Thursday, July 28, 2011


READING – Just started Game of Thrones. Because I loved the TV series. Got 1000 Autumns of Jacob Wotsit lined up next. Because I think David Mitchell may be the most exciting and interesting living English novelist. I’m trying to remember what I finished before GofT. I can’t. I’m racking my brains (or am I wracking them?) and I genuinely can’t remember. Which is a bit scary.

WATCHING – The Killing box-set. The Danish one of course, not the American remake. Dour, slow and utterly absorbing. The Hour. Yes, it’s miscast, the two leads are at least ten years too young. And apparently it’s nothing like a newsroom, but I’m enjoying the story, the characters. I want to see where it takes me. Torchwood. Which is silly, which you expect but maybe it’s a bit too silly, so I may not stick with it. And Emmerdale, naturally, which is in a good moment, Aaron on trial, teetering on the brink of an abyss of guilt.

WRITING – New novel, The Last Word comes out August 17th. Yay! Available for pre-order on Amazon. Working on Victorian novel. Working on kids’ TV series idea. It’s at an early stage but there’s been a little bit of interest. Might it be possible to get some development money? We’ll see. Working on a stage play idea, a collaboration, possibly for Edinburgh next year. But that’s not going to happen is it? Surely not. But you never know, and working on it is fun. Playing with a film idea, a Gothicky, ghosty thing. And working on Emmerdale. (Of course.)

And meanwhile, lining up readings for The Last Word, at a library, a bookshop, also in Manchester. Maybe a launch. And the zombie film’s coming out next year.

And meanwhile, everything else continues, family, friends, texture, the getting from one place to another, the sleeping and not sleeping, the hopes and worries, the appalling news stories.

And meanwhile, this morning, Son was disappointed over spending his little savings on something he didn’t much like. His mood, his sad face, have affected my day more than any of the above.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Lake of Tears

Leavers’ Assembly. Last day of Year 6. Girls weeping, mums weeping, dad’s sniffling, boys looking a bit puzzled. You have to go with the cliché here, it’s irresistible - seems like last week, literally last week, Daughter was entering her big new Primary school with a crowd of other kids, gait awkward, legs stiff, because they were so very nervous. That was four years ago. Seems like only the week before I watched her toddling off holding her mum’s hand, and her little lunch-box, to infants’ school. That was seven years, maybe eight years ago. She didn’t even much enjoy school these past few months, got too big for it, wasn’t learning much, marking time before moving on. Makes no difference. A chunk of childhood is over, four years, more than a third of her life, and you can’t help it, nostalgia gets you, and maybe the worry about whether you enjoyed it enough, wrung enough out of it, appreciated it enough, valued it enough.

Time works its slippery business. You’ve got a pretty good grip on it as it plods along, hour by hour, day by day, then suddenly … woah, what was that? You’ve dropped it, spilt it on the floor, and there’s four years round your feet, finished, irreplaceable. So that’s it, it’s becoming a memory now. You remember that trip, that teacher, that time when we … It’s gone.

Monday, July 18, 2011

February 1982 (Part 2)

I was wearing a shirt with cufflinks. God knows why. I think it may very well be the one time in my life I’ve worn cuff-links. Maybe someone gave them to me. I was 18, probably thought they were sophisticated. Westminster Hospital. The doctor was a woman, and by now she had the results of the X-ray at Greenwich and the biopsy, so she had the definitive word, a sketch of the likely treatment, prognosis, all that. She was very firm that it was curable. Which made me think – for the first time? Surely not, but perhaps this was the first time it became articulated – it made me think it might not be curable. But my memory as usual skips around the dialogue, all the dramatic stuff, fixes on the embarrassing detail. She needed to take some blood. Just roll your sleeve up, she said. Then she sat and watched me as I fiddled with the unfamiliar cuff-links, with fingers that may have been shaking, wanting to tell her it’s not that I’m upset, although I am obviously, it’s just that I’m not used to these things, these cufflinks, these impossibly fiddly, utterly pointless bits of metal. How long? Probably only 30 seconds or so, but it felt like minutes. Is it even possible that she helped me? Perhaps I asked her, or perhaps she couldn’t bear to sit there any longer, watching. Anyway, the sleeve went up eventually. I imagine we both felt like cheering. Big events are written in capitals, they’re loud, they have exclamation marks. But it’s the small stuff, very often awkwardness, clumsiness, a mis-step, it's the ordinary texture of life that snags the emotions and hints at everything that lies beneath.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Saw a trailer for Before Dawn last night, the relationship drama with zombies I wrote, from a story by Dominic Brunt and Jo Mitchell. It’s looking good. Strange hybrid, first half a serious, hopefully emotional unpeeling of a troubled relationship; second half zombie holocaust. High production values, (top actors and crew, make-up by veterans of Harry Potter and Dr Who), tiny budget. It’s out next year. Made with a new camera, I’ve forgotten what it’s called, but it basically seems to mean anyone can make a film that looks like Hollywood product for bobbins. Sounds a bit like e-books, potentially revolutionising publishing by allowing anyone to get their books on Kindle, via Amazon. In both cases of course, publicity is still the key. It’s all very well having your film or book out there, but people have to know about it before they buy it.

