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When we started Myrmidon in 2006, the price of a standard B format paperback was £7.99. Now it’s… well, £7.99.
‘Books aren’t commodities!’ is the plaintive cry we hear so often in the trade. Apparently not, for we all know what’s happened to commodity prices over the past seven years, despite a miserable economy for the last four of them. So what makes our products so depressingly immune?
It is my long held and growing conviction that the principal and underlying cause of the malaise that seems to be unique to our market is the time-honoured practice of publishers printing prices on books, and that until this is ended the UK trade in bound books will remain essentially rotten and broken.
I’ve never supported those who seek to make pariahs out of on-line retailers, supermarkets and large chain book retailers; they do what they do and are good at it: ‘sharks gotta swim; bats gotta fly’, as Tom Lehrer once observed. It’s long been my experience that there are usually simple and rational causes for aberrations in the market – and this one stares us in the face every time we pick up one of our products.
Such blame as there is lies squarely with publishers – and perhaps also with a few naïve literary agents and authors who cling wistfully to this last relic of the Net Book Agreement like the memento of a late, lamented grandmother. But the old dear is gone and she ain’t coming back and, unlike her benign-looking picture on the dresser, the effect on us all of what amounts to a virtual price cap on UK books is entirely malignant.
Faced with rising overheads, all booksellers have to derive a sustaining margin from somewhere, and if a printed price cap denies them the legitimate opportunity of getting it from the consumer they are inevitably forced to squeeze it from the rest of us. And it’s this that’s torn the heart out of trade publishing over the past two decades and rendered it a damned uncomfortable place to be for all but a handful of publishing behemoths and biggest-selling authors who can still make a good living from something that’s stacked high and sold cheap. The tab has been picked up by everyone else in the value-adding chain: publishers; mid-list, debut and aspiring authors and their agents; artists, designers, printers and typesetters – and High Street booksellers who, uniquely in the world of retailing, can only differentiate themselves from their competitors by varying prices downwards.
Book prices must be allowed to rise organically and incrementally (not just when publishers decide on the occasion of the biennial reprint). Booksellers themselves must be allowed and encouraged to spearhead that rise whenever they perceive an opportunity to do so. This is a necessary prerequisite for gradually enhancing the public perception of the value of books as and when trading conditions permit. Publishers are ill-equipped and insufficiently responsive to do this.
I’m aware that some of my publishing colleagues seem to derive some comfort from the status quo and a feeling that have some influence on the ‘fairness’ of the retail mark-up. I can only say to them – and to those literary agents that still hanker for RRP-based royalties – is that the price that retailers sell product to consumers is simply none of our damned business, and that to try to make it otherwise is both a vain delusion and contrary to our own interests.
If we are serious about increasing the real and perceived value of bound books (and e books too, since the price of the one is largely derived as a proportion of the other) then UK publishers and retailers, acting in concert, must take the first and necessary step of removing the printed publisher price. It’s not too late to do this, providing we start now. When we do, we begin to eliminate the very notion of ‘discount’ from the vocabulary of the consumer; there can be no discounting without something from which to discount.
A higher margin book trade will not only offer a lifeline to struggling booksellers; it lowers the break-even volume threshold for new publications, enabling an enriched output, offering a wider choice of titles to readers and far greater opportunities for new writers. It also means a supply chain far more capable of eliminating waste, inventory and returns to provide a much more stable cash flow for publishers and all those who supply them. The benefits are obvious.
So, when can we get started?
The air was still this Friday morning but the rustling palms swayed in the searing heat as the chorus of ‘Allah-hu akbar’ rumbled from the Grand Mosque. Dhuhr, midday prayer, had ended and the congregation slipped out into the sunshine. Collecting their shoes and sandals at the entrance they mingled in the courtyard pressing hands, exchanging kisses with familiar faces – sharing news.
‘Make way, make way,’ screamed a megaphone and the crowd parted to allow a truck and an ambulance through.
‘Baba, Baba, what’s happening?’ asked a boy, watching the police in khaki spill from the back of the truck.
‘There’s going to be a show.’
‘I can’t see. Can we go to the front, Baba?’
The police formed a cordon and the mutaween shepherded the crowd, wielding their canes.
