The Secret Life of Sunflowers

On Monday I bought two sunflowers at the market and planted them in a pot outside our house. Everyone who passes sees their smiling yellow faces and smiles back. Sunflowers know the secret of life is to follow the sun. The Sun God Apollo once fell in love with a water nymph named Clytie. When his […]

From the First to the Last Paragraph

I have put off writing this piece for some time because I couldn’t think of a first paragraph. In this I detect a common dilemma. Reading through a collection of short stories recently, I realised that several were rather good – except for the first paragraph, the one sculpted to such perfection they said nothing […]

Hancock Lies Unzipped by a Kiss

It’s enough to make you laugh. Or cry. Or throw up. Health Secretary Matt Hancock lies to the public over serious life and death issues and resigns after getting caught in a kiss. Hancock caused the unnecessary deaths of many thousands of elderly people by sending them from hospitals back to nursing homes with Covid. […]

Dylan, Duende, Death and Lorca

Does Bob Dylan have duende? Do you have duende? What is duende?  Duende is a Spanish word with two meanings. A duende is a goblin or a pixie that probably lives at the bottom of the garden and gives three wishes to old ladies who deserve a break. The duende was best defined by Spain’s great […]

5 Key Writing Tips by Ernest Hemingway

The 5 Key Writing Tips by Ernest Hemingway look straightforward enough, but then, nothing when it comes to writing is ever easy. This is Hem’s advice: Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative. Never have only 4 rules. Tip No.1: use short sentences says avoid sub-clauses bracketed in […]

An Invention Without a Future

On a cold December night three days after Christmas in 1895, guests filed into the dimly-lit basement at the Grand Café on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris. In this age of marvels and miracles, what the people had come to witness was what Louis Lumière described as ‘An invention without a future.’ Louis and […]

Never Trust a Pigeon

A pair of pigeons live in the elm tree between my house and that of the neighbour. The male pigeon has a stout body, a prominent belly and a short neck shimmering with wine red feathers. He struts around the garden with a sense of entitlement and always seems pleased with himself. Constantly nodding his head, […]

My Secret Writing Tutor

  A writing tutor may be a flesh and blood man or woman who pours over your scribblings and offers shrewd advice. You may find your spark in the words of your favourite songwriter – Bob Dylan, say, or an author, William Boyd or John Grisham. If you want to learn how to write elegant sentences […]

How Dylan Turns News Into History

It was 1.30am on 9 February 1963, bitter cold outside in the streets of Baltimore, warm and lively on the dance floor in the Emerson Hotel, where William Devereux Zantzinger was attending a society gathering with Jane, his pretty young wife. Zantzinger was 24, six foot two, the owner of ‘a tobacco farm of six hundred […]

Can You Learn How To Write?

If you have a box of multi-coloured beads and thread them on a silver chain, the necklace you make will be original, an illustration of your taste and talent – or its absence. If a hundred people make a necklace from the same set of beads, they will all be different. Some a mess, others […]

Hungry People Don’t Vote

The Hartlepool byelection was a victory for hunger and poverty. It was a victory for tax cuts for the rich, insider dealing and the hidden national malaise that will deepen and worsen in the coming decade. Hartlepool’s electorate consists of a little over 70,000 people. Jill Mortimer for the Conservative Party won the byelection on […]

The First Line

‘It is the first line that gives the inspiration and then it’s like riding a bull. Either you just stick with it, or you don’t,’ Bob Dylan. The first line is the spark that ignites the forest fire. The words come out like a rocket. Or a shooting star. Or they come out like teeth […]

Dalí, Buñuel and Making Short Films

  Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel started making short films together when they were still students at university in Madrid in the 1920s – a century ago. After the first film, Un Chien andalou, Dalí applied what he called his paranoiac-critical method to co-write film No 2 – L’Âge d’Or. The film that was instantly banned […]

British Banks, Brexit and ISIS Money

The chief executive of JP Morgan, the world’s biggest bank, wrote in his annual letter to the bank’s shareholders that Brexit ‘cannot possibly’ be a positive for the UK economy in the short-term, and warned that the bank may eventually move all of its European operations out of London. Jamie Dimon added that in the […]

Dylan, Dublin and a Pint of Guinness

Arthur Guinness signed a long lease on a disused brewery at St James’s Gate in Dublin in 1759 and began brewing the frothy dry stout that would make his fortune. His formula was to blend malted barley with unmalted roasted barley and add a pinch of ‘aged’ brew to the fresh concoction. The result was […]