Pup of the month

  • December 22, 2019 07:00

To celebrate the festive season, here's a very special blog post from the office dog Pip...

Pets by Royal Appointment is my new favourite book and the perfect Christmas present for all animal parents out there. I have become really jealous learning about the animal-sized palaces where royal pets live – though I’m glad I don’t have to share a home with any crocodiles, hippos or elephants, like some royal pooches of back in the day.

Ever since Henry VIII, the Kings and Queens of England have kept pets, from a whole dynasty of corgis to stables full of horses. Find out which royal made a family Christmas card featuring their dog front and centre – I think I might suggest my owner does the same this year. In fact, he might be extra interested to know that the Queen gives each of her corgis their own individual stockings for Christmas EVERY YEAR, and that’s not even to mention the extravagant presents Queen Victoria bought for her spaniel Dash. This book has something for every owner and I’ll be making sure there’s a copy under my tree, right next to that suspicious biscuit-shaped package.

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A Christmas Q&A with Michael Bright

  • December 19, 2019 14:00
  • Michael Bright

Nature is a weird and wonderful place, and nobody knows that better than Michael Bright. As the author of more than 130 books- two of which are being reissued by us at Biteback this January- he sat down with us to chat about his inspirations, his love of nature and the fact that his grandmother had one of the first television sets in all of Plymouth...

 

What kick-started your love of the natural world?

I was fortunate enough to have lived for most of my early life in Plymouth, on the border between two of the UK's most beautiful counties – Devon and Cornwall. My playgrounds were the moors, beaches, and sea cliffs, so you could not help be excited by all that was around you. Plymouth is also home to the Marine Biological Association and, before the National Aquarium was built, it had a public aquarium. I pressed my nose to the glass almost every week, and one fish always attracted my attention. It was a huge wreckfish, so imagine my surprise when, many years later, I visited the new National Aquarium, and there was my wreckfish, alive and well!

    My mother used to take me down to the harbour to meet the aquarium's fishing boat. You always knew when it was coming home because it gave a loud honk to let their van driver know they were coming into port. It was different from the fish market further along the quay, in that all the fish and shellfish were kept alive; and what amazing things they brought back – huge lobsters, octopuses, John Dory, dogfish, smooth hounds, electric rays, and skates (when they were more common).

    Then, there was television. My grandmother had one of the first televisions in Plymouth, and, of all the programmes we watched together, it was the wildlife documentaries that caught my imagination. From that moment on, all I wanted to do was work in wildlife programme making. The writing came later.

 

What inspired you to write these books?

I thought it would be fun to gather together fascinating information about animals and present them in such a way that you can dip in and out of the book, and then impress your family and friends with fascinating facts – unless, of course, they've read the books too!

 

How did you do the research for the books?

Research initially came from what was in my head. When you work in radio and television, you pick up a lot of facts and figures along the way. It was just a matter of ordering them, so the books are not too rambling.

 

Most interesting animal fact you found out when writing them?

Oh gosh, that's a difficult one. I find them all interesting, but one thing that sticks in my mind is the bit of detective work I did on Steller's sea cow. It's an animal thought to have been hunted to extinction by 1768, but in 1937, the skeleton of a strange creature was found in the stomach of a harpooned sperm whale. Nobody has been able to identify it, but when I saw the photographs, it jumped out at me – here was a Steller's sea cow. A bit more digging revealed that creatures resembling the sea cow have been seen alive off the Russian and North American coasts, including a sighting as recently as 2006 off Washington State. A fishing charter skipper spotted what he described as a 'manatee', and Steller's sea cow is a close relative of the manatee. Terrific stuff.

 

Do you have a role model?

My early role models were all wildlife television presenters. The Austrian underwater explorer Hans Hass was the first. In his television series Diving to Adventure, he and his glamorous wife Lotte sailed the seven seas in a beautiful white schooner called the Xarifa. The most exciting moments were when they dived with sharks, and to this day, I rate sharks among my favourite animals.

    My second hero was, of course, Sir David Attenborough. When I was young, he was making the Zoo Quest series, and the episodes that really caught my imagination were from Zoo Quest for a Dragon, when Sir David and his trusty cameraman Charles Lagus, encountered the Komodo dragon – shear magic!

    A third hero was naturalist and wildlife cameraman Tony Soper. Tony was one of the founders of the BBC's Natural History Unit, and he accompanied Sir Peter Scott and his wife in the two series Look and Faraway Look. Each week they transported this little boy from Plymouth to exotic locations, such as Galápagos Islands and New Guinea. Little did that youngster know that, one day, he'd be travelling like his heroes too.

    Interestingly, when I joined the BBC, I had the privilege to meet and even work with all of my heroes... now, not many people can claim that.

