Saturday, 21 September 2013

Respect us at Skerton High, say governors

The governing body of Skerton High School recently issued the following statement on the consultation on the school's proposed closure initiated by Lancashire County Council, which we reproduce in full below.

Campaigners are urging local residents to protest the plans.

The consultation on the closure of Skerton Community High School [has begun] and all interested parties will have the opportunity to express their views as to whether a school such as this one is required to meet the needs of young people in the district.

Since the badly timed announcement of the county council’s decision to start this consultation was made public at the beginning of the summer holidays, many views have already been expressed in support of the school.

The comments and testimonies that have appeared on the petition website speak volumes about what the school has meant and continues to mean to parents and students past and present.

They are also indicative of the chasm will be left if this school closes.

It has been alleged in reported statements from County Hall, that the governing body has been consulted about the future of the school. This description is inaccurate.

Since the beginning of 2013, in correspondence with senior officers of the local authority governors have been required to agree that the school should close.

In response, we have repeatedly asked what provision would be made for our young people in the event of closure. Our frequently repeated question has been ignored.

Now we learn that there are ample places for them all in other schools, specifically and somewhat surprisingly, that two local high schools will welcome the 37 students who will enter Year 10 in September 2014.

This proposed solution demonstrates an alarming failure on the part of the local authority to establish the range of difficulties and challenges that our young people and their parents face on a daily basis or even to consider whether their relocation is in their best interests.

To close first, then ask a question afterwards is irresponsible where young lives are at stake.

Our students are all special in a whole variety of ways.

A significant proportion have already tried and failed to make progress in other local schools.

Those parents whose children have complex special needs or who have endured relentless bullying in other schools have found the answer to their prayers at Skerton.

The distribution of vulnerable youngsters around other local schools is not an acceptable alternative and is one that students, staff, parents and governors will resist.

Financial factors having been set aside, the school stands condemned on the grounds of poor academic standards and decreasing numbers. The former claim is simplistic.

It fails to take into consideration that, given the range and nature of secondary school provision in Lancaster, Skerton does not have a typical distribution of ability or that a large proportion of our young people have to overcome many obstacles in their lives that are barriers to their learning and progress.

That said, each year a small number of our students do achieve the highest grades and have gone on to sixth form and university. External measurements and national benchmarking do not allow recognition of the fact that a proportion of youngsters achieve beyond what they would have done elsewhere. Over the last six years, the local authority has refused to support a number of proposals from the governors that would have enabled the school to grow and develop. The rumour and uncertainty that has consequently hung over the school for all that time has had a destructive impact on the growth of the school population.

Some years ago, an officer of the local authority commented that Skerton was the cheapest special school in the county. We maintain that it still is.

The Ofsted inspection report demonstrates very clearly all the reasons why Skerton should be regarded as special.

For example, the proportion of children who are particularly vulnerable or who have free school meals is twice the national average, the proportion of children with special needs is double that nationally, late entry into the school is well above the national average.

Inspectors paid tribute to the very high level of nurture, care and support that students receive individually. Skerton is a truly inclusive school.

The vast majority of young people who come from elsewhere are given a second chance regardless of the risk that their attendance and achievement might well have a negative impact on judgements about the performance of the school.

We are proud of our inclusivity but are being made to pay the ultimate price for it.

So what of this consultation process?

We have heard the cabinet member assert on local radio that closure is not a foregone conclusion. Do we believe this? We recall the Hornby experience. The omens emanating from County Hall are not good.

The inconsiderate timing of the decision to consult and the structure of the process arouse suspicion.

Senior officers should be prepared to face in a public forum those whose lives could be radically affected by their decisions but are not scheduled to do so.

Nevertheless, we will fight to keep the school. We trust that the power of public opinion in favour of this school will sway elected members in the County Council.

Above all, we believe passionately that parents, present and in the future, need a range of choices for their children.

Our overriding conviction is that all children have the right to receive an education that is appropriate to meet their individual needs in an environment in which they feel safe and can thrive.


Susan Willoughby (Mrs), Chair of Governors, Pat Quinton, Roger Frankland, Andrew Manwaring, Sandra Jones, Karena Kyne, Janet Hall, Karen Leytham, Jez Reay

Governing Body of Skerton Community High School




Friday, 20 September 2013

Bolton-le-Sands deaths: guilty plea filed

Lisa Clay and Joseph Chadwick
34-year-old Paul Chadwick admitted killing his partner Lisa Clay, 40, and six year old son Joseph Chadwick at the family home on April 9th 2013 when he appeared at Preston Crown Court earlier today.

