I did something today that will change me for ever. I went to my first ever literary seminar. It was at the Bloomsbury Publishing offices in London and it was amazing. I’m not kidding you when I tell you that there were real authors there, people who have actually written books that the public have read and love and keep in their bookcases. And there I was in the same room as them, I was completely dumbstruck.

I arrived hot and flustered from the Tube in time for wine and nibbles and stood like a wallflower, glass in hand, while the other delegates mingled and chatted around me. I must admit I felt just a little out-of-place. Then we were shepherded into the to the grand old salon which is a beautiful room complete with an enormous book-case which runs the entire length of one wall and which is crammed with Bloomsbury first editions. There we listened to a talk by three established and experienced crime writers.

It was chaired by the very talented Claire McGowan whose debut novel The Fall I couldn’t put down and Anne Zouroudi and James Runcie whose books I can‘t wait to pick up.  They gave us tips about plotting, characters and research but more importantly they gave us an insight into their modus operandi as crime writers. I loved every minute of it.

Everyone was friendly too. I said hi to Claire and it’s probably good news that at the time I didn’t know that James Runcie has made a film about J.G Ballard otherwise I might have got a bit scary and stalkery and on top of all that I met lots of other very nice people.

I feel different somehow. I feel like I have come of age as a writer.


My dishwasher has started beeping recently. I don’t know how or why it’s got this habit but it is bloody annoying. It’s almost as if it’s saying:

‘Look at me, I’ve just done your washing up, aren’t I great!’

Well big deal! I don’t really care. I’ve had dishwashers before and that’s what you are supposed to do. The reason I got you is so that I can just shut your door and forget about the dirty dishes. What I don’t want is you pestering me half way through True Blood to tell me that you’ve finished cleaning them. OK?

I have a suspicion that the reason the dishwasher started doing this  is because it’s heard our new washing machine doing exactly the same thing. That new super-efficient shiny appliance announces the culmination of each and every wash cycle with a series of Teutonic beeps. It’s driving me bonkers. What is it with modern appliances?

Thrower, turner, fettler, dipper.
Pugman, jollyer, sponger, jigger.
Mouldrunner, cod placer, saggar maker’s bottom knocker.

The weather forecast said rain, rain and then more rain, it meant we needed to find something to entertain the kids. Somebody had told us about the Gladstone Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent so we decided to go there. We hoped it would fill a couple of  hours. We ended up staying all day.

The museum is the last untouched example of a North Staffordshire potbank – the small earthenware and china works which dominated the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent for more than two centuries. The six towns – Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton – grew up close to the outcrops of tarry coal that provided the fuel for the bottle ovens which loomed over their rooftops and choked them with ash and soot. Life in the shadow of the potbanks was hard, as was the work within them. Entire families would toil for long hours in dangerous conditions driving the many complex processes that were required to make the wares.

While we were there my kids threw pots and painted vases and roses but the thing that struck me was the poetry. Thrower, turner, fettler, dipper; the names of jobs in the potbank have an earthy resonance, displaying a grim humour in the face of hardship. My favourite; saggar maker’s bottom knocker is the name of the boy who bashed out lumps of coarse local clay inside an iron hoop to form the base of the saggar, a large clay vessel used to contain the ware when it was fired. It was the saggar maker himself who paid the bottom knocker a weekly wage of a pound a week out of his own pay which could be as much as six pounds but the bottom knocker had little hope of earning more for the only route to promotion was through a dead man’s shoes.

Not that he had long to wait, up until as late as 1900 the average age of an adult at death was 46. Thick choking smog, flint and clay dust, lead poisoning and extreme heat from the ovens all took their toll on the workers but life started to improve in the late nineteenth century as various pieces of legislation were brought in to protect the workers. Finally in 1952, the Clean Air Act  forced the smoky bottle ovens to close and changed the landscape around Stoke-on-Trent forever.

The one at the back is a one legged dancer

And if you are wondering why she is called a one legged dancer it is because when small girls worked the large wheel to keep the potter’s wheel turning they would have to stand up high on one leg to reach the top.

I’ve watched fondly as my lead characters have blossomed and grown into beautifully rounded people. I’ve laughed at their jokes, admired their bravery but all the time something has been gnawing away at me. Deep down I know that sooner or later they are going to want to do it.

That’s right. Sometime soon they are going to want to have sex with each other.

Personally I find this terrifying. Not the sex of course but the fact that it’s me who’s going to have to arrange it. This problem has been keeping me awake at nights, not just the thought of writing the scene but also the fact that people I know are going to read it. People like my mother-in-law and my next door neighbour.

I know that for some writers this comes as easily to them as falling off a bike. Erotic Fiction authors seem to be able to do it without so much as a blink. However I have noticed one thing; most Erotic Fiction writers are women whereas six out of eight of last year’s nominees for the Bad Sex Awards awards, a competition held by the Literary Review in the UK, were men. Is this more than a coincidence I wonder?

