Billie and Amy

Amy Winehouse had voice to burn, a sound burnished by a drunk god showing off, like He took a bet to make another Billie Holiday and won the bet with a sad contempt. Continue reading Billie and Amy

Frank Sobotka

David Simon’s The Wire is high on all lists of unmissable television.  I’ve heard many people describe season 2 as the weakest season. I completed it over the weekend and hope this is true, if only because it was riveting. Continue reading Frank Sobotka

Books – The Violent Century

This is a story about superheroes in the second world war and beyond, a counterfactual fantasy.

At first you will rightly think of Watchmen and X-Men but Lavie Tidhar has created something here that is more bleak and more noir, as though the X-Men had been re-told by John le Carré. Continue reading Books – The Violent Century

Hiding the ventriloquist*

“My name’s Gant and I’m sorry for my poor writing.”

So begins chapter one of Snakewood.

As I planned out the book I fretted a great deal over how to immerse readers in the lands, cities and lives of the world of Sarun, in which the story is set. I recalled how vividly I daydreamed myself into Middle-earth as a teenager, following paths and roads hinted at in the texts but never walked.  Tolkien’s were the first of many books I would admire over the years that followed for their ability to transport me utterly to an unfamiliar, magical place. Continue reading Hiding the ventriloquist*

I used to stand in bookshops pt 2

I was gearing up for March 17th, when I’d finally see my book sit quietly on a shelf alongside hundreds of others, as though it was the most ordinary thing; just a book, on a shelf.

I was preparing myself to be, well, a bit underwhelmed? The anticipation couldn’t possibly deliver a satisfying payoff, so monumentally had I wished and dreamed of seeing it. Continue reading I used to stand in bookshops pt 2

They followed their mercenary calling…*

The poem ‘Epitaph On An Army Of Mercenaries’ by AE Housman** is one of my favourites, and graces Snakewood as its foreword. It was an influence on the novel not so much because it happened to be about mercenaries, but because I had challenged myself to tell a story about them such that a reader might find sympathy with them, and engage with them in their attempts to right their own self-centered wrongs. Continue reading They followed their mercenary calling…*

Books – The Bone Clocks

The title of David Mitchell’s marvellous book almost fully encapsulates it, as all its characters, deathless or otherwise, serve its dominant theme: the misery of ageing. Continue reading Books – The Bone Clocks

How Sláine and a handful of mushrooms defined the magic of Snakewood*

My debut fantasy novel Snakewood, due out in March, is the realization of a world I first dreamed up as a teenage boy. I’d like to introduce you to the way magic works in that world – no lightshows and fireworks, just thick bad-tasting gloop known as ‘fightbrew’ that makes you superhuman! Continue reading How Sláine and a handful of mushrooms defined the magic of Snakewood*

I used to stand in bookshops…

…as a teenager, then a man in my twenties and thirties and I used to look at the science fiction and fantasy novels and believe I, also, was a writer, when I wasn’t. Continue reading I used to stand in bookshops…

Books – The Children Act

I’ve written here about my miserable realisation I wouldn’t read more than a couple of thousand books in my lifetime, if I really went for it.  I thus struggle to read more than one or two books by any author because there are so many more authors to read.  How could I read another Philip K Dick while I’ve not yet read The Odyssey? Continue reading Books – The Children Act

Books – H is for Hawk

Helen Macdonald has opened her soul, and unlike most of us, is able to articulate its pain and its healing with a beautiful and haunting power. Continue reading Books – H is for Hawk

Books – The Goldfinch, The Liars’ Gospel

“if our secrets define us, as opposed to the face we show the world: then the painting was the secret that raised me above the surface of life and enabled me to know who I am.  And it’s there: in my notebooks, every page, even though it’s not.  Dream and magic, magic and delirium.  The Unified Field Theory.  A secret about a secret.” Continue reading Books – The Goldfinch, The Liars’ Gospel

Books – The Girl With All The Gifts

Minor spoilers regarding early part of novel ahead…

I’ve not personally overdosed on zombie movies/games/books/TV shows/tee shirts etc. but because the rest of the world has, I’ve got a second-hand kind of weariness of it, so much so I have tried to avoid it. I’ve done the odd George Romero, loved Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later, but then I’d had enough. Continue reading Books – The Girl With All The Gifts

Books – The Deluge

I’d been putting off trying to articulate my thoughts on Adam Tooze’s masterful analysis of global history from 1916-1931, The Deluge, because, being so ignorant about that era, I wasn’t sure what I could say other than ‘read it, it’ll educate ya’, for fear of drawing incorrect or misleading conclusions from this densely detailed and nuanced appraisal of the post-WW1 political order. Continue reading Books – The Deluge

Stannis Baratheon is not the Mayor of Casterbridge

This post contains Game of Thrones spoilers, for, well, almost all of it, along with the movie adaptation of The Mist and the opening of the Mayor of Casterbridge, oh and possibly King Lear.  Yep, I think that’s it. Continue reading Stannis Baratheon is not the Mayor of Casterbridge

The Banner Saga

I was captivated by the gorgeous artwork when it first popped up in my Steam shop window.  A quick scan of some reviews was enough for me to buy it.  Then, as I’ve been rather busy, I shelved it until now.

After ten minutes I was utterly immersed.  The Banner Saga, by the Texas based studio Stoic, has that ineffable atmosphere you only get from a labour of love.  I can’t recommend it enough. Continue reading The Banner Saga

Books – The Quantum Thief

This book has no right to be a debut.  It’s exhilarating, a tour de force.

