26 December 2010

#SampleSunday 3: Torc of Moonlight SE - Chapter 1(part 1)

 If you are following #SampleSunday you'll know the drill. If this is your first time, writers are posting samples of their work each Sunday and Tweeting the new upload. If you like what you read, please leave a comment and ReTweet. Many thanks.

Thought I'd start this offering with a couple of review snippets. Read more at http://tinyurl.com/39jpmlf

…Fast-paced and thrilling, the novel captures the reader from start to finish. The language that Acaster uses is full of vivid imagery and rich descriptions that are sure to engage the reader; painting either a beautiful image of the various landscapes or of the chilling moments filled with tension.
HullFire, Feb 2010 issue Student Magazine, University of Hull (the main setting in the book)

The historical detail is immaculate, as is the authentic detail of modern student-life, the whole suffused with a rich pagan sexuality… Superbly gripping

After last week’s Prologue – read it first as it is pertinent – here’s part of the opening chapter. Be advised that it contains some swearing, normal to late teen blokes. Part 2 will be posted next Sunday. Enjoy!

Chapter 1 – Part 1

His lungs were on fire and his legs felt like lead. If he had not been able to see the wall looming towards him, Nick would have thrown in the towel and collapsed on the grass. But Murray was behind him, stomping on his heels with the power of a raging bull elephant, the same height as himself but twenty kilos heavier, and Nick knew that he should have burned him off the park, should have been standing at the finish with his usual quip about the beer growing warm and the girls all being taken. But he wasn’t. Was nowhere near it. Murray was gaining on him. Was going to catch him and pass him. And there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.
Summoning his last reserves, Nick willed himself another half metre. Too late he realised he had misjudged the distance to the wall. It had jumped forward to meet him, its stark geometric pattern filling his vision, offering no route of escape. He tried to lift his arms, to turn aside his head, but he had not left himself enough time, enough space. His shoulder connected with the rough red brick with such force that his feet left the ground and he was propelled through the air to land in a heap on the grass. Murray’s booming voice filtered through his daze.
‘Fuck me, Blaketon! I nearly had you!’
Nick tried to drag his sprawling limbs into some semblance of order, but the initial numbness was fast transforming into throbbing pain. At the very least he had dislocated his shoulder and broken his collarbone; at the very worst he was not long for this world.
‘Christ, look at you. This is what happens after a summer of licentious debauchery.’ Murray breathed hard, catching his wind. ‘I, on the other hand, am reaping the benefits of a temperate and soul-enriching sabbatical.’
The profanity was meant to convey all the emotions of a first fifteen battle song, but it left Nick’s lips a damp gasp. Murray guffawed. Nick couldn’t understand where his friend was drawing his energy from. He’d felt better after being dragged semi-conscious from beneath a collapsed rugby scrum.
Murray was on his feet again, pumping his arms and jogging on the spot. The ground beneath Nick reverberated with each footfall, sending an oddly undulating spasm down his spine and along his ribs. At first it felt curiously soothing, how he imagined riding a water bed, and then came the realisation that the sloshing was inside him, and a prickle of perspiration erupted over his body. He rolled himself over to watch the remains of his breakfast spread across the grass beneath his nose.
Strong hands raised him to his knees.
‘Any more where that came from?’
Nick thought about it and shook his head. His senses swam. He hoped Murray wasn’t going to let go of him. Without support he would end nose first in the lumpy slime seeping into the earth.
‘I’m going to sit you back. Ready?’
An arm slid round his ribs, and Nick felt as though he were floating in some dreamscape where actions were un-coordinated and strangely out of time. Was he passing out?
‘You look like shit.’
‘Feel it.’
Murray’s fingers gripped the back of his neck. ‘Drop your head between your knees.’
‘No!’ He had not meant to sound so panicked, but at least it stilled the insistent pressure of Murray’s hand.
‘Is he okay?’
The voice was unrecognised. Nick saw a pair of neatly creased denims move into his line of vision. That was all he needed: a spectator.
‘Will be soon,’ Murray was saying. ‘Do me a favour: watch him, will you, two minutes, while I grab our gear from the changing room?’
Murray stood and Nick started after him, to be forced back on to his haunches by a hand on his shoulder.
‘Don’t move or I’ll bounce you.’ Murray left, trotting along the side of the Sports Centre to its entrance.
The spectator didn’t say anything. Nick didn’t look up at him. The seconds ticked by. Two minutes came and went. The spectator moved his weight from one foot to the other. Not a sportsman, Nick concluded. He wished he would just leave.
‘A bit hard on the ale last night, were you?’
The voice was full of forced camaraderie bordering, Nick felt, on scorn. He let his gaze rise up the ironed denims until it reached a clutch of volumes carried uncomfortably by a thin-fingered hand. Although it was partly obscured, the silver print of the facing title screamed its worth at him. The spectator was a Sciences student. Nick had fallen foul of those supercilious bastards the previous semester when they had played an inter-faculty friendly.
