I really loved Elena Gorokhova’s memoir Russian Tattoo, about her new life in America, having grown up in Soviet Russia. I reviewed her first book, A Mountain of Crumbs, in 2010 and the only complaint I had was that it stopped so abruptly: it had vivid descriptions about her childhood but then she seemed to give up as soon as she got to the US. Obviously that was because it could make a whole other book. And now it has. Both highly recommended.
Also reviewed recently: Elizabeth Day’s Paradise City in which four story lines collide in contemporary London. And Judy Blume’s extraordinary novel In the Unlikely Event, about three plane crashes that happened within the space of three months in Elizabeth, New Jersey (new Newark airport), in the 1950s, based on Blume’s own experiences.
Thrilled to be appearing at The Forum at Royal Tunbridge Wells on Thurs 18 June at 7.30pm. I’m performing a preview of Say Sorry to the Lady as a fundraiser for the Royal Tunbridge Wells Labour Party. I am astonished that (a) there is a branch of the Labour Party in Tunbridge Wells and (b) that anyone who is a Labour supporter would consider that Tunbridge Wells is a good place for them to live. But I guess I will find out the answer to these strange discrepancies.
I am really touched by the number of people who have agreed to host previews, knowing only that I’m putting together a show “about the great British cult of apology.” It has been fascinating going up and down the country with my little bits of paper, asking people what they want to apologise for and who they would most like to see apologise. I have a pretty good idea that the good folk of the Tunbridge Wells Labour Party will have plenty to say on this topic. In fact it might be difficult to shut them up. I look forward to trying.
It’s the Edinburgh Edinburgh preview! No, that is not a typo. It is the preview of my Edinburgh show which is happening in actual Edinburgh. It’s a double bill: me and the astonishing Tony Law. He’s great. Just look at his lovely little face. Thanks to Time Out for their shout-outs — we’re their pick of Things To Do in Edinburgh in June (well, we’re No. 8 of 37 things): “Law is an energetic whirlwind of barmy bizarrity, while journalist and comic Groskop brings a welcome, feminist slant to the occupation.” Elsewhere they urge punters to “be gentle” with us. This seems unnecessary. Tickets are selling fast and they’re dirt cheap (£1 if you’re a member of The Stand) so come along and be as gentle or as rough as you like. Maybe I will regret saying that.
Today is the official launch of the 2015 Edinburgh programme. I’m thrilled to be bringing my new show — my debut stand-up hour — to Stand 4. The show is SAY SORRY TO THE LADY and it’s all about the Great British cult of apology. Why do we say sorry when we don’t really mean it? Why don’t we say what we’re really thinking? And can it really be true that the average Brit apologises – according to one survey — 1.9 million times in their life. More news of previews coming soon. Edinburgh with Tony Law is on June 30. Bristol is on July 9. Latitude is on July 17.
Pics by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ.
Loved being part of the team covering the election “hangover” coverage the day after. (Pictured above with Jenni Murray and polling experts Sarah Childs and Michelle Harris.) Listen Again here. It was a strange experience in some ways as a lot of the results had not quite been finalised when we went on air. Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband had yet to resign. And yet the writing was already on the wall. I was reporting on the tone and the content of the TV coverage overnight and, unsurprisingly for Woman’s Hour, there was a lot of focus on the fact that women were very poorly represented amongst the political pundits and reporters. Where’s the female Dimbleby? Come on! The best bit, though, is Jenni Murray giving me a slap down for saying that my highlight of the entire night was a woman’s hair style. OK, that was a bit shallow. But the coverage was extremely boring. And Bridget Philipson MP — in Sunderland, one of the first results called — does have phenomenal hair. I won’t mention it again BUT LOOK AT HER HAIR. (Picture: Sunderland Echo)
Courtesy of www.40winks.org
At the moment I’m in the process of doing lots of Edinburgh previews under the radar all over the country, with the kind help of the Women’s Institute, who are hosting a lot of gigs for me. (Tough crowd, tough crowd…) More news of London previews soon — to come in July…
But *the* major London preview is on 17 June at 40Winks in E1 (Stepney) — pictured above — in the most glamorous surroundings imaginable. It’s the “most beautiful small hotel in the world”, according to German Vogue. And I would not argue with them. This will be the first polished metropolitan outing of my new show Say Sorry to the Lady and it’s a special evening with cocktails and food galore. Plus: you are supposed to wear pyjamas. Seriously. More info here or you can message them direct to reserve or with questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Really excited about this one. WHAT WILL I WEAR? I have no idea.
Writing in today’s Observer Food Magazine about something that has been bugging me for a while: nut allergies, gluten “sensitivity” and coeliac disease. What’s the difference between a real (sometimes life-threatening) food allergy and a lifestyle choice? And is all this making us more anxious around food? Susie Orbach says yes. I am with her. This piece was inspired by this missive in the four-year-old’s lunchbox (above). My bad.
