The Halloween Tortoise – a tale told darkly!

Johnny was travelling abroad for a month, he had left his beloved tortoise Tonka in the care of his thrifty neighbour Hoagie. Hoagie would do nothing for anybody, he kept old ha’penny bits to put in collection boxes and no piece of clothing was too tattered and torn to be worn again. But Hoagie loved money and Johnny paid him well to keep Tonka in the style to which he was accustomed.

Hoagie had been given a list of food to give to Tonka, but the food was eating away at the cash that Johnny had given to him. He began to scrimp and scrape. The light was left on for seven hours instead of eight, and then six, five and four. Soon it was hardly on at all. He did not go out collecting weeds as instructed or feed succulent salads, he gave him scraps from his old plate. This mangy old tortoise is getting a taste for meat, thought Johnny, he doesn’t want crappy old lettuce.

Tonka was neglected, and grew sad. His beautiful head plopped down onto his cold soil. Hoagie was shocked – if the tortoise died he would not get the extra payment Johnny had promised on his return in two days time!

He went to a reptile shop and said: “I need my tortoise to grow big, strong and happy straight away!” The shopkeeper winked: “We have a special Halloween offer – tort pills, give him two a day – no more – and recite the magic spell! Remember now – no more than two a day!”

Hoagie rushed home, Tonka lay listless. Two a day, he thought, oh no – I need him better by tomorrow! He fed him the whole bottle, desperately wolfed down. In a somber voice Hoagie read the spell given him: “Trot Aknot, Trot Aknot, Worg Gib, Worg Gib!” There was a flash of light, green smoke bellowed, the very walls trembled. Then nothing. ‘Twas Halloween night, children were knocking for sweets and treats. Hoagie was so mean that he switched all lights off and retired to bed. If only that puny reptile could get better, he thought, then I could really fleece Johnny!

Morning broke, he went downstairs – what a sight! Tonka was huge! Ten foot side to side, ceiling scraping! Hoagie screamed but it was too late. You fed me not, cared for me not, you bad man, Tonka thought, now you will feed me! He opened wide his gigantic mouth, his pretty pink tongue wrapped around Hoagie and pulled him inside. Nom, nom, nom – misers sure taste fine, but his ragged old shoes were spat out.


The next day Johnny returned. “I love you Tonka, daddy’s home!”, he cried out. Love! Oh love that endures all, that conquers all. Love cures every ill and love destroys evil spells. The word made all good again. Whoomph! Tonka was back to his usual small self. Johnny cuddled him, and gave him special treats. “Where is that miserable Hoagie, his shoes are here but he is not? Ah well – I had brought him a present but now we will share it ourselves.”

Tonka and Johnny were happy together, friends forever. Hoagie had enjoyed his last miserable Halloween darkly alone.


Review: Too Clever By Half at Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre

Apologies, Tortoise Soup fans, for the lack of recent updates. I have been run off my feet thanks to the outstanding success of my thriller novel ‘The Girl On The Bus’ – now in its seventh week in the Amazon UK top 100 bestsellers! It has been an incredible journey and in my next blog I will tell you how I did it and what it’s like being a bestselling writer.

Today, however, I feel compelled to tell you about a play that I saw at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre – ‘Too Clever By Half’ by the Russian playwright Alexandr Ostrovsky. I had a free a pair of free tickets for this show (thanks to Clare at the Royal Exchange) but even if I had paid I would have come away with a smile stretched across my face.


This is a little known play by a little known playwright but don’t let that put you off. When we think of Russian playwrights we think, of course, of Chekhov and then of Gogol and Pushkin but in his homeland Ostrovsky is equally as famous. Hopefully this production will go some way to enhancing his reputation in the UK.

Too Clever By Half is a comedy that was written in 1868. The producers have updated this setting to the 1960s and this doesn’t detract one bit – in fact it gives us a chance to hear some wonderful 60s sounds from the likes of Small Faces and The Rolling Stones.

Don’t expect a standard Victorian era comedy here. Ostrovsky injects a large dollop of the absurd and the whole seems to be indebted to English restoration comedies. This is no bad thing at all. People climb out of tiger skins and giant stuffed bears. Lovers transform into horses before our eyes, complete with fences to gallop over.

