Category Archives: #YA

Crime, taxis, and writing YA novels

Across the world, taxi drivers provide a great service: ferrying people to and from airports and hospitals, driving people home after parties so that they can drink a glass ofTaxi wine or three without worrying about being over the limit, helping – as I have witnessed – old ladies back to their homes after a shopping expedition (and even ensuring the food gets put into the fridge and freezer before they leave). They put up with anti-social hours, reduction in sperm count (so I’m told – it’s all that sitting), and quite a lot of verbal (and sometimes physical) abuse from inebriated passengers.

But there have been a number of articles in the paper recently pointing out the sinister role some taxi drivers have played in serious crime including sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. I was not fully aware of this when I wrote my YA novel, GIRL FRIENDS. In the novel I wanted to convey something shady, sinister, and foreign, with links between nearby towns. Two seedy taxi firms seemed to fit the bill as illustrated by this excerpt about one of them:

Grace takes us away from the main shopping area and down a side road into a more run down part of the town. It’s not late but, with the darkness and a couple of shuttered shops, it looks deserted and I start to feel even more nervous. Grace’s step quickens.  “Hurry up,” she hisses at me, “nearly there.”  She points to a lit up building towards the end of the lane—it looks like a take away of some sort, but I can’t make out the writing above the shop. “But I’m not hungry…” I start to say. “Idiot,” she responds. “I know you’re not, this is where we’re meeting up.”

I see, as we get closer, that it isn’t a pizza take-away any more, but has been taken over by a taxi business. The name across the painted out window is foreign and I don’t have time to take it in. “Grace, I can’t, this isn’t my scene at all,” I almost whimper.  But by this time, she is already going through the door and I feel I can’t leave her now. Besides, I don’t know this part of town, and don’t want to go back on my own. Perhaps we can just have a brief chat with whoever this new boyfriend is, and then head back. The home must have given her a deadline for returning and it can’t be that late on a school day, surely?

Grace pushes the door open, and greets the woman behind the counter.  “Hi Bev.”  Bev looks as if she is in her forties—much older than my mum anyway. She is short, fat and greasy looking, with lank, dyed-blonde hair with dark and grey roots showing at the scalp, and huge eyelashes. Even with the short time I have to take her in I can see that these are false. I feel I should be pleased there is a woman on the premises, but the sight of Bev does not exactly re-assure me. She looks up as Grace strides in and smiles at her. But it’s not a friendly smile, more of a leer. No, I definitely don’t like the look of this Bev person.

“Hallo darling,” she greets Grace with a bored drawl. “Brought your little friend, I see.” She adds, looking me up and down with ill–concealed contempt.  Bev’s accent is thick and foreign. It’s not an accent I recognize—but I’m hopeless at accents, even British ones. She is sitting at a short counter with two phones in front of her. The rest of the small office is bare apart from a couple of tatty chairs and a battered sofa. She has a heater on full blast behind the counter and the air smells stale and stuffy. 

Despite this, I shiver. What on earth has this place got to do with Grace and any date she has set up? Perhaps we are going there by taxi? I turn to question Grace, but she has gone round the counter and is standing next to Bev. Bev looks up at her and smiles again. Again I feel her smile is false and unfriendly, rather than warm and genuine. This time she winks too, one large heavily made up upper eyelash bearing down, then rising again, with difficulty, from the caked lash below. I shiver again.

“They’re in the back,” she says after a short pause. “They’re waiting for you.” Grace nods to her, then turns and gestures for me to follow her. Nothing bad has happened so far, but all my instincts are telling me this is not where I want, or ought, to be. But I don’t want to be on my own either, or to leave Grace at this stage—even if it is her doing that I am here in the first place.

GIRL FRIENDS is narrated by 15 year old Courtney. If you want to find out whether her instincts are sound, and Grace is indeed heading for big trouble, you may like to purchase my book from Amazon.

Girl Friends - cover

 

http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01EX9DPMS

myBook.to/GirlFriends

http://www.solsticepublishing.com

 

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Is a scapegoat what we think it is?

A few posts ago (on 4th February), I wrote about how the term whipping boy was used wrongly to mean a scapegoat. Which doesn’t mean to say that people should be called to account if they use the term – of course not; that would just be being pedantic. But why should those of us who now know its false derivation, not view the term with a supercilious smirk?

What about the word scapegoat though? Does that still mean, er, scapegoat – a person made to take the blame for one or more others? It seems so. The word was first used in 1530 by William Tyndale in his translation of The Bible from Hebrew. He took the wordGoats Go.. Inspecting. Azazel to mean ‘the goote on which the lotte fell to scape.’ (OT, Leviticus, Chapter 8). In the Mosaic ritual for the Day of Atonement two goats are selected: one to be sacrificed, the other to be laden with the sins of the community and sent off into the wild – literally, the goat that escapes.

