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June 2022

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Good Taste as a Means of Control: An extract from Ione Gamble's Poor Little Sick Girls
27th June 2022 - Ione Gamble

Poor Little Sick Girls

 

 

Wellness is oppressive, self-love is a trap, hustling is a health risk and it's all the patriarchy's fault.

Welcome to Ione Gamble's Poor Little Sick Girls, a collection of essays that takes a fresh look at our cultural moment from the perspective of an 'unacceptable' woman, picking apart the world's obsession with self-care, personal branding, productivity and empowerment.

Read on for an extract from the chapter 'It Costs a Lot to Look this Cheap', in which Gamble looks at class and exclusion in the tastemaker economy.
 


 

 

When I sat down to write Poor Little Sick Girls, I knew that I didn’t want to write a book that taught people ‘how to be a sick girl’. I didn’t want to push a falsely aspirational narrative, or one of particular bravery or strength. I didn’t want to create a body of work that felt overly ‘empowering’, in the way that we’ve been fed by the media and consumerist culture over the last half a decade. In some way or another, we are all Poor Little Sick Girls, and I wanted the book to reflect the fact our socio-political activist methods are failing—regardless of if you have a chronic illness.

But I also wanted the essays to reflect hope; to put forward the idea that things can be better than they are now, while reflecting on the events that lead us to this point. From the rise and fall of fourth wave, girlboss feminism, to the fact self care started as a radical act and has now become one inseparable from capitalism. I want people to feel less alone when they read this book, in that they aren’t the only ones in the world that feel exhausted by the pressure to be constantly optimising their existences and to feel like a #bossbabe while doing so.

In this extract from the chapter ‘it costs a lot to look this cheap’, I wanted to celebrate bad taste. All the things we love despite the fact we are told we shouldn’t. It explores the reasons behind why we feel bad about liking the things we do, and how our experiences within the class system alter our confidence when it comes to what we love and why.

—Ione Gamble


*************
 

My confusion at ending up in rooms full of birthright millionaires most likely came from a mistaken belief that taste was innate rather than learnt. Growing up, I was encouraged to explore my sense of taste: to dye my hair garish colours that I would come to regret, to buy clothes that were the opposite of what everyone else around me was wearing, and to honestly be myself no matter the cost. I came to believe that taste was not a singular vision, but multiple splintering threads, and that even if you didn’t fit in with the majority of people, you’d eventually find a place filled with those whose taste matched yours. I didn’t believe in the moral superiority of liking the right things; I didn’t really understand or have any knowledge of the class system, and I thought that actively pushing against the things that everybody else liked was the most exciting thing in the world.

But in London, instead of finding people who embraced the subjectivity and complexity of taste in the way I understood it, I realised that most people who gravitated towards the creative industries I aspired to be a part of did so as a way to uphold a code of taste that keeps people out, rather than welcoming them in. That the people who decide what we wear, watch, listen to and put in our homes are not there necessarily for love of those things, but because it is all they have ever known. Their ‘good’ taste isn’t acquired through years of experiences that helped them develop a sense of who they are, but is rather passed down to them from family members who have always had access to the finer things in life.

In the original incarnation of Gossip Girl, Blair self-identifies as ‘a dictator of taste’. She’s judgemental, particular, and knows everything there is to know about clothes. Her mother is a fashion designer, she lives in a penthouse and is impossibly privileged. She is also a fictional character, and one I could have never imagined encountering in real life. I saw a lot of myself in Blair: her strong will, her bossiness, and her obsession with how what we wear is socially and politically important. Our similarities aside from fashion ideologies were non-existent; our upbringings couldn’t have been further apart. What I failed to realise on my copious rewatches of the series was that Blair’s title was fitting because of her background and not because of her passions. And that in my adult life, I would meet more ‘dictators of taste’ than I ever thought possible.

 

 

Class inequality is the unspoken infrastructure upon which so many industries claiming to be inclusive thrive, with those within elite spaces using their superior sense of taste to quash those they deem unworthy or who fall outside the margins of acceptability. But it can be hard to pinpoint the tangible ways in which the dominance of wealthy people affects our lives. So much of how the taste hierarchy intersects with classist elitism is murky and difficult to identify. When I try to tell my mum just how many heiresses, millionaires or children of nepotism I am surrounded by on a regular basis, it feels like I’m recounting some sort of far-fetched, fucked-up fairy tale. I can shock her with the facts, but what I fail to get across is just how much our lives are influenced by people who are desperate to cling to power by any means necessary.

