Two Worlds

A Friday Flash, this story was highly commended in a National Flash Fiction Day competition on the 1000words site Feb 2013. 

Two Worlds

‘More plates, I need plates. This is a restaurant, not a take out.’

‘Yes, Chef. Right away Chef.’ Yes Chef, no Chef, Kiss my arse Chef.

Greg stared out of the kitchen window above the sink, his hands continuing to work on autopilot. He could see the lights of the Piste Bullies high up on the mountain bashing down the snowfall of the last twenty four hours.

‘For God’s sake, what do you call this? Do it again. Focus on what you’re doing or you’re out of here!’

‘Yes Chef, sorry Chef.’

Greg hit the take off point fast, twisting to his left as soon as his skis hit the air. As the skis came towards the vertical, he pulled his left arm back increasing the speed of rotation. On his first turn, he stared into nothing but sky. On his second, he could see the town nestled in the valley below as the sun sank behind the mountains. He watched for a second as he fell towards the ground then pushed out his skis to absorb the energy as he landed, then set off down for evening service. Down here nobody, up there a King.

The Last Last Ride

It’s been ages since I posted a Friday Flash story. This story was longlisted in The New Writer Poetry and Prose Competition 2011. 

The Last Last Ride

IMG_7090 You’d stay on this small roller coaster ride all summer long if you could and if I were a rich man, I would let you. Is it fun riding around in circles? You’re only nine; of course it’s fun. Most things are fun when you’re nine, except doing your homework, tidying your bedroom and going to bed when you’re told! But going round in circles, that’s real fun.

Another ride? OK.

I’ll take some more photos for your Mum. For me too, but I won’t need to look at them. I’ll remember this moment like it was yesterday. Last year, you were losing your baby teeth; the Tooth Fairy had deep pockets. Now you have a beautiful wide smile. One baby tooth hangs on stubbornly but soon that will be gone and then that smile will be perfect. You’re not a baby any more, except to your Mum. You’ll always be her baby.

It’s a quiet day and the operator lets you go round an extra couple of times. I’ve lost count now. You never grow tired of this ride. Your Mum can’t understand the attraction but I understand much better than you think. I never grew tired of the ride when I was nine. My ride was different; a fairground carousel in a Northern seaside town with beautiful carved wooden horses painted in garish colours taking part in an imaginary race. Each horse would pull ahead then fall behind whilst I clung on tightly to my charge, looking out for my mother and father. They stood together patiently as I sped by, going round in circles, smiling and waving at a happy little boy that would soon grow tired of such childish things, who wanted to grow up too fast. It was a lifetime ago but yesterday too. I wonder what they were thinking then? Now I’ll never know.

IMG_7085Another ride? Last one, OK? And then we’ve really got to go.

At the end, you run straight past me towards your mother. She looks tired and distant but, as you approach, her face lights up as she listens to you, all breathless and excited. You grow more like her every day. You look to me for signs of weakness and plead for a ‘last last’ ride. You pull a sad face then flash that smile, not sure which tactic will work best. You know I am the verge of giving in but I smile and shake my head. It’s time to leave.

It’s getting late and your Mum’s tired, but the nine year old in me wants to say yes. I wish we could stay, that the ride could go on forever.

I wish for a ride when the world wasn’t on my shoulders, when I didn’t disappoint, when time didn’t matter and going round in circles was just fun once again and not a punishment. I want that ‘last last’ ride too.

 

 

Photos © PDomican LRPS

Living without Amazon – How’s that working for me?

I joined Goodreads last weekend. Yesterday it was taken over by Amazon. I can’t say I was chuffed.

I used to be a real fan of Amazon but over time I’ve come to realise I don’t like Amazon’s current business practices. It boils down to this. You get a cheap product very easily and with fast service but everyone else helps pay for the discount whether that’s a reduction in the author’s royalties on a published book, corporation tax forgone which would have helped someone vulnerable in society or a small business paying tax being squeezed by Amazon on their margins.

[Update 17/5/13:Amazon paid just £2.4m tax on £4bn sales in UK last year. They also received £2.5m in Government grants!]

