My writing this year

2018 was a good year for my writing career. My third book, Jack the Ripper Suspects:The Definitive Guide and Encylopedia, was published in March. For the first time, you can assess 333 suspects in an accessible narrative and reach your own conclusions. Two weeks later I was honored to feature in Rippercast. I also contributed two articles to Ripperologist. The first looked in detail at John Rees who claimed to know the still unidentified victim, Mary Jane Kelly who remains unidentified. The second reprinted, for the first time in over a century, the autobiography of William Onion. I hope that my own biography of this remarkable man will see print in 2019.

Four new short stories appeared, taking my published total to 57.  I was most proud of my contribution to the Doctor Who charity anthology, Time Shadows 2. Sadly, this volume is no longer available. “The Crimean Centaur” was my first Doctor Who story in over a decade, and all for a good cause with profits going to CODE.  Staying with Doctor Who I decided, last New Year, to watch every episode in order at the rate of one a week and have reached the second season. It is already my favorite New Year’s resolution with the 2019 target of reducing caffeine intakes being more mundane.

This year I finished eight stories, one novella, one novel, one screenplay, and two articles. In 2019 I have three pieces of work  provisionally accepted and six awaiting a decision. Subject to family commitments and the real job, I hope to increase my output.

Happy New Year to you all and a big thank you to those who have supported this blog. Finding new content to keep it interesting and relevant in 2019 will be another challenge.


Poverty, poetry and Christmas hope.

As each Christmas approaches, I think of William Onion, the East End Poet and possibly Britain’s most convicted man who was born on Christmas Eve in 1834 and ended a fifty-year addiction to alcohol in December 1898. Afterwards he became a minor celebrity, preaching temperance. One thing didn’t change. He remained poor.

The most Onion ever received for a poem was ten shillings. In 1909 he was one of the first recipients of the old-age-pension in 1909, introduced by John Burns MP who he was once imprisoned with. A newspaper report, the following year suggested that he and his wife were destitute. The reference to a spouse is puzzling. Onion married Elizabeth Gawan in 1877 but she left him on the same day, after he threatened her with a knife. There is no record of a second marriage.

So, who was the wife? Did he reconcile with Elizabeth, when she realised that his recovery was permanent? Or did he start a new romantic liaison in his seventies. Christmas is all about families. Onion’s father died when he was three. On the same day his mother was permanently paralyzed by a stroke. He outlived his siblings, having limited contact with them before dying alone. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that, towards the end of his troubled life, he enjoyed a period of happiness?

And, for us, his story shows that it is never too late to change our ways.


Three H’s for Engagement

Engagement is a key focus for many companies, but they disagree on how to achieve it. Some measure anonymous surveys, others run expensive initiatives, and many link it with other buzz words. Generally, it is about trust. People are with you if they believe you. You can build that trust with the right approach, which I’ll call the three H’s. Hard work, Honesty and Helping Others.

You expect those around you to work hard but why should they if they see you slacking? You don’t have to put in extra shifts, but you do need to ensure that everyone sees your role and effort adding value. Honesty is about answering questions without being indiscreet or betraying confidences. Always keep to the facts, unless you’re asked for a personal opinion. If that opinion is likely to upset someone then no comment is an acceptable response. Never lie or pretend and don’t make assumptions about anyone.

Helping others isn’t necessary about work.  It involves offering the little things that make people feel better. A word of gratitude, a coffee, listening to concerns, an extended deadline. This should be consistent, and available to all, without being routine or patronizing.

Make the three H’s part of your working life and you’ll soon enjoy an improved level of employee engagement.


The Obese Organisation

Mr Company ran along the corporate path. His brain relayed directions to his legs and they kept him ahead of the competitors. One day Mr Company had a vision that inspired him to glide so he took half the money earned by the legs and hired worms to help him develop. The worms employed more worms and created management layers inside Mr Company’s heart, delaying delivery of the directions. The legs changed course and stumbled under the extra weight. Mr Company looked down and couldn’t see his legs because he was too fat.

Mr Company decided to be lean. The worms advised him to trim the legs. Mr Company realised that he wouldn’t be agile without the legs so decided to cull some of the worms. To persuade him of their value the worms took the rest of the money earned by the legs and spent it on engagement projects and initiatives. When Mr Company saw no tangible benefits the worms collaborated to isolate the brain and feed it false information.

Confused and unable to give directions the brain resigned. The legs collapsed, and Mr Company died. Competitors raced past, stamping on the maggots that crawled from Mr Company’s heart.

Rediscovering the Doctor

Today is the 55th anniversary of Doctor Who. Since the first episode was broadcast on 23 November 1963  there have been 847 episodes telling 283 stories, plus novels, audios and countless pieces of merchandise. It is an unique part of British popular culture that has motivated me for most of my life and continues to inspire millions.

In January this year I made a resolution to watch every episode in chronological order at the rate of one per week. It will take seventeen years to get through the current material plus another four if the show keeps adding ten new episodes each year. I could binge watch but  rarely have more than an hour spare each week. Instead this allows me to make a regular commitment and enables me to identify with the original audience. I want to see the stories as they were meant to be seen, accepting that I may not fully appreciate references to contemporary culture. It is an opportunity to watch history unfold, against the background of whatever changes lie ahead in my own life.

I will be documenting my thoughts during the process and look forward to sharing them with you.



No fans for Academies

This week’s EFL trophy game between Walsall and Port Vale attracted less than a thousand spectators. Two thousand less than the last time they met in the same competition. This is partly due to supporter unease about the presence of academy teams from bigger clubs in a competition designed for the lower leagues. One of those academies belongs to Walsall’s  neighbors, Wolves. As a fourth division club in 1988, a level lower than Walsall’s current status, Wolves attracted eighty thousand for the final of the EFL’s predecessor.

The lure of Wembley is waning. Although Walsall played there for the only time in the 2015 EFL final, other clubs have returned within weeks to contest the play-offs. No Academy team has made the final yet. When they do, it is certain that both teams will struggle to sell tickets. Nobody wants to watch their side compete against a youth team.

Walsall are of the few clubs to make a profit. Others, heavily in debt, cannot afford to keep playing games that don’t attract supporters. The wider unspoken fear is of B teams and academies creeping into the lower leagues as they have in other parts of Europe. Reserves cast loose in the professional game, bringing real clubs closer to extinction.

Who was Mary Jane?

130 years ago, today a woman who called herself Mary Jane Kelly was murdered by Jack the Ripper. Her true identity, like that of her killer, is unknown. All genealogists have to work with is a story given by her ex-boyfriend, Joseph Barnett, at the inquest. Extensive searches have failed to trace her with that information. There are four possibilities.

  1. Barnett told the truth.
  2. Barnett invented all or part of the story.
  3. Barnett misremembered some of the details.
  4. Mary invented all or part of the story.

Independent sources confirm parts of Barnett’s story about Mary’s life in London before she met him. She must have given him those details. This makes it less likely that he got the information about her earlier life wrong but none of the usual records have been found to support it. We can speculate that she altered facts, such as her name, or omitted a key piece of information but cannot say why.

The bigger question is why none of her friends or family responded to the contemporary publicity. One can only hope that they are now reunited and rest in peace.