Hits and surprises as judges reveal the Man Booker’s shortlist of five golden decades

Mantel and Ondaatje are in but Rushdie’s out as judges name shortlist for public vote on best novel

The popular novels The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall have made the shortlist of the five best Man Booker prize winners of all time, judges revealed at the Hay Festival in Wales. The public now have until early July to vote for the victor.

The golden Man Booker race celebrates the 50th year of Britain’s leading prize for fiction, taking a single title from each of those decades. Joining Mantel and Ondaatje are VS Naipaul’s In a Free State, which won the prize in 1971, Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively from 1987, and the American writer George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, which triumphed last year. Among the five judges of the Golden Booker are the poet Lemn Sissay, who chose from the ...

How did 18th century’s literary women relieve domestic distress? With opiates

It wasn’t just men such as Coleridge and De Quincey who took drugs, study of Mary Robinson and Harriet Martineau reveals

The fantastical poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the scandalous journal of “opium eater” Thomas De Quincey notoriously celebrate the influence of opium. Now, beyond Coleridge’s “caverns measureless to man” and De Quincey’s nightmarish visions, a new academic study is to reveal that many of the female stars of the British literary scene of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were equally dependent on the drug.

“While men like De Quincey and Coleridge were among the first to write openly about opium’s creative effects and so are seen as the originators of the tradition of British drug literature, contemporary women writers tended instead to view it as a comfort, a way of coping with the demands of artistic life,” said Dr Joseph Crawford, a senior ...

Marilynne Robinson: ‘I don’t have an ideal reader in mind’

The award-winning author of four novels in 34 years has a new book of essays out. She talks about how faith can be the key to a balanced life

The novelist, academic and essayist Marilynne Robinson is one of the United States’s leading intellectuals, tackling the big subjects of faith, fear and regret with a quiet clarity and rigour that has earned her a Pulitzer prize, among many other awards including the Orange prize for fiction in 2009 for her third novel, Home. Born in Idaho 74 years ago, Robinson now lives between homes in Iowa and Saratoga Springs in New York State, spending her time writing, teaching and lecturing. Her trilogy of novels – Housekeeping, Gilead and Lila – produced over a 34-year period, have left an indelible mark on the literary landscape. Her latest book of essays, What Are We Doing Here?, out last week, reaches ...

Joe Dunthorne: ‘This novel took more out of me than the others’

The author of new comic novel The Adulterants on how becoming a parent helped him create his latest misanthropic anti-hero

An underachieving techie living in east London is about to become the latest in a pedigree line of comic English anti-heroes such as John Self from Martin Amis’s Money and Rob Fleming in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.

Joe Dunthorne’s eagerly awaited third novel, The Adulterants, comes a full 10 years after his acclaimed debut, Submarine, established him as a worthy successor to Hornby and Amis. Early readers are already hailing its “subversive joy”, and celebrating the dyspeptic take on life of its protagonist, Ray.

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Resurrection woman: crime writer revives reputation of the ‘Scottish Jane Austen’

Val McDermid hopes to revive the memory of 19th-century author Susan Ferrier

Edinburgh’s eerie gothic past, with its notorious “resurrection men” digging up graves under cover of the night in order to provide medical students with cadavers to dissect, is to receive a positive spin this New Year’s Day.

Once the revelry of the city’s Hogmanay celebrations has dwindled, the Scottish author Val McDermid has a plan to “resurrect” a forgotten literary heroine – the 19th-century Scottish novelist Susan Edmonstone Ferrier.

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Your guide to a happy new year… by Dawn, Eddie and other celebrity self-help gurus

Famous faces, including many comedians with tales of recovery from their own traumas, are dispensing life lessons in the latest publishing trend

Once the post-Christmas slump lifts and 2018 looms, an unprecedented crowd of well-known faces will be waiting to take readers by the hand and guide them into the new year. Following a tide of celebrity autobiographies, celebrity novels and celebrity children’s fiction, this year the book-shaped gift under the tree is more likely to be a celebrity self-help manual.

Comforting and instructive life manuals written by well-known entertainers and performers are being heavily promoted this season as booksellers bank on a public thirst for sincere advice from familiar, if unexpected, stars.

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Your guide to a happy new year… by Dawn, Eddie and other celebrity self-help gurus

Famous faces, including many comedians with tales of recovery from their own traumas, are dispensing life lessons in the latest publishing trend

Once the post-Christmas slump lifts and 2018 looms, an unprecedented crowd of well-known faces will be waiting to take readers by the hand and guide them into the new year. Following a tide of celebrity autobiographies, celebrity novels and celebrity children’s fiction, this year the book-shaped gift under the tree is more likely to be a celebrity self-help manual.

