## Monday, 20 October 2014

### Echoes of the Past

What are the chances of someone you know having the same birthday as you do? My basic maths skills aren't bad, but when it comes to probability and equations, I tend to find safety in words rather than numbers.

The birthday paradox is a neat way to work out how many people in a room might have the same birthday as each other. I say neat... what I mean is, to anyone who isn't a mathematician, it's a bit of a complicated maths problem that I find somewhat difficult to process. However, there is a formula, and it does make sense. Honestly. Check it out and you'll see.

Now, what are the odds of two family members having the same birthday? In this article, four siblings were born on the same day (although, granted, two of them are twins), at odds of over 133,000 to one.

That's pretty impressive. And, as most families know, it's not something that usually happens.

But recently, my family discovered that, despite all the jokes and the ideas about joint parties, it does happen. Because why not?

My sister and I have very close birthdays; I'm 3rd July, and she's 7th July (with two years separating us). We've always thought that was pretty impressive of our parents (although our parents would probably have preferred a little breathing space between celebrations, thinking about it). But now, the next generation has gone one better.

My daughter, Alice, was born on 10th October 2010 (yes, a 10/10/10 baby). It's a nice, round date, and although she was over two weeks late, it all worked out pretty well. When my sister announced she was expecting, and her due date was the same as Alice's had been, we laughed about it. What a coincidence! How strange!

And then her pregnancy went on. And on. And it suddenly dawned on us all that actually, the coincidence might go even further. What if... Only my sister was taken into hospital on 8th October to be induced, and everything started kicking off pretty quickly. Okay, we thought, those girls are going to have very close birthdays, just like their mummies - how strange!

Then the labour slowed down. It slowed riiiiight dooooown.

8th October came and went. 9th October came and went. 10th October came... and right in the middle of Alice's birthday celebration, we heard the news - Tabitha Violet had been born!

Now, what are the chances of that?

Happy birthday 10/10 girls!

## Saturday, 27 September 2014

### New House, New Tree

On 27th August 2014, we finally moved house. After being on the market for nine months and missing out on a number of gorgeous houses because we couldn't find a buyer, we came to a momentous (and life changing, as it turns out) decision: we wouldn't sell at all. Instead, we would become both landlord and tenant, by renting out our mortgaged house, and renting a different house in the area we had been trying to get back to for three quarters of a year.

And it worked out pretty well. Within three days of being on the rental market, we had signed up a new family to live in our home. I hope they have more luck in it than we did. For us, the place represents mistakes and follies that made us miserable and angry. But we can't blame anyone for that; they are our mistakes, our follies, and I just hope that we can make them good now.

Which is where the new house comes in. Located on a country lane just a few miles from where we used to live (and from where we should not, in hindsight, have moved), we found a little cottage that was up for rent. Far older than it appears, with opens fires, a Rayburn in the dining room, and beams galore, this crooked house immediately had us hooked. Stepping through the front door for the first time felt like home, and just an hour later we made an offer. We were accepted. We were moving.

Moving house is not a fun experience, no matter how much one might wish to leave the place they are living, no matter how much one might want to live in the place they are going to, and this move was no different. Done over two days with two crews (thanks to the narrow lane and steep drive), discovering that our furniture wouldn't fit up the stairs (again, so very narrow, and curved), and that we had no fridge, we were a ruined mess of a family by the end of it.

But then we started to live here. And it didn't matter about the mess or the boxes. It hardly mattered about the heating that didn't quite work, and the hot water that did, but took its time to get there. We loved it. We love it. It's like we've always been here.

To celebrate the move, we planted a tree in the (large - we've never had so much lawn) garden. We'd love to stay here to watch it grow.

## Saturday, 16 August 2014

### Cannibals and Cherries

Plotting is hard. All the ideas in the world can come at you quickly and in flashes of inspiration, but when it comes to actually putting them all in some sort of order, and connecting the pieces of the puzzle to create a full and complete story, that’s where it can sometimes unravel.

Yesterday I led a workshop at Sheerness Library. It was me, 13 children between the ages of six and 10, and some of their parents too. I was terrified because, to be honest, I had never taken a class before. Not like that. I’d spoken in front of people, I’d given presentations, but speaking to a room full of children and asking them to do some work for me, that was new. And it’s the summer holidays – would they really want to do the work in the first place?

I handed out the sheets of paper that I had designed and felt the first spark of something. Something that made me think the class would go okay. The children (and the parents) seemed interested.  And it was at that moment that I began to lose my fear and gain my confidence. I explained what the sheet was all about, and we got started.

