"If you’ve got an objective then you can achieve and that makes you feel good about yourself... in crises often it’s a snapshot of what people are like. Everyone has a survival instinct." – Rebecca Hunt
Kirsty Wark: Stand by your words

Kirsty Wark: Stand by your words

Kirsty Wark greets me at the front door of her London pad wearing a pinny and no make-up. Truly impressive: here is a woman so comfortable in her skin (and in HD) who instantly inspires trust and warmth – the latter greatly helped by the spring sunshine that splits the...
Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li’s latest novel was inspired by a real-life poisoning case in China in 1995, in which a 19-year-old student was paralysed and severely disabled, but did not die. The culprit was never discovered, but suspicion still falls on a roommate from a well-connected family who subsequently fled to America....
Understanding the unseen

Understanding the unseen

History, according to the heartfelt judgement of a young scholar in Alan Bennett’s marvellous play The History Boys “[is] just one fuckin’ thing after another.” Biology is a bit like this, because evolution works with a single set of raw materials within the constraints imposed by the planet’s environmental conditions....
Rebecca Hunt: Poles apart

Rebecca Hunt: Poles apart

Rebecca Hunt is one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, never mind interviewed. Her incredibly poised debut novel Mr Chartwell was published when she was 31 (she’s now 34), and sold in ten countries. Also longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, she could frankly be excused for taking...
Amanda Lindhout: Compassion over hate

Amanda Lindhout: Compassion over hate

Amanda Lindhout’s remarkable memoir A House in the Sky tells the harrowing, ultimately inspirational story of her 460 days in captivity as a hostage in Somalia. Moved between derelict desert houses where she was kept in the dark, in chains, starved, and repeatedly beaten and abused by her teenage captors,...
Improvised explosive device

Improvised explosive device

The blast from an improvised explosive device moves at 13,000 mph, gets as hot as 7,000 degrees and creates 400 tons of pressure per square inch. “No one survives that. We’re trying to save the kids at 25 meters and beyond.” – Ronald Glasser in the Army Times If this...
Damn!

Damn!

If Sanford T.’s daddy hadn’t got killed that night I guess we’d still be with the carnival. What we was doing was hauling old man McClerkin around the country claiming he was Jesse James and charging fifty cents a head to come in and see him. We had to pay...
Sheila Heti talks unpretty

Sheila Heti talks unpretty

Sheila Heti’s most recent novel How Should a Person Be? is a book that’s not afraid of appearing ugly, either aesthetically or morally. There is even a chapter called ‘Sheila Throws Her Shit’. Its writer, however, has a generous spirit, a sincere belief in the importance of art and that...
Beyond normal

Beyond normal

Alice Hoffman’s latest novel The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a magical tale about the power of love and reconciliation focusing on intertwining lives in New York in the early years of the twentieth century. The title refers to a boardwalk freak show on Coney Island offering ‘amazement and entertainment’...
Touching strangers

Touching strangers

Each of us engages in a private cartography, the fence posts of which are known only to ourselves. Of all the boundaries that separate us from each other, few are more sacrosanct than the invisible lines we habitually draw between others and ourselves in public. There are few small-bore offenses...
Conquered

Conquered

The days and the weeks dragged on, and the months dragged on. The snow fell and melted and fell and melted and finally fell and stuck. The dark buildings of the little town wore bells and hats and eyebrows of white and there were trenches through the snow to the...
Latest entries
Flannery O’Connor: ‘Good Country People’

Flannery O’Connor: ‘Good Country People’

As both a reader and writer of stories, I love, perhaps more than any other quality of the form, the daring that defines the very best short stories: that breathtaking break with expectation, or subject matter, or reality as we know it. No story writer, it seems to me, had – or has – a...
Lorrie Moore: ‘How to Be an Other Woman’

Lorrie Moore: ‘How to Be an Other Woman’

It is risky to return to anything that one loved thirty years ago – a boyfriend, a city, an outfit. But I had a hunch that Lorrie Moore’s ‘How to Be an Other Woman’ would hold up pretty well, although it now feels distinctly historical with its references to office work in which the clerical...
Avoid like the plague

Avoid like the plague

A cliché may be defined as a phrase whose aptness in a particular context when it was first invented has won it such popularity that it has become hackneyed, and is now used without thought in contexts where it is no longer apt. Clichés are notorious enemies of the precise word, and thus are by...
Month-to-month loyalties

Month-to-month loyalties

I cannot recall a specific moment in which I told myself that I would become a writer. But I know I was twenty, taking a bath in a crappy apartment in Columbus, Ohio, the first time I read something that made me feel the author was writing for me alone. I was reading Joan Didion’s...
Staying home

Staying home

Joseph Connolly’s comic novels are always written as interior monologue, a writing technique he recently told the Guardian “just falls out of me… I sort of become the person when I am writing in their voice.” So how does he live from day to day deep within his writing chamber? Where are you now? At...
Hailstorm

Hailstorm

Siem Sigerius is a maths professor who delights in putting his students straight about coincidence theory. When he sees an image that might depict his adopted daughter on an erotic website, he has to weigh up the probability that she and her photographer boyfriend have started a sideline in porn… The tepid downpour shades the...
At the chopping board

At the chopping board

Dibden’s section is sprayed with bits of fruit and crumb and peel. Spilt sauces and dark reductions are clotting like blood. Mint leaves tremble in his hands. His mouth is slack and open, his movements awry. His head folds one way, then the other. There is no use left in him. He is a punchdrunk...
Climbing without a rope

Climbing without a rope

The ‘temporary gentleman’ in the title of Sebastian Barry’s latest novel is an Irishman commissioned into the British Army during the Second World War who looks back on past demons and a tumultuous marriage to the enigmatic beauty who slipped from his grasp. Here’s a slice of his writing day. Where are you now? At...
The conversation

The conversation

Before my novel The Death of the Poet was published, I was used to experiencing certain sorts of conversation about writing. After all, that’s what I do for a living – talking and writing, I mean. Talking, as in radio; writing, as in novels; talking about writing, as in critical discussion. For a good number...
Notes to self (for sharing)

Notes to self (for sharing)

I’m always wary of sounding bossy when compiling lists of advice. So what follows is a kind of ‘note to self’ which I hope will work for others too. These points generally reflect the times when I’ve gone wrong (based on a ‘learning through mistakes’ principle), as well as some writing touchstones which I suppose...