Writing a bestseller in two-and-a-half days

💐 Flower names | 📚 Sasha Swire | 👤 Hamas’s shadowy commander

Desert Island Discs

Roberto Ricciuti/Getty

Writing a bestseller in two-and-a-half days

John Boyne wrote the first draft of his acclaimed novel, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, in just two-and-a-half “frenetic” days, he tells Lauren Laverne on Desert Island Discs. The image of “two boys sitting on either side of a fence talking to each other” came to him out of the blue on a Tuesday night. He sat down to write the next morning, and the now-famous tale of boyhood friendship at the edge of a Nazi concentration camp began “pouring” out of him. “I wouldn’t normally just sit down and say, ‘Right, I’m going to start writing a novel today’. It was like my body, my mind had been taken over by something.”

Growing up gay in 1980s Ireland, where the Catholic church had a tight hold over society, was a challenge. But he can still trace his sexual awakening back to a very precise moment: it was on 7 November 1985, “between 7.02 and 7.06pm”. He was watching Top of the Pops, and A-Ha came on stage. The band’s front man, Morten Harket, was wearing his hair in a quiff with a leather jacket. By the time he had finished singing Take on Me, says Boyne, “I was a different guy”.

🎵 Bright Eyes - Art Garfunkel
🎵 The Sound of Music - Julie Andrews
🎵 Elton’s Song - Elton John
🎵 Take on Me - A-ha
🎵 Lullaby for Cain (Instrumental) - Sinéad O’Connor
🎵 Extract from String Quartet No. 4, by Noah Max and performed by The Tippett Quartet
🎵 Make Your Own Kind of Music - Mama Cass
🎵 Night of the Swallow - Kate Bush

📕 The Waste Land by TS Eliot
🎁 A cinema screen showing The Devil Wears Prada

🎙️ To hear Sasha Swire talk about her favourite books, click here.


THE GALLERY This home and gallery lies on a charming street in central Padstow, Cornwall. Two light-filled commercial gallery spaces and an artist’s studio occupy the first two floors. The rest of the property is residential, with two bedrooms, a modern open-plan kitchen and living room, along with a cosy study and a wraparound garden with views over the sea. The coastal path is a short walk, while Bodmin Parkway station is a 40-minute drive. £1.5m


The terrorist mastermind calling the shots in Gaza

In October last year, say Benjamin Barthe and Louis Imbert in Le Monde, Benjamin Netanyahu described Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar as a “dead man walking”. Yet after eight months of fighting, and the successful destruction of “most of Hamas’s military and government structures”, Sinwar is still at large. And “worse still”, he’s dictating the terms of the ceasefire negotiations, probably from somewhere in the tunnels beneath the Gazan city of Khan Younis – though nobody knows for sure. “It takes two or three days,” says a source close to the negotiations, “but his reply always ends up at the political bureau in Doha.”

Israeli commandos hunting him through the tunnels have discovered archives and hard drives that paint a clearer picture of the man. One chilling example concerns Mahmoud Ishtiwi, a former Hamas commander and the scion of a rich Gaza family. Ishtiwi was extensively tortured by Hamas thugs after he was accused of having a homosexual affair – punishable by death in Gaza – and embezzling funds to buy his lover’s silence. At some point during this ordeal, Sinwar sent him a handwritten note referencing a gruesome Hamas torture method where the victim is buried in cement. “Believe me,” he wrote, “you won’t tell the truth until cement starts flowing into your mouth.”

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Freeman: driven into the arms of Ted Cruz. Jeff Spicer/Getty

Gender madness has left me politically homeless

The left’s “face-smacking” stance on gender is making awful right-wingers “seem like the only grown-ups in the room”, says Hadley Freeman in The Sunday Times. Take Republican Ted Cruz, “a misogynist of such proportions” that he thinks abortion should be banned even in cases of rape and incest. Yet in a recent Senate hearing Cruz somehow came across as “America’s last great feminist”, by taking Democratic judge Sarah Netburn to task for her recommendation in 2022 that a serial rapist be transferred to a women’s prison. Netburn was following her party’s insane push to let inmates self-identify, meaning a male prisoner who claims to be a woman can potentially be incarcerated in a female prison. The Democrats seem to have “parked all critical thinking” and waved through the rights of men who identify as women, partly because activist groups “insist being transgender is analogous to being gay”.

It’s the same in Britain. An employment tribunal ruled last month that a former caseworker at the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre had been unlawfully discriminated against when she was harassed by colleagues for arguing that victims had the right to request a female counsellor. Feminists who say there are major biological differences between men and women are frequently dismissed as “right-wing”, because politicians on the right seem to be the only ones who understand the existence of biological sex. That so many on the left would still “rather jettison women’s rights than state the well-established obvious” not only reflects badly on them, but also leaves a lot of women “politically homeless, stuck between anti-abortion homophobes on one side and biology-denying, rapist-pandering cultists on the other”.


The humble dægesēage. Getty

Merriam-Webster has collected some enjoyable “etymologies for your spring garden”. The dandelion gets its name from the Anglo-French dent de lion, meaning “lion’s tooth”, because of its sharp petals. The rather drippy name “pansy” actually comes from the Middle French pensée, meaning “thought”, and ultimately from the Latin pensare, meaning “to ponder”. The cup-shaped tulip is from the Turkish tülbent, meaning “turban”, thanks to the resemblance of its overlapping petals to the fabric of the eastern Mediterranean headdress. And daisy comes from the Old English dægesēage, from dæg meaning “day” and ēage meaning “eye”, because the flower opens in the morning and shuts at night. See more here.


“Man was made at the end of the week’s work, when God was tired.”
Mark Twain

That’s it. You’re done.