ON EXCESS BAGGAGE!
WiO chair, Janey Hampton,
will be appearing on Radio 4's travel programme Excess Baggage at
10 am this Saturday. She will be talking about Africa's oldest ship,
the Chauncy Maples. See www.chauncymaples.org and Excess Baggage.
Carter presents a
documentary on BBC4 at 9pm on Monday 9th February, called "Why
Reading Matters". She thinks there are various repeats as well
(I hope she gets a fee for each ...).
a look at the information about it on the BBC website, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00hk7w3.
5 has just announced that
Janie Hampton's 'The Austerity Olympics' is on the short list of
six for the William Hill sports book of the year. 1st prize is to
be announced on 24 November.
in Oxford will be holding a Christmas Book Fair
showcase the work of local authors to the public, at the Corner
Club (formerly the QI Club), Turl Street, on Saturday, 22 November,
from 10.30 to 5.00.
Members will be on hand to sign books and
to meet their readers, and there will be a series of talks throughout
the day (watch this space for more details).
Members who wish to take part should contact
Cherry Mosteshar (contact information in the Members' Area of the
Cullington’s new book
is described by her publisher as ‘an indispensable, practical
self-help book for those going through break-up and divorce’.
This may not in itself sound promising, conjuring up as
it does visions of the bland and shallow advice dispensed in so
many how-to-be-happy-and-lead-a-fuller-life books.
But Breaking Up Blues looks to be rather more interesting
than the thumbnail description makes it sound. Denise herself, who
is one of WiO’s newer members, is not in fact a self-help
guru. She began her career as clinical psychologist and subsequently
trained at the Tavistock and the Institute of Psychoanalysis to
become a psychotherapist. And her publisher is Routledge Mental
Health (who also publish WiO’s Sue
Gerhardt). They have done an excellent job on their website,
providing both an audio interview with Denise and a downloadable
Denise explains to me that one of the things
she tries to do is look at how so many couples who split up end
by breaking more than their relationships. They often do so because,
by becoming locked into ‘battle mode’, they fail to
recognise the many positive aspects of the relationships they are
leaving. In seeking to wage war against their former partners, they
can all too easily end by damaging their own self-esteem and their
own capacity to make relationships. As she writes in her book:
Rage helps you feel powerful. Blame helps you feel innocent of any fault of your own – but blame and rage can whip you, and your former partner, into a cycle of attack and counterattack which – without a deliberate and determined decision to stop – can keep on going, with all its resultant damage.
Denise will, no doubt, have more to say about this and related matters when she is intervied by Woman’s Hour. The interview was scheduled to take place today (Wednesday 30 July). But, when I ring her to find out why there is no mention of it on the BBC website, she explains that Woman’s Hour have rescheduled. Instead of slotting a discussion of her book in with two or three other items, they will be devoting a full hour to it in September. This is clearly excellent news.
For those who can’t wait, just click (or double-click) on the audio player below to listen to the interview which Routledge conducted with their own author about the book which Dorothy Rowe describes as ‘A wise and practical book for managing heartbreak and change’.
Or, better still, resist the urge to go to Amazon (for the reasons given here) and buy the book from your nearest independent bookseller:
Breaking Up Blues: A Guide to Survival and Growth
by Denise Cullington, Routledge, 2008
MORE BREAKING UP BLUES
30 July 2008
Maeve Bayton, who is sometimes known as ‘East Oxford’s Queen of the Blues’, is not a member of Writers in Oxford on the strength of her talents as a guitarist, harmonica-player and singer song-writer. But, judging by the quality of the songs on her own-label CD, Maeve: Blues and Ballads, she might well be. In fact she belongs to WiO because she is a sociologist and has written a book about women musicians: Frock Rock: Women Performing Popular Music, (OUP, 1998).
If you would like to browse through selected pages, click to go to the Questia online version (where you can read the opening and the first page of every chapter free).
But if you are simply curious to know why the title ‘East Oxford’s Queen of the Blues’ scarcely does Maeve justice, click (or double-click) below to listen to one of her songs, ‘Willow’:
don’t be misled by the close resemblance between the audio
player here and the one for Denise’s interview. The interview
is indeed hosted elsewhere by odeo.
But Maeve’s song ‘Willow’
is, in its online incarnation at least, a Writers in Oxford exclusive.
You hear it here first!
