Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Buy your own movies!

There has been a lot of fuss over the last few days about our fun-loving Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, whose husband watched a couple of blue movies and the charge later appeared on her expenses sheet at the House of Commons.

We have all been enjoying her embarrassment of course, and the delicious irony of a government so invasive of the privacy of its citizens being exposed in this way. It almost makes me want to be a political cartoonist again.

But personally I think the real outrage here is that the Commons passed, as a legitimate expense, the watching of any movies, whatever the type. Who cares what they watch in the privacy of their own home, as long as we're not paying. I am just as annoyed that my tax money was used to pay for Surf's Up to be quite honest. And there can be little excuse for watching Oceans 13 once - but twice? At my expense!

The affair of Leander Deeny, Newton Compton and the Uncle Montague cover is with the Bloomsbury lawyers, so it would be inappropriate of me to comment further.

But watch this space. . .

Monday, 30 March 2009

Tunnel's mouth

I received proofs of the cover for Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth this morning. The book is out this October in hardback, published by Bloomsbury, alongside the paperback of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship.

It is David's best one yet, I think. I look forward to seeing a version of it wrapped around Leander Deeny's next book.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Oi! That's my cover!

Someone left a comment on the blog today telling me that the cover for Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror was being used for another book entirely in Italy. I couldn't believe that they could possibly be right, but it turns out that they are.

The book in question is Gli Incubi di Hazel by Leander Deeny, published as Hazel's Phantasmagoria here in the UK, with a cover, like Uncle Monty, illustrated by David Roberts . It is published in Italy by Newton Compton; in the UK by Quercus. Curious, huh?

Why or how this strange state of affairs came about I have not as yet discovered. When I find out, I'll let you know.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Paperback black ship

The post brought two packges from Bloomsbury this morning: one contained three copies of the Swedish edition of Uncle Montague Tales of Terror, the other some proofs of the paperback cover for Tales of Terror from the Black Ship.

The cover is the same as for the hardback, but with a nice quote from the Independent on Sunday. It is out this coming October.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Apple anyone?

This is a curious bit of synchronicity I thought I'd share with you.

I noticed that Stephen King has incurred the wrath of many a teenage girl, by saying that Stephanie Meyer 'can't write worth a damn.' Brave man.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

I'll set my kittens on you!

We went to Lavenham on the way back to Cambridge on Sunday. I haven't been to Lavenham for years and my son had never been here. We almost lived here before he was born. When we decided to move out of London in 1993 we were looking for somewhere to rent and looked at a place in one of Lavenhams ancient houses.

Goodness knows what it would have been like to live in such a tourist trap (although Cambridge is not without the odd visitor, come to think of it). Lavenham could easily be dismissed as twee and chocolate boxy, but it never feels that way to me. The architecture is just too extraordinary for that: the way the houses seem on the verge of collapse - as they must have done for hundreds of years. If it was in France or Italy, the same people who get snooty about somewhere like Lavenham would be raving about the colours and the textures and snapping away like crazy. Yes, Lavenham is a bit clean and neat and precious - but is that really so terrible?

Anyway Lavenham always has another association in my mind. As we walked into the market square in a lovely low evening light, I was reminded of the fact that this was the location for a witch being burned at the stake in Michael Reeve's grisly 1968 movie Witchfinder General, starring Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins.

Suffolk does seem to have had an historical obsession with witches. The witchfinders did indeed come to Lavenham. Hopkins' assistant John Stearne came here in 1645, welcomed by the firebrand rector, William Gurnall. One Anne Randall confessed to having familiars - one called Jacob, the other Hangman - which she sent to kill the horse of a man who had refused her wood and the pig of a man who had cursed her. Which might be a little bit chilling had these familiars not been in the form of...kittens. Yes - kittens. Aaaaaargh!

These demonic kittens didn't make it into to the movie, sadly.

And by the way, witches were not burned in England, though filmmakers refuse to accept this. We roasted heretics with periodic enthusiasm, but not witches. They were hanged (though they were burned in Scotland) and then only if they had been found guilty of maleficium - harmful magic used to bring about destruction or death.

