Jamie's Everyday Super Food World 

Harper Lee's Alabama 

Where would you
like to go today?
New destinations added every morning
Imported LayersCreated with Sketch.

Sign up to the Penguin newsletter to get
the highlights straight to your inbox.

Jamie's Everyday Super Food

Bombay chicken & cauli
Poppadoms, rice & spinach

Cumin and turmeric are great sources of iron, and teaming them with lemon juice like I’ve done here means our bodies can absorb that all-important iron really efficiently.

Serves 2

  • 100g brown rice
  • ½ a small cauliflower (400g)
  • ½ a bunch of fresh mint (15g)
  • 6 tablespoons natural yoghurt
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 heaped teaspoon each of ground turmeric, medium curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3cm piece of ginger
  • 2 x 120g free-range skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 level teaspoon each of cumin seeds, black mustard seeds
  • 4 uncooked poppadoms
  • 60g baby spinach
  • 1 fresh red chilli

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas 7. Cook the rice in a pan of boiling salted water according to the packet instructions. Chop the cauliflower into thin wedges and place in a sieve above the rice, then cover and steam for 15 minutes. Pick the mint leaves into a blender (reserving a few baby leaves). Add 3 tablespoons of yoghurt, half the lemon juice and a splash of water to the blender, then blitz for 1 minute until super-smooth and green. Decant into a nice dish and pop into the fridge for later.

Without washing the blender, add the remaining yoghurt and lemon juice, the turmeric, curry powder and balsamic. Crush in the garlic, then peel, finely chop and add the ginger. Blitz until super-smooth to make a marinade, then pour into a large baking tray. Lightly score the chicken breasts to increase the surface area and toss in the marinade. When the time’s up on the cauliflower, tip it into the chicken tray, quickly toss together, sprinkle over the cumin and black mustard seeds, then place in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the cauli is gnarly.

When the rice is done, drain it, catching some of the water in the pan, then sit the sieve of rice back over the pan, cover, and place on the lowest heat to keep warm. One-by-one, puff up your dry poppadoms in the microwave for around 30 seconds each. Slice and divide up the chicken, with the cauli, rice, spinach and poppadoms. Drizzle with the dressing, then finely slice and scatter over the chilli. Finish with the baby mint leaves and tuck on in.

Sat fat
40 minutes

Everyday Super Food – Jamie Oliver

My philosophy in this book
The balanced plate

We all know that balance is absolutely key – but what does it really mean? This page exists to make that super-clear, because if you can get your balanced plate right and keep your portion control in check – which I’ve done for you with all the recipes in this book – you can be confident that you’re giving yourself a really great start on the path to good health.

One of the most useful things you can remember is that you don’t have to be spot-on every day – just try to get your balance right across the week. Mix up your choices within the chapters to ensure you’re having a varied diet and a wide range of nutrients, and you’ll be getting everything you need. As a general guide for main meals, if you eat meat and fish you’re looking at at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily (such as salmon, trout or mackerel), then splitting the rest of the week’s main meals between brilliant meat-free plantbased meals, some poultry and a little red meat. An all-vegetarian diet can be perfectly healthy too.


Bear with me on this one – it’s going to get a little technical – but it’s important to register the facts up front about how to approach putting a meal together. Just look at the table below and you’ll get the gist – it’s easy really.

Vegetables and fruit One-third of your plate
Starchy carbohydrates
(bread, rice, potatoes, pasta)
One-third of your plate
(meat, fish, eggs, beans, other non-dairy sources)
Around one-sixth of your plate
Dairy foods and milk Around one-sixth of your plate
Fat/sugar-high foods Try to only eat a small amount of food high in fat and/or sugar


Working closely with my lovely nutrition team and following UK guidelines, I’ve structured all the recipes in a really clear and easy-to-follow way:

+ All the breakfast recipes are less than 400 calories per portion and contain less than 4g of saturated fat and less than 1.5g of salt

+ All the lunches and dinners are less than 600 calories per portion and contain less than 6g of saturated fat and less than 1.5g of salt – so all of these recipes are interchangeable across the two chapters

I’ve also included snacks of up to 100 calories, giving you the freedom to enjoy a few tasty energy-boosting snacks a day, with some calories left for drinks.


In general, the average woman needs about 2,000 calories a day, while the average man can have about 2,500. I’m sure you’re aware that these figures are just a guide, and what we eat always needs to be considered in relation to factors like age, build, lifestyle and activity levels. The good news is that all food and drinks can be eaten and drunk in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet, so we don’t have to completely give up anything that we really enjoy, unless we’re advised to do so by a doctor or dietitian.

My grandad’s philosophy on life was simple – everything in moderation and a little bit of what you like, and that still stands very true today. Even nutritionists eat cake!


Here’s one super-easy thing that I want you to take from this book: eat breakfast! Simple as that. This mighty meal is often overlooked, but it’s so important in setting you up for the day. Not only will it fill you up and help prevent you snacking on foods high in fat/sugar, it can kick you off with a boost of micronutrients, such as iron, fibre, the B vitamins and vitamin D. It’s been shown that when you miss breakfast you’re unlikely to make up on those missed nutrients throughout the rest of the day, so get into good habits and build it into your daily routine from the outset.


Drinking water is absolutely essential. Although it’s not – for obvious reasons – part of the balanced plate, it is totally integral to a balanced diet. It keeps us hydrated and alert and keeps our bodies functioning properly. Often when we think we’re hungry we’re actually dehydrated, so drinking plenty of water can also help prevent us over-eating! Like anything, our requirements vary depending on factors such as age, gender, build, lifestyle and activity levels, as well as things like humidity and the temperature around us. As a general rule, women should aim for at least 1.6 litres per day, while men need at least 2 litres. Embrace it, celebrate it, and enjoy humble H2O every day. Read more about the wonderful world of hydration on page 278.

Everyday Super Food by Jamie Oliver is published by Penguin Random House
ⓒ Jamie Oliver Enterprises Limited (2015 Everyday Super Food) Photographer: Jamie Oliver

Harper Lee's Alabama

An audio clip and an extract from the book everyone has been talking about . . .

That week, for three nights, Jem, Dill, and she had sat in the children’s section of the Baptist Church (the Baptists were hosts this time) and listened to the messages of the Reverend James Edward Moorehead, a renowned speaker from north Georgia. At least that is what they were told; they understood little of what he said except his observations on hell. Hell was and would always be as far as she was concerned, a lake of fire exactly the size of Maycomb, Alabama, surrounded by a brick wall two hundred feet high. Sinners were pitchforked over this wall by Satan, and they simmered throughout eternity in a sort of broth of liquid sulfur.
   Reverend Moorehead was a tall sad man with a stoop and a tendency to give his sermons startling titles. (Would You Speak to Jesus If You Met Him on the Street? Reverend Moorehead doubted that you could even if you wanted to, because Jesus probably spoke Aramaic.) The second night he preached, his topic was The Wages of Sin. At that time the local movie house was featuring a film of the same title (persons under sixteen not admitted): Maycomb thought Reverend Moorehead was going to preach on the movie, and the whole town turned out to hear him. Reverend Moorehead did nothing of the kind. He split hairs for threequarters of an hour on the grammatical accuracy of his text. (Which was correct—the wages of sin is death or the wages of sin are death? It made a difference, and Reverend Moorehead drew distinctions of such profundity that not even Atticus Finch could tell what he was driving at.)
   Jem, Dill, and she would have been bored stiff had not Reverend Moorehead possessed a singular talent for fascinating children. He was a whistler. There was a gap between his two front teeth (Dill swore they were false, they were just made that way to look natural) which produced a disastrously satisfying sound when he said a word containing one s or more. Sin, Jesus, Christ, sorrow, salvation, success, were key words they listened for each night, and their attention was rewarded in two ways: in those days no minister could get through a sermon without using them all, and they were assured of muffled paroxysms of muffled delight at least seven times an evening; secondly, because they paid such strict attention to Reverend Moorehead, Jem, Dill, and she were thought to be the best-behaved children in the congregation.
   The third night of the revival when the three went forward with several other children and accepted Christ as their personal Savior, they looked hard at the floor during the ceremony because Reverend Moorehead folded his hands over their heads and said among other things, “Blessed is he who sitteth not in the seat of the scornful.” Dill was seized with a bad whooping spell, and Reverend Moorehead whispered to Jem, “Take the child out into the air. He is overcome.”
   Jem said, “I tell you what, we can have it over in your yard by the fishpool.”
   Dill said that would be fine. “Yeah, Jem. We can get some boxes for a pulpit.”
   A gravel driveway divided the Finch yard from Miss Rachel’s. The fishpool was in Miss Rachel’s side yard, and it was surrounded by azalea bushes, rose bushes, camellia bushes, and cape jessamine bushes. Some old fat goldfish lived in the pool with several frogs and water lizards, shaded by wide lily pads and ivy. A great fig tree spread its poisonous leaves over the surrounding area, making it the coolest in the neighborhood. Miss Rachel had put some yard furniture around the pool, and there was a sawbuck table under the fig tree.
   They found two empty crates in Miss Rachel’s smokehouse and set up an altar in front of the pool. Dill stationed himself behind it.
   “I’m Mr. Moorehead,” he said.
   “I’m Mr. Moorehead,” said Jem. “I’m the oldest.”
   “Oh all right,” said Dill.
   “You and Scout can be the congregation.”
  “We won’t have anything to do,” she said, “and I swannee if I’ll sit here for an hour and listen to you, Jem Finch.”
   “You and Dill can take up collection,” said Jem. “You can be the choir, too.”
   The congregation drew up two yard chairs and sat facing the altar.
   Jem said, “Now you all sing something.”
   She and Dill sang:

   “Amazing grace how sweet thuh sound
   That saved a wretch like me;
   I once was lost but now I’m found,
   Was blind, but now I see. A-men.”

