Scuffles over Marlowe, orgy at the Folio prize and Alasdair Gray skydiving – a look at the coming year in a parallel literary universe
Loud press acclaim and record box office takings follows the opening of the Royal Shakespeare Company's adaptations of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (8th). This news causes a flurry of excitement elsewhere in the arts, with plans announced for a musical written by Elton John with David Starkey (Thomas!) and a Hollywood action movie starring Sylvester Stallone as Thomas Cromwell and Jack Black as Henry VIII (Body Count). There are unconfirmed rumours that Michael Flatley is planning a dance version (Groove Out Your Bodies) and that the BBC are planning a tie-in cookery contest (The Great British Heads-Off).
With the 450th anniversaries of Marlowe and Shakespeare's births only weeks apart, early 2014 sees renewed questioning of Shakespeare's authorship of his plays, with Marlowe supporters (whose hero was after all a spy) suspected of being secretly behind the disinformation campaign. In response, the Marlowe anniversary on 26 February is preceded by a counter-attack by those loyal to the Bard. Could Marlowe really have written all those plays and poems before dying at 29, while also working as a secret agent on the continent? Isn't it implausible that a shoemaker's son would write about Tamburlaine, Dido, Edward II, etc? Both birthday festivities are marred by scuffles that one don compares to Montagues v Capulets knife gangs, thereby escalating the row because Marlovians claim their man wrote Romeo and Juliet.
Inaugural award of the Folio prize (10th), which was ahead of the Booker in opening itself up to all fiction in English. The illustrious if shadowy "Academy" of authors behind the prize fly in from around the world, and on the morning after the ceremony Twitter is on fire with rumours of the after-party for them resembling the kind of masked, costumed secret conclave seen in the film Eyes Wide Shut (though accounts differ on how much sex took place), with prize founder Andrew Kidd as the Tom Cruise figure.
London Book Fair starts (10th), with Korea as featured country ("market focus"). With other recent market focuses such as Russia, China and Turkey, LBF-goers had usually read at least a few of their books; but ignorance of contemporary Korean writing is thought likely to prompt the biggest bluffing exercise in UK publishing history, with extensive use of smartphone and earpiece prompts from editors' PAs.
To mark the 150th anniversary of John Clare's death (20th), media poets – Simon Armitage, Roger McGough, Ian McMillan, Owen Sheers – are invited to recreate his rough-sleeping, grass-eating four-day walk through Essex and Cambridgeshire. But in traditional BBC fashion no one tells anyone else about their plans. The disappointing result is inter-bardic sledging and dirty tricks after the walkers set out almost simultaneously, with rumours of secret night-time car trips to get ahead. One poet can't do a piece to camera because voices off keep alleging loudly that he spent the previous night in a four-star hotel; another finds a catering wagon serving ample lunches has been manoeuvred into shot (naughtily suggesting it was for his film crew) as he evokes Clare's wretched experiences.
The prizegiving for the Baileys (formerly Orange) prize (4th) is the first with the cream liqueur as sponsor. Talks meanwhile continue with the Costa, Glenfiddich and Theakston awards, with a view to agreeing an amalgamated event with more balanced binge drinking.
The World Cup starts, Brazil (12th). England's tough group means Roy Hodgson, the famously bookish manager, takes books by the most miserabilist of his favourite authors and reads them nightly to the squad to inculcate a sophisticated brand of stoicism. However, Wayne Rooney misunderstands and demands a video reel of goals by new Italian hotshot Antonio Tabucchi, while a baffled Steven Gerrard assumes Stefan Zweig must be the ref for the Costa Rica game.
The 199th anniversary of battle of Waterloo in 1815 (18th). On the basis of 2013's 1914 "anniversary" deluge, the flow of Napoleon and Wellington books is expected to peak around now. Look out for historians in costume – Andrew Roberts as Napoleon and Jeremy Paxman as Wellington in the BBC version – filming budget TV reconstructions in a park near you.
While Alex Salmond firmly denies that the Commonwealth games opening ceremony on the 23rd (and the cultural programme complementing the games) is pre-referendum propaganda, eyebrows are raised by a spectacular pageant centring on Scottish authors, culminating in Alasdair Gray parachuting down into the arena wearing a tartan onesie that reads "Yes!" on the front and "Sassenachs go home!" on the back. A-list diaspora actors re-enact the anti-English "wankers" scene from Trainspotting, but an attempt to "repatriate" Glasgow-born Carol Ann Duffy as another star of the ceremony encounters a setback as the Queen refuses to relinquish her, triggering a constitutional crisis.
The real 100th anniversary of the first world war's commencement (28th) sees the start of a four-year period in which no further books about it appear, as nothing is left to say (the so-called "libristice"). However, luckily historians do have second world war anniversaries, real or otherwise, to mark instead.
Having a venue, Charlotte Square, that is also home to the first minister's residence proves problematic for the Edinburgh book festival (starts 9th), as Salmond covers his house with banners calling for a yes vote in the following month's referendum, and plays Proclaimers albums at top volume whenever an anti-nationalist Scottish speaker has an event. His hand is also seen when rehearsals for the festival Tattoo suddenly take the form of pipe bands marching round the square, usually during English writers' appearances.
In the run-up to the first award of the Booker prize next month under its new rules, organisers become worried they have not moved far and fast enough. Though they deny panic, they announce the rebranding of prize director Ion Trewin (out go tweed suit, club tie and beard, in come a baseball umpire's uniform and chewing gum) and head to head "prose-offs" eliminating one contestant every weekend after the longlist is unveiled, building up to a televised climax with four finalists.
Rumours spread that a book that appeared under another name in the summer is really by JK Rowling, but given her post-Potter willingness to try her hand at all forms (adult and children's, literary and genre) journalists find it hard to spot which – and adding to the confusion, other authors now write under pseudonyms (with Rowling-hinting clues) in the hope of their books being mistakenly identified as by her. Is French porno-feminist JoRo Roulant real or fake, for example? And what about AK Tilting, writer of a pre-school pop-up series starring an adorable owl? It's all very trying.
Dylan Thomas centenary celebrations continue in Swansea, with combined binge-drinking and poetry reciting contests and prizes for the wittiest place to send American tourists asking for directions to Under Milk Wood's Llareggub. In keeping with the tradition established by the radical casting of Sienna Miller as Caitlin in The Edge of Love, a new biopic stars Paul Giamatti as Thomas and Miranda Hart as his wife.
The Marquis de Sade's bicentenary (2nd) enables French novelist Michel Houellebecq to fulful his long-standing ambition of making a porn film, after a fashion. The Bastille opera house, not far from the site of the Bastille prison where the debauched marquis wrote The 120 Days of Sodom, is transformed into the castle setting for a reality show, with Houellebecq (dressed as De Sade) setting challenges in the nightly orgies, while the late-night spin-off show Sodom Philo sees academics discussing the philosophical issues raised. Swept along by the Booker wind of change, the Goncourt judges declare 120 Days eligible for their prize, as excluding it would constitute "a snobbish and backward-looking privileging of the literary text". More radically, they abandon having their judging meetings over lunch, citing an "implicit equation of two modes of consumption" that had always been disquieting.
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image: © Abhi Sharma