Why Would Anyone Settle For Being An Indie-Author?

Why Would Anyone Settle For Being An Indie-Author?

The first question I’m asked when people discover that I’m an Indie- Author is whether I’ve approached or considered approaching agents or publishers.

‘Your books are good, Mark. You should submit to publishers.’

It doesn’t seem to occur to some that being independent is a choice, not a necessity. I never considered the traditional publishing route, although I have had offers from several Independent publishing houses and one large agency over the years which I chose not to accept for a variety of reasons.

I was very lucky to benefit early in my writing career from the advice of several authors who’ve spent some years in the publishing industry. In particular, I had a long chat with Gavin Bain, a friend of mine who has had long-term experience in the music and literary business. We chatted about agents, contracts, advances, small publishers versus large ones and I spent months doing my own research on the business. With a push from Gavin I followed my gut instinct to go Indie. I’ve never regretted this.

So…Self- Publishing or Traditional?

Asked by every writer to spurt ink.

When I started writing my debut novel, I stood firmly in the self-publish camp. As I progressed with the book, I wanted to be thorough, so I researched the industry more and more. Royalties, advances, agents, services performed by the publishing house and or the agent, big or small publisher? Did I want to write for and market to a specific genre? How could I set about building a readership?

There was and is a lot to learn. I did weeks of research, seeking out those agents and publishers (mostly independent) who I thought would like me and my book, and whom I thought I’d like to work with. After ten completed projects, that list remains unused at present.

More and more, as I immersed myself in the snaking and shaded corridors of the literary industry, the same nagging questions came back to me.

Is it worth giving away control of my work for the miniscule chance at the potential exposure a big publisher might bring?

It seemed to me that if these guys deigned to take you, they’d in all probability change your work endlessly, until it fit their formulaic idea of what a commercial novel should be, which is fine for some writers, but not for me. It seemed that most of the promo and marketing would be done by me rather than them anyway, so why should I give them such a huge chunk of my potential earnings (ha!) and, more importantly, complete control over the words that I had spent so many hours writing? What was more important? Potential earnings or creative control?

Advances: For many authors, it seems that an advance, especially a huge one, is the holy-grail. I don’t understand this mentality at all. Sure an advance is a nice pat on the back, and an indication that your book is commercial enough (or at least can be made to be, in the payer’s opinion) to perhaps recoup the investment. It also seems like a good way of allowing the author the privilege and means to write full-time. For me, it’s a scary prospect.

An advance simply means that you’re in debt to the issuer until your sales repay the money. If the sales take years to do so? Well, you’re in hock to them for years, and quite probably on a deadline for at least one more book. No thanks. Add this to the fact that a large portion of publishers give their newly-published books only a very short time to hit serious sales before shifting their enthusiasm and attention elsewhere, it added to my unease.

Agents: Whilst there are of course many good quality agents, who work hard for their clients, let’s remember two key things about them.

Firstly, they do try to get the best deal for their authors, but that may mean something different to them than it does to the author, in terms of cash, advances or the prestige of a particular publishing house over creative control or effective care from the publisher. Your agent represents a business; the more money (debt) they get for you, the more money they themselves make, and that is their primary objective.

Secondly, agents will take around 15% of your money, which is already a very small percentage (somewhere between 7 -15% for traditionally published writers) when considering the fact that you worked so hard on your book and will continue to work your arse off promoting the book, publisher or no publisher (unless of course you’re very high on the publishers’ radar). Whilst the services of agents can be very valuable, if you take the traditional publisher out of the picture, there’s really no place for an agent until you’re selling enough books on your own to gather interest from publishers and have deals to negotiate.

Smaller publishing houses offer a more personal service and are generally more engaged with and passionate about the work they’ve chosen to represent. They are also significantly more pro-active in reacting to the market and in developing their authors than their traditional counterparts. Whilst working with small publishers can be rewarding, particularly if think you haven’t the skills or contacts to produce a decent standard of book for yourself, in my view there’s not always a need to hand your work over to a small publisher, unless they can add value that you cannot on your own. Indie publishers like Bloodhound Books have made great strides in the market and appear to put their authors first.

If you choose to go it alone, given the time and will you can learn do it yourself with the right assistance and a commitment to pay professionals for the services you can’t do for yourself, i.e., editing and proofing.
Many of the industry professionals I hire do the exact same work but at higher rates to small publishers. Good freelancers are easy to come by and needn’t be expensive.

This is where the effective Indie-Author exists. In the centre of a web of professionals; editors, proof-readers, formatters and cover designers (if needed), hired by the author to polish his/her work and free the author up to do what he/she does best…Write.

Cartoon-Business-Man-1214572

Are the potential benefits and rewards of being a writer great enough for me to expect to earn a living from writing?

For me the decision to go Indie was a no-brainer. However, a small part of me, the one that’s low on self-esteem, told me that I needed the recognition from an agent or publisher that my book was “good”.

I ignored that needy version of myself and ploughed on, buoyed by the research I’d done into the standard of eBooks out there. As far as I could see, my first book was as good as many self-published eBooks, and better than most (there’s the tiny little bit of ego/confidence I do possess asserting itself).

In hindsight, my first work was of a good standard but just good. I was judging the quality of my work against other independents, when I should have been planning ahead in my development and thinking bigger in terms of the standard I wanted to reach and surpass.

As a writer, I’ve developed a massive amount and learned many more writing devices and techniques during the process of writing nine more books. This kind of development time, I wouldn’t be allowed with such a public analysis and feedback in traditional publishing. Like the music industry, the days when a publisher will take a punt on a new talent and invest in developing them are long gone for the most part. “Bring us the next copy of a copy of ‘a girl who kicked a hornet in the nuts on a train’.”

As things stand; using several industry professionals who are competitively priced, and more importantly better at editing etc than me, I’ve published my stories across a range of genre, exactly as I intend them to be.

The financial rewards?

Here’s the thing few writers will tell you, mostly because you don’t want to hear it. You will most likely not make money as a writer.

You will devote thousands of hours of your time to writing the very best books you can. Time to develop your skills and broaden your writing palette. Hours and hours to learn what you can about marketing and promoting your book effectively. Building an audience. Writing some more.

None of this will guarantee you readers or an income. If you make more than £500 a month from writing novels, you deserve a pat on the back. I regularly outsell much higher profile authors who are tied to restrictive contracts and huge advances. How the hell they pay their creditors back, I have no idea. Living from one advance to the next doesn’t appeal to me.

The truth is, that for all the professionalism you will have to employ; all of the dedication and sacrifice of your time to write and to present your writing as well as it can be, writing will be nothing more than a very time-consuming hobby that you love. If you build a small readership who enjoy your books and earn enough for a little holiday once a year, give yourself well-deserved handshake. Focus instead on being proud of a back catalogue of books you poured yourself into writing.

So, why ‘settle’ for being an Indie- Author?

That’s the key, you’re not settling, you’re making a determined and smart choice to control your own literary destiny and produce your work the way you desire. No changing characters ages or sex or motivations to appeal to this demographic or that genre. No committees making a product of your labour. No debt to a corporate master which for most writers you haven’t a hope of recouping form advances.

The beauty?

If you’re one of the lucky writers who have a breakthrough hit of a book, your work is entirely in your own hands. You can make that deal when the big boys/girls come calling, but you can make it on your own terms. Use their distribution. Use their contacts to get a TV deal or international translations or Movie deals. Use them. Not the other way round.

As an independent, you can still choose to publish with an indie-publisher, or a larger one if that’s your bag, but have the choice to work with people who truly feel passionate about and can add value to your novel, rather than jumping at the first publisher or agent who shows an interest at all cost.

Do not settle for being an Indie-Author.

Fucking aspire to be an Indie-Author.

Mark is the proudly-independent author of nine works of fiction and one non-fiction

You can find Mark Wilson and his books at Amazon.

20140305-143929.jpg

Advertisements

Marketing and Promo for ‘On The Seventh Day’

I’m not a marketing or promo expert, not by any estimation.

Whilst I kind of enjoy marketing, I hate promo. I really, really hate it. So much so that I haven’t done any significant promo on my last three books (since dEaDINBURGH: Vantage for anyone who cares).

 

Why?

I find that most book promo is repetitive, exhausting, uninspired, tantamount to begging in some cases and very often fruitless.

For me, Twitter is the least effective way to promo a book and comparable to throwing pieces of paper into the wind with your book name on one side and ‘pwease buy my bwook’ on the other.

 

Unfortunately, at some point, promo is necessary. With my latest release, On The Seventh Day, I accepted the inevitable need to promo, and sat down to have a think about how I could make the process more tolerable for me, engaging for potential readers, able to generate somewhat of a buzz, and perhaps even enjoyable.

I wanted to engage people, not panhandle the fuck out of them.

 

Having recently launched the book (on 15th November 2015), with a two month pre-order period, I feel the most positive I ever have about the promo process and had a tremendous amount of fun during it.

 

For the first time, I feel I’ve succeeded in making readers part of the process without selling to them and have generated more interest in the book than I would have with a more conventional promo process, eg, blurb, quote-tweet/Fb repeat. Press releases, review chasing, advertising etc.

Has it had a significant impact on sales? Ask me in a few days for a yes or no (I don’t share sales numbers publicly, mainly because I think it’s crass as fuck to do so). So far, I’ve had better first day sales, and I’ve had a lot worse, but I’ve never enjoyed the promo and launch experience more.

