The World (A Rant)

The world is a fucking mess.

I know. Stating the obvious. But it is. Watch the news. Watch the dead and gassed in Syria. Watch the people – me included – who say the use of chemical weapons crossed a moral line. I mean, shoot people – hell, that’s fucking fine. Maim and injure and murder away, but if you do anything with chemicals well, that’s a step too far. I mean just how apathetic are we? We’re like zombies on lithium numbed by war after war after terrorist atrocity after war.

But at least we still have the capacity to be shocked by something. At least we are still capable of giving a shit about people we don’t know. At least, somewhere, inside us there is still a sense of shared humanity.

We fool ourselves that technology means progress. Flaubert used to watch people getting excited about the railways and realised that all it meant was that people could move faster and meet each other more, but that they remained exactly as stupid as they did before. I feel the same about the internet sometimes. We pat humanity on the back for creating it but all it is doing is giving us better and more efficient ways of being stupid together.

We are all lost in our own fucking tribes, and we lose old prejudices and gain new ones.

Just as the 24 hour rolling horror show called the news has dulled our senses, so the tribalism of social media is dulling our empathy. It is mainly gay people leading the repulsion at the rise in government-endorsed homophobia in Russia, just as it is mainly women pointing out that online rape threats aren’t really acceptable. We should all be seeing these things, because they matter to us all. We are the human race. And if one human being isn’t able to live their life freely, than none of us are entirely free.

People are impressed that computers are getting ten times more powerful every ten years, but wouldn’t it be more impressive if our empathy rate increased at the same rate? If we could see ourselves as each other. If we could understand that we all come to this place with the same amount of emotions and needs and rights, and that our differences – especially those ones of nationality and faith and gender and sexuality – aren’t as important as our shared humanity. Also, without an equivalent psychological progress, technology will screw us. The computers that have now got 1 per cent of human brain power will eventually overtake us and our greed and short-sightedness will have ensured we got sloppy somewhere. And then there will be real trouble. (Just look at the NASDAQ computers, and see how fallible they are.) Yes, we’ve always been stupid, but we haven’t always been in charge of the future of nanotechnology or gene therapy.

So I think we should stop worshipping iPhones – that we go and then laugh at in five years anyway – and start working on each other. On trying to see the similarities beyond the superficial differences we seek to exaggerate in our Facebook ‘interests’ and Twitter bios. We need to realise that nationalities are constructs. (We are Syria. Just as we are gay. We are women. We are children gassed to death.)So too are genders, so let’s stop it with the Chelsea Manning giggles.

I think it’s time we stopped being obsessed with people’s sex lives and weight and language use and Gods and lifestyle choices.

I think, in short, it is time we fucking grew up.




Writers are stupid.

Writers are stupid because they do the most depressing job in the world.

Writers are stupid because they shorten their lives by sitting down all day and eating toast and smoking and writing depressing things.

Writers are stupid because they only get 0.1 per cent of royalties. Or something.

Writers are stupid because they write books when other people are out there inventing Instagram and stuff.

Writers are stupid because they will travel 300 miles to do an event for free, where twenty people will attend, eight of whom will buy their book.

Writers are stupid because they choose to write about life rather than choose to have a life.

Writers are stupid because they dream of getting invited to things and when they get invited to things they hide next to a pot-plant in the corner eating a disgusting canape made of frogspawn and getting paranoid that everyone frowns when they read their namebadge.

Writers are stupid because they write blogs expecting sympathy which they aren’t going to get.

Writers are stupid because they say they write for themselves and then go and get published and read every Goodreads review including that one star one from some bieber4eva who didn’t think the book was anywhere near as good as the sequel to *Derivative Paranormal Love Story*.

Writers are stupid because they have lunch meetings where they find it so hard to simultaneously talk and listen that they forget to eat and then have to ungraciously gobble the whole plate of Vietnamese whatever-it-is (they weren’t looking at the menu either) in five seconds at the end.

Writers are stupid because they have the best job in the world and whinge about it.




Don’t Become A Writer If…

1. You hate being entered for races that you always lose.

2. You like having a clue about what is going on with your career.

3. You like to know, to the nearest ten thousand pounds, how much money you will earn in a year.

4. You like having a deadline for going in the shower.

5. You like socialising.

6. You don’t mind, on those rare social occasions, the question ‘have you written anything I might know?’ Yes! If you know my books!

7. You like being physically active for more than 1.5 percent of the day.

8. You want sex.

9. You want job security.

10. You don’t want a bad back.

11. You don’t want to answer questions from taxi drivers about JK Rowling.

12. You don’t daydream. (Everyone says writers should read. But we mustn’t forget daydreaming. Or maternal neglect.)

13. You want to be happy.

14. You can talk to empty chairs at book festivals without dying inside.

15. You could be an actor. Or a film director. Or a plumber. Or a traffic warden.

16. You don’t need to.


Inevitable sales bit: My novel The Humans is out now. It will massively improve your life.


Why I Love America

Britain has a strange relationship with America. It is like that of a man who married a woman, and then the woman divorced him way back in 1776, and now said woman – let’s call her Liberty – has gone on to better things. She has got rich, glamorous and strong while the man has gone a bit sour and is starting to look his age and probably needs tablets to keep it up.

Lots of Brits love America, but there is a lot of prejudice too. To hear some, it is a land of fake and phoney. A land of crazy religious types and airhead celebrities, of creationism and Kardashianism.

