My Kids Are Time Travellers

It was Eden’s seventeenth birthday today, which reminds me of the time last spring when the ghost of her two-year old self appeared while I was redecorating the floorboards in the downstairs hallway.

The backstory is this: when we moved house in 2000, we inherited carpet with a pattern so vile it looked like someone had thrown up a Vienetta violently and repeatedly all over the floor, and so we ripped it all up as soon as possible, revealing pine floorboards caked with thirty-odd years of grime and covered in paint spatters from when the house was built. Conscious to establish my credentials as Husband And Father Capable of Manly Labour, I hired one of those big belt sanders and went to work on it – all rolled-up t-shirt sleeves and grunting for tea. What they don’t tell you is that when the sandpaper bites into the wood, the machine more or less pulls itself along by its own power like a carnivorous vacuum cleaner, leaving you (okay, me) reduced to simply hanging on and trying to guide it away from the walls and other people’s feet.

About five minutes in, the sandpaper belt made a horrible noise and shredded apart, and I realised that I should have gone around with a hammer and a nail punch beforehand and made sure that all the floorboard nails were sunk out of harm’s way – so I went and did that. And in this I had a little helper.

Eden followed me with her Bob the Builder Hammer - its handle had been full of sweets, but not for very long – and made sure that I did the job properly. As anyone has seen my DIY will agree, to this day it continues to display the quality control of a two-year old.

I skimped on the edges, basically. The big belt sander wouldn’t go right to the skirting board and I couldn’t be arsed and you wouldn’t have noticed it if you weren’t looking and it took me until last spring to finally get around to doing it. So I waited until TC took the girls to her parents’, cleared out the hall and tidied up the edges with a little detail-sander and some left-over varnish.

Now I’m not going to say that what happened to me was an actual hallucination, in the sense of  any weird or otherworldly apparition, but she was there. The intervening fourteen years had folded in on themselves and become paper thin, and she was standing right next to me, two years old, in her rainbow wellies, utterly absorbed in the important task of Helping Daddy. We didn’t say anything to each other, just got on with the work and then she went on her way back to whatever she’d been doing in 2002.

The exact same thing had happened the summer before that with Hope, when I took her for a hike up Mt Snowdon to help her complete an objective for an internet scavenger hunt. At one point I looked at her, and she wasn’t that long-legged teenager but the two-year old walking beside me along Kurrawa Avenue in New South Wales on our way to the corner shop through the tunnel under the road which made great echoes, with her hand gripped tightly to my finger. Time folded in on itself, and we met each other in the margins.

I don’t really believe in ghosts – not the supernatural kind, anyway. But I do believe that we are always with each other in the memories of the times we shared together, and that at the end of the day we’re only haunting ourselves.

What haunts me most about the photo of me and Eden is where the fuck has all my hair gone?

What Politicians Could Learn From Playing D&D

How to get on with others, for one thing, but more specifically, this little nasty with which my mate Mike likes to torment us from time to time:

The Denebian Slime Devil

(Image credit:

"When encountered, a Denebian Slime Devil appears as a hideously grotesque thing, often culled from the deepest fears and anxieties of its preferred victim. However, this is a deception, for the creature’s true form is that of rancid, flowing anthropomorphic ooze composed of disgusting refuse gathered from the scum of the dankest swamp. Sages have been unable to identify a practical purpose or ecological service provided by a Denebian Slime Devil."

"If a Denebian Slime Devil is struck by a weapon it immediately splits into 1-4 identical copies of itself, each immediately attempting to locate its own victim. Each copy has the same abilities, and number of Hit Points as the original."*

Now substitute for 'Denebian Slime Devil' the terrorist group known formerly as ISIS (but shall henceforth be known as the name they hate: Daesh); substitute 'struck by a weapon' with 'bombed', and you've pretty much got it.


