Monthly Archives: September 2013

The IPCC report shows we need urgent action on climate change now – so why won’t George Osborne deliver it?

This week’s post is going to be a detour from the themes I’ve blogged about so far – because there’s an issue in the news this week that I couldn’t ignore. I know the theme of this blog so far has been arts commentary, and I do generally think of myself as more interested than the arts than in the sciences, which I haven’t studied beyond GCSE level. However, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about climate change lately – essentially reading about science with an arts interest, since it’s research for my novel and since, from my reading, I believe that we need to act to prevent global warming now, or within a century there could be no more books, music or films – since there’ll be no more people to make them. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth report has been published this week, bringing climate change back into public debate – and making some worrying predictions.

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James Gilchrist talks about Schubert and giving up medicine for a musical career

This is an interview with the classical tenor James Gilchrist which I conducted before a concert he gave in March, since it was originally meant for my university newspaper. They didn’t publish it so I’m reproducing it here instead:

The cake slices sold in the café come in surprisingly tough plastic wrappers. When mine proves tough to open, James Gilchrist has a solution: “Fortunately, being a good Boy Scout, I have a penknife.” As he cuts off the wrapping, he adds “I was never a Boy Scout.”

James Gilchrist could not be more warm, charming and handy with a penknife as I interview him. One of Britain’s most acclaimed classical tenors, he has performed as a solo recitalist, in oratorios and in operas. But he followed an unexpected route to his present-day success. Although he sang in New College, Oxford choir as a child and King’s College, Cambridge choir as a student, he originally trained as a doctor in Whitechapel’s London Hospital. I’m fascinated to hear how and why he switched from a scientific to a creative profession.

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Review: The Wipers Times

“I’ve tried throughout this war to maintain my sense of humour”, says Captain Fred Roberts (Ben Chaplin), serving on the Western Front in 1916. The Wipers Times, a 90-minute drama broadcast on BBC Two last night and scripted by Private Eye editor Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, shows how war and black wit are intertwined; indeed, how a sense of humour can be an important weapon in the battle to keep your sanity.

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Overcoming Huh: Running on Empty (Sidney Lumet 1988)

This will be the first in a series of semi-regular posts inspired by having had several versions of this conversation:

Me: Oh,  film/ book/ singer is great!

Friend: Huh? Never heard of it/ them.

Me: Uh, well, it’s… trust me, it’s great. You have to watch/ read/ listen to it/ them.

Friend (unconvinced): Sure.

These posts are going tobe the long and eloquent explanation I can’t think up on the spur of the moment of why X is so great, in the hope that if I  encourage more people to watch/ read/ listen to it, I’ll run into that disappointing ‘huh’ less often, because I won’t be alone in my love.

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My most anticipated films of autumn 2013

As the weather turns autumnal, cinemas start offering their quality films again, hoping people will come in the from the cold to watch the first offerings of the run-up to the Oscars. Here are the five films coming out in the UK this autumn that I’m most excited about:

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Un-review: Why I couldn’t finish reading The Well of Loneliness

Being banned or otherwise surrounded by controversy is a double-edged fate for a book. Of course, no writer wants to be censored – and it can lead, as Salman Rushdie has lamented in the case of The Satanic Verses, to a fine novel being judged and remembered more for the furore surrounding it than for its actual writing. But banned books tend to be big and controversial, generating lots of discussion – and the saying ‘all publicity is good publicity’ can be particularly true when a politically motivated ban makes a book more culturally prominent than it would be on literary merit alone.

Such is the case of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, a book which was in the bizarre position of being put on trial for obscenity in 1928 and banned for twenty-one years simply for depicting lesbian characters – or as Sir Archibald Bodkin, the Director of Public Prosecutions, put it at the time “those unfortunate women (as I deem them) who have proclivities towards lesbianism, or those wicked women (as I deem them) who voluntarily indulge in these practices”. In an age when gay sex between men was outright illegal and lesbianism was dubiously legal and barely talked about, The Well of Loneliness had an important role to play in speaking up about lesbians’ forcibly suppressed and often painful experiences.

I was excited to come across a copy of the book in my local library, since it’s a landmark in women’s literature and censored literature, both areas I’m really interested in. But when I read it, I found all that fuss was simply about a terribly written and often actively nasty book. While I wanted to review The Well of Loneliness for this blog, it wouldn’t be fair since I couldn’t read it to the end (and I’m the sort who views it as a moral failing to leave a book unfinished and can nearly always plough through to the end – after all, even a forced march can offer some good sightseeing). So here’s my explanation of why I couldn’t finish reading The Well of Loneliness. Bear in mind that this doesn’t include the last eighty pages, which for all I know could be a masterpiece planted in the wrong book.

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