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Guest Post from Donna Morang, Travel Author

I recently reviewed Donna’s terrific book Big Backpack – Little Word and am thrilled to bits that she agreed to do a guest post for me. I described her book as “a travel memoir that grabs you by the scruff of your neck and gives you a good shake!” So, over to Donna.

Stephanie has asked me to be a guest on her blog, and now I feel like I’m walking down the runway to accept an Academy Award. It is such a great honor to be here among readers and writers. I promise I won’t bore you with thanking everyone from my children to the pink-haired girl in Spain, but I do want to thank Stephanie for this opportunity.

Big Backpack—Little World tells my stories of teaching and traveling as an older, single woman. It is the stories of meeting new people, seeing countries I never dreamed I’d visit, having fun, and discovering an amazing life as an ESL teacher. It doesn’t tell you about the other doors that opened because of my traveling.

Twelve years ago if someone told  me to write a book, I would have known they were crazy. Today, my book is real. I see it on my Kindle. I see the paper copy. It sits on my desk, and I view it daily, hourly, gazing at the most incredibly beautiful thing in the world. Writing this book was  like packing-up everything I owned and moving to a foreign country, except it was scarier. I was no longer traveling solo. I was now traveling with everyone who picked-up my book. I was showing everyone my personal story, my soul, and it was frightening. Those that have read Big Backpack—Little World can verify I’m not afraid of many things, but this thing had me shaking.

I had kept good journals, and the first several months of writing was incredible. It was  fun revisiting countries, remembering people I’d met along the way, laughing at the crazy things I’d seen and done. Then one day, I knew I needed someone other than a friend to read my manuscript. At that time, I don’t think it could qualify as a manuscript, more like a bunch of writing.

So entered my first editor, who gave me the encouragement to continue. Then she became ill, and I had to find and pay for someone new to begin the ordeal again. My next editor, whacked and chopped my writing into a manuscript. I have to say none of this was fun. I re-wrote so many times I could hardly stand the sight of one more page of red slashes. It was rather like being back in grade-school with the teacher telling you that you could do better. She was usually right, but it still wasn’t fun.

My biggest problem with my editors were they wanted my book to be a soul-searching, gut-wrenching, in search of and finding myself. They wanted me to express the loneliness, or the hardship of being alone in a strange country. This was impossible for me, because I wasn’t searching for myself or a new love. I went on this journey for fun, and I found open arms around the world. I wanted my readers to know that at any age, it is possible to pack-up and leave their country, friends, family and happily go off into the vast unknown.

Writing your own stories, or poems can open a new adventure into your life. It can grab you, shake you, and awaken you to all this wonderful life has to offer. It doesn’t have to be for the world to view, do it for yourself, and see what you find.
Happy writing, my new friends. Thanks, Stephanie!

You can jog on over to my blog and read the incredible review Stephanie wrote about Big Backpack—Little World.

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Turning a Blog into a Book – Creating a Nofiblok

I’ve done it. Best of Blog in France is up for free on Smashwords here. It took a lot of time and effort, but I’m pleased with the results and I hope it will prove to be good advertising for my upcoming Heads Above Water, the account of our first couple of years on France.

So, what gave me the idea to do a blog book? And what can I call it? We have blovels as a term for novels presented on blogs and ficlogs for fictional blogs. I’m going to call my non-fiction blog-based book a nofiblok. I expect to see it all the dictionaries soon!

Right, well, Blog in France is proving to be a very popular blog, with its mixture of expat experiences, practical advice, small delves into local and national history, occasional rants but mostly a light hearted look at all things French. I’ve written 318 posts now. Taking up the WordPress ‘blog post a day’ challenge last February really was a turning point. Viewership soared as a result of having fresh content every day, so I’d advise anyone to go that route.

So I had plenty of material to choose from, and I was keen to get a non-fiction book out there. Up to now I’ve only had children’s fiction published, both traditionally and independently in ebook form. It’s a good way to test the waters. People enjoy reading about the experience of folk like us who have taken the plunge to ‘live the dream’, however nightmarish it turns out to be occasionally! There’s an audience out there. Let’s give them something to read.

