Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Sugar loaf and sugar rum

I am writing this on a school computer with a 'd' that sticks, so I will try and use that letter as little as possible!

Yesterday I went to the Urca site of the British School. The library there must have one of the best views of any school library in the world, looking across the bay towards the Cristo standing on top of the mountain. It was a much sunnier day in Rio but I had not brought my camera into school - not realising I might have something to take a picture of. I am back at that site on Thursday so I will take a picture then.

I spoke to four different groups of children who were all very attentive. I talked about how I came to write, how I write and how they might improve their approach to their own writing. I read some of my work and then we had questions - though time was pretty short. It was all a bit exhausting, but it's a great school.

At the end of the day the librarians took me over to restaurant called Tiramasu in a shopping mall with another spectacular view looking back towards the Urca site, which sits at the foot of Sugar Loaf. We had some tapas-type things and I had a fruit juice of pineapple and mint. Absolutely fantastic flavour. And it somehow got me in the mood to have my second caipirinha (lemon/lime and sugar rum) of my trip.

I met the librarians from other sites - including Viviane Silva who is the librarian here at Barra - pronounced Bar-Har - where I am today. I also met a storyteller from the US called Priscilla Howe. She lives in Kansas - though she's originally from Long Island if memory serves. She was very nice with a lovely voice. I hope I get to hear her tell a story, but I don't think we'll ever be at the same site at the same time.

Viviane took me on a tour of the school here and while we were going round my mobile went and it was the company we rent our house from in Cambridge talking about fixing a drawer in my kitchen - which was a little surreal.

I did my sessions - mainly centred around my book Billy Wizard - and then went with Mimi to the Botanical Gardens, which were beautiful and I only wish I'd had more time to enjoy them. I could have easily spent the day there. Incredible trees and lots of bird life. It has been overcast and not especially warm today, but I hear it might be better tomorrow.

I'm back at the Barra site tomorrow.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Raining in Rio

Here I am in Rio, staying in the lovely house of Merche - sister of John Clark. I arrived last night after an exhausting flight. The travelling went OK. The flight to Madrid seemed like a short hop in comparison to the 10 hours plus of the flight across the South Atlantic.

Air travel normally has the effect of compressing distance, but when you look out of a window and see the ocean, and then look out four hours later and it's still ocean, you begin to appreciate just how vast it is.

We were late taking off from Madrid and it took an age to get through customs and passport control at Rio, so Merche was kept waiting as she she had kindly come to pick me up. We had never met and she was sweetly holding a copy of Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror so I would recognise her.

Merche's family have been incredibly friendly and we ate pizza before I collapsed into my very comfortable bed in my air-conditioned ensuite bedroom. I woke at six (ten in UK time) and it was sunny. I mooched about until the rest of the house woke up, joined them for coffee and toast and then went for a walk on the beach with Merche and her dog, Charlie, but it started to rain and we came back.

I was taken for a meal at a restaurant were waiters keep appearing at your side with different cuts of different kinds of meat. It was very good - though I realised afterwards that I had not eaten any vegetables at all. It was just meat, meat and, oh go on then, more meat. I did have a bit of fruit in the form of a fearsome lime and rum cocktail. Mimi Liang joined us from the British School and it was nice to see her again. She has been my point of contact with the school all along.
From there we drove through the rain to the signing at Livraria da Travesso. I did sign some books, but the rain had kept people away (or at least that was what I clung to as an excuse). I did get to meet Adriana Sardinha from Rocco though and she was great. I hope the Rocco edition does well for us both. It has just come out.

And I got to meet a comic book writer called Estevão Ribeiro, who gave me a couple of his comics. One is called Contos Tristes (Sad Tales). I have never done a signing and come away with someone else's books. It was good to meet you Estavão. Thanks for coming along.

Friday, 26 September 2008


Here I am sitting in the Yotel - that is such a terrible name - in Heathrow terminal 4. I have an early flight to Rio - via Madrid - tomorrow. The Yotel room is like something from a space station - or a kind of 70s vision of a space station. It has a bed that changes from a seat to a bed at the touch of a silver button (I hope). But what if I hit that button in my sleep? Will I get scooped up?

