The last post

Christopher Priest passed away peacefully at home in the early evening of Friday, February 2nd 2024. He was eighty years old.

In the weeks before he died, Chris several times expressed the wish to leave a farewell message here, but this was a task we kept putting off. It seemed altogether too sad, I did not feel equal to it, and in the end we ran out of time.

I do know though, that what Chris most of all wanted to say was thank you. Chris’s readers meant the world to him. One of the things he loved most about attending science fiction conventions was how they brought writers together with their readers, in a way that felt informal, equal and democratic, altogether different from what went on at a more traditional literary festival. It was this love and respect for readers that kept Chris going to conventions, past the point where travel had started to become a problem for him.

So, on his behalf I would like to say thank you – to everyone who has dropped by here or will do in the future, to all those who have chatted to Chris in the bar at any point throughout his six decades of convention-going, to those who have brought books to be signed at readings and events, to the many readers who have written to him over the years, expressing their delight and amazement and gratitude for works that have delighted, amazed and in some instances proved life-changing. Most of all, to anyone who has ever picked up a Priest novel and inevitably, within mere moments, found themselves transported to a different reality.

Chris’s physical presence may have left us, but as readers we are lucky: a writer’s soul is immortal, instantly present and accessible through the stories, essays, criticism and novels they have left for us to find. As I said to Chris many times these past weeks and months, in this most important and essential of ways, he will always be with us.

The work goes on.

(Nina Allan, Rothesay, 05/02/24.)


Here is the cover for the Gollancz edition of my new novel Airside, which will be published later this month.

The book is largely about the liminal and always slightly disconcerting experience of passing through an airport. All travellers are familiar with the fact that every airport has two ‘sides’. In landside we check to see if the flight is on time, or when it is likely to board. If we are arriving from a flight, landside is where we are able to pick up our luggage. Most of us don’t delay long in landside. Coming in we are anxious to get home. On an outward journey we hasten towards:
Airside. This is where we have to be electronically scanned, have our bags X-rayed, our laptop looked at, where we put keys and loose change in a tray, where sometimes we have to remove our belt, or transfer little tubes and bottles of harmless unguents into a plastic bag. We cannot proceed through airside without a boarding pass in hand, or a passport. Closed-circuit cameras are everywhere, and some of them are checking our faces against a database. There is a sense that at any time, for any random reason, we might be challenged by someone in a uniform.
Once through all that we experience the unique nullity of airside. Most of us feel a little disoriented or apprehensive while waiting for a flight. It’s not impatience, fearfulness or boredom. There is only one thing we can do in airside, which is leave. But it’s impossible to leave unless it’s on the aircraft on to which we are booked. It is simply impossible to go back the way we came from. (A misguided attempt to do so will lead to a memorable experience.) So we are there to do the only thing allowed to us — to wait in a state of suspense, a herded passenger.
Anyway, the story of Airside, the novel, concerns a young American woman called Jeanette Marchand, a famous Hollywood star. Jeanette flies into London Airport one evening, walks across to the airside part of the terminal and is never seen again. What might have happened to her is the starting point of the story.

The retail price of Airside is £22.00. Like all writers of books I hope, if you’d like to buy a copy, you will find it in a local independent bookstore. On sale from 25th May. Every copy sold through a bookshop helps keep the trade healthy. You know it makes sense!

If for whatever reason you have to order a copy online, here are the currently available deals. Pre-publication orders can be placed as follows: £20.90 (free shipping for orders above £25.00) – a commission is paid to a local bookshop of your choice.
Book Hive £17.39 (free delivery, or pick up from a named shop) – a commission is paid to a local bookshop of your choice.
Blackwell’s £19.36 (free delivery, or pick up from a branch of Blackwell’s). £17.39 (free delivery with Prime). Amazon are also offering a Kindle edition at £12.99, and an audio book (read by the brilliant actor James Parsons) for £7.99.
Wordery: £18.00 (free delivery).
WOB (World of Books): £17.39 (free delivery in UK).

By the way, if you’re looking online, be aware that there is another recently published novel called Airside. This is by James Swallow and is described as an ‘unputdownable high-octane airport thriller’. Good luck with that. I would like to point out that it’s also fairly hard to put down my own novel, but I am far too modest to say that.

The Magus — new edition

Last year I wrote an introduction to a new American edition of John Fowles’s novel The Magus. The book has just been announced by Suntup Editions in California. This astonishing novel, first published in 1965, has not been available in hardcover for several years.

For me, discovering The Magus was a key and influential experience. It was a bestseller for many months, and filmed in 1968. The film, directed by Guy Green and starring Michael Caine in an early performance, was famously awful. It gave no hint of the unique reading experience of the original work. Although the book is now more than half a century old it still has the capacity to exert a powerful narrative grip on the reader, with a story that is both surprising and beautifully written. It is in my view a masterpiece, one of the best and most original novels of the twentieth century.

Suntup’s handsome new edition is a luxury reprint, with several extras. As well as my own intro there is an afterword by Fowles’s biographer Eileen Warburton, and six new illustrations by Marc Burckhardt. Also included is the introduction Fowles himself wrote for the Revised Edition of 1977, a bonus essay about the book which Fowles wrote in 1994, and a transcript of a long filmed interview with Melvyn Bragg broadcast on the BBC’s The Lively Arts.

It is available direct from the publisher.

Arvon — February 2023

Co-working with my partner Nina Allan, I will be leading an “Online Writing Week” for the Arvon Foundation. The subject: Speculative Fiction. This runs for the week of 6th – 10th February, 2023, Monday to Friday. A limited number of half-price concessions are still available. If you’d like to take part, it is essential to make contact with Arvon well before Friday 20th January.

This being the time of year it is, Arvon have pointed out that they can supply gift vouchers as a Christmas present!

Nina and I have a liberal understanding of speculative fiction, and the multitude of ways it can be written. We are at home with writers who work within the genre, but also respond to those who wish to move to and perhaps cross the borders. I am always reluctant to limit the possibilities by defining in advance what this might mean for individual writers.

Full information here.


Long-term friend Bill Seabrook has written to say that yesterday (which was publication day for Expect Me Tomorrow) he received an email from Amazon, concerning his pre-order for the book.

The heading said, Arriving today: Expect Me Tomorrow

Is this a witty comment on Amazon’s own delivery service? Or an acknowledgement of what it’s like to receive stuff from the outside world, on this lovely Scottish island?

Thanks, Bill!

