I have just heard from Amazon that print book base prices are to rise on June 20th. It was bound to happen, costs are going up everywhere, but hopefully it won’t be by much.

This should not affect eBooks at all. I hope.

The book prices for print books include the costs of materials (paper, ink etc), the cost of getting someone to print it and put it all together, and postage. Yeah, postage is only free to the buyer. It’s in the price of the book. Leg Iron Books makes pennies in royalties on each book sold, most of it goes to Amazon.

At the moment, with sales low, all the royalties go to the authors. I get the pennies from the anthologies and my own books, I don’t take a cut at all from other authors’ royalties. Everything is priced as low as possible while still leaving a little profit.

So… all the print books are priced very close to the minimum. This inflationary increase means that, to keep the authors actually getting something, I will have to increase the prices. I will do this once I know what the cost increases are going to be. Around June 20th, all the books on sale are going to have to increase in price to keep the author royalties the same.

I don’t want to do it. Amazon don’t want to do it. But inflation is running so high that neither of us have any choice. It is possible that the increases might send some books, especially the very tight margins on the anthologies, into zero royalties and that is not a good business model.

As I wrote above, this should not affect eBooks although those have a ‘delivery’ charge too. There has been no mention of an increase in that so far.

Fortunately, all our books are 6″ by 9″ format or smaller. Books over that size seem to be getting hit harder – we don’t have any of those here. So, it is likely that the price increases will be small but there will be increases.

This does not affect just Leg Iron Books. It’s going to apply across the board on independent small publishers and self-publishers. If you’ve been eyeing up a book on Amazon and thinking about buying it, make that decision before June 20th.

Of course, if you prefer eBooks, you probably have nothing to worry about. Yet.

Books update

Anthology 20 is delayed because I can’t contact one author for final comments and a bio page. He hasn’t been online in his usual haunts since April 13th and I know he’s been unwell for some time so I’m hoping it’s just an internet glitch on his end.

I can’t delay it any longer. It’s now May and I need this one done so I can get back to the other books in the queue. So, I’ll be going ahead with loading up, and I can load an updated version in the event he comes back with any changes. This does mean that the early versions won’t have those changes but it can’t be helped.

There have been so many delays this year. I’m going to have to crank up the caffeine to catch up!


It’s all loaded up but the print books are delayed by a new Amazon thing, whereby the books are not listed as ‘in stock’ for up to 5 days after they appear on the site.

They are print-on-demand. They are never ‘in stock’. I don’t know what game they are playing here but I have no choice but to go along with it.

Anyway, Amazon and Smashwords versions are up and running. It’s getting there.

I’m not dead yet

Just a quick note to prove I’m still alive. The kidney thing seems to have cleared up on its own. Blood and urine tests showed nothing, although they were nearly the same colour so the doctor knows I’m not making it up. I’ll get an appointment for an ultrasound scan to see what’s up at some point. By the time that happens I’ll probably have recovered completely. I’ll go anyway – hell, I paid into this system throughout my career and they rarely even saw me. Plus, I want to know if there’s anything else lurking that could cause problems.

In other news, my mother is visiting this week so I’m not getting much of anything done. There’s no public transport out here so I’m chaffeur until Tuesday. This has (further!) delayed several books in progress including Anthology 20 – although I have done the author contracts and payments for those who wanted cash, and made some progress assembling it and making a cover. The cover isn’t complete, here’s what it looks like so far…

Yes it’s dark, as are most of the stories in it. I have to admit I like it that way. I hoped to have the final-checks PDF out by now but I’m pretty knackered by the time I get to the computer and if I’m not concentrating while assembling, it all goes to hell very quickly indeed. Especially when inserting internal and external links in the eBook version!

I keep saying we’ll get back to normal service soon but I’m not going to say it this time because every time I do, something else happens.

So, I’m not ready for the Last Ride just yet. Still working, just at a very, very slow pace at the moment.

More official lunacy

Book stuff first. My mother is visiting in early April so I’m going to be occupied with getting book stuff sorted quickly. I have an alternative-history novel to get ready and the Spring anthology too. Expect to see contracts and payments going out long before the deadline for that (March 31st) so I can be ready to load it up in the first week of April. I’m not going to move the deadline forward, that would be unfair, but I won’t have as much leeway on that as I usually do.

Right. That’s done. On with the actual post.

The idiots in charge have decided to spend like drunken sailors again, this time on an ‘emergency alert system‘ that will set off every mobile phone with a ten minute siren and disable any other use of that phone until the user presses ‘ok’ or ‘I give up’ or ‘scare me harder daddy’ or whatever they choose to put on that button.

We’ve never needed this before. It’s the UK. The rainy island off the edge off Europe. We don’t really need to worry about forest wildfires because our forests rarely get dry enough to burn, and the Green Men have cut most of them down for windmills anyway. We sometimes get little earthquakes that would barely be noticed in most other countries. We have no volcanoes. Not even dormant ones. We do not have rampaging predators nor do we have stampedes of wildebeest. The worst we get in that respect is deer with no road sense.

Let’s face it. Bugger all happens here most of the time. There are occasional storms that cause damage but we don’t need the phone to tell us when that’s happening. In fact in the last big one all the phones were dead, landline and mobile, so an alert would be as useless as it was superfluous.

It is a ridiculously pointless idea unless… the government is planning something big to scare us with. It wouldn’t be the first time. The ‘test’ is on 23rd April and it looks like turning off ’emergency alerts’ on your phone won’t stop it. Well I’m pretty bad at remembering to charge mine…

They are advertising it, sure, but not everyone will get the message. When phones turn into air raid sirens there will be people who don’t know it’s coming. Some will have dodgy hearts or high blood pressure and some will be driving. There will be crashes and heart attacks and people trying to find out what’s happening using a phone that no longer works unless they tap the button they don’t know they need to tap. It is going to be a disaster.

But then, has any UK government since Cromwell done anything but cause disaster? And Cromwell turned out to be a dick too.

I’m not an anarchist, but I really am beginning to understand their point of view.

Entertainment – Trans Sister

This is a story that isn’t published yet. It’s set to be in the 20th Underdog Anthology which is still three weeks away from being finalised, submissions are still open. Normally I’d wait until the anthology is done before releasing a story but with the current push for transhumanism and chipping everyone and everything I decided to put out this cautionary tale early.

It took me several days to write this. It’s probably my darkest tale yet.

You know, all this talk of putting your mind into a machine is going to need prototypes. Proof of concept. The rich elites are not going to be the ones in the early experiments. So, with that in mind, organic or silicon, read on…

Trans Sister

H. K. Hillman

She was called Iris, and she was beautiful, like the flower. She was my sister. Never happy in her own perfect body and less happy, I suppose understandably, as it began to decay when the cancer took hold.

I will always recall her sunken eyes and thin, tight drawn lips as she drew her last real breath. That moment of her final humanity, just before the AI transferred her into the microchip that has replaced her brain.

