Margaret Atwood

In the middle of the landscape that unfolds in front of Hellens, the haunted Tudor manor house in the Herefordshire village of Much Marcle where Margaret Atwood is staying, there is an elephant waving its trunk in the air. At first glance it appears both lifelike and appropriate: why wouldn’t there be an elephant here, roaming in the long grass by the lake? In this other-worldly place there are also a pond, looming trees and a Victorian vegetable garden. Someone observes that it all feels a little Beatrix Potter, like Mr McGregor’s garden come to life. But this is not the kind of remark you can make lightly in the company of Margaret Atwood, who suggests that Mr McGregor’s garden actually had more rows, and was tidier. Soon enough she is expounding on the seduction narrative of Jemima Puddle-Duck, Potter’s influential Gothicism and the misunderstood heroism of Benjamin Bunny.

Will there ever be a cure for chronic pain?

We need pain, even if we don’t want it. Acute pain – the finger on the pin – is a defence against danger, our brain’s way of telling us to react to something that’s wrong. The rare, poor souls who suffer from congenital insensitivity to pain have a reduced life expectancy, the cumulative effect of multiple injuries and burns from infancy onwards. Pain is the natural early-warning system that keeps us alive. But the purpose of chronic pain, which scientists define as pain that lasts for more tha

Kristen Stewart

In a vast downstairs ballroom in the Shangri-La Hotel in Paris, I can hear Kristen Stewart before I see her, changing behind a patterned screen in a far corner. Her voice is distinctive – that easy, low-rolling Californian accent, where all the words run together, and she sounds like nothing could surprise her. When she finally emerges to go and have her picture taken on a balcony with the Eiffel Tower rising up behind her, she is in perfect contrast to her delicate, gilded surroundings.

Sharon Horgan

Too early on a recent Tuesday morning, in the coffee queue at her local park cafe in east London, Sharon Horgan bumps into a mum she knows. It’s the usual chat: when the children are breaking up, where they’re going on holiday, how everyone’s doing. But when the usual chat is with Sharon Horgan, it comes with a twist of self-consciousness: suddenly it sounds like dialogue lifted from Motherland, her BBC Two show whose second series she is on her way to the office to write.

‘It’s genuine, you know?’: why the online influencer industry is going ‘authentic’

In a central London hair salon last December, the fashion influencer Victoria Magrath (@inthefrow) mingled among a few of her 849,000 Instagram followers. Magrath – tall, with signature silver hair – was celebrating the launch of her book, The New Fashion Rules, at an event organised by her talent agency, Gleam Futures. She chatted easily, her high, delighted voice ringing out over the roar of the hairdryers and her manner so convincingly intimate that it was possible to think she knew her follo

Field of dreams: heartbreak and heroics at the World Ploughing Championships

On 31 August, the night before the first day of the World Ploughing Championship, the bar of the Hotel Fortuna in the small German town of Reutlingen was crammed with the global ploughing elite. The scene resembled a low-key United Nations afterparty – Swiss, Kenyans, Australians, Latvians, Canadians and French, all slugging back long glasses of German beer. The top flight of international ploughing is a limited pool, the same faces recurring every year, and so the atmosphere was jovial, like a school reunion, 50-odd ploughmen and two ploughwomen (the sport has historically been dominated by men) hailing each other affectionately across the room.

My love-hate relationship with Instagram

Alexa was choosing a dress for a party. It was taking a while. This always happens, she gets carried away with every little thing. She was late, but she wasn’t worried because everyone’s always late, apart from her boyfriend Olly, who is always on time and was already there, which she felt bad about because he was only going to the party to support her, just like he always did. The decision about what to wear was painful because she had to figure out what would look right.

From Game of Thrones to The Crown: the woman who turns actors into stars

Earlier this year, the casting director Nina Gold sat at the back of the stalls of the Criterion theatre in the West End and watched a group of students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland perform their showcase. After three years at drama school, each actor had a couple of three-minute scenes to impress a silent audience of agents and casting directors on their lunch hour. Gold slid down in her seat, as if wanting to remain unseen. Every now and then, she scribbled something next to a name

Tavi Gevinson

On 21 April last year, Tavi Gevinson turned 21. The date happened to be the one-year anniversary of Prince’s death, so to mark her birthday, Tavi rented a cinema at the Anthology Film Archives in New York’s East Village and screened a 35-millimetre print of Purple Rain for her friends. If this sounds like an untypical celebration, rest assured: afterwards they ate cake and partied in bars. The evening’s divide is classic Tavi. Since her career began nearly a decade ago, when she was 11 and launched her fashion blog, Style Rookie, Tavi has been half normal young person – going through high school, leaving home, moving to New York, eating cake on her birthday – and half entirely exceptional young person, famous from childhood, apparently old beyond her years. The kind of person who screens Purple Rain on her birthday.