 

What’s your writing process like?

I don't really have one, even though I've just started on my 130th book, and I still have no fixed routines. I just sit down and write the first relevant thing that comes into my head. With modern word processing technology it's now very easy to go back and revise your text. Before that, I used a lot of cutting and pasting, not electronically, but literally, right across the floor. Also, when I was at the BBC, I had to write in my spare time, which meant at night and weekends, and even now, having retired from the BBC some years ago, I seem to write the best prose at night.

 

Thing you’re most looking forward to about having your books published in January?

I think some form of feedback is the most exciting thing. Do readers like it? Has it inspired them? Writing can be quite a lonely occupation, so contact with people is very welcome. And, let's face it... I do get a kick to see my book in the bestsellers list – fingers crossed!

 

What’s the best Christmas present you’d like to receive?

This has to be good health, not for me, but for my granddaughter, who, as I write, is about to have a third major operation, and she's not even a year old. A successful outcome is all I'd like for Christmas.


Michael's books, The Shark that Walks on Land, and The Frog with Self-Cleaning Feetare out in January. Pre-order them now!

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Sex, Lies and Politics: a (rough) guide to the General Election

  • December 10, 2019 07:00
  • Vicky Jessop

The election is almost upon us. All around the country, people will be taking to their ballot boxes and casting their votes for the next ruling party.

At the same time, an intricate system of vote counters, exit poll reports and nervous politicians will spring into action. Though it’s a system that might look complicated to the naked eye, here are a few insights from Philip Cowley and Rob Ford’s book Sex, Lies and Politics which might help to make sense of the confusion.

Fact One: we tend to mis-measure electoral participation

Though it might surprise you to hear it, we don’t measure electoral turnout in the UK accurately- which is strange, as it’s an important indicator of democratic health. Once you take duplicate and inaccurate registrations into account, you have to look at the number of people who are eligible to vote but not registered. Or the students who are registered to vote in two places. Or the people who never update their records when they move house, causing inaccuracies.

Given that we measure electoral turnout by dividing the number of votes cast by the ‘total registered electorate’, this is a problem that we haven’t yet managed to solve… but probably should.

Fact Two: the Downing Street cat can influence how we see politicians

We’ve all heard of Larry, the Downing Street cat, who took up his position in 2011. Larry and his ilk are resolutely apolitical: after all, they don’t care who’s feeding them, as long as they get fed. But this isn’t how they’re seen by the rest of the electorate. In an experiment, members of the public were shown pictures of Humphrey the cat and were told that he was Blair’s cat, and then Thatcher’s cat.

Unsurprisingly, the way that he was received differed depending on his supposed owner, depending on the viewer’s political views. Similarly, our own political attachments colour our views of anything that we associate with politics. Voters around the time of the 1997 election tended to support policies associated with Tony Blair and Labour, but reject identical policies associated with John Major and the Conservatives. We don’t tend to give politicians a fair hearing: bear this in mind next time you hear one of them trying to explain his views on live television!

Fact Three: the average voter is a woman

Given that women make up 51% of the general population and a higher proportion of eligible voters, the average voter is a woman. And the average voter differs from male voters in some interesting ways.

Women are more likely to be undecided voters and make their minds up about who to vote for closer to the day in question. Women say that they are less interested in politics than men- by 70% to 62%- though this policy is reversed when they are asked about specific policies like health or education.

They also have the potential to drive elections. In the past, women have tended to vote in much the same way as their male counterparts- until 2017, where significantly fewer women voted Conservative than men, by a whole 12 percentage points. Are UK voters starting to mirror US ones? Or was this just a blip?

Either way, keep your eyes peeled.

Interested in finding out more about the upcoming election? Check out Sex, Lies and Politics here and order your copy now!

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Our pick of Christmas stocking fillers

  • December 05, 2019 07:00
  • Vicky Jessop

‘Tis the season! All around the world, people are thinking about what to cook for their Christmas dinner, who to invite over on the big day… and thinking what to get their friends and family for Christmas.

While we can’t say an awful lot about the first two, we’ve got that last problem covered. 2019 has been a vintage year for books: we’ve published everything from books about the royal family’s corgis to dissections of where our Prime Ministers have gone wrong.

Take a look below at our selection of stocking fillers

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For people who like a chuckle

The Weak Are A Long Time in Politics, by Patrick Kidd: an anthology of razor-sharp political sketches by the Times’ sketchwriter, Patrick Kidd. Sit back in your armchair and prepare to be entertained!

Critical Times, by Peter Brookes: a brilliant new collection of acerbic sketches of contemporary political life by The Times’s master of satire, Peter Brookes.

