Sunday, 30 December 2012

The 2012 WWJ End-of-Year Massive Quiz

Have you been paying attention? Yeah, well, we’ll be the judges of that. All the answers can be found in the Words with JAM archives of this year. (Or Google. But think how cheap and low-down lazy you’d feel.)

Twenty literary questions and a wild card question to act as a tie-breaker. The winner will receive a £20 Amazon voucher and an official WWJ Mug.

Two rules: regular WWJ columnists can enter but will not be eligible for the prize, and JJ Marsh's decision is final.

Answers in the body of an email to by midnight 5th January 2013.

  1. Sherlock Holmes and Elizabeth Bennet rode on, despite the demise of their creators. Who stepped into Conan Doyle’s and Austen’s shoes, and with which books? 4 points
  2. How did Terry Pratchett describe his Alzheimer’s disease? 1 point
  3. What colour is the official Words with JAM mug, and what slogan does it bear? 2 points
  4. Name the city which links Paulo Coelho’s Eleven Minutes, Robert Harris’s The Fear Index, and Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. 1 point
  5. Which author won 2012 The Alliance of Radical Bookshops’ Bread and Roses prize and with which book? 2 points
  6. Hilary Mantel won her second Booker Prize this year. Who are the three other authors to have won the prize twice? 3 points
  7. Which author collaborated with Margaret Atwood on a zombie novel, and via which platform? 2 points
  8. Whose real name is Vin Deighan? 1 point
  9. Which publishing heavyweight joined forces with Penguin/Pearson this year? 1 point
  10. The ‘Aye Write’ Festival takes place in which city, the home town of which WWJ correspondent? 2 points
  11. Which London venue hosted ‘Shakespeare: staging the world’? 1 point
  12. Whose novel was adapted into the film ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’? 2 points for author and title
  13. Three men, two titles, one play: John Gay, Bertolt Brecht, Václav Havel. 2 points for both titles
  14. The first WWJ podcast of 2012 was which previous cover girl, reading her first chapter of her novel? 2 points, author and title
  15. Which literary agency, with whom WWJ has enjoyed a long and happy association, was joined by fiction agent David Haviland this year? 1 point
  16. Which animal links Jojo Moyes, Michael Morpurgo and Nicholas Evans? 3 points for 3 titles
  17. Which Man Booker shortlister did our prescient contributor Dan Holloway pick out this time last year? 2 points for title and author
  18. What does ‘Tacenda’ (one of the WWJ review ratings) mean? 1 point
  19. Where did JD Smith and Gillian Hamer interview Sir Richard Taylor, co-founder of the Weta Workshop? 1 point
  20. Which book was adapted to film this year, directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis? 2 points for title and author

    Tie-break question: finish this sentence in 140 characters or fewer.
  21. Reading Words with JAM is like ...
Answers in the body of an email to by midnight 5th January 2013.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Christmas Podcast

Just in time for Christmas, we have a stocking filler of a podcast for you: : the opening chapters of Ziptux's Incredible Cricket Adventures, a children's novel by Brijesh Luthra, read by the author.

Ziptux is a cricket-crazy 9-year old boy living in Switzerland, who dreams of being the best cricketer on Earth. His Swiss friends have no interest in the game, so he spends his time playing cricket with his silent partner – an abandoned scarecrow. 

One day, while trying to find his lost ball, Ziptux meets a man who calls himself Mr. Trick-them-all, from the planet Kiri-Kiri-kit, who may just have been the person who introduced cricket to the Earth in the first place. 

Can Ziptux prove himself spiffy enough for this new world? And what will happen if he does? 

You can find out more about the author and his writing at

Monday, 19 November 2012

Trains, Maps and the Politics of Cartography - Chorleywood Lit Fest Part II

Chorleywood is a town shaped by the London Underground, and in particular by the Metropolitan Railway Company.  So it's fitting that the first event to promote Underground:  How the Tube Shaped London, the book to mark the 150th anniversary of the Underground, should take place at this year's Chorleywood Literary Festival.

This is not, as Sam Mullins, one of the book's co-authors, is quick to point out, a book for railway geeks. Rather, it's a social history of London as it has been moulded by the building of the Underground.

The first underground line, the Metropolitan Railway, was built to connect the mainline terminuses along the Euston Road.  It was, simply, a steam railway built underground and Mullins leaves the audience in no doubt just how noxious that was. The Yorkshire Post described the atmosphere as "leaving one feeling as if one has been chewing lucifer matchers." A mining engineer, overcome by the smoke, recorded fleeing to an apothecary to obtain a tincture for relief.  When he asked the apothecary if this was a common occurrence, he was told, "Bless you, sir, sometimes we have twenty cases a day."

When the Circle Line was built, more than twenty years later, it required the newly built Embankment to be dug up all over again.  But what really allowed the Tube to take off, were three technical innovations - safe methods of deep tunnelling, the invention of lifts and the invention of electric locomotives.

By the early 1900s, most of the lines we know now had been completed.  Some of the recognisable features of design were appearing too, such as the style of writing Underground with a dropped cap for the first a last letter. But it was Frank Pick, CEO of London Transport from 1933, who really created the familiar look of the Underground.  He commissioned the world's first san serif typeface - the Johnston - still in use today, the familiar posters, the Art Deco station design - and of course, Harry Beck's iconic tube map.

This was a period when the Underground was at the cutting edge of design, modern, innovative and flourishing.  But it wasn't to last.  The use of private cars meant that revenue from buses, which had always subsidised the Tube, was declining. For decades after the Second World War, the Tube suffered from underinvestment. Mullins took us through some of the low points in the Tube's history, culminating in the devastating King's Cross Fire of 1987.

This proved something of a turning point, and Mullins' talk culminated with a postscript to the book - the story of London Underground's role during the 2012 Olympics. At its peak during those two weeks in the summer, the Tube carried 4.7 million passengers a day, up from its previous record of 3.2 million.  Before the fact, most commuters would have said it was impossible.  But then again, back in 1925, someone described rush hour at Finsbury Park as: "Pandemonium, something like a free fight, where men and women fight like rugby players to make their way home."

Some things never change.

