Book Review: ‘Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder’ by Jo Nesbo

Jo Nesbo is no ordinary writer. For a start he is Norwegian and writes in Norwegian (how many successful children’s books here in the UK are translated from Norwegian?), and he has a degree in Economics and Business Administration; but that’s not all: he was a journalist and also a stockbroker; he is the lead singer in a rock band called Di Derre; he played football to a high level until a bad injury forced him to quit, and he is an accomplished rock climber.

His writings include seven novels featuring a detective called ‘Harry Hole’; five novels in the ‘Doctor Proctor’ series; two ‘Olav Johansen’ novels; short stories and stand-alone novels plus one work of non-fiction. What’s even more impressive is that his works have been turned into television series and films worked on (and possibly worked on in the future) by luminaries such as Martin Scorcese; Michael Fassbender; Rebbecca Ferguson; Charlotte Gainsbourg; Leonardo DiCaprio; Denis Villeneuve; Jake Gyllenhaal; Chaninng Tatum; Tobey Maguire and Baltasar Kormakur. He has numerous awards and nominations.

I picked up ‘Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder’ knowing none of that (there is no biography in the book) and simply because I thought it would be similar to my own stories ‘Evan And The Bottom Rockets’ and ‘Evan and The Bottom Rockets On Holiday’ (to be published soon I hope; see a synopsis on this site). I noticed it some while back on a shelf in my local Tesco’s, and although I didn’t buy it until recently, I knew that I would have to change the name of the doctor in my book from Doctor Proctor in its wake. The doctor in my book is now called ‘Doctor Bottom’.

Simon And Schuster publish the book and advertise it on its cover as being by a ‘number one bestselling author’ (always bound to drive up sales) and by quoting ‘The Guardian’ as saying that it is ‘hilariously funny’; and the Big Issue: ‘wickedly entertaining’.

Having just finished the book I have to say that my son didn’t laugh once, even when farting was mentioned. It makes me feel a lot better about my books because he was laughing hard throughout those. This is not just to boast or plug my books (well just a little bit) but to make the point that whoever reviewed it in The Guardian must have read a different version than mine, or perhaps his children have a totally different sense of humour to mine.

With these reviews I often wonder just how much of the books the reviewer has actually read and just how independent they are. Sometimes I imagine a bit of you-review-me-I’ll-publish-you or other hidden links behind the scenes: perhaps I am getting a bit cynical in my middle-age. I have noticed that once a writer/book/film has become relatively successful everything else that they do seems to be given gushing praise. Once you are a best-selling author they want to like you. Once a winning formula is found that makes money a bandwagon has been created and the bottom line is in sight. I digress.

As I began to explain, I don’t think this book is particularly funny. It doesn’t actually feature much farting or other bodily functions and little boy humour, and where there is some it isn’t particularly played for laughs in the way that it should have been.

My first impression of the book from the opening chapters was that for my son’s age group (he is eight) it is quite confusing. There is a breathless quality to it because of very long sentences that need careful attention. They take the reader on a visual journey that doesn’t seem to make much sense. From the perspective of the rest of the book it is easier to understand the beginning but any parent will testify to the fact that in order to get a child to commit to being interested in a book an author must capture them straight away, because it is hard to persuade a child to listen once they have made up their minds that they don’t like a story, and they make their minds up very quickly. My son, however, is as bright as a button (again I boast but it is true) and just about kept up.

Norway, Oslo, Akerhus Fortress, Sharpsborg, the Commandant, the white teeth in the sewer: its an unusual beginning. There is, however, a familiarity about the characters (a Roald Dahl familiarity), the sad lonely girl; the short boy always being picked on; the school thugs; the fat villain; and the nutty Professor, all these characters are stereo-types to some extent. That being said, Nilly in particular is very engaging when you get used to him, especially his clever exchanges with other characters either in authority over him or bullying children.

