The Helen Rappaport Interview (for Catherine)



She was educated at Leeds University and calls West Dorset her home. She has 11 lauded books to her credit and is fluent in Russian. She also happens to be one of the favourite authors of our CEO’s girlfriend. So, when the opportunity arose to contact Ms. Rappaport, we took advantage straightaway.

During her visit to Anglophile Studios, Ms. Rappaport was a most obliging guest (she even complimented our signature afternoon tea arrangement). Below is the transcript of our chin wag with her.

1. What inspired/influenced you to become a writer and what do you love about the process?
My love of history and getting to the truth of real life events and people are what inspired me. I love the research phase of winkling out information on my subjects. The thrill of finding new material has always given me a tremendous buzz.
2. What is it about historical non-fiction that captures your interest/attention? How did you choose the individuals that you decided to focus on?
I have always felt that non-fiction is far more interesting, fascinating and surprising than anything that has been made up.   I particularly enjoy uncovering the lost stories of people whose lives have been overlooked or consigned to the footnotes. I’m not particularly interested in writing about people who are already well known unless I can come up with new research and a new perspective on them.
3. Of the many books you’ve written, which project are you most proud of/satisfied with? Which subject challenged you the most in terms of the research?
I am proud of all my books and they all, in their different ways, were a considerable research challenge.  I loved writing Beautiful For Ever about the Victorian con-artist Madame Rachel. I had to rediscover her entire story from searching the contemporary press of the day and also undertaking a fair amount of genealogical research to pin down her family roots. I suppose that in that respect this was the most satisfying book to do, but I was also very pleased to have been able to uncover so much new and unknown material about the Romanov sisters. My latest book, Caught in the Revolution is full of people who are totally unknown to history and whose stories I uncovered through a lot of long, hard searching.
4. Describe your approach to writing; do you write longhand, utilise a laptop or tape recorder, etc.?
During the reading and research phase I write a lot of notes in longhand in large A4 workbooks; other notes I write straight on to screen. Then I start piecing the text together on my desktop Mac . I don’t like writing on a laptop as the screen is not good for my neck problem. 
5. Who or what sparked your fascination with Russia?
I did!   Nobody really got me into Russia and the Russians, I just developed a fascination for the subject in my teens.  But I shall be eternally grateful to the wonderful history teacher at my Grammar School who inspired a love of history and made me want to write it in the first place and to my  Grammar School for providing the opportunity to study Russian.
6. What inspired you to write about the Romanov sisters?
Walking round Ekaterinburg when researching my previous book, about the murder of the Romanovs, I kept thinking of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, shut away in a provincial town in Western Siberia and how much they reminded me of the Romanov sisters at the Ipatiev House. Hence the UK title ‘Four Sisters’ which was a nod to Chekhov. I wanted to tell their story because they had always been in the background of the Nicholas and Alexandra story – as just cyphers with no real personalities of their own. I wanted to give the sisters back their own individual identities.
7. Who are your top five favourite British authors/authoresses?
Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, Peter Ackroyd, Helen Dunmore
8. You’re on Desert Island Discs and Kirsty Young has just asked you to choose a book and luxury to take with you before she exiles you. What book and luxury do you select and why?
I’m passing on this one – no idea.
9. What advice do you have for aspiring writers and particularly those wanting to write about history?
I first wanted to explore and write about history when I was about 14. Life took me on many different directions before I finally got to do so. You need a lot of living behind you to write history well – I’m glad I didn’t start doing so till I was in my 50s.   So I’d say, if you really want to write history it’s never to late, but you have to read and read and read and soak up life experiences and an understanding of the world first, in order to do it well. And you must never ever cease to be curious about everything.
10. What makes you proudest to be British?
That such a small country has produced such a gifted range of writers, artists and musicians; that we have not been bowed and defeated or overrun  since William the Conqueror; that we are quirky and brave and individualistic. And that we had the courage to vote to leave the European Union.  I am a passionate patriot.
11. Who are your top five favourite British music acts?
David Bowie, Kate Bush, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Nitin Sawhney
12. What are your top three favourite books of all time?
Bleak House, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre
13. As an author, and in your own words, why do you believe books are essential?
How else can one understand the depth and range  – the subtleties, the pain and the joy – of human experience other than by reading?
14. What would you like your legacy to be?
That my daughters and my grandchildren are proud of me and enjoy the benefits of my literary estate – however modest – after I am gone.  That I made some small difference as a historian in adding to our knowledge and understanding of the subjects about which I feel so passionately .
To discover more about Ms. Rappaport, we invite you to pop over to
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TSF’s Band of the Year – Coldredlight



We returneth! After embarking on a two month sojourn that included catching up on some Radio 4 and BBC Introducing in Oxford podcasts, we decided, unanimously, that it was high time we updated our labour of love. And we couldn’t be happier to share one of our most satisfying discoveries.

