The launch in the city of Sreemoyee Piu Kundu’s book Sita’s Curse — The Language of Desire, laid bare the truth about sexual socialism and our society
“She had eyes the colour of rain — the most soulful pair of eyes, I had ever seen and also the saddest,” says author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, talking about the inspiration for her feminist erotic novel, Sita’s Curse —The Language of Desirewhich was released in the city recently.
It was in another life, in another city, in another world that she first encountered this woman who she refers to as the hero of her novel, “I used to be a journalist in Bombay and would travel by cab to work every day. On my way, I would pass by this chawl in Byculla and my cab would always slow down as it went through that area. That was when I first noticed her. She wasn’t glamorous the way Bollywood makes women out to be, but she was beautiful,” says the 36-year-old author.
Perhaps it was her sheer radiance amidst the sordidness and squalor of her surroundings that made the memory so potent but Sreemoyee could never forget her, “I would look out for her every day— there was something so captivating about her. I assumed that she was Gujarati because she wore her sareeseedha-pallu style, I knew she was married because she wore a mangalsutra but that was all I knew. Sometimes she would be on the phone, sometimes she would be feeding her parrot; sometimes she would be drying her long, tousled dark hair. She was the most sensual, exotic creature I had ever seen.”
Then the July 26th floods happened and everything changed, “I was a victim of the floods myself, was trapped in office, contracted leptospirosis after wading through filthy water to reach home and was ill for many days,” she says. “When I resumed work again, I looked out for her but I never saw her again. I am just a vessel, a medium through which her story can be told.”
Sita’s Curse (Hachette Rs. 350), the product of that experience, tells the story of a beautiful, sensuous woman, Mrs. Meera Patel, who is trapped in a soulless marriage for nearly 20 years. The book chronicles her choices, her emotional upheavals, the discovery of her own physicality and the coming into her own as both a person and a woman. It also raises questions on issues such as the sexual politics of Indian households, the primordial connect between religion and sexuality, marital rape and women’s empowerment.
The excerpts of Sita’s Curse were read out at the launch, certainly seemed to be appreciated by the mostly woman audience of the Duchess Club who had gathered in Hotel Savera for the event. Also present were dancer Anita Ratnam who released the book, artist Thejo Menon and journalist and activist Apsara Reddy while the panel discussion that followed the launch was moderated by theatre personality, Prema Venkat.
According to Anita, “Erotica is a vital part of our culture — in fact cliché though it may be India is the very birthplace of it. We have myriad references to it in our art, literature, dance and music. Take, for instance, the 12th century poet Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda that constantly refers to the physical aspect of love between Krishna and his consort Radha.”
Closer home, we have the work of the Tamil poetess Andal whose work was, “soaked in erotica,” as Sreemoyee says. Yet when plans to stage the Vagina Monologues were made in Chennai, a huge uproar was created, “I don’t see why they make such a big fuss over a small patch of skin,” laughs Anita.
Perhaps the reaction stems from, as Sreemoyee believes, the inability to accept female sexuality as an inherent, intrinsic part of her being. But as Apsara says, “Why are we apologetic about our desire? Why is the prevailing sentiment this — do what you want but don’t talk about it?”
Sreemoyee adds, “Desire is such a natural thing — why should we assume it is derelict or dirty? I think it empowers women and induces a degree of sexual socialism. Every single human being has the right to be free — to explore their sexuality and make their own choices — sexual or otherwise.”
Thejo Menon agrees, “As an artist I believe in the freedom of expression. As someone who comes from a matrilineal society, I believe in male-female equality and paint from that perspective.”
At the end of the day, however the message is far beyond the sexually explicit parts of the novel Sita’s Curse, “I am using the sexual body as a medium to tell a message,” says Sreemoyee. “I want my readers to experience Meera and reclaim their true selves through her.”
What is the difference between ‘blackmail’ and ‘extortion’?
(Anurag Lasne, Pune)
The two words have a negative connotation. In both cases, you are trying to forcefully take or get something from someone through illegal means — it could be anything: money, property, etc. ‘Extortion’ is the formal of the two, and it was originally used to refer to a crime committed by a public official; a person who worked for the government and misused his position. A politician demanding money from a businessman before granting him a licence for his new business or a clerk asking for money to ‘move the file’ are examples of extortion. Nowadays, the word is used to refer to crimes committed by non-public officials as well. A criminal forcing shopkeepers to pay ‘protection money’ would be an example of extortion. According to some books on usage, ‘extortion’ suggests there is a threat of violence — either to the person or property. When you are ‘blackmailed’, a person threatens to go public with information that may be potentially damaging or embarrassing for you. In this case, however, there is no physical threat involved. In the eyes of the law, both are punishable acts.
