Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Venus in Fir ( a tale of two trees)

Each year around this time I am given a mission by the family to go out into the big wide world and hunt down the perfect christmas tree.  Each year I walk around nurseries and garden centres looking for the one that screams "pick me, pick me" and it generally takes about 2 hours of pushing and pulling, balancing trees against anything to make them stand up, noting form, branch distribution and symetry before I find the one that I want. 
It's hard when you are a former garden designer because you feel that you're on trial. 

The nurserymen all know you and scutinise your everymove - sometimes tutting sometimes offering a '50/50 shimmy' with their hands but never revealing anything.
I know it's all a conspiracy,
I know they have already found the perfect tree  and hidden it amongst the ugly conifers that you need to look at first before disregarding and carrying on your search.
This year was no different.

After 2 hours and 3 nurseries I found myself in Macclesfield Forest; freezing cold in the  and in almost complete darkness.

The day trippers had all gone home and there was just myself and 3 tree surgeons all watching me and wondering:

"Who's the small guy in the big wellies, messing about with their stock?".

Eventually I gave up and opted for that near perfect pine that almost "had it" but was missing a bit on top  ( a bit like myself).  It was no good, I didn't bond straight away with the pine which isn't a good sign but nevertheless I decided that I may as well take it.  On my way out another "punter" had joined in the game .

To my dismay, she went straight over to the pile pulled out the first tree she saw and stood it up.
As I looked at her and the tree, I could feel the envy and anger build up inside me.  What right did she have  to waltz into the yard and find the "perfect tree" so nonchelantly without having to suffer the self doubt and pine rash that I had developed over the afternoon.
Talk about "Venus in Fir",
It had form, symetry and branch distribution that you could only dream about.
A perfect height,
a perfect girth
I looked at her and tried to make eye contact, but to my surprise she wasn't at all interested in me at all

She was looking at my tree, learing at my tree, I could tell she wanted my tree...

"Did you find what you wanted?" I asked.

"Yeh but..... your tree is really nice, I dont suppose you want to swap?" she said hopefully.

It was like a game of poker, I didn't want to reveal my hand too soon so I stalled...trying to hide any emotion on my face...pretending to agonize over the decision. 

Should I raise the stakes and risk losing the tree, or should I just call her?

" You know what,  I will swap because its Christmas, and trees all look the same to me - I never know what the fuss is about", and with that I grabbed it and ran to the counter with it safely hoisted on my shoulders before she could change her mind.
In the eyes of my wife and daughter, I was elevated to hero status.  What a tree!!!

That evening was spent watching the girls slowly and carefully placing the designer ornaments in synchronised fashion whilst I opted to search Youtube for cheesy Christmas tunes to create the mood.

It was like the final minutes of all of those hollywood feel good movies that make you vomit - (to watch that is) but in real life it wasn't that bad.


Monday, 3 December 2012

Sometimes a picture really does paint a thousand words

A friend posted this on my Facebook page recently:
"Abi was talking this morning about what was real and what was imaginary. She was going through everything she could think of and categorising it, so gruffalo = imaginary, totoro = imaginary, jesus = imaginary, when it came to the Hairy Plug Monster though she decided he's real. I thought you'd like to know :) "
She obviously knows there's no such thing as the Gruffalo.
but don't take my word for it     Click here to find out for yourself
or for the equally brilliant Epub version Click here


Thursday, 11 October 2012

Making the most of an invasive weed.

Himalayan Balsam and Mixed Seed Cookies.......

The Hairy Plug Monster's Himalayan Balsam and Mixed Seed Cookie

Himalayan Balsam

Time is running out in the U.K. if you want to have a go at these.

The Hairy Plug Monster's Himalayan Balsam and Mixed Seed Cookies

First put your coat on and head off out to track down some Balsam, I have included an image to aid identification, but to further assist you, look for the tall plant with white or pink delicate flowers. At this time of year they should be on the wane and be replaced with seed pods.

 The Himalayan Balsam is easily identifiable, because when you touch a ripe seed pod it explodes "Alien style" and throws out the seeds in every direction. The stem of the plant is a hollow and translucent and a quick inspection of the roots should show about twenty reddish roots just above ground that anchor the beast in place.

