Two years later…

holbyI’ve been woefully neglecting this blog, but there were extenuating circumstances, honestly.

I haven’t been idle, though. I’ve got a novel which has been going through various rewrites and every time becomes a little less sunny and a little more sinister. This is interesting for me, because I prefer reading darker, more dramatic stuff (I’m currently working my way through Nicci French’s Frieda Klein series), but my novels so far have been rather light and fluffy. I suppose I feel responsible for the characters and want them to be happy. I might let this lot (some of them) be happy too, but I’m making sure they suffer first!

Also for the last two years I’ve been nurturing a lovely idea about writing a behind-the-scenes book based on my favourite telly programme, Holby City. It has taken all this time, but it’s now officially happening. This is glorious news because the people at Holby are lovely. They love the show themselves and are (justifiably) very proud of it, and I’m keen to do it – and them – justice by producing the very best book I can.

So it’s going to be a busy few months, but very exciting too.

To be added to my mailing list for news about the Holby City book, click here

Under the Greenwood Tree

james murraySometimes I love living in The Future. The other day I fancied reading some Thomas Hardy (Thomas Hardy and Stephen King are my go-to authors who never fail me. Apart from The Tommyknockers and Gerald’s Game, in the case of Mr King). In Ye Olden Days this would have meant schlepping to the library or my local branch of Waterstones, neither of which would have been open anyway because it was 7.30 on a Sunday morning.

No such problems with my Kindle. For less than £2 I was soon the proud owner of the Delphi Complete Works of Thomas Hardy (Illustrated). I was warned it would take a long time to download – it took about five seconds. Ten seconds later I was reading Under The Greenwood Tree.

It’s brilliant. It just makes me smile. Like this little extract after Dick Dewy has just set eyes on his one true love, Fancy Day (those names…).

Tilted on the edge of one foot he stood beside the fireplace, watching his mother grilling rashers; but there was nothing in grilling, he thought, unless the Vision grilled. The limp rasher hung down between the bars of the gridiron like a cat in a child’s arms; but there was nothing in similes, unless She uttered them.

How glorious is that? He comes up with an apt and brilliant simile for a rasher of bacon on a grill, but it’s also a gentle dig at Dick and the way Fancy has made him all, well, fanciful.

He also has a winning way with character descriptions. I’ve hardly read a more perfect description in my life than

Mr Shiner, age about thirty-five, farmer and church-warden, a character principally composed of a crimson stare, vigorous breath, and a watch-chain, with a mouth hanging on a dark smile but never smiling

Last but not least, reading UtGT is a good excuse/reason to illustrate this blog with a picture of the beautiful James Murray, who played Dick Dewy in a BBC version of the story. Thanks to the miracle of Living In The Future, you can watch it right now on YouTube here (possibly only in UK… not sure).



Why I could never be 100% e-book

booksI read in the news yesterday that Tim Waterstone (of Waterstone’s bookshops fame) is predicting that e-books have had their day, compared to real, made-of-trees books. While e-books have their share of the market, that share is in decline, while hardback books are selling comparatively well (full article here).

I love my Kindle. It’s light, portable, lights up in the dark so I can read in bed, and it carries a lot of books. I love being able to change the type size (my eyesight is rubbish and pre-Kindle I nearly made myself blind trying to read the tiny print on my copy of A Clash of Kings). My Kindle also feels as nice as a book – it has a lovely purple faux leather cover – with the added benefit that it stays open on my lap or on a table.

But… I’ve just moved house. For the last 10 months all my books (the paper ones) have been in storage. This morning I started to unpack them, and was brought face-to-face with why e-books will never replace real books. There’s the worryingly yellow vegetarian cookbook that ensured I didn’t starve to death when I was a student. The book of Norse legends I won as a school prize when I was six. The Christmas and birthday gifts from people I love, or people I used to love in the case of the paperback copies of Kes and Absolute Beginners. Books that recall days spent reading in various gardens or beaches. The latest in my long line of copies of The Catcher In The Rye (I keep lending them to people and never get them back). The hardback of A Prayer for Owen Meany that I bought in New York the month it was published and read in the very strange world of JFK airport overnight while we waited to get the plane home (staying awake at the airport was cheaper than paying for another night in a hotel – but nothing was open. The cleaners gave us some food when their tea trolley came around). The catalogue to an exhibition of Antony Gormley’s work at the Hayward Gallery that I could have had signed – Gormley was wandering around taking photographs, but I didn’t want to disturb him while he was working.

I can’t imagine any of the books I’ve read on Kindle would have the same resonance for me in decades to come. I’ll remember some of the stories and some of the information I’ve read, but it won’t be the same. A made-from-trees book is the ideas and imagination inside, but it’s also a physical thing that you held in your hand, packed in your bag, moved from bookshelf to bookshelf, house to house.

E-books can never replace that.


7 things that annoy me in books

coupleMy top seven personal niggles as a reader – while being fully aware that I have committed some of these crimes as a writer. But not 3, 5, 6 or 7.

1. Chapters that start with the formula: “Blah de blah,” said character X, as he did thing Y. For example, “It’s a lovely day for an Easter egg hunt,” said Morag, as she wiped the dust from her violin case. I’m not even sure why this annoys me. It just does, and it’s extremely common, probably because it lands the reader right in the middle of some action, which is supposed to be A Good Thing. I’ve doubtless used it myself and that annoys me, too.