Well, I’m a Brit who loves America wholeheartedly. Always have, just like my Uncle James, a former hippy who decamped from Sussex to San Francisco in 1971. I went to my uncle’s third wedding when I was eight years old. It was by a swimming pool. His Mexican wife made us burritos and chilli burgers. We visited Yosemite and Disneyland and Lake Tahoe and drove on the Pacific Highway. My parents had to remortgage the house but I had found heaven.

I have been back many times since. My parents house-swapped with a family in Baltimore when I was 16, and I spent a month as a suburban American teenager, just like in a John Hughes movie. In 1992 I walked around the base of the World Trade Centre, impressed by its sheer immense enormity. On a book tour in 2007 I visited a lot more places – from artsy Portland to highbrow Boston and magnificently superficial South Beach.

I got engaged in New York, and married in Las Vegas, in a kind of conveyor-belt service that lasted fifteen minutes. And just now I have got back from three weeks in southern California, where I worked and pleasured in LA and San Diego.

Of course now I am a grown up, there are a few things that unsettle me about the US. Mainly the total faith in personal responsibility that leads to the belief that guns should be freely available but healthcare shouldn’t. The most visible shock in almost any American city is the number of homeless people. In San Diego there is a whole road which is known as Veteran Village, where former veterans (many of whom are amputees) sit in chairs on the sidewalk, with their HOMELESS AND HUNGRY cardboard signs.  Yet veterans are mythologised and given lip-service wherever you go, even the killer whale show at SeaWorld starts with a speech in which the audience are asked to applaud the armed forces.

I spoke to a twenty-one year old boy (he looked no more than a boy, his eyes twinkling with sincerity like a young Emilio Estevez) in Santa Monica and he said that he had lost his job, had been allowed too much credit, hadn’t been able to pay it back, and was now on the streets. It was the American Dream in reverse. I gave him some money and have never seen anyone more grateful for anything, ever. It broke my heart.

But then, America is also full of beauty and kindness and wonder. The flip-side of personal responsibility is that people believe it is their duty to be pleasant, to be kind, to be courteous, not at the government level maybe, but at the individual one. Service is miles better here, even when a tip isn’t involved. Smiles are more frequent, even when cosmetic dentistry isn’t involved. People will tell you about the location of a parade you haven’t even asked to see. Your children will be showered with compliments. Thirty something men can happily chat to a five year old boy without that British fear of looking like a dangerous predator.

Yes, Americans don’t know how to drink compared to the British, but that is because they don’t need to. Brits drink to get near that state of confidence and levity that Americans seem to wake up with.

Yes, LA is a surreal place. A collection of disparate dreams (and some nightmares) woven together by freeways. But it brims with an uncredited intelligence, has the most gorgeous modernist architecture (horizontal to NY’s vertical), bubbles with multi-cultural energy. One day I was driven around by a young woman from El Salvador who told me that there are over fifty brilliant Salvadorean restaurants in the city. A high-powered film producer told me that no-one in the film industry knew anyone before arriving into town. Hollywood is a meritocracy. Brutal maybe, but fair. Talent rises.

Yes, they are health-obsessed in kale-munching, yoga-matted Santa Monica, but it is not a simple looks obsession. It is about health, and longevity, and feeling as good as a human can feel. They may want to live for ever, but so would you if you lived in Santa Monica.

When I close my eyes and think of America I think of the infinite Powell’s bookstore in Portland, the crazy fountain show outside the Bellagio in Las Vegas, of eating pastrami in a New York deli, of roadside diners, of hash browns and ranch sauce and root beer, of driving along interstates and skateboarding along a sidewalk in Baltimore, of art deco Miami, of the most staggering art collection in the world at MOMA, of riding Eliot’s bike (with ET in the basket) as an eight year old at Universal studios, of late night swimming in a cheap motel with my father. In America, they are willing to see the best in you, because they see the best in themselves. That isn’t arrogance, it is optimism.

So yes, my love remains undimmed. America, you are infinitely complicated, and you have more than enough issues to warrant therapy, but I could still explore you for ever and not even begin to get bored any more than you can get bored in dreams.




This is the first blog I’ve written since writing blogs for the respectable charity Booktrust. Booktrust gave me no rules for writing blogs, except that they said I couldn’t swear. So after six months of non-swearing I have been bursting to fucking swear. I really fucking have. I just need to get it out of my system.

Anyway, thought I’d start as predictably as ever, and give some fucking writing tips. Here they fucking are:

1. Don’t think that being published will make you happy. It will for four weeks, if you are lucky. Then it’s the same old fucking shit.

2. Hemingway was fucking wrong. You shouldn’t write drunk. (See my third novel for details.)

3. Hemingway was also right. ‘The first draft of everything is shit.’

4. Never ask a publisher or agent what they are looking for. The best ones, if they are honest, don’t have a fucking clue, because the best books are the ones that seemingly come from nowhere.

5. In five years time the semi-colon is going to be nothing more than a fucking wink.

6. In five years time every fucking person on Twitter will be a writer.

7. Ignore the fucking snobs.  Write that space zombie sex opera. Just give it some fucking soul.

8. If it’s not worth fucking reading, it’s not worth fucking writing. If it doesn’t make people laugh or cry or blow their fucking minds then why bother?

9. Don’t be the next Stephen King or the next Zadie Smith or the next Neil Gaiman or the next Jonathan Safran fucking Foer. Be the next fucking you.

10. Stories are fucking easy. PLOT OF EVERY BOOK EVER: Someone is looking for something. COMMERCIAL VERSION: They find it. LITERARY VERSION: They don’t find it. (That’s fucking it.)

11. No-one knows anything. Especially fucking me. Except:

12. Don’t kill off the fucking dog.

13. Oh, yeah, and lastly: write whatever you fucking want.

(Please buy my fucking book.)