Since Tyndale, other animals have been used in literature for the same purpose, usually with humorous intent. But scapegoose, scapehorse and scapecat, have never really caught on.

That deals with the goat bit of the word. Does scape also mean what we think it does? I believe so. My dictionary describes it as an archaic word for escape – as in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, when Cassius says to Brutus:

“How scaped I killing, when I crossed you so?” (Act IV, scene 3).

By the way, if you find anything wrong with this post, don’t blame me. Blame the spell checker – my usual scapegoat for any spelling, grammatical or other mistakes.

This post is going out on 14th February, Valentine’s Day. Would you like a gentle love story to read? Then try my short story, Sleeping Beauty. You might think the young heroine is a scapegoat at first – until it all ends happily ever after.

myBook.to/TheSleepingBeauty

NB: Most of my novels and short stories can be found on Amazon Books:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

or http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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AND ALEX STILL HAS ACNE is free to download 10th and 11th February.

Still short of cash post Christmas and wanting something new to read?

I have just renewed my contract with Solstice for And Alex Still has Acne – a short novel for teenagers about family, friendship, and some of the trials of being a teenager. To celebrate the new contract I am offering the novel as a free download on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th February.

Blurb:And Alex -cover

Life for fourteen year old Alex is OK most of the time. He enjoys school, has a best friend Sam, and a pretty and only mildly irritating younger sister, Nicky. But then Sam starts acting strangely, and so does Nicky – and both insist on sharing secrets with him and making him promise not to tell anyone. Then Nicky goes missing and only Alex feels he knows where to find her. But is Sam anywhere around to help?

Excerpt:

Alex sat silently for several minutes. He had never knowingly broken the law before, apart from cycling on the pavement – but then his mother preferred him to do that than run risks on the road. He didn’t like the idea at all. But Sam was his friend, and he didn’t like to abandon him either. Moreover, despite himself, he felt a tingling of excitement at what Sam was proposing. Anyway, he could never knowingly give up an opportunity for more food these days.

“Where?” Sam knew his friend was not enquiring where his house was, and felt a glow of pleasure that Alex was in on this with him. He too felt a tingle of excitement, plus a mixture of guilt and fear – but not enough of either to stop him. “The One-Stop. It’s big enough to have blind corners and small enough to not have any security.”

“You’ve done this before.” It was a statement rather than a question. Sam nodded. “A couple of times. Tried Waitrose first ‘cos that’s where I knew from Mum shopping there – but security follows you round like you are a criminal or something, so I got out of there quick and tried the OneStop. Easy-peasy there.”

And it was. At least for Sam it was. Alex was amazed at how smoothly Sam sauntered into the shop. Alex felt hot and sweaty as soon as they got inside and started to take his parka off, knocking into the column of trolleys as he did so. Sam and the shop assistant turned to see what the noise was. He felt his face go bright red, which he knew was not a pretty sight against his ginger hair, and shrunk his neck down into his shirt collar as he pushed the trolleys back into a straight line. “Idiot,” hissed Sam. “Where are you going to put the stuff if you’ve taken your coat off?”

“Sorry,” Alex whispered back, pulling his coat back over his shoulders, shrinking down further into his collar, and picking up a basket as nonchalantly as he could. He couldn’t help feeling furtive as he looked around him, and he took a sharp intake of breath as his eye caught the poster by the baskets: ‘NO SHOPLIFTING – WE ALWAYS PROSECUTE!’ He stopped in his tracks, the basket dangling loosely on his arm.

“Idiot,” Sam hissed again, and made to take the basket off him. Then he re-considered.  “No. Keep the basket; I’ve got a better idea for you. Take this money …” – Sam handed over the 60p left from the McDonald’s bill – “… and go round the shop to see if you can buy anything with it, then meet me outside.”

Alex nodded. He could see he was going to be a liability if he stuck with his friend. He was also relieved that he was no longer involved, so couldn’t be prosecuted. That he was now acting as a decoy to distract the sole sales assistant’s attention, so in effect aiding and abetting the commission of a crime, didn’t occur to him.

They met up again just round the corner from the shop. Alex held out a packet of chewing gum and 2p. Sam opened his parka and revealed a packet of bacon, a twin pack of sausage rolls, two jelly trifles and a bag of satsumas. Alex gaped.  “How the heck did you manage all that?”

“Not too bad today. I just grabbed stuff out of the chilled section whilst the assistant was watching you didn’t nick anything in the sweets section, and picked the fruit up by the door on the way out. She just assumed I was with you – even gave me a smile!” “Well …” Alex was speechless for a minute. “I still don’t think it’s right.”

“No? Well you try going hungry for a couple of days and see how it feels. I used to feel like you – still do most of the time – but things are a bit different now. Anyway I only nick what I need to eat; only this time I’ve nicked stuff for you too. So you’re going to have to come home with me now.”

