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Terry Hall: lead singer of the Specials dies aged 63

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Terry Hall, the lead singer of the Specials and a former member of Fun Boy Three and the Colourfield, has died aged 63, his bandmates in the Specials have confirmed.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing, following a brief illness, of Terry, our beautiful friend, brother and one of the most brilliant singers, songwriters and lyricists this country has ever produced,” the band tweeted.

“Terry was a wonderful husband and father and one of the kindest, funniest, and most genuine of souls. His music and his performances encapsulated the very essence of life… the joy, the pain, the humour, the fight for justice, but mostly the love.”

The band asked for respect for Hall’s family’s privacy.

Neville Staple, Hall’s bandmate in the Specials and Fun Boy Three, said he was “deeply saddened” by the news.

“We knew Terry had been unwell but didn’t realise how serious until recently,” he wrote. “We had only just confirmed some 2023 joint music agreements together. This has hit me hard and must be extremely difficult for Terry’s wife and family.”

Hall joined the first incarnation of the Specials – then called the Automatics – shortly after the Coventry band formed in 1977, replacing vocalist Tim Strickland. After a stint as the Coventry Automatics, they became Special AKA, known as the Specials. The pioneering 2 Tone band rose thanks to the support of Joe Strummer, who invited them to support the Clash live, and of BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel.

They released their debut single, Gangsters (a reworking of Prince Buster’s Al Capone) in 1979, which reached No 6 in the UK singles chart. They would dominate the Top 10 over the next two years, peaking with their second No 1 single, and calling card, Ghost Town, in 1981. The lyrics, written by the band’s main songwriter, Jerry Dammers, dealt with Britain’s urban decay, unemployment and disfranchised youth.

Its popularity peaked in early summer 1981 as riots between young Black people and police were erupting across the UK in response to racist discrimination and the use of stop-and-search tactics. It remained at No 1 for three weeks, spending 10 weeks in the Top 40, and is widely considered one of the greatest pop records of all time. “It sits in the past, brooding and glowering at us, its remarkable, dark power undimmed,” Guardian critic Alexis Petridis wrote in 2020.

Among those to pay tribute on Tuesday was musician Billy Bragg. “The Specials were a celebration of how British culture was envigorated by Caribbean immigration but the onstage demenour of their lead singer was a reminder that they were in the serious business of challenging our perception of who we were in the late 1970s,” he tweeted.

Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s and Hall’s former partner wrote that she was “gutted”. “He was a lovely, sensitive, talented and unique person. Our extremely brief romance resulted in the song Our Lips Are Sealed, which will forever tie us together in music history. Terrible news to hear this,” she tweeted.

Squeeze’s Chris Difford called Hall “a man of few words verbally but so many great words in song. I always admired and envied his sweep of the pen”, while Rowetta remembered him as “one of the greatest frontmen from one of the greatest bands. And a gorgeous, kind, down to earth man.” Badly Drawn Boy called him “a musical hero”, while Sleaford Mods said Hall was “King of the Suedeheads. A big man. Hope you find peace now mate.” Boy George tweeted that he was “very sad”, adding: “Absolutely loved him as an artist. Sad day!”

Hall was born in Coventry on 19 March 1959 to a family who predominantly worked in the car industry. He was an academically gifted child and also a noted footballer who was invited to try out for West Bromwich Albion – an opportunity his parents declined based on the inconvenience of travelling across the Midlands. After he sailed through the 11-plus exam, his parents also declined his place at a nearby grammar school.

“All of a sudden they were expected to buy books and a school uniform,” he told Fantastic Man. “I’d just been walking to school dressed in my football kit. So there’s always been a bit of that kicking around in the back of my mind. Not being educated. Wondering what would have happened if I’d gone.”

In 2019, Hall told the comedian Richard Herring that aged 12 he was abducted by a paedophile ring in France, an incident he had previously touched on in the 1983 Fun Boy Three single Well Fancy That!, which blamed a teacher for the ordeal: “You took me to France on the promise of teaching me French,” he sang.

Hall “kept it hidden” and didn’t tell his parents. “They both worked in factories. They got paid in cash. Me dad was a heavy drinker. They had their own lives, you know?”

It resulted in Hall being medicated throughout his teenage years and living with depression and manic depression. “I was on Valium when I was 13 and it took me out of life for six months,” he told the Big Issue.

