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.


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

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5 Struggles of Being a Pregnant Writer

pregnant pixabay

 

So I should probably share the news that has been dominating my life for the last eight and a half months: I’m pregnant, folks. Yep, pretty soon my husband and I will be welcoming a wrinkly little potato-faced creature into the world – god help her.

With the impending arrival less than two weeks away, I started thinking about my experiences of pregnancy, and in particular the effect it’s had on my writing time. Perhaps predictably, my productivity has plummeted: for some reasons I was expecting, and some that came as a surprise. I thought I’d share them for all the other writer-mum’s-to-be out there… congratulations and commiserations to you, by the way!

 

So here are my top five gripes about trying to write while pregnant:

 

1. When you miss your coffee.

It’s a ritual for many writers, and I’m no exception – I enjoy my pre-work sesh coffee. I’ve never chain-drunk the stuff like some people I know, but I do now have to think more carefully about whether and when I drink one.

You may already know: your recommended max caffeine intake during pregnancy is 200mg a day, and one cup of (instant) coffee is around 100mg. The eye-opener for me was learning about all the other things I eat and drink that also contain caffeine: Coca Cola I already knew about, but chocolate came as a surprise. Don’t forget tea, if you prefer the more traditionally British of hot beverages.

This means if I have one coffee first thing in the morning, I can’t have one when I sit down to write in the afternoon. If I happen to drink a pint of coke (it’s an occasional treat for me) and gorge on a bit of chocolate, then it’s also probably best to avoid that coffee altogether.

Now, I don’t need coffee to write, but it’s a comforting habit that helps get me in the mindset for it. Especially after a long day at work, a cup of coffee when I get home is a good way of easing my brain back into the idea of doing more work, i.e. writing. Those after-work writing sessions became hella less frequent when I realised my one rationed cup of coffee was more essential to getting me through my regular workday instead.

That wasn’t the only reason productivity took a dive though, as per the next gripe…

 

2. When you’re too tired to write… all the time.

‘You’ll be a lot more tired when the baby’s here!!’

Thanks. Great advice.

People like to tell you to ‘enjoy your rest’ before the baby comes, but the reality is that pregnancy isn’t all that restful.

I wasn’t prepared for how dramatically the hormones kicked my energy levels, especially early on. It sapped my mood as well as my general wellbeing. One of my colleagues later told me they were worried I was hiding a serious illness, I’d been acting so off.

My morning sickness also hit me quite reliably in the evenings. Trying to write after work was suddenly a complete bust, regardless as to whether I could factor in a cup of coffee or not.

Now that I’m in the third trimester, my lack of energy is down to a lack of sleep. This belly is uncomfortable, y’all. But not just that: the symptom I’ve hated most, and which they don’t tell you about, is sodding acid reflux. Because your stomach is being squished and the muscles are somewhat relaxed, that acid burn is a relatively common feeling, especially at night. I take Gaviscon before I go to bed every evening, and with annoying regularity will still wake up two or three hours later with that same sickly acid in my throat. (Don’t try to give me home remedies, by the way. I’ve tried them all.)

To top it off, for some reason completely unknown to me, I’ve gone from being a person who could happily (nay, ideally) sleep in until midday, to a bloody morning person. Five AM is no longer an alien time to me.

Case in point: as I write, it is presently 5:20 AM. I’ve been awake since around 3:30 AM (woken up by acid, surprise surprise!), because my mind couldn’t stop alternating between drafting this post, and imagining worst-case labour scenarios. Hurray!

 

3. When your belly gets in the way.

I often sit and write on the couch, with my laptop across my knees. (I know, I know, it’s awful for my posture.) It’s comfortable, and situated in the nicest room of the house. I wish I had a home office set-up, but I lack the space and money. I use my dining table occasionally, but the back room can be a bit cold and dreary to spend long periods in.

So the day my laptop could no longer fit on my lap, I felt really pregnant. That belly has no give in it, whatsoever. So now it’s a delicate balancing act, where if I forget to keep my hands on the keyboard it just might capsize backwards onto the floor.

On the flip-side, I am now saving up for some kind of space-saving desk… Maybe one that fixes to the wall or something.

 

4. When you’re in the middle of a paragraph and then… you have to pee.

Needing the toilet more is par for the course in pregnancy. But it isn’t half annoying when it interrupts a great flow of character dialogue. Or, quite often, it happens very soon after I’ve settled into my writing groove: I’m comfy, laptop’s sort of balanced, I’ve got some cake, I’ve even managed to factor in the elusive coffee… then bam. Time to get straight back up for the loo.