What is the meaning of ‘success has many fathers, failure is an orphan’?
(BC Koshy, Bangalore)
Usually, when an organisation plans an event and it becomes a huge success, everyone tries to take credit for it. Each person would like to have his fifteen minutes of fame. But should the same event turn out to be a disaster, no one will take responsibility for it; each man will point a finger at someone else. When you say that “success has many fathers, failure is an orphan”, you mean that while many people take credit for the success of something, few will accept responsibility for any failure. No one wants to be associated with failure; like an orphan, it always stands alone. I understand the original Latin expression was “victory has a hundred fathers, while no one acknowledges a failure.”
*After the trouncing, no Minister from the party was willing to talk to reporters. You know what they say, success has many fathers, failure is an orphan.
How is the word ‘soiree’ pronounced?
(TS Karthik, Chennai)
The ‘soi’ in the first syllable is pronounced like the ‘swa’ in the Indian name ‘Swathi’; the second syllable sounds like the word ‘ray’. The word is pronounced ‘SWAA-ray’ with the stress on the first syllable. The Americans, on the other hand, tend to put the stress on the second syllable. ‘Soiree’ comes from the French ‘soir’ meaning ‘evening’. This rather formal word is used to refer to an evening get-together where elegantly dressed individuals eat lots of good food and listen to some wonderful music.
What is the meaning of ‘knee-jerk reaction’?
(S Mohan, Alappuzha)
Your knee-jerk reaction to something is your immediate response to it; in most cases, it is automatic, and there is little or no thinking involved.
*Whenever Rahul says ‘yes’ to something, his wife says ‘no’. I think it’s a knee jerk reaction.
*When a doctor taps you on your knee with a reflex hammer (rubber hammer), the leg automatically shoots up. You have no control over this reaction.
“The advantage of growing up with siblings is that you become very good at fractions.” — Robert Brault
London has become a literary playground: a project by the National Literacy Trust has scattered 50 book-shaped benches across the capital for the whole summer, each dedicated to an iconic London-related author or character. Will you help us find them?
Fancy sitting on a book? Yes, you read correctly: not with, but on – although now you can try both. From today, you can do it in 50 different locations around London, thanks to book-shaped benches, which have been installed all over the city by the National Literacy Trust to celebrate London’s literary heritage and to encourage reading.
The 50 benches are dedicated to books, characters and authors: from Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Hercules Poirot to Peter Pan, The Gruffalo and Paddington Bear. Each bench has been designed an artist. Ralph Steadman, who illustrated Lewis Carroll’s children’s classic Through the Looking Glass in 1973 – has reproduced some of the original drawings on that bench. Here he is at work:
And here is the beautiful result:
Other benches include a collaboration between Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson to celebrate the characters they have created together, fromThe Gruffalo to the stars of their new book The Scarecrow’s Wedding. Clarice Bean has her own bench, thanks to Lauren Child, as doesCressida Cowell’s How to Tame Your Dragon; and here’s artist Charles Bezzina varnishing the Frozen in Time bench based on Captain Scott’s Autobiography:
You’ll find the details for all 50 benches and their authors and illustratorson this list. Plus, several literary trails have been created around Greenwich, the City, Riverside and Bloomsbury – you can check the details and maps here. The benches will be displayed until mid-September and auctioned at the Southbank Centre on 7 October, to raise funds for the National Literacy Trust.
The project will also include lots of events, such as book giveaways, a performance by the cast of the 1984 stage production, a meerkat flashmob or an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most number of people dressed as Sherlock Holmes. Check their website forthe full programme and details.
The books have now all been put in place – here’s proof of one of them, (still) all alone over in the Thames:
But we won’t tell you too much more: discovering them is up to you. Whether you you stumble upon Orwell’s 1984 or find yourself sitting on a dragon, take a photo with the bench, tell us why you love that author or book, show us how you’re participating in the events, and why not be creative and record yourself quoting a few lines from the text in situ?
Terry Pratchett, who announced his diagnosis with early onset Alzheimer’s seven years ago, has pulled out of a Discworld convention later this summer, saying “the Embuggerance is finally catching up with me”.
Pratchett made the announcement with what he described as “great reluctance” on the website of the International Discworld Convention, where he had been set to appear as guest of honour in Manchester in August. “I have been putting off writing this announcement for quite some time and on good days thought I wouldn’t have to write it at all,” wrote the author. “I am very sorry about this, but I have been dodging the effects of PCA and have been able to write for much longer than any of us ever thought possible, but now The Embuggerance is finally catching up with me, along with other age-related ailments.”
He told fans on the Discworld convention website on Wednesday that “this is the first time ever that I have been unable to attend a UK convention and I really am very sorry”.
