richard pierce

richard pierce

24 December 2012

On 2012

As I get ready to turn my machines off for over a week, the time has come for a brief reflection on this year. I know I still owe posts for my summer travels, for many things, but now's not the time.

This year has left me totally and utterly exhausted, as never before. It's been one of incredible highs and seemingly unsurmountable lows, of long periods of creativity and even longer periods of frustrated creativity because I've had to shoe-horn myself into the role of a marketeer rather than just being able to write or think. For someone who is by nature very shy and retiring, that's been a bit of a trial.

To have my first novel published at the age of 51 has naturally been one of the highs; to be shopping around my second novel to other publishers because it's not considered a commercial proposition by my current publisher is one of the lows. My mother's death in June at the age of 86 was the very very low, soothed only by a sense of relief that her long struggle with dementia was finally over.

All of these things I would not have been able to survive without the support, first and foremost, of my wife and children, nor without the willing arms of old friends and new. That has been the biggest high of this year - to realise that my family love me through thick and thin, to make, at my advanced age, new friends who, I think, have become friends for life. Oddly enough, two of those are from Radioland; the redoubtable Simon Saynor from Sine FM, and the cuddly Stephen Bumfrey from BBC Radio Norfolk. Thank you, both of you.

Thank you, too, to the book bloggers, too numerous to mention, who have been kind enough to review Dead Men, and to review it positively, and to let me revel in the glow of having written a critically acclaimed novel. Thanks, too, to those who nominated Dead Men for the Guardian First Book Award.

Over the past three years, I have written 5 novels. It's time for a rest, time to re-evaluate what I do and why I do it.

I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and a fruitful New Year. May your gods, or whatever spirits guide you, watch over you and yours, and bring you what you wish for most.

2 December 2012

Radio Stradbroke Sunday Sessions

Well, a mix-up in diaries meant I got to do my second solo show in this season of Radio Stradbroke's Sunday Sessions, and the three hours just zipped by. I managed to play 39 tracks in 3 hours, 13 tracks an hour. Now that's what I call music. Like I said on air "Radio Stradbroke - less talk, more music."

Thanks as always to all who listened and sent messages through all sorts of social (and unsocial) media.

I can't say I met anyone exciting walking there or back, nor that I observed a guerilla war between leaves and men. I can say, though, that the weather was gorgeous, and that I love the freezing cold when the sun is out and I don't have to risk getting wet.

This afternoon I've put up some outside Christmas lights on the buddleia athe back of the house, chopped more things down in the drive, written 500 more words on what will now definitely be known as The Failed Assassin rather than 31 Days of Shade, and brought the washing in. Oh, and emptied the cat tray. Next things on the list are writing more words and putting up the podcast of today's show.

Meanwhile, here's the running order, with the durations of the tracks, just in case anyone's as geeky as me and tried to plan running orders to the second. I think I only overran by about 90 seconds today. Good job there wasn't a newsreader sitting there waiting.

R


00:04:22               Burning Brigantines - Married to the Sea
00:03:04               Marion - Sleep
00:03:58               Modesty - Love is Strong
00:03:36               Paramore - Ignorance
00:02:34               Ideal - Rote Liebe
00:02:24               Blood Command - Five Inches of a Car Accident
00:03:10               Knust Fot - Du e saa fin
00:01:43               The Arbeidsloese - Sweet Nicotine
00:04:51               PIL - One Drop
00:04:27               Missing Andy - The Way We're Made (Made in England)
00:03:43               Billy Bragg - Never Buy the Sun
00:03:48               Frank Turner - Reasons Not to be an Idiot
00:03:37               Emily & Florence - Drumming Song
00:04:22               Emily & Florence - Solace
00:04:10               Jack Stevens - Camden Dollybird
00:04:11               Jack Stevens - Sweetheart's Anniversary
00:03:23               Cathedrals & Cars - Leaving No Reminders
00:03:31               The Pilots - Somewhere
00:03:13               Example - Never ever getting back together
00:03:27               Hurra Torpedo - Total Exclipse of the Heart
00:03:14               Los Colorados - Hot 'n Cold
00:04:39               Thirty Seconds to Mars - Bad Romance
00:03:29               Jessie J - Do It Like A Dude
00:04:16               Alex Clare - Too Close
00:04:41               RJ Productions - 526
00:03:19               Spetakkel - Kem Rokker
00:03:34               O-Zone - Numa Numa
00:02:34               The Grand Spectacular - Being a Dickhead's Cool
00:03:22               Kaptein Sabeltann - Sjoeroeverne Kommer
00:04:26               Of Monsters & Men - Little Talks
00:04:29               The Waterboys - The Hosting of the Shee 
00:04:08               Arlie Mucks - (Yellow Light Means) Speed Up or Slow Down
00:04:05               Sound of Guns - Antarctica
00:05:16               The Beeds - Slumdog Millionaire
00:03:59               Nola Wren - Young
00:04:39               Emeli Sande - Read All About It
00:03:14               Billy Bragg - Brickbat
00:02:48               Ingrid Olava - Her Kommer Vinteren
00:03:20               Kaizers Orchestra - Hjerteknuser

12 November 2012

Amundsen's Secret Diary


Any author goes through countless versions of a book before the final, definitive text is sent to be published. Dead Men was no different. There were three different endings, several different time lines, and some characters who appeared in the early drafts but were excised by the time of the final draft.

          What fascinated me about Roald Amundsen, beside his obvious single-mindedness and ruthlessness in achieving his goals, were his destructive relationships with women, and the way those relationships were subjugated to his ambition rather than being the inspiration for his quest for the North and South Poles. One relationship I found particularly intriguing was the one with Bess Magids, a woman he had met in Seattle, and whom, in the end, he promised to marry. The rest, as they say, is history.

          As far as Amundsen’s polar journey is concerned, one thing that baffled me as I was doing my research was that his language, in The South Pole and in his diaries, is always very unemotional, very spare, cold and reserved, especially when compared to Scott’s style of writing. Although Norwegian is a very functional language, shaped by the weather and the environment, it is capable of emotion (see Rolf Jacobsen’s poems for wonderful examples of this), so Amundsen’s approach to language was very puzzling.

          This is where I began to set out a scenario where Amundsen would have kept an alternative polar diary, one in which he recorded, without self-editing, his fears, his hopes, his rages, his true self. This idea was precipitated by the false start of Amundsen’s polar party to the South Pole on 8th September 1911, a trip on which Amundsen and his men came close to death, a journey which is glossed over by many pro-Amundsen historians, a journey which split the Norwegian party into two factions, raised issues regarding Amundsen’s leadership, and can be said to have directly caused the suicide of one of Amundsen’s men.

