“I’d been in the wilderness thirty-eight days and by then I’d come to know that anything could happen and that everything would. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t shocked when it did.” – Cheryl Strayed
Colm Tóibín: Loss and memory

Colm Tóibín: Loss and memory

We catch up with the prolific and acclaimed Irish author on the launch of the paperback of Nora Webster, his part-autobiographical novel about grieving and renewal. The same week saw the Sundance premiere of John Cowley and Nick Hornby’s adaptation of his earlier novel Brooklyn. Brooklyn and Nora Webster both deal with...
Day 38

Day 38

Jean-Marc Vallée’s adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, scripted by Nick Hornby and starring Reese Witherspoon, is now out in UK cinemas. It tells the story of Strayed’s 1,100-mile wilderness walk towards personal discovery along the Pacific Crest Trail. Witherspoon has been nominated for Best Actress in the Screen Actors’ Guild, the...
David Nicholls steps up

David Nicholls steps up

I meet David Nicholls for coffee at his house one weekday morning. We talk about Henry James and he tells me that he read Portrait of a Lady last year. The novel obviously had an impact on him as he quotes from it in his latest, rather wonderful novel, Us....
Quality of mercy strain'd

Quality of mercy strain’d

The Merchant of Venice is one of the most poignantly tragic, most unassailably human literary works ever created. If it were to be lost or disappear, much of what makes life worth living would be lost with it. It vitally seeks to express what makes human existence and human society...
Wonder Woman for President!

Wonder Woman for President!

By the beginning of 1972, when the editors of Ms. were planning the magazine’s first regular issue, the women’s movement seemed on the verge of lasting, breathtaking success. In January, Shirley Chisholm announced that she was running for president, seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination. In March, the Equal Rights Amendment,...
Boualem Sansal: Resistance writer

Boualem Sansal: Resistance writer

Boualem Sansal began writing his first novel, Le serment des barbares, in his late 40s while still working as a civil servant. When the book was published in 1999, containing criticism of the political situation in Algeria, he was asked to go on leave. In 2003, after further criticism of...
The eternal rocks

The eternal rocks

Sally Green is the author of Half Bad, about one boy’s struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches, published by Penguin last March and now sold in 50 languages. As her new Half Bad e-story is unveiled, she gives us the lowdown on her working space and practices....
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Philip Teir: Question everything

Philip Teir: Question everything

Philip Teir’s debut novel The Winter War chips away at Scandinavia’s much-trumpeted model society by examining individual lives in a well-to-do but barely functional Finnish-Swedish Helsinki family as they scrabble for meaning and identity. Max Paul is a retired lecturer on the point of turning 60, who is working on a biography of pioneering sociobiologist...
Marjorie Barnard: ‘The Persimmon Tree’

Marjorie Barnard: ‘The Persimmon Tree’

I have so many favourite stories! As I wander through them in my mind, the styles are so different, but each one has me excited me in some way. Sometimes it is perception, seeing beyond the familiar or the surface of things; sometimes it is the use of language; sometimes it is empathetic characterisation; sometimes...
Making history live and breathe

Making history live and breathe

I’ve always loved history, from the dry, factual interpretation-board-in-a-castle kind, to the Young Sherlock Holmes imaginary Victorian cults and poison blow-pipe kind. But it was when I was doing my masters in Shakespearean Studies that I realised I could never become a historian. This was the first time I’d studied literature in its historical context....
Ghosts of New York

Ghosts of New York

I have an American heiress to thank for leading me to Edith Wharton. I was a teenager – lank-haired, history addict, eye for drama – and I was visiting Blenheim Palace with my parents when I caught sight of a creature from the Gilded Age. Consuelo Vanderbilt, wife of the 9th Duke of Marlborough, looked...
Tomás González: Undercurrents

Tomás González: Undercurrents

Thirty years ago, Tomás González’ brother Juan and his wife Marie-Elena, bored by the wealthy, partying, intellectual circles of Bogotá, escaped to Colombia’s Caribbean coast and sunk their money into a run-down farm overlooking a deserted beach surrounded by jungle. Their dream of escaping the rat race ended in calamity as spiralling debts, divisive frictions,...
Fiction 2014–2015

Fiction 2014–2015

It’s that time of year again, so here’s my list of the best reads from the past twelve months, and some recommendations for a few titles to look out for in the new year. Starting with novels, and a title I would pick as my favourite of the year if pushed – Akhil Sharma’s Family...
Seeds of change

Seeds of change

Wednesday 10 December 2014. Tonight is the night I leave Beirut with a suitcase full of my first children’s book, The Giant Watermelon, a bilingual Arabic-English story set in a refugee camp in Lebanon. It’s almost 4 am, I am sat at the airport and have just given a couple of copies to some curious...
Wenceslas squared

Wenceslas squared

English Christmas carols are a hotchpotch, like the English themselves. Perhaps that’s why they are so popular. They have the power to summon up a special kind of midwinter mood, like the aroma of mince pies and mulled wine and the twinkle of lights on a tree. It’s a kind of magic. How did they...
Children's books for all ages

Children’s books for all ages

Here’s a selection of children’s favourites to be cherished across the generations, a compendium of winged words and enchanted images by endlessly inventive authors and illustrators. Mostly published (or reissued) over the past year, new characters rub shoulders with old and voices combine in captivating harmony, jostling for space on bookshelves, coffee or breakfast tables...
Head on the block

Head on the block

There’s a cartoon I saw once which shows a writer stepping into a ‘Manuscript Doctor’s Office’. The writer is suffering from a bad case of blockage. The doctor says, “Can I take a look at a sample of your prose, please?” The writer blanches: “I can’t just produce like that, here, with you staring at...