Deleted scene: the Students’ Union general meeting

Picture doubly relevant to this scene. Or half relevant. Or something.
Picture doubly relevant to this scene. Or half relevant. Or something.

I take you to all the exciting locations. Actually, this happens after the SU meeting; it follows straight on from the current chapter 2 of the Lent term. Had it made it into the final version I’d have made a couple of changes, but it… didn’t. So I’m not.


Will was ranting to some other Fellowship members. Peter thought it best not to interrupt, and so walked home with Olly, who was accosted at every pace by people congratulating him on his speech.

‘I didn’t realise you were going to speak in favour,’ Peter said, once they were out of the Venue. ‘Not that I expected you to speak against – I mean, I hadn’t thought you’d be interested in the question at all.’

‘Yeah?’ Olly smiled. ‘I dunno, it just seemed like the thing to do…’

‘I mean,’ Peter pursued, ‘I wasn’t surprised at Tim speaking, because he’s such a stereotypical Catholic with a chip on his shoulder, and he’s been threatening to do something like this for years, but you’ve never seemed to care much, when we’ve talked about it at home or whatever…’

‘Just because I don’t talk,’ Olly said darkly, ‘doesn’t mean I don’t listen. And if it comes to it, it’s not so much about… well, it’s not so much about taking a side swipe at Evangelical Christianity, as it is about seeing things properly labelled. It’s the rationalist in me.’

Peter wondered what Olly had been going to say that it was not so much about. He would not have been so surprised had it been something to do with impressing Georgia.

‘Which wouldn’t help,’ he said, out loud. Georgia was still seething about the Camilla episode.


‘Sorry. Just thinking out loud.’

‘Oh… I thought Tim was very persuasive on why the Statement of Belief makes the Christian Fellowship a specifically Evangelical organisation, which I didn’t really understand, before. Not, like, living and breathing this stuff, the way you do.’

‘That’s a Theology degree for you,’ Peter said.

‘Do you really think,’ Olly asked, ‘that the existence of something called a Christian Fellowship results in you being misrepresented as a Christian?’

That had been a contentious point in the debate, and had been misunderstood in all directions. ‘Um,’ Peter said. ‘No. Yes. All the time.’


‘Well.’ He paused. ‘OK, think about the person who tells you they’re a Christian, you know, quite early on, when you’ve just met them. Think about how you react. You take a step backwards, discover you’re late for your lecture, run away screaming…’

‘You mean Will. At least, the way he is now.’

‘You knew him before he was like that?’ Peter said, momentarily distracted. ‘I mean, I know you two were at school together, but I got the impression he sprang fully formed from some church leader’s forehead… Did he used to be a leftie feminist atheist, or something?’

‘Oh, he was always an over-privileged toffee-nosed git,’ Olly allowed. ‘But the Christian thing is new. He used to just fidget through the services up until his voice broke and he left the choir, and piss around in RE, like the rest of us. All this in-your-face Christian stuff has developed since we left school, so far as I can tell. Maybe something got him on his gap year…’ Going by Olly’s face, he was hoping it had hurt.

‘I hope he’s not following us… But yes, that’s my point exactly. It gets to the point where the rest of us are almost afraid to introduce ourselves as Christians, even to people we know quite well, because we know that we’ll then have to spend half an hour explaining that we’re not Bible-bashing, homophobic, anti-woman bigots who have no interest in them beyond converting them. I’m not sure if I get more people assuming that because I’m black… Anyway, that’s what Tim means by the Christian Fellowship misrepresenting other Christians.’

‘Evangelical Christian Fellowship, now,’ Olly corrected him.

‘Indeed. I don’t think, by the way, that it’s going to make any difference. In ten years’ time I will still be describing myself as a socially liberal Anglican on the high end of the candle…’

‘That’s a mouthful.’

Peter snorted.


‘Sorry. Just imagining the way Becky would laugh at that.’

