Top of the Pops

Last Thursday’s talk They Walk that Should Not about ghost stories has prompted Sandy Chadwin to list his favourite writers and stories:

Top Three Ghost Story Writers (in alphabetical order):

Robert Aickman
EF Benson
MR James

Top 10 Ghost Stories (in no particular order):

1/ ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
2/ ‘Three Miles Up’ – Elizabeth Jane Howard
3/ ‘The Screaming Skull’ – F Marion Crawford
4/ ‘Man-Sized in Marble’ – E Nesbit
5/ ‘How Love Came to Professor Guildea’ – Robert Hitchens
6/ ‘The Turn of the Screw’ – Henry James
7/ ‘The Ghost-Ship’ – Richard Middleton
8/ ‘The Signal-Man’ – Charles Dickens
9/ ‘The Haunted and the Haunters’ – Lord Lytton
10/ ‘The Red Lodge’ – HR Wakefield

MRJames1900Catch Sandy talking about MR James this coming Thursday in Newcastle’s Old George


October is the busiest month

We managed to sellotape Sandy “Busy Bee” Chadwin to his laptop for 10 minutes so he could write this blog…

For reasons that escape me, but are partly do with the time of year, I have a fair bit to do this autumn. Three gigs, to be precise, with two of them on the same day but it should be fun.

SandyFirst out of the hatch is They Walk That Should Not Walk, a talk that Elaine Cusack and I will be giving at the Northumberland Park Community Room (it’s attached to the café, or so I’m told) at 1:00pm this coming Thursday the 12th  of October. It’s part of the ‘Age Takes Centre Stage’ shenanigans that the council have put together for this month and it’s free though I think you need to register. Fuller details are here. If you’ve not been to the park (it’s between the golf course in North Shields and the Tynemouth Lodge pub) it’s a charming little place complete with its own pet cemetery and remains of a mediaeval hospital. And there’s a café. The talk (or chat more likely) will look at the history and fascination of the ghost story and if you’re coming, bring along memories of your favourite whether it’s one from Charles Dickens, EF Benson, Mrs Gaskell, or one of the James boys – Henry and MR. Should be fun, albeit in a somewhat macabre way.

Following that, I will have a brief pause before heading off to the Exchange in North Shields where, along with the Cracketts (a husband and wife folk duo) I’ll be presenting Tales from the Dead House at 7:30. This is an evening of spooky and macabre stories (from me) and songs (courtesy of the Cracketts) and is ticketed at £3.00, available on the door. Storytelling is a thing I do, unless politely but firmly stopped, and fits nicely with folk music and as the nights creep into the day, it’s the time to sit and listen, if only to escape the darkness outside. In the US they have the tradition of the campfire tale, a creepy and often gory story told while sitting round the fire while camping. Many of the urban myths we are so fond of probably started off as such tales – you know the kind of thing I mean. The Vanishing Hitchhiker (driver gives lift to girl only she disappears while still in the car and on subsequent investigation he discovers that she was run down and died on that very spot); Hairy Hands (woman gives lift to old lady but notices that she has suspiciously hairy hands and so when the old lady gets out at a garage to visit the toilet, the driver drives off and when she looks inside the bag left by the old lady, she finds it full of bloodied knives and a police investigation finds the clothes of an elderly woman in the toilet at the garage) and there are many others. I was actually told the hairy hands one by a friend back in the late ‘70s with the addition that the old lady was in fact the Yorkshire Ripper, who was still at large.

 MRJames1900Then, a full week later, I shall be giving a talk on the aforementioned MR James at the Old George in Newcastle at 7:30pm on the 19th. That has the bargain price of a mere £2.50. Buy your ticket in advance here. MR James is, I will be arguing, one of the best, if not the actual best, ghost story writer in English. He used to write them to tell to his Cambridge fellow dons on Christmas Eve and they are a potent mix of donnish humour and subtle horror. I did my dissertation on him back in the mid- ‘80s when you weren’t meant to take things like ghost stories as serious literature. My supervisor spent the first week or so constantly thinking I was writing about Henry James (no mean slouch at the ghost story himself as anyone who’s read ‘The Turn of the Screw’ will attest) and the external examiner mourned that I had wasted my time on such a petty subject. But now, Newcastle University does a module on them as part of its Eng. Lit degree or certainly did so a few years back, and you cannot buy a critical study of James or ghost stories in general for less than £30 odd. Hmm, perhaps I should dig out that dissertation…

Guest post: P.J. ‘Red’ Riley


Today, as part of the tour for Kisses from Nimbus, we’re joined by Captain P.J. ‘Red’ Riley, who is going to tell us about his autobiography, covering his time in the SAS.

So, tell us, how did you go about constructing the book?

