Galle Literary Festival 2016: What I’m looking forward to


I’ve always loved the Galle Lit Fest, with its eclectic mix of writers from across Sri Lanka and India, and authors from around the world jetting in to exchange ideas and speak about writing. The old Dutch star fort with its iconic lighthouse is the perfect setting for a literature festival, and the waves of the Indian ocean are always lapping on its beautiful beaches. Look south: there’s nothing that way until Antarctica.

This year Galle has an amazing mix of workshops, film screenings, panels and readings, so I thought I’d put together a list of the things I’m most excited about in the coming days from the Galle Literature Festival 2016.

Continue reading “Galle Literary Festival 2016: What I’m looking forward to”


My 6 months of being haunted by Russell Hoban

My relationship with Russell Hoban began a little like one of his novels might: in a disordered room in Fulham, piled high with boxes and files.

Anyone who has ever seen the inside of Russell’s inner sanctum knows that it’s like stepping into his mind. Suddenly you’re surrounded by all of the motifs that he wove again and again, with a composer’s persistence, into his work: sculptures of lions lounge on every shelf and surface, a cackling Punch puppet sits on the mantelpiece, and an antique poster for the premiere of King Kong lies rolled up on the desk. An enormous map of Kent fills one whole wall, and books are piled in shelves that reach to the ceiling. Continue reading “My 6 months of being haunted by Russell Hoban”

Why the Spread the Word campaign matters

I recently came across an amazing charity called Spread the Word, who work to improve access to literature for homeless people in the UK. They build libraries in homeless shelters and encourage people living on the streets to read.

Continue reading “Why the Spread the Word campaign matters”

Magha’s Shishupala Vadha: The most complex poem ever created?

The Shishupala Vadha by Magha might just be the most complex and beautifully-wrought poem ever written. So why hasn’t anyone heard of it?

“Oh! Infinite is the variety of language, even though it is made up of only a few letters, just as music, though it is made up of only seven notes.”

                                – Magha’s Shishupala Vadha, II. 72

The Shishupala Vadha, an epic poem written in Sanskrit in either the seventh or eighth century, is undoubtedly one of the most complex and beautiful poetic works ever created. This masterpiece of Sanskrit poetry follows the story of Krishna as he marches to Indraprastha, on his way to attend the great sacrifice held by his friend Yudhisthira, who is being crowned the King of the World.

This story from Krishna’s life, taken from an episode of the epic Mahabharata, begins with a brilliant light descending from the clouds, and all the people of the world pointing and marvelling.

“The townspeople watched, amazed, all saying ‘the path of the sun is horizontal. Its fire burns from on high, as we all know. But this light spreads itself in all directions, and falls to earth. What is it?’”

This light is the great sage Narada, who descends from heaven in order to warn Krishna that the terrible demon king Ravana, the grand evil of the Ramayana, has been reborn as a man. His name is King Shishupala, and his evil deeds are already known throughout the world. Continue reading “Magha’s Shishupala Vadha: The most complex poem ever created?”

Our attention spans aren’t getting shorter, and that’s bad news for the short story

There’ve been a lot of pixels spilled lately about how the Internet and technology are shortening our attention spans. So shouldn’t this be good news for short story writers?

It seems you can’t throw a stone these days without hitting an article bemoaning the decreasing attention spans of the reading public. Due to the pernicious effects of the Internet, commentators say, young people today (and just about everyone else) can hardly focus on a page long enough to get through the inciting incident of a novel, and start yawning about 100 characters into a 140-character tweet.

Continue reading “Our attention spans aren’t getting shorter, and that’s bad news for the short story”

Short story writing tips from writers who know what they’re talking about

Want advice on how to write short stories? Here it is from the experts

At a recent Word Factory salon event in London, panellists including renowned short story writer Clive Sinclair and Times Literary Supplement editor Peter Stothard discussed how to write short stories, and also gave their key pieces of editing advice to a crowd of budding writers. The advice ranged from the practical to the thematic.

So what were our panellists’ key tips for editing short stories or novels? Continue reading “Short story writing tips from writers who know what they’re talking about”

Embedded in text: A night at The Word Factory

Does the short story have roots in oral storytelling? Should literature be a communal event? And could your short stories benefit from losing their more “readerly” bits? These were the questions thrown around at a night of wine, laughter and short fiction.

I recently dropped into a session at the brilliant Word Factory salon in London, where every month leading short story writers come to read from their collections and engage in debate on the short story form.

Continue reading “Embedded in text: A night at The Word Factory”