NYC 250 Microfiction Challenge – Corn

This year, the only NYC Midnight competition I entered was the 250-word Microfiction Challenge. It kicked off in November 2022, when 5,439 writers submitted their Round 1 assignments in 125 groups containing approximately 44 writers per group.

My challenge was to write a story in the Suspense genre that involved ‘getting lost’ and featured the word ‘sound’.

I wrote a story called Corn (which you can read below) and am delighted to say that it got me through to the next round by the skin of my teeth, coming in at 9th in the top 10 places.

So, my Round 2 challenge, which came through last week, was to write a Romantic Comedy, that involves ‘riding a merry go round’ and features the word ‘decent’. This round places the 1,250 remaining writers in 25 groups of around 50.

Romantic Comedy is possibly my least favourite genre ever. Funnily enough though, I recently had a go at a Romance short story for a JAMS homework prompt, but it’s very much out of my comfort zone.

I spent most of the day getting absolutely nowhere and had almost given up when the seed of an idea formed in my head, and I decided just to have a go. I banged it out in a couple of hours in the evening. I’m not feeling very confident, but we will see … Better to have tried and failed and all that.

Anyway, here is Corn. I Hope you enjoy it.

Corn

The impenetrable forest of corn, taller than a man, loomed all around her. Watching with a thousand unseen eyes. Taunting. Waiting with malevolent patience to draw her into its depths. Envelop her. Suffocate her. Erase her.

Fear and panic jostled for control. Her mouth was dry. Her heart thudded in her chest. Fast, shallow breaths dizzied her. Which way?

The afternoon was hot and still. The cloudless blue sky a relentless dome of heat that raised a film of sweat on her skin. Salt and dust combining to sting her eyes and the bloodied scratches that criss-crossed her bare limbs. She had to keep moving.

Ahead, the narrow uneven path forked in two. Left or right? Right or left? Her mind a confusion of indecision. A dried-out husk of corn and a couple of withered stalks lay on the ground at the entrance to the left fork. Was there something familiar about the irregular shape they formed? Had she passed that way before?

The corn whispered.

Emma went right …

The corn is angry. Tendrils reach for her. Graze her skin. Snag her hair.

And then a voice! The thrill of recognition.

“Emma! Over here.”

She rushes towards the sound. Sobbing and gasping with relief. Throws herself into his arms.

He laughs.

She cries.

As they walk to the car she turns back and reads the sign at the entrance to the cornfield.

A smiling head of corn. Yellow and green and grotesquely cheery.

“Can YOU beat the Maize Maze?”

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Viruses and Volcanoes

A Covid Diary

During what I like to refer to as, The Time of Covid, I used this blog to journal my experiences during lockdown and beyond / kept a journal of my experiences during lockdown and beyond. At the start of the pandemic, my husband had just been diagnosed with a serious lung condition which placed him in the “very vulnerable” or “shielded” category and we made the decision to self-isolate a week before the official lockdown began. We expected to have to do this for 12 weeks and then return to our normal lives when it was all over. Little did we know what the coming year would bring.

Viruses and Volcanoes tells the story of my life in The Time of Covid as a wife, mother, grandmother and daughter from the first days of the lockdown in the UK and later, after we relocated to Barbados, on the other side of the Atlantic. It takes the reader through the shock and strangeness of the early days of the pandemic, the emotional roller coaster of the prolonged lockdown and the gradual adaptation to the new normal.

Viruses and Volcanoes is a personal, unedited and unapologetic narrative of the lives of a middle-aged couple during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was written in real time and is an honest and truthful account of our day-to-day lives between March 2020 and July 2021. As such, it captures the mundane and incredibly monotonous details of the lockdown life that we all experienced at the time.

My aim was not to entertain, explain or examine but simply to record my thoughts, feelings and experiences for posterity, during what was, at the start at least, a truly bizarre and frightening time. I wanted to capture how it felt when the world changed forever overnight before we all became accustomed to it, and it ultimately became our new normal.

I’ll apologise now for the fact that at times I was angry, frustrated, critical and judgmental, but this was my reality at the time. The journal also covers some of the facts and figures about the disease, the government’s attempts to deal with it and the ever-changing beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of our society as a whole.

Viruses and Volcanoes is available in eBook and paperback on Amazon for £9.99 and on multiple digital platforms as an eBook for £2.99.

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Going Wide

The trials of publishing on multiple platforms.