   Jem wrapped his arms around the pulpit, leaned over, and said in confidential tones, “My, it looks good to see you all this morning. This is a beautiful morning.”
   Dill said, “A-men.”
   “Does anybody this morning feel like opening up wide and singin’ his heart out?” asked Jem.
   “Yes-s sir,” said Dill. Dill, whose square construction and lack of height doomed him forever to play the character man, rose, and before their eyes became a one-man choir:

   “When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
   And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
   When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
   And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.”

   The minister and the congregation joined in the chorus. While they were singing, she heard Calpurnia calling in the dim distance. She batted the gnatlike sound away from her ear.
   Dill, red in the face from his exertions, sat down and filled the Amen Corner.
   Jem clipped invisible pince-nez to his nose, cleared his throat, and said, “The text for the day, my brethren, is from the Psalms: ‘Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, O ye gates.’”
   Jem detached his pince-nez, and while wiping them repeated in a deep voice, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”
   Dill said, “It’s time to take up collection,” and hit her for the two nickels she had in her pocket.
   “You give ’em back after church, Dill,” she said.
   “You all hush,” said Jem. “It’s time for the sermon.”
   Jem preached the longest, most tedious sermon she ever heard in her life. He said that sin was about the most sinful thing he could think of, and no one who sinned could be a success, and blessed was he who sat in the seat of the scornful; in short, he repeated his own version of everything they had heard for the past three nights. His voice sank to its lowest register; it would rise to a squeak and he would clutch at the air as though the ground were opening beneath his feet. He once asked, “Where is the Devil?” and pointed straight at the congregation. “Right here in Maycomb, Alabama.”
   He started on hell, but she said, “Now cut it out, Jem.” Reverend Moorehead’s description of it was enough to last her a lifetime. Jem reversed his field and tackled heaven: heaven was full of bananas (Dill’s love) and scalloped potatoes (her favorite), and when they died they would go there and eat good things until Judgement Day, but on Judgement Day, God, having written down everything they did in a book from the day they were born, would cast them into hell.
   Jem drew the service to a close by asking all who wished to be united with Christ to step forward. She went.
   Jem put his hand on her head and said, “Young lady, do you repent?”
   “Yes sir,” she said.
   “Have you been baptized?”
   “No sir,” she said.
   “Well—” Jem dipped his hand into the black water of the fishpool and laid it on her head. “I baptize you—”
   “Hey, wait a minute!” shouted Dill. “That’s not right!”
   “I reckon it is,” said Jem. “Scout and me are Methodists.”
   “Yeah, but we’re having a Baptist revival. You’ve got to duck her. I think I’ll be baptized, too.” The ramifications of the ceremony were dawning on Dill, and he fought hard for the role. “I’m the one,” he insisted. “I’m the Baptist so I reckon I’m the one to be baptized.”
   “Now listen here, Dill Pickle Harris,” she said menacingly. “I haven’t done a blessed thing this whole morning. You’ve been the Amen Corner, you sang a solo, and you took up collection. It’s my time, now.”
   Her fists were clenched, her left arm cocked, and her toes gripped the ground.
   Dill backed away. “Now cut it out, Scout.”
   “She’s right, Dill,” Jem said. “You can be my assistant.”
   Jem looked at her. “Scout, you better take your clothes off. They’ll get wet.”
   She divested herself of her overalls, her only garment. “Don’t you hold me under,” she said, “and don’t forget to hold my nose.”
   She stood on the cement edge of the pool. An ancient goldfish surfaced and looked balefully at her, then disappeared beneath the dark water.
   “How deep’s this thing?” she asked.
   “Only about two feet,” said Jem, and turned to Dill for confirmation. But Dill had left them. They saw him going like a streak toward Miss Rachel’s house.
   “Reckon he’s mad?” she asked.
   “I don’t know. Let’s wait and see if he comes back.”
   Jem said they had better shoo the fish down to one side of the pool lest they hurt one, and they were leaning over the side rustling the water when an ominous voice behind them said, “Whoo—”
   “Whoo—” said Dill from beneath a double-bed sheet, in which he had cut eyeholes. He raised his arms above his head and lunged at her. “Are you ready?” he said. “Hurry up, Jem. I’m getting hot.”
   “For crying out loud,” said Jem. “What are you up to?”
   “I’m the Holy Ghost,” said Dill modestly.
   Jem took her by the hand and guided her into the pool. The water was warm and slimy, and the bottom was slippery. “Don’t you duck me but once,” she said.
   Jem stood on the edge of the pool. The figure beneath the sheet joined him and flapped its arms wildly. Jem held her back and pushed her under. As her head went beneath the surface she heard Jem intoning, “Jean Louise Finch, I baptize you in the name of—”
   Miss Rachel’s switch made perfect contact with the sacred apparition’s behind. Since he would not go backward into the hail of blows Dill stepped forward at a brisk pace and joined her in the pool. Miss Rachel flailed relentlessly at a heaving tangle of lily pads, bed sheet, legs and arms, and twining ivy.
   “Get out of there!” Miss Rachel screamed. “I’ll Holy Ghost you, Charles Baker Harris! Rip the sheets off my best bed, will you? Cut holes in ’em, will you? Take the Lord’s name in vain, will you? Come on, get out of there!”
   “Cut it out, Aunt Rachel!” burbled Dill, his head half under water. “Gimme a chance!”
   Dill’s efforts to disentangle himself with dignity were only moderately successful: he rose from the pool like a small fantastical water monster, covered with green slime and dripping sheet. A tendril of ivy curled around his head and neck. He shook his head violently to free himself, and Miss Rachel stepped back to avoid the spray of water.
  Jean Louise followed him out. Her nose tingled horribly from the water in it, and when she sniffed it hurt.
  Miss Rachel would not touch Dill, but waved him on with her switch, saying, “March!”
   She and Jem watched the two until they disappeared inside Miss Rachel’s house. She could not help feeling sorry for Dill.
   “Let’s go home,” Jem said. “It must be dinnertime.”
   They turned in the direction of their house and looked straight into the eyes of their father. He was standing in the driveway.
   Beside him stood a lady they did not know and Reverend James Edward Moorehead. They looked like they had been standing there for some time.
   Atticus came toward them, taking his coat off. Her throat closed tight and her knees shook. When he dropped his coat over her shoulders she realized she was standing stark naked in the presence of a preacher. She tried to run, but Atticus caught her by the scruff of the neck and said, “Go to Calpurnia. Go in the back door.”
   Calpurnia scrubbed her viciously in the bathtub, muttering, “Mr. Finch called this morning and said he was bringing the preacher and his wife home for dinner. I yelled till I was blue in the face for you all. Why’nt you answer me?”
   “Didn’t hear you,” she lied.
   “Well, it was either get that cake in the oven or round you up. I couldn’t do both. Ought to be ashamed of yourselves, mortifyin’ your daddy like that!”
   She thought Calpurnia’s bony finger would go through her ear. “Stop it,” she said.
   “If he dudn’t whale the tar out of both of you, I will,” Calpurnia promised. “Now get out of that tub.”
   Calpurnia nearly took the skin off her with the rough towel, and commanded her to raise her hands above her head. Calpurnia thrust her into a stiffly starched pink dress, held her chin firmly between thumb and forefinger, and raked her hair with a sharp-toothed comb. Calpurnia threw down a pair of patent leather shoes at her feet.
   “Put ’em on.”
   “I can’t button ’em,” she said. Calpurnia banged down the toilet seat and sat her on it. She watched big scarecrow fingers perform the intricate business of pushing pearl buttons through holes too small for them, and she marveled at the power in Calpurnia’s hands.
   “Now go to your daddy.”
   “Where’s Jem?” she said.
   “He’s cleaning up in Mr. Finch’s bathroom. I can trust him.”
   In the living room, she and Jem sat quietly on the sofa. Atticus and Reverend Moorehead made uninteresting conversation, and Mrs. Moorehead frankly stared at the children. Jem looked at Mrs. Moorehead and smiled. His smile was not returned, so he gave up.
   To the relief of everyone, Calpurnia rang the dinnerbell. At the table, they sat for a moment in uneasy silence, and Atticus asked Reverend Moorehead to return thanks. Reverend Moorehead, instead of asking an impersonal blessing, seized the opportunity to advise the Lord of Jem’s and her misdeeds. By the time Reverend Moorehead got around to explaining that these were motherless children she felt one inch high. She peeked at Jem: his nose was almost in his plate and his ears were red. She doubted if Atticus would ever be able to raise his head again, and her suspicion was confirmed when Reverend Moorehead finally said Amen and Atticus looked up. Two big tears had run from beneath his glasses down the sides of his cheeks. They had hurt him badly this time. Suddenly he said,    “Excuse me,” rose abruptly, and disappeared into the kitchen.
   Calpurnia came in carefully, bearing a heavily laden tray. With company came Calpurnia’s company manners: although she could speak Jeff Davis’s English as well as anybody, she dropped her verbs in the presence of guests; she haughtily passed dishes of vegetables; she seemed to inhale steadily. When Calpurnia was at her side Jean Louise said, “Excuse me, please,” reached up, and brought Calpurnia’s head to the level of her own. “Cal,” she whispered, “is Atticus real upset?”
   Calpurnia straightened up, looked down at her, and said to the table at large, “Mr. Finch? Nawm, Miss Scout. He on the back porch laughin’! Mr. Finch? He laughin’." 

