Book Review: The Snorgh and the Sailor at Christmas

So there I was, warming my toes by the fire in my little house, listening to the howl of the wind, when there was a knock, knock, knock! on the door. I put down my pen and went over to see who it was. ‘Writers don’t like visitors,’ I muttered to myself. ‘Particularly not when they are busy writing.’

But when I opened the door, I found it wasn’t a visitor. Instead it was the postman. And the postman handed me an envelope. I took the envelope and closed the door, then I went back to sit on my chair by the fire.

I opened the envelope and pulled out a book. And it was not just any old book. Instead it was a copy of the newly published picture book, ‘The Snorgh and the Sailor at Christmas’, a sequel to ‘The Snorgh and the Sailor.’


There was a letter inside the envelope too, that said the book was written and illustrated by the amazingly talented members of class Primary 4D, from the Riverside Primary School in Falkirk. I looked at the map. The book had come a long way: miles and miles and miles, all the way from Scotland. I hadn’t realised that the Snorgh had travelled so far away.

The cover of this new book looked promising. It made me want to read on. So I opened up the book and discovered that since I’d last seen him, the Snorgh had come home from his adventures with the Sailor, and was living once again in his ugly little house. But the pictures also made me sad, because it was winter, and the Snorgh’s marsh looked very cold, and his nose was very red.


Then I remembered that it was a couple of years since I had last called on the Snorgh, and I wondered how he was doing. I felt a bit guilty that I hadn’t gone to visit him for a while, and decided that I would do so this summer, when the weather was warmer.

I read on, and found that—to my dismay—the Snorgh seemed to have become even older and grumpier since I’d last seen him. But just as I was feeling very sorry for him, and wondering where the Sailor had gone, I turned the page, and there was a ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ at the Snorgh’s door.

It was the Sailor, back from his adventures. And I was surprised to find that he’d got himself a job since I last met him, delivering presents for Santa. He even had a proper Santa-hat and everything. But he’d clearly he’d bitten off more than he could chew and needed some help.

So the Snorgh and the Sailor set off again on another Great Journey, delivering presents for Christmas. And I’m not going to tell you exactly what happened, because that would ruin the surprise. But ‘The Snorgh and the Sailor at Christmas’ is a great sequel. It is exciting and funny and just a little bit sad, at least on the page where the Snorgh is lonely and has a very cold, red nose. And when you come to the end of the book, you will smile. Which means, in my opinion, that it must be a very good book indeed.


All pictures © Class 4D, Riverside Primary School, Falkirk

PS You can buy the original Snorgh book here. I wrote it a few years back, and the great Thomas Docherty drew the pictures.

“Lucy and the Rocket Dog” in Turkish

I’ve not posted here for a while, as I’ve been busy settling into life here in China, where I’m currently spending a year at Sichuan University. But I thought I should post this beautiful image of some of the illustrations from the now imminent Turkish version of my novel “Lucy and the Rocket Dog” (translated as Lucy ve Laika). The illustrations are by the extraordinarily talented Oğuz Demir, who has captured the spirit of the book perfectly. The book is about space dogs, the theory of relativity, friendship, and science.

Readers who don’t speak Turkish (like me!) will have to wait until 2017 to read the English version, which is due out from Knopf in New York. But if you know Turkish, then you can get hold of a copy of the book soon at your favourite local bookstore!

Goats, Blogs and Chinese Travels

It has been very busy recently, with moving house back home in the UK, and then — only a few days later — relocating to China for a year. I’m here in China to take up an associate professorship at Sichuan University, in the College of Literature and Journalism. About which more below.

But first, I should say something about goats! Because I’m delighted to say that my author copies of Goat Music, my latest novel, arrived today in the UK. They are four thousand or so miles away, and so I haven’t really had much of a chance to look at them yet. But from the photograph below, courtesy of Elee Kirk, they are looking good.