‘There’s to be a beheading,’ said a man.
‘And a stoning,’ added another.
‘And a westerner is going to be flogged for brewing.’
‘This I must see.’
Hush fell as a white Suburban with tinted windows approached and the police cleared a path.
A black man in a thobe alighted and was escorted into the courtyard by two men with machine guns.
‘Who’s the big man, Baba?’ asked the boy.
‘That’s Mohammed, the executioner.’
The police led a dishevelled figure wearing Afghani dress and a blindfold into the square. He was barefoot, with shackled feet and hands cuffed behind his back. The chain clinked along the ground leaving a mark in the dirt as the crowd stared and hissed.
The prisoner halted and turned his ashen face to the sky, smiling as the sun kissed it. He heaved a sigh and began reciting verses from the Qur’an, seeking salvation. An official read aloud the prisoner’s name and his crime. ‘Our country does not tolerate drugs. Let this be a lesson to those who deal in this evil,’ he said sanctimoniously in a resonant voice. A murmur of approval passed through the crowd and heads shook in condemnation.
‘Kneel!’ commanded a policeman and the man fell to his knees and bowed towards the Holy City of Mecca.
The executioner jabbed the scimitar in the man’s back and made him jerk his head up. The executioner’s arm rose high and paused. Silence hung in the air. The sun flashed across the blade, it arced through the sky and then the man’s head tumbled from his shoulders spurting a fountain of blood, its lips still reciting the Shahada. The body keeled over raising a puff of dust and its twitching made the chain jingle. The parched earth was quenched by rivulets of blood.
A collective gasp escaped from the crowd and several men fainted. ‘Bismillah’ was on every lip followed by silence. The boy screamed and grabbed his father’s thobe.
‘Why, Baba, why?’ asked the boy.
‘It’s Allah’s will,’ replied his father.
Conversation returned and rippled through the crowd.
‘That was quick,’ a white-faced man said, dabbing his forehead with a handkerchief.
‘Mohammed’s good at his job,’ replied another man.
‘His father was too,’ someone agreed.
‘The stoning is next,’ called out an excited voice from the back and pointed at a pile of rocks.
‘I wouldn’t miss that for the world,’ said his neighbour.
‘It’s very messy,’ said a young voice.
‘The adulteress must suffer!’ shouted an older man. ‘That’s the way!’
‘I don’t have the stomach for that,’ came a weak voice.
‘A sodomite’s going to die too,’ cried the voice from the back.
‘Alhamdulillah ,’ chorused a group around him.
The boy watched the ambulance drive away with the body and shook his head.
‘I don’t understand, Baba,’ he mumbled.
The father patted his son on the head and they walked away.
The Fortress of Iron squatted on top of the mountain like a skull driven onto a spike. It was the shape of the ant-likehead of Ghast Number One: its mouth a doorway big enough to fit a tank, the radio masts a pair of huge antennae rising above the gun emplacements that served it for eyes.
Praetorian assault-lieutenant 28935/H, Stormfist Legion, snarled into the polar wind as he lumbered across the snow. The cold stung his lattice of facial scars, but to flinch would have been to show weakness. And weakness, of course, deserved death.
Captain 948356/B awaited him at the doors to the citadel beside a writhing coil of bio-wire. As the lieutenant ran up, a succession of muffled explosions rippled from inside the fortress like great belches. The Earth-scum had laid plenty of bombs and the drone clearance teams were still finding them
‘Ak nak!’ 28935/H bellowed. ‘All hail mighty Number One!’
The captain nodded. He was slightly over half the praetorian’s height. ‘All hail our glorious leader. Are the humans dead yet?’
28935/H swallowed hard. ‘Almost, Captain. We have them trapped in the Museum of Puny Human Artefacts. As soon as we gain access, they will be annihilated.’ 948356/B shivered and pulled his leather coat tight around his meagre body. ‘What are you waiting for? Lead me to them!’
They slogged their way across the compound. The museum loomed above them like a corrupted Greek temple. Huge pillars clustered around the doors. Above the entrance, a bas relief showed Number One stamping on the great buildings of Earth, his heel grinding the head of the Statue of Liberty to dust.
