Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Largs Viking Book Festival

By Odin's beard, it's Largs Viking Festival time again!

Always a cultural highlight - there's lots to see and do, you can check out the full programme online.

This year, I'm delighted to be taking part in the Viking Book Festival. I'll be at the Woodhouse Hotel on Sunday 28th August at 7pm, discussing comics, folklore and heritage - with a sprinkling of spooky stories and Superpower Project.

There's loads of cool events at the Book Festival, but if I had to pick another "must-see" it would be an afternoon of polite Viking Mayhem with fellow Kelpies authors Robert Harris and David MacPhail - you can catch them on Sunday 28th August on the Festival Stage at 3.30.

Hope to see you at the festival.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Weed Gatherers

Red Weed by John CB2

It being August, I always like to remember HG Wells Martian invasion from The War of the Worlds - still my favourite book. Here's a wee fragment of backstory from something I'm tinkering with...

For the first few years, the prevailing wisdom was that rural communities had suffered less during the Martian invasion. The Martians had largely concentrated their efforts on cities and suburbs, and that is where the greatest physical destruction took place. The destruction of our countryside was more subtle, less immediate.

Certainly, the Fighting Machines which had travelled further afield to create outposts had churned up or burned huge swathes of rural land, and several Martian cylinders had also crashed – by accident or design – in areas such as Cornwall, or even further north in Lancashire. It’s also true, that after the war, country estates suddenly emptied, with their city owners either dead or indebted amid the financial ruins of London, there was no management of the land. Labourers walked across country to find work anywhere they could, leaving ghost villages behind them. But this was not the problem either. It was the red weed - that bitter Martian frond, which spilled out across the world, strangling water supplies and spoiling crops and fields.

The red weed’s life cycle is brief, but relentless. It spawned and died during that terrible August and September of the invasion. But unlike the Martians, the weed returned with a vengeance at the start of the following year. It destroyed any chance the country had of farming its way out of the famine that had endured since the end of the war. It became clear the weed would have to be effectively and aggressively managed. Suddenly, there was work to be done in the countryside once again, and itinerant families returned, including many who had left for the cities during industrialisation.

Weed is gathered in a number of different ways, but there is currently no mechanised or industrial approach, as any machinery is instantly snarled and sheared by the density of the red roots. Instead, teams of workers haul the weed directly out of the ground – almost like a game of tug of war with the earth itself. Where the weed is regularly kept in check, this is a time consuming, but straightforward process. In situations where the weed has overtaken the land to a severe degree, the work is harder and more dangerous – fire and paraffin must be administered to weaken the weed prior to any removal.

Once torn from the ground, the weed must be incinerated completely. This is generally done in huge metal barrels sunk into the ground of each farm, and the fire will burn for many weeks. The determined nature of the weed is such, that even at this stage, it can spore and crawl from the furnaces. These flaming tendrils are often a source of amusement for local children – long fingers of flame, clawing their way out of the pits. Older children will dare one another to jump over them, risking tragedy.

Not all the weed is burned of course. Each farm will be able to sell small amounts to nearby towns and cities, cut and frayed to create weed ribbons for display during war commemorations, or dried and fashioned into lapel pins. This is skilled work, most often performed by women and I observed many groups of them around the country. All of them sing “loo-lally” as they tear and weave, appropriating the howls of Martian language into work-songs. The red stained fingers of the weed seamstresses mark them out as artisans. Only too recently have we come to realise what else their exposure to the weed will mean.
There's more Martian fun on the can read my Wind in the Willows / War of the Worlds mashup from a few years back, or enjoy Loola of Mars by myself n Mhairi.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Superpowered Story So Far...

Take part in the Summer Reading Challenge...

I've had a wonderful first few months of being published - lots of lovely festival events and school visits. I honestly don't think I was prepared for how much fun that would be.

I'm delighted to say that The Superpower Project has had lots of lovely reviews as well...

Chimney Rabbit - "The Superpower Project cracks on at a terrific pace."

