In September issue, book of the month is Nell Freudenberger’s The Newlyweds, a very clever, funny story about a mail-order internet bride from Bangladesh. Her geeky husband George, an IT man from Rochester in the state of New York, is pleasingly awful. Also highly recommended: Herman Koch’s The Dinner, which everyone is talking about. And the latest from Nicci French, the husband-and-wife crime writing team, Tuesday’s Gone.
Red’s August reads include Wife 22, a funny and clever novel about a bored maternal type whose life is transformed when she volunteers for an anonymous email survey about her sex life, and two of my favourite reads this year, Where D’You Go Bernadette and Tigers in Red Weather (also one of my favourite covers of the year). Plus I reviewed Tigers in greater depth for The Independent: “A stay in Martha’s Vineyard you won’t forget in a hurry.”
Three years ago I went to Washington DC in pursuit of Barack’s “burger n’ dog trail.” Now back for a travel story for Red magazine, spending most of my time supposedly eating what Michelle Obama eats: chocolate custard milkshake from Shake Shack on 18th St NW, the Michelle Melt turkey burger from Good Eats Eatery on Pennsylvania Avenue SE and Cajun-style fries cooked in peanut oil from Five Guys at Dupont Circle. She has Madonna’s arms. But Homer Simpson’s gut. And now so do I. Only without the Madonna arms.
Milkshake pic by Alex Gorzen.
So I interviewed Stephen Mangan in a grotty cafe in north London. (Was the cafe the PR’s choice or Mangan’s? Not his, I’m sure. He is too classy. Unless it was a double bluff. He drank builder’s tea and was utterly charming.) Anyway. Mangan was in rehearsals for Birthday, a new play for the Royal Court by Joe Penhall, where he plays a pregnant man in hospital, about to give birth. By the time we had met the play had not opened so I had to read it instead of actually seeing it. Which was an interesting experience — during the interview I got the sense that both of us really like the play but we were both in the position of not knowing whether it would actually work on stage because it had not actually been staged yet. I’m seeing it in July.
Afterwards I talked to the playwright Joe Penhall who admitted that he felt uncomfortable about writing about childbirth as a man. But also appeared to suggest that women are wimping out when it comes to covering life-and-death issues in the theatre: “It crossed my mind that someone is bound to accuse me of robbing a woman of her chance to tell her story. But it’s a free country. You can buy computers in shops and get to work on them. Someone is bound to pop up and say, ‘What’s wrong with a woman going through labour?’ But the theatre is a complex art form and you have to do things to circumvent convention. If you want to see a woman going through labour? It’s on TV every night.” Brutal. Buy a computer, woman playwrights!
Royal Court pic by Oxyman. Birthday pic by ArtisticZen.
Paper review on Sky News with LBC’s Ian Collins and Sky’s Jayne Secker. About ten seconds in we all realised that no-one would be watching us in the entire universe because England vs Italy had just gone to penalties. Curiously liberating. Ian Collins and I had a stand-up row (or as stand-up as you can get when you are sitting on a TV sofa) about the welfare state. It was the tree-falling-in-the-forest of political debates. So let’s pretend it never happened. Because it might as well not have done.
Sky News picture by MorningFrost. Old television pic by Maximiliano Galardi.
Great time at the Funny Women Semi-Finals at Music Palace, Crouch End. Lovely venue, big crowd. Sofie Hagen, a young Danish comic, was the winner. A curse upon her. And it was worse. She was really good. A double curse upon her. I came runner-up alongside Kerry Bilson.
This gives us both a Wild Card for the Finals in September. Meanwhile Bridget Christie did a knock-out headline set which was massively inspiring and massively depressing at the same time. I will never be that good.
Last week I hosted a panel of Balkan film-makers at Sheffield’s incredible Crucible Theatre as part of Sheffield DocFest, an international documentary festival which attracts over 2,000 film-makers and commissioning editors. The film-makers wander around Sheffield looking groovy and confused. And the commissioning editors wander around wearing pink shirts and loud glasses.
The Balkan film-makers — Oliver Sertic (Croatia), Mila Turajilic (Serbia) — (she’s the absurdly beautiful woman behind award-winning Cinema Komunisto, a documentary about Tito’s passion for film), Gentian Koci (Albania), Alexander Nanau (Romania) and Claire A Aguilar (a US producer interested in working with new European documentary talent) — were also young and groovy (but wearing jeans and sweatshirts and no pink shirts or loud glasses, thank goodness). The New York Times and International Herald Tribune insist that Balkan film is the Next Big Thing. But the panel were, perversely, having none of it. The debate mostly consisted of them complaining that they did not want to be on a panel of Balkan film-makers because they were film-makers in their own right and not simply Balkan. They showed a few excerpts from work-in-progress and the audience fell in love with the Croatian film Gangster of Love about an elderly matchmaker who has made it his life’s mission to find foreign, mostly Ukrainian, brides for local bachelors. His name? “Gangster.” Confusing. But groovy.
Writing in today’s Independent about the new Ofqual recommendations for A-Levels. The bottom line is, they’re going to tweak them a tiny bit. Because actually they’re not that bad. But that does not make a headline, does it? It would be so much more interesting if newspapers reported that A-Levels aren’t actually as bad as everyone is always making out. How do I know? Because I took one. Yes, I’m still banging on about the English Literature A-Level I took in 2010. And who wouldn’t? It was bloody difficult and the coursework took ages. I’m hardly going to say the standard was appalling…
Thrilled to interview Mark Rylance for the London Evening Standard.
He was scarily mesmerising. An hour with him feels like five minutes. I cried about three times during the conversation just because his manner is so weird, open, raw and child-like. He genuinely had brought his lunch in from home. Sweet.
Globe pic by Yair Haklai.