48 Hours in Nice

Back in March I treated my Mum to a weekend away in Nice, for Mother’s Day and have finally decided to write a few words about it, considering it was a very lovely trip.

The idea came after reading this Emerald Street newsletter, and quite frankly being seduced by the extraordinary blues and hues of the art deco-esque Villa Otero. Upon discovering that rooms and flights were actually very reasonable (£90 for 2 return flights from London Gatwick with EasyJet), I spontaneously booked the trip and then had a whale of time withholding the secret from Mum.

The journey was really smooth. It was one of the first times I just had carry-on luggage and therefore didn’t have to fuss about at baggage claim (also ideal if you’re operating on 2 hours sleep and a hangover – a 7am flight seemed like a good idea at the time – and waiting around just isn’t in your current lexicon). Buses arrive regularly outside the airport and deliver you to the centre of Nice and the train station, near to where our hotel was situated.

The hotel itself was a delightful mixture of comfort and extravagance. The lobby slash dining area is strikingly decorated, a mixture between Parisian Jazz Age opulence and the alfresco cool of the riviera. And everything is polished to a reflection-spawning sheen. I was immediately won over by the free Nespresso and WiFi (oh to be an over-caffeinated, Instagram-obsessed millennial), and further enticed by the promise of free pastries and sweets in the afternoons.

The rooms are compact but well-equipped, and equally eye-catching in their decor. (The interior designer clearly loves a ‘focus wall’ as much as Anna Ryder Richardson from Changing Rooms, circa 2002). We stayed in the one below. Bonus points for the beds being really comfy, the bathrooms being super clean and modern and the full-length mirror in the hallway area being perfect for taking outfit selfies.

Unfortunately on the Saturday we arrived it was pouring with rain (the kind where you think the clouds are detoxing like Victoria Secret’s models or Brides-to-be, in a bid to get rid of their excess water weight), so our plans to stroll to the Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art were scuppered. Nothing a quick nap and some free coffee couldn’t fix however.

That evening I had pre-booked a table at La Maison de Marie, an upscale restaurant near the Place Massena. The food and drink were divine. I had gnocchi with pesto and something chocolate-y for dessert. I remember feeling very decadent and satisfied.

On Sunday, we kicked off proceedings with a bus tour, which is a convenient way to get yourself to all the town’s exemplary extremities, especially when you’re not there for very long.

At our behest (and according to the route on the map), the bus took us towards Port Lympia and up through the winding hills that offer stunning vistas of pebbled beaches and the azure blue of the Mediterranean SeaWe also passed Le Negresco, a palatial, antiquarian hotel on the Promenade des Anglais, which, if you can’t afford the price of its 5-star rooms or Michelin-starred meals, is thought to be a pleasant spot for an after-dinner tipple. Alas, we didn’t get to sample its sumptuous surroundings, but perhaps one to come back to once I’ve made my millions.

We hopped off the bus near the Ascenseur du Château, a brick and mosaic ensconced ascent to Castle Hill which boasts unfathomably scenic views across Old Town and the Port, as well as a surprise waterfall. It was undoubtably one of my favourite parts of the trip, if just for the sheer gorgeousness of the burnt-orange and terracotta tiled roofs, offset by the gleaming blue sea.

Post park-wandering, we then re-boarded our bus and travelled onwards to the leafy Cimiez quarter, home to the Musée Matisse. The building itself is reminiscent of an Italian holiday home, described by Lonely Planet as “a red-ochre 17th-century Genoese villa in an olive grove”. Inside contains a wonderfully broad retrospective of French artist Henri Matisse’s work, from oil paintings and drawings to sculptures, tapestries and his deceptively simple, riotously colourfully cut-outs. For art-lovers and collage-admirers, this is a definite must-see.

That evening we went for dinner at a recommended Italian restaurant called La Voglia, along an adorable little boulevard called Rue Saint-François de Paule near the Opera House, replete with perfume houses and olive oils shops. En route we strolled along the Promenade just as the sun was setting, which if you don’t do at least once each day, are you really even seeing Nice?

