Writing On Literature

  • On the Open Book programme on Radio 4 (I never know what I'm going to say) I said that too much reverence for biblical stories and any refashioning will be tedious. Too little and the updated version becomes facetious. There are observable symptoms for both. In every over-reverential re-telling of a New Testament story the author cares far too much about what language the characters are speaking. 'I'll have the fish,' said Peter in Aramaic. The facetious disease is just as easy to recognise - Jesus returns to earth in the present day and smokes dope. Of course he does. Updated, Jesus is always a stoner. It's just easier to explain him that way. Luckily there are alternatives. Gospel Noir has antecedents, if not exactly a history.

    Apr 15,
  • Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. As well may be, but the name of Cambridge is not to be taken lightly. There's an excellent article here from the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge that identifies this text as a 2003 internet meme, unrelated to any published research carried out in Cambridge. The Brain Sciences people elegantly set

    Mar 20,
  • Start looking and it’s everywhere. Kate Atkinson is at it, and Jenny Offill and Anne Carson. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is full of it, as is the first season of Homeland, and David Lynch has been working on it for years. Jo Nesbo might be, John le Carre is. The poets, some might say, found their way to it first. Our ideas about the physical world are changing. Quantum particles exist in multiple states simultaneously, they act on each other at a distance and the road not taken is the road taken. Fiction has always reflected the world we inhabit, and in a quantum story individual narrative components behave outrageously. But as in physics, the overall solidity of the fiction

    Nov 11,
  • There's something odd about the proverbial 'don't judge a book by its cover'. The saying implies that book covers were once a byword for rubbish design, and consistently misrepresented the content or quality of the book inside. Or perhaps the saying dates from the days before design, and means don't expect every story to be leathery and monochrome. I don't know. What I do know is that writers have difficult relationships with their covers. Partly this is because the covers are using a visual language in which the writer may not be literate - I may have written a paragraph about an important tree, but on the cover it's just a tree. It is brown. What is a potential

    Jul 11,
  • So far Lazarus is Dead has been reviewed in the Financial Times, The Spectator, The Eastern Daily Press, The Times Literary Supplement, The Glasgow Herald, The Sunday Times, The Catholic Herald, Sunday Business Post (Ireland), The Times and The Observer. Not everyone is entirely with the programme, but then a book that pleased everyone wouldn't be a book by me. Also, there's a writing truism that a bad review is better than none at all. From experience, I can attest that this is so (when the wounds begin to heal). Standard practice at this point is to extract the best bits of these reviews to give the impression of unanimous praise. Or in a different mood I could do quite

    Sep 11,