In A Nutshell

Loads of stuff , really. This blog has taken a backseat because of my illness but you might forgive me if I tell you I’m nearly a quarter way through a new novel. What’s it about? Get out of here!!! But I was alarmed when a good friend complained that he checks my blog to see if I’m still around and gets worried when there has been no update for a while.

I’m here. A year on. More on treatment later but first the good stuff.

The Year of the Ladybird has been shortlisted for the August Derleth Award. Interesting that this book has done well at the same time that UKIP is on the political march. The book is set in 1976, a time of economic downturn not long after Enoch Powell’s “Rivers Of Blood” speech, when immigrants were to blame for everything and even people like David Bowie and Eric Clapton were making outrageous right-wing pronouncements. History proved Enoch wrong, but still we seem to be going backwards.

I wonder how this Brit-retrospective will be received in the US, where the book come out this month under the very different title THE GHOST IN THE ELECTRIC-BLUE SUIT. It’s the same book so don’t go buying both copies, Y’ y’all.

Whatever the cover, the contents inside represent a very important and formative time in my life. Here’s an early review from an American journal:

Good review, but a word concerning that thing about mixing the genres with “artificial plot complications”. You will know that’s what I do, and the resistance to making it happen that way is always going to be strong. I still say books should not be like tins on a supermarket shelf. You don’t get a list of ingredients on the label.

Some Kind Of Fairy Tale continues to have flight-dust. I always feel very happy when something I write has triggered the imagination of an artist or musician or anyone in another field of creative endeavour. One of the great things about being a writer. Emilie Simon just brought out her latest album Mue and on it is a song called The Eye Of The Moon with my lyrics. If you’ve read Some Kind Of Fairy Tale you will recognise the creative overspill. You can preview the song here with Itunes but it cuts off before it deepens. Anyway:

And then the soundscape poet Mark Goodwin and I went up the Outwoods in Charnwood Forest the setting where Tara is seduced away in Some Kind Of Fairy Tale and I read a short extract and Mark worked his magic with ambient sound and mild distortion. The damned planes kept coming over for East Mildlands airport so he had to work that in. He included some bits of what normally considered out-takes, too, and this is part of creative sound project Mark is working on. Best listened to with headphones and without looking at the screen, you can find it here.

Film rights to Some Kind Of Fairy Tale were bought up by a Hollywood studio a few weeks ago.

Pete and Nikki Crowther at PS publishing are also planning a special edition collecting all my short stories together which they hope to have ready for Fantasycon in York September 5-7th.

What’s that? You are going to Fantasycon in York, aren’t you? Of course you are, because I have been asked to be Master Of Ceremonies and it is going to be terrific. All you have to do is mention that you are a reader of my blog and you will be given an application form and a free horse-chestnut.

Meanwhile my petition against the pesky Education Secretary Michael Gove had crashed through 126,000 signatures last time I looked. Why does he continue to utter foolishness at every opportunity? Believe me: this is all nothing to do with Education, sadly, and what we are witnessing is a power bid as he gathers his Daily Mail reading constituency together. If he could revive a certain Rivers Of Blood speech, he would. Here’s an article with me gobbing off about him in the Guardian.

I also went on the Michael Rosen programme to talk about social class and language. I like that Michael Rosen fellow. He made me feel very relaxed and we had an open and honest discussion about the subject.

So, what with all the chemotherapy and radiotherapy and all that stuff I haven’t been completely idle.

Finally my “lost” novel The Stormwatcher is now available on ebook. I call it lost because it was one of those that fell between one editor going and another coming in the UK, and was never properly published in the US either. It’s an important novel to me because I was trying to push the envelope of what I could do with that mix of magical or supernatural elements and a focus on domestic relationships, and trying hard not let the one value preside over the other. You’ll know I’m still working on that! It comes with an introduction in which I talk about what happens to a book when you lose your editor (fired, head-hunted, absconded, incarcerated or whatever); and about first trying to find a way of writing character-driven supernatural stories. Here it is:

So, lots and lots going on. Life is so good! Hmmmmm. Could do without the cancer. Meanwhile in the last couple of weeks two dear friends from my Bishop Lonsdale College days in Derby in the 1970s have both been diagnosed with cancer. There’s a lot of it about, and loving life and living well – as my friends do – is no protection it seems.

There is a problem with some of the language around the mythology of cancer. Many people want to talk of you “fighting it” and “beating it” and all the rest. And most of this language proceeds from love – they want to fight it for you, they want to beat it for you. But while some cancers will lie down and you may indeed live for ten or twenty years to die instead of a heart attack, it is not the case with all of them. So we need a new language for dealing with it. In fact in my case, what my wonderful doctors and nurses of the NHS in Leicester are doing is fighting to buy me time. From what I’ve read about Mantle Cell Lymphoma I’ve discovered that there is no certainty about how to treat it and that keeping it at bay is more an art than a science. So they keep trying different stuff and they keep finding ways to buy me time, and the hope is that after the latest treatment there will be another treatment to buy some more time.

And with that uncertainty of the time previously taken for granted comes the prospect of grace. I’m not religious, but I know moments of grace when they are gifted. Ordinary moments, but they make the hairs stand up on the back of your forearm. Watching my boy race through the field with our dog; getting deliciously lost in a new bluebell wood; the four of us laughing until it hurts at something said one dinner time; my daughter showing me her latest painting; the music of rain; driving back from a beach walk on my wife’s birthday when the setting sun boiled up huge, blistering poppies in a golden barley field and flushed pheasants and hares and other totemic animals from the roadside. Quotidian moments, each no bigger than a nutshell really, but infinite and delirium-inducing when you come to examine them.

So these treatments, these purchases and parcels of time, have opened up windows and portals that maybe I’d have been too busy to see before. I’ll take that.

Thank you for reading this because as I’ve said here before: Readers are not strangers.