The worksheet was a series of four sections that, added together, would form the basis of a plot. We only had an hour, so the children could piece their story together at home if they wanted to (and email it to me if they were really keen), but at least they could get the idea of how to begin when it came to a short story. Or a novel, come to that.

Section one was about setting, location, and time period. Section two moved onto characters. Section three was about getting conflict into the story. Section four was about the final twist, and the resolution.
In all of my writing, I find that by sticking to those four ideas I can usually come up with a story, vague though it may be. Once those ideas are in place, it’s time to connect them together.

So the workshop went well, and everyone went away with the plot to a story that they could finish up at home. Some of them were certainly impressive (one that sticks in my mind was about mermaids on the moon) and I hope that I get to read them at some point.

This morning I wanted to start a new short story. I’ve been freelancing and writing blog posts and articles about this and that for a while, and my fiction has been neglected. I thought it was time to get started again.

But instead of starting, I got stuck. I had a vague idea about roadside cherry stands and how no one ever seems to stop there, but that was all. And then I remembered my worksheet. I think I’ll fill it in and see what happens… hopefully a story will emerge!

## Sunday, 3 August 2014

### Ruined Castles

I visited a castle. I found it quite by accident on a bracing (read absolutely icy and face freezingly windy) countryside walk, and I wasn’t particularly expecting to find anything much at all. All around me, as I walked away from the generous car park (there were only two cars in it, and one of them was mine), through the kissing gate, and on into no man’s land, there was stillness.

It didn’t matter that I could hear the noise from the dual carriageway that I had just taken a detour off to explore this place. It didn’t even matter than I could see a motorway across the wide expanse of field in front of me. At that moment, in that second, it was peaceful, tranquil, and my heart suddenly felt light with the joy of being alive.

Have you ever felt that? I don’t think it’s a feeling that can last too long – it’s not exactly happiness, but rather a completely ‘other’ feeling of infinity combined with the absolutely knowledge of mortality. It happens every now and then, unexpectedly, and for various reasons and this, standing in the middle of a field, surrounded by far off movement and other people’s busy lives, was one of those times for me.

It fades after a time, but it’s wonderful while it lasts.

Once I began moving again, I followed a little path that ran across a couple of fields, through some more gates, and down a winding track that crossed a one lane road. On the other side was a more substantial gate, and some goats that stared at me, unblinking, completely still. I hesitated at that point. Yes, the sign on the gate told me that this was a public footpath and that I was welcome to continue my journey (as long as I remembered to shut the gate), but it also warned me about the possibility of coming face to face with wildlife, namely sheep and goats.
And there were two of the creatures, looking at me as though daring me to carry on.

I might have turned back then, unsure of the temperament of goats, but something caught my eye. An old stone wall looped around the top of a small mound, and I could see holes that might have once been windows, perhaps a door. So I ventured onward, desperately to satiate my curiosity, no longer caring about the goats.

They ignored me anyway.

I reached the wall and discovered, remarkably, that this was a ruined castle. There was an information board to tell me that fact, the name of the place, and how long it had been there.
I spent a long time wandering the beautiful ruins, just touching the stones, just imagining what could have happened where I was standing all those centuries ago.

When I finally left, walked away, I felt different.

I felt better.

## Sunday, 27 July 2014

### Bikers and Books

Everyone knows what a biker looks like – tattoos, leathers, beards, shaved heads (or long hair), bandannas, and, of course, a motorcycle or trike. But not everyone knows what bikers are like. They assume something, based on looks, but that isn't always the case. As the old adage goes, ‘never judge a book by its cover’, and that’s true for bikers. Or anyone, come to that.

I’ll admit that, until 26th July, I was wary of bikers. I had formed an opinion of them in general that was based purely on looks and how I imagined they would behave. I had never had anything to do with them before, had never met anyone who was into motorcycles, and only had my imagination to give me any views of anyone in leathers and sporting a hefty number of tattoos.

However, on 26th July, my views changed. I was part of a bike and trike event in Bean, Kent, and I had a stall selling my horror and children’s books. I was nervous, unsure of how my writing would go down (did bikers even read books?), and a little scared of interacting with these people with whom I had nothing in common.

The event started, and the stage in front of me was full of singers and bands. The music? All the old classics that I knew and loved, and could happily song along with. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing scary or (too) loud, no unidentifiable ‘biker’ music (whatever that is – I have no idea and probably made the genre up). It was good.

