Virtual Bookshop Tour: The Ironbridge Bookshop

Virtual Bookshop Tour

Day Two: Ironbridge

Pack your bags and get ready for a day-trip from the comfort of your sofa/bed/bathtub. Today we’re off to The Ironbridge Gorge, an area in Shropshire that has the privilege of being a World Heritage Site because of its global importance to the Industrial Revolution. It’s a tremendously beautiful place; the green, densely wooded slopes of the Gorge belie the grittiness of its industrial history.

Readers of The Jack Hansard Series will understand why Ironbridge is so close to my heart. This is where we meet Ang, the crotchety little Welsh coblyn who becomes Jack’s trustworthy sidekick. They meet in the town of Ironbridge, which is where we find our bookshop stop for today: The Ironbridge Bookshop.


Ironbridge Bookshop
The Ironbridge Bookshop
5 The Square
Ironbridge

A big part of what makes independent bookshops so special is the people who run them. This bookshop happens to be run by the youngest bookshop-owner in England – yes, you read that right. Meg was just 18 when she took over The Ironbridge Bookshop six years ago, after having also worked there while growing up. Her brilliantly inventive and colourful displays are at the heart of this bookshop’s character.

Outside, the bookshop has a bright but quaint aesthetic to match the traditional surroundings of the town. Inside on the ground floor is where you’ll find a wide range of fiction and non-fiction. It’s a modest space and you won’t pack many people in at once, but the shelves are a treasure-trove of excellent books. I can attest to this personally as I’ve had the pleasure of visiting – and filling out my Terry Pratchett collection – on a few occasions.

Upstairs, however, is a different story. As you walk up the striking book-themed stairs, you quickly realise that The Ironbridge Bookshop is also a specialist bookshop.


Ironbridge Bookshop Penguin Wall
The Penguin Wall

“I’d say the most characteristic part of the shop is the Penguin Wall or book stairs. They are both colourful and eye catching and always provide a talking point!”

Meg from The Ironbridge Bookshop

Penguin books are at the heart and soul of this shop. One vibrant wall of books – affectionately called the Penguin Wall – is filled with this huge collection of original Penguin titles. Some of them are quite rare indeed. If you have a Penguin collector in your life, send them this way immediately.

The upper floor is also home to beloved children’s classics: think Ladybird books and Beatrix Potter.

Overall, this bookshop has the kind of homely vibe that I love. Slightly narrow, slightly messy, filled with the clutter of an avid booklover. (Yes, books stacked on books is a legitimate decorating style, don’t judge me!) It’s bright and colourful and a joy to hunt for bookish treasures in.


Ironbridge Bookshop Book Stairs
These stairs feature in a lot of The Ironbridge Bookshop’s creative Instagram book displays.

How can I support The Ironbridge Bookshop?

If you’re lucky enough to live in the local area, The Ironbridge Bookshop is offering a click and collect service. And if not, they will post books out to you instead!

You should definitely follow the bookshop on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where Meg regularly posts beautiful book displays for you to enjoy. This is also a lovely way to browse new and old titles alike – often with a little bit of history included in the description, too. Follow, learn, and maybe snag yourself a collectible along the way!

These books from the ‘In Praise of’ series have caught my eye: sweet little books filled with uplifting poetry, short quotes and old photos, currently available for just £5.99 each.

Beautiful Vintage Books
“Published by Frederick Muller between 1947-1955, with a range of titles, put together by different authors.” – The Ironbridge Bookshop

And here’s an example of the kind of classic gems you might discover. Isn’t this selection of vintage Alice in Wonderland covers fascinating?



Placing an order is easy. You can get in touch with The Ironbridge Bookshop through any of their social media channels, or by sending an email to theironbridgebookshop@gmail.com

And if you’re hunting for something specific, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice. Have fun treasure-hunting!


Before we go, here’s an extra stop for the Jack Hansard fans. Below is the famous Iron Bridge which Jack crosses to meet Ang and her hidden community of Welsh coblynau. The bridge was built in 1781 and is widely regarded as the first major bridge to be made of cast iron. And it’s just opposite The Ironbridge Bookshop!


Iron Bridge
Tk420, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

That brings us to the end of today’s tour. I’ll leave you to browse while I prepare for tomorrow’s leg of the journey; it’s a long way to Cumbria. (If you want to see what’s coming up, you can find the full Tour Itinerary here.)

See you tomorrow!


All bookshop photos reproduced with the kind permission of The Ironbridge Bookshop.

Virtual Bookshop Tour: Daunt Books, London

Jack Hansard Virtual Bookshop Tour

Welcome to the Tour!

