richard pierce

richard pierce

31 December 2016

A Different Corner

The quiet start, the build-up of notes, before that voice, low at first, then soaring through the room, through space, through my heart. The radio on, in the echoing, mouldy kitchen at 15 Harringay Road in London, down the road from Manor House tube station, bottles building piles round the never-used fireplace, and me trying to work in the cold of whatever day it was that my memory now comes from. It was way before George Michael's A Different Corner, his greatest song in my opinion, was finally released in April 1986. I can still see the breath in front of my face, my hands freezing, trying to write down notes to the words I was dictating for our typists down in Orpington to decipher when I took my pile of documents and tapes down there every Friday. It must have been halfway through January 1986, and so many things had happened to me the previous six months.

Imagine a young man (a boy, really), just freshly out of a long-distance relationship with a German girl (who had finally moved to England), a boy so full of faults he was almost inversely perfect, who'd ended up sofa-surfing for the best part of 1985, and become sick and tired of the surfing when he'd been on the sofa in that flat above a tailor's shop in Green Lanes in Harringay for just too long. The boy who started to look for somewhere permanent to live using Capital Radio's Flatshare (does that still exist?), and got an interview at the house just 5 minutes walk, if that, north, just off Green Lanes. And then he got the phone call, at work, one day, to say he'd been accepted to share the house, albeit in the smallest bedroom of the four there were.

I dumped the few things I did have on the floor of the room, threw myself onto the bed, and stared at the ceiling, wondered what it would be like here, sharing with two women and another man, all of whom had jobs of one sort or another in central London. I got up and started sticking posters up, put my toothpaste and brush on the window sill. It had to be better than not knowing where I'd be from one week to the next. It had to be better than wandering into Turkish clubs at 4 in the morning, drunk from booze and loneliness, just to back out at the sight of all those pulled knives.

That morning in that kitchen must have been only two or so weeks after I moved in with L, the girl in the house with the biggest room, and a gas heater in the room. Six days after I'd moved into the house itself. She was very different, and we'd danced in her room on her birthday. Her best friend cried at the story of how we got together, how she said she felt. And that song, on that day, after she'd gone off to work at the Galton Laboratories, and me feeling safe for the first time in a long time. How safe can love ever be?

Reading the lyrics for the first time in an age now, after George Michael's oh-so-premature death, it strikes me how oddly prescient they are in so many ways. She did bring me to my knees, told me so many different stories, and I still don't know which were true and which untrue. Maybe they were all real. I remember thinking at the time how awful it would have been if she, or I, had turned a different corner and never met. And, of course, I thought it would be forever. That's how she became Fiancée Number Two.

I remember the yellow of the paint on the kitchen walls. I remember many things I cannot say, remember the feeling of the voice, her telling me about how I was steel dressed in silk, the one poem she wrote for me, and how, in the end, her new boyfriend tried to run me down in his car in Digswell one night after our cat had died. But that was all such a long time ago. That morning, that kitchen, that emptiness filled by the sudden chords of an unknown song, a song that will stay with me forever. And I know now, leafing through the poetry books I wrote then, how much that period has formed my writing, how those lyrics have informed my writing, the going off at tangents in our lives, all those different corners we have arrived at, and made choices that have changed our lives, that eternal conundrum of how our choices have changed us.

That's only my side of the story of course. Where she is now, I don't know, and I no longer care (I used to, unhealthily), although she might have a different side of the story to tell. I found Fiancée Number Three who became my wife over 25 years ago. I became the man bereft of too many cats, I became the man I am now; middle-aged, and wanting to be young again. I became the man who still isn't satisfied with his existence. I became the man so in love he ignores whatever faults the world might see.

The song is still true, in so many ways; a combination of sounds and words that is a universal truth, however personal it may have been to George Michael, however personal it might have seemed to that boy sitting in that kitchen, that morning, that time so long ago. Love is never constant.

22 December 2016

The Perils of Parenthood; Serendipity, Irony & Christmas

Dear Ren,

20th December 2016, 09:30

As soon as I had sent you my last letter I realised that I'd made a mistake on the track listing for Not Nul Points, so enclose a corrected copy.

The sun is shining in through the kitchen window as I write this - the first sun we have had for a week. Our good neighbour cut down (or should I say cut back) the tall trees (conifers) on the border between our gardens, but we've had nothing but fog in the week since he did it, and now it's finally obvious how much more light we have as a result.


I feel so much in stasis, mainly because it's too cold for the guys to finish the house repairs, as a result of which I feel everything's at a standstill. I've always been like this; if there's one thing in my life that's not right or not finished, it throws everything else out, or stops everything else from being finished. I suppose that might just prove that men really can't multitask.

You're right - I did know about your movement teaching. Interesting you say it keeps you humble - is that because you're teaching young people who are still discovering the wonders of their bodies, or because you are still in awe of what you can do, or because you, like me, feel the waning of what we saw as immortality when we were young? I must admit my reaction to my dancing is quite different when I feel on form at our ballroom classes, especially if we're dancing Quickstep. I fear I become quite arrogant and feel so in charge of what I'm doing (so in charge, in fact, that in our last class I forgot a whole new section we'd just learned). The thing is, Quickstep is a dance you can really step out, a dance that really is proper hard work, and if you push it as you should, it's a real aerobic exercise, sweat and all. Many people who laugh at ballroom don't understand that it's real exercise, not something old people do when they can't run anymore.

I miss other adult company when I'm working from home, miss the social aspect, as a result of which I talk too much when I go see my acupuncturist, or meet someone I know in the street, or when I go to the office in London that I sometimes use when I've got gaps in between meetings. It takes me some time (half an hour maybe) to suddenly remember that, actually, those other people don't share my childish joy at being in the company of other adults. Though, of course, at the heart of it still lies the fact that I am really quite anti-social. I like my own space, like being able to choose when it's loud or when it's silent. Yes, M and the kids find this quite irritating and are probably grateful for the office I disappear into for most of the time.

You did tell me that you'd written a novel, but not what it's about. That story? That leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Do I ask myself why I want to tell a particular story? I don't think I do, or at least not exactly like that, and if I do ask myself it's only something I've started doing since I was published because I'm supposed to be thinking about my audience. But then, I think, that's crap, really, because it makes me (writers) write to pre-packaged conventions. It destroys the new. I think so, anyway. And, for me, saying writers should write in one genre (ie tell the same story over and over again) is the wrong thing to say. But we've been down this road before. The only question I really ask is whether or not the story makes sense within its own context. It doesn't really have to make sense in the context of this particular world, this specific world we live in, because this one's just one of millions.

The cultural reference thing is odd, because to be tied and yet not tied to culture (or is it fashion?) is a real contradiction. I suppose I am tied to one thing - music. That is my cultural reference. I cannot be without music, and I have to keep discovering new music. Someone once told me I was depriving my children of the most effective means of children's rebellion against their parents, because I like the same music as they do. It's getting to the stage now, though, where they are quicker than I am at finding good new music, and I'm quite envious of that. Nice to be able to be their gig-buddy, though. And they have found plenty of other ways in which to rebel against me.

21st December 2016, 20:30

The irony of my last sentence from yesterday is now not lost on me after an almost full-scale rebellion from the children on the first day that they are all on holiday (and M's last working day, and my penultimate day at work). The details themselves are unimportant, but this all makes me think that I'm about in the same camp as you - "I'm not terribly fond of children." BUT, we might not be, but we'd lay our hands in the fire for ours however badly they might treat us. Someone should have warned us - maybe that is the novel you and I should write - The Perils of Parenthood; subtitle Unconditional Love and its Life-Altering Consequences. What a read that would be.

