Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a brace of pheasant

Never Trust a Pigeon

A pair of pigeons live in the elm tree between my house and that of the neighbour. The male pigeon has a stout body, a prominent belly and a short neck shimmering with wine red feathers. He struts around the garden with a sense of entitlement and always seems pleased with himself. Constantly nodding his head, […]

Clifford Thurlow's 1973 press card

My Secret Writing Tutor

  A writing tutor may be a flesh and blood man or woman who pours over your scribblings and offers shrewd advice. You may find your spark in the words of your favourite songwriter – Bob Dylan, say, or an author, William Boyd or John Grisham. If you want to learn how to write elegant sentences […]

How Dylan Turns News Into History

It was 1.30am on 9 February 1963, bitter cold outside in the streets of Baltimore, warm and lively on the dance floor in the Emerson Hotel, where William Devereux Zantzinger was attending a society gathering with Jane, his pretty young wife. Zantzinger was 24, six foot two, the owner of ‘a tobacco farm of six hundred […]

Child Mozart and the piano

Can You Learn How To Write?

If you have a box of multi-coloured beads and thread them on a silver chain, the necklace you make will be original, an illustration of your taste and talent – or its absence. If a hundred people make a necklace from the same set of beads, they will all be different. Some a mess, others […]

Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister

Hungry People Don’t Vote

The Hartlepool byelection was a victory for hunger and poverty. It was a victory for tax cuts for the rich, insider dealing and the hidden national malaise that will deepen and worsen in the coming decade. Hartlepool’s electorate consists of a little over 70,000 people. Jill Mortimer for the Conservative Party won the byelection on […]

Brigitte Bardot watching Picasso paint.

Brigitte Bardot and the Painting that Never Was

There must be a good reason why neither Salvador Dalí nor Picasso painted Brigitte Bardot. They both had the chance. They both liked beautiful young women – albeit for different reasons: Dalí because he was a slave to beauty, Picasso because he liked sex with young women. Yet, neither put graphite to paper, oil on […]

Bob Dylan typing

The First Line

‘It is the first line that gives the inspiration and then it’s like riding a bull. Either you just stick with it, or you don’t,’ Bob Dylan. The first line is the spark that ignites the forest fire. The words come out like a rocket. Or a shooting star. Or they come out like teeth […]