If it whets your appetite, however, you can
listen to more of Maeve’s songs on her MySpace
page. Don’t miss ‘Letting
You Go’, which should perhaps be adopted as the theme song
for Denise Cullington’s book (see above). Or the song which
Maeve wrote in what she calls her ‘Victoria Wood moment’,
‘THIS BOOK IS GOING TO BE A BESTSELLER’
15 July 2008
late in the day to point
out that you could have heard WiO’s Helen Rappaport talking
about her new book Ekaterinburg: The last Days of the Romanovs
on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week on 26 May.
But not too late since you can still listen to the programme on
the BBC website. Click here
and follow the ‘listen again’ link in the centre of
the page. (If you want to fast-forward to Helen’s spot, it
starts at around 33 minutes.)
It was not Andrew Marr, however, who prophesied that Helen’s
book ‘is going to be a bestseller’. These words were
written by Susan Hill. For the full story, which also provides a
fresh perspective on Amazon’s recent dispute with the publisher
Hachette, read my longer piece,
Susan Hill, Amazon and the Woodstock Bookshop’.
EGERTON TAKES THE CHAIR
Julie Summers takes
a well-earned rest after an outstanding three years at the helm
of WiO, Frank Egerton is taking over the chair from her.
Frank will be well-known
to all but the newer members of WiO as a former editor of The
Oxford Writer. He is a novelist and a freelance journalist
who has reviewed fiction for the Times, the TLS,
and the Spectator. (His latest
review for the Times was of Remember
Me by Melvyn Bragg.). He is also the librarian at
the Latin American Centre, St Antony's College, Oxford and a teacher
of creative writing.
His first novel,
The Lock, came out in paperback in 2003 and he has recently
finished a second novel, Invisible.
The influences on his writing are many and various, as he reveals
in the course of an Arvon Foundation interview:
One of my defining influences
was Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers. I remember
reading the TLS review of it in Chippenham library, ordering
the novel from the bookshop in Chipping Sodbury, collecting it
a fortnight later and reading it in a sitting. I took my
dog for a walk afterwards, my head buzzing, and autumn colours
had never looked so vivid, life had never felt so fresh.
Not that I was entirely easy about the story -- there are some
very disturbing bits in it -- but I was amazed by the power of
the writing. Reading McEwan's book didn't make me want to
write like him but it made me determined to write . . .
I've been influenced by
writers such as Thomas Nashe, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Mikhail
Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita), John Cowper Powys
(Wolf Solent and A Glastonbury Romance), Angus Wilson, Barbara
Pym, John Wain, Beryl Bainbridge, Patrick Gale, William Rivière
and Arturo Pérez-Reverte (The Queen of the South
has to be one of the most compelling novels ever!).
For more about Frank's writing, read the
Foundation interview or visit his website.
TWO NEW BOOKS AND A WEBSITE
9 April 2008
the Oxford Literary Festival is that WiO chair Julie Summers delivered
an excellent talk about her biography of Sandy Irvine, Fearless
on Everest: The Quest for Sandy Irvine, which has just
been republished by RippingYarns.com.
It’s an eventful publishing season for Julie, however, since
later this year Simon and Schuster will be bringing out her new
in the House.
As Julie writes in the Introduction:
‘The idea for Stranger in the House came to me on
a train journey from Oxford to London. I had not long published
Colonel of Tamarkan and the final chapter, when I described
the difficult adjustment to post-war life experienced by the colonel
when he came back from the Far East in 1945, had struck a chord
with many people who wrote to thank me for tackling the thorny topic
of returning heroes. I thought about what it must have been like
to welcome home a man who had been away for years, who had experienced
the horrors of war and who was now expected to get on with life,
to build a career, to take up with a family he hardly knew any more
and to live in a country ravaged by years of war and rationing.
But what about the women? How did they cope? What kind of adjustment
did they have to make? How many of these women had any understanding
at all of what was coming next?’ Her book will deal with these
and many other questions.
Not content with two books, Julie has also
just launched a striking new
website, designed by Andy Ballingall. The site didn’t
come into being until after the completion of the greatly expanded
version of ‘To
blog or not to blog: a guide to blogs and writers’ websites’.
This is why it’s mentioned there only in passing. But WiO
member Megan Kerr is surely right when she describes it as ‘visually
THE GOD QUESTION
16 March 2008
is the editor of the
Royal Institute of Philosophy journal THINK. He has published several
books, including The Philosophy Gym, and recently hosted
a splendid Drinks and Digressions gathering for his fellow WiO members.
