The Man Who Played Trains

Excellent news for me today! My latest novel, The Man Who Played Trains, is up on Amazon

It will be published next April (2017) by Urbane Publishing


Check it out here:

Mining engineer John Spargo is distraught when his mother is attacked in her home and later dies from her injuries. Her home has been ransacked. Determined to track down her killer and discover the truth behind her death, John finds a connection between his late father’s wartime mine and the wreck of a U-Boat. The connection deepens when he discovers the diaries of the U-Boat captain and a wartime mission to spirit Göring to safety along with a fortune in stolen art. When John’s daughter Jez is kidnapped, he is contacted by a mysterious consortium her life hangs in the balance unless he can find the stolen art. What is the link with his father’s abandoned mine? Who was the U-Boat captain? Did he survive and hide Göring’s treasures? John races against time to discover the truth…and in doing so may unearth secrets that were better left buried…

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Japan is the place to be…

Well, maybe not for everything, but for a 10 day holiday I can’t think of anywhere better at the moment, I would go back there tomorrow if it wasn’t so far (and if I could afford the flight!).

I worked in around 20 countries and I can truthfully say that I have never met such polite, helpful people nor been in cities (Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima) without litter or graffiti – and we didn’t just visit tourist spots, we went well off the beaten track.

Oh – another thing – there seem to be no cars parked in Kyoto streets. If you own a car you have to prove to the police that you have off-street parking at home. They measure your car and your parking space…

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Scottish Parliament – a STUNNING design!

IMG_0419 - Copy

Forgive the “STUNNING” shout, it was simply to get your attention (it was either that or a hateful string of multiple exclamation marks!!!)

l haven’t yet got over the visit I made to the Scottish Parliament building last week. I mean the inside, not the outside (we have all seen the outside, if only in photos). The outside is amazing enough, especially when viewed from on high, from the nearby Salisbury Crags. But the inside! The debating chamber! Words (almost) fail me!

By Debating Chamber I don’t mean the bums-on-seats bit in the photo above, the place where all the arguing is done (though that bit is impressive enough with its modern electronics), I mean the roof. Because when I went into the chamber I was looking up, not down.

Perhaps I should explain. I am a writer. I am a geologist. I am also a Chartered Engineer (not a structural engineer, my maths was never good enough for me to be one of those). So perhaps, because I would not know where to begin to design and construct some of the amazing things such as the new Queensferry Crossing, the London Wheel or The Eden Project’s glasshouses  (though I could do their foundations), I marvel at the abilities of those that can.

So… look up, not down! (Something we should all do? Look at the sky, not down at our feet?)

IMG_0417 - Copy

Click on the pictures to get bigger versions – but they still won’t give you the impressions I had from seeing the real thing. Someone (Enric Miralles? And of course his architect wife Bernadetta) designed these impressive structures. If you have any real knowledge of maths and physics then you will understand how awesome the calcs must be for a roof design such as this.

IMG_0411 - Copy

I am embarrassed to admit that despite living 20 miles away from the building (and having lived in Edinburgh for four years before that), I have never been inside the parliament. During its construction the Scottish Government (Labour at the time) got a lot of stick for cost overruns, they were awesome (not the government, the overruns). I know that the cost overrun would not have surprised those involved in construction. The MD of a large national construction company once said to me “None of us can bid realistic prices. If we did, it would scare people so much that nothing would ever be built”. Is that interesting, or what?

If I have held your attention so far then you might be interested to know that the Scottish Parliament building cost £0.4 billion (£414,000,000). To put that in perspective, the Edinburgh trams cost over twice as much, almost £1 billion (£976,000,000).

Ho hum, said Pooh…


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Bestseller? Downloaded a few thousand times!


I have copied another Twitter post. I’ve been told I’m far too modest and should be promoting myself as a writer. People like my work (see the Amazon 5-star reviews). I have another novel out soon: ‘The Man who Played Trains. I’m about to finish its third (or fourth or fifth?) edit – and that’s after three rewrites.

Practice makes perfect? Hung on the wall of the maths master’s room in one of my old schools (state secondaries, nothing posh) was a full length banner that said ‘A THING WORTH DOING IS WORTH DOING WELL’. That I remember it so clearly must mean something. I was only at that school for a year but, rather bizarrly, I remember the master’s name. It was Pemberton.

Playpits Park is NOT a spy story. It is an unusual (and I’m told gripping and haunting) coming of age novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Richard Whittle – talented writer to watch…


Wasn’t me that said it Guv, honest!



