On my radar: Polly Samson’s cultural highlights

The author and journalist on Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, Milton’s Paradise Lost, the magic of Nick Cave and puppet shows in Salzburg

Novelist and journalist Polly Samson was born in London in 1962. She originally worked in publishing, including a role on the board of Jonathan Cape, and has written for the Observer, Guardian, Sunday Times and Daily Mail. Her first collection of short stories, Lying in Bed, was published in 1999, followed by Perfect Lives in 2010. In 2001 she published her first novel, Out of the Picture. She is married to David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, and has co-written lyrics with him for several of the band’s albums. Her novel The Kindness is out now (Bloombsury £14.99).

radar waking life
Photograph: AP

Film: Richard Linklater’s Waking Life

I repeatedly and joyfully watch Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy because I love films about talking, and Waking Life brings the philosophical discussions even more boldly to the front. It’s about a boy having an existential crisis while various characters share their thoughts on consciousness with stunning rotoscope animation flowing from one dreamscape to another. When Jesse and Celine pop up in one scene to talk about morphic resonance it’s like meeting old friends.

radar west pier brighton
Photograph: Betty Finney/Alamy

Architecture: West Pier, Brighton

I find the collapsing wreck of the West Pier in Brighton incredibly beautiful and poignant. Built in 1866, it’s been closed and forlornly awaiting restoration since 1975. Though ravaged by fires and storms, you can still see its good bones. There was once a glass ballroom. All that’s left now is a rusting iron carcass but on misty nights you can sense the ghosts of the concert-goers and at sunset it plays host to clouds of murmurating starlings.

radar paradise lost
Photograph: Lebrecht Music and Arts Photo Library/Alamy

Poetry: Paradise Lost

I immersed myself in Paradise Lost initially for research purposes (the main character of my novel The Kindness was studying it) and the more I read, the more I understood, the more I was swept away. It rewards study and is wonderful to read aloud. So much of Milton has contemporary significance. For example Moloch’s speech about having nothing to lose in Book Two jumped out at me at the time of the riots. I’d recommend the Longman edition for Alastair Fowler’s notes but also a facsimile for Gustave Doré’s ravishing illustrations.

radar nick cave
Photograph: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Album: Nick Cave - Push the Sky Away

Already this album sounds like a classic though it’s only a couple of years old. I love the combination of tenderness and menace in the lyrics, the way it jumps between nightmare and dream, the rumbling threat and darkness combined with beautiful melodies and ethereal backing vocals, some by a children’s choir. I’m also smitten by the film 20,000 Days on Earth which features the album and tells Nick Cave’s story in a really imaginative way.

radar salzburg
Photograph: Prisma Bildagentur AG/Alamy

City: Salzburg

I was the child who saw The Sound of Music eight times in the cinema on release and the best fun I can remember as an adult was a trip to Salzburg with my children where we were guided to various locations, ending with a visit to the Salzburg Marionette theatre’s recreation of the film which was fabulous and quite meta when the puppet Von Trapps put on the puppet show of The Lonely Goatherd. Apparently, The Sound of Music is bigger business there than Mozart which might shock some but is fine by me.

Deborah Moggach
Photograph: Mike Eleftheriades

Event: 5x15

Usually on the third Monday of the month at the Tabernacle and other dates at the Conway Hall and other venues, this series is always worth a ticket. Five speakers have the platform for a strict(ish) 15 minutes each. So many standout moments but Deborah Moggach’s story about her mother “the murderer” was unforgettable and Will Self took the title “Doubt” from the audience and winged it breathtakingly.


Kathryn Bromwich

The GuardianTramp

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