___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

christmas calories

Time’s ticking. There’s an air of expectancy. It’s coming up on midnight.
Sleet passes outside the window. It hurtles into the city, sparking in the street and office lights.
The nutritionist has stayed late for this. Her clients and staff are gone, leaving her alone in the building. Tonight she’s waiting on a special client. He has a problem with his staff, and it could destroy his delivery targets if it’s not fixed. Even so, this appointment is scheduled for so late an hour that she has experienced major protestations from her family. She knows she has to make it count. This is important stuff.
It would have to be as well, because there’s no other reason she’d miss being with her kids tonight. Tonight of all nights.
The office is dark but for a desk lamp and the nutritionist sits in the half-shadows it casts. She is a dusky, thick-haired woman somewhere in her mid-forties. She wears executive clothes, a business suit over a plain white blouse, but has tiger-patterned heels to show a little quirkiness.
For the last three years she’s been wearing eyeglasses. She knows they suit her; she can lower them to the end of her nose and peer over the frames at someone either seductively or threateningly. Both poses affect people rather to her liking.
Tonight . . . Well, tonight she doesn’t know how it’s going to go, if she’ll need to use them as a prop, though a secret part of her would love to go all seductive on him. As her tightest friends would say, “Imagine the bragging rights . . .!”
She hears a tinkle, right at the edge of her hearing. It’s followed by a thud from upstairs. She chides her foolishness. She should have been watching for him through the window. Right now the sleet has thickened though, and her windows are smeared with furred scratches that bleed water. She rushes over and looks out. There’s nothing but blurs of light and dark, traces of headlamps moving in the sparse traffic below.
Booted feet walk on the floor above her, and then down the stairs. He hasn’t taken the lift. He’s on her level now, and coming her way with heavy, purposeful thuds. There’s a pause and then he’s pushing through the glass doors to the outer office. Earlier she’d made sure they were unlocked. Another three steps - thud, thud, thud - and then another pause. Something in the air suggests he’s just the other side of her door now. The atmosphere is pure magic, seeping through. She feels her heart tremble like it did many years ago at the thought of him. Her blood is high, her cheeks flushing.
She returns to her desk and in as confidant a voice as she can muster, she calls out.
“It’s open. Come in.”
With a jingle and a jangle, the big man enters. He has to squeeze his shoulders and duck to make his way in at the best angle he can manage. He’s cautious about standing all the way up for fear of putting his head through the ceiling tiles, so walks in a careful hunch. He’s taken his hood down, and his white hair spills free, curling at his beard. But still, he is huge.
This is one thing about him that no one tends to mention. His real size. Yes, he’s overweight, and you see that in all the pictures of him, but he carries it well. He’s a giant.
But a friendly giant?
This is the first time she has met him. Truly met him and not one of his helpers. Their correspondence has all been by letter.
He smiles at her, his cheeks rich and rosy like the sweetest red apples you ever ate.
“Hullo, Joanne.” There’s a chuckle in his rumble of a voice, even though they’re here to talk about serious matters.
She can’t help but smile back, though she is trying hard to stay professional. She finds it hard to think of him without using the word “hearty”.
“Hi,” she says, touching the report she’s prepared, acting as if he’s just another client. “Come through, and take a seat.”
He won’t fit in any of the chairs before her desk – even the outsize ones for the sturdier clients referred to her – so she waves a hand to the sofa set at an angle to the wall. When she stays late, she often puts her legs up on it and reads through her reports.
Eyeing it with some suspicion, the giant lowers himself to the sofa. It protests loudly, its internal workings going boing, and wood cracks. A couple of springs burst through the fabric either side of him, pushing foam into the air. He looks settled if not comfortable. A giant in a child’s way.
Joanne says, “You’re here alone? Your helper, he’s . . .?”
“Looking after the ride,” the big man says. “He doesn’t know why we’ve stopped here. I’ve explained it’s a little extra business, something I need to tidy up. I’m worried about him though, he seems to be deteriorating quickly. He has an enormous stomach where before he was thin and fleet.” Aware his own stomach is not exactly insubstantial, he pats it a little guiltily and sucks it in. “And he’s very sluggish, puffing and panting when he walks very far. He sleeps a lot. If you’ve answers, I’d like to hear them. And I’ll just remind you that it’s a busy night for me, so you’ll understand if I’ve to rush you.”
