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Liberating ideas

Posts by Georgia Odd

Lost Time: A Short Story by Elena Kaufman

Shoppers cut across their path to duck under awnings. Carmen carried a fluorescent yellow umbrella and the two of them continued, stepping over puddles, Graham’s leather shoes darkening at the toes. He described his minimally furnished apartment in Amsterdam: a bed, table and chairs, with the walls left intentionally blank.

“I’m anti-art,” he told her. “I prefer the sun and shadows.”

“How did you end up in Amsterdam?” she asked. Her voice was muffled by the shushing of water under the wheels of cars.

“Pardon?”

“Why Amsterdam?” she shouted.

Graham slowed. “Well, after you left…”

“Oh right, I see.”

When they turned into a narrow side street and Carmen stumbled on a cobblestone he reached out to steady her.

“I’m okay, thanks. Damn shoes,” she said and looked up to see strands of his wet hair stuck to his cheek.

“I got a placement from Toronto to work with Greenpeace.”

“Look at you – you’re soaking wet,” she said and stepped ahead of him, squeezing between boutique windows and parked cars. “I was surprised when you called,” she yelled back to him. “That you were coming to Paris. I had no idea you were here.”

Graham grabbed for her arm. They were in front of a watch shop and the sparkle of light on silver was blinding. The rain drenched through his thin coat turning it dark blue. He held fast to her arm. “Is that true?”

“I didn’t know you were here in Europe is what I meant,” she said and walked on again.

A crowd had gathered under a shop’s awning to wait for the worst to subside and they stopped again too, looking out at the sheets of rain and pressing closer together with the others taking shelter. Carmen told him about the Eiffel tower light show projected every night onto her ceiling, and how it was better than any painting she’d seen in the Louvre or Orsay. Even better than the Impressionists.

“Are the lights for a celebration?” he asked.

“Well, the city was lit up for the millennium New Year’s Eve party, but people liked it so much, they made it permanent,” she said.

“Impressive.”

“It is. It starts at dusk and sparkles every hour on the hour for ten minutes until midnight.”

She didn’t tell him she normally fell asleep at ten or that she rarely went out in the evenings, having cut her social life down to an occasional coffee date.

#

The Eiffel tower lights were predictable in her Chambre de Bonne – a maid’s room under the roof. She’d prop the skylight window open on its iron rod and stick her head out when it got too claustrophobic. The view was of hundreds of red brick chimneys jutting out every which way. And at night, with this light show, the structures would shift; what was once stable became fragmented. No wonder she felt dizzy most of the time.

Her friends back home thought it exotic she lived in a Parisian apartment, even though she explained over and over that it was only a tiny room under the roof with ten flights of stairs. They couldn’t comprehend, those Canadians, a shortage of space, or the concept of living in a closet.

In France, nine square meters was deemed the legal minimum for each person; it was a state-given right, held over from Napoleonic law. But even then some landlords found a way around the rule, based on overpopulation and on the numbers of naïve foreigners flooding in.

Her room was eight square metres; she supposed maids never had, nor would have, the luxury of space. Carmen’s friends didn’t understand why, with a degree in French literature, she was teaching English grammar to business students who would one day make triple what she earned.

Her friends imagined a different reality for her: eating cheese and pastries, drinking wine, walking up the Champs Elysees with a French boyfriend. Being a flaneur.

That’s what they would do they had told her blatantly. In assuming that living in Paris was about finding your fortune they offered Carmen suggestions:

Become a writer.

-Go to cooking school and learn how to make soufflés.

-Become an art historian.

-Give tours of Paris to English visitors;

-Learn French design, or if you’re serious about making money, take photos of the metro entrances and scan them onto t-shirts;

-Become a film maker. Think: Agnes Varda!;

-Study cheese as a cheese connoisseur;

-Or a sommelier, yeah, then you could educate us while we get smashed;

-Be a nanny in the 16th, but hey, don’t let the kids put you off;

-Find a French boyfriend and get your papers.

Her closest friend offered the last suggestion on a regular basis: “Get yourself one of them. They know how to open the door for a girl. Not like Canadian hockey fanatics who only know how to open their beer.”

Because her friends lived vicariously through her, she felt obliged to tick off some of their boxes and she honestly couldn’t say she didn’t enjoy herself. But when the dizzy spells started in the classroom, and she had to hold onto a desk and look at the floor until they passed, Carmen went to a doctor.

“I’m not pregnant.”

“Are you absolument positive?”

“Absolutely.”

“Perhaps you forgot the protection?”

“I’m positively, absolutely sure that didn’t happen. I promise.”

Then there was a beat, a pause, while he looked at her face, her chest, her clothing.

“Alors,” he said. “You have an iron deficiency. We do the blood test.”

#

The nightmares where she leaned over Escher-esque staircases running up, down, and sideways, like an interminable roller coaster ride returned. Other times, she was pushed by an unseen hand down a mountain, to trip over boulders and tree branches, never reaching stable ground which reminded Carmen of her girlhood when she’d balance, knees bent, on the centre of a see-saw. Just waiting to flinch and fall.

#

“Here we are,” she told Graham when they arrived at the tiny bistro: Les Temps Perdu. Carmen thought eating would be a distraction, but he went and brought up the topic of children even before the waiter arrived.

“My girlfriend doesn’t want kids,” he said, picking at wax from a candle. “She thinks the world is overpopulated as it is.”

“What about adoption?”

“No. She wouldn’t. Most people have to adopt abroad and she thinks that taking a child away from its heritage is just another form of colonization.”

He sipped a mouthful of red wine and savoured it. All the while staring at her.

“Oh, I see.” Carmen flushed and looked down. “She’s certainly thought a lot about it.” If Carmen had stayed behind with him, there would be a child sitting between them now, in a restaurant somewhere in Toronto.

