São Paulo (the biggest city in Brazil) is where my wife grew up, and it’s where we’re living at the moment.

It’s an explosive sort of place.

In 1870 it was a small town of 30,000 people. In 1900 the population had grown to 240,000. By 1950 it was home to 2 million. Twenty years later, 6 million. And today 20 million people live across the whole sprawling megacity.

Imagine seeing that as a sequence of photos taken from the sky! It would look like a bomb going off, as the city blasted its way outwards.

And São Paulo isn’t famous for being an inspiring place. It’s a hectic, grey, violent, smoky, money-minded sort of city…built using an awful lot of concrete and tarmac.

But it is an inspiration to me. I’ve done a lot of interesting writing here. (And by that I mean things that have taken me by surprise.)

So what is the inspiration?

Two kinds.

There are the things that I, personally, love. Relationships with family and friends (and the Brazilian warmth and easiness that comes with them.) São Paulo’s cultural life which (as one of the great artistic hubs of South America) is forever abuzz and springing surprises. Capoeira lessons with one of Brazil’s respected old masters. Warm weather most of the year round. The magical stretch of forest and coast between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, which is easy to get to and an antidote to the city smog.

All those things feed into my writing. But something else goes on too.

I grew up in Surrey, in England. A quiet corner of the world. And the contrast between there and here is so total that I’m a long way from home in many more ways than one.

And I think that helps.

Being a bit bewildered, out-of-your-depth and questioning is a good place for any artist to find themselves. And so, perhaps is being in a place where you are a bit bewildering and a source of questions to others (as I know I am to Brazilians!)

I sometimes write about São Paulo, but most of the time I’m writing about back where I’m from. And, in a strange way, being far from it means you can see it well. (The British author Rudyard Kipling once asked, “What do they know of England, who only England know?”)

Being cut off from the everyday routines, ties and responsibilities of where you’re from frees things up. Life is more of an adventure and (to use a word that doesn’t actually exist) storyful.

So, part of the inspiration of São Paulo isn’t even to do with what it’s like. It’s to do with being away from what is familiar, safe, convenient.

They say fairy tales teach 3 things: be brave, be honest and marry far from home. At least I managed one of them!


Three quotations about FAILURE

“Error can often be fertile, but perfection is only sterile.” British historian, A.J.P. Taylor.

“No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Irish writer, Samuel Beckett, in his novel ‘Murphy’.

“We know we’re going to fail. But that’s all right…just lower your standards!” U.S. poet, William Stafford.


Writing secrets – SPACE

It’s not easy to find space for yourself. Over the years I’ve done my writing in the bedroom, in a corner of the living room, in a glorified broom cupboard…

So I’m thankful to have a special, big studio to work in at the moment. It’s up on top of the house where I’m living, with my family, in Brazil.

Though we’re not so far from the centre of São Paulo – one of the world’s most frantic and noisy mega-cities – it’s quiet a lot of the time. I look out on rooftops and trees.

I have two desks: an ordinary one with a computer on it, and a bigger, longer one where I write by hand. (And I spend as much time at the desk without the computer as I can.)

There are also shelves for my books and the scribbled writing notes that I gather like some demented squirrel. And several comfortable chairs.

I’ve even got a little cooker so I can make some tea.

If you want to write, I’d say that one of the things that can help is getting (begging, borrowing, stealing) a bit of space for yourself.

Space to organise your ideas. Space to do more than one thing at once. Space to let a bit of light and air in. Space to play loud music or speak bits of dialogue in funny voices, without having to worry who’s listening. Space to spread out you work (and, if you need to, your self.)

At least some of the above that matter to you most.

And if none is possible then almost as helpful may be to have some space to look out on.

There’s something right about writers looking at a bit of horizon, a hill in the distance, some sky. Even if it’s the neighbour’s wall, it may help. After all, staring out the window is one of the most underrated activities of our times…



Some of the things I tried to say in my last post – ONCE UPON A TIME – are brilliantly touched on in this animated film about reading and writing, made by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore .

And, now I’m pointing towards YouTube, here’s another animation, which isn’t anything at all to do with reading and writing: KJFG no 5 . But it’s a wild little film. (Because life isn’t all flying books!)


Once upon a time. East of the sun and west of the moon. Not very far from here but, then again, not very near. Once in the middle of a night that never was and never will be. Back in the days when pigs had bushy tails, apples grew underground and birds made their nests in old men’s beards. Right at the beginning of long ago. There was, there was not, and yet somehow there was…

Beginnings are important. Above are some different ways of starting a story that I like and have used.

They’re not mine though. I didn’t make any of them up. They’ve been used to begin stories for years and years and years. Storytellers have passed them down to me. And here I am, passing them on.

That’s how it is with lots of the ingredients that go into writing and telling stories. Characters, events, jokes, story shapes, bits of dialogue, dramatic moments, beginnings, endings. Much of what I write is put together out of bits and pieces of story that have already been used, and used again.

And it’s good news for writers. Work has already been done for us. Listen and read, and your own stories grow a bit like the seeds of other stories you know.

I always think writers and gardeners have a lot in common!

The British author, Alan Garner, put it this way: “Though we may be the lantern bearers, we are not the lanterns.”