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

The Reader’s Gift

As someone learning the craft of writing, and leaving it rather late to do so, I need to read widely, and read writing of good quality so that I may learn from it.  It was inevitable I would become a neurotic reader.

Anyone with a passion for books has or will come to the realisation that they only have about two thousand goes at it in their life. Continue reading The Reader’s Gift

Books – Norwegian Wood

So, I’ve popped my Haruki Murakami cherry, having heard from a number of different sources about this writer and his cult following and magical prose.

Norwegian Wood is a story, set in Japan, of a teenage boy, Toru Watanabe, in love with a girl, Naoko, who we learn is schizophrenic and with whom he shares a tragic bond. Continue reading Books – Norwegian Wood

Good coffee is easy

In the UK in the last ten to fifteen years, there has been an explosion in the amount of us buying coffee while we’re out and about.

With this boom, its headline acts being the big chains like Starbucks, Costas, Nero etc. the word ‘barista’ has reached the common lexicon, rarely confused now with the legal heterograph (I was going to use the word ‘homonym’ but I’d have been mistaken!  The things you learn….).

The tragedy is that for your £2.50+ for a medium latté, you needn’t have one that tastes like someone’s chewed a full ashtray up and spat it in your mouth.  Continue reading Good coffee is easy

In the land of the blind, could the literary agent be king?

Writers have a problem.  It’s harder than it ever was to get published.  It’s also easier than it ever was to get published. Continue reading In the land of the blind, could the literary agent be king?

Shouldn’t things be better?

“How is it that we have created so much mental and emotional suffering despite levels of wealth unprecedented in human history?” (The Spirit Level)

It’s not the sort of thing you can sort out in a blog entry, but there’s any number of things that don’t seem to add up when I think about British society now and twenty or thirty years ago.  Continue reading Shouldn’t things be better?

Abraham Lincoln, Jamie Carragher and me

I’m stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a post-apocalyptic ruin, watching a man called Hannibal slowly lead a handful of worn-out looking former slaves and a diseased, mutated Brahmin bull to the headless statue of the former president.  On the back of the bull are some supplies and the stone head of Abraham Lincoln, lashed together with rope. Continue reading Abraham Lincoln, Jamie Carragher and me

Ten of my favourite movie moments

Well, it’s my blog, I can do a ‘my favourite things’ if I want to.  What prompted it was this year’s christmas Radio Times.  For as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed sitting down with it and reading through, picking out all the old films I’d like to watch, you know, ‘Meet Me in St.Louis’ mid-afternoon on BBC2, the Ealing comedies.  Then I never get round to it, that idyll in my head of some plummy old ham saying ‘my dear’ a lot while I’m sipping a Baileys and the christmas tree lights are reflecting back into the room from the window onto the darkening afternoon outside. Continue reading Ten of my favourite movie moments

Hard Copy

If our homes express who we are, what of the home where all of your literature and music is invisible to the casual eye; no trace of the stories and music that move you and define you represented alongside whatever art or furniture or decor you’ve put together to create a place that is special to you.

Through the ready availability of his books and records while I was growing up, I came to know some of what my dad loved, and so, some part of who my dad is.  My nascent exploration of his collections naturally then coloured my own interests.  Unquestionably, I was enriched. Continue reading Hard Copy

Why I love running

There’s an iron nail in my left knee the first half mile away from my front door, down the slope past the school, dozing in the silence of its lie-in on a bright Saturday morning.

The nail, where my iliotibial band sticks itself to my knee, warms and melts away as I turn onto the coast road and into the wind, fresh as mouthwash and ice, bumping and kicking me like students in a moshpit.

Across the road from where I run is a bus shelter.  It looks like all other bus stops; shabby, with a hangover.  Raindrops from last night’s downpour are splattered off its roof by the wind.  Sheltered by it are a girl in the shapeless lime green smock of a supermarket and a man that thinks a waistcoat over a tee shirt is cool.  Both stand with heads crooked and still like streetlights over their phones. Continue reading Why I love running

Making my own words work

I talked in my last blog-post about the pleasure I get from hard-working prose.  Good writing comes from the choices you make with the words you commit to the page.  In this blog-post I’m going to look at two scenes from my book Snakewood and explain what I was trying to achieve with them.  I daresay this is of limited interest to non-writers, unless you have an interest in why an author chooses to write about certain moments in a novel and not others, out of all that’s possible to convey. Continue reading Making my own words work

The deliciousness of hard-working prose

What would you say constitutes great writing?  For a practising writer like me, good writing isn’t just about what is enjoyable to read, but also about the choices a writer makes when they select words to convey their message.

I thought I’d try to articulate what great writing looks like to me, using an author that delivers effortlessly the kind of writing I love.  I’ve just finished Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines, a book very similar to The Old Ways, which I posted about here.

Like that book, the writing is remarkable, better in some ways, Jamie being an award-winning poet.  Given poetry involves (for me anyway) a meticulous choosing of words to create imagery, meaning and emotion in a distilled form, her prose is some of the purest and cleanest I’ve read, but in particular, like Annie Proulx’s writing, it has lines that work on multiple levels; efficient prose that delivers depth with the minimum of effort. Continue reading The deliciousness of hard-working prose

Books – Altered Carbon (veers into bonus thoughts on mental continuity and my nan!!)

Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan, is a cyberpunk-noir detective thriller of the ‘locked room’ variety.  If you want steam rising out of your grates in grimy streets straight off the ‘Blade Runner’ mood boards and a bosomy femme fatale in a plot full of twists and turns then stop reading and go buy it, because as a debut novel, it’s astonishingly assured plotting and writing. Continue reading Books – Altered Carbon (veers into bonus thoughts on mental continuity and my nan!!)