The novelist Anna Haycraft (Alice Thomas Ellis) died of lung cancer in 2005. Deborah Bosley, who along with Beryl Bainbridge, Shelley Weiner and Caroline Blackwood was one of Anna’s literary protégés, recalls a life rich in letters, love, children and faith. At the centre of it all was Anna’s profound domesticity, heady with books, booze, family and fags. And it revolved round the kitchen table.
Writer's block has become a cliché of Grub Street patois. At best it's lazy terminology, at worst, a poor excuse for failing to put bum on seat. Yet it has pedigree: Woolf, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Larkin all suffered it, and now Rupert Christiansen has the contagion. But the experience is very far from what he expected.
For much of the 20th century, George Orwell's boot stamping on a head was a better metaphor for political repression that Aldous Huxley's smiling dystopia of drug-induced passivity. No longer. Nicholas Murray says the wily ways of 'soft power' threading through Brave New World underpin today's consumer capitalism.
Timothy Leary considered Herman Hesse to be the ‘master guide’ to the hallucinatory experience; at 19, Paul Sayer, obsessed with Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf, agreed. It sent him on an acid fuelled odyssey to find his inner self that left him boggle-eyed, clinging to the tower of York Minster.
Literary festivals are sprouting all over the UK, from Dartington to Althorp. But do visitors roll up for the literature, or the seafood wraps? And why is the whole phenomenon run on shoestring economics, with the writers themselves the last to be paid? Mark McCrum reflects on the festival vogue, and says it may be time for a new touring model.
Writing for emotional survival is familiar; writing for physical survival less so. Yet the physical act of writing raised Sara Coleridge from her sickbed, reassures Hilary Mantel, comforts Laura Hillenbrand and, during a recent medical crisis, kept Katharine Grant ‘threaded to the world’. Never mind words, the act of writing is medicine.