“They say time marches on, and it does, even though I have been running very fast to keep one step ahead of it. I really was looking forward to seeing your smiley, happy faces. Have fun everyone. Yes, on this occasion, have lots of fun,” said the author, who has sold over 75m copies of his comic fantasy novels, the majority of which are set in Discworld, a a realm held up by four elephants balanced on the back of a giant turtle.
The convention’s chair, John Hicks, said that Pratchett would still be answering some questions from fans on video, that his business manager Rob Wilkins would be “bringing The Black Hat” – Pratchett’s trademark – “to the Convention to represent Terry in absentia and we will, of course, welcome it with all due honours”.
Pratchett has been as prolific as ever since he announced his Alzheimer’s, publishing well-received titles including the Discworld novels Snuff and Raising Steam, the Victorian London-set Dodger, and a collaboration with sceince fiction author Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth. As recently as Tuesday, he tweeted: “Just to let you all know, the book that’s on the screen in front of us – and is well underway – will be the 5th Tiffany Aching novel”. Tiffany Aching is the young witch star of a series of young adult books. He added: “After the exciting news regarding Tiffany V – a little announcement that doesn’t make me quite so happy”, and pointing to his withdrawal from the Discworld convention.
The novelist – knighted for his services to literature – has been a fierce campaigner for Alzheimer’s research since his diagnosis. He donated £500,000 of his own money for research, and is a patron of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust. Pratchett has also spoken out in favour of a euthanasia tribunal.
“If you did not know there was anything wrong with me, you would not know there is anything wrong with me. The disease moves slowly, but you know it’s there,” he said in his Richard Dimbleby lecture in 2010.
The lecture saw Pratchett go on to admit his vow that “rather than let Alzheimer’s take me, I would take it. I would live my life as ever to the full and die, before the disease mounted its last attack, in my own home, in a chair on the lawn, with a brandy in my hand to wash down whatever modern version of the ‘Brompton cocktail’ some helpful medic could supply. And with Thomas Tallis on my iPod, I would shake hands with Death.”
Last week research was published showing that headteachers are concerned about pupils’ mental health. Of the 1,131 headteachers spoken to by the school leaders’ network The Key, four in five said they were worried about pupils suffering from an anxiety disorder. Self-harming, depression and eating disorders were also cited as areas of concern.
They write: “Both targeted and universal [mindfulness] interventions have been shown to have a significant impact on mental health problems in the young.
“For example, the MiSP.b programme has had a clear impact. The young people who participated in the programme reported fewer depressive symptoms post-treatment and at follow-up, along with lower stress and greater well-being.”
We’ll be looking at the effect mindfulness can have on children’s mental health in the live chat, as well as discussing other benefits, such as boosting concentration and academic achievement. And we’ll be sharing lots of ideas for how you can introduce the technique – from getting students to pause and close their eyes for two minutes each day to setting up hour long classes where parents come along too. As well as talking about how the meditation technique can be used with students, we’ll be exploring ways it can support teachers with their wellbeing.
As Edward and Rebecca Cummings passed the town of Center Ossipee, N.H., in their new 1926 Franklin sedan, it began to snow. They left their home in Cambridge, Mass., hours before, driving a car with high seats, no defroster and a top speed of about 50. Rebecca took over the driving for the last part of the trip to their summer place at Silver Lake.
As she steered the car north toward Mount Chocorua, a southbound Boston & Maine steam locomotive loomed over the right side of the car, then cut the Franklin in half, killing Edward instantly and throwing Rebecca out into the falling snow. “When two brakemen jumped from the halted train, they saw a woman standing — dazed but erect — beside a mangled machine, with blood ‘spouting’ (as the older said to me) from her head” — that’s how their son, the poet E. E. Cummings, described it to a Harvard audience in the first of his Charles Eliot Norton lectures (Cummings called them nonlectures) in the fall of 1952. “These men took my 66-year-old mother by the arms and tried to lead her to a nearby farmhouse; but she threw them off, strode straight to my father’s body and directed a group of scared spectators to cover him. When this had been done (and only then), she let them lead her away.”
At the time of the accident, 11 years after his graduation from Harvard, E. E. Cummings had published two acclaimed poetry books and an important war memoir, “The Enormous Room,” about his World War I service and incarceration, which had been written at his beloved father’s urging. “It was my miraculous fortune to have a true father and a true mother and a home, which the truth of their love made joyous,” Cummings wrote about his extraordinary parents. By 1926, Cummings had settled in Greenwich Village for good to become part of the wild crowd of poets and writers who lived there before and after World War I. Eugene O’Neill was their playwright, Edna St. Vincent Millay was their country girl, William Carlos Williams was their doctor, a working physician who traveled in from New Jersey after work most nights to hang out with the poets and writers.
