The Campaign for Real Fear

I'm very excited today, because a story I wrote, In the Night Supermarket… has been selected by the Campaign for Real Fear following their recent competition.

The Campaign for Real Fear is run by Maura McHugh and Christopher Fowler. The Campaign began with a blog post by Maura, Horror Wants Women to Scream But Not Talk, about a recently released collection of interviews with horror writers which contained only men. In addition to attacking such maginalisation of women in horror, the Campaign wants "diversity in themes, characters and monsters. It’s time to promote a twenty-first century horror sensibility, one that explores what scares us most in our rapidly changing world."

While I'm delighted to be selected, I'm equally looking forward to reading the other entries. Writing in the last issue of Black Static, Christopher Fowler said "…we hope it will eventually lead, as it did in the heady experimentalism of the 1960s, to new writing and a fresh perspective".

As I teenager I loved horror writing. Not for the gore, but because writers like Clive Barker did things with words and stories I'd not seen before. I spent long afternoons digesting anthologies, excited by the techniques used and the possibilities of what writing could do. I love the idea of experimental horror writing, and I've been playing with that idea a lot since submitting my entry. What would New Worlds horror be like?

Initially there ten stories were going to be selected, but this has been expanded to twenty. The stories will appear as podcasts from Action Audio, as well as being printed in the next two issues of Black Static.

Buying books in India


Books are one of the most important aspects of travelling. The Lonely Planet's guide to India makes sure to list the main bookshops for each town. In fact, one advantage of carrying a book as large as the Lonely Planet India (1200 pages) is that one always has emergency reading material.

Having time to read was one of the best things about India. I read dozens of books during my travels (what else are you going to do on a 31 hour train journey?) I visited bookshops ranging from plush Borders-style places a to shelf in a cafe. My favourites were probably the Full Circle Bookshop in Delhi's Khan Market (the cafe, while overpriced, was a good place to relax) and the shelf in Sonam's kitchen in Darjeeling. The photograph above shows Jodhpur's Krishna Book Depot, which had the feel of an old-fashioned English secondhand bookshop.

The books I read were decided by the stock in the shops and those I found in guest-houses – basically books sold in airports and the sort of books that interest travellers. Certain writers turned up everywhere, such as Howard Marks, Paul Coehlo and Salman Rushdie. Haruki Murakami and Milan Kundera were also well-represented. Occasionally you'd see a book that looked marooned, out of place among the others. An example of this was Piers Morgan's celebrity diaries, which I found in Jaisalmer (a fun read, but not as good as the first volume).

Sometimes, when supplies of fresh literature run low, one faces difficult choices. At Ajmer I was down to my last book and, faced with a poor selection, considered buying a copy of the third volume of Lord Archer's prison diaries. I was saved by a visit to Pushkar, which had several good bookshops.

I re-read Lord of the Rings and discovered it was a far, far better book than I remembered. However, revisiting the book while travelling made some shortcomings obvious – Tolkien mentions neither hand sanitizer nor digestive issues. These are notable omissions for what is, effectively, a book about backpacking.

I also read my way through the whole of Stephen King's Dark Tower sequence. I'd read the first half of it in the 90s and when I came across the whole series in a bookshop decided to read the entire thing. The seven Dark Tower books run to about 3,900 pages. It wasn't terrible, but Tolkien managed a far deeper saga with much less fuss.

While in Bikaner I found a copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly
Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. This was one of the best books I've read
in years. As delighted as I was by the novel, I was also vexed. How
come no-one raved at me about this book? If I'd not found it in a
guest-house, huddling next to a couple of Ludlum thrillers, I might never
have read it. I now worry that there other modern classics I've missed.

Travelling in India

An old friend once said that you only need to return from a holiday with three stories, whether you're away for two days or two months. After three stories the conversation will drift, or people will change the subject.

(This same friend once pretended to be on holiday so they'd have a week to themselves. It meant they had to keep the lights off at night but they thought it was worth it. Although, looking back, if they were devious enough to think about faking a holiday, how do I know they weren't faking that they'd faked a holiday?)