On Monday, we strode purposefully towards Old Town, or Vieux Nice, a sequestered part of the city offering shaded, serpentine alleys, boutiques of leather goods and silken fabrics and delis with mouth-watering delicacies. It was here we tried some fantastically fresh tomates provençale and debated whether they would survive the trip home if we stocked up. (The decision, much to my chagrin, was that they would not).

In the centre of the Old Town is the Cours Saleya market, a swarming hive of activity where traders come to sell fresh produce, fish, flowers and more. I was also delighted to discover that on Mondays, it’s home to a gargantuan flea market, where I spent a good few hours rifling through vintage Parisian posters and postcards. It was utter heaven.

To wrap up our trip, we took a stroll through the Promenade du Paillon, a highly manicured and verdant garden planted with lots of different trees and featuring a gorgeous water mirror in the centre. If you’re looking for a serene way to spend an afternoon after a morning of haggling, then look no further.

Nice is a brilliant place for a city break. With the breeze and beauty of the ocean on one side, and the historic charm of the old town, its pleasingly peachy architecture, quaint, cobbled streets and lively restaurants on the other, you can’t go wrong. Sure, it has its seedy patches (and there was dog poop everywhere), the beach is devoid of sand and with its well-monied clientele its not exactly cheap as frites. But whack on your rose-tinted sunglasses, and behold the jewel in the Riviera’s crown.

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Friday Recommendations

First-time female directors, emails that haven’t been leaked and an interview with Rebecca Solnit. It’s time for another Friday of recommendations!

  1. TIME have conducted a special report on ground/record/glass-ceiling-breaking women and it’s well worth your, well, time.
  2. Ann Friedman interviews Kate and Laura Mulleavy, of Rodarte fame, about their debut feature film Woodshock.
  3. This whole creative conceit is pretty cool. Thread.co invite/host email-based conversations between awesome people such as Jenny Slate, Vince Staples and Adam Scott.
  4. Jon Sopel, BBC’s North America editor recaps his experience of reporting on Trump’s presidency. And though he seems a bit caught up in the intoxicating maelstrom of it all, he is scathing with regard to the lunacy of the current POTUS. It’s also very honest about the fact that the madness is unlikely to end soon.
  5. Having experienced virtual reality for the first time this week at the Open City Documentary Festival, I have a new appreciation for it as an art form, as discussed in this New Statesmen piece on the artists exploring VR’s cavernous, dazzling and multi-dimensional possibilities.
  6. Find a way to see God’s Own Country please. It’s tender and terse, bleak and beautiful and quite frankly one of the best British films I have ever seen.
  7. A24 have released a trailer for Greta Gerwig’s hotly anticipated directorial debut, Lady Bird, featuring the ever-brilliant Saoirse Ronan. It looks angsty and awkward and very amusing.
  8. I have been reading Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist, a short and sweet ‘how-to guide’ for being a creative in the 21st century, and considering I stole this blog post series from his weekly newsletter, I figured I’d better link to his brilliant website.
  9. See if you can spot Christian Bale in this series of portraits from Vanity Fair, taken at the 2017 Telluride Film Festival.
  10. And finally, an interview in which Rebecca Solnit talks paying her dues, living frugally and the various forms of violence against women.

Friday recommendations

Happy Friday friends, and welcome to September!

Things get meta this week, with a list within a list. Plus, lots of TV and film content, and the multi-faceted effects of global warming, from Hurricane Harvey to tortellini…

