And the Geek shall inherit the Earth…

It can’t have escaped your notice that I’m a geek. I make no excuses for this, I’ve have been a geek all of my life. Well, I make no excuses now, but this was not always the case. When I was young, a scared teen, I made lots of excuses, and I hid from my geekdom. Each time that insult was hurled at me I wanted to be like everyone else. That word hurt. So much.
I just wanted to be normal.

But I was never cut out to be the sporty cheerleader type, it just wasn’t me. I tried to have the right clothes and say the right things, the dumb things, the bland things… but I couldn’t be something that I wasnt. I didn’t have the hoards of friends or the cool social clique. I wasn’t invited to parties or allowed to hang out at the cool places.
I had piles of books, not sporting trophies. I had comic book characters, not gangs of friends. I had the library, not the school disco.
I tried to be the same, but I was different.
This was not a good thing.
Not then.

Time rolls forward (as timey-wimey things tend to do) and things change. Well, not all things, I’m still a geek – but today I’m not afraid of people knowing that.
And nor are others.
As a writer, I go into schools and I meet teenagers and they are seizing this word – geek – and laying claim to it with pride. It is no longer a fearful thing to be a geek, now they can stand proud and glory in their geekdom. Oh it’s not easy, and it never will be, but I have such admiration for these young people. They are doing what I never felt strong enough to do. They are standing up for their life choices and their intellect, being so very different and unique and I couldn’t be more proud of them all.
It’s good to be different, and it’s better to be weird.

This is the day after the country ground to a halt to watch the big five-o for a certain Doctor and never has geekdom been so powerful – or fashionable.
Today we celebrate.
Now all of us geeks can all stand proud and say “you go ahead and jump on our wagon, there’s room for you all, but don’t forget that we were here first, and we’ll be here long after Arcadia falls.”

Now the geeks have taken over. Look around you, we’re everywhere. We are the Whovians, Nerdfighters, Gleeks, Potter Heads, LARPers, RPGers, FanFic writers, Starkids, YouTubers and vloggers. Amazing people like John and Hank Green, Charlie McDonell, , Felicia Day,and so many more, all speaking fluent Geek. There are so many now that frankly you’ll have to ask a young geek to tell you more as I have trouble keeping up!
It’s a revolution, and it’s freaking brilliant.

In the acknowledgments of my book I dedicate it to every freak, geek, nerd, weirdo, storyteller and creative crazy. I pay homage to everyone who knows with absolute certainty that there is a world that exists out of the corner of your eye, and it’s different.
It’s very different.

So here’s to you all, and I celebrate the fact that we have taken that word back. Geek. That’s how you take the hurt out of words, by owning them.

So go ahead, it doesn’t matter what people think any more. I’ll be celebrating the glorious and multi-faceted world of geekdom to my last breath.
Say it loud, we’re geek and we’re proud.


Ask a librarian.

As a children’s librarian I have been asked a lot of the same questions over the last decade. I know that parents often have similar concerns about their child’s reading, and so I thought I would share some of those questions with you, and my answers.

I hope you find them helpful.

I have a child in infant school and they don’t seem to be reading as well as the other children, what can I do? Some of the other children are on much higher books, why is my child not the same?

This needs a longer answer, but I’ve already covered in a longer post, and I’ve covered a lot of the issues that cause stress in parents about their child’s reading. Relax, it’ll be fine, they are all different and taking the pressure off is the first step to reading enjoyment.

 My daughter is seven and has read the first two of the Harry Potter books, but I think the next ones will start to get too scary for her. I don’t want to stop her reading or censor the books, but she’s only seven and easily scared!

People tend to forget that just because small people can read a book, it doesn’t mean they are emotionally ready for the content. After all, I’m sure your eight year old boy is more than linguistically capable of tackling all of the words printed in Nuts and Loaded magazines, but would you give him a copy?

The Harry Potter books are a good example of this desire to push books to bright readers too early (not that I’m comparing Harry to Loaded!) Remember that Harry is eleven in the first book, and so his life experience is based around the life of an eleven year old (albeit an extraordinary one!) Some seven and eight year olds are absolutely fine with a story that features an abused orphan who is locked in a cupboard and not allowed to deal with the death of his parents, but many are not. Children are often fine with scary magical elements, but it is the emotional content that may disturb and upset some young children.