Expect Me Tomorrow

I’m pleased at last to be able to publish the planned cover for my next novel in the UK, Expect Me Tomorrow. It seems ages since I completed the book, but there have been several apparently unavoidable delays. The book itself is of course undamaged by delay: it was challenging and involving to write, and I was happy with it when I sent it in. From my own point of view it is just no longer my most recent work, as another new book will follow next year.

Expect Me Tomorrow covers a period of roughly two hundred years. The earliest event is the accidental death of a glaciologist in the mid 19th century. A petty criminal is arrested and jailed for a series of cruel thefts from vulnerable women. Two centuries after that, a couple of decades from now, the indirect consequences of these two apparently unrelated matters can be felt. I don’t want to seem to be writing a blurb, and I don’t want to dwell on the plot, but I think I ought to give some idea of what the book is about. To anyone who has read some of my past books I should mention that this time there are two sets of identical twins, but no one muddles them up and none of them is a magician.

The book will be published in hardcover on 15th September 2022 by Gollancz. As always, I hope if you would like to buy a copy of this you will support an independent bookseller in your locality. Use indie bookstores, or lose them!

On the other hand, if you are dependent on internet suppliers and mail order, then is a good alternative – they offer a small discount and a portion of their profits goes to an independent bookshop of your choice. Advance orders can be made with them, with delivery on or just before publication.

Mail order advance orders can also be placed with Amazon, Book Depository, Wordery and presumably other outfits I haven’t come across yet.

The Prestige at the GFT, 5 July 2022

It is now almost sixteen years since the release of the film of The Prestige. A lot can change in a decade and a half, and it’s fair to say the world we live in now is radically different from what we knew in the mid-noughties. In a more particular sense the young director of The Prestige, Christopher Nolan, who was then at the start of his career, has had a string of international successes and is now widely regarded as a top film-maker. Most of the main actors have grown in fame and stardom since they made the film. It was the first of my novels to be filmed, and remains the only one. (So far.) It doesn’t seem so long ago to me.

The Glasgow Film Theatre is running a short season of Nolan films on various dates during July, starting on 3rd July with a late-afternoon 35mm screening of The Prestige. On 5th July I will be at the GFT to introduce a second screening at 8.00pm, followed by a short Q&A. Full details here. The GFT is in Rose Street, Glasgow.

The Prestige still looks like a pretty good film to me, possibly Nolan’s best so far, a view which seems to be shared by an increasing number of people. I haven’t seen it on the big screen since 2008, but from sampling it on the DVD and streaming platforms it doesn’t look dated. (The last theatrical screening I saw was in Russia. Their version had the entertaining phenomenon of Michael Caine unconvincingly dubbed into guttural Russian.) I seem to be in a minority of book writers because I don’t complain about the way the film has corrupted or betrayed or misunderstood my brilliant original. On the contrary, the film of The Prestige has always seemed like an intelligent and well thought out adaptation, different in many details from the book, but achieving the same sort of effect.


We are soon to move away from our present house, while remaining on our unique island. The new place is somewhat smaller than the old, and the dreaded need to shed a huge number of books has finally come to pass.

We have already donated about a third of our collection of books to the amazing shop in Wemyss Bay Station, and I imagine should you venture there in the next few months our cast-offs will be bulking the shelves. The shop is anyway always worth a visit, with a wide-ranging stock of secondhand books on sale at reasonable prices. Wemyss Bay is admittedly not the easiest place to get to, although there is a car park adjacent to the shop and an hourly train service from Glasgow Central. The shop is in the station concourse, itself a listed building of astonishing architectural beauty.

But more than this. Like many writers we have built up a huge number of spare copies of our own books. The other day we delivered six heavy boxes of these copies to Thistle Books in Glasgow. The copies are both hardcover and paperback, all of them are new and unread, most are first editions or first printings, and we signed every copy. Included are several copies of the now rare first edition of The Glamour, as well as more recent titles. (We threw in a handful of surprise inclusions in some of the copies.) Nina also donated most of her own titles.

We were extremely grateful to Robert Dibble, proprietor of Thistle Books, who has helped us solve a problem of space in our new home. He seems confident he will sell all or most of the copies. Do support him. The bookshop is here, with contact details.

Rendez-vous demain

Here is the cover for my next novel, to be published by Denoël in Paris, in April 2022. The title in English is Expect Me Tomorrow.

The artist is the French engraver and designer Anouk Faure.

Although much of the novel is set in the 19th century, the events then have a long-term impact on our own lives two centuries later. The title is taken from a remark made in several letters by a petty criminal who called himself John Smith, and is a promise and a threat contained in three words.

Smith (whose real name was never known for sure) was a despicable nonentity, soon apprehended and punished. But there were certain anomalies that surrounded his crimes, and these led, indirectly, to a new way of understanding our world and its future.

The Stooge arrives!

At last, The Stooge will be getting a screening in the UK.

This has been showing at film festivals around the world for the last year or so, bravely masking up and mixing freely. It has gained a huge amount of attention in those socially distanced circles, but I can say it has been picking up awards and commendations everywhere it goes. Looking at the array of award bouquets, below, I am amazed, impressed and very pleased by the persistence of the producers. The festival circuit can be a hard road to travel, but they have done well in these socially constricted times.

The film runs for a mere twenty minutes, but it packs a lot into that brief time. It is an essay on stage magic and was for me when I wrote the original short story a kind of ironic commentary on and footnote to The Prestige. The story can be found in my recent collection Episodes, but that really does not give even a hint of the way it has been widened and enriched by director Rogelio Fojo. He has come up with real mystery, good surprises, excellent music and several moments of beauty. In the opening credits there is a classic sleight of hand, filmed in close-up from below: you see every move the illusionist makes, yet will still be baffled by it. Full credit goes to Fojo and his team.

I am arranging for a copy to be made available for showing at Novacon. This takes place between 12th and 14th November this year, at the Palace Hotel, in Buxton. I shall be there. Here is the website for the convention.

Still Expecting

For those who have long memories, and in a metaphorical sense grey beards, it might be recalled that in an entry on this blog dated 29th October 2020 I reported that I had just finished and sent in a new novel. It is called Expect Me Tomorrow.

The novel is still called that, in spite of the temptation to change the title to Expect Me Next Decade. This week I finally received and signed a contract for its publication, almost exactly eight months later. What you might ask has gone on in the meantime? Good question. Not, I can assure you, anything close to indecent haste from those at the other end. At least it now has a certainty, and is likely to appear in September next year, another fifteen months away.

Advice to aspiring novelists: live long.

