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The Diary: Sebastian Barry; Caryl Churchill; Esther Rantzen; Big Art Project; Grayson Perry

Spirited Scripture?

The author Sebastian Barry has revealed that he did some soul-searching before using the memory of a beautiful great aunt who had been sectioned for "terrifying moral reasons" (a child out of wedlock, perhaps?) as the inspiration for his latest award-winning yarn, 'The Secret Scripture'. A previous incident in which the novelist had mined family biography left lasting family friction. He explains: "I had been looking for relatives who had never been mentioned in my family... but I was concerned I would be using her just as everyone else used her. Years ago, my grandfather was very upset about a particular [incident involving Barry's writing] in the 1980s. It was tragic as we never spoke again." Barry says the first chapter had taken him seven months to write before the main character "told me her story". Even if the character was "channelled" in this way, it was done so most poetically.

A play for Gaza

The playwright Caryl Churchill has turned her pen to supporting the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, it would seem. She's written a short play called 'Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza', to be staged at the Royal Court Theatre for free from 6 February. A collection will be taken for the Medical Aid for Palestinians charity.

That's life

Esther Rantzen, the television personality and general "force to be reckoned with", was seen rearranging the seating arrangements at her table at the glittering Costa Book Awards dinner in the ballroom of the Intercontinental Hotel in Hyde Park, London. Guests' place-cards were shuffled about by Rantzen so she could spend the next few hours beside the desired dinner companion. After great manoeuvring, she apparently found herself with an empty chair on one side, while the rest of the table happily socialised with whoever happened to be beside them.

Big Art doesn't equal big support

Channel 4's Big Art Project, launched to encourage ordinary folk to have ideas for public artworks, has come a cropper in a fair few cases – including an artwork incorporating the Tinsley towers, suggested by two design graduates, Tom and Tom. After Eon demolished the towers, the men moved out of Sheffield in disgust. The project to transform the Beckton Alp into an artwork was shelved when the mound was discovered to be toxic. Meanwhile, protest against an artwork designed to create a "murmuring" effect emanating from Cardigan Bay is gaining momentum.

Has Claire got style?

Grayson Perry's female alter ego Claire may be about to have her fashion sense severely challenged. The cross-dressing artist is the subject of a photo essay in February's 'Art World' magazine, in which he styled himself for a fashion shoot and then subjected him/herself to the judgement of fashion critics. His garments include a felt coat with circus prints, a chiffon smock over a satin corset with Swarovski crystal-encrusted faux breasts and male genitalia, and a quilted print romper suit. Let the commentary begin.