Pricing rules for e-books, a rant

Hi all,

a rant on today’s blog.

In early September I am publishing a short story in my Planetfall scifi trilogy. I’ve made it available on Amazon, Lulu, iTunes, Kobo and some other platforms. Primarily, it is published via Amazon KDP and Lulu, and Lulu distributes to the other platforms.

Because it’s a short story, I have priced it very low. Let’s deal with why I’ve priced it first. My writing is not a hobby. It is a second job. I put a lot of effort and time into it, and I run at a loss on it: cover art costs money, ordering paperbook proofs for physical distribution costs money, I miss out on time with friends and loved ones, and people access and enjoy what I create. I think it’s OK to be paid for that.

Now, pricing. It’s a short story, just under 10,000 words, so I want it to be affordable. After some research on what short stories are selling for, I decided on a pricing point of 77p (about US99c). This matches the price of other short stories on Amazon Kindle, and is below the 99p that Shortfire Press charges (note: I agree with their pricing policy, but I am competing with the market conditions on Amazon). So far, so so sensible. A work in an established science fiction series, it’s price matches the market, and the royalty I make is about 24p. A tiny amount, but at least it’s something for the 3.5months of development time.

So what’s the problem?

On Lulu I priced it the same: 77p. And I ticked the options to distribute to iTunes, Kobo and the other markets to which Lulu gives you access. Unfortunately, due to licensing agreements, Lulu drops the price on other platforms. So a 77p list price on Lulu drops to 49p elsewhere. OK, so what?

Here’s the rub. Amazon demands that books sold through its platform can’t be priced higher than the same book available through other platforms. Their solution is to give you a few days to re-adjust the price, otherwise they block your book.

I went back to Lulu and tried to figure out the pricing differential. I raised the Lulu list price by 26p, so that 49p + 26p = 77p. Bingo? Not bingo :-(

Lulu’s licensing agreements means that its distribution to other platforms goes at two pricing points: 49p, then 99p. There’s no in-between.

This means (sigh) I have to make a decision: raise the price on Amazon above the point set by the market, or just have Amazon the cheapest.

It doesn’t seem fair to readers on other platforms to keep the Kindle version as the cheapest. And I also know that being relatively undiscovered and pricing myself above the rest of the (Kindle) market could backfire and result in fewer sales: Kindle is still where I sell most of my books.

I suspect I am going to have to raise the Kindle price at some point though.

What I find annoying about this is that I want to get my work to readers on whichever platform they’re using, and to ensure that the pricing is fair and consistent and fits into the prices the market has settled on. But I am falling foul of the distribution platforms putting in rules that force me to either lose readers or favour one set over another.

Well, that’s today’s rant. I’d be interested if other self-published authors have come across the same issue.

Hope your writing is going well, as ever,

astro x

 

Planetfall teaser story

Hi everyone,

In the next couple of weeks I’ll be publishing new material in my Planetfall trilogy. This is the first extension to Book 1: All Fall Down since it was published in early 2013.

I’m really excited!

The teaser story isn’t Book 2 in the trilogy. That will come out towards the end of 2015 (or at least that’s the intention). The teaser is an integral part of the story, however. It is a small slice out of the normal realm of the Planetfall world you know from Book 1, and it introduces key characters into the Planetfall universe. Importantly it builds on the emotional themes of Book 1 – desperation, standing on the edge of world changing events, anxiety – and brings more texture and depth.

To ensure the teaser fits into the rest of the Planetall trilogy, it will come with its own book cover art work.

I’m building up to publication via the trilogy’s Facebook page. All the posts are connected to the story somehow, either by selecting imagery, technical issues for the scifi geeks, or emotional themes. Please ‘Like’ it to get exclusive news – I’ll be unveiling the cover art on there when it’s ready.

I hope your writing and reading is going well. Remember you can find me on Twitter @astrotomato, it would be great to hear from you.

Best wishes,

astro x

London writing group seeks new members

Hi,

My writing group is looking for new members to join. Are you interested?

We are a serious writing group, and between us we have finished at least 2 novels each, self published works, have had plays produced or come 2nd place in national novel competitions.

