A love letter to Gracie

Being between editorial jobs and an operation, I’ve been cleaning out my study this week, a task that was long overdue. Amongst the glory holes and dusty-musties, I found a hard copy of the following, which I wrote for Gracie while we were courting, years before we married, before Lily, who didn’t make it, and Vincent, who’s five in July. Anyway, I am not, by nature a poet – as I’m sure you can tell – but this caught me funny, because it was and remains just so us: Lux and Ivy, Lily and Herman, off in a little world of our own, a cornucopia of love and horror. So this one’s for Gracie – I hope you don’t mind. I’m so glad I found you. I thank the old gods every day. Happy Birthday, babe, I love you…

Buck’s Row: A Victorian Story

The nights were drawing in now, and dead leaves were mingling with the shit and the sludge on the streets. The year drew towards a merciful end, marred only by the certain knowledge that 1889 would just be more of the bloody same. There was a nip in the air and no mistake.

Stars: Another Old Story

I didn’t really know what I was doing and I never managed to sell it. I blew the dust off the manuscript a few years later when I was supposed to be writing my doctoral thesis, changing the point-of-view character to a mixed-race girl, and keeping the hippy elements of the original but losing the magic realism. I let it slide when my academic career took off, subsequently publishing a couple of reworked scenes as short stories. This is one of them, which was originally published in Birdsuit 11 edited by Christopher Reid and Andrea Holland in 2002, shortly before I moved to Japan. It’s a far cry from the stuff I write now, but I still have a bit of a soft spot for this one…

Five Favourite Books

The was something I did for the Unthank School blog last Christmas that I’d forgotten about until I spotted Ashley’s list while browsing his blog just now. The idea was for Unthank staff to briefly list and discuss five books that we had read in 2015, regardless of publishing date or genre. This was mine…

Welcome to the Slush Pile

I think it's time we explored self-publishing on this blog. I've helped enough people through it professionally, and for the first time in my writing life I've eschewed traditional publication to put a book out myself, Shark Alley. This was a project I wanted total control over, from content, structure and visual style all the way down to final word count. I also wanted to release it as a free online serial, which I was never going to get a publisher to sign off on. Also, to be honest, self-publication is presently the most realistic option for most new novelists out there. It was never easy to get traditionally published at the best of times and, believe me, these are the worse. So, if you're going to go DIY, just remember: Do it Big, Do it Right, and Do it with Style..

Shark Alley: Chapter One

We were approaching the islands of Madeira, about midway in our journey, the day we lost a man and a horse. The animal belonged to Sheldon-Bond, and he was considerably more put out by its passing than he was that of the human being that accompanied it into the void. The young subaltern remained in a foul humour for the rest of that miserable and ill-omened day, his unfortunate man, Private Dodd, getting the worst of it. I tried to avoid him, as there was already bad blood between us, but this was difficult given the confines of the ship. As he stormed around the deck like a vengeful wraith in a graveyard, I could read the message in his eyes when they connected with my own quite clearly.

Teaching ‘How to Write a Novel’ Online

Last week, I brought another USW ‘How to Write a Novel’ course to an end, after three very pleasant and enjoyable months of writing and sharing. It was more a case of ‘Au Revoir’ than a fond farewell though; as always happens, friendships were forged and now we’re all linked up on Facebook, an informal writer’s group that expands with every course. Some students, meanwhile, are staying with us at the school and moving on to Ashley Stokes’ Online Workshop to develop the manuscripts they’ve been writing on my course. This happen a lot, because once people find their way to us – the friendly alternative to all those institutional and corporate creative writing programmes – they tend to stay. There’s a definite sense of family. And don’t get me wrong, we have all the knowledge and expertise of the professors, in fact some of us are professors, we just prefer to be a bit more practical and down to earth about the whole business of, you know, actually writing, rather than just talking about it.

How To Write A Novel: Student Review

n a blog for the Unthank School of Writing entitled 'How To Write A Novel and What It Did For Me,' student Jackie Harmon talks about the learning/teaching experience on an online creative writing course designed and taught by yours truly. The last course has just ended and places are still available on the next, which begins in May. You'll find details here. Jackie Harmon, like me, has an academic background, and is currently working on a historical novel set in the late-nineteenth century. From what I've seen so far this is going to be an impressive debut...

My Alopecia Story

I had bald patches in my beard for two or three years, but I wrongly ascribed them to previous laser treatment and ignored them. As I preferred to be clean-shaven anyway, they didn’t cause me many problems. In the autumn of 2013, I started to get terrible allergy flair-ups, accompanied by infections I couldn’t fight off. After three courses of antibiotics in a row, my wife noticed a coin-sized bald patch on the back of my head. It grew back by Christmas but early in 2014, after another round of antibiotics, my hair started to fall out in handfuls. In just a month, the hair on my head was pretty much gone and by the summer of 2014 my entire body was as smooth as an unfinished waxwork and my nails were as thin as paper.

From A Low Achiever

A couple of days ago, the millionaire Tory MP for Rutland and Melton, Sir Alan Duncan, defending the Prime Minister’s tax affairs in the House, rather recklessly argued that: ‘May I support the Prime Minister in fending off those who are attacking him, particularly in thinking of this place, because if he doesn’t, we risk seeing a House of Commons which is stuffed full of low-achievers who hate enterprise, hate people who look after their own family and know absolutely nothing about the outside world.’