As well as the fact that nearly all of our politicians and practically anyone else in a position of power went to private school, the statistic that the films we watch, our choice of clothes and the music we listen to is largely determined by the 1 per cent feels incomprehensible. Of the women who work in news media, 50 per cent of them attended one of the aforementioned educational institutions. 91 per cent of influencers are white, meaning only 9 per cent—regardless of class status—are people of colour. This creates a cultural landscape that is entirely unrepresentative of the people who actually populate the country, with the media being the modern dictators of taste who lord over our choices.

The choice of who we take seriously and who we ignore is deeply rooted in class disparity, with implications reaching far beyond someone’s aesthetic choices or social media tattles. Our world views are crafted by those whose opportunities are fast-tracked due to wealth, and as a consequence, our perception of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ taste runs far deeper than the clothes we wear, and alters our perception of everything from feminism, well-being and disability, to beauty and gender. Because of the way in which society idolises the rich while berating the poor, we invalidate working-class people’s experiences.

Taste can often seem frivolous, and it’s easy to assume that no one really gets hurt when you look down on the fact that they love a pair of ugly shoes, have terrible taste in throw cushions, idolise shallow boy bands or earnestly love reality TV. But constantly criticising the things that other people enjoy has a wider effect on how we view whole groups of people, and how much we trust them with positions of power. By viewing their taste as inferior, we subconsciously render them less intellectually capable. We believe their perspectives are invalid and that they have no idea what’s best for them; meaning we must be ruled by the rich and blindly follow how they tell us to live.

 

 

Taste, and its implication that some people are more worthy of power and respect than others, is used as a stick to beat working-class people. A woman at an expensive health retreat is chic, but a chronically ill person is a drain on our NHS. We see the former as somebody who puts her own needs first, and the latter as a dead weight to society. Rich women can recalibrate their whole lives to the pursuit of health, as long as they do so from the luxury of a mansion and allow us all to watch via our phone screens with voyeuristic glee, wishing we could whisk ourselves off to the Alps and eat a single cubed potato for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

 


 

 

Ione Gamble is a writer, founder and editor of the independent Polyester zine and a host of the Polyester Podcast.

Polyester, founded by Gamble at twenty years old, has quickly established itself as one of London's leading feminist and queer publications.

Gamble has been named one of the most exciting new editors shaping the future of magazines by i-D magazine, one of fifteen coolest young Londoners by the Evening Standard and a 2019 New Debutante in Tatler.

 

 

Bad Gays by Huw Lemmey & Ben Miller
29th May 2022

Loved the podcast?
Now read the book!
A radical reading list
from the authors of
Bad Gays 


Bad Gays by Huw Lemmey & Ben Miller
 

Bad Gays is a podcast about evil and complicated queers in history, hugely popular and now in its third series. Hosts Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller have now written a book to accompany the series; part-revisionist history, part-historical biography, Bad Gays subverts the notion of gay icons and queer heroes and asks what we can learn about LGBTQ history, sexuality and identity through its villains and baddies. With fans such as Olivia Laing and Shon Faye, this really is the book to be seen with this Pride season, and you can find out more about the upcoming Bad Gays podcast recording at out Charing Cross Road store here. 

Especially for Foyles Huw and Ben have put together a radical reading list for anyone who has enjoyed their book and podcast and would like to read further

 



Times Square Red

Times Square Red, Times Square Blue by Samuel R. Delany

Samuel Delany is rightly feted for his incredible contribution to the body of science fiction literature as the author of novels like Babel-17 and Dhalgren. Yet in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, he explores a world closer to home: the sexual subcultures that existed in New York throughout his lifetime. Part sexual memoir, part sociological study, Delany looks at how policing, class, urban development and desire have shaped the way people interact in the modern metropole, and in doing so argues for the subversive and social value of chance contacts and enduring sexual acquaintances.