Babies were not political to her, but a natural part of life. She only had to find a boyfriend to make that happen again. When she was good and ready. Or just ready. She wondered how socially conscious Graham’s girlfriend was and if she actually donated to Oxfam or Save the Children or any of those other organisations.
Did they have a good relationship? Did they have good sex? Did she have perfect shiny hair?

Outside the café, the windows were streaked with rain, and inside they were fogged with breath as if in a greenhouse. Carmen patted down her frizzy hair and Graham used his napkin to wipe a circle on the window so they could watch people passing by. He drank the wine, served in globular glasses and smelling of strawberries and freshly chopped wood, and she copied him because it gave her something to do. Every time he raised his glass, she looked at the backs of his hands with their broad fingers, strong knuckles and ropy veins. The hands that had once held her warm breasts.

The waiter appeared with steaming bowls of French onion soup and she dipped baguette into the salty broth. Then came generous portions of Quiche Lorraine with crisp green salads covered in lemony vinaigrette.

She kept her hands busy with knife, fork, spoon, napkin, water and wine, to stop her from reaching out and putting a hand on his cheek. But then she ate too quickly and burned her mouth. For dessert, she ordered a Tarte au Cerise with vanilla ice cream. He drank two espressos and she tried to remember if she’d ever seen him drink coffee. An elderly man at a nearby table lit up a cigarette and blew smoke rings which wafted above them and dissolved over their heads.

“Do you still smoke?” she asked.

“I quit a couple of years ago,” he said, looking up at the next cloud of smoke headed their way.

“Congratulations.” She hoped that came out sincerely.

“Yeah, I took up jogging. Now I’m running marathons.”

The corners of his lips were stained with wine.

“That’s amazing. You must be in great shape.”

“I am,” he said placing his hand on his chest. “Doctor says I have a healthy heart.”

Carmen noticed the hand was a bit off target and then she was getting up, pushing her chair back and wrestling into her coat. She threw twenty Euros on the table.

“Don’t you want your change?” he asked, but she was already at the door.

Outside, the fog blanketed the buildings in an undulating curtain of grey. Her mouth was getting tired from smiling whenever he looked at her. The arch of his long neck and the way he scratched his tousled hair made her want to run fast to a museum or a movie.

They spent nearly two more hours together and as long as they were walking, she didn’t have to look at him and could relax a bit. The heavy rain turned into a light drizzle as they made their way along the Quai de Tuileries to Pont Neuf. Daylight faded and the city became illuminated in the greenish fog, light by light, jewel by jewel.

On Pont Neuf, they peered over at a passing Bateaux Mouche full of tourists with open umbrellas. Those with rain jackets were hunched over with their hoods up, all except for one man who stood tall with a foot up on the stern, one hand holding a small hat down.

“Check out this guy with the beret,” Graham said and leaned over the rail to wave back. “He’s probably from California.”

Her laughter came out unexpectedly and she took a deep breath to stop it.

“I don’t meet many French men who wear berets,” she said. “The Americans appropriated that one.”

“Sibling rivalry, don’t you think?”

Carmen tried to imagine how she and Graham looked to others, while they leaned over the bridge with their shoulders just touching.

#

Before the dizzy spells had started again, she spent Sundays going for walks in the city, planning a new route each time to explore the various neighbourhoods. She watched people together, guessing at their relationships, and by studying their body language and how they carried themselves she made up imaginary lives for them. She tried to look into their eyes before they passed her by, hoping to discover something secret: an emotional state, an essence. To find out what happiness looked like. To see it reflected on a face. Maybe it would be contagious? But most of the time she only caught irritation or annoyance, and occasionally when men looked back, flirtation. Quite often she saw the expressions of dumbstruck awe in tourists who were more interested in man-made structures than in the French people around them. She watched them crane their necks at the Eiffel Tower. Or pose for pictures under the Arc de Triomphe, as tiny dots framed by that overwhelming war memorial.

Carmen looked over at Graham who was staring at the Seine. “Do you like asparagus?” she asked.

“No way, I hate it. Why?”

“The French just love asparagus,” she said a little too loudly. He looked over at her.  “I was just wondering if I remembered little details about you.”

“Well, I remember something about you,” he said. “You were wracked by nightmares when we.”

She felt the cold metal railing through her gloves. How, out of their five-year relationship could he pick such a negative remembrance and bring it up, flaunt it to her? Yes she’d had nightmares while they were together. All of her life though. Did he think he inspired only bad feelings?

Behind them, a woman yelled at her boy, who was dressed in a suit jacket with a bow-tie and mini patent shoes. The little man pulled at his mother’s arm, whining to go back, and not forward, along the bridge. He’s just like her, she thought, living for what has passed.

“I didn’t have much time for nightmares. If you remember, we didn’t sleep all that much,” she said. She had to sit on a bench because her head whirled. Why was she flirting?

Back then, her parents went out of town most weekends and there were lazy days in bed with cigarettes and smoke ring competitions, video marathons of foreign films, take-out food and liquor. And Kama Sutra sex.

They threw costume parties in which their friends would appear as gangsters and molls, movie stars, politicians and ghouls. Some of the themed parties had mysteries to be solved, or an ethnic dish to be tasted. After graduation, she confided her travel plans only to her parents and then packed her belongings into boxes to store in their basement before leaving the country.

When Carmen got word that he’d followed her to France, she changed her backpacking route to Spain, travelled around the countryside, staying in remote hostels. She stopped checking email altogether, but when she arrived in Paris, there were poste-restante letters waiting; letters telling her he would have to return to Canada. She had ripped them up and tossed them into the Seine, where pigeons swooped down, expecting her confetti to be food.

“I know what you mean,” she had said aloud to the anxious birds. “Not very tasty.”

It was only a week ago that she answered her cell phone to his baritone voice.

