How to make the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists: Jasmine Walt (one to watch)

Interview with Jasmine Walt by the Self-Publishing Roundtable

If you can spare just one hour out of your life to watch one video that could influence whether or not you ‘make it’ as an author (in the really, really BIG sense), watch this one.

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Jasmine Walt has made both the NYT and USA Today top 20 (including top 10) bestseller lists twice in the last month – firstly with her curated/co-authored box-set ebook Magic & Mayhem, and this week with the first in her new paranormal series, Shadow Born, co-authored with fellow HarperCollins ‘Authonomy’ site alumni Rebecca Hamilton.

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As Jasmine explains here, it’s not simply a case of luck. It’s a lot of marketing via social media and mailing lists, a huge advertising budget (hers doubled in the three month pre-order phase for the box-set ebook release of Magic & Mayhem, in order to have the desired impact) and endless navigating of the restrictions and regulations by the ebook publishing platforms, and criteria of the bestseller lists themselves, when pushing for this kind of exposure.

Because you need to watch the interview to get to the real nuts and bolts of how it was done, I’m not going to discuss the interview content further or give you my opinions, other than tell you, this is tried and tested, it happened, and it worked. If you have the time and financial resources to try it for yourself, and achieve the same initial sales figures in the process, there’s no reason why this business model shouldn’t work for you too.

One prerequisite: You do need to have written the book! And as Jasmine says “It does seem to work best with new releases” – so think carefully before republishing something that’s been lurking on Amazon already for the last five years. Look at the current market interests, and get those brain cells in gear – you’ll need every last one of them.

You can find Jasmine Walt on Twitter as @jasmine_writes

🙂 xx

Re-imaginings: Revisiting your earlier stories through new eyes

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Stephanie Meyer revisits Twilight with a gender-bend portrayal in the Tenth Anniversary dual edition.

I love how mainstream authors now acknowledge the worldwide audience for fan-fiction, parody and tribute stories by taking the time to re-invent and re-imagine their old books.

EL James recently did it with Grey, but she now looks set to be upstaged by Stephanie Meyer. Rather than simply switch POV in her new edition, Meyer has changed the sexes of her characters, in what is known as a ‘gender-bend’ version. A popular method with writers of manga and anime fan-fiction, it looks like her new version of Twilight (called ‘Life and Death’, released in this dual edition above) will take her fandom by storm.

I’m not a Twilight fan, but as a fan of creative mash-up, re-cut and re-edit culture, I’m really looking forward to reading it.

Rather than bore you all with what would otherwise be viewed as yet another critique-based post drifting around cyberspace by a grumpy indie on the ‘talents’ of such authors and whether or not they need the money, I’ll just do my usual and see what happens when I try it out on my Zombie Adventure pet projects. Urgh. I think this might be unwise to read alone… 😀

***

DO ZOMBIES DREAM OF UNDEAD SHEEP?

(the gender-bend version of THE ZOMBIE ADVENTURES OF SARAH BELLUM)

CHAPTER ONE:

I look in the mirror. I do it every day. Pretty much most people look in the mirror every day.

I see a young man. That’s a relief. A man with hair, two eyes, a nose, one mouth, and as I push the hair back as I’m shaving around my sideburns – yes, still got two ears. Phew.

My housemate, whose name escapes me most days, has forced me into this, the reason I’m awake and brushing my teeth at the godforsaken hour of ten a.m. How dare he go for his STD check today, and pack me off instead to do his media studies homework? Couldn’t he have caught chlamydia some other time?

I have to go and interview some vending-machine business mogul. The company is called Dry Goods, Inc, and the owner, Kristen Dry, supplies our University with all of its vending machines. She’s notoriously hard to get appointments with. When you ring her office, you have to press so many buttons on the phone to finally get through – only to be told that your selection is no longer available, and to choose an alternative.

Whatsisname, my housemate, says that he’s got to get this interview for the University paper. I don’t know why, they only use it to wrap take-out cartons in the refectory. Maybe it’s to promote a new drinks machine range.

So I’m having to forgo my weekly visits to the Body Farm and the morgue for my own research project. I don’t even know if I’ll be back in time for work later.

He’s going to owe me big-time for this. If I don’t get to see a corpse this week, I don’t know what I’ll do. There’s one I’m rather fond of in a wheelie bin under a silver birch tree at the body farm, where I like to sit and eat my sandwiches. She’ll have changed so much the next time I see her…

I leave Whatsisface, my best friend, packing his rucksack for the clinic.

“Good luck!” says Thingummyjig, as I head out. “Make it a good interview!”

“I’ll bring you back some condoms,” I concede, and slam the front door.

*  *  *  *  *

It’s a long drive to Seaford West Industrial Estate, but luckily I have my mother’s trusty Fiat 500 in which to navigate the rain-soaked roads. I don’t think my Pizza Heaven scooter would have made it. When I put my books in the insulated top-box, it always skids over in the wet. And sometimes nasty people put other things in there, when I’m doing a delivery.

Dry Goods House is a huge monolith of connected storage containers, converted into offices on the seafront industrial park, an illegal immigrant’s dream. Mirrored glass windows inserted into the corrugated steel keep out any prying eyes.

The revolving doors swish as I enter the Customer Enquiries lobby. A brain-dead-looking blond Calvin Klein model dude is sitting at the stainless surgical steel counter.

“I’m here to see Miss Kristen Dry,” I announce. “I’m Basil Ganglia. Mr Thing from the University sent me.”

“I’ll text her,” says Brain-Dead, picking up his phone. “Have a seat.”

He eyes me as I sit down on the plastic chair between two vending machines, one for hot drinks, the other for snacks. I feel over-dressed. Maybe stealing my housemate’s Christian Louboutin studded deck shoes and YSL suit had been taking it too far. The receptionist looks cool and comfortable, in turquoise blue overalls and a neon yellow hi-visibility industrial vest.

“She’s on her way down,” he says, after a moment. He reaches under the desk. “You’ll have to put this on.”

I get up again to accept the hi-visibility yellow vest he hands me, which has VISITOR stencilled on the back. I pull it on grudgingly over my borrowed YSL.

The adjoining door creaks, and I turn, still adjusting my Velcro.

I know, the moment I see her.

The black dress. The pallor of her skin. The attractively tousled, unkempt bed-hair. The drool. That limp… oh, God, that limp…!

“Kristen Dry?” My voice catches in my throat.

“Mr… Ganglia,” she moans softly, extending a ring-encrusted hand.

My heart palpitates wildly, noting the ragged cuticles, and the long, blue-tinged, prehensile fingers.

“My housemate,” I begin. “Mr Shitface – he couldn’t make it today. Having his down-pipes cleaned out and serviced…”

I grasp her outstretched hand in greeting. So cold… and yet so mobile… a tingle crawls deliciously up my forearm, and I snatch my hand away quickly, scared of showing myself up. Her jet-black eyes glitter, equally cold, and her upper lip seems to curl in the faintest suggestion of a smirk. Or is it my imagination?

“Were you offered a refreshment, Mr Ganglia?” She gestures towards the famous vending machines.