And then the bikers (or ‘people’ as I like to call them) started to venture over to me. They weren't sure. After all, I wasn't like them (although I do have one tattoo, only it wasn't on view so they weren't to know), and what if I was weird? I do write horror…

Guess what? It turns out that by speaking to other people – even if they have different likes, or dress differently, or come from a different place to you – is fun, and can lead to some interesting exchanges. It can also lead to finding out that, despite all the differences, you do have some things in common. In this case, it was liking horror, reading, and even writing.

I sold some books, and I hope the people who bought them like them.

But it wasn't so much about that. It was about opening my mind, and theirs. It was about having fun on a beautiful hot summer’s day, listening to good music and dancing and watching the children playing (Alice got her face painted as Spiderman and proceeded to sweat most of it off dancing like a mad thing to the 70’s classics).

It was a good day.

## Saturday, 12 July 2014

### Al Fresco Writing

It’s that time of year again. It’s summer. The time when bees buzz (although sadly fewer every year), the flowers burst with colour, the smell of cut grass hovers in the air (fighting for space with the scent of cooking meat and burning coals), and children play outside long into the evening as the sun hangs around for a few extra precious hours.

Summer. Full of long, cool drinks and hot, lazy days. If we’re lucky and the weather is kind to us, of course. Summer. Paddling pools and deckchairs, Pimms o’clock at silly o’clock, and that feeling of not wanting to do much at all because life, the world, and your particular spot in it is so wonderful.

Writers, however, can’t just stop doing their thing. As Eugene Ionesco said, “A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.” And a vacation doesn’t have to be two weeks away somewhere foreign. A vacation for a writer (or any ‘workaholic’, come to that) can be as little as a day off. Or an evening off. Or an hour off.

The thing with writers is, we don’t necessarily want a holiday (not without a notebook anyway). Or a day off. Or an evening off. It’s just that in the summer, with all that fresh air and warmth, all that outdoor joy, all that world out there, we might be tempted for a moment. That’s why al fresco writing is so fantastic. Grab that notebook, that laptop, that tablet, find a comfortable chair with a little shade or a picnic table, or a sun lounger for that matter, sit back (drink nearby), and relax… Then get writing!

## Friday, 27 June 2014

### It's here! Doodeedoo is released today!

In honour of the fabulous Doodeedoo being released today, here is a great interview with author Tony Gilbert:

What books or authors have influenced your writing?
As a children’s author, my original and best influence would have to be Roald Dahl. Now, that’s not to say that my writing style is even remotely similar but ‘Revolting Rhymes’, for example is right up my street. I love the mad rhymes and crazy stories and I have tried to incorporate that type of thing into both ‘Doodeedoo’ and ‘Super Fred’.

Are you a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’?
What’s plotting? I’ve tried plotting my work before but I end up fighting with myself and it completely changes during the actual writing. I think, what the hell, I’ll write and see what happens. You don’t plot life, you roll with the punches and that is what I try to do with my writing.

Do the illustrations come first, or the writing?
In regards to my picture books this is? Writing first, every time. After all, the illustrators are the ones with the talent, all I do is put a load of crazy words together that shouldn’t rhyme, but really do.

Why have you chosen your particular genre?
To tell you the truth, I haven’t. I love writing my picture book rhymes but I also write novels for older children (‘The Youngest Knight’ comes out early 2015 through Ghostly Publishing) and adult fiction (recently my work has been featured in a JWKFiction anthology, ‘Terror Train’ and my own short story/poem collection, ‘Driftwood From The Specific’, comes out within the next two months). I’m constantly trying different styles and age ranges and I’m not ready to tie myself down to one in particular just yet.

What inspired you to get writing?
Truthfully it’s a rather dull and clichÃ© story. I have always been a big reader and one day I went to my book shelf and realised there was nothing I fancied. I could, of course, have popped down the library or down to the bookshop, but no, I decided to jump into a life of hardship and write my own.

Is your book based on any real life experiences?
Of course. In fact, Doodeedoo, the monster made out of socks and superglue went to the same school as me. Unfortunately I lost contact with him shortly after year six. I think he passed his eleven plus and went to grammar school, though I can’t be sure.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a writer?
I don’t thing I find it a challenge really. Is it a challenge to sit down and write down the weird things in my head? Is it a challenge to come up with ideas? Not really.
I know a lot of people struggle with rejection, bad reviews etc, but they don’t really bother me. I know not everyone will like what I have done, but I do, so there!

What are you reading right now?
I am reading Elgon Williams – ‘Fried Windows – In A Light White Sauce’.