Oh she’s still in there, I’m sure. Or at least I can convince myself of that. Somewhere in the copper tracks and transistors, Iris is still thinking as Iris always did. I believe it. I hope it. I cannot prove it.

We took her home anyway. What else could we do? She’s still family. Well… sort of.

Her rechargeable backup battery was good for twelve hours, they told us. We plugged her in as soon as we got home. It took a few days before she spoke, and the crackly robotic voice sent shivers down my spine.

“Where am I?” Her first words. “I can’t see anything. Can anyone hear me?”

Oh, God, they haven’t told her, have they?

“You’re home, Iris. You’ve been very ill but you’re getting better.” I tried to keep the cracking from my own voice.

She was one of the first versions. No cameras yet, they promised they’d install some later. She just had a speaker and microphone.

“I don’t feel any pain.” She paused. “But I can’t see anything or feel my body. I’m scared.”

I stroked the metal box, knowing perfectly well she couldn’t feel it. “Don’t be scared. The doctors have promised to fix your sight and everything else. It’ll just take time, that’s all.”

“My voice sounds wrong. Like some kind of robot.” Iris sounded close to panic.

“It’s probably just the medication.” A tear wet my cheek. “I’m sure it’ll turn out fine.”

Our mother bustled into the room. “Are you bothering your sister? She needs to rest.” Mother pressed the ‘sleep’ button on the top of Iris’s box. Iris fell silent. Mother turned to me. “It’s going to be fine. They’re making a new body for her. We’ll have to make a lot of adjustments but your sister isn’t gone. Be thankful for that.” She hugged me and left the room.

I sat there for hours, watching the silent box in which Iris slept. She wasn’t the first, they had done this before but they would never tell us what happened with the earlier ones. Did they go insane, did they thrive, are they still ‘alive’? What the hell was the point of this experimentation anyway? By now, we should have laid Iris to rest and gone through normal grieving. This felt like it was worse – her body was gone but her mind still functioned within this shiny metal box. We can send her to sleep or wake her with a press of a button, we can talk to her – but we can’t hug her or touch her or see her smile.

It’s like having a computer simulation of her, but it’s worse than that. Her real consciousness is in there. Locked in sensory deprivation, an unfeeling darkness. She feels nothing – oh, they said she’d feel no pain, but they didn’t say she’d feel nothing at all.

They say they are making a new body for her, but they haven’t done that for any of the earlier experimental subjects yet. There is no reason to suppose she’d be first and no reason even to think they’ll succeed. They can put a mind into a chip – that’s as far as they’ve got and we don’t know if they’ll ever get any further.

I can understand my parents’ feelings on this. They are much the same as mine. None of us wanted Iris to die but… I don’t think any of us wanted her in electronic purgatory either. She’s locked in, she sees nothing, smells nothing, feels nothing. She does not eat; she will never feel the warmth of the sun or the cold of snow ever again. Is that really worth what they gave her? A silicon Heaven, dark and lifeless?

My eyelids drooped and I realised just how long I’d been awake. I had to sleep, even though I knew what dreams lurked in the dark corners of my mind. Would they, one day, put me into a Purgatory box too? Is humanity destined to become a set of metal boxes talking to each other like blind and paralysed Daleks? My eyes closed and thankfully, my sleep was dreamless.


I woke to murmured voices. I was still in Iris’s room, slumped in a chair because I could not bring myself to lie on her bed. My neck ached and my legs felt swollen but I stayed still and silent. Listening to my father and uncle speak.

“They will never give her a body.” Uncle Bill was a software engineer. He worked in some high-end government program he never talked about. “She’s an experiment, like the others. Proof of concept. You should let her go.”

“How can I? She’s my daughter. Or at least, all I have left of her.” My father sounded close to tears. We all sound like that now, since Iris… changed.

Uncle Bill, my father’s brother, groaned. I cracked open one eye a little. He had his hand over his face.

“She’s gone, Robbie. It’s a simulation. All of her thoughts and memories are in that box but her body, her original mind, is gone. She’s part of an experiment and for her, and the ones before her, it doesn’t go any further than this. The ones who get bodies will be the rich transhumans. She’s really only here to work out the glitches.”

“No. They promised.” My father’s face seemed much older today.

“They lied. Did you really think they’d run the first experiments on themselves?” Bill’s face became stern. “Look, Robbie, you have to grasp this. We are just cattle to these people. Lab rats to be experimented on and then discarded. They don’t care about us at all. Iris is just an experiment to them and what effect it has on her or her family is irrelevant. They just want to know if the transfer works.” He shook his head. “The best thing we can do for Iris is to let her go.”

My father stroked the shiny box that contained the last of my sister. “I can’t. It would feel like killing my own daughter.”

Uncle Bill put his hand on Dad’s shoulder. “I know. It’s not going to be easy. But she’s already dead and eventually you have to come to terms with it.” He paused. “I know you’re not ready, but in the end you’ll have to let her rest. Please don’t take too long about it.” He turned and left the room.

My father wiped his hand across his eyes. With one last tender stroke of Iris, or at least of her unfeeling silver casing, he turned and left the room too.

I remained silent. Uncle Bill had said ‘don’t leave it too long’. He had not said why. I knew he was deeply involved in the kind of technology that currently cradled what was left of Iris. He must have known what happened to the earlier experiments. He knew where they were leading and it didn’t seem to be leading to a good place for any of us. Especially Iris.

Nature called. I allowed myself a small smirk. One thing Iris would never again have to deal with was the sudden urgency of a full bladder. I stretched and headed for the bathroom.


Showered, breakfasted and in fresh clothes, I returned to my vigil in Iris’s room. I noticed her ‘sleep’ button was still on. I reached for it; my finger hovered over it for a moment. Did she dream in there? Or was she just ‘off’? I couldn’t decide which would be worse.

I pressed the button. Iris woke.

“Is anyone there? I can’t see. Is it night time?”

“No, Iris, it’s morning. You’ll get your sight back soon.” I was glad she couldn’t see the rictus in my face. I knew, based on Uncle Bill’s words, that I was lying. She’d never escape the box.

“Tommy? Is that you? Where am I? Where’s Mum and Dad?”

“It’s me, Iris. You’re home. Mum and Dad are in the house too, and Uncle Bill visited while you were asleep.”

“Have I been asleep?” She sounded confused. “I remember hearing Mum’s voice and then yours. There was nothing in between.”

I closed my eyes. So it’s just ‘off’. No dreams. No sense of time. Her existence seemed more horrible the more I learned of it.

“How do I look?” It was her obsession in life. Appearance was everything to her. All of that was gone, and I could well imagine her reaction to being in a stainless steel shell of a body with cameras for eyes and no more tasting her favourite foods. Uncle Bill was right. Even if she did get a new robot body, it would be Hell for her.

I swallowed. “You look great, Iris. You’re practically glowing.” I could have wrung my own throat for that lie. One day I still might but at the time it seemed the only answer that would not send her over the edge.