I do know of one witch who was supposedly burned at the stake - Margaret Read in King's Lynn in 1590. Her heart is said to have leaped from her burning body, smacked against the wall of a nearby building (the place is still marked) and then bounced down the street to jump into the River Ouse.

But this is unlikely. The burning I mean. The bouncing heart, who knows? Some people think that the heart story should actually be attached to the story of a servant girl who was burned in King's Lynn - but not for witchcraft. She was burned for petty treason. She was found guilty of causing the death of her master and this (like the killing of a husband) was deemed to be a kind of regicide (the man being king of his house) and the punishment for a woman for this crime was burning. Right up until 1790, amazingly.

Monday, 23 March 2009

The skulls of Orford

We went to Orford on the Suffolk coast last Saturday to eat some very tasty food in the Butley Orford Oystery. After a wander round the castle we had a look in the church and graveyard. I have photographed these wonderfully grim headstones before - many years ago in the days before digital. In amongst them, was this more modern and much more chirpy slate marker.

Sunday, 22 March 2009


We visited Aldeburgh twice - once to have some of the best fish and chips in England at The Fish and Chip Shop in the high street on Friday evening and then again on Sunday lunchtime when we wandered along the shingle, throwing stones into a calm sea before having lunch and continuing on to Lavenham and then home to Cambridge.

Of course, M R James followed us here too. This is a photograph of the shingle beach, looking south towards the martello tower. It was along this stretch of beach that Paxton fled at the end of A Warning to the Curious:

The notion of Paxton running after - after anything like this, and supposing it to be the friends he was looking for, was dreadful to us. You can guess what we fancied: how the thing he was following might stop suddenly and turn round on him, and what sort of face it would show, half seen at first in the mist. . .

M R James' Seaburgh is a thinly disguised Aldeburgh:

A long sea-front and a street: behind that a spacious church of flint, with a solid western tower and a peal of six bells.

Seaburgh/Aldburgh is such a jolly, English seaside town, with it's brightly coloured houses and holiday-makers. And yet M R James was on to something using this place as a location. It was a holiday destination in his day too. But there is something about the light here - intense somehow even when overcast, the constant growl of the shingle, the way your feet struggle to find purchase on the stones, the wide horizon and huge sky above.

M R James understood that open spaces are potentially just as scary as confined spaces. On a beach there is nowhere to hide. He used the same sort of device in Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad (though the setting for that is Felixstowe). That story was filmed by Jonathan Miller in the sixties with Michael Horden. It's great.

This is a modern take on the story, influenced by the Jonathan Miller film.

Friday, 20 March 2009

A warning to the curious

We drove across to the Suffolk coast to stay in this superbly situated National Trust property at Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge. It was the owner of this house - Mrs Pretty - who instigated the excavations by a Suffolk antiquarian called Basil Brown, of the nearby burial mounds where, in 1939, they found the extraordinary 7th century Anglo-Saxon ship burial and iconic helmet (among many other things). The buried man was clearly very important and most people seem to think he was Raedwald, king of East Anglia.

I wonder if Basil Brown had ever read any M R James. If he had he might have been less keen on digging about in ancient barrows. It is hard to believe that a Cambridge man like Charles Philips who took over control of the excavation did not know his work. M R James (an antiquarian himself) wrote his classic ghost story A Warning to the Curious with this part of the world in mind. It predates the discovery at Sutton Hoo but has weird echoes of it. James even mentions Raedwald.

It tells the story of an man called Paxton who digs into an Anglo-Saxon barrow and finds a crown: a crown of one of the ancient kings of East Anglia. But the grave has a guardian of course. . .

And when I actually laid it bare and got my fingers on the ring of it and pulled it out, there came a sort of cry behind me - oh, I can't tell you how desolate it was!

M R James description of this guardian is brilliant in its precise vagueness:

Sometimes, you know, you see him, and sometimes you don't, just as he pleases, I think: he's there, but he has some power over your eyes.

