Sunday, 6 November 2016

Can I ask you a favour?

My book The Glorious Dead ( is currently being crowdfunded by Unbound.

It tells the forgotten story of the men of the Great War who served, survived and stayed on - searching the battlefields, burying the dead and rebuilding their own lives amid the ruins of the war they'd fought. It needs another 200 pledges to be fully funded.

If you pledge you get your name in the back, my eternal gratitude as well as the knowledge that you've helped bring a work of literary and artistic genius (I mean merit, ok - interest) into being.

Can I twist your arm do you think to make a pledge (basically to pre-order) my book?

Vill your name be on ze list?

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

What FIFA should remember

In case you haven't heard, Football's world governing body has banned the England and Scotland football teams from wearing poppy armbands when they meet at Wembley in a World Cup qualifier next Friday... the 11th of November.

Their objection is that the poppy could be seen as a political symbol. Such things are banned, along with any 'commercial or religious' endorsement on official clothing.

It's not the first time that the poppy has come in for a hammering. Indeed, Christian Army chaplains once insisted it was dug up from British and Commonwealth war cemeteries as a 'heathen weed'. In the 1930s the Peace Pledge Union began distributing an alternative white poppy in protest at the tradition image's association with 'military power' and the 'justification of war'.

All of which misses the point. The poppy is our symbol of remembrance for two very simple reasons, which really conflate to one.

  • the prevalence of the flower across the battlefields of France and Flanders, and
  • the ubiquitous poem by John McCrae

There's little else to say, really. It neither glorifies war, celebrates military might or takes a political stance. It's a flower - a blood red flower - growing in abundance on the soil on which so many shed their own blood in a futile conflict.

They should remember that.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Fathers Day free DVD

It's Fathers Day next Sunday, folks! 

If you're stuck for something to buy, here's an idea. Why not get dad's name in my new book? He could be 'mentioned in dispatches' as part of the story. 

Or maybe you'd like to see his name in print on page one as a patron? 

For the next six pledges I'm giving away one of these action DVDs so you've got something to give him next Sunday as well as on Fathers Day next year! 

Every subscriber gets his or her name in every edition of the book so it's win-win all the way...

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Glorious Dead Unbound Crowdfunding

It's just over two weeks since The Glorious Dead launched on Unbound. Since then, it's made almost 10% of it's funding target and attracted a huge amount of interest. But one question keeps recurring - what is crowdfunding and how does it work?

Well... it works by people pledging their support in advance - a bit like buying before the book gets written (in order to make sure it is). The great thing about this way of doing things is that readers get to choose what gets written, rather than wait and choose what someone else (usually the marketing department) has commissioned.

But what if it doesn't get written, I hear you asking? Well, in that case you get your money back - but still have all the wonderful insights into the writing process and the inspiration and research via ‘The Shed'. But we're not going to have defeatist talk like that. Oh no.

Unbound publishes the likes of Terry ‘He’s not the Messiah’ Jones and Raymond 'Snowman' Briggs (to name-drop but two) but I think it must be easier if you've already got an established public profile, like they have. Some books takes days to fund; others weeks and months. At the present rate, mine will be in the latter category, but hey - onwards and upwards!

The really great thing about crowdfunding from my point of view as an author is the opportunities it affords for interaction. I've already had some quite lengthy conversations (usually on Facebook) about the novel. People have been interested in my motivation, fascinated by the research, and amazed - as I was - that there has been so little written on this subject before.

Which brings us to the book. The Glorious Dead is the story of a group of soldiers who stay on after the Armistice, clearing the battlefields, burying the dead and slowly rebuilding their own lives. This is in fact what thousands of Allied troops did, not always voluntarily - although the Army did offer men an extra 2/6 a day to undertake such unpleasant duties.

Some men stayed on, after their demob, marrying local Belgian girls and establishing a small but significant English community in and around Ypres. Many of them were employed by the War Graves Commission, landscaping the cemeteries they themselves created and establishing the permanent memorials to the dead that today we know so well.

