Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Where I read

At the weekend someone asked me when I read short stories - they felt that a short story wasn't satisfying enough when they sat down in an armchair and pulled out a book, so they never read them. I thought about it and here's my answer:

I leave books of short stories and poetry around, so that if I have an urge, or ten minutes spare, I can pick one up and read. I can then carry the poem or story with me in my head.

This seems to me to be the best way of reading such intense and juicy things as poems and short stories. I need space in my head after reading one so that it can soak in, and so that I can think about it. It takes a truly stunning story or poem to stay fresh in my mind if I read another one straight after it.

So here's where I read:

in bed

in the kitchen
on the blue sofa

on my way out of the living room

in my office, when I should be working

no comment

in the living room (this is The Pile of books waiting to be read)

 back in my office

and there's always a book in my bag, just in case there's a nice little gap when I'm out.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A new look for ... February

You've no idea how long it took me to create this new look for my blog. The old one was fine and rather cosy with its jolly picture and bright colours. It did look a bit dated though so I set myself the task this week of creating something a bit more grown up.

Given the title of my blog it seemed obvious that I should take a photo for the header lying on the floor below our wall of bookshelves.

It took ages to get the shelf lined up more or less straight in the picture. And even longer to work out how to stop the template creating a mad tiled effect all over the top of the page.

I also had to resist the temptation to start reading all the books I'd pulled out so that they were visible from below.

All in all it was a pretty pleasant way to spend a wet afternoon. Back to work today though.

Friday, 10 February 2012


I've just finished a story in which hands are important. I'm superstitious about my stories so won't reveal more until (unless) it's published. Sorry about that.

To celebrate, I went into Tunbridge Wells to see Snowdon's In Camera exhibition. It's a collection of his portraits of artists, and what struck me most was the state of the sculptors' hands. I'm quite jealous.

That's my right hand above, squashed into my scanner. If you look closely, you can see two small burns where I caught myself while loading the woodburner.Otherwise, it's pretty much just a hand that's been around for a few years. Writing doesn't scar your hands.

Why am I jealous?

Because the artists gained their scars by pursuing their work unflinchingly. That's how I'd like always to work but if I'm honest, sometimes I do flinch. I always regret it - a story where I've flinched is never as good as one where I've faced up to the sticky messy insides of what made me write it in the first place.

So, from now on, no flinching, no matter what it does to my metaphorical hands.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Photographers but no photos

I'm definitely an amateur photographer, and not a very good one at that. I use a point and click camera, and can never remember the important things like depth of focus, so my photos are pretty much the result of luck.

Because I sometimes get to work with photographers, I know that a good photo is almost never down to luck. Though being in the right place at the right time helps, you also need to have a great eye, amazing reflexes if things are on the move, and lots of technical knowledge. Good knees are handy too - they all seem to spend a lot of time crawling about on the ground.

It's not about the camera - a decent photographer will take a fabulous shot with my camera phone and I'll take an utterly unmemorable one with the very best equipment.

I tremble whenever an ill-advised editor hands me a camera and asks me to take the photos myself - last time that happened was at a conference, and I was expected to take photos of people chatting over coffee, but the only lens they gave me on the huge and complicated camera was a vast telephoto so I spent the coffee breaks pinned against the back wall of the hotel trying to get far enough away from my targets.

Anyway, I thought I'd share the websites of four photographers I've worked with and whose work I really like. Mike Pinches and I have done lots of work for Sense (the deafblind charity) together, and have just finished a feature which I'll be shouting about here in a few weeks, I hope. He's quiet and calm, perfect attributes in a photographer, I'd say. Just take a look at his portraits.

Mike's assistant on our photo-feature was Mark Cocksedge. He's also just assisted at the The Blue Oblique shoot of David Hockney for the RA - and his own work's great too. I love his Sunday league football refs especially.

Steffi Pusch is a quite different kind of photographer. Where Mike and Mark's work is clean and bright, Steffi likes to muddy the waters. Her shots are moody, full of hidden elements, emotional. She often works with a pinhole camera, making complex images. She and I have been collaborating on an illustrated version of my story The Swimmer which The Old Stile Press is bringing out this year. I love her portraits, but perhaps the photos of hers I love most are her series, Soul Flowers.

Roelof Bakker came to me via The Swimmer too, which he read and liked, so he asked me to write a story to go with one of his photos - a great treat. He has some fabulous photos of Dennis Severs House on his site, which reminds me that I want to go there this year.

It seems a bit strange, talking about photographers, but showing none of their pictures.But there's a reason for that - their photos are their work, and they're all copyright and I wouldn't dream of infringing it. So you'll just have to go to their websites, I'm afraid. Sorry.