No Profit In Pain


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The NHS is 70 years old today, something we should all be very proud of. I’ve been fortunate to only have a few dealings with the NHS over the years and, apart from one over-enthusiastic nurse and an errant needle, I’ve been very pleased with the level of service and care received. My father was diagnosed with polycystic kidneys in the early 90’s and was hospitalised at one point when he was in considerable pain and passing blood in his urine. The staff, from the paramedics that delivered him to A & E to the consultants that identified the problem, were incredible, especially considering the filthy jokes my dad insisted on telling anyone who got too close to his bed – a side effect of the pain relief, that’s a lack of inhibitions, not the need to tell filthy jokes. My dad continued to have problems with his kidneys and eventually had dialysis and finally a transplant that continues to function perfectly to this day. More recently, my dad, again, was rushed to the hospital. This time it was because an idiot in his 30’s tried to impress his girlfriend by completing a sudden U-turn on a blind corner. My dad promptly drove his motorbike into the side of the car. Luckily my dad only suffered severe bruising, cuts and grazes, and the loss of his prized motorcycling jacket which the paramedics had to cut off of him and the motorcycle he wore it on. Once again the treatment he received was world-class and free. Let’s hold that thought for a minute, free. Our Health Service is free at the point of use. Yes, we pay for our care, and the care of others, through National Insurance contributions, but when we are treated there is no charge. The staff that deal with us are underpaid and overworked and yet they, on the whole, deliver an incredible service. There is nowhere else in the world where this happens. We all have stories like mine. There’s not one family in the UK that hasn’t been touched by the NHS. We should all feel proud of this incredible organisation and, along with birthday greetings, give the NHS as much support as we possibly can. After all, there are people out there, I’m looking at you the Tory Party, Richard Branson, Big Business etc. that want to dismantle it for financial gain. With all this very much in mind, Gruff Rhys has recorded, No Profit In Pain, a love letter to the NHS that calls on us all to fight to preserve it. Listen to the track, hug a nurse, hassle your MP, but above all SAVE OUR NHS.

Splinter Magazine


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I feel very honoured to have played a small part in the short but dazzling life of Splinter Magazine.


Andy Winter, as part of his new site, lays out the fun, sweat and tears that were integral to its inception and subsequent issues. Andy and the backroom team worked their sweaty little balls off every month to get a rather wonderful, scathing, joyous, flawed magazine out most months. I fear that the majority of poor spelling and grammar was down to yours truly, but by Lemmy’s mole it was a wonderful, terrifying, possibly illegal, crazy time.

Huge thanks to Andy for taking me on and putting in the hours and mentioning me in such glowing terms in this piece. God, I miss those days. Hopefully, those that I offended have since received the medical support that they so desperately needed.

Check out Andy’s retelling of those heady days in the 90’s on his new site that covers comics, film, podcasts and a whole host of stuff. Just click here.

The Man Who Mistook His Vote For An Instruction

Check out Yasmin Ali’s new blog. If this first story is anything to go by, it’s going to be a corker.

Scritti Politti

Derek was a man of clear views, forcefully expressed. Janet had come to know this well. In the early years of their married life, Janet had listened to what Derek had to say, often nodding to signal agreement, when in truth she had no strong opinions on Aston Villa, Reginald Maudling, or the merits of imperial measurements.  Sometimes, foolish young woman that she once was, she tried to argue with him.   Perhaps not argue, so much as try to dispel his anxiety.  Of course it was exasperating that the supposedly dead Bobby Ewing had suddenly walked out of the shower in Dallas, she would soothe, but did it really matter?

Janet no longer made the effort.  Derek’s explosions were many, but short lived.  She had come to regard them as being like steam released from a valve in a pressure cooker.  Within Derek’s brain…

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Have you ever heard of the Human Values Foundation? No, neither had I, but a friend of mine put my name forward to them, and they’ve commissioned me to write four short stories as part of what they do.


But what do they do?


“Our vision is that young people among all sections of the community, both in the UK and also overseas, will imbibe and practise human values so as to become responsible, happy, fulfilled members of society and aspire to human excellence.”
Part of all that is providing resources and lessons plans that enable teachers to create work around those values.
The four topics I’ve been given are: Becoming Responsible, Contentment, Hope and Optimism, and Self-Sufficiency.
It’s been interesting writing them, and the results will be on the Human Values Foundation website in the near future.

City Voices – Wolverhampton


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I hadn’t been to City Voices in a while. It’s a bit of a trek for me, travelling from south Birmingham to Wolverhampton, but I’m glad I braved public transport and read there last night – I even sold a few books!

If you’ve never been, it’s based in the Lighthouse which is a three-minute walk from the train station and housed inside the industrious Chubb building. As ever, Simon Fletcher, no relation, is the convivial host who sets the scene and puts everyone at ease. I’m not sure how long Simon has been running City Voices, but whenever I’ve been there the quality of the readings is always of a high standard and last night was no exception.



