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'A Masterpiece'

That's the title of the novel I'm working on - currently out on submission to literary agents. Read on to learn more about the project...

The pitch

A Masterpiece is an 86,000-word general fiction novel, or around ~320 pages. It's a dark, Gothic comedy following Carin Sikes, a cynical journalist, who built a reputation as ‘the UK’s harshest art critic’ – a kind of Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay figure for the art world. When his rich father disinherits him, he is on the lookout for new income streams. He receives a strange commission from Ann Heimrich, a billionaire investor, to visit an artists’ residency program she is launching on her private island in Denmark.

Heimrich has assembled a group of young artists for what she claims is a wholesome retreat. But as the residency unfolds, it's clear that something more sinister is going on. By secretly observing the artists, Heimrich is trying to learn what drives their creativity, so that she can replicate it for profit, and wants Carin’s help in that ambition. Carin watches as things descend into chaos, grappling with his complicity in the scheme, as well as being forced to confront his own privileges.


Cover mockup (using GenAI)


For people who loved...


  • How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

  • A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers

  • Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer

  • The Information by Martin Amis

  • Bunny by Mona Awad

  • Lost for Words by Edward St Aubyn

  • The Club by Ellery Lloyd

  • The Odyssey by Lara Williams

TV & Film:

  • Succession

  • The Menu

  • Anything by Charlie Brooker


In 2019, I went on a solo holiday to Japan.  As part of that trip, I spent some time visiting the unusual island of Naoshima. Formerly an unremarkable fishing island, Naoshima was developed in the 1980s and '90s by Japanese billionaire Tetsuhiko Fukutake, whose vision was to transform the island into an art destination. The architect Tadao Ando was commissioned to design a series of gallery buildings which today make up the complex overlooking the Seto Inland Sea.

I arrived at one of the galleries, Benesse House, on a quiet weekday and had almost the entire space to myself. It was extraordinarily peaceful. I was alone to absorb the artworks, but more importantly the architecture and the space itself, which has persisted in my memory far longer. Ando's signature architectural style - austere concrete, geometric lines, striking angles - is displayed in its full glory.


Yet as I walked around the space, I began to feel that there was something uncanny about it. You're requested not to take any photographs. The site is starkly beautiful, but also has a sense of coldness to it. It makes you feel as if you are enjoying it in spite of itself. What's more, the layout seems designed to disorient; as you move around the central silo, you ascend or descend at an almost imperceptible angle, so that you can easily find yourself on a different floor or wing without understanding how you arrived there. This labyrinthine quality makes the whole complex feel like a villain's lair (indeed, I later found out that Naoshima inspired a James Bond continuation novel).

All of this, along with the billionaire investor, gave me a deep sense of the Gothic. One of the tropes in Gothic literature is that the setting should be somehow otherworldly - it should sit outside of normal space and time, inhabiting a magical realm that is disorienting and difficult to escape from. Think of the caves and tunnels in Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, the uncanny Transylvania of Dracula, or more recently the tilted walls in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.

That trip to Japan was my last holiday before the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, when I finally had to time (and requisite boredom) to start writing my novel. I wanted to combine that setting - a remote art island as Gothic villain's lair - with a comic story about the hubris of the technology industry and Silicon Valley 'growth hacking' mentality. Of course there were a hundred other inspirations and negotiations that went into the story... but at its core, that's where A Masterpiece came from. 


Naoshima. Photo: by Dan Squire

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