Another classic is the internal punching-bag effect. ‘Lightning crotch’ is, I discovered, a widely-recognised term for this pregnancy symptom. It’s pretty difficult to concentrate when mid-sentence you might get a sudden twang right in the pelvis because Darling Angel has just decided to headbutt a couple of nerves or kick some of your organs around. Thanks, lovie.

 

5. When you have even less time to work with.

It’s already difficult to find a balance between your day job, home life and writing, and it’s a struggle I know virtually every writer (unless you’re one of the lucky ones) has to deal with. With a baby on the way, suddenly there are even more jobs that eat into writing time – buying all the baby crap, painting the nursery, figuring out and freaking out about the birth plan…

And if you’re not actively doing something related to baby, you’re thinking about it instead. Do we have enough baby wipes? How the hell do reusable nappies work? What, exactly, is the difference between a pram and a travel system and why does the latter sound like it should come with blueprints?

 

1,316 Wet Wipes
We have 1,316 baby wipes. We counted.

 

I’m also very aware that once the darling potato’s here, I’ll have even less time to spend on writing. But there’s got to be a way to make it work. There are tons of successful writer-mums out there: my question to you is… how do you do it?

 


 

Feel free to share your own #pregnantwriter struggles in the comments – and any tips you have for overcoming them! New-Mum-Writers out there – do you have any advice for those of us expecting? What are the new challenges you face trying to write while looking after a newborn? Am I being too optimistic to think I’ll have any time spare to keep up with writing? ^_^;

And if you’re in the same boat as I am: remember to take care of yourself, and best of luck to you and your potato!

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…

 

Cover Choices.png
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!

 

 

Cover Art: Ask the Audience

This is an update for all you fantastic people following the progress of The Jack Hansard Series.

Firstly: thank you for your amazing support! It means a lot that you’ve stuck with me (and Jack) throughout this weird journey. I’ve just recently finished editing Season 1, and so have turned my sights to self-publishing.

Joining me on this venture is artist Dominique Lane. She’s well overdue for a formal introduction (I’ve her to thank for the kick-ass landing page of this website) so I’ll be sure to set up a little ‘Meet the Artist’ feature next.

The focus of today’s post is a little more practical, and involves audience participation!

Dom’s been working hard on book cover concepts, and we’ve narrowed it down to three which I’d like to show you today. The following images are all drafts – we can expect the final product to look somewhat different with more colour and cleaner lines – but they represent the designs we are considering. And we’d love to know what YOU think of them! Take a look:

Draft 1

Cover 1 Final Draft

 

Draft 2

Cover 2 Final Draft A

 

Draft 3

Cover 2 Final Draft B

 

Which one do you prefer? Can you tell us why?

This is your chance to affect the final product. I’m not just asking because I can’t decide (although honestly, I really can’t; they’re all way better than I even hoped for!)

We really do value your input – because after all, this cover is for you. So it ought to be something that you like 😉

Don’t be shy: have your say in the comments!

 

 

Folklore Snippets: Omamori, Pocket-Sized Luck

Omamori of Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha
By jetalone via Wikimedia Commons


It’s been a while since we’ve had a good look at some folklore, isn’t it? Under the spotlight today is a Japanese cultural and religious object – the omamori – which is a surprisingly common item of stock sold by our favourite occult tradesman:

Peggy straightened her notes. “Honestly, Jack, you’re never prepared. You never know when you might need something as simple as a pen and paper.”

“I’m prepared in different ways,” I said, patting the protective paper charms in my pockets.

“Jack, when have your charms ever actually worked?”

“They all work!” I said, indignantly. This, at least, was true. I don’t often lie to my customers (that’s a lie, part of me pointed out), it’s just that I sometimes omit important information. I will give a lifetime guarantee, on my word and my honour as a tradesman, that every one of my protective omamori charms are in fine working order. What I can’t guarantee, however, is what they protect you against.

From Episode 18: Stone Bridge, of The Jack Hansard Series

Omamori is a name given to a type of Japanese amulet: loosely translated, it means ‘protection’. Omamori normally take the form of a rectangle of patterned silk which contains prayers, the name of a god, or other religious text written on paper or wood. They exist as charms of good luck, or to act as wards against bad juju. Whether providing good luck to help pass a driving test, for example – or avoiding the bad juju of traffic jams – the main function of omamori is protection.