I shake my head, and she turns to glare at the receptionist. He cowers visibly, and I’m sure I hear her emit a long, low, guttural sound. The receptionist scrabbles in his drawer and holds out a handful of coin-shaped metal tokens.

“I’m fine, really…” I croak, although in all honesty, my throat does feel terribly dry.

“Very wellll…”

My knees feel weak as she holds the door open, and beckons, her head at a quirked angle.

“This way, Mr… Ganglia.”

How she rolls my name around her tongue makes my own feel drier than ever. I stumble hazily through into the corridor, hearing the door creak closed again behind me, and the shuffling, shambling sound of her doe-like footfalls in my wake.

“Straight ahead, Mr Ganglia.”

Her voice is like tissue paper being unwrapped from around a stone urn. It tickles my inner ear and the back of my throat, sends chills down my vertebrae. It resonates with my deepest darkest thoughts.

Things I had not even entertained notions of while eating sandwiches under the silver birch tree, beside my sweet Miss Wheelie-Bin…

Her arm extends past me to swipe her security card in the lock of the next door, and a waft of her poppy-like scent washes over my strangely heightened senses.

“Go through, Mr Ganglia,” she practically whispers in my ear.

The door clicks open, and I step through. Murky grey daylight filters through the tinted windows from the seafront, and I gasp. Another brain-dead blond is banging his head repeatedly on the steel wall, not three feet away from the door.

“Kevin,” Miss Dry says. Is that a tinge of disappointment, or disapproval in her voice? “Take Mr Ganglia’s coat. You will not need the yellow site vest either while you are with me, Mr Ganglia.”

Kevin turns to look at us, his flat bleached-out bloodshot eyes registering nothing. He holds out his arms to accept the navy-blue YSL and hi-visibility vest as I shrug them off, feeling exposed now in my Andy Warhol soup can t-shirt. Mr Brain-Dead Mk II takes my jacket with a soft grunt, but goes nowhere, turning back to face the wall instead, contemplating the smear where his head had been rebounding off it just a moment before.

Kristen Dry takes my arm to steer me past, the unexpected contact eliciting another gasp from me. Those long, cold, prehensile fingers, closing around the warm flesh of my tricep…! I trip along the next corridor, trying to keep pace with her rolling, loping stride, like that of a wounded deer.

“My office…” she hisses, swiping her security pass a second time, and ushering me through.

It is black. Everything is black, from the desk, to the leather seating, to the vertical blinds. The only colour in the room is a giant white canvas, on the wall facing the long window, upon which a modern meditation in red is represented.

“You like my art, Mr Ganglia?” she murmurs, seeing my open gape at the piece.

“It’s yours?” Wow – now I’m really intimidated. The only art I see is on custom tattoo bodywork when passing the breaker’s yard, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fit female mechanic. “It’s beautiful…”

“I call this one… ‘High-Velocity Spatter’,” she confides in a husky voice.

“It must be expensive.”

“Very,” she agrees. “Sit.”

I plant my nervous glutes onto the soft leather, and start to take out my notes. The only sound otherwise in her office is the eerie call of gulls, from the windswept pebble beach outside.

Kristen Dry watches me, calculatingly. She circles around the sofa opposite, not yet seated.

“Would you like something to drink, Basil Ganglia?” She moves languidly towards the huge, black, state-of-the-art vending machine in the corner.

The sound of my full name on her lips is like the opening of a beautiful white lily…

“I am a little parched,” I admit. “Yes, please, Miss Dry. Thank you.”

“What would you like?” Her hand hovers over the illuminated keypad. “Tea, coffee, hot chocolate? Iced water? Chicken soup? Gin and tonic? Bubblegum? Breath mints?”

Mmmm – a vending machine with everything!

“A chicken soup would be lovely,” I hear myself say, and my stomach grumbles in agreement, recalling the last slice of cold Pizza Heaven pizza I ate for breakfast, many hours ago.

“Chicken noodle, chicken and sweetcorn, Thai chicken and lemongrass…?”

“Yes please – the last one…”

I watch as her elegant fingers dance over the keys. There is the faintest hum from the machine. In a trice, a large fine china mug appears, steaming, on its own saucer, garnished with fresh chives and coriander. There is even the traditional porcelain soup-spoon on the side, intricately decorated.

I wonder what sort of businesses she supplies this particular machine to. All that the University ones dispense, is various colours and temperatures of pond-water à la Styrofoam. We must be at the very bottom of their budget range.

She brings it to the low onyx table in front of me, and presents it with the gallant flourish of a red napkin. Something of the gesture, and the way she arranges herself laconically on the sofa opposite, makes my heart sink slightly.

Oh no. She’s so married… the way she’s fidgeting her earlobe in that I’m-ready-to-listen way and stroking her knee with the other hand – that’s at least fifty shades of married…

I struggle to focus on the list of questions that Knobhead has written out for me. I’m starting to worry that maybe I won’t enjoy finding out the answers to some of them.

“It’s very hot,” she says, in a warning tone. It startles me.

“Hmmm?” Am I always this jumpy?

“The soup, Basil.” Her mouth twitches in the corner, and her black eyes crinkle slightly. It’s as if she can see into the dark shadows at the back of my own mind.

“I can get started with the questions while it cools down,” I say, brightly, batting away the shadows in my head at her curt nod. Definitely married. I look down at the sheet of paper. “Now… the first question. Is it true that you employ foreign child labour in the construction of your vending machines?”

“No.” The answer is as cold as ice, and as solid. “There are other ways of manufacturing our machines to a budget that is mutually beneficial, to the product consumers, and the workforce.”

“Right…” I scribble this down, in my best pizza-order shorthand. “And is it also true that you sub-contract your perishable goods supplies, for human consumption, out to companies who deal in black market foodstuffs and out-of-date stock?”

“Our sub-contractors are fully vetted,” she assures me. “If any sub-standard products are finding their way into my machines, it is usually the fault of the site owners, outsourcing to cut-price vandals who access the machines without our endorsement. Quality control is of paramount importance in this business.”

The aroma drifting up from the soup is certainly backing up her argument. But still…

“Are you saying that the recorded cases of food poisoning at Cramps University, and at other sites, is the faculty’s fault?” I ask.

“I am not saying anything, Mr Ganglia,” she muses, her eyes still faintly entertained, her head still quirked. “But you are, it seems. Is this some sort of empathy test?”

I stare down at the page. Twat. That last question was me, my stupid mouth running away with me. Not one of Fucktard’s questions at all. Double twat.

“Moving on,” I say swiftly, aware that her eyes are mentally dismembering me. I look at question number three. “How do you explain your current one thousand percent increase in profits in the current financial climate, Miss Dry?”

“With excellent book-keeping.”

I look up at her, uncertain whether this is merely a stab at humour. She is still lounging on the sofa, the jet black of her eyes resting on me steadily. My own eyes follow the line of her lips, and the rumpled raven mane of hair, still intact. Her square shoulders and tiny waist in that black power-dress make me feel weak. What’s wrong with you, dude? She’s still walking around and talking! You’d be bored sick of her within minutes, same as all the others…

I press on with the questions, covering the various charges of tax evasion, pollution, carbon footprint, and illegal immigration, and she has a cool answer for every single one.

