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

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“BARE with me,” she said, going upstairs in the bungalow – and other signs that the author has lost the plot…

It takes a long time to write a book.

Seriously. Anything between three hours (going by what is currently being published on Kindle nowadays, and frightening all the ebook customers back into the paperback aisles of Waterstones) and sixty years.

At the end of the day – however long that working day has been – you hope that the author is the go-to expert on their work. Including thoroughly knowing what has been added or removed after an editor has had their grubby mitts on it, if you are one of those lucky authors.

A character’s eye colour or birth-sign shouldn’t change in the time it takes the reader to make a pot of tea between pages. For the writer, who was living in a different time-frame while constructing the story, this interlude between paragraphs may have been forty years. But even in a NaNoWriMo novel, over the course of a month’s hard writing, it’s possible to see where the author’s imaginary world morphed, grew, shrunk, and in some cases emigrated, with no reference point or explanation.

Continuity errors are not limited to film and TV. They appear in written prose all too often as well. But it’s not just continuity errors. It’s reality-check-bouncing too.

For example:

  • A character who lives in a bungalow (or a trailer, tent or caravan) as designated at the start of the story, should not pop upstairs for any reason, sleep in a room upstairs, or hear noises downstairs at the dead of night.
  • A character should remember the names and sexes of their siblings, whether or not those siblings are married, and to whom. They should also remember how many children they have. And if a family is limited to one car, they should own one that they can all comfortably fit into.
  • A character who tells everyone that he/she ‘does not drink’ should not be quaffing Champers at the staff party, or opening the Jack Daniels every night after work and the Beaujolais with dinner, unless he/she is also a humungous liar. Teetotallers do not merely drink less than the average struggling author. They don’t touch alcohol at all.
  • A virginal character should not leap like a porn star onto the first man to compliment her cleavage, unless she is a sperm-jacker hoping to get a council house.
  • A character who remembers his/her parents’ death in a car crash while still at primary school should not also have memories of how embarrassing they were at his/her wedding, have photographs of them at his/her graduation, or receive phone calls from them with unexpected news of other nonexistent relatives (such as siblings of only children), reminders of family birthdays which have already been celebrated and forgotten two chapters previously, or other postmodernist twists in the plot. And while on the subject, twin siblings usually celebrate their birthdays on the same day, so reminders of a twin’s birthday are bizarre, to say the least… we’ll ignore the fact that my own mother once called to remind me of family birthdays looming in the next two days – it was my own, her eldest child’s birthday that was looming. I got a dead potted plant. It must have been too short notice for her 🙂
  • A character in a novel set in 1914 whose husband only gives her ten pounds a day ‘spending money’ should not be roaming the streets of London pleading with shopkeepers to give her a job stating that her family is in need (unless again, she is a great big liar). ‘Ten pounds a day’ to live on in 1914 is roughly the equivalent of £100 in today’s terms. (Even today, sometimes I wish I had as much as ten quid a day just for ‘spending money’).
  • A character should not ‘fly out to Rio’ for a one-stop party weekend and ‘return from his Mexican holiday’ on the Monday, unless his nickname is Speed Gonzales, Fastest Drug Dealer/Liar/Cross-Border Trafficker in the west.

No matter how well you think you know your story, your characters, where they live, the layout of their house/spaceship/camp-site or crime scene (or any other matters of world geography) – or indeed, in how short a space of time you wrote it – you must sit down and read it cover-to-cover once it’s finished. It’s the only way you’ll find all the booby-traps you’ve set for yourself in the process of incorporating all of the add-ons your imagination has furnished the story with since you started.

Did you know that you can Google what time the sun sets anywhere in the world, on any given calendar day? Recently, one of my author clients nearly changed the solar year in Tokyo to be in parallel with Northern Scotland, imagining that the winter days in Japan were as short as those approaching the Northern Lights and the Arctic Circle. I checked, as she had not. It turns out that the shortest daylight span of the year in midwinter Japan is less than 3 hours shorter than on the same day in Nairobi, close to the Equator. Japan may have mountains with snow on, but so does Mount Kilimanjaro. Which is not in the highlands of Scotland either.

