Fantabulous news from the world of pants

The magic of Cecil’s Amazing Panty Wanty Woos continues…

The Abominators series is now being distributed in the USA (Little, Brown Young Readers, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group; ISBN 9781907411625) and to my leaping around the kitchen and frightening the dog delight the first book has been positively reviewed in the February 1, 2015 issue of School Library Journal (circ. 26,747)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here is the review in full:

Boogster, Cheesy, Mucker and Bob are a naughty group of fifth graders at the Grimely East Primary School who love making mischief and playing pranks. New kid Cecil Trumpington-Potts, who speaks in babytalk and wears “panty-wanty-woos,” wants to join their gang and must successfully pull off a daring prank in order to prove his worth. There’s a strong subversive thread, along with large doses of potty humor, in this British import. Hand to readers who’ve worn out their copies of Dav Pilkey’s books and are ready for slightly more challenging vocabulary.

Potty humour? Moi?

I am so pleased about this review, and that it will have reached so many people. It has made me determined to carry on with my new project, which is to write lots of creative writing activities for kids based on The Abominators. These activities would be available free online and my books would be like the Trojan horse going into Troy, a way of reaching kids and encouraging them to use their imaginations and have fun with writing.

Out today! Click on the cover to see on Amazon

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 22.42.19

Girls Heart Cover AW

£1.97 on Kindle!

Evie’s Christmas Miracle

Girls Heart Cover AWScreen Shot 2014-11-01 at 09.41.49

I am lucky enough to have a short story in this Christmas anthology for Kindle by Girls Heart Books.
My story is called ‘Evie’s Christmas Miracle’ and is about a young girl with Tourette’s Syndrome who’s cast as Mary in her church nativity. It’s the final story in the book. My story was read and approved before final draft by Jessica Thom, of ‘Tourettes Hero’ fame, who has written a wonderful, funny and also heart-wrenching book about having Tourette’s called ‘Welcome to Biscuit Land’ which I can’t recommend highly enough.

I really meant it, Dave Gorman

Last night we went to see ‘Dave Gorman Gets Straight to the Point’ at the Wycombe Swan, which was absolutely brilliant and very funny (and Nick Doody was good too). When Dave Gorman showed us the emoticon his mother used in a text message, I was almost weeping with laughter. You’d have to have been there to understand the context. Afterwards we bought his book and had our photograph taken with him (see below).

Just before the photo was taken I mentioned to Dave Gorman that I was one of the contestants on his radio show ‘Genius’, many years ago. I’d submitted the idea that couples who have marriage guidance counselling should wear furry animal costumes as it would be harder for them to get angry with each other. I remember when it was recorded, Dave presented me with a parrot costume, and I put the head of it on, and he was in an animal costume himself of course so we could role play an argument, and the whole radio theatre erupted into laughter. Sid Waddell proclaimed me a Genius. It doesn’t get much better than that.

So there we were last night, at the Wycombe Swan and Dave Gorman actually remembered the show and was really nice about it, and I said to him, sort of as if I was joking, ‘it changed my life’. Then we had the photo taken and we didn’t want to take up his time as it was late at night and he’d been signing for ages, so we wished him well and went home.

But I didn’t say what I wanted to say to him, so I’ll say it here instead.

Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 08.39.16

(Left to right, Chris, Anita, Mr Dave Gorman, me, Russ)

On the night Sid Waddell called me a Genius, I was wearing the parrot head and I realised that everybody in the radio theatre had found my bizarre marriage guidance counselling idea funny.

My teen novel ‘Diary of a Parent Trainer’ was published by Scholastic in 2011, and I’ve had four more books published since. Anyway, my getting started as a children’s writer was partially inspired by that moment on ‘Genius’, it was a significant lightbulb moment when I realised that an idea from out of my head could actually make people laugh.

So this is a message for Dave Gorman:

When I said to you last night that being on ‘Genius’ changed my life, I wasn’t really joking. It sort of did. Thank you.

I love film

While I love to write, and really love to read, I am also an unashamed film buff. I am never happier than flitting about in ‘imdb’, the international movie database where you can find all the films a director you like directed or an actor you like acted in. I find myself remembering minor actors, and looking to see what they did next.

It’s absolutely fascinating. I think that the most successful actors are the ones who turn down a lot of parts, and hold out for the great directors and writers, and are intelligent enough (or their agent is) to know which directors and writers are the ones to work with.

Last week I was asked on Facebook to name fifteen films that have ‘stayed with me’. I ended up spending hours agonising over my list, before realized that I need a list of my 100 favourite films, not just a measly fifteen.