A Coot

‘Cooting’ is a slang word describing a transgressive sexual act. I had never come across it before, either the word or the act, but I discovered the meaning (as no doubt you will too, after you read this) in the online Urban Dictionary. I don’t want to repeat the definition here. It is beyond question thoroughly disgusting.

You might well wonder why I was even looking it up. I came across the word in Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel, Klara and the Sun.

The book includes a description of a large and noisy machine that does road work. It is coloured a dirty pale yellow and through its three funnels it emits an acrid black smoke cloud, so dense and polluting that it obscures the light from the sun. The narrator (of whom more in a moment, but for now it’s enough to say the narrator is a solar-powered AI hominoid) sees this as a symbolically destructive machine and becomes determined to destroy it. The word Cootings is painted on its side.

Later in the book, the hominoid learns of a way to damage what is now called the Cootings Machine: if a certain fluid, referred to in Ishiguro’s mumbo-jumbo as a P-E-G Nine solution, is introduced into the workings the machinery would be made useless. As it happens, P-E-G Nine solution is present inside the hominoid, in ‘a small cavity … at the back of the head, where it meets the neck’. With the help of a human friend, the AI hominoid suffers a minor incision with a handy screwdriver, and the P-E-G Nine solution is introduced into the workings. The Cootings Machine is duly disabled.

This combination of a criminal act with body horror and body fluids made me wonder what on earth the author was getting at. It seemed dark and mysterious symbolism might be going on.

And why is it called Cootings? Cootings is apparently the name of the machine’s manufacturer. As the book is set in a slightly futuristic version of our own world, wouldn’t heavy industrial machinery of this sort be more realistically likely to have JCB or Kobelco or Massey-Ferguson painted on its side? Why make up a new name? Kazuo Ishiguro is self-consciously a serious writer at the top of the literary ladder: he is the author many novels, the winner of multiple book prizes, and is now a Nobel Laureate. The choice of this name must have been an informed, deliberate one, and this is why I went in search of the meaning of the word. When I learnt the definition given by the Urban Dictionary, I thought for a fleeting moment that I had stumbled on and opened up a whole new and stunningly original depth of dark symbolism. While the fleeting moment persisted I was shocked and daunted by the writer’s audacity.

Well, not really. The Cootings Machine turns out to be a minor sub-plot, the threat it presents is exaggerated by the narrator’s unworldly inexperience, and the attack on it with P-E-G Nine solution is carried out off-stage. And because it turns out there is more than one Cootings Machine in existence, to damage one of them is ultimately pointless. It is barely referred to again.

This is a risk of seeming to labour a point, but in fact it is one small but clear example of the many superficial and inconsequential images that litter this novel. Ishiguro clearly had no more idea than me or anyone else reading this what ‘cooting’ meant. Presumably he thought he was making it up. Presumably he didn’t think to spend ten seconds Googling the word (as I did earlier today) just in case it was slang for a disgusting and transgressive sexual act, just in case he wanted to think again and perhaps call it JCB Machine instead.

The book is narrated by Klara, an ‘Artificial Friend’ designed to help girl teenagers through their difficult years. Klara is referred to as a robot at one point, presumably because she has been fashioned in a human-like, i.e. hominoid, shape, with legs, a torso, a face and hair. She wears clothes, and goes to her own room at night. She is female in some undescribed fashion, so presumably male hominoids are made male in some other fashion. (If so, with what dark and mysterious reason?)

One groans at the familiarity, as one did in McEwan’s not dissimilar novel in 2019, Machines Like Me, but also at the impracticality and the sheer old-fashionedness of the idea. Walking and talking humanoids, from Robbie the Robot to Marvin the Paranoid Android, have used up the notion: they now amply fulfil the condition of intellectual decadence, as set out by Joanna Russ in her magisterial essay in 1971, ‘The Wearing Out of Genre Materials’. Modern AI is genuinely a much more subtle thing, from the supermarket till that offers you money off next time you buy the chocolate biscuits you enjoy so much, to the intrusive data harvesting of social media engines, and to the hostile regimes who try to influence the results of elections. A walking, wondering, blank-eyed doll who calls a smartphone an ‘oblong’ and who thinks houses are painted in different colours so the residents will not enter the wrong one by mistake, is nowhere close to that league. Not AI at all, then. Better as AS?

Klara is our narrator for the full length of the 80,000-odd words, so we are forced to see the world through her restricted and estranged perception. Some critics call this the use of an unreliable narrator, but that is a much more sensitive and sophisticated literary device. Klara is not unreliable: she simply doesn’t get it. The matters she doesn’t get are left to us to try to understand, as it were, on her behalf. It is dull and sometimes maddening having to go through page after page, mentally interpreting for a clod. It distances the reader not only from the action and the world in which it takes place, but more importantly from the characters. They are third-person ciphers, respectively referred to as ‘Manager’ (of the obsolete type of department store where Klara sits in a sales window), or ‘the Mother’ (of Josie, the teenage girl who is being artificially befriended), or ‘Mr Paul’ (father of same). In dialogue, Klara habitually addresses them by these second-person labels.

All this is bad enough, but Ishiguro adapts his style to the purpose. His English is bland, careful, circumlocutory, slightly grandiloquent, always shrinking from commitment to his characters or his subject. One is often reminded of Stevens, the clod of a butler in The Remains of the Day, 1989, who behaved like a stooge servant in a TV costume drama, following the pedantic script and missing all the hints of a real world around him. Much of the dialogue in Klara and the Sun is repeated, the characters treating each other as people who haven’t listened or understood, or who defer to each other.

As for the lack of commitment, Ishiguro is depicting a future world in which the geneticists and eugenicists have perfected the art of super-selection, in which the bright kids are ‘lifted’, given good health and schooling and higher education, plus an easy passage into the chattering classes, while the dullards are fascistically consigned to pauperdom or death. Does Ishiguro give any hint of the moral horror of such a world? No – he shrinks from that, just as he and Stevens shrank from the appeasement of the Nazi sympathizers in the big country house of Remains of the Day.

A novelist should approach a fantastic or speculative element with a full-on open mind, aware of the consequences of technological inventions, of the implicit warnings contained in social extrapolation, of the good or bad example a postulated future might set, of the impact on the people who are involved. It is not enough to watch a few sci-fi films on Netflix, or pick up futuristic-seeming slang from comics. The fantastic is a powerful and important literary strand, largely ignored or patronized or misunderstood by the literary world at large, but the best examples of fantastic literature treat their material with seriousness, responsibility and imagination. A secondrate imagining of these things leads to secondrate literature. Klara doesn’t get it, but neither does Kazuo Ishiguro.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. Published by Faber & Faber, £20.00, ISBN: 978-0-571-36487-9

The Magic — now in ebook

Nearly a decade and a half ago I wrote and published a book about the making of the film The Prestige. It’s called The Magic – the Story of a Film. Over the years many readers have purchased copies, which is still available in its first edition hardcover, as well as paperback. Courtesy of David Langford at Ansible Editions I now have an ebook version of The Magic available, and details of it may be read here.