His vision cleared. The world was moving in real time again, but when Nick looked up he squinted at the face of the spectator as if he were having trouble focusing.
‘Malaria,’ he said quietly. ‘Sometimes there just isn’t the warning.’ He watched the youth’s expression cloud. ‘Damned debilitating,’ he added.
‘Oh. Yes. Er, I can imagine.’
Nick dropped his head to chortle low in his throat, and chalked one up for the Arts.
The ensuing silence was broken by the return of Murray who threw down his sports bag and proceeded to wrap Nick’s tracksuit top round his shoulders. The spectator sidled away and Nick rose to his feet, waving aside Murray’s help.
‘Feeling better, are we?’
‘Good. For one awful moment I thought I was going to have to resort to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.’
‘Spare me.’
‘Just what I thought. That’s why I left you with him. If you were going to infect anybody it wasn’t going to be me.’
They grinned at each other, sharing the relief of the moment.
‘Feel strong enough to walk to the Med Centre?’
‘I’m not going to the Med Centre.’
Picking up his sports bag, Murray took a step towards him. He didn’t have the height to tower over most people, but his bulk could blot out the sun.
‘Read my lips, lover: you are going to the Med Centre.’
Nick shook his head and started walking towards the complex of buildings at the further side of the sports field. ‘Don’t do a number on me, Murray. I’ve had it all fucking summer.’
They fell into step.
‘I guessed things hadn’t run quite according to plan when I saw the suntan Louise is sporting. What did she tell you?’
The muscles in Nick’s neck began to tighten. ‘I haven’t seen her.’
He nipped across the access road in front of a group of cyclists. One swore at him, but he paid no attention. The paved walkway between Staff House and the Sciences block had seen none of the early October sun, and the breeze which had seemed almost summer-like on the playing field tunnelled between the buildings with an edge that spoke of frost. Murray was at his shoulder before he reached the square.
‘Well, you can certainly step it out now, but what about tonight? The posters are up, y’know. There’ll be a lot of young blood wanting to show off their talent. After last season Hodgson has a scent for glory, and he’ll want only the best. You put in a replay of that little stunt and he won’t just shunt you off to the Med Centre, he’ll call an ambulance.’
‘I feel fine now.’
‘All I’m saying is it might be an idea to put a word in his ear. Y’know, immune system fighting a virus, not able to put in a peak performance, going to dose yourself up and get an early night, etc, etc. Then if you do shit out your place is covered. And if you end up with ’flu you can go sneeze all over him to prove it.’
‘I told you, I’m fine.’
They made their way through the people funnelling beneath the arch of the main Science building. Most seemed to be coming in the opposite direction, and half of them were pushing bicycles. Murray exchanged greetings with students he knew, and back out in the sunshine he drew level with Nick.
‘I would have thought you would have hoped to go down with something like ’flu, just to put your mind at rest that it’s nothing more serious.’
‘I really worried you, didn’t I?’
‘Let’s just say that I had this thought of dropping Law and taking up Medicine.’
‘I’m fine. Honest.’
‘Yeah, sure. Do us both a favour, eh? Get a shower and climb into bed for the rest of the day.’
Nick shook his head. ‘I’ve a seminar at 11.15.’
‘Give it a miss.’
‘I missed too many last year.’
Murray kicked out at an empty crisp packet on the flagstones and didn’t answer. As they cornered the Chemistry building Nick glanced at his wristwatch.
‘Look, I’ve not got long. I’ll see you tonight.’
‘And if you start feeling weird again you’ll go to the Med Centre, right?’
‘What is this? Are you trying to imitate my mother?’
They laughed and parted company. Nick had only gone a few paces when a theatrically falsetto voice pierced the general hubbub.
‘And change your underclothes. They’re dis-gusting.’
Waving two fingers in the air, Nick kept walking.
Leaving the ivy-covered walls of the older buildings, he passed alongside the grey concrete rear of the Law block and on to the narrow path that wound through the thin scrub birch separating the campus proper from the first of the public roads.
When he’d come to Hull he’d been pleased that the original blood-red brick buildings, with their small-paned windows and incongruously peaked attic rooms, had made up such a small proportion of the university’s campus. A year on he was grateful for the trees, and for the forethought of those who had planted them in every conceivable nook and cranny. In spring the squares were ankle deep in pink and white blossoms. Now, on breezy days, leaves sang out their death rattle as they clung to swaying branches, or ran before him, crisp and golden, to be caught in a root and crushed underfoot. Concrete, no matter the style, was concrete, stark and uncompromising. Ivy would never grow up the walls of the Law block, but the birds sang in the trees below it, and the hedgehogs grubbed in their roots to scurry across to the gardens opposite as soon as the traffic quietened.
He was becoming sentimental, there was no denying it. Emotional even. Perhaps Murray was right, perhaps he was sickening for something. Or perhaps he was just wallowing in his own self-pity. No matter how he tried to keep his thoughts in check, Murray’s voice was in his head telling him of the tan Louise was sporting, and the memory of that never-changing, ever-cheerful voicemail message kept kicking into play, laughing at him.