 

Below are some of the steps and strategies I took and employed:

 

 

Marketing:

Marketing on this novel had been a bit of a no-brainer. As the novel is essentially a split between a comedic plotline (second coming of Jesus) and a more theological plotline (Satan relaying the history of creation and evolution and being mankind’s representative in Heaven), I had a firm idea of how to market and whom to early on.

 

7th day was always going to be a love/hate book, simply because the strong language, religious irreverence (and sometimes disdain), mixed with fairly in-depth evolution and theological discussion isn’t gonna be everyone’s cup of tea.

 

I placed it in the satire, dark comedy, religious fiction, mashups, alternative history and parody sections. And then wrote a product description that was deliberately inflammatory (to certain people) and reflective of the novel’s plot, whilst containing keywords I hope will bring in readers searching for similar works. Time will tell on the effectiveness of this.

 

Blurb:

“God hates you. Regardless of religion, race, sex, sexuality or nationality. He hates all of you. Basically, you are fucked.”

Irreverent dark humour from the author of Lanarkshire Strays and the dEaDINBURGH series.

God is pissed off.

He has run out of patience with humans and decided that our time is over. We’ve had our chance and it’s back to the drawing board. “Fuck the lot of them” is his newest gospel.

Mo, and Jay, best friends who’ve fucked up in the past, beg him for one more chance to get the humans back on track. Alongside Mr Saluzar, the head of a global charity foundation, and Nick, The Fallen Angel, they hurtle towards Armageddon and their one chance to prove God wrong.

They have seven days to save us.

On The Seventh Day contains strong language and religious irreverence which some may find offensive.

Praise for On The Seventh Day:

“If Irvine Welsh’s ‘Glue’ got The Bible up the duff, you’d have On The Seventh Day.”

“Seventh Day is the book that John Niven’s ‘The Second Coming’ desperately wanted to be and failed.”

 

I figured that the language and (apparent) blasphemy in the blurb would keep away the kind of reader who wouldn’t enjoy the book, or piss them off enough to leave a shitty review without having read the book, which for me is promo gold.

 

Cover and images for marketing and for promo came next.

I designed a few different covers using images from stock image sites. Here’s a few examples and the final cover:

 

 

I brought in my usual beta-readers but invited some readers who were religiously-minded as well as those who would enjoy the more comedic elements.

I had a proper mixed bag of comments, which was to be expected and no doubt will reflect reviews to come.

Normally I engage half a dozen or so beta-readers who I know will give me brutal and constructive feedback. With 7th Day, I had fifteen people beta-read. As always some did not make a return, but only three failed to do so, not a bad return. As a result I’m two days after launch with 12 honest reviews already live for the book.

 

8 of these were up whilst the book was still on pre-order. To do this, you need to have the paperback available, pre-order kindle books cannot be reviewed.

 

I’m still undecided on whether having the book on pre-order helps or harms launch sales. With this book I enjoyed the process and most of it wouldn’t have been possible without the pre-order in place, so I guess it paid off this time in terms of building engagement and enjoyment. I’ll try a future release without the pre-order for comparison.

 

As I always do, I ran a few ideas by my writing-wife, Bracha, as well as including links to his book in the rear matter of mine. We do this as a standard cross-promo. Does it help? See how closely we are linked on amazon for your answer.

 

The lad Bracha and I have also been waiting for a while to put together a Double A-Side type project. Bracha’s The Switched and my, On The Seventh Day have mated and are available as a collected edition titled Parental Guidance: A Transgressive Double A-Side.

81IfqGCYBnL._SL1500_

Cover by Ryan Bracha

 

Will the extra exposure affect sales in a positive or negative way? Time will tell. For the meantime we’ve a happy coupling of novels, producing a demented bastard child to hopefully help drive traffic to each other’s work.

 

Promo:

 At the beginning of the writing process I had a good idea of the overall plot of the

Novel. This isn’t always the case, more often than not I sit down with a vague concept and see where it goes. The advantage in having a better idea of the overall story allowed me to plan ahead and begin engaging readers early in the process.

 

I’ve made a habit over the years of using (with permission) real people’s names for characters. I feel it makes the books more meaningful to me and gives friends and families a connection to the book, that personally I love, and in the market place means they assist in an honest and enthusiastic manner when promo time comes.

 

An important plot mechanism for the novel is the reaction to events on social media.

I wanted these reactions to feel real and asked reads and friends to allow me to use their twitter handles in the novel to compose ‘fake’ tweets that appear in the book.

On launch day I asked these people to tweet their ‘fictional’ tweet to my fictional character (Jesus), who I’d named after a real person (Garry Crawford). Each tweet was directed to Gaz’s twitter account as he is the main character in the book.

 

The tweet team also tweeted some outraged comments about the book to organisations like Westboro Baptist, just for the fuck of it.

 

I really enjoyed taking the fictional tweets and seeing them tweeted in reality and the readers emailed me many times saying how thrilled they were to be part of the process and have their tweets appear in as such a significant plot point in the novel also. I think it gives the reader an ownership of the book, which is great, all readers should feel that way to an extent when reading, but to have a personal attachment to a book, took it to another, more personal place. Business-wise this gives me a team of people who are invested in helping promote my book I wouldn’t otherwise have had. Better still, they have an honest love for the book, which is fucking priceless.

 

As always, I wove a few short-stories, featuring people I know, into the overall plot and narrative also.

 

Essentially, I’ve been able to take a back seat and allow other people’s excitement at the project form a more natural buzz about the book than would normally be accomplished.

 

During the writing process I also created a few promo images with quotes from the book and some blog posts with early extracts. Standard stuff for me when I’m in the writing phase. Occasionally I’d make a trailer also, but not for this book.

 

As always, I ran a giveaway on Goodreads. In the past, these have ranged from 2500 entrants to 250 for my books.

Why bother?

Mainly to raise the book’s visibility whilst it is on pre-order, but also so that I can then contact around 50% of the entrants (those most likely to enjoy the book and review it, based on their reading history) after the giveaway has ended and offer them a free kindle or pdf copy of the book as a consolation prize.

This is not something I would do on Goodreads in the normal run of things, but after a giveaway I have a list of people who were interested in my book, so I’d be a fool not to use that information.

Typical uptake is around 40% with around a 60% actual return from that pool in terms of reviews.

 

I also research and approach readers who have read similar books to mine, but am very careful to select only those readers that I genuinely believe will enjoy the book, based on their reading habits. General I find a book that I like and is a similar read.

 

This strategy has been key to review building on my dEaDINBURGH series, but I use it only on specific books and carefully targeted readers. A scattergun approach is futile and annoying to readers. Do not piss off Goodreads reviewers.

 

As well as this, I set up an event page for an online launch on FB.

Uptake was pretty good, but I was careful to never actually try to sell the book on the event page.

Instead I shared daily pictures and stories and memes, all poking fun at religion. Lots of comments and engagement came, and those involved were into the satire, having never been sold to.

Every person commenting or liking these posts in the event, was helping me promo across their newsfeed as the likes and comments, obviously popped up in their newsfeeds.

Here’s a selection of images I used and people posted in the event page:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

I also ran a competition to win a Kindle fire HD7, some signed paperbacks and kindle editions of the novel. I took a FB Ad for this (£20), a ‘Like and Share’ deal. Engagement was good and clicks (and subsequent sales) more than covered the cost of the prizes (which I’d sourced cheaply).

 

This for me was a much more engaging and genuine way to get people to share my link around and again made those participating feel a part of the buzz that was building.

 

Overall I’m delighted with the fun I had promoting On The Seventh Day and have come out of it having generated some positive buzz, increased visibility of my back catalogue as well as the new book (definite sales bounce on my other titles despite a price increase) and most importantly, I don’t feel jaded simply because I have been having fun and not selling at people for weeks on end.

Will any of the promo or marketing actually affect sales in the short or long term?

Fuck knows. Writers don’t like to admit that a breakout novel is likely a result of bundles of cash being invested or pure blind luck combined with fortunate product placement or inking to larger works.

 

Having said that, if 7th Day is an international bestseller, I’ll be talking shit about how great my marketing and promo was and giving my own genius full credit for the ‘success’.

 

Mark is the author of eight fiction works and one non-fiction book. You can find Mark and his books at Paddy’s Daddy Publishing or at Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somna Origin: dEaDINBURGH 3 Preview

Somna was a periphery villain in dEaDINNBURGH: Book 1 and will come to prominence in the second book.

A relentless killer of survivors in the dead city, Somna collects the eyelids of his victims and worships the reanimated corpse of a famous footballer.

The following excerpt is set before the city of Edinburgh was sealed, is unedited, contains no Book 1 spoilers and shows Somna’s beginnings:

dEaDINBURGH: Din Eidyn Corpus Book 2 Cover

dEaDINBURGH: Din Eidyn Corpus Book 2 Cover

Somna

 2014

 

I follow her along Carnaby Street the sound of her heels clacking on the concrete becoming a metronome, accompanying the pounding of my heart in my chest. It doesn’t irritate me, this monotonous soundtrack, rather it acts as an overture, joining the other London sounds building in intensity, stoking my bottomless appetite.

My imp giggles as he catches our reflection in the blackened windows of the vans store. I shush him and he glares at me with undisguised contempt.

“It’s my night, killer. It’s me who’s in charge tonight, don’t fucking forget who I am.” The vitriol drips from his sneer.

