Would you buy this book?

liverpool skyline pixabay
Liverpool Skyline, Pixabay

When 23 year old Lucy is given a beautiful ruby necklace by Pierre, a gorgeous man she’s only just met in a Liverpool nightclub, her humdrum life is changed forever. But the ruby is more than just an expensive jewel, and Albie Chan, the sinister Triad boss, is determined to have it for himself, forcing Pierre and Lucy to flee the city.

Meanwhile, Lucy’s best friend and flat mate, Gina, has been tracking down the father whom she never knew. Now Godrell Clark, once a sailor from Jamaica who was part of the Liverpool jazz scene in the sixties, finds his past is catching up with him fast, all the way to Kingston, Jamaica.

But there is an even greater prize than the ruby, and passions run high when a mysterious little jade statue turns up in a pile of boxes belonging to the upstairs tenants in Lucy and Gina’s rented house.

Lucy is snatched by Chan and Pierre faces an impossible choice: obtain the statue for Chan and gain Lucy’s freedom, or hand it over his one-time guardian and employer, the mysterious Aurora, to whom he owes his freedom from his brutal childhood.


So, you know what this is? It’s my long-sweated over first attempt at a blurb for my recently-completed novel. I’m not entirely happy with it, but I’ve stared at it long enough!

Some of you may have read the story (or bits of it) as a work in progress last year, so you’ll have an idea of the story. Others won’t, and you’re coming to it cold.

Would you buy on the strength of the pitch?
Would you at least ‘download it for a dollar’?

Writerly friends, please would you care to give me some feedback? Constructive criticism really is most welcome.

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A Nick in Time – Chapter One

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“Eat it up now, before it gets cold!” Hodge placed steaming bowls of porridge on the kitchen table in front of her two young charges. Bryony, the elder girl carefully trailed a golden line of honey over the creamy bowlful, whilst her younger sister, Bethany, blobbed a large spoonful of bright strawberry jam in the centre of hers, stirring rapidly to turn the white to pink. Dutifully they spooned their breakfast down under the housekeeper’s watchful eye.

Hodge ran water into the porridge pot and stood it on the draining board to soak. She turned back to the girls. “Now then, make the most of this week, because Mr Eyre will be arriving on Sunday afternoon.”

Bryony laid her spoon down and looked up at Hodge. “Do we really need a tutor? Surely all we’ll ever need to learn is in the books in Papa’s library?”

“You know perfectly well what your parents’ letter said, Miss Bryony. A tutor has been engaged to give you a proper and…what was it?”

“A proper and progressive education as befits the daughters of the British Empire.” Bryony quoted, having memorised the contents of her parents’ latest letter.

“What’s the British Empire?” asked Bethany.

Hodge laughed. “Well then, there’s your first question for Mr Eyre when he comes.” She turned back to the sink, smiling to herself, and set to work on the stubborn cooking pot.

Porridge eaten, Bryony took their bowls over to the sink. Bethany flung open the kitchen door and the morning breeze wafted in bringing in the summer scent of new-mown grass.

“Don’t be late for lunch now and mind you don’t get those pinafores dirty. I had the devil’s own job getting those fruit stains out last week.”

The girls looked at each other, then turned to Hodge, smiling sweetly. “Yes, Hodge,” they said in unison.

“All right, off you go now.” As the two girls ran off up the garden, Hodge sighed. It didn’t seem so long ago that she had been running wild back in Ireland, through the sweet meadows of her family’s farm.

Bethany skipped across the garden, pausing at the fish filled pond with its large central fountain. Bryony watched as her sister dipped her hand into the water, giggling as one of the gleaming golden fish started to nibble her fingertips. Then she was off again, running beyond the confines of the well-kept garden and on into the orchard beyond.

Bryony shut the garden gate behind her and wandered over to the old oak tree which stood in the corner of the field. Tom the gardener had told her that it was over 200 years old. She brushed the debris from the little bench which Tom had built for them, then sat down smoothing out the pages of her notebook in her lap. Her pencil poised, she stared across the orchard seeking inspiration.

