Join me on a Virtual Bookshop Tour around the country

Are you fed up with being stuck inside during lockdown? Missing the ability to travel and explore new places? Me too. That’s why I’m running a Virtual Bookshop Tour next week!

Join me on 23rd – 28th November for a journey around England to visit major locations from The Jack Hansard Series – and at every stop we’ll be throwing the spotlight on a local independent bookshop. One of the joys of indie bookshops is how unique they all are: worth visiting as much for their character as for the books they sell.

We’ll sight-see some dramatic locations, gorgeous furnishings and quirky features (although sadly I cannot reproduce the authentic bookish smell). Whether you miss the thrill of travelling, are hankering for some Christmas book-shopping ideas, or simply ADORE bookshops, join us Monday-Sunday for the tour and show these independent booksellers some love!

Here’s your Tour Itinerary:

Now with links to each day’s entry! Thank you to everyone who took part.

Necessary Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of these bookshops and gain nothing apart from enjoyment from this exercise. 🙂

Step aside, Amazon. A new Indie Bookseller is in town.

Indie bookshops are turning to online solutions as coronavirus closes doors again.

Yesterday the publishing world was awash with news of the UK launch of uk.bookshop.org, a new book-selling platform geared towards helping independent bookshops in the online marketplace. It first launched in the US back in January and has since then partnered with over 900 indie bookshops and raised over $7.5m in funds to support them.

“Bookshop.org is an online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.”

In their own words.

This new platform – simply named Bookshop – provides an online space for physical bookshops, authors, and influencers to band together in order to funnel money towards independent booksellers. Money is earned in two ways: by commission, selling through virtual shopfronts or with affiliate links; and through payments from a central pool of profits which are shared out equally to bookstores. A bookstore can earn the full 30% from sales through their shopfront plus a share of that central pool, while Affiliates can earn a 10% commission on each sale they prompt.

Like many indie authors (not all, I hasten to add) I am a reluctant Amazon-user. I distribute my book through Amazon out of necessity – I would lose too many potential readers if I ignored it. (EVERYBODY uses Amazon, and the Kindle is one of the biggest ereaders out there.) So the arrival of a new indie book platform with the express intent of rivaling Amazon feels like a brilliant step forwards.

It sounds like a win-win-win.

However, there are a few less positive opinions of Bookshop.org bouncing around as well. One view is that the platform doesn’t actually help physical bookstores as much as it claims to. It’s still often slightly more profitable for a bookshop if you buy in-store or from their official website, rather than to buy through their Bookshop.org page. It’s also been suggested that all of the Affiliate pages might drown out the shopfronts of actual indie bookstores. While Bookshop.org is intentionally encouraging the bookloving community to jump in and create lists of books and drive traffic towards them, some indie booksellers feel this might be pulling traffic away from their own storefronts.

The upside of this, to my mind, is that every Affiliate sale also contributes to that central pool of funds which is shared among the indie bookstores. So Affiliates like authors and book reviewers – who often use Affiliate links to other book-selling sites anyway – can still earn a profit from their links while ALSO helping out indie bookshops.

Another advantage is that Bookshop.org takes care of fulfilment – they handle the physical work of packaging and shipping the books to customers. As the next lockdown looms large in the UK, this ability for bookshops to go completely (and hopefully only temporarily) virtual is a literal lifesaver to some businesses.

“It has been an utter lifeline. Sales flooded in as soon as we announced our temporary closure.”

Bookshop.org helped this business survive through the initial onslaught of Covid-19

So far, it looks like the majority of opinion from the indie community is overwhelmingly positive. Frankly anything that encourages readers away from Amazon – and nudges them back in the direction of local independents – is an idea to be celebrated.

Below, you can see what my Affiliate Author page currently looks like. (Yes, this is an Affiliate Link.) I’ll use it to list my own books and a couple of relevant collections for those who like to know what I read. Anything you buy from my page will earn me a 10% commission, and it will be matched by another 10% which goes towards supporting indie bookshops. But for a much broader and less eclectic mix of titles, you should definitely use the map tool to find your closest indie bookshop and browse through their page as well.

You can see that when I wrote this, they’d already raised over £22,000 for indie bookshops since launching yesterday.

