Wednesday, 28 December 2011

It's been a while...

It’s been a strange day at the end of a strange year. I travelled to London today, ostensibly to do some writing, but also to try and clear my head a little. Things have been difficult recently, with an onslaught of very troubling health issues for two of the people I care about most, and it’s been almost impossible to shake off the fear and prevent my imagination running ahead of itself, especially when home is a constant reminder of the challenges we’re currently facing.

And so I went to London. I usually go to Bristol or Oxford when I want to write, but railway engineering works and holiday timetables conspired to drive me to the capital instead. When I got off the train at Waterloo, I had no particular destination in mind – I just went down into the Underground station and decided on the Northern Line rather than Bakerloo.

Sitting on the tube, looking up at the list of Northern Line stations, the first name that leapt out at me was Hampstead. It wasn’t too far and, being a fairly affluent area, I thought it might be a good place to find a quiet little cafe where I could sit and type for a while. As the journey continued, I noted the adjacent station, Belsize Park, which always puts me in mind of the lyric from Marillion’s “Kayleigh”, but I also had vague recollections of that station being one I’d used a few times in the eighties, when I was working for Activision.

After completing another chapter in a Starbucks on Hampstead High Street, I followed a whim and wandered down the hill towards Belsize Park. After walking for five minutes or so, I got a prickling of déjà vu while gazing up at an old church, and felt compelled to turn off onto a road called Pond Street, which also had a familiar feel to it. Some way down this hill, I suddenly recognized the building where Activision used to have their London office, and a whole wave of past events came flooding back. I’d not been here for something like 24 years, and an awful lot changes in that length of time, but I found myself walking down to the bottom of the hill and turning left to stroll up onto the Heath.

It was a cold, bright afternoon, with an amazing red sun hanging low in the sky, and I suddenly knew that I’d been here before too. A press photoshoot for myself and Anna (who was then my girlfriend rather than my wife) had been organised beside the wreckage of an old fallen tree, and we’d sat there – two shivering teenagers on a day as cold as today – while the photographer tried to capture that post-apocalyptic feel so popular in the eighties.

And now here I was, almost a quarter of a century later, wondering if I’d meant to come here, trying to remember where we’d stood and what we’d said. The recognition was eerie, creeping up on me as I walked around – vague recollections snapping suddenly into place. And it made me appreciate the importance of memories – a particular challenge that’s facing two people I care about, and who are both struggling with memory problems – as they define so much of who we are.

In any case, it was oddly fulfilling to revisit the ghosts of the past. I think I may track down a few more of my old haunts and see what thoughts I left there.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Sobering Thoughts

I've not discussed it previously, but this seems an appropriate point to mention the tragic death of Jo Yeates, now that neighbour Vincent Tabak has been convicted of her murder.

Jo went missing in Bristol on the 17th of December last year and her body was found in the snow on Christmas day. The case attracted a lot of media attention, but there was a particularly unsettling aspect for me as it became clear that the real events echoed a number of themes in my first (then unpublished) novel. Over Christmas, discussing the story with family, a number of parallels emerged. Although it was the first section I'd written (more than a year earlier) it was chilling to see so many coincidences - young blonde woman in Clifton, working for an architectural firm, found strangled.

At the time, I stopped writing, and stopped sending out the manuscript - it just seemed inappropriate to continue with the project. The sickening nature of the case wasn't helped by the newspapers' evil persecution of Jo's landlord and, when he rather inconveniently turned out to be innocent, their snide criticism of Avon & Somerset Police.

There was a sense of relief when Vincent Tabak was arrested, even more so when he admitted causing Jo's death. I felt able to continue with the books and was fortunate enough to secure an agent and publisher.

Naturally, the story has now been altered. Even though there were lots of significant differences between the novel and the terrible events of last Christmas, it seemed important to make a few more changes, out of respect if nothing else.