The film was of course based on my own novel. It was directed by Christopher Nolan – at that time he was not the major Hollywood director he is now perceived to be. I took a special interest in the process of transition from book to film for reasons which should be obvious. I had little to do with the actual mechanics of the production, but being a witness to a lot of bemusing activity happening over there in far California was intriguing enough. The process of adaptation appealed to me as a craft matter: I knew better than anyone what a complex and cerebral book it was, and when I heard that a film was in preparation I started wondering how on Earth anyone could make anything coherent from it. When I was able to see the finished product the answer was a welcome and rather satisfying surprise.

Years later the film of The Prestige looks better and better. It is routinely under-rated by Nolan’s fans, who prefer the three films he made about The Batman, and the special effects extravaganzas that followed those. Not being that sort of fan I disagree. The Magic is therefore a book writer’s analysis, and celebration, of what is probably Nolan’s most interesting film to date.

What to Expect

It probably seems like a school essay: “What I did in lockdown”, but I have to say that living on a Scottish island and having a lot of writing to do is the best possible way of getting through this uninteresting, worrying and as yet unfinished period. Here, in reverse order, is the product of my last seven months in enforced seclusion:

I have written an introduction to a new book with what might seem an unpromising title: My Father’s Things. When you discover that the “My” is the photographer Wendy Aldiss, the “Father” is the author Brian Aldiss and the “Things” are all the possessions he had after a lifetime of writing, travel, family and collecting, then maybe it’ll seem a lot more interesting. I found it fascinating, both for the nosey satisfaction of seeing behind the scenes of a long, productive and successful life, and for the quality of the beautiful images. Wendy took more than 9,000 photos as she went sadly through his house, and the book is a selection of the best.

Brian Aldiss’s ties

Wendy is seeking crowdfunding for the project, and is already well on the way to achieving her target. Do check out the Kickstarter page, and become a supporter.

During the short recess in the lockdown, at the end of summer, we briefly breathed the heady air of freedom and went to see the new Christopher Nolan film, Tenet. This coincided with reading for review a new book by Tom Shone, The Nolan Variations. The book consists of transcriptions of many long interviews with the great man, film by film. I take a special interest in Nolan’s films, and the review is published today.

My book, The Magic, which is about the making of Nolan’s film version of The Prestige, is still available in hardcover and paperback. Details here.

Most of the last seven months, though, has been fully occupied by a new novel, which I completed and sent to the agent this week. The title is Expect Me Tomorrow, probably the most complex book I have written to date. I’m reluctant to say anything about it at the moment. I’m still too close to it for that, but it’s a weird feeling, sending something out into the world that has been a private obsession for all these months.

New Book (old normal)

First copies of The Evidence arrived this morning, looking good. I was very pleased to see this in print at last, after what turned out to be a fairly normal process, attended distractingly and worryingly by the social upheaval and feelings of uncertainty  known to everyone. Books endure, books are a constant.

According to Amazon, the book will not be published until October 15, but our local independent bookshop has already ordered, and says Gardners are supplying from stock. They will have copies tomorrow. Independent bookshops remain the best place to buy new books.

ISBN: 978 1 473 23137 5. Gollancz 2020, 312 pp, £20.00

Choose Which Side You’re On?

This is the Brexit Biscuit, a shortbread snack of two halves. It may be eaten whole, or one half at a time, or simply broken apart in a symbolic way: one side kept forever, the other discarded. It comes in a pack of twelve, wrapped in a free but tear-up-able copy of Article 50, and packed in a beautiful old-fashioned tin box, good for keeping things in. Obtainable here.

The Prestige and The Magic

The Sunday Telegraph, today, carries an interview with me by Sam Leith. (The Telegraph website has a paywall.) The matter under discussion: the films of Christopher Nolan, a topical subject as his new blockbuster Tenet is currently busy saving the film industry. Mr Leith had read my book on the subject, The Magic, so we tended to follow the arguments expressed there.

The Prestige (Gollancz)My novel The Prestige, was filmed by Christopher Nolan in 2006 and rated by many critics to be his best film (a view I share). The book is still in print and available in paperback from all bookstores.

A few years after the film appeared I wrote and published The Magic, in effect a response to the many friendly enquiries I received on an almost daily basis from readers and filmgoers: what did I really think of the film?, what went on behind the scenes?, how does the film compare with the novel?, and so on.

The MagicAlthough characterized in some quarters as me ‘slamming’ Mr Nolan (which no doubt will be said again after the interview has been read), the book is in fact an appreciative and nuanced study of how a serious and complex feature film is conceived and made by a young film maker at his peak.

I had absolutely nothing to do with the development and production of the film, but for obvious reasons every moment of the finished product was of interest and fascination to me. Naturally, I spelled out a few small reservations about the film (nothing’s perfect), and made a few disappointed comments about the way Mr Nolan’s talent appeared to be in the process of being squandered on lesser projects – an obsession with simplistic comic superheroes, for instance.

This is where the ‘slamming’ comes in, I suppose. But in reality I have always supported and endorsed the film, making personal introductions at festival screenings, for example. Christopher Nolan is clearly a talented and skilful film-maker, which is not in question, but he has not followed through with the uniquely imaginative approach shown in his early work. Many films start looking a bit dated quite soon after release, but Nolan’s film of The Prestige has a timeless quality, and is already showing encouraging signs of becoming a genuine classic of cinema.

The Magic is still in print and available directly from me, in both the first edition hardcover (£16.99) and a paperback (£10.99). More details about how to order can be found on this page.

The Evidence

Here is the cover art for my new novel, The Evidence. It will be published by Gollancz in October, and it can be pre-ordered from Amazon in hardcover or Kindle.

The EvidenceThere is no mention in it anywhere of lockdown, virus or pandemic. There are no jokes about eyesight tests, no plague ships polluting the oceans, no face masks. It describes a place where crime no longer exists, and in which three murders have to be investigated.

Plague Ships!

