Day Return to Cocoa Yard

Out now! Waterstones, Barnes&Noble, or ebook at Amazon:

“Compelling page-turner” – Goodreads…

“It’s a great read – and an outstanding debut from Mark- for many reasons.
First and foremost, you cannot stop turning the pages. Because the characters are real, and believable, possessed of the same hot yearnings, painful aches and deep joys that we all experience. Mark describes the characters as ‘underdogs’, but I would simply refer to a wide range of ordinary humans, trying their utmost to dispel loneliness and inject joy into their lives.
“It’s difficult to pick a favourite among the 16 stories. It might be the deft plot twists of ‘Bedfellows’ or ‘Mystery Came to Dinner’, or maybe ‘Repas Heureux’, where the narrator’s long-deferred joy made me tearful. The darker stories are equally compelling. Sometimes we have no choice but to embrace violence and the Reaper.
“I might have to select the longest story, ‘Day Return to Cocoa Yard’, as the standout. Wanderlust meets stagnation. With a poignant ending.
Also worth stressing is how Mark handles the running order. The different flavours and lengths fall just where they should, ending in two highly confessional tales. ‘Orange Day’ must have taken some pluck to write.
Overall, you get nearly 200 pages of Mark’s deep and witty understanding of the human condition. Once started, the pages soon turn themselves. Difficult not to like anything about this collection.”

Dear Reader While I’ve been Away…

… I’ve been writing this book, to be published on 28th August. Pre-order now at Waterstones and W H Smith

… Some of the sixteen stories and novellas are based on characters I met on my Ottermobile travels, as a forerunner to the novel “Here Am I Sitting in a Tin Can.” I do hope you’ll show continued support by ordering your copy of “Day Return to Cocoa Yard” today.

Many thanks,

Mark x

World Mental Health Day

“Haiku for the Music”

Icy slice of Christ

Into winter hinterland

Healed Achilles heel

Hello again folks and yes it’s been a while.  It’s been too long.

World Mental Health Day came and went last week. And I didn’t notice, and here’s why…

Followers of my other blog, and they are too few and too far between, will know that earlier in the year I was dead, for just a nano-second I suspended in that no-man’s land between breathing and not breathing. I can talk about it now, and yes I can even laugh about it, which I do often. And the reason I laugh about it often is that I’m happy, my life has changed and I’m glad my life has changed. But no that’s wrongly-worded, it’s the other way round, I changed my life, and I’m glad I changed my life. And that’s the purpose of this blog, to show that any of us on the brink of suicide can make a different choice right then and there, and afterwards make other different choices for our lives.

I’ll talk about the different choices I made anon, but first let me record the things I’d be missing if I were dead.

Television, not the shit that stinks out our living-rooms night after night, other, more important produce.

Sky Sports’ wonderful coverage of England’s XI winning the World Cup, Stokes and his manly tattooed heroism, Bumble and his comedy unwittingly a class above most of the piss-poor stand-ups having the nerve to appear on Mock the Week and call themselves comics, colourful crowds having the time of their lives basking in the atmosphere befitting a game played with bigger and softer balls.

Comedy, not the shit aforementioned, the stuff that’s produced in the Houses of Parliament, as Warhol-barneted Boris and his friends and counterparts get their fifteen minutes making the most hilarious balls-up of Brexit and everything else imaginable. The useless fuckers of all hues have had me in stitches for months, and whereas once I’d never miss an episode of Have I Got News For You, which now wants either decommissioning or a kick up the arse, I tune into a programme simply called The News, a half-hour barrel of laughs with smirking Laura Kuenssberg as MC. (Mmmmm. Laura Kuenssberg, I haven’t quite been able to decide if I’d want to shag her or not. But I digress).

Strictly Come Dancing, and here I make a confession… that once upon a time I’d dump this in the toilet with the rest of the shit, but yes, now I’m a convert. It’s simply brilliant, and if I were dead I’d be missing out on the best series so far. The production values are amazing and the standard of entries is increasing year on year. How could I miss my old mate Kelvin Fletcher and his impressive treasure chest and rear of the year gyrating provocatively to the rumba? Seriously mate, you’re a natural, pack in driving tractors and turn professional. If you don’t get to the bouncing floor of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom I’m not renewing my licence. Strictly-speaking you’re all man and odds-on winner of the glitter ball.

But if Kelvin’s all man, Giovanni takes the biscuit. He’s absolutely gorgeous and I shouldn’t be a bit surprised if I had a crush on him. And I’m not the only one; I was watching with my girlfriend last night and talk got round to the proverbial “free pass”, which in her case was a threesome with me and Giovanni (to which I was all-too-quickly giving consent) and I reciprocated by plumping for Nadiya – not the one who bakes cakes (though a post-coital slice of Victoria Sponge is not to be sniffed at) – the Ukranian goddess who dances. None of this would ever happen of course, we were just having a giggle, but the thought of it’s enough to make me appreciate the life I still have.

To be serious for a minute, other things have happened since the day I hung from the joists, since the day when my Achilles heel, the orange fug of depression I’d lived with all my life finally got me beat.

Firstly, I sent my anthology to a publisher and, after several weeks, they offered a publishing contract and an advance! All my life I had the ambition to get my work on the shelves of Waterstones and finally I made it! At the time of writing Return to Cocoa Yard is going through an edit, but all being well it’ll come out sometime in the spring of 2020. I’m naturally delighted and excited about this, and none of it would’ve happened if the belt around my neck hadn’t snapped. And there, right there, was my epiphany, that I should concentrate on prose. So I’m working on the sequel now, called Here Am I Sitting in my Tin Can, excerpts from which can be seen on this site:

Secondly, I’ve been sharing my stories (fictitious and otherwise) to audiences far and wide. I recently ran a masterclass for ITV VIPs and it was great, I was great, they were great.  And I want to do more of it; I have important stories (fictitious and otherwise) to tell.

Thirdly I’ve started doing some teaching, giving something back to young people just starting out, their whole lives in front of them, doors and opportunities to be opened for them. Again it’s something I always wanted to do, and now I’m doing it. And it feels great.

And finally, I’ve turned my hand to other things, other hobbies, simple things that have always been important to me, far more important than I knew.  Things to fill my life with joy and make it worth getting up in the morning for.  I’m considering buying a new guitar again for instance.

In other words and in peroration (one of my favourites!) I’ve changed my life. None of this has been easy, I’ve had to work hard at it, but all of this has been possible. And is possible, not just for me, for anyone. True I couldn’t have done all this without a lot of hard work and commitment and a lot of help from those I love, and they are not too few and far between. But most of this I’ve done for myself, and I’m glad I did it, I’m glad I made different choices, and I’m glad to say I have no plans whatsoever to allow my Achilles heel dig its way into my life this coming winter.

Thank you, yes thank you, for the music.

Moving House

Loyal readers might be interested to know that this diary is now a novel called “Here Am I Sitting in my Tin Can”. This is serialised on and if you click on “blog” you can read excerpts from the novel. Please note that these are in reverse order so to get the flow you might want to scroll down to “older posts” and start from the beginning.

I’m aware that there is still traffic on this ottermobile site, so want to post a diversion to my current work.

Many many thanks for your support, and I hope to see you following me at

Mark x

Important Traffic News

Loyal readers of this blog might be interested to know that these stories are now a novel called “Here Am I Sitting in my Tin Can”. This is serialised on and if you click on “blog” you can read excerpts from the novel. Please note that these are in reverse order so to get the flow you might want to scroll down to “older posts” and start from the beginning.

I’ve been made aware that there is still traffic on this ottermobile site, so wanted to post a diversion sign to my current work.

Many many thanks for your support, and I hope to see you over at

Mark x

Oh, You Pretty Things


This author, 1980

Quite out of the blue, this picture was sent to me by an old school friend I haven’t seen for thirty-eight years.  Turns out she’d been reading this nonsense.

It shows a boy who didn’t care, everything was a laugh, he didn’t worry about anything except his girlfriends, his hair and his spots.  His mama and papa wondered what he’d do with his life and he drove them insane with his carelessness.  The Grammar School So-called Careers Advisor said it was either the Railway Works or Rolls Royce or the dole.  He wanted to choose the dole so he could play guitar all day, but was sent to the Works, knowing he couldn’t and wouldn’t serve a life sentence.  Because he knew – or he thought – he was special.

The water pistol he points was soon after confiscated on the grounds of Health & Safety, already gone mad in that New Romantic Age.  Neither he nor the teachers knew that fifteen years on he would have a real gun to his head, held up by Interahamwe Guerrillas on the Rwanda-Congo border.  The pretty thing who drove the teachers insane often wonders if they’d relinquished their petty Grammar discipline and nurtured his latent talent instead of dishing out lines, he might’ve done much better with the years that hastily rolled by.  No he’d never be special but he might’ve done much more.