We are looking for new members who:

  • can meet monthly for most months of the year (we meet on at least 10 out of 12 months)
  • are willing to share their own material for critique
  • will give some time to critique shared material from other members
  • are willing to learn and develop as writers, and
  • may be willing to host a meeting once every few months (we circulate between members).

Who are we?

My author profile is on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00AX49ZUE I am principally a novelist, and am currently working on a political comedy. I have a few short film or TV pilot scripts under my belt, as well as a collection of short stories, and am an alumnus of City University.

Tara Basi is a Birkbeck writers alumnus and a novelist and playwright. He writes dystopian fiction and satirical plays/radio plays. He is self-publishing his first novel this year.

Max Novaz is also an alumnus of Birkbeck, and is principally a playwright of farces, with his first production recently performed in Bedford. Max is currently working on a novel, and editing a play set in a Spanish holiday resort.

We are open to fellow writers of all levels of experience. A fondness for Rioja would be advantageous!

If you are interested, we are happy to meet somewhere public, on a trial basis, and to share material with you in advance so you can gauge the quality of our work and personalities. We generally meet on the last Friday of the month, but we are open to this. (Fridays allow for a drink after the writing talk.)

Please contact me, Graeme, on astrotomato@gmail.com or via DM on Twitter @astrotomato

All the best,

Graeme x

Rejection

I was fortunate to have an opportunity to pitch Sympathy for the Devil to an agent at the recent London Author Fair.

I’ve just received feedback. It’s a “no”.  But! I am enormously grateful to agent Meg Davis for her very kind and positive words on such an early draft.

Here’s an extract from her feedback:

image

That’s the sort of comment that keeps me motivated. Thank you.

Writing update 30 March 2014

A quick update on my writing projects.

 

Sympathy for the Devil

I have a full second draft of the novel, with a proper ending. The first draft was finished within three months (I think taking May-August 2013), and it’s taken another 7 months to properly re-write that initial draft. The first draft was about 70,000 words long, and the second draft is 96,000 words.

In terms of re-writing, I deleted the final 30,000 words of draft one and re-wrote from scratch, taking it into a completely different direction. Of the remaining 40,000 words from the original draft, at least 25,000 words were wholly re-written.

I think this is a good thing. Some initial drafts are strong and need tinkering. This initial draft was strong on the central character (Lucy) and a few key scenes, but had little direction or cohesiveness. I’ve had to put a huge amount of thought and research into giving story a logical structure, supporting characters with depth and multiple and rising tensions that make sense and keep complicating the story in an understandable way.

I think this full second draft of Sympathy for the Devil has an open and accessible style, which is what I was hoping for. (I contrast this with Planetfall, which was quite densely written for a scifi crowd who would already understand the kind of world put forward.)

I’m now resting Sympathy for a few weeks so that I can go back in a few weeks and make a few final tweaks. Afterwards, I’ll be sending it to a professional editor – and all suggestions on good editors are gratefully received.

 

Planetfall

I mentioned Planetfall, and there’s an update on this too.

Book one, All Fall Down, has now shifted over 500 copies through physical book sales and digital downloads. Reviews keep popping up on the Amazon page, which is satisfying. I’d really like to see more reviews on there – there are seven now. Thirty would be amazing. 

A plea – if you’ve read the book, please leave an honest review (whether you loved or loathed it, I don’t mind) on its Amazon page.

Book 2, Children of Fall, is still on hold while I’ve been writing Sympathy for the Devil. I’m hoping to be back with it by September 2014.

In the meantime, while I rest Sympathy, I am writing a short story set in the Planetfall universe. I’m hoping to release it on Kindle and other formats towards the end of May 2014. More updates as and when.

 

Other writing projects

Robocop fan fiction. A couple of years ago I started writing a Robocop fan fiction novella. I have now abandoned this.

Backpackers 2. I wrote half an opening chapter for a sequel to Backpackers. I’ve no idea where that might go. Maybe I’ll add the occasional thousand words here and there. Cath’s a hard character to shake off, and the format – short stories linked together by a single character – is still attractive to me.

