Northumbria is Middle-earth

Now, as you may know (and if you don’t, I’ll need to make my self-advertisement even more blatant), my ebook on Tolkien, Professor Tolkien of Oxford, has just come out, and my old-fashioned paper book on the history and archaeology of Northumbria: The Lost Kingdom is out 1 October. What I had not known before is that other eyes than mine have seen the connection between the two. When places are touted as the inspiration for Middle-earth, the areas around Birmingham where Tolkien grew up (which were then bucolic expanses of greenery rather than suburbs) usually win out. But, it turns out, and this will not be a surprise to visitors, Northumberland fits better today. For the poster for The Hobbit features Gandalf striding across the Shire, but the backdrop is Northumberland. The ruined castle to the right of centre is Edlingham Castle. The hills are the Simonside Hills, according to folklore the home of dwarves, the duergar, who lead travellers astray.

So, Northumbria is Middle-earth. I knew it!

Acceptance Notes – no.6 in a series

Dear Edoardo,

I am pleased to inform you that your story “Time Hoppers” has been accepted for the Exploration issue of Penumbra. Our financial director, will be sending you a contract in a few days.

In the meantime, I need you to email me your bio, please.

I look forward to seeing you in print. Thank you for submitting such a fun story.

Me, me and, er, me

One look into the panic-stricken eyes of an author, pinned on the jacket of his latest book by a photographer, will reveal a simple truth: there is a reason he chose not to become an actor. Dear Reader, being married to a woman who used to be an actress and always, always, looks wonderful in photographs, I have come to appreciate that there is skill, art and knowledge involved in looking good on camera – I don’t think I would have paid Helena Christensen $10,000 to get out of bed, but a good model is certainly worth a reasonable fee.

We live in a visual age, however, and I am now being asked to provide photos – of me – for interviews and jacket covers. I decided, therefore, not to accept my usual photographic image as the human chipmunk and ask a good friend and fine photographer, Sarah Lim, to take some pictures of me that wouldn’t actually scare away readers. I think she has more than succeeded in that – the initial amazement (‘wow, I actually look pretty good’) has given way to unwonted and unwanted stirrings of vanity (‘maybe she could photoshop the spots’) – but now I have to decide which photo to use. In that, I ask your advice, dear reader. Which of these photos do you think is the best?


Timothy and the Animals

Timothy and the Animals is now available online, from the excellent On The Premises team. A taster:

Dear Mr. President/Prime Minister – please delete as applicable

(Timothy had seen this on a form once and thought it looked very official.)

I love animals, but we’ve only got cats and dogs round here, unless you count Megs and his gang. Please could you send me one of yours,

Your Friend,


PS. I promise to vote for you when I grow up.

PPS. And say nice things about you to the papers.