“Are these questions designed to determine whether I am a businesswoman… or a zombie, Mr Ganglia?” she asks in return.

My blood runs hot and cold both at once. I’m relieved to turn the page, and find the closing questions are brief.

“…Finally, Miss Dry. Can you tell me your favourite colour?”

She indicates the décor of the office.

“Black,” she confirms. “With a little fetish for red, occasionally. And sometimes…”

Her face darkens. She looks away.

“White?” I suggest, thinking of the painting.

“When black meets white, there is a certain shade – a very delicate and vulnerable shade – that illustrates humanity in its most primitive state.”

“You mean gr…”

She puts her finger to her lips.

“Best left unspoken.” Those black eyes burrow into my head. “A colour for the mind. Not for the lips. Only… under very special circumstances… should the matter pass the lips.”

She’s bonkers. Just what we need right now. Another married psycho cougar. I return to the final questions.

“And what music do you listen to?”

“Soul.”

“And last question. What car do you drive?”

“I have a number of cars, all black, and a chauffeur, who drives very sedately. You must allow me to take you on a tour of the rest of my complex some time. I may have an opening for a new PR assistant soon.”

Outside the window behind her, something turquoise blue and neon yellow crashes wetly onto the pebble beach from above. Without looking around, she produces a remote control, and closes the vertical blinds. Automatic halogen lights phase on overhead, so there is no change in illumination inside the office.

“Thank you, Miss Dry.” I’m on my feet in that instant, suddenly wary of being in an enclosed office alone with her. Those dark shadows have all sprung to attention in the back of my mind, at the closing of those blinds. “You have been very accommodating, but really I mustn’t keep you any longer.”

“Indeed?” she asks, rising out of her seat. For the first time I notice how tall and shapely she is… was, I correct myself angrily. “Keep me for what purpose, I wonder?”

So arrogant!

I just nod, blushing fiercely, and head for the door.

“I will have to show you out,” she reminds me, taking out the security pass again, and lurching forward to accompany me. “It has been a pleasure, Mr Ganglia.”

Her voice is driving me crazy. And her hand on my arm again, guiding me out of the door and into the corridor. I practically scamper ahead, snatching my coat back from Brain-Dead Blond Mk II.

“Thank you for your time, Miss Dry,” I say, back in the near-safety of the lobby. There is no sign of Brain-Dead Blond the receptionist, and I can’t wait to get away. “It has been very educational.”

“I’m sure it will be,” she agrees, with a courteous nod. “Au revoir, Mr Ganglia.”

I run to the Fiat in my shiny deck shoes, and lock myself in. I can see gulls flocking to the spot on the beach outside her office, on the far side of the building.

Those shadows in my head – I fight to control them. How dare she hijack my fantasies, my pure and innocent thoughts of the dead? How dare she make a mockery of it all by walking around in broad daylight and touching me??! There ought to be a law against that sort of thing…

As I drive home again, all I can see through the rain bouncing off the road in front of me, is her pale and amused, sardonic and angelically attractive face.

Deckard meets Rachel in ‘Blade Runner’

See the original chapter ‘Filthy Shavings of Gray Matter’ in The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum:

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Available on Amazon Kindle worldwide – click for Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

Head in the Clouds

Some visitors to my main blog here might have noticed ‘Planetoplasty’ in my links. It’s an open-source blog I started for anyone to visit and take ideas from for use in their own SF and fantasy, by developing the schematics and social geography of random concepts for planets as writing prompts – treat it as if it’s Earth, in other words, write anything you want about it. See the ‘About’ page for a better explanation 🙂

https://planetoplasty.wordpress.com/about/

Enjoy the visit, compiled with a smattering of my usual nonsense, and I hope you gain some inspiration too.

I’ll be posting my first story based on this alternate world fairly soon – you’re welcome to send me links to your own versions as well.

Happy writing 🙂

L xx

Planetoplasty

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The Cloud Islands on planet Crud, part of the Shatter that divides the eastern and western hemispheres, overlook both the Crater Zone (impact region) on one side, and the Shambles (lowlands) on the other. The Islands are a loosely interconnected chain of countries at high altitude, mainly in competition with the inhabitants of the ravines and canyons, miles below. The Cloud Islanders strongly dispute any mining of the bedrock beneath them, while the Canyonians resent fly-tipping and contaminated rainfall/effluent from above – even though it does add a remarkably sought-after fertility to their topsoil.

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You would think that the Cloud Islands are barren and arid, but although at the poles they are ice-covered all year round, at the equatorial region there is as many as three months of the year with clement weather. Industry is focused on food (mainly of the game bird and poultry variety) with a huge…

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Chapter Two – The Cosmic Carbon Cycle Cash Machine

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CHAPTER TWO

The closest to Boba Fett that anyone was able to procure for the Prime Minister was an undergraduate in geochemistry found to be pilfering Bounty bars from a Southampton university cafeteria. The unfortunate coconut-flavoured chocolate-hunter was taken to Downing Street by police escort, and narrowly avoided being de-briefed on the way by Detective Sergeants Florence & Fred, bra fetishists and doughnut abstainers.

Ah, Boba Fett,” PM Clony Tamarind greeted the young woman once she was shown into his Ovaltine Office, waving a hand to decline half of a Bounty bar proffered in greeting. “Tell me how we are to make carbon out of nothing. I need to ensure that the public continue to feel responsible for global warming so that we can raise taxes with the promise of reducing carbon emissions on their behalf. This idiot Professor Nagy claims that creating more carbon than already exists on the planet is impossible, unless you are an alchemist.”

Professor Nagy waved from behind his giant brunch burrito, courtesy of Guy Fieri, currently being held hostage in the kitchen of No.10 by the children, along with their favourite band, Minus One Or Two Direction.

Ah, Professor Romeo Nagy,” said Boba Fett, whose name was Ekaterina Whiskas. “I didn’t recognise you with my clothes on. Please wash them before returning this time.”

The Professor smiled, and dusted a few kidney beans from the front of the pink frilly negligee he still sported, since being summoned to the Ovaltine Office himself that morning.

Carbon?” the Prime Minister prompted hopefully, while Miss MoneySupermarket cranked the handle of the clockwork tea urn to the jolly tune of ‘Dead Man’s Chest’.

Oh, you don’t have to make extra carbon,” said Undergraduate Whiskas. “It turns up by itself. Uninvited, you might say.”

The Professor nodded gloomily in agreement, his mouth too full to comment.

When does this occur?” demanded the PM, nonplussed. “And how do I charge people for causing it?”

Nobody causes it,” said Ekaterina Whiskas. “It falls from the sky. Exoplanetary carbon lands on Earth all the time, in the form of space dust. Cometary waste, meteorite particles etc. Estimated at anywhere between 3,000 and 60,000 tonnes per annum enters our atmosphere, combined with iron, silica, platinum and other minerals. Eventually Earth will mop up enough space dust on its orbit to dry out completely and overcook, just like Mars did beforehand. But I expect the human race will have moved on by then.”