Care of Dave Gilyeat and Co at BBC Introducing in Oxford (who never fail to broaden our collective, discerning musical palette), we were recently introduced to a band that have since spoiled our ear drums with a sonic gift that carries on giving. That band is Coldredlight, its members are vocalist/guitarist Gaby-Elise and drummer Casper Miles and their gloriously, soulfully moody blues debut track is Little Scorpion.

We must admit; we know absolutely nothing about this duo…other than that their gem of a demo is the audio equivalent of the Hope diamond (this is not hyperbole, it’s pure matter of fact goodness). After our initial listen of the track, we played it again…and again..and again…and again (add about 10 more agains and you’ll see a subtle pattern develop).

What makes Little Scorpion so potent is the intoxicating combination of Gaby’s powerful doom and gloom vocal melody/delivery and guitar riff, which are eventually enriched with Casper’s simple yet highly robust drumming (the kind that would make Meg White smile and nod with approval).

Please clink on the link provided to hear our band of the year perform our track of the year.

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Our Grammatically Correct and Properly Proofed Interview With Editor/Proofreader Emily Hetherington

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Anyone who knows us is well aware of our undeniable Anglophilia (and all this time, we thought we were being ever so subtle…). What isn’t commonly known, is our equal love of grammar, punctuation and spelling. For as much as we love to play with words, we want to make sure they’re safe and spelled correctly before any such playing commences.

When we came across the work of Ms. Emily Hetherington, we decided, without hesitation, that she would be our next guest inside Anglophile Studios. The fact is, her work as a proofer and editor is second to none (we would say none to none, but such a comparison is unprecedented and structurally. it’s awkward…and here at TSF, we’re not about being awkward). She’s perfectly polished novels and short stories and we were honoured to welcome Ms. Hetherington into our humble, Union Jack-accented dwellings.

As we partook in a signature afternoon tea, we had a right and proper chat with Emily. Here it is in all of its properly proofed glory:

1. When did you realise that becoming an editor and proofreader was what you were meant to do? What do you enjoy most about the editing/proofing process?

The idea of becoming an editor and proofreader came to me after I found myself getting increasingly annoyed at finding errors in the books I was reading, but that was in my late teens and I didn’t do anything about it for a long time. I finally looked into doing it when I was laid up at home for a long time following an operation and needed something to do. My grandmother put me in touch with her publisher and it went from there. That was in 2012.
My favourite part of the process is discussing different options or ideas with the author. Most of the time changes are made because they are necessary, but sometimes I want to make a change in order to make the story flow better or because I think it sounds better and in those cases I often end up discussing the change with the author to find the best solution and we perhaps try out various options.

2. When you’re in the midst of correcting a project, what enables you to spot errors that a software programme like Microsoft Word would miss? In other words, how do you spot spelling, grammar and punctuation errors that you believe a computer or even another editor might miss?

First of all I read through the whole manuscript making changes only on the most obvious errors in order to get to grips with the story and the characters. I don’t leave comments or make any changes that I’m not sure about. Also on that first read through I clear up anything that Microsoft Word flags, so on the second read through there are no squiggly lines to distract me. I hide the mark-up and view it as if it were the final draft, which also helps to reduce distractions. On the second reading I read each paragraph twice to make sure I’ve caught everything and this time I will leave comments or move back and forth through the manuscript to check for continuity errors. Then I send it back to the author for them to check and accept/reject the changes and ask me any questions. Ideally they would then send it back to me again for a final proofread, but not everyone bothers with this final step.
3. Of the many projects you’ve edited, what has been the most unique and why?
I’m not one to shy away from certain genres, so I’ve worked on a variety of different themes, but I have to say the most unique was The Naming of Cats by Britney Bolling. It was a strange kind of mix of science fiction and erotica of the like I had never read before and haven’t seen since. I can’t really explain why without giving away the story, but it’s available on Amazon if you wish to find out.