Comforting and instructive life manuals written by well-known entertainers and performers are being heavily promoted this season as booksellers bank on a public thirst for sincere advice from familiar, if unexpected, stars.

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‘It’s Peter Pan for grown-ups’: play by Barrie is back on stage

Rare revival of the author’s play Dear Brutus will drop adults into a Neverland-like world

Neverland, the magical place made famous by JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, will be closer than you think this Christmas – not just for lost boys but for grown-ups as well. The enchanting garden in Scotland that gave Barrie the idea for his classic children’s story also later inspired him to write another play, this time placing a group of fictional adult characters alone in a beautiful natural environment. And now the little-known work, Dear Brutus, is to be revived on the London stage for the first time in more than 20 years.

In a time of austerity and hard political challenges, the director of the play believes the British public’s need to escape to the solace and freedom of a magical world could not be greater. “Although the concerns of Barrie’s audience were ...

Sarah Hall: ‘Short stories are a place for dark psychology’

The novelist on writing about sex, her turbulent home life and why short stories are particularly hard to craft The Booker-shortlisted author is known for her sharp focus on wild landscapes and the natural world, winning fans with The Electric Michelangelo and The Wolf Border. But her latest collection of short stories, Madame Zero, is full of characters coping with altered states and fresh challenges. Do the troubled identities in this book indicate changes in your own life?
There are people who believe you are the same person once you have had a baby, but that’s rubbish. I’ve had a turbulent two years because, as well as giving birth, my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. So I had a double whack to deal with, exacerbated probably by being a single parent since separating from my daughter’s father. Having said that, I actually don’t know which of the ...

Former mercenary Simon Mann reveals thriller he wrote in jail

He spent seven years in prison after a failed coup in Equatorial New Guinea. Now the ex-SAS officer has turned to writingThe life story of Simon Mann reads like pages torn from a thriller. Now the former mercenary and SAS officer is to publish a thriller of his own: an international action adventure written to stay sane in prison in Africa. “I wanted to write something for my son Freddie, who was 13 at the time, and I realised he would want to read something grown-up.” Continue reading...

The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington by Joanna Moorhead review – an artist biography with an authentic touch

The painter and writer’s cousin provides a uniquely personal insight into an enigmatic wild childThe work of the British artist Leonora Carrington is usually thought of as mysterious, even frustratingly mysterious – full of pseudo-mythology and looming symbolic creatures. She began to paint in her youth at the height of the surrealist boom of the late 1930s, continuing until her death six years ago in Mexico, and her canvases always hinted at an unconventional spirit, if not a disturbed psyche. This has left some critics, mostly men, wanting to know less, rather than more. Yet for her many fans Carrington’s imaginative world has the compelling quality of a haunting riddle. These admirers, including Madonna, Björk and Laura Marling, will find Joanna Moorhead’s lively biography a helpful handbook of clues, although it cannot solve all the puzzles of her art. Continue reading...

Sell-out festivals and book sales up … it’s poetry’s renaissance

New Nottingham festival founded by Henry Normal joins boom led by Kate Tempest and John Cooper ClarkeAgainst all publishing predictions, poetry, so long the Cinderella of literary forms, is back. Verse of all kinds is being celebrated across Britain in what readers and poets are now feeling confident enough to call a genuine renaissance. The new popularity centres on contemporary and performance poetry and the evidence is not just in the demand for tickets to see stars of the scene, such as the award-winning Kate Tempest or the veteran punk poet John Cooper Clarke, but in high sales in bookshops and in the extraordinary proliferation of regional poetry festivals. Poetry book sales have gone up by more than 50% in four years, while there are now more than 30 annual events devoted to celebrating spoken and written verse. Continue reading...

Sell-out festivals and book sales up … it’s poetry’s renaissance

New Nottingham festival founded by Henry Normal joins boom led by Kate Tempest and John Cooper ClarkeAgainst all publishing predictions, poetry, so long the Cinderella of literary forms, is back. Verse of all kinds is being celebrated across Britain in what readers and poets are now feeling confident enough to call a genuine renaissance. The new popularity centres on contemporary and performance poetry and the evidence is not just in the demand for tickets to see stars of the scene, such as the award-winning Kate Tempest or the veteran punk poet John Cooper Clarke, but in high sales in bookshops and in the extraordinary proliferation of regional poetry festivals. Poetry book sales have gone up by more than 50% in four years, while there are now more than 30 annual events devoted to celebrating spoken and written verse. Continue reading...

