Top 500 Albums Of All Time

Top 500 Albums

This time last year I took out a subscription to Apple Music.  I then worked my way through Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 500 Albums Of All Time, finally getting to their number 1 album, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band a few weeks ago.

The fact that I could make this musical odyssey – or odessey as the Zombies would have it – really brought home to me how much has changed in the way we access music.  The advent of streamed music ranks up there with the shift represented by the development of records in the early twentieth century.   After growing up with LPs, cassette tapes and CDs, the ability to listen to hundreds of albums without taking out a second mortgage – and without covering my bedroom walls in shelving – was a revelation.

So as a memento to my long musical journey here is a list of  sixty tracks that I was glad to discover.







Reader Beware – the upside down world of Vanity Fair


I finished Vanity Fair last night at about 1am, getting to the last page in a state of shock.  This morning I wrote the following review for Goodreads.

Novels originally developed from morality tracts designed to teach readers right from wrong.  In its own beautifully twisted way, Vanity Fair follows in this tradition.  The title of the book derives from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegorical Christian journey leading from worldly sin to heavenly virtue.  The difference with Vanity Fair is that when readers take its moral journey, they climb aboard a white knuckle roller coaster, with crazy loops showing up where down should be. The story’s virtuous characters find their good intentions leading to bad ends, while the vices of darker characters can ironically work to bring about good outcomes.  Make no mistake, this novel is unflinching.  People of a sentimental bent may feel that everyone always deserves the kindness of a second or third chance.  Well if you think that, read Vanity Fair. The portrayal of Rebecca will put you right, and persuade you that occasionally a person comes along who is constitutionally without empathy, who enjoys manipulation for the sake of it, and is adept at hiding their nature by aping the appearance of respectability.  To someone like Rebecca, the quality of seeing the best in everyone is a weakness to be exploited.  Reader beware.

My Favourite Books About Writing



These  books offer both practical advice, and a sense of friendship and support which is often lacking for a new writer.  Happy reading.

How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey

Wisecracking advice, support and tough love from one of America’s top writing teachers.

The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman

A New York based literary agent explains the reasons why manuscripts are rejected, and offers solutions to common problems.

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

A classic of the how-to-write genre.  The Writer’s Journey is a study of mythological patterns informing story telling.  Don’t expect advice on adverbs. This is a book about basic plot patterns, with reference to Hollywood films.  It’s a fascinating book, interesting for what it tells you about the history of humanity, as well as for offering help with writing.

Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale

This is the place for your adverbs and many other nuts and bolts. The seemingly dry subject of grammar is brought to life with great examples of fine writing. There is nothing boring about a book that helps you to aspire to such work.

Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within by Dennis Palumbo

A lovely, warm book helping a writer to explore their life experience for the raw material of writing.


Why Does a Writer Need to Read?


Reading Room at the British Musem

When I first arrived at university, innocent and impressionable,  I talked to a glamorous third year who didn’t read much because she thought it would interfere with the uniqueness of her writing style. She also corrected the spelling of a note I put up in the kitchen.

I have to say, at that time it was easy to find myself persuaded by the girl’s view.  Apart from the fact that she was attractive, a third year, and good at spelling, this was a stage in my writing career when admiring a book would immediately make me want to write in the style of its particular author.  Perhaps literary quarantine was required.  Maybe the usual advice for aspiring writers to read all the time wasn’t the right way to go.  It didn’t, of course,  take long to abandon this idea  I enjoyed reading for one thing, and while I was willing to accept sacrifices to be a writer – career insecurity, lack of marriage offers and so on – giving up reading was a step too far.   I also quickly came to the conclusion that it was precisely the wrong thing to do, because it’s a simple fact that a writer’s work is not unique. Each genre is like a great big soap opera with many writers contributing episodes.  Individual writers might not all be together in a big room, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t  working together.    A successful writer is like a scientist who we associate with a breakthrough.  This individual, for all their fame,  in reality worked with many other people, both directly in their working lives, and indirectly in basing their work on the efforts of others who went before.  People like a clear picture, a good story which focuses on an individual.  But while Thomas Edison, for example,  is meant to have invented all kinds of things, he was actually a man who ran research teams, the combined efforts of which became associated with the name Edison.   Writing is like that. Finding your own voice does not involve avoiding other writers, but rather finding out how your voice fits in with them. People imagine a writer engaging in solo effort in their attic.  In reality it’s more like singing in a choir, getting the odd solo if you’re lucky.  At the minute I admit that I am part of the chorus.  But no matter.  The soloists depend on the chorus behind them, and one way or another, successful or unsuccessful, we are all part of that common effort.  I will keep going, and if you’re a struggling writer I wish you the best.  We’re all in it together.