on rails

I’ve not written from a train in awhile. I’ve not been on a train in awhile. Oh, I’ve been on the the tube and overground and that sort of thing, but those aren’t really trains. Real trains cross countries and borders, not cities. 

I’m off north to Scotland to drink wine and catch up with friends and wonder once again why I don’t here anymore. 

Last weekend I ‘performed’ at the Cornbury Music Festival, sometimes called ‘Poshstock’. There was wine and music. I learned I like the Peatbog Faeries more than the Gipsy Kings and survived on about 2 hours sleep over 48. We danced. We drank. We ate pulled pork. We angered bees sleeping soundly in their hive and had to run away.

I expect this weekend to be every bit as good. Perhaps without the getting chased by bees part, however.

ending chapters

Where have I been and what have I been doing? I’ve been to the States and Scotland and East Sussex since last here. And to Somerset and Stonehenge. I’ve run a lot, but maybe not enough. I’ve not written anything, but I’ve thought of and planned the writing of things. There are schedules now, and preliminary dates for my next book’s release. I’ve met a new editor and journeyed to Oxford to plan things with them. I’ve lost old friends and met new ones. I’ve watched the seasons slowly change and listened to the rain on my skylight whenever I could. 

So all that.

The Red Sox season is killing me, which is just as well as life’s proper portions of heartache and heartbreak are fresh and raw and searing and if I seem down, it’s just the baseball, honest.

The sun’s out and all things are flowering - scents of the season drift along the riverside. There seem to be more honeybees about this year. It’s all good if you just let it be.

dreams interrupted

I don’t remember the dream, but I’m pretty sure it was a good one. The sense of disappointment when it was shattered by my phone’s alarm was proof of that. I tried to grab at the last few tendrils of memory, but they slipped into permanent shadow. My body knew it wasn’t meant to be awake. I moved slowly.

I made it to the tube on time, but nearly missed the bus. It wasn’t where it should have been. It wasn’t immediately apparent. It was dark and damp on Baker St as I stood pounding postcodes and streets into my phone, trying to work out where I should be to grab the coach to Stansted. Bus after bus drove by, always the wrong one, each leaving a cavernous echo along the empty street. I looked over at the Sherlock Holmes museum when the correct address popped up on my phone, and ran a few streets over to where I should have been waiting in the first place. The coach was there, and waited for me as I huffed and puffed my bag into the locker.

I slept and we were there. My bag wasn’t overweight, even with a bottle of Barolo wrapped tight in a protective but otherwise superfluous beach towel. Stansted always seems unfinished to me. There was quite a lot of work going on. I bought gin for Andy and Kirsten and some breakfast for myself. My gate was called and I walked by the bar to join the queue for boarding and I quite fancied a Guinness.

I slept on the plane. Well, I kept my eyes closed anyway. We landed early and so those ridiculous Ryanair trumpets sounded. My bag popped out early and Andy was there and so we headed into Girona for lunch. Basque tapas at a restaurant near the vine-clad elevated train line. The vines that clad it looked skeletal and dead in the winter light, though they were only sleeping. The restaurant wouldn’t open for another 10 minutes and so Andy and I cracked a beer while the kids climbed about in the playground. I’m not sure we could have been more scheme-y if we’d tried. Andy took Angus to use the toilet so of course Theo fell and hurt himself. He bawled and would not be comforted. So there I was, stood by a playground, trying to comfort a screaming 5 year-old while holding a can of Estrella’s double malted beer. He was having none of it until his dad came back. I was worried about getting looks from the parents in the playground, but no one cared. There was no disapproving glance at either the screaming child nor the ever-lighter can of beer in my right hand. I nearly offered Theo a sip. Then Andy returned and Theo’s wails descended to whimpers and finally he realised it wasn’t so bad after all. Tears wiped dry, the restaurant opened and we went in for lunch.