An interesting and potentially deadly subtext to the coronavirus crisis is the fate of several luxury cruise liners. Refused entry by many ports, a few of these monster vessels with their passengers and crews isolated inside their cabins and breathing recycled air, and suffering all the horrors of COVID19, had to roam the seas while searching for a safe landing. While the coronavirus epidemic was confined to the Far East a few of these ships were named and located. They were allowed to berth for quarantine, but many more are still at sea and in all parts of the world. They are now operating with increasing secrecy and many cannot be identified or tracked by software.

A very big shipThere are approximately sixty luxury cruise liners in current operation with a deadweight greater than 120,000 tonnes. Another forty-two such ships are currently on order, or under construction.

In environmental terms, each of these ships is an abomination: they produce exhaust fumes as prolifically as 700 large trucks. They leave a vast trail of human waste in their wake. Like all ships, they secretly clean out and dump the waste from their fuel tanks at sea. They severely damage both the infrastructure of the ports they call at, and the social dynamics of the towns they visit – Venice is the most famous example of this, but it is true of many other places, including the Scottish islands.

Today, our local paper Isle of Bute News reports that this part of Scotland, with its multiple sea lochs and inlets, has recently been attracting many such luxury yachts and cruise liners. Several of these ships have been refused entry to French and Italian ports. They have all switched off their identifying transmitters, and so become invisible to tracking software. A few berthed briefly in Greenock, then moved on. They cannot land crew or passengers without health clearance, so many of them are anchored at sea, or more often in convenient inlets between the hills.

Practical information about these Flying Dutchmen, modern plague ships secretly wandering the seas, can be found here.

A case of writers’ lock

We do not use social media, so in modern terms we are fairly ‘silent’. A few kindly people have sent us emails enquiring how we are getting along in these unusual times and circumstances.

The reality of self isolation

The answer is that Nina and I are both working on new novels, sitting alone in our respective studies, a state of affairs completely normal for us but which conveniently looks like self-isolation and in general accord with the government’s recommendations about social distancing. It’s a fast-changing situation, as everyone knows. There is as yet no trace of the coronavirus on the island, nor indeed anywhere in the rest of Argyll & Bute, a huge if not massively populated county. Because of the way these things work I assume the arrival of the dreaded thing is only a matter of when, not if.

We have decided, with immense regret, not to attend the Eastercon this year.

Looking at the rest of this blog I notice that the last time I wrote an entry here was in November last year. How time flies. That appreciative review of Amy Binns’ biography of John Wyndham produced only one response, and that was a howl of protest from someone else who had been working on the same subject but had failed either to finish it or find a publisher for it. I was held somehow responsible for their failure, and a stream of vindictive emails followed. I had never before invoked the power to redirect unwanted emails from an annoying correspondent into the spam folder, but once I did a blessed silence fell. It took until mid-February for the phrase ‘self-isolation’ to emerge, when I realized what I had done had a name.

All is therefore well here (for now), and although we are absorbed in what we are doing we are anxious to keep hearing from our friends about their own experiences in this alarming time.

The Life Awakes

At last we have in Amy Binns’s new biography of John Wyndham a well-written and objectively researched book, half a century after his death in 1969. Wyndham was the first successful modern science fiction writer to emerge in Britain since H G Wells. His work, mostly written in the late 1940s or early 1950s, has acquired period charm, and some of the dialogue is middle class in tone and dated in style, but there is a hardness of vision, a satirical edge, a sense of the author’s regrets and sometimes amusement about the follies of the world at large.

His books and short stories are remarkable for their constant depiction of strong, decisive or capable women. His speculative ideas, although sometimes reworked from his own early stories or from the generality of the genre, were presented plausibly and with a nice sense of menace. For example, his second novel, The Kraken Wakes, created a genuine and growing feeling of mystery and unease while an invasion force went about a deliberate and unexplained process of destroying our planet.

Amy Binns’s excellent book, Hidden Wyndham, depicts the author as a shy, withdrawn and deeply private man. There are no shocking details to be excavated from the past, there is no scandal, no secret life, although a tinge of sadness hung around him. At first he had to deal with the effects of being born into a dysfunctional middle-class family, his mother a distant if loving presence, his father a ne’er-do-well lawyer who sponged constantly off his wife’s wealthy parents. As a young man Wyndham began a tentative writing career in the American pulp magazines, which was interrupted when the second world war began. After war service he returned to his writing and became unexpectedly a major publishing phenomenon.

When his first books were successful he became known to other science fiction writers in London, including Arthur C Clarke (then much less celebrated), William F Temple and John Christopher. Wyndham regularly attended their monthly meetings at the White Hart and Globe pubs, but they seem to have learned little or nothing about his life. Later he collaborated with them to launch the magazine New Worlds SF as a commercial venture, but he retained his privacy. He lived somewhere in London, but they had no idea where. When he signed the official papers as Chairman of the new company, his address was revealed to be at a members’ club they had never heard of. ‘Wyndham’ was a kind of pseudonym – his real name turned out to be John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris.

When in 1963 he announced that he had married a friend called Grace Wilson, with whom he had been close for more than two decades, the other writers were astonished: he had always seemed isolated, self-sufficient, closed off, a classic bachelor of choice. In fact, as we discover from the archive of his hundreds of letters written to Grace (many of them sent while he was serving in the Army after D-Day), theirs was a loving, intimate and trusting relationship. For most of that time they chose to present as just friends: they rented adjacent rooms in London’s Penn Club, a strictly run private club established by Quakers which would not condone extra-marital relationships. Because marriage, or even more the admission of an affair, would in those days have had a drastic impact on Grace’s professional career (she was a senior teacher at a girls’ school, and for years the main breadwinner of the two of them), they decided to stay unwed. John Wyndham himself was content not to formalize their relationship until late in life. Once married, he and Grace stayed happily together until Wyndham died. He was at ease for the rest of his life, and the books brought him substantial financial security.

The quality of his work takes the general form of a bell curve. His early contributions to American science fiction magazines were typical of the period and have become badly dated – many of them were reprinted in modern editions after his success, and are mainly of curiosity interest now. The war arrived and Wyndham had to stop writing. He became one of the generation of British writers whose careers were put on hold for several years: others include Elizabeth Bowen, William Sansom, Rex Warner, H E Bates, Graham Greene. The involuntary pause had a different impact on the work of each individual, but in Wyndham’s case it seems to have been the making of him. The Day of the Triffids (1951), the first book published as by John Wyndham, is skilfully told in a mature and readable style. His other three great novels followed: The Kraken Wakes (1953), The Chrysalids (1955) and The Midwich Cuckoos (1957).

