Why are middle-aged women invisible on book covers? | Alison Flood

Even when they’re central to the story, women over 40 are getting pushed to one side when it’s time to design the book jacket

Here’s a challenge for you: find a book jacket that features an image of a woman over 40.

My own hunt – as yet unsuccessful – was prompted by the actor and novelist Barbara Ewing, whose novel about a drama-school reunion, The Actresses, has just been reissued. Ewing says she cried when she first saw the cover of the 1997 edition – although it focuses on women over 50, the jacket image was a close up of a young woman’s face. This time around, she and publisher Head of Zeus have gone for an elegant photograph of a silver-haired woman that measures up perfectly to the book’s protagonists. But Ewing says bookshops aren’t interested.

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Ode to whiteness: British poetry scene fails diversity test

Study shows poets of colour are underrepresented in the UK, as Forward poetry prizes announce trailblazing shortlists

The British poetry world is “failing to meet even the most basic measurements of inclusivity”, according to a new report which highlights the “systemic exclusion” of poets and critics of colour from UK and Irish poetry magazines.

Collecting data from 29 magazines and websites including PN Review, Poetry Review, the Guardian and Oxford Poetry, the study found that between 2012 and 2018, 9% of almost 20,000 published poems were by poets of colour. Of the 1,819 poems, 502 were published in a single magazine, Modern Poetry in Translation; if this is taken out of the equation, only 7% of poems were by poets of colour. The studyPDF, conducted by poetry reviewer and blogger Dave Coates for Ledbury Emerging Poetry Critics, points out that in contrast, at the 2011 census, 12....

Olga Tokarczuk’s ‘extraordinary’ Flights wins Man Booker International prize

The Polish novelist takes £50,000 prize, to be shared with her translator, for a story that moves from ‘wit and gleeful mischief to real emotional texture’

Olga Tokarczuk has become the first Polish writer to win the Man Booker International prize, which goes to the best work of translated fiction from anywhere in the world.

More than 100 novels were submitted for the 2018 award, and Tokarczuk’s Flights saw off work by two former winners – South Korea’s Han Kang and Hungary’s László Krasznahorkai – to secure the £50,000 prize, which is shared equally with her English translator Jennifer Croft.

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John le Carré letter reveals author’s contempt for British political class

Message to American friend in 2010 pours scorn on ‘ragbag of ivy league Tories’, ‘eco-ostriches’ and ‘born again PR men’ returned to power in UK

John le Carré’s stinging disdain for British politicians is displayed in a caustic letter to an American friend, coming up for auction, which sees him pouring scorn on the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and Labour alike.

The handwritten letter to an obstetrician from Maine was written by the author in August 2010, after the Conservative party had failed to win a majority in the general election and had formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Or as Le Carré astringently put it: “The Etonians have taken back the shop with the help of some B-list inexperienced liberals who will evaporate in their own hot air before long, leaving the shop to a ragbag of ivy league Tories, born again PR men, sexists, anti-Europeans, nostalgists and ...

Thrillers review: Our Kind of Cruelty; What We Did; Star of the North

Dirty dancing, memories of sexual abuse and a spy’s search for her missing sister feature in this month’s standouts

Mike and Verity play a dangerous game: the Crave. In a crowded nightclub, Verity begins to flirt with whoever approaches her, while Mike looks on. When she gives him the signal, Mike muscles in and scares her suitor off. It turns them on. But they are no longer together, and Verity is marrying another man. Is this a more advanced version of the Crave? Mike, the narrator of Araminta Hall’s Our Kind of Cruelty (Century, £12.99), thinks it is, and anything Verity tells him to the contrary only convinces him further that he’s right.

“I wondered for a moment if she had been kidnapped and someone else was writing her emails,” he ponders, after he is informed of the forthcoming marriage. “The much more plausible explanations were that V was ...

Ali Smith novel makes shortlist of Orwell prize for political writing

Winter is only the sixth novel ever to be shortlisted for the Orwell, and is up against acclaimed non-fiction titles including The Islamic Enlightenment and Testosterone Rex

Ali Smith’s novel Winter could become the first work of fiction to win the Orwell prize for books in more than a decade, after her riff on A Christmas Carol made the shortlist for the UK’s top award for political writing.

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Stan Lee sues former company for $1bn in damages

The 95-year-old comic-book creator claims POW! Entertainment executives brokered a ‘sham deal’ with a Chinese company that stole rights to his name

Famed Marvel superhero creator Stan Lee is seeking more than $1bn (£740m) in damages from his former company POW! Entertainment, alleging that he was tricked into signing a document giving away rights to use his name and likeness.

The comic-book legend, who is 95, is suing POW!, its co-founder Gill Champion and CEO Shane Duffy, alleging they brokered a “sham deal” to sell POW! to a China-based company, Camsing. Duffy is also the vice president of Camsing Entertainment.

