Tell us about how you met?
Birdie: We met on the sidelines of a networking event for prospective authors and publishing industry people being hosted by Byte the Book at the Groucho Club in London. In the daytime. Not the nighttime.
Rachel: We met at a Byte the Book Agent’s Tables event back in January 2020 (before the pandemic took them online). We were both meeting with agents to discuss our respective manuscripts, and on the day we actually exchanged very few words. But Birdie jotted down the name of my blog (In Search of Happy), and that’s how the connection began. Later she read and liked my writing and reached out via social media to ask if I could edit her manuscript.
How did you work on Sex, Drugs, and Yoga together?
Birdie: Our relationship had a total metamorphosis. My first intention was to receive feedback and polish the memoir. There was no goal to publish it per se but I wanted it to be well-edited. Rachel was an employee and had a really clever blog. It was from reading her own words that inspired me to ask her if she would take on editing for me. She said yes. Over the course of that task, thankfully, she enjoyed Sex, Drugs and Yoga and was ultimately inspired to launch Lemon Quartz.
Rachel: Initially I was Birdie’s freelance editor. Her manuscript was a joy to work on – I had recently read James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (which I loved) and the rawness of Birdie’s writing reminded me of Frey’s style. We had been working together for around six months when we began discussing her self-publishing it, so we then worked towards that.
For many years I had had a niggling dream that I wanted to start my own publishing company, and the more I read Sex, Drugs, and Yoga, the more I felt the urge to stop thinking about it and start making it happen. So I approached Birdie with the proposal of me becoming her publisher, and – thankfully! – she loved the idea. In early 2021 Lemon Quartz Publishing was born, and we are now in the final months leading up to the publication of Sex, Drugs, and Yoga (which is available to pre-order now!)
What was Rachel/Birdie like to work with?
Birdie: Rachel is lovely. Also, a star in this field. I virtually did not have to move outside my comfort zone which is essential when you just want to focus on the words going onto each page not the million other things that go into making actual books.
Rachel: It has been great to work with Birdie – I feel honoured that she has put her trust in me not only with her story but also with its publication. She’s been super supportive of the company, and we’re both excited to see how much impact we can make with Sex, Drugs, and Yoga. It’s a brilliant book and we’re committed to making it a success!
Birdie Paradise was born and raised in British Columbia, Canada, and is now based in the United Kingdom. The story of her turbulent twenties lives within the pages of Sex, Drugs, and Yoga, her debut memoir.
Now approaching forty, she is a mostly different person. A yogi. Living in peace. Though she still loves designer shoes. Her past has made her who she is today, but she has consciously chosen not to be defined by it forever more. Her partner and young children, she’s sure, will thank her for this. Her current drug of choice: a full night’s sleep. It’s transformative, she says.
Rachel Atkins began her publishing career in 2013, helping to re-launch a niche publishing house, with a backlist spanning over thirty years, which had regained its independence following seven years as an imprint of a multinational publishing company. In 2017 she felt it was time to spread her wings and began working freelance in the industry, collaborating with both independent publishers and authors to craft, refine, and bring to market bookshelf-worthy books. And in 2021, she took the plunge: Lemon Quartz Publishing was born.
Lemon Quartz Publishing is a new adult non-fiction book publisher on a mission to offer a fresh perspective on mental health and wellbeing, spirituality, and finding purpose. Sex, Drugs, and Yoga is its first title.
The General was known as being a hard man. Tough as they come. He wore no expression and said little. His hands looked like old walls, chipped and grooved. When he walked, what was beneath him gave up and what was around him retreated. Newer soldiers, the promising officers rising through the ranks with their hair gel and body spray thought of him as old school.
He had done long years in shattered cities on streets littered with tailless cats and chip shop paper. He had served in regiments bunkered down in silent camps, looking and waiting. He had smelt mass graves as they warmed in the spring. He had guarded broken women, and children whose families had been violently extinguished in front of them. He had been in Africa and could remember almost nothing about his time there.
There had been killings. He had shot men as they scurried between the rubble of ruined towns. He had thrown a grenade into a sandy rabbit hole and heard the screams until they were no more. He had killed one man with his bare hands, squeezing his throat until all movement stopped.
The General’s problem was that he couldn’t park worth a damn. Every morning at mess his jeep would be straddled across two places, he was lucky if only one tyre was on the kerb, he often had to climb out of the passenger side. The other jeeps in the row regularly sported broken rear lights, missing mirrors, dented bumpers. The General’s stranded jeep was a storybook of grazes, crunches and bared metal.