I'm already exhausted. The tube trip alone from King's Cross to Heathrow took over an hour, and we were all booted off at one point because there was 'something wrong with the radio' on the tube we were on. It wasn't a great start.

Now I need to sleep. I have a 5am start tomorrow and a day of travelling ahead.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Battle of Britain

Running is becoming easier. Well at least it is becoming less painful. I keep running further each time, but I must be running quicker as well, because I still don't seem to be out for the half an hour Joad prescribed for me.

I got an email today from Jill Sawyer at Scholastic telling me about a Times promotion which will feature the My Story - Battle of Britain book I did for them a few years ago. The book was repackaged in May. It tells the story of a fictional Spitfire pilot.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Contos de Terror do Tio Montague

An enormous jiffy bag full of paperbacks of Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror arrived today. I love boxes/bags of books. I am looking forward to seeing the various translated versions of Uncle Monty. So far I have only seen the US and Spanish Latin American editions.

The Rocco edition I will be promoting in Rio is called Contos de Terror do Tio Montague. I will be signing copies at 4 pm on Sunday 28 September at the Livraria da Travessa in Ipanema. I have looked on the bookshops website, and there I am!

Sunday, 21 September 2008


The BBC have an excellent adaptation of Tess of the d'Urbevilles on at the moment (which I will miss when I'm in Rio). When I say it is excellent, I mean the acting and direction is excellent, which is ususally the most you can hope for in one of these things.

I have a bit of a thing about costume dramas. Seeing people in bonnets and bodices immediately makes it look safe and olde worlde, despite the fact that the books involved were often far from safe when they were written. There was nothing safe about Hardy, for instance.

But what came through most strongly watching it, was just what a fantastic writer Thomas Hardy was - for all the clanging of tortured coincidences and the torturing of his characters, he created an absolutely compelling world. It makes me want to re-read the book.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008


I tried to write more of the 'inspiration for the stories' stuff I had promised to give Adrian for the Tales of Terror from the Black Ship. When they are in a more coherent form I'll put them on the blog. And I've reached the end of Ghosts.

By that I don't that I have finished - I mean I've just reached the end. I have skipped a lot of stuff and simply written whatever has come most readily to me. I don't always write like this, but I am trying to get the bulk of the book roughed out before I go to Rio and so I am just writing those parts that I see most vividly. Then I will go back through and link them together.

I wanted to have the whole shape of the book there waiting for me when I got back - regardless of holes. Then it becomes about fleshing out the characters and making the thing come to life. This kind of book - mystery/suspense/thriller/chiller - is all about the release of information. The sequence of events and the speed of the narrative is crucial. Sometimes you want to hold the reader back, sometimes you want to send them hurtling down a dimly lit corridor.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Running hurts

I went for a longer run today. Joad told me I need to run for half an hour, three times a week. So I ran up to Grantchester and back along the high path above the river. It is certainly a scenic run and I like that path up there on the ridge: people must have walked that route for centuries.

But I was disappointed to see that it only took me twenty minutes. I have to say my legs felt like lead by the time I plodded back to the house and really hurt afterwards. I don't know why I was not expecting them to hurt, but it all came as an unpleasant surprise.

Monday, 15 September 2008


Ross and Mardi came over on Saturday with their kids. It was great to see them and I still can't quite believe they are going back to Tasmania in a matter of days. They will be sorely missed by everyone who knows them here. I hope we will get to see them in Tasmania one day.

I went for my first - very short - run yesterday. I actually found it very difficult to work out how far I could reasonably expect to go without falling over or vomiting, so I erred on the side of caution and went for a jogette, pleased that I had not been forced to stop at any point.

I had the misfortune of bumping into our friend Amanda Ryder en route as she cycled back from town. Running and talking whilst trying not to look like tired and flabby old man is too hard. Must make mental note to either adopt a disguise or run at night.

