‘Look at this!’ Connor brandishes the bright and colourful cover of the new Six Sentence Stories magazine. ‘You’re on the cover, Ms Hall. A first for you.’
Cynthia stretches out an elegantly manicured hand and takes the proffered copy from him. She looks at me over her new reading glasses. ‘Such a nice photo of you, too.’
‘I’m surprised it’s not in sepia, it’s that old,’ interjects Gary with a grin, immediately receiving an elbow in the ribs from Gina.
‘Don’t upset her Gary,’ Gina mutters. ‘Don’t you want to be in a story again?’ Gina flashes a smile at me.
Cynthia brushes her hand over the glossy cover. ‘Oh look, there’s a voucher for that little deli shop, Sam’s. It was very pleasant. Apart from that rather brassy woman coming on to you, Connor.’
‘You mean, Beryl?’ Connor’s eyes twinkle.
Gina prods Gary’s leg. ‘You see, they’ve both had an outing, and it wasn’t even in one of Ms Hall’s stories.’
‘What a charming man Tom is,’ Cynthia purrs. ‘So creative! We met him briefly at Ms Hall’s book launch.’ She runs a thoughtful finger over Tom’s picture on the magazine cover. ‘Nice eyes. I don’t suppose I should blame him for Beryl’s behaviour.’
‘I met another excellent chap there too,’ Connor takes a long pull from the glass of whisky which has mysteriously appeared in his hand. ‘Chris Nelson, short story author and a fellow poet. No wonder we hit it off.’ He looks around the room. ‘And you know what, he’s written a really good review of Our Book!’ Connor beams and raises his glass to me.
Read yourself into the venueviamy second Six Sentence Story this week. The Prompt Word (helpfully) was BOOK.
A neon sign lights up the narrow side street which leads to the Six Sentence Café and Bistro where a bearded man waits, watching as a minivan draws up. The driver leans out of her window and waves, and a leather-jacket-clad man wearing dark glasses, despite the lateness of the hour, emerges from the vehicle carrying a box marked ‘books’.
Low-lit ambience and laid back vibes wash over the now-iconic interior, where sunflowers grace every table, and the author, fidgeting with her special book-signing pen, observes the figures who drift into the room, each familiar from their glowing presence in cyberspace.
The scene is set, D has done a marvellous job; passing the author’s table, now loaded with shiny new books, she places a calming hand on her shoulder, winking at a recent arrival, who slides into a side booth with an enigmatic smile, indicating the bottle of apricot liqueur that’s partly concealed within her capacious handbag.
Returning to the bar, backlit by the reflections in the long mirror, D gives a nod to the MC. The tall, slender man strides onto the stage and offers a lavish introduction to the now inwardly-quaking author, who lays her pen aside and advances.
Now on stage, I turn and survey the room, shading my eyes against the spotlight, I can’t see you properly, but I know you’re all here. Thanks so much for coming to the launch of my new novel, Spirit of the Shell Man.
I have to admit, I’m a little overwhelmed.
My heart-felt thanks goes to my fellow Proprietors of the SSC&B who’ve done so much to set up our little soirée, and to my ARC readers, Chris Nelson, Paula Light and Gretchen Bernet-Ward who have offered such encouragement in their feedback and reviews. Chris recently posted his review on his blog – I’m thrilled with it – you can read it here.
Okay, that’s enough from me, I’m no good at this self-promotion stuff, but since the audiobook version is being recorded at the moment, here’s a foretaste from Chapter 7, beautifully narrated as always by the wonderful Terry Lloyd Roberts.
A frosty atmosphere pervades Cynthia’s normally welcoming sitting room which has nothing to do with the February cold. Gina regards me steadily from across the room and Gary, who’s perching on the arm of her chair, wears the expression he normally reserves for the rare occasions when Liverpool FC fail to win. Even Asmar, Cynthia’s cat, has turned his back on me.
Connor addresses me from a commanding position by the fireplace. ‘It’s not that we don’t understand your need to follow your authorial instincts, Ms Hall, and we’re delighted about the upcoming release of your new book, but this latest little series you’ve embarked upon doesn’t seem to be turning out as we’d hoped.’
