Wednesday, 30 September 2009


I've tried everything, honest. Last night's salmon. Catnip toys. Physical removal and door shutting*. But this is where my cat likes to spend hours of each day. Were I superstitious, I might entertain the idea of not continuing with this novel. At one point today I had arms either side of him, in the hope those hours of touch-typing practice at journo school paid off. I'd work in the other room on a laptop were I not convinced he'd come sit on it.

* He just whines and scratches

Saturday, 26 September 2009


I love what Stoppard does with language here. Has anyone seen it on stage? Have only seen the brilliant screen version myself; can't imagine it without Roth and Oldman.

Friday, 25 September 2009


(Where WC = word count, D = discipline, E = effort, Di = distractions)

The really observant among you will notice a definite inertia in the figure over there on the left. This last month or so my word count has been rising as quickly as a drunk lover without Viagra. The reasons for this are many and varied. Some are of my own making, others not. One of the processes I love most about writing is the re-writing, the surgical removal of flab, taking a scalpel to adverbs, tightening the whole thing up – it’s the editor in me. I can agonise for hours over one sentence; perhaps poetry is my calling. (Those of you who’ve ever read one of my poems can stop rolling around on the floor in laughter.) And come the end of the day, despite devoting most of it to my WIP, there ain’t no more words to show; indeed, sometimes there are fewer.

My point is one of discipline. Of setting a daily or weekly word count and sticking to it. In this sense I’ve broken my own rule. It’s fine to set aside some time for editing, tinkering, but not at the expense of actually writing. Be precious at the end, when Draft One is beyond adolescence, virtually an adult. Remember the analogy of the first draft being a sculptor’s block of ice, which is then ready to be worked on. Just bang the bloody words out.

Saturday, 19 September 2009


This is both funny and a little depressing.

Thursday, 17 September 2009


You’d better get it right. It’s your first contact with an agent / publisher / reader. It gives the first clue to style, genre, voice. It sets the tone. It doesn’t need to be extraordinary, or shocking, or outrageously funny. But it does need to be strong.

Here are a few first lines from novels around my house. See if you can guess where they’re from. And what the author’s trying, if anything, to achieve. I’ve underlined what I regard as important words.

An easy one to start with:

1. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

2. Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.

3. There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.

4. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

5. My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie.

6. We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The floor was of varnished wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for games that were formerly played there; the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the nets were gone.

7. For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.

8. The summer my father bought the bear, none of us was born – we weren’t even conceived.

9. Chapter 2 It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears’ house.

10. My mother began me one evening in 1968 on a table in the café of the town’s only cinema.

11. Two former lovers of Molly Lane stood waiting outside the crematorium chapel with their backs to the February chill.

12. The first thing that strikes you is how much he's spinning the ball.

Click on comments to see how you got on.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


There’s a mini review of Dan Brown’s latest tripe here.

Please don’t buy it. Not for yourself, not for a friend. Even when, by tomorrow, every charity shop in the land bears a profusion of copies, just give the nice old man / lady behind the counter £1.99 and place the ‘book’ humanely in the nearest bin – a tiny gesture akin to throwing bits of polystyrene at a line of advancing tanks, but a liberating and virtuous one nonetheless.

You can tell I’m not a fan. Am I embittered that such ridiculous sums thrown at one ‘novelist’ means publishers taking fewer risks with new writers? A little. Angry that swathes of shelf space in bookshops that could be filled with some of the brilliant, unknown writers out there sags under the weight of this pulp? Some. Mostly, though, I despair at its utter lack of ambition and talent, the clumsy prose, the facile, schoolboy-ish plotting (okay, I haven’t read it, but did read the last one in some torturous experiment). I wince that some will call it a 'taut thriller', 'good for what it is', a (deep breath) 'page-turner'. Some (of my friends) will even say, Bet you wish you’d written it (implying that I would sacrifice all artistic sensibility, self-respect and sense of aesthetic to be obscenely rich). Well, no. I would not be prepared to forever be haunted by voices in my head, taunting me with sentences I wrote like this one: Although not overly handsome in a classical sense, the forty-year-old Langdon had what his female colleagues referred to as an ‘erudite’ appeal — wisp of gray in his thick brown hair, probing blue eyes, an arrestingly deep voice, and the strong, carefree smile of a collegiate athlete.

I rest my case.

Monday, 14 September 2009


Anyone ever played this? Bit of fun post-dinner party / shindig / rave.

You need: a large selection of novels; some people – the more the merrier; pens and paper; an imagination.

Everyone chooses a book, obscure ones that nobody’s likely to have read in a while. Players take turns to read their book’s title, its author and the blurb on the back. They then write down, unseen, its first line, whilst the other players write down plausible alternatives. The reader collects them all in, mixes them up with the correct one, before reading each one aloud in a neutral tone. Players get ten points for guessing correctly, and five points for everyone who chose their answer instead of the correct one. Most points after each person has read wins.

As a writer, I should be good at this. I’m not.

Thursday, 10 September 2009


If you’re writing a novel, as in actually writing one rather than just saying you are, you should, after you’ve visited this site, always keep one of these (a pen will do)...

and one of these

by your bed. Some of your best material will depart your subconscious mind and visit about 4am, with the promise to have disappeared by the morning. Write it down.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009


The Booker shortlist has just been announced here. I see my favourite was overlooked. Again.

Here are the odds if you fancy a punt:

Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall 10/11
Sarah Waters – The Little Stranger 5/1
J M Coetzee – Summertime 6/1
A S Byatt – The Children’s Book 8/1
Adam Foulds – The Quickening Maze 10/1

There’s a bit of value in JM scooping his hat-trick, but the smart money all went on Mantel when her odds were generous.

Friday, 4 September 2009


The submission period for the literary journal I help edit, Short FICTION, has just opened. As a green initiative we are only accepting electronic submissions for 2010’s issue, which can be sent to ‘shortfiction at uppress dot co dot uk’. There are some great contributing editors on board: Ali Smith, Toby Litt, Helen Oyeyemi, Mike McCormack and others. There is a strong visual edge to the journal, with each published story having its own illustrated chapbook.

Novel extracts are welcome, as are long shorts. In fact we’re encouraging stories of 5,000 words and above, though shorter fiction will still be considered. Wondering what we look for in a story? Treat yourself to one of the earlier issues. For a flavour, have a read of Kevin Barry's brilliant story, 'Rico Spoke' HERE.

If you’re on Facebook, you can find us HERE; why not come and say Hello…

Look out for the launch of Short FICTION 3 in November.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


There’s a discussion here with author and current Booker nominee William Trevor. Some interesting stuff. Have a listen; he doesn’t do many interviews.