Falling In Love Again

Amazingly, no, I’m not talking about another woman here. I’m talking about…running.

My brother and I in Las Palmas 1988
My brother and me, in Las Palmas 1988

Yes. After many, many years I have rediscovered a certain something or other for the purest of all forms of sport/exercise. One foot in front of the other, fast as you like.

When I was in my early twenties I almost took up running about three times a year. These would be the times when my older brother Tom was home from University and he’d almost convince me to take it up, by taking me out for a run, leaving copies of Athletics Weekly lying around, that kind of thing.

As a child and teenager I was self-consciously thin and I remember trying to eat my way out of my natural physique. In the summer of ’82 I managed to trouble the scales by a few extra pounds after a month or so of going to the weights room, hitting the protein shakes, and taking any opportunity to get into a pasty with chips during lunch breaks. That sort of thing.

I was nine stone, a barely credible-sounding 58 kilos, (this obviously might seem ridiculous for someone just over six feet tall but there you go). I nudged this up to about nine stone six. The World Cup was on and one Sunday morning I went up the road to a playing field with my two brothers, Tom and Nick, and we played football for a couple of hours in the sun. It was reasonably strenuous in bursts. Just before lunch I was in  the bathroom and weighed myself and I was back down to nine stone! I had three more goes, triple checking everything. Nine stones! Had I lost those couple of kilos so painstakingly earned over the past month? I decided there and then that it was pointless trying to change my body so the best thing would be to find something for which it was perfect. So, the following evening I finally succumbed and went out for a run with Tom – 45 minutes chatting and looping around the same playing fields!

Yet, I STILL didn’t follow it through. Once Tom headed back up to University I didn’t have the necessary mindset to keep running and clearly can’t have had the inclination to find a club etc. I lost track of the number of false starts my brother had to witness but the breakthrough came a couple of years later when I managed to find my way to an entry to the 1986 edition of the London Marathon. I knew this in December ’85 and it was what I needed. A target. A bit of glamour and excitement.

Some people are simply born to run. They love the freedom. The fresh air. It’s not about the times, or training, or races. It’s about the actual running. But for me, perhaps because I never went for a run slowly enough for it not to feel uncomfortable, there had to be ‘a point’ to it. A justification for all the discomfort! And that point was to enter races, to improve, to test myself, to look forward to the next event. And also perhaps to dream. I was a late starter but I knew I had some natural talent so…who knows where I could go with it?

The London Marathon was the biggest, most glamorous event a runner could get involved in then (even more so now) and it was so exciting to know I was going to take part. Looking back, it’s laughable how little I was prepared. For the ridiculous length of the thing. I had planned to break 3 hours and ended up, broken, with 3 and a half; 1 hour 25 minutes for the first half and 2 hours+ for the second half, where there was much stopping and walking. In short, I ended up hating it. A month later I ran a half marathon somewhere or other, getting aching legs and not enjoying it at all, and at that point a friend kindly pointed out that, as a beginner, I was doing everything back-to-front.

“Normally, you run 800m/1500m races, then go up and try 5,000m and as you get stronger/a bit older, 10k. Finally half marathons and marathons at the end of your career!…You’re doing it all the wrong way, just run 10Ks and 5Ks.”

After that I became more like the usual club runner, though for reasons that I may reflect on in some other post, I drifted out of it after three years.

The London Marathon 2016

And here we are then. Next April 24th, I will once again line up at the start of one of the world’s great marathons, just one of a new world-record number of participants. Thirty years older and none the wiser?

We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Which Comes First, The Title Or The Book?

The other day I was exchanging a few words with a couple of TV writers on the subject of titles. It was both surprising and Titlescomforting to know that I wasn’t the only one with the rather odd affliction of not being able to start anything without having a title first. When you think about it, this is ludicrous. There are many who would strongly advise against any further excuse for prevarication. Get on with it. Call it ‘Untitled Masterpiece’ or ‘Work In Progress’. Or just don’t call it anything. Surely, once a work is over and you know what happened, that would be the time to sit back and think of a title? Continue reading

Feedback And The Art Of Selective Brilliance

What could be better than to be brilliant?

