Syria Calling

A document from another time: Robin Yassin-Kassab's diary of his 2008 return journey to Syria, and a Damascus hazed by diesel fumes but still standing.

On Handwriting

'Only his handwriting seemed to locate him exactly, to ground his body in the act of writing and thinking and breathing; each stroke of the pen a black ink tether that tied me to him and him to me.'

That Life of Sexual and Sybaritic Abandon

'Inspired by his loathing of the hypocrites and knaves who surrounded him, Rochester aimed to show his friends (and enemies) that he was a serious and considered thinker.'

The Freedom Writer

To mark their 80th anniversary, the advocacy group Liberty delved into their sizeable list of contacts and got hold of 79 of the world’s best writers, then aske... Read more


I think I can say, with perfect confidence, that Liberty, the organisation, is rubbish. I can, I can say that. I can also say that the Prime Minister is rubbish... Read more

The Pain Machine

I ignored her pain. This was not difficult to do; her pain was rarely justified. To wear special seamless socks was to stick her feet in an iron smelter. To wear a soft acrylic scarf was to be garroted by a scroll of razor wire.

‘You endured life. You didn’t live it.’

When I left for Paris at the age of nineteen, you were still a stranger to me. Come to think of it, I never called you Mama; I called you Mother, just as I never called my father Papa. How did that come about?

Wind, Storm and Cloud

A flinchin is a deceitful promise of better weather. Skub is hazy clouds driven by the wind. And a ciabhar is a slight breeze, just enough to stir the hair.

Becoming Westerly

'It’s funny how the ocean calls out to you. It’s not about checking wave cams on the Internet, or reading the surf forecast. It’s a feeling in your bones and blood, something like the way dogs sense earthquakes.'

On Kate Bush

'There is something about Kate Bush’s voice – her physical voice, as well as her voice in a literary sense – that has often struck me as heroic. Heroic because it is reckless, stubborn.'

Give It Up

'I try to guess the book’s big idea and decide, well in advance of criticism or comprehension, whether or not the writing will be rich enough to entertain my friends when they ask, "Read anything good lately?"'

The New Threat from Islamic Militancy

'Islamic militants are of our time. They are in fact ahead of the curve very often. They were crowd-sourcing funding before the word was even invented.'