Writing On Literature

  • This piece was commissioned by the ILS as part of the 'Crossing Borders' series. To Live Outside the Law You Must be Honest An April bank holiday Monday, and I plan to go across the border somewhere in the south-west of England. I don’t know the exact place, but between Newbury and Bath the Kennet and Avon canal stretches fifty-odd miles over the English countryside. My border point will be the 60 foot narrowboat Eve, which has a continuous cruising licence, meaning that every fortnight it has to move. My friend Drusilla Marland, who lives on Eve, is hard to pin down... Read full text here.

    May 30,
  • “If you wish to converse with me,” said Voltaire, “define your terms.” A definition of terms is the boring, necessary foundation to any philosophical debate, and is equally relevant to appreciating this book. In the title the publishers have chosen to pick out “win” in Knowing the Score, but David Papineau, a professor of the philosophy of science, isn’t offering a new and unlikely marginal gain in the quest for sporting victory. Nor is his book an ambitious attempt to mesh the universal cogs of theoretical philosophy and sport..." This book review was in the Times on April 22 and the full text is available here, possibly behind the paywall unless you never look at the Times, in which case you

    May 03,
  • 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,
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