4. What is your perspective on slang and colloquialisms? Do you believe that they can actually have a negative effect on both writing and conversation, particularly with respect to speech patterns and vocabulary?

I believe that slang and colloquialisms should be used in a natural way i.e. if a character is from a certain area or is of a certain age where that kind of language would be very common then that language should absolutely be used in their dialogue, but I don’t think it should be used in the narrative. I do, however, think it should be used sparingly. You want it to sound natural, but you don’t want it to be too taxing on the reader. I remember trying to read Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh and giving up within a few pages because it was so difficult to read. Then again, that novel was so popular that it was turned into a very successful film, so I wouldn’t say it should never be done. At the end of the day it’s not my work, it’s not my story, and it’s down to the author to decide whether they want to take that risk.

5. What are the most common mistakes that you notice when editing/proofing a manuscript, or do the mistakes differ depending on what it is that you’re actually correcting?

There are always the kind of typos where a word has been spelt incorrectly, but it actually spells another word so it doesn’t get picked up by the word processor. Those are probably the most common along with punctuation issues. But in general each manuscript is very different in terms of how much work it needs or what kind of errors there are. Some only have those kinds of typos, others have lots of grammatical errors or continuity errors.

6. We would love to get your take on the following; why do you believe “gonna” is used far more frequently than “going”?

That’s an easy question for an English teacher. I have to teach my students this all the time. It’s simply because when we talk fast we ‘eat our words’ as we say over here. Sounds get lost as we join words together and ‘going to’ sounds like ‘gonna’. I think it’s fairly standard to want to write in the same way as we speak and for that reason we have begun to write ‘gonna’ as well. It’s not something I often see in manuscripts because we tailor our writing as we tailor our voice for different things. It might appear in a dialogue, but we tend to use more formal language for a narrative depending on the target audience.

7. What makes you proud to British?

This is a difficult question for me. I don’t consider myself to be proud of being British. I find it especially hard to be proud of being British while the UK is in its current situation. I do, however, feel grateful – or maybe lucky is a better word for it – for being born in an English speaking country, having English as my first language, and being brought up in a place that has such a diverse culture. I’m just not sure that ‘proud’ is the right word for it. After all, it’s no achievement of mine.

8. You’re on Desert Island Discs and Kirsty Young has asked you to select a book and a luxury before she casts you off to your island. What do you choose and why?

Can I choose a book on survival? I don’t think there is a single book that I loved so much I could read it several times over. I have read several books more than once, but I don’t really have a favourite that stands out above the others, or at least not one that I would want to keep with me and read over and over. The luxury would have to be something that doesn’t run out quickly, so not chocolate or anything like that. Perhaps a large fluffy blanket to snuggle up with at night. I hate the cold.

9. Who are your top five favourite authors?

Well I have to say my grandma, Jenny Twist, of course, but I admit I’m totally biased. After that, Tess Gerritsen without a doubt. But then it gets more difficult to choose. I like lots of different authors, but I always struggle to choose favourites. Also, these days, I tend to read more books from relatively unknown authors and I’m rather out of touch with the best selling books and authors. I love the work of some of the authors I’ve worked with e.g. Wayne M. Sefton and Chris Ward, but I really struggle putting together a top five of all time.
I actually get much more passionate about children’s books because getting children to really love reading is so important, so anyone that successfully does that is a hero in my eyes. Listing favourite children’s authors is much easier: Julia Donaldson, Jill Murphy, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Tony Ross, Giles Andreae. I could go on!

10. What one author’s work would you love to edit/proof and why?

You might expect me to list a very famous author here, but actually I wouldn’t like to do that. I like to help the self publishing authors try to get the best start they can. To that end I would really like to edit for Dan Worth. He’s an author that was recommended to me because he is a sci-fi author and I love sci-fi, but unfortunately his books were in desperate need of editing. It’s such a pity because the stories had such potential and were really interesting. I struggled on to the end of the second because I wanted to know what happened, but I must admit it was painful reading and I couldn’t face the third. I would love to work with someone like that who has written really interesting stories that I really want to read and someone that I feel I would really be helping.

