Can you help me choose the cover?

If you have a few seconds free, I’d really appreciate your opinion…..

I’ve written a book which, subject to any late changes, I’m going to self publish in the coming weeks.

It’s a suspense/thriller novel of around 95,000 words called ‘I Know She’s Out There.’

I’m preparing the cover and tidying/editing the text at the moment.

To assist I’ve included the elevator pitch below:

After her release from psychiatric care Chrissy Clews is quietly rebuilding her life working at a motorway service station when her former teacher walks in and tries to discreetly buy a porn magazine. He doesn’t recognise her, but when he drops his wallet she hides it and can’t resist looking inside. She’s shocked to find a tatty passport photo of Laura Duggan, a school friend who went missing 30 years ago and was never seen again. She decides to investigate…

I’ve taken some images and mocked up covers. Obviously, I’m an amateur at this kind of thing (very much Sunday pub league), but please let me know if you have a preferred option, or indeed, if another approach is required.

When I publish I’d be delighted if anyone wishes to have a copy to review.

Thanks for your time.

Stafford’s Market Square needs some love…

Work has begun on the Shire Hall. It’s going to become a ‘business hub’ and got a mention from Boris in the House a few weeks ago. As written previously I’d much rather have seen an arts venue or cinema or, better still, a place for people to play music, perform stand up comedy or poetry, in a safe environment. Towns like Stafford need to do so much more for younger generations if they’re not to leave for Birmingham, Manchester or London.

However, at least the building will be occupied as it’s been the focus of the town since 1795 and is beginning to look bedraggled. High Streets the length and breadth of the UK have suffered due to online trading, covid and other issues. There are cuts to budgets too. But Market Square is the town’s centrepoint and it is being neglected. For years the stones have been patched with black tarmac, giving the impression of a toothless grin or a broken old chess board. The phoneboxes are rusting, graffitied and scratched. There are weeds growing on the Shire Hall steps and pigeon poo all over the entrance and steps to the building. Market Square used to be a delight at Christmas or at the summer cycling events or concerts and it still scrubs up well when busy. But it badly needs some TLC as can be seen from the pictures below. I do see this elsewhere but I also see towns and cities – nearby Lichfield for example – looking much better. Perhaps we need a Transition movement and this has to be driven by communities.

I’d love to see the Market Square looking great again. Times are tough which is why it is more important than ever we take pride in our environment and heritage.

Slogans and logos and branding, and vinyls covering empty shop windows simply won’t do.

As an update there are plans to improve the square and North end of the town. Report here –

There are no concrete plans yet but hopefully this will address the recent neglect and enhance the attractiveness once more.

Shire Hall with banners
Banners announcing the Business Hub
The Square
Tarmac like missing teeth
Phoneboxes in distress
Aethflaed never let the grass grow beneath her feet
Pigeons toilet

Bluebells on the Beacon

Yesterday, May Day, we climbed Beacon Hill. It’s not much of a peak but this part of Staffordshire is so flat it gives views across to Cannock Chase, the Wrekin in Shropshire and the distant M6 stretching away north.

I’ve written about Beacon Hill and it’s fascinating history before on this blog – – a Civil War battle was fought nearby.

I also set a short story here, inspired by the surroundings.

Avoiding sheep poo we made our way up to the hill summit. I didn’t want to go into the wood as it’s fenced here, so the pic isn’t great but gives an idea of the fantastic display of bluebells.

Bluebells in the wood
Down from the heath
Looking down to the Weston Rd from the heath

On top of the heath the fields are bursting with golden rapeseed. It was a short but beautiful walk on Staffordshire Day. I like coming up here, as I did a few years ago, to remind myself there’s much to be grateful for. And on our doorsteps.

Towards town from Beacon Hill

It’s Staffordshire Day

So today has been officially designated as the day to celebrate my home county. That’s not a bad thing as we’re pretty poor at celebrating our achievements in these parts. Perhaps it’s a Midlands thing. Birmingham is a great city with fantastic food, culture and industrial history but it always seems to be – in the words of Jona Lewie – in the kitchen at parties, while noisier northern conurbations are better at shouting louder and dancing.