Ghasts swarmed around the building, flies on carrion. Trenchcoats and stercoria flapping, the ant-men rushed about yelling threats and orders to one another, pointing and saluting. One praetorian unit had shot its weakest member and, now that rigor mortis had set in, was using him as a battering ram against the service door.
‘We have made all efforts to break into the museum,’ 28935/H snarled. ‘Superior Ghast construction hinders our efforts.’
‘A feeble excuse,’ the captain replied. His breath hissed into the cold air. ‘Failure to crush these Earth-scum immediately will result in you being relocated to the delightful snow-capped mountains of the M’Lak Front!’
28935/H saluted very quickly. He could have easily pulled his master’s head from its narrow shoulders but, without a command to do so, he was powerless. ‘We shall double our efforts,’ he promised, pulling his gun and shooting a minion to show that he meant it. He paused, and a rare moment of curiosity passed through his reinforced skull. ‘Captain?’
‘Is it true that Isambard Smith is inside? The Isambard Smith? The one who assassinated indestructible Number Eight?’ 948356/B ignored him.
‘Because, I was thinking. . . Number Eight was genetically perfect – all the posters say so – and if you can kill something that’s genetically perfect. . .’
‘Lean forward.’ The praetorian leaned. ‘Bit closer. I can’t reach.’
28935/H almost bent double. ‘How is this, great one?’
‘Perfect.’ 948356/B slapped him across the jaw. ‘Never think for yourself!’ he shrieked. ‘Now smash your way in and slaughter them!’
In the cool dark of the museum, under the glow of Florence Nightingale’s lamp, Major Wainscott gathered his men. The Deepspace Operations Group loaded their weapons under an exhibit entitled Puny Humans Tolerate Illness.
‘Pay close attention,’ Wainscott said, stroking his beard. ‘We’ve got two minutes at most before those ugly bastards bash their way inside. The charges are laid, but we need to get some distance. Smith, how’s our transport?’
Isambard Smith took his mouth away from the siphon and said, ‘Nearly done,’ and got a spurt of petrol in the face for his trouble.
‘Excellent. We’ll go out guns blazing. Susan, you and the chaps’ll be on top deck.’
His second in command pushed a fresh power-pack into the top of her beam gun. ‘Right.’
‘Now, where’s that damned alien. . . ?’
‘Greetings!’ Suruk the Slayer strolled out of the dark, past a model of Louis Pasteur Failing To Develop A Deadly Viral Weapon. Suruk opened his mandibles and smiled. ‘Apologies for my lateness. I was distracted by Feeble Bladed Weapons of the Stunted Himalayas. I trust I have not missed any of the carnage?’
Smith spat out petrol and stood up. ‘We’re all set. Let’s get loaded up. We’ve only got half an hour to meet up with the ship.’
‘Well said,’ Wainscott replied. ‘Hop on, men! And hold on tight!’
© Toby Frost 2013
But it wasn’t yet midnight, and it wasn’t clear. Snow whispered down, a cold powder that reflected colorful lights hanging on adobe buildings beyond an intersection ahead. Even the traffic lights appeared festive.
“What a perfect Christmas Eve,” a woman marveled, proceeding with the crowd on Alameda Street. The Spanish word alameda referred to the poplars that had rimmed the street years earlier when it had been only a lane. Although cottonwoods had long since replaced those poplars, the street remained narrow, the sidewalk barely accommodating the crush of people coming from mass at St. Francis Cathedral or from the ice sculptures in Santa Fe’s four-hundred-year-old wooded square, known as the Plaza.
“You think the lights in the Plaza are something?” the woman’s companion told her. “Wait’ll you see Canyon Road. A mile of decorations. You’ll be glad you came to visit for the holidays. People travel from all over the world to see Santa Fe at Christmas. You know what it means, don’t you? ‘Santa Fe’?”
“At the hotel, I heard somebody call it the City Different.”
“That’s just its nickname. Santa Fe was settled by the Spanish. The name means ‘Holy Faith.’ It’s perfect for this time of year.”
“Peace on Earth, goodwill to men…”
Moving with the crowd, the man in the black ski jacket didn’t care about peace or goodwill. He was forty-five, but the effects of his hard life had made him look older. He had big shoulders and creased features, and he saw with the tunnel vision of a hunter so that objects on each side of him registered only as blurs. For him, sounds diminished as well. The carolers, the cathedral bells, the exclamations of delight at the holiday displays—all of these lessened as he focused solely on his quarry. There were only fifteen people between them.