11. What prompted you to leave England and relocate to Spain?

This is very much down to my Aunt and Uncle. I’ve always loved working with children, but I always focused on nursery age and teaching never really occurred to me. But my Aunt and Uncle presented me with an opportunity that was just too good to miss. They thought I would make a good teacher and they had set up an English academy out in Spain and were looking for native teachers so they not only offered me a job, but also offered to pay for my teaching course! I would have been mad to pass up an opportunity like that.

12. How did you become involved in the National Novel Writing Month project?

My family seem to have directed my life quite a lot, it turns out! This one is down to my sister. I always liked the idea of writing, but never thought I was any good at it. I found it too difficult because we were always taught at school that a story had to have a beginning, a middle, and an end and that we had to plan it all out beforehand. I just can’t plan like that. So school put me off the idea of even trying to write and I never bothered after I left school. I’m what they call a pantser in the NaNoWriMo world. A devout pantser at that! I have little more than a vague idea before I sit down and write. I just start writing and see what happens.

My sister on the other hand is an amazing writer and loves it. She introduced me to the National Novel Writing Month project one year when she had either bought or been given an achievement badge set for that year’s project. They often have things like that available for motivation. In this case she would get a badge if she recruited someone else to the project, so she spent a couple of weeks trying to convince me that it was worth doing and that I actually could do it, which is something I really didn’t believe. In the end I gave in and said I’d try it out at the very least. She gave me a lot of encouragement and tips during the month as well and I absolutely loved the whole experience. The idea of ‘pantsing’ – of just sitting down and writing without any sort of plan – was revolutionary for me and I amazed myself with what I came out with. I amaze myself with that every year. I think I’m now officially a NaNoWriMo addict, although I now have a different problem; I can’t write without the NaNoWriMo experience – the challenge, the deadline, the community, the progress bars and charts.
13. What is your all-time favourite novel…..and why?
Well, choosing one above all the others is very difficult and this is one that I have only read once (although I am sure I will read it again one day) but it is one that always stays with me: Perfume by Patrick Süskind. It was so powerful and I marvelled at the author’s ability to describe smells so perfectly. The character development was excellent as well. Yes, he’s an evil serial killer, but you kind of understand why. And the ending is just fabulous.
To find out more about Ms. Hetherington, please do visit her website at
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London, You Are Beautiful: TSF Presents Artist Mary Swan



20160328_114003Ms. Swan, like many of our previously featured guests, showed up on our Union Jack-themed radar by total chance. During a recent visit to Twitter, we saw one of her posts featuring one of her works and we thought, straightaway, “This woman has loads of talent and she deserves to be shone in a proper spotlight.” Without a moment of hesitation, we contacted her and invited her to visit Anglophile Studios. Ms. Swan proved to be a most amiable and utterly pleasant guest. She even brought some samples of her work which she most generously gave to us as parting gifts. As we enjoyed an afternoon tea, we chatted with Ms. Swan.

1. What do you think makes your work distinctive? And when
you paint, do you do it for your own happiness or because
you’re excited to share it with others or both?

I guess you could say it’s ‘in the blood’.  I am a 4th generation Londoner so I feel very close to London (East especially) where my relatives and descendants come from.  I hope that inherent atmosphere comes across in my work.  I work because I need to on a very personal level.  I have worked in offices for my bread and butter for most of my life, but this is what I was born to do.

2. What are your favourite art museums in London? Do you
often visit exhibitions to garner inspiration or
The Tate Britain and the National Gallery are both major wells of inspiration and places of wonder for me.  But I also love to visit the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury (just across from the British Museum) for its history of cartoon and collection of wonderful drawings.  The Mall Galleries in Pall Mall are also great to visit to see what is happening now and are very supportive to new artists and the major art societies.  These are all places of inspiration and meditation when at a low ebb or if I need to consult the masters if I am phased by a problem in my work.  Everything every artist needs to know is contained there I believe.
3. Do you need to paint in silence or do you have background
distractions, like the telly or music? When you’re
painting, how do you feel as you see a creation that was
previously in your mind become a reality?
I find music helps if I’m finding it difficult to still the mind.  No music in particular to be honest.  It depends on what stage I am at in my work also.  Sometimes I can relax and work on autopilot so am happy to listen to a talk show but that doesn’t happen too often! 
Mostly it would be easy listening, but that could be to do with my age!

4. Given that you mention, on your website, that London
largely influences your work, what about the city compels
you to paint? Are there particular sections of London that
you hone in on?
I may have already answered this question back in the beginning, but it’s where I’m from, has made me who I am and holds so many memories for me.  Good and bad.  I have also read a great deal about East London in particular.  It has a very special place in my heart.

