Chapter 1 Talk About Gobsmacked

We were having tea – me, my half-brother Orly and Granny Paradise, my step-grandmother. Does that sound complicated? Sorry, but the complicating factor is my mother. She is a walking disaster zone, as you’ll see.

We were waiting for mum to come home. She’d been away for two weeks to stay with her awful friend Sheila in France – two glorious mum-free weeks that had shot by all too fast. Two weeks without amateur dramatics every five seconds over pathetically trivial things, two weeks without running out of milk or teabags or toilet roll or some other basic household item every day, two weeks without having to avoid the latest person mum had managed to mortally offend, two weeks without her bringing home some geeky guy to patronise me and Orly. Instead we’d had two weeks of normal family life at our gran’s with scrummy meals, two weeks of fun and laughter, two weeks of me not having to be mother to Orly, two weeks of being a typical sixteen-year-old. It had been brilliant.

But now it was over. We heard her car crunch its way up the gravel drive to the doorway.

“Mummy, mummy!” yelled Orly, leaping up from the table. His pudding went flying across the room. That sort of thing was perfectly normal with Orly. He’s nine and amazingly clumsy. He has mild learning disabilities. I love him to bits. He’s more my kid than mum’s since I’ve been the constant in his life. Dads have come and gone, and poor Granny Paradise gets banished regularly by mum so she’s not always around. I’ve pretty much brought him up, and I have to say I’ve done a good job. He’s a super kid. His only drawback is that he adores Mum.

“Well, at least someone is glad to see your mother back,” remarked Granny Paradise drily.

I sighed. Granny Paradise shot me a sympathetic look.

“Go on, you’d better go and greet her,” she said, standing up to clear up Orly’s mess.

“OK,” I shrugged reluctantly. Actually, I was overdoing it a bit. Mum drives me demented, but you have to admit that life is certainly not dull when she’s around. It would be kind of nice to see her again. For five minutes anyway. After that, I’d be fed up with her again.

Orly was dancing around Mum when I got to the door of Granny Paradise’s house.

“Where’s my present, where’s my present?” he was chanting.

Mum laughed and ruffled his hair. She looked fabulous. She’d picked up a beautiful suntan while she’d been away. She’d also got some new clothes by the looks of it – a skin tight pair of crop jeans, and a skimpy, lacy top. They were gorgeous. I was green with envy.

Mum tottered towards the house in one of her hallmark pairs of ludicrously high stiletto-heeled sandals. She had a bulky shoulder bag covered with rhinestones. Bars of chocolate and a couple of bottles of perfume stuck out of it.

“Hi Mum!” I managed a smile.

“Hi love.” She planted a kiss on my cheek.

Orly barged past me, following her into the hall.

“But my pressie!” he wailed. “Where is it?”

Mum teetered into the kitchen and plonked herself down on a chair, her bag beside her. Orly jumped on her lap.

“You did get me a present, didn’t you?” He was getting worried now.

“Yes I did,” laughed Mum. “But it was too big to bring home, so I left it in France.”

Well, that was dumb, even for Mum. How was Orly supposed to get it then?

“Don’t worry sweetie. We’ll go and get it very soon,” she told Orly. Orly frowned. He didn’t want to have to wait that long.

I frowned too. I was more concerned about this going to France thing. Term started in ten days’ time. I was really looking forward to sixth-form college, even though I wasn’t even vaguely prepared. We hadn’t got round to going into town yet to buy the textbooks and stationery I needed.

“What’s going on, Mum?” I asked.

Mum dropped her bombshell. “We’re moving to France!”

I stared her at in horror. Granny Paradise dropped the piping-hot dish of beef casserole she’d just got out of the oven.

“What?” we both screeched.

Orly merely grumbled: “But I want my pressie now!”

“I’ve bought a darling little cottage for us,” Mum beamed.

“What?” Granny screeched again.

“What with?” was my hypersonic question. We were permanently broke.

“I had a bit of money put aside,” replied Mum vaguely. “My rainy day fund.”

First I’d heard about that.

“So what is my pressie?” demanded Orly petulantly.

