Greetings! How very good to see you here. If you're wondering where 'here' is, this is the great terra incognita between getting agent (hurrah!), and getting publisher (fingers crossed). But you are most welcome, whatever your relationship is to books, or words, or writing. I hope you enjoy - and please tell me if you do. POSHTOTTY

Tuesday, 29 March 2011



Sent: Day 8 19:11:26
Subject: Compliance Testing - URGENT

Dear Lou

I've just been made aware of events today during compliance testing, and the situation we face as a result.

Under your supervision a substance SPECIFICALLY CONTRA-INDICATED FOR CONSUMPTION has been ingested and a large and dangerous predator has been, and apparently still is, roaming abroad in what was a controlled habitat, whose recent inhabitants are now nowhere to be found. They may be poisoned. They may be dead. Need I say more?

This is the most unbelievable mess. I need to know what you are doing to remedy it.


Sent: Day 8 20:23:08
Subject: RE: Compliance Testing

Gabe -

Sorry for delay; bit busy out here. We do indeed have a situation! :-) But I'm sure you remember, the purpose of today's events (all of which were cleared at our last meeting), was simply to TEST individual compliance to environmental guidelines. The guidelines were yours, and were tested as agreed.

I can only agree with your summing-up of the state of affairs on your property, but these events took place under my observation, not my supervision. I don't have authority here, I'm simply the sublicensed provider of the services set out in the tender document.

You know how I am with detail!

Thanks and best


Sent: Day 8 21:34:08
Subject: One question

Lou -


Sent: Day 8 21:40:41
Subject: One answer

It's a cold-blooded reptile, the sun has set, so I imagine it is asleep.

Sent: Day 8 21:43:17

Sent: Day 8 21:45:33
Subject: IN THE TREE

Sent: Day 8 22:21:16
Subject: Start again?

Dear Lou

The snake appears to have suffered nothing worse than a bit of bruising, but it's citing its terms of employment and refusing to answer any questions. And I don't have time to argue – with it or with you. I need hardly set out for you the consequences if the garden is not restored to its original state complete with both inhabitants by dawn. Remember the dinosaurs, and the row after that?

We have to find them and we have to find them now. Please help!


PS: I apologise for my tone before. I have been under a great deal of strain and overwork for the last week.
PPS: We also still have to locate the remains of the apple.


    • Lou? Lou, are you there? You're breaking up.
    • .somewhere near Pishon, Gabe. I'm seeing a lot of onyx-stone.
    • Is there any sign?
    • .something. Hold on -
    • Lou? Lou?
    • Sorry mate, no joy. It was one of those – what did the Boss call the stripey things?
    • The stripey things? The big stripey things or the small stripey things?
    • Smallish. Whiff a bit.
    • Skunk.
    • Skunk, huh? And the big?
    • Zebra.
    • Skunk and zebra. You gotta hand it to him. I mean, the invention!
    • So it was a skunk?
    • Nah. Zebra. You know, I loved the dinosaurs.
    • I know you did, Lou. But right now -
    • I mean, their singing! The colours of their fur! They were the Boss's best. But I said right from the start, they were totally over-engineered. Any creature that specialised is going to have a problem coping with change. And I think compliance testing proved me right on that one, too.
    • It did Lou, it did. That's why he's trying something different. Something simple and undemanding. We just have to find them, Lou, that's all -
    • Yeah, I worry about them.
    • You worry about them? Here? You worry about them here? In Paradise?
    • Yeah. I mean they're so – they're so puny. Half the other stuff out here could have them for lunch. And if I can be blunt -
    • Go ahead, Lou.
    • I mean, they don't look good. They have those bits that wobble. They don't even match. And they're a bit – you know – witless, somehow. The way they just wander about, pointing and smiling, and being obedient... I dunno. It looks like there's something missing, to me.
    • Lou -
    • I mean, is there a plan? Is there a point to them? D'you think there is?
    • Lou -
    • Because if there were, it might be useful to know. It might be good to know. It might be nice to be trusted -
    • Lou?
    • ............
    • Lou?
    • ...........
    • Lou! LOU!
    • Oh Gabe. Oh Gabe, you should be here. You should see this.
    • You've FOUND them?
    • Yeah, they're here. Safe and sound. Asleep on the river bank. Wrapped right around each other. Oh, it's sweet.
    • Asleep?
    • Yeah, right out. Oh, it's special.
    • Is – is it the rib thing? Is it that again?
    • It's not the rib-thing Gabe, can't be. Ribs all present and correct. So I'll just bring them back, yeah? Back to the tree?
    • Back to the tree is fine. Back to the tree is perfect. I can't believe it. Oh, Lou -
    • Yes Gabe?
    • The apple. Is there any sign of the apple?
    • No sign.
    • Nothing?
    • Nothing. Not even a pip. Oh come on. He'll never notice. All's well that ends well, eh?
    • I guess so Lou. So long as they're safe -
    • They're fine. Bit flushed-looking maybe, but otherwise right as rain. In fact they look good. Better. Forget the apple, Gabe. I mean – who'll ever care about that?


