A couple of weeks ago I was invited to contribute a brief film to the A Bit Lit YouTube channel, created by Andy Kesson and others as a forum for thoughts on literature, history and culture during lockdown. So here I am, talking about freedom and confinement, about emotional and spiritual spaces, about monasticism and... Continue Reading →
One night in the winter of 1961–2, the anthropologist Hugh Brody sat on the bed in his attic room in his parents’ house, placed a cartridge in his shotgun, leaned the shotgun barrel against his head and pulled the trigger. ‘My sense of having no future was so complete that it obscured the possibility of... Continue Reading →
Delighted to have a review of Mark Stoyle's A Murderous Midsummer: The Western Rising of 1549 in The Times this morning.
Humanity has always been a noisy animal. As long ago as 1700 BC, a Babylonian god was complaining that the “noise of mankind has become too much./I am losing sleep over their racket.” Cities, where more than half of us now live, have only got louder. A New York subway train clocks in at 98... Continue Reading →
On 16 June 1824 a small group of men met in Old Slaughter’s Coffee House in St Martin’s Lane, London. They had been brought together by Arthur Broome, animal-welfare campaigner and vicar of St Mary’s in Bow, but the leading light was Irish MP Richard Martin, widely known as ‘Humanity Dick’. Thanks to Martin, Parliament... Continue Reading →
I have a review of Hoax: The Popish Plot That Never Was by Victor Stater in the latest issue of The Tablet.
To her enemies, she was Mrs Satan. To Walt Whitman, she was “a prophecy of the future”. To Gloria Steinem, from the vantage point of the 1970s, she was “the most controversial suffragist of them all”. But to the Equal Rights Party on 6 June 1872, she was their newly ratified candidate for the presidency... Continue Reading →
I have a review of Emma Smith’s Portable Magic, an exploration of the power of books, in the latest issue of The Author, the quarterly magazine of the Society of Authors.
Ukraine has been part of European history since before the Norman Conquest. Indeed, in the middle of the 11th century, the queens of Norway, Hungary, France and Poland were all Kievan Rus’ princesses. The first three were daughters of Yaroslav, grand prince of Kyiv and Ingegerd Olofsdotter of Sweden. The fourth was Yaroslav’s sister, Maria.... Continue Reading →
I’ve reviewed Markiyan Kamysh’s extraordinary Stalking The Atomic City – a memoir of multiple illegal forays into the exclusion zone around Chernobyl – for The Quietus.
I have a review of Linda Kinstler's Come to This Court and Cry, an exploration of the aftermath of the Holocaust and the search for justice, in the latest issue of The Critic.
“There is nothing that doth more advance and sour a man’s misery”, the eulogist said at the funeral of Sir Marmaduke Rawdon in April 1646, “than this one thought and apprehension: that he was once happy.” Before the outbreak of the English civil war, Rawdon had been a highly successful merchant in London; his unofficial... Continue Reading →
It should have been a triumph. The premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring on 29 May 1913 brought together the then up-and-coming composer with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe company and its star dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, who would choreograph the piece. Even the venue, the luxurious Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, was new. There... Continue Reading →
I have a new poem up on Green Ink Poetry this morning. It’s called The Password and it’s part of a collection on the theme of whispers.
I have a new poem, signs & wonders, up on Black Nore Review this morning.
John Masefield was in his last year as Poet Laureate when I was born in 1966. I remember copying out his poem ‘Cargoes’ in primary school – "Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir . . ." – and wondering what all these strange, beautiful-sounding words meant as I laboured over my ascenders and descenders. That... Continue Reading →
The Columbian Exchange is a much discussed phenomenon, but it can have had few more surprising consequences than the near total destruction of European wine production in the 19th century. The cause was phylloxera, a microscopic yellow aphid native to the eastern coast of the United States, that feeds exclusively on the roots of grapevines.... Continue Reading →
Pop music doesn’t go in much for redemption as a rule, but Bunyan’s life is – characteristically – resolutely atypical. She seems like Hermione, Leontes’ wife in The Winters’ Tale, turned to stone for twenty years and then returned, movingly, to life. If you’re reading this, the chances are that you’re familiar with the outlines... Continue Reading →
As the nine-year-old Edward VI rode through London on the way to his coronation in Westminster Abbey in February 1547, he paused for a while to watch a man perform on a tightrope strung from the steeple of St Paul’s. He might have been advised to study the man who rode ahead of him too.... Continue Reading →
I'm delighted to have recorded another episode for Suzannah Lipscomb's brilliant podcast, Not Just the Tudors, this time on Sir Walter Ralegh and the tragic fantasy of El Dorado. It's available to listen to here. My previous episode, in which we discussed the Dissolution of the Monasteries, is available to listen to here. Not Just... Continue Reading →
At 10am on 7 October 1794 a 39-year-old physician named James Parkinson presented himself in Whitehall for interrogation by William Pitt and the Privy Council. They were investigating what became known as the Popgun Plot, an alleged attempt to assassinate George III. Parkinson, a member of the radical London Corresponding Society, knew some of those... Continue Reading →