When I was 7 or 8 years old, I thought Vienna was in Spain. I was sending imaginary holiday postcards between Barbie dolls. I then opened an atlas, looked it up, and had to change it. It’s even easier to look things up online. Don’t use the world of your imagination as an excuse for getting the simplest of things wrong, unless you too want to sound like an elementary schoolchild when reading out your story at your first public appearance.

While looking for continuity/geographical errors, check out your spelling and grammar. Do you know the meanings of all of your favourite words? Is your hero accurately described as ‘a tenuous mass of muscle’ with ‘an autocratic accent’ or did you intend to say something else when you pictured him?

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Lord Dark Helmet of Spaceballs – both tenuous and autocratic

Also, is your prose dripping unintentional double-entendres at every turn? Is your heroine always asking folk to ‘bare with her’ (while she doubtless races to win the strip-tease contest first) or to ‘grin and bare it’ (obviously to collect photographic evidence of the aforementioned strip-tease).

Not long ago, I formatted a family saga – book-club, women’s fiction, that sort of thing – not humour, not parody, but quite serious and stately. It started out in rural Yorkshire, with a patriarch named Dick, host to a large brood and an explosive temper. The book was already published traditionally in print, so it was only the ebook I had to format – no changes, no edits allowed. After a few chapters, Dick’s incendiary nature nearly cost me two cups of tea and a keyboard.

Before she could finish, Dick had exploded.

She opened her mouth, and Dick exploded again.

If you’re writing serious prose, and have to negotiate the waters around some delicate choices of character name, try to exercise caution with descriptive verbs. And maybe cut down on their repetition, if the behaviour is unavoidable, as with Dick’s hot temper.

Otherwise, you may be misleading the reader into believing you’re writing something else.

A few authors become attracted by certain phrases, no doubt picked up from earlier reading habits of their own, which they do not see are also misleading to the reader. One author who consulted me was fond of describing the reactions of his characters in a certain way. They always ‘managed to appear genuinely amazed’ or ‘managed to seem genuinely surprised’ or ‘genuinely appeared to be puzzled’ etc, etc… what the author does not realise, is that these descriptions would be perfect should the characters all be routine dreadful liars and deceivers – yet again, this was not the author’s intention. I said to him, “when you chat with friends and they tell you something amazing, do you say ‘I’m amazed!’ or do you say ‘I am managing to appear genuinely amazed!’ – which of those actually sounds realistic and genuine?”

If your character is amazed or surprised, just say so. He/she was amazed. No-one should ‘appear to be genuine’ in any reaction, unless it is an outright act put on to deceive the other character or characters. Be wary of a fondness for expanding on what should be very simple bits of your illustrative prose.

Authors suffer from short attention-spans as well as overactive imaginations, and that shows all too painfully also.

In third-person storytelling, the author gives away whenever they are bored with the internal thoughts of the MC, or are merely delighted with an incidental character they have just created, by glaring amounts of pointless head-hopping:

The bus conductor looked at the beautiful girl and felt pity for her. It wasn’t her fault she couldn’t afford the fare, riding the strangely advanced London bus in 1914 with only ten pounds to last the day, before going home to her house in Mayfair and tightwad of a husband. Why, if he was ten years younger himself and wasn’t supporting his family of four he would have something to offer her all right, but on this occasion, a free bus journey was sufficient…

What the author thinks they’re doing is directing the reader to feel sorry for this loaded idle wench, as she trolls around the city of London with pockets full of her husband’s money on a daily basis. What they’re actually doing is attaching misleading significance to minor passing characters, while using as many pairs of eyes as they can in every scene to illustrate their own lust after the leading character (or desire to be the leading character, it’s usually one or the other).

If you want to make the readers feel sorry for your character, put them in piteous situations. Not riding buses around town, skirts weighed down with cash, while other characters stare at them and think the things that you want your readers to think.

