Image credit: Johan Persson
Henry V, Act 4, Scene 7. The King of England, engaged in the midst of a bloody battle with France, strides onto the stage with his nobles in tow, having just discovered that, against all codes of military conduct, the French troops have murdered the group of English boys left to guard the baggage. Henry begins:
I was not angry since I came to France
Until this instant.
In Jude Law’s mouth, it’s not quite the truth. Undoubtedly, Michael Grandage’s much-anticipated production of Henry V confirms that Law has the acting clout to match his looks. He offers a charismatic and charming portrait of a heroic warrior king, maturing to an outstanding climax towards the end of the show. But the smooth pitch of righteous anger that he maintains throughout the production made me long to see a little more of the conflicted young man underneath.
To be fair, Henry has a lot of reasons to be angry. The king begins by being offered a haughty insult from
Does Jude Law do Henry V justice?
Two years ago, I went on a 10-day silent retreat at a Buddhist monastery in the middle of the Thai jungle. One morning at 5am, in the first of the day’s meditation sessions, with bites on my arms from the spiders I wasn’t allowed to kill and cramps in my stomach from the food I wasn’t allowed to eat, I finally achieved my revelation on the impermanence of all things. Praise the universe, I thought. Glory to the fickle world. In only 48 hours, this too will end, and I’ll be able to go back to my blinkered, base, absolutely wonderful life of electricity, box sets and beef.
Back in London, I endeavoured to bring the lesson of eternal impermanence into my day job, because social media is surely the viparinama-dukkha of the corporate world. The once-startling pace of a Twitter feed feels positively sluggish compared with newer tools like Snapchat, the photo-messaging service which deletes users’ images after 10 seconds, or Vine, the six-second video app which acquired four million
Studies by various impressive-sounding academics have shown that, thanks to a multi-tasking whirl of texting, tweeting, one-click buying, email checking (on average 30 times an hour) and – oh, look, a butterfly! – our reading habits are officially rubbish. Statistics verified by the Associated Press suggest that our attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight in 2012. To put that in context, the attention span of the average goldfish is nine seconds. Yep. Goldie could beat you at Pong.
Over the past few years, publishing pundits have predicted that this will usher in a shiny new era of short-form fiction, as authors scrabble to adapt to their attention-deficit audience. This is, they declare, the era of flash fiction, perfect for readers addicted to micro-this and insta-that. We are witnessing the rise of the Twitter novel, the return of commute-friendly serialisation via media-rich apps, and the resurgence of the short story - after all, the grande
Big is still beautiful
It is a well-worn truism that all novel-writing advice boils down to a handful of simple tenets. Show, don’t tell. Cut adjectives. Kill your darlings. Get in late, and out early. Read your work aloud. Don’t give up your day job, you masochistic fantasist; don’t you know that publishing is dead?
Okay, so that last one was mine. But from Aristotle’s fifth-century Poetics to this year’s On Writing by A L Kennedy, the elements of how to spin a satisfying tale have remained remarkably consistent. That’s the thing about good writing; the rules don’t really evolve. Our ability to tell awesome stories is part of what makes us human – self-consciousness is, after all, the greatest story of all – and it seems that the sweet-spots of pace, character development, suspense and so forth are ingrained inside our neurons. Of course, every so often the rules get broken by a genius, who redefines the possibilities of form, subject or style; that’s the best writing of all.
Do you think Dickens should cost more than Dan Brown? Do you approach a 99p ebook with a different mentality to a £10 hardback? And does a soy latte really have more impact on your life than a book? The value of literature – not in the sense of soul-stirring, brain-pimping, culture-cementing worthiness, but in the sense of cash – has never seemed more contradictory.
Historically, reducing the cost of book production, distribution and ownership has been an important step in increasing the freedom and sophistication of society, from Gutenberg’s press to Penguin’s sixpence paperbacks. Books are essentially whores, not madonnas; the more people that get the chance to handle them, the better for us all. Sure, there is a place for beautiful, limited edition objets, handcrafted by callous-palmed bookbinders, but that place is on a coffee table, not out in the world, in pockets: connecting people, spreading ideas.
But that was before the Kindle Daily Deal, which gives the h
The value of books
Hi. My name is Molly and I’m a self-help addict. Although I avoid anything involving diets, doctrines and fist-pumpers in suits, recent, beautifully written pop-psychology classics as Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit have given me a socially acceptable way to indulge. I’m certainly not alone; in 2012, Laura Vanderkam identified that “45,000 self-help titles are in print, and the self-improvement industry does $12 billion worth of business each year”, while the impoverished NHS is even considering prescribing self-help titles to treat depression.
But my deepest and most lasting moments of self-discovery still come wrapped in a fictional pill, and I’m not alone in this, either. Waterstones’s new online project The Book That Made Me features videos and testimonials in which cultural superstars such as Michael Parkinson, Malorie Blackman and Caitlin Moran discuss the books that have had a profound impact on the
What would your ideal magazine website look like? Why do you visit sites associated with print magazines? How do you connect with mags on social? And what would bring you back to a fashion and culture site again and again, every day, like a drooling, toothless glossy-mag meth-head?