‘As soon as we saw the title we thought we’d be in it,’ says Gina, ‘but no, you gave the starring role to Joey, and his character only gets a tiny mention in the final paragraph of our novel*.’
‘Then Ceridwen appears and she’s from a completely different book**,’ adds Gary. ‘She must be getting on a bit now.’
‘I would rather like to meet her,’ says Cynthia thoughtfully. ‘Not only is she a woman in her prime,’ she casts a meaningful glance at Gary, ‘but I think we’d have a lot in common.’ She draws her purple pashmina around her shoulders and looks at me earnestly. ‘I hope you’re not going to saddle her with the jade camel.’
‘Saddle the camel.’ Connor chuckles. ‘Good one, old thing!’
Cynthia gives him a withering look.
My gaze travels from one face to another. ‘I honestly thought that you’d all come forward once I’d started the story. That’s the way it usually works.’
‘Oh, so I suppose it’s also our fault that you’re still not starting our sequel.’ Gina’s eyes narrow. ‘We know you’ve already begun thinking about a sequel to the sequel you’ve just finished.’ She nudges Gary. ‘Did you see? She’s already covered that whiteboard of hers with ideas.’
Connor raises his hands towards her in a calming gesture then turns to me. ‘Sorry, Ms Hall, it’s just that we feel we’re not getting the exposure we deserve.’
I have an idea.
‘Listen. Why don’t you all come to the launch of the Spirit of Shell Man next Friday? It’s being held at the Six Sentence Café and Bistro. My back catalogue books will be there, so you’ll be able to engage with readers.’
‘Is that a real place?’ says Gina in sceptical tone.
I smile back at her. ‘It is if you want it to be.’
Connor’s eyes light up. ‘Might I bring along some of my slim volumes of poetry?’
Grab your seat at the launch here at lunasonline next Friday!
* You’ll Never Walk Alone (2019) ** The Silver Locket (2012)
Wonderful writer, reader and reviewer, Diana of Myths of the Mirror blog has thrown down her velvet gauntlet for a fun writing challenge. Here’s what she says: “I don’t know anyone who owns a Kindle (or other ebook reader) and isn’t buried in books. We groan as we add more to the stack… then laugh about it and buy more! That’s my situation anyway.”
That’s my situation too!
Here are the details of Diana’s challenge – The Teetering TBR Pile – the challenge is open until 23 January if you’d like to join in too.
This is my response:
Ode to My Kindle
Kindle, my Kindle, how do you compare to those wretched stacks of curling pages whose covers dim in daylight’s brightness spines rendered unreadable by old age?
Shelves piled high with neither rhyme nor reason unruly stacks wobbling and tottering set to tumble in thunderous cascades engulfing unwary readers in words.
Kindle, my Kindle, how long has it been since first we browsed those virtual bookshelves hovering o’er Amazon’s icons bright daring downloads at the click of a key?
Far have we travelled by land, air and sea since I first loaded a heap of beach reads oh, my Kindle, faithful companion never rejecting yet another book.
While you’re here, fellow overstuffed e-readers, can I just tempt you to just one more teensy-weensy book? The book birthday freebie offer I was running has finished, but you can download Song of the Sea Goddess for a snip: USA ~ UK ~ IND ~ AUS ~ CAN ~ ESP ~ South Africa and the Rest of the World
According to WordPress this is my 500th post, which to me seems like something of a milestone for a self-styled ‘accidental’ blogger, even though it must seem modest to many.
I’ve always been happy writing. I even enjoyed writing up insurance inspections and composing reports for council committees. Words, I’ve come to realise, are just ‘my thing’.
‘Once I’ve written something it does tend to run away from me. I don’t seem to have any part of it – it’s no longer my piece of writing.’ – David Bowie
This quote, from the late and great David Bowie, is very apt. Words run away with me too. Especially in the mouths and actions of my characters. You’ve heard how some of them go on, even outside their own story.
Which brings me to the term for ‘my kind of writer’ that I’m not very fond of… Pantster!
I’m not alone, as discovered last week after I read an interview with fellow author and blogger, Liz Gauffreau. I’m always interested to read about other writers. This brief(!) exchange followed:
I got to thinking after that. What about a new term to replace the irritating ‘pantster’?