If you’re an indie bookseller, feel free to drop your bookshop.org link in the comments along with an intro to your store. I’ll share the hell out of it where I can. Look out for more posts about indie bookshops coming soon!

Little Stitch Eyes and The Glimmerfish

Yesterday I shared five poems inspired by E. J. Ikin’s recent Inktober artworks based around his newest creation, Little Stitch Eyes. Here are five more uncanny poems inspired by this uncanny character.


“She called out on the radio for help, but no one answered.”

* * *

Stuttering static patters
Like fizz-ng raindr-ps in your ears
Sending flutt-r-ngly erratic spats -f music
Echoing down the y–rs

Eventually the metre peters ou-
The baseline th-ds no more
You are left with noisy st-tic sil-nce
As your m-mory l-ses score.


“Little stitch eyes liked to fish. She wasn’t fussed about catching anything. She just liked to stand by the water.”

* * *

Standing still on blackened sand
Little Stitch Eyes waits with rod in hand
Despite the sunlight glimmer-fish that glitter underwater
Her stitch eyes cast a net away to some far distant quarter

Her hook, a thing to catch thoughts on
Her mind, a lure where daydreams shone
Careful, now
The sound of ripples could pull you in
Leave you dreaming, world a-spin

So if you see her standing lonesome, like an empty fisherman’s daughter
Leave her peaceful with the glimmer-fish
Silent at the water.


“Little Stitch Eyes struggles sometimes with direction.”

* * *

The box appears upside-down
But only if you look at it from a certain angle.
If you change perspective: turn around

Step sideways into an Escher painting
And remember that your feet weren’t on the ground.


“She held the rat aloft by its tail. For once, she was in control of the situation.”

* * *

Sniffle-Whiskers sniffs the cheese
Little risks are worth the tease
Nudge it gentle, tug with ease—

The trap claps
Tail snaps
Rat yaps

Sniffle-Whiskers sniffs the cheese
Wagging stump of tail with new unease
Missed his death by mere degrees.


“She wrapped her arms around her to keep herself safe. We don’t all wear armour like hoodies.

* * *

We wear our expressions like a carapace
Emotions crawl like beetles underneath
Buzzing at the cracks of eyes and mouth
Where overspill might split the sheath

Ignore my smiling exo-shell
Displaying dried-out sun-fractured happiness
Note the flash of fluorescent husk
Before I crush the tell-tale beetle abscess.


E. J. Ikin is a British artist known for his eerie urban art. ‘Little Stitch Eyes’ is the latest creation in his surreal character series. Follow him on Instagram here.


Little Stitch Eyes – Inktober Poems

It’s Halloween! The perfect time to share eerie art and weird poetry. Earlier this month I teamed up with an artist friend to assign poems to some of his Inktober artworks. (If you haven’t heard, Inktober is an art challenge to draw a new creation every day through October based on daily prompts. You can find the rest of @ejikin’s Inktober drawings over on Instagram.)

I don’t dabble in poetry often, but I enjoyed the excuse to flex my writing muscles and have some fun. So here are five poems inspired by E. J. Ikin’s newest oddball character, ‘Little Stitch Eyes’.


“Little Stitch Eyes knew the way home. But perhaps the path less travelled offered her more?”

* * *

Soft steps leave stitched footprints sewn into the fabric of the ground
Each cracked twig a patch in need of darning
The soil lovingly embroiders the path most trodden
with seams of sweet-scented leafmould
and silent earthworms.

A glowing light sends shadows flickering
Bounding away like scared rabbits over the bracken
It carries a promise, a mere wisp
of hope, or something more

If you follow it, you might end up on the path least trodden
and leave your stitched-up footprints scattered over flawless forest floor.


“She held the skull in her hand. Was this what people were meant to look like? Eyes? Nose? Teeth?!

* * *

I wanted to make friends with my skull
I poked sociable thumbs into eye sockets
Invaded nostrils with odorous friendship
Shouted greetings into wide-open jaw
Got nothing back but echoes in cavities.


“Eyes??? Ewww. Who’d want one of those?”

* * *

I prefer my stitch-eyes anyway

They see the world in greater shades

Of black and white and black and white…

… and sometimes, even grey.


“You can trust Little Stitch Eyes – said no one ever.”