The Quantum Thief is a heist thriller the threads of which are woven into a sinuous and densely realised future.  It’s a challenging read, I’ll admit hard to follow in places, as Hannu Rajaniemi displaces the awesome intelligence and agency of his protagonist, the ‘Thief’, into discontinuous layers – his past self, his memories – locked away.  The threads deepen and widen, the narrative is fragmented, but not frustratingly so; it’s as though it reflects the discontinuity of self that resonates throughout this future. Continue reading Books – The Quantum Thief

Books – Rivers of London, The Blade Itself

I recently read, back to back, Ben Aaranovitch’s Rivers of London and Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself, the latter a long overdue read for me as a fantasy author.

It was because of their similarities that I’m writing about (and recommending them) together. Continue reading Books – Rivers of London, The Blade Itself

Burning a million pounds

It had been a long time since I listened to The KLF’s ‘Chill Out’ album.  I was trying to drown out one of the many satirical teenage comedies on Nick Jr. my daughter loves in order to get a redraft of my novel finished.

It’s a beautiful album, but hearing it after so many years made me think once again about The KLF’s stunt/installation/work of art, which you can read about here, where they burned a million pounds, almost all of their wealth, back in 1994.

Was it art? Continue reading Burning a million pounds

Peter Jackson’s ‘Ring Cycle’ – a love letter

I’ve read a lot of complaints over Peter Jackson taking a short book and making a trilogy out of it merely to screw us all for extra cash.

Bullshit.  Well, mostly.

I don’t doubt it makes Time Warner a heap more money and I don’t doubt that to get all the big stars on board from the Lord of the Rings films he had to extend it for them as reports have suggested.

However, he did so by deciding to make three films that equate to George Lucas’s Episodes 1-3 for Star Wars.  Jackson hasn’t intended on merely and only telling the story of The Hobbit at all.  He has been far more (delightfully for me) ambitious than that. Continue reading Peter Jackson’s ‘Ring Cycle’ – a love letter

Books – Here

Here, by Richard McGuire, is no less than the zenith of the graphic novel as an art form.

It is one of the most profound things I’ve read. Continue reading Books – Here

Proximity and the manipulation of moral feeling

News coverage of Isis and Gaza recently has reminded me of Henry Fonda.  Specifically, the Henry Fonda thought experiment in Judith Jarvis Thomson’s landmark (and quite brilliant) paper ‘A Defense of Abortion’.1

For Thomson it’s a quite ghastly aside, the rejection of which (proximity to a moral issue has a bearing on one’s moral feeling) supports her overall view. Continue reading Proximity and the manipulation of moral feeling

  1. Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1971) []

Books – The City & The City

Hopefully all China Miéville’s novels are as original and engaging as this one.  The City & The City is on one level a standard ‘detective investigating death of girl uncovers big conspiracy’ story, but Miéville has decided to weave the tale into a quite unique milieu.   Continue reading Books – The City & The City

Knowledge – a few helpful questions for the internet age

How do you know what to believe?

The internet has fragmented the ancient institutions that have shaped and disseminated knowledge and it has democratized facts in a way never before seen in human history.

When deciding what to believe, and by corollary what moral and practical courses of action derive from those beliefs, anyone with an internet connection can now cultivate a near endless hotpot of thought and opinion on almost any subject matter.

But, as argued by the author Mark Danielewski, in the field of images, moving or otherwise, the increasing fidelity of the recorded image has gone hand in hand with an increasing ability to convincingly manipulate those images. Continue reading Knowledge – a few helpful questions for the internet age

Books – House of Leaves

If the horror genre is a journey, then House* of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski, is its destination.

I say this not only because it is an attempt to get at the fundament of what is horrifying, but also because the nature of the attempt is an audacious, remarkably intelligent and emotionally satisfying weaving of multiple narratives and perspectives working on many levels; straight, ironic, comic, academic and post-modern.  It is astonishing. Continue reading Books – House of Leaves

Books – One Hundred Years of Solitude

Hearing that I hadn’t read any of Gabriel García Márquez’s work, when his death was announced, a friend kindly bought me this, as he had Wolf Hall.  Clearly, he knows what’s good for me.

This twentieth century classic in the magical realist tradition was my first foray into the realm, unless Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller counts.

I urge you not to wait as long as I have, but to throw yourself into the story of the Buendía family across six generations and their doomed trajectory intertwined with that of Macondo, their near utopian village soon despoiled by the industrial revolution. Continue reading Books – One Hundred Years of Solitude


Ricky Gervais’s new series of Derek has once again divided viewers and critics.  The show is a sentimental ‘mockumentary’ following, principally, four characters in a nursing home for the elderly.  I loved the first series, the final episode being as moving as the christmas special of The Office.  Many of the criticisms stem from a frustration that it’s simply too sentimental; “the mush outweighs the wit, with episodes ending on tides of sentiment” moans the New York Times.  But is that a bad thing? Continue reading Sentimentality

Books – Replay

Replay, by Ken Grimwood, tackles the classic ‘What if…’ scenario: “What if I could live my life over again?”

It treads a path between the wonderful Star Trek episode ‘The Inner Light’ and Groundhog Day.  Jeff, the book’s protagonist, is going to ‘replay’ his life more than once, unlike Picard; but unlike Phil Connors, he’s repeating decades rather than a day. Continue reading Books – Replay

Books – Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, is a masterpiece.  It is one of the best books I will ever read.

I know this because I’ve lost count of the times I’ve paused over a page, muttered ‘Fuck off’ at the sheer and dazzling quality and control of the form and the narrative, and then carried on reading, a little bit sick at the work I still have to do, learning how to tell a story. Continue reading Books – Wolf Hall