I've made more than three posts about India, so I hope I've not tried anyone's patience. There are just a couple of posts left now. One is about bookshops, and the other, this one, is a collection of thoughts about my holiday. Hopefully they'll come in useful to someone:

  • Delhi is a fairly intense introduction to India. Fresh-faced tourists can be easy prey for scammers and touts. Fortunately the Lonely Planet did a great job in warning me what I was likely to face. It did feel, at times, like every person who spoke to me in Delhi was a petty cheat of some type. The touts lie and give false directions, anything to take you to a place where they get commission. The cynicism of Delhi's tourism can make one wary about people met in other places, which is a shame. India Mike has a great thread on How to handle touts. One commenter reminds readers that, while touts might be annoying, none of them is ever likely to have the opportunity tourists have to fly around the world.
  • Delhi, and Parahganj in particular, might be busy and noisy – but
    the German couple wearing blue facemasks and earplugs were probably
    overdoing it. If you feel you need to wear a surgical mask on holiday,
    you'd be better off staying home.
  • It took some time to get used to the constant touts. No sight was sufficiently sacred that there wasn't someone
    intrusively selling souvenirs or trying to make commissions. It was like real world spam: change money? want smoke? cigarette? need rickshaw?
    I hated the banal conversations the touts started before they made their pitch.
  • The most hassle I received was in Khajuraho, which I think was having a quiet spell. It seemed to be one tout to every tourist, and sometimes felt as if the rickshaw drivers were 24 hours from physically forcing visitors to take rides. One man shouted furiously every time I passed him on foot. I did end up hiring one guy who offered me a ride in his 'helicopter'. It looked like a normal cycle-rickshaw, but it was a very cheap helicopter ride.
  • Weirdly there seemed to be little correlation between hotel price and quality in the places I stayed. The best hotels I used cost about 400Rs (about £6) and the worse was around 1200Rs (about £17). The cheapest I stayed in, at 250 Rupees (£3.50), was described in the Lonely Planet as 'tolerably clean'. This was not true, and was the first time I left a toilet cleaner after using it.
  • One of my favourite things was travelling by train. I made some epic rail journeys, and loved sitting at the window watching the landscape pass by. The overnight trains were great: cheaper than a hotel, you would leave one town and wake in a whole new location. At their best you were gently rocked to sleep, although I had some long, sweaty, sleepless nights where I couldn't settle. It didn't help that some of the passengers were very noisy. I feel bad about the person playing minimalist jazz at midnight on one train, who received a rather curt request to turn it off.
  • Most of the trains I took were on time, but when there were delays they were substantial. While I was away one the the BBC World Service's main news items was about delays on the Eurostar. Apparently these had been quite long, sometimes "up to six hours". I was underwhelmed by this.

A difficult journey to Darjeeling

Darjeeling is a beautiful town 2,000 meters above sea level. I had the best Chinese meal of my life here, and watched an incredible sun-rise from Tiger Hill. The town was cold, but the friendly people more than made up for that. I'm glad I liked Darjeeling so much, because reaching the town was hard work.


Travel in India was generally fairly good. Since I wasn't on a tight budget, I didn't have to take the cheapest option for everything. This meant my stay was more comfortable than that enjoyed by friends who went as students. I did, however, have one nightmare journey.

My Dad came out to India to join me for a couple of weeks. Before coming out, he booked train tickets from Varanasi to Darjeeling. The trip would take about 48 hours in total, with an overnight break in the middle. We would leave Varanasi at 3:30pm on day 1, have a two hour wait in Bihar, then take an overnight train to New Jalpaguri, arriving early on day 2. After a night in a hotel we would take the world famous toy train to Darjeeling. This final stage was a seven hour ride through incredible scenery before we arrived at Darjeeling, a little over two days after leaving Varanasi.


We spent the morning before the journey in Sarnath, where the Buddha preached his first sermon. It was a pleasant excursion after which we returned to Varanasi, picked up our luggage and went to the station.

As soon as we reached Varanasi Station our plans began falling apart. Our train wasn't on the departure boards and no-one could tell us when it would be leaving. It soon became obvious that we had no chance of making our connection in Patna. We booked another ticket, a sleeper that would leave the following day, around the time when we should have been arriving in New Jalpaguri.


We left Varanasi after a 7 hour wait. Waiting on any train station is a drag. In Varanasi we had several persistent beggars to deal with, as well as running between platforms, chasing rumours of our train. We finally arrived in Patna around 5am.

The Lonely Planet says that Patna has 'only a handful of worthwhile sites'. It's not a place that tourists generally visit. When we arrived it was still dark. Sleeping people lay everywhere in the station. We looked for the retiring rooms but they were full so we decided to find a hotel. It was about 9 hours until our train to New Jalpaguri and all hope of a relaxed journey to Darjeeling were gone.