Powered by Reading -  "A brilliant read"

Read it Daddy - "Hugely original, buzzingly energetic"

Bookwitch - "Funny and exciting"

Of course, if you are still swithering after those recommendations, fear not, because you can download a free preview from the Discover Kelpies website.

I got the opportunity to write a few blogs for the Discover Kelpies website too...

Writing Superpowered Stories - Some tips for creative writing and mashing things up in class. If you are interested in me coming along to your school / library / community centre, I am part of the Scottish Book Trust Live Literature scheme.

What's Greenock Famous For? - There are THREE Kelpies authors from Greenock, and so David MacPhail, Cathy MacPhail and myself have a wee reflect on what makes it such an awesome inspirational place.

Best of all, The Superpower Project is part of the Summer Reading Challenge this year - so why not get along to your nearest library and get involved.

Happy Summer Holidays!

Superhero endorsement!

Monday, 15 February 2016

The Superpower Project

With the help of a wisecracking, steampunk robot, two accidental superheroes discover that they have inherited some amazing, if unusual, abilities. Computer whiz Megan can fly (mostly sleep-flying, but she's working on it) while her best friend Cameron can (in theory) transform into any animal, but mostly ends up as a were-hamster. 

Together they must protect the source of their ancestral powers from a wannabe evil mastermind and his gang of industrial transformer robots who've disguised themselves as modern art installations on their Greenock estate.

It isn't easy to balance school and epic super-battles, not to mention finding time to search for other super-talents and train with their Mr Miyagi-esque were-tiger coach. Can Megan and Cam beat the bad guy, defeat his robot transformers and become the superheroes they were born to be? Kelpies Prize shortlisted author Paul Bristow creates a hilarious tongue-in-cheek superhero mash up with a dangerous twist!

My first children's book, The Superpower Project, will be published by the wonderful Floris Books (Kelpies) on February 18th 2016. You can order it from the Discover Kelpies website and Amazon.

The book was originally written in early 2014 and was shortlisted for the 2014 Kelpies Prize. In fact, Kelpies are running their 2016 prize now, so if you have an idea for a childrens book, have a look.

The Superpower Project features a few local legends and forgotten places that will be familiar to readers of my other blog, Tales of the Oak - as well as some gigantic art robots. I can't wait to share it with folk...and you can read the first three chapters for free right here.

I'm sharing some images of the places and stories which helped inspire the book over on my facebook page.

And if your school or library is interested in a visit from me, I'm pleased to say I am now part of the Scottish Book Trust Live Literature scheme.

I've been playing it a bit cool with this blog post. But I really am totally super-excited...

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Wild Hunt

This is the start of a festive tale I've been working on, featuring a variety of Scottish, Nordic and Icelandic Christmas characters and traditions...uhm...I haven't actually finished it though. So for now, it's just a bit from a thing...

1 - The Clanging Chimes of Doom

Clarence had been trouble from that first Christmas morning. Kyle's dad had got him from the cat rescue as a last minute surprise. Clarence had burst out of a big pile of Christmas wrapping paper looking all cute and tiny and Kyle's little sister Holly was so excited she had just burst into tears. Within five minutes, Clarence had peed on Kyle's playstation, knocked over the tree and smashed a scented candle, briefly setting fire to the advent calendar until dad doused the flames by chucking Kyle's hot chocolate over it. Everyone laughed about how they would have to get used to having a cat around the house, but not Kyle - he knew then.

That was almost three years ago, and since then, Kyle had got used to the ear piercing early morning shriek which meant that Clarence had left them another 'present' downstairs; voles, bats, frogs...they had seen it all. In one particularly epic battle, the catflap had snapped right off the door as Clarence had charged through it with a huge angry crow. The crow had flown into the toilet and it just sat there all day - glaring, flapping and cawing. Everyone held it in for as long as possible and just when they all thought they might have to move house rather than deal with the crow, the RSPCA turned up and took it away. Somehow, Kyle still ended up last in the queue for the toilet, so the whole thing annoyed him more than everyone else.

