For me, writing is a daily activity, and reading is one of life’s great pleasures. Reading as a writer is an essential skill, by which I mean honing the part of your brain that wants to know why words affect you as they do. These posts are notes to myself on daily practice and books I’ve read, with some longer pieces reflecting on life as a creative writer.
28 May 2023, 10:11
I have a Bluesky account. A fellow writer on Twitter sent me an invite — it’s still in a pretty combustible beta — and I immediately feel much more at home there than on Mastodon, which has an awkward user interface and an established culture I don’t chime with. Mastodon is very… conversational. I don’t want to talk with strangers particularly, but I do want smart voices saying interesting things in as few words as possible. Bluesky is like Twitter used to be in that way. It also allows me to control who I read and, with a 300 word limit, encourages me to edit before I post and take pride in what I write.
I’ve been writing software ...
27 May 2023, 10:17
I’m reading Cinema Speculation, Quentin Tarentino’s non-fiction celebration of key American films of the seventies, from Bullitt and Dirty Harry, to Escape From Alcatraz and The Funhouse. I heard about it through the Pure Cinema podcast, which is connected to Tarentino’s Los Angeles cinema, the New Beverly. The prose voice is exactly how Tarentino sounds in interviews and podcasts. I’m sceptical of his writing ability, and I admit to being cynical about his novel, Once upon a Time in Hollywood, published after the film came out.
Obviously, I’m jealous. I don’t doubt his intelligence or capacity to speak fluently about the stories in his head. It’s easy to imagine him walking around his plush L.A. mansion, talking ...
8 May 2023, 08:50
I’ve read three books in the last couple of weeks to do with creative writing: On Writers and Writing, Margaret Atwood; The Writing Life, Annie Dillard; About Writing, Gareth L. Powell. With everything going on in my life, the only ...
Walking with ghosts
29 Apr 2023, 13:17
I walked slowly through the centre of Swansea this morning after listening to Marc Maron on his podcast talk about Sweaty Marc, the version of himself in New York from the eighties that he remembers as he walks there today. ...
3 Apr 2023, 07:46
Walked to Southside for a coffee. Why? I’m thinking of Gwen Bell, then Neo/Keanu. I deliberately left my notebook at home. I need some time without a pen in my hand. Re-balancing… something. Gwen, Neo and Keanu are seekers of different kinds.
I told myself yesterday to put the writing weight down. There is too much else going on to add the pressure of writing a novel. Life before art. Life is an art, yes, but you get my drift. I’m chaining myself to a rock when I need to be swimming.
Dad’s hoping to come out of hospital this week. He’s always on the back of my mind. And I started a new account in work, before I had ...
22 Jan 2023, 17:04
The photo above was taken this week in the bar at the City Screen cinema, York—I was sitting at the same table almost a year ago when I had the idea to become a creator on Patreon. I love ...
Elisa Gabbert on why writers write
31 Dec 2022, 20:01
Twitter shines at surfacing what I need, when I need it, in this case Elisa Gabbert’s 2022 book list, within which she links to her Paris Review essay, Why Write?
That essay sings to me. Gabbert says that Joan Didion wrote fiction to find out what the pictures in her mind meant, and she give several examples of other famous writers who start their stories with an image, or a dream, and chase it down in words, including Vladimir Nabokov, Martin Amis and William Faulkner. It can feel cleansing to get the image onto paper, and the act of writing is often a painful test of endurance.
Jean Rhys only wrote when she was unhappy. George Orwell wrote ...
31 Dec 2022, 16:09
I write in my notebook every day. This is the bedrock of my writing practice. It’s where I work things out. For years, this has meant coffee at a Caffè Nero, and 30–60 minutes with pen, paper, and Twitter. This ...
31 Dec 2022, 10:47
It’s been a year of three big creative adventures: getting a new job (first in fourteen years); a family holiday in France (first to Paris for a week, then to Morzine in the French Alps); setting up my Patreon (experimenting ...
Love and breakages
26 Dec 2022, 20:11
I’m excited about 2023. There’s a lot I want to do next year. (This is the case every year.)