“Your parents,” he admitted. “I practically had to pay them for your number.”

He lived in Amsterdam now and would be in Paris on business. Could they get together for an afternoon?

#

The rain started again, this time as a fine mist, and the spray crept under her scarf and down her collar.

“I’d better go. I have to teach early tomorrow,” she said.

They retraced their steps over the Pont Neuf to the metro station. When he gave her a quick hug goodbye, the handle of the umbrella knocked her in the face. He apologized, for the umbrella or for the relationship she wasn’t sure, but she would surely have a bruise on her cheek.

“It was great seeing you again,” he told her, his voice seeming a pitch higher.

“You too, it was really great. You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Actually, I like to think I have,” he said and handed her his business card. “Don’t lose it.”

He watched her descend the concrete steps into the deep underground tunnel.

Over the next few weeks Carmen thought about emailing to thank him for his visit, but she couldn’t find the right words, and anyway she didn’t hear from him either.

One night, when she was getting ready for bed, her best friend Joanna called from Toronto. This is how she learned that Graham had remained single, and the girlfriend

he’d told her about at lunch didn’t exist. Joanna thought he wanted to suss her out and see what she had been up to all these years, if she was married with kids.

Carmen took the receiver and lay on her bed; she watched the Eiffel tower lights illuminate her room. It had been three years since she left – wasn’t that enough time? When Joanna asked if she was over him, Carmen sat up and hit her head on the sloping ceiling.

“Jesus.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah.” She rubbed the palm of her hand into her forehead. Now she’d have two bruises. There was a silence on the line and Carmen lay back down. “I’m a bit jumpy because I’ve been having the dizzy spells again.”

“I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have told you that.”

“No, no, it’s okay. I’d rather know.”

Somewhere in the building a child wailed. “Just a second.” Carmen held the phone against her chest, and listened to the sound of little lungs laden with grief or fear or even terror. She went back on the line. “I’d better go, but thanks so much for calling.”

“No problem,” Joanna said.

“I appreciate it.”

“Do you?”

“I do.”

“Good, then don’t forget I’m here. If you ever want to come home.”

When Carmen hung up, she watched the shifting patterns on her ceiling: diamonds and dots and slashes. Like a flashlight shone into a jewel box.

Her head throbbed as if she’d been drinking; the child’s wails pierced the thin walls. She closed her eyes but the spinning got worse. Lying on her narrow bed she took long deep breaths, one after the other, but couldn’t get enough air. After all those nightmares, she thought, and I’m still falling.

Published: Tinge Magazine, Temple University, USA, Spring 2016.

http://www.tingemagazine.org/lost-time/

A Short Story by Unbound author, Elena Kaufman, from her upcoming collection, Love BitesRead more and support the book here. 

A Short History of Subscription Publication by Zosh Barton

 A guest post from Zosh Barton as she explores the history of subscription publishing

Subscription publication was an established form of publishing in the seventeenth century. It involved a relationship between a writer and their future reader in which the writer was sponsored to create a particular book. Subscriptions included one guinea (£33.78 approx.) for a basic subscription, up to five guineas (£168.90) for subscription by a friend of the writer and twenty guineas (£677) to receive a copy of the book when it was finished.

Within this new system women writers thrived. Frances (Fanny) Burney was an early heroine in the history of subscription publication. Fanny had no formal education; she taught herself and began writing when she was ten. Her first novel Evelina, which she wrote in secret, was published in 1778. It was an instant success, praised for its comic qualities and unique narrative style. Evelina opened a new category of fiction that focussed on middle-class women’s lives and it secured Fanny Burney a place in the publishing world. However, she soon learnt that in order to sustain herself financially she would need to find a more lucrative means of writing. Fanny turned to subscription publishing for her third novel Camilla. Her list of subscribers ran to thirty-eight pages.

Some of the subscribers listed in these editions include Jane Austen, Hester Thrace and Edmund Burke, all of whom were influenced by her writing; and so those inspired by her work were also supporting her writing career.

In 2010, a few hundred years after subscription publication died out, Unbound was founded. Like Burney before them, its founders – Justin Pollard, Dan Kieran and John Mitchinson – were dissatisfied with the conventional publishing industry. They noted the lack of publicity for new books being published and the steadily shrinking advances made to writers. So they revived subscription publication, combining it with the sponsorship seen in the modern music industry.

Unbound works by writers putting ideas for books on their website where the public can view them. This revival of subscription publication has attracted established writers such as Kate Mosse and Terry Jones. Established agents for writers have not opposed this revived form of publishing.

Unbound are keen to support young and upcoming writers. This is an exciting prospect for someone like me, particularly since Unbound regards Fantasy, my favourite writing genre, as marketable. Books in this genre such as Jennifer Pickup’s Unbelievable and Hilary Boyd and Barbara Roddam’s Solstice were published in 2012 by Unbound. And I couldn’t help noticing that Unbelievable is intended for a similar age bracket to my current pet project.

Unbound offers women writers a means to pitch, fund and get their books published. Unbound is the modern descendant of subscription publishing, providing a platform for women writers within a largely male-dominated system.

The Best Book of 2015

As this year draws to a close, here in the Unbound office we’ve been talking a lot about books. (What did you expect? We’re publishers). In particular, we’ve been talking about our favourite books of 2015 and now we want to hear from you.  

Help us decide which book will be (unofficially) crowned our favourite book of the year. We’ll be sharing our suggestions on Twitter.

If you want to throw your hat (book) into the ring, all you have to do is use the hashtag #bookoftheyear and we’ll create a shortlist and announce a winner on Monday 7th December. There are only two rules:

1.    Be completely honest. No trying to impress anyone with an obscure title you haven’t read, or one you think makes you sound clever

2.    The book has to have been published in 2015. Otherwise it can’t be ‘The Book of 2015’

Think of it as the Oscars, but with less glitz and glamour, and hopefully less crying. We’re looking forward to hearing your favourites!

