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When The Bard Came Visiting is now out!

Hi everyone, I had some trouble with the internet yesterday, so I couldn’t announce the fact that my short story collection, When The Bard Came Visiting, is now available.

I’m really happy to share these stories with everyone at last (some of them appeared right here on this blog in draft form some years ago), as they cover a range of themes and genres, from contemporary to sci-fi and pretty much everything in-between. There’s even a sour-mouthed fairy.

It’s available in ebook, paperback and large print paperback, and the audiobook should be out later this year.

Please check it out here.

Happy reading!

Extracts/ Flash Fiction

Extract from my middle-grade WIP

When we have a sufficient crowd and I’ve warmed them up with my honeyed words, I step aside so pa can begin his first act – a standard card trick which relies on a story to draw them in.

In a deeply sonorous voice – a surprising trick in itself, if you’ve never heard it before – he starts his speech. ‘Once, there was a lonely jester who tried to fit in.’ From his deck, he produces a joker card and displays it for everyone to see, before placing it on the table face down. ‘He wanted to win the hearts of his peers,’ he continues, taking a ten of hearts and placing it face down on top of the joker, ‘but none would take him seriously. So one day, he decided to appeal to the king.’ At this point, he draws the king of diamonds from the deck, shows it, and then replaces it.

‘After being escorted by the guards into the palace and made to wait all day,’ he says, flicking the top face down card over to reveal that it’s no longer the ten of hearts, but a jack of spades, ‘the king finally took his audience.’ Here, he turns the other face down card over, to show the king of diamonds instead of the joker. There are a few claps and appreciative gasps for both expositions, at which point I offer my hat for tips. A few contribute, but not as many as I would like.

‘He said to the jester that if he completed all the tasks he was set, of which there would be three, then the king would grant him a title and have him welcomed at court. The first task was to seek out where his diamond crown had gone.’ Now pa dips into his deck, seemingly at random, and pulls out the ace of diamonds. He keeps it held up as he goes on. ‘And so the jester searched. He found the crown of hearts.’ Pa flicks the card and it turns into the ace of hearts. He does it twice more, pausing each time as he explains, ‘The crown of clubs. Of spades. But no diamond. Fearful that he would fail in his task, he approached the queen and told her of his dilemma.’ He flicks the card a final time, and it turns into the queen of diamonds.

More applause, but I hold off collecting for a few more beats. Wait for it…

‘She laughed, and told him to look where he’d least expect to find it. And so the jester pulled off his own hat,’ he says, grasping his own top hat, taking a breath, and then lifting it, ‘and on his head sat the diamond crown.’

As the crowd lays eyes on the ace of diamonds on pa’s head and applauds more enthusiastically this time, I whip round and gather their offerings. There’s more people joining by the second.

Short Stories

The Spectacle on Jingle Street

Max clung tightly to his mother’s hand as they crossed the street. She was so tall that her face was nothing but a shadow to him, framed by her wide brimmed hat. He wondered if he would even recognise her if he saw her when he was out with Nanny Kate. He thought not, for it was a rare thing to see her at all.

He sighed and looked around him. Unlike the previous winter, there was snow this year, and Max couldn’t stop staring at it. He remembered Nanny Kate telling him that it was made of flakes of frozen water, but Max thought it looked more like the white powdery sugar dust that she usually put on her cakes. It didn’t taste like it though.

‘Max, please refrain from eating that. I refuse to have people think that you are nothing but a filthy street urchin,’ his mother said, bending slightly to brush the snow off his jacket. He caught a glimpse of pale skin and wheat coloured hair, but then it was gone again, replaced by shadow. ‘I simply don’t understand why your father wished us to come out in such weather without a carriage at least; and to think we must walk past that awful spectacle on Jingle Street, too.’

Max looked up at her. He had no idea what a ‘spectacle’ was, but he had heard of Jingle Street. Nanny Kate had told him about it only a few weeks ago. She said that every year, on Christmas Eve, a group of performers would arrive and do the most dazzling things; acrobatics, dancing, fire breathing and playing fine music. At the end of it all, they would call all the children forth and give each one a present.

Nanny Kate had made it sound so wonderful that Max had pleaded with her to take him there; but she had simply smiled and said that Christmas Eve was an important day for her family and perhaps his mother would take him instead. He had doubted that very much and he had been right to, for no sooner had he asked her than she sent him to bed without any supper.