And there was a great article by Robert Hughes in the Guardian over the weekend that talked about Damien Hirst's hyper-inflated value with far greater articulacy that I have managed. I'm looking forward to his Mona Lisa Curse programme.

Friday, 12 September 2008


I actually bought my running shoes today after running on a treadmill and having my feet videoed until we found a shoe that worked for me. I had to run in a neutral shoe, then in each of three others and then take each of them for a spin around the car park. I was exhausted by the time I bought them and wondering whether this running lark was really for me.

I received a series of questions passed on to me from Adriana Sardinha at Rocco from a Brazilian newspaper called Folha de Sao Paulo. Here they are with the answers I gave:

1) I read that the idea for Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror came from hide and seek, and the mixture of anxiety of getting caught and the sound of your own breath as you hid. That was a very impressive and yet simple and relatable way to put it to your readers, from every age group. But why did you choose to write for children specifically? Or did they choose you?

The idea for one of the stories in that collection – A Ghost Story – came in part from games of hide and seek, but I definitely think the collection for children came from knowing that children like to be scared (as long as they know it is not for real). I have had some books published for children already and some of them had a supernatural element to them. I was asked to come up with some scary stories for young children and could not think of any I wanted to write. I had lots of ideas for scary stories for adults, and simply changed the main character to a child. Then I wrote some more and found that they came quite easily to me. I think I will probably write for adults as well one day.

2) Uncle Montague Tales of Terror is supposed to be reading material for young readers, but some tales and themes are really scary, even for an older audience. Did you ever think about writing for that age group?

I did not think about whether something was too scary. I was imagining that the bulk of the readers would be 12 and above and so I think by that age they are already having access to scary stuff – video games, movies etc. But I wanted to do something I did not think was being done quite as much. I wanted to do chilling stories – stories that were not so much about blood and violence as about shadows and things half seen.

3) When did you first think about being a writer?

When I was about 8 I remember telling my teacher that I wanted to be a writer. I entered a short story competition and won a medal. I think I have always wanted to be a writer, but I was distracted from doing that for many years by my career as a cartoonist and illustrator. I have always written though, long before I was published.

4) How do you get the ideas for characters and situations for your books

From everything I have ever read, movies I have seen, TV, stories friends have told me, things that have happened to me, dreams, paintings – just about anything and everything I have ever seen or heard or done. Writing is all about bringing all these things that are floating round in your head into some kind of coherent form. Sometimes idea just flash into my head. Sometimes it takes years of chewing over something that does not quite work – then one day – bang – it all just fits into place.

5) What inspires you

All the above. Good writing of any kind. Other children’s authors, but mainly adult authors. Movies, old and new. My son is 11, so he inspires me as he is the kind of child I often write for. Sometimes bad writing inspires me. I think – ‘I could do better than that!’

6) I read in your blog about your “relationship” with Stephen King. In your post you said that, now that you are a writer, being popular would be a good thing. Do you consider yourself popular? Do you believe that popularity like that of King or J K Rowling would be a good or bad thing for your work as a writer?

I would be very happy to sell more books. That would not be a problem for me. But you must never think that being popular is the same as being good. People will buy or watch or read or listen to, the strangest things. But I have never believed that just because someone is popular their work must therefore not be any good. Dickens was a popular writer. It is possible to be a very good writer and to be popular. But likewise it is possible to be an excellent writer and not sell at all. All writers can do is write the best books they can.

7) Who are your favorite writers and why?

There are just too many to mention really. There are so many fantastic writers writing for children at the moment. I very much enjoyed Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines books. I’m reading Ray Bradbury short stories – or rather re-reading them. Bradbury is great. I’m also reading Wilkie Collins The Woman in White. I am a big fan of Cormac McCarthy. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections was great. I just re-read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. I like all kinds of stuff. I suppose a common theme is that I like to see the writer at work. A lot of readers don’t want that – they want the story to be the thing. I like people like McCarthy, Calvino, Kafka, Bradbury – writers who really have a particular voice. Dickens too of course. And Raymond Chandler – he’s great. Edward Gorey too of course.