There are plenty of books on World War One. There are books on Ypres, The Somme, Gallipoli & Verdun but there has never been a war book quite like this one. With your support, this remarkable story can at last be written.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Choir

Monday, 10 August 2015

Happy nudist birthday Brighton

Ok, so it's Monday. It's Monday the 10th August. That might not look much to you but it's a pretty momentous day in British history.

Over on Bringing up Charlie I've been blogging about how today is the actual birthday of the BBC Proms. On this day, 120 years ago, a man called Robert Newman started the ball rolling. And it's still rolling, all these years later.

Now someone (a reader) once described this as my 'grown-up zone'. So, in keeping with the designation I've a slightly more grown-up anniversary to celebrate: Britain's first nudist beach.

Slightly less than 120 years ago (in 1979 to be precise) Brighton City Council declared a 200-yard stretch of the seafront safe for the removal of clothing.

You'd have thought, from some of the reactions, that the end times were at hand. Councillor John Blackman, who voted against the measure, called it a flagrant exhibition of mammary glands, adding: I personally have got no objection to people showing their breasts and bosoms and general genitalia to one another. Jolly good luck to them but for heaven's sake they should go somewhere more private.

We do have a 'thing' about privacy in this country. Having just come back from a fortnight's holiday, some of which was spent at (non-nudist) beaches I'm still rather amazed by the lengths people go to to avoid a glimpse of any part of their otherwise private anatomy being revealed as they dry themselves or change into their swimming trunks or whatever else they do beneath their towels.

I'm not a nudist and regard the idea of stripping off for the sake of (and, it seems, engaging in energetic games of volleyball) rather unnecessary. But I do take what I regard as a sensible attitude to clothing and the changing into and out of it.

Still, each to his (and her) own. Despite attempts in 1983 to close it down as a 'disgrace to the town' Brighton's nudist beach remains open.

Let's all wish it a happy birthday!

Friday, 4 July 2014

Happy Birthday to the Bikini!

Declared 'sinful' by the Vatican and banned in many countries, the bikini is now ubiquitous on beaches everywhere.

But when French engineer Louis RĂ©ard first saw women on St Tropez beaches rolling up the edges of their swimsuits to get a better tan and thought of the iconic two-piece, he couldn't find a model brave enough to wear it.

Eventually he hired 19 year old nude dancer Micheline Bernardini from the Casino de Paris to model it for him. And the rest, as they say, is history.

It was launched in Paris on this day, 5 July, in 1946 at Piscine Molitor, a public swimming pool. In the months that followed Bernardini received over 50,000 fan letters. Most of them from men...

Monday, 3 February 2014

Should we have gone to war with Germany in 1914?

My latest book is about the end of the war, the period post-Armistice when the pieces - literally, in terms of battlefield debris and unburied bodies, and psychologically in terms of the lives of the men who had served - were being picked up and a broken, shattered world was slowly being reassembled.

But no book on any aspect of the First War can hope to be complete without at least being informed about its causes, and by the debate that still seems to surround them a century later. For those involved, for the families affected, for the industries and economies ruined and not least for the men (and woman, and children - as early as December 1914 British children were being added to the casualty list) who lost their lives, knowing they were fighting, suffering, dying for a purpose, for a just cause, made the hardships understandable on some intellectual level even if emotionally they were scarcely bearable.

It's not unlike the argument that still surrounds the UK's involvement in Afghanistan and the legacy our troops will leave once their mission is complete. We owe it to the 500 servicemen and women killed as well as the thousands injured to make sure their sacrifice was not in vain.

In hindsight, of course, we know that the 'war to end all wars' was nothing of the sort and that many of the millions who died between 1914 and 1918 did die in vain. We know that thousands of men went to an almost inevitable but wholly unnecessary death as the result of the failures and folly of those in command right up through the forces to the War Ministry and the British Government and the aristocracy.

But should Britain have even gone to war in 1914? What would have happened if we hadn't fought? And what would the map of Europe have been like if, at 11.00p.m. on August 4th 1914 Britain had not declared itself to be in a state of war with Germany?

