Over the past fortnight I’ve been reading two books simultaneously. The first is “The Silk Roads”, in preparation for an interview with the historian Peter Frankopan for Always Take Notes, and the second is Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale” in anticipation of the release of the TV series. Although they are of course very different, both turn on dominant world views, how rigid and unassailable they can seem, and under what circumstances they become plastic, either suddenly shattering or gradually remolding into something else entirely.
Another thing they have in common is a preoccupation with power. In both, the effects of its shifting from one group to another are distorting and disturbing, rippling through societies like magnets waved over iron filings. Reading the news as compulsively as I have found myself doing over the past six months, it is hard not to feel that the magnets of our own age are entering an active phase.
It is comforting, then, that both were utterly absorbing and instructive. Like all writers it is my hope that reading well will enrich my own writing — it was partly to keep a record of the interesting things that I was reading month to month that I began sending out this newsletter. Telling stories is my job, too. And I aim to tell them as well as I can, to make them as interesting and comprehensible and as true as I can, because as a reader I know that the best ones can at the same time help straighten tangles of events and act as a balm for the rush and confusion. Stories were there right at the beginning, and will surely be there right at the end too, just before the lights go out.
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Anyone who has tried to coax something sensible out of me for the past month will know that I have been involved in a seemingly all-consuming little project: a wedding. It took place on April 1st and it was magical.
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I have now been freelance for a year and one of the things I get asked most is what it’s like. People often wonder whether I get lonely; if it’s difficult to find enough work; and how I manage my time. So here, for what they’re worth, are some of my freelancer headlines.
After a turbulent start to the year, welcome to what I hope may be a calmer February.
The changes haven’t all been alarming though. First off, I’m delighted to announce that I’ve now signed my second book deal with John Murray, the publishers that brought ‘The Secret Lives of Colour’ to vivid life. This time I’ll be telling stories about fabrics both ancient and as yet unrealised. Those who follow me on Instagram will know that I’m currently researching spiders and spider silk; I spent a fascinating morning 10 days ago talking to the wonderful staff at London Zoo about some of their eight-legged charges.
Another project I’m working on has also taken a leap forwards. Always Take Notes, a series of live events and podcast that I am hosting with Simon Akam, now has a shiny new website. We’ve recorded three episodes, which are being edited down by our wonderful producers, Olivia Crellin and Ed Kiernan, and will be released in the next month. Our next live Q&A will be with Stig Abell, the editor of the TLS and former managing editor of The Sun. Future guests include the historian Peter Frankopan and Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors.
Below, as ever, are a selection of things that caught my eye this month and some of the pieces that I’ve worked on. Enjoy.
The final few days of each year always feel a little deflated, like balloons five days after a children’s party. Here in the UK, the buzz and build-up of Christmas (love it or loathe it) has popped and people are sated and yet still not quite satisfied.
The new year brings reckonings and renewed goals. After a tumultuous 12 months I know I’m not the only one nervous about what 2017 holds for global geopolitics. (Those of an ominous disposition might not want to be reminded that next year marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution and 150th anniversary of the publication of Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’.)
There are, however, many things to be excited about. Russian revolutionary art will be celebrated at the Royal Academy; the work of David Hockney will return en masse to the Tate Britain; while Pink Floyd is heralded at the V&A. Elsewhere, Seurat will take a turn at the Met and Frank Lloyd Wright’s legacy will be on display at MoMA. The second season of ‘Stranger Things‘, the brilliant Netflix show from the Duffer brothers, will be released. (I wrote this piece about the show for Film & Furniture.) The 200th anniversary of the death of Madame de Stael, an eloquent opponent of Napoleon, will see a renewed interest in one of history’s great women of letters.
And so the final month of what has been a tumultuous year, both politically and personally, hoves into view.
If you can’t wait to see the back of 2016 you may enjoy this very sweary take [about as NSFW as it gets, so be warned]. My take on this year, though, is a little different. For a start, it was my first as a freelancer, which has been an eye-opening experience. In addition, I finished writing and then published ‘The Secret Lives of Colour‘, got engaged and got a puppy (that’s her in the photo above). I’ve also begun working on two new projects — a second book and a podcast about writers and writing, since you ask. It has, in short, been quite a year.
So, for the last time in 2016: here is a roundup of all the brilliant things I’ve read this month. See you in the new year. Continue reading
Welcome to November, folks.
For me the past month has been extraordinary: my first book, ‘The Secret Lives of Colour’, was published in the UK. Many people have asked what it is like seeing it in the shops and the truth is that it feels surreal. For my passion for colour to make it out of a Word file on my laptop and into physical form in bookshops and — even more exiting — on people’s shelves is something that will take some getting used to.
As ever, huge thanks to James Edgar, the very talented designer of the book responsible for the gorgeous covers and the look of every page in between, and for my editor and everyone else involved with team colour at John Murray. I am thrilled to announce that I will be continuing to work with them on my next book, which I have now begun working on in earnest.
For more bookish info, including details of talks and events, please visit the books tab above.
Below are the stories that caught my eye this month. (Not included: the thousands of pieces I have read and Samantha Bee clips I have watched — OK, maybe just this one — on the Presidential election.)
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Welcome to autumn and, for me, publication month. The Secret Lives of Colour, a book that owes its genesis to the colour column I write for Elle Decoration, hits the shelves on October 20th. I can’t wait to share it with you.
The launch is taking place on October 11th at the beautiful Library members club in London and has been kindly sponsored by Jensen’s, a delicious gin also hailing from the city. If you’d like to attend you can buy a day pass here. After publication I will also be giving talks, signing books and generally promoting my little heart out. When I have a clearer idea of the schedule I’ll put it in the Books tab above.
Enough about the book! Below is a highly abbreviated edit of the best of the internet this month — enjoy:
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The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed there’s been a slight re-design of the site (it’s subtle, so don’t feel too guilty if you missed it). As well as the Books page, there’s a shiny new header image and an easier to navigate Portfolio section.
The launch of The Secret Lives of Colour is now so imminent that I can practically taste it. Most excitingly I received my advance copy, which is beautiful. I’ve already shared thousands of images of it, but those who want even more, and/or would like to know about upcoming talks and other events, can visit the book’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
As ever, below are the stories — mostly on design and culture — that caught my eye this month and, at the bottom, three pieces from me. Bon appétit:
This summer has been a busy one. Since I last wrote here, the British — or half of them anyway — decided to leave the EU; rhetoric concerning refugees became increasingly toxic; a spate of terror attacks has left communities all over the world reeling; and Trump has made hundreds of gaffes, none of which seem to have dented his popularity with the tens of thousands disenchanted with mainstream politics in America.
Closer to home, I have moved house twice, signed off the final final final version of The Secret Lives of Colour, which will be published on October 20th (and can now be pre-ordered from Amazon), and started researching in earnest books two and three (I know! More on that in the books section when I can). So, I have dispensed with the monthly version of this for the moment and done an extra-long summer version of the many fascinating and unexpected things that I’ve come across, and three things by me at the bottom.