Jonathan Steffen, Connie Bensley
C.A.R. Hills, J.W. New, Peter Parker
Ian Rankin

Mid-April, 2016. So now I have met seven PEN pals over and above Ian Rankin and Jeff New. Does that bring me any nearer to a definitive answer to the question: ‘What happens to writers?’

Too soon to say. It’s only in the last couple of days I’ve had a chance to think in tranquility about what happened when I was in London at the end of March. (What happened in London? Nothing happened, as such. But something is going to happen quite soon if I have set things up properly.)

Almost as soon as I’d got back to base I received this from Jonathan Steffen:

Dear Duncan,

Thanks again for Monday’s most enjoyable conversation, and also for the kind gift of Personal Delivery, which I look forward to reading. My partner Jo – a great Bowie fan, as it happens – leapt on it immediately and is very much enjoying the opening chapter at the moment. Do drop me a line with your postal address, and I’ll send something of my own to you by way of reciprocation.


I hope that your meeting with Charles went well, and that the process of clearing and selling the house goes well too.

Very glad to have met. Good luck with the brilliant/troubled /influential/unforgettable/forgettable Class of ’87, and I look forward to staying in touch.

All the best, Jonathan

Yes, I’d spent some of the long afternoon meeting with Jonathan – we met at the St Pancras Hotel for tea, and after an hour slipped next door to the bar where we had a glass of wine – talking about C.A.R. Hills who I was due to see the following day. Jonathan understands my project well, and knows that the Beast of Brixton is in a unique position to contribute to its success. He also appreciated I’d never been inside a prison before.

But let’s not get ahead of myself. On the first day of my trip I was welcomed into the homes of Connie Bensley and Elaine Feinstein. These two have reached their mid-eighties and are still writing and publishing. Which must be as good as it gets. They live alone and independently but they both have families in the background. I will try to keep in touch with Elaine and Connie. Indeed, the latter has written to me enclosing a cutting about Evelyn Waugh. On accompanying postcards, she writes:

Hello Duncan –

I’ve just enjoyed reading
Evelyn! Now what sort of genre is that? - is it metafiction (can’t remember exactly what that is) or does it come under the heading of ‘Lit. crit. on the hoof’’? Anyway, lots of interesting insights and tangents from you and Kate. I always remember A Handful of Dust most vividly because of the shocking moment when Brenda is told that John has died and is flooded with relief – does she give a happy cry? – to hear that it’s her son, not her lover, who has died.

I’ll share my copy of ‘E!’ with members of my poetry group. I think they’ll like it a lot, as I did.


I should tell you that, shortly after we met here, the ceiling (of the room in which we sat) fell down in great chunks while I was watching TV one evening - missing me but not by much, and filling the room with rubble and a fog of dust. This near-death experience did not result in an epic, a sonnet, or even a haiku. I was preoccupied with insurance damage and such like for some time. But then (I only tell you this because of the strangeness of the subconscious) 3 poems popped up about entirely different subjects (driverless taxis, road trees, a dead man remembering a marvellous deathbed experience).

Best wishes, Connie

In response I write:

I hope the ceiling falling in on you didn't happen too shortly after we met or you'll be connecting the two events!

It reminds me that on the eve of my father's death at the end of January, the ceiling in his front room, where he was lying in bed, developed a leak. I needed to bring a stepladder and a bucket into the room to deal with the problem, which only lasted one night and has never returned. Dad died the next day, and as he'd been a slater, responsible for many of the roofs in town, then product manager for British Gypsum, responsible for plasterboard quality control, I'm thinking he may have seen the leaking of water into the heart of his home as symbolic. Things fall apart.

Connie replies:

You were obviously close to your father, and must miss him a lot. Perhaps, in his half-conscious state towards the end, he felt glad, seeing you with your ladder and bucket, that you were carrying on the job of securing the roof/ceiling against the elements.

Which is a positive perspective. One that I’ll try and hold on to.