He dropped out of education at the age of 14 and felt pushed towards non-conformism. “I can laugh about it now but it sort of switched something in my head, and it’s like I don’t have to do that, and that’s when I started not listening to anyone.”

His political awakening came in his teenage years “when I discovered that working men’s clubs had a colour bar on their doors. You could only get in if you were white. That really shook me. I couldn’t work it out.”

After working as a bricklayer, among other jobs, he joined his first band, the punk outfit Squad, inspired by the Clash and the Sex Pistols. His older sister, and guiding influence, Teresa introduced him to Trojan Records, while it was David Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans that pushed Hall towards becoming a singer, he told the Guardian in 2009. “I come from a gypsy-spirited family, and everyone used to sing in pubs whether you liked it or not. I didn’t want to be that sort of singer. Then when I was 16 this album gave me a look, a sound, and a way of holding yourself. Apparently all his clothes were from WalMart at this time. He put a blond streak in his hair and we would do the same.”

Then came the Specials. The band released their self-titled debut album in October 1979 and received mass acclaim for blending a punk sensibility – and sharp lyrics about the degradation of modern Britain – with the traditional Jamaican ska sound, even explicitly updating hits by the likes of Toots and the Maytals, Prince Buster and Dandy Livingstone.

Today the album is widely considered a landmark recording: it ranked at No 42 in Pitchfork’s list of the best albums of the 1970s, and No 260 on the NME’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, published in 2013. The band released a second, even darker album, More Specials, in 1980.

The multiracial group were active in the Rock Against Racism movement, played benefit concerts for anti-racist and anti-nuclear organisations, and also supported the 1978 Right to Work march protesting unemployment. “Our government leaders aren’t interested in knowing the way people feel,” Hall told the New York Times. “If they were, they’d just resign, because they aren’t helping anybody. The kids can’t go to the prime minister and say, look, ‘We are unemployed, what are you going to do to help us?’ There’s no way they can approach people like that. So they express themselves by smashing things up.’’

After the success of Ghost Town in 1981, the band split bitterly that July. “It felt like the perfect moment to stop the Specials part one,” Hall said. “We’d gone from seven kids in the back of a van to being presented with gold discs and I never felt massively comfortable with that.

Hall formed Fun Boy Three with his Specials bandmates Staple and Lynval Golding. They also enjoyed chart success for several years, collaborating twice with girl band Bananarama, on It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It) and Really Saying Something. Hall would also land a Top 10 single with Our Lips Are Sealed, a song he co-wrote with US indie star – and then romantic partner – Jane Wiedlin for her band the Go-Go’s.

Hall would form another band, the Colourfield, in 1984, which had a hit with Thinking of You. He became a frequent collaborator over subsequent decades, working with the likes of the Lightning Seeds’ Ian Broudie, US actress Blair Booth, Toots and the Maytals, Lily Allen, Blur’s Damon Albarn – and later with his band Gorillaz – and Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart with whom he formed a duo known as Vegas in 1992.

Hall wasn’t part of a Specials reunion, the Specials Mk 2, which lasted from 1993 to 1998. He released his debut solo album in 1994, Home, produced by Broudie; a follow-up, Laugh, came in 1997.

In 2008, inspired by the Pixies’ reunion in 2004, Hall announced that he would be reforming the Specials for a tour and new music, albeit without founding member Jerry Dammers, who claimed he had been forced out. “The Specials was this big hole which took up four years of my life,” Hall told the Telegraph. “More than anything, I really wanted to see these people again.”

They embarked on a 30th anniversary tour in 2009 and performed at the 2012 London Olympics closing concert, but faced the death of drummer John Bradbury, and the departure of vocalist Staple and guitarist Roddy Radiation over the next few years.

The band would find themselves in the news again in 2017, when 18-year-old Birmingham woman Saffiyah Khan was photographed facing off with protesters at an EDL march while wearing a Specials T-shirt. “It felt like a vindication of everything the band had set out to do,” Hall said.

In 2019, they released a new album, Encore, which featured Khan performing on a new song, 10 Commandments. It charted at No 1 in the UK albums chart – their highest-ever album placing. “Achieving a first No 1 album in our 60s restored our faith in humanity,” Hall told the Quietus.

Hall was still struggling with his mental health, he admitted around this time. In 2003, he had begun self-medicating with alcohol. In the last decade of his life, he sought medication, having been wary of it since being put on Valium as a teenager, as well as taking up art therapy.

