The Calamity Kid

I DON”T REALLY SIT ABOUT twiddling my thumbs, you know. When one book is finished, I am immediately off again with another. Actually, it’s not as simple as that and in fact there is often a considerable overlap. The last full stop of the first draft is a cause for celebration and a glass or three of something. Then there is a period of editing, first to see if the story makes coherent sense, followed by optically-challenging fine combing for any errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Then it’s all sent off to my fabulous editors.


It’s while I’m waiting for the manuscript to come back that I usually start researching and planning the next book. So, whilst The Northern Elements was being scrutinised in London and Vermont, USA, I made a start on A Dish of Apricots. This will be my eighth book and my fourth novel. What the title means will only become clear at the end of the book. For the moment I am only going to say that it begins in Wales, moves to London, and ends in the south of France. Philip Williams is found as a baby in a Tesco carrier bag in the ladies’ toilets at Chepstow racecourse. He is adopted by Tiwlip (Welsh for Tulip) who has a large house with many chimneys in West Wales, where there are horses in the paddock and peacocks on the lawns. Philip is horrendously accident-prone, which is why Tiwlip calls him ‘The Calamity Kid’. The novel begins with ‘A Chapter of Accidents’ where Philip is so unlucky that he is reduced to declaring: ‘I was born under a spiteful star’. That’s all you’re getting for the moment, though I have it all mapped out in my head to the very last sentence. I might leak out a little more from time to time.


Work on Apricots was put on hold as I turned back to my northern story to implement my editors’ corrections and suggestions. Then came the formatting (hellish), then sending off for proofs and correcting them, until, at last, I was ready to publish. Even then, the task is not over. You have to market your book and here there is a delicate balance to be maintained between making people aware of your work and spamming them into irritation. The weather this week has been extremely hot in the East of England but I have been able to work outside some mornings and then in the evening. The afternoons were a write-off, if you’ll pardon the pun, and I had to come indoors. That’s when I got on with advertising and correspondence. However, today there has been torrential rain. This is good writing weather. Ivy is thick around one of my windows and I have been back to Apricots in a kind of rippling green shade with the sound of rain chuckling in the gutters and running into the water butt.

Thank you!

Talking of marketing, I would love to say a big thank you to the excellent people of my home town, Blackburn, who have made The Northern Elements such a success. Sales have been wonderful and I have had so many kind thoughts, comments and reviews. Thank you all too for recommending my work to others. Word-of-Mouth is an author’s best friend. I am so happy that many of you recognise the town in which we grew up and enjoyed the depiction of its streets and the surrounding countryside seventy years earlier. I must say it was a great pleasure to write and that it stirred up memories for me as it did for you. I have even been asked if there will be a sequel. Probably not a sequel but there may be other Blackburn tales in the pipeline. Watch this space.

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Thanks Ian, that was very interesting. I am still waiting for my copy of Northern Elements – which is on the way apparently so will be excited to read it.
Your next one sounds interesting too.
Cheers Sheila

Dear Ian
This is three weeks late. I bought The Northern Elements three weeks and two days ago and devoured it in a couple of sessions, meaning to write immediately to tell you how enormously I enjoyed it: for all the reasons you list above, plus, of course, the autobiographical detail to which I could so easily relate, having known you for 58 years. Other than my brother, no one else has known me longer. But back to the book: unputdownable, a beautifully crafted, intertwining plot and your writing. I need to catch up on your other work.
You, too, enjoy the summer. And I hope we can catch up again sometime soon over a drink or three.

Delighted you enjoyed it, Michael. It was fun to write. The second story in Cherries, called ‘Cardigan’, is set in Blackburn, and being a literary man, I’m sure you would like the fourth story: ‘Mansfield Retail Park’, a gay romance in the style of Jane Austen, set mostly in a supermarket. People have found it very funny. Apart from that, I would recommend Humphrey and Jack which is about a grumpy old git and his unlikely friendship with a troubled teen.
And yes, a merry meeting is needful, though a mere three drinks sounds puritanical. Sois sage (ou plutôt ‘sauvage’!)

I would commend your work ethic, sir, but for the fact that it makes me feel like a dissolute loafer. I must crack on and read your boreal tome post haste. It’s nosing its way to the front of the clogged cab-rank that is my reading list. I must dash. Those thumbs won’t twiddle themselves.

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