When I was young, we always sat down to our Advent tea listening to the same record (I have inherited it, and the digital version of this will have a pic of it). That doesn't happen now - and I wonder if it's because life is too busy (even for children nowadays - because of social media in the main, but that's another story), or because they're all either agnostics or atheists (though they still like to light the Advent candles and want Christmas presents), or me just finally being a grown-up. The last time I felt safe (and I was thinking about this in the car today) was when my father was still alive and I could relax into one of those bear hugs of his, even when I was thirty. He died two weeks after O was born over 24 years ago. See, that's all that time gone.

I like that phrase - creative rationalisation (even when I spell it the English way, sorry). It chimes with my continuing refrain of "there's no such thing as coincidence; just serendipity." I suppose I add that last bit on so I don't have to argue with people about the edgy balance between fate and free will/self-determination.

And finally - I'm always glad for someone to be a much better host than me. I always reckon that if people can't accept me the way I am, the way I have my environment, well, then they're not really friends. M isn't quite like that, not at all like that, in fact. A quote from The Unrecognised, the short story I published this year, the widower talking to his dead wife - "Hey, the tidying up you'd do, mental as always. That's what killed you, you know. All this worrying about what people might think about the way you kept house, when all they were interested in was you, nothing else. You're an old fool, and I miss you." Mmm, I do worry.

And now I should close this and start typing it up. That will happen in the morning. There are so many words in my head for these letters, for my unwritten books. I will work out an unplanned plan over the holidays to make more time for all this. I find myself stultifying because I'm not writing enough.

Christmas has come just at the right time. I will be me. I promise.

Much love to you and E, and all your family. You're a part of ours (meaning you and your family).


13 December 2016

Legibility was never high on the agenda

Dear Ren,

11th December 2016, 19:42

I start this knowing that I won't finish it today, but I felt the need to start it anyway. Last night I got an unbroken 8 hours sleep, which is close to a miracle for me. It probably has something to do with the whole front of the house being covered in scaffolding and tarpaulin (still one of my favourite Norwegian words - presening) because of the repair work going on. That in itself is a long story, and one I shouldn't bore anyone with. Suffice it to say a small repair job turned into a huge one, a second mortgage, to stop the front of the house collapsing in one corner, and the choice of builder appears to have caused some old prejudices in the village to resurface. We will see. I think we're resigned to the fact that it won't be finished before Christmas because lime render needs dryness and a not-freezing temperature to cure properly. And I know I shouldn't say this, but I don't actually like sleeping so late. Maybe I'll have to start setting an alarm for Sundays, too!

12th December 2016, 13:24

I had hoped to continue this sooner, but today is already proving to be a trial, mainly on the work front, and this is the day I write emails to all those who have applied for grants telling them whether they've been successful or not. Not my favourite day, I must admit - and that's probably all I can say about my job, a job I love but which I'm probably too emotionally attached into (and that's not a typo).

While writing this, right from the beginning, I'm listening (have been listening) to the Christmas mix-CD I send every year (your copy enclosed). This is the 15th! And even though you've not been getting them from the beginning, it's dead important to me that you do get one. This is Not Nul Points XV, and they started when we first moved to Norway and I discovered there was so much unbelievably brilliant stuff coming out of a country the English made fun of for getting Nul Points at the Eurovision Song Contest. Well, we'll be seeing who'll be getting Nul Points in European foreign relations, won't we? Can't ever resist a political jibe at those against free movement of people.

Anyhow ...

I think your poetry-Instagram allusion might be a little too modern (and that's probably because I'm so very old); it's probably that poetry, more than any other medium, was the way to commit visual events to memory. Of course, there's painting, but not everyone can paint in a representative way. Ok, not everyone can write good poetry, but you get the drift; and before we could take photos there was nothing more instant than words, and, to be honest, there still isn't. Although I have to admit that I am always envious of visual artists who can just hang up the fruits of their labour and sell them if they make an instant impression. Writers don't quite have the same avenue open to them (although exhibitive writing or whatever it's called is now increasing in significance). As usual, I'm probably simplifying too much.

As I write, K is messaging me on facebook with some outstanding news. Ah, the joys of children doing/achieving what they wish for. That's a warm feeling inside.

And now you've just messaged me. This merging of our digital and written communications, because I do think of your letters to me as paper letters, is quite odd and interesting - I got to thinking about this because I know from fb about the Old Lady's injury, and your letter assumes that knowledge. This modern age is brilliant in so many ways.

What's fascinating also is that many of your cultural references aren't mine - not because you're originally from the US, but because I moved to Germany when I was 3, and as a result have almost no childhood cultural references. So I don't know anything about The Little Engine That Could. And equally I have no real German cultural references, except for celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve, as it should be. The only other one is that I was a Karl May addict - he's a German writer who died in 1912 who wrote over 70 adventure novels, most of them in the Wild West (Old Shatterhand being one of his main characters) and in the Middle East. I have all his books (in German) but the downside is that he's said to be Hitler's favourite author. I don't know what, if anything, that says about me.

Gashed - the one painting I've sold
Lies of omission - that's opening up a whole can of worms. They do say that most successful relationships are those where secrets are kept I'm never sure I agree with that. You see, the problem is that we'll all die on our own, even if we're with someone who loves us. So why die with secrets? Unless, of course, they are ones that happened before we loved, and ones which would destroy not enhance. I suppose this is just me wanting the world to be as I wish it to be, not how it really is. It can never be the way we want it to be, because that would involve immortality, wouldn't it? And that's where we get to the moments lasting forever full circle piece - I'm not sure I could write such a short story about that, because you're right. The downs are essential so we can have the ups. And eating healthy cake would be boring in so many ways. So better to have sadness AND happiness, to have love AND lust, to have tiredness AND passion. We can still write those stories if you want, but not this year. I have another new book in my head - all these ideas are making me scream and wanting to slow down time and/or win the lottery so I can write them. Perhaps I'm just not committed enough, because I don't want to sacrifice my family time, or my fitness time I(although today I have), or my job time, to the writing. Or my sleep. Pathetic, really.

Talking of sleep, I find wine very rarely interferes with mine. Though, of course, as M will tell you, I'm not actually very good at sleeping. I slept for over 8 hours on Saturday night, which for me is a miracle. I'm guessing if we average it out over the last 25-odd years, my nightly sleep is about 5 hours. And often I thrive on it, even now, although that's becoming rarer and rarer, and I find myself cursing whoever said old people need less sleep. I just curse sleeplessness when I'm sitting naked in the kitchen at 2 a.m. eating a biscuit and drinking water. Although at 1:30 this morning I was in my boxer shorts because O is now home and likely to be up and around at that time (as he was).

I've been messing up appointments etc recently, too, and not just recently, actually; most of my adult life. I have dreams of having a Personal Assistant. Ha! More recently I do think it's because there's too much in my head, as I'm sure there's too much in yours, too. That's the price we pay for being writers - because we're always carrying our stories around with us, always turning them over in our minds, from the expanse of plots down to minutiae of single words and phrases, trying out millions of versions of the same sentence until we find the one that's right, and probably exactly at the one time when we have nothing to write on, or when we're in the middle of a conversation with someone else (and probably important or dependent).

The only two reasons I don't forget this family's birthdays and anniversaries are the fear of being killed for forgetting, and the fact that I'm the romantic, the most romantic. And so men should be.

I'm afraid of enumerating all the fears I have when it comes to thinking about the family. I never had real existential fear before we had children. I'll leave that there.

Thank you for re-reading Bee Bones, and for liking it, and for not giving its essence away. I still think it sums up much of what I'd lived up to when it was written, and probably what I've lived since. I did write a version with a different ending but didn't like it as much. Do we have to like our own writing?

My hand-writing getting ragged now - that's because I've got one eye on the clock. I swear people won't ever understand that I have two full-time jobs - the one that pays the mortgage, and the writer job. "Just because I work from home doesn't mean I don't do anything," he screams at the world. Oh well.

