Reading & Writing

How You Write Isn’t Important

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James Hadley Chase supposedly wrote the bestseller ‘No Orchids For Miss Blandish’ on a flight. Edgar Wallace could write a book in a day. Virginia Andrews became such a successful pulp writer that the Inland Revenue declared her technically still alive after her death because she was still earning. It took John Kennedy Toole’s mother […]

Lucifer’s Writers

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What do the following names have in common? Winston Churchill, Raymond Chandler, John Lennon, Muriel Spark, JB Priestley, Bram Stoker, F Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck, Daphne Du Maurier, Noel Coward, HG Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson. Answer: They all wrote short stories. Some were macabre and fantastical, some involved detectives or ghosts, some were pulpy and […]

Our Hidden Lives

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Okay, so Post-Brexit is shaping up to be horrible, but if you think you’re about to have it bad, maybe you should look back to Post-War. The anthropologist Tom Harrison returned from the South Pacific after looking for cannibals, and reached a startling conclusion; remote tribes were less interesting than the people of Bolton, where […]

Toward Linguistic Grace

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For most of us in the West, English, whether you like it or not, has become the universal language. But because so many others are at different stages of learning it you find yourself simplifying your speech in order to communicate more easily. I don’t mind this at all; it’s good to be reminded on […]

Does Anyone Re-read Old Books?

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Regular readers will have noticed a dearth of London articles here of late. This is not due to any antipathy I have for my city; for the past eight months we’ve been living out of suitcases, waiting to move home to our renovated flat, and all my reference books were in storage. Now that I’m […]

Hurrah For Wodehouse!

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Comic novels and stories traditionally occupy a low place on the literary totem pole, even when they make serious points. Arguably the most regarded American comic novel in Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’, followed by Updike, Irving and Dunne. In the UK the sprawling comic epic – the type American authors construct so well – is […]

Writing 101: What A Good Editor Will Do

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Sometimes I get bugged when people say they ‘haven’t got around to writing a book’ as if it’s a whiffly-whaffly hobby you pick up, like doing some knitting. Writing is a real challenge, I’m still learning, and the process is long. What’s more, it doesn’t end when you think it does. Next comes editing. Editing […]

Writing 101: The Year We Went Dumb

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“The love of the painter standing alone and staring, staring at the great coloured surface he is making. Standing with him in the room the rearing canvas stares back with tentative shapes halted in their growth, moving in a new rhythm from floor to ceiling. The twisted tubes, the fresh paint squeezed and smeared across […]

The Marvellous Ms Marsh

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Of the big four ‘Queens of Crime’, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers reside in the nation’s collective memory of Golden Age crime while the other two, Margery¬†Allingham and Edith Ngaio Marsh, have become specialist questions in a trivia game. Allingham is now enjoying a major revival, and now – finally – Ngaio Marsh’s books […]

Writing Lessons: Playing With Reality

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A couple of weeks ago a lady in an audience asked me; ‘Why haven’t your detectives died yet?’ To which I replied; ‘It is fiction, Madam!’ One of the great benefits of writing for yourself (as opposed to writing by commission) is that you follow no-one else’s style guide. You don’t have to fit into […]