Germaine Greer described biographers as ‘vultures’. I prefer to think of myself as a version of Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade: vultures hunt by instinct but the two private investigators went after secrets with deliberate foolhardy masochism.
It’s human nature to want to know more about the writers we admire — but what you discover isn’t always pleasant.
Most recently, I completed a life of Ernest Hemingway.
For those who believe in the European project, Brexit is a headache. Italy, on the other hand, is a bloody nightmare. Its new anti-elite populist coalition government of the alt-left Five Star Movement and the radical-right League is currently set on a collision course with the EU. This could easily start a chain reaction that destroys the single currency.
The British media hardly mentioned it but on Saturday, once Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Commission president, had sent Theresa May on her way with a pat on the back, he sat down to ‘a working dinner’ with Giuseppe Conte, the Italian Prime Minister, to discuss Italy’s ‘unprecedented’ breach of EU rules on its budget.
King’s Cross station at 10.30 p.m. is not a happy place. Most commuters have long returned to their centrally heated homes, leaving the concourse free for the homeless to roam randomly in search of a few coins from stragglers.
I was there to catch a late train to Potters Bar last week and almost missed my Cambridge--bound service due to the numerous men and women who approached and asked for money.
On Europe’s eastern borderlands, trouble is brewing. Two headstrong leaders — Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko — both with authoritarian tendencies and both facing sagging popularity at home, have swapped trading insults for exchanging bullets across the Strait of Kerch.
The frightening truth is that war would suit both presidents’ short-term interests. Poroshenko faces re-election in March, and with his ratings running at 15 per cent he stands little chance of victory without a nation-uniting conflict to boost his standing.
According to which bit of hype you read, there’s a copy of one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers sold somewhere in the world every four seconds, or every seven, or every nine. It’s a cute statistic and (as Child wryly notes), there’s an element of Barnum & Bailey hucksterism to it. But suffice to say he sells a lot of books —around about the 100 million mark to date, in 42 languages.
Reacher fans tend to binge-read the lot, and nobody (including Child) can remember the titles.
What’s wrong with UK financial markets? The global economy is recovering, but British stocks and shares are not keeping pace. The pound has failed to recover from the slide it experienced in the wake of the EU referendum. This is frequently blamed on investors being spooked by Brexit, even more so by the possibility of a no deal. But has anyone actually asked the markets what is spooking them? Look closer and it becomes clear that while Brexit is a problem for some investors, most are much more worried about a far bigger risk, even if they rarely speak about it in public.
Perched on the edge of the Medway about 15 miles from Rochester is the Isle of Grain, a mass of wild marshes and pastures and great industrial infrastructure. Redshanks, curlews and egrets circle and dive around turbines, tunnels and tanks. The enormous chimney of the gas turbine power station stretches up into the enormous sky.
In 1629, Thomas Johnson, the father of British botany, came to Grain and wrote of its bleakness.