Friday 28 September 2012


Tomorrow I am going to a writers retreat for the day ( It is part of the Taunton Literary Festival and I have to say I am looking forward to having a time to write. It is only a day retreat, beginning at ten and concluding at half past six. Lunch is included and I am assured that the atmosphere is conducive to writing.

I plan to complete a short story I have been working on in dribs and drabs for some time. As part of the publicity campaign around the publication of Labirint, the first book in the Maplin Heresy sequence of CO2, we are offering people who pre-order the novel a series of free short stories and unique art. Labarint will be launched at the Cardiff Comic Expo in March.  If you are interested please contact me.

I view the short story sequence as a chance to explore the world of CO2 and to fill in the background of some of the characters. The first of the series concerns how Shaj and Ryan first meet and concerns airships and stolen jewels. In fact the illustration above is a rough sketch for this story. I love the 60’s film poster style that David is using here. The completed illustrations are breath taking, especially the four armed gorilla porters.

The second features a character from the second book Miles To Go, Promises To Keep, it is set in Liverpool and also relates to the CO2 preview. This is the one I hope to finish tomorrow.

Other stories in the series will concern the balancing of Trinidad and Tobago, and a crime story featuring Balancer Mendoza, not sure yet if this will be set in Liverpool or Bridgwater (as Mendoza is at different points in his career posted to both places).
So, why not mail me and sign up for the CO2 extravaganza, emailed stories and exclusive art, what can you lose?

Tuesday 25 September 2012


Today I am very pleased to be interviewing Tim Hart. Tim is responsible for envisioning a wonderful world of cat girls and all seeing eyes in the comic series Victoriana ( The steampunk world he has created abounds with imagination and is truly a unique vision. But enough from me let's hear from the man himself.

Tell us about VictorianaHow did you come up with the idea?

Victoriana was an idea of combined things I like. One is my fondness for Catgirls,  (the strange and alluring creatures) and the Victorian era, a period of great change. Naturally these two things don’t mix and thus I combined them with a healthy dose of Steampunk. I’ve always wanted to do my story, for they say everyone has a book in them, mine is one with lots of pictures.

Who has influenced its development?
The influences for ‘Victoriana’ have come from a lot of sources, Phil Foglio (creator of various comics and Magic: the Gathering cards) and Masamune Shirow (Dominion Tank Police) are probably the biggest influences to the Sisters Bast themselves. But the final style, Saskia (my conceptualist) took my very basic notes and created wonderment. George (our artist for V and smashing lass) then took those images made them her own. The universe and London so far is still very much traditional which a suitable dose of Colin Clive Era Mad science and a hint of Abney Park. It’s a veritable Cauldron of Pop culture and influences, which I hope people will enjoy picking out what I’ve added it.

On reflection what would you have done differently?

Not a lot , I’m very happy with how everything is looking.

Any advice to people who want to do the same?

Yes, you can do what I have (being a player Game of Thrones that is the Comic games). But it requires you to work hard. It’s the thing people don’t want to hear, but it’s the truth. You will never have the right conditions to write. So you’ll have to get on with it. But when you’ve done it, it feels amazing.

James Henry (Green Wing, Bob the Builder) had a good phrase. If a touch paraphrased is ‘write five pages, if it’s not very good, you’ve written five pages’. Everything requires practice, and that practice will pay off. If Victoriana turns out well, imagine what I’ll be getting published in 15 years?

Also you are not alone; people are in the same position as you and are willing to help if you help them. Talk to others, make new friends, basically network and things will slide into place. Also a healthy dose of Prayer to the Almighty will work wonders providing you’re not being selfishly motivated. From day one I have worked short term goals. Dream big, but recognize what you can achieve.

Your family and friends will be a valuable asset, keep them and cherish them, they’ll help you more than you can imagine.
What’s in the pipeline?

I have a couple of projects on the burners at the moment. Spanning the genres; one is a Detective drama with a sense of humor. The second is about a Mythical Brewery in my home of Cornwall and the third is a magical cross between RedWall and ‘Men behaving badly’. The Third one is currently in note form on old bits of till roll from work.

If you were a piece of machinery what would it be and why?

A Pasta Extruder. My reasons are my own…

That’s a joke; it’s a good question and one worthy of a decent answer. So I’d think probably a train, you’re designed and made to transport people to new places.  As a Writer it your job to build a world you’d want people to visit.  So I’m couriering people’s imaginations. 

Thanks Tim for the inspiration and words of support.

Friday 21 September 2012


Autumn is upon us here in Somerset, today is the equinox, and a quick glance at the net tells me it is the festival of Mabon. A time, I read, to give thanks for the sun and begin to prepare for winter, not that we have seen much of the sun this year, but hope springs eternal.