You know if your child is emotionally ready for certain books or not, just don’t ever make the mistake of choosing books for much older children simply because you have a bright reader. Take advice, ask a librarian (ask me!), ask a good bookseller (not one that just wants to sell you the latest bestseller.) This is not about censorship, it is about guidance. If in doubt, read it yourself and ask yourself if your child is ready for this material. If your child is too young to emotionally deal with certain material, or too young to bond with the characters in the book, then you will only succeed in putting them off. Save these books for when they are ready to really enjoy them, and are able to fully appreciate the complexities of the plots. Don’t give in to parental snobbery or pushiness (“my daughter is only eight and has already read Twilight/Hunger Games/War and Peace…”) Go with what you know about your child, and be honest about what might upset them and what they might not be emotionally ready for. There is a vast amount of material to choose from, you just might need a bit of assistance to navigate the choice. Take them to a good library and a good bookshop and you’ll find all the help you need. Encourage them to read what they will enjoy, not what they feel under pressure to say they have read.

 The only thing my boy wants to read is comics and comic books, how can I stop him?

Why would you want to?

I almost left that answer there, but I do need to make a bit of an effort to convince you all!

Comics are AMAZING!! Don’t stop your child from reading anything, and don’t be critical unless you have dipped your toe in the water yourself. I grew up on comics and progressed to graphic novels and I’m still hooked. Reading is reading, and comics are a fantastic way for children to contextualise higher level vocabulary using visual prompts.

And they’re cool.

My child’s school doesn’t have a school librarian, does it matter?


OK, so I should say more than that – but it seems glaringly obvious that your child deserves the very best for their education, and you have every right to expect your school to provide that. A good school employs staff members who are qualified for the job. A school librarian has a very specific skill-set that goes far beyond handing out a book. They are supportive of your child’s reading and involved in their progression. They provide the expert advice and support that you and your child require for them to progress with their literacy, and engage in books and reading.  A librarian should be there to ensure that reading is a pleasure, a lifelong habit, and this in itself will have a massive positive effect on your child’s life.

Why would you not want this for your child?

Good literacy will vastly improve your child’s life and their opportunities in the future. Quite simply, they will be smarter if they read more. Fact.

If your child’s school does not have a library and a librarian, ask why.

This leaflet will give you all the reasons why your child deserves this, and what to look for in prospective schools.

 Ok, that’s it for now – more soon!

If you are not lucky enough to have a school librarian, you can always ask me a question.

Authors for the Philippines


I wanted to take this opportunity to share the amazing Authors For The Philippines auction site.

On Friday 8th November, Typhoon Haiyan tore its brutal way across the Philippines killing thousands and leaving more homeless. The devastation is beyond our comprehension and, as time goes on, the massive impact of this catastrophe becomes even more evident. The people of the Philippines desperately need our help, and last week dozens of authors rallied to the cause and donated their time and creative materials to this incredible auction. This auction is by no means just for the super-rich and you can get some amazing things, and know that you are helping people too.

Please have a browse and put your bids in before 8pm GMT Weds 20th November. You can bid from any country but remember postage and all bids must be in GBP. You can bid as an individual, group, or maybe a school or community organisation.

Have a good browse through – but here is a small selection of what’s on offer at the moment!

A signed and doodled in copy of Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Two places at a swanky literary lunch in North London with goodie bags and lots of booky talk.

Signed books and a character name in the next book from top YA author James Dawson Very cool thing to have!

Character names in the next book by Caroline Smailes How amazing to actually have your name in someone’s book!

I also love all the original artwork in this auction – pieces from Axel Scheffler, Adrian Reynolds, Clara Vulliamy and loads more.

If you are bidding for a school, you can bid for an author visit from superb writers like Catherine McPhail, Candy Gourlay, Teri Terry, Mo O’Hara, Tony Bradman, Niel Bushnell, Lucy Coats, Nicky Singer… Oh the list is long and impressive!

So have a good look around, and bid.
You won’t regret it!


The Unexplained

I don’t have any particular faith, not what you’d call an organised one anyway. I write about ghosts, but I wouldn’t class myself as a true believer. I do, however, love to read about things that can’t be explained. These days that means a subscription to the always fascinating Fortean Times , but when I was thirteen it was The Unexplained.

First published by Orbis Publishing in 1980 it was an early part-work that carried the full title of The Unexplained: Mysteries of Mind, Space and Time.
What a tag line!

