May 09, 2021
Tokens of affection were exchanged with sister-in-law whose early death influenced the author’s work
A pair of exchanged lockets might look like evidence of an illicit romance. But two such “highly personal and private” tokens of affection – one containing a lock of Charles Dickens’s hair and the other of his sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth – are actually proof of something more tragic and complex, according to the curator of an exhibition to open next month in Dickens’s former central London home.
“We are enormously pleased to be showing these previously unseen items, which we acquired last year, for the first time,” said Louisa Price of the Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty Street. “They tell a story that had a direct influence on at least one of his best known works – Oliver Twist – which he was writing when his sister-in-law, Mary, suddenly died.” Continue reading...
May 02, 2021
The author’s son explains why the working-class heroes of his father’s soon-to-be-reissued novels will resonate today
Spies, treachery and dangerous secrets, all liberally seasoned with dry wit: these were the moreish ingredients that made international hits of Len Deighton’s stylish 1960s thrillers, set in the grey world of post-colonial, postwar British intelligence. His sardonic working-class hero, played on screen by Michael Caine in the The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin and Billion Dollar Brain, set the template for a succession of deadpan, worldly-wise leading men.
Now a fresh generation have the chance to sample Deighton’s wares as Penguin republishes many of his books, starting this month with those three, early bestselling titles. Continue reading...
Apr 04, 2021
A biography of the Dorset poet, who was a lover of the novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner, traces her struggle ‘to live as herself’
With the help of Dorset police, MI5 were confidently closing in on three subversive potential terrorists living quietly together near the sea almost 85 years ago. Local officers had been alerted to their shared communist sympathies and were now monitoring the suspects: Ackland, Townsend and Warner, each one deemed a threat to Britain’s security in the run-up to the second world war.
But in fact, as recently released secret service documents show, this potentially dangerous trio under covert surveillance were actually female poets. And what’s more, there were just two of them: lesbian lovers Valentine Ackland and Sylvia Townsend Warner. Continue reading...
Dec 26, 2020
The writer has blended music, dance and words into a film tracing the pandemic
How to tell millions of individual stories? Or represent the pain and anxiety of a pandemic to audiences of the future? Perhaps it takes a national poet to attempt it.
Speaking exclusively to the Observer, Simon Armitage, the poet laureate, and his long-time collaborator, the award-winning British filmmaker Brian Hill, have revealed they are quietly tackling this challenge together. Continue reading...
Nov 28, 2020
Author dressed up as Professor Challenger, whom he preferred over his Sherlock creation
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger, the fictional scientist and explorer who discovers a forgotten land of dinosaurs, went on to inspire a string of adventure films, including Jurassic Park. He was a headstrong and irascible antihero, but there is now proof he also served as his creator’s literary alter ego.
The evidence of handwritten notes and amendments, laid out this week with the first publication of the full manuscript of Conan Doyle’s original and most famous Challenger story, The Lost World, show the author not only posed for a photograph of himself dressed as the professor, but also initially gave the character his own age and address. Continue reading...
Apr 05, 2020
Novelists are being attacked for telling stories about experiences that aren’t their own. But isn’t that the point of using the imagination?
Billed as the big page-turner of the season, My Dark Vanessa, American author Kate Elizabeth Russell’s first novel, is a tale for the Time’s Up generation. Its involving drama invites readers to look back again at any treasured youthful memories they may harbour of a past relationship with an older lover and ask: was it really all so pure and so romantic?
But her provocative book has also caused a stir, first in America and now in Britain, for a different reason. Like Jeanine Cummins, author of this year’s American Dirt, Russell has been repeatedly asked to defend her right to tell a story that is not her own. Continue reading...