The General assumed that everybody knew that he couldn’t park worth a damn which made the whole thing so much worse. When he was younger he had used this to fuel unnecessarily long marches, parade ground drills and kit inspections, but now his shame told him just to put up a big ‘keep out’ sign and to keep his own door shut, triple locked, barricaded.
The General’s heart sank when he saw only one space in the parking strip in front of the mess hall. He could of course park anywhere he liked, he was the most senior officer in the whole of the British Army, one of the country’s most decorated military personnel, but that would be like waving a white flag and one thing he didn’t do was wave white flags. No fucking way soldier.
He rolled the jeep very slowly towards the space, playing the clutch until nerves overcame his left foot causing him to lurch and then stall. He could see that he was half a space wrong already. If he could just reverse, correct the angle then maybe he could slide in straight from the front. He rolled backwards, humming ‘Band of Gold’, his mother’s favourite song and one that reminded him of New Year’s Eve at the old house. The jeep tiptoed forward and the General heard the familiar grinding noise of two bumpers making contact. Too straight, damn that far side, impossible to know what was there. He had stopped humming, the voices in his head drowned out by the groan as he found reverse and eased the bumper off the neighbouring jeep.
‘General. Sir’, the General turned around to see a young officer standing at the jeep’s door, ‘Officer Carling Sir, permission to get into your jeep’
Before he had time to summon the necessary forces of destruction with which to snuff out the young officer the General found himself joined in the jeep.
‘Sir, with a tight space like this, it is much easier if you reverse in’, said the officer, who had placed a hand on the wheel and was scoping the space around the vehicle.
‘Roll forward in a nice big arc until you’re facing A block sir’, the General found himself following the instruction, the jeep feeling different with Carling’s strong hand gently guiding the wheel, a long smooth sweep as it turned away from the space.
‘Now look over your shoulder sir’, Carling sat like a heavenly guide, invisible in the passenger seat, ‘the other shoulder sir.’
The General twisted round and could see the space behind him, he could feel Carling’s hand ease the wheel a few degrees. He enjoyed the feeling as he softened his own grip.
‘And before you reverse, line up the back corner of the jeep, my side’ and the General loved the way he said ‘my side’ and it felt for the first time like the edges of the jeep were no longer an alien outer perimeter beyond his control, ‘and line it up with the back corner of the space’, the General obeyed the command and could see the two points find each other in his eyeline.
‘Back up, nice and smooth’, Carling gently nudged the wheel, ‘a bit more’, God he loved the feeling of another man’s hand on the wheel and the General couldn’t help sneaking a look at the young officer, his tanned forearm across the jeep, his deep eyes focussed on the mirror, his breathing slow like lapping water.
‘And straighten up’.
The officer got out of the jeep without a word and made his way to the mess. The General held the wheel for just a moment longer.
Justin Gibbons was story was shortlisted at the ChipLit Festival 2021
To an editor, each new manuscript is a journey of discovery. A new writing style, an author who takes you by the hand. You want to dive into the plot and storyline - but then you start to feel an itch only a red pencil can take away...
What are the common ‘mistakes’ (editing is partly subjective, I hasten to add) writers make? Let’s focus on point of view first.
Do you have an omniscient narrator or a first- or third-person narrative? The challenges are there for first-person stories; you have to be consistent and not change perspective along the way. The reader only becomes aware of events at the same moment as your protagonist and perceives these through their eyes. There is no context other than the protagonist’s thoughts, viewpoint, and action.
If you have a third-person narrative, make sure you stay with that protagonist or clearly show (as in a new chapter or with a paragraph break) that you are moving away from them and are now seeing things from someone else’s point of view.
All too often, narratives jump from one person to the other and that confuses the reader but it also makes it difficult for them to empathise with the protagonist, to fall in love with your character. Thus, they are less involved in what happens to protagonists.
Another crucial mistake is the over-explaining of emotions, actions, and situations. When you write, ‘he rolled his eyes,’ we all know what emotions are going through that character at that time. To have it explained, makes the reader roll their eyes in return but even worse, it blocks the imagination.
A book is not a film and for your readership to become invested in your story, your characters, you have to give them the freedom to create and use their own imagination while reading your book. That makes for a satisfying read and enhances the reading experience. That is what turns a novel – your novel - into a success.
Caroline is passionate about empowering creative entrepreneurs.
“I'm absolutely blown away - what a fantastic and thoroughly professional editing job you have done. My only disappointment is that I did not find you early on in my writing career.” Michael K. Foster, author
You write the manuscript and focus on what you do best – Caroline will take care of the rest. She offers the complete package for your hassle-free road to publication and beyond, including editing, formatting, book covers, website design and social media management.