This probably means I should bring this to a close. You can probably only read these letters because you have a typed version of them online. Legibility was never high on the agenda for me, nor being understood.

If we don't write before Christmas, God Jul til deg og E og ungene.

Have a peaceful time.



5 December 2016

Those perfect moments you wish would last forever; and infinity

Dear Ren,

4th December 2016, 12:15

Once again, my desk is littered with all sorts of detritus; things done and things undone - and an almost overflowing ashtray, bad man that I am.
I'm writing listening to K on the radio, the sun outside already almost gone, like a summer late afternoon, and it's only just gone noon. I think Advent is a way of bringing light into our darkness, all religious connotations aside. A friend of mine said the other week that we should make a lot of noise in this time, light many candles, burn lots of incense, to drive the dark spirits away. I think she has a point. I haven't done much research on this (I'm intrinsically lazy, so I never do much research on anything - except my books where my laziness actually distracts me into research in abundance rather than doing any proper writing), but I can imagine in the days before easily accessible artificial light, people who rose and went to bed with the sun finding that their days in the last six weeks before the end of the year were just too short, and they had to find a way of burning candles that wasn't seen as an extravagant waste of resources, so they began to mark the path to Christmas and New Year with the tradition of burning candles, and, in respect to frugality, started with only one, and then had a feast of four flames at the end of the weeks of waiting for the days to lengthen again. That sounds about right to me. I wonder if anyone has ever written a book called A Feast of Flames.

Funny how most of my books have started with titles rather than content. Maybe that's the best way, the title as the seed and the book as the harvest. Oh, here I have to admit that The Failed Assassin started as 31 Days of Shade, because I did write it in response to 50 Shades, because I wanted to show that a) a man could write non-misogynist erotica, and b) that erotica could be literary fiction and not just the "oh my" pap with submissive female characters. I suppose I would say it's a really good book, wouldn't I? But I think rightly, and if I can't say it, who can or will?

There is a problem with people who know me reading, not just FA, but any of my books. Two contrasting incidences - a woman who served as a governor on the board of the local high school with me got to the first of two (or three - can't remember) sex scenes in Dead Men and told me she couldn't carry on reading because all she could see was me. I think that's a shame. I've said before, and said to her, that none of the people in my books is me. The other - a couple I know (M and I met them ballroom dancing) bought a handbound copy of FA (one of only 5 in existence), and read it to each other - and liked it, and I don't think it was to spice up their love life (and if it was, power to them anyhow), but because they wanted to read something different to each other. And when I spoke to them after they'd read it, there was no mention at all of me, just of the characters who inhabited the book's world and shaped its action. I'd love you and E to read it and tell me what you think - because you read and think. Although the sex is 95% of the book, and some of it a touch extreme, it's meant as an illustration of the human condition, not a book filled with gratuitous sex. I had thought about trying to rewrite it without the explicit sex, but it would lose all its energy. After all, sex is what drives us. I think so anyway.

By the way, I was asked by my publisher to add a sex scene into Dead Men (which I did - though kept it brief and not explicit) because they thought readers may find it odd that there was no climax (pardon the pun) to a particular scene. I find it odd (and disturbing) that many people say they can't understand why Adam in Dead Men doesn't immediately try to sleep with Birdie, and, similarly, why Nairne in Bee Bones doesn't try to go to bed with Kate the first day he meets her. Some people have even said those two men are less than hot-blooded, and so I must be like that, too. Despite what I've said about sex being our lives' main driver, what's wrong with respect? What's wrong with waiting to see if you really love someone before you sleep with them? I'm not saying it's the only way, but to say there's something wrong with a man or woman who doesn't immediately want sex is just so stupid (and pathetic, actually - there, I said it). I hope you're enjoying Bee Bones, despite Nairne being such a cold-blooded man (joke).

Funnily enough, M has started loving action movies in the last few years, which is interesting in itself. Especially ones that are slightly tongue-in-cheek. Although she's not such a huge Lord of the Rings addict as I am (in fact she isn't at all). Having said that, I love romcoms (or even just roms, although I'm sure love films aren't known as that). Yesterday I shed my first annual Christmas tears just watching a 2-minute scene of Love Actually (A was watching it on DVD to distract herself from her period pains0. I just adore any films like that - maybe that comes back to me reading all the romantic stories in my mother's women's magazines i the Seventies and Early Eighties. And maybe that's why the core of all my books is love.

And now K is playing The Smiths' There Is A Light That Never Goes Out - now there's a love song if there ever was one. I suppose I am just an incurable romantic. I often joke to M that I should have been born a woman and she a man because of my eternal romanticism - and the stereotype view that it's the woman who's more romantic than the man. And other reasons, too ...


Been splitting wood for the last 2 or so hours (hence my writing is all over the place - I use a hammer and a wood grenade on the pieces that are too big to be split with an axe - makes me realise how strong blacksmiths must be, and how much stronger Thor must be to throw that massive hammer of his around).

I don't know about writing and it coming from a desire to create a parallel life. Unless it's a manifestation of all those alternative selves we have created at each critical juncture of our lives, atoms of us splitting away with each decision we make, each fragment of us going on to lead a different life. Do you still have that short story?

Sometimes I think letter writing is the art of talking past each other, not in a negative sense, but in the sense that to actually just address precisely what your correspondent has said in the latest letter, and not to impart something new and totally unrelated, would make letter-writing a very infertile art, a very barren landscape of words.

Having said that, he reverts to addressing magical thinking. Why would that ever be narcissistic? It is quite important that we think of ourselves at times, and look after ourselves, and very often what I understand as magical thought doesn't just make things better for us, but for other people, too. And, actually, I'm a great believer in no rules - in Tettig's Jewels the time travel paradox explicitly doesn't apply. Mind you, being devil's advocate as ever, if there is a universe where there explicitly are no rules, does that make it a universe with one overriding rule, therefore proving that there do have to be rules? Something to ask O, seeing as he's the student of Philosophy.

It's dark now, of course, and the energy of the sun and the wood splitting has dissipated. I wish sometimes there was a wood burner in this small office, so I could turn the lights off and listen to the music with just the light of the flames floating around my space. I often say to M that we should sleep in the living room where our wood burner is, just so we can go to sleep to the yellow light and the crackling of the logs. It hasn't happened yet - the bed is more comfy than the floor.

I think we are all blind to our own wisdoms - and I think it's probably best that way. Maybe that is exactly what wisdom is, actually. Otherwise it is narcissism. There can be no other explanation or way. The Oracle didn't know what it was saying - and that's exactly why its opinion was valued, why its opinion mattered, why it was wise. But at least it had moral reasoning, at least it had morals. Too many modern-day oracles (read politicians) don't actually have morals, or a moral compass. And that's why we have evil knocking at our doors, and that's why we need to keep lighting those Advent candles - to ward off the evil, and to remind us that we can make the future bright. Otherwise there is no hope.

I've read East European children's tales (and I presume you meant that East rather than further afield, where I've only ever read the Kama Sutra, and some other Tantric thoughts on sex, oh, and Kahlil Gibran - my father treasured him). I tend to steer clear of ghost and horror tales (and films) because I fund real life frightening enough as it is, and much of the ghost/horror genre seems to focus on the purely evil rather than the redemptive. And, as I said, with real evil at our doors, why read fictionalised evil? This is where I shiver.

Ice Child is melancholy, for a variety of reasons, which I can't really talk about because that would give the story away. I have sort of been back to it, mainly in my head, which is where the separate strands of the story are now at last beginning to organise themselves. And those strands are quite complex, and, as with all writing, to make the complex appear simple (and even to make the writing appear simple and effortless) requires a huge amount of effort. I'm not sure how overtly political it will be, because something I try to beware of is making my fiction too preachy. I don't have that same barrier when it comes to writing poetry or outright polemic.