Head-hopping can also take a terrifying and unforseen turn through ‘the fourth wall’ – away from the characters altogether:

Bella sighed as she got off the bus, and the flower-seller on the pavement nearby took pity on her at once, handing her a rose.

‘Poor girl,’ thought the flower-seller. ‘She looks like she’s been worrying over something all day. And it looks like she’s got off at the wrong stop…’

Yes – yes – see Bella suddenly running now, realising her mistake.

“Wait!” she shouted, but the bus had gone.

Look at Bella now – lost, dejected. Tears pricked at her eyelids. No! She mustn’t cry.

So – let’s watch and see what happens next, as she heads mournfully along the rain-sodden street…

A couple of things happened in the segment above. One, the author stopped writing the story from the point-of-view of the characters, and started addressing the reader directly, as if sitting alongside them in a movie theatre talking over the film. This is often a ploy when there is an annoying ‘narrator’ character, such as a ghost watching over the players, but it doesn’t work when it’s the author themselves.

Do you know why? Because the voice of the descriptive prose dictates the landscape portrayed in the reader’s imagination. If it suddenly switches to the author’s voice, saying in as many words ‘Look at this’ or ‘watch this’ then the reader is immediately teleported out of the location of the plot they were involved in, and into the seat next to the author as they wrote it (and a miserable place it is to be, too).

The reader is NOT INTERESTED IN YOU. Or in what you are thinking. Or in who you fancy eavesdropping on/sleeping with in the story, in any given session of writing. The reader wants to be on that street, with Bella, figuring out her next move with her, and when she’s going to learn that ten pounds will buy her quite a lot of groceries for her Mayfair house in 1914 – if she can only find a shopkeeper who has that much change to give her in return.

The reader does not want the author hanging around at their shoulder, prodding them, pointing at passers-by and telling the reader what each of them thinks about Bella as she freeloads her way around pre-WW1 London.

The other thing that occurred was the jumping of past tense to present tense. Past tense – that’s where the story was occurring (disregarding the head-hopping that was still going on). Present tense was what I used as evidence that the fourth wall was being smashed – that the author was addressing the reader directly. It isn’t necessarily the case – unwary writers can hop tenses as erratically as they can hop into and out of the heads of point-of-view characters – but it is occasionally a giveaway of fourth wall infringement that I’ve encountered as an editor and proofreader.

Remember, it takes a very clever writer to lead a discerning reader in a merry dance through the plot, on an entertaining journey to a satisfactory resolution. But it doesn’t take a genius reader to spot a terrible writer… you have been warned 😉 x

Spaceballs predicts the Clones 😉 x

New – Free on Kindle until midnight Wednesday 28 Oct, PST

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Writing & Publishing For Yourself: The Indie Author Handbook, Self-Publishing Toolkit, and Staying Sane Survival Guide – or ‘The Adventures of an I.T. Helpdesk’ by Lisa Scullard (non-fiction/humour)

FREE on Kindle for a limited time (regular price $2.99 or equivalent) – Write a decent book, Tweet a few times, accept any spontaneous reviews graciously, and keep all of your friends…

Hi folks! Seeing as I didn’t know what I’d really done to earn recognition as a top blogger on here, a while ago I went through all of my posts on Writing and Publishing and compiled a list (see my Tutorials pages). Following that, and reading them through, I realised I had a whole lot more to add – to update – and articles elsewhere that were relevant. As well as journal entries of everything I’ve learned on the indie author rollercoaster.

I’ve now`organised them, fully-revised and updated, into this eBook above – containing my earliest advice on writing (reviewing the 27th Brussels International Film Festival, in 2000) to the latest. The eBook was was published yesterday, and I’ve just finished the final tweaks after uploading.

Here’s the blurb:

This isn’t a ‘How to sell a million copies’ or ‘How to be a New York Times bestseller’ guru session. This is not for seasoned ‘Authorpreneurs’ looking for new promotion and sales tactics. It is NOT a tried-and-tested formula for writing a blockbuster novel. And it will not tell you how to become a billionaire through exploiting your hidden USP (Unique Selling Point).

