The End of a Long Journey (2020 edit)

I’ve been wanting to write some flash fiction for a long time.  Several years ago, I stumbled across the weekly flash fiction challenges Chuck Wendig publishes on his blog.  I’ve attempted a couple, but I have never completed one until now.  Below is my story ‘The End Of A Long Journey’.  The brief was straight forward: 1,500 words on the end of a long journey.  The hardest part was to show a beginning, middle and end.  I think I just about achieved this, although it’s perhaps too brief an episode.

At first, I planned to write a sci-fi story, and there was an idea I played with for a few hours.  However, I had a certain place of pilgrimage stuck in my mind, as shown in the photo.  This story comes in at just over 1500 words.

2020 update – I have improved the editing on this short story.

The End Of A Long Journey

The pilgrim fell to his knees, landing clumsily on the first step.  His pain was brief and nothing like the aches and pains which hounded him in his old age.  Before him, the remaining seven stone steps rose towards the shrine, a last challenge at the end of his long journey.  This was a trial he would savour, the ultimate act of his penitence.  

He took a deep breath, his staff in his right hand, the left clasping a rosary.  He lifted himself to the second stone step.  As he moved, he noticed the kneeling and standing pilgrims, such as he, had worn away each stone.

This journey started years before.  Leaving his homeland, he searched for glory, fighting in the great crusade against the Ottomans, the Crusade of Nicopolis.  The crusade had failed, and in the chaos of the decisive battle, he was one of the few who slipped away.  First, he travelled to the Holy city of Jerusalem, determined to visit the places his patron saint planned to visit.  

The Holy City had been hot and dusty, the memory of it sustaining him on his long return journey across Europe.  He was surprised by the hospitality of the Saracens, as a pilgrim he lived off the charity of others.  The followers of Muhammad were generous, sometimes more than Christians.  One young man took time to explain to him the practice of zakāt.  People gave willingly and shared the gifts among the poor, the needy and travellers.  The practice struck him as far more practical than the tithing practiced in the western Christian world.  There were many things which impressed him about the Saracens.

He visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, overwhelmed by visiting a place where the Lord had set foot.  The services in Latin were familiar and comforting, despite his being in a foreign land.  While he considered visiting other places in the Holy Land, he saw his true calling was to visit the holy places his patron saint had been intending to visit. Jerusalem was the last destination the saint had intended to visit.  The pilgrim would visit the other holy sites on his return journey.  It would be a long and hard trip, but would bring him home to the location the saint lay in rest.

The third step was a challenge.  An ache spread up his back, following the line of an old wound.  He lifted his right leg, grimacing as the ache became a sharper pain.  Yet, he lowered his knee to the worn stone.  Moving the left leg was much easier.  He paused, allowing the worst of the pain to pass, ignoring the other pilgrims making their own journeys up the steps.

His mind went back to his youth.  His parents and siblings died, coughing and in fever, black swellings erupting on their bodies.  He remembered his mother dead in the corner of a room.  It was a terrifying time, with many people claiming the pestilence was punishment from God.  Others blamed strangers.  He had even taken part in a revenge attack against some people accused of bringing the pestilence into the town.  For all he knew, they were innocent.

Yet, those dark days had not taken him, cheating death soon became something of a habit.  For several years following the death of his family, he lived on his wits, sometimes alone, sometimes not.  He accepted charitable handouts from a monastery, at other times stealing from those better off than him, sometimes poaching.  His skills at the latter drew notice from the lord of the manor.  Caught for poaching, he should have been punished, maybe executed.  Instead, he received admiration for his use of a stolen bow.  This esteem led to his eventual adoption by the childless nobleman who had seen some reflection of himself in the resilient youth.

He did not notice the fourth step, lost as he was during his recollections.  Grinning at the memory of the bow as he crawled onto the fifth step.  The bow always seemed so powerful.  He was enormously proud of the weapon when he stole it.  

Halfway to his eventual goal, buoyed on by the memory, his long journey almost at an end.

Ah yes, he thought.  The journey to Canterbury was drawn-out and hard.  Jerusalem had been the last place his patron saint planned to visit, Canterbury was the second.  He knew the immense distance between the two cities.  For most of his journey to Jerusalem, at least the part leading to Nicopolis, he was in the brave company of fellow warriors.  The journey from Jerusalem to Canterbury was immense and lonely, seldom dangerous.  Yet, every step was a step of contrition.  As he travelled the leagues, he felt the torment of his sins increasing upon his soul. To visit the shrine of Saint Thomas of Canterbury was worth the journey.  In the shrine’s elegance, surrounded by the immensity of the huge cathedral, he felt peace for the first time.  Yet, at the shrine, Saint Thomas saw fit to intercede with a peace beyond describing. 