          Just to reiterate, what is contained in Amundsen's Secret Diary is a fictionalised account of a real part of Amundsen’s life, and the diary entries below are entirely made up (and were, in the final version of Dead Men, condensed into a letter which plays a fairly significant part in the story). I am a great admirer of Amundsen’s achievement and courage, and of his capabilities as an explorer. However, writers explore the light and the dark, both in themselves and in other people, and most of all, in what they write.

          One final word – what you are about to read are rough notes, words excised from the final text of Dead Men because, at the time, I deemed them not to be of sufficient relevance to the final narrative.

Richard Pierce, Stradbroke, 12th November 2012
 
Dead Men is published by Duckworth in the UK and the Overlook Press in the US. It is available from online and bricks and mortar retailers.

Please note that the free download is no longer available.

Frederick Hooper's diary, 12th November 1912

F.J. Hooper was one of the party who went searching for Captain Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Captain Oates, and P.O. Evans in October 1912, after the Polar Party had not returned from their push for the South Pole the previous March. His diary was started as a letter to his fiancee, and recounts the Search Party's quest to find the Polar Party, a journey which unexpectedly culminated on 12th November 1912 with the discovery of a tent containing the bodies of Scott, Wilson, and Bowers.


11th, 12th November 1912
We found the Pole Party this evening about 11 miles south of 1 Ton Depot. We noticed what we thought was a cairn 1 miles to the west of our course, when we got up to it we found it was a tent badly difted up. We dug it out & lifted the tent off & I shall never forget the sight that met our eyes. Capt. Scott was laying with his head opposite the door, half out of his bag, both of his arms were thrown across the other two bags which we found contained Dr. Wilson & Lt. Bowers. It's apparent they have died of starvation. Dr. Atkinson read us a few details of Capt. Scott's diary. They reached the Pole on Jan. 17th, 1912, three weeks after Amundsen had reached it. Comping back down the Beardmore P. O. Evans fell and hit his head [on] some blue ice. He died shortly after on the Lower Glacier. They had very bad weather & low temperatures all the time. Capt. Oates was badly frost bitten about the face & feet. About two days from Mt Hooper they had a blizz. & Capt. Oates went to sleep with the intention of not waking again. He has been suffering for some time with frostbites. On the following evening he said he was going out of the tent for a minute & would not be long. He was never seen again after that. It appears he walked to his death to save his companions. They reached here on March the 21st, short of food and fuel & badly frostbitten. They only had 2 cups of tea from the 20th to the 29th. The last entry in Capt. Scott's diary was on the 29th March. It appears he was the last alive out of the three. I don't know at present when the others died. He said death was due from shortage of food, fuel & frostbite.

We had a service over them & buried them as they were totally stiff, frozen in every limb. It was an awful sight to see our dear comrades in such a state, a sight I shall never forget in a hurry. I forgot to say that a blizzard kept them at this place. It lasted over 8 days.

....

Dead Men, the novel, is based on the scientific fact that Antarctic blizzards cannot last for more than three days. So why did Scott and his companions spend their last ten days in a tent 11 miles from the relative safety of a large food and fuel depot?

Birdie Bowers, an infamously secretive painter, is a woman with a dead man’s name. Her parents were obsessed by her namesake, Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers, one of Scott’s companions. Almost a hundred years after his death, she is determined to discover what really happened to him. On her way to view some of the things recovered from Scott’s tent, she collapses, and is rescued by Adam, a bored computer geek, who falls in love with her, to the extent of agreeing to travel to the Antarctic with her to discover the site of Scott’s tent, now under 30 metres of ice.




11 November 2012

Excerpts from Frederick Hooper's diary

F.J. Hooper was one of the party who went searching for Captain Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Captain Oates, and P.O. Evans in October 1912, after the Polar Party had not returned from their push for the South Pole the previous March. His diary was started as a letter to his fiancee, and recounts the Search Party's quest to find the Polar Party, a journey which unexpectedly culminated on 12th November 1912 with the discovery of a tent containing the bodies of Scott, Wilson, and Bowers. Here are some brief excerpts from Hooper's diary:


17th October 1912
We are to leave here, Cape Evans, on Oct 29th for Hut Point where we shall stay 3 days packing sledges for a start on the night of the 1st Nov weather permitting. 7 mules 2 dog teams & 11 men, 8 men with the mules, 3 men with the dogs are the party going south. Most of the food is at Hut Point, so we leave there finally.

...

29th October 1912
Left Cape Evans at 10.30 a.m. for Hut Point where we shall make our final start, overcast when starting, Erebus covered with a cloud. After being on the way for an hour the sun broke through the clouds. ... We are starting for the south tomorrow night, Oct 30th.

30th October 1912
Up at 8.0 to breakfast, packed sledges. ... Had lunch at 1.0 p.m. & turned in till 6.0 p.m. Had supper and got underway at 7.15. Absolutely splendid surface to Cape Armitage, not so good to barrier, sledges drawing light, but mules sinking above the fetlock. Reached the Barrier edge about 9.0 p.m., and had a little trouble in getting mules over. ... Camped about 2 miles in on the Barrier at 11.0 p.m. ... Mr Wright, Lashly, Keohane & I are tent mates.

...

2nd November 1912
Corner Camp. A very dull day, wind & drift from the south. ... Started blizzarding just before turning in, temperature minus 10.

...

7th, 8th November 1912
A very bright day, cloudless sky, good marching, another 12 miles. ... Temperature at lunchtime 62 degrees of frost, tonight 49 below. We are now 4 miles south of Bluff Depot, 103 miles from Cape Evans.

8th, 9th November 1912
... We are now 16 miles north of 1 Ton Depot which we hope to reach the day after tomorrow.

9th, 10th November 1912
12 miles, good today. Weather bright but cold. Surface soft in places. Temperature 55 degrees of frost at lunch. Tonight much warmer 41 degrees. Abdullah is absolutely tired out, & so are all of them. He has not eaten anything again today. I have got a few frostbites on my fingers & also my face. As a matter of fact we are all suffering from frostbites. We are now camped 4 miles north of 1 Ton Depot.



4 November 2012

A new season of Radio Stradbroke's Sunday Sessions

Today marked the beginning of winter for real, as the great crew at Radio Stradbroke ramped up with the new season of the Sunday Sessions. When I say it marks the real beginning of winter, what I mean is that we schedule our season of weekly broadcasts to coincide with the season of the worst weather, when we think people would probably rather stay at home and listen to the radio than go out shopping or playing sport.