* * *

Smiling, pigtails
Laughter lines
These things that make you
Seem benign

Pinprick pupils
Greasy hair
These things reveal you in the
Mirror’s glare

Gentle eyes and
Manic mouth
These things betray what you’re
About

Ageless smile
Withered soul
God help us if you
Lose control.


“She prayed, down on her knees, hoping for redemption.”

* * *

Some people sew words into prayers
Weaving tapestries of disgrace and desire and desperation
Disguised as redemption, pleas, and mindless adulation

I like to sew prayers into people
Lacing strands of fear and hope and dreams
With love, like a frayed but sturdy central thread

I cradle these new personalities like psalms in the palm of my hand
And sing them to life on the eve of an Eden
Picked out in cross-stitch on a brand-new band of cotton
Placed in their eternal, perfect, needlepoint motherland.


E. J. Ikin is a British artist known for his eerie urban art. ‘Little Stitch Eyes’ is the latest creation in his surreal character series. Follow him on Instagram here.


Join the Launch Party!

IT’S RELEASE DAY and the book launch party is now in full swing! There’s still time to join in with the event and enter the competition to win a free ebook. Check it out here!


Here’s the event schedule so you can see what’s in store:

  • 10:00 Welcome to the Party!

  • 11:00 Competition Opens. Submit your entry to win a copy of the ebook.

  • 12:00 Join me for a chat and a peak inside the paperback.

  • 13:00 Game time!

  • 14:00 SNEAK-PEAK. Read an excerpt of the brand new ‘Episode 8: Informant’ from Season One.

  • 15:00 Quiz time! Find out which Jack Hansard character you are…

  • 16:00 Author Q&A Session – ask me anything! I’ll be at my computer for the full hour trying to keep up.

  • 18:00 FIRST LOOK at Season 2! Be the first to read the opening to S2 Ep1

  • 19:00 Competition Closes. Entries after this time won’t be included.

  • 20:00 SECOND LOOK at Season 2! Another special snippet from what I’ve been working on

  • 21:00 Competition winners will be announced.

  • 22:00 Time to wind down. Thanks for coming to the Launch Party!

Yes, that is a full 12 hours! I wanted to make sure that our friends across the pond would have chance to join in as well. All timings are GMT+1.


Here are some of the major stores where you can order a copy of The Jack Hansard Series: Season One

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Barnes & Noble (Nook)

Kobo

Apple Books

Waterstones

Jack Hansard Book Launch Announced!

Cover illustration by Dominique Lane.

Save The Date: 27th September 2020

Put it in your diaries folks, we’re less than two weeks out! The Jack Hansard Series: Season One will be available in ebook and paperback from online retailers – and in fact, the ebook is already available for preorder at a number of stores! Grab it from the links below:

Amazon

Everywhere Else

UK price on release:

Paperback: £7.99
Ebook: £2.99


Launch Party

What is a book launch without a Launch Party? I’m celebrating with a full 12 hour virtual event on Sunday 27th September – and everyone is invited!

Where?
Find the Facebook Event page here.

What?
There will be sneak peaks, author Q&A, games, and a competition to win free copies of the ebook and a special cameo spot in Season 2!

How?
Sign up on the Facebook Event to attend. We’ll keep all activity on the event page so it’s easy to find throughout the day. Drop in for just a few minutes or stay to hang out for a couple hours – whatever works for you!


Don’t do Facebook?

No worries! I won’t be able to spread myself too thinly over social media on the 27th, but I will aim to check in with my other channels during the day. Come and say hi over on Twitter or Instagram!


In the meantime

Gosh, I’ve spent so long gearing up to this point I almost don’t know what to do with myself any more. Mostly I’m just working hard to get the word out, so I’m approaching other bloggers and reviewers at the moment for more exposure. (Incidentally, if you are one and are interested in receiving an Advance Reader Copy or a guest post, hit me up.)

Otherwise, I’d love if you could share my Facebook Launch Party event with your friends, or share this post to help spread the word!

And don’t forget, if you’re hankering for a Jack Hansard fix in the run-up to launch, there’s an exclusive story up for grabs when you join my newsletter (and another little freebie featuring Edric Mercer will be delivered as well).

If you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to get in touch.

Twelve days to go and lots still to do. See you at the Launch Party!

=D


Jack Hansard is the man who can sell you anything.

