Peter Salmon Web Site Introduction Welcome to my website, which has everything you need to know about me. That's right, everything.

Pensive Peter Salmon

Proof of Pudding

What discerning judges have said about The Coffee Story

'It's been a while since I read a first novel that felt as universally accomplished as Peter Salmon's The Coffee Story' - Toby Litt

'I was constantly intoxicated by a sense of desire & loss' - Jake Arnott

'Wild and raucous... an extraordinarily accomplished debut' - Niall Griffiths

'Reminiscent of Phillip Roth's Everyman. But it's much, much funnier' - Sydney Morning Herald

'An exceptional debut' - Martyn Bedford

Hard Sell

Now in sexy orange!

Peter Salmon is an Australian writer living in the UK. His first novel, The Coffee Story (Sceptre, 2011), was a New Statesman Book of the Year. He has written frequently for Australian TV and radio and for broadsheets including the Guardian and the Sydney Review of Books. The Blue News, his satirical column about books and publishing, was subsequently collected and published by Melbourne University Press as Uncorrected Proof  (2005).  He has received Writer’s Awards from the Arts Council of England and the Arts Council of Victoria, Australia.  Formerly Centre Director of the John Osborne/The Hurst Arvon Centre (2006-2012), he also teaches creative writing, most recently at Pembroke College, Cambridge and Liverpool John Moores University.

Voss by Patrick White

patrick whiteI’ve just finished re-reading Voss by Patrick White – a relief in some senses, as it will be nice to have my brain back for a little while after almost total immersion in what is an astonishing, moving, harrowing piece of literature.

Much has been written – although not enough – about the genius of White, who is, for me , perhaps of all authors, the most perfect marriage of artist and art form. The novel is his perfect mode of expression – he captures in a sentence aspects of the human that, for most writers, would be the subject of a book – and his mode of expression pushes the possibilities of the novel to their limit. What I wish to concentrate on is his audacity.  I remember reading Voss for the first time when I was a teenager, and having to go for a walk after reading Chapter Thirteen, stunned by the literary trick, as it were, that White had pulled off.

In the chapter the main two main protagonists – I say ‘main’ as White has a Tolstoyan capacity for spreading the load of the novel across numerous characters, each emotionally satisfying and emotionally involving – Voss and Laura Trevelyan, he lost in the desert, she in bed with fever, communicate with each other in thoughts and dreams, shared emotions and shared morbidity. They do so without acknowledging the other, nor does the novel waste time by attempting to explain the interaction. This is not an encounter with the supernatural, still less is it some sort of Jungian shadow play. Simply, they are able to commune because the novel allows them to – their shared emotional (and religious, and ethical, and practical, and numinous) journey is allowed because in this novel, such a journey is allowed. (I was reminded as I read it of Ives Symphony No 4, with which I am currently obsessed – varying threads of story, various tunes, exist simultaneously, without apology, without bowing to traditional notions of form).

I have railed against realism before, and won’t here, but to me the increasingly hegemonic notion that the novel is some sort of window to the world is both limiting and disheartening. Novels are made-up stories built of words, and the limits of the reality that they can express is set by the novel itself, not by reference to an outside arbiter, least of all ‘reality’. The emotional impact of Voss comes precisely from the ability of White to bring disparate times, places, characters, emotional states, existential states and so on and so on, into simultaneity, without recourse to some sort of ‘extramural’ coherence. It makes sense because it makes sense. And that is audacity, and an overwhelming belief in the novel, as a novel.

Arvon Lumb Bank

Leo 'It's about what?!' Tolstoy.

Leo ‘It’s about what?!’ Tolstoy.

Had a wonderful time on Wednesday as guest reader for The Arvon Foundation at Lumb Bank, on a starting to write a novel course. It was terrific to read for such an enthusiastic and talented group, who are spending their week under the tutelage of the immensely talented, wise and handsome pairing of Tiffany Murray and Chris Wakling, the cream of the extremely bountiful Arvon crop.