Goat Music is a bit of a departure from my usual work. It is an attempt to write a kind of modern-day satyr play, taking up the myth of Apollo and the satyr Marsyas, as well as pillaging the ancient Greek playwrights, to weave a tale about music, power and its abuses. In this sense, it forms a pair with my earlier book, The Descent of the Lyre, although the sensibility is somewhat different. In the UK, you can get hold of a copy here. It’s on general release, so should be easy to track down. I’d be interested to see what people make of this one, as it’s by any measure quite a curious book.
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The Goats Have Been Released

I’m very pleased to announce that my novel Goat Music has just been published. It is a reinvention of the tale of Apollo and Marsyas, and features fallible gods, singing frogs, musical goats, and at the centre of it all, an irrepressible satyr. It has been very kindly blurbed by the wonderful Jonathan Taylor, who says the book is ‘playful and shocking, disturbing and brilliant.’

You can get the novel at the usual outlets, and if you are in the UK, from

Lucy and the Rocket Dog

I’m delighted to say that I’ve sold the rights for my forthcoming middle-grade children’s book, Lucy and the Rocket Dog. The book is about space-dogs, friendship, relativity, wormholes and other such matters. Knopf over in New York have acquired the rights, and so the book should be coming out in the summer of 2017. The Turkish edition, Lucy ve Laika, is coming out in the autumn of 2015.

See the brief news item in Publishers’ Weekly for more information.

Sixty-Four Chance Pieces in the Asian Review of Books

Jonathan Chatwin has written a very nice piece in the Asian Review of Books about my [amazon text=Sixty-Four Chance Pieces&asin=9888273027]. We met up the other week down in Birmingham, and spent an enjoyable Saturday morning talking about writing, China and other matters. Here’s an extract from Jonathan’s write-up:

The tales of Sixty Four Chance Pieces wear the scholarly and creative struggles of their creator lightly. Playful and inventive, they link imagistically to the I Ching but do not require prior knowledge of the text, and generally avoid direct allusions to Chinese culture or history. The literary reference points are Western: Italo Calvino is a key influence on the text, particularly his novel inspired by the tarot, The Castle of Crossed Destinies, whilst there are also echoes of Borges and Garcia Marquez.

Buckingham’s stories are glimpses into worlds familiar yet somehow distant, their landscapes and cultures verging on the mythical… Eclectic, with a healthy dose of humour, the stories of Sixty Four Chance Pieces act as provocations to consider the nature of our respective political, social and personal realities….

To see the full review/article, go to the Asian Review of Books.

Divination in Nottingham Event

This coming week, on Tuesday 14th July, I’m doing an event at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio, reading from and talking about my I Ching-based novel-of-sorts, [amazon text=Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: A Book of Changes&asin=], then leading a workshop on writing and divination, putting the I Ching to work as a tool for writing. It should be fun and relaxed, and all are welcome. The time is 7pm, and the suggested donation is £1 for members and £3 for non-members. I’ll also have advance copies of the book on sale (not yet out in the UK), at a reduced price. Do come along if you are in town. Find out more at the event’s Facebook page. Or, if you are not a Facebooker, email me for more information.

The Descent of the Lyre – Free Kindle Edition

I’m very pleased to announce that—to celebrate the recent launch of the paperback edition—the ebook of my novel The Descent of the Lyre is available between Monday and Friday this week as an entirely free download from Amazon. The Descent of the Lyre is a story of music and myth, violence and religion, set between Bulgaria and Paris in the 19th century. The novel was selected as a Bookseller Recommended read when it appeared in hardback. Click the button below to order a copy:

[amazon template=add to cart&asin=B00BXIJIMY]

And here are a few reviews:

“Gripping and highly original” — Louis de Bernières
“Masterful storytelling” — Historical Novel Review
“Unique, timeless and enjoyable” — Left Lion Magazine
“A highly memorable tale, told simply” — Vulpes Libris
“Really thrilling” — Radio Bulgaria
“Lyrical and well-written” — The Bookseller

Creative Writing in Sofia

A very quick post this, from Sofia University. It’s my first time back in Bulgaria since the launch of the Bulgarian edition of The Descent of the Lyre in 2014 (incidentally, the original language version is now available in very handsome [amazon text=paperback&asin=9380905858] — and if you haven’t bought the book yet, then get yourself a copy!). It is also my first time at the university since a philosophy conference I attended way back in 2006. It’s good to be here again.

