Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Snape and Trelawney together again...














Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman will once again take to the screen together as Christopher Reid's poem 'The Song of the Lunch' is launched as a BBC 2 adaptation. The 'truly ambitious project and a stellar cast' will include the pair, who have previously starred together in 'Love Actually' and 'Harry Potter', and promises the audience will feel 'inspired'. Reid's collection 'A Scattering' won the Costa Book of the Year for 2009, and 'The Song of the Lunch' will be shown on October 7th to coincide with National Poetry Day.

On this day...














J. K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' was published in 1997. Rowling was on a train from Manchester to London in1990 when the idea just 'fell into her head' and details about 'this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real'. The story took a more tragic feel as events in Rowling's own life, including the death of her mother, began to reflect on the fictional Harry, and the novel was finally completed in 1995.

After several rejections from publishers, Rowling finally secured a deal with Bloomsbury for an advance of £2,500, with the added compromise that she would assume a pen name to try and attract male as well of female readers. Within two years, the novel had scooped nearly all major children's awards, sold over 300,000 copies, and had received high acclaim both in the U.S and U.K., where it was touted as having 'all the makings of a classic'. The rest of the Potter story needs little introduction. The 7 book phenomenon has been translated into 67 langugaes and built up an empire of films, adventure parks and other merchandise, all in all leading to J.K. Rowling becoming one of the most recognised and famous author of the age.  

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The graphic novel hits back...
















Perhaps an underrepresented area of fiction, some would say deservedly so, but the graphic novel is starting to make its mark. Spurred on by the likes of DC comics, the genre has expanded to appeal to people of all ages, shrugging off the label of being 'just for kids'. To celebrate the launch of the 2010 Observer/Cape prize, here is a podcast on graphic short stories.

On this day...










The Globe Theatre, home to some of Shakespeare's most famous plays, was burnt down in 1613. Owned by the Chamberlain's Men, of whom Shakespeare comprised one of the six monetary partners, the Globe, or at least its timber had previously existed in another form. For the company, due to a dispute over the lease, had dismantled their previous home, The Theatre in 1598, and ferried it beam by beam across the Thames to its new Southwark home.

However, it was destined not to last, and only 15 years later the building was in flames. During a performance of 'Henry VIII', a technical malfunction caused a cannon  to misfire, its sparks catching the thatched roof and reportedly destroying the building in only an hour. Contemporary reports state that all were unharmed, except for one gentlemen, whose burning breeches were put out by a bottle of ale. Hopefully tonight's performance of the same play in the reconstructed Globe will pass without such incident.  

Monday, 28 June 2010

The time of the octogenarian...










82-year-old grandmother Myrrha Stanford-Smith, is celebrating today after she landed herself a book deal for her debut novel. 'The Great Lie', set to be part of a trilogy, details the account of a young Elizabethan runaway Nick Talbot and his subsequent adventures with rivals Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare.

The 'gobsmacked' writer says her novel now lies in 'pride of place' next to her favourite authors on her bookshelf at home, careful to leave a space for the next two to come. Stanford-Smith, who attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama has founded the Ucheldre Repertory Company, and will be directing a production of 'Richard III' in the autumn. Here is a interview with the author.

On this day...











Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, set sail from San Francisco in 1888. Charting the 'Casco' with his family on board, the boat 'plowed her path of snow across the empty deep, far from all track of commerce, far from any hand of help'. The voyage was partly undertaken to improve his failing health, a condition now thought to have been bronchiectasis or sarcoidosis, and indeed the sea air did appear to revive Stevenson, during the three years crossing the Eastern and central Pacific.

Much of this time was spent on island visits, including an extended stay on the Hawaiian Islands, where he befriended both the king, Kalakaua, and the king's niece Victoria Kaiulani, who, like Stevenson, was of Scottish heritage. Tahiti, New Zealand, and the Samoan Islands, the latter being the place of his death, were also part of his travels. This period of exploration coincided with a renewed number of works, including 'The Master of Ballantrae', 'The Bottle Imp', and a collection of essays and writings which formed 'In the South Seas'.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Harvey's strawberry dream...










Matt Harvey, Wimbledon poet for this year's championship, has released one of his new creations. He 'inflicted' 'Thwok!', starting with the unusual lines 'bounce bounce bounce bounce/ thwackety wackety zingety ping/ hittety backety pingety zang/ wack, thwok, thwack, pok', on some of the early visitors to Henman Hill this morning, relying on their open champagne to ensure a good reception. Yet despite 'Thwok!' perhaps appearing a little desperate for subject matter, Harvey has plenty else to occupy his lines, including such things as 'the umpires, the ball boys and girls, the Boston ivy, the queues....strawberries..and Cliff Richard'. All of Matt Harvey's Wimbledon works, are to be found on the Wimblewords blog daily.

