The English Job by Jack Straw review – portrait of Iran’s fixation with Britain


This post is by Andrew Anthony from Books | The Guardian


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The former foreign secretary examines why Iran, for all its domestic flaws, has just cause to fear foreign influence

Almost four years ago, the former foreign secretary Jack Straw went on holiday with his wife and a couple of friends to Iran, where he experienced what he calls a “forced conscription into a thriller”. Visiting the cypress of Abarkuh, a tree estimated to be up to 5,000 years old, the foursome were confronted by a group of men dressed in religiously observant black. They were members of the Basij, the thuggish volunteer offshoot of the Revolutionary Guards, and they handed Straw a leaflet explaining why he was unwelcome in their country.

The document detailed Britain’s perfidious 19th- and 20th-century track record in Iran and claimed that the recently retired Straw was a subversive agent of the British state, using his visit to sow discord. Thereafter the Basij followed the ...

John Cooper Clarke: ‘I didn’t want to quit heroin’


This post is by Tiernan Phipps from Books | The Guardian


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While conceding the drug was ‘fabulous the first time’, the veteran performer has one overwhelming message: don’t do it

John Cooper Clarke, the poet and performer who became famous during the punk rock era of the late 1970s, has said he didn’t want to quit taking heroin and weaned himself off the drug for the sake of society rather than for his own health.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Clarke recalled the addiction which dominated much of his life in the 1980s, when he was living in a flat in Brixton, south London, with Nico, the late singer and muse of the Velvet Underground.

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Publisher accused of ‘ripping off’ best-selling book on racism


This post is by Lanre Bakare from Books | The Guardian


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Ben Lindsay’s We Need To Talk About Race has similar cover and title to prizewinning book by Reni Eddo-Lodge

The publisher of a new book about racism in the UK has been accused of “ripping off” Reni Eddo-Lodge’s best-selling polemic Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, after announcing a book with a strikingly similar cover design and title.

Ben Lindsay – the author of We Need To Talk About Race – which focuses on ethnicity and the church – and his publisher SPCK launched the book online on Thursday.

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Charles Dickens museum buys lost portrait 130 years after it went missing


This post is by Mark Brown Arts correspondent from Books | The Guardian


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London museum raises £180k to buy Margaret Gillies’ portrait of young author that was found in South African auction

A portrait of Charles Dickens that was lost for more than 130 years is “coming home” after the success of a fundraising campaign.

The Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street in London said the target of raising £180,000 had been reached to buy the painting by Margaret Gillies of the writer when he was 31.

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Tade Thompson’s ‘gritty’ alien invasion tale wins Arthur C Clarke award


This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian


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Judges praise winning novel Rosewater for its ‘winning combination of science fictional invention and sly wit’

British Yoruba author Tade Thompson has won the Arthur C Clarke award, the UK’s most prestigious prize for science fiction novels, for Rosewater, his alien invasion novel set in a future Africa.

Opening in 2066, in the aftermath of an alien invasion that has left much of humanity powerless through airborne microscopic fungal spores, Rosewater is the name of a new town that forms on the outskirts of an alien biodome dropped in rural Nigeria. The dome opens just once a year, heals all nearby sick people, gives new life to the dead and begins to influence people in unusual ways. The alien presence has also awakened telepathic skills among select humans, dubbed “sensitives”, and the novel follows one, Kaaro, who investigates when other sensitives begin to die.

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Tade Thompson’s ‘gritty’ alien invasion tale wins Arthur C Clarke award


This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian


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Judges praise winning novel Rosewater for its ‘winning combination of science fictional invention and sly wit’

British Yoruba author Tade Thompson has won the Arthur C Clarke award, the UK’s most prestigious prize for science fiction novels, for Rosewater, his alien invasion novel set in a future Africa.

Opening in 2066, in the aftermath of an alien invasion that has left much of humanity powerless through airborne microscopic fungal spores, Rosewater is the name of a new town that forms on the outskirts of an alien biodome dropped in rural Nigeria. The dome opens just once a year, heals all nearby sick people, gives new life to the dead and begins to influence people in unusual ways. The alien presence has also awakened telepathic skills among select humans, dubbed “sensitives”, and the novel follows one, Kaaro, who investigates when other sensitives begin to die.