“It got to a point where I didn’t have a choice – and it’s done me so much good,” he said. “Talking about mental health problems is a conscious decision. It’s something I want to share with people.”

Hall is survived by his wife, director Lindy Heymann. They had one son; Hall has two older sons with his ex-wife, Jeanette Hall.

In 2019, Hall told Uncut magazine that he had been enjoying his 60s, an age he had aspired to since being a 27-year-old fan of musical lifers Andy Williams, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. “I feel blessed to have reached that stage,” he said. “A lot of people think that 60 is part of the downward spiral, which it is if you allow it to be, but you can fight it and say, no it isn’t – it’s just part of this story.”

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thedimpause
50 days ago
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Aberdare, UK
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The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem by Matthew Hollis review – a classic laid bare

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This behind-the-scenes look at an epic poem depicts details of TS Eliot’s life and his reliance on Ezra Pound’s editorial input

A century ago, a man with a double life published one of the most celebrated, anthologised and dissected poems in English literature. TS Eliot spent six days a week at the offices of Lloyds bank and crammed the business of poetry and literary criticism into the evenings and Sundays. This allowed him to write The Waste Land, a densely allusive work that drew on Ovid, Dante, Shakespeare, Jacobean tragedy, tarot and the Upanishads to create a dazzling portrait of both the ruins of postwar Europe and the inner alienation of modernity. But it was not, as Matthew Hollis’s captivatingly exhaustive “biography of a poem” demonstrates, a work conceived or executed in isolation; and chief among Eliot’s enablers were his wife, Vivien, and his fellow poet and indefatigable literary fixer, Ezra Pound, who looms almost as large in the book as does Eliot himself.

One of the numerous illuminating anecdotes of their entwined lives sees TS Eliot deliver a parcel to James Joyce in Paris at their first ever meeting. Entrusted with the gift by Pound but forbidden from knowing its contents, Eliot, alongside his fellow traveller Wyndham Lewis, ceremoniously presented the package as the trio assembled at a Left Bank hotel and waited as Joyce struggled with its strings until, for want of a knife, a pair of nail scissors was found. Within, a clearly second-hand pair of brown shoes, prompted by Pound’s anxiety that Joyce, whom he liked and admired, was short of funds and in need of sturdy footwear. “‘Oh!’ said Joyce faintly, and sat down.” That night the Château Latour flowed, and subsequently a humiliated Joyce settled every bill.

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thedimpause
56 days ago
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The country’s going to the dogs, but at least the police have cleared the M25

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Sometimes, a report of bad news makes me realise that the world circumstances I’d been living in weren’t as bleak as I’d been assuming. The death of Ella Fitzgerald did this for me. I’d thought she was long dead. It made me realise that I’d missed years of enjoying the fact of her still being alive. Perhaps, along with the “in memoriam” segment at the Baftas, there should also be a “surprisingly still alive” video to encourage us to appreciate some elderly stars while they’re still faintly twinkling.

I used to get the same sensation of retrospective positivity from reported job losses in the British car industry. I was always pleasantly surprised that there were still that many jobs left to lose. That’ll be it now though, I always thought, but then, a year or so later, another gargantuan layoff was announced and I was once again impressed by how many people in the UK had apparently still been making cars all this time.

That’s assuming this isn’t some accountants’ trick whereby it is possible to have negative employees. I’m not talking about GPs’ receptionists – I mean mathematically. Perhaps it’s been discovered that making British workers redundant is such a reliably successful business strategy that some financial instrument has been invented whereby you can continue to do that even when there are no literal British workers left to lay off. Like a futures market in UK redundancies – or a “no futures” market if you happen to be British.

Come to think of it, that’s exactly the sort of thing that could cause the next global economic crisis – though we’d perhaps better let the current one finish first – when it is discovered that notional trillions of British workers must now somehow be made redundant in order to square the circle of global finance. A whole rainforest of P45 forms may need to be filled in on a daily basis.

I got that old familiar “I think the glass that just smashed might actually have been half full!” feeling again last week with reports of “M25 brought to standstill”. So it’s actually been moving then, has it, all this time? That’s nice! I’d been assuming it was now basically a car park. The M25 was a byword for interminable delays when I first moved to London around the time Ella Fitzgerald died. Decades of worsening traffic later, I reckoned it must have become unusable long ago, so the thought that something could noticeably slow it down was rather cheering.