Chadwick, of Lowlands Road in Bolton le Sands, pleaded guilty on the grounds of diminished responsibility to the manslaughter of his partner and son – and will be sentenced on October 30th.

Police attended Lowlands Road following a call from a family member who had been trying to get hold of the Chadwicks. Once inside the house they found the body of Joseph in his bedroom, and Lisa in the hallway. Paul Chadwick was also inside the house and had received a number of self-inflicted injuries for which he required hospital treatment.

Detective Superintendent Andy Murphy, from the Force Major Investigation Team said: “This was an absolutely tragic case involving the death of a woman and a young child in horrific circumstances and while we will probably never know exactly why Paul Chadwick did what he did I am satisfied with today’s guilty plea which at least spares the families the ordeal of a trial.

“Our thoughts remain with those affected by this most appalling case.”

Bridge and carriageway work to begin on M6 at Garstang

Improvements to the southbound carriageway and motorway bridge on the M6 near Garstang in Lancashire will begin on Monday 23rd September.

The £100,000 project involves installing new bridge joints onto the bridge which crosses the motorway between junctions 33 and 32, followed by repairs to the southbound carriageway, and will be completed by Thursday 10th October.

The motorway will remain open at all times, although there will be some overnight lane closures of two lanes with one lane remaining open between 8.00pm and 6.00pm.

Depending on the location of the work, traffic will run in a single lane on either lane 1 or lane 3 on the southbound carriageway at these times.  A temporary 50mph speed limit will be in place for the safety of road workers and drivers.

The work will take place in two phases, with the first phase for bridge joint installation taking place from Monday 23 September to Wednesday 25 September and the second phase taking place from Monday 7 October to Thursday 10 October.

"This is an important, if routine, repair project which will ensure that users of the M6 in Lancashire can continue to enjoy safe, smooth and reliable journeys," says Highways Agency project sponsor Peter Gee.

"The motorway will remain open at all times and drivers should only experience a short delay to journeys passing through the roadworks. We would like to thank drivers for their patience in advance."

Appeal after motorcyclist is seriously injured in Morecambe collision

Police are appealing for information after a motorcyclist was seriously injured when he was involved in a collision with a car in Morecambe on Wednesday (18th September 2013)

The collision took place around 6.30am when the 37 year old motorcyclist from Carnforth was riding down Broadway in the direction of Lancaster when he was involved in a collision with a Honda Civic car at the junction with Beaufort Road and Burlington Avenue.

He was taken by ambulance to Royal Preston Hospital where he is being treated for multiple serious injuries. His condition is described as stable.

Sergeant Finn Quainton from the Road Policing Unit said: “CCTV and house to house enquires are underway I would appeal to anybody that witnessed this collision or with any information that could assist with our investigation to contact police on 101.”

A road closure was put in place for four hours to allow for an investigation to take place. The driver of the car was unhurt.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Lancaster Music Festival - 142 acts confirmed in 3 October days!

The full line up for the Lancaster Music Festival has been confirmed.  From Friday 11 October to Sunday 13 October there will be 142 acts (a staggering 100 from Lancaster and Morecambe) performing 199 events at 35 venues including 33 city centre venues all within easy walking distance and two Lancaster University bars (County and Bowland). Most of the events are free too.

A packed weekend of top notch local and global musical talent is in store with new acts arriving and proven favourites returning to a city which has always welcomed and nurtured live music. Based on the festival successes of the last four years this will be Lancaster’s fifth and biggest music festival so far.

From folk, jazz, blues, soul, funk, grunge, punk, pop to contemporary classical, avant garde and even bicycle powered music on the back of a beer dray we expect everyone to find outstanding sounds that they will enjoy in a lively and festive atmosphere.

Along with national and international acts the festival will also host the launch of the City of Lancaster Busking Program, pedal powered music, mini ale festivals and plenty of food both in the venues and the market stalls. The event is family friendly during the day (though most venues don’t admit children after 9pm). The festival ale will be provided by Thwaites.

