Tag Archives: The Sunday Times

The Sunday Times Magazine and Radio Scotland

Sunday Times Magazine - Riding into the Sunset

I wrote a short-ish article about our adventures along the Colorado Trail for The Sunday Times Magazine last week, which alas I missed seeing in hard copy because I was doing a mini-residency at a cabin in Inshriach Forest, on the edge of the Cairngorms, for The Bothy Project. (It was a joy. Look into it, if you are a writer or artist and enjoy solitude / chopping wood / working by lamplight / cold water washing.)

But here’s a PDF – and I’ve gathered together all my posts about our Rocky Mountain summer here. So far I’ve transcribed 4 of 6 weeks’ worth of trail diaries (1/2/3/4) – I’ll get the final two up shortly – and also published some tips for packhorse use.

Rich and I also discussed our journey with BBC Scotland presenter Fiona Stalker for her Friday afternoon show Out for the Weekend, which is available to listen to here.

Full text of the article after the fold Continue reading

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Jenni Fagan and the Sunlight Pilgrims

PHIL WILKINSON

I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet the brilliant Scottish author Jenni Fagan for an interview for The Sunday Times. She was recovering from having launched two books (a new novel, The Sunlight Pilgrims, and a book of poetry, The Dead Queen of Bohemia) within the space of a week.

Text of the interview can be found below, or a slightly shorter version is on the Sunday Times website here.

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At home in the Highlands with Michel Faber

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I had an interview in this weekend’s Sunday Times with Michel Faber, the author of Under The Skin, The Crimson Petal and the White, and the recently announced Saltire book of the year The Book of Strange New Things.

We spoke about the grieving process after the death of his wife Eva last year, his pacifist beliefs and his growing sense of belonging in Scotland thanks to the Saltire win. Not before time – he has lived in the Highlands, near Tain, for more than 20 years, but has always felt something of an “alien” he says, and has never really integrated.

The Sunday Times piece can be found here, or a slightly longer version is also available after the fold.

It didn’t make the piece, but he also spoke very interestingly on the writing process – particularly the no-nonsense approach he took to his first book The Crimson Petal and the White (he wrote the first version as a student, although it was not published until after his critically-acclaimed ‘debut’ with Under The Skin). Having started, but not completed, many novels, he decided to very carefully structure his next attempt, taking inspiration from the Victorian novels he was studying for his literature degree (particularly, Middlemarch) – down to the paragraph, even. After which he could work through the plan very diligently, marking off his progress as he went.

The book went through two or three redrafts, but the back of the work had been broken. It was published in 2002 and received rave reviews, later being adapted as a TV series for the BBC starring Romola Garai. He has retained this highly structured process through his later books, although he has spoken elsewhere of making efforts to allow his latest novel more space to grow “organically”.

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My gammy leg: leg-lengthening surgery

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My account of my childhood experience of disability, a result of being born with one leg shorter than the other, was published in the Sunday Times Magazine this weekend. I was in and out of the operating theatre more than 20 times by the age of 15 as I underwent leg-lengthening treatment using an external fixator (and a second approach, which slowed the growth of my stronger, right leg). Left untreated, the discrepancy between my legs would have reached between 10cm and 15cm.

Thanks to the wonderful care and treatment I received at The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, there is now little evidence that this was the case, and I live a very active lifestyle.

The only reminder is the network of scars that track my legs: up either side like Adidas stripes, a silver slash over one hip, a line like a zip up the front of my left thigh.

Full text of the article and the PDF clippings are available on the Sunday Times website here, and after the break. A shorter version of this article was also reproduced in The Week magazine.leg lengthening ST Mag 1

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Undercover with Oxbridge Essays

Oxbridge Essays cropped

I went undercover for this Sunday Times investigation into the ‘essay mill’ Oxbridge Essays, posing as several students seeking to cheat in their undergraduate degree.

I spoke to employees who were willing to:

  •  provide a ghost-written exam answer for a student sitting a 24-hour take-home history exam at Bristol University, guaranteed to a guaranteed first level, and submit on her behalf directly to the university, for £630
  • provide an 8000-word social psychology dissertation ready to be turned in to Oxford University exam schools under a student’s name, at guaranteed upper-first level, for £2005

“So I’d just open up the word document and copy it into another one, stick my candidate number on it and submit it?”
“Exactly, yeah.”