That’s what he calls me, killer, like it’s a curse and reverence in one word. I nod once in reply. In deference. Now’s not the time. Besides, he’s right. It is his night. He’s in charge, he controls what happens, how it happens and to whom. These days, I’m just a passenger. No, that’s not right. I’m more of a tool for him to use to enable his insatiable urge to kill. Of course, I’m hardly one to judge having held those same appetites and compulsions all of my life. My imp merely……sharpens those instincts and gives me so many new, delicious ways to love my victims.

Once, maybe two years ago, I moved through this world of stalking and loving and blood and joy alone. I’d killed dozens by then, men women, teenagers, but no children. They didn’t make the urge beat and pulse the way older people did. They felt too…familiar. Too much like me. Too…human.

My imp joined me after I’d killed a man in an alleyway in the Lanarkshire town of Motherwell. He was mildly drunk, his five year old skipping along beside him. Normally when my prey is with a child I walk away. I lose all urge to kill when a child is present, and decided to return to stalking him another night but as I turned to leave, I saw him land heavy blow with meaty hand to the back of the boy’s head. His son fell to the stony ground as I leaned in from a misty distance to listen.

“Too fuckin’ noisy.” He barked down at the lad.

The kid glared up at him from the ground. I caught the shadow of what looked like faded bruises around his angry stare.

“Don’t look at me like that Matthew.” The man raised his hand to threaten.

His action did nothing to dampen the fire in the boy’s eyes. He stood glared at his drunken father then lowered his head.

The man nodded and continued walking, his son running ahead towards their home, no longer interested in skipping alongside the bully he called dad.

I’d taken him then of course. As soon as the boy had left, my urge came rushing back on the crest of a hundred beatings from my own father. A thousand insults of eternal mocking about my obsession with footballers.

He died very quickly- which was which a disappointment- but cried and begged with shameful cowardice, which was wonderful, if too brief. I hadn’t had the opportunity to repay my own father for his love and this man’s death had proven a wonderful substitute, and one that made a significant change happen within me.

My imp joined me afterwards and has been my constant companion throughout life and death since. Initially he’d been unobtrusive, an observer. An ever-present facet of myself in many ways. Keen to offer suggestions, but largely a passenger. Over time, he’d sharpened my appetites.

My kills had been careful in the past, after all, I’d killed dozens, from all walks of life in many cities and countries. No police force had so much as linked any of my kills together. Once my imp began speaking to me, exerting his will, I became very creative.

I used different methods of dispatch and never stayed true to a certain type of victim. I’d like to say that this was all my own inventiveness, but truly, my imp has had so many good ideas these past two years. More and more it’s made sense to just let him, take control. To direct, to command.

 

As she passes Merc Clothing my victim’s heels screech a little, breaking the build-up of the moment for a split-second as she turns along Broadwick Street. Perfect.

As my victim passes Mozzino, my imp hisses at me.

“Now!”

I check up and along the narrow little road and then rush at her. She’s in her mid-forties, very fit and much smaller than I am. Most people are. I place my hand over her mouth, pulling her head back sharply, so that her hair presses against my chest.

Wrapping one beefy arm around her waist I lift her into myself and slightly to the side to avoid her kicking legs. Quickly I dart through the half-shut gates into a service yard my imp laughing that sissing laugh. The one that reverberates around my head and makes my skin crawl. I ignore it. My imp’s as excited as I am, maybe more so. He’s entitled.

I put the woman in a choke hold and she passes out. My imp looks at her and smiles broadly, his face a twisted mirror of my own.

As soon as she’s unconscious, I walk to the gates and close them firmly. Retrieving a canvas bag with a few implements suggested by my imp, I kneel beside her and begin placing my tools at her side. Sometimes I tie them and wait until they awake whilst I do this. The terror in my victims eyes as they see what toys I’ve thought ahead to bring for them is a wonder like no other. For her, she gets to stay asleep.

My imp issues a series of instructions, making my hands his own. I simply obey. The pleasure I feel washing over me isn’t diminished by this act of near servitude. Quite the opposite is true. Surrendering myself to the imp’s voice, to his needs and his commands, amplifies my experiences to a plane I could never have achieved alone.

Cut the artery. Remove the trachea. Crush the kidney in your fist. Kiss her.

My imp laughs as he commands. I’m in the moment, entirely, when my mind starts to drift. I pull my attention deliberately back to the beautiful act of deconstruction I’m doing to this once hard-earned muscular body, but I can’t seem to stay focused. I think of the kills I’ve done since my imp joined me. So many. We learned so very much together. Something feels wrong. Something is……not pleasurable. Something hurts.

Dozens of kills flash before my eyes. Disembowelment, hangings. Arms severed, genitals eaten. Livers fed to stray dogs. Strangulations, beheadings, skulls caved in, eyes gouged. So many beautiful communions with my prey. My imp, learning from me. My imp teaching me. Football, always football, my only other love. My imp loved Manchester Utd even more than I did. We enjoyed the history of the club, the greatest players. Sir Alex. All our heroes in red. We stalked one of our heroes, the hero actually, through the streets of Paris, but my imp cried out that we must not. He was special.

 

I drop the gore-covered surgical scalpel and part of her intestine from my hands and turn to look into the face of my imp. His smile is toothy and wide. He looks different, I’ve never seen him so happy. I blink hard several times and smile back, mostly out of reflex. He smiles so rarely, it just seemed the thing to do, to smile back.

My eyes narrow and drop to his hands. He has a large kitchen knife form our bag. It’s dripping with warm, bright blood. Blood too fresh to be hers. My fingers feel around to where the pain lanced in my spine and disappear into the stab wound.

I feel my imp slide the eight inch blade into my neck, plunging it through the trapezius.

“Why?” I gurgle, a clump of blood splattering from my mouth.

My imp laughs.

“Don’t need you anymore, killer.” His voice is slap of sarcasm.

I feel the blade being pulled out. It’s actually quite a pleasant sensation. Not unlike defecating. I fall to the ground my face coming to rest on my victim’s open abdomen.

“I’m proud of you.” I whisper with my last words.

He laughs.

 ∞

 

He stands over the body of the killer and sighs. A sort of sadness passes over his being, only briefly but long enough for him to notice the desolation and be surprised by it. He hadn’t considered that he would feel a sense of loss. Still, he supposed, two years is a long time, and I have learned an awful lot from the killer. He absent-mindedly flicks the knife sharply to his right imitating samurai he’d seen in movies cleaning their katana.

Cocking his head to the right he moves his eyes dispassionately along the bodies in front of him. The man at his feet, face plunged into the growing pool of blood of their victim. He coldly removes his own clothes. Standing in only his Spiderman underwear, he walks slowly to the gate, rearranging his face into one of a traumatised seven year old. With a final look over his shoulder he whispers, “Goodbye, killer.” And slips through the gate in search of a policeman or Samaritan.

Steven takes another long pull on his cigarette and jabs at the volume minus button on his remote. He nods towards the door.

“”Can you check in on him again, love?” His wife, Sharon, smiles at him, indulgingly.

“If it’ll make you feel better, of course.” Sharon creaks quietly half way up the staircase leading from their living room to the two bedrooms on the second floor. Pausing, he lifts one ear in the direction of one of the doors and listens.

“All quiet love. Turn that up a little will you?” she asks, descending the stairs and taking her seat once more.

Dermot Murnaghan speaks a little louder as Steven jabs the volume up button.

“It seems that Matthew Houston, the seven year old who disappeared two years ago on the night of his father’s murder, is settling in well with his aunt and uncle.”

Dermot’s kindly face is replaced by the head teacher of Noble Primary School.

”Yes, we’re very pleased with Matthew. Despite his ordeal, he’s adjusted very well to normal life once again and is proving to be one of our brightest pupils.”

Dermot nods sympathetically and looks into the camera as the footage from Noble Primary disappears.

“After two years held captive by what appears to be Britain’s most prolific serial killer, young Matthew Houston’s bravery and spirit is an inspiration to the people of Scotland and Britain. Dermot Murnaghan, news at ten, in absolute wonder at a genuinely heroic little man.”

 

Steven jabs the red button, turning the image off.

“He’s a special kid, isn’t he, Sharon?”

He is, love. To have been under the control of that monster and fight his way free, is amazing, but to have come home such a confident, assured young man, it’s a blessing, Stevie.”

Steven nods his agreement. “He’s some boy. Only thing he’s asked for since he’s been back is a poster of David Beckham.” Steven’s face drops a little.

“He’s a wee bit obsessed is he not?”

Sharon shook her head. You were the same with football at that age. It’s good for him.”

Steven smiles. “Aye, I suppose so.”

Rising he makes for the kitchen to brew another cup of tea for them.

“Looking forward to taking him through to Edinburgh next week for the New Year fireworks?”

Sharon smiles broadly.

“Can’t wait, love.”

 

End of Excerpt

dEaDINBURGH: Din Eidyn Corpus Book 1 is available now at Amazon, US and UK

dEaDINBURGH: Din Eidyn Corpus Book 3 is due for publication by Paddy’s Daddy Publishing in March, 2015

Preview of dEaDINBURGH (Din Eidyn Corpus Book 2)

 

The following excerpt is taken from the upcoming second volume of the Din Eidyn Corpus.

*****MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD******

IFYOU HAVE NOT READ dEaDINBURGH: BOOK 1 DO NOT READ ON.

 

 

Din Eidyn Corpus Book 2 Will follow Alys and Joey directly after the events of book one, but will also show awider look at the outside world, beyond the dead city’s fences. As well as continuing Fraser Donnelly’s story, we’ll also see Michelle MacLeod (Joey’s mother) before she entered the dead city and discover how she came to be in amongst the dead.

