Archive for February, 2017

My work in progress, Slinter Wood, is largely set in the late 1980s, mirroring my own school days. I’m currently doing a lot of research to get the right tone and detail for the period.

I’d love it if you could help me!

Tell me in the comments (or via social media) any details you remember about school life, fashions, fads, insults, and pop culture in the late 1980s. If I use your idea in Slinter Wood you’ll get a thank you in the book – and (if it’s really good, and I haven’t already thought of it) a free copy when it’s released! (Don’t hold your breath. Given my usual pace, it’ll be years yet…)

It’s not the big stuff I’m interested in, the world events, the politics, the disasters – that’s easy to research. It’s the small, inconsequential details of life circa 1988. Sometimes we forget how much life has changed, but once you start thinking about it, it was a very different world back then.

What do you remember about those days? I’ve already filled 50+ pages with my notes and memories, and I know it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I’m not looking for cliches and buzzwords from popular memes (Spangles! Boggle! Marathon!), but actual memories – it’s those minute, true details that give a story depth and richness.

Here are some of mine:

  • That stink of stale cigarette smoke every time I walked into any school toilets. Burn marks on the toilet seats, and the unfathomable mystery of the ancient, rusted ‘Bunny Incinerator’* on the wall
  • the breath-taking agony of getting a hockey stick whacked round my ankles on a frosty morning
  • the school bus: a narrow prison of torment, with no escape from those who would shout insults, pull your hair, kick your seat, whisper about you – just loud enough so you knew, even though you couldn’t hear what they were saying. The humiliation if you stumbled when the bus lurched to a halt; the hot, damp horror of all that laughter directed at you
  • watching Threads** in Humanities class at school, and the idea of nuclear war becoming a constant background fear. Waking in the early hours and hearing an aeroplane high overhead, convinced it was about to drop a nuclear bomb
  • owning only three video cassettes, but being a typical obsessive teen and wanting to hoard all my favourite things; having to make the painful decision of which much loved music video or comedy sketch to sacrifice when I needed to record something new.

I could go on, but I think that gives you an idea of what I’m after: snapshots, impressions, details that bring the period vividly back to you. I’d really appreciate it if you’d share any with me.

Thank you.

* Because I think that is going to confuse a lot of you, just as it confused me all those years ago, let me assure you it involves no cruelty to small furry creatures, but turns out to be some old-timey solution to the disposal of feminine hygiene products.

** Having just read the Wikipedia entry, it’s a wonder I ever slept again!

Lake in Shining Cliff Woods

DANGER – DEEP WATER

‘Let’s make a film about revenge. About some kids who’ve had enough of being pushed around, having crap shouted at them. So they kill the guy who’s been picking on them, and make it look like an accident.’

‘How?’

‘I dunno. Poison? Drowning? Torn apart by wild dogs..?’

15 year old Rose accidentally joins her school Film Club. But it isn’t long before Film Club has transformed into Revenge Club, as she and video-obsessed loner, Paul, plot an elaborate trick on the popular kids who make their lives hell.

The trick works better than they could ever have imagined – disastrously so. And now they need to trust each other and work together to outrun the horrifying consequences.

But against her better judgement, Rose is drawn back to the scene of their success – to Slinter Wood, to its ruined cottage and silent lake, to the legend of the witch Mary Slinter, who met her cruel end there 350 years ago…


Slinter Wood marks a change of direction for me on two counts. It’s aimed at an adult, rather than young adult, audience; and rather than fantasy, there is more of a folk-horror vibe.

This new direction is largely the result of taking a year off from novel writing to concentrate on short stories. Every one of the short stories I wrote last year turned out horror themed, and pretty damn grim.

I did alright with the first one, and although I haven’t won any further competitions (yet), I wanted to take this theme through into a longer format. It’s early days, as I’m still working on the first draft, but I’m really excited about it.

I’m thinking Heathers meets The Loney.

Check out Slinter Wood’s Pinterest board for a flavour of what’s to come.

visitmymosqueSunday 5th February 2017 was the third national Visit My Mosque day in the UK.

Visit my Mosque involves ‘over 150 mosques across the UK holding open days and welcoming in their neighbours of all faiths and none.’

Until I read about this on Friday I had no idea there was a mosque just a few minutes walk down the road from where I live. This might seem odd, until you find that it’s a tiny little place, converted from what was once the back room of a pub. No domes, no minarets, no muezzin.

With a participating mosque practically on my doorstep, I had a vague intention to attend. But tbh, in simpler, calmer times I probably would have found a reason not to bother. I’d rather spend my Sunday afternoon going for a long walk, or reading a book, or maybe baking. But these are not calm or simple times, and there are very troubling things happening around the world.

I didn’t manage to go on any of the anti-Trump marches, but this was something I could do – something so simple and easy it would almost be shameful not to do.

But I had concerns. I pictured my partner and I turning up as the only visitors to an embarrassed and disinterested group of strangers who perhaps were merely ticking a box by taking part. Or maybe they’d be like Jehovah’s Witnesses, and we’d spend the next hour trying to politely extricate ourselves from an attempted conversion. Or perhaps they’d expect us to have come armed with lots of intelligent questions, and I honestly couldn’t think of any, and we’d go in, say ‘hi,’ turn round, and leave again – like when you go in a gift shop and instantly realise it’s all tat and you’re not interested – but the effusive shop-keeper really wants to talk to you….

As it happens, we turned up half an hour after the start of the open day, and could barely fit in the place. We deposited our shoes behind the front door, and crammed into a game of sardines. The guy at the front was talking about all the areas of overlap between the Bible and Qur’an – things I had no idea about, such as the fact that Muslims believe in Jesus and revere Mary.

We listened to him talk for a little time, about how he set up this mosque originally as somewhere for the local taxi drivers to worship between shifts. There were originally just 5 of them, but it has grown, and is now often full. He invited questions from the many visitors and answered them engagingly, with humour and enthusiasm.

Another guy arrived shortly after us, and introduced himself as a first generation Irish immigrant who arrived in the UK 50-odd years ago, and suffered a great deal of prejudice and racial or religious discrimination. He told the assembled group, ‘I am not religious. I’m an atheist now. But I wanted to come here today because I know what it is to be shunned and treated with distrust. I want to thank you for inviting us here today, and to show you that you’re not alone. We will stand with you.’

This was pretty much exactly what I would have liked to say (apart from the Irish immigrant bit). There was a spontaneous round of applause.

Then there were snacks, mingling, and the opportunity to ask questions, if you wished.

It was very far from the slightly awkward but worthy duty I had thought it might be, and I am so glad we went.

Those who know me know that I don’t have any great opinion of religion generally, and there are certainly aspects of Islam I find particularly problematic. But that’s not what today was about. If I had wanted, no doubt I could have asked some awkward questions, and I think they would have been answered honestly and with respect. But for once, I didn’t want to be the awkward person. I just wanted to accept the hand that was reached out to me, to meet people in my immediate community I normally wouldn’t meet, and experience things I normally wouldn’t experience. To build bridges, not walls.

See also Finding the Familiar.


Thank you so much to everyone who liked and shared this post, which seemed to strike a chord with a lot of you. I ended up featured in The Guardian in their coverage of Visit My Mosque day.