Saturday, 27 June 2015

National Flash Fiction Day 2015

Today is National Flash Fiction Day. There are loads of great flash pieces going up on the internet throughout the day - as well as special events in lots of places. Or check out the shorter pieces on the 'Free Fiction' page here on the Scribbles...

To celebrate, I'm posting a little bit of flash myself. The story was inspired by a particular shade of red on a paint chart, called...

Planet Fever.

No-one escaped that planet unaffected. It didn’t matter how long you were there, you got changed. Altered, mutated, transformed…into something you never were before.

It wasn’t anything obvious. You didn’t come back with two heads or sprouting horns after a single visit. No. The symptoms took time to show, and then presented as a hint of blue on the end of a finger or a patch of purple at the edge of your mouth. Like a bruise, except the colour never faded.

It wasn’t contagious, but the marks were viewed as a badge of honour almost. Singled you out as having been there, once. Maybe twice.

The weak returned more often of course. Couldn’t resist the pull of the Pleasure Pools, the only reason anyone ever visited the planet in the first place. They weren’t hard to spot.

I remember something written in an ancient text – a story for children, I think – where a girl turned purple-blue and blew up like a balloon because she couldn’t get enough of something. They ‘de-juiced’ her. Seriously. That’s what they did in the story.

The multi-timers are left the same colour as that girl in the text, but there’s no de-juicing. No need. As the colour deepens and spreads, those who have been repeatedly infected just…dry out. Become husks. Sapped of life – and juice – until they die.

But it wasn’t contagious.

At least, it never used to be.


Except, look at me. I’ve never set foot on the planet myself, and I’m a nice shade of blueberry, with skin stretched paper-thin across bones that can barely hold me up. And dry. So dry…

I am not the only one.

I wonder sometimes, was the pleasure worth it?  

Wednesday, 24 June 2015


Most authors will have several sources of inspiration.

I'm not talking about story inspiration here - the 'where do you get your ideas from' that pops up in every Q&A session I've ever experienced. I'm talking about people.

For me, there are other authors. For example; the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett; the more recently discovered Mark Lawrence; my friend, Jody Klaire. They're not inspiring simply because they write great books which I love reading. It's the people behind the books who inspire me, particularly their struggles against what life throws at them. They amaze me with their determination, their positive approach to life and their sheer joy in the creation of stories. And they are only three of many others I could've named...

Then there are the Cloudies. If you're a regular reader of the Scribbles, you'll know I'm a member of the Word Cloud, an on-line writers' community. Over the last few years, I have made many friends there. I looked back over some of my earlier blogs recently; one was written after the agent I had at the time let me go and I received a particularly harsh rejection for a manuscript, while at the same time several other cloudies were posting the fabulous news that they'd signed contracts. The cloudies were 'a cloud under my feet' at that time, lifting me up and helping me through the self-doubt and depression that inevitably followed, encouraging and cheering me on. They've also since celebrated good news with me, and many of them are more special to me than I can probably ever explain. It makes the Cloud community a unique place.

Last night, I got to personally thank someone else who'd inspired me.

Probably three years ago, while working as a learning support assistant at school, I was privileged to sit in on a visit by the author Andrew Cope. Now for those who don't know, he's the author of the 'Spy Dog' series, a happiness expert and is studying for a PhD at the university in Loughborough.

During that visit, I got chatting to him about my writing, and told him about the novel I'd written which hadn't been picked up by publishers. He told me not to give up - and in line with the talk he gave the children that day, I set myself some achievable goals.

Things didn't work out quite the way I'd hoped or planned on the writing front after that; I had some short stories published (for charity), the first novel was rejected by publishers, I wrote another, lost my agent, got despondent...

But then I stopped work, focused on writing. As a result Granny Rainbow was published, several other short stories were published (still pretty much free as the anthologies haven't sold in huge numbers, but hey, my name's out there!) I revisited StarMark and rewrote large portions of it, sent it to a publisher, published More Granny Rainbow...and then signed a contract for StarMark!

Things have been looking pretty good - but what's that really got to do with Andy?

Well, last night was the Awards Evening for my children's school and Andy was the guest speaker. Mr Squidge, J and I were invited as T had won an award.

