Let’s eat children – short story

Background

This short story was a fun little exercise which started in the classroom.  I was taking a cover lesson with Year 8 (12-13 year-olds) for an unwell English colleague.  The lesson details gave a photo prompt of an innocent-looking old lady and instructions to form a plot for a short story.  If my recollections are correct, the activity was based around an exam task.  I knew many of the pupils quite well and before long we had created a number of ideas.

Normally I teach Humanities to these kids and they’re well aware I’m drawn to oddities.  They loved the ideas we’d discussed and before long the innocent old lady was everything from a superhero in disguise to a war criminal on the run.  

Not normally able to model creative work with the pupils, I fired up the projector and started writing one of the ideas I had contributed.  I only managed to get six or seven paragraphs finished before the bell, but they approved of where the plot was going, especially the most mischievous of the pupils.

Those pupils have not seen the entire short story, I only finished it earlier this year in-between bigger projects.  I hope you enjoy it.  One spoiler in advance, there are no zombies.

Short Story – Let’s eat children

‘I really can’t see what I’m looking for,’ the old woman said as she poked through the birthday card selection muttering to herself. ‘If I could just find the right one…’

The shop assistant looked at the elderly lady.  It was almost closing time, and she just wished the old woman would pick a card, hurry up, and pay.  Breeda had been working on her own for the last hour, she knew it would take at least twenty minutes to lock the shop.  As soon as the old woman paid, Breeda would shut the doors and close-down the till.  She was in a hurry tonight. She had to get home and prepare for a night out with her friends.  They had booked a table at the new peri-peri chicken restaurant.

The old woman shuffled along the aisles of cards, poking and prodding.  Her wrinkled hands shook as they lifted first one card, and then another.  She held each card close to her face, her glasses not powerful enough to correct her failing eyesight.

‘No, not that one,’ the old woman said.  She dismissed an inappropriately gaudy birthday card.

Breeda’s impatience grew.  She wanted to have a shower before she went out. All the hours working in the stuffy shop, under the train arches, had made her feel unclean.  She was planning on sending back the new dress she had ordered from the catalogue.  However, first she would wear it on an evening out with her friends.  Breeda loudly sighed, perhaps the old granny would take the hint?

The elderly woman wore an orange jumper coupled with an old styled orange dress with apple motifs.  Her fashion sense had been left behind in the 1960s.  Her greyed hair was tied up in a bun at the back of her head, and she looked the epitome of a caring grandparent.  Her kind face carried the hint of a smile as she picked up another card.  This one was a birthday card to celebrate a ninetieth birthday.

She scrutinised the card, taking her time to absorb the front cover before she fumbled the card open. Moving the card backwards and forwards, to compensate for her underpowered glasses, she read the words. A grimace ran across her face as she put the card back on the shelf, ‘That won’t do.’

Breeda watched as the old lady shuffled across to a display covered in inappropriately suggestive cards. The old lady gazed at two cards without picking them up.  She took her time studying them, enough to work out the intricate details. The elderly woman cackled.  It sounded evil and knowledgeable and Breeda realised the old woman must have seen a lot during her life.

Still, she was annoyed and wanted to close the shop for the evening.  At this rate, she would be older than the lady by the time she escaped. Breeda thought the old granny should just hurry. She looked up, at last, the old lady was heading towards her. But, there was no card in the woman’s hand, she would have to help the old lady find the card she needed. As a sales assistant, she was good at picking the perfect cards for her customers. She would have the lady’s needs sorted out in no time, and then she would close the shop. The sooner she was out of here, the sooner she would meet with her friends.

‘Young girl,’ the old lady said, ‘I seem to be a little lost and confused. This is the card shop, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, you’re in the card shop,’ Breeda’s tone was unintentionally patronising. Yet, she had not realised the old lady was so confused.  Rather than feel sorry for the woman, she feared the elderly lady would now take longer to help, confused as the old dear was.

‘It is only… I couldn’t find…’  The old woman paused and refocused her thoughts.  It looked like she was making an immense mental effort, ‘I’d like a card for a birthday.’

‘Ah yes, we have plenty of birthday cards. They’re just over there, down that aisle.’ Breeda pointed.

‘I looked down there, and the other aisle too, and couldn’t see them,’ the elderly woman said, ‘Please would you be a dear and show me them?’

Breeda tried not to show her growing irritation, but again she failed.  She stepped from behind the counter, her angry paces consuming the scant distance. ‘Here you go, madame,’ she said.  Breeda pointed out the birthday cards, ‘Is it a special birthday, a son, a daughter, a close friend, or a loved one?’

‘Oh, that’s a good question. I’m not sure I can remember,’ the elderly woman said.  She opened her large handbag which might have briefly been stylish fifty years before. ‘I know, I wrote it down on a piece of paper, which I put in my bag here. Let me check.’

Breeda watched with growing impatience as the old lady fumbled with the contents of the bag. How many concealed items could the old woman hide within its depths? The time it was taking her to find the missing piece of paper, suggested there were a lot. Eventually, the woman found what she was looking for, withdrawing the precious paper from her handbag. 

