Reading & Writing

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 […]

Brahms And List

I keep a list of the books which are guaranteed to make me smile. As everyone keeps evoking the Second World War at the moment I wondered, how did the British cheer themselves up during wartime? One of the ways was by turning to the sprightly comic novels of Caryl Brahms. Caryl (nee Doris Abrahams) […]

Isolation Tales 6: ‘American Waitress’

When I suggested publishing a complete set of my short stories to a young editor, he gave me a wary look (because age) and said, ‘There aren’t going to be any unpleasant surprises in there, are there?’ I thought Gee, I hope so seeing as they’re meant to be tales of urban unease, but I […]

Isolation Tales 5: ‘A Century and a Second’

While I’m posting your self-isolation stories here, I have to consider the format. If they’re too long they’ll be hard to load and hard to read. A recent collection by Jeff VandeMeer solved the problem by stacking the text in newspaper-format columns, but I don’t have that capability. Many of the tales I like best […]

The Horror Story Is Dead: Official

If you made a list of your reading influences from the age of eight to eighteen, what would they be? Partly because we didn’t have any kids’ books at home, mine reading included the simpler Dickens and Shakespeare tales (thankfully introduced to me at an early age), Mervyn Peake, Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, Robert Louis […]

Isolation Tales 4: ‘The Most Boring Woman In The World’

So here we go with a fourth short story, this one from fairly early on in my timeline. I’ve never understood quite why this tale has proven to be so popular over the years – it’s been filmed at least three times and often comes up in readers’ conversations. I’ve decided to delay ‘Total Midnight: […]

Isolation Tales 3: The Man Who Wound A Thousand Clocks

I am an obsessive timekeeper. From the windows of my flat I can see two clocktowers in opposite directions, and if I wake in the night I can usually tell the time to within three or four minutes. I am never late for an appointment and get irrationally annoyed with people who are perpetually late. […]

Isolation Tales 2: The Mistake At The Monsoon Palace

Changing the tone from the previous story, which was written very early on in my career, this tale was based on something that actually happened to me in India. It was first published in the collection ‘Red Gloves’ in 2011. The edition was small press, but a very beautiful hardback volume of 25 new stories, […]