The gate was stuck again. He released the latch and pushed at it with his thigh, managing only to reinforce the bruise he had been cultivating since taking up residence at the house. He freed the latch, this time lifting the gate clear of the sneck. It swung easily on freshly greased hinges.
‘Sodding thing,’ Nick muttered, and he pressed it back further, catching it securely in the rose bushes which separated the small front garden from its neighbour.
Gaining a house on Salmon Grove had been the finest coup of his entire first year. The hall of residence he had been allocated had been no dump, of course. With its park-like gardens and in-house entertainment committee it had been all he had imagined university life to be. The problem was that it was situated two miles from the main campus, and, as the year progressed, those two miles had lengthened into twenty and then into two hundred. At Salmon Grove he could fall out of bed straight into a lecture and be back before the sheets had cooled.
Closing the door behind him, he waited for his vision to become accustomed to the gloom. The only window in the hallway was above the solid front door, and the mature trees growing out of the pavement restricted the light as well as screening the concrete edifices across the road. Walking into the handlebars of Maureen’s bicycle had been an incident he did not wish to repeat, though why she insisted on having a bicycle when she was less than a stone’s throw from the campus was beyond him.
Her bike wasn’t there, only a bulging black dustbin liner which he purposely ignored. Both downstairs doors were closed, and there seemed to be no movement coming from above. Hopefully the other occupants were out and he had the house to himself. Separating his room key on the ring, he laid a hand on the banister and dragged himself up the stairs.
The door swung back revealing his front bedroom exactly as he had left it earlier that morning, hardly changed from the Saturday before when he’d double-parked the rental and heaved the contents of his life up the stairs. He would have to empty the boxes soon; he could hardly remember what was in them.
The unmade bed beneath the window looked inviting, and if he was going down with something it made sense to get it out of his system with as little hassle as possible. It also made sense not to rock the boat, especially after the one-to-one he’d endured at the end of the previous semester, and the lies he’d told back home.
‘So how did Murray do? Is he struggling, too?’
His parents had sat together on the sofa. He couldn’t remember them ever sitting together on the sofa before. The sofa had always been for him and his sisters.
‘Everybody has found it hard. It’s just so different. You think it’s simply going to be an extension of ‘A’ levels, but it’s not.’
His father had remained tight-lipped, his mother quietly understanding. He would have felt better if it had dissolved into a row. And then, of course, had come the bombshell.
‘You said that you hadn’t much studying to do over the summer. Your father’s managed to get you a job, holiday relief at the plant.’
All he’d said was, ‘Oh.’
What the hell could he have said? His mother had taken on extra hours to help with his student loan, and his sisters had made it perfectly plain that they held him responsible for their not having a holiday. To cap it all Louise had dropped him like a steaming turd and was now sporting a suntan that had made Murray’s eyes water.
Stripping off his running gear, he grabbed a still-damp towel and walked on to the landing and into the shower room.
It was good to have a shower with an uninterrupted flow of water. No one filling kettles or flushing toilets. No sudden spikes in the temperature, freezing one moment, scalding the next. He rested his forehead against the cool tiles, letting the water play directly on to his neck and shoulder. He had jarred them badly when he had collided with the wall, but had not realised how stiff the muscles had grown. The particles of red brick embedded in his skin were a surprise, too. He must have hit the wall with the power of an express.
Water poured on to his head, fanning his hair, running along his cheekbones and down his nose. He opened his mouth to breathe, and his breathing became slower as the warmth of the water lulled him. The building steam felt damp in his lungs, but soothing, the noise of the jet hypnotic in its unending hiss.
He snapped round the dial and the water shut off. How long had he been standing there? His fingertips looked like gnarled tree bark. He pushed his hair from his face and blinked. He was supposed to be at a seminar.
Towelling himself as he went, he dripped his way back across the landing to probe the discarded paper cups on his study table for his wristwatch. Five minutes. Shit.
The clothes he’d discarded the night before still lay at the foot of the bed and he dragged them on, regardless of how they looked. His socks were stiff, but he had no idea of where a clean pair was and no time to search one out. The orange wallet file shrieked at him from across the room like a well wound alarm clock. There wasn’t much in it: some paper and a pen, a few notices he’d picked up, a copy of his timetable, but it looked good, looked as if he’d got his act together. He laid a hand on it, grabbed his keys and slammed the door behind him.

