Morality clauses: are publishers right to police writers?

Offensive opinions. Bullying. Sexual misconduct. As the literary world is rocked by scandal US publishers are asking authors to sign contracts with ‘morality clauses’. Are they really the answer?

When the American Libraries Association awards its Andrew Carnegie medals in New Orleans later this month, there will be no winner for excellence in non-fiction. Sherman Alexie, the poet and novelist who was due to receive it for a memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, has declined the award following allegations of sexual harassment.

Last month, the novelist Junot Díaz withdrew from the Sydney writers’ festival and from chairing the Pulitzer prize board after being confronted by his own accusers. As the allegations swept through social media, another writer, Mary Karr, joined the fray, tweeting of her distress that her testimony to DT Max, the biographer of her one-time partner David Foster Wallace, about Foster Wallace’s ...

Morality clauses: are publishers right to police writers?

Offensive opinions. Bullying. Sexual misconduct. As the literary world is rocked by scandal US publishers are asking authors to sign contracts with ‘morality clauses’. Are they really the answer?

When the American Libraries Association awards its Andrew Carnegie medals in New Orleans later this month, there will be no winner for excellence in non-fiction. Sherman Alexie, the poet and novelist who was due to receive it for a memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, has declined the award following allegations of sexual harassment.

Last month, the novelist Junot Díaz withdrew from the Sydney writers’ festival and from chairing the Pulitzer prize board after being confronted by his own accusers. As the allegations swept through social media, another writer, Mary Karr, joined the fray, tweeting of her distress that her testimony to DT Max, the biographer of her one-time partner David Foster Wallace, about Foster Wallace’s ...

Kamila Shamsie: ‘We have to find reasons for optimism’

The award-winning writer on prophecy, political pessimism and her love of London

When Kamila Shamsie began her novel Home Fire in 2015, Sadiq Khan had yet to launch his campaign to become London’s mayor and the idea of a Muslim home secretary would have been dismissed as a futuristic fantasy. As she stepped up to receive the Women’s prize for fiction this week, both had come to pass, along with several more chilling scenarios in her updating of the classical tragedy Antigone to multicultural Britain today.

After the banker-turned-Conservative MP Sajid Javid was promoted to the Home Office, a supporter went so far as to create a twitter hashtag, #nostrashamsie. But to those who tell her that the resonance of the novel has grown exponentially since it was published last year, Shamsie briskly responds: “I’m not a soothsayer – these things were in the water.”

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Will Midnight’s Children come up golden for Salman Rushdie again?

The Man Booker prize is celebrating 50 years of the award with yet another search for the best ever winner. But can anyone beat Rushdie?

“One day, perhaps, the world may taste the pickles of history. They may be too strong for some palates, their smell may be overpowering, tears may rise to eyes; I hope nevertheless that it will be possible to say of them that they possess the authentic taste of truth...” So says Saleem Sinai in the novel that has become the most feted in the history of the Man Booker prize.

It’s always been too strong for some palates, but since winning the prize in 1981, Midnight’s Children has been a consistent poll-topper. It was acclaimed the best of Booker for the prize’s 25th anniversary (judged by a panel of three in 1993) and Booker of Bookers for its 40th, by public vote, in 2008.

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Nobel literature prize postponement attempts to retain some dignity

Swedish Academy award can be a vanity bauble for authors long past the height of their careers

The Nobel prize in literature, which was postponed on Friday following a sex assault scandal, has always been an anomaly among the family of awards established in 1895 by the will of the Swedish chemist and armaments manufacturer Alfred Nobel.

The peace prize makes a statement about the state of the world, and the economics, science and medical prizes bring attention to often epoch-making work, giving kudos to the institutions that produced it as well as to the individual winners, but the literature award is a vanity bauble often awarded at a stage of a writer’s career when they no longer really need it.

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Packing My Library by Alberto Manguel review – a bibliophile’s demons

The urbane Argentinian grumpily boxes up his 35,000 books and writes a Jekyll and Hyde set of reflections on libraries and the power of reading

One feverish night, Robert Louis Stevenson dreamed of a terrifying “hue of brown”. It was the latest visitation from the Night Hag, his term for the horrors that had haunted him from early childhood, and which he exorcised through his writing. From this simple colour dream, Alberto Manguel writes, Stevenson crafted his nightmarish novel, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Manguel has so often referenced the Scottish author in his work (not least in his 2003 novella Stevenson Under the Palm Trees) that it’s tempting to see him as a sort of Hyde to his Jekyll: unworldly, sickly and creatively possessed in a way that the urbane Argentinian-born bibliophile could never be.