Your Hallowe'en Flash Freebie: Collection Day

‘Morning, Mike.’
Mike nodded. ‘Harjit.’ He lugged the wheelie bin up his driveway and deposited it on the kerb with a grunt. It was full to capacity, and heavy as a bastard. He straightened, knuckling the ache in his lower back, and looked around at the Close. It was a crisp morning on the first of November, and the beech trees along the close were sifting flakes of copper-gold onto the pavement and the tidily trimmed lawn frontages of his neighbours’ houses. As an image of suburban tranquility it was marred only by the smoke rising from the blackened ruin of number twenty-one.
He caught Harjit’s eye and nodded at it. ‘Mrs Beauchamp had a busy night of it, by the look of things.’
Harjit, who was busy unfolding a large sheet of black plastic on his drive next to the open hatch-back of his Corsa, shook his head and sighed. ‘She should have known better than to try and see out Hallowe’en alone. Jaz spoke to her on Wednesday; she said that her sons were supposed to be coming down from Doncaster.’ He shrugged. ‘We offered to put her up, but you know what old people are like.’ He pointed at Mike’s wheelie bin. ‘You get many Treaters last night?’
‘No, just the one... hang on, wait.’ Mike peered at the label stuck to its bright crimson lid. ‘Shit.’
Harjit watched, amused, as he ran back into the house and returned a moment later with a replacement label which he stuck over the old one. ‘Danielle’s been pestering me for months to get this renewed,’ Mike explained. ‘She’d have my guts for garters if I missed this year’s collection.’
Something inside the blood-red bin moved with a slow, slithering bump.
Both men looked at it.
‘Borrow your shovel, mate?’ asked Mike.
‘Sure.’ Harjit went into his open garage and came back with a shovel. Its handle was stout hickory; its blade was wide, heavy steel. Mike took it, opened the bin’s lid, and rammed the shovel-head hard into the contents with several heavy, meaty thuds. The slithering stopped. He wiped the shovel off on the grass and passed it back to Harjit.
‘No probs.’
‘But yeah, it managed to get one of the security shutters off the kitchen window and had half the fridge on the floor before we knew what was happening.’ Mike paused to rub at a bandage wrapped neatly around his left forearm.
‘You want to get that looked at, mate.’
‘Nah, be fine.’
‘You know the way those bites go septic.’
‘Man, you’re worse than Danielle. If I want another wife I’ll join your lot.’
‘Bugger off, Farage.’
They laughed.
‘More of them every year,’ Mike mused. Three doors down, a young mother was hosing down the pavement outside her house. ‘Makes you wonder why the government doesn’t do anything more than just help with the clean up.’
‘Yup.’ Harjit had finished unfolding the big sheet of black plastic and laid out four bungee cords next to it. ‘Me, I’m taking mine down the tip. Every year the council puts the collection charge up and for what – once a year? I don’t think so.’
‘Still, nice that it’s a weekend for once, isn’t it? All of the neighbours pitching in together. Like when we had that snow. And you - how was your night? Jasmina and the girls okay? Any Treaters get through?’
 Harjit made a face. ‘So you know that hedge of hybrid blackthorn I had planted along my back fence? The stuff with the two-inch spikes?’
Mike nodded.
‘Chainsaw,’ Harjit said grimly. ‘Fuckers had a chainsaw. I mean where the fuck did they get a chainsaw?’
‘I thought I heard something. That’s a shame, man.’
‘I know – cost me an arm and a leg, that hedge.’ Then, realising what he had just said, he broke into peals of laughter. ‘Still,’ he continued, ‘turns out that a chainsaw’s bugger all use for digging your way out of a punji stake pit.’
Distantly, they heard the hydraulic whine and reversing siren of a collection truck from one of the other cul-de-sacs further around the estate. The Close was busier now with residents coming out to inspect the damage to their houses – the broken fence panels, the filth on the windows, the scorch-marks – and to park their shiny red wheelie bins neatly by the side of the road.
‘You know what though?’ said Harjit. ‘You’re right about the weekend thing. A bit of the old Blitz spirit, isn’t it? Want to help me with mine?’

Mike went to get his machete and together they went into Harjit’s garage, where the Treater was waiting for them, tied by his wrists with a bit of old nylon washing line looped over a ceiling beam. He couldn’t have been more than fourteen years old – bloodstained and stinking and his eyes rolling with terror above the gaffer-tape which muffled his screams as they moved towards him.

(image credit: @jodievents)

There's a Lot of Conning About

Didn't anybody stay at home this weekend? There was FantasyCon2015 in Nottingham, MCM Comic Con in London, and Showmasters Film and Comic Con Cardiff, while at the NEC you had your choice of the BDIA Dental Showcase, the Dive Show, and the Supreme Cat Show... something for everyone, especially if you're one of those people who like to cosplay as a scuba-diving cat-dentist, and let's face it, who hasn't at one time or another?

Me, I was at FantasyCon, and it was great. For most of the time I hung out with Iain Grant and Heide Goody (they of the fiendishly hilarious Clovenhoof series), but manage to catch up with some old friends and put flesh to some I've only met online ('put flesh to' is probably not the best choice of words, it wasn't that sort of con, but whatever). Jim 'Ginger Nuts of Horror' McLeod is exactly as lovely as he comes across on his blog. Jenny 'The Copper Promise' Williams looked slightly shell-shocked when I was wittering on about wanting to set up a franchise of the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club in the Midlands, but by that time I was on my second bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale to armour myself against a nightmare book-reading I'd foolishly signed up for. Sorry Ms Williams.

Four people turned up to my reading - three of whom were Iain, Heide, and her husband Simon. The fourth was Cardinal Cox - poet-in-residence of the Dracula Society - who was a lovely man but really only in the room because he was on after me.

"Don't look up at the empty room. Don't look up at the empty room. Don't..."

I was on a panel about world-building, sat in on all the ones about the arcane secrets of marketing and how to get an agent and discovered that the answer was the same as it ever has been, which is to just bloody work your socks off, like that advice ever helped anybody. Sunday morning's panel on Religion in Fantasy was disturbingly well attended, but then given the prices of the drinks maybe not that many people could afford to be horribly hungover.

Yeah, there was that thing with the food. Still, I had a great curry in Beeston and discovered the student union food outlets at Nottingham Uni are pretty good, so there was that.

On Saturday evening there was a tribute to the late and very much missed Graham Joyce. It turned out that a number of folk had taken this off down to the pub, which is presumably what he would have wanted, and those of us who were left paid our respects in Conference Room 1. During the sombre and thoughtful proceedings, Joe 'Horns' Hill was passing by outside, saw what must have seemed to him a deeply introspective group therapy session and responded in the only appropriate way - by launching himself drooling at the window like something from the Walking Dead. We reckoned Graham would have approved of that too. When Lee Harris discovered that the 'official' event had taken itself off-piste, he very generously bought drinks for those of us left, of which I'm sure Mr Joyce would most definitely have approved.

I didn't know him at all well, and it's only quite recently that I've got myself into this writing gang, but I thought that I'd have more time to get to know him better. That's the danger, isn't it - thinking that we've got all the time in the world, and we just don't.

So I've booked a place for next year's con at Scarborough, and I've got my bucket and spade ready to build some sandcastles against the tide (you can see where this metaphor is going, can't you?) and even though I got a rejection from a publisher today, it doesn't matter because in the meantime I'm just going to write as many stories as I can. At the end of the day, it's all you can do, isn't it?

The Philosophy of the Shed: Perspective

You may be the biggest person in the shed, but there are always people smaller than you. Please be nice to them. Who knows what size you yourself might be when you step outside again?

London Film and Comic Con 2015

The government's idea to ban all mind-altering substances is obviously one of their more outstandingly stupid ideas in a long winding queue of stupid ideas eagerly waiting to have their stupid arses autographed by King Stupid, but for all that I really don't like messing with my own brain too much, since it does a good enough job of messing itself up on its own. Nevertheless, yesterday was the first time in my life I have ever had a can of Red Bull to get me safely home on the motorway. That in itself will give you some idea of my sad, sheltered little life - but also how gloriously knackering this weekend was.