Looking at the number of loose sheets I've already scribbled this letter on, I should really close it soon - just one more page, I promise.

Maybe it is just that I am permanently melancholic, just sometimes more deeply. Although the despair I feel when I am down seems very real to me. But, as I've said before, whatever I have, it can't be in any way be compared to the intense pain and suffering people with real mental health issues go through (I sometimes think I just imagine mine). My real melancholia kicks in every year on 22nd June because that's when the days start getting shorter (although I've been fighting against thinking that way in the last couple of years).

Just to end, my vision of the physical universe wasn't quite as sophisticated as yours. I used to lie in bed and think the universe was bounded by a white picket fence, and no matter how often I got close to that fence in my mind, I could never make out what was on the other side of it. So I was never untethered, just curious, and perhaps not brave enough to jump over the fence. Infinity is frightening in one way (distance, loneliness), positive in another (love, life after death if you think there is one, the indestructability of matter).

We had a lovely night out to celebrate M's birthday. You know when you have those perfect moments you wish could last forever? This has been such a weekend.

And I'm glad we don't know each other's birthdays. One less burden of expectation to bear, in the best possible way.

Much love to you and E. Live well.


25 November 2016

Religion, politics, and a space to breathe

Dear Ren,

23rd November 2016, 20:29

Just a quick start to this. Thanks for your letter which arrived as I'm struggling with the middle section of Ice Child - the weather, a tooth extraction, and general exhaustion, I think. Still no shrugging, though.

I was going to say how odd it is that I always start letters (and emails) with the end of the letter I'm writing back to, and now I've written seven lines already without saying what I was going to start with, which is that I don't actually know when your birthday is. Sorry. Barolo, what a wonderful name for a wine - the word rolls round your mouth just like that rich red flavour. I must go back to drinking more red again. I always prescribe it for friends when they have colds.

My desk is stacked high with research for the novel, with a print-out of your letter, Mixed States (because I had to go and read On Not Repeating Myself), day job notebooks and papers (hidden on the photos because they have to be secret), two PCs and keyboards and mice (and my new writing CD on the stereo behind me because the one I'd been using so far seems to have lost its effect).
One last thing tonight, before I go back to Ice Child - your letters are like your poems. They go out and gather all these thoughts and facts and emotions, and pull them all together, and get to an ending that, like I said to you yesterday, haunts. And that is the right word, not because of your recurring ghosts, but because it's the best word I can find to say those endings stay with me, become engrained. Maybe that is what ghosts are - some part of some soul, of some nature, that is so intense it stays with you forever. There. I think it must be true.
to be continued in the morning
24th November 2016, 12:15
Life is fragmented. I got up at 6:30 and thought I'd get some writing (inc this letter) done, but what with exchanging about 12 words with M before she left at 6:55 and then dealing with some work emails until I woke A at 7:30, and then talking with her over breakfast (and seeing K out of the door at 8:08), and then seeing her out of the door at 8:40, time in the mornings seems to disintegrate and hours pass. And yet I don't regret this, because soon they'll all be living somewhere else and I'll not be able to be nice or curmudgeonly with them in the mornings. Actually, I took A to have a look at a high school where she might do her A-levels from Sept yesterday, and when we got home, A, K, and I had a nice talkie lunch together. I'm so lucky to work from home. M was quite upset she'd not been there for that lunch. I like, I love those spontaneous moments with my family.
Back to your letter - I've not picked up Cursed Child  since last week. Much of my time is going into making sure my voice is heard somewhere about the appalling political situations the UK and the US have got themselves into. I did write an open letter on my blog to the Electoral College, but that will have been ignored along with all our pleas for unity and sanity and tolerance. On Sunday, though, my show on the radio will be two hours of political songs, and I don't care who complains, and I certainly won't be impartial, because that's not how I do things.
By the way, I'm very glad for you that E and I don't have looks in common. He's a tall, handsome, striking man, and I couldn't be further from that. Good job M likes me short, dumpy and very distracted most of the time. When I've read Cursed Child, I'll see what happens about the rules of magic. Mind you, isn't the magic thing about magic that there can never be any rules?
See, you are more clever than me - I don't even know what a Hegelian spiral is. Though that brings me to the communalities between the mentally disordered and creative people - I often think they are one and the same. O often asks me why I don't got to the doctor about my depression. Answer is that I think it's mild, nothing compared to those who really suffer, and that I use it to fuel my writing. I often feel that I write my best when I'm at my unhappiest. Perhaps I'm a fool, not a poet. Also, I'm not sure I have the courage to reveal myself, to confront myself in conversation with my doctor, as with a shrink. Although I have to admit my last appointment with my acupuncturist (whom I'm going to see later) reduced me to tears because she does make me confront myself with truths I am too often not prepared to accept. But the last thing I want to do is to have the energy and the words cured away. Because, truthfully, that would be death.

 Politics, all the time. Even writing this, about me, I have this going on at the back of my mind. I know we all have very dark, evil places in our souls - that's what writing is about, dealing with those things. We're all greedy, we're all capable of doing appalling things - but we don't, because we learn to tell the difference between right and wrong, because we know the value of love, friendship, freedom, and peace. To be honest (I use that phrase too much), self-loathing is better than loathing those who are different from us to the extreme of wanting to destroy them. Because that's where those on the right (and I don't just mean the extreme right) are, and where they've always been - they want to eradicate anything and anyone that's different to them. And even if they stop short of eradication, they want to subjugate. All right-wing politicians are nothing but ethnic cleansers. And those who are on the Evangelical Right - they're not Christians. How can you claim to be of any faith if you approve of war, violence, misogyny and other countless crimes against humanity? It's madness of a particularly malicious kind.
You know, there's nothing wrong with fanning the flames of knowledge, understanding, and resistance to the above.
Ufarliggjøring - to make less dangerous, to defuse; all these definitions have two sides. Do you make something less dangerous in the sense of making it appear harmless (which actually makes it more dangerous), or by removing from it the potential to be dangerous (which really does disarm it)? Are normalisers just teaching the world to accept the bomb, or are they taking the firing mechanism out of the bomb? I think it's the first, and I don't want the world to be like that. Fascists are fascists are fascists, and no amount of spin can change that. And they're evil. Enough!
What I've always loved about the Potter series is that it's built on this idea of there always being a safe place, that there will always be someone who loves you. The idea that good will ultimately overcome evil is one we all like, isn't it? That's why the books have been so successful. I have read them all at least 4 times, although I have never gone to huge lengths to analyse them beyond what I've just said. I know Rowling always says Dumbledore was homosexual. I can't say that I ever had the sense that Greyback was an analogy for homosexuality, though. Being a boy at heart, I probably just focused on the adventure and the battles. And then the question is - are there really that many layers under what novelists write? Should we even take the liberty to assume there are, and to look for things that might not even be there? I know some people have given Dead Men interpretations that never crossed my mind when I was writing it, nor when I'd finished it. In the end, I think all writing is about the quest for redemption, even if that quest is not always completed. I don't know if that makes me a believer in the original sin - something I think I'm not.
I love this conclusion of yours - "... men ... battle nature from without their bodies, women from within." I think this is so true, and manifested in so many different ways. How women think (though that will always be a mystery to me), how they read, how they intuit, how they interact. But then maybe that's why we still live in such an overwhelmingly patriarchal society - because women have always had to fight those internalised battles, have always had to fight with themselves, while men have always just fought with each other and thereby conquered the planet. Or perhaps that's me now ascribing too many layers to life, when, essentially, life should be straightforward and simple. (But it's not, he thinks).
Full circle to On Not Repeating Myself. On reading it again, I find it frighteningly prescient about this correspondence, and so accurate about how life moves on, from then to now, to the things we don't even know about yet. Poetry, you see, I think, has infinitely more levels and layers than novels (all novelists will now come to lynch me.) Brevity = more possible tangents of thought; length = more linear and less room to drift, counter-intuitively. Though, having said all that, Ice Child at the moment is transmogrifying into a jangled portrait of a disturbed mind, a mind disturbed by circumstance and ambition rather than by chemical imbalances. Maybe it's the change in writing music that's done that - it hasn't, not really; there was always the chance of this metamorphosis. My biggest problem is that I often turn into my characters, rather than them coming from me in the first place.
There'll be traces on this paper of tobacco, seeing as I roll my cigarettes here on the desk, and possibly some traces of smoke because I very occasionally smoke in here - not while writing these letters though.
I fell asleep so deeply and rapidly in my acupuncture session today that K made me jump when she started wafting her moxa stick over my bare back. Oh, that heat is so wonderfully nourishing, and the scent a wonder, too. We used moxa in a futile attempt to move the still-in-womb C from a breach position. She did move around a lot, but didn't turn. I think she wanted to be a footling birth, different from her siblings. Oh my, how our children shape our lives.
And that brings me from beginning to end, old age and food and religion. Yes, we should just focus on knowing ourselves better, our nature, and our part of nature. That's the problem with those fascists - they don't even understand what nature is, what natural is. And religion as "just a recognition that becomes impossible not to see as one ages," that's not such a far-fetched idea, you know. And I don't just mean Christianity; I mean any faith. My father bought me a copy of the Qur'an for my confirmation - but I'm sure you knew that already. I am sure of one thing - my faith has never removed from me the fear of death, although it leads me to question that fear.
I told K that I think all my back troubles (and all the other malfunctions of this body I inhabit) come from my fear of the world. She promptly put a needle in my kidney point (also where fear is centred) and I nearly went flying off the treatment table. Maybe it's released me, through that pain, from some of my fear.
So here I am, unable as always to draw all these thoughts into a haunting conclusion. All I can say and mean is that this thinking out loud is helping all my other writing, and giving me a space to breathe in this rushing and dangerous time. For that I thank you.
Klem and love to you, and all yours,