That’s just my view. Amazon will say, well you know what they’ll say. There’s lot of information available in the public domain if you want to read up about it.

You may agree with all that or you may not. I decided to make a change and move my custom away from them. I started in a small way last year. However my New Year’s resolution was not to buy anything from Amazon unless it was a ‘necessity’ or it was only available via them. How’s it going? The answer is surprisingly well but with a few lapses and a couple of grey areas!

The Lapses

I strayed. I was ill for most of January and February and only left the house when necessary.  So, before I got fully into my stride and started exploring alternatives, I bought some ebooks to read, a Stofen omnibounce and a stylus for my iPad partly out of my own lack of understanding of the product and an inability to find a sensibly priced equivalent elsewhere. Amazon was just easy and convenient especially when feeling like death! Having confessed my sins, I’ll move on.

Non Book Stuff

Generally, within 5-10mins, you can find anything that is sold on Amazon at a similar price elsewhere but anything which falls under the category ‘cheap s*** from China’ takes much longer to source.

Both Jacobs and Jessops went bust last year and the pro dealers don’t discount so, for camera equipment, Amazon was the next logical choice in terms of convenience and service. I used a Canon forum to ask for a reliable alternative. They found me one that was cheaper than Amazon!

For office supplies, I’ve gone through old Amazon receipts and noted who supplied what e.g. inkjet cartridges. Using online tools and my business experience, I can make an educated guess about whether I’m happy to trade with them directly . Most companies seem happy to supply direct (although they might have a minimum order) and have a shopping cart or take orders over the phone. The prices are similar to what you’d pay on Amazon but of course the company makes more direct profit which is then subject to taxation. I’ve had no problems with anything so far.

Published Books

Published book purchases are easy. I won’t buy from supermarkets who are just creaming off on the bestsellers but there are loads of ‘real’ book shops more than happy to take your money. The chains e.g. Foyles, Waterstones offer a comparable service to Amazon but you can also order through a smaller shop. It probably won’t be in stock but if you’ve a To Be Read pile, a few days wait isn’t going to be too much of an issue.

Now I’ve built up my TBR pile, I’ve started to use the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green (they’re about to open a new Children’s bookshop in Brookman’s Park). They offer free delivery on orders over £5 and a free out of print booksearch. Tim and Simon are nice guys, love books and put on interesting events in their shop (I’ve written about the Tracey Thorn event previously). I can give them my money or reward the Finance department of Amazon for their ability to minimise tax. It’s an easy choice. Other enthusiastic bookstores are available.

To be clear, there’s plenty of choice still available to book buyers. There’s absolutely no reason to buy a physical book from Amazon if you don’t want to. It’s just laziness or impatience on the part of purchasers (myself included) helped by many authors and publishers on social media who just include a link to Amazon without suggesting any other alternatives.

Published Ebooks

This is a more difficult area but other platforms and devices are available. The problem is availability and promotion. Publishers seem reluctant to make the effort to offer and publicise ebooks on different platforms. Amazon are really good at physical distribution. That’s hard to replicate due to capital costs but they’re also trying to dominate the market for ebooks to deter competition in the future. They’re succeeding but I would have thought a group of programmers with some backing could develop a publishing platform to compete with Amazon fairly easily. It’s an area I’ll confess I need to learn more about.

To be honest, I liked ebooks (especially when I was ill) but moving back to physical books has been enjoyable nor is it much more expensive except for the crazy 99p (or 20p!) promotions which Amazon use to try and stimulate the market for e-readers purchases.

I don’t believe it’s right that Amazon can set prices for Kindle independent of the publisher. However to be fair to Amazon, authors and publishers also have a choice of how much to promote the offer on Amazon when their book is being reduced to a lowball price so it’s a a grey area for me. Money is tight for everyone and if an author/publisher  is inviting you to buy it and they’re the ones who’ll suffer on the royalties, then it’s a bit rich of me to say don’t!