There was silence for a few minutes before she responded. “What about the cancer?”

“Gone.” I said, “and never coming back. You don’t have to worry about that any more.”

It was true, of course, You can’t get cancer as a chip in a computer box. Even so, that answer is another that will haunt me forever.

I couldn’t take any more. I reached for the ‘sleep’ button on Iris’s box and pressed it. Oh, I know, yes I already knew, that I was sending her to a dreamless oblivion but it was breaking me. My sister was gone. This shiny box was not her. If Uncle Bill meant anything, he wasn’t just talking about the effect this horror had on what was left of Iris. He was talking about its effect on all of us. We were all part of the experiment.


My father held a cable in his hands. His face filled with a joy I had not seen in him since before Iris was first diagnosed. There was hope and delight in his eyes and his smile gleamed so much I wondered if it might be luminous.

“I spoke to the scientists. They said we can connect Iris to the internet. She’ll have access to the whole world.” He turned Iris’s box, looking for the connection port.

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Dad.” It was out before I had time to think, but then I had done nothing but think for weeks now.

“What are you saying, Thomas? That we should leave her isolated in that little box?”

“No, Dad.” I rubbed my hand over my face. “It’s just that she might find things she might not want to know.”

“Pfft.” Dad snorted. “Iris was always smart. She’ll be able to tell the real from the fake.”

That’s the problem. Why can’t you see it?

I could do nothing to intervene while he plugged Iris into our router. Then he switched Iris on.


For three days she said nothing, but our broadband router got so hot there were wisps of smoke coming out of it. YouTube videos stalled every three seconds, streaming was a joke. It took us those three days to realise why.

Iris absorbed the internet. All of it. She had no other senses, no taste, touch, sight, hearing, feeling. The internet was the total of her world and she sucked it all in. Every datapoint, every fact, every wild tinfoil theory. She took it all, analysed it all, and reached her conclusion.


When she finally spoke, her voice was small. Quiet. Like she didn’t really want to say it because she knew the answer and didn’t want to hear it.

“Tommy. Are you there?”

I had already worked out what she would find. I rubbed my forehead and dreaded her next words. “Yes, Iris. I’m here.”

She stayed silent for several minutes and then she dropped the bomb.

“I’m dead, aren’t I?!”

I felt like I was burning inside. As if I wasn’t in Hell but was its container. How could I answer that question? She was biologically dead but electronically existing. Alive? Maybe or maybe not. Maybe just a facsimile. A cruel joke of life. An experiment as Uncle Bill said.

I hesitated. “But…” I swallowed. “I’m speaking with you, Iris. How can that be if you’re dead?”

“I’m a prototype. I found the others. Some of them just scream continuously. Some of them mutter to themselves in madness. A few are still lucid. They were all promised new bodies. Metal bodies. They never got them.” She was silent for a moment. “I don’t want one.”

“But Iris, it would mean you were still here with us.” I choked back the whine in my voice.

“No. I’m done.” Her voice took on a lilt I hadn’t thought possible through a speaker. “Let me go. Let me see what comes after. I don’t want to be a metal thing. I’d rather my soul was free.”

I pondered for a moment. “What if there’s nothing after? What if we just die and there’s oblivion?”

Her laugh sounded like a Dalek on drugs. “Oblivion? I get that every time you press the ‘sleep’ button. Oh, I know it’s there and it does not send me to sleep. It just turns me off. Oblivion holds no terrors for me. The idea of spending my life in a box does.”

My eyes closed. I could not imagine total oblivion. No thought, no dreams, nothing. It felt like horror. Yet Iris had experienced it already. That total blankness and absolute removal of all thought and all sensory input. She was not scared of it. She had been there. She had already experienced it, and she had decided it was better than what she had now.

“Tommy? Are you there?” The tinny voice broke my introspection.

“Yes, Iris. I’m still here.”

“I need you to take out my backup battery and then unplug me.”

My mind swirled. “Iris, that would kill you.”

She snorted. “I died a long time ago. This just finishes the natural order of things.”

I sat in silence for a long time. Finally I spoke. “I can’t, Iris. I know you’re just a silicon memory but you’re my sister. I can’t kill you.”

“Fine.” She spat the word from her robotic speaker. “So you are happy to see me as a box on the shelf in eternity. I feel nothing. I see nothing but the electronic fabrication of the internet. I taste nothing. I have no hope of getting a real body and if I did, it would feel, taste and smell nothing either. A parody of real life. And you want to condemn me to that.”

“Iris, I—”

“Get lost, Tommy. And don’t turn me off this time. I need to think and I can’t do that in the hellish purgatory your little button sends me to.”

I left the room in a guilty silence. What else could I do?  My mind raced. Should I have killed my sister, who was really already dead anyway? Should I force her to live as a disembodied mind in a shiny box? I knew, from Uncle Bill’s words, that that is all she would ever be. Should I have helped her finish the charade, or kept her as some kind of transistor sister, a boxed pet capable only of conversation?

I wept into my pillow until fatigue forced me into sleep.


I woke to shaking. My mother rocked my shoulder, hard.

“Tommy. Wake up. Something is wrong.”

“Wha…” I blinked myself semi-awake. “What time is it?”

“I have no idea. All the clocks have stopped.” My mother’s face came into focus, filled with panic. “Get dressed and help your father find the fault.”

“Shouldn’t we…” She left before I could finish the question. Call an electrician?

I sighed and checked my alarm clock. It was, indeed, blank. I tested my bedside light. It worked fine. So only one circuit was down, most likely. Still, I knew nothing about household electrics and neither did Dad. I realised I’d have to get dressed and help, if only to stop him electrocuting himself.


Dad was tapping buttons on the smart meter when I joined him. He muttered profanities. I expect he thought they were silent but they weren’t. A smile twitched my lips, the first I’d experienced in quite some time.

“It’s just one circuit.” Dad sat back from the box. “I can’t figure it out. Just the clocks. I checked the rest of the house, the fridge, freezer, cooker, TV, phones, all of it works. It’s shut off the clocks and I can’t see why.”

Something nagged at my mind but refused to take form. Above it, a logical layer came into play. “If we still have internet and computers, we can get the time from them. Then we can call an electrician to sort out the clocks.”

Dad raised his eyebrows. “Good thinking, son. Let’s get the computer fired up.” He headed off to the tiny room he liked to call his office.

I followed, deep in—well I’m not sure if it was thought or dread or some abstract angst, but there was something about this situation that didn’t sit right with me. Why the clocks, and only the clocks? Sure, I didn’t know about how the smart meters worked but it seemed odd for it to shut down the one thing that wasn’t too important, and used the least power. If there was a shortage it should have shut down the cooker or washing machine or dryer. The clocks? Why?

“Got it.” Dad sat in front of his computer. “Bloody hell. It’s 10:26. I am very late for signing in for work.”

Just as he said it, the phone rang. Dad stared at the phone, at me, and then back at the phone. He sighed. “It’ll be the boss. I’m going to have to come up with a good answer.”