‘Just let me read this,’ she said, holding the paper very close before her spectacled old eyes.

‘Would you like me to read it for you, madam?’ Breeda asked.  She would do anything to hurry the slow woman.

‘It’s Greta, dear.’

‘Greta? Is that who you’re buying the card for?’ Breeda asked.

‘No, dear. Greta is my name. Please use it and stop calling me madame.  I don’t like that name. It seems old, stuffy and French,’ her tone was not nasty, just matter-of-fact.

‘Okay Greta, would you like me to read the note for you,’ Breeda offered again.

‘No, no, no. I remember who it was for, now. It was my nephew, What’s-His-Name?’

‘What’s his name?’ Breeda asked, ‘Who is what’s his name?’

‘That is his name, it is. What’s-His-Name.  We have strange names in my family.  My name is one of the most normal. Now, he will be one hundred and twenty next month. Do you have any one hundred and twenty year old birthday cards?’

‘What? A hundred and twenty? And you said he is your nephew?  You’re having a laugh.  How old does that make you?’ Breeda asked, shocked as she hurriedly did the maths.  She did not realise she had just asked the woman her age. Obviously, it was possible to have an older nephew or niece, but one one-hundred and twenty years old. It was incredible, Breeda was uncertain people could even survive to such an advanced age.

‘Oh yes, he’s much younger than me,’ Greta replied.

‘He’s much younger than you?’ Breeda now knew the woman was not lucid. She had lost her grip on reality. Maybe she had escaped from a supervising relative, who would be desperately searching for her right now. 

The shop assistant looked out of the window and did not see anyone outside the shop desperately seeking a missing elderly relative. This Greta needed to be in the funny-farm, or at least a home for the old and senile.  Breeda paused for a moment, undecided what to do next.  Perhaps she needed to call the police.  This wasn’t an emergency, but she was sure the police would deal with missing relatives, especially senile old people.

‘You seem as if you do not believe me,’ Greta said.

‘I don’t believe you,’ Breeda challenged, ‘there’s no way you can be that old. If you are older, and he is one hundred and twenty, well, how old could you be? You don’t seem anywhere near that old.’

‘My dear, you are so kind. I put an immense amount of effort into making myself look so young.’

‘But you can’t be that old,’ Breeda insisted. However, she was intrigued by the self-belief the old woman possessed.  Breeda’s disbelief was fading against the possibilities. The woman’s stories might sound as if she was as mad as a box of frogs, but she only appeared old, not ancient.

‘Of course, I can, my dear,’ Greta said, ‘What you see before you is not my true self. I keep myself looking far younger than I actually am.’

‘How do you keep yourself young?’ Breeda hoped she might learn something. The old woman might not be telling the truth, stretching it somewhat.  Or maybe she was simply convinced she was older than she actually was.  But in Breeda’s estimation, passing up beauty tips was not wise. For one day, Breeda knew she would need to make herself look much younger to fit the demands of society.

‘Well, there are several ways to stay young, but we need not discuss them now. Ah, this card,’ Greta changed the subject and pick out a floral card from the display unit.

‘But, I thought you said the card was for your nephew. Isn’t that card a little too flowery for male tastes?’  The tips could wait, sanity was possibly reasserting itself.

‘Ah, but he likes flowers, and when you’ve been around long enough, you get stuck with certain fashions. This fashion is where he got stuck. You can see where I got stuck,’ Greta waved an arm down herself to show the once fashionable clothes she was wearing.

‘Hang on, so if you’re older than your nephew, can you remember Queen Victoria?’ Breeda asked.  She half hoped to catch out the old woman and equally wished the story was true. At the back of Breeda’s mind, an idea formed. Maybe this old woman would share the elixir of life with her, allowing her to live far past her naturally allotted lifespan. Of course, any gains would be based on the assumption the older woman was telling the truth and was not senile.

‘Queen Victoria? Oh, yes, I remember her. But, I never met The Good Old Lady, even with the good age she reached. Now this card…’ Greta picked up a less relevant card, inspected it and returned it to the shelf, ‘Drat, a condolence card.’

‘So, can’t you tell me anything from Queen Victoria’s reign?’ Breeda pushed, her hopes dimming again.  The woman was not sane.

‘Well, there are many stories. Such as the time I spied on Dickens when he was walking the streets of Whitechapel.  He was such a busybody that man, and very lucky he did not meet a sticky end.  He would have if I’d not been around, always one step away from trouble, he was.  

‘Then there was The Lady of the Lamp. She was a complete pain in the neck.  Her heart was in the right place, but she was such an insufferable bossy-boots.  Then, there was also that time I travelled the Khyber pass.  Now that was an unusual experience, as was the Golden Square cholera outbreak of ’54. Oh, so many memories, so many memories.’

‘So, you really were there?’ Breeda asked, sudden awe and belief flowing through her. She was being drawn into the old woman’s stories and losing track of time.  As Greta spoke, there had been an almost intangible element of lived experience permeating the air, something magical.  Breeda could not put her finger on it, but it was almost as if the sounds, tastes and sights were present around her.

