Yearly Archives: 2014

Ian McEwan – inspiring but humbling

‘As you write you can’t escape all the literature you have loved.’ This was one of many wise reflections from Ian McEwan this evening. Another couple of points that struck me particularly: the importance of people’s jobs, so often neglected in novels and yet key to fleshing out  character; and the pleasures of the short  ... Read More

Trends of one sort or another

Another short list: for my first and probably only ghost story, which bears the peculiar title ‘Potter, Dimity, Lilies.’ When they announced this news, Spooky Tales/What the Dickens? Magazine promised an ebook anthology and – how lovely! – a paper edition as well. Several months and emails later I have discovered that the anthology has ... Read More
“Well told, Barbara. But please remember to cross your ‘t’s.”

“Well told, Barbara. But please remember to cross your ‘t’s.”

Just discovered: a stash of exercise books with essays and stories written in the 1950s. So many gems, thanks to our very old-fashioned teacher who had strict rules:  ‘But’ must never begin a sentence; subjunctive essential; and big words and fancy adverbs and adjectives always welcome. I got red ticks for ‘ irreconcilable’ ‘judicious’ ‘aromatic’  ... Read More

You can’t win if you don’t enter

After a run of three small successes with my (unpublished and unagented) novel, whose title Timed Out seems to be becoming ever more resonant, I have done a fair bit of showing off to  friends and  creative writing classmates. The latter often seem over-impressed, and having read or heard their work, I can’t understand why ... Read More

Oxford Literary Festival. This year only got to three events, but they were all fascinating and very different and – especially today with the sun shining on all the golden stone and lots of happy people sitting in the quads – I was reminded how lucky I am to live in Oxford.   Simon Jenkins on his new book England’s 100 Best Views: not unexpectedly there were many exquisite photographs, but I also learned a lot about the history of the view and the difference between the ‘picturesque’ and the ‘romantic’. Did you know people used to sit in boats on the Wye holding up empty picture frames  and paint what they saw through them?

I’m sorry Simon Jenkins hates wind turbines so much. I’m fond of them and toy with the idea of having one as the hero of a children’s story.

Then there was AC Grayling on the subject of friendship. He’s one of my favourite lecturers and I was fascinated and moved.

And finally a group of novelists all from St Hilda’s College debating the proposition that  genre fiction is no different from literary fiction. In the course of the debate we heard  some excellent definitions of what makes a good novel whatever label it is given. No one really succeeded in winning the argument and the problem (close to my own  heart) of what bookshelf to put a ‘transgenre’ novel on doesn’t seem to be solvable.

I’m just back from Cornwall – fields of daffodils, and delicious cream teas (note judicious use of the Oxford comma). And before that I was at an awards ceremony – I was and remained on the short list for the Exeter Novel Prize. (The winner was Su Bristow with a novel called Sealskin about a mermaid.)  When I got home I found I’d got on to another short list with a ghost story I’d forgotten about.

So I’m feeling quite cheerful and intellectually nourished and fatter than I was when I wrote my last blog.