Sadly, my memory is bloody awful, and I can’t remember the names of those who read last night. The only names on the listing are mine and Fergus McGonigal’s – Fergus had to cancel, and Simon stepped in – but the quality of the writing and the reading from the three poets were very high. If anyone reading this can tell me the names of the poets leave me a comment below, and I’ll amend this accordingly.

The reading that stood out for me was a collection of poems from a creative writing graduate that was all based on a mysterious death in Hagley Woods in 1941. The poems were dark, evocative and original and stayed with me long after she’d finished reading. This mysterious death still generates graffiti to this day. This is from Wikipedia:

Who put Bella in the Wych Elm? is a graffito that originated in 1944 after a woman’s corpse was discovered by several children inside a wych elm in Hagley Wood (located in the estate of Hagley Hall, Worcestershire, England). Among other places the graffiti has appeared on the Hagley Obelisk near to where woman’s body was discovered. The victim, whose murder was estimated to have occurred in 1941, remains unidentified.

1280px-Bella_graffitiThe next City Voices is in February and will be love themed, with guests including Kuli Kohli, Yvette Layne and Bert Flitcroft.(Pancakes will be on sale in Lock Works for Shrove Tuesday).

City Voices info can be found here.

Writing, damn you!


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writing keyboardI’ve been struggling of late to get stuff onto the page. It’s not as if I don’t have things to do. I have a novel that needs a final tidy up and then sending off. A rough outline of a sci-fi novel that needs finishing, and a whole host of short stories that need finishing and starting. I know what I need to be able to write. I need space, time and routine. I have a room in my house where I can go to write. My office is at the back of the house, above the kitchen, and for the most part, it is quiet and interruption free, ideal for writing, providing it can be kept free. My daughter will occasionally camp out there to complete her homework. In fact, only the other night I spent over an hour with her going through her maths home-work – percentages, damn you!

In my previous job as a teacher, I had a routine. I’d dropped down to working three days a week, and on Thursdays and Fridays I stayed at home and wrote. I also wrote in the evenings and sporadically on the weekends. However, once I’d changed jobs, the routine went out the window. The new job involves shift work, and they’re open to change. I can find myself looking forward to some dedicated writing time, a literary event, or just meeting up with other writers and I’ll have to cancel it. Whenever I don’t write when I should be, I’m gripped by a festering guilt. I’m not writing for fame, fortune or recognition. I’m writing to keep the guilt at bay.

I’ve been here before. I know how to get out of this malaise. What I need is routine; I need purpose, and I need to be consistent. It’s just rather frustrating at times. I know writers that go through this. I know writers that struggle to juggle family, work and writing, and I know writers that do not have the worry of the commitment juggler. The one thing that unites us all, I think, is that awful shiver of guilt when we know we should be writing and we aren’t.

Things have gotten a bit better recently. I’ve completed a short story, well not that short, that’s been rattling around in my head for a while, and I’ve started another. The novel still needs to be tidied and sent out, but I know it’ll be done before Christmas – providing I get that tax return in!

What do you do when you’re struggling to write? What sure-fire tactic, habit etc. do you employ to keep the guilt demons at bay?

All answers gratefully received.


The other end of the telescope – a dozen ways to guarantee rejection


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Some great tips for getting rejected from periodicals and competitions. They’ll either make you laugh or blush with shame.

Thanks to Kmelkes for this glimpse from the other end of the telescope.


Source: The other end of the telescope – a dozen ways to guarantee rejection

The Write Stuff


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For those of you who are of a creative or aquatic bent, you may be interested to know that I will once again be leading canal based creative writing workshops. Those crazy fools at the Birmingham Literature Festival have asked me to lead dusk till dawn writing sessions as part of this year’s festival.


It really was great fun.

I don’t have a lot of details yet, but I guess that they will be similar to the ones I ran back in April as part of the pop-up festival. Back then, we started from Birmingham’s historic Roundhouse and explored the canals via canoe and kayak. It was a real eye-opener for me. There are parts of the city you can only explore from the canal. Deserted glassworks, industrial loading bays and the Victorian red brick of disused warehouses stand beside the canal, and their decaying shells now home a multitude of wildlife and their walls canvases for graffiti artists and frustrated lovers.


Come and witness my world famous invisible fish wrestling.

We will spend at least an hour on the water and then back inside the relative, although not guaranteed, warmth of the Roundhouse I’ll put you through your paces with some short, focused writing exercises that will nudge you towards creating longer pieces of work.

All photos are the property of the very talented Jana Eastwood. You can find more images from previous workshops here at her excellent blog, Escapes and Photography.


Birmingham’s Roundhouse.


One of the many incredible views along the canal.



Wildlife in the heart of the city.