Cheers! No. 1: Secret Drinking

This occasional series about fine places of refreshment starts off with a nod to secret drinking. London is particularly fond of hiding its more interesting establishments away from casual eyes, with cocktail bars protected by passcodes and hidden messages and odd names for speakeasys like The Mayor Of Scaredy Cat Town. Even a few pubs […]

Review: The Visit

Olivier, National Theatre, London ‘The Visit, or The Old Lady Comes To Call’ has the feeling of a timeless fable that has always existed. That’s why Swiss-German playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 play gets revised and globally performed – adaptors have seen in it a vehicle for different messages. Songwriters Kander & Ebb had the audacity […]

No Longer Brutal, Just Beautiful

If you’ve ever been hypnotised, you’ll know that you’re told to imagine a place where you feel calm and safe and happy. I would pick London’s South Bank complex, home of the National Theatre and the Royal Festival Hall. This is what was written about the formation of a national theatre in 1904 by William […]

No, No Nigel!

I canot beleev it. Nigel Molesworth, the curse of St Custards, is to becom the star of a feetur film! How can Peason, Grabber and Fotherington-Thomas make the jump to the big screen? Will Headmaster Grimes (BA, Stoke-on-Trent) still be feersum? The producers behind the animated feature ‘Ethel & Ernest’ are teaming up with Uli […]

Notes From The London Bubble: A British Taboo

Look at the picture – is it in central London, or Wales? Here in the Decaf-Soy-Flat-White hell of London N1, home of the ‘liberal intelligencia’, people love to help their fellow neighbours. When we run out of raclette and have no alpine-based dairy product to substitute just before a wine and cheese party, someone will […]

What I’m Currently Reading

This month’s reads have to be fitted around research books, and I certainly won’t finish them quickly, especially not William Dalrymple’s epic examination of the East India Company in The Anarchy. I’ve read a lot about the plundering corporation who carried out the ultimate form of aggressive privatisation (and relished Jonathan Pryce’s foul-mouthed managing director […]

Where Were The BAME Authors? Part 2

How much confidence do BAME authors need to start writing? What chance was there that BAME authors were going to sell a book in the UK before the arrival of Monica Ali and the new wave? We now think that about 120 such writers were working in Britain. I knew of Francis Barber, the Jamaican […]

Where Were The BAME Authors?

The bigotry of 20th century writing was amiably thoughtless, sometimes vicious. The Enid Blyton cover above was toned down to make it less threatening, but shows how far removed sensibilities once were. When I started ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’ I didn’t stop to consider ethnicity or gender, and concentrated on finding interesting writing. I […]

Out Of Context: The ‘American Dirt’ Row

Jeanine Cummins’ novel ‘American Dirt’ was always going to be controversial in these sensitive times but she really hit pay-dirt when the world of online chin-strokers took an interest. Her novel is an adventure – do we call books that anymore? – involving Mexican migrants, and the author is white. I haven’t read it yet, but if […]

Musical Sentences

Last year I wrote about the shaping of words, and how we can learn from music and the spoken word when writing books. Scriptwriters Galton & Simpson explained how long they argued over the word ‘very’ in the sentence, ‘Why, that’s very nearly an armful!’ in their famous radio/TV episode ‘The Blood Donor’. The trick […]