Creative Sensemaker

A man performing at a house party

A rundown of the week’s cultural moments, books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

By Matt d’Ancona

Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.

It’s been 20 years since Russell T Davies brought to life the gay quarter around Manchester’s Canal Street with Queer As Folk. Now, he returns to Channel 4 with the eagerly anticipated It’s A Sin (22 January).

With its excellent cast, it’s an exploration of gay life in 1980s London, recreating an era characterised by hedonism, adversity and (all too soon) the horror of AIDS – a virus that cost thousands of lives and was routinely described in the tabloid press as the ‘gay plague’.

When Queer As Folk debuted in 1999, the age of consent had not been equalised and the monstrous Section 28 was still on the statute books. It’s A Sin will be watched by viewers that take equal marriage for granted and expect their children to be taught at primary school about the many forms that a modern family can take.

But while there has been progress, it is worth remembering that there is still no vaccine for HIV. And if our own populist era has a lesson, it is that progress is more fragile than we imagine.

Here are this week’s recommendations:

Two book covers on a light blue background
A brightly coloured book cover on a light blue background


(To buy any of these books, and browse further, click on the title to go to the Tortoise Book Store)

Mending The Mind: The Art And Science Of Overcoming Clinical Depression by Oliver Kamm
A fearlessly personal exploration of the author’s own experience of severe clinical depression, what distinguishes this book is its cool but compassionate spirit of inquiry. Kamm sets out to investigate what happened to him with invigorating clarity and seeks out the broader lessons for our understanding of mental illness. A remarkable achievement.

Girl A by Abigail Dean
In this debut thriller, New York lawyer Lex is summoned back to England where she grew up in (and escaped from) a ‘House of Horrors’. Her mother has died in prison and, as executor of the will, she must now renew contact with her scattered siblings. Dean is a lawyer herself, and it shows in her precise, forensic exploration of damaged souls.

A Burning by Megha Majumdar
When Jivan, a young Muslim woman learning of a terrorist attack near her home in Kolkataposes, poses the question: ‘If the police didn’t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean the government is also a terrorist?’, her reward is incarceration. It’s a reflection on the power of Facebook, but with pages populated with beautifully drawn characters such as Lovely, a hijra (transgender) tutee of Jivan, and PT Sir, her former PE teacher. 

A woman on a night out stood outside


– second special episode 
(Sky Atlantic, 25 January)
The first of two special episodes was a riveting portrayal of a conversation in a diner at Christmas between Rue (Zendaya) and her Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, Ali (Colman Domingo). The second turns the spotlight on Rue’s transgender lover, Jules (Hunter Schafer). ‘Rue was the first girl that didn’t just look at me,’ she says. ‘She actually saw me. The me that’s underneath a million layers of not me.’

Snowpiercer (Netflix, 25 January)
Inspired by Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 movie, the first season of this television spin-off stays true to the original dystopian concept of a 1,001-carriage train circling a world reduced to frozen wasteland. In Season 2 Sean Bean is in his element as Mr Wilford, the train’s ‘Great Engineer’, Jennifer Connelly as Melanie Cavill, the Voice of the Train, and Daveed Diggs as Andre Layton, a former detective.

The White Tiger (Netflix, 22 January)
Ramin Bahrani’s excellent adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s novel tells a story of ambition versus the chains of caste, and Balram’s (Adarsh Gourav) journey from the slums of Gaya district, via service as a driver to a wealthy family in Delhi, to the building of his own empire. Highly recommended.

An album cover
An album cover featuring a man walking away from a piano


You Me At Six by Suckapunch
The Surrey five-piece’s seventh album marks a thrilling conversion from emo-pop to hard-hitting R&B, rock, and electronic music. The title track alone is dancefloor gold and splendidly at odds with the dour spirit of the moment.

Debussy, Chopin, Mussorgsky by Behzod Abduraimov
Most striking in this collection is the thread of deeply felt urgency that runs through the performances of works by three very different composers. ‘I built this programme on miniatures,’ says the Uzbek-born pianist, ‘beginning with a kaleidoscope of all kinds of human emotions.’

That’s all for now. Stay safe and take care of yourselves – and each other.

Best wishes,
Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media

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