‘When What’s-His-Name was young, well, some places weren’t very safe. Some places in East London were the worst. When What’s-His-Name was young, well, he made some silly mistakes.’

‘But you don’t look old enough.  How is that?  I’m not saying I don’t believe you. I think I do.’ Breeda said.

‘Well, you can believe me. I am that old,’ Greta replied, ‘Could you not feel my stories, smell them, taste them even?  You can tell they’re true from that bit of magic.’

‘But how do you stay so young and healthy-looking? Is that magic too?’ Breeda asked.  There was something unusual about this older lady, hidden just beneath the surface. She was almost ready to burst with excitement at finding out the older woman’s secret. Imagine if she could live so long herself.

‘Well,’ Greta turned to face Breeda, peering over the tops of her spectacles at the taller and younger women, ‘there is a secret behind that. Isn’t it time you close the shop, dear? Once you’ve locked up, I’ll tell you all about it.’

Breeda flew across the scant distance to the doors, eagerly locking them.  She fumbled with the key in her excitement. The secret of a long life?  She had never thought this could happen.  To know such a fantastic secret?  It would not matter if you had all those extra years of ageing if you could disguise them so well.

‘You just need to come closer, dear.  I prefer little children, but you’re not too old, so you will do.’

Breeda did as she was asked.  The lights flickered before going off. Breeda did not even scream in surprise, she was so mesmerised by the old lady. 

Anyone passing by outside would not have noticed what was going on in the dark shop.  A passer-by may have seen the lighting switching off, but that was not unusual for a shop at this time of the evening. They also would not have seen the old woman, or the sudden change to her form.  Not the unfolding of wings; the growing claws; the straightening of posture and increase in height. Nor would they have seen the rapid and decisive movement as the predatory form seized the shop assistant.  Last of all, passers-by would not have heard the tearing and slapping noises caused by the older woman consuming her prey.  The ancient woman chuckled. All this fuss would ensure her life continued for many more years.

Greta let herself out of the shop, locking the door behind her.  Her physical form had already returned to her usual disguise.  Now appearing middle-aged, rather than old, she dropped the keys down a nearby drain. Tying up loose ends was what it was all about. In this modern world of CCTV cameras, a supernatural being had to take care of the signs and traces you left behind.  She knew she did not need to worry too much about such electronic devices. They would not pick up her image, but they could pick up her actions.  You had to be careful. What’s-His-Name had not always been meticulous in his actions. He had learned, with time, but he had made such an awful mess in Whitechapel, years ago.

May Review 2020

I’m writing this May Review at the start of June. In the UK, we’re sending in the tiny kids first, and their staff, to see if it’s safe for the rest of us.  Yes, I’m a teacher, and so are others in my family.  The Government has regularly played upon the myth of the Blitz spirit, when I think the myths of trench warfare may be more appropriate.  We’ve still got very high infection rates and death rates, alongside one of the highest death rates in the world (which now exceed the number of deaths caused in the Blitz). I’m very much hoping to be proved wrong, but I’ve studied the history of medicine in too much detail to be comfortable with ending the lockdown in the UK because other countries (with lower infection and death rates) are reopening.  Nor do I find any reassurance in global perceptions of British political competence at the moment.

Even while I’m still teaching from home, not commuting and other efficiencies, mean I’ve been able to get on with more writing (and gardening) than is usually the case. I’ve even lost a bit of weight with all the extra exercise opportunities.

May Review – Word Counts

May was much better than April for word counts.  I’ve got back into the full swing of writing and punched out 11,459 words in May.  This total gives an average of 370 words per day, just below my intended monthly target when I planned the year out.  Having missed several monthly writing targets this year, I’m now aiming to write just short of 15,000 words in June.

Editing has been continuing. I’m finding my improved computer-aided checks time consuming, so it’s not going as quickly as I wanted.  I had wished to have ‘Dead Handler’ ready for proof-reading, but I’ve still got the last chapter to edit.  The process is more effective at spotting mistakes, so the extra delay should be worth it.

May Review – writing projects underway

· ‘Dead Handler’, Book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, is now 80% edited.  I had hoped to have this finished by now.  

· ‘Butcher’s Fire’, Book 2 of the Butcher’s Funeral is 2nd in the editing queue.

· The third story in the Butcher’s Funeral series is now 10,500 words into the first draft, and I’m working on the fourth chapter at the moment.  I suspect this book will come in at just over 50,000 words.

· The future historical project has made slow progress, although I’m watching the new series of ‘A House Through Time’ on the BBC, as this show led to the original inspiration for this story project.

June Review – other projects

Marketing is continuing at more sustainable levels.  Sales have also picked up.  They have not yet returned to pre-Coronavirus levels, but they are much higher than at the first weeks of the global lockdown.  I have also spent more time studying techniques for advertising on Amazon.

Publishing schedule

· Summer 2020 – ‘Dead Handler’, book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series.

· Summer 2020 – Butcher’s Funeral new cover and 2nd edition.

· Summer 2020 – ‘The Sands of War’, book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series.  This is the last book in the WWI sequence.

