Beyond Thundering Waters: Book Launch and Giveaway!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Today marks the launch of a brand new fantasy story, and a new series along with it. Beyond Thundering Waters is a dark fairy tale set in the lush surroundings of the Utladalen Valley in Norway.

Our young heroine, Ida, gets into trouble when she catches the attention of Maja, a huldra who lives in the forest. Maja is drawn by Ida’s grief – she’s still grappling with the death of her Mamma… and it seems Maja is keen to fill the void that was left behind. Will Ida end up with a huldra for a mother? Can she save her Pappa before Maja takes him away forever?

The Giveaway

To celebrate, I’m giving away a whole bunch of free copies of this eBook! Today you can grab one of TEN freebies using this special coupon code at Smashwords:

GB26X

Find the book in the Smashwords store here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1142105

Simply enter the code at checkout to get the book for free. Remember, there are only ten copies available: the first ten people to enter the code, win! The code expires next week on 10th May.

This isn’t the only giveaway. You’ll find another code to use on Google Play via my Facebook page, and yet another code in my Reader Group. Current subscribers to my newsletter will get their own chance to win one of TWENTY free copies tomorrow!

And of course, if you want to purchase the story instead, you can find the ebook on all retailers via this universal link: https://books2read.com/b/4jgw9X

If you’d like to help out this little launch, please reblog this post, shout about the giveaways, and share the book link! Love to you all, and I hope you enjoy the story. 😊

Dark Folklore… Coming Soon

Dark Folklore: A Short Story Series

Dark Folklore is a new short story series inspired by myths and monsters from around the world.

I love discovering folklore in all its flavors… from elusive beasties that stalk the aging forests to twisting fates in fairytales told from the shadows of a campfire. The more obscure and sinister the tale, the better.

Dark Folklore is a series to indulge this love. Each installment is inspired by a folk legend from a different country, reimagined in a modern setting with new twists and themes. More than just a retelling: each short story is a new, original tale. Expect some spooky vibes and a few unhappy endings… but also the odd uplifting one as well.

The first installment of Dark Folklore releases on Tuesday 3rd May: a story called Beyond Thundering Waters. With a lush Norwegian setting surrounded by mountains and waterfalls, this story draws on a menacing interpretation of the huldra (one of my favourite folkloric creatures). Ida, a young girl still grieving the loss of her mother, must race against time to save her Pappa from the clutches of her own wild valley and the huldra who would keep them apart.

This story is already live for preorder on all the usual storefronts. Stay tuned for a special Launch Day Giveaway: I’ll be handing out TEN free copies of Beyond Thundering Waters via my blog, and even more copies via social media and my newsletter!

So remember to hit the Follow button on my website, and check out my socials on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Subscribe to my newsletter (and receive another free short story) by clicking here.

For even MORE folklore content and chances to win, you can also join my Reader Group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/aninspiredmess


Are you excited for this series? Let me know if you’ve picked up Beyond Thundering Waters already, or are joining us on 3rd May for the Giveaway!

My 2021 Submissions Round-Up

Each year I keep track of my writing submissions with a spreadsheet of all the short stories and poetry I tender for publication, along with the successes and failures for each. I’m feeling really good about this year’s results. Let’s tally up!


Submissions to magazines, anthologies, and competitions

Number of Submissions: 29

Submissions Declined: 24

Submissions Accepted: 4

Still under review: 1


Hurray! That feels like a decent ratio of success.

Of those Accepted submissions, two have been published this year. I wrote a folklore-themed piece called Denizens of the Deep Dark for Copperfield Review Quarterly published in July, and a dystopian-alchemy story for a speculative fiction anthology, Unbreakable Ink, published in September.

Piece number three is a slightly weird horror story-graphic which will appear in a future issue of Sci-Fi Lampoon. The fourth one I’m not allowed to announce – though I desperately want to be able to brag about it – until it has been published.