How true love led Helen Forrester to leave Mersey for Indian exile

Robert Bhatia reveals in new biography how his mother, the author of Twopence to Cross the Mersey, agonised over leaving Liverpool Certain books gain a reputation for changing lives and Helen Forrester’s 1974 autobiographical novel, Twopence to Cross the Mersey, is regularly cited as a big influence – particularly by women. The columnist and writer Caitlin Moran once chose it as the book by a female author that had most affected her, saying it was responsible for making her “start to educate myself about the history of England”. Now, for the first time, the unconventional love story that took one of Liverpool’s best-loved daughters away from the banks of the Mersey is to be told in a biography that draws on Forrester’s accounts of her courtship and marriage. Continue reading...

How true love led Helen Forrester to leave Mersey for Indian exile

Robert Bhatia reveals in new biography how his mother, the author of Twopence to Cross the Mersey, agonised over leaving Liverpool Certain books gain a reputation for changing lives and Helen Forrester’s 1974 autobiographical novel, Twopence to Cross the Mersey, is regularly cited as a big influence – particularly by women. The columnist and writer Caitlin Moran once chose it as the book by a female author that had most affected her, saying it was responsible for making her “start to educate myself about the history of England”. Now, for the first time, the unconventional love story that took one of Liverpool’s best-loved daughters away from the banks of the Mersey is to be told in a biography that draws on Forrester’s accounts of her courtship and marriage. Continue reading...

How true love led Helen Forrester to leave Mersey for Indian exile

Robert Bhatia reveals in new biography how his mother, the author of Twopence to Cross the Mersey, agonised over leaving Liverpool Certain books gain a reputation for changing lives and Helen Forrester’s 1974 autobiographical novel, Twopence to Cross the Mersey, is regularly cited as a big influence – particularly by women. The columnist and writer Caitlin Moran once chose it as the book by a female author that had most affected her, saying it was responsible for making her “start to educate myself about the history of England”. Now, for the first time, the unconventional love story that took one of Liverpool’s best-loved daughters away from the banks of the Mersey is to be told in a biography that draws on Forrester’s accounts of her courtship and marriage. Continue reading...

Stand up for the arts in schools, say children’s laureates

Observer cartoonist explains the need for action by writers and illustrators for childrenChildren’s fiction sections of bookshelves are stalked by imaginary giants and superheroes. But these books have also given Britain a succession of real-life literary giants, from Lewis Carroll to Roald Dahl. Now a group of leading modern-day titans of the field, the eight former children’s laureates, have joined forces with the current holder of the post, Chris Riddell, to create one formidable force. Continue reading...

It’s not just fluffy bunnies – here comes the dark side of Beatrix Potter

A puppet musical show co-written by Alan Ayckbourn will bring out the villainy in a nursery classic as part of celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birthBeatrix Potter’s bucolic tales about bunny rabbits, hedgehogs and puddleducks will be celebrated across Britain this summer as the country marks 150 years since the writer and illustrator’s birth. But now an unexpected literary ally, the playwright Alan Ayckbourn, has signed up to help ensure that the darker side of Potter’s enduring imaginative world is not forgotten. The revered dramatist is writing the lyrics for a new children’s show called Where’s Peter Rabbit? that will star puppets, like the hit stage shows War Horse and The Lion King, and he is aiming to avoid sugary sentiment as he tackles these favourites of the nursery bookshelf. Continue reading...









Solved: mystery of Christmas whodunnit that was a hit 66 years after publication

A new edition of a 1949 crime novel has won critical praise, but its publisher knew almost nothing about the author – until nowThere is nothing more festive than an unexplained death, it seems, at least if it occurs in the pages of a seasonal whodunnit. Among a number of crime novels that did surprisingly good trade this Christmas was a title with an extra element of mystery. Murder for Christmas, a new edition of a book that first appeared in 1949, became an unexpected hit with readers and critics. Reviewers rounding up the best titles this holiday season noted the sure narrative style and suspenseful handling of the plot. But who was the author, Francis Duncan? Continue reading...









Revealed: the ruthless power seekers of ancient Rome who inspired Lady Macbeth

Tale of a pushy wife driving her husband to seize the throne goes back millennia, claims researcher

Since Shakespeare’s “Scottish play” was first performed in 1611, Macbeth and his calculating wife have formed a template for fiction’s most politically ambitious couples, right down to Frank Underwood and his first lady, Claire, in the hit US TV version of the book House of Cards.

The driven woman who pushes her husband by appealing to his worst nature remains a potent stereotype, but new academic research suggests that Shakespeare actually borrowed the idea from a popular version of Roman history rather than setting up the compelling dynamic himself.

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