The third person to contact me post-London was the prisoner Hills. A letter arrived from Brixton after I’d been home for a few days. This is how it begins:


Dear Duncan,

I am writing to you on the peaceful locked-up afternoon of Easter Sunday, and I think back with great pleasure on your visit to me this last Tuesday, thanking you for your gift of latte and delicious cake and even more for the stimulating, informative and supportive conversation that we shared. I was also most touched that you embraced me at parting, which my more established friends usually do not do, nor do they look back as they make their way to the exit of the visiting hall. That you did both tells me our relation is something good.

I knew by then that I had a lot to say to Charles. And by the next day I had said it:

Dear Charles,

Thanks as ever for your letter. Yes, I embraced you when I left, I thought it was the least I could do. The looking back business was more to do with working out how to get out of the room! I’d realized there was no obvious door in the direction I was walking. In fact, there was a door there, but it wasn’t going to open just because I was ready to exit Brixton is a prison after all.

As I said when we met, I’ve written part one of what I’m now thinking of calling BITTER SWEET. The nineteen chapters of part one will be: ‘Many are Called’. And I’ve researched part two, which will follow my trip to London to meet seven PEN contributors: ‘Few Are Chosen’ or even ‘One is Incandescent’. I haven’t been able to write up my notes from London, but believe them to be safe in my head and notebook. My meeting with Peter Parker began with a warm discussion of you. He thinks it is ridiculous that you were sent to Belmarsh, that it was obvious you were not violent or a danger to society and that your mental problems at the time of your crime had not been taken sufficiently into account by the judicial process.

He remembers you from university days. Although he was at UCL, Peter spent a lot of weekends in Oxford where many of his school friends were. You stood out then as a charming eccentric, something in between Sebastian Flyte and Anthony Blanche. Not a bad way to be remembered, I’d say.


Without any prompting from me, Peter recalled the afternoon that he and you were listening to Christopher playing the piano. Although, as you told me, Christopher’s playing was very good, Peter remembers you commenting slightingly: ‘That was a bit difficult for you,” and “Not one of your best.” In other words, Peter is suggesting there can be something challenging about your character. Which has me picturing Peter and Christopher as Charles and Sebastian, with you as Anthony Blanche, looking on in a friendly yet potentially undermining way!

My father’s house is being sold and I’ve been obliged to deal with the millions of things in it. Taking stuff to charity shops, the local auction house and the dump. My own books, which have long been housed here (from not long after the publication of PEN New Fiction 2), have been transferred into the summerhouse at the bottom of the house where I live with my partner, Kate. All terribly time-consuming and I use the word terribly deliberately. I would much rather be writing part two of BITTER SWEET!

However, a few days ago the estate agent came round to take photos of the house. In other words, the rooms are now clear of clutter and redolent of potential, as long as you don’t open certain cupboards and drawers. So what I’ve done is take the 442-page manuscript of J.W. New’s book, Satires, which I believe he has not shown to any other human being, and spread it around the house. The first pile of about thirty pages sits on the dining room table. Its first chapter deals with a crying competition. The winner gets bundled into a boat, taken out to sea and dumped there, ‘to give them something to cry about’.

As this suggests, it is a bleak book. Our fellow PEN contributor has written with both a humour and style that reminds me of Samuel Beckett. Life is short, nasty and brutish for the individuals and animals encountered, and even for abstract notions like ‘Day’ and Night’. It’s written in short chapters that are all spread over two pages, though if they were laid out differently would cover only a page each.


For the second pile (I read the pages in the first pile yesterday) I’ve had to come upstairs this Sunday morning and sit at the table in the room that until recently was my library. The room is now empty of my books but showcasing a section of Jeff’s magnum opus. In all there are eleven piles of paper spread through what you must realize is a very large house. Indeed you should see the main lounge, it’s a good ten paces long! How your head would reel if you were to find yourself within its four walls. And as you walked through the rooms, with your present situation in mind, you’d be saying ‘one person has free rein over all this?’.

In the second pile there is a chapter called ‘process of admission’ which I’ll enclose with this letter. It relates to the taking away of an individual’s liberty in a way that might make you glad that your own situation (when you were initially incarcerated) was not a lot worse than it was. I think the last line of the piece suggests the humour, bleakness and style I mentioned above. What do you think?