Neither is it a Zen lifestyle guide, telling you that it is simply a case of convincing the world (and yourself) that you are the world’s top author, and you will be showered with money, Nobel prizes, Oscars, Specsavers Daggers, retail sponsorship, street-value turnips, or whatever else takes your fancy.

None of the above. It’s a journal of the everyday life of a modern, under-the-radar indie author since the global self-publishing trend started, and a few confessions of advising others while being a Useful Technical Person to Have Around…

It is also a book for beginners, giving tutorials and case studies – on the subjects of inspiration, motivation, genre, legal hurdles, research, editing, and identifying your ideal market audience – along with the rocket science of formatting your documents, embedding illustrations, creating and linking to external content (such as audio and video), uploading them, and some gentle cautionary advice on publishing issues and promotions.

There will be laughs. There will be tears. There will be revealing examples made (and for readers with browser-enabled tablets or PC/phone reading apps, links to working samples of multimedia content).

Above all, it’s designed to save you time, hassle (and ultimately, save you money) when joining the indie author phenomenon.

Lisa Scullard went online one day in 2014 to find she was suddenly (and without warning) a WordPress-promoted top blogger in Reader on the subject of ‘Writing & Blogging’ – and promptly understood the full meaning of the phrase: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This subsequent book is an organised compilation of relevant blog posts, tutorials, articles, experimental book trailers and journal entries made over the years, covering the topics of writing, researching, editing, publishing and promotion. It has been an undertaking of mass rewrites, edits, revisions, expositions and updates, and some keyboard-crunching efforts at formatting, in order to justify such an unprecedented amount of recognition.

…And it’s FREE until midnight PST, Wednesday 28th October 2015, on Kindle worldwide. Grab it while you can.

Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukAmazon.deAmazon.frAmazon.esAmazon.itAmazon.nlAmazon.co.jpAmazon.inAmazon.caAmazon.com.brAmazon.com.mxAmazon.com.au

It’s already available in print on Lulu directly (postage £2.99 basic shipping) and should appear on Amazon in paperback form over the next few days.

Last updated: 14 November, 01.30 GMT – The latest updated version is now live. If you’ve downloaded your copy already, make sure it’s automatically synched to the newest version. You can use the Kindle Customer Services ‘Contact Us’ by chat/email method to request it to be re-delivered free to your app/tablet if it doesn’t update automatically from your reader settings. You’re always entitled to request the newest revision of an ebook for free, even after a paid purchase.

One of my supporting examples of fiction is also available FREE on Kindle for the same time period, for reference – Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition. (Also worldwide).

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I hope you all have a great weekend, and for those of you off school and college, enjoy half-term break (and happy forthcoming Halloween) 🙂

L xxx

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

tepui 24

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.

IMG_1680

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

New Year’s resolution – the importance of still writing for yourself

Happy new year! I hope you’re all looking forward to 2015, like I am, and to the opportunities and changes it may bring to your creativity.

This was originally going to be a tutorial post, but I didn’t want to overload your New Year’s Eve inboxes and blog readers with something you’ll need a hot water bottle and supply of endless coffee to get through… so I’ll try and keep it on the shorter side 🙂

In a nutshell, when you set out to write for an audience, a target market, remember there’s still time (and a need) to continue to write and be creative for yourself alone.

Whether it’s therapy, or relaxation, or just for entertainment. Whether it’s recording your dreams or memories, or making plans for the future. You need to keep that part of your writing alive – the part that inspired you to write with a purpose in the first place – because nothing tries to suck the joy out of writing more than constantly thinking about deadlines, sales, and financial returns.

If you’re a compulsive writer and it’s something you’ve always done, it’s particularly important to keep writing for yourself, to preserve that feeling of serenity and the internal insights that arise from it. You will find yourself picking up inspiration along the way, and using elements of it in your commercial writing, but allowing yourself to BE yourself in your creativity, and taking time out from the ‘author’ side of it, is what will help prevent any disillusionment, doom and gloom taking over.

