Friday 26 February - Sunday 6 March

Tag Archive: Viv Groskop

  1. Priding herself on being quicker than many of younger models on the fashion shoots that take her from South Africa to Sydney

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    Daphne Selfe: The Way we Wore

    The world’s oldest working super-model, 87-year old Daphne Selfe is an eminently practical woman. Dressed elegantly in charity shop finds, she comes from an age where discipline was key and tenacity essential.  She is not one to cry over spilt milk or succumb to the inertia that can often accompany old age.

    She came to modelling by chance as a young woman, despite the fact that her heart was really in working with horses. When that didn’t bear much fruit she was employed as a shop girl in Heelas in Reading (now John Lewis) and before long she began to model, continuing to do so until she married.

    While bringing up her three children, Selfe worked as an extra. But at the grand old age of 70, she made her comeback on the catwalk for the fashion label Red or Dead. Her children thought it was “cool, very cool”. A shoot at Vogue followed, and representation by Models 1.  “It’s always fun to dress up and prance about wearing clothes you can’t afford” she says, before telling Viv Groskop, the festival’s director, that the most she has spent recently on an item of clothing was £50 on a dress in Oxfam.

    Priding herself on being quicker than many of younger models on the fashion shoots that take her from South Africa to Sydney, Scotland to Beijing, she is a consummate professional, and hopes that other older models will follow in her trailblazing wake, especially as the population of the UK continues to age while the mainstream media is increasingly filled with fashion for teenagers.

    Botox is an absolute no-no. Then again, she is blessed with the most wonderful bone structure.  Pressed to name the one thing she would change about herself she suggests her hands.  They’re not pretty, she says, but she does value their capability.

    She struggled to find a publisher for her book, partly for its lack of sensationalism. A keen diary-keeper from the age of 17, she had a lot of material to drawn upon, not least the fall into poverty by her middle class family that saw them move from a house staffed with six servants to a small flat in Muswell Hill. That, as with most else it would seem, Selfe takes in her stride.

    She swears by a lifestyle that celebrates good health above all else, born of a childhood where rationining was the norm for many years. “I exercise every day.  I do yoga, keep-fit, Pilates and ballet.  Discipline is what you need.  You have to eat the right things.  I eat a little of everything and I make all my own food.  And drink a lot of water.” Her distinctive long grey hair, which “makes me look like a hag” she admits, when not styled for a shoot, is seldom cut by the hairdresser.

    Yet, she does admit to owning a pair of trousers with an elasticated waist. That is, as one might expect of Selfe, a matter-of-fact decision: “When you shrink during the day, as you do with age, your waist has to go somewhere. So elasticated waists are marvellous. In the morning, you’re tall; in the evening, you’re fat.”  Hard to believe this of Selfe, but if you like her straight-talking approach there’s plenty more good advice on her website for all of us who’d like to walk a little taller.

    Claudia Pugh-Thomas

    The Independent Bath Literature Festival Friday 26 Feb – Sunday 6 March 2016

  2. Japan Now: Both authors find some aspects of English culture a little baffling. The fact that doors on trains don’t open automatically seems counterintuitive. And Marmite? An unequivocal no.

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    Japan Now: Soji Shimada and Kyoko Yoshida

    Despite, or perhaps because of the remarkably low rates of homicide in Japan, the appetite of the reading public there for murder mystery novels is unusually high, providing the perfect spawning ground for masters of the genre. No wonder then that Soji Shimada, author of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, renowned as the “God of Mystery’ has gained a loyal audience both at home and beyond his native shores.  Part of the reason he’s here in England – a country for which he has a deep affection – is a self-confessed desire to act as a stimulant to bring out the hidden mystery writers of the UK.

    It’s not just the details of murder that appeal, but the mystery, the game, the whodunnit, and how. “The mystery has the appeal, and the murder is the icing on the cake” he says. Since the Edo era, Shimada explains, the Japanese have always loved puzzles.  Books to exercise the brain always sell well and when it comes to fiction, an added dose of surrealism only enhances the element of surprise, the distance between cause and effect.

    What Shimada finds truly mysterious is the high number of suicides in Japan, around 30,000 each year. The failure of the population to come to terms with the outcome of World War II may be one reason behind the epidemic.   Senility and geriatric illness may be another.  And Shimada wonders whether domestic violence plays a part.  But he has no certain answers.

    Kyoko Yoshida, who joins Shimada onstage to promote her debut collection of short stories, writes graphic and visceral tales that read like daydreams, immediate and comprehensible to the characters in her fiction, but offering an altered reality to the reader. It’s like having a cramp when you’re asleep, Yoshida says: you feel as though you’re falling, but you’re not actually falling.  She chooses to write in English, which adds another layer of the fantastic to her work.