The target wore a navy parka, but despite the falling snow, he had the hood shoved back, allowing a cold layer of white to accumulate on his head. The pursuer understood. A man on the run couldn’t allow the sides of a hood to obstruct his view of what lay on each side. Desperate to find an escape route, the fugitive saw differently than a hunter, not with tunnel vision but with an intense awareness of everything around him.
The killer kept his hands in the pockets of his ski jacket. Inside the pockets were slits that made it easy for him to reach the two pistols he had holstered on his belt under his jacket. Each weapon had a sound suppressor. One was a 10-millimeter Glock, chosen because of its power and because the rifling in Glock barrels blurred the striations on bullets fired from them. As a consequence, crime-scene investigators found it almost impossible to link those bullets to any particular gun.
But if everything went as planned, the force of the Glock wouldn’t be necessary. Instead, the second pistol—a .22 Beretta—would be chosen for its subtlety. Even without a suppressor, the small-caliber gun made little noise. But with a suppressor, and with subsonic ammunition designed for Santa Fe’s 7,000 feet of altitude, the .22 was about as quiet as a pistol could be. Equally important, its lesser power meant that the bullet it fired wasn’t likely to jeopardize the mission by going through the target and hitting the precious object hidden under his parka.
“…to hear the angels sing.”
At the intersection, the traffic light changed to red. As the snow kept falling, the crowd stopped and formed a dense barrier that prevented the hunter from moving closer to his target.
Suddenly, a man’s voice blurted from an earbud concealed beneath the black watchman’s cap that the hunter wore over his ears.
“Melchior! Status!” the angry voice demanded.
The hunter’s name was Andrei. His employer, a former KGB interrogator, had given him the pseudonym “Melchior” to sanitize the team’s radio communications in case an enemy accessed their frequency. The seemingly nonsensical choice had puzzled Andrei until he’d learned that, according to tradition, Melchior was one of the wise men who’d followed the Christmas star to Bethlehem and discovered the baby Jesus.
A microphone was concealed under the ski-lift tickets attached to the zipper on Andrei’s coat: tickets that were commonplace in this mountain resort. To avoid attracting attention when he replied, he pulled his cell phone from a pants pocket and pretended to talk into it. His breath was white with frost. Although his origins were Russian, his American accent was convincing.
He pressed the microphone to transmit his message.
“Hey, Uncle Harry. I just walked up Alameda Street. I’m on the corner of Paseo de Peralta.” The Spanish name meant “walkway of Peralta” and referred to Santa Fe’s founder, a governor of New Mexico in the early 1600s. “Canyon Road’s across the street. I’ll pick up the package and be at your place in twenty minutes.”
“Do you know where the package is?” The gruff voice made no attempt to conceal its Russian accent, or its impatience.
“Right in front of me,” Andrei pretended to say into his cell phone. “The Christmas decorations are amazing.”
“Our clients will be here any second. Get it back!”
“As soon as my friends catch up to me.”
“Balthazar! Caspar! Status!” the voice demanded.
The unusual pseudonyms were the names that tradition had given to the remaining wise men in the Christmas story.
“Almost there!” another accented voice said through Andrei’s earbud, breathing quickly. “When you grab the package, we’ll block anybody who gets in the way.”
“Good. Tomorrow, we’ll watch football,” Andrei said into the microphone. “See you in a bit, Uncle Harry.”
He wore thin leather shooter’s gloves that provided only brief protection from the cold. As the traffic light changed to green, he returned the phone to his pants pocket, then shoved his hands back into his fleece-lined jacket, warming his fingers.
The crowd proceeded across the street, continuing to shield the target, who was about six feet tall, slender but with surprising strength, as Andrei knew firsthand from missions they’d served on together.
And from what had occurred fifteen minutes earlier.
Dark hair of medium length. Rugged yet pleasant features that witnesses otherwise found hard to describe. In his early thirties.
Andrei now realized that these details were the extent of what he knew about the man. The thought intensified his anger. Until tonight, he’d believed that he and his quarry were on the same side—and more, that they were friends.
