Personal update

The Skifter now in paperback

The Skifter now in paperback

The SkifterMy children’s / YA novel The Skifter is now available in paperback on Amazon, as well as Kindle.

“The beast came crunching down in the snow, writhing as it skidded. It stopped two feet short of where he stood waving his bag. The huge teeth were fixed in a snarl. But it was the snarl of death. A long knife, the size of a meat cleaver, trailed from its neck.”

The snow that began on December the sixth brought Birmingham to a halt and sent Scott Raynall out of school early. But deep snow brings out dark things, opening doors into the past and drawing malice, ruin and revenge into the present.

As he learns to skift through England’s darkest years, Scott is caught in an adventure which mingles magic, myth and swordplay, until he must finally confront an enchantress who threatens to unmake time for ever.

For fans of time travel, King Arthur, swordplay, and the middle ages. 11 to adult.

As a bit of background, the Skifter has been on Smashwords for about five years, a brave experiment into the new world of digital publishing. However, it wasn’t until I’d done the work to get it there that I discovered that the US tax office takes an enormous percentage of earnings, and Smashwords doesn’t actually send you any money until there’s quite a hefty royalty in your account.

As a result, the Skifter has languished, unmarketed by me, and largely undiscovered by readers.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I received this by email:

My children are fans of your wonderful book, Skifter. We were wondering if there are any hard copies and if so if we could purchase a copy.
[name supplied]

I could not resist.

The book has gone through a serious re-edit, one map and one plan of the castle have been added, the cover has been redesigned, and the punctuation revised.

If you are desperate to read it but cannot find the requisite currency, please drop me an email at, and I will see if I can get a PDF to you.


The Skifter coming to paperback in September

The Skifter coming to paperback in September

Cover image from The Skifter

The Skifter — a children’s novel for grown-ups

There’s been a bit of interest in ‘The Skifter’ (children’s novel) over the last few days, and one kind person emailed me to ask if it was available in paperback. Well, thanks to the kind folks at Amazon, it will be shortly.  Further updates soon.

What if time were like a roll of silk, if the adventurous could slip from layer to layer, and if this were something not new, but as old as King Arthur? When snow falls thick on Birmingham, Scott Raynall is caught in an adventure which mingles magic, myth and sword play. Ghosts, giants, highwaymen, and the steady crunch crunch of horse hooves on the frozen land.

Standing for Dudley South

This year, I am standing in Dudley South for the Liberal Democrats at the General Election. I have three reasons for doing this.

First, it is absolutely essential for democracy to survive and to thrive that people put themselves forward for election. I’ve too often heard people say — in different parts of the country, and with different parties as ‘x’ — “there’s no point voting here, the x-party always gets in” or “there’s no point standing here — you could put a blue/red/yellow rosette on a donkey here and they would still win”. The truth is, no-one knows the outcome until the election is fought, but without candidates, there is no democracy at all.

Second, I believe every voter should be able to choose the party that they most support. There is a solid under-current of Liberal Democrats in almost every seat in England, Scotland and Wales. Every one of them should have a Liberal Democrat candidate they can vote for.

Third, and most importantly, I believe that what most voters fundamentally want is what the Liberal Democrats offer — even if many voters are not aware of this. The parties of left and right talk about stark choices, they paint pictures of how Britain will collapse into compassionless capitalism or chaotic socialism if the other party gets in, and they position themselves as the radical champions of their cause. What voters actually want — and what the country genuinely needs — is the reasonable party of the centre ground. Swinging from left to right or right to left is almost certainly nowhere near as dangerous as those parties make out, but Britain is nonetheless in a far better position sticking with the middle ground.

Liberal Democrats will cut less than the Tories, and borrow less than Labour. We have proven ourselves in government. We have learned how to make tough choices, and also, in a time of tough choices, how to continue to protect the most vulnerable, give help where it is needed, reduce taxes for the many not the few, and invest in a fairer society, a stronger economy, and opportunities for everyone.

