Tuesday
15
April
2014

Brian Cox at Rose Theatre, Kingston

 

 

Having just seen him in The Weir — currently in its last few days of a sold-out run at Wyndhams, having transferred from the Donmar — I am a bit in love with the Shakespearean legend Brian Cox. Note: “the Shakespearean legend Brian Cox” and not “the swoonsome physicist Brian Cox.”

I am talking about this man:

Rather than this man:

 

I have nothing against the latter, scientific Brian Cox. Indeed, I hope he may one day join us for the “in Conversation With…” series Time to Talk at the Rose Theatre Kingston. But this time — on Friday April 25 at 5.30pm it is the turn of the thespian, non-scientific Brian Cox to talk. 

I will be asking him what it has been like to go from King Lear to X-Men. How he managed to appear drunk for the best part of three hours in The Weir. And how he feels about being mistaken for the former keyboard player of 1980s “Things Can Only Get Better” pop sensation D:Ream. And other more intelligent things.

Click here for tickets.

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Tuesday
15
April
2014

The Goldfinch wins the Pulitzer!

 

 

Congratulations to Donna Tartt for her Pulitzer Prize! Here’s my original review of the book from Red. I really love it — but of course it can’t be as perfect as The Secret History, which is why, I think, there has been some carping about it. Plus, a lot of people didn’t like The Little Friend and can’t quite get over that. I really liked that too. But this is the problem when you write a really outstanding book. Even if you write several genius books afterwards, people are going to get grumpy. It would be a shame if people kept away from The Goldfinch — it’s completely addictive. (And, as I suggest in this review, a must-read if you hold a torch for Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved.)

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Tuesday
15
April
2014

Hurray for the Hiltons

 

I enjoyed reading J. Randy Taraborrelli’s new biography of the Hiltons for the Sunday Telegraph. I had no idea that the founding father of the dynasty — Paris’s great-grandfather Conrad — had such a fantastic back story. He started with nothing, encouraging his parents to open up their ramshackle family home in New Mexico as a down-at-heel B&B when he was just sixteen. Like so many entrepreneurs, he had a series of jaw-dropping ups and downs (and several near-bankrupcy moments during the Great Depression) before “Hilton hotels” became something special. Of course, Paris is the icing on the cake. And she really does do everything with Peter Pan (her chihuahua). Unless that’s just for the cameras. Which I suspect it is. She’s all about “the brand”…

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Tuesday
08
April
2014

Time to Talk: Jennifer Saunders

 

 

My first outing as the new host of Time to Talk, the “In Conversation With…” series at the Rose Theatre, Kingston. (Next up: Shakespearean legend (and not physicist) Brian Cox on April 25. And Brian Blessed on May 2.) First victim was Jennifer Saunders, talking about everything I could make her talk about (which genuinely was pretty much everything) and about her best-selling memoir Bonkers. Waterstone’s had a high old time as the (new) paperback was folded into the ticket price and we had an audience of over 600.

 

 

High points: Saunders saying that she wanted to present Top Gear: “Move over, Clarkson.” Admitting that she had turned down Strictly Come Dancing but would not mind appearing on Great British Bake-Off. (“I also love the Sewing Bee.”) She talked a lot about the anxiety she has around writing, which has prevented her from tackling the long-overdue script of the movie of Absolutely Fabulous: she’s been seeing a hypnotherapist for procrastination. (“I put off going to him for three months.”)

 

 

Low point: Part of the show was a series of slides depicting Saunders’ childhood and career. I was in charge of clicking through them. As we reached the end of our time, I said, “Let’s look at some of your career highlights…” and clicked onto a picture depicting her chemotherapy. Jennifer Saunders laughed. No-one else did.

