Monday, 17 December 2018

Party Like it's 1979

Party Like It’s 1979

Paul Magrs

Some Christmases were snowy and so snowy that it felt like our little town was going to be cut off from all the main roads. We’d be  snowed in and the holidays would just go on and on. Our school often closed because pipes burst and parquet floors flooded and froze over like ice rinks and ceilings fell in with the weight of snow.
Most of our teachers lived out of town, in the surrounding countryside, and they couldn’t get through. We were given extra days off, and how we loved it: skidding and sliding and skipping away down the school drive, clutching worksheets hastily distributed by the school secretary. Snow Days meant being able to work from home, using sheets printed in purple ink, turned out on the bander machine.
All the work I can remember doing consisted of a few easy sums and a lot of nature study. We did the shapes of trees and the silhouettes of woodland creatures and birds. Nature meant going out down the Burn and ploughing through drifts of snow and crashing about in the frozen undergrowth until it grew dark.
Working from home also meant some serious writing. Schoolwork mostly seemed to be about writing stories (or maybe that was just the bit I paid most attention to?) There would be prompts and opening sentences printed in smudgy, purple ink and we had to continue these tales in our own time, in the extra days of holiday at home. Sometimes I think that – now I’m entering my fiftieth year – I’m still continuously writing one of those endless stories, begun with a sentence printed in purple on a worksheet given out on an abandoned school day in 1979. I’ve just never finished the sentence and got to the other side of that blizzard.
So – the Christmas holidays always seemed to be long, long, long. We stocked up our cupboards at home with Swiss rolls and corned beef and custard and tomato soup. Mam would put in an order with the shop in the precinct for extra fruit and veg. A van would pull up and we’d have a small wooden crate to unpack. The potatoes would be cloddy and mucky, the cabbages leafy and bright, the red apples so shiny you could see your face in them. The satsumas still had green leaves attached and their scent filled the whole house. You could smell them for days after the delivery of Christmas fruit and veg, until the last one was eaten. We liked the very softest ones, whose skins peeled off in one loose piece.
A string bag of nuts would be emptied into a dish on the coffee table. The silver nutcrackers would come out of the wall unit drawer. Most nights a sheet of newspaper would be laid out and we’d take agonizing, effortful, hilarious turns cracking Brazils, walnuts and hazelnuts. Little bits of nutty shrapnel shooting everywhere.
Much of our shopping we would fetch on Friday night and Christmas was no exception. We didn’t have a car just then, but what we did have was our very own shopping trolley. Not a little pully-along trolley like old ladies had. Not just a piffling bag on wheels. No, this was an actual metal supermarket shopping trolley on four castors. Someone had nicked it from the Fine Fare superstore down town and – horrible vandals that they were – sent it rolling down the steep hill of Burn Lane into the stream at the bottom. There we had found it and fished it out, one day last summer. It had been a little project: cleaning up that shopping trolley, yanking out tatters of mouldy lichen and slimy weed. It took some doing. I even rubbed some wire wool on the bits that had rusted and soon the wheels were turning round, good as new.
Lo and Behold – our family had its very own shopping trolley. I wondered briefly if Fine Fare would give me a reward for returning it, but I doubted it. They had updated their trolleys since this one had gone AWOL. Now they had ones where you had to put coins in.
So what we did was push it all the way to the town precinct every Friday night. We would push it down Burn Lane and through the estates on the other side and then into the town centre. We’d push it through the futuristic, automated doors of Fine Fare, quite brazenly. Here we are with our very own private trolley. We’d fill it up to the very top, pay for all our stuff and not even bother with carrier bags or boxes. We left all our shopping in the trolley and simply pushed it back home again.
Looking back, it’s kind of crazy and absurd, the way we were almost proud of that trolley. At least, I was. Even in terrible, snowy weather I’d take that shopping trolley on a ride round our estate, sitting backwards and scooting it along with my feet. All the other kids went about on skateboards and bikes, and I’d be swooping about in long, backward loops in my own private shopping trolley. I’d had my own skateboard and bike, and I’d even had roller skates, but for some reason my favourite thing was that shopping trolley. Sometimes our golden retriever, Duke, could be persuaded to sit in the thing with me as I paraded about the estate. He would get over-excited, though.

