Author: Jeremy WikeleyTTTT

Fools Rush In…

Dione Venables has complied an anthology of George Orwell’s poetry, titled George Orwell: The Complete Poetry, published this month.

Here, she writes exclusively for The Orwell Prize about Orwell’s poetry and why she engaged in the project.

Fools Rush In…

Dione Venables

Having read Keep The Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell, and so enjoyed the way he created a poem gradually, as the story developed, I began to look for other poems that he had written.  Of course the first ones were those that he wrote to my cousin Jacintha Buddicom when they were young and learning about the need to control their feelings.

For many years I waited for one of the academics to gather together all of  Orwell’s poetry, examples of which I would come across now and then within his essays and novels – but it simply never happened, although writer, biographer D.J.Taylor penned an excellent essay on the subject of ‘Orwell and Poetry’ in 2009.  In 2014, with that singular essay still in my mind, I decided to wait no longer but to do the searching myself, and what a search it turned out to be. To be honest, I do not know whether all the poems have been located, but because the clock is ticking for me, by January 2015 it was clear that I had combed enough through the twenty volumes of Peter Davison’s superlative George Orwell: The Complete Works.  I went from reference to page; from page to reference for days and weeks until I was getting rather good at finding my way through these beautifully compiled and edited volumes.  I even learned much about layout and indexing from them when I was deciding how to present the forty two poems which was the total harvest of my labours.

Poems are not like normal text.  They are created out of emotion of one kind or another and this was an area of Orwell’s psyche that had not been seriously explored in depth.   It made me aware that I should introduce each one, explaining Orwell’s reason for writing when I could, and generally giving an account of his health, progress as a writer and translating the slang that was very much part of the first half of the 20th century.  It seemed to me that, without such an introduction, students or readers from other countries would simply not understand what was behind what he was trying to say, and this is the way each poem is presented; in a framework of sympathetic comment, so that when the poem is less than brilliant (and there are several that are below standard!) the reader will at least be ready for anything!  It sounds rather a strange arrangement – but it seems to work.

It has to be understood that George Orwell’s poetry was not written to be compared with his political writing or his essays and novels; he wrote because he felt passionately about something at that particular moment. Sometimes the result was beautiful, mournful, hilarious – and sometimes anger or defeat bled the inspiration out of him and left the reader disappointed.   I’ll show you what I mean.

Awake! oh you  young men of England,

For if, when your Country’s in need

You do not enlist by the thousand

You truly are cowards indeed.

Written by the eleven-year-old Eric Blair at the start of the First World War. Here is the energy and excitement of a child’s romantic view of warfare, pitched into reality by the early death in battle of a cousin. Potential talent here – but nothing extra-special.  By the time he had matured, shaped by disappointment, lack of money, and the beginning of poor health he had begun to look around him and see things.

Sometimes in the middle autumn days,

The windless days when the swallows have flown,

And the sere elms brood in the mist,

Each tree a being, wrapt, alone,

That sharp and deductive curiosity of his gradually needed another direction for the great flow of his creative mind, and soon the pain of living in his world needed ‘letting’.  Bitterness had nowhere to go but through grey and fruitless verse, and his poetry did much to allow him full expression as his health deteriorated.

I feel, and with a sharper pang,

My mortal sickness; how I give

My heart to weak and stifled ghosts,

And with the living cannot live.

Eric Blair had become George Orwell by the time his mood lifted when he married Eileen O’Shaughnessy in 1936.  His verse became more joyful again for a spell and, writing with more success, he was able to express the new well-being in both heart and body.

A happy vicar I might have been

Two hundred years ago,

To preach upon eternal doom

And watch my walnuts grow.

But then he became involved in the Spanish Civil War, was wounded in the throat and the pleasant, cultured baritone voice took on an unattractive squeak. The experience never left him, all the same and his poem ‘The Italian Soldier Shook My Hand’ seems to be the one that most academics remember and approve.

But the thing I saw in your face

No power can dis-inherit:

No bomb that ever burst

Shatters the crystal spirit.

The Blitz, with Eileen beside him, brought forth both his humour and his regret and he was able, when it was all over and he could think back, to remember it with sadness tinged with amusement.

Not the pursuit of knowledge,

Only the chances of war,

Led me to study the music

Of the male and the female snore.

Then Life turned another corner, his treasured son Richard came to them, and Eileen died only months later.  The light went dim again and never really recovered. Orwell was, by this time, making an impact on the world of political thought, his essays were read and respected and his health was fading as he put his mind to his last two books; both of which established his name firmly in the hearts of both the literary world and the casual reader.  The poetry seemed to fade away and only the verses in Animal Farm were left, and a sad little obituary written for an imaginary old countryman, in the last days of his life.