· Autumn 2020 – Butcher’s Funeral book two titled ‘Butcher’s Fire’. 

June plans

· Finish editing and proof-reading ‘Dead Handler’. 

· Release ‘Dead Handler’ to the ARC readers for final checking.

· Continue writing the first draft of Butcher’s third book.

· Continue to research the new historical series I’m working on.

· Continue to learn about publishing and writing.

· Upload a brief story to the blog.

April Review 2020

As the global experience has progressed, things are still rather unreal. It makes for rather interesting contemplation while writing this April Review.  In the UK we are lagging behind other countries in our response to the virus. Although the media would have us believe we are eager to be out of lockdown we trail many other countries in response and data.  As an historian, it will be interesting, and sobering, picking this crisis apart in the future.  Whether that be the actions of the political actors, the influence of the media, or the work of those people in the frontline, let alone the individual stories of those lost.

For my writing experience, my focus has been all over the place.  I have worked hard for several days, while slacking off on an equal number.  I am also balancing the home-working needs of my principal job, but these are not challenging at the moment.  As an introvert, I am not finding the isolation much of a challenge; it is even refreshing.  I am not wandering around the house craving interaction with others.  Often I am looking for things to do, but there are so many things I can engage with, it is the paralysis of too many interesting things to do.  I am not raring to go back into the workplace, because working with lots of people is always the bigger challenge for me.  I pull it off very well, but to be that social always has a cost.

April Review – Word Counts

April was marginally better than March for word counts.  Unlike March, I was nowhere near as distracted by the 24-hour media cycle, but it is still a time-sink.  However, the word count has stayed low as I have spent greater time on editing.

During April the total of new words into writing was 5,345.  A daily average of 178 words.  This compared to April’s 4,837, with a daily average of 156, is an improvement.  Yes, I am aiming to write 12,000 new words each month, but I’ll pick up the slack later in the year.  

The good news is editing has been proceeding at a far higher pace.  The proof-reading of Tigers on the Western Front was completed.  In early April I uploaded the new edition for sale.  I have also invested some time working on grammar and setting up better computer-aided checks.  I have applied this fresh approach to the editing process for ‘Dead Handler’, which is half-way through editing.  The new approach is thorough and picking up many more issues before proof-reading. Hopefully, it will provide a far better final product.

April Review – writing projects underway

· ‘Dead Handler’, Book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series is 50% edited.  It is a slower process than originally intended, especially as I have expanded the detail and depth of the checks. Fortunately, I have also increased the time spent checking.  I would be very surprised if I did not have the editing and proof-reading completed by the end of May.  After that, it will be off to the ARC readers.

· Tigers on the Western Front – released in 2nd ebook format following the completion of  proof-reading.

· ‘Butcher’s Fire’, Book 2 of the Butcher’s Funeral has moved up to 2nd in the editing queue.

· Book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series now has a name.  It will be called ‘The Sands of War’.  The artist cover brief has been submitted, and the book is now at the top of the editing queue.

· I have started a fresh story in the Butcher’s Funeral series.  This will be the third book.  The book outline is now in place.  It’s not thorough, but I know where I’m going with it.  I’m not much of a pantser with writing, more a plotter.  I completed the first draft of the first chapter three days ago and am quite pleased with it.  There is plenty of action, and a couple of clear hooks.

· I have made little progress on the future historical fiction project.  I am slowly completing background reading, which will help support the character and plot development.  I am hoping to plan out some locational research over the next few weeks.

April Review – other projects

I took part in a marketing challenge in April.  This took more effort but has had the benefit of cutting my AMS marketing costs.  Marketing is improving again as purchasing and reading patterns move closer to normality.  There is still some way to go until the patterns return to normal in the genre I am publishing in.

Publishing schedule

· April 2020 2nd ebook edition of Tigers on the Western Front, with the old cover, was released.

· Before the summer 2020 – ‘Dead Handler’, book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series.

· Summer 2020 – Butcher’s Funeral new cover and 2nd edition.

· Summer 2020 – ‘The Sands of War’, book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series.  This is the last book in the WWI sequence.

· Autumn 2020 – Butcher’s Funeral book two titled ‘Butcher’s Fire’. 

May plans

· Finish editing and proof-reading ‘Dead Handler’. 

· Release ‘Dead Handler’ to the ARC readers for final checking.

· Continue writing the first draft of Butcher’s third book.

· Continue focus on editing as I have two books queued.

· Continue to research the new historical series I’m working on.

· Continue to learn about publishing and writing.

· Write a brief for another book cover.

February Review 2020

The last month has been tough, hence the February Review is not as positive as usual. I have struggled to achieve the volume of writing I would like, mainly as I have been distracted from new work. The main distraction was my blog getting hacked in the middle of the month with even the online backups getting wiped. This problem has been fixed. While I have recovered all of my original content, I have not yet restored it all. I also lost the social media content. As a result, I’ve not been as focused on new words as intended, nor have I got enough editing done. 

On the positive side, the process of reviewing February reminds me I had an important success at the start of the month. I now have new artwork for the first Royal Zombie Corps book, Blood, Mud and Corpses. Stuart Bache and his excellent team made this cover. He is currently working on the paperback version so I can finally bring the book out in paperback. The e-book cover is now available on new purchases via Amazon and is much better looking. Stuart also delivered the e-book cover for the next Royal Zombie Corps book to be released, Dead Handler.

It was also interesting to visit the Vaudeville Theatre, a location I used in Outbreak London. Although I’ve visited quite a few London theatres, I do not recall having been in this one before, despite passing it many times in the street. The building received an extensive redesign in the 1920s, so much of my original setting was no longer present. However, the show, Magic Goes Wrong, was excellent.

February Review - A visit to the Vaudeville Theatre
The Vaudeville Theatre in London. Much changed since 1918, and without zombies in real life.
February Review - Adelphi Theatre in 2020
The Adelphi Theatre in London. A setting for zombie chaos in Outbreak London, set in 1918.

February Review – word counts

Averaging 309 words a day in February, I still exceeded my target levels for last year but fell short of my targets for this year. This month brought in a total of 8,952 words when I was targeting just short of 12,000. The main reason for the shortfall was the extra work on the blog. However, I also wrote less as I finished the first draft of book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series and then spent some time tinkering with new ideas. The primary focus of this tinkering has been a 5,000 word short story, which I’m currently finishing.

Unfortunately, there were nine days during which I wrote nothing new. This is more than the eight in January. I also did not make effective use of the one week holiday I had, mainly due to being exhausted from the day job and needing a good break.

I did manage to get some editing done, but this stalled under the increased needs to recover the material from the blog.

February Review – writing projects underway

· ‘Dead Handler’, Book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series still needs editing and proof-reading. I have the cover from the cover artist, and I’m very happy with it.

· The paperback cover for Blood, Mud and Corpses is being worked on.

· Book 2 of the Butcher’s Funeral is still awaiting editing

· Book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, is now complete and I’m sitting on it for a while to get some distance between the first draft and the next trawl through it.

·      Tigers on the Western Front – work on the final proof-reading has crept on. I had intended to get this finished in February, but the blog got in the way.

· A new short story, along with another unpublished short story, is being written. There are already over 5,000 words in the first draft, which was the total I was aiming for. More on this at another time, but there are no zombies. Instead, there is a genie.

February Review – other projects

I sent a message to the Readers’ Club at the start of February announcing the new cover for Blood, Mud and Corpses. Again, I’ve not focused on adding to the Readers’ Club. Instead, my marketing efforts have been focused on AMS and the use of the new cover to the first Royal Zombie Corps book.

Sales were comparable to January, which are much better than has previously been the case.

I have also started research on a new series I’m planning to write. It’s been exciting, and I’m mainly engaged in background reading. There are no zombies, but there are plenty of corpses and some bleak industrial history. Fortunately, I’m well versed in industrial history. Still, I need to fine-tune my knowledge of the location the story will be set in along with improving my understanding of a few more specific details related to the main character.

Publishing schedule

· March/April 2020 – the new paperback for Blood, Mud and Corpses will be released. This hard copy uses the same original artwork as the online version.

· March/April 2020 – ‘Dead Handler’, book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series. The date is provisional as I may want to give the ARC team a little more time to get through this book

· Spring 2020 2nd edition of Tigers on the Western Front, with the old cover for now

· April/May/June 2020 – Butcher’s Funeral book two titled ‘Butcher’s Fire’. 

· May/June 2020 – Butcher’s Funeral new cover and 2nd edition

· May/June 2020 – book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series

Plans for March

· Return to the daily writing average of at least 410 words

· Release the paperback version of Blood, Mud and Corpses

· Continue to research the new series I’m working on

· Write another short story, probably in the same sequence as the one I’ve been working on in February

· Continue to refocus my efforts on the non-creative side of the business, especially editing and proof-reading. With minimal time available, this is one aspect that is holding me back

· Recruit more people to the ARC team

· Continue to learn about publishing and writing 

· Relaunch my AMS marketing campaign as a result of my new book cover

· Manage the major clash in the second half of the month when I will have just under 300 exam papers to mark

January Review 2020

The January review has shown me this month has been my most successful month ever for sales.   I have to credit Mark Dawson and his ideas for this improvement, which has meant I’ve been a lot more focused on marketing. This improved approach is quite exciting as more of my books are getting out in front of a greater number of people.

With the new higher targets or the New Year, I’ve been able to increase the amount I’m writing every day. I ambitiously increased my daily writing goal from 300 to 410 words per day. In total, I’m aiming for 150,000 words this year. In any one train journey, this daily total is all I can manage on the journey into work in the morning. Of course, some mornings, the average is a bit higher, especially when I get stuck into a scene. I only nearly missed my station once in January, looking up at the last minute, to see the sign on the platform outside the window. Most of my writing is done during this time as I rarely have the energy in the evening. This heavy workload is one of the side-effects of being a teacher at this time of year.  Yes, there’s the holidays, but the term time workload more than balances out that advantage. At this time of year, there’s a lot of focus on underperforming pupils, data and reporting.  So, unfortunately, the writing suffers.