Job Centre sitcom script. I was really pleased with the spec script I wrote in 2012. This is now shelved due to lack of time. 

 

Future writing projects

I’ve agreed to co-write a script, probably for a short stage play but potentially a pilot script for a series. The subject will be on mental health, and work will hopefully start around November or December 2014.

Writing update 02 March 2014

It’s been a long time since I blogged about writing, at least in this long form. (I do use Twitter every day to talk about writing @astrotomato).

The back half of 2013 proved an eventful time. Lots of things happened in my private life which aren’t for a public forum, except to say that they took my spare time and energy, and things like blogging had to go by the wayside. I had hoped to spend the summer giving critical feedback to an author called Len, who shared his psychics/action thriller with me. I owe him an apology for not being able to do that, but no longer have the email address (if you’re out there, apologies). Life happened, but I should have found time to say that I couldn’t fulfil your request.

The rest of my spare time, when I had the mental space, was focused on writing Sympathy for the Devil. This is my 3rd completed novel, and I am now almost at the end of the 3rd draft.

Sympathy has gone through a lot of changes since I wrote the first draft in an intense 3 month period between May-August 2013. Before Christmas I deleted the final 1/3 of the book, 30,000 words. I suspect this will sound horrifying to some authors; I found it liberating. With the 2nd draft I had started to hone in on some of the core drama at the heart of the book, and I also had to change one of the key characters, who was frankly too boring. Those early changes meant the end of the book no longer matched the beginning. With a blank page, I was able to pull a completely different story into focus, a stronger story, and one which had more action and more opportunity for insight into political satire.

The accepted wisdom about writing is that it’s mostly re-writing, and I think this pretty much proves that.

Within the next month I hope to have a final 3rd draft ready to go to a professional editor. Neither of my 2 self-published books have been through professional editing, due to lack of funds. I’ve saved up for this one, and am looking forward to having an experienced eye look over the structure and character and dramatic flow (as well as spotting those annoying typos).

All of this means I see an end point approaching. At some point this year, the book will be finished and ready to send to agents. I’ve started airing it already. On Friday I was at the inaugural London Author Fair, where I pitched Sympathy to a literary agent. Her feedback was that satires aren’t hugely popular with publishers, and that they’ll only pick up one or two a year. I appreciated her honesty, it means when I submit to other agents that I won’t be expecting to hit a lucrative market. That’s OK. Managed expectations are better than unrealistic expectations.

In May I hope to send out the draft of Sympathy to my beta reading group. If you’d like to be one of them, let me know. You’ll get to read a book for ‘free’, in return for sending me 1 page of critical feedback. All of my books have gone through this process, and benefited enormously from real reader feedback.

I hope you writing is going well,

astro x

London Author Fair 2014

I was pleased to attend the inaugural London Author Fair yesterday. It’s a great indication, I think, of how far the publishing industry has come in supporting its lifeblood: authors.

The fair was structured around a day of seminars and workshops, covering everything from digital publishing, through cover design, what literary agents do, and how the distribution industry works. There were representatives from Kobo, Nook, Blurb, Amazon (Kindle, Createspace) and a host of other providers in the new publishing industry.

And let’s acknowledge that straight away.

The publishing isn’t going through change. It has changed. Traditionally published (ie, physical) books now account for 80% of total sales. Go back 10 years and that was 100%. 1 in 5 books now sold is digital.

And the industry, I think, is adapting incredibly well. I say that because I look at the music business, which utterly failed to respond to digital music formats in the 90s. Arguably, large parts of the music business are still struggling with digital, although the last few years have seen significant improvements, with the likes of Google Music, Spotify and other streaming services starting to drive the market.

Publishing has long been the preserve of a few lucky people. Musicians can gig anywhere – busking, bar gigs, small venues in focused regions. No such audience for the author, who traditionally could get published by getting snapped up by an agent, or going to enormous expense and vanity publishing.

Now an author can cut out the entire middle bit of the industry and go from writer to publishing on their laptop.

And so back to the London Author Fair. Most of the seminars were focused entirely on this. And the technical content (as mentioned above, like cover design) was matched by this strong message: authors may no longer need agents or publishers, but that means they too need to adapt.