Stuart Maconie describes our county as a bit of an enigma. It is. We’re not really the West Midlands although we’re in that government region. We used to have Wolverhampton and Walsall in the old county and even Birmingham suburbs, but they’re now West Midlands. This means (old) Staffordshire actually has an impressive 6 professional football teams – Wolves, WBA, Stoke, Walsall, Port Vale and Burton Albion. And a much larger and diverse population than the current 1 million. Our diversity in accents is pretty impressive too. A Stokie sounds worlds away from Cannock despite growing up just 25 miles apart.

Perhaps we’re a bit of a staging post. Unless you’re stopping for Alton Towers you’re likely to be hurtling through on the West coast mainline or the M6. But we have beautiful parkland and countryside. Quite a bit of the Peak District is in our county. We have our religious and spiritual places – the wonderful Lud’s Church, Lichfield Cathedral and ancient houses where persecuted Catholics hid between walls and stairs. We have a reservoir which gave its name to (Rudyard) Kipling as his parents courted there.

We have riverbanks where Izaak Walton fished and a young Carol Ann Duffy wrote verse. The Gunpowder Plotters hotfooted it here for their final shootout. We’ve got miles of canals, a terrific heritage of arts and crafts. We make amazing beer and we eat food made for the Gods – bacon and cheese oatcakes.

We gave the world Josiah Wedgwood and Reginald Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire.

And Sir Stanley Matthews, and Robbie Williams and Shane Meadows. And Olympian swimmer Adam Peaty and actor Paddy Considine.

Without Staffordshire there would’ve been no Men Behaving Badly (Neil Morrissey) or Sweet Child O’ Mine (Slash). Try to imagine that.

I’ll leave you with a few snaps of the place rather than the people. You’re welcome to visit. We might call you duck (a term of endearment), but really we’re happy without too much fuss. Have a beer. Munch on an oatcake. Simple pleasures. Perhaps we prefer it that way.

Staffs and Worcs canal, Baswich
Essex Bridge, Great Haywood
Deer on Cannock Chase
Fingerpost on the Chase
Trent and Mersey canal, Stone
Stone railway station
Almshouses, Stafford
Window, Bethesda Street, Hanley
Arnold Bennett, Potteries author
Lichfield cathedral
Cannock Chase
Shire Hall, Stafford

Three Rivers and a Cut – a Staffordshire walk

Stafford’s river is the Sow. It flows from the north west of the County through Eccleshall and into Doxey Marshes. Then it heads through the town centre and east. Between Tixall Road and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal it joins another river, the Penk, which rises to the south.

Two Waters Way

A few years back Government and the local authority built a walkway across these meadows. It’s a beautiful walk through river meadows full of horses and sheep. Just before Baswich Lane the rivers meet beneath the walkway. A swan was nesting and fish could be seen in the sandy basin.

The Sow heading east out of Stafford
The Penk heading east to join the Sow
The rivers meet

Perhaps this point was sacred to the ancients. Certainly both were important rivers to the Celts and Saxons. Stafford was derived from ford by a staith, or landing place. The Penk gave its name to the town of Penkridge and a Mercian tribe the Pencersaete.

From the south
The walk leading to Tixall Road

After following the walkway we crossed onto the towpath of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal and headed towards Shugborough and Cannock Chase.

Footbridge at the Saltings

It’s possible to loop back for a shorter walk through Baswich, cutting through sandy, gorsey banks and rabbit scrapes high above the canal, rivers and trains hurtling to and from Euston on the west coast mainline. Or you can stay on the towpath getting off at Milford Common for a pint at the Barley Mow or a cheeseburger at the Wimpy (Stafford still has one and it’s popular). And head back along the canal or bridleway. Or stay on until Essex Bridge (written about elsewhere on this blog) and paddle where Sow (and Penk) join that great river, the Trent.

Trent to the right, and Sow, join
Essex Bridge