Thoughts on writing, books and films

  • Auguste

    Auguste

    1 Aug 2021, 14:55

    The Three Colours trilogy marked my move from July into August 2021. Amusingly, the fledgling judge in Red is called Auguste. I don’t know why I chose Three Colours: Blue this time, of all the films I could have ...

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  • Inland Empire (2007)

    Inland Empire (2007)

    30 May 2021, 18:02

    In Inland Empire, which is also a massive region of land with nebulous boundaries east of Los Angeles (just saying), married actress Nikki Grace wins a part in a film opposite known philanderer Devon Burk. On the first day ...

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  • Mulholland Drive (2001)

    Mulholland Drive (2001)

    29 May 2021, 11:41

    The pattern David Lynch tends uses in his more archetypal work is again on display in Mulholland Drive – events organically unfold, the images are striking, the narrative is confusing, characters are not who they seem to be, and ...

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  • The Straight Story (1999)

    The Straight Story (1999)

    27 May 2021, 19:46

    If David Lynch were trying to somehow redress all the darkness of his earlier films in one go, then he would make The Straight Story. Like The Elephant Man, it’s straightforward and forgoes the dreams, fantasy sequences and excess ...

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  • Lost Highway (1997)

    Lost Highway (1997)

    26 May 2021, 18:12

    Lost Highway is a puzzle. It opens with a jealous husband who thinks his wife is having an affair, and ends with a deadly resolution, but what happens in between is ambiguous and complicated. There are unsettling video tapes ...

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  • Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

    Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

    24 May 2021, 12:59

    A howl of pain from Laura Palmer, the murdered girl that opened the TV series, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is difficult, heavy, hard to watch in places, and grapples with incest, rape, drug-taking, murder, domestic abuse, and ...

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  • Wild at Heart (1990)

    Wild at Heart (1990)

    18 May 2021, 17:41

    After Blue Velvet, Lynch made the first season of Twin Peaks, then pivoted into Wild at Heart. It’s a series of deliberately melodramatic, hyper-violent and sexual scenes stitched together into a road movie, with a tenuously-made connection to ...

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  • Blue Velvet (1986)

    Blue Velvet (1986)

    12 May 2021, 15:02

    I was nervous going in to Blue Velvet, more so than any horror film. It has a fearsome reputation but is also culturally beloved. Dennis Hopper’s over-the-top performance has become iconic, and its themes foreshadow those in the massively ...

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  • Dune (1984)

    Dune (1984)

    9 May 2021, 20:10

    I went into Dune thinking I would see something the critics were missing – I mean, how could the director of Eraserhead and The Elephant Man direct a complete dud? – and… it’s so over-the-top, it manages to not be ...

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  • The Elephant Man (1980)

    The Elephant Man (1980)

    6 May 2021, 18:40

    The Elephant Man is as traditional and straightforward as Eraserhead is surreal and obtuse. Both are black and white, and Lynch does use some dream imagery in The Elephant Man, but they’re at opposite end of the narrative ...

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  • Eraserhead (1977)

    Eraserhead (1977)

    2 May 2021, 13:35

    It’s surprisingly hard to see David Lynch’s Eraserhead in the UK, which means it is easy to avoid. To me the title was abstract and off-putting, as was its reputation as one of Lynch’s most experimental, gruesome works. The ...

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  • Why read?

    Why read?

    23 Apr 2021, 19:23

    It’s been a tough year, and in the tumult of it, I stopped enjoying reading. Instead, I watched films, which are just as wonderful, but do a fundamentally different job. If you feel jaded with reading, or you want to ...

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  • Swimming with David Lynch

    Swimming with David Lynch

    23 Apr 2021, 12:46

    Spring arriving has given me a creative kick. April has been pretty meta literature-wise. I’ve been reading about reading, reading about writing, writing about reading and, of course, of course, writing about writing. It’s all good. The novel is taking ...

