Current events – Writing Buddies 5th Anniversary exhibition at the Central Library, Southampton Civic Centre, 12-17 May 2014

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The Right Worshipful The Mayor of Southampton (Councillor Ivan White), centre, with Pam Whittington and Penny Legg, the founders of Writing Buddies, cutting the celebration cake yesterday at the opening of the exhibition. All photos: Lisa Scullard

I joined Writing Buddies back in 2010, having found them by chance while looking for a local writing group close to the New Forest.

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Writing Buddies is unique in that it isn’t a feedback and critique group, but rather a support group for the technicalities of living as a writer – where to take your writing, who can help, and if you are inclined, the technical details on how to publish.

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It’s free to join and we pay a couple of quid at the group meetings towards hire of the room at the Mercure Dolphin, Southampton, on the first Friday of every month.

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The 5th Anniversary cake was created by Christine Donovan, previous Rubery Book Award winner, who studied cake-making at Brockenhurst College

DSCF2382Members are from all ages, backgrounds and abilities, and as well as sharing progress on individual writing careers, they have supported other projects, including recording audio stories to be played on the radio for the visually impaired.

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Penny Legg discussing the work of Southampton Sight, with the Right Worshipful The Mayor of Southampton, Councillor Ivan White

Individuals can also volunteer to give informative talks at these monthly meetings. In June’s meeting, I’ll be giving a talk on copyright.

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The exhibition runs until this weekend, where you’ll be able to see examples of all of our work and other creative projects, in the main body of the library near the entrance.

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For more information on Writing Buddies, email Penny on penny@pennylegg.com

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Christine’s lovely cake went down a treat 🙂

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Until midnight Friday 16th May 2014, PST, you can download three of my ebooks for free from Amazon Kindle – Death & The City: Book One, Death & The City: Book Two, and One Stolen Kiss, written under my pen-name Lauren Boutain

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Enjoy 🙂

Q&A: Lisa Scullard – writer, editor, formatter, parkour enthusiast…

A surprise invitation from David Powning of Ink-Wrapped…

…Apparently, I can…

Hey, happy Sunday 🙂

I’m not sure what I expected would happen, publishing an unknown pen-name into the most overcrowded genre, with no advertising or solicited support. A dive into the community pool of obscurity, most likely. The genre has the highest turnover of readers as well, who devour a book in a day and are in a hurry to pick up the next one, like a chocolate fixation. Interest at the most optimistic level is likely to be fleeting.

I jumped the gun too, having had the book requested in full by Harlequin M&B and waited three months for a response after submitting. As the novel, a stand-alone story, only took me five weeks to write (76,000 words, a cakewalk compared to some of my others) I justified that part as not thinking it decent that I should have to wait more than twice as long for a reply than it took me to write. And I’d started writing four more in the meantime, which if I finish this year to follow it up with, would be unlikely to find such quick slots to fill in a traditional publisher’s catalogue.

Anyway. From my previous experience of running repeating freebies as promotion, when I put it on KDP Select to release it as free in the first weekend after publishing it last week, I was expecting a few hundred downloads on Amazon.com, a few dozen on Amazon.co.uk and one or two elsewhere. After the freebie ended this time, however, I had 1732 downloads on Kindle UK, outstripping everywhere else almost three times over, and had reached the UK #4 in its category and #24 in the Kindle top 100 bestsellers in Free ebooks. Two 5* reviews had turned up from nowhere, and it has continued to sell (and be borrowed on Amazon Prime) at an average rate of 1 per hour ever since.

As I only tweeted it about a dozen times for the freebie, and didn’t solicit or advertise for any promotion or ask friends for help, all I can guess is that folk genuinely like this book and are recommending it.

That’s a writer’s dream. Still early days, but at the the moment I feel as though I should be pinching myself to see if it’s really me dreaming it.

Possibly in danger of giving myself a small identity crisis, but that’s nothing new. One audience for the zombie parody, one for the psychological introspection, and now another, under a new name altogether.

And it means the opportunity to invest more time in writing 🙂

It wasn’t a quick decision to write in another genre – I’d been writing experimentally in this genre for about twenty years, but never published anything. Writing and publishing my other stuff turned out to be relevant experience – the more you write, the more fluent you become. You can learn something new about language and prose every day, which I discovered when writing a novel as a blog in 2012. When you write in a fully-conscious state of mind, you’re less likely to repeat yourself or slip into stereotypes associated with writing.

But I found I also have to be aware of being a storyteller, imparting an atmosphere and emotional tone as a major priority – allowing the reader’s imagination to have as much control without distracting them with ‘wordplay’. There’s good writing that demonstrates the mental gymnastics and intellect of the author, and then there’s good writing that you forget is writing because you’re absorbed in the story. In this case, I was aiming for the second one – which meant switching off the part of me as a writer which wants to flash around some skills and intellect and behave as if I have something to gain by proving them. If being too clever makes your writing inaccessible, it’s like pricing your books too high – they may be praiseworthy, but only a few folk will invest in them.