A Warning to the Curious has been a favourite story of mine ever since I saw the BBC adaptation in the Christmas of 1972. They transpose the story to Norfolk and the chase sequence with Peter Vaughan running across the beach at Holkham, the thing visible as a blur over his shoulder has always stayed with me. It is such a clever piece of direction (by Lawrence Gordon Clark): so simple, yet so effective.

That story (and the Sutton Hoo burial) was in my mind when I wrote Redwulf's Curse, one of the my Tom Marlowe books I did for Random House in which an ancient guardian of a royal burial seems to have been awakened in the salt marshes of the North Norfolk coast. I returned to the theme of barrows and curses for the story called The Island in Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth to be published in October.

In The Island, two brothers decide to investigate an 'island' of trees in a farmer's field of barley. The trees are growing out of a mound. As one of the boys tries to take a closer look the mound collapses and they discover that it is a barrow.

But the bones buried inside are not human. They are of some strange animal. And there is a spear sticking out of the skeleton. . .

With that, he threw the spear and it flew in a shallow arc, landing with a thud in the ground between them.

But Henry did not see the spear land because as he had released it into the air, there was a noise behind him that made him turn in alarm. Something large seemed to have shifted noisily nearby. He wondered if another part of the barrow had collapsed.

'Henry!' Martin shouted crossly. 'That was really stupid. You might have broken -'

Henry looked back across the barley towards his brother, but Martin was no longer there.

He stared around in confusion. It was as if Martin had simply vanished mid-sentence. But then he detected a movement some way off, near to where he had last seen his brother. The barley was being flattened in a narrow channel coming back in a wide arc towards the island. . .

Thursday, 19 March 2009

And so it begins. . .

I suppose all writers are a teeny bit mad, and writers of uncanny tales possibly crazier than most. But it still came as a shock when I was printing out some photos and my ink jet printer seemed to be saying 'Do it now! Do it now!' over and over again.

I await further instructions. . .

I finally sent off the corrections and amendments on the proofs for Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth. A couple of days late, but it is more important that they are right. I'll talk to Isabel next week and go through them with her on the phone. Then that will be that until October.

I wonder if David Roberts has done any illustrations yet. I saw a rough for the cover when I was in Bloomsbury and that looked great. When I get a proof of that I'll show you what it looks like.

I also emailed Ian Lamb at Bloomsbury just to confirm that I am shortlisted for the North East Book Award and he assures me I am. There is an awards do at the end of April in Newcastle. So Uncle Montague is still up for the Carnegie, the Calderdale and the North East Book Awards. Surely it must win something?


Monday, 16 March 2009

Swedish tales of terror

I think I'm right in saying that the Swedish edition of Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror is published today by Raben and Sjogren, which is great. I haven't seen a copy yet, but I hope I will soon.

I have been going through the proofs for Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth yet again. I am still finding errors, so it is worth doing. But Isabel Ford got in touch from Bloomsbury today asking if I'd finished with them, so I need to get them sorted once and for all. I'll quickly get to the end, then write up all the errors and changes and get them back to her.

Then I will be able to devote all my time to new stuff. I am working on a synopsis for Bloomsbury and once I have that done I will write a couple of chapters. I am also working on some short stories I have had rattling round in my head for some time. They are very different from the Tales of Terror stories. I will tell you more about them another time.

Of course, if I am the only person who thinks there is any value in these stories, you may never hear about them again.

Sunday, 15 March 2009


A strange day today. I took my son to football and his team was playing a village near Cambridge called Papworth. Papworth is home to a hospital famous for transplant operations here in the UK and it was at that hospital - which we passed on the way to the ground - that my brother, Paul, died of an infection following a heart and kidney transplant (his second heart transplant, in fact). That was getting on for twelve years ago. I felt a dropping sensation as I drove by, as though I was coming down on a swing that had swung too high.

It was especially poignant to be driving past with my son. He was born very close to when my brother died. They never met.

Friday, 13 March 2009

You wait ages for a bus and then...

Can I add my thoughts to the whole there is/probably isn't a God bus advert controversy here in the UK? For those of you reading this in another part of the world (though I gather this phenomenon is going global), the British Humanist Society put ads on buses saying There's probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life. The Christian Party responded in kind.