    These two authors follow in the trail blazed by Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto who not only bring international audiences to Japanese fiction, but whose successes abroad have also impacted on the concept of national domestic literature in Japan.

    Unlike Shimada, Yoshida hasn’t been translated into Japanese yet – although there is a Swedish version of Disorientalism – and has no plans to translate the book herself: “It would be like writing it all again.”  Writing in English has its own problems, not least getting to grips with spelling.  And both authors find some aspects of English culture a little baffling.  The fact that doors on trains don’t open automatically seems counterintuitive.  And Marmite? An unequivocal no.

    Claudia Pugh-Thomas

    The 21st Independent Bath Literature Festival continues until Sunday 6 March view the full programme here
    Bath Box Office 01225 463362



  3. Artistic Director’s Festival Pick: What’s Happening in Egypt? Tahrir Square Five Years On Viv Groskop on two foreign correspondents who have the inside track

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    Is it really five years since the occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo? Security forces killed 1,000 supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Over a quarter of a million took to the streets in protest, spawning slogans such as: “Lift your head up high: you’re Egyptian.” Outside of Egypt, millions followed the protests on social media for the first time, suddenly able to see for themselves both the possibilities of “citizen journalism” and the limitations of using hashtags to understand complex ideas.


    Political demonstrations are not easy to understand on the ground. They’re even tougher to follow from a distance. I have to confess: I’m not sure I understand exactly what happened at the time or what has happened since. There are so many news events which capture our attention in the moment and then the months pass and are we really any the wiser about how these things fit into the grand scheme of things?

    Thank goodness, then, for two dazzlingly brilliant foreign correspondents coming to Bath at the end of this month. One is a firm favourite of mine: Wendell Steavenson, the author of a book which changed my life in 2003. Her first book, Stories I Stole, an evocative, moving memoir about post-Soviet Georgia, inspired me to make a series of trips to the capital, Tbilisi, and to report on the country’s political difficulties. (“Our government is more corrupt than any other in the world,” one man told me in 2008, when I was reporting for the New Statesman.) Now several Georgians are amongst my closest friends.

    circling the square

    Steavenson is one of these people who can jet into a place and just immerse themselves instantly. She’s tough, intelligent and sensitive. And she is great at relaying the nuances of a country and its culture to a wider audience. Having reported extensively from Moscow, Tehran, Baghdad and Beirut, she arrived in Cairo in January 2011, four days after young Egyptians had taken to the streets in the protests that would bring down president Hosni Mubarak. Her new book Squaring the Circle is about what happened next – and how hard it was to figure out what was going on. “I began to realise that witnessing something did not give you any good sense of what had really happened,” she writes. “A person bearing witness was the most unreliable narrator of all.”

    Joining her to discuss Egypt’s fate since then is former Guardian Egypt correspondent Jack Shenker, whose book The Egyptians: A Radical Story uncovers the roots of the uprising and explores a country now divided by two irreconcilable political orders. The international media may have moved on from Egypt’s explosive cycles of revolution and counter-revolution, he argues, but the Arab World’s most populous nation remains as volatile as ever.

    The Egyptians Front 300dpi

    Shenker’s work is truly impressive: Paul Mason, Owen Jones and Noam Chomsky are fans and this book has already been listed as one of the most important non-fiction reads of 2016. He was also one of the first to write extensively about the deaths of African migrants in the Mediterranean in 2012, which earned him an award for News Story of the Year at the One World media awards, where he was also shortlisted for Journalist of the Year.

    Often we need “translators” to explain these events, bring them to life and keep reminding us why they’re important: Steavenson and Shenker couldn’t be better placed.

    Tahrir Square: Five Years On with Jack Shenker and Wendell Steavenson is on Monday 29 February at The Guildhall, Bath, at 8pm. Tickets:

  4. The Pushkin House Russian Book Prize 2015: Shortlist Announcement

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    Established in 1954 by a group of Russian émigrés in a house in west London, now located in Bloomsbury, Pushkin House has served for more than fifty years as a non-partisan meeting place for anyone interested in the open discussion of cultural, literary and political ideas pertaining to Russia.

    Three years ago, the centre inaugurated an annual book prize to recognize significant contributions to the canon of literature on Russia and in 2014, Catherine Merridale, professor of contemporary history at Queen Mary, University of London, and a leading Russian historian, won the prize for Red Fortress: The secret heart of Russia’s history (Penguin Books).