8) I also read in your website that you a lot of movies and books inspired you in creating your stories. What are some of your favorite books and movies? Why?

That’s hard. David Copperfield is a favourite that I re-read recently. The David Lean movie of that book is also great. Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses was a book I really loved. Treasure Island and Kidnapped are fantastic. R L Stevenson is a big hero. Kafka’s The Trial. Crime and Punishment. Camus The Outsider. I loved to Kill a Mocking Bird when I read it as a teenager. And The Catcher in the Rye. The ghost stories of M R James. The short stories of Poe. Raymond Carver. This could go on and on.

Movies? Again – there are so many. I love Kurosawa – Roshomon and The Seven Samurai particularly. Scorcese’s Taxi Driver and Raging Bull – and Mean Streets. The Maltese Falcon. Pulp Fiction. Woody Allen’s great films – Annie Hall for instance. Fritz Lang. John Ford westerns. But movies that are particularly inspiring for this book. The Innocents – a version of Henry James The Turn of the Screw was in my mind a lot. The Poe adaptations of Roger Corman. The RKO and Universal horror movies – Frankenstein, Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein etc. Nick Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. The Tenant and Repulsion. Lots of movies really. Cocteau – The Blood of the Poet and Beauty and the Beast. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands.

As with books – I like films that have a style about them. Kurosawa is a genius. David Lean films are beautifully shot – his David Copperfield is fantastic. The early horror films were an inspiration for some of the stories – more in the feel of them than anything. I imagined Uncle Montague to be someone like Boris Karloff or Vincent Price. I think I saw the scenes with Edgar and Uncle Montague as being shot like one of those great old American horror movies.

I think I also see the scenes in my books in my head like films and then try to write in such a way that it conveys what I see – not just what I see, but the mood of what I’m seeing.

9) Do you think that being an illustrator has helped your work as a writer? How so?

I’m not sure it has helped particularly, but it has probably shaped the way I write. I tend to keep ideas books like I do with my drawings, and then work them up and up until there is a clear idea and then work away in sections, building the whole thing up until I’m satisfied that it is finished.

10) When you started writing, did you ever dreamed of publishing something in Portuguese? How has this experience been for you?

No I never dreamed of being published in Portuguese, but I am very happy that I am. I’m hoping to find it a really good experience but I won’t really have a feel for it until I get to Brazil. It has not really affected me much yet.

11) What do you hope your readers will get from the experience of reading your books?

I hope first and foremost that they will enjoy the book. After that, I hope that some of the images might stay with them. I hope they might like it enough to recommend me to a friend and to buy another of my books. I hope that one or two readers might – as I did when I read Ray Bradbury and Philip K Dick – think, hey – maybe I might be able to do this as well.

12) What are your next projects?

I have just delivered the third in the Tales of Terror series – Tales of Terror from the Tunnel’s Mouth – and that will come out in the UK in October 2009. I am busy writing a creepy novel for Bloomsbury called Ghosts (although that title will change when it is published I think)

13) Any tips for aspiring writers? For readers?

Well – for writers, they should read as much as possible. And learn to read critically. Try to think why you liked a book so much. What was the writer doing that another writer was not? Then try and write well as much as you can. Even if you are writing an email, try to write it well – make the phrases pleasing to read. Write some short stories or reports or reviews of something you’ve seen or read. Make the projects small enough that you finish them and don’t get put off. Practice writing stories that go somewhere – that have a real ending and don’t just fade out. If you see a competition – enter it. Someone has to win – it might be you.

For readers, it is much the same. Just read and read and read. Don’t give up on books because you read a bad one and got bored. There are millions of books out there. There is something for everybody. And books are one of the few art forms that really can change your life. I know I am a different person for having read the books I’ve read.

Thursday, 11 September 2008


My son and I finished watching Ken Loach's Kes this evening. My wife bought me this video years ago, but I have never felt strong enough to watch it, aware of how much it traumatised me when I first saw it.

