The Best Of British Longform: Water, WMDs and Internet Warfare
As well as our usual round-up of the best British longform, we’ve also got a Queue & A with Sophie Elmhirst, who wrote one of our favourite pieces this week on the insanity of the bottled water industry (well, insane unless you’re the kind of person who’d pay £26 for a bottle of water). She reveals how the feature came about, its challenges and her experience of reporting it.
Alex Bilmes, Esquire, 7 October 2016
Almost a decade after Tony Blair left Downing Street, is there anything left to say about him? Definitely, judging this riveting, 12,000-word piece from Esquire editor Alex Bilmes, which explores his government, his legacy and his view of Britain today.
Simon Parkin, Wired UK, 6 October 2016
ISIS has proved itself a frighteningly savvy online operator. But it’s not quite as savvy as Anonymous, which has mobilised its forces to undermine the group’s recruitment efforts, to try an turn the most feared organisation on earth into a bunch of funny memes.
Sanjiv Bhattacharya, Observer, 9 October 2016
The right has reformulated itself for the internet age. But as Sanjiv Bhattacharya discovers on a weekend with its members, the same currents of anti-semitism and white supremacy still flow strong.
Queue & A with Sophie Elmhirst
In a new feature, we ask the author of one of the week’s best British longreads some quickfire questions about their story. Sophie Elmhirst told us about her feature on the multibillion-dollar bottled water industry for the Guardian’s Long Read.
Why did you choose the Guardian as this feature’s home?
In truth, they chose the feature! I’m lucky to write regularly for the Long Reads section of the Guardian — it’s a wonderful space to explore subjects in real depth. And they’re open to such a wide variety of ideas — I’ve written about paedophiles, children’s TV, sperm banks and Richard Dawkins for them in the past. So there’s not exactly a common thread. The editors there are brilliant, massively engaged in each piece, forensic in their treatment of the copy, but completely broad-minded about the style of piece you might write, and its subject.
Where did the idea come from?
I think it was actually my editor’s idea, in the first instance. He’d heard that a London store was opening a water bar and thought it sounded absurd. Once I started looking into it, this whole bonkers world just revealed itself.
How long did it take from first pitch to publication?
We first discussed it months ago — in the spring probably. So it takes a while. That’s part of the pleasure of it though — you can properly take your time reporting, researching, transcribing and finally writing (which seems to take far less time than the rest). Also, I’m freelance, so I’m always working on a bunch of other things at the same time, which can slow things down.
What was the biggest challenge in reporting out the story?
It was such an enormous, diverse sector to immerse oneself in — so the challenge was finding the key characters and brands that could tell the story coherently, and bring it to life. When you’re writing about a concept — like water — rather than an individual, say, or telling a specific unfolding story — you don’t have a central figure or chronology to hang on to. You have to find other ways of structuring the piece, building a narrative, creating momentum. I’m not sure I got this quite right, to be honest. Maybe next time.