I have been writing poetry for as long as I can remember, and my work has won prizes in many major poetry competitions. Though fiction is now my profession — and a marvellous profession it is — poetry remains my first love, and I think the skills you acquire as a poet — sense of place, economy of expression, making one word do the work of many, and a feeling for the sounds and rhythms of language — serve a novelist well.
A selection of some of my poetry can be found here.
Work in Progress: The First of July
Readers are often interested in how a novel gets going. Where do you start? Does the story, the characters or a vague idea of place or time come first? Writers ask each other the same question, and there are as many different answers as there are writers.
My third novel, The First of July, is going to be rather different to my two previous Laurence Bartram books (although he will reappear in my fourth novel).
Starting before the first world war, The First of July will tell the a story of a single day, and four very different men whose paths cross on that day: in the opening hours of the battle of the Somme, in 1916, a day on which British casualties alone numbered nearly 60,000 men. It marked a turning-point in the way we thought about war. Ideas of heroism and the glories of battle. The poet Edmund Blunden said afterwards that his much-loved Iliad was for him transformed: “To speak of glory seemed a horrid impiety…that was why I could not open Homer”.
How do you begin such a tale? Here, as an example of how one may often be moved to approach a story sideways-on, looking out of the corner of your eye, is my first draft of the opening sequence of The First of July. I can’t guarantee that it will remain the same, or even that it will appear at all in the finished book — whoever said “writing is re-writing” spoke the truth — but it might be of interest to readers.
Three excerpts from The Sunlight on the Garden
My memoir The Sunlight on the Garden: A Family in Love, War and Madness was my second full-length book, published in 2007. It tells the story of the effects of war, mental illness of one sort or another, and the great upheavals in society in the 20th century, through the stories of my own family – and, of course, my own story. You can read three excerpts from it here.