Thursday, 11 September 2014


I've just got back from a holiday in Indonesia, where I've seen the biggest monitor lizards on the planet - Komodo dragons. These may well have led to the idea that dragons really existed, as they will eat anything, including human beings given the chance. They live on Rinca, Komodo and Flores islands.

 It used to be thought that they killed their prey (mainly deer and buffalo) by biting them on the hind leg, and waiting for the bacteria in their mouths to cause septicaemia. The recent discovery that they secrete toxic proteins from glands in their jaws means that the bite is even more deadly, although it doesn't take effect for some time.

Female dragons lay their eggs in the abandoned nests of megapode birds - mounds of earth into which they dig holes. These nests are then guarded by the female for many months until the babies hatch. That's when it gets really gory - the mother hasn't waited to see them safe, she's there for a quick snack. The youngsters have to find a tree to climb, and fast, before they get eaten by their cannibal parent. Out of the 20-30 eggs, only 5 or 6 babies will make it.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

When Ironclaw met Thornbeak...

Those of you who’ve read The Divide will be familiar with the griffon Ironclaw. This is a previously unpublished account of when Ironclaw met his mate, Thornbeak. 

It was one of those lovely sunny days with no wind, when a brazzle could use a dirtboard and all the calculations stayed where they were, as elegant and sophisticated as the moment you first scratched them in with your talon. Ironclaw thought for a moment. Then he erased the first symbol, and replaced it with the square root of 2. It was a definite improvement. Suddenly, a brazzle-shaped shadow swept across the ground. Ironclaw looked up in alarm. An interruption from Granitelegs was the last thing he needed.
The brazzle landed on his favourite perching rock, which was a bit much. However, it wasn’t his old mathematical sparring partner, Granitelegs. This one had golden feathers and a bright tawny coat. It was a female. “Can I help you?” asked Ironclaw, hoping his tone of voice conveyed exactly the opposite. Hens were only interested in history, which seemed like a monumental waste of time when there were so many fascinating formulae to investigate.
“Are you Ironclaw?” asked the female, coming straight to the point.
“I am,” replied Ironclaw suspiciously. “Why?”
“The name’s Thornbeak,” said the hen. “I’m writing a book about Flintfeather.”
Flintfeather?” squawked Ironclaw. The long-dead mathematician was one of his heroes. “Why in the name of a cuddyak pat would you be interested in him?” He suddenly regretted using the term cuddyak pat. It was a bit coarse, to be honest.
“He wrote some rather good poetry,” said Thornbeak acidly.
Poetry?” Ironclaw was incensed. “No no no. Logic. That was his first love.”
“Possibly. I did like his Liar Paradox. I wondered whether you’d clarify a few things for me.”
“I doubt you’d understand them,” grumbled Ironclaw. “Hens know nothing about trifles, for a start.”
Thornbeak ruffled her feathers. “Three point one four one five nine two six five…”
Ironclaw’s beak dropped open in amazement. A hen who could recite the most famous trifle of all? She flicked her tail. It really did have rather a fine tassel on the end. He let his gaze travel to her shapely hindquarters.
“Well?” said Thornbeak.
Ironclaw heard himself say, “I’d be delighted to help.”
The hen looked surprised.

“We could go out for a haunch of something if you liked,” Ironclaw added, surprising himself. He’d never asked a hen out for a meal before. This one was different, though. Very different. She had rather unexpected interests, and he found that remarkably attractive. He felt a bit odd, really. His heart was beating a bit too fast for comfort, and he had the disturbing feeling that Granitelegs might call it love at first squawk.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Pewtermane's solution to Lightningwing's problem

Dear Pewtermane,
My hen's chick, Rockfoot, has developed a taste for painting her talons
and listening to screech songs. This is annoying because I can can't teach her
Mathematics! I know she is a female, but still, she should know about how to solve an algebraic expression by now! How can I get her intrested in Maths?
Yours, Lightningwing the Brazzle.

Dear Lightningwing,
Starvation works quite well. Shackle her to a perching rock, but use a long chain so that she can access a dirtboard. Then set her a number of problems, but don’t feed her until she’s learned to solve them all. You will need to explain things every so often, otherwise she’ll waste away altogether. If you want something a bit less drastic you could try replacing her talon lacquer with super-treacle, and getting her to calculate a spell to counter it.
Yours, Pewtermane

Friday, 25 April 2014

Teacher's Notes

I have now written teacher's notes for the trilogy. There are ten questions about The Divide, Back to the Divide, and Jinx on the Divide, plus the answers and some additional pieces of information which hopefully are catalysts for discussion. Please email me through the contact page if you would like them free of charge for your class.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Goldfinch nest

This tiny nest only became visible after the bush shed its leaves for the winter. We really hope the birds return this year, because the babies were exceptionally cute.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Ice Feathers - a new book

I'm afraid I haven't been very active on my site recently, due to life intervening, as it is wont to do. However, I now have a new book out, which should appeal to fans of THE DIVIDE. It's called ICE FEATHERS, and it's set in prehistoric Antarctica. It's available both for the Kindle and in paperback.

What would you do if you were thirteen, and your aunt wanted to marry you off to get rid of you? Kura’s no coward, so she steals her uncle’s flightless riding-bird, the vicious and unpredictable Plume, and sets off to find her real parents. This is Antarctica, ten thousand years ago, when for a short time just the coastal strip was ice-free. The fauna is similar to that of prehistoric New Zealand – all the evolutionary niches have been filled by birds, and the main predator is a giant eagle.
            Kura bumps into Joeli, who is also running away from home because he thinks he’s killed his copper-feathered tutor-parrot, the clever and self-opinionated Kohuru. Kura and Joeli have loathed one another for years, and are appalled when they suddenly realise they must have been betrothed to each other. However, their relationship develops as they face increasing dangers – the bounty-rider hired to reclaim Plume, and the megalomaniac chieftain The Varka, who wants to wipe out all copper-feathers because they’re opposed to his tyrannical rule. The world is getting colder, year on year, and The Varka’s policies aren’t helping. His reputation as a powerful and sadistic sorcerer has enabled him to get whatever he wants.

Kura’s search for her parents becomes entangled with an attempt to thwart the Varka’s plans. She risks not only her own life, but those of Joeli and Kohuru – until she discovers that The Varka’s magic is just one big confidence trick.