Alex knew there was some faulty logic in this, but he was partly too impressed, partly too loyal, to say any more. He just followed his friend meekly down the road and back to his house.

Links:

 

 

Download GIRL FRIENDS for free this weekend!

This weekend (Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th January) my YA novel for mid-teenagers isGirl Friends - cover on a special promotion on Amazon, and can be downloaded for free. As you can imagine from the title, it centres round two girls (Courtney and Grace) who are friends. There’s quite a lot of humour, a potential boyfriend, and a fast paced sub plot. The book also tackles some difficult and topical social issues – like child sexual exploitation. A number of people who have read it have described it as a ‘must read’ for all teenage girls. Admittedly this has mainly come from teachers and parents – but don’t let that put you off!

Excerpt from Girl Friends

If a look could kill, Grace gives me one then, so I shut up. I think briefly about her mother living now in a special hospital for the criminally insane and wonder if Grace misses her: whether it is better to have a mad mum like she has or a sad apology for a mum like mine. Who knows? Who cares anyway—it seems we’re more or less in the same boat.

The tense moment passes. I look across at Grace and she winks and gives a small smile. I smile back and feel my whole body relax. It’s great to have someone in your life who knows almost everything about you and understands. I hope in some way it is the same for her. We drink our coffee in reasonably companionable silence. It’s pretty dark outside by the time we’re down to the last dregs.

Grace looks at her watch—I notice for the first time that it is new. A new alertness comes over her. She digs into her bag and gets out her make-up—peering into the mirror to touch up an already flawless face. She looks across at me.

“Oh, Cor, you do look a mess. Here.”  She starts to lay about me with the powder.

“What the…? Heh, get off.”  I pull away but she has grabbed me firmly and continues to powder my nose. Then she releases me and sits back.

“Well that’s sorted the greasy shine. Now for the eyes.”

“No, Grace, lay off. I don’t really go for much make–up.”

“Time you did,” she retorts, advancing on me with eyeliner. “I’ve bought you your tea, remember, so you do as I say.” That’s true, so I sigh and let her get on with it, even allowing her to re-style my hair, pulling some bits across my face, and pushing other bits behind my ears. Across the restaurant, I see the lads behind the counter looking at us. Surely it must be against company rules to use the dining area as a beauty parlour and one of them will come across and throw us out. But it’s not busy and they are just laughing, enjoying the show. Eventually she is finished and stands up to look at me from all angles.

“Mm, not too bad.” She is obviously pleased with her work. “You should wear a tighter top.”  She pulls at mine from behind and then looks round at the front, before sighing and letting it hang loose again.  “But first, you will need to get yourself a proper bra—that one is doing nothing for you—it must be a least one size too big—and the cups are too small—so you’re just all saggy.”

“Yeh, well, it’s an old one of Mum’s that she’s got too fat for,” I reply.

“Why am I not surprised?” Grace rolls her eyes. “Time you thought about yourself a bit,” she adds reprovingly. “You’ve got to make the most of your assets— use them or lose them as they say.”

It is news to me I have any assets worth making anything off in that department and I pull away from her, embarrassed. “I’m off to the loo,” I say, heading that way as I speak.

When I wash my hands, I catch sight of myself in the mirror. At first I don’t realise it is me—just someone with the same baggy top. The face is quite different; harder, older, more sassy and, I peer more closely, definitely more sexy. Not the Courtney I have known and lived with for nearly sixteen years, but I’m not displeased. I’ll go along with this face this evening anyway, if only to please Grace. I can get back to the real me tomorrow. So, apart from a bit of poking around with my hair, and a small wipe at my eyes to get rid of some of the purple shadow Grace had selected for me, I leave it all intact and return to the dining area.

Grace is standing by the door when I return, reading a text on her phone—not her usual old Nokia, but a new one I haven’t seen before. She looks excited—agitated even.

“Come on,” she says as soon as I reach her. “We’re on a date.”

Links:

GIRL FRIENDS was released by Solstice publishing in 2016 and is available in print and as an e-book.

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Swear words and story telling.

My YA novel, Girl Friends, features a lot of characters who, in real life, would swear frequently and rather unimaginatively. My initial mistake was to reproduce their conversations faithfully. That is, until a more experienced author pointed out that a) this was boring and b) no publisher of a YA novel would consider publishing my book if it remained in such a raw state. I hope my subsequent re-drafting – which did find a publisher – resulted in a sharper, more readable story. It is certainly a lot shorter!

A problem in real life is that many people use expeltives without realising – in the end it just seems like padding around the small, not necessarily very rude or significant point they want to make. Constant swearing can be tedious to listen to – even more so to read.

Consider the following dialogue, quoted in The Joy of Words, by Fritz Spiegl, purportedly between a soldier charged with rape and his defence lawyer.

