>The Poetics of the Motorway, Litro Magazine, July 2012
A reflection on the image of the motorway in literature.
“Leave the slip road, nudge out into the slow lane between a Norbert Dentressangle lorry and a Volvo estate towing a caravan with mint-green go-faster stripes. Wherever that slip road led from, you’re on the motorway now. You could be anywhere.
Motorways are uncanny non-locations, spaces we know intimately but never set foot on. They are so ingrained in our lives, so iconic, so socially transformative, that it’s perhaps surprising they don’t feature more often in literature…”
More than any other medium, film has the power to scare us silly. In the dark of the cinema, the suspense of a slow pan, that shadowy figure at the edge of frame – the shock of a sudden sound-effect, or jittery jump-cut – all come together in delicious, breath-stopping, heartbeat-skipping moments of pure cinematic fear. But forget chainsaws, zombies or psychos. The best scares in cinema are the ghosts that don’t rely on gore to frighten. Subtly terrifying, flesh-creepingly sinister or horribly uncanny, here’s a roll-call of the most memorable, best-realised apparitions on film…
While I’m waiting to do so myself, nobody I speak to can tell me much about what giving birth is like. Do any novels capture the experience?
What does giving birth feel like? It’s become a pressing question for me, as I’m due to do it myself in five weeks’ time. No one can give me an answer. “Oh, it’s an unforgettable experience,” mums coo. Then add, “I can’t describe it; you forget the pain.” Make your mind up!
Can literature provide an answer? Surely one of the greats has nailed it, and can explain how an event can be simultaneously unforgettable and impossible to remember? …
There’s a moment in C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Lucy, walking down the corridor of a magician’s house, catches sight of what she thinks is “a wicked little bearded face” grinning at her from a wall. It is in fact a mirror, surrounded by hair and a beard; and it is her face she has seen. She tells herself the mirror is harmless, but she is unsettled to see her own face so changed.
In David Constantine’s short story “Asylum”, a therapist asks a patient to look in a mirror and describe herself. The mirror is “a lovely thing, face-shaped and just the size of a face, without a frame, the bare reflecting glass.”The patient thinks she is turning into an owl, and for a moment, looking at her, the therapist sees it too—“…if you jointed the arcs of the brows with the arcs of shadow below the eyes, so accentuating the sockets, yes you might make the widening stare of an owl.”
I love Uncharted, I’ll be honest. I really wish Sully was my dad. Dad, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, but that silvering hair, the whiff of cigar smoke, the wisecracking and the stiff gait that’s possibly an indicator of rheumatoid arthritis? I just wish it had been Sully taking me to parents’ evenings once in a while, that’s all.
Having come fresh and a bit fragile from the awesomeness of the last PS3 installment in the series, Drake’s Deception, I was dubious about a handheld version. A pared down game with blocky graphics was just going to sully (ahhhh, lovely Sully) my fond memories. But there was no need to worry. Turns out there’s nothing pared-down about this full-length, stunning-looking, immersive Uncharted experience.
Cassandra Parkin’s New World Fairy Tales, winner of the Scott Prize in 2011, is a collection of modern retellings of traditional stories, set in present-day America. An anonymous college student is travelling the country collecting interviews for a project. The transcripts of the interviews form the stories in the book, each named only by its interview number. The stories they tell are familiar; a girl with a long plait of hair, a beautiful outcast taken in by seven dwarves, a woman going three times to the ball. But they are relocated, reimagined and reinvigorated for a 21st-century reader.
What’s most instantly attractive about these stories is that they are fun. They treat their source material irreverently but affectionately. Ugly step-sisters become ungrateful step-daughters, the three little pigs become racist policemen, Jack becomes a city slicker and the beanstalk the world of corporate finance. There’s much pleasure in this fairy tale spotting, recognizing the bones of the old tales under the skin of the new ones. (Several of the tales are not immediately recognizable, so complete is their transformation.)
It’s official: Amazon now sells more e-books in the US than it does paperbacks. The gradual disappearance of the physical book could be the long-awaited solution to that old problem: how do you organise your bookshelves?
It’s a subject close to my heart; we’re moving house soon and the whole issue is going to raise its ugly head again.
I work in a bookshop, so I like to think that shelving books is a bit of a skill of mine. I go by subject: short stories on the short story shelf, history on the history shelf, that kind of sensible approach. At the shop, making shelf labels for obscure subjects is one of the perks of the job. Some of my favourites are the Hobos and Tramps section, the Knots shelf, Books About Other Books, the Sundial section, and Holmes Clones (original Sherlock Holmes books have their own section: this is strictly imitators only).
It might be a sign of the digital times, or an indicator of economic gloom, but working in a secondhand bookshop can be slow. We have many techniques for passing the hours: Theatre-Direction Bingo (works especially well on a Saturday night in the West End), Weirdest Book Title competitions and sneaky behind-the-cash-desk chess to name a few. This week my colleague Jan discovered a book called Torquemada’s 112 Best Crossword Puzzles on a dusty shelf in the basement, a collection of cryptic crosswords with literary themes published in 1942. Rashly confident of our book-geek credentials, we tackled one.
Helping Mums Have Successful Careers, Institute of Careers Guidance magazine, April 2008
“… Women returning to work after taking time out to raise children now make up a quarter of the female workforce in the UK. But finding the right job, and the difficulty of balancing work and family can be a major challenge.
For Nadia Finer, founder of website for women MoreToLifeThanShoes.com, the answers are out there. “We’ve interviewed many inspirational women who’ve had rewarding careers whilst managing to raise a family. To us, striking that balance comes down to getting the right advice.”
MoreToLifeThanShoes.com spoke to successful working mums, and careers advisors who specialize in the area, about how mothers can best be helped to get the most of their working lives.”