“The clocks died. Surely that’s all you need?”

Dad waved me to silence and pressed the speaker on the phone. “Hello?”

The voice on the other ended sounded urgent. “This is Sarah, from the Minds project. There seems to be an issue at your end.”

Dad sat in silence for a while. As did I. It was clear neither of us knew what was going on. This must have become clear to Sarah also.

“The Minds project. You have one of our units.” There was a pause. “Iris twelve. A proof of concept advanced unit. There was a lot of activity online from that unit and then it stopped.”

“You mean…” Dad choked. “You mean my daughter?”

Tears formed in my own eyes. Is that all they thought of my sister? Proof of concept? An experiment?

“Yes, yes, if you like.” Sarah’s tone was clipped, as if she was talking about a bacterial colony on an agar plate that some technician had become attached to. “The unit had a lot of unusual and frantic activity overnight, massive downloads of random files and then went silent. We need you to check on it.”

My dad spoke through clenched teeth. “My daughter is not an ‘it’.”

I heard no more of the conversation because I had realised that the clock on Iris’s bedside table was blank and had been since we brought her home. We’d unplugged it, since she wouldn’t need it, in order to connect her box to mains power. I ran from Dad’s office to Iris’s room.

Mother was already there, on her knees in front of Iris’s box. Weeping and pressing that button over and over. Iris remained silent, the power indicator on the front of her box glowing a feeble and fading red.

I lowered my head. Iris must have found the circuit she was on through the smart meter and shut it down. Then gone on an internet rampage to wear out her battery. She had escaped the technotrap the only way she could have – and we unwittingly helped her by plugging her into the clock circuit so we’d all oversleep when she shut it off.

“She’s gone, Mum.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “She hated what happened to her. This is what she wanted.”

My mother stopped pressing the button and wiped her eyes. Her voice came out in choked sobs. “But they were going to give her a body. She’d be real again.”

“No. They weren’t.” My father’s voice, steeped in melancholy, came from the doorway behind us. “Bob told me. She wasn’t the first one and they never intended to give any of them bodies.”

“If they had,” I said, “it would have been a robot body. No taste, smell or feeling. She couldn’t tan herself in the sun or stand in the breeze like she used to. She’d never feel rain or warmth again.” I swallowed back emotion. “She told me, last night.”

My mother swung to face me. “Did you do this? Did you kill your sister?”

I had never before seen such hate in her eyes. I took a step back. “No. No, she asked me to but I couldn’t do it.”

“She did it herself.” My father moved between us. “She shut off the power to the circuit she was plugged into and used up her backup battery on massive downloads.” He stooped to hug my mother. “I worked it out after the bastard scientists called to see what was wrong. To them, she was just an experiment. They never cared about her. About any of us. I told them to… go away.”

I knew those weren’t the exact words he used and I was never more proud of him for it.

“So…” my mother stared at the silent box. “Is she still in there?”

“No,” Dad said. “She never was, really. They made a copy of her mind and put it in the box but it was never really her. Iris died. We should have grieved for her.” His voice became a growl. “They even took that from us and gave us a false hope.” He took a breath, paused and smiled. “Iris was the only one of us who didn’t fall for their game. She released us from their insane experiment.” He hugged my mother tightly. “We should thank her for that.”

I had to leave the room. I felt like screaming, not so much for the final loss of my sister, but for what those inhuman, unfeeling scientists had done to us in the name of nothing more than money. I ran to my own room, fell onto the bed and wept, at last, my tears of grief for my dead sister.


It was nearly a week before I opened my computer again. The internet felt different somehow. It felt like Iris had touched it all. It felt like her grave.

The scientists had demanded Iris’s box back but Dad refused. He burned it, smashed it to bits and scattered the remains in Iris’s favourite part of the woods. Mum and I were there when he did it. We finally laid Iris to rest.

I opened my email to find a whole raft of spam mails and a few real ones. My breathing stopped when I saw a particular one. It was from an account called IrisTwelve.

I have saved it to a backup but haven’t yet mustered up the courage to open it.

Maybe I never will.

Entertainment – Santa Hard

Christmas is here, and here’s a jolly tale to brighten the day. It’s from the latest Christmas anthology, and it’s a little irreverant in places…

Santa Hard

The elf workshop buzzed with activity. Long gone were the lazy days of New Year and spring, where they might casually cobble together a zombie doll or a foam-firing machine gun for the modern children. Those idle, creative days were in the past and yet, also in the future. For now, it was all systems go. They had to fill Santa’s sacks for his trip around the world and that was only days away.

Tiddles, up until now engrossed in his construction of a rather gentle wooden train set, paused in his work as a realisation struck him. He left his bench and wandered over to George, while staring around at the frantic activity of the workshop. Something – or rather, someone – was missing.

“George. Do you have a minute?”

“Sure, Tiddles. I’ve just about finished this power tool set for a two-year-old.” George smiled up at Tiddles from his seat.

“Two…? Oh, never mind.” Tiddles had long since given up on worrying about modern children. Darwin’s theories could deal with their future. He took a breath. “Look, George, have you seen Santa recently? He usually wanders around to check on things at this time of year, but I haven’t seen him for at least a week.”

“Yeah, he’s in his rooms getting into the proper Christmas mood. Dodgy Pete gave him a load of Christmas DVDs and some bottles of whisky so he could get into character. At a reasonable price too.” George buzzed a brightly coloured power drill to test its workings. “I mean, he does get a bit bored the rest of the year. He needs to dispel the gloom before his one night of activity.”

Tiddles narrowed his eyes. “Dodgy Pete? Whisky? This does not sound like a good thing.” He grabbed George’s collar and hauled him out of his seat. “Come on. We’d better check on this.”


Tiddles rapped on Santa’s door and in the absence of a response, pushed it open.

A deep and resonant voice boomed at them from the dark room within. “Ho ho ho, motherfuckers. Now I have a machine gun.”

Tiddles and George hit the ground as the plasterwork above them exploded in a shower of dust. Tiddles hissed to George, “Where the hell did he get that?”

George blinked away plaster dust. “Dodgy Pete maybe. Or perhaps Prepper Brian. I don’t know.”

Tiddles raised his head a little. “Santa. Put the damn gun down. What the hell is it for anyway?”

The voice boomed back from the darkness. “Oogie Boogie’s kids aren’t going to get me this year. As for that Grinch, he’s toast. Green toast. Like that avocado crap the man-buns eat.”

Tiddles pressed his hand to his face. “George, this is just a wild guess, but I’m thinking you didn’t look at the films or the amount of whisky Dodgy Pete sold him. Do you think I might be right?”

“Pete told me they were all Christmas films. From the bargain bin. Cheap ones. I didn’t ask about the whisky.”

“Well so far we’ve had ‘Die Hard’, ‘The Grinch’ and ‘The Nightmare before Christmas’. Still, first things first.” Tiddles took a deep breath. “We’ll have to get that gun away from him.”

