Archive | December 2013

Smoke Them Out

The old man pauses at the window. The girl sits on the pavement opposite. No expression: just a pair of dark glasses and the handwritten sign beside her.

The maitre d’ hovers. It’s lunchtime. The restaurant’s full and he’s juggling diners and tables. He needs to keep the customers flowing, which means no time for indecision.

‘Do you need to see a menu, sir?’

ninjasThe old man ignores him. Keeps staring out at the girl.

It looks as if the girl is staring back. Not that she could be. The windows are tinted and it’s too dark inside anyway. It’s just what she does. Sits on the pavement with her sign and stares into space.

The maitre d’ blinks. It’s the only sign of his impatience. Some people he can bully along; a gentle cough and a supercilious expression all that’s needed to remind them who’s in control here. This man, though, needs treating with much more care. Partly due to his age but mostly because of the influence he wields.

The old man frowns. ‘Strange message, eh?’

‘Yes, sir.’ The maitre d’ bobs his head in agreement. ‘She’s an odd girl.’

‘Know her, do you?’

‘I wouldn’t say that, sir, but she’s become a bit of a fixture.’

‘Often there is she?’

‘Come rain or shine, sir. Always there, same coat, same sign. I think she’s been sitting there since last autumn.’

‘All through the winter?’

‘Every day, sir. Not really normal behaviour.’

The old man looks thoughtful. ‘And always the same sign?’

‘Always, sir.’

‘Hmm.’ The old man nods. ‘Call my driver, will you. Tell him to come back and pick me up.’

The maitre d’ blinks. ‘But… your table?’

‘I’m not hungry any more.’

She’s watched for several days. On Friday morning, the Rolls pulls up beside her while she’s still a couple of streets away from her usual spot. She looks at the car: wary but unsurprised. The grip on her piece of cardboard is light and she’s already half on the balls of her feet, poised to sprint.

When the window rolls down and she sees the patrician features inside, the girl relaxes. A fraction.

‘Good morning.’ The old man nods. ‘I think you’ve been looking for me.’

Her head tilts to one side. ‘Really? How do you work that out?’

He waves a hand at the sign. It’s a different piece of cardboard but the message is the same: My father was killed by ninjas. Need money for karate lessons.

‘This?’ She laughs. ‘It’s just a joke. Get a smile out of people and they’re more likely to give money.’

‘Hmm. Is that really why you sit at that same spot every day?’

‘I’m a creature of habit.’

‘But why there?’

‘Rich people go to the restaurant across the road.’

‘But rich people aren’t generous to beggars. That’s how they get to be rich.’

‘Only takes one rich person to change your life.’

He smiles. He appreciates the verbal sparring but that’s not why he’s here. ‘It’s not because you’re just around the corner from the stock exchange? You’re not looking for anyone in particular?’

‘If they give me money, I don’t care who they are.’

‘Who were the ninjas?’

She shakes her head. ‘I told you it was just a joke.’

‘Fine.’ He sighs. ‘What if I told you that I knew your father?’

The dark glasses hide her eyes but a subtle change in her posture tells him he’s got her attention.

‘Do you want to get in the car. We can talk somewhere comfortable.’

She recoils slightly.

‘It’s also probably safer than out on the pavement. There could be people watching. You probably don’t want to be seen talking to me.’

The girl looks hesitant. ‘Why would anyone be watching me?’

The old man smiles. ‘They probably aren’t. But it’s best to be safe. The ninjas wouldn’t want anyone coming looking for revenge. If you’re looking for them, they might hear about it.’

She shakes her head. ‘But if they don’t even know there was a daughter then they’re not going to be worried.’

‘True but…’

She’s already on the run before he can complete the sentence. The old man curses once. He thinks about ordering his driver to set off in pursuit but she’s already ducked into an alley. There’s little chance of catching her now.

Her heart rate is still slowing as she walks out of the alleyway and stroll back up the street towards the Rolls. The cardboard, sunglasses and the old coat are gone. As is the wig. Dressed in a flouncy skirt and designer jacket, she swings a Gucci handbag from one shoulder.

Getting closer to the old man’s car, she pulls out her mobile and pretends to answer a call. She pouts at the phone, twists a piece of hair and gives a twirl: preening herself for the unseen imaginary caller.

As she does so, she takes several photos of the luxury car and its licence plate. The window of the Rolls is still lowered, the old man looking straight at her. She snaps his picture too. He’s too busy looking at her legs; it’s not her face he will remember.