You don’t ever have to make your personal creativity public. Like a diary, you can write it in quill and ink in endless notebooks, or record them aloud using your phone, tablet, or computer. Keep your spontaneity going! It will do your mind and spirit good, as well as positively enhance your professional efforts.

Although I put quite a lot out there commercially, most of my creativity is still personal – I’m still developing my skills and different genre styles away from the marketplace. I still experiment and play with ideas, counsel myself with writing, and use other art forms like sewing, knitting, customising and painting to relax.

One of my longest writing therapy projects did eventually end up in novel form, and because I feel silly/embarrassed promoting it commercially – to me, it’s therapy I wrote for myself, in the guise of narrative fiction (written nearly seven years ago now!) – I give it away in regular Kindle ebook freebies, so a few times a year you’ll find it listed as free:

Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition

 Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition on Amazon UK & Amazon.com – search for it on your regional Amazon site as prompted by clicking here on the Amazon.com product page.

This is the version I made more reader-friendly by including shortcuts through the text, meaning you can skip through the internal monologue as prompted and read it more as an action novel, or read the whole thing in linear fashion as a semi-literary one. That was one of my technical experiments in ebook formatting that I’m quite proud of – you can see how it works by checking out the description and the ‘Look Inside’ preview on Amazon.

I’m still in two minds as to whether publishing it (unedited) was the true outcome or purpose, but in terms of the therapeutic side of writing, I definitely came out the other side feeling better for it, both internally and creatively. And having it out there, rather than filed away and forgotten, is a small reminder to me that writing therapy and self-analysis is worthwhile to some of us artistic types – even if no-one else reads it 🙂

I hope you all have a very happy and creative new year, and remember to make time for yourself in the process!

L xxx

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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

Inspiration and book trailers – using open source Audacity and sound FX to create audio

What started out as a music track remix turned into something else once I got distracted 🙂 Click here for alternative link if you can’t see the video above.

I was reading a blog post somewhere recently about free and Open Source software tools that authors can use in their promotion packaging, and came across a mention of Audacity, a track-mixing and recording desktop program, that authors can set up to record their own voice-overs, music, and mix their own copyright-free audio material to use in book trailers. This grabbed my attention initially, because one of my hobbies is music mashups over video (click here for an example of a soundtrack I made using Holst’s ‘Planets Suite’ recorded electronically by Isaio Tomita, combined with Rob Dugan’s epic dance anthem ‘Clubbed to Death’ and a loop sample by Brandon Billings, dubbed over NASA’s Mars Rover 10-minute promo animation).

Having used demo versions of track-mixing software in the past, I was on the lookout for a full version of a program with no nagware attached and unlimited potential.

I found a starter tutorial for Audacity on Youtube, and it seemed pretty similar to other programs I’d tried out, with a lot of additional features.

Like Tony says straightaway, I downloaded it from the official Audacity site. It’s not a huge program file, and was installed and ready to use within a few minutes. I haven’t used the recording voice-over tool so far, but there’s a lot of instruction on this in the above video.

I found that music and sounds can be imported on the ‘File’ menu from MP3 files already saved elsewhere on my computer, which is my usual practise. I’d had an idea for a tune I wanted to mash up, and imported the original track (‘The Politics of Dancing’ by Re-Flex) and imported then trimmed and made a loop from the intro of another track (‘Humanoid’ Cry Baby remix by Stakker Humanoid).