On this day...














Children's author and illustrator Eric Carle was born in 1929. The son of German immigrants, although Carle was born in New York, by the age of six he was living in Stuttgart, going on to graduate from the famous 'Akademie der bildeneden K√ľnste'. Yet it was the global events of the time that were to most shape his future, as World War Two left his father, eight years a Russian prisoner, as a 'sick man, psychologically, physically devastated', and Carle himself suffered post traumatic stress disorder from being forced to dig trenches on the Siegfried line.

It was America which always felt like home, and thus he returned to the country in 1952, in possession of only $45, and became a graphics designer for the 'New York Times', later gaining the postition of arts director inan advertising agency. Indeed, it was an advert containing a red lobster that signified the start of Carle's career, as Bill Martin, impressed by the work, asked him to illustrate 'Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?', an immediate bestseller. His first completely original book, '1,2,3 to the Zoo', was soon followed up by what was to become Carle's defining work - 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'. His distinctive art style is heavily influenced by the use of collage. 

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Gaiman's graveyard genius...















The winner of the Cilip Carnegie Medal has been announced as Neil Gaiman. The prestigious prize, awarded by children's librarians for an outstanding book for children and young people, was presented to Gaiman for his 'gripping page-turner' novel 'The Graveyard Book', which is 'full of humour and humanity'. Although an outstanding literary figure, Gaiman is not unknown in the realm of screen work, having written an episode of 'Doctor Who', and having seen novels 'Stardust' and 'Coraline' become Hollywood hits. His prize will include a gold medal, and £500 worth of books to donate to a library of his choice.

On this day...














Henry VI founded the college of Eton in 1440. Described by the monarch as 'The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor', the mixed school, for ages 13 - 18, was one of the nine original public schools, as set out in the Public Schools Act 1868. As a school that has produced some of the country's most recognised political figures and sportmen, it is not surprising that Eton also holds some distinguished literary connections, albeit not many directly.

The authors that is does boast however, are two of the nation's favourites - master of the spy novel Ian Fleming, and socialism advocate George Orwell. Literary inspiration also lies behind its doors, as Arthur Hallam, a dear friend of Alfred Lord Tennyson and the subject of elegy 'In Memoriam A.H.H.', attended the college before he died at the tender age of 22. Interesting, Tennyson's grandson also was a pupil, and poignantly his middle name, Hallam, reflected his grandfather's lost friend. Other relations include the son and great-grandson of Charles Dickens, as well as a descendent of Lord Byron. A number of literature based films have also used the location for filming, such as 'Shakespeare in Love', 'Mansfield Park', and 'The Secret Garden'.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

All that glitters is not gold...














The Shakespeare folio at the centre of a controversial robbery trial has been display for he first time in a decade. The first edition work, dating back to 1623, was handed into Washington's Folger Library by ostentatious book dealer Raymond Scott under the pretext of him having been leant it by some Cuban associates. Suspicious of the 'damaged, bruised and mutilated' folio, the FBI started a investigation, leading to he belief that Scott had stolen the work from the Cosin Library at Durham University. Reportedly in debt to the tune of £90,000 due to a young Cuban waitress, Scott, wearing tradmark £300 Tiffany glasses and a diamond ring, was today in the dock as the folio was examined. The trial is set to continue for another four weeks.

On this day...
















John Steinbeck's 'The Winter of Our Discontent' was published in 1961. Based, like so much of Steinbeck's work, on a society corrupted by idealisation, the title of the novel comes from a line of Shakespeare's 'Richard III' - 'now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York'. Yet the book unfortunately, did not reach the heights of Shakespearean acclaim. Although some believed that Steinbeck returned to the 'high standards...and to the social themes that made his early work so impressive, and so powerful', others claimed that 'serious readers' had justifiably stopped reading Steinbeck years ago. Sadly, Steinbeck died of a heart attack in 1968, making 'The Winter of Our Discontent' his last novel.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Literary bookshops...












They're scarcely known, yet invaluable to those who love them. Tucked away in the corner of every good high street is that rare breed - the independent bookseller - who is able both to delight and intrigue, enchant and enrich. To celebrate independent bookseller week, here is a quiz about bookshops in literature.

On this day...