Harry Beck's Tube Map is a useful reminder that a map doesn't need to be - and in fact never can be - a literal representation of the world outside.  Jerry Brotton's fascinating book, A History of the World in Twelve Maps, looks in particular at the history of World Maps and shows how the way the world is represented is conditioned by who makes the maps and what they are for.

He begins his talk by showing us two maps - a Babylonian clay tablet from 500BC which is the oldest known map of the world, and the start-up image from the 'geo-spatial application,' Google Earth.  Far apart as they are, they share two things.  First, they attempt to show the world from a god-like perspective, looking down from above.  Secondly, they place the viewer's actual location at the centre of the world.

The next maps Brotton shows us are copies of the ones created by Ptolemy in the Library at Alexandria around 150CE.  Ptolemy knew very well that the world was a globe, and that a globe could not be represented accurately on a flat piece of paper.  He developed two types of projection.  The first started with a pin at the North Pole and drew fan-like lines of longitude.  The second, more accurate but more difficult, had curved lines of longitude and created more of an illusion of the earth as a sphere.  And indeed, although Africa fills the bottom of the map and the Indian Ocean is shown as a vast lake, in many ways, Ptolemy's map doesn't look unfamiliar.

Not all maps place the viewer at the centre of the world.  The 13th Century Hereford Mappa Mundi places east  - the supposed location of the Garden of Eden - at the top of the map and Hereford near the bottom.  Man's progression is towards the Kingdom of God.

The world's first known globe is an interesting oddity of timing.  It was made in Nuremberg for a merchant, who has it annotated with details of what can be traded where and for how much.  But it was made in 1492 - just months before Columbus sailed to America - and thus is maintains Ptolemy's erroneous assumption that it is but a short hop across the ocean from Portugal in the west to China in the east.

Mercator was the first cartographer since Ptolemy to produce an entirely new projection.  His aim was to produce a map that could be used by navigators who were interested in sailing east-west.  The extremes of north and south were frozen and unnavigable, so he used a projection that maintained the greatest accuracy nearest to the equator.

It wasn't until the 20th Century that Mercator's projection was seriously challenged.  The Peters projection, used today by NGOs and the UN (and famously in an episode of The West Wing) aims to maintain equality of area and get rid of distortions that appear to exaggerate the importance of North America and Western Europe.

Which brings us back to the present day and the emergence of GPS mapping and of Google Earth in particular.  Brotton was allowed access to the mapmakers at Google, "but when they saw what I wrote, they stopped returning my calls."

He sees satellite mapping as the biggest revolution in cartography since the development of print maps, and a revolution that is still in its infancy.  For him, it encapsulates the some of the tensions that have always existed in mapmaking.  Should maps be produced mathematically, based on scientific measurements, or should they be derived from local knowledge?  Who should control the production of maps?

Brotton believes that cartographers in the last decade have abrogated responsibility for mapmaking and allowed corporations like Apple and Google to take over. On the one hand, as a questioner from the audience makes clear, satellite mapping has broken political barriers and provided access to maps in places, like Siberia, where paper maps have never been permitted.  On the other hand, the digital divide is made wider where paper maps cease to exist.  And ultimately the corporations' intention, like that of the merchant from Nuremberg, is to maximise the opportunity to sell things.

Brotton's message is, "Be sceptical.  Don't let yourself imagine that these maps are any less biased, any less selective in what they show you and what they don't than the ones that have gone before."  Even that start-up image on Google Earth, the one that evokes the famous 'Earth Rise' photograph, he believes has been chosen cynically, for the way it manipulates our emotions.

Beware, as the old maps said.  Here be dragons.

If you would like to read about Howard Jacobson, Clive Stafford Smith or Ben Elton at the Chorleywood Literary Festival, look out for the December edition of Words with Jam.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Rising Stars at the Chorleywood Lit Fest

One of the highlights of the annual Chorleywood Literary Festival, now in its seventh year, is its Rising Stars slot, showcasing new and lesser known talents.  The authors chosen are always those that Sheryl Shurville and Morag Watkins – owners of Chorleywood Bookshop and organisers of the festival – are genuinely excited about, and their enthusiasm shines through.

It’s a free event and an informal atmosphere, allowing the audience – many of whom are members of creative writing groups – to quiz the three authors, who this year are Erin Kelly, Nell Leyshon and Evie Wyld.

Erin Kelly has published two psychological thrillers – The Poison Tree and The Sick Rose – has a third one coming out in January and is racing to finish a fourth against the very hard deadline of the birth of her second child.

Kelly worked as a journalist for ten years before she “plucked up courage” to try fiction. “The Poison Tree is about a summer of love that went horribly wrong.  It opens with a man being released from prison.  We know he killed two people.  The mystery is about who he killed and why.”

Finishing the book while on maternity leave, she prepared a drawer for all the rejection slips she expected and sent it out into “a great big void of silence.”

Kelly eventually found an agent and there was an initial flurry of excitement as the book was sent out to publishers.  “They liked it but they didn’t know how to sell it. It wasn’t crime, because it had no detective.  It wasn’t women’s fiction because of the crime.  It wasn’t literary fiction because of the plot… plus I’d given it this clever post modern cliff hanger ending.”

Eventually Kelly rewrote that troublesome ending and the book went to auction. She likes, she says, to set books in locations that are at a slight remove from society.  She is addicted to programmes like Coast and mines them for ‘those five minute glimpses of personality’ that often inspire her characters. 

The Poison Tree is currently being filmed by STV, a project Kelly has no involvement with.  As it happens, the interiors for one of the key locations were filmed in Chorleywood and the owner of the house is in the audience.  “They put us up in a hotel for eight days, spent three days set dressing then five days filming.”  “Did they put it all back again afterwards?” someone asks.  “It wasn’t entirely satisfactory,” the owner says.  “That’s a little like a feel about my book,” says Kelly wryly. 

Nell Leyshon is a dramatist who has had plays produced for the BBC and at The Globe.  “I wrote three novels that I discarded and then got stuck on the fourth. Then I thought I’d try and write a radio play and as soon as I began to write dialogue, it felt right.”

The Colour of Milk is her first return to novel writing, and it’s no surprise that it has an incredibly strong voice. The book is narrated by Mary, a young woman in rural Somerset in the mid 1800s, who is being taught to read and write and in so doing is given the means to tell her own story. 