Most of the music will be provided by the outstanding talent and variety of acts that originate and perform in the Lancaster district, for example, The Lovely Eggs, Jay Diggins, Get Carter Experience with Madness ex-keyboardist James Mackie, singer songwriter loop sensation Alex Hulme, Celtic fiddle virtuosity from Hard Times, mod punk boogaloo mayhem from the Convulsions and award winning Latin guitarist Howard Haigh. There will also be internationally renowned and touring acts from as far away as Vienna (Marina Zettl), Austin (Geoff Union), Warsaw (Paula and Karol) and all over the UK e.g. funk soul extravagants Rene and guitar virtuoso Franco and the Dreadnought from Manchester as well as BBC 6 star Heidi Brown from Cheshire. And it’s not just bands and soloists. There will also be featured DJ sets including Danny Howells performing until 6am.

The full calendar of events is now available on the Festival Website at  http://www.lancastermusicfestival.com where you can also find information about the artists and the venues.

A few of the events are ticketed and tickets can be obtained online from the festival website,  at Lancaster’s Visitor Information Centre and the venues themselves.

If you have any general enquiries or are interested in volunteering for the festival or wishing to advertise or sponsor, please get in touch with the festival coordinator Ben Ruth at info@lancastermusicfestival.com.

You can also keep track of Festival doings on facebook at  http://www.facebook.com/LancasterMusicFestival

Lancaster Music Festival is one of the first recipients of funding from the newly formed Lancaster Business Improvement District (branded as 'Lancaster Unlimited'). The support was awarded for significant new innovations in this year’s festival production

For 2014 the BID funding could enable a considerable leap in the profile nationally of the music festival where certain projects that would benefit local businesses had hitherto been beyond budget - but can now be applied for.

FESTIVAL TESTIMONY:

“You should feel justly proud”  (Boogie Bill, Lancaster)
“We had an absolute ball” (Marisa Yeaman, Melbourne)
“Viva live music!” (Gobbledegook, Lancaster)
“We miss the real ales....can't wait for next year!” (ThreeFifty Duo, New York City)

New Local Councils encouraged by new measures

Communities Minister Don Foster has announced new measures to bring parish powers back to the towns and cities of England so more people can run local services and take decisions that affect their area.

Although there are almost 10,000 parish councils in England, only a handful are to be found in urban areas. For example Birmingham has just one (New Frankley) and Queen's Park Community Council in Westminster will be the first in London for nearly fifty years when elected next year.  Morecambe is another cultural trendsetter, having had a town council since 2009 (its arms are pictured here) and you can check out its activities at http://morecambe.gov.uk/.

Parish and Town Councils have the same powers but the extent to which they use them depends largely on their size and how active they are. Their functions and responsibilities include such things as allotments, bus shelters, amenity lighting, commons, village halls, playing fields and war memorials. They  can directly run local facilities such as leisure centres and theatres, manage parks, establish bylaws, run job clubs, fund community groups and use the community rights and help stop the clock on the sale of important local assets such as pubs and green space.

Almost all of the country is covered by parishes geographically and around a third of the population is represented by a parish council, in addition to their local authority councils.  They are more common in rural areas, and useful in representing the interests and identities of separate villages or suburbs within wider local authorities. Despite the name, they are no longer run by any church.  The term 'parish' refers only to a geographical boundary and other appropriate terms, such as 'Community' Council have also been adopted.

The new rights will be available within the next 12 months and will make it easier to create a parish council by:

• Cutting by a quarter the number of petition signatures needed to start the new parish creation process – from 10% of the local population to 7.5%.
• Reducing the time local authorities can take to decide on parish council applications to a maximum of a year.
• Making it easier for community groups that have created a ‘neighbourhood plan'* to kick-start the process – removing the need for them to produce a petition.
• The Department for Communities and Local Government will also be supporting the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) and County Associations of Local Councils to help campaigns for new town and parish councils and provide them with resources.

Local Government Minister Don Foster said:

“Parish councils are a fundamental part of our local democracy, giving the people who live within a community, direct powers to run their local services. For too long the power of the parishioner has only been exercised by people who live in the countryside. 
“Many of our bustling towns and cities would benefit from the neighbourliness and local insight of the parish perspective so today I’m making it easier for people, wherever they live, to close up the democratic gap in their own community by creating their own parish council.”
The process for creating parishes will continue to be robust, with the local council retaining the power to decide whether a new parish should be set up. The difference for campaigners and local councils will be a far easier, quicker and more democratic process."