Here are some (of many) that did not make the cut, that I absolutely love: Grease, The Sting, Kings of New York, Zoolander, The Producers, This is Spinal Tap, Young Frankenstein, Groundhog Day, Some Like it Hot, Blazing Saddles, Withnail and I, The Blues Brothers, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Walk the Line (I love Johnny Cash), 2000 A Space Odyssey, Crossing Delancey, Thelma and Louise, Captains Courageous (Spencer Tracy), Jerry Maguire, Field of Dreams, An Affair to Remember, Station Junction, Schindler’s List, Thelma and Louise, All the President’s Men, The Graduate, The Birdcage, Malcolm, The Ladykillers, Sunshine, Anchorman, Sideways, Napoleon Dynamite, Submarine, Brief Encounter, anything by Hitchcock but my favourites are Dial M for Murder and Rear Window with the fantastic Grace Kelly, The Piano, The Dish, An Education, Hills of Home (one of the earliest Lassie films, set in Scotland), I Capture the Castle, Lantana, Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind (Jim Carrey at his best), Precious, Hotel Rwanda, Tin Men, Down by Law, anything with Audrey Hepburn, anything with Richard Dreyfuss. The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Oh yes, and Denzel Washington in The Pelican Brief, and Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption. Plus anything directed by Mike Leigh, especially Secrets and Lies in which Timothy Spall is magnificent.

I’ve also enjoyed the Hunger Games films and also Harry Potter films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy – all based on great books and an argument for the role of film in taking great stories and telling them in film to those who don’t read books.

So here is my ‘final fifteen’. These are the ones I’d want to be played on a loop if I am ever too old and forgetful to remember yesterday, because then I’d end every day with a big smile on my face.

  1. Fargo (quirky, brilliant, understated crime film)
  2. Cabaret (one of the cleverest films I’ve seen, the music echoing the storyline, especially that chilling scene with the boy singing ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’)
  3. Goldrush (the scene with Charlie Chaplin eating his own shoe is genius – this just pipped Laurel and Hardy’s ‘Way Out West’ and Chaplin’s amazing Modern Times)
  4. Hannah and Her Sisters (one of my favourite Woody Allen films – so many others like Annie Hall I love too)
  5. True Grit – the original with John Wayne (makes me cry every time).
  6. Apollo 13 (triumph over adversity)
  7. Like Father, Like Son (a fairly recent Japanese film, and one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen – going to buy it on DVD to lend to all my friends)
  8. The Apartment (Jack Lemmon, fabulous, funny, sad – and I chose it over Doris Day’s Pillow Talk, difficult decision)
  9. The African Queen (Humphrey Bogart, enough said – just trumped ‘The Philadelphia story’ also starring the wonderful Katherine Hepburn)
  10. Moonstruck (OK, I am an incurable romantic, but despite being a tiny bit dated this is also a very funny film with a lovely performance from Olympia Dukakis)
  11. Cinema Paradiso (couldn’t speak for an hour after watching this film – also have loved Life is Beautiful and Amelie and so many other wonderful European films)
  12. Hairspray (could watch again and again)
  13. Elf (just makes me laugh every time)
  14. It’s a Wonderful Life (it’s not Christmas without watching this)
  15. Monkey Business (the Marx Brothers on a cruise – what could possibly go wrong? Watch this film and see what all the comedians since have copied)

What to do and what NOT to do if you have a friend who is seriously depressed

Robin Williams’ suicide is highlighting depression, this is a good thing. We need to talk about it.

I have friends who have had very serious depression, and I have had depression myself. So I’m writing this post in the hope that it will help people who just don’t know what to say or do when someone they know is depressed. I hope it will help prevent people unwittingly being unhelpful when they are trying to be helpful, that it will help to change people’s attitudes and actions.

So. Depression. Whether it is completely unexplained or as a result of life circumstances it is a terrible illness and all the worse because people who are supposedly friends can be more puzzled than sympathetic and inevitably try to offer a solution rather than just accepting and listening.

Typical comments…

‘Why CAN’T you snap out of it?’,
‘It’s no wonder, given the major bereavement/work stress/trauma you went through – give it time and you’ll get better.’
‘You need to do some voluntary work, look outside yourself and don’t be so self absorbed’,
‘This too shall pass’,
‘Prayer and faith will help, hand it over to God’,
‘Write 3 things you are grateful for every day, it works wonders’,
‘Get fit, if you’re active, it will change the chemistry of your brain’,
‘It could be hormonal, anxiety is linked to hormonal changes’,
‘Have you tried meditation/yoga/homeopathy/anti depressants/acupuncture etc etc etc’.

…the list goes on and on. I myself have been all too guilty of offering such solutions, misguidedly. I have also been on the receiving end, when I was depressed. Let me tell you how that felt.