As an editor, Caroline works with (independently) published established and emerging authors, and offers professional writing services, including (copy-)editing, manuscript feedback, consultation and (re)writing articles, web content and more on request.
In addition to her author services, Caroline is available for panel moderation and author interview sessions, be it online or in person. How could one not love the discussion of literature? Contact Caroline at email@example.com
Byte the Book loves bringing people from all areas of the publishing world together so that they can learn from each other and collaborate, and we want to highlight some wonderful collaborations that have come about via Byte The Book.
If you've found some great collaborators through Byte The Book and are keen to share your stories in this series please send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I asked Rosie to illustrate my American edition of ‘Singing in the Rain: An Inspirational Workbook’. I had published the book with Short Books in the UK but hadn’t yet got a US publishers (though Simon &Schuster have published my other books in the US). Instead of waiting, I decided to publish with Amazon: I had an incentive as an American book club had asked for a large number of copies! I thought I could just sort them from the UK but the shipping costs meant the deal fell through. But I thought good to be prepared in case another order came through!
So I decided to sort my own American edition, and that it would also be fun to have a go at self publishing and see what it was like. Part of the fun was commissioning people like Rosie. I asked her to do the cover, as well as illustrations for the exercises and activities in the book’s 52 chapters. I wanted something light touch, fun, and gentle - all characteristics of Rosie’s work. So I asked her to keep that spirit in her drawings which is in keeping with the spirit of the text - I hope!
How did you work together?
Rosie would send me her rough illustrations, I would okay them, and then she would work them up for the finished book. We proceeded happily together. It didn’t really feel like work to be honest: Rosie got the feel of the book straight away and I pretty much said yes to all her sketches ...
Fun, easy, charming, and good value! Very intuitive and responsive to what an author needs.
Rosie Brooks is an illustrator with a long list of clients including Classic FM, Naxos Recordings, The Royal Opera House, Sir Paul McCartney OUP, Pearson, De Agostini, Dover Publications, Hodder and Pavilion. Rosie is currently working on an extremely ambitious project illustrating over fifty of the world's top operas and ballets. You can get in touch with her via her website.
If your pitch letter does not intrigue and compel a literary agent to read your sample chapters, they won’t get as far as reading them. If your synopsis doesn’t show where the narrative is heading and make them want to read the rest, they won’t ask for the full manuscript. So, how do you go about writing these essential elements of a fiction or narrative non-fiction book submission?
The pitch or covering letter must be persuasive enough to induce the agent to read through the rest of the submission package. Naturally, the opening chapters of the manuscript must be equally compelling, so they ask for more. They might read the synopsis after the chapters, or before, but it should give the agent good reason to hope the rest of the manuscript lives up to its promise.
THE PITCH LETTER
So, how do you write the pitch letter? It should be concise, around 300 words so it fits on one page. Address the literary agent by name (no Dear Sir/Madams please, they go in the bin). Follow the submission instructions each agent or agency has provided on their website. Don’t depart from the submission guidelines because you think your way is ‘better’ – the agents and their assistants are the ones who actually have to deal with a teetering pile of submissions, and they just want you to do as you’re asked.
Your tone should be professional, but not too formal. If it’s possible to personalise the letter, do so – for instance, you met at an event or conference and the agent invited you to submit – but if there’s no material for personalisation, skip it rather than forcing it. You can instead show your attention to their work by mentioning one or two books on their list and why you liked them. You can also compare your book to others, not represented by them, if it gives a sense of where your book will sit in the market and who its intended audience is.
Strive for simplicity: simple is much more compelling than self-consciously quirky.
A BASIC STRUCTURE FOR A PITCH LETTER
- 1. Introduction: Book title; category, genre, subgenre; and word count.
- 2. Get the agent’s interest: Clearly describe the hook or premise, and in a short paragraph describe the story and persuade the agent to read on. This is the crucial bit.
- 3. If the book is first in a planned series, say so briefly here.
- 4. Your bio: a little about your background and your writing experience.
- 5. Thank you for your time…’ and end the letter.
The synopsis should also be one page long, and again you are aiming for concise and compelling.
One way to start is with a pitch line. This is one line that hooks the reader and summarises what the book is about. It needs to be strong, as it may be used to describe the book to several different people who need to work on and around it before publication, and then to readers.
Keep the synopsis simple and fairly broad. You should describe the key points of the story, and its themes, but you don’t need to list every character or describe every twist and turn.
Should you tell the ending in the synopsis? Well, it’s not marketing copy, so trying to ‘tease’ the ending isn’t really appropriate, but this depends on the agent and whether they want to approach the story as a reader, and unless they’ve given that information on the website or in an interview you can’t know the answer. My feeling is it’s best to tell the whole story, including the final twist or who the murderer is, and if the agent doesn’t want to know the ending, they can skip reading the last paragraph and wait until they read the final chapters of the manuscript.
