Wednesday, 10 March 2010


I paid a flying visit to Manchester yesterday. I had been invited to talk to Chorlton High School by Rachel Hockey, their energetic librarian.

I really liked Chorlton High School. There was clearly a real appreciation of books there and the school puts a lot of effort and resources into encouraging that appreciation. The students were well-behaved but in a lively and interested way. They asked good questions and seemed to enjoy themselves.

I had a chat to them about who I was and how I became a writer, how I write and what I write. I tried to offer a few things to think about in their own writing. Their questions threw up some more issues to talk about as always. The time whizzed by.

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror and Tales of Terror from the Black Ship had both been longlisted for the Manchester Book Award, but neither had made it onto the shortlist. It was great to hear such enthusiasm for the books from students and staff and it makes me hopeful that Tunnel's Mouth might be more successful. I hope so.

I gave the talk in the school's theatre. I didn't have time to do a reading, which was a shame because the space was windowless and therefore we could control the amount of light. It can be very difficult to get the audience into the creepy state of mind when the sun is streaming in through the window at 9.30 in the morning, but here it would have been easy. It was also a very good place to wheel out a PowerPoint show.

Next time perhaps.

I actually came up the day before so that I could get to the school first thing. I came up a little bit earlier than I needed just so that I could have a quick wander around the city in daylight to get reacquainted with the place. I went to art college here from 1976 to 1980.

A lot has changed since then. For one thing, the city has trams. They look great too. They suit the heroic scale of those Victorian buildings and long, wide streets. The architecture looked fantastic in the low light, with shining windows and glittering glazed tiles and long shadows sending whole streets into twilight.

The brutalist concrete crescents of Hume have gone - and presumably the Russell Club along with them. When I was a student here, I can remember walking round drawing or taking photos and I didn't have to walk too far from All Saints to find picturesque scenes of urban decay. It all seemed a lot smarter now. Old warehouses have been turned into apartments. People live in the centre of Manchester now.

The most startling change was perhaps the fact that I was staying in the Radisson Hotel on the site of the Free Trade Hall, one of the many venues for bands in Manchester. I don't remember going to the Free Trade Hall that often - the sort of bands I liked tended to play smaller venues - but it was still odd - sad even - to see the facade of the building still there, with a modern hotel hiding behind it.

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