‘So nice of you to join us, number 28. I hope we haven’t dragged you away from anything interesting.’
Nick stood in the doorway looking across the heads of the students to the lecturer, one hand on her hip, the other knuckles down on the table beside her. It didn’t seem like a good idea to answer, especially as he couldn’t remember her name. The door behind him opened with a groan of its spring and the lecturer’s gaze realigned on a point beyond his shoulder.
‘Number 29! Well, hello there.’
Jesus, was she really counting them in?
Thanks for reading. There'll be more next week. If you can't wait, right-click on the cover, or download a free sample from your chosen retailer.

19 December 2010

#SampleSunday 2: Torc of Moonlight SE - Prologue

Each Sunday, English-writing indie authors from around the world are posting samples of their work on their blogs and Tweeting when they're ready to view. This week I'm offering the Prologue from paranormal thriller ebk Torc of Moonlight : Special Edition, the first in a trilogy set in university cities pressing against the North York Moors.

How many believers does it take to keep an ancient religion alive?
Just one.
It is you, isn't it, who throws coins into wishing wells?


He could hear dogs, far off — big dogs, hunting dogs — and he knew he had to run because the hunting dogs were hunting him.
There was a Sanctuary. He kept the knowledge a beacon in his mind. He knew the path, had trod it years before, but it was overgrown now, so overgrown, and he had no flame to light the way. The Keeper was gone, but the Presence would be there, locked among the thorns. The Presence was all powerful. She would embrace him, surround him, protect him. He still had the gladius, the jewelled and flashing blade. She would take it in payment. She could not refuse. She would protect him, disarm his enemies, turn them to stone, to pillars of fire, to hares to be hunted by their own dogs.
He faltered. His chest was aflame, his legs close to collapse. There should be a path, another path. The sword was brought up, its hilt glinting in the night’s weak light, its blade a blur of shadow against the silhouetted trees as it swept through tangled briars. And he was running again, down an incline. The trees were thinning, the earth becoming softer underfoot, water and mud squelching as he ran, forcing between his toes, splashing up his legs, burning into his torn skin.
Ankle-deep now, he stood at the rim of the Pool, not a ripple stirring its surface. Trees crowded the edges as if they had backed away in deference, leaving a ring of sky so brightly starlit that he drew breath in wonder at the spectacle.
He spied a fallen tree, its roots lost in the darkness of the woodland, its leafless boughs reaching into the centre of the Pool. Splashing across, he heaved himself up. The trunk was covered with moss, and the water cascading from his legs turned the surface to slime, but his balance was good and he did not fall.
A single slapping of the water focused his attention and he brought up the sword two-handed against the leaping dog. Its dark shape grew to fill his vision, the starlight catching the bared fangs, coating the glistening tongue with frost. It did not yelp as the blade parted its ribcage. Blood spurted hot over his arms as he turned along the axis of the animal’s leap to heave the body from the blade. It flew by his shoulder as if still under its own momentum, landing on the jutting branches to be impaled there, dripping gore into the dark liquid below. The initial sacrifice.
He could hear his hunters crashing through the woodland, men as well as dogs, see yellow fire-torches flashing between the trees, but the Pool filled his senses: scents of rotting wood and peaty earth, of deer musk and boar dung. Most of all there was the Presence, waiting in her domain, waiting for him.
Anticipation made the hairs rise on his skin. It powered his blood and fired his sexual desire. He called with a voice deep and challenging. Again he called, and again, followed by an invocation fast and rhythmic. The gladius was taken in both hands, its blade pressed flat across his thigh. All his strength was applied, but it did not even bend. The dogs were close; he could hear them splashing at the edge of the Pool.
Lifting the weapon to shoulder height he sang out a second invocation, a third invocation — three by three by three — and the sword was tossed skywards to meet the twinkling stars. It turned as it rose, twisting along its length, the jewels set into its pommel blinking and winking against the darkness of the woods. Its thrust exhausted, it began to descend, out of the sky and the stars, down through the column of silhouetted trees, and into the yielding water with less sound than a pebble’s drop.
On tip-toe he stood on the narrow trunk, head back, arms outstretched, every muscle tensed for the moment, for the coming of the Presence.
There was splashing, much splashing. A spear flew by his arm. He gave a great whoop of indrawn breath, a gasp, his eyes widening to the brightness of the stars, to the silence of the Pool below his feet. He called afresh, a great shout filled with horror. The name again, fear gripping the tone. He howled the name, bellowed it, fists clenched in anger. He railed at the Presence, jabbing at the air in front of him as if it were a person, seething abuse at an unseen form which gave no answer.
He did not see the dog. He felt its weight, its claws at his back. When the great fangs burst through his shoulder the night turned red to his eyes and he screamed until his lungs had no more air to make the noise. He was falling, the weight of the dog bearing him down, twisting in the air as the sword had twisted, man and dog together. The cold waters of the Pool enveloped him, breathing fire into the wounds on his back. And still he railed at the Presence, cursing and swearing vengeance until the bubbles frothing from his lips sparkled no more in the starlight, and the chilling liquid poured into his lungs, water hissing over red hot stone.
There were no trees.
The sky was a clear tempering blue. Burnished by the noon sunlight, it was the exact shade of the enamelled decoration borne by the gladius. A glorious colour, it seemed suspended so close that he might have raked its surface with his fingers and watched it ripple like an Otherworld pool.
But there were no trees.
Without trees there were no birds, and no bird’s song to break the desperate keening of the wind across a land shaded from his sight. A desolate land, he reasoned, devoid of all living things except the sky above him and the water that bore him and refused his release.
He set aside anxiety. Had there ever been a time when none had sought to conspire against him: Senecio, his sword brother; Yslan, the Shrine Keeper; the Presence herself?
He spat his contempt in a string of phlegm. The Presence did not speak against him now, had never spoken but in the mind of the Keeper and through her twisted tongue. All those years wasted in trepidation of that which did not exist. The songs, the rituals, the very memory of her false existence—
How he hated her.
A sound caught him unawares, a cry as mournful as the wind. Focusing, he strained to hear it afresh, quartered the sky with his sight to catch a glimpse of beak or feather. A curlew! Its dagger-sharp wings set rigid against the air currents, it skimmed at the speed of an arrow to bank and return across his vision.
Oh, for such movement, such freedom...
It would be his. The summer was dying. The chill winds hugged the dusk and the dawn, dragging the mantle of winter behind them. There would be no mistake this time. The rite of passage would be fulfilled.
Drawing together an image of his sword-arm, he reached out to grasp the weapon’s jewelled hilt with its enamelled decoration of sky-riven blue. The lure never failed to draw them. Let the warmth of the sun kiss his form spread among the water droplets. Let it lift him to the bosom of the darkest cloud. Let the wind carry him to the chosen. This time nothing would conspire against him. He, Ognirius Licinius Vranaun, he would pass through.
Thanks for stopping by. If you've enjoyed this sample, please leave a comment and ReTweet. If you want to delve further right-click the bookcover. If you want to purchase, the novel is £2.18 / $2.99 available from Kindle UK  /  Kindle US / I-Pad, Nook, Sony. More next week. Have a good Christmas!

