On Epigraphs

On the first page of Silver and Salt there’s an epigraph taken from Browning. My novel began a long time ago, with a short story called the Glass-Bottomed Boat. When I wrote that story (a comic tale about a family holiday in Greece) I had no idea it would one day lose its comic thread, and grow into a novel. Partway through the auction for my first novel, when one of the bidders offered to buy two books rather than one, I was asked to produce a synopsis for a second novel overnight, and thought about The Glass Bottomed Boat.

On the Nature and Purpose of Drama, according to David Mamet

My copy of David Mamet’s ‘Three Uses of the Knife’ is underlined in places, and certain pages are folded over. Sometimes when I go to take it down from the shelf, I feel like a cross-country skier reaching for wax. But rather than functioning as a piece of kit, it’s a book that answers questions about writing: it doesn’t so much tell you how it’s done, as why.

I like how he explains our need for stories: ‘Children jump around at the end of the day to expend the last of that day’s energy. The adult equivalent, when the sun goes down, is to create or witness drama – which is to say to order the universe into a comprehensible form.’

On the return of a long-lost book

In her memoir, ‘What Language Do I Dream In?’ Elena Lappin recounts the tale of a novel being returned to her, years after she and her family had left behind their home in Prague.

I’ll leave you to read the story in its entirety (and if you’ve not already done so, would urge you to seek out the memoir) but I can tell you of my excitement on learning of Lappin’s ‘slim paperback with a shiny red, blue and white cover…’ slipping from its envelope, and my surprise at the twist borne by its blue-inked inscription, added to the title page by her brother. She says of the experience, ‘I was speechless.’

On Finding Pennerton House

An early reader of Silver and Salt wrote to me yesterday: ‘I would like to go to Pennerton.’

‘So would I!’ I wrote back, explaining there was no such place. The sprawling country house in Kent, where much of the novel is set, is made of fragments of memories of houses I’ve visited in my life. One New Year in my 20’s, I sang a concert in London and took a train to Somerset. I walked in the Quantocks every day of the week I was there. Happening upon Alfoxton House, one-time home to William and Dorothy Wordsworth, I found its gardens largely neglected.

My Vintage Classics Longlist

To mark the forthcoming 10th anniversary of the relaunch of Vintage Classics, my publisher has invited each of its authors to select their 5 favourite books from the catalogue.  The wonderful promise made in return is: ‘Whenever you press your copy into a friend’s hands or find it has wandered off your shelf onto someone…


This is my first post. I’ll give you something different every time; today it’s the object that has hung above my desk since 2008.  When someone asks me what it is, I’m surprised by the question.  To me, it’s perfectly obvious. In a house-move, one of the feathers (the fluffy white one) was damaged.  I…