Ariel: A Literary Life of Jan Morris by Derek Johns (Review)

Review for The Times, October  2016 Although this is not an authorised biography, it can’t exactly be described as an unauthorised one. Its subject, Jan Morris, gave several interviews for it, made material available, including the drawings that illustrate it, and read it before publication. There is also the small matter of the author, Derek Johns, having been her literary agent for 20 years. Perhaps inevitably, then, the air around it can seem heavy with compromise, and this is Read more [...]

Doris Lessing: her last Telegraph interview

Following the death of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing we republish the last interview she gave to the Telegraph, in which she discusses Hitler, literary awards and her relationship with her mother with Nigel Farndale When Nigel Farndale interviewed Doris Lessing in April 2008, at the age of 88, he found her still raging - at communists, war, Mrs Thatcher, the 'bloody Swedes' who awarded her the Nobel Prize... It takes Doris Lessing just four minutes to come out with something, if Read more [...]

Tony Parsons

Tethered to the small basket of red roses on the kitchen countertop is a red balloon - helium-filled, heart-shaped - with the words 'I love you' written across it in silver letters. It's a cameo of kitsch, a miniature masterpiece of sentimentality, yet it is both as dense and delicate in meaning as a haiku. If you had to summarise Tony Parsons, the best-selling novelist and Mirror columnist, in one symbol, it would be hard to improve on this. He has bought it for Yuriko, his wife, because she has Read more [...]

Seamus Heaney

There can be few sights as poignant as that of an Irish poet struggling to find the right word on a slate-grey afternoon in London. And not any old Irish poet, the Irish poet: Seamus Heaney, 'Seamus Famous' as he is known in his native County Derry. From the top-floor boardroom of his publisher, Faber & Faber, the 61-year-old Nobel Laureate, former professor of poetry at both Oxford and Harvard, and three times winner of the Whitbread prize, looks out through narrow, puffy eyes over the rooftops Read more [...]

Roger Scruton

I discovered Roger Scruton's true identity quite by accident, while listening to an interview I'd taped with him. There it was: a perfectly normal, if slightly lispy voice belonging to an earnest, 16-year-old public schoolboy. At first, I thought I had picked up the wrong tape. Only when my own voice came on - Mickey Mouse on helium, the normal sound of speeded up human speech - did I realise that I had flicked on the fast-play mode on my recorder. Scruton, it seems, is a 16-year-old trapped in Read more [...]

Richard Dawkins

I think Oxford University's Professor of the Public Understanding of Science has gone into shock - traumatic hysteria, to judge by his frozen features. But he has only himself to blame. He shouldn't go around popularising science in the way that he does. It was only a matter of time before someone like me, a bona fide member of the public, would turn up at his house and try to explain his own theories to him - using, with unjustified confidence, words such as 'biomorph', 'phenotype' and 'replicator'. The Read more [...]

Michael Holroyd

The air of madness in Michael Holroyd's study is so charmingly baroque it must be contrived. Every surface is strewn with papers; two wicker armchairs have come to rest, like driftwood, near the desk; there is a sock by a table leg; and, among the clutter on the polished floorboards, a couple of cardboard boxes contain a handful of birth certificates, property deeds and albums of sepia-toned photographs. These are his family relics, the meagre detritus of three generations of turbulence and wilful Read more [...]