I need YOUR opinion!

Hello lovely bloggers, I need your help. I am terrible at coming up with good titles, I think it may be an ancient curse put on me. Up until recently, I called my new book The Good Cult, but I don’t like that anymore. Now after weeks of floundering I have come up with some possible options, but I have no idea if they’re actually any good or not; so knowing that you all have the writing smarts, I am turning to you for help.

Whether you’re a regular reader or just passing by, I’d like to know what you think of them. They all contain the words The …Cult, because the book is about a cult and I like to state the obvious, but I want a complete title that grabs your attention, makes you wonder and want to read more. Any additional information about what you think the book would be like from these titles, whether they make you want to read on, would also be extremely helpful.

The Babble Cult

The Clockwork Cult

Last Chance to Escape the Babble Cult

The Cult of Juda

If you have any other useful tips on how to come up with titles, that would be great also. Thank you!

Trial by Fire

Every morning Cat would wake in a panic and rush to the bathroom where her make up was gathered around her sink like a jury. She’d work through the routine, as layer by layer she would remake her face into something acceptable. Concealer, liquid foundation, foundation powder, blush, neutral eyeliner, defining eyeshadow, eyeliner. She saw her face as a collection of flaws to be patched up or buried. Each year the slap had grown thicker and thicker as new wrinkles and blemishes popped to the surface and each day her true face was lost once again.

Some days she’d try to imagine how it would be to be loved for all her flaws, to show herself to the world, could she really be so disgusting to look at? Sometimes she’d make a deal with herself that tomorrow she would walk down the street with her face naked, just to see what would happen. Would people shout? Laugh? Would strangers video this hideous creature to stick up on Youtube? Sometimes she’d dare herself to just step outside her flat and take the lift to the ground floor, say hello to Mrs Robey who liked to stand in the hall smoking a fag, maybe pop her head out the door to where Salman would be playing with his kids on the grass. The dares and the deals would quickly evaporate as she imagined the horrified reactions, and she knew that she’d never do it.

And then the fire happened. At three in the morning, the fire alarm rattled through the block with such a raucous demand for attention that she was out standing on the grass in a daze before she remembered her face was empty of disguise. She was about to run back inside, plans of which  tubes and palletes she could grab spinning around her head, but there were too many people spilling out of the front door. As the street filled up with scared occupants in dressing gowns and duvets, she tried to keep under trees in the shadows. She saw Mrs Robey, already lighting up a fag to calm her nerves, even in the panic she had thought to bring them with her, and Cat cursed herself for not showing the same quick thinking. She saw Salman huddling his children to him, trying to keep them warm. As people from neighbouring blocks joined them, it became increasingly difficult to keep out of sight, all spaces were filled with people, both dazed and bustling, slowly edging her out into the light. Until finally, she found herself in the middle of the noise and fuss, being offered cups of tea and being wrapped up in blankets.

“Look at you, you’re half-frozen!” exclaimed Mrs Robey, rubbing Cat’s arms to warm them. Cat tried to hold the cup up in front of her face, tried to shrink herself small enough so that no one would notice; but it was strange, because no one was recoiling from her ugliness, nobody even flinched. They acted as if they didn’t care, as if she looked normal; and she started to relax. Mrs Robey added a snifter of whisky to her tea to warm her up, and Cat began to forget her face and all its flaws. Instead she slurped her tea and chuckled with her neighbours about how scared they’d all been; or about what they’d been dreaming when the sirens started, and for once she didn’t need to think about her make up slipping or lipstick on her teeth. She didn’t need to think about her face at all. And it was quite nice.

That Night I Walked as a God

That night I walked as a God. I ditched the petty pesterings of a puny world. I became huge. I strode through the stars mixing constellations, and laughing as the horoscopes jumbled, as mortals fumbled to fit the new demands of their shifted personalities. I meddled and I smited. I demanded adoration from my unworthy minions. I stood on cliff tops and called on the wind to ruffle my hair, and fire to dance at my feet. I felt no fear or doubt; logic was an abomination and I crushed all who used it. I leapt from rooftop to rooftop, omnipotent and nimble. I stared into bedrooms and living rooms, observing blasphemous and unholy ways. Knowing that this was not spying, but righteous judgement, I rained fire and brimstone from the light fittings.