The further away in time I get away from it all, I’m amazed by how chuffed we were by simple stuff like having our own trolley or running about in the snow down the Burn with Duke. In 1979 the whole of Christmas was exciting.
Mam loved to buy us presents. She liked to spoil us and overwhelm us with all these things she’d be up all night wrapping. The opening of gifts seemed to be endless. She always said it was because she and her sisters and brother had never got much at Christmas when they were kids. They were so poor back then, though my Big Nanna did her best for them. They’d get a handful of sweets, a Disney Annual, and Mam would have to share a present with her twin sister – a doll or, one year when they were teenagers – a Dansette record player that had its own carry case.
So, Mam liked to buy us lots of things and see us enthralled and amazed. Christmas Day would begin with the lights out and the door closed on the living room, and we’d assemble outside in the hall while she counted down. Then she would open the door and quickly put the lights on and then we would see in a flash: Santa had been! The room was filled – completely filled – with brightly-coloured wrapping paper. There would be presents on every chair and every surface in the whole room. There’d be sacks and sacks of them.
One year in particular she had a craze on getting stationary. It seemed like she had bought up everything you could ever need to fill a desk and a home office and to supply a writing career. I was awash with pens and books and pencils and sharpeners and pen holders and bulldogs clips and elastic bands and felt tip pens and Tipp-ex. Every year I’d start a new Page-a-Day Diary from Boots and the first few entries were always lists of all the goodies I’d been given and all the TV shows we had watched together. Very little in the way of reflection and few of the glimpses of everyday life I’d love to read all these years later. Just endless lists of stuff.
We watched a lot of telly together. We would sit on the settee with a continental quilt over our laps because it could get quite chilly. We’d have snacks at the ready – Aeros, Lion Bars, Topics and Glees. Monster Munch and Space Raiders. We’d have frothy milky coffee brewed up by the new percolator that was one of the fancy new purchases of recent times. It was almost as good an innovation as the Toastie maker, the products of which were the best treat during late night TV viewing. Cheese and onion toasties – blistering hot and delicious. You’d scald your insides with melted cheese and then go to bed and have horrible nightmares.
We’d work our way through long nights of viewing, circling our choices in the Radio Times and the TV Times Christmas issues, cross-referencing and squabbling in the days before Betamax. Every quiz show, every sit-com and every serial drama. The big movie on Saturday night. The old black and white films in the afternoons. Strong female leads and sentimental songs. Most vintage films I encounter nowadays trigger a memory of having watched them before, with my mam, long ago on a snowy holiday afternoon.
The tree would have been up for a month by the time Christmas came. Artificial and silver, glass baubles and a fairy that had been bought the year I was born. In 1979 it was ten and the gauzy lace was turning yellowish and her glitter was dropping off. Yards of tinsel were swagged on every wall, displaying all our Christmas cards. Black tape turned our windows into Victorian leaded panes and we’d sprayed them liberally with this sticky fake snow out of a can. That snow smelled wonderful to me. It’s a smell as essentially festive as those oranges in the crate, or the pine fresh scent of the cleaning stuff Mam used in the bathroom and on all the floors. She set to work cleaning every corner of our house, because we had to be shipshape and sparkling for when Santa came.
