Friday, 27 August 2010


I need some help. I have a scene, several in fact, in my head and I’m buggered if I can remember where they came from. Now, I’m not planning to use it in my fiction, but as someone who draws on, among other things, memory, it’s a concern that I can’t place it at all.

Now there are a few possibilities. It could have been a TV drama I watched one night after frequenting the pub; it could have been from one of the 1,200 or so short stories I’ve read / appraised in the last two years*; it could all have been a dream.

So here it is:

It begins in a windowless room with a group of hapless ‘prisoners’, apparently, as in some Kafkaesque existential nightmare, unaware of why they are there. On inspecting the room they discover a number of doors or hatches, some of which are high up the walls and in the ceiling. Each room, if I remember, contained various accoutrements to assist the reaching and opening of the doors as well as their survival. Continuing the existential theme, some doors led to a ‘good’ room, others to a ‘bad’ one, the latter often resulting in fewer of the group remaining alive. The series of challenges gets harder, gruesome deaths occur, but they have little choice other than to try to find a way out. Days, weeks, months later and the last few people left open a hatch in a wall, believing their escape to be complete, only for the camera / narrator / my dream to slowly pan out to reveal a giant wall, infinite in size, with millions of such doors as far as they can see. They can now throw themselves into oblivion or turn around and try another door.

Ring any bells?

* I apologise if by some ridiculous coincidence you are reading this and this is a scene from a story you submitted, but take some comfort in the impression it clearly left on me.

Monday, 23 August 2010


Remember the novel? The slightly smug announcement of a finished first draft? That was some months ago, so of course a few rewrites later, it’s ready for submission, no? NO. Writing, them-what-know tell us, is rewriting. Lots of it. And at risk of repeating myself, the greatest asset you can have as a writer is a dissatisfaction with your work. It’s never finished, never good enough. It can always be made stronger. The only time you do submit it is when you’re at the stage of taking commas out, before putting them straight back in. It’s one of the most common reasons for rejection, assuming the work is of a high enough standard: an agent/publisher/editor is also looking at how much they’d have to do to with the author, how much time they’d need to spend on it.

So even after several revisions, I put the manuscript away for a week, coming back to it with fresh(ish) eyes, whereupon more anomalies, clumsy phrasing, overwriting, excessive character introspection, slips in voice, mistakes with tense, and general guff make themselves known. Remember you’re too close to the story to be dispassionate: to you it’s like a child – unique, amazing, somewhat flawed but yet still perfect. You want nothing more than to share its wonder with the world. To the person you’re submitting to, it’s one of hundreds that have landed on their desk that week.

And so, whereas I want to believe this book is the finished article, I know one more read-through will strengthen it further. And perhaps another. And…

Friday, 20 August 2010


I’m really pleased for my friend, Steve Spence, whose book has been shortlisted for the 2010 Forward Prize for best first collection. You can read more about the book, including a sample, here.

Monday, 16 August 2010


If you're really stuck with your opening, cursor taunting you with its malevolent blink, go and get a story or novel you really love or repect and copy (only) the structure of the first sentence. Use the same number of verbs/nouns etc in exactly the same order. Do the same for the next sentence, and (hopefully) away you go. You'll come back endlessly to re-write the start anyway, and if nothing else it's an interesting look at how strong prose opens.

Thursday, 12 August 2010


Can’t say I’m impressed by the hint of autumn in the air, especially after spending a fortnight in little more than swimming trunks. Not that I’d be without seasons; I would just like them to be more disparate.

I read this book almost entirely, and aptly, en route home through France. I love Faulks’ control: from the opening sentence you happily yield to his prose, safe in the knowledge a masterly hand is guiding you. Nothing is wasted, nothing spared. Of the French trilogy, Birdsong has to rank up there with any of the great novels, but this quieter story was no less of a joy.

Meanwhile, my collection has been proofed and is being typeset. Then it’s off to the printers ready for the local launch on September 21st. The book’s Facebook page is here and you can follow the build up to publication on Twitter.

Oh, and I need some help with something soon, an image, a scene I just can’t place.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


Lazing beneath olive trees to the febrile clack of cicadas, the warm mistral whipping overhead, then slipping into the pool, its turquoise water, limpid, cooling, keeping a white, corrosive sun at bay a while, then seeking shade to read, each sentence a soporific effort as the wine, heady and spicy, has its say, and

later, watching the moon rise, its quiet majesty lanced by a lone cloud, the cicadas piped down, allowing the tick tick of crickets to flourish, and by the walled garden a hawk moth flits above the nectar, its long proboscis silently at work, and

then later, making love to the scritch of the crickets’ lament, the night balmy, cloying, before waking to the distant church bell, faint on the breeze, fading to nothing, and heading to the pool, watching the robot that cleans traverse the bottom, silent, comically malevolent, and

now the clouds bank up from the west, a storm perhaps, but they clear to a perfect, cerulean sky, and so shade is sought for Scrabble and more wine, while guitar notes are plucked and bent, and

it’s evening again, supine on the grass, guessing at constellations, a million stars, Venus, solemn to the west, Hendrix riffs drifting out from the gîte, and we play boules under moonlight, under the influence, and

the next day, heads tender, exploring medieval towns, their narrow, cobbled streets winding endlessly upwards to the reward of cold beer, and off to a vineyard, our attempts at discourse clumsy, before driving up into the hills, the road serpentine, apparently maintained, cutting through the sea of verdant vines, and

home too soon.