I have been reading more non-fiction than ever recently, moving away from the science and medical themed books I covered for the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist to memoirs about all things literary, specifically writing, libraries and children’s literature. Here are three titles I recommend to bookworms everywhere:
Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World by Nell Stevens is an account of her attempt to write a novel by living in the Falkland Islands for three months using funding from her Global Fellowship at the end of her creative writing course at Boston University. After arriving in Stanley where many of the 2,500 residents are based, she lived in self-imposed isolation on the uninhabited Bleaker Island for several weeks, believing that a total lack of distraction would be beneficial for her levels of creativity and productivity. For her stint on Bleaker Island, she had to pack all of her food supplies, restricting herself to just over 1,000 calories a day living mostly on instant porridge and Ferrero Rocher with just a copy of the film ‘Eat Pray Love’ on her laptop for company. Despite the unusual setting, Stevens’ experience of writing procrastination will resonate with anyone who has ever had an essay deadline to meet, even if her expectations and lack of preparation for some aspects of her trip are a tad infuriating in places. Extracts of her fiction are interspersed throughout and while these chapters are variable in quality and pad out what would otherwise be a very slim book, I think they are worth reading to get a sense of her creative output at the time. Overall, this is an interesting and often very funny account of a unique travel experience which proved to be inspiring for Stevens in the end, even if it wasn’t quite in the way she had initially bargained for. Continue reading
Today I’m very pleased to host a Q&A with Richard Lloyd Parry who has been shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize for his brilliant book Ghosts of the Tsunami – one of the best books I read in 2017. It is a narrative non-fiction account about the aftermath of the tsunami which devastated the east coast of Japan on 11th March 2011 and how it impacted a small community where many people lost their lives. I’m very pleased that this riveting book has recently been shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize – a relatively new literary award in which 60 fiction and non-fiction books are nominated by members of the Folio Academy and then whittled down to a shortlist of eight. This year’s list also includes two novels I have read and enjoyed very much: Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor.
Q&A with Richard Lloyd Parry
1. At what age did you know you wanted to become a writer?
Eighteen. I thought that wanted to direct plays, but brief experience at university made me realise how dependent theatre is on the temperamental peculiarities of other people. I prefer to work alone, or in a small team. Continue reading
‘Feel Free’ is a new collection of over thirty essays, reviews and interviews by Zadie Smith divided into five sections. The first and last of these, ‘In the World’ and ‘Feel Free’, cover current events and some autobiographical “life writing”, while ‘In the Audience’, ‘In the Gallery’ and ‘On the Bookshelf’ concern her musings on film, art and writing respectively.
Covering a vast array of topics, the collection opens with an impassioned defence of libraries (“the only thing left on the high street that doesn’t want either your soul or your wallet”) while a new security fence constructed around her daughter’s primary school is the springboard for a nuanced and insightful piece on Brexit. As to be expected, some of the more in-depth reviews may only be of real interest for those who already know about the subject matter. I am familiar with some of the films and authors discussed here (‘The Social Network’, ‘Get Out’ and Karl Ove Knausgaard are all featured), but it has to be said that the more academic essays about art were less appealing to me and I skimmed most of these. As well as subject matter, the essays were originally written for very different audiences across different publications and while many pieces first appeared in the New York Review of Books and Harper’s magazine, some were delivered as lectures. Continue reading
There are many reasons why authors may choose to publish their work anonymously or pseudonymously. Historically, this has primarily been due to the threat of persecution or prosecution if the material produced was controversial and/or illegal. More recently, however, it has often stemmed from the author’s desire to simply let the words speak for themselves. Continue reading
I have been reading ‘In Other Words’ by Jhumpa Lahiri for Women in Translation Month hosted by Biblibio for the third year running. I enjoyed Lahiri’s short stories and novels which mostly focus on themes based around the experience of Bengali immigrants living on the east coast of the United States so I was intrigued that she had recently written a non-fiction book in Italian about her experiences of learning the language with Ann Goldstein’s translation into English on the opposite page.
‘The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story’ by Martin Edwards investigates the mysterious Detection Club of famous crime writers including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Margery Allingham amongst others. While many of the works by these authors have been dismissed by some as “cosy” crime stories compared to the more graphically violent offerings today, Edwards reveals that this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth as he investigates the stories behind the authors, their books and the curious social network that linked them together.
Earlier this week, it was announced that ‘Girl Online’ by Zoe Sugg also known as YouTube vlogger Zoella, was the fastest selling debut novel of all time having shifted 78,109 copies in its first week of sales in the UK. However, in an article published in The Telegraph today, Penguin Random House confirmed to The Sunday Times that “to be factually accurate you would need to say Zoe Sugg did not write the book Girl Online on her own”.