In my living memory we’d always lived in council houses – blocky and square with no chimneys or fireplaces. From very early on I’d fretted over the question of just how Santa would get in. I remember going to aunties’ houses and both Big and Little Nanna’s and being told: ‘Oh, look! Santa’s come early to this house!’ and watching dumbstruck – the week before Christmas – as boxes and parcels were produced and handed over to Mam. So, Santa went out more than just the one night in the year? So he did an extra shift, especially for aunties and grandparents? My mind ticked over the logic of all this.
Only very recently I’ve had a memory come back to me, of glimpsing a mysterious heap on top of Mam’s wardrobe well before the Christmas holidays. It was only partially covered by a striped sheet. It had slipped, revealing a tell-tale corner of Christmas paper. That, I think, was the very moment I started having serious doubts about the literal truth of Santa and his so-called marathon dash around the world, visiting good boys and good girls. (Also, I knew some very bad children. Real stinkers. And they seemed to get presents, just the same as everyone else, so where was the fairness in that?)
Once, when I was very little – about four years old – I finished unwrapping gifts and said, ‘Is that it?’ And Mam was upset and furious. She dragged me across the road to the home of the family from Glasgow. They were known for being very poor on our street. Her idea was to show me how little their little boy was being given, in order to teach me a lesson I’d never forget. We said hello and were invited in and there wasn’t very much Christmassy going on.
We stayed a moment but before we left the mother presented me with a hastily-wrapped gift. It was in a scrap of crumpled paper, not even taped together. When we went back home I was delighted. It was a Ladybird Book of Dinosaurs. Mam took it off me and found the scrawled dedication on the title page: ‘To Michael from Mammy and Daddy for Christmas 1973.’
The little lad over the road had only just been given that book and they’d felt obliged to hand it over to their unexpected guests. I think I was ashamed and upset, just the same was Mam was. Also, I knew that I really wanted to keep that dinosaur book.
We couldn’t take it back. Mam said it would make everything worse if we returned and tried to give it back. We would be flinging it back in their faces. After that, there was always a sensation of horrible shame attached to that book for me. Any glimpse of a dinosaur in a book can revive that sickening guilt, even now.
It was a lesson about not growing up to be a spoiled little bastard.
The next year I remember sitting on my new sledge and opening a Dr Who Paint-by-Numbers kit and Mam was saying that she was sorry I didn’t have so many presents this year. I remember telling her that I thought I had loads, and I was so happy with those I had. I remember really being sincere and feeling sad because I couldn’t make her believe me. She always wanted us to get more; to be happier than we were. She wanted us to be impossibly happy, and it was hard to be that.
I think I always knew that it was Mam who was the one marshalling her resources, putting money by each week, pinching the pennies. For all my trying to work out the logic and truth of Santa’s magic, I knew it was always down to my mam.
In Aycliffe we did, however, have a kind of Santa. He appeared each Christmas Eve after it got dark, and he made an appearance on every single street in town. He was the Council Van Santa and his lorry was an old dust cart; his elves were all dust men. There was a wooden house on the back of his van, all strung with fairy lights. The Council Santa’s itinerary was the same each year, evolving gradually as the town expanded with new estates. The list of ETA’s was printed in the Newton News and his van would roll around promptly from street to street. We’d hear his handbell ringing from some distance away and we’d dash excitedly to put shoes and coats and scarves on.
Outside we would cluster round and wait for the Council Santa to come round the corner and into our cul-de-sac and throw sweets at us. The Council Santa was fat and reasonably jolly and when he talked his local accent gave away the fact that he came from round here. He chucked boiled sweets over the sides of his van and we caught them. People held up new babies for him to hold, and everyone talked to him like he was the real Santa, asking him questions about the busy night he had ahead of him.
