Two Tribes of Storytellers

Next week, I’m away in Birmingham at the lovely Woodbrooke Quaker Study Center for their Borders and Crossings/Seuils et Traverses conference on travel writing. I’m not exactly a travel writer myself, although much of my writing—both in fiction and in philosophy—has a preoccupation with crossings, passages, movement and travel; and so I’m hugely looking forward to a week in such wonderful surroundings talking about how, as Rebecca Solnit puts it, stories are travels and travels are stories. I’m hoping that the week will be, in spirit at least, half-conference, half-retreat. It is something—after a busy few months—that I could well do with. Read more

The Descent of the Descent of the Lyre

I’m delighted to say that my novel, The Descent of the Lyre, is due to be published this summer by Roman Books. It will be available both in the UK and the US. I’ve just published a trailer for the book over on YouTube, and you can see it in action here.

So, now that the book is so close to being published, I thought I’d write a little bit here about the descent of The Descent of the Lyre (you see, the title of this post was not a typo after all). Read more

The Descent of the Lyre: Podcast reading and trailer

I’ve just put together a trailer for my forthcoming novel, The Descent of the Lyre, and uploaded it to YouTube. If you are intrigued to know more about the book, then have a listen here.



I’ve also recorded a podcast of the opening section of the book, and this is now up on the Descent of the Lyre page on this site. Just click the “listen” tab at the bottom of the page.


On the Dangers of Philosophical Spaghettification

Well, it has been a large job, but the philosophy book is now drafted and ready, more or less, to be sent off to the publishers; and I’m relieved that it is done. The book, which is to be called Levinas, Storytelling and Anti-Storytelling, and which will appear some time next year, takes up some of the themes in my earlier Finding Our Sea-Legs, but perhaps in a rather less free-wheeling fashion. Much of the book is a somewhat close reading of the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (who was a huge influence on Sea-Legs) as a storyteller and as, at the same time, an anti-storyteller, a thinker who set himself against the telling of stories. It is the closest to a monograph that I’ll ever get, despite a few very un-monograph-like jokes along the way.

As a book, this one will probably be for enthusiasts only (what I like to think of as the abridged version, The Snorgh and the Sailor, is more suited to a general audience); but despite the small potential audience, this is material that I’ve been thinking about for the better part of a decade, and throughout this time I’ve found thinking about Levinas immensely enriching and illuminating. My interest in Levinas has not just been an intellectual interest, but something that has had an enormous impact on how I go about leading my own life, not just how I have gone about thinking, but also how I have gone about acting; and for this, I am extraordinarily grateful.

Nevertheless, I’m glad in the end to be moving on to new territories. In many ways, the book feels more like a farewell note to Levinas (and to some of his fellow phenomenologists) than it feels like the initiation into a life of faithful Levinas scholarship. But this always seems the way with me: I’ve followed a curious kind of trajectory over the years from the study of art and art history, to anthropology, to a long engagement that never quite led to a marriage with Buddhism, to phenomenology, to Chinese thought, with large doses of fiction and storytelling along the way; and I’ve never quite persuaded myself to settle down.

I suppose, in the end, that when it comes to thinking, I fear ploughing one single furrow. And it occurs to me now that I am more interested in where I am going to move to next than I am in going over old ground. Particularly when it comes to philosophy, it seems to me that often philosophers are like black holes. They have an enormous gravitational pull. If they argue consistently and determinedly and with a degree of panache, it is hard to resist them. I know people, for example, who have wandered into the depths of the Schwarzwald that is Heidegger’s thinking and who have found themselves still wandering those maze-like Holzwege ten or more years later. I have met courteous, diffident Husserlians who have become so preoccupied with practising their eidetic reductions that it is astonishing that they manage to get dressed in the morning, or eat breakfast, or keep appointments at the opticians. I have stumbled across Levinas scholars who have gone so far beyond the event-horizon that is Otherwise than Being that they emit no further information, only surges of radiation.

I have always feared getting sucked in to any one system of thought, and the philosophical spaghettification that inevitably follows. This is, no doubt, consistent with my fear of weight and my love of lightness. And if philosophers are like black holes, it seems to me that the trick of navigating through philosophical space is finding a course by means of which you can come just close enough to use the gravity-well of any one philosopher to impart further momentum to your travels, but not so close that you fall into the well entirely, never to emerge again. For me, philosophy is at its most exciting, in other words, when it can hurl you outwards on new trajectories, or can precipitate you in new directions…

Image:  Giorgio Conrad (1827-1889): Spaghetti-eater. Wikimedia Commons

Lightness, and Editing for Pleasure

I probably shouldn’t be writing this, as I have a deadline on the philosophy book manuscript, which needs to be sent off by the end of the month; but there’s time for a quick post on the subject of writing and pleasure.