As part of the sting I set the company my own dissertation title from my university days, then handed the first two-thirds of Oxbridge Essays’ offering to my former supervisor Miles Hewstone, professor of social psychology at Oxford University, to have it assessed. He said: “The whole thing has a bit of a cut and paste feel… the main complaint is that they have not included any work since 2010 — there’s no way you would get a first for that. There is some loose language too.

“Reading all this, I am inclined to say we should bring back viva voce exams, so that every student expects/fears that they might be viva’d on any aspect of their Finals. This might help to cut down this vile practice.”

Full text of the resulting article, plus an audio recording of my conversation with Paul Serrecchia, one of Oxbridge Essays ‘academic consultants’, is available on the Sunday Times website here, or after the break.

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Download an ounce of Self Control

Time saving apps News Review

I had a short piece in the News Review section of The Sunday Times last weekend, reviewing apps aimed at reducing time wasted on the internet.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have spent countless panicked afternoons spent desperately catching up on the time lost earlier in the day to directionless internet meandering. It’s the scourge of the millennial generation.

I found an app called SelfControl to be very effective – stopping me in my tracks every time I automatically clicked on my Facebook, Twitter or email bookmarks. Zadie Smith reportedly uses it while writing her novels. Others – like TimeOut and FocusBooster – I found completely infuriating.

Full text is on The Sunday Times’ website here, or after the fold.

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Ladies of the left unite

Shortlists put women in Labour hot seats

I co-wrote a story in this weekend’s Sunday Times, after our analysis of Labour’s list of prospective parliamentary candidates discovered that they are on track to go into the 2015 General Election with the largest ever number of women candidates.

This is the result of a drive over recent years to encourage women to stand for election, and a controversial policy of all-women shortlists in many constituencies.

Encouragingly, it appears to make little difference at the polls whether the candidate has been selected through an open process or an all-women shortlist. However only two women have been selected in open contests so far.

Catherine Atkinson, Labour’s candidate in Erewash, Derbyshire, was kind enough to speak to me about her selection.

Full text of the article is available on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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Scandal of school kitchen hygiene

Mice, ants and mouldy walls in school kitchens

I had an article in last weekend’s Sunday Times after I obtained hundreds of reports from school canteen hygiene inspections from local authorities around the council.

Hundreds of schools were given poor hygiene scores of 2 (“improvement required”) or less; two schools (Sennybridge County Primary School in Powys, and Erith School in Kent) scored the bottom score of 0 (“urgent improvement required”).

Many of the reports made for uncomfortable reading: black mould on walls, broken windows, raw meat stored alongside cooked food, mice infestations, ant infestations, and poor personal hygiene among staff all featured in the reports.

Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon chain of restaurants and the government’s new school food tsar, and Janette Wallis of the Good Schools Guide were kind enough to comment on my findings.

The Sunday Times data team created an interactive map for the online version of the story, so look for poor-scoring school canteens near you here. If you’d like to have a look at a report from your local school, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Full text of the article is also available after the fold. Continue reading

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JK Rowling’s secret crime novel

JK Rowling's secret book

I worked on the investigation in The Sunday Times last weekend that revealed JK Rowling to have secretly released a crime novel for adults, under a false identity.

She posed as Robert Galbraith, a former military policeman, when her latest novel was released in March. A Cuckoo’s Calling was warmly reviewed but sold fewer than 2000 hardback copies. Since our article was published, sales of the book on Amazon have leapt by 150,000%.

I’m not credited on the front page, but shared a byline with arts editor Richard Brooks on the inside write up. Full text can be found on the Sunday Times website here, or after the fold.

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Westminster for sale: part 3

Puppetmaster lobbyists spread

 

Insight were back on the front page of the Sunday Times this weekend, with the latest addition to the ‘Westminster for Sale’ investigation. I worked on the reporting team.

Undercover reporters investigating lobbyists selling influence in Westminster were told how debates, speeches, and questions could be arranged in both houses of parliament. John Stevenson, of Freshwater Public Affairs, said he had engineered a whole Lords debate in April on behalf of a client paying him to lobby

Full text of the three resulting articles is available on the Sunday Times website, or after the fold.

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