Friday, 28 September 2012

Why J K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy isn't surprising

I've written a short piece for The Telegraph about J K Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. Check it out here.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

A Homeric simile

At some point in my life I want to do (amongst many other things) an in depth study of Homer's similes. I've been dipping (re-dipping?) into the epic recently; the other day I was mightily struck (as if by a spear) by this example:

But the son of Atreus kept plying his attack along the rest of the Trojan line, with spear and sword and huge stones, as long as the blood still gushed warm from his wound. But when the wound started to dry and the flow ceased, then sharp pains began to overcome his strength of spirit. As when a woman in labour is taken with the sharp stab of piercing pain sent by the Eileithyiai, daughters of Hera, who bring the bitter pangs of childbirth, so sharp pains began to overcome the son of Atreus’ strength.
This is Agamemnon, King of the Achaeans, having been stabbed by Koön in the middle of battle; it’s a superimposition of the domestic onto the warlike, a reminder that the mightiest fighter is woman-born and also that women endure perhaps greater pain than that on the field; Agamemnon is the father of his people, so it seems apt that he is compared to a mother in the bloody throes of birth, as death is all around him and blood feeds the ground for a different reason. Homer is so good at showing us inversions of what's going on; always reminding us of other worlds, other lives, and of the endless cycle of generation and death.

(The translation is Martin Hammond’s fine 1987 version, published in a nifty Penguin paperback which I own that is sadly lacking a few pages from Book VI.) 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Summer Reading Challenge at Cranleigh Library

 A gorgeous September Saturday, and an afternoon at Cranleigh Library handing out medals and certificates to the children who'd completed the summer reading challenge. It was a charming afternoon, and really wonderful to see so many enter and enjoy the challenge.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Three Sisters by Chekhov at The Young Vic

Gala Gordon: winsome
I went to the Young Vic last night to watch Benedict Andrews’ production of Three Sisters, Chekhov’s play about the decline of the privileged classes in Russia. It was an interesting staging, bare and sparse. The style mashed up grunge (with a brilliantly weird version of Nirvana’s Nevermind on piano and accordion) with tracksuits and bottle green dinner jackets. It starred Gala Gordon as a winsome, affecting Irina, drifting around the stage first in immaculate, bridal white, then in more mature yellow, her desire to return to Moscow almost primal as she clambered up a ladder made from tables. There were strong performances from the rest of the cast, including the doctor, whose drunk scene was a tour de force of blustery bile; a sexy, almost Ab Fabish Masha; a prim, sensible but affecting Olga, and a Natasha who shades from awkward, vulgar ingenue into an egomaniacal monster. In the second half, stage hands appeared to take away the stage, bit by bit, as if the very world around the actors was diminishing. The empty space left still seemed to be enclosed, claustrophobic and frustrated as the lives of the characters.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

First Story Workshop with Caroline Bird

Caroline Bird: Excellent
This year I will be writer in residence at St Augustine's school for First Story, the excellent charity set up by Will Fiennes and Katie Waldegrave. We did some workshops in preparation yesterday with the poet Caroline Bird, in which we wrote poems about abstract nouns.  I don’t write poetry (well, not since I was a teenager and thought poetry meant writing down versions of Nirvana lyrics about blood and hate and so on.) I got "Irritation," and this is what happened.


He’s so small he fits into the
Prickle of your eyelids when
You blink. I see him refracted
When I wake. He sits there,
Pleased with himself,
Holding that damned watch
He’s always winding.
Close your eyes, you say.
No good. That gives him
Full permission. Sometimes he does a
Dance, wheeling, prancing piratically.
Sometimes he pulls his baggage along
Rushing for a train he’ll never catch.
You can’t squash him - I tried once,
With a fly-swatter shaped like a
Tennis racquet. He split, calmly, into
Two - then three - pirouetted - and
They built themselves bungalows
In my ear lobes.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Interview with Sadie Jones at the Hampstead Literary Festival


Hello all,

I’m interviewing Sadie Jones, author of The Outcast, Small Wars and The Uninvited Guests, tomorrow at the Hampstead Literary Festival. If anybody has anything they’d like to ask her, let me know.

Best wishes,