Vampires have always been sexy. Traditionally they have been smart, well dressed, aristocratic men, until Twilight ruined it for everyone by making them mardy teenagers.
Shira Glassman’s vampire Nellie is solidly working class, is invisible to humans, and doesn’t sparkle. She’s also a very sensible woman.
Nelly is an unwilling vampire, and is faced with the dilemma of eating ethically or eating well. The best humans are also the best tasting. The kind of humans who deserve a bite to the neck taste bitter and rancid. Unwilling to kill a good man, she finds a place where good and bad men die in equal measure, the battlefield. She finds Jacob, an honourable man, who is killed and becomes a dybbuk. As well as satisfying Nellie’s need for blood, Jacob can satisfy her in other ways.
This short story has a spicy, and happy ending. If you are squeamish about blood then it’s unsurprisingly not for you. Out on Friday the Thirteenth, A Man of Taste is a Halloween treat that won’t ruin your teeth.
I spent the summer of 1999 working in a data entry job in a sixth form college, saving up for my final year of university. The work was easy, and I was quickly promoted to a small room where I would assist the admissions officer: a bored, middle aged woman whose working day consisted of eating biscuits and listening to the radio: two things I could readily assist with.
The millennium was coming, as was a solar eclipse, and those of a superstitious nature saw this combination as a portent of the End Times. We didn’t know at the time that we were in a brief bubble of relative peace and security – one year after the Good Friday Agreement and two before 9/11. A moment of sunshine for the UK.
As the 11th August drew closer, newspapers and magazines were full of safety tips (don’t stare at the sun!) and eclipse facts. Astrologers were full of crap. And the radio? It was a golden time for Bonnie Tyler fans.
The college had decided that not only could we all take our early tea breaks at once, but we could do it on the roof of the building. By five to eleven the flat roof was crowded, my colleagues from admissions armed with pinhole cameras I had made from stationery. I patiently showed them how to use them: stand with your back to the sun, hold the paper at arm’s length and move the card, with its pinprick, until you get a clear image of the sun projected on the paper.
As the projected circles waned to crescents the volume dropped. First the traffic fell silent as people pulled over and got out of their cars to watch. Then, in the mid-morning gloaming, the birds stopped their songs.
Behind the paper of my pinhole camera, I could see the rest of Leeds. Each building bristled with people on the rooves, the streets were thick with crowds. All looked behind me at the sun. I turned around and looked at the shining sickle in the sky, opaline behind thin cloud.
The sun waxed, the sky brightened. The birds sang once more. I looked away and blinked. The darkness had been brief. We returned to our day, to our small rooms and biscuits. But for just one moment, we had all stood together under the sun and the moon.
When I was little I thought all schools had a school song. It was only really when I went to university that I discovered the only other people who had a school song were the ones that spoke Latin and thought they were better than me, and that their songs didn’t have so many weaving metaphors. Southdale was my junior school, a strange red-brick building near where the train station used to be. The school song was one of many things I later discovered were not as normal as the headteacher, Mr Terry, had led us to believe. Most schools spent less time on hymn practise, for example, and did not adapt the rules of cricket to take into account the tarmac pitch or the asbestos-riddled abandoned “temporary” classrooms (if the bounced off the roof of the “yellow buildings” the fielder has to catch with one hand to catch you out). I found a picture taken of the school in 1910 – it looked much the same in 1989. It still had “Boys” and “Girls” carved above the doors, but we ignored all that, the girls taking part in the games of cricket and football with their amended rules.
My secondary school also had its oddities. Built around Park House, once the home of well-to-do cloth merchants, then a convalescent home for smallpox sufferers, the school had partially burned down in the 1980s (I had an excellent view from where I lived at the time). By the time I attended (1990 – 97) the school was a mix of the Victorian town house, a 1950s red brick grammar school, 1970s concrete and the strange brown plastic-y building of the 80s. The buildings formed several courtyards, one of which housed peacocks, for some reason. Peacocks are extremely noisy birds, their screams tore through double maths, articulating the horror of the young minds trying to grapple with quadratic equations. Music was in the former groom’s lodge, widely reputed to be haunted, behind which lay the derelict stables (also haunted). The head teacher, Mr Horn, wore his academic robes for assembly, thus earning the nickname “Batman” and would eat dinner with the pupils, leading to some extremely awkward conversations. He would invite pupils to carol sing in his home which was not unlike Park House and had the original servants’ bells (and was naturally widely reputed to be haunted.) Ossett School was called Ossett School, although everyone called it Ossett Comp because it was a comprehensive. It had the only sixth form in town, and the only swimming pool. The hockey pitch was called the redgra (short for red gravel, which you would be picking out of your knees for weeks if you fell on it) and every year there was a school trip to the carpet factory next door.