Apart from the reading we spent quite a while talking about what a rubbish writer I am. My inability to keep journals for instance, write description, or come up with good ideas – three things which I think are true of most writers, and should not be taken as reasons not to pursue the dream. ‘Having great ideas’ is, I believe, one of the most pernicious myths of authorhood – the very reason fiction exists is that there are ideas, scenarios and philosophies that are not contained in normal thought. They can only be got at by writing.

There is nothing more frustrating to me than people who say they are ‘waiting for a good idea’ before they can start. I always give the example of Anna Karenina – the idea of that novel is ‘the story of a woman who has an affair, gets sad and jumps under a train, alternating with long chapters about agrarian reform in late 19th Century Russia.’ It’s a terrible idea for a novel, and I bet when Tolstoy was sitting in Costa trying to think of a good idea, he didn’t have that and set down to work. He started writing, and the novel blossomed into a world of ideas he – Tolstoy – wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The simple fact is that novels are wiser than writers. They are funnier, deeper, more profound and more intelligent than writers. Characters in novels know things that the author doesn’t, and novels generate set pieces the author could never imagine lying in bed at night desperately trying to think of what to write about.

So if you haven’t got a good idea for a novel, here’s your chance – get writing. Bet your life a few hours into it, you will have. Or you can just keep waiting….

Oh and if you’re not familiar with Tiffany and Chris’s work, then you’re being a fool to yourself and a burden to others. Tiffany’s site is here, and Chris’s is here


Adverbs – Can They Be Stopped?

adverbsAs a writer and editor I have many missions. As a writer, my mission is, of course, to capture the essence of the human soul in all its glory and depravity, in the hope that I can edge the definition of this crazy mixed-up experience we call life a millimetre or two further towards Truth, be such a definition Absolute or Contingent.

As an editor, it is to rid the world of adverbs. All adverbs.

For those who might have been away the day they did grammar at school, an adverb is a word that modifies the meaning of a verb, adjective, sentence, sentence clause or, in the worst of all possible worlds, another adverb. They modify ‘How?’ questions. And they are awful.

I have had arguments about this, of course, which tend to go on until I produce my trump card. Take a sentence with an adverb in it. Get rid of the adverb. The sentence is better. This is true in 97% of cases, and the 3% where it isn’t tends to be in work written for children, as more clues are required for meaning. I accept this. But that’s your lot.

The problem with adverbs is simple – if you are doing your job right, then they are redundant. The action should be set up, or the speech should be delineated, in such a way as the modification of an adverb is unnecessary. It’s always a clue that a passage isn’t working if an adverb is required. They are a short-cut to meaning, where it is the job of a writer to produce meaning through narrative.

So how do you get rid of them? All of them?

For the most part, they end in ‘-ly’, and if you ever want to speed u[p the editing process, I suggest you always do a search for ‘ly’, and then delete more or less every word ending in it. You will feel better. Your work will be better.

Then get rid of those pesky temporal adverbs, such as ‘soon’ and ‘suddenly’. I used to collect picture books that used the word ‘soon’. It usually meant ‘I am running out of pages’, hence ‘soon, they returned home’ or ‘soon, Tiddles was fast asleep’. If you are writing a picture book, and running out of pages, be my guest. Otherwise, no.

As for ‘suddenly’ – is there any action in this world that is not sudden? As Hume showed us when he threw the whole question of causality open, the state of the world before an act does not contain the act in it. Pick up a cup. Before you picked up the cup, the state of cup-picking-up-ness was not an existent of the universe. So it is sudden. Suddenly, I picked up the cup. Suddenly, I put the cup down. Suddenly, I stared into space. Suddenly, I stopped staring into space. There is no counter-statement to any of these, so they are empty phrases. Perhaps as a trope of horror or crime writing you may wish to use the word ‘Suddenly’. Again, be my guest. Otherwise, you should suddenly stop using them. And soon!

Finally, there is the word ‘quite’. If you are Wodehouse and trying to be arch, then ‘quite’ is all yours. Otherwise the reader doesn’t have time to arse about with qualifiers. Are you saying something or not? Get rid ‘quite’

From then on, free of adverbs and full of piss and vinegar, you will suddenly write quite wonderfully.