Posted in Events, Writing

The Michael & Debbie Double Act Strikes Again!

bcfm logoI always love doing radio, especially when the show’s presenter is a great friend. Today I was pleased to be the studio guest of Michael MacMahon, one of BCfm Silver Sound’s hosts.

About Michael and Me

Cover of The Wedding Speech HandbookI’ve known Michael for quite a few years now, having met through our shared interest in writing. Although Michael writes non-fiction books and I write mainly fiction, we get on famously and are often helping each other out in practical ways. Michael is a popular fixture at my Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, renowned for his rendition of Prospero’s speech from the Tempest at our closing ceremony. I’ve chaired his launch events for both of his books, and each time it has been great fun.

The most recent of these launches was just last month, for The Wedding Speech Handbook, when we dressed up as if for a wedding, complete with buttonholes, wedding cake, and in my case my best wedding hat!

Celebrating Michael’s new book about weddings in style (he’s seated, left in his DJ) 20181127 – Photo @JonCraig – 07778 606070

What We Talked About on the Show

Today on the Silver Sound show, we were talking about how and why people shouldn’t think in terms of retirement, but instead of how to reinvent themselves, as indeed both he and I have done with our writing careers. I was very interested to hear about Michael’s plans for his next book, interviewing people who have reinvented themselves in retirement – including my dad, who, as I mentioned on the show, embraced multiple artistic hobbies after a career in computer engineering.

How to Listen to the Show

If you’d like to hear our wide-ranging conversation, you can catch up with it online via BCfm’s website  www.bcfmradio.com/silversound Just click on “Silver Sound” in the programmes list, then on today’s date (20/12/18). We’re on for the first hour from 10am, chatting from about four minutes into the show, after the news at the top of the hour.

Post-Script Coincidence

After the show, we parted company, but a little later an email from Michael pinged into my inbox. “I get dozens of emails every day, but this was the first one I opened when I got home,” he wrote, forwarding the one he’d received to me:

screenshot of Amazon ad

I think Jeff Bezos must be watching us…

What’s Next for our Double-Act?

We’re hoping to stage a joint event on a wedding theme in the new year, involving both his Wedding Speech Handbook and my collection of short stories, Marry in Haste. More news to follow in due course!
For more information about Michael, his multi-faceted reinvention of himself, and his excellent books, visit his website, www.michaelmacmahon.com – or tune in to Silver Sound to catch his show!
 
Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

My Speech at the SilverWood Books Open Day

Photo of Debbie centre stage at the open day waving her book in the air
Shameless self-promotion of my handbook for authors, “Sell Your Books!” Photo copyright http://www.rebeccamillar.com

A post to follow up the recent Open Day at Foyles Bristol bookshop, organised by the author services company SilverWood Books

Last Saturday I was very pleased to be the opening speaker in SilverWood Books‘ autumn Open Day, which offered a great line-up of experts on writing and self-publishing. Thanks to the generous support of Foyles’ Bristol branch, SilverWood’s publishing director and her wonderful team were able to provide the event free of charge, creating a rare opportunity for a valuable learning experience affordable even to the most impoverished aspiring author.

This was a characteristically generous move from SilverWood, which not only helps authors self-publish beautiful books to a professional standard, but also offers lots of free information and advice on their website’s Learning Zone. They also publish, through their SilverWood Originals imprint, a range of books to help authors write, polish and market their books, including my own Sell Your Books!

For the first part of the event, I shared the platform with professional editor Agnes Davis and Diego Marano of Kobo Writing Life, who you can see in the photo at the top of this post. I usually speak from notecards rather than writing my talk in advance, but this time I decided to write the speech in full, partly because I wanted also to be able to share it with those who didn’t attend. So the rest of this post consists of my speech. It took 15 minutes to deliver, by the way, so I hope you’re sitting comfortably to read it…

Is Self-Publishing a Misnomer?

When to go it alone, and when to get help…and how to avoid the companies who really don’t have your best interests at heart.

I’m going to kick off with a quick definition of what it means to be self-published, and debunking some of the myths around self-publishing. After that, I’ll give you some pointers on when to go it alone, when to involve other people, and how to choose the right partners to make your self-published book the best it can be.