I’ve taken my pick of entries from the first couple of years of my blog. There weren’t very many to choose from at first. I was a very slack blogger in those early days! Actually, it was more like too exhausted to write since we were up to our necks in renovations at the time. I’ve included photos, generally one per two blogs. I use a lot of photos in Blog in France so I had a lovely selection to choose from. They really add that human interest element.

But how to organise the entries. Consecutively by date would have been too bitty in my opinion. By subject? I began doing that but there was a danger that I’d have two many different categories as my posts are very wide ranging. In the end I plumped for January to December, incorporating the two years together. I don’t think that’s confusing, and it gives a very good sense of the seasons. Life in rural France is governed totally by the weather. We have our summer way of life, and our winter one. We spend so much time outside round and about on our 75 acres that we’re totally in touch with the elements and weather. A calendar year layout for the blog brings this into focus. You live the year with us, from the bleak frozenness of January, to the blossoming of life in April, to the heavy heat of July and August, the colours and freshness of October, and back to the deep depths of winter.

Finally, the cover. I spent an hour or so with a glass of wine and a croissant and a camera. There was some cheese too but that didn’t look right with the others. I’m pleased with the end result. It says France, I think, without resorting to the Eiffel Tower, as happens so often with French related books.

Anyway, you know what they say about the proof of the pudding … so please have a read and see what you think! Please let me know. And remember, Heads Above Water is coming soon!

 

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Runaways and Non-Movers – Weekly Sales Round-Up

Monday again, so time for a sales update. It’s all I’m capable of tonight anyway, having been out for 12 hours doing a hygiene course – in French! Interesting and useful, but hard work.

Anyway, to book matters.

Oh Gran: 1005 (last week 951) = 54  Nice to have crossed the 1,000 mark!

Witch’s Dog: 795 (last week 700) = 95

Escape the Volcano: 610 (last week 554) = 56

De-Witched: 252 (last wee 64) = 188. This is the week’s runaway success.

Witching Again: 88 (last week 70) = 18

Oh Auntie: 32 (last week 32) = 0

Oh Grandad: 21 (last week 21) = 0

Beat the Hackers: 17 (last week 15) = 2

Oh Santa: 12 (last week 11) = 1

And a newcomer: The Smelliest Cheese in the World: 28 this week

 

Total sales for the week: 388, which is well up from last week’s 244. I’m pleased with that. All from Smashwords this week, nothing from Kindle – again!

I’ve updated the bar chart at the side. You can see which books need a bit more pushing! I have high hopes for Oh Santa, which should be appearing in Barnes and Noble’s Nook Book Store sometime this week. I intend to do a lot of Tweeting and maybe a blog post and guest blog post or two to push it, since it will have a short selling season. Time to roll my sleeves up …

 

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Using the Kindle To Proofread – And To Be Green

I’ve saved a lot of paper since I got my Kindle. Not just in physical books that I haven’t bought, but in all the pages of MSs I haven’t printed out to proofread. I find it hard to proofread totally accurately off a computer screen. More errors tend to slip through. This is mainly because you’re so familiar with your own writing that your brain cuts in and says ‘yeah, yeah, that bit’s OK’, and stops you seeing any typos.

Previous the solution was to print the piece of writing out. This isn’t always mega practical. My first draft of Something Fishy was 180,000 words (that’s now become two books of a slightly more realistic size!) and that was a heck of a lot of paper. Even using draft print quality, it must have used a fair bit of ink. And draft is kind of hard to read so that was a false economy.

But now, instead of printing out pages and pages of MSs, I use my Kindle to proofread them. How? First I convert the work into .prc format using Mobipocket creator. This program is a free download, and it’s fantastic. Once I’ve got that file, then I email it my Kindle using my personal @free.kindle.com address. Alternatively, I could transfer it via cable. I could also read the .prc file on Kindle Previewer, another free piece of software that simulates how a book will appear when Kindle-ised.

Using Kindle to proofread gives your piece of writing a new appearance so that you’re focusing sharply on it and will pick up those annoying little mistakes that try and hide. And there is the added bonus that you can do your proofreading on the move (on the bus, at the hairdressers, waiting for the kids) and flag any typos or areas where you need to do some reworking by adding a note. Or, when you’re at home, do what I do and have Kindle next to computer and make the adjustments as you go.

I’m not alone in using my Kindle this way. Prolific and well known author Markee Anderson does the same thing.