American novelist Dan Brown was born in 1964. The son of a maths teacher, Brown was introduced to puzzles and cyphers from an early age and participated in the treasure hunts which have become so emblematic of his works. Perhaps unusually for a blockbuster writer, Brown, after graduating from university, firstly pursued a career in music - his opening release being a children's cassette tape titled 'SynthAnimals'. After only selling a hundred copies, and possibly starting to doubt the seriousness of his work, Brown targeted the adult market, joining the National Academy of Songwriters and moving to Hollywood.

Yet it was while on holiday in Tahiti in 1993, that Brown discovered his literary career path. Inspired by reading Sidney Sheldon's 'The Doomsday Conspiracy', Brown began to write thrillers, publishing his first, 'Digital Fortress', in 1998. However his foray into the field proved remarkably unsuccessful, until the release of his fourth novel 'The Da Vinci Code', which ignited the public's attention and gathered an estimated $250 million in sales. Preceeded by 'Angels and Demons', 'The Da Vinci Code' was followed by 'The Lost Symbol' in 2009, with Brown reportedly invisaging another 12 books in the series. Although popular by sales figures, Brown cuts a figure of controversy, with many criticising his perceived attack on Christianity, as well as many deeming his writing style poor.

Monday, 21 June 2010

RSC return to the Roundhouse...













Following a successful season in 2008, the Royal Shakespeare Company will be returning to London's Roundhouse theatre. Replicating the temporary Courtyard Theatre which is currently being used by the company in Stratford-upon-Avon, the 750 seat 'intimate auditorium' particularly lends itself  to spectacular historical staging, based around the two central columns of the building. The six play tour, opening with Romeo and Juliet and also comprising of Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, The Winter's Tale and King Lear, will boast a 44 member cast who will aptly demonstrate 'the broadest scope of human experience' that artistic director Michael Boyd believes the reportoire encompasses. The eagerly awaited season is set to start in November of this year. 

On this day...














British author Ian McEwan was born in 1948. The son of a Scottish army officer, McEwan enjoyed a largely nomadic childhood, experiencing such places as East Asia, Germany and North Africa. Having attended university under the watchful eye of author and academic Malcolm Bradbury, McEwan published his first work, short story collection 'First Love, Last Rites', in 1975 to great critical acclaim, winning the Somerset Maugham Award the next year. The controversy that many would now associate McEwan with, found its airing not long afterwards as his play 'Solid Geometry' was suspended by the BBC for obscenity - the incident preceeding a string of novels, who were so thematically disturbing, that they led McEwan to acquire the nickname, 'Ian Macabre'.

Yet it was in 1997, with novel 'Enduring Love', that his commerical literary career really took off. Soon followed a Booker Prize for 'Amsterdam', McEwan's most famous work hit the shelves in 2002 - 'Atonement' receiving widespread praise and demonstrating its popularity in the Oscar winning film adaptation starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. The seemingly endless production of brilliant novels continued with the publication of 'Saturday' and 'On Chesil Beach', while McEwan's latest offering, 'Solar', has been in circulation for just four months. McEwan, arguably one of the more successful British writers of recent years, has been nominated for the Booker Prize six times. 

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Hilary assumes winner's Mantel...














Hilary Mantel's 'Wolf Hall' continues its incredible streak, winning the inaugral Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. The 16th century based novel, which has already won the 2009 Man Booker Prize, was deemed 'immersive, constantly engaging, beautifully crafted, and compulsively readable'. Mantel, unable to attend due to illness, said that she was 'astonished and delighted and gratified', to beat off such fierce competition as Robert Harris and Adam Foulds. The prize was set up earlier this year by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, distant descendents of Scott, to reward novels set more than 60 years in the past. Mantel also wins £25,000.

On this day...














King William IV died in 1837, leading to the ascension of Queen Victoria to the throne of England and beginning arguably one of the most productive literary eras. Described by Matthew Arnold as 'a deeply unpoetical age', the Victorian era was dominated by the novel. Yet these works were not the managable romances of Austen, but heavy tomes of social injustice - their tortuous syntax leading Henry James, guilty himself of several, to name them 'loose baggy monsters'. The main culprits include Charles Dickens, author of almost a dozen major novels, George Eliot of 'Middlemarch' fame and the man of tragic persuasion, Thomas Hardy.