(Actually, if I was being facetious, I could probably come up with quite a good long list but, you know, who needs facetious?) Aside from all the other things that would be nice, I can’t think of anyone – certainly not in any artistic field – who wouldn’t trade them in to hear someone say “that was brilliant.” You may not be able to take your money with you when you die, but you can take your brilliance. But how do you know whether you are, or not? Continue reading

Why I Am Going To Stop Blogging

I have decided, after a long and tortuous discussion with myself over a cup of tea, that I am causing more harm than good by having a blog to which I seem incapable of contributing. I promised myself, when I relaunched, that I would use it simply and lightly. It would be somewhere to make comments on this and that – how the writing was coming along; life on a desert island; maybe the occasional mild rant or harrumph about something. I say that because when I first began with the Blogosphere I became, well, blogged down. I was still writing A Table In Berlin, followed by Goodnight Mrs Day, and it is hard enough trying to get the words out without using up energy on a blog. No, I intended to write swiftly and without recourse to anything resembling a rewrite or polish. That’s why I put “first draft” in the subtitle/blurb at the top of this new version.

But even this is not working. Continue reading

What I Learned From My Headmaster

A few weeks ago I heard that the headmaster at my last school had passed away. It came as a shock, needless to say, and stirred up a lot of emotion. It also reminded me that it was from him that I learned the single most valuable and practical bit of knowledge that was ever imparted to me during all my years of education. When I tell you what it was, it will probably do no more than confirm to most of you that I’m a little eccentric. But not all eureka moments in childhood revolve around Pythagoras, Pi, or P.E. I will write other posts about him, from time to time, as he deserves to be remembered as the fine headmaster that he was. Continue reading

Why I Used Real Life Inspirations for A Table In Berlin

4664101_1AContinuing the theme today of the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I want to talk about a very close friend of my brother’s who provided the inspiration for the character of Christian Bauer in the novel A Table In Berlin. Continue reading

My Kind Of Indie Bookshop

A Table In Berlin launches the new reading room at Rachael's Kitchen!
A Table In Berlin launches the new reading room at Rachael’s Kitchen!

Daisy White is a literary entrepreneur who has long championed the idea of independent business and supporting local traders. Her pop-up shops – Daisy White’s Booktique – focused on showcasing small independent publishers and authors, as well as artists, by taking up residence temporarily in empty High Street shops.

Well now she’s taken it the logical step forward by looking for less temporary premises and last Saturday opened a pop-up inside a gorgeous cake shop.

Yes, that’s right, a cake shop. Cup cakes, no less. And tea, and coffee and comfy chairs…

Mackerel Books said ‘yes’ to this and so A Table In Berlin has a top shelf residency for the next six months in the new reading room at Rachael’s Kitchen, 38 Carfax, Horsham. Not only that but it was Book Of The Week for the launch!

The idea is that customers can pick up a copy of a book from a box of reading copies and try them out while eating and drinking. So much better than being immersed in a smartphone. And if an author’s managed to grab the attention, there are copies for sale (or the customer can come back every afternoon for a brew until the book’s finished). I love the idea – so much more interesting than a free daily newspaper full of daily woes and a multi-national coffee shop’s decor.

I hope it does well. And I hope I see people reading A Table In Berlin the day I choose to make my surprise visit. I should have been at the opening but, guess what? I’m in the middle of a novella and my brain’s not in the right place. In other words, I can’t find my passport. I live in Fuerteventura. You don’t have to know exactly where that is, but I can tell you one thing.

It’s nowhere near Horsham.

Writers’ Blog Tour – Mark Davies

A few weeks ago I was asked by author Stevie Turner to join her Writers Blog Tour. Although this involved answering four questions, therefore sounding Blog Tourperilously close to taking an exam, I jumped at the chance. Well, I said yes. That’s as close as I get to jumping.

While I was writing my first full-length novel (A Table In Berlin) I was asked many questions, most often: “where does all this stuff come from?”  I think when people who read a lot meet the people who do the writing, there is always a fascination about this issue of whether a writer has to write or risk his head exploding from the weight of unused words. But that’s a subject for another day! Here’s the interview. I hope you find it interesting.