Joanne nods and stands up, collecting the papers in the file before her. She walks around the front of her desk and hitches up a leg and sits on its edge, facing her client, serious expression on her face.
Leafing through the statistics even though she knows them by heart, she says, “Okay, the short of it is that while you are fine on your diet—”
“Should think so too,” he says, traces of his ever-present humour in his voice.
“—your ‘helper’ is, from a nutritionist’s point of view, in a seriously bad state. For one, as an example, his cholesterol is dangerously high. It’s only going to get worse unless you put him on a balanced diet. More fresh fruit and vegetables, regular roughage, and I’d suggest a good amount of white meats. Also, though your alcohol intake is frankly off the scale, it seems to have had no affect on your liver or other vital systems. Your ‘helper’ doesn’t have the same sturdy constitution that you’ve been blessed with. His blood sugar levels are far too high and the blood tests have hinted at other potential problems.”
She slips her glasses to the end of her nose, peers sternly at her client. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
He nods slowly. “Fewer drinks for him, you’re saying. Keep off the sherry.”
Far fewer drinks for him,” Joanne stresses. “Have him count the calories and not exceed the recommendations I’ve made for him. Cut out as much sugar as possible. And I’m serious,” she says over her glasses again, giving him the scary look and holding it. Even he seems troubled by it for a few seconds.
Eventually though, the big man smiles and nods. “Very well. Message received and understood. And as long as he does that, he’ll be fine?”
“I should imagine so, if he sticks to his new action plan. Here, I’m made a list of foods and some exercises he should follow and adhere to. They’re at the back of the folder.”
She hands him her report, with all its recommendations.
“Thank you, Joanne. I knew I was right bringing this to your attention. You were always a good girl. One of my favourites, you know.”
Having got what he’s come for, he rises to his feet, remembering at the last to duck and not put his white-haired head through the ceiling tiles. (She’d have a hard time explaining that to the building’s maintenance team, Joanne thinks.) The sofa he’s just vacated is dead, and seeing so he smiles in chagrin, then hunkers up his britches, pulling tightly on the thick belt he wears around his middle. His jacket is fringed at the collar and cuffs with pale almost luminescent fur and Joanne has to will herself not to reach out and stroke it.
The big man scratches his beard thoughtfully, and says, “So finally, to go over it again. No more mince pies for him, and keep off the sherry, that’s right? Even though we only do this one night a year. And he’ll be all right?”
“Along with some exercise, which wouldn’t go amiss. The ones I’ve described in my report for you.”
He nods again, thoughtfully but with a smile, and pats the report.
Joanne can’t resist it, and says, “Believe me, I’m an expert. And I’m telling you the truth when I say that all that bad food’s not good for your Elf.”
The big man pauses to let the pun fall flat, groans happily then, and says, “Ho, ho, ho,” rather mechanically. He winks at her and with three tugs on his beard is stooping out of the door and gone.
Joanne puts her hands to her heart, not ready to release the magic she feels there, and listens to him make his way back up the stairs.
A minute later there’s a rush of sound, the sound of many hooves dragging a heavy object across the roof, and it rips down through the building to Joanne. This time she doesn’t forget. She dashes to the window, presses her fingers against the glass, wishing she could open it for a better view. She feels a thrill she hasn’t felt since she was a child, the same delirious emotions she imagines her own children must have felt this evening, and perhaps still are if they’re sneakily trying to remain awake to catch a glimpse of Santa.
She searches the sky through the bleary smears on the glass but sees nothing, only that the sleet has turned, thinning for a moment, to snow. Flake after flake after flake coming down.
Her disappointment lasts only a moment. Sleigh bells jingle through the night, high above, and a rich, laughing voice cries, “Ho, ho, ho.”
When she finally leaves the window, she sees a large parcel squeezed - as if by magic - into the middle of her office.
“How . . .?”
But she knows she shouldn’t ask. She just laughs. It’s in the shape of a new couch.
The tag reads,
Merry Christmas, Joanne.
A good girl always.
Love Santa.
PS - Leave out the sherry and only one tumbler and mince pie next year.