Luck in a bottle, fame in a box, dreams on a leash: anything is possible when you’re a trader on the occult Black Market.

Jack is used to a life of handling dangerous goods, dodging disgruntled customers, and sometimes running away very fast. But when Ang – two-and-a-half feet of furious Welsh coblyn – buys his help to find her missing kin, Jack suddenly finds the goods are riskier, the customers more treacherous, and escape is anything but guaranteed.

The Jack Hansard Series is an episodic contemporary fantasy with a wide streak of humour and just a dash of horror. Season One contains the first fifteen episodes in the series.

Did Somebody Say Free Stuff? New Story Available!

Would you trust this guy?

Lurking at the edge of a mundane fleamarket, a merchant of impossibilities stands next to a trunk full of bizarre and otherwordly goods.

Are Jack Hansard’s uncanny wares for real? Is the magic past its sell-by-date? And what exactly do you DO with a deus ex machina, anyhow?


Gosh, there’s been a lot going on lately. If you’re a regular visitor you may notice that I’ve got a shiny new website and I’ve just launched my newsletter. My latest job has been setting up the download for this exclusive Jack Hansard story, which is now available for free to new subscribers!

If you’re not already familiar with The Jack Hansard Series, you can find the free beta episodes here.

Deus Ex Machina is a standalone short story which features our favourite occult merchant, told from the viewpoint of one of his unwitting customers. I wrote the original version of this for a humour competition way back in 2012 (it came second, which was rather nice) and decided to revamp the whole thing into a longer, better story for you guys to enjoy.

Click the button above to go directly to the download page at StoryOrigin, or get it by signing up to my newsletter here. It’s available in ePUB, Mobi, and PDF formats for all your reading devices. Hope it makes you smile!

Once you’re a subscriber you’ll also receive updates from me along with other exclusive sneak-peeks – including another story snippet called Pandora’s Box which features Jack’s least favourite business rival: the treasure-hunting, god-wrestling, myth-defying and all-round flash bastard Edric Mercer. It’ll arrive a day or two after signing up. Keep an eye on your inbox to make sure you don’t miss it! 😉


Urban fantasy with a sense of humour

Thanks to @EJIkinArt for the awesome cover illustration.

Checking in: My 2020 Submissions

black typewriter machine typing on white printer paper
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Argh, how is it July already?! It was only March a moment ago.

Suddenly it feels like there’s not enough time to finish everything I have planned for this year. Among the many goals I’m working towards in 2020, one of them is to beat my rather modest (that is, puny) number of short story submissions from last year. Whether it’s to magazines, anthologies, or competitions, they all count towards the total.

So, as we’re already halfway through the year, I’m checking in with my current stats:

Number of Submissions: 9

Submissions Declined: 6

Submissions Accepted: 0

(No response yet received: 3)

Yeah, I know it’s not mind-blowing. Other writers out there be submitting in the hundreds. But these numbers do tell me I’m on track for my personal goal. If I do the same again over the next six months, I’ll definitely beat my 2019 record. And next year will be even better. I also want to add for this year:

Submissions Published: 1

Publishing’s a long process, y’all. My short story for The San Cicaro Experience was accepted in December last year. It underwent a long (and thoroughly interesting) editing process, and was finally published a couple of weeks ago in June. (Hurray!)

If you’re in the same boat as me I urge you not to give up, and definitely don’t feel downhearted if your subbing numbers look low. If you manage to sub even one more story than last year, it’s still a success. And frankly, the fact you’re doing it at all is what actually counts. There will be a ton of rejection involved – but that’s what makes us professionals, right? 😉

do-not-give-up pixabay

As well as subbing stories, I’m also in the middle of getting The Jack Hansard Series ready for print and ebook release this Autumn. Exciting times, but it’s a lot to learn and a lot to do, and it’s all starting to get a bit scary-serious.

If you want to keep up with my progress you can hit the Follow button for my blog (you should find it by scrolling past the bottom of this post). You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter. I use Facebook more for announcements and writing news, and on Twitter I retweet a lot of folklore and mythology-related content.

Don’t be a stranger. =)

The San Cicaro Experience

The-San-Cicaro-Experience-Cover-Art-Smallest
Image Source

 

A short post to mark a major personal milestone today.