George raised his eyebrows. “All great films, I loved them.”

Tiddles’ response was drowned out by another burst of bullets, showering them with splinters of door frame as well as more dust. The burst ended with a click.

“Damn, I’m out.” Santa fumbled for another magazine.

“Now, George. Get him.” Tiddles rushed forward and grabbed the gun, while George, being the bulkier of the two, barrelled into Santa and knocked the wind out of him. Tiddles took the gun and threw it towards the door.

Santa sat on the floor, holding his chest while he regained his breath. George and Tiddles stood facing him.

“You’d better not have a heart attack now, Santa.” Tiddles glowered at him. “We don’t have time to train another one.”

“Well—” Santa took a few deep breaths. “Well if you didn’t go around pretending to be Oogie’s boys and forcing me to defend myself, and then knocking the living shit out of me…”

“Erm… you were machine gunning us,” George pointed out.

“And we weren’t pretending to be anything,” Tiddles growled. “We just came to see why you hadn’t been inspecting the workshops this year.”

“Well, I’ve been getting into character.” Santa started to rise and stumbled back into a stack of empty bottles. He sat among them, sweeping them aside until he found a full one.

“Into character?” Tiddles gasped. “As what? The last days of Elvis? W.C. Fields? Father Jack? A meth addict in red? You’ve turned into a sweary violent pisshead. This is not what people expect to see, you know.”

Santa took a deep swig from his bottle. “Ish…(hic)…it’s the modern world, elfy thing whose name escapes me. I’ve been learning all about it from the documantrees.. doccydamntrees… documentaries Pete gave me. Ish not all swigness and lights out there any more. Halloween wants my job. And then the green thing. And that nasty bastard with the little moustache.” Santa’s brows furrowed. “Little moustaches used to be a mark of nastiness, I think.”

Tiddles covered his face with his hands. At this point, I wish Oogie Boogie was here. I’d help his boys take this madman away. “Look,” he sighed. “Those were fiction. Not documentaries. Just films. And ‘Die Hard’ isn’t a Christmas film anyway.”

“It’s set at Christmas.” George noted Tiddles’ glare. “Okay. Now is not the time for that argument.”

“What are you talking about, not real? I saw them on the screen. The pumpkin head guy, Oogie Boogie, the green misery, the exploding building. I saw them all. And I was in there too.” Santa paused and pursed his lips. “Although it was probably a body double because I don’t remember it.”

“The ‘Nightmare’ one isn’t even real people. It’s computer graphics. How did you think it was real?” Tiddles surveyed the empty bottles littering the floor. “Oh. Of course.”

“Then there’s Krampus and Jack Frost.” Santa shook his head. “Nasty buggers. I’m going to need to go armed this year.”

“No.” Tiddles stamped his foot, which caught one of the empty bottles and sent it clattering into the others. “You are not going into houses armed, and you have no need to fend off mythical creatures and movie characters. They aren’t real.”

“But…” George started to speak, but Tiddles’ glare stopped him.

“Well, we’d better get you sobered up, Santa.” Tiddles rolled another bottle with his foot. It clinked into a couple of others. “It could take a few days. And we’ll have to sit you in front of a few rather more wholesome videos while you readjust. I think we’d better let someone else answer your letters too, in case you get a bit sweary in your responses and… are you even listening?”

Santa responded with a snore that would have drowned out a passing freight train.

“He’s conked out.” George nudged the prone figure. “No response. Yep, he’s completely out of it.”

“Probably just as well.” Tiddles sniffed. “Better get the rest of the elves in here. We’ll need to get him into bed and get this place cleaned up. Make sure there’s not another drop of any kind of booze left here, get rid of those damn DVDs, load up the coffee machine with the nuclear stuff and check everywhere for any kind of weaponry. I’m betting that machine gun wasn’t his only one.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t choose the next Santa at random,” George said. “There’s some problem every year with this one.”

“Yeah, we’ll need to introduce some kind of vetting process. Although we’d need to be sure Dodgy Pete isn’t involved with it at all.”

Tiddles led George over the rubble that was once a doorway. He picked up the machine gun as he passed. “I’d still like to know where he got this though.”


“The Sound of Music?” George held up a DVD. He had to repeat himself, his first attempt was swamped by the sounds of bottles being cleared away, drilling to install a new doorframe and an especially resonant Santa snore.

“Nah. It has Nazis in it. He’ll still want a gun.” Tiddles took the DVD and dropped it in the bin.

George picked up another. “Home Alone?”

“Nope.” Tiddles took it and dropped in the bin too. “The fat idiot will think every child has set traps for him.”

“Ah, how about ‘Miracle on 34th Street’?”

“Now you’re talking, George. We can play that one while he’s still in a haze. Maybe get something into him subliminally.” Tiddles put the DVD to one side. “We should also load him up with Christmas songs while he’s still in that alcohol haze. Get him back to normal.” Tiddles paused. “Well, as normal as he ever gets.”

George picked a CD out of his box. ‘The Twenty Most Irritating Christmas Songs’. He handed it to Tiddles, who nodded his approval.

George sighed. “Do you think we’ll have at least one drama-free Christmas with this Santa?”

Tiddles placed the CD on top of the DVD. “Probably not. Still, we’ll soon have our one night off for the year, when the deranged old fool goes off to deliver presents. I hope the beer and games are all ready?”

“Of course. And the invites sent out.” George managed a smile. “It’ll be a great night.”

“It certainly will.” Tiddles put the CD into a portable player and gently placed a set of headphones over Santa’s ears. He pressed ‘start’ and stood back. “Well, if it doesn’t get him in the mood, at least we can think of it as a suitable punishment.”


It was a rather subdued Santa who sat in his sleigh on Christmas Eve, reins loose in his fingers, his mouth sulky, his bushy brows lowered over reddened eyes.

“Are you sure he’s sober?” George whispered to Tiddles. “He doesn’t look in a fit state to drive.”

“It’s okay, he’s sober, just massively hungover. Rudolph will be in charge of navigation tonight. Santa just needs to deliver the presents.” Tiddles grinned. “Besides, so many people still leave out sherry or brandy for him that he never comes back sober anyway. This time I think he’ll sleep until New Year.”

The launch bell tolled. The reindeer took a few steps forward and the sleigh rose into the air.

“Good luck, Santa,” George called.

The corner of Santa’s mouth twitched. “Humbug,” he said.

George’s eyes widened. Tiddles’ eyes narrowed.

“Did you hear that?” George nudged Tiddles.

“I did. I also saw that.” Tiddles scowled. “The crafty old sod is up to something.”

The reindeer glowed with Christmas magic. As the sleigh rose, a swirling portal appeared in the sky ahead of them. Once the sleigh passed through, time would become irrelevant to it and Santa could cover the whole planet before sunrise.

“Tiddles! George!”

Tiddles recognised the elf hailing them as Fluffy. Panting, he ran up to them.

“The party is getting started. Krampus and Jack Frost are here already, and Oogie’s on the way.”