Vesna Goldsworthy’s Gorsky, reviewed in The Spectator:
“It’s surprising there haven’t been more novels drawing on London’s fascination with Russian oligarchs. But how to write about them without it all seeming a bit Jackie Collins? Vesna Goldsworthy has hit on the perfect solution with her witty novel Gorsky. If you’re going to write about being nouveau riche, why not model your book on the classiest thing ever written on the subject, The Great Gatsby?
Gorsky doesn’t advertise on the cover that this is a thinly veiled rewriting but it’s obvious from the first page (and explained at length in the acknowledgments). F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writer/narrator Nick Carraway becomes Nikola Kimovic, who grew up in poverty in Serbia and has ended up in London running an antiquarian bookshop. His Kensington neighbour? Roman Borisovich Gorsky — ‘The Great Gorsky’ — who just happens to be building a palatial residence next door to Nikola’s humble cottage.
The object of both their interest? The seemingly unattainable Natalia Summerscale, a beautiful, married Russian woman: ‘She made Grace Kelly look like a market trader.’”
I cooked brownies, rock cakes and lemon drizzle cake for Mary Berry for Sainsbury’s magazine, May issue.
This is what happened:
“Everyone knows that Mary Berry is kind and generous and lovely. She is also honest. And she has tasted thousands, possibly millions, of cakes in her lifetime. So what’s her verdict on mine? My lemon drizzle: “Almost perfect. But could have done with another three minutes in the oven.” I knew it! But I didn’t want to risk it burning. I have fallen into the most obvious trap, the one I have seen hundreds of time on Bake Off. What an idiot.
Mary points to the top of the slice which is not quite the same consistency as the sponge at the bottom of the slice. Busted. My brownies: “A lovely sheen on top. Brownies are a personal taste. I would have taken these out sooner. Not enough squidge.” Again. I knew it! The brownies are reasonably dry. It’s how my kids like them. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
The rock cakes? They were made – like all my cakes – the day before meeting Mary. I’m not sure how well they’ve survived the overnight storage. They were pretty tough yesterday. I don’t want to be taking out one of Mary Berry’s crowns. She takes a dainty nibble. “They need to be eaten on the same day,” she says diplomatically. “So for next day they’re not bad.” There is a barely perceptible wrinkling of the nose. “Very nice for a child’s lunchbox.” Ouch.”
Speaking at this week’s Bath Literature Festival, David Nicholls gave an interesting response to a cheeky question about chick lit, commercial vs literary writing and whether some women novelists miss out on critical acclaim. Here’s the transcript of that part of the conversation:
Me: I want to ask you a slightly mean question. It’s a question about your work which really has nothing to do with you. But I’m very interested to know your views on it. And it’s this: There are a lot of women novelists who feel very overlooked and would love to have your success and who think that if you were “Davina Nicholls” you would not have had the success that you’ve had.
So I’m not sure how you’re supposed to answer that. But I wonder… Seeing that Us was Booker-longlisted and I was very sorry that it didn’t make the Booker shortlist and I felt strongly that it should have done… There are a lot of women writers who would say that there is no way that if a love story like that had been written by a woman that it would be on the Booker longlist. And it would be called chick lit.
DAVID NICHOLLS: I’m torn. The first thing to say is to say that Karen Joy Fowler was shortlisted for the Booker and that is a family drama. But at the same time I don’t want to disagree that there’s a kind of snobbery about books that are about love and relationships and family. I mean, I think that is absolutely the case. I think there are exceptions like Anne Tyler who writes about family relationships and is absolutely critically acclaimed. And AM Homes or Lorrie Moore. They are all writing books that are about relationships and family…
Me: They are all American…
DN: Yes, that’s true. I suppose the distinction is between literary and popular and where you fall on that scale. I suppose the reason… I mean, I haven’t dodged this issue… But I’m perhaps not the best person to answer this because I’m not the best judge of where I fall on that scale. And I think it’s very unhealthy for writers to try and place themselves on that scale.
I certainly think there are a lot of great authors. I mean, the writing of Marian Keyes… If you read the books — which I have — they’re absolutely tough. About mental illness and depression and drug abuse. Or someone like Jojo Moyes — a brilliant writer and books that are discreetly but absolutely political. So I would be inclined to agree [that women are overlooked].
But for me this gets difficult. Because I have read articles that seem to say that I am fantastically over-rated. [Extensive audience laughter]. Which might be true. But it’s not necessarily something that I want to be told. [More laughter.]
I just want to say that, yes, they have a point [that women can be overlooked].
Me: I think that’s a very sensible answer.
DN: I don’t think I have answered it. But I wanted to try and answer it because I think there’s a lot to be said. But it involves classifying and rating myself in a way that would be ridiculous.
Me: It’s not your fight.
DN: No. But a lot of the writers we’re talking about are friends of mine so I’m trying to be bold.
More on this exchange here.