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  • Something Wicked This Way Comes

    Something Wicked This Way Comes

    1 Apr 2021, 13:10

    I bought Something Wicked This Way Comes three years ago in a bookshop sale, in spite of the cover, which honestly put me off reading it for a long time. It showed a terrified, wide-eyed carousel horse looking down, about ...

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  • It’s Spring, and it feels like it

    5 Mar 2021, 09:01

    This time of year is always strange. There is a drumbeat of family birthdays, including mine, and the pandemic has heightened the sense of time passing. My mother died at the end of February 2014, so this is seven years, unbelievably, since then.

    Spring represents renewal. My father has had the vaccine, as has my sister and both my in-laws. I don’t know what my mother and grandmother would have made of all this if they were still alive. The so-far-successful rollout of the vaccines is making me feel cautiously optimistic for the first time since last March. Of course, that’s the other strange thing about this time – it’s a year since the pandemic hit. I remember the paranoia ...

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  • A flotilla of metaphors

    15 Feb 2021, 09:22

    Lying in bed this morning, between the alarm going off and me pulling back the duvet, it occurred to me that sentences can capture the high-level aspects of a story as well as the nitty-gritty. This isn’t a world-shattering realisation, and it isn’t like I’ve invented a vaccine or anything, but for me it was a little spark, a sympathetic prod, a loving poke even in the direction of writing enlightenment.

    When the creative winds are not blowing, and you find yourself becalmed, those summarising sentences can be like flying a kite high enough to catch a draught that might pull your flotilla of metaphors to fresh coordinates.

  • Giallo January

    Giallo January

    23 Jan 2021, 19:43

    Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is one of those books I keep coming back to, this time to stimulate my first draft writing gland and get my novel moving again. I’d run aground at twenty thousand ...

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  • Slippery surfaces

    Slippery surfaces

    17 Jan 2021, 10:15

    I started the week with Blade Runner 2049. I was frustrated with it in 2017, but watching it over three nights at home, I’m more forgiving. It’s way too long. It looks beautiful, and it has some fascinating ideas, but ...

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  • Autumn and The Long Goodbye

    Autumn and The Long Goodbye

    9 Jan 2021, 15:26

    In Ali Smith’s Autumn (2016), when discussing a piece of art, Daniel Gluck asks the young Elisabeth, ‘And what did it make you think about?’. I love the openness of that question. Interpreting art is about making connections. There is ...

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  • My 2020 in books

    My 2020 in books

    30 Dec 2020, 14:56

    I’ve had a tough year reading books. I fell into the trap of seeing reading as work and lost the joy of it. I filled the story gap with films, but thanks to a throwaway Goodreads challenge (35 books in ...

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  • Language muscles

    Language muscles

    26 Dec 2020, 17:04

    Having watched so many films this year, next year I want to get back to reading novels. Films do play into my writing practice. They show me patterns of story, character arcs, themes and dialogue, as well as feed my ...

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  • Why do I write here?

    Why do I write here?

    22 Dec 2020, 21:42

    I’ve written more posts on my blog in 2020 than ever before. It was tricky to start with — I had to find a new voice and get in a groove. As the year ends, and I begin to think ...

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  • London Gothic, Nicholas Royle

    London Gothic, Nicholas Royle

    21 Dec 2020, 20:01

    The protagonists of London Gothic are walkers, art lovers, film buffs and train nerds. They are loners, in the main, fascinated by urban spaces and routes between places. Through their eyes, we see the people who haunt the cafes, galleries ...

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  • She Dies Tomorrow (2020)

    She Dies Tomorrow (2020)

    15 Dec 2020, 20:55

    This isn’t a horror film, though it is marketed as one. The camera is often still as figures move towards us, faces blurred by lights or shadows, and this does create a sense of dread. Much more of the film ...

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  • To the Ends of the Earth (2019)

    To the Ends of the Earth (2019)

    10 Dec 2020, 20:46

    I couldn’t resist another film by my new favourite director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, care of my Mubi subscription. Knowing a film I fancy is going to disappear in a few days makes me create the time to watch it. It’s an ...