It was obviously a very different experience for my son to watch it. It is a piece of historical fiction for him, set in the grim past where teachers caned and bullied you and every passing adult felt entitled to give you a slap.

But I spent my teens in the north of England (though not in the West Riding of Yorkshire where it is set) and moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in a period roughly contemporary to the making of the film (1969). It seemed all too horribly familiar. The sadistic sports teacher, the arbitrary cruelty, the feeling of hopelessness. The shabby modernity of the school. The grimness. The soul-destroying greyness. The shimmering beauty of the countryside in comparison.

The urge to escape.

But I had forgotten how suddenly the film ends. The suddenness is deliberate of course and was no doubt an attempt to steer well clear of any sentimentality or obvious storytelling. But I don't think it works. It is fiction after all. It is not a documentary.

An ending does not have to be upbeat, but it does have to be more than the place where the credits roll.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The yawn of the new

Damien Hirst has been upset by Robert Hughes' comments. Hughes was a Luddite, he said. Hmm. Perhaps he wants to say that Hughes hates anything Modern. This is patent nonsense given that Hughes has been a great explainer of the Modern and though he (quite understandably) has a passion for Goya, he is not a man who is frightened of the contemporary.

He's not scared of Damien Hirst or baffled by him, or troubled or intimidated by him. He just thinks he's not very important (other than in a sociological way- is this what art has become now - anything produced by someone who says he is an artist). The prices Hirst's work command are no indication of merit. It's art for people who don't really like art - or at least don't really trust art. Anyone can understand a Hirst. It's simple.

The money is important to him because that is the only way he can compete with artists of any standing. The price is everything. If you have to resort to covering your 'work' with diamonds it really says it all (though even that notion was not his own).

Real art is the diamond. It doesn't need bling to get attention.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Running will have to wait

My new regime continues. Cycle across town with my son and his friend. Drop them at school. Cycle from school to my studio. Laptop out of the back and plugged in. Trip to the local cafe for the 'Clear!' - boff! - defibrillator shot of caffeine. Back to the studio and back to the book.

Bang away at the keyboards until the word count gets past 1000 and keep going in the hope of 2000. Then back on the bike and cycle (invariably in the rain) back to the school to pick up the boys. Back across town. Check my emails and write a bit of my blog.

I even had time today for a kick around with my son in the local park before doing some more of the Doodled Books. I also drove all the way up to a running shoe shop on the Huntingdon Road and found that it was shut Monday's and Tuesdays.

Running will have to wait.


Sunday, 7 September 2008

I love Robert Hughes

I stood on the touchline this morning watching my son's football team win their game 3-2. That almost made up for the fact that I got completely soaked in yet another torrential downpour. Once again I found myself to be a rather under-prepared parent. At the six hour long tournament last week everyone seemed to have fold away chairs, rugs, food, flasks etc - everyone except me. Today, everyone had very sensibly brought an umbrella. Except me.

August was officially the wettest and most overcast in the UK since records began. September looks to be trying to compete with it. At least we are not suffering the floods that others have had to endure elsewhere in this increasingly soggy country.

And I love Robert Hughes. I do. I really do. He changed my life. Sitting in the lounge of my parent's council house in Newcastle-upon-Tyne watching The Shock of the New was incredible. It was like some amazing presence in the room. And he annoyed my dad as much as David Bowie did. I've tried to watch and read him whenever I can after that. I don't always agree with everything he says. But then I don't always agree with everything I say, either.

He has attacked Damien Hirst for being tacky and mercenary. More than that he has had the nerve to say Hirst is lacking in ability. Bless you, Robert Hughes, for I have had so many infuriating conversations with people who think his work is incredible (not that I suppose Hughes is going to change their minds).

We have allowed these creatures - Hirst and his fellow YBA cronies and others who came up in his slipstream - to inflate their own egos and bank accounts using public galleries, when at best the work is a dull rehash of Dada, Surrealism and Pop. The only reason there hasn't been more attacks like Hughes' is because the work is so thin, it has needed much interpretation by willing and friendly art critics who have the opportunity to spout the most ridiculous nonsense in its defence. It rides on a great belch of hot air. Hughes should be applauded, but he won't be. There is far too much vested interest involved in keeping these nonentities afloat.