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Independent Publishers are the Future


Many new – and very good – writers (and I mean good – there are so many mediocre ones around) are tiring of established agents and publishers. The world is changing. How many new writers have had a recommendation like this from one of the few remaining big boys? (more often than not they can’t even be bothered to reply). So, thank you for the publicity, independent publisher URBANE! Even though Playpits Park is already available on Amazon (with around 2000 downloads and 5-star reviews), you took the trouble to promote me on Twitter!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Haynes model engine

Haynes 4cyl

Santa bought one of these from Halfords for the 9-year old (6 years after I first mentioned him, see here). Construction took days, with him working on the first bits. Things got hard – expected – and I took over. Two days later I wished I had been building a real engine, not a plastic one (I have built real ones without instruction books, honest!) First there was a part missing. I thought I must have dropped it. After four of us searching the room for it (it was a tiny spring), I discovered on Google that the part was also missing from other people’s kits. The instruction book had mistakes and ambiguous drawings, resulting in me dismantling and reassembling chunks of engine in a trial-and-error rebuild to make the thing work. Finally I got it going. 9-year old VERY pleased…


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I just had to repost this!


Leave a comment

December 13, 2015 · 2:08 pm

True Tale – The explosives, the Garda and the cows


Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board (ESB), wanted to put the new Moneypoint Power Station into the hillside to make it less obtrusive (so did they succeed? The chimneys might give it away). To do this the contractors had to excavate a massive amount of rock. They also needed nice clean-cut sides to the excavation, and to get those they had to use pre-split blasting. Pre-splitting is a technique that provides nice flat walls to an excavation. A row of deep drillholes is charged with exactly the right amount of a certain kind of explosive – one that cracks the rock suddenly, rather than one that produces tons of gas.
The explosives arrived with an impressive escort of armed Irish police (it was the years of ‘the troubles’) There were about 100 drill holes to fill, so the Garda stood around for four hours until all the explosive was in the ground. Unfortunately the stuff that arrived wasn’t the explosive I’d recommended. But after all the hassle of getting it there we had little choice but to use it.
We retired to a safe distance (as it used to say on fireworks) with the shot firer carrying his blasting machine and trailing a cable. Safe distance for us meant over a small hill behind the site, as far as we could go before we were stopped by a barbed wire fence. The shot firer sounded his air horn, wound the handle on his box, and pressed the button. There was a roar. The sky filled with clods of earth. Chunks of rock and pieces of turf rained all around us as the explosive energy went skywards rather than into the ground.
It shouldn’t have done that. It looked like the photos you see of volcanoes erupting in Iceland – all the smoke and debris but with no molten lava. Our estimate of how far away to stand was about right. The largest of the rocks and clods landed some way off. What we hadn’t allowed for was the effect the explosion would have on the herd of cows grazing in the same field. Like us, they were safety away from flying debris. But not from the noise of the blast.
Were the cows unhappy? You bet. They came round the hillside like stampeding buffalo, about fifty of them heading our way. The barbed wire fence no longer seemed such an impediment to us. It’s amazing how quickly you can move and how high you can vault if you really try.
I learned later that while they were charging the holes with explosives, the contractors found they had too much. They couldn’t return it to Dublin because the police escort and armoured van had gone. No brownie points for guessing where they put the surplus explosive. Down all the drillholes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

1952 BSA Bantam refurbished


I haven’t ridden this bike for five years. A few months ago I noticed that the front tyre was perished. The tyre was cracked, as was the inner tube (tubeless tyres weren’t widely available when this bike was made). The inside of the wheel was badly rusted so I decided to clean it up and repaint it. Then I thought I might as well tidy up and paint the mudguard and forks. One thing led to another. I took off the headlight. The wiring was poor. While I had the headlight off it seemed to make sense to replace all the wiring – and convert the electrics from 6 volts to 12 volts. That meant putting new electronics under the petrol tank.

When I took off the tank I noticed that it rattled. At some stage in its life it had been lined to prevent rust. Thanks to governments that are too thick to understand the consequences of what they do – UK and EU – insisting on ethanol being added to petrol, the lining had turned into broken-up lumps of what looked like old varnish. I flushed out loads of the stuff, it had clogged the fuel pipes and carburettor.

I added flashers, an LED ultrabright running light, and bicycle panniers. If any future owner wants to remove them, that’s fine. I want a safe bike that can be used on today’s roads. You might have noticed that the paint job finished just behind the engine. When the rear tyre needs replacing I’ll have a go at the rest.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized