Wednesday 3 February 2021



I do not collect owls. Here's some of my owl collection.

I was walking along our high street a few years back and two sparkly gentlemen (both ends of the middle rank) caught my eye in a shop window. I'd been noticing them for a week or two, caught between admiring the host of bold textures and scorning their vulgarity. The price, I noticed, had dropped from 'very reasonable' to practically 'free to a good owner'. On a whim I went in and bought them both with plenty of change to spare from a tenner. The shopkeeper was delighted!

    "I've got another one. Shop damaged. Half price." He seemed very hopeful.

    "I'm not starting a sanctuary," I said, aware of the amused smiles of other shoppers as I stuffed my owls into my bread bag. And I scarpered.

    The owls found a perch on top of my tallest bookcase and that was that. Until the next owl arrived.

    "I saw you liked owls," the gift giver said at Christmas or my birthday.

    And that's how it's gone from that day forth.

    I get given owls. It is highly convenient for people to believe I collect owls. The alternative is that I'm an awkward curmudgeon who never admits to wanting anything by way of presents. And now there's a body of evidence, a literal parliament, that people can point to in order to prove I collect owls.

Actually, I've nothing against owls, but there's a broader point to this ramble through this dark corner of ornithology. I don't write grimdark. Ten years ago I was passing my PC and on a whim I wrote a short grimdark book. I got a three book deal, so I wrote two more. Since then I've written twelve non-grimdark books and I'm part way through a thirteenth.

But it is convenient for people to believe I write grimdark. The alternative is that I'm an awkward eclectic who is hard to pigeonhole without a modicum of effort. And now there's a body of evidence, literal pages of google hits, that people can point to in order to prove I write grimdark.

This of course is just an example of our willingness to label people. Reductive thinking may often be comforting and easy but it's hardly the whole story. And you'd think if there were any demographic that should be interested in the whole story ... it would be readers.



  1. Hi Mark, do you keep copies of The Broken Empire Limited Edition, I wanted to find it as it worths a lot to me but there are only 1000 copies in the world so I am thinking if you have spare copies ?

    1. I don't. And when they appear on ebay they go for between $350 and $600!

      But I do have one spare copy that I plan to give away in a competition when Prince of Thorns reaches 100,000 ratings on Goodreads - which should happen within a month or two.

  2. I have just shared this with a friend of mine who, now middle aged, has roughly 40 unicorns of various designs & materials which she's been supposedly collecting since she was 8. She loved this post! I have to admit that I too have an unfortunate number of Alice in Wonderland related items--in fact, everything you can imagine from teacups with Cheshire cats which disappear when the cup holds hot drinks to mock turtle soap dishes which actually make one feel very sad to pick up & use the hand-soap shaped like chess pieces. I'm certain there's a comment about postmodern materialism & prolific yet inexpensive manufacturing in all of this, but honestly I've never had the heart to tell people to stop. 🤣

  3. Several years ago I started photographing the owls in lieu of buying them. The result is the tumblr I made (woefully out of date now).

    Ugliness, of course, is in the eye of the beholder.

    I don't always succeed in not buying them; many are too extreme to remain at liberty.

  4. I do collect owls or maybe they collected me? But many that I have are also gifts but however they arrive, they have a home for life in our menagerie, in between the crystals that have taken over and the books that erupt from every room. A friend has likened our living room to the British Museum (presumably the basement, where everything is crammed in together) with ancient Egyptian gods, dancing geisha, celtic and Greek ornaments, dogs, owls, and sundry randomness that have slipped in sideways and just stayed because, well why not! Bookcases (6 in the living room) are not just for the books - they're for all the ephemera that grows around our lives (no doubt to be chucked out as rubbish when we are gone)