“Come and look at the clouds with me,” Bethany shouted. She was sitting on the soft grass, legs stretched out, leaning back on her hands. “Come on, Brynee.”

Bryony gathered her things and joined her sister on the grass. They lay on the grass, heads touching, staring up at the blue summer sky. “Look, there’s a squirrel,” she pointed at a fat round cloud, dragging a wispy plume behind it.

“I think it looks more like Celia’s cat. Tom said we might have one of her kittens when they’re old enough.”

“If Hodge lets us.”

“She will if we ask her nicely.”

Bryony was pointing again, over to the left. “Doesn’t that one look just like Clara?” Clara was Bryony’s favourite hen; a little round bantam with snowy white feathers and frills on her feet. She closed her eyes and listened to the insects buzzing around the fruit trees. Tom was pleased with them and a bumper crop of apples, cherries and plums was anticipated.

Bethany sighed. “I wish we could stay like this forever.”

“With no Mr Eyre.”

“He can’t be worse than Miss Calderbridge.”

“With her stupid pointy nose and her silly stuck up voice.”

Both girls giggled. Bryony rolled over on her stomach. “Mama hasn’t been very good at picking our tutors so far, has she?” She plucked a daisy from the grass and examined it. “I suppose it’s harder when you’re so far away”

“What’s it like in India?” Bethany turned on one side and looked at her sister.

“Well, the garden in that postcard Mama sent looked a bit like ours, except much larger, and it’s much, much hotter out there.”

They had been silent for a little while, when suddenly there was a rustling in the bushes by the fence behind them. They looked round to see an enormous rabbit emerge, nose twitching. His fur was grey-brown with a slight tinge of green. He nibbled on a piece of long grass, and then hopped past them. He was so close that Bryony could have stretched out and touched him. He stopped by the first tree and sat up on his hind legs. The he turned and looked directly at them.

“That’s the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen. Look at his fur.” Bryony whispered.

The rabbit’s ears twitched. “Do you think he wants us to follow him?” Bethany whispered back.

Bryony laughed. “You’re not Alice.” It was only last year that Bryony had read ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to her.

“But look Brynee.” The rabbit had raised a paw in their direction. “I’ll just go a bit nearer.” She stood up slowly so as not to alarm the creature, then took a few steps towards him.

The rabbit hopped off as far as the next stand of apple trees. He stopped and turned, looking up at Bethany with his dark brown eyes. His left ear bent quizzically. She looked back at Bryony. “I’m going to follow him.”

Bryony watched her sister scamper off after the rabbit. At twelve, going on thirteen, she felt she was a bit old to be running after rabbits, even if it was an exceptional-looking animal. She rolled over on her back and resumed her contemplation of the clouds. They formed pictures in her mind; pictures which she would later turn into stories. Miss Calderbridge had not approved of her work. Far from it. ‘Too fanciful’, she’d said in that prissy high voice. Fortunately she’s left soon after that particular pronouncement. That had been more than a month ago and Bryony’s little writing book was almost full now. She hoped Mr Eyre would be more sympathetic and not try to force useless mathematical problems down her throat. She was going to be a writer. What possible use was algebra?

Bryony was distracted by thoughts of Mr Eyre. How old was he? Might he be young and handsome? Mama’s letter hadn’t mentioned these things. Her eyes refocused on the sky. She let her imagination run free, then struck by a burst of inspiration, she sat up. After a few minutes’ thought she snatched up her writing book and pencil and hurried over to the bench under the oak tree, one of her favourite writing spots. Starting on a new page she wrote the words, Bethany and the Great Green Rabbit. She sucked the end of her pencil for a moment then began to write.

