Photography Oxford competition – win an invitation to the launch party!!

The Oxford Literary Festival may only just have closed its doors – and its popular marquee – but there’s a brand new festival coming to town, and the team behind it want your help!


Photography Oxford is launching a major international photography festival later this year, bringing numerous exhibitions of the works of leading photographers to venues across the city, alongside talks, events, films, and photography workshops, from 14 September–5 October.

The festival will see Oxford crammed to the gills with photography, including:

• exhibitions in colleges, libraries, galleries, museums, and maybe even a giant safe,
• talks on a wide range of photography-related issues,
• five nights of movie classics at the festival’s pop-up drive-in cinema,
• a series of critically acclaimed features and documentaries at the Phoenix Picturehouse,
• workshops for photographers at all levels,
• an education programme run in conjunction with local schools,
• competitions where you can pit your own photography skills against the ‘pros’
• and much, much more

For more information, check out the website where more information will be added as the plans take shape.

Instead of an ordinary guide, the team behind Photography Oxford will be producing a festival newspaper, including notes on what’s on and where, articles about photography and Oxford, how to find your way from one event to another, booking information for the talks, and more. And all you have to do is come up with a lively and memorable name for the festival newspaper. Maybe something snappy (no pun intended!) or photography related, or something altogether more abstract. Give your creativity free rein!

The prize for the winning idea, chosen and used as the name of the newspaper, will be an invitation for two guests to attend the festival’s launch party on Friday 12 September 2014, to be held at the Bodleian’s Divinity School from 6-8pm.

So, if you fancy yourself as a bit of a wordsmith, why not have a go? You can tweet your answers to @PhotographyOx or post them on the festival’s Facebook page

The closing date is Wednesday 30 April and the team will announce the winning suggestion on Twitter and Facebook by Friday 30 May.

Good luck!

Bodleian Oxford Author Event: Samantha Shannon Wed 30th April

SamanthaShannon1by Mark PringleBODLEIAN-LIBRARIES-logo-without-strapline



WEDNESDAY 30 APRIL 2014, 5.15 – 6.15 p.m.

Bone Season PB jacketThe Bone Season, the first volume of a projected seven book series, was published in August 2013 shortly after Samantha Shannon had completed her English degree at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. By November the book had been translated into 27 languages and the film rights secured by a London-based production company.

Dr Sam Thompson is Lecturer in English Language and Literature at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. His novel Communion Town, published by Fourth Estate, was longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize. Dr Thompson has also written for the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books and BBC Radio 4.

Following the interview, wine will be served in the Divinity School where the paperback edition of The Bone Season will be available for purchase (pre-publication).
This event is free but places are limited (100) so please complete our booking form to reserve tickets in advance. However, if places are still available on the day, early arrival might secure you a place.

Plato At The Googleplex

Publishing is, of course, a global industry. However there are still books that only appear on one side of the ocean. When we hear about books that sound interesting but are not going to be published in the UK we are happy to import them.

The only downside to this is that they are unlikely to receive any sort of review coverage which means that we have to give them a different treatment in the shop to help raise awareness.


An imported title that we are currently pushing hard is ‘Plato At The Googleplex’ by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein It has received a lot of coverage in the States (hence us hearing about it).

“This could be one of the best-ever demonstrations of the value and utility of philosophy. Richly insightful, beautifully written, it is at once introduction, exploration, and application, revealing the fascination and significance of philosophical ideas and their relevance to life.”

Read the Wall Street Journal review of the book here

Like all the best non-fiction this book will leave the general reader feeling a little bit more clever than before they picked the book up. It is excellent fodder for pub conversations and may, just may, change your perception of certain things. It seems right that the good people of this sceptred isle are allowed to benefit from it too.

The book has pride of place on display in our Philosophy Department, available for £19.99. Come and have a browse or call 01865 333669 to reserve your copy.


A very special surprise

One of the most eagerly anticipated events of the Festival this year was legendary bluesman Eric Bibb in conversation with David Freeman on Thursday evening. As expected the audience hung on every word and there were audible intakes of breath as he played some songs in the Sheldonian Theatre.