‘Oh, well, Becky…’

They were turning the corner into Alma Road. Peter scrabbled in his pocket for his keys, but before he found them Colette had the door open. ‘Did you drop my card off?’ she asked, anxiously.

‘Hello to you, too.’

‘Sorry. Hello. And congratulations, Olly! Becky was refreshing the forums every five seconds until the result came out. But Peter, did you drop Lydia’s card off?’

‘No,’ Peter teased, and watched her face fall. ‘…I gave it to her in person.’

‘Oh! Did she like it?’

‘She didn’t open it when I was there. But…’ Peter frowned, trying to remember, ‘I think it was a nice surprise.’


Colette’s smile made his heart turn over twice: first with wistfulness on his own account, and then with dread, on hers.

Eights and tens

Eight cars
If each car signifies one thousand words… we’ll need a bigger car park

A pedant’s definition of ‘decimate’ is to dispose of one tenth of whatever one’s seeking to dispose of. I don’t know whether there’s an equivalent expression, to produce one tenth of whatever one’s seeking to produce. It would be quite useful at the moment.

On Thursday night I typed up several pages of longhand, and was immoderately pleased to find out that it tipped the word count of the new novel over the eight thousand mark. Eight thousand and seven, to be precise. This is particularly satisfying because Speak Its Name ended up at ‘about eighty thousand words’. And some basic maths will tell you that 8,000:80,000 translates neatly to 1:10.

This does not, of course,  mean that the new book is one tenth finished. Speak Its Name went up to 115,000, after all – though I hope that I’ve got more of an idea of what I’m doing this time round. The current eight thousand and seven words don’t feel like a tenth of a book.

What I’ve got so far feels too nebulous, too insubstantial to be the backbone that ‘a tenth’ implies. That’s partly because I’m writing, as I always do, a scene here and a line there, a page from the beginning and a conversation from the end. I get one little snippet down on paper and it spawns three or four in completely different places in the plot.

At this stage I don’t think too much about structure; I just hang on as best I can and catch as much of it as possible. I’m not reading these words yet, because I don’t think they’d stand up to it. I’d either destroy them or get depressed. It doesn’t matter. There’s time. There’s plenty of time.

All the same: eight thousand words are down. Eight thousand out of eighty thousand – ish.

Deleted scene: some more awkwardness

We begin with Will deciding not to convert Olly at this particular juncture. Good plan, Will. He is not really relevant to this scene, which is more about the regrettably absent Camilla. I miss her.


Tonight was not the night for such a daunting undertaking, even if Will had known where to start. He had other things to do: a Teaching and Study committee meeting, followed by dinner at Jake’s house, finishing up at the Royal Oak with the rest of the Sailing Club for Frizzo’s birthday. Becky was out as well, having dinner with Adam to celebrate their first anniversary. Peter, therefore, was left to feed only his two fellow finalists and Colette, who was even more quiet than usual through the meal, and slunk off to her room at the earliest possible opportunity.

When the silence grew oppressive, Peter asked, ‘Any plans for the evening, Olly?’

‘I was going to go to Liam’s party – you know, Liam in Maths, used to hang around Morley in first year, sometimes? But something’s come up.’

‘Something?’ Peter was curious.

He looked shifty. ‘I’m going to the cinema, actually.’

Georgia tilted her head and looked at him sideways, accusingly. ‘Oh. You might have told me you were missing Liam’s thing. What are you seeing?’ (Angling for an invitation?)

‘I don’t know, yet. We were going to decide over a drink.’

Peter raised his eyebrows. ‘We?’ he said, and, seeing Georgia’s face, regretted it.

‘Me and Camilla.’ He was turning red, clashing increasingly with his sandy hair.

Georgia had gone from neutral to beetroot without warning. She said, dangerously calmly, ‘You’re seeing her again, then?’

‘That’s right,’ Olly agreed.