Bryony wrote five pages in her closely written script as her story unfolded. Eventually she came to a halt and closed the notebook, a satisfied smile on her face. She looked up through the rich canopy of oak leaves which shielded her from the summer sunshine. The shadows had shortened. She’d better go and find her sister. Bryony leapt to her feet and stowed the notebook and pencil in her pinafore pocket before setting off through the orchard.

There was a small woodland at the far side. The girls weren’t really supposed to go in there, but they often had, although only as far as the first clearing. No doubt Bethany would be there gathering bluebells.

When Bryony reached the clearing, sure enough, there she was sitting on a fallen log. Her long, golden hair obscured her face; she was looking down, examining something she was holding in her hands.

“What have you got there?” Bryony asked as she sat down next to her sister. Bethany held out a tiny wooden object. It just fitted into the palm of Bryony’s hand. It was a carving of a little bird, which had once been painted; brown feathers on its back and red on its breast. A robin. “That’s lovely, Beth, where did you find it?”


From my latest work-in-progress. What do you think?
Chapter two will be out next Monday!

Gone Fishin’

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© Rivertides Guesthouse, Laaiplek

Sam cast off from the jetty in his little fishing boat, Porcupine. The last orange and gold sunset slivers disappeared behind the blue-grey hills on the far horizon as his pushed the throttle forward and eased little Porcupine out into the broad Breede river.

Gulls wheeled noisily overhead, their keening cries eerie in the twilight. The twin lighthouses blinked on either side of the bay. Sam pushed the throttle forward another notch against the growing sea swell. He ran his work-roughened hands around the little boat’s steering wheel and set his course along the coast, inhaling the sharp sea air.

Sam had grown up in Manenberg on the Cape Flats. Life had been hard there; it still was. But he’d escaped. He’d had to. On the run from members of an opposing gang, he’d got on the road and hitched up the West Coast. He’d slept rough; got work, casual stuff; then things started to look up. He’d found a broken-down little boat one day when he was exploring the shoreline for salvage. Slowly he’d fixed it up with the help of a retired engineer called Johannes, who spent his days giving advice and watching the activity in Laaiplek harbour.

Sam and Porcupine made a great team. He’d brought the little boat back to life and now she gave him safe shelter and a means to make a living from the bounty of the ocean. Tonight he was fishing for octopus, which is best done at night with a lamp and a little can of vegetable oil to make a window in the waves. He rounded the coast to his favourite cove and dropped anchor.

Night came quickly, and within half an hour Sam had two good-sized octopuses in his bucket. He shifted a little on the makeshift perch of his old sleeping blanket, propping his back against the wheelhouse. Sam had been busy helping out in the harbour all day and he was tired. Lulled by the bobbing boat, he slipped away into a glorious slumber.

Sam was startled by the sound of voices. Someone was on the boat.

‘Concentrate,’ said the first.

‘I am concentrating,’ said the second.

Sam held up the lamp. ‘Who’s there?’ He turned around sharply. He walked around the deck, peering out into the inky ocean. He heard them again.

‘Over he-re,’ the voice said in a sing-song voice.

‘Over he-re,’ joined in the second voice in a deeper tone.

Sam spun around. Where were the voices coming from?

‘Coo-e,” the first voice called out.

Suddenly a jet of water spurted out of the bucket wetting Sam’s feet. A tentacle waved at him. ‘Coo-e.’ It waved again.

Sam crouched down by the bucket. The two octopus heads bobbed up, their eyes fastened upon his. ‘What the…?’ Each of them winked at him. ‘No!” Sam stood up and took a step backwards. More tentacles appeared, waving at him. Sam shook his head.

‘Let us go!’

‘Please, mister fisherman!’

Sam approached the bucket again. He squatted down. ‘No man. Fish don’t talk.’

‘We’re not fish,’ said the first voice indignantly.

‘We’re cephalopods.’

Sam rubbed his eyes; he pinched himself.

‘You’re not dreaming, you know.’ A tentacle extended towards Sam’s arm and prodded him gently.

‘Tip us out and let us go,’ sang the first voice.

‘And lots of treasure you will know,’ sang the second.

