Monday, March 23, 2015

Clear the confusion, get back to basics.

Seriously? Facebook, Pinterest, website, LinkedIn, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter phew ...... It's all just a little too much eh?

Well, yes AND no. It is true that all of the above suck dry that tiny pot of extra time that you have in your day, or week. Numerous outlets, all craving your attention in order to promote you as an author, and of course your latest book. To what ends? Well, that's down to the individual author.

With all these necessary distractions around it is easy to lose sight of the most basic of requirements - Write a great book!

There are a few exceptions around, but the rule of thumb is that you've got to have a quality product to begin with. As an author, it is the words, the story, the presentation - these are the basics of our trade. I would highly recommend not releasing a book until you, the author, are 100% happy with it; it has to be the best you can do if it is going to stand a chance in amongst the millions of books that are already out there. 

Here's a fact: Did you know that the phrase 'rule of thumb' dates back to 1400's? Yup, apparently, a law was passed in England that allowed a man to beat his wife with a stick, but ONLY if it was no thicker than his thumb - what a caring bunch.

I often harp on about the greatness of Judi at ProofreadNZ, and not without good reason. But, even Judi would probably advise that, if you are writing in a very niche genre, then get an editor experienced in that niche to edit your book. An example here would be 'Memoirs'. There are many many specific do's and don'ts when writing memoirs, and a brief glance at some of those specifics tells me that the editor has to be really attuned, really switched on to the micro detail of what is acceptable and expected when publishing memoirs. 

But an editor is there to edit your work, not write the book for you. Yes they can guide you, definitely advise you, but it's not their name going as the author so you have to have realistic expectations. I'm sure some editors will turn away work if it involves poor quality writing, sub-standard story construction etc deemed beyond economical repair; but there are some that won't. Exactly the same as any profession, there are 'professionals', and there are some 'not-so-professional'.

So, my point here is this: Yes it is of great value to have a working knowledge of social media, marketing and advertising, definitely. BUT, if your book/story is not of a good enough standard it won't sell anyway - what is the point of having a thousand follows on FB or twitter if you only have junk for sale - focus on the quality of your 'product' first and foremost, focus on the writing!

And on that note, I'm off to work on WiP 2 - an unknown story.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Well, that was a false start!

A few posts back I was talking about the magic number 15 - apparently, according to one of those many on-line webinar thingy's from a hugely successful marketing company, once you manage to get 15 reviews then Amazon's algorithms kick in and start to market your book for you. No promises of great things, but lets be honest, if Amazon start doing the marketing aswell then there is every reason to expect some movement in a positive direction.

The webinar even said that it didn't matter how many 'stars' each reviewer gave, you just had to have those 15 reviews.

I was very lucky and managed to receive 16 reviews! (side topic here; I have had three people contact me to tell me that they can't post reviews?! Apparently they keep getting a rejection message and, even though they have followed the advice of said message they haven't been able to post reviews - good old Amazon!)

So, where was I? Oh yes, 16 reviews. IF the Amazon algorithms are working then... well they've missed something, namely, my book! There has been no great charge up the charts for Invictus Part 1 - Introducing Richard, even though, of the 16 reviews it does have, there are 11 five star and 5 four star reviews, still zero pick up from those pesky algorithms.

In truth this was always the expected result; I was always brought up to believe that if something seemed too good to be true, then it usually was. I'll agree that I definitely lean towards the 'cynical', but that comes with years of life experience. When I see these true marketing guru's promise the earth, dangle the carrot and tell everyone just how great they are - I just can't help myself, I need the evidence. In this case the free advice (get to 15 reviews and you will rocket) - EPIC fail, Based on that alone, any hard earned pennies I may have lying around are staying lying around.

As an Indie Author, there are probably at least ten different homes that are crying out for those pennies, each a lot more productive and beneficial: editors, proofreaders, cover designers, etc. And, as there are so few Indie Authors that can make an actual living from their writing, I would presume most need to be mindful of the outgoings - The vast majority of these Marketing webinars want one thing, your money. They are a business; their biggest marketing success involves marketing themselves, and of course the get-rich-quick, can't fail trust us, schemes that they are selling. They are targeting Indie Authors because they know that most of us don't have a real clue as to what we're doing so paying for their guidance is so tempting, we are that soft target.

I'm not saying that they are ALL like that, I just haven't found one that is different yet. If I do I'll let you know, here - I'll have my butler write the post, or maybe the maid.

Anne Rice is at it again - oh dear.

