A Christmas Gift for you!

As you may know, I set up this blog to promote my children’s book ‘Tortoise Soup’ starring brave little orphan Ruby Tinker and her loveable tortoise Byron. Well, as a special Christmas treat on Saturday I will be releasing ‘Happy Tortoise Christmas’, a new e-book available exclusively from Amazon. It will be two books in one – for younger readers there will be a Christmas poem about how a little torty has to step in and take the place of Rudolph! There are seven beautiful illustrations (in colour as well if you have one of the newer Kindles or read it on a phone or tablet) and it should help the little ones get in the Christmas spirit. Here’s a sketch of the first illustration.

tortycover

Alongside the poem there will be a brand new Byron and Ruby adventure – a seven chapter novella called ‘Byron And The Mince Pie Spy’. Can our heroic duo save the day when the village of Auchtinoo is threatened by a rogue santa? Children from 8 to 108 will enjoy finding out! As a special Christmas treat I am publishing the first chapter completely free below. I hope that you are having a wonderful Advent!

Byron And The Mince Pie Spy – Chapter On
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Auchtinoo is a village in Scotland, close to the border with England. The village has a school, an inn, shops, lots of farms and streams where salmon leap playfully from the water. There are woods nearby were deer with big antlers roam wild and free and happy, and the people of Auchtinoo are just as happy and free, even if they are a little less wild.
The village had an air of excitement hanging over it every December. It was looking forward to its annual Father Christmas competition, people would come from far and wide to dress as Santa and the winner would win a bottle of whisky, a huge Christmas pudding and enough crackers to last a lifetime. Little did the people of Auchtinoo know that this year some people were watching from the shadows and plotting – they had a fiendish plan to ruin Christmas for ever!
Ruby Tinker lived in a big house on the edges of Auchtinoo. She lived with her Uncle Peter and Auntie Francesca, and their friends and helpers Eli and Tanya Tigerlily. There was one more inhabitant of Auchtinoo Hall where they lived – he had four legs, a wonderfully smooth shell and a little head with a beautiful tortoise smile. His name was Byron, and he and Ruby loved each other very, very much.
When Ruby had first been brought to Auchtinoo to live with her Uncle she had been very sad. Byron had been left behind in the Children’s Home where they had been staying. Every day at school she would sit silently at the back of the class, she never raised her arm to answer a question – even though she knew most of the answers. Ruby didn’t play with the other children and they never invited her to join in their games. The other children thought that she was strange because she didn’t speak, and she walked in a funny way with metal supports on her legs and she always had such a gloomy look on her face. Only one classmate made an effort to speak to Ruby and her name was Faria.
Faria had come from a country far, far away and because of that some of the other children thought that she didn’t belong in their school – they left her to sit at the back of the class alongside Ruby because nobody else wanted to sit there.
Faria was a very kind girl, if only her classmates had bothered to find out. She could tell that Ruby was sad and sometimes when she could see the tears welling up in Ruby’s eyes she would reach over and hold her hand under the desk so that she knew she had a friend.
Things changed for Ruby after Byron came to live with them. What an adventure he’d had to get there and what a difference it made to Ruby. She became the happiest girl in Auchtinoo, always laughing and singing. She would clap her hands when she saw bright yellow butterflies. When she saw the highland cows in the fields she would wave at them and they would stick their tongue out in a friendly greeting.
