The pressure to write a second novel after a glittering debut can leave an author in total panic or full of confidence. The blank computer screen awaits, and the sense that the writer is expected to impress again, which is why Second Novel Syndrome is something that most authors identify with.This is of particular relevance this week, as the winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize, the UK’s most prestigious award for first-time novelists, was announced, with a prize of £10,000 and the expectation that its recipient will sit down and write another book.“They are not under any contractual obligation to write another word, but the hope is that the prize will encourage them to work on a second novel – and reassure them that it will have a ready readership,” says Alan Hollinghurst, who won the Man Booker Prize in 2004 for The Line of Beauty, and is head of the Desmond Elliott Prize’s judging panel.“I was very lucky, in that my first novel [The Swimming Pool Library in 1988] had been a bestseller in both Britain and the US. I think the sense of encouragement probably outweighed the usual doubts when it came to writing a second novel, which I knew I wanted to be different, in setting and mood. I recall it was a difficult beginning, but once I’d got started I wrote it with a kind of pleasure and absorption that I envy today.”Famous past successes include Irish novelist Eimear McBride, who won in 2014 for A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, which also took the Women’s Prize for Fiction and went on to become a major commercial and critical success. All of the winners, since the prize was launched in 2007 for debut books published in the UK, have written subsequent novels, except for Francis Spufford, who won in 2017 for his book Golden Hill, which also earned the 2016 Costa First Novel Award – although he is currently working on a new novel (and has completed an unauthorised, unpublished addition to CS Lewis’s Narnia series). And this year’s winner is Claire Adam for her book Golden Child – a family drama set in the “colourful and dangerous world of her childhood”, Trinidad. According to Hollinghurst, the book is “a superbly controlled narrative of a family cracking under unbearable pressures, and a remarkable study in violence, always latent, sometimes horrifically real”. But will these winners go on to write great books or find it’s just been a matter of first-time luck?Peter Straus, MD of Rogers, Coleridge and White, who worked on the Man Booker Prize for years, points out: “I think to write one extraordinary fiction is remarkable in itself and rather than bemoan a lack of a second novel, one should celebrate the first.”In some cases, finishing a first novel can be such a gut-wrenching ordeal that the second book pales in comparison, although few instances are as extreme as that of the American writer Harold Brodkey, who is famous for taking 27 years to produce his long first novel The Runaway Soul (835 pages) in 1991 – having been commissioned to write it in 1961. He followed it up with a second novel, Profane Friendship, in 1994.Then there are the authors who are one-hit wonders, publishing only one bestselling novel: J D Salinger followed Catcher in the Rye in 1951 with only short stories and novellas, and after Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there was nothing from her – but when you write a classic, as Emily Bronte did with Wuthering Heights in 1847, its enduring appeal begs the question: does it matter if there’s another novel after it?The prolific poet Sylvia Plath’s only novel, The Bell Jar (1963), which was largely an autobiographical story about her mental illness and written under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas, was rejected several times by British and American publishers, before finding its way into the psyche of every teenager, trying to fit into the world. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which was her one and only novel, published in 1960, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, before her estate discovered Go Set a Watchman. It was written in the mid-Fifties, and published in 2015 as a sequel, but although it worked as a standalone novel, it was part of the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha (1997) was his only book, written over six years as he rewrote the novel three times, settling at last on its first-person viewpoint. It was turned into a feature film in 2005, and has sold more than four million copies.One of the bestselling books ever, Black Beauty, published in 1877, was written by the then reclusive invalid Anna Sewell, and became an instant bestseller, with Sewell dying five months after its publication.For other authors, it may be that they have written other novels, but they’ve only had one big hit, as Margaret Mitchell did with her final work, Gone with the Wind. It was the same story with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.John Kennedy Toole, who won the Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1981 for A Confederacy of Dunces, which was published 11 years after his suicide in 1969, had two more novels published after his death, but this was his only major hit.Other authors have had a very long gap between their first and second novel. One of them is Arundhati Roy, who won the Man Booker Prize in 1997 with The God of Small Things, but didn’t publish another novel until 2017’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. There is an even longer wait for the second novel of New Zealand novelist, short story writer and poet Keri Hulme whose debut, The Bone People, came out in the UK in 1985 and won the Man Booker Prize. Her long-awaited second novel, Bait – which should perhaps be renamed Wait as it has taken 34 years to produce so far – is a meditation on death. But it is still not yet scheduled for publication by Picador in the UK and they are still not working with a manuscript.Hulme, who has blamed multitasking on another book before Bait was finished and then struggling to decide between three endings, as well as other extenuating circumstances, has said: “I’m just trying to remember the name of the animal that climbs up its own tail with extreme ease, a bit like a possum – well there was that kind of effect with Bait. And – bless my publishers, they’ve been amazingly generous – I do feel derelict in my obligations. I’ve learned something not to do ever again, and that is sign contracts before you’re absolutely sure something is finished.”Sarah Perry, who was on the Desmond Elliott Prize judging panel last year, knows only too well about writing a novel when faced with “lack of privilege and the burden of the day job”. Her first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, went somewhat under the radar before her second novel, The Essex Serpent, was a smash-hit success.“In an industry that tends to have a bit of an obsession with debuts, anything aimed at supporting writers with developing their practice is especially welcome. I was fortunate enough to win a regional award for my debut, so I understand what a boost it is both to have the support and praise of the judges (which goes a long way towards building confidence as you work on your next book), and money to help with practical matters (in my case, replacing a broken laptop).”Claire Fuller, who won the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2015 with Our Endless Numbered Days, has since written two other well-received novels, Swimming Lessons and Bitter Orange. She says: “I have to admit that I finished the first draft of my second novel, Swimming Lessons, before my first was even published – so I was able to avoid the pressure I might have felt in trying match its success. Any pressure I felt wasn’t so much in the writing of it, but in the reception – which luckily was good,” she says. “Having said all that, I still have to grapple with my own lack of confidence in my writing on a daily basis – I think it’s something all writers face. But reminding myself now and again that my first book won the Desmond Elliott Prize is a sure way of getting me through those slumps.”Preti Taneja, whose 2018 winner We That Are Young is being developed for TV by the makers of Narcos, is still trying to write her second novel, and says the strain comes not from outside but within. “Pressure comes from the way characters inhabit my mind. How their voices and their ways of seeing need to find expression. It comes from the stories I want to tell, and from a sense of excitement about wanting to see what I can do with my writing. I don’t feel pressure from a market.“Economic pressure is another thing – but when literary critical culture remains so elitist, when bookshops are run by international financiers but staffed with passionate, underpaid people, when the government’s austerity measures mean libraries are closing – for most writers, the sums don’t work.“Whatever happens when I’ve finished isn’t up to me – the only thing I can control is the next word I write. We all know about the gatekeeping; the class, race and gender bias in the literary world, and I’m always glad when my work finds genuine allies.”So, as the debut novelist works to pull the rabbit out of the hat once again – terrified of writer’s block or buoyed by the success of a recent bestseller – the future is always uncertain. Whether the next book will be as good as the first, nobody can tell, because it might be the 10th novel that hits the jackpot, as was the case with Hilary Mantel. She took her time climbing up to literary stardom from her 1985 debut, Everyday is Mother’s Day, before being awarded the Man Booker Prize twice for 2009’s hit Wolf Hall and the 2013 novel Bring Up the Bodies. But as any writer or agent will tell you, the only way to get through it, is to write.
We all have cherished memories of the books we read and shared as children. Big friendly giants, honey-loving bears, hungry caterpillars, iron men: these figures populate the vivid imaginary landscapes of our childhoods. Everybody will remember the book that made them laugh and cry, the one that they turn to again and again. Like totems, we pass them on to our own children, each book a spell in itself.But there isn’t room in this list for everything. I’m sure that every single reader will gasp at omissions and query the order. There are many personal favourites that I’ve left out, and many more 20th- and 21st-century writers whom I would have liked to include. This isn’t intended as a definitive ranking; but as an overview, and a guide. You’ll recognise many; a few perhaps will be not so well known, but deserve more attention. I’ve considered influence as well as originality; but crucially, all of the books here have stood the tests of time, taste and, most importantly, readers. Each one, whenever it was published, can be read and enjoyed by a child today as much as it was by the children of the past.I hope too that this will encourage many adult readers to turn back to their childhood shelves, take up that long-forgotten gem, and find wonder and magic once more. So – are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin.1\. The Alice books by Lewis Carroll (19th century)Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass, and what Alice Found There, are an extraordinary brace of books, written by the mathematician Charles Dodgson, under his pseudonym Lewis Carroll. He employed logic, humour and inventive fantasy, fashioning the most powerful and unusual works in children’s literature. Some have tried to work out why a raven is like a writing desk. But most will be content to be drawn away into enchantment.2\. Kinder- und Hausmarchen (‘Nursery and Household Tales’) by The Brothers Grimm (19th century)Exceptionally influential, this collection of more than 200 tales underwent many editions in the Grimms’ lifetime. Though the seamier elements were altered for a prudish bourgeois audience, the fairy tales retain a depth that resonates with children and adults alike. We all know The Frog Prince and Hansel and Gretel; but have you read Hans my Hedgehog, about a half-boy, half-hedgehog? 3\. Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (19th century)A strange and shy man, Hans Christian Andersen produced some of the most beautiful and reverberant literary fairy tales in the world, about loss, love and longing. Gerda’s search for her brother Kay in The Snow Queen; the little mermaid’s mute passion for her prince; gorgeously written, the stories offer solace and enchantment. 