Friday, 18 April 2014

Wirral Exhibition of Scale Model Castles and Historic Buildings

One of Tim Hulme's many scale models on display at Bebington Central Library.
Yesterday I travelled by train to Bebington, as a friend and fellow-member of Riverside Writers is currently exhibiting his large collection of hand-made scale models of castles, chateaux and historic buildings. 
Tim Hulme began making models as a boy, when his father would bring home huge cardboard tubes onto which silk fabric would have been wound at the Macclesfield silk mill where his father worked.  Later, as a young adult, he was touring a grand European house when he saw a scale model of it and declared, "I want one of those!"  He's been making them ever since.
This is Tim's first exhibition, and a lot of  planning has gone into the display.  Nearly all the models have a photo of the actual building beside it for comparison, and there are information sheets offering historical backgrounds.  The models are very fragile.  Just transporting the models safely to the library took six car journeys and a multitude of big cardboard boxes.
One of the display tables - click on the image to view it larger.
The Temple of Apollo - you can only part of his seated frame in this photo.
My photos really don't do the models justice; the room was lit with fluorescent strip lights which tends to flatten photographic images and my little Kodak digi isn't clever enough to compensate for this, so you can't see many of the tiny, fine details of the models.  This is a pity, as Tim spends many months making each one.
The free exhibition has so far been visited by nearly 200 people.  Bebington Central Library has asked Tim to extend the exhibition for another week, so if you're in the area do call in.
Open:- Tuesday 22nd; Thursday 24th, Friday 25th.
Venue:- Bebington Central Library, Civic Way, Bebington, Wirral.
Fee:- FREE.  Donations to the Friends of Bebington Central Library are welcome.
Tim Hulme with some of his scale models.


Friday, 11 April 2014

Tadpoles, Dolls and Wirral Mysteries.

Last summer, I made a frog pond in our garden.  The very short video above shows the tadpoles which are currently swimming around, obviously enjoying the warmth which the spring sunshine is bringing to the shallows where they like to congregate.  They're quite fascinating to watch.  As soon as I get home from my day-job, I put the kettle on, let the dogs into the garden then visit my pond to see how the taddies are growing.  Right now they're making short work of a slug which drowned itself.  Ok, so that is a bit gross - but that's nature for you, red in fang and claw....

Today I added another doll to my collection, one I've wanted for absolutely ages:  Daisy, which was designed by Mary Quant.  As a child I had Daisy and a friend of hers as paperdolls; goodness knows how many other paperdolls I had, hundreds at least.  Anyway, today I won an eBay auction for a Daisy, so I'll be looking forward to receiving that through the mail and adding her to my collection.  Mine is not a big collection - I saw a YouTube video earlier today which showed a massive collection of all kinds of dolls - Skipper, Monster High, BJDs, porcelain vintage dolls and Madam Alexander dolls, and others - collected by a mother and daughter.  "People come in and think we're weird," said the daughter, but she obviously didn't care two raspberries for their opinions and neither do I.  Some of my dolls have been with me for decades, but I only started collecting seriously last year.  I think they're cute and they make me smile - so if collecting dolls isn't your thing, just move along.

click on image to view larger

This photo shows a pink-haired Monster High doll; an auburn-haired obitsu doll (my first attempt at a face-up!); a vintage Action Man (holding a miniature book); a Flower Fairy on either side of a ROGARK sailor doll; Tammy (?) and a OOAK re-rooted Pippa (who doesn't have a pale stripe in her hair, that's just caused by the flash off my camera); two Dolly Darlings and a blue-haired mystery doll.  The babies in the bunkbeds (Health & Safety would throw a fit!) are possibly from the late 1950's.

Onto something else...

I've long held an interest in history and local history, and recently I was invited to join the Admin team for a new but surprisingly large and enthusiastic group called Hidden Wirral: Myths and Legends who are organising talks and guided tours for its members.  The project looks very interesting and a whole bevvy of events are being planned, so if you're local to Wirral, or can travel here fairly easily, take a look at the website.