2. What I call “cigarette work.” This is all the little details of someone smoking a cigarette which is typically used to break up dialogue. “It’s a lovely day for an Easter egg hunt,” said Morag, lighting another cigarette. It can also be used to signify mood: “It’s a terrible day for an Easter egg hunt,” said Morag, stubbing her cigarette out on her violin case. This is one I definitely have used myself (not the violin case example, obviously), and I realise it’s very useful for pacing a long stretch of dialogue. But what irks me about it is that I always wonder how a narrator of a story would be able to remember at which point cigarettes were lit, ash was flicked and smoke was blown, and just that little thought is enough to pull me out of the story for a few seconds.

3. Men picking up women. In the sense of lifting them off their feet and conveying them to another location. If the man in question is a fireman and the house is ablaze, fair enough, but if it’s supposed to be a romantic scene and the woman is quite literally swept off her feet to be deposited on a rose petal-strewn bed or whatever – forget it. I find the whole idea of portable women very silly.

4. Annoying names. This would put me off a book at the blurb stage – I just can’t get into a book if the characters have silly names. I’ve waffled on about that more here.

5. Long descriptions. In Elmore Leonard’s famous rules for writers, number 8 is “avoid detailed descriptions of characters” and number 9 is “Don’t go into great detail describing places and things,” but the whole lot can be dealt with under number 10: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Readers tend to skip detailed descriptions. I do, anyway.

6. Grandparents. Specifically, grandparents (or even worse, great-grandparents) in biographies. If I read a biography of someone, I’m not interested in what their ancestors got up to. Sometimes a quarter of the book will have passed and the person you want to know about hasn’t even been born yet.

7. Monsters. I love a good scary story, whether it’s a book or film, but they’re always scariest before the monster is seen, because then your imagination can fill up the empty space with whatever terrifies you most. As soon as the monster physically appears, they become manageable and sometimes just silly (Cloverfield, or Daleks). The exception to this is when the monster is a scary human (Hannibal Lecter) or the creature in the Alien films – and most of the power of that creature is that you usually only see bits of it. The bits with teeth.

Top model

521f7e5f451892bd1d000d5b-0a14956d76a67cb30fb4c1b052ad1216A new play is opening in London soon, about the life of the Pre-Raphaelite artist and muse Lizzie Siddall. She was a fascinating woman, and I really recommend Lucinda Hawksley’s book Lizzie Siddall: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel.

In the play, the part of Lizzie will be played by actress Emma West, who looks amazingly like her. She says that whenever she visits Tate Britain, where several Pre-Raphaelite paintings hang, including the famous one of Ophelia modelled by Lizzie, she always gets a reaction and people ask her to pose in front of it.

“The last time it was a couple of Japanese tourists who were quite freaked out [by the resemblance], it seemed to me,” she says.

This interested me, because that’s exactly the starting point of my book Better Than the Real Thing. The main character, Lia, is visiting Tate Britain to while away some time, and is struck by the face of a beautiful man in a painting called Lorenzo and Isabella, by Millais (who also painted Ophelia). When she turns round, a man who looks uncannily like Lorenzo is standing behind her, and he strikes up a conversation, telling her that she looks exactly like Isabella. It seems like fate – but who is he really?

Lizzie Siddal is at the Arcola Theatre, London E8, from 20 November – 21 December 2013.

Too perfect for words

Adam LambertI used to be a big fan of shows like American Idol and The X Factor, until they got really rubbish. Back in 2009, Adam Lambert came second in American Idol and kicked off a successful solo career based on actual talent, style and great presence. I liked his music and the way he presented himself (I do love a goth-looking boy), and the way he was so completely out and proud about his sexuality.

He often posts photographs of himself on Twitter. I don’t blame him – if I was that beautiful I’d post photos of myself, too. Something struck me about the latest batch, though. He looks just too perfect. His hair and makeup are absolutely immaculate, he’s dressed fabulously, he’s beautifully lit. And, to me, this makes him look far less attractive than he used to before he had an army of stylists to primp him up.

I know this is all image and he obviously looks completely different when he’s just woken up or has a cold or whatever, and the way he presents himself is completely his choice and it’s one of the things that’s always been interesting about him. But it illustrated a point that someone was making to me about one of my books.   Continue reading


NotoriousThat’s it – I’m going to officially class myself as notorious now, as my books have been pulled from (some of) the (virtual) shelves as part of a crackdown on pornography.

I must hasten to add that my books are sooo not pornography. As I’ve previously mentioned, I struggle to get any smut whatsoever on the page and am a keen fan of the “fade to black” approach.

What’s happened, apparently, is that following press stories about some of the nastier self-published material turning up for sale online, the Kobo store has panicked and withdrawn all the books from publishers and distributors who may have been involved in these extreme books being available through them.  I publish my books via Draft2Digital (who are excellent) and it seems that all books published via them have been pulled while Kobo work out what to do.

You’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult to screen titles for certain trigger words and then either reject them or send them to a human for a proper read-through and a decision, wouldn’t you? The iTunes store seems to have no problem in hunting down and rejecting the word “Amazon” if it appears anywhere in an ebook (as I know from experience).

Anyway, the upshot is that I can add “My books were once removed from sale as part of a porn crackdown” to my (short) list of notable achievements. And in the meantime if anyone is desperate for a Kobo-friendly copy of one of my books, just send me a DM via Twitter (@pauseliveaction) and I’ll send you one for free.