Observatory

Why Outsiders Make The Best Writers

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I recently got into an argument about tattoos. We have our first Prime Minister with a tattooed wife, and I agree somewhat with the Joan Collins quote; ‘Once if you wanted to see the fat lady and the tattooed man you had to go the circus.’ The Times just ran an article about the rise […]

Bring It Back: Souvenirs We Love

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The origin of the word ‘souvenir’ is late 18th century, French, from souvenir ‘remember’, from Latin subvenire ‘occur to the mind’, but it has come to mean a keyring made in China. If you have the misfortune to walk around Leicester Square, once a perfectly pleasant and fairly unremarkable set of roads featuring cinemas and theatres, […]

Is This The Least Discovered Square In Europe?

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  Our Easter tour of Romania and Transylvania held many surprises – one of the best was Viscri, a 12th century church and fortress still run by a tiny old lady who’ll tear your ticket and share stories. Reaching this out-of-the-way spot along an avenue of mistletoe-covered trees and finding such an untouched and barely […]

Staking Out Castle Dracula

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Transylvania’s Castle Bran is only the fictional home of Count Dracula, but Bram Stoker used it as a direct model for his novel, which grants it an awkward place in Romania’s history. The government would rather remember Queen Marie than a British pulp author, but the image stuck in the public consciousness, and therefore it’s […]

Back To The Salt Mine…

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We’ve just concluded our epic tour of Romania and Transylvania (mostly without wi-fi), and for me this country came out very high in the list of central/East & Baltic places I’ve been visiting in the last few years. It felt a little like touring India; there were so few of us visiting from the UK […]

Off For Easter, Fang You Very Much

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Bram Stoker never visited Romania. He depicted Dracula’s castle based on a description of Bran Castle that was available to him at the time of writing, so now I’m going to put that right. I’ll be writing a novella for the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC, and am off to do my research. My Easter journey […]

On Terrorism

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I live in one of the West’s epicentres for terrorist attacks, at the confluence of three major railway stations, and along with my family and friends, we have had to live with bombing campaigns all of our adult lives. On the 7th of September 2005 four Islamist extremists separately detonated three bombs in quick succession aboard underground trains […]

My Obituary

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So they’ve closed their doors after 26 years. The Independent on Sunday was conceived as a writers’ paper, but over its 26 years it built a reputation for its strikingly individual tone and balanced liberal stance. It was the first quality Sunday to go compact in 2004, but even before that it was at the […]

Why I’m Following In The Footsteps Of Dracula

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  Bram Stoker’s novel has somewhat paradoxically become one of the most influential novels of the last century, considering it was written as a melodrama and went head-to-head with Richard Marsh’s ‘The Beetle’. ‘The Beetle’ was a bizarre hybrid novel of supernatural romantic mystery published in 1897, the same year as ‘Dracula’, and initially it […]

Don’t Give Readers What They Expect

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Recently a small arthouse film set in the 17th century called ‘The Witch’ became a massive US box-office hit, but many audience members took to Twitter to complain that it wasn’t their idea of a horror film, by with they presumably meant that it didn’t feature a woman in a pointy hat casting spells on […]