Sayamasanfudoji omamori
A traditional omamori.  Image Source
Omamori are a shared aspect of Japan’s two major religions: Shinto and Buddhism. Both have several varying branches of tradition so it’s hard to sum them up briefly – but I’ll try. You might describe Shinto as a religion that grew out of a rich body of native mythology and which is structured around belief in a huge host of gods and spirits (also known as kami) who can have both positive and negative effects on the world. Kami can include personifications of nature, natural forces, and even ancestral human spirits. Meanwhile, Buddhism was introduced later to Japan from its spread through China, and might be considered a more philosophical doctrine based heavily on the teachings of the Buddha – the central tenet being a realisation of the temporary nature of life and the ongoing cycle of rebirth.

Kyoto FushimiInari01
The Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Kyoto. Image by Mochi via Wikimedia Commons

Omamori charms are usually dedicated to one of these Shinto kami or a key Buddhist figure, and they are designed to provide a very specific brand of luck or protection. Charms to protect your health and ward off illness, for example, are quite common. If you’re going on a long journey, there’s an omamori to keep you safe while you travel – it’s particularly popular with bus and taxi drivers! A student might buy a charm specifically designed to bring luck in their education, especially during exam-season. If you can think of it, there’s probably an omamori for it.

“I’ve learned over time, and through an array of consumer complaints, that my stock of oriental paper charms can variously protect against finding moles in the garden, slight breezes, rains of fish, tripping over on a Sunday, burning your tongue on hot tea, sneezing in alleyways, and success – one charm so counter-intuitive that I could’ve sold it as a revenge curse if only I’d known what it did at the time.”

From Episode 18: Stone Bridge, of The Jack Hansard Series

If you hadn’t already guessed, these little amulets are still hugely popular in Japan today and can be bought from the vast majority of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The modern omamori is bright and colourful and most are designed to hang from things like bags and straps. You can even buy them in less traditional forms such as car bumper stickers, phone charms, and (my personal favourite) memory cards to protect your digital data and electronic devices! The key thing is that a true omamori will have been properly blessed and so infused with power before use.

Omamori of Dazaifu Tenman-gu
Many colourful omamori for sale. Image by Kanko via Wikimedia Commons

Good news for tourists: buying omamori as souvenirs is encouraged – it’s a nice way to participate in Japanese culture and support the shrine or temple you are visiting.

I for one am saving up my pennies. I’d love to visit Japan some day.


For further reading, try the following:

https://www.tofugu.com/japan/omamori/

https://allabout-japan.com/en/article/1284/

http://tokyo.com/omamori-handle-essentials

Season Finale: What happens now?

Fin.jpg

 

Holy crap. We made it guys. We made it to Episode freakin’ 20.

Now what?

I suppose we should have a quick retrospective. An Inspired Mess and the Jack Hansard Series launched way back in January 2015. I published one episode roughly every two weeks – sure, I took a short holiday in the middle, and the beginning of this year suffered a blip as I got engaged and started a new job – but broadly speaking I’ve accomplished what I set out to do: finish what I started. I said I’d get to 20 Episodes, and I have. Suck it, stage fright.

Through Jack’s ridiculous misadventures we’ve encountered monsters in abundance, magic aplenty, mayhem galore . . . and we’ve topped it off with an epic showdown between gods, humans, and one quiet-eyed femme fatale. And, of course, the little Welsh coblyn.

What the future holds, I’m not quite sure yet. Do I continue on into Season 2? Do I adapt the existing stories into a different format? Do I continue staring at my laptop saying ‘What do I do?’

Whatever the case, Hansard is too big in my head to just go back to sleep. There’s a definite future out there, and I’m looking forward to exploring it.

As for you guys . . .  the main thing I want to say is thanks. Thanks for sticking with me, and making this a worthwhile endeavour. I hope Hansard has been as entertaining for you as he has for me. If you like what you’ve read of the series, or have some thoughts on what I should do next, leave me a comment – you’ll undoubtedly influence my decision in some way or other. And I’d be just utterly chuffed to hear from you.

If you want to keep updated on what happens next, give that big old ‘Follow’ button a click. Or if you prefer, hit me up on Facebook. I hope we see each other again. Take care!