A BASIC STRUCTURE FOR A SYNOPSIS
- 2. Category, genre, sub-genre.
- 3. Pitch line
- 4. Broad strokes description of the narrative. Not too much, it needs to be easy to read and create interest in reading more of the manuscript.
If you’re getting ready to submit, you could book a mini consultation with me to polish up your submission materials.
THE ‘DON’TS’ OF SUBMITTING
Authors, we all love you, but some of you really get in your own way. Literary agents have been subjected to a lot of nonsense over the years, and so the following ‘don’ts’ are pretty well-established.
Don’t submit until your manuscript is complete and as close to ready to publish as you can make it.
Don’t ramble or include a lot of irrelevant details.
Don’t praise yourself. Of course your mum loves it, that’s a given.
Don’t concentrate on your themes at the expense of telling the story, unless that’s actually what the book is about – if it’s about addiction or about grief, that’s one thing, but ‘moving and lyrical and ultimately about love’ might be code for ‘pretentious navel-gazing and no plot’.
Don’t make jokes. It’s better to be straightforward, unless you make a living as a comedian and/or the joke is incredibly and genuinely funny. Jokes about literary agents’ lack of response to submissions, your unrecognised genius, or the number of rejections you’ve received are passive aggressive, and jokes about drinking lots of coffee are weak.
Don’t say you’ll ring in a few days (you may follow up in a month to six weeks by email, and please remember that small agencies and sole agents may not get through submissions quickly). Don’t say you look forward to receiving their offer of representation (sounds arrogant) and don’t say you’ve chosen them to represent you (sounds delusional).
Don’t resend to agents who have already rejected the manuscript unless explicitly invited to. If you’ve already started submitting and are getting only form rejections, you should probably rewrite your submission materials and possibly the manuscript as well, but the new package should only go to literary agents you haven’t yet approached.
Don’t try to be ‘memorable’ in any way except by impeccably presenting a fantastic manuscript. Don’t send gifts, don’t suck up, don’t make comments about the agent’s appearance (even if you think they’re compliments), and DO NOT show up at the office to deliver your manuscript by hand and try to get an impromptu meeting with the agent.
I must emphasise this last point, as one who’s been on the receiving end of this move more than once when I was a junior member of staff, since I hear that all these years later, it is still being rolled out as though no one had ever thought of it before. I assure you it is not original, it is not impressive, it’s disruptive and worst of all it gives you precisely no benefit – your manuscript just goes on the pile. If you’re very annoying about it, all you’ve done is give a terrible first impression, and in order to recover the book will have to be a stone-cold masterpiece because, guess what, there are good odds the junior member of staff you pestered is also the first reader of the submission pile.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you just avoid all these don’ts, you’ll crack the code and get representation. The list of don’ts is longer than the list of do’s because the latter is a simple and short list: write a good book, then introduce it in a way that makes people want to read it. It may not be easy to achieve, but it is simple.
Don’t, as some authors seem to, get distracted by agonising over these don’ts, treating them like booby traps, and assuming you’re receiving form rejections because you’ve inadvertently set one off. If your manuscript is amazing and you introduce it well, you won’t be getting only form rejections – even if you missed one item on the list of instructions for submission.
DO YOUR BEST
Literary agents aren’t terrifying threshold guardians who will eat you unless you correctly answer their riddles. The submission process is not a puzzle you solve to win representation.
Therefore, do not approach writing your submission materials as an exercise in defence. Your pitch letter and synopsis are positive tools to introduce the book and drum up interest in it. Ultimately, the really important thing, the thing the agent must decide they can sell and want to sell, is the manuscript.
Just be a professional and do your best.
Janey Burton is a Publishing Consultant, Editor and Contracts Negotiator. She worked for literary agencies and publishers big and small before setting up her own business in 2011. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook. Learn more at www.janeyburton.com
Each month we gather news from our members to share with the network! This is what's happening this month...
Congratulations to Brad Borkan who has just published his new book, Audacious Goals, Remarkable Results: How an Explorer, an Engineer and a Statesman shaped our Modern World (Learn the Secrets of Achievement: Lessons from History.
The book profiles 6 examples of the mighty human spirit, such as the building of the Panama Canal, the Great Western Railway and the quest for the South Pole….
… showing all of us how people like the explorer Roald Amundsen, the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and the cowboy-turned-statesman Theodore Roosevelt created lasting achievements over 100 years ago that even today influence our lives. And they did this when others were saying, “It can’t be done!”