Anyway, I had the honour of opening this year's season, and decided to do a show made up of tracks from some of my favourite albums - and all on vinyl as well. Which left me well out of my comfort zone seeing as I usually do my shows using mp3 files and a tidy piece of broadcasting software.

The show was great fun. Lots of people on twitter, facebook and email said unnecessarily nice things about me, despite my appalling cueing of records (at the start anyway), and my incessant chat. The best thing was that putting the 3-hour show togather (which took me about 8 hours!) reacquainted me with some long-lost friends of albums. I think we often just don't make the time any more to listen to complete albums, and mp3s make music into so many soundbites rather than an hour-long experience. Perhaps I will do another vinyl album show next time, just to get more of these old things played, although it is hard work cueing, fbing, tweeting and emailing, all at the same time.

I love radio.

Here's the podcast

Here's the track listing:


The Sex Pistols - Seventeen
The Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK
Nina Hagen Band - Der Spinner
Nina Hagen Band - Pank
The Stranglers - London Lady
The Stranglers - Princess of the Streets
The Stranglers - Hanging Around
Graham Parker & The Rumour - You Can't Be Too Strong
Graham Parker & The Rumour - Passion Is No Ordinary Word
The Cure - In Between Days
The Cure - Kyoto Song
Kraftwerk - Geiger Counter
Kraftwerk - Radioactivity
The Cranberries - Zombie
Siouxsie &the Banshees - Placebo Effect
Siouxsie & the Banshees - Icons
Madness - Razor Blade Alley
Madness - Swan Lake
Emerson Lake & Palmer - Promenade
Emerson Lake & Palmer - The Gnome
Billy Bragg - The Saturday Boy
Billy Bragg - Island of No Return
Konstantin Wecker - Willy
Joy Division - The Eternal
Joy Division - Decades
The Smiths - Still Ill
The Smiths - Hand in Glove
The Smiths - What Difference Does It Make
Pink Floyd - Have a Cigar
Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here
ABC - Poison Arrow
ABC - Many Happy Returns
ABC - Tears Are Not Enough
ABC - Valentine's Day
BAP - Drei Wuensch frei
BAP - Sendeschluss
Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls - Screaming in the Darkness
Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls - Dream Sequence 1
Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls - European Eyes
Nena - Rette Mich
Nena - ?
Nola Wren - Young

31 October 2012

Leaving for New York

You may think it counter-intuitive of me to write a post about New York at this time, after the disaster that Sandy has been, in the light of the dreadful tragedies that have yet to come to light so soon after the storm of a generation. But it's not odd, for me, to be writing this now. You see, I fell in love with the place when I went there for the first time in my life in June this year. And I've been meaning to write about it for an age. And now seems the rightest time of all.


I had expected to be intimidated, overwhelmed by the size of the place, and half-expected to be jetted into scenes from all the dreadful and not-so-dreadful police dramas I've half-caught on TV, but it was nothing like that. It was a maelstrom of humanity, yes, but the surprise was that it was such an intimate place, such a friendly, welcoming place, even at night, late at night, when I found myself wandering around Brooklyn and then around Union Square well after midnight. If I were asked to go back right now, I would. If I were asked to move there, I would.


The background, of course, is that I was over there to launch the newly-published hardback edition of Dead Men (and note the link is to my wonderful publisher, the Overlook Press). Overlook and I had been working for months towards suitable dates (the actual release date clashed with my wedding anniversary), looking for venues which would be prepared to host a first-time novelist launching a book which might, at first sight, appear as quintessentially English (the mystery of Captain Scott's death on his way back from the South Pole), and looking for an indie bookshop which would be a suitable place for a talk about the book.

Anyway, we dealt with all those things, and arranged some engagements in New Hampshire (which shall be a separate post), and even overcame this Yorkshireman's natural tendency not to want to spend money, and, on 13th June, I finally touched down at JFK on an overcast and gloomy afternoon, revelling in the excitement of travelling alone again for the first time in a very long time, and full of trepidation, too, at being a very small man in a very large city.


I needn't have worried. Besides being very well looked after at Seafarers & International House



on East 15th Street (to whose small library I contributed a copy of my book), and being overfed, on that first afternoon, by the guy at the sandwich counter at the Food Emporium (the salami sandwich and the extra roll I got were my lunch on Day 1 and my breakfast and lunch on Day 2), everyone, without exception, even people I accidentally bumped into in my myopic wanderings, was unfailingly friendly and helpful. Even people in suits who, in London, to my dismay, are invariably aggressive and shouty and in too much of a hurry even to look you in the eye (and that is painful to say for me, who adored London and lived there for a long time).

I'll write about the launch and everything else another time. I just wanted, now, to send my most positive thoughts to everyone I met (and didn't meet) in New York, to hope that the damage to the ground I trod there, and to the souls who inhabit that place, is not too great and will be mended soonest. I hope, one day, to be back.



30 October 2012

Oscar's birthday poem, 2012

. . .


Calm here,
And across the ocean a storm.

I am guessing that you
Will take a cursory glance
At these words,
Raise an eyebrow, cough, and move on,
And squirrel away my emotions
Somewhere out of sight and memory
Until an accident uncovers their dust.

You are so old now,
So above it all,
Intellectually immortal
And unbeatable, and
I pray it will always be so.

To you, I will always be ancient
And inferior and boring,
A collaborator with the system
You despise.
Maybe that’s what we all become
- No excuses – when we age.
I hope you don’t.
I know you won’t.
 
But care.

25 October 2012

The ogre of science

Some say I'm anti-science. Some say I'm deliberately controversial and obstructive as far as science and science education are concerned. I'm not. I am merely alarmed at how far the pendulum has swung in favour of compulsory Science and Maths, and, by implication, Engineering, at how the Humanities have been put up against the wall, waiting for the shooting squad of Gove and previous and future education secretaries to put them out of their misery.

The way things are, here in Suffolk anyway, pupils have to take Triple Science for their GCSEs. It's compulsory to mix Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Oh, and to take Maths, too. Now, to my way of thinking, that's too much. There's no balance. The only humanity they have to study is English. Can people communicate via formulae rather than words? I think not. Can people learn about other cultures with numbers and symbols? Again, the answer's no. Did a linguist dream up the atom bomb? Er, no. Or invent the Gatling gun, if we wish to take some steps further back in history? I think you know the answer by now.