Process of Admission

Somebody must have been telling lies about כי יסף, because he was arrested.

Taken to reception, they carried off his clothing, bent him over the table with a torch, shaved his head then asked him for the number of his bones.

First he tried counting ribs, uncertain how many might be hidden underneath the fat, then the intricate network of joint and tendon in palm and fingers had him puzzled, and who knows what articulations lie concealed in the confusion of the wrist?

His captors showing signs of impatience, he begged their pardon, suggesting any doctor could supply the information, but the guards said no—Science has established that every individual is distinguished by the number of his bones. (They’d got it muddled up with fingerprints and DNA). The prisoner will count again they insisted, who protests— I am much too covered! I have lived too well.


Should he hazard a guess, not knowing was it fifty or fifteen-hundred bones (not a clue), so blatant a stab at the answer, uttered with the manifest intention to deceive, would give his guards the excuse they needed, who circled him as dogs do in a butcher’s yard, heads low, eyes fixed, keen to snatch a meaty knuckle.

But since registration could not proceed without the proper total, and because he was unable to provide this himself, they would either be obliged to let him go or (since fat was the problem) take the cutter to him.

And so it was decided.

Charles, I have this idea of perhaps writing to you again as I make my way through the book. But I don’t want to impose what might be too black an experience on you. I don’t want you being handed a white envelope with my pedantically neat handwriting on it making you think: “Oh God, another missive from the dark side. What have I done to deserve such a punishment?’ Of course, I will know how you feel about such a prospect if/when you write back to me.

Today I’ll also be writing to Jeff New about my current activity and updating him with a summary of how I got on in London. Not sure what he’ll think about my way of engaging with his book. He does want to be in control of how his work is encountered. And I’m very much reading it on my terms. But then once a piece of writing leaves the pen of an author it belongs to future readers. If that doesn’t make sense - in this universe we share - then nothing does. Blast, I’m beginning to write a bit like somebody else, I’m not quite sure whom.

I should add that when I was spreading the book through the house yesterday I was listening to the last song on David Bowie’s last album. The song was blasting out from this same computer I’m writing on now, so that I could just about hear it in whichever room I was inhabiting.

The wonderful last lines of ‘I can’t give everything away’ allude to the moment of Bowie’s death. And to the creative and communicative life he lived.


“I can’t give everything…

I can’t give everything…

I can’t give everything…


Love, Duncan

I won’t get a reply to this my first post-London letter to Brixton for about a week, by which time I trust that things will have moved on a bit. Not least because I’m about to send the following to the second of what I have come to understand as my two main correspondents.

A hierarchy of interest – or interconnection - is developing in my mind. What happens to writers? Try as they might to do otherwise, they get closer to some pen pals than others.

Dear Jeff,

Here is some news of my book and yours. I hope it doesn't distract you too much from your usual Sunday evening joys.

I went down to London to interview seven of the original contributors. I didn’t want to leave you out of the loop so I had your manuscript with me (at least a large chunk of it, though I did run out of paper at about the 300-page mark, and - conscious of the limited size of my travel bag - decided to leave it at that). On the train I read about a hundred and fifty pages with considerable interest, my concentration coming and going a bit, which I think one can get away with in a book without rigid formal structure. I particularly engaged with the 'On Beheadings' chapter, and fancied that I might be about to do something vaguely similar to the guy who made the astonishing recording.

I continued to read the book in London but the unnumbered nature of the pages got me into some difficulty (I was constantly having to transfer material from travel bag to day bag, and vice versa), as did the fact that I had to read other contributors' material as well, so as not to appear too unprepared when I spent an hour in their company.


The meetings culminated in a productive afternoon in Brixton Prison. Charles accepts that, back in 1987, he may well have been the utterer of the 'verily hence forward' verbiage which he describes as sub-Wildean. So you'll be glad to be relieved of that position. He also thinks my book (PEN PALS as was) should be called BITTER SWEET, and that is its new working title.

Sorry this is going to be quite a long communication. I hope you can bear with it.