I didn’t really. At first I just wanted to leave a few details of my life for my children and grandchildren, then someone came up with the suggestion that I should write a book. Now, I have been called many things during my long and often less than illustrious career with Her Britannic Majesty’s Government, but never an author. Nevertheless I decided to get started. I was introduced to a ghost writer but after only a couple of sessions it became clear to me that I wasn’t going to like what was being produced so we parted company. I then recalled the profound words of my dear departed father. ‘If tha wants owt doin, do it tha Sen’.

A new Poundland shop had just opened in Oswaldtwistle, a village not far from Accrington, so I decided to pay it a visit. I purchased a packet of twenty pens for a pound – yes that’s right – a pound! They used to cost more than that for one, for goodness sake! Sorry, I digress. But it just doesn’t seem to be possible that anyone can manufacture twenty pens, package them, ship them half way around the world and make a profit for only five pence each. I don’t know how many US cents that is, but it can’t be many. Where was I? Oh yes. Constructing an autobiography.

I simply sat down with my packet of pens and five note books ( I am now fighting the urge to prattle on about how much the note books cost and where I got them from),  and started to scribble. I quickly learned the importance of double-line spacing and only writing on alternate sheets. The amount of amendments and insertions rapidly made the pages indecipherable.

But slowly, memories turned into written words and the words became a story, which then became Kisses From Nimbus.

I spent most of my time writing, on my own, in my small villa in the mountains of Spain. I transposed the manuscript on to my iPad and sent a few hundred words at a time as an email to my wife Carol. She would then correct the grammar and the appawling spelling (see what I mean ?) and knock it in to some sort of shape acceptable to a literary agent or publisher. I was determined not to create another military history or an expose of the British Secret Intelligence Service, concentrating instead on the more personal side of my career. It wasn’t long after I started to write that I was contacted by the Government’s legal department and warned that I should not write ANYTHING, be it autobiographical or even fiction. And that if I did then I was likely to be indicted and possibly prosecuted under the Official Secret Act. The view of my lawyers is that my human rights take precedence over any other law, and I therefore decided to proceed towards publication.

I have been careful not to identify any individuals or give details of any on-going operations which could endanger the lives of agents or their families and aimed to build a vagueness into the details of any operations that I have mentioned.

One element of the book which was particularly hard for me to write was the sex scene, and I apologise unreservedly for that. I succumbed to pressure from my wife and daughter who were adamant that any secret agent worth his salt, simply had to have the raunchiest of sex lives.

I am well aware that, by writing every word myself, I have made it unlikely that I will be in line for any literary prizes apart from perhaps the annual ‘bad sex’ award.

About Kisses from Nimbus:

PF 3.2

Shot at, bombed, imprisoned and arrested for murder. His is the story the establishment doesn’t want you to read.

Captain P. J. “Red” Riley is an ex-SAS soldier who served for eighteen years as an MI6 agent.

Riley escaped internment in Chile during the Falklands war during an audacious top-secret attempt to attack the Argentinian mainland.

He was imprisoned in the darkness of the Sierra Leonean jungle, and withstood heavy fire in war-torn Beirut and Syria.

In 2015, he was arrested for murder but all charges were later dropped.

In this searing memoir, Riley reveals the brutal realities of his service, and the truth behind the newspaper headlines featuring some of the most significant events in recent British history. His account provides startling new evidence on the Iraq war, what Tony Blair really knew about Saddam Hussain’s weapons of mass destruction before the allied invasion, and questions the British government’s alleged involvement in the death of Princess Diana.

Chaotic, darkly humorous and at times heart-wrenchingly sad, Kisses From Nimbus charts the harrowing real-life experiences of a soldier and spy in the name of Queen and country.

Buy the book:

Amazon UK  –

Barnes & Noble –

About the author:

Born in 1946 in Lancashire P.J ‘Red’ Riley joined the British Army at the age of eighteen. After basic training he volunteered for Pilot Training and qualified as an operational helicopter pilot going on to service in Germany, Northern Ireland, Canada, Belize and Cyprus. He was later appointed Flight Commander SAS Flight Hereford. At the age of thirty-six years old he left the Army Air Corps and transferred to the SAS. In 1989, when Riley left the army he was quickly recruited by Mi6 where he served until 2015. Now retired Riley splits his time between the UK and Spain

Guest Post: Graham Swann


Today, we are joined by Graham Swann, as part of his book tour for Kimmy the Koala Helps the Honey Bees in Summertown Wood, a story about how a kindly koala, Kimmy, helps out the dwindling honey bees.

Graham has written the following about his inspiration, and his process of writing for children.

The inspiration for the books of course comes from my grandchildren Dan, Leah, Max and Naomi. I have two great nephews Taylor and Ethan who are four and two years old who are also a source of inspiration. All the kids in the family have a love of animals as I did and still do. As Leah is getting older she is now eight and requests birthday or christmas gifts when asked to be certificates to sponsor all sorts of animal charities, not gifts for herself.