17 December 2010

Bah, Humbug!

So where did the week go to? Not in writing, that's for sure, unless I count Christmas cards and other associated accessories. It's amazing how the men in my life can calmly read a book, listen to England's dismal showing in the Third Test, or simply retort "I'm working!" when asked to help out. So what am I supposed to be doing?

And then, on tonight's television, did I really hear the phrase... the last work-day before Christmas... What?! Where do these people get these jobs that allow them a week off BEFORE Christmas? Doubtless to add to the week they'll have off BETWEEN Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Bah, Humbug!

So let's hear it for all those working right through the Christmas period - our emergency services, our hospital staff, shop staff, and the army of carers who will battle through the elements to bring a smile and a hot meal to those trapped in their homes by infirmity or the weather. The backbone of the Great British Public! Yeah!

12 December 2010

#SampleSunday 1: A New Venture in Tweeting

Today is the start of a new venture, SampleSunday. Each Sunday, English-writing indie authors from around the world will be posting a sample of their work on their blog – be it from a published novel or a work-in-progress, a short story or a poem, non-fiction or drama. The thing is, it’ll be every week, on a Sunday.

Writers will Tweet when they’ve uploaded a sample. Readers can leave comments and ReTweet those comments to wave a flag when they’ve found a sample they believe is particularly good. And to see exactly what is available, search for #SampleSunday. You could find yourself amazed.

To kick off my stable of offerings, I’m posting the opening excerpt from the title story of the collection e-published this week. Don’t read if you are of a nervous disposition.

