Miner Misdemeanours

I was interested to read in The Times this morning that the FTSE 100 Kazakh mining company ENRC is being investigated by the UK Serious Fraud Office for bribery, fraud and corruption.  Same old, same old.  My ‘new’ thriller The Trade, touches on similar themes.  In the nineties only mainstream mining companies were listed on the big stock exchanges — but much went on behind the scenes and behind the ruins of the Berlin Wall and in the more “exotic” parts of the world …



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Children’s book for Charity

I have just published my third book in the Toffee Makers series of children’s books (4-7) with all proceeds going to charity — Crisis in the UK (for the homeless) and the WWF.

This has been quite a year for me — with my very own series of crises.  Writing this little book has made me happy.  Here are a few chapters.  Click the link to read the rest at 77p for charity 🙂


Available on Amazon for 77p

Available on Amazon for 77p

The Toffee Makers’ Christmas Crisis

For Tim

Chapter One

Christmas is Coming

The postman looked like a walking snowman as he furrowed his way through the snow-piled path to the farmhouse.  Dazzling white flakes swirled around him in a blizzard; his gloved hands were caked white, chunks of snow falling off as he rapped firmly on the front door.

“Special Delivery,” he croaked, handing over a sparkly wrapped package to Alex’s father.  “Special delivery, for Master Alex.”

“Well, this is a surprise,” said Alex’s father passing the package to his son.

“Who would send such a thing?” said Alex’s stepmother, Kate, coming through to the hall from the kitchen, wiping wet hands down the front of her apron.

Who, indeed? thought Alex, his hands trembling ever so slightly as he tore open the glowing copper-coloured paper.  He could see his own reflection in its bright sheen – his wide-open eyes magnified, intensifying their look of surprise.

“It’s an advent calendar,” said Kate, looking over Alex’s shoulder with an expression of disdain.  “Full of nasty sweet things, I wouldn’t be surprised.  I’ll take that for now.”

But Alex held on tight to the cardboard box.

“It’s December 1 – time to open the first window,” he said, walking across the hall into the living room, where he placed the box up high on the mantelpiece.   Looking up he could see that the box was designed in the shape of a factory – a toffee factory.  The many windows and doors – labelled 1-25 – were exactly the same as he remembered that last time he visited the neighbouring Toffee Makers Factory in November for the Halloween Party.  But then the light glowing within the factory was bright and warming.   The windows on the cardboard copy were iced up and bleak – the door was bolted shut.   It looked derelict – like it had that very first time he saw the old factory at the bottom of the field where he lived.

“Interesting design,” said Alex’s father, joining his son in the living room.

“Not at all festive,” said Kate, with a sniff, her attention returning to her chores of the day.

Quite, thought Alex, picking the box up once more and taking it up the stairs to his bedroom.  He sat on his bed gazing at the cardboard factory, not daring to open the first window.

“Go on, open it!  What are you waiting for?  Christmas!” said a voice – a familiar voice.

“Delphi?” said Alex, brightening immediately.  “Delphi, is that you?”

“I see that school you go to isn’t making you any cleverer!” said the voice.  “You’d be better off leaving now – getting a job in industry.   Well, actually, maybe not …” said the voice, trailing off.

Alex followed the sound of the voice to the window – its glass pane foggy with condensation.  As he watched he saw a circle appear in the misty glass revealing a pale face pressed up against it, fragments of ice hanging from the limp curls that framed it.

“Delphi!  What are you doing outside in the cold?  It’s freezing!”

“Well, let me in then!  Open the window.”

Alex followed Delphi’s eyes as they glanced at the box on the bed and he did as he was told, peeling back the cardboard of the first window.

“About time too – a Toffee Maker could catch his death of cold waiting for you to get the message!” said the small toffee coloured face that peered out of Window Number 1.

“Shall I help you out?” said Alex, kindly.

“No need, you’ve done enough!” said Delphi, shaking his curls and squeezing his head out of the window, his bendy body not far behind.  Alex watched as Delphi grew, his limbs lengthening before his eyes.

“You know, you don’t always have to make such a dramatic entrance!” said Alex, “A rap on the door would do – you made that poor postman trudge his way to our house when you could easily have come yourself.”

“Hoity toity,” said Delphi, settling himself down on the bed beside Alex.  “The postman’s lucky to have a job.  I won’t … soon.”

“What!” said Alex, leaping up from the bed, turning his full attention on Delphi.  “Whatever do you mean?”

