The Pauline Conversion: out now on Kindle


A day ahead of my self-imposed deadline, The Pauline Conversion is now available for Kindle owners worldwide at the low, low price of £2.99/€3.49/$3.99.

Here is a fragrant smorgasbord of links:

UK | USA | Canada | Australia | India | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Brazil | Mexico

The book should appear in the iBookstore and the Kobo store in the next few days. The paperback version should appear on Amazon at roughly the same time. (I’ll add links to the book’s page when I have them.)

Now, this is the bit where I beg: if you read The Pauline Conversion — and especially if you like it — please leave a review to help other readers discover the book. Thanks!


The Pauline Conversion: coming soon

Subscribers to my newsletter learned all about my new book, The Pauline Conversion, last weekend. It’s time I passed the news on to the laggards…

After a detour to the world of football with Disunited, The Pauline Conversion brings me back home to Cambridge — the Cambridge of The Pink and the Grey, and St Paul’s College.

I love this universe. In my head St Paul’s lives and breathes: the university terms ever-cycling, like the undergraduates. And I think modern society — more open and accepting than ever — presents new challenges for the college. Is it relevant today? What is it for? Somewhere in college, over a dry sherry and a wet biscuit, those in charge are struggling to ensure it evolves to maintain its unique place in the university and the city.

This isn’t new. The challenges of modernity are constant: only the details twiddle at the edges. Dip a time-travelling toe anywhere into the two centuries of college and you’ll find its leadership wrestling with society’s shifting moral sands. How did James Drybutter found the college? How did it cope in the late Victorian period, with Oscar Wilde on trial? What happened during and between the world wars? (Two, at time of writing.)

I have some ideas about those — for other books, perhaps.

The Pauline Conversion is set in a more modern era: the early 1970s, at the dawning of the twin ages of aquarius and colour television. This was a period of unrest across Britain, with strikes and power cuts and “women’s lib” and student sit-ins and hippies. (In those days you had to ask the state-run General Post Office politely if they might consent to install a telephone in your house – and then wait several weeks until they wired, directly into your wall, something you didn’t own and couldn’t unplug.)

A different Britain, and yet not so different. In the news: the economy, immigration, war, terrorism, equality, rights, democracy.

The story takes place in February 1972. The miners are on strike for more pay. Chunks of the centre of Cambridge are being bulldozed and redeveloped. Students around the city have found their voices. Change is in the air.

And in the midst of all this is Dennis Sauvage. Readers of The Pink and the Grey will remember Dennis as a man of calculatedly indeterminate vintage with an impish sense of humour and a tendency to repeat himself, repeat himself. In The Pauline Conversion we see him in his pomp, already a quarter-century under his St Paul’s belt — and with a nagging frustration his career has stalled.

The book opens in mid-air as Dennis tumbles from his bike. He’s helped up by a homeless boy called Red who deserves better, and soon the academic has a cause to champion that might — might — earn him the chapter in college history he craves. (It’s either that or a dismal footnote and a retirement lobbying former students for guest appearances in their autobiographies.) But Red has secrets, and even Dennis has enemies. His cause becomes a fight for his future — and the future of college itself.

Dennis isn’t the only character from The Pink and the Grey to appear in youthful form — also present is Arthur, the porter. And many new characters, who you can discover for yourselves.

In case you’re wondering, The Pauline Conversion isn’t a prequel to The Pink and the Grey in any real sense, despite the overlaps. You can read the books in either order.

When will it be out?

Currently I’m mulling over the feedback from my beta readers before embarking on what should be the final draft. My goal is to publish the book at the end of October. That’s only a few weeks away, which is exciting for all of us and terrifying for me, as it leaves me barely any time to procrastinate.

Meanwhile, here’s an exclusive preview of the cover design:


The other covers are being changed or tweaked too, because this month clearly isn’t busy enough already. Look for a blog post soon about that exercise.

I know it’s been a long time since Disunited came out. The Pauline Conversion has been in gestation a while — I wrote the first words over a year ago. I hope you’ll find the wait worth it. It’s been so much fun colouring in some of the history of St Paul’s, and even more so spending time with Dennis, a character I love.

To receive this a week ago, why not subscribe to my newsletter today? I know a man with a time machine. Well, I will.