 

The Gentrification of the Mind

Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman

Gentrification of the Mind is an astonishing, compassionate, and righteously furious work about the relationship between the political policy of gentrification in New York City, and the enduring effects of the AIDS crisis. In doing so, she complicates and questions existing narratives about urban development, government neglect, sexuality and race, while arguing that the human effects of gentrification are much wider than economic displacement, with culture and even homosexuality being subject to gentrifying change. 

 

Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times

Terrorist Assemblages by Jasbir Puar

This groundbreaking work, in the fifteen years since publication, has become essential reading for understanding the way western neoliberal democracies have deputised the figure of the homosexual as an ideological footsoldier in the War on Terror. While western societies push the erroneous idea that LGBTQ rights are the inevitable product of liberal democracy, Puar complicates that story by arguing, instead, that racialised ideas of deviance and patriotism have instead privileged certains types of homosexuality while opening up people of colour and muslims to increased policing, violence and discrimination on the grounds of defending gay rights.

 

Towards a Gay Communism: Elements of a Homosexual Critique

Toward a Gay Communism by Mario Mieli

Recently translated into English after having first been published in Italian in the late 1970s, Towards a Gay Communism was a landmark text of the sort of leftist homosexual and queer theory emerging in Europe at that moment. Deeply influenced by countercultural movements of the time as well as by the sort of antiauthoritarian currents that were transforming the left, the book uses psychoanalysis and Marxism to produce a critique of capitalism and sexual repression and offers a look at how liberation needs to be both economic and libidal.

 

Variations

Variations, by Juliet Jacques 

Queer history is, above all, the excavation of real lives covered over and obscured by repression, supression and violence. In Variations Juliet Jaques uses short fiction to tell the sort of stories of queer life in Britain that have been lost over the past century. Inventive, idiosyncratic, and rich in observed detail, Variations fictionalised accounts of twentieth century queer lives adds an emotional depth that is often absent from a history usually told through police records and trial transcripts.

 

Three Month Fever: The Andrew Cunanan Story

Three Month Fever, by Gary Indiana

Gary Indiana’s nonfiction novel tracing the life of Andrew Cunanan up to and including his murder of Gianni Versace in 1998 is the source of our book’s epigraph, a fabulous sentence about how homosexuals are classified as things that belong in the sewer, and are therefore uniquely qualified to determine what belongs and what does not belong in that sewer. This terrifying book demonstrates convincingly that every gay man turning thirty is three failed relationships and one collapsed career away from a nationwide shooting spree. It’s like if Truman Capote got angrier and dirtier. Gay pride? Try gay shame on for size.

 

Racism and the Making of Gay Rights

Racism and the Making of Gay Rights, by Laurie Marhoefer

This forthcoming book by the brilliant historian Laurie Marhoefer complicates our vision of Magnus Hirschfeld as the great hero of early 20th century homosexual emancipation. Demonstrating Hirschfeld’s complicity in the dominant racist, eugenic, and colonial power systems of his time––and examining his late-life relationship with his Chinese student, Li Shiu Tong––Marhoefer encourages us to think more critically and more wildly about the limits of gay politics and the haunted history of gay liberation.

 

One-Dimensional Queer

One-Dimensional Queer, by Roderick Ferguson

A clear and essential denunciation of single-issue politics when it comes to gay rights. We’re constantly being told by centrist ghouls that anti-racist and anti-capitalist queer politics are some new woke invention distracting from the sober, adult work of securing tax benefits for wealthy, married same-sex couples. Ferguson shows the story is flipped. Queer politics have become more singular and less solidaristic over time. In so doing, they excluded many people and also made the rights we have won more fragile. This book is both a history of this process and a manifesto for thinking about queer liberation in a more inclusive and revolutionary way. 

 

Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left

Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity on the Gay and Lesbian Left, by Emily Hobson

The 1970s politics of gay liberation are often unfairly remembered as only a time of “drugs, dick, disco, and dish.” As good a time as that sounds (and was and is), this lively history explores the lived commitments of gay and lesbian liberation activists to revolutionary, anti-capitalist, and decolonial politics both in the United States and abroad. We have a lot to learn from our queer ancestors –– from how they partied, to how they organized for housing justice and against imperial wars in Southeast Asia and Latin America. 

