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Margaret Atwood to edit collaborative modern Decameron for the Covid era | Books

Voice Of EU



In Boccaccio’s Decameron, a group of travellers take refuge from the Black Death in a villa outside Florence and share their stories. In a forthcoming modern-day take for the Covid era, by authors ranging from John Grisham to Outlander author Diana Gabaldon, the characters are a group of neighbours in a Manhattan tenement during the coronavirus pandemic.

Edited by Margaret Atwood, Fourteen Days: An Unauthorised Gathering is a collaborative novel dreamed up by author Douglas Preston to support other writers during the pandemic. With contributors also including Tess Gerritsen, Emma Donoghue, Celeste Ng, Dave Eggers and Angie Cruz, the book is set during the early days of the crisis, as a diverse group of neighbours left behind “when the rich flee the city” gather on the rooftop of their building and begin to share their stories.

“I came up with the germ of the idea when I read the Decameron as a teenager. I’m a collector of stories, and my initial thought was to cram all those stories into a frame narrative like the Decameron, in which a group of people retreat to an estate on the Maine coast during a pandemic. But when I tried to write it, the result was incoherent, so I quickly abandoned it,” said Preston. “Then a real pandemic arrived.”

Preston is president of the Authors Guild, and the writers’ body had been thinking about doing an anthology. “But anthologies can be rather dull,” Preston said. “It occurred to me that the Decameron idea could be brought into the present day, and involve New Yorkers stuck in a tenement during Covid, who gather on the roof every evening and start telling stories to pass the time – all kinds of stories: outrageous, poignant, funny, horrifying, tragic and creepy.”

Atwood agreed to act as editor, and invited, said Preston, “an eclectic group of writers, from romance novelists to Shakespearean scholars, from poets to mystery writers, from children’s authors to journalists to science fiction writers”, to contribute.

“I was astonished at how many authors loved the idea and wanted to participate,” said Preston. “They didn’t just write stories, but also created characters on the rooftop to tell them. In this way, Fourteen Days became a sort of protest against the balkanisation of contemporary literary culture. The result is entertaining and lively, not unlike stories being told at a dinner party, late in the evening, by guests of dubious sobriety. I don’t believe such an eclectic group of authors, or works, has ever been brought together like this before.”

Atwood said that the characters created by her contributors “have much to say to one another about life during the pandemic and even more about life in general, sometimes getting into discussions, debates or outright quarrels – and sometimes finding resolution in unexpected moments of empathy and connection”.

The writers remain anonymous until the end of the book, when it is revealed who has written which story. “Reading the book is a fun literary guessing game, but it has a deeper message too, being a thumb in the eye of literary celebrityhood and the fetish of the byline,” said Preston.

The Authors Guild has signed a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the US, and Vintage in the UK, to publish Fourteen Days in spring 2022. A “major” donation from Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins means that all contributors will receive an honorarium for the project, but all proceeds will go to the Authors Guild Foundation, which supports US writers; a recent survey found that authors reported losing 49% of their pre-pandemic income on average.

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Simon Harris and wife welcome new baby boy

Voice Of EU



Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has announced the birth of a baby son.

Posting on Instagram, the Minister said he and his wife Caoimhe had on Wednesday “welcomed Baby Cillian into the world”. Cillian is the couple’s second child, they also have a daughter Saoirse.

“Caoimhe and baby doing great and Saoirse delighted to be a big sister and looking forward to meeting him soon.”

Mr Harris thanked all of the staff at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, Dublin.

The Fine Gael TD said he will be taking paternity leave for a few weeks to “get to know this new little man”.

In a previous post he said Tánaiste Leo Varadkar would be taking any of his department’s business to Government during the time while Minister of State Niall Collins would be carrying out his day-to-day work in the department and Labour leader Alan Kelly would be providing a pair for Dáil votes.

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Macron presses Biden for ‘clarifications’ over submarine snub

Voice Of EU



Macron was left furious by Australia’s decision last week to ditch a 2016 deal to buy diesel submarines from France in favour of nuclear-powered ones from the United States and Britain.

After a cabinet meeting, government spokesman Gabriel Attal made clear French anger had not abated with an unusually frank statement of Macron’s expectations from the scheduled conversation with 78-year-old Biden.

The exchange would be an opportunity to “clarify both the way in which this announcement was made and the way for an American re-engagement in its relationship with an ally,” Attal said.

Paris was particularly outraged that Australia negotiated with Washington and London in secret, which French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denounced as “treachery” and a “stab in the back”.

French officials were notified about the loss of the contract just hours before Biden unveiled the new AUKUS security and defence partnership between the three English-speaking countries.

