James Walton is a writer and broadcaster. He is the editor of The Faber Book of Smoking and the author of the literary quiz book Who Killed Iago? (December 2015)

Noble, Embattled Souls

David Mitchell, New York City, 2010
“As an experienced editor,” says the pompous publisher Timothy Cavendish in David Mitchell’s third novel, Cloud Atlas, “I disapprove of flashbacks, foreshadowings, and tricksy devices; they belong in the 1980s with MAs in postmodernism.” But this declaration is, of course, a tricksy device—and not just because Mitchell’s own MA was …

Star Fiction

Eleanor Catton, Paris, June 2011
“I do not come out of a literary tradition,” said the Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan in his acceptance speech after winning this year’s Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. “I come from a tiny mining town in the rainforest in an island at the end …

Bondage

Sean Connery, his wife, Diane Cilento (left), and Queen Elizabeth II at the premiere of You Only Live Twice, London, 1967
If, at the end of 1953, you’d asked almost anybody in Britain what had been the year’s most significant national events, it wouldn’t have been hard to predict their replies: the Queen’s coronation and a British team conquering Everest. (Never mind that the two men who made it to the …

‘Fascinating, Fearless, and Distinctly Odd’

Tim Parks, Milan, 2011
Tim Parks has never been a man to take any received wisdoms for granted, however blameless they might appear. Perhaps his best-known novel, the Booker-shortlisted Europa (1997), had the regular refrain “every man is an island,” as the academic narrator Jerry Marlow gave everything from the environmental movement to the …

Writing on a High Wire

Colum McCann, Paris, 2006
In June, during his first-ever visit to Northern Ireland, President Obama gave a speech to two thousand young people at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast. Of the two Irish writers he quoted, one—perhaps inevitably—was W.B. Yeats (“Peace comes dropping slow”). The other was Colum McCann: “Peace is indeed harder than war, …