Personally I think it’s more about the big picture so I’m clenching my teeth, trying to ignore the lure of a cheap book and think about the people on benefits being targeted which could have been paid for through corporation tax. As a ‘leftard’ (I was called that this week), it makes me feel better.

In summary, I’m not sure why Amazon should control the ebook market in years to come. Personally I’m happy to read real books in preference to ebooks (for as long as they’re printed) but it’s more of a worry for the industry to let a company that just wants to flog ‘stuff’, whatever stuff it is, have such a dominant position.

Self Published Books and Ebooks

I have more sympathy with self published authors who don’t have the resources of a publisher or might not have the knowhow to publish on multiple channels. They do however have a choice of whether to go with Amazon or not and how they set their own prices. My general principle is to ask the author if an alternative exists and if not, I’ll make a decision and order via Amazon if I’m really moved. I tend not to buy fiction unless it’s by someone I know but mainly work related ebooks which often are free (as they promote the author’s professional career). I think I’ve downloaded five or six and paid £1 for a couple of them. It’s another grey area, I’ll admit.

Is it possible to live life without Amazon?

The short answer is yes provided you put in a modicum of effort and learn a little patience. I’m comfortable overall with my personal choice and would encourage others to give it a go

I’ve diverted about £450 so far from Amazon directly to UK retailers. This includes books, camera equipment and office stationery. I’m not sure how much Amazon would take out of that and I’m sure the FD of Amazon hasn’t noticed me yet, but if more people do that, it’ll make a difference.

I can’t fill my boots with cheap books anymore. However this has forced me to think more carefully about the books I want to buy and to seek out quality via fellow writers e.g. Tania Hershman has given me some recommendations on flash and short stories. The process of selecting, buying and reading books has become less mechanical and more enjoyable so overall I think I’m on top.

The one thing that has surprised me most in this journey is not the laziness of the consumer which is understandable (as I demonstrated) but the willingness of the traditional publishing industry to go along with Amazon having seen the (now smaller) music industry follow an equivalent digital path. The motives of publishers will be financially driven and I don’t know enough about publishing business models to understand whether there are genuine reasons to go along with Amazon to the extent they do or whether they’re just sleepwalking? Perhaps others could comment?

This item was amended 17/5/13 to include Amazon’s latest sales and tax payments.

A Twitter Manifesto

Here’s my Twitter Manifesto. This is how I run my Twitter account to meet my needs. It’s a work in progress so I’m going to amend it as time goes on, I learn new things or people tell me off. Some of it you’ll agree with and some of it you won’t. Some of this may seem plain wrong. I appreciate that.

