‘How To Write’ Books

Do you think writing can be taught? It makes economic sense to a lot of vested interests to say yes, it can. I’m not so sure. Yes, you can learn the structures, tropes and styles of writing, but without the innate ability to tell a story well, you’re working at a disadvantage. Not that this […]

Quiet, Rebellious, Underground, Deserted

Three to watch out for – how many more volumes can there be on the world below London? Peter Ackroyd goes further back into the past and gives us his spin on the subject. There’s a decent countercultural history of London, but I still prefer Time Out’s old paperback of agitprop, which captures the time […]

Sinister Cecil

Cecil Court is known to book lovers as one of the most delightful streets in London. It’s just about the last one to be entirely filled with arcane bookshops, although I daresay Costa Coffee is probably trying to wedge its way in. It’s not about coffee down here, it’s about reading, and to help it […]

Black Comedy Primer: 1

I’ve always loved black comedies. The plays of Joe Orton and Peter Nichols, TV shows like the dark ‘Brittas Empire’ and the blacker-than-hell ‘Nighty Night’, and books like the ones above all work for me. There’s a fine line to getting it exactly right – ‘Lolita’ treads it perfectly – but when it’s good, it […]

London’s Dead Good Books

I realised yesterday how many books I have about London’s dead – having written a story about them called ‘Dead Ground Zero’ for ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ I’d been doing some research. Amongst my favourites are ‘London’s Dead’ is Ed Glinert’s guided tour to the city’s corpses,and is full of great details – did you know the […]

Smokin’ Good Reads

Germany’s strict smoking laws mean that coin-operated cigarette vending machines are being replaced by modern versions which can scan identity cards for age verification purposes. This means that the old mechanical versions will become obsolete in November 2010. So they’re being converted to vend books. The repurposed machines carry a series of condensed novels, art […]

The Incredible Shrinking Book Pages

Some writers keep massive cuttings files; I don’t anymore. At the start of my career a mention in a newspaper was a cause for excitement, a case for scissors and glue, but after a while I became extremely blase about press mentions. This was largely due to the inaccuracy of the reportage caused by speed […]

Bookshops: A Nice Dream

It’s simple, bookstores. You can’t compete with slashed online prices – we all know that – but you can make the in-store experience unique. We don’t want you to be sexy, we just want you to sell books – a healthy range from many authors, not one from each as if it were a sample. […]

George Eliot Went To Thailand

Actually, she went twice. Charlotte Bronte went to Barbados. Laurence Sterne spent a couple of weeks in Majorca. And I spent a wet weekend with Alan Hollinghurst in Brighton, but he ended up in the dustbin. They’re all authors I’ve dragged away with me on holiday (purely in book form, you understand) who have come […]

Bring Back The Bookstalls!

London is a strangely severe city. Our architects like trees in parks, not on pavements. We don’t do frills and fripperies (you only have to compare park benches in Paris and London to see the difference in styles) and seem drawn to barren open spaces. Paternoster Square at St Paul’s was named after the priests […]