From what he had managed to overhear, the purpose of their outing this evening was for his mother and him to meet his father for a party at the ‘establishment’. The ‘establishment’ sounded rather terrifying to Max, for Nanny Kate had told him it was a place where many important people gathered to meet, though they often disliked each other and some, she had said, were even enemies.

The rules at the ‘establishment’ were strict; he was only allowed to wear his best clothes and he wasn’t allowed to run around or talk unless he was spoken to first. Nanny Kate had been most certain about that, for his parents’ reputation depended on it. He supposed that if it was that important, then he had better be on his best behaviour. Still, he wished Nanny Kate was here now, taking him for a walk in the snow and perhaps making the snowballs that she had told him so much about. He had spent the previous Christmas Eve’s with his other nannies, so he couldn’t understand why he had to go to this awful party. Why couldn’t he have gone wherever Nanny Kate had gone instead?

His mother turned down a small side street, walking so swiftly that he had to almost run to keep up with her. At the end she stopped and he heard her inhale deeply. Then, she marched out into the next street, her head held high and holding his hand so tightly that it began to hurt.

Max gasped. Large lanterns made of paper hung down from thick rope attached to the side of the buildings, lighting the entire street. They were every colour he had ever seen; bright blues, purples, greens, yellows, oranges and reds; even silver and gold. They extended back so far that he couldn’t even see when they ended. But that wasn’t all; there were men, with legs longer than most people were tall, gliding around with long, trailing costumes. There were rows of dancing girls in delicate gowns flowing just like water; they spun and leapt across the snow while tiny bells at their wrists and ankles tinkled gently.

Crowds of people, many of them children even younger than he, stood in the street to watch them all, laughing and joking with each other in a way that Max had never seen people do before.

Further back was a man surrounded by small fires and, as Max watched, he picked up the fire and ate it before breathing it back out with such force that the flames seemed to lick at the very moon.

‘Mother, did you see that?’ he asked, pulling excitedly at her arm.

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about, Max. Now come along, or else we shall be late,’ she replied without even glancing at him.

He sighed and looked at the ground, but then a voice caught his ears, singing a song so soft and sweet that he thought it would lift him off the ground and let him float about the sky, drifting on the wind. As they walked closer, the song became clearer and he realised he recognised the voice.

Jumping up, he saw over the heads of the other children crowded about the centre. There, standing in a gown of red velvet with her golden hair spilling down her back, was Nanny Kate. He had never seen her look so beautiful before; all she wore around him was her grey dress and apron with her hair pinned back tightly away from her face.

Tugging free of his mother’s grip, he ran forwards into the crowd, pushing and crawling past until he was right at the front. Nanny Kate saw him and smiled, coming to the end of her song.

‘Max,’ she said, stepping forwards off the platform she had been standing on. ‘You’re just in time, my father and I are about to hand out the presents.’

‘Why, of all the people!’ Max’s mother said behind him. ‘Nanny Kate, I cannot say how disappointed I am in you. To think that you are involved in all of this; encouraging my son to consort with such riff-raff!’

‘I’m sorry that you feel that way, Ma’am,’ Nanny Kate replied, a crease appearing at her brow. ‘I thought that perhaps you had brought Max here at his request.’

‘What foolishness. I would never consent to such an idea,’ his mother sniffed airily. ‘I shall expect you to hand in your notice first thing tomorrow morning.’

‘But Mother, it’s Christmas Day tomorrow. Don’t make Nanny Kate leave!’

‘That’s enough, Max. Now come along,’ she said, and pulled him back out of the crowd.

He looked at Nanny Kate and cried; large, fat tears rolling down his cheeks to drip in the snow. She looked back sadly, but smiled all the same. Then the other children crowded back around her, begging her to sing something else, and she was lost from his sight.

That evening went slower than any other time in Max’s life. He refused to talk to his mother and ignored everyone who tried to ask him something, even when his father took him aside and threatened to return all his presents to the shops if he didn’t behave.

When they arrived home, he was sent straight to bed. He went gladly, wishing desperately that he could run away from them both.   Jumping on his bed, he picked up his pillow and beat it angrily at the window.

‘Max?’