Very slowly Sam picked up the bucket and stepped over to the side of the boat. As the two octopuses slid into the sea, a huge wave broke over the boat, knocking Sam flat on the deck. The bucket landed next to him with a clatter. Porcupine bobbed about like a cork, and suddenly dozens of octopuses appeared above the waves. As Sam tried to find his feet, a vast tentacle reached onto the deck and grabbed the bucket, swiping Sam across the head and knocking him out cold.

When Sam awoke the sun was shining. His head ached. Gingerly he felt the back of his skull. He’d obviously had a nasty knock, but what had happened? He sat up slowly, trying to remember. He’d heard voices; someone on the boat? Sam’s brow furrowed. Something glinting in the sunlight caught his eye.

His fishing bucket was full of shiny objects. He reached out and dragged it over towards him. The bucket was brimming over with gold coins like a hoard of pirate treasure.


This happy little tale was partly prompted by two of Teresa’s 3TC’s

https://thehauntedwordsmith.wordpress.com/2019/01/03/three-things-challenge-2019-3/
river, sunset, safe

https://thehauntedwordsmith.wordpress.com/2019/01/04/three-things-challenge-2019-4/
pirate, night, porcupine

…and partly from my recent trip up the coast to Laaiplek.

And if you were wondering about the plural of octopus: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/octopi-octopuses/

Hope you enjoyed that. I rather like Sam and Porcupine. Maybe they should have some more adventures?

How readable is your story?

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Duke Humfrey’s Library, the oldest reading room of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford   Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

I’ve been wandering about on the old interweb looking for something to rate the reading level of my latest work-in-progress. It’s a children’s book, and this is the first time I’ve written for any audience other than adult (apart from one short story).

I’d tried comparing with some of the books which I still have on my shelves from my childhood, but I suppose I was looking for something more analytical.

Then I came across the Automatic Readability Checker from ‘Readability Formulas’. All you have to do is cut and paste some text from your work and you’ll get an assessment of the grade-age range of your writing. Interesting, huh?

So, I tried the first few paragraphs of the children’s story. The results show it’s ‘easy/fairly easy to read’ and at fourth to sixth grade level (9-12 years), which is great; I’m aiming at the middle grade market!

Then I tried some samples from my first novel, The Silver Locket. This comes out at much the same level. Interesting! So finally I popped in a couple of paragraphs from ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, which is the new novel I’ve just finished editing and I get a slightly higher reading age, 11-15 years.

Also interesting. Then I read somewhere else that Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Old Man and the Sea’ is a fourth grade read and that Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling both come out at between fifth and sixth grade levels.

It’s all about ‘readability’ and actually, who wants to read something difficult, unless it’s an academic text? And even then, wouldn’t you be aiming for at least a good level of readability?

In the end though, I guess the best judge is the reader. I’ll be posting my new work-in-progress children’s novel a weekly chapter at a time, starting next week. And I’ll be interested, as always, in your feedback. Must think of a title!

 

What will 2019 bring?

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Just a teeny-weeny slightly self-indulgent post to clear the decks and set me on a whole new year of writing. Note the new theme which is perhaps a bit tidier (unlike my desk).

I have finally finished editing the novel which I was writing all last year (between other things, like paid work). The next phase is the boring and daunting bit, the publishing and marketing. I’m going to take this slowly. Deep breaths!

So now I shall be turning my attention to my new work-in-progress novel. It’s the children’s book which I roughly drafted during NaNoWriMo. It hasn’t even got a working title yet, but very soon it will take the place of You’ll Never Walk Alone which will be disappearing from the pages here.

And there will still be my weekly little fiction pieces, responses, random thoughts and that kind of thing, and of course, reading all your lovely stories and engaging with the writing community on social media. However, I will mostly be writing fiction!