I have made comments similar to this in a previous post, a post that was aimed more at the system of exams than at the fear that Science breeds, and the unnecessary energy that gifted Humanities pupils are forced to waste on subjects from which they will derive no practical benefits when they move through A levels and university to adulthood. I have four children, all of whom despise Science with venom, all of whom are fantastically talented at writing, painting, researching and analysing history, all of whom are eloquent and mature people. Put Maths or Science problems in front of them and some of them collapse, like me, into a tearful heap, or complete the tasks muttering under their breaths swear words they shouldn't even know, staying up too late, or screaming themselves hoarse against the sheer impracticality of the problems they are being asked to solve. They might as well form a band called We Are Not Scientists.

But we parents have to deal with this Science angst every day, we have to watch as our children's Humanities marks decline because all their energy is being sapped by Science and Maths lessons nearly every day, and at lunch times, on Saturdays, on Sundays, by revision books that make no sense to me, by the ridiculous "plain English" of subject matters that are not plain English at all, and that do nothing to inform the future lives of our children. It's a joke. I have told my children to deliberately fail their Science exams rather than waste all that effort, but they're too proud to listen to me. Instead, they are turning into hollow-eyed cynics, sick of all education.

Someone said to me tonight that it's Science that creates wealth in this country? Oh, really? This country's failing economy therefore has nothing to do with the fact that the majority of the idiots who run it can't speak a second language, that we're still an hour behind the community we should be conversing with on equal times and terms, that our children are being educated into xenophobism and imperialism. Obviously. Because history doesn't teach context, and languages don't teach communication, and RE doesn't teach us how to think about ourselves. I thought so.

Not just that. I've been trying to think about this in a deeper, more long-term way, too, since my last post on this subject. What is it that drives the nanny state, regardless of the colour of government? Is it French, or German, or History, or English, or Philosophy? Of course it isn't. It's Science. Our lives are analysed to death, measured and distilled down to ingredients and components. If you eat too much of this, you won't live long, if you eat too little of that, your life will end prematurely; if you drink too much, if you smoke, if you don't pay attention to the chemical composition of your underwear, you'll be come useless to society.

All the recent rules and legislation about our life styles have been driven by science, all the laws infringing our civil liberties have been invented by scientists, all the scare stories of recent times have been made up by people crouching behind test tubes, running minority studies and drawing majority conclusions from them. All we need is balance, all we need is to eat what we want, drink what we want, inhale what we want (within reason) AND exercise, and laugh, and dance, and we'll live to the average age we'd expect to live to. Science is the ogre which artificially shortens our lives through stress and ridiculous obligation. Scientists don't discuss, or even think about, the human condition, scientists don't think existential thoughts, don't allow their minds to wander down deserted corridors of words and pictures and visions. They look at life through a magnifying glass and pretend to be God.

By all means, make one science compulsory to GCSE, and let that science be Physics, because Physics is one of the building blocks of Philosophy, because Physics is the only ssience which gets anywhere near addressing the human condition, which looks out to the stars and wonders how they have been suspended from the firmament.

But make Humanities the core, and let specialisation happen even before GCSE. I despise the continental way of growing jacks-of-all-trades through forcing children to take more than four of five subjects through to A level. That deprives the world of specialists, specialists even in the sciences. I despise Michael Gove for biasing the International Baccalaureat towards science, for forgetting that language and history are the foundations of human existence and analysis, for questioning the status quo. Ah, that's why.

Just bear this in mind - the most notable fascist of our times is Margaret Thatcher, the woman who decimated the UK, who turned the UK from a manufacturing nation into a service industry nation. She was a xenophobe who couldn't even speak English unless it was in a speech written for her, never mind any foreign language, a woman who fought a war to win an election. And what was she? She was a chemist. QED.





Charlotte's birthday poem, 2012

The Art of Physics

It’s too easy to become alone,
Trapped in your own thoughts,
To believe you are the only static
Point in this restless universe,
To carry the burden of the whole,
A suffering crux in the mechanics of life.
Physics doesn’t work that way.

Come away from that place
Where fear is sanctuary,
Forget what others want,
Come down to the noisy spheres
Where there is an abundance
Of the real,
And embrace it.

There were days when we walked
Against the wind and against the wishes
Of our peculiar tribe, and you
Gave me words to bury in my heart,
And where we were weightless
Against the motion of the world.

Today is another day,
Where nothing matters,
Where touch and sense and scent
Make us who we are,
Unconnected, untroubled, aware.

Fragments; we are fragments
Sailing on an unnamed breeze,
Impulses and reflexions,
Shattered stars on our own,
And yet part of it all.
 
But never the centre.

27 July 2012

Of trains and taxis

On Monday, I got up at 5:30, left the house at quarter to seven, caught the 07:23 train to Stowmarket, then the 08:15 from Stowmarket to Peterborough, and from there on to York, where I arrived at half past eleven. All in a day's work.

I met two men who are bound to be characters in a future novel, the first sentences of which are gradually taking shape in my head.

They met here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday; the older, thinner one opposite his younger, more rotund friend, who wedged himself between the table and the bar and ordered his usual goat's cheese pie before he'd even sunk into the softness of the chair.

"Well," the round one said. "What do we talk about today?"

"Anything but work,' the thin one said.

Anyway, that's a tangent. I'm lucky to meet so many inspiring people, not just because they morph into characters, but because they teach me things about life, about my life, about the rush inside me that could do with being slowed down a touch, because they're real, like all characters in prose and poetry should be, because they move me.

I was very lucky, on Monday, to find time to get to York Minster, to see parts of it not many people get to see, to get to walk around the stonemasons' yard, to meet some of the stone carvers (who say they are more artistic than the masons), and to wander across the floor at the Glaziers' Trust, and to touch some of the centuries-old stained glass that has adorned the Minster since time immemorial.

This is what I take with me on my work travels: papers relevant to my meetings, which I try to read, annotate and memorise in the first half an hour of my trip; my Kindle (reading Anna Karenina at the moment, and have been doing so for the last year); printed-out draft of my work in progress (A Fear of Heights at the moment - needs to be finished editing asap; Moleskine notebooks (the red one for work, the black one for poetry and prose notes); at least one full pack of smokes; lots of Dead Men postcards (who knows when I might get the chance to do some guerrilla marketing); two mobile phones (the basic one for work, the smart phone so I can pick up emails and tweet); and a bottle of water; oh, and my wallet, of course, so I can pay for stuff like parking and train fares (these minor things that try us).