This marks the start of our intrepid bookshop expedition. The locations we’re visiting this week have been inspired by settings from The Jack Hansard Series, my debut book release. But the real purpose of the tour is to celebrate the unique character of independent bookshops across England. We may not be able to visit them in person right now, but we can still show our favourite book-havens some love!

You can find the full Tour Itinerary here.


First stop, London!

Daunt Books Frontage
CVB, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fans of Jack Hansard will remember that we first meet our eponymous hero while he is dangling above the River Thames. I’ve chosen an historic London location for our first bookshop stop: Daunt Books. The building that houses the flagship Daunt Books shop was built in 1910, at 83 Marylebone High Street. It’s the perfect place to start our journey: it has personality pouring out of its metaphorical ears.

Outside, the shop has an impressive double-frontage as it occupies the shop next door as well. Inside, oak bookshelves line the walls. In the rear room, an elegant stained glass window makes for a stunning focal point. Look up, and you’ll see long oak galleries and dramatic skylights above. This is a big, beautiful, airy bookshop. It’s also supposedly the world’s first custom-built bookshop, designed by architect Sir William Henry White under the original Edwardian owner, Francis Edwards.


Bookshop interior
This iconic room can be found at the back of the shop.
Photo by Ugur Akdemir on Unsplash

The shop has only been known as Daunt Books since 1990 when it was bought by James Daunt. Since becoming Daunt Books, it has produced several branches all across London.


Oak bookshelves and galleries
A view from the top.
Photo by Alexandra Kirr on Unsplash

How can I support Daunt Books?

Daunt Books have a very robust shop on their website, so you can browse and order books from the comfort of your sofa. If you don’t know what to look for, you can even request a recommendation and one of their skilled booksellers will help you out. They also stock a beautiful selection of stationery and I recommend checking out their Christmas advent calendars. I’m tempted by one of the very sweet 3D scenes. Toy Shop or Town House? I can’t decide…

How sweet is this?
Find it here.

If you’re still stumped for gift ideas, take a look at their themed book bundles for a ready-made present. And if you need an extra-impressive bespoke gift, they even offer a tailored book subscription. The focus on personalised service is exactly why we love independent bookshops so much.

To see more beautiful books in your life, give Daunt Books a follow on social media, too. They are active on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


That concludes today’s stop on the tour! Join us tomorrow as we journey to the peaceful hills of Shropshire and a picturesque setting in the Ironbridge Gorge.

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. 🙂

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.

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.


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Life in Lockdown

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Image Source

I feel it would be remiss of me not to write a post about this historic time of global pandemic and national lockdown. It seems like everyone on my social feeds is doing their own live blogs, isolation diaries, and generally reaching out amid the Covid-19 crisis. The snapshots of life across the nation are diverse, yet suddenly intimately familiar as we all, in some manner, undergo the same experience.

The UK’s full-blown lockdown measures were announced on Monday night, just two days ago. For the first time in years I tuned in to watch a live broadcast, with my husband next to me, and my sisters on Messenger, as Boris Johnson effectively told the nation to Stay The Fuck At Home.

There’s not yet a curfew as far as I’m aware, but police can now fine gatherings of more than 2 people (unless you are all from the same household) and a very restrictive list of acceptable reasons for leaving the house has been issued. We’re in this for at least three weeks, with scope for tighter measures and a longer lockdown period ahead.

Despite this, on a personal level, not much feels like it has changed. My daughter is now nine months old, and I’ve been enjoying my maternity leave as a stay-at-home mum for as long as I can. I do now miss my weekly lunch outing to catch up with my sisters, and I WAS just starting to think about visiting my local parent/baby group before all this kicked off… but otherwise, my social life was already a little sparse.

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Here she is, checking our tissue supplies.

Admittedly, the sudden burst of spring sunshine does have me itching to go out somewhere, and I’m sure others are cursing both the beautiful weather and the lockdown as holidays, celebrations, and all social gatherings are cancelled outright. But we need to remember that this is a time when the actions of individuals really does make a huge difference, and we all have a part to play in protecting our country. (This is probably the most nationalist spirit I have ever felt.)

I saw a meme posted by a friend pointing out that in most Plague Outbreak movies society quickly disintegrates under selfishness, looting, and general chaos. But in the outbreak movie we’re currently living in, though some people are being selfish (hoarders and day-trippers, we’re looking at you), for the most part what people are doing is… consuming art. Creating art. Sharing art.

There’s been an outpouring of musicians, writers, and artists all releasing their content for free; there’s a sudden wealth of free education resources for both children and adults; and communities are banding together (but, you know, at a safe distance) to support their most vulnerable. I see strangers offering up their spare food and nappies, offering their time to deliver shopping to neighbours, offering their talents to keep people entertained.