Starting a newsletter

As my great-grandmother used to say, “You can never have enough social media outlets and/or means of distribution. And don’t wipe your fingers on the antimacassar.” Two moral positions I live by, even though it’s becoming much harder these days to find an antimacassar to not wipe my fingers on. Social media outlets are ten a penny, though, and I wipe my fingers on those on a semi-regular basis.

The one medium I’ve paid little attention to is the great-grandmother of them all, email. I’ve decided it’s time that changed. I’m going to start a newsletter. [FX: cheers]

It won’t be like those newsletters that magically appear close to election time, in which politicians pose in photo after photo with glum local residents pointing at wonky telephone poles. Well, in one respect it will: it’ll appear rarely. If I put out even one a month I’ll be shocked into a stupor.

I’ll use the newsletter to promote special deals and reveal exclusive snippets of news, such as information about new books. Covers, release dates, perhaps even extra content. Absolutely no spam, not even about antimacassars.

Yes, I could post all that everywhere else too, and for a lot of it I probably will — but it’ll appear in the newsletter before anywhere else. Subscribers find out first.

Sounds like a good deal to me. Click the button below to sign up.


(All you need to provide is your email address. It’ll take ten seconds.)

First draft: complete!

Joy, pride, relief, disbelief, sadness, emptiness…

I’d forgotten what it feels like to finish a first draft. There’s a moment when your brain switches from “what’s next?” to “oh, I’m finished.” It’s anticlimactic. It’s strange.

And then the emotions kick in. This story has been gestating for so long it feels like a weight has lifted, but there’s a hollowness filling the gap. Plus the knowledge of a lot more still to do before the book’s released. More drafts, maybe changing the title, feedback from beta readers, cover design, layout, clicking Publish, celebratory punting…

But for now: hooray!

STATS! STATS! STATS! 119,600 words (98 scenes) in 94 days – that’s just under 1300 words a day, every day.

I’m pleased with that.

The Guardian Legend Self-Published Rights Grab of the Month

UK newspaper The Guardian in conjunction with Legend Times has announced a new monthly literary prize for self-published authors.

On the face of it this is great news. Finally some recognition of quality writing outside the world of traditional publishing. It could be a great way to throw off that invisibility cloak.

But as always, check the fine print. I’m not a lawyer but it seems to me they’re embracing the new world of publishing with an old-world rights grab.

Terms and conditions, clause 8a:

[You give the Promoters] Permission for your entry or an extract of your entry to be published on GNM websites including but not limited to (“GNM Websites”), and you grant GNM a non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide licence to use and publish your Competition entry in electronic format (including on GNM Websites and on any social media account controlled by GNM) and in hard copy format (including in GNM publications) for purposes connected with the Competition, and to adapt the entry to enable such publication (including to crop or otherwise edit it for such purposes), and you hereby irrevocably waive, for the benefit of GNM, all moral rights in the entry to which you are entitled;

In other words: they can publish any work submitted (not just the winners), in electronic and print form, edited without your agreement, and you receive no royalties, and you waive all moral rights.

“For purposes connected with the Competition”, yes, I know. My rule of thumb is to assume the other party to any T&Cs is going to try to screw you over as much as possible. Therefore “purposes connected with the Competition” might well be interpreted as “something with the competition name on it”.

So if you submit your book to this competition, they can make money from it, none of it comes to you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I don’t think I’ll be entering.

UPDATE (8 April, 8.30pm)

The Guardian has changed clause 8a, presumably after feedback like mine. It now says:

[You give the Promoters] Permission for an extract of your entry to be published on GNM websites including but not limited to (“GNM Websites”), and you grant GNM a non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide licence to use and publish your Competition entry in electronic format (including on GNM Websites and on any social media account controlled by GNM) and in hard copy format (including in GNM publications) for purposes connected with the Competition, and to adapt the entry to enable such publication (including to crop or otherwise edit it for such purposes). For the avoidance of doubt, GNM may only publish part of your entry for purposes connected with the Competition. In order to use entries submitted by entrants as intended and advised in these Terms and Conditions, (i) GNM may need to edit submissions, but shall endeavour to maintain the integrity of the work as originally created; and (ii) GNM shall use its best endeavours to provide an author credit for all submissions published by GNM in connection with the Competition

This is much better.