I was in meetings for four or so hours on Monday, and then wandered back to York railway station, aiming to catch the half past five train, which I did, having turned down an invitation to attend Evensong at the Minster because I wanted to get home to my family by half past nine. Ha!

The train from York to Peterborough left on time, but was two hours late because of a slow-moving freight train (has anyone ever heard of joined-up services? Re-nationalise the railways, please). Not just that, but the air conditioning on the train had failed, so free water was being handed out to the poor, sweating passengers. Oh, my word. By the time we got to Peterborough, I thought it couldn't get any worse, and rejoiced in the sun on my face while I waited for the Ely train - which arrived on time, but which was an hour late into Ely.

By this time, resigned to my fate of not arriving home in time to see the family, I sent one final text asking for the front door not to be bolted, and set about one more part of Anna Karenina, playing with plot changes to A Fear of Heights  while reading, and smiling at all the girls who looked smaller in the distance than they did close up, and hoped for Norwich to get closer quicker than the timetable told me. The very attentive guard on the train then  told me they'd pre-booked a cab to get me from Norwich to Diss because otherwise I'd have to wait for the next train for too long.

Norwich - Greater Anglia staff claim not to know anything about the cab bookings (I wasn't the only one with such a booking), and treat us with disdain until the guard from the Ely train turns up, bless her, and reads them the riot act. I get the impression that there are a bunch of people here who are doing the minimum necessary, who don't care about customer service or even about people, who just count the minutes until their shift is over, and see numbers not people. Ok, I don't know how much they're getting paid, nor how good or bad their employer is (re-nationalise the railways!!!!!), but I don't know how much the knackered guard from the Ely train is getting paid either, and she has really gone beyond the call of duty.

I'm about to tell the spaced-out Greater Anglian staff not to bother, when a very large gentleman arrives at the glass house they call the Customer Service Centre. He tells me he's my driver. I ask him if I've got a time for smoke. Sure, he says, he'll just take a leak. I finish my smoke, and he comes back and tells me you can only take a leak at Norwich station if you're a passenger, because the loo is beyond the barriers. RE-NATIONALISE THE RAILWAYS!!!

We get in the car. It's his first day of cabbing, he says, and he's not sure it's been a good day, because he has nothing to compare it to. He used to be in restaurant management but got made redundant, and he doesn't want to sit on his hands on benefits. His wife is doing a Masters in Psychology at UEA on a £8k grant. He has two sons, 18 and 16. He's a refugee from Kuwait, came to England, when Saddam invaded Kuwait. His nickname is CJ, which everyone calls him, including his wife, because his boxing trainer called him it once, and it stuck. His real name is Quorosh, and he kisses it as much as he misses his home.

It's a half hour drive back to my car. We talk about our children, about our education, our wives, our aspirations, our dreams, our determination to succeed and not just to be like everyone else. His face shimmers in the reflection of the speedometer light, and the scattered beams from the cars heading in the opposite direction. He asks me what's better - to sit around waiting or to go out and do. He knows my answer anyway. It's like I've met a brother a long way from home.

We pull up to my car. On impulse, I ask him for his address, because, I say, I want him to have a copy of my book, and I know he can't afford to buy it. He gives me his address, grabs my tiny hand in his huge mitt and tells me I'm a good man. I squeeze his hand back as hard as I can and reciprocate the compliment, because I mean it.

The next day, I send him a copy of my book, along with a letter and my email address. I hope I hear from him. Not because of the book, but because I'm rooting for him, a man who has to work harder than me at being a part of this tired island.

20 July 2012

On Mortality

There is a time in every man's life when he has to reflect on what has been and gone and what will be, on how he may have wasted his time, on how he may have changed other people's lives. I suppose that time is now.

I am not a man who thrives on rational argument; in fact quite the opposite. I have this discussion regularly with my philosophy-addicted son, who feels I am incapable of having a coherent conversation with him which lasts for more than fifteen seconds (less, probably). But he is cut from a different cloth, manages to analyse every action, every moment of life down into its most infinitesimal component. I can't do that, nor do I think I want to. I'll look at emotions and paint them on my canvas with broad, impressionist word strokes, and turn away. Because that's enough for me. Let the minute implications and interpretations work themselves out in the minds of those who read and think more deeply than I do.

We celebrated my mother's life last week, dressed in bright clothes of many colours. We laughed, and talked, and drank, and cried. She'd been without Dad for almost twenty years, and for the last five years, at least, she no longer knew who I was. I am an orphan now, a real orphan, and finally, maybe, a real grown-up. And a man closer to death than to birth. I remember reading somewhere once, a long time ago, and I don't remember who wrote it, that we are only complete and wise and grown if we think about our own death at least three times a day. I think about it more often than that, and have done ever since my reading moved on from the Famous Five to something more exacting and complex.

So I sit here, this miserable summer's evening already darkening and closing in around me, and contemplate the road ahead. The road behind, yes, it has been marked with some exceptional experiences and achievements, with much luck and hard work, but it's gone, done and dusted, sand passed under my soles never to be seen or trod again. What's to come?

There's that old cliché, so little time and so much to do, but that's how it feels to me each day, with ideas and errands and necessities cluttering my head, my desk and my life, and only a finite, unknown time to go. It doesn't depress me, the thought of having only a limited number of days; it makes everything more urgent, makes everything a priority, and leaves me having to choose what I will and will not do. And some things do seem a waste of time, even though I enjoy them, and some things, on the other had, seem a necessity, a duty, even if I don't enjoy them. There we go again - choices. It seems my leitmotif at the moment. Ideally, I'd like to do everything, be able to exist without having to resort to sleep or rest, without being drawn to sit and catch my breath, would rather just chase around the world, race around life without having to choose, and then, at any given moment, find that I'd miraculously managed to do everything without even noticing.

Back in the real world, I want to write as many books as I can, need to move on and edit A Fear of Heights and send it to my agent, and do it before the calendar summer is over. I have to get protestpoems rolling again. And I have to start writing poems again. And paint again. And teach myself, properly, how to get my stubby fingers round the F chord on the guitar, and how to play the piano properly (once we move the piano we've been given into this house from somewhere else). And tidy up, and do my fair share of the washing up, and not shout at anyone who's on holiday in this household while I plod my way through a working summer. And, and , and ...

Maybe this is immortality, after all, this errand-chasing life, not a reminder of mortality and transcience. Maybe. But I think I'll keep telling myself that my days are numbered, that I still have so much to do, and most of it of value, even if only of value to me.