Philip Pullman Returns to His Fantasy World

On one of my first meetings with Philip Pullman, he led me to the crenelated tower of Exeter College, in Oxford, and pointed out the room he lived in as a student. More than 50 feet up from the ground was a tiny attic window. To visit friends living in rooms on the adjacent staircase — accessible only at ground level — Pullman, a tall, sturdy man with a head like a boulder, would clamber out his window, shimmy along a gutter and propel himself through a window into a bathroom. From where we were standing, the feat looked unlikely, and unwise. Pullman was self-deprecating. “It was less precarious than it seems because it’s actually quite a large gutter, and it’s quite deep,” he said. “And I was drunk. So.”

Andrea Arnold’s Immersive Cinema

The Kenwood Ladies’ Pond, on Hampstead Heath, a patch of wilderness in North London, is surrounded by trees and populated by ducks. Regulars bathe year-round, breaking the ice with their toes in midwinter. On a surprisingly hot September afternoon, the British film director Andrea Arnold lowered herself into the water. She’d driven from the other side of the city, where she lives in Greenwich with her daughter, for a cold plunge. As she swam, she kept veering off the conventional counterclockwise course around the edge of the pond to try to get nose to nose with one of the passing mallards. One let her float up close, almost touching, before scooting across the water.

Zadie Smith

1. Paris, late June, and le Jardin du Luxembourg is overspilling with tennis players and pushchairs and ice-cream-coated small children in various stages of euphoria and collapse. Among them are two belonging to the author Zadie Smith - Kit and Harvey, a girl and a boy, six and three - who are in the playground in the middle of a truce negotiation with their mother, identifiable from across the gardens by the bright red wrap tied around her hair. A babysitter, hired for a few hours each day, hovers. Zadie has to work; the children don't want her to go. The everlasting debate.

Review: Golden Hill

Not long after arriving in New York, fresh off the London boat, our hero Robert Smith goes to church. In 1746, the town is still in miniature, populated by a mere “six thousand souls”, many of whom are also saying their prayers. The scene allows author Francis Spufford to lay out his wares, presenting a dissection of New York society taking their places in the pews, from the Governor and his two African footmen “with wigs powdered to the colour of icing sugar”, to “a choir of blue-coated orphans

Long Read: The clean, green and slightly bonkers world of CBeebies

The feeling of despair that descends on hearing the theme tune of the CBeebies television show Me Too! is unmistakable. At 6am, it is the first show on the schedule of the BBC’s dedicated channel for the under-sixes, and if you find yourself watching it, a series of bleak assumptions can be made. First, you’re up too early. Second, you’ve capitulated, turning on the TV in the hope of silencing your offspring and going back to sleep. Third, even if you do manage to lose consciousness again, your

Long Read: What should we do about paedophiles?

A photograph of Aaron Collis regularly appeared in the press while he was on trial. It showed a young man in a crowd of friends, whose faces have been pixelated to preserve their anonymity, and it appears to capture a moment of celebration. The group are bunched together, arms in the air, all wearing the same white shirts and roughly knotted blue-and-red striped ties. They could be in school uniform, or party costume. Collis is looking up at the camera, a wide smile exposing a top row of pointed

Review: The Sunlight Pilgrims

The temperature drops by 50C over the course of Jenni Fagan’s new novel. The Sunlight Pilgrims begins, in the autumn of 2020, at a chilling minus six, and by late March and the end of the book has descended to an unsurvivable minus 56C. There’s a giant iceberg looming off the coast of Scotland, schools have closed and people are freezing to death in their homes and their cars, lost in snowdrifts that rise up above windows. This is climate change made palpably, physically real: not a policy issue

Review: The Portable Veblen

Once, love stories led up to a ring. Elizabeth McKenzie’s new novel begins with one: “a diamond so large it would be a pill to avoid for those who easily gag”. The metaphor speaks for itself. Veblen Amundsen-Hovda, who has just been proposed to by her boyfriend Paul Vreeland, has mixed feelings about marriage. Veblen, named by her impossible and hypochondriac mother Melanie after the anti-consumerist 19th-century philosopher Thorstein Veblen, is as unconventional as her name suggests. She is a
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