She waltzes on up the street. It’s taken almost six months but she’s finally smoked out one of them. They called themselves the ninjas. A group of sharks who destroy other people’s businesses for the sake of a quick profit. What they do in public is legal but that’s only a fraction of it. The other side of their business is much, much darker. Which is why they live in the shadows.

To them, her father was nothing. She doubted if they even remember taking his business away. Or what they did afterwards. Getting him so into debt he had no choice but to obey; getting victims to help with the dirty work was just how they keep in control.

They probably never predicted that he wouldn’t be able to live with some of the things they had him do. Or cared about the fact he couldn’t handle the loss of everything he’d ever worked towards: business and reputation. Guilt was an emotion they wouldn’t understand.

But she’s determined. One day she’s going to make them face the consequences of their actions. The ninjas had killed her father. Their end will be even messier and equally brutal.

I saw the picture above on The Mirror Obscura and  felt it needed a story to go with it. Hope you like it.

 

We Have Not Seen Him…

There have been so many tributes to Nelson Mandela but this has got to be one of the most touching.

The Soweto Gospel Choir teamed up with the Woolworths supermarket in Johannesburg for a flash mob-style performance of Asimbonga – a song written while Mandela was in prison.

Asimbonanga [we have not seen him]
Asimbonang’ uMandela thina [we have not seen Mandela]
Laph’ekhona [in the place where he is]
Laph’ehleli khona [in the place where he is kept]

Asimbonanga
Asimbonang ‘umfowethu thina [we have not seen our brother]
Laph’ekhona [in the place where he is]
Laph’wafela khona [in the place where he died]
Sithi: Hey, wena [We say: hey, you]
Hey, wena nawe [Hey, you and you]
Siyofika nini la’ siyakhona [when will we arrive at our destination]

Just listen… and remember what the man achieved and stood for:

Final Chances

Want to support a great charity AND win Amazon gift cards, books and other prizes? If so, you’ve got five days left!

My ‘Unlock The Vault’ competition has been running for several months now but I’m declaring a deadline of Friday 13th December for final entries.

To enter, all you need to do is donate a minimum of £1/$1 etc to the disaster relief charity ShelterBox and answer three easy questions – I’ve been put clues on the competition page to make life easier for you!

I’ve actually had an embarrassingly low level of entries so far so anyone who enters over the next five days probably stands a very good chance of winning a prize!

haiyanShelterBox is aiming to rehouse 4,000 families left homeless by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines – as well as continuing to help victims of the ongoing conflict in Syria, people made homeless by flooding in the Sudan etc, etc.

Go on enter the competition… it’s the season of goodwill and giving. You know you want to.

Alternatively…

You’ve missed the chance to snap up my award-winning debut novel for £0.99/$0.99 but The Tale of Findo Gask is available on Kindle for $1.99 or £1.99 up until Thursday. (Normal price $4.90 or £3.99.)

Findo cover

This is the book that won the UK’s 2005 Undiscovered Authors contest and is – basically – a book about whether we should expect people to obey our rules if they don’t have a stake in society.

It’s also a roller coaster adventure, a book about young love and the story of a boy who becomes a thief because he doesn’t have many other options.

It’s got 4.2* on Amazon.com and 4.5* on Amazon.co.uk – if it sounds like your kind of thing, please click here.

No Borders

Life certainly moves on. I was recently admiring some images on someone else’s blog – and now it looks like I might be working with the photographer on a couple of book covers!

Moodphoto

Image borrowed from ‘Moodphoto’

Bizarre thing is that Teija lives in Finland. Makes you wonder how we ever lived before the internet. I’ve pinched one of her pictures (above) – if you want to see more of her work, take a look at Moodphoto.

Hmm. Now, I just need to come up with a title and finish editing the novel…

In the meantime, I’ve also got another Kindle Countdown Deal for you:

The Tale of Findo Gask is available on Kindle for $0.99 or £0.99 for the next three days, after which the price goes up to 1.99. (Normal price is $4.90 or £3.99.)

This is the book that won the UK’s 2005 Undiscovered Authors contest, got me a publishing contract and made me think that maybe one day I would be a real writer not just a dreamer sitting in an attic.

Findo coverFindo is the story of a boy born into poverty who also happens to be a very good thief.

It’s a book about whether we should expect people to obey our rules if they don’t have a stake in society.