So, first of all – what is self-publishing? There’s a popular misconception that self-publishing is to publishing as home-baking is to buying ready meals – that if you don’t do it all yourself, you’re cheating.

Not so. What self-publishing really means is that the author takes control of the publishing process. It’s a bit like when an actor turns director. That’s why some people these days use a different term – the author-publisher, rather than the self-publisher.

As author-publisher, you assume all the responsibilities that a trade publisher has for publishing a book commercially. For a trade publisher, a cracking manuscript is only the starting point, which must then be nurtured through the production process, to turn it into a marketable book.

Let’s take a quick walk through of the production stages you need to pass through:

  • Writing. First, write your book –then amend, draft and rewrite it until your manuscript is the best you can make it.
  • Editing. Get it polished to perfection by a detached third party expert. Agnes will be talking more about that shortly – and also about
  • Proofreading, that close cousin of editing, to correct any errors that would distract the reader from your story.
  • Formatting. There’s a different formatting process for print and ebooks, which requires a completely dissimilar set of skills from those earlier processes. Note the mention of print – it’s another popular myth that self-publishing equals digital publishing, i.e. only ever ends up with an ebook.
  • Designing a cover. Not a question of choosing a nice picture for the front, but a complex process with lots of technical considerations, such as showing your book’s genre at a glance, and being easy to read at thumbnail size on a computer screen. So, not as simple as it first sounds.
  • Creating the blurb. That’s the copy on the back, to persuade readers to linger more than the standard 8 seconds of a typical bookshop browser. It should also create the right expectations, so that when the reader gets to the end of your book, they recommend it to others. Despite our digital age, word of mouth is still the most powerful way of selling books.
  • Marketing – finding readers to buy and read it! Ben Cameron will be talking about that later.

Now, you could try to do all of this yourself – and plenty of people do, because it’s very easy to do all of those processes, for no up-front cost, via free tools provided by online retailers. I say easy – it’s easy to do them, but much harder to do them to a professional standard.

If you’re just producing a book for fun or for only your family to read, that’s fine – you can easily do that on a photobook site such as Blurb or even on your computer printer at home, or you can publish it online as a website or blog.

But if you’re putting your book out there in the public eye, it needs to look professional. If not, you risk the wrath of the reading masses. If you have lots of typos, for example, expect to receive a string of poor reviews from people complaining about them – and those reviews will remain live online as long as your book does.  Or, if you let your book go out with a duff cover, it might disappear into a black hole, because no-one is attracted to buy it.

For an author to possess all the skills, experience and materials to carry out every part of the publishing process to a professional standard is about as likely as someone who decides to build their own home being able to do everything from drawing the plans to digging the foundations to putting on the roof without expert help. If, like me, you are a fan of the tv programme Grand Designs, you’ll know there’s nothing more guaranteed to raise the eyebrow of the lovely Kevin McCloud, than having one of his subjects gaily assert that they’ll be doing their own wiring, or some such task, in order to save a few quid. It’s a false economy.

So you need to recognise where your skills lie, and where there are gaps, before you go any further.

That’s not to say you can’t acquire expertise in some parts of the process. For example, if you’re good with IT and are a stickler for detail, learning to format an ebook is not that hard to do, provided you’re able to throw time at it. Though as with all of these processes, if you’re cash-rich and time-poor, buying in services will help you complete your project a whole lot faster – and it will also free up more time for you to write, which I suspect for most of us is what we really want most to be doing.

But other skills are much harder to acquire – the artistic and creative flair for cover design, as well as the technical know-how.

You might think editing and proofreading fall into the easy-to-do category. After all, aren’t you a writer? Isn’t that a key area of strength? But the hard truth is, you simply won’t have the necessary objectivity. Your eye will see what your brain remembers, not what your hands accidentally messed up while you were typing.

Whichever services you decide to outsource, there are cost implications. Before you commission any third-party service, you must do your sums and work out whether your project cost-justifies your proposed investment, including all the easily overlooked incidentals, such as shipping and petrol, postage and packing.