Soon, on 3 April 2008, he will lead a discussion - ‘There
is no God!’ - at what used to be called The QI club
and what now, after a change of ownership, goes under the name of
The Corner Club. The event is part of Oxfringe 2008 which is is
‘dedicated to promoting upcoming literary, dramatic, comic,
artistic and musical talent.’ For booking details, click here.
Like his fellow philosopher,
WiO’s Nigel Warburton, Stephen is not, so far as I know, an
adherent of what has previously been
referred to on this page as ‘one of the more militant
faith-groups in the country’, namely atheists of the Dawkinist
tendency. But I can’t resist making the suggestion that background
reading for Stephen’s talk ought perhaps to include John Gray’s
atheist delusion, in the current edition of the Guardian
Review. Gray, who is apparently an unbeliever himself,
takes issue with some of his fellow infidels for the religious zeal
with which they crusade against the religion from whose chains they
implicitly claim emancipation. Among those he has in mind are Richard
Dawkins, the philosopher Daniel Dennett, and WiO’s Philip
Pullman, whose Northern Lights trilogy Gray describes as a ‘subtly
allusive multi-layered allegory’ which is ‘deeply indebted
to the faith it attacks’.
What has emerged in recent
years, notes Gray, is a new version of an ‘evangelical type
of atheism not seen since Victorian times’:
As in the past this is
a type of atheism that mirrors the faith it rejects . . . Zealous
atheism renews some of the worst features of Christianity and
Islam. Just as much as these religions, it is a project of universal
conversion. Evangelical atheists never doubt that human life can
be transformed if everyone accepts their view of things, and they
are certain that one way of living – their own, suitably
embellished – is right for everybody. To be sure, atheism
need not be a missionary creed of this kind. It is entirely reasonable
to have no religious beliefs, and yet be friendly to religion.
It is a funny sort of humanism that condemns an impulse that is
peculiarly human. Yet that is what evangelical atheists do when
they demonise religion.
The full text of John
Gray’s essay can be read in the current edition of the Guardian
Review or online here.
HOW MANY ARE YOU?
13 March 2008
now been published by Little Brown on both sides of the Atlantic.
Her new book follows her immensely successful and widely praised
the Mind and her later book Consciousness.
... Boldly subtitled ‘The New Science of Personality’,
Multiplicity puts forward the view that we all have multiple
personalities - that we are many rather than one. Indeed, she suggests
that new research into the brain indicates that our occasional feelings
of split personality are just part of being human.
... Some time ago Rita was interviewed about her book on Woman’s
Hour by Jenni Murray. To read the introduction to this interview
on the BBC Radio 4 website, click here.
To listen to the interview, click here.
2 December 2007
time of year has arrived
when members of Writers and Oxford (and others) need to be pointed
towards the ideal WiO Christmas present. This year I'm pleased to
say there are three strong candidates. The first is by Sam Jordison
who now writes a regular
blog for Guardian Unlimited. His latest Christmas offering,
coming fast on the heels of Crap Towns, The Joy of
Sects and last year's Bad Dates, is Annus Horribilis:
A Chronicle of Comic Mishaps wherein all manner of amusing
disasters are collected for our entertainment. It's perhaps worth
noting that Sam's book has been given five stars on the Amazon
website in the only reader's review to have appeared so far.
And the name of the reviewer? It so happens that it is one S. Jordison
of Oxford, UK. But let there be no accusations that Sam has omitted
to declare his interest:
Obviously, I'm going to
give my own book five stars.
Shameless, I know.
At least, I guess, I did it under my own name.
And I am quite fond of this one, if that's any mitigation.
And, er, if it gives you as much pleasure as it's given me, it's
a sure fire winner . . . .
even more remarkable is that the book Amazon currently recommends
as the Perfect Partner to purchase with Sam's book is the novel
Wednesday's Child (Virago) by Eloise Millar. Quite why
Amazon should have selected this remains a mystery. Do they know
that Eloise is Sam's girlfriend? Perhaps Amazon have been reading
list of ten recommended books where 'location is everything'. For
there at number 10 we find none other than Eloise's novel. But for
those who might wish to point the finger it should be said that
there's no whiff of impropriety here either. Once again, Sam is
scrupulous in declaring his interest:
10. Eloise Millar - Wednesday's Child
Of course, I'm biased, because I live with
the author, but the descriptions of Oxford's Blackbird Leys estate
in this promising debut are bang on the money (or lack of it).
