Reading & Writing

Nursery Rhymes: Not For Children?

You’ll guess I’m researching again when you read this. Most nursery rhymes have a reason for their existence. They didn’t simply appear. Some are based on the sing-song two-note repetitive motion of rocking a baby, like ‘Cry Baby Bunting’. There are rarely words used with more than two syllables, and some are based on peels […]

The Battle For Readers

  The battle is to get someone to read the book. I was once on a panel seated next to a very amiable New Yorker who stacked his books in front of him as if building a sturdy store display. In every answer he gave, he inserted a lengthy sales pitch for his new book. […]

Why Victorian Tales Aren’t As Easy As They Look

You know the drill; a hansom cab clatters down a foggy cobbled street, a man in a cloak runs through the dusk-dimmed East End, someone screams bloody murder…pretty much anyone can write a basic Victorian story, so well established are the tropes. Watch an episode of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and copy it, you can’t go wrong. […]

Late Shift: Why Writers Work At Night

Once we had an image of the Victorian lady author, a person of gentility and slender means, seated at her escritoire quietly at work on a sensation-novel. It was a job opportunity open to those who did not become tutors or lady’s companions, the spinsters’ choice. Well, it turns out things haven’t moved that far […]

Mr Brown Fried My Brain

He does have his own style, though, and it’s hilarious. There are authors you avoid because you just know you’re not going to get along with them. EL James, the well known erotic typist, is one. Joan Collins fought (and won) in court to prove that her delivered book was not ‘unreadable’, on which she’s […]

Further Up The Stream Of Unconsciousness

A far cry from the world of Wodehouse, perhaps, but written in the same spirit, are Maggie Armitage’s weekly text messages to me. Here are a few from this week. Be thankful you’re getting the short versions. I like to think of her writing in the same vein as EM Delafield’s ‘Diary of a Provincial […]

On Being Ill

  The beacon of shining health you see before you when I attend readings is a misleading image. Like most other writers I’ve met I was a sickly child who became a physically delicate young man. Over the years you become inured to the role you have been assigned; the one who gets cancers along […]

Fun With Inanimate Objects

Choosing a children’s book these days is a complicated matter. First there’s the question of age-appropriate levels, and if it’s an old book, the matter of political correctness. If it’s classed as Young Adult you’ll find yourself surrounded by fiction featuring teens in nightmarish dystopias facing the kind of moral challenges that would reduce an […]

The Author As Lighthouse Keeper

Last week our London flat was besieged; there was drilling from the gutted apartment below, hammering from the roofers above and steeplejacks were clambering past all the windows. The once-every-7-years building renovation had coincided with neighbours’ makeovers. Electric saws were operating at variable pitches, sounding like bassoons on feedback. I’m not normally sensitive to such […]

Scoured Silk

Bob Low recommended this surprising story by Margery Bowen in yesterday’s comments section, so I tracked it down for you (legally!)  This is a tale that might be told in many ways and from various points of view; it has to be gathered from here and there — a letter, a report, a diary, a […]