READ ALSO OPINION: France’s Australian submarine row shows that Macron was right about NATO

Macron was expecting “clarifications about the American decision to keep a European ally outside of fundamental talks about cooperation in the Indo-Pacific,” Attal added, without giving the schedule time for the exchange.

“We expect our allies to acknowledge that the exchanges and consultations that should have taken place did not, and that this poses a question about confidence, which all of us need to draw conclusions about now.”


The submarine row has plunged Franco-US ties into what some analysts view as the most acute crisis since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Paris opposed.

After four years of tumultuous relations with ex-president Donald Trump, the spat has also dashed hopes of a complete reset under Biden, who took office in January aiming to rebuild frazzled ties with Europe.

As the row drags on, observers and some of France’s European partners are wondering how and when the French leader will call an end to the face-off, which is playing out just seven months ahead of presidential elections.

British Prime Minister Johnson said it was “time for some of our dearest friends around the world to ‘prenez un grip’ (get a grip)” in comments in Washington that mixed French and English.

“‘Donnez-moi un break’ because this is fundamentally a great step forward for global security,” he told Sky News.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, whose country is staunchly pro-American, defended Biden as “very loyal” and warned against turning “challenges which will always exist between allies into something they should not be.”


Attal said that France and the US needed to begin a process “to create the conditions for confidence to be restored”.

As well as an acknowledgement of French interests in the Pacific region, the process should include “full recognition by our American allies of the need to boost European sovereignty as well as the importance of the growing commitment by the Europeans to their own defence and security.”

This latter point is a source of tension between Biden and Macron, who has pushed hard during his four-and-a-half years in office for Europeans to invest more in defence and pool resources in order to increase their joint military capabilities.

The US, and some EU members including Denmark and Baltic countries, see this as a potential challenge to NATO, the US-led transatlantic military alliance that has been the cornerstone of European defence since World War II.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly argued against the idea of France withdrawing from NATO command structures, which some politicians in France have suggested in the wake of the submarines snub.

“Is it worth slamming the door on NATO? I don’t think so,” she said, while adding that “political dialogue is non-existent in NATO.”

Australia’s decision to order nuclear-powered submarines was driven by concern about China’s commercial and military assertiveness in the Pacific region, where Biden is seeking to build an alliance of democratic states to help contain Beijing.

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Paschal Donohoe plans bank levy extension but lower haul

Voice Of EU



Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe will continue the Irish banking levy beyond its scheduled conclusion date at the end of this year, but plans to lower the targeted annual haul from the current €150 million as overseas lenders Ulster Bank and KBC Bank Ireland retreat from the market, according to sources.

Reducing the industry overall levy target will avoid the remaining three banks facing higher levy bills at a time when the Government is seeking to lower its stakes in the bailed-out lenders.

AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB paid a combined €93 million levy in each of the last two years, according to their latest annual reports. A decision on the new targeted yield, currently linked to deposit interest retention tax (DIRT) collected by banks on customers’ savings, will be announced at the unveiling of Budget 2022 on October 12th.

Originally introduced in 2014 by then minister for finance Michael Noonan for three years to ensure banks made a “contribution” to a recovering economy after the sector’s multibillion-euro taxpayer bailout, the annual banking levy has since been extended to the end of 2021.

A further extension of the levy has largely been expected by the banks and industry analysts, as the sector has been able to use multibillion euro losses racked up during the financial crisis to reduce their tax bills. A spokesman for the Department of Finance declined to comment on the future status of the banking levy as planning for Budget 2022 continues.

AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB (PTSB) alone have utilised almost €500 million of tax losses against their corporation tax bills between 2017 and 2019, according to Department of Finance figures.

Sources said that the Government will be keen not to land a levy increase on the three lenders at a time when it is currently selling down its stake in Bank of Ireland and plotting a course for the reduction of its positions in AIB and PTSB in time.

The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which holds the Bank of Ireland stake on behalf of the Minister for Finance, sold 2 percentage points of holding in the market between July and August, reducing its interest to just below 12 per cent.

Meanwhile, it has been reported in recent days that the UK government is planning to lower an 8 per cent surcharge that it has applied to bank profits since the start of 2016. It comes as the general UK corporation tax is set to rise from 19 per cent to 25 per cent in 2023.

“The optics of reducing the surcharge might still be bad politically, but it would signal the partial rehabilitation for the nation’s banking sector,” said Eamonn Hughes, an analyst with Goodbody Stockbrokers, in a note to clients on Tuesday, adding that he continues to factor in a retention of the Irish banking levy in his financial estimates for banks over the medium term.

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