‘Those cows are just like me’, she told Byron one day, ‘with their lovely orange hair.’
‘Well if you’re going to be a highland cow, then I want to be one as well!’, said Byron the tortoise.
Ruby told this to Miss Tigerlily and the next day, to her surprise, she saw that Miss Tigerlily had knitted a little coat for Byron to go over his shell – it was made of shaggy orange wool. What fun Ruby and Byron had that day – stomping around their room together, mooing at each other!
Everybody at the school was amazed at the change in Ruby. She never stopped talking now, and the teachers were shocked at how clever she was -Ruby could answer the toughest of questions. She couldn’t run very well, but the children always made sure that they had games that she could play. She became a very popular girl, but there was one friend in particular that meant a lot to her.
Ruby hadn’t forgot the kindness that Faria had shown to her and she spent as much time with her as she could. Faria was very bright as well, but classes were a bit more difficult for her because every time that she was asked a question she had to translate it into her own language, in her mind, come up with the answer and then translate it back into English so that she could tell the teacher. Imagine how difficult that must be? By the time that she was ready with the answer somebody else had usually answered it for her.
Ruby would help her as much as she could, and when the rest of the class saw this they began to like Faria a little bit themselves – maybe she isn’t so bad after all if Ruby likes her so much?
It was the last day of term before the Christmas holidays began. Everybody was very excited. The teachers were wearing musical antlers and the children were allowed to play games all day long. Ruby’s desk was full of all the lovely Christmas cards that she had received but next to her Faria had only one card. It was from Ruby and had a big jolly snowman on the front.
Faria was so happy when she received it, nobody had given her a Christmas card before, but on the last day of term she looked very miserable. Ruby left the games to one side and put her arms around her friend.
‘Faria’, she said, ‘you look so sad today and everybody else is really happy. What’s wrong?’
‘Ruby, you are such a kind friend – I will miss you so much.’
‘Miss me? We will all be back at school in two weeks time.’
‘I won’t be back at this school Ruby, in fact I don’t think that I will see you again.’
Tears began to roll down Faria’s face. Ruby took a mince pie from her lunch box and handed it to her friend. The mince pies were hand made by Auntie Francesca – she makes the best mince pies in the world, they can cheer up anybody.
‘Tell me about it’, Ruby said as her friend ate into the lovely soft pastry.
‘My dad told me yesterday. There is something called a visa that lets people like us live in this country, and it’s run out. Dad has been trying to convince people to let us stay because it’s not safe where we came from but our last hope has gone. They are going to send us away just after the New Year and we’ll never be allowed into this wonderful country again.’
Faria started sobbing once more, although she did nibble at the mince pie between sobs.
Ruby wiped her friend’s tears away.
‘Try not to worry about it Faria. Come round to my house tomorrow, it’s the big one called Auchtinoo Hall. Eli says that my Uncle Peter is a very powerful man and he can do lots of things – I’m sure that he can come up with something that will let you stay here!’
Faria cheered up a little. She had never been to anybody’s house except her own and her dad had told her that there was nothing more that could be done for them. But Ruby sounded so determined, so convinced that her Uncle Peter could help that Faria allowed herself to become a little convinced as well. She looked at the card on her desk again and smiled. It read: “Hope you have a wonderful Christmas.”