For me, writing will always be a spontaneous activity, meaning that most of what I achieve is down to luck and enjoying the time spent by myself working on it, which includes any social media (I have a great deal of writer friends, but I’m not known for turning up ubiquitously on dozens of blogs or joining marketing campaigns and the review culture). One reason I enjoy writing as a career is it doesn’t involve any group effort or teamwork – and I’m not into competitive sports either 🙂

Genuine success will always be down to the readership in that particular genre and their judgement. It’s a very grounding and humbling thought, knowing that as the writer, you’re always outnumbered by the potential readers, by millions to one 🙂

L xxx

I went for it…

Lauren Boutain

Jensen AcklesJensen Ackles – another dreamboat from my Pinterest muses board and Facebook page

So – you can see what I have been up to, on my new ‘Books’ page. And for more insight, you can treat yourself to the complete ebook on Kindle.

I had some great feedback, and also won a Romance pitching contest in the last two weeks, which has fuelled my current writing even further – so I decided not to wait around for the publisher’s response to the full manuscript they requested three months ago, and yesterday I published it…

For five days ‘One Stolen Kiss’ by Lauren Boutain is free on Amazon Kindle worldwide, until midnight 10 February PST. After that – 99 cents offer until the end of February, as it’s new, as am I, to this genre. My expectations are ‘hopeful’ 🙂

Let me know if you enjoy it… and I wish you…

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Another word count…

Lauren Boutain

Two days into the next novel in my series, and the word count is just over 5100. I’m excited about this one too. I’m picking up the story of two characters who played a small supporting role in the last one.

I spent my ‘rest week’ doing final edits and corrections to the first book in the series (the one currently out on submissions) which brought it up to 76,000 words – not bad for only five weeks’ work for the first draft, plus one week for revisions. I’ve never worked so fast. Steadily, but not necessarily fast. Six to eight months was the norm for me previously, to write a novel from scratch.

I’ve found it’s the new limitations I’ve set myself for writing Romance. A specific genre and style, with no more than two central characters taking centre stage, with very limited air-time for background characters. Not allowing…

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Niche marketing – part 2…

Following yesterday’s post Niche marketing – the psychology behind success I’ll give you an example from my back catalogue, where I really was writing for a perceived ‘niche market’ as I saw it.

When designing your perfect reader, you have to realise that there is an element of caricature in the concept. Like for romance writers, their perfect reader might be the single city girl commuting, with her dog-eared, much-loved paperback copy of their book (not ebook, so that everyone can see what she’s reading) in permanent residence at the bottom of her Chloé.

Have you noticed that bags and shoes aren’t referred to as bags and shoes in chick lit anymore? It’s all label this and designer that. Shopping-channel porn. Unfortunately, it also tends to date books quickly, due to fashion’s fickle nature – you’ll see what I mean in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho novel, where Patrick launches into a loving and verbose description of the contents of his man-tastic living room.

Christian Bale in American Psycho

As such, lurid technology envy should probably also be avoided, now everyone and their two-year-old owns an iPad. As for cars, they go out of style faster than shoes – quite literally…

Digression alert! What I was saying, is that your planned ‘niche market’ is ‘a character’ as much as the people in your novel are also characters. So for the traditional romance/chick lit author, her ideal reader is the city girl commuting on the train, enjoying her favourite books en route, and usually sneaking them out under the desk and in her lunch hour too. She probably gets wobbly on a gin and tonic, and leaves parties early to curl up in her PJs and watch Bridget Jones for the umpteenth time rather than embarrassing herself instead. She’d never ask a guy out because she’s too shy, but secretly would like to dance on a table just once in her life. Abroad. Where nobody knows who she is.

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones

That’s a caricature. It’s a perception of a potentially real person or reader, but doesn’t define or specify a completely real person or reader.

The romance author only needs to write their own book with his/her particular reader in mind. She/he doesn’t need to try and target ‘everyone’ and include members of the House of Lords, prisoners on Death Row, Guatemala, Greenpeace activists, people who work on whaling ships, and the creepy guy that never talks but licks the library windows. Even though they can all read as well, most likely. What I’m saying is, don’t announce that your book is for ‘everyone’ – try being specific, and see how your story, its cover, and the way you promote it stands up to your concept of who in the worldwide ‘market’ you are considering would appreciate this sort of book.

Here’s my own example – chick lit/crime, ‘self-help’ fiction, Death & The City:

DATC hd cover

Other editions and covers available – see ‘eBooks’. Also in paperback print and hardcover.

Now I had only one reader in mind at first: Me.

But as I wrote, I realised there was an existing concept of women out there who might also enjoy it.

The ones who hadn’t always managed to pick the right guy – or any guy. The ones who clung to the rails but spent most of the time off them, while they struggled with growing up, daily life, work and peer pressure.

Lindsay Lohan Daily Mail UK September 2013

The ones who saw everyone else’s mistakes, but still couldn’t make their own life work out perfectly…

Angelina - Girl, Interrupted

Somewhere inside them is always a seed of strength, whether it’s that they know better, they know what’s best for them deep down but other people always seem to get it wrong, or that they have already been through the ‘worst case scenarios’ on a number of occasions, and have come out the other side…

Britney at MTV Awards

They’re a bit feisty on the surface, and never seem to take any crap, and are occasionally better survivors single than in a relationship – but that’s only because they’re protecting themselves, their sanity and their children first…

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They don’t ‘need a man’ but the right one will find them – eventually.