You’re the only person I trusted, Pyotyr. How many other lies did you tell? I vouched for you. I told the Pakhan that he could depend on you. If I don’t get back what you stole, he’ll have me killed.
The man reached the opposite side of the street and turned to the right, passing star-shaped lights strung along the windows of an art gallery. Andrei shifted a little closer—only thirteen people away now—avoiding sudden movements, doing nothing that would disrupt the flow of the crowd and cause his prey to look back. Although the man’s gait remained steady, Andrei knew that his left arm was wounded. It hung at his side. Shadows and trampling footsteps concealed the blood he left on the snow.
You’ll soon weaken, Andrei thought, surprised that he hadn’t already.
Red and blue lights flashed ahead, making Andrei tense. Despite the holiday surroundings, it was impossible to mistake those lights for Christmas displays. Reflected by the falling snow, they were mounted on the roofs of two police cars that blocked the entrance to Canyon Road. Large red letters on the cars’ white doors announced: santa fe police.
Andrei’s shoulders tightened. Are they searching for us? Have they found the bodies?
Two burly policemen in bulky coats stood before the cruisers, stamping their boots in the snow, trying to keep warm. Stiff from the cold, they raised their left arms awkwardly and motioned toward oncoming headlights, warning cars and pickup trucks to keep going and not enter Canyon Road.
Ahead in the crowd, a woman pointed with concern. “Why would the police be here? Something must have happened. Maybe we’d better stay away.”
“Nothing’s wrong,” her companion assured her. “The police form a barricade every year. Christmas Eve, cars can’t drive on Canyon Road. Only pedestrians are allowed there tonight.”
Andrei watched Pyotyr walk around the cruisers and enter the celebration on Canyon Road, taking care to avoid eye contact with the policemen. They paid him no attention, looking bored.
Yes, they’re only managing traffic, Andrei decided. That’ll soon change, but by then, I’ll have what I need and be out of here.
He wondered why Pyotyr hadn’t run to the police for help, but after a moment’s thought, he understood. The bastard knows we won’t allow anything to stop us from taking back what he stole. With their weapons holstered, those two cops wouldn’t have a chance if we rushed them.
Staring ahead, he noticed how the increasing narrowness of Canyon Road made the crowd even denser. Santa Fe was a small city of about 70,000 people. Before beginning his assignment, Andrei had reconnoitered the compact downtown area and knew that Canyon Road had few side streets. It reminded him of a funnel.
Things will happen swiftly now, he thought. I’ll get you, my friend.
Whoever you are.
Andrei’s vision narrowed even more, focusing almost exclusively on the back of Pyotyr’s head, where he intended to put his bullet. Pretending to marvel at the Christmas decorations, he passed the flashing lights of the police cars and entered the kill zone.
© David Morrell 2008
P. S. Duffy was born in China and grew up in the United States. She spent over thirty summers sailing in Nova Scotia, where her ancestors had settled in the 1750s and where the home front chapters of The Cartographer of No Man’s Land take place.
She has a degree in history and a doctorate in communication disorders and is the author of essays, flash fiction, an academic text, and a memoir of her family’s time in 1940s China. Retired from a clinical and research career in neurologically based communication disorders, she now combines creative writing with writing in the neurosciences for the Mayo Clinic. She lives in Rochester, Minnesota with her husband. The Cartographer of No Man’s Land is her first novel.
Photo © Karl Beighley
In the centenary year of the Great War, Myrmidon’s lead literary fiction title for 2014 will be The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by American novelist, P.S. Duffy, and newly acquired through literary agents Abner Stein and the author’s US agent, Julie Barer.
The centerpiece of the work is the historic assault by Canadian troops on the infamous Vimy Ridge in 1917, but the narrative alternates between the horrors of the Western Front and the effects of war on a small maritime community in Nova Scotia. It tells of an artist and navigator who, despite his pacifist upbringing, joins up in the hope of finding his missing brother-in-law.
Recently published by Norton in the US and by Penguin/Random House in Canada, The Cartographer of No Man’s Land has already been received well by North American critics and a review by Frances Itani in last week’s Washington Post described it as ‘compelling’ and as ‘an addition to the literary canon of World War I of the very best kind’.