After almost clapping my hands off for everyone who won something (T rocked the audience with Rock Club - they play a mean cover of Muse - and walked away with a musicianship award and one for outstanding contribution to the drama performance *proud mum*), Andy spoke about happiness.

Happiness is a lie. It's not a goal you reach - you won't finally grasp it when you get good grades, meet the perfect partner, get that dream job, etc etc. Instead, it lies within each of us and it's got a lot to do with gratitude. As Mr Squidge put it later, it's about finding the silver lining, however big the cloud. Smile at people, say hello, choose to be happy. As an aside, did you know that a hug only counts (ie has benefits to the hugger and huggee) if it lasts for seven seconds? Though Andy advised us not to count one elephant, two elephants etc as that can make it seem weird...

Anyway, at the end of the evening, I caught up with Andy. I explained I'd seen him a few years ago; he remembered talking about the novel and asked where I was up to with it. When I told him that StarMark was due to be published and that it was partly due to what I'd heard him say way back when, because that's when I decided to give up work and focus on the writing, he seemed super-chuffed.

It's not often you get to thank your inspirations personally, but I hope that, in a few years time, some of the students who listened to Andy last night can go back to him and tell him what he inspired them to achieve too.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Book covers - not as simple as you think

You know Granny Rainbow was published last year? And this year, More Granny Rainbow was published too? (You can read all about them here.)

Well, I think I've done something that isn't helping sales - and for anyone about to embark on publishing a second book on a similar theme, or a sequel, well, take note. It might help you to learn from my mistake.

Yesterday, I went to Mountfest, a school summer fair. Here's the stall I set up:

I took both books with me, as I know a lot of parents at the school had bought the first book and their children had loved it; I was hoping they'd buy number two. And of course there are always new folk to introduce Granny to... I also took a game with me, based on one of the new stories (Granny Rainbow and the Froggy Fiasco) as I find a game is a good way to get people to come over to your stall in the first place; then you can strike up a conversation if they eye up the books.

However, at this event, the first few folk who came over glanced at the books and said 'Oh, Granny Rainbow? We've got that one.' And walked away.

Now - I had a grand plan when I decided what the cover of More Granny (MGR) would look like. Like all the best series fiction in bookshops, it would be similar enough to the first book for folks to recognise it as 'belonging' to it whilst being subtly different and unique in its own right. That's why I kept the lovely rainbow striped background, central portrait idea and the typeface Imran used on the original.

However - put both books side by side on a table, AND THEY ARE TOO MUCH ALIKE! I had to start saying 'Oh, you've got the first book? This is a different one, with seven brand new stories!' Or 'Yes, I've written a second book about Granny and Old Tom.'

To me, the differences are obvious. The title and author/illustrator names have been switched, Granny's portraits are different, but the overall impression - that quick first glance - just registers 'Granny Rainbow', not 'More'.

So. If ever a third book's written (it's in the wings, but as sales of MGR are not that good compared to GR, it may never get published) I shall have to rethink the cover to get over that first-glance-itis; turn the rainbow by ninety degrees maybe, to make it really stand out.

If you're reading this and are at the point of designing your own book covers... Well, the best advice I can give you (on top of what's already out there as good practise!) is to have a look at some series fiction; analyse exactly what makes the book covers look like they belong to a set, whilst maintaining their own uniqueness.

Hope that helps - even if it is too late for my own books...

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Challenge Me (May 2015) - The story.

It's going up a little later than I planned - sorry! - but here's the story from the Challenge Me post. Family Squidge picked their favourite combo, which happened to be bdcharles' thoughtfish, something polyodorous, and the Sam Bentley Correctional School for Girls. 

I'm struggling with a title for it at the moment...but I'll add one as soon as I think of it!

In the meantime, hope you enjoy this short story.

Amelia Maybelove stood as tall as she could, which wasn’t easy.

She’d been blessed with many things, had Amelia – a good eye, a quick hand, a keen nose – but height was not one of them. Even so, she would not allow the scorching gaze of Master Bentley to cause her to shrink further.

The Hall of Judgement held the sort of silence that can only ever be made by over two hundred girls holding their breath. Amelia could feel their eyes on her back, watching, waiting. How many of them had done worse than she had, to earn a place in the Sam Bentley Correctional School for Girls? And how many had done less…?