“I have always been interested in the people who have no voice, who appear in other people’s stories and never get to tell their own.  I was fascinated by someone who is illiterate but who has so much intelligence and vitality.”

Leyshon is the only one of the three to read from her own book.  She gives Mary a strong Somerset accent and a soft voice with an edge to it that draws the audience in and has them sitting on the edge of their seats.

Leyshon continues to write both novels and drama.  (She was playwright in residence at this year’s Hay Festival and this week the BBC is broadcasting on of her plays on Woman’s Hour.)

“I am always facing deadlines.  I begin the day with a walk by the sea, then I sit at my desk and work.  I might begin with ‘virgin writing’ and then switch to editing another project in the afternoon.  When I was working on The Colour of Milk, I sometimes had the laptop next to the cooker while I cooked dinner.”

She clearly has an exceptional work ethic – and she has the perfect answer to anyone who says they can’t write unless inspiration hits them.  “I once tried an experiment where I made a note at the top of the page whether the words were flowing or whether was I struggling.  When I looked back at it afterwards, there was no difference in the quality.  It was all about how I was feeling at the time.”

Evie Wyld grew up partly in London and partly on her family’s sugar cane farm in Australia.  Her novel, After the Fire, the Still Small Voice, is about three generations of Australian men affected by war, and is loosely based on the experiences of her grandfather, uncle and cousin. 

“My grandfather fought in the Korean War and my uncle was drafted into the Vietnam War and was very damaged by it.  But it’s not about them.  It’s fiction.”

The farm, seven hours north of Sidney, is “like something from the 1950s.  The men drive tractors in their underpants and no shoes.  My uncle only wears shoes when he has to, which means funerals but not weddings.”

Wyld studied short story writing at Goldsmiths College and fell into novel writing after an agent expressed at interest when one of her stories was published online. Writing a book takes her a long time.  “I start from the middle and work out.  When I am getting the first draft down, I have to work first thing in the morning, before I’ve spoken to anyone.  But then most of the work is in editing and cutting.  I write a lot more than I use.”

None of the three authors writes to a detailed plan.  “Why would you write it if you knew what was going to happen?” says Leyshon.  Kelly has a basic skeleton, “but then I write in a patchwork.”

Have they ever been asked to change something they really didn’t want to?

Not really, is the response.  Kelly contrasts it to journalism, when a commission is anonymous and you can find your piece being published under a different headline and with an unrecognisable slant.  “With a novel, an editor chooses your book because they like they like they way you write.”

Leyshon agrees. “It’s about finding someone you think you can work with.  In my case I chose someone scarily honest and direct.”

“My American publisher did tell me I had too many toilet scenes,” says Wyld.  “But I told him I’m half British, half Australian, so what did he expect?”

The US version of The Poison Tree translated the British words into American, says Kelly.  “They told me the cultural flow doesn’t work both ways. But readers told them they didn’t like being patronised.  It hasn’t happened again.”

All three recognise the influence that big distributors like Tescos have on cover design. Wyld admits she has been lucky.  She has a friend who is a well-recognised freelance design that her publisher was happy to work with.  He designed her hardback cover, a collage of etchings.  Her paperback cover is based on her own photograph of her family farm.  But the American cover she didn’t like at all.  “But I figured they knew their own market.”

Leyshon loves the woodcut image on the hardback edition of The Colour of Milk. But the initial proposal for the paperback cover included a sexualised image that was totally inappropriate.  She did get that changed.  “But you can only can push so far. You don’t want to get a reputation.”

Kelly, too, loved the covers of her first two books. The design for the latest book, she says, is more garish. “But believe me, no one is more alert to the presence of my books in a shop than I am, and I have to admit these covers don’t stand out.” 

The bookshop is offering a bundle of three books from the three authors for £20.  By now I am far too intrigued to turn it down.  I leave the event with my purse lighter and my bag heavier.  Now I just need enough self-discipline not to start reading until I have finished work…

If you want to read more about the Chorleywood Literary Festival, look out for the December issue of Words with Jam. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

David Mitchell

David MitchellInterview by JJ Marsh, with Perry Iles. Photography by Libby O’Loghlin

David Mitchell is widely renowned as one of the greatest British novelists of his generation, garnering comparisons to Tolstoy, Twain, DeLillo and Pynchon among others. He has won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the South Bank Show Literature Prize and the Richard and Judy Best read of the Year prize. He has also been nominated for the Guardian First Book Award, the Booker Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Commonwealth Writer's Prize and the Costa Book Award. He has also written the libretto for the opera Wake, which debuted at the Nationale Reisopera in 2010 to great acclaim. Born in 1969, David grew up in Worcestershire and, after several years teaching in Japan, he now lives in Ireland with his wife and their two children. His novel Cloud Atlas has been adapted into a film by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. You can watch the extended trailer here.  

David Mitchell came to Zürich as part of his promotional tour for the German translation of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Up a cobbled alleyway of the Old Town, in a discreet restaurant, he shared his thoughts on half-full glasses, John Lennon and Transferrable Reality Concreteness.

David Mitchell JJ Marsh

How hard was it for you to find representation given the genre-defying nature and structural originality of Ghostwritten? How did you sell it to an agent?
I was armed with pristine naïvete. I was living in Japan and just did what I heard you were supposed to do – send three chapters and a summary to an agent. I picked one, Mike Shaw at Curtis Brown, because he had the only non-posh name that a bog-standard, state comp-educated kid wasn’t intimidated by. He sounded like he could be a character off Eastenders. I sent him my first novel. Big sections of it were rubbish and I’m now profoundly grateful it wasn’t published. But on the back of that, Mike said, maybe not this time but if you want to send me the next thing you work on ... So I did and that was Ghostwritten. I got a very off-the-rack, unastronomical two-book deal, but it was amazing. This was in the days of fax machines and I still remember the excitement of that fax coming through. It was one of my best ever days. And it’s been like that ever since. Same agency, same publisher and my editor, Carole Welch has been with me since book two.  

And Jonny Geller’s your agent now. I interviewed him last year and found his passion for his authors very impressive. Yes, after Mike retired, Jonny took over. And all of his authors have a hard time believing he represents anyone else. We really think he spends all day thinking about us. He’s a very hard-working man.  

