"In my experience of writing – and of life – the frenzy of dreams and that of form always go together." Iosi Havilio
A bear in a million

A bear in a million

The varying merits of the UK’s early November film releases appear to be in direct proportion to the protagonists’ face-fuzz. Much was made in advance of Kenneth Brannagh’s reimagining of Hercule Poirot’s ‘magnificent moustaches’ in the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (20th Century Fox, 3...
Magritte: This is not a biography

Magritte: This is not a biography

Intoxicated by the prospect of a promotion, Charles Singulier allows himself a small extravagance: he buys a bowler hat. But unbeknownst to him, this particular hat was once the property of the great Surrealist René Magritte – and by donning it, he is transported into the artist’s off-kilter world. What’s...
Lilja Sigurðardóttir: Caught in a trap

Lilja Sigurðardóttir: Caught in a trap

Iceland is a country that has loomed large in my imagination since I was a young child. My father was stationed on a United States military outpost near Reykjavík in the mid-sixties. Heavily pregnant and unable to return to Pakistan to be with her parents, my mother and older brother...
Laughter in the dark

Laughter in the dark

One of the memories I most treasure about In the Loop, writer-director Armando Iannucci’s previous big-screen outing, is the moment when Alastair Campbell sat down to view the film with critic Mark Kermode. As Tony Blair’s ex-spin-doctor, Campbell was understandably tetchy at being compared to onscreen fixer Malcolm Tucker, a...
Harry Potter: A history of magic

Harry Potter: A history of magic

Marking the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, this major exhibition delves into centuries-old British Library treasures and surprising artefacts from other cultural institutions in a celebration of all things magical. Rare books, manuscripts and objects capturing the traditions of magic and folklore around...
Lina Meruane: Blood in the eye

Lina Meruane: Blood in the eye

When she was a PhD student at NYU, Chilean author Lina Meruane was temporarily struck blind as her eyes haemorrhaged and blood flooded her vision. Her semi-autobiographical novel Seeing Red, set in contrastingly chaotic New York and Santiago, spins off from that episode in a searing examination of illness and...
Taking an interest in the meerschaum tram

Taking an interest in the meerschaum tram

Once, when Moomintroll was quite small, his father got a cold at the very hottest time of summer. Moominpappa refused to drink warm milk with onion juice and sugar, and he refused to go to bed. He sat in the garden hammock blowing his nose and saying his cigars had...
Latest entries
Picking a subject

Picking a subject

If anyone asked I said I wanted to be a writer, and I imagined and intended that this should be another word for novelist. But the stories of the glamorous dead, biography and narrative history, were as often as not what I read for pleasure. Not long before the turn of the century, my mother...
Down to a T

Down to a T

Sally Rooney’s debut novel Conversations with Friends, a frank and funny examination of intimacy, infidelity and what it means to be a young woman in the 21st century, is shortlisted for the 2017 Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award. She takes a break from editing her next book to answer our quickfire Q&A....
Flowers in a jam jar

Flowers in a jam jar

In April 1961 Ernest Hemingway would distil, in almost oracular terms, the nature of the writing act as a way of capturing the world, as a way of relating to life, but also as a way of confronting the inexorable absence at the heart of much of existence: “In writing, there are many secrets. Nothing...
An absence full of presence

An absence full of presence

What You Did Not Tell: A Russian Past and the Journey Home by Mark Mazower is an eloquently written rhapsody on the art of remembering. It is rhapsodic both in the primary sense of the word, in that it is a chronicle exuding a certain air of poetry and exalted, almost epic feeling, and in...
The devil you know

The devil you know

Mirjana Novaković’s Fear and His Servant, set in 18th-century Serbia under Austrian rule, begins with the journey to Belgrade of the Devil in the guise of Count Otto von Habsburg, accompanied by his equally diabolical servant Novak. On the way to the city their carriage breaks down. In the thick fog at the crack of...
Written in my soul

Written in my soul

Like most avid readers, I was pleased to see British national treasure Kashuo Ishiguro win the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature. Pleased, but a little disappointed. Ishiguro is worthy, to be sure, but in a way he was too worthy. After the lather the Nobel committee worked the literary world into last year by giving...
Having words in Manchester

Having words in Manchester

There’s an old quip: ‘What’s another word for a thesaurus?’ In fact, there is another word for a thesaurus and what’s more, there always has been: synonymicon. Next time someone rolls out that old line, you can respond by telling them that. It might not make you the most popular person at a party, but...
Bright white hearts

Bright white hearts

“The sky is falling!” I cried. “It’s falling fast!” “Where?”’ “It’s falling into the ocean.” And everyone watched as the sun sank into the sea, and the moon laughed from the clouds, and the people cried until salt water came up to their chins. “The water wants our words,” they said. “It can’t have them!”...
The truth of the lie

The truth of the lie

“The duty of art (or of thought) consists in showing us the complexity of existence in order to make us more complex, in examining the mechanics of evil, so that we may avoid it, and even the mechanics of good, perhaps so we may understand them”. This is Javier Cercas’ declaration of intent at the...
Us and them

Us and them

A year after my first novel Madame Mephisto, about a Polish drug dealer in London, was published in 2012, I was approached by The New York Times to write a piece in response to then Prime Minister David Cameron’s sharp rhetoric on immigration, which singled out Poland. Little did I know a few years later...