Thursday, 31 October 2013

Happy Hallowe'en to all Friends of Brenda!

To those who haven't read the Brenda and Effie Mysteries yet, Hallowe'en is a perfect time to get started. The first book is 'Never the Bride', and it sees the arrival of a woman with a strange and mysterious past in the northern seaside town of Whitby, where she opens a Guest House and soon gets dragged into all kinds of terrifying investigations.

The series is six books long and, through a whole lot of mysterious, spooky and outrageous adventures, you'll get to know all of Brenda's friends, enemies and secrets...

All six books are available in paperback and as unabridged audio.

And if you've already read the whole lot, it might be time for a reread..?

I'll let the Bride do her own introductions...


My name is Brenda...

This is the tale of how I came to live in this new town of mine. I arrived here by the coast in the early spring.

I fell in love with the vastness of the grey sea and the brightness of the light. You see, I’d been hiding away for far too long in the shadows. Now I wanted to be out in the open air. Feeling that salty breeze on my cracked and ancient skin. I’ve been well nigh cloistered. Out in the daylight I was feeling positively macabre.

Such a long, long life I’ve had. And I don’t remember the half of it. When I say that, you must believe me. It’s like there is some kind of fault line in my head and many of my lifetime’s memories have drained away. Sometimes I think the human brain has capacity enough for only one average lifetime. And I have had much more than that. I am very old, you see.

But this is my new life. A quiet life beside the sea in this town of Whitby, which has protected itself well against the oncoming crassness of the ages. In the twenty-first century it still feels like a Victorian holiday town, with its higgledy-piggledy rooftops and stovepipes and labyrinthine streets. This pleases me for I am, at heart, somewhere deep inside my bosom, an old-fashioned girl. This place - with its busy harbour and hulking, rocky headland and gloomy ruins – suits me quite well.

It is here that I have decided to sink all of my savings into a Guest House, bang on the harbour. Here I will live as just one more landlady in a town overrun by that fussy, capable brood. And no one here will ever know my secrets, or anything about the many complicated lives I have left behind me. Here I will simply be Brenda. A little tall, perhaps, and heavyset. Slathered in too much make-up, covering scars that only I know about. Brenda with her towering black beehive. As I sit writing my journal by candlelight, here in my attic sitting room, my wig sits on its stand beside me. A fluffed up and neatly-coiffed sentinel in the moonlight.

I gaze past my wig through the circular attic window at the sea mist that slinks up from the harbour and at the stars above Whitby Abbey and I think over events during my first few days in this place. Already a great deal has gone on, despite the fact that the last thing I was looking for was any kind of mystery or adventure…"

Monday, 28 October 2013

A Lovely Review Out of the Blue

Here's a lovely review of 'Diary of a Dr Who Addict' from the blog of writer Marion Grace Woolley. It's a book that came out three years ago and the world has forgotten already. Despite getting a fantastic write-up in the Guardian, it was passed by completely and utterly by the world. I'm not sure how available it is now, because Simon and Schuster dumped me straight after it came out...! (I think all of the books I published with them are now unavailable (Strange Boy, Hands Up, Exchange, Twin Freaks). There was talk of e-books at one point...) It's in the same world, and involving several of the same characters as my recent radio drama, 'Imaginary Boys.'

Anyhow, getting a nice review out of the blue for a book that your publisher has consigned to hellish obscurity is rather like getting a nice surprise gift. Marion writes:

"Ah, where to begin?

When you read very late at night, it's sort of like holding a conversation when you're drunk. You feel things more deeply, you fall into stories more easily.

It was a hideously uncomfortable read. There was just too much I recognised within it from my own school years, which I recall as being something akin to cruel and unusual punishment. Everything from the house party to the way teachers can turn, feelings of exclusion to having the desire to curl up and die when 'those' conversations were taking place.

I was totally transported back in time, as The Generation Game had managed with the simple mention of 'psychadelic orange squash', an image that could only ever evoke the 1980s as the chemicals involved are undoubtedly now banned. It was like blowing off the dust on a box of memories. Things I hadn't thought about in years. A bittersweet reminder of the bountiful creativity kids have before the pituitary gland kicks in and murders imagination.

I suspect I was as bug-nuts crazy about The X-Files as David was aboutDoctor Who, and there was definitely a Robert in my life, and I definitely remember the ouch factor of discovering that shared childhood pleasures were no longer cool.