“Hard times,” said Delphi, his usual cheeky moonlike expression eclipsed by a dark shadow.  “Hard times, indeed.”  As he said the words he started to rip open the remaining windows of the cardboard factory – each one empty – each one a gaping void.  “It’s the same over there,” said Delphi, nodding in the direction of the factory.  “They’ve shut down the furnace.  Production has halted.  We’re ruined.”

“Oh Delphi!” cried Alex, his hands flying to his mouth in anguish.  “Tell me this is some sort of joke.  The Toffee Factory finished?  But it can’t be.  Who wouldn’t want your delicious magic sweets?”

“Father Christmas – that’s who.  It’s December 1 and we haven’t heard a whisper.  Not a peep from one of the elves.  Alex, my friend, there is only a small market for our particular brand of toffee – and without the special Christmas order – we’re finished.”

Delphi sat with his huge head in his spindly-fingered hands.  His curls were damp with snow – his large eyes glazed over like iced ponds.

“They’re holding a crisis meeting at the factory in five minutes.  Will you come, Alex?”

“Of course, but why me?  I’m just a child.”

“Precisely.  We want to know why Father Christmas hasn’t ordered any sweets this Christmas.  Are the children not putting them on their wish lists?  Is magic … old fashioned?  Have children stopped believing?”

“Why, of course not, Delphi!” said Alex, his eyes flickering for a split second on the Xbox in the corner.  “There must be another reason.  Magic, sweets, Christmas – what’s not to like?”

“Well, tell that to Mr Glucose!   He’s in a right tizzy.  Talking about holding a focus group to re-brand the factory.  He’s becoming all …”


“Yes!  We need to save him before it’s too late.  Here, have one of these Toffee Maker’s Friend sweets.  You won’t need a coat.  Let’s go.”

Chapter Two

The Board Meeting

Delphi helped Alex down from his bedroom window, his long outstretched arm perfect for abseiling to the ground.

When his feet landed in the soft snow, Alex was amazed to find  it as warm and cosy as a duvet.  Sucking hard on the Toffee Maker’s Friend sweet Alex could feel its heat radiating throughout his whole body.   Just ahead of him Delphi was striding through the snow towards the factory; his body, lit up by a halo of heat, was slicing through the snow like a blowtorch.

Following in his footsteps Alex felt none of the joy and anticipation of his last visit to the factory.  The Halloween Party had been a celebration of all things sweet, spooky and magical.  This felt like a trudge to the workhouse.

Amalfi, Delphi’s sister, was sitting slumped sullenly at the small desk in the corner of the reception area.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said curtly, nodding Alex through without a name badge.  “He’s expecting you upstairs.  Good luck!”

Delphi and Alex climbed the iron staircase to the grand balcony that circled the production floor.  All was silent.  The sound of their shoes slapping down on the hard iron floor echoed around the empty space.  When they reached the large wooden door at the end of the balcony Delphi paused, before giving it a timid tap.  There was no reply.  Delphi tapped again, harder this time, and the door creaked open to reveal the long boardroom table and the sight of Mr Glucose, his head in his hands, at the far end of it.  He didn’t look up as the pair entered the room.

“Ahem,” said Delphi with a little cough.  “I’ve brought Alex, as you instructed, Mr Glucose.”

“Ah,” said Mr Glucose, finally looking up, his hand dipping into a big jar of sweets on the table.  Popping one in his mouth, he continued.  “The human boy?  Yes, finally, we may get our answer.  Sit child.  Take a seat.”

As Alex and Delphi took their seats at the table, others began to filter in.  Alex recognised Crystal and Celeste from the Halloween party and noticed another unfamiliar creature with a ruddy complexion and bright red hair.  He looked like a distant relative of Delphi’s .  “He makes the Toffee Maker’s Friends,” said Delphi, answering Alex’s unspoken question.

When they were all settled at the table, Mr Glucose cleared his throat and rose to his feet.

“These are terrible times, my colleagues and friends.  Terrible times.  Never in the long and illustrious history of this toffee making factory have we encountered such a devastating collapse in demand.  Never!  It is unthinkable that Father Christmas – our great and generous patron, friend and customer – would turn his back on the factory at this time.  It is unheard of.  Why?  Why, we must ask ourselves.  Young Alex,” said Mr Glucose, turning his attention to the only human in the room, “Do you not believe any more?  Is magic all washed up?  Is reality the new fantasy?  Is Christmas finished?”