Maybe I’ll just let them have a little privacy and come back to see how they are getting along on in the morning.

It wouldn’t install. No matter what I did Office 2010 was not going to cooperate with Windows 7 and no amount of swearing or fiddling with directory file permissions was going to help.  This was a rush job, as things often are in our house. My wife needed it so she could update her learning resources for a course she was teaching in two days time. By midnight however; I’d had enough of bashing my head against a brick wall and I went to bed.

The next day my wife phoned me in tears while I was at work. Office 2010 still wasn’t installed and Office 2007 which had once been there was gone as well.  I reluctantly agreed that she should take it to a fix-it man down the road. The following day the PC arrived back in the house. It had only cost 75 quid to fix which seemed a bargain.

That was until I discovered what had happened to my PC. Basically all this idiot had done was format the C drive and reinstall windows from scratch. No checking to see what was on the drive or anything, just: Format C: and then Install.

That drive had our whole life on it:  all our photos, our music collection, the company accounts, my book, my next blog post and this moron didn’t even bother to check or call or anything.  A few years ago this would have been the end of the world as we know it but because I use an on-line backup service now all my data still exists up there somewhere in the clouds. What it is though is a real pain in the arse.  There are 120 Gigabytes of data which I now have to download and restore to its rightful place on my PC and  my monthly download limit is only 50. It’s going to take a month or two to get it all back.

That is the one and only time that anyone other than me is going to work on my PC.

There is a lot less hedge in the world today.

Oh yes, that’s right and it’s mostly because I spent the day cutting mine down. I guess right now you might be asking yourself: What the hell has that got to do with alligators?

Well my new Black and Decker electric Alligator Lopper turned up and, of course, I just had to go out and play with it. It’s a wonderful thing, it’s bright and orange with chunky steel jaws and a set of gnarly whirling teeth; it can chew the branch off a tree in the blink of an eye.

A chainsaw for pussies I hear you say. Well if it is, then yes I’m a pussy. There was a time, when I was much younger, that I would think nothing of messing about with chainsaws. But now? Not on your nelly! It’s the idea of me, or worse, one of my kids cleaving off a limb; it’s the fear of hearing the sound of steel pulverising bone or seeing blood and flesh being sprayed across the garden… You get the point. Besides I can’t be arsed to go out and buy Kevlar jeans and steel toe-capped boots just to trim the hedge.

Well, the alligator thing is great. It purrs through branches in a couple of seconds, ones which would have taken five minutes or so with a bow saw. I’m dead impressed. My wife however; is not. I do have to concede that in some places I might have got a bit carried away with things. There are some parts that don’t really resemble a hedge any more and would be better described as a palisade of stumps, but to be honest I’m not that worried.  It’s Laurel and it will grow back.

Laurel is a brute of a plant, you turn your back and it will grow two feet, and my back has been turned for at least five years. It has grown so huge in fact that that it was beginning to create its own weather. It wasn’t as large as the Great Hedge of India which at its peak in 1878 was over eight hundred miles long and almost cut the country in two. That Hedge was built by the British and was used as an impenetrable Customs barrier so they could tax shipments of salt and sugar within the territory.  My one, although somewhat smaller than that, formed an impenetrable barrier to sunlight and now it has been curtailed the amount of light flooding into the garden is amazing. Even the leeks in the vegetable patch are squinting.

Twenty years from now nobody will remember the iPhone. Take it from me I know.

So if you write them into your novel pretty soon it’s gonna sound dated.  No matter how good it is, there’ll be this tiny voice in your reader’s mind saying: ‘Isn’t that a bit naff?’ It’ll be a bit like watching one of those awful 80s movies. You know the ones. They go shopping and start doing a stupid dance routine while they try on embarrassing clothes.

If you are writing fiction set in the present day it’s hard not to have your peeps checking their text messages, looking up stuff on the web or playing angry birds; but do they have to do it with a Macbook Air?  What’s wrong with using a laptop?

Okay, I’m being a bit didactic. It’s not that simple is it? The way I see it some things are acceptable and some things aren’t. Brett Easton Ellis used Patrick’s obsession with label and brand as a theatrical device and it worked. It got on my nerves but it worked; and some technology brands have woven themselves so deftly into the fabric of our lives that they are indistinguishable from other nouns or verbs: hoover, tweet or google anyone? But iPhone 4? I don’t think so. What’s that going to sound like when Apple are bought out by some small start-up from San Salvador and are renamed Paw Paw?

Harry Potter was absolutely fine zooming around on his Nimbus 2000 cos no-one’s making them anyway so they can’t go obsolete but Lisbeth Salander’s iBook 600 with 420 megs of ram was dated before the book even came out. She might as well have been wearing shoulder pads underneath that perm. You see when a character does anything else, like wears a suit or walks into a bar it’s timeless. You can either update it in your mind’s eye or you can project it back to the time it was set. But old technology? In my book that’s a bit naff.

What do you think?