Run out and buy 10 copies - then she'll be able to get me that
Italian espresso maker I've been craving.
As scandals about the funding
of political parties and disguised donations swirl around the country,
what can one say but this: "Transparency, thy name is Sam Jordison.
Step forward! Gordon Brown needs you." It seems a fitting occasion
in any case for me to declare my own (entirely disinterested) admiration
for the entry on Oxford which, to the surprise of many, was included
in Sam's best-selling Crap Towns. When I asked Sam if it
would be possible to reprint the piece on this website he sent me
the text by return. It transpired that this too was written by Eloise
Millar. Given that Eloise is herself a member of WiO it is therefore
all the more fitting that her piece should appear on this website.
To read her fierce and unusual view of what is so frequently regarded
as an idyllic English city, click
comic disasters are not to your taste it's worth bearing in mind
the second contender in this year's WiO Christmas stakes. Why not
get a copy of Classical Music’s Strangest Concerts &
Characters, by WiO members Brian Levison and Frances Farrer?
It is packed with stories, all strange in different ways, and all
true. There is even a tale about the Argentinean cellist Ennio Bolognini
taking a Great Dane to a recording studio and tying it to his chair
leg. He had won the dog while gambling the previous night. The dog
began to explore the studio as Bolognini was playing Massenet. As
the cellist continued playing Massenet with his chair being pulled
this way and that, he was followed by a technician with a microphone
looking increasingly desperate. Modest as ever, neither Brian nor
Frances has yet awarded the book an Amazon
5-star review but perhaps they will now take a leaf out of Sam's
wouldn't be Christmas, however, without another rude book by WiO's
Rob Bailey. I do seem to recall that last time I talked to Rob at
one of WiO's summer parties he declared his intention to have a
book-free year so that he could concentrate on his day-job as a
clinical psychologist. But maybe that was last year. Or maybe he
was prevailed upon to change his mind by a cheque-book-waving publisher.
Wherever the truth may lie, the fact is that this Christmas sees
the publication of a successor to Rob's two previous forays into
the territory, Rude Britain and Rude World. The
new book is called, Rude UK. You can read Rob's own tongue-in-cheek
piece about the book in today's Independent
THE FORGOTTEN GENIUS?
2 December 2007
is no known connection between
Writers in Oxford and John Cowper Powys or his new biographer Morine
Krissdóttir. But, as has been noted previously on this page,
WiO has never been provincial in its outlook. It therefore seems
fitting occasionally to feature items here of more general literary
anyone who may have lost faith in the art of reviewing there is
a piece in the current edition of the Times Literary Supplement
which should in itself be sufficient to restore that faith.
in question is by Margaret Drabble and its subject is the new
biography of Powys, Descents of Memory. For those, and
there must be many, who have never heard of Powys, it is perhaps
the words of George Steiner which best convey the measure of the
esteem in which he is held by some of those who have. John Cowper
Powys' works are, Steiner wrote in the New Yorker, 'the
only novels produced by an English writer that can fairly be compared
to the fictions of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky ... with an immensity
to which only Blake could provide a parallel in English literature'.It
is not only his novels of which this could be said. For Powys's
own autobiography is, as Drabble puts it, 'one of the most astonishingly
frank ... since that of Rousseau.' Her wonderful review does much
to explain both the stature of Powys and the reasons why he has
been so neglected. But it also manages, as good reviews should,
not to eclipse the book under consideration but to focus the reader's
curiosity, and what might be called their 'reading-appetite' on
it. I, for one, am won over. With all due respect to my fellow WiO
members, Jordison, Levison, Farrer and Bailey, I now know which
book it is I most want to find in my Christmas stocking.