The whole thing is done with such speed and precision that is impossible not to get carried along by the wit and passion. It is uproariously funny in parts, especially in some of the physical theatre brought to a climax in the scene where Nick Haverson (as a short sighted Kroutistsky) rolls on the floor with a tiger skin rug under the impression that he is being attacked by a dog.

The play is timeless in that it could have been set yesterday or a thousand years ago. It deals with an old story: ambitious young man will stop at nothing to advance himself socially, tricking all around him on his way up the ladder. Ostrovsky, and the wonderful young cast, elevate this premise into a truly wonderful theatrical experience. This is possibly the funniest evening I have ever had in a theatre. The incredible love scene at the end of the first half has to be seen to be believed but i won’t spoil the surprise for you!

Particular praise must go to Dyfan Dwyfor in the lead role of Gloumov. This is a scheming, spiteful young man who thinks nothing of betraying the people who love him. Despite this, thanks to Dwyfor, we in the audience cannot help warming to him and as the denouement approaches we find ourselves rooting for him against our will.

Well done yet again to the Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre. At a time when many playhouses are playing it as safe as houses, they are not afraid to take artistic chances. This has paid off in spades, and this exhilarating, fantastically absurd and riotously funny play gets a five tortoise shell rating from me! The play runs until 17th August and I heartily recommend this as a summertime treat.

Kindle Publishing!

In previous posts I have looked at how to publish a book in its physical form, and I will be returning to this subject in more depth soon, but today I am going to look at how to publish e-books and in particular how to use KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) to get your book onto Amazon with the minimum fuss and with zero expense.

I love to hold books and to feel the pages turning between my fingers but there is an inescapable truth: e-book readers such as the Kindle are the future of literature. I have a Kindle myself and it is a beautiful and practical thing, even if for me it will never replace my true love: the well worn paperback. Kindles are great for readers but they are even better for authors, as I have found out myself.


As you may know, I have recently had my children’s novel, Tortoise Soup, published but back in the mists of time I wrote a thriller novel called ‘The Girl On The Bus’. The book had been more or less dormant for a number of years but suddenly it has been discovered by the Kindle generation and it is now selling hundreds and hundreds of copies every day. I have been propelled into the Amazon bestsellers chart, and am battling it out in the top 100 with writers like Dan Brown and Hillary Mantel! If you would like your own copy, just click the link here:

It has all been a bit overwhelming, if very welcome, and in my next post I will give you my tips on how to become a Kindle bestseller but for now let’s start with the basics: here is how to get your e-book into the Amazon store.

Firstly, of course, you have to have the completed script of your novel. For printed copies PDF format is best but KDP prefer you to submit your novel in .doc format. This can be done in Word but also by using free software such as the wonderful Open Office Writer.

Editing is still essential of course, don’t let spelling and grammar errors ruin your chances of e-book success. Amazon allows readers to cancel an ebook and get a refund up to seven days after they have purchased it, and you don’t want too many of those!

It is still important, possibly even more important, to have a good cover. By which I mean, of course, a front cover. You don’t need to worry about a back cover for an ebook as you would for a print book. It is important that this cover can grab a browser’s attention from a tiny thumbnail as that it is all that most readers will see. My tip is make the cover small and striking – don’t bog it down with too much information or lettering as these will be unreadable on the small image that most people will see.

Once you have the .doc file and the JPG cover you are ready to publish! Go to and sign up to their publishing scheme. The whole process is simplicity itself – if you can read this then you can do it all yourself.

Firstly, upload the text and cover. Now you have to provide the obvious information such as the book name and your details. You also have to provide details of how you wish to be paid. Yes, that’s right – you really can make money out of this, and big money as well as I am beginning to find out. And the best thing is that it is all 100% free. Amazon charge you nothing at all to publish your ebook online.

Next you have to click on a statement that you have worldwide rights to your book, which you do of course, and set the price for your book. This is a difficult one, some people like to price high and some go dirt cheap and hope to sell in bulk. I recommend the latter policy, it has worked for me and in my next blog I will explain how this has worked and how to exploit it.

You don’t need to use an ISBN for a Kindle book, Amazon assigns it’s own unique ASIN number. That’s how easy it is. Once you have followed the above steps you have become a digital publisher and within 24 hours your book will be available across the planet. And if you are talented and lucky, one day you might just see your sales start to rocket in the same way that I am with The Girl On The Bus.

