Friday, October 29, 2010

Punch Brothers

Saw the wonderful Punch Brothers in Portland, Maine tonight, although I
suspect Chris Thile had no idea who I was when I introduced myself after the gig, and was just being
polite, despite the fact that I'd paid a couple of thousand dollars out of my own pocket for the rights to one
Nickel Creek song and one lyric line to be used in 'The Unquiet'. Crumbs, it cost me ten times as much as an
entire verse of T S Eliot. Sigh. Oh well. In his defense, he did look a bit shellshocked after a great
performance, and I struggle with names all the time, especially in those circumstances. He is extraordinarily
gifted, and, in 'This Is the Song', he may well have produced his loveliest work to date. I just don't think I
have a memorable name, or face. Buy the album 'Antifogmatic' - an antifogmatic being, apparently, an
alcoholic drink one has in the morning to steel oneself for a day's work. You learn something new every
day . . .

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On Seclusion

Three weeks: that's how much time I have set aside to hunker down and make some real progress on the next Charlie Parker novel. I made a few steps in the right direction today - writing at the house in the morning, grabbing a sandwich nearby, then writing again at a coffee shop - but I realize that it's a luxury to be able to write in this way, and I'm fortunate to have been allowed the time. Ultimately, this kind of routine is impossible to sustain: eventually, you burn out, but it's also the case that being a recluse of sorts is not necessarily ideal, or healthy. The best situation is one in which the writing life finds a balance with ordinary life. It will always be imperfect, and frequently it will need to be adjusted one way or the other, but in the end it's the only way to write, because writing then becomes part of the ebb and flow of one's existence, and not something apart from it.

Then again, I think that at some point in the creation a book, all writers, and certainly all published writers, need to take time away from the distractions of day-to-day life and do nothing but write. It may be at the start of the process, or in the middle when progress has slowed, or right at the end, when the finish line is in sight and it requires one last concentrated effort to cross the line, but it has to be done. If nothing else, it gives a focus to the work in hand. It can be hard to keep the image of the forest in one's head when you're progressing through it, tree by tree.

Even when I was writing my first book, at a time when I did not have a publisher but did, at least, have an agent who wanted to read it, I can remember taking a week off work in order to finish the draft. I wrote in a rigid kitchen chair at an old table in my bedroom, and I think my back hurt for another week after. I wrote thousands of words every day. I forced myself to stay in that chair and not move until I felt that I really couldn't write any more, until my back was screaming and the words on the computer screen grew fuzzy.

But perhaps that idea of seclusion is merely an extreme example of the regular, low-key seclusion that all writers, whether actual or aspiring, need in order to work. When I'm trying to help people who are struggling to write, overwhelmed by the task that they have set themselves and the other demands on their time - work, husbands, wives, children, friends, dogs - I always tell them to start small. They should snatch ten or fifteen minutes every day, and set an easily attainable goal: 100 words, say, which is not very much at all. They should do this at a time when they can be sure of no other distractions, and I've known people who've started to wake up fifteen minutes earlier in the mornings, before the kids have to be rousted, or before they have to run for the train, and that's their brief period of seclusion. Three days of work in this way will produce about one page of a book, although most people find that the work speeds up as the days go by, and where once they might have produced 100 words, they now produce 150, or 200, or 300.

It helps also to have a particular place in which to work, especially if you have kids, or flatmates, or a demanding spouse. You close the door, or set yourself up at the kitchen table, and you make it clear to them that this is your time, and you have to be left alone. After a while, people come to expect it. Not only does writing become part of your routine, but your writing becomes part of the routine of others.

So seclusion, like most things, is relative, and while absolute seclusion may be ideal - I have one friend who goes to stay in a country house bed and breakfast when he needs to get a lot of writing done, another who runs off to a cottage in the hills, a third who makes use of a retreat house for writers - it's not always possible, or available, or affordable. But every writer has to find his or her own space, both physical and psychological, and make the best use of it. Three weeks, an hour, fifteen minutes: you take what you can get . . .

This week John read

Sean Connery: The Measure of a Man by Christopher Bray

and listened to

Le Noize by Neil Young

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

News and Stuff

Dear Folk,
I hope you missed me as much as I missed you.  Because I did miss you.  A lot.  I'm really a very sensitive man, you know.
Here's what I've been doing while I've been trying not to miss you, along with some stuff that I will be doing so that I don't miss you more . . .

