Reading & Writing

Isolation Tales 12: ‘The Night Museum’

Although the isolation is now guaranteed for a further three weeks, I have a feeling that full isolation won’t be lifted until at least mid-June, especially with UK death figures still rising. In that case, the last story in this series of twelve Isolation Tales may not be the last. Meanwhile let’s end with a […]

Isolation Tales: Cupped Hands Part 2

Here’s the concluding part of ‘Cupped Hands’. The sun vanished behind the water truck, and twenty minutes later the land turned blood-red. A deep star-ranged darkness dropped with the falling temperature. They had both packed mylar travel blankets, because they were light and folded up small. Huddled in the cab, unable to sleep, Neil tried […]

Thought-Provoking Lockdown Reads: ‘The World Of Yesterday’

I’m embarrassed to admit that the first time I had ever heard of Stefan Zweig was in the credits of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. That film has helped to push him back into the limelight and encouraged Pushkin Press to bring out new editions of his essays and his novellas. The subtitle to ‘The World Of […]

Isolation Tales 11: ‘Cupped Hands’

I once stayed on a Greek island that had no naturally occurring food or water. Everything had to be shipped in from the mainland. I kept thinking, what if the supply ship fails to turn up? This was the basis of Polly Hope’s unsettling novel ‘Here (Away from it all)’. I think the following story […]

Thought-Provoking Lockdown Reads: ‘The Science Of Monsters’

This fascinating book is the kind I would usually prejudge and overlook; it would appear to be a patch-together job on a spurious and rather vague subject, but turns out to be surprisingly thoughtful. Kaplan is London-based science journalist looking at the monsters of legend with a serious eye. I was prepared for a rehash of […]

Isolation Tales 10: The Scent Of Roses

Sometimes stories spin out of unresolved scenes in my novels. When I was writing my extremely niche novel ‘Hell Train’, mainly doing it for my own amusement, all sorts of sidebars and anecdotal stories were trimmed away from the main narrative. The book still ended up packing a ludicrous amount of material into a relatively […]

Isolation Tales 9: ‘The Lady Downstairs’ Part 2

Perhaps all new Sherlock Holmes stories are doomed to be pastiches because they only work with selected elements of the originals. It’s why the Christie, Fleming and Wodehouse reboots feels so necrophilic. But the best Holmes stories are short, so it’s more fun tackling them. This is the conclusion to yesterday’s Sherlock Holmes story.  Well, when […]

Isolation Tales 9: ‘The Lady Downstairs’

Sooner or later every writer is tempted to have a bash at a Sherlock Holmes story, even if just for fun. Conan Doyle’s style is very easy to imitate and his Holmes tales have clear rules that you simply need to follow without bumping into anything – it’s a bit like an Airfix kit. If […]

Isolation Tales 8: Chang-Siu and the Blade of Grass

I wrote this short fable because I was crushing on Marguerite Yourcenar’s style of writing, and wanted to catch a similar tone. I’ve written several fables and folk tales but wanted to tell a story simply and cleanly, as she does. There’s something enjoyable about writing a tale far divorced from the lives we lead. […]

Isolation Tales 7: ‘At Home In The Pubs Of Old London’

This story came at a time when I was starting to experiment with form. Looking at it now, it’s clearly a guide to where we all used to drink in London. My business partner co-owned the Pineapple pub – the photo I took of the exterior (above) looks like a movie set – and was […]