17 November 2016

Tangents, and not tangents

Dear Ren,

Interesting, these letters. I love the way they go off on tangents which then prove not to be tangents at all. And I think I like writing these in ink first so that I don't go back and self-edit. Because, although these are private letters (maybe personal is a better word) they are going public straightaway, and I don't want to end up writing as if I were addressing the public. This is a letter to you that I choose to share.

I'm writing this to the CD I've put together to do all my 2016 writing to - I know you think it's odd, but if I feel there's going to be a theme to my writing (or my mind) I'll put something together. Sometimes it's just for a particular book (and it'll say so on the CD). For The Failed Assassin I didn't need to put one together (if I remember correctly) because Lana del Rey's Born To Die album was perfect - I just put it on repeat, and away I went. I used Catfish & the Bottlemen's The Balcony in the same way for The Immortality Clock, which is sitting somewhere waiting for me to publish it.

By the way, I never refer back to my previous letters, so if I end up repeating myself, so be it. Before the internet I wouldn't have been able to do that anyway, as I'm not in the habit of making copies (long-hand or photo) of any letters I write.

Anyway - what you say about the acceptance of weather viz Ben Saunders and you on a mountain, brings back a memory, or memories combined. I'm sure I read somewhere a long long time ago, that Native Americans taught their children (mainly the boys) that they had to relax and let the cold pass through them, or take it in as energy, to survive it. And then they would send them out into the cold for a night or more, naked, and they would be adults when they came back. That's one half of the memory. The other half is that two or three days after M and I first got together (the weekend after, it will have been) A (so I am editing names, sorry), now O's godmother, came to stay, and we went for a really long walk on the hills around Newbury, and she was cold, so I gave her my jumper and told her that Native American story and tried to apply it (and it worked), and at the same time told her that I'd fallen in love with M (and A was always the first to know about my loves because she's such a good old friend, was even then). Some might say that this relaxing, this acceptance, can be deadly, too, in the cold, in space - some people call it euphoria, and it can lead to you wanting to stay exactly where you are, because you never want to lose it. And it's certainly not a bracing feeling.

I'd like to see Lodén's paper/essay about you and read it in Norwegian. I bet late means mature (and I'm not having a go at your Norwegian); it's your typical modesty/self-doubt that turns it into the harbinger of the end of an era. Your publisher must love your work very much, or maybe he knows something you don't know about the kulturråd, or he is simply as sure as I am that you're quite brilliant and your voice has to be heard. On the being published, part of it is prestige, I suppose, and, again, that validation from a third party, that's what it is about. But does it matter that it's about that? We're human, after all. And, actually, third-party validation comes as much from people buying self-published books, or taking poems along with gingerbread. (I always like to eat when I'm reading, although K, my acupuncturist, tells me I shouldn't because the body should focus on food entirely, not anything else).

I always keep meaning to read some Crace, ever since you told me a long time ago that he's your favourite novelist. I think writing different genres is just an expression of the different people in our heads, so yes, Jekyll and Hyde, but more of them than just the two. Not just that, but writers are story tellers, and why tell the same type of story every time? The more variety the better. I don't think they had genres  sitting round the fires in the very olden days, and I don't think those listening decided not to listen to their story teller from one day to the next because he'd changed the type of story we was performing. It's an invention of marketers, and yet more proof that writing is becoming nothing more than product to be placed, which I guess brings me nicely to agree with you about populism (in more things than just writing), although I'm not sure the Dylan Nobel Prize is necessarily a symptom of that (All Along the Watch Tower is just a poem set to music, I have always felt).

You've not told me much about your project, so you won't lose momentum. And we'll leave that there, just like I'll tell you nothing more about Ice Child except that I've been spending most of nano editing rather than writing with abandon. But it'll be better for that - characters need to have a base before they can go off and do their own thing and tell me about it.

It's just gone 9pm and I've relocated from the office to the kitchen. It's the time of day when I grab myself a beer and go outside to drink (too greedily) from it, and to have a cigarette in the other hand. I always used to do this when we'd put the children to bed and they were asleep - a big relax, but not so big now because a) they're still up, and b) there always seems to be something to do. So writing to you once a week has become a good, calming, relaxing thing.

Interesting that you and your ex share that wonderful old lady dog whom I have a couple of photos of. I didn't know that. I guess it just goes to show how much of our lives they take over. Only for me, as you know, cats not dogs. And I needed the cat today as it was a really bad morning. I told C on fb I was having a bad time, and she messaged me back suggesting I read a book or spend time with the cat. So I did both - lay stomach-down on C's bed, started reading The Cursed Child, and the cat came and lay down beside me. Of course, what I had been waiting for all morning (3 hours) came within 15 minutes of me starting to read. Typical! (I can't control how many loops I put into some words when writing long-hand - how weird is that?)

The missing my children thing - even when they're not here I go into their bedrooms to say good night when I go to bed. I think I got that from my mother - she did it, too. At least I don't go round unplugging every electrical device - she did. Not sure the cat is preparing C for my demise. The children have been through several cat deaths already, but I think children always think their parents are immortal. Even when Mum had been fully taken over by dementia I think I still thought she'd get through it and live forever. I love what you said about the Old Lady - first a baby, then an elder. I wonder why I'd never thought of that - perhaps because cats are mostly always frivolously contrary. Maybe that's how I want to be when I get older. When I get the time to - because although I'd always hoped that getting older would bring me stability (financial and other) and time, that hasn't happened - yet. And I long to have time to be without worry, and to be creative, and to write lots of letters to lots of people.