That's the fascinating question posed by historian Niall Ferguson who refers to World War One as 'the biggest error in modern history' in a recent article in The Guardian. Not that he argues that Britain should never have gone to war. Just that, with a relatively tiny army and without much by way of the resources necessary for a major land-based conflict, we shouldn't have rushed into the conflict as early as we did.

Ah, but the treaties - guarantees of Belgian neutrality and verbal assurances that we would support the French. Well, as Ferguson says, it wouldn't have been the first time (nor the last) that pragmatism, realism or merely blatant self-interest had overridden international obligations.

It's a fascinating thought - the notion that we might still have gone to war with Germany - just later when we were better prepared, perhaps, and with a clearer idea both of what we were doing and why we were doing it. Yes, there were at the time vague designs on parts of the British Empire and some sabre-rattling on the Oceans, but Germany in 1914 didn't pose a serious threat to Britain's homeland security and - arguably - might never have done so.

Of course, such retrospective raking over historical coals is a luxury we can afford. Those fighting, those who had fought and those for whom the Armistice wasn't the end of the war but rather the beginning of a lifetime's struggle to return the land and themselves to normal (or as near as possible) hadn't the opportunity to seriously question what they were doing or why they were doing it. They had to believe they had fought the good fight.

It is their story I am trying to tell. And of course it's a story that knows no future beyond battlefield clearances, beyond a halting resumption of family life, beyond the slow and careful creation of the monumental cemeteries designed to stand for eternity as a symbol of a war that was still thought to have been an end to all wars.

Lest we forget!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Hull Named UK City of Culture 2017

I grew up in Hull; I left at the age of nine but returned aged nineteen to study at the city's university. It's a very special city and I know of no other city quite like it.

Philip Larkin liked the end-of-the-line remoteness; as a child I thought the city was the world. It's flat in Hull and so the streets go on forever. When they do eventually give out it's to the gentlest, rolling hills that ever had the name - The Wolds - or to the sea. And the sea is always special.

The sea, of course, is what made Hull. Lining up at the end of break at Appleton Road Primary School if the wind was in the right (or wrong) direction you could smell the fish docks. Fishing, fish and fisherman were the beating heart of Hull.

Until the coronary that was the Icelandic cod wars and then EU quotas. Now, there's next to no fishing out of Hull and - like other cities which have lost their major industry - it's taken time for it to recover. But recover it has, and recover into something of a cultural icon.

Apart from Larkin (and a host of other poets who followed in his wake) there's William Wilberforce, Andrew Marvell, John Godber, David Hockney and many many more with an association with the city and the wider area. It's a place where things are happening and - from today - a place other people will start noticing.

Well done Hull! Or rather, King's Town upon Hull. City royalty at last...

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Calling all budding authors!

Specialist gifting website has launched a new competition to find the next J.K Rowling… under the age of 10!  Budding authors are invited to submit their stories on a set theme, with the chance to have their work judged by award-winning writer Giles Paley-Phillips and leading picture book blogger Emma O’Donovan. The winning author will see their work made into a professionally published book and sold on the Buyagift website with all profits going to children’s wishgranting charity Make-A-Wish Foundation® UK.

With the Easter holidays now upon us, the experience day specialists wanted to encourage young people to stay active. “We’re all about  getting people out and about on experiences, so we wanted to give young creative minds an alternative to marathon TV sessions over the Easter holidays,” said Buyagift CEO Dan Mountain.

Children up to the age of 10 will be able to submit their short stories to be judged by an expert panel that includes famed children’s author Giles Paley-Phillips – the creator of popular stories like The Fearsome Beastie.

“I am hugely honoured to be judging this extremely exciting writing competition, which is set to inspire some budding new writers” said author Giles Paley-Phillips.

All entrants will be writing to a set title of The Unexpected Gift, with Buyagift paying all costs for the winning story to be illustrated and published.  The book will then be made available on the Buyagift website, with all profits going to Make-A-Wish.

The competition will run from April 3rd – June 3rd and the winner will be announced by the end of June.  Entries should be emailed to

Friday, 22 March 2013