So how did I get on with the word counts?

January Review – word counts

I averaged 411 words a day across January with a total of 12,742. There were eight days in the month I failed to write anything. I’m surprised I made the target. Over February I’ll try to write more consistently, as eight days off is quite a few more than I intended. However, to hit such a reasonable total, outside of my holidays, is satisfying.

Editing during January utterly stalled. It’s another thing I need to prioritise as I’ve got some releases queued up and I don’t want them delaying due to this.

January Review – writing projects underway

  • ‘Dead Handler’, Book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series still needs editing and proof-reading. I have the initial cover concepts from the cover artist, and they are good
  • The relaunch of the cover for Blood, Mud and Corpses is imminent. The initial concepts are in, and with a few minor changes, the new cover should be ready very soon. I have also been delighted with the progress of the book since it has taken off permafree. It appears it is being read much more often, even if fewer people are downloading it
  • Book 2 of the Butcher’s Funeral is still awaiting editing
  • Book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, is almost complete. I had hoped to finish it early in January, but have about 1,000 words left to write. The first draft will be in the region of 43,000 words. I’m not quite sure what to call this story, but ‘War’s End’ is an idea I’m playing with
  • Tigers on the Western Front work on the final proof-reading has stalled this month, but it’s still the top one to get done. I’d love to get this finished by the end of February

January Review – other projects

I’ve not messaged the Readers’ Club in January. I’ve been holding off so I can announce the new cover to Blood, Mud and Corpses. I’ve also not engaged in any significant campaign to add to the Readers’ Club in January. I had initially intended to, but this got swept away with all the other non-creative work.

I’ve spent a little of my limited non-creative time on marketing via Amazon. This marketing has been quite effective and is something I want to move forward with over the next few weeks. The effort has had a noticeable impact on my sales figures, and I nearly achieved my aspirational monthly sales level, for 2020, in the first month.

Due to the success of the new covers, Stuart Bache has been making for me, I’ve booked another few slots. I will probably use one of them for a new cover for an older book and then two more for new books.

Publishing schedule

  • February 2020 – the new cover for Blood, Mud and Corpses will be released. I’ll also be releasing a paperback version of this book for the first time
  • March 2020 – ‘Dead Handler’, book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series. The date is provisional as I may want to give the ARC team a little more time to get through this book
  • Spring 2020 2nd edition of Tigers on the Western Front, with the old cover for now
  • March/April/May 2020 – Butcher’s Funeral book two titled ‘Butcher’s Fire’. Again, I may roll this date back as I start working with the ARC team
  • May/June 2020 – Butcher’s Funeral new cover and 2nd edition
  • May/June 2020 – book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, also rolled back to ensure the ARC team get a good look

Plans for February

  • Continue to maintain the daily writing average of at least 410 words
  • Release the new cover for Blood, Mud and Corpses 
  • Develop research for the new series I’m hoping to write
  • Write a couple of short stories to refresh me before moving on to a third Butcher’s Funeral book
  • Try to spend more time on the non-creative side of the business, especially editing and proof-reading
  • Set up an ARC team
  • Continue to learn about publishing and writing, specifically working through one of the Mark Dawson SPF courses
  • Continue to develop the AMS marketing campaign

2019 Review

So the year has ended. What does the 2019 review look like? How did my writing progress over twelve months? It was great to get a new book out, the first for several years. I also stepped up a gear in terms of words written, and I’ve now got several other new books nearly ready to go.

2019 Review – word counts

December was slower than planned due to several hundred exam papers which needed marking for the day job. These demands, unfortunately, ate into the time I would usually spend writing.

Consequently, December only reached 5,731 new words, less than the 9,000 I was aiming for. However, across the course of the whole year, the picture is much better. I exceeded my annual goal of 110,000 words in September. The entire year total was 128,500 words, a daily average of 351. Compared to 2018, this was a vast improvement. During the whole of the preceding year, I only wrote 36,678 words. 2019 was also the first year I exceeded 100,000 annual words.

Possibly the most critical factor during the year has been my use of public transport to get to work. This quiet time allows me a good 30 minutes every day to focus on writing before other demands step in. While it is not ideal to be writing on a train early every morning, it is satisfying to start the working day knowing I’ve achieved my primary writing goal at the start. Unfortunately, the return trip after ten-twelve hours of work is less conducive to writing, especially when there are no seats.

Another critical factor in 2019 was the improved use of my holidays to get some writing done. These extra days have not been consistently used every holiday, and as a teacher, I earn a few additional weeks. Still, the summer made a noticeable difference to the totals achieved, and August saw an average daily word count of just under 900 words. The holiday factor goes some way towards not being able to get much new writing done at weekends as teaching requires me to spend several hours every weekend in preparation and marking.

2019 Review – releases

November 2019 saw the release of Outbreak London, book 5 of the  Royal Zombie Corps series. This was the first book I’ve released in several years. At 40,000 words, it was longer than the earlier books in the series and has also had a far better initial edit. It also boasted an excellent cover by Stuart Bache. With a significant marketing effort, it’s also been my most successful launch to date.