The night of the accident, Cummings and his sister, Elizabeth, headed for New Hampshire by train. By the time they arrived, Rebecca was in the Wolfeboro hospital wavering between life and death. When Cummings and his sister appeared, Rebecca seemed to understand what her death would do to them, and she decided not to join her husband. She would have more than 20 more years to live, but the death of Edward Cummings was a turning point for her and for her son. It catapulted Cummings into an adulthood that included his disastrous second marriage and the crisis of confidence that led him into therapy. It also inspired one of the finest dirges ever written, a glorious requiem mass of words, the poem that begins: “My father moved through dooms of love/through sames of am through haves of give/singing each morning out of each night.”
During the five years I worked on a biography of E. E. Cummings, I consulted every source I could find. My bookcases filled up with Cummings books. I read everything written about the accident, yet it continued to baffle me. Why didn’t Rebecca stop at the railroad crossing? How could she have missed the belching, screeching, clanking steam locomotive bearing down on her?
I reread the previous biographical accounts by Richard Kennedy (1980) and Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno (2004). I read Catherine Reef’s 2006 biography. I reread the biography that Cummings authorized in 1958 by his friend Charles Norman. I scoured the account Cummings himself gave in his Charles Eliot Norton lectures in 1952. I read the local newspapers and studied photographs of Franklin cars and 1926 steam engines. I also read his sister Elizabeth’s privately published memoir, “When I Was a Little Girl,” in which she writes about their father’s love affair with automobiles. In Cambridge, the Rev. Edward Cummings, she wrote, had been famous for his cars. In a world of horses and buggies, he bought one of the first automobiles on the market — a glorified buggy called an Orient Buckboard. The gleaming new Franklin, made in Syracuse at the H. H. Franklin motor works, was his latest luxury car, advertised as having a “baby-buggy ride,” although narrow rimmed tires on barely paved roads made for a noisy, uncomfortable experience. “When it came time to go to the country,” Elizabeth wrote, “the great adventure was driving all the way in the automobile. This was an adventure, because the roads were very bad indeed.”
The accident still didn’t make sense to me. Trains don’t sneak up on cars. The Franklin was primitive by our automotive safety standards, but even so it was hard to understand — unless it stalled or became stuck somehow — how the crash could have happened. The accident haunted me. Cummings’s father was a beloved, important figure in his life — the kind of man who seemed infallible to his son. His sudden death seemed to change the way Cummings saw the world. Cummings had been a child; after the accident, he was an adult. I thought about the rural railroad crossings of my imagination with their bumpy berms, creaky signals and long stretches of track going off in both directions. How had the engineer missed seeing the car ahead of him?
I imagined the late-afternoon snow, the combination of exhaustion and exhilaration at the end of a long trip, the possible anxiety of Rebecca driving while her masculine take-charge husband sat in the passenger seat. Edward was a sportsman and a scholar, a New Hampshire lad who became a Harvard professor and a prominent Unitarian minister without forgetting his carpentry skills. I drove those New Hampshire roads myself, some of them in a 1930s Buick my grandfather kept in a shed a few miles west of Silver Lake. Slowly I became obsessed with a railroad crossing in western New Hampshire. I read the notes kept by others who had written about Cummings. I interviewed Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno. I still could not picture it.
For many writers, research is a big yawn. The past is a foreign country, and who cares how they do things differently there? Research is reading disintegrating papers in dusty libraries; sifting through shoe boxes in ancient attics; interviewing people who don’t know when to stop talking. But for biographers, research is thrilling. Reconstructing history is delicious. Research is where the story comes from; it’s the bits and pieces of the past we are trying to bring to life.
Three official types of research are the foundation of writing biography: Primary-source research uses original papers found in libraries, archives or occasionally an attic; secondary-source research uses the work of other writers and researchers; interviews can be with experts, people whose memories are useful or other writers and researchers. There is a fourth kind of research. It doesn’t have a fancy name; it is just going to the places where the story happened. Landscapes often speak, and houses hold ancient scenes and memories and secrets.
For me, the idea of a biography of Cummings began with the fourth kind of research. After having coffee in Manhattan with a friend, I found myself wandering around Patchin Place, the mews near Sixth Avenue where Cummings lived for 40 years. I teach at the New School, two blocks from Patchin Place, and something seemed to draw me there. I was there decades ago with my father, John Cheever, to take Cummings home from a reading, and it hadn’t changed. Eventually I made friends with the family who live in the house where Cummings spent most of his adult life and had tea in the rooms where he lived. In Cambridge I walked the back streets where he grew up at a three-way crossroads near the border of what he referred to as “sinful Somerville.” I started reading his poetry again. One night at dinner with friends — the journalist Bob Morris and the agent Ira Silverberg — Bob and I began talking about Cummings. By the time we got the check, I was embarked on a biography.
