Tuesday, 30 December 2008


A lot of good people have gone from my life this year: writers, artists, thinkers who have influenced my life.

None of them compare with my dear brother, Alan, who died on 27th December.

Cheers, mate.

And thanks for everything.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Harold Pinter.

Perhaps it would be (darkly) appropriate if we paused a moment to remember his life and his work.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Raise a glass

In front of me, the pile of rejections of Thin Reflections grows. And I have just been reading a forum conversation in which an extremely well known and respected author has been discussing the problems of getting a work published. And I have recently been reflecting on my own chequered and none too (financially) successful writing career. Methinks I should have stayed in bed.

So what does get me out of bed (on the days I am well enough)? Why do I go through the agonies of writing when I know the chances of publication (let alone fiscal security) are literally thousands to one against?

Agonies of writing? Well, yes. Writing is not easy. As an art and a discipline it takes years of practice to hone ones talent (and talent there must also be). As a fiscal enterprise it is one of the few jobs I know where the vast majority of practitioners are expected to spend a year or more of their life producing a work without any certain prospect of making money from it.

If you are lucky enough to be making some money from previously published books, you have a small degree of protection. But the market is such an uncertain beast (and much of what gets into the bookshops is dictated by people whose concern is sales, not the inherent merit of the work). If your current book does not sell or sells badly, the chances are you are finished – particularly if you write mass-market fiction.

Yet every day, tens of thousands of people sit down (often after a gruelling day at work) and spend hours working on their latest project. In my mid- to late-twenties, I did just that. Teaching all day, marking, and then writing, sometimes until two in the morning. It is debilitating and alienating. I suspect it contributed to my emotional burnout at the time and led me into a period of years when I did not write – something that set back my development as a writer. It is only recently that I have found a way back to where I left off. Twenty years gone that I won’t ever get back.

At least these days we have modern communications that make it possible for writers to huddle together and give each other emotional support. Before the Internet… There was support. Writers are notoriously generous people when it comes to supporting others of their ilk. In those early years I corresponded with a number of well known writers and that kept me going. For a while. Of course, what none of them could do was guarantee that I would get published and make a living from my writing (and a couple of them tried on my behalf).

For me, it is that sense of community that helps to keep me writing these days. There are always going to be the bitter-sweet moments when someone you know gains great success. Sweet because they have worked hard and deserve their success. Bitter because you know you have worked just as hard and fate has not smiled on you. But the sweetness always wins because you know you have played a part, no matter how small, toward that success. And should it ever be my fortune to gain the limelight with a work of fiction, I know I will not have achieved that on my own. The support of friends (the vast majority of whom I have never met and probably never will) has been invaluable – people who cheer you up by being silly, who offer moral support, point out those endless tuckin’ fypos, and who are just generally there to chat with (even if it is not about writing).

So, to all those folk who have been there for me in one way or another, I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope Santa brings you all the perfect present; and that 2009 is your year.

Monday, 22 December 2008


Here was something pleasing to see on an otherwise dreech, I-missed-the-party-but-still-have-a-hangover type of morning. Three of the top five blogs are mine (including this one). And I only have three (well two as I just manage the third for Charlie). Once you look at the actual figures it's not quite so impressive, but who cares. I don't.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Happy Birthday...

...Michael Moorcock. Have a great day (and many more).

Thursday, 18 December 2008

What! Me worried?

Apropos waterfalls, I thought you might enjoy this. The whole film is worth watching. Indeed, I think anything by Keaton is worth watching.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Jim Cawthorn (21-12-1929 – 2-12-2008)

For those who do not know (and there’s more here), Jim Cawthorn was an illustrator; for me, one of the greatest. His work for New Worlds magazine and his illustrations for Mike Moorcock’s work are masterpieces of the genre. He was undoubtedly one of the people who helped shape my own imagination, for which he will ever have my thanks and respect. My condolences to his family and friends.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Drifting toward the precipice.

I have dropped, suddenly, into a deep low.

I’m not good at life. Hey, I’m a writer; I’m supposed to be a mess of neuroses.

And right now… You know that bit in films when people are happily drifting in a boat and begin to realize that the noise they hear might just be a waterfall. When they try to start the motor, you just know it’s not going to work.