They poured us Txacoli into beakers from a great height and then we helped ourselves to the seemingly endless tapas dishes displayed around us. It was a modern building but the interior had been done to look like an taverna. Behind the bar that displayed the food was a large cut-out barrel end, foudre size, with a tap at the bottom. I guessed the tap was dry. We ate and drank Txacoli and the boys mostly behaved and then we got more food and drank more Txacoli. I noticed on the second round that the bottle had a spigot on the end of it, to facilitate the pouring from a great height, which released a satisfying spritz.

Sated, we left in search of ice cream, but the ice cream place we wanted was closed. So we crossed the river and I got a glimpse of Girona’s strange cathedral. Asymmetrical, daunting and monolithic, it looked like something out of fantasy. Perhaps a defensive keep rather than a church.

We found a frozen yoghurt bar that did goat milk stuff and lots of toppings. The chocolate sauce was the sort that hardened, so that you had to crack it like an egg shell. It seemed strange eating something so cold in January. We ate and walked around the narrow streets in the old town. 

Dessert finished, we found the car and drove to France.

return flight

5 Brothers was closed, so I waited in the queue at the Cuban Coffee Queen shack by the bight for a con leche. The sun hadn't yet broken through the cloud. Two guys sat on one of the benches, sipping away their morning java, yacking. They were tan and young. The conversation went something like this:

"It got really bad with the drugs and the booze. Woke up in a hospital handcuffed to the bed, cop there waiting for me to come 'round."

"Well, Key West can do that to you."

"Oh, no man, this was way before I came to Key West."

My coffee was ready so I grabbed it and popped my headphones back in, happy to let that small slice of conversation exist on its own, without context or explanation.

I walked along the harbour and looked down at the minnows and larger fish waiting for a passer-by to drop in an edible morsel. Folks milled about, loading up fishing boats. Captains and passengers carried rods and sandwiches and cases of beer for their day away from dry land. It got warmer - I could feel the sun pushing through the clouds.

I've not done much of what I meant to do. I didn't go for a single run, and I've written nothing but a few tasting notes. Instead I walked around the island and got lost in the flora and fauna, never not cracking a smile when seeing a rooster or a 6-toed cat or an iguana. I saw a spotted eagle ray while, in spite of myself, spending an enjoyable morning paddle boarding. That was more fun than it had any right to be.

Some success came in managing the dysfunction of family. We had a good Christmas in the warmth. I cooked Christmas dinner and didn't ruin it. My sister and I propped up a fair few bars and righted a fair few wrongs. She pestered a barman about his music choices as we sipped beer after beer. I think she had a little crush on him.

The days all bleed into another, and the last nine or ten bear little discernable difference. I walked and drank coffee, I swam and ate. I marvelled at the tree branches that became roots and muttered annoyance at not getting a single photo of a chicken crossing the road. I never made it back to the Hemingway House, though I passed it a fair few times.

Stories popped up. I took a note or two. It's been a year, that's for sure. Perhaps I needed a little bit of lazy. The most stressful conversation over lunch being what to do for dinner. A holiday. I need to pack. Head back north and to reality. The air's heavy this morning, and the clouds towering. There's no sun. It's time to go.


I fell asleep before take off but woke before landing. I opened the blind and had missed the the southern coast of Greenland but saw the icy stretches of Northern Quebec far below. Over Massachusetts, I looked out again but we were too far inland to see Boston. An hour or so later I saw the the vast jagged opening of the Chesapeake Bay and remembered summers long gone and mountains of spiced crabs, mallets and tablecloths made from old newspapers. South of Georgia, tracing the Florida coast, the sun started setting, throwing sharp contrast on the small cotton ball clouds hovering over the water below.


There were scores of cops waiting for my flight when it landed. I never found out what for. I had to make my connection.


I got home and drank a few beers, re familiarised myself with the house. It's my only address in the States but I've not been here in nine years. Since I started this blog.


Jet lag woke me up early, before the sun. I listened to the roosters herald the new day and looked at the stars for awhile. When the light came I went out to grab a coffee from 5 Brothers and wandered the streets of old town. I took pictures of old cars and tree roots. I walked by the cemetery, the graves like tower blocks of the the dead. It's not high enough here to bury folks, so they stack them. Unsurprisingly, cremation is quite popular these days.