Myrmidon’s publishing director, Ed Handyside, states that the centenary year is ‘convenient but coincidental’:
‘We’d have published it anyway. It’s quite simply the best piece of debut fiction I’ve come across for some considerable time. The stark horrors of trench warfare are painted as vividly and authentically as in the novels of Sasoon and Remarque, but amidst and despite all the trauma that afflicts both the combatants and their dependents at home, there is a controlled but strong sense of nobility that I found most affecting.’
The author, P.S. Duffy, grew up in Baltimore but spent summers sailing in Nova Scotia, which she regards as her second home. She is a science writer for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota, where she lives with her husband. The Cartographer of No Man’s Land is her first novel.
Photo © Karl Beighley
Later, Mark’s wife accused him of running away. His old friends agreed with her. They were the kind of people who didn’t understand that a person might need to go away for a while, or forever if necessary, so they would see it – with a predictable inevitability – as running away. But the fact was that he’d fundamentally shifted, although he’d been unaware of it most of the time. And then, one day, it had become unbearable. He hadn’t planned it, it had simply happened.
Mark would feel a strange sensation from time to time, a discomfort in his skin. Not an itch, exactly, but a fidgety thrill of disgust that would shiver through him. Vaguely, he knew it was the life he was leading that was causing this unease, paradoxically making him feel trapped; paradoxical because he’d made all his choices willingly and they had led to the desired outcome, which is to say, a good qualification as an engineer, marriage and fatherhood at the age of twenty-nine. So why the discomfort? Because of the inevitable but. This was the surprising and scary thing, there always seemed to be a but. Right now he could formulate it as ‘I have everything I want, but…’ It was this particular but that had caused the tremor of disquiet.
Then he did what people aren’t supposed to do. He left his home, his job, his wife, his friends, his seven month old baby… everything. He set out, with a flyer advertising a night club in his pocket that had an address written on the back in spidery pencil. And a small, hard bag of the sort that photographers carry their lenses in. But this bag did not contain photographic equipment. This bag contained £40,000 in cash.
Sitting breathless on the train, he knew with a desperate certainty that if he’d missed this departure, the three hour wait for the next train would have proved too much and he’d have given up on his wild, impromptu flight. There was a window of time, a brief moment in which Mark saw, without fully understanding why, that he must give in to this impulse to get away, or give up on himself entirely.
Mark’s mood on the journey was a mixture of exhilaration and panic. He was doing something. He wasn’t sure what it was, but that was far less important than the fact that he was doing it. It came as a shock to realise that he’d never in his life set in motion a course of action without knowing precisely what the outcome was likely to be, and it was this uncertainty that caused both the exhilaration and the panic. It was like doing the high jump. He had cleared the hurdle of escape and was now in the process of landing on the other side of the bar. He was unsure of what it might mean, to do this, except that there was something unequivocal and irrevocable about having jumped.
The train went through a long tunnel shortly after the journey started and, as it plunged through the darkness, Mark’s ears depressurised and it was as if his whole life was being sucked out of him and ejected into the air that he was leaving behind. The four-and-a-half hour journey was spent looking out at the fields and towns that he passed – an endless procession of ordered existence – or at the primroses that were in bloom beside the tracks.
He pulled the flyer from his back pocket and looked at the address scrawled there in smudged pencil: 1 Baker’s Yard.
As the train neared its destination, he could see a jumbled skyline of buildings ahead of him – corporate, private, religious – that made up the town, beyond which he could see the hills. To the west he could see the rearing cliff that dominated the skyline, crowned with its fine eighteenth century lighthouse, beneath which, he knew, were the famous caves. There was a sign by the track here, saying that the station was one mile away and he closed his eyes briefly, trying to still his nerves.
The station was one of those tall, Victorian iron-and-glass structures that made him feel that he was coming to a place of scale and substance. The station forecourt wasn’t particularly busy, but those people who were there had an air of intent and purpose that was obscurely inspiring. Outside, across a wide cobbled square, there was an avenue that sloped down to the river, flanked with arty shops, galleries and pubs. The older architecture was ornate, but not overblown, while the newer blocks of flats were made of glass that was tinted blue or green, with stainless steel railings and small but functional balconies. It was more or less what one might expect from a town that had made its money from its small port and fishing fleet a hundred and fifty years earlier and was now beginning to reassert itself in a post-industrial, even post-modern way.