Interested campaigners should visit the National Association of Local Councils ‘Create a Council’ website and contact them for further information. See  www.createacouncil.nalc.gov.uk

*The Localism Act 2011 introduced statutory Neighbourhood Planning in England. It enables communities to draw up a Neighbourhood Plan for their area and is intended to give communities more of a say in the development of their local area. These plans are being used by communities to decide the future of the places where new homes, shops and offices to be built, what new buildings should look like and grant planning permission for the new buildings.  

Ian McNabb of 'The Icicle Works' to revisit the Yorkie

Legendary Liverpool singer-songwriter and former frontman of  The Icicle Works Ian McNabb will be bringing his electric – acoustic tour to the Yorkshire House in Lancaster at 8:30pm on Saturday 19 October 2013, performing tracks from his latest release ‘Eclectic Warrior’ in addition to songs from his solo career and Icicle Works days.

Ian McNabb has been acclaimed as one of the finest singer-songwriters Britain has produced, emerging from the 1980’s Liverpool music scene as songwriter, lead singer and guitar player with The Icicle Works.  Their initial run of hit singles  (Love Is A Wonderful Colour, Birds Fly, When It All Comes Down, Evangeline, Understanding Jane, Little Girl Lost) has been followed by a distinguished solo career, including a Mercury Prize Nomination for the 1994 album ‘Head Like A Rock’ which was recorded with Neil Young’s band ‘Crazy Horse’. You can find his discography at www.ianmcnabb.com and many, many videos on youtube. For those who like a lot of facts with their sounds there are plenty on his wikipedia page too.

Long Lost Band
But it's being there and live that makes the experience. Now in his third decade as a recording artist, Ian continues to write stunning songs with warmth, humour, cynicism and grandeur and continues to tour his unique electric–acoustic show to packed venues around the country. His exceptional 2012 show at the Yorkshire House sold out with a very appreciative crowd as did his entire UK tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Icicle Works.

Local favorites The Long Lost Band will be supporting Ian for the 4th time now. Those who have heard their excellent first album 'The Big Light Secret’ will be looking forward to their second, due out later this year. (See http://www.thelonglostband.com/).

Tickets for the Yorkshire House gig on Saturday 19 October 2013 cost £10 and are available in advance (plus £1 bf) from www.ianmcnabb.com.

The sweetest guy in rock ‘n’ roll – a legend as far as I’m concerned – Alan McGee (Creation Records founder)
‘A pure energy musician’ – Billy Talbot (Crazy Horse)
‘He’s A Genius’ – Q Magazine
‘One of the best songwriters the city has ever produced’ – Stuart Maconie

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Local residents help put pride back into their streets

Nominations from the public have helped to set Lancaster City Council's new Street Pride programme for 2013/14.

More than 20 areas around the district will benefit from Street Pride, which kicks off on Monday, 21st October on Pinewood Close in Lancaster.

13 nominations from the public have successfully helped to set the programme, with the remainder coming from local councillors.

“Getting the community involved with Street Pride is key to helping to make it  a success," says Councillor David Smith, Cabinet member for Environmental Services, "and it doesn’t stop with nominating the areas that we will be targeting – everyone has a part to play in keeping our district clean.

“Street Pride doesn’t replace our regular cleaning programme, but rather complements it in areas that may not otherwise be able to be targeted.  It also gives residents the chance to get involved.

“If your street hasn’t been chosen, you can still play your part by helping to organise a community litter pick or other event to build some pride in your area and to help keep the streets clean.”

Street Pride is a series of deep cleans in which a hit squad of city council workers moves into areas where there is a large amount of litter, dirt and overgrown vegetation to give them a thorough clean.

The city council works with other public agencies on Street Pride with the police, Lancashire County Council, the Probation Service and the voluntary sector all playing a part. 

• More details on the scheme, including how to organise a community litter pick, can be found at www.lancaster.gov/streetpride

Schedule

21st October 2013
Pinewood Close (Lancaster)

6th November 2013
Willowfield Road
Rosedale Avenue
Burford Drive
Chedworth Avenue
Jevington Way (Heysham)

18th November 2013
Claremont Road (Morecambe)

4th December 2013
Skipton Street
Graham Street
Derby Street
Back Crescent (Morecambe)

18th December 2013
Victoria Street
Chapel Street
New Street
Union Street (Morecambe)

14th January 2014
Aberdeen Road (Lancaster)

29th January 2014
Atherton Road
Cowdrey Mews
Lloyd Close
Hutton Way (Lancaster)

11th February 2014
Gardens Grove (Morecambe)

28th February 2014
Princess Avenue
Ashton Road (Lancaster)

