The pursuit of happiness

This post has a simple and easily defined aim: today we identify everything that is wrong with the world, and how to fix it. And in honour of the forthcoming US elections, we do so in terms that have an American, almost political flavour.

Now I know you may be thinking that, as ambitions go, this is on the bold side: but hear me out. The great problem of modern society is not inequality, nor debt, nor crime, nor lack of social cohesion; it isn’t TV, nor even Jimmy Savile; it is neither the yoof, nor the tottering ranks of the elderly. It is happiness. Specifically: the pursuit of it, as laid out in the US Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right of mankind.

Declaration of Independence


The phrase ‘pursuit of happiness’ has sunk deep roots in the modern consciousness, to the extent that to challenge it sounds either miserabilist… Continue reading

That which cannot be named

There are, as people who delight in such trivia well know, words for many, many things that do not need to be named. Words for the irrational fear of beards, priests, buttons, hieroglyphs. Words for types of stitches, particles, wood grains.


Not one for pogonophobics… Image: Gaspar

My favourite recent acquisition, kindly supplied by a friend, is a word dedicated exclusively to the pursuit of desirable sexual partners amongst haystacks at night. Sprunt, in case you were wondering (and you should have been wondering).

It is in fact impossible to open a page of a reasonably good dictionary and not be struck by a word the existence of which you had never suspected, and the use of which you will never attempt. To prove this theory I have just opened a dictionary to three random pages. Without any effort or need to dredge unduly I thereby discovered lutescent, paw-paw… Continue reading


In the 1970s Bruce Alexander, a Canadian experimental psychologist, ran a series of tests to do with rats and drug addiction. Most people, hearing that preamble, nod sagely. I know, they say. Give a rat a heroin/sexual pleasure pump and it will lie beneath it, rat jaws wide open, and drink until it explodes. Or something. Until it dies, anyway. This is well-known. It is a fact.



However, most people would be speaking too soon. Some experiments have indeed suggested that rats behave in this way, but not Bruce Alexander’s. His tests were in fact designed to rebut such claims. Putting it with horrible simplicity (because my understanding of experimental psychology is horribly simple), his contention was that the drug addiction of lab rats might possibly have something to do with their lifestyle as lab rats. Rats are usually social animals, living in family nests (or warrens. Or… Continue reading

People’s Book Prize

Immortality comes in many shapes and guises. Illusory, for example. Sporting. Celluloid. But here is an offer unlike any other: the chance for immortality within a story. One character, in a forthcoming novel, bearing your name (or a name of your choice).

Becky Sharp

This could be you…

Think of the famous characters of the past: Mr Pickwick, Elizabeth Bennett, Becky Sharp. James Bond. Now squint, and imagine that a novel as yet unwritten by a new writer will be feted in 200 years’ time. Not easy, I know – and I try doing it all the time – but give it a go.

So here is how this works. There is such a thing as the People’s Book Prize. It is a Very Good Thing: a democratic book award. Wholly decided by public vote. It is designed to uncover new writing talent, raise the profile of libraries and celebrate… Continue reading

LDM: the dust settles in the Evening Standard

There are some achievements in the field of human combat that resonate and echo down the centuries. Those guys on that bridge at… um… Thermopylae, maybe? The bowmen at Agincourt. The people who almost escaped from that prisoner-of-war camp, who are in that film.

LDM event

Now, I am pleased to say, there is a new entry on this illustrious list, one that justifies this unprecedented two-posts-in-a-week intrusion into kind supporters’ long-suffering inboxes: my second-place in the febrile cauldron of dreams, lust and books that is the Literary Death Match. And before anyone quibbles or raises caveats about the worthiness of this feat to join the others aforementioned, let me ask you this: have any of the heroes of the past been celebrated in a glossy magazine owned by a Russian oligarch and given away free on Fridays? No, I rather thought not.