I mulled over some alternative words for pants: braggas (Spanish); breeks (Scottish); broekies (South African); but knowing that Liz is a Latin scholar, I came to braccas. I have to admit I had to look it up. My schoolroom Latin is too distant to recall, besides it wasn’t a word to feature much in Caesar or Cicero, although I’m sure Liz will correct me if I’m wrong!
And so here *drumroll* is the first mention of a new word – a neologism
Braccaneers of the world unite, you’ve nothing to lose but your…
She’d always wanted to be the perfectlady, all glossy hair and high-heeled shoes, smiling graciously behind flawless make-up, while people marvelled at the poise of her bearing and her chic couture.
But nature was cruel. The golden-haired baby girl grew into a spotty awkward teenager. There was no extraordinary mutation from ugly duckling to elegant swan for her; no amazing transformation in her teens nor late-blossoming in her early twenties.
And so she became a writer, acclaimed for her literary accomplishments while sheltering beneath the camouflage of the well-turned sentence and gorgeous prose.
‘Another new book? I say, Ms Hall, that is admirable.’ Connor raises his whisky glass in my direction and takes a long pull. ‘And you’re already onto the follow up novel. You’re becoming almost as prolific as The Poet!’ He strikes a dramatic pose from his position by the fireplace.
I smile politely as my eyes travel around Cynthia’s sitting room. Cynthia is lounging languidly on the battered silk chaise-longue. Her eyes are shining over the large glass of red wine she’s sipping. ‘Song of the Sea Goddess; it’s a lovely title,’ she smiles at me encouragingly. ‘Do you have a copy for us?’
I’m still waiting for them to ship from the printers. ‘Next time,’ I promise.
Gina is sitting in the armchair opposite her. Her left hand rests on her knee and the light is catching the diamond in her ring. She sees me looking at it.
‘We decided to put the wedding off for a bit.’
‘I hope you weren’t waiting for me to…’ I stop in mid-sentence, feeling awkward.
Gina laughs. ‘Only Ma and Auntie Marie are bothered. You know what they’re like!’ She shakes her head. ‘No, I’m concentrating on my career.’
‘Good for you,’ I say, raising my glass and taking a sip. The pleasant taste of the cheap Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon takes me straight back to the early 1980s. A sudden thought occurs to me. ‘Where’s Gary?’
‘Oh, he and Bob have gone to the match, nursing their New Year hangovers.’ She grins. ‘Fingers has become quite a celebratory at Anfield.’
‘I can imagine,’ I say, smiling back.
Gina’s expression darkens. ‘Your new book’s set in South Africa, isn’t it? She raises a disapproving eyebrow. ‘You do know we’re boycotting everything South African*.’
Connor clears his throat but says nothing and Cynthia shifts awkwardly on the chaise-longue.
‘Yes, I know. I did the same.’ I reply, remembering short supermarket dilemmas. ‘But things have changed. The country celebrated 25 years of democracy last year. Apartheid is over. Nelson Mandela became the first president.’
‘Well I never.’ Connor stares thoughtfully into his glass. ‘But I suppose we’re part of history now.’
‘I’m afraid so.’ Strange as it still seems, the 1980s are history. It feels to me like only yesterday.
‘Oh, but Ms Hall, you bring us to life.’ Cynthia casts a theatrical gesture in my direction.
‘Which is what’s happening to us now,’ says Gina determinedly. She shifts in her seat and pulls a crumpled postcard out of the back pocket of her jeans. ‘This came from Lucy last week. She and Pierre are working on a cruise ship now. He’s a DJ and she’s a croupier in the casino.’
That makes perfect sense.
Connor interrupts my thoughts. ‘As a fellow writer, I understand you have to go where the muse takes you, as it were.’ He strides over to the sideboard to top up his glass. ‘But I thought there might be at least one more historical fiction book in you.’
‘Our sequel?’ Gina waves the postcard at me.
I glance down and see my notebook has fallen open on my lap. I look up at their expectant faces. I guess there’s no harm in jotting down a few more notes…
*For a long time, Nelson Mandela and the issue of South Africa under the Nationalist apartheid regime weren’t widely discussed in the UK. When this song hit the UK charts in 1984 more people started asking questions, which contributed to the issue rising to national prominence. The rest, as they say, is history.