Sir Ranulph Fiennes endorsed it, describing it as, “Gripping, exhilarating and inspiring.”
Here’s a 2 minute video about it: Audacious Goals, Remarkable Results - the video
You can buy it from Amazon via https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1945312149/
Congratulations to Clare Ward-Smith whose novel, Labour Law, has made the Comedy Women in Print Prize's Unpublished Novel Longlist, Read more about it on their site here.
One of our members, Kim Rix would like to offer a mini location photo shoot (in central London) for £200 instead of £300 (for Byte members). This will give people three main images - a headshot for business, a casual or more dressed up headshot, and an action photo. They will receive those 3 photos in colour and black and white, as well as low res and high res. That’s 12 images in total. If you're interested get in touch with her via her website https://kimrixphotography.co.uk/
Congratulations to Mark Piesing, whose book N-4 Down has just been published by Custom House (and imprint at Harper Collins). His book tells the riveting true story of the largest polar rescue mission in history: the desperate race to find the survivors of the glamorous Arctic airship Italia, which crashed near the North Pole in 1928.
“N-4 Down is a gripping, detailed tale of exploration, betrayal and rescue. Mark Piesing has crafted a fascinating recounting of a liminal time when flying and polar expeditions were equally risky, so of course people tried to combine them. Think The Terror, but with airships.” -- Charles Arthur, author of Social Warming and Digital Wars, former technology editor at The Guardian.
The Book Edit has launched a brand new Writers' Prize. Aimed at talented writers who might not otherwise have access to the industry, the prize is open to all unpublished, UK-based novelists from backgrounds and communities under-represented in British publishing. Completely free to enter, deadline 22 October 2021. Full details here.
Sarah Tinsley has been running her Wednesday Scribbles for a year in October, so they're having a special one on the 13th October. Only £9 for a 90min workshop, and people are encouraged to bring along food and drink. The link to book tickets is here.
If you would like to send us any of your news and have it included in our future newsletters, please do send it to us at email@example.com
Finally. Time to go. Steve couldn’t believe he’d managed to wangle this trip. He’d get to Heathrow with at least an hour to spare. He and Linda could have a couple of drinks before boarding, then when they got to Amsterdam, let the shagfest begin! He practically skipped to the office car park, where his chariot awaited. His beautiful red Porsche, Ramona. Second hand, but so what? He’d leave her in Heathrow’s long stay. Much cheaper. He’d be spending a mint this weekend, so he’d best mind the pennies when he got the chance.
The Sofitel Grand was three hundred smackers a night, and that was on special offer. Linda. What a top bird she was. She said she’d paid a little visit to Rigby & Peller. Oh yes. He was a lucky bastard all right.
He hoped she wouldn’t bang on too much about Cindy. He wanted to leave her, he really did, but it wasn’t the right time. And it was a bit awkward money-wise. Divorce would cost a bundle, and he didn’t quite know how to break it to Linda that he wasn’t as flush as she thought. It’s not that he’d lied, definitely not, but the motor, the restaurants, the bubbly, the bracelet for her birthday… all had created a certain impression.
It was hard for a single girl to understand just how much money three kids could suck out of you. Cindy was all organic this, natural that, special shoes ’cos the cheap ones ruin their feet, Daisy’s ballet lessons, Connor’s extra maths thanks to his dyspraxia, poor little sod. The bills were bloody neverending. As for the baby. Steve smiled just thinking about her. She was such a lovely little thing, but she’d arrived out of left field, just as Cindy was all excited about getting back to work and after they’d given all their baby stuff away. Splitting up would just mean all that expense plus the cost of running another house on top. Then Linda would probably want a sprog or two.... bloody hell, talk about running ahead of himself. One problem at a time, mate, please.
Ramona gave a lovely low growl as he put his foot down towards Heathrow. Beautiful bit of clear road ahead to really let her rip. He was tempted to roll the roof back, but the spring air was still a bit nippy. He did a mental check of the contents of his case. Jeans, boxers, socks…
In fact, Cindy had been pairing socks when he’d told her about the forthcoming work conference. She’d totally swallowed it. They’d even had a nice evening together. The kids didn’t wake up, the baby was quiet. A big plate of spag bol, a halfway decent bottle of plonk and a laugh at something on the telly. If it were always like that... but then they’d had a row about the baby’s buggy. Cindy wanted a new one as the wheels were wonky and she said it was tricky to fold up. And he’d flipped and told her there was sod all wrong with the one they had and she’d said you try bloody pushing it around all day then, and the evening was ruined. When he thought about how many prams he could buy for the cost of his wicked weekend away he’d felt a bit bad, so he’d told her to go ahead and buy a new damn pram, but he didn’t think she would now. That was Cindy all over.