I’m writing a novella. It’s called GOODNIGHT MRS DAY and is a companion piece to A Table In Berlin. Interestingly, I originally intended A Table in Berlin to be a novella. But my rationale for this was that it would be shorter and therefore take less time! While both of these reasons may be true enough, I think the best reason to write a novella is that it suits the purpose of the story. There are also commercial reasons, and any writer who does not think commercially needs to consider what their definition of being a writer is. We all need product in the marketplace. It is a quirk of the modern book browser that one of the first things they do on discovering a novel is look for what else the author has published. A new work helps invigorate the previous work. I had actually written the opening paragraph of a second full-length novel, based on some of the characters from the first. In the convoluted way that writers’ minds work, I had some plot areas faintly tossed around when I also had some discussions regarding sales and marketing. At this point, I realised that it would benefit the second novel if I could explore some back story first, and it would benefit the first novel if I could bring something complementary to the marketplace. Now I’m not a fan of ebooks over real books. But one benefit has been to writers of shorter works. You know you’ve got a doorstep family saga when you’re carrying its 500 pages around, but on your ebook reader you have no idea beyond a little message keeping you abreast of what percentage of the book you have read. It’s human nature to baulk at paying almost the same for a novella in paperback form than a full length novel because the lack of pages is so obvious! While there are plenty of bookworms who can devour a full novel in a day, all novellas can be tackled in this way. We are so time-restricted that the idea of starting a piece of fiction that we can handle in one long, relaxed sitting, is appealing.

Goodnight Mrs Day is set in 1961 and expands a little on some backstory from A Table In Berlin, which is set between 1987 and 1989.


This is a tough one. Why? I would find it difficult to put my prose style into a genre and have it sit comfortably. A Table In Berlin developed organically from a simple photograph and a dare on Facebook (that’s very much another story for another day). I was trying to write a female-friendly book from a male perspective but I am a humourist at heart and always have been. There are elements of romantic comedy, sure, but I couldn’t sell it as a rom-com. There is the humour, of course, but it’s not simply a “funny book”. There’s drama, of course, and enough intrigue and mystery to have some readers use the word “thriller”, but it’s not a thriller! The writer Marcus Markou tweeted, after having read it, that he loved it “Comedy/Thriller with heart”. Maybe it’s a romantic comedy drama? Maybe it shouldn’t matter! But I know that it does. If I were to presume a difference to anything else out there of a similar multiple genre, then I would say it was my ‘voice’. My Editor worked carefully to preserve this. One always hopes, when the book is on the shelves, that a reader, within a few short pages, recognises the writer – without having to look at the cover. Mind you, I think all writers could use this as their answer!


I write to entertain.

I do not aim for the lowest common denominator but, whatever the subject matter, plot and story, my most important wish is that a reader is entertained – taken away from whatever they are doing at that moment, and transported somewhere else. I am fortunate to have English as my native language as I truly believe it to be an astonishing tool. I like to write weird sentences sometimes. I don’t drive for ultra taut prose and I don’t write tightly-plotted thrillers. I like the words to breathe and I like them to be a bit mischievous sometimes, too. I write for the kind of reader who feels the same. My main ingredients are characters. I like to have a few, and I like to get away with letting people know as little about them as possible. And, generally, I write characters who are transient. I like to see people out of their natural habitat. I think this is probably a natural consequence of my upbringing, as I have parents from very different nationalities and moved around a few times – always with the excitement of a new adventure.

Put simply, what I write reflects what I would like to read. I don’t believe in chasing the zeitgeist even though that does sound like a great title for a book. Some people read to be challenged and some people read to be released from having to. As I side with the latter, I write for them, too.


Well, like any other writer, my process involves a great deal of unpleasantness. The greatest joy in life is being able to call oneself a writer, and the greatest misery is having to prove it.

I have tried to change my writing process, off and on, since the day I first realised I had one. I tried to change it because it was self-evident that a writer shouldn’t write lying on a bed like a recalcitrant schoolboy knocking off his English homework. My parents bought me a bloody enormous black Olympia typewriter when I was eleven or twelve years old. It was only when I sold it, a couple of years later, that I found out all the clever little things it could do with tabs and the like. But I found writing – the actual creating part that comes first – difficult on a typewriter so I always wrote with a pen, whatever ‘writing’ I was doing. When I started to write plays and scripts at school, where others would need to read, I began with the collaboration between pen and machine. I would write (with all the scribbling out and rewriting and so forth) then type it up. But then I might annotate the typescript and ultimately perhaps type it up again.