Mr Glucose’s face was reddening, his arms waving, his eyes popping:  “Is Christmas finished!” he repeated dramatically, before collapsing back down in his chair, his fingers ruffling the thin strands of hair on his pink head.

“No, it most certainly is not!” said Alex, rising to his feet.  “I wrote to Father Christmas only last week.  Sweets were high on the list.  The whole class sent off their emails on Friday.  Christmas is, and always will be, the very best time of the year for children.  It is a magical time.  Believe me.”

Mr Glucose’s head shot up.  His eyes, popping just seconds before, were narrowing now, taking in the information.  “Did you say email?  Email?  Oh, my word.  Email!  Do you think, my dear boy and fellow Toffee Makers, that Father Christmas has email at the North Pole!”

The colour drained from Alex’s face and he sat back down.  “Everyone has email, don’t they?” he whispered quietly.

An equally quiet whisper replied:  “Let’s see shall we …” Celeste rose from her seat and placed a large chunk of transparent toffee on the table.  The assembled audience looked on, mesmerised, as a scene, not dissimilar to a snow storm in a glass dome, appeared before them.  As the snow inside settled they were alarmed to see a shocking sight – Father Christmas, alone and adrift upon a floating piece of ice.

“Oh My Word!” said Mr Glucose.  “Where are the reindeers?  Where are the elves?  Where is the Grotto?  What on Earth can be happening?  Has Father Christmas gone …”

The unfinished question hung in the air as Mr Glucose reached for a gobstopper sweet from the jar.  To question Father Christmas was to question the very existence of Christmas.  The assembled Toffee Makers lowered their eyes and shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.  Only Celeste remained calm – her long elegant fingers softly shaking the transparent chunk of toffee, stirring the snowflakes and changing the scene.  This time they could see the Grotto with its elves – their faces wearing the same worried expressions as the ones around the factory table.  In the far corner they could see the reindeers and one of Father Christmas’ sleighs.  But there was no Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  There was no beacon of light to guide the sleigh.

“Father Christmas is in mortal danger,” concluded Mr Glucose, pulling himself together and summoning up all his managerial skills.  “We need to send out a rescue party.  Any volunteers?”

“It’s a long way to the North Pole,” said Delphi, unhelpfully.

“Any volunteers?” repeated Mr Glucose.

“I’ll go,” said Alex, standing up and looking around him.

“So will I,” said Crystal, smiling across at Alex.

“And me,” said Celeste.

“You can count me in,” said Firegus, the flame-haired Toffee Maker.

“I’ll go too,” said Relph, a small Toffee Maker who had been sitting quietly at the far end of the table unnoticed.  “I used to work at the Grotto, many years ago.  I could be of use.”

All eyes turned to Delphi who was sitting at the table studying his nails.  “As Union Representative of The Rainbow Toffee Factory Unlimited I can firmly state that such a dangerous assignment flies in the face of all elf and safety guidelines.”  Delphi paused for effect, the pompous expression on his face dissolving fast:  “So you can definitely count me in!  Let’s face it – you need a leader!”

“We also need a strategy,” said Crystal turning to the others.

“Indeed,” said Mr Glucose, screwing up his face in an effort to devise one.

“If I could make a suggestion,” said Firegus.  “We need to get to the North Pole, right?”

The Toffee Makers and Alex all nodded their heads in agreement.

“And we can safely say Delphi’s long arm – even if holding on to the equally long one of his sister – wouldn’t stretch that far.  Am I correct?”

They all nodded again.

“Well – I just so happen to have some rockets left over from fireworks night.  I should say, stoked up with a good dose of Toffee Maker’s Friend, they should have enough in the tank to get us all to the North Pole.”

“The North Pole’s a big place, Firegus,” said Delphi, a little dismissively.

“Celeste, will you guide us?” said Firegus.

“It will be an honour,” replied Celeste.

“And Relph, you know the lie of the land?”

“It’s been a long time,” replied Relph . “But I’ll try my best. “

Delphi crinkled his brow:  “It’s all we can possibly do.”

“Before you go,” said Mr Glucose, rising from his chair and getting something out of his pocket.  “Give my dear Father Christmas my very sweetest regards.  As well as this present,” he added, slipping an object into Delphi’s outstretched hand.  “Good luck and have a sweet journey!”


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I love Halloween.  The streets of my town suddenly burst into life around 6.30 p.m., when all the little kids come calling in their bright costumes — mums and dads waiting at the gates.  For many, many years I used to host a Halloween party for my son and the children from his primary school (and into his secondary school at least once!).  It was mayhem, usually, with my gallant friend Sue and I resorting to a glass of wine earlier each year — as the kids (mainly boys) galloped through our carefully organised games at Olympian speed and usually ended up tying someone to a tree in the garden or ducking someone in the bobbing apples bowl.  Happy memories!  But, for all those with little ones — whether they’re your own children, grandchildren or nephews and nieces — here’s the first two chapters of a Halloween Special I wrote as part of my The Toffee Makers series.  The full version is available free for three days, from 11am this morning.  http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/reader/B009U82LWI/ref=sib_dp_kd#reader-link





For Amy


The Toffee Makers are an enchanting company of creatures who make magical toffee and sweets which spark exciting adventures.  Their factory is in a field that backs onto 10-year old Alex’s family farmhouse.  Most of the time the factory looks closed down and derelict – and no-one would ever dream of what went on behind those old rusting doors.  But Alex got a taste of the factory in the first book The Toffee Makers, when he met Delphi, the company’s Delicious Sweets Supervisor and Workers Union Representative.  Delphi took him on an adventure where he met some hostile toys, who were left neglected and marooned in a spoilt boy’s bedroom.   In this second book in the series, Alex is invited to the factory to meet some more Toffee Makers for a Halloween Party.



Chapter One

The Invitation

Alex held the gilt-edged card in his hand as if it was an invitation to Buckingham Palace.  In fact, it was much, much better than that.  It was an invitation to the Must-Go Event of the season – The Toffee Maker’s Annual Halloween Party.

Alex hadn’t heard from Delphi, Delicious Sweets Supervisor and Workers Union Representative at the Rainbow Toffee Factory Unlimited, since that fateful day they parted company in the field at the back of his house.  He’d been promised a visit to the factory to meet Delphi’s colleagues.  But nothing had happened and Alex had expected to spend October 31 on his own … very few of his school mates would venture across the fields to play trick or treat at their farmhouse.  And his stepmother Kate had discouraged the invitations he had received to join them in town – too much sugar, she scolded, would keep him up all night.

And yet, here it was; an invitation to the best party in town.  He slipped the card into his pocket when he heard his stepmother coming down the stairs.  The least she knew about this the better, Alex decided.

But the fact that his stepmother didn’t know about the party, didn’t help him enormously.  Just how was he going to slip out across the fields to the factory at night?

“7 p.m. sharp” read the invitation.  Alex, from his limited experience of Delphi, knew it was best not to disappoint him.

At 6.50 p.m. on October 31 Alex was sitting in his bedroom, gazing over the inky black fields towards the factory, with no clear idea how he was going to get there in time.  He’d bolted back his supper as quickly as possible, excusing himself from the table and taking his homework folder upstairs to wait for his moment.

He could hear his stepmother and father talking in the kitchen, blocking his exit by the back door.  It would have to be the front door then, he thought, slipping his overcoat on and preparing to creep down the stairs.  At that very moment the doorbell rang; the sharp, unexpected noise creating a kerfuffle in the kitchen.

“Who can be calling at this time?” said Kate, unable to disguise her irritation.

“Trick or Treaters, perhaps?” said his father, “Shall I get it?”

“No,” said his stepmother, rather sharply, pulling her cardigan around her and heading for the door empty handed.  “I’ll deal with them.”

From the top of the stairs Alex could see a bunch of people gathered at the door, dressed in a variety of sparkly, colourful outfits.  Although they didn’t appear to be wearing masks, they didn’t look remotely human.  He could see that his stepmother was taken aback by the strange costumes on show.

“Trick or Treat?” said the one at the front, a copper-coloured curl of hair slipping out from under his hat.

Kate went to shut the door but was stopped by a large boot which wedged it open.

“I take that as a Trick, then,” said the one at the front, pulling out a bag from beneath his cloak.  Alex, who had crept down to the middle of the stairs, could see that it was a big bag of sherbet.

“No, no,” said Kate, recoiling and pulling at the scarf around her neck.  “We really don’t want that sort of substance in here.”

“Trick!” said the copper-head, his cloak hood falling back to reveal his identity.

Delphi, thought Alex, a smile spreading across his face.

“Sorry?” said Kate, as Delphi threw the bag of sherbet over her head, its yellow crystals glistening in the gloom of the hall, electrifying her.  As the crackling subsided, so did Kate’s energy – her body freezing, like an ice sculpture.

“Come on!” shouted Delphi, over her shoulder.  “The party’s just about to get started!”

