"I’ve always written short stories, I’ve always been interested in the form being dictated by the concept, rather than the other way round." Jon McGregor
December 2014
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. I want to get to...
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 possible – and to expose...
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...
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, first introduced to Congress in...
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...
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 President Abd al-Aziz Bouteflika’s regime,...
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...