Thursday, 26 September 2013

Books for teenagers - a useful list

Hello all. Buying books for teenagers is difficult, isn't it? I was recently asked to come up with a list of books to buy for my First Story group. This is mine. Any suggestions and comments are welcome.

J G Ballard - The Drowned World
Raffaella Barker - Come and Tell Me Some Lies
William Burroughs - Naked Lunch
Douglas Coupland - Generation X
Roald Dahl - Tales of the Unexpected
Joe Dunthorne - Submarine
Umberto Eco - The Name of the Rose
Jeffrey Eugenides - The Virgin Suicides
Michael Frayn - Spies
Robert Graves - I, Claudius
L P Hartley - The Go Between
S E Hinton - The Outsiders
Ted Hughes - Tales from Ovid
Aldous Huxley - Crome Yellow
Nancy Mitford - The Pursuit of Love
Richard Milward - Apples
Paul Murray - Skippy Dies
Eva Rice - The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets
Hunter S Thompson - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Evelyn Waugh - Decline and Fall

Friday, 20 September 2013

First Story Festival, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford

Malorie Blackman: children's laureate
Yesterday was the First Story Festival at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford. I walked up to Norham Gardens in the early morning mist from the station, meeting memories at every turn, and ready for a day of workshops and talks. There was an inspiring address by the young poet Caroline Bird, who talked about writing as being a gift to somebody - all writing, she said, may help someone understand something about themselves in a way that they hadn't before. Which is a very nice way of putting it. Some First Story alumni spoke about their experiences, and the work that First Story does (including one of my own, from St Augustine's, which made me proud), which was very moving.

William Fiennes interviewed the children's laureate, Malorie Blackman (or Marjorie, as Kate Fox later accidentally called her): she spoke warmly and enthusiastically about her love of reading, and what led to her becoming a writer. She received over eighty rejections, but kept going - a fine message of resilience. It was very revealing to hear her talk about her career: when she was at school, she wanted to be an English teacher; she wanted to do English and Drama at Goldsmith's, but was told that "black girls" don't read English, they become secretaries. I found that immensely shocking - it was perhaps only twenty or thirty years ago, and it made me wonder how much of that sort of thing still goes on. In any case, it gave her the will to wish to succeed; after going into Computer Sciences, she began to write, and has now produced over sixty novels - including the best-selling Noughts and Crosses series. I think she'll make a fine laureate.

I did two workshops, with a boys' school from Bradford, and my own school, St Augustine's in Kilburn: both produced some fine and interesting work.

In the afternoon, the magnificent Kate Fox (poet and comedian: see her website here) whipped up the crowd of 600 students into a roar of appreciation ("imagine One Direction in your bathroom giving you a private concert", which caused equal and opposite reactions). There were readings from students, and a final exhortation from Malorie Blackman to read, and write.

Many writers took part in the workshops, including Charles Cumming, Frances Wilson, Raffaella Barker, Mark Haddon, Betsy Tobin and others; the train home to London was particularly merry.

It's an exciting start to another year of First Story fun and wonder. Well done to all who took part.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

vPPR Ott's Yard launch

Tatiana and Brigid von Preussen
Greetings, from rainy London. I went to the launch of hip young architecture firm vPPR's new residential buildings in North London. Their website is here, and you can check out some pictures from the party on the Tatler website here. It was fun, and the buildings are beautiful - shaped like triangles, as was a lot of the food. 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Asylum by John Harwood: review

John Harwood's previous two novels, The Ghost Writer and The Seance, were superb Victorian-set ghost stories, carefully wrought and with a layer of ironic detachment that allowed us both to enjoy them as straightforward thrillers, and to admire the devices that he used to maintain his effects. The Asylum, though not based in the supernatural, is just as good, and deals once more with a woman in seemingly desperate circumstances, fighting for her very life. Georgina Ferrars wakes up one day in an asylum, only to be told that she is not who she thinks she is at all. Harwood cleverly manipulates diary entries, letters, and Georgina's own narrative, to create a sense of growing menace which plays with notions of identity as well as containing all the classic Gothic tropes: madness, illicit romance, doppelgangers, deranged scientists and pathetic fallacies. Harwood has a beautiful, convincing style (with the occasional note of levity: one of the characters likes nothing better than striding around pretending to be Byron). Whilst the ending plays a little too closely into the hands of cliche, in the "villain-tells-all" sense, it is surprising enough, and gripping enough, not to matter. Harwood, an Australian writer, has now produced three of these fantastically controlled novels of suspense: his reputation deserves to be larger. 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Taking Flyte

Oh, and whilst I'm at it (blogging, I mean), here's a lovely video by Flyte, Over and Out, their brand new song, which is jangly and lovely and summery. Will Taylor's voice is haunting and powerful, rising and falling over luscious chords. Plus, the video has the best use of an egg in it that I've ever seen.

Veni Vidi Vici by Peter Jones: review

Happy September, everyone! My review of Peter Jones' new book, Veni Vidi Vici: Everything you ever wanted to know about the Romans but were too afraid to ask, is out in the September issue of Literary Review. Quaerite! Legite!