And then I looked in your window and saw you eating crisps and cutting your toenails. Such tiny feet. And I knew I wanted to be a God no more.

A Hole Where Her Soul Should Be

As soon as I met Narinda I could see she was missing something. She was friendly, funny obviously very smart; but there was a hardness to her, a lack of concern for anyone. Art college was a fluffy, hysterical place and we all wailed our way from one drama to another while Narinda stayed back, calm and quietly scathing.

We lived three doors down from each other in halls, and spent polite time together, but she wasn’t someone I could go to with howls of indignation that my latest project had only got 54%, even though I’d poured my soul into it, or tell her the sexy dream I’d had about Brennan from our pottery class. She made me feel childish and emotionally messy; and to be fair I was. Anyway, I didn’t know what set Narinda apart until one drunken night when the truth spilled out of her. I say ‘spilled’, it was more of a controlled release. We were talking about our families. I said how mine was like a zoo: you know, everybody trapped and pacing. Narinda replied,

“My upbringing was like a psychological experiment. In fact, I think that’s what it was. My parents never hugged me or gave me praise. They didn’t like playing with me, never took my photograph even. I thought that was just how they were, and then my sister was born. You should have seen how they were with her: constant kisses and affection. Little gifts that they’d buy her, they’d tie ribbons in her hair. And we had photo albums filled with pictures of her stupid smiling face.”

“Why?” I asked, aghast.

“I said earlier, it was an experiment. It took me a while to work it out, but it’s how they deal with everything. They experiment with food, trying out new recipes and putting odd ingredients together; they buy from different shops and compare prices and quality, writing it all down a notebook. They experiment with TV programs and technology. Once my dad wired a Furby up to the vacuum cleaner. They want to play with things, see how they turn out. My dad wanted to be a chemist, but he couldn’t pass the exams.” She shrugged as if she didn’t care, her voice even and with the slight sneer that accompanied all her words.

We never talked about it properly again. I think with all the other emotions flying around our classes, her measured sadness wasn’t loud enough to be heard. And I didn’t forget what she’d said, but I didn’t think about it either.

The night Narinda vanished, it took until midnight to notice. From there the situation quickly escalated. There was the neatly written note explaining that she’d decided art college wasn’t for her, the measured request for no one to come looking for her. Within a few hours her parents had arrived from Stockport: two nervous, wide-eyed people who held on to each other and fretted. I’m not sure how I ended up looking after Narinda’s father, feeding him tea and awkward sympathy. There just isn’t much to do when someone goes missing, mostly you sit and wait. So he sat on my scabby armchair that I’d found in the street, huddled over a chipped mug and unable to stop talking. I think guilt had caused his mouth to spring a leak.

“We tried to be good parents, we really did. I expect she told you we didn’t care, but we cared, we tried,” he paused, looked at me pleadingly, then shook his head and looked at the floor. He let the words spill again,  “We knew we weren’t giving her what she wanted, but we didn’t know how. We never understood her. She acted as if she didn’t want to be our daughter, right from a baby she was bored with us. It was as if we couldn’t connect. She wouldn’t hug us, didn’t want dolls. I remember I tried to tie a ribbon in her hair once, she pulled it out and threw it in a puddle and stamped on it. She found everything we did an irritation. In her high chair she’d sit and scowl at us, as if we were wasting her time. I thought it was us, but then her sister came along, and well, she was a delight, we could make her happy. But Narinda, it was as if she had something missing. You know?” He looked up at me, his face a cacophony of guilt, sadness, bewilderment and loss. I nodded, because I did.

D. Bayer’s Blog: Toons and Little Worm

If you are looking for an intense story to take you out of your life for a little while, try this. It’s by D. Bayer, and about a child starting out in a hopeless situation and how she survives, and a father doing his best despite the odds. I’m not usually affected by sad tales, but this is gripping and heartfelt and it deserves to be read.

