Improve your IELTS and TOEFL reading: One article a day. No excuses.

The Olympics in Brazil made me think about training. Sorry if this sounds a bit angry!

Your brian is a muscle.

You need to train it.

The reading section of the IELTS exam is the hardest section because you need to be well trained at reading and have a huge vocabulary.

Here’s the training.

Choose the first article from the fantastic Guardian Weekly, an international broadsheet.


One article a day. No excuses.

If you have a study partner. Get them to read it to and then TALK ABOUT it.

Read it in less than ten minutes.

Do not check all the words in the dictionary BUT if you feel there is an important word you should know then please do CHECK.

Do it everyday. No excuses.

but it’s boring…I have other work to do…I’m hungry…it’s late…I have to have some fun sometimes.

Success is your choice.

Please let me know how you get on!

For more help with your IELTS reading. Try Richard L King’s book.


Writing better sentences for IELTS and TOEFL

Watch this video with a short poem by the writer Gary Provost

We’re not novelists but varying the rhythm of your sentences can help you with your writing. Some sentences can be short. Some need to be long to show that you can use effective and complex structures. Above all, the sentences you write must be effective at communicating your ideas.



Things that 2000ad predicted would happen…

1. Mobilty scooters


Mega City One has a huge number of what they call ‘Fatties’, those who have turned to gluttony out of boredom or the desire to take part in lucrative and wildly popular eating competitons. They can’t walk so well and so they travel around on ‘trundle wheels’. Here are two from ‘League of Fatties’, published in 1983.


sam slade

Back in 1978,  showing characters smoking in children’s comics was frowned upon and so, 2000ad gave us Stoogie, a Cuban robot cigar with an angry streak. Stoogie reduced or increased Sam’s levels of nicotine depending on his stress levels.

3. Riot foam


Mega City One judges loved using riot foam. Maybe they even invented the phrase…

4. The channel tunnel

prog 7

In prog seven, there was sign saying ‘Channel Tunnel open 2002’ but I can’t find a pic. There was also a tunnel from the USA to Brit City – not sure if that prediction will come true though.



In Mega City One, little spy cameras are everywhere. They fly…and they can snoop on any citizen, any time. Judges use them all the time… sound familiar?

Can you think of any more?

My top five role-playing games

Role-playing games are cool now, they say…but they are not cool. They are for nerds. Here are my top five.

1. Dungeons and Dragons – the first edition.


The red cover with a dragon on. The monster manual. These were all classic books that we loved and read very often. I used to painstakingly copy pictures from them. D and D is still my first role-playing game of choice, I play it with my kids because it’s the only one I know and, yet, even after all this time, I still don’t really understand the combat rules.

Think of all things that D and D gave the world. Magic missile, the mystical D20, beholders, rakshashas (pinched from Hindu mythology, says Wikipedia), that cartoon from the eighties, search the room for traps.

2. Middle Earth role-play


MERP was great because of the upgraded combat system and not just because it explored Tolkien’s world. With the percentile dice anyone could kill anything and there was a really funny critical hit table at the back of the book. It’s here I first learned abouyt Uruk-Hai.

3. Star Wars Role-play


I’m a mid-level Star Wars fan but I liked this game because we all understood the combat system which used loads of six sided dice. The lazer combat was fair and, in our game, we had our own space ship. I played a ‘quixotic Jedi’ – someone who thinks they’re a Jedi but they aren’t and this was enormous fun. It seemed the rules encouraged characters to be flawed in some sense and this added to the game. We got to role-play and not power-game.

4. Dragon Warriors


This was a paperback book. The rules were dead simple and I understood them quickly. Without lots of tables and charts to follow we were able to get on with the business of role-play and fighting and creating our own world.

5. Paranoia


I was so young when I first played this game that I learned the word ‘Paranoia’ from it. Set in a dystopian future reminiscent of Huxley’s Brave New World, you played a human who was assigned a colour. The aim of the game was to kill your mates and advance up to the colour bands. Back-stabbing and argument generating, Paranoia was like a microcosm of the current UK political system.

any more?


The three best John Wyndham Novels

For me, John Wyndham is the very best science fiction writer there has ever been. I think he’s even better than Kurt Vonnegut. I know that is very bold statement to make but here’s why.

1.The Midwich Cuckoos


Published in 1957 and set in the fictional village of Midwich, every woman of childbearing age becomes mysteriously pregnant. The children, all born at the same time and with eerie golden eyes, have supernatural abilities and the villagers soon realise they must be destroyed. Filmed as ‘The Village of the Damned’, the Midwich Cuckoos is a powerful and unpleasant tale that mixes just the right amount of sci-fi with human relationships.

