Writing On Literature

  • I was asked to write an Opinion piece for the Observer about reaction to the publication of The Day that Went Missing, including my own reaction to having written a memoir. How does it feel once it's out there? What was the point? 'Now I’m faced with the question of what happens next. What is a memoir actually for? There seems to be a lot of memoir about, but I can only speak for myself and wordsearching the typescript I discover the book contains 434 instances of the word Nicholas or variants. I have filled the pages with Nicky, with Nick-Nack, Nickelpin, Pinwin, all my brother’s various rescued nicknames. His solo photograph in beach-tinted Kodacolor is bold on a hardback

    May 03,
  • What connects the CIA, Somerset’s Midsomer Norton Rugby Football Club and 1970s experimental literature in Paris? Easy. The answer has to be Harry Mathews. At least, it’s easy for me, because I’m the other connection. The novelist Harry Mathews, the “American Oulipian” who died earlier this year, was an entertaining and reliable correspondent. I could expect letters in fountain pen, on heavy engraved paper, from any of his four addresses. In the early 2000s he would update me on his novel My Life in CIA: A chronicle of 1973. “Part non-fiction, part fiction”, he let me know from New York; “I have a feeling the French will get more of a kick out of it than my fellows here”. Back in

    Mar 26,
  • My French editor, a poet who'd slipped into publishing because poetry doesn't pay, was a former colleague from the old Bibliotheque Nationale on the Rue de Richelieu. I worked in the galleries, he was Maps and Stamps, though his true interests were poetry and the spirit of '68. He had in mind a verse epic about Paris and life on the Grands Boulevards, the contemporary everyday bursting with ghosts. He had a greedy eye, and could be distracted by fleeting impressions and chance events, so much so that he often forgot to inject himself with insulin. This meant he was forever scurrying into the toilets of a MacDonalds, a syringe between his teeth. Someone would call the police. When he forgot

    Oct 08,
  • '...  cakes and biscuits will be provided free of charge.' It's a deal. In fact it was a deal before the final incentive. I'll be spending February in Gladstone's library on the Welsh border not far from Liverpool. There is a fairytale quality to the idea of a residential library, a sense that anybody who chooses to stay the night is not only living with the books, but also somehow in the books. Who knows where a library dream will go at night? I'm about to find out, mostly thanks to the energy of William Ewart Gladstone himself. Into his eighties, past even his old man's prime as the Grand Old Man, he founded this library so that his books,

    Jan 29,
  • I'm a judge for this year's inaugural Costa Short Story Award. There, interest declared, but one of the reasons I wanted to join in was the anonymity of the entries. There's a mystery to who has written each story, but there shouldn't be any mystery about the judging. As with reviews on Amazon, it helps to know who's who and who knows who and who's doing what. Right. The award is open to anyone who has written a short story, whatever their publishing history, and the deadline for entries is Friday 7 September. There are then three stages to literary glory: 1. All the entries will be sent anonymously to a group of readers, who will sort out the sixty stories

    Sep 04,
1 2 3 6