If you have anything to add, any experience with KDP, or any questions then please do comment below and I will get back to you!

Tortoise Soup out now!

These are exciting times for me as besides creating the Tortoise Soup blog, my children’s novel Tortoise Soup is now officially released!


In my blogs I have shown how to find a publisher or how to publish your own novel. In future blogs I will be looking at publishing essentials such as editing, cover design, the use of social media, ebook choices, and fonts and typesetting. I have learned a lot about publishing in the run up to the release of Tortoise Soup, and I hope to be able to give you lots of good advice so that you can see your book in print as well.

Nothing feels as good as holding your own book in your hand, seeing the birth of your own print baby. Early reviews have been fantastic, and the feedback from readers has made all the effort worthwhile. I wrote Tortoise Soup to appeal to children aged 8-11 but the feedback that I am getting shows that adults love it just as much and that really makes me happy.

You can buy Tortoise Soup on Amazon,

Or you can get a signed copy here:

I hope that you will enjoy the book, I’m sure that you will, and I look forward to reading your books in future as well. If you have a book out then why not tell me about it in the comments box below?

Oh, by the way – I am a contestant on the UK TV show ‘Countdown’ on Channel 4 on Monday – I talk about tortoises a lot but forgot to mention the impending release of my Tortoise Soup book! I still have a lot to learn about generating publicity!


The snow has returned like an unwelcome yet relentless visitor. Just a few years ago it seemed that snow would be a thing of the past, we had gone years without seeing any of the swirling white menace.
Whether it is down to climate change or not I couldn’t say but snow is back in our winters with a vengeance. Transport stops, noses and fingers turn red, bread sells out within minutes of reaching the shop shelves.
But snow can also be such a wonderful thing, it makes even the ugliest scene seem enchantingly beautiful. And of course snow has featured, starred even, in some great works of literature.
James Joyces seminal short story collection ‘Dubliners’ ends with a long story, a novella itself really, called The Dead. Here is how it ends:
“Yes, the news­pa­pers were right: snow was gen­eral all over Ire­land. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, fur­ther west­wards, softly falling into the dark muti­nous Shan­non waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely church­yard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and head­stones, on the spears of the lit­tle gate, on the bar­ren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the uni­verse and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the liv­ing and the dead.”
In this reading snow represents the death of Gabriel’s dreams, the end of what he had thought of as reality, the freezing of the love that he thought he had shared with his wife.
The incredible Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabata tackled a similar theme in the achingly beautiful ‘Snow Country’ (check it out – it deservedly gained Yasunari the Nobel prize for literature). Again, snow represents the flip sides of one coin: beauty and death, the thing that makes beauty so extreme and powerful is the very knowledge of its fragility – the certainty of its death. Beauty and love will dissolve away like the all encompassing snow that will soon melt away leaving no traces behind.
My new children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ (coming soon – check back here for details) also contains a scene where the poor little tortoise Byron battles in vain against a blizzard:
“It was a cold night on the moors as Byron continued his slow walk northwards. The great north wind had begun to howl across the desolate landscape and at times it blew Byron back so that he seemed to be getting further away from Ruby rather than closer to her. The sky had been darkening for some time but suddenly it began to grow lighter again. A solitary white flake floated down from above and landed right upon Byron’s nose.
‘Brrr, what was that?’ thought Byron, but as he bravely struggled on against the wind the flakes began to fall faster and faster until the air itself looked completely white. Byron panicked now, he had never been out in snow before, but he could feel himself growing colder and colder. Snow was settling onto his shell and his legs were growing heavier and slower. The little tortoise tried to carry on walking but soon it was a struggle even to move his limbs.
Byron had no strength left, he flopped his head down onto the cold moorland floor and lay sprawled out as the snow piled up on top of him. ‘If only I could have seen Ruby again, just one more time’ he thought and the image of her pretty face gave him one last burst of energy. He began to dig into the ground with all his strength but he made slow progress with the frost covered soil. He dug and dug until he toppled into the little hole that he had made but all too soon the snow fell in upon him until there was nothing to show where he had been except a small white mound.”
The great Finnish writer and artist Tove Jansson wrote a short story about snow. It was called ‘Snow’. Here is a recording of me reading it.

I hope that you enjoy it and if you are going out remember the Norwegian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
Please post any snow related comments below!