I don’t suppose that was the reaction the Just Stop Oil protesters who caused the standstill were expecting. I think the response of the authorities is more what they had in mind: a great big high court injunction specifically prohibiting the thing they were specifically planning to do. That’s got to be gratifying if you’re doing a protest: to have the desperate gesture you’re about to make officially designated as aberrant behaviour. It’s like the high court was the protesters’ MC: “Ladies and gentlemen, this next protest is absolutely not allowed, so make sure you pay attention to that!”

It’s impressive that, in maximising the illegality of the protesters’ actions, the government is throwing itself squarely behind raising awareness of the climate emergency. It’s a deft move. Ministers know that, as discredited rightwing politicians, their words have little power to convince, but in these actions, they’re showing a real commitment to putting climate change high up the political agenda. It’s a far more powerful gesture than Rishi Sunak’s grudging attendance at Cop27.

So it’s all good really, unless of course the high court injunction was intended to stop the protesters. Anyone who thought that is a moron. I have a niggling fear that the transport secretary, Mark Harper, at least, may have held out some hope. “I instructed National Highways to apply for this further injunction… [to] make it easier to take action against this reckless minority of protesters,” he said, adding: “They could face imprisonment or an unlimited fine.”

Lots to unpack here. I’m not sure his assertion that the protesters constitute a minority is quite the zinger he hopes. When are protesters not? I don’t think there’s ever been a time, in all human history, when a majority of people have been protesting. Even during the French Revolution, I expect most people were keeping their heads down.

But the main idiocy is his implication that this small group of people who are consumed by the, I’m sorry to say, far from irrational terror that the planet is soon to become uninhabitable, is going to back down in fear of prison or a fine. Maybe it would disperse a crowd of thousands, but the hardcore few dozen dangling from motorway bridges have long since made their peace with it.

When Metropolitan police assistant commissioner Matt Twist said: “This action is grossly disproportionate to any legitimate aim that this group may have”, it made me wonder where he’s getting his news. An Opec-sponsored message board?

Disproportionate? They’re stopping traffic because they think the world is ending. And unlike various religious groups down the centuries, there’s a decent chance they may be right.

But the authorities are not merely showing stupidity in the face of these protests, there’s malevolence in the mix too. The new offence, under this year’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, of “conspiracy to intentionally or recklessly cause public nuisance” seems open to wildly illiberal interpretation. It was on suspicion of this crime that several potential protesters were arrested on Monday morning before they’d done any protesting.

What is the justification for new laws restricting protest? The mere fact that protests are on the rise? To address assistant commissioner Twist’s pet subject of proportionality, are they rising out of proportion to legitimate grievance? It doesn’t feel like it. It’s not that the people are getting more bolshie, it’s that the country’s getting worse. And the government’s response is to restrict the legal means by which we can say so.

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thedimpause
85 days ago
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Aberdare, UK
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Oldest known written sentence discovered – on a head-lice comb

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Timeless fret over hygiene picked out on engraved Bronze age comb from ancient kingdom of Judah

It’s a simple sentence that captures the hopes and fears of modern-day parents as much as the bronze age Canaanite who owned the doubled-edged ivory comb on which the words appear.

Believed to be the oldest known sentence written in the earliest alphabet, the inscription on the luxury item reads: “May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”

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thedimpause
91 days ago
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Low’s Mimi Parker was a voice of hope and healing in indie rock

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In the early days of their marriage, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s dream was simple. “We wanted to do something in life together – be in business together, or work together … Just be together,” Sparhawk told me in 2013. The solution materialised in 1993 when they formed Low, in which Parker sang and drummed until her death on Saturday of ovarian cancer.

They’d known each other since elementary school, growing up together in Clearbrook, a tiny city in rural Minnesota. Parker’s mother had been an aspiring country singer whose career had gone no further than a handful of shows in Minneapolis, but still loved singing old gospel songs with her daughters, occasionally performing at church or at funerals. After they began dating in their teens, Sparhawk would hang out at the Parker house, and jam with Mimi’s mother. It was there that Sparhawk and his future wife/bandmate first harmonised, singing Neil Young’s Heart of Gold together.

For Parker, music had been “kind of a dream, but not something I’d ever thought I’d do”. She had other passions anyway: sports, and riding snowmobiles across Minnesota’s wintery landscapes. But then Sparhawk suggested he and Parker form a band, giving her a snare drum and cymbal he’d found in the basement of the arena where he worked (Parker had played drums in her junior high concert band, years earlier). “She was a little reluctant,” Sparhawk remembered. “She’s really not terribly interested in being in front of people.”

