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What binds families together? What drives them apart?
These are questions investment banker Alex Wold starts pondering when, on his way back from a meeting one day, he finds himself standing up to his waist in water in the Thames, trying to guide a lost bottlenose whale back out to the sea. Later, as he's drying out his suit and shoes, the news comes through that Tony Nolan, his parents’ wealthy neighbour – and his mother’s ex-husband – has died of a sudden heart attack.
Alex wonders if the universe is urging him to resolve a long-running feud with his environmentalist brother Matthew, and with the Wolds and the Nolans all heading back to Warwickshire for Tony’s funeral he now has an opportunity to do just that. Unfortunately he finds Matthew as angry and obstreperous as ever. Most concerning is his continued obsession with Caitlin Nolan, Tony’s daughter, the teenage sweetheart who dumped him after he left school, driving him to drop out of university.
Fifteen years on, and Matthew has not been able to let Caitlin go. But Caitlin has other things than Matthew on her mind: her father’s death, her problematic relationship with her mother, her raging cocaine addiction, and the sudden appearance of the black sheep of the Nolan clan, her half-brother Jamie, whom she has not seen since, well since around the time she started dating Matthew.
And then Caitlin does something that forces both families to take an uncomfortable journey back into their past.
What actually happened between Caitlin and Matthew? Why exactly did Jamie fall out with his father and run off to South America? And what is really at the heart of Matthew’s hatred of his brother?
Born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1968, James Flint is the author of three novels and one book of short stories. In 1998 Time Out magazine called his first book, Habitus, "probably the best British fiction début of the last five years," and when it was published in France it was judged one of the top five foreign novels of 2002. His second novel, 52 Ways to Magic America, claimed the Amazon.co.uk award for the year 2000, and his third, The Book of Ash, won an Arts Council Writers Award and was described by the Independent's leading literary critic as "a bold British counterpart to DeLillo's Underworld."
In 2002 his short story The Nuclear Train was adapted for Channel 4 television; he has had a long involvement with Port Eliot Festival and curated the film tent there for several years; and his journalism has appeared in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, Sight & Sound, Time Out, The Times, The Independent, Arena, The Economist, Dazed & Confused and many others. From 2009-2012 he was Editor-in-Chief of the Telegraph Weekly World Edition, and he is currently the co-founder and CEO of the health communications start-up Hospify.
Alex Wold found out about Tony Nolan’s death at the end of an already tumultuous week. First had come the confirmation of his wife Mia’s second pregnancy. Great news, wonderful news, another person in the world, another child. Mia seemed happy, he was happy. The usual hurdles had yet to be overcome, of course. But Mia was healthy, sensible and strong, and Alex didn’t doubt that Rufus would soon have a baby brother or sister to keep him company, and that he himself would be heading up a family unit that was solid and foursquare.
A couple of days after the test had shown up positive, he’d been travelling back along Embankment in a taxi when something strange occurred. The traffic had come to a complete standstill. This would not have been at all unusual if it were not for the fact that alongside the hold-up the entire pavement was jammed with people all of whom, for no reason that Alex could readily perceive, were looking out towards the river.
Incapable of sitting by while something interesting was happening, Alex abandoned the cab and insinuated his way into the crowd until he reached the concrete parapet that ran along the water’s edge. The tide was out and people were also gathered on the slick mud banks that had emerged; one man, dressed in a dark blue fleece, was even standing up to his waist in the water itself.
All eyes were on three small boats that bobbed in an awkward configuration a few dozen yards from the shore. Why, Alex didn’t know.
He bent his head to the schoolboy standing next to him.
“What’s going on?”
“There’s a whale.”
“In the river. There’s a whale. It’s come in from the sea.”
Another boy, dressed like his companion in creased black trousers, battered black trainers, and a sky-blue hoodie with his school’s logo on the back, was eager to prove he knew all about it too.
“’S got lost. It must’ve swum in from the ocean by mistake. They’re trying to get it back before it swims onto the mud and gets stuck. It was up by the Houses of Parliament before, so it’s going back I think.”