But these four represent the peak, the upper limit of the bell curve. Four more novels followed, none of them at the same standard as his best. Trouble with Lichen (1960) was a social satire, a distinct lowering of temperature from the others. The Outward Urge (1959, published in collaboration with ‘Lucas Parkes’ as nonexistent science adviser) was another disappointment. The last novel to be published in his lifetime was Chocky (1968), which was an adult novel with a child as a main character. After his death, a novel he had been struggling with for several years was finally published. Web (1979) was a long way below par, something of which John Wyndham himself was almost certainly aware.

Forty years after Wyndham’s death, an unpublished novel called Plan for Chaos was found in his papers at University of Liverpool. After a university press hardcover appeared in 2009, Penguin later published it in paperback. (I was commissioned to write an Introduction to their edition.) For imagined commercial reasons Plan for Chaos had been aimed at the American market, but the attempts at American dialogue and slang were crude and unsuccessful through most of the opening chapters. The second half of the novel is much better, and the story of the Nazi scientists who escaped to South America, and aimed to take over the world in their flying saucers, at least has the familiar Wyndham ironic humour.

Interestingly, Plan for Chaos was written after The Day of the Triffids, but it is significantly less accomplished. In correspondence with Frederik Pohl, his American literary agent, Wyndham said he thought the Englishness of Triffids would make it difficult to sell in the States. He put the better novel aside while he wrote the much weaker book intended to replace it.

There is some evidence (noted by Dr Binns in her book) that Ira Levin and John Wyndham had corresponded, and that Levin was likely to have read Plan for Chaos in manuscript. His own novel, The Boys from Brazil (1976), has a remarkably similar plot in outline. One of his other novels, This Perfect Day (1970), contains a coded acknowledgement to Wyndham.

The mysteries of John Wyndham’s private life turn out to be trivial, and no one’s business but his own. To read his love letters to Grace feels intrusive, but they give a context to the body of his best work. He seemed diffident and aloof to some who met him, but Amy Binns reveals him as a decent and faithful man, a lover of the countryside and a gifted storyteller. His books have been continuously in print for nearly seventy years, an extraordinary achievement.

Hidden Wyndham — Life, Love, Letters by Amy Binns, Grace Judson Press, pp 288, £10.95. ISBN: 978-0-9927567-1-0

A Hundred Books

Here are the one hundred books I consider to be my ‘key’ titles. They are not intended as recommendations as such, although in many cases I would in fact recommend them. I imagine many of the works here will be already familiar to most people reading this. The uniqueness lies only in the totality, the existence of one title thought of as special in the context of all the others of similar specialness, memorable in a life full of fairly disorganized and impulsive reading.

I have read them all, and they remain permanently on my shelves, but I have not read all of them all the way through. (I have read closely only a handful of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, for one example.) In most cases the book as a whole has had an impact on me, but in at least two instances what I remember most profoundly is an image from a single sentence, and in one other case it was a painted illustration that moved me — I only identified the work the painting was based on many years later. But of course several are here because I have read and re-read them many times (Alice in Wonderland was a constant favourite throughout my early childhood).

Speaking of Shakespeare, I have seen Hamlet performed four or maybe five times, but I have never read the play as a text. I can recall few lines from it, and accurately quote none of it, but when I hear the words spoken I am filled with a happy recognition.

The books are in alphabetical order by author — this is a way of slightly covering my tracks. Putting them in chronological order would be difficult and only approximate anyway, and even then would be far too revealing of how easy it is to be sucked into a series of like books, one after the other. The most recently discovered author on this list is the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño.

But alphabetization of the authors produces its own oddness. There is Enid Blyton cheek by jowl with J G Ballard. And George Orwell and Beatrix Potter lie next to each other, even though three decades separate them. (I’m not saying which one came first.)

This particular listomania was brought on by Nina Allan, who has published her own list and talked me into doing mine. The whole thing was ultimately provoked by the current BBC-TV series, 100 Novels that Shaped our World. I do not claim world-shaping impact on me from these titles, nor are all of them novels, but they form part of the silent context from which one views the world and reacts to it.

  1. Penguin SF Ed. Brian Aldiss
  2. Non-Stop Brian Aldiss
  3. New Maps of Hell Kingsley Amis
  4. The Green Man Kingsley Amis
  5. The Four-Dimensional Nightmare J G Ballard
  6. Vermilion Sands J G Ballard
  7. The Twins at St Clare’s Enid Blyton
  8. The Castle of Adventure Enid Blyton
  9. The Mountain of Adventure Enid Blyton
  10. 2666 Roberto Bolaño
  11. Last Evenings on Earth Roberto Bolaño
  12. Don’t Point that Thing at Me Kyril Bonfiglioli
  13. Fictions Jorge Luis Borges
  14. The Sheltering Sky Paul Bowles
  15. The Silver Locusts Ray Bradbury
  16. The Naked Island Russell Braddon
  17. The Dam Busters Paul Brickhill
  18. Project Jupiter Fredric Brown
  19. What Mad Universe Fredric Brown
  20. Rogue Moon Algis Budrys
  21. Dark Avenues Ivan Bunin
  22. The People’s War Angus Calder
  23. That Summer in Paris Morley Callaghan
  24. The Outsider Albert Camus
  25. Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
  26. No Moon Tonight Don Charlwood
  27. Bomber Pilot Leonard Cheshire
  28. The World in Winter John Christopher
  29. The Second World War Winston S Churchill
  30. The City and the Stars Arthur C Clarke
  31. Mariners of Space Erroll Collins
  32. Enemies of Promise Cyril Connolly
  33. Fifth Business Robertson Davies
  34. Complete Holmes Stories Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  35. Nickel and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich
  36. Who Killed Hanratty? Paul Foot
  37. Modern English Usage H W Fowler
  38. The French Lieutenant’s Woman John Fowles
  39. The Magus John Fowles
  40. Diaries Joseph Goebbels
  41. Adventures in the Screen Trade William Goldman
  42. The Killing of Julia Wallace Jonathan Goodman
  43. Good-Bye to All That Robert Graves
  44. A Sort of Life Graham Greene
  45. The Quiet American Graham Greene
  46. The Door into Summer Robert A Heinlein
  47. Catch 22 Joseph Heller
  48. A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway
  49. Hiroshima John Hersey
  50. Pictorial History of the War Walter Hutchinson
  51. Biggles and the Cruise of the Condor W E Johns
  52. Dubliners James Joyce
  53. Ice Anna Kavan
  54. A History of Warfare John Keegan
  55. Fame Daniel Kehlmann
  56. 10 Rillington Place Ludovic Kennedy
  57. Jack the Ripper – The Final Solution Stephen Knight
  58. Steps Jerzy Kosinski
  59. The Painted Bird Jerzy Kosinski
  60. Changing Places David Lodge
  61. Small World David Lodge
  62. The False Inspector Dew Peter Lovesey
  63. High Tide Mark Lynas
  64. Revolution in the Head Ian MacDonald
  65. Calculated Risk Charles Eric Maine
  66. The Caltraps of Time David I Masson
  67. Owning Up George Melly
  68. The Cruel Sea Nicholas Monsarrat
  69. Pax Britannica James Morris
  70. Song of the Sky Guy Murchie
  71. A Severed Head Iris Murdoch
  72. Collected Stories Vladimir Nabokov
  73. Collected Essays George Orwell
  74. Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
  75. The Tale of Samuel Whiskers Beatrix Potter
  76. Invisibility Steve Richards
  77. Pavane Keith Roberts
  78. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Oliver Sacks
  79. Collected Sonnets William Shakespeare
  80. Hamlet William Shakespeare
  81. Pilgrimage to Earth Robert Sheckley
  82. Frankenstein Mary Shelley
  83. Larry’s Party Carol Shields
  84. Mary Swann Carol Shields
  85. On the Beach Nevil Shute
  86. Loitering with Intent Muriel Spark
  87. The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas Gertrude Stein
  88. Earth Abides George R Stewart
  89. Dracula Bram Stoker
  90. The Murder of Rudolf Hess Hugh Thomas
  91. Battle Cry Leon M Uris
  92. No Night is Too Long Barbara Vine
  93. Twins Peter Watson
  94. The War of the Worlds H G Wells
  95. The Time Machine H G Wells
  96. Uncharted Seas Dennis Wheatley
  97. Disappearances William Wiser
  98. The Crazy Years William Wiser
  99. The Day of the Triffids John Wyndham
  100. The Kraken Wakes John Wyndham

