2015 in review

Here’s a summary of 2015. Not as productive as I’d hoped on the writing front, but there’s a time for filling the well, isn’t there?


Stonemouth by Iain Banks – disappointingly similar to The Crow Road and Espedair Street, with a dash of Wasp Factory.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley – twenty pages into this, I knew I wanted to read it again. The clockwork gadgets and charming characters drew me into a sense of place so genteel and stifling, yet plagued by violence; and there’s snow (always happy to read stories with snow).

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky – like reading through a subject on Wikipedia as if it were a travelogue. Not very deep but enjoyable while it lasted. Is it true, perhaps, that many of the non-federal roads between small towns in the USA originally followed animal trails between salt licks?

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore – interesting historical research written engagingly, but TBH I thought both characters in the marriage sounded pretty ghastly and felt sorry for their various kids.

Concrete Island by J G Ballard – strange to imagine how anyone could write this story now, thirty years or so later, with the rise of CCTV and near-ubiquitous smartphone ownership. Can’t you hear the SatNav berating the lead character for taking a wrong turn?

Lanark by Alasdair Gray – tortuous and bitty and self-indulgent. Can’t see why it was worth waiting for. Filed with 2666 and Moby Dick under “hours of my life I’ll never get back”, but at least I finished it.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell – seminal work that claims to have laid the foundation arguments for the nationalisations of the 1945-50 Labour government. Left me with a sickly notion that the lead characters might find our current world of zero-hours contracts and crushing urban rents somewhat familiar.

The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The WWII Codebreaking Centre and the Men and Women Who Worked There by Sinclair Mackay – an easy read which nonetheless makes the intricate and crucial work at Bletchley sound as dull and repetitive as office work everywhere. There’s a possibility I might cite this as research for a future Cuckoo Club story, as one of my characters in Dogger, Forties, German Bight has a hinted Bletchley past.

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch – having heard the author talk about this series at CrimeFest 2014 I was keen to read the novels, of which this is the first. Now, not so likely to go out of  my way. Well constructed story skilfully written but didn’t hold my interest enough (too contemporary, not enough clever gadgets or magic weirdness).

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin – worth reading if you are interested in the historical groundswell that also gave us Brave New World, Metropolis and 1984. Has hints of Logan’s Run in places too. A slender tome.

I’m hoping that next year will prove a little more expansive on the reading front. Limiting my time online will help. Don’t expect much.


Published in: on December 31, 2015 at 12:00 am  Comments Off on 2015 in review  
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Fabulous Places: Salt, Castle and Lake

I’ve been wordy for a while. It’s time I took a back seat and shared with you some fabulous places.


“Mankind has inhabited the Arctic landscape for ten thousand years. Arctic nomads wandered with the ice, taking advantage of available resources from coastal areas and a mountainous countryside. Their concern for and close relationship to nature means that archaeologists are able to find few remnants of their culture.” – from the Salt website

broken pack ice on a darkened sea

“For thousands of years people have followed the movement of animals and the seasonal rhythms in the Arctic landscape. Footprints are few. SALT is inspired by and moves in that same Arctic landscape with care and respect.”


“In the heart of Puisaye, in Yonne, Burgundy, a team of fifty people have taken on an extraordinary feat: to build a castle using the same techniques and materials used in the Middle Ages.

Stonemasons at work on a tracery window at Guédelon castle, France

Stonemasons at work on a tracery window at Guédelon castle, France

“Guédelon is a field of experimental archaeology – a kind of open-air laboratory.

“The aim is to recreate … the construction processes that might have existed on an early 13th century building site. Unlike traditional archaeology, which is concerned with cataloguing, excavating and analysing an existing structure, experimental archaeology puts this process into reverse. A structure is built from start to finish in order to obtain, following experiments and observations, a set of conclusive results.

“Guédelon is a back-to-front archaeological dig.”



“Dive into the mysterious world of farmers, fishermen, and brass founders of the Stone Age 6000 years ago, and be a witness to the lifestyle of the Bronze Age 3000 years ago.”

“Lake dwellings, known as pole or pile dwellings, have been in existence at the shores of all large lakes in the Prealps, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Germany. Lake dwellings have also been discovered at some lakes in Italy, Austria, Latvia, Lithuania, Spain, at the Laibacher Moor, and the Federsee Moor in Upper Swabia. According to the latest data, this era constitutes the life form of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age between approximately 4300 BC and 800 BCE.”

Many years ago a friend and I visited a temporary museum in Switzerland where the curators had built stilt-houses out over the lake.

A family of boar were penned up in one building, little stripy piglets (boarlets? boarings?) suckling their massive bristly mother. Strange sheep, surprisingly clear-eyed and mischievous, with wide curving horns and tight fleece, almost daring us to race up the nearest Alp.

Archery, metalsmithing, skinning and tanning, weaving, presented in separate huts with guides to help you try for yourself.

The trip was memorable for many reasons, not least the bottle of Bronze Age style beer we bought with our last few Swiss Francs and drank as we dipped our naked, travel-weary feet into the clear lake waters.

That night we slept in the railway station in Bern, awaiting our morning departure for Calais and the ferry home, the last of our funds depleted but a wealth of memories in their stead.