In conjunction with the growing suffrage movement, the Victorian era also saw the rise of the female novelist, most notably highlighted by the Bronte sisters, but supplemented also by names such as Elizabeth Gaskell. English drama is perhaps harder to find, but the one man could make up for it all, as the brilliance and wit of Oscar Wilde takes the stage by storm, preceeding the later George Bernard Shaw, and overshadowing the foreign imports of Chekhov and Ibsen. Despite Arnold's claim, Victorian literature was by no means devoid of poetry, producing Robert Browning, master of the dramatic monologue, blank verse devotee Alfred Lord Tennyson and romantic poet Christina Rossetti.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Saramago's final page...














Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago died yesterday at the age of 87. The Portuguese author, 'known almost as much for his unfaltering Communism as for his fiction', moved to Lanzarote in the early 1990s following a clash with the right-wing government of the day, and it was there that he died having published last novel 'Cain', at the end of 2009. Famous for his unorthodox use of syntax, Saramago's best-known novel is 'Blindness', in which the entire population lose their sight. Citing him as an author who 'with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality', Saramgo was honoured with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

On this day...










A gathering of literary significance took place at Lake Geneva in 1816. Lord Byron, together with his pregnant mistress Claire Clairmont and physician John William Polidori, met with 'another family of very suspicious appearance' - the Shelleys, Percy, wife-to-be Mary, and their young son William. The group congregated at the Villa Diodati, once inhabited by John Milton, which was described by Percy as 'a menagerie, with eight enormous dogs, three monkeys, five cats, an eagle, a crow, and a falcon; and all these, except the horses, walk about the house, which every now and then resounds with their unarbitrated quarrels, as if they were masters of it'.

Aside from being merely a voyeuristic exercise into some of the most remarkable literary minds of the day, interest in this meeting stems from the work it produced, with Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' conceived during a round of late night ghost stories. The work, to be published the next year, is now widely considered a forerunner to modern science-fiction, and remains popular with the readership and Hollywood audiences alike. Several years later, Shelley remembered the summer stay as the time 'when I first stepped out from childhood into life'.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Twain's family sketch...










The public's fascination with Mark Twain is still going strong, one hundred years after his death. A 64-page tribute, handwritten by the Huckleberry Finn author upon the death of his daughter, has sold today at Sotheby's in New York for $242,500 (£164,000). Olive was only 24 when she contracted spinal meningitis in 1896, and it was in honour of her that he wrote 'A Family Sketch', in which he described his daughter as 'a magazine of feelings', adding 'in all things she was intense: in her this characteristic was not a mere glow, dispensing warmth, but a consuming fire'. The work forms part of a larger collection of Twain manuscripts, that are expected to sell for up to $1.2m (£810,000).

On this day...












Soviet author Aleksey Maksimovich Peshkov, better known as Maxim Gorky, died in 1936 at the age of 68. An orphan by the age of 10, Gorky ran away from home two years later to live with his grandmother, whose death deeply affected him and led to a suicide attempt at 19. Thus followed a nomadic period, as Gorky travelled around the Russian Empire on foot and dabbed in various occupations, before settling on local journalism. It was then that he assumed his pseudonym, Gorky, literally meaning bitter, reflecting his anger at Russian life and thus also demonstrating a desire to speak the truth, however harsh it may be. Yet it was the release of his first book, 'Essays and Stories', that established Gorky's wider literary success.

Thus started an outpouring of writings, as Gorky believed it a political duty to produce such works, ignoring the more aesthetic tendancies of his English contemporaries. He rapidly became associated with the growing Marxist movement, and, opposing the tsarist regime, also became increasingly supportive of Lenin and his Bolshevik movement, often being imprisoned for such fraternisation. Gorky spent large periods of the next few decades in Italy, returning only for material needs or at Stalin's behest - Stalin himself was even a pallbearer for Gorky's funeral. Considered a founder of the socialist realism movement, Gorky's most famous works include 'The Lower Depths', and 'The Life of Klim Sangin'.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

We will not be shushed...














Forget the RMT picket lines, the BA demonstrations, and South African football steward boycotts. New York's public chose a more refined literary manner in which to protest against cost cutting measures, by staging a 24 hour 'read-in' in the steps of Brooklyn public library. From the romantics to the radicals to the rude, (readings of erotica were restricted to the hours of midnight to 7am), volunteers took it in 15 minute shifts to read aloud to passersby from 5pm on Saturday to 5pm on Sunday - an event attended by more than 1,200 people. The 'We Will Not be Shushed' campaign is demonstrating against proposed funding cuts, that would lead to the closure of 40 of the city's libraries, and hopes that the weekend's event, will show that, 'library services are essential to the social, cultural and educational fabric in New York City'.

On this day...














