Wednesday, 15 November 2017


I suppose it was inevitable eventually to combine my experiences as a writer and in contributing questions to TV and radio quiz shows over the years - the result is that I now seem to have become a game inventor.

My first published game is QUIRKY, a quiz-style family game licensed to Cheatwell Games in the UK and, in process, to Goliath Games in the USA, Canada and Australia - this latter version may be marketed under the name KWIRKY but I'll keep you posted on that.

Possibly the best way to describe the game to you is to quote from the copy that I wrote for the bottom of the box:

Quirky is the fast-moving, quick-thinking, fun, question and answer, bluff and banter game for family and friends. Nothing like your conventional fact-based quiz - in this game you decide the answers!

Answer against the clock and, if you don't know, try to convince others that you do! Younger players compete on equal terms - quick wit and cheeky confidence are what you need in this game where all the answers are up for grabs!

*For family and friends aged 10 years to adult
*Game time recommendation 30 minutes, but you can decide that too.

288 Quirky Cards (1152 questions), Quirky Die, Sand Timer, Rules.

I guess the game's USP is the fact that it's the players who decide whether the answers are correct, and can challenge those that they think are not. Many of the answers can change depending on who is playing, where you are, sometimes even where you are in the room. The idea is to try and win as many cards as you can, either by answering a question on them unchallenged, or by stealing cards from others by successful challenges. The winner is quite simply the player who has collected most cards by end of the game.

The game did not start out at all as it looked in the final product, but as a much more elaborate questions-combined-with-coin-rolling game called HEADS YOU WIN. I developed a prototype with the help of my design friends at IGNIFI and, if I say so myself, we came up with a pretty swish product.

The problem was I couldn't persuade any of the games companies to take it on because it was just too damned expensive to produce. However, when I demonstrated the game to Cheatwell at Distoy 2016 they loved it, and immediately saw that the unique quality of the game came from the questions. Co-owner Rob Eatwell and his Product Director Paul Laing told me they would be interested in a cheaper-to-make quiz box version. Happily, I had by now anticipated the objection on cost and had, right there in my pocket, a proposal for a modification of the game (then called CHALLENGE) which matched exactly what Cheatwell were looking for.

That was not just the origin of QUIRKY but of a relationship with Cheatwell that has already seen me collaborate with them on a number of their products, developing ideas and questions for their various trivia games (Cheatwell see themselves as 'the home of trivia'), lateral thinking games and a new game for next year, with the working title NAME EM ALL. I have also developed an 'edgy, adult' (ie rude) variation of QUIRKY which is due for release next year, working title WTF? I'll keep you posted on that one too. Plus, there are a couple of other game ideas currently in development.

By the way, I haven't given up on HEADS YOU WIN. It will eventually emerge somewhere, somehow. In the meantime, please take a look at QUIRKY (Amazon link below). It's garnering some very good reviews, and I hope you'll agree it will be a great Christmas buy for family and friends.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Daft and illogical song lyrics Part 1

I've started this collection for my own amusement and your entertainment. I'd welcome your contributions via the Comments feature for a future instalment.

Click on the tracks to enjoy the songs via Spotify. (I love them all, by the way.)

Love is like a grain of sand, slowly slipping through your hand

Fleetwood Mac, Oh, Diane

(not grains of sand, just one grain)

Through the coldest winter in almost fourteen years

Rod Stewart, Mandolin Wind

(not almost fifteen, not almost twenty – almost fourteen years?)

Where Eleanor had risen to kiss the neck below my head

Lindisfarne, Lady Eleanor

(as opposed to the neck below my... armpit?)

We parachute in, we parachute out

Warren Zevon, Jungle Work

(We parachute out?)

I jump in my car, and I throw in my guitar

John Stewart, Gold

(OK, John, so first you jump in your car, then you...?)

In times like these, it’s good to have a friend

In times like these, on whom you can depend on.

(nice example of tautology, Alan)

Show me a motion, tra-la-la-la-la

Boney M - Brown Girl In The Ring

(strange scatological request from Boney M)

Slowly walking down the hall, Faster than a cannonball.

Oasis, Champagne Supernova (link is to a cover version)

(Oasis demonstrating Einstein’s theory of relativity, perhaps)

Of course, sometimes it’s deliberate, and in the hands of the master...

And he just smoked my eyelids, and punched my cigarette


Monday, 13 February 2017

The closure of George Stephenson's birthplace cottage

I have written to the Hexham Courant this week, adding to the voices protesting against the National Trust's recent and wrong- headed decision to close George Stephenson's birthplace at Wylam in Northumberland as a visitor attraction. I reproduce my letter below, and invite comment.

I always mention in my talks on the subject that a visit to George Stephenson's birthplace provided the inspiration that led me to three years' research on George and his family, culminating in my novel Mr Stephenson's Regret.

I remember as if it were yesterday standing in that one small room the family shared, awed with the thought that in these humble surroundings the boy that became the man who changed the world grew up. If it were not for that visit, I doubt that I would have ever embarked on the work.

By contrast, I remember that later in my researches I travelled to Dial Cottage in West Moor where George and his son Robert lived for many years, almost to the cusp of George's first great triumph, Locomotion Number One, which ushered in the world of public railways on the Stockton and Darlington line. In this cottage, too, Stephenson invented the miners' safety lamp (not Sir Humphry Davy as usually credited). I say, by contrast, because here, to my amazement I was faced with a locked door, an empty building and windows caked with dirt from the passing traffic on the Great Lime Road.

I remember wiping the dirt from the window to peer inside at bare floorboards and, sadly, an empty sherry bottle lying on its side, presumably left by a recent down-and-out squatter. I was furious that day, and have given vent to my anger loudly and often since.

Ironically, after years of campaigning, Dial Cottage (which has in more recent times provided accommodation for the local school caretaker) is set to open as a visitor attraction, as it deserves to be. Yet we are faced with the closure of the wonderful birthplace cottage at Wylam.

It's all too easy to quote dwindling visitor numbers after a long period of, at best, tepid marketing of an attraction. In any case, visitor numbers should not be the final measure, the harbinger of a decision to close. What is important here is the significance of the place. There is no-one in our region (and few in the nation) more significant than George Stephenson. It is not only desirable that we protect his roots and his legacy - it is imperative.