 

Here’s the first paragraph:

The way the story was passed down to me, when I was born I weighed four pounds seven ounces and was addicted to heroin. My mother gave birth in a crackhouse on Bedford, but it wasn’t clear if she went into labor while shooting up or if she just crawled into the first place she could find once her water broke. A junkie ran out and got a cop, and the fiends and chickenheads all cleared out while the ambulance crew tried to muscle in past them.

I’m not sure how to do the reblog thing, so here’s a link:

Toons and Little Worm

Facebook Blues

Sarah was content before she joined Facebook.

She had been popular at school. She had glided through the corridors with her good looks and quick wit. She saw it as her duty to enlighten the lesser beings (the nerds, the weirdos, the ugly) of their place in the world, beneath her. She had been so successful at growing up, that it never occurred to her to move out from her home town and seek further approval; she simply was great, so why try? She’d always assumed that those nerds, weirdos and uglies would still be impressed.

Then she joined Facebook, and discovered those same hapless beings were running companies or living in far off lands. One was even a model. She had been happy imagining how sad and sorry they all were, but instead she could see their photos of glamour and adventure, and excited posts of achievement and popularity. And she had nothing to post. She went to work at the hairdressers, she went home and watched X Factor, she went to the supermarket.

“I think you’re either good at being a child or good at being an adult,” posted one ex-dweeb, all her pimples gone. The accompanying selfie showed her drinking cocktails in an exclusive club in London. “And now I’m a surgeon in Harley Street, it makes all the  bullying worthwhile. But it seems like all the cool kids are now just stuck in the same town in crappy jobs, pretty sad really.” The post got two hundred likes and thirty comments agreeing. Sarah was incensed.

So she set out to prove them all wrong. She spent two days plotting and shopping. She travelled to London and scoured the streets. She sweet talked every good-looking stranger. She wore her credit card down to a stub. And then she unleashed the new Sarah onto Facebook. Careful not to show all the evidence of her sparkly new life all at once, just a few details at a time.

Monday: The picture on Sarah’s Facebook page showed a pair of men’s shoes by the door “Oops, looks like I did it again #YOLO”. She had bought the shoes in Shoezone, they were accepting returns.

Tuesday: picture showed a Ferrari with the number plate SRH 2. “Guess who’s got a new car!” She had wandered around Chelsea for three hours looking for a car to pose with. She had to balance just above the bonnet so as not to set off the alarm.

Wednesday: picture showed Sarah grinning in a selfie with a barman, “Time for a little drinkie.” The little drinkie cost a day’s wages. She had tried to get a few of the other patrons to join her for a photo, but they had backed away from her.

Thursday: picture showed Sarah with a horse, nose to nose, “My own Ferdinand, looking gorgeous as always.” She hadn’t been able to get on the horse, and it had taken many attempts before Dobson (the horse was not called Ferdinand) allowed her near him.

Friday: ten pictures, all showing her new haircut from a different angle. The haircut was real.

Her newly added friends liked and commented, with gushing praise for her glamourous lifestyle. Sarah felt such a high, riding on the crest of praise, she didn’t even think about how she might maintain proof of her glamourous existence. Every time she logged on (thirteen times in one hour) there was someone else giving her the validation she craved, that she deserved; even if the reason they were giving it was not the reason she deserved it.

“Oh you have a horse! He’s beautiful!”

“Love the hair, honey.”

“Yolo! LOL!”

Saturday morning, she opened up Facebook with glee, and with eyes still blurry from sleep. She clicked on a PM and felt her stomach drop as dread took over. Her one true nemesis was on Facebook, the worst gossip she knew. The only one that could unravel her web of lies.

“Sarah! Wonderful that you’re on Facebook finally, but what’s all this about a horse? And men’s shoes? I’ll call you later, love mum.”

You’ll never guess what…

I’ve been keeping this quiet because I didn’t really believe it would happen, but now it looks like it is and it seems daft not to share it with you lovely people.

So, here goes: I’m getting a novel published and just received the proof copy. I mean, Fucking heck!

img_1444
My book

It’s being published by Dr Cicero Books, a publisher in New York. You see I wrote it many years ago, put it online, and lovely chap and successful writer Carey Harrison found it.

He was teaching writing at New York University and was with a student and talking about the word ‘discandy’. He Googled the word, which appears in my book, but not in many other places online. So he found the book, read it and loved it; then contacted me through the website.

We exchanged emails for a while. He’s lived an incredible life and is still having adventures across the world. At the time I was seriously ill and could barely leave my bed, so communicating with him brought some excitement into my life. Then we lost contact.

Seven years later, my life was fairly sorted. I was more or less healthy and working, but all my energy was going into the job, and I had that pointlessness malaise that I tend to get when not writing. Then an email from him pinged up, saying that he’d set up a publishing company and could he publish my book?

Since then I’ve thrown myself back into writing, and it has felt like a flood of joy like it always does. I’ve written another novel. I’ve started this blog (been going for a year now). And now my first book is going to be published.

I’m a bit staggered about it all.

The book, Riddled with Senses, is about a seventeen year old who’s an angry, drug-taking cynic, hellbent on self destruction. She meets and falls in love with a girl who’s an outcast, living by her wits and creating imaginary worlds for herself. It’s about what happens when two very different worlds collide.

Anyway, I just wanted to share that. I’ll keep you posted on what happens as it happens.

 

 

Short Story: Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches

“You know me and my love of Madagascan hissing cockroaches.” Fabian was right, I did, he had told me about it in depth. He didn’t tell me about his seventy-eight sibilant pets when I answered the ad for a room to rent, he must have hidden the glass cage when I had a viewing. It was only as I was carrying boxes in from the taxi that I heard the noise: a frantic hissing, I assumed he had stuck the kettle on for a welcome coffee, but then he said,

“Don’t worry about that. That’s just my Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches, seventy-eight of them! I counted this morning. Of course, the numbers change as they breed. Or eat each other.” I’ve been alive a while, I’ve perfected the nervous smile, and I used it then. I’ve used it many times since I moved in with Fabian.

I liked Fabian from the moment I met him; he moved liked an uncoordinated child, jerky, lumbering movements topped with too much curly hair and a shy smile. I thought he was delightful. Then he started to grate a little. Like a vicar’s sermon dragging all topics back to Jesus, Fabian would return all conversation to cockroaches, hissing ones. A few days after I moved in, my aunt died. He explained to me that he knew just how that felt because his favourite roach had hissed its last,

“I knew it was him, because I put a little blob of red paint on his back. It’s obviously just a really bad day for death.” He said.

“Hmm,” I replied.

I’d never met anyone quite like Fabian before. Filth and muddle seemed to spill out from him. Crumbs scattered from his jumper and mud from his boots. I discovered the erratic lurch was because one of his feet was a size 6 the other a size nine, but his problems went way beyond his feet. His mind  was always adrift elsewhere, thinking through facts and figures that he would share with the world just when the time was wrong. Usually when I was trying to concentrate, or when the phone rang.

Once he clomped into our lounge and thumped himself down on the sofa with the elegance of a walrus, not noticing that I was already sitting in that same spot. I yelped; it took a few moments for him to work out he had to move, then he shuffled awkwardly into a chair, huffing, already telling me that Madagascan hissing cockroaches liked to bury their dead, with a little ritual,

“They only eat each other when they need to assert dominance,” he said, “I read that in my new book,” he said, while I rubbed my bruised legs pointedly.

But those roaches, I knew they’d be trouble. It was only a few weeks later, I was sitting on my bed, reading, and I heard the distinctive hissing sound. I dropped my phone in panic and ran from the room calling Fabian’s name, pointing wildly to my door.

“Oh you’ve got one have you? Just giving them an airing. It’s important for Madagascan hissing cockroaches to get out and about sometimes.”

Still, I liked my new home, I was settling nicely into my new town. Learning where the best shops were, visiting the local park. And it wasn’t long before I got a job interview to work at the small accountancy firm in town. The interview was going well, I had impressed my potential employer, Gerry, with my knowledge of the company (Googled the night before), and with my friendly professional manner. It was all going well, when I heard, very quietly, that hissing sound. It came from just below my ear, I could feel the faint tickle under my collar. I tried to suppress the look of panic as Gerry looked up from his notes. I smiled politely as if all was normal.

“Now you say you can start anytime, is that right? No notice to work out?”