At this point, I made a cup of tea, and got distracted by thoughts of scenes for another Zombie Adventures novel. When I sat down again with the laptop, I found a file saved on my computer called ‘Whoosh Pack’ from SweetSoundEffects, a free FX downloads website by Zach King, and also one called ‘Ultimate Fight Sounds’ which I’d used when dubbing sound effects for the short film ‘How to Train Your Zombie’ directed by Junior for one of her home school projects:

Listen for the crunch and stab sounds from 03:41 to 04.54 – the recording of sound effects on film dubbing is done by a ‘foley’ 🙂

What I’d found on the above film, when adding sound FX directly into Windows Movie Maker as a separate track to music, was that the music volume would become inconsistent and ‘fade’ temporarily while the sound effect was playing (as you can hear). I hadn’t discovered a fix for this in Movie Maker, and wanted to find a way of controlling the volume/gain or fade of each individual effect and music track so that they wouldn’t override one another automatically.

In Audacity, you can control every track you add in exactly that way – including where you want a fade to begin and end by selecting that area of the track – you don’t even need to split it. Each effect you add has its own separate ‘layer’ with individual controls, just like a full paid version of other programs. So you can mix and save a complete soundtrack to add to your book trailer or movie as a single MP3 file.

So, over the beginning of my Re-Flex re-mix, thinking about zombie mayhem for my next book, I added fight sound clips, whooshes, screams, and knife sounds. Having too much fun at this point, I went back to SweetSoundEffects online and downloaded more free audio FX samples, including gun sounds and explosions. These arrive via email link to download in a zip file, which you then extract on your computer to your chosen documents location.

The great thing about Audacity is that so far I’ve found no limit on the number of layers you can add and control on your soundtrack, so a single gunshot through a window noise with a hit and a scream added will consist of four or five different sound effects overlapped in separate layers, all timed to create that ‘event’ in the soundtrack. I think the most separate sound clips I’ve added at the moment to a complete soundtrack is about 100.

I was pretty pleased with the zombie battlefield din that I’d created (could perhaps use some groans, but I didn’t want to overdo it first time), so I cropped the soundtrack to about a minute and a half, and exported it as MP3.

Again, as the tutorial says, if you haven’t downloaded the required MP3 conversion program ‘LAME’ from where Audacity directs you to already, at this point you’ll be prompted and directed to the instructions and download link. Don’t click in the big sidebar adverts saying ‘download’ – make sure you select the right one beneath the instructions for LAME MP3, for your computer. Once installed, you might need to click on ‘Browse’ for the LAME MP3 program the first time you export your track from Audacity, but otherwise the file will convert and save automatically in your chosen location – I use ‘My Music’ files to save all audio.

You can then make a Windows Movie file using the complete soundtrack. Import your images or video first (I used a single image for the first track, as it was an experiment), and then your audio. Select the MP3 file of your complete, mixed soundtrack, and it will appear as a single track in your ‘My Movie’ project. Your images, movie or slideshow will then need to be edited in ‘running length/time’ to match the length of your soundtrack, given in seconds. Alternatively, decide on the length of your movie and fade out the soundtrack accordingly – it’s up to you. Add any captions or titles that you want to include. Then save and export your movie file as normal – the usual for upload online is to export it as a file ‘for computer’ although you can also write to DVD etc.

This method is ideal for book trailers, where you’re not trying to sync dialogue, and just want an easily-manageable soundtrack.

So, having succeeded, and wanting to play with adding a few more sound effects to my ‘battle scene’ soundtrack, I re-opened the project in Audacity, saved it as a different file name so as not to over-write the original, removed the music, and added an MP3 of different music and samples that I’d remixed earlier, to make another version:

O-Ren Ishii

Click here for ‘Chill Bill – Lucy Loses It Remix’ (contains strong language)

After that, and playing with more ideas for backing music and an even longer battlefield audio scene, I downloaded some aircraft sounds, extended the mix, changed the music again, made a tribute slideshow, and eventually ended up with this:

‘Nightmare Before Apocalypse’ – audio remix (backing track: Danny Elfman). Click here for alternative link if you can’t see the video above.

Not only did I have a ton of fun with this, I also got several new story ideas while mixing up music and FX – so whether you’re planning on making yourself a free book trailer and need to record voice-over, sounds and music, or are wondering what your battle scenes might sound like, or even just want some inspiration, it’s a great way to get even more creative.

Enjoy 🙂 x