I was a bit worried that I wouldn't understand this book, because I've never watched Doctor Who, but Will said that wouldn't be a problem, and he was right. Though I'm not a complete ignoramus, and I do know what a TARDIS is, and I loved the bit:

I'm looking for things I recognise in everything I read. I want to feel at home in these books I pick up. I want them to be more familiar than home and ordinary life. I think that's because I can pick them up and carry them with me. I always have the safe dimension of the book to escape into. Books are bigger on the inside than on the out, just like a police box.

I thought that was a wonderful observation.

Even did a bit of real time travelling as I finished at 3:20am, but the clocks went back, so it was only 2:20 and I got that extra hour lie in.

Brilliant book. Also the first LGBT YA I think I've read. Where were these when I was growing up? Don't recall seeing them on the shelves at the CoE school book fete... "

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Writing in Manchester Cafes

For a variety of reasons out of my control, I've been spending days and days working away from home. I've moved from one cafe to another in Manchester city centre, taking all my materials with me and scribbling in my notebook on a number of different projects.

I thought I'd share some pictures with you, of the various places I've sat this week and scribbled. I'm writing what I hope will be a novel, and a kind of memoir-y piece, and also something about the Dr Who Annuals. I've been out since before nine and don't let myself go home till tea time, when I've got a bunch of pages on all three projects. Completely whizzy on caffeine by then, of course.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Who at Fifty in Manchester next month

The very brilliant impresario, TV fan and publican Gareth Kavanagh has transmitted the following v exciting news about Who-related events in Manchester next month. Live theatre and talks and sheer transdimensional fun - in some of my favourite city centre venues...! Read on...!

Who at Fifty – Manchester’s very own Doctor Who fringe festival
16th – 30th November, 2013

“Manchester pays homage to Doctor Who with a two week fringe festival of new drama, screenings and special appearances”

Doctor Who is fifty years old on the 23rd November, 2013 and four of Manchester’s best loved venues are teaming up with a host of events over two weeks to help you celebrate!  New drama, live episodes, screenings, poetry and a great big party for Doctor Who’s 50th birthday on Saturday, 23rd November.  With more goodies than you can shake a sonic screwdriver at, it’s truly bigger on the inside!

THE ART OF WHO kicks things off on Saturday, 16th November with your chance to meet some of the amazing talents behind the Doctor Who comic strip – currently the Guinness Book of Records World Record holder for the longest running tie-in comic strip.  You’ll see rare art, chat to the creators and maybe buy some original art if the fancy takes you! 

Another key creative Who at Fifty is also delighted to welcome is ANDREW CARTMEL who will be in conversation at the Lass O’Gowrie on the 30th November. As script editor during the later years of the original run, Andrew did much to lay the ground for Russell T Davies triumphant return in 2005 and is a key voice in the evolution of the show from ratings also-ran to conqueror of Ant and Dec!

Sunday, 17th November sees a chance to meet the very first director of Doctor Who – WARIS HUSSEIN, one of the men who created Doctor Who in 1963.  A BAFTA winner and renowned director, this is the first time Waris has appeared in Manchester and is not to be missed!  

Waris will also be present at a very special live restaging of his original debut AN UNEARTHLY CHILD at FAB Café.  A full cast, live performance of the very first episode of Doctor Who from 1963 starring Phil Dennison as the Doctor, this unique presentation is being staged in support of the Alzheimer’s Society and is brought to you by Lass Productions and Scytheplays, the team behind 2013 fringe smash hits V for Vendetta and the Ballad of Halo Jones.     

An Unearthly Child runs on the 17th, 18th and 19th November and is performed as a double bill with the follow-up, EDGE OF DESTRUCTION on the 23rd November.  Edge of Destruction then continues its run on the 24th and 25th November.

The drama doesn’t end there.  Who at Fifty also showcases the premiere of AN ADVENTURE IN TIME AND SPACE; 50 YEARS IN 50 RELS an anarchic and hilarious celebration of everyone’s favourite Time Lord, brought you by our ridiculously talented ensemble and Manchester Theatre Award winning playwright (and lifelong Who fan) Ian Winterton.   Other Doctor Who inspired drama not to be missed includes THE PYRAMIDS OF MARGATE, a solo theatre tragicomedy addressing (alien) life, love, dreams and … Tom Baker which wowed the critics at Edinburgh and NEMESIS – a rehearsed play reading from David Agnew, a bittersweet tale of a couple and how the return of Doctor Who to our screens in 2005 makes an indelible mark on their lives.