And this morning, in the playground, I signed a tea-towel. I got Dom to sign it last night, and was asked to add my own signature. I’ve signed a few books in my time, but this was a first. It was an Emmerdale tea-towel, I should clarify, a raffle prize. Has my felt-tip scrawl really made it more desirable? I honestly doubt it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Inside and Outside

I remember a line in The Great Gatsby – actually, I don’t remember the line, I remember a version of it, without any of Fitzgerald’s swooning poetry and elegance – Nick Carraway’s at a party, and he says something about feeling that he’s ‘inside and outside simultaneously’. It doesn’t sound like much, but it struck me as a deliberate allusion to the writer’s position, experiencing something while at the same time observing that experience, storing it up, filing it away, for future reference, like the actor who checks the mirror when his mum’s died, to see what bereavement looks like. Which means that you’re busy observing it, but you’re also diluting it, making it less worthwhile, and less enjoyable, by standing with one foot outside it, as if you’re really not entirely sure you want to get involved, thank you very much.

Of course I was an awkward teenager when I first read GG, and it’s no coincidence that inside and outside simultaneously is also the position of the awkward teenager, trying to be confident, trying to be unselfconsciously in the moment, but a bit too uncomfortable in his skin, too shy and, well, too awkward, to wholly carry it off.

So what does that mean? All writers retain some element of the awkward teenager inside them? No, that’s clearly nonsense. Any sentence that begins ‘All writers …’ is probably pointless. Just bring it back to Fitzgerald, ‘inside and outside simultaneously’, which suggests that dilution I mentioned, an incompleteness, a less satisfying life, if you’re doing the ‘outside’ part properly, conscientiously. But does it have to be simultaneous? Maybe the secret is to have the full experience at the time, then remember it later, in tranquillity. Back to memory then, which more and more seems like a polite word for making things up …

Friday, July 01, 2011


I made a mess of my Cambridge entrance exam. I seem to remember in the practical criticism writing a lot about the punctuation in a poem. I felt I was in a hyper-perceptive state, and I spent a page or so writing about the placing of a particular full-stop. In retrospect, it was not a very charismatic full-stop, and I was probably hyper-nervous rather than hyper-perceptive. And then I made a mess of the interview as well. There were two interviews in fact, and I was waiting outside the first room with a boy from Radley who, it turned out, seemed to think his interview was at the same time as mine. I felt pretty smug about this. Radley had just had a TV series devoted to it, something that my school unaccountably had never quite managed. He was going to be very embarrassed when he found he’d made such an elementary mistake. He hadn’t. I ran out of the building, and around the quadrangle several times, like that sprinter in that scene from Chariots of Fire, opening doors and peering in more or less at random, and eventually I found the right building and the right room and I was only about ten minutes late. Unfortunately, I was breathless. He asked me about King Lear, something I was quite knowledgeable about at the time, but I couldn’t speak, all I could do was pant: ‘Justice ... flies to wanton ... any cause in nature ...?’

In retrospect of course, everything (except that full-stop) has its own shape and meaning, which you entirely miss at the time. My efforts, once I’d got decent A levels, were largely irrelevant. I applied for Cambridge, didn’t go there, had a place at Manchester, didn’t go there either. I finished up at University College London instead, which was a great place to be, but which I hadn’t even applied to.