I’ve just broken a wine glass. I’m at my father’s house, and it feels auspicious, although I don’t know why. He has cheap glasses because we are his only wine-drinking visitors. He rarely drinks alcohol anymore, and when he does it’s either lager or a glass of whatever we are having. Anyway, the glass broke neatly at both the top and bottom of the stem, so there were three pieces of glass on the tiled floor. I hadn’t poured anything into it, so it was a cinch to tidy up. I got off lightly. I’ve put the pieces in a padded ...
A dream with Bob Dylan
19 Dec 2022, 18:47
I don’t remember my dreams that often anymore, but when I’m particularly anxious, or there’s a lot going on, they tend to stick.
Last night, I dreamt I was in a hostel of some kind, and I was feeling threatened by a man-child, who was also my host. A boy crawled into a jacuzzi with me, and there really wasn’t room for him, but then Bob Dylan arrived and started warming up with his band. I expected a raspy, older voice, but he sounded young, even though he was an elderly man. His people closed off the section, saying he wasn’t ready, and I spotted a snack on the floor, some sort of gooey cake, but there was something metallic ...
17 Dec 2022, 14:36
It’s a cold day, and this morning there was a thin crust of snow on the ground. The car park was empty, and the lines were hidden, so I chose a spot near the meter and hoped I’d parked in ...
17 Dec 2022, 10:44
These daily words are a prayer of sorts to gods I cannot name.
15 Dec 2022, 13:25
Currently reading: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley. In my dreams I deny nothing (I just have to dig a bit). I am my dreams. Never too early to feel wistful. Lit.
Work is tricky and tiring, so tonight I retreat (with a flourish) to my book-lined gently-lit study like some sort of gentleman. In my Tuesday finery.
Running the year into the ground. On the mat. Ready for a break. Summon the elves. Is there any feeling better than a hot shower after exercise? No. The answer is no. Prickly and worn down. Me and the tree are off to a Christmas party. I’m glad I don’t really drink anymore. I was in and out of the ...
14 Dec 2022, 22:05
I’ve made some tweaks to the styles and layout of this website. I’m thinking about the future.
The future of my online shizz
6 Nov 2022, 19:10
I don’t know what to do for the best with my social media. Twitter is all I have. Zuckerberg is worse than Musk in many ways, so I’m not going to those places. Mastodon is not a replacement for anything, it’s a unique flavour of online community that will take effort from everyone who goes there.
Blogs are the obvious answer, but who will have the taste for that these days? It’s effort. Twitter removed the work of posting and consuming, a bit like fast food, and now we’re all a bit flabby and useless, technologically speaking.
Perhaps Twitter got people online who would never have blogged. The numbers suggest that’s true. But the global social experiment is being stress-tested ...
Image of a wave
1 Nov 2022, 20:11
In my notebook this morning I was thinking about how tempting screens are. Just having one near me makes me want to look. Today it was a wall of water, either a tall wave viewed from a ship at sea, or a tsunami from shore, I couldn’t tell. It was mesmerising. I was mesmerised by a photo of a painting of a wave on my laptop screen, but the overwhelming fear and awe it created in me was real.
The image brought a feeling of awe out of me. That’s what’s addictive about screens. Images, and words, can summon feelings to the surface, and sometimes that brings a feeling of release, but often it’s disappointment, and so I scroll to ...
The most important thing to do is
31 Oct 2022, 19:30
I went for a walk and the streets were quiet. It’s Halloween and dark outside, but it was too early even for the youngest children to be out. My daughter had friends around for a spooky-themed tea, and now they’ve ...
30 Oct 2022, 21:27
I tweet way too much. Longer form pieces go here or on Patreon. Recording the podcast was fun, but not structured enough to stay interesting. I still write in my notebook every day, but recently that’s been less creative writing and more organising the job move. It’s been an amazing year for my software career, but it’s driven my writing practice into a ditch. However, I am still rolling that boulder of a novel up the mountain.
Musk’s takeover of Twitter has shaken me up. There are alternatives that do different things — Substack is particularly interesting, and seeing George Saunders on there is inspiring. I don’t know enough about how it works yet. Perhaps it’s a better fit ...