The plot doesn’t really have a great tension and resolve mechanism for me but at least children will appreciate the happy ending even if they don’t care quite as much as they could have done. The Professor (here comes a spoiler) riding away on his motorcycle to Paris to find his lost love will not be of much interest to a little boy who thinks those sort of things are just ‘yucky’.

Overall, the book has a unique quality about it but also stereo-typical elements. It isn’t particularly funny, and might be confusing for young readers. However, from an adult point of view, it is more interesting to read than some other books for this age group. The authorial presence is strong and whether you like that or not is an entirely personal decision. It has a cleverness about it and an energy, and that, I think, is why publishers and critics went for it.

Did it do enough to entice me into buying the rest of the series? No.

Have a read and feel free to totally disagree!

Huge Study Of Anti-Depressants Published In ‘The Lancet’

Much has been made of a recent trial of anti-depressants published in ‘The Lancet’ last week (Feb.22nd 2018). The Royal College of Psychiatrists said the study “finally puts to bed the controversy on anti-depressants”. The authors suggest that many more people could benefit from the drugs and a list of the most and the least effective drugs has been published looking like this:

The most effective:
 agomelatine
 amitriptyline
 escitalopram
 mirtazapine
 paroxetine
The least effective:
 fluoxetine
 fluvoxamine
 reboxetine
 trazodone

Doctors are being told to hand out more and more of these drugs and the whole thing is being heralded as good news for sufferers of depression.

I say: be careful.

Whilst this may be the largest study of its type it still has its limitations. Dr. James Davies from the Council For Evidence-Based Psychiatry appeared on BBC Newsnight to say that the study was being spun to wrongly lead people into thinking that the drugs are more safe and effective than they actually are. On The CEP website ( the following post gives an alternative reaction to the study:

‘’Do antidepressants work? The new research proves nothing new’
By admin on 22/02/2018 in News, Psychiatric drugs
The Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry
22 February 2018
For immediate release:
Cipriani’s et al’s new research on whether antidepressants work has generated much excitement in the news media as well as the psychiatric community. The study has been represented by the Royal College of Psychiatrists as “finally putting to bed the controversy on anti-depressants“.
This statement is irresponsible and unsubstantiated, as the study actually supports what has been known for a long time, that various drugs can, unsurprisingly, have an impact on our mood, thoughts and motivation, but also differences between placebo and antidepressants are so minor that they are clinically insignificant, hardly registering at all in a person’s actual experience.
But even these differences can be accounted for. Most people on antidepressants experience some noticeable physical or mental alterations, and as a consequence realise they are on the active drug. This boosts the placebo effect of the antidepressant, helping explain these tiny differences away.
Furthermore, the trials only covered short-term antidepressant usage (8 weeks) in people with severe or moderate depression. Around 50% of patients have been taking antidepressants for more than two years, and the study tells us nothing about their effects over the long term. In fact, there is no evidence that long-term use has any benefits, and in real-world trials (STAR-D study) outcomes are very poor.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the study does not bury the controversy around the damage caused by unnecessary long-term prescribing, the costs lost to the NHS, and the associated harms and disabling withdrawal effects these drugs cause in many patients, which often last for many years.
Overall, the study’s findings are highly limited, and do not support increasing antidepressant usage. Antidepressants are already being prescribed to around 10% of the UK population, and current guidelines do not even support their use by at least one-third of these patients.
This study, and the media coverage that has accompanied it, will unfortunately do nothing to help reduce this level of unnecessary prescribing and the consequent harms.’


From my own experience (having had all of the drugs that on the ‘most effective’ list) I can say that being off anti-depressants has been better for me than taking them. Often I had intolerable side-effects, some of which were unpleasant physically, and some of which were disturbances in my mood leading me to be harsh and cruel and unfeeling, possibly even being the catalyst to some of the most damaging and dramatically bad life choices that I have made. I found that the best drugs only succeeded in flat-lining my mood and preventing me from plunging into overwhelming crisis. However, this flat mood was nothing more than basic survival and experiencing such a constant low mood could barely be called living.

