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While I was in Sharjah at the International Book Fair I recorded a piece for the BBC Scotland’s BBC Books Café about my favourite ‘Winter Read’.  I received a tweet saying that the piece had been edited and was to be included on  today’s programme but unfortunately, it never showed up.

So, having promised on twitter and facebook that the piece would be on, I thought it only fair to post the original audio file that I sent to them.

Maybe it will be broadcast next week?

Use the comments to tell me what you like to read in the deep dark depths of winter and, if you can’t see the full story already, click the ‘read more’ below the tags to see a transcript of audio, and my one-line reviews of the first three Dune books.


I’m standing with my back to a cooling palm grove and facing out across a crystal lagoon. Beyond it I can see a regiment of shiny modern tower blocks.  I’m in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates where I’m talking at the International Book Fair about my novel The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth.  The breeze on my face is hot, it has the promise of the desert about it, and makes this the ideal place to tell you about my favourite Winter Read.

I fell in love with Frank Herbert’s Dune whilst I was a school boy.  I had popped into the local bookshop and was skimming an anthology of science fiction. I happened to flick to a story that was a sample chapter from Dune.

Dune itself is a coming of age story about a young man, set against the wildly exotic backdrop of the desert planet Arrakis, a world so hot and barren that its inhabitants must wear stillsuits to collect and purify ever drop of body water.  

The sample told the tale of the Imperial Planetologist’s demise, stranded in a scalding desert with a vandalised stillsuit.  In his final moments he realised the importance of the giant worms that swim in the sandy seas like vengeful whales.  I was utterly transported. I was there, literally on a different planet.

The book begins, like Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, almost sedately, away from the central setting, pulling us into the lives of the characters when all I impatiently wanted was to get into the desert (or to the frontline in Remarque’s case).

And in that desert I found the power of words. The profound relocation that they can bring to the mind, taking it into whole new lives and locations, thoughts and feelings, ways of looking, ways of knowing.

Although I find that now in so many other great works, whenever the air turns chill and the leaves begin to fall, I feel myself again needing the comfort of the desert, and the promise of greater adventure. Dune always gives me that.


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