You may wonder how a state junior school ended up with a song, or a bog-standard comp ended up with peacocks. I can’t explain the peacocks, but the school song has a logical explanation. Southdale wasn’t always a junior school. Before 1969, Southdale was a Secondary Modern, with the grammar school being on the site of what became Ossett School. Before it was a Secondary Modern it was a school for local children, and in the 1930s the school song was written. According to the comments on Ossett.net it was sung from time to time in the 60s, but it was Mr Terry (also known as Tez-bomb), in the 1970s, who really brought it back. And so we would sing it in hymn practise, alongside “Will Your Anchor Hold” (not a great hymn for a town where the only boating for miles around was the canal, but still one of my favourites), and on Commonwealth Day (which is a real thing, apparently) we used to celebrate by singing it alongside God Save the Queen (the pre-football match one, not the Sex Pistols one).
I laugh about the old school song sometimes. It does sound like something translated from an East German youth collective. “Sturdy hills of grime” is not what the tourist board would sign off on, if we had one. But the town was, even as I grew up, a textile town. The town crest shows the industries of the town: the wheel of a colliery, a sheaf of grain, a dead sheep and textile mills on an idealised riverside. Of those industries we still have the abattoir (which now specialises in halal slaughter) but when I was a girl the area was still dotted with shoddy mills (shoddy being a type of recycled wool), jeans factories, and of course the carpet factory (Burmatex, which has also survived). The song talks about the warp and weft being hand and brain – you need both to make cloth, with only one you just have a length of string.
Other than being a little odd, what both Southdale and Ossett school had in common was a belief in the children. Some of us went to university, others would stay in the town working in the service industries that have replaced the mills and the pits. But we were all given a fair crack of the whip. We would fight and play and get into mischief together. I remember Mr Horn telling me I could do whatever I wanted, and encouraging a small group of us to apply for his alma mater Oxford (although most of us didn’t). He believed in us. My son has just finished doing his GCSEs, in a disappointingly un-haunted, peacock-free school. One year his head blogged about the results stating they are “Very good, considering we are a non-selective state school.” Batman wouldn’t have stood for that, he expected the best from us. He would say “Very good, because we are a non-selective state school,” and off he would go with a swish of his cape.
Ossett School is an Academy now, I have friends whose kids go there, it’s still well-thought of. It’s still non-selective. The uniform is neater, and there are some new buildings. The children who go there now won’t get free university education. Their children (or younger siblings) may be streamed into grammar schools and modern secondary moderns, or whatever they end up being called. Warp and weft torn asunder.
Not every school can have a haunted stable block, but I believe every school can and should have a mix of people going there. For its faults, my son’s school had dads in Ferraris and mums in white vans. My schooldays weren’t diverse in many ways – my town was overwhelmingly white and relatively affluent for the area, but there were people who came from, and were going to, all walks of life.
My schoolmates and I may not be able to speak Latin, and we may be a bit shoddy but on the whole we’ve done alright. Thank you, proud loom of youth.
I awoke to the sound of a Welsh summer holiday, the patter of rain on my tent and the whipping of the wind around me. I have been holidaying in Tavernspite, on the border of Pembrokeshire and Camarthenshire, for four years now, and only once have I got sunburned.
In those four years I have never been the ten miles down the road to Dylan Thomas’s boathouse, in Laugharne. I have hinted that I wanted to go, from the subtle (“Oh look, a sign for Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse”) to the less subtle (“I’d actually really like to go”, “Seriously, I really like Dylan Thomas”) but for one reason or another we’ve never made it there. But as the storm woke me up I thought today I would finally get there.
We camp with my partner’s family, in the shadow of his Aunt’s caravan, but this year my parents had joined us in their new campervan. My mum volunteers at the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, so I knew she’d want to see how our Cymric cousins treat their literary artefacts out of professional (or amateur) curiosity.
At breakfast my niece made a cogent argument for going swimming (by shouting “I want to go swimming!” repeatedly) so we split into two groups – my partner’s aunt, brother and the kids went to the big swimming pool at Bluestone and my parents, my partner and I went to Laugharne.
The boathouse itself is small, it must have seemed tiny filled with three children and two drunken parents. The parlour is approximately as it was in Dylan’s day, upstairs where the bedrooms were there is a small museum with artefacts such as Thomas’s deathmask and his only pair of cufflinks. Downstairs in the basement is a cosy little tea room where the poet in residence offered to read one of his poems while we ate our welshcakes. On the walk from the castle to the boathouse you go past the shed where Thomas wrote, perched on the cliff overlooking the estuary.
Laugharne is in what is known as little England, the south west corner of Wales below the Landsker line. As a general rule, Welsh speaking increases as you go west. But south Pembrokeshire and the little patch of Carmarthenshire where Laugharne is are Anglophone, the genetic makeup of the inhabitants has more in common with southern England than villages twenty miles away (of course Thomas was born in Swansea). If you drive 50 minutes north to Cardigan you will hear Welsh as an everyday, living language: used to gossip or to scold naughty children in supermarkets.
