World Book Night

On Monday April 23rd, it will be World Book Night, and I’ve just been to collect my 24 copies of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, which I’ll be giving out to friends, colleagues, and possibly the odd random stranger!

I’ve written a short introduction which I’ll print out and include with the copies I’m giving out. And here it is.



You hold in your hands one of my favourite books. Well, not this specific copy, but one very like it. In fact, my first copy is long lost, lent out to a friend many years ago. My second copy is so well-loved and dog-eared that it could wear a collar and go by the name of Rover.

My third copy is one of my treasured possessions. It bears a stamp on its title page which reads “THIS IS THE OFFICIAL SIGNATURE OF SIR TERRY PRATCHETT OBE” and his (frankly unintelligible) signature. It also bears a handwritten “Mike – An unofficial signature… Neil Gaiman”.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet Sir Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman on more than one occasion, and to hear Neil interviewed at the Edinburgh Book Festival last year. Both authors are among the wittiest, most articulate and engaging people I’ve met, and have been responsible for books I’ve loved, and want to read over and over again.

Most people will have heard of Terry Pratchett, but Neil Gaiman is perhaps less well-known (despite having 1.7m followers on Twitter!) and less prolific, but in a way, more versatile a writer than Terry Pratchett. If you want any recommendations for other Neil Gaiman (or Terry Pratchett) books to read, please don’t hesitate to ask me.

I became aware of World Book Night last year, just after the event, so wasn’t able to take part, but signed up for updates on their website – – which is where you can go to find out more about the events taking place, not to mention the other 24 books being given away today. When I saw that Good Omens was on the list of the 2012 World Book Night books to give away, I jumped at the chance to apply to be able to share this with you. I’m really pleased to be able to pass on this very special copy to you, free of charge.

However, there’s a catch.

Once you’ve read this, I want you to pass it on. Each book given out as part of World Book Night has a unique reference code in it which, when registered, will enable you (and me) to track where the book goes. If one extra person enjoys it, great. If several can enjoy it, so much the better. I’d like to think that the 24 books I’m giving away will travel far and wide, get dog-eared, and eventually deserve the name of Rover themselves!

I hope you enjoy Good Omens as much as I have. Happy reading.


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Where are they now?

As I was steadily breast stroking my way up and down the swimming pool this evening (2 kilometres, since you ask), my mind was turning over various plot and character ideas for a book I’d love to write. An Edinburgh Book Festival event yesterday with Neil Gaiman may have helped spur me on a little with getting on with an idea that’s been forming.

After about 40 lengths, and thinking about character names at this point, I began to think of characters from childrens’ books I’d read in the 80s, and how those characters were so well fleshed out that even now I can remember them as clearly as when I read them first.

I always envied the Famous Five, the Walker and Blackett children from Swallows and Amazons, and the Pevensie children from CS Lewis’ Narnia novels. They lived in an age where it was perfectly acceptable for children to leave the house after breakfast armed only with a bag of fish paste sandwiches, some biscuits and a bottle of ginger beer, and not return till tea time. I particularly envied Julian from the Famous Five. He was tall, handsome, blonde, and got to go discovering secret tunnels to castles on islands.*

Anyway, this all set me thinking. The characters are so clear, I know what they’re all doing now.

Julian started work at the BBC as a Blue Peter presenter. He married a champion show jumper, and they have three blonde children, and live on a stud farm in Norfolk. Julian is currently presenting Countryfile on BBC1.

George lives in North London with her partner Isabel, who she married last year in a civil partnership. George works as a trade unions spokesperson and has frequently appeared on Question Time.

Anne became a primary school teacher in Ottery St Mary, and married a farmer. After her second child, she decided not to return to teaching, and now runs a tea room from a converted hay barn. Anne can usually be found at the tea room in a sensible corduroy skirt, sensible shoes and an alice band.

Dick went into banking. After making his first few millions in the 1990s, he invested in a number of dotcom startups and was declared bankrupt in 2007. He now lives as a recluse in the flat above Anne’s tea rooms and spends his time trying to come up with ideas to pitch on Dragons’ Den. **

* Unfortunately I turned out more like Adrian Mole. Average height, dark hair, glasses and rather geeky. All this I could cope with (and to be honest Harry Potter has perhaps helped rehabilitate average height, dark haired bespectacled geeks), but Adrian Mole found himself working in the government on great crested newts – and what did I have to do recently? Answer questions from the public about how the Scottish Government is helping Great Crested Newts. Time for a new job, or maybe I should read what Sue Townsend has in store for me next…

** Timmy died of old age and was buried in the Blue Peter garden. His remains are to be exhumed when the BBC moves Blue Peter to Manchester and reinterred in Pøets Corner in Westminster Abbey.

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London riots

I’m one of the outraged majority.