I am delighted to have been appointed Digital Editor for PHOENIX Magazine. I’ve been Features Editor for our print edition for the past three years, and now I have the opportunity to redefine everything we do online, including a full web redesign and overhaul of our social media strategy. I’d love you to tell me what you want.
PHOENIX is an independent, London-based quarterly magazine which brings the perspective back to fashion and culture. Perspective in the sense of an intelligent and witty view on a breathless industry; and perspective in the sense of taking a stand, having an opinion and promoting quality and originality in all its forms. In short, cutting-edge creativity from some of the bes
PHOENIX needs you
Poor old big-name publishers. Stick to your guns by insisting on the value of your traditional, print-centric gatekeeping, and you’ll be shunted straight to the top of the endangered species list. Pander to the plebs by putting a fancy cover on fan fiction, and you’ll be decried as an opportunist whore who has swapped literary values for trending hashtags. It’s enough to make you run screaming out of your Bloomsbury redbrick and set up in a cheap little Hackney warehouse with a bunch of fixie-riding digital natives who can knock out a Dickens alternate reality game before breakfast.
For those brave soldiers who have remained in the barracks of trade publishing (the smell of fear and ink catching in their nostril hairs), digital only-imprints must seem like a promising hybrid. First, take a brand that both readers and authors trust. Next, put said brand in a genre-specific digital cage, with a ringmaster offering some editorial and production support. Kick off the show with a fe
“These are the best of times and the worst of times,” declared Robert McCrum. He paused, then added to wry laughter: “They are very confusing times.”
Confusing, yes; cataclysmic, no. The attitude from both speakers and audience at Writing In A Digital Age, The Literary Consultancy’s second annual conference, distinctly implied that the days of Chicken Licken are over; it’s time to focus on action and leave the apocalypse to the journalists. In a session reviewing the past year’s mergers, mistakes and mass-market mega-successes, Dan Franklin, Digital Publisher at Random House, quoted Churchill. “This isn’t the beginning of the end. It’s the end of the beginning.”
Both keynotes, from McCrum and Audrey Niffenegger, were bracingly optimistic about the current juncture in publishing’s turbulent history. Niffenegger’s review of the evolution of typography, set against her own journey from craft-obsessed book artist to seven-million-copy-bestselling author, posited that our new dig
Writing and reading in a digital age
When I first found out that my sister was pregnant, I knew there were countless pleasures in store. Hot, squirmy cuddles. The DUPLO farm. Jelly.
But above all, I couldn’t wait for the reading. I longed to rediscover the stories I loved as a child, from Each Peach Pear Plum to Pippin and Pod. I wanted to be the one to start her on the adventure of a lifetime, helping her discover for herself the freedom and nourishment to be found between a pair of wipe-clean boards.
What I didn’t anticipate was the fact that, two years and nine months later, it was my niece that would be teaching me. Sure, grown-up literature demands subtlety that a toddler can’t appreciate. But I soon realized that a lifetime of accumulated reading habits had derailed some basic instincts that were still strong in a box-fresh mind. Thanks to Esme, I’ve learnt some sharp lessons about how to be a better reader. Here are five of the best.
Be less forgiving
Kids are ruthless. At an age when the
Reading lessons from a 2 year old
The coming of age novel is one of our most popular and powerful literary genres. From The History of Tom Jones to Twilight, The Catcher in the Rye to Carrie, we never tire of watching tender little Homo Sapiens get plunged into the boiling cauldron of life, and no wonder. Stories are based on conflict, and innocence v experience is the oldest and darkest fist-fight of them all.
But bildungsroman aren’t restricted to the transition from adolescence to adulthood. The German word simply means ‘novel of formation’, and the male mid-life crisis novel, a study of that second, mirror-adolescence from adulthood to old age, is a rich contemporary theme. Ian McEwan’s 2005 James Tait Black Memorial Prize winner Saturday and his 2010 success Solar; Howard Jacobson’s 2010 Booker-winning The Finkler Question; and Julian Barnes’ 2011 winner The Sense of An Ending all focus on men who watch their careers and sex lives shrivel from over the burgeoning curve of their gu
Do you love to talk about publishing innovation but realise that you behaviour as a reader has barely changed? Are you truly creating, or just ‘being creative’, online? Do you find that the opportunities for writers in social media essentially boil down to shinier and more addictive ways to procrastinate? Ah, Pinterest. Sweet Pinterest and your gleaming cornucopia of aspirational kitchen loft spaces.
I’ve always been deeply excited about how digital is changing how we write, read, publish and talk about stories, but I am even more excited now the conversation has moved beyond those boring either/or scaremongering polarities. Now that we’ve established that The Author, Journalism, God and All Hope are Totes Dead, we can get on with talking about the good stuff. Like how and if we are personally, daily, experiencing change. Like which technologies, tools and approaches have genuinely made us more productive, imaginative and skilled.
In short, now that we’ve accepted that the