Katie Price 'Jordan'

And you know that the minute she picks up the ball and runs with it, she’ll kick everyone’s ass…

Angelina Jolie - Lara Croft

…So that’s my caricature of a potential ‘niche market’ audience. It sounds quite specific. But when you read into it, and expand on it, you’ll find that some of the characteristics you’ve given your ‘specific reader’ speak to a much wider audience than you first realised. Lots of people will identify with elements of it.

But you don’t advertise that fact.

You stick to communicating your idea of ‘one perfect reader’ who will get the most from your work, take the best message it contains on board, feel it speaks to the best version of themselves, and leads them to further insights of their own.

Sounds idealistic, doesn’t it? But niche marketing is all about selling idealism, that others will then want to be a part of. How or what you write is up to you, whether your intentions are good and it comes from the heart, or you only want to find the fastest route to making money. Either way, you still then have to promote it, whether it’s to a publisher or directly to the public – and you need to say who you are writing for, not just why.

It’s funny. I’ve never put together an actual pinboard of my ideal reader as above, and here it is. I carried the concept of my ‘reader’ and the various representations of that reader around in my head. But looking at them, and looking at my various covers, I think this is the best one so far:

Death & The City - Heavy Duty Edition hardcover

Cover for the Smashwords/Kobo/Sony/Diesel Ebooks/iTunes Bookstore version and Lulu hardback

The pink is more appropriate – but I still think it’s not quite there yet. I’ll need to make a bigger ‘niche marketing’ pinboard and see where that leads me…

Make your ‘ideal reader pinboard’ – it might surprise you 🙂

L xxx

Niche marketing – the psychology behind success

Yesterday, I caught a few minutes of Real Housewives of Vancouver, where business-minded Mom ‘Ronnie’ was in a design planning meeting, regarding her idea for a new wine brand that she proposed to call ‘Rehab’.

The ad agency were asking all the right questions, which Ronnie really didn’t seem to understand. Who was the product aimed at? What was the story behind it? What image or personality did it have? What occasion would it be suited to?

Ronnie, like many first-time writers I’ve spoken to, didn’t want to tie herself down to a ‘niche market’. She wanted an instant, across-the-board success. “It’s for everyone” she said. “People drinking at home, or during the day, or getting ready to go out…”

Nothing starts out aimed at ‘everyone’ unless it’s toilet paper.

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No comment… 🙂

The problem isn’t the concept of ‘niche marketing’. The problem is the widely-held misconception of how niche marketing works. The intent and purpose of ‘niche marketing’.

The misconception is that you ‘find your niche market’ and only target them as your consumers. This is only correct if your product has age restrictions, usually enforced by law.

Let’s say you are a science fiction author who wants to break into the crossover sci-fi romance market. You have penned the equivalent of Star Wars. You immediately want to reach “everyone” as Ronnie stated.

You don’t start with everyone. You start with the design concept for your one perfect reader in the whole world. Just one.

And then you make everyone else in the world want to be that reader.

Your one perfect reader is the hottest guy (or girl) on the science campus. They wear designer loafers bought on eBay and own an epic collection of zombie t-shirts from online artists. They’ve met Stephen Hawking. They drink cherry brandy and Coke because it tastes awesome. They prefer DeviantArt to Pinterest, listen to Calvin Harris, and their ideal party weekend would be a trip to Vegas to see Britney Spears live in residence. They own at least one of the original Star Wars branded pieces of merchandise. You never see them play or hear them bragging, but you just know they’d thrash you at pool or poker. They’re an expert on the moon of Enceladus, and will tell you all about it while making you the best vegan Pad Thai noodles that you’ve ever eaten in your life.

Does that reader sound appealing to a sci-fi author? Damn right it does. And probably to some other potential readers as well. Who are Googling Pad Thai recipes as we speak.

Vegan Black Metal Chef: Pad Thai

Here’s another example. Cristal champagne. Originally commissioned for Russian royalty in the 1800s, with a bottle designed to defy assassination attempts, it wasn’t available to the public until 1945. It was so exclusive and its potential market so tiny, that to drink it became a badge of honour. And by the turn of the 21st century it was starting to be sloshed over mixing decks by high-profile DJs and poured all over hip-hop girls in hot tubs by rap musicians. Its niche market went from ‘virtually no-one’ to ‘virtually everyone’.

Tupac Shakur ‘Thug Passion’ – also the name of his Cristal/Alize cocktail

But that took 60 years, I hear you wail!

It doesn’t always take that long. If the design for your perfect reader is enviable enough that everyone wants to become that reader, then reading your book – like drinking that wine – will by proxy make them that reader. In their minds, at least.

With alcohol, very few people want to see themselves as the lonely idle bastard sitting at home in a string vest and one shoe on, watching Homes Under the Hammer while their cat slowly expires of mange and unpaid bills drop onto the mat. That’s someone who primarily (frequently) wants and needs toilet paper. That’s ‘everyone’.

They want to see themselves at the front row on the Strip surrounded by Cristal and close friends who never throw up on them screaming themselves hoarse watching Britney Spears live, while she announces mid-performance that there’s a really hot guy right in front of her and she likes his zombie t-shirt. In fact, she’d like him to take it off so she can wear it home.