Penguin's Other Worlds

A trip into the archive with editor Emad Akhtar to look at some of Penguin's best SF covers. 

There may be no clearer way of illuminating how much has changed in the last 80 years than looking at the progression of science fiction.

The last century has been one of unprecedented technological progress, and the content of the stories in this genre and the way in which their cover design has reflected each artistic and cultural phase of the last eighty years might be one of the purer ways of distilling the constant shifts in our culture and preoccupations.

Penguin has published some of the best science fiction from the very beginning of its history, with Samuel Butler’s Victorian Utopian satire EREWHON (anyone good at anagrams?), Olaf Stapledon’s visionary ‘near and far future’ epic LAST AND FIRST MEN and Jack London’s socialist dystopian THE IRON HEEL all incorporating the now world-famous tri-band design.


Allow me some sweeping generalisations – and I won’t be surprised if you disagree – that the genre moves through the doomed utopianism of the 1930s and early Forties, into a decade of well-intentioned paranoia in the Fifties where the year 1999 is shorthand for the unfathomably futuristic, an era of ground-breaking experimentalism in the Sixties and Seventies (even if only by putting ‘bitter coatings on sweet pills’), which gave way to the Eighties where tech-fetishism and corporate or political conspiracies seem to me to be a dominant thread.

The cover art of these (yes, brutally reductive) periods, meanwhile, moved from text-led, grid-locked blocks into the more fluid, integrated design principles of the Sixties and Seventies, which we can all agree are still probably better than most book covers these days. The designs took their inspiration from surrealism, expressionism, psychedelia and pop art, charting science fiction’s emergence as a literary force while embracing the spirit of its pulp excess.


And of course it wasn’t just art and literature that they were in conversation with. Check out the cover of SOFTWARE by Rudy Rucker – is it any coincidence this jacket was published two years after David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME? And would the possibly ecstatic, possibly terrified monkey on the front of APEMAN, SPACEMAN have even been there if Kubrick hadn’t adapted Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY? When so many covers were sticking to the usual visual grammar of book design, it was science fiction that led the way and consistently broke out to start a dialogue between mediums that were telling the same kinds of stories.

The designers, illustrators, painters, artists – Alan Aldridge, David Pelham, Peter Lord, Adrian Chesterman, Franco Grignani, to name just a few of the most prolific – were working these mind-blowing creations up from scratch in the days before Photoshop and digital tools changed the game.


I mean, imagine sitting in the cover meeting discussing MIDNIGHT AT THE WELL OF SOULS by Jack L. Chalker. Someone would actually have asked for a drawing of a velociraptor riding a distressed sand-dolphin (which, logistically, needs to have a saddle) through an alien desert while – so far off in the distance that it might as well not be there (and I’m not sure you can even make it out online) – a group of nudists worship what appears to be a giant moose. For example. It’s like someone has removed the canned laughter track from this and I have no idea now, years later, how funny it’s meant to be. It is, I’m reliably informed, very true to the book.

A few more highlights for me:


THE PENGUIN SCIENCE FICTION OMNIBUS cover with the eyeball sundae – not many things make me equally disgusted and peckish but this cover strikes that unique balance.​


​The outer space perfume ad of SEARCH THE SKY never fails to remind me how I’ll never be that cool.​


​And the vibrant, grotesque, so-good-and-downright-weird-I-want-to-hang-it-on-my-wall cover of Harry Harrison’s MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM!

There’s too many to really capture all the jaw-dropping, often awe-inspiring, sometimes gloriously silly joy of these old covers. So check out the collection yourself, it’s out now – and we’d love to know which are your favourites.


Emad Akhtar
Penguin Books UK

John Boyne's Dublin

An exclusive short story from the critically acclaimed Irish novelist John Boyne, author of THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS and A HISTORY OF LONELINESS. From the collection BENEATH THE EARTH.


BOY, 19

I started charging for sex a few days after my nineteenth birthday. I recognized my body for what it was: an asset that could be rented to the lonely for an hour at a time. There’s no shortage of damaged men in Dublin who want to lavish attention on the boy they weren’t allowed to love when they were young and I knew that they would like me.
   The idea came about through a combination of necessity and happenstance. Although my scholarship paid my tuition fees, it did not cover living expenses and I found myself sharing a house with three students who nauseated me. They spent their evenings watching television together, noisily eating takeaway food and making derogatory comments about girls they wanted to fuck but who did not want to fuck them. To share a living space with them made me feel diminished as a person. One evening I was making my way down Bachelors Walk when I stopped to light a cigarette. As I leaned back against a doorway, wondering where I might go to avoid that squalid flat, a much older man approached me. He smiled as if we were old friends and called me ‘mate’. He asked how I was doing. I told him I was doing fine. He asked whether I was waiting for someone. I told him no. He said he didn’t want anything unusual, just a bit of fun, and I stared at him, confused, before walking on. I was halfway home before I realized what he’d meant. And then I regretted not asking him how much money he had.
   I’m lucky. I live in the age of the Internet. The next morning I spent less than a minute on Google before I found an appropriate website to advertise my services. I stood in front of a mirror with my shirt off, wearing a low-slung pair of jeans, and took a photograph. I didn’t show my face entirely; the picture started just beneath my eyes and ended at my knees. It was clear enough to show what was on offer, obscure enough that no one would recognize me. I listed the things I was willing to do, which were many things, and the things I was unwilling to do, which were few. I checked the other ads and positioned myself within an appropriate price range. My age meant that I could charge more. It would be almost a year before my price would need to drop. I saved the ad, went into town to buy a second phone – a cheap one – and a new SIM card. I listed the number on the ad. I posted the ad. The phone rang that night. Four times.
   I was nervous my first time but the man I chose was polite and self-conscious when he called, which reassured me. I took a shower and was surprised to notice that I was somewhat aroused. I wasn’t looking forward to it but I wasn’t dreading it either. He lived in Ranelagh. I made my way there and knocked on his door. He opened it wearing a pair of slacks, a shirt, a cardigan and an apron. He told me that he’d been cooking and asked whether I was hungry. I said I was and he said he could make me a bacon sandwich if I liked. Tick-tock, I said. One hour. Feed me if you want, but tick-tock. He turned off the oven, put the bacon back in the fridge and removed his apron.
   He asked me to sit on the sofa and I did. The television was on. CORONATION STREET. Behind a newsagent’s counter, a woman with a helmet of red hair was teasing her colleague. It was quite amusing. The man asked my name and I told him. The name on my ad, not my real name. He asked whether I was really nineteen and I said that I was. He asked did I get lonely sometimes, like he did. Tick-tock, I said. He nodded and started to undo my belt. I noticed a photograph on the mantlepiece of the man, many years younger, with two people I took to be his parents and who looked kind and loving.
   It was a good start for me. He didn’t remove any of his clothes, nor did he want me to touch him. He didn’t ask me to undress. All he wanted was to blow me, which he did. I lay my head back on the sofa and tried to clear my mind. A small dog wandered into the room and sat on his hind legs, observing us. The man’s mobile phone rang and he ignored it. I came in his mouth; he didn’t pull away or complain. It wasn’t unpleasurable. Afterwards, he went to the sink and poured a glass of water, gargled with it and spat it out. He handed me five twenty-euro notes and didn’t look at me again.
   You have my number, I told him, but he didn’t reply. He put his apron back on and took the bacon out of the fridge. I patted the dog. I took the bus home and started looking at flats that I might soon be able to afford on my own. I showered again, then slept soundly. The next morning I lodged the hundred euros in my account, which was overdrawn at the time. It would never be overdrawn again.

Gracián's Spain

Unlikely Spanish priest Baltasar Gracián shows us how to exploit friends and enemies alike to thrive in a world of deception and illusion in HOW TO USE YOUR ENEMIES. 

In your affairs, create suspense. Admiration at their novelty means respect for your success. It’s neither useful nor pleasurable to show all your cards. Not immediately revealing everything fuels anticipation, especially when a person’s elevated position means expectations are greater. It bespeaks mystery in everything and, with this very secrecy, arouses awe. Even when explaining yourself, you should avoid complete frankness, just as you shouldn’t open yourself up to everyone in all your dealings. Cautious silence is the refuge of good sense. A decision openly declared is never respected; instead, it opens the way to criticism, and if things turn out badly, you’ll be unhappy twice over. Imitate divinity’s way of doing things to keep people attentive and alert.


Knowledge and courage contribute in turn to greatness. Since they are immortal, they immortalize. You are as much as you know, and a wise person can do anything. A person without knowledge is a world in darkness. Judgement and strength, eyes and hands; without courage, wisdom is sterile.


Make people depend on you. An image is made sacred not by its creator but by its worshipper. The shrewd would rather people needed them than thanked them. To put your trust in vulgar gratitude is to devalue courteous hope, for whilst hope remembers, gratitude forgets. More can be gained from dependence than from courtesy; once thirst is quenched, people turn their backs on the fountain, and an orange once squeezed is tossed in the mud. When dependence ends, so does harmony, and with it esteem. Let experience’s first lesson be to maintain and never satisfy dependence, keeping even royalty always in need of you. But you shouldn’t go to the extreme of being so silent as to cause error, or make someone else’s problems incurable for your own benefit.


The height of perfection. No one is born complete; perfect yourself and your activities day by day until you become a truly consummate being, your talents and your qualities all perfected. This will be evident in the excellence of your taste, the refinement of your intellect, the maturity of your judgement, the purity of your will. Some never manage to be complete; something is always missing. Others take a long time. The consummate man, wise in word and sensible in deed, is admitted into, and even sought out for, the singular company of the discreet.


Avoid outdoing your superior. All triumphs are despised, and triumphing over your superior is either stupid or fatal. Superiority has always been detested, especially by our superiors. Caution can usually hide ordinary advantages, just as it conceals beauty with a touch of carelessness. There will always be someone ready to admit others have better luck or temperaments, but no one, and especially not a sovereign, that someone has greater ingenuity. For this is the sovereign attribute and any crime against it is lese-majesty. Sovereigns, then, desire sovereignty over what matters most. Princes like to be helped, but not surpassed. Advice should be offered as if a reminder of what they’ve forgotten, not an insight that they’ve never had. The stars teach us such subtlety, for though they are children of the sun and shine brilliantly, they never compete with it in all its radiance.


Belie your national defects. Water acquires the good and bad qualities of the channels it passes through, people those of the country where they’re born. Some owe more than others to their birthplace, for the heavens were more propitious to them there. No country, even the most civilized, is free from some national failing which neighbouring countries will always criticize, either for advantage or solace. It’s a skilful triumph to correct, or at least to conceal, these national faults; you’ll gain credit as unique among your countrymen, for what’s least expected has always been more esteemed. There are also defects of lineage, status, occupation and age which, if they all appear in one person and are not carefully forestalled, will produce an unbearable monster.


Deal with people from whom you can learn. Let friendly interchange be a school of erudition, and conversation, civilized instruction. Make friends your teachers, joining learning’s usefulness and conversation’s pleasure. The intelligent combine two pleasures, enjoying the applause that greets what they say and the instruction received from what they hear. Usually, we are drawn to someone through our own interest, but here, that interest is ennobled. The circumspect frequent the company of eminent individuals whose houses are theatres of greatness rather than palaces of vanity. There are those renowned for their discretion whose example and behaviour are oracles in all matters of greatness and whose entourages are also courtly academies of good and gallant discretion.


Nature and art, material and craft. Beauty always needs a helping hand, and perfection is rough without the polish of artifice. It helps what is bad and perfects what is good. Nature usually lets us down when we need it most; let us then turn to art. Without it, our nature even at its best lacks refinement, and when culture is lacking, perfection remains incomplete. Everyone seems coarse without artifice, and everyone needs its polish in all areas to be perfect.


Reality and manner. Substance is insufficient, circumstance is also vital. A bad manner ruins everything, even justice and reason. A good manner makes up for everything: it gilds a ‘no’, sweetens truth, and beautifies old age itself. How something is done plays a key role in all affairs, and a good manner is a winning trick. Graceful conduct is the chief ornament of life; it gets you out of any tight situation.


Have intelligent support. The good fortune of the powerful: to be accompanied by outstanding minds that can save them from tight spots caused by their own ignorance and fight difficult battles for them. It shows exceptional greatness to make use of wise people, far better than the barbarous preference of Tigranes who wanted conquered kings as his servants. A new type of mastery over what’s best in life: skilfully make those whom nature made superior your servants. There’s much to know and life is short, and a life without knowledge is not a life. It’s a singular skill effortlessly to learn much from many, gaining knowledge from all. Then you can speak in a meeting for many or, through your words, as many wise people as advised you will speak. You’ll gain a reputation as an oracle through the sweat of others. Your learned helpers first select the subject, and then distil their knowledge and present it to you. If you can’t have wisdom as your servant, at least be on intimate terms.


Vary your procedure. Not always the same way, so as to confound those observing you, especially if they are rivals. Don’t always fulfil your declared intentions, for others will seize on your predictability, anticipating and frustrating your actions. It’s easy to kill a bird that flies straight, but not one that twists and turns. But don’t always do the opposite of what you say, for the trick will be understood the second time around. Malice is always lying in wait – great subtlety is needed to mislead it. Sharp players never move the piece their opponents are expecting, and especially not the one they want them to.


A person born in the right century. Truly outstanding people depend on their times. Not all were born at the time they deserved, and many, though they were, didn’t manage to take advantage of it. Some were worthy of a better century, for every good doesn’t triumph at all times. Everything has its time; even what’s outstanding is subject to changing taste. But wisdom has the advantage of being eternal, and if this is not its century, many others will be.

Jack Reacher's Seattle

In an extract from PERSONAL, Jack Reacher is in Seattle where he is enlisted on a new mission: to Paris.