Bizarrely it was Grayson Perry who the Observer managed to find in support of Hughes. We get the art we deserve, he said. This from a man whose work is shockingly, even aggressively average. But who cares - he dresses like a Shirly Temple! It almost guarantees him column inches in the press no matter what he does or says. Hirst is ten times the artist Perry will ever be.

I'm not sure what I've personally done to deserve artists like Perry and Hirst but whatever it was, I'm really, really sorry.

Friday, 5 September 2008

The descent of man

I went to a party at Heffers bookshop in Trinity Street here in Cambridge this evening. It was in honour of Suzanne Jones who is leaving Heffers after having - amazingly - worked there since 1974. It was really well attended and that is a testiment to the affection and respect there is for Suzanne locally. She will be sorely missed by readers and writers alike. And I mean really missed, like the friend she is.

Suzanne talked about her life at Heffers and it was a story of the changing nature of bookselling as much as anything else and was a testiment to the fact that the Trinity Street shop has acted as a kind of unofficial club for local writers.

The manager at Heffers made a really good speech pointing out that one of the best selling books of 1974 was Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, and that the bestseller list at the moment contains My Booky Wook by Russell Brand - or as he amusingly put , The Descent of Man.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

And speaking of Hellboy

My daily routine has been shaken to the foundations by my son starting secondary school. Having been able to walk him round to a school that was a few hundred yards away we now have to cycle across Cambridge in what has been a week of foul weather. I am taking him and one of his school friends for a while until they are more confident.

So instead of starting the day with a cup of coffee at home I now cycle to my studio and grab a coffee in a local cafe before sitting down at my laptop. I am trying to break the back of my new book before I go to Rio at the end of the month. To do that I would ideally like to be writing 10,000 words a week (or more). So far I am reasonably on target.

The new book is called Ghosts, but that title is going to change I feel. It is a Victorian-set Gothic chiller. It has - I hope - elements of The Fall of the House of Usher and Jane Eyre: a creepy house full of dark secrets, strange noises in the night, a brooding host. I'm certainly enjoying writing it. I just hope the same goes for reading it. It should escape from the crypt at the beginning of 2010.

And speaking of the weird and creepy, I was talking about going to see Hellboy 2 a few posts back and I've mentioned the Hellboy comics before. I am a big, big fan of Mike Mignola. His drawings are superb and the way he uses a page is a masterclass in narrative illustration. So when I picked up a copy of B.P.R.D some years ago, I bought it for Mike Mignola's cover design alone. Imagine my disappointment when I then discovered the inside drawings were not by him at all, but by somebody I'd never heard of called, Guy Davis.

But the thing is, once I got used to the idea that Guy Davis wasn't Mike Mignola, and certainly wasn't trying to be, I began to realise that he was actually pretty good himself. He is one of those amazing graphic artists who appear to be able to draw anything. His work is stylised of course, but with a softer edge to it than Mignola's and so he is able to carry a story in a more conventional, almost filmic, way. Look at his website and see just how much work is going into these books.
The amazing this is, both Mignola and Davis are inked by Dave Stewart (whom I'm assuming is not the bearded half of Eurythmics). His inking of Mignola is all about restraint and mainly flat colour. His inking of Davis shows his ability with a larger palette and a wonderful use of texture and subtle modelling. He uses light sources incredibly well.

Inkers are an underappreciated quantity here in the UK - which is why so many British graphic novels look like. . .Well, they don't look very good.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

And speaking of Ray Bradbury

I went into the studio today for the first time in ages. John Clark was at his desk putting in a bit of work on his website before going to work. When it is up and going I'll put a link.

I had my laptop with me today and experimented with the notion of writing at the studio instead of at home in my office. It felt a bit weird - and a bit uncomfortable given the ridiculous chair I sit on there - but I got a lot done and that's the main thing.