4\. The One Thousand and One Nights by Anon. (Folk tales)This scintillating series, which Scheherazade spins to her royal husband every night so that he spares her life to hear their conclusion, first came to Europe in 1704 in a French text that also contained Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad the Sailor. Elemental, opulent and wondrous, the stories are full of passion and revenges, and remain enormously influential.5\. Peter and Wendy by J M Barrie (1911)Some would argue that this novelised form of the play Peter Pan is not a children’s book, being instead complicit with an ironic, adult viewpoint. However, this, and all its variants, are enjoyed immensely by children. There is the theme-park world of Neverland: the sense of unbounded imagination, and the dizzying allure of flight and magic.6\. The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come by John Bunyan (1678)One of the first books enthusiastically taken up by children, this is now largely neglected, even by adults and scholars. Unjustly so, as its allegorical power and beauty are unsurpassed. Its humour and colloquial nature mean it is still accessible. From the Slough of Despond to the Celestial City, it brims with memorable places and people. 7\. The Narnia series by CS Lewis (mid-20th century)The best children’s books have a way of altering the universe around them. Everyone can remember their first encounter with Narnia and then trying to get through the back of the wardrobe afterwards into the enticing other world. Lewis’s stroke of genius, of course, was making the animals talk; the knightly adventures of the children are gripping.8\. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (1995)Philip Pullman’s daemons, in his lavishly-imagined alternative world run by a sinister religious organisation, are among the most enduring creations of children’s literature. His themes are cosmic and vast, with a dizzying sense of possibility. His story is spellbinding, and, in Lyra Belacqua, he made a heroine at once appealing, spiky and enduring. 9\. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (1937)In The Hobbit, an odder book than it at first appears, the tiny hairy-footed Bilbo Baggins goes on a journey with some dwarves, and is actually rewarded for being a thief. The charm of the hobbits’ world is matched by the excitement of the adventures Bilbo finds himself entangled in and many readers will be led on to its vast sequel, The Lord of the Rings. 10\. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)There is some debate as to whether The Wind in the Willows is a children’s book, or whether it’s really a book to lift up the spirits of down-trodden city clerks. Either way, the gentle adventures of Mole and Ratty, and Toad’s ridiculous shenanigans, express a lyrical love of the pleasures of rural life.11\. The Once and Future King by TH White (1958)Captivating, wise, witty, this collection of three earlier books treats the Matter of Britain. TH White’s masterstroke was to imagine the young king Arthur as Wart, an ordinary boy thrust into extraordinary situations, and his Merlin as a kindly, forgetful old man (viz. Dumbledore). Neglected in recent years, White deserves a place in the limelight once more.12\. Five Children and It by E Nesbit (1902)A representative from the first Golden Age of children’s fiction in the early 20th century. Nesbit’s grumpy, vain wish-granting Psammead (or “sand fairy”), an immortal who used to eat pterodactyl for breakfast, offers adventure in a world without oppressive evil. The brothers and sisters find that magic doesn’t always offer a solution.13\. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (1894)Raised by wolves, Mowgli must face the terrible tiger Shere Khan, with the help of Baloo, a “sleepy brown bear”, and Bagheera, a panther. Full of invention and adventure, the stories were an immediate hit, the behaviour of the animals believable and, paradoxically, human. Their wildness and subtleties have become thoroughly imbued into the popular imagination.14\. Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)I’m willing to bet that after reading this, many children stared at pencils, hoping they might be able to move them with their mind alone. Dahl’s exuberant imagination is on full display in this emotionally weighty story about a little girl’s fight for love and escape. Miss Trunchbull, the vicious headmistress, is one of literature’s great villains.15\. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)A picture book that reveals more about itself each time it’s read. Note how the pictures expand as Max’s imaginative world grows; how the text, poetic and spare, interacts with the visuals; how Max, through his journey into the interior of his self, meets and conquers his anger at his mother. The drawings are lovely, too.16\. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (1936)What at first seems to be a delightful story about a little bull who hates fighting becomes a potent fable about what’s expected of boys. Rejecting masculine violence, Ferdinand prefers just to sit under a cork tree. The illustrations of Spanish matadors, picadors and their arenas are astoundingly evocative. 17\. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (1962)This has all the hallmarks of classic children’s literature: missing parents, a usurping adult, terrible injustices and the romance of winter and wolves. Set in an alternative historical era, where James III rules, little Bonnie’s fortune is snatched by a sinister governess. Children will cheer when she gets her comeuppance.18\. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin (1968)The recent death of Ursula Le Guin, aged 88, has brought renewed attention to her works. Ged, a dark-skinned boy from the goat herding island of Gont, demonstrates exceptional powers and is sent to learn how to be a wizard. His resulting quest is epic, with a depth and strangeness that lasts.19\. Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (1958)Considered by many to be one of children’s literature’s most outstanding examples. Tom is packed away to stay with his aunt and uncle: but when the clock strikes thirteen, he finds a gorgeous garden, and in it a little girl called Hatty who seems to come from a different time. Emotionally rich, it will leave a lasting impression on any child. 20\. The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively (1973)Penelope Lively once said that “children need to sense that we live in a permanent world that reaches away behind and ahead of us”. Her writing encompasses a huge range, and this, her Carnegie-winning novel about a house beset by the spirit of a sorceror, is eerie, effective and involving.21\. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling (late 20th century)First published more than 20 years ago, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone blazed into the world’s consciousness like a bolt of lightning. Moving from the initial wonder and quirky charm of the first three books, the series took on a darker tone, resulting in an enthralling septet and a cultural phenomenon.22\. The Scarecrows by Robert Westall (1981)I’ve chosen The Scarecrows over The Machine Gunners, which is perhaps Westall’s better known book, as I think this has a quality of terror and an understanding of adolescence that is matchless. It focuses on a boy’s tortured relationship with his stepfather and the encroachment of a murder that happened many years before. Unforgettably spine-tingling, and profoundly affecting.23\. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer (2001)A wondrously clever book that upturns children’s literature convention. Its hero, Artemis Fowl, is a 12-year-old boy who also happens to be a criminal mastermind. Containing such characters as a kleptomaniac, flatulent dwarf, and a centaur called Foaly who’s also a technical whizz, this is a hilarious delight. 24\. Down with Skool! A Guide to School Life for Tiny Pupils and their Parents by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle (1953)As any fule know, reading Molesworth is like being a member of a secret skool gang. Complemented by Ronald Searle’s satirical drawings of depressed, deluded schoolmasters and grubby, disobedient schoolboys, all the world’s vanity and hypocrisy is on display through Molesworth’s cynical, instantly likeable and badly spelled voice. A grate writer, indeed.25\. The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban (1967)A bittersweet and unusual tale, in which a clockwork mouse and his child are thrown out of a toy shop, and then must embark on a journey to find safety. Unlike the film Toy Story, in which the toys are complicit in their servitude, this allows discarded toys to find a world of their own, constructed according to their own terms. Full of striking imagery and exciting scenes. 26\. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (2001)Former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman’s novel described a world in which black Africans had enslaved white Europeans. Whites, or noughts, were economically impoverished, while the blacks, or crosses, were in power. An inter-racial love affair between two teens brings first passion and then tragedy. Powerful, provocative and original.27\. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (2015)The recent winner of the overall Costa Book Awards is a remarkable novel from a remarkable writer. Hardinge is a true original, her sentences poised and poetic, her alternative 19th-century world fully imagined, and her intelligent, enquiring female lead not simply a good role model but also a fine addition to literature.28\. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (2003)Quite simply, Cressida Cowell has an exceptional ability to give children what they like. Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a Viking who doesn’t fit in: gawky and geeky, his adventures with his hunting-dragon Toothless are madcap and marvellous. Give it to a child and see them become engrossed immediately. 29\. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (1902)Even Potter knew she was writing nostalgically about an imagined past, but who could not fail to love this slyly observed tale of a naughty rabbit? Potter’s arch, almost Austen-esque prose interacts seamlessly with her keenly observed studies of flora and fauna. Avoid the new film and stick to the original.30\. Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes (1857)This moving, charming and poignant tale of boarding school life is included partly for its own merits, but also as it was the first in the school story genre that spawned so many thousands of books, through Enid Blyton right up to JK Rowling. And, of course, the bully Flashman, without whom we wouldn’t have George MacDonald Fraser’s hilarious series detailing his further adventures.Philip Womack is the author of six critically acclaimed books for children, including The Liberators (2010), The Broken King (2014), and The Double Axe (2016). He teaches children’s literature, and children’s and young adult fiction at Royal Holloway, University of London, and is crowdfunding a novel on Unbound, The Arrow of Apollo, set in a legendary mythical past
Bollywood actor Amrish Puri appeared in more than 200 films and was described by Steven Spielberg as his “favourite villain”. The Punjab-born actor, who would have been 87 today and is being honoured by a Google Doodle, is most widely-remembered for playing the menacing villain Mogambo in 1987 cult classic Mr India - where he got his signature line, “Mogambo khush hua” (Mogambo is pleased).His bad guy performance was widely touted as one of the best in Bollywood history. It was not until the age of 39 that Puri got his big break acting in the 1971 Bollywood film Reshma Aur Shera after decades spent working in theatre and doing voice-overs.Ten years later he made it into Hollywood with his role in the Oscar-winning film Gandhi. Director Steven Spielberg recruited Puri to play Mola Ram in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984, a role he initially turned it down.Spielberg said: “Amrish is my favourite villain. The best the world has ever produced and ever will”.In total, Puri appeared in more than 200 films in more than a dozen languages including Hindi, Punjabi, Malayalam, Tamil and English. He was born on 22 June 1932 and died on 12 January 2005 after suffering a rare form of blood cancer called myelodysplastic syndrome. His two older brothers, Madan Puri and Chaman Puri, were also actors. The Google Doodle was done by Pune-based artist Debangshu Moulik. Moulik said: “I hope this Doodle encourages people to look into Amrish Puri’s entire career and life and to derive some inspiration from his hard-working nature and perseverance. “He came to be a prominent figure in the Bollywood scene even though he failed his initial screen tests.”