That night Ruby told her Uncle and Auntie that her friend would be coming to visit tomorrow. They were very pleased with the news, whatever made their niece happy made them happy.
‘And there’s one more thing, Uncle Peter.’
‘What’s that, my poppet?’, he said as he peered over the top of his newspaper.
‘My friend Faria came to this country for help but in a few days they are going to send her away forever. I said that you might be able to help her?’
Uncle Peter put the paper down, carefully folded as always.
‘Help her, my dear? I wish that I could, but how can I help her? I’m just a boring old civil servant.’
Auntie Francesca gave him a stern look, the kind that she only ever used on him. He squirmed in his seat.
‘Well, I will see what I can do’, he said.
When she went to bed, Ruby told Byron all about it. Byron thought it was very sad – he remembered when Ruby had been sent away from him.
‘Do you think that Uncle Peter can help?’
‘I don’t know, Byron my love. He keeps saying that he is only a civil servant.’
‘What’s a civil servant?’, Byron asked. He always liked to learn new things from Ruby.
‘It’s a man who works for the government, Uncle Peter says it’s a very boring job – he just sits behind a desk all day tapping things into a computer. But’, and here Ruby’s voice fell to a whisper, ‘Eli told me that there is more to Uncle Peter than meets the eye. He says that he has a very special job, and he does special important things.’
Byron nodded his little head up and down.
‘I bet he does something special’, Byron said, ‘how can he afford a lovely big house like this if he only taps things into a computer? I’m going to keep an eye on him from now on.’
‘Oh Byron, you’re going to be just like a tortoise spy!’
Ruby winked at Byron and Byron winked back at Ruby.
There was a knock at the door and Auntie Francesca came in.
‘It’s an early night for you two adventurers. We’ll all have to be up early in the morning if we are having a visitor. I’m going to bake some more mince pies specially for the occasion! Night night Byron, night night Ruby.’
She turned off the special light that hung above Byron’s enclosure and he yawned and trotted slowly off to bed. His enclosure was a big wooden box made especially for him by Eli. It had slates for him to eat off, and a water dish. It was covered in soil that he liked to dig in and hide under sometimes and there were lots of pebbles for him to push around and play with. At one end of the box was a little room with a roof on top and straw on the floor. This was his bedroom.
Auntie Francesca covered Ruby in kisses, as she did every night, pulled the bedsheets around Ruby’s shoulders and turned off the light. The two friends were soon fast asleep.
Morning came and the house was alive with excitement. Miss Tigerlily was helping Auntie Francesca in the kitchen, she had flour on her face. The strange thing was that when Ruby saw Eli go past the window he also had a smudge of flour on his face.
Byron, who Ruby had brought downstairs with her, laughed. He often saw Eli and Tigerlily give each other a peck on the cheek when they thought nobody was looking.
‘I’ve heard them speak’ said Byron, ‘and I think that they are planning to get married!’
That was the advantage of being a little tortoise, people said things in front of you that they would never say in front of anyone else. Ruby’s heart leaped for joy – perhaps they would ask her to be a bridesmaid?
There was a timid knock at the front door and Auntie Francesca rushed to answer it, wiping her hands on her apron before she did.
The door was opened and Faria walked shyly in. Auntie Francesca hugged her and planted a big kiss on the girl’s forehead. Uncle Peter held out a hand and said, ‘Pleased to meet you Faria. Ruby has told us all about you.’
Uncle Peter liked to be very formal in everything. He could come across as a bit of a stick in the mud but that was just his way – everybody who knew him knew that he had a very big heart.