Eight days ago my life was an up and down affair. Some of it good. Some of it not so good. Most of it uneventful. Long slow periods of nothing much, with occasional bursts of something. Like the army itself. Which is how they found me. You can leave the army, but the army doesn’t leave you. Not always. Not completely.
   They started looking two days after some guy took a shot at the president of France. I saw it in the paper. A long-range attempt with a rifle. In Paris. Nothing to do with me. I was six thousand miles away, in California, with a girl I met on a bus. She wanted to be an actor. I didn’t. So after forty-eight hours in LA she went one way and I went the other. Back on the bus, first to San Francisco for a couple of days, and then to Portland, Oregon, for three more, and then onward to Seattle. Which took me close to Fort Lewis, where two women in uniform got out of the bus. They left an ARMY TIMES behind, one day old, right there on the seat across the aisle.
   The ARMY TIMES is a strange old paper. It started up before World War Two and is still going strong, every week, full of yesterday’s news and sundry how-to articles, like the headline staring up at me right then: New Rules! Changes For Badges And Insignia! Plus Four More Uniform Changes On The Way! Legend has it the news is yesterday’s because it’s copied second-hand from old AP summaries, but if you read the words sideways you sometimes hear a real sardonic tone between the lines. The editorials are occasionally brave. The obituaries are occasionally interesting.
   Which was my sole reason for picking up the paper. Sometimes people die and you’re happy about it. Or not. Either way you need to know. But I never found out. Because on the way to the obituaries I found the personal ads. Which as always were mostly veterans looking for other veterans. Dozens of ads, all the same. Including one with my name in it. Right there, centre of the page, a boxed column inch, five words printed bold: Jack Reacher call Rick Shoemaker. Which had to be Tom O’Day’s work. Which later on made me feel a little lame. Not that O’Day wasn’t a smart guy. He had to be. He had survived a long time. A very long time. He had been around for ever. Twenty years ago he already looked a hundred. A tall, thin, gaunt, cadaverous man, who moved like he might collapse at any moment, like a broken stepladder. He was no one’s idea of an army general. More like a professor. Or an anthropologist. Certainly his thinking had been sound. Reacher stays under the radar, which means buses and trains and waiting rooms and diners, which, coincidentally or not, is the natural economic habitat for enlisted men and women, who buy the Army Times ahead of any other publication in the PX, and who can be relied upon to spread the paper around, like birds spread seeds from berries.
   And he could rely on me to pick up the paper. Somewhere. Sooner or later. Eventually. Because I needed to know. You can leave the army, but the army doesn’t leave you. Not completely. As a means of communication, as a way of making contact, from what he knew, and from what he could guess, then maybe he would think ten or twelve consecutive weeks of personal ads might generate a small but realistic chance of success.
   But it worked the first time out. One day after the paper was printed. Which is why I felt lame later on.
   I was predictable.
   Rick Shoemaker was Tom O’Day’s boy. Probably his second in command by now. Easy enough to ignore. But I owed Shoemaker a favour. Which O’Day knew about, obviously. Which was why he put Shoemaker’s name in his ad.
   And which was why I would have to answer it.
   Seattle was dry when I got out of the bus. And warm. And wired, in the sense that coffee was being consumed in prodigious quantities, which made it my kind of town, and in the sense that wifi hotspots and handheld devices were everywhere, which didn’t, and which made old-fashioned street-corner pay phones hard to find. But there was one down by the fish market, so I stood in the salt breeze and the smell of the sea, and I dialled a toll-free number at the Pentagon. Not a number you’ll find in the phone book. A number learned by heart long ago. A special line, for emergencies only. You don’t always have a quarter in your pocket.
   The operator answered and I asked for Shoemaker and I got transferred, maybe elsewhere in the building, or the country, or the world, and after a bunch of clicks and hisses and some long minutes of dead air Shoemaker came on the line and said, ‘Yes?’
   ‘This is Jack Reacher,’ I said.
   ‘Where are you?’
   ‘Don’t you have all kinds of automatic machines to tell you that?’
   ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘You’re in Seattle, on a pay phone down by the fish market. But we prefer it when people volunteer the information themselves. We find that makes the subsequent conversation go better. Because they’re already cooperating. They’re invested.’
   ‘In what?’
   ‘In the conversation.’
   ‘Are we having a conversation?’
   ‘Not really. What do you see directly ahead?’
   I looked.
   ‘A street,’ I said.
   ‘Places to buy fish.’
   ‘A coffee shop across the light.’
   I told him.
   He said, ‘Go in there and wait.’
   ‘For what?’
   ‘For about thirty minutes,’ he said, and hung up.

No one really knows why coffee is such a big deal in Seattle. It’s a port, so maybe it made sense to roast it close to where it was landed, and then to sell it close to where it was roasted, which created a market, which brought other operators in, the same way the auto makers all ended up in Detroit. Or maybe the water is right. Or the elevation, or the temperature, or the humidity. But whatever, the result is a coffee shop on every block, and a four-figure annual tab for a serious enthusiast. The shop across the light from the pay phone was representative. It had maroon paint and exposed brick and scarred wood, and a chalkboard menu about 90 per cent full of things that don’t really belong in coffee, like dairy products of various types and temperatures, and weird nut-based flavourings, and many other assorted pollutants. I got a plain house blend, black, no sugar, in the middle-sized go-cup, not the enormous grande bucket some folks like, and a slab of lemon pound cake to go with it, and I sat alone on a hard wooden chair at a table for two.
   The cake lasted five minutes and the coffee another five, and eighteen minutes after that Shoemaker’s guy showed up. Which made him navy, because twenty-eight minutes was pretty fast, and the navy is right there in Seattle. And his car was dark blue. It was a lowspec domestic sedan, not very desirable, but polished to a high shine. The guy himself was nearer forty than twenty, and hard as a nail. He was in civilian clothes. A blue blazer over a blue polo shirt, and khaki chino pants. The blazer was worn thin and the shirt and the pants had been washed a thousand times. A Senior Chief Petty Officer, probably. Special Forces, almost certainly, a SEAL, no doubt part of some shadowy joint operation watched over by Tom O’Day.
   He stepped into the coffee shop with a blank-eyed all-in-one scan of the room, like he had a fifth of a second to identify friend or foe before he started shooting. Obviously his briefing must have been basic and verbal, straight out of some old personnel file, but he had me at six-five two-fifty. Everyone else in the shop was Asian, mostly women and very petite. The guy walked straight towards me and said, ‘Major Reacher?’
   I said, ‘Not any more.’
   He said, ‘Mr Reacher, then?’
   I said, ‘Yes.’
   ‘Sir, General Shoemaker requests that you come with
   I said, ‘Where to?’
   ‘Not far.’
   ‘How many stars?’
   ‘Sir, I don’t follow.’
   ‘Does General Shoemaker have?’
   ‘One, sir. Brigadier General Richard Shoemaker, sir.’
   ‘When what, sir?’
   ‘Did he get his promotion?’
   ‘Two years ago.’
   ‘Do you find that as extraordinary as I do?’
   The guy paused a beat and said, ‘Sir, I have no opinion.’
   ‘And how is General O’Day?’
   The guy paused another beat and said, ‘Sir, I know of no one named O’Day.’

The blue car was a Chevrolet Impala with police hubs and cloth seats. The polish was the freshest thing on it. The guy in the blazer drove me through the downtown streets and got on I-5 heading south. The same way the bus had come in. We drove back past Boeing Field once again, and past the Sea-Tac airport once again, and onward towards Tacoma. The guy in the blazer didn’t talk. Neither did I. We both sat there mute, as if we were in a no-talking competition and serious about winning. I watched out the window. All green, hills and sea and trees alike.
   We passed Tacoma, and slowed ahead of where the women in uniform had gotten out of the bus, leaving their ARMY TIMES behind. We took the same exit. The signs showed nothing ahead except three very small towns and one very large military base. Chances were therefore good we were heading for Fort Lewis. But it turned out we weren’t. Or we were, technically, but we wouldn’t have been back in the day. We were heading for what used to be McChord Air Force Base, and was now the aluminium half of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Reforms. Politicians will do anything to save a buck.
   I was expecting a little back-and-forth at the gate, because the gate belonged jointly to the army and the air force, and the car and the driver were both navy, and I was absolutely nobody. Only the Marine Corps and the United Nations were missing. But such was the power of O’Day we barely had to slow the car. We swept in, and hooked a left, and hooked a right, and were waved through a second gate, and then the car was right out there on the Tarmac, dwarfed by huge C-17 transport planes, like a mouse in a forest. We drove under a giant grey wing and headed out over open blacktop straight for a small white airplane standing alone. A corporate thing. A business jet. A Lear, or a Gulfstream, or whatever rich people buy these days. The paint winked in the sun. There was no writing on it, apart from a tail number. No name, no logo. Just white paint. Its engines were turning slowly, and its stairs were down.
   The guy in the blazer drove a well-judged part-circle and came to a stop with my door about a yard from the bottom of the airplane steps. Which I took as a hint. I climbed out and stood a moment in the sun. Spring had sprung and the weather was pleasant. Beside me the car drove away. A steward appeared above me, in the little oval mouth of the cabin. He was wearing a uniform. He said, ‘Sir, please step up.’ The stairs dipped a little under my weight. I ducked into the cabin. The steward backed off to my right, and on my left another guy in uniform squeezed out of the cockpit and said, ‘Welcome aboard, sir. You have an all-air force crew today, and we’ll get you there in no time at all.’
   I said, ‘Get me where?’
   ‘To your destination.’ The guy crammed himself back in his seat next to his co-pilot and they both got busy checking dials. I followed the steward and found a cabin full of butterscotch leather and walnut veneer. I was the only passenger. I picked an armchair at random. The steward hauled the steps up and sealed the door and sat down on a jump seat behind the pilots’ shoulders. Thirty seconds later we were in the air, climbing hard.

A wintry Russian village

A young man's recounting of the story of St Peter leads him from despair to a euphoric sense of the unbroken chain between past and present, in Anton Chekhov's THE STUDENT.