Alex glanced from water to boy and back again. As his gaze travelled to the river for the second time a javelin of water squirted into the air about fifty metres from where he stood. At its base he could just make out a blowhole, set in its square of rubber sheen, opening and closing vulvically. Once, twice, three times it gasped, and on the third respiration a rhombus of flesh, dark as the mudflats, broke the surface a car’s length away. There it was. The whale.
For possibly the first time since he’d joined Sovereign Brothers eight years before, Alex’s mind stopped chewing on the matter of his next trade. Pushing back through the bodies he worked his way around to a stone staircase that led down onto the beach. He had a fight to descend – the steps were crammed – but with a combination of elbows and excuse-mes and a little aid from gravity, the slime left by the retreating waters was soon sucking at his hand-stitched leather loafers and oozing its way through the turn-ups of his bespoke wool flannel suit.
It was a perfect January day. The spokes of the Millennium wheel shone with the glycerine light of the low winter sun. Big Ben stood cold and proud above the traffic, rendered timeless by the refrigerated air. News helicopters hovered at the old clock’s shoulders like winged familiars, their spinning rotors patiently processing the steaming sky, almost but not quite achieving thought. And the river shone beneath the Victorian arches of the bridges, and grinned and gurgled at their slowly slackening grip upon the world.
In the midst of all this beauty the whale seemed like hope, like a conciliatory messenger sent upstream by the senate of the seas. Here they were, the people of England, Alex among them, gathering to greet it, to embrace it, to send it back to from whence it came with tidings of peace and love. Festival was in the air. People were happy and amazed. People were good, the universe was good. Today had become one of those rare days on which the laws of combat were suspended and, for a brief period, death was not the truth of things.
Alex was swept up by it all in a manner he hadn’t experienced for years. Perhaps it was the news of his second child finally sinking in, perhaps it was just the energy of the moment, but standing here on the chilly silver mudflats he felt alive with enthusiasm, abuzz in root and branch. He felt – wow – he felt young. Not that he’d noticed feeling old, particularly, but until this moment he hadn’t realised quite how tuneless his existence had become. The brushed steel lifts and glass-sided corridors of the investment bank’s offices in Aldgate, the enervating, dehydrating hours he spent in business class, the long list now of deals and trades that had seemed so exciting at the start but now felt automatic, with even the double-plays and kick-backs hardwired into their routines… he was tiring of it, and had been working so hard that he hadn’t noticed the tiredness creeping in.
It was a pitfall of finance. You spent so much time living in the future, so much time planning for the day when you cashed in your chips and walked away to pursue a more pleasurable lifestyle that you forgot to enjoy the money you were so assiduously making. And then by the time you did walk away the stress and the fifteen hour days had destroyed your health so much that you were already half dead. This was how you became a grey man, Alex reflected, on and on, round and round until your life was summed up by a spreadsheet... and you were felled by cancer or a coronary aged fifty-five. That was Alex Wold, class of ’91, a good guy and NPV(A) = (1-(1+r)-n)P/r. That was how you lost your soul.
He should have noticed when sex with Mia, the beautiful Mia, had started to become perfunctory, when his libido had begun to leaf back through a few pages from the secret diaries of the bad old days. The black Filofax, as his main man Freddie Winston, currently making serious money over at HSBC, liked to refer to it. Only idle, that leafing, only a perusal, but it was a warning sign, a vulnerability indicator, and he’d have done well to pay it more attention that he did.
So he emailed Patricia from his Blackberry, instructed her to reschedule his meetings for that afternoon, and turned his attention to the four tonnes of eternity now thrashing and bobbing in a panicked spiral thirty metres from the water’s edge.
The whale didn’t disappoint. Alex had never been this close to one before. He’d waited in the restaurant on the quay that one time in Montauk when he’d had the opportunity. He’d wanted to go on the boat trip, but he knew from bitter experience he had no sea legs and so stayed and ordered beer and chowder while Mary and Doug from Sovereign’s New York office made the trip without him. Both of them gone now, in the Twin Towers, while he’d been cavorting with Mia on a beach in Brazil. Christ. What a waste. The memory of the two of them, of that weekend in Long Island, was suddenly physical, a ferrous taste around the tongue, a real lump in the throat.
