"Good writing, for me, usually comes from groping around in the dark." J. Robert Lennon
Writers’ paths
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...
So I'm a writer now?

So I’m a writer now?

Lots of writers seem to really hate writing. For them, sitting down in front of the computer or typewriter or notepad and forcing out their daily word count is like pulling teeth, except rather than simply pulling them out through their mouth, they’re having to pull them down, back through their gums, to be extracted...
Double English

Double English

I was a slow learner; my primary school English teacher told me so and I almost believed her. She put me in remedial classes. I was taken off to another room away from the other children; but the support assistant let me sit and write stories, (I still have one of them, ‘Mrs Brambles’). After...
Head on the block

Head on the block

There’s a cartoon I saw once which shows a writer stepping into a ‘Manuscript Doctor’s Office’. The writer is suffering from a bad case of blockage. The doctor says, “Can I take a look at a sample of your prose, please?” The writer blanches: “I can’t just produce like that, here, with you staring at...
Dear Katherine

Dear Katherine

My father was a great reader. He often sat in his blue armchair in the corner of the living room, legs crossed at the knee, sipping a glass of ginger ale, reading a book. One evening when I was fifteen, I looked in on him and asked if he had something he might recommend for...
Lightning strikes

Lightning strikes

I don’t remember a time when I was not spinning tales of one kind or another. In long arduous sermons I’d cover my notebook in handwriting so cramped I never knew later who or what I’d conjured up; and lying in my bunk bed with my sister restless above me I’d be commanded to tell...
Gimme a break

Gimme a break

What do Martin Amis, Don DeLillo, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Elmore Leonard, Ogden Nash, Flannery O’Connor, James Patterson, Dorothy L. Sayers and Fay Weldon have in common? Not a lot, you would be forgiven for thinking. But in fact they share a personal history; they all started out as advertising copywriters. Just like me, then, and...
Be how it begin

Be how it begin

The Country of Ice Cream Star began with the idea of a world in which people only live to be 18–19 years old. I don’t know where that idea came from. There are other similar themes in literature, but I wasn’t consciously thinking of them. The idea seemed rather like it was always waiting in...