On that same note, here’s a reminder that Season One of The Jack Hansard Series is completely free to read right here on my website (or over on Wattpad, if you prefer reading on their app). If you like humour and contemporary fantasy it might be the next binge-read you’ve been looking for.

If you’re also a creator offering free content or helpful resources in these trying times, PLEASE do post links below. Spread the love (and not the virus).

Jack Hansard White Background

 

With all this sharing and innovation, the internet has never been a more positive platform for social interaction. There are options for staying in touch that I had no idea existed. This week I’m trying out Roll20 to ‘meet up’ with a group of friends to play our regular D&D game on a virtual tabletop. Over the weekend a friend hosted a movie night using Netflix Party. In a couple of weeks it’s my birthday, and I’m wondering whether and how to hold a Skype party.

Another strangely beneficial consequence of lockdown measures is Husband working from home. It’s nice having him in the next room for a conversation throughout the day; for him to enjoy more time with our daughter (he’s done more than one conference call with her on his lap); ultimately, for us all to have more time as a family.

I also know that we’re very lucky. By pure chance we’d done a big shop just before the panic-buying really kicked in, so we’ve not had to worry about scrambling for essentials just yet. We’re not in financial difficulty, though I suppose it wouldn’t take much to push us – or anyone – into dire straits if our jobs suddenly fell through. Just before lockdown I was in the process of arranging with my employer how I was going to return to work; I’m no longer entirely certain that there will be a job for me to come back to.

But that’s a concern for another day. Right here and now there’s a minimum of three weeks of lockdown to get through, and we will get through it together, in spite of being metres and miles apart.

Now, more importantly: How are you?

Let us all know how you’re doing in the comments. What’s life like under lockdown for you? And remember, if you have any art, music, writing, advice, etc. to share, feel free to put those links below as well.

Keep in touch, and stay safe.

 

Georgina~

 

What Does Editing Look Like?

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A little update here on The Jack Hansard Series. Thanks again for sticking with me – we’re making steady progress! I know it’s proving to be a long wait, but I promise the end result will be worth it. I know it’s a bit dull to just hear ‘I’m editing’ over and over again, so I thought I’d give you all a little insight into what I’ve been working on, and exactly what ‘editing’ the series means in practice.

For a start it involves…

 

Restructuring

The original version of the series (still available to read for free on An Inspired Mess and on Wattpad) is written over 20 episodes. The final version will be just 15.

Wait! Don’t worry – nothing’s been cut, just condensed. The original episodes were written and published on a fortnightly basis, and realistically I could only churn out up to 5000 words in that time. This meant that several stories got split over separate episodes, and the episode lengths weren’t consistent. So you’d finish reading a satisfying 5000 word episode, to then stop short at the end of a 3000 word ep like: ‘Where’s the rest of it?’

So I’ve been working on evening out those word counts, and putting full stories into one episode wherever possible. For example, remember where Jack first meets Ang in Ironbridge? This was needlessly split into two episodes – there’s not even a proper cliff-hanger to lead from one to the other! So now they are joined together in one seamless story to be enjoyed without any interruption.

What this also means is I’m…

 

Adding New Content

Some of those stand-alone episodes are still too short, especially near the beginning of the series. You see, when I started out my episodes were only 2000-3000 words each, but as the series developed the characters found their voices and the plots became more rounded, demanding longer stories to see them through. You can see this in the explosive Phoenix finale, which took a whole five episodes to complete!

So I’ve been adding in extra details, and occasionally whole new scenes. Remember Episode 1, where Jack gets cornered by Scallet and makes a lucky and quick escape? The story no longer ends there. You now get to see a fraction of London’s underworld as Jack goes on to encounter an old ‘friend’ at the Black Friar and… I won’t spoil it for you.

A bizarrely shaped building, the Black Friar took up a corner of Queen Victoria Street and had a habit of playing tricks on the eyes. Viewed from the side, it appeared as a long, unrealistically thin building. From the front, a V that seemed to occupy more space than was possible. Rows upon rows of art nouveau windows gave the impression of crowded bedsits built for high society. And, naturally, there was a statue of a jolly black friar with his pudgy hands folded over his stomach, beaming down from his spot right above the front door.

You can also expect more interactions with characters like Ang, Officer Jo Neills, and Mark Demdike. Oh, and the lovely Devin Tracey gets a much-needed spot in the limelight as well. You might recall he’s the devilishly handsome Irish siren from episodes 8-10. It always bothered me that I never wrote him a proper purpose other than to act as a sounding board at the Market. Why have a siren if you don’t get to glimpse their ability in action? So you can expect just that – a glimpse.