At first the weather was fine and calm. Thrushes sang and in the marshes close by some living creature hummed plaintively, as if blowing into an empty bottle. A woodcock flew over and a shot rang out, echoing cheerfully in the spring air. But when darkness fell on the forest, an unwelcome, bitingly cold wind blew up from the east and everything became quiet. Ice needles formed on puddles and the forest became uninviting, bleak and empty. It smelt of winter.
   Ivan Velikopolsky, a theology student and parish priest’s son, was returning home along the path across the water meadows after a shooting expedition. His fingers were numb and his face burned in the wind. It seemed that this sudden onset of cold had destroyed order and harmony in all things, putting Nature herself in fear and making the evening shadows thicken faster than was necessary. All was deserted and somehow particularly gloomy. Only in the widows’ vegetable plots by the river did a light gleam. Far around, though, where the village stood about three miles away, everything was completely submerged in the chill evening mists. The student remembered that when he left home his mother had been sitting barefoot on the floor of the hall, cleaning the samovar, while his father lay coughing on the stove. As it was Good Friday no cooking was done at home and he felt starving. Shrinking from the cold, the student thought of similar winds blowing in the time of Ryurik, Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great – during their reigns there had been the same grinding poverty and hunger. There had been the same thatched roofs with holes in them, the same ignorance and suffering, the same wilderness all around, the same gloom and feeling of oppression. All these horrors had been, existed now and would continue to do so. The passing of another thousand years would bring no improvement. He didn’t feel like going home.
   The vegetable plots were called ‘widows’ because they were kept by two widows, mother and daughter. A bonfire was burning fiercely, crackling and lighting up the ploughed land far around. Widow Vasilisa, a tall, plump old woman in a man’s sheepskin coat, was standing gazing pensively at the fire. Her short, pock-marked, stupid-faced daughter Lukerya was sitting on the ground washing a copper pot and some spoons. Clearly they had just finished supper. Men’s voices could be heard – some local farm-workers were watering their horses at the river.
   ‘So, winter’s here again,’ the student said as he approached the bonfire. ‘Good evening.’
   Vasilisa shuddered, but then she recognized the student and gave him a welcoming smile.
   ‘Heavens, I didn’t know it was you,’ she said. ‘That means you’ll be a rich man one day.’
   They started talking. Vasilisa, a woman of the world, once a wet-nurse to some gentry and then a nanny, had a delicate way of speaking and she always smiled gently, demurely. But her daughter Lukerya, a peasant woman who had been beaten by her husband, only screwed up her eyes at the student and said nothing. She had a strange expression, as if she were a deaf-mute.
   ‘It was on a cold night like this that the Apostle Peter warmed himself by a fire,’ the student said, stretching his hands towards the flames. ‘That is to say, it was cold then as well. Oh, what a terrible night that was, Grandma! A dreadfully sad, never-ending night!’
   He peered into the surrounding darkness, violently jerked his head and asked, ‘I suppose you were at the Twelve Readings from the Gospels yesterday?’
   ‘Yes,’ Vasilisa replied.
   ‘You’ll remember, during the Last Supper, Peter said to Jesus, ‘‘I am ready to go with Thee, both into prison and to death.’’ And the Lord replied, ‘‘I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.’’ After the Supper, Jesus prayed in the garden, in mortal agony, while poor Peter was downhearted and his eyes grew heavy. He couldn’t fight off sleep, and he slept. Then, as you know, Judas kissed Jesus on that night and betrayed him to the torturers. They led him bound to the High Priest and they beat him, while Peter, exhausted and sorely troubled by anguish and fear – he didn’t have enough sleep, you understand – and in expectation of something dreadful taking place on earth at any moment, followed them. He loved Jesus passionately, to distraction, and now, from afar, he could see them beating him.’
   Lukerya put the spoons down and stared intently at the student. ‘They went to the High Priest,’ he continued, ‘they started questioning Jesus and meanwhile the workmen, as it was so cold, had made a fire in the middle of the hall and were warming themselves. Peter stood with them by the fire, warming himself as well, as I am now. One woman who saw him said, ‘‘This man was also with Jesus.’’ So she really meant that this man too had to be led away for questioning. And all the workmen around the fire must have looked at him suspiciously and sternly, as he was taken aback and said, ‘‘I know him not.’’ Soon afterwards someone recognized him as one of Jesus’s disciples and said, ‘‘Thou also wast with Him.’’ But again he denied it and for the third time someone turned to him and asked, ‘‘Did I not see you in the garden with Him this day?’’ He denied him for the third time. And straight after that a cock crowed and as he looked on Jesus from afar Peter remembered the words he had spoken to him at supper. He remembered, his eyes were opened, he left the hall and wept bitterly. As it is said in the Gospels, ‘‘And he went out, and wept bitterly.’’ I can imagine that quiet, terribly dark garden, those dull sobs, barely audible in the silence . . .’
   The student sighed and became deeply pensive. Still smiling, Vasilisa suddenly broke into sobs and large, copious tears streamed down her cheeks. She shielded her face from the fire with her sleeve as if ashamed of her tears, while Lukerya stared at the student and blushed. Her face became anguished and tense, like someone stifling a dreadful pain.
   The workmen were returning from the river and one of them, on horseback, was quite near and the light from the bonfire flickered on him. The student wished the widows goodnight and moved on. Again darkness descended and his hands began to freeze. A cruel wind was blowing – winter had really returned with a vengeance and it did not seem as if Easter Sunday was only the day after tomorrow.
   Now the student thought of Vasilisa: she had wept, so everything that had happened to Peter on that terrible night must have had some special significance for her.
   He glanced back. The solitary fire calmly flickered in the darkness and no one was visible near it. Once again the student reflected that, since Vasilisa had wept and her daughter had been deeply touched, then obviously what he had just been telling them about events centuries ago had some significance for the present, for both women, for this village, for himself and for all people. That old woman had wept, but not at his moving narrative: it was because Peter was close to her and because she was concerned, from the bottom of her heart, with his most intimate feelings.
His heart suddenly thrilled with joy and he even stopped for a moment to catch his breath. ‘The past,’ he thought, ‘is linked to the present by an unbroken chain of events, each flowing from the other.’ He felt that he had just witnessed both ends of this chain. When he touched one end, the other started shaking.
   After crossing the river by ferry and climbing the hill, he looked at his native village and towards the west, where a narrow strip of cold crimson sunset was glimmering. And he reflected how truth and beauty, which had guided human life there in the garden and the High Priest’s palace and had continued unbroken to the present, were the most important parts of the life of man, and of the whole of terrestrial life. A feeling of youthfulness, health, strength – he as only twenty-two – and an inexpressibly sweet anticipation of happiness, of a mysterious unfamiliar happiness, gradually took possession of him. And life seemed entrancing, wonderful and endowed with sublime meaning.

Sophie Kinsella's suburban home

Family drama kicks off in an extract from Sophie Kinsella's FINDING AUDREY.

OMG, Mum’s gone insane.
   Not normal Mum-insane. Serious insane.
   Normal Mum-insane: Mum says, ‘Let’s all do this great gluten-free diet I read about in the Daily Mail!’ Mum buys three loaves of gluten-free bread. It’s so disgusting our mouths curl up. The family goes on strike and Mum hides her sandwich in the flowerbed and next week we’re not gluten free any more.
   That’s normal Mum-insane. But this is serious insane.
   She’s standing at her bedroom window which overlooks Rosewood Close, where we live. No, standing sounds too normal. Mum does not look normal. She’s teetering, leaning over the edge, a wild look in her eye. And she’s holding my brother Frank’s computer. It’s balanced precariously on the window ledge. Any minute, it’ll crash down to the ground. That’s £700 worth of computer.
   Does she realize this? £700. She’s always telling us we don’t know the value of money. She’s always saying stuff like, ‘Do you have any idea how hard it is to earn ten pounds?’ and, ‘You wouldn’t waste that electricity if you’d had to pay for it.’
   Well, how about earning £700 and then deliberately smashing it on the ground?
   Below us, on the front lawn, Frank is scampering about in his BIG BANG THEORY t-shirt, clutching his head and gibbering with panic.
   ‘Mum.’ His voice has gone all high-pitched with terror. ‘Mum, that’s my computer.’
   ‘I know it’s your computer!’ Mum cries hysterically. ‘Don’t you think I know that?’
   ‘Mum, please, can we talk about this?’
   ‘I’ve tried talking!’ Mum lashes back. ‘I’ve tried cajoling, arguing, pleading, reasoning, bribing . . . I’ve tried everything! EVERYTHING, Frank!'
   ‘But I need my computer!’
   ‘You do not need your computer!’ Mum yells, so furiously that I flinch.
   ‘Mummy is going to throw the computer!’ says Felix, running onto the grass and looking up in disbelieving joy. Felix is our little brother. He’s four. He greets most life events with disbelieving joy. A lorry in the street! Ketchup! An extra-long chip! Mum throwing a computer out of the window is just another one on the list of daily miracles.
   ‘Yes, and then the computer will break,’ says Frank fiercely. ‘And you won’t be able to play Star Wars ever again, ever.’
   Felix’s face crumples in dismay and Mum flinches with fresh anger.
   ‘Frank!’ she yells. ‘Do not upset your brother!’
   Now our neighbours across the close, the McDuggans, have come out to watch. Their twelve-year-old son, Ollie, actually yells, ‘Noooo!’ when he sees what Mum’s about to do.