But that’s only if profit is your motive – maybe even breaking even doesn’t matter. You might consider your book project a hobby, to be funded, like any other, out of your own pocket. That’s fine too. Plenty of commercially published authors see no profit on their books, once they’ve factored in their hourly rate for writing the thing – they earn their real living from work associated with their books, such as journalism, merchandising and the after-dinner speaker circuit.

While writing and publishing your own book can be sufficient reward, regardless of money,  there are plenty of author-publishers who are earning a good living and more, from their self-published books. There are also plenty who start out as self-published, before being talent-spotted by commercial publishers keen to offer them contracts. Some accept gladly, it’s been their lifelong ambition. Others don’t, because they value the artistic and creative freedom – and the greater profit margins – that comes with being self-published.

But please don’t assume that you’ll make a fast buck. Self-publishing is a long, hard game. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and there are no guarantees. But the more professionally your produce books, the greater your chances of being a winner.

So how do you decide which service to use?

There are plenty of organisations and individuals willing to take your money offering you low cost options for every part of the process. Cover designs for a fiver? Book formatting for £50? You’ll easily find offers like this online, but as everywhere else in life, you get what you pay for… And if an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. Conversely, don’t assume the most expensive will offer the best service. It may just be a rip-off merchant.

Having decided which services you need to buy in, you have another decision to make: do you want them all under one roof, or are you happy dealing with lots of different subcontractors? Back to my earlier house-building analogy, you might feel more comfortable and less stressed with a project manager who will oversee and coordinate all of those services for you. This is where a company like SilverWood Books comes in, bringing to the game its experience of publishing hundreds of books in different formats across a wide range of genres. A contract with SilverWood not only brings everything under one roof, it gives you much more than the sum of the parts.

Helen Hart headshot at Open Day
SilverWood’s publishing director Helen Hart (copyright http://www.rebeccamillar.com)

With any service provider that you are considering using, check them out thoroughly before you commit. Ask for samples of their work, get references, keep asking questions until you’re satisfied. You’re the publisher, remember, you’re the one in charge. Whoever you choose, make sure they have your best interests at heart. There are plenty out there who don’t.

One notoriously dodgy practice is to offer the author a relatively low price for complete production services, but then to retain most of the revenue from sales, and even the rights. Thus the author is no longer owns the copy that he has written. Some also deny the author any control over how the book is produced, priced or marketed, so the author ends up with their book an over-priced lemon sold only where no customer is ever likely to find it. Others keep adding invisible extras resulting in a staggeringly high bill. Any of these scenarios is absolutely devastating when you’ve put your heart and soul into writing your book.

One of the reasons that it’s relatively easy for unscrupulous service providers to get away with such invidious practices is that they tell authors what they want to hear. A truly sound full-service provider will be honest with their authors, and if they’re shown a manuscript that really does not make the grade, they’ll say so, and then go on to help them improve it.

So how do you find the good guys?

You might have thought of looking through the adverts in writing magazines or searching online. The constraint with taking that route is that you’re reading only what the service provider wants to tell you  – not the opinion of an objective third party. Another way is to consult a directory called Choosing a Self-publishing Service Provider, produced by the Alliance of Independent Authors, commonly known as ALLi. Not only does it include a large number of service providers, it also has a very long section on how to choose the best service, in much more detail than I’ve had time for here today. It’s very low cost to buy, so it’s an excellent investment.

There’s also a way of getting this book free of charge which is by joining ALLi. A free copy of the book is one of many membership benefits, the most important of which is to put you in touch with other authors who are already successful self-publishers, to learn from their experience and to share best practice, including asking which services they can recommend.

I have to declare an interest here: I’m an author member and I also edit ALLi’s blog of self-publishing advice, which issues daily guidance for authors everywhere, written by the members themselves. I know we’ve got some ALLi members in the audience – can I have a show of hands please? All fine and honourable chaps as you can tell!