4 July 2012

Choices

These have been hectic, mad weeks, these last few months, and it's difficult to relate, in a few words and impressions, how my life has been changed by what I've been lucky enough to experience in that time. That's why I'm going to be staggering some blogposts about my travels over the next few weeks. There's too much to tell in one single breath.

I have neglected many things, too, I have to say, putting all of myself into promoting Dead Men, of trying to persuade people that it's not just a book about the Antarctic, that, above all, it's a love story, a story led by strong women, and a book that's well-written and deserving of a read (although, for the sake of completeness, I have to add that some reviewers don't share my opinion).

This neglect I speak of is a choice all writers are forced to make. What to put first - a story of our own making or our own story, our own life? It's not an easy choice, nor is the final decision one which is easily taken, for it carves the flesh from our minds, it presents us with regret which lasts forever, it removes from us the feeling of ever having been human. Honestly.

What have I neglected, what? I have neglected protestpoems.org, a much-needed and much-praised poetry blog which stands up for human rights in a time where those rights are increasingly threatened, subverted and attacked (and not just by greedy bankers and hypocritical politicians). I have neglected my next book, my writing, something I need as much as I need air to breathe. I have neglected my village cricket club and those who work so hard to keep it alive. I have neglected my immediate family; my children, my wife, those champions of my way of life, those who breathe the same air as I do, those whose support makes my existence possible. And I have neglected, too, my extended family, my sisters, my mother, the roots of my existence.

And therein lies another story. At the beginning of June, I spent a weekend in my mother's residential home, expecting her to die, slept in the bed some old person had probably died in a few days before, in a sparse room, deprived of the belongings that had made it home for someone, spent most of that night awake, with a grey light from outside illuminating my insomnia, waiting for the call that Mum had died. It didn't come that day, and I came home again, to pack for two weeks of travel I could not put off. I went to Norway, to spread the word about my book, to praise the strong women who had made my book, read passages from the book which moved my audience to tears, drank too much wine, spent a Friday morning with a man whose opinion I have come to respect, flew home, spent two nights at home, and flew out to New York to carry on my promo work. And all the while, there was the hope against reality that my 87-year-old mother might regain, not just her health, but her self, that the dementia that had been devouring her for eight long years, would somehow disappear. Of course, it didn't, for dementia is not a symptom of old age, it is a disease as deadly as cancer.

Mum died five days after I got back from the US, five days before her 88th birthday. She had been without my father for nearly 20 years. She had been without her mind for longer than I would have wished on her. She wanted to go, but letting go is never easy. And so, when the call came, at 4 a.m. on 22nd June, I was still jetlagged, woke thinking I was still in some godforsaken hotel room in New York, mistook the quivering English shadows for American ones, pointed my face and hands in the wrong direction, and muttered monosyllabic words at those who had spent Mum's last hours with her. The lasting impression is that this was a merciful release, that this was Mum's time to go, that the only regret I will carry to my grave about my relationship with her is that she was not of sound enough mind to understand that her only son had finally become a published writer.

There's no point wondering about the choices we have to make as writers, no point asking ourselves if it's fair we have to make them. Life is not fair. It never has been, never will be. We have free will. If we want to leave something more than a pile of remaindered books which might be picked up, from time to time, by bargain hunters and name hunters, if we want to leave something we might regard as a true legacy, we have to make sacrifices, we have to push out the boundaries of our own existence, we have to believe in what we write, believe in it enough to leave our real world and skip, whistling dirges, into another world where we constantly smile, where we say the same thing over and over again, where we become the standard bearers for our own sentences, plots and endings, where we persuade others, and ourselves, that our art is extraordinary and perfect and true.

And in the midnight hours, a glass of wine in hand, we beg forgiveness from those who have given us their lives and faith.



10 May 2012

Raging against the machine of useless education

I know people think I'm an intellectual snob.

I know they think I use words that are too big for my mouth or even for the pages I write on.

And I know I am a school governor, though I write this note in my private capacity as a man who believes that education in this country has lost its way, totally and utterly, and thanks, in the main, to being politicised and not managed for the benefit of pupils, students or the future of this country (or the world, come to think of it).

Pupils are being asked to divest themselves of their critical faculties, to resign their right to learn, so that they can be coached to pass exams rather than to acquire knowledge. This is especially true in the humanities subjects, and, to a lesser degree in science. Not only that; the increasing modularisation of subjects (and exams) means that they lose the appetite to acquire knowledge, lose the hunger to read and absorb what they read.

It used to be that it was boys who didn't read because of peer pressure. Now girls have caught that bug, too, because they're not incentivised or empowered to read in order to form their own opinions. In exams, if the right buzzwords aren't in the right place for examiners to be able to tick their user-friendly tick boxes, it's a fail. What's the point of reading round a subject if you can't use the fruits of your own efforts, if you can't use knowledge you've built up as a part of your extracurricular reading? Would you read an additional book if you weren't allowed to bring those self-taught experiences and words into play in an exam?

Children are numbed to learning. The repetitiveness of the modules, the constant pressure of constant examinations, turns them into apathetic, bored and listless people. What they are asked to produce is devoid of aspiration. No longer is the achievement of intellectual excellence on the to-do list for schools. It's about ticking boxes, not about setting an example, not about trying to be the best in mind and spirit. Ridiculous.

And before anyone thinks I'm attacking schools - I'm not. I'm criticising the system run by power-hungry, greedy politicians out of touch with reality (and politicians of any colour). Take education away from politicians. Have it run by people with no vested interests, with no elections to contest, who are measured only by the heights of intellectual achievement reached, who are judged by the results of proper exams, exams that can be failed, and that can't be retaken.

In my usual style, I have, in the past, advocated that Maths and Science cease to be compulsory for any children over fourteen, but for a foreign language to be compulsory at least up to GCSE, if not to A Level. I still advocate that. I have been criticised for this approach. Why? If, in the eyes of those who disagree with me, it's wrong to compel children to study a language up to GCSE, what's right about forcing them to study at least two sciences and Maths up to GCSE? There's a disconnect there.

Sciences and Maths are important, but only for those who want to do them, those who want to be doctors and scientists, accountants or economists. On the other hand, communication in more than one language, and the understanding of other cultures, is something that we all should possess. Just because we live on an island, just because we used to have an empire, doesn't mean that we shouldn't speak another language. Speaking more than one language is the path to world peace.

I know that people think I'm naive.

I know that people disagree when I say intellectuals are more important than scientists.

I know people disagree when I say the world needs more philosophers not more scientists.

The point is - I'm right, and they're wrong.