Now that Tabak has been convicted, hopefully the real-life story is over, and those impacted by his crime can get some closure. It's been a sobering journey, and one that puts a lot of things into perspective.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

An hour from home

I’m sitting on a train, on my way back from the West Country. It’s late, and I’m half asleep from the combination of an early start this morning, and a post-midnight finish to my book 1 edit last night. However, it’s hugely satisfying to have passed another milestone – in this case, working through feedback from my excellent editor Francesca. "Eye Contact" is now deeper, tighter, and quite a bit longer than before. For my part, I’m now older, wiser and quite a bit happier with it ;-)

Annoyingly, after weeks of looking back and fixing fine details, today’s train journey has given me the chance to look forward and notice major plot issues. I’m pleased with the premise for book 2, and a lot of the material I’ve written for it feels promising, but I still feel as though something significant is yet to click into place. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to visit Bristol some time in the next week or two. Writing in the place where the action unfolds has often sparked some of my favourite and most pivotal scenes, and I’ve a feeling that the idea I’m looking for is there somewhere.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


Twenty years ago today, Anna and I got married.

It's difficult to recall a time when she wasn't part of my life - we've been together since we were teenagers - but I know I feel the same way about her now as the day she asked me to marry her. I'm still trying to impress her, I still think it's cool when she holds my hand in the street, and I still find myself grinning whenever she turns that smile on me.

A lot has happened over the last two decades but, through both the good times and the challenges, I've never doubted that I was with the right person. She is my friend and soul-mate, and I couldn't ask for a better companion on life's journey.

So thank you Anna, for the best twenty years so far. May the next twenty be every bit as good.

Saturday, 23 July 2011


After an early start and just barely catching the train, I spent the day in Bristol, scouting locations and learning more about different areas of the city. It's become clear to me that my original plan for Book 2 will need some significant alterations, one of which is a change to the first killing - different victim, different setting, different everything. Fortunately it's not as daunting as it might sound. Indeed, parts of Eye Contact underwent several shifts until they snapped into alignment, and it was a similar process with today's trip.

Certain places seem to act as catalysts for ideas. I'm not a New-Age type and I don't believe in ley-lines and all that jazz, but as I drift around a city there can be an almost tangible sense of "getting warmer" or "getting colder". And when there's time to look around, that can be very productive.

Last time I was in Bristol, I followed a whim and took a bus from Templemeads to Clifton Down. By chance, I chose the longer route and it took me through a number of places I'd not really seen before. One of these was Redland, and it's been on my mind ever since.

Today, I got the train straight through to Redland station. The area around it is lovely, and I had a great time exploring. I found a great house that would suit my new victim-to-be, and took a look around her neighbourhood to understand what it would be like living there.

I've been thinking that this character should work somewhere around the Clifton Village (keeping as far from the location in the first book as I can) so I took the bus from her local stop to see what the commute was like.

As luck would have it, the bus stop where I got off was close to a sign that mentioned Clifton Arcade. I'd never heard of it before, so I ducked down a side street and entered a truly charming little Victorian mall. Again, as soon as I stepped inside, something clicked and I knew that this was where my character should work.

After a helpful shop owner patiently answered my evasive questions (well, I didn't want to spook her!) and a nearby cafe fixed me up with a genuinely magnificent all-day breakfast, I thought I'd head over to the other side of town and visit my detective's house.

Stackpool Road is somewhere I've been before, but only briefly and only in my car. Walking there, then walking into town from there, has given me a great insight into what it would be like to live in that part of Bristol. Hopefully, that will come across in the Eye Contact edits, as well as the sequel. In any event, I got that same feeling of correctness that I had in Redland and Clifton Village.

Three out of three! And there's still half a weekend left to go...

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Friday Feeling

Even for a Friday, that was pretty damn good.

Yesterday turned out to be a day of days, with a rather special trip to London. My agent, the excellent Eve White, had arranged a meeting with a potential publisher and, filled with excitement and trepidation, I met up with her and off we went.