Ruby and Faria sat on the big leather sofa and watched cartoons, swinging their legs happily as they did. There was a beautiful smell of baking wafting through the house.
‘This is Byron, my tortoise and the bestest and bravest friend that a girl could ever wish for.’
Ruby held Byron up in front of Faria’s face. Faria reached out and touched his shell – it was lovely to stroke and Byron smiled at the new guest.
‘Hello Byron’, she said with a giggle.
‘Hello, little lady. What’s your name?’
‘My name is Faria’, she said.
Byron was surprised to receive an answer. He decided to test her.
‘How many legs have I got?’, he asked her.
‘You’ve got four legs of course, silly.’
‘Wow! You can hear me.’
‘Yes, I can hear you. Shouldn’t I?’
Byron was open mouthed in amazement, it was left to Ruby to explain.
‘Byron and I always talk to each other – but nobody else can ever hear him until now. You must have a special bond with Byron if you can hear what he says. How lovely – now there is no way that we can let them send you away!’
The three friends sat on the sofa playing ‘I spy with my little eye’, until Auntie Francesca called them into the kitchen.
‘Ruby! Faria! The mince pies are ready!’
The kitchen smelled heavenly and the mince pies tasted even better than they looked. A mouse ran across the kitchen floor, unseen by anyone except Ruby, Byron and Faria who let out an eek.
‘Shush!’, said Ruby, ‘it’s a nice and friendly mouse – I drop him a few crumbs sometimes and he seems to like them.’
Ruby dropped a little pastry onto the floor and the mouse gobbled it up, smiled at them and ran off.
Auntie Francesca, helped by Miss Tigerlily, packed the mince pies into two cardboard boxes.
‘Now remember girls,’ she said, ‘the ones in the blue box are for us but the ones in the red box are especially for Uncle Peter.’
‘That’s right!’, Uncle Peter shouted from his study (he always heard everything whenever his name was mentioned), ‘I’m taking the ones in the red box over to the office later, for my workmates to share.’
Ruby, Faria and Byron returned to the living room. Byron was telling Faria about his many adventures – how he had once been swallowed by a snake and how he had flown through the air underneath a big bird, how he had been shot at and how a nasty woman had tried to bury him under the soil. But now here he was in a lovely warm house where everyone treated him as if he was the king of tortoises! Faria listened in awe, she was so excited that she forgot her own troubles for a while.
The girls kept going back to the kitchen and returning with new mince pies, this gave Byron an idea. He would play a fun little Christmas trick on them. While Ruby and Faria were engrossed in a cartoon he walked slowly out of the living room and into the kitchen. I will hide myself in the box of mince pies, he said to himself, and when they come to get one and see me in there what a surprise it will be!
There were two boxes, one blue and one red. Byron tried hard to remember which box it was that was for them – blue or red, red or blue? Ruby’s hair is red, he reasoned, so that must be best! He pushed himself onto his back legs and clambered up and into the red box. Now he had to sit and wait!
The girls were engrossed in their cartoons, they didn’t even notice that Byron had gone. Many minutes had passed when they heard Uncle Peter scream. It had come from the kitchen.
They walked as fast as Ruby’s legs would allow and found that everyone was in the kitchen looking at the one box that remained on the floor. Uncle Peter stood with a horrified look on his face and his hands were on his head.
‘They’ve gone, they’ve gone! Somebody’s taken the red box of mince pies! This is the worst thing that could ever happen!
It was then that they noticed that the kitchen window was open where it hadn’t been before.
‘They’ve broken in and taken the box with the top secret mince pies!’, Uncle Peter shouted.
Top secret mince pies? Ruby was confused, perhaps Byron could make sense of it all? She looked round but Byron was nowhere to be seen.

