David has sent along a ten day journal. Topics include Ice and Fire, Roads to Moscow, the Olympic Games, and more. Thanks David!
Full text continued after the break…
Ten Days In London Town
Thursday 26th July 2012
After nearly three months of miserable wet weather, we woke to sunshine, our little world – our
England – transformed. We’d got up early and were dressed and ready to go to watch the Olympic
torch pass by at the bottom of our street, less than five hundred yards from where we live, here in
this leafy Islington square. It was due to pass at fifteen minutes past eight, and I have to admit that
I had very low expectations. From what I’d heard there were 33 torches making similar trips across
London, and I couldn’t imagine they’d be anything special, but it was never going to happen in my
lifetime again, so I thought I’d check it out.
To our surprise, the bottom of the room was packed with people, and, looking up and down the
main road, it looked like there were people six to eight deep all the way along its very long length,
not to speak of people sitting on high walls or standing on their balconies, with a good half of them
waving union jack flags. Our friends and neighbours Patty and Richard were there with their kids, as
we were with ours, and after chatting for a few minutes, we realised the procession was headed up
the road towards us. The crowd went wild.
The police motorbikes were first, and to my astonishment their riders were grinning and high-
fiving people as they slowly drove along. That set the tone. What followed was a twenty minute
procession with the Games’ sponsors product names emblazoned on the brightly-coloured sides
of the huge coaches, and dancers and yet more dancers, and cheery-looking helpers, and bouncy
music and… then the torch bearer, making her way toward the town hall. All incredibly impressive,
and made more so by the strongly positive atmosphere of the crowd. The noise was amazing (and
deafening) and we walked back with big smiles on our faces. Hey..,. perhaps the Games were going
to be okay after all. Later on, I was to learn that several million people had turned out to all the
various processions going on across the capital.
The rest of that day I spent at the computer, working on the synopsis of a new book I’ve been
putting together these past few weeks. Now I’m not going to say anything about what this new thing
is, not until I’ve got a sale, anyway, but whilst it’s quite definitely science fiction, it’s also a total
departure. Come the evening, when I finally backed off, I had over thirty five pages of synopsis, in
single-space format. And it was almost there. Two books, as it turned out, and a total of 62 chapters.
Two big stories intercut. I’ve written six of those chapters already, and I think I’ve got the tone of it.
But beyond that…. Well, watch this space.
Friday 27th July 2012
We woke to another sunny day which seemed to suggest that, unlike the celebrations for the
Queen’s Jubilee, we might yet get some good weather for the Olympics. But I had a busy day, rain
or shine. The prospect of a week or two of relatively mild – and un-rainy – weather meant I could
plan ahead and get the builder in to reconstruct the garden wall that fell over at the beginning of the
year. But before I could give him a call, I needed to get all of the building materials in, and so I spent
a good half the day purchasing bags of sand and cement from our local hardware depot – 40 bags (or
a tonne) of sand and 12 bags of cement – all of which needed to be carried from the back of the car
down two flights of steps and stacked at the bottom of the garden. Four trips it took and probably
five hours in total. By the end of which I ached. But that job was done. I had only to order in the
bricks… And I could do that Monday. A hot bath later, I settled at the computer again and added a
few more pages to the synopsis. I’d not quite worked out how precisely it ended yet, but that would
probably take a full day’s session, so I stopped early and, with half the family around, settled to
watch the Olympics opening ceremony.
Now let me be honest about this. I had no expectations of the ceremony at all. After Beijing, I really
did believe that we’d be cringing with embarrassment at our amateurishness. So what followed
really knocked me sideways. It was great! A genuine celebration of our culture. Gods did I love
those chimneys – the very symbol of the Industrial Revolution – emerging slowly from the ground.
In fact, I liked the whole thing, even if I could quibble about what music ought to have been played
to truly represent this country. So arise Danny Boyle and take your knighthood, or, even better in
my eyes, refuse it. “Sorry, M’am… but we think you lot ought to be gone by now…” Not that that’s
going to happen now that M’am has shown she has a sense of humour. Wasn’t she good? Yeah, the
Republican part of me grudgingly admits.