I was hooked from the very first tv advert. Hot on the heels of tv shows like Arthur C Clarke’s Mysterious World it covered all aspects of matters unexplained. The first issue dealt with UFOs and had the most wonderful photographs of sightings. In those pre-internet days it was nigh on impossible to find articles about things like this, they were reserved for crack-pots in obscure self-published niche magazines. Now I could just buy it from the newsagent and carry it around in my school bag. And I did, and read it aloud to my friends with dramatic emphasis on key points.

Issue one was thrilling – Man Beasts, Close Encounters and Kirilian Auras! This was a time long before Photoshop allowed everyone to dismiss things instantly. I sat with a magnifying glass squinting at blurry images trying to see strings.
And the issue about Spontaneous Human Combustion still haunts me! I remember lying in bed wondering if my feet were just hot, or if I was about to combust.
And ghosts! Oh the wonderful ghost stories and sightings that the magazine covered in great detail – just the perfect reading material.

They never tried to fully explain these stories, they simply told you the facts as they understood them to be, and let you make up your own mind. I’ve never really wanted to know if these were true or not. I’m no fool, but sometimes I think that life is more interesting if there are some things we don’t know. Does it matter? I know, for example, that magicians don’t really have magical powers, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying the show. I don’t want to know how it’s done, it’s enough to have the mystery and the momentary suspension of disbelief.

As for what I believe? Well I want to believe that there is a world that exists out of the corner of my eye, that there is something…magical? Maybe?
That’s the world of faery tales, fantasy and fiction – and it’s a wonderful place to hang out. I’ll see you there…..



In Remembrance


I wanted to post something for Remembrance Day, and found the whole process to be far more upsetting than I anticipated – but I suppose that is the point.

About a decade ago I was caught up in researching family history and filling in a few gaps in the family tree. It was a well known story in my family that my grandfather’s brothers – William and Joseph – left England in 1912 to seek their fortunes as opal miners in Australia. The family had a mining history, and the boom in opal mining in Australia seemed a golden opportunity for the boys.
It was, and they did find opals and wrote home excitedly about them, and how they would be home soon. Sadly it was easier to get to Australia, than it was to get back and the boys struggled to find passage. They decided that their best way of finding a way home was to join up and serve in the army – they became ANZACs and wrote home about how they would fight for their country and then come home with the opals. They were keen to due their duty and their letters home told their family all about how they would soon be home.

War broke out in 1914 and the boys found themselves posted together and shipped out – to Africa. Not quite home yet but they were together and stayed together as they completed their training. Three years later and they were still together and on another troop ship, this time heading for France.

I can’t help but think how excited they must have felt in that cramped troop ship as they discovered they were heading to France – almost home, just a short sail across the water….

They never made it home.

Both boys were killed on the Somme. Joseph suffered horrendous injuries that forced the field surgeons to remove his legs. William’s trench was hit with massive shelling, and he died instantly. Joseph died a few days later at the Front of infection and blood loss. The opals were never found.

I discovered most of this information from the records held by the National Archive Office of Australia. My grandfather gave me permission to search and the NAA respectfully warned me that the information I found might be distressing.
They were not wrong.

Their records are extensive and detailed and I found not only the hand-written reports of the field doctors and the Australian Red Cross, but scans of the bloodstained tags from their bodies.
It was during this research that I accidentally stumbled upon the fact that the boys had been misidentified as each other. Somehow their field identification had been mixed up, one brother was taller than the other, and by that time in a different battalion. They were still close, but briefly separated on the Front. Up to that point they had always been together and so eye witnesses had mixed them up. Their injuries meant that identification became confused.

This meant that the boys were buried under the wrong stones in the Somme cemetery, and I was contacted by the War Graves Commission to ask if the family would like this corrected. I thought about this for a long time, and decided not to tell my grandfather. It would have meant a lot of form-filling and re-dedication of the stones and I didn’t want to put him through that. Instead I kept it to myself.

My grandfather loved his big brothers to the end and remembered them as brave boys who fought and died for their family. It was enough to remember them, and to know that they were still together. I never told him about all this, and I don’t regret that decision. I wanted to leave his memories as they were.

This is what Remembrance Day is about. It should not be about glorifying war, and never about an enforced public statement via poppy display, it’s about taking the time to remember. For me it’s about knowing that a great sadness still sits in my family’s past, and the past of all of us, and that it’s important to take some time to remember. It should always be about remembering that in cold, silent earth lie thousands upon thousands of young men who died for what they believed in. They died for their families, and we should not demean that or sully it with political statements or warmongering bias or by hurling statements around about it being meaningless. It wasn’t meaningless to them and their families. Two boys, trying to get home.

