Nina Stibbe on Fleckney: ‘I’m thinking of having its duck pond tattooed on my arm’


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The author on public chip fights, family shame – and starting a new life in the Leicestershire village

We had already disgraced ourselves in one Leicestershire village when we moved to Fleckney. After leaving the leafy suburb of Stoneygate when my parents divorced, we had a stint in Countesthorpe, a village south of the city in the district of Blaby (of Lord Lawson fame) with more than its fair share of amenities, including the largest garden centre in the Midlands, which smelled of geraniums and sold single cigarettes.

Practically the first thing my siblings and I did in Countesthorpe was have a chip fight in the street. I squirted my sister with a warm Ski yoghurt – inedible, having been displayed on the shelf above the fryer in the chip shop (I wasn’t going to eat it, so what else was I going to do with it?). After ...

Francis Plug: Writer in Residence by Paul Ewen review – a comic adventure


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Aspiring author Francis Plug has a shot at academia, in another hilarious satire of the precarious writing life

We first met Paul Ewen’s glorious comic persona Francis Plug in 2015’s How to Be a Public Author, when the would-be writer was attending talks by Booker prizewinners in preparation for possibly winning it himself and drinking heavily. Now he’s back and on splendid form, adjusting to life as a published author. He’s living alone in a garage designed for one car and though people assume he’s minted, he’s skint. “Being an author isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,” he tells us. “Most festival and appearance slots are unpaid even though the majority of attendees probably park their cars in the sort of place I live.”

In Writer in Residence, Ewen has pulled off another outstandingly funny book. Plug remains wonderfully eccentric and occasionally surreal. Still looking for ...

On my radar: Nina Stibbe’s cultural highlights


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The author on the joys of sleeper trains, genetically engineered pigs and women’s wrestling Nina Stibbe grew up in Leicester and moved to London in the 1980s, spending two years as nanny for Mary-Kay Wilmers, editor of the London Review of Books. Stibbe’s experiences became the basis for her semi-fictionalised memoir Love, Nina, named nonfiction book of the year at the National Book awards in 2014 and shortlisted for Waterstones’ book of the year. In 2016 it was adapted by Nick Hornby for a BBC TV series starring Helena Bonham-Carter. Stibbe’s novels Man At the Helm and Paradise Lodge were shortlisted for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comic fiction. Her next book, An Almost Perfect Christmas, about festive cooking and customs, is out in November. She lives in Cornwall. Continue reading...

My life before writing: Nina Stibbe on an ambition to work in a sawmill


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I was captivated by a picture book showing happy workers at the edge of a forest - but could Leicestershire offer up enough timber?

When I was growing up in the 70s just about every adult you encountered would demand to know what you wanted to be when you grew up. They’d interrupt whatever you were doing to ask it and you’d trot out whatever came into your head at the time – I used to say I wanted to be in a gang of lady pickpockets or else Prince Edward’s paid best friend-cum-cook – and the adult inquiring might shake their head nicely and laugh. And that would be that. It was different if they’d asked it as you stood beside a grandparent. You’d feel the grandparent tense ...