At the start of the year (or was it at the end of 2016?) I was kindly invited to participate in Simon Bestwick‘s The Lowdown, a regular feature on his blog in which writers are asked seven standard questions. Here’s my responses. At the time I was reading Edna O’Brien’s August is a Wicked Month and very much enjoying it. (Now I cling to the memory of having read it: I remember being thrilled by the prose, but the memory of that thrill is already fading like an August tan.) Edna kept me company on cold, rattling trains: set partly in the south of France, her novel felt like a hot and secret world in my hands, an almost illicit thing, a glowing mystery. A lot has changed since then, of course. The garden has turned, or is turning, from muddy brown to frisky green. I saw a man in shorts the other day (not in my garden). Thick scarves are discarded. But the skies remain sullen for the most part. There is blossom on the trees, flecks of palest pink. Each week brings failure and defeat, the occasional success. But there is always hope. There is always something to write, something that needs to be written. I’ve read a few books, too: at the moment I’m lost in Kapka Kassabova’s Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe, a fascinating blend of history, memory, anecdote, travelogue and myth. A few other highlights: Nuncle by John Wain; Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg; Keith Waterhouse’s Maggie Muggins (a laugh on almost every page); Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes; The Night of the Funny Hats by Elspeth Davie; Daniel Trilling’s Bloody Nasty People. And there’s plenty more fruit on the shelves.