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?
 (November 2017)


All That Shite

Roddy Doyle


by Roddy Doyle
On St. Patrick’s Day, 1943, Éamon de Valera, Ireland’s prime minister and founding father, gave what his biographer Diarmaid Ferriter has uncontroversially called “the most famous broadcast of any Irish politician of the twentieth century.” “The ideal Ireland,” de Valera began, would be…a land whose countryside would be bright with …

Myths, Tribes & Troubles

Nick Laird, New York City, fall 2013

Modern Gods

by Nick Laird
“Moving is easy,” begins Nick Laird’s first novel, Utterly Monkey (2005). “But actually leaving somewhere is difficult.” It’s a lesson that the main character, Danny Williams, soon learns. When the book opens, he seems to have long escaped his background in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, where he grew up Protestant …

Shake Those Dice Again

A Gambler’s Anatomy

by Jonathan Lethem
One of the main characters in Jonathan Lethem’s 2009 novel, Chronic City, is a cultural critic called Perkus Tooth, who carries out his critic’s duties largely by sitting in his apartment smoking a lot of pot and sharing his theories on, among many other things, Semina Culture, J. Edgar Hoover, …

Noble, Embattled Souls

David Mitchell, New York City, 2010

The Bone Clocks

by David Mitchell

Slade House

by David Mitchell
“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

The Luminaries

by Eleanor Catton
“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 …


Sean Connery, his wife, Diane Cilento (left), and Queen Elizabeth II at the premiere of You Only Live Twice, London, 1967

Solo: A James Bond Novel

by William Boyd
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

Sex Is Forbidden

by Tim Parks
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


by Colum McCann
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, …