Events, Reviews

Back to the Future – The Musical


Like most Mancunians, I feel there’s a lot to love about my city, but even I was surprised when it was announced that the world premiere of Back to the FutureThe Musical would open at Manchester’s Opera House. I grew up in the 80s and this is one of my all-time favourite films, so I was bowled over when my wife and daughters bought me tickets to the show for Christmas.

Before delving into the detail, let me say this: You’ve probably watched the film on VHS or TV or DVD dozens of times, but if you’re an 80s kid like me (I’m the same age as Marty McFly), sitting in the theatre watching this incredible spectacle unfold, you’ll be transported right back to the first time that you saw the film in the cinema, in the pre-multiplex era. Yes, it’s like you and the rest of the audience are in a collective time machine – the show is THAT good, and I’m pretty sure that there will be a few jaws well and truly dropped. This is entertainment on an epic scale, and I’m still buzzing the day after the show.

Of course, the key to a good adaptation – usually a book to film, but in this case film to stage – is some well-written source material featuring great characters that tell an engrossing story, and in that regard, you’d struggle to beat the Back to the Future screenplay. It helps that the film’s original writers, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, have also written the musical. Original composer Alan Silvestri is on board with lyrics by American songwriter Glen Ballard.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 35 years, Back to the Future tells the story of teenager Marty McFly who, in 1985, travels back in time to 1955 in a time machine built by his scientist friend, Doc Brown. The problem is that when he gets there, Marty interacts with his mum and dad before they meet, and in doing so, the Doc tells him that he’s messed with the space-time continuum and that he and his siblings might be erased from history! Together, they hatch a plan to make sure his parents meet and to send Marty back to the future.


The stage show is a faithful adaptation of the film, so you don’t have to worry about your childhood being spoiled. Yes, there are subtle changes here and there – there’s no Einstein the dog, Doc doesn’t do a shady deal with Libyan terrorists, Darth Vader doesn’t threaten to melt George’s brain – but the nuts and bolts of the story arc are intact, and the script covers the familiar beats of Marty’s trip to 1955 and his return to 1985. Iconic songs ‘The Power of Love’, ‘Johnny B.Goode’ and ‘Back in Time’ are bolstered by an enjoyable collection of musical numbers whose crafty lyrics play with some of the familiar classic dialogue from the film – “Hello – Is Anybody Home?” performed by Marty and his parents being an early highlight. The new songs, along with some well-placed subtle changes, gags, physical set pieces and dance routines, keep the show zipping along at a cracking pace.

There’s a lot to love about this musical, but I’m going to pick out some highlights. First off, I’ve already said that it’s a faithful adaptation of the film, and it’s great to hear the terrific cast working their way through the classic dialogue. If you’re a fan of the film and I mention just a few choice soundbites, then you’ll get the idea. “Hello? Anybody home? Think, McFly!”, “Don’t be so gullible, McFly”, “You built a time machine out of a DeLorean?” “He’s a peeping Tom!” and of course “1.21 gigawatts!”

Whilst we’re on the subject of the cast, they were all terrific. Marty (Olly Dobson), George (Hugh Coles) and Lorraine (Rosanna Hyland) looked like they’d just stepped straight off the screen. I was gobsmacked when I found out that Olly Dobson was English. Sure, any half-decent actor can do a passable American accent, but when he delivers his lines, you will believe that you’re watching Michael J.Fox up on the stage. The inflection that he put in his delivery was uncanny and the subtle touches like the constant scratching of his hair and neck add to the authenticity. Tony Award-winning actor Roger Bart was brilliant as the eccentric Doc Brown, Aidan Cutler suitably menacing as Biff Tannen and Cedric Neal, playing the parts of both Goldie Wilson and Marvin Berry, showed that he is a first-class singer as well as actor.

But for me, the aforementioned Hugh Coles as George McFly was the best of the lot. Not only did he nail the voice of Marty’s insecure father, but he also played the part to perfection physically, right down to the goofy laugh and awkward mannerisms, using every inch of his wiry frame to become George McFly.

Finally, there’s the DeLorean car. It’s a key part of the film that’s just as important as most of the cast members. Well, don’t worry because it features heavily in a production design that’s as good as any stage set that I’ve seen. I was so engrossed in the story that I wasn’t even thinking about when it would first appear and then BAM! – it spins onto the stage and out steps Doc Brown. An absolutely incredible moment that’s only a taster of things to come. Marty’s trips to the past and back to the future feature an exhilarating mix of the car moving on stage plus back projection and lighting that at times make you feel like you’re in a ride at a Disney theme park. I don’t want to give the end away, but all I’ll say is: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” Doc Brown’s workshop is one of the many beautifully rendered sets, the flux capacitor features in all its glory and one of the scenes deserves a special mention. By the use of moving sets, we get to see the Doc climbing the tower and struggling to reconnect the cable as Marty simultaneously drives the DeLorean to hit its mark! How the hell did they do that? Well, it’s a brilliant set-piece, and you’ll just have to see the show to find out how they pulled it off.

Back to the Future – The Musical is a stunning success on every level. The familiar story is brought to life on stage by a superb ensemble cast and some dazzling special effects. Put simply, this is the best stage show that I’ve had the pleasure to experience, and we’ve already booked another set of tickets. Believe me, the show is THAT good. I’m so pleased that I got to see the musical on its opening run in my home city, but I’m equally delighted that the show will be moving to London’s West End because it’s an experience that should be seen by as many people as possible. Hopefully, it will also move onto Broadway and other theatres throughout the world, but before then, don’t miss it at the Manchester Opera House until 17th May.

Rob Campbell is the author of the Wardens of the Black Heart trilogy (Monkey Arkwright, Black Hearts Rising and The Well of Tears). It’s a mystery series that will appeal to fans of 80s films such as Stand By Me and The Goonies or the TV series Stranger Things, where people stumble across strange things in the woods or uncover dark secrets hidden in the abandoned places around a small town.

Events, Writing

Four Years of Writing

The Well of Tears Banner

4 years. 3 books. 250,000 words. That’s a quarter of a million words! Actually, it’s more than that, but a quarter of a million sounds like a nice healthy number. Do you remember how, as an 11-year-old, you used to groan when the teacher asked for a 200-word essay? 200-words? Pah! I spit in the face of 200 words now!

Those are the numbers behind my Wardens of the Black Heart trilogy. I couldn’t tell you how many hours of my life that represents, but if I had to give a rough estimate, I’d say somewhere between 200 and 250 hours per book. And that’s just the writing, editing and proofreading. There’s plenty more time been spent on social media trying to spread the word and pinging off e-mails requesting – OK begging – bloggers to review my books. Then there’s the formatting, re-formatting, wrestling with Microsoft Word and uploading to the Amazon KDP platform. When all this is factored in, along with the time spent dreaming up the plot and jotting it down in electronic notes at random points, I think I can safely assume that this has been a 1000 hour+ project.

Tomorrow sees the publication of the third and final part of the trilogy: The Well of Tears. Readers (honestly, there are a few) will finally get to see how Lorna and Monkey’s story arc plays out and whether they can hold off the threat of those dastardly wardens.

My story has come a long way from the spark of inspiration that led me to create the character of Monkey, the boy who loves to climb. At that point, I didn’t have much more than his love of climbing to fuel the story, but once I added in Lorna and Charles Gooch and a bunch of mysterious objects, the creative juices began to flow.

Now, like a nervous football manager who, having selected his players and drilled them on his tactics before watching them step out onto the pitch to meet their destiny, I have done just about all I can to make my stories the best they can be. Whilst I will take all the plaudits for the good bits and, just as importantly, shoulder the responsibility of any faults in my work, it would be unfair for me not the share some of the blame, err I mean the credit, with others who have played their part. Yes, it’s time once again for the hundred heroes column.

Naturally, I want to thank everybody who has shown an interest in reading my books and especially those who have bought and read one of them, but there are a few people, or groups of people, who deserve a special mention.

First and foremost of these is my youngest daughter, Rachel. From a young age, we’ve known that she is a mathematical genius, but it would appear that the cogs in her brain are particularly well-suited to editing her Dad’s book. Rachel has spent many hours wading through my first and second drafts, and it is to her enormous credit that my final manuscripts are as error-free as they are.

In addition to reading and giving her opinion on the (almost) final draft, my eldest daughter Lauren has used her artistic talents to help turn my eBook covers (created by OliviaProdesign) into paperback versions (more on that in a later post). I’m also grateful for Lauren’s advice on social media.

My friend Darrin has read all three of my books before publication and provided useful feedback on each occasion. More than anybody, Darrin is a useful barometer of whether the ending of a book is good enough!

I’d like to think various online friends from message boards for their kind comments and encouragement: Craig from AmazonExiles on Goodreads and a whole host of people on The Digital Fix Forums.

Chelle on the Curled up with a good book blog was the first blogger to review my books, and I’ll always be grateful for that. She has since reviewed Black Hearts Rising, and was good enough to host the cover reveal for The Well of Tears. As an indie author, it is hard work getting any publicity for your book, and so we all owe Chelle, and other bloggers like her, a debt of gratitude for giving our books a little foothold in the literary world. Thanks also to the bloggers who recently reviewed Monkey Arkwright – you can see their reviews here.