The feet of uncounted pilgrims had heavily worn the sixth step; the sixth step before the shrine of St William of Perth.  What a man, what an example.  As the pilgrim’s patron saint, and the patron saint of adopted children, St William was a shining example of Christianity.  This was why he was making his pilgrimage, to seek the intercession of St William.  For the saint had once adopted a child, training him into his own bakery trade.  St William was wise and generous, giving a tenth of the bread he baked to the poor.  

As a knight, well, the adopted son of a knight, the pilgrim found it hard to emulate the saint in this respect, but he tried.  There were many times when he gave alms, often more than was required.  He always paid his tithe to the Church, although sometimes he noticed he was less than honest about the amount due.  By attending Mass every day, inspired by the piety of St William, he knew in his heart his intentions were almost always good.  Sometimes he failed.  He knew this penitence would address this.

The seventh step.  His knees throbbed with pain.  He had lost track of how long he had been climbing the steps.  It might have been hours.  Many other pilgrims overtook him.  He tightly grasped his clamshell pilgrim badge, the symbol of St William.  The last step would not defeat him, the once proud knight.

He mounted the last step of his monumental challenge, and thought of the great parallel between the saint and himself.  This was the true reason for his pilgrimage.  St William was on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, via Canterbury and Rochester, when his adopted son, Cockermay Doucri, attacked him.  The young man struck William’s head, before the traitorous charge cut the saint’s throat.  Likewise, the pilgrim had failed his adoptive father, neglecting to protect him in the great battle at Nicopolis.  He had watched as a lance pierced the side of his guardian, seeing the attack coming, yet failing to act, fearful of the consequences to himself.  Later he worried he did not act, certain in the knowledge he would inherit his guardian’s wealth.  Yet, he did not forget his debt to his guardian.  Perhaps he should have interposed himself between the attacker and his guardian; he could have struck the assailant off his horse. He failed to act.  A shouted warning was all he achieved; inadequate over the noise of the massed chargers.  It was as if he, himself, had cut his own father’s throat.

The pilgrim let out a sigh, one hand leaning against the archway, the other placed against his ever-present staff. He raised himself atop the pilgrims’ stairs, taking in the Norman architecture of the Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary.  One last act remained at the end of his long journey.  He would light a candle and pray for the intercession of Saint William.  For he was penitential, he knew his sins, the whole pilgrimage an act of contrition.  He knew Saint William would intercede if there were sincere repentance.  For had Saint William not already interceded in a far more miraculous situation, curing the madness of the woman who found the saintly corpse?  Had not this miracle been the one to convince the monks of Rochester of William’s martyrdom and saintly presence in the throne-room of the Lord?

His hands shook as he lit the candle, the end of his long journey.  His eyes closed.

September Review 2020

September Review 2020

The September Review often shows a drop in word count and focus as I return to school after the summer and refocus my energy on my principal job.  This year follows that pattern.  However, with the current situation being different from the normal start of a school year, I’ve been much more tired than usual.  I’ve therefore spent a lot less time on writing than would be the case.

I have had two significant successes this month, with a very successful advertising campaign following up the successful launch of Dead Hander.

September Review – word counts

During September I wrote 4,353 words.  This is lower than originally intended, but as has been the case over the last few months, one reason is the increased focus on editing and proofreading.  I also spent two weeks commuting by car, which knocked out my usual writing slot on the train.  I’m back on the train again, which is incidentally empty, something which happened previously in the lead up to the March lockdown.

September Review – writing projects underway

· There are two first drafts queued in the editing pile.  These are waiting to become the primary editing focus.

· Most of my editing effort, which has been sporadic, has been focused on the ‘Long Journey’ short story I previously had on the website.  I’ve given it a tidy and have just to apply the last edits and give it a final read-through.  I did not get started on the edits for the last book in the Royal Zombie Corps series.

· The 1980s short story, set in the zombie universe, has made some progress this month.  This first draft is still a long way from completion.

· The third story in the Butcher’s Funeral series is part-written, but is still on hold.

September Review – other projects

The launch of Dead Handlers at the end of August has continued to increase interest in my books.  Likewise, a timely advertised one day offer on the first zombie book, Blood, Mud and Corpses, nearly hit a major milestone for me.