Is There's probably no God an atheist statement at all? I understand why there's a 'probably' but it sounds a bit lame. The Christian Party don't do doubt, of course. They 'know' there's a God. An equally unequivocal There is no God would no doubt have caused outrage. You are only allowed to be certain that God exists - not that he doesn't. But in any case rationalists baulk at certainty. And does any of this matter anyway?

Well I think it does. Thousands - millions - of people have died and are dying still because someone somewhere 'knows' that their religion is best, 'knows' their version of it most authentic, 'knows' their country uniquely blessed, their people alone beloved by God, their actions divinely encouraged, condoned or forgiven. Unshakable religious belief is not necessarily benign, particularly when coupled with an equally unshakable political belief.

We live in a world where religious wars still rage and yet, despite thousands of years of religiously motivated terrorism, oppression, cultural obliteration, genocides and pogroms, a religious belief (be it affected or otherwise) is still taken as a kind of moral masonic handshake - even, weirdly, among those who do not subscribe to that belief. A US Presidential candidate, for instance, would not stand any chance of getting elected if they admitted to being an atheist.

This is important stuff. Is it not possible to have a more grown-up debate about it than one had via the medium of adverts on the sides of buses?

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Unredeemed shores

Just one more look at New World related books on my shelves. There are the two volumes of documents about to the colony published as The Roanoke Voyages by Dover. These are real documents related to the enterprise - letters, reports etc - and absolutely fascinating if you like that kind of thing. And I do.

Lee Miller's Roanoke and Giles Milton's Big Chief Elizabeth both tell the Roanoke story in different ways, Milton's being the more readable probably, and it obviously makes an appearance (albeit brief) in both biographies of the flawed, complex and charismatic Sir Walter Raleigh (he was a very busy man). Raleigh - contrary to common belief - never personally set foot in North America. And it should actually be spelled Ralegh and pronounced Rawley. No, really.

Incidentally Elizabeth called Raleigh Water, as a comment both on his buccaneering spirit and because that was what his name sounded like when imitating his thick Devon accent. New Worlds, Lost Worlds by Susan Brigden and Unredeemed Shores by Michael Foss also cover Elizabethan attempts to colonise the Americas.

The Elizabethan secret service plays a big role in my New World book, as does Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster and both are subjects of books by Alan Haynes. John Bossy's Giardano Bruno and the Embassy Affair and Under the Molehill are both really interesting books about 16th century espionage.

But the best book on this subject by far and a candidate for the best book on my shelves is Charles Nicholls' The Reckoning, about the events leading up to the death of Christopher Marlowe in a pub in Deptford. It is an absolutely gripping book. Nicholls also wrote the excellent The Creature in the Map about Raleigh and the his ill-fated search for gold in South America, just visible on the right.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


Just before moving on from talk of early colonial America, I would just like to say a little something about the work John White. He was a mapmaker and part of Raleigh's inner circle who worked on the top secret plan to establish an English settlement in North America before Catholic France and Spain grabbed the lot. We don't know very much about his life but what we do have is his work - his astonishing paintings from the Roanoke project of 1585. His careful objective drawings of plants and animals are years - centuries maybe - ahead of their time. This is a catalogue of a wonderful exhibition at the British Museum a couple of years ago.

The paintings of the Algonquian people - the local Secotan - who initially welcomed the English, are stylised and there is definitely a noble savage agenda going on here. The sponsors of this venture included the Queen herself and these drawings are marketing tools. They are selling this place as a land of plenty - a new Eden. They will eventually be copied as engravings and illustrate Thomas Harriot's A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia.

But if you look past that, the drawings show real individuals and a culture that was about to be snuffed out. White struggled to comprehend what he was seeing. It is hard to see at first that these natives have a crest with hair shaved at the sides (quite an achievement in a place that had no metal except for copper jewellery). They painted their bodies and seemed to tattoo themselves with dotted lines. They had fields of corn, pumpkin patches, they barbecued their fish and ate a kind of chowder. All this they gave to the English. We gave them smallpox and took their land.

