Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fine list

I am overjoyed and (unusually!) lost for words to discover my unpublished novel Some Things the English is a finalist in the Dundee International Book Prize, which is to say I am in the top two - many thanks to the judges, "Radio 4 presenter Kirsty Lang, creative writer Neil Gaiman, publisher Scott Pack, literary agent Felicity Blunt and writer, critic, reviewer and programmer Stuart Kelly" and Director Anna Day! 

The opening chapter to my novel and the others shortlisted - a fine list - can be downloaded and read for free on Kindle from Amazon.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tech tonic

I'm grateful to Mojave River Review for publishing "Two Continents", another poem from my collaboration with multi-talented editor, writer and lit-hop artist Jamez Chang.

This poem is about what can happen when people on opposite sides of the world communicate via technology.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tour of beauty

I'm delighted to be interviewing acclaimed novelist and award-winning short story writer Tom Vowler today as part of his blog tour to launch the paperback publication of That Dark Remembered Day. 

As a special treat to Snow Like Thought visitors, Tom's offering one lucky reader a chance to read his novel for free - read on for details.

Tom, firstly, congratulations, That Dark Remembered Day is your second novel and is a deeply engrossing and thought-provoking read. 


That Dark Remembered Day is a story ostensibly about the events surrounding one day, except for that day being a day within a day for a character called Richard, a soldier who has recently returned from active combat in the Falklands.  

Could you talk a little about why you chose to set your novel in the ‘80s?

Well, it wasn’t for my love of the era’s music. I suppose I became fascinated in a war that was the last untelevised one. Certainly there was coverage of the Falklands, but it was drip-fed and highly censored. The imbedding of journalists on the frontline didn’t really happen until the first Gulf War. So I had this vague recollection of a conflict, almost over before it began, and I wondered if there wasn’t some untold aspect of it. I think it’s still regarded as an unqualified success, yet Britain came very close to defeat and casualties on both sides were relatively high, the fighting at times brutal and close-quarter. For me, though, the startling fact was how more British veterans of the conflict have committed suicide since their return than died on the battlefield. I was also keen to explore Argentine experiences or the war.


It becomes apparent that Richard has been seriously affected by events in the Falklands and his condition is exasperated when his former Sergeant pays a house call on him.

Tell us about Richard’s condition. How did you first become interested in PTSD? 

Richard is a reluctant soldier, his career hastily chosen, following his father into the forces. Put simply, he’s not build for army life, his nature too sensitive, too introvert. This leads to his bullying, which finally convinces him to get out, to start a new life with his family. But a week before his release, a small island group in the South Atlantic is invaded.

His experiences, the decisions he has to make over the coming months, leave him deeply scarred, although one of the features of post-traumatic stress can be its insidious onset, its manifestation rising months or even years later and with little obvious sign. Past traumatic events are experienced again with great clarity, the sufferer often unable to distinguish them from reality. Some of the novel is structured to recreate this disorientation in the reader, to mimic symptoms of PTSD.


I was thinking about representations of war in novels such as The Yellow Birds and Birdsong, where combat has far reaching consequences but is essentially framed apart from civilian life, the two contrasted, and the events are narrated from just one perspective. Your novel is told from three perspectives, Richard’s being one of them, and it becomes evident early on that combative and civilian life have become indistinguishable for him, and his behaviour has devastating consequences for the locals where he lives, doesn’t it? 

This is the heart of the book in many ways, how an event ripples out, impacting the lives of people who have no connection to it. Every decision we make, however inconsequential it seems, affects the world in some way, changes its state, even the observing of an atom changes it. What if a car is careering out of control, about to pass my house, when my phone rings, keeping me at home a minute longer? Do I owe the caller my life? What about my neighbour, whose phone didn’t ring, who stepped out into the road? In the novel there’s a case to make about a faulty firing mechanism on a gun leading a year later to a tragedy affecting dozens. 

Little Bird

The social and moral implications of your novel are far reaching and you dedicate That Dark Remembered Day to “victims of violence, be it arbitrary or state-sponsored”, so I was thinking about novels as protest, then I got to thinking about other examples of literature where the state’s actions have been called into question. You reference Peter and the Wolf, twice, and I wonder if you could talk a little about its narrative function in your novel?

I’m not sure the novel is best served by overt protest, which tends to come at the expense of the narrative. But of course characters are political creatures, as are the events they experience, so in this sense every book is a social and/or moral commentary. I hope I’m never didactic or preachy, though; the story must come first, must be all. And yet one’s primordial swamp will always seep up into the work. Perhaps this is most apparent when Mary considers joining the women of the anti-nuclear peace camp at Greenham Common, despite her husband being a former serviceman. Is my book an anti-war novel? I hope so, but that’s not for me to decide.