Imagine our delight and surprise when, at the end of the event, David Freeman suggested that we all decamp to our Marquee for an impromptu set. To be there was just a little bit magic. Eric we salute you and David we thank you for your inspired idea!


Author Event: Archie Brown Sunday 30th March

archie_brown_14_may_2012Archie Brown ‘The Myth of the Strong Leader’ Sunday 4pm at The Oxford Martin School

Archie Brown is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Oxford

In his new book, and this talk, he concerns himself with challenging the assumption that the most effective political leaders are those who dominate their executive.

Casting his net far and wide he convincingly shows that truly transformative leaders are almost always those who take a significantly more collegiate approach to governing, be that in democracies or totalitarian regimes.

As you would expect from such a distinguished academic the book is impeccably researched but he wears his knowledge lightly – this is a book that will reward any general reader with a passing interest in history and politics. He is at his most fascinating when discussing Gorbachev and the fallcover_Myth_Strong_Leader of the Soviet system (having played a significant role in alerting the West to the potential of working with him). His recognition of Adolfo Suarez all the more poignant in this the week of his death. He pulls no punches in criticising those politicians who placed their ‘cult of personality’ ahead of good, effective politics. On finishing the book I found it impossible to disagree with his central thesis.

Expect an informed and interesting talk – Archie is a heavyweight Political Scientist but also one of the warmest most generous authors that we know.

Sheldonian Events on the first Saturday of the Oxford Literary Festival

1395596340473The Sheldonian Theatre is one of the most iconic buildings in Oxford. Undoubtedly a feature of the Festival is the buildings that are used to host authors.

Our man in the Sheldonian on the first Saturday was Victor – here are his thoughts on a varied and interesting group of speakers

It was a curious feeling hearing a voice one is so familiar with emanating from a body that one is not. In addition as it was only a couple of hours since hearing him interview Simon Cowell on the Today programme that it added to the surreality. Apparently he had received hundreds of tweets after the programme complaining about the fact that he had inflicted “that appalling man” onto Radio 4’s genteel audience.
It was a classic Radio 4 junkie audience. Well attended in glorious spring sunshine. The interviewer had a sound grasp of the new book. The Madness of July is a very clever thriller set in the 1970s against the background of skulduggery involving both the CIA and the British government. Our hero Flemyng, a former spook who is now a junior minister in the FO is encouraged by the Cabinet Secretary to utilise his old skills to solve the mystery.
Gentleman Jim explained the background to why he wrote the story, how he had to be very careful, given his role at the BBC, not to appear to be partisan in anyway and also why he chose the particular period. Much of this was to do with wanting to tell a story at a time before mobile phones, email and twitter when it was possible for people to genuinely disappear for a time and not be traced. There were inevitably many question s about the future of the BBC (he is predictability a fan of the licence fee), Scottish independence (on which he would not be drawn on his own views, again predictably) and Alec Salmond who he clearly admires as a person. His passion for Scotland shines through like a beacon in his writing in the novel where significant parts are set in, I think, Peeblesshire.
He won a great response from a partial audience who I suspect were distressed at missing the Archers omnibus.


Robert Muchamore

Robert Muchamore

I knew from previous encounters that Robert likes to keep his audience waiting “because they will appreciate me more if I can increase the sense of anticipation”. On this occasion he was on time, probably because of the civilizing influence of Sophie.
One thing we can be certain of is that Robert Muchamore will not be writing any books about one-legged Zimbabwean boys. This is I suppose, good news for the rest of us in a sense at it leaves the field wide open to tackle this neglected creative goldmine. Poor Sophie didn’t know where to look when Robert erred into distinctly non-PC territory, which he did on more than one occasion. Definitey an Apple man. As in “frame the b*tch – make her eat the apple!”
Anyway, whatever the more mature people in the audience thought (i.e. anyone with a mental age above 13) the kids absolutely loved him and clearly devour his books. He was able to commune with them on his own level. I cannot bend down that low anymore, try as I might. Sophie was lovely (as I imagine anyone with that name is) and also had a very strong following from the young females in the crowd. She was particularly good on the subject and craft of writing especially the challenges of starting and the determination one needs to succeed. The main message was “talent helps, hard work is essential and a little bit of luck can make all the difference”. Oh, and don’t give up the day job until you can totally support yourself from writing.




