Thursday, 31 May 2012

Madeline Miller wins the Orange Prize

Patroclus: Achilles' friend
Madeline Miller has won the Orange Prize for her novel The Song of Achilles, told from the point of view of Patroclus (pictured, in the movie Troy.) I've written a short piece about it for The Telegraph. Read it here.
Read my review of Madeline Miller's book here

Monday, 21 May 2012

Review: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Simon Mawer

What ho, I've reviewed Simon Mawer's The Girl Who Fell From the Sky for The Telegraph. It's about a young woman who parachutes into France to work as a spy during the Second World War. Check out my piece here.


Sunday, 20 May 2012

Review: Bernard Cornwell's The Death of Kings

King Alfred the Cakes
Calloo callay, o frabjous day, I've written a review of Bernard Cornwell's The Death of Kings for The jolly old Observer. It's about a warrior called Uhtred, and concerns the aftermath of the death of King Alfred. Read it here, kids. Apparently (this isn't in the Cornwell, but there was a book about it recently) he didn't burn the cakes after all. So there you go.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Plantagenets by Dan Jones: Book Launch

Dan Jones: Game of Thrones
To one of London's hidden delights, the St John Museum in Clerkenwell, for the launch of Dan Jones' new book, The Plantagenets. The room was vast and airy, stained glass windows catching the late sunlight, and gilded with armorial bearings. Below the room was the museum, which detailed the fascinating history of the Order of St John, from almost a thousand years ago to its work across the globe today. An appropriate place, then, for a launch of a book that discusses one of England's most important dynasties. It's like Game of Thrones, but real, said the editor. Game of Jones?

Many historians were present, including Ben Wilson, who now has a beard; also the actor Tom Hiddleston, who is much, much taller in real life than he is on film. Does that make sense? I didn't pluck up the courage to go and talk to him, though, alas. The politician Kwasi Kwarteng was there - he said that he'd read the book in six hours straight. That's how good it is. Also present was Richard Godwin, the Evening Standard columnist and noted bon vivant whom I bump into more than anybody else in the world. Much fun was had by all, and I even went to the St John restaurant afterwards and feasted, mediaevally, on bone marrow. Yum.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Bloomsbury Circus: Launch

Will Davis: Author - and aerobatical genius
To Brick Lane, for the launch of a new imprint from Bloomsbury. Editor Alexandra Pringle looked down upon a massy crowd of literary people (including novelists Amanda Craig, Michael Arditti and Lucy Beresford; short story writer Polly Samson; assorted literary editors, journos, publishers, and other types) as clowns, trapeze artists and sundry performers cavorted. The new imprint is a first for Bloomsbury (who published my own two books): and, rather conveniently, one of the new tomes they're publishing under the name is by the excellent Will Davis - who happens to be a brilliant trapeze artist. He stunned the audience with his aerobatic display on silks, tumbling up and down them with grace, agility and speed, drawing gasps of admiration and awe  as he slid about in a breath-taking and daring show. Did I mention he's also written a book? (More than one, actually.)

What was also cheering was that Alexandra Pringle stressed the importance of the midlist - "We love the midlist," she said - it's where they grow authors and look for future prizewinners. She also said that they loved physical books - the new imprint will publish fine editions (with what are called French flaps. Don't ask me.) Their new  colophon is the Bloomsbury Diana swinging in a half-crescent moon. I look forward to seeing many fresh and new talents emerging under its sign.

We were fed, deliciously and appropriately, on burgers and hot dogs. Amongst the guests I spotted Tracey Emin. I wonder what she was doing there? Poet Adam O'Riordan was present and correct, whose novel has been bought by Bloomsbury; alas, none of us could be persuaded to do a handstand, or even a forward roll. Will Davis has set the bar high (quite literally high) for us authors. As if it's not enough for us all to be blogging, twittering, presenting, festivalling and all the rest, we must now all learn a useful circus skill. Anna Stothard and I are going to start a knife throwing team for our next book launches. Failing that, I'll learn how to catch bullets between my teeth.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Blockade Runners by Jules Verne: review

Jules Verne: Not just science fiction
Ahoy me hearties: I've reviewed Jules Verne's little-known The Blockade Runners for The Observer. Check it out here. He was a great favourite when I was small, though for his more common works - I had a beautiful hardback edition of 80 Days Around the World, which gave me much joyful pleasure.