Over the next couple of hours, we met a whole host of really lovely people to discuss the book, two sequels, and the process of becoming an established author. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't flattering to be so absolutely the centre of attention, as influential person after influential person came into the room to meet me and tell me how much they'd enjoyed reading Eye Contact. However, the more I've thought about it, the more I've come to realize that it was also the shock of so many people having actually read the story that really got to me. Up until now, only a handful of very trusted people have seen it. Suddenly, a procession of literary heavyweights were shaking my hand and telling me how much they enjoyed the book. It was a surreal experience - almost as if they'd mistaken me for someone else, and were offering compliments on some other novel - and quite overwhelming at times. Fortunately, Eve was there to calmly focus our discussions on the creative side of things and defer business matters to another day.

Which brings me onto the second high-spot of the morning. A key purpose of the visit was to meet the woman who would potentially be my editor - not just on Eye Contact, but on the whole series. Eve wanted to see how I got on with her, and whether we had a common vision for the books. As our discussions progressed, it became clear that she really gets the story and understands where I'm hoping to take the characters. She made a number of suggestions, all of which rang true with me, and the icing on the cake was when she correctly predicted the ending of book two.

And afterwards, still numb from the excitement of the morning, a lunchtime stroll in the sunshine led onto a pleasing afternoon meeting about a new iOS project for work. I even got a seat on the train home.

Next Friday has a lot to live up to!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Shoot First

My thanks to Ali Downie and Hema Vyas for giving me the opportunity to do my first photoshoot with a real model. Despite the weather it was an enjoyable and informative experience, and I certainly learned a lot.

Hema arranged things and took care of makeup and styling - two things I know very little about - and Ali was extremely patient as we dragged her around the mean streets of Winchester, especially as it emerged that she had tragically missed breakfast.

An overcast sky meant the light wasn't great, but the results were quite pleasing. I wish I'd given Ali more guidance, but I found myself concentrating on technical / composition issues for a lot of the time. Hopefully, as I become more practiced, these things won't be so distracting and I can devote my attention to better model direction.

Still, for a first attempt, I'm happy with the photos. Watch my Flickr feed for more images in the coming days.

Monday, 13 June 2011


Generally, the thought of going to the cinema to see a documentary isn't something that gets me excited. I remember watching "Zidane" on iPlayer and thanking my lucky stars that I hadn't bought a ticket for it, while the various offerings from conspiracy theorists, eco-warriors, and self-rightous anti-corporates all leave me cold.

Which makes "Senna" all the more impressive.

The film recounts the short, adult life of Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian who battled his way to become Formula One champion three times in four years. Widely regarded as the greatest racing driver of all time, he was also the last F1 driver to be killed at the wheel, when he crashed at Imola in 1994.

It's a powerful and unusual piece of cinema. Unlike so many retrospective pieces, there are no talking heads, no faded contemporaries gazing back through misty-eyed nostalgia. Senna is on the screen almost all the time, with every frame of the film being footage from the relevant period in his life. When comments or opinions are needed to tell the story, they are from Senna himself, his family, or his team mates - and many bear the honesty of being recorded before Imola, when Senna was just a man, not a mourned, national treasure.

Yes, it's one-sided. We're given the intriguing narrative of Senna's rivalry with Prost, and his frustration with the sport's governing body, all from his point of view. We hear little about his family life, yet there is a lot about his quiet support for charities. But none of that matters. As the film progresses, there can be no doubt that this was one of the most determined and talented drivers ever born. His ability to control the car, taking staggering risks at a time when racing was terribly dangerous, is breathtaking.

And that's what makes it such a difficult film to watch. When you see other cars crash, you see it through Senna's eyes. You share his anguish as he stands in the pit garage, watching a monitor that displays the broken body of a fellow racer lying crumpled on the track outside. Later, you see him bow his head as it becomes clear that another of his opponents has just died in the wreckage of his car. And then, his face grim, you see him pull on his helmet and get ready to race again.

When the end draws near, you're as weary as he is. You've experienced the frustration, the disappointment and the heartache. You can almost understand his happiness when, on the morning of his death, his Bible reading promises him the greatest gift of all - being with God.

