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.

Thursday, 6 April 2017


Contrary to the old song, it is the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me.  Five years is not long enough to get to the end of what this city has to offer.  But hold onto your mitres, everyone: we’re off to across the Peaks, when the dean of Liverpool becomes the next bishop of Sheffield.  I'll let other commentators navigate a path through this complex terrain.  I need a whole novel for that kind of thing. Instead, I will sing a little love song to this mad city I currently live in.  Five years is not long, but it's long enough to start feeling at home.  Long enough to put down roots, and feel the twang as they are pulled up. 

Before we moved here, I’d never lived in the North West.  I’ve spent a lot of my adult life in the North East and then the West Midlands, and it took a while to get used to the constant sense that the coast was on the wrong side of me.  I arrived here completely ignorant, to be honest.  I’d only ever visited Liverpool once, on one of those I-am-an-idiot trips to renew a passport at short notice.  But I hadn’t lived here long before I realised this was my kind of city.  I’ve probably gone native by now.  If you’re interested in seeing my avada kedavra stare, simply make a fatuous crack about Scousers, shell suits and car theft.

In some ways, I discovered that I fitted in from the start.  While my sons were growing up I committed many maternal crimes, but chief among them were ‘talking to strangers in shops’ and ‘trying to be funny’.  Liverpool was an emotional homecoming.  Talking in shops is normal, and everyone’s a comedian.

Liverpool is also a wildly glamorous city.  And here, again, (as someone who secretly thinks you can’t have too many feather boas) I felt instantly I was in the right place.  In a humble way, of course.  I have much to learn.  Fortunately, there are always people on hand to offer style advice in Liverpool.  Recently I ordered a pair of shoes online, and went to collect them from Liverpool One.  I believe every single person in the store, staff and customers alike, told me they were fabulous and a bargain and I should definitely buy them.  I sometimes wonder, though, if my fashion sense is now permanently skewed.  I can get on a train in Liverpool Lime St feeling woefully underdressed, and arrive in London (where a black North Face anorak is a flashy statement) looking like I’ve tried too hard. 

Liverpool’s friendliness is legendary, but the city also topped the Travelodge survey on random acts of kindness in the UK.  Kindness.  I prefer kindness to almost anything.  Holding doors open, smiling at strangers, letting people go ahead in supermarket queues.  These are all common pracitices round here.  As a runner and a pedestrian, I’ve often noticed the kindness of drivers waving me across side roads, and anticipating my zebra crossing use.  There is one quirk of Liverpool driving that sometimes catches non-locals out at traffic lights.  It’s not quite as simple as blatantly driving through a red light, but there’s a consensus that if you actually see it turn red as you approach, it doesn’t count.

So that’s been my Liverpool home for nearly five years.  I've lost count of the number of times I've thought 'What on EARTH is going on here?' and been forced to shrug and conclude 'It's Liverpool.'  Honestly, you’re a bit mad, you lot.  But I love you.  With your cathedral to spare, and your incredibly bare statue on the old Lewis’s building.  The docks, China Town, the museums, libraries, galleries, theatres, shops, the Phil, the football stadia.  I'll miss your quirky coffee shops and fabulous restaurants, your banter, your high heels and Velcro rollers, your purple wheelie bins, not forgetting the late lamented yellow duckmobile.  I love your churches and community projects and foodbanks, your tireless fight for justice, and the way you look out for people.  

I know I have it in me to love other places.  I’m looking forward to adding Sheffield to the list of great cities I can call home. I've already caught myself wondering whether I should commission Pete a pectoral cross made from upcycled vintage cutlery. (Maybe not.  He'd be forever getting it taken off him at airport security.)  

All shall be well.  Right now, there’s no denying: the leaving of Liverpool is going to grieve me. But at the end of the long pilgrimage, I may find those things I've loved and lost have all been treasured up.  I may reach the eternal city and find it has a Scouse Quarter.

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