As Alex stepped gingerly around his stepmother, he could hear his father coming out of the kitchen.

“Kate, everything all right?”

“Right as rain,” Delphi replied, showering another bag of sherbet on Alex’s father.

As Alex looked on in horror, Delphi dipped his finger into the bag and licked it. “Perfectly harmless, young Alex.  Just a little trick of the trade to keep them quiet for a few hours.  Let’s go.”

Lined up outside the front door were five large orange pumpkins, the stalks at the tops jutting out like gear sticks.

“Are we ready?” said Delphi, striding across one of them as if it was a Space Hopper.  “Let’s hop it!”

And with that the others all mounted their pumpkins, leaving one for Alex.

“It’s easy.  Just jump aboard, hold onto the joy stick and follow us,” said one of Delphi’s friends, her voluminous hair the colour and sheen of a Sherbet Lemon.

Alex climbed aboard, grabbing hold of the pumpkin stalk for support.  As he did so, Delphi took off at the front, the others bouncing after him.

“Full throttle, we haven’t got all night,” shouted Delphi.

So Alex pulled back the stalk and his pumpkin lurched forward, bouncing at high speed across the field towards the glowing lights of the factory.

Alex almost didn’t want the ride to stop.  He couldn’t have dreamed of a better way to travel to a party.  But, he figured, Delphi and his friends would have plenty more surprises in store.


Chapter Two

Party Games

The factory door was wide open and Alex and his new friends hopped inside, leaving their pumpkin mounts in the vast reception.  The space was empty apart from a small desk in the corner, with an equally small creature seated behind it.

“Ah, Alex, very pleased you could make it,” said the Toffee Maker behind the desk.  “If I could just fix this badge to your shirt,” she continued, stretching her arm across the room and pinning it to Alex’s chest.

“I’m Delphi’s sister, Amalfi,” she continued.   Alex nodded.  He could see that she came from the same elastic stock as her brother, a creature who could twizzle up and down at the drop of his pointy hat. “Hope you have a horrendous time!”

“Don’t mind her,” said the creature with the Sherbet Lemon hair, “She has as much tact as her brother!  Horrendous, on Halloween night is what we would wish everybody.  My name’s, Crystal, by the way.  I make the sherbets around here.  They may not be as sweet as toffee – but there’s no denying my sherbet does the fizz!”

Alex couldn’t help but agree.

“Come on, let me show you around before you meet the others.”

Crystal swept past him and up the wrought-iron staircase onto a balcony overlooking a massive room full of copper cauldrons and conveyor belts, all rippling with activity.

“They’re working late tonight, getting a few more treats ready for later,” said Crystal, as Alex gazed down, watching the workers pouring liquid into moulds, and shimmering sheets of wafer thin metal wrapping round the confectionery as it rattled off the end of the conveyor belts.

“There will be a treat in store for everyone who deserves one tonight.”

“And a trick, for those who don’t,” said Delphi, coming up behind Alex.  “Time you met the rest of the ‘firm’.”  With that he strode out along the balcony, which curved around the entire room, providing a spectacular view of the toffee-making process below.

The aromas of a hundred sweet and delicious ingredients wafted up, filling Alex’s nostrils and delighting his senses.  The workers below whistled merrily, going about their work with the confident and carefree air of bees in a Garden of Paradise.

“They’ll be off duty soon,” informed Delphi, “Off trick or treating – one of the many perks of being a Toffee Maker.  Trick or treat – it’s always fun!”

Delphi and Crystal stopped outside a big wooden door at the very end of the far side balcony.  Delphi rapped his knuckles against the heavy oak wood three times.

“Come in, come in,” said a voice beyond the door.   As it creaked open, Crystal stood back and Delphi pushed Alex through the entrance.

“A guest?” said the rotund looking Toffee Maker seated at the far end of the long wooden table.

Delphi raised his eyebrow, unpinned the badge on Alex’s shirt and held it under the creature’s nose in his outstretched arm.

“Ah, yes, I remember now.  Young Alex.  Come to join us for Halloween.  It will be nice to enjoy the company of a human for a change.”

“This is Mr Glucose,” said Crystal, introducing the important looking Toffee Maker.  “He is the founding member of our company and our Chief Executive Tofficer.”

“How do you do,” said Alex, politely.

“I do very sweetly,” said Mr Glucose.  “Are you sweet?”

“I’m sweet,” said Alex, catching on to the company lingo.

“Well, let the fun and games commence,” said Mr Glucose, rising from his chair and clapping his hands.