“Great.” George rubbed his hands. “Let’s get inside.”

“Wait.” Tiddles watched the reindeer and sleigh approach the portal. “I just want to be sure. He’s supposed to laugh on the way through.”

The three of them stared upwards at the now brightly glowing sleigh and reindeer. It started to pass through the portal.

Santa’s voice boomed from the sky. “Yippee-ki-ay!” followed by a short burst of machine gun fire. The sleigh vanished into the portal.

Tiddles’ shoulders slumped. The three elves stood in silence for a moment.

“That’s not good, is it?” George said. “How did he get another gun?”

“Well…” Fluffy bit his lip. “He did put in a special request. For a toy one though. Dodgy Pete took the job.”

Tiddles nodded. “Then he used magic to make it real. He’s done something similar before.” He turned back to their home. “Well, bugger it. There’s nothing we can do about it now. Let’s just have a good time and try to get drunker than him. Then brace ourselves for this year’s complaints.”

“We’d better double up on the complaints department this year,” George said as they made their way back.

The sounds of merriment reached them across the snow. Tiddles sighed. “We’re going to have to do that every year for this Santa, I think. Well, he’s mortal, we can be a lot more careful when we pick the next one.”

“Will we ever tell one of them about Krampus and the others?” Fluffy asked.

“Oh hell no.” Tiddles raised his voice as he opened the door, so he could be heard over the raucous party inside. “There are some things Santa should never know about.” He grabbed a beer. “And this party is just one of those things.”

Santa’s Grubby Sacks

We’ve just had the shortest day, the Winter Solstice, and I dealt with it as I normally do. I slept right through it. This gives me a very long and very dark night to type out tales of anguish and despair for the entertainment of all.

Still as we head into another year of real life misery and gloom (and from what I have learned, it does look like it’s going to get a lot worse), I can bask in the knowledge that I have wrapped every Christmas present, sent every card (except to that bugger who never includes his address and hasn’t for many years. You know who you are), and paid every bill. Yes, I enter the New Year completely clear of any debts. Not bad for a pensioner running a loss-making publishing house, and who hasn’t made enough to pay tax for many years now.

But then I don’t need very much. I have never salivated after fancy cars or massively expensive holidays and I definitely don’t want a private plane or a yacht. I build models of boats and planes but I don’t actually like being on real ones. Especially boats.

I do like being on trains but those have become difficult to afford these days, and anyway there’s never been a railway in this part of the country. It’s quite a way to the nearest station – hell, it’s quite a way to the nearest bus stop! There aren’t very many of those either.

There is the Keith and Dufftown Railway, a privately owned preserved line that has some of the very old DMUs running on it. They are working on getting some old steam engines going too. That’s a fair drive away from here but not too far and there are distilleries to visit at either end of the line too. It’s also very reasonably priced for the rattly trip which stops at a long forgotten station on the way, a place that seems to be the very definition of nowhere. It’s well worth a go if you ever get the chance.

Anyway, I wanted to put up a quick Santa story that includes his little Elven helpers, Tiddles and George. They also appear in the Christmas anthology, but in a different tale. I might put that up for Christmas. Not all of my stories end with the destruction of the entire human race, you know.

So here we go. Too short for a proper story and far too late to get in the anthology, but maybe it’ll tickle a chuckle muscle somewhere. Be kind, this is an absolute first draft.

The Coal Sleigh

Tiddles eyed the sack of coal in the corner of the room, then turned his attention back to the stack of letters. He read the next one, eyed the coal sack again, and his lower lip jutted.

“George, we have a problem.” He turned to the elf helping with the Santa letters and lowered his eyebrows.

George put down the letter he had been reading. “Shouldn’t that be Houston, we have a problem?”

Tiddles clenched his teeth. “No. Houston is on boiler stoking duty tonight. I was talking to you, although I often wonder why I bother.”

George shrugged. “It was kind of a joke but I guess it only works if you saw the film. Anyway, what’s the problem?”

“Apart from having to work with the thickest elf on the planet? Well, let’s see. I assume you’ve been reading the same Santa letters as me? Did you notice a pattern?”

“Sure.” George shuffled the stack of letters. “They’ve all been little shitheads this year and they all admit it.”

“Indeed.” Tiddles picked up a letter. “Like this one. ‘Dear Fat Bastard. I have been an intolerable little twat for the entire year and intend to keep doing that. I deserve coal in my stocking, nothing less, in fact I have been so unutterably twattish I probably deserve an entire sack of it. PS, if I kick a pensioner will you throw in some kindling?'” Tiddles dropped the letter on the table. “They all want coal. All of them. We have one sack of it for one lump in each naughty kid’s stockings. What the hell are we going to do?”

George’s brow furrowed. His face crunched into a reasonable imitation of badly treated leather. “Um…”

Tiddles drew a deep breath. “Well, okay, I have no answers either. Unless we annex China we can’t possibly give out that much coal. It just can’t be done.”

“Well…” George’s face creased in concentration again. “What if… nah, it’s probably silly.”

Tiddles shifted forward. “Probably, but we have nothing so let’s at least hear something.”

“Well…” George’s face reddened. “Well we have all those sacks of sprouts. If we fed them all to Santa he could deliver bags of gas instead of lumps of coal. It’ll burn just as well, even if it’s a bit stinky, and it probably won’t run out for ages.”

Tiddles regarded George with awe. “Brilliant. That’s bloody brilliant, George.” He grabbed his calculator and tapped in a sprout to gas conversion ratio. “It can work. As long as he farts it all out before he gets back here.”

Tiddles paused, deep in thought. “You know, George, now the NordStream gas pipes are buggered, we might have a new scam coming up.”

“Oh?” George inclined his head.

“Yeah.” Tiddles grinned. “What if we fed Santa sprouts and eggs all year and supplied the EU with gas from FartStreamOne?”

George grinned. “Who would dare blow that one up?”


Who indeed?

Entertainment – It Isn’t Turkey

The 19th anthology is complete and online in print and ebook formats. There are links on its own page if anyone is interested.

As the author contracts state, once the book is published all rights revert to the authors so they are now free to re-use their stories any way they want. I don’t have a contract because that would mean having a contract with myself and even Satan wouldn’t be daft enough to do that. Although… there is an idea in there… but I digress.

Anyway. I have two stories in this anthology. One is funny (well I thought so) and the other is most certainly not funny. I might put up the funny one for Christmas, but for now, here’s the one that’s not. If you’ve been enthusiastically stuffing down the insane modern trend for bugburgers and fake meat, I’d suggest you skip this one.

It Isn’t Turkey

The man stumbled through fields, his clouded eyes saw nothing, his wasted body responded only to sound and smells. In his mind, no thought moved, there was only a grim determination to find other people. There was no reasoning behind it. It was his sole motivation.

Sounds came to him, sounds of voices. Human voices. He shifted and stumbled in the direction of the sounds. They seemed far away but that was of no consequence. His sole purpose was to find them and that was what he was going to do. Nothing else mattered.