 

Warped: Gay Normality And Queer Anti-capitalism: Historical Materialism, Volume 92

Warped: Gay Normality and Queer Anti-Capitalism, by Peter Drucker

This book is an admirable attempt to do a nearly-impossible thing: to come to terms with the shifting relationships between evolving queer identities and political economy in the 20th century. If this sounds like a dry academic exercise, think again: it’s instead a vital and exciting guide to the ways in which things are far more interconnected than we think, an excellent rubric against which to test our theories about how and why gay politics and people have changed over time.

 



Huw Lemmey


Huw Lemmey is a novelist, artist and critic living in Barcelona. He is the author of three novels: Unknown Language (2020), Red Tory (2019), and Chubz (2016). He has written for the Guardian, Frieze, Flash Art, Tribune, The Architectural Review, Art Monthly, New Humanist, the White Review, and L'Uomo Vogue, amongst others. As an artist and filmmaker his work has been shown at the ICA, Lux Biennial of Moving Image, Mumok Vienna, Warsaw Museum of Contemporary Art and the Design Museum, London.

Ben Miller


Ben Miller is a writer and researcher living in Berlin, where he is currently a Doctoral Fellow at the Graduate School of Global Intellectual History at the Freie Universitat. He has written for the New York Times, Literary Hub, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Tin House, and is the author of The New Queer Photography. He is a member of the board of the Schwules Museum, a queer museum and archive.

 

Latitude by Nick Crane
28th May 2022

A Q&A with Nick
Crane author of
Latitude: The Astonishing
Adventure that
Shaped the World

Latitude

 

Latitude by Nick Crane is an epic story of survival and science set in mountain camps and remote observatories, telling of the story of the world's first international team of scientists and its journey to a continent of unmapped rainforests and ice-shrouded volcanoes where they attempt to measure the length on the ground of one degree of latitude. Here you can read an exclusive Q&A with Crane.

 



Please tell us a litle bit about your book Latitude

Latitude is the founding story of scientific adventure. Twelve scientists from different backgrounds and countries set sail from Europe in 1735 bound for the equator on a mission to measure the length of one degree of latitude. It is the world’s first international scientific expedition. Storms, disease, murder, betrayal and funding crises exact a terrible toll. For ten, harrowing years they trek rainforests and scale icy volcanoes. Yet the survivors succeed compute for the first time the true shape of the earth. Setting the tone for scientific endeavour, they also investigate malaria, gravity, sound, magnetism, rubber, titanium and conduct the first detailed survey of an Inca site.
 

This is a fascinating, continent-spanning book, containing volcanoes, murder, the discovery of rubber and quinine, and so much more. How did you go about researching it?

The book was written while under siege from the pandemic. It’s been a lockdown journey of discovery that has taken me to the highs and lows of the New World: the loft and the kitchen. For a while, I was able to ride my bicycle to and from the London Library, returning each time loaded like a galleon with bibliographic booty. Most of my raw material has been quarried from books, journals and online libraries. The loft released a box-file containing the journal, maps and assorted receipts and papers I’d cached after travelling by foot, bus, dug-out and steam train through Ecuador in 1989. Many of the places in this book sprang back to life when I revisited their scribbled descriptions in that forgotten journal.
 

And what was the most surprising thing you learned?

I hadn’t expected to find scientific instruments causing so much grief. They took from Europe a comprehensive selection of compasses, barometers, thermometers and cumbersome quadrants that were used for measuring the angles between signals set up on mountains. There were many breakages and technical modifications. The most troublesome instrument by far was a gigantic device known as a zenith sector, which was used for fixing locations on the ground by taking astronomical observations. The zenith sector was so large that it had to be housed in observatories that the scientists converted from existing buildings by removing part of the roof. The observer had to lie on the ground beneath the eyepiece of an immensely long, delicate telescope fitted with cross hairs. Observations were disrupted by cloud cover, storms, earthquakes and by stars that appeared to ‘wander’.
 

You’re an explorer yourself. Could you relate to the expeditioners in Latitude? And have you had any similar experiences to them?

