The Writer in the World

In March, I was honoured and delighted to be asked to give the keynote speech at the University of Roehampton’s Creative Writing Soiree, an annual evening of fiction, memoir and poetry readings done by the English and Creative Writing students. The suggested title of my talk was ‘The Writer in the World’ which gave me the chance to speak about creativity, literature and the work of English PEN in broader and grander terms than the speeches I am usually asked to give.

I confess to being quite pleased with the end result. Not, I must stress, in the delivery, which comes across as extemporised rather than pre-planned. But rather, the broad idea of what it means to be a ‘writer in the world’ and the pragmatic suggestions for how one might go about living as such a writer.

The speech included a potted history of English PEN, some thoughts on the moral obligations of free speech, my earliest memories of learning to read, and the grind and grit required to be ‘creative’. Its a good statement of what I believe. Continue reading “The Writer in the World”

A Meeting By The River

Over on Medium, I have posted a short satire on the PRISM programme:

When he arrived, my agency source was out of breath. He had clearly been running to make our appointment.

“Busy day at the office?” I asked, keeping my eyes on the river.

“You have no idea,” he panted, as he slumped onto the other end of the bench.

I dropped the newspaper into the space between us, and slid it towards him. Edward Snowden’s righteous face blinked out from the front page.

“He looks like something out of one of those vampire movies for girls” said my contact.

I ignored the diversion and got straight to the point.“Why didn’t you tell me?”

You can read the whole thing on Medium.
Continue reading “A Meeting By The River”

Papercuts and Curses

Last year I uploaded a collection of Victorian portrait photographs to a set entitled ‘Harriet Bennett’s Photo Album’. Swollen with the sharing spirit of the Internet, I gave the images a permissive Creative Commons Licience. My hope was that they might act as a prompt or support for other people’s creative projects.

Last year I uploaded a collection of Victorian portrait photographs to a set entitled ‘Harriet Bennett’s Photo Album‘.  Swollen with the sharing spirit of the Internet, I gave the images a permissive Creative Commons Licience.  My hope was that they might act as a prompt or support for other people’s creative projects.

The first instance of this hope being realised is ‘Papercuts and Curses‘ by Sam Meekings. It uses my scanned image of a young and now anonymous aquaintance of Harriet Bennett to illustrate a story about a young adventurer.  Sam begins his story with a liberating broadside against an old writing cliche:

The standard advice to those thinking of becoming writers is to write what you know. The fact that this is clearly the most ridiculous and restrictive piece of advice imaginable does not seem to put people off from repeating it again and again. Edward Gregory Charles was determined to follow it to the letter: with the pragmatism typical of the late nineteenth century, he made it his mission to fill up his mind with experiences.

Read the entire piece on Medium (Twitter founder Evan Williams‘ new project).

I would be delighted if other authors (on Medium or elsewhere) wrote stories based on other images in the Harriet Bennett collection.

'Crossroads' Published! Buy Now for the Kindle


I am delighted to announce that Crossroads has today been published, and is available to purchase for the Kindle in the Amazon store.

Crossroads, you will recall, is a short anthology of new short stories, including a contribution from myself, entitled ‘(0,0)’. The plot involves a chance encounter, a missed opportunity, and some maths.

The other stories are ‘Prignitz Was An Innocent’ by Christian Fox, a dark, dark retelling of the Pied Piper færy tale; ‘Georgia’ by Jenni Hill, about a demon having a frustrating time at work (which made me smile); and ‘The Golds’ by Ian Whates, a tight fable about music and sacrifice. The noir cover illustration of Robert Johnson is by Vincent Sammy. ‘Tis an impressive group and I’m proud to make my literary debut on those (electronic) pages.

The publishers are Jurassic London, who are making a habit of publishing fantastic collections of genre fiction. Their recent Stories of the Smoke collection was timed to co-incide with the Dickens bicentenary and included a royalty donation to English PEN (which is how I came to meet them). Crossroads is actually a companion volume to the limited edition Lost Souls, a collection of ‘lost’ stories from writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Benjamin Disraeli, John Galsworthy and Amelia Edwards.

Buy Buy Buy! And/or: Come to the launch event tonight.

Crossroads cover
Crossroads (cover) by Vincent Sammy

Unfinished Business

This horrible thought in turn makes me realise just how many creative and personal projects I have started but failed to finish.

Both my regular readers will remember I sometimes post short pieces of creative writing on the site. The last two have featured a blogging sleuth, Ebeneezer. I have another Ebeneezer story in the works, based on the Infininte Monkey theorem and this cartoon from XKCD.

The story begins by talking about earthquakes and has a sizeable portion of it devoted to a bombing in Jerusalem.  So, given events in Japan and Israel, one might think that now is either the most appropriate, or least appropriate time to post it.

This is an academic question, however, as the story isn’t finished, and has not been ever since I started typing it about five years ago.  This horrible thought in turn makes me realise just how many creative and personal projects I have started but failed to finish. They include:

And none of these take into account the work-centred To Do lists I have set up on Vo02Do, Remember the Milk and Wunderlist.

All this makes me acutely aware of the fact that Dr Belbin would call me a Plant or Resource Investigator, not a Completer Finisher.  Let’s hope that this post motivates me to finish some of the things I’ve started.