The Kindle is already green and this extra use of it is making it even  more so. A report by Cleantech Group on the carbon footprint of the Kindle stated: “…the second-generation Kindle represents the same emissions as 15 books bought in person or 30 purchased online. That would yield a range of between 60.2 to 306 kg of CO2, or an average of 167.78 kg of CO2 during its lifespan.”  Now, other green groups have challenged this and estimate that the figures are more likely to be actually twice that i.e. around 30 physical books and 60 ebooks. (See here, for example.) However, that still makes me a lot greener. I’m getting through several books a week on my Kindle. I imagine most Kindle users are fairly heavy book consumers and so generally there’s an overall benefit to the planet in using ereaders.

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Ebook Apathy in France?

http://www.public-domain-photos.com/travel/paris

It looks the austerity measures announced in France yesterday may give ebooks a boost. Despite the fact that the founder of the fantastically successful Feedbooks is a Frenchman, Hadrien Gardeur, the French haven’t been very quick to take up ebooks. I have my own theory about this. Books from amazon.fr are more expensive than from amazon.com – which is unnecessary and offputting. Being a Kindle owner living in France, I was kindly invited to switch my account from .com to .fr since this would be better for me, apparently. Well, it isn’t. I now can’t get books that are offered free on amazon.com and all the other books cost more. A 99 US cent book costs 99 Euro cents (about $1.20) and others are even more expensive. I’m not impressed and I’m buying most of my books from the brilliant Smashwords.

The official reason for ebook apathy is that publishers aren’t being very enthusiastic about producing them. However, VAT on physical books will be rising from 5.5% to 7% in January, which might help to make ebooks more attractive, for producers and consumers alike.

A last quick word about Feedbooks. This company distributes 3,000,000 ebooks per month. That is mindboggling. And it also offers indie authors the chance to publish their ebooks to be offered free to clients, an offer I shall be enthusiastically embracing as soon as I can.

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Monday Sales Figures Update

Week 3 of montoring my sales.

A bit slower this week, with a total of 244 books downloaded via Smashwords and 2 on Kindle, namely 53 x Oh Gran, 73 x The Witch’s Dog, 65 x Escape the Volcano, 13 x DeWitched, 7 x Witching Again, 2 x Oh Auntie,  2 x Oh Grandad, 2 x Oh Santa! and 3 x Beat the Hackers. (Last week I had 422 sales.) But by no means shameful. I haven’t done any publicity on them during the week, so maybe I should. I’m hoping that Oh Santa! will be distributed to Barnes and Noble by Smashwords very soon  now. That should make a big difference to sales. Also, in a couple more weeks’ time, I can shamelessly promote it as a Christmas book. It’s still too early for that I think. I know I’m not feeling very Christmassy just yet

I hope to have another free ebook out during the week – Best of Blog in France. This is a selection of my best blog posts from my other website and I think it’s going to work very well. Watch this space!

 

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Chinese Freemium Publishing Set to Spread

Following very nicely on from my last post on serialising fiction, I came across an article from The Guardian about the love of the Chinese people for serialised fiction. Apparently 195 million of them are hooked on this ‘original fiction’. Authors post up their stories in instalments on various self-publishing websites. When a particular author gets a certain critical mass of readers, he or she becomes a VIP and from there on, readers must start paying a small fee to carry on reading their work. They pay 2-3 yuan per 100,000 words, roughly 23 cents (Euro). With millions of readers, this is adding up to very respectable earnings. Some of these stories have become video games and TV programmes.

This freemium publishing model is coming to the States. Shanda Literature, the biggest of the Chinese online publishers, is going to set up a subsidiary in San Francisco to test out what it calls its ‘unique business model’ on the American market. It will be attracting American authors as well as offering translations from its Chinese authors.

I suspect that Shanda is on to a winner. I think serialising and charging what are known as ‘micropayments’ is a very interesting idea indeed.

 

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Blovels, Twitter Fiction and Serialised Novels on Kindle

I mentioned blovels in a previous post. These are novels that are being serialised on people’s blogs. Stu Noss’s was the first I came across, and I’ve since discovered another great one here. Misty Provencher is presenting her blovel Cornerstone on her website a chapter at a time.