Many of the escapades in Latitude have a ring of familiarity. I’ve been blasted by storms on icy mountaintops, ridden too many miles on packhorses and hauled dugouts off mudbanks. But the fortitude of the Latitude scientist amazed me. For ten extraordinary years, they managed to sustain incredible levels of courage and curiosity. Gales shredded their tents and horses tipped them into ravines. Often, they were ill. They were robbed. The youngest and strongest of them died of malaria. Their French surgeon was knifed to death. One of the trials I found difficult to imagine was the standard treatment for an affliction known as ‘vicho’, which involved the insertion of a pepper and gunpowder-coated lemon into the anus.
 

What relevance do you think this story has to the world today?

The Geodesic Mission to the Equator showed how a disparate bunch of human beings from different countries and backgrounds could use their collective brains to solve shared problems. They innovated. They combined ideas. They grasped that the dogged slog of incremental improvements would lead to a result. They proved future science.

 



Nick Crane

 

Nicholas Crane was born in Hastings, but grew up on the rugged coast of Norfolk. He is an award-winning writer, journalist, geographer and explorer who has presented BAFTA winning, BBC TV series Coast, Great British Journeys, Map Man and Town. His previous books include, Great British Journeys, Clear Waters Rising, Two Degrees West and Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet and writes for the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and the Sunday Times. Nicholas has travelled extensively in Tibet, China, Afghanistan, Africa, and he identified and visited for the first time the geographical Pole of Inaccessibility, the point on the globe most distant from the open sea, in the Gobi Desert. He now lives in London with his wife and children.

 

Everybody by Olivia Laing
27th May 2022

Provocative, insightful
and inspiring -
Everybody by
Olivia Laing

Everybody

 

Exclusively for Foyles, bestselling author Olivia Laing has chosen an extract from her new paperback Everybody, an insightful examination of the forces arranged against freedom and a celebration of how ordinary human bodies can resist oppression and reshape the world. To accompany the extract Laing has written a short piece to introduce the book and extract she has chosen for readers of the Foyles blog.
 


 

Everybody is about why it’s so hard to inhabit a body, and why bodies remain a force of power, even now. It explores how the great freedom movements of the 20th century, from sex liberation to feminism to the civil rights movement, used protest to change the world. In my more paranoid moments, I wonder whether the government has been reading the same material, come to the same conclusions, and decided that protest must be curtailed. 

In Britain, we’re facing a major limitation to the right to protest with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This bill was created as a direct response to the so-called “disruptions” of the Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion protests of the past few years.

I’ve chosen this extract from the book because something very similar happened in the 1990s with the Criminal Justice Bill, which also sought to limit direct action and travelling lifestyles. It passed into law when I was deeply involved in environmental activism, and I have no doubt that it hindered the kind of protest required to counteract climate change.

Protest is unruly and disruptive, yes, but it’s also how we seize the future. It’s how we struggle for justice and make our voices heard. In the light of the environmental and social challenges ahead, it could not be more vital.


*************
 

The 1994 Criminal Justice Bill, written in the wake of the Castlemorton rave, gave the police fresh powers to prevent unauthorised camping and trespass, and created the new offence of aggravated trespass, which would soon be used widely in the policing of road protesters, hunt saboteurs and strikers. The section concerning raves became infamous for its attempt to criminalise the music itself, defined as ‘the emission of a succession of repetitive beats’. 

It might have sounded ridiculous but it licensed the police to disperse open-air gatherings and meant organisers risked fines and prison sentences for putting on parties. There were plenty of commercial dance events in the years ahead, but no more free raves at the old Ovaltine Dairy or in the Black Mountains, to the sound of Spiral Tribe, Circus Warp and Circus Normal. No more temporary autonomous zones at Canary Wharf or in the Roundhouse, the beats going on for a full week, running off a power socket that belonged to British Rail. No more enraptured bodies sweating in an abandoned warehouse or underneath the stars, without the need to purchase a ticket or build the kind of barricaded fence you get at Glastonbury. 

I don’t mean to sound nostalgic. I was never a raver but I was immersed in protest culture and though I’ve long since relinquished the army boots and rainbow sweaters that were as much a uniform as the grey skirts and maroon blazers I wore to school, I remain susceptible to the abundant seductions of that time. The smell of wood smoke brings it all back: the storybook pleasures of living under canvas and up trees, the yips that sounded as we walked back into camp, the spells for hexing capitalism, the witchy mood that permeated everything. 