So when you are satisfied that you have the Himalayan Balsam in your sights, it is now time to harvest the seeds.

1. Very carefully tilt the flower head towards you and without touching the pods place a large plastic bag over the top of the plant. Once you are confident that the seed heads are inside the bag, tickle the pods and let them explode, ( be on the lookout for bees collecting the last bits of pollen). The seeds will collect in the bag and each plant should give your about 100 seeds.

2. Carry this action on until you think you have enough much is enough seeds?...erm well I don't know, but bear in mind that the pod husks are also collected and will need to be removed at a later stage so.... the more you collect the more you have to sort out later.....simples.

Himalayan Balsam seeds and the green pod husks

Your harvest should look similar to the image above with the seeds ranging from white to brown to black, being mixed together with the curled up green pod husks and occasional flowers.

Now comes the boring bit...the seeds need to be separated and up to now, the only way I have found to do this is to spread them out on a tray and pick out the pods, flowers and anything else that may have found its way into the bag. I wont kid you....this will take a bit of time, but eventually you should be left with a tray full of seeds.

Himalayan Balsam Seeds

Place the seeds in a bowl of fresh water for twenty minutes to wash off any dust and creepy crawlies that still may be hiding amongst them and drain the water away through a sieve.

Dry Roasted Himalayan Balsam Seeds
Empty the seeds into a dry frying pan and on a low heat slowly cook them until the seeds turn a similar shade of grey.

Et voila' your Himalayan Balsam Seeds are now ready for eating..... or. you could do what I did and add them to a cookie mix

Cream 125g of unsalted butter with 125g of sugar, slowly add 2 beaten eggs to the mix and a teaspoon of vanila essence. Fold in 250g of self raising flour and 200g of Himalayan Balsam seeds together with a 200g mix of of toasted almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

Gather the mixture together with your hand and shape the dough into a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to settle in the fridge for half an hour.

When the dough has chilled, remove from the fridge and dive into 26 pieces, rolling each one into a small ball and placing on a greased baking tray.

Lightly flatten each cookie before baking at 180C (160C fan oven) Gas Mark 4 for 10-12 minutes until golden but still fairly soft. Leave on the baking tray for 5 minutes before transfering onto a wire rack to cool.

And put the kettle on.   (I did coat a few of them in chocolate, but unfortunately they disappeared before I could get a photograph of them.)

Congratulations, you have probably taken the best step to keep the spread of Himalayan Balsam in check and at the same time made yourself and the kids a damn fine cookie. Now with a plate full of cookies and a glass of milk sit down in your favourite chair, open The Hairy Plug Monster and start reading.....if you haven't got a copy please visit  also available in digital format in English, Polish and Italian flavours.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

We have some exciting news.....

Behind the scenes at HPM Media, there is a lot going on. 
Following the successful publication of the HPM onto the Kindle and the news that the long overdue 'There's Something Wrong with Grandad' may finally be available in late autumn, we have some more good news.
Work has begum in earnest on The Pot Bellied Cook and the Three Legged Dog (a love story) which will be available to buy in digital and paper format shortly into the new year.  

The Pot Bellied Cook draft image


Snufflebug Fly draft image

It's taking years to become an overnight success

I am feeling fairly 'cock a hoop' with myself this week.  Having spent the last year or so arming myself with the knowledge, I sat down a couple of days ago and without any song and dance - succeeded in converting the 3 epub files of the HPM  ( English, Polish, Italian) into .Mobi format and uploaded them to 

Gone are the days of self doubt, technoenvy and the like. Replaced instead by an almost matter of fact professional approach to getting the job done with the least amount of fuss.

To simplify what this actually means:

You can now read The Hairy Plug Monster and the other translations on your

Kindle DX
Kindle Fire
Kindle Touch
Kindle for i-Pad
Kindle for i-Phone
Kindle for PC

And on any other kindle reading device.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

HPM can produce your ebooks for sale.


Publish your book with HPM Media!!!