My grandfather’s brothers lie side by side, as close in death as they were in life, forever intertwined in earth, bone and name. Gone, but not forgotten.


What’s in the Crazy Bay today?

This gallery contains 11 photos.

My friends on Facebook will be familiar with the joys of the Crazy Bay, but I’ll take a minute to explain. There is a certain large supermarket near my writing hideaway in Aberdeenshire which has a section of shelving that defies description. Some of the items are reduced, but most are still full price – […]

What price live music?

I have a large number of musician friends and so the conversation about the price of gig tickets has come up many times over the years. It seems that the general perception is that gig tickets are expensive.
Are they? Really?
Let’s have a little think about that….

Firstly, putting on a gig is incredibly expensive. The venue requires a great deal of sound equipment, licenses, power and insurance and then of course there is the advertising – and that’s all before the bands arrive. Now some of you will say “but the venue has that already!” Yes, and it magically maintains itself and replaces by growing out of the musical equipment patch at the back of the venue. No, really.

Then there are the bands. Ok so let’s assume this is a smaller gig with semi-professional (i.e “I have to work in another job for a living as well as do this”) musicians. Let’s also assume that there are three bands playing at our imaginary gig, say 15 or so musicians in all. They’ve had to travel to the gig, transporting their equipment too and so the travel costs will be quite extensive. They are probably going to have had some advertising costs of their own, and we’re not going to take into account their general expenses such as equipment maintenance and rash and indulgent things like eating.

So we are starting to see how expensive this all is. Chances are the bands will be offered a fee that would make people on minimum wage feel flush, or they’ll take a cut from the door. After the venue takes their expenses, and the money is split fifteen ways through the three bands, they’ll be lucky to cover a bit of petrol, a pint and some chips.

And yet the audience at our imaginary gig have had a great time and a good few hours of entertainment for less than it costs for a takeaway pizza. It is interesting that people balk at spending £10 – £15 for a gig ticket, and yet are comfortable spending multiples of that on a round of drinks.

I loathe the idea that just because someone enjoys what they do they should not be paid fairly for it. I’m pretty sure that each and every professional footballer enjoys what they do, and it doesn’t stop them being paid tens of thousands of pounds for the pleasure. Musicians and all creative people have every right to be paid a fair wage for what they do. Haven’t you enjoyed it out there in the audience watching people sweat at their art for your sakes?

There has also been a lot of talk about the cost of festival tickets. Let’s take Download 2014 for example. £200 (or a shade under) does sound pretty expensive to camp out in a noisy and muddy field – but look at what you get for that! You could see a band every hour for ten hours straight (or more, but I’m simplifying it a bit – you might want some sleep) so maybe watching thirty bands or so over the weekend. That means you are averaging £6 a band, amazing value – and the cost of putting on a festival is astronomical.

£10 to £15 for a gig ticket is nothing, really, think about it. What can you get for that? How many times have you blown a tenner and not even noticed?

What will your standard night out in the pub involve? £10 will get you two pints and some crisps in a London pub (if you’re lucky) and you might spend £50 or more at the bar on the whole? £15 a curry or takeaway on the way home? £10 a taxi instead of walking? And the only entertainment you’ve had is watching the drunks in the taxi queue?

Live music is life-enhancing and liberating. There is nothing like the soul-lifting joy of feeling the pulse of a good band throb up through your feet. The atmosphere, the sounds, the whole scene is just something that needs to be experienced, particularly in smaller venues where the music really feels live (unlike huge ones that farm you in, plug you into machine generated sounds, and then farm you out again)

Do yourself a favour, find out where live music is going on around you and get out there. Chuck less of your night out down your throat, and throw a bit more in your ears.
You won’t regret it.

Shameless plugs here for some great local music venues…and bands worth seeing at them…

Check out Trashville – a collective of superb bands (no wedding singers here!)

A personal bias and I’m linking to The Metatrons Trust me on this, you won’t regret it!

Club 85 in Hitchin

The Horn, St Albans

The Good Ship, Kilburn

The Bedford Esquires

If you have other local venues (local to you!) who specialise in good and original live music – please add in the comments below. I get a pretty good hit rate on this blog and I’m happy to share. I’ll check every link before approving, and I warn you now I’m not keen on those venues that only have cover version bands.

Trolls need not apply….