The Lit Review |44|A Letter to China on Freedom of Expression

Authors Appeal to Chinese President to Release Jailed Writers

More than 40 authors have submitted a letter to the president of China, Xi Jinping, urging him to reconsider the imprisonment of four Chinese writers and public figures – for the crime of expressing their opinion. This letter was written ahead of the president’s visit to the USA this week. Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Franzen and Ian McEwan are just some of the signatories of this letter, expressing their deep concerns about ‘the deteriorating state of free expression in China’.

The four imprisoned figures are Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, who has been sentenced to life in prison ‘for voicing his views online about the treatment of Uighurs’; Gao Yu, a 71-year-old investigative journalist, currently in ill-health, who was sentenced to seven years in prison earlier this year; Liu Xiaobo, a literary critic and political commentator who was sentenced to an 11-year term in 2009 over calls for political reform, and his wife Liu Xia, a painter, poet and photographer who has been under house arrest for nearly five years. The authors have emphasised that these decisions are unprogressive and will not promote a favourable image of China as the country seeks to build international relations and develop links abroad ‘The imprisonment of writers and journalists damages China’s image abroad and undercuts its ambition to be a strong and respected partner on the world stage’. They have spoken out against this censorship, explaining how such actions prevent access to ‘accurate news and information that is in the public interest, and stifles the creativity and diversity of viewpoints that are essential to building a dynamic and competitive economy and culture’.


The Longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize

Guantánamo Diary has made the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize, the UK’s most prestigious award for non-fiction. Author of the memoir, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, has been held in Guantanamo since 2002 despite never bring charged with a crime. The prize jury have referred to this novel as a ‘brutally original’ memoircts.

Others in the running for the prize are, Withnail and I director Bruce Robinson for his investigations into Jack the Ripper. Entitled They All Love Jack, the book provides a new theory about the infamous killer’s identity. Oliver Morton has been selected for his exploration of geo-engineering in The Planet Remade, as has Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, which explores how language shapes our sense of place. The full list is available here.



Roald Dahl and Fries

The Big Friendly Giant
Photo credit:

Roald Dahl Day was last week and the clever marketing folks over at McDonalds have hopped on that bandwagon. They have managed to secure a partnership with the Roald Dahl estate to enclose extracts of the famous storyteller’s books within happy meals for the next six weeks. Eight titles have been carefully selected for the promotion. Abigail Moss, director of the National Literacy Trust, who are backing this campaign, has said: ‘Many parents will have enjoyed the wonderful world of Roald Dahl when they were young and now they’ll be able to share these iconic stories with their children. The scale of the campaign will reach millions of children, including many who haven’t owned a book before, inspiring them to enjoy reading and improving their life chances.

‘Improving their life chances’ might be a stretch, as children will be reading about chocolate factories and fantastic foxes while chomping away on grease laden burgers, but I’ll choose my battles. You can’t argue with free books for children.


400 Words for Snow

Whatever you do, make sure you don’t get caught in ‘snaw-pouther’. According to the first ever Historical Thesaurus of Scots, this word describes the wind-driven snow. It joins 400 other variants to describe our white, wintery friend.  Other examples of words for snow are ‘feefle’ (for the light, swirly stuff), ‘flindrikin’ (for a small shower), and ‘spitters’ (for small drops or flakes of rain). What word would you use to describe snow? This could morph into a very fun game for wordsmiths.b


Jackie Collins Dies at 77

Jackie Collins has died at 77 of cancer. The ‘queen of the bonk-buster’ had kept her illness a secret for six years, only revealing it in recent weeks in her final interview to US magazine People, released just six days before her death. Collins was famous for stories such as Hollywood Wives and The Stud, which chronicled all that was glamourous and sexy in Los Angeles. ‘Looking back, I’m not sorry about anything I did … I’ve written five books since the diagnosis. I’ve lived my life, I’ve travelled all over the world. I have not turned down book tours and no-one has even known until now when I feel as though I should come out with it.’



First generation Harry Potter readers are being encouraged to leave little notes for future Harry Potter obsessed children when they donate their books to charity. The #Potteritforward hashtag has emerged on Twitter as a means for fans to share a small snippet of why the series meant so much to them as young readers. I won’t be parting with my Harry Potter collection, ever. But hopefully other Harry Potter elders will be more generous with their books than I am.


Imagine Arts Festival

The first ever Imagine Crime Writing Award will be presented to John Banville as part of the Imagine Arts Festival in Waterford. Waterford has strong connections to crime writer Raymond Chandler, and the IAF is launching the crime award during this year’s festival, which takes place from October 15th-25th.

The programme will host over 50 events, including storytelling for children and adults, theatre productions, and a strong music line up. Festival director, Ollie Breslin, has said ‘locals and visitors to Waterford for the Imagine Arts Festival can expect a bountiful and inspirational programme of arts in unexpected places, celebrating art in all its forms from literature to spoken word to music to dance, comedy, visual art and theatre’.