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.

huge_tortoise-wide

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.

Christmas Poem – Santa’s Shelled Helper

Here is a poem that can be enjoyed by the young and the young at heart – learn how a little tortoise can help St Nick on his special night! Happy Christmas to all of my blog readers, God bless you all and have a very peaceful and joyous few days!

SantasTorty

SANTA’S SHELLED HELPER a poem by Nicky Holland

Twas the night before Christmas and all round the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse –
Except for young torty asleep in his bed,
Who nodded, and slumbered, then raised up his head,
His sweet dreams disturbed by a faint Ho Ho Ho,
From a jolly faced fella a-covered in snow,
Who could it be that had now caught his sight,
And woke torty up on this Christmas Eve night?
His eyes were so friendly, his face it glowed red,
As he gently bent down and raised torty from bed,
‘Oh Santa’ thought torty, ‘I recognise you,
So all that I’ve heard it must really be true,
How you visit the houses of good girls and boys,
And leave them all presents, and sweeties and toys,
And maybe I hope’, and his heart ‘gan to swell,
‘That there may be a present for torties as well!’
‘My dear friendly tortoise’ said Santa to he,
‘I do need some help, so I’m glad I’ve found thee,
My poor reindeer Rudolph is tucked up in bed,
All full up with cold, so will you help instead?’
Torty was happy, his eyes opened wide,
‘I’m gonna help Santa’, he thought with some pride,
‘But Santa’ said torty, ‘how helpful am I,
For I’m quite small and slow and I simply can’t fly?’
‘Don’t worry dear shelled friend just leave it to me’
With a wink and a smile they flew up the chimney,
Torty was astounded as he gazed from on high,
With the house right below and around him the sky,
And parked right beside him a gleaming white sleigh,
With reindeers afore it all chewing on hay,
‘Ahoy there my reindeer, come meet our new bloke’
Said Santa, ‘for torty’s the kindest of folk,
Come Vixen, come Dasher, come Cupid come Dancer,
Come Comet, come Donner, and Blitzen, come Prancer,
Now my good and brave torty do not be afraid,
For on Christmas Eve, miracles are made.’
Santa wrapped torty in a coat made of gold,
That fitted most snugly and kept out the cold,
And all of a sudden his nose gleamed quite red,
And two tiny antlers popped up from his head,
‘Ho, ho little torty now that’s quite a sight,
So come guide our sleigh on this beautiful night.’
‘Oh Santa, you know that this torty will try’,
So saying he rose up and jumped in the sky,
‘I can fly, I can fly’ he shouted with glee,
The first soaring tortoise in all history,
He led them on bravely right through the night,
No longer quite slow, but faster than light,
And all thanks to torty by morning sunrise,
The presents were waiting for young eager eyes,
The darkness was ending and morning was near,
‘Whoah reindeer’ said Santa ‘dear torty we’re here!’
Santa removed torty’s gold cloak,
With a wink and a smile and a plume of red smoke,
And torty found with a blink of surprise,
A familiar bed was now before his eyes,
‘I’m back home’, thought torty, ‘oh what a strange night,
I got to help Santa’, he smiled with delight.
The door it creaked open, well was Santa back?
But no, it was daddy carrying a sack,
‘Happy Christmas my torty, I do love you so,
And here is your present so that you know!’
He reached inside and what did he produce?
A big, ripe, red strawberry full up with juice,
Then daddy stepped back – his mouth was agape,
Amazed at the tortoise sized, gold coloured cape,
That lay next to torty and fragments of snow,
And a card saying “Thank you from Santa and co”,
‘Well torty, my love, tell me what’s gone on here?’
But torty just winked and said ‘maybe next year!’

Halloween Flash Fiction!

Tortoise Soup celebrates Halloween – that special night when the worlds of the living and the dead collide, when magic really happens, when evil curses crackle in the cold air. We celebrate with a piece of flash fiction especially for you, my dear reader.

Flash Fiction is a new literary form where a complete story is told in a specified, and very short, number of words. My halloween epic is exactly 500 words. Read and enjoy, you can even include your very own flash fiction in the comments below!  Don’t have nightmares and whatever you do this Halloween – don’t overfeed the tortoise!

Read on if you dare!!!!

Johnny was travelling 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. 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. 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!

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! 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. He read the spell given him: “Trot Aknot, Trot Aknot, Worg Gib, Worg Gib!” There was a flash of light, green smoke bellowed. 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! He screamed but too late. You fed me not, cared for me not, you bad man, Tonka thought. Now you will feed me! He opened his huge mouth, his pretty pink tongue wrapped around Hoagie and pulled him inside. Nom, nom, nom – misers sure taste fine, but his 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 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.

Tortoise Haiku

As my more astute readers know I have been in London  all week watching Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Royal Opera House (if you didn’t know this then please feel free to read last week’s blog entitled ‘Opera Is For All’). The first two operas have been phenomenal and I am very much looking forward to seeing the final two operas tomorrow and on Monday. I literally bumped into Michael Portillo on opening night, although whether that is a good thing or nor I will leave to your own judgement.

I have had a marvelous time in London – there is so much to see and do there. I saw the Edvard Munch exhibition at the Tate Modern (very good, but be warned that it includes some rather lurid naked photographs of the painter) and I also went to the Rose Theatre on Bankside to see the ‘lost’ Shakespeare play Cardenio. I highly recommend Cardenio to theatre lovers – it is like Hamlet but magnified tenfold. There is death, passion, necrophilia, nudity (is there a theme developing here?) and yet more death. The Rose Theatre itself is incredible – it is the oldest Tudor theatre in Britain and the facilities are rudimentary as they still excavating the site but it stages incredible theatre. I urge theatre goers to visit The Rose – you won’t regret it.

