Lo… KIrby Sees It All!

I’ve been meaning to post this picture for a while, I came across it in a collected edition of Kirby’s Fourth World. Drawn back in the 1970s it seems to predict the tablet computer and also the return of the stylus as a means of writing. Someone is also holding what could be an ipod. Well we all know Kirbs was a visionary but its easy to believe this picture was drawn with a clear view into the developments of gadgets of today.

Kirby sees the ipad etc

While I’m on Kirby, the Fourth World books make a stunning, flabbergasting read. Don’t expect any of the many storylines to get picked up again and resolved later – there are barely even any recurring characters, as his wild imagination pops one idea after another. Every page seethes not just with new heroes, but with new worlds to go along with them, new words and new dialogue. Believe me, pal, in the Fourth World people speak in a way no-one ever has, or will – it’s enough to give ya the whim-whams – whatever they are (Kirby knows).

Weirdly, the main heroes of the book, The Forever People are some of the worst characters Kirby ever came up with, a bunch of well-meaning hippies – Beautiful Dreamer, Serifan, Big Bear, Moonrider etc, they sound and look a bit like a lost Saturday morning cartoon from the early seventies, where their ill-fated show would have been sandwiched in between re-runs of Space Ghost and the Hair Bear Bunch.

But not to carp among such wonders. There are so many good ideas here it dazzles. Kirby gave us the Boom Tube for travelling, the anti-life equation – for controlling all thought – and he even gave us the Mother Box, an all-round life saving little gadget that pretty much does everything for us… come to think of it we’re back at the smartphone. Guess Kirby really did see everything!

Look on my coffee bar ye mighty and despair

I have just been down to Duvale Priory in Devon for a couple of days where I stumbled across this weird monument – the Devonian Sphinx.

The Devonian Sphinx

We are so used to seeing the ol’ Sphinx in a state of ancient ruin, that it comes as a shock to see this new one, lying there with no word of explanation or attribution. From the side it appears to have a horn on its head, but this becomes a crown as you move to view it from the front. The Devonian sphinx appears like a Queen, or an Empress, in ornamental gear. Is this how the Egyptian sphinx originally looked?

Half cat, half woman, the sphinx has always been the ultimate evocation of  mysterious ancient gods, and also a symbol of their decline and defeat at the hands of time. How weird to be reminded that the sphinx was once a sign of all that is powerful, beautiful and dangerous.

Another startling cat-related image also exists nearby (see below).

Missing Cat stalks abroad










No doubt this beast is still terrorising the countryside.

Ah,  the fall of great things to the march of time! The implacable forces of change! I was shocked to see my second favourite coffee bar in Cambridge has closed. The Cambridge Coffee Company – I always love the cheek of these small businesses that assume large names – has shut up shop. I had my camera on me, and took a few shots…

Cambridge Coffee Company Closes

Particlarly poignant is the broom. I can imagine the owner, his once smiling face now offstage and thoughtul, as he leant his broom for the final time against the counter, not even bothering to put it away or take it with him after his final, diligent sweep-round.

Also eloquent are the envelopes piled up at the door – sad to think that each and every one of those pieces of junk mail lying there was probably intended to try and squeeze some money out of the Cambridge Coffee Company.

Letters at low tide










“My name is Ozymandias, king of kIngs:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Here Be Dragons (and rain)

Site of the Ludham Dragon Legend

Have you ever wanted to wander off of the map into that bit at the edge that says ‘Here Be Dragons’?  Well I did that by mistake on my holiday. Setting off into Norfolk with the idea of forgetting about Candle Man, monsters and stories for a while, I immediately stumbled across a rain-spattered information board in the hitherto unheard of (by me) village of Ludham.

What surprised me was that Ludham had a real bona fide DRAGON LEGEND. You might think this unsurprising, but there aren’t that many actual dragon legends around that tie a sighting to a real place. I mean WHERE did St George actually kill HIS dragon? I don’t remember ever being told.

The Ludham legend says that a dragon used to come out of his hole – between the church yard and the high street –  and annoy the locals with his monstrous antics. They attempted to prevent this by blocking up his hole with any old rubbish while he was asleep. It never worked! After a while they gave up – possibly the dragon put up a sign saying: ‘Entrance in constant use – do  not obstruct.’

But then one day, while the dragon was out flying around, one brave, powerful man found a big stone and rolled it over the dragon’s hole. Old fiery-breath came back, and was unable to remove the stone. He left in a flap, smashing his mighty tail into the local abbey on the way – leaving it in ruin!

The evidence for this myth is very convincing.