A few days ago the estate agent came round to take photos of my father’s house which is up for sale. In other words, the rooms are now clear of clutter . So what I’ve done is take the whole of your manuscript - a fresh printout now clearly numbered - and spread it around the house. The first pile sits on the dining room table. And to it I will keep returning as it includes the very useful contents pages.

What a bleak book. Funny, yes. Stylish, yes. But bleak. As the opening episode about the crying competition clearly signals.

For the second pile (I read the pages in the first pile yesterday) I climbed upstairs this morning to sit at the table in the room that until recently was my library. Now empty of my books but showcasing a section of your book. In all, there are eleven sections of Satires spread through what you must realise is a large house.

Reading several pieces in the library made me return to a piece in the dining room and from there to something you said in your last email. I mean the paragraph:

'You asked about education, Oxford, etc. -- I want to stress that I have no feeling -- at all -- of having been educated by the state then left in a condition of underemployment or neglect or whatever (you mentioned something like this in your email yesterday). I didn't much enjoy school (who does? Pushkin did -- can't think of anyone else though) and dithered about at Oxford, but this was entirely due to my own character and likes and dislikes, and I've NO wish to come across in your book as someone complaining or blaming the System or Society or Modern Culture --'


Now I was only able to stay in London for a week because of the generosity of a friend who has stuck it out as an accountant. He has the same state school to Oxbridge background that you, Charles and I share. He works too hard and drinks likewise but has at last been able to break free from the upper-class firm of chartered accountants he's been yoked to for thirty years. He very much identified with the pattern of going through a too-competitive school situation to arrive - shy, quiet, unworldly, un-networked - at a university which was seemingly the birthright of a very sociable bunch who had been schooled together - all debating society and school magazine and rowing club and healthy respect all round - since an early age.

In particular, he told me of his best friend from uni (state school to Jesus College) who was conspicuously bright, head-hunted by a City bank, but who was not able to keep it all together. Isolated, he ended up spending a fortune on alcohol and prostitutes and is now a sad shadow (saddo?) of his former self. I wonder if this friend of my friend could be related to 'your' Accidental Acquaintance who slipped? Or the Wolfman who 'you' had to be very careful with when he turned up at 'your' house. Like you, I suspect, I'm not even particularly sorry for these individuals, because I too, in part, am the product of an over-competitive, utterly selfish-making, grammar school system.

I wonder if I might suggest - without offending - that you may have dithered about at university because your schooling hadn't really prepared you to do anything else other than work hard at your studies and drink/read in your spare time. In particular, you may have had to opt out of complex social networking (I know I did) because you simply hadn't been properly prepared for it. Like someone who is put in a French class not knowing that everyone else in the class has already been speaking French for years.

Is that not possible? Is it perhaps naive to think that it's your own character that is entirely responsible for your style of writing and its subjects? I know you've no wish to come across as someone complaining or blaming the system. It's me that's identifying the system and complaining about certain aspects of it.


An early observation about Satires then, is that it could only have been written by a grammar school boy (turned man). But then now that I explicitly say that, I realise I'm being premature. Because the nearest writing I know to Satires was written by Samuel Beckett, and he went to boarding school from the age of 13! There he was taught the value of peer friendship, loyalty and honour, yet he came up with very isolated-seeming writing epitomised by Watt, Murphy and so much else.

Anyway, I'm glad I've got that class-conscious stuff off my chest (again). Hopefully I can now go from pile to pile of your manuscript identifying alternative threads and patterns.

This email is already too long, but I should finish by asking how your father is. Have you been back up to see him in recent weeks? I hope the situation is not getting to you. My own father's death two months ago seems to be having a big impact on my present writing.

