Cultural Life: A. L. Kennedy, novelist

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The Independent Culture

Books I've just finished Russell Banks's Lost Memory Of Skin, which has its flaws, but the man can really write and he's passionate about social justice in America. He chose his country's most marginalised group [sex offenders] as his focus and continued with courage, for which he has my thanks. I've also been reading Daniel Simpson's A Rough Guide to the Dark Side – it's all about why he left The New York Times and the jaw-dropping realities of modern journalism. Great, funny, passionate stuff.

Film The last film I saw was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which caused borderline rioting in Stratford-upon-Avon while I was there. Quite right, too. A lovely cast allowed to perform – no overblown CG effects, just actors who can really act, lifting something relatively slight into somewhere joyful and delivering stealth decency.

Music As far as music goes, I am currently bouncing between Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan, with dashes of The Decembrists – always a sign that I'm on the road. They all keep me cheery on trains. I came to Dylan via Costello (above), which I know is back to front, but there's something about their crazed storytelling, idiosyncratic delivery and gift with words that really delights, even when I'm tired.

Visual arts The last exhibition I saw was the the Zoffany retrospective at the Royal Academy – thoroughly enjoyable. He was an exceptionally skilled, insightful and playful painter. His self-portraits are fascinating, witty and honest, and the sense of movement and life in all his portraits and groups is really wonderful. His ability to puzzle, please, amuse and shock is based on a real training in all the skills I feel an artist should have. He should be better known – not that it'll do him any good now...

A L Kennedy's 'The Blue Book' is on the long list for the Orange Prize