Two of my favourite books now have cinematic adaptations. Cloud Atlas and Midnight’s Children. Rushdie’s creative influence on the film was immense. What about your relationship with the Wachowskis and Tykwer? How much involvement did you have?
Almost none. The desire for my approval for an early form of the script I do believe was genuine. We met in Cork, and that’s when they discussed foregrounding the reincarnational theme by having the same actor play different ethnicities and genders at points in time. Which you can only do in film. You can’t have actors’ faces in books.  

You were happy with that? Absolutely. John le Carré, speaking about the film of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, said what I wanted to say. The biggest compliment you can pay is to take the book and interpret it your way. What’s the point in making an audiobook with moving pictures? I want it to be disassembled and reassembled. And they’ve altered some plot lines, to make the Tom Hanks/Halle Berry relationship evolve over time, and that’s fine. It has its own, pure internal logic. It was very hard for the Wachowskis and Tykwer, but my first Hollywood experience has been unusually lucky. They really are artists. With people like that, it’s an honour to be adapted. I wouldn’t be voluntarily praising the film as much as I do if I didn’t respect them and what they’ve done.  

And you have a cameo role? Blink and you’ll miss it. I’m in two scenes, and people who think deeply will eventually work it out. When you get the logic, you can work out that I’m a kind of Svengali, a behind-the-scenes manipulator. It’s a sweetly placed cameo for an author.  

What sort of fiction do you read? Good fiction (laughs). Sometimes I read work written by friends, it’s getting socially awkward not to. I have a big list of classics to catch up with. And I read things I can use, such as James Meek’s We Are Now Beginning Our Descent. It’s about a war correspondent, and I’m thinking about a character who might overlap.  

Characters from your previous pieces turn up regularly in your other books and short stories. Are these thematically representative, or are you just fond of these guys? I’m fond of them; it’s fun. And I like the idea of writing an über-novel and all of my books are chapters in it. And linked with that is my theory of Transferrable Reality Concreteness. If you’ve spent time with a character in work A, and you felt that was a very real place, then when they appear in work B, they bring with them the conviction that any world they appear in is real. Shakespeare did this in the history plays, and Falstaff appears in The Merry Wives of Windsor. There’s even a literary word for this: metalepsis. Sprinkle that one into conversation when you can, then make friends and influence people. So when I bring back characters, it’s like meeting someone you’ve known for years, you have history, you remember where you were when you met them.  

Yes, that’s true. It was lovely to meet Jason Taylor again in your short story, Earth calling Taylor. Thank you very much. In my next book, I’ve got Hugo Lamb, who was Jason’s awful cousin, a kind of malign Ferris Bueller. He’s got quite a big part in the new book.  

The references and motifs in your work are often musical; Paul Auster’s Music of Chance; Thomas Bernhard’s Der Untergeher; the title of Cloud Atlas itself as a piece by Toshi Ichiyanagi; and two references to Neil Young; the formality of composition and returning to chords, tones and melodic riffs – what’s your relationship with music and literature?
Music is a big part of the world, and I want to put the world into my books. Musicality is a different thing. Language has a musicality, most audibly so when you don’t speak it and you’re undistracted by meaning. Two Turkish ladies talking this morning on the train here from Stuttgart ­– I don’t speak a word so I heard it more purely. There’s a musicality to individual words, which you do consider when choosing them. Because there’s a difference to when words are spoken and when they’re read.  

Like me, you were an English teacher for many years. What did you learn? And how much did that feed your work?
It’s so helpful. It gives you a practical working knowledge where a native speaker only has an unconscious knowledge. It also means you can write non-native speakers a whole lot better, which for me is essential.

Can we talk about cultural influences? I’m especially intrigued by the subtle layers of cultural (mis)understandings and interpretations in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Japanese, the most indirect of languages, as opposed to Dutch, one of the most direct. And you render all this in English. It’s a conjuring trick.
 It was a nightmare, to be honest. I had about eight different dialects to signify language, class and gender. Most languages have a passive voice, and I used that for the Japanese to eliminate the pronouns. We use that when we want to evade responsibility. I wrote a short grammatical constitution, for the Dutch, English, Japanese, educated, pleb and female Japanese. Each has three or four rules, for example, the Japanese don’t contract, or at least not in my book. The Dutch don’t use ‘will’, it’s always ‘shall’, which gives it an archaic patina. And all the time you’re writing under the confining umbrella of historical fiction, so neologisms are out. I discovered the hard way, by reading whole load of Smollett and applying his usages, that it sounds like Blackadder. If you get it right, it sounds patently absurd. You could do it for a few pages but then forget it. So you have to insinuate that they’re speaking as we would have done a hundred years ago. I call this the ‘lest/in case’ dilemma. ‘In case’ is pretty new, so I pushed the Dutch more in a ‘lest’ direction, as we spend more time with them and they’re foreigners to the Anglophone ear. Whereas the English tend to use ‘in case’. But it was a huge problem. Thumping great novel, huge cast and after a while, the reader’s going to think, ‘Hang on, they all have the same voice. Ah, it’s a novel, it’s not real’. Then pop goes the bubble and you’ve lost it.

 One of your most astounding achievements is structure. Not just over one book, but your entire canon. Do you choose to break from convention or is the choice of framework more visceral, organic?
With the exception of Cloud Atlas which was there already, they emerge and evolve as the only possible way to get the damn book written.

When you say Cloud Atlas was there already, you’re referring to Italo Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller?
 Yes, exactly. With that mirror at the end of it so you go backwards. But you know, Calvino is now best loved now for works like The Baron in the Trees. That’s a lovely idea, lovely story, no tricks. My work is relatively new, so time as the ultimate test has not yet been applied. I’m not sure how these clever postmodern experiments now look or will look in the future.  

Are you wary of writers who call themselves postmodernists?
 I think there is a danger in buying into a way of writing as cleanly labelled and distinct as postmodernism was in the 80s. The danger is that you’ll age quicker. On the other hand, Midnight’s Children still reads really well. But is that really what we call postmodernist? It has flecks of magical realism and in other ways is quite Dickensian, which I mean as a huge compliment.  