23 Jul 2022, 07:00
When I visit my father, I always love to walk around Swansea and get an early morning coffee. We used to come as a family on Saturday mornings when I was growing up, so with my existing coffee and writing ...
Trust your enthusiasms
17 Jun 2022, 07:56
It’s been a highly unusual period for me since pausing the podcast. After fourteen years in my day job, I am finally leaving. My new role is still coding, but instead of being in Higher Education I’m going to be ...
ChillerCon UK 2022
12 Jun 2022, 16:14
ChillerCon UK 2022 emerged from the ashes of the Covid-struck StokerCon 2020, miraculously held together by the heroic organisers who had to deal with cancelled hotel rooms, refunds, and much else I’ll never know about. The original idea when ...
Kindness in retrospect
3 Jun 2022, 16:45
I’ve always thought that living life well was more important than writing, and typing that aloud I’m not sure if that sounds obvious, wise or stupid. I know writing regularly is part of the life I want, but often life ...
An oblique strategy
15 Apr 2022, 17:28
I’m in Wales with my dad today, Good Friday, taking him for a Covid test before he has a cataract operation Monday. He’s been waiting six years to get both eyes treated, and he’s worried something will happen to cancel ...
Patreon: one month in
6 Mar 2022, 09:01
It’s been a month since I set up a Patreon creator account and started posting a few things only for patrons, and it feels like a good time to stop and take stock. The initial idea was to explore publishing ...
Writing short stories on Patreon
6 Feb 2022, 10:39
I’m thinking about what people might like to see in a writer’s Patreon, and what would be exciting for me to publish. My favourite Patreon creators are podcasters, and of course they give access to extra podcast episodes. Creating a ...
Films, dreams, fiction and writing
22 Jan 2022, 18:18
I’ve come to think that films are intrinsically linked to my writing practice, but I’m worried my film-watching habit is more of a distraction than an inspiration. Films are like dreams, and the good ones are endlessly interpretable vessels for ...
30 Dec 2021, 21:15
As 2022 comes into view upriver, the final days of 2021 flow past, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to reflect on what I’ve read, watched and written this year. (Okay, reflect is a strong word, but it’s been ...
The great adjustment
5 Dec 2021, 13:52
Between January 2018 and December 2021, I watched 569 films. I know this because I track the films I watch on Letterboxd. That’s a lot of films. Not as many as more serious cinephiles, but a tremendous amount for ...
Keeping the story alive
27 Nov 2021, 21:16
Feeling the pull of Christmas, and seeing 2022 on the horizon, I’m looking at my work-in-progress, and it seems to be asking how we got here. It’s a patient and wise creature. It knows I haven’t said anything about it ...
Horror AND sex!
11 Sep 2021, 15:49
Here we go again, with my fourth #31DaysofHorror extravaganza/exhaustathon. This year I just want a reason to watch a lot of horror films. Here are the rules I’m playing by:
9 Sep 2021, 19:29
Time isn’t real. The future is an abstraction. So says Alan Watts. I do rush things to get to the end of them—not always, but often enough for it to be a thing I’ve noticed over and over again throughout ...
A seat in the sun
13 Aug 2021, 16:34
I’m sitting in the sun. August isn’t going to plan, but I’m doing the best I can with it. I won’t go into the details, we all have work and family dramas that flare up when we least expect them, ...
23 Apr 2021, 20:23
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 ...
Swimming with David Lynch
23 Apr 2021, 13:46
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 ...
Something Wicked This Way Comes
1 Apr 2021, 14:10
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 ...
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 ...
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.
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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. ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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.
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 ...
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 ...
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. ...
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 ...
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 ...
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, ...
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 ...
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 ...
Norse Mythology (2018), Neil Gaiman
10 Jun 2018, 21:51
I wrote a (very) long review of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane as part of my application to the MA I’ve just completed. This book is a different beast. It’s a collection of short stories, each taken from myths about Odin, Thor, Loki and other Norse gods.
There is something cartoonish about these stories. The writing is top notch and the style is an excellent fit for the material. I feel like the Marvel Avengers films have cursed my enjoyment a little by implanting Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston in my brain. I can’t unsee them.
I’m reminded, in reading this, how old these characters are, and how central to the human experience ...