5. What makes you proud to be British?
I am proud to be a part of something that has been very special to a lot of people worldwide.  Like all nations, we have and have had our problems.  But overall, for all that our ancestors may have got wrong at times, when I walk around my city, I believe we produced something pretty special.
6. Do you constantly think about painting or do you have
moments where you need to switch off?

I never switch off to be honest.  There is always a ‘view’ in my head when I am walking around doing the most mundane things.  Whether its weather conditions, someone’s stance while waiting for a bus or a beautiful view.  It’s so ingrained that I can’t separate myself from my work.  But a great question!  Thank you, this one really made me think.

7. You’re on Desert Island Discs and Kirsty has asked
you to choose a book and luxury before she casts you off.
What do you choose and why?

The book would have to be Atkinson Grimshaw’s Painter of Moonlight and a bale of paper to draw upon.  I could always make colours from leaves, plants etc and fashion a drawing impliment out of wood or seagrass!

8. Since you’re being interviewed by The Shipping
Forecast, we can’t help but ask; have you ever listened
to the R4 programme and, if so, what do you think of it?
I have always found it a great source of comfort and a leveler at the end of a long day.  It’s been a part of British Life for so long and reminds us of those whose livelihoods depend upon the conditions at sea and general weather conditions.  It reminds me of how fragile life can be when pitted against the elements .

9. If you could invite any painter, alive or deceased (the
latter would, for this occasion, obviously be alive), to
dinner at your home, who would you invite and why?

No hesitation, John Atkinson Grimshaw.  He captured the atmosphere of the city like no other I have seen.  Having seen many of his original works, they have never failed to knock me off my feet.  They are dexterity and grace without the feeling of showing off.

10. What is your opinion of street art and what do you think
of Banksy?

I do think some of the work is stunning and very clever and understand how the phenomenon has grown in cities. But really do not enjoy seeing buildings, windows and transportation being defaced. I initially found his work entertaining as it was very subtle, enjoyable.  But as he is now a well-established artist and his work is worth 100,000’s, it’s time to commit the work to canvas or other portable surface and stop painting/stenciling on buildings in poor areas and creating a bunfight for ownership of the artwork between local councils and property owners.  This is not being clever or ironic Sir!

11. Who are your top five favourite artists?
John Atkinson Grimshaw
Frederick Church
Odilon Redon
Ronald Searle

Quentin Blake

12. If you had to go one day without painting, how would you
spend that day?

Sailing with a very large Pina Colada!
(These are the parting gifts bestowed upon us by Mary)
To view more of Ms. Swan’s amazing work, please visit
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Spring Is In the Cl(air)e – TSF Chats with Acclaimed Biographer & Literary Critic Claire Harman



After a short and lovely hiatus that included preparations for April’s posts, we return to Anglophile Studios refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to put the kettle back on (the PG Tips and biscuits have officially been replenished).

Over a fortnight ago, after being introduced to her work courtesy of our Chief Executive’s girlfriend, we were honoured to host Ms. Harman, an award-winning biographer, literary critic and poet, in our humble dwellings. Ms. Harman, currently touring in support of her new book “Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart”, was terribly generous and considerate to chat with us as we sat for a cuppa and a few biscuits.

  1. As you researched Charlotte Bronte’s life, what facts/details surprised you, educated/enlightened you? Did you find that, once the research was done, you thought that you better understood who she was, not just as a writer but as an individual?

Many things struck me afresh in material I thought was familiar:  there was so much in Jane Eyre, for instance, that I hadn’t noticed before, particularly the stringency of Jane’s feelings about equality. It’s not just an ideal in her mind, but a pre-existing fact. That was very radical for the time, and threw light on Charlotte’s amazing farsightedness, and also her isolation from her contemporaries. And Charlottes’ own feelings of barely-suppressed anger and frustration were really notable all the way through her early letters. She’s a very striking example of someone who fully understood her own potential and almost saw it wasted.

  1. What prompted you to write a biography about Charlotte?

I’ve been fascinated by the Bronte story as long as I can remember, but thought that probably everything had been said about them. When the complete edition of Charlotte’s letters was finished in 2004, though, I dropped that notion. There seemed to be many more layers to the story to be explored, and I got drawn into the material as a reader in a very rewarding way. Then, I had a friend who kept saying I should write about her, and after a while I wanted to shut him up!