  1. I’m a big fan of Naomi Klein’s. She has a formidable knowledge of global politics, economics and environmental policy and she espouses it in a way that’s persuasive and positive. Her take on Hurricane Harvey for The Intercept and why we have to keep climate change at the forefront of our political agenda is further proof of that.
  2. An interesting think-piece on Game of Thrones and its flawed, slash non-existent depiction of female friendships.
  3. This is how you revive the arrhythmic heart of a derailed TV series. Welcome aboard True Detective Season 3, Jeremy Saulnier.
  4. A beautiful assessment of how must-see movie God’s Own Country finds the texture of love in blood, salt and mud.
  5. An inspirational, and aspirational interview with Lena Waithe, actress and writer on Master Of None, on navigating Hollywood with grace and dignity. 
  6. A cool snapshot slash summary of the book cover designs for this year’s Man Booker longlist.
  7. I’m moving home on Sunday, so everything is a bit messy and in flux at the moment, with half my possessions already gone and the other half in IKEA bags. So I’m torturing myself with these beautiful interiors decorated in my fave colour: grey. Utilising every shade from slate to silver, and not a filthy pun in sight.
  8. I went to a Sofar gig in NYC and had a gorgeous evening filled with acoustic music, candles, cushions and friendly people. They’re hosting a bunch of intimate gigs across 60 countries in partnership with Amnesty International to help refugees find a home. In London you can see the likes of Gregory Porter, Jessie Ware, The Staves, Daughter, Kwabs, Nick Mulvey and Kate Tempest. Just go here to donate and enter the competition for tickets.
  9. Not to get too repetitive, but global warming is real guys, and it’s having a very real affect on pasta-making in Bologna.
  10. The line-up for the BFI London Film Festival 2017 is live. On my ticket wish-list are:  (I hope you like lists within lists).
    1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    2. Call Me By Your Name
    3. Mudbound
    4. Amant Double
    5. The Florida Project
    6. On Chesil Beach
    7. Thoroughbred
    8. Ava
    9. Columbus
    10. Gemini
    11. Racer and The Jailbird
    12. The Rider

And that’s me reigning it in.

Friday recommendations

Good afternoon!

I’m back again with a litany of links to articles, videos, music, interviews, trailers and titbits that I liked this week and would like it if you liked them too. Cool? Ok.

  1. The Cut published this compilation of famous women being bold and assertive and unapologetic and essentially using their platforms as women of influence to progress the feminist agenda. Amen.
  2. You know when you read something and just get such life envy? This couple [named Ivy and Audi, a.k.a. COOL, HIP PEOPLE] are furniture designers and makers in Bloomington, Indiana and their apartment is a treasure trove of minimalist design and interesting trinkets.
  3. I have been terrified by both Patti Levin and Aunt Lydia, so this truncated version of the Vox podcast is a welcome insight into how actress Ann Dowd creates her dark and twisted characters.
  4. TV has long been more forward-thinking than cinema, in part because the risks (and therefore the mistakes) are cheaper to make. Not to be cynical or anything. However the upshot of that risk-taking is that TV is head and shoulders above film in terms of representation and inclusivity. This is being reflected at this year’s Emmys with a host of female creatives being nominated for their behind-the-scenes work.
  5. I have yet to meet a person that needs more books on their ‘to-read list’, however when Vulture’s Autumn Literary Preview includes new works from Jennifer Egan, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Toni Morrison and Susan Sontag, as well as icons such as Tom Hanks and Hillary Clinton, then I figured you’d be interested regardless.
  6. HOLY SHIT NEW GRIZZLY BEAR. A lot has happened in the 5 years since I became obsessed with their album ‘Shields’ and its scuzzy, moody, anthemic brand of indie music, but suddenly they’re back on my radar and it feels like they never went away.
  7. Daniel Poppick and Jenny Zhang in conversation.
  8. An artist discusses the expedition that inspired her collages. The ink process is mesmerising and the final results are spectacular.
  9. And if that’s given you wanderlust, this photo story about the Brazilian wilderness will do so even more.
  10. Humans of New York is getting a TV show!

Everything I ate in New York City

I recently spent a fortnight in the Big Apple, where I ate not a single apple, but did have roughly 28 meals, maybe more. None of which were bad. I repeat, everything I consumed existed within a scale of This is good to Holy shit this is the best thing I have ever eaten. I was on culinary cloud nine. I was eating ice-cream for dinner. And I know its boring to masticate endlessly over past meals, but I’m transferring my knowledge to you in the hope you will visit New York and eat as well as I did.

Tip: If you’re looking to eat on a budget in NY, then look for descriptions on Yelp or Google that describe the place as ‘no frills’ or ‘bare bones’. This is frequently lingo for stripped back decor or a pocket-sized venue, but it by no means captures the quality of the food, which is more often than not frilly and fleshy. (That sounds kind of weird and gross, but you get where I’m going).