What else? He’d packed a suit that morning to throw Cindy off the scent, but had left it hanging in his office. Washbag, toothbrush, shaving gear, athlete’s foot cream decanted into a little plain tub. Mycota plonked on the surface of their lovely marble bathroom would not be sexy or romantic. Workout gear. He was looking forward to impressing Linda with his bench presses. Swimming trunks. The hotel had an amazing pool and sauna. His chest swelled with anticipation. God it was a good feeling. The city’s finest Indonesian tonight, and he’d get the concierge to book something special the evening after. Why spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar?
He’d stock up on a shedload of ribbed extra-strengths at the airport. Maybe a variety pack. Much as he loved Linda, he wouldn’t put it past her to accidentally on purpose.... blimey there you go again, he thought. In any ointment, he’d bloody see the fly. He grinned as he remembered what they’d done with a tub of Haagen Dasz. It had been a long time since he’d had so much fun with Cindy.
The traffic started to slow, then abruptly ground to a halt. Bloody roadworks. Thank you very much, Boris. He still had plenty of time though. He put the radio on and hummed away to Teenage Dirtbag. The cars in front started to inch forward. He had an hour to spare, but he’d wanted to spend it having a flirty drink with Linda, not stuck in bastard traffic. He reached third gear before he had to brake again, just as he leveled with Tesco’s. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, this time to Fleetwood Mac. Traffic stayed put. He stretched his arms and moved his neck from side to side. He tapped the steering wheel in time to the music, trying to quell his growing irritation. He craned his neck to see what the problem was. Idly, he turned to his left at Tesco’s, at something in his peripheral vision.
Fucking hell that was only Cindy in the Tesco’s car park. She was pushing the baby with shopping bags draped over both handles of the pram and another dangled off one of her wrists, not to mention the Bag for Life which hung off her shoulder. Daisy and Connor trailed behind her, Daisy with a face like a smacked arse and Connor looking like he was on another planet as per usual. Twice while he was watching, Cindy had to back up the pram so the wheels would run true. Steve was struck by how tired she looked. God she looked so bloody tired and pissed off. He watched as she reached her little blue runaround and opened the boot to pack it with the shopping, looked around for Connor who had scampered away from her, distracted, while Daisy climbed into the back without helping her mother. The Visible Sulk, he called her when she was like that.
Cindy undid the straps of the pram, picked the baby up and ran with her so she could catch up with Connor, then grabbed him by the hand and had to drag him back to the car. He could see her having a go, but with Connor, it was in one ear and out the other. The driver behind Steve honked. He jumped as if electrocuted. Steve slammed his foot down to get out of Cindy’s sight.
He drove ever faster as the bottleneck cleared. He had a knot in his stomach. He thought furiously about Linda’s lingerie and the ice cream to get himself back in the mood, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Cindy. She’d be with him in Amsterdam and wouldn’t even know it. Like that ghost from Shakespeare. Banko, that was it.
He’d make it up to her as soon as he was back, he resolved. They’d get back on track, him and Cindy. For each other, not only the kids. It would be hard on Linda, he knew that, but they’d have one last blow-out weekend. It would be hard on him too, but Linda wouldn’t care about that and who could blame her? He continued to cruise forward, focusing hard on those frilly knickers and that beautiful cleavage encased in something frothy. If only he hadn’t seen Cindy.
The airport was really close now. His speed had dropped to a level which would shame an OAP on a Sunday country outing. He looked in his rear view mirror and saw that there was a long queue of traffic behind him. Normally he hated people like him. He put on some speed but pretty soon he got to the last roundabout before the airport. He indicated to make the turn but changed his mind at the last nanosecond, earning himself a sharp beep from the bloke behind him.
He felt sick in his heart. He went round the roundabout again. This time, he turned tail and made for home. They weren’t expecting him back at work. He pulled over as soon as he got the chance and silenced Ramona’s low purring hum. He switched off the radio, shutting up Seal, who was warbling about roses. He sat still for a good few minutes, conscious only of the pulse in his neck and the weight in his chest. He reached for his mobile and tapped out a text to Cindy. ‘Conf canceled. Will be home early. Get a sitter lets book angelo’s tonight.’ He was just about to press send before he added ‘Luv u sxx’ to the message. Then he dialed Linda’s number, which he knew off by heart, as he’d never stored it on his phone.
In the spirit of all things Byte Confluence our short story this month is by the brilliant Toby Litt.
Toby will be speaking at Byte Confluence, our conference on the business of storytelling on 19th May.