In That Dark Remembered Day, Richard’s daughter, Jenny, buys a copy of Peter and the Wolf, an audio book with a pair of 45s tucked into its sleeves (something I too owned as a child, spellbound as I was by the instruments that each represent a character). Of course there is huge allegorical significance here – the hunting, the violence, the landscape, the woods – as well as a sign of the redemption and hope to come.


Sound is a trigger for Richard’s condition. I was thinking how well Peter and the Wolf paralleled the duality of the familiar and unfamiliar for Richard in its use of instruments to represent characters. But I was also thinking about form, what its implications were in Soviet Russia in the ‘30s. Peter and the Wolf is a pseudo-fairy-tale, but it doesn’t comply with that genre’s model: there’s no reward for its hero, for example, and its villain goes unpunished.  There’s another parallel here. If (humour me) Richard was a character in Peter and the Wolf, who, for example, would he be: Peter or the Wolf?

A key feature of PTSD is the reliving of sound, in this case Richard’s war experiences, the flashbacks, nightmares and hallucinations vividly felt. I certainly mined my own childhood for some of the book, the sound of Prokofiev’s composition still resonant now when I recall my own father dropping needle onto vinyl, hearing the instruments introduced, the fear as the wolf was announced. I was keen not to write a hero into the story, which would seem to detract from the horror of war. Richard is, of course, both Peter and the wolf. As we all are.


Prokofiev represented the character of Peter with string instruments. Tell me about Mary’s violin, why does she keep it in the cupboard?

It’s a symbol of her unrealised life, how having been first a wife, then a mother, an awakening rises in her, to live in a manner of her choosing, to resist the direction 1980s society was taking. She wants to consume less, recycle, become more self-sufficient (something that’s trendy now, but hardly existed then). Even her career as a nurse has involved the care of others, and in seeing a live performance she recalls her latent musical ambition. Later, as she considers infidelity, the violin is used as a tool of seduction.


I want to ask you about the dog. I thought it interesting, though not unusual for a pet, that it was anthropomorphised to the extent it was, simply by its being named Shane (the nearest character to an actual wolf is an Australian bowler!). As with Richard’s character, the dog has two functions, is both animal and person, wild and domestic. I kept waiting for the dog to do something significant, but it seemed just as impotent as the other characters, so I wonder if you could talk a little bit about power and agency in your novel. 

*walks out in a huff at the cricket reference, before returning to the crease* I’d counter that the dog does nothing significant. It’s chosen at the animal sanctuary by the family together, but of course the children soon lose interest, it being an older dog. And so Richard is forced to walk it in the woods, which becomes his sanctuary, the origin of his obsession with the peregrines. The dog, sullen when Richard is away training, becomes more morose with its master’s extended absence for war, Mary struggling to form a bond with it. But the change comes during Richard’s decent into his traumatic state, whereupon the dog’s nature also shifts subtly, snarling at Mary for the first time, despite her being the hand that feeds it. In the end the dog is the only one Richard is capable of being around, its undemanding company, its lack of judgment towards him all he can deal with. There’s a nod here to a favourite novel, Gerard Donovan’s Julius Winsome, which has at its heart a relationship between a man and his dog.


In Prokofiev’s symphony, all the parts are narrated, with exception of the final parade that is left to the listener to decode from the musical key they have been provided with throughout the previous movements. As already mentioned, Prokofiev’s tale doesn’t fulfil the conventions of its genre. There is no death. Could you narrate us out?

That Dark Remembered Day has its own quiet parade, Richard’s possible sighting of bird his father never saw. Endings are notoriously difficult to get right and of course I’m not the one to judge whether or not I have. I think this book got under my skin more than others; certainly your penetrative questions have teased out much of the emotion I felt during its research and composition. But that’s it now. My journey with it ends. It’s for others to make of it what they will.

Click on cover to buy.

Tom Vowler is a novelist and short story writer living in south west England. His debut collection, The Method, won the Scott Prize in 2010 and his novel What Lies Within received critical acclaim. He is co-editor of the literary journal Short Fiction and an associate lecturer in creative writing at Plymouth University, where he’s completing a PhD. That Dark Remembered Day is his second novel. More at

Thank you for stopping by, Tom. That Dark Remembered Day is a beautiful and lyrical novel, despite the tragedy at its core, and I wish you the very best with it and for the rest of your blog tour:


Fun Quiz


On Structure

Word Association
On Peregrines
Smash Lits
Something Funky
 On Writing

That Dark Remembered Day is published by Headline and is available to buy here

Tom’s also giving away one copy – leave a comment to be in the hat – lucky winner drawn in a week’s time.

Blast ed

I am delighted to have two rebellious poems in Vortice, a special issue of The Eye of the Needle to "celebrate the tenets of Vorticism and commemorate Blast". Many thanks to visionary editor Russell Streur.