Contribution To Mankind (excerpt)
© Linda Acaster

Spaz passed across the wrap and I gave him the money.
    ‘Sure you only want one?’
    ‘No,’ I said. ‘I want six. Hell, let’s not quibble about numbers. I’ll have ten.’
    I hadn’t even given him The Look, and already his elbows were leaving the small bar table as he backed into his chair.
    ‘Okay, okay,’ he said. ‘Am I supposed to guess your finances?’
    I picked up my glass and dribbled the contents into my mouth. There wasn’t even enough to coat my tongue.
    He leaned back in a little. ‘If you’re looking for a source... Well, I might know of an off-licence, y’know, with an unguarded window.’
    ‘And what use would that be to me?’ I snapped. ‘Think I’m an alckie?’
    The little prat moved closer, sure of himself now.
    ‘That’s the beaut, isn’t it? Could be there’s an anxious buyer.’
    I slid my empty glass across the table towards him. He looked disconcerted, and it made me smile. ‘Buy me another and we’ll talk about it.’
    He didn’t even try to argue, but dragged back his chair and limped towards the bar. I eyed his roll and sneered. He believed he had a charmed life, did Spaz, believed the sharks ignored the little fish. Silly bastard. Twice in plaster and still he thought he could fish the waters.
    ‘Here he is! A round of applause for our hero!’
    I looked to the clamour near the doorway. It was Tony mouthing off as usual, this time to a group from the old days. Tony was another one who’d never recognise his own name being called. And then I saw who our hero was and felt the tendons stand rigid in my neck. This wasn’t his local any more; I’d driven the bastard out.
    ‘Very funny,’ Willans was saying. ‘If you want to show some appreciation of our contribution to mankind, get us in a beer.’
    ‘Shouldn’t it be weak tea?’
    ‘Been there, done that, let the nurse hold my hand.’
    Lascivious laughter rolled round the group and I knew there was no letting it pass.
    ‘Listen to the pillock,’ I called across. ‘Contribution to mankind. Be organising a fucking aid run to the Balkans next.’
    That killed it. Willans peered over shoulders to see who had spoken and I gave him The Look in return. He soon shifted his gaze.
    ‘It’s your ten up, isn’t it, Mike? Deserves one on the house, that.’
    I turned my beadies on Don behind the bar, but he was already looking my way with a very flat expression. I marked it for future reference.
    ‘Ten’s nothing,’ Willans said. ‘It’s the first that counts, and Jerry here has just passed the needle test.’
    It was like listening to dogs puke. Jerry Davidson had all the hallmarks of a good wheelman: seconds into a Gti, and nerves the Iceman would prize when a blue light was tailgating him. He’d only been caught once, too, and now Willans had sunk his claws in. How many more of the bleating sheep would follow? All of them, probably, just as they had into that poxy soccer team he’d started. All the makings of a regular crusade, it had, with Jesus Bloody Christ at its head, shining example to the world.
    When Spaz put a full glass in front of me I ignored him and took it to lean on the bar. Don gave me the warning eye, but I ignored him, too.
    ‘Well, Jerry, congratulations. You’ve taken the first step to ensure your place in heaven. Has he got you to sign the red pledge, too, eh? Are you going to have some money-grubbing surgeon ripping out your heart before it’s stopped beating? An eye here. A liver there. Sausage, mash and kidneys.’
   ‘Leave it out, Sinclair.’
    I turned my gaze on Willans, careful with The Look. I didn’t want to spook him too soon.
    ‘So, you’ve given ten, have you?’ I said. ‘Thought a body only carried eight. Shouldn’t you be dead? Like Rob.’
    ‘Give it up, Sinclair. That’s six years behind us. I’m not rising to the bait any more.’
    ‘Not rising?’ I said. ‘But you rose that night, didn’t you, rose from the fucking dead. What was it? Twenty-five pints they pumped into you? Sounds about right. Still paying off the mortgage, I see.’
    The others were behind him, not at his shoulder; leaderless, as ever. I bared my teeth and sneered to see what he’d do. He just stood there, the gutless wimp.
    ‘Enough of that,’ called Don.
    I never even glanced Don’s way. Don was all bluster. What was he going to do, call the Filth? The amount of gear they’d find carried in that place, they’d shut him down.
    ‘It should have been Rob they dragged from the wreck, not you,’ I said. ‘Rob they pumped all those gallons of blood into, not you. You were supposed to be the fucking driver, not Rob. You were supposed to be looking out for him.’
    I hadn’t realised how quiet it had become until Don slammed the baseball bat down onto the bar.
    ‘I said enough. If you put as much effort into raising money for charity as you do into your hate, your brother would have some sort of decent memorial. But no, you’d rather the likes of Jerry here follow him into an early grave. And doing what? Joy-riding. I don’t see how it’s brought much joy around here.’
    Don didn’t even recognise The Look when I shot it across, he was in such a flood. He’d remember it when it topped out, though, I’d see to that.
    But what was the point? The exchange was going nowhere. Willans wasn’t going to bite, not like in the old days when he’d sooner knock your teeth down your throat than look at you. Getting old, that was the problem, getting old and got his own personal brand of religion.
    I prodded a finger just the once in his chest. Every rib seemed to show through his T-shirt. The flab had deserted him, just like his balls.
    ‘You should take more care of yourself, Mikey. All this running’s wearing you out. What is it this time? Equipment for the Infirmary, or research into crippling diseases? Here...’ I tossed a coin across at him. It bounced off his bony chest and fell onto the floor between us. ‘Put me down for a slice. We can’t have Don, here, thinking I don’t support lost causes.’
    I downed the rest of the pint in one and smacked the glass on the bar. I’d hoped Willans might have given me reason to smash it into his face, but there was always tomorrow. I’d waited six years. I wasn’t in any hurry.

