Wednesday, August 12, 2009


This is exciting. I'm on the Guardian's 'Not The Booker' longlist. As voted by readers who nominated any eligible books. So it's an extremely long list - 47 I think - but there I am, and voted for by some very nice person with excellent taste who I don't know. Always faintly surprising to remember that people I don't know read my books. And he runs a bookshop. (If you're reading this - thank you very much.) My local lovely little independent bookshop are great supporters of me too. Maybe I appeal to bookshop owners. Of course the likes of Mantel, Coetzee and Byatt are also on this list, but I hope they're not too intimidated by joining me. My own feeling is that people should get hold of the books they'd never heard of previously, the ones starved of publicity, probably from small publishers like, I don't know, Salt, they should read them and then, if they enjoy them they should vote for them and encourage all their friends to do so. But that may be just me.

Friday, July 03, 2009


Waiting for Storylines. Should be working on a short story, or the radio play idea I'm going to submit soon, or the novel, but I'm not. Difficult to focus on that sort of thing when Storylines are looming.

I was in London for a couple of days this week. Lunch with my agent at Tate Britain. Saw a bit of Rothko and Turner side by side, which was fascinating. 'That man obviously learnt a lot from me,' Rothko said. Also saw 'Classified' with Hirst and the Chapman brothers, and others whose names I don't know, which was surprisingly coherent and engaging and generally good. surprisingly because I'm very sceptical about all that stuff. I enjoyed the room full of metronomes, and the big cabinet containing artefacts (old plastic bottles etc) found on the Bankside dig.

And then my agent told me TV drama had never been in such an awful state. As in, no one's commissioning. Or if they are, only from very established names. Nothing new there I suppose, but it did all sound a bit apocalyptic. He recommended low budget films, so that's what I'm thinking about now. Maybe genre. Low budget British horror. That's a fun area to explore.

And then a party at an astoundingly posh house in Holland Park, which I was taken to by the person I was staying with in London. William Boyd was there. Did I talk to him? No. Would have liked to, because I enjoyed Any Human Heart very much, and have read him on and off ever since The Ice-Cream War, but I didn't because he was surrounded by people, and I'm sort of rubbish like that. It was all in aid of an excellent charity called Room to Read. Google it - it's great.

Time to check if Storylines have arrived ...

Monday, April 27, 2009


Having said I’d have nothing to do with it below, ('vain ... odd ... young') I’ve quickly succumbed. Friends told me it would help sell the book. I’d create an Event, everyone would read it. Salt said the same. Well, maybe some time. At the moment I’m playing Scrabble. That’s what Facebook’s for, as far as I can see. Playing with three friends, keep checking back instead of working, feel it luring me now. Also played UNO with Daughter against Jelena and El Guaro, whoever they might be, which was fun. And have dipped toe in Poker. Games are what life’s for, surely, where we become ourselves and also, occasionally, forget ourselves. I’m sure that should be love, and sex but … no … it’s games.

Then there’s the friends issue. I currently have eight, which I believe is pretty paltry. Eight good friends in the neighbourhood isn’t too bad I think, if you live in a small town, but eight on Facebook is like ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ And one of them isn’t a friend at all, and I sort of wish they’d go away. But two are people I haven’t talked to in years and am enjoying being in contact with, and one of them I instant messaged with/to, which I’ve never done before. And he said he'd buy the book. So that was exciting.