The Alliance includes not only successful author members – but also partner members who have been vetted to ensure they are ethical and trustworthy. Many of these partners also offer discounts to ALLi members. SilverWood Books is a partner member, as is Cameron Publicity, whose director Ben Cameron will be speaking later about marketing. Kobo, represented here by Diego Marano, is a generous industry sponsor of ALLi’s work – in fact they kindly allowed us to launch ALLi’s latest handbook, which I co-authored, on their stand at the London Book Fair earlier this year. Any other partner members or sponsors here that I’ve missed?

By the way, you don’t have to be already self-published to join ALLi  – there’s a discounted entry rate for associate members.  If you’re interested in finding out more about ALLi, please take a leaflet or speak to me about it afterwards, or if you prefer, leave your contact details on the sheet for me to contact you.

I hope that’s given you a clear idea of what modern self-publishing means, and of some of the things that you need to consider on your own self-publishing journey.

To sum up – remember that the self in self publishing reflects the focal point of control, rather than defining who does all the work. The person in control of the process is you, the author, and you call the shots. The good news is, that means you’ve got the best boss in the world!

Whatever your book project, whatever genre you’re working in, I wish you the best of luck with it. It’s an exciting, addictive process, and I’m sure today’s event here will help you enjoy it all the more.

© Debbie Young 2014 – not to be reproduced without written permission from the copyright owner

Photo of three SilverWood staff on a bench
The lovely SilverWood Books team (photo copyright http://www.rebeccamillar.com)

 For more information about SilverWood Books, visit their website: www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk.

Feel free to contact them directly by phone or email if you’d like to speak to them about your self-publishing project. They are all lovely people and will be very pleased to speak to you.

You might also be interested in entering their fab new competition that they’re running in collaboration with Kobo Writing Life – click here for more info. 

 

 

Posted in Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

My Interview on Alison Morton’s Blog

Selfie of Debbie Young with Alison Morton
Selfie with Alison Morton at the Romantic Novelists’ Association annual conference in July 2014

This post gives you the link to my interview by thriller writer Alison Morton and fills in a bit of background. 

I’m very pleased to be interviewed on Alison Morton’s action-packed author blog, under the deeply flattering headline “Debbie Young – Marketing Superstar”. (She knows how to charm, does Alison!)

In it, her interesting questions include a query as to whether I’ll ever write a novel and, if so, what would it be about. Hop over to her blog to find out the answers, and also to read more about her terrific Roma Nova series of alternative history thrillers (or alternate history, as the Americans call it, to the irritation of purists everywhere).

Here’s the link: Debbie Young’s interview on Alison Morton’s blog

More about Alison Morton

Cover of Inceptio by Alison MortonI’ve known Alison for a couple of years, during which our writing careers have been running in parallel.Not long after SilverWood Books published my authors’ marketing guide Sell Your Books!, Alison launched her first novel, Inceptio, assisted by SilverWood’s excellent author services.

Although Alison is energetic, computer-savvy and tremendously clever – in short, capable of doing all the self-publishing work herself – she preferred to delegate it to SilverWood, freeing up her own time to devote her time to writing and marketing her books.

At the SilverWood Open Day last September
At the SilverWood Open Day last September

Her strategy paid off, because she’s now published three books in the series – Inceptio, Perfiditas and Successio – and is writing the fourth. Her books have had fabulous reviews (including some from me here), they’ve won all sorts of awards, and she’s just been snapped up by A for Authors agency for her subsidiary and foreign rights.

Ironically, although Alison now lives and works in France, and I live in England, I’ve seen her more often than any other SilverWood author lately, our paths crossing at the London Book Fair, SilverWood’s Open Day, at the RNA Conference earlier this month, and other authors’ launches.

Cover of Successio
Alison’s latest book in the Roma Nova series

Or maybe it just feels that way because she has such a high profile on line. She’s also guested on my Off The Shelf Book Promotions blog, her latest appearance being to share her top tips for book promotion here.

Either way, she’s a great role model for any aspiring self-publishing author, and, as you can see from our selfie above, a lot of fun.