We do need animals, and we do need people, in our lives. We can learn from both. It's just that I very often doubt that I've been paying attention to the lessons. Because, somehow, with every day that passes I feel increasingly lost in a world that somehow doesn't quite make sense anymore. And, to be honest, I refuse to accept the world as it is. I refuse to resign. Maybe that's the reason for me feeling more of an outsider than ever. Whether or not I can rejoice in that, I'm not sure, but I suppose it's better than just shrugging and giving up.

On that positive note,

much love to you and E, and the boys, and the Old Lady,


12 November 2016

An open letter to the Free Electors of the USA

Dear Free Electors,

On December 19th, you have a huge opportunity to demonstrate that the Electoral College set up by the Founding Fathers is not an irrelevance in this day and age. An opportunity to demonstrate to your own legal experts and leading thinkers on the law that the Electoral College is not an anachronism but an instrument of balance, a force, as originally intended, to halt dictatorship and despotism in your united states, to prevent all power from being concentrated in a single person's hands. You have an opportunity, too, to act not just for the good of your country but for the good of the entire world. You have the power not to let Donald Trump ascend to the presidency of the USA, and to prevent Mike Pence from becoming Vice-President.

Consider this, from your Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

There can be no doubt that Mr Trump and Mr Pence threaten the equality of people, that they threaten to withdraw from many those inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that any government they would head would be destructive of these ends. And no doubt that their betrayal of your Declaration of Independence would also seek to withdraw those rights from people around the globe.

Consider this, from your Constitution:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Mr Trump, as President, and Mr Pence as Vice-President, would not be acting to establish justice, nor to ensure domestic tranquillity, nor promote general welfare for all the inhabitants of the United States. And they would withdraw the blessings of liberty from your country, as well as causing to fall apart that "more perfect Union" of states.

Consider this, from your Bill of Rights:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

This is just one of the ten constitutional amendments which make up your Bill of Rights which Mr Trump has expressly declared that he will repeal, with the support of Mr Pence. Has he not by this statement alone already breached your constitution, and is he therefore not already unfit to serve, as is Mr Pence?

Therefore, dear Free Electors of the USA, do not cast your vote for Mr Trump or Mr Pence on 19th December. Even those of you in the 24 states which against all notions of liberty bind their Electors can refuse to cast your votes for Mr Trump and Mr Pence at the risk only of small penalties. Is that not a risk worth taking so that the constitution of your country remains intact, for your reputation in the world to be less tarnished? What price is worth paying for liberty and peace in the world? And those of you in the 22 states which do not bind their Electors, you have no obligation whatsoever to cast your votes for two men who would divide not just your united states but would destroy the entire world. I would urge you all to cast your votes for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine instead.

Yours, in hope,


edited on 28th November to urge the Electors to withhold their votes from Mike Pence, too.

11 November 2016

Otherness, writing & real letters

My dear Ren,

I'm so glad I followed my instinct and wrote and sent you my last letter in its physical form. Glad it arrived with you on a dark day (for us all). Glad it reminded you of your grandmother's letters - even if that was just because I ran out of one type of paper. Mind you, I don't believe there is any such thing as coincidence. I believe in serendipity instead. Your letter made me happy.

I believe that all conversations are meaningful and change the world. We could be talking about the weather and it would mean something - it's that effect of butterfly wings thing. It's words being released into the world. My mother used to tell me to be careful of what I said out loud, because my words would travel around the world and be heard by many people wherever the wind chose to take those words. I think what I do now is probably the opposite of the cautious approach she wanted me to take.

My not caring about what people say comes from my laziness rather than male confidence. I am tired of having to jump through hoops to impress people, be they gatekeepers or not, tired of having to be politic and playing the game. That's why I've never dived into that whole marketing and algorithms thing, why I hardly read anything about self-publishing, why I am actually useless about marketing myself. The media whore thing is just that - I love being the centre of attention. But I only do it so much; I don't push myself at all the media outlets I should be pushing myself at if I really wanted to be plastered over all the papers and radio and TV. I often see that as cowardice, not just laziness. And yes, I do still hanker after external validation, but ... . The silence I interpret as not being read rather than my writing being poor. I also interpret it as review fatigue when people are being asked to review every little thing they buy.

Another thing on male confidence - I am not an alpha male, and never have been. It's not in my makeup - maybe because I have 3 sisters. In my youth, I refused to compete for girls, would just walk away from such overt male competitions. I even did the same with M, before we were properly together, because, as I said to her then, I refuse to let others lead my life for me. I don't think that's confidence; if anything it's diffidence. I have to shrug my shoulders here and say that it's just the way I am, and that I have never spent a huge amount of time thinking about it. Having said that, I'm still the same about alpha male behaviour - because A (youngest daughter) plays a lot of ladies cricket, I get to hang out with a lot of 25-year-old ladies at after-match drinks etc, and to watch the young men preening themselves around them. They (the ladies) come and sit with me when it gets too much for them, and we talk about how silly alpha males are. Maybe that is a sign of me getting old - being a father figure to these women.

I sometimes think you and I are polar opposites - I am very weak on self-analysis. I do overthink, but usually in relation to other people's actions. I am very chaotic, which is why I write back so quickly, and you're much more organised than you think. Oh, by the way, I reckon you achieved 2 out of your 7 checklist items on 9th November, because you wrote lyrically and eloquently about how you felt about the election on facebook, and for me that counts as writing.

My children were very cross with me for not choosing another pen name for The Failed Assassin, what with it being 95% sex (and some of it not exactly nice), but my thinking was that when history judges me, I want my body of work to be in one place, with one name. My agent hates me for writing so many different genres, and, in keeping with our fairly fractious relationship, refused to read a historical fiction novel I wrote a couple of years ago (which I might publish next year). And no, I don't pay him to read my books. And agents over here don't normally charge, not if they're bona fide agents. But then novels aren't academic papers or learned essays.

The plan had been to use nanowrimo as an external deadline, but I've fallen way behind because my day job is very busy all of a sudden (more busy than usual), the political situation has grabbed a large part of my brain, and because the short days are making me struggle. However, there is time to catch up, and I will very much try to. Oh, and having a bad back (though it is much better) doesn't help, because it always feels like the centre of my being has been ripped out, and I hate not being able to move freely. I'm working on a sequel to Dead Men, provisionally called Ice Child, which I hope will do its characters and the Antarctic justice.

The thing is, I have so many other novels running around in my head that I just want to get them down on paper and move on. I'm especially keen to write the one that's all about why time is going so quickly right now. I even read Lisa Randall's Dark Matter & The Dinosaurs as research, a good, great book if you ever get time to read it and have a fascination for astrophysics. If I can make the time to write more. I am lucky in that I can write quickly - 1,000 words in 30 minutes if I'm really inspired.

To come back to books and agents etc, I am fortunate in that I started life as a proof reader, so at least I am confident in my ability to read what I have written fairly objectively and efficiently, and that's what persuaded me to become a hybrid author after having one book traditionally published. Not that there's any money in it for me yet. And that's not really about the money; it's about having the independence to be able to write full-time. You must tell me more about your situation with the kulturråd. Perhaps sharing will let you be more sure about what to do.

Parenting - it is complex, isn't it? And no, don't adopt an accent. Be you. The thing is - Norwegians don't say much, so any voice appears strident to them. This was the issue we had with M's family - they were notoriously even more taciturn and silent than the average Norwegian. Is it our sense of otherness that makes us think even about the way we speak and are heard? Is it part of that, our, searching you talk about in your letter? I think it may be. Perhaps that part of us that's uncertain and insecure is that part of us that analyses how others see us. In the end, I always think that parents who question themselves make the best parents, not those who think they have done everything right. I still question our decision to have moved back to England, in particular this rural part of England, but the children seem to be doing well despite that decision, even though, to my great disappointment, none of them have become linguists. M used to tell me off for treating them as adults from when they could sit up, but I think/hope that this is one reason for them being, now, people that I can spend time with, even when we/I do things the other disapproves of.