Introduction
There are millions of people on Twitter and hundreds of them interested me. I couldn’t keep up with them all. Lots of other people just wanted to sell me something. It became stressful and I started not to enjoy Twitter. So I had a major rethink and cut it back to something manageable. Now I love Twitter again. Here’s my ‘strategy’ warts ’n’ all.
Topics
On this account @petedomican, I tweet mainly about the following (in no particular order):
1. Writing and books including my own work
2. Photography including my own work
3. Politics – Always a tricky one. I try to be fair and recognise that there are different sides to any argument but I feel there are some bad things going on in the world these days.  I’m not a member of any political party but I’d say I’m probably unlikely to be voting for the Tories or UKIP anytime soon. Others have described me as a ‘leftard’. I’d describe myself more as an ‘equalist’, interested in a ‘fair’ society and a committed European. I have a slight obsession with Denmark.
4. Football – I support Spurs and Benfica. It’s both a blessing and a curse.
5. Marketing, business and social media including my own work (although I’m setting up a separate account to tweet about this more).
6. Random stuff -TV, music, podcasts, creativity, F1, humour (slightly warped)
It’s likely you’re interested in some things and not in others – it’s a weird mix. I try to be aware when I’m overdoing a topic to death but if it’s the Budget or Benfica are playing Porto, it’s probably best just to ignore me for a few hours.
Agreeing / Disagreeing
Some people seem to go into a huff if someone disagrees with them and block/unfollow them. I tend to be fairly open minded about most things (or at least just rage silently). I’m happy to be corrected on a factual error or for you to disagree as long as you’re reasonably polite. I’ll stand my ground and argue my corner. If you cease being polite, I’ll just stop. Some people though can just never give up on an argument. At some point I’ll say we’ll just need to agree to disagree.
Dislikes on Twitter
People who ‘tell it like it is’ (it frequently isn’t), people who don’t get how fortunate they are in life e.g. thinking you’ve hard up just because you have a large mortgage and two kids at private school or generally nasty people e.g. racists, people who hate disabled people, foreigners etc. Oh and my particular Twitter pet hate – hashtag pun masturbation e.g. ‘Smack my witch up #medievalsongs’. It’s rarely funny and I instantly mute the hashtag. I’ll admit that last one is a bit random but I thought you ought to know.
Following Me
I’m always surprised and delighted when someone follows me. I tweet about particular topics (see above), some of which don’t tend to sit well together for some people. If you unfollow, I’ll notice and maybe I’ll be sad for a while but I’ll survive and I won’t be offended. ‘Live your life, be free’ as pop goddess Belinda Carlisle used to sing (and probably still does, somewhere).
I don’t automatically follow back so if you’re just looking for lots of followers then probably not best to bother. I live in Welwyn Garden City, UK so if you’re a tree specialist in Austin, Texas, you’re probably not to get much work out of it (that one’s true by the way).
I keep Facebook for friends I know from ‘real life’ or those I know very well from Twitter and wish I knew them in ‘real life’. Please don’t make it awkward. Let’s stick to Twitter and see how we get on first.
Following You
I follow people who I find interesting, funny, thoughtful, insightful or generally good eggs. I like to interact with them at some level and I like to read their tweets. I’m now following between 350-400 people and that feels roughly the right number I can cope with for the moment. The consequences of this are:
1. I don’t automatically follow back so if you think it’s being impolite or insulting, then sorry but now you know the reason.
2. I need to periodically review who I’m following to keep to a sensible number. Sometimes people who were great a while ago lose interest in Twitter (and it shows) or just start using Twitter to promote their wares. I wrote a whole blogpost about people who just use twitter to promote themselves. It’s worth reading because it seemed to strike a chord.
3. If I follow you and you send me a DM promoting your wares as your first interaction, I’ll automatically unfollow you. It’s a no no!
If I unfollow you, please don’t get too upset about it. Yes it’s personal in a way but it’s just Twitter for God’s sake! Chances are we’ll never meet and you’ll forget about me. People in real life grow apart too. Remember all those ex colleagues who never keep in touch
Favouriting
People tweet to say thanks for ‘favouriting’ my tweet. Please don’t, there’s no need. I favour a tweet to read it later or where it has some information I need. I’ll then ‘unfavourite’ it.
Lists
I add people to private lists. I don’t tend to use them a lot of the time but sometimes I want to look at Twitter and avoid seeing the results of a sports event or avoid politics so I’ll only look at a subset of people. I should use them more.
Reading your Tweets
I scan my timeline whenever I can but I don’t spend my life on Twitter. I pick a lot of things up but often I miss things. If you need to get my attention, mention me. If it’s really important DM me. Note that promoting your wares may or may not count as the most important part of my day especially if we’ve only just met.
Retweets
I retweet things that interest me, promote people and things I’m interested in or things that amuse me. However I’m aware I overdo retweets so sometimes I try not to RT things. Please don’t take it personally if I fail to retweet something you think is noteworthy. But just because I RT something doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with it. I tweet things that I violently disagree with just because it’s awful and needs to be shared. I usually preface these with a ‘coming up’ tweet.
Scheduling Tweets
99.5% of my tweets are live. I use scheduling for the following:
1. Scheduling tweets publicising my blog posts or an announcement so that there’s a reasonable chance people will see one mention over a few days
2. Where there are multiple tweets which need to be read together. Sometimes I need more than 140 characters and 20secs to make my point. Must try harder.

