Fates and Furies – a Review

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fates and Furies divided our book group – an even split between those who loved and hated it. I fell into the former camp, as I adored the book.

Lauren Groff’s tale tells the story of a marriage and how different it is to the two protagonists. The first part of the book ‘Fate’ tells the story from the husband’s point of view. Lancelot Satterwhite comes from a wealthy background but manages to alienate himself from his widowed mother. His marriage to Mathilde drives further distance between the two, but after a shaky start to his working life, after his mother cuts him off, Lancelot (or Lotto) discovers a talent for playwriting and establishes a wildly successful career, albeit with a few hiccups along the way.

When he dies, the viewpoint shifts to Mathilde, and it here the book becomes splendid. Nothing that seemed like luck or fate happened to Lotto. His wife was there all the time, working behind the scenes to manipulate circumstances – mostly in Lotto’s favour. She engineered their first meeting and marriage. She put in place obstacles to stop him reconciling with his mother. She re-wrote and edited his plays – a lot of the time he wrote them while drunk, so was unable to tell when Mathilde tidied them up – and she even managed to get his fiercest critic on board. And yet, Mathilde comes across as very sympathetic, a difficult, flawed woman dealing with a hugely ego maniac of a husband. (Who is also pretty likeable, incidentally.)

While my book group felt the writing was beautiful, we differed on our opinions about the story’s sensationalism. Did Mathilde’s story need to be quite so dramatic and terrible? (We later find out she was thrown out of her house as a child by her parents after an accident.) I didn’t mind the dramatisation, but perhaps the really brilliant story is that of two very ordinary people living together for years, and yet not really knowing each other?

There are plenty of twists and turns, and I do love a page-turner so the book appealed to me. I read it in three days. Read it and join the conversation!

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The Refuge

Here’s a flash fiction story about recent events in the UK and my tribute to the victims and the survivors…

Image result for girls using hairsprayThe Refuge

When you opened the door, the smell hit you.

Hairspray, different perfumes and nail varnish – so thick and cloying, you had to breathe through your mouth to stop yourself choking.

Louisa knew the drill when she entered the women’s loos at an Ariana Grande gig, though the same applied to Little Mix, Taylor Swift and any other artist with that fanbase. The toilets swirled with chemicals, excitement and high-pitched chatter.

One group sang Ariana’s final song, miming microphones in front of the mirrors.

The toilets were to prove a refuge. Chemicals, laughter, chatter and finally safety from one with murderous intent.

©Emma Baird 2017

 

And That Includes You, Fatty

Image result for vampire teeth

Picture thanks to Rikard Elofsson

A sample chapter from something I’m working on… (Slight adult content, so stop reading now if you don’t like that kind of thing.)

Her life with Cordelia had been straightforward so far – straightforwardly bloody, the satisfaction of three different, ferocious appetites. Once upon a time, Eve had been meek and mild. Thin and apologetic, her speech was littered with modifiers and qualifiers.

“Do you think… I don’t mind if you’d rather… only if you feel that’s the best idea… well, it’s only a suggestion, I don’t know if I’m really qualified to comment…”

She’d loved those first few months of vampirism. It was all take, take, take. She grabbed people and sucked the life from them, she broke off great slabs of cake and stuffed them into a greedy, gaping mouth, she held the back of her lover’s head in her hands and shoved it between her legs.

Life was very good indeed.

Now? Now it seemed more complicated. Vampires that saw her as different and thus didn’t like her. The mysterious Firm hard on their heels. Some mysterious prophecy she could only guess at. No doubt, it would be your typical prophecy, predicting doom and gloom but worded in an ambiguous way so that believers couldn’t be too disappointed when it didn’t come true.

“I’m Mathilde,” the woman stepped out of the doorway. “Let me look at you, you magnificent creature.”

Aldric and Arnaud frowned at her enthusiasm, Eve noted. Mathilde was an age somewhere between the old man and the young one. She shared Arnaud’s dark hair and swarthy complexion, and his large, almost-black coloured eyes. She was very small, but then Eve remembered reading that the average height of people hundreds of years ago was much shorter than the average height now.

She got to her feet. Again, the clothes were another aspect of vampire life she loved. As a human, Eve stuck to the recommendations for a capsule wardrobe – crisp white shirts, tailored trouser suits, cashmere twin sets and that kind of thing.

Eve the vampire was much more theatrical. “Be a goth!” Cordelia said when they’d both gone shopping for her new, larger body. “You will look incredible!”

Today, she was wearing some of those purchases – a dark-purple velvet Gothic jacket with lace in-sleeves over a calf-length fishtail skirt in the same colour, laced up with ribbons at the back over her bottom, and suede skin-tight boots.