Publishing schedule

Having returned full time to school, I am still happy with my revised publishing schedule. I have left it unchanged for now.

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

· Early 2021 – Butcher’s Funeral new cover and 2nd edition.

· Summer 2021 – Butcher’s Funeral book two titled ‘Butcher’s Fire’. 

October Plans

· Extend my writing focus as I become used to the ‘new normal’ of working in a school during an epidemic.  Fingers cross we make it to the half-term holiday without a lockdown affecting schools.

· Complete edits of the short story

· Begin the editing process for ‘The Sands of War’

· Finish the first draft of the 1980s zombie short

· Continue working on marketing efforts

August Review 2020

August Review 2020

As usual, the summer has proved productive, although this was because of the amount of editing and proofreading I undertook, rather than new words.  For this August review, I am pleased to report I have released Dead Handler.

August Review – word counts

In August I only wrote 4,484 new words towards my various projects.  However, I’ve tried to not get hung up on word counts as I’ve been putting a great deal of effort into editing and proofreading. What’s the point of new words if you never get to improve the ones you’ve already got?

August Review – writing projects underway

· ‘Dead Handler’, Book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, launched on Amazon at the end of the month.  This was about three weeks before the official Amazon publication date, but in line with what I intended.

· There are two first drafts queued in the editing pile.  These are waiting to become the primary editing focus.

  • · There are several short stories I’ve queued for editing.  I’ve pulled one which was previously published on the blog for a tidy up.  The story should go back online during September.
  • · I have started a new short story in the zombie universe, set in the 1980s.  I’m planning for this to only be available to mailing list subscribers.

· The third story in the Butcher’s Funeral series is part-written, but is still to one side while I work on other areas.

· I’m continuing to develop ideas for two new future series through background reading and research.

August Review – other projects

Following the wipe of the blog earlier in the year, I’ve finally reinstated all the old posts.  This was a task I’ve been dragging my heels on for quite a while as it has been time consuming.  However, now everything is back – except one short story which I’m editing further. 

With a book launch in August, I also worked on a few marketing approaches. 

Publishing schedule

The new publishing schedule seems achievable, and I’ve been happy with how achievable it should be.  Time and workload will tell, as my main job will probably demand over the next few months.

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

· Early 2021 – Butcher’s Funeral new cover and 2nd edition.

· Summer 2021 – Butcher’s Funeral book two titled ‘Butcher’s Fire’. 

September Plans

· Re-establish my working routine as I return to my full-time job after lockdown

· Complete edits on one story

· Begin the editing process for ‘The Sands of War’

· Add a significant chunk to the 1980s zombie short

· Continue working on marketing efforts

Dead Handler available for pre-order

Dead Handler, book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Dead Handler will be released in the second half of August 2020. It’s a great book, and like Outbreak London, it is a longer book than the first four in the series. The final, 7th book in the series will follow later in 2020.

Amidst the chaos of the Great War, the Germans have a new weapon.

The dead have no sides, the people who command them do. 

With Britain reeling following the zombie outbreak in London, the Central Powers launch their Spring Offensive, a last desperate attack to knock Britain and France out of the war before the vast US army arrives. For the first time, Germany uses zombie soldiers. 

In a desperate attempt to end the new zombie threat, the British despatch their leading zombie expert to duel with the notorious Dead Handler. 

July Review 2020

It’s an excellent time to take stock in this July Review. Last summer I stepped up the pace with my writing, so now a year on it’s a good time to reflect on what has worked and what hasn’t.

In the last twelve months, I’ve managed to publish one book, Outbreak London. I’ve also got one book coming up on Amazon pre-order (more details to follow on this blog later this week). I’ve also two more books ready for editing and am writing a third.

Having gone over two years without publishing, it was good to get things moving again. I was completely over-optimistic and hoped I would be able to publish at least four books over the course of the year. Getting the drafts written, was not the problem. The biggest challenge has been getting the editing to a high standard, especially the frequent redrafting, which is very time-consuming. I’m therefore revising my release plans for the next year to be far more realistic with the time demands. Likewise, I’m adjusting my workflow to better balance the creative versus the editing demands.

A number of other things I put in place a year ago are also having an impact. This blog has been more active than before, although it tends to be based around monthly reviews rather than anything else at the moment. I’ve grown my mailing list, the CM Harald Readers’ Club. If you haven’t signed up for it, you can download an exclusive short story only available to subscribers. I’ve also improved my marketing on Amazon and Facebook. Writing several short stories, I’ve experimented with some new characters and stories I’d like to develop. Finally, I’ve been really pleased to commission some excellent new covers, one of which was for a previously released book.