#ff (Follow Friday)

This is in theory a good idea as you come across new people but it has become a nightmare. I don’t normally do #ff but occasionally I’ll tweet one #ff and a reason why I think you should follow them. If you don’t that’s fine. If you do #ff as a regular thing, please don’t tweet lists of people. It’s pointless. I’m not going to wade through your lists and it’s more likely I’ll mute or even unfollow you. That’s really horrible I know, but scrolling through 230 names then seeing other people RTing their mentions and thanking a whole list of other people isn’t my idea of a Friday night.

Being Wrong

I try to be nice all of the time but sometimes I’m not. I get things wrong, quite a lot. I’m human and I’m sorry.

 

This article was updated 24/3/13 to include #ff and several edits.

Seconds, Months, Years?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a poem called China for National Poetry Day and put it on Fictionaut. It took seconds. Not ‘published’ as such, no kudos or slap on the back, but out there for someone to read when the thought behind it was still warm in my head. By contrast, the lag between producing a few words and publication in a book seems an eternity. An acceptance appears in your email and you remember suddenly that you submitted it ages ago. Eventually there’s a request for proofing and you look at it as if it were an old photograph from a distant era. Then, by the time it’s published, you’re greeting it as if it were a long lost friend you thought had been lost at sea.
I’ve had two pieces of work published in the last couple of weeks. The first is a flash fiction piece ‘Greyhound’ which appears in ‘Best of Friday Flash: Volume 2’ in both ‘e’ and paperback formats. This is a slightly modified version of one of my very first stories written nearly two years ago. #Fridayflash has been a great vehicle for promoting the art of the very short story and this volume contains many writers that I have come to admire. It’s a thrill to be included alongside them.
The second publication in Kindle and paperback formats is ‘A Blackbird Sings; a book of short poems’ – little pieces of description or small stones as they are sometimes called. These few words were written on a dreary winter’s day in January and it is ironic that I am writing this in October some ten months later as the wind picks up, the leaves fall and the skies darken in the middle of the afternoon.
I really pleased with the publications. I just wish it didn’t take so bloody long!

A Place to Write And Think

I’m having a 24 hr stay at Gladstone’s Library in N Wales. I must confess I’d never heard of it before but it has been recommended by Michael Nobbs of Sustainably Creative  so as I was coming up to the North West, I thought I would take a small diversion and check it out.

The library provides a great atmosphere in which to work surrounded by wonderful (real) books. Today I opened carefully a book from 1848 on the life of Saint Guthloc (no, I’d never heard of him either), and felt the texture of the paper, the jagged edges of the paper and a font I’m not sure I’ve seen before. And the smell. How can a Kindle offer something like that? Nothing can beat the sensation of being surrounded by books and the spirit of their authors.

I really need to lock myself away from the outside world for a few days without distractions and think things through. A lot of things have happened in the last three years, not many of them that great if we’re being honest, and I need to switch off from all the distractions, write and think. 24 hours can only be a taster.

I’ll have just about found the measure of the place by the time I leave, but I know it’s somewhere I want to come back to. It’s very conducive to quiet thought with good food and interesting people from very different walks of life to talk to over dinner if you want to mix. Oh yes and that library.

100RPM – One Hundred Short Stories Inspired By Music

Today sees the publication of 100RPM – One Hundred Short Stories Inspired By Music, with an introduction by ‘80s Popstar and singer / songwriter Nik Kershaw (‘Wouldn’t It Be Good’,’The Riddle’). The anthology put together by celebrated author Caroline Smailes and features one of my stories ‘Baker’s Shop’.

This anthology of 100 stories is made up of short piece of flash fiction based on a song on YouTube. Full details of the project and the other chosen writers are available here.  My entry ‘Baker’s Shop’ is based one of my favourite Tori Amos songs ‘ Baker, Baker’ from the album ‘Under the Pink’ (1994). If you’ve never heard it before, then have a listen here

All proceeds from the book will be going to the charity One in Four, which provides support and resources to people who have experienced sexual abuse and sexual violence.

 

 

The e-book is available via Amazon (UK) or Amazon (US) at a discounted price for a limited period only.

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