So as you can tell, I have been loving my London sojourn but I have greatly missed my beautiful little tortoise Ovid. I have missed him so much that I had to take a trip out to London Zoo to see the three new giant Galapagos Tortoises that they have acquired. It was amazing to see these gigantic chelonians, but I will still be glad when I can stroke Ovid’s shell again. Here is a picture of the smallest and youngest giant at the zoo, Dolores, saying ‘Hi’!

Image

WordPress allows bloggers to see what search terms people have been using to find your site. Two days ago a person unknown found my blog by googling the term: ‘tortoise haiku’. Now there are lots of tortoises in my blog and there are quite a few haikus as well but I have never combined the two: until now! I always strive to fulfill my reader’s wishes and so here is a haiku that I entitle simply ‘Tortoise’:

Wise old head stirs slow

As air hangs over beauty

That was born of shell.

I hope that you enjoyed my haiku and I hope to have exciting news about my children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ for you all soon! Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blogs, please visit again and I would love to see your haiku comments below!

Ventriloquism and how to do it!

Writing is my passion, my life – but while I continue the search to find the right publisher for ‘Tortoise Soup’ it is good to have other interests to pursue. Hobbies are important, and as far as I am concerned the more unusual hobby the better! That is why I have taken such an interest in ventriloquism – maybe after reading this blog you will decide that ventriloquism is the perfect hobby for you as well?

Ventriloquism is an ancient art, but it is surprisingly easy to master. If you follow the tips below then you too can learn all of the basic skills that you need to make a start as a ventriloquist. I myself have only been ‘venting’ for a few months but already I have reached the final of the Yorkshire Best New Act 2012 competition: I will be performing live on stage at Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre this Thursday (13th September) at 8pm. If you are in the area then please come along and give me your support – I need all the help that I can get!

The first thing for a budding ventriloquist to do is to purchase their ‘dummy’. Buy one that you love and cherish, that fits your personality. There is a wide variety of vent dummies available online, I myself have a tortoise puppet (of course) that I call ‘Sheldon’. Here is a picture of us on our visit to the London 2012 Olympics last month.

Once you have your dummy practise in front of a mirror every night, try to ensure that your dummies mouth moves in a co-ordinated fashion with the words that they are saying. Just ten minutes of practise a night should soon have you at a level where you can impress friends and family.

Now we come to the art itself: speaking without moving your lips. This is surprisingly easy – there are only six letters that require any movement of the lips at all. That’s right – only six. Say your alphabet in the mirror now and try to keep your lips apart, relaxed and unmoving. What letters did you have difficulty with? W, F, V, B, M and P. These are the only problematic letters. ‘W’ can be circumvented by saying ‘oo’ in front of the word – ie, instead of ‘water’ say ‘oo-ater’ and instead of ‘wedding’ say ‘oo-edding’. Easy peasy. When saying the letter ‘F’ simply say a soft ‘Th’ as in ‘think’, and when saying ‘V’ use a hard ‘Th’ as in ‘then’. These ‘th’ sounds can easily be said without lip movement and are indistinguishable from ‘F’ and ‘V’ when used in a sentence.

So now we see that in reality there are only three difficult letters: B, M and P. Did I say difficult? I actually meant impossible. Even the best ventriloquist in the world could not say these letters without moving their lips – it is physically impossible. So what do we do? Well, we substitute different letters with similar sounds. For ‘B’ we use ‘D’ (ie ‘dottle’ for bottle – not ‘gottle’ as is commonly thought), for ‘M’ we use ‘N’ (so ‘nask’ instead of ‘mask) and for ‘P’ we use ‘T’ (so ‘terfect’ is ‘perfect’). When saying this ‘substitute’ sounds place your tongue against the back of your upper teeth and this will help to create the effect that you are saying the impossible letters. This does take a bit of practise, but after a while substituting will become second nature. Of course, you can help yourself by using words that don’t contain these troublesome letters: for example instead of saying ‘Bring me a pint of milk’ have your dummy say ‘fetch me a glass of water’.

