Lucy and the Rocket Dog — Coming Soon!

The advance reader’s copies of my children’s novel, Lucy and the Rocket Dog arrived in the post this morning, with illustrations by the exceptionally talented Monica Arnaldo, and they look absolutely stunning. The book is about a girl scientist, her dog, the theory of relativity, time dilation, space worms, friendship, loss and the here, there and everywhereness of space. It is due to be published by Knopf in the USA in the summer of 2017.

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.

More on those four great mysteries…

When I was in Suzhou a few weeks ago, I gave a talk about my [amazon text=Sixty-Four Chance Pieces&asin=B00W0LPFDO] at the wonderful Bookworm bookshop, called ‘Four Great Mysteries’ (see the blog post here). In preparation for the talk, I scrawled the following notes, and although the talk itself diverged occasionally wildly from what I’ve written here (the wine helped, as did the fun of working with two exceptional interpreters), I thought that I’d share the text for anyone who might be interested.



I’m delighted to be here in Suzhou to talk about my new book, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces, a novel of sorts based upon the Yijing, or the Chinese Book of Changes. And I’m very grateful to the Bookworm for generously hosting this event. What a beautiful place Suzhou is, and what a lovely place the Bookworm here in Suzhou is! It’s really a pleasure to be here.

I’m here because, several years ago, I decided to write a kind of novel based upon the Yijing. Now, if there is anything that almost everybody knows about the Yijing, it is that it is a very mysterious book. So what I’m going to talk about today are what I am going to call Four Great Mysteries related to the Yijing, and to my own book that is based upon the Yijing, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces. So I’ll talk a little bit about these Four Great Mysteries, and then I’ll read a story from the book, to give you a flavour of the what I’m doing. Then we can open the floor up to questions.

So what are these Four Great Mysteries that I want to talk about? Let me put them down as briefly as I can.

  • Mystery number one: What the hell is the Yijing?
  • Mystery number two: What the hell does the Yijing mean? What is it for? What is its purpose?
  • Mystery number three: How the hell did a foolish and ignorant laowai like me come to get involved in all this stuff?
  • Mystery number four: What the hell is Sixty-Four Chance Pieces, this book I ended up writing as a result? Is it travel-writing? Is it fiction? Is it non-fiction? Is it philosophy? Is it an unholy mess? Or is it all of these, or none of these?

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Turning About Once Again

I only have one more day in Bodhgaya, after which I fly back to Kolkata for the book fair; and it’s been absolutely delightful to be here. I’ve just been pedalling around, making the most of the local food, meditating when I feel like it, sleeping when the mood takes me, making new friends, sitting and thinking, reading things that come my way, and feeling pleasurably purposeless.

There is, however, one problem: in theory, I am in Bodhgaya do research. Before coming here, I filled in research proposals and even managed to get a modest amount of funding for this trip. These proposals were tied to a couple of book projects that I’m working on at the moment, both of which have some kinds of interesting connections with Buddhist themes, ideas and history. But as the days have passed, I have begun to realise that it doesn’t particularly look or feel as if what I am doing is research. Not only am I spending more time at tea stalls and in temple meditation halls than in libraries, but I also have to confess that I’m not even thinking about these books very hard.
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Proust, Hemingway and Writing Apps

I’ve just been reading The Wave in the Mind, a wonderful collection of essays by Ursula Le Guin. The essays are insightful and often very funny, and I was particularly pleased to see Le Guin write in celebration of long, luxuriant sentences.

Amongst those who dish out writing advice, there is often the claim that short sentences are to be preferred. There are even apps that can help you write shorter, punchier sentences, such as the Hemingway App, which offers to make your writing “bold and clear”.

However, when I read fiction, I often find that there is something a bit wearying about short and punchy sentences (I am one of the few who probably prefers pre-Lish Carver to the weird, boiled-down post-Lish Carver). For a long time, I’ve not been sure why it is that I get irritated by this taste for short sentences, but now I think that Le Guin puts her finger on it. Read more

Because we are too menny?

A couple of weeks back, the novelist Javier Marías wrote an article for the Independent on the subject of why to not write novels (and one reason why you might want to write them). Briefly, the reasons were these: i) because there are too many novels in the world; ii) because more or less anyone can do it; iii) because it’s unlikely to make you rich; iv) because it’s a hopeless way of courting fame; v) because neither will it bring you immortality; vi) because it is not flattering to the ego; and vii) because of the sheer suffering that it involves. As for the sole reason for writing novels, Marías says, “Writing novels allows the novelist to spend much of his time in a fictional world, which is really the only or at least the most bearable place to be.”

I’ve mentioned the torment and suffering before, in a recent blog post, so I won’t go back over that. And there’s a lot that could be said about the rest of the list as well (particularly the peculiar reason Marías gives in favour of writing novels). But what I want to talk about here is the idea that there are too many novels in the world. Read more

The Pleasure and Difficulty of Writing

There’s a spectacularly stupid quote attributed to Hemingway that seems to be everywhere on the internet these days. It goes like this, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” It turns out that Hemingway probably never said this (although he may have said other spectacularly stupid things), although that has not stopped the quote appearing here and there on writing blogs with all the persistence of Japanese knotweed.  Read more

Upcoming Events

I’ve got a few events coming up over the next couple of months, including a couple of festivals. So next Saturday, I’ll be at the Lowdham Book Festival to talk about novels and novel-writing (the programme is here, with a rather out-of-date mugshot). This is Saturday 28th from 11am – 12pm, in Lowdham village hall. The Saturday is a full day of free events, so do come along and drop in.

Then in July, I’m doing a children’s event on writing and Snorghs at the Frome festival, as well as an adults’ event on moomins and philosophy, bringing a bit of Moominsummer Madness to Frome. These are both on the 4th of July. Here’s an article from the Somerset Guardian about these events.

There are a few more things coming up over the summer as well, so I’ll post here again when I have these confirmed.

Complete Writing a Novel Course: Teach Yourself

Since this time last year, I’ve been working on writing a beast of a book for Hodder & Stoughton’s Teach Yourself series on the art, the craft, the mechanics and the business of writing novels. As the book has now been announced on Hodder’s website (see the link here), I thought I’d announce it on my blog as well. Although the link at the moment says that the book has zero pages, this is only because they have not yet received the manuscript yet. It will weigh in at something around 130,000 words, so it’s a weighty tome, and it has been huge amounts of fun to write.

I’m just polishing the final draft of the book, and I am looking forward to sending it off at the end of the month. The publication date will be some time in the first half of 2015.


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