Sunday, 27 March 2011


If you were to click on the Mighty Tieton link to the right (and I heartily encourage you so to do), you will eventually find this guy - Ed Marquand, publishing supremo of Ed Marquand Books and all-round Thoroughly Good Thing. I receive this from Ed, on Friday: 

'Subject: I need a short story. Quick!
We are trying something totally cool here that involves a new way to publish short fiction. I am looking for short stories of no more than 750 words for an experimental form of publishing we are trying out at Marquand Books and Paper Hammer. Stories should be tightly written, wry, and amusing. For now, I am looking for pieces related to food or meals, beer, wine, or cocktails, romantic seduction, memory, or missed opportunity, but feel free to contribute others. If you are game send to
Got something????'

750 words, thinks I. Now that's a challenge, to begin with. I do not naturally pack lite, nor write short. Short is tough. Short takes time, and planning, and here I am with a deadline from a friend (which are always the worst sort), and I have neither words, time, nor plan - but the challenge is growing more irresistible by the minute.

I am going to have to Write Short. It's like being asked to rustle up supper for 6, at no notice, from whatever you have in the store cupboard. So what do I? What do I have in my head?

I have a lot of annoying stuff about tenders and compliance that has been overshadowing everything at work like a sunspot for the last weeks. I have Lent, and various thoughts on abstinence, and spontaneity, and impulse, and are these good things or are they bad, and the difference between what you're meant to do, and what you want to do, and how the latter always somehow finds a way, and what that says about the human spirit, and why are we hard-wired that way when it causes so much trouble, or does that in fact suggest there is a great organising principle here, and that what will happen was always going to anyway. And I have an apple. A very fine apple. A Braeburn. Big, crisp, cold, and as finely marbled as Kobe beef. 

You start to cook. I have a sense already, because of the apple, of a setting way, way back at the very beginning if things, but when all the questions above nonetheless already existed; so because of that, and the whole 750-words thing, I want something snappy as a format, and writing in the form of emails, and the setting, would contrast nicely. Then it begins to feel as if I've done enough with the email-thing; that 750 words (now growing up past 800) will seems much bigger if split in the middle - two acts, not just a sketch. So we have an email-format for the first half, and a conversation on mobile phones or walkie-talkies for the 2nd. Both completely anachronistic, but that's the point - the issues I want to explore in my now-900-words have always existed, regardless of medium, or indeed, of time or space. I have two main characters, and now they have their own voices, and points of view, and a big, big problem to solve. And now I'm writing against both deadline and word-limit, so this is like a race where you don't rush up to the finishing line; it rushes closer and closer to you, and it is interesting, this, it's a great challenge, terrific discipline, it's really put me in the zone, and I just have to tweak the ending, I just have to get another twist in there -

- and that's it. Finished. Done.