Best wishes, Duncan

Of course, I don’t have to wait long for a reply. The reading and writing of emails is like eating and drinking to a wordsmith like Jeff:

Dear Duncan,

Nice to hear from you. I've just finished 7 solid hours correcting some bugger's book for OUP and am consequently in a delightful mood, so this might get splenetic (hope not) -- I was going to ask you not to air my rather hectic response to the 'verily ... hostelry ... imbibation' remark in your book, since the perpetrator of this historical abuse of language might well end up reading it and I wouldn't want him to feel put down. After all, though I did not say that, I have dropped a fair few ghastly comments in the past as well. So you reckon it might have been your friend in Brixton... well, there's a man who doesn't need someone he's never met coming over all superior. Anyway, it's been bothering me slightly.


I was probably over-emphatic about the school/college business too. It's not important at all and it's not at all interesting, to my mind. You go to school, you go to college, you have about five years to get your head clear of all that, then if you're lucky you start doing something. There are millions of us. Where do you stop, if you start mulling over things like this? What's to ponder? I mean really, it's not the thing to do. Say no to pondering...

I'm glad you're soldiering through the
Satires, in difficult circumstances from the sound of it. I wouldn't have said they were that bleak though. But in a sense I haven't read them, so you might be right. Things maybe sunny up a bit in Book II. ‘Sobcult’ was meant to be a swift kick at the society of Weepers and Huggers my worthy contemporaries like to represent themselves as being (see any channel 4 documentary). A condition which is, of course, due to too much pondering.

The post brought
Personal Delivery and Evelyn! on consecutive days -- I think what you've got here is your own genre of autobiography, by other means... I was expecting a collection of interviews with the YBAs, then an academicish scrabble through the Waugh archives, but of course neither of them do that, and why should they? These essential tasks are being carried out by other hands, many many many other hands (the copy-editor groans)... So it's good to have a fresh approach, and I can see how the PEN book will carry this on (personal PEN delivery). It's not something I could do, but then there's not much I do do.

Great design by the way, both of them. They're really good-looking volumes -- I especially like the take on the old Penguin Waugh covers for Evelyn!. And speaking professionally, I didn't spot a typo. The photos of she-Evelyn look just like him in a dress (actually I think he has a slight edge when it comes to personal attraction -- she looks like a pug that's been run over). Fancy being that much of a narcissist then having your Absolute Other Self run off with someone else -- a case of auto-adultery. No wonder it nagged at him.

I wouldn't recommend calling your new book 'Bitter Sweet' -- (a) it's been done, by Darling Noel, (b) it sounds a bit soft. What could you have?
PEN PALSY? Maybe not. THE PEN ULTIMATUM (soon to be a major motion picture!). PENNED IN ... Or in my case, FROM PEN TO PENSION (that I like).

My father's in and out of hospital, in a kind of non-serious to and froing. A rum business.

Oh well --
All the best, Jeff


What happens to writers? They suggest titles for each other’s books. PENNED IN. That’s a good one. I must tell Charles. Or how about PENITENTIARY PUNISHMENTS? Or just PEN PUNS for short.

There’s one paragraph of Jeff’s I must take issue with. This bit in particular:

‘You go to school, you go to college, you have about five years to get your head clear of all that. Then, if you're lucky, you start doing something. There are millions of us.’

Sure that’s the state school position. For rich kids the situation is subtly different:

‘They go to school, they go to college, they slip into a career in one of the top professions. Then, unless they’re unlucky, they start doing something. There are thousands of them.’

As for Jeff, Charles and me:

‘You go to school, you go to college, you take about forty years in order to give it your best shot. Then you realize you’ll never get anywhere. There are three of us.’

Actually, that’s not quite true. The three of us persisted with our efforts to get our manuscripts accepted for a long time, true enough. But I finally succeeded in persuading editors to publish full-length books. First Personal Delivery, published by Quartet when I was 40, funded by the very rich Naim Attallah. Then my take on Enid Blyton, published by Portobello when I was 50, funded by a Tetrapack beneficiary. This book got slaughtered - not just by Lucy Mangan, as earlier reported - but by Amazon customers that I think of as my former classmates.

My Blyton extravaganza has no less than eleven 1-star reviews (out of 32) on Amazon. Most of the reviewers say that it had been Enid Blyton that they wanted to read about, not Duncan McLaren. And that while they hadn’t wanted to read about Enid Blyton’s sex life, the last thing in the world they had wanted to read about was Duncan McLaren’s.