Then the bottlenose broke the water and triggered Samuel Barber’s Agnes Dei, one of the pieces Alex favoured when he needed to float his mind free of the hopeless matrix of sclerotic rush-hour roads, to start playing unbidden in his head as clearly as if he was listening to it while sitting in his Porsche.
His reverie continued while the whale breathed and disappeared. When it surfaced a second time, perhaps half as distant as before, the people on the parapet started shouting: “Go back! Go back!” and the man waist-deep in the water began to splash and wave his arms. Before he knew what he was doing, Alex was plunging forward into the river himself. Cheers went up behind him as, one shoe already sucked from his foot, he pushed into the oily swirl, lungs constricting as the ancient river licked hungrily at his legs. Gasping, he made fists of his hands, set his jaw and strode on, seven strides, eight, until he drew level with the other man.
“Come to help?” the stranger said cheerily, as if they were standing in the park, trying to launch a kite.
“Yes, I suppose so,” answered Alex, his voice weaker than usual in the face of the Thames. “What’s the plan?”
“Trying to keep the fella from beaching himself on the mud. This here’s the edge of the bank. After that it drops off pretty fast.” He grinned. “I don’t recommend you go any further out, in other words. I did, and it nearly did for me.” He pointed to a high water mark that ran across his fleece at the level of his armpits. “There’s quite an undertow.”
Alex could feel it even now, tugging at his feet. The famously fatal current, responsible for dragging so many thousands to their deaths: swimmers, suicides, drunken boatmen, unwary children, foolish dogs and luckless rats and scaredy cats… and maybe even the odd whale.
This one though, this one they were going to save. He could feel it. He’d saved many things in his career. Once he’d saved an entire pension fund through a spectacularly audacious piece of hedging, securing his first six-figure bonus in the process – nice work if you can get it. He’d lost things too, of course, though he’d learned to brush these to one side. There had been some moral compunction in the beginning – the first time he’d asset-stripped a business, a family-owned re-tooling operation, he still remembered that one, the awful calls and letters from the eldest son. Or the time he’d suppressed a damning health and safety report on a chemical plant outside of Merthyr Tydfil in order to maintain the share price. But the culture at Sovereign Brothers was focussed on the bigger picture. They knew, and soon he knew too, that the world was at war. The fleets and armies were companies and banks and brands and corporations, and Britain’s survival as a nation depended on her ability to keep marshalling her forces as effectively as her numerous competitors marshalled theirs. There was no time for sentiment. No quarter could be given.
This thought reminded Alex of a conversation with his first boss at the investment bank, a veteran fund manager called Peter Bedway who had built his reputation (and considerable fortune) on the basis of his successful reading of the post Big Bang boom. Alex had been working under his supervision for about a year when the press began to fluster about a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan. This was significant, because the fund that Alex was helping to co-ordinate was, at that time, very exposed to Taiwanese steel.
“Why aren’t we getting out?” he had finally demanded of his superior, as the sabre rattling had been ratcheted up to what was in his eyes an unbearable level of intensity.
“There won’t be a war,” Bedway had replied.
“How can you be so sure? There are troop movements on the mainland, the Americans have evidence of missiles being retargeted…”
“There won’t be a war.”
“I don’t see how you can claim to know that.”
Bedway turned from his screen and stared at Alex with his disarmingly languid, almost bovine gaze. “Tell me something,” he said. “What’s the price of rice been doing the last twelve months?”
Alex hesitated, then bashed a few words into his keyboard and hit return. A matrix of figures flashed up. He ran his eye down the relevant column.
“Exactly. So no war.”
Alex looked blank.
“Look. China, despite being the world’s largest rice producer, has so many mouths to feed that it’s a net importer of rice. If it were to invade Taiwan there’d been an international outcry and in all likelihood the UN would impose sanctions, making it very hard for China to buy rice. Even if they didn’t, sellers would start charging a premium, knowing that the Chinese would have no choice but to pay. The Chinese government understands this, and would therefore be buying extra rice to stockpile against that eventuality. That would be pushing up the global price – not a lot, maybe, if they were doing it carefully, but a bit. But the price has been relatively stable. So the Chinese are not buying rice, even surreptitiously. Ergo: no war.”