28 April 2012

Still Life - Travel

I unpick my layers of skin,
An old wound healing,
Softened rawness,
The scab gone, some more
Of my DNA scattered
Over the cutting room floors
Of my travelling.

It doesn't hurt,
This unravelling of what I am
Made of, the picking at the physical
Part of my soul. My fingers
Do it automatically, and
I watch their work
Without thinking.

There is a welt on my knuckle now,
Where a hole was, and rushing blood
One morning some weeks ago,
Dresssing next to a nameless bed,
The sun and rain outside the
Strange window, and
A longing for home under the pain.

I peel it all back,
Time, fear, money
And responsibility,
Until all is gone, and
I stand there naked.
The blood drips onto the floor -
Audibly.

12 April 2012

Great Scott - aka Titanic Scott

It's almost four weeks now since Dead Men was released into the wild. And it's not been an easy four weeks. The gig at the NHM in London was brilliant, and I've met a mass of wonderful people on my trips round the UK, from Portsmouth through Doncaster, all the way up to Dundee. And it's not finished yet. It amazes me that there are so many people willing to give me their time, or radio time, or any sort of time, little old me, growing balder and more drawn (according to my wife) by the minute.

That's not the point, though, not at all. During the interminable train journeys, the evenings spent waiting for something to change, for someone in the national media to mention Dead Men, I've been thinking of something totally different, something that's not a conflict, not a regret even, but an interesting hypothetical question. What's more significant, the Titanic disaster, or the loss of Scott and his four men on the way back from the South Pole?

Part of me thinks it would have been simpler to have written a book about the Titanic, to have done what many people appear to have done, to redraw those well-documented conflicts of the class system on the high seas, to have gone back to a story and invented a few additional characters with scandals and chips on their shoulders, to have taken hearsay and conspiracy, and crafted a well-told tale anchored so heavily to the bed of the Atlantic that the ending was not just inevitable but foretold, and forever consigned to history.

Instead, I chose to go to the Antarctic for my story, to link it, in a dual time frame, to our lives as they are now, to dare to talk about climate change and global warming in a novel that deals with a historical disaster, that talks of heroes, and demonised ones at that, to wrap history up into a modern love story, to mix and match plot and emotions, supposition and assumptions. To write a piece of literary fiction that is as relevant now as it will be in another hundred years.

Over the last few days, as I plan a US tour, as I wonder how to gain the public's attention for what is not just a good book, but, according to reviewers, a great book, there's one detail that's struck me, one light-bulb moment that's illuminated my puzzlement over why the book, although selling well, isn't selling better. It's a competition of disasters, that's what.

The thing is, everyone forgets that the disaster of the Titanic actually happened before anyone knew that Captain Scott and his men had died. The Titanic was news within a few hours of her sinking, thanks to the newly-invented wireless. Scott and his men, and Scott's expedition party left at Cape Evans wondering what had happened to their leader, didn't have that luxury; they were cut off from the world. Scott's body wasn't discovered until the 12th November 1912, and his death not transmitted to the world until the 10th February 1913, almost a year after the Titanic disaster. We've been commemorating the dead and their impact on the world in reverse order, because the memorial service for Scott at St Paul's Cathedral was held on the centenary of his last diary entry, not on the centenary of the first memorial service to him, which was held on Valentine's Day 1913.

This leads me on to thinking - can we compare disasters? Which is worth commemorating more? One which killed over 1,500, and which was possibly caused by commercial issues, or one which killed 5, and was caused because the leader of the party was himself not clear over what his priority should be - science or the Pole?

Thus we measure history - in questions, assumptions and incomplete knowledge. All I know is that both disasters were tragedies for innumerable families and friends. Perhaps the Antarctic resonates more with me because I've been there; or perhaps because there is a finite cast of characters from there that can be invented, or that can insinuate itself into our beings, rather than an infinite chaos of clans who can be be drawn from the submerged decks of the Titanic and spuriously attached to our imagined present.

30 March 2012

Knowing - Kara's 13th birthday poem



You fly out into the silence
Of your paint, of your words,
Up to the stars and the vacuum,
Down into the centre of your world,
Cut yourself adrift from what is around
You, to be you alone, the grounded
One, the strong, the knowing one,
Always a step ahead of others,
Always there to heal them.

Your beacon eyes shine
Through any darkness we fear,
Turn towards us when least expected,
To ask and to answer what we have not
Yet said nor thought, and lift us from
Our uncertainties and sadnesses,
Lift us to orbit with the stars.

the closer, 1912

flies in my gut
fire like a leech
in my face
the wind marching against me
in this dark half year
and everywhere is north

nothing left of
summer and winter
no between
a scattering of world
up there
outside the lonely tent
we pitched

crystals on the blade
but no food
snow so hot
sun so cold

for god's sake

29 March 2012

Scott's Last Diary Entry, Undated

One of our watches was wrong,
Changed by the weather’s ferocious gnaw
At the metal we trusted.
Did we forget to wind them
And lose track of our last days,
Count too many hours?

I can’t remember the blizzard,
Only the cold that embraced me,
That became wedded to me
Without ceremony or consummation
Until the very end when I flung it
Across the face of my sleeping companions.

Did we count the days?
I don’t know. Writing became a chore
To complete for posterity,
Something for them to remember us by,
To make us immortal.

Why didn’t we reach out for those last miles?
Why die half awake half asleep?
Would our frozen feet not have carried
Us just a little further, just that last
Step from death to disability?

We might have talked about it,
Might have readied ourselves, even,
But always fell back, just short
Of daring to confront that fear of
Getting lost, dragged into circles
By our useless feet and dying in the open alone,
Robbed of a last permanent place
To rest.

I remember nothing, not even
The colour of my snow-ridden dreams,
Nor the shape of the tent,
Nor the final rattle of breath
Through each frozen throat.

1 March 2012

Blog tour

This is the advantage we have over authors from even only twenty-five years ago; we have technology on our side, or so we think. I read an interesting article in I think it was The Observer, a few weeks ago, which said that Dickens, if he had had the technology, would have been blogging and tweeting and building his networks on facebook if he'd had the chance, because he was the consummate marketeer, because he knew his audience to a tee.

Well, many of us don't know our audience, don't have the same degree of self-belief that Dickens might have had, maybe don't have the drive the man had, because we're novices at this game, because we're first-time authors, struggling authors, to use that old, garret-laden cliche. Although most of us don't have to burn our furniture like Apollinaire or Hoelderlin or Valery had to, or any other of those poets who really couldn't get enough money together to live, or Roth who, according to a recently-published biography, borrowed from "every relative, publisher and waiter" to finance his nomadic life-style, his numerous mistresses, and all those he wanted to share his life with. We may think "chance would be a fine thing", but we don't mean it, not at all. We couldn't live like that, we wouldn't have the backbone, having grown up in a modern society where we have more than we can reasonably cope with, more than we actually really need.

