THE story of a notorious Cardiff miscarriage of justice that has been turned into a Booker Prize shortlisted novel could now become an opera. 

Author Nadifa Mohamed will learn tonight whether her novel The Fortune Men – which is based on the real life wrongful conviction of British Somalia sailor Mahmood Mattan for a 1952 murder in Cardiff - has won the Booker, regarded as one of the most prestigious English language literary awards. 

READ MORE: Nadifa Mohamed's Fortune Men on Booker Prize shortlist

The winning author will receive £50,000 in prize money and a likely boost in sales. 

Londoner Nadifa, who was born in Somaliland before moving to the UK as a child, spent years researching the novel including several visits to Cardiff and meeting with people who knew Mahmood as well as relatives of Lily Volpert, the woman he was wrongly convicted of killing. 

READ MORE: Daughter of Tony Paris on trauma of miscarriage of justice

The author had first became aware of the case via a 2004 newspaper article when she discovered her now late father, also a British Somali seaman, had known Mahmood when both lived in Hull in the 1950s. 

You can read more about Nadifa and her research for the novel here.

She began seriously working on the novel following her father’s death and told The National it was a very personal story and one she hasn’t finished with. 

“I think this was the one I needed to write and now I have to find something that can grab me as much as this one did and that’s going to be a struggle I think,” said the author who has published two other novels. 

“I’m working on an opera, and a few others things, it still hasn’t left me,” said Nadifa of the story of Mahmood and his Welsh wife Laura Williams – who he had three sons with. 

“The story is a proper tragedy, everyone said to me, ‘it’s a real tragedy,’ and it is. And opera’s very good at communicating tragedy. 

“It will be in English with some Somali and Welsh dialect and all the rest of it, still very much set in Tiger Bay.” 


Nadifa has worked with composer Nina Whiteman, who is a colleague at Royal Holloway University in London, to start work on turning the story into an opera, and they held a showcase as part of the development process at the Royal Opera House in July. 

“We did a showcase at the Royal Opera House with a mezzo-soprano who is Welsh and a South African male tenor and they both brough Mahmood and Laura straight to life.” 

Five other authors are in contention for tonight’s prize, with Nadifa the only British writer shortlisted, while the bookies have The Promise by South African Damon Galgut as the favourite. 

It is about a white family which fails to keep a promise to give a home to the Black woman who had worked for them all her life in South Africa. 

Also nominated are American trio Richard Powers for Bewilderment, the tale of a widowed scientist struggling to raise a young son, Maggie Shipstead for Great Circle about a vanished female aviator and Patricia Lockwood’s debut novel, the internet-focused No One Is Talking About This. 

Sri Lankan Anuk Arudpragasam’s A Passage North is about a man travelling across the island for the funeral of his grandmother’s carer. 

Judges including historian and panel chairwoman Maya Jasanoff and former archbishop of Wales Rowan Williams are meeting this afternoon to confirm their final decision. 

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