‘I bowed to the comely maids…’ Note reveals surprising side of TS Eliot

The poet collected his Nobel in Sweden in 1948 – and an unseen letter from the trip shows the man behind the stuffy image

An intimate glimpse of how it really feels to receive the world’s greatest literary honour, the Nobel prize, has come to light in a previously unpublished letter from TS Eliot, who won the award in 1948. And just as they are today, the demands of fans could be onerous.

“The Swedes seem to have an insatiable appetite for three things; photographs, autographs and speeches,” Eliot complains. “One had only to hesitate for a moment at a street corner and some man, woman or child would rush up with a notebook and a fountain pen.”

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A hero reborn: ‘China’s Tolkien’ aims to conquer western readers

The world’s most popular kung fu fantasy series is finally set to become a UK bestseller

Guo Jing, a young soldier among the massed ranks of Genghis Khan’s invading army and son of a murdered warrior, may soon become as familiar a questing literary figure as Frodo Baggins from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. In fact, this Chinese fighting hero is already part of phenomenon that can match both of those epics in size. For the books of Guo Jing’s creator, the author known as Jin Yong, have already sold more than 300m copies.

The world’s biggest kung fu fantasy writer, Jin Yong enjoys huge popularity in the Chinese-speaking world. In the west, however, his name is barely known, largely due to the complexity of the world he has created and the puzzle that has posed for translators.

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After David Walliams, publishers turn to standup comedians for children’s stories

Many comics are now turning their hand to writing books for younger readersAny bedtime reading wishlist for Father Christmas is now as likely to feature titles by lewd standup comedians as the works of JK Rowling, Philip Pullman or Michael Morpurgo. In the wake of the enormous success of David Walliams’s children’s books, publishers are looking to Britain’s comedy clubs for fresh talent. Among the long parade of comic stars already taking to children’s literature, from Sandi Toksvig to The Fast Show’s Charlie Higson and Fantasy Football’s David Baddiel, lurk several with a reputation built almost entirely on “adult” humour and rudeness. Continue reading...

Suave, sophisticated, discreet: the real-life hotel manager who inspired le Carré

Stephen Pike’s fictional alter ego has been a big hit on BBC1. He recalls how he helped provide the author with ideas for the character while working at a hotel in ZurichHe would stand to one side, observant and quiet, but never aloof, a little removed from the intermittent hubbub of the hotel lobby. This was a master of the English art of self-effacement, but one day somebody did notice him. And that man was John le Carré. Stephen Pike, hotel manager extraordinaire and the prototype for Le Carré’s lead character in The Night Manager, has spoken about his part in sparking the story behind the 1993 novel, which has become a hugely successful BBC television drama. Continue reading...

Extraordinary tale of Alain de Botton’s ‘heroine’ grandmother

Yolande Gabai de Botton’s adventures in a spy-filled Middle East are told in a new film

Family history sometimes fails to turn up interesting stories. But the philosopher and writer Alain de Botton and his sister, the singer Miel de Botton, both members of a wealthy and cultured dynasty, must have suspected research into the life of their paternal grandmother would produce more exotic intrigue than anyone could handle.

Now the secrets of the clandestine life of Yolande Gabai de Botton, a spy known as the Jewish Mata Hari, are to be laid bare with the British premiere of a documentary film backed and produced by her granddaughter. “She had a great passion for her cause and she very much believed in the coexistence of Jews and Arabs,” said her granddaughter, Miel, this weekend. “I do feel there should be recognition for the way she neglected her own health and ...