Books

Me & Mr Coe

Has He Reached ‘National Treasure’ Status? They always say it about Alan Bennett, although his field of interest, outside of his wonderful diaries and his fascination with Kafka, eventually returned to being more parochial. Mr Jonathan Coe is another matter entirely. He eschews intellectual chilliness at the risk of being excluded from the so-called literary […]

Prising The Pen From My Cold Dead Hand

As the very first copies of the new Bryant & May novel start to go out, I know I’m about to face a few questions. The very first is going to be, what happens now? Here’s the state of play.  Intimation of mortality concentrates the mind wonderfully, so I’ve been very busy. Pre-pandemic, I set […]

Writers Who Haunt Their Readers

The steps between thoughts must be cut shallow to travel. Several years ago I ran a free writing course, some of it I posted here. Although I have taught before I have no formal qualifications to teach, so I should probably shut up. Still, I thought I might periodically add writing thoughts and notes on […]

The Cons Of Prose

Things like this can make you paranoid.  Let’s be clear; books are published to make money. I’m lucky to have Transworld behind me, a company with integrity and admirable loyalty to their authors. Not everyone is quite so traditional in their outlook. I was shocked when the ‘sock puppet’ scandal broke (authors leaving nasty reviews […]

Enough Facts; Let’s Have More Fiction

  The flavour of the moment is to ground fiction in ‘authenticity’. Whenever a book or film proves to be historically inaccurate, many people get exercised about the apparent falsehoods on display. My attitude is that there’s no such thing as historical accuracy. The past is by its nature unknowable. You may copy the argot and […]

A Book Before Lunchtime

Recently I tried to work out how many words I’d written in the service of Bryant & May. Each time I work it out I get a different figure, but it runs into millions. You can more than double that if you add in my other writings. People are always shocked by this, but if […]

Wrong End of the Shelf: Strange Books I Love

Why we should be seduced away from the reading mainstream. For me it started with the plotless symbolist novel ‘À Rebours’ by Joris-Karl Huysmans, in which the hero locks himself away in his house near Fontenay to live in artificial decadence rather than follow the natural order. The strangest thing that happens in the (non) narrative […]

The Selling Of Words

A moderately intelligent dog can write a Sherlock Holmes story. Sometimes writing comes thickly and slowly. On a warm day it can feel like Henry Reed’s poem ‘The Naming of Parts’, the mind adrift, the fight to concentrate. But after the words have been forged into sentences, the sentences harvested and trimmed into the whole, […]

A Whizz In The Kitchen

Restaurants are the by-product of travel. There’s a café near me called the Capannina Café. I’m always tempted to push open the door and ask, ‘Pardon me sir, is this the Capannina Café?’ It’s the equivalent of those place that always feature in American movies with old waitresses, plates of waffles and endless pots of […]

Did Reading Just Become Fashionable Again?

For some of us it was never unfashionable. A new documentary, ‘The Booksellers’, looks at the annual Antiquarian Book Fair in New York, the biggest and best such fair in the world. Tales abound of discovering folios and rarities, but there are sad tales too, like the bookseller who was devastated to discover that a […]