And speaking of Ray Bradbury as I was the other day, I thought I would mention Dave McKean's illustrated version of Bradbury's The Homecoming. It's a lovely little book, hardback with a dust jacket and is another of those Bradbury stories with a child protagonist. Not a children's book, but something that an older child would find fascinating I think.

The illustrations are in McKean's drawn style in the Coraline mould, rather than his photo-montage and collage work. Great stuff.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Drawing the line

Judith Weik showed me the Spanish edition of Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror on Saturday. It is a Colombian publisher's edition for South America. It is called My Uncle's Tales of Terror for some reason though. Judith was sent a copy because they had asked permission to reproduce the author photo she had taken of me. I haven't received a copy myself yet.

Another box of the UK edition of Uncle Montague arrived from Doodled Books. I have to find some spare time to sit down and number, date, sign, line and doodle however many copies there are and then send them back for them to sell online.

And speaking of my old friend Dave Simonds, he sent me a great present. It is one of the great Comics Journal Library series of books published by Fantagraphic Books. I already have the ones on Jack Kirby and Robert Crumb - this one is titled 'Drawing the Line' and features Jules Feiffer, David Levine, Edward Sorel and Ralph Steadman.

All of these artists have been an inspiration to me as an illustrator - not in any specific stylistic way, but in terms of the seriousness with which illustration and cartooning can and should be approached providing the artist has the intelligence and wit and skill to warrant it.

Feiffer is perhaps the one who has most influenced me. He had a strip in the Observer magazine when I was teenager - called simply Feiffer. It was brilliant: sharp, witty, clever - all the things I wanted to be but certainly was not. It became a model for the kind of strip I would love to do and has certainly haunted all my work in that field. He writes really well and he draws with such economy and seeming spontaneity. He is quite simply brilliant and anyone who disagrees is just plain wrong.

David Levine can be a bit stiff and formulaic for some, but he obeys the first rule of caricature - his drawings actually look like the person he's drawing. He absolutely nails a likeness. Time and time again. And just take a look at any UK newspaper to see how rare that talent is. He is a marvel.

Sorel is another master of the caricature. How he draws so loosely and still gets to draw such accurate likenesses I really don't know. It is like watching a concert pianist playing a particularly busy piece of Beethoven. It's a kind of magic, as Freddy Mercury so wisely put it.

Steadman was big when I was at the end of my time at college, doing those big coffee table books on Freud and Leonardo and so on - it seemed to mirror the punk aesthetic that was fashionable at the time. He is loose like Sorel, but I much prefer the latter. Where I was once impressed by all the expressionist scratching and splattering, now it just seems like theatrical bluster to me now. He still knocks spots off most other British illustrators having said that, young or old.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Enormously alone

I spent most of yesterday on the touchline watching my son playing in a football tournament. His team came fifth. Or second last, depending on how you look at it. Today I delivered the amended version of tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth to Sarah Odedina at Bloomsbury. That will be it now until we move to the final fine-tuning stage.

And I finally got to speak to Merche. She called from Rio to make contact and ask if I could get Bloomsbury to send her some copies of the new books - the hardback of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship, and the paperback of Uncle Montague. She is also going to make contact with Adriana Sardinha from Rocco and liaise with her about a possible bookshop event to promote the Portuguese edition of Uncle Montague. I'm really looking forward to it.

I bought a compilation of Ray Bradbury stories when we were in London. The dismally dull cover hides work of genius. There is no other writer quite like him. He tells stories that are more like modern folk tales than sci-fi. He is like Kafka: a genre in himself. If you have never read Bradbury, go and buy something - though he is shockingly underpublished for someone who is so often mentioned as a major inspiration. He is a writer's writer.

But don't let that put you off.

There are some great stories in here. The Fog Horn is fantastic. And there are a couple with children as the main protagonists - the creepy Fever Dream, and the wonderful Hail and Farewell about a boy who does not grow up - that I may try out on my son and see what he makes of them. He just writes so well. I love this line from The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse:

Garvey and his wife had lived enormously alone for twenty years.