His session is entitled:
The Glass of Water on the Table By Toby Litt
Had the cat drunk from it? Since the day before, the water level had gone down by about half a
centimetre. Evaporation? Or Alexander the Great? If the cat had stuck its head in and lapped, after jumping onto his small table, could he drink the tongue-touched? Did it matter? It wouldn’t kill him, would it? In bed, in the mornings – over by the other wall – he always let the cat lick his unshaven chin. At the table, as he was now, he often let Alexander the Great stand between him and his forms, his
depositions. He sat back and looked at the glass with its faded image of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and thought about touching tongues with the cat, as he had twice done with his older sister, now dead. Not a kiss, and not without disgust and running away shrieking – but both first making a point of their tongue and then, with bare bedtime feet as far apart as possible, bringing point and point together. He leaned in to look closely at the glass and for a flash felt how much the rubble had weighed. There
weren’t any ginger hairs around the soft rim. In all his life since, he had never expected the miracle of ownership of a cat. Only a limping tomcat, admittedly, missing half an ear, which he had started to feed when it became clear no-one else on the street was. Instead, the neighbours above left curried meat out for foxes – which the foxes loved, but spices and especially tandoori made fox-piss smell even worse. At night, the foxes made sounds like English men who are voiding too-hot curries, eaten in the drunken bravery of the previous evening. So he imagined. He would listen to the fox-agony as he tried to doze. But without hating them – it was the foxes had caused Alexander the Great to come in through his window and start sleeping on his blankets. Another cat had been found on the road, with bite marks at the edge of its exposed rib-cage, though some in the flats still blamed a car. His sister’s tongue had left spittle on his own that felt briefly cool. He picked up the glass, drank, shrieked or did not shriek – I don’t know. I don’t have the authority to know.
This short story was first published in the Seagull Books Catalogue. The first editor was Naveen Kishore.
A member of Writers Rebel, Toby Litt has been involved with actions on Trafalgar Square and Tufton Street - drawing attention to climate change denial. During the first couple of lockdowns, and unable to take direct action, he wrote a brief polemic on storytelling, screenwriting manuals, heroism and hope. This is being serialised on the Writers Rebel website. In this session, he will talk about the ways in which the monomyth of the Hero’s Journey has come to dominate storytelling in all forms, and explore how writers can find new ways to create gripping, inspiring adventures.
Tickets for Byte Confluence are £100* for members/£150* for non-members and can be booked here.
*plus booking fee and VAT
How to Take a Good Author Portrait Photograph
Now that the lockdown is gradually easing up, it might be time to start thinking about refreshing your author headshot. Looking relaxed and confident is key to getting great pictures.
It pays to put some thought into your shoot beforehand. Your headshots are about showcasing your books as well as you.
What do you want your headshot to say?
A good photographer will put you at ease to avoid tension showing in your face and eyes. However, you might like to practise a few expressions in the mirror first so you can get an idea of what suits you. If there are any features that make you feel self-conscious, let your photographer know.
Don’t let your clothes do the talking
Most headshots include your shoulders and upper chest area, so avoid large patterns or ostentatious logos that draw the eye away from your face. If your shots are in black and white, you’ll want to think about providing some balance and contrast.
Be ready for your close up
Pause every so often to glance in the mirror and make sure that stray hairs, smudged eyeliner or a wonky tie aren’t spoiling your picture. These minor imperfections are barely noticeable in real life, but once immortalised in digital form, you’ll look at your brand-new headshots and won’t be able to focus on anything else!
So, now that you’re ready, where can we go?
Here’s my pick of the best places in London for the perfect spring photo shoot:
You can’t beat Kew Gardens for spring blossom splendour. Carpets of crocuses start to appear from late February and are in full bloom throughout March. From April, the cherry trees throw their pink and white confetti skywards, while May brings our native blue bells out all at once.
St James’ Park
Make like Wordsworth and wander lonely as a cloud—or with friends and family—down to St James’ Park where you’ll find that crowd of golden daffodils ‘Beside the lake, beneath the trees/Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.’ And what a sight they make! St James’ park receives the lion’s share of the 1 million daffodil bulbs planted in London’s Royal parks each year, so you won’t lack picturesque spots for your spring photoshoot. Just mind you don’t get upstaged by the famous St James’ Park pelicans!
If you’re yearning for the orderly beauty of a formal garden, take the Bakerloo line to Regent’s Park and head for the Avenue Gardens. Here, April brings the cherry trees into bloom and turns the Avenue Gardens into a froth of pink blossom. Don’t forget the cherry tree avenue along Chester Road, either. Originally planted in the 1930s, this avenue was restored in 2015 with the planting of 100 new trees.