Tuesday

Split pea soup, coffee and chocolate rugelach (a Jewish delicacy, like a cross between a croissant and a pain au chocolate, but adorably minuscule) from Zabar’s deli. Came to about $6 and was incredibly satisfying. The coffee is particularly good there. Plus you get to sit at a communal table and eavesdrop on old lady regulars gossiping about mutual acquaintances.

Wednesday

Breakfast at Veselka, a Ukrainian institution known for its 24hr service. I had its flagship dish – the pierogi – with a seasonal twist – a blueberry filling. So sweet. So indulgent.

 

Had an ice-cream from the Big Gay Ice Cream shop in Greenwich Village. I had the Salty Pimp, which before you start making assumptions is vanilla ice-cream, swirled with dulce de leche, sprinkled with salt and dipped in chocolate and it was a religious experience.

Dinner at Tehuitzingo Deli & Grocery, a sort-of bodega (look at me using New York lingo) in Hells Kitchen that has a sort-of food truck at the back with an astonishing array of choice. Burritos, tostadas, tacos, flautas, fajitas, enchiladas, tamales. Name a Mexican food and they will probably be able to make it for you. I had a veggie taco and tostada, both of which were incredibly spicy but tasty AF.

Thursday

Brunch/Lunch at Roberta’s pizza in Bushwick. I had been warned about the queues that can accumulate at Roberta’s, such is the level of fame it has generated amid the foodie, hipster scene, so planned to stop by around 11.30am for a scandalous pizza brunch. After encountering a little bit of trouble in locating the entrance, I was promptly seated and scoffed an entire ‘Famous Original’. Toppings include tomato mozzarella, caciocavallo, parmagiano, oregano & chilli. It was sensational. I forgot to savour. I ate it way too quickly and kind of wanted another one immediately afterwards. I still think about it on a regular basis.

The only downside was on the subway from Bushwick towards Brooklyn Bridge a guy flashed his penis to me and it rather dampened my dough-based high.

Friday

Lunch at Chelsea Market, not in itself an entirely pleasant experience due to the hoards of tourists (of which I was one, I know, I’m not above them. Except I am slightly because I’ve been to NYC before and was traveling by myself, which automatically makes me less of a nuisance than the massive, meandering groups of tourists that clog everywhere. Ok rant over). However I did discover Beyond Sushi, a plant-based alternative to standard sushi and therefore a vegetarian’s dream.

I had the ‘Spicy Mang’ sushi rolls: Black rice, avocado, mango, cucumber and toasted cayenne sauce, and the ‘Smokey Tom’ dumplings: Sun-dried tomato, spinach, smoked butternut squash, and tahini. I took it to the High Line and basked in my brilliant culinary choice.

Saturday

Lunch at Num Pang, a Cambodian sandwich shop that packs its delicious fillings into baguettes. I had the Spicy Organic Tofu with a ginger-soy honey glaze and took it to Washington Square Park and basked in my brilliant culinary choice. Theme appearing.

Dinner at Bar Pitti, a renowned Italian restaurant in the West Village and by far the most extravagant meal of the trip. I had spaghetti al pesto and a glass of red, and when the waiter served my meal, declared it’s time to stop with politics and fuck with some pasta (I was reading Naomi Klein’s ‘No’.)

Sunday

I had Junior’s Cheesecake. This blog has been published posthumously because I actually died and went to heaven after eating it.

Monday

I had a bagel with cream cheese and slice of apple pie from Katz’s Delicatessen. It was the most beige meal I might ever have eaten, but it was reliably delicious. Katz’s could be regarded as a pointless pitstop on my culinary journey, because I’ll never get to try the pastrami on rye, which is feted by patrons and food professionals alike as the star of the menu. But the atmosphere is enough to make it worthwhile.

Tuesday

Late lunch at Totto Ramen. Solo dining proved itself winningly advantageous when I skipped a very long queue because I could be seated at the one stool left at the bar. It’s super tiny and minimalist, but the ramen is stunningly good. The veggie option is packed with vegetables (no kidding right?) and felt like the healthiest I’d been since arriving.