On reflection children are generally born with a love of animals and no bias and as AA Milne discovered they totally get a bear walking hand in hand with a boy or a tiger.

So my characters started from my past. When I was small there was a Guerrilla in London zoo that I loved called Guy and this was the first character I came up with. Guy to my mind as a child looked sad as he lived in a concrete and metal cage affair not like today with zoos having large compounds with animals having space to move around. So the thought of living free in a wood came to me and the other characters started to come along.

All the characters are very different with a mix of genders like Mini the mole who is a girl but wears a hard hat and loves to be in her garden digging and tending her flowers. The books have nine characters in all plus the addition of Warewood the talking tree who is old and wise and is always able to advise the characters in the best possible way so they can help each other out.

Eventually I invented Guy the guerrilla, Ronnie the rat, Mini the mole, Denny the donkey, Woo the owl, Hayley the hare, Lami the sheep, Penny the panda and Kimmy the koala who are all friends and help each other out so with nine characters that meant I had a starting point to write nine stories, one for each character.

Kimmy the Koala Cover

The books are simple stories, some have educational elements like the Kimmy story helping the bees, others are just stories that celebrate the first day of spring, or a boat race or a character needs a new home so everyone helps out. All the stories have a sense of caring about and helping each other as a group of friends and I try to involve as many characters in the stories as I can.

The visual style of the books is very important to me. The hand drawn style of the books is very deliberate. The characters are all hand drawn and I wanted the books to be different from other publications and have a fresh, colourful hand drawn style with plenty of interest on the page that can be included in the story telling when mum or dad are reading them to their children.

I wanted the children to engage with the characters in the books so I had the idea of adding coloring pages at the end so when the story finishes they can color in their favourite characters in any color they like and have a bit of fun.

Generally I think the books are universal as most children in this world have a fascination or love of animals and I hope they enjoy my stories as much as my family do.

Kimmy the Koala Helps the Honey Bees in Summertown Wood 

Purchase from Amazon UK –

Purchase from Barnes & Noble –


Graham Swan has worked as a graphic designer in the UK and is currently a college lecturer in Fife, Scotland. He currently lives in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland. This is his first published book.

Parked ‘n’ Written

Jennifer’s thoughts on last weekend’s workshop…

Jennifer C. Wilson

On Sunday, The Next Page strayed from our usual haunts of North Shields and Whitley Bay Libraries into the wilds of Wallsend, to host “Park ‘n’ Write”, in the Community Pavilion of Richardson Dees Park. Despite having spent huge chunks of my childhood in Wallsend, it’s a place I only visited earlier this year, when Elaine and I went to explore one Sunday afternoon. We were so inspired by the place, we decided we had to do ‘something’ there, and so Park ‘n’ Write was born.


Taking inspiration from the park, our little band of writers came up with a range of semi-memoir, fantasy and history, showing that writers can always find a new and quirky slant on any prompt. I can never write when I’m leading on a workshop, with one eye on the clock and the other checking everyone seems to be ok, but I’ve come away with some…

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Park & Write this Saturday

The Next Page’s Elaine Cusack is gearing up to Park and Write this Saturday


Two and a half hours spent listening, learning, thinking, writing, walking, talking, feeling, being and drinking tea. This sounds like the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Yes, this is my kinda  afternoon and it’s the way I’ll spend this coming Saturday 29th July.

My pal and writing colleague, Jennifer C Wilson LOVES attending creative writing workshops. She also happens to be very good at running them. This Saturday she’s running a two and a half hour workshop called Park and Write in the Community Pavilion in Wallsend’s Richardson Dees Park.

The afternoon will be filled with writing prompts, a talk by one of the park wardens, an inspirational stroll around Wallsend’s Parks (did you know there are not one but three?!) plus time for writing and sharing. All this for a tenner. You joining us or what?! Please book online.

I’m listed on the workshop’s publicity…

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Fave Five: A free Royal Mile

Jennifer C Wilson will host this Saturday’s North Tyneside Writers’ Circle in North Shields library from 11am. Here’s her latest blog…

Jennifer C. Wilson

Most people will know Edinburgh’s Royal Mile’s headliner – the Castle and Holyrood Palace – and although I think they’re worth every penny of entry fee, it does come to quite a few pennies to visit both. But they are by no means the only things to do along the Mile, so here are my Top Five freebies…

Museum of Childhood: When I was little, I found this museum slightly spooky, which is why I wrote about a ghost haunting it in Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile. But going back as an adult, it’s great to go and see bits of nostalgia tucked into the glass cases. Although it is slightly disconcerting seeing things you played with being displayed as museum artefacts!

Nat Mus of Scotland Inside National Museum of Scotland

National Museum of Scotland: I love this museum, easily one of my favourites in the world, to be honest. The floors…

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