And, yes, work on Fabian: An Artisan-Sorcerer Story proceeds...  I'd hoped to have had it finished by now.  And with that very aim in mind, I intend to cut down on the amount of time I spend on Facebook - as fun as that can be, keeping up with everyone's news and cute cat piccies, the novel has to take priority - especially I've several other writing deadlines approaching too.  I'll keep updating here, though.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Blog Tour: Writer Jasper Bark

Today I'm happy to introduce horror writer,script writer (comics & graphic novels) and children's novelist Jasper Bark, who stopped by on his blog tour to share a few words. Jasper began his career as a performance poet then moved onto to writing plays, one of which was debuted at the Edinburgh Festival where it was nominated for a Fringe First award - despite some councillors calling for its ban.

"The most unsettling thing was watching a bunch of the actors getting arrested for handing out leaflets for the show on the Royal Mile," said Jasper. "This is something you expect to see happening to dissidents handing out seditious literature in the former Soviet union. Not actors handing out flyers for a comedy at one of the world’s foremost international arts festivals. Some people really don’t have a sense of humour I guess."

You also write books for children and is well known in the world of graphic novels. When did all this start and how do you fit this in around writing horror novels?

"Well, the comics and graphic novels probably came first. While I was working as a music and film journalist I got in touch with The Losers creator Andy Diggle, who was then editor of 2000AD and offered to get him in to see any band or up coming film he liked for free. After a screening of the film Snatch I mentioned I was interviewing the cast and director the next day. Andy told me if I could get a quote from director Guy Ritchie he’d buy a script off me no matter how ropey it was. So in the middle of the interview I asked this drawn out question about 2000AD and got Guy Ritchie to endorse it. I let Andy out of the deal though and eventually sold a script to his successor, current editor Matt Smith.

"After writing grown up comics for a while I began to notice there weren’t any really good comics for kids anymore and as I was a parent myself I felt impelled to try and write some so I moved into the kids comics market. From this I moved into writing kids books. Some of my kid’s books have been translated into nine different languages while others are used in schools all over the country to help improve literacy in senior school children."

Do your characters take on a life of their own and do things you didn't plan?

"Constantly! As I was coming towards the end of my second novel I was worried about a few loose plot threads and was trying to think of a sub plot I could quickly add to address them. Then out of the blue one of my characters suddenly revealed a whole sub plot that had been going on right under the main characters’ noses that completely reframed the whole story. I had no idea about this until she started to outline it. I sat there taking dictation from her thinking the whole while “why the hell didn’t I think of this?” She even made reference to all kinds of tiny events in the novel that I had forgotten about and suddenly made complete sense of them. Many reviewers commented on this surprise sub plot and singled it out for praise, but to this day I really don’t think I can take any credit for it. It all came from my female lead.

"Sci-fi visionary Philip K. Dick used to speak with his characters and consult them independently of his fiction. He was especially fond of a few characters and he would interact with them in a fictional realm, a little like divination. When he needed their support or advice he would sit at his typewriter and type “Phil walks into Leo’s office. He sits at Leo’s desk, wearing a hang dog expression. ‘Something on your mind Phil?’ Leo says. ‘Well I’m glad you asked,’ says Phil. ‘As it happens ...etc’.” He had on going relationships like this, with some of his characters, for decades after the books they appeared in were published. This is because the characters were independent entities to him. Grant Morrison also talks about putting on a fiction suit and stepping into stories and I’ve met Chaos magicians who claim to have summoned up and interacted with fictional characters in very real magical ceremonies. So I guess they’re all exploring a similar vein, which begs the question: do we come up with our characters, or have they always been there, simply waiting for us to write a story to house them?"

What is a day in your life like?

"I tend to wake fairly early when the blunt object my wife has thrown connects with my head. Usually this is either because the kids are driving her psychotic, or she’s found the writer with his throat torn out that I left in the middle of the lawn the previous night; (when the cats do this with their prey it’s considered cute, but apparently when I do it, it’s psychopathic - double standard anyone???).

"When the kids are safely delivered to school or, if it’s the weekend, safely locked in the basement with the power tools and the matches where they can’t distract me, I’ll settle down in my office to work. I tend to begin my day by writing a list. Lists are great ways of pretending to work without actually doing anything and they bring a completely unearned sense of achievement. I’ll start with a ‘to do’ list to which I’ll subsequently pay no further attention to.

