"People are so much more literate than they used to be," my friend said. "Almost everybody I know is writing a book. That must be why it's so hard to get published nowadays.

"Philip Pullman shops where I do," she continued. "Ian McEwan lives down that street. Craig Raine over there." I pointed out that her perception of a highly literate world was probably skewed by the fact that she has moved to Oxford.

My nephew was speaking in the schools debate at the Oxford Union. It was intriguing to find myself in a city where writers are ubiquitous, praised and successful. Where many of the populous are bright, privileged and young. Where the bookstores are stocked with a magnificent array of titles, but not my own. It's enough to stir a man to envy.

I do wonder how the Oxbridge connection would have worked for my career. Some students mark themselves down as writers, others as publishers, others as journalists, one whole top self-supportive strata of a generation graduates to find its niche in the world. I'm sure it helps - though I largely got over that particular source of envy a while back. I quite like what I gained from life by going to Leeds University instead.

I didn't envy the young either. They seemed so excited but so random. It's a relief to have refined my own sense of purpose and self a little more than that.

A confederacy of fellow writers all living nearby? Well, that might be nice. I enjoy the group of friends we have in Santa Fe. But I also find I soon tire of society at the moment. What I want most right now is countryside and time to go deep into my new novel.

That leaves the lack of my own books in the bookstores. Well I'm doing what I can about changing that, the envy's largely gone, I was finding my books in the American bookstores ... but being a professional writer does fall flat on its face without books out for sale in the world. As soon as anyone finds a copy of On Sacred Mountains on a bookshelf in the UK in May, please write and tell me and make me cheerful!

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