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  • Exit Management, Naomi Booth

    Exit Management, Naomi Booth

    7 Dec 2020, 21:28

    The term ‘exit management’ is one Lauren’s HR consultancy uses as a euphemism for helping their clients to fire troublesome employees. Lauren is exceptional at it, and is highly valued by her monstrous boss, Mina, for her emotional control and ...

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  • A Short Film About Love (1988)

    A Short Film About Love (1988)

    3 Dec 2020, 21:42

    Tomek is nineteen, lonely and living with his possessive godmother in a Polish apartment block. Every evening he learns languages in his room until Magda, the woman he is spying on through his telescope, comes home from work. She is ...

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  • Creepy (2017)

    Creepy (2017)

    27 Nov 2020, 13:50

    The films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa were a revelation to me in October. I started with Pulse (2001), then went back to Cure (1997), and both were masterpieces. Twenty years after Cure, Creepy (2017) is in a similar mould, playing ...

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  • November culture

    November culture

    25 Nov 2020, 15:25

    It’s good to play around with your projects and try new things. I still suffer from a degree of imposter syndrome, and I probably always will. That’s partly a working class thing, but it’s also because I didn’t study literature ...

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  • Jigsaws

    Jigsaws

    22 Nov 2020, 08:12

    My mother loved to do jigsaws. She would stay up late, after every one else had gone to bed, and do them on the dining table, which is also where she would do the bookkeeping for whichever company she was ...

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  • Creativity 2.0(.21)

    Creativity 2.0(.21)

    14 Nov 2020, 12:46

    I’m in a fallow period, pottering around, looking for the next thing. I started a jigsaw, read a novel, watched the first half of Homecoming (Season 1, with Julia Roberts), listened to podcasts on my walks, and wrote in my ...

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  • Lockdown, Part 2

    Lockdown, Part 2

    4 Nov 2020, 09:01

    Halloween has been and gone, Bonfire Night is cancelled, and I’m writing a pep talk to myself as in England we go into another lockdown. It’s shit we have to do it, but we do, and better late than never. ...

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  • Doctor Sleep (2019)

    Doctor Sleep (2019)

    31 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Danny Torrance is an alcoholic, but finds a place of peace and sobriety in New Hampshire, where he uses his psychic power, which he calls the shine, to ease the deaths of the elderly people in a local hospice. Death ...

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  • The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

    The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

    30 Oct 2020, 08:00

    The Bride of Frankenstein contains some of the most iconic images in cinema, but it opens with a scene I really didn’t expect — Lord Byron and Percy Shelley praising Mary Shelley for her book, Frankenstein. In a bold move ...

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  • The Exorcist (1973)

    The Exorcist (1973)

    29 Oct 2020, 08:00

    The Exorcist is a cultural behemoth. It’s my twenty-ninth film in this year’s #31DaysOfHorror, and I’m feeling horror fatigue. The film has a weighty reputation — I’d seen clips on television, of Regan vomiting on Father Karras, and turning her ...

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  • Tenebre (1982)

    Tenebre (1982)

    28 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Tenebre is set in Rome, but we could be anywhere, because the story stays in hotel rooms, suburban streets and modernist buildings made of concrete and glass. There are artfully sculpted gardens of stone, water and trees. These locations lend ...

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  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

    27 Oct 2020, 08:00

    People in the background of shots look directly at the camera. Matthew’s windscreen is a web of cracks that we struggle to see through. The score is spidery and jarring, and the camera is often off-kilter. You are not paranoid ...

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  • Land of the Dead (2005)

    Land of the Dead (2005)

    26 Oct 2020, 08:00

    I’d been so careful choosing films until last night, and I thought I’d take a chance on this because it’s directed by George Romero. It felt like a safe bet, but I was wrong. This film made me angry. I ...