What’s next?
I am finishing up a poetry book which has been completely written by the pupils at the school of two of my children. It is something we decided to do to raise money for the school library.
Also, finishing up the editing of my short story collection, ‘Driftwood From The Specific’. This is a prime example of my not sticking to a particular genre. As well as poetry, it contains horror, scifi, noir and general fiction.
Writing wise, I am currently about 2000 words into my first full length adult novel.

Tell us a little about your book, and who it would appeal to.
Doodeedoo is based on the Frankenstein’s Monster story. Created by a tiny mouse with terrific sewing skills, he is scared and lonely. When he goes missing, the mouse has to search the house and find out why he ran away.
The illustrations are by my super talented wife, Sammy.
I have aimed the story at children the same ages as my own children, so anywhere from 0 to 10.

Blog - http://tonygilbertauthor.weebly.com/

Doodeedoo is available through Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com!

## Friday, 20 June 2014

### Doodeedoo by Tony and Sammy Gilbert

This is the fantastic cover for Visionary Press Collaborative's newest release, Doodeedoo by Tony and Sammy Gilbert. It comes out next Friday, 27th June, and it's going to be a blast!

This is the tale of Doodeedoo
Who was made of socks and superglue
By a little mouse with tiny paws,
Red painted lips, and well-trimmed claws.

She'd read a book called Frankenstein
But never passed page 109,
And as she said, "I'll have a go!"
The mouse picked up some thread to sew.

Now if you'd read old Frankie's tale
It would make your face go rather pale
For in it he's not nice at all,
He likes to hurt and fight and maul

As he was made of evil stuff,
Of bits of dirt and all things rough.
How was the little mouse to know
As Doodeedoo began to grow?

Tony and Sammy Gilbert have been together for nearly a decade and married for just over half of that. They have four children, Tony having brought twins from a previous marriage.

They do everything together yet this is the first time they have combined their talents - Tony's writing and Sammy's art - but hopefully not the last.

If you are looking for a fun, scary, imaginative children's book in which the story and the illustrations match up perfectly, then look no further - this is it!

## Sunday, 25 May 2014

Julia stopped card reading on her thirty-fifth birthday. It used to be a favourite past time of hers, to leave the hectic stream of the high street and enter the bright, warm, orange infused glow of the greetings card shop, her glasses instantly misting and then clearing as she started to make her way to the with sympathy section. She’d always start there; she felt it grounded her, reminded her that she was mortal, made her appreciate the life she was living. She tried to remember those cards when she was frustrated, or angry, or just generally having a bad day. It sometimes even worked.

After her sobering start, she moved to the anniversary cards. She had no one to buy one for, but it didn’t stop her looking. Pastel colours or bright, bright reds and pinks, hearts, flowers, teddy bears… Soppy and silly, but so beautiful in their charming, clichÃ©d way.

Other sections received a brief glance, and special occasions, such as Valentine’s or Christmas, necessitated a much longer rest stop in the shop, since it was often busier inside than out. But no matter what, the birthday cards were never ignored. This was what she came for. This was what she adored, and this is what she wanted. She spent long minutes, if not hours, searching for just the right card. Sometimes she came away with nothing. Usually she came away with nothing. So far, from her hundreds of visits to the shop, she had bought just seventeen cards. She only wanted one more.

She never bought her eighteenth card.

It was twenty years before that she went to the psychic to ask her one, specific question; When will I have a baby?

Before you are thirty-five, was the answer. Certain. Definite.

It never occurred to Julia that finding a man should be her priority if she was to achieve this goal. She didn’t think of that at all; instead she planned everything else, bought everything, painted and decorated a nursery, bought a stock of nappies and clothing in different sizes, opened up a savings account for her child’s education. She had so many toys she had to store most of them in the loft, in cardboard boxes, labelled ‘Baby’.

On her thirty-fifth birthday, Julia stopped card reading. She sat, silent tears of a lost life dripping onto the seventeen birthday cards she had so carefully picked out for her child. The eighteenth would stay in the shop. Someone else could have it.

## Friday, 9 May 2014

### The Book of Mandragore... Out Now! (9th May 2014)

The Book of Mandragore is out now in paperback and Kindle editions - this children's fantasy adventure book tells the tale of three friends (Alice, Caleb, and Lance), who must travel across unfriendly lands and battle with strange beasts and stranger people in order to find the three pieces of The Book of Mandragore. This magic book contains the spell of immortality, and there are many people who would love to get their hands on it...