As I have grown older I feel much more tied to the seasons and aware of the change than I did when I was younger. I now try to watch the sunrise on the shortest day at Avebury, for no other reason than it feels right. I suspect that we humans were meant to live with the rhythm of the natural year and we lose that harmony at our peril.

Here is Anne Briggs singing Fire and Wine. I am slightly ahead of myself in season change but it’s a great song (written by Steve Ashley) and performed by one of our greatest traditional singers.

Steve Ashley wrote Fire and Wine as part of a song cycle of the year Stroll On ( I’ve still got the vinyl copy I’ve had from the early 70’s as well as the later cd. It is a really interesting album with a song for each month and Song a poem by John Donne that Steve put to music.
I was lucky enough to catch Steve’s band Ragged Robin supporting Steeleye Span back in late 1972 when they played most of the album.  Great performance, if you like Anne’s version then it is worth checking out the album.

Staying with slightly early season change, here is the Incredible String Band and October Song.  This is from their first record if you like it you could try this live version I have just found on Youtube ( ). 

 There is a simplicity to the lyric that I have always loved, especially:
For rulers like to lay down laws
And rebels like to break them
And the poor priest likes to walk in chains
And God likes to forsake them.

I think in this simplicity is a great wisdom, but hey I’ve loved the Incredible String Band since I was a kid.

Anyway let’s do some poems. I’ve been struggling with an idea this week and it has yet to coalesce into anything I’m prepared to share in a post. Actually there are a few like that at the moment, slightly too autobiographical to show. So here is a poem I’ve had for a while, again it’s based on an actual incident, driving back home late at night. I was the passenger I should add and so had the time to gawp at the stars.


Save it isn’t a plough,
It just looks that way to us.
Different distances,
Different ages,
Different lengths of time for
Unconnected light to arrive here,
At the same time.
We speed homeward,
The plough perfectly framed
In the side window pane,
Until a too bright Taunton drowned the light.

About this next one all I will say is that Edgehill is a station just outside of Liverpool.


I never waved at trains,
Too far from the tracks.
A middle class myth
In the books I read.

It happened to me just once,
Sat on the train at Edgehill,
Just outside the station,
Little children waving
Two fingers at every train.

Here’s a question, if you could would you do it all again exactly as you have done now?

She unveils the machine,
Offers me the chance:
Relive my youth with wisdom.

Taunts me: Too afraid of the trip?
That backward slide through time?

Sensing the truth she is wide of the mark,
For I know my fear so well.

I am frightened of arrival.
Of the thousand possible paths before me
That I know I will discount,
To chose the path I took.

Hush! It all begins again.

Enjoy Mabon.

Monday 17 September 2012



Lizzie Nunnery and Vidar Norheim have released their new album today ( It is available in all the usual places itunes, emusic and from the website. I want to use this post to review it as I think it is excellent and a contender for my favourite album of the year.

I have to admit right at the beginning of this review that I asked Lizzie for a review copy of the cd. I did so for two reasons, one that I wanted to review it and the other is I was really impatient to hear it, especially after I had caught their performance in Glossop. I have been listening to it for about a month now.

A little background for those of you who have not read the interview I posted a while back. The multi-talented Ms Nunnery, playwright, poet, musician and songwriter released an album in 2010. It made my top ten of albums of the year. There were a mixture of personal and political songs and it was firmly rooted in the north-west of England, where I had grown up. Lyrically it was rich, romantic and passionate. In short it ticked all the boxes.

So, the new album. It is produced by her husband and co-performer, Vidar Norheim, himself a talented musician and a member of Wave Machines (who are really worth a listen, but I digress) and The Solid Air Band (a John Martyn appreciation band). Vidar was named in 2011the most promising song writing talent in a competition in his native Norway. This guy is a serious musician and live the rapport between them is a joy to behold.

So what’s so amazing about this new album then?
For a start the sonic palette has broadened, there is a sophisticated musicality to the album. It is well recorded and the arrangements underline and compliment the songs. There is a richness to the arrangements that adds to the listening enjoyment, that draws the listener into each song. You can tell this album is a work of love and passion.

Lizzie’s vocals have taken on a new strength as well, this is evident from the first words she sings: They say the end of the world is coming. Here is a singer who has echoes of an Old Testament Prophet, there is anger. Her passion and humanity ring out.

And the lyrics are as good as you would expect.

For me a number of themes are explored, there is an apocalyptic feel to some of the songs, there is a political commitment to our humanity in other songs, and always there is love. Inevitable, inescapable, and ultimately redeeming love. I take my hat off to her lyric writing skills.