- back to that Amazon Badly Behaving Author side-show with the whole Bullying - Anne Rice (no, not Anne Rice being bullied, Anne Rice doing the bullying), and the wonderfully insane hypocrisy of the STGRB Website:-

Well, come closer people, this is gonna shock you. The world famous Author of Vampirey things has gone and done it again! Another author, Jenny Trout, published a book, (a very short book but still a book) that Ms Rice did not approve of. Hell, I am so glad she doesn't read my stuff. Said book was due to be published as part of a collective with (I think) eleven other authors. Ms Rice found out about this and apparently decided that, as she didn't like it, or the author, then she would exude the influence that a rich and famous author can exude, and have Jenny Trout's book dropped from the planned collective publication. Yet again her oodles of fan's were actively encouraged to contact the publishing company and voice their 'own' displeasure at Jenny's book being published - at all. 

Now, some say the pressure was directed at another of the 'collectives' authors who was suddenly 'uncomfortable' with her work being published alongside Jenny's. And some say it went directly to the publishing house - who knows. (SEE UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF PAGE)

On hearing that her book was being pulled, most, if not all, of the other authors that had a stake in the collective withdrew their own books - Power to the people! So outraged were the majority of the forums on Amazon, (the one's that Ms Rice refers to as 'gangster bullies, trolls, anti-author career reviewers, blah blah blah') that Ms Rice has been so instrumental in the destruction of the collective, that many of them went and purchased Jenny's book as a single item - solidarity brothers and sisters of the revolution!

Why oh why would someone of Ms Rice's stature and standing, within the world of authordom, take such a personal interest in the destruction of a fellow author's written work? Her deliberate actions meant that eleven or twelve authors lost the opportunity to have their work published as a collective, taking food off of the table of her supposed colleagues in order to feed her own ego, to prove the power that she wields, to confirm the control she craves. Up until now people have been advising Ms Rice to disassociate herself with the farcical STGRB website - I believe now people should be advising STGRB to disassociate themselves with Ms Rice.

If it is control and power she craves (and in my opinion this does seem to be the case) then the solidarity of the authors and the reviewers on the forums and Twitter (and general Joe public that got to find out about this) have proven that you aint got it anymore. Even the publishing company issued a statement to the effect that it was a mistake, a project manager had ooops in an unofficial capacity, and they were sorry - Translation - Oh crap, that wasn't suppose to back fire on us, how do we recover - I know, find someone to blame.

I believe I would equate the experience to being slapped in the face with a cold cod, a big fresh cold cod. Will she learn from it? Absolutely... not. Will she care? Absolutely not - there are some people that just don't see the world outside of their own importance, is she one of those people? Absolutely.

Oh, by the way, at one point Jenny's book was at number 32 in the Amazon best seller charts. Remind me, the purpose of Anne Rice's interference was to punish Jenny for being a non worshiper - gotta be wondering who won this battle with numbers like that Anne.


Anyway, this person was the project manager, but she doesn’t work for Excessica. Think of it as an independent contractor scenario. When Selena Kitt wanted to leave the anthology to avoid the drama surrounding me–which I don’t blame her for, and which I don’t feel was unreasonable given the circumstances–she planned to simply pull her story. However, when the scenario was presented to the other authors in the set, the project manager told them that their options were to cut me or Selena Kitt would walk, and Excessica would withdraw promotional support. I don’t know what the motivation behind that lie was. I assume it was because this person felt they could profit more off a boxed set with a Selena Kitt title than an Abigail Barnette title, but that’s still a shady way to do business, especially when that lie hurt Excessica and hurt Selena Kitt, who simply didn’t want to run afoul of STGRB and their obsessive league of stalkers.
So, Selena Kitt and Excessica are totally blameless in the failure of this anthology. The person who tanked it is someone I really enjoy as a person. To be honest, that’s probably another factor in why I’m not naming names to go with this pointed finger. But either way, everyone in the set was hurt, but not by Selena Kitt or Excessica. Unfortunately, this has put me off anthologies/boxed sets/collaborations for a while.

There are loads of places that you can find info on all of this, and the book, here's a couple:

Amazon book link (59 page novella)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The lull before the storm....

A very topical title for very different reasons; I live in New Zealand, in the South Pacific, slightly down and to the right of Australia if you're looking at a globe. As I write this the winds are getting up and the clouds are coming over very dark and grey; it's the very outer reaches of cyclone Pam popping into our weather pattern. Pam was upgraded to a level 5 on the cyclone scale, and has inflicted massive damage on the lovely island of Vanuato over the last 36 hours; dark clouds, a spot of rain and a heavy breeze in the trees here, no comparison.