The fatal 1926 accident still haunted me, so two summers ago I rented a Chevrolet from Avis and loaded the car with some books, my 22-year-old son, who had just graduated from college, and our aging black-and-tan dachshund. We drove north in search of some kind of understanding, in search of a railroad crossing that probably no longer existed, in search of the past. My son and I had used a variety of maps to more or less pinpoint the spot where the still-existing railroad tracks appeared to cross the White Mountain Highway or New Hampshire Route 16 near Silver Lake — but the maps were not reassuring. It was hard to tell a railroad track from a county border and hard to see what would and would not be visible from behind the wheel of a car.
In Wolfeboro, we turned north as the Cummingses had before us — they in the Franklin, we in the Chevy Cruze. After Center Ossipee, I began to slow the car and look for signs of a railroad crossing. Nothing. The picturesque summit of Mount Chocorua was framed by the blue sky. Nothing. The road was lined with New Hampshire pines. Nothing. I slowed the car down further. “Tracks!” my son called out. I stopped and pulled over onto the sandy shoulder at the side of the road and got out of the car.
Once I saw the crossroads, the accident made perfect sense. The tracks were perfectly flush with the road and came toward it at a 45-degree angle from the right — Rebecca Cummings’s blind side in the driver’s seat, especially in the snow. I walked around a bit, noticing which of the trees were second growth and which might have been there in 1926. I could almost hear the screech of brakes from the locomotive and the dreadful sound of metal crushing the wooden frame of the Franklin and shattering the windshield. I could see the brakemen running through the snow and imagine Rebecca’s insistence that her husband’s body be covered. The Chevy engine ticked quietly. An occasional car passed going north. Then the dachshund began to whine. I was back in 2012. I said a small prayer for the soul of Edward Cummings and got in the car for the short drive up to Silver Lake.
Photographer Cambridge Jones has collaborated with The Story Museum for its latest exhibition which celebrates childhood story heroes and sees well-known authors dress up as their favourite literary characters.
When the The Story Museum approached Cambridge Jones to take pictures for its 26 Characters exhibition, the photographer wanted images that visitors would actually stop and look at.
“Just taking a bunch of authors isn’t going to make people interested – and authors aren’t necessarily outgoing people,” he says. “So I thought what if we gave them permission to have fun by asking them who their favourite character from childhood was and let their imagination run free.”
With the help of costumes from the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre, the resulting exhibit features 26 writers portraying a collection of rogues, rascals, witches and wild things.
Each one features in their own character-themed interactive space, accompanied with audio of the authors reading extracts from their books and interviewed about their chosen character.
Here is a selection of the photographs, together with Jones’s own comments.
One of the most exciting aspects of working on this project for The Story Museum has been the transformative nature of the process. Without fail, we take erudite and grown-up writers and turn them into young children again.
In Philip’s case this was even more pronounced than normal. He had not been well and yet valiantly came to the shoot anyway. It was clearly an effort for him, even to get up the many flights of stairs. Yet after a little make-up and a costume, we had one of the most agile, loud and spirited Long John Silvers you are ever likely to meet.
It never struck me as one of the best ideas – Neil Gaiman as Badger. A medieval swashbuckling hero maybe, or as a dark overlord from another time zone, perhaps. Or even the lead singer in a very cool band….but Badger from Wind In The Willows?!
And then an odd thing happened: he just started to become Badger – literally in front of my eyes. With wonderfully simple make-up and exquisite robes, he started to move like Badger, he started to smile like Badger, he even started to talk as I imagine Badger talks. When we finally went on set and gave him his chair and book, he just WAS Badger.
I drove Francesca and Stephen from London to Oxford for the shoot, which was a good thing because by the time we got there, there wasn’t much we didn’t know about each other and even less we were not prepared to do in front of each other – which, when you are planning to shoot The Queen of Hearts and The Mad Hatter, is incredibly helpful.
They were impeccable, inspired, fun, spontaneous and, well, just great. Stephen was just about to hand in his latest book to his publisher and had been on stage until late the night before, and Francesca – well, I was just so struck by her beauty when she lifted her hair and put on the robes… stunning.
There are people who instinctively value and appreciate photography and there are those that regard it as a necessary evil. I would hazard a guess that Anthony is in the latter camp. If this is true, then we compounded the ordeal by providing a costume that was the wrong size.
Somehow, with creative zeal and no small effort on Anthony’s part, we managed, nevertheless, to produce one of my favourite shoots in the series. I drove Anthony to the station, and he seemed a touch bemused that someone could earn a living from photography, but all that melted into insignificance once we realised we were both learning Greek and had a profound love of all things Hellas!