T.H. White's 'The Sword in the Stone' was published in 1938. A very popular book, the work subsequently became the first volume in 'The Once and Future King' tetralogy - White's own version of the Arthurian legends. The plot surrounds a boy named Wart, befriended and tutored by the wizard Merlyn, whose removal of the sword from the stone proves him to be a true born king of England, later King Arthur. The success of the series, prompted Lerner and Loweto buy the rights of the last three books for their own version, 'Camelot', making White, for a time, a wealthy man. However, perhaps sadly for the novel, Disney's adaptation of the story in 1963 has become the far more popular medium.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Sound of the Underground...












Theatre can be staged almost anywhere - in purpose-built auditoria, in classrooms and parks - the possibilties are practically endless. However, when Beth Steel penned her debut play, she probably did not imagine that it would be performed in underneath the West End. 'Ditch', a dystopian work set after the collapse of civilisation, has become the first play to be staged in a labyrinth of disused tunnels under London's Waterloo Station. The tunnels, which are frequently penetrated by the sounds of passing trains, were obtained by the Old Vic earlier this year, and boast seats donated by graffiti artist Bansky.

Though some may doubt the effectiveness of such a location as a stage for drama, artistic director Sam Hodges believes that, 'the tunnels have is a sense of menace and a sense of scale that helps the drama'. However, it is the actors which have it tough says Hodges, 'there's a dank smell, it gets into your skin - and they've had to do without the traditional showers and, indeed, toilets'. A guided tour of the venue, can be seen here

On this day...













Dubliners gather to celebrate Bloomsday in celebration of author James Joyce. Derived from the name of 'Ulysses' protagonist Leopold Bloom, the date also orginates from the popular modernist novel. All the book's events take place within a single day, June 16th 1904, to commerate the author's first outing with his wife-to-be Nora Barnacle. First taking place in 1954 when a group of devotees attempted a pilgrimage along the novel's route, Bloomsday involves numerous 'Ulysses' based festivities.

Marathon readings, themed walks around the city and costume wearing all take place, as do, perhaps slightly less traditional pub crawls and all day eatings. Bloomsday is also celebrated in New York, Genoa, and Szombathely - a Hungarian town, which appears as the fictional birthplace of Leopold Bloom's father, Virag Rudolf. The literary significance of this day was not lost on poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, who, by special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury, got married on June 16th in honour of Bloomsday.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Scarlett and the Tonys...










The New York Tony Awards have been announced, recognising the best in Broadway theatre talent. Perhaps unusually, given recent ceremonies, 'Hamlet' went away empty handed, with Denzel Washington pipping Jude Law to the post for his performance in 'Fences'. The hollywood-turned-theatre celebrity theme continued, as Scarlett Johansson was honoured as the Best Leading Actress, for her role in Arthur Miller's 'A View From a Bridge'. Meanwhile, recently awarded a CBE in the Queen's birthday honours list, Catherine Zeta-Jones bagged another prize, as her performance in 'A Little Night Music' led to her being crowned Best Leading Actress in a Musical. British playwright Alan Ayckbourn also received a lifetime achievement award.

On this day...














James Joyce's 'Dubliners', a collection of short stories, was published in 1914. Much like his later works, 'Dubliners' is firmly rooted in the Irish nationalist movement that was prevalent at the time, and thus many characters in the collection reappear in Joyce's most famous work 'Ulysses', though often in more minor roles. Yet the task of getting the stories to publication was an arduous one, Joyce claiming the event required 'nine years of my life'. Indeed one previous edition, that of 1910 even 'was burnt entire almost in my presence'.

The aim of the collection, Joyce stated, was to give the Irish 'one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass', and thus, It is not my fault,that the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs round my stories'. The central literary focus of Joyce's work is based around his idea of epiphanies, and the stories themselves are separated into childhood, adolesence and maturity, with the narrators, and protagonists, becoming progressively older. Although not considered his best work, 'Dubliners' is undoubtedly another gem of the Joyce production line.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Libraries part of cost-cutting venture...











'Libraries are hugely important in the national psyche'. So says a report into public sector reform. Yet, 'there is a problem with libraries, that they are not very much used and very expensive to run'. Their solution to such an issue, in a cost cutting venture thinly veiled by suppositions to improve such institutions, is to let libraries be run by locla community volunteers. However, former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, never short of a contentious word, believes the move will 'harm the most disadvantaged', adding, 'we ought to be able to accept that libraries are very important pieces of machinery for delivering to human beings what they need – information, pleasure, instruction, enlightenment, new direction in life'. Dismissing the report's suggestions as 'outlandish', Motion believes that it is a time for 'big thinking, not big mistakes'.