Older kids would chuck snowballs at his little house, trying to knock his fairy lights out. We all loved the Council Santa, though, even the older ones – the Goths and the hard girls and the bad lads and the older brothers and sisters who moaned about coming to stand in the cold. They would still gather with everyone from our street. It was the only time in the whole year – unless there was a fire – that you’d see the inhabitants of the street all out together, saying hello and Season’s Greetings to each other.
I liked that slight formality of everyone saying Happy Christmas to each other, because I was something of an old-fashioned little kid. I liked it when adults spoke to me properly and expected me to speak sensibly back. I never really liked the way that kids carried on. To me, it was the kids that spoiled school. Apart from other kids, I thought school was great. Especially at Christmas, when it was mostly making stuff out of tissue paper, glitter and glue. And putting on school concerts where we did Ibsen’s Peer Gynt as an improvised dance piece, dressed as trolls.
And now, nearly forty years later, I’m sitting in a cafĂ© and I’ve filled twenty-two pages of my current journal with this stuff, without even thinking. I’m looking back at a time when I’d fill twenty-two pages of an exercise book brought home from school at the end of term. We were always allowed to take home our unfinished books and most kids chucked them over the hedge or into the Burn on the day we broke up. But I went home and filled up all the pages just for fun. Weird kid, I know. My favourite Christmas thing involved filling up pages and pages…
I wish I’d kept them all. I wish I could see what I’d noted down. But I do remember quite a lot of detail from that time, and that’s just as good. I can remember all the details that made up the best of our Christmases.
I remember that Christmas only began properly once we had all our groceries and deliveries. We’d been to Fine Fare with our shopping trolley, and filled the fridge and the cupboards and fruit bowls. We’d trudged home from the last day of school and no one needed to leave the house again until Christmas was over and the sales in Darlington had begun.
It was Mam who ceremonially began Christmas each year. On Christmas Eve she’d put a certain record on that tall, stacked hi-fi unit with the smoked glass cabinet. From that futuristic stereo system would come the squeaky voices of two pigs singing ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town.’ It wasn’t really Christmas until we’d all sung along with Pinky and Perky.
Then we could have a glass of ginger wine – the sweet, hot, non-alcoholic sort that my Big Nanna brewed up and bottled and brought to us when she visited with her best friend, Deaf Olive. Mam had the recipe now – it was black currant jelly dissolving in boiling water, bagfuls of sugar and a bottle of spicy ginger essence. It steamed aromatically in a giant mixing bowl and it was so hot you had to water it like whisky.
Tomato soup for tea and then Disney Time and a visit from the Council Santa. Back indoors for the big film, maybe, but you could never concentrate for excitement. It was the one night of the year an early bedtime seemed preferable. I would sit up in bed reading last year’s annuals by torchlight. The Beano, Cheeky, Whizzer and Chips. Very nearly sick with minty chocolates, satsumas and ginger wine.
It was all about egging time on and wanting time to go faster and faster and for all the hours and the days to go flashing past. That seems the craziest and most marvelous thing of all when I look back now: that there was ever a time when I wished time away.
But I did. Faster and faster. Bring Christmas faster.
I was a long way off trying to master the knack of making happy times slower. I was still far from hoping that the happy times might stay.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Books of the Year