Sir Mark Rylance has quit the Royal Shakespeare Company over BP sponsorship.The Oscar-winning star of stage and screen has ended his relationship with the theatre company, citing environmental concerns.Sir Mark has objected to the RSC's receipt of funding from BP, which he has accused of obscuring its damaging environmental impact by supporting arts organisations.He has questioned the right of BP to be associated with William Shakespeare and the term “British”.The renowned Shakespearean actor has written in The Guardian and Culture Unstained announcing his decision. He wrote: “Today I feel I must dissociate myself from the RSC, not because it is any less of a theatre company, but because of the company it keeps.”Sir Mark added on BP: ”Does this company have the right to associate itself with Shakespeare?“Does it even have the right to have the word 'British' in its name when it is arguably destroying the planet our children and grandchildren will depend on to breathe, drink, eat and survive?”The actor has called on the RSC to set a positive example for the future of sponsorship in the arts.Gregory Doran, RSC artistic director, and Catherine Mallyon, RSC executive director, released a statement following the news.They said: ”We are saddened that Mark Rylance has decided he can no longer be one of our Associate Artists, but we respect his decision. We thank him for his long association with the company.“Importantly, no sponsor influences or drives our artistic decision making and we are committed to exploring contemporary issues and ideas in all our work. We have a clear donation and sponsorship acceptance policy and consider potential offers of support individually.”We recognise the importance of a robust and engaged debate in taking these decisions, especially in the light of the acknowledged environment and climate emergency.“Corporate sponsorship is an important part of our funding, alongside ticket sales, public investment, private philanthropy and commercial activity.”BP's sponsorship of our £5 ticket scheme for 16-25 year olds gives many young people the chance to see our work, and the scheme is highly valued by our audiences.”BP has been contacted for comment.Press Association
Look to the night sky in Singapore, and you won’t see many stars. The light pollution from artificial lights burning 24/7 across the modern city invades the dark of night. Singapore’s progress in the past 50 years has been widely documented. An unrivalled productivity central to the ethos of the small island nation has turned it into one of Asia’s key financial hubs. It is a city that never sleeps, evident by the sea of lights seen out of an areoplane window.Office buildings stay illuminated well into the wee hours of the night and public areas and walkways are lit for the safety of pedestrians. About 110,000 street lamps line its alleys, roads and expressways.A 2016 study by the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute put Singapore as the most polluted nation in the world, adding that it was “not possible to view the Milky Way Galaxy anywhere in the country”. Unsurprisingly, some of the biggest sources of light pollution are Singapore’s container terminals, the airport, and the Marina Bay financial district – the centres of trade, transport and finance.Although fundamental to urban infrastructure, light pollution has detrimental effects on humans and the environment. Artificial lighting is known to affect the natural circadian rhythm of both humans and wildlife. Ongoing studies and modelling on its broader impact are looking at links to hormone imbalance and diseases, including the occurrence of eye diseases that may be attributed to the mixed sources of light often used in street lighting and advertising.The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a US-based nonprofit organisation, is a motivator in what is known as the dark sky movement. It aims to preserve and protect the night-time environment and heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting. The association promotes reducing light pollution by switching off lights when not needed and advocates using warm white LED lights instead of bright cool white ones, as the former have a less adverse impact on humans and wildlife. Motion sensors or timers, correct light shielding so the lights point downwards – which also reduces glare – and placing lights low on walkways are all steps to improve outside lighting.The IDA also recommends maintaining night darkness at home by turning off electronic devices an hour before going to bed and closing curtains to keep the outside as dark as possible, which also helps prevent bird fatalities. Worldwide, artificial lights and associated light pollution have wide impacts on birds, which often collide with brightly-lit buildings. They also pose a threat to sea turtles. Hatched on beaches, the young must head to the ocean to survive, but they sometimes confuse the city glow with the brighter horizon above the ocean. Millions of young hatchlings die by heading in the wrong and dangerous urban direction each year due to light at night. Dark beaches are also becoming harder to find for sea turtles.EPA
In last month’s European parliament election, two MEPs called Alexandra Phillips were elected in the southeast region: one for the Green Party, one for the Brexit Party. Let us hope, despite these polarising times, that when they pass each other in the corridors of Strasbourg they laugh and shake their heads in affable disbelief. Could this dumb coincidence form the basis for a warmer political dialogue? In a movie, it could.When my mother stood for Labour councillor in our local ward in 1990, she ran unopposed by other Antopolskis. In fact, on the doorstep, none of her constituents could ever remember her damn name but they knew she was the “anti-poll tax” candidate – Valerie Antipolltax – and voted her in on that basis. What can I tell you – East Anglia. Actually, my ancestral name is Antopolskilinieroskovich but my father wanted us to sound more British so we became plain old Antopolski. Still, people manage to misspell it, each in their own way. Often they are panicked by the two Os as if by the eyes of a python and respond defensively with a barrage of surplus Os, firing them blindly at any consonant clusters that might remain until the word has doubled in length and halved the font size on my poster at the regional university. People called John Smith don’t have this problem – they have the opposite problem.I knew a kid called Robert Smith whose dad was called John Smith. Robert told us that when his dad was a boy, a policeman had caught him scrumping apples. When the policeman demanded his name and received a truthful answer he boxed the lad’s ears for his impudent facetiousness. Like the policeman, I have always believed that John Smith is the most common name for a man in this country. But it is actually David Smith, followed by David Jones, with John Smith scooping bronze. These three names account for some 6 per cent of the UK population – which is not true but has a plausibility that is itself telling. Seven of the top 10 full names in the UK include the surname Smith. It is so common that it has become a marker for anonymity and hence pseudonymity – and not just for apple-scrumpers. Philanderers stereotypically check into a hotel under the names Mr and Mrs Smith when their companion is not their spouse – there is even a hotel website playfully named after this practice to suggest romance. I feel for conservative married couples whose name really is Smith, blushing at the smirking faux-innocence of the desk clerks. Equally, it must have happened that a serial adulterer has checked himself and his wife in under the name Smith through force of habit – and revealed himself.Why are Smiths so ubiquitous? Names meaning blacksmith dominate national league tables across Europe: Smits in the Netherlands, Lefebvre in France, Schmidt in Germany, Kowalski in Poland, Ferrari in Italy, Kovacs in Hungary. What happened to the other professions? Is there something about being a blacksmith, smiting iron all day, that makes you more fertile than a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker? The only blacksmith I know is Fulliautomatix from Asterix. He looks virile enough and may have produced many offspring – and all within wedlock, for his wife is quite fierce and has access to heated tongs.In any case, Smith is now the everyman. Morrissey chose The Smiths as a band name to evoke ordinariness. Winston Smith in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is all of us. Agent Smith in The Matrix stands for corporate anonymity. And in real life, Smiths are always bumping into each other, where the rest of us have to go out of our way.In August 2000, the comedian Dave Gorman was nominated for the Perrier Award for his Edinburgh Festival show Are You Dave Gorman? in which he travelled far and wide to meet other people who shared his name. It had followed a drunken bet with his best friend Danny Wallace regarding whether or not there were “loads” of Dave Gormans, “loads” being defined with Dave’s charming trademark geekery as reachable within a 300- to 500-mile range from the preceding namesake. The show won awards in Australia and the US and produced a book and a TV series.I told Dave that I intended to rip off his idea and do the same show with my own name, but that I might have to pad out the central quest with a few knob gags to make up the hour. There aren’t other Dan Antopolskis, there just aren’t.How surprised was I last year to be contacted by a New York filmmaker called Jason Ressler, now resident in rural France. Jason was contacting me in his capacity as the manager of a septuagenarian country-folk musician from Augusta, Georgia called Daniel Antopolsky, who was equally surprised and delighted to learn of my existence. We all met up in London and compared notes on our origins – our ancestors hail from the same tiny town in Polesia – and we share a needle phobia, which in his case saved him from heroin addiction in the heady heyday of the outlaw country movement; he saved his friend Townes van Zandt from death by overdose. Daniel’s story is amazing and I won’t ruin it here, but aficionados of Americana, country, folk and blues should hasten to danielantopolsky.com and see Daniel live at the Black Deer festival near Tunbridge Wells tonight, tomorrow or Sunday. And if you should meet my namesake in person, please tell him I sent you. Just don’t ask him to tell you a joke.
Two aging, fading Irish gangsters sit in the port of Algeciras, watching and waiting for 23-year-old named Dilly, who they believe to be heading by ferry from Spain to Morocco. Actually, scrap that – there’s nothing faded about Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redman. They are painted in vivid colour by Kevin Barry, a writer who captures male friendship – how it can be cut with rivalry and fear, but run with real love – with rare brilliance.And Maurice and Charlie are a right pair, a double act, partners in crime. Keepers and destroyers of each other’s hearts and memories. They still dress nattily. One has a limp; the other is missing an eye.As the night passes in this liminal place – this grotty, dicey, waiting place, “a place in which time passes almost audibly” – the pair discuss their pasts, in blackly comic chat which passes from banal to loaded on an almost line-by-line basis. They reminisce, but they also menace: any poor young crusty with dreadlocks who passes through Algeciras is liable to be interrogated by the men about whether or not they’ve seen Dilly – Maurice’s lost daughter, it transpires.The pair’s vaudevillian patter, dancing back and forth with an irrepressibly buoyant Irish rhythm, reminds you of Didi and Gogo in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, while their gleefully ominous threats of violence bristle off the page in a way that recalls Harold Pinter or Martin McDonagh.But Barry – whose last novel, the gloriously strange Beatlebone, won the Goldsmiths Prize – doesn’t just traffic in nifty dialogue and gratuitous nastiness (although there are startlingly abrupt revelations in Night Boat). This story has heart too: in flashes back throughout Maurice’s life, we see how he got into smuggling hash from Morocco, laundering his profits through property in Ireland, living in Spain and – most importantly – his drink-sodden and heroin-raddled love affair with Dilly’s ma, Cynthia (“breakfast from the bottle and elevenses off the mirror”).Barry’s own twisting, inviting authorial voice seems to lean on our shoulder, to guide us through: “It is a tremendously Hibernian dilemma – a broken family, lost love, all the melancholy rest of it – and a Hibernian easement for it is suggested: f**k it, we’ll go for an old drink.”Within this generously spaced novel of restless short paragraphs, such sections at times skate and scurry through the years, rather than digging deep. But there is also a gorgeous wooziness, and soft-boiled vulnerability, to some of Maurice’s memories, as well as the acute, sour sharpness of lust and jealousy, paranoia and self-loathing. And the more you find out about Maurice, the more you find out too just how intertwined he is with Charlie Redmond.Barry’s descriptions are often startlingly good. He slides words and images across one another, to create some new, precise image: Maurice and Charlie’s smiles are “high and piratical; their jauntiness has a cutlass edge”. Perfect.There’s a fair amount of anthropomorphising the elements to reflect characters emotional states: when Maurice recalls falling in love with Cynthia, he recalls the static on her hair, how “even the air was excitable around her”. When it all goes wrong, there are “hysterical sunsets”, and the sea’s “moans” prove she’s cheating on him. Occasionally such imagery is overwrought or overstretched (“a cold white moon speaks highly of the coming winter” doesn’t quite convince, for instance) but in general, it’s a fair price to pay. And although Spain springs to life, it is Ireland that most strongly casts a spell: “Its smiling speaking rocks. Its haunted field. Its sea memory.” Indeed, the novel is gently woven through with a kind of magic. Maurice comes to believe he’s struck by “bad luck” for building new houses on an old fairy fort. Dilly embraces white magic to deal with her grief, while one of Maurice’s other old flames tried to cast evil spells on him. All this is met with scepticism – the book doesn’t cloy with stereotyped Irish folklore, thank god – but it does lend a shivery undercurrent. Or at least, a sense of how, in hard times, we inevitably seek explanations beyond our own human fallibility, and solutions beyond our own human limitations.'Night Boat to Tangier' by Kevin Barry is published by Canongate, £14.99
Tom Hanks has revealed he "said his goodbyes" to Woody following the third instalment in the Toy Story franchise.Speaking to The Independent ahead of Toy Story 4 hitting cinemas, he said: "I think every time one ended I thought we were saying goodbye.""I think the riskiest one was the second one because the test was, can the people at Pixar live up to the gravitas of the first one? And it happened. It’s happened every time. "The latest animated film from Pixar follows the story of a host of familiar Toy Story characters as they're joined by a new addition Forky, voiced by Tony Hale, a toy their new owner Bonnie has made at school."This opens up another world," said Tim Allen, who plays Buzz Lightyear in the franchise, “This is a magic one, and to me, it’s very different. Somehow they made a story bigger than anything else. They made the woman the hero, which was so organic.”'Toy Story 4' is released in UK cinemas on Friday 21 July.