Authors have to think of themselves differently now. No longer the tortured artist slaving over a typewriter.

An author is now a business person.

That puts us right in the realm of showbusiness. We might have a book to show off, but no one ever made (much) money by simply showing up or showing off. No, people make money by accepting that the money from ‘show’ comes from tying it to ‘business’. Now that might be anathema for some, it might be uncomfortable or alien to others. But this message needs to go out strongly and be repeated by all authors now entering the market:

An author creates (writes) a product (a book) and is responsible for taking it to a market (a set of readers who like that kind of book).

There is no way to escape this.

I was pleased that this message came through in the seminars at the London Author Fair. We are the CEO of our own small businesses. Like any businesses, as CEO we might not be good at marketing, we may be weaker on finance, we may have started in logistics and now have responsibility for the art department. But as CEO we don’t have to do all of those things, we simply have to accept responsibility for ensuring they are done.

This is an important distinction. All of us authors are responsible for producing one thing: the story. It’s then up to us to find out how to run the rest of our business. That will mean employing others. Employment might be on a temporary basis: hiring someone to design a book cover, contracting a professional editor, perhaps even asking a friend to upload a manuscript to Kindle and do the tech-y things. More successful authors, those who earn millions, have researchers and publicists and managers, all employed from their income. They get it. They understand that to be successful they need to be business-like. And we need to get it to.

That’s the challenge I took away from the London Author Fair 2014: think like a business. Act like a business. Market your product. Find your product’s niche in the market and exploit it. Have a marketing plan. Look after the finances. And if the market doesn’t want the product, go back to the drawing board, do some research, find out what it does like, be humble, and create content that fits a niche.

It’s a hard lesson to learn. It’s an essential lesson to learn. And I think the London Author Fair 2014 did a great job of showing the publishing industry has woken up to authors, and of pushing that challenge back to us. I’m taking it on board. And to my fellow authors, I challenge you to take it on board, too.

As ever, good luck with your writing, and I’m happy to hear everyone’s thoughts.

astro x

The Short Story: A Way for a Writer to Experiment?

Originally posted on Creative Writing with the Crimson League:

test-tubes-1256556-mEarlier this week, to commemorate my mom’s birthday, I wrote about a fun memory: how she taught the value of branching out and trying new things. This is no less applicable to writing fiction: all authors need to stretch themselves and leave their comfort zone to develop new skills.

What are some ways to do that, though?

Well, of course, there’s always reading. Find an example of a great novel that exhibits the qualities you want to try out, to see what makes the technique work.

When it comes to giving that technique a shot on your end, though, the short story is GREAT for experimentation!

I realize none of those observations are particularly deep or earth-shatteringly brilliant. Still, I’m sure I’m not the only novelist out there who avoids writing short stories, and I think that’s not good for me.

I don’t think it’s good for any writer to…

View original 788 more words

A sneak peek at “Sympathy for the Devil”

Since April I’ve been writing a novel which I’ve heretofore called a “secret project”, simply because I had no title for it.

Around early August I hit upon a title: Sympathy for the Devil. And at the same time I finished the first draft of the novel. It was a quick turnaround for a first draft: about 4 months, writing in my spare time outside work.

During August I rested the material and started writing some new material for Sympathy, with the intention of matching it up when I started editing. I find this an important exercise when writing – it gives me an opportunity to ‘brain dump’ material that never quite made it into the first rush through the narrative, or which might give clues for editing or character or plot development.

Longer-time readers will know that I occasionally publish rejected material for my books, and I’m repeating that habit here. Pasted in below is a rejected Chapter One for Sympathy. There’s nothing wrong per se with the writing, except for one thing: the tone and voice of the material, and the narrative perspective, doesn’t fit the rest of the book. This rejected Chapter One is written from a 3rd person omniscient point of view, whereas the rest is from a 1st person. And this text includes a confused amount of the unique voice of the main character. On which note, a warning: the main character’s voice is in poor grammar, so you’ll see wrong words in places. These are deliberate, not typos. Spelling mistakes are typos, but poor grammar isn’t.