This is my top ten this year. A lot of memoirs, I suddenly realise. Fairly early on in the year I read Dave Hill’s ‘So Here It Is’ – about his life in Slade: a band for whom it’s always 1973. And what a brave and warm book it is. He’s a kind of bumbling Glam Rocker, brilliantly placed to observe the world of pub rockers as they got older and older and refused to give in. The actual, heart-breaking story behind Slade’s classic Christmas hit and what they actually went through during the latter half of 1973 is a revelation. There has to be a biopic, and I’d like to write it.

I also loved Lucy Mangan’s ‘Bookworm’, which conjures up many of the kids’ books I love and pieces together the shape of a childhood and the developing  character and readerly tastes of a writer. I found it compelling and lovely – though came away wondering if she mightn’t be a little bit pleased with herself… She’s not quite so self-deprecating as the funny-looking bassist out of Slade.

What else..? Michele Roberts’ ‘Paper Houses’ is a memoir of her 1970s, and her coming to maturity as a writer in the world. She moves from book to book as she moves from house to house: each new novel a chance to reinvent the form, and each new home an opportunity to try a new way to live. It’s a time when everything is up for grabs, where nothing is set in stone. It’s a really beautiful book that I have come to late, but found myself reading at just the right time.

David Sedaris’s new volume of essay’s ‘Calypso’ reminded me just why I’ve been reading him for twenty years or more. I’ve read everything and, though I was less than chuffed with his animal fables and his gloomy old journals, his snappy and perverse essays always keep me coming back. This volume is more chronological than usual. We get to spend longer with his crazy extended family, his lovely-sounding partner and his loopy, obsessive self. The story of what he wanted to keep in the freezer to feed a hideously deformed turtle doesn’t bear repeating here. But I loved this book.

A lovely find from long ago: ‘Truman Capote’ a memoir by John Malcolm Brinnin. It’s from the Sixties and from, we gather, an old lover and admirer: another writer, an academic whom Capote meets during a writerly residential at the start of his career. Brinnin and he are clearly carrying on a sexy friendship at odd moments right from the start, and they keep bumping into each other in various ways down the years – and Brinnin tries to save the daft, impossible, brilliant fool from his own crazy, dark excesses right up until the end. It’s a fantastic memoir. I was expecting it to be dry, I think – and it’s anything but.

Novels… What was there..? Well, I loved the new Anne Tyler, ‘Clock Dance’, just as I always love a new book by her. I think she’s found a new wind, though. She’s turning the dial on her old themes and amplifying them; ratcheting up the tension that surrounds those characters who find the strength to simply walk out on their old lives and into the new. This time her heroine is absolutely right to start all over again, and we are in no doubt of that. We fall in love with all the new people she meets and we want to live among them with her.

Judy Blume’s recent-ish adult novel ‘In the Unlikely Event’ is an astonishing book that encapsulates a whole New Jersey town and all its inhabitants. All those voices come leaping off the page and if the book has a downside, it’s keeping track of who relates to who and how. (But there’s a table of characters to help with that.) I can’t really say what happens without giving too much away, but it’s a book about undermining the idea that it’s impossible for lightning to strike more than once, or even twice. There are some breathtaking and savage narrative tricks she plays here.

I loved the teen novel, ‘The Unknowns’ by Shirley-Anne Macmillan: the second novel by this Northern Irish writer, who really gets under the skins of her characters and shows young people with complex, interesting inner lives right at the ends of their tethers. Her stories are often about good kids veering off into what other people might think is the bad, or falling under the wrong influences. Here we get Tilly, who falls in with a glamorous and exciting delinquent subculture… and we go right along with her for the ride. More and more these days, I wonder why we call these things Teen Novels. It seems a limiting term. This is just a good novel with heroes who happen to be in their teens. It’s for everyone.

And poetry! I’m actually choosing a book of poems for my top ten. Another book I missed when it was published – ‘Indelible, Miraculous’ – a Collected Poems by Julia Darling, a writer I really loved, whatever she wrote. Her poems are like postcards straight from her, though, much more than her stories or novels. These are dispatches on the hoof, beautifully crafted, sent from hospitals and quiet spots and all the places she could find to sit and spin out these intricate, colourful pieces. I loved just spending time with her again, when I wasn’t expecting to.

And lastly – another surprise book. Who’d a thought it? That they would briefly revive Target books and have Steven Moffat et al novelise some of their own Dr Who scripts as slim paperbacks with pulpy cover paintings, just like they used to in the old days. Just like the books that got so many of us hooked on reading in the first place. I have been arguing passionately since Day One of the series coming back that novelizations would be required by a new generation of young fans. DVDs don’t cut it. That’s just a replay. A novelisation is an expansion, and an enlargement of an adventure. It’s days and days spent in the company of the Doctor. It’s a universe you can carry in your coat pocket and it’s time you can control with the blink of an eye. Steven Moffat has great fun with ‘The Day of the Doctor’: re-ordering and cutting and pasting his story, supplementing cameo appearances and withholding chapters and dizzying us with erudition and being daft. I love the fact that he withholds the identity of his narrator until the very end, and provides outrageous, offhand explanations for Peter Cushing and the reason that the 60s were black and white. It’s irreverent, all of it – and precisely what we need in such earnest times.