If a depressed person is offered well meaning solutions, great as they might be, they then will probably find it hard to talk to the friend who offered the solution again, because the friend might say ‘did you do what I suggested?’ and if not (which is likely if they are in a very dark place), they will lose sympathy.
Giving a depressed person a ‘should’ is simply adding to their burden. THEY’RE DEPRESSED, which means they are probably finding it hard to get up and dressed in the morning.

If you feel strongly that, for example, your very depressed friend would benefit from exercise, instead of telling them that they ‘should’ get more exercise, tell them you’re going for a walk, and would they like to come along. One day they might feel well enough.
Or if you think meditation/faith/yoga would help them, tell them about the meditation group/church/yoga class you go to and ask them if they’d like to come along, don’t just say they ‘should’ try it.

Instead of offering your friend the burden of a ‘should’, why don’t you lighten their load, as you might help someone who’d broken their leg or was recovering from an operation? Deliver them a home-cooked meal, or offer to go round and do their ironing while you both watch TV. THEY ARE ILL, so they need practical help just as much as if they had their leg in plaster.

If you have a friend who is very seriously depressed and you are worried, of course advise they talk to their doctor, or – if they talk about lying awake at night or having dangerous thoughts – remind them that the Samaritans are there just to talk to 24/7 any hour of the day or night, but otherwise as a friend the best thing you can do is to LISTEN and BE THERE.

Keep on checking in on them – it probably took a lot for them to confide in you, so if you don’t contact them afterwards they will feel that you see their depression as shameful or embarrassing, or you don’t care about them. Don’t push them to go out and ‘have fun’, if it’s easier for them to go for a walk in the woods than to a crowded bar, walk with them in the woods. If they want to talk about their feelings then listen, and if they don’t, walk in silence but walk at their side.

Don’t judge or ever think that it’s about time they ‘got over’ it. Don’t say what worked for you or someone you know. Tell them that you are so sorry they have this terrible illness, that it could happen to anyone and it does not define them. Tell them you care for them and are there for them, and then try your best to live up to your words.

How to live forever


Possibly the most boring job I’ve done


At school I was told that I was very ‘creative’. Yet still, after studying English and then doing the Civil Service Exams at the suggestion of my dad, I accepted what must have been one of the most boring jobs in existence, anywhere, ever.

I accepted the post of Accommodation Officer in the Property Services Agency in Croydon.


The picture is of a prank a work colleague played on me during my time in that job. We were all so bored, playing pranks was the only way we could get through the day.

She wanted to see how long it would take till I noticed this fake fire alarm  featuring my disembodied head (with attractive 1980s hairstyle) on the wall of the office.

I think it stayed up there for quite a long time after I left, and my ex work colleague Sue only just gave it to me last month (it has moved house with her several times over the decades).

I managed six months before I left that job. I couldn’t carry on. It involved requisitioning paperclips. I also wasn’t at all good at it. I had several near disasters including:

– Pinning some top secret ‘bomb alert’ codes on a public noticeboard, thinking it would be useful if everyone knew them.

– Arranging a fire alarm but forgetting to unlock the fire doors at the bottom of the stairs of one of the multi-storey tower blocks.

– Ordering somebody with severe back problems (who was over 7ft tall) a special high backed chair, which then made his chair back higher than his boss’s. This was, apparently, intolerable.

– Arranging the fitting of a ‘whole wall’ wallpaper style noticeboard for a top manager in a moss green colour, which made it look like the entire wall was covered in mould.

Luckily I’ve since done many more, much more enjoyable jobs to which I’ve been a lot better suited. But that terrible time in that mind numbingly, crushingly tedious job I was so unsuited to taught me an important lesson: in times of extreme boredom, nothing gets you through like a joke fire alarm with a disembodied head on it.

Best letter EVER

I have this weekend received what is a strong contender for MY BEST EVER LETTER, EVER.

It is from 8 year old Basil Ignatius Hong who says:
“This is what I think about the Abominators: It’s enjoyable, funny and awesome. I am glad that I borrowed the book from the Singapore National Library and read it. My favourite character is Mucker, leader of the gang, kind and has a cool image. Thank you for creating such a nice story for cool dude like me! By the way, I am 8 years old and am a handsome nice fellow!”

THANK YOU Basil Ignatius Hong. With your magnificent letter you have made my day, week, month and possibly year!

Keeping motivated

As a self employed person, I have these terrible moments sometimes, when I feel completely unmotivated and it is difficult to make myself get on with things.

Because I am in charge of how my time is spent and I have multiple projects on the go right now, I can fall into the trap of ‘dipping in’ to ten different tasks, and finding it hard to focus because I am thinking about all the other things I should be doing.

One thing I found helpful was a book by Peter Jones which shows you (very humorously) how to use a diary and lists to best effect – here it is:

And I have to share this fantastic ‘one stop shop’ article on motivation. It lists all of the ways that we can lose motivation and offers practical solutions.

Post Navigation