It was already hot. I finished the strong Cuban coffee and went out again to grab a croissant. A couple in the café split a bottle of red while their happy young child munched a morning pastry. It was 930 in the morning. The girl behind the counter gave me a local discount and I gave her a tip. I walked around the block, up to Whitehead and the lighthouse, past Hemingway's house. It's a beautiful house. I looked in the gate and promised myself I'd do the tour again this year. It's quite a thing, living around the corner from that house.


The sun was in and out from the clouds. I got home and ate. Some leaves and flowers swirled about in the pool and I thought for a moment I might skim it. I would. But later.

white noise

There's a skylight at the top of the staircase outside my room. It's domed. Most of the time I forget it's there. There's a ghostly pall of daylight that reaches down the stairs, but the glass is pretty much opaque. Aside from letting in a little more light, it's nothing particularly special. Until it rains.

It has great acoustics, and the drumming patter of rain drops on it has become an unexpected comfort. It's like the sound of rain in a movie. A foley artist special. Even the softest of showers seems more intense. More there. It sometimes wakes me up, if it's heavy enough, and I'll lift myself from my pillow and look towards the stairs and listen before checking and making sure I didn't leave the door open to the wet. If it's raining when I go to bed, it becomes my counting of sheep. Listening to the wee, echoing thuds of thousands of rain drops sends me straight to dreamland. Sometimes too quickly.

I dated a girl, for too short a time, who couldn't sleep without some form of white noise. One of the first nights we shared a bed, she fumbled on her laptop for a few minutes, apologising profusely, looking for streaming sounds of rain or whales or surf. I was fine with it. She was beautiful.

This morning, in the wee hours, I woke to the drums. Or maybe it was a machine gun. A downpour. I lay there in bed and saw that it had woken the cat up too. I listened to those quick thuds as they echoed down the stairs. Behind the sound of the rain howled the wind, and the creaking branches of the willows that stand alongside the river. A before dawn chorus, it raged, and the cat drew close and huddled under my arm. We listened. And just as it had woken me up, it put me back to sleep again. 


So some stuff has happened in the meantime. In that gap created between times I’ve written here. I’ve been back to Scotland, and sat in the sun on Islay sipping whisky and beer and eating something fresh from the sea. When the breeze died the midges appeared and fed on us, but it was breezy on the beach when we popped the Champagne and drank it even though our legs hurt. The sky so blue it pierced. And Loch Indaal sapphire, but for the odd white horse. The hills and fields an undulating green banner between them with the white buildings of Bowmore dotted against it all, tall black letters spelling the name of the distillery and town all at once.

I went to France and made wine. The Vermentino bubbled in its ferment like a bath with too much Imperial Leather poured in. It tasted of lemon barley and oats. The mist rolled in the from the sea and crept up the hills and mountains. I drank old Armagnac and stumbled in attempts to speak the language. Loose schist and pebbles fell beneath my feet as I stooped to pick bunches of grapes high up in the hills behind Banyuls. Thibault and I drank beer in a bar by the beach and we talked about wine and women. Andy and Julien and I drank strong Belgian beer next to the sailboats in Argeles after work and I don’t remember what we talked about, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the pretty Italian girl on the picking team came up once or twice. Her name was Luna. Everyone fancied her. I fancied the other one. I don’t remember her name. One night we decanted a couple of wines, Andy and I, and stayed up late in the gallery drinking and listening to music. The wines opened and we talked about them and the world around them. We drank all the whisky I brought and more. I returned to London but wasn’t quite sure why.

Summer turned and the leaves fell and now autumn is almost gone as well.

The Red Sox won. I stayed up late to see.

Mezcal, Old Fashioneds and Sazeracs stood lined on the bar, with shooters of sangrita to chase. We drank them, too many of them, and stumbled out into the Soho night. My bus never came, so I grabbed another. 

Wine sipped, glugged and sometimes spat. Old friends caught up with over beers and burgers. Plus ça change. 

I wrote and edited and amended and did it all again. I checked proofs and drafts and covers. I submitted and re-submitted. I drank pints and chatted with my publisher about costs and dates and rates and boards and dust jackets. I waited and then corrected again. I got it right, I think. It got sent to press, that book of mine, and soon it will be real. 