Sebastian Faulks's French Island

An extract from Sebastian Faulks's new novel WHERE MY HEART USED TO BEAT.

It must have been forty-eight hours after I’d written my letter of polite refusal to Pereira that I saw the corner of the envelope, still unposted, beneath some junk mail on the hall table. I pulled it out, dropped it in the wastepaper basket, sat down at my desk and began again. ‘Dear Dr Pereira, Thank you for your letter. I should be delighted . . .’
   A week later, I heard back from him; and ten days after that I was on the plane.
   Flights to Toulon were rare and expensive; I dog-legged via Marseille and a boxy hire car to the tip of the peninsula – what Pereira called the presqu’île, or ‘almost-island’ – to a small area where pleasure boats and water taxis berthed. Here I stood outside a scruffy place with a red awning, the Café des Pins, waiting to be collected.
   What reckoning with my past had made me change my mind? I conceded now that looking back over my youth in such detail was probably a way of preparing my defences. Recent research showed that your brain came to a decision more quickly than your mind could do so and fired the relevant systems before your plodding ‘judgement’ took the credit. Overlooking the implications for free will, or the illusion of it, I was happy to accept that that had been the case with me.
   I was going to meet a man who could open a door on to my past: it made me vulnerable to think a stranger might know more about myself than I did; I needed to make sure my own version of my life was in good order. At the same time, the wretched Annalisa business (such a mess of lust and fear and blocked feeling) had made me admit there were aspects of my character – or behaviour, at least – that not only were self-defeating but also inflicted pain on others. Even in my early sixties, I felt young and vigorous enough to change – to confront whatever I had yet to face; and perhaps a medical man of my father’s generation whose special interest was in memory could be the very one to help.
   I was into my second cigarette when an old woman in black stopped and looked me up and down.
   ‘Vous êtes Dr Hendricks?’ Her accent was strongly of the Midi.
   ‘Venez.’ She gestured me to follow. Despite her bowed legs she moved at speed. We went down a stone jetty, past the public ferry that had tied up for the night, over a gangway and on to a boat with a white canopy. It was big enough for a dozen people, though there were only three of us on it. The third was a man in the wheelhouse, who opened the throttle and began to edge the boat out into the waters of the bay.
   My French was good enough to ask how far we were going and how long it would take, but I couldn’t make out the old woman’s answers over the noise of the engine, and it seemed to me she preferred it that way. Eventually, I gave up trying to talk and instead looked back over the churning white wake to the port. Twenty minutes later, the mainland was no longer visible; we had left behind the croissant shape of Porquerolles island as we headed away from the setting sun.

   At some point, despite the heave of the sea, I must have nodded off. I was woken by the thump of the side of the boat against a rock. It was dark.
   There was an urgent exchange between the pilot and the old woman. We had arrived at a rocky inlet, or calanque as the man called it. He shone a torch on an iron hoop hammered into the reef; through this he secured the painter. The sea was calm enough to allow him to jump out and extend his hand, first to the woman, then to me.
   It was an awkward scramble by torchlight before we reached a path. Here the man left us and returned to his boat; I followed the old woman in the dark on an uphill wooded path. I caught the smell of pines and could feel their needles under my feet. Eventually we came to some steps, which after a considerable time – there were perhaps a hundred of them – led to a flat area on what must have been the cliff top. A large rectangular house was now visible, lit only by the moon; I could make out numerous tropical shrubs and trees along its shuttered verandah.
   We went in through a side door, into a dark passageway. The old woman told me to wait, while she vanished into the gloom, returning shortly afterwards with a gas lamp. With this, she led the way up a bare staircase and into a long corridor. At the end, we turned at right angles, towards the back of the house, and went up a half-flight of stairs to a door.
   ‘Isn’t Dr Pereira here?’ I asked in my rough but serviceable French.
   ‘No. He was called away to the mainland. He’ll be back tomorrow. There’s a bathroom down there. Breakfast will be at eight o’clock.’
   I lit a candle and said goodnight as I looked round my room. The bedstead was iron; the mattress was thin, but yielded when I sat down on it. There were clean sheets and a single blanket; the night was warm. Above the bed was a crucifix, a carved figure in soft wood with convincing thorns and drops of gore; on the opposite wall was a painting of a pious-looking man in a robe with a faraway look.
   The shutters gave way to a hefty push and opened on to the chatter of cicadas. The moon was obscured by loose clouds, but I could make out the shapes of umbrella pines; I thought that over the din of the insects I could hear the distant gasp and slap of sea in the calanque. The shouting of the women in my London flat seemed remote.
   Pereira’s island appeared on none of the maps I had flicked through at the airport – being too small, probably, for their tourist scale; yet the size of this house alone argued the presence of running water, labour, human habitation. As if to confirm my guess, a distant church bell struck the hour.
   I tried to read by candlelight, but even with two flames the print was hard to make out. I was lucky to suffer few of the indignities of middle age – beer belly, stiff knee or hair loss – but a bright light had become indispensable for reading.
   It didn’t matter. When you’ve slept in as many spare rooms and lodgings as I have, there is a comfort in strangeness; the new is always familiar.

A hot date in New York City

Heralded as the American answer to Helen Fielding, New York novelist Eliza Kennedy exclusively reveals her thoughts on marriage, monogamy and how she achieved the unthinkable  getting inspired in the gym.

When were you first inspired to write I TAKE YOU?

I was at the gym, in a very bad mood (Hate the gym). I was thinking about why an effort to write a novel about a wedding had failed a few years ago when a question popped into my head: What if the bride didn’t want to get married? It was followed by another question: Why would a bride not want to get married? And finally, the answer: Because she loves to sleep around. I was electrified! I raced home and wrote the first chapter that afternoon. Ten months later, the book was finished. This is the only good thing that has ever happened to me at a gym. Ever.

Describe your heroine, Lily Wilder.

Lily is maybe best described as a great lover of life. She loves good conversation. She loves her high-powered job, her complicated family. She loves New York City, her adopted home. She loves to go out with her friends. She loves to drink. A lot. And above all, she loves men. There are so many men in the world! Hot, witty, fascinating men. Lily loves to meet these men, to banter and flirt with them, and of course . . to sleep with them. Whenever she pleases, as often as she pleases, in as many different ways as she pleases. But she’s getting married in a week. So this is a problem.

You attended Harvard Law School, were an editor of the HARVARD LAW REVIEW, practised litigation at a prestigious Manhattan law firm, then, with no formal training, wrote one of the sexiest, laugh-out-loud funny novels ever read. Where on earth did Lily’s voice come from?

I honestly have no clue where she came from – the deepest, darkest recesses of my warped subconscious? She seeks maximal pleasure, all the time. She says and does exactly what she wants, regardless of the consequences. Now that we’ve found each other, I sometimes entertain myself in dull situations by imagining what Lily would do. This is not without its dangers.
  Readers of books like WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE?, THE ENGAGEMENTS, the Bridget Jones novels, and SOMETHING BORROWED are going to eat this up.

What was your grand plan when you first set out to write this novel? Did you have any sense of where it might take you?

My goal from the outset was to write a fun, entertaining book about a free-spirited woman who has no business getting married. But when I was about two-thirds of the way through, I realised I could add a little substance to the froth – that I could use Lily to talk about bigger issues like monogamy and female sexuality, friendship and marriage and family. That layer of the book came fairly late.

While I TAKE YOU is wickedly entertaining, it is more than just a fun beach-read. Lily’s experiences touch on larger issues, like the nature of choice, the implications of desire, cultural expectations of monogamy, and of course, the pursuit of pure fun! What’s your take on some of these questions?