And finally, my friends, here is the clincher… Continue reading

Central Reservation reviewed by Times Literary Supplement

Well, now. Here’s the thing. Generally, in a post such as this, I would launch into some obscure and self-deprecatory flannel, which would lead, for those with the patience to navigate it, to the sheepish announcement of a fact subtly suggested by the title of this post: Central Reservation has just been reviewed in the TLS, which described it as an ‘ambitious and inventive’ and ‘subtle’ book in which ‘black comedy undercuts painful emotion’.

The reason for the sheepishness is that I am a firm believer in reserve and reticence, which are good and necessary things that inoculate right-thinking people from various forms of insanity, such as going on The Apprentice or entering politics.

However, I am aware that the line between these splendid virtues on the one hand and the horrors of timidity and false modesty on the other is faint and indistinct.

Basically, the question that arises is… Continue reading

Literary Death Match

Dear all – by which I mean lovely subscribers in particular, and very welcome casual visitors in general – this is the briefest of updates following an unconscionably long radio silence about a profoundly exciting event: Literary Death Match, in London, on 2 April.

Literary Death Match poster

To be honest, I’m not sure I need to sell an event called Literary Death Match as exciting: the title kind of does that for me. However, I am nailing my colours to the excitement mast, wrong as that sounds, because I am appearing at this event alongside – yes, alongside – such luminaries as Jon Ronson and DJ Taylor.

There’s more here, including details of times, tickets, location. It would be very lovely to see you if you can come, and to hear you if you fancied cheering (at apt moments, obviously, not when people drop books/fall over/read something profoundly moving and elegiac).… Continue reading

Bring out your dead

All right: ghosts. The last blog post was all about where to find them. This week cuts to the chase: why are they to be found at all? What, if you’ll forgive the question, does it all mean?

Very old house

Image: Philip Halling

This, for me, connects to the place where I grew up. It was an old farmhouse. Properly old. It had a moat, absurdly. It had a long corridor and up in the wall at one end was a hole, which led through to uninhabited rooms. It had mice, bats, and no heating. My room had a spiral staircase set into the wall. Every night the steps creaked one-by-one, and it seemed like the tread continued in the empty room above.

The farm buildings were old, too. One had a white monk painted on it. Benedictine? Augustinian? No idea. I heard it was a symbol of protection against evil, and… Continue reading

Good weather for ghosts

Ghosts: a picky lot. Particular, I think is the word, and conservative in their tastes. This is most evident in the places they choose, by all accounts, to hang out. Open-plan offices are not really their thing. Nor leisure centres. In fact, their architectural preferences have a lot in common with those of Prince Charles: give them a bit of thatch and some original half-timbering, give them an attic or even better a cellar, and they are happy. Provide mood lighting and that’s it, really, you have a ghost magnet.


Except often, weirdly, you don’t, and today’s blog, at this chill midwinter season, is about why. Why do some places that seem to fit the ghost bill, that have all the ingredients to be dark and spooky and atmospheric, turn out as dull as doorknobs or dishclothes or anything else domestic beginning with ‘d'; while others, not apparently… Continue reading

The launch

We have take-off! Actually, that should read we had take-off, because this post is about the launch party for Central Reservation on 1 November, at the Union Club in Soho. It contains pictures (well, all right, a link to pictures) and very remarkably, pictures that move and talk. On which front, here are some straight away. This is the brilliant John Were, CEO of Xelsion Publishing, talking about books, reading and new opportunities for everyone who loves both of these things in his very kind speech that kick-started proceedings:

Mostly this post is a chance to say thank you. First and foremost to John, without whom Central Reservation would not currently be nestled neatly on the bookshelves of shops and sparkling temptingly on the pages of Amazon. I have met many people with big ideas, but no-one else apart from John with the courage to give them a try,… Continue reading

Will le Fleming is a novelist. His debut, Central Reservation, is published by Xelsion and available now. Read more...

On a grey Thursday morning Holly lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, and wished her sister would die. Five hours later her wish came true. Read more...

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The first post explains all - find it here.