Down to Work


Now that evil term at evil college is over I have been working: writing like the clappers to  try to finish Dragon’s Wood, and preparing the text and web site for my novel (horror) The Dene. I have knocked out some 38,000 words which I have used to get back into the feeling of the book, get to know the characters again, and although significant disclosures are made  I am nowhere near the resolution. Often I have thought my story unfit for the memory of the soldiers who fought in the great war, and I have pause at this. I could have set it anywhere where a group of people are isolated, but I was spurred on by my interest in the war and my discovery of the tunnelling war (long before I had read Birdsong). And so I married the war with the horror plot. However as I have gone on I have begun to wonder if the plot, embedded as it is within its mis-en-scene, is a comment on the atrocities, and in doing so have begone to fashion the responses and motivations of the characters – but alas I have run out of time for soon I am off to France.

This week I have been preparing The Dene, a novel I wrote twenty years ago before I moved to London, and which was kindly received by publishers: “not bad at all, you can write, but not for our list. Send it to so-and-so.” So I did until I ran out of so-and-sos, then I moved to London and it got lost in life. But why not put it up? So on the grounds that you never know what you write I am putting it up on the Amazon store. It reads like an English Dean R Koontz, with Stephen King themeing.  And my friend Nicola has done me a front cover.


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Well, I’m off, he said.

There, am all packed for my spontaneously booked weekend in Provence. During the odiferous ofsted period (see below) I threw my hands up in the air and cried Why am I doing this! What is this for? and I promptly went onto the web and  booked for Marseille; I half fancied Athens but I might do that later, and my Roman history is not strong enough to sustain a visit to the Eternal City: I would end up wandering round wondering when they were going to finish the demolition job.

I am taking Captain Toomey with me: my work during term time on Dragon’s Wood, has been desultory but it has never left my thoughts. Of late when re-reading I find the new chapters plodding, very plodding, in parts, so I am going to take action on an idea that came to me in Provence last summer. It is unexpected and dramatic and by god the book needs it.

So hopefully, this time tomorrow night I shall be in a bar in Marseille, perhaps just off the old port, writing this up on my iPad with perhaps a glass of wine, or pastis, by my side.

But I am also taking Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. I am surprised I have not read it before though I was aware of it on the margins of my radar. You know the context, you know what is going to happen, and suddenly a phrase, a sentence, will leap out from the period prose and have tears running down your cheek … because you know what will happen.

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Now entertain conjecture of a time
when creeping poison and the poring pens
of maddening middle management
foul the wide vessel of the universe.
From camp to camp the hum
of all these cohorts stilly sounds
That the fixed secretaries almost receive
the secret belches of their panicked thoughts.
Email answers email and by their threats
each lesson plan is drivelled on apace.
Leaders threaten all in high and boastful nays,
Piercing the staffroom air; and in the bars
The publicans, accomplishing the teachers
with endless frothing lagers serving up,
give dreadful note of preparation.
The interactive whiteboard clocks do crow,
The confident and over lusty ‘spectors
Do the low-paid teachers play at dice.
So what doth make our learned, o’er stressed folk
Bequake themselves with maggot graveyard fright?
It is, as may unworthiness define,
A little touch of Ofsted in the night.


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So, Farewell then HMV

Lines written on the demise of the HMV shop Oxford St.The loss of its music basement a loss to London and music lovers everywhere.

so farewell then HMV
the oxford st store
store no more

no more browse
obscure and weird
you’re in your shroud

your replacement
empty pale
flogging us the obvious

amazon, this is your fault
your cheapness
cheapens us


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The Dead Months

God, this year’s dragging. Ineffably it moves away from the darkness, the solstice, yet paradoxically we move through cold and wet and bitterness. These are the Dead Months till the light returns. And what have we done? Very little.

End of term saw me so exhausted that once the hullaballoo of Christmas was over all energy drained from my body and the rest of the holidays saw me flat out in my chair watching documentaries about greek drama and the classical world.

After reading the last four chapters of Dragon’s Wood I have concluded that the story is drowning in piffling detail, but any attempt to correct that was blighted by lack of energy. See above. However in the last few days before the evil of term began I managed to draft a few pages about Jacks sniffing around le petite chateau before going off in search of Margueritte. I am trying to return to the main events, of which I can see strung before me, like ionic columns holding up a frieze. And I can see how they fall into place to make the story. I must avoid the ephemera.

