Saturday, 24 April 2010


Names in a hat (well, a mug), swirled around, eyes shut...and out popped Mary. Well done. You win a copy of Willesden New Stories 4. Can you email your address to tomvowler at hotmail dot com, and I'll pop it in the post on Monday.

Thanks to all who entered. Another freebie soon.

Thursday, 22 April 2010


Like most of us, language evolves. Some bits endure, others become anachronisms before fading to nothing. Sad but inevitable. I don’t particularly feel like some guardian of words – I’ve even stopped telling angry cricketers that they scored fewer runs this season, not less. Such pedantry draws at best a groan, at worst a left hook.

But when did people become so flippant with ‘literally’? When did it become a means of expressing emphasis?

Recently, I’ve heard:

I literally thought my head was going to explode. Possible, I suppose.

As politicians we must literally put our money where our mouth is. Not a bad idea actually.

You just missed her; she literally left a second ago. No she didn’t; I’ve been here for at least seven.

And my favourite: This match is literally on a knife edge.

Win a Book draw on Saturday.

Saturday, 17 April 2010


I have a spare copy of this to give away to one lucky reader. It contains fourteen wonderful stories, including those shortlisted for the Willesden Prize. Writers include Toby Litt, Wena Poon, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Carys Davies and yours truly. You would have to spend ten English cash pounds to buy this, so come and grab one for free.

All you have to do is leave a comment below this post; I'll make the draw next weekend.

Good luck.

Thursday, 15 April 2010


If the words won't come, I always head up to the moor, spend some time where many of my characters live. There's even a house I imagine them inhabiting, where this bloody (in both senses) final scene, that won't quite come together (yet), takes place. Oh, well. It's not a bad place to work. Notes, of course, were revised in the pub garden.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


London was pleasant, the train journeys aside. I always take WIP, things to read, but end up just sitting there moaning about a numb arse, asking whether we’re nearly there yet. My cunning plan of being armed with lots of beer on the return journey was almost scuppered by the absence of an appropriate bottle-opening tool. The kindly woman in the buffet car sympathised but assured me nothing she possessed would work. After noisy and failed attempts in the toilet, I headed back to my seat, disconsolate, resigned to my sober fate, until I passed a man supping on a bottle of topless larger. His posture oozed Do Not Disturb, backed up by tattooed arms the size of my thighs, a self-shaven head and hands that no doubt could tear phone books with minimum fuss.

‘Er, can I borrow your bottle opener?’
‘Ain’t got one.’ Beat. Scene now resembling the one where Richard E Grant faces up to the thug in Withnail: If you hit me, it’s murder.
‘Oh,’ I say, turning.
‘I use me teeth.’
Of course you do. ‘Thanks, anyway.’
‘Can do yours if you want.’
And he did.
‘Thank you,’ I said. Silence. Return to seat, wondering how long I can put off Beer Number Two.

The launch itself was great. Met so many writing friends, who until then, had been virtual. I didn’t win, but got to read a story, which, I think, went down well (see post below for childish double entendre).

And now I’m back in sunny Devon, resigned to the fact this novel is not going to be done and dusted by the start of the cricket season on Sunday.

Thursday, 8 April 2010


Reading your work to an audience is a bit like sex: nervous as hell the first time, you fumble about hoping all that preparation has paid off, wondering if you’re appreciated, if you’ll be asked back for more. (You never know what to do with your hands.) And then you find you’re beginning to enjoy it; you relax into it, delivery becomes natural, allowing you to concentrate on little flourishes, perhaps some telling eye contact. If you’re really good, a round of applause may accompany your denouement. Then you’ll go weeks, maybe months without, and then another glorious run unfurls, and you collapse exhausted at the end, lighting a cigarette.

So, off to the Charles Dickens Museum on Saturday to read a story. This coincides with the launch of the Willesden Short Story Journal, where the winner of their competition will be announced. As I’ve said before, that’s some shortlist, so I’m just happy to find my name among them really. I’ll get an extra copy to give away here, so keep an eye out.

And I’m also reading at Port Eliot this year. This wonderful festival blends great music with imaginative literary events, all set in the beautiful, historic grounds. It attracts some big names, and last year the Culture Show filmed there. Have a look at the website; there are still tickets left, but they go quickly. I’ll be camping, enjoying the beer, and one of my favourite local bands.

Let’s hope I go down well!

As you were.

Friday, 2 April 2010


The novel is starting to take shape nicely. I suppose you’d say I’ve completed a second draft. Still lots of issues to resolve, sections that could be tightened, flab to cut away. But overall, I’m pleased with the progress. (‘Pleased’ is the strongest adjective I use about my fiction; there will always be improvements to make, even after submission. Dissatisfaction, for me, is where motivation comes from.) A few more drafts, three weeks, say, and I’ll want someone to look at it.

I have two rules for showing work to others: Choose your reader(s) very carefully; and approach this phase with pragmatism.

Let’s look at the first. Say I ask a good friend, a non-writer who reads a lot, to have a look. They know I’ve been slaving away for over a year, they have a vested interest in maintaining our friendship (telling me it’s terrible might feel risky, and an utterly clean bill of health is of no use to me), and, well, their voracious reading habit doesn’t make them a good editor. Also, they might be excellent at spotting weaknesses, but have no idea how to resolve them. So, I now never give work to (close) friends; let them see it in its (I hope) published glory. This obviously goes for family members too, unless your aunt is a literary agent, your cousin a publisher. How about paying one of the many editorial services? Well, some out there are better than others, some will do more harm than good, so research is essential if taking this path. Ideally you want someone who is qualified to appraise every aspect of your manuscript, knows what you're trying to achieve, and who'll give you honest and valuable feedback. I’m lucky in having people I trust to do this.

Secondly, and I think this comes with experience, you need to receive this feedback as advice that will strengthen your book, not as a criticism of you the writer. If the person has done their job properly, there will be an awful lot of phrases, perhaps even whole scenes, a character maybe, that just don’t work. And hearing this can be devastating. There will be a few occasions when you remain faithful to your original output, but you need to remember you are too close to the work to regard it dispassionately, objectively. Now is the time to listen to Them What Know.

So there. A few more weeks and this epic journey I began 13 months ago will near its end. There’s just the small matter then of a publisher deciding it warrants a punt.

Happy secular holidays.