Rachel Johnson

This was an extra special event. Lots of spice and mustard. No holds barred insults were traded and the battle continued after the event had finished courtesy of the dowager Mrs Blizzard-Hyphen.
The turnout was disappointing, only about 60, which for the Sheldonian is less than 10% of capacity. However, the spectator sport was shall we say un-The Lady-like but all the better for it. Willys and testicles were frequently referred to, mostly by m’lady, and although at 2pm this was definitely a pre-watershed slot there weren’t any children, as such, that is in the chronology sense, in the audience. Thank goodness. We learnt very early on, well immediately in fact, that the last proper encounter between them was when Paul had been unceremoniously told that his future at The Lady was behind him. On the face of it, it seemed to be something to do with short stories. Tall stories more like. Management tall stories that is. They wanted, in US parlance, to “include Paul out” of the future plans of the mag. He was too expensive apparently even though no-one actually seemed to know how much he earned.
Rachel Johnson is a bold, bright, confident and very very funny woman though I suspect she sometimes feels bruised by the written GBH she sometimes suffers. “As ye shall sow, so ye shall reap” comes to mind. I hope that she really doesn’t mind, as she claims, though I suspect sometimes it gets to her. Knowing as I do something about the television production process, I am totally convinced that she did not have a hand in the misleading editing of the programme on ‘The Lady’ of Le Blizzard’s precipitous demise. I am not sure that Paul believes this however. The world of publishing is I am sure as horrible and brutal as that of television and film. Always assume, unless you are a receptionist or a book-keeper (and you didn’t have your hand in the previous boss’s boxers or the till) that when the new CEO/President/Publisher/Editor arrives it is time to look for a new job. Manage your personal cashflow on the basis that you will be fired. Like all good comedy, this inevitable tragedy is just a question of timing. It won’t be because you are good or bad at your job or because you are too expensive (though that doesn’t help) it will be because you are already there. Simples.
Paul had brought along a hatchet to the event which he ostentatiously placed on the table. At the end of the event he wanted to know whether he should bury his weapon, or as Rachel suggested, it should be buried between her shoulder blades. An audience vote was called for and everyone apart from one lone voice elected for the burial and a resumption of civility between the antagonists. The lone voice turned out to be Paul’s mama. As far as she was concerned La Johnson had ruined her son’s career. If his performance at the Sheldonian is anything to go by he is doing fine.
An excellent show and totally unexpected. Paul himself is writing an account of the events that led to his dismissal. Entitled Saving Grace it will be worth looking out for next year. Given the modest size of the audience sales were, by the way, respectable. Rachel’s book is exceptionally funny. It gives a great sense of time and place; the characters are well drawn if somewhat two dimensional – a bit like one of those great cartoon strips in what used to be called the broadsheets. Hugely offensive and beautifully written, I love it. Paul took the passages about himself that Rachel read out, which were let us say, not entirely complimentary, with the good grace of the gentleman that he obviously is. The passage about his name dropping was very funny. This is a man who we are told would say things along the line of “As I was saying to Jo (J K Rowling), Marty (Amis) and Hillary (Clinton) the other morning over breakfast in Sandy’s (Alexander McCall Smith) kitchen, Salman needs to chill out a bit. Personally I also find Tony (Blair) can be a bit arrogant but modesty has its place and he isn’t Clem (Attlee) who Winston (Churchill) once told me was a very modest man with a lot to be modest about”. Now I know that my tales about Dave (Cameron), Justin (Cantaur), Hughie (Grant) and Leo (di Caprio not Abse) can be irritating but he clearly takes this art to new heights.
Rachel is a star but I hope she appreciates the talent that Paul has. Her best piece of advice for a would be leader seems to be “grow some balls”.