With the little book here in my hand at last, I wonder whether it could have been presented in any other way. You’ll have to be the judge of that.

©Dione Venables. October 2015

The Orwell Prize 2015 Shortlists announced


6 Books, journalists, and pieces of social reporting announced for the Orwell Prize Shortlist


  • Three first-time writers on Book Prize shortlist: Louisa Lim on China, Rana Dasgupta on Delhi, and Dan Davies’ book on Jimmy Savile In Plain Sight
  • Journalism Prize shortlist features reporting and comment on a range of issues, from Peter Ross on Scottish independence to Kim Sengupta on Gaza and Ukraine
  • Housing crisis, care of older people, and gambling all feature on multi-format shortlist for innovative new Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils (sponsored by Joseph Rowntree Foundation)

The shortlists for the Orwell Prize 2015, Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing, were announced at a debate on ‘Unreported Britain’, held at the University of Westminster between Stephen Armstrong and Martin Moore. The Unreported Britain series, commissioned by the Orwell Prize and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has attracted national attention since its initial publication in the Guardian in March and April.

The judges for the 2015 Book Prize are Claire Armitstead, Gillian Slovo, and Tony Wright. The judges for the 2015 Journalism Prize are Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Stewart Purvis, and Caroline Thomson. The judges for the 2015 Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils, which has been sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, are Anushka Asthana, Richard Sambrook, Nicholas Timmins, and Julia Unwin. The three £3000 prizes will be announced at a ceremony on Thursday the 21st of May 2015.

The director of the Orwell Prize, Professor Jean Seaton, said: “Orwell was never parochial. His work spans international events and the national condition, and that range is represented in the shortlist. The books place Britain’s circumstances alongside those of India and China. The entries shortlisted for the journalism prize, which range from risk-taking foreign reporting to subtle analyses of our contemporary national issues, are all following in Orwell’s footsteps.

Our new social reporting prize allows us to consider the new media that Orwell surely would have been using. As a snapshot of our condition, you need to read it all. The judges who select the shortlists always find judging refreshing; it alerts them and us to how much good work is being done.”


Book Prize shortlist:

Rana Dasgupta, CAPITAL: THE ERUPTION OF DELHI (Canongate)


Nick Davies, HACK ATTACK (Chatto & Windus)

David Kynaston, MODERNITY BRITAIN (Bloomsbury)

Louisa Lim, THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF AMNESIA (Oxford University Press)



Journalism Prize shortlist:

Rosie Blau, The Economist

Martin Chulov, The Guardian

Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi,, Lacuna, New Statesman

Mary Riddell, The Daily Telegraph

Peter Ross, Scotland on Sunday

Kim Sengupta, The Independent


Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils shortlist:

George Arbuthnott, Slaves in peril on the sea

Aditya Chakrabortty and Guardian team, London’s housing crisis

Alison Holt, Care of the elderly and vulnerable

Nick Mathiason, A great British housing crisis

Randeep Ramesh, Casino-style gambling

Mark Townsend, Serco: A hunt for the truth inside Yarl’s Wood





Notes to editors:

1.     The Orwell Prize is Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing. Every year, prizes are awarded to the book and journalism entry which comes closest to George Orwell’s ambition ‘to make political writing into an art’. Each Prize is worth £3000.

2.     The Prize was founded by the late Professor Sir Bernard Crick in its present form in 1993, awarding its first prizes in 1994. The Prize is sponsored and supported by the Media Standards Trust, Political Quarterly, AM Heath, and Richard Blair. The Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils is sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

3.     For further information, please visit our website, or contact Alex Bartram at or 0207 848 7930.

2015 Shortlist debate and announcement

“Is there an Unreported Britain? The democratic deficit and the new contours of want”

The Boardroom
309 Regent Street
University of Westminster
W1B 2HW London
United Kingdom

On the evening of the 21st of April, the Orwell Prize will be announcing the shortlists for its 2015 prizes at a debate between journalist Stephen Armstrong and media expert Martin Moore. Professor Jean Seaton, the Director of the Orwell Prize, will chair.

The debate follows the success of the Unreported Britain series, commissioned by the Orwell Prize in partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and published in the Guardian.

Following the debate, the shortlists for the 2015 Book Prize, Journalism Prize, and the new Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils will be announced.

Register for a ticket at the event page here.

Please contact with any queries.

2015 Longlists

Book prize

Journalism prize

Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils (opens in new window)

Unreported Britain series

Follow the link below for the first article in the Unreported Britain series.

The rise of DIY dentistry: Britons doing their own fillings to avoid NHS bill

Today marks the launch of the Unreported Britain series. The Orwell Prize, set up in Orwell’s name to focus attention on good writing about political issues – together with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) – are delivering the Unreported Britain Project as one part of the work of the new JRF-sponsored Prize “The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils”.