Since coming off these drugs and switching to anti-psychotics I have experienced happiness again, something which was impossible under anti-depressants. Yes, I suffer from crippling anxiety and overwhelming emotions, but at least amongst these emotions there is happiness.

I have found that most doctors have very little knowledge of anti-depressants and very little idea of which to prescribe. It has been almost pot-luck in my experience. In fact, doctors seem to be poorly trained when it comes to depressive illness, which is strange considering the number of patients that turn up in surgeries needing treatment for depression.

We need much more funding for mental health treatment to provide talking therapy and an increase in the availability of adequately trained Psychiatrists and Psychologists.

My advice is, although I hate to have to say it, that medication can actually be worse for you than taking nothing at all. It’s far more important to try a range of talking therapies and alternative treatments. What’s even more difficult to have to say is that with therapies ‘you get what you pay for’. That is, if you have the money to go private and find a Psychiatrist or Psychologist you will find that the quality of your therapy is much better and more useful than you might find on the NHS (where you may have to wait for up to two years to be seen). Save up as much as you can and go private, even for a couple of months.

My conclusion is that this study is not what it is cracked up to be and has been spun to be some sort of big breakthrough – good news on depression’ – when actually the truth is much more complicated and less positive. The attitude of NHS doctors on anti-depressants is not necessarily correct; do your research, get clued up, and be ready to challenge your GPs. Don’t give up on living without anti-depressants because they are not always the answer. This study most definitely does not put the controversy around anti-depressants to bed.


‘George And The Dragon’ (Wormell, Red Fox, 2002)

According to Wikipedia Chris Wormell worked as a road-sweeper and rubbish collector (amongst other jobs) before taking up painting as a hobby. His first book: ‘An Alphabet Of Animals’, was published in 1990. Since then he has become a prize-winner with a long list of books and achievements including providing artwork for commercial advertising and designing the lion for Aston Villa’s club badge in 2016.

This particular book was published in 2002 and features a heroic mouse named George. George saves a princess (I am assuming that she is a princess) from the clutches of a huge rampaging red dragon by moving in next door it and asking for sugar. The dragon is terrified of mice and flees leaving the mouse to reap the rewards for saving the princess: lots of food and a ‘cosy little hole in the castle wall’.

The illustrations are excellent, particularly the mighty dragon and his destruction of the castle. The words are in a familiar style to young children: ‘Far, far away in the high, high mountains in a deep, deep valley, in a dark, dark cave…’ but the plot is a twist on the tale of brave St. George. A dragon being scared of mice is a device I will resist the temptation to analyse; suffice to say that very young children will love the book and adults will appreciate its brevity when reading the seventh story of the night; it’s the perfect length for its target audience.

It’s a pleasure to read but the audiobook is well worth getting also. The narration by Brian Blessed delivered with characteristic gusto.

Overall, ‘George And The Dragon’ is a book well worth buying for young children.

Joining The Circus

My shaking finger was poised and ready; I was aiming at his head. I had never shot royalty before and now it all came down to this one moment.

He was on the other side of a small room in conversation and bound to turn towards me. I had dug myself into a real hole. I had one shot; failure was unthinkable.

The conversation seemed to be coming to a close. The back of his royal head was beginning to twist and reveal one of the most famous faces in the world. Instantly, I fired.

Prince Charles immediately stopped and closed his eyes, half blinded, his face screwing up in displeasure and discomfort. I could hear him muttering expletives before he regained his composure.

I could have died. The flash-gun had unleashed a grossly disproportionate payload of white light into his eyes as he turned from his dutiful examination of the shop owner’s wares.

I immediately looked at Camilla standing directly opposite me, barely a few yards away. Her eyes met mine and in that moment we both understood each other. A secret smile, the faintest of expressions, told me that it was alright; she understood and she sympathised and I wasn’t going to the Tower of London to be consigned to a life of torturous incarceration in its infamous dungeons.