Robert Harris

Robert Harris

An excellent crowd turned up to hear Robert Harris talk about his book, An Officer and a Spy. The subject of the book for those who don’t know is L’Affaire Dreyfus, a trial in France that was to divide a nation for the best part of a century. It is clear that Harris has brought all his journalistic skills that gave him huge success with books ranging from Fatherland and Enigma to Pompeii and Imperium. Who would have thought that the life of Cicero would ever provide such a rich vein to be used for a successful series of novels?
An Office and a Spy focusses upon Colonel Georges Picquart rather than Dreyfus himself. Picquart, who was largely responsible for Dreyfus’s demise and didn’t really like him, is a fascinating character obsessed with doing the “right thing” even though it would cost him his own career.
Harris spent a lot of time talking about the genesis of the project and how it had emanated from a commission from Roman Polanski to write a movie about the subject which was close to his heart. Polanski, who had lost his mother in Auschwitz and was himself a survivor of the holocaust, is fascinated by the issue of anti-Semitism which was at the heart of L’Affaire. Harris decided to tackle a book first and the film is now to be made later this year.
He also talked about the third part of the Cicero trilogy which he is currently working on.
There were so many questions that the event could have gone on for another hour and it had to be brought to a closure. He was wonderful with the people he met and very generous with his time and interest.
It is also worth saying that John Gapper (from the FT) was one of the most impressive interviewers I have seen at the festival over the years. He had a total grasp of the subject, knew the book intimately and ask searching and interesting questions.

aitkenThere is no doubt that Jonathan Aitken, like a thoroughbred racehorse, was trained for his role as a politician. Smooth without being oily. He does of course have a great pedigree with a grandfather, Lord Beaverbrook in Churchill’s wartime cabinet and Max Aitken MP as a father. In spite of a general feeling of doubt about him prior to the event he very quickly established a rapport with the good sized audience. Self depricating, funny, indiscreet and very bright. An interesting demographic in the audience which included HM’s former Ambassadors to the USA and Kuwait, President Carter’s fomer PA, lots of ladies with blue hair from Burford, Woodstock and Cheltenham, some unreconstructed trots ready to heckle (they didn’t) , a couple of Alumni from D Wing at HMP Belmarsh and probably the Editor of Garagiste Gazette.
Stephen Glover, the co-founder of The Independent, interviewed JA (funny how he has the initials of another fallen Tory) in a genuinely impartial and informed manner. We did learn new things about Mrs T. or “Fatcher!”, depending on your standpoint, largely as a consequence of Aitken’s family tie through dating Carol for three years. He admired her but in quite critical way. She had absolutely no sense of humour; was intensely loyal and yet unforgiving; loved her family and yet never showed physIcal affection towards her children; had a weakness for the company of good looking men and no time for the anaemic Carter, the reptilian d’Estaing or the corpulent Kohl; had no regrets, ever, never apologised for anything and gave a new meaning to the word stubborn.
He also told a few very funny and quite naughty anecdotes. One that can be put in print was about Denis Thatcher ringing him to invite him for lunch just after he had come out of gaol. He was convinced it was Rory Bremner taking the water and no doubt responded accordingly.



Philip Ardargh is a genius with children. At 6′ 7″ with a Marquess of Salisbury beard, he really is the BFG. He was keen to remind us that Roald Dahl was ónly 6′ 5″. Our very own Rebecca Waiting was also keen, for reasons best known to herself, to remind him that she had spilt champagne over him at Kensington Palace. Not even I can top that. He seemed to remember the occasion with affection but claimed to only remember Harri and not Rebecca. This wind up was very effective.
Nicolette Jones from the Sunday Times set out, unsuccessfully, to have a vaguely serious and worthy but perfectly acceptable event that examined Roald Dahl’s writing. Philip was having none of it. He simply hijacked the proceedings and set about doing very funny vox pops about Dahl with the kids. Lucy Mangan rang in sick which was probably a “good thing” in a Sellars and Yeatman way as it gave “far more ‘me’ time” as Philip called it. His infectious enthusiasm for Roald Dahl as well as his amusing vanity made for an entertaining show.
The audience of 300 was then treated to a sublime performance by 10 year old Christina Fray, the young star of Matilda for the RSC in the West End. She received tumultous applause from the audience. Philip then spent 40 mins signing books and engaging with a throng of youngsters. We also got Christina to sign copies of Matilda!

What a wonderful, wonderful event.