July Review – word counts

Word counts in July are usually excellent as I’m moving into the summer holidays and therefore have much more time to write. However, this year I’ve used the time to work on Dead Handler to get it ready for publication. As a result, I’ve written far fewer new words. Writing new words is not where the bottleneck currently is, so I’m not worried about holding back on this. Therefore, instead of the 15,000 words I was aiming at in July, I’ve only hit 5,800.

July Review – writing projects underway

· ‘Dead Handler’, Book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, is now available for pre-order. It will shortly be going out to ARC readers, and is undergoing the application of final edits. I’m expecting to release the book towards the end of August

· There are two first drafts queued in the editing pile

· The third story in the Butcher’s Funeral series is part-written, but I’ve put it to one side while I focus on editing drafted work

· I’m continuing to develop ideas for two new future series

July Review – other projects

I’m continuing to work on a number of marketing projects and tided several aspects of this blog. July was my third best-ever month for sales, which is good considering how Coronavirus impacted sales earlier this year. Several other authors in my genre, and related genres, experienced significant drops in sales during the early stages of the outbreak.

Publishing schedule

In light of the areas which have progressed over the last year, and those which have not, I’m massively adjusting my publishing schedule to make it far more realistic. Now I have a year of experience working at this writing pace, I think it is only realistic to aim to publish new works twice a year. I may well exceed this, but this is unlikely based on the current pace.

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

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

· Early 2021 – Butcher’s Funeral new cover and 2nd edition.

· Summer 2021 – Butcher’s Funeral book two titled ‘Butcher’s Fire’. 

August Plans

· Release ‘Dead Handler’. It has a release date in September on Amazon, but it will be released in the second half of August.

· Apply final edits to ‘Dead Handler’, finalise copies for publication.

· Get back to writing the first draft of Butcher’s third book.

· Edit a short story.

· Continue working on marketing efforts.

June Review 2020

With the pubs opening in England, perhaps the country is finally returning to routines, even if the priorities are backwards. It’s a good time to have a June Review as my patterns are also changing. Schools aren’t operating fully on site, so I’m still working a hybrid of some days in school, some days from home. It’s been good to see some pupils, having started working face-to-face with them again in the last few weeks. However, despite not being able to fully attend school, I can go to the bar to buy some beer after work. All is good in the universe.

Pleasingly, I’ve managed to keep at the writing. However, I usually do well in June, writing in the garden in the good weather during the evenings. The last fortnight has been slightly damp, almost as if summer has been cancelled. Hopefully, it’ll pick up soon so I can get back out there.

The picture is one of the lockdown cookery attempts I’ve made. This one is a Wagamama recipe Katsu chicken. Very tasty and one of a few new dishes I’ve tried.

June Review – Word Counts

June was the best month so far this year for word counts. Having fallen behind earlier in the year, I had a target of nearly 15,000 words for June. I cleared this with 15,378. Compared to 11,459 in May, this is quite satisfying, especially as June had eight days at 1k+.

June Review – writing projects underway

· ‘Dead Handler’, Book 6 of the Royal Zombie Corps series, is now 85% edited. This is dragging on quite a bit. I’ve split the last chapter into three as it was far too long. While I’ve increased my pace of editing, I’m still making plodding progress with this.

· ‘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 progressing with a fair degree of rapidity, consuming most of the 15,000 words I wrote in June.

· No progress has been made on the future historical story. I’m also pondering the outlines of a low fantasy series.

June Review – other projects

The short story ‘Let’s Eat Children‘ was posted on the blog in June and has been a hit on Facebook. There were a few requests for more short stories, possibly more stories in this vein. I’ll be looking at tidying up some short stories, including some previously released on the blog, but not currently available.

Sales are continuing to return to pre-Coronavirus levels, with late June close to where things were for me before the lockdown. I’ve continued to work hard on my advertising strategy, trimming out underperforming adverts on Amazon.

Publishing schedule

I’ve delayed several items on the agenda simply as I’m finding the in-depth editing very time-consuming. Until I can figure out how to do it quickly, I’ll have to settle for a lower pace of publication.

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

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

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

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

July plans

· Finish editing and proof-reading ‘Dead Handler’. Really want this checked off the list as it’s been hanging around for ages.

· 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 outlining low fantasy story. Not sure how much of a series this one could be.

· Continue to learn about publishing and writing.

· Edit and upload another short story to the blog.

Let’s eat children – short story


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