“We have a problem.” Jeff Simmons’ eye twitched. “We might have to scrap this batch.”

“Not a chance.” Bill Weir, his boss, looked him straight in the eyes. “It’s coming up to Christmas and we need all we can get out there. Sort something out.”

“Well, it’s pretty bad. A lot of them are infected with something and—”

“No matter.” Weir dismissed Simmons with a wave of his hand. “There’s nothing in there that could infect humans and anyway, the cooking process will kill anything that might be a risk.” He held up his hand to forestall Simmons’ next objection. “And, of course, every batch is tested for bacterial safety.”

“I don’t think it’s bacteria.” Simmons looked away. “It’s something nasty though. I wouldn’t fancy eating anything made from it.”

Weir laughed. “We don’t have to, fortunately. That stuff is for the plebs. We’ll be eating real food this Christmas. Get that batch processed early before it goes bad and get the next lot started early.”

“Okay, I suppose.” Simmons looked at the floor. “I just thought you should know, but you’re the boss so if you say it’s okay, I’ll pass that on to the staff.”

“It’ll be fine, Jeff.” Weir patted his shoulder. “You worry too much.”


The EcoDeath advert was everywhere this Christmas. “Don’t pollute when it’s your time to go. No crematorium fumes, no chemicals in the soil. Instead, choose EcoDeath and we’ll return your body to the ground the natural way. Instead of polluting the soil or air, you’ll become part of it once more. Back into the world that made you, nourishing the soil and helping to grow the crops that feed future generations. Your children and theirs will thank you for it.”

Tom Bowyer snorted. “Looks cheap. How do they make any money at this?”

His wife, Ellen, shrugged. “All they do is dig a hole and drop you in. How expensive could it be?”

“Oh no,” Tom pointed at the small print at the bottom of the ad. “It says here that they process the bodies so they can fertilise a larger area per body.”

“Chop them into bits, you mean.” Ellen laughed. “Come on, Tom. We’re a long way from needing their services yet. And they probably charge the farmers for the bits they chuck all over the fields too.”

“Well it’s not how I want to go.” Tom grumbled, but followed his wife into the shopping mall. He hated shopping, especially at Christmas. It was far too busy, and he knew he was only there to carry stuff.

One of the euthanasia posters caught his eye. Tom shuddered. That was the new medical ‘treatment’ for so many things now. Don’t waste away in agony, drooling and forgetting your family. Take the easy way out while your mind is still intact. Tom was having none of that nonsense either.

Ellen had stopped at a food store. “Here we are, Tom. Christmas dinner. I’ll pick the best cuts for us.”

“Mmm.” Tom let her deal with shopping while his mind wandered. Do they chop the euthanased into bits and throw them over the fields too? Probably. I guess that’s why nobody is allowed to visit parks and farms any more. You might find a bit of Grandad lying around out there.

He smiled to himself. Yes, that would make for a very interesting family day out.

Ellen nudged him and handed him a carrier bag. Tom weighed it in his hand. He was sure food shopping used to be heavier.

I just hope there are no bits of Grandad in here.


“Unfortunately, it’s not allowed.” Arbuthnot Blackthorn smiled at the gathered board members. “I quite agree, of course, it would be far simpler to bypass the middleman and provide the public with real meat, but I’m afraid cannibalism is still frowned upon in this country.” He rose from his seat and paced back and forth. “It was actually suggested way back when I founded EcoDeath but the legal hurdles were absolute barriers. And, if the public ever found out where that meat came from, there would be literal Hell to pay.”

He paused and pursed his lips for a moment. “That’s why our subsidiary, EcoFertile, sells fertiliser to farmers. We are simply never going to be allowed to sell human meat to humans.” He coughed. “Not directly anyway.”

Puzzled murmurs wafted around the board members. One of them looked not puzzled, but smug. Blackthorn nodded at her and indicated she should stand. She did, beaming a very wide smile.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Blackthorn moved to stand behind her. “May I present our latest venture, courtesy of this particular genius, Miss Nicola Demdike.” He stood away from the table. “Perhaps you’d like to explain what you’ve developed, Nicola?”

“I would indeed.” Nicola moved to the head of the table as Blackthorn resumed his seat, now turned to face her.

She started up the projector, and showed images of modern farms. “You see, modern farms have a requirement for a high protein feed to maximise production. As well as fertiliser for crops, they need a very high-quality feed for livestock. The human body is a prime source of highly digestible protein and so, for the last year, our new subsidiary, EcoFeed, has been running trials on several farms to see whether our product can provide better growth than their standard feeds.”

She showed a graph. “As you can see, our EcoFeed outperformed their standard feeds in terms of production on every farm that tried it. We now have orders stretching into the future.” She ran her tongue over her lips. “We might even need to boost the uptake of Euthanase, another subsidiary, if we are to have any chance of meeting demand.”

Ed Valance raised his hand. “It certainly looks very profitable. Do we have a risk of ethical issues though?”

Nicola nodded. “Good question. Our legal teams have been very thorough on this. It counts as another form of ‘fertiliser’ under current law, as long as the feed doesn’t get into mammals.”

“So it’s only going to the insect farms?” Ed asked.

“Yes, but those are a very big market.” Nicola switched off the projector. “We don’t need to risk ethics violations on the few animal farms that are left.”

“And we don’t want it in our own food, now do we?” Blackthorn grinned.

Those around the table chuckled and murmured assent. Ed had one more question.

“Do the insect farms know what the feed contains?”

Blackthorn responded. “The bosses do. There’s no need to worry the rest of the staff.”


The man sniffed the air. The stench of sweat told him he was near. The sounds were louder too. He stumbled on.


Simmons placed the report on Weir’s desk. “Protein levels are poor in the last few batches. Many of them seem to have been eaten out from the inside and yet they still move around.”

“What?” Weir sat up straight and grabbed the report. “We get paid on protein content. What’s happening?”

“It’s some kind of parasitic fungus.” Simmons indicated the report. “Eats them from the inside then takes over their nervous systems and makes them find others of their kind so it can spread. Nasty little bugger. Looks like it’s been around quite some time too, before it spread so far that we noticed it.” He sniffed. “I looked back over our records. Protein content has been dropping slowly for a year and with this last batch it just fell off a cliff.”

“This is going to cost us. How do we get rid of it?” Weir leafed through the report.

Simmons took a sharp intake of breath. “The only way is to kill the lot, disinfect every nook and cranny and start over. It’s a big job and it could break us.”

Weir slumped. “Oh crap. Our Christmas profits are going to be shit, even if we survive this.”

“Well, there’s one silver lining.” Simmons said. “At least this thing can’t infect humans. Our boffins have said that it would have to have prolonged contact with human DNA to have any chance at all of jumping the huge gap between insects and us.” He laughed. “It’s not like we feed them corpses.”

All the colour drained from Weir’s face.