Are you telling me,” Prime Minister Tamarind fumed, “that Earth is being treated as… as an extraterrestrial dumping-ground for their hothouse gas-producing waste? Without official policy or permits in place?”

Just say yes,” Professor Nagy chipped in. “If you agree with him, you get a free lunch.”

The PM had taken out a pencil, and was scribbling hasty calculations on the back of Deputy PM Rick Shaw’s iPad.

And the extraterrestrials responsible for this carbon dumping on our planet, which has been occurring since…?”

The dawn of time, sir.”

The dawn of time… that means in terms of licensing, permits, compensation, carbon offset fees, planning application fees, airspace visa requirements…” The PM muttered to himself for several minutes longer, while the clockwork urn reached a crescendo, and in a freak tea cranking accident, Miss MoneySupermarket was hurled into the crystal chandelier, dislodging the entangled Ovaltine burglar (who had fallen asleep after a painful Skype conversation with his mother), several security cameras, and a rare feathered python escaped from the private collection at Longleat Safari Park.

One extra for tea, Miss MoneySupermarket,” the Deputy PM observed, as the burglar landed in his lap, and with a slip of the stylus caused him to unintentionally win his game of 2048 on the 3DS.

Right away, sir,” said the secretary, and knotted her hair extensions together to lower herself from the chandelier to the floor. “Can I take your feather boa and put it with the coats, Miss Whiskas?”

I believe it’s a feathered python,” said the Undergraduate. “But be my guest.”

“…So, with the additional costs incurred by issuing the appropriate forms and an immediate Cease and Desist to the extraterrestrials involved, I believe a considerable taxation sum is due for this illegal exoplanetary carbon dumping activity,” PM Clony Tamarind announced, against the background noise of strangulated screaming from the secretary battling with the more endangered of the coats in the hallway closet. “Now, all we have to do is make the public feel responsible for the harbouring and protection of these aliens, and we can defer the tax increases to our own citizens for the cost of this extraterrestrial carbon landing on our planet and irreversibly heating it up.” He tapped his pencil on the back of the iPad. “By my calculations, I think an average tax increase of one million sterling per household per week should mean we recoup our costs just short of the next millennium.”

All in favour?” queried Jeeves from Tesco’s, who had dropped by to borrow some jump leads for his delivery truck.

I think we need to show a united front and a demonstrable plan of action first,” suggested the Deputy PM, once his 3DS battery was flat and he realised he had left his charger at his children’s nanny’s house. “For example, have the Americans an example we can show the British public whereby a company or government environmental agency has successfully sued for damages over the illegal trespass or trafficking of space dust into Earth’s biosphere?”

Ah – Deputy PM, is it time for your nap?” Clony Tamarind clapped his hands. “Miss MoneySupermarket! Rick is whining for something, can you warm him a bottle and bring the Farley’s Rusks, please?”

So basically, the government wants to scaremonger the public into paying more taxes in vain hope of stopping or reversing the irreversible global warming caused by the aggregation of cosmic dust that will eventually turn Earth into a dead ball of dry rock like Mars?” Undergraduate Ekaterina Whiskas enquired of Professor Nagy, ownership of the underwear he currently wore forgotten, at least temporarily.

So it appears,” the Professor agreed. “He has already bored Great Britain’s most senior scientists to death or tears. But mostly because one of them wanted a Garibaldi with his tea, and the PM sent for an Italian opera singer instead of asking Jeeves from Tesco’s to get some.”

Hmmm,” said Ekaterina. “Has anyone suggested moving more carbon-based materials off the planet’s surface? As a thermal exchange mechanism?”

Well,” Professor Nagy pondered. “Not until now. I suppose they could start with moving the Labour Party headquarters to the Moon, for example?”

Why not Mars?” suggested the burglar, while the PM’s face lit up. “It’s not like you could make Mars any deader.”

Yes…” The PM leapt to his feet, sending his collection of super-villain cats yowling and flying for cover, and knocking the escaping Jeeves to the floor with a well-timed crochet antimacassar to the head. “An interplanetary exchange program! Until our elusive extraterrestrials come forward with the appropriate compensation, losing opposition parties and minor offensive governments will have to move their command centres to Mars – to offset the unavoidable cosmic dust entering our carbon cycle. Miss MoneySupermarket – fetch me a pigeon from the roof. I must send an urgent message to Richard Branson immediately regarding the availability of interplanetary flights for the transport of opposition leaders and their members at once. You two – Professor Nightdress and Whiskas Fett – you will do the sciencey stuff for the press and the media; Jeeves, you will be in charge of fulfilling Martian Tesco dot com grocery orders; you there, the chap in the ninja mask who fell from the chandelier, round up my cats; and Deputy PM Rick Shaw, my most trusted confidante, go and see why the children are so quiet down in the kitchen. Guy Fieri has not screamed for help for at least an hour.”

To be continued…

The Cosmic Carbon Cycle Cash Machine

Carbon_cycle

See Wikipedia

“I say, Jeeves!” Prime Minister Cloney Tamarind shouted one morning during breakfast, spluttering Krave crumbs all over his recently-updated Facebook status. “What’s this filthy rumour that we’re not producing more carbon? How are we supposed to charge people for something we don’t actually deliver?”

“So what’s new, dear?” Mrs Tamarind muttered, sipping her Chai Red Bull. The word ‘charge’ causing her to make a mental note to replace the batteries in her bedside drawer, after yet another all-nighter with the PM away at his desk, playing Draw My Thing and Words With Infidels online.

“I don’t know, Sir,” said Jeeves dutifully, topping up the Worcester sauce bucket in the modest silver breakfast table cruet, with the ceremonial watering-can. “I’m only your Tesco’s delivery driver.”

And he left the receipt on the table, before being strong-armed out of No.10 by the children.

“Someone is spreading lies about there only being a finite amount of carbon on the planet!” the Prime Minister said grimly, narrowing his eyes at a post by Markiplier about the conspiracy of squirrels, as he bit suspiciously into into his peanut butter on crumpet. The crumpet duly squealed, and got down from the table in a huff to go and powder her nose, and he hollered after her. “When you come back, Miss MoneySupermarket, I want you to schedule an emergency meeting with… with… the chap with the briefcase who reads out my annual bank statement to me, and some top scientists! Preferably ones that are not in the middle of writing their autobiographies, speaking at TED talks, or filming for the BBC!”

***

“This is how it works,” said the PM in his Ovaltine Office, while Deputy PM Rick Shaw took notes and wrote a song for the bluegrass band he was planning to run away with on his imminent retirement at the next election, and Miss MoneySupermarket changed the most senior scientist’s nappy. “We tell the public that we’re still producing too much carbon. And carbon is a bad thing. It makes the air smell like poo and we all have to wash our cars more often and Hollywood actresses tell our children not to eat it as it’s bad for your image. So the public feel guilt. That’s the emotion we all need them to feel because it makes their wallets fall open more easily. And they give us more money, and we promise to clean up the carbon we make every day to power their homes and cars and let them lead happy lives with happy Facebook status updates saying how much of the planet they’ve saved today by walking the dogs instead of calling them a taxi. And now I’m being told we don’t make carbon. It exists in different states and goes around and around by itself like a rotisserie chicken, which incidentally, if left on the spit too long, turns into a block of black stuff that is essentially carbon. So how are we not making any new fucking carbon?!” His voice became the shrill squeak of a Clanger. “How do we claim there’s a carbon footprint when I can’t show them even a fuzzy Youtube video of a giant fucking footprint? How do we stop the damned carbon that we do have from degassing into the oceans and decaying out of plants and dead things back into the soil and reproducing into armies of adopted celebrity children and their godforsaken acres of burger meat that they grow up on, so we can prove there’s a problem? How do we make it get off its carbon bicycle and off the geological ring-road? I swear I can hear the same carbon atoms laughing at me every time they pass out of the Queen’s bottom on parade!”

“Well,” said the most senior scientist, once he was back in his pram and holding the official Talking Stick. “In order to actually create carbon, you would require an alchemist.”

“Like the chap on Harley Street who writes out my wife’s prescriptions – Doctor Theophilus Hoodoobeggar?”

“Even more powerful than that, sir.”

“Wonderful. Find me such a person.”

And within a short interval, wherein there was popcorn, crisps, a brief performance by Shakespeare’s Sister, and Deputy PM Rick Shaw had his Large Coke confiscated for burping carbon atoms in a sarcastic tone of voice, a small waxy-complexioned individual with a foreign accent was ushered in and asked to sweep up the crumbs. This was minutely embarrassing when it turned out that this frumpy individual with the odd knee-socks and pink housecoat was Head of Alchemicals at the University of Southampton (Ten Years Since Last Burned to the Ground).

“Tell me, young man,” began Cloney Tamarind, once the brush and dustpan were discreetly taken away from Professor Nagy and he had been furnished with a chair, one with built-in cushions and tie-dyed antimacassars, courtesy of the children. “Is it possible to make carbon out of thin air?”

“If that air contains, for example, traces of methane, CO2, volcanic aerosols,” said the young professor dismissively, swinging one leg over the arm of the comfy chair and loosening his early-morning pyjama-bottom wedgie.

“Remind me to have a word with the Queen about rogue volcanic aerosols on parade in future,” the PM muttered aside to Miss MoneySupermarket, who was now on dustpan duty, giving him a very sour look from under her falsies. “But Professor Nagy – tell me, how do we make carbon from nothing? We’ve been telling the public about our overproduction of carbon for decades. We can’t have them all going on Wikipedia and finding out that no matter how much we dig up or burn, the Earth just – sucks it all up away again.”

“Oh, you don’t make something from nothing.”

“I think you underestimate politics and taxation, young man.” Prime Minister Tamarind wagged a finger, until the Deputy PM managed to wrench his own hand free and return to drawing a picture of an eye from a tutorial on DeviantArt. Eventually, this would become the logo of his bluegrass band, and hopefully BMG or Virgin would copy it and have to pay out royalties. “You are Head of Alchemicals at a top… an outstanding… a not very recently burned-down University, at… is Southampton a real place? I always thought it was like Mordor, or Narnia… rumours of organised football matches being played, huge, balding men roaming loose, wenches roaming looser… nothing else… anyway, you must know something useful, yes?”

“A very clever deduction,” said the Professor, and lifted his top hat to take down his elevensies, which with foresight he had brought with with him. As he opened his packet of cheesy Quavers and dunked them in his Earl Grey, he announced vaguely. “I can make gold, of course. But not what you are interested in.”

“GOLD?” everyone else in the room echoed, including an Ovaltine burglar who was hiding camouflaged in the chandelier above them, in a silver rhinestone ninja gi, and Jeeves from Tesco’s, who had forgotten to pick up his plastic carrier baskets.

“Not out of carbon, I hope!” the Prime Minister clapped a hand over his mouth, and this time Deputy PM Rick Shaw had to use a baby-wipe to clean the smear of L’Oreal For Gender Neutral Persons What Shave Often aftershave balm off his fingers before returning to his Nintendo 3DS, now playing Monster Hunter Ultimate in a team with Kim Jong Un. “Excess carbon is worth more than gold in guilt extortion value terms, I hope you realise.”

“No, not carbon.” The Professor unwrapped a complimentary chocolate mint from a private stash purloined from the coat-check girl at Bournemouth Spearmint Rhino.

“Then what do you make gold out of?” demanded Miss MoneySupermarket, speaking out of turn and still on her knees, elbow-deep in shag pile carpet, probing for popcorn kernels.

“Platinum.”

The groan in the room was audible. In fact it was so audible that Audible automatically deducted its monthly Amazon account payment from the entire Conservative Party, as a result of trying to sneak a free download.

The ninja in the chandelier began to cry, and was heard Skyping his mother in Malaysia, who was apparently not in the best of moods either judging by the verbal lashing that ensued.

“Fine, as soon as Jeremy Clarkson has finished scraping all the platinum off the roads of the UK and Isle of Man with his tongue, you can have it and turn it into gold for all I care,” the PM seethed. “What I want right now, is a shit load of carbon. I want to be able to show people a carbon mountain on the News at Five. I want those Bigfoot hunters to find a carbon footprint so big that it’s only identified by the corn on its little toe proving to be Alaska. Fetch me someone who can make carbon out of nothing. Fetch me – fetch me – Boba Fett!”

The groan, still fading into echoes around the Ovaltine Office, abruptly became a gasp. And then a horrible, gagging, choking, furry noise, as Miss MoneySupermarket had inhaled the sheepskin rug, right from under the most senior scientist’s bottom…

To be continued… 😉 xxx

The ‘Writing Process’ blog hop

Jill Pennington, the entrepreneur true-life author of Diary of a Single Parent Abroad asked me on FB the other day if I had a blog, and if so, would I mind following up her guest post on Tottie Limejuice’s blogspot as the next author to answer the same three questions as her?

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After telling her yes, I have maybe eight blog sites scattered around, and hadn’t done this blog hop thing yet on any of them, I said sure, why not. Pretty much everyone else I know has done one already, so I’m probably the last one ever. (Hooray, I hear you all cry).

Anyway, without further adon’ts, let’s get this mess over and done with, so we can all move on with our lives and never speak of this again… 🙂

Question one: What are you working on?

I’m working on a Toshiba M400 tablet laptop upgraded to Windows 7. I bought it off ebay. Highly recommended 🙂 Oh, the real answer? :/ More Zombie of Oz books for YA, more Lauren Boutain romance for the definitely adult, some sci-fi (including designing an open-source planetary setting that anyone can write about), some more parody/steampunk, and some more introspective stuff, which may or may never see the Kindle-fuelled light of day.

Question two: Why do you write what you do?

Because it’s there, in my head. If I don’t write it down as a creative outlet, it tends to manifest itself in other ways. Life would be unbearable with all those zombies turning up in reality. Me and Junior yell ‘Money should be falling from the sky!’ at least five times a day, because our nonsense creative conversation gets echoed back to us from the TV or by something occurring in real life. So writing down the nonsense is the safest place for it to go. Still waiting for the money to fall from the sky. That’s the real joke 🙂

Question three: How does your writing process work?

