Wednesday, 12 March 2014


Tomorrow is publication day, that tiny window when an author looks up from their keyboard, nods in quiet acknowledgement to the fruit of their long labour, before getting on with the next book. You wish it well, hope that it's not bullied, hope you've bestowed upon it enough heft to take care of itself in an often cruel world. 

The coming days/weeks will see the proliferation of that question authors despise, those three words that roughly translate as 'sum up the entire novel for me in a three-second sound bite that centres mostly on plot but also touches upon theme and character, none of which I'll really listen to': WHAT'S IT ABOUT?

So in a preemptive attempt to deflect some of these blows, here, in no particular order, are my current responses.
  • About 320 pages
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • An hour's madness
  • A paean to the peregrine and The Peregrine
  • The legacy of war
  • Fatherhood
  • Friendship
  • Violence and its contrails
  • Read it and see
Perhaps it will be loved, perhaps hated. Anything but indifference. For now I'm grateful some writers I respect and admire have said lovely things about it, which you can read here.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014


If you haven’t heard of David Vann, it won’t be long. My agent sent me his debut, Legend of a Suicide, a year ago – a fabulously original collection of linked narratives that announced his talent (Vann's, not my agent's, though his talents are legion). There have been two novels since – Dirt and Caribou Island – but it’s his third dalliance with the longer form that I caught up with over the last couple of days. Morally challenging – of its characters and readers – Goat Mountain is narrated by an eleven-year-old boy (perhaps from the veiled vantage of adulthood) with astonishing linguistic richness and lyricism, the often-staccato prose also taut and muscular, likely evoking comparisons with Cormac McCarthy.
Paused for a moment, peered curiously around, eyes blinking, some kind of bird too fat to fly. Same thoughts as any bird, thoughts of nothing, no mind. Icy soul of anything made too long ago, bird or reptile or rook. 
Opening with a seemingly inexplicable and devastating moment of violence, the book lays bare three generations of a hunting family – grandfather, father and son – as they try (and fail) to cope with the contrails of this murderous act, their subsequent descent into depravity horribly compelling, as already frail familial binds are stretched and finally severed.

There’s a bleakness laced throughout the narrative, but one tempered by the opulent and visceral imagery, by the lyrical evocation of landscape, the scrub- and burr-laden terrain of northern California, a keenly felt place that acts as both allegory and texture as events play out. And despite this vast ranch beneath its immense skies, we soon become claustrophobic, agitated even, particularly in the build up to one shocking rites-of-passage set piece. There’s a devastatingly unflinching middle section (especially for someone with strong anti-hunt sensibilities, of which I am one), but none of it is gratuitous, forced as we are to reflect on our own potential for savagery and unhinging, given the right (or wrong) circumstances. 

Above all this is a book that asks difficult questions – about the nature of humans, the origins of violence and our capacity to both survive and resist it, to repeat it. It meditates unapologetically on culpability, on what age we become responsible for our actions, on sins that are biblical in origin.
Noah lived nine hundred and thirty years. But we are more ephemeral, risen and walking, made of dust but filled with thirst. Dust that will not rest. And this is god’s will, but his cruelty was to make the dust think, so that it would know its thirst as it walked. 
None of this is to say that the book lacks pace and great tension, or is ever burdened by the heft of its own ideas. It isn’t. Just allow yourself some small space to recover after reaching the shattering denouement.
This bullet would travel endlessly inside him and never find a target. It would travel for thousands of years and hit nothing because it would have a shadow somewhere immovable. Those thousands of years become less than an instant and the bullet vanished and winking into being and gone.
I sense Vann will always write ‘important’ books, or rather his work will achieve that distinction and more with the unfurling of time.

Goat Mountain is published by William Heinemann, £16.99

Sunday, 22 December 2013


If holding your novel for the first time can be likened (loosely) to holding your new-born, perhaps seeing the book’s cover is a little like espying the image of your baby on an ultrasound scan. Perhaps not. Anyway, I got to see the cover for the next novel. What do you think?

OUT in 2014
And here’s an early blurb for the book.

From the author of What Lies Within and The Method, comes a thought-provoking and beautifully written thriller.

A son returns to the small town where he grew up, where his mother still lives and where a terrible event in his childhood changed the lives of every person living there. As the story unfolds through the eyes of the son, the mother and finally, the father, the reader experiences the taut build up to one day's tragic unravelling, and the shock waves that echoed through a once happy family and close-knit community. Will they ever be able to exorcise the damage of that day or do some wounds run too deep?

In exploring the darkest corners of the human heart, Vowler asks whether we can truly know what those closest to us are capable of? Part psychological suspense, part lyrical meditation on fatherhood, war and the natural world, That Dark Remembered Day is a gripping and moving literary thriller that will haunt you to the end.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013


I spent a wonderful two hours yesterday on Phonic FM's The Mighty Book show, chatting all things literary - and a few things not. I read a few extracts from What Lies Within, but the most exciting, child-in-a-sweetshop part was getting to chose my own music, tracks woven into the conversation. Here's the playlist.

Monday, 2 December 2013


It's awful, I know: a writer telling you to buy their book/s for presents. So in the spirit of generosity befitting the upcoming festive period, I'd like to suggest some stocking fillers what other people wrote. Just in case you're short of an idea or two for word-loving friends and family.

