Humaira Shahid – Devotion and Defiance

Humaira Shahid might have had a gilded life, and no-one would have blamed her. She was born into the privileged classes of Pakistan, enjoyed a happy and liberal childhood, and married well into a newspaper dynasty. The important men in her life adored her and admired her and encouraged her to fulfil herself rather than take the subservient role imposed on many Pakistani women. She became an academic, teaching literature, and that might have been that. But Humaira’s personal life contained a series of heartbreaking tragedies, and as she participated in her husband’s journalistic activities, she gained a first-hand knowledge of dreadful injustice and suffering in Pakistan. Driven by a fiery passion she became, first a campaigning editor, and then a vocal member of the Assembly in Punjab Province.

Devotion And Defiance is Humaira’s account of the course of her career. It is a fascinating insight into the workings of Pakistani politics, a rallying call to arms on behalf of the oppressed and brutalised women of Pakistan, and also a touching memoir of her own life.

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Lawrence Block – The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons

Bernie Rhodenbarr is the owner of an antiquarian bookshop in New York City. He is best friends with a lesbian who owns the nearby dog grooming parlour, and they eat lunch together every day. He is nearly friends with the local cop, Ray Kirshman, who regards him as an unofficial consultant. But most of all, Bernie is a burglar. When a man named Smith comes into the store and asks him to steal an original manuscript of an F Scott Fitzgerald story, Bernie finds himself embroiled in a couple of tangled webs, which he is uniquely qualified to untangle.

Lawrence Block is a past master at this kind of thing, weaving in to his fabric obsessive collectors, early American siversmithing, literary backstories, and, naturally, a juicy murder. Half the fun is seeing how he brings all these elements together for the finale, but the other half is the fluent writing that gets you there.

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Larry Watson – Let Him Go

“I’d follow you anywhere. If you don’t know that, what do you know?”. So says George to his wife Margaret as they journey, at her behest, to try and get back their grandson. In a beautiful and utterly memorable novel, Larry Watson takes us to the bleak
and unforgiving landscape of the Badlands of North Dakota in 1951 and into the lives of complex and vivid characters.

The book is the road trip and the confrontation at the end of it. It is a journey that Tim was thrilled to follow every step of the way.

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Iain Banks from the Archives

Click here to buy the booktimiainbanksYesterday, we heard the sad news of the death of Iain Banks at the unacceptably young age of 59. Iain was never the darling of the literary establishment, but he was the favourite author of hundreds of thousands of passionate readers, and Tim had rated him one of the best of his generation since his stunning debut with The Wasp Factory in 1984.

In 1995 Tim interviewed Iain on the occasion of the publication of his fourteenth novel, Whit. Iain was unfailingly friendly and forthcoming whenever we asked for access to him. With grateful thanks to Iain for his kindness to this site, we present this slightly edited version of that interview.

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Christopher Fowler – Film Freak

There was a time when film publicity consisted of having a poster painted, and sending the posters with the reels of film in the van when they were delivered to the cinemas.

And then advertising industry foot-soldiers Christopher Fowler and Jim Sturgeon had an idea. What the movies needed was somebody who did film publicity in a much more imaginative way. They were right.

What happened after that is laugh out loud funny, indiscreet and revealing, and treads cheerfully on the feet of silver screen glamour; and it is all weirdly plausible.

Whether he is telling the story of his ill-judged first visit to the Cannes Film Festival (everybody’s first visit to Cannes is a horror story), facing up to his responsibility for the Brentford Nylons advertising campaign, or offering his insights into the darker corners of movie history, Fowler is excellent company.

But Film Freak is also a thoughtful meditation on what has been lost in movies, and a tender account of the final days of the British Film Industry in Soho.

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Martin Amis from the Archive – London Fields

London Fields is in many ways the quintessential Martin Amis novel. At the end of the Twentieth century – ten years in the future when Tim interviewed him in 1989–there are looming portents of global catastrophe, which stand in for Amis’s fear of nuclear annihilation. There is sex, there is mystery, there are post-modern games with authorship, there are degenerate underclass characters, including one of Amis’s immortal creations in Keith Tallent, the would-be darts magus, and there are bucketloads of scabrous humour. But there is also tenderness and a heartfelt investment in children and the future. If Amis has never written anything better than London Fields since then, there is no shame in that.

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Gore Vidal from the archive – Palimpsest

After half a century as a great novelist and America’s finest essayist, in 1995 Gore Vidal got round to writing… well, not an autobiography, but at any rate a memoir. Why a memoir? Gore told Tim that by the age of seventy he found that he figured in hundreds of other people’s memoirs, and that from his point of view they had almost all got it wrong. Whether this was due to self-serving lapses in memory or shameless lying, Gore decided to
proffer a few corrections. If this also meant indulging in a spot of high class gossip, that was OK too. He had plenty to gossip about.
Vidal had an enviable pedigree. His maternal grandfather was the legendary T P Gore, Oklahama’s first senator. His father was FDR’s Secretary of Aviation (and incidentally had an affair with Emilia Earhart). Gore himself was born at West Point and was intimate with the cream of Washington society. His political friends included Eleanor Roosevelt and JFK. His artistic peers included Tennessee Williams and Marlon Brando. Vidal had known everybody, and was not shy of dishing the dirt on any of them.

Tim fell upon Palimpsest as a starving man upon food, and couldn’t wait to pump Vidal for gossip about some of the great and the good, and especially the liars.

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John Mortimer from the archive – Rumpole And The Angel Of Death

John Mortimer occupied positions at the very top of not one but two professions. He was a great writer – we need think no further than A Voyage Around My Father, and he was one of the most eminent barristers and QCs of his generation. The happy collision of these two strings to his bow was of course Rumpole of the Bailey, and in 1995 Tim had the pleasure of discussing with him the tenth collection of stories, Rumpole And The Angel Of Death.

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Salman Rushdie from the archive – The Moor’s Last Sigh

Salman Rushdie is one of our most distinguished writers, having made a shattering entrance with Midnight’s Children (now coming out as a film). He ascended to an unwecome level of notoriety when The Satanic Verses provoked Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa against him. But despite the terrifying contingency into which his life was pitched, he continued to write novels of seething vitality and, in 1995, Tim spoke with him about one of these: The Moor’s Last Sigh.

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Terry Pratchett from the archive – Maskerade

Sir Terry Pratchett is a legend. The Discworld series set the gold standard for comic fantasy. Tim has been a fan since the very first book, and in this rare interview from 1995 he talked to Terry about the eighteenth Discworld book, Maskerade. Tim was delighted with the return of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, but the book really takes off when Agnes Nitt decides that she wants to become a diva, and we are treated to the grand guignol Discworld take on the world of opera…

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