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  • Christine (1983)

    Christine (1983)

    25 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Stephen King is brilliant at weaving vivid teenage experiences into his novels. Christine was one of the formative books of my childhood. The film doesn’t have time to go as deep as the book into the love triangle of Arnie, ...

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  • Prom Night (1980)

    Prom Night (1980)

    24 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Like Scream’s Ghostface, the killer in Prom Night can be dodged and knocked over. This is not Michael Myers. There is a lot of disco. Jamie Lee Curtis is a fantastic dancer — this role for her comes straight after ...

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  • A Cure for Wellness (2017)

    A Cure for Wellness (2017)

    23 Oct 2020, 08:00

    An ambitious young executive, Lockhart, is sent to a Swiss sanitorium to bring back his company’s rogue CEO, Morris Pembroke. The head of the spa, Dr. Heinreich Volmer, drips bad guy charm, but is also the voice of scientific reason. ...

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  • The Dead Center (2019)

    The Dead Center (2019)

    22 Oct 2020, 08:00

    In a Nashville morgue, an unnamed man comes back to life and escapes. Sheriff Edward Graham investigates the missing body, but across town, psychiatrist Daniel Forrester checks the now unresponsive man into a ward at the psychiatric hospital. These two ...

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  • It Follows (2015)

    It Follows (2015)

    21 Oct 2020, 08:00

    The film opens with a wide shot of a leafy suburban street, and we look closely for whatever we think the director wants us to see. Like Jay, we are trained from the start to scan the horizon for trouble. ...

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  • The Beyond (1980)

    The Beyond (1980)

    20 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Returning to Fulciland, The Beyond is more coherent than City of the Living Dead, but of course, it’s still driven by images. Like The Amityville Horror, there is a portal to hell in the basement, and people get mysteriously hurt ...

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  • #Alive (2020)

    #Alive (2020)

    19 Oct 2020, 08:00

    After Fulci’s barely moving undead, the running zombies of #Alive are a bit of a shock. Technology is an ally here, which is refreshing in a horror film, although at the start, Joon-woo seems to be in a semi-infantile state, ...

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  • The Mummy (1932)

    The Mummy (1932)

    18 Oct 2020, 08:00

    The original Universal horror films are a bit of a blind spot for me. They weren’t on TV in our house, so I have no childhood affinity to them, and once my parents let me watch horror, I was straight ...

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  • City of the Living Dead (1980)

    City of the Living Dead (1980)

    17 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Zombies really bothered me as a kid. Seeing the insides of the human body spill out was as pure a vision of horror as I could imagine. Guts should not be outside of your body, full stop. I only watched ...

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  • Blade (1998)

    Blade (1998)

    16 Oct 2020, 08:00

    The opening sequence is brilliant. A woman lures a man to a party in an abattoir. It’s an aggressive crowd, and when the fire sprinklers come on, it’s not water but blood, and everyone around the man turns into a ...

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  • Cure (1997)

    Cure (1997)

    15 Oct 2020, 08:00

    How much control do we have over what we do? What do we ever choose to do in full consciousness? Takabe, a detective in Tokyo, investigates a series of murders, each by a different killer, but all carving a cross ...

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  • Spring (2014)

    Spring (2014)

    14 Oct 2020, 08:00

    If Guillermo del Toro shot a film scripted by David Cronenberg, based on a story by HP Lovecraft, then had it edited by Richard Linklater, you would get Spring. I thoroughly enjoyed Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s time-puzzle film, The ...

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  • Jacob’s Ladder (1991)

    Jacob’s Ladder (1991)

    13 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Jacob’s Ladder treats the subject of the Vietnam war with a little more respect than Piranha. Jacob is beset by visions and fever dreams. We constantly switch between realities, from the Vietnamese jungle, to his home in New York City, ...

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  • Noroi: The Curse (2005)

    Noroi: The Curse (2005)

    12 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Kobayashi has such a soft face, and is kind, but he is also dogged and brave. We know from the start things will go badly for him, but we still hope he will be okay. It isn’t clear for some ...

