Kerry Andrew on writing supernatural fiction: ‘I had to spook myself out’

The musician and writer on her debut novel, Swansong, inspired by a 17th-century ballad, her inspirations and the wisdom of Robert Macfarlane

Kerry Andrew is a London-based composer, performer, writer and educator. She has a PhD in composition, has won four British composer awards and is the current BBC Ten Pieces commissioned composer. In 2014 she released Hawk to the Hunting Gone, an avian-themed alternative-folk album under the name You Are Wolf. Swansong, her debut novel, is set in the Scottish Highlands, where a London student flees after a disastrous night out.

Swansong is based on a ballad probably originating in the 17th century. What appealed to you about it?
It comes from the same root as the Swan Maiden myth – or it might do – and the version I came across was more supernatural. It’s very dark and romantic and tragic. Quite often in ballads you ...

Icebreaker: A Voyage Far North review – Horatio Clare signs on for a journey of discovery

A seemingly bleak 10-day mission in the Bay of Bothnia is the source of surprisingly vivid insights into the Finns’ national character

“Would you like to travel on a government icebreaker? I think if you do the journey, something will come of it.” Something does and to Horatio Clare’s great credit, since this could have been a book-length advertorial, he recognises the invitation by the Finnish embassy, to mark the centenary of the country’s independence from Russia, for the PR exercise it is. Nevertheless. Clare, whose Down to the Sea in Ships (2014) chronicled his experiences sailing with the Danish Maersk container company, leaps at the chance.

His berth is aboard the Otso: 7,000 tonnes, 100 metres long, 40 metres high. Its bridge bristles with technology; its engine room, provisioned with 50,000 spare parts, roars with scarcely contained power. It has two saunas (one for officers, one for the ...

Carmen Maria Machado: ‘I’m interested in messing with genres’

The author of Her Body and Other Parties on the art of writing sex scenes, engaging with dead writers, and the readers who give her flak

Carmen Maria Machado’s acclaimed debut collection of stories, Her Body and Other Parties, was a finalist for America’s National Book award. She is writer in residence at the University of Pennsylvania and lives with her wife in Philadelphia.

Women’s bodies – and what they are subject to – seem to be central to this collection…
It was something very personally important to me, which I think a lot about. It’s weird because people keep saying it’s so relevant right now, but our bodies have been oppressed for all of human history.

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Everything You Do Is Wrong review – dark laughs and plot twists

The mystery of an amnesiac woman found on a beach is the setting for family woes in Amanda Coe’s third novel

Contemplating the eating disorder she is trying to cultivate, lumpen, horny, 15-year-old Harmony is reminded of a Möbius strip: what to do when you need, but can’t afford, both Senokot and KitKats? Similar flares of mordant wit, as well as more painful spasms, punctuate Amanda Coe’s third novel, whose unfolding secrets eventually bring us full circle, back to the stony beach where her story begins. It is here that a mute, amnesiac woman is discovered by Harmony’s aunt, but perhaps the greater mystery surrounds Harmony’s mother, who has retreated into the vacancy not of silent forgetfulness, but depression. Coe’s bleak coastal town is a fitting backdrop for a novel that, for all its dark laughs and plot twists, ultimately seems to resign its central characters to the unhappy loops ...

Richard Flanagan: ‘Fiction is not a lie, but a truth, a necessary truth’

The Booker prize winner on his new novel and why it’s not always possible to separate fact from fiction

Richard Flanagan won the Man Booker prize in 2014 for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. In First Person, would-be novelist Kif finds himself embarking on the ghostwriting job from hell.

This is a very different novel to The Narrow Road. Was that always the plan?
Plan? I had no plan. First Person is the book I began before the Booker and which I finished after, while at the same time, trying to surf the mudslide that the Booker brings on without falling off and being buried alive.

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Heidi Julavits: ‘This is a way to lasso moments that were about to be lost’

The author on writing a diary that honoured her childhood, emotional honesty and staying creative in the face of today’s current affairsAuthor of four novels, co-editor, with Sheila Heti and Leanne Shapton, of the compendium Women in Clothes and co-founder of the Believer magazine, Heidi Julavits teaches creative writing at Columbia University and lives between New York and Maine. The Folded Clock: A Diary was inspired by rediscovering her childhood journals. The book moves backwards and forwards in time. Why did you structure it like that?
It was something I struggled with. The structure of the diary was a generative structure, but I then needed something to make it a more curated experience. I played around with organisational systems, including dividing all the entries into topics, but the categories kept collapsing. So I decided to stop being overanalytical and start building the book like a mixtape that I used ...

A Line Made By Walking by Sara Baume – review

A young woman combats her depression by moving to the countryside in this finely calibrated, affecting novel

This is, explicitly, a book about art and “sadness”, but it is neither affected nor mawkish. When its narrator, 25-year-old art student Frankie, hacks off her hair in response to her grandmother’s death, her not uncaring mother’s first thought is for her shears. “‘It knackers them if you use them on anything that isn’t fabric,’ she said.”

Frankie’s grandmother has been dead for three years when Irish writer Sara Baume’s novel begins, but her depression has only lately come to a head. Jacking in her job at a Dublin gallery, she has fled to the country and her grandmother’s empty bungalow to “get better or die altogether”.

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