Mathilde made her twirl in a circle before her, touching her lightly. Light touch, nonetheless, she felt the strength and power in those finger tips. Proof once more of the strength vampires gained the longer they stayed alive.

“I love fashion!” She plucked at the in-sleeves and smiled at Eve. “…though this confuses me. It’s not modern, surely? I think you’re a very young vampire, aren’t you? Why are you wearing this old stuff?”

Cordelia sighed. “Mathilde. Nowadays, people like to ape the fashion of yesteryears. Eve is wearing steampunk Gothic. People love that look these days.”

Mathilde nodded slowly. “Good to know. I don’t like to make a fool of myself when I visit couturiers.”

Mathilde had been visiting couturiers for two centuries now. Aldric allowed it as being thin, pale-skinned and aloof, Mathilde didn’t stick out in the high fashion world. And she only bit designers who weren’t destined for greatness. They weren’t missed.

“I don’t believe that prophecy for a second,” Cordelia had risen from her chair

“Don’t you?” Mathilde turned to face her, her expression suddenly hostile. “You keep coming back to the west country, though don’t you? Interesting that this is the first time in years you’ve chosen to come and see us.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes.

“Two hundred and fifty years of kindness and hospitality!” Mathilde was on a roll. “You ungrateful little bitch.”

With a sudden movement, she flicked out a hand, the gesture enough to send Cordelia flying across the room.

Aldric gave a sigh, but didn’t recriminate her.

“Hey!” Sensing that this wasn’t a fight she would win, Eve backed off Mathilde and the instinct to thump her, hurrying instead to Cordelia’s side and helping her to her feet.

Cordelia grasped her hand. “No matter.” She waved aside Eve’s concern.

“Mathilde refers to something a woman once said before we killed her.”

Arnaud produced another bottle of the fine red wine they’d been drinking and topped up all the glasses. “Yes, I think she was the last victim we despatched together, wasn’t she Cordelia?”

For the first time, Eve began to feel jealous. Arnaud had kept his eyes on Cordelia almost all the time they’d been together in the room. At first, Cordelia had seemed to resolutely keep her gaze averted from his but Eve noticed that now she kept darting looks at him.

Vampire sexuality was fluid, Cordelia often told her. She’d never talked about vampire fidelity, though. The discomfort Eve felt was all too human, reminding Eve of her last boyfriend and the unease she’d experienced whenever he went on a night out with his friends. Carl loved women so much he couldn’t help himself. That was the excuse he gave Eve and expected her to sympathise.

Disturbed by her feelings, Eve concentrated on the present. “What did she say, this woman? That prophecy?”

“Oh, some nonsense –”

“Unlike horoscopes or the rubbish peddled by so-called mediums,” Mathilde broke in, “this lady was precise in her prediction. She gave a date when Cordelia and ‘all her kind’ would be wiped out and by whom.”

Mathilde moved forward so she was standing in front of Eve once more. She cradled Eve’s cheek in her palm. “That means you too, fatty.”

With that, Cordelia exploded. “Do not dare insult Eve!”

She vaulted in front of Eve, pushing her out of the way and grabbed Mathilde by the shoulders, shaking her so hard Eve could hear rattling. Maybe it was her brain. Maybe it was her teeth clashing against each other in her jaws.

Eve didn’t care. Watching someone punish another for insulting you insulated you from finer feelings that might object to physical harm.

Mathilde put up with Cordelia’s ministrations for a while, before growling – a long, deep noise that came from her throat and raised the hairs on the back of Eve’s neck. Aldric and Arnaud, she noticed, didn’t seem unduly bothered by the fight.

“Leave me alone,” Mathilde’s words hissed out, the French accent much stronger.

Aldric stood up, his hands held palms up. “Enough, Cordelia. We have established that my daughter and grandson have no manners.” He dismissed their glares with a wave of the hand. “They concentrate on the minutiae when we have bigger issues to discuss – do we not?”

Again, those hands went out to the side in supplication. Eve could not decide if she was terrified of him or if he was an ally. He turned his head slightly to smile at her and she started. Was mind-reading a trick of old vampires too? She concentrated on clearing her head.

Aldric had taken hold of Cordelia’s hand, taking it between his. Eve blinked. Depending on the light, those hands looked quite different. For a second, she’d been given an X-ray view, skeleton hands overlaid with what looked like lizard skin. Then, they changed instantly, back to ordinary, old man’s hands, large and pink-skinned.

The hands moved and he held up one finger in front of Cordelia’s face. “First, we discuss what you did to create dear lovely Eve, here.” He turned slightly and nodded at Eve, who suddenly found herself overcome with curiosity. She hadn’t questioned her vampire existence until this point and now there seemed to be a mystery, or at least something out of the ordinary about it.

“And then we talk about Gregor and the prophecy.”

He dropped Cordelia’s hands and looked hard at her.

“Do you agree, my dear?”

Gentle words aside, Eve recognised a command when she heard it. It was no surprise when Cordelia nodded her head.

“Eve, can you sit down?” she looked apologetic. “I need to explain something.”

©Emma Baird 2017

 

 

The Modern-Day Super Power

And today’s challenge is… I listened to a podcast earlier, where the guest was Tim Ferris known for books such as The Four Hour Body/Working Week and others.

During the podcast, which centred on self-improvement, he quoted someone who’d come up with the line that in today’s world, if you are able to focus on one thing only for two to five hours, it’s the modern-day equivalent of a superpower.

What do you get if you focus solely on one thing for two hours, then? I’m on a mission to find out. When I write, I seldom, if ever, complete any piece of writing without doing something else at the same time.

Mostly, I’m listening to the radio. But I’m also watching the email icon, and if I get a new e-mail, I’ll come out of Word and read it. Then, I might write something and feel the need to look stuff up—whether it’s fact checking or the thesaurus as I seek an alternative to a word I keep using. Or I’ll just look up anything random that pops into my mind.

There’s one piece of work I do every week that I never manage to write without doing something else. I wander off to see if my cat wants attention, or I check on the washing hanging outside. I fold up clothes or change the sheets on my bed. As I don’t find the work inspiring at all, it’s an effort to finish it. It would be much less of an effort if I just concentrated, wrote the whole lot at once and got it over and done with.

Ah, procrastination… thine embodiment is the writer.

The radio? Switch it off. My inbox? Close the mail app. Checking things—highlight them as a reminder to verify or refine after the words have been written. Housework? It will wait.

Here goes…

 

Pic thanks to Topher McCulloch on flickr

 

The Making of Alan Kirkpatrick

Here’s a short extract from a project I’m working on…

“Oh wow. You’re so pretty.”

Kippy wasn’t sure he liked a man touching his face, but Danny had reached out a hand and swept two fingers slowly from the temple to his jaw.

“I adore freckles.”

There was another thing Kippy wasn’t sure about: campness. Danny was as camp as Christmas, as the saying went. The party hadn’t been his idea, but Lillian insisted. She’d kind of taken him under her wing when he first arrived in Glasgow. She was very posh, but then he and posh girls got along if Daisy had been anything to go by.

Kippy was older than everyone else at art school, apart from Lillian whose parents had been wealthy enough to finance her through not just one, but two gap years. She swooped on him on their first day.

“Ooh—and what’s your name, precious?”

He was monosyllabic, partly through nerves and because he didn’t want to get into yet another Daisy situation where a woman fell for him.

She shook her head when he said ‘Kippy’. “I’m not calling you that. What’s your real name?”

“Alan Kirkpatrick.” He was still mumbling, hoping this pushy blonde would push off.

“Hmm,” she wrinkled her nose. “Terrible, too. I suppose I’ll have to stick with Kippy.”

She threaded an arm through his. “We need to stick together. Everyone else here is so young and so inexperienced. I hate teenagers, don’t you?” Said with all the bloated confidence of one just a year out of her teens.

Kippy’s worries about a repeat of the Daisy situation came to nothing. Lillian knew he was gay, she announced grandly. She had a sense for these things. As someone only just coming to terms with life beyond the closet, her revelation made him uncomfortable.

He remembered the teasing he’d put up with while he was doing his college course some years ago. Davy, Ewan and those other apprentices, the ones skilled in wrinkling out differences in their peers, zoning in on anything they suspected wasn’t just so. Had he not hidden it as well as he thought?

Kippy hadn’t actually known what he was hiding for a long time. Instinct had warned him to keep quiet about how different he felt from everyone around him anyway, though. He hid behind Daisy for some months until…The Thing happened. And then his life changed, mostly for the better but the start of his new life had been unbelievably hard and painful.

Lillian was like no-one else he’d ever met. She insisted that in the 90s, it was de riguer for al la mode women such as herself to have a GBF. When he looked mystified, she sighed. “A gay best friend, precious.”

She cocked her head to one side. “You’re from the sticks too. I don’t suppose you had much opportunity to explore your sexuality.”

Honestly, sometimes it was a bit like having a conversation about sex with your mum. He squirmed.

“Auntie Lillian can help!”