Britney Spears live, Las Vegas, in a jazz club stylee… niiiiice…  🙂

See? The niche market is not your enemy. It’s your consumer’s aspiration and future adventures. You’re just there to hold the door open a tiny chink, and allow everyone else a brief glimpse of where they could be.

The Dos Equis beer commercials spell it out for you 😉

London Book Fair 2013: After it has all sunk in…

Kobo at Clapham Junction

Kobo reader at Clapham Junction, awaiting train home after LBF13, 15th April

There’s not much I can say about this year’s London Book Fair that hasn’t been said already. Authors ruled. Early in the day on Monday, you could see the tumbleweeds blowing through EC1 – while in EC2, at the Author Lounge, it was an ants’ nest of inquisitive and industrious minds around Mark Lefebvre‘s talk ‘From E to Eternity’.

Mark Lefebvre of Kobo speaking at the London Book Fair 2013

Mark Lefebvre discussing the Zombies Run app as an example of progressing interactive e-reading experiences

The authonomy blog shared a mind-blowing fact afterwards – that around 25,000 new titles are currently being released to a worldwide audience every week (April 2013). With more and more folk picking up on how easy it is to self-publish using free ebook and POD platforms, this number looks set to continue growing exponentially.

Standing room only inside and outside the LBF13 Author Lounge

The outcome of this year’s Book Fair was that there was some traditional publishing buzz afterwards, but even the high bidders, staking claims to their meaningful contribution in the industry, couldn’t contend with the sheer overwhelming presence of (and interest in) the independent authors at this year’s event.

Photo by Kobo Writing Life

To me, the most daunting thing facing a writer today is the sheer number of people doing it. The same thing has happened with the indie music industry and indie film industry over the past 15 years.

Suddenly everyone is producing work, and putting it online, and trying to reach people with a taste for their style using the promotional platforms available – and while the creative market is exploding, the audience is progressively shrinking. As consumers, we don’t have enough hours to see, hear and read everything out there (even less so if we’re also the creators, and need most of that time to be creative ourselves), and the chances of finding our perfect entertainment to fill our small amount of spare time, although it may be out there, is tiny – like hunting for our own personal needle in a haystack full of needles.

Which is why it’s important to ensure that your creative hobby is fulfilling you, before you even conceive of who else might appreciate it. You are your primary audience.

The major concern that I’ve heard other authors voice recently, is that their one fear about publishing their work is “being judged on the content” which suggests they’re not writing for themselves, or from personal experience, but for some seedy underbelly kind of voyeuristic audience that they wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, let alone at a book signing.

If you wouldn’t want to be judged on the content of your writing, why are you writing for that particular perceived audience? For the potential money? For the notoriety? Are you simply in denial of a fetish for that specific genre yourself? Writers who enjoy their work, and are writing in a way that reflects them accurately, aren’t suffering from that fear. Anyone meeting them will find their personality consistent with the writing. They’ll leave them feeling that they were indeed the only person qualified to have written that particular work, and that if it was to their taste, that they’d happily want to learn more – in effect, to spend time with that author getting to know them better through their writing.

Sometimes, as a reader, there’s nothing more disappointing than an author who doesn’t live up to their stories. The author is supposed to be ‘the authority’ on their individual writing. Not a collector of ideas applied to writing, in order to make a fast buck.

Sometimes, that’s the reason true life stories are more interesting than fiction. You already know that it really happened to the author, which makes them an interesting person – one with a story to spend time on.

An author whose only personal story is that they churn out ideas, like a machine, in the best tried-and-tested manner to generate income, may be running an effective business, but are they living a life worth sharing with lessons worth learning? Are they inspiring people to live differently or explore life by being the best example of that lifestyle that there is?

By accident, I found out that parody sells. I enjoy parody, as a consumer – fantasy and sci-fi parody is my favourite genre, alongside graphic novels. I wrote my first parody as a test of publishing platforms, once I’d taught myself the technical know-how to format and publish for free – which led me to publish other original works I’d written years earlier. But ironically, it’s the parody that keeps selling. Is it because it’s my favourite genre as a customer? Or just that it fits a mainstream contemporary audience?

But here’s what I wanted to write. When I was about fourteen, I read an interview with a Mills & Boon author at the time, Mary Wibberly. She had been writing romances for years and submitting them to Mills & Boon for about a decade before finally getting published (she’d even been submitting them under different author names, in imaginary fear of having been blacklisted by the editors). It made me want to write romances one day. I still do. But although I can satirize and produce parody of it, I feel like a fraud whenever I attempt more traditional ‘romance’ with a straight face, because I don’t have any romantic experience. Ideas aren’t the same as having experience. I can read all the advice books around, from writing advice by Sue Moorcroft to relationship advice by Greg and Amiira Behrendt – but in the real world where nothing remotely like romance is happening and the only nudity I see is dead and trussed up in the frozen meat counter at the supermarket, I have to kick the daydream of writing romance aside and stick to comedy and fantasy for now (and sometimes zombies, see above). I’m one of those writers that has to be identifiable to myself first, and if I tried to write something that could only be comfortably and authoritatively written by a happily married housewife or a happily dating city girl, it wouldn’t seem real to me and most likely wouldn’t seem real to anyone else.

I guess we all have dreams of creative and professional success, the same way we have dreams of achievement in our personal lives. The internet makes it possible for everyone to compete in the same playing field. Meaning that the potential for anyone to rise head and shoulders above the rest, where everyone has the same level of electronically-supported social skills at their disposal – subject to time and budget – is slim.

If you picture the internet as such a playing field, with the population of the world strolling around on it trying to get noticed with their business cards and check-lists saying ‘reviews’ and ‘advertising’ (or ‘dating profile’ and ‘has genuine recent photo’) – what would stand out to you, as a potential customer? It’s not Dragon’s Den, where you get five minutes to pitch individually. Everyone selling themselves online, is online at the same time as you. You have, at most, about 0.4 seconds to catch someone’s eye and make them look again. (If they’re an RAF pilot, about 0.1 seconds).

And your budget doesn’t stretch to getting them all sociably drunk and conveniently impressionable – and that’s even if you could fit them all into Groucho’s.

As a customer, for me, it’s in regular high street bookshops and the supermarket where I look for books, so the dream is probably still to reach one of those publishers who can distribute to those places. I’m a proud reader. I think people being able to see what I’m enjoying reading on the train is better than writing a review any day.

Although perhaps not this book… I was laughing, but I don’t think that’s what the intention behind it is…

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Weirdest thing I’ve ever read on a train… didn’t make me want to try it out, let alone read past page 45…

So, besides misrepresenting myself as a person occasionally by picking up weird cult books to read, my philosophy of ‘write what you know’ is about as flexible as it is to continually increase what I know, to a valid and confident level where I know I won’t be misrepresenting or misleading anyone else.

That way, the fear of being ‘judged on the subject/content’ as a writer doesn’t sabotage my enjoyment of writing. After all, I may be the only person who ever reads it for more than 0.4 seconds, and I wouldn’t try and delude myself with artificial knowledge and lack of experience, so why try it out on anyone else?

So like I found with parody – what you think you want from writing early on may turn into something else, leading you down other creative pathways.

How writing affects you as a person – whether it defines you or misrepresents you – is probably more important, particularly for your sanity and whether it affects how comfortable you are around other people, talking about your work. If you’re considering pushing for a career in a certain genre, or as a certain kind of writer, and want to reach those upper echelons of success obtained by JK Rowling, James Patterson and Sir Terry Pratchett – try recording yourself in an imaginary interview, answering all the most awkward questions you can imagine being thrown at you, or write down your answers. Watching it or reading it back, you’ve only got to convince yourself that you’re the star for this job.

If you don’t seem convincing as the star candidate for this subject or this story – maybe try interviewing yourself about a different genre or story. Because if your passion doesn’t come across and your personality doesn’t sparkle as you talk about your work, how are you going to convince others that it’s a story worth selling?

The real challenge is, how to stand out from the 25,000 other books being released the same week as yours… never mind in the weeks following, under the increasing deluge 😉

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Mark Lefebvre of Kobo Writing Life Author Relations at London Book Fair 2013

Zombies Run 2 app trailer

Guest post: Jillian Brookes-Ward

Today’s post is brought to you by my friend Jillian, who is the only writer I know to incorporate fly-fishing and raunchy romance.

I asked her to send me something about her observations of fly-fishermen, along with a sample of her novel On the Fly to share with you, to go with my otherwise strangely out-of-place videos of fly-tying that have appeared here recently… and she sent this lovely article which she had previously written for the now allegedly-defunct Fishkeep.net. Over to you, Jillian…

~ OF FUR, FEATHERS AND FLUFFY BITS ~

It is now officially Spring, and as we have changed the clocks to British Summer Time, I decided it was high time to encourage the sun to come out by packing away my winter woollies and getting out the cotton frocks. But wait, what’s this, a bald patch on the fur collar of my best suede gilet?

Could it be that moths have invaded my wardrobe? Have the pernicious little buggers munched their way through anything else – the cashmere sweater I got for Christmas for example?

Close examination of every item at possible risk showed there to be no sign of damage to anything else. It seemed that these were peculiarly selective moths.

The truth revealed the blame lay not at the chomping mandibles of an innocent insect, but much closer to home – in the thieving hands of my other half who, in an attempt to while away time in the close season, had been scouring the house looking for suitable materials with which to tie himself a new breed of fly. He thought it might be a good idea to try and invent a new pattern all his own. That way he was certain to become not only rich and famous, but renowned throughout the angling world and the envy of his peers.

‘I didn’t think you’d notice,’ says he, ‘it was only a handful.’

A handful! I now have a piece of clothing (a favourite to boot) that looks like it’s developed mange! What else had he been helping himself to? The list, not to put too fine a point on it, left me gobsmacked.

‘Remember when you thought the dog had snagged himself on the barbed wire fence and ripped off the end of his tail?’

I did, and he hadn’t. The missing chunk of tail hair had been unceremoniously hacked off with a pair of kitchen scissors and used to tie a new experimental pattern, none too successfully as it happened, and the poor hound had been forced to sport an embarrassingly naked tail tip for nearly three weeks for nought.

An effort to produce a deadly lure from mixed colour/texture human hair trimmings was just as unsuccessful. He had purloined it from the barberfest I hold in my kitchen every three months when, in order to save a few precious pounds, I use the Braun clippers on all the male heads in the household, leaving them looking like a row of short-bristled brush heads.