Half full or half empty? Pessimism seems to play a great part in your take on the human condition, but it appears to go hand-in-hand with some kind of spiritual redemption on a higher level. Where are we bound?
No dark, no light; no light, no dark. Redemption is important. Over lunch, we talked about Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. I remember watching that as a twelve-year old, expecting something like Close Encounters. I really enjoyed it but at the end, he’s strapped to a chair, he’s delusional and he’s having this awful screaming nightmare about what the film has been. I remember thinking ‘Thank you so much. Not.’ If a thick book, in which you invest many hours of your art-consuming life, ends up sledge-hammering your skull in with bleakness and a total lack of redemption and then expects you to admire the brutality of its honesty, I feel cheated and I want my money back. I know it’s grim up north, and it’s pretty grim down south too, but just gimme some hope. That’s a Lennon quote. Again.  

The Number 9 Dream connection?
Yes, as you mentioned, Cloud Atlas is actually a piece by Yoko Ono’s second husband, Toshi Ichiyanagi. Not many people know Number 9 Dream, because it doesn’t feature on the Greatest Hits, but is on the Walls and Bridges album. It’s absolutely glorious, a very superior pop song.  

Finally, what have you learned from writing?
More about how to write. An infinite job. Did you read that piece by Julian Barnes, My Life as a Bibliophile? At the end, he talks about the symbiosis between reading and life. He talks about an aphorism; ‘Some people think that life is the thing, but I prefer reading’. He criticises it as slick and meretricious. The more you live, the more intense your reading experience becomes. And vice versa, the more you read about non-existent people, the better potential you have to understand existent people. As for reading, so for writing. To write a consistent character, you need to formulate the laws of consistency in real human beings. And if you can’t find them, at least you need to fumble in the right direction. So to get the writing right, I’ve had to think more deeply about people and what drives our miraculous, bonkers, paradoxical species.      

Monday, 8 October 2012

A Tale of York Gardens Library

By Catriona Troth, the Library Cat.

In the October issue of Words with Jam, I have written about a number of community groups either fighting for the survival of their libraries or now actively involved in running them.  Here is another story to go with those:  York Gardens Library in Wandsworth who, in one of the poorest wards in London, face an eye-watering target for fundraising to keep their library going.

Thea Sherer from The Friends of York Gardens Library, tells me:
"In 2010 York Gardens Library and Community Centre was threatened with closure, as a result of local government cuts. Nearby residents and civic groups came together to campaign against the decision and support came from across the borough, including from many people who had never visited this library but recognised its value to the local community. As a result of a concerted campaign, a compromise was reached to allow the library to remain open with support from community stakeholders and volunteers.
Story Time at York Gardens

“The library and associated community centre remains open as a Direct Service Organisation (DSO) pilot project, with a reduced staff supported by volunteers. The local community will contribute to the management and day-to-day running of the library, thus reducing the cost burden on Wandsworth Borough Council.

“Part of the role of the volunteer group is to raise a significant amount of funds (more than £70K per annum) to contribute to the operational costs of the building and services. Wandsworth still provides around £100K per year of funding, including (reduced) staffing costs. Volunteers support work in the library. They also develop and run community projects which run in the community rooms and promote the library and centre."

£70k might sound like an extraordinary amount for any  community to have to raise, but the scale of the challenge facing the Friends of York Gardens is made even more apparent if you consider that 60% of residents on the neighbouring estate are unemployed and more than 40% do not have English as their first language. Incidents of hidden homelessness and overcrowding are five times more likely in this ward than the national average. The area is associated with issues of crime and antisocial behaviour.

Of course what this means is that the need for library services is greater than ever, and it is this awareness that is driving the Friends .  Access to books and IT at home are both significantly lower than average and the library is especially important to children and minority groups.

“The need for library services here is unquestionable,” Sherer says, “but the way these services are used may be unconventional. Several volunteer run projects are bringing more and more children into the library in a number of innovative ways. The drama club, capoeira group and craft club are all well attended. A volunteer-run GCSE tutoring course, run for free for local teenagers, has been really successful. These activities provide great things to do for local children but also increase footfall in the library itself.”

The £70k per annum fundraising challenge will be met in part by charitable fundraising and in part through letting of community rooms.

“Staff and volunteers are working very hard to increase room bookings which will help a lot. The volunteers in the Friends group are all rather stretched and so committing a lot of time to fundraising activities is a real challenge,” says Sherer. “Major library functions are all still completed by council library staff. And some very dedicated individual volunteers have been tremendously supportive, particularly when it comes to running community projects. But getting enough volunteers with sufficient commitment to assist in the library on an ongoing basis has proved a challenge.”

The group has also has to manage its partnership with Wandsworth Borough Council.

“The first twelve months were difficult while we found the best ways of working together,” Sherer says. “There were many operational aspects related to the library and the building where it was unclear, or where there was disagreement, on whether the council had decision making power or the volunteer/Friends group.

“For example, the setting of the charges for the community to hire out rooms within the building has always been set by the council and were uncompetitive and too high for community groups. Some flexibility has now been added, which has eased the situation and allowed more community organisations to use the rooms. However, the Friends group believe that more power to set these charges needs to be given to the volunteer organisation. It also took significantly longer than originally planned for the council to employ a new library manager. The project has been given significant impetus since the manager was appointed. “

In spite of everything, Sherer remains upbeat. And the dedication of determination of the Friends of York Gardens Library is unquestionable.  But it is hard not to conclude that this is a community that has been forced into an impossible position.  As Sherer says, “It will remain to be seen whether the fundraising target is really achievable and how the council will respond if it is not met.”

In the main article in the magazine, I interview Jim Brooks of the Friends of Little Chalfont Library , who has advised so many community groups around the country . Brooks suspects that some Councils may be setting community libraries up to fail. “They’ve worked out that closing libraries will lose them votes,” he says. “So they set a bunch of volunteers up with a building that’s falling apart, starve them of key resources and then when the libraries fail, they will be able to say – well, we tried the volunteer route but it didn’t work.”

Let’s hope Wandsworth and York Gardens don’t fall into this trap.

To read the main article in the October issue of Words with Jam, go to our website and subscribe FREE to the online edition.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Writing the Landscape

by Catriona Troth

A few weeks ago, I wandered, more or less by chance, into the Writing Britain exhibition at the British Library.  From their vast collection of books, manuscripts, audio and photographs, the Library had assembled a panoramic view of how writers from the Middle Ages to the present day have represented the British landscape.

