Desmond Elliott Prize Shortlist Announced

The three books shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize are Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman, Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman and Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph. The prize rewards “a novel of depth and breadth with a compelling narrative” and we’ll find out who wins on 23 June.

Which novel are you backing and why?

Adaptations: Romeo and Juliet Cast News

Ed Westwick is in final talks for the role of Tybalt in the latest big screen version of Romeo and Juliet.

Director Carlo Carlei is at the helm with Julian Fellowes on scriptwriting duty. Hailee Steinfeld is already cast as Juliet, with Holly Hunter as Nurse. Ed has perfected the complex bad boy playing Chuck Bass in Gossip Girl, so I can see him as a convincing Tybalt.

Romeo is yet to be cast, and I’ve been thinking about who I’d like see in this latest remake. Perhaps Nicholas Hoult or Jamie Campbell Bower?

Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 adaptation is one of my favourite films; the combination of Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes was fantastic. This one will have a tough job surpassing that, but the cast is already exciting. Filming in Italy is due to begin this summer. Are you interested in another version of Shakespeare’s play?

Holiday Reads For Intense Love

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Cathy. Heathcliff. The Yorkshire Moors. Ideal for teens, but anyone can lose themselves in this intense love story full of passion, betrayal and revenge.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Henry and Clare’s relationship is no ordinary set-up thanks to his involuntary time travelling. A complex tale of love’s attempts to survive despite the odds.

Spotlight On: Joseph Cornell’s Influence

I first discovered Joseph Cornell’s work on a visit to MOMA in New York City in 2006. I was captivated by Taglioni’s Jewel Casket and my interest increased as I found out more about his assemblage art. Known for his boxes showcasing found objects, the twentieth-century American artist inspired many writers.

The Grand Hotels (of Joseph Cornell) by Robert Coover
Coover leads us through ten Grand Hotels, building into his “architectural portrait of the artist” biographical details alongside flights of fancy.

A Convergence of Birds ed. Jonathan Safran Foer
Foer invited writers, including Rick Moody and Joyce Carol Oates, to contribute to this collection of original fiction and poetry inspired by Cornell’s avian boxes.

To find out more about Cornell’s work, keep reading

Adaptations: Jane Eyre (2011)

Charlotte Brontë’s novel has been adapted many times, and the latest version is released at UK cinemas in September 2011.

Mia Wasikowska is playing the eponymous role, with Michael Fassbender as Rochester. The cast also includes Judi Dench as Mrs Fairfax and Jamie Bell as St John Rivers.

Judging from the trailer, Wasikowska and Fassbender have the necessary tension to make it worth a watch. Will you take a trip to the cinema for it?

To watch the trailer, keep reading

Sensory Experience: Wind in the Willows

Whenever I read Wind in the Willows I get the urge to eat toast. It’s Toad’s fault. When he’s in the dungeon, he eats some to raise his spirits, and boy does it do that.

“The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”

Get comfy with a copy of the book and follow the example of the gaoler’s daughter who brings Toad the snack: make a cup of tea to go with “very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb”.

A feast for the nose and the taste buds. Delicious.

Literary Tour: Eat Your Way Through Paris’s Past

Memorable Meals in Montparnasse
This part of Paris was home to many Americans like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, as well as Joyce and a whole host of artists who frequented the bars and cafes… 

La Coupole
102 Boulevard du Montparnasse
Breakfast in La Coupole surrounded by 33 pillars. Hemingway was a regular

Le Dôme Café
108 Boulevard du Montparnasse
Lunch on seafood at Le Dôme, known as the Anglo-American café in its heyday

La Closerie des Lilas
171 Boulevard du Montparnasse
Spend the evening with food, wine and piano music like many literary luminaries

To discover literary eateries in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, keep reading

Carol Ann Duffy Gives Brighton Festival a Peek at The Bees

Last night at the Brighton Festival, Carol Ann Duffy read poetry old and new to a packed auditorium. Both funny and moving, her words were well-received whether they were already learnt by heart or not yet known. The Poet Laureate began her hour-long set with a selection of poems from the The World’s Wife (the collection which got me hooked), then she read from Rapture and ended with her latest collection, The Bees, due to be published this autumn. This was the first time I’d heard Duffy read in person and it was entirely gripping.

To find out more about which poems Duffy performed, keep reading

Holiday Reads For Magic Moments

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Be transported to a magical realm where ships fly, witches hunt for eternal youth, princes fight for the crown and a young man searches for a fallen star. Gaiman’s wit keeps this imaginative tale amusing and the ending is an antidote to sentimentality, taking stock of what a happy ever after really entails.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Full of characters that will stay with you forever (from a rhyming giant to a determined fencer), this tongue-in-cheek tale takes classic ingredients and runs head first into a Zoo of Death and a host of evil villains. The framing technique provides a lot of the laughs and the plot will keep you hooked.

Both have spawned film versions which you can watch once you return home: as is usually the case, for both of these it’s far more rewarding to read the book first.

Spotlight On: Rebellious Kids in Children’s Books

One of my highlights from the Royal Wedding was bridesmaid Grace van Cutsem and her brilliant show of independence on Buckingham Palace’s balcony. She did not like that fly past and she was not going to put on a performance!

That classic picture of Grace’s cross face, hands over ears, put me in mind of some of my favourite characters in children’s literature: the rebellious ones. I’ve selected two books, one from my own childhood and one more recent, that feature strong-willed children: The Wild Baby and Horrid Henry.

Who’s your favourite independently-minded character?