I owe a debt of thanks to my writing circle for convincing me to reject this material.

If you’re still reading by this point, and want a sneak peek at Sympathy for the Devil, then here you go. This is the real background to the novel, but the material won’t make it into the final edit.

Enjoy,

astro x

Sympathy for the Devil:

[REJECTED & UNEDITED]

Chapter One – 1984 CE, 1945 CE, 61 CE

It started in many places. Three, if you want to focus. But who’s to say they was more important than another three? Let me pick one for you, though, my love. Because you’re new to this and you want to know what’s going on, ain’t I right?

Now how do I know where it started, you’re wondering? Me and all. Well, there’s some things what you just know. Know what I mean?

It started up north in Yorkshire in 1984CE, when Little Ruthie put up her hand and said, “My dad says there’s no such thing as G-d. He says there’s no need for G-d in nineteen eighty four.”

Mr. Sowerby, who was her teacher, held his hand behind his back. Between thumb and forefinger he squeezed the stick of compressed skeletons what he wrote confused facts with about people long since dead. “Does he now? I know your dad. Taught him in this very classroom, Miss Willoughby.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“He,”

“But he does say that Margaret Thatcher is the devil.”

“Really?” Squeeze. “And who is the Saviour, then?” A smile full of pride on his face.

“Mr. Scargill, dad says.”

“That donkey jacketed,” squeeze, but she interrupted again.

“Sir, my dad says Manvers will never be closed. That’s why Mr. Scargill’s got them to walk out. To keep it open.”

“So he’s a picket, is he? Always was a trouble maker. You listen to me. Your dad could have had a proper job, rather than being buried underground ten hours a day hitting rocks. Thatcher’s Britain doesn’t need uneducated oafs. It needs people with O levels and ambition. Britain needs strivers, not miners.”

You can imagine him thinking, There, that shut her up. Ten years old and full of herself.

“Sir?”

“Miss. Willoughby.”

“My dad says Mrs. Thatcher is a complete,”

“We’ve all heard quite enough from you, Miss Willoughby. Let’s return to your religious,”

“When I’m Prime Minister I’ll re-open Manvers.”

Little Ruthie ducked as the chalk flew over her head and shattered on the wall behind her. It made a high pitched chink when it struck the tiled floor, where it rolled from side to side to side to side. Children looked every which way.

“There’ll be no presumption in this class, you hear me? This is a religious education lesson. I am in control.”

O’d faces all around the class. No one had ever seen Sowerby mad.

Little Ruthie looked at him and opened her mouth to speak.

“Enough!” he shouted.

“I’m telling my dad on you.”

“Tell him all you like. If you can get him off the picket line. These strikers care more about coal than they do their families. Now, anyone else wish to discuss the politics of Communists? No? Good. Then please open your bibles to the Book of Job.”

Little Ruthie flicked through the pages. Her eyes was out the window, on the distant colliery where the wheel no longer turned. No fun fairs went to Wath, not any more. The only spinning lights came from the riot vans at the coal plant.

One day, she thought, one day I’ll prove my dad’s right.

-

And it started in London in 1945CE, where it carried on decades later. And sometimes for startings, names ain’t so important, not now and not after.

“Let’s see,” said the girl. “Is it really Mr. Churchill?”

“He’s with someone. Who is it?”

“Shh, shh, he’s gonna speak.” The girl craned her neck.

“He’s done us ever so proud,” said someone nearby.

“It’s his victory what’s freed us,” said a woman close to the girl.

“We should all say that, eh?” said the girl. “Shout at him, ‘It’s your victory!’”

“’It’s your victory.’ I like that. Here, mate, you hear what she said?”

And so on through the crowd.

Winston Churchill took the balcony of the Ministry of Health, abet by two colleagues. The skies were finally clear. That nice Mr. Hitler’s bombs and doodlebugs and V2 rockets were silent, his scientists fled to America to dream of space and rocket ships.

“Here he goes, shh shh,” said the girl.