I have worked with Benjamin several times in my career. Once when I was a student and we wanted him on the cover of our student magazine Isis (he was very cool and living with his dub band in Handsworth) with all the requisite Rasta accoutrements. Then again in East London when he was suffering greatly from racist attacks and couldn’t even reveal his address to anyone for fear of such an attack.
I arrived at the door of his university office and see Professor Benjamin Zephaniah written in smart letters on the door. “You’ve come up in the world” I said teasingly, but was greeted with a slightly worried: “Have I… I hope not”. This is a man who was put amongst us to enlighten and help others – not to rise above them. My flattery was wasted if not confusing. And what a spider he makes!
One of the many fascinating components of this lovely job has been the response of my own children to the different authors I intermittently disappear off to create portraits with.
Sometimes they appear unmoved by some of the greatest names in modern literature. Sometimes they work out days later that it was the author of one of their favourite books (“Daddy you could have told me you were photographing them!”). And sometimes it’s Malorie Blackman (“OH MY GOD – YOU ARE PHOTOGRAPHING MALORIE BLACKMAN – CAN I COME!”). They could not – which is a shame because we had such fun!
Like several of our (male) authors, Michael was not an avid reader when young. He was explaining to me he found books quite hard work to get through and they lacked the appeal of playing in the outdoors with other kids.
This seems interesting to me on two levels: firstly, it is of course no accident that The Story Museum has encased its mission in stories rather than books, taking the story out of the realm of “classroom” and “homework” and putting it firmly in the realm of imagination and fun.
Secondly that one of the most successful story tellers of our age is as empowered and fuelled by his imagination from childhood playing as he is from a scholastic digestion of letters and punctuation.
Terry has a house near where I grew up in Wales, but he also lives in a secret location in London town which is both central and in the countryside simultaneously. I’d been there before but forgotten how perfect it would be for Rupert the Bear – a character Terry loves deeply and always has.
We started with a studio set-up and it quickly became clear that Terry had somehow imbibed the movement of Rupert the Bear perfectly. He could move and take up stances exactly as Rupert does in all those annuals of yesteryear. So we quickly abandoned the studio and went out into the London countryside to capture Rupert behind trees, bouncing through the grass and generally just Ruperting about.
Here’s the thing: Terry is not a writer – he doesn’t write anymore. His condition means he effectively speaks the word into text with [his assistant] Rob’s help. In a funny way, I think that has freed his imagination even more and all around him are details and objects from other worlds – maps of unknown kingdoms or books that light up.
Terry was on great form that day and had vivid memories of childhood and the teacher who said he would never become anything….! We then all went to the local pub for a fine lunch and chat. Fond memories of fond memories.
It was Holly’s birthday when we met and she had very kindly agreed to do the shoot before going on to celebrate later in the day.
That is all I can tell you! She cast a spell on me from the moment that she put on her White Queen costume that left me powerless and speechless, such was her power and beauty. It’s a miracle we got any photos out of the session at all. I was truly mesmerised.
The sort of lengthy, involved literary fiction written by the likes of Dickens or Faulkner has met its match in the shape of the internet, according to the author Tim Parks, who believes modern readers are too distracted to appreciate serious literary novels.
Mr. Parks’s claims follow swiftly on the footsteps of similar assertions made by his fellow novelist Will Self. He said in May that “the literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes”, as “the hallmark of our contemporary culture is an active resistance to difficulty in all its aesthetic manifestations”.
Mr. Parks, writing in the New York Review of Books, has now asserted that “the state of constant distraction we live in”, thanks to email, messaging, Skype and online news, “affects the very special energies required for tackling a substantial work of fiction — for immersing oneself in it and then coming back and back to it on numerous occasions over what could be days, weeks or months, each time picking up the threads of the story or stories, the patterning of internal reference, the positioning of the work within the context of other novels and indeed the larger world”.
When we do read, “there are more breaks, ever more frequent stops and restarts, more input from elsewhere, fewer refuges where the mind can settle,” according to Mr. Parks. “It is not simply that one is interrupted; it is that one is actually inclined to interruption. Hence more and more energy is required to stay in contact with a book, particularly something long and complex.” No art form, he believes, “exists independently of the conditions in which it is enjoyed”, and so contemporary fiction is going to adapt; in fact, it is already doing so. Although he acknowledged that long and complex novels are still written — Mr. Parks pointed to the stellar sales currently being enjoyed by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard — he said that “the texture of these books seems radically different from the serious fiction of the 19th and early-20th centuries”.
“There is a battering ram quality to the contemporary novel, an insistence and repetition that perhaps permits the reader to hang in despite the frequent interruptions to which most ordinary readers leave themselves open,” said Mr. Parks, adding that even Philip Roth, who predicted five years ago that the novel would become “cultic” in 25 years because “the book can’t compete with the screen”, “has himself, at least in his longer novels, been accused of adopting a coercive, almost bludgeoning style”.
