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.