It began by evoking rural, agricultural landscapes - from ancient stories of the Green Man to a recording of Stella Gibbons' talking about Cold Comfort Farm and a hand drawn map of the locations in Winifred Holtby's South Riding.  From there, you moved on to the section entitled 'Dark Satanic Mills,' the literature of factories and labour from Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, set in the early days of the industrial revolution to Ted Hughes' collaboration with the photographer Fay Godwin, charting the decay of the old mills and chimneys.

The ‘Wild Places’ section of the exhibition was screened with panels of white fabric marked with steep contour lines.  Here were manuscripts from the Romantic Poets, a copy Lorna Doone and a recording of Daphne du Maurier describing how she first stumbled on Jamaica Inn on her horse, seeking shelter from a storm.

‘Beyond the City’ celebrated suburbia in books such as The Rotters Club, Metroland and The Buddha of Suburbia.  In the section on London, detailed street maps covered surfaces around the exhibits and hung from baffles above your head.  The most immersive experience of all was in ‘Waterlands’, where video screens showed images of coasts, rivers and lakes, and you were surrounded by the sound of lapping waves.

All this made me think about books that evoke the British landscape for me.  I was born in Scotland, but I grew up in Canada, so for many years my images of Britain were almost entirely drawn from what I read.  

It began, I suppose, with The Borrowers.  I never really understood why I adored Mary Norton's stories so completely, until as an adult I bought an omnibus edition with a foreword in the form of a letter she had once written to a young fan.  In it she described growing up as the short-sighted sister of three long-sighted brothers, forever focused on the tiny details of the Leicestershire hedgerows as her brothers vainly tried to show her hawks wheeling in the sky.  I had grown up as the short-sighted daughter of a long-sighted mother, and I knew exactly what she meant.

After The Borrowers came Swallows and Amazons.  I fell in love with Ransome's Wild Cat Island and Katchenjunga ten years before I ever set foot in the Lake District, and I still get a thrill when I catch a glimpse the steamer on Windermere that is recognisably Captain Flint's Houseboat.

Unlike his Lake District, which is a conflation of Lake Windermere and Coniston Water, Ransome's portrayal of the Norfolk Broads is so accurate you can follow the adventures of the Coot Club step by step on a map.  My husband would have done well to have read about Tom's narrow escape passing through Yarmouth as the tide was running out before he attempted the same with some friends from university.  I have never been to the salt marshes around Harwich, but from Secret Water, I have a vivid image of the 'Mastadon' paddling over the soft mud flats wearing something like flat wooden snow shoes, and of Titty, Roger and Bridget almost trapped on the Wade as the tide sweeps back in.

I live not that far from the Thames now, but before I ever set foot in them, I knew Marlow and Maidenhead, Cookham and Goring from the lyrical descriptions in Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat (which he would immediately undermine with some piece of grumpy absurdity that would have me howling with laughter).

We went through Maidenhead quickly, and then eased up, and took leisurely that grand reach beyond Boulter’s and Cookham locks. Cliveden Woods still wore their dainty dress of spring, and rose up, from the water’s edge, in one long harmony of blended shades of fairy green. In its unbroken loveliness this is, perhaps, the sweetest stretch of all the river, and lingeringly we slowly drew our little boat away from its deep peace.

Oxford was painted for me by Dorothy Sayers in Gaudy Night (in colours that were probably idealised even in 1935).  

Mornings in Bodley, drowsing among the browns and tarnished gilding of Duke humphrey, snuffing the faint, must odour of slowly perishing leater, hearing only the tippety-tap of Agag-feet along the padded floor; long afternoons, taking an outrigger up the Cher, feeling the kiss of the sculls on unaccostomed palms…

There are places I have never been, or only passed through, that have been made real for me through the pages of a book.  There can surely be no better evocation of Eastern Scotland than William Grassic Gibbons' Sunset Song (which is surely impossible to read without hearing it in a soft, Aberdeenshire accent). 

But for days now the wind had been in the south, it shook and played in the moors and went dandering up the sleeping Grampians, the rushes pecked and quivered about the loch when its hand was upon them, but it brought more heat than cold, and all the parks were fair parched, sucked dry, the red clay soil of Blawearie gaping open for the rain that seemed never-coming.

The Clean Air Act came in a few years after I was born, so I never experienced the London Peasoupers that blighted my father's childhood.  But I've lived through them in the opening passages of Dickens' Bleak House.

Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes - gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers...

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city…

Books shape the way we remember too.  I was born in Edinburgh, but today the city for me is a joint creation of Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith.  My mother was transported back to Anglesey, the home she left more than sixty years ago, by the descriptions in Gillian Hamer's Charter.  And nothing, but nothing, has brought back what it felt like to arrive back in Britain from North America in the mid-seventies than the opening chapter of Bill Bryson's Small Island.

Surprisingly, a writer does not have to be a native or even long-term resident to be able to conjure a time and place to vivid life.  The author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society only ever spent one day stranded by fog on the island.  Sarah Waters' The Night Watch helped me to understand, as nothing else had, the realities of living through the London Blitz, though she was born in twenty years after the War ended. Michel Faber’s portrayal of the seamier side of Victorian London in The Crimson Petal and the White is as beguiling as Dickens’.

I guess the lesson for writers here is – write about the places you love, yes; make others love them too.  But don’t be afraid to set your imagination free. The landscapes of the mind are the best ones of all.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Podcast: just a taste of our interview with David Mitchell

Film adaptations of literary work and the relative involvement of the author are under much discussion this autumn: Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. In our podcast, an extract from an exclusive interview for Words with JAM, David Mitchell discusses the cinematic representation of a book considered as 'unfilmable'.

Listen here and whet your appetite for the October issue of the magazine, where you will be able to read the full interview.

Friday, 14 September 2012

An African Julius Caesar

If you visit Shakespeare: staging the world at the British Museum, the last object you will see as you walk round is the Robben Island ‘Bible’. 

This is a copy of The Complete Words of Shakespeare owned by Sonny Venkatrathnam, a prisoner on Robben Island at the same time as Nelson Mandela.  In order to be able to lend the book to the other prisoners, Venkatrathnam disguised its cover with Divali cards sent to him by his family.  The book was then passed from hand to hand, and the prisoners wrote in the margins next to passages that meant something special to them.