Unreported Britain was written by Stephen Armstrong, the author of The Road to Wigan Pier Revisited, with additional reporting by Maruxa Ruiz del Arbol.

The Guardian’s page for the Unreported Britain series can be found by following this link.

Background to the Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils and the Unreported Britain series

The Prize will find the new journalism that uses all of the media to tell important stories. It will focus on the journalism that is letting the public use and explore data about need for themselves: giving people access to the tools and evidence to make up their own minds. The Unreported Britain project is intended to launch the debate – about what we don’t know and why we don’t know it. But also to reflect back to communities how they see themselves.

In 1936 George Orwell got on a train to Wigan. He wanted to find out what the economic depression was doing to people. Wigan, understandably perhaps, has never quite forgiven him for the way in which he put them on them map.  But if his work helped  mobilise a sense of shared responsibility for making living conditions better, it also energised the local communities he encountered. Before he set out on his journey Orwell wrote nearly a 900 letters, pestering local authorities for mortality figures, bothering employers for wage statistics, ransacking the health services (before the national health) for patterns of illness, demanding the price of sugar and what it cost to heat a house. He was finding the stories that were un-reported. Although The Road to Wigan Pier is brilliantly written – it stands on evidence.

That – however – was then. What are the new contours of want in 21st Century Britain? How do we know about them? As local media collapse communities do not even see their own particular stories reflected back to them – let alone brought to bear on policy makers in the distant metropolitan hub of Westminster. If we suffer from a democratic deficit, then that is shaped by a reporting deficit.

People are all too aware of the dangers of being stereotyped. They imagine new solutions to their predicament. The project also explores the separate problem – why we have not heard these stories. The new contour of want has a new kind of invisibility.

The Orwell Lecture 2014

For the annual Orwell Lecture, David Kynaston will discuss ‘Whatever Happened to Social Mobility’, on Wednesday 12 November.

David Kynaston is a professional historian who has written eighteen books, including the widely acclaimed four-volume The City of London, and the best-selling Austerity Britain. He is an honorary professor at Kingston University.

The lecture will begin at 6.30pm. Please register here, and arrive early to be sure of a seat. We cannot guarantee places.

This lecture forms part of our ‘Unreported Britain’ programme of events, to mark the new Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Buxton Festival 2014: The Housing Crisis and the Countryside

The Housing Crisis and the Countryside, ‘Buried by a kind of volcanic eruption from the outer suburbs’ (George Orwell, Coming Up For Air).

Thursday 24 July 2014, 2pm-3pm

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the publication of ‘Coming Up for Air’, Orwell Prize director Professor Jean Seaton will chair a panel to discuss the rural and built environment, and what can be done to avert a housing crisis.

The panel will include Owen Hatherley (writer and journalist, author of A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain), Professor Robert Colls (Professor of Cultural History at De Montford University, author of George Orwell: English Rebel), Professor David Matless (Professor of Cultural Geography at the University of Nottingham, author of Landscape and Englishness), and Nick Boles (MP for Grantham and Stamford and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Planning).


Frank Dikötter

In 1949 Mao Zedong hoisted the red flag over Beijing’s Forbidden City. Instead of liberating the country, the communists destroyed the old order and replaced it with a repressive system that would dominate every aspect of Chinese life. In an epic of revolution and violence which draws on newly opened party archives, interviews and memoirs, Frank Dikötter interweaves the stories of millions of ordinary people with the brutal politics of Mao’s court. A gripping account of how people from all walks of life were caught up in a tragedy that sent at least five million civilians to their deaths.

Taken from Bloomsbury

Aditya Chakrabortty

Aditya Chakrabortty is economics leader writer and columnist for the Guardian. He has previously worked as a senior producer on the BBC Ten o’clock News and on Newsnight. He has also written for the Telegraph, the Financial Times, the FT Magazine, and the New Statesman.

Articles submitted


The Welfare State, 1942-2013 Obituary: after decades of public illness, Beveridge’s most famous offspring has died – The Guardian, 08/01/2013

This is a dangerous time to push the property market. The chancellor won’t invest – yet he’s happy for us to – The Guardian, 25/03/2013

I once called Richard Branson a carpetbagger. The truth is, he is even more subsidy-hungry than I thought – The Guardian, 10/06/2013

Long hours and low pay – the story of the woman who nearly died making your iPad – The Guardian, 05/08/2013

Police are cracking down on students – but what possible threat to law and order is an over-articulate history graduate? – The Guardian, 18/11/2013

Outside looking in: how the UK trails the world on a great British invention – The Guardian, 03/12/2013


Aditya Chakrabortty on twitter

David Goodhart

In The British Dream, David Goodhart tells the story of post-war immigration and charts a course for its future. Drawing on hundreds of interviews with people from all over the country and a wealth of statistical evidence, he paints a striking picture of how Britain has been transformed by immigration and examines the progress of its ethnic minorities – projected to be around 25 per cent of the population by the early 2020s.