1. There IS a ruined abbey nearby.

2. The dragon has definitely left Ludham.

The thing I like about this legend is its (dare I say it) typical East Anglian humility, no great hero here who slew a dragon with a sword and married a princess. Rather the more modest, almost comical aim of blocking up the dragon’s doorway while he’s out, in the hope that this will annoy the fire-breathing, supernatural menace enough to make him go away.

And it worked!

Even at the start of the story, the idea of killing the dragon is never suggested, as if such a thing was unthinkable to the villagers. I like that. Man knowing his place in the great scheme. No courtly glitter has been added to this piece of folklore, which makes it all the more enjoyable.

I think I was about a thousand years late to spot the dragon, so instead I took this picture of the ruins he created (with some bloke standing right in front of them).

In Search of the Ludham Dragon

Candle Man audio – Christian Rodska interview

I was delighted when I heard that AudioGo, the BBC audio dept had picked up the rights to record Candle Man, and even more thrilled when it turned out they had made their version available so swiftly. 


Christian Rodska

The actor chosen to read my story is Christian Rodska, known for his early role as Ron Stryker in Follyfoot. He has appeared in countless BBC TV dramas, and has recently worked on Dr Who audios such as Hornet’s Nest with Tom Baker. I was familiar with his atmospheric tones as he narrated Ice Road Truckers on Discovery Channel, one of my personal favourites.

I have had great fun listening to Candle Man being read aloud, and especially enjoy Rodka’s savouring of the villainous and semi-villainous types that fill my book. He does an endearing Mr Nicely, a wonderfully ratty old Foley and a smoothly sinister Dr Saint.

Here’s a part of our rambling conversation.

GD: I recognize your voice instantly from Ice Road Truckers. I like the minimal nature of that. Just the every day lives of these men set against this amazing snowy waste.

CR: Yes, well the thing about Ice Road Truckers is: (confidentially) nothing happens really!

GD: I think that’s what I like about it.

CR:  (Laughs) Well yes, exactly.

GD: How long did it take to record Candle Man?

CR: You obviously don’t just take the book in and read it. It takes a long time to prepare. The more characters there are – the more off-the-wall it is – which your book is, obviously – the longer it takes. There was a lot of work to do on it. Generally with a book the preparation time is at least twice the length of the recording time, so you can reckon on at least 6 days for Candle Man. We did it at the end of last year.

GD: Do you read it straight in your own voice or do you interpret some of the characters and give them voices?

CR: I give all the characters voices. There are two approaches to recording audio books, some people do a very slight voice, but I think – just for the hell of it – for the fun of it, and I‘ve spoken to listeners – the ones I’ve spoken to have liked it when every character is different. That can be a rod for your back sometimes, because if you’ve got a thriller with six Russians in a room, (does heavy Russian accent) six different kinds of Russians – some talk much more lightly like that, (changes into quirkier musing Russian) or maybe more slowly… like this, some like that… (goes up and down in a variety of spy-movie accents). But I do try to make them all different.

GD: In my book there are creepy creatures, garghouls and little imps called smoglodytes.

CR: Yes indeed, they were quite smoky sort of wispy characters, I did them like that (puts on smoky wispy voice). I think they were something like that. I did it all the end of last year. It seems to me you’ve written another one at least since then, haven’t you?

GD: Yes book two is out already and I’m half way through book three so you never know you might get called back.

CR: Look while we’ve been talking I’ve dug out my notes for your book. I keep a list of all the characters I’ve done and make notes. I’ve got in front of me ‘Candle Man.’ For example, Mr Nicely: false cheery, ex-army, obsequious, I think he’s probably a bit like that, Sir, he’s probably a bit like that. (Rodska makes him sound a bit like Parker out of Thunderbirds) Foley he was an old bloke wasn’t ‘e I fink?

GD: Yes he was the wizened old robber he knew tales about the Candle Man.

CR: Well I hope you like what I’ve done.

GD:  I can tell from what you’ve done just then it’s going to be terrific. I was hoping to get a little glimpse. Is there a director there in the studio, or an editor?

CR: There’s one person recording – they trust the actors to come up with it. One thing they can do – I’m finishing Hornblower this afternoon – I was last in the studio 3 weeks ago. I may have slightly lost one or two of the characters. But every time the character comes on the producer punches a button and plays back the voice to you.

GD: I was going to ask you about your Dr Who audios. When you record these things are you not in the same room at the same time?

CR: No you ARE in the same room, because that’s a drama. Your book – and all the books that any of us do – 98% like that – are just one reader. If it’s letters between a couple of people they’ll get two actors in. but the Dr Whos were dramas, so it’s just like doing a radio drama actually.

