“When you are a latecomer, outsider, immigrant, exile, there are fractures in your life that you can’t heal… I have a lot of respect for people that have stayed behind and have to deal with the wounds every day.” Elif Shafak
Saša Stanišić: Alternative visions

Saša Stanišić: Alternative visions

Saša Stanišić was born in former Yugoslavia in 1978 to a Bosnian Muslim mother and Serbian Orthodox father. Their flight into Germany at the outbreak of the Bosnian War in 1992 was fictionalised in his debut novel How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone (Luchterhand Literaturverlag, 2006; Grove Atlantic/Weidenfeld & Nicolson,...
Cuckoo

Cuckoo

At first, I thought that old devil of a back problem had returned to haunt me. I assumed the position – lay down, knees up, feet flat on the floor. Unlike Martha, I’m not one for the dramatic, but I did text her to come back ASAP. My no-longer-little niece,...
Ink blots in the trunk

Ink blots in the trunk

Every aspiring writer is familiar with the concept of the ‘trunk novel’. This is the novel that doesn’t make it to the bookshelf, but instead gets tucked into a bottom desk drawer or old USB drive after refusing to do what its writer wants it to do. Often it’s the...
Magpies

Magpies

The girl tenses when her mother calls her name like that. She clings to the racks; sleeves brushing against her cheek. She crosses the store. Normally, her mother doesn’t like to be overt; only gentle movements when she’s found what she wants. Sometimes the girl won’t even notice. Today, though,...
Elif Shafak: Time to reconnect

Elif Shafak: Time to reconnect

Elif Shafak’s richly evocative, elegantly crafted novel The Island of Missing Trees transports readers between 1970s Cyprus and 21st–century London in a cross-generational saga of passion, trauma, memory and renewal. Greek Cypriot Kostas and Turkish Cypriot Defne fall in love as teenagers in the divided city of Nicosia in 1974,...
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Grandmother and get me out of here

Grandmother and get me out of here

She wakes up. Where is she? The sheets feel damp. Wallpaper. Probably a bedroom. Her feet feel hot. Slippers on. She pushes them off. Carpet. Ugly, ugly carpet, she has the same one at home but it’s much nicer. Bookshelf. Brown and white, gilded spines. Books. Tito’s biography. Then Meša Selimović, Abdulah Sidran, Saša Stanišić,...
Hope Street and beyond

Hope Street and beyond

Even though the majority of Circles a Clover is set on an island that doesn’t really exist called Selny, part of it is set in Liverpool. I grew up in Liverpool and the city has always been something that pulled on me, told me to make it a character in my writing. To be honest,...
Old news: the origins of originality

Old news: the origins of originality

The ancient Greeks are old news to us, or so we appear to be claiming. For some, at this very specific moment in time, they are not just antiquated, or relegated to the shades of oblivion, they are practically obsolescent, an existential black hole, even a socio-political and ethical-historical anathema. The question of the Greeks...
Armand D'Angour: A classically philosophical life?

Armand D’Angour: A classically philosophical life?

There are books that leave you silent – with awe, or shock, or both. And then there are some others that make you yearn for the space in between silence and voice: for a space for more of the author’s thoughts, a space for questions, for engaged and engaging exchanges. Armand d’Angour’s books belong to...
Atoms like snowflakes

Atoms like snowflakes

We are in a city where all the streets go up and down, urbanism on an inclined plane, the goddamned omnipresent sea or mountains, sea to the south, mountains to the north, and a scar in the form of an avenue that bisects the city on the diagonal – skewed along a physical, moral, class...
A mattress

A mattress

My fiction comes from voices; voices that I hear, and then do my best to transcribe. The voice that follows, which comes from the second story in Address Book, turned out to be a really tricky one to get down. Basically, that’s because going back to the 1980s is still very hard for me. There...
Imagining an island

Imagining an island

While fine-tuning my fourth novel, Missing, I started thinking about my fifth. In the Scottish Borders, fact-checking my references to Hawick, I mentioned to the friend with whom we were staying that I was thinking of setting my next novel somewhere totally fictional, somewhere superficially familiar but with local customs and minor rules that would...
Seabirds

Seabirds

Of course I know the seabirds were here first! They’ve had their own registered territories for God knows how many generations, and it’s very clear they must hate us. They do screaming nosedives, beaks wide open. The terns are worst, real warriors, and their aim is perfect when they crap on us. These shimmering white...
Lockdown drawings

Lockdown drawings

In March 2020, as the coronavirus took hold and lockdowns were imposed around the world, author and illustrator Edward Carey published a sketch of ‘a determined young man’ on social media, with a plan to keep posting a drawing a day until life returned to normal. One hundred and fifty pencil stubs later, he was...
Towards an aesthetics of (im)perfection

Towards an aesthetics of (im)perfection

There is a certain aura of myth and legend when it comes to Jane Austen. We think we know so much about her, and at the same time we apparently never tire of being thrilled by the mystery that seems to surround her, from her private life to what is quite simply her writerly genius....