And now it’s now, and there’s a journey soon. 

a greyer shade of winter

I was writing something about the rain but it took too long and the rain stopped and all of the sudden it didn’t seem terribly relevant anymore. I was going to write a lot of things. I’ve got the scribbles in notebooks and snippets in note apps on my phone and iPad to prove it. Reading them now they look surreal, without context. Some draw forth more recognition; a sense of the time and the place and the feeling. But for the most part it’s sentences and phrases unanchored by meaning or memory. Some are tasting notes for wines I’ll never drink again. 

There’s one notebook with a bunch of diary entries. I used to write in it while propping up a bar where a girl I had a crush on pulled pints. I would drink and write and nod and smile as she drew me a fresh beer and then poured a glass of whisky on the side. The beer was hit or miss. The lines weren’t terribly clean. If the bar got too busy I’d put the pen and notebook away for fear a pint might slop all over my unreadable script. 

Once I sat in a pizza place writing in that same notebook and a pretty waitress complimented me on my handwriting. I think that might have been the only time anyone had done such a thing. I drank Peroni Gran Riserva and ate a calzone on my lonesome, and someone pretty liked my writing, or its aesthetic at least. That waitress lives in South London now, with some friends of mine. She’s not a waitress anymore. 

In Autumn 2007, before it got cold, I sat with my laptop in the afternoon sun in the ruins of the cathedral and rewrote a chapter of my novel. From time-to-time I’d pop my head up for a breather catch the odd look from a bemused tourist. I disappeared into the words that afternoon. 

Nine or so months before that, I sat on a couch at Naughton, typing on the same laptop, and wrote the last page of the first draft of that book. It was New Year’s Eve, and about an hour or so before the party was due to start. I opened my last bottle of 1985 Dom Perignon to celebrate. It tasted wonderful. 

This morning I dragged the big purple binder that holds the draft and notes for my novel into the office. I grabbed a few notebooks and started flipping through the ageing pages. Far away from my desk, final touches are being applied to what will be my first ever published book. It should (knock on wood) go to press sometime next week. There’s nothing else for me to do with it. 

And so I brush off memories and pages, excavate old writing, looking for what to write next, and beginning to feel both excited and terrified by pages that need filled with words.

a walk

The field of wheat spread out in front of the cottage, green still, and shining like a blanket of emeralds. Tall clouds dotted the otherwise blue sky and the sun cast its rays down through the gaps between them. We walked through the farm to get to the other lane. It sat quiet. Everything was growing around it, not quite ready to be harvested. Past the farm and in the next field was barley, its wild spikey hair shooting off in all directions. It was further along than the wheat, full on golden. Every bit as shiny, though.

Across from the barley lay the sweet peas. A small sign informed us that these sweet peas were grown under contract for Bird’s Eye, and that when they were fully ripe they would be carefully picked and then speedily whisked away to be flash frozen, to preserve their freshness.

Harry and I helped ourselves to the sweet peas. They lived up to their name. Sweet as could be. Harry spoke about the plants, what with being a gardener and all. The tire tracks of the path were full chalky rocks, big enough to be a pain to walk on. I tread along the grassy bit in the middle, Looking constantly at the contrast between the blue of the sky, the green of the peas and the rich gold of the barley.

Harry noted the lack of birdsong, and indeed the lack of birds. I scanned the skies and could see none. We talked about the dales as we descended down into them from the fields, about these small valleys with no rivers at the bottom, about the chalk they carved deeply through at such precise angles as to look like they were created with intent.

The chat turned to the distance to the pub which was, by this point, obviously a great deal further than Harry had estimated. Neither of us minded. It proved worth a chuckle though, as we climbed the other side of the dale, up to a herd of cattle decidedly unimpressed by our presence. They blocked the path, and so we charged up the steep bit. I was expecting the pub to be just over the ridge. It was not. There weren't even any sweet peas to be seen.