Today is the launch of The San Cicaro Experience, an anthology of weird and fantastical short stories that take place in the city of San Cicaro, the jewel of the Californian coast. This is the second in the series, following on from the Welcome to San Cicaro anthology published by Thunderbird Studios last year.

It’s also my first ‘official’ traditional publishing credit, as my short story The Hub features alongside seven other strange – and sometimes disturbing – tales written by a team of brilliant authors.

I don’t mean to devalue my self-publishing efforts, but it certainly is nice to get the warm and fuzzies that come with a third party selecting and publishing (and uh, ultimately, paying for) your work.

So, if you enjoy exploring the uncanny – and aren’t afraid of the dark – then consider visiting San Cicaro today.

The-San-Cicaro-Experience-Cover-Art-Smallest

Click the image to read the free preview!

Short Story: Lockdown Blues

Lockdown Blues Cover

 


‘Lot of people in masks about, gwas.
‘I’ve noticed, Ang.’
‘D’ye really think we should be doin’ this?’
‘We’re just providing a service.’
‘News t’me. I din’t know sellin’ false cures was a service, gwas.
Ang leered at me from her spot inside the car boot. She’d chosen, to my displeasure, a case of antique ritual bowls (all right, old-ish, with genuine cracks painted on) as her seat, next to the proud display I was setting up for this occasion.
‘We’re not selling cures, Ang.’ I straightened the last row of shining objects. They gleamed. ‘We’re selling confidence.
‘Dunno if that’s actually a good thing right now, gwas.
‘Hmm?’
‘Should we really be encouragin’ people t’think they can go outside wi’out fear, right now?’
I was sufficiently surprised enough to tear my attention away. ‘It’s not our job to police how people think, Ang.’
‘Aye. But mebbe we shouldn’t be contributin’ to any all-round stupidity, is what I’m sayin’.’
I stared at my coblyn companion. She may be only two and half feet tall, but I swear sometimes her conscience is a mile high. And always at the most inconvenient of times. ‘In actual fact, I would argue that we are helping to create a healthier gene pool. Only an idiot would fall for this in the first place.’
‘An’ how many d’ye think live here, gwas?
Plenty,’ I snapped.
I’m sick of this town. We tried driving out of it in the first week of the Lockdown, as people seem to be calling it. Nearly had a heart attack when the police pulled us over. How was I to know we weren’t allowed to travel any more?
We were let off with a warning, so I politely nodded to the nice officer, hoped to god she hadn’t taken my licence plate, and trundled back into bloody Mansfield. I bought a newspaper on the spot, and quickly caught up on world news.
I’d stared. And rubbed my eyes. And blinked hard. When did he become Prime Minister? And how? I vaguely remembered some business with a big red bus… It had seemed unimportant at the time.
But that was besides the main point, which was this damned global virus. The world had gone mad. The country had gone mad. A lot of people were dying.
I wondered, distantly, if some bugger had found Pandora’s Box and been foolish enough to open it. That Edric Mercer, probably. He’d do anything for the glory.
But it seemed like the world had done the sensible thing and shut down. Stay outside, Hell Demons, you can’t come in. We are Socially Distancing ourselves from you.
So Ang and I also stayed put. In bloody, sodding, boring Mansfield. I wouldn’t hate it so much if only I were allowed to leave.
Living out of the car instantly took on a whole new level of challenge. Travelling with Ang is hard enough on a good day: with her constant trail of pastry crumbs; her monthly toe nail clippings bouncing off the dashboard; the nightly snoring, with a sound like a tortured chainsaw fighting its way out of a bag of bricks. Up til now, we’ve tolerated each other for so long because there has always been the distraction of my inimitable profession to add a thrill into our day. There’s nothing quite like running away from a previously-satisfied customer who now wants to kill you.
Especially one who wants to kill you because they didn’t read the label on the magic aphrodisiac you sold them and thus completely missed the fact that it was intended for geese and, as regrettably discovered after glugging the potion right in front of my table, had the unfortunate side effect of causing the user to grow feathers in an inconveniently intimate area and begin honking uncontrollably while screaming, ‘Hansard you HONK!–ing bastard! I’ll kill you HONK! you piece of HONK! HONK!’
That kind of things makes a man glad to be alive.
But it was a long time since Ang and I had last encountered any fun of that sort. The new Lockdown landscape was a barren one. There were no shady customers to serve, no devious Black Market schemes to run – every bugger was indoors. Keeping ourselves locked up in the car was a none-starter. We started to live on a perpetual walk through the streets instead. Whenever we were caught out, we were: ‘Just on our way to shops, actually!’ or ‘Just enjoying our one daily exercise, in fact!’
The closing of the public toilets, however, was a real blow to us both. There’s nothing quite like queueing outside a supermarket for two hours to make one really appreciate the need for public conveniences.