I know those things were only part of the story, the penny whistles and pantomime cows always teetering on the verge of an Ali G parody. Nor have I forgotten the widespread reliance on giros and Special Brew. No, what I really miss is hope. The larger truth of road protests is that they existed at a time when it still seemed possible that climate change could be averted, and my grief at the willed foreclosure of that future has only grown larger and more painful with the years. 

After the Criminal Justice Bill passed into law, things became more violent. Protest marches and street parties were nearly always accompanied by the sight of riot buses gathering on a side street. Watch out, someone would say, it’s kicking off. The police would come out, a black phalanx inching shoulder to shoulder in riot masks and shields. The boys in black from Class War would pull bandanas over their faces and jog to the front, to start lobbing bricks. My friend Simon had his leg broken by security guards at Newbury, who held him down and smashed it with a fire extinguisher. People were paranoid about police spies, who, it turned out years later, really were everywhere, concealed by false identities: dating your friends, making suggestions in meetings, lobbing bottles, even assisting in writing the McLibel leaflet, a critique of McDonald’s that initiated one of the most famous British court cases of the 1990s. 

I found an article recently in which locals bemoaned the filth of the protestors at Stringer’s Common, saying our presence there scared away the birds and small mammals we claimed to care so much about. Two decades on, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the Extinction Rebellion protestors gathered in Trafalgar Square in 2019 as uncooperative crusties with nose rings in ‘hemp-smelling bivouacs’. We were dirty, it’s true. We washed in buckets if we washed at all, but as each new story of poisoned rivers and oceans full of plastic has come to light, it’s become evident that lives which looked immaculate on the surface were actually causing degradation and despoilment on a massive scale. New clothes, new cars, washing machines, factory farms, all of it at an incalculable cost somewhere down the supply chain. 

I find it hard to watch footage of protests from the 1990s, especially of the evictions at Newbury, because it feels as if I’m looking directly into a moment when the future could still have gone a different way, a microcosmic, speeded-up version of what is happening now to the planet as a whole. A woman lies in front of bulldozers, and then she is dragged away through the churned-up mud. The woods are intact and full of people, and then the trees are cut down; all bar the giant Middle Oak, which stands alone on a roundabout on the A30, looking as pointless and isolated as an animal in a zoo. 

 



Olivia Laing is the author of three acclaimed works of non-fiction, To the River, The Trip to Echo Spring and The Lonely City, which has been translated into seventeen languages and sold over 100,000 copies worldwide. Her first novel, Crudo, was a Sunday Times top ten bestseller and won the 2019 James Tait Memorial Prize. She's a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 2018 was awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize for non-fiction. Laing writes on art and culture for many publications, including the Guardian, New York Times and frieze. Her collected writing on art, Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency, was published in 2020. She lives in Suffolk.

 

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
26th May 2022

A Q&A with
Alex Michaelides,
author of 
The Maidens 

The Maidens

 

Alex Michaelides is the author of the global bestselling debut The Silent Patient, and newly published in paperback, his second novel The Maidens, a spellbinding literary thriller which weaves together Greek mythology, psychology, and murder. Earning glowing praise from Stephen Fry, David Baldacci and Lucy Foley, The Maidens is another elegantly dark thriller, that will have readers once again racing to reach the surprising twist climax. Especially for Foyles, Alex took part in a Q&A and shares real insight into his writing and succes, and even hints at the future may hold for one of his characters

 



Please tell us a little about your new book The Maidens

The Maidens is a psychological thriller set at Cambridge University. It’s about Edward Fosca, a mysterious and enigmatic Greek tragedy professor, who is suspected of murdering his pupils - all members of a secret society known as the Maidens. The heroine of the novel is a grieving group therapist who becomes obsessed with proving Fosca’s guilt.

 

What is your approach to writing? Was The Maidens already a work in progress as The Silent Patient published, or was it written entirely in the wake of your debut?

I was very lucky in that after The Silent Patient was sold, I had a long time – almost two years – before it was published, in order to begin work on something else, which eventually turned out to be The Maidens.  I do feel that the unexpected success of the first book might have inhibited and intimidated me, if I had already not begun writing something new. I feel there has been a bit of pressure, although mostly self-imposed. It’s been a challenge to write a second novel, and it’s an achievement I feel proud of.  It wasn’t easy.