Background

A few years ago, the idea of writing a book, let alone publishing one, was a distant, lifelong dream that verged on fantasy.

And yet, over the past few years I have made that dream come true by publishing, not just one full-length fictional book, but two, as well as co-authoring a biography.

It has been a steep learning curve and, as a complete non-technical novice when it comes to the mechanics of self-publishing, a frustrating one at times.

I started out by self-publishing on Amazon with the help of Michael Andrews from JAMS and I will be forever grateful to him for his generosity and patient support with this. However, over time I have gradually built up the knowledge and skills to enable me to do this by myself and weaned myself off my reliance on him. I pretty much managed to publish Trident Edge all by myself with just a little bit of handholding from him.

This year I decided to publish my books on some other platforms in addition to Amazon. This decision was prompted by the idea that I’d like to try and get a Book Bub deal one day. In reading around how to achieve this, it soon became clear that most books that are successful in being offered one of their, potentially lucrative, deals have to be available on a wide range of international platforms and have some evidence of sales success and positive reviews on these.

So, it was immediately clear that I was going to have to publish my books on some of these other platforms and I started preparing to go about this. After all, I had mastered the art of publishing on Amazon so how hard could it be … ?

Of course, as is to be expected for a mature, IT idiot like me, it has been a bit of a nightmare and after setting out to do this in the summer of 2022, I have only just completed the process. For those of you who are as baffled and bewildered by the challenges of tasks like this as me, I thought I’d share my journey in case it helps. For those of you that find the whole thing as ‘easy as pie’ … don’t bother reading any further.

Leaving Amazon KDP Select

The first thing I learned was that I was going to have to withdraw from KDP Select, as being enrolled in this programme means that your books are exclusive to Amazon. I was a little concerned about this as the majority of my sales at the time were coming from Kindle Unlimited and books are only available on this if the author has signed up for KDP Select. Nevertheless, I decided to go ahead with my decision. Both of my books were at different stages of the 90-day period so the first thing I had to do was wait for them to expire. Trident Edge was almost at the end of the time period but Wait for Me didn’t come off until October 1st.

Purchasing ISBN’s

The next thing I did was purchased some ISBN’s. When I published on Amazon I used their free ISBN’s but these cannot be used for books published on other platforms. Other platforms also offer free ISBN’s but the idea of having lots of different ISBN’s for different books on different platforms didn’t sit well with me so I decided to purchase my own.

For the UK, the recommended source is the Neilson ISBN Store. A single ISBN will cost £91 but you can buy 10 for £169 so it was a bit of a no-brainer to buy 10. A big expense but they never expire and given that I plan to publish more books in the future they will all be used.

Which Platforms?

The next step was to select where to publish and whether to use a third party like Smashwords or Draft2Digital. I decided I only wanted to be on four platforms other than Amazon. Remember my main objective was to be eligible for a Book Bub Deal. I went for Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Google and Apple. I decided not to go with Draft2Digital or Smashwords as they appeared to be geared largely towards eBooks and I didn’t want to limit myself in this way.

Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Noble was a complete disaster! I still don’t really understand why. I had set up an author account while I was waiting to come off KDP Select but when I tried to log-in it wouldn’t let me. I contacted them and they told me my account had been cancelled but they couldn’t tell me why. I was advised to create a new account with a different email address. Not ideal but I went ahead. All seemed to be working until I got to the part where I had to enter my tax details and it blocked me because my tax details were already assigned to another account. I had numerous exchanges with B&N Customer Service who were extremely unhelpful. I chatted about it to other writers on social media. I spent hours of my life that I will never get back trying to work around the problem but eventually I gave up and moved on to Kobo.

Kobo

Kobo was the most straightforward to use of all the platforms. I did have a few issues with the creation and formatting of the EPUB files including downloading and using a programme called Calibre which didn’t work and seems to have messed up my computer in ways that I have still not managed to fix. Nothing serious – just annoying little things like opening my book files in the Calibre programme every time I wanted to work with them and now my computer doesn’t default to Word so I have to select it when looking at any of my text files! Grrr! However, when I did some further reading about how to prepare a Word document for Kobo to convert to an EPUB file and followed all the steps listed, everything worked fine, and my books went live quickly. Even still, more hours of my life flashed by in what felt like the blink of an eye.