The first thing he needed to do was to acquire a map of the town, in order to find his way to that all-important address, and he crossed the shiny blue-grey cobbles of the square to a small newsagent, outside which stood a series of buckets filled with bunches of tulips, carnations and freesias.
When he went in, he immediately noticed the smell of confectionery. It was one of those shops that sold hand-made chocolates in a glass cabinet by the till. This, and the waft of airy perfume from the freshly cut flowers, mingled to give an impression of indulgence and lethargy. The woman behind the counter was wearing loose pale clothes and dark tights, and looked like a dancer or someone who’d just stepped out of an aerobics class. She was reading a magazine from the extensive rack beside her and she glanced up at Mark when he came in, but didn’t stop reading until he went over to speak to her.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said when he asked, ‘we don’t have any town maps at the moment. We should have had the new edition in last week at the latest, but -’ she shrugged, ‘- you know what councils are like. And with the start of the tourist season only a week or two away…’ She shook her head in mock despair, then smiled. ‘But tell me, where are you going? I expect I’ll know where it is.’
He showed her the address.
‘Oh, well!’ she laughed, ‘you’re in luck! It’s just round the corner.’
She gave directions and before he left, he bought a magazine about the area – a county he was not familiar with. He didn’t particularly want the magazine; he bought it to give her a little custom, for being so helpful.
‘Are you here visiting friends?’ she asked as he paid.
‘No,’ he told her. ‘I think I might have come to live here.’
She smiled as he said this, but he could tell that his words had closed her off, quite suddenly, and made her sad. It was as though she heard this all the time, and knew how impossible or vain the hope might actually be.
As he walked the couple of blocks to Baker’s Yard, Mark dropped the magazine into a bin. He realised with embarrassment as he did so that he had no idea what he was going to say when he got there. It wasn’t as if he knew why he’d come, or who he was hoping to meet…
© Sebastian Beaumont 2009
Mark did what people aren’t supposed to do. He left his home, his job, his wife, his friends, his seven month old baby… everything. He set out with only two things. One was a flyer advertising a nightclub, with an address written on the back in spidery pencil. The other was a small, hard bag of the sort that photographers carry their lenses in. But this bag did not contain photographic equipment. It contained £40,000 in cash.
But it is not so easy to start again. Mark must find his way in a new town where no one will talk about their past, and where mobile phones don’t work. He soon discovers that this is not all that’s strange about this nameless town. Friendships turn into a web of deceit and motives are always suspect. Mark’s journey, both physical and metaphysical, takes him through layers of reality and towards refuge of an unexpected kind.
‘A dramatic and vividly written second novel by a talented young writer is is a must read –top stuff.’ Culturecompass.co.uk
‘Sebastian Beaumont’s debut novel Thirteen blew me away wen I read it a couple of years ago . . . Beaumont’s follow-up book, The Juggler, quite literally caught me by surprise. If this book turned out to be half as good as its predecessor then I was in for quite a ride. I braced myself accordingly. And a good job too for The Juggler isn’t half as good as Thirteen. It’s better.’ Scott Pack, Meandmybigmouth.blogspot
|Release Date||3rd February 2009|
|Trade Paperback||272 pages|
|Release Date||3rd February 2009|
A must have guide for cult TV fans.
The first and only companion guide available to Emmy and Golden Globe award winning TV drama Breaking Bad.
“I am not in danger . . . I am the danger.” With those words, Breaking Bad’s Walter White solidified himself as TV’s greatest antihero. Wanna Cook? explores the most critically lauded series on television with analyses of the individual episodes and ongoing storylines. From details such as stark settings, intricate camerawork, and jarring music to the larger themes, including the roles of violence, place, self-change, legal ethics, and fan reactions, this companion book is perfect for those diehards who have watched the Emmy Award–winning series multiple times as well as for new viewers. Wanna Cook? elucidates without spoiling and illuminates without nit-picking. A must have for any fan’s collection.
|Trade Paperback||500 pages|
|Release Date||13th May 2014|