The Blog


What's in a Title?

I doubt readers often pause to wonder how a novel came by its title. Occasionally a title might invite a question, either because it’s obscure (The Quincunx) or archly complicated (The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B). But for the most part we leav [...]

Your Sorrowful Reptile

On 15 March 1780, the Wiltshire clergyman-naturalist Gilbert White noted in his diary: “Mrs Snooke buried”. His next entry, a couple of days later, recorded:  “Brought away Mrs Snooke’s old tortoise, Timothy, which she valued much & had treated k [...]

Golgotha's Man

The memoirs of Peter Scott, the prolific high-end-of-society burglar who died last week aged 82, were published as Gentleman Thief. That title was not his preference, and Scott had to be persuaded to adopt it. I think the reason he did not like it wa [...]

Stubbs: the Georgians' David Attenborough

The news is that two 1772 paintings by Stubbs – The Kongourou from New Holland and The Dingo – are to be sold from the collection at Parham Park, Sussex. If the export of these important works is to be prevented – not surprisingly A [...]

James Joyce in Winter

Today, 13 January, is the 72nd anniversary of the death of James Joyce in Zurich, when he failed to recover from an operation for a perforated ulcer.  He died twenty days short of  his 59th birthday.   This was wartime, and James and Nora Joyce had [...]

The Wreck of the Wager

18th century gentlemen, professionals and merchants subscribed in large numbers to a monthly publication that claimed (according to the Preface to its volume for 1742) to be "highest in the Esteem of the Learned, Inquisitive and Judicious" in providi [...]

An 18th Century Stocking-Filler

In the new Cragg and Fidelis novel Dark Waters, which is published tomorrow, 2 August, an intriguing little volume called Penkethman’s Jests has a moment of its own. Titus Cragg, always interested in a book, notices it at the bedside of the Iri [...]

Stealing Beauty

Art crime in fact and fiction(Originally written in August 2011. Unpublished.) Dr No, the first James Bond film made in 1962, features a bravura piece of set-dressing. Penetrating the arch-criminal’s headquarters, 007 walks by an easel displaying Go [...]

Reflections on A Dark Anatomy

 upon its publication by Minotaur in America.   From the outset A Dark Anatomy was framed as a detective mystery with two fundamental elements: the location to be Preston, in the north-west of England, where I was born; the time to be abo [...]

Save the Library

Towards the end of 2009 the UK government (then New Labour) published a consultation paper about the future of libraries. It contained some alarming proposals for privatising or voluntarising the library service, while watering down the legal obligat [...]
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