11th March 2014
Windermere Avenue
Blea Tarn Place
Loweswater Drive
Wastwater Drive (Morecambe)

25th March 2014
James Street
Bateman Grove
Thomas Grove
Charles Street
George Street (Morecambe)

9th April 2014
Edenvale Crescent
Brock Close
Fleet Green
Ravens Close (Lancaster)

23rd April 2014
Granville Road
Harcourt Road (Lancaster)

7th May 2014
Victoria Parade
Dallam Avenue
Thornton Avenue
Victoria Mews (Morecambe)

15th May 2014
Coverdale Road
Cavendish Street (Lancaster)

27th May 2014
Bellamy Avenue (Morecambe)

11th June 2014
Hillmount Avenue (Heysham)

8th July 2014
Kensington Road (Lancaster)

31st July 2014
Mill Lane (Bolton-Le-Sands)

20th August 2014
Thornton Grove
Arnside Crescent (Morecambe)

10th September 2014
Denny Avenue
Rawthey Road
Whiteray Road
Greta Place
Artle Place
Roeburn Place
Hindburn Place (Lancaster)

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Royal Mail sell-off good for taxpayers, argues Morecambe MP

David Morris MP
Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris has been reassuring constituents the Royal Mail privatisation is not being rushed as campaigners claim – and that there will be no closure programme of local post offices.

"As one of Britain's biggest companies it is relied upon by businesses and communities throughout the UK," he says of the privatisation plans. "However, with the number of letters we send declining and online shopping increasing, Royal Mail needs to have the freedom to compete with the internet, smart phones and international postal operators.

"It is important that people have the facts right about what privatisation means. By allowing Royal Mail access to private capital to invest, hard-pressed taxpayers will no longer have to provide the money for investment," he argues. 

"Also, a change in Royal Mail ownership does not trigger any change in the provision of the universal postal service," he claims. "Royal Mail will continue to be obliged to deliver six days a week to urban and rural areas alike at the same, affordable prices. Free services for the blind and the armed forces will also not be affected by a change in ownership. Any changes to the uniform nature of the service or its minimum requirements would require new primary legislation.

"The Government have no plans for such changes and any suggestions otherwise are completely unfounded.

"I want to make it absolutely clear that the Post Office is not for sale," he insists, noting that the Royal Mail and the Post Office are separate entities. "Unlike Labour, there will be no closure programme under this Government which is providing £1.34 billion in funding over four years to maintain a network of at least 11,500 branches across the UK. Royal Mail and the Post Office are natural partners and the post office network will continue to provide services to Royal Mail under a ten year agreement signed last year.

"Furthermore, the Chief Executive of Royal Mail has also said it would be 'unthinkable' that there would not always be a strong commercial relationship between the two companies.

"Royal Mail and the Post Office are separate companies with independent Boards. Royal Mail is the company that delivers parcels and letters and is the provider of the universal service. The Post Office is a nationwide network of branches offering a range of postal, Government and financial services.

"There will be no Post Office closure programme and the Government is investing £1.34 billion of funding to revitalise the network and make sure it is sustainable in the long term.

The Communication Workers Union is none too impressed with the Government's plans, as this cheeky leaflet indicates...

"I am pleased the Government is giving people the opportunity to buy shares in Royal Mail and is providing free shares to 150,000 employees," he added. "I strongly believe it is right to enable the chance for those hard working employees to share in the success of their company.

"The Communication Workers Union has accepted that modernisation of Royal Mail, for example more automation, means the company needs fewer people. In the last ten years of public ownership, 50,000 jobs have been lost in the company. Of course, nobody wants to see job losses but, regardless of ownership Royal Mail must continue to modernise and become more efficient."

Mr Morrise also denies the Government is rushing a sale, a claim made by the National Federation of SubPostmasters, which has asked  the Government to safeguard the future of thousands of post offices by halting the sell off.

"It has been two years since the Postal Services Act 2011 was voted on by Parliament," he says. "It has also been five years since the Independent Review of The Postal Sector led by Richard Hooper recommended a sale as a means to access private capital and commercial disciplines.

"I can also assure you the Government is not selling off Royal Mail cheaply," he said. "It is committed to getting the best value for the taxpayer. As this is a commercial transaction, the Government will follow normal commercial practices in setting and publicising the share price.

"I know that Royal Mail provides a lifeline to people and businesses in rural areas. Regardless of ownership, Royal Mail will still be the UK's designated universal service provider and will continue to provide deliveries to all UK addresses, rural and urban, on a six days a week basis.