Oh and they also gave the settlers a special medicinal herb called Uppowoc. Harriot says that it purgeth superfluous phlegm & other gross humours, openeth all the pores & passages of the body and he seemed convinced it was why the natives were so damned healthy compared to the sickly English.

We ourselves during the time we were there used to suck it after their manner as also since our return. . .

Harriot died of cancer of the nose in 1621, possibly the first recorded smoking-related death. Maybe the Secotan got their own back after all. Uppowoc was of course tobacco.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

New World

By strange coincidence I was already well on the way to writing New World when Terrence Malick's movie of (almost) the same name came out. The movie is about Pocahontas and the Jamestown colony, whereas my book is about Roanoke.

There are still many people who think that the Mayflower in 1620 was the first ship to drop colonists in what is now the USA, but they were not even close to being the first. If we discount the Spanish and French settlements, then Jamestown in the Chesapeake Bay predates the Plymouth Plantation by thirteen years and Roanoke predates Plymouth by thirty-five.

Admittedly, the Roanoke colonies were failures, culminating in the famous 'Lost Colony'. My book deals with the first settlement, its planning by Raleigh and the polymath Thomas Harriot, the rather inevitable falling out with the local Algonquian Indians, and their rescue by Sir Francis Drake. It is all seen through the eyes of young Kit Milton who is apprenticed to the painter and mapmaker John White.

I haven't seen The New World - it did not get good reviews - but the trailer makes it look fantastic and strangely it could easily be a dramatisation of my book: almost everything shown happens in my book. Maybe that just goes to show how history simply kept repeating itself over and over in the tragic meetings of Europeans and Native Americans.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Black Robe

Going back a couple of posts to my bookshelves and to my interest in the Iroquois and Algonquian Indians and the clash of cultures that occurred when Europeans encountered them - I thought I would mention Brian Moore's Black Robe.

Brian Moore is a lovely writer. If you haven't read one of his books you are in for a treat. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is possibly his most famous, but Black Robe is also excellent. It is a wonderfully convincing piece of historical fiction telling the story of a European - a French Jesuit missionary rather than a Puritan this time - as he gets pulled deeper and deeper into an alien world.

The book was made into a very good movie of the same name, directed by Bruce Beresford (screenplay by Moore himself). It is beautifully shot - watch it on the biggest screen you can find - and also eye-wateringly violent at times. Unfortunately it seems to be inexplicably unavailable in Region 2 DVD format at the moment.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Witch Hunt

Having mentioned Witch Hunt a couple of times now, I thought I ought to actually show the book as it is no longer in print (though you can probably pick it up on Amazon for pennies). Witch Hunt was the last book I did with Anne Clark when she was at Hodder and it is a book of which I am very proud. The reading public was a little slower to see its quality, sadly.

The book tells the story of the Salem witch trials of 1692, when a group of girls claimed they were being tormented by witches living secretly in their communities. Puritan ministers like Cotton Mather had encouraged their flock to believe that they were uniquely blessed by God and that all their enemies - whether it be pirates, disease, the weather, the indigenous people or witches - were all agents of Satan. They had no doubt about their own goodness - the Goodmen called their womenfolk Goodwife (Goody for short). But being called Goody Good still didn't stop Sarah Good being hanged as a witch, and eighteen of her neighbours suffered the same fate.

Arthur Miller's The Crucible famously deals with these events, but Miller is more interested in the themes and what they say about his own times - particularly the communist-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee and America's 1950s witch-hunter, Joe McCarthy. Miller conflates characters, misses out important players and events and just plain makes things up. It is a powerful play - and one that is just as relevant today - but it is a shame that people think they know this story because they have seen The Crucible. The truth - as is so often the case - is more complex and more fascinating.

One of the things that I discovered that most intrigued me was the link between Salem and the Hopkins inspired witch craze in England fifty years before. Both were obsessed by the idea of a contract between Satan and his supposed followers, the witches. Both showed that confessions extracted under torture are worthless - most were retracted as soon as it became clear the victims were going to die anyway (a lesson that keeps being forgotten time and time again).