I’m here thanks to the Erasmus programme, making connections with colleagues in the English and American Studies department, talking about possibilities for working together, and teaching a few classes. As a part of all this, I’ll be giving a public lecture tomorrow evening on the subject of creative writing (see the link here). I’m particularly pleased to be doing this lecture, as for I long time I’ve wanted the opportunity to step back and think about creative writing as an academic discipline. Being under pressure to say something relatively coherent in public about this has given me the excuse to put some thoughts into order. After all, despite seven or so years teaching creative writing in universities (and many more years elsewhere), I still find it a strange and puzzling business.

What I’m hoping to do in my lecture is to indulge in a bit of utopian thinking, imagining what the discipline could be, why it might be something worth doing, and generally rethinking things a bit. One of my main contentions is going to be that the hitching of creative writing to the discipline of English literature—which is common to must universities in the English speaking world—limits the subject’s scope both in terms of how we think about the pedagogy of creative writing, and how we think about the intellectual content of the discipline. Another of my contentions is going to be that fine artists have more fun.

Anyway, I’ll see how it goes. It’s going to be a fairly substantial talk, as the Bulgarians have much more stamina than my fellow countrymen (most public lectures are ninety minutes, I have been told, but as a foreigner-of-little-stamina I can get away with sixty). And I’m looking forward to seeing what discussions the lecture prompts.

Five Chance Questions About the I Ching

Now that my I Ching-based book, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces is out (see the page here for how to get hold of a copy), I thought I’d post this quick interview that I did recently about the book. So here are five chance questions about my sixty-four chance pieces about the I Ching.

Why did you write Sixty-Four Chance Pieces?

It started out as a whim. I wanted to write sixty-four intriguing stories, using the I Ching simply as a means to this end. But then the I Ching got the better of me. If you mess with a book that has survived for three thousand years, it is going to get the better of you. So I found myself getting sucked in. The project was supposed to take a couple of years. But in the end—what with learning Chinese, doing the research and all that—it took almost a decade.

What has an old Chinese book got to do with global 21st century people?

Old books are not to be underestimated. The I Ching has had a huge influence on China and, increasingly, on the rest of the world. Whilst writing this book, I was surprised by how many people confessed to me that they used the I Ching in their daily life. One student I met in Suzhou asked me whether it could be trusted when it came to fashion advice. I’m still not sure about this. I am not the person to ask about fashion advice.

Do you believe in fate? Do you think the I Ching reflects some higher power?

I don’t believe in fate. The world seems to me to be too messy and chaotic for things to be preordained. So one of the reasons that I like the I Ching is that it encourages me to think about change, uncertainty and mess. One of the biggest problems, perhaps, is that we suffer from too much certainty. The I Ching sows confusion in a very useful fashion. As for other powers, whilst I don’t think that the I Ching reflects a higher power, I think that it is a curiously cunning book. You have to be cunning (or else very stubborn) to survive that long.

How do the stories link to the I Ching?

Sometimes the links are very direct, sometimes they are more oblique and obscure. I wanted all the stories to be linked organically to the hexagrams of the I Ching, rather than being imposed upon them. Some stories came quickly, some I had to wait for a year, two years, or five years before they started to work.

What do I get as a reader from reading this?

Because I’m interested in uncertainty, I hope that readers will get things out of the book that I hadn’t even anticipated. When I was writing the book, I wanted it to be entertaining and intriguing. I take the I Ching seriously, but I don’t think seriousness is opposed to lightness and playfulness. So I didn’t want to write a heavy book. One of my early readers said to me that they were afraid that the book would be like Ulysses, but when she read it, she found herself laughing out loud. This was encouraging.


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