Anyway, my 'lull before the storm' has a very different meaning, mine is purely to do with writing.

My 'writers pot' is empty! There have been a lot of necessary personal expenses lately that have pretty much emptied the bank account, and certainly stripped available funds away from any editing or proof reading, or cover design - the whole lot. And I am absolutely sure that every Indie writer has been in this same situation - if not yet, I'm pretty certain most will be.

However, this is not a reason to be gloomy as I am just as certain that better times lay ahead! In this situation my focus for the foreseeable future has to be to ensure that I am ready for that time, when it arrives. My attention turns back to unfinished works, using the time to polish, and re-polish. I'm looking for that time when I can send three or maybe four stories to Judy to start to work her magic. 

I consider this an Indie Authors most vulnerable time. This is where the temptation to take short cuts is at its strongest, it plays tricks on the mind; I mean, really, do I need to actually pay someone to edit my stories? I've been writing for nearly three years now, surely I can do this by myself right? I want to keep publishing my stories because I'm sort of developing a bit of a reader base and I don't want them to forget about me, so maybe if I put one.... just one story, it can't hurt, can it?


Your reputation as an Author takes a lifetime to achieve, and one split second of madness to destroy. Yes, the temptation is there, of course it is, but it is never worth the risk. 

Utilize the time to expand your presence in other ways - social media, local groups, on-line discussions (although please remember the warnings). There is so much that you can be doing during these times of financial hardship that will help you on your path, don't do the thing that will cause irreparable damage, don't cut out the editor because they are the one person that will make your story stand out on a professional level.

It is a fact of life, peaks and troughs. So, I'm off to reread one of my manuscripts because I'm pretty sure there will be improvements I can make - especially on 'Elementals' because that one will be huge once it's published.

That storm I mentioned, that's the point where finances are back on track and the pressure shifts to Judi as I submit a torrent of stories for editing and publishing; I know she'll be ready.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Amazon axe falls on the famous.... oh the irony!

Following on from the previous post, one thing that I didn't mention was that the world famous (and successful) author, Anne Rice, took her ramblings to the Amazon forums to actually promote the STGRB website. This is the website that seemingly uses 'bully' tactics to teach other supposed 'bully's' a lesson - The term 'bully' is, in my opinion, being thrown around like confetti at a wedding, much to the detriment of those individuals that are actually being bullied on the internet. STGRB have their own definition which, if you are to believe the masses on the forums, can be translated as 'those we don't like for whatever reason', and personally I see a lot of truth in this.

Onwards: So, Anne Rice (the perpetrator of the campaign against Kayleigh Herbertson for converting an old copy of an aged book into an art project - details in the previous post) decides to start her own thread on the Amazon forums to promote the antics of the STGRB site. 

Question: Is anyone else spotting a degree of hypocrisy in this?

Amazon threads are open to anyone to comment on. There are historical alliances and grudges, in fact there is some open warfare to be witnessed; but they are not generally moderated by Amazon, their preference is to sit back and wait for someone to tell them that something is wrong. There are hundreds of these threads so it is a difficult task for them.

Back to the story: Anne opens a thread directing people to the STGRB website, warning all authors to stay off the Amazon threads, staking her name and reputation behind the principles and activities of the STGRB entity. And then she systematically spams all of the other threads with her words of wisdom about the thread and continuously promoting the STGRB.

There is a lot of heated discussion, a lot of evidence posted to, at the very least, give a sane person reason to reconsider such overt promotion, all of which apparently fell on deaf ears - Oh woe, this was never going to end well.

I have witnessed Amazon remove specific posts of individuals because unfortunately there are some unpleasant people that trawl the internet, hide behind a keyboard and have nothing better to do than abuse the perceived weaker people, but they are few and far between (thankfully). This morning I wake up and find that Amazon have removed her entire thread! Somewhere in the region of 6,000 posts - gone.

For an internationally renowned author this, in my opinion, is what we would call 'being owned' by big A. I would imagine that AR is feeling quite wronged by this unusual turn of events, after all she is a world wide famous author of Vampirey things, and I am sure that this is far from over, (if her previous behaviour is to be used as a yardstick), but it is kinda reassuring to know that no-one is bigger than big A, regardless of their own opinions of themselves.

It is so coincidental that all this is going on just as my posts were focusing on the perils of the Amazon fora, and for that I thank AR. But it's not personal, I have no malice towards her at all, I don't presume to know her well enough to have an opinion, but thank you!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Bad review? Lessons in what NOT to do.....

If you write long enough (or bad enough) someone is going to leave a review that is less than favourable; as sure as sunrise and taxes; it will happen.