"Ofcom has made it clear that following a review of the needs of consumers and businesses, it is ruling out any changes to the scope of the universal service."

We post his statement here, near verbatim, and wait to see what happens – and we will most certainly highlight it should his reassurances prove misplaced in future months.

Campaigners push to save Altham Meadows Dementia Centre. Board Meeting venue change

Members of the Lancaster District Pensioners Campaign Group (LDPCG)  will be presenting a petition of over 1200 signatures at the next meeting of the Lancashire Care trust demanding that Morecambe's Altham Meadows Dementia Centre remains open, with all 16 beds and the protection of all existing services and staff. They would like as many people as possible to join them.

The venue for the Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust board meeting has been changed, and it will now be at  Preston Business Centre, Training Room 2, Watling Street Road, Fulwood, Preston PR2 8DY, at 9.00am on 3rd October 2013. 

Time is short as, despite local protest and the concerns raised by councillors (see news story), Altham Meadows is due to close in December - before alternative provision is in place near Blackpool.

Camapaigners against the changes argue that moving this vital service to a location that is difficult for users to access endangers the viability of  person-centred care, for both the user and those who care for them .

To visit the new service from Lancaster district on public transport would entail travelling on three bus journeys each way - an exhausting or impossible option for many of the frail and elderly clients and their  carers - many of whom are their equally elderly spouses. Forcing cognitively vulnerable and often physically frail people into long, stressful and unfamiliar journeys into locations far from home at all times of the year, is clearly an economic and political decision, as anyone with  professional experience of this user group can predict its potentially adverse effects.

"This issue is of paramount importance," says LDPCG spokesperson Dilys Greenhalgh, "because it will affect an increasing number of local residents.

 A consultation too place earlier in the year by the Trust, which offered two options for addressing dementia community and inpatient services. The first proposed a single site in Blackpool with extensive community services. The second suggested two sites in Blackpool and Blackburn with reduced community services. The prior decision to remove the local service at Altham Meadow for the people in this area who suffer from dementia has not been consulted on.  The current estimated dementia prevalence in the Lancaster area is 1985 people.

There are currently 17,607 people aged 65 and over in Lancashire with dementia and at least 317 people with dementia in Lancashire under the age of 65. Numbers are expected to increase to 25,611 (by 2025), a projected increase of nearly 50%.

In the Lancaster area alone, there were an estimated 456 new cases of dementia in 2012, with 14 admissions to specialist dementia beds.

NHS Lancashire argues evidence shows there is a clear reduction in the need for specialist dementia inpatient beds. We'd like to see that evidence.

• Anyone who would like to support the Lancaster District Pensioners Campaign Group on 3rd October and need or could help with  transport,  please contact Jean Taylor on 01524 61295 

Vampires stalk Lancaster in new book from A.S. Chambers... Oh my!

Sam Spallucci is a whiskey drinking, chain-smoking, trumpet playing, sci-fi watching investigator of the paranormal. When we start a new job all we normally encounter is overbearing managers, jealous co-workers and a dodgy toilet that needs that certain wiggle to make it flush. During Sam's first week, based in the small university city of Lancaster, he is abducted by a cult of Satanic actors, has to baby-sit a new-born vampire, investigates a teenage poltergeist and escapes the clutches of a werewolf that works in a local zoo. Not your usual first week on a new job, but certainly one you will never forget...

Welcome to the alternate Lancaster of Samuel C Spallucci, created by locally-based author A.S. Chambers, who will be signing copies of a collection of stories, The Casebook Of Sam Spallucci, at Lancaster Library on Saturday 28th September. John Freeman caught up with Austin recently to discuss his character and career...

Austin S.Chambers is a writer of urban fantasy and the creator of the long-suffering investigator of the paranormal, Samuel C Spallucci. Austin grew up in Northamptonshire (the place where they used to make shoes) but now lives in Lancaster (the place that should be the county town of Lancashire, but isn’t).

He thinks he is somewhere in his 40’s but, to be honest, he lost count back in the year 2001 when he realised that there had not been a nuclear apocalypse which would leave him with special powers and that hover cars were still a very long way off in the future.

His first published book, The Casebook Of Sam Spallucci is available for sale on Amazon and he thinks that you will enjoy its fusion of Film Noir, urban fantasy and humour. However, he does feel that your gran would not like it for a Christmas present as there is a slightly rude scene that might make her blush somewhat involving a college chaplain, a young male student and a jar of mayonnaise.