From next week I'll be hosting a weekly hour-long radio show for RTE's digital station, 2XM.  The show, entitled ABC to XTC, allows me to indulge my love of music from 1977 until the mid- to late eighties, along with some related modern stuff.   It will be available to listen to on digital radio and online on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and the first show goes on Tuesday 19th at 10am, with a repeat on Saturday evening at 9pm.   To kick off, in addition to the titular ABC and XTC, you'll hear Squeeze, The Beat, Simple Minds, Foo Fighters covering Gary Numan, and lots of other stuff.  Further details will be available over the coming days on the 2XM website at but we just thought you'd like to know first.  Once the show is up and running, we'll sort out ways of putting playlist links on the website, and contact details for requests, comments, and the like.  Do give it a listen, and let me know what you think.

As most of you will be aware, I didn't tour in the US for THE WHISPERERS due to touring commitments elsewhere.  Sorry about that.  In an effort to make up for it in some small way, I will be doing one formal US signing at the lovely Kennebooks bookstore in Kennebunk, Maine on Thursday October 28th from 7.00-8.00pm.   Everyone who comes along, or who orders a book from the store to be signed, will receive a copy of the LOVE & WHISPERS CD, and we'll try to throw in something else as well to make it even more special.  Also, as it coincides with the Halloween weekend, it will be the first chance for US readers to hear an extract from HELL'S BELLS, the sequel to THE GATES, which will be published next year, of which more below.  Further details about the signing are available from

HELL'S BELLS, the sequel to THE GATES, will be published next May in the UK and the US.  An extract will appear on the website in the coming weeks, but for now . . .

Samuel Johnson is in trouble.  Not only is he in love with the wrong girl, but the demon Mrs Abernathy is seeking revenge upon him for his part in foiling the invasion of Earth by the forces of Darkness.  She wants to get her claws on Samuel, and when the Large Hadron Collider is turned on again, she is given her chance.  Samuel and his faithful dachshund, Boswell, are pulled through a portal into Hell, there to be hunted down by Mrs Abernathy and her allies.
But catching Samuel is not going to be easy, for Mrs Abernathy has reckoned without the bravery and cleverness of a boy and his dog, or the loyalty of Samuel's friend, the hapless demon Nurd.  Most of all, she hasn't planned on the intervention of an unexpected band of little men, for Samuel and Boswell are not the only inhabitants of Earth who have found themselves in Hell. 
If you thought demons were frightening, just wait until you meet Mr Merryweather's Elves . . .

On November 24th at 8pm, I'll be introducing a lovely 35mm print of Roman Polanski's CHINATOWN as part of the annual Classic Movies Season at the Ormonde Cinema in Stilorgan, Dublin.  Tickets are €9, and can be booked through the Ormonde's website at  Other films in the season include THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, ANATOMY OF A MURDER, and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  The highlight of the season occurs on Wednesday October 13th, when director John Boorman introduces a screening of his classic 1960s revenge thriller, POINT BLANK.  I wish I could be there instead of on a plane somewhere over the American mainland.   Enjoy it in my stead, if you can make it.

The US paperback edition of THE GATES has just been published by Washington Square Press, and makes an ideal Halloween or Christmas gift, as well as being the perfect size for propping up uneven table legs, and badly designed chairs.

I've written the introduction to the Scorpion Press edition of James Lee Burke's latest novel, THE GLASS RAINBOW, which was an honour.  I wouldn't be writing now without Burke's influence, and THE GLASS RAINBOW is a fine edition to the Robicheaux series of novels.  Further details are available from

My essay on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad can be found in CINEMA FUTURA, a volume of essays by various authors on their favourite science fiction movies, edited by Mark Morris and published by PS Publishing.  Copies can be ordered from the publisher's website at

It's likely that I'll publish two novels in 2011: HELL'S BELLS in May, and the next Charlie Parker novel in September.  At the moment, I'm still juggling titles, but I thought you'd like to know that there is another one on the way.  

So that's it.  It's not like I haven't been busy.  Still missed you, though.

Best wishes,

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