During Week Three, we spent one very blissful night in a hotel that was opened up for homeless people. Turns out that travelling with a sort-of-looks-like-a-child-if-you-really-squint coblyn-in-disguise is a great way of being fast-tracked towards the comfiest beds. And a shower. And hot food. And the lack of Ang’s smell. And mine, come to that. I should have found a way to bottle the feeling – I’d give it a trendy modern name like, ‘Bottled Bliss: the Self-Care Edition’ and sell it slyly from the sidelines of a posh farmers’ market.
Ever since, I’ve been working hard on our next commercial venture. A true merchant of enterprise doesn’t let a lack of customers bother him! He finds new ones! He discovers their most pressing needs and finds a way to fulfil them!
Ang watched me rearrange the goods one final time. They had to look perfect.
‘This ain’t you,’ she said, shifting uncomfortably. ‘Where’s the magic in this ysbwriel?
‘In this what?’
‘This rubbish.’
‘Oh.’ I shook my head. ‘Ang. Haven’t you learned anything yet? Where does real magic live?’
She glared suspiciously. ‘Live? It dun’t live anywhere!’
‘You’re wrong.’ I tapped the side of my head. ‘It lives in people’s heads.
Her eyes narrowed. ‘Oh. That kind o’ magic. Thought you was on about the real stuff. Spells and hexes and that.’
‘The beauty of the human mind, Ang, is that you don’t necessarily need a spell to bewitch someone. Now, are you ready for this?’
‘Do I have to, gwas?
‘Equal partnership, remember?’
She slipped out of the boot, grumbling under her breath. Today she was wearing – instead of her usual grubby waistcoat and trousers – a dress. It was a flowery pink spring dress, perfect for the season, but with long arms to cover Ang’s bony parchment skin. It was probably meant for a four year old, but swamped Ang’s wizened coblyn frame.
‘And the hat,’ I said.
She glowered and snatched it from my hands. It was the widest brimmed sunhat I could find from the local charity shop. She rammed it on her head.
It sort of covered her pointy ears, and if she looked down you might be forgiven for thinking there was a little girl under there somewhere.
‘Stop laughin’,’ she hissed.
‘I’m not,’ I lied, turning my back.
‘You best not be enjoyin’ this, gwas, or I’ll have yer hide. Give me the wretched phone.’
It was shiny, black, and rectangular, and the only reason I knew it was a Samsung was because it was written on the back. Technology is not, you might say, my strong point.
We’d ‘rescued’ it from a bin. That is to say, we spent many, many hours digging through the rubbish bags of upscale houses in the hopes of finding some kind of discarded smartphone. I wasn’t entirely certain we would find one, but I should have known not to lose faith in the natural wastefulness of my fellow man. On reflection, it would have been easier (and less disgusting) to just steal one – but that’s not my style. I’m no thief.
Ang waited until the sun peeked out into full view, just as we planned. A nice obscuring shine on that cracked phone screen, and too bright for anyone to question why the sweet little girl wasn’t looking upwards all that much. She walked to the edge of the park where small groups of picnickers were spread on blankets in the sun. There was a conscientious smattering of surgical masks and face scarves among them – but that didn’t worry me. I was sure I could rely on human nature to overcome any rational thought that might be lurking in the herd.
I saw Ang’s shoulders heave in a breath. And then…
‘AaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH–’ Pause. ‘–AAAAAAAHHHHHH! It burns! It hurts! It’s coming through the phone! Help! Gerrit off! Aaaaaahh! Anyone listenin’? I said ‘Aaaaaahh,’ ye bastards.’
It was probably the gravelliest child’s scream those people had ever heard, but it certainly turned heads. I waited for the first few groups to rise, and then entered the stage.
I swooped down on Ang like a guardian angel. ‘What’s wrong, girl? What’s hurts? Here, that phone! Let me have it!’ I held it up to the sun, my face aghast with horror and amazement. ‘No. Not another one. Quickly, come with me!’ I dragged Ang back to the car and theatrically whipped open the boot.
A hesitant crowd followed us, instinctively bunching towards the potential threat, but trying to be socially distanced about it.
‘Is she okay…?’ someone called out.
I ignored the voice for now and plucked one of my new treasures from its resting place. It sparkled pleasingly in the light. I turned to the crowd, waving the phone at them.
‘Do any of you know what this is?’
It was hard to discern the exact expressions under the various face coverings, but I felt they ranged from confused concern for the now-quiet Ang, to polite bafflement at the man wearing a trench coat in twenty-degree weather. Not a bad starting point; I’ve had worse.
Phone, innit?’ one puzzled voice said.
I turned in its general direction. ‘No. This is a phone with an internet connection. It’s a phone with… 5G.’ I put all the dread and menace I could muster into those two syllables. The crowd didn’t take an alarmed step back like I’d hoped, but at least one or two people cocked their heads.
‘So what?’ someone else said.
‘So what? So what? You’re living in a dream world!’ I cried. ‘Wake up! What do you think really caused this pandemic, this illness sweeping our country? Everything was fine until they started putting up the 5G towers! It’s not a virus at all, that’s why! It’s radiation.
Someone scoffed. I rounded on them.
‘You don’t believe me? What do you think happened to this poor child? Look!’ I swung the phone down next to Ang’s head.
Owowowow,’ she said. ‘It hurts, so it does.’