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  • Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

    Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

    11 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Another horror film that divided people, and another edge to the horror film landscape. Renowned film sound technician Gilderoy is a fish out of water in a remote Italian sound studio. He thinks the film he’s agreed to work on, ...

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  • Piranha (1978)

    Piranha (1978)

    10 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Being nibbled to death by a swarm of piranha is a different agony, I imagine, to being bitten in half by a great white shark. The standard issue opening victims, David and Barbara, go swimming in a pool at a ...

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  • Fascination (1979)

    Fascination (1979)

    9 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Fascination is set in France, 1905, and has a fairy tale vibe, with misty countryside, a splendid French chateau, and a protagonist, Marc, who at the start steals a bag of gold. He hides at the chateau to escape his ...

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  • Vampyres (1974)

    Vampyres (1974)

    8 Oct 2020, 08:00

    I chose Vampyres, the first of my #31DaysOfHorror choices this year that I would say is exploitation cinema, naturally, because of the cover art. After the pitch perfect seventies homage of Knife+Heart, I wanted to ...

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  • Knife+Heart (2018)

    Knife+Heart (2018)

    7 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Knife+Heart (Un couteau dans le cœur) is a modern giallo film that plays out in a gay porn production company in the summer of 1979. Anne runs the company, and has broken up with her long-term partner and film editor, ...

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  • Death of a Vlogger (2020)

    Death of a Vlogger (2020)

    6 Oct 2020, 08:00

    Today, cameras are our eyes in the world, and they are no guarantee of the truth. Webcams are ubiquitous. We can all see others and be seen. Social media not only allows that, but quantifies it, and worse, monetises it. ...

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  • Pulse (2001)

    Pulse (2001)

    5 Oct 2020, 08:00

    The Tokyo in Pulse is empty and eerie. People are lonely and disconnected from each other. The characters are all young and, in one way or another, alone.

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  • The Crow (1994)

    The Crow (1994)

    4 Oct 2020, 08:00

    The montages, quick cuts and heavy metal of The Crow is a bit of a shock after the more sedate charms of The Fog. This is a none-more-gothic revenge story to complete my revenge triptych.

    Eric and his fiance Shelly ...

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  • The Fog (1980)

    The Fog (1980)

    3 Oct 2020, 08:00

    I was always going to watch The Fog at some point in these #31DaysOfHorror, but I didn’t expect it to be so soon. It was meant to be a comfort pick for later, when things usually are a little more ...

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  • Atlantics (2019)

    Atlantics (2019)

    2 Oct 2020, 08:00

    For the second film in my #31DaysOfHorror I wanted something recent — from something old to something new. Atlantics had been on my Netflix queue for months. I knew it was a ghost story, and that it won the 2019 ...

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  • Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

    Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

    1 Oct 2020, 08:00

    I wanted to start this year’s #31DaysOfHorror with a classic. I’m trying to watch only films I haven’t seen, with one or two exceptions, and when I sorted my iTunes movie library by release year, Creature From the Black ...

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  • October beckons

    October beckons

    30 Sep 2020, 00:00

    I love October. I love September too, but October is the favoured child. Since rediscovering my love of the spooky, eerie and horrible, I relish the enthusiasm people have this time of year to cherish the darker paths of the ...

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  • In the foothills

    In the foothills

    20 Sep 2020, 00:00

    Graham Swift once said, ‘All novelists must form personal pacts with the pace of their craft.’ Now I am deep in the foothills of my second novel, that quote is a comfort, because I’d forgotten how hard it is ...

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  • 31 Days of Horror, 2020

    31 Days of Horror, 2020

    6 Sep 2020, 00:00

    With 2020 being a demented shitshow, I did fleetingly wonder if I wanted to do #31DaysOfHorror again this year, but then I remembered why I love horror films — they are an escape from reality; they are an outlet ...

