Monday, March 27, 2017

John Nash - A Mind on Strike

The last years of Nobel and Abel Laureate John F. Nash. A film by Jim Rakete and Peter Badge.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

My first student breaks out

About eighteen months ago I was asked to participate in one of City University’s creative writing (MA) courses as a guest tutor. This course specializes in crime writing and, unusually, to get their masters degrees, participants must complete the first draft of a novel. The students are mainly guided by two in-house tutors, both eminent crime writers, but City also funds one external tutor per student. I was requested by David Young, who was writing a policier set in the former East Germany. This was the setting for my novel The Valley of Unknowing, as well as being where my wife Uta grew up.

I’ve never been on a writing course of any description, and the closest to coaching I’ve received has come from the odd book on the subject of writing. I did start out as a journalist, but there again, I never received any formal training (I suspect some of my earlier efforts made that obvious). So I know little of how writing fiction is taught. Nevertheless I enjoyed analysing someone else’s work-in-progress for a change, and my tutorials with David, all conducted in a Richmond Park café, unfailingly ran beyond their allotted time.  The dos and don’ts become clearer, it seems, when the story in front of you is not your own. So the exercise may have been as useful to me as I hope it was for him.

Either way, it was great news when David won his course’s annual prize for best novel, after which he was snapped up by an agent at Peters, Fraser & Dunlop in London. Even better news followed a few weeks ago when David made a three-book deal with Bonnier Publishing for world English rights. His first novel, Stasi Child, is to be published this September under Bonnier’s new Twenty7Books imprint. French rights has already been sold to Fleuve Éditions in France, and I gather there is also considerable screen interest here in the UK.

As the most occasional of three tutors, I can’t take much credit for this, if any at all, but I’m delighted that my first tutoring foray has ended so happily, and I wish David every success with the Stasi Child series.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Peter Hitchens on 'The Valley of Unknowing'

The distinguished author and journalist, Peter Hitchens, was once a correspondent in Moscow, and is old enough to have some experience of what life was like in the now-vanished Soviet Bloc (it remains to be seen if Mr Putin will succeed in re-inventing it...) Last Sunday, in his regular blog for the Daily Mail's on-line edition, Peter wrote about The Valley of Unknowing, which is set in the former East Germany. Coincidentally he bought his copy from a small shop near Gloucester Road tube station, close to where I lived for many years before moving to the burbs. I have a feeling I know which shop it was too (most likely The Slightly Foxed Bookshop). Anyway, he has some very nice things to say about the novel, and some thoughtful comments on the place and time that inspired it. You can read the piece here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In the Isabella Plantation

The Azaleas are out in this corner of Richmond Park, along with their ericaceous cousins. A good place to think (or, in Leo's case, climb trees and get muddy...).

Sunday, August 25, 2013

My notebook goes on holiday - without me

It is common for writers to follow in the footsteps of their more august predecessors, either literally or metaphorically. It’s less usual for their notebooks to do it for them. But that’s just what mine has done. The original footsteps are those of Robert Louis Stevenson, he of Treasure Island and Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde fame. When the great Scot was still in his twenties he spent twelve days hiking through the Cévennes, a wild and beautiful region of Languedoc, along the southern edge of the Massif Central. The result was a highly readable travelogue entitled  Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1878) , the donkey being Modestine, who emerged as one of the more vivid  – and indeed sympathetic – characters in the book. (It seems a good few of the locals were decidedly wary of the RLS, and kept their distance.)

I was near the Cévennes earlier this summer, and took with me a notebook, as I always do when travelling. It was rather a nice one - a gift - leather bound with a hard cover. I wrote many notes for The Valley of Unknowing in it, and I had I stuck to things literary, I might never have lost it. Unfortunately on this trip I used it to write down directions to a nearby supermarket (and a shopping list, for shame!) and then left it in the trolley, on one of those little fold-out seats used to torture small children.  I could never have suspected that the next person to use that particular trolley would be a man from the Cévennes, who makes a living taking visitors through the region on donkeys; but that’s just what Christian Brochier does.  (I am told that his donkeys are as lovely as Modestine was, but that the locals are now a good deal friendlier.  Nor are you required, as RLS was, to share a bed with any of them – unless you want to.)

A few weeks later, the notebook turned up again in England with a card from M. Brochier, in which he wrote: “I thank you for this moment of poesy and adventure in the great temple of consumption. I felt like a detective trying to resolve the question of the lost booklet – important for somebody, probably for a book or a film – and was especially puzzled by the map with the shops.”

I think the great writer would have understood this reaction very well. And I offer M Brochier my sincere thanks for his kindness.