I snatched it back, before she started getting sarcastic.
‘But look!’ I shouted, holding up my creation between thumb and forefinger. It was a construction of tinfoil and wire, bent into a pleasingly occult triangle with horns. ‘This is the answer. This ingenious device blocks the negative radiation! If you attach it to your phone like so…’ I hooked it around the screen. ‘…it effectively filters the poisonous emissions, just like you believe those masks are filtering the air! It’s now completely harmless.’
I put the phone back down towards Ang. She recoiled slightly – a nice touch, I thought – but then stood straight and shrugged. ‘I dun’t feel a thing,’ she intoned.
‘You see?’ I shouted madly into the crowd. Sweat trickled down my neck. ‘Like magic! Keep yourself safe from the virus! I have more, for sale!’
‘Thought you said it wasn’t a virus,’ someone said sullenly. ‘Can’t be a virus, if it’s caused by radiation.’
‘Should that phone even have 5G?’ said someone else.
‘Isn’t it an older model?’
‘Is it even switched on?’
The crowd started to advance, albeit very slowly, so that they didn’t accidentally encroach on their neighbour’s two metre bubble.
‘Wait,’ I said desperately. ‘If you’ll just lend me your phone, ma’am…’
‘What? Have you even washed your hands today?’ was the horrified response.
‘’Ere, he didn’t even use hand sanitiser when he took that girl’s phone!’
‘And he’s standing so close to her! Are you even from the same household?!’
‘What– What is this…’ I stammered, stumbling backwards. The back of my legs hit the car.
‘Are you trying to scam people, mister?’
‘You shouldn’t be encouraging people to believe in conspiracy theories!’
‘This could cost lives, you know!’
When did you all become so sensible?’ I screamed.
There was a ringing silence.
Ang tugged on my coat. ‘Time to go, gwas.
I nodded dumbly, sidled around the car and fumbled my way into the driver’s seat.
There was a slam behind me, and then Ang, perched again in the boot, said: ‘I reckon they think you’ve just kidnapped me, so prob’ly time to bolt, right?’
‘Right.’ I turned the key. ‘Right.’
The crowd broke into a run as we pulled away. We sped up, accelerating down near-empty roads, turned a few corners, and in barely any time at all we’d arrived back in the shitty side-street we’ve called home for the past six weeks.
I killed the engine and let my head thump back against the headrest.
There were scrabbling sounds as Ang manoeuvred her way through to the passenger seat. There was a slow, arduous ripping sound as the dress caught on something along the way.
‘Oh dear,’ she said sweetly. ‘Looks like it be ruined.’
‘Mm.’
‘Ye all right, gwas?’ There was an uncharacteristic note of concern in her voice.
‘Why do you ask?’
She hesitated. ‘You ain’t been right, lately. Like this plan wi’ the phone and the wiffy. Ye hate them smartphones. Thought ye said they took the magic out o’ things…’
Dull exasperation made my voice heavy. ‘Where is the magic right now, Ang? No one’s hosting occult markets until all this blows over. All the interesting beasties – sorry, non-humans – are in hiding just like everyone else. Not even the most delinquent members of our clientele are out and about. Even criminals have grannies they don’t want falling victim to some killer-flu. The world’s gone mad.’
‘Has it, gwas? Seems like mebbe it’s found some sense, for a while.’
‘Ha! You call that sense? I didn’t make up that 5G nonsense, you know. Someone else did it for me! And those people in the park. They can’t see their own families, but they can sit two metres away from as many strangers as they like? It’s bonkers.’
‘Dunno. Seems like a kind o’ magic t’me, gwas.
‘Ha!’
Ang didn’t say anything for a while. I stared blankly out the window while she rustled out of the remains of her dress. Empty streets. All the people locked away, living busy lives indoors, with their families. And if you don’t have a family, you’re in it alone.
‘Do coblyns get sick?’ I wondered aloud.
‘Aye. Sometimes.’
‘Your family doing all right, are they?’
‘Aye. Still gets letters. This virus dun’t affect ’em much, what wi’ already being cut off from the world. It’d have t’be a fierce determined one to get across that bridge.’
‘That’s good then.’
A pause. More rustling. Ang resurfaced with a cold sausage roll.
‘Ye ever call her, gwas?
‘Who?’
‘Ye mam.’
I gave a small start. ‘What? Why’d you say that?’
Ang was staring upwards, sausage roll held halfway to her mouth in thought. ‘Seems t’me like a good time t’be thinkin’ about family, is all. They keeps us sane in hard times.’ She gave me a sidelong glance. ‘Them old folks, they needs checkin’ up on, too.’
‘Mm.’ I ran a hand through my hair, and shrugged off the stupid hot coat. ‘And when am I going to do that? There’s no privacy with you in my face all day–’
Ang tossed something into the air: I caught it reflexively. I stared down at my reliable old Nokia, a brick of a phone by today’s standards.
‘Ye should keep it somewhere safer than the footwell,’ she said drily. ‘I’m goin’ fer a walk. I’ll take the daft hat.’
The door slammed, and I was alone.
‘These phones are indestructible, you know,’ I said to the thin air.
Suddenly, the weight of the surrounding silence was quite pressing. I hadn’t noticed how much I’d relied on Ang’s constant grumbling and munching and snarking to keep it at bay. I rested my forehead on the steering wheel. The phone was heavy in my hands.
I took a deep breath.
Dialled a number.
Closed my eyes.
There was the sound of love on the other end.
I smiled.
‘Hi Mum. How are you?’