About a week later Spaz came across with the info on the off-licence deal. I did some quiet digging and it seemed clean enough. I wasn’t too worried about Spaz, anyway. Despite his lack between the ears he knew full well that his time in plaster would be nothing compared to what’d happen if he crossed me.
    The place was a small set-up in one of the closer villages. Working out of the city had its compensations. The Filth took longer to arrive, for one, and iron window grilles and concrete bollards set beyond the shop’s front were almost unheard of.
    I’d picked up a van – not to do the job, that was set for the following night – just to drive the route we were going to use. These things always look fine on paper, but it’s amazing how many times you can come across roadworks on these narrow lanes, or a pile of straw bales sticking out from the verge.
    Dusk was falling, not enough to hit the lights, but close enough so that I’d be travelling back with them on, as I’d intended. Anyway, I saw him – Willans – loping along what passed for the gutter in a skinny pair of tracksuit bottoms and a reflective yellow vest. I didn’t realise it was him until I was passing, and even then I was a good half mile ahead before it registered.
    Willans. Running on his ownsome in the middle of bloody nowhere. Willans. Running on the road in the dusk.
    I turned the van and headed back.
    I came upon him almost at once, and slowed the engine to a crawl, hanging back to watch his rhythmic action. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. Almost like a heartbeat. My heartbeat as it rose in anticipation.
    Why didn’t he hear the engine? Then I realised: there was something attached to a belt around his waist. An iPod. I smiled. I couldn’t help it.
    ‘For you, Rob.’ And I gunned the engine.
    He heard me at the last moment. I saw the beginning of a turn of his head, but the edge of the bumper caught him, or the wing, and he disappeared from my view.
    I pulled up gently and looked through the mirrors. He was prone, for certain, but in the failing light I couldn’t see more. And I wanted to see more. I wanted to see what I’d seen on the slab in the morgue when I’d identified Rob.
    I reversed the van and opened the driver’s door.
    He was laid partly on the verge in the shadow of the hedge, his arms angled as if he were still running. The iPod was kicking out its tune as if nothing had happened. I could hear it as I approached. It threw me for a moment, made me think that I hadn’t hit him after all.
    There didn’t seem to be any blood. I didn’t believe that and got down on my haunches to peer closer. There wasn’t any blood, not even a graze that I could see. That wasn’t right, wasn’t fair on Rob.
    The music was getting on my nerves. There should have been blood and there wasn’t and the damned noise from that thing was driving me crazy. I put out a hand to switch it off and saw that there was a polythene cover over it. Inside the cover was a tenner and a credit card. Willans was running round the countryside with a note and a credit card strapped to his iPod. Had he been expecting some farmer to draw up and offer him a neat deal on hamburger?
    I realised my mistake as soon as I pulled them free. The card was the bastard’s red pledge, his organ donor card. Rob didn’t get any organs. Rob didn’t even get any blood.
    I was holding it, staring at it, when I heard the faint wisps of a groan. The bastard wasn’t dead. Then his eyes flickered open and he looked at me. I looked straight back at him.
    ‘Yeah, it’s Sinclair. How you feeling, Willans?’
    He blinked, and gave a faint stab at a frown. I’d dislodged something, that was certain.
    ‘Can you get up?’
    There was a second or two while his mouth tried to work.
    ‘You just lay there and listen to your music.’ I replaced the earphones and his limbs seemed to twitch at the sudden injection of sound. ‘Won’t be long,’ I said, but I don’t think he heard me.  
    Once in the driving seat I fired the engine, slipped it into gear and reversed over him. Like hitting a kerb, it was, with the nearside rear. The front jumped, too. For good measure I slid into first and pulled forward slowly. There wasn’t as much resistance the second time. Willans could donate all he owned, but who’d want a bucket of sludge?
    The red pledge was still in my fingers as I pulled away. I smiled at it and slipped it into my jacket with the tenner. It would make an interesting souvenir, a decent lever, too, I shouldn’t wonder, shown to someone who knew him and was getting out of line.

Thanks for reading this excerpt. Contribution To Mankind and other stories of the Dark is a collection of five short Horror/Supernatural stories launched this week in all formats for 99c/72p.
Drop by next Sunday for something completely different.

11 December 2010

Books Launch Promotion Timing

Two ebooks launched this past week - Torc of Moonlight : Special Edition and Contributions to Mankind and other stories of the Dark - just in time for Christmas buys. Not that it was supposed to happen like that, but life just got in the way, mine and a few other people's. I'd had promotions booked well in advance, an interview at Molly's Musings on 9th and this weekend promoting on Kindle Author, but in the end it was a close run thing to have the books available.

It reminded me of last year with the paperback of Torc of Moonlight which kept getting delayed at the printer (I was told by its publisher), so that finally I had to pull all the promotion I'd readied and by the time it was available it had missed the deadline to go into local shops for Christmas buyers. I hand-sold copies, but the flush passed me by. It was one of the reasons I decided to go indie. Despite this close call, it's a decision I've not regretted.

While I was being interviewed on Molly's Musings, also in the USA Publishers Weekly put out a piece stating ...e-book sales posted their slowest growth rates in 2010 in October. Still, sales jumped 112.4%, to $40.7 million...

And this is supposed to be bad?? It only covered 14 US publishers, not the industry as a whole, an industry that insists on windowing - a practice of putting out hardbacks, then paperbacks, then ebooks, often with months in between - or even worse, pricing ebooks higher than hardbacks - something ebook buyers have taken huge exception to, showing their discontent by slapping one star reviews on such ebooks regardless of contextual merit. Poor author, who wouldn't have had a say in any of it.

But what about indie sales in all this? Not mentioned. Indies are the elephant in the room. From initially eyeing indies with suspicion, readers are beginning to realise that, just as with print books, there are good and not so good, and the good outnumber the rest. For the price of a paperback they can read three indie ebooks. Not only are they doing so, but they are spreading their reading net outside their usual fishing zones, and liking what they find.

9 December 2010

My Writing is being featured today on Molly's Musings

Molly's Musings is featuring my writing today, and I give her a big thanks for interviewing me. If any reader has come across from MM on a link, I bid you welcome and do explore. Molly's Musings is the first to give my new books a push, so I'm feeling all bright and sparkly.