And if you’ve read this far without visiting my interview on her blog, do it now! Here’s that link again: Debbie Young’s interview on Alison Morton’s blog

 

Posted in Reading, Self-publishing

Lightbulb Moments About Independent Booksellers and My Reading Habits

(A post about revelations that came to me when setting up my virtual bookshop on the fun new http://www.myindependentbookstore.co.uk app)

Debbie Young photographed with David Ebsworth and Helen Hollick
At the launch of David Ebsworth’s “The Assassin’s Mark”, with Helen Hollick

Some time ago, after going through a phase of reading one book after another by the same few authors, I decided on two courses that would encourage me to read outside my comfort zone:

  • to read and review any books that I was offered, in particular self-published ones to support other indie authors
  • to join the local Historical Novel Society book group, having never knowingly chosen a historical novel for leisure reading

It was only when joining the new www.myindependentbookshop.co.uk website this morning that I realised that by chance I’ve discovered a preference for a very particular type of book that I’d never articulated before.

My Independent Bookshop

This site has just been launched this month by Penguin Random House purportedly to support the dwindling supply of independent bookshops in the UK. (Of course it does no harm to Penguin Random House’s reputation, either.)

It invites you to set up your own virtual bookshop and effectively play at being a bookseller. And before my overseas friends rush to try it out for themselves, I’m afraid this looks like a UK-only initiative so far, but maybe it’ll be heading for your shores soon. After all, those Random Penguins get everywhere…

You get to design your own shop from a range of templates and then choose up to 12 books that you’d like to recommend to others, beneath your own shop sign.

The result is a very pleasing pretend shop – and who hasn’t enjoyed playing shops at some point in their life?

Celebrating Indie & Self-Published Authors

I chose to call mine “Flying Off The Shelves With Debbie Young”, to reflect my book promotion advice website, Off The Shelf Book Promotions, and I decided to stock it entirely with self-published books by indie authors – because it’s harder for them to get their books stocked in real shops, despite the very high quality of the best indie books.

I’ve driven that point home with all the subtlety of a brick through a window by adding the strapline “Top Quality Fiction by Indie and Selfpublished Authors from Around the World”. (I’d have hyphenated the “selfpublished” but the site didn’t allow hyphens – hmmm.)

You don’t actually stock or sell the books on your shelves in real life – but if any readers take up your recommendations and buy a book you’ve suggested, the real-life bricks-and-mortar store that you’ve recommended will be sent a share of the profit (the rest, presumably, being absorbed by the website’s founders).

I’ve nominated Foyles in Bristol as mine, because I’ve been to some great indie author book launches there, such as the one pictured above. It’s also where I’ll be launching my paperback edition of Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes this autumn, thanks to some helpful negotiating by SilverWood Books with whom Foyles has a special working relationship – and because my own local independent bookstore, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, which has branches in Tetbury and Nailsworth, is not yet listed on the website’s database.

Early Quirks

Two old copies of Lewis Carroll books - Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass
My antique Alice books

As with any new site fresh out of beta-testing, there are a few glitches and quirks, such as not recognising a surprising number of books. Not only did it refuse to acknowledge some self-published books, which didn’t really surprise me, but it also had apparently never heard of my favourite book: Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. That narrowed down the choice of books that I could post on my virtual shelves.

The site also asks you to list three categories that characterise your reading, so that it can list your shop alongside similar stores. Although I do read very widely, not least because I review children’s books for the parenting magazine Today’s Child and an eclectic mix of books by contributors to Vine Leaves Literary Journal, I decided to narrow the focus of my pretend shop to the three types that make up the bulk of my leisure reading: contemporary fiction, literary fiction and short stories. I therefore omitted the children’s fiction from my shelves.

Inventing My Own Genre

Once I’d added my selection of 12 of the books I’ve most enjoyed in the last little while, the site asked me to write a paragraph describing my choice of books. Only as I was searching for words that summarised my choice did I realise that the following description held true for them all:

Gripping reads by gifted storytellers who will transport you to another time and place – fulfilling reading, whether you need something to stash in your suitcase for your travels or you prefer to tour the world from the comfort of your favourite fireside chair

Some are historical novels, some are contemporary, and trade publishers would never lump them all together under the same genre. Traditional genres are far too restrictive and unbending. Historical novels, for example, are defined by the Historical Novel Society as having been written at least 50 years after the event that they describe. But even though it falls outside conventional classifications, I’m still pleased to find there is a common bond between them all: transporting me to a different time and place. That made me realise what I need to look out for in future, when I’m seeking out a new read that I’ll enjoy.