Yea or Nay

Three years ago, along with a lot of other people in Britain, I placed my vote in the European referendum. The next morning I woke up to discover that overnight I had been labelled a “Remainer”, and was informed that my vote was on the losing side and that I therefore no longer had a voice in what would happen as a result of the referendum. All that has continued to be true ever since.

I voted to Remain for what I felt were uncontroversial reasons.

Firstly, in the last forty years or so I have travelled in more than half the European countries who make up the EU. Although none of the countries represents a perfect world, an ideal place, I grew to like the way European countries ran things. Social problems are everywhere but they appear to be dealt with more effectively, more humanely than here in the UK. From my personal perspective there was effective environmental legislation in place, the rights of workers seemed protected, and the arts were better supported. Going to a book fair in Spain, or a literary festival in France or Germany, is an eye-opening experience from a British point of view, and wipes away forever the conceit that the UK is one of the most literate, book-loving countries in the world.

Secondly, having worked in the UK court service for nearly two decades I have become thoroughly versed in the importance, subtlety and civilizing quality of the European Convention on Human Rights. Incorporated into UK law in 1998 it has had what I see as a profound and desirable effect, if largely unrecognized and sometimes misunderstood, on many aspects of daily life in this country.

Thirdly, I lived in the south coast town of Hastings for nearly a quarter of a century. When I moved in it was a seaside dump, with many closed businesses, deteriorating housing stock, a horrendous drug problem and a pretty view of the English Channel. The view never changed, but our partner countries on the other side of the Channel were feeding millions of euros in subsidies and grants into many derelict British towns, including Hastings. All through the time I lived there the town was being cleaned up, repaired, invested in. By the time I left in 2014 it had been transformed. Hastings has become an attractive, prosperous and interesting place, with many cultural and artistic activities. (Now that I am living in Scotland I am starting to find out what similar EU investment in the past has done to improve lives and the environment here. Scotland is already a mini-European country in outlook and effectiveness. NB to people in England: after a few years of moratorium Scotland has just placed a permanent ban on fracking.)

So in a mild way, I felt the EU to be in general a good thing. It never occurred to me that many other people would have the strongly antagonistic feelings about it appallingly revealed in the months that have followed the referendum.

The “Leave” campaign in 2016 was largely run by three secondrate Tory politicians (Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith). They were a front for a sinister cabal of secretive businessmen and political opportunists. Laws were broken, and lies were told. Lies were told every day, in fact, some of them so blatantly untrue that they have become a sort of stock-in-trade for comedians. (Mentioning £350 millions a week for the NHS still gets a cheap laugh every time.) The campaign they ran was emotive, it fudged detail, it avoided real issues, it appealed to people’s baser instincts about foreigners and immigrants and hospital waiting lists. Again, these tactics were so conspicuously dishonest that I assumed most people would have the sense to realize what was being said.

Interestingly, as the weak Tory government has tried in recent months to negotiate what they always call a “deal” (a horrible word made popular by Trump’s dishonest practices), it has become blazingly obvious that none of the real issues of leaving the EU, none of the serious problems, were ever mentioned by anyone in the Leave campaign. Does anyone remember the Leave campaign explaining how the problem of the Irish border would be solved?

So it is apparent that many people who voted to Leave were either gulled by the lies (or chose to ignore them after they were exposed), or they were not informed of the reality of what they were voting for. They followed their instincts instead.

The referendum was an opportunity to succumb to the temptation to push a sharp stick into the eyes of the Tory nobs who ran the country. (Not such a bad idea, in socialistic fact: David Cameron’s cabinet contained a majority of public school boys, and at least eleven millionaires.) It was a protest about foreign workers taking up jobs that should have been given to British people. It was a fear of being swamped by immigration. It was a complaint that operations for varicose veins, cataract implants, replacement hips (and treatment for more serious emergencies, like cancer, stroke, etc) were the subject of long delays. It was anger that the schools were crowded and underfunded, that doctors’ surgeries were crammed with freeloading foreigners, that jobs were hard to come by …

All these are genuine concerns, and many people feel disadvantaged by them. But the root cause is not the arrival of refugees from dysfunctional regimes abroad, or Polish workmen, or Bulgarian fruit-pickers, or the policy of freedom of movement, or the unpoliced borders that inadequately protect our island. The truth is that we have been suffering from weak governments dominated by businessmen and hedgefund operatives, short-sighted policies, endless restrictions in the name of “austerity”, and above all a thoroughgoing lack of awareness about what many ordinary people care about on a daily basis, and the problems they have.