Doctor Who has always had a great and British sense of humour at its heart.  The programme even had comic genius Douglas Adams as script editor in the late Seventies!  With this in mind, Who at Fifty showcases more comedy than you can shake a Perigosto Stick at! 

Fringe favourites THE SCOTTISH FALSETTO SOCK PUPPET THEATRE return to the Lass on the 17th November with Socks in Space, their sell-out Edinburgh show with some very special new Doctor Who material to tease us with.  They are also joined later that evening by a Doctor Who themed WET FEET special stand-up evening, with Manchester’s biggest Who fan comedians giving their all with MC JOHN COOPER.  John is also at the helm for JUST AN EARTH MINUTE – A Doctor Who tinged edition of the Radio Four classic.  Stand-up and poet, ROD TAME tells us how Doctor Who makes his life make sense with his sell-out show STRANGE WORLD, ODD PERSON on the 25th November, while fans themselves get to dictate the action in a very special improvised episode of Doctor Who performed by the Comedysportz improve comedy troupe in LET’S SEE WHAT HAPPENS on Saturday, 30th November.  

You don’t necessarily need to be an avid fan to take part in the fun?  Thursday, 21st November sees a very special Doctor Who edition of the LASS PUB QUIZ, in association with the Manchester Library Service.  Hosted by ROD TAME with special guest BERNARD PADDEN, who starred as Tylos in Full Circle – a Tom Baker Doctor Who story from 1980, the quiz promises, fun, clips and other interactive treats to challenge the casual fan and hardcore followers of Doctor Who alike.

It wouldn’t be Doctor Who without a few screenings either, and Who at Fifty has plenty on offer.  Monday, 18th November sees a rare 16mm film screening of THIS SPORTING LIFE – the 1963 kitchen sink drama starring Richard Harris and William Hartnell that convinced BBC TV bosses to give Hartnell the role of the Doctor and in doing so, change TV history.  The 26th November sees a screening of the David Tennant epic THE STOLEN EARTH while the Lass O’Gowrie will show the big anniversary special – the DAY OF THE DOCTOR on big screens in HD on the evening of the 23rd and docu-drama AN ADVENTURE IN SPACE AND TIME on the 22nd.  Finally, Wednesday THE COBBLES OF DOOM on the 20th at Taurus celebrates the links between Corrie and Doctor Who with an evening of clips and interviews brought to you by the Fiction Stroker and PHIL COLLINSON, the only man to have ever produced both Doctor Who and Coronation Street.

Discussing the programme, Festival co-ordinator Gareth Kavanagh notes;

Doctor Who at Fifty is something we’ve been building up to for years.  We’ve had so much pleasure from this wonderful show over the years and Who at Fifty is Manchester’s love letter to Doctor Who. With our links to the show being as strong as they are – ‘beit it from the links between Corrie and Doctor Who or merely as home to Russell T Davies and the place he drew his inspiration from as he plotted the show’s triumphant return to our screens in 2005, it just feels right for our City to give something back to the fans!”

Tickets are available on the door (unless sold out) and advance tickets are available from

Participating venues include; the Lass O’Gowrie, FAB Café, Taurus and the Town Hall Tavern.

Unearthly Child photoshoot credits - shot director Paul Anderton, lighting Peter Michael George, ace photographer Andrew Greenland and Steven Mitton's smoke machine!

Join the fun over at Facebook -


For more information or for interview requests, please contact the Festival Co-ordinator, Gareth Kavanagh on 07748103698 or on

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Seventies Music Day is November 11th...

On November 11th Life On Magrs is hosting Ali McNamara's blog tour for 'Step Back in Time'   - it's a novel about time travelling - and I'd like to fill the page with loads of playlists. So - if you were making a mix tape (tape! not a cd!) and it was confined to 70s songs - what would they be? keep it to ten tracks. (Send me a snap of your handwritten cover for your tape, too - that would be great! Remember when we used to make those?) I'm going to think about mine now...
Please email your selections to by October 31st!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Lady of Time

She's a time travelling pseudo-Lady of Time of mysterious provenance, who fancies the Doctor, calls him 'sweetie', has a diary that contains details of their past and future adventures together, might have married him at some point, meets him out of sequence, gets locked up in all the best prisons, is regarded as a reprobate and floozy, wears ridiculous ratbag / space-lady outfits, likes bling, hats and gadgets, fags and booze and historical objets d'art, makes jokes about the patriarchal pompousness of the other well-known time travellers and makes him groan with dismay and pleasure whenever she pops up in her magical, flying double decker bus.