Nelson Mandela signed his name next to a passage from Julius Caesar:
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

Anthony Sampson, Mandela’s biographer, wrote, “in South Africa the play had a deeper resonance, for it vividly described how an oppressed people can realise their potential against tyranny and escape from their sense of inferiority.” 

It was this that inspired Gregory Doran of the RSC to produce a Pan-African’ Julius Caesar as part of this summer’s World Shakespeare Festival.  I was lucky enough to get tickets for one of the last performances in London before they begin a short national tour.

The Noel Coward theatre is quite small – with three gilded tiers of seats above the stalls, but shallow, so none are very far from the stage.  The set was a stone archway and a series of steep stone steps, allowing the action to take place at different levels. As we walked in, well before the play was due to start, there were already actors on the stage – the crowd in an African market shortly before an election.  A band was playing, men were dancing.  There were flags and election posters – a festive mood.

The act of transplating a play like Julius Caesar from its familiar surroundings into somewhere new can, when it works, shake you up and make you see it in a whole new way. And this one certainly worked.  The setting forces you to remember that the world is still plagued with once-loved leaders whose ambition over-reaches itself, and with clever demagogues who manipulate the population with their honeyed words.  

Here the soothsayer becomes a witch doctor, his hair in dreadlocks and his body smeared with white clay.  When Cinna the Poet is mistaken for Cinna the Consipirator and the crowd force a tyre over his head and arms, the audience gasps in horror at they recognise the implication. When the action moves from the Forum to the battlefield, the dust coloured uniforms seem to evoke every civil war that has raged across the Continent for the last sixty years.

Caesar himself plays quite a small part in the play that carries his name.  The drama is carried principally by three characters – Brutus and Cassius, the leaders of the conspiracy against Caesar, and Mark Anthony, Caesar’s friend. In Doran’s all black cast, these parts were played by Paterson Joseph, Cyril Nri and Ray Fearon.

The play hinges on the two speeches given at Caesar’s funeral – the first by Brutus, justifying Caesar’s murder, and the second by Mark Anthony, turning the crowd against the conspirators.  The performances here are electric, taking the well-worn words and delivering them as if no one has heard them before.  Every time Fearon delivers the line, ‘But Brutus is an honourable man,’ it’s another twist of the knife in the wound that will destroy him as he destroyed Caesar.

I have to admit there were a few times when the combination of Shakespearean language with African accents made the speech hard to follow.  Joseph’s Brutus is a carefully modulated speaker and I never had trouble understanding him. Nri’s Cassius is passionate and fast-spoken and therefore sometimes harder to follow.  But the energy and passion of the production carry it through. At the end I felt as if I had lived through a violent storm - exhausted and invigorated at the same time.

Julius Caesar begins the last part of its national tour on 19th September. The next play in the RSC’s World Shakespeare Festival is an ‘Indian’ production of Much Ado About Nothing, starring Meera Syall, which runs at the Noel Coward theatre from 22nd September to 27th October.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The basic components of writing fiction: Beginnings by Sarah Bower

So, let’s begin with a few ideas about where ideas come from and how to get started moulding them into story shape. The first tool every writer needs is:

The Notebook: All writers need a notebook. It might be a beautiful Moleskine or the back of a bus ticket, a smartphone or an ipad, or even in your head if you have very good recall. Whatever suits you, learn to make a space in your life for story ideas. Get into the habit of noticing off-beat news stories, jotting down overheard conversations or odd things you see in the street. Often it’s not just a single thing but the juxtaposition of words, events and images so listing them all in the same place can be a creative act in itself. Inspiration for fiction is all around, but the writer has to train her imagination to be aware of it, and the notebook is your first step.

Next you need: A Daily Writing Regime: Writing is a discipline like any other. The writing muscle needs regular exercise. Write every day, preferably at the same time and in an environment specially created for it (even if this only means clearing a space on the kitchen table for the laptop or always using the same pen), even if it’s only for 15 minutes and what you come out with appears to make no sense at all. Plough on however difficult and mundane it seems – just because writing is classified as an art form, don’t kid yourself that you can sit around waiting for inspiration. The Muse helps those who help themselves!

Exercises can be really helpful in getting started, whether you’ve never written before or are coming back to it after a break. Here are a couple of suggestions:-


Set your alarm fifteen minutes’ earlier than usual. As soon as you get out of bed in the morning, sit down in your writing space and write for ten minutes. Don’t pause before you begin or stop to think while you’re writing, just let the words flow on to the page. You need have no regard for spelling, punctuation or any of the other constraints which we can sometimes find inhibiting. Remind yourself this work is private – no-one is going to see it but you.

This is brilliant for freeing up creativity and reassuring yourself that you can get words down on paper. Even many experienced writers do this exercise regularly because it can, in itself, be a source of inspiration, helping to unearth ideas which have been buried deep and blocked from coming to the surface by the preoccupations of everyday life, whether that be other work or family commitments.


Sit in a cafe, or at a window overlooking your street or garden, anywhere where there is something to watch. Note down everything you experience – using all the senses, not just sight. What do you hear, smell, taste, touch? Once you’re satisfied you’ve recorded everything your senses are telling you, go back to the beginning of your passage of writing and add the line, ‘Once upon a time...’

You have begun a story. This opening line will work its magic on the jumble of impressions you’ve written down. It will start to impose order. Once upon a time, something happened, then something else happened. Your opening line forces you to begin sorting your observations into some sort of order.

Next time, we’ll look at the difference between plot and story and consider more closely how we order a narrative and what effect our decisions have on it.

Suggested Reading

Goldberg, Natalie, Writing Down the Bones, Shambhala 1986
King, Stephen, On Writing: A Memoir, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000 

Sarah Bower is a prize-winning novelist and short story writer. She is a regular contributor to the Historical Novels Review and Ink, Sweat and Tears as well as Words With Jam. She works as a mentor to other writers, and teaches creative writing at the University of East Anglia, the Open University and the Unthank School of Writing. She holds an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia where she is now based in her role as co-ordinator of the mentorship scheme for literary translators run by the British Centre for Literary Translation.

Sarah is the author of THE NEEDLE IN THE BLOOD and SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA (originally published in the UK as THE BOOK OF LOVE) and is currently working on the second of two contemporary psychological mysteries. Her work has been published in eight countries.

