“If space flight gets to the point that it’s like jet travel, I’m definitely there. It may just be we actually can’t get very far. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try." Michael Chabon
Writers’ paths
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,...
Capturing the silence

Capturing the silence

I never deliberately set out to write a silent character. I know it sounds like a writerly cliché – “they just walked into my head like that”, and so on – but in Lily’s case it’s completely true. That’s just the way she was, and it never seemed particularly unusual to me. So when I...
Going deeper

Going deeper

Digging a grave on a cold, rainy morning in winter certainly focuses the mind. Human beings tend to die in the winter. You learn this when you are a gravedigger and things have been picking up since the autumn. As with so many professions, there is more to do at Christmas. I was asked if...