I can hardly wait to finish Murdoch's wonderful The Sea, The Sea, so I can get stuck into this, Robinson's eagerly anticipated fourth novel. So how can I recommend it without as much as turning the cover? Because the author is one of those rare beasts, a gifted writer who weaves wonderful plots, creates compelling characters, yet at no expense to his obvious love of language. I imagine this will be a literary thriller of the highest order.

Ok, so I am editor of this literary journal, but hear me out. For just ten English pounds you get some of the best short stories being published today, a mix of wonderful emerging talent, Booker longlistees and established greats, all accompanied with bespoke artwork and front illustration. You will also be supporting us to put out another issue next year. More details here.

Essential reading this year, Pack (Stack is a nom de plume) is a witty and talented writer. He's rather modest and quiet - you probably haven't even heard of him - so pop over here to find out more.

Er, hum. If, after purchasing the above fine publications you are still in need of a gift or two, this is my current novel, a psychological thriller, the initial penning of which began this very blog several years ago. It's had some very lovely reviews from kindly folk here and here. And some writerly peoples have also said nice stuff over here.

To borrow from Mr Pack, you could click across to Amazon for any of these, but you're much more likely to go to heaven if you pay a visit to your local indie bookshop. Atheists, you just get to feel good about yourself.

As you were.

Sunday, 1 September 2013


I'm delighted to welcome Catherine McNamara, who's popped in to talk about the genesis of her wonderful short story collection Pelt and Other Stories, which is published in the UK tomorrow. I love her stories and we're delighted to be publishing her in Short Fiction in our forthcoming issue. Over to Catherine...  

A long, long time ago now, I had a story called ‘Cartography’ in a Virago Anthology called Wild Cards. I was living in West Africa, visiting a London aunt, when a woman telephoned asking for me. It was The Call: a London agent calling.

At the time, the anthology with my story was gracing a bookshop window in Shaftesbury Avenue. For this dreamy Australian writer it was a heady moment. Even though reviews were so-so and it was plain that for the big world the book was too wimminy. But The Agent had called. I parked my pram and boyfriend downstairs in Soho and climbed up the stairs to her office.

To date I had published quite a few short stories, the first of which was called ‘Elton John’s Mother’ and earned a place in a 50-best anthology of Australian authors. I had a messy, scrawled novel lying neglected at home, and I was co-running a bar and art gallery in Accra. In the words of the insightful and busy Grace Paley, And then we had our normal family life—struggles and hard times. That takes up a lot of time, hard times. Uses up whole days. So I wasn’t writing anywhere near full-time, in fact those crazy years have provided much of the subject matter that makes up Pelt and Other Stories

Very quickly, the agent expressed her interest in my work and suggested I supply her a novel ‘with a twist’. No thank you, she said, she wasn’t interested in a short story collection. Nobody wants stories because stories don’t sell. Ever thought of writing a book of interlinked stories?

Interlinked stories? The halfway house between the Novel and the Short Story? I wasn’t convinced. This seemed like some sort of market gimmick. And with this the meeting went nowhere, really. Except for a pat on my skinny back, a big dose of affirmation (Well, you can write!) and a very daunting, And do send me that novel, Catherine!

Many years later I realised the short stories I had been sending off and gradually publishing in literary reviews were forming themselves into a collection. I began thinking about themes, order, connection. To my horror, I found there were unfinished situations and characters with more allure than I cared to abandon. I wrote some interlinked stories. Characters who had been secondary in certain pieces stepped forward into their own. Themes branched out, thrusting along new tributaries. As James Salter says, You’re sitting around the campfire of literature, so to speak, and various voices speak up out of the dark and begin talking. 

So while my approach to writing a short story remains fairly standard, as the book came together I worried I had fallen into some kind of contemporary market trap. Would agents/publishers think I’d exploited the same characters because I’d run out of ideas? Would the whole thing gel or be a leaky wreck with shallow pretensions?

There are several storylines in Pelt where the same situations are turned sideways or seen inside-out. As the writing process broadened I became more and more interested – even obsessed! – by this unravelling and development. And yet each piece remained an entity with cadences and its own roiling delivery – not the calm paced stuff of a novel, but firmer, richer, faster.

In 2010 I’d been lucky enough to find a small British publisher who published my first novel, an erotic comedy that marked my attempt to enter the market, and who agreed – with reluctance – to read my story collection.  I fully expected another pat on the back, another suggestion to Bring on that novel, Catherine.

He said yes. And now that Pelt and Other Stories is out I am wondering if anyone will see the stitching: the small moments of my vast discoveries. And the funniest thing? I am writing a new batch of stories. Not yet interlinked, but who knows?

Catherine lives in Italy after many years in West Africa. 
She is originally from Sydney. Pelt and Other Stories is 
released in the UK on 2nd September, 2013.

Sunday, 18 August 2013


A quieter affair for the paperback launch of WHAT LIES WITHIN: an afternoon reading with tea and cake at the wonderful Old Chapel in Calstock. A former Methodist church, it's now a beautiful venue for the performing arts on the banks of the Tamar.

There was time at the end for a short extract from my next novel, THAT DARK REMEMBERED DAY, due out in spring 2014, a little of which you can read about here.