Peter considered the distance between himself and the door. Trying to change the subject as unobtrusively as possible, he said, ‘I hear what’s its name, the new Tarantino film, is meant to be very good.’

‘She didn’t look to me like the sort of person who’d be a Tarantino fan,’ Georgia said.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Olly asked through a sudden glacier.

‘Oh, nothing.’

Peter made one last effort. ‘Seriously. It’s had very good reviews.’

‘I shall see what Milly thinks.’

Georgia muttered something about what the rest of us think, the details of which Peter did not catch. Olly, however, did. ‘I don’t care what the rest of you think,’ he stated. ‘I’ll admit to a certain sordid interest, though. Do you have a problem with Camilla, Georgia?’

A swift harsh sigh. ‘No. Of course I don’t. I’ve barely met the woman.’

‘Then I’ll thank you to refrain from making snide remarks about her.’

Georgia rose, which gained her a temporary height advantage. ‘If you choose to interpret a perfectly neutral comment as snide, that’s up to you.’

Olly also stood, stiff-backed as a guardsman. ‘Georgia, if you object to my occasionally enjoying the company of the opposite sex, could you do me the favour of saying so to my face?’

‘Oh, so that’s what they call it these days?’

Peter groaned. They turned to face him, wearing comically similar expressions of outrage. ‘What?’ Georgia demanded.

It was a bad idea, but he said it anyway. ‘Can’t you two just shag and get it over with?’

He took advantage of the appalled silence to get up and leave the room. He just heard Olly say, mildly, ‘Fuck off,’ as he closed the door behind him.

He only got half-way down the stairs before Georgia caught him up. ‘No, we can’t, and you know it,’ she hissed.

He turned back to face her. ‘You can’t stop him going out with other girls, G.,’ he said.

‘I know.’ She had herself under control. ‘I know. It’s not fair. I could just do with not knowing about it, that’s all. And she’s so bloody gorgeous and posh. What the hell do I look like next to her?’

‘The one he’s in love with, that’s what you look like,’ Peter said, gentle but impatient. ‘And if you’ve turned him down, you can’t expect him to live like a monk.’

A floorboard creaked on the landing above them. As one, they froze, looked very slowly upwards, listened as Olly’s footsteps plodded all the way up to the top of the house; then Georgia said, quietly and furiously, ‘Fine. You’ve told me all the things I can’t do. What, in that case, can I do?’

Peter was suddenly sick of them all: of Olly and Georgia, stubbornly apart; of Becky and Adam, loudly and ecstatically reunited; of Lily and Ross, smugly together; of Colette, as far out of his reach as ever; most of all, of himself. ‘You know what?’ he said. ‘Do what the hell you want.’


First sight of the next book (don’t get excited)

?I’m five thousand words into the next book. Well, two thousand from the beginning, two thousand from the end, and an odd thousand somewhere in the middle.

I’m very secretive about my first drafts. Nobody gets to see them. Nobody apart from my online writing group (and whoever happens to be sitting next to me on the 0745 to King’s Cross, but they’re usually asleep, and probably can’t read my handwriting anyway). Last time round I pretended to all my friends that I wasn’t writing a book. Since it wouldn’t have occurred to any of them that I was writing a book (why should it?), this was fairly easy. I’m not sure how this is going to work, second time round, but we’ll find out. Don’t expect extensive previews, that’s all I’m saying.

Having said that, the following (completely accidental) Tom Swifty was far too good not to share, so here you go:

‘I think I’d probably wake up before I drowned in my bed,’ she said drily.

As to whether it’ll actually make it into the next book – who knows? Maybe I’ll make it a bit more subtle and change the adverb to ‘wryly’. Maybe I’ll leave it out altogether. I’m very good at murdering my darlings, but I’m also very good at disinterring the bodies, stitching them to other parts and sending a bolt of lightning through them, or, if all else fails, displaying the corpses for the edification of the public. I haven’t yet run out of deleted scenes from Speak Its Name.