Britain today is a more open society for minorities than ever before, but it is also a more fragmented one. Goodhart argues that an overzealous multiculturalism has exacerbated this problem by reinforcing difference instead of promoting a common life. The multi-ethnic success of Team GB at the 2012 Olympics and a taste for chicken tikka masala are not, he suggests, sufficient to forge common bonds; Britain needs a political culture of integration.

Goodhart concludes that if Britain is to avoid a narrowing of the public realm and sharply segregated cities, as in many parts of the US, its politicians and opinion leaders must do two things. Firstly, as advocated by the centre right, they need to bring immigration down to more moderate and sustainable levels. Secondly, as advocated by the centre left, they need to shape a progressive national story about openness and opportunity – one that captures how people of different traditions are coming together to make the British dream.

Taken from Atlantic

Charles Moore

Not For Turning is the first volume of Charles Moore’s authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher, the longest serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century and one of the most influential political figures of the postwar era.

Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher, published after her death on 8 April 2013, immediately supercedes all earlier books written about her. At the moment when she becomes a historical figure, this book also makes her into a three dimensional one for the first time. It gives unparalleled insight into her early life and formation, especially through her extensive correspondence with her sister, which Moore is the first author to draw on. It recreates brilliantly the atmosphere of British politics as she was making her way, and takes her up to what was arguably the zenith of her power, victory in the Falklands. (This volume ends with the Falklands Dinner in Downing Street in November 1982.) Moore is clearly an admirer of his subject, but he does not shy away from criticising her or identifying weaknesses and mistakes where he feels it is justified. Based on unrestricted access to all Lady Thatcher’s papers, unpublished interviews with her and all her major colleagues, this is the indispensable, fully rounded portrait of a towering figure of our times.

Taken from Penguin

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad


Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is an Iraqi journalist, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya. He is a Guardian foreign correspondent, and writes regularly for the London Review of Books.




Articles submitted

How to Start a Battalion (in Five Easy Lessons) – London Review of Books, 21/02/2013

Diary – London Review of Books, 08/08/2013

Syria’s oilfields create surreal battle lines amid chaos and tribal loyalties – the Guardian, 25/06/2013

Syria’s al-Nusra Front – ruthless, organised and taking control – the Guardian, 10/07/2013

‘Syria is not a revolution any more – this is civil war’ – the Guardian, 18/11/2013


Ghaith Abdul-Ahad on twitter

Gideon Rachman

Gideon Rachman became chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times in July 2006. He joined the FT after a 15-year career at The Economist, which included spells as a foreign correspondent in Brussels, Washington and Bangkok. He also edited The Economist’s business and Asia sections. His particular interests include American foreign policy, the European Union and globalisation. He is the author of Zero-Sum World, published by Atlantic Books in November 2010. He was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for journalism in 2011.


Submitted articles

America cannot live so carelessly forever – Financial times, 07/10/2013

Staying out of Syria is the bolder call for Obama – Financial Times, 13/05/2013

The Chinese dream is Smothered by Toxic Fog – Financial Times, 06/05/2013

Germany is a vegetarian in a world full of carnivores – Financial Times, 09/09/2013

Why I switched sides in the UK’s civil war over Europe – Financial Times, 20/05/2013

The Shadow of 1914 falls over the Pacific – Financial Times, 06/02/2013


Gideon Rachman on Twitter

James Fergusson

Award-winning journalist James Fergusson is among the few to have witnessed at first hand the devastating reality of life in the failed and desperate state of Somalia.

This corner of the world has long been seen as the rotting and charred heart of Africa: a melting pot of crime, corruption, poverty, famine and civil war. And in recent years, whilst Somalia’s lucrative piracy industry has grabbed the headlines, a darker, much deeper threat has come of age: the Al Qaida-linked militants Al Shabaab, and the dawn of a new phase in the global war on terror.

Yet, paradoxically, Somalia’s star is brightening, as forms of business, law enforcement and local politics begin to establish themselves, and members of the vast Somali diaspora return to their homeland.

Fergusson takes us to the heart of the struggle, meeting everyone from politicians, pirates, extremists and mercenaries to aid workers, civilians and refugees. He gives a unique account of a country ravaged by war, considers what the future might hold for a generation who have grown up knowing little else and exposes the reality of life in this hard, often forgotten land.

Taken from Random House