 

From sky-blue silk

Prasanth Dasari on Unsplash
Photo by Prasanth Dasari on Unsplash

From my Flash Fiction collection

We’d heard rumours of strange reptilian creatures stalking the lands beyond our borders. We’d not paid much attention. Similarly, we’d dismissed the reports which were sent back from the Palace Guard’s intelligence team who patrolled the perimeter of our kingdom. Men, far away from home are prone to flights of fancy and over-exaggeration. However, when the creatures did appear they were quite beyond imagination.

One spring morning they came, floating down from the fluffy white clouds under little canopies of sky-blue silk. We watched from our roof tops and our high city walls as they landed, then marched upon us, fanning out around the entire circumference of the city. We’d closed the heavy outer gates, pulled up the drawbridge and manned the battlements. But it was not enough. They were too large, too strong, too determined. And there were so many of them.

Our archers fired on them, but the arrows bounced off their patterned breast plates and scaly bodies. Within the hour they had peeled back our gates and smashed down our ramparts with their huge taloned paws. Our swords and spears were no match for them either. Once they had entered the city, they unslung their weapons and fired beams of sound and light which turned men to dust.

People scattered before them. Those who were too old or too slow were scooped up in their great scaly arms and flung aside with a force that snapped necks and broke bones. One of the creatures pulled a bleating goat from its tether and bit the poor animal’s head off. Then it split the body in two and tossed each half to its comrades who marched on either side.

What was left of the Palace Guard formed a ring around the entrance to the Sanctum where our queen and her council were gathered. The creatures filled the main square; row upon row of them. They stood in their ranks, facing our guards. Silence fell, punctuated only by the groans of the injured and the laments of the bereaved.

Then one of the creatures stepped forward; the symbols on its breastplate finer and more intricate than the rest. It advanced up the steps to face the Commander of the Palace Guard. Bringing a huge, scaly paw down on the Commander’s left shoulder it leant forward, forked tongue flickering.

At that moment, there was a strange roaring noise and suddenly, out of thin air a mysterious object appeared. A huge, great storage vessel, rather like the ones we use to store oil or wine, but much larger and made of a dull, grey metal. A door in the side of the object slid open and a tall, willowy figure dressed in a flowing silver gown appeared. The creatures in the square turned towards her, low whistling sounds emanating from their nostrils. They cowed their heads. She raised a shiny black staff and pointed it at their leader. She spoke and although her words were incomprehensible to us, we knew they were full of power. The lizard leader muttered something. She said a single, potent word and it vanished in a puff of smoke. Then she turned her shiny black staff on the massed ranks of creatures. Pop, pop, pop. They all disappeared. Then without a word, she returned to the vessel and the door closed behind her. The roaring noise sounded and the vessel was gone.

The old man finished his story and stared into the distance. Someone asked him a question.

“True? You ask me if my story’s true? Evidence?” He paused. “Well, if you look carefully there are some scorch marks near the entrance to the Sanctum.” The old man held up his finger. “And, I believe, fine sky-blue silk underwear is still worn here by women of a certain age.”

My Writing Year

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My writing space – yes, it’s messy.

2018 has been the year when:

  1. I managed to complete a pretty decent draft of my second novel, now at the MS stage. I’m just taking a little break from editing it now to write this.
  2. I (informally) took part in NaNoWriMo and almost completed a rough draft of a middle grade children’s book.
  3. I had some modest success in getting my first novel, ‘The Silver Locket’, out there. I had a look at the KDP stats and I sold a few dozen – enough to buy a couple of cups of coffee with cake!
    What I hadn’t realised was that 91 of you lovely folk read it on Kindle Unlimited. I hope you enjoyed!
    Note to self: I need to work on that marketing stuff next year.
  4. And finally, and unexpectedly, I accidentally became a blogger. This has been awesome. Writing can be lonely; being a homeworker also can be lonely. But you’re never alone when you have mates out there in inter-web-land. Thank you all!

And look at all these words I’ve so happily churned out:

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Thanks for reading, and thanks for liking and commenting.

Here’s to a wonderful 2019. Happy New Year!