“It’s a new home with a huge garden, which has a stream and pond,” Mum explained to Orly. Then she turned to me. “Sheila and I were going for a drive and we went past the cottage, and I totally fell in love with it at once. So I bought it. I’ve only actually signed the first set of papers. The final sale goes through in about three weeks.”

“But, but …” There were about a million things I needed to ask Mum, but I just couldn’t get the words out. I couldn’t even get up to help Granny Paradise clean our tea up off the floor.

Mum had excelled herself this time. Granny Paradise hurled the casserole and food into the bin and stormed out. If only I could have regained the power of movement, I’d have followed her.

Mum sighed melodramatically and rolled her eyes. “Just the reaction I thought I’d get. But aren’t you excited?” She looked at me expectantly.

“I … I … it’s … er …”

“You’re overwhelmed,” interpreted Mum, looking pleased with herself. ”It’s such an opportunity for you. I know you’ll thank me one day. Now, I must go and tell everyone the news.” She headed for the phone.

I stared after her, so furious I could have exploded. Opportunity? Thank her? No flipping way! But overwhelmed? Darn skippy I was overwhelmed. So frigging overwhelmed, I could do some serious damage to my mother right now. Orly brought me back to earth.

“Brownie, I don’t understand. Has Mummy got me a pressie or not?” he pouted.

“Yes, my big O, of course she has. Here we are.” I rummaged in Mum’s bag and pulled out two bars of chocolat au lait. “Mummy was teasing you.”

Orly was quite happy with that explanation and ripped open the bar. He broke it clumsily into halves and gave one to me. He’s such a generous kid.

“I’ll give Granny the other bar,” he announced, through a mouthful of chocolate.

“That’s my kind boy,” I tried to smile.

“Don’t you want your choccie?” Orly asked, watching me as I just sat looking at it. Normally I am the world’s greatest pig where chocolate is concerned.

“I’ll save it till later,” I told him. “I need to find Granny now. You stay here, honey. I’ll be back in a tick.”

I trotted outside into the garden and soon saw Granny Paradise in the greenhouse, aggressively watering the tomatoes and talking to herself angrily. I slowed down. It was probably best to leave her to cool down, at least emotionally. The greenhouse was only going to make her redder in the face. I did not want to see Mum. I was so furious with her. Yet again she was mucking up our lives. She was so good at that. Oh for the calming influence of a sensible dad.

It’s time to talk about my dads. I’ve had a good few. Dad One was my biological dad, but I never knew him, and the only thing Mum ever told me about him was that his name was Paolo and he was Portuguese, or possibly Spanish, but definitely southern European. I have his colouring and dark brown eyes. He was mum’s boyfriend for just a few weeks, but that was long enough. Apparently he took off at the speed of light when he found out Mum was pregnant with me. Enter Dad Two when I was three. He’s Orly’s dad and he’s brilliant. His name is Winston Jackson and he’s in the U S Navy. He’s from the Bahamas. Granny Paradise is his mum. Dad Two met Mum while he was on shore leave from his ship. He fell in love with her and married her as soon as he could and set up home here in the UK. He was away for a lot of the time with his job. Orly arrived when I was six. Granny P left her sunny home and came to live nearby. Poor Granny Paradise, she hates this country. She’s always cold and never wears fewer than three cardigans, even in summer. Anyway, Dad Two was a really good influence on Mum, for a few years at least. But she got fed up being a sailor’s wife and dumped him. She ran off with Dad Three, a complete and utter loser from day one. He spent what little money we had and then deserted us. Granny Paradise amazingly took us in for a year or so while Mum vaguely pulled herself together and got a job. Then along came Dad Four. He was fun. He was a computer programmer, I think. Mum thought that meant he was rich, but he wasn’t. Just really nice. I have loads of brilliant memories of our time with him. But, usual thing, Mum got bored and divorced again. She left Orly and me with Granny Paradise for about eighteen months this time and travelled round the world, trying to find herself. She found Dad Five instead, in Denmark. So we went out there, but Mum hated all the snow so back to Granny P’s we trailed, without Dad Five.

Since then, thank Heavens, Mum hasn’t had a long-term relationship. She hasn’t had a long-term job either, but she’s worked enough for us to get by. There’s just been a string of very temporary boyfriends. We’ve moved in with a few of them, and some have moved in with us. All in all, it’s been a crazy life so far. I’d hoped that perhaps Mum had finally settled down. We’ve been living in the same tiny rented flat for just over a year now, which I think is a record. But now, evidently, we were off again.

