Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Meet Dirty John. Plus Stranger Things 2, Savitri Devi and The Secret Lives of Color


Last week The Secret Lives of Color was published (minus 2,663 ‘u’s) by Penguin in America. It’s had a warm welcome: it was one of the New York Times’ New & Noteworthies, was tranformed into a Buzzfeed listicle and garnered praise from Gretchen Rubin, the podcaster and author, who I spoke to about my slatternly work habits. It’s also come out in German, Spanish and Romanian, with many more exquisite translations to follow.

As any writer will confirm, writing a book is only half the battle: I owe a great debt of thanks to all those at John Murray, Penguin and elsewhere for their hard work winkling out the typos, making it into an object to be proud of, and of course making sure people actually hear about and buy it. Thank you also to everyone on Instagram for all their gorgeous photos: keep ‘em coming!

I too can report that I’ve been working hard (hence the time lag between this post and the one before). Most of my time has been spent working on my second book. It’s so nearly finished I can almost taste the celebratory cocktail I’ll be drinking once the manuscript is handed in. I’ve also been busy moving about and staying with friends and relatives while our flat is being redecorated (it’s going to be much more colourful, for a start); one weekend was spent in Istanbul, my first visit to the city, which I loved; and I’ve been doing some freelance writing to fill up all that, er, spare time.

Below, as ever, are a selection of thing that have caught my eye over the past few weeks along with a sprinkling of stuff from me. Enjoy. Continue reading

Book of the Week. Plus: Wonder Woman, intelligent spider webs and the rich red food of Juneteenth

714lCCv9XSLWonderful news: ‘The Secret Lives of Colour’ will be BBC Radio 4′s book of the week beginning on Monday morning at 9.45. This caps off a very busy few months for the book: the Dutch edition was chosen as De Wereld Draait’s book of the month, which promptly propelled it into the bestseller charts, and the Spanish, American and German editions all now have covers and publication dates. It has been incredibly heartening to see the book doing so well out in the wild, particularly since I am once again hacking through a forest of research and drafts for a new project. This is the stage when my email inbox becomes an intimidatingly overgrown tangle, my social life withers and my conversation turns monoculture: preemptive apologies to everyone who comes into contact with me over the next five months, here’s hoping the fruits are worth the labour!

Here are a selection of the pieces that caught my eye this month. Enjoy

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How office cultures crush women’s ambitions. Plus: Zoroastrianism, The Handmaiden, and dining and diving


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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The Language of Tetchy Fruit Bats. Plus: 52 Places to Visit this Year, the Significance of Kit Colours and Ancient, Leopard-Sized Otters

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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.

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The Best Book Covers of 2016. Plus: A Dinosaur Tail in Amber, Bottling the Scent of the Monsoon, Natalie Portman in ‘Jackie’, and Disruptive Lingerie

img_2795 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.

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The Surprising Richness of Animals’ Inner Lives. Plus: the Link Between Kinky Sex and Creativity, the Future of the Book and Pessimistic Pigs


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

How to be a More Productive Procrastinator. Plus: Self-Lacing Shoes, Gigantic Potholes and When it’s OK to Leave Work Fourteen Percent Early


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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The Risks, Rewards and Rules of Cultural Appropriation. Plus: How Meth Fuelled the Nazis, the Library that has Installed a Book Train, and the New Breed of Nowhere Offices


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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