    This year, she is a judge, joined on stage by the Financial Times journalist Andrew Jack and Viv Groskop, the Festival’s Artistic Director (and one of the 2014 judges of the prize) to announce the shortlist.

    It’s a lively and brisk run through of the six contenders with Groskop introducing each title, reading a short extract to give a flavour of the book in question and throwing open the discussion of its merits to her colleagues on stage.

    First up is The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the battle over a forbidden book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée (Random House) which traces the story of Boris Pasternak’s novel, Dr Zhivago. Literary contraband, highly controversial for its failure to “conform to official cultural guidelines” it was smuggled out of Moscow in 1956, becoming a symbol of freedom and rebellion in the battle between East and West on its publication.

    A Polish writer with a “well-seasoned liver”, in the mould of Ryszard Kapuściński, Jacek Hugo-Bader has written Kolyma Diaries: A journey into Russia’s haunted hinterland, translated by Antonia Lloyd Jones (Portobello Books). It’s a searing account of his trip to Russia’s bleak north, along the 2,000 miles or so of the Kolyma Highway. In this most remote region the descendants of prisoners sent to the forced labour camps of the Soviet Gulag do whatever it takes to make a living: scholars forage for mushrooms, miners excavate mass graves searching for gold, drug addicts rub shoulders with runaway sportsmen. It’s a beautifully written book, Jack says, about a part of the world that has been largely forgotten.

    If Merridale’s prize-winning book captured the essence of Moscow, Catriona Kelly’s illustrated study St Petersburg: Shadows of the past (Yale University Press) does the same for its northern historic counterpart. It’s a social history, a comprehensive biography, that encompasses the city’s rubbish dumps and promenades, featuring a wide cast of characters from artists to politicians, addressing myths and truths, and exploring the impact of St Petersburg’s geographical location on its development, outlook and recent history.

    Groskop struggles to hold the weighty tome that is Stalin Volume 1: Paradoxes of power, 1878-1928 by Stephen Kotkin (Penguin Press) in one hand. Thickly descriptive, the fruit of countless hours spent combing the archives for details, the book is rigorously academic and exhaustively researched. Not a light read in any sense of the word.

    If you want to understand what’s going on in Ukraine today look no further than The Last Empire: The final days of the Soviet Union (Basic Books). Serhii Plokhii’s book on the events of 1991 when the Soviet Union began to unravel and Ukraine was never far from the diplomatic foreground could not have been published at a more auspicious time.

    And lastly, to Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The surreal heart of the new Russia by Peter Pomerantsev (Public Affairs). Pomerantsev’s background in television informs the filmic tone of the book and its urgent reportage. It’s a colourful, if frequently bleak, tale of the effects of oil wealth on Moscow over the past fifteen years: gangsters roam unhindered, über-expensive Maybachs glide down city streets, brash new architectural edifices mushroom.

    And lastly, an honorable mention of an important book on Putin’s Russia. As Merridale observes: “If you want to know how to organize an international criminal network, Putin’s Kleptocracy by Karen Dawis is the manual.” Unfortunately, the book isn’t on the official shortlist due to legal implications. How very Russian.

    The winner will be announced in May.

    Claudia Pugh Thomas


  5. The Big Bath Read: The rise of the Book Club.

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    It’s official, Book Clubs are back, even Mark Zuckerberg has said so. At the start of this year the Facebook creator joined the trend; started by the likes of Oprah and Richard and Judy, by announcing that his new year’s resolution is to read a book every 2 weeks for an entire year. His first book, an apt choice Moisés Naím’s ‘The End of Power’, sold out of Amazon within 24 hours with millions of people rushing to get his first choice of influential books.

    Click the image to read the full article:


    Although the ‘Zuckerberg / Facebook’ affiliation may make us squirm in our socially mediated seats there is no doubt that pulling millions of people towards reading cannot be a bad thing. No one can deny the increasing squeeze put on our daily lives via technology and it is refreshing to see a pull towards the enjoyment and importance that can be gained from reading books.

    However if Zuckerberg’s capitalist minded picks are not what you had in mind then why not join our book group; THE BIG BATH READ:


    Created by our artistic director for the 2015 Bath Literature Festival – VIV GROSKOP – to coincide with the run up to the festival, Viv has suggested that we all read the incredible book ‘SMALL WARS’ by SADIE JONES. The Book Club is a space to give reviews of reads and to peek at what others are reading.