In the quest for ever more colourful materials, and unbeknownst to me, the male spousal unit had made an arrangement with a neighbour who kept two parrots.

‘Should they by chance happen to moult,’ he’d suggested, ‘could I please have the cast off feathers? Any colour, from any part of the bird, it doesn’t matter, I’ll think of something to do with them. Oh and by the way, if your rabbit should happen to die in mysterious circumstances, could I possibly skin it before you put it in a shoebox in a hole in the ground? Waste not, want not, you know!’

I was aghast and said, jokingly, ‘I’m going to have to keep my eye on that red squirrel when he comes for his nuts from the bird table, lest you set out after him with a pair of pinking shears and lop off his tail.’

‘No need,’ says he. ‘There’s already one in the freezer. It’s wrapped in newspaper and tucked between the peas and the battered fish portions.’

The creature had been found dead by the side of the road, he did hasten to add, as if that would excuse its present resting place under a bag of frozen vegetables.

‘There’s a pair of heron wings in there, too,’ he admitted.

‘But herons are a protected species!’ I cried, ‘You can’t have them!’

OH did explain he had come across the bird while walking the dog. The poor thing had apparently come to grief on the riverbank, having succumbed to the recent devilishly cold spell. As it was already dead, he smuggled the frozen corpse home, only to find he couldn’t get the whole bird into the freezer because its beak stopped the lid from closing properly and so had to resort to taking just the choice feathers. He didn’t say what had happened to the rest of it and I thought it best not to ask.

It is rather disturbing to think it could have ended up served for Sunday lunch, roasted with a pound of sage and onion up its Parson’s Nose.

What next for this intrepid hunter of all things furry, feathery and fluffy – yeti hair?!

Come to think of it, he did mention something about wanting to develop his own updated version of a Tupp’s Indispensible*…and he has been spending rather more time than usual in the bathroom!

*For those of you who are not familiar with this fly, a Tupp’s Indispensible is traditionally tied using hairs plucked from the scrotum of a fertile breeding ram. Yes, you did read that right. Attempt collection at your own risk!

…And now, from On the Fly ~

He grasped her by the waist, pulled her to him and kissed her. She threw her arms around his neck and returned the kiss, and as she did, he felt all his tension drain away.

‘Very nice,’ he said, smacking his lips with appreciation.

‘You weren’t on the river much today,’ Lily said.

‘I’ve been spending quite a bit of time up the House doing some paperwork and sending out brochures and the like.’

‘Oh really?’ She took a step back and placed her hands on her hips. ‘You are such a fibber, Brian MacDonald.’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘Yes you do, because I know exactly where you were. Did you have a nice time with her?’

The question caught Brian off guard. ‘What…I mean who…eh?’

‘The pretty blonde woman?’ Lily prompted.

Brian’s mouth fell open with astonishment. ‘How the hell…? Bloody hell, Lily, have you been spying on me?’ He was both alarmed and irked in equal measure.

‘Yes I have,’ she said, plainly. ‘And most amusing it was too, watching you squirming out through her bedroom window like a greased weasel just as her husband came in through the front door. You did cut it a little fine I have to say. You were lucky to get away with your skin still on.’

Brian was staggered. ‘But…how…where? Flaming hell, Lily, that’s a bit beyond the pale.’

‘What can I say, I like to watch,’ she said. ‘I learn quite a lot by watching.’

She passed her tongue over her slightly parted lips, moistening them, and then sucked seductively on the lower one.

‘Don’t you like to watch, Brian? Wouldn’t you like it if someone were to watch us?’

‘No of course not.’

‘Are you sure about that?’ She ran a fingertip over his lips. ‘Wouldn’t it turn you on?’

He gulped audibly. ‘Well…I…er,’ he stammered. ‘I’ve never…never really thought about it.’

‘Maybe you should. And don’t you think it might be fun if someone were to…join in? Another woman…or a man?’

Brian’s mouth moved, but no words came out. For once, he had nothing to say. Lily’s eyes sparkled with mischief and she suddenly burst out laughing.

‘I’m just teasing you, you silly man,’ she said with a smile. ‘The look on your face…’

Brian puckered his mouth and frowned. ‘Aye very funny. My sides are splitting.’

‘Made you think, though, didn’t I?’ she said, and chucked his chin.

He had never considered a threesome, whatever the combination, he always favoured the one-to-one approach. Although…

~ On The Fly, a raunchy tale of rods, flies and sex:

Around the World in Eighty Days Yeller Brick Road – Chapter Seventeen

Chapter XVII

Showing What Happened on the Voyage From Singapore to Hong Kong

The detective and Pissepotout met often on deck after this interview, though Filch was reserved, and did not attempt to induce his companion to divulge any more facts concerning Mr. Flogg. He caught a glimpse of that mysterious gentleman once or twice, promenading stiffly in his ever-changing array of wearable hardware; but Mr. Flogg usually confined himself to the cabin, where he kept Aorta company, or, according to his inveterate habit, took a hand at Grist.

