Words and Pictures

Earlier this year, I responded to a request by MMU photography student Danielle Ridyard, who was looking for writers to take part in her degree project. Writers were asked to create a brief poem or prose piece inspired by her striking images of ‘found objects’ – things and fragments of things that she’d discovered around the apartment block where she lives. I was intrigued by the idea – even more so, when my image arrived and I had no idea what it might be. But very quickly, I saw that it could embody so many different ideas and images, and before I knew it, a (tiny) story had emerged.
Danielle’s degree show apparently went splendidly and last week, a beautifully presented booklet appeared through my letterbox; it was my little story, entitled ‘Tooth’. I feel very grateful to have played a part in Danielle’s project. She’s intending to sell work from her exhibition (including ‘Tooth’) at the Annual Artist Book Fair at Manchester Metropolitan University this November.

So I’ve been thinking about photographs.
When I wrote ‘How We Were Lost’, my pc was surrounded by old seaside holiday snaps. During ‘Before the Light’, I’ve referred to pictures we’ve taken when out walking in the Peak District. I’ve also pored over ‘Twilight: Photography in the Magic Hour’ for its wonderfully atmospheric images.
However, none of these pictures are described directly in my stories – but (as with Danielle’s photo), they’ve often provided a starting point, from which ideas and feelings, and other images could grow.
For me, so much about writing seems to be about making and remaking vivid pictures.

In other picture-related news, the fabulous Nikki Pinder, responsible for ‘How We Were Lost’s stunning cover art, is taking part in a joint art exhibition at the Islington Arts Centre. The exhibition runs from August 8th to September 5th. Check it out, if you can . . .

Walking and Writing

If I get stuck with my writing, even briefly, or if I’m about to begin a new story, chapter or scene, I like to go for a walk. A thinking walk.

Most of the time when I’m walking, a story will seem to simply unfold. Something loosens between the footsteps and the daydreaming. I’ll hear voices or picture a scene where before I was only wondering. Often, these ideas will feel as if they’ve arrived from nowhere, or from out of the trees, or from the sky. Or even from the tarmac. It’s a bit like magic.

In Nottingham, one of my favourite places to walk is Wollaton Park, especially early in the morning when only the crows and the deer are about. When I’m back in London, it’s Greenwich Park (I really like parks) because my childhood is very powerfully there. Sometimes it feels as if my small, secret writing self is waiting for me, ready to help, in Greenwich Park’s rose garden, or by the ducks.

I know I’m not alone on this one. In her essay Walking into the Story the fabulous Helen Dunmore explores the subject far more eloquently than I ever could. While in The Faith of a Writer the amazingly prolific and generally amazing Joyce Carol Oates confesses that walking doesn’t work so well for her. She runs instead.

More about Stories

I’m still thinking about short stories, about how they’re often neglected and about how truly stunning they can be.

For me, Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party’ is a perfect, enduring classic, while Clare Wigfall’s ‘The Loudest Sound and Nothing’ blew me away last year. Other collections I’ve loved include Salinger’s ‘For Esme – with Love and Squalor’, Nicholas Royle’s ‘Mortality’, Atwood’s ‘Bluebeard’s Egg’ and a huge amount of Ellen Gilchrist‘s fiction . . .

There are several short story champions around at the moment. Salt publishing have recently launched their dynamic Story Bank , which I’ll definitely be investigating, while I’m currently reading Laura Solomon’s dark and lively collection ‘Alternative Medicine’ (published by the ever-supportive and innovative Flame Books). For further excellent general short story information, visit, where among other things, you can find Raymond Carver’s brilliant essay, ‘Principles of a Story’.

I would love to hear about the short stories you’ve enjoyed . . .

In other news –

I’m July’s ‘Guest Writer’ on John Holding’s great new Fictionfest website! If you visit the site you can read my (guess what?! another short story!) ‘On the Island’.

Plus! The book I nominated, ‘Monkey Beach’, Eden Robinson’s beautiful, layered debut novel has been included on Gary Smailes’ excellent ‘One Book’ site.