GD: Was it fun working with Tom Baker? Is he a bit of a character?

CR: Oh yes, – completely. Two or three! But he was very pleasant to me actually. Laughs. The Dr Who I did was called Hornet’s Nest .

GD: I’ve heard he can give people a hard time.

CR: Oh well he does do that, he does complain quite a bit (laughs). Yes I mean that’s his personality, but he was very good as the Man.

GD: Do you remember being in The Tomorrow People?

CR: I remember doing it but I don’t remember what it was about.  In those days special effects – ha ha – were in their infancy. Now everything is so much more credible. I remember it being  bit of pain because one was acting against a blue screen and one’s movements had to be very precise and you didn’t get a chance to really inhabit the character too well.

GD: If I google you I see a character grinning out at me from Follyfoot Farm. You must be a very good actor, it’s like you’re regenerated into a different person from those days.

Ron Stryker from Follyfoot

CR: Well I have less hair!

GD: Your whole demeanor– if that’s the word – has changed entirely.

CR: Oh well thank you, I think the fun of being an actor is doing a lot of very different things.

GD: How old were you?

CR: Its 40 years ago, so I was 25-26.

GD: It was a bit like a soap opera – dramatic and sentimental. It wasn’t like other children’s shows.

CR: It wasn’t, but it was incredibly popular.

GD: It still is – if you go on Youtube people have put up montages. There’s a Youtube film of you as Ron, to the soundtrack of David Cassidy singing ‘I am a clown’.

CR: (Laughs) I must check it out. Actually there’s a sort of reunion, at the beginning of next month. A Follyfoot reunion. Of course two of the cast – Arthur English is dead and so is Desmond Llewelyn, so they won’t be making an appearance but the younger characters will be there.

GD:  Maybe some of the horses will make an appearance. I have a friend who summed up Follyfoot in one line: “But Steve, the horse will die!”

CR: (Laughs at length!) Hah – very clever!

GD:  In terms of your drama career now, what character do you think you get called in to play the most? Is there a typical persona?

CR: Well I don’t think there is. The thing about being versatile, which is great fun, is it’s not the way to become very famous – not today. I mean people become pigeon-holed. On radio drama the great thing is I play loads of different things. I played an absolute bastard in a sailing epic – a Patrick O’Brian thing, that went out three or four weeks ago. Last week I was playing a rather old-fashioned Geordie stand up comic. It can be anything really.

GD: Thanks for your time… I can’t wait to hear the audio.

CR: Well I hope you like it, and I hope you make a lot of money from the sales!

We are the crelp – from Candle Man 2…

…The creatures pulsed in the darkness, as if pondering their reply.

“We are the crelp,” one of them said. “Do not fighting with us – for we- we only wish to killing of you, as is our custom.’

The unearthly frankness of this left Theo stunned.

’Why do you want to kill me,’ he asked. The crelp seethed again, fluttering and squelching in the dark.

‘Because dead is better for us- for what we wanting to do,’ came a low, eerie reply.

Theo frowned as the circle of crelp seemed to edge nearer to him…

This extract from Candle Man two, introduces a new enemy for the Candle Man, the Crelp. These sinister, slurping creatures like collecting bones from graveyards and are charmingly frank about their evil.

I have always been fascinated by the power of frankness – the role of truth in our lives. We are taught to be honest, but it seems, more often than not, a well-intentioned lie is what society really prefers. Yes, I loved the photo of your dog you gave me for Christmas, no I don’t mind working late, of course your new bald look is stunning.

Honesty is highly prized, but as the wise man Nasrudin once said: ‘Haven’t you ever noticed it’s the scarcity of something that determines its value?’

One of my favourite blurters-out of frank remarks in literature, is Gollum in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. It is compulsive reading, the way he speaks aloud his thoughts and sometimes vile  intentions, in frank discussions – with himself.

In a way, Gollum is a kind of inside-out person, because he externalises the things he should keep hidden. This in a sense makes him quite a modern character, a paranoid, nervous, self-questioning figure, and these modern qualities make him stand out vividly against a backdrop of more conventional. noble souls.

Among the people of Middle-earth, he is more, dare I say, it, like us, than many of the good characters are.

In Candle Man two my new creations, the crelp follow a slightly different  line – they blurt out  vile thoughts but to people’s faces.

… “So what are you doing here?” Theo asked. ‘Creeping around attacking people. You won’t make many friends that way.’

There was almost something childish about the crelp that made Theo want to scold them.

‘The crelp don’t wanting to make friends,’ one of the creatures hissed. ‘We are only being here because we were released from the darkness.’