Of course, I’ll still read more widely and just as voraciously as ever – but I was intrigued to discover this new common bond between the books that I’ve most enjoyed recently.

What’s On My Bookshelves?

And now the answer to the question that I’m sure you’re dying to ask: which twelve indie authors did I choose? They are (in alphabetical order by first name):

  • Ali Bacon
  • Alison Morton
  • David Ebsworth
  • Francis Guenette
  • Helen Hollick
  • Hilary Shepherd
  • Judith Barrow
  • Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn
  • Lucienne Boyce
  • Rohan Quine
  • Sandy Osborne
My Independent Bookshop logo
The logo of My Independent Bookshop website

But if you want to know which books they are, you’ll just have to go and visit my independent bookshop! Come inside, it’s open for business here!

(And yes, that is only 11 on the list – I took the liberty of putting Sell Your Books!, one of my own books in the twelfth slot, and in the next few days I’ll ring the changes by adding Opening Up To Indie Authors, which I co-authored for ALLi with Dan Holloway.)

By the way, I was unable to find all the books I wanted to include, such as Jane Davis;s fabulous novel I Stopped Timenot yet listed on the site,  Carol Cram’s The Towers of Tuscany and Orna Ross’s Blue Mercy.  All of these books exactly match my definition above.

The Most Important Question of All

So, I’ve had a couple of hours fun playing at pretend booksellers today, and it’s given me a nice warm feeling.

But as I put up my virtual “Closed” sign for the day, I do have one niggling question. Will this site really help reverse the fortunes of our struggling high street bookshops? Or is it a cynical ploy by larger forces to give readers the feeling of helping them, while actually encouraging them to place their orders on line? After all, the cut of the sale that will be passed on to your local nominated bricks-and-mortar store will be much less than if you’d actually visited their shop and bought the book in person. I’ll be very interested to hear what the REAL independent bookstores have to say about the issue – and if the boffins behind the new http://www.myindependentbookshop.co.uk site would like to reply, that would be terrific. Over to you!

  • How would you describe your favourite reading matter?
  • If you set up your own store within the www.myindependentbookshop.co.uk site, do come back and leave a link to it in the comments – I’d love to come shopping in it!
  • And if you’re the proprietor of an independent bookstore, do you welcome or dread this initiative? Do tell! 
Posted in Personal life, Reading, Type 1 diabetes, Writing

The Alchemy of Chocolate

Logo for the SilverWood Authors Spring Hop

Welcome to the SilverWood Authors Spring Hop!

“Some of SilverWood’s many authors have come together to share a variety of articles and items of interest on their blogs for your enjoyment.

“There are some lovely giveaway prizes, and – to stay in keeping with the Spring and rebirth theme at this time of year – some colourful Easter eggs.

“Feel free to collect the eggs, and use them where you like. They were drawn by SilverWood author Peter St John who writes the ‘Gang’ series about a boy who was evacuated to a village near Ipswich during WWII. Meet Peter and his characters on the Blog Hop, along with a host of eggcellent SilverWood authors. 😉

“Have fun!”

Helen Hart
Publishing Director
SilverWood Books
www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk

About My Spring Hop Post

Cover of my new book, "Coming To Terms with Type 1 Diabetes"
Cover design by SilverWood Books

My contribution to the blog hop is a light-hearted very short story that takes as its theme every woman’s love of chocolate. I’ve always loved chocolate, though my relationship with it hasn’t always been easy, especially since my daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 3.

But it is a complete myth that diabetics can’t eat chocolate – they can, they just need to give themselves enough insulin to offset it before they eat it. So if you know a diabetic and are wondering what to give them this Easter, don’t hesitate to give them a chocolate Easter egg – and not “diabetic chocolate” either, an evil concoction made with a sugar substitute that spoils the flavour and has no health benefit compared to normal chocolate. (Yes, there IS a health benefit – to dark chocolate, in moderation, and it’s a useful source of slow-release carbs, which is why Paula Radcliffe eats a couple of squares before running.)