And this link is not accidental. A casual look at the place names in Massachusetts shows where the settlers came from: many were East Anglians. One of the victims - Rebecca Nurse - was from Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. Her own father had been a minister and had called in Matthew Hopkins and his accomplice, John Stearne to 'discover' sixteen witches. Their shadow stretches all the way to New England.

In 1706 Ann Putnam, one of the ringleaders of the 'afflicted girls' apologised for what she said had been 'a delusion of Satan'. This 'delusion' had involved seeing spectral visions of her tormentors, one of whom she swore had 'tortured her most grievously'. Dorcus Good was four years old at the time, but was still arrested and imprisoned. She never fully recovered from the experience.

If you are interested in the subject I recommend that you forget all you think you know and visit the fantastic online archive provided by Virginia University. Archives don't get much more moving than this.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Witches, puritans and a Romantic poet

Another snapshot of my bookshelves. This group has some connection with the last lot. There were quite a few in the last photo linked to the Salem witch craze as research for Witch Hunt and here are books devoted to English witch trials including the East Anglian witch craze prosecuted by Matthew Hopkins, the odious Witch-Finder General, in the 1640s. I don't know where I first came across Hopkins - probably at school when we did the English Civil War - possibly at college - but he has intrigued me ever since.

There are three books about Puritanism (that were also connected with Witch Hunt) and a few books on Restoration England - though it is a period I have yet to write anything about: Claire Tomalin's book on Pepys, Neil Hanson's A Dreadful Judgement about the Great Fire of London, Liza Picard's excellent Restoration London, two books on Newton (by Patricia Fara and Michael White).

Some books seem to have wandered in from elsewhere: a Lonely Planet guide to Antarctica, The Anglo Saxon Age from OUPs excellent A Very Short Introduction series, a Penguin Classics Hakluyt's Voyages and Discoveries (which is wonderful), Philip Zeigler's gruesomely fascinating The Black Death. Bede's Eccliastical History of the English People seems to have wandered down from the shelf above.

But the best book here by far - though also somewhat out of place - is Shelley: The Pursuit by Richard Holmes. There are few writers I would rather read - fiction or non-fiction - than Richard Holmes and this book is superb. More about him later. . .

Friday, 6 March 2009

The unredeemed captive

I just wanted to pull down a couple of books from the shelves and give them a bit more exposure. I mentioned The Unredeemed Captive yesterday, but I make no apologies for mentioning it again. Most of my non-fiction books are there to give me a fairly neutral grounding in a subject or to confirm or add detail to things I already know a little about. Others like John Demos' book are there with all the force and imaginative presence of a good novel.

The Last of the Mohicans probably began my interest in the Woodland Indians of northeast America. I don't really know why I find them so fascinating but I do. John Demos tells the story of a raid by a French and Indian war party on Deerfield Massachusetts in 1704. Puritan minister John Williams, his wife and five children were captured. Rev Williams was released two and a half years later and spent the next ten years trying to buy back - redeem - his surviving daughter Eunice. But Eunice was more Mohawk than Puritan by then. It is an amazing story, but even a story as good as this can be crushed by bad writing. John Demos tells it brilliantly.

And a lovely cover too. It is a very clever and subtle reworking by illustrator Walton Ford of Bruegel's Hunters in the Snow. There is enough of Bruegel to make it a lovely picture but not so much that it is simply a rip-off or a pastiche.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

World Book Day

As it is World Book Day, I thought I might introduce you to some of the books on my book shelves. These shelves are in my office - the front bedroom of the terraced house we rent here in Cambridge.

When we moved, we thought we would only be here for a few months and have actually been her for two and a half years. With limited space here, my choice of books settled mainly on non-fiction and much of that reflecting the fact that I was still mainly writing historical fiction when we left Norfolk.

But though I haven't been writing out-and-out historical fiction lately, the Tales of Terror books are set in a version of the Victorian period (I see them as being set in the world of Victorian fiction, if that doesn't sound too precious) and they often refer back to earlier times. I also believe that for fiction to convince, the factual components need to be right. The world needs to seem authentic. And given that I have a compulsion to buy books that works very well.