The perils of writing in public

Cambridge Union Society coffee shopAt the moment, when I’m not working on a freelance job, I’m outlining and/or writing and/or procrastinating in a variety of locations across Cambridge. I try to keep my destinations random, not turning up at the same places on the same days each week. It’s harder than it seems: habits are easy to form, sneaking up on you when you’re not paying attention. The main advantage for me of a busy coffee shop or café over my desk at home is a feeling, however inaccurate, of sociability. The same four walls day in and day out, the same Doctor Who calendar travelling through time beside me — and no office chatter to break up the day — can sap the soul. Coffee shops at least provide an illusion of a social experience — sufficient to trick the relevant neurons.

These locations can also act as fertile marshlands of inspiration through their unpredictability. Someone walking past the window triggers an idea for a character trait. A snatch of music brings to mind a useful metaphor. Those habits our brains crave not only keep us in physical routines, they also lead us down well-worn mental paths, our thoughts cascading along the shortest route and blocking originality. And all it takes is a stray overheard word to send us stumbling somewhere new and exciting — like Dagenham, only new and exciting.

That’s the ideal: a state of mental flow, fingers rattling the keyboard or thumping the gorilla glass while the white noise of bustling conversation injects turbulence into the process. And it works well, until you find yourself in a near-empty room.

Silence isn’t so bad. What I can do without is a single, clear, unavoidable soundtrack. Something like a piece of music I know well — or worse, much worse, someone else’s interesting conversation. These bring all productivity to a steaming halt as I shudder out of the flow state into reality and the details of someone’s neighbours or bunions or drunken escapades, or an unlikely attempt by a young gentleman to woo a tattooed maiden by showing her his BCG scar (true story). Or I find I’m humming along to something cheery by Radiohead.

It’s not that I try to listen. I don’t. It’s that I can’t not listen. I simply cannot blot it out. (I can’t listen to music and write, so earphones are no use unless I play white noise through them — and I prefer human to artificial randomness.)

When someone booms every detail of a hospital stay across an otherwise mumbling café it is humanly impossible to fade them down and hike back to the zone. You hear everything, from diagnosis to discharge via discharge. With any luck it sparks an idea, but this is rare. My tactic is to endure it until the place becomes busy again, or the voices cutting through the general babble reduce volume a notch, or I outstay my welcome and move on.

You certainly hear plenty of secrets. People can be saucer-rattlingly indiscreet in a public place, as if their Americanos come with a free cone of silence. In Cambridge during term you hear a great deal of student angst and college politics: dating, committee gossip, excitement at the big two-oh, and the often coincident “I’m going to fail my exams” and “I have no idea what I want to do after graduation”. Sometimes people bounce between multiple languages, and my brain picks out tantalising half-sentences in English. Then there’s the ones in burgundy chinos humble-bragging about their family’s new villa in Umbria and how they’re going to spend the summer by the pool with a variety of local meats. With those I enjoy watching the others in the group carving out the social graph by the power of a glance.

Often in a coffee shop you find almost everyone else is doing the same as you. They’re all nursing pots of tea or quintuple espressos and glaring at the person closest to the power outlet, their faces lit by the devil-glow of Word or Excel or Facebook. You begin to recognise them. The Santiago Cabrera lookalike. The one with the nose. The one who only ever plays Solitaire on his PC, who’s on first-name terms with the staff despite their best efforts. We’re like a secret society: so secret none of us knows who else is a member, and we sit judging each other in mute fury. So terribly, terribly British. Then you look at your screen and the world fades away, and before you know it everyone around you has regenerated and it’s dark outside.

Or, as happened to me last year at the Cambridge Union Society coffee shop, everyone leaves — including the staff — and you’re locked in. This, I can confirm, is a tremendously productive period. But it’s not so great when your brain puts zero and zero together and you finally realise what’s happened.

And then you can’t raise any of the society staff by any of the published phone numbers.

And then you call the non-emergency 101 police phone number, explain your predicament to the poor man charged with answering the phones within thirty seconds for statistical purposes, and listen to him laugh as he forwards you to another number that just rings and rings since nobody is measuring those statistics. In my case, as I listened to the ringing and contemplated a cheeky freebie pint, I spotted someone through a window leaving a different part of the building. He saw me too — and alarm bells rang. Last out, so he thought, he’d armed the system. There was a deer-in-the-headlights moment, then he scurried back inside to press the buttons in reverse order.

He had to call one of the staff out from home to free me. This had never, apparently, happened before.

Locked in a coffee shop: that’s seriously in the zone.