Alex could hear the clatter of a hundred feet on the iron balcony behind him.  The chatter that accompanied them was almost deafening.  Not daring to look behind him he felt something soft brush against his cheek; a bat – its squeaks lost among the noise and commotion.

A pair of gloved hands covered his eyes:  “Guess who?” said a voice behind him.

Turning slowly, Alex thought he recognised the plastic looking person, dressed as Dracula, sitting astride a plastic dinosaur.

“Short memory, little Alex?” said the toy, his plastic smile stretching to a grimace.

“Tobias?” said Alex, looking to Delphi for reassurance.  “The mad, bad toy I met in Percy’s bedroom that last time?”

“The one and only!” confirmed Tobias.

“My you’ve grown!”

“Don’t worry,” said Crystal, coming forward and standing by Alex, “He’s been told to be on his best behaviour tonight.  And he’s just one of many ‘monsters’ that come to life on Halloween.”

Alex turned round and saw exactly what she meant.  The long room was filled to the rafters with monsters and ghouls – some on the ground, some floating in the air, some crawling out of the woodwork.   It was going to be some party.

The party games were already getting started.  In the far corner Alex could see an alive and kicking devil with a line of creatures queuing up to pin a tail on him.  Every time someone got close, the Devil let out a “guffaw”, which got louder and louder the closer they got to the spot.

To his right was a big copper cauldron full of floating toffee apples.  Tobias, still perched on top of the dinosaur, was plunging his head in to catch a stem and then tossing them behind him, so they rolled down the dinosaur’s back into a bag held open by his toy friends.

“Would you like to play Guess The Gruesome Object?” asked Crystal, holding out a big bag for Alex.

He nodded and popped his hand into the bag. “A crooked carrot?” said Alex as his hand grasped something hard and thin within.

“Better luck next time,” said Crystal as Alex let out a little cry and dropped the witch’s finger on the floor.

“Maybe another game?” said Alex, sensibly.

“How about Ghost Busters?” said Crystal, pointing to a row of ghosts floating along one side of the wall.  “You have to see how many you can shoot with this pea shooter.  If you can hit them all – you win a Toffee Surprise.”

Alex looked a little alarmed.

“Don’t worry,” assured Crystal.  “They’re already dead.  The peas will go right through them.  They won’t feel a thing!”

She was right; they grinned happily as the hard peas shot through them, making a “Wooo” sound for every direct hit.

With a high score of 10, Alex accepted his Toffee Surprise with pride.  He clutched the golden cup of sweets to him as the party started to settle down for tea.

The long table was decked with over-flowing plates of delicacies.  On one sat a pyramid of sparkling blood red ice cream, on another a chocolate haunted house – towering above the rest, its top nearly touched the ceiling.  The guests were invited to help themselves and Crystal served Alex generous portions of cake, ice cream, shimmering little ghost jellies, candy wands, savoury monster munches and, of course, a plate of Halloween toffee.

The chat around the table was merry, with the guests all fighting to give their Halloween stories.  Alex listened in wonder, nibbling the delicious food on his plate, thinking this spooky party was just heavenly.

After a while Mr Glucose rose to his feet and pulled on a long rope which hung from the ceiling.  As he did so the huge bell above rung out, sending the assembled bats flying and squeaking across the room.

“Dear fellow Toffee Makers and honourable guests, I sincerely hope you have enjoyed our party tonight.  It is now time for you to take your leave for another year.  But, as you know, at this festive time we like to spread our sweet fortune among the local community.  Please assemble in your groups at the Great Door, where you will be given your bag of tricks and treats, for the evening.  Sweet Night!!”

A chorus of “Sweet Night” went up around the room, as the guests began to rise and walk towards the door.

“This is the best bit,” whispered Delphi, coming up alongside Alex.  “You’re in my group.  Along with Crystal, Tobias and his toy friends …”

“Where’s Tobias and his friends?” said Alex, looking all around but failing to see them.

“They’re back in their bag,” said Delphi, opening up the little bag in his hand.  Sure enough, there was Tobias, the dinosaur and his friends, all shrunk back down to miniature size once again.   “And I’d like to introduce you to another friend and colleague of mine – Celeste.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t see anyone,” said Alex, looking all around but seeing no-one but the departing monsters and ghouls who were packing up and heading for the door.

Delphi smiled and handed Alex a transparent block of toffee.  As Alex peered closely into the small block he thought he could see a person moving inside.

“Take a bite,” said Delphi.  “Don’t be nervous, take a bite.”