Chapter 1
There is a place, in another world, another time, another planet, another dimension, that we can never know. We can’t see it. We cannot go there. It is impossible for us. But sometimes, in the dead of a winter’s night, a story floats down to us from the frosty stars. Stories of gods and battles, of quests and adventures. Of life and death. These stories are gathered up by the people who understand such things, and they are kept safe, waiting to be told.
This is just such a story.
And the time to tell it is now.
***
Once upon a time – which time isn’t important, and it may indeed have happened more than once – there were gods, ancient, wise, all knowing, and deadly, dully bored. They had a life that mortals would envy; no death, no pain, no fear of anything or anyone, and yet still they grew restless with their lot.
When they had finished creating new things and new creatures and new worlds, they did not know what to do. Until they created people. Their very own play things, smaller versions of themselves that they could twist and mould and bend to their will. It was all a game to them. Everything was just for sport. Kill a human here, reward one with gold there, ask too much of another, and allow more to have an easy life like the gods…
Now these immortal and immense beings had toys to play with. Real, living, breathing toys that would do anything to live in the world the gods had created for them, and therefore would do almost anything that was asked of them.
For millennia this was good, and boredom was broken.
Until one day…
The throne room of Eland, the great city of the gods, was quiet. Rouf, lord of the gods, creator of all, peered down from his throne of gold woven clouds and sighed. Another war was taking place, another shrine was being built. People were travelling across the country, others were farming, more still were creating their own cities and towns.
The game had become dull once more.
Rouf shifted in his seat and flicked at a speck of dust that had landed on his arm. He couldn’t feel it – he, and all the gods, could feel nothing – yet he knew that it looked out of place; and it was something to do. The half a second that it took to remove the mote was a pleasant relief.
“Arken!” he yelled into the mists that hovered around Eland, the place in which the gods lived. “Arken!”
Rouf’s right hand god, Arken, appeared in an instant, grinning. “Yes, my lord? Is there something I can do for you?” Please say yes, please say yes… Anything!
Rouf nodded slowly, dragging every movement out. He slipped from his throne and wandered over to the viewing platform, the one place in all of Eland that any god could see what was happening down in the world below. “I’m going to visit the world,” he said, glancing at Arken for a reaction. “I’m going to allow myself to be seen.”
Arken gasped. “But my lord! You can’t! It’s against the rules!”

Rouf laughed, and the sound bounced around the throne room, jumping into the sparkling corners and out again. “Rules? I made the rules, Arken! I will break them when I want to.”

## Monday, 5 May 2014

### The Book of Mandragore... Out Soon!

One book holds the spell that can make gods into men. One book holds the key to death. One man's life hangs in the balance. One world could die with him.

When The Book of Mandragore is ripped apart by feuding gods, it is up to three young adventurers to find the scattered pieces before anyone else does. If they find it first, they can save a man's life. If their enemy finds it first, the world will end in fire.

And the gods, good and evil, will just watch as the story unfolds...

## Saturday, 5 April 2014

### Poem: Last Sunset?

I sat and watched a sunset, the red and orange
And pink and… It covered me. It hurt my eyes.
I think I even enjoyed it, despite the blindness.
But it occurred to me; what if this were my last one?
I worried about whether it was the best I’d ever seen.
I worried about missing out on better.

Because weren’t sunrises just as important?
So I vowed to see each one right at its conception.
I set my alarm and stumbled from my warm bed
Just to see the sun turning up for a day’s work.
Just to see the day turning on.

And then I’d wait all day to see it turning off again.
And I thought, it’s just a giant light switch and I was
Getting tired and bored and wondering who stares at a light?
Each time it wasn’t my last I became a little less
Interested.
The sun set and it rose and I was still here.
The sun set and it rose and I wasn’t dead.

So I stopped setting the alarm, and I stopped watching
The sun do its thing. Because it was going to do it
Whether I saw or not. Maybe that’s the thing I was
Supposed to realise. In the end it doesn’t matter
If you see the sunrise for the last time,

If you see the sun set no more – you’ll never know.

