And breathe!

I feel like I am coming up for air, finally escaping from the hamster wheel of creativity that has kept me chained to my keyboard for the last few months. My mind has been so full of books, with all the characters knocking on the inside of my head to be let out. To quieten them, I’ve had no choice but to sit tip-tapping away for hours, days, and weeks until they have been exorcised.

Who am I kidding? I LOVE EVERY MINUTE OF IT! I think sitting in my pj’s with tea on tap is the best job in the world. I feel very lucky.

Magna Carta: the things you didn't know by Dan Jones

800 years ago, Magna Carta was signed. Since then, it has been variously appropriated. But what exactly did it say?

This will be the year of Magna Carta. It is a year rich in historical anniversaries, including those of the battles of Agincourt (1415) and Waterloo (1815). But it is the commemoration of King John’s great concession at Runnymede on June 15 1215 that should dominate our thoughts, as we consider the profound influence that the Great Charter has had on eight centuries of history in England, Britain and the English-speaking world.

Christmas in South Africa: guest blog from Miranda Sherry

Despite the fact that the festive twinkly fairy lights have to fight to get noticed in the glare, and the wilting snowflakes on shop windows have an air of the ridiculous about them, the festive season in South Africa has an extra celebratory edge to it, because this is the time when many businesses shut up shop for the end-of-year holidays, the schools all close and there’s a mass, sunblock encrusted migration to the coast for a few glorious weeks.

Christmas in The Netherlands: guest blog by Jan Cleijne

December in The Netherlands is a real festival. A few weeks before Christmas, there is another event with a similar impact - the birthday of Sinterklaas. Each year he sails to our shores on a boat filled with presents for all the children. And all grown-ups as well, although they buy the presents for one another. It is a widespread tradition celebrated not only by families, but also by groups of friends and colleagues. And everyone eats spice nuts.

Sweet Thames: childhood memories of the Thames by Mary Gibson

The river Thames is the backdrop for much of the action in my latest novel Jam and Roses. Sometimes, in the novel, it is a soothing and benevolent presence, at other times menacing and dangerous. The Thames is a river that seems to belong to the whole world. But it’s also a local river, and as a child, growing up near Tower Bridge in Bermondsey, the Thames for me was a source of fascination, excitement, but also of terror.

What did the CIA try to hide? Jonathan Holt on his research on the enhanced interrogation programme for his latest novel

“A stain on our history that must never be allowed to happen again,” is how Diane Feinstein, chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, summed up the CIA’s programme of ‘enhanced interrogations’ in the Committee’s recently-released report. The press has seized on some of the details – of deaths by freezing, of ‘rectal feeding’, of prisoners threatened with power tools and subjected to multiple waterboarding sessions – but misconceptions and myths still abound.

Want to hear a story? by Miranda Sherry

Let me set the scene: the bathroom features chewing-gum pink 1970s wall tiles and a big old bathtub. Inside this, sits a diminutive, fluffy-haired toddler wearing nothing but a smear of bubbles on her chin and a determined expression. Bath time is over, there’s nothing left to clean and the water is getting cold, but the little girl wants none of it. Being in the water with the ducky and the sloppy-slappy washcloth is the BEST THING EVER. Her exhausted parents have learned that the only way to extract this small person from the bath is to say: “once upon a time…” and then pause.

A blog to celebrate National Tree Week by Max Adams

It’s the beginning of winter: a time to look at trees’ anatomy; to coppice and fell; to plant seedlings before the hard frosts come, and also to admire. But for me this national tree week started with a revelation. I have been pruning an old, outgrown hawthorn hedge and weaving the cut branches between the stems to keep deer out of a new plantation that they have been munching on. I have no idea how I got to the age of fifty-three without ever having been jabbed by one of their barbs, but it must be so. I would have remembered.