Saturday, 31 October 2015


My third novel Parallel Lines is published in paperback today. It will be available on Kindle in a couple of weeks’ time. So far there are no reviews of course but Clare Diston read the draft and said she really enjoyed it and John Seymour thinks it is the best of the three. I found it hard work, to be honest; good writing doesn’t just flow. You have to stop and think sometimes for hours frequently for days about introducing new characters and the plot structure; it is very often about what you take out, not what you leave in.

I edited it myself. I got a new computer earlier this year which came with some excellent editing software so I thought I was competent enough third time around, to do my own editing.

What is it about? Well, this is the last time ever that I want to write about Kikarin, so I needed to bring her story to an end. This is the Amazon blurb:

Putting the past to rest.
This is the final instalment of Kiri’s tale. Now aged forty-one we find her working at the Courtauld Gallery in London guiding visitors around the exhibits, on her feet all day . . . sometimes seven days a week . . . but loving every minute of it.

She has moved to a house with a small garden in Fulham, dyed her hair brown and at last she looks like the picture on the cover of the books. There is a new man around, Graham a millionaire businessman looking for the love of his life. This is partly Graham’s story too; he sells cheap imports from China and we watch as he accumulates more and more wealth and money, at the expense of British and European jobs.

But these are only the rails along which the parallel lines of Kiri’s new life runs; re-building shattered relationships; abandoning others that refuse to be resurrected and  attempting to construct meaningful new bonds from the flimsiest materials, mud, straw and a lack of commitment. 
Meanwhile, Madison and Keith are bidding to rule the world and fill their bank accounts by bringing the North American economy to a standstill.

Honest and unsentimental, Kiri embraces the life she has rather than the one she might have hoped for, with her customary restraint and dignity. Engaging from the start, and like the previous novels sensually immersive, the novel begins slowly but builds to an intense and fast-paced contemporary thriller.

There are a couple of themes in there that I wanted to develop. I had this idea for a story ever since I read somewhere that the entire North American wheat crop is harvested by a handful of custom harvesters who travel across the wheat-growing states with their combines. What an extraordinary bottleneck; if you, someone could choke that off they would jeopardise the whole American grain industry. So I thought about how it might work and gave that arc to Keith and Madison.

The other narrative is my old long-time hobby-horse Value Engineering and the closure of the Midlands factories in the nineties as a result of Chinese imports. Still going on, actually and we seem to be totally unable to do anything about it. So I gave that story to Kiri who has linked up with Graham an entrepreneur who imports locks and hardware from China.

And then there are the people from her past who won’t let go.

This is the stress test the Man Booker judges are supposed to apply:

Ø  Stylistic grace?  I think so, it doesn’t have the grace of my hero, Hilary Mantel but it isn’t bad. It definitely isn’t clunky.
Ø  Emotional punch: Yes, very, very big punch.
Ø  Truth to experience: I think so; Graham’s tale is well-researched.
Ø  Extravagance of imagination? Extravagance would be too high a bar and in any case, I don’t write extravagant but it is imaginative, I would say.
Ø  Storytelling brio: No, I don’t do brio. The structure is like all the others; this happens then that happens. Linear, no tricks. No telling you the ending in Chapter one.
Ø  Moral rigour: I think so but some might not agree.
Ø  Intellectual or formal audacity: A little bit; I’m not good at intellectual audacity but there is more of that quality in Parallel Lines than in any of the previous novels.
Ø  Depth of characterisation: Well, I think so. I think that is one of my strengths and it is pretty good here. Kiri is a mature woman now, dry and witty. Humour isn’t one of the tests on the Booker list but my God, it can transform a novel.

So buy it, read it. I hope you like it.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015


Image result for yuwen spring in a small town

Went to see Spring in a Small Town last night. What a fabulous film: BFI Sight & Sound 15th Greatest Film Ever Made. It hasn’t actually been around for long, although it was made in 1948. The BFI have spent a fair bit of time and money negotiating with the Chinese authorities to release a near perfect print. Possibly, probably the problem is that 1948 is pre-Revolutionary. I was puzzled watching it by the actors wearing Western clothes and how elegant and middle-class they looked. When we went to China in 1979 everyone wore Mao suits, but of course the Cultural Revolution was the following year 1949 so this is a view of pre-Communist China. This is the likely reason the original more or less disappeared; it isn’t hard-wired Communist: people have real feelings for one another.

So what’s it about? Forbidden love. The only subject that interests me these days: I’ve just written three books about unrequited love/forbidden love/doomed love. There isn’t in fact a very demanding narrative arc. Liyan is ailing, he has heart problems and his marriage to the utterly gorgeous, and younger Yuwen has disintegrated; in fact they have slept in separate rooms for some years. My desolate life, Yuwen says in voice-over, early in the film. In early spring, old friend Zhang, now a doctor but ten years earlier a good friend of Liyan comes to their crumbling house. Unknown to Liyan, he was an old flame of Yuwen’s. And no, he hasn’t married. So there is a love triangle, with his visit reawakening a dormant love between Zhang and Yuwen.

It is exquisitely done . . . masterly and compelling according to one critic . . . subtle and controlled and almost unbearably moving. There is a shot near the end when Liyan is lying on a bed and Yuwen is leaning in but it is lit from below the bed so that the shadows play across her face. Terrific. Also, the use of sound is interesting and effective: sometimes there is no sound at all. At one point, Yuwen says she hears a siren but we the audience don’t hear it.

The acting is a little stylised as all forties films seem to be but it is a tiny, tiny problem in comparison to the emotional charge of the cinematic experience. Head and shoulders above anything else I have seen in recent years.

Sunday, 25 October 2015


We are still harvesting produce from our garden. Pounds and pounds of potatoes; beans; raspberries [in October!] more apples than any family could eat in a year; onions; garlic it goes on and on. Why? The weather, I guess which has allowed us to stay outside longer tending.
These are images of us making crab-apple jelly at the weekend.

Thursday, 22 October 2015


Image result for heat 1995

A weird list has appeared on the Internet of best ever assembled cast for a movie. There is only one winner of this contest: Bobby, Al, Val and the great John Voight but they are punting, Pulp Fiction [of course], Oceans Twelve [eeek], something called The Expendables [Sly, Jet Li and someone called Dolph] plus about fifty other crap films.

Anyone seen Rob Roy? It has an amazing cast of actors: Liam Neeson within a year or so of leaving Brian Friel and the Irish stage; Brian Cox in his best ever role before he began parodying himself; Tim Roth, so great that he won a best-supporting actor nomination at the Oscars. John Hurt: brilliantly evil; and a terrific Scottish actor called Brian McCardie who these days you only see on TV in stuff like Rebus but was just electric in this.