In case this seems to be a one-sided tirade against the Tories, let me add that I consider the principal scoundrel responsible for the Brexit mess to be the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. Where was the opposition during the referendum campaign? Who challenged the glib lies? Who raised the problem of the Irish border? Not Jeremy Corbyn, who apart from one self-evidently insincere little speech about supporting the Remain side, was all but invisible. His absence created the unfailing impression that the referendum was really just a squabble between two factions in the Conservative Party. Since the referendum, Corbyn’s endless vacillation and unconvincing announcements have only added to the ineffectiveness of this man. He is more responsible than Cameron, May or even Johnson for the mess we are in. There is a place reserved in Brexit hell for Jeremy Corbyn – I’d like to think of him spending eternity in a cell with Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith.

Today was planned to be the last day of our membership of the EU. Thankfully postponed yet again, it has become instead the first day of the General Election campaign. I have never voted Tory in my life, and in the past I worked as a campaign volunteer for the Labour Party. But should you sense even the whisper of a bat’s wing of temptation to vote for Corbyn’s party, I recommend you first to read Tom Bowyer’s biography of Corbyn, just so you know what you would be voting for.

There is only one solution to this mess. The best “deal” is the one we have. Referenda have no constitutional position in the UK. They are advisory only. The next government should swiftly consult the advice of the 2016 referendum, disagree with it, politely reject it, then revoke Article 50 and mend fences with our European friends and say sorry for all the botheration. Corbyn’s head on a stick might be enough to soothe their justifiable irritation with our otherwise green and pleasant land.

Further reading, if you can find a copy – have a few copies at 50p each: Yea or Nay? – Referenda in the United Kingdom, by Stanley Alderson.

Anna K. again

I see my last entry here was more than two months ago. There has been a period of delay, not at all my doing. Meanwhile, I have news of two or three public events in which I shall soon be taking part:

I shall be at Novacon 49, at the Nottingham Sherwood Hotel, from 8 – 10 November. I shall be accompanying my daughter Elizabeth Priest, currently famous all over America since the Wall Street Journal unironically reported that she had not only ironically stockpiled Nutella, mozzarella and lactose-free milk in case of Brexit, but had eaten her way through the lot as one Brexit postponement followed another. More interestingly, Lizzy has just signed up with Luna Press for three more novels in her Troutespond series.

On 14th November I will be at Waterstones in Notting Hill, London W11, where we will be discussing the life and works of Anna Kavan, the fascinating author of the novel Ice, as well as several more novels and collections. She is still, in spite of the best efforts of the likes of me, Brian Aldiss, Doris Lessing and her publishers Peter Owen, woefully underrated. From 7:00pm to 8:30pm — tickets £3.00 from the website linked here.

A week later, on 21st November, I shall be at Cardonald Library, taking part in Book Week Scotland. Admission: free. 6:30pm to 7:30pm. Cardonald Library is on the main road between Paisley and the centre of Glasgow, halfway along. There is a map on the website.


The composer John Hodgson has, with astonishing speed and dedication, written a suite of music based on my collection of stories, Episodes. It illustrates, or complements, the book.

Each of the eleven stories has its own composition – I have played the whole suite only once, so I am still absorbing. The entire album can be listened to on the SoundCloud website, here.

Hodgson has also written musical complements to books by Mark Morris and Jeff Noon. They can be heard on the same website.

More Stooge

Rogelio Fojo’s remarkable film of my short story ‘The Stooge’ has gained another festival screening, this one the Burbank International Film Festival, 4-8 September 2019. The story itself (the film tie-in, if you like, although it came first) appears in my new collection Episodes – see below. This will be on sale later this week.

Here is another still from the film:


This is my new hardcover from Gollancz, to my mind a well designed and handsome edition. It will be published on 11 July, available in bookstores … and of course may be ordered through Amazon and other online retailers.

Episodes is a collection of short stories with something extra. Each story has a Before and After, two short essays describing how the story came to be written, and what happened to it after that. The idea was to show how tangled the background to the appearance of a short story can sometimes be. For instance, ‘An Infinite Summer’ is a harmless story about innocent love, but it had a pretty aggravating time in the hands of a particular American editor. The full account of what happened to that story is here, and I believe that this is the first time the professional activities, or more accurately the unprofessional non-activities, of that egregious timewaster have been reported accurately in the world of general publishing.

Other stories have their own backgrounds of personal provenance. The elderly woman who arranged for branches of trees to be slung at my car. The bank which thought literature could be made into a staff training device. The weird coincidence of two tragic deaths in train stations: one in the story, the other for real. The previously undescribed horror of an alphabetized book collection.

Also published on 11 July is the paperback edition of my most recently published novel An American Story. For readers in the USA the only way to obtain copies is through internet retailers. Here is a link to, although I suspect will also make it available. It is still the case that this story of a broken love affair, and the untrue story that obfuscates it, is deemed unsuitable for American readers. (However the novel has done OK in Russia, France, the UK, etc.) Distribution in the US of the British edition is likely to follow in due course, but I know not when.

It is Done

I have not written much here in recent weeks. I have been working on a new novel, and today I sent it in to Robert Kirby, my agent. Uniquely, in my experience, I had a period of more or less six months without interruptions, and I made the most of it.

I was at Utopiales, in Nantes, at the beginning of November, but returned feeling worn out and over-extended. Too much travel, and a heavy cold contracted because of Easyjet’s tight-fisted habit of overcrowding their unforgivably minimalist cabins, laid me flat during much of the rest of the month. I rose from the bed at the beginning of December, and almost immediately began work on the novel. I was refreshed, renewed, and had at last stopped coughing.

Amazingly, to me if not to anyone else, I had completed the first draft before the end of February. I began the second draft the next day, and that was completed mid-May. (The sole interruption during that period was Easter weekend, when I was at Ytterbium in London.) For the last couple of weeks I have been doing last minute corrections and amendments, but today it is all done. Overall, writing the novel was a happy experience. This morning the sun is shining, the Firth is mirror-calm, the ferries are sailing to and fro. I am free.

The new novel is unlike any of my previous novels, and stands as a sort of antidote to what happened to the first edition of An American Story. (We suspend judgement on what the trade will do with the paperback of that, due next month, along with a new hardcover collection of stories, Episodes.) No publishing arrangement has yet been made for the new book.

I shall be at Cymera, a book festival in Edinburgh, this coming weekend. Details: Sunday 9th June, 4.45 p.m, in Upper Hall, The Pleasance, 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh. EH8 9TJ. Details of my gig are here. Details of the Cymera festival are here.

On Friday 12th July, Nina Allan and I will be at BSFG (Brumgroup): 7:30 p.m. for 8:00 p.m., First Floor, The Briar Rose Hotel, Bennetts Hill, Birmingham. More details of BSFG here.