Writing by Hand

Writing by hand in the days of keyboards has become an art form, an anachronism, even an act of anarchy. When you write with a pencil you can smell the graphite, with a pen the resins, wax and precious oils. The words as they loop across the page awaken something emotional and vaguely nostalgic. For […]

This Land is Your Land

When Jennifer Lopez sang ‘This Land is Your Land’ at the inauguration ceremony for new President Joe Biden, she was channelling Woody Guthrie’s belief in fair play and decency, in democracy, in the truth. His guitar carried the message: This machine kills fascists.  Guthrie wrote ‘This Land is Your Land’ in 1940 in response to […]

How To TAKE BACK CONTROL

When the miners went on strike to stop colliery closures in 1984, Mrs Thatcher wanted to take back control. She fought the miners with police batons and rhetoric, closed the pits and announced that there was no such thing as society. She pushed for the breakup of the welfare state and was eager to sell […]

Can We Save The Elephants?

    The grasslands and forests of India and Sri Lanka are disappearing. It is not unusual to see elephants rummaging for food in seas of garbage. In Africa, elephants face poachers and trophy hunters as their habitat turns to dust and concrete. The photograph of an elephant carrying an exhausted lion cub to safety during […]

Love at First Sight

After forging his birth certificate at seventeen, my father joined the Royal Navy and spent six years as a gunner on a battleship. Mates the same age died in his arms. He came out of the war feeling lucky to have survived and determined to have a happy life. My mother at fourteen was evacuated […]

Black, Female and as Mad as Hell

Salaria Kea worked as a nurse at Harlem Hospital in New York. Most of the patients were black, like her. Most of the senior doctors were white. One day when Salaria and a group of nurses were eating lunch, three white doctors came in. One of them demanded they give up their table. This was […]

We Shall Pass

We Shall Pass is a novel set during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), my statement as a writer, the book I’d like to be remembered for. I started researching and writing notes for We Shall Pass twenty years ago. I travelled to the battle sites across Spain, read the history from both sides and worked […]

Bob Dylan’s Secrets of Success

Success is illusive, fragile, hard to pin down, describe or quantify. Bob Dylan said, ‘A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.’ The hard part is knowing exactly what you want to do and whether […]

Hunger is a Political Weapon

Allowing school children to go hungry is immoral, disgraceful, a political strategy. A weapon of war. ‘More than four million children in Britain are growing up in poverty,’ according to Louise Tickle, The Guardian, February 2020. ‘Levels of food insecurity in Britain are among the highest in Europe.’ Hunger scars you for life. People too […]

The Importance of Being Liberal

A liberal is open minded, understands the benefits of debate and compromise, and is tolerant of people with opposing views. A liberal believes in the democratic system of interconnected institutions designed to limit the excesses of power. They trust in the system where those intent on undermining democracy – populists, nationalists, neo-fascists, neo-communists – have an […]

No Danger at Margate Pier

One day I got a call at the office from Ricky Fisher. ‘Alright, Cliff? How’s it going? Listen, I’ve got a scoop for you? You interested?’ ‘Always interested.’ ‘I’ll pick up in ten minutes,’ he said, and hung up. I told Reg Foster, the chief reporter, that a ‘contact’ had called with a story and […]

My Dad Wasn’t A Patriot

On Easter Friday when I was young, my dad would drag me out of bed early and drive to a bakery in Tottenham where he has gone with his dad as a boy. The bakery had green and cream tiles like a railway waiting room and must have been even older than the bakers who […]

How to Write a Great Book Blurb

It doesn’t matter how great your book is, it won’t sell without a great book blurb. After spending months or years writing the manuscript, the universe of words that fills your head has to be reimagined as one brilliant shooting star of three paragraphs.  If someone asks: what’s your book about? Your answer is the […]

The Meaning of Love

When you remove love from sex you enter a mansion with many rooms shaded in nuance and excess, an invitation to peel away all conventions and programming. A chance to explore your hidden self. You shed something and clothe yourself in something else. Sex is the greatest of gifts, orgasm a glimpse of perfection. When […]

The Ticking Meter

If you’re thinking about making a short film forget it. Make three. One is happenstance. Two is a remake. Three is a statement of intent. The advice comes from Alexander Salkind, who made his fortune with the Superman franchise after a mass of movies good and bad spanning a career of forty years. Salkind started […]