This and other myths surrounding life with Type 1 diabetes will be dispelled in my new book, Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes,which SilverWood will be publishing in paperback form for World Diabetes Day, 14 November 2014. The ebook edition, for which SilverWood provided this beautiful and appropriate cover (the blue circle being the international symbol of diabetes), was published for World Diabetes Day 2013 to raise awareness of the condition and funds for research into a cure.  and has gathered many 5* reviews and has been called by a leading GP “one of the best things I’ve ever read about diabetes”. The paperback will have new bonus material added. To keep informed about the book’s progress, and for an invitation to the launch in Foyles’ Bristol Bookshop on Thursday 13th November, please click here to sign up for my mailing list.

Prize Time!

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my chocolate-inspired short story below – and if you like it, please leave a comment. As an incentive, one commenter drawn at random on the day my book is launched will receive a free signed copy of the new paperback – plus a slim bar of chocolate to use as a bookmark!

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Image of an Easter egg

 

The Alchemy of Chocolate

If you dip a wafer biscuit into a chocolate fountain enough times, eventually it won’t fit in your mouth. Much the same had happened with Jennifer’s body. It was as if every bar of chocolate that she’d ever eaten had been melted down and painted onto her frame.

Oozing into hidden places, the fat encroached so slowly at first that Jennifer was slow to notice her transformation. Then, one summer’s day while sunbathing on her lawn, she realised that she’d no longer pass the fat test she and her friends had used at school: the ability to lay a ruler flat across her hipbones. (That was the best use they’d found for their geometry sets).

By the time she came to squeeze into an old pair of cords for Bonfire Night, Jennifer observed that where her stomach had once been concave, it now billowed out, like a ship in full sail. No wonder sleeping on her tummy had become uncomfortable.

Trying on a party dress for New Year, she spotted that her waistline only curved inwards when elasticated clothing constrainied her flesh.

By the Spring solstice, the fat had found new places to hide. Her eyelids were thicker, and when inserting an earring, she had to push harder before the post emerged on the other side of the lobe.

Jennifer was glad when spring sunshine came early, because it gave her licence to go bare-legged. Lately, tights had become irksome. Unless she aligned their waistband precisely with that of her knickers, skirt and petticoat, her silhouette resembled the scalloped edge of a doily on a plate of cakes.

At Easter, Jennifer was quick to remove the temptation of her Easter eggs – by eating them. But then, at last, she decided to take action about her surplus fat. Precisely what action, she was not sure. She was unwilling to relinquish chocolate, or indeed any kind of food. Nor did she fancy exercising her way into shape. Poring over a list of how to burn calories, she was horrified by the ridiculous distance she’d have to run to work off a single bar of Dairy Milk. There had to be an easier way. It was just a question of dispersing fat rather than storing it.

Then, lulled to sleep on Midsummer’s Eve by an exceptionally delicious hot chocolate, Jennifer had a remarkable dream. She dreamed of the perfect recipe for weight loss.

Next morning on waking, she knew exactly what to do. She rushed downstairs to her kitchen and assembled in a mixing bowl the ingredients dictated by her dream. Instead of stopping to wonder how this magical formula could require only store-cupboard staples, she got on with beating the mixture, her wooden spoon a biscuit-coloured blur.

Once the batter was blended, she tipped it into a saucepan and set it over a low heat, chanting the mantra that had also come to her in the dream. When the mixture was smooth and warm as the perfect waistline, she decanted it into a jug and popped it in the fridge. She knew instinctively that this was the correct next step.

When she arrived at her office for work, she was so impatient for nightfall – the witching hour, or so her dream had told her – that she could hardly concentrate on her job.

As soon as she arrived home, she slipped on her nightie, took the jug from the fridge and with a medicine spoon measured out the dose prescribed in her dream. She swallowed the quivering spoonful in a rush, before she could change her mind and retired to bed to await the results. The anxious fluttering in her tummy didn’t stop her from tumbling into solid, dreamless sleep.