snowpocalypse

Winter is coming . . . and we just had out first blast of snow in Yorkshire. With that in mind, it seems sort of appropriate to mention that I have a tale in a new anthology. And the anthology is all about snow. 

See? It all fits . . . sometimes.

Snowpocalypse is a collection put together by Clint Collins and Scott Woodward, and it's the lead title from their new publishing house Black Mirror Press. Fingers crossed, it's the first publication of many.

Here's what the rear cover blurb has to say:

The calendar says the first day of Summer, but a jealous Snow wraps the world in a White Straightjacket . . .

Winter will not relinquish its throne and the polar vortext is plunging south. Icebergs gleam in the Bermuda triangle and snow is falling in the Amazon. Blizzards swirl across the Sahara and the world has become a snowglobe from pole to pole.

SNOWPOCALYPSE.

Is this the coming of the next Ice Age?

Can anything be done to thaw the Big Freeze?

Join seventeen talented authors from around the world on their expeditions into the Snowpocalypse and read the chilliest tales ever written.

The striking wraparound cover art of the paperback is by Ron Wade.

There's stories in it by Richard barber, Llanwyre Laish, Jennifer Loring, Zoe McAuley, Susan McCauley, Clinte Mesle, Eddie Newton, John Palisano, Cheryl pearson, Barry Rosenberg, David Sakmyster, Nicole Shelton, Matthew Shoen, Walt Socha, DJ Tyrer, Sarena Ulibarri . . . and me. Or a truncated me, anyway. For some reason the usual Mark Patrick Lynch (or on occasion Mark P Lynch or MP Lynch) byline has been reduced to Mark Lynch. Not to be confused with countless other Mark Lynches . . . But hey, such things happen. Any bad reviews, please address them to mark Lynch; any good ones . . . well, I'll take them.

My story is called "Snoe" and was written in longhand with a new fountain pen. It wasn't snowing outside, but it was chilly. I remember as well that the first draft came to an end just as I ran out of ink in the cartridge. Maybe that meant it was just the right length. I like to think so.

You can buy the book and ebook here in the UK

And here in the USA.

Put your scarf and hat on. It's chilly out there. And you wouldn't want to catch your death . . .


the bookstore business, and how to fail at it and the ebook store business at the same time



 It’s a strange business plan that says let’s sell ebooks online in our entertainment section of our website, and do them in epub form only -- while in our stores we’ll sell an ereader that takes mobi files. But that’s the course the British supermarket giant Sainsburys have been following the last few years. Not so surprising, then, that Sainsburys are closing their ebook shop down.

They’re not alone in making seemingly suicidal business decisions. For quite a while Waterstones had been selling the Kindle ereader in-store while selling non-Kindle epub format ebooks online.

If the Sainsbury’s decision to sell epubs and Kindles seemed like a company shooting itself in the foot, then Waterstones was shooting itself in the head.

After all, Sainsburys are a supermarket. They sell clothes, CDs, DVDs, stereos, homeware, fresh produce and food and detergents and all the other stuff that you’d expect. Books, too (though sadly the space for books seems to be shrinking in some stores). If they don’t do well in the ebook market and their traditional published books sales fall flat, well it’s a pity, but it’s not the end of their world.

Waterstones sells books, end of. Well, just about. They may sell a few Game of Thrones amulets and cups with some literary link or other, the odd t-shirt. But I’m sure you’ll agree that the mainstay of their business is books.

And yet someone thought it would be a good idea to put the biggest threat to the business’s livelihood in-store and encourage people to buy a product that, by definition, would reduce the sale of physical books. Not only that, but they invited in a company that sells books online, often at a steeply discounted price. Amazon’s range of books in stock is massive, often featuring import titles not readily available in the high street, and if you’re prepared to pay the postage, you can usually have the book delivered to your home in a day or two (or five to seven days for free if your order is over a tenner). By contrast, if Waterstones hasn’t got a book you want in-store, then you can order it from them, and in, say, a week’s time you may get a phone call telling you to come on in and pick it up from the store. Oh, and it’s there at the full retail price.

Given that, was it a smart move to bring in the biggest threat to your continued existence into the store? Not only that, Waterstones rigged up free wifi so you could bring your Kindle into the store and download ebooks from Amazon while you sat in one of their few comfy seats (often after you just looked on the shelves to see the book you were after was £8.99 for the paperback and the Kindle ebook was £3.99). Huh? It just felt like Waterstones didn’t know how to react to the threat of new competition and held their hands up in surrender.

Amazon is already the largest market shareholder in the ebook business in the UK. Its nearest rival (with the damp squib non-arrival of the Nook*) is Kobo. For my money the Kobo ereaders are superior devices to the Kindle ereaders. Formatting is simpler, the display options are considerably more advanced, and they don’t load your screen with adverts.