The short story ‘On discovering a zombie’ was also made available to the Readers’ Club and is downloadable only by signing up via the homepage of this blog. It’s a short story set around one of the side characters in the Royal Zombie Corps series.

2019 Review – writing projects underway

  • ‘Dead Handler’, Book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, was on hold during December due to work commitments. It’s ready for editing and proof-reading but has been on hold while I’ve been prioritising workload
  • The new cover of Blood, Mud and Corpses is likely to be launched in January or February. I decided to get this done urgently as the old cover is poor. Advancing this cover up the schedule does mean a delay in publishing new work
  • Book 2 of the Butcher’s Funeral series is still on hold while I finish other things. It’s ready for the whole editing process
  • Book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series is on schedule for the completion of the first draft in January 2020. Thirty-one thousand words were written, and the aim is to have around 40,000 by the end of the first draft. This book is where the majority of my writing efforts have been during December, part of my habit of writing every day I possibly can
  • Tigers on the Western Front is currently being re-edited and is ready for a final proof-reading. The 2nd edition will then be launched, and the book will be recovered later

2019 Review – other projects

  • A significant effort was made to build up the Readers’ Club, primarily using Facebook during the last quarter of the year. This work was successful and helped launch Outbreak London
  • I’ve started to use Amazon Marketing Services for adverts on Amazon. It’s early days, and I still need to work quite a bit on getting this right
  • During 2019, I’ve spent quite a lot of time working through various Self Publishing Formula courses to help me market my books
  • Blood, Mud and Corpses has also been removed from permafree, resulting in a few more sales overall

2020 Publishing schedule

Entering 2020 with three books almost ready to go is a good feeling. I had wanted to get them out earlier, but have held back through a combination of taking more time over editing and spacing out cover work.

  • January 2020 – new cover for Blood, Mud and Corpses 
  • February/March 2020 – ‘Dead Handler’, book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series. Dropped back again as I get a better idea of the timescales involved in the final pieces of work
  • March/April 2020 – Butcher’s Funeral book two, probably going to be titled ‘Butcher’s Fire.’
  • March/April 2020 – book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series will be the final book of the Great War era
  • Releases later in the year to be confirmed, but hopefully, another two will happen, bringing the total books published in 2020 to five

Plans for 2020

  • I’m increasing my daily writing average target to at least 400 words a day. I’ve been pleased with the productivity over 2019, but it has been patchy with several excellent months making up for a handful of weaker months. The new target will be for 150,000 words over the year, requiring a daily quota of 410. If successful, this will exceed 2019 as my best year for writing new words
  • Complete first drafts of at least three books, to publish two during 2020. These are likely to include a third ‘Butchers’ book and a new crime series to be set in the 18th century
  • Release the three books which are almost ready to go
  • Continue the re-covering process for all my older books
  • Develop learning about publishing and writing, specifically working through one of the Mark Dawson SPF courses
  • Continue to develop the AMS marketing campaign
  • Extend the work on building the Readers’ Club via Facebook

November Review 2019

After a busy month, it’s time for the November Review.

November was dominated by the release of Outbreak London, with the book going live on Amazon one day earlier than expected, just scraping in at the end of the month.  I’m really excited about Outbreak London, as it’s the first new book for several years, it’s got a great new cover by an excellent artist, and it’s twice the length of the other Royal Zombie Corps books.

November Review – word counts

After the slow writing of October, I really needed to up the pace during November.  This was successfully achieved with 10,248 new words added to various projects, an average of 342 words a day.  This is slightly better than my plan of 300 words a day at the start of the year.  My total word count for this year now exceeds 120,000.

As October was heavily dominated by editing, I kept track of the numbers of words I edited over November.  Each piece of work gets multiple edits, some faster than others, but I was surprised the totals added up to just over 32,000 words.

November Review – works in progress

  • ‘On discovering a zombie’, a short story set in the Royal Zombie Corps series, was finally delivered to the mailing list and can be downloaded only by signing up on the homepage of this blog
  • Outbreak London‘, book 5 of the  Royal Zombie Corps series, is now published on Amazon
  • ‘Dead Handler’, Book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, is still awaiting my attention. It needs completion of the editing and proof-reading.  I am going to hold on this book a little as I want to relaunch the cover of Blood, Mud and Corpses
  • Book 2 of the Butcher’s Funeral series is on hold while I finish other things
  • Book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, is still the current writing project.  I’m planning to finish the first draft in early January
  • Tigers on the Western Front is currently being re-edited and is now on the second sweep through.

November Review – other projects

I’m reaching the end of a major campaign to add to the Readers’ Club, which has been running on Facebook.  I’ll begin another campaign at the start of next year.

As part of the launch of Outbreak London, I’ve also begun my first Amazon marketing campaign.

The short story, On Discovering A Zombie, has been released to the Readers’ Club.  This free story cannot be purchased and is only downloadable to subscribers.

Publishing schedule

Outbreak London launched slightly early, at the very end of November.  This was due to Amazon checks taking less time than expected.