Let’s start with the apocalyptic. The opening track on the album Evensong has this for the second verse:

They say the end of us all is coming
Broken ice and falling rocks
Fierce landslides and stopping clocks
A high tide to cover us they say

This is a rich brew, there is much to mull over just in those four lines. I like the visual, kinetic images she has assembled, broken ice, falling rocks, the idea that a landslide can be fierce and of course the stopping clocks. Lizzie lyrical skills have developed at a prodigious rate since the first album.

But this song is not simply a catalogue of the end of times. What stands out is the final line:

I’ll be yours ‘till every bright thing fades.

Here is the first example of the redemptive power of love. The narrator cannot do anything but give their love to another, even at the end of the world there is the redemption, in the face of all this, of unconditional love.

This is continued in the second track Five Thousand Birds, apparently based on an actual event when five thousand birds recently fell out of the sky in America. Here the narrator sounds even more prophet-like:

So let the taps run black and the children curse
‘Cause there’s nothing more my heart can bear
When the heavens burst on the quaking land
Won’t you be my lover won’t you hold my hand

Visions of the impending disaster continue on the title track Black Hound Howling. The opening lines illustrate just what a superb songwriter she has become:

Faster than a running cat
The night is at your back
Quicker than the beating tide
The dark’s electrified

She tells us:

Don’t say we’re safe as houses
The house is coming down
You hear that black hound howling
That old familiar sound

As I say though there is more to this album than a pointing finger telling us of the approaching disaster, there is a questioning of the current political situation and the assumptions and platitudes that are banded about by politicians. The penultimate track Don’t Look To Me questions the assumptions at the heart of the Tory’s so called Big Society:

And what if I work
But nothing works for me?
And what if I try 'til my body bleeds
But I wasn't born special
And I wasn't born strong?
And what if I'm weak
Am I wrong?
What if I'm weak
Am I wrong?
And what if I'm ugly
And what if I'm broken
And what if I'm angry and untaught
And done hoping?
And what if I fought this country's war
And what if I wear this country's wounds
And what if my parents did before?

In all the vast acres of your society
It seems there's not a single corner left for me:
A single unprofitable commodity
Don't raise your head
Don't raise a hair
Don't look to me

This questioning continues into the final track Poverty Knocks. The chorus is simply stunning:

I heard a rumour we’re all winners now
If we’ll scrap for our dinner and laugh while we drown
If we’ll play sink or swim while the losers go down
All of us then will be sailors
All of us then will be sailors

Not only is this a condemnation of the contemporary obsession with celebrities and reality television, it highlights how the economic situation and the reduction of social care and support has brutalised us all. There is also a subtle reference to Leonard Cohen’s song Suzanne, the second verse of which states that Jesus was a sailor who realised that only drowning men could see him and therefore says that all men will be sailors until the sea shall free them. This is its turn references Robert Lowell’s poem Quaker Grave in Nantucket, possibly one of my all time top ten poems.

The song continues to question the fallacies of the present government and their callous approach to those of us who require support.

When the day breaks in with an aging face
When breathing in is a breathless race
When nothing you own is your own, when your place
Is somewhere below the line tucked away

I cannot end this review though without mentioning the beauty of the lyrics. That Lizzie is a fan of the Beat Poets is obvious on Cherry Blossom Tree, one of the two spoken word tracks. I was reminded of St Jack himself:

All the cherry blossom of Washington
The hay-fevered snow storm of it
Sugaring the city in half remembered Japanese myths

This is so beautiful. As is the opening of The Cold Has Come:

You laid him down in the frozen ground
And the snow hit us sideways
And toppled our crowns
And there were endless bells
But not a sound
The cold had come between us

What Lizzie offers us is humanity and the redemptive power of love:

There will be love beneath the snow
There will be love beneath the snow
Don’t ask me to promise
Don’t ask how I know
But there will be love
There will be

Listen, this is a major album. It is part of the grass roots change that is coalescing around us, in every town, on every continent, as much as is Annabelle Chvostek’s Rise and the work of Sean Taylor.  

There will be love.

Friday 14 September 2012


I have some very exciting news this week. My novel has found a home! Those nice people at Corvus Press UK ( have asked to publish my steampunk, other worldly detective story that has more than a twist of time travel to it. I am to say the least elated.

I began writing The Jowler about three years ago. I had recently read an anthology of steampunk short stories and thought, rather arrogantly, I can do that. What attracted me to the whole steampunk genre was that it would allow me to use my engineering background. Yes, I know it’s hard to imagine but I began my working life as a spotty faced apprentice fitter/turner in those long ago days when Albion produced things. And I thought that this experience would give me a unique angle on steampunk.