~Georgina~

 

 

 

 

The Nip-Slip (Flash Fiction)

The shame was the worst of it. The tangible odour of disgrace. As if the searing, spiky, red-hot rod of embarrassment lancing through my chest wasn’t enough.
It’s downright scandalous. The whole world saw, I just know. They all saw me in my moment of weakness, bare, uncovered, like a primitive. No doubt they’re talking about it now; I can feel their little barbed words piercing the air around me.
“How could anyone be so careless?” they’ll say. “Clearly an attention-whore,” they’d conclude. “Absolutely disgusting.”
They’d be right. It was disgusting. Lewd. The lowest point of depravity. And what’s worse, it happened at the seaside. Where children could see it.
I could have prevented it. If only I hadn’t left the top buttons of my shirt undone, if only the air hadn’t been so humid, if only it hadn’t been such perfect holiday sunshine weather – this whole ghastly affair could have been avoided!
But no. All it takes is for the fabric to catch on one unfortunately placed nail, to tear, to rip, to reveal to the entire beach of innocent holiday-makers the monstrosity that lies beneath.
A nipple.
My nipple.
Exposed, defiant, and without justification. Resplendent in its pink aereolic glory. Alas, the light dusting of sand did nothing to hide my shame.
I covered it as quick as I could, of course. We all would. My hand slapped straight to my chest. I swear I felt the blood drain from my cheeks in pure horror, while simultaneously rushing to them in abject humiliation.
The damage was done. No one would ever look at me the same way again.
You’d think that a nipple shouldn’t be something to write home about. I mean, we all have them. We all know what they look like. They are pink little protruding bobbles in our skin. They don’t smell, they don’t make a noise: in many ways they are really quite innocuous. But seeing a foreign one always causes us to stare.
To say, ‘I know what your nipples look like,’ is somehow incredibly, inexplicably invasive.
I take a long, deep breath. I can get over this. It was just a minor slip. I don’t have to let it ruin my life; I don’t have to let people judge me like that.
As I carefully fix my shirt, my wife turns to me.
“Stop worrying, Dave,” she says with exasperation, and shakes the water from her hair. “No one’s looking at you.”
She sighs a small, private sigh, and then self-consciously tugs the towel tighter around her bikini-clad body.

Back In Business!

Moved into new house: Check.
Switched utility suppliers: Check.
Found new internet provider: Check.
Castrated unhelpful TalkTalk employees: Check.

Finally uploaded Episode 13 of the Hansard Series: Freakin’ CHECK!

I know it’s taken a long time, but it’s finally here. That was a ridiculous cliffhanger to be left on, wasn’t it? Everyone’s stranded in the Nether, Ang’s dying, Hansard and Jo are in mortal peril, something BIG is about to happen . . . sorry for the wait. The upside is that because Episode 13 was sitting on my laptop for so long, I’ve been tinkering with it for ages and it just kept growing – so it’s a good 2000 words longer than a normal episode. And it’s a fairly tasty installment: we get the first real insight to part of Hansard’s past; we finally find out what happened to Ang; and could it be that Baines and Grayle are involved somehow?

Furthermore, to help make up for the month-long silence, I’ve got some extra doo-dads to show you on the blog, including some bonus short stories and an interview with an author-friend of mine.

It’s good to be back >=D

Jack Hansard Series Update: Episode 11

Episode 11: Nether

“Do you know how fast you were going, sir?”
The red fuel light blinked at me accusingly. I grimaced.
“I suppose it was a bit fast. Sorry about that. I’ll take the ticket and be on my way, shall I?”
I tried to surreptitiously knock the pile of other unpaid vehicular fines off the passenger seat.
“I’ll need to see the license, sir,” the police officer said suspiciously. Her eyes surveyed me and my scruffy attire, then moved to the tattered maps spread across the dashboard and the half-finished bag of yesterday’s chips nestled in the open glove box.
I hoped she wasn’t going to try and search the car. I really didn’t want her to find the body in the boot.

It’s been a while since we last saw Hansard at the Black Market gathering in Hull (where he was picking a fight with fellow traders and desperately trying to find more information on the girl with the quiet eyes) and it seems that he’s had plenty of time to find more trouble since then. In this week’s episode he’s held up by a run-in with the law – and this is bad news for the unfortunate police officer who tries to arrest Hansard. They probably don’t train recruits on how to deal with being pulled into another dimension at the academy.

As always, feedback and constructive criticism welcome. I had a lot of fun writing this one, so I hope you have fun reading it 🙂

Next series update will be Wednesday 22nd of July.