She was unbelievably nosey too. She asked questions all the time, almost as if she was researching him. So, tell me about Kirkcudbright? What about your mum and dad? When did you realise you were gay? Have you ever kissed a man?

When he finally admitted that no, he’d never so much as given a guy a hug, she clapped her hands together.

“That’s awful. First thing, then. I must introduce you to some friends of mine.”

Hence, the party.

These being Lillian’s friends, the party was taking place in a flat in the west end, just off the Great Western Road. These flats were so posh, they had two floors.

Lillian had insisted on picking out his outfit for him. Kippy had been going through a phase of velvet blazers, but she turned up her nose on them. “Too obvious!” She held up a plain white tee shirt and his old, worn Levi’s.

“Be the man in the laundrette,” she said, referring to the old advert where Nick Kamen stripped off, puts his jeans in a washing machine and sat in his boxers waiting for them to dry.

As a fourteen-year-old, Kippy had watched the advert a lot. Even now, if Marvin Gaye’s Heard it Through the Grapevine came on the radio, he felt his body quiver in excitement.

The outfit seemed to have done the trick. The party-goers were sixty-forty men to women. Lillian and Kippy were fashionably late arriving, and the attention that greeted them was flattering.

The party’s host made his way towards them, his eyes fixed on Kippy.

“Lillian! You beautiful thing, you. Who’s this?”

Danny wasn’t his ‘type’ anyway. Until very recently, Kippy couldn’t have told you what his type was. A picture swam before his eyes, a half-naked man wearing turned down overalls and a lazy grin. He blinked several times, hoping he wouldn’t cry.

Lillian leant forward and whispered something to Danny.

“I’ll get you both a drink,” Danny said. “And then mingle, do! We’re all good friends of Dorothy here.”

He winked, the eyes then flashing Kippy a lustful look.

“Are you okay, Alan?” Lillian asked. She was the only person under thirty who ever called him that, but he thought he maybe liked it. She said, ‘Alan’, when she was being serious, or asking difficult questions.

“Aye,” he nodded slowly. He’d be better once he had a drink in him. “Who’s Dorothy?”

 

©Emma Baird 2017

Amazon Ads: An Update

I set up an Amazon ad for a book of mine recently as an experiment. I’d listened to a webinar on the subject, hosted by Joanna Penn of the Creative Penn, and Mark Dawson of the Self-Publishing Formula.

As it’s relatively cheap—you only pay for the ads that get clicked on—I thought I’d give it a go. My Book Katie and the Deelans has not sold well on Amazon. There are millions of books out there, and the competition is fierce. I wanted to give the book a chance to stand out a little more.

I opted for the ads that appear when you type in certain search terms, such as ‘harry potter’ and JK Rowling, as my book is similar. I paid for fifteen keywords in total, $0.50 per keyword.

I let the advert run for ten days. In that time, it made 134,212 impressions (i.e. the number of times it was seen), resulted in 49 clicks, and cost me $12.97. No sales, though!

I did learn from my experience. Not that many people clicked on the ad in the first place, suggesting it wasn’t that appealing. Was the wording wrong, or as I suspect, the cover not attractive enough?

Those who did click didn’t buy. I did re-write the blurb half way through the campaign, but that didn’t make any difference. I also got rid of the book’s prologue, as it didn’t relate entirely to the whole book so anyone sampling the contents might not have got the right feel for the book.

What about social proof? The book has five-star reviews, but not enough reviews in general. Reviews are what most buyers want these days, especially if you’re an unknown quantity.

I’ve known for a long time the book needs sorting. It needs rewriting, and it needs copy editing. It could do with a new cover and a different blurb. The Amazon campaign reinforced all these points.

Would I use Amazon ads again? Absolutely. I certainly plan to use it for the next book. I did find out what were the most useful keywords from my list of fifteen (JK Rowling, harry potter and Rick Riordan). The campaign didn’t cost me a lot of money, and it was worth finding out about.

*Pic thanks to the Blue Diamond Gallery

 

Global Warming – Friday Flash Fiction

A little Friday flash fiction for you…

“I’m still waiting for global warming to kick in.”

“Not half. It’s been a long winter.”

British weather offered conversation for every situation. Our new neighbours—four small children and a dog—moved in last week. We watched, half-hidden behind curtains, as they installed a trampoline in their garden.

It had been cold and wet ever since.

“How old are your wee ones?”

“The twins are three, Alex is five and Karly’s six.”

The four of them had appeared, fanning out behind their dad. They regarded me coolly, shaking their head when told to say hello.

War was silently declared.

©Emma Baird 2017