Mind you, it was almost 'bright & sparkly' of a different nature. I had to dash (that is a relative form of speed given our snow) through to the city today where I had to spend longer than anticipated. I arrived home as dusk was turning to night, but the roads were okay, just wet... until I turned into our cul de sac which rises up a slight but determined hill. At the top is our house, through gates which turn through a 75 degree angle. The packed snow going up the road was bad enough, but as soon as the headlights picked up our front drive I quietly freaked and took it slowly through the turn heading up a slight incline to the garage doors... And stalled the engine. And started sliding backwards to the gates even though I wasn't doing anything. I had to do a hard turn with the steering to halt the decline. And hit the horn for aid. Hubby & Son came out and Hubby promptly fell over. We got the car unloaded (imagine ballet dancers on points dragging free masses of shopping) and with masses of cardboard under the wheels the car was eventually coaxed into the safety of the garage.

Then the call went up: 'Where's the chips?'
Answer: 'In the garage freezer.'
No chips tonight  then.

8 December 2010


How do you like the revamp? So far so good, eh? There's still the header to change - yes, a picture! - and the wrapper to fiddle with, but most of it is in place.

The big change is going to be in the postings. My books are taking off in the electronic market and so I'm dedicating more time to those than mentoring other people through their scripts. It has been going that way for a while, and now is the time to refocus. Let me show you round...

The book covers link to information & on-line reading samples courtesy of a beta programme from kindleboards.com. It is still a beta programme because at the moment the reading sample is shown in odd line spacing, which it most definitely is not in the paid version. Simply right click and open in a new tab to view.

The exception is A Sackful of Shorts, the anthology from Hornsea Writers, the support group I've belonged to for many years. At the moment it's not available direct from Amazon, but a mobi version for the Kindle, and the other e-formats, is available from Smashwords. And yes, I've a story in it: Literary, not Horror or Romance. Doesn't that make a change?

The tabs offer book information, prices and review snippets, but with a cleaner, less cluttered look, and genres are grouped for ease of reading.

I've never been much for widgets - aren't they in beer cans? - but the wordcount meter from Writertopia caught my eye. If you want one they are free, and there's a link further down.

Finally there are the buying/contact links, top right. Instead of linking to each book I've grouped the links to my Author Page at Amazon UK, Amazon USA, and at Smashwords which distributes to the Sony ereader, I-Pad, Nook, and Diesel's ereader, and offers a mobi version for the Kindle. If you live in Europe and would prefer not to pay VAT on your e-books (print books in the UK are VAT-free, but not e-books) download from Smashwords.

And that's about it for now. The postings will be more regular and cover all sorts of writer-related issues, but there will still be the occasional how-to article slotted in there.

Thanks for reading, and come back soon.

3 December 2010

Creating Believable Characters - Part 3: Worlds Within Worlds

World-building is a prerequisite for readable fiction, but there is no single world which can be used to cover all eventualities within that fiction. Every one of us lives and works within our own smaller sphere. Daily life in Peru is not daily life in Iceland. Life in central Manchester is very different to life on a farm in rural Lincolnshire. Life for a UK family with a combined annual income of £10,000 is totally different to that of a family whose combined income is £100,000.

Each person lives in his/her own world within a larger accepted world. Worlds within worlds are at the very centre of creating believable characters moving within a believable existence.

As an example, consider Crime fiction. For the sake of putting across my point, let's view a police officer as an archetypal pillar of society. He or she might have a spouse, a mortgage, 2.4 children and a dog, a set of blood relatives, a set of in-laws, a group of friends, and then there are the neighbours. This is only one world this police officer inhabits.

There are also the worlds of work. There is the world within the police force, its hierarchy and expected behaviour, standing orders, interpretation of the law, the stresses of manpower shortages and equipment malfunction, dealing with close colleagues on the same shift, colleagues on adjacent shifts, and those in different departments, both officer and civilian. There is the world outside on the street, which might be broken down into three sub-worlds: that of the law-abiding public, the law-breaking public, and career criminals. This police officer will adopt a slightly different persona when interacting with others, depending on the world inhabited. This chosen persona will modify again depending on the officer’s mood or health at the time. He or she is, after all, only human.

People are heavily influenced by their surroundings and the mores of their society, and their smaller spheres of the society they inhabit. Their larger world has an underlying impact on how they think and act, and this can be carried over when they move worlds. Not everyone wishes, or is allowed, to assimilate, and conflict – the motor of any fiction - can result. Taking the UK as an example, consider Colonialism and the British Raj. Consider immigrants to the UK over the last 50 years. Consider modern asylum seekers. Consider affluent UK citizens purchasing ‘a place in the sun’ but refusing to learn the local language. Consider the knock-on effects to all and caused by all. Taking that set of circumstances consider a similar set in your own part of the world.

Closer to home, consider your neighbour. You and your immediate neighbour might share a joined semi-detached property and a fence down identical-sized gardens, but do you share the same worlds? Give some thought to the worlds you inhabit and list these, then consider your neighbour and see how many of your worlds your neighbour shares. There won’t be many, and it will give an indication of just how little you know of your neighbour.

Building worlds is an intrinsic part of creating believable fiction, and as much thought must go into it as into building characters to make the fiction credible and your reader return for more.