I do miss Norway. Mostly the landscape, I must admit, and some of the male friends I made there. I found the people very xenophobic, I have to say, and when the shootings happened in 2011 (I have decided to cross his name out because I won't give him the oxygen of publicity) I wasn't really surprised that it was a terror attack by one of Norway's own. The one good thing I experienced as an immigrant was the free language lessons I got, thanks to which I became fluent in what I still hear as a beautiful language. On the other hand, I think I'm an immigrant wherever I am. Another example of otherness? Yes. I don't really feel at home where I am now, and I can see us moving away as soon as the children have all left home. Although, as I have promised them, wherever we move to, we'll always have a house with five bedrooms so they always have a room to come back to if they need sanctuary. That limits our options financially, but who cares? It's the family that counts.

Looking out of my office window, I can see C in the garden with the cat (they love each other) a few hours before she goes back to uni after 4 days here with us to recharge. It feels peaceful to be sitting here writing, and although I'll miss her and she'll dreadfully miss the cat, I'm glad she'll be going, and I'm glad that our children are strong enough to make their own ways in this difficult world.

Finally, I was so touched by the beginning of your letter. 'E gently asked me,' you write, and that created such a wonderful picture of love. When you first told me you had met a man, I hoped for a gentle one for you. And when I met him for the first time, I knew you'd found the right one. I am so so happy for you both. May that gentleness last for all time.

Thank you for letting me find another outlet (this letter and the last have used up 1 full reservoir of ink in my pen) for my thoughts. Actually, for kicking me back into writing. If Ice Child gets finished by the end of November, it will, in large part, be down to you.

Much love to you, and yours,


10 November 2016

An open letter to Trump and Brexit voters

Dear fellow inhabitants of the world,

2016 has been a year where many expectations and assumptions have fallen by the wayside, for a whole variety of reasons. It has also presented me, personally, with much confusion and possibly a lack of understanding. Perhaps you can help me make sense of the events which your way of voting has precipitated.

The world has become a much more difficult place since the crash in 2008, and I am one of those who has been frustrated by how the many ordinary people (that famous silent majority) have been forced to pay for the greed and mistakes of the few bankers and business people and establishment politicians (that famous one percent). What they have done to those much less well off than them is indeed sickening.

What has confused me, though, is that although the campaigns for Trump and Brexit have been led by exactly those same people, by that one percent, you have voted to make them a success. You have followed the words and actions of wealthy establishment figures and concluded that those leaders are you, that they will do things which will make you more successful, more wealthy, and your future brighter. I don't understand this at all, because their philosophies will not change; they will not all of a sudden become more altruistic and generous, less bent on making a profit, less self-centred, more caring. For them it is an impossibility, because, most of the time being a success means being ruthless and putting down anyone who might challenge their success.

Another thing I don't understand is that you call yourselves the common people (the "common" meaning everyday and normal) and yet you support movements which discriminate against the common people, those people of any religion or faith, those people of any gender, those people of any sexual orientation, those people of any colour, those people of any language, those people of any choice, who live alongside you, who contribute to the economies of where you live, those who sweat, bleed, piss, shit, cry, hurt, and fear just like you do. And you raise to a status of demigods your leaders who would discriminate against you because you smell of sweat, because you don't speak the way they do, because you're not the same perceived class as they are. To me, that makes no sense.

And finally, I really don't understand the sudden and overpowering invective against what the mass media is so famously calling the liberal elite. I don't even understand what this liberal elite is meant to be. Is it people with posh accents, or people with a university education, or people who are creative, or people with the aspiration of making the world a better place for the generations that come after them? And aren't all those things (except maybe the posh accent) praiseworthy and inclusive rather than being elitist? Isn't the quest for knowledge every single day of life a quest we should all be on? And isn't it our responsibility to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to acquire more knowledge rather than just standing still? Isn't our goal, in fact, the same - to make everyone equal? Maybe I have misunderstood.

Maybe this letter to you is just a way of clearing my mind of the anger and sadness I felt on 24th June after Brexit and again yesterday, when I saw the world suddenly become a much less kind place. Maybe it's me trying to hold my hands out to you in an effort for unity and compassion. Maybe it's me trying to knock down all the walls that already exist in the world rather than building even more.



3 November 2016

Women, men, writers, bodies, and metamorphosis

Dear Ren,

I don't even know where to start. When I worked as a teacher in Germany in in 1980/81, Anna (Oscar's godmother) and I wrote each other letters that were well over 20 pages long. And there is so much in your last letter that I could easily write you 20 pages in response.

You wouldn't want to be in my head - seriously. It is a place of total and utter chaos, but no-one on the outside ever thinks that, because, for some odd reason, everyone seems to think that I am one of the most organised people they know. What I do always say to people is that if we get all our routine tasks out of the way quickly, we'll have more time to be free, to do what we really want, and enjoy ourselves.

As far as listening to music when writing goes, I think I need an atmosphere around me, a sense of moving space. I also quite like mishearing words and creating something from that wrong word that then sends me off in a totally different direction. It's almost symbiotic, the way music and my words live together. And it has to be loud music a lot of the time. Having said that, I do like silence, and I do sometimes write poetry in silence. Because, for me, poetry punctuates the quiet, and poetry is quiet, a lot of the time.

You're right about how possibly childbirth makes it easier for women to accept the physical changes mid-life brings with it. For us men, it is a shock because we've never really been through metamorphosis before. Certain angles of certain things change, too, and that affects our sense of being men, too. Erectile tissue weakens - now that's a title for a novel if there ever was one.

I hate how men/media/even women talk about vaginas in a derogatory way. A vagina is one of the most beautiful things on the planet, and I have been horrified, when talking with M, or past girlfriends, how previous lovers have talked about it in the most horrible way, and how this has affected their self-esteem, their attitudes towards the body, everything. It's damage that's not easy to repair. What have those women been made to miss?

I must obviously go and find a copy of Being Dead, although I have to admit that I am painfully reluctant to think about death, especially my own. I guess it's because it frightens me, however inevitable it is. I still long for that sense of immortality we had when we were young.

As for the freedom that age brings - I think you're one step ahead of me because you have an empty nest. I don't yet (nor am I necessarily looking forward to having one), but I can see how it would allow me to refocus my responsibilities on me rather than trying to feed so many mouths - spiritually and physically.

What you say about posting poetry on your blog is really very interesting. I'd have thought that a published poet would no longer care what the world says or how it reacts, would be unshakeably confident in her words. Having said that, I honestly believe that writers who worry about what they write, who think what they write may not be good enough, are actually the best writers, the greatest writers. I remember you signing your first book for me in that 45 minutes we had at Oslo station in November 2004, the very first time we met, and, having retrieved it from my shelf now, find that even then you had that concern about your words being good enough - 'probably published before it was ready' you wrote in it for me. We're strange creatures, writers, always on that edge between success and failure - in our heads. I'm not sure we always register what the world says about us. I must admit I've given up caring about what people say about my writing, but frustrated when no-one is saying anything. Maybe I do have the constant need to be the centre of attention, despite being chronically shy (something M will confirm to anyone who doesn't believe me). The public performer is a type of mask for me - and I love it. I have always told you I'm a media whore.

You deserve the attention your forfatterskap gets - I think/know you're a great writer. You have taught me many things about writing. Not just that, but it's down to you that Bee Bones was written, because it was you, towards the end of October 2005, who emailed me and told me about NaNoWriMo, and so I started writing on 1st November 2005, to a title I'd thought up years before, and 76,000 words poured out of me in 23 days to make the book that's still the most special to me, however imperfect it occasionally seems to me. 11 years ago! See what a significant part of my life you are.