I love Misty’s attitude. She explains she decided to become a blovellist after losing her literary agent, failing to find another one who had the same vision as she did, and generally becoming frustrated at not being read. She says:  “But I have a million books in me and I’m tired of having so many barriers between us. I’m just looking for those folks who are my people and who will get into the book and find some joy in it. I hope it brings you that. If it does, please let me know. Tell others I’m here.”

It’s all about the writing for Misty and I totally agree with her point of view. I’ve hit my head against brick walls enough times during my authoring career and I just want my books to be read too. That’s partly why I’m putting so many up for free on Smashwords at the moment. And Misty, my house is never clean either!

A third blovel, very new, is here. I shall be following this one too. And am I tempted to do a blovel? Yes, I am, so watch this space.

Almost blovels are ficlogs, or fictional blogs. I’ve heard about these but haven’t found a good example of one. Whenever I do a search on the Net, the search engine is convinced I want clogs and isn’t terribly helpful!

Now, as well as novels on blogs, there are novels on Twitter. Seriously. Here’s a nice article about it. Writing such a story is really a lesson in learning what to leave out. It would certainly be a very valuable exercise in writing concisely to produce such a novel – Twovel, perhaps? A Twovelist writing in this way is Aden Moss. And there’s a book out there called The History of Rock and Roll in 99 tweets  Ebook By Andy Szpuk  but isn’t in Kindle format at the moment. I’m ignoring epub for a while since Barnes and Noble wouldn’t sell me a Nook Book the other day because I don’t live in the US. Crazy.

Books are serialised on Kindle too. The most famous example is Sean Platt and David Wright’s Yesterday’s Gone. As Platt says, “serialized fiction has been around since Dickens. It just means taking a single storyline and breaking it into several parts to fuel anticipation between episodes.” Other authors are doing this too, notably Roz Morris. But there are pros and cons. We’re the instant gratification generation and don’t want to be kept waiting. A lot of readers want all the content at the same time and don’t want to have to wait a week or a month till the next episode. However, there are plenty of fans of serialised works out there too.

So, the modern inventions of blogs and Twitter might be leading to a return of serialisation in fiction. It will be interesting to see how this all develops.

 

 

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NaNoWriMo Has Become NaHoTiMo and NaJaWriMo

I signed up for NaNoWriMo but it’s already obvious I won’t be getting far with it. It was a tad overoptimistic on my side since I knew I had a couple of non-fiction projects to finish and which took priority. And various rooms in the house have reached critical mess and urgently need dealing with. So NaNoWriMo has become NaHoTiMo for me – National House Tidying Month. I shall defer my novel in a month endeavour until January, my NaJaWriMo. The immediate advantage there is that January has 31 days in it – 1 more than November – and also only one national holiday in it here in France, as opposed to two. Also the weather will be a darn sight worse and it will be much easier to be indoors writing.

I’ll still do some fiction writing though – plenty of ideas bubbling around in my head.

OK, sales update time. I’ve fed the new figures into the bar chart on the right. Here’s a summary:

Oh Gran 898 (last week 830 – weekly movement 68, prev week 73 so fairly steady)

The Witch’s Dog 627 (last week 483 – weekly movement 144, prev week 153, so again consistent)

Escape the Volcano 489 (last week 372 – weekly movement 117, prev week 137, again steady)

Oh Auntie 30 (last week 25 – weekly movement 5, prev week 1)

Oh Grandad 19 (last week 13 – weekly movement 5, prev week 4)

Beat the Hackers 12 (last week 9 – weekly movement 3, prev week 2)

 

New kids on the block since last week:

Oh Santa! 11 on Smashwords, 1 on Kindle

De-Witched 51

Witching Again 37

 

That’s a total of 442 books moved for the week, pas mal! All sales/downloads except one have been through Smashwords. Come on Kindle readers, buy my stuff! See my Smashwords page here.

 

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Halloween Special!

Well, I did it – just. I got my three Witch’s Dog stories up there on Smashwords in time for Halloween. By a stroke of luck, while hunting for the missing box of Halloween decorations in the loft, I came across a box of old CDs. Amongst them was one with copies of many of my old stories. De-Witched and Witching Again were there, so saving me several hours of scanning the books in. Huzzah!