    Jones will be part of a number of events at the festival but most importantly she will be in conversation with Viv on the 8th March to talk about her book. Perhaps the Big Bath Read is able to give an element of interaction that other book groups do not offer. What a pleasure to read an author’s work and to then see her in the flesh voice her opinions about the book (and you never know, maybe you will be able to ask that burning question) If you sign up to the group linked above then you can also share your own top reads and see what other bookworms are enjoying.

    Click on the image for a review by the Telegraph of the book:


    If you haven’t already the please visit our website to see the full line up in this year’s Literature festival, or alternatively you can browse this year’s online brochure here:



  6. Pushkin House Russian Book Prize Shortlist Announcement

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    Bath Festivals was extremely honoured to play host to the announcement of the shortlist for the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize last night. The Prize, now in its second year, runs in association with Waterstones and rewards the best non-fiction writing on Russia. The shortlist was selected by a panel chaired by Dr Rowan Williams, and revealed at a special event last night by fellow Prize judge Viv Groskop and Andrew Jack, journalist at the Financial Times and co-chairman of Pushkin House.

    The 2014 shortlisted titles are:
    – The Black Russian by Vladimir Alexandrov (Head of Zeus)
    – A Spy in the Archives: a Memoir of Cold War Russia by Sheila Fitzpatrick (I.B. Tauris)
    – Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America by Owen Matthews (Bloomsbury)
    – Red Fortress: the Secret Heart of Russia’s History by Catherine Merridale (Allen Lane)
    – Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: a Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen (Transworld)
    – Musorgsky and His Circle: a Russian Musical Adventure by Stephen Walsh (Faber & Faber)

    Dr Rowan Williams said of the shortlist: “This is a list which vividly shows the breadth and depth of interest in Russian matters in the English-speaking world. These books deal both with ‘mainstream’ cultural and political history and also with utterly unexpected dimensions of the Russian heritage and some unforgettable individuals who have contributed to it. We’re delighted to have a shortlist for the 2014 Prize which offers such lively, diverse and expert perspectives on Russia, and it has been a great privilege to be involved in this work.”

    The winner of the 2014 Prize will be announced on Wednesday 30th April at a ceremony at Pushkin House, the premier centre for Russian culture in London, and will be awarded £5,000. The Prize was established in 2012 to encourage public understanding and intelligent debate about the Russian-speaking world.

  7. Picture of the Day: Saturday 8 March

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    We had an absolute blast hosting our first Great Big Comedy Night in Komedia, in association with What the Frock! It was all in aid of celebrating Germaine Greer’s 75th birthday. Our intrepid photographer caught up with the comics in the dressing room, including our Artistic Director Viv Groskop, token bloke Mark Watson, Bethan Roberts, Ellie Taylor & Rachel Parris.

    Photo: Copyright Julian Foxon Photography

  8. Video: Viv Groskop previews The Independent Bath Literature Festival 2014

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    Our Literature Festival Artistic Director Viv Groskop juggles being a journalist, broadcaster, stand-up comic and all-round tweeting machine. Somehow we got her to sit down for just long enough to talk about what she’s most looking forward to at The Independent Bath Literature Festival 2014.

    Priority booking for Friends of the Festival is now open. Click here to learn how to become a Friend, or click here to explore the full programme.

  9. Announcement of new Artistic Director for Literature Festival

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    Viv Groskop










    Bath Festivals is delighted to announce the appointment of critic, columnist and broadcaster Viv Groskop to the role of Artistic Director of The Independent Bath Literature Festival.

    Viv takes over from James Runcie, who has been at the creative helm of the festival since 2010. James leaves to take up the full time post of Head of Literature and Spoken Word at London’s South Bank Centre.

    Viv Groskop was raised and educated in Bruton, Somerset. Her background in journalism includes The Daily Telegraph, The Observer and The Independent. She is the Literary Editor of Red Magazine and consultant host of numerous literary events in London and beyond. She contributes reviews, interviews and opinion columns for many national broadsheet newspapers and magazines and makes regular appearances on BBC and Sky arts programmes as well as having her own stand up comedy act.

    Belinda Kidd, Chief Executive of Bath Festivals says: Bath Festivals is delighted to welcome Viv to the team. She is a prolific and highly successful journalist and broadcaster, and I’m sure her fresh, dynamic approach will take the Literature Festival on to even greater heights.

    Viv Groskop says: I am very excited to be joining the team at The Independent Bath Literature Festival. I grew up in the West Country and I am as passionate about books as I am about live events, so this is a dream job for me. I’m looking forward to building on the Festival’s success in recent years.

    Viv and the Bath Festivals team are looking forward to delivering her first literature festival in 2014: 28 February – 7 March