This morning's shriek seemed more shrill than usual, but that was possibly because Kyle had a thumping sore head. He had been off school with the cold for two days already and he didn't much fancy trudging back through the snow to go back today. There was going to be more Christmas Party social dancing rehearsal. Who rehearses for a party, thought Kyle, practicing fun in case you get it wrong. Mental. Although, he supposed he should be grateful that Mrs Nickneven was allowing any fun in her school at all - even carefully organised fun.
Kyle sat up in bed a little too quickly and white spots floated in front of his eyes like little sickly snowflakes.
"What's he brought in this time mum?" shouted Holly as she bounced down the stairs.
"Oh I can't even tell," wailed Mum. "A robin maybe? Don't come down here just yet love. It's like a horror movie. Honestly, that cat needs to go."
She always says that, thought Kyle, but he's still here.
"Oh Kyle come and get these please will you?" shouted Mum. "Dad's already away and you know I can't face it."
"But I'm not well!" said Kyle.
"Exactly," said Mum. "So you probably can't feel any worse."
Kyle shuffled out of bed and wobbled woozily downstairs, holding on to the bannister.
"A robin. Seriously?" he said "Very Christmassy. Maybe we're supposed to hang it off the tree..."
Mum was waiting at the bottom of the stairs, looking the other way, "Thank you sweetheart," she said, giving him a kiss, a dustpan and a binbag, "I'll make you some porridge."
Through half closed, still blurry eyes, Kyle looked around for Clarence's horrible Christmas gift. There really wasn't much there - no feathers at all in fact. There was a lot of glitter, and rather strangely, a little green Santa hat with a bell, but that was all.
"Mum there's nothing here," said Kyle. "I think he's just broken a tree decoration, or knocked something off the shelf again."
"Are you kidding?" shouted Mum from safely inside the kitchen. "There's...stuff...everywhere. Just sort it out please."
"Fine," muttered Kyle, brushing up the glitter and some torn cloth. "At least it's not another squirrel."

It was the kind of classic sick day when Mum didn't even ask if Kyle felt well enough to go to school, she just sent him straight back to bed after breakfast.
"I need to nip to the shops for ten minutes though," said Mum. "I want to get some disinfectant to properly clean up downstairs. Will you be okay?"
"Fine Mum," said Kyle, "I'll just try to get back to sleep."
He didn't even hear Mum lock the door...

...Kyle woke with a start.
Bells. He could hear bells.
He sat up and waggled his finger in his ear. The bells kept ringing.
Kyle blinked and rubbed his eyes, slowly the bedroom flickered into focus. And that's when he saw it.
There was an elf standing at the bottom of his bed. Rosy cheeks, curly shoes, cute nose - the works. An elf. An elf who was angrily jangling the bell on her little green pointy hat.

"Your stupid cat killed me," said the elf. "Now what are you going to do about it?"

Here's Bjork singing a song about one of the characters in the story, Jolakotinn, the terrifying and merciless Yule Cat...

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Loola of Mars

Here's a strip Mhairi and I did for the Thought Bubble Comic Competition this year. I also got to go down and present a paper at the Comics Forum, 'Secret Identity - Community Comics and Cultural Heritage'.

I hope we can revisit Loola at some point, she's one of HG Wells classic Martian invaders, a recurring theme for me :) Sure there's scope for a Christmas On Mars story at some point. Though of course it would be very hard to top the classic below...


Monday, 2 November 2015

The Wonderful Worlds of Alice

The Wonderful Worlds of Alice - Alice and the Time Pirate
artwork by Mhairi M Robertson

"Ah!' said the Time Pirate, "If I keep drilling, then I'm sure to remember when I buried my treasure eventually."
"But yesterday is now completely full of holes,' said Alice, 'and bits of next week keep tumbling in."

The Wonderful Worlds of Alice is a range of gifts celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Alice's first adventure, by imagining what other strange worlds she may have visited.

The adventures were devised by myself and Mhairi M Robertson - we have sent Alice off elsewhere before, including a trip to A Wonderland Wedding and a wander through A Winter Wonderland.

The Wonderful Worlds of Alice gifts are produced by Inverclyde based social enterprise Newark Enterprises, and available to purchase from The Dutch Gable House shop in Greenock.

Check out more products on their Facebook page...