Alex did what he was told – the toffee melting on his tongue, conjuring up a distant memory of the sweet oatmeal cookies that his mother had baked for him when he was a very small child.  For a short while he was lost in thought and the memory of that happy time.  He was woken from his dreams by a gentle tap on his shoulder.  When he turned round he saw a tall, gentle feminine creature smiling serenely down on him.

“My name is Celeste,” she said.  “I am going to join you Trick or Treating tonight.”


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Yay! I got published in Tuck Magazine …

I was thrilled to find out last night that two of my short stories have been published in the excellent Tuck Magazine http://tuckmagazine.com/ .  For anyone not familiar with the magazine it is an on-line monthy arts title, showcasing fiction, poetry, photography and comment.  The two stories Tuck is featuring are a couple of my personal favourites.  Here’s another, more in keeping with my “Silent Ranter” style of writing …




Killer Act

There must have been around 30 of them in the room.  Nothing but shadowy figures, picked out in the half light of low voltage bulbs.  I’ve been here before – many times – and rarely survived the 10 minute slot.  But tonight I’m determined not to die on my feet.  I’ve prepared my ammunition well.  Practiced in front of the mirror – in front of the cat – and I’m confident that I can win them over.  I have to.  My material is running out – and so is my residency.  If I don’t get some positive responses tonight – a few chuckles, some guffaws, a yay – then I’m dead.  My career as a standup will be on the floor – with blood on it.

The guy on before me has raised a few laughs.  He has this way of pausing and then spluttering out random words like a manic Tourette’s sufferer.  They seem to like it.   But it’s not my way.

My look is all wrong…. I’m a middle aged comic, for god’s sake, but not Ben Elton.  If I wore a shiny suit like his I’d look like Nick Cage in Peggy Sue God Married.  Washed up and ready for the knackers. It’s all about the look: the delivery.  The gags are secondary.  It’s always been the way.  But now you seem to have to have a bigger hook – a deformity, a sexual preference, or reference, a cause, a niche.

I’m too…Tommy Cooper without the addiction. I’m too Crusty the Clown, without the malice and the yellow guy.  I’m going to die to night.  I know it.  And I couldn’t have picked a more disinterested audience to breathe my last before.  Most of them are drunk already; I can smell the liquor from here, as I cower behind the curtain.  I can smell food too, greasy and pungent – like they couldn’t wait till the show is over.  Ok, deep breaths: practise that smile.  Lips don’t fail me now…


There’s hardly a ripple of applause as the Tourette guy saunters off stage.  He looks pleased with himself, though.  It could be so much worse.  I know.  The pub manager’s giving me a look from the back of the room.  It’s not a good one.  His arms are crossed against his chest and he’s frowning.  It’s like he’s miming ‘ok, get on with it, dig your own grave, jump in, Amen’.

“Brrr, brrr, brrr” the sound reverberates off my lips, warming them up for the big entrance.  The news girl Sian Philips let us devoted viewers into this warm up technique. Oh Sian, if only you were here tonight.  You’d employ just the right type of appreciative noises to ensure my survival. We have so much in common, apart from the weight thing. You’re thin. I’m flabby, but not in a funny haha way.  There’s a lot of flabby haha people in the audience tonight.  Some have tattoos. A lot have piercings…and hats. The Muppet comedian Fozzy Bear wore a hat.  He was funny.  Probably not any more, though.  A regular bear with a hat wouldn’t rock the crowd tonight.

Ok, the guy at the back is looking concerned.  Move your limbs, man, with confidence, with confidence.

“Ladies, Transsexuals, and Flabby Men, lend me your cheers!  And a special mention to the Gluten Intolerant.  I can’t stomach you either!”

I wish I could say there was silence.  Maybe there was for a split second, a blip in the continual drone of chat, scraping of chair legs and clinking of glasses and plates.  Peering into the dimly-lit room I can’t be sure if anyone is actually looking at me, let alone listening.

“Well, that wheat joke didn’t go down well….huh?” Someone at the back shouts out a volley of profanities.

“I didn’t run into anyone I know today. Guess who’s wearing the exact same thing tomorrow!”

“They wouldn’t notice what you’re wearing any day of the week.  Loser!” yells one sharp wit from the floor.  And so it goes on, with each joke met with a volley of abuse.  And not one single laugh.  Not one.  The manager at the back is grimacing and moving his hand from side to side, mouthing the words ‘flat-lining’.