Actually what it gave me was the two main characters and the lead in to the sequel. The Jowler is set in Frome, a town I used to live in; I spent much time ensuring that the layout of my Frome works on our world, and had long wanted to incorporate the carnival tradition of the south-west in to a work of fiction.
So there it is The Jowler will now see the light of day. More news to follow.

I thought this week I would end with the title poem from my first collection of poetry.


As kindling for our endeavour,
We broke up one hit wonder after another.
Blew on the music until it caught,
Wanting to burn everything ever heard.
It was difficult to fit the first symphony on,
But as Wagner caught we knew it would last.
We threw some Chopin on to the blaze,
One man joked It’s quicker to burn them than to listen to them.
I warm my hands on a Thelonius Monk solo,
Black flames angular to the fire,
We worked steadily through the night.

As the birds woke,
As we prodded the embers of the last Bach,
The world was silent.

We used to have a set of those magnetic words that you can make poems out of, on the front of the fridge and my daughter had sequenced the words cooking music. The poem was a result of me thinking about that sequence.
Here is the first poem I wrote for her:

blind divers kick
in the womb wet dark
no eye can catch
this streamlined arc

Have a good week.

Tuesday 11 September 2012


Astute readers of this blog may know that I have mentioned The Stray Birds before, in fact eagle eyed readers will know that I wrote a villanelle inspired by their performance at the Purbeck Folk Festival last year.
They have recently released their first album and I want to review it, but before doing that I thought it would be worthwhile just to tell you something about them. The Stray Birds ( are a trio of excellent musicians who play what I would describe as traditional American music. By that I mean acoustic, violin, banjo, guitar and bass topped off with close harmonies and a lyric that more than nods to the music of the immigrants from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Think of music from the same well as the Carter Family and you get the general idea.
Hailing from the town of Lancaster in Pennsylvania Maya de Vitry and Oliver Craven started singing together in 2010, after they had both spent years travelling and broadening their appreciations of the music of their continent. They enriched their sound by adding Charles Muench on double bass and recorded the ep Borderland last year-I have to say it was one of my most played records of last year.
Their performances at Purbeck were stunning, intense, dynamic and steeped in tradition. It was with a little trepidation then, that I pre-ordered their album, worried that it would not live up to my expectations.

My apprehension was groundless. It is a gem of an album. I am hard pressed to pick out any specific song, both Maya and Oliver are excellent writers, the ensemble playing is first rate and the production does their singing and playing justice. There is a good separation between the instruments and it really works as a whole.

If pressed to name the most played tracks I would have to say Wildflower Honey for the gorgeously sensual vocals of Maya, she is one of the best singers I have heard in a long time. 25 to Life is an incredibly catchy song in the tradition of Hank’s Lost Highway and Harlem and No Part of Nothin’ are fine examples of the songwriters art. Hell, the whole album is well worth a download. You can do that at itunes, cd baby or emusic and you can buy it from the band, who are at present touring the whole of America.

They inform me that they may well return to the shores of Albion in the spring. I for one cannot wait.

Postscript: I just want to highlight another few albums that I am very excited about. The second record by Lizzie Nunnery and Vidar Norheim is released on the 27th and it is wonderful.

Also Annabelle Chvostek has completed recording her new album Rise and it is to be released on 23rd. Watch this space! 

Friday 7 September 2012


Let’s talk about life this week. How do you know you are balanced? Are you ever balanced? Do you bob about like a cork on the ocean, swept this way and that at the whim of every current? Are you an orphan of the storm? Or are you centred and grounded?

I think that to write well we have to have some order, possibly not in our lives but in our flow of ideas, there has to be structure if you are to tell your tale clearly. For me this is easier to do when I am in balance. As Lao Tzu says:

Countless words count less than the silent balance between yin and yang.

I have been reading the Tao Te Ching a lot recently. I do not claim to understand it all, nor would I say I am putting it into practice. It does resonate though, the idea of being in balance, of making the minimum change necessary.

Let me answer my own questions. I know I am balanced because there have been times in my life when I have not been. I strive now to maintain that balance. I think it is like breathing. Breathing? We all breathe you say and you are right.

It is the quality of our breathing that counts. I realised this when I started doing yoga and it was confirmed when I began Tai Chi. Many people are “chest breathers”, especially I am told, people who smoke. This means they breathe with their rib cage, their lungs do not fully inflate. It is a tiring and inefficient method of getting oxygen into the blood, chi into the body.