That minimal drum set helped shape Low’s early, spare sound, but Parker’s voice – along with her songwriting – would prove her most crucial contribution to the group: a hushed, strong voice, holy yet human. “I vividly remember writing Words, off our first album, in our old apartment,” Sparhawk told me. “And then Mimi came in with the harmony, and it was like putting the spirit into a body, like taking something two-dimensional and making it three-dimensional.” The intimacy of their harmonies almost felt like we listeners were eavesdropping. Parker later told Ace Hotel that on the rare occasions she sang with anyone else, “it almost feels like I’m doing wrong … like I’m cheating on Alan, in a weird way.”

The spectral quality of their early demos charmed legendary indie maverick Kramer, who produced their debut album, 1994’s I Could Live in Hope. Critics christened their sound “slowcore” – a term the group detested. But Low soon transcended such pigeonholing, their unhurried pace and sparse arrangements earning a loyal cult following. After Gap soundtracked its 2000 Christmas ad campaign with the group’s glacial reading of Little Drummer Boy (off the group’s 1999 EP of holiday songs), Low found a modest commercial breakthrough.

The following year’s Things We Lost in the Fire was a masterpiece, defined by Parker’s contributions. Laser Beam was breathtaking, a resonant lullaby inspired by Parker watching her alcoholic father being Maced by a cop when she was a child, immersing the trauma in a healing stillness. On In Metal, she used the practice of bronzing a baby’s booties as a metaphor for the intense vulnerability that follows having a child – the fear they may come to harm, the sensation that parenthood itself is a fleeting experience, quickly ebbing away – singing “Partly hate to see you grow / And just like your baby shoes / Wish I could keep your little body / In metal”. Both songs were studies in Low’s ability to create music that is both beautiful and unsettling at the same time.

The albums that followed built on Low’s early acclaim, but also fearlessly dismantled and reassembled their paradigm, adopting rock dynamics with 2005’s The Great Destroyer and, on their three albums with producer and Bon Iver collaborator BJ Burton – 2015’s Ones And Sixes, 2018’s Double Negative and 2021’s Hey What – embracing a bold experimentalism in sync with darker lyrics which reflected a country in turmoil. Indeed, some of Parker’s finest songs came in Low’s final decade, not least Just Make It Stop, the highlight of 2013’s Jeff Tweedy-produced The Invisible Way. Over muted drums, emotive piano and brooding guitar strum, Parker sang with understated desperation – “I’m close to the edge / I’m at the end of my road” – but her harmonies offered a shard of hope, a sense that she wasn’t alone.

Like the wonderful All Night, from last year’s Hey What, Parker’s lyric seemed to allude to Sparhawk’s mental health struggles, which she told Carmel Holt, host of the Sheroes podcast, he had suffered from “for many years … It’s not one of those things that has an easy fix.” As the child of an alcoholic, Parker noted that she and Sparhawk were “a perfect storm”, but their love was strong enough that they were able to weather it. Indeed, whatever turbulence hit, their union endured, their chemistry a mutually sustaining thing. “It’s a good balance,” Sparhawk told me in 2013. “She’s shy. I’m still a stuttering 14-year-old boy with a guitar. My erratic psyche and her very in control, reserved nature have pretty much saved each other over the years. Mimi’s been the essence that’s made us able to do the things we do.”

It was on Holt’s podcast earlier this year that Parker revealed her December 2020 cancer diagnosis. In the interview she’d said that she’d had “some really intense chemotherapy” and surgery – “a crazy and surreal two years”. “Our time can be cut short,” she added. “We try to make each day mean something, to make a connection with our kids, our family.” The ability to make music, to release their universally acclaimed Hey What in the midst of this turmoil had, she said, “been a respite and a source of comfort … I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve had, the opportunities to make beautiful music, to collaborate with Alan, to understand his chaos and his tendencies to mesh them with my calmness and my search for harmony and beautiful things.”

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thedimpause
91 days ago
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Philologist Irene Vallejo: ‘Alexander the Great’s library was the first step towards the internet’

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Born in 1979, Irene Vallejo is a Spanish writer, historian and philologist, and a regular columnist in the newspaper El País. She had written several books, including novels, essays and children’s books before she published El infinito en un junco (Infinity in a Reed), which won a number of prizes in Spain including the National Essay prize and spent 18 months in the bestsellers’ list there. Mario Vargas Llosa has described the book as “a masterpiece” and it has now been published in 30 countries. The English translation by Charlotte Whittle is titled Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World.