It got crowded. It was always going to get crowded. All the same, the queues for the lifts and stairs got so long that Olympia's staff opened the big freight elevators to ease the congestion (although they were probably already being used to get the wrestlers up to Level 3), one of which opened directly in front of us writers. Not the nice, well-behaved writers from YALC - the Young Adult Literary Convention just around the corner. Us lot. The fringe. The gin salesmen and Beano artists and teachers who were taking a break from being nice to teenagers for the summer holidays. I almost felt sorry for those con-goers as the big corrugated iron doors opened like the Atmosphere Processing Station delivering Ripley into the Aliens' nest, to be met by me waving my tez gun and Kit Cox hollering 'Welcome to the second floor! Fresh meat! Fresh meat! Fresh meat!'

Frankly, I'm amazed we sold anything.

No, I'm not. We're fucking awesome. Everybody is. Writing is the best job in the world - it's just that when you're cooped up in the shed, scribbling away and convinced that your writing sucks but driven to do it anyway because of Reasons, you forget that the only people more awesome than writers are readers, and every so often you get a chance to go into the real world and actually meet some of them. Someone tweeted me just today and said that she thought I was the 'most genuinely excited' person there. I joked that it was extreme fatigue and caffeine, but in retrospect I don't think so. It's like 'Holy shit, these people are actually REAL? You mean it's not all in my deranged attention-seeking imagination?' If you're lucky, they buy your book because they like your work. Or they just pity you. I'll take pity; I'm not proud.

But yeah, basically my brain is fried. I wasn't even going to write this. Christ knows how many typos there are in it (please don't tell me). Still, I might take a wander down the shed in a bit and see what's going on.

Buy my shiny word things.

Me standing in a queue for a really GOOD writer, trying to look all cool and nonchalant. First prize if you can work out who it is.

The Philosophy of the Shed: Fur

The shed doesn't care about your race, gender, age, or even species - just so long as you take pride in your fur, whatever its colour. Paradoxically, the grooming of one's fur is of almost no importance to the shed. It is merely enough that you have fur, not that you parade it around like some foppish mountebank. The shed scorns vanity, and will put spiders in your coiffure.

The Philosophy of the Shed: Scheduling

The shed does not know that there is a certain order in which one 'should' do a thing. For example, if the shed has just been furnished with shelves, desk and chair, is now really a good time to decide to sand the floor? The shed does not know. Nor, one suspects, would it care. The shed only knows that the crucial thing is that no job should ever be continued for a second past the point where it ceases to be interesting. This means that a thing may comfortably be left unfinished while another thing is started or continued. The first thing may become interesting enough to continue in its own right later. Who knows? Certainly not the shed.



[ev-uh-key-ter, ee-voh-] 

a person who evokes, especially one who calls up spirits.

On Saturday July 11th, at Edge Lit 4, I will very proudly be having my first collection of short stories - 'Evocations' - launched by the award-winning Alchemy Press. 'First' he says, like there's a whole string of them in the production line. But still. I am chuffed.

You can read a host of scholarly articles about the Art of the Short Form if you like, but for what it's worth here's what I think. Short stories - well, mine at least - are a mongrel breed. Orphans, half-fleshed things, like plants which should be out in the sun but have inexplicably found themselves stuck in perpetual shade, etiolated and wan. They wanted to be novels when they grew up but never really developed the right number of characters or the right kind of plot to feel comfortable in polite company.

Tufts of dream-wool snagged on the barbed-wire fence of consciousn...

Jeezus, will you listen to him.

