I self-censored a work after the Salman Rushdie attack, says the Booker winner

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this year’s Booker Prize winner has admitted he “self-censored” his work after the knife attack on Sir Salman Rushdie left him fearing for his family’s safety.

Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunathilaka, who last night won the £50,000 fiction prize for his novel The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, has spoken about his reaction to the stabbing of Sir Salman in August. Karunathilaka said he was in the process of publishing a collection of short stories when he heard about the attack in New York state.

He added: “I threw out a couple of short stories that I don’t think are offensive to any religion, but my wife said, ‘Yeah, can’t you do that?’ Do you have two small children? This story is not that good. Just leave it out’. I ended up thinking… long story short, I can easily pull it off.

“So I was self-censoring and things like that, and that’s a problem when you’re writing semi-political stuff in a place like Sri Lanka – who are you going to offend and is it really going to cost you more than you expected?”

Karunathilak’s award-winning novel tells the story of its title photographer, who in 1990 wakes up dead in what appears to be a heavenly visa office. With no idea who killed him, Maali has seven moons to contact the people she loves most and lead them to a hidden stash of photos of civil war atrocities.

She was rejected by major publishers before being picked up by a small independent press – Sort Of Books – based in North London and run by husband and wife team Mark Ellingham and Natania Jans.

Mr Ellingham said the win was a “life-changing event” for Karunathilaka and would also transform their business. He added: “It’s great for us, we can be offered the odd book by an agent that we wouldn’t have been offered otherwise.”

He said they took him on for the book only after a series of “wonderfully fortuitous” events missed the chance to publish Karunathilaka’s debut, adding: “He sent us this draft. My wife read it and said it needs some work, but we can do it together, so we went on a weird journey with Zoom during lockdown.”

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