 

 

Thanks to Woman and Home for their shout-out here. Which resulted in this attractive selfie:

 

 

 

 

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Sunday
06
April
2014

Interview with novelist Joseph Connolly

 

 

From today’s Observer: Meet the Author. Joseph Connolly is definitely one of the most bearded people I have ever interviewed. He’s also amongst the most charming (and that is a serious accolade as I have encountered Dame Judi Dench and Alastair Campbell who are charm personified). He’s an interesting character: a prolific novelist and non-fiction writer whose books sell as well as Martin Amis and Julian Barnes in France. He has expressed disappointment in the past that his work is not quite so appreciated at home.

He was talking about his new novel Boys and Girls, which is about a woman who decides that one husband is not enough for her — she wants an extra one too. And the two of them had jolly well better get along.

On the subject of his lavish facial hair, Connolly says: “The amazing question is not ‘Why do you have a beard?’ but ‘Why do 99.9% of the male population shave every day.’ It is quite unnatural.”

I love by the way that his Guardian url is “joseph-connolly-each-gender-requires-exclusive-company-own-sex-food-critic-beard”

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Sunday
06
April
2014

The View from Londongrad

 

 

From the cover of today’s Observer magazine: “Since the Ukraine crisis, London’s growing Russian population has been faced with a major identity crisis… “There are two sides to this story. And they are both right.” Galina Pentecost sighs. People like clean-cut, easy-to-follow narratives. This isn’t one.”"

Well, that’s certainly an understatement. Over 300 comments and counting… A hard-won cover story for the Observer magazine on the view on the Ukrainian situation from Londongrad and the 150,000 Russians who have made Britain their home. Obviously there’s a nod to the situation involving the high-profile incomers who are often in the headlines (like Abramovich and Usmanov). But I really wanted to make this story about the cultural effects on Russians who have been here a long time (many who are married to Brits and hold British passports). It wasn’t an easy story to tell and I’m really pleased with the response.

The 150,000 figure is the best estimate around. Fox TV’s reality show Meet the Russians put the estimate up at 300,000 but I couldn’t find anything else that backed this up so I stuck with the more conservative estimate.

I really wanted to get in a mention of Vitali Vitaliev’s new book for children, Granny Yaga, based on the old Slavic fairytale — but it didn’t make the edit. Shame because it’s a great parable: in the original story Baba Yaga “may either help or hinder travellers” and it is hard to work out whether she is heroine, villainess or just ambiguous. Sound familiar? A situation where it’s hard to work out who is evil and who is going to save you? For a lot of the people commenting, it’s obvious which way round it is. But for Russians, it’s not so clear-cut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday
30
March
2014

Mommie Dearest and the other side of Mother’s Day

 

Interesting response to these two pieces on Mother’s Day. In the Times on maternal guilt — are we the most guilty generation of mothers ever to walk the earth? I suggested that possibly we are. And Professor Tanya Byron cautioned that over-guilty parenting can, ironically, have a detrimental effect on children — so that the very thing you’re working hard to avoid (damaging your kids) becomes the thing you cause. Didn’t want to think too much about that in case I felt guilty. (Joke. I generally don’t feel guilty.) Twitter response: “Totally agree. ‘Guilt is just your ego’s way of tricky you into thinking you’re making progress.’” “I resist the G word and agree with Tanya: if felt, do something to nip it in the bud and squash it.” “Hear, hear. As a mum on the road, I’m not even at home for Mother’s Day. How much guilt does that involve?”

And in the Guardian on mothers and criticism, I wrote about the strange, passive-aggressive things that mothers and daughters say to each other. “One thing you could try is not sleeping with everyone.” That’s probably still top of the list (from a US-based blog post). Mostly people identified and had their own horror stories (and were glad of the opportunity to move away from the saccharine image of Mother’s Day). But there was some feeling that this idea was “anti-feminist” (i.e. women should support each other and not be bitchy to each other — the trouble is, in real life it is not always thus…).