Google

I also succeeded fairly easily on Google Play after a bit more fiddling around with formatting again. Generally though, the changes I made for Kobo seemed to make the process easier for Google. However, I think it was on this platform that I had some issues with the cover of Wait for Me (it might have been Draft2Digital but the issue and solution is still the same). Essentially, they rejected the cover because it was in CMYK colour mode rather than RBG. I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about, what it meant, and how I could fix it! I then spent more countless hours of my, now much shorter life trying to sort this one out. I eventually found a free programme that would do the conversion but was dismayed to find that they offered 8 different RGB options. I had to go through a laborious trial and error process saving the file using each option in turn, uploading it and waiting to see if it was accepted or not. Yet more hours of my life consumed before I got the right one and the books were accepted.

Apple

Apple was a bit of a nightmare too, due in part to the fact that I work on a PC and not a Mac. Creating an account and setting it all up was a distinctly unintuitive process that had me tearing my hair out at times. I did manage to wade my way through this process though and finally uploaded and submitted my books. This time they kept being rejected due to some issues with the content. Apple sent me long comments explaining what was wrong, but it was written in such inaccessible IT nerd language that I couldn’t understand it. I spent a LOT of time farting around with Apple and getting absolutely nowhere. By now, I was truly losing the will and wondering why I ever started the whole thing in the first place! Eventually, I decided that I might have to admit defeat and work with one of their recommended partners and this was what led me full circle to Draft2Digital.

Draft2Digital

Wow! I cannot stress enough how easy this platform was to use. I uploaded my books in no time at all. As well as Apple, I decided to try for Barnes and Noble with them too and it all worked like a dream. They even explained what the issue was with Apple. Because my files contained some links to some of my other publications on Amazon, Apple (as their main competitor) had set up a firewall to reject any books with links to Amazon in them. Fair enough. I removed all these links from the files and the situation was instantly resolved.

Conclusions

The big conclusion here is that if you are not super-confident with technology like me, don’t bother trying all the individual platforms. The process will steal years from your life and drive you mad at the same time. I would recommend going straight down the Draft2Digital route every time. I wish I had, and will for my next book!

P.S. D2D also provide Universal Links so that readers can purchase your books from the platform of their choice.

For more information about Draft2Digital, have a look at this Reedsy blog post about it https://blog.reedsy.com/draft2digital-reviews/

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The End of the Apocalypse

How do you end the apocalypse?

*SPOILER ALERT* This article discusses the endings of several zombie apocalypse books, movies, TV series, and games.

Stories and Sequels

It struck me today, on my daily walk when I was listening to the second in the Lockey vs. The Apocalypse series, We Will Rise (An Adrian’s Undead Diary Novel) by Carl Meadows, that in many post-apocalyptic series the first book in the series is often the best. Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that the other books in the series are any less well constructed or well-written, just that there is something about the early days of an apocalypse that is particularly interesting and engaging.

How, where and when the apocalypse begins; why it happens in the first place; where people are and what they are doing when it starts; how they react; where they go and what they do; what happens to their family and friends; whether they are reunited with them or not;  how the world and society breaks down and changes and the impact of all that; and just the sheer shock and horror of it all, is morbidly fascinating to many people, including me!

As such, the first books in an apocalyptic series, when all that initial stuff usually happens, often resonate with ordinary people more than subsequent books which take place further down the apocalyptic road. People find themselves wondering what they would do when the apocalypse comes to their town; what their world would look like after the fall; whether they would have what it took to survive or not. This can mean that readers are more captivated and engaged by the first books in an apocalyptic series than they are with subsequent books about life when the extraordinary has become the ordinary and a devastated and dangerous world has become the new normal.

This has proved to be true for my own books. My first zompoc book, Wait for Me, far exceeded my expectations in terms of sales, reviews and ratings, and feedback from friends, family and complete strangers. The sequel, Trident Edge, (which I only wrote because I had so many requests to do so) has, by comparison, been a bit of a flop. Yet, I think the second book is far better in terms of plot and writing quality than the first. I did have some reservations and regrets about the cover of Trident Edge, which for me doesn’t have the same impact as the cover of Wait for Me, but I think it’s about more than that.

I asked my best friend, and loyal fan, about what she thought of Trident Edge compared to Wait for Me, and she said that she loved them both but that she enjoyed Wait for Me more. When I dug a bit deeper to try and understand the reasons for this, she said that she enjoyed reading about the early days of the apocalypse and the zombie outbreak and how two ordinary women, Lisa and Anita, managed to survive day by day in a new and terrifying world, more than she did about their lives six months later when they had become hardened and experienced survivors and zombie killers. My case in point.

I loved the Adrian’s Undead Diaries series and I’m loving Lockey vs. The Apocalypse too. They’re great stories. But today I found myself musing, as I wandered down the leafy lanes of Solihull with Lockey, Nate and Particles fighting their way out of yet another zombie encounter and loading wood burners into trucks to prepare for the coming winter, exactly where it was all going and how it was all going to end how. In fact – I asked myself – how and when exactly does an apocalypse end?

A Satisfying Ending?

When I did my Creative Writing Course with the Writers Bureau back in 2018, I submitted a synopsis for Wait for Me for one of my assignments. One of the criticisms I received from my tutor was about the ending.

She said, “This doesn’t provide a satisfying ending to the story. What happens next? How to do the non-zombies eventually get rid of the zombie threat?”

Good question! At the time, I thought that as Lisa’s main objective was to get home and find out whether her husband Neil was ‘waiting for her’ (or not, as the case may be – no spoilers here!), that the outcome of this objective would constitute a satisfactory end to the story. Apparently, I was wrong as so many people requested a sequel.  

Defining an Apocalypse

So how do you end an apocalypse? Can you? Different definitions of an apocalypse exist that vary in their classification depending on how devastating the event has been.

The online Cambridge Dictionary talks about “total destruction and the end of the world” and uses the synonym “annihilation” but also, less pessimistically, about “great destruction and change”. Merriam Webster defines it as “the end or destruction of the world”. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary differentiates between an apocalypse which would cause “very serious damage and destruction”, and the apocalypse which causes the “destruction of the world”.

Most zompoc books and movies talk about the zombie apocalypse and rarely a zombie apocalypse, so – please bear with me here, I’m just having a little fun with the idea – my point is how do you end the end? Of course, you can have new beginnings and people adapting and changing, and maybe even incapacitating or escaping the zombie threat, or destroying the virus that caused it and so on and so on. But which of these would these qualify as the satisfying ending that my course tutor required?

Discuss!

*SPOILER ALERT*

This all got me to thinking – when I should actually have been listening to We Will Rise and had to rewind for about 15 minutes’ worth – about the endings of many of the books I have read, as well as movies and TV series I have watched and games I have played, and whether or not they had satisfying endings to their apocalypses.

Movies

Let’s start with the grandfather of the zombie apocalypse, George A Romero. His first movie, The Night of the Living Dead ends when the main character, Ben, an African American, is mistaken for a zombie and shot and killed. While many people have interpreted this as reflection of socio-political issues at the time, it doesn’t represent the end of the apocalypse. Indeed, Romero went on two make his other two classic movies, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. The original cut of Dawn of the Dead ends badly for all the survivors who are seen to perish in some harrowing found-footage material. Subsequent cuts see Fran and Peter survive but we never find out what happens to them after their escape. Similarly, in Day of the Dead, three characters escape by helicopter to a desert island, but we never find out what happens to them in the long term either.

Another couple of my favourite movies are 28 Days Later and the sequel, 28 Weeks Later. In 28 Days Later, Jim, Selena and Hannah are spotted by a fighter jet but we never know whether anyone comes back to rescue them. The zombie threat clearly continues as in 28 Weeks Later things are as bad as ever. This movie ends with the revelation that the virus has spread to mainland Europe but again, who knows what happens next? I’m still waiting for the making of 28 Months Later to find out.

Finally, World War Z the movie. Now this does have a slightly more satisfying ending that might meet with my tutor’s approval. At the end of this blockbuster, not only has Brad Pitt’s character discovered a vaccine to shield people from rampaging zombies but he and his family are all reunited in a safe zone well out of harm’s way. Aww! Nevertheless, the war against the hordes of undead that have taken over the world continues, but we are led to believe that things are looking good for the living survivors.

TV Shows

Moving on to some of the more popular zompoc TV series, The Walking Dead is apparently close to reaching its conclusion with the second half of Season 11 due on our screens any day now. I’m waiting with bated breath to see what that looks like but it’s already evident from all the spin-offs from that show (Fear the Walking Dead, Tales of the Walking Dead and World Beyond are all out already with yet more to follow), that this apocalypse is far from over.

As for Z Nation and the prequel Black Summer. (I have to admit I never finished Z Nation – it started to get on my nerves.) I believe the end involved Murphy eating Sun Mei’s brain to get the cure to the virus but honestly, I don’t really care. I did enjoy Black Summer on the other hand, but we never really reached a satisfying conclusion to this series as everything went to hell in a handbasket at the end of the Season 2 and so far, it doesn’t look as if there will be a Season 3.

Games

I’ve played a lot of zompoc games, but my favourites are Resident Evil, Dying Light, Days Gone and – my all-time favourite by a country mile – The Last of Us. (Can’t wait for that TV show to come out next year!) Most games end in a kind of satisfying way usually involving defeating the baddie, or “boss” to use gaming terminology. I might be wrong, but I don’t think many “end” as such as the manufacturers always like to leave things open for another day (and another dollar of course).

In The Last of Us Joel chooses to save Ellie over saving the world and the stage is set for The Last of Us 2. The end of The Last of Us 2 is all about the people and their relationships and less about the apocalypse itself. Can Ellie forgive Joel and move on? Can she even forgive Abby? Will she and Dina be reunited? I’m assuming we will get some answers to all of these questions and more in The Last of Us 3. I hope so anyway!

Books

And so, to books. My absolute favourite media! While it is acceptable and almost expected that TV Series and Games, by their very nature, will be unlikely to have a final completely satisfying ending, books, like movies, always should.

World War Z, one of the first zompoc books I ever read, has an ending that I think my tutor would approve of. Ten years after the fall, humanity is winning the war, but the costs have been high. The world has taken a big step back in terms of living standards, life expectancy and quality of life and the planet itself has been forever changed, but there is hope for the future.

The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey is another favourite of mine. At the end of this book, we are left with the thought that the second generation “hungries” are the future and that it is only a matter of time until all humans are infected, and they are able to take over and rebuild. I kind of like that ending. Especially as Justineau appears to be going to help them prepare for this day.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion is essentially a love story. Now this story does a have a proper ending! Basically, love is the cure for the zombie virus and it is highly likely that everyone will live happily ever after! It might be a “proper” ending but honestly, for me, it’s all just a bit naff!

I enjoyed The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Mary has left the safety of her village to find the ocean and so she does at the end of the book. However, it is not quite what she was expecting and there is no attempt to bring about any sort of conclusion or resolution to the zombie problem. In fact, there are two books which follow The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Dead Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places. Neither of them live up to the promise of The Forest of Hands and Teeth in my view, and The Dead Tossed Waves ends in a place that compels the reader to go and buy The Dark and Hollow Places to find out what happens next, as it leaves us after Gabry and Catcher escape from the Recruiters and set off on their journey to the Dark City. I suppose the trilogy has a semi-decent ending in terms of it being more about the characters and their relationships than trying to overcome the zombie threat and it all works out for everyone in the end (well more or less).

And so, to Adrian’s Undead Diaries by Chris Philbrook. What a great series! In terms of zompoc series it has to be up there as one of the best. And it does have an ending where the zombies are destroyed! Yay! My tutor would be delighted. After an epic battle between good and evil the “good” living human beings survive. There is still a lot of work to be done to eke out a survival in a devastated world, and there are still conflicts with other groups of survivors to be resolved, but Adrian and his friends are free to get on with that without the threat of being chomped by a zombie as they do so. Great ending!

I could go on but I’m going to stop here. I’m getting a bit bored with the potentially endless list of examples that could be discussed and so I’m sure you are too.

If you have managed to read to the end of this essay, well done and thank you for indulging my ramblings! I’m currently writing my 3rd zompoc novel, Amenti Rising, and this time I think I have come up with a solid and satisfying ending. Well, I hope I have! Only time will tell …

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the best way to end an apocalyptic tale in your opinion and about the some of the best endings to zombie apocalypse stories that you have come across.

Drop me a line or, better still, sign up for my newsletter and keep the conversation going?

THE END …

OR IS IT …?

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The Lost Virtue

NYC Midnight 100 Word Microfiction Challenge 2022.

You might recall that, in June, I got through to the second round of the NYC Midnight 100 Word Microfiction Challenge 2022. This time, I was in the mix with the remaining 1,770 writers of the original 6793. My challenge for the round was:

Genre: Fairy Tale/Fantasy

Action: Popping a Bubble

Word: Bitter

Completely and utterly out of my comfort zone, I managed to come up with a piece that I was relatively pleased with in The Lost Virtue.

Sadly, I didn’t get through to the next round but I did get some positive and encouraging feedback.

I’d love to know what you think of my effort.