The sun beat down, and the large clouds scattered about provided shade only to elsewhere. In the distance stood a steeple. Near that would be a pub. We caught our breath from running up the side of the dale and walked in that direction, chatting still as I wiped the sweat from my brow.

between carriages

There are no seats on the train as I write this, sat on my luggage in between carriages as we careen over the South Yorkshire countryside. I don't know why I didn't reserve a seat, but I didn't, and so I'm sharing this small in-between space with a young father and his baby. The baby's pretty cute and well-behaved and seems to like sticking his tongue out at strangers. Or hers. Never been good at determining baby gender.

The train is heading north. I'm going back to Scotland for the first time in 8 or 9 months, which is probably my longest time away in the last 20 years. I'm visiting friends and doing at least one tasting and reading from Salt & Old Vines.

Which is finished, by the way. I submitted the final manuscript to my editor reasonably on time. I submitted it 40 minutes after it achieved full funding, at just before midnight on the 30th of July. I couldn't really sleep afterwards. Instead I stared at the ceiling above my bed. The sense of relief I was expecting hasn't really arrived yet. There is just a general feeling of overstimulation and impatience.

And a need to fill my time. Instead of basking in the luxury of weekends without deadlines, I'm committing to all manner of things. I'm going back to Islay to run the half marathon. There are weddings (not mine). A few days ago, I pulled out the big binder that holds the manuscript for my novel. The plan is to rewrite that over August. I'm reading it at the moment and it's not as awful as I feared.

Soon it will be vintage. The train tumbles along while my thoughts flick between France and Scotland, between one book and the other, sat between carriages and wondering why I didn't book a seat.


I'm just back from Dublin. A family thing, which was fraught and lovely as all family things tend to be. I got to spend a lot of time in Howth and eat a lot of good seafood, so I can't complain too much. I didn't do much writing, but I'm making up for that now. I'm up against the wall with regards to deadlines, with my first draft going to my editor and publisher on the 14th of May. There's no flexibility with this, as a schedule right up until the actual release days of the physical book have all been laid before me. Those incredible folks at Unbound have such confidence that I'll achieve full funding that they're pushing ahead regardless. Knowing the date that my book will be available as a printed thing that people can buy and read and give as presents has been quite the motivational stimulant. So have the dates closing in like the walls of the trash compactor in Star Wars (it is May 4th - I had to slip that in there).

In a parallel universe, I'd be more organised, and would be working on a second or third draft by now. In that universe, I'd be in Suffolk at my mate Luke's birthday party, buying him beer and reminding him that he's a lot older than me. Sadly, I'm stuck in this universe and am not that organised.

At least in this universe the Red Sox are in first.


Buy my book. Please.


I’ve been thinking a lot about elsewhere recently. I don’t know whether it’s simply a periodic bout of overwhelming nostalgia, boredom with here, or just a random path my mind has chosen to wander. But elsewhere is certainly where it’s wandering.

Elsewhere has taken many forms.

Sometimes it’s Islay; the ferry pulling into Port Ellen, the round parish church in Bowmore and the patio out the back of the Lochside hotel, sipping a Feis Ile dram and a pint of ale in the sun, the Paps of Jura in the distance to the north. Then I journey up to the Assynt Peninsula in November, then further to Cape Wrath. The sky’s so low you can touch it; a menacing grey that creeps closer when you’re not looking. The slate sea crashes against jagged black bedrock and explodes into turquoise capped with white foam. Looking out and knowing it’s just the Atlantic for a good portion of the world until you reach land again.

In a blink it’s India. Morning by the Ganges in Varanasi as the sun comes up, showing just how vibrant colour can be. Pungent on the nose. Countless people praying and doing laundry. Hearing the lap of the river against the wooden hull of the small boat, the sound of the world waking up drifting over the water. Goats, pretty much everywhere.

Or I’ll start in Jerez de la Frontera, sitting at the bar in Nono’s, watching him tap a cask of Palo Cortado for my afternoon libation. Watching the pigeon on the bar eat seeds out of a matchbox and sipping a bottle of Cruzcampo, a copa of sherry on the side. I don’t even know if Nono’s still exists. I hope it does. From there I’ll drive down to Cadiz and wander along the sea walls and breathe in the ocean air.