And when I know what Ed has in mind to do with it, with his blessing, I will post it here.

Monday, 21 March 2011


If you're producing words, you need to nourish yourself on words. You need a good-quality diet with plenty of variety, just enough roughage, and no pre-processed pap. Don't read rubbish; if it hasn't got you by the end of page 1 - if it hasn't even got a feeler into you, to get you turning to page 2 - put it down. Be ruthless. There are too many good books out there to waste time on the bad ones. Rubbish in, rubbish out.

And you need a lot of words to fuel you. When finishing The Fires of Grace I was on the equivalent of 5,000 calories a day. Three novels a week - more, many more, if you count the ones I started, and that failed to get a feeler into me. This gets expensive. The solution? The charity shop.

Where I live in London, there are 5 charity shops within a bookmark of me (my 'burgh specialises in florists, undertakers, and charity shops. Connection? Discuss). It's like having 5 circulating libraries just up the road. I take them the rubbish; I come back with diamonds. The latest of which is Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, the best of which, so far, has been D.J. Taylor's Kept.

Who is D.J. Taylor? I have no idea. His jacket photograph makes him look younger than me, which is annoying; the puffs from other writers on the jacket are a bit cut-and-paste, or a bit show-offily opaque. But I liked the jacket which his publishers, Chatto, had gone to the trouble of creating for him, he passed the page 1 test, he came home with me. And he's enthralling. Elegant, stylish, economical, unexpected in every and in every good way. He cost me £1.50. No expensive advertisting camopaign shoved him my way, he is just a glorious example of book-serendipity. He simply found his way into my hand.

Now, of that £1.50, I am well aware that D.J. Taylor, who apparently has three children to raise, will not see a cent. I have done other good things by buying his book - saved paper, raised money for those who need it far more than either he or me - but Deej, in real terms, gets nothing out of this than my grateful thanks, and the tiny recommendation I can offer here. Except that -

I began by calling this posting  'Fuel'. There is, out there, and at the same time in all our heads, a great virtual universe, a parallel reality, a mighty and invisible engine both made and fuelled by writers' words, and readers' reactions to them. It is perhaps the only true perpetual-motion machine ever created. It's going on out there right now. You're fuelling it as you read this.

Pass the word on.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011



Tuesday, and there is me, and what feels like the first proper day of Spring, and Romney Marsh and, specifically, Brenzett Church, and round the back of Brenzett Church, Frank. Who died a century ago or more, at 3 years old, and who time has left, much like the churches on the marsh, marooned on his own. And trooping along invisibly behind me are Billy, and Billy's best mate (who also, much like this book, still has no name, poor little scrap), and Froggy, and Billy's big sister Evie (there to keep an eye, because Billy has been acting up so much recently), and the mysterious newcomer, Andreas.

M. R. James, who created wonders from locales such as the churches of Romney Marsh, needed three ingredients for a story - a place, a time, and a thing. Lo and behold, I find myself with all three, and a whole new scene falls into place like balls falling though a pachinko machine. Solved, in one: why it is so important to get Andreas home (his own younger brothers, left all alone, like Frank, and why he is so good with Billy and his friends); and how he gives himself away to Evie - adjusting the wings of the paper plane the boys have created. A tweak from him, and it flies right over the roof of the church. As Evie watches, and to the boys' excitement, the first contrails of 1940 appear.

There we are. How good is it when it works like that? And o how depressing that the whole 'write about what you know' thing still has so much life left in it.

Or rather, find out about what you want to write about, first. The most surprising results can flow thereby.

Still no title, however....

Sunday, 13 March 2011


Books, like characters, seem to need a name before they become real. For the first time, I have an entire story plotted out, divided into chapters, and complete with all the characters it's going to need. And I have to say, I can see why this is recommended as a way of going about writing a book, as opposed to the plunge-right-in and ok-what-the-flip-is-it-I'm-making-for, which was the method I had been using (ironic, considering what a rubbish swimmer I am in real life). I suppose it's kinda like the difference between putting yourself on the pill and crossing your fingers... ANYWAY, this time, this child is planned. I have a setting, a locale, which I know well enough to feel confident of using, and this weekend, a chance to revisit it and collect material to use as scene-setting embroidery. What I don't have (and which I did, before, for 1st book) is a title.