But, France. I liked France. We went there twice on holiday with Dad Four. It was warm and sunny, I remembered, and I loved the food. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad …

No, hang on. What about French? I wasn’t very good at it. Actually, I wasn’t very good at anything, apart from maths. I’d been to that many schools, there were whole chunks of the curriculum I’d never come across, whereas others I’d done half a dozen times at different schools. I’d only just scraped through half my exams this summer. I’d been lucky to get into the sixth form college I really wanted to go to. My mates were going there. It had looked like being a good time, but not any more. What was I going to be doing school-wise? Crikey, that was a scary thought.

Why did Mum have to do these things to us?

Granny Paradise came out of the greenhouse, still muttering but looking a bit calmer. I sidled up. We looked at each other. We didn’t need to say anything. Mum strikes again. I slipped my hand into hers and gave it a squeeze. She squeezed it back.

“Oh child,” she sighed heavily. I knew what she was thinking. She’d left her lovely warm home in the Bahamas to be with her son and then her grandson. She was devoted to Orly, so even after Dad had gone back to the States, she’d stayed in cold old Ireland. She’d helped Orly up and also taken me under her wing, even though I was no relation to her at all, and she’d stuck with us through thick and thin. And now Mum was taking us all away to another country, far from her. Dragging us off into all sorts of mess and muddle, if things went according to usual. Who knew how often Granny P would be able to see us? Mum was so selfish and uncaring.

We were back at the house by now. I kissed Granny P on the cheek and headed off to find Mum. She was making herself a cup of tea, or rather a cup of sugar with a bit of tea mixed in. She had an extremely sweet tooth.

“OK Mum. I want answers,” I declared, folding my arms and glaring at her. “How have you managed to buy a house? And are you completely and utterly mad? Have you given even a thought about what this is all going to do to Orly? You know how he hates changes to his routine. And he’s just starting to do so well at school. Why are you doing this?”

Mum waved her arm around vaguely. “I needed a change. And don’t fuss, Orly will be fine. It’s good for him to be challenged and stimulated.” She ran her eye over my outfit. “Really, that awful top just doesn’t suit you, dear. It makes you look so frumpy.”

I rolled my eyes. The top was fine. Mum was simply being nasty.

“The house, Mum,” I reminded her. “Where did the money come from?”

“From Dominic.”

“Dominic?”

“You know, Dominic. Dad Four you call him, the computer guy.”

“Mum, his name is Donovan,” I informed her. “Why has he given you money? You hate him.”

“He left it to me, dear,” said Mum airily. “He died last year and left me a nice little lump sum. We were very close for a while. I did so much for him.” Yeah right. “It’s taken ages for it to come through. So I thought I’d invest the money in property, for you and Orly of course.”

Oh, for goodness sake! Mum never did anything for anyone else. She was doing this for her. She could just have put the money into the bank for me and O, not buy some undoubtedly crappy dump in a foreign country.  It was hardly a watertight investment.  I was sad to hear about Dad Four. He’d been a good guy. I’d have to grieve for him later though. There was too much to find out now.

“When do we go?” I demanded.

“About ten days’ time, once we’re all packed.”

“But what about our education? I’ve got my place at college and Orly is so happy at his special school. Can’t you just think about us for once?” But I knew that was a rhetorical question.

“I don’t know why you’re so sniffy about education,” snapped Mum. “You’re not exactly top of the class, are you?”

“And whose fault is that? Dragged from one school to another, never helped at home cos you’re never there – I haven’t had much chance to be the next Einstein, have I?” I was right and she knew it.

So she ignored that and made a predication. “You’ll be fluent in French in no time. That’ll be good for your education? You know, I think you should part your hair on the other side. It would look so much nicer. And that blackhead on your nose is ready for squeezing.”

I stomped off. We were going to hell in a handbasket and I couldn’t do anything about it. But in 379 days I would be 18 and I would leave home. Probably at one second past midnight. I had it all planned out. I would get a job, anything would do, find somewhere to rent and then Orly could come and live with me. And if I should happen to get a really well paid job, I’d buy a holiday in the tropics for Granny Paradise to warm her up. And a motorbike for me. You see, all planned out.

