About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Saturday, 16 April 2016


Common Purpose Challenge--Manchester and Bangalore

"We are crowd sourcing ideas to make Bangalore and Manchester better places to live and work. We want real world solutions - big or small - that will improve areas of city life such as governance, environment, economy, technology, housing, sports or youth engagement."

When I read those words on the Common Purpose challenge website, I knew this was something I wanted to get involved in.  As a creative writing lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, I am involved both with the work of The Manchester Writing School and the Manchester Children's Book Festival.

View from The Writing School window
Here's the idea I came up with: 'Children Need Books'.

"In the Manchester Writing School, we passionately believe that creativity should be at the heart of every child’s education, and are committed to ensuring opportunities for reading, writing and storytelling for as many children and young people as possible.
We also believe in encouraging and equipping writers of children’s books—fromThe Hungry Caterpillar through to The Hunger Games, stories can fire the imagination and change lives.
 Idea for 3-5yr Internship to promote Books for Children" 
(For more information: https://challenge.commonpurpose.org/ 
Please do register and vote for my idea by Tuesday 19th April)
Just before Easter - by one of those rather wonderful coincidences - I was offered the chance to go on a brief visit to Bangalore. It was just for a week, and could only ever be a quick taste of life in Manchester's Common Challenge partner city.

Everyone told me that India would be an onslaught on all the senses--but nothing prepares you for the reality. It struck me as a chaos of colour and scent and traffic. (Just a few glimpses below.) It was wonderful meeting people and gaining some insights into life in Bangalore. I've just arrived home; but my head is still full of the sound Indian music and car horns; the scent of jasmine and eucalyptus and spice; and all those spectacular splashes of colour. 
Flower Market

In a rickshaw

Wedding party at the Bull Temple

Everyone ALWAYS sounds their horn.
It was my first visit to India, but I hope that the Common Purpose Challenge means it won't be my last.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Update from Lindchester

If you are wondering how everyone is doing in the fictional diocese of Lindchester, you can catch up here. Chapter 9 of Realms of Glory. 

Monday, 1 February 2016

Latest from Lindchester.

Here's Chapter 5 of Realms of Glory for you.  Featuring a ray of hope for Freddie May, and a glow in the dark banana guard. That's the C of E for you.  http://realmsofglorylindchester.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/chapter-5.html 

Monday, 11 January 2016

Second Instalment of Realms of Glory

A spot of hard core Anglicanism with knitting and chainsaws. http://realmsofglorylindchester.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/chapter-2.html

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Realms of Glory

First episode of Vol 3 of the Lindchester Chronicles is ready. Realms of Glory.

Sunday, 9 August 2015


There are some questions writers get asked all the time.  
  • 'Should I have heard of you?' 
  • 'Where do you get your ideas from?'  
  • 'Have you always wanted to be a writer?' 
I tend to answer as follows: 
  • (frostily) Yes.  
  • I steal them.  
  • No, there was a brief phase when I wanted to be a ballerina.*
* But mainly 'Yes' as this picture betrays:

Having dealt with those hardy perennials of the question-and-answer session, we will now approach the tricky one: Do you base your characters on real people?  The answer to this one is 'No.' To which people generally reply, 'HA HA HA HA HA! Yeah, right.'

Readers seriously underestimate how mad novelists are.  I spend half my life in places that don't exist, in the company of people who aren't real.  I don't need to base my characters on real people.  My head teems with imaginary friends. To be honest, I have almost zero interest in writing about real people.  If I had I'd be a journalist, or a biographer. That would be terrible, as I'd then have a responsibility to get the facts right.  There's a sense in which you have to get the facts right in fiction, of course.  It has to ring true, even though it's made up.  It needs to feel real in its own terms.

In the case of my early novels, the impression of reality is compounded by the fact that I set them in readily identifiable places.  This lured people into reading them as a roman à clef and thinking that if they just knew a bit more about the circles I moved in, they'd be able to crack the code and work out who the characters were.  

With my two recent novels, Acts and Omissions and Unseen Things Above the setting is fictional, as well as the characters.  You'd think this would simplify things.  But no, people just want to know which diocese Lindchester is based on.  I feel I should do a Whistler here, and say it is based on 'a lifetime of experience.'  A lifetime of lurking in churches and cathedrals, of observing people and nature, of brooding and daydreaming.

My method in these books is to identify situations, processes and predicaments in the current church, and to abstract them from their real life settings.  I then experiment to see how they play out in my fiction laboratory (called The Diocese of Lindchester) through the medium of my fictional characters.  There is a lot of waiting and listening involved.  I am trying the whole time to take the temperature of the C of E, to read it correctly, and to resist the urge to impose on Lindchester my own views of how things should be.

We live, as they say, in interesting times in the Anglican communion.  I set out at the beginning of 2013 to blog a larky cathedral sit-com, but seem to have ended up chronicling the church in a period of upheaval and change.  Now and then it feels as though I'm sailing close to the wind on some very dark seas indeed.  Wish me Bon Voyage, as I mend my nets and swab the decks, ready to hoist sail and launch out again in January when I will start blogging Realms of Glory

A taster can be found here: http://realmsofglorylindchester.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/a-new-adventure.html 

Saturday, 27 June 2015


Last night I was at the launch of the amazing Manchester Children's Book Festival 2015 (more info here: http://www.mcbf.org.uk/?from=mmu-homepage-banner) The festival was declared open by the Creative Director of the Manchester Writing School at MMU, Dame Carol Ann Duffy.

It was one of those moments when I was overcome by astonished gratitude that I get paid to do what I'd probably do anyway, as a hobby; plus I get to do it in the same place as so many stellar colleagues.  Admittedly, this feeling alternates with a sense of panic, when I look around at people my age and realise Oh no, we are the ones in charge now!

Once we were officially declared open, it was wine and canapés and mingling.  Or networking, which is like mingling, only you can put it on your CV.  I was busy networking with my colleague Michael Symmons Roberts in a high-powered way, when our group was approached by a magician.
Well, we are a bunch of trained academics.  Scepticism and careful interrogation in the pursuit of academic rigour is our motto at all times.  We watched closely.  We knew there was a trick.  Sleights of hand.  Distractions.  We'd spot them.

The magician proceeded to astound us with impossible feats of close-up magic.  A deck of cards that turned into a perspex block in my hand.  A signed two of hearts that appeared in a sealed envelope. No!  No!  Impossible!  If you have ever seen this type of magic performed, you will understand when I say that we simply laughed in delight and disbelief.  Our considered academic conclusion was that he was using genuine magic.  There was no other explanation.  Furthermore, he would probably disappear through a portal into another dimension at the end of the evening.

'Now that's what fiction does,' I said to Michael Symmons Roberts.  'You know it's not real, and yet you believe it anyway.'

And he, being a poet, replied: 'Well, I'd rather watch magic than read a novel.'  I can only assume he's suffering from a fiction overdose after adapting so much Trollope for Radio 4 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03sfyzp)

For more about The Manchester Writing School and our MAs in Creative Writing and English Studies, and a variety of CPDs, look here: http://www.manchesterwritingschool.co.uk/