The Lost Virtue

Seven years since Dozumoth had captured the virtues of the realm of Ebruven and Sarander had begun her quest to free them.

Seven bitter years of fear and chaos.

At last, Sarander stood in the high clearing and plucked a thorn from the bush where they dangled in fluid, shimmering bubbles.

Time was short. The sky darkened.

Sarander pierced the first. Prudence. A soft, blue mist blossomed and swirled.

The next. Justice. Green.

Fortitude. Red.

Temperance. Yellow.

Thunder cracked. Lightning flashed. Dozumoth rose.

Sarander reached for the last. Tolerance.

Dozumoth struck. The thorn fell.

Sarander wept dead tears for Ebruven.

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Wet Paint

NYC Midnight 100 Word Microfiction Challenge 2022

It’s that time of year again. The NYC Midnight challenges for 2022 have begun. This year I’ve only been able to enter one – the 100 word microfiction challenge – as I have too many other things going on when the others take place.

Telling a story in 100 words is harder than you might think and is even harder when you have to write to a set brief under a tight timescale of just 24 hours.

In April, 6,973 writers were divided into 118 groups of around 59 per group and set their first challenge. Mine was:

Genre: Comedy

Action: Waiting for a Train

Word: legal

I was on holiday in Nice at the time and didn’t want to spend too much time sitting indoors on my laptop so I felt a lot of additional pressure with this one, especially as my partner was waiting for me to finish before we could get out and enjoy the French sunshine.

After many more “empty head” minutes than I care to remember, I came up with a little ditty called Wet Paint. I wasn’t particularly happy with it but when I read it to my partner and he laughed out loud at the end I decided just to submit it and hope for the best.

I’m happy to say that Wet Paint squeezed through to Round 2 at number 14 of the top 15 qualifiers in my group! This morning I have been writing my entry for the next stage of the competition. This time 1,770 writers were assigned to 27 groups with approximately 66 writers per group. My challenge for this round was:

Genre: Fairy Tale/Fantasy

Action: Popping a Bubble

Word: Bitter

It’s a little little encouraging that I wrote my first ever fantasy piece last month and it got great feedback from my peers! I’ll let you know how I get on at the end of July.

In the meantime here is Wet Paint for (I hope) your amusement and entertainment.

Wet Paint

The station was a riot of football noise and colour. Edgar’s brand-new England shirt was a white beacon in a sea of blue and white stripes.

He regarded the Greek sign on the empty blue bench. He couldn’t read Greek. His train was in fifteen minutes. He needed to rest.

Edgar removed the sign and sat down. It couldn’t be legal, not to sit on a bench. What was the worst that could happen?

The station was a riot of football noise and colour. Edgar’s brand-new, Greek shirt melted into the sea of blue and white stripes.

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My Green Jumper

My Winning Poem

So last night I won the 54th Solihull Writers Workshop Annual Poetry Competition with my poem My Green Jumper. I was both honoured and astonished to be the recipient of the award as the standard of all the entries was so high.

I have been sharing the news of my success on social media and several people have asked if they could read the poem – so here it is!

I’m not a poet. I think this is the second poem I have ever written as an adult. I was inspired by the current humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and by the thousands of people donating their clothing to help people in need.

My Green Jumper

My green jumper

Old and familiar

Soft and soothing

Warm comfort

Scented with love

Threaded with memories

Sofa snuggles

Cosy cuddles

Winter walks

Kitchen talks

Safe and secure

My green jumper

Tossing and turning

Nestling and glowing

In bags and boxes

By road and rail

Over land and sea

To get to you

Explosions and Gunfire

Fire and Flame

Fear and Heartbreak

Blood and Pain

I cannot touch you, but my green jumper can

Put it against your skin

Let it sooth and calm

Let it warm and comfort

Let it talk to you

About my love

My care

My sorrow

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All About Audio

Exploring the world of audiobooks.

The first few months of 2022 have been all about audiobooks for me. When I first published Wait for Me just over a year ago, I had a few enquiries as to whether it was available on audio. I’ll be honest, back then I was just delighted just to have finally published the book and hadn’t even thought abut this. More importantly, I didn’t have a clue where to start.

After I published Trident Edge in October I took a break from novel writing and did a little research on how to go about creating an audiobook. I was daunted and almost gave up a few times. It seemed so complicated and, lets face it, expensive.

However, I kept going and spoke to a few other authors about the different options for an independent author like me. This was how I learned about ACX, Amazon’s audio platform. I’m delighted to say that I discovered it was not only affordable but also accessible to a terrified technophobe on a budget.

