Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Let there be (less, blue) light...

Like most of us I probably spend more time than is healthy looking at a screen of one sort or another*.  I've got a nifty gadget meaning I can stand up at my desk. I've got a tablet with a blue light filter that turns on after dark. And I get up from time to time and take a walk. But there's little doubt I'm probably getting far more blue light from my screen time than is good for me.

Blue light stimulates the brain and eyes and suppresses the production of melatonin - a hormone we produce to naturally regulate our sleep cycles. Eye strain, headaches, dry eyes and blurry vision are also common side-effects from too much screen time.

Enter, Ocushield...

I've been sent a pair of Ocushield specs to try and - although it's early days (this could be a placebo) I'm beginning to think that wearing them is starting to make things better.

Ocushield filters out blue light but doesn't affect your screen's display, or need to be turned on or off. It comes as shock and scratch proof screen protectors (which have an in-built privacy filter, blurring screens at non-direct angles) as well as the specs I've been sent to try.

For more information about Ocushield visit

*According to research for Ocushield, Brits spend 9 hours, 10 mins per day on digital screens compared to 4 hours, 10 mins socialising, eating and reading. They also spend more time on digital screens than sleeping and eating combined and an astonishing 83% of Brits use digital screens right before bed. Bad!

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Publication day

I used to wonder what it'd be like, as an author, on the day your book - the baby you've lovingly and painstakingly brought up for three, four or five years - is finally published.

At one time I imagined lavish parties at offices of the publisher in London attended by all manner of the literati, plus maybe on or two celebrities (the gliterati).

But I've written (and had published) enough books now to know that doesn't often happen. So what does?

Well, let me tell you what happened today - the day on which my latest book, The Glorious Dead, was launched upon the world.

First up (after the daily school run) was a trip to the dentist. Time and tide might wait for no man and a publisher's lead time might be long. But it's nothing compared to the waiting list to see the dentist.

So, check-up and a rather vigorous scale-and-polish over, it was home for breakfast before BBC Radio Humberside phoned for a telephone interview. (You can listen to it here, approx. 17 mins in.)

I really like these interviews. Although you'd think (having been provided with a crib sheet by the publicist) they'd all ask pretty similar questions there's always something new, or a new angle on an old question.

Yesterday it was machine-gun cleaning rods on BFBS (that's changed since the days of Cliff Mitchelmore and Jean Metcalfe). Today it was trench songs, which was appropriate as - straight after - I was booked for a Great War sing-a-long as part of the Remembrance Festival at St Botolph's, Boston Stump.

That's me at the front with the alarmingly bald pate...

And that was about that. I spent most of the afternoon (after an hour's singing) talking to the many people who'd turned up, some of whom had fascinating personal anecdotes about relatives who'd served in the Great War.

Every one of their stories was worth hearing. There was the man whose father served in both World Wars, and the lady whose father survived the trenches only to be lost at sea doing his day job as fisherman in world war two.

Ultimately that's what I hope I've been doing for the last five years of writing: telling some of the stories of the conflict, in my case the forgotten stories of the men who served their King and Country first with a rifle, then with a shovel - stories of men whose deeds are well worth telling.

Friday, 26 October 2018

On my radio...

I was invited onto Carla Greene's afternoon show on BBC Lincolnshire yesterday, talking about... you've guessed it! And if you missed it, here it is again. With pictures.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Cbeebies gets creative

An email from CBeebies HQ is always interesting. This news - hot off the press - is especially interesting and so is quoted here in full. 

Children can have fun and get creative this autumn half term with a series of digital treats from the BBC. These include a major new CBeebies app, Get Creative, children’s box sets on BBC iPlayer and CBeebies Bedtime Stories on smart speakers for the first time.
Get Creative
Available in app stores from today, Get Creative allows children to create music, design their own toy and even direct their very own CBeebies episode. When little ones open the app they will get to pick a CBeebies buddy from Hey Duggee, Go Jetters or Bitz and Bob before heading down to the Get Creative factory, where all the magic happens.
At launch there are four activities in the factory to choose from, with more to come in future, all cleverly designed for 3 – 5 year olds to use on their own or with an adult. And depending on which CBeebies buddy kids choose, each activity will take on a unique flavour:
  • Magic Paint: a unique drawing game where kids can use a variety of tools like crazy tape, stickers and paint that come alive as they use them
  • Terrific Toys: a digital toy creator, where kids can build their own CBeebies toys and play with them in a special playground
  • Sound Doodles: kids can create music with their doodles, with each squiggle able to make a range of sounds and noises
  • Play Puppets: kids can even direct their very own CBeebies episodes by animating puppets and recording their performances
BBC iPlayer box sets
Children can watch the full series of some of their favourite CBBC programmes on BBC iPlayer this half term. All five series of the popular children’s drama, Tracey Beaker, reality drama, The Next Step: The Stacey Carpenter Scholarship and the full series of The Dumping Ground: The Joseph & Taz Files and The Dumping Ground: Sasha’s Contact Meetings will be available to watch as box sets on BBC iPlayer.
CBeebies Bedtime Stories on smart speakers
Following the launch of the BBC Kids skill on Alexa smart speakers last month, little ones can now enjoy Bedtime Stories from some of the UK’s most famous voices simply by asking for them. Saying ‘Open CBeebies’  will give people the chance to hear stories from American singer-songwriter Dolly Parton, Olympic athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill and actors Mark Bonnar and Pearl Mackie. More exciting new stories from other well-known names will be coming soon.
Lucie McLean, Head of Childrens Products, BBC Design & Engineering says:
“Little ones won’t be short of things to do this half term, with a major new CBeebies app, BBC iPlayer box sets and new content on smart speakers for children. Get Creative is a brilliant example of how we are offering children new and exciting ways to interact with their favourite CBeebies’ characters. The app aims to spark kids’ imaginations through fun, exploratory experiences and open-ended play and I’m sure parents and children alike will enjoy getting creative this half-term.”
Get Creative, the BBC iPlayer box sets and the BBC Kids Skill form part of the BBC’s plans to invest in content that informs, educates and entertains children in response to the changing demands of modern life. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The question is...