Dinner at Alan Garner’s House

John Mitchinson, Unbound’s co-founder and the publisher of both Strandloper and Thursbitch explains why a visit to the Garner home at Blackden is a must for any fan.

Dinner at Alan’s

Alan Garner’s family has lived and worked in and around Alderley Edge for at least five centuries. His father’s family were rural craftsmen and Alan has taken on the craftsman’s mantle, using his hands in a different medium but with the same painstaking attention to quality and use.

He has lived and worked in the same house since 1957. He discovered it as a twenty-two-year-old Classics scholar who’d given up on his Oxford degree in order to discover if he could write. To do so he needed a place to live. The cottage he had been sent to see was a soulless modern bungalow but as he was cycling back home to Alderley he noticed a battered sign advertising ‘17th Century Cottage For Sale’. Climbing the steep hill leading to the back gate the first thing he noticed was the long roofline. Once the whole structure was revealed, he saw what few others would have recognised. Through all the dilapidations and later accretions, the brick and the tin roof, he was staring at a timber-framed medieval hall. His destiny was set: he had to live there. He would write, much later: ‘If I have any real occupation it is to be here.’ Penniless, unemployed, it didn’t look hopeful but his father, quite uncharacteristically, yet sensing his son’s craftsmanly stubborness, found him the £510 to buy it. All Garner’s books have been written in what was once the buttery.

This sounds idyllic. The writer’s cosy rural nest; the ancient house inhabited by the collector of folktales; the very model of a childrens’ writer’s home. But Garner’s home isn’t much like that. It’s no more restful or benign than his work. Like his fiction, it is strong, complex, confusing, archetypal, unforgettable. It’s rattled every few minutes by the Manchester to Crewe main-line which forms the boundary to his back garden. Less than a mile away the giant eye of the Jodrell Bank telescope is open to the sky. In one of the neat synchronicities that trail in Garner’s wake, the year he moved in was also the year the world’s most powerful telescope of the time became operational, the only telescope able to track Sputnik 1, also launched that year.

Medicine House

The house was semi-derelict for a long time, made habitable slowly. In the early seventies Garner added a Tudor timber-framed apothecary’s house scheduled for demolition in a village twenty miles away. He masterminded the dismantling and reconstruction of its hundreds of beams, turning the whole project into a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. It is built around a central chimney, open to the sky, and a fireplace where eight people can sit in a circle around the fire. It throbs with a strong, unsettling energy. The first spring after its re-construction the perimeter of the building was garlanded with opium poppies and other medicinal herbs and flowers that had sprouted from ancient seeds shaken from the beams.

So much for what you can see. The Garners (Alan is inseparable from his wife and soulmate Griselda) are probably unique in having saved and catalogued every significant piece of stone, metal, flint, every tiny potsherd that fifty years of gardening and digging have turned up. Alan knows each beam and flagstone in his house, not a detail has escaped his skeptical attention. Five years ago discrete excavations began. Combining what Alan already knew with speculative visits from the best archaeologists and historians in the country, a picture has emerged of ten thousand years of continuous habitation. The excavation have confirmed that Garner’s novels have been written in the middle of a ritual site. A sacred place.

This sense of places ‘meaning’ something is a common thread in human culture, as solidly attested as our need for food, sex and shelter. Perhaps it is an adaptive advantage hardwired within Homo sapiens sapiens, one which helped lead us out of the forest and into language. Because language is the tool that we have made places with, whatever drew us to them originally. We tell stories and the places around us change; they become richer and more significant as each generation adds its own inflections to the tale. But it is just possible that we are simply the conduits, the sounding boards, for the place to tell its own story.

No one understands, or relishes, that paradox more than Alan Garner. Visit him at home and you’ll see what I mean.

Pledge before midnight on July 31st and you can reserve a ticket at the special price of £200 for two for a storytelling supper in the Medicine House this Autumn. Alan himself will attend for pre-dinner drinks.

Pledge now

Christmas Consequences – An Unbound Tale (pt 4)

White Christmas – Part 4
By John-Paul Flintoff, author of What if the Queen Should Die?

“A sheep?” said rabbi Meyer.

“Yes, a fucking sheep,” said the policeman. “We’re trying to clear the area, and you just keep coming. Can’t you get lost?”

The rabbi recognised real panic.

“Look,” the policeman continued, “there’s some kind of asteroid coming this way, and I don’t know how long we’ve got. I don’t want to die.”

And he ran off.

The sight of him sprinting away gripped the collective mind of the assembled watchers. And so it came to pass that the rabbi, the vicar and the imam, who had intended to spend the evening discussing shared areas of faith, found themselves doing the policeman’s work. “Please, quickly, run away,” they told anybody who had not, already, started to run away. The imam, fearing the worst for his son Ali, discharged this civic duty with tears running down his cheeks.

*****

The woman, Taiwo, fell to her knees and howled. How had it come to this? Where was her husband? He had never previously abandoned her with no explanation – not even during the worst times at Calais. How could he do that now? Why had he left her in the care of these stinking white men? These were not the kind of people she imagined finding in England. Was it for this that she had left behind her loving family, the heat of Africa, and spent all her money on bandits who set them adrift in the Mediterranean? And now her body was betraying her. The waters had broken just when she was least equipped to deal with it. And now this pain. Oh. Ooooh. Oh! The pain!

Lost to her contractions, she lost the ability to think of anything else. But when the moment passed, she wondered what was happening around her: the white light in the sky, people running and screaming. Soon only the two stinking men remained. The one whose shoes she had ruined sat on the floor with his head in his hands. The other stared at her. What was the matter with him? Oh. Oooooh. Oh!