It’s as simple as creating an account, selecting one of a few different options depending on your budget, choosing a narrator and uploading your book. I went for the Royalty Share option which allowed me to create an audiobook without spending any money at all. The narrator and I receive 20% of the royalties each and Amazon get the rest. I’ve outlined the process in more detail below.

The upshot of it all is that Wait for Me and Trident Edge are now both available in audiobook formats.

If you are not a member of Audible you can join and purchase the book via this link in the US

and this one in the UK

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ACX Audiobook Process.

Go to ACX.com and create an account and a profile.

Add your book (this pops up automatically if your book is on Amazon).

You will have to upload a square version of your cover.

Submit a script for auditions and submit then sit back and wait.

When the auditions come in select the one you like and make them an offer.

You can communicate with the narrator about any character voices or pronunciations etc.

There is a 15 minute checkpoint for you to make sure you are happy with how it’s going.

Once the narrator has submitted the full recording you get a chance to request any changes before you accept and the book goes live.

1000 Paper Cranes

Chisako is folding 1000 paper cranes. Tradition dictates that when she is finished, her one true wish will be granted.

Well sadly, 1000 Paper Cranes didn’t get me through to the final round of the 2021 NYC Flash Fiction Challenge, but I did come 6th in my group with an ‘Honourable Mention’ and got some lovely feedback from the judges. By my rough estimate I was in the top 150 of over 4000 writers so I’m feeling pretty proud of that. The upside of it all is that I now have a completely free weekend, as I had planned to do nothing other than write on Saturday and edit on Sunday.

No rest for the wicked though … the following weekend I will find out if I got through to the next round of the 2021 NYC Micro-fiction Challenge with my little ghost story, Until Next Year. More on than that next weekend!

In the meantime, here is 1000 Paper Cranes. I hope you enjoy it! If you do, why not drop me a line and sign up for my Mailing List while you’re at it?

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1000 Paper Cranes

Chisako sat cross-legged on the tearoom floor as she watched her onee san, Chikafumi, perform the ancient ceremony with the poise and elegance that defined everything she did. Ever since the san san kudo, when they had been bound as sisters through the sharing of sake, Chisako had been spellbound by her Geisha mentor.

The open windows on two sides gave the room a light and airy feel. The clean lines and neutral tones of the walls, paper screens and bamboo mats contrasted with the lush green disorder of the gardens outside. A fountain gurgled, a wind chime tinkled, and the chirp of cicadas heralded the start of summer. Inside, the grassy scent of green tea mingled with the heady aroma of sandalwood incense, and the only sound was the rustle of silk and the murmured thanks of her clients as Chikafumi prepared and served tea, smiling, and nodding as she moved around the space with effortless grace.

As a maiko in the third stage of her training, Chisako accompanied Chikafumi to the teahouse and around the hanamachi every day, to learn the ways of a Geisha through observation. Some of the other maiko complained about the length of this stage of their training, which could last for many years, but as far as Chisako was concerned, she wouldn’t care if it went on forever. She would happily watch Chikafumi until the end of time.

To Chisako, Chikafumi epitomised not only the perfect Geisha, but the perfect woman. She was tall and slender. Only the smooth folds of her obi interrupted the flowing contours of her frame. Her classic Cupid’s bow lips and almond-shaped eyes were accentuated by the traditional bright red lipstick, black and red eyeliner, and white face powder. Her immaculately sculpted dark hair was sleek and shiny. She might have looked like a porcelain doll but for the tantalising glimpse of soft, pale flesh revealed by the low, dipped neckline of her red and gold kimono. Every inch of her was intoxicating, from the top of her cherry blossom hairpin to the tips of her white-stockinged toes.

Chisako was aware that she was mesmerised by Chikafumi in a way that went far beyond the usual respect and admiration of a maiko for her onee san. She was completely captivated by her. She adored her. Every night she went to bed dreaming of her, and every morning her face was the first thing she saw. She had had crushes before but never anything like this. Indeed, it was the confusing and unwelcome feelings that she often felt for other women that had prompted her to enter the profession. She had hoped that by immersing herself in the most controlled and feminine of environments, such feelings would fade and disappear. In fact, the reverse was true. Being surrounded by a preponderance of exquisite and glamourous young women had made them more difficult to control than ever, and none were stronger than those she felt for Chikafumi.