To come full circle to the beginning of your letter, I do not allow myself to even think about Christmas before 1st Advent, which often but not always coincides with M's birthday. I miss Norwegian Christmases, though we do celebrate the Norwegian (and German) way. I need to get some scent candles into my office (separate from the house) to fill me with energy in the mornings, but I still haven't found the lemon scent I want.

Enjoy your dark mornings and evenings. I have to admit I find them more difficult to deal with in England than I ever did in Norway. It's the dampness over here, I think, and the lack of clearly-defined seasons. And the minimal hope for snow.

Give our love to E. You're always welcome to come and see us over here. I'm not sure we'll ever travel as a family of 6 again now that 2 of the children are over 20. Although they did all come to Spain with us to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Now that was something! I hope we'll be able to celebrate yours and E's 25th. I'll only be 81!


30 October 2016


Last night you said good-bye to me for the last time,
Closed the airtight door behind you,
And flew out into deep space
Because that’s where you said you wanted to be
Without ever coming back.

I spent the night asking myself
How a man could spend the rest of his life
On his own in a capsule of artificial air and light;
No up, no down, no human touch again ever;
And how you would cope,
If you’d regret your choice.

And then I woke up.

The house is still empty of you
Like it was when you first left
And I still think of you every day
Every minute when my brain slows
And all I want to do is talk with you
And all I want is for you to be a baby again
On my knees, asleep, your tiny arms round me
Your breath regular, safe against my broadness.

Now is now, and you are a man
With your own life. Perhaps the dream
Is me finally letting you go,
No strings, no emotional blackmail,
My past no longer an intimidation,
As you once said it was.
Maybe you’re finally you.

But you always were.
You didn’t have to take off into the dark sky
To prove it.

R, 27/10/2016
For Oscar, on his 24th birthday

27 October 2016

Cats and dogs and middle-age and music and parenthood

Dear Ren,

As always, I'm listening to some new music when writing, because, contrary to many other writers I know, I need sound to put my words together. It's so wonderful to be writing to you again, and I'm sure some of the songs I'm listening to right now will find their way onto the CD I always send you at Christmas.

I think what you call mid-life honesty I would, in my case, call mid-life melancholy. You see, I find it very hard to accept that my body is slowing down (even in the modern-day context of knowing that I am not yet very old for the times we live in), and I hate looking into the mirror and seeing not just my chin sagging, but my face looking more and more like that of my father, although he didn't bleach his hair. I find it frustrating to have to accept that I won't ever again get back to the heady days of 8-minute miling, not least because I still smoke and drink too much than I sensibly should, and I really don't want to change my ways. And that I won't be able to go without sleep for days (but that short-term sleeplessness plagues me).

Sometimes, often, I think you have a more definite sense of self than I do. And because I lived a very sheltered childhood, I find I'm still kicking against things that maybe I shouldn't be kicking against. I don't think I've ever known who I really am.

On the other hand, the way I feel now is very much what you describe as swimming against the tide. And I feel that not just politically, but metaphysically (if that's the right word), too, because I see many of the people I know who are the same age as me deciding to mellow, deciding to take things a little more easily, letting life take its course, while I'm still trying to fight to get something out of life that I can hold on to. The insecure fat boy I was when I was ten has turned into the insecure skinny-ish 56-year-old in need of affirmation.

I don't know if what I feel is nothing more than middle-class angst, or if it is actually being very aware of the fact that I've lived over half my life now (although I keep telling everyone I'll live to be 125), and that time is running out for me to do all those things I want to do. And by that I don't mean the getting famous bit (although that is always still there in my head somewhere), but turning all the ideas I have for books into books, for finally again having a physical space of my own that looks and feels the way I want it to, and becoming the parent my children deserve to have.

I get the picture of the six-year-old so well, and I was often the parent with his arm outstretched, and, although I swore, before any of my children were born, never to say no to them, that's exactly what I ended up doing, because I was afraid of the world for them, because I wanted them to be safe and protected and not exposed to the dangers of real life in any way. Even now, a few days away from my oldest's 24th birthday, the one thing that keeps taking me by surprise about parenthood is the emotional vulnerability it has bestowed on me.

Added to that now is the realisation, with every birthday, with every birthday poem I write, that time is slipping away, ever more quickly. The children realise that, too, and when they talk about it (or, more to the point, when they ask me not to talk about it), I use what you call us striving to be myths as a kind of comfort for them, that the words I write now, the words I have always written for them, and the words in my books which are not directly for them, will still be around when I'm gone, and that with those words I've created some kind of immortality, and that they'll still be able to turn to my words when they feel all alone, and I'm dust, half-spread in England and half in Norway.

On the dog front, I do like your old lady, whom I met for the first time when we came over to your wedding in June, and I did used to hang out with a black Labrador who belonged to one of my long-gone girlfriends. But I don't think I could ever live with one. Maybe it's because I'm instinctively lazy and commitment-averse (he says, having been married for over 25 years) that I like sharing my life with similarly lazy and commitment-averse creatures.

Coming back to the myths - I don't actually think that either you or I are trying to become myths. We write because we need to write, because we're driven to write, because we need to get out of what's inside, because too often in our lives we have left it inside to gnaw at the very souls of us. That's not myth-building; it's therapy. And, to be really honest, us starting this correspondence is bringing back to me the power of creation, because I haven't written properly for almost 6 months, depriving myself of the therapy that actually allows me to deal with life.

Bet you weren't expecting such a long letter in return. I am still trying to fix in my head the exact date you first emailed me (it would have been sometime in 2003, I think), and became an indispensable part of my life. As I have said, and keep saying, to be such good friends with someone in whose company I have spent less than 24 hours in 13 years is a blessing. And yes, I miss you, too, and those daily emails we used to send each other, before social media became so ubiquitous.

M sends her love back to you, and I send mine to you and E, and the boys.



This is one of a series of open letters to my friend Ren Powell. We are writing to each other on our own blogs. Please click through.

24 October 2016


This is the place.
This was part of England once.
English kings fought here,
And English soldiers died here,
To conquer a country that was never theirs.

This is the place.
Camps of refugees have been here
For centuries before these tattered tents
And their tattered needy
Fleeing from the wars their kings brought them.

This is the place.
Where the English raped and pillaged,
An uncomfortable cliché of history,
Where fortress walls burned and fell
For the sake of idle men's greed.

This is the place.
Humanity lies forgotten here as England
Pushes its borders out and fortifies its island,
As foreign becomes an alien word,
And real history lies forgotten
In piles of teeth and gold and bones.

R, 24/10/2016

20 October 2016


When I was young, I always had this vision
Of me, in my old age, sitting in a cottage garden,
At a rickety wooden table, wife and children by my side,
And dogs running around the lawn.

As it turns out, I don’t much care for dogs,
Only for cats and people.

That cottage never materialised either,
But the children and the wife did,
Even though, at times, they seemed an impossibility,
And even though I am not now that kindly patriarch
The stories, and my father, told me I should and would be.

It’s best that way.

Just imagine what I would never have learned
If I was always the strongest,
If mine was always the last word,
If women were not equal or more in my world,
If everyone looked up to me rather than just at me.

Just imagine what I would have missed
If we had never shouted or cried or laughed together,
If we had never agreed and never agreed to differ,
And never chosen our own ways and roads,
Our own ideas and consequences,
If we had never been brave enough to lead our own lives.

That cottage would have been a boring place indeed,
A prison and a gravestone,
But never a milestone on the long journey we all should travel.

So I’m glad you’re there,
And I’m here,
Glad you’re at the beginning
While I’m still in the middle,
Finding my way just as much as you are.

R, 17/10/2016
For Charlotte on her birthday.