Month: September 2010

Francis Spufford on Red Plenty

A short interview in which Francis Spufford, author of The Child that Books Built and Backroom Boys, discusses his latest book, Red Plenty:

“Strange as it may seem, the grey, oppressive USSR was founded on a fairytale. It was built on the 20th-century magic called ‘the planned economy’, which was going to gush forth an abundance of good things that the lands of capitalism could never match. And just for a little while, in the heady years of the late 1950s, the magic seemed to be working…”

Le Monde diplomatique podcast – Vicken Cheterian

Kyrgyz Unrest, 2010In this month’s podcast for Le Monde diplomatique, I talk to Geneva-based journalist and political analyst Vicken Cheterian about recent events in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan.

We talk about inter-ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbek peoples, the stance of Kyrgyzstan’s neighbours, Russia and Uzbekistan, and the role which Cheterian believes the West should play in helping bring this former beacon of reformism and pro-Western attitudes back from the brink of chaos.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here.

The LMD podcast archive is accessible here.

Hilary Mantel interview revisited

Wolf Hall cover“Revisited” because this is something of a first for Podularity: a transcript of an interview which I conducted earlier this year with Booker prize-winner Hilary Mantel.

If this feature proves popular, we’ll be doing more of these in the course of the autumn.

And if you would prefer to listen to the interview rather than read it, you can still find it by clicking here.

This transcript was created by Typing Angels, and we’re very pleased to have found them.

George Miller:

Hello, and welcome to this first edition of Podularity for 2010. My name is George Miller, and I’m delighted to say that my guest in this first programme of the New Year is Hilary Mantel, winner of the 2009 Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, the novel in which she charts the rise of Thomas Cromwell from abject beginnings to Henry VIII’s right-hand man.

Shortly after her Booker win in October, I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon interviewing Hilary about the book. An edited version of the interview appeared shortly afterwards on the Blackwell site,, but this is the first opportunity to hear the whole interview. I took as my starting point the Hans Holbein portrait of Thomas Cromwell, which probably shapes, to a large extent, many people’s view of the man. In it, he looks hard, cold, even cruel. That portrait is incorporated cleverly into the fabric of this novel. Late in the novel, Cromwell is confronted with a vision of himself that others see, and it comes as a shock to him. I asked Hilary to tell me more about what she was doing in that scene, with images and self-images of the man.

Hilary Mantel:

Yes, I think when Holbein painted a courtier, he was, in a way, painting the man’s office, and a Tudor minister didn’t want to look pretty – he just wanted to look powerful, but of course, because Holbein’s a genius, there’s always an extra dimension there. In my book, when Cromwell sees the portrait, he is rather shocked by it. He’s got no illusions about being handsome, but the hardness of the portrait takes him by surprise, and the way his hand is gripping the roll of paper, as if it’s an offensive weapon, and he says, “I look like a murderer”. His son says to him, “Didn’t you know?”, which is quite a shocking moment, really. Now, what I noticed immediately about the picture is how Cromwell is penned into a small space. It looks as if Holbein has said, “Sit there”, and then he’s pushed the table against him. There’s another table at the side of him, he actually can’t move. In my second book, Cromwell learns to live with the portrait, but he realizes increasingly that Hans was right – he can’t move. His scope of action, as an idealist as opposed to a practical politician, is now severely curtailed, and so he says, “Artists know the truth before we do”.

So I wanted to consider what might be the experience of having your portrait in your house, learning to relate to it as another self. Then later though, this is now with the scope of the book, the original gets lost, which is quite piquant, because of course I think the original Cromwell has got lost. Read More