YES! Iris Wildthyme is back in - SEASON FOUR BOX SET on audio from Big Finish, FIFTEEN in hardback from Obverse Books and now you can buy a volume of her racey correspondence - FROM WILDTHYME WITH LOVE from Snowbooks

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Dr Who Annuals

Here's a question to those who grew up with the Dr Who Annuals published between 1965 and 1985. What are your memories of reading these and what do you think about them now? And did you find yourself writing your own stories - Dr Who or otherwise - as a result of reading them..?

Meanwhile, I got asked to provide a Dr Who-related doodle for a charity auction this week. This - below - was the result!  Not unrelated, I think, to all the Dr Who Seventies Annuals I've been reading...!

Monday, 14 October 2013

'The Story of Fester Cat' bought by Penguin US

Today I'm announcing my big, exciting news. I've signed a contract with a new publisher. Penguin US have bought world rights and will publish THE STORY OF FESTER CAT in 2014. (Thanks to everyone who read Fester's memoirs in manuscript. Your help and support has been so important. It's a very important book to me.)

Here's the blurb written by my brilliant Agent, Charlotte Robertson at United Agents:

Six years ago a skinny stray black and white cat covered in flea bites and with only one and a half teeth happened upon Jeremy and Paul sitting in their garden.

While they fussed about making him comfortable and getting him food, he took one look at them and realised they needed his help. 

As they set about taking him to the vets and welcoming him into their house, he decided it was time to make that house a home, by making them a family.

This is the story of Fester Cat, a stray cat who even when he was starved and in pain knew how to be happy.  He had a fierce energy and spirit, and knew his own mind, but he also knew how to appreciate sitting and singing and breathing and working towards the most contented of deep felt sighs.

Paul Magrs has written many books in many different genres. He taught novel-writing on the MA in Creative Writing at UEA, and then at Manchester Metropolitan, but is now a full-time writer.

Virginia Woolf's Flush meets Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie, Fester Cat will have you laughing out loud before breaking your heart (don’t read this on the train)

Some early quotes:
'A sweet, moving and heartfelt memoir from a companion, philosopher and cool cat.'  Carole Matthews

It's warm, and funny, and sad, and human. It's full of such tiny details, set in such a small area, and yet those details and that smallness are what make it so profound because it's a book about big, enormous, messy love.  I cried at the beginning, and at the end, and in the middle I laughed and soaked it all up.’  Julie Cohen

Saturday, 12 October 2013

'From Wildthyme With Love' - Published by Snowbooks in November

'From Wildthyme With Love' is a very special Iris and Panda book, published by Snowbooks in November this year. It'll be available through the Snowbooks site and Amazon and the usual places.


Here's an except -

Panda Lovey,

This is the last time I ever listen to you. Bloody hell!
‘It’s a Bring-a-Bottle party,’ he says! ‘Oh, I bet the place will be jumping by the time you get there!’
Thanks a lot, my furry little pal. I ended up on a dead planet. There I was, all glammed up, clutching my bag from
the Offy, staggering through a mucky, petrified forest. I tripped over some horrid, dusty lizard thing.
Then I found the address you gave me. It looked a bit small on the outside, I thought, but I banged on all the bloody doors anyway. The lights were out and no one came to answer. You must have told me the wrong night, chuck. I was so brassed off I drank all the booze and left the empties lying around outside.
Next thing, I was quite pissed, but I bumped into a whole load of blond fellas who live in the woods together. They wear a shocking amount of blue eyeshadow and not a lot else. Anyway, we had a lovely time and later they helped me find my way back to the bus.
So – where did you say you were, lovey? And did you borrow my Time Scrunchy?

