Between the Covers 9/03/2013

Your guide to what's really going on inside the world of books

Once again, Mslexia – the magazine for women who write – has come up with some fascinating research based on its reader polls. In one survey, published in the forthcoming issue, 54 per cent of respondents said that taking anti-depressants had affected their writing, with the majority of those reporting a negative effect. In a different survey, 38 per cent of women "thought their writing skills fluctuated according to their menstrual cycle", with most of those claiming that they were "most creative, organised and productive in the middle two weeks". These are self-reporting groups, based on women's own experiences, and not formal experiments, of course, but the results are interesting. According to Mslexia's editor, Debbie Taylor, many women writers fear that creativity will drop off when they reach the menopause, but there was no evidence for this. In March's Mslexia, the psychologist Faridah Newman analyses the complex relationship between mental health, medication, and creativity, and both surveys are reported in full. Not all writers agree with their findings, however. The novelist Kathy Lette told The IoS: "What affects my writing, much more than my hormones, is whether or not my husband has helped me with the housework. If he hasn't, then the men in my book tend to find their testicles used as maracas."

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There's a good example of joined-up thinking at the British Council, which announced its 2013 arts programme last week. Not only is its literature department joining with the magazine Granta to support the latter's fourth, 10-yearly selection of "Best of Young British Novelists" in April; its design department has also commissioned a bookcase from the UK-based design studio Raw-Edges to showcase Granta's 1983, 1993, 2003 and 2013 lists. This year's novelists to watch will be announced on Radio 4's Front Row programme on 15 April, and a book containing a new story by each of the writers, Granta 123, will be published by Granta on 16 April (£12.99).

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Also on the British Council's programme of events are the upcoming anniversaries of Dylan Thomas and Benjamin Britten, who was himself a fan of the Council, it turns out. Britten named the Lady Billows character in his chamber opera Albert Herring after their man in Switzerland, with whom he had corresponded about a possible tour of his Rape of Lucretia. Lionel Billows recalled, in a report in August 1947: "One of the numerous private jokes in Albert Herring intended for his [Britten's] friends to enjoy quietly among the general laughter was his taking from me, his host in Switzerland, my good name and giving it to the central female character, an elderly, benevolent local tyrant who gives a large cash prize for virtue. I haven't seen the opera yet, but the first act was played through for the first time on my piano, with the unexpected result that my neighbours, who live in the flat underneath, gave notice to the landlord the next day .…" He later wrote: "We could never get Ben to say what he had in mind in choosing the name, whether he saw June [Billows's first wife] as a masterful harridan, or whether I was somehow seen in some sort of aspect of the character …." Their correspondence is printed in volume three of Britten's collected letters, Letters from a Life.

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