Just a quick one. (A new story is on its way later this week soon) But first…
Remember last year when I said that I’d written a story called ‘Say When’ and it was included in a charity anthology called ‘No Good Deed’? Well, ‘No Good Deed’ is on the shortlist for best anthology in the Saboteur Awards 2020!
Please could I trouble you to spare a few moments and do me a massive favour and vote for ‘No Good Deed’ in the ‘best anthology’ section? If you haven’t already read it, then you’re in for a real treat. The kindle version is a bargain at £2.99, and the paperback is £8.99.
Alex remembered when she used to get a big bag of those sweets when she went to the cinema. No, it wasn’t a bag, it was more like a big paper coffee cup, with a plastic lid. They were banned at school because her friend would die if she ate just one, or even if she kissed someone who had.
The last time she’d had any was for her birthday the year before last. She’d gazed at the unopened crumpled, yellow packet with the same adoraration as she did her newborn. After a week, she’d added one sweet to her rations every day. Twenty three peanut chocolates. Six red, four orange, four brown, four green, five blue. The packet was faded and squashed, with an eat-by date of six years ago. Some of the peanuts tasted bitter and the chocolate was greasy with a white bloom on it.
That was her first proper raid. She’d been desperate for so long, but teenage girls were too valuable to lose. It felt odd that after she’d birthed, she was allowed to go on a run, but when the day actually came, she didn’t want to leave him. Two day’s travel there, two back. Seeing places with her own eyes that she’d only ever heard of. The journey home was when you had to watch out for bandits. Why take all the risk when you could just tax someone else?
“Mummy? Mummy? Where are you? I’ve found the cake I want.”
“Just a second, darling.”
Alex’s mum entered the room, drying her hands on a teatowel. “Show me?”
As soon as she saw the photograph, an almost imperceptible flicker of disgust wrinkled across her lips.
“This is the one you like best?” She asked, holding the phone out to her daughter.
The screen showed a photograph of two circular cakes in the shape of a number eight, with smooth, creamy white icing and the number holes filled with bright blue sweets.
“Yes, I’ve looked at hundreds and that’s my favourite one. Please Mummy, can I have it?”
“Let me send it to myself and I’ll have a proper look later.”
Alex’s mum already knew that this wasn’t the cake her daughter was going to get for her birthday. It was far too ordinary. After all, a person was only as good as their last event. She couldn’t afford to slip down the rankings. Not now. Her daughter would have lots more birthdays to have average cakes. This party had to be picture perfect to maintain her benchmark of 400 likes.
“Alex, this is important. You have to pick out all of the blue ones. Every single one. I’ll have to check it before their tour manager sees it”
“Why? Is it because they are a red pill kind of band?”
“No. Well, that’s one rumour. There’s a clause in the contract that if there are any blue sweets in the bowl, the band can cancel at no cost to them. It’s to see whether the promoter has read the terms and conditions properly. They were sick of not being taken seriously and getting ripped off because they were women. Now they get called divas, but at least they’re getting paid. What can you do, eh?”
“You’re not going to choke. I promise. But you have to take your pills. Look, why don’t you practice with these? They’re about the same size. Watch me.”
Alex swallowed a small sweet then said, “Easy. You eat bigger pieces of food than these every day. You can do this.”
The woman’s eyesight wasn’t what it was. She would never have noticed that her nurse had swapped the sweets for her sleeping tablets. They both had the same sugary, crispy shell. They practiced with four now, then a few minutes later, Alex came back into the room and did the same speech again. The woman had either forgotten, or was easily convinced that she was confused because of her illness. About ten minutes later, Alex’s watch beeped. “Tablet time!” she said cheerfully. It was nearly bedtime so the woman was due two sleeping tablets.
Brexit had been temporarily banished and Halloween was still too far away to think about. I felt like a comedian given their first 10-minute slot. I spent ages that morning, wringing my hands, choosing which 8-minute segment to read from my story, ‘May Settle in Transit’. I couldn’t do the bit about gentrification, nor the bit about a different coffee shop. They didn’t feel right.
When I had settled on the most perfect chunk of prose, I read it out loud, recorded it, listened back, recorded it again, slowing my speech down, once more with feeling, enunciated, realised I hated the sound of my own voice and accent, tried not to fidget, remembered to smile, made notes in the book, and then did it again. I think I recorded it about 8 times in total. I wanted to take my time and not rush through to get it over with. I knew I would regret it if I did that. I kept telling myself that this was all practice for when I do my own book tour for my own novel. It’s little steps towards a future goal.
To get me into the zone, I tried listening to Eminem, like Obama used to before he went on stage, but the ‘Villains’ album by Queens of the Stone Age did the trick brilliantly. I went out for a pizza and large glass of Malbec with my super-positive friend for distraction, gossip and support, and continued to practice my deep breathing to calm my nerves.
It had been almost 30 years, since I had spoken in public (with the advance knowledge that I was expected to speak) and reading aloud something I had written heightened the nerves. Why does knowing beforehand make the fear greater? That time around, I was a singer in a local band, and I now have no idea how the 16-year-old me ever did it. I suppose acting in school plays were still fresh in my mind.
As a local sweet shop got a mention in my story, I bought “a quarter of spice” (100g of boiled sweets – rhubarb and custards) for the audience to pass around. That morning’s practice helped me to pace myself, and I looked up at the audience every few seconds, how I’ve seen professional public speakers do. To stop myself being overwhelmed, I bought myself time by handing over my business card to anyone who spoke to me. A “thank you” and a smile covered my panic.
My friend said it didn’t look like I was nervous, but I felt it. I think it’s obvious from my social media names I am well aware how my social anxiety manifests itself as uncontrollable babbling.
(Not actually giant cards, but mini play food)
It felt strange to read out something that was written a year ago, but now may be the first time someone else has heard it. It was great to meet some of the other contributors and hear their stories. I still have the original flyer seeking contributions.
Jon organised loads of events around Leicestershire to promote the book during the annual Leicester Literary Festival, ‘Everybody’s Reading’, culminating with this one at De Montfort University, Leicester on 25th February 2020.
You can buy a copy of the anthology, “An Attempt At Exhausting a Place in Leicester” here
When I first started this blog, I obviously didn’t have much content to share, so I created a page of quotes I like, called ‘these things I know’, and this one was the first on that list. Fate eh?
So, I now know the London village I want to move to when I win the lottery or have a best seller. I won’t get much change from a million quid though.
I did a recce via Parson’s Green tube to get my bearings a few weeks ago and had a little nosy around Nomad Books. This little indie bookshop has a wonderful vibe. It’s not just the big name bookshops that get the big names. Anthony Horowitz had his launch here this very week! Their massive children’s section is a great place to hold a book launch.
This was the first time most of us had even seen the book, let along held it, so it was quite a special evening. I wasn’t doing a reading (thank goodness) and my head is still buzzing trying to remember names to faces I know from social media, to bookmark their websites. I could get used to this little world of super-supportive writers, editors, and proofreaders!