I relaxed about the issue of writing in bed the day I discovered that Spike Milligan did the same (he also ate Ambrosia Creamed Rice out of a tin, like me). Spike Milligan was probably the single greatest influence on me as a child. I wanted to be ‘like him’ and so to have discovered that he was also prone to flopping about on a bed was just fine with me.

Anyway, before I start the actual writing a number of things have to happen.

1. I must know that I am going to be read. If I do not have some kind of a commission, then I must convince myself that my efforts will be rewarded with a readership. There is no point to writing if there is no reading. My personal opinion only, but this is my blog.

2. I must have a title. I have never, and I mean never, written anything that didn’t have a title first. My whole life. A title is like a suit. When it fits, it really fits. The title is allowed to come after I have gone through the thinking/day dreaming phase, what I call my pre-production phase, but often it is the very first thing I have. I have two titles only, that haven’t even had any day dreaming put on them, since 1977 and 1979 respectively. By the way, pre-production is the only time in the creative process where any fun is involved.

3. I must have an ending. Oddly, sometimes this is literally the last line. It can be enough. I had the last line of A Table In Berlin (which is also a bit sweary) written down on the same envelope on which I had written “a table in berlin”.

4. I must have a target – but this can change and I don’t mind. I like to know how long the piece is going to be, or how long I am planning for it to be at the outset. Sometimes there is flexibility, sometimes there isn’t.  Not having flexibility is better.

5. I must start writing. This is the hardest part. And this is how I do it. I sit on my bed and try not to spill the tea. Then I close my eyes. I can either actually close my eyes, or metaphorically close them. I am at the cinema. The lights dim. The curtain opens. The MGM lion roars (sometimes I hear the 20th Century Fox fanfare, the original long one). The screen fades in to….what? Obviously, I know who this is going to be about but maybe that person doesn’t appear yet? Oh, wait…it’s raining? Ahhh…okay, it’s raining! I now have to do something for which perhaps there isn’t a medical term yet. But, in layman’s terms, I have to split my brain into two halves. I’ll call them A and B. My process is now simple. I have to disengage A from B to such an extent that I can get A to imagine what happens next, without B knowing until he has seen it for himself. I have to get B to jump and say, “whoah I wasn’t expecting that”. From there I imagine that my imaginary perfect reader – Agent Orange if you will – is sitting on the corner of the bed and wants to know what’s going on. So I tell him what I saw happen. I tell it to him in my own way and my own style but written down.

6. Once this has been repeated and an entire novel has been written then I celebrate and send it away and have a break before fixing anything that obviously needs fixing. Personally, then I sign it off and kiss it goodbye. Someone will always tell you it’s crap and that you could have done this, that and the other differently. Don’t spend all that time poking about in the embers. You will never write the perfect book. Move on to the next one.




Geraint Roberts writes novels and short stories. His debut novel, Forest Brothers, was set in turbulent Estonia during the 1940s. he is now working on a prequel as part of an eventual trilogy. Geraint was born and educated in Aberystwyth. He attended the University of Leicester to read Mining Geology. He has since worked for a bank, British Telecom, a rehab clinic, a green energy installer and is now working for a steam railway. All are deemed rich sources of inspiration!


How Not To Do Self-Confidence: or, Let ME Decide If You’re Amazing.

As writers today, we live in a world of self-promotion, where the lines between self-confidence and self-delusion seem to me to have blurred a bit too much for my liking. In the new cut-throat world of the independent artist we are expected to sell ourselves and do it with swagger. Our potential paymasters and collaborators like a bit of swagger.  Continue reading

Why I Hate Germany (But Not Really).

It’s the final of the 2014 World Cup today. (There’s an opening sentence that could turn away a few potential new readers.) For neutrals, the choice is between supporting Germany or Argentina. From the four teams in the semi-final, the options were Germany v Argentina; Germany v Netherlands; Brazil v Netherlands; and Brazil v Argentina.

Just prior to the semi-finals I had been mulling over who I would like to see in the final, and why. And here, I have to explain that there is childish grudgery and immature prejudice at play that I must admit to now, in advance, before things get ugly. Continue reading