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Village in the Jungle, Leonard Woolf’s forgotten colonial masterpiece

The BBC writes about Leonard Woolf’s forgotten Sri Lankan novel, The Village in the Jungle, saying it has been unjustly ignored. Virginia’s husband published the book in  1913 and it is notable because it is the first novel in English literature to be written from the indigenous point of view rather than that of the British Empire.

The village in the jungle described in the book is called Beddagama. It consists of 10 crude mud huts in a hot dry clearing hacked from the inexorable jungle in the south of Sri Lanka, the island then known as Ceylon. The novel tells the story of one family, the wild hunter Silindu and his two daughters, Punchi Menika and Hinnihami, and the bad things that happen to them when their lives start to go wrong. There is no safety net here. The jungle is harsh, the village malicious.

Leonard Woolf knew Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, very well. He joined the Colonial Civil Service in 1904 and was sent to Ceylon, where he worked for seven years. By 1908, he was administrating a district in south-east Ceylon, which housed 100,000 people. Woolf taught himself Sinhalese and Tamil, and travelled widely across the island. He wrote The Village in the Jungle on his return to Britain in 1911.


Ray Bradbury’s house is for sale

Ray Bradbury's houseRay Bradbury’s former home in Los Angeles is for sale at $1,495,000. The three-bedroom house was built in 1937. Bradbury died in 2012 at the age of 91. The author wrote in the basement of the home but also kept an office in Beverly Hills where he also wrote. I flicked through the slideshow of the interior and it looks lovely.


Novelist Mary Stewart, author of the Merlin series, dies at 97

The bestselling author of the Merlin series, Mary Stewart, has died at the grand, old age of 97. The five books in the Merlin series, sometimes called Merlin Chronicles, were published between 1970 and 1995 – they are The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, The Wicked Day, and The Prince and the Pilgrim.

She also wrote romantic-suspense novels such as Touch Not the Cat, This Rough Magic and Nine Coaches Waiting that featured plucky, intelligent heroines. She was one of the first novelists to combine mystery and romance.

Her debut novel, Madam, Will You Talk?, was published in 1954 and is the story of an English woman holidaying in Provence.A former lecturer in English Language and Literature, Stewart’s books were very popular in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s with many titles translated into other languages.

The publication of The Crystal Cave in 1970 rode the wave of interest in King Arthur ignited by TH White. The novel is a fantasy take on the Arthurian legend told from young Merlin’s point of view and includes his journey from Wales through Brittany and England. It sets the scene for Arthur’s birth.


Supermarket chain Waitrose hires poet Roger McGough to liven up its aisles

Posh supermarket chain Waitrose has turned to poetry in its latest bid to win over Britain’s shoppers. The Guardian reports Waitrose plans to display “poetry throughout its stores as part of a year-long campaign which, it says, is aimed at reducing the drudgery of the regular shop.

Amen to that! I can tell you horror stories about drudgery in supermarkets.

The poems, written by Roger McGough, will be deliberately lighthearted and appear in all 317 Waitrose stores. I hope they won’t just be whimsical, but dwell on the hard realities of supermarket shopping like why the salad goes off by the time you get home, why the bread is always out of date and why they offer trashy magazines by the checkout.

Here’s a preview of what the shoppers will see – no doubt inspired by Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea.

Tofu and the Tiger’ by Roger McGough

If a tiger invites you home for tea

And offers you tofu

You can take it from me

He’s only pretending

Look at those jaws

Were they designed for chewing rice?

And those claws

For peeling bananas?

Take my advice

Stay calm, be polite.

Eat up your tofu and ask for more

When the feline is in the kitchen

Make a bee-line for the door.


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.