Why I Hate Your Novel

  1. Italics. I know you’re going to flashback or flash-forward  or go inside a character’s head and I’m not interested. It takes me out of the story and gives me back nothing but boredom.
  2. Letters and diary entries – unless you’re a truly great writer (for whom none of these hates apply) – it’s boring. In fact it’s beyond boring – I suspect you’re doing it as an easy way of padding out your dwindling plot.
  3. Present tense. I know I’m not there. Unless you’re a genius – you will not convince me I am there. You’re ruining your own magic.
  4. First Person Present Tense – ditto – double, quadruple, infinite times.
  5. Pure filth – some people like it, I don’t.
  6. Using the voice of a child… esp. if it’s about grief. What is this, the Victorian Age? Do not lisp your sentiment at me, I’ll want you to die.
  7. ISSUES esp. aimed at teens. This isn’t Biker Grove. You’re not subsidized by a charity – sod off with that miserable, soul-crushing sanctimony.

Other than that – it’s fabulous, darling!

Dean’s Book of Fairy Tales

When I was wee my Dean’s Book of Fairy Tales was one of my most treasured possessions – the others being Dean’s Alice In Wonderland, Dean’s Sleeping Beauty and my extensive Ladybird book collection.

What made Dean’s Book of Fairy Tales so special was the beautiful, spindly illustrations by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, twin sisters born in 1926 who lived and worked together until Janet’s tragic death in a fire in 1979. Anne worked on alone until 1998.

More info on them here: http://www.wordsandpics.org/2015/10/the-art-of-johnstone-twins.html

and more info on Dean & Son here: http://www.vintagepopupbooks.com/Dean_Son_Publishers_History_s/1853.htm#axzz4E3kHEVYf

New Model Media

jl karsh-portrait

Back in the 1960s a journalist found John Lennon writing while lying on a sofa, watching t.v, listening to the radio and reading a newspaper. He seemed to live in a state of information overload. She thought it was lazy and barbaric; Marshall McLuhan would call it a technological extension of man in the electronic age, but would agree it came with an amputation. We can witness anything anywhere on the planet – but not much is happening in that room.


In 1991 the novel Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn was published. It mixed up the life story of the UK singer Alma Cogan with the crimes of UK serial killers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. It was a comment on celebrity culture and the weird way the media impacts on our lives. Our brains must be packed with things we’ve only seen in print or on a screen. All those things must be mingling away in our subconscious and who knows in what combinations or to what affect they’ll resurface. And how weird must it be if you’re one of the subjects the media covers. What would you think about yourself?


In 2008 Burns published Born Yesterday – the News as a Novel – a collage of things featured on 24 hour rolling news t.v. stations the Summer before. It happened to include the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal, Tony Blair leaving office and the failed Glasgow Airport bombing. Nowadays we can spend hours watching a hack stand in a field while every possible (and impossible) angle of a story is squalled back to the studio, then dropped and largely forgotten. You can know the minutia of a manhunt, while never being entirely clear what happened before or after he went on the run.


In 2005 YouTube went live and brief moments could be filmed, uploaded, manipulated and commented on in an endless loop until the public was bored or the footage was removed. Ordinary people went ‘viral’ because of their cute pet, or a Star Wars dance, or lip-syncing a song or a funny remark their kid made. Famous people became embroiled in scandals because of racist rants, or couch jumping, or wardrobe malfunctions.


In 2006 came Twitter and with it – arrests, sackings, reputation Armageddons and social media stars who judge all that comes before them in 140 characters including a link to their other platform. It matters intensely while you’re scrolling and – except for a few unlucky sods, the ones who get to play IT – not a jot when you’re out In Real Life. We lose perspective in the digital world. We over-share, lie, troll, flame, stalk, block, create epic dramas out of minor disagreements, plot revenge, post ‘cute’ selfies, and deactivate hurt and scared before coming back to do it all again. It’s like the Fame French Revolution except the young revolutionaries never take over from the heads they’ve rolled.  They stay in their rooms and wait for the next victim from the dwindling talent pool.

It’s a massive change and no change at all. You can fall in love, get therapy, find a new identity, shop, bank, game, crusade, feud, play detective, raise money… any amount of huge, life-changing activities – or you could never log on and pay no attention to it whatsoever.

I love Dorothy Eden

Dorothy Eden is a writer of Gothic and Historical romances who was born in New Zealand in 1912, worked as a legal secretary, moved to England in 1954, wrote short stories and novels and died of cancer in 1982.

Her Gothics follow roughly the same pattern – a nice girl goes somewhere new and is menaced by two men, one of which will turn out to be the villain, one of which will turn out to be the hero. Dot died a genteel spinster – so I like to think she was working out the basic security dilemma lovers have – if you trust them and they do you wrong, you would be better off being alone, but the heart wants what it wants. There’s real danger in the books, she’s not afraid to kill off innocent characters or leave her heroine angry or yearning. There’s an underlying truth to it which is unusual for the genre – the books would make great 3-part t.v. thrillers and she deserves a revival.

A Traveler In A Dish Of Pain

I’m miserable about being OLD… I’m not actually old – I’ve just reached that age where I realise death is inevitable and not a remote melodramatic thing that might happen if no one likes my selfie on facebook.

I mean we’re for it. We’re doomed. We’re on a conveyor belt of relentless decay.

You will not escape.

So in a shallow and perverse way – this very sorrowful poem – by a young man whose unfair era murdered him before his time – cheered me up.

Chidiock Tichborne was a 24 year old Catholic who became involved in the Babington Plot to free Mary Queen of Scots, then imprisoned in England. Along with seven of his fellow conspirators he was eviscerated, hanged, drawn and quartered.  Their fate aroused so much sympathy that the seven remaining conspirators were hanged. Which is rather more gruesome and depressing than it seemed in one of my favourite childhood books Alison Uttley’s ‘A Traveler in Time’.

My Prime of Youth Is But A Frost of Cares

by Chidiock Tichborne

Written in the Tower of London on the Eve of his Execution. 

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain.
The day is gone and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

The spring is past, and yet it hath not sprung,
The fruit is dead, and yet the leaves are green,
My youth is gone, and yet I am but young,
I saw the world, and yet I was not seen,
My thread is cut, and yet it was not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I lookt for life and saw it was a shade,
I trode the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I am but made.
The glass is full, and now the glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

London Stone


The best thing about the internet – apart from making career-destroying comments on twitter – is winning books! I added another victory to my tally (one day Gollancz, one day) and I now have a copy of London Stone by Nick Bydwyn.

It’s a fine sharp romp through the capital in search of an ancient artifact that involves conspiracy and murder, and sits well with the British Library Crime Classics and Collins Detective Club books I’ve been devouring lately.

I thoroughly recommended it & you can buy it here:


& you can buy British Library Crime Classic’s here (they’re all brilliant):


& you can seek out The Detective Club here – although HarperCollins have missed a trick by not having a dedicated section of their website:



Gorey Story



Edward Gorey is one of my favourite illustrators and an inspiration for everything I write – even if I can’t quite pull off his magnificently fey high camp violent tragedy.

Amazingly he doesn’t belong in my pantheon of Fin de Siecle Decadents that includes Oscar Wilde, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, E. F. Benson, Saki, Walter de la Mare, and Ronald Firbank – despite perfectly capturing their Edwardian spirit of hedonistic uncanny dismay – he was born in 1925 and died in 2000.

He’s probably best remembered for designing a 1977 Broadway production of Dracula and for The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an illustrated alphabet book about the unfortunate deaths of small children.