The other week we met a man who sells ‘ballast water management systems’ to shipping operators.

A challenge with global shipping, he told us, is that big vessels tend to dredge a lot of marine biology into their ballast tanks as they cross the world’s oceans. This means ships can easily introduce invasive species to new areas when they dump their ballast before docking.

I said I hadn’t really imagined this could be a thing, and that it sounded like interesting work. The salesman smiled and told us that because all this stuff happens beneath the surface – because you can’t see it – people just don’t think about it. ‘But the pump pipes have openings like this,’ he said, and held his arms out wide. ‘And the tanks can hold a lot of creatures.’

I asked him if they simply put a mesh on the inlets, or installed some kind of filtration equipment.

‘No,’ he said, and paused. ‘We just kill everything with chemicals.’

The conversation fizzled a bit after that. But I did come away with a reminder that you can find science fiction in almost anything.

Anyway: happy new year!



My first car was a white mk1 Clio with heavy steering and a surprisingly perky engine. It took me between Hyde and Old Trafford to work; it often took me over the Woodhead Pass for no reason other than to get me out of the house; and in summer 2007 it just about got me down to London.

One Friday evening after work I discovered it’d been stolen from an Old Trafford back street. This crap picture, taken on my old Nokia, is the empty space. Continue reading

Difficult second

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.

– George Orwell


I swear I’ve spent the last few weeks in a constant state of risk aversion, fretting that if I died or mangled myself I wouldn’t finish the new novel; and worse, that someone would come along and take it all the wrong way. To be honest I got so worked up about this I’ve now deleted all the writing I can find from 2011 backwards.

It’s a good feeling, then, to know you’ve finally hammered out a first draft. All told it’s taken about 18 months, and clocks in at 101,000 words – almost twice as long as THE FOLDED MAN, and well beyond where I’d originally pegged it. It’s more a companion than a direct sequel, and is probably the last thing I’ll set in Manchester for a while. (It doesn’t actually have a publisher yet, either.)

I could go on about how writing it felt like a bastard. That difficult second album. But in perspective, factoring in the hardships of our neighbours at home and fellow humans around the world, it was actually fine, maybe even frivolous. When you’re sitting there in your pants, unshowered, wallowing in the word-hole, binge-eating cheese and chocolate and cashew nuts, it’s easy to forget that writing will be first out the window when the end times come. And that a load of vitamin-D deficient, weak-limbed writers will be no good to anyone in the post-apocalyptic wastelands.

Still. I worked steadily and methodically, on buses and trains, in the gaps between the dayjob and sleep, until this weekend something crawled out into the light, shapeless and bending in all the wrong places, to croak: ‘Edit me. Please edit me.’

So that’s why I’ll be doing for the next month or so (unless I die sooner.) Then it’ll go to my first readers — always the worst bit — before Mr Agent and the wider world beyond (unless the feedback makes me kill myself).

First job

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.

Continue reading



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