So Mum had really messed things up. As she always did.

 

 

 

 

So, Waterstones is to launch its own ereader as a rival to Kindle and Nook. The MD of Waterstones, James Daunt, said he was inspired by the Nook, but he must also have had in mind the fact that Amazon sells more Kindle books than print ones these days.

Waterstones is ambitious. It’s a huge undertaking to come up with a piece of ereading hardware to seriously contend with the ones already out there.  Which will it be most like? Touch screen and back-lit like Nook, or fantastic e-ink technology but fiddly little buttons to press like the Kindle. If it takes the best features of each, then it will be quite an awesome machine.

And there’s not that long to wait. The device will be launching in Spring 2012, if all goes to plan. I’ll be very interested to see what arrives on the scene.

If you don’t like the thought of paying VAT on your ebook then sign this petition. if you’re either UK resident or a UK citizen living elsewhere. Dead tree books don’t have VAT charged on them, so it seems extremely unfair and inconsistent that electronic ones do. Apparently they’re a luxury, whereas paper books aren’t. Now the EU is OK about member states charging a reduced VAT rate on “any similar physical medium that predominantly reproduce the same textual information content as printed books”, and has been since January 2011. Spain has taken advantage of this to reduce its VAT on ebooks to 4%. Elsewhere though, a different story. In Italy VAT is 4% on paper books and 20% on ebooks, and in Germany the figures are 7% and 19% respectively. France shoves 19.6% TVA (= VAT) on livres electroniques. There’s a petition here to sign too to try and get this put to rights, so if you’re a resident in France, then please do sign this one too.

However, the economic climate in Europe isn’t one that’s likely to  make governments look favourably at reducing their tax income in any shape or form at the moment. But, we can at least try.

 

I’m pretty sure – no, I know I’ve been spending too long recently Twittering and messing around, very enjoyably, on various indie author websites in the attempt to build a platform. I’ve read a load of articles and ebooks about self-promotion too. All these activities have finally led me to see what I think will work for me.

I’m going back to basics. My blogs. I have two, this one on book related themes, and Blog in France on the more general day to day events of expat life in France. I’ve read John Locke’s book on how he sold a million books, and I’ve picked up some tips from that. However, the thing that I completely disagree with is his attitude towards blogs. He only writes half a dozen or so a year. That’s OK for someone of his standing, but not for most of the rest of us. We have to write, and write a lot, to get people to know about us. And many blog traffic experts, such as Yaro Starak who is fast becoming my hero, push the importance of a good blog with quality content. Other marketing activities can all stem from this basis. So I’m going to give my blogs the attention they deserve.

I’ve achieved a lot with Blog in France. From a few readers a week, I now have around 100 a day, sometimes nearly twice that. Two advertisers have contacted me to put banners up, completely out of the blue. I got to that position by blogging daily and putting time and effort into what I wrote. I can got a lot further, and intend to, with newsletters and reports, but that’s all in the pipeline.

So it’s time to lavish the same care and energy on this blog. On with the book reviews, the looks at ereaders, the discussions of self-publishing and hints on writing. The two youngest kids are back at school, Benj goes to Uni next Thursday and, although we have gite and lake bookings until early November, the pressure is easing up so there will be more time and energy for writing. There are a million and one things to do around the farm, as ever, but a combination of physical graft on animal and ground maintenance, and sitting at a keyboard blogging and writing will make for a healthy enough life, and certainly an interesting one.

It will be interesting to see how things work out. I’ll keep you posted – blog posted, of course!

I think chapters should always have titles. It tends to be essential in non-fiction books, and in my opinion it’s as important in fiction.  And even more so with the advent of the Kindle. There is nothing more dull than having two full screens or so at the start of the book merely listing Chapter 1, Chapter 2 etc. OK, these are hyperlinked to the relevant chapter, although I can’t actually see why you’d use that facility much, since Kindle remembers where you got up to, and opens the book on that page next time you call it up. You don’t have to go back to the chapter list to find where you were. And anyway, only a very organised person would remember the number of the chapter. You’d be far more likely to remember its name – our brains are built that way.