Think VERY carefully about how you respond to that review. My advice would be simple - do not respond. If it grinds you that much that you feel the need to type a crappy response to the review I would strongly suggest that you go to the shed and beat your fingers with a sledge hammer in the hope that the temporary incapacitation will prevent your swollen digits from pressing the keys on the keyboard long enough for the urge to respond to subside. It will be less painful in the long run, and do less damage to your career as an Author no matter where you are along that career path.

Why do I offer this advice? Well, because some people just don't get it.

The relationship between the Author and the reader is symbiotic; without one there is no need for the other. If you start ranting at your readers because they didn't like your book then you may as well give up writing and get a job at Walmart.

In my view (and it's my blog so I can say this) once you have published your book, once it is in the public arena, then it is fair game. Even people that don't buy it will give it bad reviews because there are some very sad, angry and demented individuals out there that love inflicting this sort of pain on people - not just Authors, anybody; they just have to be that spitfull because it makes them feel good about themselves. Not too dissimilar to Vladimir Putin.

And IF you do bite back, brace yourself because like that fantasy monster that is slithering away and then hears your footstep, it will turn and attack with a viciousness that you can't, and don't want to, comprehend. 

In this situation you, the author, are the only person that has anything to lose so just don't do it.

Here is a couple of examples of a very well know, apparently popular Author that has let the marbles slip from the dish:

"Reviewer: Anne Obrien Rice (New Orleans, LA United States) - See all my reviews

Seldom do I really answer those who criticize my work. In fact, the entire development of my career has been fueled by my ability to ignore denigrating and trivializing criticism as I realize my dreams and my goals. However there is something compelling about Amazon's willingness to publish just about anything, and the sheer outrageous stupidity of many things you've said here that actually touches my proletarian and Democratic soul. Also I use and enjoy Amazon and I do read the reviews of other people's books in many fields. In sum, I believe in what happens here. And so, I speak. First off, let me say that this is addressed only to some of you, who have posted outrageously negative comments here, and not to all. You are interrogating this text from the wrong perspective. Indeed, you aren't even reading it. You are projecting your own limitations on it. And you are giving a whole new meaning to the words "wide readership." And you have strained my Dickensean principles to the max. I'm justifiably proud of being read by intellectual giants and waitresses in trailer parks,in fact, I love it, but who in the world are you? Now to the book. Allow me to point out: nowhere in this text are you told that this is the last of the chronicles, nowhere are you promised curtain calls or a finale, nowhere are you told there will be a wrap-up of all the earlier material. The text tells you exactly what to expect. And it warns you specifically that if you did not enjoy Memnoch the Devil, you may not enjoy this book. This book is by and about a hero whom many of you have already rejected. And he tells you that you are likely to reject him again. And this book is most certainly written -- every word of it -- by me. If and when I can't write a book on my own, you'll know about it. And no, I have no intention of allowing any editor ever to distort, cut, or otherwise mutilate sentences that I have edited and re-edited, and organized and polished myself. I fought a great battle to achieve a status where I did not have to put up with editors making demands on me, and I will never relinquish that status. For me, novel writing is a virtuoso performance. It is not a collaborative art. Back to the novel itself: the character who tells the tale is my Lestat. I was with him more closely than I have ever been in this novel; his voice was as powerful for me as I've ever heard it. I experienced break through after break through as I walked with him, moved with him, saw through his eyes. What I ask of Lestat, Lestat unfailingly gives. For me, three hunting scenes, two which take place in hotels -- the lone woman waiting for the hit man, the slaughter at the pimp's party -- and the late night foray into the slums --stand with any similar scenes in all of the chronicles. They can be read aloud without a single hitch. Every word is in perfect place. The short chapter in which Lestat describes his love for Rowan Mayfair was for me a totally realized poem. There are other such scenes in this book. You don't get all this? Fine. But I experienced an intimacy with the character in those scenes that shattered all prior restraints, and when one is writing one does have to continuously and courageously fight a destructive tendency to inhibition and restraint. Getting really close to the subject matter is the achievement of only great art. Now, if it doesn't appeal to you, fine. You don't enjoy it? Read somebody else. But your stupid arrogant assumptions about me and what I am doing are slander. And you have used this site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies. I'll never challenge your democratic freedom to do so, and yes, I'm answering you, but for what it's worth, be assured of the utter contempt I feel for you, especially those of you who post anonymously (and perhaps repeatedly?) and how glad I am that this book is the last one in a series that has invited your hateful and ugly responses. Now, to return to the narrative in question: Lestat's wanting to be a saint is a vision larded through and through with his characteristic vanity. It connects perfectly with his earlier ambitions to be an actor in Paris, a rock star in the modern age. If you can't see that, you aren't reading my work. In his conversation with the Pope he makes observations on the times which are in continuity with his observations on the late twentieth century in The Vampire Lestat, and in continuity with Marius' observations in that book and later in Queen of the Damned. The state of the world has always been an important theme in the chronicles. Lestat's comments matter. Every word he speaks is part of the achievement of this book. That Lestat renounced this saintly ambition within a matter of pages is plain enough for you to see. That he reverts to his old self is obvious, and that he intends to complete the tale of Blackwood Farm is also quite clear. There are many other themes and patterns in this work that I might mention -- the interplay between St.Juan Diago and Lestat, the invisible creature who doesn't "exist" in the eyes of the world is a case in point. There is also the theme of the snare of Blackwood Farm, the place where a human existence becomes so beguiling that Lestat relinquishes his power as if to a spell. The entire relationship between Lestat and Uncle Julien is carefully worked out. But I leave it to readers to discover how this complex and intricate novel establishes itself within a unique, if not unrivalled series of book. There are things to be said. And there is pleasure to be had. And readers will say wonderful things about Blood Canticle and they already are. There are readers out there and plenty of them who cherish the individuality of each of the chronicles which you so flippantly condemn. They can and do talk circles around you. And I am warmed by their response. Their letters, the papers they write in school, our face to face exchanges on the road -- these things sustain me when I read the utter trash that you post. But I feel I have said enough. If this reaches one reader who is curious about my work and shocked by the ugly reviews here, I've served my goals. And Yo, you dude, the slang police! Lestat talks like I do. He always has and he always will. You really wouldn't much like being around either one of us. And you don't have to be. If any of you want to say anything about all this by all means Email me at [EDIT]. And if you want your money back for the book, send it to [EDIT]. I'm not a coward about my real name or where I live. And yes, the Chronicles are no more! Thank God!"