Following Lady Diana was like replacing Keith Moon. The media scrum that was never far away, the circus that Charles so obviously despised, was interested only in insulting and deriding her. She had only had bad press, a little like Linda McCartney, the woman who had dared to marry Beatle Paul. I didn’t have a particularly high opinion of Camilla or any of the royal family. That moment of kindness, however, was very gracious.

Inside the nauseous claustrophobia of the tiny Cornish art shop she had been standing facing me, so close that we could have whispered to one another, and I hadn’t been sure whether I should photograph her or not from such close range. She couldn’t have avoided me and I could have clicked away a hundred shots. I found it excruciatingly embarrassing and couldn’t make myself do it.

I felt that I couldn’t initiate contact because I was supposed to be invisible; I wasn’t to interfere in royal business, I was there to document it in a silent and respectful manner: but It was almost as bad ignoring her as it was invading her privacy by shoving my lens in her face. Looking back, when I replay it in my mind, as I do sometimes, I wish I had asked her permission for a photograph. I think she might have said yes.

As far as I was concerned coverage of the royal family was just another media soap opera designed to sell newspapers. I found the media’s obsession with them distasteful and embarrassing. There was no doubting, however, that Prince Charles was one of the most recognisable celebrities in the world and that upsetting him was a big deal for a naïve photographer like me.

Charles didn’t look at me once as he filed past, almost brushing my jacket, as though he didn’t want to give me the satisfaction of knowing that I had upset him. It was just another chapter in his daily battle with the paparazzi he so despised.

I was in a strange dream and had been from the moment that my bad-tempered boss had called me up to tell me that he was sending me to photograph royalty. It was my thirty-second birthday and the very day that I was moving in to my new home in my new city, living in my new life and doing my new job. All of a sudden I was facing a very different assignment to the routine cheque presentations I had been expecting. It came out of nowhere and when I asked for advice from my boss (as he had urged me to do a matter of days before) I received an ear-full of abuse.

I loaded my equipment up, strapped some of it to my back like a marine going into battle, and wandered through the drizzle into the circus scrum.

My first instinct was simply to follow the pack and do whatever they did. The village was tiny and most of the shops were too small for more than one photographer to go in with the royals. With unusual fairness and civility, it was decided that we would take it in turns.

A few of us followed them into a tiny church shortly after their arrival. As soon as the doors opened the Women’s Institute burst with fervent enthusiasm into song and did for Prince Charles’ considerable ears what I was later to do for his eyes. The royal couple did well to remain in the building and not turn around immediately and flee.

Later, my turn was to be inside the tiny art shop. That was my showdown with the heir to the throne.

When the showdown was over, back in the office, I went through the usual routine of cataloguing the pictures, choosing the best, printing out photocopies of them and delivering them somewhat warily to the picture desk where my boss may or may not be lurking and poised for attack.

At the end of the day I made my way to my new home. My wife and I sat on the floor in the conservatory, overlooking the wood, looking up at the stars and sharing a takeaway meal whilst waiting for our furniture to arrive. We felt excited and optimistic but I was living through an out-of-body experience. I could scarcely process what was happening to me, but a small, rational, part of my mind, didn’t trust any of it.

‘Wild Boars Cook’ by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall (Puffin 2008)

Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall team up again for the sequel to ‘Meet Wild Boars’ in which the boars, ever hungry, cook their own food.

Boris, Morris, Horace and Doris spy a recipe for a massive pudding after Doris begins to eat a cookbook. Utterly obsessed by food, the wild boars fantasize about ingredients and somehow manage to create an enormous pudding – which they subsequently eat in ‘ten seconds flat’ and in the rudest possible way. Still hungry they find a recipe for a massive cookie.

The appallingly badly behaved boars are good fun and the illustrations are very cleverly done (how would you illustrate a wild boar being selfish?) throughout. Some prefer the first book (‘Meet Wild Boars’) but I found this to be funnier and so did my kids. We still talk about pizzas ‘as big as the moon’!