Each of them spent their nights alone. The detective found himself alone in his room and stood stupidly in one spot, just within the doorway, to wait till morning. It would not rest him to lie down, and he could not close his eyes in case he missed something of great importance; so he remained all night staring at a little spider which was weaving its web in a corner of the compartment, just as if it were not one of the most wonderful rooms in the world. The Tin Gimp lay down on his bed from force of habit, for he remembered when he was made of living flesh; but not being able to sleep for the hunger pangs, he passed the night moving his armoured joints up and down to make sure they kept in good working order. Pissepotout would have preferred a bed of dried leaves back in the forest, and did not like being shut up in a room yet again; but he had too much sense to let this worry him, so he sprang upon the bed and rolled himself up like a cat, and snuffled himself asleep in a minute.

Pissepotout began very seriously to conjecture what strange chance kept Filch still on the route that his master was pursuing. It was really worth considering why this certainly very amiable and complacent person, whom he had first met at Suez, had then encountered on board the Mongolian Falcon, who disembarked at Bombay, which he announced as his destination, and now turned up so unexpectedly on the Rangoon, was following Mr. Flogg’s tracks step by step. He wondered that Filch might also be on a mission to see the Great Ooze, and what that might entail. Was he, like James Forster, also a Bitch, perhaps of the West End, on an errand for some secretive Master of his own? The man did not seem to carry himself in the manner of a valet or manservant of the dingy streets of London, or in the fey compliance of a Soho doorway denizen. If he had such a Master in the wings, Filch’s Master must have the most ascetic of needs to permit a self-possessed, mild and unpredictable wanderlust such as Filch to remain in employment under his roof.

What was Filch’s object? Pissepotout was ready to wager his Indian shoes – which he religiously preserved – that Filch would also leave Hong Kong at the same time with them, and probably on the same steamer.

Pissepotout might have cudgelled his brain for a century without hitting upon the real object which the detective had in view. He never could have imagined that Philanderous Flogg was being tracked as a robber around the globe.

But, as it is in canine nature to attempt the solution of every mystery, Pissepotout suddenly discovered an explanation of Filch’s movements, which was in truth far from unreasonable.

Filch, he thought, could only be an agent of Mr. Flogg’s friends at the Conform Club, sent to follow him up, and to ascertain that he really went round the world as had been agreed upon. Such an agreeable man would be easily swayed by the rascals of the London elite.

“It’s clear!” repeated the worthy servant to himself, proud of his shrewdness. “He’s a spy sent to keep us in view! That isn’t quite the thing, either, to be spying Mr. Flogg, who is so honourable a man! Ah, gentlemen of the Conform, this shall cost you dear!”

Pissepotout, enchanted with his discovery, resolved to say nothing to his master, lest he should be justly offended at this mistrust on the part of his adversaries. But he determined to chaff Filch, when he had the chance, with mysterious allusions, which, however, need not betray his real suspicions.

During the afternoon of Wednesday, 30th October, the Rangoon entered the Strait of Malacca, which separates the peninsula of that name from Sumatra. The mountainous and craggy islets intercepted the beauties of this noble island from the view of the travellers.

The Rangoon weighed anchor at Singapore the next day at four a.m., to receive coal, having gained half a day on the prescribed time of her arrival. Philanderous Flogg noted this gain in his journal, and then, accompanied by Aorta, who betrayed a desire for a walk on shore, disembarked.

Filch, who suspected Mr. Flogg’s every movement, followed them cautiously, without being himself perceived; while Pissepotout, laughing in his sleeve at Filch’s manoeuvres, went about his usual lap-dog errands.

The island of Singapore is not imposing in aspect, for there are no mountains; yet its appearance is not without attractions. It is a park chequered by pleasant highways and avenues. A handsome carriage, drawn by a sleek pair of New Holland horses, carried Philanderous Flogg and Aorta into the midst of rows of palms with brilliant foliage, and of clove-trees, whereof the cloves form the heart of a half-open flower. Pepper plants replaced the prickly hedges of European fields; sago-bushes, large ferns with gorgeous branches, varied the aspect of this tropical clime; while nutmeg-trees in full foliage filled the air with a penetrating perfume. Agile and grinning bands of monkeys skipped about in the trees, nor were tigers wanting in the jungles.

After a drive of two hours through the country, Aorta and Mr. Flogg returned to the town, which is a vast collection of heavy-looking, irregular houses, surrounded by charming gardens rich in tropical fruits and plants; and at ten o’clock they re-embarked, closely followed by the detective, who had kept them constantly in sight.

Pissepotout, who had been purchasing several dozen mangoes – a fruit as large as good-sized apples, of a dark-brown colour outside and a bright red within, and whose golden pulp, melting in the mouth, affords gourmands a delicious sensation – was waiting for them on deck. He was only too glad to offer some mangoes to Aorta, who thanked him very gracefully for them.

At eleven o’clock the Rangoon rode out of Singapore harbour, and in a few hours the high mountains of Malacca, with their forests, inhabited by the most beautifully-furred tigers in the world, were lost to view. Singapore is distant some thirteen hundred miles from the island of Hong Kong, which is a little English colony near the Chinese coast. Philanderous Flogg hoped to accomplish the journey in six days, so as to be in time for the steamer which would leave on the 6th of November for Yokohama, the principal Japanese port.

The Rangoon had a large quota of passengers, many of whom disembarked at Singapore, among them a number of Indians, Ceylonese, Chinamen, Malays, and Portuguese, mostly second-class travellers.