Richmond Park is one of my favourite places for a woodland walk, especially in late April to early May, when the Isabella Plantation is ablaze with thousands of azalea flowers. Established in the 1830s, the Isabella Plantation boasts 40 acres of Japanese azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias, which intermingle with native plants and other exotic and rare varieties.
London’s City Farms
The animal lovers among you will definitely want to visit one of London’s city farms. Springtime is synonymous with comically fluffy chicks and ducklings, and adorably knock-kneed lambs. Rather incongruously located in the middle of Tower Hamlets, Stepney City Farm is a tiny rural idyll in the midst of the grey urban sprawl.
Byte offer: Book an Author Portrait with Kim before 1st April for £150 instead of £300. Photoshoot must be taken before May 31st, 2021. To take up this offer please email her via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kim Rix is a graduate gemologist, and internationally published author. She is also a professional, award-winning portrait photographer.
Gemstone Detective: https://gemstonedetective.com/
The lifeguard sits in the chair ten feet above the pool deck, a whistle around her neck. Her shift is two hours long. There are nine people in the pool: one in the fast lane, three in the medium lane, two in the slow lane. At the far side of the pool, two lanes have been combined for swimming lessons, and a college student is dragging a small child on a kickboard. The child’s mother sits on the edge with her feet in the water. That makes nine. The lifeguard keeps her eyes on the lanes, and on the doors to the locker rooms, out of which more swimmers might appear at any time.
The swimmer is thankful to have the lane to himself. He can’t stand it when some slow old fogey dives into the fast lane, showing off their years-old swim technique, probably honed on a high school team in the eighties. The swimmer has a regimen to complete, as he decided—it was his decision—not to go out for the college team. Therefore he must swim at least an hour a day, five days a week, to maintain his current muscle mass percentage. Having the lane to himself means he can swim with less rage.
The child hates swim lessons. He hates how the pool gives him goosebumps up his back when he jumps in. He hates how his mother stays so far away from him, all the way on the other side of the pool, when he would prefer her to come in and hold his hand. He hates his teacher, who pretends to be nice when he can’t lift his arm over his head and cup the water on the way down, just like she showed him; it is hard. He loves one thing about swimming, though. He loves being underwater. If he could, he would sink to the bottom of the pool and stay there for the whole lesson.
Two people emerge from the locker room. One is a janitor, who strolls across the pool deck with a garbage bag in her hand. The other is a student in a Y-back racing suit, a swim cap, and goggles. The student takes a glug of water from a bottle, puts it down and dives into the fast lane. She does not look human, the way she slices through the water. She is a creature, a water bird. She is grace. The lifeguard loses herself for a minute, remembering the book of Greek mythology she read as a child, with its faded drawings and bent corners. Then she sits up straight and counts. Ten.
The janitor is glad that it is Tuesday, and not Saturday. The pool is less busy on a Tuesday, and that means there are fewer hair balls in the drains, sanitary napkins overflowing from the metal bins, and shit floating in the toilets. Her feet hurt, and she’s wearing old, worn sneakers. She would like to buy new ones. The lifeguard on duty never takes her eyes off the water. Some of them are kind, they look at her and smile when she walks by. Not this one.
The parent avoids eye contact with her child while he’s in the water. She believes the child has forgotten to object to the swim lesson, and that if he catches her eye, he will remember and make a scene. The child is manipulative that way.
There are one hour and forty six minutes left in the lifeguard’s shift. She shifts in her chair. Her left foot is asleep. No one has entered the pool deck in the last few minutes, though one aging swimmer has exited the slow lane. Nine. The woman in the fast lane keeps a mesmerizing pace, her elbows emerging in a rhythmic dance. Every two laps, she overtakes the man in her lane. The child bobs underwater. The men’s locker room door swings open, and a middle-aged man walks onto the deck. He is completely nude, brown curly hairs from his nipples to his toes. He turns his head right, he turns his head left. His face is abject confusion; he’s in a bad dream. The janitor, picking up discarded belongings in the bleachers, stops and looks. The man turns around, his white buttocks disappearing back into the locker room. Well, that’s a first, the lifeguard thinks. She looks at the pool and counts. Only two in the medium lane, now. She sits taller, scanning the bottom of the pool. Her heart races. But then she sees a man toweling himself off in the corner. Eight. One hour and forty three minutes to go.
Rachel Mann is an NYC-based writer of fiction and plays. Her debut novel, ON BLACKBERRY HILL, won the National Jewish Book Award for Young Adult Literature in 2016. She graduated from the Novel Studio course at City University London, as well as from Columbia (BA) and New York University (MA). She can be contacted via her website www.rachelmannwriter.com or on twitter @rachelmannnyc.