Written by Carol Leith
Published by HPM Media Ltd
ISBN 9780956332080

This brilliant debut novel from Carol Leith achieved a very credible 12th in the Waterstones children's ebook charts in its first week of release.  (out of over 9,000 other titles.  Check out what the author said about our service:

"What an amazing day here in Combpyne. We love living here it's a very special place. Made even better with the help of Leighroy Marsh who has done a better job than any publisher I have ever known,and I have known many....1,000 people worked at Dorling Kindersley when I worked there but the bespoke service from HPM media was unparalleled. Cheers Leighroy"

We are not a big company with a "big website that promises the earth and as we have found to our own cost, delivers little in terms of quality and service".  Instead we prefer to take our time in getting it right. 

Yes, we will charge for our publishing service, but in return you will get a high quality product, delivered back to you both in EPUB format and Kindle. Or you can let us  take care of the publishing side and register your book complete with a unique ISBN number before uploading your books to and Amazon.

As you may have gathered we are new to this, hence only one testimonial.  However, it is a real testimonial written by a real person who wrote a real book - and they are very happy with our service.  You will be too!

To find out more about what we do please email: 


Thursday, 31 May 2012

It's time to refocus

Available Soon For Kindle and Epub

There is a reason why I have been quiet on the blog front - I have had to get a real job in the real world to ensure that all the bills are paid.  Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a case of " I know, I'll get a job this morning!!", and got one.

No.. I have actually been looking for work for nearly three years, but apart from a hardcore following no-one else seems to be impressed with the fact that we have written, produced and published a brilliant children's book.  Not only that, but I have got to grips with EPUB, Adobe and other bits and pieces that us mere mortals are not meant to understand.  So after over 180 job applications (I am told that this isn't that much) and subsequent rejections I decided to return to the industry that has already played a major part in my development to this point.

I haven't mentioned it before but years and years ago, I used to be a real life croupier adept at delivering the player a great experience on the card and roulette table while, at the same time trying to relieve them of a couple of pounds/dollars whatever.. in the process.

So when a new Casino,opened up close to where I live, I decided to bite the bullet and return to a profession that I vowed never to go back to.   I could bore you with the details of my job, but I wont - suffice to say it's 40 hours of my life each week that I am not spending sat at the computer trying to become the next big thing, but instead I am at a gaming table dealing roulette and black jack to all and sundry.  (regardless, I am still pretty good at it.)

Perhaps a far greater reason for being 'bloglustre' is that I haven't had anything tangible to write about.  Having flicked through my blog posts over the last three years, I have noticed that most of them talk about projects and collaborations that are in progress which for the most part relied on others to fulfil their part of the deal or at least be honest and above board.

I did a quick review and found that there was a pattern emerging.

Swerve Records - Writing and producing music in a studio for artists.

Fail:  ( no engineer and ultimately no studio)  This includes a 6th month spell working with Elliot trying to develop his material who then decided he wanted to become "Radiohead"  and went his own way.

Zombie Aid - Collaborating with Carl Whiteley, James Lawrence  on producing an animated version of Zombelina.

 Fail: (Carl decided that he wanted to buy the story but not actually pay for it, his last email contained threats of violence, so I left it at that.)

En -cycle-opedia - Attempting the resurrect a cult cycling journal.

 Fail.  ( despite being supplied with a new computer and publishing software, the editor lost interest, so the project has been suspended indefinitely. On the plus side,  I got to keep the computer and CS4 package)

There's Something Wrong with Grandad - Collaborating with Paul Alderson and Steve Garry to produce an audio book based on the collection of "Spooky Tales".

Fail. ( While making a brilliant start with the voice over for Zombelina, Steve's other attempts at reading weren't very good, and I have shelved the production until a suitable voice can be found and studio time arranged.)

Rough and Ready - Supplying the soundtrack to the film produced by Jim Dickinson

 Fail: (Having met Steve through the Zombelina project, he asked me if I was up for doing the soundtrack for a film he was starring in and naturally I was more than interested.  Having completed a near perfect score, Steve then decided that the music didn't belong to me at all and I had to sign the rights over to the film.  Again another 'death by email campaign' followed until I decided that enough was enough and withdrew my music.

Miles and Connor Ryan - Songwriting for BGT finalists.