Wednesday

Mealtimes definitely became somewhat skewed during my trip. To save on money I was trying not to eat three time a day, and instead opted for a brunch and early dinner situation. On Wednesday I had no shame in starting the day with a slice of salted caramel and apple pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds, a winsomely rustic outfit replete with a case full of homemade pies.

For dinner I went to Nom Wah Tea Parlour in Chinatown. Styled like a diner-cum-canteen, its stripped back vibe doesn’t apply to the food, which is cheap, generous and sumptuously good. I had the vegetarian dim sum and scallion and cilantro rice rolls. It came to $8 and you could’ve rolled me home I was so full. Highly recommend.

Thursday

I stopped for a snack at Baohaus, a tiny, industrial-style Taiwanese eatery in the East Village that specialise in steamed buns. And by specialise I mean they knock these bad boys out of the park. For $4 you get about two bites worth of food, but they’re two of the most exquisite mouthfuls of food you might ever hope to chew. I had the ‘Uncle Jesse’ which consisted of organic fried tofu served with crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar, cilantro, and ‘Haus Sauce’.

Friday
Breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Company & Restaurant,  another institution where you can expect to queue (or skip right on through if you’re just dining with you). I sat at the bar, indulged in refill coffee (seriously London, can you catch on with this trend please) and had the stack of blueberry pancakes with maple butter which only really deserves expletives to describe it. Seriously, even the guy next to me admitted to have food envy when my plate arrived. He’d ordered an omelette and I quietly cursed his foolish behaviour and then went back to a whirlwind romance with my pancakes.
Saturday
At this point I’d given up on mealtimes and vegetables, so finding myself in Brooklyn I paid a requisite visit to the Ample Hills Creamery. I ordered a large and told the merchant the two flavours I wished to spoon into my face. She looked at me, bemused, and said, the large gets you four flavours. I silently declared my affection for America, then promptly ordered: 1 x scoop of ‘PB wins the cup’ (vanilla ice-cream, chocolate flakes, peanut butter cups), 1 x scoop of ‘Salted Crack Caramel’ (self-explanatory), 1 x scoop of ‘Dark Chocolate’ (self-explanatory) and 1 x scoop of ‘The Raw Deal’ (vanilla ice-cream and cookie dough). I came, I had no shame and I conquered.

 

Sunday

Lunch at Caracas Arepa Bar in the East Village, a venerated Venezuelan restaurant that prides itself on authentic arepas. I had the ‘La del Gato’, a cornflour bun with Guyanes cheese, fried sweet plantains and avocado. I could’ve gone for more, but apparently I swallowed my pride as well as their sensationally stuffed arepa.

***

All this and I barely even scratched the surface, barely even grazed the epidermis (again the weird skin analogy. I’ll stop. I’m sorry) of New York’s growing culinary scene. I also had really good coffee at The Bean, DTUT, Cafe Grumpy and bought the most exquisite ground coffee from Sarabeth’s because I’m a bourgeois caffeine addict.

I then came home and purged myself on broccoli for a week.

Friday Recommendations

Hello. Happy Friday.

As per a fair few newsletters I’m signed up to (more on that in another post to come), I decided to start sharing some of the things I’ve been reading, listening to and watching this week in link form.

Here are my 10 recommendations for this week:

  1. Places. A journal which provides public scholarship on architecture, landscape, and urbanism, which might sound a little dry, but has a wealth of fascinating and insightful essays on everything and anything that relates to a sense of place. The sheer variety gives me a nerd-on. (Like a knowledge hard-on). Anyway, this piece on how neighbourliness breeds liberal politics and curbs your prejudice is particularly good.
  2. This interview with author Victoria Redel on the power of female friendships, published in the mind-bogglingly brilliant Guernica Magazine.
  3. I recently read Sarah Manguso’s 300 Arguments, a book of aphorisms that are precise, yet puzzling. Perturbing, poignant and poetic. It’s published by Graywolf  Press, an awesome independent publisher that champions underrepresented voices and unique perspectives.
  4. I saw a Member’s Preview of the empowering documentary Step, which charts a group of female African-American seniors at a poor inner-city school in Baltimore as they attempt to get into college and win a step competition. It’s got a lot of rhythm and a whole lot of soul and if you’re not whooping and crying at the end, then check your privilege please. There’s a special screening on at Hackney Picturehouse tomorrow.
  5. The trailer for Sean Baker’s The Florida Project dropped this week. His debut Tangerine (filmed entirely on an iPhone)was something of a trailblazer in indie cinema and although this is shot on 35mm, his innovative, joyous, vibrant and intimate filmmaking looks very much alive.
  6. Who are we kidding? Summer is over and done with. There is a thunderstorm happening as I type. Here are some stunning images of the Antarctic wilderness to get you hyped for winter.
  7. This wicked interview with illustrator Leah Goren for The Great Discontent hits so many nails on so many heads. She chats about social media, being freelance, having the confidence to ask for what you want and doing what makes you happy. Plus her illustrations are just lovely.
  8. Also fun bit of serendipity but I was scrolling through Anthropologie, courtesy of Domestic Sluttery, and came across these wondrous cat bowls designed by none other than Leah Goren! They’re currently out of stock, but will hopefully make a return and the mugs are still available!
  9. An interesting project putting the female perspective at the forefront of photography.
  10. And finally, this powerful piece is on the front page of Politico this week. A dissection on the events in Charlottesville, as told by a former Neo-Nazi.

An Interview with Sarah Moss

I have decided to republish this interview, done in April 2013 for Warwick’s student newspaper The Boar after the success of Sarah’s latest novel The Tidal Zone and her nomination for the 2017 Wellcome Book Prize.

Sarah Moss, author of Names for the Sea, a lecturer in the Creative Writing Department here at the University of Warwick and a nominee for the RSL’s Ondaatje Prize 2013 talks ‘pissing’, place and the pleasures of living in Iceland.

9781847084163

I meet Sarah in her office here at the University of Warwick. Softly spoken and articulate, she greets me warmly and we waste no time in getting down to the questions.

Having just had friends that came back from Iceland, I was eager to get Sarah’s opinions on their exclamations that it’s an undeniably ‘foreign’ country, whereby winter is devoid of light and the landscape is breathtakingly different. Whereas “here we tend to think of it in binary terms, either it’s light or its dark, in Iceland in winter there’s this incredible slow sunrise that lasts 3, even 4 hours”. Already it’s clear to me that a profound sense of fondness for this environment resides in Sarah, who has proclaimed to “like the far North” and whose description of a “pink and westerly sunset and the graduations of light and dark” immediately evoke a stark beauty that no doubt draws visitors in to Iceland.

“The big question”, of course, is what prompted the move to Iceland, the premise and experience of which forms the content of Sarah’s latest novel, Names for the Sea. She recounts a “summer spent there when 19, with a friend”. Devoid of money and food, they set off around “one road that goes all the way around the edge of Iceland [with just] a tent and two sleeping bags”. This was after all “the late 90s” and not a ‘gap-yah’. “No mobile phones, no twitter”, there’s a sense of abandonment, but also of complete freedom. Sarah affirms that they “had an amazing time, particularly for young women to be completely free and completely safe…was an astonishing experience” that prompted her desire to one day return.

After marriage and two children, the circumstances to return and perhaps relive the adventures of young adulthood fell into place. “I was just kind of messing around on the internet and saw a job as a lecturer of English at the University of Iceland… My husband and I agreed I’d go for the interview and just see what it’s like and I went and I loved it again. So we all went for a week, so everyone else could see if they loved it. And in the end we thought ‘let’s just do this’. You don’t get these opportunities very often”. It’s the sort of courage of conviction that many of us lack and which proves very inspiring.

I ask whether the sense of freedom felt so potently the first time around was replicated. Of course “with a husband and two children” in tow, there’s now a responsibility that perhaps wasn’t present at 19. However, “there were different kinds of freedom, not all of which I recognised at the time, just being outside my own culture for a year – anywhere – gave me a kind of freedom and a kind of distance. Being able to walk around the city by myself in the early hours of the morning, even in yours 30s, that’s something you don’t get to do very often”.