Usually, if I'm sitting in a cinema and things get a bit emotional, I get a grip by reminding myself that it's all make-believe, just actors on a set. Not so with this film. As the final race unfolds, you find yourself hoping against the inevitable. When the crash comes, there is nothing to cushion you from its impact - the knowledge that this happened long ago means nothing when the film has taken you so deeply into Senna's real, vibrant life.

It's an amazing film about an amazing man. See it and you'll know what I mean.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Poison Tree

After I'd brought this book home, I felt a nagging certainty that Erin Kelly was one of the new authors who sat just behind me at last year's Winchester Conference. In any event, I'm very glad I read The Poison Tree.

Much of my second novel is told from a woman's point of view, so I'd been looking for a contemporary crime / thriller, with a female protagonist. Women write in a different way - their characters notice different things, and their thought processes flow with different priorities. Getting that right will certainly be a challenge.

But what of The Poison Tree? It's an intriguing story of a young woman, drawn into the compelling and disturbing world of a brother and sister who live in a vast old house in London. There's plenty of tragedy, and some delicious twists, as the story unfolds in two timelines towards a dramatic finale. There's a gentle intensity to the writing that I really enjoyed, and echoes of Brideshead Revisited that made me smile.

I've only finished it today, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending, but it's been a compelling read. I just hope some of that feminine tone rubs off on me.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

A quiet drink...

I had an enjoyable and productive time today, writing and researching for Book II. The day began in Winchester, where I found a table in Starbucks and successfully nailed down the sequence where Kim and Naysmith first met. It was an idea that I'd had some time ago, and initially discounted, but something Anna said made me view it in a different light. It's difficult to write at home when everyone else is around, so I drove to Winchester - it's not far, and it's been a rewarding place to write in the past.

Things came together rather faster than I'd expected, so I later drove over to Salisbury and followed the road on into the village where the two characters live. I had wanted to check the route anyway, but when I got there I thought it might be helpful to know a little more about the place, so I thought I'd go and have a drink in Naysmith's local.

I'd always imagined it would be the pub on the market square, so I parked up, went to the house I've chosen for them, then walked back to the pub. The place was almost deserted when I went in - just a young mum with a toddler, and her partner playing the fruit machine. I did my "looking for someone" face and nosed around a little, but somehow it just didn't feel right - the sort of place that got crowded and held pool tournaments. A barmaid appeared and asked me if I was looking for someone (which made me smile). I described Naysmith for her but she said she hadn't seen him - I'd have been worried if she had. She suggested I try another pub, just along the road.

This one was much more suitable. Uneven floors, dark wood beams with horsebrasses for decor, and a dartboard perilously close to the TV that hung above the old fireplace. I ordered a drink and listened to the locals arguing about the right and wrong way to pour a Guinness, and smiled as a group of them crowded around the window to watch the comings and goings of a house across the street, and to speculate what was happening inside.

"There's something going on there, I bet you."
"Yeah, there is. You watch, they'll draw the curtains in a minute..."

I sat in a quiet corner, and roughed out another couple of sections, including one set in the village. As I left, almost everyone I passed smiled at me, and several people said goodbye!

I think Naysmith is going to enjoy drinking in there.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

AV Alternatives

Political news coverage is rarely uplifting, but the forthcoming referendum on the Alternative Vote has produced something rather pleasing. Normally, MPs are forced to toe the party line, miserably agreeing with whatever their colleagues say, and automatically objecting to anything from those on the other side of the House.

At times, it can become so dreary. There seems little point in having all those seats, if there are only 2 opinions.

And that's the unexpected benefit of the current political climate: some MPs appear to be saying what they think.

Generally, the Lib-Dems seem to want AV, while the Conservatives don't. They argue about it - really argue about it - but are still able to agree on other issues. It's not unlike real-life, where honest folk can agree on some things and disagree on others - amazing!