“Well, I met this f’kn bird in a f’kn disco and we had a couple of f’kn drinks and went back to her f’kn place to have some f’kn coffee.”

“Then what happened?”

“Well one f’kn thing led to another, and before I f’kn knew where I was, we, you know, we was having sexual intercourse.”

Here the most common expletive in the English language has been used with such a lack of discrimination it has become meaningless, and isn’t used when he gets to the nub of his account.

Or perhaps the soldier was wiser than we think. The word expletive actually comes from the Latin expletus / explere. This does not mean a swear word / to swear, but ‘a filling in’ – exactly how he used the word.

Aside from being a rather long-winded and boring book (in my opinion) maybe DH Lawrence, in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was fighting the wrong battle when he shocked polite society by trying to normalise the use of that particular expletive.

If you would like to read my novel, Girl Friends, or any of my other work, please follow one of the following links:

Girl Friends - coverGirl Friends

http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01EX9DPMS

myBook.to/GirlFriends

Amazon Author Pages

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

 

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Speling Misteaks

Graham Sharpe co-founded the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, and was a judge for this year’s competition (which was won, incidentally, by a biography of the cyclist Tom Simpson by Andy McGarth). After reading the 131 books that were entered into the competition he was dismayed by the number of misspellings of simple words. He described it on the Bookseller website as a ‘crime against books.’

He sympathised with writers, who can become blind to their own mistakes, and wondered whether some of the problem lay with the demise of the ‘dragon’ editor (my description), from the big publishing houses. Indie publishers have always been under time and financial constraints and have little leeway beyond, for example, offering one proof read with suggested corrections sent back to the author, one follow up by the editor, and a final check via the author to the editor in chief before the manuscript goes off to the printer.

This still sounds like quite a lot of checking, and opportunities to put things right. But even after all that, some of the most vigilant of authors can gasp with dismay when the printed version of their book is in their hands – and a missed typo leaps out from the page.

What to do? I find using the ‘tracking changes’ in Word difficult, and don’t use it myself if I can avoid it. But editors do, so it is something I need get up to speed on. I love the spell check on the computer, but it can be a false friend, and let through a misspelling, or ‘correct’ you to something you hadn’t intended. Beta readers can help, but that is not really their role, so don’t blame them if they don’t point out your tendency to add apostrophes where they aren’t needed (or leave them out where they are) etc.

Of course, a self-publisher has to take all the responsibility for errors, but writers with publishing house support can also follow a few simple steps to reduce errors. Yes, use spell check, track changes, recruit beta readers etc. But it also helps to leave a bit of time between finishing a manuscript and re-reading it, to change the font and letter size, and even change the ink colour – anything to make the work look different from last time you worked on it. Some mistakes will still get through – we are human, and ‘to air is human’ after all.

If you have any suggestions for reducing misspellings, I’d love to hear them!

If you have enjoyed this post, and would like to read more of my work, please go to my Amazon author page.

Two short stories might interest you to get a feel for my writing style. I don’t think there are any typos in either, but you never know …

Love in WaitingLove in Waiting 

 

sleeping beautySleeping Beauty

 

Both these short stories are published by Solstice as e-books for about £/$1.00 – http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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Meet Author W. H. Matlack

W. H. Matlack, who has had several novels and short stories published, is the latest author to appear on my blog this summer. He writes in a variety of genres, including a recent venture into writing a series for  young children (see the end of this post for more information). He has another book released at the beginning of this month.

 What is the title of your latest book?

Latest book title: Grin of the Krocodil.  A new synthetic opiate has been discovered that offers a high that is hundreds of times more intense than Heroin. It’s also many times more dangerous than any other drug as it eats away flesh right to the bone.

Now a chemistry PhD candidate has worked out a formula that makes the drug safe and just as effective. As the word of this modification gets out both the US government and a powerful drug cartel become highly interested in obtaining the formula beginning a deadly tug of war.

What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding?

 Most challenging is plot-line development. Character development is the most rewarding. I can spend all day happily developing characters. It clearly releases endorphins when I’m working on characters. Then turning to what these characters should do, or what should befall them, the endorphins evaporate and the grind of plot development kicks in.

What is your top tip for an aspiring writer?

My top tip for all writers is to read like a writer. Go ahead and enjoy reading your favourite author, but the whole time be aware of how he or she phrases things, handles action sequences, builds characters and manages grammar.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m a third of the way into my sixth novel. It’s a bit too early to tell what it’s about, but it involves a pawn shop and a mystery gun.

 What do you like to read?

Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Carl Barks, Dashiell Hammett

Where can readers find you?

 On Facebook at: W.H. Matlack – Author

Amazon: http://goo.gl/jloZ8w

Barnes & Noble: http://goo.gl/ufLCJe

Email: matlackpr@att.net

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