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Heston Blumenthal’s historic tribute to British cuisine wins 2014 James Beard cookbook of the year

The biggest prize in the cookbook genre was announced yesterday and a book describing the long and complex legacy of British cuisine has picked up the main award. The James Beard Foundation Book Awards named Historic Heston by English chef Heston Blumenthal as cookbook of the year.

Blumenthal, owner of The Fat Duck, details the identity of British cooking from medieval times to the recipes of the late-Victorian era with 28 historic dishes, including such delights as meat fruit (from 1500), quaking pudding (from 1660) and mock turtle soup (from 1892).

Heston examines the history behind each recipe and, of course, the science that makes them tasty. Dave McKean supplied illustrations and there is also some top-notch food photography.

The James Beard Foundation Awards judge books published in English in 2013. There are many categories aside from the top cookery book of the year, but below are the highlights.

American Cooking – The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes by Amy Thielen

Baking and Dessert - The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer with Martha Rose Shulman

Beverage – The Cocktail Lab: Unraveling the Mysteries of Flavor and Aroma in Drink, with Recipes by Tony Conigliaro

Focus on Health - Gluten-Free Girl Every Day by Shauna James Ahern with Daniel Ahern

General Cooking – Smoke: New Firewood Cooking by Tim Byres

International – Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop

Photography – René Redzepi: A Work in Progress by Ali Kurshat Altinsoy et al and the Noma Team

Single Subject – Culinary Birds: The Ultimate Poultry Cookbook by John Ash with James O. Fraioli

Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian – Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

Writing and Literature - Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss


Signed first edition of John le Carré’s debut novel sells for £13,345

Famous fictional secret agents and spies abound, from 007  and Simon ‘The Saint’ Templar to Jason Bourne, but John le Carré’s wonderful creation George Smiley might just be the best of them all. Our most expensive sale last month was a signed first edition of Call for the Dead, the author’s debut novel from 1961.

The book is a Cold War tale of East German spies operating in Britain. It begins with the suicide of a British civil servant. Readers learn about Smiley’s character, his background and his role within the ‘Circus’ – le Carré’s name for the MI6 intelligence unit.

Smiley appears in eight novels published between 1961 and 1990. The Spy Who Came into the Cold, released in 1963, became a huge worldwide bestseller and turned le Carré into a major force in literature. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, published 11 years later, was also immensely popular. Smiley is very different from that other famous MI6 operative – James Bond. Although both are flawed, Bond rarely experiences ethical dilemmas while Smiley weighs his decisions very careful. Smiley is not glamorous, never stands out in a crowd and is badly mistreated by his unfaithful wife.

See the list


Iain Banks leaves more than £3.5 million

Scottish author Iain Banks left more than £3.5 million in his will, it was reported this week. Banks died from gall bladder cancer in June last year aged 59.

Papers from the Glasgow Sheriff Court show that Banks’ estate was worth £3,640,011 including £2.1 million in royalties. His assets also included an archive of his manuscripts, apparently worth £300,000, a boat, a Mini Cooper and a BMW M5, which is a very fast car indeed.

Banks’ writing career began with The Wasp Factory in 1984. In all, he wrote 29 books.

His last interview is a very good read. His final novel, The Quarry, is about a man dying of cancer – a book he started to write before he discovered that he himself was suffering from cancer.


“Sausage machine” to disliking birds’ feet – 10 facts about Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie, the prolific writer of murder mysteries, was far from dull. Aside from her infamous disappearance in 1926 that fascinated a complete nation, there were many interesting aspects to her life.

1) Agatha dictated all her novels to an assistant. She suffered from dysgraphia, a learning disability, which stopped her from writing in a legible fashion.

2) In reference to her output of writing (93 books, 17 plays), Christie once described herself as “an incredible sausage machine.”

3) She wrote Murder on the Orient Express in room 411 of the Hotel Pera Palace in Istanbul. Today, 411 is dubbed “The Agatha Christie Room.”

4) In her autobiography, the author listed her dislikes, including crowds, loud music, parties, cigarette smoke, marmalade, oysters and the birds’ feet.

5) Christie did not like her most famous character, Hercule Poirot. “I can’t bear him,” she once said. “But he has to go on because people ask for him so much.

6) The Mousetrap, Christie’s famous murder mystery play, has been running continuously since 1952 in London’s West End.