A tribute to Sheila McCullagh, 3 December 1920 – 7 July 2014

Back when I was small, it took me a long time to start to read. I’m not entirely sure why this was, but I put at least part of the blame on the dreadful Janet and John books, with their dull lives and 1949 dress sense. What I needed to get my interests moving were stories of pirates, possibly with dragons and important issues such as the location of buried treasure.

One day, my mother, an educationalist, produced a copy of a book she thought I might like. It was entitled ‘The Three Pirates’, and I instantly fell in love with the subject matter and the illustrations. It was enough to make me want to decipher the Linear B which was the English alphabet to me at the time, and read the first words I ever read, which were ‘The blue pirate sails’.

The blue pirate sails! Of all the first lines in the world, this was the one which has had the most profound influence on me, because it opened up the world of books for the very first time. As a piece of literature, in retrospect, it was better than anything I read in infants or junior school. Even the Ladybird books — infinitely preferable to Janet and John — did not introduce action until late in the volume. Characters were static: Janet. John. Peter. Jane. They existed on the page. I think — if I remember correctly — that I was instructed to like Peter, and to like Jane. Why? What was there about Peter or Jane, apart from Jane’s nice smile that was somewhat reminiscent of the girl on the BBC2 test card, to like?

While Janet, John, Peter and Jane did nothing in domestic middle-class England, which I did not need to read about because it was all around me, the blue pirate was sailing. I did not find out his name until much later — Benjamin, since you ask. His name, though, was not important. He was the blue pirate, and what he did was sail.

In a very few pages, I was introduced to the Red Pirate and the Green Pirate. They did things as well — things that made Captain Pugwash look positively anemic. Here was adventure, characterisation and far off lands in a different time.

My school did not approve of blue pirates, or any other kind of pirates, so it was up to my mother to procure as much of the rest of the series for me as she could. The stories became steadily more exciting, and the books longer, as the series went on. Then there were the Dragon Pirate books: stand-alone stories of a more advanced nature culminating in the beautiful and terrifying People of the Mist.

By the time I had finished all the Griffin and Dragon Pirate books I could lay my hands on, I could read.

All this is down to an author called Sheila McCullagh, who died earlier this month. Sheila McCullagh understood exactly what children needed to start reading. No amount of being forced through Peter and Jane (new word, Peter) or staring blankly at Janet and John would ever have persuaded me that there was anything in books which could not be had through play.

I met her only once. It was in my second year at Oxford. Towards the end of my first year I had called up from the stacks the entire Griffin and Dragon Pirate series: treasure indeed. By the way they had been tied together with ribbon, and the dusty newness of the covers, it was obvious that nobody had ever touched these particular copies. I read through them voraciously. In retrospect,  I should have written about them in my first year exams.

At the start of the second year, I saw that she was coming to speak at Blackwells on the subject of her new work: Puddle Lane. I was the youngest person at the event, by at least twenty years. She, of course, was already old by that time. Afterwards, I introduced myself, told her I was studying English literature, and that the only reason I had learned to read was because of the blue pirate, who sailed.

In our very brief acquaintance of a few minutes, I found her to be one of the kindest, most charming people I have met, with a deep concern for making books interesting for children.

All life moves on, and many things which were once precious are now discarded. Not so the Griffin Pirate stories. They change hands on Amazon or eBay for about £20-£40 per copy of a single book, perhaps no more than 20 pages from cover to cover. Peter and Jane, by contrast, go for as little as £0.02 a copy, plus rather more for postage, despite being hardback. An original 1949 Janet and John might set you back £6.49. On eBay, at the moment, there is a copy of the original Three Pirates for sale at £149.99, paperback.

I’m sure that I would have learned to read without the Pirates. My mother would have seen to it. But I doubt that I would have had the love of books which has stayed with me ever since. I doubt I would have seen books as the gateway to adventure, wonder and magic.

Janet. John. Peter. Jane. The blue pirate sails. There’s really no comparison. Contemporary editors suggest that a budding author’s first line should be a named character in motion. Sheila McCullagh was not afraid to give children exactly that. While others were content to offer reading books, Sheila McCullagh gave me literature.

May her memory never fade.

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