And it is amazing what a difference this lack of title makes. The thing won't set. It lacks its isinglass, its gelatin. It's not topped off, in my head. It's a barn without a roof. It's a character without a head, or face; I know exactly what it, as book, will do, and where it will go, but I can't have a conversation with it. I can't visualise it, in final, published, 3-dimensional form (which has to be one of the greatest incentivisers a writer has). I can't design its jacket - or at least I can, it's a Boy's Own thing, in bright woodblock-type printing, of a wooded slope, with a lot of clear sky, and a young woman, in 1940s clothing, looking up at the sky. Or, it's a satchel, and a child's gas-mask, handing on a hook against a plain wall. Or, it's a.... whatever, the point is, that all these images are blank. They have no words on them. They have no title. They're just random pictures, they aren't as yet any part of my book.

A character without a name presents the same problem. One that pops out of your head fully formed and with label already attached is one of the best writing-things to happen, and when it does, it feels as if it confirms you utterly, on every level - right path, right plot, all these goodies just waiting to leap out at you as soon as you walk past them. One without label does the exact opposite, bringing in its wake every bad writerly phantom: your imagination has run dry and will never renew itself, and the whole idea for this story must obviously suck, which is why it refuses to make sense of itself and why you have all these characters wandering about as nameless zombies, all wishing they were somewhere else.

It is now time for the train. My story - headless and faceless as it is - will have to be guided to it and shown to a seat, and will no doubt sit there viewing me with blind and mute reproach for the whole of the journey. You think you can write me when you can't even name me?

Only one way to find out.

Saturday, 12 March 2011


H (agent) has:
  • MS (all 614 pages/189,000 words of it)
  • Rights page (easily the most annoying thing, after the synopsis, that I have ever had to write)
  • Cast-list of characters
  • and one precious page condensing the Thirty Years War - three decades of the most violent, fascinating, jaw-droppingly bloodthirsty years of European history - into a perfect little appetiser for all those international publishers even now booking their tickets for the London Book Fair in the hopes of coming away from it with contract for next international best-seller, 'The Fires of Grace', warm in their hands.

Little do they know it yet.

So, I wrote this book. Amazingly enough, first time out the traps, it found an agent. A really good, proper agent too, one who is as passionate about it as its author and in her firm but elegant way, has also pulled from author synopsis, rights page, cast-list and Everyman's Guide to the Thirty Years War. Ye gods, writing the book was the easy bit. If you're a writer who is a step, or a couple of steps, away from this, be warned - the minute it finds a home with anyone else, your book ceases to be yours altogether. You are now merely servicing and supporting it.

Your other immediate problem is what the devil do you do with yourself without a book to write? Without the constant pull back to the pc? You can start another (I have), but now you've learned a bit about what you're actually doing, or trying to do, in writing a book, you gotta admit, new book will be a lot more research than it will be any proper writing for many weeks to come. You can tidy flat. You can attend to sadly-lapsed exercise routine (5k along the River Thames this morning - what is it about running beside this river that still feels like such a privilege?). You can address vexed question of buying somewhere new to live, which is even now snoring quietly to itself in some cowebby corner of back-brain. You can water plants, file nails, make list of all the books you can now return to the wonderful and endlessly long-suffering London Library. You can listen to Man U (hiss hiss boo!) v. Arsenal (hiss!). You can review ridiculous complications of real life, beyond the world you have created where You Are God.

You can start a blog. You can start a blog sharing journey from wannabe author to (hopefully) published author, or not, with all those other wannabe authors out there at different stages on their own journey.

Hallo to you all, how are you?