The tickling had become a scratching as small black legs climbed the few stubbly hairs on my neck, it wasn’t easy to keep my voice level.

“Yes, I could start tomorrow if you wanted,” I was trying to say it with a light chuckle, but it came out a little more like a supressed shriek. Gerry gave a nervous laugh of his own and looked down at his notes, saying,

“Now we’ve got both your references, haven’t-” he looked up as he was speaking and stopped, eyes wide beneath furrowed brow and I knew what was wrong. I could feel it, the sharp scrambling as the Madagascan hissing cockroach clambered out of the neck of my shirt, hissing frantically.

That’s My Face!

“But you don’t understand, they’re using my face!” I shrieked down the phone. The ever soothing voice on the other end crooned,

“That must be very distressing for you sir. Perhaps you could clarify.”

And that’s when I realise I’m speaking to a program, a program written to placate and calm irate callers, but not to fix anything. I angrily put my phone in my pocket (I want to slam it down, but its expensive) and look again at the advert on the Tube station wall: A sunny beach, a happy couple on a sun lounger, and a spotty geeky twat leering in the background. And that twat is me. It’s not the first time this has happened either. I’ve appeared in adverts for toothpaste, shoes; this one is for an alcopop. And I’m always the goofy fool, the comic foil. Maybe if I was portrayed as the sexy one I wouldn’t complain, but still it is my face, it should belong to me alone.

So how did it happen? Well, let me tell you a few secrets. Adverts don’t use real people anymore. They haven’t done for some time, you see real people are expensive and computer programs can do the same job as effectively, more cheaply and without all the fuss of going on location. But the faces that computers create are an amalgam of features, generic representations of personality, age, gender. That’s why they all look more or less the same, even people of different races conform to a generic appearance – you’ll see Chinese people, but not too Chinese. African, but African with just enough Caucasian blended in. They play with the different possible components of face and body and come up with some whole new being. Supposedly.

But it seems like whoever wrote the algorithm is as lazy as the rest of us and instead of inventing properly new faces, they just repeat the same generic stereotypes. And one of those stereotypes is me. And how do you think that feels? To know that I am the spotty generic sad-case?

It makes me feel angry. Not like the kind of angry when you get tricked into watching a ten minute video that promises to tell you Five Foods that are Making YOU Fat, but doesn’t; the anger goes deeper than that. It makes me feel slighted and the rage gets right into my blood. It makes me want to fight back. Because they never expect the spotty sad-case to fight back. They think fighting back is for the generic, tough, good looking ones. They think that people like me haven’t the gumption, they think that I am going to behave within the confines of their stereotype. Well, gumption is borne of rage, and now all I need is a plan.

Flash Fiction: The Supernice

Joelly was supernice. Everybody said so, Joelly made certain of it. With her blonde curls, big eyes and squeaky voice, who could ever call her anything but nice? She sat in the college canteen, twirling her hair around her finger and sharing her understanding of the world as seen through the eyes of nice.

“You know what? There should be a place for nice people. A village. Keep all the nasties out,” she declared to her classmates. Her shyness always vanished when she didn’t need it. “And we’ll keep that Andrew out, he doesn’t deserve to be with nice people.”

“Andrew’s ok, isn’t he?” Tim spoke up as all the faces swivelled his way with accusing eyes: was he questioning Joelly? and Joelly spat back,

“He’s a horrid little boy. You know he asked me out? Me! As if I’d want to look at his spotty face for a moment longer than I have to.”

“That doesn’t make him horrid. Misguided maybe,” tried Tim, a little desperately . “I mean, people ask each other out, right? That’s what people do.”

Joelly pulled back a little as if he had struck her, then she tipped her head to one side, opened her eyes wide and adopted an expression like a kitten abandoned in the rain. Tears started to well up. Nobody ever disagreed with her, and the shock felt almost violent. Quickly the others started to cluck and soothe her as she choked out the words through her tears,

“And you’re a horrid little boy too!” she gasped, and ran from the room, leaving Tim to the judgement of his peers. He glanced around in panic, suddenly knowing what kind of Hell Joelly’s village of niceness would be.

“You made her cry!” they hissed, and Tim knew he didn’t stand a chance.