(Having said that, she probably won’t send you another pair of those hideous socks again which might be beneficial in the longer term).

A.S. Chambers
John Freeman: Austin, this new book is set in Lancaster – have you always lived in the city or has it just grown on you?

Austin: I am actually a native of Northamptonshire. I studied Religious Studies at Lancaster University, specialising in Mythology, Christianity and ancient religions. During my time there, I fell under the curse of the Pendle Witches and never left this wonderful city.

John: What was the inspiration for the lead character?

Austin: When I was a teenager I wrote a novella entitled "Behold The Wolf" which was about a private eye tracking down a bloodthirsty lycanthrope. A school-friend read the first draft and said it sounded like "Sam Spade meets The Wolfman". I liked that analogy and sort of went with the idea. Hence, Sam Spallucci was born. If you want to know how he got his surname then you'll have to read Sam Spallucci: Ghosts From The Past due out next year. ;-)

John: How long have you been writing the stories? I'm assuming the tales in this collection have been published over time?

Austin: I've been writing urban-fantasy since I was a teenager. Sam and his escapades have evolved over the years until I finally sat down about 18 months ago and made the conscious effort to put fingers to keyboard. Casebook is the first in a series of books I am in process of constantly writing. They are about Sam and other characters who I will gradually introduce and explore in parallel books which will take place centrally over a period of about seven months (in their universe) leading to an event cryptically referred to as The Divergence where we see the rise of the "big bad", Kanor.

John: Setting a story in a real town is always a challenge – have you used real places in Lancaster, or have names been changed to protect the potentially maligned/ compared to the spawn of the devil?

Austin: Yes, this is an area where I have to be very, very careful. At the end of the day, all my stories are fiction. I actually have an afterword in Casebook explaining this.

Obviously, Sam lives in Lancaster, but it is a parallel version of the our city. There are places that the reader will recognise: Dalton Square, Williamson Park, Penny Street etc. However, there are big differences such as Luneside University which is based down in the old Williamson works by the Lune.

Also, the characters take their influences from many sources. They are very much a fusion of people who I have met over the years and, indeed, certain aspects of my character which I look at and play with. In the forthcoming Ghost From The Past, Sam's nemesis is his old college mate Malcolm Wallace and here I sort of play with my own outlooks on life in the two opposing characters: one hopeful, one cynical.

John: What kind of novels do you like to read? Any favourite authors?

Austin: I will read just about anything. When I was a kid it was all Stephen King and Anne Rice, but as I got older I broadened out a lot more drawing in classics and other contemporary authors such as Douglas Adams (whose humour is a big influence on my writing style). Like Sam, I am a complete sci-fi nerd and I have bookshelves lined with Doctor Who novels and books from the Star Wars expanded universe. If Abrams messes with the timeline I will set an army of constructs on him! I am also being drawn into the growing world of Steampunk. I adore the fashions and the richness of the whole movement although I don't think I could ever manage to write in that style.

John: Given that the collection is independently published, did you edit the book as well as write it – or have you had input from others?

Austin: The work is entirely self-edited, so if you find glaring errors or typos feel free to let me know via my website (www.aschambers.co.uk) and I will sort them for the reprint which should coincide with the publication of Ghosts.

I am very self-critical and went through the book about five times before I was satisfied. I found the most useful stage was reading it aloud to friends from a printed manuscript because clunky phrasing and spelling errors stood out so much easier than just reading from a laptop.

John: Do you think more local authors are publishing their own titles these days, rather than seek a publisher?

Austin: Ah, I have very strong, and probably controversial, views on this matter. When I was a kid, publishers were quite happy for you to send them your work. They'd read the covering letter and, if they liked your spin, they would then read your manuscript. However, J.K.Rowling inadvertently ruined all this. Since she succeeded in getting the Harry Potter books published, a lot more potential authors have felt that they are the next big thing. They quickly scribble something down, badger their friends to give them five star reviews on Goodreads and they think their piece of work is perfect.

Unfortunately, it normally isn't and the publishers have gotten sick of being sent piles and piles of half-worked manuscripts. As a result they will now only look at someone with a track record. This means that the newbie to the scene has to self-publish and get a proven track record before a publisher will even look at them which can be terribly laborious and very time-consuming. I have actually had night-terrors about Kindle formatting!