Side Note: I vividly remember my flat-mate, who makes a tiny cameo appearance in ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone, dancing round our kitchen singing this!
Many of you will know that the characters from You’ll Never Walk Alone are frequently tugging at my sleeve. One day, I will give them their wish and write their longed for sequel. They’ve certainly come up with a few good ideas to start to shape the plot. Meanwhile, my new novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, is coming very soon.
And finally, a Happy New Year to one and all. Keep safe, keep sane, and let’s hope for a better 2021!
The Tardis door bursts open and Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor bounds over to me. ‘Jemma! Thank goodness you’re safe!’ He looks around the ship and spots the two droids. ‘Don’t I know you..?
Cee-Threepio and Artoo exchange glances. Artoo emits a series of excited whoops and beeps, while Cee-Threepio raises a golden arm to his forehead as if he is searching his memory banks. ‘Sorry, sir, I don’t quite…’
Artoo mutters something in beep-talk.
‘Okay, never mind that now,’ the Doctor turns back to me. ‘The Tardis has detected a quantum disturbance in this galaxy and it seems to have something to do with your ship, Jemma.’ He looks around, puzzled. ‘Where are the boys?’
I explain as briefly as I can.
The Doctor taps his sonic screwdriver against his head. ‘The Millennium Falcon, eh? Always wanted to have a go on that,’ he says with an envious grin.
‘That’s right,’ pipes up Cee-Threepio. ‘That’s where we’re waiting to go, isn’t it Artoo?’
Our surroundings flicker like they need re-tuning again.
‘This doesn’t look good,’ says the Doctor.
Artoo’s head spins agitatedly and he emits a stream of tech-babble in beep-talk.
The Doctor obviously understands. ‘Golly,’ he exclaims. ‘The ship has divided into two, you say!’ The Doctor whirls around, brandishing his sonic screwdriver in Artoo’s direction. ‘That would explain a lot.’
Artoo scoots over to the console and inserts his scomp link. He projects an image of a starship docked in the familiar cargo hold of the Millennium Falcon. If that’s our ship, it doesn’t look quite how I imagined it, but then I’ve never seen it from the outside. Even so, a bright red fighter was not what I’d envisaged.
‘Are you sure that’s right, Artoo?’ asks Cee-Threepio. ‘I was under the impression that Miss Jemma’s starship was a rather pleasing shade of blue.’
The flight deck suddenly becomes less gloomy and comes more sharply into focus. Was it something Cee-Threepio said?
I look more closely at the image the little droid is projecting. The boys are on the ramp at the rear of the spacecraft and Han Solo is standing on the cargo deck holding something in his hand. All three of them appear quite animated.
Two ships, multiple dimensions…Harris’s version and mine…
The comms device in my tunic pocket buzzes urgently. Han Solo’s picture appears on its screen. ‘Jemma? Jemma are you there?’
‘Yes, Han, Jemma here.’
‘Look, kid. I don’t know where you’ve gone, but you need to get back to this ship of yours. Right now! There’s some sort of…’
I return my gaze to Artoo’s projection. Han is running anxious fingers through his hair, while Harris and Stevens cling to the sides of the hatch. The bright red ship is flickering, like it’s about to dematerialize.
‘Look, Doctor!’ I gasp, pointing to what’s happening. Artoo whistles loudly and cuts the image. The little droid turns to the console and starts to wave his clasper arm over the controls.
‘This really isn’t good at all, Jemma. We need to get the two versions of your ship back in sync.’
I turn my attention back to the comms device. ‘Don’t worry, Han, the Doctor’s with me. We’re on our way.’
Doctor who?’ I hear Han ask, but I leave the question hanging.
Cee-Threepio peers over my other shoulder. ‘Yes, sir, don’t worry, we’re coming!’
The comms link goes dead.
The Doctor starts to pace around, tapping his teeth with his iconic implement. Suddenly he stops. ‘That’s it!’ He waves the sonic screwdriver with a flourish. ‘Come on Jemma, there’s no time to lose!’
What’s happening back on the Millennium Falcon? Will the Doctor get Jemma there in time? And what exactly was Artoo up to at the console? Tune in next week for episode 9…
And if you we’re wondering what on earth (or off-earth) is going on, you can catch up with the entire first series of Space Cadetshere