And so, like with the torch ceremony the day before, I found myself suddenly buoyed up. This
Olympics business really could be something…
Saturday 28TH July 2012
Saturday saw Sue and I sitting on the sofa, mid-morning, glued to the TV, watching the cyclists
race across the south eastern part of England, the shots from the helicopters showing just what a
beautiful countryside we have here. Unspoiled and wonderful. We won no golds, unfortunately, but
the weather held (just) and there was much more to come, so the fact that our Tour De France hero,
Bradley Wiggins and the rest didn’t win, if it made us just a little subdued, it didn’t alter the fact that
a million and a half had turned out to watch the cycling – the biggest audience for a sporting event
EVER. And, wherever you went, everyone was talking about nothing but the Games.
Sunday 29th July 2012
Without a script to write for once, Sunday was restful for Sue, and while I pushed on and re-worked
the synopsis, Sue sprawled on the sofa and watched… the Games. Still no gold medals, alas, but
the weather was moderately okay and the crowds watching the events at the various venues were
making enormous quantities of noise. Very un-English, I felt. Or maybe we’d just (collectively) been
repressing all this feeling all these years. We’ve not, in recent decades, been a nation that waves its
flag jingoistically, but suddenly that had changed, almost literally overnight. There were union jacks
everywhere you looked, on cars, hanging from windows, carried by people as they travelled across
London. Oh, and about that… we suddenly had an influx of tourists as well as competitors – the best
sportsmen and women in the world, HERE, in London, all at once. The idea of it had begun to strike
home. The world was watching us. Seeing how we responded to the challenge. And I tell you, it felt
very strange indeed. But nice. You couldn’t avoid that. All of this had suddenly knit our tiny nation
together. People on the street and on the tubes were suddenly smiling, friendly. Like we’d all had
frontal lobotomies or something…
Monday 30th July 2012
Day dawned bright and fresh. This was the day – in the Games – where we began to hit gold. But
that would be later. We began the day lagging in the Medals table at number 21. After the high
spirits of the previous few days, things felt a little flat. Had we all been a bit too optimistic? While
Sue worked on correcting the last draft of one of her Corrie scripts, I powered on with the synopsis,
getting all but the final three chapters done.
I mention Sue and Corrie. Corrie is Coronation Street, which she’s been working on – as part of
the writing team – since February this year. She’s now had seven scripts commissioned (including
an hour long episode) and two of them have been transmitted. But for the first time since she
joined, she didn’t get a script this time round. Now this happens. There are only so many scripts to
be handed round, and next time she’s more than likely to get one – and maybe even two. In the
meantime she was working on her ‘pitch’ for the upcoming ‘short term conference’ – which they
hold every three weeks in Manchester, and at which the big storylines are decided on.
Yet even as the two of us were beavering away, the Games were on in the background, and – one by
one – we began to hit Gold, the noise from our Team GB fans growing and growing and growing.
At the Olympic flame parade that previous Thursday, we’d agreed with Patty and Richard to go and
visit them for dinner and a glass or two of wine. It’s only a few hundred yards from where we live, on
the same side of the road, so there we were at eight on the dot, ready to raise a glass.
Sue first met Richard nearly thirty years ago, when she worked as literary editor for Woman’s Own,
and Richard edited Woman – the two magazines being the biggest selling titles of their time. As for
Patty, she’s a mathematician, like my sister Rose, and – no surprise – they meet one another almost
regularly at meetings to discuss… mathematics. Small world, huh?
We didn’t know they lived in our square when we bought our property, that was until Sue bumped
into Richard as they were walking along. Since which time we’ve had lots of evenings drinking wine
and discussing the world, not to speak of our shared Arsenal season tickets. Their kids are the same
age as our kids and… But I’ve said enough. The evening was a good one and we strongly agreed on
two things – that the Opening ceremony was wonderful, and that the Games were great for us.
I was going to say “us Brits”, only for all the Team GB stuff, I find myself unable to react to Great
Britain as a concept. I’m English and what I respond to is the Englishness of the event. Oh, I like the
Irish, the Welsh and the Scots well enough – I’ve too many friends of those nationalities not to. But
it’s the Englishness – of Elgar and Hardy, of Shakespeare and Brunel, of Chaucer, Tolkein and Ralph
Vaughan Williams – that I respond to.