We took a taxi to the city's main hotel, but couldn't find any way into the grounds. The neighbouring hotel had space, but £70 seemed a little steep for 9 hours. We had a taxi drop us in an area with three hotels, all of which were full. We were then stranded at the side of a road, dawn fast approaching, with nowhere to stay. Half a dozen cycle rickshaw drivers waited for us, hoping for a fare. We called the remaining hotels in the Lonely Planet, but they were all full. We were stood on a roadside with no idea where to go.


We were about to return to the incredibly expensive hotel when a man approached and asked if we were looking for a hotel. We were indeed. Tired as we were, dealing with a tout wasn't a problem. We followed him, keeping an eye on our surroundings just in case.

The man led us to a hotel where, for the price of 800 rupees, we could have a room until lunchtime. It wasn't too bad a room either, compared to some we'd had. I'd expected the man to stay around and ask for a tip, or to wait in the hotel for a commission, but he left as soon as we were in the building. We were incredibly grateful to him.


While the accommodation standards were OK, the hotel staff themselves seemed to be trained at the Basil Fawlty School of Hospitality. All we wanted was to sleep for six hours and leave. But there were a constant stream of interruptions: could I come down and pay an advance?; could they borrow our passports to take copies?; would we like towels? About ten, after a couple of hours sleep, we were woken once more: would we like our bin emptied?

Sometimes, being gracious and polite is hard work.

About midday we returned to Patna station. Dad and I took a cycle rickshaw through the drizzly city, which rekindled my spirit of adventure. It died once more at the station, where we waited and waited. The four hour window for our connection at New Jalpaguri began to look shaky. We met another couple of travelers on the platforms, the only other tourists we'd seen in Patna. Trains came and went, with no clue to whether they were ours. We realised that most of them were local trains, and eventually found our own one.


We were traveling from Patna in sleeper class which was busy and hectic. Beggars and hawkers wandered through the carriage at each station. Other passengers listened to music on their mobiles. We got little sleep. We finally arrived at New Jalpaguri around thirty minutes after the toy train should have left. It looked as if the train hadn't departed, but the idea of another seven hours train travel was too much -  even on one of the world's greatest train lines. Instead we hired a jeep to take us to Darjeeling, the last stage of our journey.

One of the interesting things about travel is that the frustrations are an integral part of it. Admittedly, our misadventure in Patna was less trying than many of the things than some of the things people I know have. And, while I'd never have chosen to have the journey we had, it was endurable moment by moment. Even a patch of station floor can be restful – it's more about attitude than situation.


As soon as we drove off in the jeep the trials of our journey was behind us. We passed quiet forests and tea plantations on our way to the foothills. From there we rose higher and higher, incredible views opening out below us (as well us steep drops beside us). I think the mountains around Kurseong and Darjeeling are some of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen.

As soon as we reached our hotel in Darjeeling, all our problems disappeared. We stayed in the Hotel Tranquility whose rooms had stunning views. It was a long journey, but I'm glad we went.


The i360 and the West Pier demolition

The saddest thing about returning to Brighton recently was seeing the effects of the official vandalism of the West Pier. Back in February the bulldozers were sent in to remove the wreckage nearest to the shore. The first I learned of this was when my Dad joined me in India. He'd been given the day's Times newspaper on the flight. Inside was a photograph of the demolition, which currently appears on the West Pier Trust site, a page crowing Removal of the Concert Hall Attracts Media Interest.

Richard Willis recently wrote a good post on the West Pier,
listing some of the reasons why this demolition was a travesty. He argues about the
beauty of the ruins; their iconic status; nostalgia; and their place in English
culture. It's a good, passionate piece of writing.

I personally thought the ruins were beautiful. At low tide it was
possible to stand inside the ruined dome. It was a strange, sad space, the wreckage draped with seaweed. Being inside this structure, normally submerged by the tides, was a powerful experience. This has now been denied to everyone.

Rachel Clark, chief executive of the West Pier Trust was quoted in the Argus (West-pier clean-up operation begins, 2nd Feb 2010) as saying: "For the last couple of years the concert hall has been resting on the sea bed and it has been quite dangerous. People could climb on it and we would be liable if they got hurt." I'm not sure why this had suddenly become an issue, when the ruins had been in their current position for years. I certainly never saw anyone
trying to climb the wreckage. I also wonder if another solution could have been found rather than removing the remains of the concert hall.