Most of the information about the outside world will be relayed through a new character’s story arc. This is what follows:

 

dEaDINBURGH: Book 2 excerpt:

 

Edinburgh, Scotland

 2051


 

Voiding the light breaking through the gap in his curtains, Jack squinted at his Holo-Screen, blinking the fog from his eyes. Seven a.m.

He’d been playing the dEaDINBURGH: Lair of The Ringed video game since midnight. Since the feed had been cut from the live show. He flicked his finger across the air in front of him, causing the UKBC screen to pop up. The countdown until the feed re-connected sat at 00:15. Just fifteen more minutes until they had the show back onscreen in full High-Def Holo-Image. Jack saved his progress and kicked at the desk in front of him, sending his ergonomic chair scooting backwards through the pile of empty energy drink cans and takeaway boxes littered across the carpet of his living room.

Scratching at his crotch with his right hand, he lifted his left arm and sniffed at his arm-pit, screwing his face up at the sourness. Should have time for a shower if I get a move on. Jack stood with a groan in protest at the crack of his knees. It’d been a while since he’d had quite so long a session on the game. Scooping a handful of Cheesey-Puffs off of the desk and into his mouth he headed to the apartment’s little shower cube.

 

As he sang from the shower, the dEaDINBURGH theme began blasting from the surround sound speakers, eliciting a whoop of delight from him as he barrelled from the bathroom, not bothering to dry himself, body wobbling back into his still-warm chair.

Leaning forward he made a little gesture, enlarging the screen and scanned the info-bar along the bottom of the page to catch any updates. There were too many to read so Jack flicked at finger at the Holo-Screen, bringing up a highlights reel on a smaller screen within the main one. Whilst the main screen flickered into life, he flicked his eyes from the main image to the highlights feed, gleaning everything he could about what had happened to his favourite Survivors during the feed-loss.

Suzy-Wheels, Danny McGhee and Jennifer Shephard, his main characters, all were more or less where they’d been when the feed had cut twelve hours earlier. Jack flicked at the screen a few more times, bringing up images of one of the less popular and least-covered Survivors he’d been following.

Joey MacLeod’s face filled the frame. Jack liked this kid. He’d begun to get a little more airtime recently, mostly because he’d been in a few scraps with The Ringed of late. Jack remembered him from the episodes where he’d left The Brotherhood a few years back, with the old Padre.

Padre Jock had been a favourite of Jack’s as a kid. As a Zom-Hunter and one of the most colourful characters on the show, he’d had a huge chunk of airtime over the years and had consistently been in the top-ten Survivors chart for over twenty years. When he’d been killed by Bracha, Jack had shed a few tears for the old man who seemed as intricately tied to the show as its theme tune to a generation who’d grown up watching him. Three years later, Jack still felt grief whenever he looked at one of the many images of Jock on mugs, posters, T-shirts and other merchandise around his home. Jack had a massive poster of Jock over his bed, a scene from the show, showing a young Jock, blades flashing, Silencing five Zombies. It bore the legend: Running rings around The Ringed. One of Jack’s online friends had a tattoo in the shape of the characteristic Ring o’ Roses rash of The Ringed.

Many of Jock’s fans had now latched onto the eighteen year old the old preacher had trained out of the need for a connection to the familiarity of the Padre. Aside from that, they’d grown to know and love Joey during his time with Padre Jock.

The screen showed Joey and Alys, both shot from behind, in a large open field. Joey had his bow over his back and was following along behind Jennifer’s daughter. They looked tired and were both covered in a grey dust. Jack watched as the cameras zoomed out, revealing a mass of Zoms spilling out into the field from a cycle path and a little clearing in a woodland. From the trail in the long grass, it was obvious that the teens had come from the Zom-infested area.

It was a beautiful shot, so much so that it moved Jack to click the little thumbs-up icon at the corner of the screen. He was only the hundredth to do so. It made him feel a part of something special, that he was amongst the first to see the beauty in the photography.

Wondering how the teens had survived the massive congregation of Zoms and why the infected weren’t pursuing them, he whirled the highlights footage over to the main screen and began searching through it, hoping that he hadn’t missed something special. He looked at the view counter at the edge of the highlights screen.

One View. A single viewer besides him.

Jack felt a thrill surge through him and clicked the thumbs-up icon, making himself the second person to have done so. As the images moved he watched amazed as Joey and Alys moved like crowd-surfers along a mass of the dead. They seemed completely calm, so at ease. Jack he’d never seen anything like it. Nobody had.

As the scene progressed, it was suddenly cut with footage from earlier in the day. They had battled hundreds of the dead in that same clearing, Joey in a tree firing arrows and Alys a demon with her twin Sai. It was astounding and contrasted so sharply with the serenity of the previous footage that Jack felt a prickle all over his skin.

He watched Joey and Alys’ Survivor ratings rocket from the around 10,000 straight to position two and one, respectively. Realisation suddenly made him jerk in his seat. He motioned at the screen and watched as his viewer rating appeared. Last night he’d been in the upper ten-million region. A respectable position for someone in Kent. The total viewing figures worldwide for dEaDINBURGH were at around four billion.

Due to his early support for Joey, and lifelong support of Jock, he’d voted and thumbed-up Jock hundreds of times, maybe thousands in his lifetime, Jack’s Viewer Rating would receive a boost. Factor in his support of Alys by proxy of being a Jennifer Shephard supporter and combined with this morning’s early acknowledgement of both the live-feed and the highlights package, and Jack’s viewer rating should be at an all-time high, perhaps top one million.

Jack blinked in disbelief as he looked at the numbers. His rating had been propelled to top 500, worldwide. Number 1 in Europe.

His Holo-Screen suddenly lit up with emails, messages and invitations regarding  interviews, expert analysis, insights. He was being lined up for a series of appearances across some of the biggest shows on the network and a clutch of major blogs and newsfeeds.

Messages of congratulations from his network-family scrolled across his screen. In one minute he’d gone from being another nobody, an above-average fan who spent a little too much time watching the most-watched Holo-programme on the planet, one of those guys who haunted the thousands of fan-sites and pages looking for insights and extra-footage, to the hottest viewer-consultant in Europe.

He’d always known that he was someone special. Always felt that he was destined for something better than his current station in life. Something that made him worthy of the name he carried. This was it. Finally.

Jack Thatcher glanced down quickly at his mostly-naked, wet body, edges of the towel barely meeting around and under his belly. He gave a curt, decisive nod, to himself. Time to get sorted. The first thing I’ll do is get that liposuction and a skin removal. And my teeth. Get my teeth fixed.

With the kudos and the money that’d be coming his way, it was time to get himself together.

Rising from his seat, he stopped for a second, lifted his right thigh a little and expelled a cloud of gas before heading to his wardrobe. Drying off, he sniffed at then  pulled on a pair of reasonably clean sweatpants, figuring that he’d aim the Holo-Camera from the waist up. Best to be comfortable.

Jack then pulled on an old dEaDINBURGH T-shirt his dad had given him on his thirtieth birthday, with an image of Jock in full Plague-Doctor outfit on the front. It felt a little tight, but familiar.

Striding back through to take his seat, he flicked open the Comm for his first interview with an American news network, allowing himself to enjoy a moment of satisfaction at finding his rightful place.

He smiled warmly and connected his call.

 

END OF EXCERPT

SILHOUETTE-cover

dEaDINBURGH (Din Eidyn Corpus) Book: 1 (and Mark’s Lanarkshire Strays collection) are available now as a paperback and on kindle at Amazon, US and Amazon, UK.

Interludes and Pace

Here’s the second interlude from The Man Who Sold His Son.

MHSHS-Lanark-strays-feet copy

In this case I wanted to relay the story of a character who has a massive effect on the beginning and the outcome of the story, but wanted to keep his presence light throughout the main narrative, so as to not affect the flow or pace of the story.

The following excerpt is from Mark Wilson’s upcoming fifth novel, The Man Who Sold His Son. Due for release Late July from Paddy’s Daddy Publishing. It is part of the Lanarkshire Strays Series available on Amazon now:

Lanarkshire Strays cover copy

Interlude

 

“I’m talking to you, James. Don’t walk away from me.” Fiona screamed.

He kept right on walking through to the kitchen.

“I’m very nearly done with this shite, James.” She grunted with effort and a vase sailed past his head, missing by centimetres. James Sinclair barely noticed it. He might not have noticed the missile at all but for the wind generated by its passing. Numbly, he bent over and retrieved the larger pieces it had broken into. Fetching a small brush and pan, he began sweeping up the smaller debris. “Watch yer feet,” he muttered.

Oh, do fuck off,” Fiona spat at him and left the room.

Feeling a pang of regret, he turned to follow after her tell her that he was sorry. He hadn’t slept more than three hours a night in six months, maybe more, not since…

James Sinclair pushed those memories away, somewhere dark and dusty that he never explored, along with childhood beatings at the hands of school bullies and his father’s hands. He swallowed the excuses and the stillborn-apology and threw the shattered fragments of the vase into the bin, continuing to the freezer.

Fuck. It lay there, the vial. He shouldn’t have it, nobody knew of its existence. At the time, he couldn’t not take it, not after the way that bastard had treated him, treated his own son. The contents of the vial were not dangerous-they may in fact be very important one day- not even if they thawed, but frozen they must remain. So there they were, taunting him, reminding him of his cowardice each time he reached into his freezer, which was often. Reached in, his hand hovering over the vial for a few very long seconds. If he only had the courage.

