“She was blind and insensible to many things, and dimly knew it; but to all that was light and air, perfume and colour, every drop of blood in her responded.” Edith Wharton, Summer
Rachel Elliott: Breaking the silence

Rachel Elliott: Breaking the silence

Psychotherapist and writer Rachel Elliot’s spirited debut novel Whispers Through a Megaphone joins together the broken lives of a quiet woman who’s been living in the shadow of her abusive mother and a timid mental health specialist who runs off into the woods when he realises his wife no longer loves him....
A broken wing

A broken wing

When, towards the end of her life, Edith Wharton named her five personal favourite works among her fiction, one short novel featured on the list: Summer. Published in 1917, Summer was the most important work the writer produced during the years of the First World War. Despite Wharton’s own judgement,...
Something better change

Something better change

The opening shots of guitarist Ivan Kral’s documentary Dancing Barefoot are a series of home-movie clips from New Year’s Eve 1975 at the legendary nightclub CBGB. Over the brooding vamp of the Patti Smith Group’s cover of ‘Gloria’, Kral treats us to overexposed black-and-white shots of New York’s punk-rock royalty,...
Animal tales

Animal tales

From well-known and treasured stories including Aesop’s Fables, Black Beauty and The Tale of Peter Rabbit, to writers such as Michel de Montaigne, Anton Chekhov and T.S. Eliot, storytellers have used animals not only to capture the imagination of readers, but to deliver powerful and revealing messages about what it...
Even the losers

Even the losers

Here’s a little thought experiment for you: imagine you’re sitting at a bar, flanked by two strangers. On your left, a fortyish New Jerseyite orders round after round, which he downs in hefty swigs while examining the sloppy, bloodstained bandages wrapped around his left hand. Catching you staring, with a...
A road less travelled

A road less travelled

When, in May 2013, in the middle of a deserted Polish forest 662 miles from home, I found myself being pulled to the ground by a salivating Alsatian intent it seemed on either wrestling the bag from my back or sinking its teeth into my arm, I remember very clearly...
Jim Shepard: Some kind of hero

Jim Shepard: Some kind of hero

Jim Shepard’s The Book of Aron is a remarkable portrait of the complicated nature of heroism and courage in the face of human atrocity. His fictional commemoration of philanthropist and children’s educator-activist Dr Janusz Korczak is told through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy forced to live on his wits,...
The empress's new clothes

The empress’s new clothes

One of the things that crops up a lot if you set fantasy in a historical period is, what’s real? I wrote about a watchmaker who remembers the future and that was fun, but it made everything else in the book look like I might have made it all up....
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Nature, faith and horror

Nature, faith and horror

I’ve always been drawn to wild, lonely places. It might have something to do with the summer holidays I had as a child – never a hotel in Benidorm or Tenerife, but camping in Keswick or Wharfedale. We weren’t a family that lobstered on sun loungers; our days were spent circumnavigating a lake or scrambling...
53 ways to improve your short stories

53 ways to improve your short stories

The author of We Don’t Know What We’re Doing has thought quite a bit about how best to approach writing short fiction. We asked him to compile a list of do’s and don’ts and suggested reading that might help practitioners at any stage of their craft. 1. Read Flannery O’Connor. Now. 2. All characters think...
Peter's house

Peter’s house

It is dawn when I wake. I have slept more soundly than I did in the hotel. There is a spider on my leg. I kick it off and wipe my face in case there are more. I feel dirt wiped onto my face, and dampness. I grit my teeth and there is dirt in...
The big W

The big W

Creative writing courses have taken something of a beating in the press of late. Their proliferation is probably one of the main reasons for this, but it is also symptom of their success. I’m not ashamed to say that I became a writer through creative writing groups. They have offered support and inspiration. They have...
Young vanish

Young vanish

Standing in my garden, smoking too quickly and slightly drunk, it came to me that I should write to you. It’s funny how certain smells can make a person nostalgic – just cigarette smoke and night time made me think of you. Those smells don’t remind me of you, exactly, because nothing really does (and...
A subtle undertaking

A subtle undertaking

Paddy Buckley and his story with Vincent Cullen has been with me for twenty-three years. The basic spine of the plot came to me as a single idea while I was sitting with a bereaved family, making arrangements for their son, who’d been killed in a hit-and-run accident the night before. As I sat there...
Autobiography of a reader

Autobiography of a reader

I translate for myself, then for the novel, finally for any future reader. It is for the pleasure of the work of translating that I do it, but I can only begin when I meet a text that moves me as a reader – which for me means to write. Haroldo Conti’s Sudeste was the...
On the delta

On the delta

Between the Pajarito and the river that’s an open sea, turning sharply northwards, narrowing and narrowing at first, to almost half its size, then widening again and drawing curves towards its mouth, coiling in on itself, secluded in the first islands, is the Anguilas Stream. Beyond the final bend the open sea breaks into view,...
Being both

Being both

I love learning and that’s why I write novels. I’m not talking about research. I’m talking about the process when I sit down to write and empty my mind of everything I’ve ever known in order to make space for stories to emerge from within me. That’s when the real learning happens. It’s at these...
Housewarming

Housewarming

His grin shows off his molars, and he grips you with a handshake that could hold up a bridge. He announces his name like he’s its proud parent, and then holds your gaze in a vice so that when you mumble your own name back to him, it sounds like ‘Uncle’. When you turn a...