Talking about talking…

Last year, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Humberston Academy to do a writing workshop.


To say I was honoured is an understatement.  The Academy is one of the top 100 schools in the country and the two classes I attended were voluntarily signed up to – the children wanted to be there.  And they were full.


I have to admit to being nervous.  My problem is the kick-off.  How to start?  Once the initial ice is broken, with a big sledgehammer of a stumble, I’d imagine, I knew I’d be fine.  I can talk to anyone (my wife tells me).  Sometimes it even makes sense (I tell me…).  But, how to start it off?


Of course, for those seasoned speakers amongst you (do you say amongst or among?) this is probably piffle.  Man up and grow a pair Shaun!  Well, I’m trying!  But, unaccustomed, as I am, to public speaking and all that, I still get nervous.


I needn’t have been.  I was greeted by the wonderful Miss (Helen) Palmer who made sure I was at home.  She had a lovely rapport with the children and they actually seemed to be interested in what I had to say.  I’d chosen a couple of parts from Sin to read to them, which I hope they enjoyed, and asked some questions they readily answered.  I think I had to tell myself to stop talking!


Then, we had the workshop.  The pupils grouped together in pairs and threes, with the odd ones preferring to work alone.  The idea was that they were in an asylum.  They were in school, so I figured they’d be able to relate.  They could either be one of the staff or an inmate.


I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that they all wanted to be inmates.


I wondered what might have to say about writing that might be constructive.  What did I know?  Oh yes.  I wrote a book.  A couple in fact.  And people said they were good.  So maybe I did have something to contribute.  As it happened, I did.  I wandered around, along with Miss Palmer, helping to prompt and guide the students as they came up with ideas and worked on their stories.


I have to say, I was incredibly impressed by the work they produced.  Some of it was very deep and even troubled.  Powerful stuff.


The second class was of the year below.  I followed a similar route, again being nervous to start with but then getting into my stride.  And again, the workgroup created some outstanding pieces.  It was an absolute pleasure.


Much of the work appears on Sin’s blog at and there’s more to be added (I haven’t forgotten guys – it’s just been a very hectic time!).  Look for the Humberston Asylum page.


I’m honoured, again, to be invited back this year.  This time, I’m to talk about poetry, and the age group has dropped.  I’ll be meeting with Y6s, aged around 10 to 11 years old.




I’ll be talking to them about Sin and reading an extract. Potentially, this will be the part where Sin meets Joy for the first time.  OK, so her face melts, but it’s done with humour – and a wee bit of gross-out will appeal to them.  That’s why I wrote Zits’n’Bits, actually.  Poems about farts, snot and vampire cats made my own daughter laugh, so it follows others would too!


My own daughter is ten.  Maybe I should test out the Sin reading on her to see her reaction.


Anywho.  Then, I’m meant to talk about poetry…  I find I can chat about my fiction writing readily, but I’m not sure what to say about my poetry.  Perhaps this is because I’ve not been asked about it before.  As I’ve not really discussed it previously, I’m not sure how to express it verbally.


My poetry seems to fall into two areas.  There’s the juvenile fun of Zits’n’Bits and Rudolph Saves Christmas, then there’s the deeper and darker work that appears in Dark Places.  Much of the darker poems were written whilst I was in my own ‘dark place’ and reflect the mood and situations I found myself in – not really suitable for the younger ears.  But, with Zits’n’Bits, I could express the child within me.  I’m a firm believer in ‘To grow old is mandatory, to grow up is optional.’  My wife will agree with me when I admit I’m a big kid at heart.


Of course, I watch Peppa Pig and Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom for my two year old, not for me, but I will say that Dory, from Finding Nemo, is my all time favourite film character!


More than one person has mentioned that my fiction writing is poetic in itself.  Not least of these was the superbly talented Connie Jasperson.  She wrote a wonderful blog entry comparing my writing to that of James Joyce and his Finnegan’s Wake (  and she also makes comment on Dark Places (which she was kind enough to be my editor on) in another blog entry, saying that it’s a very poetic book, both the fiction and poetry pieces therein.  But that’s writing.  It’s nottalking about the writing.  And I’m to give them a writing exercise.