"Once the serious business of list making is out of the way, along with other important admin tasks such as ‘liking’ every lame picture of a cat that I can find on Facebook, it’s time to settle down to some serious writing. First I open a new document. Next I spend two or three hours staring alternately out of the window and at the blank screen of my laptop. At some point during this vital stage in the process, my wife will walk in and say something devastatingly witty like: “working hard are we?” I’ll then spend half an hour contemplating whether I should draw up a list of snappy comebacks for the next time she cracks this particular howler, but failing to come up with anything in the least bit ‘snappy’ or ‘comebackable’ (yes that is a word) I’ll abandon the idea.

"After eating a light lunch I’ll return to my desk for a concerted hour of weeping tears of bitter frustration, interspersed with kicking my desk and weeping tears of pain from the injury I’ve done to my foot. Then I’ll lie on the floor, stare at the ceiling and bemoan the fact that I was stupid enough to enter a profession for which I obviously have no talent and my children will undoubtedly starve as a consequence.

"Remembering that my children will soon have to be picked up from school (or released from the basement) finally spurs me into action and, fueled by sheer panic, I manage to rattle off a thousand words or more before I have to down tools and resume my role as a parent. In the 30s and 40s at the Disney Studios, the sixty minutes before the animators would clock off for the day at 5pm was known as the ‘golden hour’. This was the time when all the guys in the studio would stop giving each other hot foots, or drawing penises on each other’s cells when they weren’t looking, and knuckle down and do some serious work. It was estimated that the majority of work that you see on the screen from that period was drawn in this single hour.

"That’s how it is for me too. I’d like to say that all the preamble leading up to this hour or so is an integral part of the process, but even I’m not that self deluding. In fact one of the main reasons for having a routine is not so much to encourage myself to write, but rather to avoid all those things that stop me writing (namely just about everything). Don DeLillo said: “A writer takes earnest measures to ensure his solitude and then finds endless ways to squander it.” Which effectively says in seventeen words what’s taken me nearly a thousand."

What first attracted you to horror writing?

"The fact that it’s the genre you go to when you want to think the unthinkable. The genre where all our worst fears and neuroses bubble up to the surface. What if my child doesn’t come home one night? What if my home, my body or my mind is invaded and I’m powerless to stop it? What if consensus reality is just a cosy fiction that masks a deeper more irrational universe than we can ever understand.

"This last fear is probably what attracts me the most. Horror stories are where I first learned about people who held heretical beliefs and practiced unthinkable acts in the name of both science and religion. Who had the balls to lift what Shelley called “the painted veil that those who live call life” and peer at what lies behind it. Granted they usually came to a bad end because of it, but in the brief moments before their fall I always thrilled to their Faustian excitement, drunk on the power of forbidden knowledge.

"The Gnostics used to believe that fearsome angels, known as Archons, patrolled the outer limits of reality to terrify and attack all but the bravest and most dedicated seeker after the truth from venturing into the unknown. Sometimes the deepest and most profound truths lie beyond a howling chasm of fear. To experience those truths we have to leap blindly into that chasm with no guarantee that we will get to the other side.

"That moment of electrifying, near hysterical terror, when we leave behind everything we know to be true, and hurtle towards a new reality, that’s the note of cosmic terror that I love the best."

Learn more about Jasper Bark's work on his website.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Video of Stapledon Woods, Wirral.

Stapledon Woods used to be known as Thor's Wood, before Olaf Stapledon bought it and bequeathed it to the people of West Kirby.  It's also one of the locations I use for the Artisan-Sorcerer series.  This video shows a collection of photographs by Richard and me - so you get to see the old trees, a few remaining ruins of long-gone buildings, the faerie pond, some ancient rock art and the panoramic view from summit of Caldy Hill, which the wood covers.


Saturday, 8 March 2014

Ancient Rock Carving in Stapledon Woods, Wirral.

Richard on top of the rock, to give an idea of its size.

This strange carving can be found on the Caldy side of Stapledon Woods, facing farm fields which are separated from the wood by a low sandstone wall with a castellated top.  In summer, the rock face is hidden from casual view by trees covering the slope which leads up to it from the path running alongside the sandstone wall.

Has anyone got any information about this carving - what it is, its age and purpose? 

I've been given several theories; one that it was made for shelter, (which seems dubious as it wouldn't work very well); or that it was somekind of ancient relinquary relating to pre-Xtian religious beliefs.  Any further ideas or documented evidence would be most welcome.

Calder Stones and the Allerton Oak, Liverpool.

Above and below:  Calder Stones, Neolithic tomb stones, Liverpool.