Waking next morning, she climbed out of bed, slipped off her nightdress and flung it distractedly on the bed. Reaching with her right hand behind the back of her neck, she grasped what the previous night’s dream had told her she would find just above the nubbly bone at the top of her spine: a trapezoidal zip-pull. She grasped the metal.

Bending her head forward to clear her long dark hair out of the way, Jennifer tugged the zip-pull between thumb and forefinger as far as she could. Then she stretched her left hand up behind her back to meet the right one, and continued pulling the zip down, slowly, slowly, till it reached the base of her backbone.

As the zip-pull stopped abruptly at her coccyx, the thick flesh covering Jennifer’s upper back and shoulders started to feel loose. Soon she was easing off the entire outer casing of flesh as instinctively as a snake sheds its skin. Wriggling her hips and thighs to dislodge this pudgy onesie, she sat down on the bed, peeled it off her calves and finally stepped out of it on to the bedside rug.

Only now did she have the courage to glance in the dressing table mirror. There, to her delight, in a flawless casing of fresh skin, was her slender teenage outline. It was like meeting a long-lost, much-missed friend.

Glancing down at the discarded, Jennifer-shaped fat that lay perfectly still on floor, she wondered what on earth to do with it.

But of course! It was recycling day. She could simply put it in the green wheelie bin. After all, it should compost down as readily as bacon rind. Better to throw it in the wheelie bin than put it out in the garden for the birds.

With a new lightness of tread, Jennifer took a few steps around the bedroom. She felt decidedly different. The top of her thighs no longer rubbed together, her arms lay straighter against her sides, and she no longer felt that her stomach had been lagged, like the insulating jacket wrapped round a hot water tank.

Beginning to enjoy the full effect, Jennifer turned this way and that. But it wasn’t the slim reflection in the dressing-table mirror that caused her to smile. It wasn’t the realisation that her low-cost recipe would fetch a fortune on the heaving market for diet products. Nor was it the recognition that she’d achieving every slimmer’s dream of alchemy, turning fat into gold. It was the thought that she could now eat as much chocolate as she liked, without ever having to worry about gaining weight. It was a dream come true.

 

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Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collectionThis story features in “Quick Change”, my first collection of flash fiction, which you can buy from Amazon here:  Quick Change.

My post is just one of many interesting articles in the SilverWood Spring Blog Hop. To hop forward to read these, please click on the links below. You’ll also find more colourful Easter eggs to collect and some more giveaway prizes!

 

Helen Hollick :  Let us Talk of Many Things  – Fictional Reality http://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/fictional-reality-silverwood-blog-hop.html

Alison Morton : Roma Nova – How the Romans Celebrated Spring http://alison-morton.com/2014/04/17/how-the-romans-celebrated-spring-2/

Anna Belfrage: Step inside…   – Is freezing in a garret a prerequisite? https://annabelfrage.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/is-freezing-in-a-garret-a-prerequisite/

Edward Hancox: Iceland Defrosted – Seaweed and cocoa http://icelanddefrosted.com/2014/04/16/silverwood-blog-hop-seaweed-cocoa/

Lucienne Boyce: Lucienne Boyce’ Blog – The Female Writer’s Apology http://francesca-scriblerus.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/the-female-writers-apology-or-then-and.html

Matlock the Hare:  Matlock the Hare Blog –  Pid-padding the self-published Pathway… http://matlockthehare.blogspot.co.uk/

Michael Wills:  Michael Wills – A Doomed Army http://www.michaelwills.eu/2014/04/a-doomed-army/

Isabel Burt: Friday Fruitfulness  –  Flees for the Easter Hop… http://isabelburt.com/ (her post will go live shortly)

John Rigg: An Ordinary Spectator – Television Lines http://www.anordinaryspectator.com/news-blog%20

Peter St John: Jenno’s Blog –  My Village http://jennospot.blogspot.fr/2014/04/my-village_16.html

Caz Greenham: Caz’s Devon Blog Diary – Springtime and Flowering Baskets http://www.wp.me/p3oYnS-n1

Helen Hart: SilverWood Books Ltd http://www.silverwoodbooks.co.uk/