The single word dropped into that silence, spreading ripples of fear through its audience. Even Amelia felt a shiver, in spite of her promise to herself, that she would not give any of the Masters the satisfaction of seeing how scared witless she was.

‘Amelia Maybelove, You stand before us–’ Master Bentley indicated the men sitting either side of him behind the wide oak table.

To his right was Master Crastor: fat rolls pouring over his high collar, stomach straining jacket buttons to bursting point, dabbing with a giant handkerchief the sweat beading his forehead.

To his left, Master Hodkins: skeletal, grey-skinned, peering at her over the top of his seeing-eyes. A veritable husk of a man.

Amelia’s eyes slid back to Master Bentley. He was almost handsome: good jaw, strong cheekbones, no grey in his hair. But add the edge of flint in his eyes and a hint of cruelty at the corner of his mouth…

He was still talking. ‘…your actions. You have come here direct from the perfumery, have you not?’

Amelia cleared her throat. ‘Yes’, she said, quickly adding ‘master’ when he frowned.

‘Would you care to explain to the assembled company what you did that has brought you here?’

The Master already knew – they all did – but actually saying it, owning up to it, made Amelia squirm.

‘I made a perfume,’ she muttered, looking at her feet.


‘I made a perfume!’ There. It didn’t sound so bad, now she’d said it.

‘But it was not a …pleasant…perfume, was it, Amelia Maybelove?’


‘Speak up!’

Her head snapped up. ‘It was! To begin with, anyway. Hints of honeysuckle and vanilla and honey, sweet and heady. Then…’ Amelia paused.


How could she possibly explain? That floral and spicy notes were not enough for her? That she had a desire to extract the essence of aroma from everything? Her experimentation with essential oils of garlic…fish guts…soilheaps..? It had been a challenge; no-one had ever created a polyodorous perfume. Single, pure scents, yes. Blended scents, yes. But one that changed over time, that smelled steadily worse instead of better…no. Until she’d made hers.

‘Amelia Maybelove! Answer! And then what?’

‘Um…’ Her nose wrinkled as she remembered the sequence, almost as though she were smelling it again. ‘Boiled cabbage.’

‘Silence!’ Master Bentley roared as titters broke out through the hall.

Their sound gave Amelia the courage to continue. ‘After that, rotten egg, like the worst farts imaginable. And then…’ She warmed to the telling, encouraged by the girls’ open laughter – at least they appreciated what she'd achieved. She raised her voice ‘…my piece de resistance. Spoiled meat. It’s all in the chemistry.’

Masters Bentley, Crastor and Hodkins did their utmost to restore order. Their demands for silence fell on deaf ears, and it was only when the inmates were threatened with school-wide repercussions that the room fell silent again.

Two spots of livid colour burned in Master Bentley’s cheeks. ‘Tell me,’ he asked Amelia, his voice deceptively quiet, ‘was it worth it?’

She had nothing to lose now. ‘Oh yes! You should have seen them, the ladies, grabbing the free samples. And how they came running back, gagging and heaving! They didn’t appreciate the workmanship, the skill–’

‘The perfumier you were apprenticed to has been ruined,’ Master Crastor interrupted. ‘The compensation…’ He broke into a fresh sweat at that.

‘Such disruptive behaviour will not be tolerated,’ Master Hodkins added, his voice as dry and cracked as his skin.

‘We will judge.’ The three Masters leaned close to each other and spoke in whispers, casting ocassional glances in the miscreant's direction.

Time slowed as Amelia waited. She was acutely aware of the girls at her back – she would most likely be joining them until she’d worked off her debt to the perfumier.  

It didn’t take the Masters long to decide. When they leaned back in their seats, it was Master Bentley who spoke.

‘We have reached our decision. Amelia Maybelove, you will be cleansed by thoughtfish.’

A collective gasp sucked Amelia backward two steps. All her bravado seeped away.

‘No, please!’ She shook her head, trembling in every limb. ‘Not a thoughtfish…it’ll take everything.’

‘You will remain incarcerated in the Sam Bentley Correctional School for Girls,’ the Master continued, as though she had not spoken, ‘until we are certain that all knowledge relating to the preparation of perfume, including any personally derived recipes, has been removed.’