Ã£Lisamarie Lamb 2014

## Sunday, 23 March 2014

### Flash Fiction: Junk Mail?

Joan loved waiting for the post.
She sat on her chair in the kitchen – the chair that gave her a view of the street – so that she could see the postman trudging up the road, laden down with letters, bills, parcels, birthday cards. She could see who got what and when. She could imagine their reactions, and it made her smile.
It was, she realised, the highlight of her day.
The post came slip-sliding through the letterbox, landing with a hopeful, happy smack on the mat that sat behind the front door. Joan, ninety years old, alone and bored, stood with a grunt, the effort of leaving the hard pine chair lessened only by the thought that she now had something to do.
Joan shuffled onwards, through the hallway and to the door. Then she bent, her back aching and creaking, to retrieve her mail. Shiny envelopes that she knew were filled with rubbish; pre-approved credit cards (that required her to fill in a form and send off for that approval), pizza menus, curry menus, Thai and Chinese, and, of course, the letter that she and hundreds of other people had received, telling her that she had definitely, absolutely, positively won a huge sum of money.
That was it.
That was all.
That was more than enough.
Joan gathered everything up with only the slightest twinge now, her interest in what might have arrived in her home blocking anything else out. She returned to the kitchen, slumped back into the chair, and spread the junk mail out on the table. She poured herself a cup of tea from the pot and cut a slice of cake.
It was time. Finally. The postman had been a little late today, fifteen minutes, and Joan had almost, almost, had a sneaky slice of the jam and cream filled sponge. She had almost, almost, had half a cup of tea. But now she was glad she had waited.
It was worth it.
Joan always opened the post, whatever it was. Every envelope, even the ones addressed to The Homeowner. And then, when they were all open, when everything was spread out on the table, Joan filled in the forms.
A free trial of a hearing aid… That was a good one. The form was only short, but the hearing aid looked like quality. She carefully printed the details, a black block letter in each tiny box. She checked it over once, twice, three times, and then sealed it safely in the pre-paid envelope. Next was a subscription to a book club, and there was an offer of two free books as well (assuming more were bought within a certain period, of course, of course, nothing was ever really free). That form was longer, with lots of details asked for so that the people behind the books could work out which offers to send out, how to get the most money from their ‘customers’.
And so it went on. Life insurance, pet insurance, car insurance… Credit cards and holiday offer DVDs… Requests for brochures on curtains, carpets, whole house cleans…
Joan particularly enjoyed finding the fake cheques made out to her for ridiculous sums. She kept all of them. She added up the total and kept it in a little notebook, carried with her always. Her will, she called it. And she teased her family – the ones who never visited, who never called, who never even sent a letter – with the promise of money when she was gone. Oh, there was money, all right. Millions by now. But it was all pretend, just like their love for her. She often thought it was a shame that she wouldn’t be around to see their faces, her children, grandchildren, even the great-grandchildren, when they realised what fools she had made of them.
She pulled her coat on and popped all of the neatly filled in forms into her bag. Now to post them. Then she could sit back and wait. And laugh. In a few days’ time, the postman would be weighed down with packages. A free hearing aid (free until the bill came) for Mia, the girl next door who played her music so, so loudly. A curtain catalogue for old Mrs Jenkins across the road who loved to watch the street with her beady little eyes. Details on car insurance for the silly boy who so enjoyed whizzing up and down the street in his old banger.

Joan loved waiting for the post.

## Monday, 24 February 2014

### RIP Harold Ramis

It feels so strange to think that one of the Ghostbusters has died. Harold Ramis, Egon, has gone.

Ramis wasn't just known for Ghostbusters of course - he was a talented, wonderful writer and director, but it is as Egon, the geeky genius, that I will remember him best. A ghostbuster. The ghostbuster. My ghostbuster - the one I always loved the most.

It's heartbreaking; a piece of my childhood has proved that my childhood is well and truly gone in the most final way possible.

But as well as that, Ramis' Ghostbusters was a pivotal moment for me. It was the first time that I was completely, utterly, devastatingly terrified of a 'horror' film (comedy horror, but still...). There was one scene in particular, the library scene, that gave me thrills and chills for weeks afterwards.

She still scares me now.

It was after seeing Ghostbusters (probably aged around 7, probably thanks to a friend's older brother during a sleepover, although that might have been Nightmare on Elm Street), that I understood that fear could be fun. Even though I trembled at the thought of going anywhere on my own just in case a ghost leapt out at me, I liked it.

I still do.

So thanks, Harold Ramis. I appreciate it. See you.

## Tuesday, 11 February 2014

### Fairy Lights Excerpt...

Here is a little extract from my latest short story collection, Fairy Lights.