In the West Pier Trust statement on the demolition on January 31st, the Trust was "pleased to announce that the collapsed remains of the Concert Hall will be removed during the next two weeks", and that this demolition was "a requirement of the i360 planning permission and has the full support of Brighton & Hove City Council and English Heritage". The implication being that the old West Pier is being exchanged for the new i360.

What's interesting is that while the West Pier remains were being removed, the i360's problems were continuing. A BBC website article on problems with the Brighton O and i360 (4th February 2010) announced that "The i360 viewing tower, due to be built near the remains of the West Pier, still needs a sponsor." David Marks, representing Marks-Barfield architects, said that the project was short of cash: "We have got most of the money in place. We have made the significant investment in the project and this year, now that we are coming to the end of the recession, we are hoping to finalise the funding and get on with it."

Which makes you wonder why the demolition work was done now. The i360 is a troubled project. Take this Argus article from July 2008, when the project hit an early delay, with a Marks-Barfield spokesperson saying "We remain very optimistic it will be open by Spring 2010." In November 2008, the Argus reported that Marks-Barfield "haven’t quite got the full funding together but they are ready to go as soon as they can". I have several projects ready to go, except for the money, but it doesn't mean they're likely to happen.

The original planning permission was granted for three years. According to the Argus in October 2009, "In June the company admitted it needed another £20million. Planning permission for the i360 is due to expire on October 25 so work will need to start before that date. Geoff Lockwood, deputy chairman of the West Pier Trust, said: “Planning permission won't expire as next week they're starting to do the piling work." A statement from David Marks, from Marks Barfield, said: "This is a short piece of preparatory work."

All we have to show for the project that replaces the West Pier ruins is a "a short piece of preparatory work". According to an October 2009 article in, Prep-Work Begins On i360, "Once
construction work does start on site, the issue of renewing planning
permission becomes moot whilst there are few rules on how quickly they
have to build the scheme meaning that they can do work at the speed the
lack of full funding allows.

So the work for the i360 is progressing slowly, just quick enough to maintain the planning permission. The current aim is that the i360 will open in time for the 2012 London Olympics. Arriseme on the Argus comments quipped: "I look forward to attending the opening of the i360 in 2012. I shall, of course, be arriving via the seafront monorail that by then will link the Black Rock mini-stadium with the Gehry Towers."

While I prefer to now-demolished ruins of the pier to the i360, I'm not against the i360. In a Telegraph interview with the architects (August 2006), Marks-Barfield make a strong case for the construction of the tower. They speak about their inspirations, which include a Victorian account of a hot-air balloon ride over London (reminiscent of the tethered hot-air balloon that used to be in St Anne's Well gardens, commemorated in this postcard).

The i360 is described as a "vertical pier". In addition, "As part of the plans for the new tower, the old Victorian toll booths will be restored, the beach will be cleaned up and a heritage museum put in place. The trust might also have enough left over to help fund new planning applications and funding bids to build a new West Pier, after years of disappointments."

The i360 won't save the West Pier, but it may evoke some of its charm. But if I had to choose between the ruins of the West Pier and the i360, I'd choose the ruins. There was a unique charm to those, and it's a shame to remove them for a project that looks like it will never happen.

Brighton Street Art

One of the things I miss when I'm away from Brighton is the street art. I'm currently in Melbourne, a small market town of 5,000 souls, which barely even has any taggers. I miss walking down back-streets and stopping dead on encountering something like this:


You can find this in the alleyway between the Old Music Library/Prescription Gallery and the Prince Regents swimming baths.

The 1st Brighton Marathon


While I was visiting Brighton, the town's first marathon took place. Obviously I was supposed to be entering this. Sadly, for the second year running, I put myself out of a marathon through injury. This year my back gave out on me while I was lugging around a heavy bag while on holiday.

As much as I wanted to do the marathon, it seemed sensible to drop out. With the cold snap, travel and the injury I was falling far behind in my training. I could probably have made it round the course but it seemed more sensible to defer my entry. All the official guidance suggested I risked a serious injury competing with insufficient preparation and I wasn't sure I wanted to limp in around the six hour mark.

One of the things I love about running is that it is inclusive. And it should be. All you need is a pair of trainers and even the least healthy person can start run/walking their way to fitness. I'm hardly a paragon of athleticism, and I'm happy to have found a sport I can enjoy. The important thing is that you are out there training, rain or shine, not how fast you are. And some of the slowest people in are race are those facing the greatest personal challenge.