Amelia’s skin prickled. ‘But what’ll I do then? No other guild will reapprentice me! I’ll have no way of making a living–’

‘You should have thought of that before.’ The Master made a movement with his hand.

Strong hands gripped Amelia’s arms and legs, lifting, carrying, until she lay pinned to the very table at which the Masters sat.

‘No! I’m sorry! Please – I’ll not do it again, I promise!’

Three or four young women held her fast as another approached, carrying a jar filled with writhing silver-green worms.

Amelia thrashed and fought right up until the moment the tongs, with a single wriggling thoughtfish held captive in them, touched her nostril; that’s when she screamed and fell still.

The Masters watched Amelia Maybelove closely, until her eyes rolled back in her head.

'It is embedded. Take her away.’ 

And the thoughtfish grew fat on the mind of Amelia Maybelove… 

Monday, 15 June 2015

Confession time...

Remember the Challenge me post I did last month? Said I'd have a short up by the 14th June?

*ahem* I've not finished it yet.


So, can I beg your indulgence a little longer as I fine tune trying to shoehorn bdcharles'  'A thoughtfish, something polyodorous and The Sam Bentley Correctional School for Girls' into the piece...?

In the meantime...

'Twas my birthday last week. Had to wait til Sunday for my pressies (Mr Squidge away on the Coast to Coast - remember?) but it was worth waiting for. Had some lovely stationary, a book and gift voucher, an amazing candle holder (vertical chain link), was introduced to the liquor '43' (vanilla, smooth, sweet, gorrrrrgus!) and best of all, in preparation for the next stage in the StarMark publication process:

Apparently I'm to use it only when editing, to give the family a subtle message.

So. I shall now make myself a cuppa in my new mug and polish up the challenge story. I'll post it by this weekend, 'kay?

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Squidge's modelling day

Today I was a photographer's model.


I have the modelling release form to prove it...

It was part of the Naturalistas Project  that the lovely Vanessa Mills is organising. Basically, Vanessa is a fellow silver sister; her own transition to her natural colour, combined with her love of photography, inspired her to take portraits of grey, white and silver haired women to show that grey (or white or silver) is a genuine option for women's hair and it doesn't mean that if (let's face it, it's actually when) you go grey, you suddenly become dowdy.

She wanted to 'prove that silver hair is not necessarily ageing; that a woman rocking her silver can be just as sexy and feminine as the next woman and then some.' So she recruited 'normal, everyday women who are wearing their hair naturally silver, who see their hair as a representation of their confidence, personal choice and sensuality.'

I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of them.

So, early this morning, Vanessa picked me up and we went to Oakham to meet Grace, another silver sister (who featured in a Touch of Silver advert) and Elizabeth Clare, our make-up and hair expert for the day. (Except the lovely Em at Foxes Hair and Beauty cut mine a couple of days ago, so I didn't need anything in the hair department)

First, we sorted out outfits. Vanessa had suggested taking at least one change with us...I took posh frock, a couple of longer T-shirts, jumpers (it was freezing yesterday!), several different coloured vests, three pairs of leggings, jewellery...oh, and shoes: my favourite glam silver heels and a pair of new, blue diamante heels. Well - a girl's got to be prepared, hasn't she?

Once Vanessa had settled on a few mix'n'match options, Grace and I had our make-up done.

I've never had professional make-up before. While we talked weddings and photography and modelling and writing, Liz worked her magic. Bob the Builder's got an impressive toolbelt - but you should have seen the one Liz had! There was a brush for everything...

The best bit was being air brushed. Now, normally this is something that's done after the photo's been taken - to 'improve' the person in the photo - but this airbrushing was done before. We literally had our foundation airbrushed onto our faces. Look!

By the way - the photos are few and far between, and feature Grace as I completely forgot to ask her to take any snaps of me during the day and I kept forgetting to take more myself 'cos I was too busy watching what was going on. But here's the lovely Vanessa, doing her thang!