Oh where and why did all those years go?  And why did the Homo Sapiens outgrow their use?  Sometimes when things are bad, he wouldn’t care if the gun had gone off.

Gone but not Forgotten (a note of thanks)

Just a note to thank the many of you who’ve contacted me over the past couple of months to ask why I haven’t been blogging, and even said you’ve missed the Otter’s tales!  So I thought out of courtesy I should write something to explain my absence.

I’ve been busy working on other things (in other words I found a job at long long last!) and settling in to a new home.  This move was funded in part by the offloading of my beloved Ottermobile, a sale which caused much soul-searching, deliberation and many a tear.  The adventures I had were many and varied, good and bad, but I’ll never regret the project – something I’d wanted to do all my life.  To go on the road and write with freedom was a sheer luxury…

With that in mind, even though I’ve returned to the grid, readers might be glad to hear I’m in the process of buying a replacement campervan (hopefully in better nick this time) and planning another round-trip in the near future!  So though the Ottermobile has gone, I haven’t, and I ask you to remain loyal and patient as I’m sure there’ll be many more adventures and much more nonsense to come to your devices in due course.

If adventure’s in your blood you can’t stop the flow.

All the best and thanks again for reading,

Malc Bickerstaffe x

Time to Talk


It’s TIME TO TALK DAY and I’m not sure what to say.  I’m feeling ambivalent.  I’m very happy to support the above initiative because it’s vital that we talk.  However, when I began to scribble notes to form this post I began also to realise depression and anger were the principle emotions emanating from the slanted words on the page.

We depressives can only speak subjectively, the illness is in our minds and I am minded to suggest always that it is by definition selfish.  We therefore have a responsibility to ourselves to find ways through the darkest days (which as I’ve said before are in my case and incongruously the colour orange).  But it’s not necessary, or even possible, to achieve this all by ourselves.  We need help, from ourselves, from our loved-ones, and from our employers…

This is a drum I’ve banged many times before on this and other forums and I don’t pretend to want to stop.  Employers.  Do they understand mental illness?  Do they manage it well or do they choose to manage it out?  Would they react in the same way if I had cancer?  Do they struggle with the issue because it’s invisible (a depressive seeing orange can have cheeks the healthy colour of gala apples)?  Or are they suspicious of the illness in case it’s an invention to mask indolence or lack of ability or talent?

I wonder if this is what can give us a bad name?  Any of us could claim to be feeling seriously ill when really we’re just ‘off-colour’, a bit like limping into the doctor’s surgery and claiming we’ve got sciatica then skipping out clutching a note for a week off work.  So in a way I can understand the suspicion, because we can look fine, we can even have a laugh at the watercooler, and we can seemingly be able to do our jobs perfectly well.  But of course we are not perfectly well, we’re seizing up inside and our engines are just conking out – because it really is a physical illness.

So it’s not enough for employers to give superficial valeting.  It’s all very well giving us time off and the offer of a phased return to work, but there should be more responsible understanding of the illness and more constructive and sustainable support.  Again, we have a responsibility here because we should never feel (or be made to feel) our workplace is a charity and we’re seeking preferential treatment or meekly feeling sorry for ourselves.  We should be unembarrassed, proud even, to say we suffer from mental illness and we’ll need careful management if that’s not too much to ask.

With regard to my industry, which has such a voracious appetite and need for story, it always struck me as ironic that the assiduous mining of fiction meant overlooking the real-life stories of some of those at the coalface, who are in fact being crushed by the wheels of industry and savaged by the dog.

When I lost my job I was wretched, homeless and suicidal – the swanky lifestyle I’d been living was at a stroke demolished along with my soul.  But who cared?  And what can you do?  You can choose to walk into the sea or walk on to the next thing.  In my case the next thing was to buy a house on wheels and travel and write about some of the bad things but more importantly some of the good things in my world.  In other words I was taking responsibility, some would say in an extreme way, but I was genuinely testing myself and dreaming that I could travel new avenues and perhaps draw attention to my plight.  And I always knew there was a safety-net in the form of the many friends and family I’m lucky enough to turn to.

And that’s ultimately what I did, and it’s thanks to them too that I could drive to the beach (as I often did) and keep my feet dry.

So while I had misgivings about Time to Talk Day in terms of how it made me feel, I now feel less ambivalent because I’ve done just that – I’ve talked, and in talking I’ve reminded myself of all the good things in the world and all the good people who’ve helped me through, and all the good things about me that have also helped me through.  I’ve needed help and I’ve needed to help myself.  And yes, I’ve needed to talk.  And it’s helped.