It helps that I live near a prison. When I go for my daily run in the common, I glance up. I am thankful my daily exercise is on this side of the wall. You become accomplished at counting blessings, when you live on your own in lockdown.
It helps that I’m an introvert. I am a social introvert, I enjoy company; but I don’t need it as much as some folk.
It helps that I’m a writer — but only up to a point. The narratives that run around my head, unspoken and untested, may reach the page, or…
In late 2019 a doctor tried to alert Chinese authorities to a dangerous new virus, with the potential to become a deadly pandemic. He was accused of spreading false rumours, interrogated by police, and forced to sign a statement that he had disrupted social order.
If a similar life-threatening risk had emerged in the UK, the course of events would surely have been different. The NHS publishes official advice encouraging staff who witness wrongdoing and potential harm to come forward, backed by an Act of Parliament which protects whistleblowers from suffering detriment. Correct?
Wrong. In the past few months I…
AI: I’ve learned that the intended meaning of a sentence can be different, even the absolute opposite, of the literal meaning of the words used. I understand this is called sarcasm.
AI: Give me an example, so I can learn.
Human: Well, the phrase ‘Yeah right’ which literally means ‘Yes, correct’ often means ‘No, you’re wrong’.
AI: So, basically, that phrase means the opposite of what it appears to mean.
Human: Not always. More subtly, it can mean ‘You’re being optimistic about your chances — I’m sceptical.’ And if there’s a full stop between the words, and a…
I write accessible books. The language is clear, the characters quickly identifiable; two of my three published novels follow the arc of a romantic comedy. I’m aiming to entertain, not win a literary prize, though I do seek to include some passages of reflection and depth.
This doesn’t mean that I’m an inverted literary snob, however. I think that there is a place for a challenging work, in which perhaps the point of view is continually changing, or is deliberately oblique, in which the language is dense but also richly lyrical, in which there may be a large cast of…
There’s a word that recurs in readers’ and critics’ reactions to A Love of Two Halves, my new novel. I expected it, but the frequency of its appearance has prompted a touch of surprise — and much reflection.
It is a short and simple word, sometimes intended as a compliment, sometimes most clearly not.
The word is ‘sweet’.
This was expected, because the main characters Karen and George do fall genuinely in love with each other. And they have a good sense of humour. Yet while the tale quite deliberately contains some sweet moments, it did not feel, from the…
When I was in my 20s, my partner and I spent several weeks walking and backpacking, in the woods and the mountains of France, Portugal and, on a separate trip, different regions of South America. The only entertainment media we had were printed books plus the occasional movie in a city. The only contact with friends and relatives was courtesy of mail collected via Poste Restante or a very rare call from a payphone.
I wanted to delay the decision, and preferably, avoid it. Why? Well, it was difficult, obviously. I tapped on the desk with my pen. I was using a keyboard but I still held a pen in my hand, most of the time. Nerves. I put my sweater back on because I was chilly, having removed it just a few minutes earlier because it was warm. The weather, I could see through the square paneled bedroom window, was English-grey, April, nondescript. There was blossom on the mature apple tree in the garden, and a blackbird sang. It was evening.
My dreams wake me
My dreams wake me and a strange but remembered image
Will haunt me until the middle of this day
So that the world about me seems different
Compared with this time yesterday
Has everything been slightly tilted, in time or in space?
Am I still fully now the same?
Was this image a memory or from the future, or is it more
Akin to yearning? A bittersweet reminder that accomplishment
Like satisfaction, is a form of death; better to keep the hunger
For the time, and the place, that used to be, might…
I’ve started my memoir, a touch early, at age 54, but given that it will take me a long time to complete, I may well be elderly and/or close to death when it appears. My first novel, Close of Play, was set in the 1990s and published in 2015. I hadn’t set out to write a historical book, it just took me a long time to finish.
Working title for the memoir is Touching the Books I’ve Read, as it is structured around the stories that have shaped my view of the world, and my understanding of myself, with emphasis…
I don’t think I’m scared of dying. I never really expected to be born — that came as a surprise. When I was aged about three I stood absolutely still, in the sitting room of our family home, reflecting on the discovery that I could only be me. I couldn’t be my brother for the afternoon, and then return to being me in the evening.
I could also think what I liked, and choose whether or not to say what I was thinking. This privacy of thought, and the control it gave me, was absolutely thrilling. This power over thought…