7) Agatha regularly attended the Church of St Mary the Virgin in the South Devon village of Churston Ferrers. In 1955, she donated royalties from a short story called Greenshaw’s Folly to pay for a stained glass window in the building.

8) During the first two years of World War I, she worked in a hospital in Torquay as a volunteer aid, assisting doctors, and then spent the next two years

9) She wrote four archaeologically-themed novels – Murder in Mesopotamia (1936), Appointment with Death (1938), Death on the Nile (1937) and They Came to Baghdad (1951).

10) Christie’s 1920 debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was a complete flop. Her break-through book was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, published in 1926.


The art of Ed Emsh: legendary science fiction illustrator

Our latest video salutes the work of Edmund Emshwiller, better known as Ed Emsh or just Emsh, who was a prolific illustrator in the 1950s and 1960s. He contributed to countless sci-fi magazines including Amazing Science Fiction Stories, Astounding Science Fiction and most notably The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction . His work also adorned the covers of several book publishers including Pyramid, Double Day & Co., Lancer, Galaxy and Belmont. His most famous designs were for legendary science fiction publishing house Ace Books, loved for its dos-a-dos paperbacks.


Set of programmes from Spurs double season sells for £3,600

A complete set of League and Cup programmes from Tottenham’s famous double-winning season of 1960-61 has sold for £3,600 on AbeBooks.

In all, there are 64 programmes in the collection, including 42 home and away League games and a full set of seven FA Cup ties (including the 2-0 Wembley victory against Leicester City). There are also programmes for friendlies against the Army and Dinamo Tbilisi, end of season away friendlies v Amsterdam XI and Feyenoord, a public trial match, 10 home reserves, an England v West Germany U-23 international, and London Boys v Manchester Boys.

As if that wasn’t enough, the sale also includes the official Spurs handbooks for the 1960/61 and 1961/62 seasons, various souvenir brochures and a small black and white photograph of the  double-winning team.

Managed by Bill Nicholson, the stars of that Spurs team included Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, Cliff Jones, Les Allen and Terry Dyson. Seven clubs have completed the double of the FA Cup and the Division One/Premier League title – Manchester United and Arsenal (three times each), Chelsea, Preston North End, Aston Villa and Liverpool.

Tottenham were the first club to complete the double in the 20th century.


The best since Cervantes? Gabriel Garcia Marquez dies at 87

Gabriel García Márquez has died at the age of 87 in Mexico City. The Nobel Prize-winning author was one of the most influential Latin American authors of recent times. The writer had recently been hospitalised for a lung and urinary problems, but was released last week. Many literary critics have argued that Garcia Marquez was the best writer in Spanish since Cervantes.

His best known books are Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Love in the Time of Cholera, Autumn of the Patriarch and his classic 1967 novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, which has sold millions of copies around the globe.

García Márquez, known as ‘Gabo’, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 and known for his left-leaning views, which included supporting Cuba’s Fidel Castro and opposing America intervention in various world issues.

Born in Aracataca in Colombia in 1927, he was the eldest of the 11 children. With his parents away attempting to earn a living, he was raised by his grandparents for the first 10 years of his life and their storytelling inspired many of his own stories.

Aracataca became the model for ‘Macondo’ – the village surrounded by banana plantations at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains where One Hundred Years of Solitude is set.

García Márquez carved out a career in journalism, and was equally at home writing non-fiction and short stories although it was his novels that earned him worldwide fame. He became part of a literary clique called the Barranquilla Group, a loose association of writers and thinkers that inspired him and alerted him to authors that rarely saw much light in Latin America such as Virginia Woolf.

The work of William Faulkner heavily influenced Garcia Marquez and he wrote his first novel, Leaf Storm, at the age of 23 although it took several years before it was published in 1955.

The idea for One Hundred Years of Solitude came to him during a road trip to Acapulco. The novel is a multi-generational epic, describing the story of the Buendía family, in the town of Macondo. The novel’s first printing in Spanish sold out within a week, and the book went on to sell more than 20 million copies. It has been translated into many languages and is essential reading for any lover of literature.

Love in the Time of Cholera further cemented his reputation after being published in 1986. It is a love story about a couple, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, and their trials and tribulations after Fermina’s father intervenes in their relationship. The novel compares lovesickness to an actual illness.

Signed copies of his books are becoming scarce. Prices start at around £400.