So that’s me surfing the cultural wave then. Although obviously if I’ve finally grabbed my surfboard and stumbled into the sea and climbed on and wobbled my way out of my depth, then the wave is certainly elsewhere and I’m paddling about in yesterday’s stagnant backwash. Still … Scrabble.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Haven’t been anywhere this week, hardly seen anyone, it’s been a week spent entirely on The Show. Two edits and a new episode to work on. Sat at my desk, tussling with the best way to turn a phrase, to convey a story beat without being too on the nose, to find some texture in a plotty scene, to make it funnier. One of the edits has been heavy. No, they said, make it bigger. More twists and turns, more impact. Emotional explosions. Bigger. I may have said before, The Show is all italics and exclamation marks, it’s in bold and capitals. That’s what life is often like on The Show. It’s seldom like that in my stories and novels. It tends to be a more normal typeface, quieter, emotions simmer beneath the surface, only occasionally flare up, explosions are mostly avoided. For me, that’s like life. (Sitting at my desk, working with words. Putting the kettle on is a big event.) But I think we’re both right, me and The Show. Life after all, is a bit of this and also a bit of that, mixed, stirred and heated, with secret ingredients sprinkled in. Close your eyes, inhale the steam, see what happens. It’s mysterious. People, and marriages, turn out not to be what you thought they were. Your own body turns out to be hiding dark secrets, waiting for the right moment to reveal them. Peel back the surface and reveal … something else. That’s what we’re all trying to translate, on to the page, or on to the screen. So not a bad week. And on Sunday I’ll go to LaserZone with Daughter, and shoot people.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


You know the drawing in pencil, or maybe charcoal, by Lowry, of Manchester Central Library? There was a print on the wall of my parents’ house when I was growing up. It’s a lovely picture, very simple, of this elegant, round edifice on St Peter’s Square. A slight hint of a UFO about it, or a wedding cake. I think in the drawing the library is less hedged around by other buildings than it is now, I have a sense of it standing alone. Anyway, that’s where I was last Thursday night, reading from TENDER, launching it, in a room that followed the slow curve of the building. The walls were covered not with pictures, but with wooden notice-boards inscribed with long lists of names in gilt letters. Chair of the Library Committee, Councillor So and So. And above the notice-boards there was a hole in the curved wall with wires sprouting from it, where a clock used to be. It had gone to be mended apparently, which felt appropriate. Time had stepped discreetly out of the door. I read a story (sort of) inspired by my teenage years to (mostly) strangers, sitting inside a picture from childhood, surrounded by the names of the dead. And felt a rare sense of aptness.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Halfway Down The Stairs ...

Spent two and a half hours on Leeds station, waiting for my mother, who was stuck just a few miles away behind a broken down train, waiting for a third train to come and rescue it. Browsed Smiths, M&S food store, Boots, sat with a coffee and an almond croissant, fed the meter in the car park, browsed Smiths again, sat and watched trailers for a Clive Owen thriller on the big screen. I like stations. The sense that you all have a more or less common purpose, and you’re neither here nor there, suspended in time. Halfway down the stairs is a place where I stop. Tried to think of books set in stations, or scenes in books. Remembered watching The Odessa File as a kid, Jon Voight … pushed under a train in a German underground? An American Werewolf in London, the businessman being stalked in the tube. That fabulous scene in one of the Bourne thrillers, at Waterloo station. The Guardian journalist - Paddy Considine? – getting shot. The Railway Children of course, but I never read it, only saw the film. The figure appearing out of the steam, ‘Daddy, my daddy’. But books … my mind’s gone blank. Or it’s been colonised by big, brash films, pushing all the books out. Graham Greene wrote Stamboul Train, didn’t he? That must feature some stations. Anyway, my mum arrived eventually, so our stalled lives coughed back into action and continued, and continue.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

King's Lynn

On the road again … The King’s Lynn Fiction Festival. An hour in a school, with not very responsive teenage boys, a panel discussion about whether literature should civilise, educate or neither, (short answer – both, through the medium of empathy), a reading from the new book (TENDER, published by Salt – I may have mentioned it), and a panel discussion around six Desert Island books. Lovely weekend. Well, lovely maybe wouldn’t be the word for the school. One boy proudly told me he’d never read a book in his life, which surprised his teacher, since he’s doing English GCSE. And he’ll probably get a decent pass too. Rest of the weekend though – lovely is the right word.