2. The Day of the Triffids.


I remember watching the TV show on the BBC in the eighties (below) and being terrified. It wasn’t a jump scare, it was deeper than that, like looking out of the window before I went to bed and worrying if there were triffids in the darkness, or riding my pushbike home and worrying they were following me, for weeks. Even now…

Years later, when I read the book, I found that like all good apocalypse stories, it’s not about the monsters, it is about the monsters that humans become. If you remember, the whole world was left blind after watching strange lights in the sky and this allowed the slow moving plants to pick off us humans. We’re used to apocalypse zombie/ weather / monster / virus films but back in 1951, when Day of the Triffids was published, this wasn’t so common. Arthur C Clark called it an ‘immortal story’. There’s even a bit of love in there.

3. The Chrysalids


A 1955 classic and regarded by some as Wyndham’s best novel, it’s in third place for me. Set in a post apocalyptic kind of cowboy world, mutants are regarded as the work of the devil and mercilessly hunted and tortured. Lead character David can read minds and communicate with others and because he looks normal he can hide his powers. Wyndham manages to capture his terrible journey and conflict between his powers and society he lives in. A bit like us all eh?

There was also a girl in the story with six toes. That’s my kind of mutant. Not a bit like Wolverine…



The five best 2000ad stories

These stories had a profound effect on me growing up in semi-rural East Yorkshire and continue to have an effect on my writing today. Here are my top five. You might not agree.

1.Summer Magic

summer magic

This was the first serious and profound comic story I  ever read. It’s about young Luke Kirby and his grandfather who investigate a mysterious werewolf that is terrorising a rural village. I liked the relationship between the lad and his grandfather and how the mundane mixed with the occult as the boy learns magic. A brilliant ending with a twist.

2.Bad Company

bad company.png

I came back from a two week holiday and found out there was a new story in 2000ad, ‘Bad Company’. Strangely, I don’t remember all the violence in it, I just remember the characters describing the horror and madness of war. At this point I had never read Wilfred Owen.

3.Universal Soldier


Long before the film with Van Damme but after the song by Donovan , this was a fantastic story about a multiple personality soldier fitted with a chip inside his brain. The chip gives him an unlimited number of specialist skills instantly and he becomes any number of legendary warriors from the past, present or future. In the picture above I think he had become Little John of Robin Hood fame but I particularly liked it when he became the legendary Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi.

4. The Dead man.

daed man.png

I like Judge Dredd but I’m not a huge fan so it came as a shock to me to find out that the lead protagonist in this  Cursed Earth story was Joe Dredd himself.

Young Yassa, a wasteland lad, finds a body, horribly disfigured by acid and is shocked when the man comes back to life. The Dead Man has no idea who he is or where he came from, so, he and Yassa (and his dog) travel across the Cursed Earth to find out. What I liked about this story was the western feel to it, all drawn in black and white,  and the simple, character driven story with the relationship between Dredd and Yassa.

Dredd leads the boy almost to his death in this quest and Yassa is blinded by evil ghosts, but here’s the thing, Dredd regrets his actions. It’s the first time, for me, that Dredd becomes a real character, he feels that he has done something wrong and even returns the blind Yassa to his home suffering the curses and indignation of the wasteland family.

The year was 1990, I was 16 and growing up, 2000ad had already grown up, it was just the first time that I had noticed.

5. Tales from the Doghouse (Strontium Dog spin-off)


Of course, we all love Jonny Alpha with his glowing eyes that can read minds and see through walls but it was the ‘Tales from the Doghouse’ series that caught my imagination  way back in 1988.

Set in a dystopian future, the only job that mutants like Jonny Alpha can get, is as Search and Destroy agents or Strontium Dogs and their headquarters are called simply, ‘The Doghouse’. Here, you can find mutants who don’t actually want to be bounty hunters –  but they have to be, and of course, they’re not the high powered super humans that you find in the x-men movies, they’re characters like ‘Back-to-front-Jones’, whose head is on the wrong way round, ‘Froggy Natterjack’ who’s like a toad and Tom ‘Birdy’ Lilley who has little wings – but can’t fly. Usually one off stories, they were very British tales of unlikely heroes and those doing the best they can in terrible and difficult circumstances.


Big list of antonyms for academic English : IELTS and TOEFL


Here’s a great list of academic antonyms to help you with your IELTS speaking and writing.

Lists are great, but how can you use them? Do you learn them? Do you just read them? What do you do? Read the advice below.

  1. Read through this list and circle 10-15 antonym pairs that you don’t know and learn them. Test yourself on them.
  2. Read through the list. Choose ten hard pairs you don’t know, print them off and stick them on your wall / toilet wall / fridge door – anywhere you will look, often
  3. Play a game with them like the awesome word frog game
  4. Play pelmanism. Choose ten you think are useful. Write them on small pieces of paper. Put them face down on a table. Now turn each one over and try to match the pairs.




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