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They’re off! My story RACING MANHATTAN is published today.

I was born into a family that loved horses. My father was an international show-jumper and amateur jockey. My mother was a brilliant horsewoman who had ridden all her life. My brother Philip and I hadn't been long in this world before we were sitting on a small felt saddle on top of a pony. I rode Blackberry, he rode Snowball. As I grew older, ponies and horses were at the centre of my life. I kept scrapbooks full of pictures and stories from the racing pages of the newspapers. I idolised certain racehorses  - Pas Seul, Mill House, Arkle. While other boys dreamed of becoming footballers, I knew what I wanted to do. I would be a top amateur jockey and racing journalist who would win great races and then, vividly yet modestly, write about them. It never quite worked out like that. Philip became a successful professional jockey....

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The spark of an idea… the rewrite… publication day. When is the best moment in a writer’s life?

Talking to the New York Times in 1936, Cole Porter took an unsentimental view of his work when it was completed. 'The moment the curtain rises on the opening night, I say to myself: “There she goes” and I’ve bid good-bye to my baby,' he said. ' The minute that it is exposed to its premiere audience... I feel that it’s no longer mine.’ Novelists, from Flaubert to Sillitoe have taken a similar view. Once a book is published, the consensus seems to be, it has gone. I am exactly a week away from that 'There she goes' moment. I have written a novel for young readers called Racing Manhattan. Because, in the messy, indirect way of fiction, it reaches back to an intense time in my youth when I was obsessed by riding racehorses, writing the story was an unusually heartfelt process, and so the farewell feels quite personal....

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‘Tricked once more…’. Happy birthday, Dr Dylan

Today's the birthday of Bob Dylan. Here's a piece I wrote in 2005 when Dylan was nominated (unsuccessfully - again) for the Nobel Prize: It was an odd kind of funeral. The deceased had lived a full and somewhat rackety life, and most of those who had come to bid farewell were, like him, brave and scruffy individualists. But the church service had gone wrong somehow. The vicar misjudged his congregation; there was a mismatch between the stolid pieties of established religion and the wayward spirits of the largely hippyish congregation. After the service, the coffin was borne on a horse-drawn cart through the streets of the town and out into the country where, on a patch of private woodland next to a common, the grave had been dug. We gathered around the hole in the ground, some of us feeling odd demoralised by the dreary church service. At that...

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Rock and ageism: a sad old bastard with guitar writes…

Every now and then, perhaps once or twice a month, a new cause for concern is discovered. From some distant campus, a research paper is published which reveals that something we had previously taken for granted is, in fact, deeply worrying. Statistics are produced, researchers quoted in the inevitable press release. Sometimes the little gobbet of anxiety and guilt dropped into the cultural pool spreads and becomes accepted in the right liberal circles. Guidelines are issued. Those who dare to express scepticism are vilified as being out of touch and old-fashioned. This week's cause for concern has been pop music and the old. A group of academics from Hull and Anglia Ruskin Universities have been trawling through a database of lyrics of  songs from the past 80 years and have concluded that, when it comes to ageing, a shocking 72 per cent of songs contain "negative messages that are detrimental...

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The underdog bites the dust

It was April 1998. I was living in a flat in London after my marriage had gone belly-up. I had been working on my novel Kill Your Darlings and was so stuck that it felt as if it was killing me. I was not, as they say, in a good place. Simon Kelner had just been appointed the new editor of the Independent. Although I didn't know him personally, he had commissioned me to write a few pieces for Night and Day, then the colour magazine for the Mail on Sunday. In a wild, what-the-hell moment, I wrote to him, suggesting that maybe I might be a columnist on the paper. He wrote back, suggesting a three-month trial period. For the next 16 or so years, I wrote for the Independent  -  an op-ed column once or twice a week and, occasionally, a daily humour column. The work picked me up at a...

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I’ve never felt more like singing the (solo) blues

I am feeling a little bit jilted. An important relationship has recently come to an end. Already I find I am missing the old familiar things we did - our meetings once or twice a week, our plans, our outings, the way things changed between us over time.  It has been a couple of weeks since the break-up, but I still catch myself thinking of our future together before I remember that we no longer have one. Last week, in the traditional way, I sent a letter  -  an email somehow seemed too flip, too light-hearted.  Maybe, I wrote, we could get together now and then   -  nothing serious, no pressure, just for nostalgia's sake. The reply was impeccably polite but read very much like a firm, final kiss-off. So now it is time to face up to it. We're finished, through. It's over. From now on, I'll be...

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For a gentler, kinder 2016, it’s time to liberate your inner Corbyn

It is the time of the year when, in homes across the country, moods will be on the turn. The cards, decorations and little lights which, a matter of hours ago, conveyed seasonal jolliness now represent yet another dreary housekeeping task to be completed before the return to work. The pleasure of human company may be wearing thin, too. Jokes will have an edge to them. Outbreaks of conversational small-arms fire will suggest that domestic truces, having just about held over the past 24 hours,  are now beginning to break down. The queasiness you feel will turn out to be more than yesterday's over-indulgence fermenting dismally within you. It is the effect of watching too many TV specials which, gurgling with manufactured sentimentality, were cynically designed to make you feel nicer and more generous-spirited than in fact you are. At this moment, with the world idling in holiday neutral, a...

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Why do it? Notes from a writer’s shed

Beyond the daily grind of the thousand words, there is a rhythm to life as a writer. The commission of the moment (if there is one),  the pressure of the work in progress, the seductive possibilities of those what-if, why-not?, would-be projects that you always mean to get around to writing: these tasks impose a sort of professional pattern on life. And the rhythm keeps changing. Over the past three decades as an author, I've had periods in which adult fiction is interrupted once every couple of months by a joyous, month-long holiday of writing a book for children. Later there was a time when five days of fiction would be followed by a day of column-writing. More recently newspaper work has set the pace, squeezing book-work to the edge of the schedule, and songs have demanded time, too. One commission, though, has been unchanging since the mid-1990s. Every three...

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“Like wind chimes, freshly mown grass, goat cheese, new car interiors…” The problems of writing and bad sex

The thousands of brave, rash souls around the world who have been participating in National Novel Writing Month will have typed their last word by midnight on Monday. According to the rules of the competition, they should have completed a 50,000 word story by the end of November, and will now presumably be able to call themselves novelists. One of their toughest tasks, possibly second only to storytelling against the clock, will have been how to write honestly and well about human sexual relations. A few will avoid the subject altogether, while others will employ the fast-fade tactic, but those with real ambition to be writers will recognise that what the people they write about do in bed is an unavoidably revealing part of their story. It was Martin Amis who once said that, in order to get to know the characters he was writing about, he would first ask...

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The Seven Rules of Rejection

Writing, like life, has a nasty habit of turning around to bite you in the bum when you least expect it. So it has been while I was gently pondering what to write in this column. Rather to my surprise, I found that I had never written about that constant companion of a writer’s life, rejection. There is nothing quite like the disappointment of being turned down for testing our dedication, mental toughness and professionalism. We need to establish some basic rules of rejection, to be able to recognise it in its various disguises, and then to limit its personal, collateral damage. What a perfect subject for an Endpaper column. It was at this point that I received a telephone call from The Author. Would I consider sharing this column with other writers? Maybe I could introduce guest contributors now and then? Or alternate with someone else? An email correspondence...

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