J P O'Malley

Interview with a writer: John Ashbery

John Ashbery is recognized as one of the most eminent American poets of the twentieth-century. He also been called America’s greatest living poet today. Ashbery published his first book of poems Some Trees in 1956; it earned him the Yale Younger Poets Prize: a competition that was judged by W.H. Auden at the time. He

Interview with a writer: John Burnside

It’s Friday at 10am in a remote field in Fife. John Burnside is taking his morning walk, whilst simultaneously attempting to conduct a conversation with me down a dodgy telephone line. Within seconds he’s speaking about a concept of happiness— or lack of it— that goes back to philosophers such as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. ‘I’m

Interview: Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan is discussing his extraordinary career with William Shawcross this evening, but for those Spectator readers who weren’t able to get tickets, he has also spoken to JP O’Malley about about growing up in Ghana, why he believes governments have to recognise terrorists, and why talking to tyrants sometimes actually saves lives. How did growing

Yoram Kaniuk, reluctant soldier in 1948

Yoram Kaniuk was born in Tel Aviv in 1930. After his experience in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, Kaniuk moved to New York where he became a painter in Greenwich Village. Ten years later he returned to Tel Aviv, where he has lived ever since, working as a novelist, painter, and journalist. He has published

A chapter of history

Michael Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel is a lucid critique of how Henry James came to write a book that would permanently change the art of literary fiction. The Portrait of a Lady was first published in 1881, with a second revised version appearing in 1908. James’s heroine is the spirited Isabel Archer — a

Secrecy and the State in Modern Britain

In his new book Classified: Secrecy and The State In Modern Britain, Dr Christopher Moran gives an account of the British state’s long obsession with secrecy, and the various methods it used to prevent information leaking into the public domain. Using a number of hitherto declassified documents, unpublished letters, as well as various interviews with

Meeting J.G. Ballard

In the programme Frost on Interviews that was recently rebroadcasted by BBC Four, the distinguished journalist, David Frost, attempted to understand what makes a compelling interview. Frost’s programme concentrated primarily on the actions of the interviewer. Various questions were asked, most notably: should one take a relaxed or heavy-handed approach with their guest? I tell

Wole Soyinka: Boko Haram must be destroyed

Born in 1934 in Nigeria, Wole Soyinka is the author of more than twenty plays, ten volumes of poetry, two novels, seven collections of essays and five autobiographical works. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. He was the first black African man to win the prestigious prize His latest book, Of Africa,

Sharon Olds’ fear and self-loathing

Since the publication of her debut collection, Satan Says in 1980, which was awarded the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award, Sharon Olds has become a prominent – and controversial – voice in American poetry. Olds’ work has been given many unflattering adjectives from her harshest critics: self-indulgent, sensationalist, solipsistic, and pornographic, to name a

Interview: Ciaran Carson on translating Rimbaud

Ciaran Carson was born in Belfast in 1948, and published his first book of poetry, The New Estate, in 1976. Fans of Carson had to wait eleven years for his second book, The Irish for No (1987), which earned him the Alice Hunt Barlett Award. Belfast Confetti (1990) won The Irish Times Literature Prize for

Cult status: an interview with Mike McCormack

Mike McCormack published his first book of short stories Getting it in the Head in 1996. The debut earned him the Rooney Prize for Literature, and was chosen as a New York Times notable book of the year in 1998. McCormack has published two novels: Crowe’s Requiem, and Notes From a Coma, which was shortlisted

Interview: James Lasdun’s art

James Lasdun published his first book of short stories The Silver Age in 1985. The debut won him The Dylan Thomas Award, and was followed by Three Evenings another book of stories. In 1998, Italian filmmaker, Bernardo Bertolucci, directed the film ‘Besieged’, which was an adaptation of Lasdun’s short story ‘The Siege’. In 2002 Lasdun

Interview: Mary Robinson

In 1990 Mary Robinson became Ireland’s first female president. As a progressive liberal, Robinson seemed a very unlikely candidate for the job, in what was then, a deeply conservative country.  Throughout the 70s and 80s, she worked as a human rights lawyer, as well as a Senator, arguing a number of landmark cases that challenged

Interview: John R. MacArthur on the US election

When Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009, millions of citizens across the United States believed it was a new dawn for the American political system. Obama promised a presidency that would tear up the rulebook when it came to party loyalty; campaign fundraising, corruption; and the petty issues of partisan politics. But

Howard Jacobson interview

While Howard Jacobson’s prose works are renowned for their wit, energy, and self-deprecating, priapic jokes, his latest book, Zoo Time, is perhaps his most light-hearted to date. The protagonist is a struggling novelist, Guy Ableman: a red-blooded male with a penchant for the filth-merchants of English literature. Ableman has two predicaments: the first is his

Roger McGough interview

As Roger McGough approaches 75, his latest collection of poems As Far As I Know shows him writing with the same blend of mischievous word play, subversion of cliché and distinctive sense of humor that makes him one of Britain’s most popular poets. McGough became a prominent force in the late 1960s when his poems

Interview: James Kelman

Born in Glasgow in 1946, James Kelman left school at fifteen to begin an apprenticeship as a compositor. His first collection of short stories ‘An Old Pub Near the Angel’ was published in the United States in 1973. It was another nine years before his first novel ‘The Busconductor Hines appeared. Kelman has received several

Don Paterson interview

Don Paterson was born in 1963 in Dundee. He moved to London in 1984 to work as a jazz musician, and eventually began to write poetry. In 1993, Faber published his debut collection, Nil Nil, which won the Forward prize. In total, he’s published seven collections and three books of aphorisms. Paterson has won the

Similar, but very different

Richard Ford published his debut novel A Piece of My Heart in 1976.  But it was The Sportswriter — which introduced the world to Frank Bascombe, and other marginalised characters trapped on the edge of the American Dream — that distinguished Ford as a serious literary force. The two books that followed, Independence Day, which