I wrote some of them for competitions ('The Pigeon Bride'), some just because they made me giggle ('The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread'), and some out of proper writerly outrage ('The Last Dance of Humphrey Bear'). The title of the collection comes from a story about a man with a gift for calling out the spirit of the occasion - and obviously it all goes horribly wrong - but which came out of the weird Aussie phenomenon of Christmas in July. Some of them found homes really quickly - like the one about the mummified cat under Curzon Street Station - while others like 'The Remover of Obstacles' hung around the place for years, whinging and stinking the office up and eating my pringles. Some of them got me into august company - the stories for Den of Geek were read aloud at an event where I got to hang out with terrifyingly talented people like Sarah Pinborough (yes, I'm name-dropping, but it's my blog, so deal). Some have never been seen before, and they're a bit nervous about all the attention. Please be nice to them, okay?

Orphans. By-blows. But I love the weird things which grow in places where they shouldn't. The ideas that leap out at me at the most inappropriate times, like when I'm trying to teach a bunch of teenagers about Shakespeare, and yell HEY WOULDN'T IT BE COOL IF THIS ONE GUY HAD AN OCTOPUS BITE HIM ON THE NOB! They make me feel at home.

I'll put up some links to where you can get Evocations from as and when. Hopefully I'll see some of you at Edge Lit 4, too.


A Walk with Wild Edric

At the start of the Easter break I went for a walk up a thing with my mate Dan, because that's what English teachers do when they're off duty. The particular thing in question was the Stiperstones - a ten-kay long ridge of granite outcroppings which look like the fossilised spine of some gigantic dinosaur.

It's quite, quite mad.

Each of the outcrops has a name, obviously - Shepherd's Rock, the Devil's Chair, Manstone Rock, Cranberry Rock, Nipstone Rock, and finally (and presumably because they'd run out names for rocks by then), just The Rock. That photo is of me on the Devil's Chair. Not so much Wild Edric as Reasonably-Mild-If-Placated-With-Doombar-And-Chocolate-Buttons Skippy. Sorry GoT fans, but it makes the Iron Throne look like the naughty chair we used to have at the bottom of the stairs when my girls were toddlers.

I've only got wikipedia to go on for this (I've tried to verify it, but don't have time to get a Geology degree), but apparently during the last Ice Age it was the only thing visible in the area which stood out above the glaciers. It's THAT hard. And even though the day we were there was uncharacteristically not pissing with rain, we could literally go from being completely sheltered to being in the teeth of a howling, bitter gale in the space of a single footstep. You can easily understand why the surrounding area is riddled with stone circles and burial mounds - it's an unearthly, inhuman place.

But I love me a bit of local folklore, so my nerd-bone was tickled to find out that it is the haunt of Wild Edric - or Eadric Cild, or Eadric Silvaticus, depending on what you read. He was a rich and powerful Saxon thegn until the Normans kicked off; led a couple of unsuccessful rebellions and got himself a reputation for being a bit of a troublemaker. His 'wild' moniker came about either as a derivation of his status as a landowner and forester, or (and this is the more colourful version and thus almost certainly untrue), because he and his men preferred to sleep in tents rather than houses on the grounds that they didn't want to be softened up when it came to fighting them posh southern French bastards.

Frankly, I'm surprised Nigel Farage hasn't taken him up as poster boy for the glorious UKIP crusade. But then there was the whole surrendering thing and ending up helping William the Conqueror to invade Scotland, so maybe not.

More interesting is Edric's mythogenesis into a proto-Robin Hood figurehead of rebellion centuries before the earliest iteration of that particular hero, even incorporating Arthurian elements in the stories which say how he took the Lady Godda as his Faerie wife, and how they led the Wild Hunt together until she left him for his crimes against her kin, and how he now wanders forever in the twilight realm between the Faerie world and our world, until such time as the land has need of him whereupon he will return to the Stiperstones.

Just like the land itself, legends are always much older than you think.

I am SO using this in the next book.

Couple of related links for you in case you're interested in following up any of the literary connections:

Mary Webb's 'The Golden Arrow'
Malcolm Saville's 'Lone Pine' series of children's stories.
A bit of D H Lawrence, just for laughs.