The fact that this is Anne Rice leaving a review for her OWN book is against Amazon TOS (Terms of Service) is irrelevant in this example. The fallout from this is still going on, the Amazon fora is full of Anti-Anne posts. Some may say that such a famous author couldn't possibly suffer as a result of the above outburst - you would be wrong. It may have cost her the sale of 100 books, from 100 people that suddenly looked at this and thought 'What the hell... I'm steering clear of this one." or it may of cost her a whole lot more. The thing is that building a 'following' is hard work and takes a long time, it's like building a reputation; an eternity to build but lost in a split second.

As an author, actually just as a person that's been around for a few years, there are a few elements to her 'review' that concern me, or at least indicate to me that not all of the wires are in the right sockets. Apparently, her loyal band of cult followers (of which she brags 1 million on her FB page) then set about attacking the original review poster in very unpleasant ways, mainly on the internet - the whole Troll/bully thing. 

To witness that level of 'support' (foot soldiers) do her bidding must have been a huge ego boost to the Author, but I'm not suggesting that (in my opinion) her response was either warranted or productive, in fact quite the opposite.

I'm not picking on Anne Rice, I'm just using examples of a famous and successful authors behaviour to demonstrate why certain actions/ responses are unwise.

Not content with the above 'review response' Anne went much further recently when a woman called Kayleigh Herbertson wrote a blog about how she found an old copy of one of Anne Rice's book from a charity shop and, after reading it, cut it up for an Arts project

This time Anne Rice was so incensed that a tiny, insignificant blogger dared voice a negative opinion about a tatty copy of one of her years old books (and cut it up for art) that like a scene from Lord of the Rings, she summonsed the forces of evil and launched them at her perceived attacker:

"Punishing Pandora And A Surprising Opinion on Anne Rice" by Miss Articulate is a review by someone who loathed the book so much she cut it to piece. Comments most welcome. And then she posted the link to the blogpost! 

A lesson in how to send your minions into attack mode? Definitely.

To (again in my opinion) rub salt into the wound, and to bask in her own deliberate handy work, Anne Rice writes "Thanks, guys for the spirited discussion. I think reviews negative and positive are good food for discussion. And I hope Miss Articulate is pleased with the numbers who have discovered her blog."

So, now I am convinced that the wires are loose and electricity is flowing all over the place inside that head, definitely not plugged into to all the right sockets. Is this what being a famous author brings?

Further irony's are based around her attempt to raise a petition to have anonymity erased from Amazon for reviewers ONLY and, the latest stunt is to become the ambassador for a site called STGRB - A self appointed policing site for 'bullies & trolls and anyone they don't like. DO NOT visit this site - it will poison the creative mind of any normal person.

