Category Archives: Inspiration

New Ghost Stories II

The story behind the story…

Sometimes a story comes out wrong, no matter how many drafts you write, or how many sacrifices you make to the gods.

When that happens there are various tricks you can try. Put your story in a drawer for a week, a month, a year. Write it from someone else’s perspective. Turn your idea back-to-front. Start from scratch, and ask whether you really know what you’re writing about. And sometimes what works is to strike two different stories together, and make some interesting sparks. That’s what happened with ‘In Yon Green Hill To Dwell’, which took three years to write, from first notes to final draft, and eventually won the 2014 Fiction Desk Ghost Story competition. You can read the story behind the story now on the Fiction Desk website.

New Ghost Stories II is just out on Kindle, and also available in paperback. One of the nicest features of the Fiction Desk anthologies (aside from the meticulous editing and elegant typesetting) is their writer’s award, where all the featured authors are invited to vote for their favourite story and the winner is awarded a £250 prize. I think it’s a recommendation for the anthology that I struggled to cast my vote… So if you enjoy a good haunting – whether literal or psychological – and would like to support a great independent publisher, you can buy your copy here.

we know what fiction is...

Happy SA4QE!

Today would have been the 90th birthday of author Russell Hoban, who died in 2011. I discovered Russell Hoban in 2002, in a bookshop in Charing Cross Road. This beautiful split-image cover intrigued me:

Amaryllisnightandday

The opening line drew me in, and the first short chapter captured me entirely.

The streets were lit but the sky was still light. She was waiting at a bus stop. A sign said BALSAMIC although there was nothing vinegary about the place, no friars and no Gilead in sight. There were nondescript buildings in warm colours, perhaps leaning a bit, perhaps painted on canvas. She was waiting for the bus; there were obscure figures queuing behind her.

That’s the second paragraph of Amaryllis Night and Day, and it brings together several of Hoban’s recurring concerns: blurred borders between what’s real and not-real, painting, London, and a playful exploration of language.

I’ve since read my way through most of Hoban’s novels at least once, often several times. He’s best known for Riddley Walker, which is certainly his most influential novel (David Mitchell and Will Self have both talked about how they drew on its extraordinary, broken language in their own experiments with future versions of English, in Cloud Atlas and The Book of Dave respectively). Riddley Walker is an astonishing, dense, infinitely re-readable book – but the far simpler Amaryllis Night and Day remains closest to my heart.

The same year I discovered Russell Hoban, SA4QE began. On every 4th of February, Hoban fans share quotations from his work – usually on yellow A4 paper (read Kleinzeit to find out why). Last year I left some of my favourite quotations in libraries and museums around Edinburgh:

This year I’ve planned badly – no yellow A4 paper! – but I’ll still be leaving quotations in appropriate places.. And if you don’t stumble across any yellow pages, you can follow SA4QE on Twitter and Facebook as well as russellhoban.org.

Some times theres mor in the emty paper nor there is when you get the writing down on it. You try to word the big things and they tern ther backs on you.

Music to write books by #2 – Now Wakes The Sea

Holy Songs was a Christmas present, and it’s made its way straight onto the Music to write by playlist. You can probably imagine roughly how it sounds from the ‘things we like’ section on the NWTS website – a list that includes spring reverb, dub, John Betjeman, tape loops, Kurt Schwitters, Musik aus der DDR and The BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Obviously, it’s going to be brilliant. It’s the sort of music you hear when you lean your  head against the window of a moving car or train, all drone and loose, circular melodies. There are vocals buried in there somewhere, but the words are so indistinct they’re no distraction. It’s perfect writing music. The only problem is it’s not on Spotify – instead I’ve added the only NWTS track I could find – but you can stream or buy it from Bandcamp.


Also worth checking out, if you can find it: Addressing the Haggis, an excellent lo-fi collection of Burns songs from 2013, featuring my favourite ever version of ‘Charlie Is My Darling’. Music to drink whisky by!