The Witch’s Dog I’ve already blogged about. It’s now sold 605 copies through Smashwords and is 27,044 in Barnes and Noble Nook Book sales rank. (My non-Halloweeny ebooks Oh Gran and Escape the Volcano are at 12,332 and 17,034 respectively.)

De-Witched, which got its name when the pop group B*witched was in the charts – just a few years ago now! – follows on from The Witch’s Dog. Cackling Carol the witch gets taken into care by well-meaning social workers. Deposited into a squeaky clean flat and with ten years of old age pension to get through (Carol has lied about her age, she’s in her 400s by now!), our witch discovers shopping and the cinema and turns her back on her witchy life – but more importantly on Big Roddy and Broom. What will they do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then comes Witching Again. This final story in the trilogy sees the three friends reunited, just in time to battle with the evil Blue Wizard Egbert again. It’s a tough fight which sees Broom turned into a floor cloth and Big Roddy into a toy dog. Has Cackling Carol got enough magic left to turn her companions back?

The covers are the best I could do in the time and I think are adequate for a free ebook whose main role, apart from providing some free entertainment, is to start getting my name as an author out there. Nessie was slightly more co-operative than when I did The Witch’s Dog pictures. They demonstrate that the books are in a series and give a nice image of a friendly witch’s dog, which is what Big Roddy is.

Did you check out my Halloween poem here?

Below are two stories that any youngsters in your household might enjoy. Change the character’s name if you like. Webmaster Chris will be putting a selection of my stories to personalise up on this site very soon, so do watch out for those.

 

The Witch’s Broom

“That’s it! I’ve had enough of being a witch’s’ broomstick!” spluttered the angry  broom.

It was the morning of Halloween and he had just come back from a quick warm-up flight with his witch. The broom’s witch was called Witch Ella. Most of the other witches called her Witch Ellaphant, behind her back, of course . She was a very tubby witch and every year she got even tubbier because she ate too much pumpkin pie.

“Huh!” said the cauldron. “You say the same thing every year. I don’t know why you make you such a fuss. You only work one night a year, after all. Now, I work every single day. If it’s not stew she’s cooking in me, then it’s some horrid potion or other. And all day long I sit over the hot fire. I really have got something to moan about.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” muttered the broom. The cauldron was right. The broom did complain every year. Well, this year he would do something about it.

He hopped down from the shelf and shook his bristles.  Several spiders plopped onto the floor and scurried away in alarm.

The broom made his way stiffly to the door of the cavern.

“You really off, then?” asked the cauldron in amazement.

By the door the broom stopped to tickle the cat’s ears with a bristle.

“I’ll miss you, Puss,” he said.

The cat opened one eye and purred a farewell, then went back to sleep.

The broom looked at the stretch of countryside before him. He had never seen it in daylight before. It looked beautiful. There were rolling hills, wooded valleys and even some snow-topped mountains far away. The broom’s gaze fell on a dark forest in the distance.

“That’s where I’ll go,” he decided. And at once he leapt into air the and streaked through the cool morning breeze. How pleasant it was to fly without the Ellaphant!

On the way to the forest, the broom flew over a village of white houses with thick, thatched roofs. Every house had a neat garden filled with late blooming flowers. How much nicer than Ella’s scruffy yard!

“How lovely!” exclaimed the broom. He glided down for a closer look. He had just made himself comfortable against the wall when a woman bustled up and grabbed hold of him.

“Come on, broom! Lots of work to do,” she panted and dragged him indoors. “Got to clean up before the children have their party tonight.”

For the next hour the Broom didn’t stop. He was stuffed into dusty corners and poky cracks. He swept cobwebs down and rustled and hustled all around the house.

At last the woman stopped.

“Well,” she exclaimed. “I need a rest before we start on the paths.”

“What!” gasped the broom. “More sweeping  No thanks!”

He leapt out of the astonished woman’s hands and sailed into the sky. He didn’t stop until he came to the forest. He plopped down into a clearing and was surprised to find a row of brooms there. They were leaning against a wooden stand with a notice that said ‘FIRE BROOMS’ above them.

He settled next to them and closed his eyes for a nap. He was very weary. But suddenly the broom woke in alarm to find the air filled with thick, choking smoke. People were shouting! “Fire! Fire! Get   the brooms! Beat the flames out!”

For the second time that the day the broom was grabbed.