Sinclair sighed and picked up the bottle of Beluga vodka and gave a sardonic grin. If you’re determined to be an alcoholic, James, might as well do it in style.

As he poured himself four fingers of the luxury drink, Sinclair gave a resigned shrug as he heard the front door slam.

End of Excerpt

The Man Who Sold His Son and the Omnibus of the Lanarkshire Strays series will be available, late July, 2014.

That Difficult Fifth Novel

Having just passed the 30k mark on my work in progress, I thought I’d post an update and an excerpt. The Man Who Sold His Son is by far the most difficult book I’ve written so far. normally I sit down at my PC and just type about the movie I’m watching in my head. Aside from a little research and some plotting before hand, there’s hasn’t been a lot more to the writing process for me than that instinctive and spontaneous approach.

This book, though. It’s my difficult fifth child. The plot is more complicated and precarious than any I’ve written before, and I’m finding that for long periods I sit and take notes and make maps of plot points and events to join together and work through. getting t all straight is hard work. the actual writing comes as easily as ever, but the process of getting to the point where I’m ready to go is more complex. I’m unsure if that’s making the book a more rounded read, or just a bastard to write. time will tell.

The following excerpt comes from my upcoming fifth novel, The Man Who Sold His Son, a new addition to the Lanarkshire Strays series Due for publication by Paddy’s Daddy Publishing, Summer 2014:

MHSHS-Lanark-strays-feet copy

Interlude 

Some years ago…

 

Garth felt an impulse rack his little body, sending another spasm of intense pain through his neurones. He felt the pain travel along his chest and down his spine. Unable to respond to it, the ten-year old merely observed as it travelled to his toes and left as quickly as it had come. He felt a pang of regret as it left him. He experienced so little of anything physically these days; these spikes of intense pain were becoming old and welcome friends. They reminded him he still existed. The only other things that tied him to the world were the voices he heard. People moving around his bed, talking, discussing him. Wondering aloud if he could hear them. He certainly couldn’t respond.

Doctors, nurses, his father; they discussed his future, or lack of it. They argued over treatment, whether to continue or if the time had come to turn off the motors and pumps that kept his lings inflating and his blood circulating. Part of him wished they would. Part of him was ready to go somewhere else. Not yet, though. He had his voice to cling to. His father’s voice.

 

I think it’s time to consider the removal of the viral particles from his spinal fluid.”

“That’s a very risky option at this stage. He’s unlikely to live through the procedure.”

“He’s not living now. This isn’t life. He hasn’t breathed alone in months. There are no detectable traces of brain activity. It’s over; it’s time to switch these machines off… With a sample of the virus, directly from his spinal fluid, we could make huge progress in understanding this virus. Maybe prevent what’s happened to Garth from happening to anyone else.”

“I still think that if we can give him more time, we should.”

“He’s been this way for eighteen months. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but Garth’s condition is unlikely to change. This is a totally unique, totally new virus we’re dealing with. It has properties we’ve never seen before in a pathogen of this type.”

“I know. I just wish there’s more we could do, other than keep him comfortable.”

“This young man’s contribution will change the lives of millions, maybe billions. This is the right thing.”

 

Garth Listened to them, smiling to himself. It’ll be over soon. At least I’ll get to help other kids. Other people. He took his mind elsewhere, to happier times, years before, when Mum was still alive. Before her illness, before dad lost himself in his work and put Garth into a boarding school. Garth watched images of his mother and father flashing across his mind’s-eye. Happy smiles, hot chocolate, racing through long grass in meadows filled with summer flowers and love. His family.

Would mum be waiting for him? Would his dad be alright alone, or would his son’s passing make him even more detached, more fixated on his business. He couldn’t know.

 

He was being moved along a corridor. The lights overhead flashed through his eyelids. Suddenly the gurney stopped and the metallic sounds of surgery began. A mask was pressed to his mouth. He tasted rubber and unfamiliar gasses. Garth focused on the voices again.

 

“How long until he goes under?”

“Seconds. He’s probably under already. If you’ve anything to say, do it now. He won’t hear you, but if you don’t, you’ll regret saying nothing to him before he’s totally gone.”

 

Garth felt a warm fluid flow over him. All pain was gone. He could move again, he could think again. He was free of the dulling effect of the morphine. He was free, period. As he moved into his mother’s arms he heard his father’s voice whispering into the ear of what used to be his body.

 

“You’re going to make me a lot of money. Goodbye, Son.”

 

————————–

 

 

“I’m terribly sorry, Mr Ennis. He’s gone.”

“Right. Get me that sample, Doctor. I’ve got work to do.”

 

The veteran surgeon pushed back his dislike for the man beside him and made the incision into Garth Ennis’ spine. Ten minutes later he watched, sickened, as the businessman’s eyes brightened when he handed him the small vial of spinal fluid.

“He could’ve had another few months, you know.”

Ennis held the vial of his son’s fluid up to the light and stared into it.

“My son’s contributed more to medicine with this sample than you have in your entire little career, Doctor. This…” Ennis held the vial up for him. “This, will change the world.”

The surgeon bored holes into Ennis with his eyes. He’d made allowances for Ennis, these last few months. He’d ignored the man’s clinical manner, his coldness towards the comatose boy. At times it had felt like he’d been protecting the boy from his own father. Since succumbing to the virus, this new virus, and slipping into his vegetative state, Garth had lain in the same bed, in the same room, in his care. Garth’s father visited every day, but said nothing to the boy. He didn’t kiss or hold him. He barely looked at the boy’s face. Gavin Ennis would just sit there for hours, tapping away at his handheld computer; working. Making plans for the genome of the virus that was killing his son.

The surgeon made excuses for Ennis’ demeanour. He knew the family history well. Ennis’ wife had died from meningitis three years back. His small business was in trouble. Having created synthetic gametes that nobody wanted, Ennis Company looked to be going into liquidation. Simply, no-one wanted to have children conceived using synthetic sperm. Ennis had expected single, career women who’d left it too late or couldn’t find a partner to jump at the chance. Or married gay couples, but there just wasn’t the interest. People had chosen to use the DNA of a stranger or relative rather than Ennis’, lab creations.

The man was on his knees. Dead wife so young, his son dying so very young. The surgeon had found plenty of reasons to excuse Ennis’ behaviour, until now. The callousness of Ennis’ actions today clawed at the surgeon’s conscience. He felt a fool for having made allowances for this man, who had effectively used his dead son for profit.

Injecting all the venom he could muster into his voice, the surgeon spat out,

“You sold out your son to get it. I hope it was worth it.”

Ennis had already turned and begun to walk towards the exit.

The surgeon headed in the opposite direction, his next task, the disposal of little Garth Ennis’ remains.

 

End of Excerpt

You can find Mark and his books (including the Lanarkshire Strays series) at Amazon UK and Amazon US

The Man Who Sold His Son – Preview

The following passage is an excerpt from my upcoming 5th novel, The Man Who Sold His Son. I’d previously placed this on the back-burner after writing the first third of the book, as dEaDINBURGH: Book 1 was itching my head. At present, I’m writing this as my main project whilst working on dEaDINBURGH: Book 2

The Man Who Sold His Son is a welcome return to my native Bellshill. The following excerpt is pre-edit.

20131202-145428.jpg

Bellshill, Lanarkshire

 

Scotland

 

2055

 

1

 Alex sped the along Bellshill Main Street on his vintage Kawasaki Ninja enjoying the freedom of being on his bike. It was past midnight and a warm July night so he had the roads to himself. Hardly anyone drove these days, most choosing to use The Tubes, and those who did invariably drove those soulless hydrogen-powered cart monstrosities. Alex couldn’t imagine being without his bike. Riding his Kawasaki was more or less the only freedom he had these days, but that was ok. Life was good in so many ways. Continuing along the long road, he glanced up at the windows of his duplex noting the living room’s light flickering and that the light in Tommy’s room was on. Damn it, Sarah!

At the end of a long shift in the hospital the last thing Alex needed was another argument with his wife. Why couldn’t she just be a little kinder to the boy?

Disappearing down his building’s ramp, he noticed the underground garage doors sliding up in response to his bikes’ approach and gunned it, ducking slightly as he impatiently sped under the ascending metal. Riding the elevator to their duplex apartment on the twentieth floor of the Sir Matt Busby building, Alex removed his helmet and steeled himself for the inevitable confrontation that awaited him two hundred feet above. Forcing himself to breathe deeply, Alex thought of his grand-father.

Tom Kinsella had been a Bellshill resident but had moved to New York in adulthood. Tom had fathered twin girls, Natalie and Patricia. Patricia was Alex’s Mother and currently on vacation in Cornwall. In her fifties the relative warmth suited her and the beautiful scenery aided in her day job. Like her father, Tom, Patricia was a writer and had returned to live in her father’s home country whilst pregnant with Alex.

Alex had been lucky enough to spend his younger years splitting his time between Scotland and his grandfather’s home in New York City. Of course this was when people still travelled to other countries relatively cheaply and freely. These days, only the very rich could afford overseas travel and as a consequence, almost no-one left their country of birth anymore. Alex hadn’t seen his Grandfather in years, although they spoke often over the Holo-Net.