It’s so easy to deconstruct that. First, me, the clever grammar school kid, has to compare himself with a phenomenal writer that he has grown up with. While they, effectively my ex-schoolmates, who had to put up with having to listen to my essays being read aloud in class by the teacher, now have to bring me down a peg. Does that not make sense?


Second, me, the quiet, clever, hopelessly shy pupil has to prove he can be attractive to the opposite sex. While they, effectively my schoolmates, who seemed to mature sexually anything up to five years before I did, have to point out that I was a sexless nerd then and will always be a sexless nerd to them.

So it wasn’t the system that let me down. I did manage to go from state school education to the ranks of published authors. But I haven’t been able to find a general audience. The majority of readers cannot bring themselves to take me seriously or see the joke. Both laughter and wisdom they are determined to seek elsewhere. In books written by more relaxed (differently educated?) characters than me. The fact that Ian Rankin has got himself into the category of much-loved writer is an amazing achievement in itself. He was one shy state school kid who managed to turn things around. Truly.

To reinforce this point I go into I click on ‘Books’ and an array of similarly designed covers appears. Scrolling down, I count 38 different titles. If you click on any one you’ll get a précis of the work and a ‘buy this book’ button to press. The recent titles also have a video associated with them. Effectively, these are new introductions. In 2005, Ian Rankin sat down and wrote introductions for all the books that had been published up to that point. Since roughly then, when each new novel comes out, he is interviewed about the book for the website. The interviews are relaxed, informative and come at things from different angles.

It was through watching a few of these short interviews that I realized an important thing happened to Rankin’s writing in 2006 or so. His detective, Rebus, turned 60. And, because in real life Edinburgh policemen had to retire from the police at that age, so Rankin retired Rebus in
Exit Music (2007). But the 50-year-old Ian Rankin still wanted to write about crime and Edinburgh. And for a subsequent book, The Complaints, he created a new detective, Malcolm Fox. Fox was in that part of the force that polices the police, and so had to have a very different personality from the maverick cop, Rebus. What a brilliant development! Especially when a change in retiral age (from 60 to 65) meant that Rebus could rejoin the police in a later book only to find that Malcolm Fox was on his case! Standing in Another Man’s Grave, indeed.


Policing the police, eh? Or: ‘Who decides who’s right and who’s wrong?’ is the question asked on the cover of The Complaints. I wonder if it could be said that I am policing the writers. If so, and if The Complaints is anything to go by, I have to watch out that the hunter doesn’t become the hunted. Perhaps it should ask on the cover of PEN PALS: ‘Who decides who’s a writer and who’s a wrong un?’

OK where was I? In the middle of something quite complicated, I suspect:

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for your last. Glad you got something from my books. I forwarded your email to my publisher (responsible for both
Personal Delivery and Evelyn!). He said it made him laugh and that he liked the piece I sent to Charles (to cheer him up in prison) which ends with the ambiguous (and hilarious) line: 'And so it was decided'.

Yesterday, I spent a little more time with your book. I also had to travel to Perth - with a filled-in form re probate - and to my local solicitor to pick up the title deeds to this house, so I wasn't reading for long. Anyway, I stood in the light that floods through the roof-light - which my father installed when he was a mere 67-year-old - into a space at the top of the stairs. Not a room exactly. But there are shelves and on one of those lies pile 3 of Satires, fifteen episodes that go from 'A Worm in the Tooth' to 'At the Wildlife Park'.

How to sum them up? Such a range of imagery! Many animals and classical figures. Much irony and unhappiness. Good old Lemuel Gulliver. Poor old turtle.

Each seems to be like a cryptic crossword clue waiting to be worked out. Could that be said? If so what are the rules? Or perhaps I can begin to work them out. Let me ask you a couple of questions:

1) Could you select one from this batch and tell me what is being satirised? (Not 'To Parasites' as that seems more straightforward.)

2) Could you select one from this batch and say how it came into being. 'I was watching this Channel 4 documentary when...'