Yuill remembered the look in her eyes, from a few minutes before. She had seen in him the man he used to be, before his heart hardened. It had softened him, that glance, like nothing else he could remember.

Impulsively he said: “Your husband has left you. But I won’t leave you. I won’t. I’ll see you right. I promise.”

As soon as the words were out, he realised how stupid they were. How insensitive. But she either didn’t understand or was in too much pain to listen.

Yuill took off the duffel coat, moving towards her, and then removed his parka too. She looked up, panicked, put out a hand to keep him back.

“No!” he said. “No, I don’t…” He spread the coats on the floor beside her, put a hand on his heart. “I just want to help.”

And so nature took its course. Taiwo submitted to whatever her body decided. And Yuill, having no better idea, lowered himself to the hard cold paving beside her and breathed with her – in and out, in and out, loudly and slowly – partly because it might help her, but also because it helped him to cope with the terrible cold, now he had given up his coats. For minutes at a time, he looked into her eyes, hoping to find that same gaze. But she seemed captive to pain, and looked right through him.

Or so he thought. When the contractions subsided, she saw him for what he was. Not a bad man. A good man. He is older than my father, and he smells badly, but he is a good man. Thinking of her husband, she took hold of Yuill’s hand and squeezed it.

Yuill had not expected this. He looked down at their clenched fingers, and felt his eyes watering.

Taiwo made a decision – this man must see what she could not see herself – and manoeuvred so that the man could see the crown of her unborn child emerging.

Feeling at once appalled and blessed, Yuill made a silent wish for the child. Boy or girl, may it have a happy life, and do good things, he thought – and then he felt himself being pulled backwards, and a heavy shopping bag smashed into his face.

Lying on the pavement, Yuill saw the woman raise a hand in protest, then smile at her husband, before sinking again into pain. And Yuill was forgotten.

After a few moments, he got up, dusted himself off and started walking. He must go back to the shops, to be warm. He passed a group, walking the other way – he noticed a woman vicar, and three kids, and a sheep, of all things – but could make no sense of it. His brain was freezing. A thought nagged at him: how long does it take a shooting star to hit the ground, and would it hit the couple and their baby? But he couldn’t think straight. Not till he was back inside, and warm again.

You could stand around for 15 minutes in Currys/PC World before they moved you on.

 

Left it too late to get those last few gifts? Why not give someone the gift of literature and get their name in a book forever. Support a book here. 

Christmas Consequences – An Unbound Tale (pt 3)

Unbound Christmas Consequences
White Christmas Part 3
By David Quantick, author of The Mule

But he had to stop talking; everyone had to stop talking, because the sky was on fire.

“Look! There’s a light in the sky!” said Mark.

Ali squinted. “Is that what it is?” he said. “I thought I was in your brain and you were having a stroke.”

Mark hit Ali and Ali let go of the sheep. It wandered away, bleating, which is what sheep do, thought Ruth. She supposed bleating was a sheep’s default setting. Whatever happened to a sheep, whatever it did, whatever it thought, whether it spent its life eating and pooing on a hill or formed a band, it was a sheep and it would always bleat.

“The Bleatles,” she said, and wished she hadn’t. Ruth was always saying things she wished she hadn’t said. “Ewe 2.” Oh come on, Ruth thought (for once), if you’re going to blurt stuff out at least make it cool.

Mark and Ali waited for Ruth to stop blurting. They knew her sudden outbursts came in threes. “Ram Direction,” she said suddenly.

The sheep wandered over to her, and she put her arm around its neck. It felt like a very dirty jumper, which in a way she supposed it was.

“Can’t we just take it back?” said Ruth.

“No,” said Mark, and shivered. Mark was the youngest and scared of stuff. Ruth had found her grandmother stiff in her chair and wasn’t scared of anything except her own mouth.

“He doesn’t want to go back that way,” said Ali, nodding at the estate. “So we can’t go back to the city farm.”

“Maybe tomorrow, when it’s light,” said Mark.

“It’s light now,” said Ruth, and they all looked up. The incandescence in the sky hadn’t gone away. Something up above was illuminating the paths and walkways for miles around.

“It’s moving,” said Ali.

For a second Ruth thought he meant the sheep, then realised he meant the light in the sky. Ali was right: the light seemed to be heading away from the estate, leaving edges dark again, while illuminating –

“The flyover,” Mark said, and shook. He really did shake, Ruth thought, and she would have put an arm around her little brother, but she already had an arm around the sheep and besides Mark was eight and wouldn’t  have liked it.

Ali was nine and all his family worked at night and he wasn’t scared of anything.

“Let’s follow it,” he said.

“But it’s going over the flyover,” said Mark, and he shook again. Ruth pushed the sheep towards Ali. It bleated.

“We need to get rid of this sheep,” she said, “and we need to go home.”

“I’m not going home,” said Ali. “I’m going to follow that light.”

“What about the sheep?” Ruth said.

“Mark? He’ll be fine,” Ali replied.

“Piss off!” said Mark and charged at Ali. Ruth rolled her eyes as the two boys tussled on the ground. The sheep bleated at them. Ruth stepped in and separated them.

“He called me a sheep!” shouted Mark as Ruth dragged him off Ali. Ali had a split lip, which surprised Ruth as Ali was about 25 centimetres taller than Mark.

“Go home if you like,” said Ali, indistinctly.

Ruth made an executive decision.

“We’ll go and look,” she said. “But we won’t cross the road. We’ll watch from over there.”

And the three children and the sheep walked across the road to the central reservation.

***

“Alison?” said Rabbi Joseph Meyer, as he opened the door.

The Reverend Alison Whitley stepped into Rabbi Meyer’s house followed, to his increasing surprise, by Imam Hussein. Hussein shrugged as Meyer closed the door.