That’s how I feel, just now. Don’t know why. I’ve done all I can with Charlie and need to start sending samples out to agents. Ah. There’s your answer. Complete lack of confidence. Two years hard graft and 106,000 words of crap to show for it with absolutely no guarantee it is going to sell.

“In the current climate…” Blah, blah, blah.

The blah, blah, blah is me trying to start the motor. And the roar is getting louder.

Some days you wonder why you bothered crawling out from under the duvet.

:-) That is a brave smile. It’s the last thing you’ll see as the boat goes over the falls.

Monday, 1 December 2008


Readers of grumbooks will know that I have recently re-read Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. And as a result I hauled The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen off the shelf (so to speak) to provide a contrast to other reading matter. And blow me down if yesterday evening I am not pointed toward an interview with Alan Moore from a few years ago.

It is curious, although not altogether surprising, that such synchronicities occur. But that is not the purpose of this post. I simply wanted to draw attention to a passage from the interview that struck a chord with me and which I wanted to share here (just in case you didn’t want to read about Alan Moore’s thoughts on comic books/graphic novels and the diverse sources at work in/on his imagination – although I found it fascinating).

Here’s what he had to say that I particularly wanted to share:

You could end up as a writer's writer, and that would be a terrible fate. What that means is you'd be a writer where all the other writers would say: “God, I wish I was as brilliant as him, and I'm glad I'm not as penniless as him”. I've known a few borderline – Kathy Acker was nearly a writer's writer, other writers would say: “Jesus, how does she do this stuff, these sentences are fucking fantastic…the way they sort of self-destruct…”. But she was not easy and she was not popular. Iain Sinclair, I think – yeah, let's go out on a limb – the finest writer currently working in the English language – Downriver , one of his best books, took him five years to write and he got 2000 quid for it, how many it sold I don't know, but probably not a lot. Most writers, even the very best ones, especially the very best ones, don't often make a living from it. You go into any branch of Waterstone's and 90% of those books on the shelves, unless you're talking about Catherine Cookson, Stephen King, Jeffrey Archer – the ‘giants' as I like to think of them – unless you're talking about them you're talking about someone who is a teacher, or a social worker, or works in a bookshop, or works as a lorry driver, you're doing something to pay the rent and then working into the small hours while the wife and kids are asleep. There's levels, there's levels to being a writer, and I think the thing to decide is the level you're happiest at. If you're happy writing pulp adventure stories then for God's sake write pulp adventure stories, and if there comes a point when you're no longer happy writing pulp adventure stories, try something else.

Don't think that you have to write – just because literary critics decided some time in the 19 th century that Jane Austen's comedy of manners was the only form of literature that could really be considered literature. Basically it's because her novels were about the habits of the class that could afford to buy books. They were about the habits of the class of people who were criticising the books. They were flattering. It was holding a mirror up to a particular strata of society – which included the critics – and they said: “Yes, our ways, our vanities, our funny little intrigues, this is the stuff of legend, the only stuff of legend. For God's sake don't write anything in genre. Don't write detective stories, because they're low and vulgar”. Even if you are Raymond Chandler, even if you are an extraordinarily beautiful and gifted writer. If you're writing detective stories, forget it. Ghost and horror stories, well we'll just about allow Poe, but no, on second thoughts, and certainly don't even consider people like Lovecraft, who couldn't write . Who had a ‘clumsy prose style'. Apparently. Clark Ashton Smith. Gaudy. Forget about him. Arthur Knacken. You're not gonna find these people anywhere in Melvyn Smith's list of 100 novels you simply must read. You're not gonna find any genre. You're mainly gonna find novels of manners. You're not gonna find any science fiction, even if it's H.G. Wells or Olaf Stapleton, because science fiction is a lower art form than the novel of manners.

I'd say to anyone aspiring to be a writer: write what you like. Write what you have genuine enthusiasm for. Don't write to get a Booker prize. Angela Carter, God bless her, always used to refer to ‘that sort of person' as ‘shortlist victims', and it's true. Michael Moorcock is never going to get a Booker Prize, but he's a better writer than 100% of writers who have won the Booker Prize over the last 20 years. But he's vulgar, he used to write comics, he used to write science-fantasy trilogies. In three weekends. On speed. He used to write the Talisman adventure libraries, he used to write Sexton Blake , along with Jack Trevor Story, another writer who will never be included in the canon of great British writers. Jack Trevor Story, one of our very best writers ever.

The full interview can be found here.