The weather, which had hitherto been fine, changed with the last quarter of the moon. The sea rolled heavily, and the wind at intervals rose almost to a storm as great as the storm that had pre-empted their journey on Saddle Row, but happily blew from the south-west, and thus aided the steamer’s progress. The captain as often as possible put up his sails, and under the double action of steam and sail the vessel made rapid progress along the coasts of Anam and Cochin China. Owing to the defective construction of the Rangoon, however, unusual precautions became necessary in unfavourable weather; but the loss of time which resulted from this cause, while it nearly drove Pissepotout out of his senses, did not seem to affect his master in the least.

Pissepotout blamed the captain, the engineer, and the crew, and consigned all who were connected with the ship to the land where the pepper grows. Perhaps the thought of the gas, which was remorselessly burning at his expense in Saddle Row, had something to do with his hot impatience.

“You are in a great hurry, then,” said Filch to him one day, “to reach Hong Kong?”

“A very great hurry!”

“Mr. Flogg, I suppose, is anxious to catch the steamer for Yokohama?”

“Terribly anxious.”

“You believe in this journey around the world, then?”

“Absolutely. Don’t you, Mr. Filch?”

“I? I don’t believe a word of it.”

“You’re a sly dog!” said Pissepotout, winking at him.

This expression rather disturbed Filch, without his knowing why. Had the French poodle guessed his real purpose? Or was he flirting with him? He knew not what to think.

But how could Pissepotout have discovered that he was a detective? Yet, in speaking as he did, the man evidently meant more than he expressed.

Pissepotout went still further the next day; he could not hold his tongue.

“Mr. Filch,” said he, in a bantering tone, “shall we be so unfortunate as to lose you when we get to Hong Kong?”

“Why,” responded Filch, a little embarrassed, “I don’t know; perhaps…”

“Ah, if you would only go on with us! An agent of the Peninsular Company, you know, can’t stop on the way! You were only going to Bombay, and here you are in China. America is not far off, and from America to Europe is only a step.”

Filch looked intently at his companion, whose countenance was as serene as possible, and laughed with him. But Pissepotout persisted in chaffing him by asking him if he made much by his present occupation. Perhaps he was the Bitch of one of Mr. Flogg’s partners at Grist.

“Yes, and no,” returned Filch; “there is good and bad luck in such things. But you must understand that I don’t travel at my own expense.”

“Oh, I am quite sure of that!” cried Pissepotout, laughing heartily. Yes. A man already in the employ of one of the members of the Conform could have quickly been mobilized in their pursuit. He wondered which of the players kept such a man as Filch, and what purpose he served when not deployed in social espionage. Perhaps the good friend of his own master, Flagellate, kept him for amusement. Or that Stiff-Upperlip – his tastes and habits were less private than Mr. Flogg’s, but maybe he used honesty as camouflage for his underhand ways…

Filch, fairly puzzled, descended to his cabin and gave himself up to his reflections, of which there were many, in the gilt-and-green framed mirrors of his opulent suite. He was evidently suspected; somehow or other, the Frenchman had found out that he was a detective. But had he told his master? What part was he playing in all this? Was he an accomplice or not? Was the game, then, up? Filch spent several hours turning these things over in his mind while he tried on many of the green gowns in his closets, sometimes thinking that all was lost, then persuading himself that Flogg was ignorant of his presence, and then undecided what course it was best to take.

Nevertheless, he preserved his coolness of mind, and at last resolved to deal plainly with Pissepotout. If he did not find it practicable to arrest Flogg at Hong Kong, and if Flogg made preparations to leave that last foothold of English territory, he, Filch, would tell Pissepotout all. Either the servant was the accomplice of his master, and in this case the master knew of his operations, and he should fail; or else the servant knew nothing about the robbery, and then his interest would be to abandon the robber.

Such was the situation between Filch and Pissepotout.

Meanwhile Philanderous Flogg moved about above them in the most majestic and unconscious indifference. He was passing methodically in his orbit around the world, regardless of the lesser stars which gravitated around him.

Yet there was nearby what the astronomers would call a disturbing star, which might have produced an agitation in this gentleman’s heart.

But no! The charms of Aorta failed to act, to Pissepotout’s great surprise; and the disturbances, if they existed, would have been more difficult to calculate than those of Uranus which led to the discovery of Neptune.

It was every day an increasing wonder to Pissepotout, who read in Aorta’s eyes the depths of her gratitude to his master. Philanderous Flogg, though brave and gallant, must be, he thought, quite heartless. As to the sentiment which this journey might have awakened in him, there was clearly no trace of such a thing; while poor Pissepotout existed in perpetual reveries. He noted only that his master requested still tighter restraints, and the occasional application of cayenne beneath. The loyal poodle grieved for his master’s resistance to pain, and was convinced; his master felt nothing, either through the skin, or through the emotions.

One day he was leaning on the railing of the engine-room, and was observing the engine, when a sudden pitch of the steamer threw the screw out of the water. The steam came hissing out of the valves; and this made Pissepotout indignant.

“The valves are not sufficiently charged!” he exclaimed. “We are not going. Oh, these English! If this was an American craft, we should blow up, perhaps, but we should at all events go faster! I would offer the thumbscrews to the engineers as motivation, if my master could survive an hour without them…”