So what do we have in this snapshot? Well they show some of my research into the Salem Witch trials when I was writing Witch Hunt for Hodder. Frances Hill's A Delusion of Satan is about that event specifically and a pretty good way of getting into the subject. Cotton Mather was a prime mover in that tragedy and is a particularly fascinating character I think.

There are books about Native Americans - particularly those of the east, with whom the original settlers came into contact. The best book on that subject by far is The Unredeemed Captive by John Demos. It is a fascinating book and just typing the title makes me want to pick it up and read it all over again. Mind you, Women's Indian Captivity Narratives is also a wonderful book on the same subject - published by Penguin it is a compendium of accounts given by women who had been taken as captive by Native Americans.

North Carolina features because when I moved here I was writing New World - a book about the Roanoke Colony the English established in what is now North Carolina (but what they actually called Virginia) in the 1580s. The Narrow Sea by Peter Unwin (about the English Channel), The Tower Menagerie by Daniel Hahn and Old London Bridge by Patricia Pierce are the kind of books that are endlessly useful and that I will dip into on a regular basis. I have lots of books about London.

Sitting on top of the books is a fantastic survey of Penguin covers called Seven Hundred Penguins. Go and buy a copy immediately. You won't regret it. Just visible above that is a book of English Fairy Tales and a big fat Brothers Grimm.

Cast them as cousins

Has anyone else noticed that William Hurt's character in Damages seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to Philip Pullman?

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Thumb screw up

I went to the studio today after a long absence. I had a bit of a clear up. Later, Lynette came in and as we hadn't been in the studio together for ages we went to the Black Cat cafe for a celebratory cup of coffee. When we came back I tried to slice the end of my thumb off with a scalpel.

I bled and tried to keep the wound closed while Lynette went to buy steri-strips that we could not get to stick - because of the blood. A design fault there, I think.

So it was off to Addenbrookes A&E in a cab. Lynette kept me company and sat with me whilst we waited for my turn. There is something about sitting in accident and emergency that makes you think of all the accidents and emergencies one has seen over the years. In recent years all my many trips to A&E have been with my son.

Except for the time a couple of years back when I was showing him this nifty trick that Cristiano Ronaldo did and then stood on the ball and fell over with a horrible cracking noise. Me, that is, not Ronaldo.

He just tends to fall over.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Don't get me started on the floor

I had intended to go into the studio today, but for various reasons, decided to stay at home. Having sent the novel off, I thought it might be time to sort my office out a little. While I am writing, things tend to simply pile up and up on my desk.

My desk is a lot clearer - though as I type this it still has a box of slides, some memory cards, a memory stick, three pencils, a pen, an empty mug, a copy of Uncle Montague's Tales of Terrors, a copy of the Black Ship, several letters, a book on Baroque painting, a book on Durer, my camera, a book called Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, a calculator, a pile of magazine pages with photos I like for various reasons, a Taschen book of True Crime Detective Magazine covers, an Ordinance Survey map of Thetford, Breckland and the surrounding area, a can of screen wipes, a can of compressed air cleaner, a portable hard drive, a USB adapter for my son's iPod, an adapter for mine and a plug with a timer control.

Yes, that is after I have cleared up.

And don't get me started on the floor.

Monday, 2 March 2009

That's just a noise!

I wondered if I hadn't been a bit hard on pop puppet Duffy the other day. But then I saw the Coke advert. Oh. My. God. What the hell is she wearing? What the hell is she doing? I'm a big fan of singers making an interesting noise. I 'm not interested in people who just carry a tune. Most of what passes for pop music in the country seems to be karaoke. But that's not an interesting noise. That's just a noise. Stop it. Has the world gone mad?

And when I was praising American TV the other day, I forgot to mention Damages. It is silly, of course, and Glenn Close and Rose Byrne often look like they are acting in a silent movie and can only emote using their eyebrows, but the opening credits alone are better than most British TV programmes.