Latest News

Young girl with a ukulele

Her song lasted less than three minutes - by the epic standards of most folk songs, hardly worth tuning up for. We regulars understood the reason for its brevity. She only really knew two chords, and struggled with the third. It was a song called Life is Beautiful. But this girl, this Sally Thompson, had something. I sensed it, and so did everyone else who was there that night. We held our breath as she sang her absurd nothing of a song. When she finished, the audience roared its approval. Kevin returned to the stage, all beer-belly and smiles, and told us that Sally was 'what it was all about'. You have to be pretty bad for Kevin to say you're what it's all about - it means he can't think of anything else to say - but on this occasion, without quite knowing why, I had to agree. She...

read more →

Operation Bird of paradise

I’m smoking an agreeably mild cigar. The sun is dipping over the dark blue ocean, but the air is still warm. The sound of a tropical stringed instrument, a man singing along to it, echoes down a narrow street nearby. Before me on the table is a long iced glass of Injaba Slammer, the local cocktail. Beyond that, sitting opposite me, is a blonde. There are times when being a detective sergeant in the Metropolitan Police is not such a terrible job. Those years of watching bad people doing bad things, of listening to lie after guilty lie in interview rooms, of the sheer bloody grinding boredom of solving crime: it turns out that they earn you a spot of credit at the end of the day. Something like Operation Bird of Paradise - sun, sea, surveillance - comes along and, stone me, you get the nod.... Available as a...

read more →

And what we can do for you today?

Last year Martha Dillon was chosen as the subject for a profile in a local magazine. It was on a page called 'Retail Ramblings' and was an irritating piece, placing rather too much emphasis on the amount of time (22 years) the salon had been on the High Street, and describing Martha in the opening paragraph as 'a local institution'. In fact, the only reason why she keeps a copy of the magazine in the reception desk drawer is the photograph contained on the second page of her profile. It was taken on a clear winter's day during the close season, and the photographer, with a dash of artistic enterprise which was unusual in the magazine, had positioned himself on the pavement, looking inside. Now, alone in the salon during the lunchtime lull, Martha looks at the photograph. Through the glass, the room is in shadow, with the hood dryers...

read more →

Jacko

Sometimes I can hear the bird late at night. At least I think I can. Out here, I don’t sleep as well I used to. There’s something about the warm nights, the silence. It’s odd but, back home, there was always a hum of life, day and night – traffic on the main road, I suppose. I found it comforting. When I first thought I was hearing birdsong, I woke Guy. - Can you hear it? - Hm, what? - The bird. In the café. My husband is a heavy sleeper. Even when he was involved in one of his cases, he would be out, a stunned walrus in the bed beside me, within moments of the light being switched off. I prodded him now, quite hard. - Jacko. From the café. I think he’s calling out to us. What Guy said then is not worth recording. He has a...

read more →

The walk

He was taking his morning walk with the dog. It would be the river walk: through the orchard, into the wood, along the riverside path, then back up the lane, into the field and home. It was early June, a time when the fields and the hedgerows were bursting with renewal. Every year, he would grumble to Mary about it. ‘Bloody nature,’ he would say, wetting his scythe, then sharpening the blade. ‘It’s getting away from us this year.’ Yet he, like the nettles and the elder and hawthorn, was energised, too. He normally liked their annual tussle with the elements, pulling the weeds from the flower-bed at the front of the house, netting the vegetable garden, to the sound of fledgeling blackbirds or great tits in the bushes nearby, hacking back brambles, setting mole-traps, checking the hens with their latest brood of chicks. Yet this Spring, unseasonably wet and...

read more →

An ill-fated journey into the world of TV writers (contains sex and violence)

The BBC bigwig was shouting at me. Every time I started to speak in the debate, he came barrelling in, objecting and refuting. The audience of writers gathered in the lecture hall seemed, rather to my surprise, to be on his side. After repeated interruptions, I said with mild exasperation that I was very glad I never had to pitch ideas to him. “So am I!” he bellowed. It had all seemed rather different when I had first been invited to a convention of TV writers. The two-day event was to discuss matters of common interest and concern, one of which was the depiction of violence against women on TV. I had written a column in the Independent about the way TV tends to glamorise the psychopath and the stalker. Now I was being invited was invited to be a guest participant in what was described as the keynote debate. It was...

read more →

Sex, children, friendship, health – by the experts (Tolstoy, Amis, Dickens, Mantel, Larkin and a few others)

At a reading given by Ian McEwan and Richard Ford, the question-and-answer session with the audience took an unexpected turn. One of the two novelists was asked about marriage and writing. There followed a strangely intense discussion about love and work, commitment and children – about life, in other words.. A hush descended on the auditorium. It was the real thing which was being explored here, and it was rather more absorbing than what had inspired Atonement or The Sportswriter. It seemed that the audience saw the two men not only as successful novelists, but as seers, top-of-the-range agony uncles. On the face of it, that was an odd idea. The private lives of professional authors hardly suggest a profound level of emotional intelligence. Alain de Botton may have made his name with How Proust Can Change Your Life but there has been no sign of a vogue for authorial...

read more →

From InstaNovel to NervousBreakdown: the next generation of apps for the busy modern writer

A writers’ organization recently conducted an online survey. Is there anyone out there, it asked, who still writes by hand rather than on a computer? A few people confessed, shame-facedly, that, in spite of the many wonderful opportunities offered by the new technology, they still worked in the old-fashioned, inky way. As one of those poor benighted creatures myself, I briefly felt like a comical character out of Dickens, dusty and absurd, clinging on to the traditional way of doing things out of fear of the present and the future. Clearly, we should do better. A wonderland of apps and aids is to be found online offering to make the writing process easier and more enjoyable. Some will ‘help access your inner muse’, others will ‘kickstart your creativity’, ‘embed essential writing tools’ or – particularly useful - ’organise your brain-dumps’. Helpful as these apps are, they only deal with the...

read more →

On being a careerist or a purist

It was the usual highly-charged last day at a creative writing course. Some students wanted to ask one of the tutors a few last-minute questions (Have I got it? Can I send you my stuff to read? Could you mention my name to an agent?). Others were triumphant - or a touch muted - about the coursework they had completed. One confessed that, after her last session of the week, she had danced around her room, singing 'I'm a writer! I'm a writer!' She was not, of course. Maybe in a few months, or years, she might become a writer but that would require a long and tricky journey, mostly spent alone rather than in a group. It is more likely that, after enjoying her moment of creative dreaming, she would return to the safer, saner civilian world, all the wiser for her adventure. Experienced writers bring their hard-won experience...

read more →

On discovering whether you are really, truly an author

My latest Endpaper column for The Author magazine poses the big question. Inner authorliness: have you got it? * In the manner of the 1950s Persil ads which asked 'What is a mum?', the poet Robert Hull raised an important issue in these pages last year. What, he asked, is an author? It is a hauntingly tricky question to answer at this particular moment, because everything is changing. Once authors who paid to publish their own books could be assumed to be vain or deluded; now they are probably canny operators. Once having one's work in print with a publisher was the accepted criterion of authorliness; today, print is an outmoded concept and even publishers are not quite sure what they should be doing. As Mr Hull wrote, a touch plaintively, 'there seems to be a good deal of existential uncertainty about.' Clearly, the official, book trade designation, 'author', has...

read more →