Believed to have once formed part of a Neolithic chambered tomb erected some 4,000 years ago, the Calder Stones have been protected inside a large greenhouse since 1954.  The circle's current arrangement is based only on 19th century guess-work about how a stone circle should look, following an assumption that druids had created the tomb - which actually predates druidry in Britain by a considerable margin.
The tomb itself was destroyed some time during the 18th century.  The six remaining sandstone pieces were then sited near the main entrance to Calderstones Park in Allerton, Liverpool.  The disturbance revealed pottery urns containing human dust and bones. None of these were preserved as (or so I was told by park staff) the groundsmen who removed them smashed them all for 'fun'. 
These photos were taken by me back in the spring of 2000, when a friendly park ranger allowed Richard and I access to the stones, which are liberally carved with concentric circles, spirals, arcs, cup and ring marks, feet and a very clear sun symbol (a circle with rays projecting, which is set low so you have to crouch to see it, if I remember rightly).  Similarities can be found between markings on the Calder Stones and those found at Bryn Celli Ddu and Barclodiad y Gawres in Anglesey in Wales,  and New Grange in Ireland.  There is also some later graffiti.
A scene from Fabian:  An Artisan-Sorcerer Story takes place within the Calder Stones circle.  I'm still in the process of writing the first draft for this, which will be the fourth novel of the series.
I'll also share these two photos of the Allerton Oak, which stands in Calderstones Park too, and which is believed to be around 1,000 years old.  It's held up by huge iron props now, but was once the alleged meeting place of the Hundred Court, a form of local government used by Danish (Viking) settlers. 
Above and below:  The Allerton Oak, Calderstones Park, Liverpool. 

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Book Bargains!

Discover the Artisan-Sorcerer series for 50% less than the usual price! 

For one week only, many of my ebooks are reduced in price on Smashwords, not just the Artisan-Sorcerer series but others too.

Smashwords describes the event like this:  "Read an Ebook Week is an international celebration of ebooks in which thousands of authors, publishers and retailers feature free and discounted ebooks to help promote the joys of e-reading to the world's readers. Each year, Smashwords authors are the most active participants, and our store features the largest selection of participating titles. It's a fun promotion, because the more the participating authors promote their involvement, the more readers then go on to discover new Smashwords authors. It's writers-helping-writers at its finest."

Use the special Read an E-Book Week code found on each book's regular page on Smashwords.

Make the most of this week-long promotion while it lasts!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Wednesday Writing Tips #8: Underestimate Yourself!

Welcome to this series of writing tips. If you would like to pen a guest post for this series, email me at

How many times have you read advice which encourages you to write 1,000 words a day, every day?  The purpose of this seems logical enough - if you produce a steady flow of words bit by bit your novel or short story collection will be finished.

This standard gem of advice works fine if you have the time to write 1,000 words a day.  Perhaps you sprint past this word-count regularly.  If so, good for you.  However, if you aim for the golden number of 1,000 words but find yourself regularly falling short, this post is for you.

Writing 1,000 words a day might be fine for people who are at home for much of the day.  It might be fine for people who work but whose partners are happy to carry the load while the writer's evenings and weekends are focused solely on writing.  But if you have kids who need taking to and from school and various clubs, a dog which wants its walk, the shopping needs to be done and the housework won't do itself no matter how many times you glower at it, then maybe the 1,000 word goal isn't for you.  And that's perfectly ok.  Especially if you don't want to inspire divorce proceedings.

Fixed word-counts provide a handy goal to aim for, but if you repeatedly fail to hit that desired score your own psychology can work against you.  When repeatedly you tell yourself that a job is too hard or the task is too much, and that once again you've failed to hit the target, you create a barrier in your own mind which grows in accordance with the negative energy you feed it with.

So try underestimating your achievable word-count and, in doing so, get your psychology to work for you. 

Try dropping your word-count right down to 250 words.  Producing a minimum of 250 words a day is easy.  You can fit that in between washing the breakfast dishes and setting off to work.  Or you could do that on the train going to work, or in your lunch break.  You might pen your 250 while your family watch a TV show which doesn't interest you. 

If 250 words flow easily, try raising the word count to 300, 350, 500.  Experiment and see what works for you.   Remember that you can always write far more than your set word count, but give yourself a little cheer each time you hit that modest number.  This way, you embed the feeling that you can readily achieve your goals and in doing so make achieving them more easy.

