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December 5, 2012

Bad sex award goes to Nancy Huston’s ‘babies and bedazzlements’

InfraredInfrared, by much garlanded Canadian novelist, wins dubious honour for explicit writing.

By Maev Kennedy

A long, shuddering gasp of relief will no doubt have been heard from the losers, as the Canadian author Nancy Huston scooped the least coveted book award of the year, the Literary Review’s Bad Sex prize, for her 14th novel, Infrared, about a woman who likes to snap her lovers in the throes of passion.

The judges were seduced by her vivid imagery, which included such descriptions as “flesh, that archaic kingdom that brings forth tears and terrors, nightmares, babies and bedazzlements”, and “my sex swimming in joy like a fish in water”.

Huston, who now lives in Paris, was either too busy or too bashful to attend the ceremony in London, but 400 guests raised a toast to her, none more heartily than the authors she vanquished, who include the distinguished BBC Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason, poet Craig Raine and veteran novelist Tom Wolfe, a previous winner in 2004.

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November 21, 2012

Bad sex awards 2012 shortlist leaves out JK Rowling and EL James

The Casual Vacancy and the Fifty Shades trilogy overlooked for dreaded literary prize.

By Maev Kennedy

The two authors heavily tipped to take this year’s most coveted and dreaded literary prize have failed to make the shortlist. Neither JK Rowling, for her first adult novel, nor EL James for her Fifty Shades trilogy, will be adding the bad sex trophy to their mantelpieces.

Jonathan Beckman, senior editor at the Literary Review, which organises the annual award, said nominations had poured in for Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. However, after ardent discussions about the book, the judges concluded she failed to meet the criteria. Despite “a couple of queasy moments”, as Beckman termed it, her writing is not nearly bad enough.

The bad sex prize was established “to draw attention to the crude and often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel – and to discourage it”.

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January 17, 2012

John Burnside wins most controversial TS Eliot prize in decades

John Burnside has won the TS Eliot prize for his poetry collection Black Cat Bone. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

Scottish poet’s Black Cat Bone beats strong shortlist in contest mired in protest over City funding.

By Maev Kennedy

The Scottish poet John Burnside has won the most controversial TS Eliot poetry prize in years, for a collection described as “haunting”, after two of the original shortlisted poets dropped out in protest over funding from the hedge fund Aurum.

Burnside, a former winner of the Whitbread poetry prize, took the £15,000 prize for his 11th collection, Black Cat Bone. He beat a notably strong surviving list, including the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy; Sean O’Brien, for his first collection since winning both the TS Eliot and the Forward prizes in 2008; and David Harsent, also a previous Forward winner.

The Welsh poet Gillian Clarke, chair of the judges, said: “Amongst an unprecedentedly strong and unusually well-received shortlist, John Burnside’s Black Cat Bone is a haunting book of great beauty, powered by love, childhood memory, human longing and loneliness. In an exceptional year, it is an outstanding book, one which the judges felt grew with every reading.”

Burnside was presented with the cheque by Valerie Eliot, widow of the poet, at a ceremony in London. She has funded the prize itself since it was launched 18 years ago but the Poetry Society, which organises the competition, will lose all its Arts Council grant this year, and its search for replacement funding proved bitterly divisive.

The three-year sponsorship deal from Aurum was announced at the same time as the shortlist – at the height of the Occupy London protests, when protests were also swelling about the Tate and other major museums and galleries accepting sponsorship from the oil group BP.

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October 27, 2011

War Horse, the exhibition – a parable of our senseless, violent times

Handspring's astounding puppets from the play War Horse will be on show at the National Army Museum exhibition. Photograph: National Army Museum/CLY

Michael Morpurgo’s classic is the basis of a National Army Museum exhibition tracing the history of the real war horses.

By Maev Kennedy

Of more than 120 books Michael Morpurgo has written, War Horse is not his favourite – though he concedes his epitaph will read: “Michael Morpurgo wrote Steven Spielberg’s War Horse.”

His story of the horse commandeered from a Devon farm and shipped to the great war, followed by the boy who loved him, has become a phenomenon, dwarfing the rest of his works: a bestselling children’s book now bought by adults, a box office smash hit play for the National Theatre in London and on Broadway, the Spielberg movie due for release within few months, and now an exhibition at the National Army Museum in London.

“I’m very fond of the book, and it is my wife’s favourite – she really loves horses, and she likes the fact that its origins lie in Devon, in the place where we live. But I probably like Private Peaceful best [also now being filmed] and I love the ones which really set children’s imagination soaring like Kensuke’s Kingdom. But there will be people who think I never wrote anything in my life except War Horse.”

The book was hardly an overnight success: it was published in 1982, did not sell particularly well. Morpurgo spent years trying to turn it into a script before concluding that a story which begins in rolling Devon fields and moves on to tank battles in the Somme, was unfilmable and still less stageable.

“I am delighted but quite surprised at how it has now taken off, and why that should be now is an interesting question. I’m afraid it’s the times we are living in. People are seeing the bodies of young soldiers coming home again.

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September 26, 2011

Bodleian Library shows off treasures, from Magna Carta to Shakespeare

Detail from a 14th-century account of Marco Polo's travels, one of the items in the Bodleian's exhibition. Photograph: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Oxford library to ask exhibition visitors which items deserve permanent display – including a First Folio it once threw away.

By Maev Kennedy

A spectacular exhibition of the greatest treasures of one of the most famous libraries in the world features a monument to past folly: a large battered leather volume the Bodleian Library in Oxford sold off as surplus to requirements in 1664 and had to raise a fortune to buy back almost 250 years later.

Now, rather than getting rid of the exhibits, it is holding them in storage. Visitors to the Bodleian’s new exhibition, will be invited to suggest which ones deserve to be given permanent display in the new gallery.

The £78m transformation of the New Bodleian will give the library climate-controlled stores and reading rooms, and a museum-quality gallery for the first time.

But few outsiders have any idea of how extraordinary its contents are.

They include Magna Carta; a pristine Gutenberg Bible; a dazzling 14th-century travels of Marco Polo; Philip Pullman; William Blake; Jane Austen’s handwritten compendium of her own earliest writings; a 13th-century bestiary showing an elephant being strangled by the only animal it fears, a serpent like dragon; the Codex Mendoza, an account made for the first Spanish viceroy of the Aztec civilisation Spain was destroying; Mary Shelley’s draft of Frankenstein with suggestions scribbled in by Shelley; and the earliest almost complete copy of a poem by Sappho, from a cache of extraordinary documents found in a rubbish dump in Egypt in the 19th century. more

May 6, 2011

Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie lead list of UK’s top-earning crimewriters

Agatha Christie has The Mousetrap to thank for much of her fortune – it has been playing on the West End stage since 1952. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Dead authors are still making a fortune, while John Grisham and Dan Brown lead the US rankings.

By Maev Kennedy

Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, has beaten Agatha Christie to the title of most successful – and highest earning – British crime writer of all time.

The first crime writers rich list, prepared for the crime drama digital TV channel Alibi, is based on recorded sales, box office returns, licence fees and company accounts. It reveals that many dead writers, including Fleming and Christie, live on as flourishing brands.

It puts Fleming in first place at more than £100m, with more than 100m copies of the Bond books sold worldwide. Christie comes a close second at £100m exactly, including ticket sales from The Mousetrap, the longest running stage play in the world, a fixture in London’s West End since 1952.

But both were beaten hands down by the American writers John Grisham, at $600m (£366m), and Dan Brown, at $400m.

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