If it’s an evening wander, it’s probably Fenway. Drinking a watery beer in a cramped box seat while munching on a hot dog and spilling pretty much everything as I jump up to cheer as Papi drives one into the Monster seats. More Boston. Walking along the brick-laid sidewalks on the Hill, watching my step where the tree roots have pushed up the bricks like a crooked set of teeth. Grabbing a slice from the Upper Crust on Charles St before wandering over to the Common and noticing again how much smaller the little league fields seem these days.  

And then, out of nowhere, I’m sat out front of the Café Sola in Collioure, drinking a beer and looking out over the bridge towards the Mediterranean. Maybe later I’ll walk down to the pier and listen to water on the rocky beach. It sounds just like rice crispies after the milk’s been added; snap, crackle and pop.

A cocktail at Bramble in Edinburgh.

Brunch at Louie’s, watching the storms come in.

Walking on the wet grey sand in Humboldt, transfixed by the Pacific.

These journeys all cover old ground. I’m not going anywhere new, just revisiting where I’ve been. I don’t know if I’m haunted by my past or if it’s me that’s doing the haunting. Lingering long after the event, looking for something lost that probably wasn’t there in the first place.

Isn't that a song lyric?


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bunny lady

There’s a pretty lady who brings a bunny to the small park by the river. She keeps it on a lead and follows it as it hops along the grass, nose twitching at the odd blade. It’s a big bunny; almost a fat hare. Large grey splotches dot its white fur. The small park sits next to a playground, and often children will forget all about climbing on the plastic pirate ship and rush over to the grass to pet the bunny. Their enthusiasm turns to timidity when they reach the rabbit. Parents sing out a chorus of ‘be gentles’ and ‘be carefuls’ as their toddlers crouch down with outstretched arms. All the while the bunny’s nose twitches away and its eyes always seem to be casting a sideways glance. The pretty lady smiles at the delighted children as they pet the rabbit in wonder, and then return to their parents brimming with the excitement of it all.

I’ve never known anyone to take a rabbit for a walk. If it were you telling me, rather than me telling you, I’d have a hard time picturing it. It seems on the one hand quite a peculiar thing to do. And yet, if you have a bunny rabbit, and there’s a nice bit of grass nearby and the sun’s out, why not take it out for a stroll?


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wait an hour or so

I used to spend summers in Delaware. It's strange to write that now; it seems a epoch ago. But from 1979 to 1987, my parents and I would pack the car with enough of our material goods to last 8 or 9 weeks and drive from Boston to Bethany Beach, an Atlantic seaside town that claimed, rightly or wrongly, to be the body-surfing capital of the East Coast. We'd eat Chesapeake Bay crab and corn on the cob for pretty much the entire summer. Days were spent on the beach and evenings at water parks or mini-golf courses. If it rained, the family went to the movies. In the summer of '84 it was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Ghostbusters. In '85, it was The Goonies. I learned to ride a bike and saw my first snake in the wild, which duly scared the living shit out of me. 

I was allowed to eat the sugary-sweet cereal that my mother usually forbade.

The days at the beach were spent mostly in the water; sometimes with a boogie board, sometimes with raft, sometimes without either - swimming and failing to dodge waves. The lifeguards only had to save me once, I think, which isn't bad over the course of 9 summers. There was some manner of riptide and it pulled me out and before I knew it, I was being pulled back in. The lifeguards were nice to me and my summer friends. We didn't realise they were hitting on our older cousins that would visit us. 

Lunch tended to be of the packed variety. PB & Js with a healthy dose of sand. Those awesome flip-top bottles of Grolsch that had been rinsed and filled instead with homemade lemonade. Damn we looked cool; a bunch of ten and eleven year-olds drinking lemonade out of vintage beer bottles. We fucking swigged that lemonade, man. 