And it got me thinking. If I'm honest with myself, I think AV is probably a fairer system, even though my political leaning is towards the Conservatives, who AV wouldn't benefit. Does it matter that I don't agree with everything one party says? Of course not.

Maybe we should go even further. Against my initial expectations, I like the coalition. There's a balance between the 2 camps that keeps both in check, with each having to justify what it does to the other, rather than just following their own agendas. And the Lib-Dems are too useful to sit in opposition - they're not just a bunch of nay-sayers - but I don't feel they're focused enough or tough enough to run things on their own against the other 2 parties.

Which leads me to my point. Two parties in power, balancing each other, and able to disagree with each other when it's needed. Perhaps we don't need AV - perhaps we need a new box on the ballot paper that says "Conservative & Lib-Dem Coalition".

That would be something I could vote for.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Chapter One

I just closed my laptop and walked out of the room feeling genuinely upset.

After a number of false starts, the first chapter of Book 2 seemed to come together quite quickly today, and it was oddly harrowing to go back to Naysmith and Kim. Maybe it's because I now know what's going to happen at the end, or maybe just because that opening chapter was pretty rough on them. In any event, I felt bad about it until I spoke to Anna and realized that this probably bodes well for my opening chapter eliciting a strong emotional response in the reader.

Which made me feel good again!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Aaron Sorkin

I recently watched "The Social Network" and was struck by how much I enjoyed it.

Obviously, the aim of most movies is to entertain, but a couple of hours on the story of Facebook doesn't bode well when it comes to great viewing.

So what made it so good?


Mr. Zuckerberg, do I have your full attention?

Mark Zuckerberg: [stares out the window]



Do you think I deserve it?

Mark Zuckerberg: [looks at Gage]



Do you think I deserve your full attention?

Mark Zuckerberg:

I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don't want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation to say no.


Okay - no. You don't think I deserve your attention.

Mark Zuckerberg:

I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.


Mark Zuckerberg:

Did I adequately answer your condescending question?

The screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin, best known for scripting "The West Wing" and "Charlie Wilson's War". On paper, I wouldn't have rated either of these, but there's something rather dazzling about the dialogue in all of them. True, ordinary people rarely quip so cleverly at one another, and the sarcastic sense of humour is much more polished than anything we experience in real life, but that doesn't matter. It makes no attempt to pander to the lowest common denominator and, as such, it's unashamedly brilliant.

I'm looking forward to whatever project he does next and, if there should ever be a bio-pic made of my life, I'd love him to write all my dialogue.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Goldfish Memories

Do you remember how the world was one year ago? How brilliant Britain was, before the election?

In recent weeks, I've noticed an increasing number of people suggest that things have started to get bad since the Conservatives were elected. How the NHS is threatened by cuts, which the Tories have always wanted to make. How the armed forces are under-supplied due to the Tories wanting to keep all the money to themselves. How students will have to pay for their education now that the Tories are getting their way. And so on and so forth.

It must have been a magical place, this Britain-before-the-Tories. I don't remember it myself, but it seems that there were no cutbacks to the NHS, our soldiers had all the equipment they could wish for, students left university debt-free, and everyone was happy.

In truth, I remember things rather differently.

Two years ago, the NHS outsourced a number of treatments, and I remember my GP telling me that he'd cancelled my hospital appointment because he was "under pressure from above to avoid costly referrals".

As the army undertook tours in the Middle East, didn't we hear continued questions about the lack of body armour, helicopters, and other equipment?

And, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it Labour who introduced fees for higher education?

But the truth is largely irrelevant. Protestors will protest, and the left-leaning media will give air-time to the beligerant amnesiacs who say it's all the Tories fault. Who assure us that Labour would sort out those greedy bankers if it was up to them. Who know that Labour would soon get the country out of debt if they were in charge.

The irony is lost on them, their recollections edited down to a series of blissful summer days "before the Tories and Lib Dems ruined it all"...

Let's hope their memories are equally effective when it's next time to find their way to the polling stations.