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True crime author’s claims to have interviewed serial killers contested


This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian


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Mind Games by Paul Harrison withdrawn from sale, after his accounts of interviews with Ted Bundy, Peter Sutcliffe and others were called into question

Publishers of a true crime book by an “experienced criminal profiler” have pulled his work from sale, after his claims to have interviewed serial killers including Ted Bundy and Peter Sutcliffe were called into question.

Described as “the master of the true crime genre” by Martina Cole, Paul Harrison is the author of more than 33 books, including his latest, Mind Games, issued by Urbane Publications in October 2018. The Doncaster author says he worked as a police officer in the UK for three decades, “serving as a dog handler, intelligence officer, as a detective and later as a profiler”, and that he “worked closely” with the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit in Quantico, Virginia for six months in 1982.

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From tobacco to milkshakes: where did ‘sin taxes’ come from?


This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian


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Boris Johnson thinks sin taxes are part of the ‘nanny state’ – but he’s muddling up his authority figures

This week, campaigners were worried that Theresa May’s cherished plans to increase “sin taxes” on tobacco companies and milkshakes would not survive the end of her premiership. Boris Johnson, perhaps a man particularly reluctant to contemplate negative consequences for sin, said that “sin taxes” were part of the “nanny state”. This, however, is to confuse two authority figures. A nanny punishes naughtiness; sin is punished by God.

The phrase “sin tax” is first recorded in 1901, in an article about a young women’s society in the US that fined its members for using slang. (“My sin tax!” exclaimed one as she paid up.) Its political use, to mean state levies on alcohol, tobacco and gambling, is attributed to Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Sherman Adams, during his previous time as ...

‘Book ripper’ on vandalism spree in seaside town


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Hundreds of volumes in the library and bookshops of Herne Bay have had pages torn in half, but police remain baffled

A literary vandal is stalking the streets of Herne Bay in Kent, ripping pages in half in dozens of books in a charity shop and library before replacing them on shelves.

Ryan Campbell, the chief executive of the charity Demelza, which runs a bookshop on Mortimer Street, told the Guardian that since April, around 100 books in the shop have had their pages torn in half horizontally before being reshelved.

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Jilly Cooper tops inaugural Comedy women in print awards


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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The Rutshire Chronicles author received the lifetime achievement honour, with prizes for rising stars Laura Steven and Kirsty Eyre

Reigning queen of the pun Jilly Cooper has been awarded the inaugural Comedy women in print (CWIP) lifetime achievement award “in recognition of her legacy and inspiration to comic women writers everywhere”.

The bestselling author, who at one point describes her hero Rupert Campbell-Black’s aggressive love-making as “like a power drill … her Campbell-Black-and-Decker”, was named winner on Wednesday night.

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Essex drops library closure plans following sustained public protests


This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian


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After campaign involving thousands of residents as well as stars including David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson, council says all branches will remain open

After months of protests involving hundreds of residents and the support of big names including David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson, Essex county council has dropped plans to close 25 libraries.

The cuts, first proposed by the Conservative council in November 2018, involved closing 25 of the county’s 74 branch libraries, as well as handing a further 19 to volunteers and 15 to run in partnership schemes.

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How to Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell named new children’s laureate


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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The author and illustrator comes to role with ‘giant to-do list’, which includes making school libraries a legal requirement, and more time for creativity

How to Train Your Dragon author and illustrator Cressida Cowell has been named the new Waterstones children’s laureate, and has promised she will use her two-year incumbency to make the magic of books “urgently available to absolutely everyone”.

Following 10 previous laureates, from Quentin Blake to, most recently, Lauren Child, Cowell’s stories about the adventures of timid Viking Hiccup and his dragon Toothless, have sold more than 11m books around the world. They have also been adapted into a popular film series by DreamWorks.

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I can’t write about a world without rape – because I don’t live in one


This post is by Kaite Welsh from Books | The Guardian


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Women read and write crime fiction as a way to understand real experience. I was raped – and being told by the Staunch prize that books like mine are preventing justice is outrageous

That rape cases are hard to prosecute is no shocker, but the claim that crime writers are partly to blame shocked me. According to the Staunch prize for books with no violence against women, writers who include sexual violence and rape in their books are contributing to a wider culture in which jurors are “reluctant to convict ‘ordinary’ men” because “they don’t fit the idea of a rapist they’ve internalised through the stories and images they’ve received through popular culture”. In great thriller tradition, the call is coming from inside the house.