In Maldicidade, the city never sleeps. By dawn or dusk, in New York, Havana, Salvador da Bahia, or Tokyo, it is an environment fraught with yearning, aching with solitude, and fretful with fortunes never made. This searing urban portrait from visual artist Miguel Rio Branco draws upon his itinerant early years as the son of diplomats to reveal the common threads of struggle and loneliness in metropolises around the world.The images are impeccably captured, but the pictures are not always pretty. Rio Branco is not interested in documenting historic city landmarks, an impressive skyline, or the aspirational dreams that soar up towards it. Instead, he focuses his camera on the city’s refuse and margins – on that which it has thrown away and on those it has cast aside and disappointed. In stark frames or soft impressions, it is street sleepers, beggars, prostitutes, stray dogs, smashed cars, and shattered glass that characterise his urban impressions.While subtle details reveal the specificity of place, it is the commonality of urban experience at the heart of Rio Branco’s project. Light on local context or explanatory narrative, the images are instead meticulously arranged into one redolent sequence of a universal city.Working as if in the cutting studio, Rio Branco excels in the rhythm and succession of pictures, crafting evocative patterns of motif (decrepit buildings, lone figures, smashed-up cars); colour (rich reds, dusty pinks, stark whites and blues); and form (an anguished street sleeper beside an ecstatic statue of a saint). Throughout, occasional pictures of women are proffered as a sensual, hopeful reprieve, interspersing the grit and the grime in commanding portraits or up-close, supple nudes.At once incisive in its message and lyrical in its arrangement, Maldicidade focuses attention on the city’s ineludible magnetism, as much as on its alienation and inhumanity. Biting, bare-faced, and achingly beautiful, it is a collection in which all city dwellers will find something of themselves, or something they long to escape.The photographerBorn in Las Palmas, Spain, Miguel Rio Branco is a Brazilian and French photographer, painter, filmmaker, and multimedia artist now based in Araras, Rio de Janeiro. His award-winning work is featured in leading museum collections around the world.You can purchase ‘Miguel Rio Branco. Maldicidade' here
The most spectacular images of outer space this year have been shortlisted for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year award 2019.From thousands of entries, the judges have selected the 38 best images of our galaxy and beyond.Among the shortlisted pictures are those of a nebula appearing to spread its wings like a bird and another known as the Fiery Lobster nebula.Winners of the competition will be announced on 12 September.The Independent has compiled the shortlisted images in the gallery above.
The summer holidays are a great opportunity to catch up with the best fiction.Instead of snatching a quick read on the commute to work you’ve got time to lounge by the pool and read the most compelling books from cover to cover.This year has been a bumper year for novels so there’s plenty of choice.Whether you like gripping page-turners that keep you on the edge of your seat or literary novels that give you something to discuss over the dinner table, there’s something for everyone.Our main stipulations were that the novels should be original, compelling and superbly written – the kind of books you’ll want to recommend to your friends.We’ve chosen a mix of established writers and debut novelists. Kate Atkinson and David Nicholls are two of the UK’s most successful authors and they both have highly-anticipated books out this summer – Big Sky by Atkinson, which continues the story of private investigator Jackson Brodie, and Sweet Sorrow by Nicholls, the account of a boy’s first love affair.Debut novelists are represented by writers like Alex Michaelides, whose The Silent Patient topped The New York Times' bestseller list earlier this year, and Beth O’Leary, who wrote The Flatshare on her train journey to and from work.The subjects covered in this year’s crop of novels are wide-ranging too – from Clare Mackintosh’s thought-provoking story of a couple faced with an impossible choice about their terminally ill child to Elizabeth Gilbert’s vibrant account of showgirl life in 1940s New York.So what are you waiting for? Get your deckchair out, settle back and enjoy these novels.You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent. Literary 'Big Sky' by Kate Atkinson, published by Doubleday: £20, AmazonJackson Brodie’s back. Fans have been counting the days to read the fifth in Kate Atkinson’s literary crime series about the tough ex-soldier turned private investigator and Big Sky is well worth the wait. This time round Brodie has moved to a quiet seaside village in the north east, occasionally joined by his tricky teenage son and his ex-partner’s ageing Labrador. But once again he gets drawn into a sinister investigation and old secrets come to the fore. Superbly written and utterly readable, this novel is a delight from start to finish.Buy now 'Sweet Sorrow' by David Nicholls, published by Hodder & Stoughton: £20, AmazonSweet Sorrow is another of this summer’s most eagerly awaited novels. David Nicholls, who recently won a BAFTA for his TV adaptation of the Patrick Melrose novels, made his name with One Day and excels at writing tender, funny books about love and friendship. This coming of age novel tells the story of 16-year-old Charlie Lewis and his love affair with a girl he meets when he reluctantly gets involved in a production of Romeo and Juliet. It’s poignant and insightful but the most affecting scenes focus on Charlie’s relationship with his dad, whose life has imploded in a disastrous way.Buy now 'Machines Like Me' by Ian McEwan, published by Jonathan Cape: £18.99, PenguinFrom the case of a young boy who refuses medical treatment on religious grounds (The Children Act) to the angst of a young couple honeymooning on the Dorset coast (On Chesil Beach), Ian McEwan’s choice of subjects is never predictable. Machines Like Me, his 15th novel, is set in an alternative 1980s London. Charlie, who’s drifting through life and avoiding full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a clever student with a terrible secret. When Charlie suddenly comes into money he decides to buy Adam, one of the first-ever synthetic humans – and a love triangle begins. Original, and as always with McEwan’s novels, beautifully written.Buy now 'Normal People' by Sally Rooney, published by Faber & Faber: £8.99, FoylesSally Rooney’s Normal People has won a host of awards, including both the top prize and fiction book of the year at this year’s British Book Awards, the Costa novel award and Waterstone’s book of the year. The 28-year-old Irish novelist has been described as “a millennial writer with millennial concerns” but readers of all ages will enjoy her story of two college friends who try to stay apart but find they can’t. We can’t wait to see what she does next.Buy now Crime and thrillers 'The Silent Patient' by Alex Michaelides, published by Orion: £12.99, FoylesScriptwriter Alex Michaelides was inspired to write his debut novel while he was doing a postgraduate course in psychotherapy and working part-time at a secure psychiatric unit. It’s the tale of Alicia Berenson, a painter who lives with her fashion photographer husband Gabriel on the edge of Hampstead Heath. But when Gabriel returns late one night from a fashion shoot Alicia shoots him dead. Psychotherapist Theo Faber is fascinated by the fact that Alicia has never spoken since the shooting and five years on is determined to discover exactly what happened. A smart, sophisticated psychological thriller.Buy now 'Those People' by Louise Candlish, published by Simon & Schuster: £12.99, WaterstonesLouise Candlish won the crime and thriller book of the year for Our House and her latest novel is equally gripping. Lowland Way in south London is a suburban paradise, with friendly neighbours, convivial chat and children playing in the street on Play Out Sundays. Everything seems perfect till Darren and Jodie move in and cause havoc and upset with their loud music, multiple cars and disruptive building work. A clever, pacy novel that will keep you guessing right until the end.Buy now 'The Sleepwalker' by Joseph Knox, published by Doubleday: £12.99, AmazonFormer bookseller Joseph Knox is an exciting new name in crime fiction. The Sleepwalker is the third of his series about Aidan Watts, a flawed Manchester detective with a complex family background. As the novel opens, Waits is on duty in an abandoned hospital ward, sitting with a dying murderer and hoping he’ll reveal the location of his final victim before he dies. Dark, gritty and compelling, this will have you turning the pages until the early hours of the morning.Buy now 'No Way Out' by Cara Hunter, published by Penguin: £7.99, WorderyFrom Brideshead Revisited to Inspector Morse, Oxford is the setting for some remarkable novels. Cara Hunter is the latest novelist to set her books in the city – to striking effect. No Way Out is her third novel about detective inspector Adam Fawley and it’s a cracking read. It’s the Christmas holidays and two children have just been pulled from the wreckage of their home in upmarket north Oxford. The toddler is dead and his elder brother is fighting for his life – but why were they left alone? Switch off your phone and settle down on the sofa. You won’t be able to put this book down until you’ve found out what happened – and who’s responsible.Buy now Popular fiction 'The Garden of Lost and Found' by Harriet Evans, published by Headline: £16.99, WaterstonesIn 1919 Liddy Horner discovers her celebrated artist husband, Ned, burning his best-known painting. Known as The Garden of Lost and Found, the picture depicts his two children on an idyllic day, playing in the garden of Nightingale House, the family’s Cotswolds home. Almost a century later, the couple’s granddaughter Juliet is sent the key to Nightingale House out of the blue and starts to unravel the tragic secrets of the past. Harriet Evans’s 11th novel is a spellbinding story, brimming with flowers and paintings, loss and courage.Buy now 'After the End' by Clare Mackintosh, published by Sphere: £12.99, AmazonEx-police officer Clare Mackintosh has won legions of fans for her clever crime novels, I Let You Go, I See You and Let Me Lie. Her new book, After the End, is a radical departure, but just as powerful. Max and Pip are devoted to each other but when their young son Dylan is diagnosed with a brain tumour they face an impossible choice – and they can’t agree. This moving and thought-provoking theme is one that’s close to Mackintosh’s heart. As she explains in a note at the end of the book, in 2006 she and her husband had to decide whether to keep their critically ill son alive or remove his life support.Buy now 'The Flatshare' by Beth O’Leary, published by Quercus: £12.99, WaterstonesBeth O’Leary’s first novel is feel-good fiction at its best. The two protagonists, Tiffy Moore and Leon Twomey, are immensely likeable and the comic situation they find themselves in is entirely believable. Tiffy works in publishing and needs a cheap flat while palliative nurse Leon works nights and needs extra cash. The pair agree to share a one-bed flat, with Tiffy sleeping there at nights and weekends and Leon using it by day. It sounds simple, but with Tiffy’s horrible ex-boyfriend, demanding clients at work, Leon’s wrongly imprisoned brother and the fact that they still haven’t met the situation gets more complicated by the day.Buy now 'Queenie' by Candice Carty-Williams, published by Orion: £12.99, FoylesCandice Carty-Williams wrote her debut novel after bestselling author Jojo Moyes offered her the use of her rural cottage to finish the book, choosing her from more than 600 applicants. Queenie Jenkins is a young black woman who’s just broken up with her long-term boyfriend, Tom. Her boss at the newspaper where she works doesn’t appreciate her and her family never listens (they’re not interested unless the conversation is about Jesus or water rates). A fresh, funny and at times painful read.Buy now Historical 'The Doll Factory' by Elizabeth Macneal, published by Picador: £12.99, FoylesIt’s astonishing to discover that this accomplished book is Elizabeth Macneal’s debut novel. Macneal is a writer and potter and worked in the City for several years before completing a creative writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Set amid the squalor and chaos of Victorian London, The Doll Factory is the tale of aspiring artist Iris, who becomes a model for Pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost on the condition that he teaches her to paint. But she’s also been noticed by Silas Reed, a sinister collector who is obsessed by strange and beautiful things. An atmospheric book that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.Buy now 'City of Girls' by Elizabeth Gilbert, published by Bloomsbury: £16.99, WaterstonesElizabeth Gilbert is best-known for Eat Pray Love, the 2006 memoir that chronicled her journey across Italy, India and Indonesia. In City of Girls, her third novel, she turns her attention to 1940s New York and a rundown, midtown theatre called The Lily. Nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has dropped out of her sophomore year at Vassar and her despairing parents send her to stay with her unconventional Aunt Peg, who owns The Lily. Once there, Vivian makes firm friends with the showgirls, throws herself into their hedonistic lifestyle and learns some tough lessons. Glamorous and vivid, with fascinating historical detail.Buy now 'Circe' by Madeline Miller, published by Bloomsbury: £8.99, WorderyMadeline Miller won the Orange prize in 2012 for her first novel, A Song for Achilles and earlier this year Circe, her long-awaited second novel, was one of the six shortlisted contenders for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (previously the Orange Prize). Miller takes the legendary story of Circe, who appeared in ancient Greek texts like Homer’s The Odyssey, and brings it alive for a 21st century audience. A captivating book that races along with verve and panache.Buy now The verdict: Novels to read this summerKate Atkinson never disappoints and Big Sky, her fifth Jackson Brodie novel, is the stand-out read of the summer. It’s a masterclass in brilliant writing and whether you’ve read the earlier books in the series (Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early, Took My Dog) or not you’ll enjoy it. Our other top reads are David Nicholls’s Sweet Sorrow, a nostalgic coming of age story, and Elizabeth Macneal’s dazzling debut, The Doll Factory.
Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s complex relationship captivated the art world then and now.At a time when Warhol was already world famous and the elder statesman of New York cool, Basquiat was a downtown talent rising rapidly from the graffiti scene.Together, they forged an electrifying personal and professional partnership.As a prolific documentarian of his own world, Warhol extensively photographed and wrote of his friendship with Basquiat, all played against the backdrop of 1980s downtown New York City. It reveals not only the emotional depth of their relationship but also its ambiguities, extremities, and complexities.Produced in collaboration with The Andy Warhol Foundation and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s estate, a new book chronicles the duo’s relationship in hundreds of previously unpublished photographs of Basquiat along with a dynamic cast of characters from Madonna to Grace Jones, Keith Haring to Fela Kuti.The shots are accompanied by entries from the legendary Andy Warhol Diaries, selected collaborative artworks, and extensive ephemera. Touching, intimate, and occasionally sardonic, Warhol on Basquiat is a voyeuristic glimpse into the lives of two of modern art’s brightest stars.Warhol’s unexpected death in 1987 took its toll on Basquiat, who was found dead from a heroin overdose the following year, aged 27.In 2017 his painting Untitled, a 1982 picture of a skull in oil stick, acrylic and spray paint, was sold for $110.5m (£85m). It broke the record for the most expensive at auction work of any US artist, as well as becoming the salesroom record for a black artist.“He’s afraid he’s just going to be a flash in the pan and I told him not to worry. He wouldn’t be.” – The Andy Warhol DiariesYou can purchase ‘Warhol on Basquiat: The Iconic Relationship Told in Andy Warhol’s Words and Pictures’ here
Taffy Brodesser-Akner would like to take this opportunity to come out officially as Tom Hiddleston’s “mystery brunette”. In January 2017, paparazzi snaps of the American journalist with the British actor outside his north London home wound up in a UK tabloid. The article, headlined “Moving Swift-ly on?”, referenced the duo’s “cosy chat” and described Brodesser-Akner as “the brunette who couldn’t quite believe her luck”. They were right.“I was so excited,” she recalls. “I was the 40-year-old mother living in the suburbs and I got to be a mystery brunette!” Brodesser-Akner had in fact been interviewing Hiddleston for a profile in GQ, where she worked as a contributing writer. It turned out that after spending two days together discussing success, heartbreak and spaghetti Bolognese, the two got along well enough to permit a goodbye hug. After the photos came out, The Night Manager star phoned Brodesser-Akner to apologise for “the hullabaloo” and to placate her husband, whom he hoped was not offended. “I said, ‘Tom, this has been the best week of our lives, you should try to enjoy this more.’”Brodesser-Akner might not be known to the British tabloids – she remains unidentified in the article – but the 43-year-old is one of the most prolific journalists in America, having won awards for her work in GQ and the New York Times Magazine, where she is currently employed. The Brooklyn-born writer is renowned for her deft and astute profiles of some seriously famous stars: think Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicki Minaj and Bradley Cooper. But her job, like any other, has its obstacles. Minaj famously fell asleep mid-conversation, while Cooper spent his interview denying the concept of interviews. “I won’t have any control, and it really isn’t a collaboration,” he begrudgingly told her.“I feel sorry for celebrities,” says Brodesser-Akner. “It must be very hard to be written about and constantly be obligated to talk about yourself.” The irony, of course, is that the tables have now turned. Brodesser-Akner and I are here to discuss her debut novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble, and she’s finding the process a bit strange. “Doing publicity for my book is the first time I’ve ever been interviewed. I didn’t know it would be like this, I feel powerless.” What does she make of the journalists who’ve interviewed her so far? “I’m so impressed at how they stick to their questions,” she enthuses. “I’m not like that at all, I don’t go in with a lot of questions. I just listen and make conversation.” I can’t tell if that was an answer or an instruction.Rather than the celebrity exposé that Brodesser-Akner’s fans might have expected, Fleishman Is in Trouble is a shrewd meditation on marriage and middle age. The plot follows 41-year-old Toby Fleishman, a morally dubious hepatologist, recently separated from his wife, who seeks refuge via Tinder hook-ups and emoji innuendos. Then Rachel, his ex, goes missing, plunging the reader into a twisty, sophisticated narrative filled with humour and pathos.“When a person goes missing, you get a sense of the vastness of the world,” Brodesser-Akner says of her narrative hook. “They could be anywhere, and I always liked that idea.” The majority of the novel is told from Toby’s point of view, which, in a culture that rewards authors like Liane Moriarty for documenting the female experience, might seem out of sync with the literary zeitgeist. But don’t let that fool you. “I wanted to write a story about a man,” Brodesser-Akner explains, “because I felt like it would be easier to understand a woman’s story if you understood how she was perceived by a man first.” She then implores me to “be discreet” when discussing the plot – another instruction? Perhaps she can’t help it. Throughout the book, Toby repeatedly describes Rachel as “angry”. He paints her as an unloving and irritable wife who starts fights over nothing, and wears T-shirts with slogans like: “Any yoga I do is hot yoga”.“Anger is such a taboo emotion,” says Brodesser-Akner. “These two characters are constantly accusing each other of being angry and then denying their own anger, passing it off as either sadness or frustration. Why can’t you just be angry? That is a really poignant question to me.”It’s an issue that Brodesser-Akner feels is mostly faced by women, pointing to the gendering of words like “crazy” and “psycho”, which are seldom attributed to men. “Nobody’s asking men about their emotional state because nobody’s out to judge them,” she explains. “Women are only asked about their emotional state so we can be reduced to it. So that sucks.”Brodesser-Akner speaks with a lively confidence. She makes candid points in very few words and laughs at her own jokes throughout our conversation. You’d think she’d been doing this for decades. But before she became the successful journalist she is today, her job was to help other people into the profession. From 2001 to 2007, she worked at media resources website Mediabistro, organising seminars taught by established writers to aspiring ones. Brodesser-Akner would sit in on all of them. “I don’t know if I would know how to do what it is that I’m doing without Mediabistro,” she says.After the birth of her first child, which she has previously described as “traumatic” due to postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder, she felt compelled to write about issues that had affected her personally, from childbirth to body image. She started selling them to publications, and soon became known for her compelling first-person essays, published in Self, The New York Times and Cosmopolitan. “When I couldn’t think of one more thing to say about myself, I started writing about other people,” she explains of her career trajectory.A journalist of Brodesser-Akner’s reputation is granted unparallelled access to the celebrities she interviews, usually spending an entire day, or even two, with them – “I generally refuse to do it otherwise.” Has she ever maintained a relationship with one of her subjects? “Very rarely. Sometimes they want to. But they only want to because I’m someone who showed up when and where they wanted, and asked them questions only about themselves. They didn’t have to hear about how my babysitter just quit or how my son is struggling with maths. It’s very hard, in the thing I do, to be the least important person in the room. I don’t know why I would continually sign up for that.”Even if Brodesser-Akner did want to spend her weekends pandering to celebrity egos, there’d be little time to spare. She is already working on a second novel, Long Island Compromise. “It’s about wealth,” she tells me, choosing to withhold further details aside from the fact that “it’s due soon”. The mother-of-two is also co-writing a film for Amazon about Eric Hites, aka Fat Guy Across America, the 40-stone man who cycled 3,200 miles across the US to lose weight and win his wife back.All this on top of a full-time role at the New York Times Magazine. But Brodesser-Akner rattles off her workload to me with such assured insouciance, you’d think she was talking about her supermarket shopping list. She works fast, I learn, and describes writing Fleishman Is in Trouble as “a pretty easy process”, one that took just six months. “It was hard, but I remember thinking [when I’d finished], ‘that can’t be it’.”If Brodesser-Akner has one regret, it’s that she didn’t get started with her writing career earlier. “I was so lost in my twenties and made excuses for myself,” she says, recalling “dying from jealousy” when she watched Girls, which Lena Dunham wrote at the same age. “You don’t need life experience to become a writer,” she adds. “But it can be difficult because you have to ask yourself what the story you choose to tell says about you. At my age, I no longer care what people think about me, so it’s easier. But up to 10 years ago, I cared so much.” When we move on to discuss her favourite celebrity subjects, she instantly mentions Gwyneth Paltrow (“my white whale for so long”) and praises her openness: “Nothing was off-limits.”Next in her sights, she tells me, is Melania Trump. “I like to interview people who have been famous for a while, because by the time I get to them, there are inevitably misunderstandings they believe the general public has about who they are. And it’s very interesting to write a story about someone based on the what the world has wrong about them.” Though I want to probe her on this, to find out how she gets celebrities to open up to her with such ease, Brodesser-Akner interjects because she wants to give me one final instruction. “Don’t let anybody tell you that writing has to be tortured in order to be good,” she insists. “If you just sit down and write the next sentence, you’ll be fine.”Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (£18.99, Headline) comes out on 18 June
He appeared steady as rock when he captained the Pakistan cricket team during some of his country’s most turbulent times, both on and off the field. Away from the crease however, Shahid Afridi is a walking contradiction. As batsman he held the record for the fastest century in one day international cricket and still he still holds the record for the most sixes in that form of the game. But he still considers himself a bowler. Off the field he loved to party, but was nonetheless a devout Muslim. He loves democracy, but has a more than healthy respect for his country’s armed forces and former military dictators. He would refuse to let his daughters play outdoor sports, yet for him cricket was the only thing he wanted to do and could do. And boy could he play. All this emerges in his new autobiography Game Changer, written with esteemed Pakistani journalist and broadcaster Wajahat S Khan, which takes us on his journey as one of 11 children from Khyber mountains, into the megacity of Karachi and to the pinnacle of world cricket. Refreshingly honest and excellently written, Afridi does not hold back. Whether espousing about the spot-fixing scandal, which saw three of his teammates convicted of taking bribes from a bookmaker to underperform, the current state of the team, his country’s relationship with India, or Pakistani politics - now led by another former cricket star Imran Khan \- he tells it how he sees it. It makes for a compelling read. First and foremost, it is the story of a cricketer, one who honed his skills on concrete playgrounds despite his father’s disapproval. Read more about the 2019 Cricket World Cup hereHailing from a nice middle class background, he was sent to a private school in the hope this would lead to a respectable profession. Not a chance.Even he couldn’t have predicted how famous the game would make him and at such a young age. Plucked from a Pakistan under 19s tour of the West Indies, aged just 16 years and 217 days, he would walk into his first, first team match to bat at number three against 1996 World Cup winners Sri Lanka. Within 37 balls he had broken the record for the fastest century in one day international cricket. It would stand for 14-years and catapult him to fame around the cricketing world, while making him an instant superstar in his homeland. Although this would help him to help his family, who were struggling financially at the time, it would bring different pressures both on and off the field - all of which he tackles head on in this book. While many sporting autobiographies get bogged down with the minuteai of every ball, shot or match with the help of Khan he tells his story concisely, but without sparing the detail. He tells you exactly why he fell out with his cricketing idol and on many, many occasions, the Pakistani cricketing authorities. Yet he no less sparing about his own form and failings. As captain at the time, he offers a unique insight into the spot-fixing scandal which brought shame on the game for his country. While he may have talked a little more about his own family, you learn as much, if not more, about the man and what he thinks about a range of subjects, as you do the cricketer. While he denies any interest, at times you wonder whether he might follow Mr Khan into politics. Sometimes spiky, undoubtedly opinionated, he is a warrior both on and off the field. You suspect he might do well were he to enter that arena. For the moment, he will be in the UK for the Cricket World Cup. Looking at the current team, they could use a man like him in their ranks. Perhaps they should read this book, which even for those who are not fans of the sport, is engaging, entertaining and well worth a read.