There was something priestly about Bedway. He was quite a short man, with a delicate frame and a large head, what was left of his hair cropped so short as to make him effectively bald. He wore expensive suits but because of his size they seemed not to quite fit him, which lent him a monkish air and contributed to his slightly pious aura. He lived and breathed Sovereign Brothers and was often in the office till two or three in the morning then back in at seven, and as he actively enjoyed the denial of self this entailed it was an example he assumed, as a general rule mistakenly, that others were happy to follow.
Alex had been impressed by him and scared by him in turns. Bedway apparently derived all his personal satisfaction from his job. He was a vegetarian and even at big social events had never been known to drink more than a single glass of wine of an evening. And then, boom, one day he had died from a massive stroke aged – guess what? Fifty-five. To cap it off, it had happened in the office. The cleaners had found him late one night, slumped back in his Aero chair, his expressionless face illuminated by the prices from the Nikkei still ticking across his Bloomberg screen. All that calm... in the end it turned out to be little more than bottled stress. It was a cautionary tale.
There was a roar and the water burst apart and the whale surfaced a mere three metres in front of Alex like a U-Boat from one of the many war films he’d watched as child. The animal’s hide was so taut, so perfect and plastic, that it didn’t seem possible that it belonged to anything alive.
“Go on,” said the fleece man in a sensible voice, loud but calm and firm. “Back you go.” At the same time he rattled the water with his palms, an action which Alex, coming forward now, began to imitate. It felt ludicrous, standing there flapping at this miraculous beast as if it were a farmyard cow, but it was having an effect and instead of coming further towards the bank the whale slowed, raised its beak at the two men, and cawed almost like a bird. Alex had only ever heard one thing like it before in his life: the first sound that Rufus had made when he was born. Suddenly this creature from nightmares, from other dimensions and dark, undiscovered lagoons, was something that he understood. Tears stung his eyes.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s alright.”
But the whale didn’t think so. It cried again and raised its tail and with slap that would have felled a bigger man than Alex it cuffed the water and propelled itself away in a violent curve. And so back it went towards the centre of the river.
As the molten body passed Alex reached out his hand and touched the creature’s flank. Just a second’s contact, but it was enough. The eely body felt elemental, felt like fire, and it heated him enough to stay standing sentry in the water for another hour. By the time he got home late that afternoon, however, he was shivering. His Blackberry had been rendered useless by the water so he hadn’t called ahead, and Mia couldn’t believe it when he slopped into the hallway, carrying his ruined loafers in his hand.
He spent the next hour regaling a slightly bewildered Rufus with the tale of his adventure and following the whale’s progress on Sky News. Mia was hardly less bewildered than the three-year old. She thought it greatly out of character, this sudden sentimental concern her husband was displaying for the welfare of an animal. And now here he was, absconding from work and risking drowning and exposure to goodness knew what admixture of water-borne diseases. It was out of the ordinary, to say the least.
- 28th January 2019 Midland launched on the Thames
well, the long journey that began back in January 2006 is finally over. The Midland paperback was launched on Friday night from Pier House, the beautiful little community centre belonging to Hermitage Moorings, constructed on a pontoon just east of Tower Bridge.
Friends and family gathered to eat sushi and raise a glass or three, and the incredible Harry Harris came all the way…9th December 2018 Midland is out there... plus launch party details
and the very best of the season to you all. As many of you will know, copies of the hardback of Midland have been mailed out in the last week or two, and so if you pledged for a copy you should have received yours by now. If you haven't, do check your account to double check your address and follow up with Unbound if there has been a problem.
The books look absolutely…2nd August 2018 Last opportunity to pledge for Midland!
just a quick one to let you that the Midland funding drive will formally end at midnight on August 14th. The book is finished, proofed and copy-edited, the cover is designed and finalised, the blurbs are written, and soon the whole package will be sent off to the Unbound mountain to be carved into giant marble tablets for our descendants to ponder and squabble over for aeons to come…5th June 2018 My work here is done
Finally, it's done. Last weekend I sent over the final round of corrections for the page proofs, and so ended a journey I began back in January 2006, in that dreamy era when Facebook was not yet a thing and Mark Zuckerberg wasn't a multi-billionaire and social media hadn't resculpted the media world as we know it. Well, Zuck may have made enough money to make a Rothschild blush in the time it's taken…19th April 2018 Page proofs are here... and early ideas for the cover
I came home last night to find a hefty package in the hallway... the page proofs of Midland! It's always an exciting moment in the life of a book when these arrive, as it's the last chance the author gets to check over the text. It's both a hello to the book as it's actually going to look, and a goodbye to the work - when these pages go back along with any red marks I make on them, that really…28th March 2018 Progress report... and moving to Medium
as you may - or may not - have noticed, I haven't posted on this blog for a while. That's partly because the work on Midland is now tailing off. The book is now funded, of course, so I've less reason to bang on about it, and as you'll know if you read my last post, I put the finishing touches to the final draft at Christmas. Over the last couple of months the Unbound team have therefore…2nd January 2018 Happy new year, from Midland
A couple of months ago I had the final set of editorial notes on Midland from my editor at Unbound, Rachael Kerr, and I've spent the relatively distraction-free lull between Christmas and New Year working hard on the final draft. It's always tricky to know when you've finished a book, especially one that's taken twelve years to write, but I'm pretty sure that it's now done.
There were quite a few…2nd November 2017 Habitus histories - fabulous fanmail and peculiar premonitions
I know, I know, I haven't posted for a while. I've been very fully occupied getting Hospify up and running now that we've closed seed funding and pushing on with my machine learning course, about which more at some point in the not-to-distant future, though the future never seems very distant, these days. In fact, it seems like it's been here for a while.
But in the midst of all that,…28th September 2017 You wait two years for a funding round to complete, then two close at once
For the last couple of years, as you all know, I’ve been slowly but steadily raising the funds to publish Midland with Unbound. Thanks to your incredible kindness, patience and support, that day is finally here. It’s been one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do, has taken twice as long as I thought it would, and has shown me what an incredible set of friends I have out there.
Thank…11th July 2017 81% funded - and a song to celebrate
Well, we're not far off now. Last week I did a big push out to all my connections on LinkedIn, and a lot of people were very generous and gave the campaign a big boost, carrying it over the 80% mark. It really feels like we're getting some momentum now. I'm almost getting demob happy!
I wanted to post something suitable to celebrate, and I thought this video of Stephen and Hannah O'Driscoll playing…27th May 2017 I knew that trading course I did would come in handy
As you’ll know if you’ve read the opening section of Midland on my Unbound homepage, one of book's lead characters is an investment banker. Midland is in many ways a book about money - or debt, to be more precise - and the story is set shortly before the financial crash of 2008. So, in the interests of research, and because I’ve had a long-standing interest in the financial markets and found myself…11th May 2017 Francis Upritchard returns to the Venice Biennale... and you can still pick up her work at a bargain price via Midland!
I was really pleased to see an email from the Kate MacGarry gallery fly into my inbox yesterday, carrying the news that my friend and supporter the artist Francis Upritchard will be exhibiting at this year's Venice Biennale (I think Makiko, pictured above, will be part of the show). It will be Francis's second appearance in Venice - she represented New Zealand at the 53rd Biennale in 2009 - and…25th April 2017 Click here for prescience (with free shipping till Sunday)
I’ve been thinking about prescience recently. Or maybe that should be: I was thinking presciently some time ago.
One of the two. Or both.
Two events combined to trigger this. The first was a cocktail-fuelled conversation with the latest maniac - ehm, I mean Midland supporter - to sign up for my crazy-arse “come fly with me” parajet funding option. He lives in New York, and after the third Manhattan…22nd March 2017 The newsletter newsletter
The news this week that HSBC has been involved in laundering Russian money will come as little surprise to any habituees of the Midland Shed who read the section of the novel (“Gull”) that I circulated to pledgers in February. “Gull” makes heavy reference to HSBC’s money laundering activities in the Caribbean, well-documented over the last few years by Private Eye.
Thinking about news - as I have…7th March 2017 We had a night of incredible music, got to look astonishingly moody and cool - and raised £100!
What a night! I'm in awe of the incredible musicians who turned out to help support Midland at Ryan's Bar in Stoke Newington on Saturday - and in awe of the audience who turned out, bought entry tickets (and raffle tickets) and generally gave their support.
First up was singer-songwriter Jeremy Tuplin, who laced the little basement venue with a series of darkly funny ballads.
The next act…13th February 2017 Midland Benefit Gig, Saturday 4th March: The Full SP
This picture is from the cover of Will Phipps’ wonderful new album Fly Away, Crazy Days. It would also make a pretty good cover for Midland, given the book’s themes of flying, loss and escape.
Fitting then, that Will is going to playing the Midland benefit gig at the excellent Ryan’s Bar in Stoke Newington on Saturday March 4th.
And it’s not just Will. He’ll be joined by singer-songwriter…4th February 2017 Alternative Valentine's Day now confirmed for Saturday March 4th
It's on, it's off, it's on again... is it one of Donald Trump's executive orders? NO! It's the "Midland Alternative Valentine's Day Benefit Gig in partnership with (which is to say, completely organised by) Hackney School of Folk" (to give it its full title).
And it is now absolutely definitely 100% confirmed to take place on Saturday March 4th at the lovely Ryan’s Bar in Stoke Newington Church…23rd January 2017 Alternative Valentine's Day... now even more alternative!
Remember that post I pinned up here in the Shed back in December, telling you to keep 4th February free coz there was going to be a special alternative Valentine's Day gig-type thing happening up in Stoke Newington to raise money for Midland?
Yeah, well... in the tradition of all the best Valentine's Day dates, turns out we couldn't get the venue we wanted, EVEN THOUGH WE WERE DOING OUR…16th January 2017 The canal that led me to the real Harry Potter and a small pot of gold
This post is dedicated to the memory of Tim Edsall, a Midland pledger whose energy and enthusiasm helped me to get this funding project underway, and a very dear friend of both my father and myself. Tim passed away last weekend. He will be sorely missed.
This is the story of two great grandfathers but it was precipitated, as stories about the past so often are, with a new beginning. Back in…5th December 2016 Alternative Valentine's Day... Save the Date!
Forget about Christmas for a moment and cast your mind forward to that most evil of months, February. You know: the month that’s miserable and wretched, from which all the festive warmth has evaporated but upon which spring has yet to make any kind of impression; the month in which despite all that you’re supposed to muster the energy to wow your loved one with a Valentine’s Day surprise and whisk…24th November 2016 STOP PRESS: Midland is now 50% funded!
Well... when I blogged on Monday that I was hoping to hit 50% funded by Christmas, I certainly didn't expect to hit that target within 48 hours. But thanks to the extraordinary generosity of a certain someone who asked me to speak at his cultural event back in October and who signed up for the £1,000 sponsorship pledge just this morning, that has happened.
Halfway to the finish line. It's a big…20th November 2016 Midland Melody
The Shed has been quiet for a while. This is because I’ve had my hands full of late with my new job, Head of Insight at a financial and business news start-up called Curation Corporation, and cranking out stories on the future of technology every day has kept me away from blogging. But my 50% funding level is in sight, and if I’m going to hit that by Christmas (which would be nice), I need to get…18th October 2016 Felix Dennis's Home Movie
I grew up in Warwickshire, where my closest childhood friend was the son of a neighbouring cereal farmer. As a boy I played on the farm and later, as a teenager, I worked on it during the summers, helping get the harvest in. During that time a wealthy businessman invested in the farm, as a result of which it expanded in size tenfold, from 500 acres to around 5000.
A decade or so later the farmer…6th October 2016 On Planning the Writing of the Business of Writing a Business Plan
On Saturday I did an event. I was invited to speak at a cultural evening organised by an economist, and as the audience included people from both business and the arts - and quite a few with backgrounds in both - I gave a talk drawn from my experiences of shuttling between these two worlds. The text of the talk follows below; you can also listen to the presentation (which was recorded on the night…23rd September 2016 On becoming an object of study
It’s official. I’m now an object of academic study - or at least my last novel, The Book of Ash, is. This honour has been bestowed upon me by scholar Dan Grausam, whose paper on Ash has just been published by Edinburgh University Press in a collection titled Cold War Legacies: Systems, Theory, Aesthetics.
The paper is based on a talk Dan originally prepared for an Arts Catalyst…3rd September 2016 Ursula Le Guin hits the publishing nail on the head
This week's news that Ursula K. Le Guin is to receive one of the greatest accolades that can be awarded a living writer and have her work published by the Library of America cheered me immensely. By happy coincidence I've been working my way through the Wizard of Earthsea books this year, and just last week read her classic of political science fiction, The Dispossessed.
But the New York Times…19th August 2016 A Radioactive Round Table (And Some Heavy Metal)
On the way down to this year's Port Eliot Festival I stopped off in Plymouth to check out the Arts Catalyst's Material Nuclear Culture exhibition in the Karst Gallery. This is part of a summer schedule of events in which I'm peripherally involved, and as I was passing I thought I'd drop by to take a look around. What I didn't know was that I'd be greeted by the ghost of an old friend. The exhibition…19th July 2016 So long Lord St Germans and thanks for all the fests
Sitting down this morning to write a Shed post about my forthcoming reading at next week’s Port Eliot Festival, I ran a search so I could include a few salient details about the event. What I didn’t expect was for the search results to be headed by the Telegraph’s obituary for Lord St Germans, aka Peregrine Eliot, aka Perry, the festival’s co-founder and host and - I’m proud to be able to say…7th July 2016 First Midland artwork sold!
Hello Midland posse -
My shed has been a little quiet of late, largely as a result of the Brexit referendum. If you’ve been following me on Twitter or Facebook you’ll know I was a passionate Remainer, and making my opinions felt about the greatest constitutional crisis since the Second World War has taken precedence over blogging about my new novel.
However, despite the imminent break…24th June 2016 How does it feel to be a publisher?
That's what this post's about. Exactly that. Because I'm not publishing Midland, and nor in fact are Unbound. Unbound are just enabling this book to be published. The publishers of this book are you - by which I mean the 140 of you who've pledged so far, at a rate of about 1 per day, and who collectively have got the book to a third of its funding target.
That's right! We're at 33%. A major milestone…7th June 2016 My Dad, the Midlands and Muhammad Ali
My Dad was quite the man about town in Birmingham back in the 1970s. A go-getting solicitor (no, it’s not a contradiction in terms), in 1973 he’d been Chairman of the National Young Solicitors Group of the Law Society, a member of the Lunar Society, and a founder member of something called the International Advisors Group. Both of these involved much socialising, in addition to which he attended…3rd June 2016 Heads up on a Midland reading and a Midland documentary
If you're free on Monday evening and feeling the need to step out in south London, then why not come down to the Brixton Bookjam at the Hootananny in Effra Road, SW2? I'll be on stage reading a short extract from Midland and answering questions about the book, and a whole bunch of other writers will be presenting their work as well, including Stella Duffy, Anna Mazzola, Dennis Monaghan, Alex Marshall…18th May 2016 Book Quiz: What do “Game of Thrones”, “The Shipping News” and “The Other Boleyn Girl” all have in common?
*** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT ***
Okay folks, just warning you. If you’ve pledged for Midland - or plan to - and you don’t want to find out about the relationship at the heart of the book, then STOP READING NOW.
Otherwise, read on. Midland is not a thriller; personally I don’t think it matters whether or not you know how it ends…28th April 2016 Shakespeare's shadow
Over Easter I was back in Warwickshire visiting my mother, who still lives a country mile from the house in which I was born. Her nearest corner shop is the village stores in Wilmcote, a five-minute drive away, and the shop stands right opposite the family farm of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden. This is now a very slick “living museum” filled with blacksmiths and falconers and cooks and musicians…9th April 2016 Tony Nolan and the Panama Papers, or, How we've been bored into submission by the global "elites"
I warn you, this is a boring post. However, if you can stay with me to the end I promise you crack cocaine and hookers and other, more subtle pleasures. Really.
Are you with me? Good. We are, as George Osborne is so fond of saying, all in this together. So here goes.
Like most miserable suckers (AKA taxpayers) I've been following the fallout from the Panama Papers leak this last week with some…1st April 2016 April Fool's Day in Canary Wharf
April Fool's Day joke... I finished the new draft of Midland today and sent it in to Unbound.
And the joke is... it's not actually a joke at all! It really happened, and it happened after noon so it wouldn't have counted as an April Fool's joke anyway. My actual delivery deadline was yesterday, but what's a day after ten years of toil?
A fair chunk of this draft has been written at a desk I…27th March 2016 Midland and the Anthropocene
Happy Easter everyone. To mark the day, a traditional time of renewal and rebirth, I thought I’d share some thoughts.
As I posted to Twitter a couple of weeks ago, I recently read Oliver Morton’s marvellous book The Planet Remade. Ollie was my editor back when I was a tyro journalist working on Wired UK, and we still keep in touch. He works for the Economist now, and his books on Mars and photosynthesis…18th March 2016 Why I wrote Midland...
Just a quick post to alert you to a piece I've written for the Telegraph about the origins of Midland. It's a slightly simplified version of the story of course, there are other originating factors too (some of which I'll be talking about over the next few weeks here in the Shed) and there was only limited space in the piece. But it covers off nicely my father's influence on the writing of the novel…3rd March 2016 The Midland playlist
Well, I’m safely back in London having survived mice and fire and have a complete draft of Midland on my computer. It needs another pass I think but before I attempt that I’ve taken the opportunity to step back a bit, do some other work that’s been clamouring for attention, and have a think about things like the Midland playlist.
Writing a book over ten years and juggling it with a full-time job…24th February 2016 The untimely death of Tom Thumb
Folks, I have a sad, sad story to tell. Really sad. Brace yourselves.
It was all going so well. As related in my last post, following the fire and the release of Tom Thumb I spent last Sunday afternoon in Aigues-Mortes with my friend and the French translator of The Book of Ash, Alfred Boudry.
Aigues-Mortes is an interesting place. It sits in the middle of salt marshes, and has been a centre…14th February 2016 Fire at the Résidence! (Including: The fate of Tom Thumb...)
Things have taken a somewhat dramatic turn here on my supposedly calm and productive writing retreat. Yesterday, Saturday, after a successful first week that got me pretty much to where I wanted to be with regard to progress on Midland, I spent the morning doing yoga and catching up on various bits of online admin. After lunch, the other writer here, Pierre, took off in his car to spend the afternoon…13th February 2016 Tom Thumb has been captured!
There have been important developments in my relationship with the mice here in the Au Diable Vauvert writers' Résidence, after I was woken (again) a couple of nights ago by the bizarrely loud sound of Tom Thumb trying to gnaw his way into a bag of pasta.
I got up to investigate and when I switched the light on and removed said bag from its shelf, instead of running away Tom sat there absolutely…10th February 2016 Les souris et les pantelons
Right, so here I am on day three of my retreat, and it turns out I have a little more company than I'd expected. In the next room there is the very affable Pierre, whom I've just got to know a little over a couple of beers. But my own room has other residents as well, in the shape of two little field mice who have somehow found their way inside and set up shop behind my fridge, where they've clearly…6th February 2016 Midland's off and running... to the south of France
Thank you for being my first group of funders and for getting behind Midland with such generosity and enthusiasm. As of today your pledges have put me at the 7% mark. The campaign has now been going for seven days, and as I've been told by Unbound that 1% a day is a good target to aim for, this means WE'RE ON TARGET!
I saw we, not me, because we're in this together. Unbound doesn…
These people are helping to fund Midland.