Try it and see how you get on.

Further Reading:
Wednesday Writing Tips #7:  Develop Your Creative Potential by Gemma Gaten.
Wednesday Writing Tips #6:  The Magic Formula.
Wednesday Writing Tips #5: The Challenge of Blank Space.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Happy 50th Birthday, Me!

Adele in The Blue Moon Cafe, Chester.

Yesterday I celebrated my 50th birthday.  First I took our dogs for a walk round Gilroy Nature Park which is already showing signs of spring.  Buds are swelling on the trees and birds were singing their fluting songs - I saw a robin, green finches, reed buntings and a mistle thrush as well as the usual mob of mallards, coots and Canada geese. 
There was a woman feeding some of the horses in the adjacent field and I commented to her about their poor condition;  "Well, it's winter," she said, "so they roll in mud."  I know little about horses but they looked to be in a shabby state to me. Their coats are matted, mud-caked and damp.  While the higher half of the field looks less muddy than by the barbed wire fence, there is no truly dry area for them to stand on.  Some of the horses are wearing coats but these are filthy and damp-looking also.  There is no shelter in the field and the only water comes from a flooded corner of the field also used by ducks and geese, so it's not clean water.  There is no food or hay left in any trough of any kind.  On my way back past the horses yesterday, a second woman was trying to feed one of them and she was swinging a stout, L-shaped metal pole at the other horses to try to drive them away while her own horse seemed too nervous to come forward.
I reported their condition to the RSPCA about three weeks ago but nothing seems to have been done.  Maybe this is an acceptable way to keep horses?  It seems a miserable life - but again, I'm no horse expert so I could be wrong.
On Sunday, my day-job colleagues presented me with a birthday cake with "Happy 50th Birthday, Adele" piped in icing on the top.  They all sang Happy Birthday while I blew the candles out, which made me smile like the big kid we all are at heart.  They presented me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a huge box of chocolates, and a birthday card plus a wad of money "to get yourself something".  It was lovely of them.  I felt so spoiled!
Most of Monday was spent in Chester, which is one of our favourite places.  One of our favourite eating spots looks like it's come under new management, as all its cosy olde worlde charm has been replaced by 1990s minimalism in lugubrious shades of battle-ship grey.  Even the lovely gleaming-wood bar had been hidden beneath a coating of ugly tiles.  The place used to be very busy.  Yesterday there were far more staff than customers.
The new menu made us chuckle.  Everything had been given complex descriptions, such as the ground meat compress topped with a locally sourced golden-yellow artisan cheese in a crusty country roll sprinkled with toasted poppy seeds and served with oblong-cut deep-sauteed potatoes garnished with freshly ground black pepper.   The words "locally sourced", "country" and "rustic" were sprinkled liberally throughout the menu.  Even the ketchup had been rendered as "rustic tomato relish".  Once Richard and I had stopped giggling we were tempted to give the food a go, but the party who took the table next to ours had a member who blew her nose in a trumpet solo fit for the HallĂ© Orchestra then repeatedly coughed and hacked with truly rustic relish, and as we didn't wish to be liberally garnished with locally sourced bacteria, we chose to dine elsewhere.
So how does it feel to turn 50?  Yay, I now qualify for Sun Life Insurance after all these years of them dedicatedly sending me junk mail!  No, seriously, turning 50 feels fine.  When I turned 40 I remember feeling down about that, as if I'd slipped into middle-age and all life was downhill after that point - which is total nonsense, by the way.  Did life begin at 40?  Life begins the minute any person chooses to start  living as opposed to merely existing - and the definition of "living" is 100% an individual one. 
But here I am at 50...  Wow, how did that happen?  Tempus fugit, and you'd better believe it.  What have I done so far?  Got born; went to school then college; got my first real job (editor); swapped the parental home for a haunted house; entered a secret order; was employed as a freelance writer/illustrator; wrote my first novel; moved to a microscopic flat in Aigburth; did various other jobs; left the secret order and went to art school; ran a fanzine with a cult following so exclusive that - to the best of my knowledge - only one person (Nick Fawkes!) still remembers it, apart from me; was unemployed for years; got a job (writer/photographer/listings editor); joined OBOD; married Richard; worked in a pottery; began writing seriously; became a cryonicist...  And then it was Now!
And now this flesh-and-blood vehicle is 50 - and I feel great!