I start at the top of the blank page and work my way down to the bottom.
1. Grumping about the Last Night of the Proms is the tip of the iceberg; humanity as a whole is irredeemably, incorrigibly misguided. We are unreliable, chaotic, annoying and deeply, deeply stupid.
2. The idea that a civilisation slowly and consistently ameliorates itself until we arrive at a single caring society that is healthy, peaceful and questingly intelligent derails at every available opportunity. Which is why we’re still waiting for jet packs.
3. Utopia is hijacked by the rich, the greedy, the mad, the bigoted, the religious. Horrible for most, but a boon for writers.
4. One of the great strengths of the novelist Tom Sharpe is that his characters do unspeakable things simply because they’re built that way. Magnus Mills’s novel ‘The Restraint Of Beasts’ is largely about the spectacular incompetence of people. In the memoirs of a junior doctor, ‘This Is Going To Hurt’, Adam Kay describes which objects people are prepared to insert into themselves. The truth makes itself clear; there is something fundamentally flawed in the human model.
5. Drama recognises that awful people create conflict and ultimately excitement.
6. We learn from the herd; shop designers know that people circulate through stores by entering on the left side and moving in a clockwise direction (all except HMV Oxford Street, which attempts to run contrary to this and causes utter confusion).
7. We form strange habits that can’t be broken. An alien visiting our planet would study our rituals and think us collectively mad. In fact, the alien might take comfort from our most primitive instincts, gathering at dawn, midsummer and sunset, eating together, arguing, The Great British Bake-Off.
8. What would be our first instinct in the face of Armageddon? JG Ballard thought this through and decided we would act without logic, that in time of drought we would head to the sea. In ‘The Drowned World’, the planet heats up but his hero heads south to the sun…
You guessed it; it’s a New Book Planning Day today. When I jot down thoughts before plotting an outline for a novel.
I love these days; you can be as free-ranging as you like. I fill endless notebooks with unconnected scraps of information. What I lack (and I know it’s a fault) is a consistent vision. Nearly all of my favourite authors had it.
Will there be a book waiting at the end? Maybe, maybe not. The beauty of the job is knowing that my reach will always exceed my grasp, and trying to do something about it. That could be today’s motto; Never settle for your limits.
At the front of my novel ‘Soho Black’ is a poem called ‘Clear Accounting’ by Juan Octavio Prenz, which perfectly sums up my mood.
One day more is one day less
That is to say that every day is more
and every day is less
there is no addition that doesn’t subtract
there is no subtraction that doesn’t add
clear like an adventure
Now I’m getting the first real ideas of the day, and I turn to the next page…