Now that you can speak without moving your lips how do you throw your voice? You don’t – again it is an illusion created by a skilful ventriloquist. To create a ‘distant’ voice speak softer and for a ‘near’ voice speak louder. It really is that easy.

So there you are – thanks to Tortoise Soup you now know all the basics that you need to begin your life as a ventriloquist. It is such a fulfilling  hobby – you get a real sense of satisfaction as you see and hear yourself improving day after day. I hope to use my puppet when I am doing talks and book signings for ‘Tortoise Soup’, my fantastic upcoming children’s novel, so in this way I will get to combine my career and my hobby! Give it a go, it’s lots of fun – please comment below and let me know how you get on. And don’t forget that Sheldon and I will be doing a brief routine at Huddersfield’s Comedy Cellar night this Thursday from 8 at the Lawrence Batley Theatre! Come along and say ‘Hi’!

The Wonder Of Tortoises

There have been interesting developments for my children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ in the last few days with two publishers expressing an interest in it. Hopefully, I should have more news for you all soon.

People may ask why I have chosen a tortoise, Byron, as the hero of the story rather than a more conventional creature such as a dog or a cat? Well, I have my own beautiful little tortoise called Ovid and my time spent with him has taught me how amazing these beautiful creatures really are. August 1st 2012 will mark the second ever ‘Tortival’ – the International Tortoise Carnival that celebrates our shelled friends. In celebration of this event, today’s Tortoise Soup blog will reveal some incredible but true facts about tortoises.

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Tortoises are one of the most ancient species in the world. The first tortoises roamed our planet 225 million years ago, that is millions of years earlier than the first dinosaurs. So if you have a pet tortoise then you really have your own little dinosaur stomping around your house!

Because they are so ancient the tortoise also provides the answer to the age old question: ‘Which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ Birds evolved from reptiles such as tortoises and as tortoises hatch from eggs then the answer is simple – eggs were around millions of years before chickens.

Charles Darwin was a tortoise jockey! On his groundbreaking journey to the Galapagos Islands the father of evolution noted of the islands’ giant tortoises: “I frequently got on their backs, and then, upon giving a few raps on the hinder part of the shell, they would rise up and walk away; but I found it very difficult to maintain my balance.”

Speaking of the Galapagos Island, the most famous Galapagos native, the late lamented Lonesome George, was held hostage by terrorists on two occasions. For more on this wonderful tortoise see my earlier blog: https://tortoisesoup.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/lonesome-george-a-tribute-to-my-hero/

Tortoises are much more agile than people think. Some species are excellent diggers and climbers, and they can move at a fair old lick when they want to. No wonder the hare was no match for his shelled rival, take a look at this daredevil tortoise in action:

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Tortoises are incredibly resilient. Whatever killed the dinosaurs could not wipe out tortoises, they also survived two prolonged ice ages unscathed. All tortoises are long living, if cared for correctly, and some species can live for more than two hundred years.

Tortoises are not slow in foot, and neither are they slow in mind. Several scientific studies are showing tortoises to be much smarter than previously thought. A professor at Bradford University was part of a group testing the cognitive abilities of rats within a maze. He brought his own pet tortoises to try it and they easily outperformed the rats, completing the maze much quicker and remembering the fastest route for future attempts.

So now you see how wonderful these magnificent reptiles can be, no wonder tortoises are one of the most popular pets in the United Kingdom today. Indeed, reptiles as a whole (including tortoises and turtles) overtook dogs in an official survey last year to become the countries second most common pet (after cats).

If you would like to read about an incredible tortoise adventure, or have children who like to read about animals that overcome the toughest obstacles then do keep an eye out for my novel ‘Tortoise Soup’. It should be hitting bookshelves in the near future. Even by the fantastic standards that tortoises set, the escapades of Byron Tinker and his beloved friend Ruby have to be read to be believed!

Animals of all shapes and sizes bring joy and love into our lives. If you want to share your tortoise love, then please comment below!

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