I would recommend this book for parents with small children up to the age of six.

Book Review: ‘Meet Wild Boars’ (Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall 2005 Puffin)

Two experienced and award winning women collaborated on this 2005 picture book introducing naughty, dirty and disgusting wild boars. Meg Rosoff is a well-known writer, mainly of novels, and Sophie Blackall is equally as well known for her illustrations.

Children will enjoy the stinky wild boars especially when they fart and poo (always gets laughs with children – and me actually) and are generally badly behaved. They do all the things that children would love to do but aren’t allowed; they are anarchic and foul, mean, and downright nasty.

The book is about as long as is required for a picture book and works well for children up to 7 I would guess. My young children loved it although it wasn’t one of my favourites.

Memorable moments include Horace farting and soaking himself in the toilet; stinky Doris; and the pile of poo on the last page.

Worth getting hold of!

Ten Writing Tips


Here are some writing tips that you might not have found elsewhere.


1 Make sure you are comfortable


Writing can wreck your back unless you have a decent chair and a good posture. Writing whilst you are uncomfortable can be an unwanted distraction.


2 Make sure you are not hungry or thirsty


Being dehydrated or very hungry will affect your ability to write and concentrate so don’t push time just because you have found some inspiration.  If you manage to eat and drink a little you will probably be able to pick it up again afterwards, only this time, with better concentration.


3 Make sure you have the right conditions to write in


I always write with music in the background.  If you write with music blocking out background noises you will be able to keep your concentration.  I find music that I know really well doesn’t distract me but does keep other distractions out. Any random piece of conversation that I hear immediately stops me in my tracks.  Everyday noises are a real sentence breaker. Create a little cocoon of creativity


4 Make sure you are prepared


Being prepared before you write is a must.  You will save time if you plan properly.  If you set off on a book and half-way through you still aren’t sure what age group you are writing for or get stuck not knowing where you are headed or who your main character is you will end up having to re-write most of it. You need to know what your audience is and what kind of book you are writing.


5 Use random words


Random words can really create ideas.  There are different ways to get random words.  There are tools on the internet or you could just randomly open a dictionary.  Do people have dictionaries anymore?


6 Make sure you can avoid writer’s block


If your planning is held up by being stuck for ideas for flash fiction or a short story, an internet article or something else, and you are sitting at your desk with your head in your hands, have the courage to write the first sentence that comes into your head. I did this with one of my favourite short stories.  Out of the blue I came up with:


‘“You’re all slaves!” The Prophet raised his arms and violently shook his hands that were held together by the super-electronic shackles, his defiant voice pouring scorn upon their android posturing.’


I had no idea that I was going to write science fiction.  Where it came from I have no idea.


7 Write more than one story at a time


I’m sure that there is advice out there that will tell you to concentrate on one thing at a time.  You will never get anything done if you have more than one project on the go at the same time they will say. I disagree.  I find that having three or four books going at the same time helps me.  I don’t spend time at my desk with writer’s block.  If I’m stuck I’ll go to another one of my books and write for a while.  Some days I’m only in the mood for one or two of them.  I find that I can actually get a lot done this way.


8 Don’t let other people’s opinions destroy your originality


Time and time again I read about the importance of asking for feedback from other people and the absolute necessity of using editors and attending writing courses or joining local writer’s groups. There are occasions where feedback is good.  I read my children’s stories to my son and learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t. However, I think originality is the x-factor that makes great authors great and I would hate to change my style because of someone else’s opinion (including agents or publishers).  Where is the satisfaction in writing exactly what you think will get published even if you hate it? It’s much better to be published for writing like yourself and no-one else.  It’s your project and it’s your right to do it exactly as you please. Break the rules! All the best art breaks the rules!


9 If you are not enjoying it it’s probably no good


When you have that buzz about what you have just written it’s probably good.  If you are bored the chances are that your audience will be also.