So why are so many authors reluctant to give a short name to each chapter? One word will do to act as a reflection of its content? A taster of what’s to come? Either would be far more appealing than Chapter X. Thrillers and mysteries often use time and dates to break up the text. That’s good too. Children’s fiction generally uses chapter names, so we’re all used to it. I can’t see any justification for dropping the practice when we progress to YA and adult works. There’s no logic to it.

I’ve had fun naming the chapters in my two forthcoming big projects, Something Fishy, a racy fishing mystery (fiction) and my non-fiction travel narrative Heads Above Water. For the latter I’ve incorporated a relevant French quotation too at the opening of each chapter, one that ties in with the heading. It didn’t take long and I think it adds a further level of enjoyment for the reader. For my fiction work, I’ve simply used a punchy gerund that best reflects the action of the chapter e.g. Meeting, Catching, Drowning. It wasn’t too demanding!

So, bring back chapter headings I say. Readers appreciate them. They’re memorable, entertaining and a lot more interesting than just a number.

There are a lot of book bloggers like me out there – new indie authors,  established ‘traditional’ authors, book reviewers and book lovers. I wondered what a good collective noun would be for us. I love collective nouns – a murder of crows, a charm of goldfinches, a labour of moles, and a pace of donkeys are just a few excellent examples.  Now, for bloggers, and particularly book bloggers? A shelf of bloggers? A library of bloggers perhaps? Since we’re all artists, how about a creativity of bloggers? An originality of bloggers? Most definitely a brilliance of bloggers! But there’s a strong sense of comaraderie amongst book bloggers too. We comment thoughtfully on each others’ blogs because we genuinely enjoy reading what fellow bloggers are writing about, as well as what they’re writing if they’re authors. So, an encouragement of bloggers? A friendship of bloggers? But what about the bad times, when we can’t think of anything to write (a slog of bloggers), when we’re getting behind with our blog (a backlog of bloggers), we can’t think what to write (a fog of bloggers) or we want to let off steam about something annoying us (a grump of bloggers) or we’ve had a bad self-promotion day (an in-the-dumps of bloggers)?

Let me have your suggestions please!

I’m in a quandary and temporarily disheartened. I really don’t know what to do regarding promotion and marketing. I’ve been spending hours on Twitter and various author platform websites such as Author Outbreak, Goodreads, Library Thing etc. But I’m seriously starting to wonder what’s the point. It seems the only other people out there are other authors. I’ve bought some of their books, and a couple of people have bought mine – but if we only ever sell to each other, I don’t think we’ll do very well. Writers don’t get much time for reading on top of self-promoting and writing, and they’re not the wealthiest folk either.

How do you get out there to the readers? Maybe through reviews on Amazon and Smashwords? However, people will only find those if they look you or your book up i.e. they still need to know about you first. But how to get them to that stage?

I’m guessing that the personal website is the key starting point. If you can build up followers to your website that will hopefully turn into buyers for your books, then at least you’re spreading beyond the fellow indie author market.  So I shall cut down the time I spend on social media for a while and put more time and effort into my websites. And my writing. I still think it’s best of all to keep writing and fit the marketing activities around that, and not the other way round.

A new month – time for a new challenge. I want to make it a tough one, so my aim this month is to get 10 books up on Kindle and to have worked on 10 books in my new ebook editing business (nearly-finished website is here).

Here’s a glimpse of what the next Kindle book will be in the form of the brilliant cover. Roger Fereday is the illustrator and Caitlin Dagg is the typographer. What a team!

What’s your September challenge?

 

I’m busily extending my author platform on a daily basis, signing up to forums and groups here, posting about my books there.

I came across a free listing opportunity on Author Outbreak, a promising looking indie author website. However, the offer ends on 31st August so you need to get motoring, if it appeals. You’ll find the details here:

I’ve sent my details in so we’ll wait and see what happens.

I’m also currently considering joining the Independent Author Network http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/join-ian.html. There’s a fee for this, so I may wait until Heads Above Water is ready to launch. I think I’ll stick with free promotions for my rereleased children’s books.

Is anyone else having problems with logging onto yourbookauthors.com? I’m having a terrible time.

