I’m excited to be appearing at the Leatherhead Book Festival this Saturday 12th October!
I’ll be reading from The City of Light and showing slides of the real garden hidden deep in the Herefordshire countryside that inspired it. I’ll also be talking about my forthcoming ghost story, The Boy in the Burgundy Hood.
I’m honoured to be in a great line-up that includes Angela Dyson and the Sunday Times bestselling author Sophie Hannah. Sophie has taken up the mantle of writing the new Agatha Christie Poirot novels!
For more information check out the Festival page of the organizers, Book Potato.
Here’s the latest in my series of Poems on Video from my collection Up in the Air.
An alembic is a distilling tool that combines different elements to create something new. It’s used in philosophy for a process of refinement, or transmutation. This poem, written about a summer evening in my grandmother’s garden in Eastbourne, is my first video request. Let me know if there’s a poem from Up in the Air that you’d like me to read on video.
And of course this poem is dedicated to my grandma, Pamela Isobel Lilian Korn.
A year or so ago my dad, now in Australia, sent me one of the first things I ever wrote. It was a story about Paddington Bear, Michael Bond’s much loved, slightly hapless, very furry refugee from Peru. I loved the world of kindness, mishaps and marmalade that the author had created and wanted to add to it in in my own way. So I created my first piece of fan fiction, illustrated with my own pictures. (Note – if you’ve never read Paddington, it’s not too late – see why here!) Receiving the booklet made me reflect on how I had begun my life as a writer – something that would wax and wane across the years but never die out.
An early reader, I began writing my own stories when I was seven. I remember filling narrow spiral bound notepads with action stories featuring James Bond and The New Avengers. (I was hopelessly in love with Joanna Lumley as Purdey, whose poster was pinned to my wall, crying when each series finished).
But my writing really took off when I started writing books with my school friends as the main characters. I was eleven and wrote the first one, Sheriff John Ives, a tale of carnage and revenge set in the gritty Wild West, during a long summer holiday at my Nan’s house in Eastbourne. All the stories involved high action in a wide range of genres, from Sci-Fi to the English Civil War, Viking invasions to chaotic WW2 battlefields. Almost everyone invariably came to a sticky end – but for some reason my friends still loved reading them. As each was finished it was passed excitedly around the class. Other children began writing their own stories in the same vein. For a year or two it became a new ‘craze’.
Somehow – I don’t know how, I never made a conscious effort about it – I’ve managed to keep Sheriff John Ives down the years. I wrote it for my own pleasure, but was over the moon when I found others enjoyed it too. And that for me was the key to becoming a writer – doing something that I adored, but which also had an impact on people I knew. Since then, very little has changed!
I began to publish poems in my twenties. If you want to find out how I got inspired check out this post.
Have you ever written a story of your own? Or perhaps you’ve kept a story written by a child or other family member. Let me know below!
I’m halfway through writing my next book, which I’m describing as a ghost story – with a difference.
The idea for the story came from a real life event. When I had just started dating my wife she went for an interview for a very intriguing job. It was a Property Manager post in an isolated country house that had recently been given over to the National Trust. There was accommodation for the postholder in the building. For security purposes, she would need to spend most of her time there, day and night. It was a wonderful opportunity, a beautiful property set in remote rural England.
But there was a catch.
The house was still lived in by the previous owners, who had been forced to turn to the Trust when the financial burden of running it became too much. This scenario is not uncommon, as few rich and aristocratic families now have the funds to sustain such enormous, old, leaky buildings. Some manage to generate sufficient income by opening the property up themselves, but not many. Most either get sold on to hotels, or go to into terminal decline and get demolished. A few get passed on to the National Trust.
It was at the job interview that my wife found out more about the set up. She gathered that the previous Property Manager had left under unusual circumstances. A breakdown was even mooted. The implication was that it was not because of the stress of managing the house itself. It was because the former owners had their own ideas as to how the property should (continue to) be run.
They hadn’t let go. And subsequently they made the manager’s life difficult. Very difficult.
My wife was offered the job, but she never took it. I’m glad as it was a long way to travel for us to see each other. Who knows whether our relationship would have survived that distance.
But I’ve always been fascinated by the set up. I’ve always known there was a story in there somewhere. And now, with the addition of a ghost or two, I have it. Why is it a ghost story with a difference? Well let’s just say, she ain’t afraid of ghosts.
Here’s the second in my series of videos in which I read poems from my book Up in the Air. This time, The Cormorants, one of the first poems I ever had published. It’s a short poem about yearning and restlessness, seabirds, and the remote and lonely Scottish island of Iona.
As always, if you like it, please leave a comment.
The first of an occasional series of videos in which I read poems from my book, Up in the Air.
I wrote Weather Map when I was living in a small flintstone folly owned by the National Trust on the edge of a housing estate in London. At the end of the garden was – beyond a tricky pile of thorny scrub – a beautiful and little-known tributary of the Thames, the River Wandle. I had just started going out with the lovely woman who was to become my wife.
So, here is me reading Weather Map. If you like it, leave a comment.
I’m hugely grateful to New Zealand book blogger Pauline Reid for this review of my poetry book Up in the Air – my first ever Youtube review!
In it, Pauline talks about the sections in the book and shows her own Instagram photo of the book. She does a lovely reading of my poem ‘A Bird on the Moorland’. She also flags up the local interest for some of her subscribers, as one of the poems features the Albatross Statue in Wellington, her home town.
Two years ago a Polish friend at work went to a publishing event and brought me back a gift. It was a beautiful book called Flights by a Polish author named Olga Tokarczuk. (It really was a beautiful book, cobalt blue that appeared freshly inked, with fine white lettering, published by Fitzcarraldo Press.) The book was a real gem, a connected series of stories and meditations on travel, the body, and hope. The next year, my friend lent me a second book, House of Day, House of Night, which I also read and loved. Next thing, Olga Tokarczuk won the International Man Booker Prize for Flights.
This year I bought Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead which, in my view, is the best of her books I’ve read so far. (The wonderful title is from William Blake). The narrator, Janina Duszejko, gives us a whole new way of seeing the world, peppered with Medieval-style capitalised nouns, her own made-up names for people, a love of Blake, astrological ‘insight’, and a deep feeling for animals. The story centres around a series of gruesome murders on the remote Polish plateau where she lives, with only a few eccentric friends for company since she lost her beloved dogs. It’s far from a conventional detective story and focuses more on the narrator’s longing for a creative, numinous world free from suffering:
“Blake would say that there are some places in the Universe
where the Fall has not occurred, the world has not turned upside down and Eden
still exists. Here Mankind is not governed by the rules of reason, stupid and
strict, but by the heart and intuition. The people do not indulge in idle
chatter, parading what they know, but create remarkable things by applying
their imagination. The state ceases to impose the shackles of daily oppression,
but helps people to realize their hopes and dreams. And Man is not just a cog
in the system, not just playing a role, but a free Creature.”
So, all I want to say is this: go read Olga Tokarczuk. You won’t regret it.