But poetry isn’t necessarily an exercise, is it?  It’s a feeling?


I’ll be reading them a couple of poems.  I think The Sea, for one that doesn’t rhyme and is intended to instil a sensation, and something from Zits’n’Bits.  Something to make them laugh.


Then, I think, I’ll have them think of something random.  A sock.  The left one, as the right has a hole.  Give it a name.  What does it like?  Toast?  Coronation Street?  And on we go.  We shall see.  I’ll, no doubt, be fine once I get going.  I just need that sledgehammer to get me going!


Ideas and thoughts would be gratefully received!


The Sea


Standing on the beach

looking out

the waves wash over my feet

as their whisper

washes over my soul

I can’t remember my troubles

I forget my woes

and forgive my foes



teeming with life


even the roughest sea

makes me calm

if I listen to the whisper


Sweet Dreams


You lay there in your bed,
the echoes of your mother’s words
rolling around in your head.


“Sweet dreams,” she said,


You can see the light
under the door,
casting shadows
across the floor,
shadows that move
when there’s nothing there,
waiting to drag you
into their lair.


You can see the moon
through the gap in the curtains.
You can see that it’s full,
and you are, oh, so certain
that, should you look out
you’d see more than you’d like,
all manner of creatures
preparing to strike.


You can see your wardrobe
is slightly ajar,
and from inside
reaches an old, grey claw.
As it opens the door,
you can hear the low moans,
and you know it’s just waiting
for your eyes to close.


But your covers are pulled tight
right up to your face,
your armour against the night,
as your heart starts to race.
Your tired eyes dart
all around the room,
and you hope beyond hope
that the sun will rise soon.


You listen to the breathing
of the monsters under the bed,
and you remember your mother’s words


“Sweet dreams,” she said.




Igglepop Utterby was a strange sort of fellow,

with his hair all shades of green,

and his skin each shade of yellow,

with his eyes of bright orange

(except when they were brown),

and a voice that could be heard

all over town.


He’d a time machine

in his belly,

which he used twice a day,

and the complete Enid Blyton

on his wellie, carved in clay.

(The left boot, of course,

certainly not the right!

He was strange but not crazy!

That would be such a sight!)


Round his right wrist

and along to the other

was the recipe for

pancakes that were

made just like his mother’s.

(As the recipe was dear Mum’s

he didn’t want to forget,

so it went up right

and down left,

and twice around his neck!)


As for his clothes,

well, we’d best not mention those,

for although they were smart,

they were made from garden hose!

It was, I suppose,

a spare garden hose

that he’d cut

and he’d sown

to make all his clothes.

But clothes made of hose?

Well, how strange can you get?

At least they’d be useful

if he ever got wet…




A strange sort of chap

most people might say,

though ol’ Igglepop never

let that get in the way.


It mattered not a fig,

not a doowhip,

not a jot,

whether those people

liked him,

or not,

for he’d meet them

and greet them,

and say ‘Hi’

and such,

and completely ignore

all the sniggers and looks.


And he’d be nice

and be kind,

for he knew everyone,

and they thought they knew him,

though they couldn’t think where from…


They hadn’t met him

while shopping,

or walking the dog,

or swimming,

or sailing,

or driving through fog,

or watching the TV,

or standing at the bus stop,

or jogging in the park,

or watching a lark,

or playing a prank

in the queue at the bank,

or climbing a mountain

right up to the top…


They just couldn’t think where,

try as they might,

but that wasn’t surprising,

they only met him at night!


Normally, that is…


You see,

Ig (as his friends called him)

was stranger than most.

He still ate cornflakes for breakfast,

and liked cheese on toast,

and a nice cup of tea

to wash it all down,

but most people I know

don’t look like a clown.

And as I might have said

he was faintly absurd –

he could bark like a dog

and sing like a bird,

and mimic a wallaby

like you’ve never heard,

and when running a race,

he’d come first, second

AND third!