10 Don’t work too hard


One of the good things about being a writer is that it is a pleasure and a thrill to feel your creativity flowing.  Making it too much like hard work is going to turn you off writing. Give yourself a break and finish at a reasonable time. Give yourself enough time off and don’t be afraid to admit that it just isn’t working at any particular time. So go and do something else. Sir Elton John gives himself a very short amount of time to write a song in.  If it isn’t flowing after that he just gives up and does something else.


Book Review: ‘The Emperor Of Absurdia’

Macmillan Children’s Books published ‘The Emperor Of Absurdia’ back in 2006. The author and illustrator Chris Riddell is award-winning and wrote another favourite of mine, ‘Wendel’s Workshop’. See that review for more information about him.

The illustrations are consistent throughout and done very well. Children will love immersing themselves in them.

The theme of absurdity is down to the concept of the child having a dream that is influenced by all the things in his bedroom: his toys, pictures and books. At the beginning the concept is that this is a story about a real emperor in a real but very strange world. The twist at the end is that it is all a dream.

The words and pictures work well apart from some pictures not having enough words underneath them. I found myself wanting to dwell on the pictures but needing to move on because the words had run out.

Some small children may be a little scared by the sequence with the wild-looking dragon but it does add a little excitement to the story.

I found that the pictures at the front and back were good to stop and look at because of the amount of detail in them.

The ending works and my children haven’t tired of reading it.

It’s very nice in the hardback version.

Very good but not quite 5 stars.

Book Review: ‘Christopher Nibble’ by Charlotte Middleton

Charlotte Middleton wrote and illustrated this excellent little book about a guinea pig saving the dandelion from extinction and learning to love growing things.

I’m not going to analyse the book and wax lyrical about its eco-friendly theme or regurgitate the blurb. I’m just going to mention what works.

The illustrations have a sustained and original style, which is good because it helps children to immerse themselves into its unique world.

The choice of guinea-pig pants in the front and end of the book is always of interest: “which pants would you choose daddy?”

The words are easy to read and the decision not to rhyme everything (like most children’s authors feel the need to do) was a good one.

The amusing books in the library are fun for adults to find too: ‘War & Pizza’ anyone?

The double page spread of Christopher blowing the dandelion seeds works nicely.

The end is nice if not spectacular, amusing, or unexpected.

This is a book that is a pleasure to read and doesn’t try too hard. The author is wise to understand that at bedtime a gentle story can be just the ticket.

I, however, won’t be wearing pants and wellies in the garden any time soon.

Book Review: ‘Pulling The Trigger’

This is a book for sufferers of OCD, anxiety, panic attacks and related depression, currently sitting on top of Amazon’s search lists for books on those topics. Adam Shaw, a successful businessman and founder of a mental health charity, reveals his problems with OCD and how Lauren Callaghan’s approach to treating him worked. The book was published by Trigger Press in 2016, which is a publishing company created by Shaw (Managing Director) and Callaghan (Director).

As a sufferer from obsessive thoughts, anxiety and depression, and diagnosed with BPD I bought the book hoping for at least something helpful.

Reading through the book I remember being very frustrated as page after page (85 of them including the introduction to be precise) just detailed Adam Shaw’s problems and kept saying how wonderful the new approach to treatment was without going on to spell it out. It actually made me quite angry.

In the second part of book the back-slapping continued. I finished the book wishing that they had just written: ‘Adam had OCD and Lauren told him to accept it’. It would have saved me a lot of time, effort and cash. The conclusion is all that you really need to read.

Accepting that you have OCD and panic attacks is very difficult. Embracing it feels wrong. It is not for the faint-hearted and I can envisage many feeling that this approach is not for them. I’m not criticising the technique because it obviously works for some people. I just think this could have been an article on a website and not a book because it keeps repeating itself all the way through.

I would advise people to google treatment for OCD and read about it online instead.