How I learned to stop worrying and self-publish

It is entirely appropriate that I bought this mug for myself
It is entirely appropriate that I bought this mug for myself

There was a minor kerfuffle recently regarding Ros Barber (of whom I had never heard before she popped up in the Guardian) and her thoughts on those who choose to Self-Publish And Be Damned. Since her arguments have been roundly refuted by people who have published more books and made more money than I have, I won’t wade in on that particular point. Also, this was a fortnight ago and nobody cares any more.

All the same, I’ve been meaning for a while to explain how I made the decision to self-publish.

Up until last year, self-publishing wasn’t on my list of options. It wasn’t because I didn’t know about it. I knew about it. I knew people who had done it. I thought they were incredibly brave. Personally, I was too scared of the following factors to contemplate it myself:

  • the gargantuan amount of work that I’d have to do (or organise) myself, rather than outsource to the publisher’s friendly in-house editors, cover designers, proof-readers, publicists, and so forth;
  • the huge amount of money I assumed it would cost;
  • the possibility of some joker taking some element of my book personally and trying to sue me;
  • people whose opinion I respected thinking the less of me, as a writer and a person.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think my book was good. I wouldn’t have been sending it round agents and publishers if I didn’t think it was worth, well, publishing.I just wanted somebody else to tell me that.

I already knew that the target audience for my book was limited. I knew that it would be difficult to sell even if it were very, very good. At the same time, I knew that there would be people with whom it would resonate, who would enjoy it, who would find it useful. I’d written it to relieve my own feelings, but I knew that those feelings were not unique to me. I didn’t want to leave the thing languishing on my hard drive for ever, but I was far too scared to self-publish. What would people think?

Last year turned out to be fairly heavy in the ‘personal epiphanies’ department. I discovered that I thought the institution of marriage human at best and idolatrous at worst. I told people to stop fucking apologising for swearing in front of me. I moved from thinking of myself as a ‘liberal’ Christian to thinking of myself as a ‘radical’ one.

I found that other people’s ideas about who I was and what I was worth were becoming less important to me. I found that I no longer needed other people’s approval. I didn’t need a fairy godmother to give me permission to go to the ball. I was my own fairy godmother. I got myself a dress and a pair of shoes, and I gate-crashed the party.

Put like that, it doesn’t seem like much. Looking back from where I am now, it doesn’t seem like much. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was an epic mental shift.

I did send the manuscript to one last publisher after I’d made the decision to self-publish. I felt a bit ambivalent about it, but a family member had gone to some trouble to get them to take a look at it and it seemed churlish not to.

You can’t imagine how relieved I was when they weren’t interested. I’d gone beyond wanting someone else to do all the hard work. I’d taken control, and now I didn’t want to relinquish it. I had learned to say: Yes. This is my work. I am not ashamed to claim it, to put my name on it, to send it out with no one’s approval but my own. And it turns out that I don’t want to go back from that.

Deleted scene: a wedding

2013 June Jim and Val wedding 352

Once upon a time, this was going to be the opening scene of Speak Its Name. Not this particular version, which slots in after another deleted scene where Lydia’s mother is driving her to Stancester (literally, not metaphorically), but it definitely started with a wedding. I was trying to do something clever with doubling and framing; also to introduce all the Alma Road characters; also to drop in the point that the ministers of a marriage are the couple themselves. It does all that, but it also introduces three completely unnecessary characters and slows up the action. And it doesn’t involve Lydia.


The wedding was at Wardle Street Methodist Church. Lily Wicks, former President of Stancester University Anglican, Methodist and United Reformed Church Society, AngthMURC for short, was marrying Ross Whitehouse, former Social Secretary of the same organisation – a commitment that most of their friends affected to deplore, on the grounds of their excessive youth, but were secretly rather pleased about.

‘And after all,’ Peter Nathan observed to Olly Sennick as they awaited the arrival of the bride, ‘who cares if they have only just graduated? If you know what you want, you know what you want.’