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  • Reality Bites

    Reality Bites

    12 Jul 2020, 00:00

    I first watched Reality Bites when it came out in 1994, the summer of my final year at university. I’d finished cramming for my exams and it was obvious I wasn’t going to be an ...

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  • Writers on lockdown

    Writers on lockdown

    25 May 2020, 00:00

    I was interviewed by author CR Dudley on the website of her independent press, Orchid’s Lantern, about being a writer in the current lockdown. She asked some fascinating questions, and it was a lot of fun. Please have ...

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  • Leaving Rebecca

    Leaving Rebecca

    18 May 2020, 00:00

    It’s hard to pinpoint when I stopped reading Rebecca. I started it in the middle of April, and I chose it for many reasons: lots of people I like and admire loved it; I wanted to read something from the ...

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  • Website as digital garden

    Website as digital garden

    16 May 2020, 00:00

    I’m doing okay in my little lockdown bubble. We live in a relatively rural spot, we have a garden, and we are working remotely pretty successfully. The days are going by fast — they all feel very similar, whether work ...

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  • The inner Wonder Woman

    The inner Wonder Woman

    21 Apr 2020, 00:00

    Last night, I had a deep dream of stasis and being held. I seemed to accept it, though there was a suggestion of pressing against constraints. I can’t remember any details. It’s a feeling from a fragment.

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  • My favourite five books of 2019

    My favourite five books of 2019

    17 Apr 2020, 00:00

    In 2019, on Goodreads, I set myself the challenge of reading 52 books. I succeeded — I wanted to read more, and the challenge did the trick. There were periods where I hardly read at all, and to stay on ...

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  • A walk around my writer’s block

    A walk around my writer’s block

    12 Apr 2020, 00:00

    It took me thirty years to get from wanting to write a novel to finishing one. I walked away from writing several times, but I always came back, because deep down I knew it was a vital part of who ...

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  • Escape room

    Escape room

    31 Mar 2020, 00:00

    I wrote a fun post about how I write and the room I write in, prompted by some great questions by Georgina Bruce. There are lots of others in her escape room series and I recommend them. ...

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  • First post, best post

    First post, best post

    29 Jan 2020, 00:00

    I find it liberating to write whatever is next in my thoughts. The train doesn’t ever stop, not even for sleep, and for me, capturing some of that stream in a notebook bucket allows me to read those thoughts with ...

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  • Minimalism

    Minimalism

    23 Nov 2019, 00:00

    My son and daughter are both YouTube watchers, but until this year I’d never felt the need to try it. The whole influencers and cult of personality thing put me off. Then last week I decided to look on YouTube ...

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  • Writing and reviewing

    Writing and reviewing

    15 Nov 2019, 00:00

    I’m sitting in my kitchen listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, and I have some thoughts about how it’s making me feel. Christine McVie is singing Songbird, a song she wrote, and while the lyrics are hopeful and full of love, ...

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  • Blogging with Jekyll

    Blogging with Jekyll

    14 Nov 2019, 00:00

    I’ve updated this website, hopefully in ways that aren’t obvious to the reader, but that let me have more control (and fun) in the months ahead. It’s been through several iterations over the years. The last one was built with ...

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  • On writing ‘The Complex’

    On writing ‘The Complex’

    12 Jul 2019, 00:00

    The first shoots of the ideas that would combine to become The Complex appeared way back in November 2012, when I was fascinated by Lars von Trier’s film, Antichrist. I hadn’t watched it, I was too scared of ...

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  • Point Break

    Point Break

    20 Aug 2018, 00:00

    It’s tricky to find films that my fifteen-year-old son will want to watch with his forty-something parents, but this seemed to sit in the sweet spot — surfing, armed robbers, a cocky young hero, skydiving, a love interest and lots ...

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  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

    The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

    19 Aug 2018, 00:00

    Siblings Sally and Franklin come to a remote part of Texas to make sure their relatives remains haven’t been dug up from a local cemetery in a bizarre, gruesome local crime. But Franklin’s curiosity goes much further and he wants ...

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