The Dead Months. I always feel low at this time if year, yet I raise up my eyes with hope. Through the darkness of winter a voice called out to me across the road. It was Simon, currently composer in residence at a London  theatre. We worked in TIE many years ago and we bump into each other once a term or so. I told him of Lights Over Sheel in the summer, and he crossed the road to sing its praises. I was taken aback, for he is a man of keen discernment. He also spotted many typos…

…oh, and happy New Year!

Get Lights Over Sheel here

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Stendhal Syndrome

During a long aridity of writing Schemes of Work and Lesson Plans (whatever-the-hell-they-are) on forms designed by descendants of Procrustes intended to stump and stifle your mind; during a creative desert when all sparks are dampened by the necessity of pedagogic duties I crossed an oasis of culture over the past three days. And I must stop writing like that.

Firstly on Thursday I took in a lecture by John Garth at the National Army Museum: his topic being The battle of the Somme and the Passage of the Marshes, a chapter from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Obviously this chapter recalls the Somme battlefield and Tolkien himself said so, but Garth’s thesis was that after a long dry patch his writing was triggered by a journey to Brum where, as he wrote,  he saw “ghosts rise from the pavement”. These ghosts were all those, his close friends, his comrades, his acquaintances, his generation, that perished in that battle, and that the reminiscences appear throughout Frodo’s journey to Mordor. It is a good theory but I am not convinced: any writer would, I think, couch their reminiscences in those terms, and when one is forced to write one draws deep on anything inside to produce the goods. It is likely the link is coincidental. But I did get the opportunity to tell him how much I enjoyed his book, Tolkien and the Great War. Tolkien is the selling point, but it says so much about what young middle class men went through in the Great War, and is worth reading, especially in the advent of the centenary, whether you like Tolkien or not. And there with the rest are the lads that will never be old……

Friday saw friend Nicola and me listen to an open discussion at the British Library on ideology in children’s literature. The conclusion was there there was ideology in kid’s books, both implicitly and explicitly, engendered by the time. So what’s new – but we were both expecting something a little more academic. In fact the only academic on the platform barely opened his trap, and at one point it was almost a circus for a bumptious (but knowledgeable) publisher.

Then came music. I went with friend Steve to hear Mozart’s mass in C minor at the RFH. I know the Lachrmosa but I am not familiar with it in context and I found it a powerful piece: but very obviously Mozart. Sometimes I think that Mozart spent rather too much of his time writing in the style of Mozart rather than being himself. That he died so young before he grew out of this is one of the greatest tragedies of music, along with the early deaths of Schubert and Gershwin.

But not quiet Stendhal syndrome: a dizzyness and unbalancing caused by the exposure to the awe of great art. It happens a lot in Venice and Florence; and it is named after the novelist who was thus overcome in Florence.

So the desert approaches again, and the relief of art and thought passes over the horizon, and I am forced to think that over the last dozen years or so I have given too much time to the art and creativity of others, rather than to my own…….

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Back in the Jug Agane

Is the title of a book by Geoffrey Willans and Roland Searle detailing  the life of a schoolboy in a very minor and awful british prep school. The series was published in the fifties and elevated to stardom by Searle’s incomparable drawings: they were done after the St Trinian’s series; and by Willan’s accurate aping of schoolboy spelling, as any fule no.

It also slang for being back in prison again. And lo! term has started properly. The phoney war of filling in forms, creating Schemes of Work (what are they?), entrapment enrolment, and induction are over. This was the first week back in the line, and consequently literary output falls, and sometimes it falls alarmingly.

When I began Dragon’s Wood a couple of years back I started in January and by Easter time I had some forty odd thousand words, then a pile of paperwork dropped on me like a guillotine blade, and the well written Edwardian prosody was put away on the top shelf, untouched for a long while, while summer holidays were spent re-writing instruction manuals, and last summer, subbing Lights Over Sheel. This summer in between the preparation of LOS for e-pub (no light matter) I have dug myself back into its trenches, and in the rewriting and reconsideration of the original matter I can see the work turning itself into a novel…..just as term begins.

Truly I am back in the jug again.

I had some nice comments from my colleague Stephen over the weekend, about my novel Lights Over Sheel, now out in the Amazon store. I am most grateful for, and encouraged by, them. I hope the book keeps it up!

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