I’m proud of all of them, but especially this last un-named story simply because I persevered with it all year. It had the most Declines out of all my submissions, but was eventually accepted by one of the more impressive (to me!) publishers on my list. This piece, which is a foray into Weird Horror, also gained some magnificent feedback from those who declined it, which stoked my enthusiasm and led me to go back over and refine the story even more, before it was finally accepted.

My message here is to keep going. Don’t allow yourself to be dragged down by a few negative responses. Consider criticism carefully and learn to identify which parts make your writing shine. Keep polishing your work and putting it in front of people. Eventually, you’ll find the right people to appreciate it.

If you need ideas for where you can submit your writing to, check out this list of 5 Places To Find Story Submission Opportunities.


My other Big Achievement this year has been to finish writing and editing The Jack Hansard Series: Season Two, ready for release in January 2022. Considering it took me around five years to properly publish Season One, getting a whole book done in one year is a big step forward for me. This time I had a plan, and I managed to stick to it (just). I also have a better idea of how this publishing malarkey works now, and I’m optimistic for the year ahead!

How has your year been?

Have you had any great writing achievements this year? Tell me about it in the comments! It needn’t be an acceptance or publication – maybe you finally finished a story that’s been clawing at your brain, or you’ve just started the journey of a new one. Now’s a great time to reflect on all the progress you’ve made, and recognise even the smallest successes along your path.

I hope you go into the new year with a similar feeling of optimism. Wishing you all the very best, and a very Happy New Year~

Celebrating a Year in Print!

Jack Hansard book with birthday cake

Today is Jack Hansard’s book birthday!

A year ago today I hit publish on The Jack Hansard Series: Season One, the genre-bending episodic fantasy I’d first conceptualised five years before. The exploits of this occult salesman and his cantankerous coblyn sidekick have become very close to my heart.

It has taken considerably less time to produce the book’s sequel, bolstered in no small part by the confidence I gained in finally getting the first one ‘out there’. So it’s with a great deal of pleasure that I can announce The Jack Hansard Series: Season Two is now available for pre-order everywhere ebooks are sold!

The paperback version will become available for pre-order some time in December, once the book cover design has been finalised. Follow me on social media or my newsletter to receive updates and sneak previews of the cover art as it develops.

I’m also running a flash sale to celebrate this milestone

For a limited time only you can pick up The Jack Hansard Series: Season One for just 99p. Grab your copy here!

My short story The Hub is also FREE to download from most retailers for a very short time. Find it here.

Thank you for your support over the past twelve months, and here’s to more exciting times ahead!

Book Birthday! The Jack Hansard Series: Season One ebook cover

2021 Submissions: Halfway Checkpoint!

SHORT STORY SUBMISSIONS

Stats & Stuff


Story submissions to magazines, anthologies, and competitions

Number of Submissions: 23

Submissions Declined: 15

Submissions Accepted: 1

Still under review: 7


Wheeeeeee! We’re only halfway through the year, and I’ve already bested last year’s results (which, let’s face it, were pretty abysmal anyway). I expect to slow down on submissions towards the end of this year, but only because I hope to be extra-focused on handling edits and the publishing process for Season Two of The Jack Hansard Series.

The Accepted story on this list is a flash triptych called ‘Denizens of the Deep Dark’. It will feature in the upcoming July issue of Copperfield Review Quarterly.

Why are my submissions going better this year?

Having been at this for a while now, I’ve built up a larger catalogue of short stories to send out. This means I can have several different pieces out at the same time, rather than waiting for just one to be assessed by a publisher before being able to submit it again. I’m also quite proud of some of my newer works (tangible evidence of improvement in my writing) and this confidence keeps me eager to edit and resubmit after every rejection.

I’ve also been helped by some very fast turnarounds from a few journals. While it can be disheartening to receive a rejection in less than 48 hours (24 hours, in one instance!) this does then immediately free up the story for submission elsewhere, as many of these publishers don’t allow you to submit to multiple markets at once.