On different sides of the throng of people, two men dressed almost identically started pushing their way in. They thought very similar thoughts and were headed for the same point in the crowd. Each was in a smart wool suit, fedora, Mackintosh coat. Even in the crowds they cut a dash, while their eyes and elbows cut a swathe. One was tall, the other short. From a distance that was the only difference.

“G-d bless you all. This is your victory!” said Winston Churchill from the balcony.

“No, it is yours!” shouted the crowd. People looked around at each other. They’d done it, said the thing all together. There was that spirit, still working together, singing the same message. They all cheered. It was a new dawn, a new day. Britain was a community, working together to defeat National Socialism. Now Britain was victorious, triumphant.

Churchill looked down at the crowds of people: nurses, labourers, soldiers, children.

“It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land,” he continued. “In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this.”

In the crowd, the two men pushed, separately, through hugging friends and wormed through strangers bonded over that singular moment of triumph.

“Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the unbending resolve of the British nation. G-d bless you all.”

Applause. Cheers. Hats thrown in the air in that way what don’t happen no more. London in celebration, a nation glued to its valve-radios and memories of steamer ships and Victorian colonies. Flags flipped back and forth, hearts swelled with pride, relief and grief and loss.

In the crowd there was a surge, and it pushed a gentleman against the girl.

Further back, another gentleman looked on, eyes flat. He tipped his hat and turned: it was too late. He would have to wait. He disappeared into the crowd, melted away into London and the world and future plans.

She, the girl, looked round, briefly, at the contact. People pushing didn’t bother her. It was a crowd. Besides, she thought, it was gentle and felt nice. Sort of cosy, like. And she knew the cues, the signals, how her profession worked.

Churchill carried on talking, but the girl had places to go. There was money to earn, bread to put on a table. She turned and looked up into a smile and a twinkle.

“Quite the speaker, isn’t he?” said the man behind her. Nice hat, she thought. Nice suit.

“Did you hear what he said?” she smiled back. “We all done our best. No one ever said that before. Least not to me.”

The man looked into her eyes, “I wonder if a victory gin would be appropriate?”

“For you or for me?”

“For us both.”

“Sauce. Don’t even know you.”

“Perhaps,” and he leaned until his breath stroked the fine hair on her earlobe, “today demands the spirit of triumph, rather than the spirit of propriety.”

She looked at him, her hands fiddling with a purse, irises never quite settling in one place. “Where was you stationed?” she asked. “Gotta know you’re respectable, ain’t I?”

“North Africa, originally,” he said, and pulled back, adjusting his hat.

“Rommel and Montgomery?” she weren’t quite sure who they were. Surviving the Blitz and keeping up with what was happening over in France had taken all her time. But everyone knew the names, and it had always been enough to strike up a conversation with other clients.

“Something like that,” the man smiled. “What’s your name?”

She tugged his tie, gently, gently smiling, “No names today, Mr. Desert Fox. Gin and triumph only. Alright?”

He offered his arm, and they fought their way out of a cheering crowd.

They drank in a little place he knew, and then went to a quiet back street hotel where they saw in the dawn.

By the morning he was gone. Despite her insistence that the night was a celebration, there was still a pile of money on the dresser. “Bloody men,” she whispered.

A knock on the door, “You’ve had your fun. Ten minutes, then I call the police. Back to normal, missy. This is a respectable place.”

The girl pulled her clothes on and picked up the money. “Bloody Nora,” and she looked to the window, even though she knew he wouldn’t be outside, standing by a lamp-post, looking up at the window, waiting for a reaction. “Gin and triumph,” she whispered. She left behind the stained and crumpled bed sheets, and entered that new world with a swing in her step and a seed in her belly.

-

And it started somewhere above Watford, in Northamptonshire, long before it were called that in 64CE. It were somewhere along the Fosse Way, after the sacking of Londinium and Camulodonum and Verulamium. Bodies of Romans strew the land. And the warriors of the Iceni and Trinovantes and the other tribes lay with them, their blood seeping into the mystical land of northern Europe, that land what the Greeks called Albion. Cos sometimes stories don’t start all together. Sometimes you gotta go way back to the roots, ain’t ya?