I switch off my ‘external monitoring’ and transcribe what I see and hear in my head. But I don’t need soundproofing or isolation to switch off my outside awareness. I like background noise, or TV, even doing laundry at the same time. Writing is just part of my normal life, and has been since I was 7 years old. I was doing it to kill time while waiting to make friends, did that, then later to kill time while waiting to have my first relationship, and I’m still waiting, so still basically killing time. There’s nothing really technical or methodical about it. I don’t need to ‘get into’ author mode, or put on a writing hat or anything. When I was younger I would have loved to grow up and be Barbara Cartland wafting around in a pink dressing-gown writing a book every day after lunch, now I don’t see being an author as having an idealised image attached to it. I can write for fun, and still be me, especially as all I’m doing for a living now is writing, since I’ve given up freelance IT support due to sports injuries that I’m awaiting surgery and rehabilitation for, so there’s nothing to hide and nothing to prove about it either.

I find I’m a more interesting person when I’m not talking about my writing, so I’m going to end there before I bore myself to sleep 🙂

I haven’t asked anyone if they want to be tagged, because they’ve all done the godforsaken deed already, so I’ll just recommend a couple of authors I know, for their indie inspiration:

Robert Rankin – also on Facebook

Sophie Neville – also on Facebook

You should check out what they’re up to, and how they market themselves and their work. Everyone’s different, but even though these two have a genuine hook they can exploit, they’re still working tirelessly to get out there in the real world and meet the public to promote their writing, rather than just banging away on social media.

Enough already – time for bed!

🙂 xxx

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 🙂

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 😉

If you’d like to see ‘The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum’ featured in The Guardian…

The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

If you enjoyed The Zombie Adventures… parody novel, which I blogged here chapter by chapter last year (each post written straight off the top of my crazy head) you can now nominate it to be featured in this new Guardian series

Update: Until the end of July 31st 2013, you can download the eBook from Smashwords in their sitewide promotion for free using the promo code SW100

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

Chapter XX

In Which Filch Comes Face to Face With Philanderous Flogg

While these events were passing at the opium-house, Mr. Flogg, unconscious of the danger he was in of losing the steamer, was quietly escorting Aorta about the streets of the English quarter, making the necessary purchases for the long voyage before them. It was all very well for an Englishman like Mr. Flogg to make the tour of the world with a carpet-bag; but a lady could not be expected to travel comfortably under such conditions. He acquitted his task with characteristic serenity, and invariably replied to the remonstrances of his fair companion, who was confused by his patience and generosity:

“It is in the interest of my journey – a part of my programme.”

She tried to be calm, and leave things to take their course, and tried to dwell much on this argument of rational dependence.

“Surely, if there be constant attachment on each side, our hearts must understand each other ere long. We are not boy and girl, to be captiously irritable, misled by every moment’s inadvertence, and wantonly playing with our own happiness,” she thought to herself.

And yet, a few minutes afterwards, she felt as if their being in company with each other, under their present circumstances, could only be exposing them to inadvertencies and misconstructions of the most mischievous kind.

The purchases made, they returned to the hotel, where they dined at a sumptuously served table-d’hote; after which Aorta, shaking hands with her protector after the English fashion, retired to her room for rest. After stopping in his own room, finding his French servant still absent and unavailable to remove his corsets and restraints for the evening, Flogg took himself to the bar, with the intention of relaxing instead with a sherry.

But he felt himself suddenly seized from behind, and before he had time to defend himself, he was thrust back against the wall, with a brutal hand round his throat.

He struggled madly for life, and by a terrible effort wrenched the tightening fingers away. In a second he heard the click of a revolver, and saw the gleam of a polished barrel, pointing straight at his head, and the dusky form of a short, thick-set man facing him.

“What do you want?” he gasped.

“Keep quiet,” said the man. “If you stir, I shoot you.”

“You are mad. What have I done to you?”

“You wrecked the life of Sibyl Vane,” was the answer, “and Sibyl Vane was my sister. She killed herself. I know it. Her death is at your door. I swore I would kill you in return. For years I have sought you. I had no clue, no trace. The two people who could have described you were dead. I knew nothing of you but the pet name she used to call you. I heard it tonight by chance. Make your peace with God, for tonight you are going to die.”

Philanderous Flogg grew sick with fear. “I never knew her,” he stammered. “I never heard of her. You are mad.”

“You had better confess your sin, for as sure as I am James Vane Forster, you are going to die.” There was a horrible moment. Flogg did not know what to say or do. His prior valet, James Forster – alive! And hunting his sister’s abuser like a dog! “Down on your knees!” growled the ex-servant. “I give you one minute to make your peace – no more. I go on board tonight for India, and I must do my job first. One minute. That’s all.”

Flogg’s arms fell to his sides. Paralysed with terror, he did not know what to do. If only Piss-pot-toto was here! Suddenly a wild hope flashed across his brain. “Stop,” he cried. “How long ago is it since your sister died? Quick, tell me!”

“Eighteen years,” said the man. “Why do you ask me? What do years matter?”

“Eighteen years,” laughed Philanderous Flogg, with a touch of triumph in his voice. “Eighteen years! Set me under the lamp and look at my face!”

James Forster hesitated for a moment, not understanding what was meant. Then he seized Flogg and dragged him from the archway.

Dim and wavering as was the hotel bar’s light, yet it served to show him the hideous error, as it seemed, into which he had fallen, for the face of the man he had sought to kill had all the bloom of boyhood through the ornate gimp-mask, all the unstained purity of youth in its undead countenance. He seemed little more than a lad of twenty summers, hardly older, if older indeed at all, than his sister had been when they had parted so many years ago. It was obvious that this was not the French poodle who had destroyed her life.

He loosened his hold and reeled back. “My God! My God!” he cried. “You are not the lap-dog scum I thought you to be! You remind me of my former Master in London… a gentleman too, indeed… and I would have murdered you!”

Philanderous Flogg drew a long breath. “You have been on the brink of committing a terrible crime, my man,” he said, looking at him sternly. “Let this be a warning to you not to take vengeance into your own hands.”

“Forgive me, sir,” muttered James Vane Forster. “I was deceived. A chance word I heard in that damned opium den set me on the wrong track.”

“You had better go home and put that pistol away, or you may get into trouble,” said Flogg, turning on his heel and continuing slowly down the corridor.

At the bar, as I entered, I looked about me with so black a countenance as made the attendants tremble; not a look did they exchange in my presence; but obsequiously took my orders, led me to a private room, and brought me wherewithal to write. A zombie in danger of his life was a creature new to me; shaken with inordinate anger, strung to the pitch of murder, lusting to inflict pain. Yet the creature was astute; mastered his fury with a great effort of the will; composed his two important letters of progress, one to Flagellate and one to Ravish; and that he might receive actual evidence of their being posted, sent them out with directions that they should be registered…”

Mr. Flogg then absorbed himself until evening in the perusal of The Times and Illustrated London News.

