Making it into my list of 2013 novels in the Observer (click on the book title for the original full-length review): Big Brother by Lionel Shriver (The Observer), Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld (The Observer), The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, Home Fires by Elizabeth Day (The Observer), The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, The Deaths by Mark Lawson, Unexploded by Alison Macleod (The Observer), Lion Heart by Justin Cartwright (The Times), Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant (The Times), The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Red), The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Red), Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell (The Observer), All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (The Times), Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (Red) and May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes (The Observer).
Whilst I recommend all these books, it’s interesting to note the ones I read even though I knew I wasn’t going to be reviewing them: Claire Messud, Meg Wolitzer, Mark Lawson. With all the others, lots of them I read and then ended up reviewing (it’s relatively rare for me to read something because I *have* to review it and have no choice).
I loved this book by Rachel Cooke — reviewed here in Red. I interviewed Rachel recently at Foyle’s where the general feeling in the audience could be summed up as: “I am going to buy this book for every woman I know for Christmas.” As Rachel more or less put it herself, it’s a sort of Grazia of modern social history. It has a serious point behind it. Why don’t we know the names of these women? Why do we imagine that everyone was a housewife in the 1950s? Why is it surprising that women were able to make the lives they wanted? But it has a wonderful light, gossipy touch that makes it so fun to read. Buy it with Hadley Freeman’s How to Be Awesome if you like someone enough to give them two books. Or – sod it – take the message implicit in both books (“You make your own luck, ladies”) and buy them both for yourself.
Really looking forward to Austentatious’ last performance of the year at the Leicester Square Theatre on 22 Dec.
Looking EVEN MORE forward to them performing for the first time in a Regency ballroom in Bath at the Literature Festival on March 8 — one of the fastest-selling of our Early Bird tickets. Click here to book. Here’s a great piece on them in The Bath Magazine.
Austentatious is my favourite thing at the Edinburgh Fringe — I’ve seen them three times now and every time is different to the last and more fabulous. You never see the same show twice because it’s genuinely improvised and made up on the spot. Although it’s so good that most people don’t believe that this can be true. But it is! It really is!
Tickets have gone on sale for my first programme as Artistic Director of the Independent Bath Literature Festival. This is the first time in Bath’s 19-year history that tickets for the Festival (28 Feb to 9 Mar 2014) have been released before Christmas. Last week ten names went on sale. Today tickets for Jennifer Saunders were released: you can buy them in time for Christmas if you sign up as a Friend of the Festival.
Membership as a Friend (from £20) also gives you priority booking on all our events from 2 January. The whole programme goes on general release from 20 January. Here’s more on Membership here: if you know someone in or around Bath or you fancy a weekend away in early March, it’s a great gift.
About Bath Literature Festival: 10 days, 180+ authors, 23,000 ticket sales. We’ve got literary, comedy and non-fiction names from around the world at our 2014 Festival, where the theme is Bliss. I’m performing in the Great Big Comedy Night on March 7 at Komedia: Live at the Apollo’s Mark Watson headlines.
If you love ghostly, wintry stories, you’ll love Kate Mosse’s Gothic collection The Mistletoe Bride, reviewed here for Red. I was lucky enough to watch Kate Mosse perform an extract from the book at 5 X 15 at The Tabernacle in Notting Hill recently (I was there to interview Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk). She’s an electric speaker and really brought the almost creepy, romantic quality of the stories to life. Great stocking filler for anyone who loves her novels or for fans of Susan Hill and/or The Woman in Black.
STOP PRESS: 7/12/13: JENNIFER SAUNDERS NOW ON SALE EXCLUSIVELY TO FRIENDS OF THE FESTIVAL FROM NOW UNTIL 2 JAN.
This is the first time in Bath’s 19-year history that tickets have gone on sale in time for Christmas.
I took over as Artistic Director part-time at the Independent Bath Literature Festival earlier this year: it’s my job to put the programme together, with the help of our brilliant Literature Producer Judith Robinson (formerly of Cheltenham Festivals and British Council). We’ve had a lot of fun putting together these names with the aim of making the Festival as eclectic and varied as possible. The theme? Bliss, which has inspired a series of Bliss Lectures, exclusive eighteen-minute talks by writers and thinkers on the one subject they’re most passionate about.
Sat 1 March:
Germaine Greer on her much-anticipated memoir about her lifelong love affair with Australia
The Great Bath News Debate featuring Alain de Botton, Carl Honore, Jon Snow, Ritula Shah, chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby: “Is News Ruining Our Lives?”
Henry Blofeld: the cricket legend at his unrestrained anecdotal best
Sun 2 March
Hanif Kureishi talks about his controversial new novel The Last Word
Wed 5 March
Claudia Roden: my favourite cookery writer
Friday 7 March
Rowan Williams: the former Archbishop of Canterbury delivers one of our unique Bliss Lectures: “Bliss is… Tolstoy.”
Mark Hix: award-winning restaurateur and chef talks about his life in food
Great Big Comedy Night featuring Mary Bourke, Gemma Whelan, Mark Watson. Viv Groskop MC.
Sat 8 March
Austentatious: Edinburgh Fringe sell-out sensation returns to Bath — my favourite comedy improv troupe
Sun 9 March
Joanna Trollope: the acclaimed novelist on why Jane Austen is her bliss
Picture by Paris-based photographer Ed Alcock (for ES magazine), whose book Hobbledehoy is out now.
I loved interviewing Femen co-founder Inna Shevchenko in Russian (and a tiny bit — troshki — of Ukrainian) in Paris for ES magazine for the London Evening Standard. I have mixed feelings about Femen and the point of what they’re doing. And, as I stated in the piece, I worry for their safety: they are extremists and that attracts the attention of other extremists. But Shevchenko is a fascinating and intelligent young woman with her heart in the right place. I was sorry she had not heard of Germaine Greer.
Hilariously, a picture of me with Femen got me a warning from Facebook. (You’re not allowed to publish pictures of nipples.) And when I posted the link to this piece on the Standard website, I was banned from Facebook for 24 hours. I daren’t risk putting this picture there again…
Writing in today’s Mail on Sunday (“Rachel Johnson is away”) about the remarkable regeneration of Victoria Beckham (“Posh in Not-As-Objectionable-As-You-Once-Thought Shocker!), Susanna Reid on Strictly, the critic who attacked Sarah Silverman and the UK Twerking Championships. All the most important global news stories, basically.
My account of a family viewing of the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special, The Day of the Doctor. I thought the Whovians wouldn’t exactly agree. As I say in the piece, I don’t pretend to be a Whovian, I am a Whatian. By which I mean that I watch Dr Who and enjoy it. But I rarely understand WHAT on earth is going on. This was no exception.
Confession: I was growing a little tired of Downton (MASSIVE EUPHEMISM) by the end of the series so I haven’t posted the blogs for Episodes Seven and Eight until long after the event. The comments are on Episode Eight are interesting: Downton obviously picked up a lot of extra viewers for the finale who had perhaps lost their way halfway through the series. No doubt the same influx will be tuning in for the Christmas episode.
My overall view of Downton persists: fantastic production values and great acting versus illogical character development and all-over-the-place plots. And too many “main characters” (as I’ve said in the blog several times, apparently Uncle Julian regards “everyone as a main character”). No wonder I’ve been cheating on the Abbey with the Paradise…
Cover pic: Nick Briggs as reproduced on www.guardian.com