Tom Kinsella was the calmest, most composed man Alex had ever known. Having lost his wife in his twenties, Tom had raised the twin girls in New York and seemed completely incapable of getting angry or flustered. He was a terrific Grandfather and entirely Alex’ hero; which is why he’d named his son for the man. Speaking to, or even thinking of, his Granda Tom always helped Alex to compose himself.

The shudder of the elevator, followed by a ping shook Alex from his reverie and prompted him to step out onto the plush carpet of the twentieth floor. Each floor was identified by a different décor. Every time Alex stepped out onto the blue of the twentieth floor, he gave silent thanks that he didn’t live on the fifteenth, the orange floor.

 

The Sir Matt Busby Busby building was a luxury apartment complex built on the site of a long-demolished leisure centre. The building had been named for a 20th Century football manager, born in Bellshill, and was the new centre of the once-again affluent town. In years gone past Bellshill had been an impoverished, ex-mining, ex-steelworks town but had benefited from a decision to base Synthi-Inc’s global headquarters in the now resurgent town.

On the verge of being granted city status, Bellshill had expanded exponentially to become a global hub and mecca for biological and reproductive research. Research labs provided skills, education and employment for the thousands of locals and hundreds of thousands of new settlers the town had attracted. Several new hospitals had also been built in recent years, including Alex’ employer, the Ally McCoist Clinic for Reproductive Health, again named after a former footballing native. The locals had loved football at one time but with most of the population now composed of Synthi-kids and adults, the desire, passion and drive that made people follow or play for football clubs was absent and the game had died.

 

Alex breathed deeply, expelling any residual anger he’d felt on noticing the lights on in two separate rooms in his home, pressed his thumb to the doors’ scanner and gently pushed open the aluminium door. Striding past the living room on his right, Alex ignored Sarah’s half-hearted Hi and continued to the staircase at the end of the hallway. Ascending the spiral staircase, he reached the upper floor and lightened his step to approach the door to Thomas’s room. Grimacing at the noise as he creaked the door open three inches or so, Alex poked his nose in, checking if his son was asleep. Although there was a light on in the room, Thomas often fell asleep with a light on, a habit left over from infancy.

Alex eyes followed a trail of books along the floor leading towards Tommy’s bed. All titles well in advance of his ten years, the books were creased and well read. Thomas had always refused to use an E-reader or tablet, preferring real books. He took after Tom, his great-grandfather and a man he’d never met in person, in this regard. With his thick blonde hair and green eyes, Tommy looked like Tom as well. Alex smiled as he raised his eyes to see his son sitting up in his bed, back to the wall, knees bent in a makeshift book rest.

“Hey, Dad.”

Smiling broadly, Alex entered the room, closing the door behind him.

“Hey, Son. What you reading?”

Thomas lifted the hardback edition, showing his dad the cover.

“Rot and Ruin? Great book. I read that when I was a kid. Isn’t it a little younger than your usual choice?”

Tommy nodded “Yeah, but the writer’s amazing, Dad.”

Alex nodded in agreement. Propping one buttock on the bed he ruffled his son’s hair. “You been in here long tonight?”

Tommy’s eyes darted back to his book. “Na. Only for half an hour. Just wanted some quiet time, to read.” He said quietly.

Alex could tell he was lying, and Tommy knew it. Alex always saw the lies in his son’s eyes, but neither pushed the issue any further.

Tommy looked up at his father. “It’s alright, Dad. I like to read alone…..Please don’t argue with Mum again.” He pleaded.

Thomas’s eyes had filled a little.

Alex allowed the rising anger to dissipate and smiled warmly at his boy. “Tell me about your day at school.”

Tommy threw his book onto the floor and launched himself into an animated account of his school day. Alex listened carefully as his son described, his various classes, and friends and passed along some jokes from his mates. Thomas ended up with hiccoughs from laughing so much. When Tommy had finished and Alex had caught his breath from laughing, he raised an eyebrow and asked the boy. “Any arguments today?”

Thomas nodded.

“Mr Chase again?” he asked.

“Yeah, but he wouldn’t listen to me, Dad. I had a good point to make.”

Alex nodded. You know how proud I am of you, Don’t you?”

Tommy nodded back at his father.

“I love that you’ve got your own ideas that you think for yourself, but whilst you’re at school, you have to be careful not to be too…” Alex searched for the word, “…spirited.”

They’d had the same conversation dozens of times before. Thomas was such a livewire, so bright, athletic and full of life. It crushed Alex to dampen the boy, but it wasn’t good to shine too brightly in this modern world.”

Thomas’s eyes filled with hurt, the same way they always did when Alex had to reluctantly rein him in. “Alright, Dad. I’ll try harder.”

Alex winced. He hated making his son hide his talents, but what else could he do? Smiling again, he told Thomas. “I love you more than sausages.”

Tommy laughed. “Daaad.” He groaned.

Alex repeated “I love you more than sausages.”

Thomas’s cheeks flushed red. They’d played this game since Tommy had been a toddler. It was just embarrassing now. But still…

“I love you more than chips.” He replied, bringing a toothy smile form Alex.

“I love you more than cheesecake.” Alex grinned, initiating a ping pong of I love you more thans for a few minutes. After a few rounds Tommy yawned, signalling that his patience had run out.

Alex waited for him to lie down and then tucked him in. Sitting himself next to his son, he stroked his hair for a while. Tommy, with drooping, sleepy eyes, turned to face him. “Dad, I do love you, and Mum. I just wish that she…liked me a bit more.”

Anger and pain lanced Alex’ heart but he didn’t allow it to show in his eyes. “She does love you, you know that, Tommy. She’s just…got her own way of showing it.”

Alex searched his son’s face. The kid didn’t believe a word of it, but pretended to be comforted, for his Dad’s sake. It broke Alex heart to watch his son protect his feelings in this way. He reached out and tugged Tommy’s right ear.

“G’night, Bacon ears.” He laughed.

Tommy grabbed his Dad’s nose and yanked. “Night, Sausage Nose.”

With that he rolled over and Alex quietly left his room. Anger building once again, he made for the living room and another fight.

 

2

Sarah sat with her back to the door, vape-pod pressed to her mouth, immersed in whatever shitty Holo-Soap she was addicted to that month and sunken deep into the memory-foam sofa. One hand tapped the thin screen of her tablet, scanning the Holo-Net. The light he’d seen from outside the building was, as he’d guessed, the flicker from the Holo-Projector filling the room. Listening to the click-whizz of the vape-pod as she inhaled the last of its contents, he allowed his anger to rise.

Alex sat in an armchair opposite her, an old chair. The sort with springs and tears and history and flaws. It’d come from his Grandfather’s childhood house on Community Road. Covered in coffee-rings, it reeked of cigarettes and was one of his favourite things. Alex Mum had wanted to throw it out when the house was being demolished. He’d practically ripped it from the house in his eagerness to preserve that one, simple tie to Tom.

Sarah tossed the empty vape-pod onto the coffee table, where it bounced once and clattered to a rest against four other empty pods. It was a defiant gesture and she glared at Alex for a reaction as she threw it.

Alex held onto his anger, controlling and supressing the need to roar at her.

“Have a good day?” Sarah sneered at him and began laughing at her own question?”

“Not as good as you.” Alex nodded at the pile of pods on the table.

“Och that’s a shame” she giggled. “You should relax a wee bit, treat yourself to a vape.”

Alex ignored her provocation. “How long has Tommy been in his room while you’ve been sitting in here vaped out your head?”

Sarah laughed again. God, he hated her sometimes. At least he wished he hated her. The truth was that he loved her, God help him. His life would be a damn site easier if he could hate Sarah.

“It’s perfectly legal, Alexander.” She tried to look nonchalant, but the expression came across twisted and dull.

“Aye, it’s legal, but that boy in there thinks you hate him. Why can’t you spend some time with him? Show him you do care. Is this shit so important? More important than your son?” Alex lashed out with his foot, sending the table and the pile of vape-pods flying across the room.

Sarah laughed harder than ever. Rising to her feet she staggered unsteadily over to the table and gave it an exaggerated, slapstick kick, mocking Alex.

Alex felt a deep stab of shame at losing his temper, but was struggling to keep it in check again already due to her nastiness. He composed himself and sat back into his chair, leaving her to dance foolishly, kicking the vape-pods around as she went.

Suddenly Sarah stopped her horrific dance and turned to stare at him. Eyes like stone she said, “You know I never wanted him.”

Smiling once more, she continued, “We agreed if I had him, nothing had to change. I’m a young woman. I just want to enjoy myself.”

She staggered back to her sofa and retrieved another vape-pod from her handbag.

“I’m just having fun. Don’t I deserve some fun?” She’d started crying. There was no talking to her when she’d been vaping and he’d promised Thomas that he wouldn’t fight with her tonight. Alex left her to it and headed to their bedroom.

 

Lying on top of the covers freshly showered and in boxers and a white T, he sighed heavily and reached to his bedside table to pick up their wedding image. Holding the light plastic frame at its corners, Alex looked sadly at the image of him and Sarah smiling on their wedding day. Alex hated these moving Holo-images and much preferred the older, still photographs of his childhood. He hated the way the Holos captured and projected so accurately the emotions of the day. Alex’ smile was beaming from the Holo with pride and happiness. Sarah smiled broadly also, but her smile never reached her eyes. Even then she’d begun to grow colder.

 

Childhood friends, he and Sarah had lived in houses across the road from each other in an older part of Bellshill. At three years old they’d gone to nursery together. At five, primary school. At twelve, high school. Throughout their childhood and adolescence they’d been best friends, each and every life event had been marked by photos and then Holos, featuring both of them. They’d come as a pair their whole lives. Eventually, they exchanged their virginities and conceived Thomas on the first go.