Thenceforward, he sat all twilight over the fire in the private room, gnawing his nails; there he dined again, sitting alone with his fears and a roasted wild boar with candied melon, the waiter visibly quailing before his eye at his insatiable appetite; and thence, when the night was fully come, he set forth in the corner of a closed cab, and was driven to and fro about the streets of the city. That child of Hell had nothing human; nothing lived in him but fear and hatred. And when at last, thinking the driver had begun to grow suspicious, he discharged the cab and ventured on foot attired in his misfitting clothes and restraints, an object marked out for observation, into the midst of the nocturnal passengers, these two base passions raged within him like a tempest. He walked fast, hunted by his fears, chattering to himself, skulking through the less-frequented thoroughfares, counting the minutes that still divided him from midnight. Once a woman spoke to him, offering a box of lights. He smote her in the face, and she fled.

Had he been capable of being astonished at anything, it would have been not to see his servant return to the hotel at bedtime. But, knowing that the steamer was not to leave for Yokohama until the next morning, he did not disturb himself about the matter, and instead slept off his exertions.

When Pissepotout did not appear the next morning to answer his master’s bell, Mr. Flogg, not betraying the least vexation, contented himself with taking his carpet-bag, calling Aorta, and sending for a palanquin.

It was then eight o’clock; at half-past nine, it being then high tide, the Carnatic would leave the harbour. Mr. Flogg and Aorta got into the palanquin, their luggage being brought after on a wheelbarrow, and half an hour later stepped upon the quay whence they were to embark. Mr. Flogg then learned that the Carnatic had sailed the evening before. He had expected to find not only the steamer, but his domestic, and was forced to give up both; but no sign of disappointment appeared on his face, and he merely remarked to Aorta, “It is an accident, madam; nothing more.”

At this moment a man who had been observing him attentively approached. It was Filch, who, bowing, addressed Mr. Flogg: “Were you not, like me, sir, a passenger by the Rangoon, which arrived yesterday?”

“I was, sir,” replied Mr. Flogg coldly. “But I have not the honour…”

“Pardon me; I thought I should find your servant here.”

“Do you know where he is, sir?” asked Aorta anxiously.

“What!” responded Filch, feigning surprise. “Is he not with you?”

“No,” said Aorta. “He has not made his appearance since yesterday. Could he have gone on board the Carnatic without us?”

“Without you, madam?” answered the detective. “Excuse me, did you intend to sail in the Carnatic?

“Yes, sir.”

“So did I, madam, and I am excessively disappointed. The Carnatic, its repairs being completed, left Hong Kong twelve hours before the stated time, without any notice being given; and we must now wait a week for another steamer.”

As he said “a week” Filch felt his heart leap for joy. Flogg detained at Hong Kong for a week! There would be time for the warrant to arrive, and fortune at last favoured the representative of the law.

His horror may be imagined when he heard Mr. Flogg say, in his placid voice, “But there are other vessels besides the Carnatic, it seems to me, in the harbour of Hong Kong.”

And, offering his arm to Aorta, he directed his steps toward the docks in search of some craft about to start. Filch, stupefied, followed; it seemed as if he were attached to Mr. Flogg by an invisible thread.

Chance, however, appeared really to have abandoned the man it had hitherto served so well. For three hours Philanderous Flogg wandered about the docks, with the determination, if necessary, to charter a vessel to carry him to Yokohama; but he could only find vessels which were loading or unloading, and which could not therefore set sail. Filch began to hope again.

Flogg had no fortune. He had been lucky in his profession; but spending freely, what had come freely, had realized nothing. But he was confident that he should soon be rich: full of life and ardour, he knew that he should soon have a ship, and soon be on a station that would lead to everything he wanted. He had always been lucky; he knew he should be so still. Such confidence, powerful in its own warmth, and bewitching in the wit which often expressed it, must have been enough for Aorta; but Filch saw it very differently. Flogg’s sanguine temper, and fearlessness of mind, operated very differently on him. He saw in it but an aggravation of the evil. It only added a dangerous character to himself. He was brilliant, he was headstrong. Filch had little taste for wit, and of anything approaching to imprudence a horror. He deprecated the connection in every light.

Such opposition, as these feelings produced, was more than Aorta could combat.

Filch suppressed a smile, and listened kindly, while Aorta relieved her heart a little more; and for a few minutes, therefore, could not keep pace with the conversation.

When she could let her attention take its natural course again, she found Mr. Flogg just fetching the Navy List, and sitting down together to pore over it, with the professed view of finding out the ships that Mr. Fellatio of the Conform Club had commanded.

“His first was the Asp, I remember; we will look for the Asp.”

“You will not find her here,” said Filch. “Quite worn out and broken up. I was the last man who commanded her. Hardly fit for service then. Reported fit for home service for a year or two, and so I was sent off to the West Indies.”

The pair looked all amazement.

“The Admiralty,” he continued, “entertain themselves now and then, with sending a few hundred men to sea, in a ship not fit to be employed. But they have a great many to provide for; and among the thousands that may just as well go to the bottom as not, it is impossible for them to distinguish the very set who may be least missed.”

“Phoo! Phoo!” cried Flogg, the Tin Gimp. “What stuff these young fellows talk! Never was a better sloop than the Asp in her day. For an old built sloop, you would not see her equal. Lucky fellow to get her! He knows there must have been twenty better men than himself applying for her at the same time. Lucky fellow to get anything so soon, with no more interest than his.”

“I felt my luck, Flogg, I assure you;” replied Filch, seriously. “I was as well satisfied with my appointment as you can desire. It was a great object with me at that time to be at sea; a very great object, I wanted to be doing something.”

“To be sure you did. What should a young fellow like you do ashore for half a year together? If a man had not a wife, he soon wants to be afloat again.”

“But, Mr. Filch,” cried Aorta, “how vexed you must have been when you came to the Asp, to see what an old thing they had given you.”

“I knew pretty well what she was before that day;” said he, smiling. “I had no more discoveries to make than you would have as to the fashion and strength of any old pelisse, which you had seen lent about among half your acquaintance ever since you could remember, and which at last, on some very wet day, is lent to yourself. Ah! She was a dear old Asp to me. She did all that I wanted. I knew she would. I knew that we should either go to the bottom together, or that she would be the making of me; and I never had two days of foul weather all the time I was at sea in her; and after taking privateers enough to be very entertaining, I had the good luck in my passage home the next autumn, to fall in with the very French frigate I wanted. I brought her into Plymouth; and here another instance of luck. We had not been six hours in the Sound, when a strange gale came on, a cyclone; which lasted four days and nights, and which would have done for poor old Asp in half the time; our touch with the Great Nation not having much improved our condition. Four-and-twenty hours later, and I should only have been a gallant Captain Filch, in a small paragraph at one corner of the newspapers; and being lost in only a sloop, nobody would have thought about me.” Aorta’s shudderings were to herself alone; but the pair could be as open as they were sincere, in their exclamations of pity and horror.

They were now hunting for the Laconia; and Filch could not deny himself the pleasure of taking the precious volume into his own hands to save them the trouble, and once more read aloud the little statement of her name and rate, and present non-commissioned class, observing over it that she too had been one of the best friends man ever had.

