"I expect you’ll be becoming a schoolmaster, sir. That’s what most of the gentlemen does, sir, that gets sent down for indecent behaviour.” Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall
Writers’ paths
In the shadow of Vesuvius

In the shadow of Vesuvius

My starting point for Hell’s Gate was a desire to tell a story about an actual descent to the underworld, a person venturing into the kingdom of the dead to find someone. Could today’s readers still believe in such a thing, I wondered, and was their thirst for the epic and mysterious strong enough to...
I, Octavio

I, Octavio

The day I finished my degree in modern literature at the Sorbonne in May 2010, I was called before a board of examiners to present my dissertation on the ‘engaged literature’ of the interwar period. After I had spoken for three hours, I was awarded my MA. I went off to celebrate with friends from...
Waiting for a story

Waiting for a story

In April 1999, my flatmates had scattered on extended holidays to the far reaches of the world and I stayed behind in the rancid maisonette flat we shared in a Newcastle suburb. During the day, I rattled around in my dressing gown and kept the curtains closed, resisting the temptation to go outside into what...
Crushed

Crushed

How much was the thermometer worth? Five dollars? Ten? It wasn’t worth anything, but I reached into the industrial mixer to grab it, before the mixer, which I had just started, crushed the worthless thermometer. When I reached in, the mixer grabbed me, held my hand, and crushed it. The mixer crushed my hand efficiently...
All the wrong subjects

All the wrong subjects

I like to think I’m not one to hold a grudge, but listen to this: When I was at school, we had one meeting with a Careers Officer in year 10 (or, the fourth year, as we used to call it). As I remember it, she was a woman with big spectacles, a clipboard and...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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 having two distinct thoughts. One,...