You can find Sarah on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @SarahBower

Monday, 20 August 2012

New Podcast: Imagine by Libby O'Loghlin

Everyone remembers what they were doing when the news broke: when Kennedy was shot, when Princess Diana died, when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Centre. Yet everyday lives continued with their own ups and downs. The Bridge House anthology On This Day brings us a collection of short stories about those everyday lives and how they are gently connected with a world-shattering event.  

Imagine is one of these stories. It follows young Cleopatra Smith as she navigates school friendships, the demise of a terminally ill aunt and the death of John Lennon. 

Libby O'Loghlin is an Australian who lives in Switzerland. A writer and editor by trade, she has taught scriptwriting at university level and writes regular reviews for UK gaming site, GamePeople. She is co-founder of the Nuance Words collective and co-curator of The Woolf literary e-zine.  

You can listen to the podcast here:  If you enjoy what you hear, please let us know.

Monday, 6 August 2012

An Erotic Conversation with JJ Marsh and Barbie Scott

“Those pleasures so lightly called physical.” – Colette.

When the Ed suggested I write a blog post recommending erotica, I immediately turned to one of my favourite eroticists for help – Barbie Scott.

‘I can’t do this on my own, I bleated, I’ve not read much at all.’ Then I made a list and realised I’d read more than I thought. Here’s a random selection with comments from Barbie and me.

Fanny Hill: The Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure – John Cleland

JJ: I thought this was so saucy on first read. Fanny, the accidental prostitute, upended through luck and lust ends up well and truly satisfied.

BS: This was probably the very first erotic book I ever read – and I found it great fun though not especially arousing.

Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin

JJ: A revelation. This book was a shock and a delight. Whilst describing all kinds of kink, the perspective is both feminine and literary. I read this as a teenager and some of Nin’s stories still sit in my subconscious.

BS: These stories are fascinating to me because some of them are delightfully transgressive. Nin sometimes touches on aspects of sexuality which are very much proscribed nowadays, yet does so with delicacy and humour.

JJ: And so intelligent in terms of her recognition of the differences between male/female arousal, don’t you think?

BS: Yes, and seeing the difference between erotica and pornography in terms of the way it’s written – erotica being generally more poetic and elegant. A lesson for me there, I think!

The She-Devils – Pierre Louÿs

JJ: I still have a soft spot for this one. Mainly because I was so wide-eyed when I first read it. It’s so energetically lusty and as much story as sex. The word ‘romp’ was invented for just such a book. It’s absolutely a male fantasy, but openly so.

BS: I only read the first 20-odd pages of this and though it was certainly energetic, I didn’t find it at all erotic. This is another account of transgressive sexuality but told with a certain amount of coarse humour; it put me in mind of Greek satyr plays.

JJ: Yes, you’re right. Lots of so-called erotica, regardless of origin, has that Carry-On, saucy postcard, slap-and-tickle tone. But some of it has moved on.

BS: I’m remembering all those seventies’ films that treated sex as a joke – Confessions of a Window Cleaner and such like. Perhaps we’re more sophisticated now.

Parachutes and Kisses – Erica Jong

JJ: This one I found extreme, but not in an erotic sense. It made me laugh more than anything else. As if she was hell-bent on shocking her reader. That tampon scene – ach y fi.

BS: Haven’t read this one – and your comment doesn’t inspire me to!

The Story of O – Pauline Reage

JJ: I read this in university, probably the first time I consciously became aware of the politics of sex. I am still awed by the brilliance of that title. Then I re-read it while directing a production of Spring Awakening. It’s not for the faint-hearted. But as for something that pushes boundaries ... I’m glad I read it.

BS: I’m in two minds about this one – it’s arousing, certainly but I also found it quite an uncomfortable read. We never seem to learn whether O gets any pleasure from the experience herself – she’s only willing to have these things done to her because it’s what her lover wants.

JJ: Well put. This is exactly why I have problems with de Sade, Saló and to an extent, Anastasia Steele.

BS: I’ve been dipping into de Sade (for research purposes, of course) and some of it is so extreme it becomes laughable. ‘O’ isn’t risible in that way, nor is it as extreme, but is more disturbing, in my view, because of that.

Exit to Eden – Anne Rampling

JJ: Oh, I enjoyed this one. Steamy and intense. I still remember a couple of scenes from that book which can still raise my temperature. She conveys exactly what extreme lust does to the mind.

BS: This one was an eye-opener for me – sensual rather than sexual really, and touching on the same deep fantasies as The Story of O but in this one we know the participants have given their consent and that they get something from the experience personally. Probably my favourite.

Tipping the Velvet – Sarah Waters

JJ: Sarah Waters is an amazing talent. This blend of historical, erotic and adventure left me breathless in every sense. Intensely erotic.

BS: I haven’t actually read this one but I did see the TV series and I have to confess women dressing as men in that effeminate guy sort of way certainly does it for me. I’ve just read the free chapter on Amazon and love the way the book opens with a description of Whitstable oysters and music hall. This one looks like great fun so it will be added to my ‘to be read’ list immediately.

JJ: And then get yourself a copy of Fingersmith. I wouldn’t describe it as erotica, but it’s hugely sensual and so beautifully written.

BS: Writing can be erotic even when it’s not about sex. Voluptuous description and characterisation can be just as thrilling as the depiction of sexual arousal.

The Dirty Bits for Girls – India Knight

JJ: A collection and commentary by India Knight, who reminds us of the saucy bits we loved as schoolgirls. It’s light-hearted and giggly, and more memorabilia than erotica.

BS: Haven’t read this one either but the chances are I’ll have read many of the dirty bits mentioned.

JJ: Have you got, if I may coin such a phrase, a favourite dirty bit? From your own work or others’?

BS: Oh, that’s a hard one. Oh sorry, pun not intended. A difficult one! I can’t think of a specific favourite phrase but the anticipatory moments – the moments before things start to happen – in Exit to Eden do it for me every time. I think as far as my own erotica is concerned, I need to infuse it with more sexual tension, as that’s what turns me on.

JJ: Which is why many women are still panting over Mr Darcy. For me, I think Anaïs Nin. She sums it up in this line – How much do you lose by this periscope at the tip of your sex, when you could enjoy a harem of distinct and never-repeated wonders?