Try Before You Die

“Here, open it.”
The tattily wrapped present was thrust inelegantly into Jason’s face, narrowly missing his eye. He stepped backwards, instinct protecting him as it usually did. The boy looked up at his father who was swaying, not quite drunk but nearly, hoping to be soon, and half smiled. Unsure. Unwilling to do much more.
“What is it?” He did not reach for the gift as it wavered unsteadily in front of him. He did not want it. It reeked of something bad, something off and wrong. It appeared to be leaking. Something was seeping through the pink wrapping paper (Birthday Girl!) leaving an orange-brown stain over his father’s fat fingers. It was greasy and thick, the oil leaching out and spreading.
But Jason’s hesitancy was not noticed. Nothing was ever noticed when it came to Jason and his father, George, and again the thing was propelled towards him. “You’ll see when you open it.”
There wasn’t much else that Jason could do other than take the proffered offering. His fingers curled around the thing, uneasy. The slimy feel of the grease made his stomach roll over and the smell, now that it was closer, crawled up his nose and sat there, picking at his brain, poking at his senses, making sure that he was aware of it.
He was most definitely aware of it.
Jason’s nose crinkled and his forehead furrowed and he desperately wanted to wipe his hands on something, anything, the carpet, the walls, George’s face. Instead he looked to his father who was grinning, yellowing teeth like broken gravestones protruding from behind thin, cracked lips that had had too much alcohol poured over them down the years.
“Son, you’ve got to open it, I’m not telling you what it is.” The grin faltered, widened, stuck. “I got it right, didn’t I? It is your birthday, isn’t it?”
Jason nodded. Yes, it was his birthday. He was eighteen. Despite his father being a drunk and a waste of space, he had been expecting something more than this whatever it was that smelt strange and felt strange and was wrapped in pretty pink paper.
He could delay no longer. With one smooth riiiiiippp the paper was gone. It fell to the floor in a greasy heap, no doubt staining the carpet and creating another mess for Jason to clear up.
He looked down at what he had been left holding. Yes, it was his eighteenth birthday, and he had been expecting more than an ancient cook book caked in unidentifiable stains and smears and smudges. The pages, when he tried to leaf through them, when he tried to feign interest, stuck together with Christ knew what.
Jason clutched the book – Meals To Try Before You Die, the author’s name completely obscured now – so that he didn’t drop it. He felt his mouth open. He felt his mouth move. He had no idea what he had said.
George clapped him on the back and laughed. “You’re welcome, son, I know how much you enjoy cooking, and when I saw it, I thought of you.”
Jason nodded and smiled and laughed and wished he could have a drink like his dad. He did not enjoy cooking. He hated it. Despised it. Begrudged having to do it. But, since his mother had died and his father had become a full time alcoholic five years earlier, he hadn’t had much choice.
It was either cook or starve.
Given the choice, Jason would have opted for a takeaway pizza or a bit of chicken chow mein. But money was tight since no one was working and now the only takeaways Jason saw were on TV.
“Wow, thanks, Dad.” The words felt flat in his mouth, and he couldn’t bear to look at his father in case the man’s face had registered that Jason wasn’t exactly pleased with the present. As much as he hated George, as much as he believed he was a useless slob who could have been so much more than he was, Jason also loved him, and didn’t want to hurt him. Not intentionally.
He couldn’t get excited about a dirty old book. Second hand wasn’t an issue – most of Jason’s clothing was pre-owned, most of everything in the house was – but the state of it. George hadn’t even tried to clean it up.
“Guess where I got it?” The man was almost bouncing on the balls of his feet where he stood, excitement and pleasure making his legs move of their own accord. Of course, he was still smiling, big and stupid.
Jason shook his head. A charity shop? A bin? A tramp’s trousers? “Where, Dad?” Play along, play along, and soon enough it will be over – George in a snoring heap, Jason watching TV, the volume up loud to dilute his father’s snuffles and grunts.
George stepped forward and wrapped his arm around his son’s shoulders. He pushed him gently towards the sofa, and Jason flinched at the sour beer breath that reeked out at him. He held his own breath, hating that he had to do it, hating that he was craving the same thing. So far he had resisted. But he had a feeling that it wouldn’t be long. Not if things kept going in the way they were going.
If you can’t beat them… What other choice was there? What else was there to do?
They sat together, father and son, closer than they had been in many a month now, even though neither noticed, the book lying on Jason’s knee, stale and stinking.
“I was given it.” There was pride in the voice that spoke the words. As though this was something of great significance, of huge importance. Something of meaning. It meant nothing to Jason. He almost shrugged but thought better of it, preferring instead to cock his head to one side and pretend to want to know more.
“You know that restaurant out by the beach? The famous one?”
Jason did know it. Because it was famous. Very famous. Ridiculously expensive and horribly exclusive, Jason hated it even though he had never stepped foot inside. Not that he would want to. Tiny portions of food, elegantly arranged on a massive white plate, all accompanied with a dot of jus that was so small you couldn’t taste it was not his idea of food.
“What about it?” Jason eyed the book again, started to touch the pages, to flick through. Unsticking them, pulling them apart and peeling them away from each other. There were no pictures, just lists of ingredients and step by step instructions on how to make whatever was intended to be made. His stomach growled. He hoped it wasn’t due to the dead food smell.
Jason’s father sat up straight, and slapped his hands down onto his knees, leaving oily smears on his jeans. “That’s where I got it from. That restaurant. And, not only that, but it’s signed. By Louis Cutter himself.” The man slid the book from Jason’s grasp and opened it at the first page. There was a small dark scribble, a squiggle which may or may not have been Louis Cutter’s autograph.
Despite himself, despite his serious reservations, Jason was impressed. Louis Cutter was a celebrity. He was on television. Even though the mark in the front of the book could have been anything, he chose to believe his father’s story.
It was his eighteenth. He could believe whatever he wanted, just for today.
“Did you see him sign it?” Jason had to know more. He didn’t want to ask, just in case his father slipped up and the whole sad truth came out, a truth which wasn’t what Jason wanted to hear.
His father nodded, licking his lips, sucking at his tongue. Thirsty. Jason thought about getting him a drink, started to stand. It was so ingrained now, so much a part of things. They both knew what it was doing. And neither could stop it.
“I saw him do it. I saw him sign it. Outside his restaurant, right there, just as I was passing. He ran outside, jotted his name in the front, and handed it to me.” The man’s teeth were grinding now. He was getting to the end of his ability to put off the inevitable. “Didn’t say a word. But it was like he was waiting for me, you know?”
Jason smiled, patted his father’s hand, heaved himself off the sofa, struggling against the old, soft cushions that tried to keep him with them. “That’s a good story, Dad.”
It was a good story. It wasn’t entirely true, but it was good.