All of the above is here for one purpose - to help new writers understand that the world is not a nice place, peppered with minefields that need to be avoided - it can be a war out there people, and there are some very nasty individuals waiting to trip you up. An old saying that has stuck with me for many years is;

"If you get in a sh*t fight with a pig, you both get dirty, but the pig enjoys it." Oh so true!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

For the inner child inside all of us....

A sneaky peak at the beginning of the story. (Unedited so forgive any errors)

“Are you ready Cath?” Nikos enquired politely, but with a touch of impatience.
“Two minutes.” Came the reply from the bathroom, “Just finishing my make-up.”
The bathroom was the second door on the right, along the quite narrow hallway that linked the four bedrooms. The same pale blue/grey fitted carpet tied the hallway to the sitting room, and flowed out towards the front door before butting against the ceramic tiles of the entrance.
“Two minutes?” he confirmed back to his wife. Then he looked at their three children and muttered under his breath, “more like twenty”.
All three children looked at their father, grinning.
“It takes time to look as good as mum does,” defended Olivia, the eldest of the three.
George, the twelve year old middle child, a fraction over two years junior to Olivia, followed that with,
“Dad, what Ollie is really saying is that it takes a long time to make mummy look pretty.”
The two siblings glared at each other, blue eyes versus brown eyes, engaged in a stare off.
“That is not what I said at all Dad, George is being horrible.” She grabbed the dark navy coloured satin cushion and threw it at her brother.
Almost in despair their father implored,
“Kids please, can you just behave for one night, just one night? It’s your mum’s birthday celebration and we’re going out for a nice meal, I don’t want her worrying about you three when she is SUPPOSED to be enjoying herself.”
Sat crossed legged on the end of the cream coloured settee, the youngest of the children, Abby, looked almost angelic; hands together on her lap, an excited smile, how she loved seeing her mummy all dressed up.
The two older children continued their squabbling. Their father just looked up to the skies searching for divine intervention.
“A little help.” he muttered.
As if in answer to his prayers there was a knock at the door, it brought a halt to the chaos.
“Let yourself in Dad.” shouted Nikos. He knew it was his father, the press ganged babysitter, on time as ever.
“Granddad Bert!” Abby screamed with joy, jumping off of the settee and running to the door to greet the old man as he entered the house.
Again Nikos looked to the heavens, “Is that the best you can do?” he questioned.
“I’m telling Granddad you said that Dad.” George declared with an air of righteousness.
“George, Granddad Bert is my dad, IF anybody needs to tell Granddad Bert anything it will be me so you sit still next to your sisters and please, when your mum comes out, please, please, tell her how nice she looks.”
The boy looked at Nikos, “You’ve always told us that it’s not nice to tell lies Dad, so what am I supposed to do?” He grinned,
“You tell the truth George.” was his fathers reply. He thought for a second before deciding to validate his statement. “Just as long as that truth is how nice your mother looks. Do you understand?”
Completely understanding but choosing to be obnoxious the twelve year old folded his arms, “That’s not fair.”
“Life is not fair George.” Olivia chipped in, “Get used to it baby brother.”
The boy threw the cushion back at his sister just as Granddad Bert was pulled into the room by an over zealous nine year old.
“George,” Granddad Bert barked, “That’s your sister. Don’t do that.”
“Sorry Granddad.” said George sheepishly before sitting upright and proper.
Olivia smirked, Nikos looked in bemusement and Granddad Bert looked down and winked at the youngest of the three children hanging off his arm. Abby looked up at her Granddad, she beamed with a smile as wide as her little face.
“How?” pleaded Nikos begging to understand how his seventy-six year old father had such control over HIS own children.
Just as he was about to make another comment he heard the door of the bathroom open. He looked down the hall, his heart skipped a beat; his over whelming pride brought a huge warmth to his person as his wife, Catherine, stepped out and into the light.
He opened his mouth to say something but Granddad Bert beat him to it,
“Absolutely stunning Cathy.” he declared. He had lifted his spectacles to observe the woman.
All three children maneuvered their heads to gaze at their mother, to a child their eyes opened wide in admiration as Cathy took a few more steps towards them.
“Wow mum,” declared Olivia, “just WOW.” she said.
George followed with, “You look really, erm……….” He looked at his dad before continuing, “..nice Mum”
“You look beautiful Mummy.” added Abby, her hands cupped under her heart.