So – those are my favourite books this year. How about you?

Amazing quote from Russell T Davies, who apparently sat down and read 'The Novel Inside You' in a single day.
"This is so much more than How To Write, it’s How To Live. Part-memoir and part-tutorial, this book asks, ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ and miraculously finds an answer. From life. From memory, family, lovers, heartbreak, childhood, loss and joy, all captured beautifully in these pages."
It comes out in hardback, paperback and ebook from Snow Books in April!

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

My Books of the Year... so far


Alice Wiggins was orphaned and flung into the workhouse as a five year old. Now she’s a ravishing, feisty and plucky, if clubfooted and blind eighteen year old. This Christmas she’s been taken away from her life of poverty by Duncan Prime, the strapping son of a wicked factory owner who has designs not only upon her body but also the marvelous designs she has created for magical new Christmas toys. However, so noxious is the paint being applied to all the toys manufactured by Prime Goods, it is slowly poisoning all of their workers so that they are going out of their minds as the Holiday Season approaches. What’s more, so powerful are their hallucinations that the Christmas toys are actually coming to life and taking revenge on nineteenth century Industrial Britain!

Fifty Shades of Craddock by B. D Essem
 With her rich sauces, garish garnishes and unusual way with stuffing, she is the most powerful and influential TV cook in all the land. The whole country is in thrall to Fanny and so is young Johnny. Having triumphed in a TV cooking competition he soon enters her inner sanctum, and Fanny is intrigued by his deft way with pastry and his cool fingers. Fanny has always had to put romance on the back burner for the sake of her career, yet soon something something is bubbling between her and Johnny... He's dashing and has a very twiddly moustache and she loves the way he gets her all stirred up... But is he just after her dough?

Young, attractive TV presenter Emilia has a problem. She is famous for her intense empathy when interviewing incredibly unlikable people on her morning television show – ‘Woke Up, Britain!’ and somehow she is able to make the public fall in love with even completely twattish horrors. Her show is the one that every single despicable public figure desperately wants to appear on. However, what no one knows is that Emilia has a problem. She goes home at night and drinks a bottle of brandy and then she spends all night pretending to be all kinds of hideous people, stirring up trouble on social media. Enter: Nigel Slope, teenage hacker. He’s uncovered the secret of Emilia’s shit-stirring life and he’s threatening to tell all – unless she marries and gives him sex and everything, plus all her stuff, and also a TV show of his own..!

White Goods by William Bong. 
At first it hardly seemed like a violent uprising at all, but the day that the Hoover turned on Kevin was actually the beginning of the end. Soon all the reconditioned electrical appliances in the shared house are out to kill all the students who live there. The fridge turns everything to poison overnight, the television shows pictures no one ever wants to see, the answer machine plays messages from the dead and the iron steams poor Stephanie's face off. The survivors of this shared house of horror must bond together and pull the plug before the whole lot goes off with bloody big Bang!

JACK SHIT by Derek Vim
Thirty-Second in the Thrilling Pensive series! This time, ex-FBI agent Jack Pensive goes undercover as part of a team of miniaturized surgeons performing an invasive procedure actually inside the US President’s diseased small colon. There’s a crazed tiny terrorist aboard the futuristic ship for this Fantastic Voyage up Shit Creek! But can Jack Pensive work out in time just who the traitor in this crack squad might be before they do something impossibly awful to the Commander-in-Chief’s appalling insides?

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Empresses and Queers... from the Archive

Just dipping into my first Dr Who novel, 'The Scarlet Empress' from 1998, it still pleases me no end how peculiar and wonderfully fairytale-ish it all was.