Only a week had passed since Mohammad Ali Acampong finished renovating his house when bombs and bullets struck Marawi City.Pro-Islamic State militants were carving out their own “Wilayah”, or province, forcing nearly 100,000 people to flee. It became the Philippine military’s toughest and longest conflict since the Second World War.On that day in 2017, 42-year-old Acampong, 42, left his three-storey lakeside house with his family of eight. “When the chaos began, our life suddenly became really difficult,” the government official told Reuters. “We had a comfortable life before. Now we live in between shelters, enduring heat, the lack of water, the lack of everything.”Marawi was once one of the most picturesque cities in the Philippines. About half of it is now charred concrete and skeletons of buildings, the remains of 154 days of airstrikes and artillery fire by the military, as well as booby traps laid everywhere by the Islamist rebels.The Acampongs now live in a tiny temporary housing unit on the city’s outskirts, competing with thousands of families for water and other basic utilities. At least 500 other families live in plastic tents – as does Asnia Sandiman, 25, who produces made-to-order clothing with a government-issued sewing machine.“The tent is fine until it rains and it gets so cold, or until the heat is so bad,” Sandiman says. “My deepest hope is that we are allowed to go back to Marawi but honestly, I would take any permanent address just to get out of here.”Hundreds of militants, 165 soldiers and at least 45 civilians were killed in the five-month conflict. President Rodrigo Duterte in October 2017 declared the city liberated, and its rehabilitation officially under way. But there is little sign of progress.Bangon Marawi (Rise Marawi), an interagency task force in charge of reconstruction, has a deadline of 2021 for rebuilding and remains confident of meeting it. “We could only go as fast as legally possible,” its field office manager, Felix Castro, says. “We can’t make shortcuts. It takes a while in the beginning but it will be quick once it starts.”Except for stray dogs and soldiers on guard, Marawi’s commercial centre has been abandoned. There is no sign of the promised rehabilitation.Thousands of people are in limbo following a conflict that no one saw coming.Reuters
I may be unusual in this, but I prefer Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson and the other two. That still doesn’t necessarily make the “new, new Top Gear” much of a show, because they’re still trying to do the sort of larks that the Clarkson-May-Hamster team used to do, but, being rather insipid imitations of the real thing, to me that was actually a better mix. This is because the “real thing” was very often a string of racist politically incorrect gags and scandals usually, I suspect, played up to manufacture some real and synthetic outrage, publicity and, in due course, higher ratings, higher fees and higher royalties. Everyone’s a winner? No. What’s been long lost in all this is, er, the cars. We all like a bit of car porn, obviously, and if 11-year-old kids living in poverty want to read a group test of the new Rolls-Royce against the new Bentley and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Maybach limousines, then that’s fine by me. One day they might be able to buy all three. But I want a telly show that tells me much more about the cars, the designers, the companies that compete in a market like no other, the huge personalities who built the industry, the exciting future technologies for driverless and electrically propelled vehicles, the people who build them, the marketeers, the ad folk… it’s the most amazing industry ever. But Top Gear is about driving a Toyota pickup into a tree and going on about quick a Porsche can be. Boring.Buying a car is the second biggest expenditure you’re likely to make in your life, and, even if you lease one, it is still a substantial financial commitment. The old Top Gear, the one that had William Woollard, Angela Rippon, Sue Baker and – even – Noel Edmonds in it, would at least tell you whether the thing is likely to break down. And, actually, whether it’s any good to drive. Who’s doing that now? I’d be delighted to think that the Top Gear team of Chris Harris, Freddie Flintoff and Paddy McGuinness would be testing the electric Nissan Leaf against the electric Kia Niro to see which has the bigger range between recharges. However I fear they’ll be driving Lamborghinis across Africa, or blowing up caravans or torturing an old Ford Focus instead. I can recommend much more heartily Years and Years. Anecdotally, it seems not yet to have caught the public imagination as much as, say, Line of Duty or Bodyguard, but it is still a frighteningly plausible glimpse in to the Britain and the world of the 2020s. I can’t give that much away about Tuesday’s finale, obviously, but I can say that all the cast are superb, and in this episode there are some exceptionally powerful scenes involving Rory Kinnear (playing Stephen Lyons), T’Nia Miller (Celeste Bisme-Lyons as his ex) and Edith Lyons, a militant environmental activist (Jessica Hynes).As the story of a world in financial, political and environmental crisis run by cynical populists (yes, I know, we’re there already) but told through the extended Lyons family, it has thus far been mostly about the Lyons’ loves, lives and, sadly, deaths; but we’re now into full-blown political thriller mode, and it’s time for some proper action. It’s a pacey finale, but emotionally charged with it. Plainly someone has an idea for a second series, and I think it’d be worth the punt. If we all survive log enough to watch it. By the way, a bottle of house wine will be about £56 in a decade’s time, and Brexit will indeed have definitely happened by 2031. The bad/good news is that the whole of the rest of Europe will be in as big a mess as Britain. Thought you’d like to know. It’s all also the final finale for Mum. In its third (and definitely final) series it has been edging towards resolving two crucial elements for its highly committed fans. First, offering some answers about the family dynamics that make it so tricky for Cathy (Lesley Manville) and Michael (Peter Mullan) to make their relationship work. And, second, what are the dynamics going on in their own hearts and minds that make what they call on Love Island “a coupling” such an apparently intractable challenge. If you’ve not had enough yet of cynical populists, Emily Maitlis is due to chair a special Our Next Prime Minister telly-hustings just before Emma Thompson appears as the murderous maniacal PM Vivienne Rook in Years and Years. Great timing, BBC1! Assuming some or all of the surviving candidates turn up to be asked questions by random viewers, it should make for interesting viewing. Maybe someone form a remote studio in the regions will get a straight answer out of them about drugs. Maybe not. I must say that Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule doesn’t quite live up to its promise, despite Hill’s innate comic genius and intergalactic-grade wit, and the quality of the guests this loveable personality attracts – Kevin Whately, Konnie Huq, Georgia Taylor and William Roache. I’d rather he went back to doing TV Burp, though. I do miss it.We’re into summer now, though you’d never guess it, which traditionally means rather a fallow season for viewers. Not in 2019, though, Apart from all the above, there’s plenty more continuing excellence on your screens – Gentleman Jack, and the adventures of the “first modern lesbian”; Killing Eve, intense assassination thriller; Year of the Rabbit, amusing Ripper satire, Famalam, brilliant BBC3 sketch show; and Thatcher: A Very British Revolution. This documentary series is in in fact essential viewing for the many people who didn’t live through the 1970s and 1980s, and who would like to have some of the caricatures of those times perhaps corrected. In its way it is almost as scary as the 2020s in Years and Years.Top Gear (BBC1, Sunday 8pm); Years and Years (BBC1, Tuesday 9pm); Mum (BBC2, Wednesday 10pm); Our Next Prime Minister (BBC1, Tuesday 8pm); Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule (ITV, Saturday 7.30pm)
Mean Girls’ Regina George is the “meanest” high school film character of all time, according to research.Rachel McAdams’ breakout role as the “Queen of the Plastics” in the 2004 cult classic took the top spot thanks to her snappy quips and cunning manipulative tactics.She was closely followed in second place by the ever-scheming Kathryn Merteuil – played by Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions.Kathryn’s devious step-brother, Sebastian, crept in at third place on the list of nastiest high school characters from the big screen. The study of 2,000 UK film fans, commissioned by Sky Q, revealed three quarters have watched their favourite high school movie multiple times. Typically, Cruel Intentions, Never Been Kissed, The Princess Diaries, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off have been enjoyed three times.And Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You have been viewed four times while film fans have watched Mean Girls on an average of five occasions.But the 1970s classic Grease has been watched a whopping eight times on average. The study also found that Mean Girls, which is celebrating its 15 year anniversary this month, is still so popular that three in 10 are “shocked” when they meet someone who hasn’t seen the high-school comedy. More than half of fans enjoy Mean Girls for the way it pokes fun at popularity and high school cliques.And despite the fact Regina was named the nastiest movie personality, two fifths felt her character is flawed, but still human.One third felt the same about Regina’s arch-nemesis, Lindsay Lohan’s Cady Heron. Researchers also revealed the best-loved quotes from the film, which was hilariously adapted to screenplay by comic, Tina Fey.“On Wednesdays, we wear pink” came out on top, closely followed by “She doesn’t even go here!” and “Is butter a carb?”To celebrate the anniversary of the classic film, you can now say: “On Wednesdays we wear pink”, into your Sky Q remote’s voice search to find the film. Ian Lewis, director of Sky Cinema, said: “There’s something about a high school movie which makes us feel nostalgic. “Even 15 years since its release, Mean Girls still feels so relatable, so we wanted to mark the occasion through adding its most recognisable quote to Sky Q’s voice search. “To kick off the start of summer, we’re also launching a ‘School’s Out’ channel where fans can watch a collection of cult classics like American Pie, The Breakfast Club and Clueless.”The research also revealed nearly half of those polled, via OnePoll, agreed a “mean” character is integral to the structure of a good high school movie, closely tailed by snappy quips and an element of romance.And in looking at why we love “mean” characters on screen, almost half believe “they are more fun”, and that they create drama which progresses the plot. It also emerged one in five consider the noughties to be the best decade for high school films. And for more than two fifths, there is nothing better than curling up on the sofa with a funny high school film.Mean Girls is one of a selection of high school movies, from Grease to Pretty in Pink, being shown on Sky Cinema’s School’s Out channel from 20-28 July and On Demand. Top 10 ‘meanest’ teen villains in film:1\. Regina George, Mean Girls (Rachel McAdams) 2\. Kathryn Mertuil, Cruel Intentions (Sarah Michelle Gellar)3\. Sébastien de Valmont, Cruel Intentions (Ryan Phillipe)4\. Cady Heron, Mean Girls (Lindsay Lohan)5\. Amber Von Tussle, Hairspray (Brittany Snow)6\. Betty Rizzo, Grease (Stockard Channing)7\. Sharpay Evans, High School Musical (Ashley Tisdale)8\. Steve Stifler, American Pie (Seann William Scott)9\. Gretchen Wiener, Mean Girls (Lacey Chabert)10\. Lana Thomas, Princess Diaries (Mandy Moore) Top 10 best high school movies of all time:1\. Grease2\. Mean Girls3\. American Pie4\. Clueless5\. The Breakfast Club6\. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off7\. Cruel Intentions8\. Hairspray9\. The Princess Diaries10\. Bring It OnSWNS
A photographer has captured a set of pictures of water droplets using an optical trick.Flowers are seen trapped inside droplets of water, creating vibrant images.Canadian Don Komarechka shot the photos in a home studio set-up composed of a bowl of water, a flower, a stem or a blade of grass and - in some cases - an insect.The sight is caused by positioning a flower in the background so that it is refracted through the droplets when viewed from the right position.Mr Komarechka applied the drops of water to the stems using a hypodermic needle and then captured the pictures through a macro lens.Each image took hours to create. The stems were liable to bend while the tiny drops of water would quickly evaporate and introducing insects only served to make the process more tricky.Mr Komarechka has spent years working with macro-photography as well as time spent at the BBC, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel.