I have decided to use technology, beyond twitter and facebook, to try to get the word out about my debut novel, Dead Men, not because I'm up my own backside, not because I'm an arrogant twit who thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread, but because I believe I have finally, after thirty years of trying, written a good book, a book worth reading, a book that says something not just to those interested in polar exploration, but to those obsessed with human relationships and love.

How have I decided to use technology, then? I have made my mind up to do the promo for the book, not just the hard, Shanks's Pony, way (I start a UK-wide book tour on 19th March which will lead me from London to Portsmouth to Doncaster to Diss, and then up to Dundee - exact timings to be confirmed), but also the potentially more embarrassing way of pitching myself to well-respected blogs as a potential guest contributor. Now there's an easy way for my already low typical writer's self-esteem to get even more damaged, but who cares? These are good blogs, and if they go for my pitch, I'll be flattered, relieved, enhanced as a human being.

So, the blog tour starts tomorrow, on Vivienne Tufnell's distinctive Zen And the Art of Tightrope Walking. Viv has been happy enough to let me write (excessively, some might say) about my formative writing experiences, about how my father encouraged my early writing. One thing I don't mention in that long post is that I didn't find out, until a week after Dad died in 1992, that he had tried himself as a writer, too, though he only had a few articles published in a works magazine. For me, that was one of the discoveries of my life, and my book just reinforces my gratitude to him for letting me get on with my life, no matter how many doubts or questions he had about me as a man. I am very grateful to Viv for letting me vent in her web space.

Some time soon, too, Alexander McNabb, whom I first met on authonomy, whom I've never met in real life, but whom I feel a type of affinity with, will be interviewing me on his blog, Fake Plastic Souks. I've, virtually, known Alexander since 2008, and never tire of his, often controversial, views of the publishing world. If there was ever a man who embodied Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt, it's Alexander, because he writes with a degree of irony and wit and insight which far exceeds mine. He'll drag you into a story with a wry sense of humour, just to rip you out of it again with savage, cutting cruelty. This is what great writers do.

I am talking to other writers, great in their own right, to ask them, beg them, to let me appear on their blogs. We will see what that brings. And that's good for me. Because, ever since my local village magazine decided to feature me on this month's front cover, folks I meet in the village have been calling me "that famous writer." I'm nothing of the sort. I'm just a bloke who has written a good book, a book that's not even out yet (not until 15th March), and who's hoping that some people he doesn't know might actually listen to his voice.

26 February 2012

Side by Side - Alex's 11th birthday

How has time changed us?
We never used to be friends,
You the hotheaded daughter,
Me the remote father, uninterested
In tantrums or dolls.

Now, we spend so much time
Together, seriously, with the laughter
That was missing in those early days,
And I don’t know why,
But I am glad of it.

You walk to school and back alone
Now, me at home with my heart
With my heart in my mouth,
Too many questions, as always,
As it will be forever from here,

Waiting for that half an hour alone,
Just you and me, even if you’re
In the other room and we don’t talk,
Because you’re here, back with me,
A daughter and her father, side by side.

Time heals, grows, escapes.
It forms, builds new places for us
To explore. It teaches us if
We’re ready to listen and learn.
That is how we’ve changed.


23 February 2012

Not a game any more

So, this is it. The review copies have gone out, the advance advance copy has come back with some wonderful words from Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and we're all set for the big launch at the Natural History Museum on 15th March. But are we really all set; am I?

Dead Men has already had one review, more or less wonderful and complimentary, finding depths in the book even I, as the writer, hadn't seen, proving that our words are often more profound than we think. And yet, and yet, no disrespect to the reviewer, my nervousness at the prospect of the launch does not diminish. What if even one reviewer thinks it's a poor book, what of even one voice amongst thousands declares that it's trite and inappropriate, what if the Polar community judges it inaccurate and ill-conceived?

One day last week, I was supposed to get up at 4 a.m., to catch the train to Doncaster, to record an interview, my first interview about the book. I overslept, having finished my next book the day before, being bereft, without wife and without 75% of my children, who were away, and didn't wake up till 6, feeling like proverbial shit. Seriously. And asking myself, not if all the effort was worth it, but if I wasn't being a touch arrogant, arranging interviews and signings all round the country for launch week. After all, my mind said, this is only one small book by a first-time author, by someone who hasn't proven himself yet, just another wannabe best seller by another wannabe author. Why pretend otherwise?

So I swore so loudly I woke my son, went out, had a smoke, texted all sorts of people apologising for oversleeping, and could we do the whole thing an hour later, when I'd bought my much more expensive train ticket (re-nationalise the railways, by the way), tortured my old and rusty car to the station and jumped, half-asleep and half-regrettingly, onto a train to Stowmarket (if only John Peel were still alive, I'd have got off there and walked to his house). Two jelly-babies, two changes of train and one misdirection by a non-National Railways member of staff, I was in Doncaster. And one Danish pastry later, I was sitting in the interview studio doing my stuff, which aired earlier today. And do you know, I thought I came across quite well, aided, without doubt, by the wonderful Sheila North whose interview skills and people skills obviously know no bounds.

You probably think this is off-topic, but for me this whole episode summed up the dilemma we writers are in, especially those of us signed with indie publishers, or those of us who decide to self-publish. In fact, on the train up, I had a long twitter conversation with a lady in East Suffolk who was getting a mass of abuse from people on facebook and elsewhere for self-publishing. Why?

So I sit here, the calendar clicking past me as my infected eyes (conjunctivis and blepharitis) try to focus on the screen, all my event dates moving closer, and me asking myself if this is what all writers go through, these extended periods of self-doubt and even more extended periods of self-loathing, if this is what it means to be published, to question even more the work we do, to doubt even more if it has any value.

And then, nervously, I open my book on a random page, look at the words like I've never seen them before, read a sentence or two and lose myself in those familar and unfamiliar words and feel myself being moved by something I've written, by some random phrase inspired, no doubt, by some random event, some random picture imprinted on my psyche, and I think It is worth it, after all; these words will outlast you, Richard, live beyond your death, and speak even when your voice has fallen silent.

Because that's what we do, all of us who write; we don't believe in ourselves, but we cling to the faiths our words scatter into the world.