‘Well,’ Olly said, cattily, ‘Lily always knows what she wants, and Ross is so laid back that I don’t think he much cares. Ridiculous institution, anyway. It’s just a piece of paper. I can’t see why they need a vicar.’

Peter could not resist rising to that particular piece of bait. ‘Not a vicar, in a Methodist church. You’re right, though: technically, it’s the couple themselves who are the ministers of the marriage. The chap in the dog-collar is just the registrar.’

‘Hmph,’ Olly said.

The pair of them, together with their housemates and various other friends who, if anyone had asked them, ‘Bride or groom?’ would have replied, ‘Um…’, filled the second row on both sides of the church. Peter glanced left and right. On Olly’s other side sat Ruth, attending her last service at Wardle Street before leaving to start her PhD in America. Across the aisle was Colette, managing to look slightly dishevelled even today. She saw him looking, and turned away, a flush streaking up her cheekbones. Peter sighed, and told himself – again – to stop barking up that particular tree. It was pointless, offensive, and liable to cause difficulties sharing a house in the year ahead.

Speaking of which… The two unknown quantities sat on Colette’s right – her friend Becky, the Lancastrian Quaker (loud, but not, so far as Peter had seen, obnoxious), and then her friend Will, the incongruous posh-boy Evangelical, to whom Olly seemed to have already developed a violent antipathy. (Why? It couldn’t be the Christianity alone, or Olly could hardly have survived last year, stuck in the middle of the assorted gaggle of Anglicans and Methodists. It wasn’t as if he had a strong personal liking for anybody beside Georgia…)

Georgia’s seat was empty, of course; she had a place reserved on the front row, handy for bouquet-catching and train-bearing and whatever else a chief bridesmaid was meant to do. Although – was that her voice? Peter looked at his watch.

‘Early,’ Olly said. ‘Trust Lily.’

‘She’ll be wandering around talking to people, and Georgia will be trying to shove her back in the car and drive round the block a few times until she’s properly late.’

‘Not a wise move, in Stancester on a Saturday. Particularly not in Freshers’ Week.’

‘Do you know, I had actually forgotten, for five seconds, that it was Freshers’ Week?’ Peter groaned. ‘And, no matter how bad the hangover, I have to be up tomorrow to shepherd all the little baby firsties to Chapel. I bet there won’t even be any…’ He shook his head. ‘Just don’t remind Georgia, OK?’

Colette leaned across the aisle and said, reproachfully, ‘She’ll be fine once it’s actually started. Actually I think it’s been good for her, being bridesmaid. It’s taken her mind off AngthMURC stuff.’

‘I love Georgia, and I know I voted for her,’ Peter said, ‘and she does get stuff done, but I’m still not convinced that her taking over from Lily was the best idea in the world, from the point of view of harmony in the home and everybody’s mental health. Wait until you’ve lived with her for a term: you’ll see.’

‘Dunno why she wastes her time with it, anyway,’ Olly said. Peter put it down to the enforced churchgoing, and ignored him.

‘What are we – Colette began, but she was interrupted by a well-intentioned fanfare on the electric organ. Peter was the first to his feet, Olly close behind, the whole congregation rising and simultaneously turning to look over its collective shoulder at the west door.

Peter felt surreptitiously in his breast pocket for the card on which he had printed his reading, just to make sure that it was still there. He could have done it without the text, at a pinch, but it was 1 Corinthians 13, which everyone knew from all the other weddings they had ever been to, and to complicate matters Ross had insisted on compiling his own ‘translation’ from all the versions he liked. This, Peter was fairly certain, was not legal (though you never knew, with Methodists), but at least it wasn’t the Street Bible. He wondered if he was nevous, and rejected the thought: he read, in church, without the stutter, which, he thought, showed, if anything did – but here came the bride.

‘End of an era,’ Olly murmured, as Lily passed them, and winked.