Before the Take That theme and Richard Hammond mateyness and ‘Market Street’ worthiness, our local Morrisons was a lot more like a warehouse. Under striplights it had the colour of old caravans, and the canteen was windowless.
I got a part-time job there at 16. I worked in the bakery for £2.38 an hour. I think my boss was called June. She was tiny, and she really loved Elvis. At the end of a Saturday shift she’d reduce all the sell-by cakes and buy them. ’First dibs,’ she said.
We walked under the M25 the other weekend. I didn’t even realise till we got to the other end of the canal, and a friend told me. We stopped here and took a few pictures — as usual I kicked myself for not having the DSLR. It was like finding some hidden cathedral. And it made me think of this:
I’m certain people in the future — long after the automobile has been forgotten — will regard them as enigmatic and mysterious monuments which attested to the high aesthetic standards of the people that built them, in the same way that we look back on the pyramids or the mausoleums in a huge Egyptian necropolis as things of great beauty — we’ve forgotten their original function. It’s all a matter of aesthetics. I think that highways for the most part are beautiful.
– J. G. Ballard
Before they moved to France in the mid-90s, my grandparents lived in an old house in the Cotswolds. It was properly magic — packed with trinkets and bowing book shelves to the tops of its wonky corridors, its deepest corners. A bazaar of strange gems and rugs and books and videos and artefacts, and many of Gran’s still-life paintings.
Outside was a greenhouse that smelled so strongly of soil and tomatoes.
When you stayed, Gran would take god knows how many pillows and make a kind of nest on your bed. You’d clamber in and she’d read to you. She still tells a story of me being hysterical because Fantastic Mr Fox got his tail blasted off.
My grandparents are my favourite storytellers. They’ve always told the best anecdotes, myths, experiences. And I’ve always collected them. Their new house is still wallpapered with books. These shelves are in their library at the top of the house — their original Penguin section. It’s one of my favourite places in the world.
Nearly there with draft one of the new thing. Being down south has made writing about Manchester a bit trickier this time round — instead of going out for walks like I used to, you’ve got to connect dots and streets and places with your mind-map (and a little help from Street View). It means when I’m up there I tend to take as many pictures as I can. A lot of them of tall things — cranes, chimneys, gantries, towers, the knackered old machinery you see as the train rolls into Piccadilly.
This is one: the Beetham from the Princess Road. I did a Big Issue in the North interview a couple of months ago and called this tower a 47-storey middle finger to the IRA. Don’t know if that’s really true at all, but until the new builds catch up it’s still a weird but brilliant tower to have dominating the skyline. It always reminds me of the Combine Citadel in Half-Life 2.
Writers’ loved ones are the world’s most patient people — after taxi drivers in the arrivals lounge, anyway. They really deserve so much better than the crap they get served by writers in full-blown writing mode, word-wangling somewhere up their own W-hole.
Here’s a customisable letter of apology the average writer can use to start building bridges with their nearest and dearest.
Dear [housemate / parent / husband / wife / girlfriend / boyfriend / child / neglected pet]
I’m writing to say sorry for writing. I know you think my withdrawal from [our relationship / the normal world / this plane of consciousness / sociable activities / your needs] is because I’m moody or fed up with you or something. Well, I’m not. Truth is, it’s all because I realised (please choose all that apply):
If there is hope in this novel – and I think there is – it lies in the resilience of Manchester and its people – people like Brian – in their refusal to have others run their lives for them. The one thing Brian will not let go of is his love for Manchester, and from time to time, through his eyes, we glimpse moments of a future in which the broken city he calls his home will rise from its ashes.
– from Nina Allan’s brilliant review of THE FOLDED MAN. (One I’ll really, really treasure.)
After cosmic launches in Waterstones and Daunt Books, I’ve had a few quiet days to smile about everything in the world, ever.
Now the book’s out, surreal is the main theme: it’s done, it’s out, it’s on its way. It’s in people’s hands — a few strangers’ hands, even. And there are so many lovely things to replay; to feel so lucky about. Walking to Daunt Books in posho west London and seeing that window display was trippy, dizzying. Heading into Deansgate Manchester — where I’ve always daydreamed about having a book on a shelf — and being shown to our event room… The amazing Caroline Smailes interviewing me.
And then you read back over your messages. I’m so flipping grateful for the support, the tweets, the emails I got, and for the reviews it’s had already — here in The List, here on Litro, here on Craig Stone’s blog, a few kind souls on Amazon. (While we’re at it, I’m over on Caroline’s blog talking about Manchester, too.)
But there’s a little but. There’s a slight comedown. A tiny weeny bit of fear about how certain people will take it. There’s also a question: What next? Because loitering behind this screen there’s another novel waiting to be finished. The feeling that this one’s sailed, but there’s another broken ship waiting in the dock.
Anyway, I’d go on some more, but Laura Lam already nailed it all down in a beautifully frank blog post this week. So have a gander at that instead.