 


 

Thanks for reading! I hope this little short has brought you a smile.

This is a standalone episode featuring the main characters from The Jack Hansard Series. If you’re new to Hansard and enjoyed this story, you can read the full twenty episodes of Season One right here.

If you’re already a Hansard fan, this story is meant as a small gift. I know it’s been an age of waiting for Season Two to appear, and that the self-publishing process for Season One is taking up a lot of my time. I want to reassure you that progress is being made: old words are being formatted, and new words are being written. And in the meantime I hope I’ve been able to provide some good humour in the middle of this peculiar moment in history.

I want to say a heartfelt thank you for sticking with me for so long, and for continuing to give me the confidence to take this whole story further. Your comments and messages have really touched me, and it’s an honour to know so many people have read and enjoyed Jack’s misadventures so far. I want to do right by you.

I’ll keep updating through the blog as more news on the series becomes available.

Take care, and look after yourselves in these strange times.

Georgina~

P.S. I wouldn’t have anything against Mansfield if it weren’t for that one time when I tried to travel through it with a bunch of friends, in order to get to somewhere else. But the roads… Wouldn’t. Let. Us. Leave.

Days passed. Years. We grew old circling the same roundabouts. Our escape was engineered by tricking a Wrong Turn into becoming the right one by answering a riddle about the Highway Code.

I’m convinced Mansfieldians live inside a crack in the space-time continuum.


If you enjoyed this story, you can support the author for the price of a coffee.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com