“Ah! Those were pleasant days when I had the Laconia! How fast I made money in her. A friend of mine and I had such a lovely cruise together off the Western Islands. Poor James Vane Forster, Flogg! You know – he wanted money: Worse than myself. He had a wife, a mother and a sister. Excellent fellow. I shall never forget his happiness. He felt it all, so much for her sake. I wished for him again the next summer, when I had still the same luck in the Mediterranean.”

“And I am sure, Sir,” said Flogg, distantly. “It was a lucky day for them, when you were put Captain into that ship. They shall never forget what you did.”

His feelings made him speak low; and Filch, hearing only in part, and probably not having the ex-servant James Forster at all near his thoughts as Philanderous Flogg did, looked rather in suspense, and as if waiting for more.

“My friend Filch,” whispered Aorta; “Mr. Flogg is thinking of poor Pissepotout.”

“Poor dear fellow!” continued Filch; “he has grown so steady, and such an excellent correspondent, while he was under your care! Ah! It would have been a happy thing, if he had never left you. I assure you, Mr. Flogg, we are very sorry he ever left you.”

But Mr. Flogg, far from being discouraged, was continuing his search, resolved not to stop if he had to resort to Macao, when he was accosted by a sailor on one of the wharves.

“Is your honour looking for a boat?”

“Have you a boat ready to sail?”

“Yes, your honour; a pilot-boat – No. 43 – the best in the harbour.”

“Does she go fast?”

“Between eight and nine knots the hour. Will you look at her?”

“Yes.”

“Your honour will be satisfied with her. Is it for a sea excursion?”

“No; for a voyage.”

“A voyage?”

“Yes, will you agree to take me to Yokohama?”

The sailor leaned on the railing, opened his eyes wide, and said, “Is your honour joking?”

“No. I have missed the Carnatic, and I must get to Yokohama by the 14th at the latest, to take the boat for San Francisco.”

“I am sorry,” said the sailor; “but it is impossible. Even the Great and Terrible Ooze could not fly you there in time; not without the power of a supernatural cyclone behind him.”

“I offer you a hundred pounds per day, and an additional reward of two hundred pounds if I reach Yokohama in time.”

“Are you in earnest?”

“Very much so.”

The pilot walked away a little distance, and gazed out to sea, evidently struggling between the anxiety to gain a large sum and the fear of venturing so far. Filch was in mortal suspense.

Mr. Flogg turned to Aorta and asked her, “You would not be afraid, would you, madam?”

“Not with you, Mr. Flogg,” was her loyal answer.

The pilot now returned, shuffling his hat in his hands.

“Well, pilot?” said Mr. Flogg.

“Well, your honour,” replied he, “I could not risk myself, my men, or my little boat of scarcely twenty tons on so long a voyage at this time of year. Besides, we could not reach Yokohama in time, for it is sixteen hundred and sixty miles from Hong Kong.”

“Only sixteen hundred,” said Mr. Flogg.

“It’s the same thing.”

Filch breathed more freely.

“But,” added the pilot, “it might be arranged another way.”

Filch ceased to breathe at all.

“How?” asked Mr. Flogg.

“By going to Nagasaki, at the extreme south of Japan, or even to Shanghai, which is only eight hundred miles from here. In going to Shanghai we should not be forced to sail wide of the Chinese coast, which would be a great advantage, as the currents run northward, and would aid us.”

“Pilot,” said Mr. Flogg, “I must take the American steamer at Yokohama, and not at Shanghai or Nagasaki.”

“Why not?” returned the pilot. “The San Francisco steamer does not start from Yokohama. It puts in at Yokohama and Nagasaki, but it starts from Shanghai.”

“You are sure of that?”

“Perfectly.”

“And when does the boat leave Shanghai?”

“On the 11th, at seven in the evening. We have, therefore, four days before us, that is ninety-six hours; and in that time, if we had good luck and a south-west wind, and the sea was calm, we could make those eight hundred miles to Shanghai.”

“And you could go…?”

“In an hour; as soon as provisions could be got aboard and the sails put up.”

“It is a bargain. Are you the master of the boat?”

“Yes; John Bunsby, master of the Tankadere.”

“Would you like some earnest-money?”

“If it would not put your honour out…”

“Here are two hundred pounds on account sir,” added Philanderous Flogg, turning to Filch, “if you would like to take advantage…?”

“Thanks to you, sir; I was about to ask the favour,” said Filch, bowing graciously.

“Very well. In half an hour we shall go on board.”

“But poor Pissepotout?” urged Aorta, who was much disturbed by the servant’s disappearance.

“I shall do all I can to find him,” replied Philanderous Flogg.

While Filch, in a feverish, nervous state, repaired to the pilot-boat, the others directed their course to the police-station at Hong Kong. Philanderous Flogg there gave Pissepotout’s description, and left a sum of money to be spent in the search for him. The same formalities having been gone through at the French consulate (where his strange mask and buckled restraints raised not even half an eyebrow), and the palanquin having stopped at the hotel for the luggage, which had been sent back there, they returned to the wharf.

It was now three o’clock; and pilot-boat No. 43, with its crew on board, and its provisions stored away, was ready for departure.

The Tankadere was a neat little craft of twenty tons, as gracefully built as if she were a racing yacht. Her shining copper sheathing, her galvanised iron-work, her deck, white as ivory, betrayed the pride taken by John Bunsby in making her presentable. Her two masts leaned a trifle backward; she carried brigantine, foresail, storm-jib, and standing-jib, and was well rigged for running before the wind; and she seemed capable of brisk speed, which, indeed, she had already proved by gaining several prizes in pilot-boat races. The crew of the Tankadere was composed of John Bunsby, the master, and four hardy mariners, who were familiar with the Chinese seas. John Bunsby, himself, a man of forty-five or thereabouts, vigorous, sunburnt, with a sprightly expression of the eye, and energetic and self-reliant countenance, would have inspired confidence in the most timid.

Philanderous Flogg and Aorta went on board, where they found Filch already installed. Below deck was a square cabin, of which the walls bulged out in the form of cots, above a circular divan; in the centre was a table provided with a swinging lamp. The accommodation was confined, but neat.

“I am sorry to have nothing better to offer you,” said Mr. Flogg to Filch, who bowed again, without responding.

The detective had a feeling akin to humiliation in profiting by the kindness of Mr. Flogg.

“It’s certain,” thought he, “though rascal as he is, he is a polite one!”

The sails and the English flag were hoisted at ten minutes past three. Mr. Flogg and Aorta, who were seated on deck, cast a last glance at the quay, in the hope of espying Pissepotout. Filch was not without his fears lest chance should direct the steps of the unfortunate servant, whom he had so badly treated, in this direction; in which case an explanation the reverse of satisfactory to the detective must have ensued. But the French poodle did not appear, and, without doubt, was still lying under the stupefying influence of the opium.

John Bunsby, master, at length gave the order to start, and the Tankadere, taking the wind under her brigantine, foresail, and standing-jib, bounded briskly forward over the waves.