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Liu Xia: Paul Auster and JM Coetzee lead renewed calls for Chinese poet’s release

Liu, who has never been charged with a crime, has been under house arrest in China since her late husband Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel peace prize in 2010

Paul Auster, JM Coetzee, Alice Sebold and Khaled Hosseini are among dozens of major writers issuing an urgent call for the Chinese poet and artist Liu Xia to be freed after almost a decade under house arrest.

Liu, 50, has been under house arrest in China since her late husband, the human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, was given the Nobel peace prize in 2010. Chinese authorities insist Liu “enjoys all freedoms in accordance with the law”, but supporters say her movements have been severely restricted and she lives under constant surveillance.

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Wodehouse prize for comic fiction withheld after judges fail to laugh

None of the 62 novels submitted for the 2018 award generated ‘unanimous laughter’ among the jury, so the honour will roll over this year

This year’s new novels are not much of a laugh – at least according to the judges of the UK’s only prize for comic fiction, who have taken the unprecedented decision to withhold the award after failing to be sufficiently amused by the books submitted.

Related: 'I fell out of bed laughing': writers on their favourite funny book

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Ondaatje prize goes to ‘mythic’ poems about a mother’s mental illness

Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica takes £10,000 prize for writing evoking the spirit of a place – here blending a hospital with the rainforest

Pascale Petit’s poetry collection Mama Amazonica, which merges the Amazon rainforest with the psychiatric ward caring for her mentally ill mother, has won the RSL Ondaatje prize for books that best “evoke the spirit of a place”.

Petit’s seventh collection tells the story of her mother, exploring the consequences of abuse as she transforms into a series of creatures – a hummingbird, a wolverine, a “jaguar girl”. Petit, who dedicated the book to her troubled parent, writes: “She’s a rainforest / in a straitjacket,” And: “My mother, trying to conceal / her lithium tremor // as she carries the Amazon / on her back, // her rosettes of rivers / and oxbow lakes, // her clouds of chattering caciques, / her flocks of archangels.”

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Ondaatje prize goes to ‘mythic’ poems about a mother’s mental illness

Pascale Petit’s Mama Amazonica takes £10,000 prize for writing evoking the spirit of a place – here blending a hospital with the rainforest

Pascale Petit’s poetry collection Mama Amazonica, which merges the Amazon rainforest with the psychiatric ward caring for her mentally ill mother, has won the RSL Ondaatje prize for books that best “evoke the spirit of a place”.

Petit’s seventh collection tells the story of her mother, exploring the consequences of abuse as she transforms into a series of creatures – a hummingbird, a wolverine, a “jaguar girl”. Petit, who dedicated the book to her troubled parent, writes: “She’s a rainforest / in a straitjacket,” And: “My mother, trying to conceal / her lithium tremor // as she carries the Amazon / on her back, // her rosettes of rivers / and oxbow lakes, // her clouds of chattering caciques, / her flocks of archangels.”

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Bacon, cheese slices and sawblades: the strangest bookmarks left at libraries

One US librarian has begged borrowers to stop using perishables to mark pages – but there are reports of stranger materials pressed into service

What is the cheesiest book you’ve ever read? For Washington DC librarian Anna Holmes, it wasn’t so much the book, as the slice of Kraft American that she found inside it, clearly used by a cheese-loving patron as a bookmark. The library branch has seen three “cheese bookmark” incidents to date, according to Holmes, who made a plea on Twitter for readers to “PLEASE stop using cheese as a bookmark. Please. We give away actual bookmarks for free. Or like use a receipt or something. Just not perishables.”

Whiffy as that sounds, that trio of dairy product delinquents are not the worst offenders, librarians across the world have revealed in response to Holmes’s plea. There are those who use banana skins, broccoli (“It ...

Sexist Little Miss books? Bedtime reading is always a gender minefield

The row over stereotyping in the world of Little Miss Bossy and Little Miss Shy ignores the prejudice found in many children’s classics

Emily Thornberry doesn’t like “this thing about being little” and Piers Morgan wonders why “people bother with these things”, but this week’s kerfuffle over an undergraduate study on gender and stereotyping in children’s books shows that the Mr Men have their shocking side.

To be more precise, it’s the Little Miss series that has been causing all the trouble. These books are an offshoot of the Mr Men world launched in 1981, 10 years after Mr Tickle first extended his “extraordinarily long arms”.

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New Doctor Who regenerated in fiction by Juno Dawson and Naomi Alderman

The 13th Doctor, as played on BBC One by Jodie Whittaker, will also feature in a novel and a short story by the two acclaimed authors

The award-winning authors Naomi Alderman and Juno Dawson are stepping into the Tardis, writing fiction featuring Jodie Whittaker as the 13th incarnation of Doctor Who.