 

How did it feel to receive the huge praise and global success of The Silent Patient?

I suppose the most amazing thing has been how my world has expanded. I’ve met so many incredible people around the world as a result of it. And not just editors and publishers in different countries, who have become close friends, but people have read the book and reached out to me, either because they responded to the book or it moved or affected them in some way. It’s been life-changing in the best possible way.

 

Between your debut and your new novel, you’ve switched from writing in the first person to the third person - was this a challenge or a pleasure, and was there any particular reason for the change?

That’s a very interesting question. I felt that I wanted to develop as a writer, and it was important to me to try something different with my second novel. So although the point of view is third person, it is very close to Mariana. Nonetheless it was a challenge, and I’m currently working on a story where I jump around into several people’s heads; which is proving really interesting to write. I think you have to try and grow as writer. That’s why I set the novel at Cambridge University - I felt I needed a bigger canvas than just a small psychiatric unit like in The Silent Patient. I think the worst thing that I could’ve done for myself creatively would’ve been to do a pale copy of the first novel. I hope this is substantially different.

 

Much like your debut, The Maidens deftly weaves Greek mythology, psychology, and murder together into a potent thriller. Will any future novels continue in this vein, or do you see yourself taking a new direction?

I guess I keep coming back to these things because they are the themes that preoccupy me. Growing up in Cyprus, I was exposed to the Greek myths from an early age and the island itself features heavily in Greek mythology. So as a source of inspiration, it’s definitely where my imagination dwells. Psychology fascinates me too - as does murder. I think my love of murder mysteries comes back to my love of classic detective fiction, Agatha Christie in particular. I love the structure of a murder mystery because there’s so much that can be contained within the format of crime/investigation/solution. So I think these themes will continue to preoccupy me for a long time yet.

 

The Maidens features a very neat plot connection to The Silent Patient - is this your attempt to lay the foundations for a Michaelides Expanded Universe, and should readers be looking for minor events and characters featured in The Maidens to be cropping up in future novels?

Ha ha. That’s funny. I got the idea for an expanded universe from Agatha Christie. Many of the detectives in her novels crossover into each other’s books. All her novels take place in the same world, and one point there is even a suggestion that Poirot had met Sherlock Holmes‘s mother – so she’s crashing into another writer’s universe there! I love the reality that this provides - a kind of intertextuality I suppose - and I am very much considering one more novel set in that world. I’m not quite done with Theo yet.

 

It's been an uneven couple of years with the pandemic - did you miss not taking part in events and festivals while the world was in lockdown?

I feel really grateful that The Silent Patient was published the year before the pandemic hit, so I was able to experience all the lovely things like festivals and travel to different countries. So even though I missed out on that on The Maidens, I’m really grateful that I had it the first time around. And the pandemic helped me finish writing the book, to be honest. There is nothing like being locked in your flat for a year to concentrate your mind!

 



Alex Michaelides

Alex Michaelides was born and raised in Cyprus. He has an MA in English Literature from Trinity College, Cambridge University, and an MA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. The Silent Patient was his first novel, and was the biggest selling debut in the world in 2019. It spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list and sold in a record-breaking 50 countries. Alex lives in London.

 

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
23rd May 2022 - Maggie Shipstead

Read an extract from
Great Circle by
Maggie Shipstead

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

 

Having won the Dylan Thomas Prize for her debut novel Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead's third novel Great Circle is now available in paperback. Already garnering huge praise, with luminous, ambitious and epic being just some of the words used to describe it, this really is the kind of fiction to take readers on a true voyage. Especially for Foyles, Shipstead has selected one onf her favourite pieces from the novel and introduces it below. 