But unfortunately, as well as adding I have also been…

 

Cutting

Alas, it is necessary. But again, don’t get too concerned. The whole point of editing is to cut details that the reader won’t miss, like clunky, slow dialogue or a lengthy portion of exposition that would be better used later.

Perhaps one of the biggest chunks I’ve cut so far is from Episode 6: Cockermouth where Jack’s internal monologue became horribly clogged up with an explanation of his different types of customers. It was awfully long-winded and not really relevant to the situation at hand – so now it’s transformed into a much more enjoyable argument with Ang over the subject.

‘He falls into the ‘spurned lovers’ category of our demographic, Ang,’ I said knowingly. I ignored her mouthing ‘Demo-what?’ under the table. ‘Desperate people, angry people, these are our favourite customers. They have an axe to grind and I’m here to provide the grindstone.’

I should also say that if you’ve read the series’ most recent iteration on Wattpad (or here on An Inspired Mess after January 2017) then you’ve missed most of the drastic cuts already. The version currently published online is actually the second draft, which had an extensive overhaul of its own. So don’t worry – you won’t recognise what you don’t miss.

On a more cheerful note, editing also involves…

 

Refining Content

I suspect this is what a lot of people think editing is, while forgetting about the dirty work of necessary cuts and story structure. Technically all of editing is a refinement, but here I’m talking about the more enjoyable, low-level edits that are designed to just make the writing easier to read.

These are usually quite simple changes, a matter of phrasing and word choice to make a sentence read more smoothly. Also checking grammar and consistency – you won’t believe how long I agonised over what form my ellipsis should take. Google did not give me a straight answer.

Would you believe that in publishing it’s usually a matter of house preference? Some publishers will put the ellipsis in the middle of words like this … while others will join it on, like this…

Yet others will use a spaced out ellipsis like this . . . which was always my favourite until I discovered it caused no end of formatting problems online. A comically simple, but frustratingly time-consuming issue to overcome.

And finally…

 

Heeding Feedback

This is always the most important part of any editing process, and it feeds into everything I’ve outlined above. A lot of self-published authors apparently pay for professional editors to proof read and critique their work – but I’m afraid I cannot even slightly afford such services. So I did the next best thing: assembled a pool of people I trust to give me real honest feedback and help pick the series to pieces. They played a large part in shaping that initial, harsh edit.

This second round of editing is largely influenced by the voice of genuine readers; that is, people who came to read the series because they wanted to, not because I asked. If you’ve ever left a comment or shot me a private message about an episode – whether it contained praise or criticism – you can guarantee that I’ve considered carefully how it should impact on the writing.

On this note, a general tip for other writers out there: heeding feedback is not the same as always following feedback. As your spidey senses develop, you begin to learn how to differentiate – when to follow the advice of others, and when to follow your own instinct. But don’t throw out criticism just because you disagree with it. First, try to understand where that criticism is coming from, why you disagree, and then why you might be wrong.

 

So that’s where we’re at, guys. I think I’m about two thirds of the way through this process, and I’ll let you know when we’re close to publication. If you’ve been wondering, the series will be available through Amazon Kindle as an e-book later this year.

 


 

Thanks for reading! If you liked this post you might also enjoy:

Ch-ch-changes! Editing Tips Part 1

The Easy Cut: Editing Tips Part 2

The Hard Cut: Editing Tips Part 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Art: The Pain of Decision

Just over a week ago I asked y’all to give me your opinions on some draft book covers for The Jack Hansard Series – and your response was fantastic! Thank you for all of your messages on the blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Wattpad – we’ve been weighing up your comments and have come to our final decision…

 

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The three cover choices.

 

Support was almost evenly split between options 1 and 3, with just a few shout-outs for option 2 – clearly the majority of you prefer a splash of colour! The lack of a clear favourite made our decision all the harder, but I’m proud to announce that we’ve firmly agreed on… cover 1!

‘Intrigue’ is the word that kept cropping up in your comments about this design and we heartily agree: it has the atmosphere of those mysterious, underhand dealings that define Jack Hansard. I’m a little bit sore to leave cover 3 behind (I can’t overstate how much I loved all of the options Dom presented me with) but who knows – future poster material, perhaps?

 

Cover 1 Final Draft
We’re taking this design to the next level.

What happens now?

Dom’s job is to evolve this concept into the final polished cover, and mine is give the series a final edit to make it perfect for publication. Watch this space – we’ll keep you updated as we go.

Hit that big ol’ Follow button if you don’t want to miss anything. You can also watch out for sneak-peeks and other news via Facebook and Twitter!