An extra note is that I’ve broadened my horizons this year by making a return to poetry, which I’ve dabbled in on-and-off over the years. There are just two poems of which I’m proud enough to have included in the above submissions list, and one which I’ve entered into a humour competition that will announce winners in August. Let’s see how we go!

How are your submissions going?

Do you keep track of your submission stats like this? How’s this year shaping up compared to last year? Tell me all about it, I’d love to know! We can celebrate our wins and commiserate our rejections together. And if you’re yet to submit anything, then I’m here to shout you some friendly words of encouragement.

If you need ideas for where to submit your stories, check out this list I made of my own favourite haunts for scouring short story markets.

Happy submitting!

5 Places To Find Story Submission Opportunities

Where to find paying markets for your short stories

I talk a lot about writing submissions and lately have had questions from friends about where I find these paid writing gigs – and how they might find their own. So I thought I’d share the resources I use the most, for anyone who might also be wondering how to find a home for their short stories.

Below is a mix of blogs and lists, some of which are geared just toward speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, etc) and others that encompass all genres. Take a look, and hopefully you’ll find a market you want to submit to!


The Horror Tree

The Horror Tree writing submission calls

A regularly updated blog which keeps abreast of opportunities in the industry. As the name suggests, The Horror Tree focuses on posting submissions calls for horror-themed writing, but does include entries from other speculative fiction genres as well. This is where I first heard about The San Cicaro Experience, an urban fantasy anthology which I submitted to and was published in last year,

At The Horror Tree you’ll mainly find open calls from journals and anthologies, and then the occasional competition and novel/novella opportunity. You’ll find a fair number of lower-paying markets here (often less than 4 cents a word) and many publications that might only pay an honorarium (such as $10 or less for a short story). But pro markets do pop up as well: regular calls for Fantasy Magazine and Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores are good examples.

I do think you’re more likely to come across opportunities here that you might not find elsewhere, and the themes are so varied and interesting that you have a higher chance of stumbling across one that makes you go, “YES. I want to create something for THIS.” (Recently I’ve seen calls for ‘found footage’ horror stories, ’31st century monsters’, and ‘mad queens’.) This is what makes The Horror Tree my favourite site to scroll for submissions.


Writer’s HQ

Writers' HQ competition submissions

Writer’s HQ is both a source of free writing resources and an organiser of British writing retreats on the cheap. They maintain a continually updated list of competition opportunities each month, and have recently changed their policy to only include listings that make an effort to be financially accessible to writers. I’m a massive fan of this approach. My personal policy is to not submit to publications that require an entry fee (the aim here is to make money…) though I’m not averse to supporting journals which provide the option of a donation or have a tip jar feature.

The folks at Writer’s HQ seem to have accessibility built into their attitude, and they make this whole business of writing feel achievable with their pragmatism and sense of humour. They also host their own weekly Flash Face-off contest (like a community writing exercise) and will pay you for blog posts on the writing process (currently closed to submissions, but worth keeping an eye on if this is your thing).


Short Dark Fiction Markets – S.J.Budd

Dark fiction markets

This one is a single static list compiled by speculative fiction author S.J.Budd. Unlike the ones listed above, these are not submission calls with specific themes or deadlines and are not (to my knowledge) regularly updated. It’s simply a great list of journals which (usually) accept unsolicted submissions. Being a writer of speculative fiction myself, it’s refreshing to see a list which encompasses simply ‘dark’ fiction, as this can range far and wide across fantasy, sci-fi, horror and beyond. I find similar lists on a singular genre under the speculative umbrella can be a bit limited for my purposes.

Like any static list, you will find that some publishers on this page have sadly gone out of business, or that submission windows are currently closed. But the high number of listings and the amount of info included next to each one makes this a really great resource to quickly scan and identify markets that might be the right fit for your work.