On this day...














American abolitionist and author Harriet Beecher Stowe, was born in 1811. The seventh child of deeply religious parents, Stowe attended private schools under her sister's tuition, eventually becoming a teacher herself and writing 'Primary Geography for Children'. Indeed, of the Stowe's 11 children, all seven sons became ministers, the eldest daughter became a pioneer in women's education, and the youngest, a founder of the National Women's Suffrage Association. At the age of 21, she moved to Cincinnati, to join her father, who had become the president of Lane Theological Seminary.

It was there that she met future husband Calvin Stowe, whom she described as 'rich in Greek and Hebrew, Latin and Arabic, and alas, rich in nothing else', and her writing career began in earnest, publishing 'The Mayflower' in 1843. Lived at a time of great civil unrest in America, Stowe and her family formed an integral link in the Underground Railroad escape network for slaves, housing several fugitives themselves. Indeed, it was in response to Congress tightening fugitive laws, that Stowe wrote her best known work. 'Uncle Tom's Cabin', first published in anti-slavery journal 'National Era', sold over 300,000 copies in its first year of publication and was translated into 60 languages. Stowe is said to have danced in the street when Lincoln announced the end of slavery.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Austerity in literature...














Hard times. Not in Dickensian London however, but in 2010's economic climate. With the new emergency budget set to be announced in nine days, chancellor George Osborne has already ushered in the 'age of austerity', outlining £6bn worth of spending cuts in a desperate bid to cut the deficit. Such austerity is also found in the world of literature, as discovered in this quiz.

On this day...














Irish poet William Butler Yeats was born in 1865. The son of an artist, Yeats was heavily involved in the creative field from a young age - an environment that also manifested itself in his siblings, who later became keen proponents of the Arts and Crafts movement. Although he attended local schools, Yeats was not an overly academic child, cited as being 'very poor in spelling', and preferred instead to spend time in his father's studio, where he met many of Dublin's leading writers. Yeats' first known works were produced a the age of seventeen, yet, heavily influenced by the likes of Shelley and Edmund Spenser, he found little success in the contemporary Victorian readership. Thus Yeats found his own style, rich in Irish folklore and incorporating instances of mysticism and spiritualism.

Returning to London, he co-founded the 'Rhymers' Club', giving London-based poets the opportunity to recite their works and gain peer appraisal, and Yeats continued his liteary philanthropy by establishing the Irish Literary Theatre for staging Irish and Celtic plays. Yeats became Ireland's first Nobel Prize Winner in 1923 for, 'inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation', yet he himself considered the award, given soon after Ireland's independence, as 'part of Europe's welcome to the Free State'. However, unusually, Yeats produced some of his best works, 'The Tower' and 'The Winding Stair and Other Poems', after the prize. He died in 1939, at the age of 73.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Literature's World Cup...














The world cup kicked off yesterday in spectacular style, with the hosts playing out a thrilling 1-1 draw with Mexico, amid the swathes of colour and clamour of those, now famous, vuvuzelas. As this is the first time an African nation has ever hosted this magnificent football tournament, it seemed an apt opportunity to explore the continent's literature - as diverse as the lands themselves.

Situated in England's group, the Algerians have produced one of the most famous existentialist writers in Albert Camus. Author of 'L'√Čtranger', Camus became the first African-born writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he achieved in 1957.

Egypt, beaten by the Algerians in the play-offs, also boast a Nobel Laureate - Naguib Mahfouz, who swept to glory in 1988. A writer of a similarly existentialist bent, Mahfouz is considered as one of the first writers of contemporary Arabic literature to explore such themes.

The Nigerians, who find tricky first match opponents in Argentina, have arguably more recognisable names to a British audience, due to the commonality of language. Chinua Achebe, who famously once called Joseph Conrad 'a racist', is author of 'Things Fall Apart', the most widely read book in modern African literature. More recently, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has come to the fore for her two prize-winning works, 'Purple Hibiscus', and 'Half of a Yellow Sun'.

Zimbabwe, nicknamed 'the warriors', have never managed to qualify for World Cup finals, and this time finished third in their group behind Angola and Nigeria. Yet despite their footballers falling slightly short of world-class, their adopted writers most certainly do not. Multi-national author Doris Lessing, has called Zimbabwe her home for much of her life, and the writer of 'The Golden Notebook' is another of Africa's children to receive the coveted Nobel Prize. Scotsman Alexander McCall Smith, most famous for 'The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency', was born in Zimbabwe, and also has ties with other African countries having co-founded the University of Botswana. 