“We are defeated.”

“My Queen, the Romans are too many and too strong. It’s impossible. Their ships arrive every day with more soldiers.”

“Send word Corslan. Despatch a rider to the Fair Folk. Then tell the tribal chieftans. Those who want to remain may do so. But we will take our armies and those who will come with us, and retreat.”

“My lady?”

“We retreat to Tír inna n-Óc until the time is right.”

“Retreat? But the Romans will spread and take Britain.”

“We will abide. The Fair Folk will provide a champion. When the time is right we will win back Ierne and Albion from the foreign invaders.”

“Yes, my lady.”

“Albion will endure.”

-

Little Ruthie, Ruth Willoughby, ten year old Yorkshire lass. Hair pulled back under an Alice-band. School bag decorated with pins for Bananarama and Adam and the Ants.

The streets of Wath-upon-Dearne was decorated with banners, “SUPPORT THE MINERS”.

Policemen walked around in pairs or sat in riot vans, bored, waiting for something to happen. Pissy little mining towns with their upstart miners. Why couldn’t they just get other jobs?

Men in donkey jackets stood at braziers, watching pathetic flames lick at the cold air. The great chimney at the colliery was quiet, its usual belch settled in its belly. The men grumbled about the lack of jobs, and talked about the families what had moved south, to the factories of the Midlands. One family had even moved to the south coast to open a bed and breakfast. Not one of the men could bring themselves to call those who’d gone traitors. But still the word floated in the air between them, missing its lightning rod. Traitors. Traitors. Traitors.

“It’s John’s girl,” one of the men nodded his head at Little Ruthie. “John! Your lass is here.”

John Willoughby was stood in a group of miners, a confabulation.

“Ruthie, come ‘ere love,” suddenly all smiles for his daughter.

Over their shoulders, the coal ramps were still. The site was asleep, the workers was outside and above ground, and the coal slumbered in its bed.

“Bring her along, John. She should see,” said one of the other men.

“You want to come to Orgreaves, Ruthie? We’re going on a demo up Rotherham way.”

“OK.”

“It might be a bit scary. Lots of pigs around.”

Little Ruthie held her dad’s hand. The callouses and ground-in coal dust were home, her tiny hand was soft and clean, now smudged with that solid fuel that burns so well. She could smell her dad a mile away, the pit was in his lungs and his bones.

“Will Margaret Thatcher be there?”

“Trained her well, John!” shouted the men behind him. They laughed and turned away.

“No, she won’t come up here. Them politicians don’t care, Ruthie. We have to care instead. Listen, don’t tell your mam we’re away to Orgreaves, you know how she is.”

“I’ll say I’m at Nanny and Granda’s, don’t worry.”

“There’s my girl.”

A coach pulled up. Men moved and shared cigarettes, small roll-ups which drooped and went flat between their fingers.

Little Ruthie climbed onto the bus, the only girl amongst those grown-up men, strikers, pit workers.

Little Ruthie went on the bus to Orgreaves, her first demonstration.

Ten year old Little Ruthie darted between the legs of policemen and strikers alike, avoiding the truncheons and flung stones.

Little Ruthie hid behind a police car, hating its protection, and watched her dad struck, fall to the floor, blood on the tarmac and flow between its cracks where grass pushed up, ever hopeful.

Ten year old Little Ruthie hated Margaret Thatcher.

Little Ruthie, Ruth Willoughby, cradled her dad, John Willoughby, while he held his cut head and looked at his blood on the soil of his country. “Never forget, Ruthie,” he said, all the way to the hospital, and all the way home. “Never forget.”

-

The girl quit her old job. Not that there was a boss to tell. She just stopped turning up at the regular places.

The man had left her more money than she earned in three years. Five. She bought a house, decorated, bought plants. Started a small allotment. Dig for victory! still rang in her mind.

She took up sewing work.

Well, she had to. She knew almost immediately that the gin and triumph of victory in Europe had become motherhood and hope. The other girls told her about back street doctors, about women who had gin and coat hangers and hot baths and towels.

“No. It’s a new start,” she told them.