High Rise (book and film)
3 Mar 2018, 21:09
I read several Ballard books in the late nineties — my mid-twenties — starting with short stories, before being entranced by the original shiny silver paperback cover of Super-Cannes, and then going back to his earlier work. When I saw there was a film of High-Rise being made I believed I’d read it, but when I bought a copy, apart from the general sense in most of Ballard’s stories of things being on the edge of primal chaos, I didn’t recognise the story or characters at all. I’d read so many of his book shop blurbs they had all blurred together. In my twenties I didn’t read with much real attention either so it was quite possible I had read ...
2 Jan 2018, 19:25
Tough day. Sometimes you have to accept things didn’t go as you wanted and let it go. This is a sad post. Not much else to say.
I ate sprouts, fried with potatoes and the leftover swede. Perhaps there will be more sprouting tomorrow.
1 Jan 2018, 12:11
Woke up late. My son is in Sydney for three weeks and when I walk past his bedroom the quiet inside makes me sad. I’m trying to be more mindful as I go about my low-key morning. Last night I watched the first half of Let the Right One In before my wife and daughter got home from a New Year’s Eve party. This morning I read the first third of Written on the Body, mostly while sitting at the kitchen counter with a cup of coffee. I like being at home. It’s been a busy Christmas.
I took a break and listened to Wolf Alice on the expensive headphones I bought years ago and never used. Music sounds amazing ...
31 Dec 2017, 16:25
After being away for a few days with my father, I came back to a fridge of random uncooked vegetables — red cabbage, beetroot, sprouts, carrots, swede and broccoli. With another load of veg arriving in a few days time, I looked up in Nigel Slater’s Tender how to cook red cabbage. It was a beautiful vegetable to chop, the purple and white patterns blissed me out. I fried the chopped cabbage in a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, seasoned it, added balsamic vinegar, put the lid on the pan and left it for fifteen minutes.
It was mid-afternoon. I ate some of the cabbage wrapped in a slice of bread. It felt like a treat. Red cabbage. Simple ...
1: Written on the Body/Let the Right One In
30 Dec 2017, 21:15
Week 1. I’m going to try to read a novel and watch a film each week in 2018. In time, I’ll work out what I’m doing with it. We’ll see if it sticks. I love the idea.
Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson (1992).
Let the Right One In. Dir. Tomas Alfredson, 2008.
I tried to use these in my practice week and failed utterly, because Christmas. I’ve been up and down the country, making food for people, visiting people, people, people, people. There has been no time or space.
But I’m home now, and I want to create that time and space. It’s important. I might be biting off too much, but let’s give it a go....
29 Dec 2017, 18:50
My mind is circling the same wishes for the New Year that it circles every year, to do with health and writing. Each year I make some progress, never enough to make the desire for change to go away, but usually enough in the face of unconscious defences, personal circumstances and events to make me feel some pride.
It’s dispiriting that my health is still bothering me to the extent it does. I made great strides in my writing through completing the MA, but without the structure of seminars and deadlines I’m floundering a little.
I don’t think resolutions work particularly well. I like the symbolism of a new year to mark changes. Perhaps this year I could resolve to ...
28 Dec 2017, 21:45
I remember when blogging was something people did to express themselves without worrying too much about quality. It was a daily thing, a quick thing, something informal and loose. It wasn’t a big deal to throw up a blog post. Everyone was doing it. This was before Twitter and before we had the Internet on our phones. Dare I say, before we had out attention spans blasted into smithereens.
Well, I’d like to claim some of that back. That feeling of freedom, that spoken quality of written voice. If I have to edit and rewrite and shape every blog post as if it is essay, it becomes a chore. That’s why the habit doesn’t stick. I have too much else ...
7 Dec 2017, 14:23
Winter is when I want to retreat to my burrow. The garden becomes inhospitable, but often beautiful to look at from indoors. Simple things please me when it is cold outside. A cup of hot tea is, in winter, sustaining ...
7 Dec 2017, 14:01
Mindfulness is a way of exercising your ability to pay attention: when you can focus on something, the critical thoughts quieten down. – Ruby Wax, Frazzled