I've been digging things out from my files, sorting through stuff...

Treasure from the archive. Back in 2001 I was guest of honour with Stella Duffy at the Proudwords Festival in Newcastle, which was organised by Julia Darling. I don't get asked to do *half enough* things as lovely as this...! It was a really fantastic do. Happy times.

And meanwhile in the present, I'm so excited about Christmas that I've even made posters...

Sunday, 25 November 2018

The Lora on Mars Trilogy

If you or someone you're buying presents for loves science fiction, or mystery stories, or family stories, or stories in outlandish locations with larger than life characters... please go and buy my Lora trilogy, set on Mars. This set of novels has been a long time coming, and this year the series is complete - thanks to the lovely Firefly Press.

They've had lovely reviews and people love these books... so do go and order them! They've been described as 'Little House on the Prairie meets The Martian Chronicles' - and I couldn't put it better myself.

Monday, 19 November 2018

My First Three Novels

These are quotes from reviews of my first three novels, compiled for the beautiful reprinted editions published by Lethe Press.

All the new copies have got new introductions and extra contemporaneous short stories included.

And you can order them (and my 'lost' fourth novel, here - )

Monday, 5 November 2018

'Mystery Lady'...!!

Here's 'Mystery Lady'! 

Hannah Murray and Ellie Kendrick read my new murder mystery novel for Storytel - 

and it's out today!

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Happy Halloween!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! (Thanks to Ben McClory for this fab Brenda Halloween poster!) 

I'm hoping that all the Brendas are going to be republished and back in print fairly soon...!

There are eight of them... how many have you read..?

Plus, there are eight episodes of Anne Reid's brilliant performance as both Brenda and Effie, available for free as a podcast called 'Grandma Guignol' from Bafflegab productions.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Dog and Cat Commissions for Christmas

I'd like to do some cat and dog commissions before Christmas, if anyone would like one? They're about A4 in size and I'll do them for the bargain price of £40 plus p&p. Please email Cheers!

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Seasonal Dr Who Reading

Seasonal Dr Who reading. From being about seven years old I was a massive fan of both Puffin Books and Dr Who books. Imagine my excitement when these two titans converged over the past few years to create a bunch of story anthologies - mostly themed around my favourite seasons of Christmas and Hallowe'en...! Amazing writers in these books - and wonderful company to be in. 

One of the best things about occasionally contributing Dr Who stories to the world of tie-in books these past twenty years is finding yourself in fantastic company - either in person or in book-form.

(Also, how chuffed was I to have two Halloween stories commissioned - and to have Derek Jacobi read one of them so brilliantly for the audiobook - purringly taking his time and filling up a whole cd!)

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Bury My Heart

I did my words for the day, and then we went out and sat in a cafe in Bury, had coffee and cake - and I filled pages of my journal with the usual stuff.

Earlier in the day I formulated my thoughts about Dr Who at the moment...

A few thoughts on the new series of Dr Who so far.
1.) If Missy was in it she'd make mincemeat of the lot of them.
2.) Episode One was like a glitzy reboot of 'Juliet Bravo.'
3.) It isn't as imaginative as it could be.
4.) Quite like it but I'm not crackers about it yet.
5.) I don't want to talk about it endlessly, or much at all.
6.) Gender's irrelevant.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

How It All Fits Together

It's a kind of map of everything I've published, and showing how some of the characters leap from book to book in unexpected ways...

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

A Year of the Goblin King

It's a year since I published this piece on my blog - and over two hundred thousand people read it - and then I developed it into a short story called, 'Stardust and Snow' - which I hope will see the light of day some day soon.

‘Fancy Believing in the Goblin King’

My friend told me a story he hadn’t told anyone for years. When he used to tell it years ago people would laugh and say, ‘Who’d believe that? How can that be true? That’s daft.’ So he didn’t tell it again for ages. But for some reason, last night, he knew it would be just the kind of story I would love.