And forty weeks later, she gave birth in that small house, and as the midwife was tidying her room, the man walked in and sat down. Bold as brass. Nary a word nor letter in between before and then.

“Mr. Desert Fox,” she said, hair slick to her forehead. The baby was clamped to her nipple, gumming it, blind, a maggot squirming in swaddling. “Had a feeling you’d be back.”

“Wild horses and all that. So, boy or girl?” He took a seat from the opposite side of the room and put it next to the bed. No other introduction or by your leave. No explanation. Straight in, treated the place like it was his. Which.

“Girl,” said the girl. Woman now. Mother.

“She’s perfect,” said the midwife. “Don’t mind me, I’ll be on my way. I’ll pop in tomorrow, see how you are. Good day,” a professional nod to the man. She saw similar things every day. A baby boom, she called it. The Victory Effect, others said.

“You left me alone at that hotel,” said the woman, mother. She stared at her daughter’s face, the gummy eyes.

“Duty called.”

“It’s OK. Thank you for,” she looked at the walls of the house and around. “What shall we call her?”

Straight away, “Lucy. The light bearer. The morning star.”

“Morning star, I like that. Here, Lucy, meet your father.”

The man held his daughter and looked into her face, “Lucy. You’re going to run this country one day.”

“You can hold her a bit longer,” said the woman, “I need my sleep. Do you mind?”

“Of course not.” The man walked away with the baby and left the mother to sleep.

When the midwife returned the following day, she found the woman still in bed, propped up on pillows. Her face was serene. Possibly the most beautiful face the midwife had ever seen. Not for her natural beauty; she was plain at best. But for the look of deep contentment and peace which had settled over her.

Shame, thought the midwife. The bed sheets was already turning black, the blood dried to a resin.

“Haemorrhage,” the midwife shook her head. “Where’s little miss? She’ll need a wet nurse.”

But the baby weren’t anywhere to be seen.

-

“My lady. We have what villagers will come. Some of our warriors have chosen to stay.”

“Very well. And the Romans?”

“Sending heralds to the other tribes. They will soon know of our defeat.”

“Queen Boudicca is never defeated.”

“No, my lady.”

Queen Boudicca looked over a stone fence at the rolling green of Albion. “I have a final mission for you. This is your life’s work.”

“My lady?”

“My son. I’m appointing you as his protector, Corslan.”

“I’m honoured. But,”

“I am not going with you. I am the last of the Iceni. Britain goes under Roman rule. But promise me one thing, Corslan, Steward of Britain.”

He said nothing, instead standing straighter and looking to the horizon.

“These islands, Albion and Ierne, will soon be over-run with Romans and their gods. The Fair Folk have agreed to grant you the power of Tír inna n-Óc. We will absorb the Romans, they will become British, and we will win the slow victory. But others will come behind them. New people, new gods. Defend our lands, Corslan, defend Britain against the darkness, against chaos, against anyone who does not hold our values.”

“Yes, my Queen.”

“And when the time is right, put my son on the throne of this land.”

“And what about you?”

She reached out, a muddy hand in a misty field on a young captain’s shoulder. He became a Queen’s knight, “I will become myth. Legend. We shall not meet again. But my spirit will be in this land evermore.”

Corslan kept his gaze on the horizon, “The morning star is risen.”

“Sunrise approaches. Take our people. Protect my son.”

“He shall take the throne, Queen Boudicca. For Albion.”

“For Albion.”

[end]

Editing Sympathy for the Devil

Writing update 26/08/2013

I finished a first draft of Sympathy for the Devil, my new novel. The novel started well, but I wrote it without a thought on overall plot, which meant it went awry near the end.

The first edit I’m doing is for grammar, fill in sentences and tidying up the dialect it was written in. I find it hard to edit when there are simple readability errors in the text.

The next edit will be for storyline. There are 2 significant sub-plots which need considerable strengthening or re-writing.

Overall, though, I’m please with the first draft, and looking forward to a stronger novel coming into shape throughout September and October.

I may post some sections of it as editing goes on – maybe of deleted material to give a taste of the novel’s tone.

Hope you are all enjoying your own writing,

astro x