3. You’re an established, well respected literary critic and author. When you’ve written and when you write your own material, do you view your work with the same critical perspective that you view the writing of others with, or when the author part of your personality is working, does the critic side switch off?

In a way, the critic side is fully integrated with the author side, which is to say, I rarely let anything go without working on it to the best of my ability.  And when I’m looking at other people’s writing, I tend to sympathise with the work that has been put in, however successful or not it is.  If you write yourself, you can judge very easily how much effort has been made to do as good a job as possible, and how much difference that makes.

4. Being both a poet and prose writer, what do you enjoy most about the creative process? Where do you seek inspiration or does it seek you?
The whole issue of inspiration is extremely elusive, because I feel that I slog away all the time in a very professional manner, and yet stuff emerges that makes you think, ‘Where did that come from?’ Especially with the not-very-many poems I’ve written over the years, some of which express things I didn’t know I thought, perhaps didn’t think, consciously. For me,  it’s much easier when I’ve got a lot going on in my head, rather than having a lovely afternoon in a hammock. I need to be whirring. And first thing in the morning is the best time for things slotting into place.

  1. What makes you proud to be British?

The NHS, which for all its infuriating shortcomings, is still the most humane use of taxpayers’ money imaginable. Our literature. And cheeses.

  1. You’re on Desert Island Discs and Kirsty has asked you to choose a book and a luxury before she casts you off. What book and luxury do you select and why?

Oh dear, what a difficult question. I think it would have to be the Collected Stories of Vladimir Nabokov, which is one of the books I have multiple copies of, so that I don’t have to be without it either side of the Atlantic. It’s one of those inexhaustible books that you can read over and over again with awe and delight, always finding something new. For a luxury, I’d like the means to make tea, although the milk might be a problem. Perhaps a passing goat or almond would oblige.

7. If you could travel back in time, for 24 hrs, and spend the first half of the day with Charlotte Bronte and the 2nd half with Jane Austen, how would you spend that time with each of them?

I  think a walk would be best in both cases. I’d try to get Charlotte Bronte to take me up onto Haworth Moor as she did Mrs. Gaskell and perhaps show me where she buried her letters from Constantin Heger, and I’d ask Miss Austen to perambulate Chawton village and tell me all the neighbourhood secrets and scandals. We could end up at the pub, as I’m sure Jane Austen liked a tipple.

8. As one who enjoys language and watching words come to life, on a page, how do you compare the writing (in terms of content and style) of current day authors and poets compared to those in those in the Regency and Victorian eras?
Well I don’t, really. I’m much more at home with 21st-century style and freedom of expression, naturally, but do think that the Victorians had a more vital sense of vocabulary than we do, on the whole. There’s a terrible narrowness about language these days, and a lot of our new words seem ugly and idiotic, though perhaps that’s because I’m thinking of jargon, which every age has and which rarely survives long.

  1. What attracts you to a book that provokes you to invest the time to read it all the way through?

I seldom give up on a book, so a lot of pre-judgement must be in play. I don’t like books that look casually written, or that have suspiciously catchy premises. But there are so many titles which I’ve had ardently recommended to me that I can’t think I’ll ever run out of suitable reading.

  1. What is your dream project in terms of your own writing?

I’d very much like to write about Alice Munro, but whether she’d like it very much is another question.

11. Which do you prefer, pen and paper or computer?

The computer, though I do a lot of pencil note-making in the early stages of composing something and always have pencil and paper in my handbags. I used to think it would never catch on, writing on a computer, but I’ve become very reliant on word processing over the years.

12. What is more challenging; critiquing the work of others or yourself?

Others, definitely, because one is usually critiquing it in public, and it matters much more to be accurate and fair.  Self-critique is usually private, and followed by pleasant second thoughts about how you’re not so bad after all.

13. What’s next for Claire Harman?

I’m working on a proposal about another 19th century subject and actually have about three other emerging projects too, but can’t be more specific than that at the moment. I do love writing literary biography and hope I can afford to keep doing it. I envy fiction writers who don’t have to spend years researching each book, and people with childless wealthy great-aunts who want to leave them houses in London.