It’s also a roller coaster adventure that goes from pinching cigarettes at the corner shop to saving drowning dogs and from an armed heist at a security firm to snatching the diamonds from an opera diva’s head.

It’s also a book about young love and a boy who doesn’t want to be ignored.

It’s got 4.2* on Amazon.com and 4.5* on Amazon.co.uk – if it sounds like your kind of thing, please click here.

Thou Art A Cottage Cheese, Fustilarian Bounder!

Ahh. You can’t beat a good insult. Shakespeare was definitely the master.

InsultsSome Shakespearean insults are short and to the point: Thou art like a toad; ugly and venemous. (As You Like It)

Others more of a rant: A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition. (King Lear)

Even when we don’t understand the exact meaning, we get the message from the general tone.

Of course, there have been other famous ‘insulters’ over the years. Winston Churchill was famous for his acid comebacks, as was Groucho Marx with lines like: “She got her good looks from her father. He’s a plastic surgeon.”

But while some insults depend on wit, others are to do with the words used. And, like other parts of the language, insults go out of fashion.

There was a feature on the BBC website a couple of days ago after former international footballer turned TV presenter Gary Lineker referred to a thief who stole his mum’s car as a ‘rotter’.

The word is a bit of a throwback to the earlier part of the previous century and the BBC feature looked at some other insults that have fallen out of fashion.

Some insults also depend on where you come from. I was re-watching series two of The Wire recently and had to blink when drug gang hard man Cheese yelled out at a rival: “You cottage cheese chest ass motherf***er!”

I’m sorry? What! I mean, ‘Cheese’ is a bit of an odd name for a hard man but surely he could have said something a bit less… bizarre?

Anyone got any explanations? Or examples of other inspiring or weird insults?

As an aside, for anyone else who believes The Wire to be the best TV drama ever made – they could run degree courses based on the writing in this series – here’s a treat. A 10-minute compilation of some of its (many) best lines. Enjoy:

Riddle Of The Not-Quite Free Sphinx

Hello again. Haven’t been around this blog much recently. Not really sure why – partly perhaps because I’ve been working on my Portuguese cycling site. (I’m a man of diverse interests).

No, not tombs but ranks of 'espigueiros' in northern Portugal. Traditional stores built for drying and holding maize cobs.

No, not tombs but ranks of ‘espigueiros’ in northern Portugal. Traditional stores built for drying and holding maize cobs.

Anyway…

Have to quickly mention that the Kindle version of my adventure novel Pagan’s Sphinx is on a price promotion. If you fancy an armchair adventure searching the deserts of North Africa for a lost ancient statue then this might be up your street. (4.4* on Amazon.com from 27 reviews.)

Pagan's Sphinx smThis one is written under the pen name William Webster – my inner Indiana Jones. A dash of history (real and possible), some intrigue, a hefty helping of romance and plenty of excitement. It’s on offer for $0.99 or £0.99 for the rest of the day – then goes up to 1.99 until Thursday. Get it here.

Fellow indie authors might have twigged that I’m trying out Amazon’s new Kindle Countdown Deal (KCD) option. Until recently, if you signed up to Amazon’s KDP Select, you were allowed to give your book away free for five days every quarter as a way of getting more readers.

The disadvantages of this option are: a) you make no money and b) free downloads don’t count as sales so do nothing for your ranking.

The KCD option lets you offer your book from as low as $0.99 for one week. The big advantages being: a) you make (some) money and b) your sales (presumably) do count.

I’ve seen some book promotion websites describing KCDs as ‘the new free’. Although £0.99 isn’t quite my definition of free, I understand what they’re getting at. So many authors are now self-publishing on Kindle that offering your book on a five-day free promotion is no longer enough to get you noticed. There are tens of thousands of others doing the same thing.

Which is why I decided to shell out a bit of money on a couple of these book promotion websites. I paid $50 for a feature on BargainBooksy (who boast an email subscriber list of 50,000) and $4.99 for a feature on PeopleReads.

The first promotion went out on Friday and generated a certain level of sales. Not huge but certainly an improvement. The second one began this morning – and will be followed up with a Facebook post and email to subscribers. If anyone’s interested in the details, I’ll let you know more at the end of the week!

In return, any advice on other effective sites for promoting KCDs would be most welcome.

(I’m one of those people who am on Twitter but still haven’t really got my head around how it works. Or – to be quite honest – the point of it. However, I’ve already had two tweets of my book from PeopleReads – and dozens of people have retweeted. I’ll be checking my sales figures…)

Competition link