But, knowing this, I still felt a twinge of annoyance on Sunday when I watched the marathon. Even near the four-mile mark, where I was watching, it was obvious many of the competitors were aiming at a post six-hour time. I regretted not doing the same thing and wished I hadn't given up my chance to enter the inaugural event.

Despite my jealousy of those running, it was still a stirring occasion. The runners received a great response from the crowd, particularly those in fancy dress. In the skies above, empty from the ash cloud, a single propeller plane flew, trailing a banner reading GOOD LUCK BIG BIRD I♥U. If I ever make it to the event's starting line, I want a plane urging me on.

Everyone involved in the Brighton Marathon deserves congratulation – not just the finishers, but everyone who made it to the starting line – something I failed to do. I've deferred my entry to 2011 and will be taking my training very slowly this time. I'm already looking forward to the second Brighton Marathon.

South Coast State of Mind


I'm now back in Derbyshire after an exciting couple of weeks in Brighton. After a few months away, returning to Brighton in the Spring was amazing. Everyone seems to be waking from the hard winter filled with enthusiasm. I enjoyed slipping back into the Brighton pace of life, spending afternoons sauntering around the town and visiting my favourite cafes.

I'm going to be away for a little while now, while I do some writing. While Brighton is great fun, it's full of distractions. I should be back in Brighton for the summer, though. I'm looking forward to coming back for good.

A picnic on a Tuesday afternoon in the Pavilion Gardens:


My first beach barbecue of the summer, last weekend:


Sunday afternoon I went out to Nymans Garden.



Some photos of India


The first town I visited after Delhi was Udaipur. The town is on the shores of a lake which contains a famous (and expensive) hotel which was used in the James Bond film Octopussy. There is a local tradition for restaurants to show the film at ‘007pm’ each night.


And it’s tacky, but I went to a showing. I sat on a rooftop, watching a DVD that had been copied from a worn VHS cassette. The moon was full and I had a fantastic view of the lake to my left. Octopussy is not a great movie, but there can’t be many better ways to watch it.


Of all the cities I visited in Rajasthan, Jaisalmer was probably my favourite. It was where I booked my camel tour, it has some good restaurants and a decent bookshop. To the south of the city is a peaceful lake with some ruined pavilions. It was a lovely place to sit and read in the evening.

Jaisalmer Lake

In a Delhi restaurant, on my last night, I saw an image of the pavilion below. The photograph showed the lower steps covered by water. The rain in Rajasthan has been poor over the last few years, meaning many of the lakes are emptier than they would be normally.

Jaisalmer Lake


This ruined fort, in the South of Delhi is a pain to get to. It’s worth it though. It was cursed by Nizamuddin Auliya, a sufi mystic, who said the fort would be unoccupied and used only by shepherds. The ruined monuments are incredible: huge walls, broken towers, and a couple of underground passages. When Dad and I visited we only saw one other group of tourists.



The hotel I stayed at in Chittorgarh was described by the Lonely Planet as “tolerably clean”. This was not quite true. I made the mistake of walking to Chittorgarh’s fort in the early afternoon heat so didn’t end up staying as long as I’d have liked.

Cow at Chittorgarh


While I was in Jaipur my guide took me to a factory to see how hand-made carpets were made. It turned out to be a salesroom. After a quick glimpse of the men working downstairs I was taken to a showroom. There was no way the four men downstairs had produced all the carpets that were for sale. The ‘factory’ was obviously a fake, a reason for guides to bring tourists. I wondered what the men did between tourist visits.



Jaipur held a kite festival a few weeks before I arrived. While I was there, hundreds of children were still flying kites. Many more kites had been captured by the trees.

Jaipur Kites

Amber Fort

The Amber fort was one of my favourite buildings in India. It’s surrounded by mountains, their slopes draped in fortifications. Above the Amber Fort is another fort, Jaigarh, which has some incredible views.

Amber Fort 


Varanasi was a lovely place to spend a few days. The town runs alongside the Ganges, with ghats, series of steps down to the water. People come to the river to worship, wash clothes, and cremate their dead.

In some ways, Varanasi reminded me of an English seaside resort. Dad & I made several promeades along the riverside. We encountered teams of children selling candles and flowers, all using the same spiel. We passed many cricket games, played in tiny spaces.

During one of our boat trips along the river, the boatman pointed out a series of marks on the wall of one of the buildings. These were the high water marks from the rainy season. I found it hard to believe how high the river could rise.