The chef had come out of the restaurant, and he had been clutching the book, but he hadn’t signed it. His wide, desperate eyes had scanned the street and come to rest upon Jason’s father. With a wave and a whistle he had called him over. “Do me a favour,” he had said, holding the book out to the other man. “You don’t look like a cooking kind of man. Take this, keep it safe, give it back when I ask. If I ask. And don’t use it. Never use it.”

If you want to know what happens next, the full collection is available from Amazon.com (Kindle and paperback) and Amazon.co.uk (Kindle and paperback). Enjoy!

## Tuesday, 28 January 2014

### Poem: Her Eyes

Her Eyes

Her eyes are dull, but living

Fury shining, he thinks.
And all because of him,
Now she is pining, he thinks.

Her mouth is tight, lips bitten,
And he wants them, he thinks.
But moving one step closer
Will condemn him, he thinks.

He watches from a distance,
Hidden from her, he thinks.
He hopes she’s never see him,
She’s too pure, he thinks.

Her eyes are dull, but knowing,
And then know him; she sees

When the light dims… she sees.

## Saturday, 18 January 2014

### Piecing Together The Past

I used to collect everything. No matter where I went, what I did, who I was with, I would gather together the remnants of the trip and keep them. I called them my 'souvenirs'. These items were anything from napkins to train tickets to leaflets to feathers to stickers... Anything and everything that could hold some memory of the day.

I stuck these treasures into scrapbooks (and the larger items, those that wouldn't bend or fold, went into my 'souvenir box'). I had an image in my mind of myself in decades to come, looking through the brittle pages, being transported back into the past, to happy days and fun times. I imagined sharing these memories with my children, perhaps even grandchildren.

But time marches of and things change and life gets too busy to collect little treasures. Sometimes life gets too busy to even go anywhere or do anything that makes collecting things worthwhile. That's how I felt for a long time. Years. My scrapbooks grew thinner and thinner, and finally around six years ago, I stopped filling them at all.

Recently, however, things have changed. My daughter is now three, and she attends a wonderful nursery school (Combe Bank in Sundridge, Kent). They are looked after there, they are taught well. And they have each - every single student - been given a scrapbook to fill in. These scrapbooks are given out at the beginning of each year, and are used as focal points for classroom discussions - a kind of show and tell. Helping Alice to complete her scrapbook has been fun. It reminded me of my own, and I even dug some of them out, and teared up looking through the - yes, slightly brittle - old pages.

Memories resurfaced, and it was wonderful.

So now, Alice and I are working on scrapbooks together. I hope in years to come, we will both be able to look back through them and remember the wonderful days we spent together.

Why not try it for yourself?