Xxx Iris


Iris dear,

I told you – didn’t I? I hopped out in Paris, 1979. Rotten vintage, but who cares? I was feeling cooped up aboard the Number 22. Sorry my dear, but a little spell apart might be just the ticket.
Here I am outside our favourite bistro on the Left Bank. I’ve a glass of pastis and a splendid view of Notre Dame. And wouldn’t you know it, but I’ve met a very classy lady who says she’s in the art business. She claims to have pored over several of my critical articles..!
I’m popping over to her luxury apartment in the Marais this evening while her hubby’s out. She tells me he’s a proper Count.
Apparently he’s out of town a lot, trying to be in too many places at once and she’s feeling a bit neglected. Looks a bit like the top totty out of Space 1999!
Wish me luck, dearie!

Panda X


Dearest Panda,

I set the coordinates for Paris but went a bit off kilter in the Maelstrom, that mysterious region in which Space and Time are completely buggered up.
Upshot is, I ended up here.
It’s some kind of space city in the middle of a jungle of flesh-eating flaming plants.

LATER: Have found the bar. Full of space delegates. Some kind of conference, I think. Secret summit, according to the funny-looking fellas I’ve been sitting with. One in a jumpsuit covered in chocolate chip cookies. Another looks like a malevolent Christmas tree, but at least he got a round in, which is more than I can say for the Prime Minister of the Solar System.
They reckon they’re here for a clandestine rendezvous with evil alien robots from another galaxy. They’re such a tease!
You watch yourself with that Frenchy lady!

Xxx Iris


Iris dear,

I did a bunk from the Countess. She had dreadful henchmen hanging round her pad. Plus, a roomful of knock-off art treasures and a very rudimentary time machine in the cellar. Seemed a rum set-up to me, so off I popped.
I’m in – of all places! – Putney. On the Common. Seems it’s the 22nd Century and they’re all going on about the Earth being invaded by something or other.
Anyway, you watch out who you’re hanging around with. You shouldn’t get involved in galactic politics and spies, you know. Remember what happened last time?
Must dash. There’s a flying saucer landing on the Common! Looks like a bidet. We’re going to lob some home- made bombs at it and defend our world against the alien fiends. Hurray for us!



Friday, 11 October 2013

'The Web of Fear' and others

Guess what I've been watching..?

Like lots of Doctor Who fans I was up very late last night, once the BBC embargo broke and the new-old episodes were released onto I-tunes.

How magical that is! Not just the fact that these episodes have been found half a world away and returned to the archive after such a long time… but also that, just as we learn about their re-existence, they’re available almost immediately.

Episode Two of ‘The Web of Fear’ came down those virtual pipelines much faster than it takes our boiler to fill the bathtub with hot water.

I sat up watching just that single episode, careful not to binge and spoil the experience. And how weird – to have a story I knew from a Target novelisation from so many years ago – simply come to life. Like reading a book and then dreaming about the characters – that’s just how it feels.

One of my favourite things so far – besides the wonderful and sprightly yeti battle in Covent Garden – are the first appearances by iconic character, Lethbridge-Stewart, as played by Nicholas Courtney. I love the way he takes the Doctor seriously – though the other military bods are scoffing – when the Doctor tells them he has a time machine disguised as a Police Box. You can see their deathless friendship spring into being in just that very moment.

Besides gloriously restored and sparkling and creepy old Doctor Who, there’s been other ancient TV in my life this week. I’ve discovered what’s so great about the original ‘Outer Limits’ at last.

I’d only seen a few episodes before, and stupidly thought it a hokey monster-of-the-week show, with overlong episodes and obscure plot twists. And yes, it is… but it’s also very dark and sour and strange. It’s much more nihilistic than ‘The Twilight Zone’, and all the characters are completely bonkers. There aren’t any gentle, eccentric souls for us to empathise with. Everyone on ‘The Outer Limits’ is peculiar and on the edge. I’m still working my way through the series – and delighting in every show. Favourite so far? ‘Don’t Open Till Doomsday,’ in which an eloping couple end up in a crazy Miss Havisham’s back bedroom, where her own ancient unopened wedding presents are stored. There’s a light shining from one particular box and, if you peer inside, there’s a nasty hobgoblin and a tiny, still-alive husband who’s been there for forty years… It’s proper Atomic Age Gothic, just as Doctor Who’s yetis are. They come from an age when wedding gifts and moth-eaten fur coats and homely locations like the London Underground could turn very nasty indeed.