But her feelings were not reciprocated. Chikafumi barely noticed her, not beyond their professional relationship that was. She was unfailingly polite and personable in all their interactions, and patient and gracious in her instruction, but she remained aloof and guarded. Chisako was amazed that Chikafumi didn’t seem to feel the tingle of electricity that passed between them every time their fingers touched. She couldn’t understand why Chikafumi never held eye contact with her for a second longer than necessary. It was as if she was deliberately preventing the development of a deeper connection between them. At the end of each day when Chikafumi left to return to her private house in the hanamachi, and Chisako to the okiya with the other maiko, Chisako would watch her until she was out of sight, but Chikafumi never looked back.

Alone in her room in the okiya, Chisako was folding origami paper cranes. She had eight to do to reach 1000 and complete the senbazuru. Tradition dictated that the folding of 1,000 paper cranes would grant the person the chance for one special wish to come true. When Chisako had begun, her wish had been that she could be like other girls and no longer be tortured by feelings and desires that she could never realise. Now, as she folded the last tiny figure, she knew that wasn’t what she wanted at all. All she wished for, and would forever wish for, was for Chikafumi to notice her and love her back.

The next morning, they were alone in the teahouse for a shamisen lesson. To help Chisako get her hand position right, Chikafumi sat down behind her and reached around her body. For Chisako, the closeness of their bodies was almost unbearable. Her heart quickened and she couldn’t catch her breath.

“Here. Place your fingers, like this,” said Chikafumi placing her hands over Chisako’s. Chisako could not stop the small moan that escaped from her lips. Chikafumi froze for a moment before sighing and moving her body away. She stood up. Chisako bent her head, deeply ashamed of her momentary loss of control, fearful of how Chikafumi would react.

“Stand up, little sister.” Chikafumi’s voice was gentle. “Look at me.”

Chisako stood and turned towards her. A single tear rolled down her cheek as she raised her head. Expecting admonishment, she gasped when she saw that Chikafumi was smiling.

“Don’t worry, little sister.” Chikafumi nodded. “Don’t be sad. I know how you feel, and it is time for you to know that I feel the same.”

Chisako stepped back in surprise. Her hands flew to her mouth. A thousand emotions flooded through her. Joy. Relief. Hope. Disbelief.

“But … I don’t understand … I thought …” she stammered.

Chikafumi took both her hands in hers and looked into her eyes.

“We must be careful, little sister. Patient. Can you do this? Do you understand?”

“I can,” Chisako whispered. “I do.”

“Then let us resume the lesson for now, little sister.”

My first book signing.

News update.

A lot has been happening in my writing life since Trident Edge was published so I thought I’d do a short post to serve as a bit of an update.

Last night I did my first ever book signing event, to coincide with the launch of Trident Edge. It was held at the Ale Hub in Dickens Heath, a local craft beer pub. Attendance was lower than we hoped for, but it was still my best day ever in terms of book sales, so you could say it was a success. My fellow writer, Andy, compered the evening and lots of friends and family came along to support. We started with an author interview, followed by a reading from Wait for Me, and an open Q&A session.

Sales of both books are still steady, and the positive ratings and reviews are still trickling in.

A few weeks ago, I took part in a live Facebook event with the author of Adrian’s Undead Diaries, Chris Philbrook, giving lots of advice to other aspiring zombie writers at various stages in their career. The session marked a big turning point for me and made me realise that my books are not going to sell themselves and that I really need to ramp up my marketing programme.

I think I’ve been suffering from a bit of “imposter syndrome” in terms of thinking of myself as an author and having an author page, a newsletter and (God forbid) a fan base. The session got me to wake up to myself. I’ve published three books now and two short stories and contributed to three flash fiction collections. It’s official –  I am an author!

As such, I have added an author page to my website and created a newsletter function. You can sign up to my mailing list below. I promise not to bombard you with junk and only to send out a newsletter when I have some actual news! I hope you will join so that I can keep you up-to-date with forthcoming events and developments and any new or pending publications.

Today, Wait for Me is going to be announced as the subject of a group read in a zombie Facebook Group with over 1000 members. I am both excited and nervous in equal measure about what their feedback is going to be!

On Sunday, along with my fellow JAMS members, we will be attending the Henley-in-Arden Book Fair at a book fair in Wootton Wawen Social Club. It’s usually a great event that didn’t take place last year due to Covid so we’re hoping for a good day in terms of networking and book sales!

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