We were met on the station, Friday lunch-time, by a piper and champagne. Why a piper? Why not? It’s that sort of Festival. Booze flowed freely all weekend, and the food was good too. Talked children (mine) and grandchildren (hers) with Beryl Bainbridge, talked of sadly departed Malcolm Bradbury with Christopher Bigsby, talked of crime novelist John Dickson Carr with Jill Paton Walsh, talked Hawthornden castle and other things with Sophie Hannah, talked about those old days with Bloomsbury (publishers, not febrile literary coterie) with DJ Taylor, and chatted happily with Rachel Hore, Tessa West and Anthony Grey. And with all sorts of friends of the Festival and audience members too, because that’s one of the best things about it – you don’t sit behind a table, signing (or not signing) books, you just mill about, chatting. Did sell 20 books though. And stayed with a very nice guy who had a full-size Dalek called Salvador in his kitchen. So that was good.

And my six Desert Island books? They were Bleak House, Dubliners, Ragtime, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Passion, The Road. Could have been six equally valid, entirely different ones of course, but they felt like good choices at the time. Sophie was off to Australia on a book tour on the Monday, Chris was just back from France. I go to Macclesfield and King’s Lynn. And like it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Macclesfield, dangling like a glittering jewel beneath the giant ear of Manchester. Had a very good time there last night, reading from the new book, TENDER. (Have I mentioned TENDER already?) Steve and I drove there, taking a bizarre route suggested by TomTom, nearly running out of petrol, unable to phone ahead because of no credit on the mobile. We felt vaguely like itinerant comedians, crossing the country from gig to gig, staying in dodgy B&B’s, spending the day working on new material, then back in front of the audience every evening. But we’re not comedians on a relentless, soul-sapping tour, we’re writers, on an outing.

We were warmly welcomed, in spite of being late, (TomTom, petrol, phone), by Jane, Jane and Lesley, and shown into a room at Ronnie’s Bar full of sofas and comfy chairs. I read from TENDER (it’s my new book, did I say?) and Steve (May) read from his excellent first novel Tag, published by Cinnamon Press, and then Ronnie provided some food, and we answered questions and chatted until (quite) late. We talked about favourite writers, and I mentioned Doctorow, Roth and Cormac McCarthy, and someone else said ‘What, no women?’ So I quickly added Atwood (mainly for The Handmaid’s Tale and Cat’s Eye), Winterson (mainly for The Passion) and Alice Munro (mainly because she’s the best living short story writer.)

When you’re sat most of the time in front of your computer, telling stories to your screen, it’s good, and healthy, to get out sometimes and meet readers, or other writers, or just, you know, humans. Especially if they’re warm and friendly, buy you a pint and give you food. A good evening. I’d rather be a writer than a comedian.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Two Years

How long? Two years? How did that happen? I don’t know, time does that, creeps up on you, then slips past, quickly and slowly, and suddenly it’s later than you thought.

Quick summary. New book out, very soon, with Salt Publishing. TENDER. (I recommend it.) Still on The Show, which is continuing gallantly as ITV rocks and shudders, and throws various bits overboard, threatening to founder, to sink slowly beneath the waves with nothing left to show for itself but a stream of bubbles. Daughter 8, Son 4, family life usual confusing collision of sit-com and reality show. What else? New house, same area. So basically, let’s be honest, two years have passed and not that much has changed.

Salt want me on Facebook, they probably want me to Twitter, they definitely want me to have a website. So I’m going to have a website, but I’m resisting the rest. It all seems so vain, so odd, so young. I’m sort of semi-involved in all that, simultaneously ‘Yes, yes, come in, come and meet me,’ and ‘No, no, who are you, what do you want from me?’ Not very 21st century. Grew up in the seedy, unfriendly, paranoid Seventies … and haven’t changed much.

Favourite book of the century so far? The Road. Which is much more 'No, who are you' than 'Yes, come and meet me ...'