 


 

The bulk of my third novel, Great Circle, is about a pilot named Marian Graves, who disappears in 1950 while trying to fly around the world north-south, but her story is interwoven with that of a modern movie star named Hadley Baxter. Hadley has been cast to play Marian in a movie about her life, and it’s been suggested that she take flying lessons for research, despite the fact that her parents were killed in a small plane crash. In this scene, Hadley is nervously going up for the first time with an instructor from a small airport in Los Angeles, where I live. I loved writing Hadley’s sections. Her voice is sharp and intense and sometimes acerbic, and I could channel a specific vision of L.A. through her. Part of what draws Hadley to Marian, both as a role and as a mystery, is that Marian seemed to know exactly what she wanted in life, whereas Hadley longs for purpose and certainty. Here, Hadley can’t quite access Marian’s love of flight. I sympathize with her, as I found my one brief experience at the controls of an airplane to be unnerving. Even within a book that is preoccupied with the true marvel of flight, I wanted to acknowledge that not everyone is meant to fly. But I’ll leave open the question of whether Hadley might try again later
 

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The instructor pilot had thick salt-and-pepper hair the texture of a badger’s and a fat gold wedding band and aviator sunglasses in his front shirt pocket for when the sun came up. He didn’t seem flustered by me. He walked around the plane, explaining what all the different parts did. The Cessna was chunky and earnest-looking, cream-colored with two brown stripes and a single propeller. The morning was overcast. The long strips of grass between the little airport’s runways were gray with dew.

          “So what happens on an introductory flight like this,” the pilot said, “is we’ll take off and get up over the marine layer and fly around a bit, and I’ll explain what I’m doing, and then you can have a turn at the controls. Sound good?”

          “Sure,” I said.

          I must not have sounded convincing because he said, “You nervous?”

          “A little.” I could tell he hadn’t bothered to google me, didn’t know about my parents. He thought my misgivings could be cajoled away.

          “Don’t be. I do this every day. I’ll talk you through every step, and you don’t have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Deal?”

          Ordinarily I would have found his teacher-coach vibe irritating, but now it reassured me. “Deal,” I said, and he beamed, close-lipped.

          The seats in the cockpit were bourbon-colored leather, cracked with use. The doors locked with levers that seemed too flimsy to keep out the sky, and the seat belts were floppy nylon straps that didn’t retract. We put on green plastic headsets, the cups bulbous like flies’ eyes, and the pilot’s voice came pinched and tinny through them over the noise of the engine as it warmed up. He was telling me about the instruments, pointing at the dashboard, but I wasn’t really listening because I had no plans to ever become a pilot. What caught my attention was the slight sideways jostle of the plane caused by the turning propeller. I knew the plane didn’t have a mind or feelings, wasn’t capable of eagerness, but it was an eager, ready feeling, like a racehorse in a starting gate or a boxer just before the bell, the movement of something constrained that knew it was about to be free.

          The pilot taxied out and throttled forward, peeled us up off the runway into pulsing gray cloud. The propeller droned; my armpits prickled. I held perfectly still, as though the plane were a frightened animal I didn’t want to startle. The pilot was talking, but I couldn’t focus on his words. When we surfaced into the sky, pulling the sun up with a flash, he said, “There she is!”

          A mat of plush gray lay over the ocean and the coast. Mountaintops poked up like islands. “That’s Catalina,” the pilot said, pointing. So some were actually islands. 

          He made the plane go slowly up and down, turned it to the right and then to the left, explaining about balanced turns, about how you didn’t just steer with your hands but also controlled the rudder with your feet. Eventually he asked if I wanted to try. “Put your hands on the yoke,” he said. “Don’t turn, just try to fly straight and level.”

          I put my hands on the yoke. I felt overwhelmed by precariousness.

          “Good,” said the pilot. “Now, Hadley, if you want, you can gently pull back, and the plane will go up.”

          At first I pulled so tentatively I wasn’t pulling at all, and nothing happened. I pulled harder. The windshield angled incrementally toward the sky, and I felt the earth falling away behind me, sucking me down.

          I snatched my hands away. “I don’t want to do it,” I said.

          “Okay,” the pilot said, calmly taking over, clearly no stranger to freak-outs. “Okay, but you did just fine. You asked the plane to go up, and it went up.”

          I said, “I don’t like the feeling.”

          He shook his head. “Best feeling in the world,” he said.

 



Maggie Shipstead's debut novel Seating Arrangements was a New York Times bestseller and winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize and L A Times Book Prize for First Fiction. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Guardian, Conde Nast Traveller, The Best American Short Stories and elsewhere. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford and a two- time National Magazine Award finalist for fiction. Her latest novel Great Circle has been seven years in the writing and is due to be published around the world. Maggie Shipstead grew up in California and lives in Los Angeles, California.

 

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