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Archive For: writing and story telling

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

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After a run of three small successes with my (unpublished and unagented) novel, whose title Timed Out seems to be becoming ever more resonant, I have done a fair bit of showing off to  friends and  creative writing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.



Think Week: Myth and Discovery.

What’s unique about human beings?  Not tool-making, not language, not solving physics problems. Storytelling. It’s Think Week in Oxford. A week’s worth of challenging (and free) events. The one that might be of most interest to readers of this blog was a lecture by Gregory Currie, Professor of Philosophy at York:’The Human Mind and the ... Read More

What it’s like to make news

Over the last three days I’ve experienced at second hand what it is like to be sought after by the media. It’s been exciting. My friend Nora Crook, Professor Emerita at Anglia Ruskin University and a noted Shelley scholar, has discovered some Mary Shelley letters in the Essex Record Office and the news ‘broke’ while ... Read More

When is a novel finished?

The University of East Anglia course with Adam Foulds is over. I’ve sent in my final, assessed submission and short essay, and I’ve written the last words of the last chapter. And I’ve added in new episodes, descriptions, explanations and improved the wording etc etc etc as result of my tutor’s and classmates’ critiques. But ... Read More