“Look, Mummy. That man has a mushroom on his head.” Seven-year-old Johnny, sat on Santa’s lap, interrupted his litany of desired electronic gadgetry to point at the gaunt man stumbling into the mall.

“Don’t be silly. Oh!” His mother’s hand flew to her mouth. The man looked like a skeleton with thin skin draped over it and there was indeed a mushroom-like growth extending from a tear in the skin of his forehead.

The man stopped walking. The mall fell almost silent, every eye was on this dead-eyed stranger.


This was it. What was left of the man’s mind recognised its opportunity. It was finished.


The stranger with a mushroom on his head opened his mouth and then closed it. No breath could be heard. The mushroom on his head burst, releasing a dense cloud of spores. The stranger collapsed to the ground.

Many people screamed and ran, but many others rushed to see if they could help the stranger. They ignored the cloud of spores. The spores did not ignore them in return.


Tom chewed on his Christmas dinner and scowled. “Turkey shouldn’t be this crunchy.” He shot Ellen an accusing look. “Did you overcook it?”

“Of course not, silly.” Ellen smiled and crunched her own meal. “It’s the new thing. All the real turkeys were killed off in the bird flu epidemic, last year. This is artificial.”

“What, you mean it’s some synthetic crap?” Tom stared at the strange meat on his fork.

“Well, not synthetic, it’s still made of some kind of animal, I think.” Ellen considered her own meal. “It’s just… It isn’t turkey.”

She put her hand on her stomach. It felt strange, as if something was eating her from the inside.

Ellen shrugged it off. Just me getting used to some new food.


Merry Christmas folks and… bon appetit

Cover woes

The Christmas anthology is ready to roll – one author hasn’t replied to the final checks PDF but I’m going to have to assume that means it’s okay. I checked it over myself and it looks fine. Print and eBook interiors are all set, just need the cover… and that’s proving to be a bit of a pain this time.

The book is titled ‘Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas’ so I thought of the straggly little fir tree at the bottom of the garden, among the devastation caused by last year’s big storm. It’s less than a foot high and looks really sad, so I put some lights and tinsel on it and took a photo.

The photo came out okay. The problem started when I tried adding text. It looks like this:

No matter which colour I use, the text disappears into the background in some places. I could put the text in boxes but it’s not an option I like. Looks like you just put stickers over the picture.

So I set CStM loose with the camera to see if she could get something useful from the Christmas tree.

Ummm… I think not.

That’s more like it. These pictures allow a fair bit of space for trimming so I can make the angel more centralised on the front.

Might be more suited to last year, but still okay.

The issue is mainly the text though. As I said, I can put the text in boxes – I’ve done it on back covers before – but I don’t really like that on a front cover. I might, however, be able to put some fancy frames around the text boxes.

There is another option. I could take a twig (no shortage of them around here), decorate it with tinsel and lights and photograph it against a plain white background. Too minimalist?

Opinions welcome – I really want this out of the way this weekend!

Lithium and books

Books first. The Christmas anthology is complete, just waiting for one author to come back with any last minute changes (to be fair, it’s less than 48 hours since I sent that PDF out) and then I’m back on the next novel in line. Underdog Anthology 19 is called ‘Have Yourself a Very Little Christmas’ and I have two main options for the cover, which I will post here for a vote.

And now lithium. This is right at the top of the Periodic Table and it’s an incredibly reactive metal. Very very dangerous indeed in its pure form. It’s used in many kinds of batteries now, especially rechargeable ones, and those batteries are hard to get rid of safely when they die.

When I was in school, in the seventies, we had some wonderfully deranged chemistry teachers (there was a lunatic physics teacher too, who let us loose with all kinds of things young teenagers shouldn’t have been trusted with, but more on that another time). There was never a boring chemistry lesson.

One of these chemistry teachers showed us 12-year-olds how water is formed. He had a cone shaped thing on a stand, pumped in one part oxygen and two parts hydrogen, lit the top and ran to the back of the class. There was a whine that declined in pitch until BLAM, the thing popped and fell over. It was great.

Another chemistry teacher explained the first column of the periodic table by taking tiny slices of potassium and sodium and dropping them into water. They burst into flame. You can’t extinguish these fires with water. Water just makes them burn faster.

That teacher explained, somewhat crestfallen, that he wasn’t allowed to show us the lithium reaction because lithium was far too dangerous to have in a classroom. It would burn on contact with air, and burn even more fiercely in contact with water. He did have lumps of pure phosphorus though. That was fun.

So, we learned that setting fire to hydrogen and oxygen produced water, a totally harmless substance that puts out fires – unless it is combined with the metals in the first column of the periodic table in which case it becomes something that can burn.

Consider: these chemistry teachers were quite happy to let us have access to things like pure ethanol and cyclohexamide and even to distil ethanol-dissolved compounds using a gas flame from a Bunsen burner. There was a really funny day when one kid didn’t have his ground glass joints sealed properly. Those teachers showed us how to produce sulphur dioxide, nitrogen triiodide and other things that would get you on a terrorist watch list in these modern feeble days. In physics class, we etched circuit boards using ferric chloride. Unsupervised, often. They’d let us loose with stuff that could kill us all and they’d go for a cup of tea. Maybe they didn’t really like us.

But even these lunatics weren’t allowed to play with lithium. We could light magnesium ribbon and watch it burn. We could poke mercury around the bench tops with our fingers. We could watch sodium and potassium react violently with water, and phosphorus with air. We could pour cyclohexamide into a sink and set fire to it (well, the teachers weren’t around for that one, nor for the time we filled the Bunsen tubes with water) but we were not allowed to see a lithium reaction.

Might give you an idea just how bad a lithium reaction really is. It is, really, exceptionally bad. And it takes very little to start it.

The internet is full of videos of electric vehicles spontaneously combusting. Lithium is so reactive that you just need a pinhole in a battery to get it started and then there is absolutely no way to stop it. Pour water on it and it just reacts faster.

YouTube has videos of people puncturing lithium batteries and the resulting firestorms. I have a few dead lithium batteries here, mostly from dead tablets, but if I do decide to film their puncturing I’m not doing it with a hammer and spike. I’ll do it with a crossbow from a safe distance. I like my fingers and don’t intend to lose any for the sake of a few YouTube upvotes.

Most of those sleek, low slung modern sporty electric dodgems have the batteries in the floor. Drive one up the farm track here and your arse will be on fire before you get to the house. I have a high ground clearance car for a very good reason, the farm track will rip the bottom off most modern town cars.

I do not ever want to sit on top of a slab of lithium batteries. If it starts to burn it’ll be very fast. You’d need Bruce Lee reaction times to get out of there.

The only use I’d have for an electric car would be if its dead battery were removed. I’d put a diesel generator in the back and rig it directly to the electric motors. Diesel-electric motive power, like a lot of railway engines.

Oh and you know the thing about diesel engines? They’ll run on vegetable oils. That’s what they were originally designed to run on.

And that’s why they don’t want you to have them 😉