“What is this, a pub joke?” said Hussein, looking round Joseph’s house like he wanted to buy it.

“Open your curtains, Joseph,” said Alison. For a moment Joseph was annoyed – who are these people coming round my house at this time of night criticising my sleeping habits and telling me what to do with my curtains? – but something about Alison and Hussein made him do as she said.

Instantly the hall was suffused – that was the word – with bright, silvery light.

“What the – ” said the Rabbi.

“My self-censored thoughts exactly,” Hussein said.

“No idea what it is,” said Alison, who Joseph felt was oddly pragmatic for a Christian, “but it’ll help us find the children.”

“The children?” said Joseph, and felt his heart lurch.

“Ruth and Mark Salter and Ali Hussein,” said Alison and nodded at the Imam. “His son.”

“The police are all beggaring around trying to control the crowds,” said Hussein. “Nobody cares about three kids.”

“Let me get my warm coat,” said Joseph.

“That reminds me,” said Alison as they headed out the door. “Someone told us they saw three kids about an hour ago. With a sheep.”

“A sheep?” said Rabbi Meyer.

 

 

Part 4 will be released next week 

We’ve hand-picked some pledge levels that will make extra special Christmas gifts. Find them here: Christmas at Unbound

Christmas Consequences – An Unbound Tale (pt 2)

White Christmas Part 2
By Laurie Avadis, author of Ex 

Yuill looked at the woman and wondered how much they’d paid to cross half of Africa and all of Europe – and if she had known she was pregnant.

Her fingernails, older than time, pirouetted nervously through the rat-tails of hair which flayed her forehead. Her eyes reached out to him and spoke to a man he no longer knew, a man which he had abandoned when his heart became as cold as the pavements which had become his home. As she shuffle-staggered towards him, the man receded into the night, like the fading visualisation of a dream.

“We need…” groaned the woman as she folded in on herself. Yuill’s arms flew out instinctively but he was not prepared for her heft. They fell together onto the tarmac in a desperate waltz.

“Errr?” Asked Robin’s shoes (which had been following Yuill hoping for a place to stay for the night), with their usual cogency as they cautiously approached the comatose pair. Yuill and Robin levered the woman back up on to her feet and over to an anti pedestrian bench, designed for optimum discomfort for any arse no matter what its provenience.

The woman’s hunger addled hands gripped her bounteous girth as if it might explode if she removed them.

“Tonight,” she said. “He arrives tonight.”

“We better get you to a hospital then,” said Robin, “just 10 minutes down the…”

“No,” gasped the woman, gripping Robin’s arm with expected ferocity. “No hospital, we are…illegal. We cannot go back. We cannot.”

Yuill’s mind flailed desperately. He tried to remember the way it felt 30 years before when decisions dropped into his brain like coins from a slot machine. His thinking was addled, his memory recumbent. He looked to Robin, a man who had not had a bath for more than 6 weeks and whose clothes were at least 5 sizes too big for his coat-hanger frame, for guidance.

“We could try the Easmon,” suggested Robin. “Sarah used to be a nurse, she’s there most nights.”

“After she was a nurse she was a heroin addicted prostitute for 15 years.”

“Got any better ideas Yuill? Because I need a drink so badly at this moment in time I can hear the blood screaming in my ears but right now I need, we both need, to help this woman. Unless you have a prior social engagement?”

“Ahhhgh.” The woman grasped her stomach and writhed, her pupils shooting up into her head like a pair of rogue sputniks. “Baby coming.”

The street around Easmon House was cordoned off but Yuill could see light and movement oozing out from the cracks in the curtained windows. He approached a policeman who was speaking on his radio whilst Robin did his best to hide a tremulously pregnant West African woman wearing a bright green and yellow Kente robe, behind his stunted frame.

“Can we get into the Easmon office only we…”

“Piss off sunshine before I lamp you” growled the policeman, rumbling forwards menacingly before the thousand or so camera phones that were immediately focused onto him slapped him back to the sad realisation that society no longer accepted savage random beatings as a legitimate tool of the modern crime fighter.

A suited man who had been prevented from returning home by the police cordon sidled up to Yuill.

“Can’t go down Trinity Road or anywhere around Tooting Bec station. They said on the news that they think this will be the impact zone.”

“Don’t have a TV,” said Yuill.

The man regarded Yuill as if he was from another planet, which he may as well have been.

“The impact zone for the meteorite.”

“A shooting star is going to hit Tooting Bec? Tonight?”

The man sighed, speaking to Yuill who obviously had no access to the web, to the world – it was like trying to communicate with a fish.

“It’s supposed to land there” said the man pointing at the homeless hostel. “I suppose they could evacuate it but is it really worth the effort?”

Yuill returned to the sign for Magdalene Road which Robin and the woman were perched on. The woman was sweating profusely, clutching at her belly and seemed to be falling in and out of consciousness. Her waters had broken onto Robin’s trainers which had, if anything, improved their appearance. Yuill did not know what the signs were for someone going into labour but suspected that these might be all of them.

“I have to try to get into the hostel and find Sarah. If I can just get past that pig I could…”

But he had to stop talking; everyone had to stop talking, because the sky was on fire.

 

Part 3 will be released next week 

We’ve hand-picked some pledge levels that will make extra special Christmas gifts. Find them here: Christmas at Unbound

Christmas Consequences – An Unbound Tale (pt 1)

White Christmas
By Ewan Lawrie, author of Gibbous House 

You could stand around for 15 minutes in Currys/PC World before they moved you on. If the staff saw more than two of you watching flat-screens they’d all be changed to CNN. 3 weeks to go; the grinning, perma-tanned presenters would be wondering if Times Square would be under snow on the 25th. White Christmas, that’s all they talked about. He’d wait the shop assistants out though. 10 minute news-cycles could never get too boring while you were warm.

They were all so young. Even the manageress. Yuill remembered when there were several electrical goods shops on the High Street. The best was Rumbelows. Its manager was the same age then as Yuill was now. Mr Creighton, always good for 50p for…well, whatever. Dixons, Comet and Currys saw Rumbelows off the High Street and now Currys/PC World lived in the permanent indoors of the Arndale Centre. That’s why he made for the shop when the temperature hit the minus numbers. It was why he no longer had a dog. Still, the dog had been good company back then. Creighton used to let Athanasius into the shop, when it was quiet. As it was, most of the time.

‘Julia, Manager’ approached him.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

When she’d been pressed-uniform-new it had all been, “Can I help you with something, sir?” or “Were you looking for something in particular?” Six months it had taken her to be promoted to manageress. Yuill suspected she might have a degree. In what, he couldn’t imagine. It seemed everyone had one nowadays. His own university days were over 30 years ago. He felt that someone else had presented the papers and published those learned books. Who actually cared whether The Gospel of Thomas contained the words of Jesus? He looked back towards the snake of misery at the cash desk. Tired people buying things others didn’t need with money they couldn’t afford. A new meaning for ‘The Nature of Q’. Yuill shuffled out of  the store.

At least it wasn’t raining. He fastened his duffel coat. He could just get it on over the parka. It was amazing what people threw away for the sake of a torn pocket or a missing button.

Thirty years ago he’d have walked along to the Salvation Army Hostel, tried for a bed and got a hot meal. The building was a Walkabout now, nothing free in there. It was seven o’clock and the office party smokers were outside already. He’d watched these ‘parties’ start ever earlier in the month. Time was they were impromptu affairs after the last working day before Christmas. Now they were nightly from the 1st of December. Yuill occasionally made a placard when he stood outside Tesco on the outskirts of town. He printed the word ‘FOOD’. Occasionally people would give him a tin. He thanked his lucky stars that most tins had ring pulls nowadays. He’d used to open tins with a hammer, with varying results. It was often better to explore the waste bins outside the superstore, although you had to watch out for the retired Sergeant Major who treated the car park like his old parade ground.

Yuill was heading for the flyover near the by-pass. There’d be company for the night. Most were too tired to shout or fight by midnight, but the best shelter had gone by then. Ten was usually a good time to arrive. The only risky part was crossing the rail track. For once the dark was helpful, you could see the lights coming for miles.

He could see two figures following him. He hoped they were Police, anything but young people.

One of them stumbled. The other helped. Maybe they’d be alright when they caught him up. Just the track to cross and then a hundred yards to the flyover.

He was halfway to the flyover when they reached him. It was a man and a woman. Her coat wouldn’t close over her stomach.

“Please, you are going somewhere safe?” The man’s teeth shone white in the dark.

“Well, relatively speaking. To the flyover. I have blankets. A friend looks after them.”

“Please, my wife, safe?”

Yuill looked at the woman and wondered how much they’d paid to cross half of Africa and all of Europe – and if she had known she was pregnant.

 

Part 2 will be released next week 

We’ve hand-picked some pledge levels that will make extra special Christmas gifts. Find them here: Christmas at Unbound

Preparing your manuscript for submission

Typewriter

Elizabeth Garner is our in-house fiction reader and also works with Unbound writers on the story-development of their manuscripts across a range of genres. She is a published author, and has 17 years of experience as an editor of both screenplays and novels. Here are her “top tips” for how to prepare your manuscript for submission.

1. Know Your Writing Style
Every writer has innate strengths and weaknesses – even the most experienced.
You might have a keen ear for dialogue but struggle with description.
You might have a natural ability for creating vibrant characters, but have to work hard to develop a plot.
This is all perfectly normal.

Be honest with yourself.
Evaluate what your strengths and weaknesses are.
Once you know this, you can take confidence in what you are good at and work at the elements that need practice.

2. Editing Your Work
A first draft is just that: a draft.
It’s still a huge achievement to get an idea out of your head and onto the page. Many people don’t get that far – the world is full of the great unwritten.
So, congratulate yourself on having got the words down, but be prepared to work on them.

Once you have finished, take some time away from the manuscript. You will be too close to it to judge it impartially.

Think about the kind of story you have written: the genre, the central character; the plot.

If there are books that you know and love that cover similar ground then this is the time to revisit them.
Don’t think about comparing the quality of your work to these books, that way madness lies.
You can’t expect your first draft to be as polished as a published novel that has been worked on by professional editors and doubtless gone through multiple drafts to get to this stage.

However,  you can pick up a few tricks of the trade along the way.
Make notes about elements of the published novel that work for you – and elements that don’t.
Think about how you might apply these ideas to your own writing.

Every writer is different.
You may feel ready to revisit your first draft after a couple of weeks, or it may be a couple of months – either is fine.
Again, it’s a matter of being honest with yourself.
There is no point in forcing yourself to rewrite when you aren’t ready.

Equally, procrastination is a killer…If you find that you have spent a week rearranging your bookshelves into alphabetical order, it’s time to get back to the manuscript.

When you return to the manuscript try to block out a couple of days to read it straight through.
This may seem like stating the obvious but do print up a hard copy rather than read off a screen and make notes on the text as you go.
Don’t stop to make corrections and edit as you read, just mark them up – otherwise you will get stuck in an endless cycle of rewriting your first 3 chapters.

You will almost certainly find that your corrections address 3 distinct elements of writing:
1. Character & plot
2. Structure
3. Style

Try to separate these elements out into 3 separate “passes” on the manuscript.
I strongly advise that you address them in this order.
There’s really no point in fine-tuning your style before you have worked out who your character is and why they are doing what they do – and the time frame in which they do it.

Don’t rush this process.
A slow and steady rewrite at this stage will save you a lot of time further down the line.

3. Avoiding Common Problems
Writing a good novel is not just about having a great idea and finding your own unique way of expressing it.
Writing is a craft, and like any craft it requires attention to the practical detail.

The two most common technical issues that I encounter as an editor are inconsistency and excess. 

Inconsistency – check and correct any discrepancies in spelling, grammar, details, chronological order, character names etc.
If you find that you are struggling to keep track of all of this, go through the manuscript again, and make a note of the practical facts of the story.
Then create a timeline and short synopsis for each chapter so you know exactly where you are.

Excess – “Kill your darlings”
It’s a harsh reality of the writer’s lot: sometimes the pieces of prose that you like the most can be a little self-indulgent.
Again, it’s a matter of being honest with yourself.
If you have written a 1,000 word description of the main character’s own navel, you probably need to cut it back to 100 words…or even put the entire thing in the bin.

As a general rule, it’s the overuse of adjective and adverbs you need to watch out for.
You probably have a specific word or phrase that you overuse – most writers do. Keep an eye out for that.

4. Approaching Agents or Publishers
You only have one opportunity to impress, so make it count.
Professional readers are always looking out for the next great writer, but they are also inundated with submissions.
They are looking for something that leaps off the page but conversely, due to pressure of time and weight of material, they are also looking for reasons to stop reading that precious manuscript which has taken you so long to write.
Don’t give them an easy get-out.

Proof read your work.
Spelling or grammar mistakes will immediately cause anyone to turn it down, regardless of what they think of your writing.
If you feel that you are too close to get the manuscript to spot these (and that happens to the best of us) then get a friend to proof read.

Make sure that your submissions letter is professional and succinct.
You’d be amazed how many submission letters I read where the writer either apologises for their work or tells me that it’s going to be the next Booker prize winner!
Stick to the facts: give some basic description about yourself, a short description of the novel and some basic information about why you are approaching this specific publisher or agent.

5. Practice
The best way to work on your writing is simply to write.
Reading about writing, thinking about writing, even reading blog posts on a website are all helpful – but nothing compared to the act of sitting down at your desk and developing a regular writing practice.
Half an hour or 100 words a day is better than an insane weekend of all night writing every month – and believe me, I have tried both!
If you want to write, you need to make it part of your everyday routine – and like anything, the more you build up habitual behaviour, the easier it gets to maintain that discipline.

Most importantly, try to enjoy the process.
Writing a book takes a long time. There’s no point in doing it if you feel like it’s become a chore and a drain on your very soul – if nothing else, this will come across on the page and every tortured word you write.
Writing is hard work, but it also brings its own rewards that are nothing to do with hitting the bestsellers lists.

For me, there is nothing else like the pleasure I get when the words are flowing well or a character suddenly develops a life of their own and the story goes off in a direction that I never imagined.
You will have similar moments: enjoy them for their own sake.
Enjoy the process of discovering your own voice and style – and have fun.

 

Women in Print 

Books on a Boat – For Books’ Sake

The much-talked-about UN #HeforShe campaign launched earlier this week, bringing the issue of gender inequality to the forefront of the media.

In a nice bit of synchronicity, Friday 19th September was also the For Books’ Sake fourth birthday party. If you haven’t heard of them already, For Books’ Sake are changing the literary scene; the not-for-profit, volunteer-run company are campaigning for equality in the representation of female authors. Currently only 25% of book reviews focus on books written by women and for the past four years For Books’ Sake have been dedicated to addressing this imbalance through writing reviews, featuring female authors on their website and hosting literary events.

The Unbounders were invited to the birthday celebrations at a special boat location. So, sea legs at the ready, we headed to Tamesis Dock to show our support and hear three talented – but very different – female author readings.

Sarah Perry – After Me Comes the Flood

Sarah Perry read from her debut novel, After Me Comes the Flood, a haunting story of John Cole’s arrival at a remote house inhabited by strangers who have been expecting him. Sarah confessed that after publication she was filled with a sense of terror at the realisation that people would be reading her book. She needn’t have worried; the book has received a fantastic reception and has been long-listed for the Guardian First Book award. She also thanked the important work For Books’ Sake does “for obscure women writers”. I’m sure Sarah won’t be considered an obscure writer for much longer.

Sarah Perry reads from After Me Comes the Flood

Sarah Perry reads from After Me Comes the Flood

A. Bello – Emily Knight: I Am

Author A. Bello regaled us with her tale of reluctant superhero warrior, thirteen-year-old Emily Knight. A “mix of X-Men and Harry Potter”, Emily Knight: I Am sees the young protagonist battling to control her supernatural powers whilst struggling to fill the shoes of her absent father and brother. You can find out more about A. Bello and Emily here.

A.Bello

A. Bello talks about Emily Knight, I Am

Sabrina Mahfouz – Poetry

Sabrina Mahfouz wowed the crowd when she performed her powerful poetry exploring the modern ideas surrounding femininity and the body. Her limitless energy shone through all three of her poems, particularly one in which a woman seizes her body with two hands and reclaims it for herself. Humorous yet thought-provoking, Sabrina’s poems encapsulated the importance of ensuring every voice is heard and illuminated the image issues facing many women today.

Sabrina

Sabrina performing her spoken word poetry

The Unbounders had a great night meeting the For Books’ Sake team in perhaps one of the coolest possible locations for a party. Most importantly we learnt a lot more about the great cause to which For Books’ Sake has dedicated itself and the significant work that they are doing for female writers. The #HeforShe campaign may have brought gender equality to the attention of mainstream media, but For Books’ Sake continue to be footsoldiers for the equality for female writers everywhere. To find out more about the team, how you can get involved or to discover some wonderful authors, read here.

Thanks all for having us!

P.S.

No party is complete without cake, and if there were ever to be a competition, this beauty would win it. Great British Bake Off eat your heart out!

cake