But all that’s by the by for the sake of my argument here.

The important part of Kobo’s business that needs to be emphasised here is that they sell ebooks alone. They’re not Amazon; they’re not selling physical books at steeply discounted prices. They’re not moving into the food business to threaten Sainsburys, and they’re not setting up bookstores in the high street to rival Waterstones.

In such circumstances, then, if you were going to partner up with a firm selling ereaders and ebooks, surely the natural partner would be Kobo.

The book and magazine retailer WH Smiths followed this plan, and seemed to have got it right. But they needed support. They needed publishers to get behind them, to offer up incentives for buying the Kobo from WHS. Tie-in vouchers or discount coupons with actual physical book purchases, that would encourage both physical and epub ebook sales. Tie them in with another high street retailer like Waterstones and there’d be a bigger presence and more brand recognition for the Kobo ereaders.

But none of that has happened. And now, coming up to the busy pre-Christmas retail season, what’s happened? WHS has stopped stocking the Kobo in stores. It’s possible a few of the bigger stores have them in stock, but I haven’t seen them.

There are some who argue that none of this really matters, and argue honestly and sincerely, because Amazon are doing such great things for writers. This is mostly true. Amazon has broken the shackles traditional publishing has placed on writers. It’s forcing traditional publishers to move on, to get with the future. But right now, Amazon are heading for complete market domination, maybe even a monopoly in ebook and ereader sales. At the moment they are fighting for every penny for their writers because there is some competition left. But will that change when they are the only business in town? Ask their employees in their “fulfilment centres”, on zero-hour contracts, no workers’ rights beyond the most basic. Is that the future for the writers who are so reliant on them too? I hope not. Just as I hope that the Amazon warehouse workers get a better deal soon.     

If you’re buying a new ereader for someone this year, the best ereader out there is the Kobo.

But the best format video device back in the day was the Betamax.

And if you were born before 1980, you all know how that ended. (If you don't, then you can learn all about Betamax here.)

If you want to buy a book, WH Smiths and Waterstones have a presence in most high streets across the country. And Sainsbury’s sell the latest bestsellers, often with a good discount. For now.
__________________________
* Barnes and Noble - a US book-chain even larger than Waterstones is in the UK - pioneered the Nook as a rival to Kindle. They’ve stopped supporting it now, which in itself is hardly going to endear their customers to them. No wonder that Barnes and Noble are, I think, on their third CEO in nearly as many years.

the best of unsung stories


For a while now Unsung Stories have been publishing, quietly and without any fuss, some really great short stories and books. Their fiction titles are available to buy here and they run a really neat free-subscription service with a new, usually terrific, short story delivered to your inbox every other week. You can sign up for free - not that I'm going to labour that point, honest - by clicking through to here.

If that isn't enough to encourage you to sign up - for free, I remind you - to their subscription list, then being kindly and generous people they have now collected some of the tales that have appeared on their site (and in your inbox if you have already signed up) in a DRM-free ebook, for you to enjoy on your e-reader or device of choice. They're calling it the Best of Unsung Shorts So Far . . .

And you know what? They're giving that away free of charge too.





As they themselves say, "Unsung Stories publish speculative fiction. This means science fiction, fantasy and horror, but especially the fuzzy bits between these genres: hard and soft sci-fi, high and low fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, steampunk, cyberpunk, weird fiction and anything else that defies expectation."

If you like, they're offering the unexpected, something a little bit different. So I hear you ask, If it's unexpected, Mark, what can I expect to find in the book?

Here's the answer.

'Heroics' by Ilana Masad
'Stabbed in the Neck by Dot Cotton' by Daniel Carpenter
'From the Neck Up' by Aliya Whiteley
'What the Light Washed Away' by Joshua Sczykutowicz
'Book Boy' by Zack Graham
'Ouroboros' by Cassandra Khaw
'Charmed and Strange' by Maggie Secara
'Build a Cat' by Peter Haynes
'Quert' by Matt Thompson
'Fashioning Trees' by Mark Patrick Lynch*

Sounds good to me. 

If you fancy a free copy, in either mobi or epub format, just click here.

Did I mention it's free?

Oh, I did.

Okay.

But, you know, just in case you missed that bit -- it's FREE!


* That last one's me. So this is my declaration of an interest. And while we're at it, a big hello to Jason Isaacs.

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