LITERASCRIBE - A WiO BOOKS BLOG
9 October 2007
one of Lorna Fergusson's creative
writing students recommended that she should start a blog she was
initially tentative. Quite apart from anything else, how would a
technophobe like her ever manage to set one up? But there were also
obvious advantages to consider. Ever since her first novel, The
Chase, had been published by Bloomsbury, she had often
thought about starting a website but had been put off in part by
the expense. Websites, she observes, can all too easily end up 'costing
a fortune'. One of the great advantages of setting up a blog, as
her student had impressed upon her, was that it was free. The other
great advantage, as she was soon to discover, was that it was surprisingly
easy. Half-an-hour after she sat down at her computer that evening
her very own blog, literascribe,
was up and running. 'I take the view that if I can do it,' she says,
'anyone can do it.' If now, after several months, Lorna is still
blogging, it is because she finds she enjoys the particular kind
of writing that this new medium allows. In the first place she can
use it to communicate her love of books and of the business of writing:
‘Hell for me would be a desert island with no books - in fact
anywhere with no books!’. But it's also because she finds
it a good way to keep in touch with the students she used to teach
and her literary friends.
This is not all:
The next reason is the
reason one has for any kind of writing - it's communication of
thought, idea, opinion, feeling. It's finding your voice, making
your mark. It's saying 'Here I am'. It is, as someone said, egosurfing
(the term for Googling your own name - hands up all those of you
who've done it. Yes, you at the back - that includes you). It's
expression of your own individuality in the hope that someone
out there will hear and respond. Of course, now that blogging
is so incredibly popular, you're calling out your name in a huge
stadium of competing voices ('I'm Spartacus!' 'No, I'm Spartacus!')
- how can you be heard? Well, initially you're heard by one or
two, and if you're lucky, they tell one or two others who listen
in, and so on and so on.
One of the many attractions
is that, in addition to doing all this, it also has a story to tell.
The plot of this particular story is one which many writers are
familiar with. It is not so much The Chase as The Wait
- the long agonising wait for publishers to make up their mind about
your latest book. In Lorna's case her new book is a departure, for
she has written a children's novel which, as every reader of her
blog knows, is now in the hands of her agent and doing the rounds
of various publishers. The great question is what is going to happen
next? As with all good plots the only way to find out is to keep
on reading. And the only way to do that is to follow in the footsteps
of the WiO website and add literascribe
to your list of favourites.
TREVOR MOSTYN, REUTERS AND GREEN COLLEGE
9 October 2007
of this website, or
of the Oxford Writer, may well recall Trevor Mostyn's account
of his visit
to Belarus which was published here two years ago. That mission
was undertaken on behalf of English PEN's Writers in Prison committee
of which he is the vice chairman. More recently, Trevor has taken
on another role in Oxford itself. After a long career as a journalist,
publisher and consultant in the Arab world, Iran and India, he has
been appointed to
run the Journalist Fellowship Programme at The
Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University's
Department of Politics and International Relations. One of his principal
roles is to organise a programme of lunchtime seminars at Green
College, the Institute's home. The first of these seminars took
place on Wednesday 10 October when the Israeli historian Illan Pappe,
author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, gave a stimulating
talk entitled 'The Self-Censored Watch Dog:
The Israeli Media and the Palestine Conflict'. For the full programme
of future talks, click here.
For Trevor Mostyn's new website, click here.
STEVEN PINKER AND WiO
9 October 2007
Steven Pinker has not recently
been accepted as a member of Writers in Oxford. But since the review
pages are abuzz with news of his most recent book, The Stuff
of Thought, it seems appropriate that this website should bring
you a distinctive Oxford view of his latest achievement as seen
through the eyes of WiO's Rita Carter.Rita, a science writer who
specialises in books about the human brain, is the author of the
bestselling guide to neuroscience, Mapping
the Mind. Last week she reviewed Pinker's latest book for
reference she makes in her review to Pinker's rock-star good looks
is by now, as she intimates, uncontroversial. However, this is perhaps
a suitable occasion to recall that Pinker is not the only scientist
to sport 'cascading curls'. Those who think otherwise have failed
to study one of the most significant scientific associations of
all time. I speak of the Luxuriant
Flowing Hair Club for Scientists. In the words of the club's
The project was first
announced in mini-AIR
2001-02. The initial list, assembled by a subcommittee comprised
of seven members of the American Association for the Advancement
of Science, was meant as a nucleating seed, from which a larger
list could grow. The first member, chosen by acclamation, was
psychologist Steven Pinker,
has long been the object of admiration, and envy, and intense
study. From that lone, Pinkerian seed, there has grown a spreading
chestnut, black, blond, and red-haired membership tree, which
you can see below and on the other LFHCfS web pages
To go to the annals
of the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists, click here.
For Rita Carter's website, click here.