Who do the rioters think will pay for the damage they’re causing?  They will.  Only they don’t see it like that.  They don’t realise that their car insurance premiums are rising with every car they set on fire, their home insurance and contents insurances are going up with every home and business they set fire to, that the prices of their food, veg, and all their consumables will rise too.  And not just them.  All of us across the country.

And that’s not even thinking of the cost in our taxes for the police and fire services’ presence on the streets.

There is no justification for this under any circumstances.

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Difficult choices

Today’s election day in Scotland could be the closest we’ve seen since, well, the last.

The bookies are backing the SNP to retain power at Holyrood, and, to be honest I think they’re probably right.

For me, today’s constituency vote was one of the hardest electoral decisions I’ve ever made. Traditionally my constituency has been Labour and recent boundary changes may help Labour retain this seat.

Of the four parties contesting the seat, three have declared themselves against the proposed Leith Docks Biomass plant (I can’t find out what the Tory candidate’s views are on this).

I’m not a supporter of independence for Scotland – particularly when the SNP’s calls for fiscal autonomy come with a demand for a £200m rebate of the fossil fuel levy – ironic when fossil fuels are nearing exhaustion that the SNP are basing their calls for independence on the money raised from an unsustainable and polluting power source. An independent Scotland faced by the financial crisis which nearly destroyed its two biggest banks would have required bailing out by the EU like Iceland, Ireland and Portugal. And the costs of pushing for independence are ridiculous when this money could be spent elsewhere.

The Lib Dems are likely to get a severe kicking in Scotland for entering into coalition with the Tories at Westminster, and the Conservatives are unelectable in Scotland and have been for 30 years now.

And Labour will still be suffering for the mess they made of the UK economy over the last 5 years they held power in the UK, the ramifications of which we’ll still be feeling in 5 years’ time.

So who to vote for? I found it a very difficult decision this morning, but I’d echo the words of Josh in The West Wing: Whoever you vote for, make sure you vote.

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Some snowy thoughts

Scotland is slowly getting back to some semblance of normality on the roads now, though we’re by no means back to clear roads.

I’ve been driving far more than has been recommended over the last four days (police forces in Central Scotland have been recommending that people make only essential journeys), and have seen some poor driving, some very good driving, and some things that just wanted to make me scream.

While the roads are very dangerous when covered in snow and ice, some people are being overcautious and this is causing problems. I’ve seen several cars stuck on hills where if they’d gone just a little faster, they’d have made it without a problem.

But my biggest concern was on Monday on the M74. I was in the horrendous queue of traffic that was stuck approaching Glasgow from the south. While I was lucky to have a nearby friend to stay with, many others weren’t and were forced to stay in their cars overnight.

While the northbound carriageway was completely stationary, the southbound carriageway was empty and very little traffic was making its way south from Hamilton and Motherwell.  In such exceptional circumstances, I wonder why the police or Transport Scotland couldn’t open the central reservation barriers to allow cars to turn and head back south? 

I’m very glad to hear that no-one has died as a result of crashes in the extreme icy conditions, or as a result of hypothermia from spending Monday or Tuesday nights in their vehicles, but here’s hoping some lessons are learned from this incident – remember we’re only on December 9th now, and we’ve still a lot of winter ahead of us.

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A musical hero

It was thirty years ago today (as the song almost says) that John Lennon was murdered in New York.

Writing the word “murdered” above didn’t seem right. John Lennon’s death is always phrased as “killed”, occasionally “assassinated” or “gunned down”, but rarely as “murdered”. I’m not sure why, perhaps by not using that word it’s easier to put the manner of his death to one side and focus on the man and his musical legacy instead?

From a very early age, I was listening to the Beatles. An early Greatest Hits was one of the few tapes my parents and I agreed on for in the car. I grew up listening to the Beatles. When my friends and contemporaries at school were buying Guns’n’Roses CDs, I was buying Please Please Me, Revolver and A Hard Day’s Night.

Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr have always been my musical heroes. As I’ve got older, I’ve begun to listen to more of their solo material too. Discovering new Lennon or Harrison tracks I’ve not heard before is always a treat, and I do enjoy Wings and Paul’s solo material too.

I may have only been 3 when John was murdered on December 8th, 1980, but today I’m playing a lot of Lennon songs in his memory. A wonderful talent was taken from us too soon.

Peace, John.

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How would you spend your £10?

A crowd gathered around the doorway of a shop normally means the opening of a brand new store, an Apple Store, maybe.

I was quite intrigued when I saw the small crowd gathered around a shop on the upper level of Gateshead’s Metro Centre yesterday – knowing that the Apple Store opened a month or so ago on the lower floor.

So, what was the crowd looking at?

The shop had a few fishtanks on the floor, with shoals of fish to nibble your feet for fifteen minutes at £10. Apparently they give the best pedicure you’ll ever get.

So, would I? Maybe…

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