Finally, we turn to the proud hosts South Africa, who sit in possibly one of the most open groups in the competition. Two more Nobel Laureates hail from this country, with both J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Grodimer calling it their birthplace, despite the former's recently acquired Australian citizenship. Their wealth of literary talent also includes poet and anti-apartheid campaigner Tatamkulu Afrika and the author of 'Cry, The Beloved Country', Alan Paton. Possibly the most famous to British audiences, is novelist Wilbur Smith, nearly all of whose books are centred on Africa and its peoples and traditions.

Thus we have a contintent united and diverse, of sporting and literary tradition. The world cup has begun. May the best team win.

On this day...











Anne Frank received the diary that was to make her famous, on her 13th birthday in 1942. She had pointed out the red and green book to her father only a few days previously, and although it was for autographs, Anne used it as a diary, faithfully writing in entries from the day it was given to her. Many of the earlier entries contain details of the increasing restrictiveness of the German occupation, a regime which forced her and her family to go into hiding less than a month later. Leaving behind false trails to confuse potential captors, the family took up residence in rooms behind Otto's office and were helped by a few employees, including Miep Gies.

It was of their dedication that Anne wrote in her diary, along with her relationships with her family, each aspect magnified due to their confinement. Indeed, she even wrote of her 'contempt' of his mother, going so far as to say, 'she's not a mother to me'. Yet she also took the opportunity to confide in her diary deeper feelings, the nature of which she felt could not be shared with human ears. Hopes, ambitions, feelings towards God and human nature were all expressed, thus creating a more involved and poignant narrative, which has been able to transcend time to influence readers today. Her last entry was written on August 1st 1944, and 'The Diary of a Young Girl' was published in 1947.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Plans to save Doyle's home far from elementary...











The former home of author Arthur Conan Doyle is to be turned into flats. 'Undershaw', built in Surrey by Doyle in 1897, will now be made into eight dwellings, three homes and five town houses, along with a small public pavillion with information about the Sherlock Holmes author. Campaign groups, including 'Save Undershaw', and the 'Victorian Society', have strongly objected to the plans, wishing for it instead to be restored or become a museum.

On this day...












The city of Troy is sacked and burned in 1184 BC, according to calculations made by Greek poet and mathematician Eratosthenes. The accuracy of this guess is dubious, as is, of course, the existance of the Trojan War itself. Nevertheless, the legendary events have remained immortalised within one of the greatest epic poems ever composed - that of Homer's 'The Iliad'. Although much of the war happens strictly outside the 15, 700 lines of the text, Homer's prodigious skills allows the stories of the war's inception, tales of Helen, Paris, Agamemnon and Achilles to be seamlessly woven throughout the narrative.

The ten year war, therefore, is portrayed through just the final weeks, as Homer's climactic dactylic hexameter encompasses the deaths of Sarpedon, Patrocles and culminates with the funeral of Trojan prince Hector, whose body, dishonoured by Achilles was returned to his grieving father. The poem, in conjunction with partner 'The Odyssey', which charts the King of Ithaca's return from the war, has given rise to many other literary masterpieces. Greek dramatist Aeschylus follows Agamenon in his 'Oresteia', Shakespeare's 'Troilus and Cressida' uses much of the poem as source material, and translations by writers such as George Chapman and Alexander Pope have become famous in their own right. In short, it is a poem which transcends time, and remains as apt and enchanting today as it did almost 3,000 years ago.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

J.G. Ballard reveals all...













Following his expressed wish, the archive of science fiction author J.G Ballard has been acquired for public viewing. Ballard, who died last year at the age of 78, is most famous for his award-winning novel 'Empire of the Sun'. Now, 15 large storage boxes, containing an 'extraordinary insight' into his writings and covering his output from 1962 to 2008, have been obtained by the British Library. Items range from corrected manuscripts, notebooks of ideas, and even more personal articles, including childhood photos, reports and passports. Jamie Andrews, head of Modern Literary Manuscripts at the British Library, deemed the acquisition 'hugely exciting', and hopes that the archive will be fully accessible by the summer of 2011.

On this day....














