“Deep curiosity, deep listening, that’s what we have to give to each other. Reading is a form of deep listening, isn’t it? Staying with something, and being affected by it." Maggie Gee
The truth about lies

The truth about lies

My novel Berlin features a so-called unreliable narrator. Daphne misleads the reader, lies to others and to herself. Early readers have pegged her as a toxic compulsive liar. But I don’t think she is exceptionally unreliable. Instead, I believe fictional characters and real people tend to exaggerate the extent to...
Alex North: An intriguing game

Alex North: An intriguing game

It was just a silly game to start with. Paul never dreamed that Charlie would take it so far. Never thought it would end in murder… Twenty years later, Paul is trying to put his past behind him. But now his mother is dying, and he can’t run any longer....
Banana tree days

Banana tree days

Recent cool, damp days remind me of the monsoon in Guwahati, when skies go pearly grey, pensive with rain. In particular, I’ve been thinking of the banana tree just outside my bedroom window in the flat where I spent three years. In humid Guwahati weather, the window was rarely closed,...
Chloe Lane: To any lengths

Chloe Lane: To any lengths

Twenty-six-year-old Erin Moore has just been dumped by her gallery-owner boss after his wife discovered them in a compromising clinch in a store cupboard. She heads north from Auckland to spend the Queen’s Birthday holiday weekend at the old family farmstead, where her mother Helen, terminally ill with motor neurone...
Ellen Hawley: Hard-earned love

Ellen Hawley: Hard-earned love

As any art director, editor or marketer would insist, a book should always be judged by its cover. What made Other People Manage so pickupable for me, was the immediate association with books by Anne Tyler, Carol Shields, Alice Munro, Suzanne Berne… you get the picture. Physically, and thematically, this...
Caryl Lewis: Storms and wonders and cultures on the edge

Caryl Lewis: Storms and wonders and cultures on the edge

Sister and brother Nefyn and Joseph, both in their mid-twenties, have lived alone in an isolated cottage on a clifftop on the coast of West Wales for a decade since their fisherman father was lost in a sea storm. Nefyn has a close affinity to the workings of the tides,...
Lara Williams: Lost at sea

Lara Williams: Lost at sea

Lara Williams’ second novel The Odyssey is a biting satire about a generation cast adrift by the gig economy. Its narrator Ingrid joined the crew of a luxury cruise ship to flee from a failed marriage, and is buffeted between ever-changing roles within a mind-numbing micro-economy which sees her faking...
Maggie Gee: Being human

Maggie Gee: Being human

Hot on the heels of the release of a 20th anniversary edition of her Orange Prize-shortlisted The White Family, Maggie Gee’s latest novel The Red Children is a sequel of sorts. But the sometimes stark realism of the earlier book, which was motivated by her grief, anger and shame over...
Christina Patterson: Five lives

Christina Patterson: Five lives

When her brother Tom died suddenly at the age of 57, it fell to Christina Patterson, as the last surviving member of the immediate family, to clear out his house. She diligently sorted through the papers Tom had gathered, including all manner of diaries, letters and photographs left by their...
Love's old sweet song

Love’s old sweet song

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented...
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The seductive spark of danger

The seductive spark of danger

I still remember the awe and unease I felt as a child at the arrival of the wrecking machines in Barbapapa’s New House, a brilliant but unnerving picture book by Annette Tison and Talus Taylor that channelled the urban alienation of its time. And, with his “terrible teeth and terrible claws”, Maurice Sendak has surely...
The why, not the what

The why, not the what

Unless I’m mistaken, a riot is about to break out in the departure lounge of the Lagos Domestic Airport. ‘Someone should at least tell us what’s going on!’ an irate passenger barks into the face of an unruffled airline staff member, spraying her with spit. Good luck with that, I think from where I sit...
Rosa Rankin-Gee: Planet Thanet

Rosa Rankin-Gee: Planet Thanet

Rosa Rankin-Gee’s widely acclaimed second novel Dreamland is a thrilling and tender portrait of a disenfranchised community in a near-future Margate ravaged by climate change and economic collapse. With the seaside town’s now-defunct amusement park as a backdrop, she deftly tackles the political and personal landscape of financial disparity, poor housing, extremism, the climate crisis...
Mark Edwards: Proverbial needle, proverbial haystack

Mark Edwards: Proverbial needle, proverbial haystack

In No Place to Run’s opening sequence, Francesca Gilbert is seventy-five years old, mourning the recent loss of a husband, and six hundred miles into her train journey home. Dawn is breaking across a clearing in a Northern California forest when Francesca sees a young woman with “vivid auburn hair” being chased by a man....
Unheld conversations

Unheld conversations

Just before my second novel, Belladonna, was published in 2020, I gave each of my parents an advance proof copy. They had both read my first book at a much earlier stage in the publishing process, when I was still working on edits. This time, the novel was just weeks away from being made available...
Grace Paley: 'Goodbye and Good Luck'

Grace Paley: ‘Goodbye and Good Luck’

I was fortunate enough to see Grace Paley speak. It was back in 2003 or thereabouts at the Small Wonder Festival at Charleston. I think it might have been the first time the festival, which celebrates the wonder of short stories (the clue’s in the title), had taken place. Grace Paley had been due to...
Plain shelves and glittering prose

Plain shelves and glittering prose

William Friend’s debut novel Black Mamba is a chilling tale of hauntings, fatherhood, sexual attraction and the taboos of grief. Since his wife Pippa died suddenly nine months ago, Alfie has been struggling to look after their twin daughters. When they tell him one night there’s a man that comes to them in their room,...
One man's trash

One man’s trash

Pick up your average celebrity memoir and you’re almost certain to find it dressed up in one of two ways. Some stars punctuate their life stories with matt black-and-white photos, neatly arranged over chapter headings or between sections. The more sensationalist among them choose the ‘16-Page Full-Colour Insert!’ (capitals and exclamation mark mandatory), helpfully collating...
Ten commandments for happy writing

Ten commandments for happy writing

Eve Ainsworth’s debut adult novel Duckling tells the story of a young woman called Lucy (a.k.a. Duckling) who keeps herself to herself on a towering housing estate. Lucy’s daily routines are interrupted when a new neighbour asks her to look after her little girl for a couple of hours – but doesn’t come back. Suddenly...
from Border Zone

from Border Zone

John Agard has been broadening the limits of British poetry for the past 40 years. His ninth Bloodaxe collection, Border Zone, explores a far-reaching canvas of British/Caribbean transatlantic connections, sweeping across centuries and continents. It’s a diverse collection in which the thought-provokingly mischievous, bawdy, elegiac and satirical rub shoulders with the sequence The Plants Are Staying Put –...