‘Released?’ Theo echoed. ‘How? By who?’

The crelp bubbled and hissed for a while among themselves. ‘It is not worthy – worthwhile – crelp telling you. We will probably tricking you soon and make you die. It is better..!’

It’s a special day for me today with Candle Man two , The Society of Dread coming out in the USA, and a chance for me to further explore my own nether-world of smoglodytes, garghouls and now, the crelp.I would like to tell you more, but unlike the crelp, authors have to keep their secrets…

David Tennant Versus the Silence

David Tennant was recently asked why his American TV pilot did not go ahead as a full series. Our dashing ex-Doctor replied,

“It’s such a political minefield over here. You have to be careful about what you say about what you knew, because everybody tells you things that they’re not supposed to and you don’t know what’s true and what isn’t.”

In other words he was frightened to put his foot in it. Expressing his deep inner feelings further he revealed:

“… I learnt a lot about how that network works and how I feel about that.”

Ouch. One pictures the clenched teeth, the wounded puppy eyes and the bubbling of bitter sadness with which this might be said. The fact is Tennant is too bright to burn any bridges. He knows how quickly a quotable quote flies round the internet…  sometimes coming back to bite you.

All over, people in the public eye are finding it harder to speak their minds for fear of controversy or litigation.

Recently ex-Liverpool football club manager Rafa Benitez was asked to comment on the dramatic events at the club since he departed. He astonished the UK media with his sage reply:

“White liquid in a bottle has to be milk.”

This remark was ridiculed, but it cleverly answered the question without actually saying anything.

Then Man Utd boss Alex Ferguson was asked to comment on his player Wayne Rooney apparently wanting to leave the club. He came up with:

“Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it’s a better cow than the one you’ve got in your own field…”

Using the Rafa technique, Fergy managed to answer the question without mentioning – or offending -any of the parties involved at all.

It reminds me of Seamus Heaney’s famous quote about the Irish troubles: ‘Whatever you say, say nothing.’

Perhaps this is why the ancient Chinese philosophers coined their enigmatic proverbs, like:

“Paper cannot wrap up a fire.”

They probably had a touchy local warlord monitoring their every word for any signs of a slagging off, and the wise men were as keen to avoid a sword in the ribs as anyone else.

I notice that Facebook has become largely an arena for sharing appreciation and supportive words between friends. I don’t think I’ve ever hit that ‘dislike’ button – which is so unlike my approach to actual conversation – because face to face you can challenge, question, criticise and make fun of people , because there is that element of trust among close friends behind closed doors.

Now we have the greatest machinery every invented for communications, and a world of people unable to say what they really think.

But perhaps I speak too soon. After all:

“Do not despise the snake for having no horns, for who is to say it will not become a dragon?!!!!”

Who Invented The Self Destruct Button..?

As I begin working on Candle Man 3, and grapple with the plot, I find myself noticing the cunning plotting, the contrived set-ups, and the dodgy sleight of hand in all the TV shows and movies around me.

One classic plot element, which is satirized daily in kids’ cartoons (such as the excellent Fineas and Ferb), is the idea that the villain’s base has a self-destruct button, or ludicrous weakness, with which the hero, in his moment of darkest peril, can turn the tables on his enemy.

From James Bond, through Star Wars and beyond, this notion provides a neat, explosive finale to many a convoluted storyline. This convenient plot device guarantees the maximum of tension at the climax of the story. It cleverly requires the hero to proceed to the very heart of danger before he can solve his problem.

But where does this unlikely plot element come from? Why would the bad guy have a self-destruct for his own base? Do you have one in your own home?

I was pondering this and decided the buck stops at… JRR Tolkien.

Lord Of The Rings was voted the most popular story of all time in the UK, and its resolution depends on the idea that the heroes (Frodo and Sam) have to travel into the very heart of the baddie’s domain (Mt Doom), and there – where they are in the midst of their darkest peril, at their most helpless, can suddenly bring down not just the enemy’s base, but his whole empire in one fell swoop (Destroying the Ring).

So Tolkien invented the self-destruct button.

Talk about a tidy ending – even some of the script editors I’ve come up against couldn’t complain about it from that point of view!

Tolkien showed that the dramatic tension really could be kept up until the last shot of the war – and then, of course he spent several chapters exploring the fall-out – but that’s another story or two.

How do writers get away with such convenient and credulity-stretching endings? Perhaps because while storylines of this type may be hard to believe – on a literal level – they do contain metaphorical truth. In reality, to solve our own problems we have to go into the hardest place, face an enemy, a difficult situation, a personal demon, in order to win out in the end..!

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