Submittable

Submittable writing opportunities

Submittable is really a submissions manager – many of the journals in those lists above will require you to upload your work via Submittable. You’ll need to register an account for this (don’t worry, it’s free). It’s quite useful in that it saves (and automatically fills in) your personal details, and you can create a cover letter template to save you writing out nearly the same thing each time. It also tracks your submissions so you can see which stories are currently in progress/accepted/declined.

Under the Discover tab is where you can actively search for opportunities. I’m pleased that it lets me filter by deadline and ‘No Fees’, but I admit to finding the search function a bit lacking. I don’t come here to seek out new markets very often – mainly because there are just SO MANY submission calls that’s it’s difficult to narrow down exactly what you might be looking for.

This is because Submittable opportunities encompass a really wide range of subjects – from applying for research grants and job vacancies (I recently discovered and applied for a job at a small press here actually; sadly didn’t get through) to entering competitions, submitting short stories to journals, and even whole novels to presses. There are opportunities for writers, artists, animators, musicians, journalists, and more… Basically, if you know anyone looking for anything in the creative sphere, Submittable isn’t a bad place to start. Play around with the search tags and filters, and eventually you’ll find something that fits your niche.


Prizemagic

Prizemagic writing competitions

This one feels a bit nostalgic for me because it’s the list I’ve used for the longest time, but have neglected of late. Prizemagic concerns itself solely with writing competitions. The website looks quite dated now, but the listings are still regularly refreshed. Each entry has a note to say when it was added or last edited, which is very useful when considering those evergreen contests which roll around every year.

It’s also made extra-fun by the occasional humorous remark from the website’s owner, Michael Shenton, and I enjoy reading the little success stories from people who have written in to share their competition triumphs. The listings themselves contain more info than you’d find elsewhere, as the author takes pains to provide some context for what each contest is looking for in your entry.

I should also mention that this list is much more UK-centric than the ones above – which is BRILLIANT for British writers like me, who too often are mentally converting dollar amounts in our heads when weighing up fees and prizes.


Let us know if you found somewhere to submit your story from this list! And if you want to recommend other places to look for new writing opportunities, please do mention them in the comments.

Good luck, and happy submitting! 😁

My 2020 Submissions Round-Up

Last year (2019, that is) I started tracking my short story submission stats – and now it’s time to compare how I did in 2020. So without any faff, here are my numbers!


Story submissions to magazines, anthologies, and competitions.

Number of Submissions: 14

Submissions Declined: 12

Submissions Accepted: 0

Still under review: 2


Dang. I was hoping to beat my previous score, but unfortunately I made 3 fewer submissions in 2020 than in 2019. But, global pandemic aside, at least I have some good reasons for not being on top of my short story game – and some reasons to celebrate, as well! The biggest one being:

2020 is the year I finally published my book debut, The Jack Hansard Series: Season One. HURRAY!

I also had a short story published in an anthology, set myself up to take on some freelance gigs, and am currently knee-deep in writing my next book. Back in March I released a free lockdown-themed Jack Hansard story (you can read it here); in the summer I launched my email newsletter; and in November I had a lot of fun writing up a Virtual Bookshop Tour to support independent bookshops.

So on a purely personal level, it’s been a good year. My family has remained happy and healthy, and we know how lucky we’ve been throughout everything that’s happened over the last twelve months.

I’m going to try to give my blog a bit more attention in 2021. I’m not a natural blogger, so I tend to only post when I have newsworthy updates or some advice which I think others may find useful. I really enjoyed doing the Virtual Bookshop Tour, so I might aim for more pieces like that in the future.

If you want to receive more regular updates from me, you can subscribe to my newsletter here. I email once a fortnite with a short update about what I’m working on – sometimes with links to free books and recommendations from other indie authors. (Subscribers also receive a copy of Deus Ex Machina, another fun little story set in Hansard’s occult world.)

My goals for 2021? Keep submitting stories; publish Book 2; enjoy more time with my family.

I hope the new year has found you well, and that it brings us all a little more joy than the previous one. Remember to take care of yourself, and the people around you.

Happy New Year, folks.

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