But that was him

and how he was;

strange and weird

and slightly odd.

A puzzlement

to all he met,

though still

they managed to forget

what they had seen

and who they had saw,

and where it had been

they just couldn’t recall.


That was all fine,

as good as it could be,

and, ol’ Ig thought,

just as it should be.

No memories remained

once he walked away,

and just who he was

nobody could say.

Good and fine and well and so

He could meet and greet

and nobody would know.

His secret was safe

as if wrapped up in chains,

when not one could recall

even his name.


Where did he go,

when he went where he went,

and what did he do when he did?

And why would he what,

when he’d would

(or would not),

well, for that we must find

where he hid.


It’s a place not that far,

but you can’t get there by car,

you can’t fly in a plane,

take a boat nor a train.

You can’t run,

you can’t hop,

you can’t spin like a top,

and if you think that it’s easy to find,

well, it’s not.


Except it is,


I suppose, and in fact

it’s even easier to find

than where you’re already at!

You see all it takes

(and here’s the surprise)

is for you to,

quite simply,

close both your eyes!


And you’re there…




But where?

But where?

I guess I should say.

It’s where,

when you’re sleeping,

your mind goes to play…


You stand at a door,

thrice bigger than you,

that’s carved in designs

of tigers and lions,

of platypus, parrot

and pig,

of ozzlefot, fuzzleshank

camel and crikklebank,

lemur and leopard

and lemon-nosed lig.

(A lig is a cat

that flies like a bat,

with the tail of a horse,

but you knew that of course.)


A sign outside the door

promises wonders galore

if only you’d like to step inside,

so you think

‘Yes I would,

if only I could,’

and with that, the doors open wide.


Splendid splendours stretch out before,

as you, cautiously, walk through the door.

You can see down the aisles

(which seem to stretch on for miles),

and as you see what they hold

you become a little more bold,

as you cross the threshold

and you see what’s in store.


Shelves and shelves

and stacks and piles

line the walls and fill the aisles.

Colours and hues

and wondrous shades

dance in your eyes

and leave you amazed.


And you stop,

and you look,

and you blink,

and you stare,

as you realise there’s sweets

absolutely EVERYWHERE!


You look to the left at a lollipop man

with eyes of allsorts

and peppermint hands,

and right next to him is a custard cream cake

that’s covered in icing as big as a lake!

On the shelf up above is a chocolate dove

with a coconut sprig in its beak,

and on the floor down below

is a strawberry gnome

(with a marzipan home

and a caramel phone)

and butterscotch socks on its feet.


Raspberry ripple deer run

on a cream covered shortcake hill,

and pineapple parrots

(with legs made of carrots!)

perch on a liquorice pelican’s bill.


There’s a rumbling noise,

as you pass cherry toys,

and your belly begins to protest.

And if you’re hungry now,

just think of how

you’ll be when you get to the rest!


You walk slowly past

a toffee giraffe

beside a vanilla bee,

and you suddenly gasp

at the fudge squirrel that clasps

to the side of the almond tree.


There’s no end in sight

that you can see

with more varieties than

there should really be.

An impossible range

and a crazy amount

start to make you dizzy

as you spin all about.

But then you stop,


right in your tracks,

as a figure steps

from between the racks.


A strange looking person

with strange looking clothes

(which you’d swear were made from

spare garden hose!)

walks briskly towards you

with a big beaming smile,

and reaches out his hand

and says

“It’s been a while.”


You frown.

You think.

You scratch your head a bit.

You don’t really want

to seem like a twit,

but you are pretty certain

and you are fairly sure

that you haven’t met this person

ever before.


You’re sure you’d remember….


“You don’t recall,” the strange man says

“Just as I thought,” he sighs.

He ruffles his hair

and looks down to the ground,

and you can just see a tear

in his bright orange eyes.

But then the tear’s gone

and the grin bounces back

and he dances around

making strange sounds

like a cluck

and a bark

and a mighty fine quack.


“Well, if you do or you don’t,

or if you will or you won’t,

I don’t mind

so don’t fret.