Count Leo Tolstoy left on a pilgrimage disguised as a peasant in 1881. By this time the Russian author had already written the two novels that were to make him famous, 'War and Peace' and 'Anna Karenina', yet he found himself in the midst of a spiritual crisis. Indeed, writing in 'A Confession', which was published shortly after shortly after this visit, Tolstoy claimed; 'I cannot recall those years without horror, loathing, and heart-rending pain. I killed people in war, challenged men to duels with the purpose of killing them, and lost at cards; I squandered the fruits of the peasants' toil and then had them executed; I was a fornicator and a cheat. Lying, stealing, promiscuity of every kind, drunkenness, violence, murder -- there was not a crime I did not commit...Thus I lived for ten years'.

It was therefore, with the express intention of determining his place in this ever chaotic order, that he travelled, in no more than a peasant coat and homemade shoes, to the Optina Pustyn monastery, determined to carry out the ascetic lifestyle that he felt was required. However, his wife was less keen on Tolstoy's refound direction, and reportedly proceeded to carry out hysterical attempts to starve and drown herself. Tolstoy himself died in a railway station in 1910, alone, but perhaps finally at peace.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Lost Larsson rediscovered...














Two short stories by Stieg Larsson, written at the age of 17, have been unearthed, six years after the author's untimely death. Described as his 'first tentative efforts in writing', the science fiction works 'The Crystal Balls', and 'The Flies' were both rejected by Swedish magazine 'Jules Verne', and were only rediscovered when a private donator gave them to the Swedish National Library. Larsson is most famous for his Millenium trilogy crime series, including 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', the first of which was published a year after his death. The series has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. It is now up to the author's heirs to decide whether the stories will be published.

On this day...














One of the popular British authors, and a known philanthropist, Charles Dickens, died in 1870, at the age of 58. Describing himself as a 'very small and not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy', Dickens initial promise, beginning with a few years spent in private education, were soon shattered as his father, joined rapidly by the rest of the family, was imprisioned in Marshelsea debtor's prison. Dickens himself found work in a boot-blacking factory and subsequently as a junior clerk in a law firm and then freelance journalist, before publishing his first story, 'A Dinner at Poplar Walk', in 1833. His political periodical, collected in 'Sketches by Boz', soon led to the serialisation on his first novel, 'The Pickwick Papers', in 1836.

Thus followed a burgeoning literary career, and following tours in America, a pet raven, and ten children later, Dickens had written more than a dozen major novels, numerous short stories, and even some poetry. He also helped to promote and initiate the careers of fellow writers, as publisher and editor of literary journals, 'Household Words', and 'All the Year Round'. Perhaps more so than many others, Dickens was an author driven by experience, much of which can be directly equated with his novels, as works such as 'Little Dorrit', 'Bleak House', and 'Dombey and Son' so cleverly satirise the legal system in which he was employed. Likewise, his most autobiographical 'David Copperfield', and others, including ''Oliver Twist' and 'Hard Times' reflect the often dismal nature of the society in which he was brought up.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Teenagers turn to Fugitive Pieces for honour...














A panel of teenagers yesterday, judged Anne Michaels' novel 'Fugitive Piece', to be the best Orange Prize winner to date. Michaels, who won the award in 1997, beat off fellow to candidates Andrea Levy and Zadie Smith to land the special honour, which has been set up to mark the 15th anniversary of the Orange Prize and engage young people with literature. A 'heartened' Michaels said that her novel 'is a discussion of history, a serious enquiry into events and their consequences, what love makes us capable of, and incapable of', adding that she 'could not wish for a more meaningful honour'.

On this day...














Victorian poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins died in 1889, at the age of 44. The first of nine children, Hopkins' father, once the British consul general in Hawaii, was himself a poet, writing titles such as 'A Philosopher's Stone'. At the age of 10, Hopkins was sent to boarding school, and, interested in pursuing asceticism, he betted that he could go without drinking for a week - apparently persisting until his tongue became black and he collapsed. As a classics scholar at Oxford, Hopkins became acquainted with prominent writers if the era, such as Robert Bridges, Walter Pater and Christina Rossetti, and began to create his own works, converting to Catholicism along the way.

However, in 1868, having resolved to become 'less religious', Hopkins burnt all of his poetic writings on a bonfire, and hardly wrote again for seven years. Alternating between teaching and study, Hopkins was moved to take up poetry again after being asked by his religious superior to create a work commerating a naval disaster. Hopkins went on to create a number of highly celebrated poems, including such titles as 'Pied Beauty', 'As Kingfishers Catch Fire', and what came to be known as the 'terrible sonnets'. Hopkins became especially known for his invention of the sprung rhythm, a unconventional metre inspired by works such as 'Beowulf'.