The philosophy book I’m working on has been through more drafts than I can possibly count; and it is good to see it close to completion. In terms of editing, I am now in the final edit, which I consider to be a kind of ‘editing for pleasure’. Editing, I think, is always a process of editing for something or other: editing for consistency, for factual accuracy, for coherence or argument, for sentence construction and so on. This is one reason that for me at least, things need multiple edits, because each time you are looking for something different. Read more

The Art Intervention Brigades

Voyage à Nantes festival

I’m just going to take time out from re-organising this website (and going through proofs of the novel, and pushing through the final edits of the philosophy book, and everything else that suddenly needs to be done by the end of June), to link to the wonderful Voyage à Nantes festival in France.

I was over in Nantes back in March, working with a fantastic group of students in the art-school, having fun with various creative-writing activities in French and in English. The idea was that the writing workshops, which lasted most of the week, would then be further developed by actor Will Courtais, and all this febrile creative energy would then eventually bear fruit in an event at the festival.

Well, all this has come to pass, in the form of the Brigades d’Intervention Plastiques (BIP – “The Art Intervention Brigades”), led by students, who are offering a fun and off-beat art tour of Nantes. The link is here.

Sadly, I’m not going to get out there to take part; but I’m delighted to see what has become of this project. Back in March when the people from the art school and I were interviewed about what our purposes were, and what our intended outcomes were, we confessed that we had no idea. We thought it might be fun. We hoped that what transpired, if anything at all, would be unexpected. And we acknowledged that it could all go very wrong indeed.

So it’s great to see that on this occasion, things did not go very wrong, and that those strange caffeine fuelled renga workshops (there’s a reason, I discovered, they use tea, and not espresso, for writing renga), walking/drawing/writing tours of Nantes, poems written in non-existent languages and the like have all paid off. All power to the Art Intervention Brigades, I say…

New website

Well, that wasn’t quite as painful as I thought it would be. Today I’ve refashioned to use WordPress rather than textpattern. I thought that it would take all week, but I’ve got a skeleton site up and running in a couple of hours.

Things are not yet working as they should. I may well change the theme of the website, and there are some broken links. I also need to re-upload the various images. So my apologies for the glitchiness. But it does mean that, as time goes on, I can extend the website here in interesting ways, for example by adding more audio and such-like.

As I mentioned on my old site, I’m generally blogging over on The Myriad Things, rather than here, and I’ll keep this website for news updates about my various activities. I’ll post again when things have settled down; but for the time being, I need to get back to work with tweaking this site…

Cheese, Chinese and Chauvinism

Recently I’ve been watching some philosophy programmes from Beijing Open University. It’s a slow process—transcribing as I go—but good as a way of practising my Chinese. I have realised that when it comes to language learning, you need to make use of materials that are themselves interesting. So when I bought Harry Potter (or Hali Bote 哈利波特) in Chinese because I thought it might be a good, easy read, I forgot that I’d never had the slightest desire to read more than three pages of the English version, so I really shouldn’t have been surprised when trying to read the book in Chinese did not improve the experience for me. You’d think that reading five pages of philosophy in Chinese would be more arduous than reading five pages of Harry Potter; but in Chinese, as in English, I find that the reverse is true. Read more

Philosophy, children’s literature and the question of branding

A couple of months ago, my children’s book, [amazon_link id=”1407116525″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]The Snorgh and the Sailor[/amazon_link], was published. It has been one of the most demanding and delightful projects I’ve ever been involved in. Who would have thought that eight hundred words would require quite so much redrafting?

I fell into children’s literature somewhat by mistake, after becoming friends with the illustrator Thomas Docherty. Tom is a wonderful artist, and a lovely man; but when we decided to have a go at working together, I can remember feeling a little apprehensive. Part of the reason was that I was not sure I could write for this age group. Another part of the reason was that I was a writer who spent his time working on philosophy and novels for adults, and I couldn’t really see how writing children’s books fitted in. Read more


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