Having said that, self-publishing is actually quite liberating. It gives the author a space to experiment and try out all sorts of ideas whilst evolving themselves into a product that the big boys think they can sell successfully.

John: You've done a lot of local marketing - library signings, beer mats, promo cards: has it gained a good response?

Austin: You've seen the beer mats? Excellent! Wait until you see the t-shirts, badges and the shopping bags :-). The marketing has certainly raised my profile. My "likes" on Facebook have started to rise and I have also seen sales on Amazon increase.

I hope this will turn into friendly faces at Lancaster Library's book-signing on the 28th September, or I will spend the 29th with a terrible hangover!

Publishing a book is equal parts researching, writing and marketing. You have to balance these or it just won't sell. I love Casebook. It still makes me chuckle and I know other people will enjoy it too; I just have to keep up with that marketing to encourage people to read it and enter into the humorous and shadowy world of Sam.

John: If the collection is a success, what's next for Samuel C Spallucci? Are you already working on new stories? Has anyone picked up the TV rights yet?

Austin: Casebook  is actually the second novel-sized book that I have completed. A couple of years ago I penned Fallen Angel, which I consider to be my magnus opus.  It was about this angel who gets booted out of Heaven for a crime he did not commit and his trials and tribulations on Earth as a mortal leading up to armageddon and then, consequentially, The Divergence. Sam actually featured as a side character in this.

However, after writing the book, it soon became apparent that I could not use it to launch my publishing career; it was too complex and referenced things that would happen in other books which I had not yet written. Hence it has been put away until I've worked through my Sam books and those which run parallel to them.

Like I mentioned earlier, Sam Spallucci: Ghosts From The Past is due out next year as a direct continuation on from Casebook and there are also short stories of mine out there. You can either download them for free as PDFs from my website or buy them in Kindle form from Amazon.

As for a TV serialisation... well, that would be rather nice!

John: What one piece of advice would you offer aspiring authors seeking an opening in today's publishing world?

Austin: Enjoy it. If it's stressful, then it isn't for you. Getting published by the big boys is not the be all and end all, just a nice added extra.

• Austin will be signing copies of his books at Lancaster Library on Saturday 28th September from 10.00am until 3.00pm. More details on the virtual-lancaster.net calendar

• Visit A.S. Chambers website at www.aschambers.co.uk or follow him on Facebook (A.S.Chambers) or stalk him on Twitter (@ASChambersUK) where you can find various bits and bobs regarding books, films TV series and whatever drops into his lap!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Police ask kids to ‘Trust Ed’



Young people in Lancashire can now get information on drugs, alcohol, bullying and e-safety from 'Trust Ed', a new website launched by Lancashire Constabulary.

‘Trust Ed’ is a one-stop shop for facts, advice and support on a wide range of crime-related issues for youngsters aged ten to fourteen.

The site, which was developed in consultation with young people across Lancashire, will provide up-to-date information on news and issues affecting the age group and will host live web chats with police officers.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Bates of Lancashire Constabulary said: “We all know prevention is better than cure and Trust Ed is a fantastic way of supporting our work with partners in educating young people about the risks that exist not just in the outside world, but online as well.

“Young people are more at risk than any other age group of falling victim to certain crimes, such as street robberies, as well as being exposed to cyber bullying and other risks, such as sexual exploitation.

“Some young people may not feel able to ask their friends questions for fear of looking stupid, and sometimes don’t feel or aren’t able to go to a parent or trusted adult about a problem.

“We want ‘Trust Ed’ to become a reliable and trusted resource that young people in the county can go to for information and advice.

“We hope it will arm users with facts about how to stay safe, the law and the potential consequences of breaking the law, allowing them to make responsible choices as they go about their everyday lives.
“We also want the site to raise awareness of a number of different crimes, warning signs to look out for amongst friends who may be a victim, where to go to get help and how to report anything worrying or suspicious.”

Mick Charnock, Head teacher of Greenlands Community Primary School in Preston said: “Our year six pupils thoroughly enjoyed being involved in the consultation and being able to contribute their views; and it is now great to see the end result.

“I think Trust Ed is a fantastic website for young people where they can get information, hear from other young people and vote on the polls on the site. It is also a useful resource for parents, carers and professionals working with young people as it houses information on a wide range of issues in one place and provides useful guides and links to a number of credible local and national organisations.”

• The ‘Trust Ed’ website can be found at www.trusted2know.co.uk