And then came the wait. Full of sandy sandwiches and lemonade, all we wanted to do was jump back in the water. Lunch was nice and all, but most days it seemed like an annoying break from the relentless, joyous pace of play. But worse than the sandy sandwiches was the parental directive that followed it; we had to wait an hour before we went back in the water. The hour took seven in our heads. Every five minutes we asked if we could go in yet. It was the are-we-there-yet of the days at the beach. We wore Jams and had that weird zinc shit on our noses and under our eyes. We were neon-and-pastel-adorned kids in the eighties and we wanted to go swimming no matter what time it was. 

We could've built sand castles or played paddle ball. There were volleyball nets. But no, we wanted to do what we couldn't. The threat of cramps didn't scare us. But wait we did, disgruntled and impatient. 

This morning I made an espresso and poured myself a big bowl of cereal. I watched highlights from last night's baseball games and read a bit. And now I'm writing this post and remembering those summer afternoons because I can't quite go for my run yet. I have to wait a few hours after eating before going for a run. I'll feel quite ill if I don't. So I pace and fill the time and bounce on my toes to keep my feet and legs loose. 

I'm less petulant about it these days, but not by much.


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It's usually around this time of year that I do a big wool wash. All the winter jumpers and scarves go into the machine, I double check the detergent to make sure it's the wooly one, and then double check the setting on the machine to make sure it's the wooly one, and away we go. I'd lay them flat to dry where I could, but usually just draped them on a drying rack and hope they didn't get too deformed. Once they were dry, I'd put them away for six months or so. They weren't needed anymore. Spring and summer were for cotton and linen, not wool. 

The clocks went forward in the wee hours last night and it's British Summer Time now, in name only. It's too cold to wash the woollens and put them away for a couple of seasons. The sun's out and glorious, but brings little heat.

I came down with another cold. Or maybe it was the remains of the last one, come back to haunt me. It knocked me out a bit, seemed to put everything on pause: it's still winter; there's still writing to finish. 

Instead of the wool wash, I tidied the house from top to bottom. The sort of thing writers do to not write. As well as the house, I tidied my desk, finding too many card receipts for too much money from too many bars. I chucked all the loose sterling change into a jar and piled all my Euro cents into neat stacks for the next to trip to France, whenever that may be. I have no idea where I've put my US currency, nor do I know when I'll need it next.

I like writing at a tidy desk, but I can write at a messy one, if needs be. Vonnegut rails against the idea of 'perfect writing conditions', and he's right. All you need is a certain loneliness, and the need to fill that void with words. No other conditions really necessary.

Except maybe a pen, paper, or a computer. 


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where i left off...

March 8th came and went and still I'm trying to finish my first draft. Instead of one deadline, now I have a few, scattered here and there and making a great deal more sense. I do have a table of contents of sorts, with the bits that need finished adorned with a tick next to them. There are a lot of ticks. 

In the meantime, I've been to France with some mates. We ate, drank and were merry: wine, beer and inordinate amounts of VEP Chartreuse. And whisky. It was colder than anyone ever expects France to be, and I shall long remember the violent flurries of snow that came and went in the space of a minute while we walked along the vines in Puligny-Montrachet. 

Part of me is still hungover.

London's welcomed me back with rain and gales, in some sort of poorly executed impression of Scotland. The cat's been delighted to see me though, and I can hear his strange snores from the comfy chair as I type this. 


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counting words

Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain seems to go down quite well while writing about Catalan country. I switch my phone to airplane mode and turn off the wifi and data on my iPad. In the back of my mind I remember my undergraduate dissertation and the mountain research that needed distilled into a mere 10,000 words, handed in so late that I was just given a passing grade for it. Then there was my novel, 77,000 words written in fits, starts and then gushing flows, the manuscript still sitting in a box next to my desk. Of course, there are my blogs and whatnot; I've not bothered to count all the words I've posted since January 2005, but I imagine it's some count. Nearly 25,000 tweets over the last 4 years, which when viewed as such could be counted as a tremendous waste of time as well as a tremendous amount of words. Regardless, I to need to write quite a bit more. 

My writing partner at the moment is the cat. He sits on the chair next to my desk and sleeps while I type. Not the trumpet from the speakers nor my fingers on the keyboard seem to shake him from his snooze. Just the odd time when I get up to get some water or a cup of tea does he look up and sometimes follow me, hoping that my mission might be in part to feed him. When discovers it isn't, he narrows his eyes disdainfully and returns to his sleepy perch. 