Now, with the convivial backslapping out of the way, all that’s left for me to say is: go and buy my books. Preferably all of them!


The Well of Tears – Announcement

Hello readers! I’m am pleased to announce the release of the final book in my Wardens of the Black Heart trilogy, The Well of Tears, which will be available on 29th January 2020, exclusively on Amazon.

If you missed the cover reveal on Curled up with a good book, you can see what Chelle had to say about it here. Many thanks to Chelle for allowing me to share the cover on her blog.

In the meantime, you can feast your eyes on the cover and read the blurb below.

The Well of Tears - Cover

A tale of cryptic messages, treacherous betrayal and a long-hidden family secret brings a thrilling trilogy to its spellbinding conclusion.

The three talismanic masterpieces created over a century ago by the artist, Abernathy, have caused Lorna and Monkey plenty of problems. But things are looking up for the brave and resourceful teenagers. Having tracked down the painting known as The Truth, they now get to discover what Dylan Fogg is hiding in his cellar. But when Lorna is attacked by an unknown assailant desperate to get his hands on the painting, and with Victoria Halfpenny’s betrayal still fresh in her mind, it becomes clear that simply hanging on to the works of art may be a battle in itself.

Meanwhile, Monkey is battling his own demons. Still in denial over the claims of his estranged uncle, Monkey is about to learn the shocking truth concerning his father – and it may be darker than he feared.

With Charles Gooch out of the picture, the Wardens squabble over their next move. Leader Daniel Turnbull is intent on channelling the power of Abernathy’s masterpieces to plunge the world into a dark and uncertain future. But hidden in the shadows, at least one member of the Wardens’ council doesn’t share his leader’s views and plans a bold move of his own – a move that could jeopardise everything Lorna and Monkey have achieved.

Note that you can click here to pre-order the Kindle version now, but if you are old school and would like a hard copy, just hang fire as there will be a paperback version along before the release date.

The reason for the short delay is that I’m just completing a few minor edits pre-release and naturally, I can’t format the paperback until the final version is locked in.




Events, Writing

Book #3 Progress Report – December 2019


Work continues on the editing phase of The Well of Tears, the final part of my Wardens of the Black Heart trilogy. It’s taken me five weeks to get through the first edit, and I have to say that I’m really pleased with how the book is shaping up. I found editing my second book a long and exhausting process – nothing to do with the story or characters, more the number of stupid grammatical mistakes that I made in the first, and second, and even third drafts. I remember reading Black Hearts Rising seven times on my Kindle before release, which was far too much. The biggest change for the upcoming book was using Microsoft Word’s “Read Aloud” feature earlier in the process. Although listening to your words read back by a machine (not quite robotic, but hardly Stephen Fry) is tiresome in its own way, it’s amazing how many dumb mistakes you spot. I’ve found that the human brain is a fantastic editor for readers – replacing “or” for “of”, inserting a missing connective or article and even editing out the double “the” – but can sometimes be the enemy of the author. Read your own work and those little errors that will jump out at the reader are sneakily masked by your own meddlesome brain. Getting your computer to read your work aloud is a Godsend, and I now use it at three different points in the editing process: once when I finish writing each chapter; again when I’m reading through the whole manuscript for the first time, and finally during the first edit. Taking this into account, here’s a summary of my writing and editing process, as used on The Well of Tears:-

  1. Plan novel (months of jotting ideas down in an electronic notepad).
  2. Write each chapter.
  3. Run each chapter through Grammarly.
  4. Use Word’s “Read Aloud” feature on each chapter, correcting mistakes.
  5. Pass batches of chapters to my editor (youngest daughter, Rachel) for comments.
  6. Make any necessary changes to chapters, run through Grammarly again.
  7. Combine all chapters into a single document. First draft complete.
  8. Read each chapter on the computer, using Word’s “Read Aloud” feature to read the whole document, correcting mistakes (yes, there were fewer on the second read!). At the same time, make a note of the areas that need attention in terms of plot, character and general descriptions.
  9. Edit the chapters that need attention. Use Word’s “Read Aloud” on updated passages or chapters as required.
  10. Pass completed second draft to Rachel for full read-through.
  11. Edit entire book, correcting mistakes and considering any suggested improvements.
  12. Put on Kindle and read through.
  13. Correct any mistakes (hopefully few and far between at this stage).
  14. Repeat steps 12 and 13 until I don’t spot any mistakes.