Dylan Thomas was not a Welsh speaker (although his father taught Welsh), and rejected the bardic traditions of Welsh poetry such as cerdd dafod (literally “tongue craft”). But there is Welshness running through his work like the letters in a stick of Tenby rock. I don’t mean his meter, which (in his later work) counts syllables (as is traditional in many Welsh poetry forms) rather than feet, I mean in his subject matter. English speaking Wales is still Wales, and although it is smaller geographically it is more populous. Llareggub could be one of any number of rural, coastal Welsh towns.
We joke about the Welsh weather – I call rain “little drops of Welsh sunshine” – but it was a particularly nasty day, when we parked in the car park by the castle with its warning that at high tide your car might be washed away you could barely see the other side of the Taf estuary. The town was eerily quiet. I’ll leave it to Thomas scholars and Tourist Boards to battle out whether Laugharne was the model for Llareggub, the setting of Under Milk Wood, but for me the town with its squat, square houses, candy painted like rows of coconut ice, was how I always imagined the home of Captain Cat and Polly Garter. Driving around west Wales we encounter several Bethesda chapels, sitting grey and judgmental, even as they are converted to flats. While some characters, Mr and Mrs Pugh, for example, could be transplanted anywhere, others, like the Reverend Eli Jenkins, could only exist in Wales.
I read Under Milk Wood in 1994, during my English Literature GCSE. In the outdoor, temporary classroom (that had already been there for twenty years, and is probably still there today) we took turns at playing the parts, reading the play aloud. We were allowed to watch the 1972 film version with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole (and some nudity). Under Milk Wood was different to the other texts we’d read. The words are chosen for their loveliness and playfulness. Little really happens in Under Milk Wood, but what happens happens beautifully.
“It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea”
It is impossible to read that without the rhythm, the tidal cadence, of a south Wales accent. It is impossible to read that indifferently. Thomas’s sentences are sensual structures, made to be read aloud. Under Milk Wood opened my eyes to the lovely potential of words. A writing circle colleague said that when he read Thomas’s work he despaired, as a writer Thomas has set the bar unattainably high.
Today, 14th May, is Dylan day (or Dydd Dylan if you are north of the Landsker line). It celebrates the anniversary of Under Milk Wood being first performed in New York in 1953. Take an hour and a half out of your day to go to Llareggub, listen to Richard Burton’s recording or better still, if you have the script read it aloud yourself and lose yourself in the rhythm of the words.
The inaugural Lightbox Literary Festival 2017 runs from Thurs 20 April – Sun 23 April and I am extremely excited to have been invited to lead a Q&A with established author Nicola May. Nicola, author of Love Me Tinder, Better Together and The School Gates, to name just a few, went from self-publishing her novels to being picked up by Accent Press who went on to publish all of her books. Needless to say I’m hoping to pick up some of the secrets to her success.
Tickets are £8, £6 for Friends of the Lightbox, and are available at https://www.thelightbox.org.uk/Event/how-i-became-a-published-author
Since e-publishing and print on demand have become available, indie authors and boutique publishing houses have blossomed. There’s a wealth of choice and diversity that simply wouldn’t be possible with traditional publishing. But how can independent authors and publishers ever hope to compete with the big five publishers? They need your help. Yes, reader, you.
Perhaps the author is a friend or family member. Perhaps they write books with that resonate with your interests or identity. Perhaps you just really like their book. Well here’s five simple things you can do to help them succeed.
5) Buy books from indie authors
Obvious, I know. But each time someone buys a book (whether physical or e-book) not only does the author get paid, but the book gets pushed slowly up the rankings. On Amazon in some categories the difference between the front page of the bestsellers list and not being in the top 100 can be a handful of sales. Most people only browse the bestsellers so anything that helps your favourite author get up there is a help.
4) Be social
Most authors (including me) now have a Facebook page and twitter. Follow them and share or retweet their updates. Chat to them. Comment on their blog. Not only will this cheer the up (it’s nice to know people are listening), but it will help others to find them.
3) Leave reviews
If you enjoyed a book, review it on Amazon and Goodreads. You don’t have to enter into serious literary analysis, just put a few words about what the book is about and what you liked about it. People are far more likely to buy books with several reviews than with none.
2) Request the book from your library
Although the amount an author gets when a book is borrowed from the library is tiny, it gives thousands of people access to that book. And using your local library helps to keep your local library open. Win-win! As the Manic Street Preachers say: Libraries gave us Power!
1) Tell your friends!
If you’ve read something you think a friend will enjoy, tell them! Post about it on Facebook and Twitter! Indie authors don’t have a big advertising budget but a sincere recommendation from a reader is worth much more than a Facebook ad campaign.
New year, new cover. Much as I love Jhinuk’s design, it got a bit lost as a thumbnail which is how most people will see it. If you bought it with the original cover you have a collector’s edition!
If you are anything like me, when browsing books online you totally judge a book by it’s cover. This cover (hopefully) tells people what they need to know about the book – that it’s got mining and kissing!
Of course the other way people buy books is based on recommendations – if you’ve read the book and enjoyed it then please leave a review or tell a friend.
If you haven’t yet read the book it’s available from Amazon, it’s currently just £1.99 for the Kindle edition.