One of the perks of parenting is the questions. They're incessant, sometimes tiring ('You can pluck a tiger bald' Ted Hughes told his interlocutor daughter!) but often very, very funny.

'Daddy, you know a baby's made when a daddy's seed is mixed with a mummy's egg? Well, how does it get there?'

'Daddy, you know how we're all standing up but the world's round? Well, how do we know which way up we are?'

'Daddy, am I an iguana?'

'Daddy, when you an mummy got married, where was I?'

'Daddy, when you were little were you an evacuee?'

And so on...

I'm used to it. (Three kids, you just are!)

But this morning I got asked a question that stopped me in my tracks. As usual, it was just as we were about to leave the house. Shoes had been hastily fastened, bags packed, coats pulled on and we were about to step outside when...

'Daddy?' [Embarrassed smile!] 'Am I fat?'

My mind went blank for a moment. I know how important it is to respond appropriately, to take each question seriously, not to mock, not to dismiss, not to dissemble. But what could I say?

I also know - and hope to have practised - the importance of not commenting negatively or otherwise on the variety of shapes and sizes people come in. That's just the way the world is, I tell them. People are different. And your shape is just right for you.

But she's not fat, my seven-year-old daughter. Far from it. And she's not (as far as I'm aware) at all worried by it, or by anything else to do with her size or shape or hair or eye colour.

She wants to be a fairy. Or sometimes a puffin. And maybe a mermaid. But that's as far as her generalised dissatisfaction with being human goes. It does not (or has not) as far as I'm aware extended to even a fleeting desire to be any other (human) shape.

She eats well. We have a generally healthy diet. We eat meals together. Food isn't an 'issue'.

So, where does such a question (such a direct question) come from?

And how the hell do you answer it?

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Authors Unbound

Further to my post a couple of weeks ago about the lacklustre response of my local Waterstones to the imminent publication of my latest book, let me big them up. Actually, let me big up both them and the indomitable Eamonn Griffin who organised a day-long event at Waterstones, Nottingham, at which, well... read for yourself!

My lot was to be on what turned out to be the smallest panel of the day. (One of the authors didn't turn up!) But what we lacked numerically we made up for in verbosity. Oh yes.

Even with a sore throat I can talk...

And the job of moderating the panel (panel? More like three friends - and after yesterday, in spite of never having met them before, I certainly think of Paul Holbrook and Max Hawker as friends - chatting at the bar) was made easy by virtue of my fellow authors having such interesting things to say. Which, in turn, comes from having written such interesting books.

But then, that went for the day as a whole.

Here are a few more pics for those of you who couldn't make it (and you missed a treat).

The 'new voices' panel (Lulu Allison, Stephanie Bretherton and Eamonn Griffin) was chaired by the brilliant Virginia Moffatt pictured here reading from her novel Echo Hall).

Panel 2, entitled 'genre writing' was without doubt the largest, numerically. Here's Amy Lord discussing her novel 'The Disappeared'. (Fellow panelists include Eli Allison, Alys Earl, Miles Hudson and Joshua Winning.)

The non-fiction panel covered such topics as street photogaphy (Stephen Leslie) and photo biography (John-Michael O'Sullivan), death festivals (Erica Buist) and plein air swimming as expounded here by the indefatigable Emma Pusill, author of the Lido Guide. She's obviously been there... And got the t-shirt!

And - last but by no means least - here's Colgers himself (Stevyn Colgan) holding forth on the comedy panel, which also featured Sue Clark, PJ Whiteley, Patrick Kinkaid and Robert Woodshaw.

So, there you have it. If you didn't make it, you can always click the links (above) and find out more about the work of this talented and diverse bunch for yourself.

You won't be disappointed!

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