In the meantime, my mind reverts to 'Pathetic Allegory'. The man who eventually managed to complete his self-imposed task, but at what cost? It brings to mind a potential allegory I recently posted on my website in homage to my father.

Perhaps homage is the opposite of satire. If you had been writing that piece, dare I say that the man on the roof might have - instead of letting light into the house - let light out. And in due course the interior would have been plunged into darkness. Preventing anyone inside from reading what was printed on the pile of paper.

‘Now this bloke was God, and the light is Time.’

I've written the above quite quickly, so don't take it too seriously. I would sit on it and think it through more before sending it to you. But today I have to drive to Glasgow to see a flat that my partner and I might buy when this house is sold. Kate badly needs the stimulation of city life. She is not content with all of time and space, and all the creatures who ever inhabited it. As we are.

Have a good day. Duncan

I wrote that in the morning. By the evening, Jeff had pondered it long enough to reply as follows:

Dear Duncan

Oh-oh -- it's a bad sign when you call something
'Satires' then get asked what it is you're meant to be satirizing. I know what you mean though, and have wondered about this as a title.

I was thinking in terms of the original Latin satura, which means a kind of mix-up of different things in general, and in lat. lit. terms of different genres, a kind of prosy verse or versy prose, something that's not the high style of epic but isn't a piece of waste scribbling either. This kind of approach was felt by ye Ancient Romans to be apt for satire in the narrower sense, and that's how we've ended up with the term.

I thought it fitted the bill in that older sense for my efforts, individually and to characterize the whole collection (you'll agree, it's a mix of things), and of course there's a fair bit of straightforward 'satire' in there too. On the other hand, in the unlikely event of it ever being published I can see myself having to explain this to understandably aggrieved punters who, having shelled out their £11.99, expected something a bit more pointed.


Maybe I'll change it -- I like the idea of a generic title, but a one-man genre is a contradiction in terms. In the event of threatened publication ('"The contingency is a remote one, sir", said Jeeves') I might have to mull it over.

'On Parasites' has its obvious target, but actually was my personal contribution to the national outpouring of grief following the death of Princess Diana -- which tells you how long ago it was written. But since Dianism and related afflictions have done nothing but expand since then I think it keeps its point. That sort of immediate reference isn't usually the way they get started though. The only other case I can think of is the one about the dunghill rooster ('Pape Satan'), when I had the good General Pinochet in mind, who was in the news at the time, but it does for any dictator in a big shiny hat. (It's like a school history lesson this... Diana, Pinochet, they're probably both on the syllabus for GCSE now.)

Crypticism and crosswords are the last things I was thinking of. I'd hope that anyone reading the whole collection would gradually get used to the tone of the things and that they'd start to stick in the mind. They're not -- or shouldn't be, anyway -- difficult in the sense of resisting interpretation, but are -- or should be -- simple in the sense of deflecting it. Well that sounds a bit grand. But this is what I want them to be: clear, simple, short, funny, memorable. Not like anything else, but completely rooted in tradition. And lots of animals. But no puzzles. Now, who wouldn't want to read a book like that?

Apropos of titles, here's another suggestion for your upcoming work, with special reference to my part in it: 'S
usPENded Animation'.

All the best! Jeff.

J. W. New has a clear idea of what he’s doing. He’s got strong qualities as a thinker and a writer. And he’s funny.

If an editor was to take a risk on him, it might pay off as a publishing venture. For Jeff does not say very much about himself in his book, just the lives and deaths - hopes and deaths of hopes - of every other creature. What a wise man.

I am going to get so much out of his book. Trouble is, what with one thing or another, I fear it may take me the rest of my life to read it.



Right, my desk is cleared for the evening.

Now where was I in
The Complaints? The tables have turned on detective Malcolm Fox, who suddenly finds himself under investigation by fellow cops. He is going to have to decide if he should take into his confidence the very cop that he has been investigating. But can he be sure that this other cop is not part of the team that is investigating him? Because if the other cop, a man that he instinctively trusts, is part of that team then Fox will be digging his own grave.

What a very clever man Ian Rankin is.

PEN - Version 14

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