He stopped, thinking that he had imagined it. Nanny Kate couldn’t have returned and come into the room without his parents knowing.

The thought made him cry again, and he flung the pillow across the room and buried his head in the bedcovers.

‘Max, there’s no need to cry.’

He looked up. It had definitely been her voice, but how?

Looking around the room, he saw no-one, not even a shadow. Then he glanced at the window and gasped. There, as though it was a reflection, was Nanny Kate’s face, looking straight at him.

‘Nanny Kate?’ he said, touching the glass.

‘Yes, Max, it’s me, though this is just an image of myself. I have something to attend to at the moment, but I will be along shortly. Promise you won’t do anything bad until then?’ she asked softly.

Max nodded, unsure what to say. How was Nanny Kate doing this? What did she mean, an image of herself? She was here but not here. The thought made him dizzy.

‘Good boy,’ she replied with a smile. ‘I won’t be long.’

Her face vanished then, with Max’s own taking its place as he continued to stare at the glass.

 

He wasn’t sure when it was that he fell asleep, but he woke to a loud clatter on the roof.

A moment later, there was a rustling coming from the fireplace in his room, and, lighting the lamp beside him, he saw two feet appear under the chimney.

An old man ducked under the grate and walked out into the middle of the room, his long white beard hanging down to his knees. He wore a large red coat, trimmed at the collar with white wool.

As Max stared at him, another pair of feet appeared in the fireplace. Nanny Kate gracefully knelt down and came out, hopping over the grate to stand beside the old man. She still wore the red velvet gown that he had seen her wearing at Jingle Street, but now she was wearing a green cloak too, covered with holly berries and leaves embroidered in gold thread.

‘Good evening, Max,’ she said, embracing him fiercely as he ran over to her. She turned to the old man, who, Max saw, was also carrying a large sack made of patched leather. ‘This is my father. He wanted to give you a present earlier, but you left before he was able to.

‘A present? For me?’ Max asked, staring at the old man.

The old man smiled warmly and pulled a small package, wrapped in green and red paper, from his bag. ‘Here you are, young man,’ he said, placing it in Max’s hands.

With a nod from Nanny Kate, Max opened it. Inside was a silver pocket watch, with his name engraved on the inside. The dial was strange, for the numbers went round first in the usual order, but underneath they went in reverse.

Nanny Kate knelt down and took him around the shoulders. ‘Merry Christmas, Max,’ she said. ‘Remember, no matter what happens tomorrow, you can always speak to me by wishing on this pocket watch.’

‘I can?’ he asked.

She nodded. ‘Yes, but make sure your parents never find out about it. I would hate for them to take it from you.’

‘I will,’ he said seriously. The old man chuckled slightly.

Nanny Kate stood up. ‘We must go now, I’m afraid. Goodbye, Max.’

Both she and the old made stepped back into the fireplace, directly under the chimney. Max blinked and found they were gone.

He sniffed sadly and looked at the pocket watch, listening to the ticking of the second hand. There was something soothing about it, and soon he found himself back in bed, drifting gently off to sleep.

 

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Expectations of the Homo Sapien has a new cover!

Recently, I was introduced to Canva.com by the Facebook page Books Go Social, and discovered that I could make my own ebook covers either for free, if I didn’t use any images, or at a small fee ($10) if I used an image and wanted it for multiple uses. So, after much deliberation (well, not too much, because I knew it needed to be done) I made a new cover for my novelette, Expectations of the Homo Sapien, a story about a young professor attempting to teach the working classes evolution in Victorian England – a task which doesn’t go too well.

I knew my old cover didn’t really give any hints about what genre the story was in, and though I liked it for its simplicity, it didn’t have any intrigue to it at all:512ckcMx6aL

So I decided to make one with an image and font that gave a sense of the time period. Here’s what I ended up with:

A Novelette

The setting of the image is similar to one detailed in the story, and I like how the model appears to be waiting, or indeed, expecting, something, which I thought worked well with my title. I also love how dark the room is, because even though the story isn’t really dark, it does have its moments.

Anyway, I’m quite pleased with the results and find the new cover much more appealing. The Kindle version is live on Amazon now (though for some reason, when posting links on Facebook, the old cover still shows up in the page preview), and the paperback version should be live in a few days.