Tuesday 31st July 2012
At seven the next morning, I was at Euston station, dropping Sue, who was to catch the 7.35 train to
Manchester for the latest short term conference of the Coronation Street writers. As I said, Sue does
this every three weeks, and it’s hard work and intense. A roller coaster, but one which she enjoys
immensely. Which left me free to… carry a delivery of 600 old “stock” bricks through the house –
down two flights and out to the end of the garden. A task that took me seven hours and left my
calves feeling like they’d been badly over-exercised. I’d suffer for the next two days!
Wednesday 1st August 2012
If I got little done creatively on Tuesday, I did even less on Wednesday. But that was okay. At half ten
that morning I headed across London to meet my 83-year-old mother, where she lives in Clapham,
one of the nicer parts of London. We had a cup of tea and some lunch, then set off on the tube,
to Woolwich Arsenal, where a fleet of tall ships (sailing vessels) was anchored, awaiting us. We’d
booked the trip months ago, and, alongside a hundred or so other enthusiasts, boarded the “J
R Tolkein” for a river trip. For the two hours we were at sail, the weather was perfect, the city a
glorious backdrop to the river, and, with the sails unfurled, a warm wind blowing in our faces and
the motor chugging away, we drank in the sights. And I have to say that it was all quite wonderful.
I’ve not enjoyed an afternoon as much in a long while. I think the juxtaposition of the modern city
and the ancient sailing vessel was what I liked most. And if you come across a scene like that in a
I was home by half eight… just in time to drive over to Euston and pick up Sue from the train. And
afterward to stretch out on the sofa and watch the golds coming in one by one… taking us up to
fifth in the medals chart.
Thursday 2nd August 2012
We were up again, early, this time to get Sue to Kings Cross, where she could catch a bus to UCH
(University College Hospital) at Warren Street. She tore the muscle in her left knee some months
back and has some surgery upcoming, but for the eight weeks it’ll take to have the operation,
she’s got to do some physiotherapy. Back home I checked my email. Maddie at Corvus had the re-
set appendices for ICE AND FIRE, which I knuckled down to and got back to her later in the day.
There was also an email from my agent, Diana. She’d sent a publisher the synopsis to ROADS TO
MOSCOW a while back and had had a response. They liked what I was doing and wanted to read the
manuscript. Half an hour later it was on its way. An hour after that I had an email acknowledging
it, and telling me they’d be coming back to me in the next two weeks. Finally, I had a call from my
builder friend, Mark, saying he could start on the wall… tomorrow.
Friday 3rd August 2012
Which is why, the next morning, I was helping Mark load 66 bags of ballast and five of cement into
the back of his van. Bringing them back here, I started carrying them through while Mark set up the
job. I’ve worked with Mark before, labouring while he plastered the whole of a house. But on Friday
we had really good weather, and by the end of the day the footings were done and the main body of
the wall – nine inches thick, and 30 feet by six – was ready to put up.
And the golds were still coming in. By now we were fourth on the medal charts, behind China, the
USA and North Korea. Soon to overtake them…
Work? Well, somewhere in the midst of all this I finished the synopsis. So now I’ll leave it for two or
three days and then work through it in detail and see whether I can improve on what’s there… and,
of course, write another three or four chapters before submitting it to my agent (who knows nothing
about it yet) at the end of next week.
Saturday 4th August 2012
Which brings us to the now in which I write this. Mark has just left, the wall now half-completed
and looking good even in its partially-completed form. For an hour or two now I’ll make a few notes
towards the novel project, setting down a few thoughts that have been busy stewing in my mind
while I’ve been doing all this other stuff. Because that’s how writers write. In sunshine and in rain,
creating amidst the clutter of other tasks, other distractions, other pleasures.
Tonight, then, I’ll be settling on the sofa with Sue to watch the gold medals come glittering in.
As of this moment we’ve won ten gold medals (25 medals in all) and we’re third behind the two
superpowers, and you know what? It makes me, as an Englishman, immensely proud of our small
little island. And the sun’s still shining and right now, for this one tiny moment, it feels like God’s an
Englishman. Only whisper that. Just in case we’re tempting fate. Just In case the bad weather returns
and the golds dry up.