But it isn’t over yet.  I have one special trick up my sleeve – a tool of my trade.

“Yeah, you know, someone said if you want to get ahead you need to look good. You need a chiseled profile.   What do you reckon Ladies, Transsexuals and Flabby Men?  Shall I reconfigure myself before your bloodshot eyes?” I sort of shout the words out, so they can hear them above the racket they’re making as they fidget and shift in their seats, scenting blood.

I take the chisel from my pocket and thrust it into my cheek.  The pain is immense and my mouth falls open and lets out an almighty scream.  The sound cuts the atmosphere like a…chisel and, in that moment, I capture my audience’s full attention.

“Hey man, the dude’s cutting his own crappy face.  Jese, this guy’s hilarious.  He’s cutting his own ugly mug.  Man you’re killing me!” shouts this one scrawny-looking guy, who starts hopping around his table in hysterics.  And then, like sheep, they all start to bleat.  They laugh like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen.  And maybe it is.  Maybe my chisel cut right through to their warped funny bones.

So, I reckon, I’ve finally carved out a niche for myself.  I’ll have to work on the act.  Employ a little of the magician’s dark arts.  But tonight I succeeded.  I floored those bastards, all 30 of them. I’ll live to die another day.


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Ah, yes, the writer’s muse..Or should I say distraction?  My wonderful cat Duke likes company and is omnipresent when I work, rest and try to change the bed linen!  So this poem is for him and also for my friend Elizabeth’s two new kittens.  She’s never had cats before — now she knows what she was missing all those years…

Ode to Duke

Strike a pose

Turbo purr

Brush against skin

With silky fur


Give that look

You know the one

That’s not about food

Not about fun


Like when you appear

In the middle of the night

When it’s hard to sleep

But you make it right


A paw stretches out

Touching a hand

It kind of says

I understand


Strike a pose

Sniff the air

Just don’t pretend

That you don’t care

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Mummy’s Boy



I read this sweet item about Killer Whale Mummy Boys…and was prompted to write this Clinton Card classic. What surprised me was, when I read it to my own 15 year-old boy, thinking he would wince in embarassment…he actually liked it!  Teenagers, there’s no understanding them.Or getting away from them. Maybe I should ask him his opinion when he gets to 30…40…


Mummy, mummy,

I’m all at sea…

Will you please

Look after me?


I could spout forth

Like all the others

But I’m a gentle soul

Need the love of mothers


So stay close by

In stormy seas

When I’m out of my depth

When the others tease


Your school of thought

Comes from a deep, deep plaice (sorry, couldn’t resist…)

It’ll take a lifetime to teach me

Don’t hasten the pace


We’re swim together

In aqua blue

You looking out for me

Me looking out for you

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Bonfire of the vanities

I hear that Julian Assange could be holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy for a whole year.  Well, that’s a very long time to think up an escape plan….or even dig a tunnel to freedom…Wonder what’s on his mind…

Julian sat deep in thought, dipping a piece of pitta bread into a tub of Morrison’s guacamole. On a table before him an old TV was pumping out more images of sporty looking people smiling and crying as pieces of metal, attached to ribbons, are looped around their necks.  He felt like his own life was on a loop, or, worse, on hold.  Every idea he had to slip out of the embassy was poo-pooed by the staff – from the doorman to the gardener.

His idea of dying his hair black and slipping on an Ecuadorian Olympian’s rayon shirt was met by bemused smiles.  His suggestion that one of the team’s wheelchair bikes be loaned to him for a getaway cart was met with similar derision.  “You can wheel away, but you can’t hide,” said the embassy cleaner haughtily.

“She has a point,” thought Julian.  And then it came to him. In a flash. As a montage of Paralympic highlights ended in a riot of fireworks.

“Yes!” screamed Julian, leaping into the air, and launching into a Mobot around the small antechamber which was now his headquarters.  “Just a few weeks and I’m out,” he said to no-one in particular.  And no-one in particular was listening.

So he sounded out his plan to the cacti in the corner: “Halloween.  October 31. I’ll send out for one of those Guy Fawkes masks and capes the Anti-Cap guys are all wearing outside and when the munchkin kids come calling, braying trick or treat, I’ll slip in among their number melt off into the night. Genius.  Most of the press will be occupied kowtowing to their own children –  “pinning tails on the devil” party games and bothering the neighbours.

“Well stick that in your pumpkin soup and choke on it press corp! ….You won’t be able to see me for all those other Guys out there.

“Note to self, must remember not to leak the details…”

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