It does not help us in our quest for balance. Balance only comes when we breathe from our diaphragm. Breathing in this way helps us to fully inflate our lungs, it also grounds us to the earth and it is only when we are grounded we can achieve balance.

There is no clever ending to this post. I just want to ask you if you are in balance and how you know when you are? For me it’s probably phenomenological, there is a certain set of feelings that I experience when I am balanced. I can deal with change more effectively. I know I am breathing from my diaphragm, I am doing Tai Chi and regular Reiki. It never ceases to amaze me that a high percentage of my ideas come when I clear my head during Tai Chi and Reiki. How about you?


It simply is,
Bright orange
Stretched between two trees
An ordinary haulage strap.
Yet it attracts,
You feel you must walk its length.
Most will tumble,
The rope one way, their centre another.

It oscillates,
A vagrant sine wave that will bounce you off.
There are secrets here,
The position of the feet,
The line of gravity through the base of support.
Perhaps, like life you can only learn as you go,
And, at the end, as you fall,
You realise your mistake too late.

Tuesday 4 September 2012


Emily appeared at Purbeck this year and you would expect me to have been in the audience but I was not, our paella took too long to cook and I missed her. I was so intrigued by her write up though, described as a singer songwriter who appears with a string quartet and drums. So much so in fact that I bought her latest cd Cat Fish Bird on spec, and what a good decision that was.

The first thing that struck me about her cd was the care that had gone into the beautiful handmade cover, Emily is one of those small band of artists who produce unique works of art.  The second thing I realised was that there was a rare beauty beauty to this music. She does not sound like anyone else, the music is very accessible, the lyrics are thought provoking and I have found myself listening daily to Cat Fish Bird and her other album is it? But do not take my word for it, you can download Cat Fish Bird for free, from her website (

Having listened to Cat Fish Bird a couple of times I knew I had to contact her and request an interview. She was a delight to speak to and readily agreed to be interviewed. On her website I read that she has been performing for over ten years and has released four albums, that her family play on stage with her, and prior to the last general election she was invited to the House of Lords  as one of Britain’s most “up and coming musicians”. She has also composed music for tv- Britain’s Hidden Heritage

What made you begin to compose?

Growing up in a family of musicians, surrounded by musical instruments and being compelled to play the piano, despite my lack of will to take any lessons...

What are your influences?

Lots of 60's and 70's music - The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith and more recents like Regina Spektor, Peter Broderick, Bonnie "Prince" Billie and Cathy Davey 

What inspires you?

I'll probably state the obvious here by saying things like places, situations and things like that but more often than not, it just so happens that I might be really in the mood to write a song.

Which comes first lyric or tune?

A bit of both but probably the tune.

How did you start to release your own cds?

I felt so unbelievably excited when I discovered that I could record my own albums myself, and even if it sounded shit, I had the freedom to record in my own room, in my own time and on my own - using just a computer, microphone and a cheap audiocard. Now of course, everyone is doing it like that and the quality of sound that you can get is as high as a top end studio. It really is the only way to make records if you're not rich or found a label to pay for a session at Air Studios! I have never really been a fan of the plastic CD case and have always enjoyed buying albums that have something different and tangible about them (Janis Joplin "Box of Pearls" or Bob Dylan's Columbia box set) so every time I release a new album, I create a unique hand- made case that I hope people can enjoy (almost) as much as the music! None of this really answers the question! I guess I started releasing my albums by launching them in gigs and selling them or giving them away on my website. 

What would you have done differently?

Nothing! There's no point in thinking like that about the past, I can only think about what I will do differently!

Any advice for someone starting out?

A very successful record producer used to rent a room in my Grandma's house and when I was 16, I gave him my CD for him to listen to and his advice was "Keep trying for 10 years and if you haven't made it in the music industry by then, do something else". That advice would have meant that I would have given up music 3 years ago and probably be in an institute suffering from depression. I think that the only things that matter are the quality of your music and the quality of your determination. 

What’s in the pipeline?

My new album will be out by the end of this year or the start of the new year - I'm very excited and will keep you posted about the launch date!

If you were a colour what colour would you be and why?

Green. I'm always compelled towards green for some unknown, probably hippy reason!

I was intrigued by the statement on your website that you are a non-vegetarian, do you mean an omnivore?

For some reason a lot of people think that I'm vegetarian, perhaps because my music is a bit on the folky side?! But I love a good bit of meat though preferably not lamb.

Thank you Emily, I am already waiting for the new album and the chance to see you live. In the meantime get over to her website and do yourself a favour download Cat Fish Bird. Me? I'm going to go and order her other two albums, you can't have too much of a good thing.