Novels and Novellas by Gabriel García Márquez

Leaf Storm (1955)
No One Writes to the Colonel (1961)
In Evil Hour (1962)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975)
Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981)
Love in the Time of Cholera (1985)
The General in His Labyrinth (1989)
Of Love and Other Demons (1994)
Memories of My Melancholy Whores (2004)

Short Story Collections by Gabriel García Márquez

Eyes of a Blue Dog (1947)
Big Mama’s Funeral (1962)
The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother (1978)
Collected Stories (1984)
Strange Pilgrims (1993)

Non Fiction by Gabriel García Márquez

The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (1970)
The Solitude of Latin America (1982)
The Fragrance of Guava (1982) with Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza
Clandestine in Chile (1986)
News of a Kidnapping (1996)
A Country for Children (1998)
Living to Tell the Tale  (2002)


Donna Tartt’s golden year continues

Donna Tartt’s novel, The Goldfinch, reached new heights today after being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – one of the top gongs in American literature. Last week, Tartt was shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize for women’s fiction and prompted named as the bookie’s favourite.

Signed copies of The Goldfinch are now seriously in demand. As I write, there are just nine remaining on AbeBooks. Published last October, the novel was Tartt’s first in 11 years. It’s an epic sprawling coming-of-age book with a complex, challenging plot.

Apparently, the Columbia University School of Journalism, which announces the Pulitzer awards, initially tweeted that the winning novel was called The Goldfish. I wonder what Tartt thought of that?


Adrian Mole author Sue Townsend dies at 68

Sad news yesterday. The death of author Sue Townsend was announced. Townsend, of course, created Adrian Mole. She was 68 and had been left blind after suffering from diabetes. She suffered a stroke in December 2012. The Guardian describes her success and where the idea for Adrian Mole came from – her own experiences.

Mole was set in the east Midlands and Townsend was herself born in Leicester, the eldest of five sisters. Her father worked in a jet engine factory and became a postman when it closed. Her mother was a housewife who worked in the factory canteen. She could not read until she was eight. It was her mother who taught her with Richmal Crompton’s Just William books – the inspiration behind Adrian.

After failing the 11-plus, she went to a secondary modern, South Wigston high school. She left at 15 but kept reading, devouring Woolworth’s Classics (Jane Eyre, Heidi and co) before moving onto Russian and American literature.

As a chain-smoking teenager, dressed in black, she was fired from a job in a clothes shop for reading Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol in the changing rooms. From the age of 14 she was also writing in secret.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ was published in 1982 and the series totals eight books with Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years being released in 2009. Her books made many people very happy with humour that many suburban families could easily understand.

Mole developed from an angst-ridden adolescence growing up under Margaret Thatcher’s rule to adulthood under Tony Blair. My favourite passage from Adrian Mole is where he paints his room black as a troubled teenager and then goes into deep depression. In many ways, I grew up with Adrian. He was born in 1967 and I was born in 1968. We both lived in the Midlands, he grew up in Leicester.

Full series of Mole books:

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ (1982)

The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole (1985)

The True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole (1989)

Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years (1993)

Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years (1999)

Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction (2004)

The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole, 1999-2001 (2008)

Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years (2009)

The Daily Telegraph offers the best lines from Adrian Mole, including “Perhaps when I am famous and my diary is discovered people will understand the torment of being a 13 3/4 year old undiscovered intellectual.”


Bailey’s shortlist for women’s fiction

The shortlist for the UK Women’s Prize for Fiction (once called the Orange Prize but now sponsored by Bailey’s) has been revealed. Eimear McBride, Hannah Kent and Audrey Magee are all contenders with their debut novels. Donna Tartt and Jhumpa Lahiri are the big names, while Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie continues to enhance her reputation.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (signed copies)
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (signed copies)
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (signed copies)
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee (signed copies)
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (signed copies)
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (signed copies)

The Guardian reports that Tartt, that lady with the Louise Brooks-style bob, is the bookies’ favourite even though Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel, has already won America’s National Book Critics Circle award.

Tartt’s bestselling novel – loved by some critics and hated by others – explores a wide variety of themes including antiques, gambling and drug abuse. It took more than 10 years to write.

Helen Fraser, the chair of judges, said that it was possible to almost pair off the books on this year’s shortlist. The Goldfinch and McBride’s book centre on disastrous childhoods; Lahiri and Adichie explore themes of exile and identity; and Magee and Kent’s are historical novels, the first set in wartime Berlin and Stalingrad, and the latter in 19th-century rural Iceland.