He was crashed down onto the red, licking flames, again and again. The heat singed his bristles and the smoke made him sneeze. He was covered in ash.

“Frogs legs!” he yelped. “I hope this doesn’t go on for too long!”

At long last the fire was out. The people sat down for a rest. The broom decided it was time to leave. He didn’t want to go through that again!

He swooped into the sky and headed quickly for home. Today had shown him that being a witch’s broom wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

Ella was out in the yard looking for him. Puss purred happily when she saw her friend again.

“Aha!” Ella croaked. “I thought you would be back. It’s nearly time to go”.

She glanced up at the clock’s skeleton hands. “But there is just time for a couple of spells. First of all, broom, you need to be spruced up. And then I need to be slimmed down. I’m not surprised you flew away. I hadn’t realised what a lump I’d become! You’ve taught me a lesson!”

Side by side, they waddled into the cavern. The broom was looking forward to Halloween after all!

 

Patrick and the Giant Pumpkin

 

It was nearly Halloween. Patrick was very excited. He was jumping around in the hallway, waiting for Mum to come home. She had gone to town to buy a pumpkin. Mum had promised to buy an enormous one.

At last the car drew into the driveway. Dad and Patrick opened the door and watched as Mum opened the boot and lifted a beautiful orange pumpkin out. The only trouble was – it wasn’t very big at all. It was a tiny little pumpkin!

“I’m sorry,” said Mum, seeing Patrick’s sad face. “It was the only one I could find. All the shops have sold out of pumpkins. But look. It’s a lovely, round one. We’ll be able to carve a super scary face onto it. We’ll do that tomorrow.”

Mum put the pumpkin on the kitchen counter. Patrick kept running in to look at it, hoping it might have grown a bit more. But it stayed the same size. Patrick decided it needed some help.

First he decided to water it. He knew that watering plants helped them grow. Mum was busy in another room, and Dad had gone out so the coast was clear. Patrick quietly pulled the stool over to the sink. He got a jug out of the cupboard, then climbed onto the stool, turned on the tap and filled the jug. Next he pushed the stool over to where the pumpkin was and poured the water over it. The water sloshed all over the pumpkin and the counter and the floor and Patrick. But the pumpkin didn’t get any bigger.

Next Patrick decided to feed the pumpkin. He’d heard Dad talking about feeding his plants in the garden. But he wasn’t quite sure what they liked to eat. He went to the fridge and looked inside. There was ham and liver and butter and cold sausages and bacon. Patrick didn’t think the pumpkin would like those very much because he didn’t. But there was some lemon jelly and chocolate mousse. The very thing for a pumpkin! Patrick got them out and  helped himself to a few licks! The jelly and mousse went all over the pumpkin and counter and the floor and Ruadhri. But the pumpkin didn’t get any bigger.

The only other thing Patrick knew was good for plants was soil. He couldn’t go outside on his own so he went into the lounge. There were three pot plants in there. He carried them into the kitchen very carefully. He pulled the plants out and put them in the sink on top of the washing up to keep them moist. Then he tipped the soil out of the three pots. The soil went all over the pumpkin and the counter and the floor and Patrick. But the pumpkin didn’t get any bigger.

Maybe he should just leave it for a while. That might do the trick. So he went to his room to play.

While he was playing, Dad came back. He’d been to the greengrocer’s shop in the village. He’d seen some pumpkins there. He’d gone out and bought a much bigger one than the one Mum had got.

He took his pumpkin to the kitchen. He gasped when he saw the mess. He nearly started shouting because he knew Patrick had done it. But then he realised what Patrick had been trying to do. He chuckled. So he cleared the mess up off the counter and the floor and repotted the plants. Then he put his pumpkin where Patrick’s had been. He hid the little pumpkin in the cupboard. Then he went off to find Mum.

Patrick decided it was time to check his pumpkin. He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw how much it had grown. Wait till Mum and Dad saw it! He was about to rush off and tell them, when he stopped. Seeing that just a little bit of water and a little bit of food and a little bit of soil had made it grow this much, well, just imagine how much bigger it would get if he used more water and more food and more soil. And there was plenty of water in the tap and loads of food in the fridge and lots more potted plants round the house.

Patrick rolled his sleeves up. He was going to have a very busy afternoon. He loved Halloween!