Whittaker’s first series starring as the 13th Doctor will launch on BBC One this autumn. Alderman, who won the Baileys prize for her dystopian novel The Power, is writing a new short story featuring Whittaker’s Doctor “battling to save the universe alongside her close and trusted friends”. It will be included in the collection Thirteen Doctors, 13 Stories, due out in November.

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Mockingbird play set for Broadway after Harper Lee estate settles dispute

Lawyers for the late novelist, and for producers of Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation, have agreed a deal that will allow the show to open in December

Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird is set to go ahead in December, after the estate of Harper Lee and the play’s producers “amicably settled” their lawsuits.

The late author’s estate had filed a lawsuit in Alabama in March, claiming that Sorkin’s script made too many changes to Lee’s characters, in particular that of the lawyer Atticus Finch. According to the lawsuit, the estate had told producer Scott Rudin’s company Rudinplay that “for this classic, it is really important that any spin put on the characters, not least Atticus, does not contradict the author’s image of them”. It said that Lee herself portrayed Atticus as “a model of wisdom, integrity and professionalism”, citing an interview in which Sorkin called the ...

How Christopher Columbus’s son built ‘the world’s first search engine’

In the 16th century, Hernando Colón amassed a library of unprecedented size and range. The author of a new biography tells its startlingly modern story

For 30 years, Hernando Colón, the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus, travelled the world with a quest, albeit one very different to that of his coloniser father: to build the biggest library the world had ever seen. Between 1509 and his death in 1539, Colón travelled all over Europe – in 1530 alone he visited Rome, Bologna, Modena, Parma, Turin, Milan, Venice, Padua, Innsbruck, Augsburg, Constance, Basle, Fribourg, Cologne, Maastricht, Antwerp, Paris, Poitiers and Burgos – buying books everywhere he went and eventually amassing the greatest private library in Europe.

Colón’s aim, to create a universal library containing “all books, in all languages and on all subjects, that can be found both within Christendom and without”, has been charted for the first time in English ...

Kayo Chingonyi wins Dylan Thomas prize with poems of ‘vexed celebration’

Kumukanda, the Zambian-British author’s collection exploring black masculinity, wins £30,000 award for authors aged 39 or under

The Zambian-British writer Kayo Chingonyi’s exploration of black masculinity in his debut poetry collection Kumukanda has won him the £30,000 Dylan Thomas award.

The Swansea University International Dylan Thomas prize is awarded each year for the best literary work by an author aged 39 or under – the age the beloved Welsh poet was when he died. Chingonyi, who is 31, is the first British poet to win the genre-straddling award, which has gone in the past to Max Porter’s novel Grief Is the Thing With Feathers and Fiona McFarlane’s short-story collection The High Places.

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Jojo Moyes steps in to save Quick Reads after literacy project loses funding

‘Sometimes you just have to put your money where your mouth is,’ says the Me Before You author, who will fund the charity for three years

Me Before You author Jojo Moyes has stepped in to save Quick Reads, just two weeks after the popular adult literacy scheme announced it was on the brink of closure due to a lack of funding.

Moyes’s donation was not disclosed, but charity the Reading Agency, which runs the scheme, had previously said it would need £120,000 a year for at least three years to keep Quick Reads going. Moyes said her funds would cover that time frame, and that she would help the organisation find future funding thereafter.

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Romantic novelist’s trademarking of word ‘cocky’ sparks outcry

Fameela Hopkins, whose works include Cocky Romantic and Cocky Cowboy, is said to have written to other writers asserting her right to the adjective in titles

Romance novelists have risen en masse to defend their right to use the word “cocky”, after one writer moved to trademark the adjective.

Faleena Hopkins is the self-published author of a series of books about the “Cocker Brothers” (“Six bad boy brothers you’ll want to marry or hide under you [sic] bed”), each of which features the word “cocky” in the title: Cocky Romantic, Cocky Biker, Cocky Cowboy. On Saturday, author Bianca Sommerland posted a YouTube video sharing allegations that Hopkins had written to authors whose books also had titles including the word “cocky”, informing them that she had been granted the official registered trademark of the adjective in relation to romance books, and asking them to rename their novels or face legal action.

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Nobel prize in literature 2018 cancelled after sexual assault scandal

Decision follows string of sexual assault allegations made against husband of former member of the Swedish Academy

The Swedish Academy, which has become mired in controversy over its links to a man accused of sexual assault, announced on Friday morning that there would be no Nobel laureate for literature selected in 2018, as it attempts to come to terms with the unprecedented fallout.

For the first time in 75 years, the secretive jury that hands out the world’s most prestigious literary award will not unveil a winner this autumn, instead revealing two winners in 2019. The decision, announced at 9am Swedish time following a meeting on Thursday, comes after a string of sexual assault allegations made against the French photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, the husband of academy member and poet Katarina Frostenson.

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