 

For people who can’t get enough of politics

May at 10, by Anthony Seldon:

The English Job, by Jack Straw: a look at the fractious and long-lasting relationship between Iran and the UK by former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.

Exceeding My Brief, by Barbara Hosking: This is the story of a Cornish scholarship girl with no contacts who ended up in the corridors of power serving two British Prime Ministers. Hers is a story worth reading.

Sex, Lies and Politics, by Philip Cowley and Rob Ford: Take a look behind the curtain of a General Election in this entertaining and eye-opening book contains all you need to educate yourself on the ins and outs of politics.

F**k Business, by Iain Anderson: This is essential, often shocking, reading for anyone interested in how Brexit unfolded for Britain’s most important economic movers and shakers.

 

For people who loved watching The Crown…

Pets by Royal Appointment, by Brian Hoey: it’s no secret that the royal family love their pets. From miniature palaces built for their corgis to crocodiles, hippos and even an elephant, this is the story of the royal animals.  

…And What Do You Do?, by Norman Baker: The royal family: the quintessential British institution or an antiquated, overindulged drain on the taxpayer? Find out here.

 

For sports enthusiasts

Ciao, Stirling, by Val Pirie: legendary racing driver Stirling Moss like you’ve never seen him before, as told by his longtime friend and secretary Val Pirie.

With Clough, by Taylor, by Peter Taylor: Brian Clough famously remarked, ‘I’m not equipped to manage successfully without Peter Taylor. I am the shop window and he is the goods in the back.’ Find out more about their relationship from Peter Taylor himself.

 

For people who love their history

Secret Alliances, by Tony Insall: the story of the Norwegian resistance during the Second World War and their relationship with the British secret service.

Double Cross in Cairo, by Nigel West: As part of the infamous Double Cross operation, Jewish double agent Renato Levi proved to be one of the Allies’ most devastating weapons in the Second World War. Find out about his previously untold story here.

 

Not found what you were looking for? Then why not browse our home page to get some inspiration on upcoming releases- and recent bestsellers?

 

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Brexit has soured relations between business and politics

  • November 29, 2019 07:00
  • Iain Anderson

"I had never been spoken to like that in all my 40 years in business. Put simply, there was no respect.” That’s what Paul Drechsler, the former CBI president, told me about his encounter with advisers at the top of government in the months after the Brexit referendum.

He emerged from Downing Street having been “screamed at” for almost an hour. More recently a major inward investor in the UK told me: “I don’t think the relationship between business and politicians has been this low since the mid-1970s.”

I feel compelled to agree. A more positive relationship between business and policymakers would be good for our country’s long-term future. In my new book F**k Business – the Business of Brexit I unpack what has gone wrong and attempt to chart a path towards putting it right.

Of course it takes two to tango, and for some time after the referendum many in business were in denial. Business didn’t expect to lose the economic argument, and in many ways that argument was never lost. But business has failed to make the positive case for a deal with the EU and that case has not become overwhelmingly accepted by the political class. Three years on — to paraphrase our last prime minister — nothing has changed in that regard.

What has changed is that the locus of the debate has veered off into a Westminster psychodrama that most business leaders — like most voters — find soul destroying. How did we get to a place where a no-deal option became mainstream? I will tell you how. Since the summer of 2016 politicians on all sides have been listening to the Westminster bubble more than to the key players in the economy.

Large and small businesses tell me they feel policymakers pay lip service to their opinions or trust that business has the resources and financial muscle to deal with the uncertainty. Those resources are wearing thin. Business ability to plan is more restricted than at any time since the financial crisis over a decade ago. What to tell staff, customers, suppliers?

Worse, there is clear evidence in recent weeks that international investors are holding back until the political crisis is over. Every day the UK is losing opportunities.

The desire in Westminster and Whitehall to talk to wealth creators is fickle. Policymakers blow hot and cold. It seems it only works when politicians can snap their fingers for business to come running. The mystery surrounding how they want to engage with business needs to be replaced with a transparent system of engagement on the best ideas — not on the basis of who you know.

Business needs to step up to the plate too. It needs to show it is committed to providing opportunity for everyone, not just those in the bubble, and to do so in a sustained and long-term way.

During the referendum itself most businesses were reluctant participants. Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s former adviser, told me: “It was hard to get business to speak up. They feared the backlash. George Osborne used to say to me, ‘Don’t count on business to do anything; we will have to do it all ourselves.’”

Quite simply, without business politicians will have very little to do for themselves. Let’s turn a new chapter in relations between business and politics. Right now.

Originally published in the Times on October 8th.

Iain Anderson’s ‘F**k Business — The Business Of Brexit’ is out now and currently featuring in our Black Friday Sale. Get it for half price here

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