Anyway, once Grace's hair had been done, off we drove to Rutland Water, our location for the shoot. (Rutland Water is a man-made reservoir and I remember my dad taking us to see the dam being constructed when I was little)

We moved around a bit in search of - strange for such a sunny day - shade! Apparently the sun's way too harsh and dappled light's not good either, so we found good patches of shade beside the loo block (fabulous stonework: good background), down by the water's edge, in trees and by a large sculpture.

Was that a good one?
I remembered to get one of the kids to take a pic of me when I got home instead. The ones Vanessa took are way, WAY better and I can't wait to see which ones she picks for the project. I might even get a new author photo or two...

It was such an interesting experience. I hadn't really considered what it takes to be a professional model; make-up, hair, the awkward positions you have to stand in (though strangely, they don't look awkward when you see the photo), the funny looks you get from passers-by... I don't think I'd want to do it for a living, though Grace is just starting out on a silver-haired modelling career. I've learnt to take photos in shade - not full sun - and how to make my eyes 'pop' with clever make-up. Whether I can reproduce that same effect for myself is another matter...

The best thing about all of it? Being part of something which will help get a positive image of grey or white or silver haired women out into the world. It is a choice whether to colour or not, and I would love for it to be as acceptable in our society to be grey-haired as it is to keep colouring.

Hopefully, Naturalistas will go a long way to achieve that.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

June - a funny month

There's something about June...I generally seem to have a bit of downer during it. (I have the same kind of moment in September (when we go back to school and the relaxed holiday pace disappears *pooof!*) and late November/early December, in the usual pre-Christmas panic.)

I don't know why it gets to me so much, especially when you consider it's my birthday month and this year there are quite a few other Good Things happening:

The last few GCSE exams.

Several musical concerts.

Any day now, things will start moving on StarMark.

Mr Squidge is away on the Coast to Coast.

It's my birthday - which I'm postponing as no-one's around to celebrate it with me.

I'm doing a photo shoot for Naturalistas. (a project run by the very lovely and talented Vanessa Mills)

Awards Evening for T.

Prom Night for J.

School fair and Granny Rainbow stall.

But if these are all Good Things - why do I feel so bleurgh? Is it just that June seems to be that point in the year when everything gets super busy at school and everyone starts to think about the summer holidays? It almost feels like we crank up several gears before winding down again over the long summer break.

Whatever the cause of the bleurgh, I shall keep smiling. And looking forward to July...

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Coast to Coast

I might have mentioned that Mr Squidge is a member of Round Table. Well, strictly speaking, he was - he's now with a group of 'retired' tablers who continue to meet the 'actual' tablers, have fun together and raise money for charity.

You might remember the Challenge Evening, Cuban Nights, in memory of Jon, their Round Table chairman who died tragically at the end of 2013.

Well, Loughborough Round Table 260 have recently decided to rename their main charity event each year; it'll be known as The Jon May Challenge.

The 2015 Challenge is to ride Coast to Coast in two days.

This means a team of 14 intrepid cyclists will be donning chamois-lined lycra and some rather eye-catching lime green tops on the 11th June to ride 140 miles from Whitehaven to Tynemouth in just two days. Two of the 14 are actually cycling both ways - on road bikes from Tynemouth to Whitehaven on the 10th, before switching to mountain bikes and doing the return leg in the company of other tablers.

Some of the cyclists and Jon's family. Mr Squidge far right...

Mr Squidge has done the coast to coast before - he last cycled it in 2009 and support crewed in 2010 - and he's doing it again this year. He's been training to build up his mileage and is amassing secret supplies of flapjack and jelly babies, his favourite cycling energy foods.

All the riders will be sponsored to do the ride, with all monies raised for Ashmount Schoolwhich was Jon's choice for Chairman's Charity. Ashmount provides education for over 100 children with severe disabilities and learning needs, and has recently located to a new facility. Jon's children and the Tablers have continued Jon's legacy to the school; money raised at previous events has supported indoor and outdoor equipment for the children, and money raised from this event will continue to fund the same area. The target is £5,000.

You can support them all in a couple of ways - leave them a message of encouragement here, on the Scribbles and I'll forward it to them. (They'll need it for so many miles in the saddle!) Or... you could pop over to their Just Giving page and leave them a donation.

Either way, it'll spur them on to complete the challenge.

Thank you!  

Monday, 1 June 2015