douglas Hurd's speech overran by eight minutes on the 1998 live TV announcement, viewers came dangerously close to not hearing who had won - it was Ian McEwan with <em>Amsterdam</em>. IMAGE: TOBY MELVILLE/PA Images

  • Originally, the Booker Prize was called the Booker-McConnell Prize, after the company Booker-McConnell began sponsoring it in 1968. The "Man" was only added in 2002, when the Man Group became the title sponsor. The first ever Booker Prize was awarded to <em>P H Newby for Something to Answer Fo</em>r.

  • 2007 saw the creation of the Man Asian Literary Prize, an annual award given to the best novel by an Asian writer written in or translated into English. Last year's winner was Kyung-sook Shin with <em>Please Look After Mom</em>.

  • Each year at the The Times' Literature Festival, a Booker event brings together four guest judges to select a winner from a shortlist of four books selected from a year before the introduction of the Booker Prize. Last year 1951 was chosen, and the winner was <em>The End of the Affair</em> by Graham Greene.

  • In 1971 the Booker Prize rules changed, with the result that 1970 became a missing year in the prize's history. In 2010 the "Lost Man Booker Prize" was created, with a winner, J G Farrell's <em>Troubles</em>, chosen from a longlist of 22 novels published in 1970. IMAGE: Matt Dunham/AP/Press Association Images

  • In 2008 the Best of the Booker celebrated the prize's 40th birthday with a special award given to the book voted best of the all the 41 winners since its inception. The winner by public vote was Salman Rushdie's <em>Midnight's Children</em>.

  • In 1980 Anthony Burgess (<em>Earthly Powers</em>) who, along with William Golding (<em>Rites of Passage</em>), was a favourite nominee, refused to attend the ceremony unless he was told in advance whether he had won. The battle between the two authors made headlines, and the judges decided to give the prize to Golding just half an hour before the ceremony.

  • If you thought hissy fits were for film stars think again. A few judges over the years have publicly turned their noses up at the books on the shortlist by resigning from the panel. When V S Naipaul's <em>In a Free State</em> won the prize in 1971 one such judge was put to shame as the book achieved record sales - no doubt helped by all the hoo-ha...

  • In 1989 controversy arose when Martin Amis' black comic novel <em>London Fields</em> was excluded because the two women judges objected to it on feminist grounds.