Sarah was almost three months pregnant by the time they’d realised and then accepted that they were one of the rare few. A couple who could produce offspring in the old way. Sarah felt that she’d been cursed and wondered at what she’d done to deserve such a cruel outcome to her first sexual encounter. Alex was shocked, but despite what was becoming fashionable, despite the extra work and responsibilities and perhaps persecution having their child would bring into their lives. For him, the introduction of a child into their lives felt right somehow. He felt like a father from the moment he discovered the unlikely conception.

At eighteen, Sarah had been overly concerned with what her peers and her parents’ friends thought of her pregnancy. People generally made one of two assumptions. Either that she’d planned conception and used the synthi-sperm procedure, or that she was having a random. Most assumed she’d conceived with Synthi-sperm and whilst they frowned at her having made the decision so young, most mothers were in their forties, they simply saw her as a silly wee lassie who’d been a little stupid and headstrong. Sarah was happy enough, for the most part, to let people believe that she’d gotten pregnant deliberately but it galled her to be set apart from her peers who slowly trickled away into the past and stopped calling her.

As well as her social circle depleting, her thoughts were consumed with the delivery of their baby. She was terrified at the thought and frequently had panic attacks in response to Holo-Shows about birth or during visits to the Pre-natal clinic. Alex had tried his best to put her mind at ease, but really, what could he say? He had no more idea than she did about what the delivery suite would hold for her.

Sarah had taken time to adjust, but had eventually become more positive through the course of the pregnancy. Then, along came Thomas.

Thomas’s birth had been every bit as difficult as Sarah had feared. After a very dangerous assisted delivery, she’d been left badly damaged, physically and emotionally. Her body of course, healed over the weeks and months that followed, but her mental health had deteriorated badly and had never recovered.

She seemed to blame their new son for the manner and difficulty of his arrival, and frequently referred to him as it. Alex ignored the remarks and remained positive. Sarah worked very hard at being a mother, but it was obvious that a sense of duty drove her. She took no pleasure in her baby and clearly resented him and the responsibilities he’d brought. Sarah couldn’t bond with the boy. The daily monotony of nappies, bottles, washing, cleaning, crying, screaming. Lather, rinse, repeat. It chipped away at her self-esteem and her ability to remain positive. She couldn’t see the moment for what it was; a moment. A period of hardship that wouldn’t last forever. She couldn’t see an end to the hell she found herself in and cried for her dreams of a different life. She simply wasn’t capable of loving her baby enough to keep moving forward.

Alex juggled work, his studies and spent as much time as possible at home. Eventually, they agreed that Sarah would be happier getting out to work and Alex should drop one of his jobs to stay at home and look after Thomas more often. Alex hoped that Sarah’s escape from the Groundhog Day nature of being a parent to a young, demanding baby would help her lift her spirits and appreciate the now more limited time she spent with the baby. Instead, Alex’ bond with their son grew stronger and hers disappeared altogether.

As the years had passed and their lives moved on, more and more, Sarah had sunk into depressive routines and habits. She stopped working and began vaping two years ago. Recently she’d moved from being indifferent to Thomas to being openly hostile.

Sarah rarely left their apartment and was so desperately sad and angry all of the time Alex didn’t recognise her anymore. She’d isolated herself so completely from him and from their son that the gulf between them seemed impossible to cross. Alex had tried desperately to snap her out of the blackness she was in, but caring about her, loving her, had become more and more difficult because of how she’d been treating their son. She obviously and openly blamed him for everything she perceived as absent from or wrong with her life. Alex couldn’t find a trace of his childhood friend in her eyes anymore, but was determined to keep trying to bring her back to her old self and shield Thomas form her illness.

He picked up the Holo of their wedding day and watched his former-self hug and smile the woman he loved. He smiled sadly as he recalled that they’d had a huge row the previous night. I’m only seventeen, Alex. I’m not ready to be a mother. Especially to a kid I didn’t plan. They call them Randoms now, you know.

Alex recalled every exchange from that night. In the early hours they’d argued, screamed at each other. They’d both cried and eventually he’d convinced Sarah that having their baby and getting married was the right thing to do. Not just for the baby, but for both of them also. He had it all planned; Medical school, two jobs to support them whilst he studied. He promised her that they could make it work, that they’d be happy. He’d place his hand over the barely visible bump in her abdomen where their child grew and begged her to trust him. By morning she’d agreed to try.

 

Alex placed the Holo-Frame face-down on his bedside cabinet and turned out the light. He smiled to himself in the darkness. I’ll take them to the beach tomorrow. Yellowcraigs Beach in Gullane. Granda’s beach.


3

 Thomas had found himself a couple of friends and had been playing handball at the edge of the sea. As usual, his peers’ gameplay was a little gentile for his liking and he’d been trying in vain to liven things up. The kids he was playing with didn’t have the same competitive urge and soon lost interest in the game. The group of new friends were sitting burying each other’s feet in the sand. Eventually Thomas got bored and walked off towards the sea to skim some smooth pebbles out across the still, gentle surface of the Firth of Forth. Alex watched his restless, outgoing son and smiled. He didn’t bother turning to share the moment with Sarah, experience had taught him that even if she had been watching, which she wasn’t, she didn’t feel the same swell in her heart as he when watching Tommy at play.

It didn’t matter. It was a beautiful day and Sarah looked peaceful for the first time in months. Whilst he lay on his back, propped up on his elbows, she had rested her head across his lap and was laid face-up, eyes closed soaking up the sun’s rays. Alex played absent-mindedly with her hair and sighed in satisfaction. It was the most intimate they’d been in months and warmed his core more completely then the day’s beautiful sunshine ever could. This trip had been a good idea. Days like today had been what he’d had in mind when he imagined his future as an eighteen year old new father.

 

Suddenly aware that he hadn’t seen Tommy for a minute or two Alex sat lazily, rising from his elbows carefully, so as to not disturb Sarah. Unable to see Tommy straight away, he shaded his eyes with his hand and scanned along the beachfront. In bright blue long shorts, Thomas shouldn’t have been hard to spot but Alex couldn’t see him anywhere around. Sarah groaned and rolled off him as he rose to his feet, the beginnings of panic starting to surge through him. Still more or less calm, he walked quickly to the spot he’d last seen Thomas throwing stones from and began scanning up and down the beach and along the water’s edge once more.

“Thomas!” he yelled up the beach before sprinting along the waters’ edge, splashing and pushing his way along the shore.

Alex made his way east until he reached the furthermost point of the beach, scanning the depth of the beach and fifty feet into the sea as he went before turning around and sprinting Westward. After spending thirty minutes frantically running, searching and calling for his son, Alex made his way to where Sarah still lay. Grabbing her by the arm, he shook and pulled her up onto her feet.

“Have you seen Thomas?”

“Whaaat?” she replied, groggily. She’d been vaping. Whilst he’d been searching for Thomas, she’d been getting high.

“Thomas! Have you seen him?”

Sarah waved him off dismissively and sat back down.

“He’s over there playing.” She slurred pointing to the place where he’d been playing handball an hour before.

“He’s gone, Sarah.” Alex knelt in front of her, calmed himself as much as possible and took her face in his hands forcing her to look at and focus on him.

“Sarah, I can’t find him. We need to call the police.”

Sarah blinked dumbly a few times and lay on her side before replying.

“Och, he’ll be fine.”

Alex swore loudly at her, drawing the attention of a family nearby.

Turning around, he’d decided to search the beach one more time when suddenly he spotted the blue shorts he’d spent the last hour looking for.

 

Thomas was strolling casually towards his father accompanied by a slim, middle-aged man. The man looked familiar and was dressed in a very expensive looking suit, despite the weather and location. He had his right arm around Thomas, guiding him towards his Dad. The pair of them looked relaxed and had clearly just shared a joke. Alex darted over to his son, went down on one knee and pulled him in close.

“Where the hell did you get to, Thomas? We’ve been worried sick.”

Thomas looked over his dad’s shoulder at his mother who was slumped on a beach towel, blissfully unaware of his presence. He raised an eyebrow challenging his Dad.

Alex followed the boy’s eyes and nodded, “Well, I’ve been worried sick. Where have you been?”

Tommy shrugged.

“I just took a walk along the beach. Ran into Mr Ennis and had a chat with him in the ice cream bar. He’s a nice man, Dad. I know what people I shouldn’t talk to, I’m not stupid.”

Alex was less than impressed with Tommy’s nonchalance and his decision to depart for an ice-cream with a total stranger, but he shook off the anger and turned to shake Mr Ennis’ hand.

“Alex Kinsella. Thanks for bringing my son back, Mr Ennis.”

“Gavin, please. And it’s no trouble. He’s a very clever boy, Dr Kinsella. You must be very proud of him.” Gavin still had a hold of Alex hand.

Alex eye twitched involuntarily but he managed to force a smile onto his face.

“Thanks, Gavin. We are.”

Ennis stood smiling at him in silence, until Alex cleared his throat, pulled his hand from Gavin’s and took Tommy by the hand.

“Well, thanks again Gavin. Good to meet you.”

“And you, Dr Kinsella.” He bent to ruffle Tommy’s hair.

“Nice to meet you too, young man.”

Thomas laughed and asked Gavin “See you again sometime? Next time we’re at the beach?”

