The French Lieutenant’s Woman

“He turned he saw the blue sea, now washing far below; and the whole extent of Lyme Bay reaching round, diminishing cliffs that dropped into the endless yellow sabre of the Chesil Bank, whose remote tip touched that strange English Gibraltar, Portland Bill, a thin grey shadow wedged between azures.” The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Persuasion …

England, England

Much like Lennon and McCartney, every summer when I was a kid we rented a cottage in the Isle of Wight. We’d drive onto a ferry at Portsmouth and have chips, noses pressed to the glass as my mum turned green. For London-born urchins the place was by turns magical and bizarre. Thatched cottages, pirates’ coves, …

Alice in Sunderland

I read a lot of comics and graphic novels, so was absolutely MADE UP when I realised there was one entirely dedicated to celebrating the city of Sunderland and all it’s inspired (Gotham is, unfortunately, not a county in the UK, nor is the unnamed town in Ghostworld – more’s the pity). I bought a very tattered copy …

Amy Foster

Amy Foster

They sit together in a row, some with bandages on their heads and hands, their bare chests have red writing scrawled across them – “just freedom”. They have taken a spool of nylon and a needle and slowly, carefully, sewn each others’ mouths shut. This was the news on Monday from the borders in Greece, …

Winnie the Pooh

I’m in the middle of Little Dorrit at the moment, as well as reviewing the new Melvyn Bragg for work. They are both, for totally different reasons, pretty intense – debtors’ prisons, peasants’ revolts, injustice etc etc. Honey won’t make any of these characters’ problems any more manageable; there’s not a tiddly-pom in sight. So …

Agatha Christie

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One of the things I find fascinating about reading is that readers themselves don’t change. They will grow and evolve and become a myriad different versions of themselves across a lifetime, but their style of reading won’t. If you’re the fast kind – the type who skims and flicks and chews up books over a …

Wuthering Heights

I read Wuthering Heights when I was 13, and didn’t get what all the fuss was about. “It is a bit like Corrie,” I wrote in my diary. “There’s lots of fighting. I can’t work out who’s cross with who. Everyone has the same name and there are lots of snobs. The ghost parts are good.” It took …

Hard Times

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We studied Hard Times during my first year of non-compulsory education, and if anything had made me want to sack it in early and present myself at Tooting’s premier job centre, it was this book. Not, I hasten to add, because there’s anything wrong with it – in fact, reading it as an adult was …

The Dark Is Rising

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Will Stanton is no ordinary boy. On the night of his 11th birthday strange things start to happen. Birds fly away when he steps outside, his usually friendly dogs won’t come near him. The dark is rising and he’s been chosen to bring the light. I know. This is a now relatively obscure children’s book and …

North and South

Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell were good pals, and it shows. They’re mutually sympathetic toward the poor and oppressed, and their novels never linger on hints or suggestion to put forward a particular view. They’ve both invented towns and counties filled with people from their real-life counterparts, often raging with discontent, and with a marked …

Black Swan Green

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David Mitchell, who’s better known for the dystopian romp that is Cloud Atlas, grew up in Malvern and it’s here, in the rise and fall of the eight-mile mini mountain range, that he sets Black Swan Green. If you want to get the measure of an author, any author, it helps to read the more …

Sacred Country

Photo credit: Jyrki Salmi / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

I’m a creature of habit: something that’s always extended to reading. If I’ve liked something an author’s written, I want to read everything they’ve written and everything about them and sometimes, starting something new after what I like to call “a session” can freak me out a bit. This happened with Rose Tremain, who in …