When he was a kid, he said, they didn’t use the word autism, they just said ‘shy’, or ‘isn’t very good at being around strangers or lots of people.’ But that’s what he was, and is, and he doesn’t mind telling anyone. It’s just a matter of fact with him, and sometimes it makes him sound a little and act different, but that’s okay.

Anyway, when he was a kid it was the middle of the 1980s and they were still saying ‘shy’ or ‘withdrawn’ rather than ‘autistic’. He went to London with his mother to see a special screening of a new film he really loved. He must have won a competition or something, I think. Some of the details he can’t quite remember, but he thinks it must have been London they went to, and the film…! Well, the film is one of my all-time favourites, too. It’s a dark, mysterious fantasy movie. Every single frame is crammed with puppets and goblins. There are silly songs and a goblin king who wears clingy silver tights and who kidnaps a baby and this is what kickstarts the whole adventure.

It was ‘Labyrinth’, of course, and the star was David Bowie, and he was there to meet the children who had come to see this special screening.

‘I met David Bowie once,’ was the thing that my friend said, that caught my attention.

‘You did? When was this?’ I was amazed, and surprised, too, at the casual way he brought this revelation out. Almost anyone else I know would have told the tale a million times already.

He seemed surprised I would want to know, and he told me the whole thing, all out of order, and I eked the details out of him.

He told the story as if it was he’d been on an adventure back then, and he wasn’t quite allowed to tell the story. Like there was a pact, or a magic spell surrounding it. As if something profound and peculiar would occur if he broke the confidence.

It was thirty years ago and all us kids who’d loved Labyrinth then, and who still love it now, are all middle-aged. Saddest of all, the Goblin King is dead. Does the magic still exist?

I asked him what happened on his adventure.

‘I was withdrawn, more withdrawn than the other kids. We all got a signed poster. Because I was so shy, they put me in a separate room, to one side, and so I got to meet him alone. He’d heard I was shy and it was his idea. He spent thirty minutes with me.

‘He gave me this mask. This one. Look.

‘He said: ‘This is an invisible mask, you see?

‘He took it off his own face and looked around like he was scared and uncomfortable all of a sudden. He passed me his invisible mask. ‘Put it on,’ he told me. ‘It’s magic.’

‘And so I did.

‘Then he told me, ‘I always feel afraid, just the same as you. But I wear this mask every single day. And it doesn’t take the fear away, but it makes it feel a bit better. I feel brave enough then to face the whole world and all the people. And now you will, too.

‘I sat there in his magic mask, looking through the eyes at David Bowie and it was true, I did feel better.

‘Then I watched as he made another magic mask. He spun it out of thin air, out of nothing at all. He finished it and smiled and then he put it on. And he looked so relieved and pleased. He smiled at me.

‘’Now we’ve both got invisible masks. We can both see through them perfectly well and no one would know we’re even wearing them,’ he said.

‘So, I felt incredibly comfortable. It was the first time I felt safe in my whole life.

‘It was magic. He was a wizard. He was a goblin king, grinning at me.

‘I still keep the mask, of course. This is it, now. Look.’

I kept asking my friend questions, amazed by his story. I loved it and wanted all the details. How many other kids? Did they have puppets from the film there, as well? What was David Bowie wearing? I imagined him in his lilac suit from Live Aid. Or maybe he was dressed as the Goblin King in lacy ruffles and cobwebs and glitter.

What was the last thing he said to you, when you had to say goodbye?

‘David Bowie said, ‘I’m always afraid as well. But this is how you can feel brave in the world.’ And then it was over. I’ve never forgotten it. And years later I cried when I heard he had passed.’

My friend was surprised I was delighted by this tale.

‘The normal reaction is: that’s just a stupid story. Fancy believing in an invisible mask.’

But I do. I really believe in it.

And it’s the best story I’ve heard all year.