Icelandic volcano

A “beautiful” country, but one also recently wreaked by disaster – both of a natural and a financial kind. In fact, Sarah and her family were living in Rekyjavik when the Icelandic volcano, that became a stalwart feature of British news, erupted. Sarah recalls this “bizarre experience”, but that there was no real sense of crisis on those living in Rekyjavik.

Settling in to a new school or University can be difficult, let alone a new country, where language barriers, different outlooks and a new way of life present a whole host of challenges. Sarah admits that it was “harder than expected” and that learning Icelandic was “really difficult”. Working in the English department at the University of Iceland and “of course speaking English at home” no doubt compounded the problem. “My only opportunities to speak Icelandic were in shops and buses”. Much the same to learning GCSE French and realising you can tell someone the contents of your pencil case, but not engage in a colloquial conversation. A case of lost in translation in some respects. Perhaps exacerbating the difficult of learning another language, was that her 2-year old son was picking up words at lightning speech, a process which Sarah describes as “fascinating”. Within 6 weeks, his nursery claiming that he “sounded like an Iceland 3-year old”.

Teaching in Iceland, was no doubt, a very different experience from that of teaching at Warwick. “In Iceland, there are no tuition fees and there are no entry requirements.  It is an absolutely fundamental principle of Iceland that the University is supported by the state and anybody can go. But because of that there’s no control over group sizes, so I had groups of 40ish. And I was supposed to be teaching Creative Writing, so I had to change how I did it…It was a bit of a shock for them and for me I enjoyed it very much”.

Sarah recalls one anecdote involving the word ‘piss’: “One of things that was quite funny was there was only one Icelandic word for ‘peeing’, which is ‘pissa’, so Icelanders will translate it as ‘piss’. So you’re sitting in a seminar and somebody will raise their hand and say ‘I’m just going to piss’ and you just think ‘Oh, right’. (Laughs) But they don’t have that sense of ‘excuse me a moment’, all of that sort of euphemism and because it doesn’t exist in Icelandic, they assume it doesn’t exist in English”.

As aforementioned Names for the Sea recounts the disruption, delight and difference of moving to another country and I wonder whether this book was planned before the venture, or whether it took shape whilst out there. “I knew it was likely I would end up writing about Iceland, but I didn’t do it in order to write about it. I think it would’ve been a very different experience if I had. Towards the end the project was taking shape and I had a sense of the themes I might write about, but I didn’t have a clear structural plan in mind”. This novel also charts Sarah’s transfer from the mode of fiction to non-fiction: “it was extremely good for me to turn away from fiction. Change of perspective, change of technique, it was also the coming together of my academic and my writerly interests. My academic background is in travel writing and nature and place writing, so it was really nice to be doing the form that I’d been studying for ten years. And I’m now more confident about using them in my teaching”.

The teaching Sarah refers to include a module in the Warwick Writing Programme on experiencing place and belonging. I wonder whether Sarah ever felt she could belong in Iceland. Belonging is one of the things that really interests me academically and creatively. I’ve moved around a lot, I was born in Scotland, grew up in Manchester, spent 10 years in Oxford, 4 years in Canterbury, 1 in Iceland, 3 in West Cornwall. I’m half American. The American half is Jewish Diaspora. Lots of different places and lots of different ways in which I might claim belonging. All of these different ways of claiming place. I certainly want to go back to Iceland. I miss it. I feel connected to it in ways I don’t feel connected to other places, but whether that counts as belonging I couldn’t say”.

Any advice for students at Warwick seeking publication? “Give it all you’ve got – but for a set period. Focus completely and decide how long you’re going to do it for. The great thing about your early 20s is that you can try things with very low risk. There’s no reason why at 22 or 23 you shouldn’t devote yourself to your writing and see where it goes”.

And of course, Sarah is amongst the nominees for this year’s Ondaatje Prize, with the winner to be announced in late May. An “encouraging, exciting, gratifying” honour indeed.

Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland was published by Granta at the beginning of July 2012. 

Sarah is currently working on a pair of novels.