The South Indian Monkey Trap works like this: villagers make a small hole in a gourd and hollow out the insides. They put some sweet rice in the hollow gourd. They chain it to a stake. A monkey comes along and smells the rice. He puts his paw through the hole in the gourd and grabs a fistful. His fist is now too big to fit back through the hole. The monkey lacks the smarts to reevaluate the rice relative to his liberty and cannot open his fist to release it, retrieve his empty paw and escape. He waits there until the trappers return. The best outcome for him is that the villagers will mock him for the rigidity of his value system.As a metaphor for human inaction in the face of climate change, it is not extreme – we are so blindly devoted to economic growth that we may get our brains scooped out with a spoon. As a metaphor for Brexit it works also: we now know that even if we get the rice out it will be rotten, but we can’t let go. It really is a wonderfully useful metaphor for stuckness of all sorts, societal and individual.I have a friend on the stand-up circuit some years my senior who hasn’t changed his set for the 20 years I’ve been watching him from the back of the room. There are a few like this: they perform their material with commitment, take the cash and support a family – or a dealer, I don’t know. In any case it’s not evil to make audiences laugh with honed material – many would say it’s the whole point – and most seem happy enough. But not this one, this one is sad. He looks jaded even by the standards of a road comic his age. His eyes, you might say, are the widows of his soul. He is a ringwraith.Why does he tolerate being so deeply bored that he is scarcely of this world? He can create, he did once – why does he not change his set? Why has he chosen a career that allows for seasonal change and then built a walled garden around himself, with a stalled microclimate? Bill Bryson, writing in The Lost Continent, wonders which is worse, “to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted, or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored?”> Which is worse: to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted, or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored?As a youth I craved enchantment. When I began stand-up in my mid-twenties, the density of experience coming at me every day ramped up sharply, especially when I started gigging nationally, which meant: travel, industry gossip with car companions, the venue, the gig in its many details and strategic decision nodes, the adrenaline of success or failure slowly leaching out of my physiology over the car journey home, a mental postmortem, more industry gossip with car companions, the talk perhaps turning personal in the night hours if the journey was long.And then, after a few years, the sudden saturation: becoming aware of the above as a repeating pattern – all cognition now recognition – and being easily bored by the mosquito drone of constant stimulus. Jean-Paul Sartre, whom I studied for an entire afternoon at university, developed a taxonomy of “faits glissades” – sliding events that serve only to lead to other events, and “faits précipices” – cliff-edge events where one stares into the abyss – a useful distinction for the dramatist.The idea of doing stand-up terrifies most non-practitioners with its threat of an abyssal plunge. Conversely, the promise of such a defining moment is what attracts people to it – outside Mexico that is, where they have the Day of the Dead to remind them that they are alive. What surprises you when you take up stand-up as a profession is how many sliding moments there are around the precipitous moments.The days are not without mundanity – for which you have not braced. You start looking forward to the abyssal moments without dread, because your heart beats faster and you have learned the abyss’s little secret: when you do die on stage, when you do plunge into the depths of public opprobrium, all that happens is that the computer game level resets for the next round. > What surprises you when you take up stand-up as a profession is how many sliding moments there are around the precipitous momentsThe stakes are low – why not try that new bit that’s funny in your head, see if you can sell it?You are like a mountain climber, camped out on a narrow ledge next to the Chasm of Hurt Dignity. When a joke works reliably it becomes a piton to hammer into the rock – it can stop you falling more than a couple of feet. For my jaded colleague it has become so counterintuitive to disengage any of his pitons that he now lives in an iron maiden, built out of security pitons and with a view overlooking Hell. If only he could remember that a fall wouldn’t actually kill him.Our love for risk diminishes with age – but that only means that it should be a discipline. Just because it ain’t broke doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fix it. Take a step back to go forward. Because if you don’t shed your protective skin and renew, you risk not just your gig or your quarterly presentation or asking that person out – whatever gives you the willies this week – you risk living death, soul death – planetary death. The security of predictable outcome is just a handful of rice. Let it go.
At 9.30 on a recent Monday morning, I parked on East Fourth Place in the downtown arts district of LA, between Skid Row and the Los Angeles River. I walked into a kind of glass vestibule, then opened a door into the half-light of In Sheep’s Clothing, a listening bar. I was returning for a second visit, at an unpopular hour, because I hadn’t grasped its purpose at a popular one.Listening bars – cafes with high-end audio equipment, where patrons listen to vinyl records, carefully selected by a bartender, from a record library behind the bar – have been an institution in Japan since the 1950s. They are a subset of the kissaten, the small and idiosyncratic coffeehouses dotting side-streets in Tokyo. Only recently have several emerged in New York City, Los Angeles and a few other places. Shakily, a culture and a lore are growing, of connoisseurship and grace and obsession. At this early stage, the American listening bar (sometimes called a hi-fi bar) remains a social experiment, because a bar is still generally understood as a place to talk, not listen. Recorded music is a compulsory extra, but is generally ignored or appreciated in flickers. Even those who know something about the purpose and origin of the listening bar may not be ready for it.At best, the listening bar raises good questions about whether there might be an unrealised public listening ideal in a ritual as familiar as going out for a drink. At worst, it’s pretty much like a regular bar, but with a trowelling of extra noise provided by an obscure record you’re not hip enough to know, played on equipment you’re not rich enough to own, in a room that does not accommodate dancing. It can be hard to talk, much less to listen.I’ve been dropping in to several places to see what I thought – particularly In Sheep’s Clothing, where I had the best experiences overall, but also Public Records in Brooklyn, Tokyo Record Bar in Manhattan and Gold Line in Los Angeles. (Other well-known listening bars outside Japan include Bar Shiru in Oakland, California, and two in London: Brilliant Corners and Spiritland.)The meticulousness about sound and gear extends to the menus. Tokyo Record Bar has a judicious sake list with a flavour-profile colour-wheel on its menu; In Sheep’s Clothing serves sake as well as wine, rice whiskey, beer and mezcal. At Tokyo Record Bar, you can eat, too, even when it switches from a small-plate dinner menu to a more casual DJ setting after 10:45pm, with oysters, sashimi and bar snacks. But the most important items in both places are the turntables, tube amplifiers and speakers.Most proprietors of the American listening bars are candidly inspired by the kissaten, with their individually defining special interests – jazz, classical, noise and drone music, and so forth. (To a lesser extent, they draw inspiration about the ethics and philosophy of listening, and about specific audio gear, from the New York DJ David Mancuso’s loft parties in downtown Manhattan in the Seventies and Eighties.) In Sheep’s Clothing is particularly indebted to the model of Lion, in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, where patrons sit in pewlike seating and classical records have been played, entire sides at a time, with almost ritual care for quiet patrons since the 1950s.Most listening bars in the US spotlight the DJ to some degree, and are open only in the evening. In that respect, In Sheep’s Clothing, which opened last August, is an exception to two general rules. Here the DJ is basically anonymous, and the place – about 1,000 sq ft, sparsely lit and wooden-walled, with 12 tables – is open all day.On the Monday morning I visited, the barista put on the first side of “Now That Everything’s Been Said”, the 1968 record by The City, Carole King’s short-lived LA folk-rock band. (He was using a Garrard, an audiophile turntable, not a DJ turntable: you can’t wind a record backward on it.)There were two other customers. I sat turned away from the bar, at a table facing the two speakers on the floor – old Klipschorns, the size of modest refrigerators. “Please keep your conversations below the music,” read a small folded card on each table. “To hear more, say less.” The coffee was good, and the music was fully present but not exactly loud. The vibe felt like a lunar tidal pull.That City record was a good entry point. I had heard it; it lies somewhere between the Brill Building songwriting discipline and hippie looseness, on the way to something it hasn’t found. But here I really heard it. I understood something about the tactility and enlivening qualities of sound better than ever before: sound can be a three-dimensional space in which to put your body, and in which your body may be acted upon and opened up, even when you are sitting still. I seemed to understand the physics of it: tones as standing waves, and me in the middle of them, one of them. Or, if you prefer the language of another sense, it was like seeing colours after knowing only greys.As a natural consequence of hearing in that detail, I could also sense the physicality of the people making the music – their throats, hands, reflexes, sensibilities. While listening to that record, I felt, let’s say, that I knew Carole King’s mother.I had to leave after an hour but wanted to stay for two or three, and returned a couple of months later to do that, sitting at the same table at various other times of day – 10am, 2pm, 4pm, 9pm – to figure out how the day works there. The room is fitted with institutional furniture from the Seventies, from a two-top table to an eight-top, crescent banquettes and schoolroom chairs.There are tall potted plants and tables with neat stacks of books mapping out the bar’s musical aesthetic: John Cage’s Silence, Chris DeVito’s Coltrane on Coltrane, Steven Isoardi’s The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles. The room’s goldenrod curtains stay drawn, and its interior is unremarkably brown enough that you can turn your attention to the spectacular thing going on before and around you, which is sound.During daytime hours, with not too many other people there – some screenwriters at their laptops, some bros holding a real-estate meeting, couples on dates – I had similarly strong experiences with Charles Mingus’s “Mingus Plays Piano”, French folk singer Emmanuelle Parrenin’s “Belle Virginie”, and the ice-cream minimalism of Seigen Ono’s self-titled first album.None of these records have ever been hits or canonical; they’re all off to the side. Sometimes, here, off to the side can become predictable: you could begin to discern an index for newly unearthed hits of outsider-electronic or crypto-New-Age or imaginary-vernacular music – often things recently unearthed by chic reissue labels: Richard Horowitz’s “Eros in Arabia”, Laurie Spiegel’s “The Expanding Universe” and most of all, Hiroshi Yoshimura’s ultraminimal “Nine Postcards”, which is to In Sheep’s Clothing as “Crazy In Love” or “Start Me Up” is to a sports bar. Stay long enough and you will hear it.As with any listening bar, you can find snob appeal at In Sheep’s Clothing, if that’s what you want. But an experience with sound in a properly immersive way erases the problem of records as background decor or as fetish objects.There are about 600 records behind the bar – 200 for day, 400 for night. Zach Cowie, the bar’s creative director, told me a bartender can pretty much put anything on at the appropriate time of day and it’ll work; you’re always hearing Cowie’s ideas about music, which tilt towards introspection. The range is pretty capacious, but will likely catch you with something you didn’t know.Cowie pays attention to the quality of pressings, and allows in the bar’s collection only reissues transferred from original analogue-tape masters, as opposed to vinyl records made from digital masters, which are essentially CDs on vinyl. This means that the inherent continuity in the analogue process (as opposed to the chopped, discrete soundwave in digital) travels all the way: from the original recording technology through the storage medium through the playback gear, and then even through the purposeful, undistracted way the record was put on by the bartender that Monday morning, whose name was Dane. (I asked, as one would ask a park ranger on top of a significant mountain.)Before putting the record on, he cleaned it with a Hunt EDA record brush, then let it run for a full side, as per the practice at Lion, from beginning to end. That act could be described as analogue, too – as is any conscious move towards continuity.Cowie’s day job is as a music supervisor for films and TV shows, including Master of None and Forever. He has a vested interest in smuggling great music into people’s lives; he wants to surprise them and discreetly expand their frames of reference. I asked him to diagnose my experience with The City record.Across a couple of days, we talked about unplugging, records as gateways, the possibility of a self-governing quiet place for listening, the depressingly appeasing quality of algorithmic choices, the stimulation of curiosity. And finally, he told me: “That was your first time hearing a single-ended triode amplifier through a pair of very efficient loudspeakers.”