And a couple of commenters wondered where the dads were in this. I put in some comments about fathers in my original copy but it was felt (by the editor) that this was a piece about Mother’s Day and so it should centre on mothers… I’m intrigued that some people are uncomfortable with the idea that mothers and daughters say nasty things to each other. I know they don’t *all* do this and this is not everyone’s experience of life. But it is a thing that most people recognise and that’s why I wanted to write about it. Also otherwise I would never have heard (via Twitter) of the mother who said, whilst looking at a photo of her daughter as a teenager: “You look like Meatloaf.”

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Sunday
16
March
2014

Backstage at #bathlitfest

 

Last word on Bath goes to Red magazine who ran this diary — complete with tales of Hanif Kureishi’s black tea, my 17 pairs of support tights and having to storm the stage while Germaine Greer was in full flow.

 

 

The solo show of I Laughed, I Cried which fell between interviewing Dr Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury) about Tolstoy – and MCing our Great Big Comedy Night with Mark Watson, Ellie Taylor, Rachel Parris, Bethan Roberts and Mary Bourke.

 

 

With Sarah Bailey, editor of Red magazine, who hosted  a literary cocktail party by torchlight at the Roman Baths.

 

 

An audience of over 1,000 at The Forum for Jennifer Saunders.

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Sunday
16
March
2014

Latest TV and radio

 

Latest from BBC Radio 4: Saturday Review with Will Gompertz, Ekow Eshun and Gillian Slovo, talking about Lars von Trier’s (AWFUL) Nymphomaniac Vol I and II (this 5-hour film marathon cost me £70 in childcare and I will never forgive the director for it…), True Detective (excellent) and Gary Shteyngart’s hilarious memoir Little Failure. On Front Row with Kirsty Lang talking about Justin Bieber and the history of the celebrity mug-shot.

Sky TV: talking about women and boardroom quotas (I’m all for them) and the ongoing Bridget Jones phenomenon…

 

 

 

BBC Radio Bristol live from the Independent Bath Literature Festival (28 Feb to 9 Mar), where I’m Artistic Director (in my beret – oh yeah).

 

Gearing up for the paperback launch of I Laughed, I Cried, here’s Summerhall TV’s interview recorded in the wonderful Looking Glass Books in Edinburgh.

 

Woman’s Hour with Jenny Eclair on losing weight and resolutions:

 

And I’m linking to this Saturday Live recording from last year as it won’t be around on Listen Again for much longer: they got their money’s worth — I’m talking about juggling stand-up and family, speaking Russian and singing to Paul Nicholas… (pictured here with Rev Richard Coles, Sian Williams and David Chilvers).

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Thursday
13
March
2014

Independent Bath Literature Festival

 

 

This diary write-up in the Independent tells you everything you need to know: “memorable… buzzy… a kind of bliss..”

It’s all over! My first year as Artistic Director of the Independent Bath Literature Festival (150+ events, 200+ authors, 10 days, 20,000 audience) has been so enjoyable. This year’s highlights: Jennifer Saunders, Alastair Campbell, Germaine Greer, former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, Lionel Shriver, Hanif Kureishi… We’ve had coverage in the Independent (up to 7 stories a day), the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Times Higher Education supplement, Huffington Post, Evening Standard, Red magazine and BBC Radio 2 (Claudia Winkleman’s show). Our Hanif Kureishi story made the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 and was reported in El Pais, the Irish Times and The Times Live in South Africa. News of Jennifer Saunder’s revelation about using hypnotherapy to write the screenplay for the Ab Fab movie reached the New Zealand Herald.

So many highlights and high points: Jessica Fellowes’ fantastically intimate glimpse into the world of Downton Abbey (the creation of her uncle Julian); twin lectures on Jane Austen by Joanna Trollope and Val McDermid; extraordinary “Bliss Lecture” contributions from Frieda Hughes (who talked about the burden of her family legacy), Olivia Laing (who talked about the pain of writers dealing with alcoholism) and Philip Hensher (who talked about the pain of loving Wagner). 

And I particularly enjoyed being described as “sparky” in John Walsh’s column.  

 

 

Pics by Julian Foxon and Matt Crockett.

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