As someone who analyses culture for a living and often finds it wanting, I’m in the unaccustomed position of noting that what we’re talking about ...

Crime writers react with fury to claim their books hinder rape trials


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Novelists have condemned the Staunch prize – for thrillers without violence against women – as a ‘gagging order’, after organisers said the genre could bias jurors

Crime novelists have hit out at the claim that fictional depictions of sexual assault influence the outcomes of rape cases, after a prize for books with no violence against women asserted that stereotypical portrayals of attackers could “seriously affect justice”.

The Staunch prize, awarded to a thriller in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered, was launched last year to “offer an alternative narrative to stories based around violence to women”. When it was announced, it was widely criticised by major writers including Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah. McDermid said that “as long as men commit appalling acts of misogyny and violence against women, I will write about it so that it does not go unnoticed”, and Hannah told her ...

Crime writers react with fury to claim their books hinder rape trials


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Novelists have condemned the Staunch prize – for thrillers without violence against women – as a ‘gagging order’, after organisers said the genre could bias jurors

Crime novelists have hit out at the claim that fictional depictions of sexual assault influence the outcomes of rape cases, after a prize for books with no violence against women asserted that stereotypical portrayals of attackers could “seriously affect justice”.

The Staunch prize, awarded to a thriller in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered, was launched last year to “offer an alternative narrative to stories based around violence to women”. When it was announced, it was widely criticised by major writers including Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah. McDermid said that “as long as men commit appalling acts of misogyny and violence against women, I will write about it so that it does not go unnoticed”, and Hannah told her ...

Top 10 books about walking in Britain | Gail Simmons


This post is by Gail Simmons from Books | The Guardian


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Travelling on foot is a national obsession that has inspired a whole tradition of great writing, from Laurie Lee to Iain Sinclair

Britain is a nation of walkers. Our landmass may be modest in size but is latticed with a generous 140,000 miles of public footpaths, bridleways and byways, and exploring them is one of our favourite pastimes.

It wasn’t always so. Before the late 18th century most people walked only because they had to, or if they were on pilgrimage. Walking was the preserve of the horseless poor. With the rise of the Romantic movement came the idea of walking for pleasure, prompting such poets as Wordsworth to some of their finest words after traipsing the countryside on foot.

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Prison book ban lifted in Northern Ireland


This post is by Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent from Books | The Guardian


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Change of policy ordered after review by prison service deemed ban ‘not proportionate’

A Northern Irish prison that holds some of the most dangerous republican paramilitary prisoners has lifted a ban on books about terrorism.

A review by the Northern Ireland Prison Service deemed the ban “not proportionate” and ordered a change of policy, it was announced on Monday.

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New chapter? UK print book sales fall while audiobooks surge 43%


This post is by Mark Sweney from Books | The Guardian


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Publishers hit by surprise 5.4% fall in 2018 – but warn against proclaiming terminal decline

UK book sales fell for the first time in five years in 2018, despite the success of bestsellers such as Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming.

The UK publishing industry was hit by a surprise fall of £168m (5.4%) in sales of physical books last year, ending a period of growth stretching back to at least 2014.

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Two books about Northern Irish Troubles win Orwell prize 2019


This post is by Amy Walker from Books | The Guardian


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Anna Burns’ Milkman and Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing win political fiction and political writing awards

Two books about the Troubles in Northern Ireland have been announced as the winners of the Orwell prize 2019.

Anna Burns’ experimental novel Milkman won the inaugural prize for political fiction, while the prize for political writing was awarded to Patrick Radden Keefe for his book Say Nothing.

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Alice Oswald elected Oxford professor of poetry by huge margin


This post is by Richard Lea from Books | The Guardian


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Oswald will be the first woman to serve in the role, established three centuries ago

Alice Oswald has won the race to be Oxford’s latest professor of poetry. She will be the first woman to serve in the position, established more than 300 years ago.

Celebrated for their exploration of nature and myth, Oswald’s nine books of poetry have already brought her prizes including the TS Eliot, Griffin and Costa poetry awards. The former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy has hailed her as “the best UK poet now writing, bar none”, while Jeanette Winterson has called her Ted Hughes’s “rightful heir”, a poet not “of footpaths and theme parks, but the open space and untamed life that waits for us to find it again”.

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