To find out more about Ms. Harman’s work, please visit her website at


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Our Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Watch Pride & Prejudice & Zombies



As ardent Jane Austen fans (in addition to owning her 6 novels and some bonus books, we also have the Sense & Sensibility audiobook…ON by Kate Winslet, a Jane Austen tea towel and Jane Austen-themed book marks), it was difficult for us to ingest (figuratively, of course) the news that, not only had a book been published that satirized Jane’s classic novel by adding the walking dead…but that it was now being adapted into a feature film?…..we collectively thought, “Ohhhhh noooo…this cannot be.” a recent moment of curious intervention, we were compelled to see the film..twice. We not only enjoyed it the first time round, we actually enjoyed the follow up viewing even more, for the following reasons:

10. We could actually imagine Jane sitting in a dark cinema screening room, watching this film, and enjoy seeing the Bennet sisters being bad ass zombie slayers.

9. Because of reason 10, we now wonder if Jane meant to include the zombie slayer element, but didn’t think, in the end, that it would increase book sales (not that she probably gave a toss about that). Nevertheless, it’s an intriguing idea. Also, this isn’t really a reason so much as a motivating factor.

8. The gorgeous cinematography makes Regency-era England look gothic, haunting, mysterious and, as the film’s poster’s title card reads, “Bloody Lovely.”

7. One gets to watch Sam Riley (who was unquestionably robbed of an Oscar nomination for his ingenious portrayal of Ian Curtis in the mesmerizing Joy Division biopic Control) present an entirely different (and highly amusing) version of Mr. D’arcy…sorry, Colonel D’arcy.

6. Watching Matt Smith (the previous Dr. Who) steal all of his scenes as Mr. Collins.

5. This is a film that is meant to be appreciated on the big screen, and because it quietly passed through cinemas, we suspect not everyone who was curious enough to go see it and didn’t, didn’t get to enjoy the experience of witnessing strong and empowered females ripping the undead a new…(well, you get the point) on a 20 foot screen. Still, watching this film on DVD should be a treat.

4. Whilst it’s directed by a Yank, P&P&Z exemplifies cheeky British humour

3. Bella Heathcote as Jane Bennet…enough said

2. Lena Heady as Lady Catherine de Bourgh…enough said

1.  Lily James (Lady Rose herself) as Elizabeth Bennet…enough said


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March Is International Lucy Leave Awareness Month (this post contains no artificial flavours, additives, preservatives or product placements)

“So, why bands from Oxford? What’s so special about bands from Oxford?” we were once asked. Whilst we consider this is a valid question, we feel like our answer can be culled from any of the bands we’ve spotlighted over the years. But in actual fact, there’s an even more compelling answer within the posts we’ve written about bands from Oxford. Drums, bass, guitar and vocals. This raw and simple configuration, if all of the elements come together in a fluid dynamic, can sound AMAZING. And in our humble opinion, every band that we’ve heard, that hails from Oxford, consistently sounds AMAZING. And Lucy Leave is yet another example of this claim.
We recently invited this upstart trio into the cosy and homey dwellings of Anglophile Studios. Pete, Mike and Jenny are three of the nicest individuals we’ve met and we were honoured to have them in our presence. Below is the end result of our chat.
 1. What circumstances brought you together and how was the name Lucy Leave chosen?
Well, we’ve played together in various guises and combinations for many years – Mike and Pete are brothers, and Jenny and Mike first played together in a big band. We’ve wanted to form a psych band for a while, in fact we made a botched attempt a few years ago – but Pete recently moved to Oxford and we were able to get together to write and rehearse regularly. One of the things that inspired us to get our act together was watching Balloon Ascents and Count Drachma a couple of years ago and realising what a great scene it was, with lots of great bands, fans, and a lovely sense of community.


The name thing… well, we’d booked our first gig (in April last year) and we still didn’t have a name – we had this idea that it should refer to something, but not necessarily mean anything, like The Fall basically, so we were desperately scouring the backs of records. Mike wanted us to be called ‘Team Spirit’ after a song on Robert Wyatt’s second album, but there was already a US band with that name! So we settled on Lucy Leave, which was a Syd Barrett song that Pink Floyd recorded for their first demo. One of the projects that we all did at one point was a Syd Barrett/early PF tribute band so it meant something to us on that level, and Syd remains a big influence on us all.

