Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer. Photo: Allan Amato
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Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer to guest-edit the New Statesman

The theme of the issue, due out on 28 May, will be "saying the unsayable". 

Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman will guest edit an issue of the New Statesman on 28 May, with the theme of “saying the unsayable”.

The guest-edit will be accompanied by an event at the Hackney Empire, which has already sold out.

Palmer is a ground-breaking musician and the author of the bestselling book The Art of Asking, which began as a TED talk which has received 6.8 million views. She discussed some of the issues raised - about the evolving relationship between artists and their fans - in this New Statesman piece from 2013.

Gaiman is an award-winning writer of novels, short stories, comics and television; his books Coraline and Stardust have been turned into films, and he has written two acclaimed episodes of Doctor Who. In 2013, he was interviewed by Laurie Penny for the New Statesman, which you can read here

The issue will address the ideas of censorship, taboos, offence and free speech, and contributors include Art Spiegelman, Michael Sheen, Kazuo Ishiguro and Stoya. 

Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, said: “Together and separately, Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman are two of the most talented, innovative and unpredictable artists in our culture. In the wake of the debates around Charlie Hebdo, 'call-out culture' and hate speech online, and with so many governments around the world repressing their citizens' ability to speak freely, this issue is incredibly timely.” 

Amanda Palmer said: “As a long-time devourer and admirer of the New Statesman, it’s thrilling to be able to curate an issue like this. We’re aiming to make it read like the footnotes to a great dinner party with an eclectic bunch of friends - where politics collide with art and economics collide with human feelings. I hope the New Statesman folks don’t regret giving over the wheel of their respectable vehicle to the artists, as we tend to drive off-road . . . but hopefully we’ll at least crash somewhere interesting. Neil and I have been working together (sometimes side-by-side, sometimes on opposite sides of the planet) to make this a real reflection of who we believe, who we trust, who we’d want over for wine at our place to discuss the state of things.”

Neil Gaiman said: “I persuaded my slightly baffled parents to get me my first subscription to the New Statesman when I was 12. I was willing to put up with the political writing, and the people who wanted to change the world* because I loved reading the competition results in the back: I liked watching people playing with literature. And I liked the points of view. I still love the New Statesman, although I'm slightly more interested in the political writing these days than I was when I was 12.

“Guest editing an issue with Amanda Palmer has been a delightful, strange, occasionally frustrating, never boring process. We have agreed and we have argued and we have carved out our respective territories. Fortunately our interests overlap, along with our desire to curate a conversation about the things people do and do not talk about, the things we can and can't say, the culture of offence vs. the notion of free speech... and then there's rock, literature, refugees and so many other things. We have as many points of view as we have contributors (and a motley and glorious bunch of contributors they are). ” 

Previous guest editors have included Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury; comedian Russell Brand, whose essay on why he was not voting went viral and led to his appearance on Newsnight; Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei; Jemima Khan, who sent Hugh Grant undercover to investigate phone hacking; and Grayson Perry, who coined the influential term “Default Man”.

The issue will go on sale on Thursday, 28 May, and will also be available on iPad and Kindle. You can pre-order a single-issue by emailing sbrasher @ newstatesman co uk



*a good thing. 


Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways: a subtle study of “economic migration”

Sahota’s Man Booker-shortlisted novel goes to places we would all rather not think about.

This summer’s crisis has reinforced the ­distinction that is often made between refugees, who deserve sanctuary because they are fleeing from conflict, and “economic migrants”, those coming to Europe in pursuit of “the good life”, who must be repelled at any cost. The entire bureaucratic and punitive capacity of our immigration system is pitted against these ne’er-do-wells and their impudent aspirations.

Sunjeev Sahota’s fine second novel, The Year of the Runaways, now shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, takes a closer look at “economic migration”. Why do people – many of them educated, from loving families in peaceful communities – leave their old lives behind and come to Britain? Are they fleeing desperate circumstances or are they on the make? When they arrive here, do they find what they were looking for? Should we welcome them, or try to persuade them to stay at home? The book illuminates all of these questions while, much to its credit, offering no simple answers.

Sahota interweaves the stories of three people whose reasons for emigrating are as individual as they are. Both Avtar and Randeep are from Indian Sikh families that might be characterised as lower-middle-class. Avtar’s father has his own small business – a shawl shop – and Randeep’s father works for the government. Both boys are educated and Avtar, in particular, is smart and motivated. But with employment hard to come by and no social security net to fall back on, it doesn’t take much to make leaving the country seem like the only option. Avtar loses his job, his father’s business is failing and he has high hopes of earning enough to marry Lakhpreet, his girlfriend-on-the-sly. Randeep’s family’s finances fall apart after his father has a psychological breakdown; their only hope of maintaining a respectable lifestyle is for their eldest son to take his chances abroad.

For Tochi, the situation is very different. He is what used to be called an “untouchable” and, although people now use euphemisms (“scheduled”, or chamaar), the taboo remains as strong as ever. He comes to Britain not so much for financial reasons – although he is the poorest of the lot – but to escape the prejudice that killed his father, mother and pregnant sister.

Tying these disparate stories together is the book’s most intriguing character, Narinder, a British Sikh woman who comes to believe that it is her spiritual calling to rescue a desperate Indian by “visa marriage”. Narinder’s progress, from the very limited horizons for an obedient young woman to a greater sense of herself as an active participant in her destiny, reminded me of Nazneen, the protagonist in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane. But Narinder is a more thoughtful character and here the Hollywood-style journey of personal liberation is tempered by a recognition of the powerful bonds of tradition and family.

Once in Britain, Avtar, Randeep and Tochi enter a world of gangmasters, slum accommodation and zero job security, with an ever-present fear of “raids” by immigration officers. They work in fried chicken shops, down sewers, on building sites and cleaning nightclubs. Health care is off-limits for fear of immigration checks. Food is basic and the only charity comes from the gurdwara, or Sikh temple, which provides help in emergencies.

Avtar and Randeep struggle to send money back home while living in poverty and squalor that their families could barely imagine (at one point, Randeep notes with understandable bitterness that his mother has used his hard-earned contributions to buy herself a string of pearls). In the meantime, their desperation leads them to increasingly morally repellent behaviour, from selfishness to stealing and worse. Even if they do eventually find a measure of economic stability in Britain, they have done so at the cost of their better selves.

It has been pointed out that the novels on the Man Booker shortlist this year are even more depressing than usual and The Year of the Runaways certainly won’t have raised the laugh count. At times I had to put it down for a while, overwhelmed by tragedy after tragedy. It was the quality of Sahota’s prose and perceptions that brought me back. He is a wonderfully subtle writer who makes what he leaves unsaid as important as the words on the page. A wise and compassionate observer of humanity, he has gone to some dark places – places we would all rather not think about – to bring us this book. Whether we are prepared to extend a measure of his wisdom and compassion to real immigrants, in the real world, is another question.

“The Year of the Runaways” by Sunjeev Sahota is published by Picador (480pp, £14.99)

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis