Category Archives: novels and longer works

In Like a Lemon, Out Like a Lamp

It’s March now and you know what they say about March: in like a lion, out like a lamb.  It certainly arrived in leonine fashion; in fact it was more like a snow-leopard than anything, what with the Beast from the East (not Putin) coinciding with Storm Emma (not of The Archers).  The whole shebang reminded me of how blessed we are in general to have the Gulf Stream, and how horrid things would be without it: for, though we are subject to bouts of unpredictability and flurries of inconsistency, the climate of the British Isles (excepting the Highlands and Islands) is generally mild.  With climate change summers have got longer and winters shorter; and whilst I enjoy hot weather it does naturally worry me; a propos of which I have just started reading Naomi Klein’s book ‘This Changes Everything’ – a thorough and very influential guide to climate change and its deniers.

As far as climate change denial is concerned, it is now on the level of ‘the moon landings were faked’ and not far off believing that the earth is flat.  The evidence is there for all to see; the polar ice-caps are shrinking, sea levels are rising, the sea is warming, habitats are vanishing and places like the Maldives are going under.  It takes some degree of mental contortion to disbelieve all of these facts, particularly when you consider that 97% of the world’s scientists agree that man-made climate change is a fact of life.  What’s more worrying is that the process of climate change may be exponential: that like the Fibonacci series I wrote about the other day (of which more anon) levels may not increase at the same rate but reach a ‘tipping-point’ beyond which recovery is all but impossible.

Now, I’m an optimist.  I’m a firm believer in the power of humanity to solve the problems it has created.  But in order to do this we need to believe that there is a problem: and climate-change deniers, especially when they are powerful politicians or global capitalists, are holding up progress in an utterly unconscionable way.

Enough.  We can do this, but everyone has to get on board.

Speaking of Fibonacci, I have planned the novel around the number sequence and, whilst I’m quite excited about this, it does pose some problems; namely, that the first chapters are very short and the last ones very long: it will also be a very long novel if I stick to the plan.  So I’m just going to go with it and see where I end up.  It’s exciting!

Kirk out


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Nice Shell Suit. Was it Designed by Fibonacci?

Who or what is a Fibonacci?  Can you eat it?  Do you listen to it?  Is it a bird or a plane?  Is it a fashion designer?

Whatever the truth of this, although I am as ignorant of fashion as to be fashion-comatose, I am in fact aware that Versace was a designer.  I also have the impression that he was a nice guy.  I don’t know why – maybe because he was friends with Elton John and Princess Diana; maybe because I saw him interviewed at some point.  Anyway, I was curious enough about his death, which was eerily close to that of Diana, to click on to the first episode of a new BBC drama, ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’.  Assassination might seem a little over the top, but ‘over the top’ is something of a theme here as is evident from the first scene where Versace is shown waking up and going through his morning routine in a Miami house decorated like a tackier version of Versailles.  So far it’s a highly compelling drama with some similarities with The Talented Mr Ripley:

A serial killer meets and murders Versace because – well, we don’t quite know why, and that’s the intrigue.  With murder there must always be one element of mystery: either we don’t know who has been killed, or (more commonly) we don’t know who killed them.  But far more interesting are the why mysteries: why on earth did a guy who’d had a casual fling with Versace then go to his house and shoot him in cold blood?  Will he be caught?  And if so, will the police discover why he did it?  Will the courts?  Will we?  Therein lies the intrigue: I can’t believe I have to wait till Wednesday for the next episode.

Now, as I’m sure you all know, a Fibonacci is None of the Above – neither a fashion designer nor an Italian dish nor an opera singer: it’s a sequence of numbers, sort of like Pi, which seems to be present in nature as well as geometry and architecture.

Like Pi it is a never-ending sequence: I’m not sure to how many decimal places Pi has been calculated now but the Fibonacci sequence goes on forever and is much easier to calculate, being a mere matter of addition.  It goes like this:

Starting with one, each number is the sum of the previous two.


That’s it.

So, starting with one, you get one again because you’re adding one and zero, and then it goes:

2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,144… and so on.  Add infinitum (lol).

What’s the point of it?  Well, it occurs in many natural objects: spiral shells, for one; cauliflowers, for another.

It also has applications in geometry and architecture: this slide sequence also covers the Golden Ratio which has applications in both classical architecture and in the proportions of the human body, and uses the number Phi (I said it was like Pi):

And in an exciting new development I have decided to use the Fibonacci series in my latest novel ‘Tapestry (a picture of modern Britain’.)  This means that the first two chapters will have 1000 words each and the last chapter about 48,000.  I have no idea if it’ll work, but it’ll be interesting to see.

Kirk out


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Black Dog

OK well it’s not going away so there’s nothing to do but write about it – depression, that is.  Quite unexpectedly along with a chest infection I was recently plunged into a most unpleasant depression: not the kind of blank, grey blanket which descends like a fog, but a squirming black horribleness which threatens to engulf my consciousness and, though the infection has receded, refuses to go away.

I’ve not been so prone to depression in recent years, though I had plenty of it in my twenties: thanks to a firmer footing in life, a grounded family, a reasonable work life and a daily yoga practice I was able to keep myself on a fairly even keel.  And although I had some psychotic episodes about a decade ago I’ve barely suffered an hour or so of depression since I got married.

But lately certain things have been spiralling downwards: a lack of material success in spite of huge daily efforts to make it as a writer; persistent poor sleep, struggles with my thyroid, a partner with gender dysphoria and a son with mental health problems have all taken their toll and I’m sure prepared my system to host the infection in the first place.  I have never been so wiped out by a bug as I was by this one: I was completely exhausted for days.  But as soon as the steroids and antibiotics kicked in, the depression made itself felt.  I haven’t felt like this since my twenties when a promising career and love affair went completely into free-fall.

But this is different – and although I know what it’s about, I don’t know what to do about it.  When I was eight I started to write a novel: that novel got squashed by huge and inexplicable forces which I still don’t understand.  I’ve been trying to get back to it ever since and now I’m there: I just never expected the process to be so deeply unpleasant.  I thought it’d be a kind of liberation but instead it’s utterly horrible, like opening the door to a deep dank hole with all kinds of monsters living in it.

All I know how to do is keep writing – and to believe that things are working out.  As Marcus Aurelius says, ‘love only what happens.  No greater happiness.’  In other words, believe that everything happens for your good, even though it may not feel like it.

I find great comfort in Marcus Aurelius when things seem grim.

Kirk out

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News! News! Good News!

No, I haven’t gone all evangelical on you: I just wanted to post some news about OH’s book.  As well as being out in paperback and widely available:

…… it has just been nominated for a prize!  Yep, ‘Replicas’ is up for the James Tiptree Jr award:

So that’s all good.  I’ve finished reading it now and will post a review at some point: suffice it to say that for a person who doesn’t generally like SF, I found it surprisingly readable.  And that’s not down to the author being OH: let’s face it, there’s a lot of his stuff which I find amazingly unreadable…

So get your copy now!  Buy buy buy!

Kirk out

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Filed under Book reviews, friends and family, novels and longer works, The madness of Mark

The Selfish Genius

I’m becoming obsessed by this theme right now.  I wake in the early dawn and try to figure it out: what is the best way to live if you have an all-consuming talent?  I am not content with the traditional models of ‘selfish genius’ which dictate that in order to follow your inner voice you have to ignore everything – and more crucially everyone – else.  This is what male writers have traditionally done; and recently women are going there too: there’s a whole plethora of articles exhorting women writers to be selfish, to put themselves first, to ignore the children and carve out writing time.

Now, this needs a little deconstruction in the context of households where women have traditionally put themselves last.  We were conditioned to ignore our own needs, or at best put them on the back burner.  When everyone else’s needs have been satisfied, then it’s your turn.  Trouble is, that turn never arrives; you catch your breath for a moment  before realising, like poor old Barbara in The Royle Family, that having cooked, served and eaten Christmas dinner you are now faced with a kitchen full of washing-up.  I have to admit when I watched this episode I had an overwhelming urge to kick Jim out of his chair and into some good quality rubber gloves (sorry a bit of Withnail got in there by mistake)  (oh no, another bit!)