“Efficient” means the speakers don’t require a lot of power to be very loud. And his diagnosis may well be correct. But you don’t have to know any of that, really, and Cowie or Dane or whoever else won’t tell you unless you ask.Vinyl records these days amount to one of two extremes: either dusty, embarrassing garbage or advanced-level consumables. If a record isn’t something so valueless you can’t give it away, it’s the signifier of taste and an ambitious, highly tailored social life. To turn that social life into a business, in a town like New York or Los Angeles, can easily result in a situation in which elite whiskey and Instagram moments are more important than communicative potential of the records themselves.This is why In Sheep’s Clothing remains a work in progress. Sometimes the waiters shush people. It doesn’t always go down well. (I didn’t see it happen while I was there, but read Yelp for some accounts.)It is a listening place, not a DJ place. Spiritland, Brilliant Corners, Gold Line and many others let the visiting DJ rule the spot; Gold Line requires that DJs use its library of 8,000 records behind its bar, which have been collected by Chris Manak, aka Peanut Butter Wolf – the DJ, producer, supreme record-collector and founder of the record label Stones Throw, whose offices are next door.I love DJs: they comprise about a third of my living heroes. But when you remove their star power from the equation, which is precisely the situation when the waiter at your cafe or bar is putting on the records, you are forced to confront the music. The website for In Sheep’s Clothing has no information about guest DJ appearances, and no pictures of the bar, just facts about its sound setup. It looks like the tech specifications on a band’s contract rider.A cafe – and most bars, for that matter – should be as good a place to be alone as with friends, and In Sheep’s Clothing does not make it hard for you to be alone. It is not like a hi-fi shop or an elite record store. No cryptically insecure male proprietor cut me a withering look. Nobody bothered me, and I was not subjected to advertising. I didn’t pay a cover charge or do anything more compromising than eat breakfast.I did not experience the usual American cafe-feeling of needing to be productive. In fact, I wondered whether this represented the best possible use for cafes: a total break in your waking hours. A cleaned window. An open window!Nighttime, on the other hand, is a different story. My first visit to In Sheep’s Clothing had been late on a Friday, with friends. The room was full. I was stunned by the first song I recognised: Caetano Veloso’s “Jóia,” just multitracked voice and percussion, a poem juxtaposing modern and preindustrial Brazil. What kind of bar plays something so calm and spacious and unresolving during party hours?I talked to my friends loud enough to be heard, because everyone else around us was doing the same, and I had a nice drink (an amaro nonino), and I don’t remember much about listening.On another night visit, more astonishing music: Joe Henderson’s The Elements, Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, Gil Scott-Heron’s Pieces of a Man. But my friends and I were talking about whether we believed in magic, which naturally became the focus of the evening. A guy at the table next to ours, out with his pals, left looking defeated – he’d had an argument with his wife earlier that night and he really wasn’t up for sitting still and letting the music work on him.I understand. Night is dynamic and complicated: so complicated that it turns great record collections and stupendous sound systems into background. If a listening bar is open during the day, you’d be crazy not to go there then. By all means, come back at night with friends. But you may not reap the full promise of the place, the reason it exists at all.© New York Times
Jackson Brodie has been away for nine years – but now Kate Atkinson’s private detective (played by Jason Isaacs on screen in the intervening years in Case Histories) is back, older too and somewhat world-weary. But he’s still got a habit of ending up in the thick of things – and in this case, in a thicket of very tangled plot strands. Almost every character (and there’s quite the cast) has a history that simply won’t stay put: “The thing about the past was that, no matter how far you ran or how fast you ran, it was always right behind you, snapping at your heels.”Working out how their histories intertwine is the work of not only Brodie but also a winning pair of young female detectives, Ronnie and Reggie. And for the reader: Atkinson throws in many entertaining diversions, and a fair few juicy red herrings.The crimes at the centre of Big Sky are of a particularly nasty, and rather topical, variety: a historical investigation into a paedophile ring of elite, establishment figures is reopened, while an active company traffic young women into the UK. Yet while Big Sky never makes light of such depravity, it also makes for an exuberant, entertaining read.Set across seaside towns along the Yorkshire coast – Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington – Atkinson squeezes all the sleaze she can from a world of grotty arcades, dubious tourist attractions and rundown theatres: the paedophile ringleaders, Bassani and Carmody, made their money through fairgrounds and an ice cream empire, because of course they did.Into this seedy milieu, Atkinson places various plucky underdogs. As well as the gruff-but-loveable Brodie, there’s the luckless Vince, a “middle-aged, middle-of-the-road, middle-class man” who’s been booted out of his job, and his marriage to a vicious, grasping wife. Atkinson also seems to skewer the “trophy wife” of Tommy, one of Vince’s golf buddies: Crystal is described as “a construction made from artificial materials – the acrylic nails, the silicone breasts, the polymer eyelashes”, and has a dark past that’s heavily alluded to. But she’s both wilier and kinder than first presented, while her bookworm teenage stepson Harry provides another decent soul to root for in a despairingly venal world.But Atkinson’s work is always playful, and there’s a brisk, jaunty tone to Big Sky and much dry observational comedy. Her characters have their own, distinctly British gallows humour, and there are blackly comic asides in even the most heinous of situations (“You would have thought that getting divorced from a woman would free you from the obligation of identifying her corpse, but apparently not,” goes one typical grumble).If Atkinson’s crime writing has at times raised eyebrows for its reliance on coincidence, it also faces up to that with a sly wink: “A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen,” goes Brodie’s repeated truism. In fact, many of the plot strands are here tightly and cunningly braided together – but there are still coincidences, not least in the arrival of Reggie Chase, last seen as a teenager in a previous Atkinson novel, When Will There Be Good News? She’s a welcome addition here, however, forming half of a terrifically deadpan double act. The “spick and span”, petite and neat Ronnie and Reggie – both liable to be criminally underestimated – provide a foil to the sordid corruption that oozes through the book. Surely a spin-off is in the offing.We do, however, get more of Reggie’s back story than we strictly need. There’s a lot going on in Big Sky, and it can get bogged down in allusions to previous stories, especially from Brodie’s past (often delivered in parentheses). These half unpotted case histories feel unnecessary for existing fans, cumbersome for new readers.Atkinson is on surer territory with new characters – she has an almost cruel ability to capture a person in a line or two. On Vince’s Bonsai-growing wife Wendy, for instance: “She shopped from the Boden catalogue and was proud of having grown a horrible stunted little tree.” But you also come to really know and love (or loathe) many of them. While this focus on character means Big Sky can lack the relentless propulsion associated with crime writing, getting to know a plethora of her tenacious, memorable characters seems like a fair trade, especially as they gently offer hope that, in the end, good will out.Big Sky by Kate Atkinson is published on 18 June by Transworld, £16.99
Winners have been announced for the photo contest that rewards the most incredible pictures of life on planet earth.The National Geographic Travel Photo contest has drawn to a close after months of accepting entries from some of the best photographers all over the globe.The grand prize winner is Chu Weimin, for his picture of a remote fishing village on a tiny island in Greenland. Weimin will be granted $7,500 in prize money and will have his picture featured on the National Geographic Instagram account.Prizes were also awarded to the best pictures across three categories: Nature, Cities and People. See the official announcement from National Geographic here.The Independent has compiled the winning pictures, the runners up and couple of honourable mentions in the gallery above.See here for coverage of the early weeks of the contest.
Dinosaur skeletons have been reanimated in series of pictures by a German photographer.Munich based Christian Voigt re-animated the giant creatures from the Mesozoic era - the age of the dinosaurs that spanned from around 250 million years ago to 65 million years ago. He covered creatures from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods. “I sought to really bring these animals to life," he said. ”I have to remind people that these aren't Hollywood images, but rather real animals that lived millions of years ago.“Mr Voigt travelled to five natural history museums across Europe to photograph the dinosaurs and the skeletons of other extinct creatures. He said he only used natural light to capture the images and relied on a black back-drop to separate each animal from its neighbour. Sometimes he spent a hour composing each shot. ”I can't touch them, or ask them to move a little to left, so I have to look for the best angle," he said, adding that he was inspired to work with dinosaur skeletons after a visit to the Natural History Museum in London. He said: ”It all started with wanting to bring these animals out of their glass boxes. In a museum, when you look at certain collections of animals and skeletons, they're always very packed together.”SWNS
Unseen photographs showing life on the frontier of the Wild West have surfaced more than 130 years after being captured.The pictures were taken in the 1880s around Colorado and New Mexico territory in the US and have remained unseen by the public ever since. Most of the photos show life on the ranches \- herding cattle and riding horses - but they also offer a glimpse of some of the small towns and the newly-built railway.It is thought that the majority of the images were captured by a British person who travelled to America to work as a farmhand before returning with a whole album of photos. The set emerged as it was put up for sale by the estate of a deceased collector of photographs from Surrey.The pictures will go under the hammer at Flints Auctions on 21 June where they are expected to fetch £500.
A TV series set in the same universe as Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune film has been announced.Named Dune: The Sisterhood and based on the novel series by Frank Herbert, the show will tell the story of the Bene Gesserit, an order of women with mysterious abilities.They will contend with an array of feudal political problems, including their ruling government The Imperium, ultimately making their way to an enigmatic planet called Arrakis, which is known to its inhabitants as Dune.Villeneuve is set to direct the pilot, and the series will be penned by Jon Spaihts, a screenwriter on the Dune film project.“The Bene Gesserit have always been fascinating to me,” Villeneuve said. “Focusing a series around that powerful order of women seemed not only relevant and inspiring, but a dynamic setting for the television series.”After David Lynch’s version in 1984,starring Patrick Stewart and Kyle MacLachlan, Villeneuve’s Dune will be the second adaptation of Herbert’s sci-fi novel.It will follow the story of Paul Atreides (played by Timothée Chalamet), as his noble family accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis, an inhospitable wasteland that is also the only source of a rare drug known as “spice”, only to be betrayed by the galactic empire. Tthe film’s wider cast includes Jason Momoa, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, and Dave Bautista. It’ll be released in November 2020.