The questions a novelist raises are just that: questions. My goal was to use Lily and her predicament to raise them, but not necessarily to answer them. Humans are an inherently promiscuous species trapped in a culture that worships monogamy. But instead of thinking hard about how to reconcile those warring impulses before we join souls in blessed communion with one person, forever, we obsess about the dress and the venue and the band and the guest list. This is understandable, but completely insane. Lily does a lot of things wrong (a lot of things), but at least she’s stepping back from the wedding madness to question who she is and what she wants before she walks down the aisle.


An evacuee ship

Michelle Magorian reflects on the inspiration behind her classic children's novels, GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM and BACK HOME.


While I was a drama student in England and attending a Mime school in Paris, I scribbled. I continued this habit between acting jobs and on Sundays, when working six days and six nights a week in repertory theatre companies. I wrote poetry, lyrics, comedy sketches and diaries followed by a novella and a collection of ten short stories using a song from JOSEPH AND HIS AMAZING TECHNICOLOUR DREAMCOAT as a catalyst. The song had eight pairs of colours and a single one making nine stories. My tenth story encompassed all the colours. One of these stories stayed with me so powerfully that I had to find out what happened next. And so I began my first novel.

I carried out research, wrote on trains, in tube stations, theatre dressing rooms, a caravan I lived in while working at a theatre in Devon and on a fire escape in London in the early hours of summer mornings. The first draft took three years to write interrupted by acting work, the second draft another year. It was while performing at Birmingham Repertory Theatre that I received a telegram from my literary agent telling me it had been accepted for publication.

The colours were green and brown. They made me think of youth, vulnerability and earthiness. One afternoon, while day dreaming around these colours I saw an image in my head of a small, frightened evacuee standing in a graveyard.

He reminded me of the two little boys my mother had told me about when she had been a nurse in a London hospital during the blitz. One had crawled under the bed never having slept in one before; the other had been sewn into his underwear for the winter. That gave me his background. As I was jotting these ideas down, my mother suddenly died.

Her funeral took place on a beautiful day in May. When we arrived at the graveyard I noticed a small house through the trees. I discovered it was where the man who looked after the graveyard lived. I decided that my little boy would be billeted there only I set the graveyard in a country village. It was as though my mother had not only given me William but also Mister Tom.


GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM is about two people, William and Mister Tom, who have both been hurt by life. Through the circumstances of war they find themselves thrown into each other's company. It is through living together that they heal one another.

Most of my novels contain people from my previous books or the seed of an idea for a future one. The seed for BACK HOME evolved from a photograph I came across while carrying out research for GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM. It was of a group of boys and girls on the deck of a ship arriving in England from America in 1945. They were sea evacuees. Their clothes and their hairstyles looked American. Even the manner in which they stood seemed American.

Most of them had been sent away from England in 1940 when the Germans invaded France. When some of the ships carrying them were sunk it became too dangerous to continue evacuating them. Churchill also believed it was bad for morale to see people fleeing the country. Their parents had no idea that they would not see them again for five years.

As a seven-year-old child I had travelled to Australia with my parents and little brother. My father, who was in the Navy, had been stationed there. Returning home two and a half years later I had little memory of England. My culture was Australian. England was a cold foreign country to me.

My mother sent me to Elocution lessons to get rid of my accent. For years I had believed it was for snobbish reasons. It was only much later that I understood why. I suspect that she believed that until I had lost it I would not make friends.

Ignored by the other children I was lonely, and I hated England so much that if we had to sing an English song in a singing lesson I would refuse and mime it instead. Luckily the teachers encouraged my acting side and eventually I made friends.

Knowing the difficulties I had experienced after only two and a half years away from England accompanied by my parents I wondered how these children coped after five years away from home without their parents.

The photograph continued to haunt me. It was as though the children were saying, ' you have to write about one of us. We won't leave you alone until you do.'

I surrendered and began my research. I met sea-evacuees, listened to them on the telephone and read their letters. This led me to explore American children's books, American Art, popular American music, traditional American stencilling, and through two chance encounters in a library in Connecticut and in a canteen in the British Library in London I was able to find out what it was like to be in Junior High in the 1940's.

Many of these children couldn't understand why their parents sent them away to boarding schools on their return. They believed that their parents didn't want them. One woman told me that her first three years back in England was like living in a dark tunnel.


BACK HOME tells the story of twelve-year-old Rusty. Like many shocked, disorientated and lonely sea-evacuees she is faced with bombed streets and rationing, has to adjust to living with relatives who seem like strangers including her four year old brother born in her absence and is expected to behave like an English girl.

But BACK HOME isn't only about her struggles to adjust to war torn Britain, it's also about the relationship between her and her mother. At first they expect each other to be the same person they had been in 1940. Eventually they realise that they need to get to know one another all over again.

Both of these books have been adapted for the screen and radio and it has given me enormous pleasure to know that adult and child actors have played roles I have created. There has been a musical version of GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM with the composer Gary Carpenter, (I wrote the book and lyrics), radio dramatisations in Sweden and Norway, an abridged reading on BBC radio, a television drama with the late John Thaw playing Mister Tom and more recently, a stage play adaptation written by David Wood.

Strange to think that it all began with the two colours, green and brown.

The Hemsleys' kitchen

Beef Rafu and Courgetti

The new way to spaghetti bolognese! Rather than heavy, glutenous pasta, we use ‘courgetti’ – long strands of raw courgette cut using a spiralizer or julienne peeler. If you don’t have one of these, try a vegetable peeler for very wide ribbons, pappardelle-style. For our beef ragu, we like to squeeze in as many vegetables as possible to make the meaty sauce go further, even using courgettes again and carrots for added sweetness. It’s also a good place to hide a nutritious chicken liver – finely dice and cook the liver with the sauce for a rich flavour.

Serves 4


  • 2 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, diced
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • ¼ tsp mixed spice (or try a tiny pinch of nutmeg)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 400 g minced beef (chuck or braising steak and don’t go for lean meat)
  • a large glass of red wine, about 250 g
  • 14 large tomatoes, roughly chopped, or 2 tins of chopped tomatoes or 800 g passata
  • 2 tsp tomato purée
  • 200 ml bone broth or water (you won’t need as much if using chopped tomatoes)
  • 2 large carrots, finely grated
  • 1 large handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 4 large courgettes
  • sea salt and black pepper

To Serve

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 handfuls of grated Parmesan


  1. Heat the ghee or butter in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion over a low heat until softened, but not browned (about 10 minutes). Add the garlic, bay leaves, mixed spice, oregano (and any other herbs that you choose) and fry for a further 2 minutes.
  2. Increase the heat and add the beef to the pan, using a wooden spatula to break it up as you cook.
  3. After 5 minutes, pour in the red wine and stir to deglaze the pan, then add the tomatoes, tomato purée and bone broth or water.
  4. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid, leaving the lid just slightly off, then reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2½ hours until rich and thickened. It is even better after 3–4 hours – keep an eye on it and add more liquid if needed.
  5. Add the grated carrots 15 minutes before the end of cooking.Turn up the heat to a medium simmer and season with sea salt, a good grind of pepper and the fresh parsley.
  6. Meanwhile, use a spiralizer or julienne peeler to make the courgetti. Or use a regular vegetable peeler to slice the courgettes lengthways into very wide ribbons,which you can then slice in half.You might want to cut the long strands in half to make them easier to eat.
  7. Soften the courgetti in a pan with a little butter, stirring over a low heat for 3 minutes. Alternatively, save washing up another pan by just running some of the hot sauce through your spirals – the heat and salt in the sauce will soften them.
  8. Drizzle each bowl of ragu and courgetti with extra virgin olive oil and serve with Parmesan for everyone to help themselves.

The Back Story

We’re declaring this the Summer of Penguin!

Throughout August we’ll be sharing brilliant stories and interludes to celebrate our 80th birthday.

Every morning you’ll have the choice of two new bite-size reading morsels, perfect to enjoy on your commute.

Stroll around Covent Garden with Ali Smith, take a trip into the deepest recesses of Stephen Fry’s mind, jump into Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and wreak havoc with a teenage Mary Portas.

Simply go to the homepage, select a destination and prepare to be transported.

If today’s selection isn’t grabbing your attention, scroll down through the archive or check back in tomorrow for something new.

Have a nice trip!

Change here for Penguin services

Penguin books was an idea first conceived by founder Allen Lane whilst he waited on a train platform with nothing to read – sound familiar? With the first Penguin paperbacks arriving in the summer of 1935 and costing no more than sixpence, the way that the public thought about books changed forever. The Penguin revolution had begun.

Connect Me

Penguin has pioneered again with partners Transport for London and Virgin Media, to create this new experience for London Underground customers.

Simply connect to the Virgin Media WiFi service when you’re on the Tube. Like to know more? Visit the TfL website: tfl.gov.uk/station-wifi for more information and help to get started.