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Speaking out: Ted Hughes winner Jay Bernard on exploring the New Cross fire in a one-off performance

When Bernard won the top poetry gong last week, it was a validation for performance poetry – and for the poet’s inquiry into the 1981 fire, told in a constantly evolving poem

The awarding of this year’s Ted Hughes prize for new poetry to Jay Bernard could be seen as a step-change in the long running, and increasingly sour, debate over the relative value of poetry for page and stage.

The 30-year-old Londoner, who uses the pronoun “they”, won the £5,000 prize with a moving and timely multimedia sequence exploring the unresolved issues arising from the New Cross “massacre” – a fire at a 16th birthday party in south London in 1981, which killed 13 young black people.

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Tracy Beaker, please never grow up | Claire Armitstead

Jacqueline Wilson’s bolshie girl is now a single mum on a council estate. Raymond Briggs’s wordless Snowman is becoming a book for ‘a new and older audience’. Why can’t we leave kids books for kids?

Stop the world, I want to get off. On 10 March, it was announced that Tracy Beaker has grown up and become a single mum, in a sequel to Jacqueline Wilson’s beloved trilogy aimed at adults and teenagers as well as preteens. And now it’s been announced that Raymond Briggs’s Snowman is flying towards a similar fate with a retelling by the (admittedly admirable) Michael Morpurgo that will transport the heart-melting carrot-nosed snowman to a “chapter book” for “a new and older audience”.

A chapter book! I ask you! The whole point of The Snowman is that there are no words. He exists in the magical storytelling space that enfolds parents and the smallest ...

Awards for women, writers of colour, small presses – why are there so many books prizes?

There are so many literary prizes these days that they could be regarded as an industry in their own right – but they’re needed to change the status quo

How many literary prizes are there in the UK today? To Wikipedia’s tally of around 70, I can immediately add half a dozen more – and still they come. It doesn’t seem too much of an exaggeration to see them as an industry in their own right, involving flotillas of administrators, squads of judges and hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in prize money.

The value of this industry has long been hotly debated, with some writers going so far as to maintain that having so many prizes deforms the literary culture. The Man Booker prize, in particular, has been charged with dictating the sort of novel that is thought to be worth publishing and promoting, thereby influencing the ...

‘My life’s stem was cut’ – a final poem by Helen Dunmore

The writer is only the second person to posthumously win the Costa award. To celebrate, we present a poem from her winning collection, Inside the Wave

Whatever the tribal allegiances at Tuesday’s Costa awards in London, the warmth was tangible when the book of the year gong went to Helen Dunmore, who died in June. Dunmore excelled over more than three decades in most of the categories in contention for the prize, but returned to her roots to claim it, not with fine fiction for adults or children, but with her 12th and final poetry collection, Inside the Wave. The irony is that, if she were still alive, she would have been unlikely to win this avowedly populist prize.

Five of the eight collections that have won it since the book of the year category was introduced in 1985, in what were then the Whitbreads, have been animated by ...

Lost in (mis)translation? English take on Korean novel has critics up in arms

A row over Han Kang’s award-winning novella The Vegetarian highlights the unavoidable difficulties of importing a novel from a very different language – but literal translation too often results in poor books

Another week, another round in what I shall henceforth refer to as Han Kang-gate – though Smith-field might be more accurate, evoking the London meat market, since the centre of this literary scandal is not the Korean writer but her English translator.

It began last summer in the New York Review of Books, when the writer Tim Parks laid into Deborah Smith’s translation of The Vegetarian. He professed himself mystified that it had won the Man Booker International prize, when “the prose is far from an epitome of elegance, the drama itself neither understated nor beguiling, the translation frequently in trouble with register and idiom.”

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Gail Honeyman: ‘I didn’t want Eleanor Oliphant to be portrayed as a victim’

The Costa award-winning debut novelist on the kindness of Glasgow and becoming a full-time writer in her 40s

Gail Honeyman arrives in London trailing a wheelie-case, having travelled from Glasgow on a plane that was supposed to leave at 7am, but was delayed by the freezing weather. As we take the escalator up to liberate her of the case for a photocall, we muse on the peculiarity of a –7C ground frost stranding a plane which regularly flies at air temperatures of –40C.

In ways that only those who have found themselves sucked into her award-winning debut novel will truly understand, this is an Eleanor Oliphant moment: it enfolds a stressful experience, stoically borne, in the beady intelligence of a woman who is rarely seen in public without a trolley-bag. The comparison has less to do with Honeyman herself than with the capacity of her writing to make everything seem a little ...

Diana Athill: ‘Enjoy yourself as much as you can without doing any damage to other people’

The former editor on regrets, the advantages of old age and why she’s still writing at 100

A few days before her 100th birthday, Diana Athill is embarking on a new literary adventure. She has agreed to do a live webchat, answering questions from her fans in a digital present tense that barely existed when she finally decided to go into a retirement home eight years ago, let alone when she entered the publishing profession some 70 years earlier.