Nikos had followed the compliments all around, looking at each child in turn. He turned back to his wife and holding out his arms as if in awe he said ………. Nothing! Granddad Bert had butted in before he had chance to say a word.
“Crikey Nikos, you are one lucky fella,” he said. “That dumbstruck expression on your face reminds me of the first time I set eyes on your mother.” He stepped closer to study Nikos’s facial expression, “Yup, just like that. Well, say something boy.” He chuckled at his son.
“Dad, d’you mind. I was going to say just how stunning and beautiful and nice she looked, but you all beat me to it.” he pleaded.
“Too slow Nikos, that’s your problem,” grumbled the old man. “Well Cath, I know he’s my son but I honestly think you married beneath yourself, you look like a million dollars.” He smiled.
“Oi Dad!” protested Nikos.
Cathy spoke, “He’s only teasing Nick.” she assured him with a warm smile. She took two or three more steps forward.
“You look……..” Nikos started, “You look absolutely……….”
“Oh for goodness sake son, spit it out.” instructed an impatient Granddad Bert, laughing.
“You look absolutely radiant.” beamed Nikos.
She wore a deep-maroon coloured strapless evening gown; the subtle horizontal rib type pattern served to hold in at her waist where it changed to vertical pleats as it dropped to the floor, almost covering her contrasting, open toe, matt strawberry red heeled shoes. As she twirled for her audience the movement revealed a slit in the right side, just below her thigh, allowing her knees the freedom to move unrestricted.
“It’s a bit figure hugging Mum.” observed Olivia, a comment brought about by the snug fitting nature around her hips and backside.
In a concerned voice Cathy asked, “But not too much?”
“Definitely not.” interjected her husband. Still in awe of the shapely figure his wife of seventeen years had kept despite having had their three children.
Abby walked up to her mum and looked with tears of admiration in her eyes.
“Luvly, beautiful.” was all she could say.
Nikos, as if jolted back into reality, suddenly put his hand in his pocket.
“Oh, I forgot,” he stuttered, “You’re missing one thing.” As he pulled a small box from its secret hideaway.
Cathy looked at her husband curiously.
He opened the box to display a gold necklace. As he carefully lifted it from its box a small diamond encrusted golden heart hung from the end, suspended from its length. He held it out for his wife to admire.
“I know your actual birthday was a few days ago, but I wanted you to have it for tonight.”
“Oh Nikos, that is beautiful.” she said, her hazel coloured eyes sparkled. Her smile lit up the room. Her perfect white teeth gleamed, her cheeks flushed red. She turned away from Nikos, scooping up her long black hair as she did, as if sweeping a curtain of night, to show the narrow maroon straps that secured the dress across her bare back; but mainly to encourage him to step forward and secure the gold chain around her neck.
A few seconds of fumbling and the necklace was in place, sitting about an inch above the small matching maroon ribbon bow, intricately speckled with matt red silk flecks, accentuating her ample cleavage.
“Happy birthday darling.” Nikos whispered into his wife’s ear as he smoothed her silken like hair back down the small of her back. He could feel her sigh with contentment.
The mood was broken by Granddad Bert, “Good recovery Nick son. Now will you youngens get gone, the table is booked and won’t wait forever.”
Mum and dad laughed.
“Ok kids, we’re out of here. No trouble for your Granddad, and we’ll see you in the morning.” instructed their father. After given each of the children a quick kiss goodbye Cathy and Nikos headed towards the front door.
“I don’t see why I need a baby sitter,” Olivia called after them, “I’m nearly fifteen y’know”
“You haven’t got a baby sitter Olivia,” replied Cathy without turning around, “You’re on Granddad sitting duty!”
Arm in arm Cathy and Nikos made for the door.
As the teenager considered this information her parents were gone, off for the night to celebrate Cathy’s thirty seventh birthday.
Olivia cussed under her breath, pulled up her knees, grabbed the cushion that George had thrown back at her earlier,  and plopped her head on top of it. She sulked.
The family Audi A4 was heard driving away, Abby sat back on the settee next to her brother. The nine-year-old was twiddling her fingers, her face scrunched up; she was curious.
“Granddad Bert,” she started.
Abby’s tone told him there was a question on her mind. He looked at her. He laughed at the way she was twisting her face, obviously giving great thought to what she was about to ask.
“Yes Abby.” the old man replied.
“Granddad Bert, why haven’t you got a Grandma Bert?”
The old man laughed loudly. Olivia jumped in quickly, a look of horror on her face, telling her young sister to ‘ssshhh’.
Calmly Granddad Bert walked over and sat on the arm of the family three-seater settee. He took Abby’s hand.
“I did have a ‘Grandma Bert’ once Abby, but she went away.” He smiled.
“Went away where?” asked the curious nine year old.