 Fail:  Having met the Ryan family at the opening of the Levenshulme Centre, I offered my services as a musician and songwriter and composed a couple of tracks for them to record in the studio just before Christmas 2010, by January 2011 they had already signed with another record label .  In fairness though the songs I wrote were a bit twee.

There's Something Wrong with Grandad - Collaborating with Jodie Muir to use her illustrations for the proposed ebook

Failing:  I have had three pictures which are absolutely brilliant but have been waiting for the other 4 for at least a year.  I have offered to publish a collection of her work on epub and kindle but she is still going slow.  Her sister tells me she's in love !!!!

Sign and Shine - Collaborating with Adswood Primary School's Head Teacher and Art Teacher  Kath and Jim respectively to produce a series of books

Fail:  I haven't heard from either Jim or Kath since January, after we were all a bit disappointed with the first draft of " Can you do this?"  Jim was going to reassess the artwork and get back to me.

And that's about it.   This is why I haven't been writing a blog!!! I became aware of how much I had written about my projects and not delivered on a single thing.   At the very least this shows a lack of judgement on my part for choosing projects which may have been left well alone.  Again I could blame everybody else for letting me down in some way. 

That's all going to change - I have just finished my part of a collaboration, that has seen HPM Media Ltd publish it's first novellist  Carol Leith both on Waterstones Website in Epub, and on Amazon's Kindle (available for download very soon.)

I have managed to find the extra hours each night to further my knowledge of this murkey world of publishing, finding out the finer points and pitfalls and can now offer my services to anyone who is interested in seeing their novel published to Amazon and Waterstones in Dual format....

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A lost blog from February

A lost blog from February
( I wrote this just at the end of January and was waiting for some photo's from the reading.)  Anyway, they forgot to send me them - and typically, I forgot what I was waiting for. ....

It was a brilliant day for all concerned thanks to Urmston Bookshop.

Following on from my initial visit, I returned to Urmston Bookshop at the end of January to perform another reading of the HPM and other stories.  It was a tricky billing as I was going head to head with the 4th round of the FA Cup and the remnants of the 2nd test in Dubai. 

It was also a bit cold,

Any of these factors would usually contribute to a poor turnout and I expected to be reading to just a couple of kids and their parents.

How wrong could I be?  The owners Peter and Frances Hopkins had done their utmost to ensure that the event was well publicised and even went as far as notifying all the local schools in the area and making a display in the front window.  

They even created a range of stickers with the "HPM at Urmston Bookshop" for the children to have, which went down a storm and provided cushions and a blanket for all the kids to sit on while the parents could sit back and relax on the chairs.

Needless to say, that the event was pretty successful with me selling all my books and having to return to the car to get more.  (and to check on the football score as well. . . we lost !!)

Given that the book business is in the doldrums and has independent booksellers falling by the wayside almost on a weekly basis, Urmston Bookshop is like a breath of fresh air, a modern bookshop offering "good old-fashioned" personal service and dedicated customer care.  They seemed to know almost everybody that came in and were buzzing with enthusiasm and energy throughout the afternoon.

Friday, 20 January 2012


With both feet firmly in 2012, I have decided to concentrate on trying to get a more permanent source of income to help get all these projects moving again.  

Jim sent me the final pictures for the first book over the weekend and I manages to get the book ready in time for Monday.   Unfortunately,  Kath didn't like our choice of characters and images which means that we are going to have to go back to the drawing board, literally. Even though it was a disappointment, it was unrealistic to expect to get it right on the first attempt.

The HPM on the other hand has enjoyed several stints at number 1 in the picture book charts and even Be Careful Ethel has managed to get to number 3.  The ebook market for younger readers is still in it's infancy even though ebooks themselves amount to 35% of sales.

Urmston Bookshop received several copies of the HPM just before Christmas and have invited me to give a reading on the 28th of January.  As it's the first one of the year I hope that some of you can come along to and listen to some old favourites. I am hoping that I will have another story all ready by then...

As you may have noticed, our old website is sick at the moment and we are working on getting the new website up and running as soon as we can.  There are even rumours of a fab HPM game specially made for the website. (but I couldn't possibly comment at this stage.) plus a host of other exciting features.