On Tangibility

At first the book has no substance. A single idea with no body to it, given existence only through your imagination. Simply holding it in your mind takes a great force of will. It is a fragile thing, and a single stray thought might be enough to dispatch it entirely.

The more you write, the more tangible it begins, yet even on completing the first draft, the second, the third, the fourth, it is still lacking. It begins to take shape, but it is not corporeal yet. It is like some kind of eldritch monster from the fiction of Mieville or Lovecraft, that exists only partly in this world. Its twitching tentacles are visible, but transparent, ineffable. It is struggling to claw its way through. It wants to become real.

The publishing contract brings it someway towards reality, as if it were some kind of lightning spouting steampunk contraption calling to the beast from its own dimension. The first round of the advance comes through, the cover art appears, and these too help give it substance. But it is not there yet. Its form is still in flux, and you still do not quite believe.

It is the final round of edits that truly does it. When the words themselves are on the verge of becoming fixed forever, that is when the book, at last, feels real. A terrifying feeling – if the beast is born misshapen, there is no longer anything to be done about it. But also a wonderful sense of completion, of having built something from nothing but thought and will.

Soon it will live, and go whatever way it will. It does not matter what happens then. All that matters is that it exists, that your mind is freed from the strain of holding it together. That you are free to dream another dream.

Moby Dick Big Read

I’ve blathered on extensively to everyone I know about this, but there it is again – you should really be listening to the Moby Dick Big Read , Moby Dick read a chapter a day by different readers. Highlights thus far include Tilda Swinton’s perfectly nuanced Chapter 1, Keith Collins’s chilly and atmospheric Chapter 7, and Simon Callow’s nautical sermon in Chapter 9 (less fire and brimstone, more lightning and saltwater).

The Three Tests

I grow simple in my old age. Like some travelling hero demanding to fight the three greatest warriors of a city, I have three demands from each place that I visit. Museums and sights and fancy architecture have little hold on my affections. When I go to a city, all I want to see are:

1)Your best coffee shop

2)Your best pub

3)Your best bookshop

These, for me are the true measure of any city, and my map of any place is incomplete without them. In some cities I have only 1 or 2 of these, in many I have none. It is perhaps indicative of my lack of affection for London that I find myself genuinely struggling to pick out any of the three, except perhaps the pub (The Palm Tree). When you can choose these three things, with a decisive and profound certainty, you may at last have found your home.

There are two cities I can think of that, so far, pass the test in my mind.


1)The Rude Shipyard

2)The Sheaf View

3)Rare and Racy





3)Russell Books


What are yours?