The other week we met a man who sells ‘ballast water management systems’ to shipping operators.

A challenge with global shipping, he told us, is that big vessels tend to dredge a lot of marine biology into their ballast tanks as they cross the world’s oceans. This means ships can easily introduce invasive species to new areas when they dump their ballast before docking.

I said I hadn’t really imagined this could be a thing, and that it sounded like interesting work. The salesman smiled and told us that because all this stuff happens beneath the surface – because you can’t see it – people just don’t think about it. ‘But the pump pipes have openings like this,’ he said, and held his arms out wide. ‘And the tanks can hold a lot of creatures.’

I asked him if they simply put a mesh on the inlets, or installed some kind of filtration equipment.

‘No,’ he said, and paused. ‘We just kill everything with chemicals.’

The conversation fizzled a bit after that. But I did come away with a reminder that you can find science fiction in almost anything.

Anyway: happy new year!

Saying sorry

Writers’ loved ones are the world’s most patient people — after taxi drivers in the arrivals lounge, anyway. They really deserve so much better than the crap they get served by writers in full-blown writing mode, word-wangling somewhere up their own W-hole.

Here’s a customisable letter of apology the average writer can use to start building bridges with their nearest and dearest.

Dear [housemate / parent / husband / wife / girlfriend / boyfriend / child / neglected pet]

I’m writing to say sorry for writing. I know you think my withdrawal from [our relationship / the normal world / this plane of consciousness / sociable activities / your needs] is because I’m moody or fed up with you or something. Well, I’m not. Truth is, it’s all because I realised (please choose all that apply):

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If there is hope in this novel – and I think there is – it lies in the resilience of Manchester and its people – people like Brian – in their refusal to have others run their lives for them. The one thing Brian will not let go of is his love for Manchester, and from time to time, through his eyes, we glimpse moments of a future in which the broken city he calls his home will rise from its ashes.

— from Nina Allan’s brilliant review of THE FOLDED MAN. (One I’ll really, really treasure.)

What goes up


After cosmic launches in Waterstones and Daunt Books, I’ve had a few quiet days to smile about everything in the world, ever.

Now the book’s out, surreal is the main theme: it’s done, it’s out, it’s on its way. It’s in people’s hands — a few strangers’ hands, even. And there are so many lovely things to replay; to feel so lucky about. Walking to Daunt Books in posho west London and seeing that window display was trippy, dizzying. Heading into Deansgate Manchester — where I’ve always daydreamed about having a book on a shelf — and being shown to our event room… The amazing Caroline Smailes interviewing me.

And then you read back over your messages. I’m so flipping grateful for the support, the tweets, the emails I got, and for the reviews it’s had already — here in The List, here on Litro, here on Craig Stone’s blog, a few kind souls on Amazon. (While we’re at it, I’m over on Caroline’s blog talking about Manchester, too.)

But there’s a little but. There’s a slight comedown. A tiny weeny bit of fear about how certain people will take it. There’s also a question: What next? Because loitering behind this screen there’s another novel waiting to be finished. The feeling that this one’s sailed, but there’s another broken ship waiting in the dock.

Anyway, I’d go on some more, but Laura Lam already nailed it all down in a beautifully frank blog post this week. So have a gander at that instead.

First review

… takes aspects of many genres and combines them with staccato sentences that punch with such precision that the experience of reading the novel borders on the delirious. Quite simply, The Folded Man reads like Coetzee with ADHD.

Dan Ellis, probably better known as @utterbiblio, has written a belting review of THE FOLDED MAN for Litro magazine. Dan gets right into the guts of the book (bad language, aggression and nastiness included) and comes out the other side with some very lovely stuff to say. ‘Chuffed to bits’ doesn’t really cover it.

A wild book appears



For a smallish lump of squashed, sliced, graffitied tree, this beautiful-looking thing causes one of the weirdest feelings. Or even twelve of them at the same time: chufties, relief, embarrassment, hope, fear, pride, anxiety, awkwardness, gratefulness, nakedness, bewilderment, gratitude.

To be honest I’m still waiting for Jeremy Beadle to bob over and show me where all the hidden cameras are. But if he doesn’t show up, there will be wine. So come and help me launch the bugger at Waterstones Deansgate, Manchester on 16th May, or Daunt Books Holland Park, London on 22nd May. I’ll be there, pretending as though I have a single clue what I’m doing.

Seven more ways to fool yourself into writing

Pretty much exactly two years ago I wrote a little post about nine things you can do to get yourself in the mood for writing.

It’s taken about that long to think up some more. But since writing is like MRSA – grows resilient to the same old tactics, and then kills you with cigarettes, alcohol, or collapsing shelves, depending on how successful you are – I reckon it’s good to stay on your toes.

So: here are seven more ways to trick yourself into writing.

Don’t tell anyone what you’re writing

You know those things you do when nobody looks? That you’d criticise someone for doing if you caught them?

I mean things like picking your nose, or fiddling around with your genitals.

That’s how writing should be.

Writing should be a dirty little habit that no one catches you doing. That makes you feel a bit good and a bit naughty and even a bit shameful if it’s truthful. Writing isn’t meant to be glamorous. It’s a process. It’s like rolling around in tonnes of letter-y shit for months on end. So be the pig, stop worrying if it doesn’t feel amazing all the time, and get stuck in.

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100 RPM

Not long back, Caroline Smailes put out a submission call for 100-word pieces of fiction inspired by songs on the YouTubes. Every penny from the resulting anthology would go to One in Four – an important charity that supports victims of sexual abuse and violence.

From today, you can buy the finished anthology as an e-book from Amazon. It’s called 100 RPM; it features handsome Mr Kershaw from the 1980s; and in there you’ll find a hundred stories including ‘Toilet Reading’ by me, which is mainly about moles, but not those little buggers who ruin lawns.

My story draws inspiration from The Rat, by The Walkmen, which is a prickly song that reminds me of a prickly person. But it’s not mine you should download 100 RPM for: this is a sparkling collection and it’s well worth your quids. Or quid.