Deep breath.  So, in that context yes, it is entirely in order that Barbara should boot Jim into the kitchen to do his bit while she goes upstairs to write something sensational.  However it’s not only in the carving out of time that the selfish genius rears its head.  Write what you know is the advice – and it’s good advice – the trouble is that you also end up writing who you know.  Literary history is littered with friends of the writer who have recognised themselves in print and decided that since the passages can’t be deleted, they’ll delete the friendship instead.  This is not to mention the wives, ex-wives, lovers and partners of authors who can find themselves writ large in two hundred sizzling pages.  Not unnaturally, these people feel betrayed.

And of course the third thing that writers always do is steal.

So here’s the thing: how does one become a great writer without being a total sh*t?

That’s not a rhetorical question.  I actually want to know.

Kirk out

PS: what do you think of the title?  It came to me in the night and I thought it was pure ge…

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Genius? That’ll Be Everything You’ve Got, Madam

The current model of Genius At Work may be in flux but the go-to setting is the same as it has always been: a man in a study with a virtual Do Not Disturb sign on the door; family creeping around and No Interruptions Whatsoever.  Genius works odd hours and cannot be relied upon.  It won’t be awake in time to take the children to school or make their sandwiches.

If this genius has to balance writing with paid work he will come in, pour a glass, have some food and devote the rest of the evening (and weekend) to Art.  There are people who can do this: C P Snow was one, holding down a career first as a barrister, then as an academic and finally as a politician whilst writing a bunch of novels about – well, about being a barrister, academic and politician.

But I’ve never been able to do this, part of the reason being that unlike Snow, I don’t have clean clothes unless I wash them or food to eat unless I cook it (or at least wash up after it).  I don’t have a clean floor unless I vacuum it, or an organised environment unless I tidy.  Plus, I have children – and children interrupt.  It is inevitable.

Until they were teenagers I had no time to write: I was too busy earning a living and educating them at home.  Apart from a few snatched minutes morning and evening my only writing time was a couple of days away twice a year: it wasn’t nearly enough, and yet looking back it’s hard to see how I could have done anything differently.  It’s no good having children if you’re going to ignore them.

So what to do?

I would like to suggest a different model of genius.  I don’t deny that writing – or any art – takes time and concentration.  But I think it would benefit male artists as well as their partners to share in the domestic tasks – the reason being that doing the cleaning or washing up is very grounding.  To put it epigrammatically:

Every woman has to stop writing to put the tea on.  That is her tragedy.

No man does: that is his.

I suggest that historically, women go mad when they can’t write, and men do when they can.  This is due to a lack of balance.  Everyone needs to pitch in – and then we’ll get the work done.

I can feel Snow scoffing at this idea.  But then he had a housekeeper and a wife…

Kirk out

PS I don’t wish to give the impression that I am married to someone who doesn’t pitch in.  That is not the case





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A pinch and a punch for the first of the month.  That’s what we used to say at school – and today, as well as being the first Wednesday it’s also the first actual day of the month; which means it’s time to link to the Insecure Writers Support Group:

November is the month of NaNo, of course: nothing to do with nano-technology (unless you write a particular kind of Lilliputian sci-fi) but National Novel Writing Month, a time when just about every writer I know goes into purdah in order to complete their latest project.  The idea is to write during the month of November an entire novel totalling no fewer than 50,000 words.  (If you’re wondering what 50K looks like, it’s a short novel: the average length is 80-100K.  But it’s still a huge achievement.)  And this month we are asked by the IWSG whether previously we have completed our NaNo projects (yes, nearly every time) and whether any of them have gone on to be published (no).

I’m not doing NaNo as such this year; I have, however, begun an epic poem along the lines of Wordsworth’s Prelude, telling in iambic pentameter the story of my life and poetry.  It’s epic in terms of length rather than subject, and I have no idea how long it will turn out to be, but we shall see.  It’s very hard to rhyme a poem of that length, so I have contented myself with blank verse, just the odd highlighted part in rhyming verse.  I’m finding it very helpful.

So that’s me.  If you’re doing NaNo I wish you all the best.  Let me know how you get on.

Kirk out



Filed under friends and family, my magnum hopeless, novels and longer works, poems