Always take the weather with you
Maggie O'Farrell, who won the Costa Novel Award earlier this week, for The Hand That First Held Mine, revealed that the weather, or more specifically, freakish meteorological occurrences – and the way they impact on life, from snowdrifts in Edinburgh to volcanic ash clouds in Iceland – have provided the inspiration for her sixth novel, a work in progress. "It's set in the heat wave of 1976, which is one of my earliest memories," she says. "I was four at the time and we were living in Wales, which was one of the places in crisis." More than three decades later, the writer found herself homebound by weather once again, last month. "We live in Edinburgh, where I have been housebound because my daughter's buggy doesn't go through the snow. I couldn't go to the shops unless I carried her." Such inclement weather is fruitful grounds for fiction, she says. "Times of extreme weather conditions can be really interesting. People behave in a different way. I remember the volcano ash, and sometimes, when these things happen, lives are turned upside down. I got totally obsessed by the news at the time of the volcano. I was supposed to be going to Ireland but I couldn't travel. I got ridiculously excited!" So what is the title of her weather related book-to-be? "I do titles at the end," she says. "It's like naming a baby. You have to see the whole thing first before giving it a name."
Write against the machine
So angered is Michael Rosen by the Coalition's plans for welfare cuts, the children's novelist and poet paid the bulk of production costs for a new anthology called Emergency Verse, a compilation of protest poetry featuring work by more than 100 writers, including the Beat poet Michael Horovitz, Jeremy Reed and John O'Donoghue. Rosen says he is "very angry" at the roll-back of "advances" that softened "some of the worst effects of rampant capitalism", adding: "These rampant capitalists, who walk off with the majority of the wealth anyway, now want to steal our services too – people who have no other means of getting health care, education and social care will have it snatched away." The anthology was launched at the Southbank Centre's Poetry Library, and copies can be downloaded for £2.99 from www.therecusant.org.uk.
Art me up
He may not be as fresh-faced as he once was, if he ever was, but you can now buy the oil painting, a life-sized one, of the most ravaged Rolling Stone, Keith Richards. Captain Keith is selling for £7,000 at Tatton Park Antiques & Fine Art Fair, and may move fast following the success of his autobiography, Life. The painting is by Sebastian Kruger, who met the Stones early in his career and became obsessed with the look of the band – especially with Richards's face, I'm told.
Powered by poetry
On another poetic note, the Diary can reveal that Sebastian Faulks, a panel member alongside Carol Ann Duffy and Daljit Nagra for the Winning Word Olympic initiative, which last month called on the public to nominate inspiring verse to encourage those taking part in the games, has chosen "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson as his poem of choice for the wall at the centre of the Athletes Village. Faulks chose it because, he says, "Tennyson's 'Ulysses' embodies the strain and the exhilaration of competing, regardless of the outcome." The public nomination process came to an end this week. The selected poems will be announced in February.
Enjoy the silence
Becky Hastings, an East London-based artist, has taken a vow of silence for 30 days as part of a project exploring verbal and non-verbal forms of communication. She has been silent since 1 January, but is intent on continuing with everyday life. The piece was part inspired by her grandmother, who had a stroke and is unable to speak. But Becky can blog, and she writes this: "With modern technology, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, text messaging, instant chat, computer games, online and automated services, do we actually need to speak to each other? Maybe it's not about necessity." The end result will be an installation in her studio based on her experiences, to be shown on 29 and 30 January.