Her answers are characteristically splendid. On the pleasures of rereading: “Losing your memory has its advantages because sometimes you can pick up a book and not remember you’ve read it at all, and lo and behold you have.” Best advice you would give a woman about to embark on her 30s? “I should advise her to have a very good love affair, if she hasn’t had one already.”

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Carol Drinkwater reveals sex attack by Hollywood director Elia Kazan

Rejecting the advances of a famous director cost the actor turned author the part of a lifetime. She explains why, 40 years on, she poured her shame and guilt into her latest novel, The Lost Girl

When the stories about Harvey Weinstein’s abusive behaviour began to pour out of the Hollywood closet, they stirred up painful memories for actor turned novelist Carol Drinkwater – so painful it has taken her four decades to speak out about them.

In an emotional Facebook post last week she wrote about being “very badly damaged in my 20s by a director as famous as HW, more so. It took me years to get over it ... I lost a mighty role because I would not play along, would not sleep with the director in question.”

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Harriet Paige: ‘I had this epic in my head, but found I couldn’t write like that’

The author of Man With a Seagull on His Head remembers the chances that led her to write the story of an outsider artist who becomes an accidental star What would happen if you lost the ability to erase memories? Harriet Paige could not forget this question, overheard on the radio many years ago as she “doing the housework or something”. It was the starting point for her debut novel, which hurls the problem at the head of a 40-year-old local council photocopying clerk. Ray Eccles lives in a small town “lolling out of the mouth of the Thames” on the Essex coast. During a day trip to a local beach, his life is transformed when a seagull falls on him from the sky, creating a strange reverse amnesia which fixes him for ever in that infinitely random moment.
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Dawkins sees off Darwin in vote for most influential science book

A public poll to mark 30 years of the Royal Society book prizes sees The Selfish Gene declared the most significant – with women authors left on the margins Debates about the most influential science book of all time habitually settle into a face-off between Darwin’s Origin of Species and Newton’s Principia Mathematica. But a poll to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Royal Society science book prize returned a more recent winner: Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene. Related: 'As long as we study life, it will be read': the Selfish Gene turns 40 Continue reading...

Daljit Nagra: ‘Poetry is an espresso shot of thought’

Radio 4’s poet in residence on his journey from school dropout to poetry prizewinnerDaljit Nagra remembers the moment his life changed course: it was when he rang home for his A-level results. He was a 21-year-old secondary school dropout from Sheffield who had spent a year at evening classes studying English, sociology and politics. “I didn’t expect to get good grades and when my brother read them out over the phone it was a complete shock.” He hadn’t presumed to apply for university, but his results were good enough to earn him a place in the clearing system. He took a train down to London for an interview at London University’s Royal Holloway College and was accepted to read English. It was the start of a journey that would lead two decades later to the winners’ podium at the Forward prizes, where he joined the great and the ...

Richard Ford should swallow his pride over Colson Whitehead’s bad review

With slow-brewed, writerly rancour, Ford has reiterated his urge to spit on Whitehead over a 2001 notice. In the age of social media, he should be more careful With the possible exception of those involved, everyone enjoys a good literary feud. So it was diverting when Richard Ford took to the pages of Esquire to remind us about one of the juicier spats of the new millennium. It started in 2001, when African American writer Colson Whitehead reviewed Ford’s short-story collection A Multitude of Sins in the New York Times. Continue reading...

Children’s laureate Lauren Child on her new role, motherhood and creativity

The creator of Charlie and Lola and Clarice Bean discusses the importance of reading for pleasure Two days before her coronation as the 10th children’s laureate, Lauren Child sits beneath an exhibition of drawings by one of her predecessors in the role, Quentin Blake, at London’s House of Illustration, looking like a biker princess. She’s wearing a canvas jacket over a glamorously ruched dress, with a skirt cut away in two deep curves at the back so that it looks as if she might be about to open up into a flower or spread her wings and fly away. But there is no room for flightiness in her new role. Her investiture in Hull, the UK City of Culture, this week marked the start of a demanding two-year stint as champion of children and reading. She is the fourth illustrator to take the role, following on from Blake, Anthony ...

Ed Victor, publishing agent to the stars, dies aged 77

Agent to everyone from David Cameron to Nigella Lawson, Eric Clapton to Lily Cole, Victor was colourful and well-connected, and dearly loved a party Ed Victor, agent to the great and the good of the literary and political worlds on both sides of the Atlantic, has died at the age of 77, his agency has announced. New York-born Victor was one of publishing’s most colourful and well-connected figures, with a client list that ranged from showbusiness stars such as Eric Clapton, Lily Cole and Roman Polanski to political heavyweights like David Cameron and David Blunkett. One of his most recent high-profile deals was the sale of Cameron’s autobiography to William Collins last autumn. Continue reading...