Wind Resistance

The Artist Fights Back..? Being a long-time fan of the music of Karine Polwart and finding her performing a solo show at the Lyceum, Edinburgh, a literal stone’s throw from Vanishing Point’s Tabula Rasa at the Traverse, the decision of how to spend Saturday afternoon in Scotland’s capital was easy. First things first – Wind…

I had a lot of lovely emails about Snow. And then there was this…

I post here, verbatim, the entire text of an email I received about my book Snow. I’m posting it as it shows what we’re up against, in some cases, in discussing climate change. Incidentally, there were no opening or closing formalities or pleasantries, there was just this. “Enjoy”. — London, in 1665, an epidemic began….

I made a playlist of snowy songs in lieu of the real thing.

It opens with the music the BBC used for the Radio 4 adaptation of Snow, as Book of the Week, and closes with a song written especially for the book by the excellent Bookshop Band. In between are some pieces of music I mention in the book, as well as some of my favourite other…

The final flake of snow

My short book on snow is being read on Radio 4 this week, and it sounds more like an elegy than ever. I wrote the text over a five months period, through the winter of 2015. The news of climate change throughout 2016 only serves to reinforce the underlying theme of the book – the warming of…

Top Ten Books about Borders

This article first appeared in The Guardian, October 19th 2016. A border is a question. In fact, a border poses a whole series of implied questions; such as “can you cross me?”, “will you cross me?”, “what am I doing here in the first place?” and maybe most importantly: “Will you be someone else on the other side?”…

The Enigma of Snowflakes

This post first appeared on the Waterstones’ blog.  There’s a scene in my favourite book, Thomas Mann’s epic The Magic Mountain, in which the protagonist, a young patient at a Tuberculosis sanatorium named Hans Castorp, is caught in a snowstorm on a mountain and nearly freezes to death. This is no great surprise, because Hans…

So many skulls, so little time…

Being a quick photo tour of Mexican skeletal iconography… It possibly all started with these guys: On the left, we have Mictecacihuatl, and on the right, Mictlantecuhtli, goddess and god of death to the Aztecs. They weren’t the only deities of death for the Aztecs, but were the most prominent. They don’t look so skeletal here, but here’s…

My 6 favourite European novels

I am supposed to be working on something else (quite urgent) this morning, but the open letter from Mr B’s Emporium of Books has urged me to write this post instead, because nothing else seems as urgent right now. (This post is unashamedly personal, and contains public displays of political affiliation, as well as affection). –…

In Defence of the Young

This post first appeared at Project UKYA. One quarter of The Ghosts of Heaven takes place in pre-history, and features a young woman on the verge of making the connection between the spoken word and making a mark. When she does, she will effectively have invented writing, one of the cornerstones of human civilisation. I’ve…

Jane Austen, fantasy fiction and the morals of our children

A slightly edited version of this article first appeared in The Independent. The children of Britain are sliding into a terrifying quagmire of moral abandon. Or so certain commentators would have us believe. Joanna Trollope’s remarks that fantasy stories give children little moral guidance (Sunday Times, 6.10.13) echo those of Michael Gove back in May,…

Patron of Reading: aka, I must have grown up somewhere along the way

I just made the first visit to a brand new school, Cambourne Village College, just outside Cambridge. I accepted their offer to become ‘Patron of Reading’ for this academic year, a title which makes me think I must have become a grown-up somewhere along my journey. Not that I noticed. I was delighted to receive…

An incident that occurred in my shed this morning…

I record here verbatim an incident that occurred this morning as I was settling down to write. My book: Back off, will you?Me: Er, sorry, what..?My book: I think you heard.Me: Well, yes. Actually I did. And since you bring it up, I’ve been meaning, that is, I’ve been wanting to, er, have a word…