Finally, I need guinea pigs. Human ones. My ebook editing service is very nearly ready to roll. The website is in its final stages of being tidied up. You can take a quick peek here  (please remember, it’s still a WIP!). To help me firm up my pricing structure, I need to work on a few projects to get a feel for the level of work that is generally required and roughly how long it will take me to tidy up 1,000 words of electronic manuscript. No charge of course. So, if you’d like some free editing on your ebook, then please contact me via the comments below and we’ll talk!

Oh Gran! will be hitting Kindle soon. Here’s a taster and a peep at the great cover artwork by Roger Fereday.

Chapter 1 News Time

“Has anyone else got any news?” asked Mrs Crowley.

It was Friday afternoon, which was end-of-the-week news time at school. Teresa Barry had just told everyone how she’d passed her first Tae Kwondo exam the night before. She now had a yellow-tip belt. (Frank Feeney, sitting in the back row, decided he had better stop teasing her in the yard.)

“Surely someone has more news?” persisted Mrs Crowley.

No one put a hand up.

Mrs Crowley’s eye fell on Emily.

“Emily, have you got some news?”

Emily had, but she didn’t feel much like sharing it.

“Not really, Mrs Crowley,” muttered Emily, wishing her teacher had picked on someone else.

Mrs Crowley refused to be put off.

“There must be something you can tell us about, Emily. Now, come up here and share your news.”

Emily knew when she was beaten. She shuffled to the front of the classroom and turned to face the others.

“My news is that Gran is coming to look after me this weekend because Mum and Dad won a holiday in a competition so they’re going away.”

Emily shot back to her seat, her cheeks burning.

“Why, thank you, Emily,” smiled Mrs Crowley. ‘That’s nice news. I’m sure you’ll have a great time with your granny!”

Emily and her friends weren’t so sure. They talked about grannies at break time.

“Gosh, poor you,” said Mary Roberts. “Whenever my granny comes she makes us turn the telly down so low that we can’t hear it!”

“Yes, and my granny’s always telling me to wash my hands and brush my hair and stuff,” groaned Dermot Halloran.

“Has your granny stayed before?” asked Niamh Desmond.

“Not for ages and ages,” Emily answered. “You see, after  Grandad died a few years ago, Gran went to live with my Auntie Hilary in Australia. Then just after Christmas she decided to come back to Ireland. We were going to go up to Galway to see her, but I got chickenpox so we I couldn’t. But now she’s coming down to look after me. She said she would pick me up from school today.!

Her friends pulled sympathetic faces. Grannies weren’t considered cool.

 

 

Chapter 2 Gran Arrives

Emily was quite nervous when the bell rang at the end of school. To be honest, she couldn’t exactly remember what Gran looked like! It must be more than three years since she’d seen her. Mum kept sending photos of Emily to Gran, but Gran never sent back any of herself.

“So how am I supposed to recognise her, then?” grumbled Emily.

She had a vague image in her head of someone small, smiley and rather wrinkly. But that was all.

She dawdled out of school, wanting to be one of the last out so that her friends wouldn’t see her with her granny. Plus it would be easier to work out who Gran was if the other parents and relatives had already gone home with their children. But Emily’s friends were curious about her granny. They dawdled out too so they could see what she looked like.

Glaring at them for being so nosy, Emily led a gaggle of her friends to the school gate. She looked across the road to where the remaining mums and dads were a waiting. She recognised all of them except for a motorcyclist wearing a black leather jacket. So where on earth was Gran? Emily was dismayed. Mum and Dad would be at the airport by now. Gran was meant to be here to pick her up.

Emily looked at all the faces again. Had she missed Gran somewhere? Unless, no, surely not! Emily watched in amazement as the motorcyclist pulled off a tiger-striped helmet and revealed the smiling face of an elderly lady. It was Gran!

Emily’s mouth dropped open in astonishment.

“Where’s your gran then?” hissed Niamh.

“l can’t see a walking stick anywhere!” joked Dermot, not very nicely.

“Yes, where is she?” asked Mary.

“There! She’s there!” croaked Emily, pointing to her leather-clad Gran.

Her friends fell silent in horror.

Oh Gran! thought Emily. I will never live this down.