I’ve certainly learned a lot about the craft of writing in putting together my trilogy. It’s an enjoyable and rewarding process, but can be tough at times, especially when being an author is essentially a hobby and you still have a full-time job and family life to think of. But I’m getting better at both writing and editing, and all of the hard work so far puts me in a good position to release my new novel early in the new year, probably mid-February.

But writing and editing isn’t the only thing happening around here. I’ve commissioned a cover for The Well of Tears, and once again, Olivia at Oliviaprodesign has come up with a stunning cover. I’ve asked somebody who’s been very supportive of my work if they’d like to feature the cover reveal on their website, and I’m hoping that this will happen soon.

Finally, With the January blog tour for Monkey Arkwright on Rachel’s Random Resources getting ever closer, I’m hoping that it’s going to be a great start to the new year for Lorna and Monkey.


Blog Tour – January 2020

MonkeyArkwright - RRR Blog Tour January 2020

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that this post is titled “Blog Tour”. However, I wanted to kick it off with a short note about progress on book #3, The Well of Tears. I completed the first draft of the manuscript last weekend, which meant that I rattled off the final 10 chapters of the trilogy – that’s 27,000 words – in a mere 19 days! I had planned this sequence of chapters well in advance, and although I changed a few things around near the end, the forward planning allowed me to pretty much write my heart out for nearly 3 weeks, which felt immensely satisfying. Now for 3 months of hard-core editing.

Anyway, onto news of the upcoming blog tour. Much like releasing a new book into the wild, I had a sense of trepidation when I asked Rachel, from Rachel’s Random Resources, to put together a tour for Monkey Arkwright, reasoning that the best marketing for a trilogy is to keep plugging the first part. I’d done a bit of research and read a lot of positive comments on Rachel’s blog tour services, so the trepidation was not so much about the person putting the tour together, but more the fact that there was a minimum number of participants required for the tour to go ahead. It might only be a virtual tour, but much like a band, you need a minimum number of venues – or in this case, host bloggers – to make the tour work. Rachel’s tours require a minimum of 5 bloggers, so once the tour page for Monkey Arkwright went live, I kept the page in my browser and hit refresh every day.

If I remember correctly, the first time I saw the page, it already featured the names of 7 blogs, which meant that I had at least qualified for the tour. This quickly grew to 11, and I can tell you there was a great buzz every 4 or 5 page refreshes when I saw that another blogger or two had joined the tour. I’m delighted to announce that just under a month after the call for bloggers was made, the tour is now full, with all 21 slots filled! You can see a list of the bloggers that will feature Monkey Arkwright, 12 of them providing reviews, the other 9 providing Monkey-related features, here.

The tour will run 10-16 January 2020, which will provide me with some much-needed coverage in the run-up to the release of The Well of Tears, which is pencilled in for February.

Many thanks to Rachel for setting this up, and thanks to all the bloggers who have agreed to take part.


Events, Travel

New Project – Rob On Holiday

Anybody who read this week’s Q & A on Curled up with a good book will have seen me talking about my love of family holidays. You may have also noticed my comment about us becoming well-known at a certain hotel in Spain for our comedy holiday videos where we rope in the entertainment team and generally act the goat for the camera.

All of this leads me nicely to announcing a small side-project that was actually my eldest daughter’s idea. Lauren suggested that we re-brand her YouTube channel as “Rob On Holiday”. In addition to the aforementioned comedy videos, we’ve also undertaken a few city breaks in the last 15 months and in each case, we’ve done a fair bit of filming. Generally, this is just to capture our visit for family videos but on a recent visit to Brussels, for the first time, we specifically did a few pieces to camera. Where possible, we’ll be doing a short 5-minute video showcasing what the city has to offer, and an additional video that gives a brief overview of the hotel at which we stayed. Combined with a lot of previous footage, including trips to Disney World, and a few more city breaks in the coming months, we think that we’ll have enough material to make an interesting video channel.

We’ve also created a web site where we’ll include the finer details of various elements shown in the video. This may be a detailed report on some attraction or a city’s transport network or simply a restaurant that we visited. I’m just the figurehead for this website – most of the content will be created by my daughters Lauren and Rachel. You can find the website here:-

Just to be clear, this is all for a bit of fun. We are not being paid for any of this, and all views are our own. Hopefully, in addition to making the videos entertaining, we aim to be informative as well. Before we go on any city break, we do our research and this includes watching videos on YouTube. We’ve noticed that many such videos are just raw footage, aren’t edited and don’t give you much on the type of details that you really need to know: e.g. how do I use the transport system.

So, without further ado, here is our first city break video: Brussels:-