2. Who or what inspired all of you to become musicians?

Jenny – The Beatles were massive for me as a teenager. When I was about 13, I just listened to them constantly and soaked it up, and picked up a guitar because of that. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t need to hear anything else. Later, it was a lot of Motown and Stax, and then The Smiths, of course. In retrospect, though, I think I owe a huge amount to my parents’ record collection – lots of 60s R&B, and the Northern Soul and punky end of stuff from my dad, and Led Zep and Deep Purple on my mum’s side. To this day they can’t agree, but I definitely got the best of both worlds.

Mike – Brian May basically. Ziggy Stardust, and, later, Pink Floyd. That’s what inspired me to pick up a guitar, because it sounded so badass, and I wanted to be badass. And I found it, and still find it, to be such a freeing and expressive thing. And the thing that’s constantly inspiring about it is that I’m still learning – discovering new music, hearing new things in old records – all the time.

Pete – My brother started going to a weekly band forming course at Rugby College when i was about 12 years old, we called it gig zone, they needed bass players and so my brother dragged me along one time.  One of the teachers there, we still called him hairy John, let me play on his fender bass, I’d never seen a fender before and I remember really being into it. This experience and the people around me at the time inspired me to become a musician.

3. The fact that you have just three tracks on your SoundCloud page suggests that this band is very much a work in progress. What kind of direction are you wanting to take your music in?

To some extent we can’t agree, and we’re making it up as we go along! But we’ve got a fair few songs lined up, and just recently we’ve been experimenting with the recording process, which we’ve learned a lot from. I think we’ve settled on a way of doing things, for now at least. But it’s bound to change as we do more… we’ve just released a mixtape, as a sort of precursor to our first EP proper, which will be released in a few months’ time we hope. Musically, I guess we’re just feeling our way, taking cues from our favourite bands – we’re constantly inspired by the new things that we hear.

4. What do you love most about Oxford’s music scene? Which band or bands, from Oxford’s past and present, do you enjoy?

Balloon Ascents we’ve already mentioned – we love their weird pop music, it’s a perfect balancing act of fun and intensity, and they wear it so lightly, even though they’re brill. Kancho are amazing, really brutal basically, like Fugazi or something. Slate Hearts are also one of our faves – similarly noisy, they spur us on to play harder and harder. And Esther Joy Lane – great songs with great personality and depth. There’s a real nice bunch of experimental electronic acts out there too – After The Thought and Lee Riley come to mind. And we saw Kone at Audioscope recently – really great, like Sonic Youth but quiet. I’m sure we’ve missed some people out.

The past, well, Radiohead obviously loom large, and I think some people find that frustrating, but we just adore them so, and I’m going to use that word again, it’s pretty inspiring to be starting out in the same town they did. Have you seen Jon Spira’s documentary ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’?? It’s great.

5. What venue, either in or out of Oxford, would you love to perform in and why? Who do you dream of headlining for?

Well we’ve seen The Wedding Present and Julian Cope and Warpaint play at the old Zodiac on Cowley Road so obviously that’s a great place in town. One day the John Peel stage at Glastonbury – Peel is a big touchstone for us, and we’ve been to Glasto many times between us and had so much fun there, and discovered a lot of great music. Let’s be honest, we’ve all dreamed of stepping out on to the Pyramid.

6. You’re on Desert Island Discs and you’ve reached the bit of the interview where Kirsty asks you to choose a book and a luxury. What do you pick and why?

Uh, a teapot for a luxury?? And The Little Book of Calm.

7. What makes you proudest to be British?

David Bowie

 8. If music didn’t exist, what would be the alternative pursuit?
I guess we’d be saving the world in some other, less effective way. Politics maybe?

 9. What musicians are you currently listening to and does that music provoke moments of divine inspiration?

Bowie, obvs. And Bowie related things – Iggy, Eno, Fripp, Fripp and Eno. Deerhoof, a lot. Pega Monstro, who Pete discovered when they supported Deerhoof on tour, are great. Tame Impala, Grimes and Taylor Swift. And Sinatra. Oh, and Part Chimp – possibly the greatest band in the known universe. And Sonic Youth. Well I don’t know about divine, but lots and lots of moments of inspiration.

10. If you had to go one day without playing or listening to music, how would you spend that day?

Feeling panicky.

For your listening enjoyment, we share with you the gifts that Mike, Pete and Jenny gave us before they departed.
We also cordially invite you to check out Lucy Leave’s epic mix tape, Jesus Walks Funny:
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