I'd forgotten the loneliness of writing somewhat. It isn't there all the time; it's like falling asleep and just waking up. When the words come, it's like dream time and there needn't be anyone else there, not even the cat. But when getting started, or drawing to a close, there's too much awareness of where I am, that I'm the only one here and the only one that can be here. A solitary dropped pin. And the only way to escape that is to enter dream time again, to lose myself in the writing time and time again. Not counting words but writing them, because that's the only way they'll ever add up. 


Buy my book. Please.

due date

I can fill my lungs without doubling over in a fit of coughing, which can only be considered an improvement. I've run 40 miles in the last two weeks. Winter's grip still holds tight, and snow floated about in a lazy fashion this morning in West London. It's an early wake up call tomorrow; a trip to Manchester to show some folks some wine. 

I decided out of the blue to restructure my book, Salt & Old Vines, this afternoon. I don't even remember how the idea came to me. I think I was choosing a playlist for getting started with writing and was thinking about some of the troubles I was having with some of the bits and not really knowing how to tell the whole story and then I had a moment of clarity. It startled me somewhat, because I wasn't really worried or thinking about structure at all. The structure seemed obvious from the beginning. And that's probably why it bored me. 

So I dropped my publisher a line and was like, um, I'm changing the book structure. 

And he asked: how?

And I told him and he was like, um, well, if it still works?

And I told him it would be better and so he didn't respond to that because obviously I had utterly reassured him.

With my deadline for a first draft March 6th (or 8th - it could be 8th… can it be 8th?), I'm mildly panicking. I finished the first draft of my novel on New Year's Eve 2006. I didn't want to go into 2007 still needing to finish it. An enormous party, great Champagne and friendly adulation accompanied it. Fireworks burst above a house in the middle of nowhere in Scotland and I went to bed drunk and knowing I'd written a whole book. 

That book is sitting in a box at the moment, changed but still needing a rewrite. 

This book won't have fireworks on completion, nor will there be '85 Dom Perignon to slurp in celebration of emailing it to the nice chaps at Unbound. I'll just hit send and set about rewriting what I know needs changed already. I might crack a beer or two while I edit. But getting it finished is just the beginning of something else. Something I'm not familiar with and quite looking forward to.


Buy My Book. Please.


It serves me right. I was getting cocky. Oh, sure, I knocked on wood when I mentioned it, and rolled my eyes in the I-hope-I'm-not-jinxing-this kind of way. But I thought I got away with it. I believed this winter would leave me alone. But no. I'm on the lemsip and sudafed. My chest feels of sandpaper and sinuses are gripped by a vice. I've not spoken yet today, but feel I'll be all Louis Armstrong when the words come out. 

I'm still going to work. There's wine to taste. Just hoping I can taste it. 

snow puddles

So last week I read from my book at The Arts Club on Dover Street. I've seen my fair share of grandiose establishments, some even by invitation, but this place pushed the boat out a fair bit, I won't fib. Unsurprisingly, the crew of Unbounders were sent down to the bar in the basement to peddle our wares. I'm better at reading Shakespeare than my own stuff. There's a character to be when reading something else. I've not worked out how to do that with my own words. It's just me reading me to people who don't know me and that's a lot of me out there. Still, they clapped, seemingly of their own free will. Afterwards we went to a far less posh club and drank and ate and folks fell into the last tube/cab home debate. Most took cabs, but I wandered from Soho to Green Park to grab the N9 night bus, which could be described as the Piccadilly Line for the damned. 

Work is busy in the way that things get busy when you think things are sorted and they aren't.

As a sort of follow-on to my 'writing in the mornings' post, I'm running in the evenings. I carry a flashlight. Last night it was pointless, as the puddles of melted snow were too large to dodge, so I just ran through them. I got home caked in mud to my shins and fearing frostbite. It took 15 minutes in the warmth of the house to feel my feet again. It still felt good.

Tonight I'm getting a massage because I need one. 


Buy My Book. Please.