“It’s a long story little one, you’re probably a bit too young to understand right now, but we’ll talk about it when you’re a bit older.” He looked across at the two other children. George was staring at his folded hands on his lap avoiding eye contact, whilst Olivia was looking directly at the old man, a look of profound sadness on her face.
To cheer the sudden atmosphere of awkwardness, he offered, “I’ll tell you what Abby, how about I tell you the story of how I met, erm, ‘Grandma Bert’? Would you like that?”
The little girl nodded.
“You may as well sit here.” offered Olivia abruptly standing up from her seat on the settee. “I’m going to my bedroom, I’ve got home work to do.” She pulled the cushion from under her chin and dumped it on Georges hands, still rested on his lap.
“Anything I can help you with?” asked her Granddad.
“No Granddad, this is computer studies, Information Technology. I think you might be too old to understand.” she said in a spiteful patronizing fashion. Olivia was at an age where her moods would turn on a sixpence, without cause, mostly without reason and always without mercy: A ‘teenager’ thing.
The old man nodded his head, “You’re probably right Ollie. I don’t know very much about computers at all,” he paused, “but I do know that your mum and dad don’t allow you to use your laptop unsupervised, and certainly not alone in your bedroom, so that will be staying over there on the coffee table please, thank you.”
“Oh God Granddad, you are as bad as they are. I’m nearly fifteen, I’m almost a grown up.” She stood up. “I’m entitled to some privacy!” As she stormed away, heading for her bedroom, stamping her feet loudly, she pulled her mobile phone from the back pocket of her faded jeans.
“I can talk to my friends on this anyway.” she called behind her waving the grey/pink cased smart phone.
“Yes you can,” agreed her Granddad, “but that’s not getting homework done, and it’s very expensive!”
Both Abby and George sat quietly, looking at each other, embarrassed by their sisters outburst.
Bert took a different approach,
“Olivia……. Sweetheart I don’t want to fall out with you but you know I’m not allowed to let you do that. I’m supposed to be babysitting your brother and sister, and you are supposed to be looking after me. You can’t do that from your bedroom.” he reasoned.
The girl slowed to a halt.
Seeing that he was getting a reaction the old man continued,
“Why don’t you sit over there (indicating an armchair by the French windows), you can use the laptop, and do your homework. I’ll keep these two amused so you’re left in peace. And if I fall over or get sick you’ll be here to help me, it would make me feel, erm ‘safer’.” It was a compromise, an attempt to placate the moody teenager.
The girl stood still, thinking for a second or two. Her shoulders dropped, then her head. She resigned herself to the inevitable. Still stropping, she marched back into the lounge and practically threw herself into the armchair that her Granddad had suggested with a ‘”Humph”.
Granddad Bert moved slowly over to the coffee table and picked up the laptop. He walked over to the indignant teenager and offered it to her.
“There you go.” he said as he handed it to her, “No-one’s going to trouble you Olivia.” he assured her.
With a bad mannered snatch she took the device.
“Really?” asked the old man, “you are going to be this grumpy all night? Come on Ollie, it’s not really fair on your brother and sister.” There was a tone of reasoning with an edge of pleading as he emphasized the ’fair’.
“You’ve just been telling me how ‘nearly grown up’ you are, this isn’t how grown-ups behave.”
Olivia just stared at the wall, and sighed.
“OK then, we’ll be just over there,” the old man pointed back to the couch, “If you need anything… just send a text.” he smiled. Olivia looked surprised at her Granddads comment, but slowly a little smile started to appear.
“Right then you two,” He turned and walked slowly back towards the younger siblings, “about that story.”
“Yay!” called Abby. Granddad told stories all the time, but what she didn’t know was that this one was going to change their lives.
The two children parted to give their oldest living relative a seat snuggled between them. Olivia scowled over the open laptop.

And so the story began.

This is so completely different from anything I have written before - it's the start of 'Elementals', a YA (14+) adventure that has been incredible fun to write, and so refreshing, even rejuvenating, 

It reminds me greatly of the my football (soccer) coaching years; as a qualified FA Coach I worked with age groups from under 5 through to adult teams. After spending a few years coaching at adult level, to go back to grass routes coaching is the most refreshing experience on the planet. The grumpy, prima-donna attitude, the lack of energy or drive, or the whole 'can't be assed because I'm already sooooo good already' type are swapped for a wonderful energetic, keen to learn bunch of kids that love football for the game it is. Yes, writing Elementals is a similarly refreshing experience.