Mr. Parks finished by predicting that “the novel of elegant, highly distinct prose, of conceptual delicacy and syntactical complexity, will tend to divide itself up into shorter and shorter sections, offering more frequent pauses where we can take time out”.
Meanwhile, “the larger popular novel, or the novel of extensive narrative architecture, will be ever more laden with repetitive formulas, and coercive, declamatory rhetoric to make it easier and easier, after breaks, to pick up, not a thread, but a sturdy cable”.
Perhaps proving Mr. Parks’s point about distractibility, authors took to Twitter to attack his claims, pointing to recent literary hits including Eleanor Catton’s Booker-winning The Luminaries, Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning The Goldfinch and Hilary Mantel’s Booker-winning Wolf Hall. Writer Lee Rourke called Mr. Parks’s essay “yet another wrongheaded bleat against the digital network. Man, Literature has ALWAYS been the network,” adding: “Writers, keep that internet SWITCHED ON.” Others pointed to Frank Kermode’s comment from the 1960s, that “the special fate of the novel, considered as a genre, is to be always dying”.
Sam Jordison, the publisher who picked up Eimear McBride’s stream-of-consciousness novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing after it had been rejected by mainstream presses for years, said that “just because Tim Parks is busy that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other people able and willing to put time in to serious reading — or into serious writing”. Mr. McBride won the Baileys prize earlier this month for a book judges called “engaging, readable, unputdownable”.
“Plenty of people are writing long complicated books. Plenty of people are writing long elaborate sentences. Plenty of people aren’t too. It was ever thus,” said Mr. Jordison. “Just as there have always been grumpy older writers predicting all this is going to end.” The award-winning novelist John Banville brushed away Mr. Parks’s concerns, saying he didn’t think “a very large number of people ever read complicated writing”, and that “we haven’t changed intellectually because of technology”.
“I don’t really mind if people stop reading big middlebrow Victorian novels — that’s no great loss, and what they read them for you can get from the television nowadays,” said Mr. Banville. “And frankly I wouldn’t miss Faulkner very much either.” Mr. Banville, who won the Booker for his novel The Sea, predicted that “the kind of novel I’m trying to write will survive, but of course it will be a minority sport. I don’t mind that — every writer who’s worth anything has about 2,000 readers. Many more admirers, maybe, but about 2,000 readers.” There will always be art, predicted Mr. Banville, but it will appeal to “a minority. Most people don’t need art — they get their sense of beauty elsewhere. From children, sport, nature — art is a specialised medium.” Francesca Segal, who won the Costa first novel prize for her debut, The Innocents, said she “so very much” wanted Mr. Parks’s proclamation not to be true.
“No doubt it’s true that commercial fiction will respond to our new shift in attention patterns by doing exactly as he predicts — with endless reiteration and increasingly bullying emphasis — but commercial fiction has always responded to market pressures. As devoted, usually obsessive readers themselves, I believe literary novelists will always honour the stories they tell and the questions they ask within them by giving them their best form, not their most accessible. And in any case, I take comfort in the fact that each generation always prophesies its own downfall,” she said.
“After all, he cites Our Mutual Friend as a novel deserving of unbroken focus and concentration, but it was first published as a 20-part monthly serial, during which time readers would have had to weather all sorts of other breaks and interruptions — a month between episodes is a long time, and a different sort of interrupted attention.”
Is there a distinctive “Indian English”? Yes, according to a hashtag that’s been trending in the country – #IndianEnglish.
“Open the windows and let the atmosphere come in.”
“Today is my Happy Birthday.”
These are a couple of examples being shared on the hashtag#IndianEnglish. Since it took off early on Thursday, it’s been used around 20,000 times in India.
It was started by 22-year-old Ojas Korde, a masters student in public relations from Mumbai. “On Twitter, we take things lightly,” he told BBC Trending.
Indians often translate directly from Hindi when they speak English, he says. “It sounds really funny.”
Other examples shared on the hashtag include:
“Giving directions Go straight you will get a circle. Take a round turn from that circle”
“Please revert back”
“I hate sound pollution due to traffic. It’s very horny” [a reference to the sound of horns honking]
“I have to travel out of station” [away from home]
“I’ve invited our backside neighbour for dinner” [from the back of the building]
Many of the most-shared tweets are images of street signs, shops and the like, with dubious spelling and grammar (many have been collated here).
“Indians are great at making fun of ourselves,” says John Thomas, a well-known former journalist in India.
The hashtag is not Indians taking pride in the uniqueness of Indian English, he says – far from it. Indians are highly class conscious, he says, and aspire to speaking “correct” English. “An ideal Indian of class should be able to recite Wordsworth as well as literature of his mother tongue.”