Alex bristled at the stranger’s easy familiarity and obvious rapport with his son. “Sure.” Gavin replied. “Bye folks.”

With that, Gavin made his way from the beach back up towards the ice-cream bar.

Alex looked down at his son. “Did this guy just come over and ask you to go for an ice-cream?”

Thomas shook his head. No, Dad. I saw him reading a Jonathan Maberry book and went over to talk to him. I told you, I’m not stupid.” Thomas said defensively.

Alex looked his son in the eye. “I’m really angry at you, Thomas. You had me worried.”

Looking at his bare feet, the boy shuffled. “Sorry.”

It was grudged, he clearly felt that he hadn’t done anything wrong and this worried Alex.

“C’mon, son. Let’s go take Mum home.” As they walked towards their spot on the beach where Sarah lay, Thomas asked his father, “Can we go for a burger on the way home, Dad? I’ll pay.” Thomas fished a note from his pocket and waved it as his father.

Alex snatched the unfamiliarly-coloured note from him. Unfolding it he realised his son had a one thousand pound note.

“Did he give you this?” he asked sounding angrier than he’d meant to.

Thomas’s eyes had begun to tear up. “Yes. It was a gift.”

“Right.” Alex said.

Grabbing Thomas by his wrist he marched towards the ice-cream bar, trailing the boy behind him and holding the note out in a fist. Storming into the bar, his eyes tore around the room, searching for Ennis. With no sign of him, Alex approached the vendor, still clutching Tommy’s wrist.

“’Scuse me?” he barked at the vendor. “Have you seen a guy in a suit?”

“Oh, aye. Mr Ennis. He was having a chat with the wee man there a wee while ago.”

“And you didn’t think that was a bit weird?” He asked the man.

Looking puzzled and a little defensive the guy replied.

“What? A guy and a wee laddie sitting laughing together over an ice-cream? Not really, pal. Besides, Mr Ennis is a lovely man, he’s in here all the time.”

Alex was exasperated. “Where is he?”

The vendor shrugged. “You just missed him. His driver just picked him up two minutes ago.”

“Driver?”

“Aye.” Replied the vendor.

“He’s got one of those big Mayback jobs. None of your hydrogen powered nonsense, a real petrol engine.”

Alex shook off his confusion. “Who is this guy exactly?”

The vendor pointed at a Holo-Ad that was playing on the projector in the corner. The Ad was for Synthi-Sperm’s largest manufacturer, Synthi-Co.

“He owns that company. Lovely man, down to earth. You’d never know he had billions in the bank….Except for the car.”

 

4

Alex closed Thomas’ room door and leaned against it for a second. He’d spoken over and over again to his son about how worried he’d been for him when Thomas had disappeared with Gavin Ennis that afternoon. Tommy said all the right things to assure his dad that it wouldn’t happen again, but Alex could tell from his body language that his son thought that he hadn’t done anything wrong and was just telling his father what he wanted to hear. This meant that Thomas would likely make the same choice gain given a similar situation and this made Alex nervous. There was little point in pushing him further, Tommy had made his mind up and Alex would just have to trust that he’d listen to him.

Continuing along the hallway, Alex gently pushed the door to his and Sarah’s room open and peeked inside. She was sprawled across the entire bed, fully clothed and in a deep vape-induced sleep. One less thing to worry about tonight. Alex thought to himself, before descending the stairs to the kitchen.

After making a coffee, he perched himself on the nearest stool. An infrequent coffee-drinker, the intense hit refreshed his weary mind almost instantly. Alex enjoyed the new clarity for a second before reaching for his Holo-Net tablet. Propping the tablet on the breakfast bar, Alex pressed a soft key on the edge of the device. The tablet resembled a very thin picture frame but with an empty space where the glass and photograph would normally sit. Very light, the frame was designed to fold to credit-card size.

Upon pressing the soft key the frame immediately flashed into life, a vivid High Definition Holo-image of the family filling the empty space of the frame. Alex pressed softly at the corner of the image and it changed to a traditional looking desktop, which is what Alex liked to work from. Selecting the Holo-Net icon, Alex watched a Holo-Keyboard slide out from the bottom of the frame and began searching the Holo-Net for information on Gavin Ennis. Hours later, he’d selected a dozen or so blogs, news articles, opinion pieces and company reports from the hundreds of articles he’d found on Mr Gavin Ennis. Alex was determined to find something to justify the unease he’d felt when Gavin placed his arm around Thomas.

 

Business Insider

 

Gavin Ennis today issued a share option to his five hundred thousand staff. The generous package rewards staff at all levels, from janitorial to boardroom, a quarterly bonus in shares in return for their hard work and contribution to the company. The effectiveness of the employee’s service within the company will determine how many shares each employee is rewarded with.

 

In a statement announcing the scheme, Mr Ennis stated,

 

“We want every lab technician, Scientist, executive, mailroom operative and accountant in our firm to be valued equally and have equal opportunity to receive equal shares issued. With this in mind, these bonuses will be decided by a sliding scale which takes into account the effectiveness, efficiency and loyalty of each individuals’ specific role. Simply put; if our janitor works his ass off and one of our executives under-achieves, our janitor will go home with more shares than the exec.”

 

The scheme is yet another example of why Mr Ennis has been our Business person of the Year three years in a row and Europe’s’ Employer of the Year for the last five years. Mr Ennis’ proactive approach to business management and investment in his staff at all levels is impressive.

 

Alex tapped the corner of the article and brought the next few articles to the front of the Holo-Screen.

 

Time Magazine

 

“Gavin Ennis is our kinda guy!”

 

Daily China Gazette

 

“Ennis continues to forge global links, driving forward his mission to bring low-priced, high quality reproductive health care to citizens of every country.”

 

The Scotsman

 

“Gavin Ennis continues to fly the Saltire.”

 

New Scientist Magazine

 

“Ennis contribution to and continued developments in reproductive health place him in the upper echelons of the scientific elite. That he shares his ideas so freely and his services so cheaply, is to his credit.”

 

 Tiring of reading, Alex brought up a Holo-Tube documentary that nicely summarised Ennis’ contribution to the Synthi-Sperm sector and gestured a command to start the presenter speaking.

 

“In 2025 the World Health Organisation published a report on the diminishing reproductive capabilities of the world’s male population. Sperm quality and quantity in the ‘of breeding age’ demographic had fallen to previously unseen levels. The WHO report presented convincing evidence which suggested that the drastic and irreversible decline in reproductive function was most likely the result of an accumulation of three generations use of hormone-based contraception as well as some other unknown elements. The report suggested that the effects on our physiology and genetics of high levels of progesterone and oestrogen in our drinking water had instigated a permanent change in human physiology.

By 2040 only one in a hundred thousand couples globally could reproduce without medical assistance. Quality sperm had rapidly become the most expensive substance in the history of humankind; until a small lab named Synthi-Co in Wales, founded by Mr Gavin Ennis perfected the technique for producing, healthy artificial sperm.

By 2050, most babies were the result of IVF using the now ubiquitous synthi-sperm. Whilst children conceived by the synthetic method demonstrated a slightly reduced capacity for learning and were significantly more docile than the much rarer, Randoms, the choice of physical characteristics available to the parents when designing the synthi-sperm which would become their child, offset any worries they may have had about their child being a little mild-mannered.

It had become fashionable to use synthi-sperm and a significant portion of the small minority who could conceive ‘naturally’ frequently chose to use synthi-sperm anyway, rather than take a gamble on which characteristics their offspring might inherit. Very few children remained in the population who’d been conceived by ‘traditional means’, and were generally referred to as Randoms; a reference to their relatively random conception and the formation of their physical characteristics.

Whilst a generation of more desirable designer children now existed, ambition, competition and will to succeed seemed mostly absent in the synthi-kids and this new generation was much more content and much less aggressive than any that had come before. The world of 2050 is a much more peaceful place to live in, but discrimination and prejudices do still exist.

The Randoms have become somewhat of an underclass. Parents of Randoms worry about their child’s career prospects and take care to hide their child’s status from their peers. Many have begun to purchase illegal documents to falsely validate their child; to certify them as being of the new breed of children. The parents of synthi-kids take comfort in knowing that they’ve given their offspring the best possible start in life.

Recently there have been rumours of defects in the synthi-kid genome, but most parents have faith that the governments will provide their local geneticists with the new skills and techniques to iron out any flaws. They believe that they are in good hands and trust their Reproductive Health Professionals.

Mr Ennis has been quick to reassure his patients that Synthi-Kids are indeed the healthiest and most advantaged children our society has ever produced. He has also dedicated his vast resources to founding community assistance for the so called Randoms, stating that ‘No British child, no matter how deficient their start in life, should ever be discriminated against.’ His outlook and defence of human rights proved popular with the British public leading to a call for a government position to be created for Mr Ennis. The Scottish government moved quickly, making Mr Ennis a national tsar of sorts for reproductive and mental health in Scotland. The British government is widely expected to match the offer.

 The report went on for another hour but Alex had gotten what he needed. Frowning, he closed all of his active screens. Seems our Mr Ennis, pardon me, Gavin, is a bit of a saint. A super-wealthy saint, but a saint none the less.

END OF EXCERPT

The Man Who Sold His Son is scheduled for publication by Paddy’s Daddy Publishing in late Summer 2014

Mark is the author of Bobby’s Boy, Head Boy, Naebody’s Hero and the dEaDINBURGH Series.

You can find Mark and his books at Amazon UK and Amazon US