How did you become interested in ancient books and the beginning of the printed word?
It goes back to my childhood. My parents were great readers and our home was bristling with books. I was fascinated by these rows of tiny black insects running across [the page] that only adults could interpret. And later, my studies of classical philology brought me into contact with the period when books emerged for the first time. And I’ve always been curious about the first times things happened.

In your book you say that as a child, you thought every book had been written for you and the only copy was in your house.
And I used to think my father was Homer, because he was telling me the stories from The Odyssey! My parents used to change the names of the protagonists of the stories [to] me or my friends. So I thought that all literature was written for me, and I was so disappointed when I discovered this was not the case.

Why is the great library of Alexandria so important in your book?
Alexander the Great was probably the first person to have a really global gaze on the world, and it was his idea to build this comprehensive public library that was open to everybody – even slaves and people from non-privileged families. So this was something different in the democratisation of knowledge. They wanted to gather all the books from all cultures and make them available for everybody. It was like the first step to the internet.

The original title for Papyrus in Spanish was El infinito en un junco (Infinity in a Reed). Can you explain?
It’s a metaphor for my description of what is wonderful about books. The idea that infinite feelings, experiences, fears and emotions can be [contained] in something so small and common. I’m thinking of the first books in history, which were papyrus scrolls [made from a type of reed]. It’s also a tribute to Pascal [Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher], who described human beings as reeds. He said we are fragile like reeds, but we have the power of learning and understanding.

What was the most surprising thing you learned when writing the book?
The biggest revelation in my research was the figure of Enheduanna – that the first person we know of who signed a text was a woman. She’s not in [textbooks] in high schools or university. I was studying classical philology for many years before I heard of her. It’s more difficult for a woman to enter the literary canon, and I wanted to make an effort to recover these names and fragments of poems or speeches, to recover the existence of these women.

Do you think that in our societies, where books are so easily available, we undervalue them?
Yes. We take them for granted, but there was a long story before this, of people facing dangers, sometimes dying, for books. And that’s the adventurous history I wanted to tell in this book. This is an essay about books and reading, but it’s also a huge adventure and I conceived it to be read with the same kind of thrill you get from a novel.

How has the success of Papyrus changed your life?
It was a huge surprise. In Spain you’re not expected to have success with essays, and also I wrote the book at a very painful personal period. Our son was born with a very serious health condition, with a long hospitalisation, and I wrote this book because it was therapeutic for me. [It] was born as a safe haven in those painful times. I wasn’t even sure that I’d be able to finish it. I didn’t know if anyone would publish it. And it’s had a totally unexpected reception – a lot of readers have embraced it, and my life has changed. All this happened during the lockdown, and it was so unexpected that a book about history, about classical philology, could be of some help in that difficult time. But somehow, readers found solace in my book.

How and where do you write?
Nowadays I’m not [working on] a big project because promotion is too demanding and I’m travelling all the time. So I’m just writing articles and taking notes, but I don’t have the calm or the time to start a new project. But since I became a mother, I got used to working everywhere and reading everywhere. Spoon in one hand, book in the other.

Which living writers do you most admire?
Mary Beard was a model for me, because she’s also a classical philologist like I am. She’s always breaking boundaries and defying the accepted knowledge about the ancient world. And she’s able to communicate with irony and a sense of humour. She’s a bestseller in Spain. I also love Tom Holland; his essays are very inspiring. I love Orlando Figes and Terry Eagleton. I love these books that are a border between fiction and nonfiction, and essays that have humour and irony. I’ve always been very much inspired by the tradition of British essays. I also love John Berger, and The Darkening Age by Catherine Nixey. This kind of essay isn’t very common in Spanish literature. We have the academic essay, but I wanted to use the skills I’ve learned as a novelist and [write] a kind of essay aimed at a wider audience. I think the most remarkable examples of these kinds of essays are written in English nowadays.

And if you could keep just one book from the ancient world, which one would it be?
My first answer would be The Odyssey, because it was the story [through] which I fell in love with literature. It’s essential for me. But I love so much ancient history: Herodotus or Tacitus. And Thucydides; he’s so insightful and useful for analysis of today’s world. So after The Odyssey, I would save Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War.

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thedimpause
94 days ago
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