That said, one tweet joked: “British messed our motherland we mess up their mothertongue #IndianEnglish”
Prince Charles tried to persuade Tony Blair’s government to expand grammar schools, former education secretary David Blunkett has said.
In a BBC Radio 4 documentary examining the constitutional role of the prince, Mr Blunkett said Prince Charles “didn’t like” it when his request was refused.
He discussed complementary medicine and climate with other Labour ministers.
Meanwhile, former prime minister Sir John Major revealed he changed policies after discussing them with the Queen.
Mr Blunkett is one of three former cabinet ministers interviewed for the documentary, The Royal Activist.
Recalling his conversations, Mr Blunkett, who was education secretary for four years between 1997 and 2001, said: “I would explain that our policy was not to expand grammar schools, and he didn’t like that.
“He was very keen that we should go back to a different era where youngsters had what he would have seen as the opportunity to escape from their background, whereas I wanted to change their background.”
“I can see constitutionally that there’s an argument that the heir to the throne should not get involved in controversy; the honest truth is I didn’t mind,” added Mr Blunkett.
“If you are waiting to be the king of the United Kingdom, and you’ve waited a very long time, you genuinely have to engage with something or you’d go spare.”
But Graham Smith, chief executive of the group Republic which campaigns for the abolition of the monarchy, said it was wrong for any member of the Royal Family to try to shape the decisions of the elected.
“The deal with the monarchy is that the royals stay out of politics completely and these revelations just kind of prove what we’ve been saying all along which is that they are involving themselves, influencing public policy and that is completely unacceptable in a democratic society,” Mr Smith said.
Former environment minister Michael Meacher recalled that he and the Prince “would consort together quietly” to affect policy on climate change and genetically modified crops.
He said they worked together “to try and ensure that we increased our influence within government”.
“I knew that he largely agreed with me and he knew that I largely agreed with him,” said Mr Meacher. “We were together in trying to persuade Tony Blair to change course.”
Asked if there might be a constitutional problem in the Prince taking a political opinion, Mr Meacher replied: “Well, over GM I suppose you could well say that. Maybe he was pushing it a bit. I was delighted, of course.”
A ‘meddling’ prince?
It is not the first time Prince Charles has attracted interest – and at times criticism – for his views.
A High Court judge criticised the prince for an “unexpected and unwelcome” intervention in a development at Chelsea Barracks in London. The prince had written to the Qatari prime minister to say his “heart sank” when he saw the design, prompting potential Qatari investors to pull out of the £1bn scheme
The prince – a critic of modernist architecture – reportedly said he “would go mad” if he had to work at Canary Wharf; that Birmingham Central Library looked like “a place where books are incinerated”; and that a stainless steel lecture hall at Essex University looked “like a dustbin”
A Channel 4 Dispatches programme, called Charles: The Meddling Prince, made allegations of secret lobbying by the prince, prompting his then senior aide Sir Michael Peat to say the heir to the throne knew “the way he contributes to national life will change when he becomes King”
Prince Charles has been a well-known supporter of complementary medicine. According to another former Labour cabinet minister, Peter Hain, it was a topic they shared an interest in.
“He had been constantly frustrated at his inability to persuade any health ministers anywhere that that was a good idea, and so he, as he once described it to me, found me unique from this point of view, in being somebody that actually agreed with him on this, and might want to deliver it.”
Mr Hain added: “When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in 2005-7, he was delighted when I told him that since I was running the place I could more or less do what I wanted to do.
“I was able to introduce a trial for complementary medicine on the NHS, and it had spectacularly good results, that people’s well-being and health was vastly improved.
“And when he learnt about this he was really enthusiastic and tried to persuade the Welsh government to do the same thing and the government in Whitehall to do the same thing for England, but not successfully,” added Mr Hain.
The Prince’s policy interventions are also supported by Sir John Major.
The former prime minister said: “I think it is encouraging that the Prince of Wales is entirely free from his unique perspective to write to ministers or the prime minister in a way that is invariably intended to be helpful, and I think to cut that off, or to make sure those letters are much more bland than they otherwise might be, would be a loss.”
Sir John also revealed that he occasionally changed policy as a result of discussions with the Queen – although he would not be drawn on the specific times this took place.
Asked if he remembered being influenced by the Queen, Sir John said : “I think every prime minister can think that, and can think of occasions where that happened…
“But the answer is yes of course. It would be very foolish indeed not to be influenced.”
“I can recall occasions where the Queen in discussion put a gloss upon something that made one think and reflect upon whether it was being done in the right fashion at the right time, or perhaps reflect upon what the impact of it would be,” Sir John said.