  • December 2019/January 2020 – I’m squeezing in a new cover for Blood, Mud and Corpses as the old cover needs replacing as I’m promoting the series.  This was the first book in the Royal Zombie Corps series and things have moved along greatly since then
  • January 2020 – ‘Dead Handler’, book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series.  I’ve dropped this title back as I’m wanting to relaunch Blood, Mud and Corpses first with a new cover
  • February 2020 – Butcher’s Funeral book two, probably going to be titled ‘Butcher’s Fire’.  This has been dropped back
  • March 2020 – book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series.  This has been dropped back

Plans for December

  • Continue to maintain the daily writing average of at least 300 words.
  • Begin the cover process for the replacement cover for Blood, Mud and Corpses
  • Continue to learn about publishing and writing, specifically working through one of the Mark Dawson SPF courses
  • Continue to develop the AMS marketing campaign

Outbreak London: released

Get Outbreak London, released on Amazon now.

1918, London.  The unthinkable has happened, zombies are loose in the city.

Away from the trenches and assigned to a training unit, can the leading British zombie expert prevail against the zombie outbreak?  Already questioning his abilities, will Alfie Marsh be able to survive his leave in London?

Outbreak London is the fifth book in the Royal Zombie Corps series is a unique addition to the zombie and alternative history genres. 

If you like action, history and zombies, you won’t be able to put down C. M. Harald’s Outbreak London.

Outbreak London: Release Date & Cover

Outbreak London: Release date

I’m delighted to announce the release date for the upcoming Outbreak London, book 5 in the Royal Zombie Corps series.  On Sunday 1st December, the book will launch on Amazon.

London, early 1918.  Zombies have arrived.  Will London survive?  Can Alfie Marsh restore order or will Britain be knocked out of the war?

This will be the first book in the Royal Zombie Corps series to be published since 2017.  The book is also the first to feature the cover art of the amazing Stuart Bache, who has created many excellent covers for writers including Stephen King, Mark Dawson and John le Carré.  

At over 40,000 words long, this new story is longer than the first four books in the series.  It continues the themes of zombies during World War One, but for the first time, the zombies are well away from the front lines.

October Review 2019

Already it is time for the October Review.  The month was a much quieter month than usual. The day job continued to consume, but there was light at the end of the tunnel with a week off, much of it spent on Menorca. The Mediterranean heat was very welcome, just as the UK was getting colder. I’m certainly feeling the cold on the way into work at the moment. As usual, the morning commute has been the focus of my writing efforts, with the return journey in the afternoon also contributing, when I can get a seat.

October Review – word counts

It was not my intention to focus almost exclusively on editing at the start of October. Still, I needed to redistribute my time so that I could complete the edit of Outbreak London. This took much longer than anticipated, and as a result, my new writing dropped right off. There were quite a few days when I wrote no words, breaking what has become a daily habit for me. I, therefore, managed only 2,448 new words, my slowest month this year. However, this was still better than the 1,300 of the previous October. The good news is I’m already back on track and will comfortably beat this level of output in November.

October Review – works in progress

  • ‘On discovering a zombie’, a short story set in the Royal Zombie Corps series, is now being edited. I’m about halfway through this task and expect to have it finished in another week. The mailing list has been set up ready to deliver this short via BookFunnel. I still need to source an appropriate cover for this short
  • ‘Outbreak London’, book 5 of the  Royal Zombie Corps series, has now been wholly proof-read. This took a sizeable chunk of time in October. The initial concepts for the cover have been delivered, and I’m delighted with them. The new cover will be vastly better than the covers of the rest of the series, and I will have to get them recovered at some point. Only the covers and the Amazon page need to be finished. A short pre-release marketing effort also awaits, with the possibility of a discount for mailing list subscribers before the launch
  • ‘Dead Handler’, Book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, is awaiting my attention. It needs editing and proof-reading. I expect to get to this during November
  • Book 2 of the Butcher’s Funeral series is also pending an edit and proof-read
  • Book 7 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, is the current writing project. Having completed next to nothing on this during October, I’m working on it again

October Review – other projects

The mailing list has been extensively updated, and I’m currently engaged in a campaign to add subscribers in advance of the release of ‘Outbreak London’.
I have also been working through one of the Mark Dawson courses, making sure I cover all the essential bases when publishing.

Publishing schedule

This remains unchanged, but I am concerned ‘Outbreak London’ may slip to early December.  Should this happen, there will be a knock-on effect with the other books.

Plans for November

  • I aim to get my new writing daily average back up to something reasonable. In October it was 79 words a day. I want at least 300 in November (as I complete this blog, the average is standing at 297 so far in November)
  • Finally, proof-read the short story which has been sitting waiting for a very long time. This will be going on my blog and is entirely different from anything I have previously written
  • Release the new Royal Zombie Corps short story to the mailing list
  • Finalise the cover of ‘Outbreak London’ and set up the release process
  • Begin the cover process for ‘Dead Handler’
  • Continue to learn about publishing and writing, specifically working through one of the Mark Dawson SPF courses