It’s not bothered me yet.

Please look around

and if your fancy is took,

don’t be content with just

having a look.

I just don’t have the patience

for fighting temptation,

it just tends to get on my nerves.

And if push comes to shove

(which it quite often does)

I usually come off the worse.

So if you see something you like,


you not here all night,

you’re welcome to just help yourself.

Whether it’s treacle or toffee,

or caramel or coffee,

who cares if it’s bad for your health?”


He grins and he laughs,

and you feel slightly daft

just standing

with nothing to say,

so you give a shy smile

and he bounds off down the aisle,

prancing and dancing away.


“Well,” you say, to no-one near,

“I wonder if I should really dare?

He said that I should,

so maybe I could.

I don’t think that he’d really care…


Whoever he was, that is!” you say,

“Who and what and why.”

You’re about to say more,

but suddenly before

you can, he appears by your side!


“Well, come on, come on!”

he says with a giggle.

“Choose what you want,

it won’t add to your middle.

You can eat it all night,

you can scoff

ALL that’s in sight.

Come on, reach out your hands

and then take a big bite!”


You pause yet again,

you’re just not really sure.

There’s so much to choose from,

(treasures and treats,

candies and sweets,

biscuits and breathtaking

bounties galore).


The strange man dances about,

a big grin on his face.

“It’s difficult I know

but you really should try to make haste.

Nights don’t last forever,

for they end up as day,

and when that comes about

I’ll be going away.

So if you’d mind taking your pick

(it won’t make you sick),

please choose what you want,

and please be double quick!”


You look at the man,

who just can’t seem to keep still,

a man whose own feet

seem to have their own will.

A man whose smile seems

wider than his own face,

and a man whose confections

seem purely designed

(I think you will find)

to make your heart race

at an astonishing pace!


So you reach out, slowly

and you take a hold

of a caramel cocktail

in a peppermint fold.

And, just to be friendly,

you have just a try

of an orange and parsley

double-tangy pie.


Your taste buds explode

with the fabulous flavour.

There’s so many to taste,

too many to savour.

You melt all inside

at the feelings you feel

and just can’t believe

any of this is real!


And the strange little man

with skin all shades of green

gives the biggest, widest smile

that you’ve ever seen.

He stops his wee jig

and looks you right in the eyes

and says “About time!

And now it’s goodbye!!”


All of a sudden

the room starts to blur.

The man and his sweets

All become unclear.

And just before things

completely fade away,
you hear, from a distance,

your sleepy voice say…


“Thanks for the sweets,

I’m so glad I came,

though I don’t understand how,

but what is your name?”


The man laughs with a sound

that sounds like a pound

of Cough Candy Twist

rattling around.


“Igglepop Utterby

is my fanciful name,

this Under-The-Bed Sweet Shop,

my wonderful domain.

I’ll see you tomorrow,

as I did yesterday,

for this is where you come


at night,

you hear your mum say,


Sweet dreams…”


And so on…


Who was a witch
Who had a little itch
On the bottom of her right big toe


When was an elf
Who lived up on a shelf
And followed Who wherever she would go


A leprechaun named What
Had got tied up in a knot
When a spell he’d cast just didn’t seem to work


And the goblin called Why
Pretended to be shy
But that was an excuse to sneak and lurk


Where was an ogre
Who picked each up by their leg
And used them as soldiers
To dip into his egg!


There was nothing they could do
Being stuck in the ogre’s tum
And they thought, to pass the time,
They’d try to have some fun


And so they had a party
And began to dance and sing
So much so that poor old Where
Thought he must have wind!


The ogre moaned
The ogre winced
Then let out a mighty burst
Then Who, When, What and Why
Flew out of him, head first!


They landed in a heap
And Where tried to grab them back
But they ran out of the kitchen door
Straight into How, the cat!


Now Where, the ogre’s, hungry
He hasn’t had his tea
And Who, When, What and Why
Are no-where to be seen


And How, the cat,
Just sits outside
(Where won’t let him back in)
But at least he isn’t hungry
He just licks his lips
And grins…

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