On the Dominance of Filthy Lucre

On the Dominance of Filthy Lucre

You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrases, “Money makes the world go round,” and “The love of money is the root of all evil”. In recent months, it’s become apparent to me that both these aphorisms are becoming more and more the reality, and not only does it annoy me, it scares me.

I’m not sure when I first noticed that the suggested products on the mighty ‘Zon were being steadily replaced by sponsored ads, but I really noticed it when my new book got its own page. Most authors have a look at what their books are paired with, and since I’d chosen (possibly naively) to list Méchant Loup: Modern Fables for Sensible Grown-ups https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1091667012/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0

under the genre fairy tales, I saw that beneath the listing were literally dozens and dozens of sponsored ads, supposedly for products related to my book. When it first came out, the sponsored ads beneath my book seemed to be retold fairy tales by only a couple of authors; books that had either just been released or were on pre-order. I glanced at them out of curiosity but none appealed to me. Méchant Loup isn’t a collection of retold fairy tales or even reimagined ones (with one exception of the title story), and given it’s intended for “sensible grown ups”, some of the sponsored ads were way off mark. Most of them if truth be told. I’d hoped that I might gain some traction in this category but I’d have been better listing in literary fiction. Or perhaps not.

The trouble is not just as an author. As a reader, I do glance at the suggested books under the listings of books I have enjoyed. But now it seems that the complex mathematical equations needed to predict what someone might like have gone terribly awry, directly as a result of the proliferation of paid ads. I suspect that few authors don’t now use paid advertising; from what I have heard through the jungle drums, it’s with diminishing returns. Some authors do not recoup from sales what they spent on advertising. I’ve yet to do a poll, but my gut feeling is that the general trend is spending more and more on advertising and get less and less back.

Being a writer is becoming ever more a mug’s game. The ones (like me) who are creating the content (what a hideous phrase) are not the ones garnering any real monetary rewards for the work. Worse still, it’s becoming horrifyingly common to discover that author mills are churning out books, often scraped illegally from the works of others, altered enough to pass the checks needed to be published, and published en masse, with paid reviews convincing enough to lure in more buyers.

Can you hear me sighing heavily?

It might have been the collective sighs of all of us demoralised writers that created Storm Ciara.

Everyone who can grab a piece of us is doing so. Every day I read of other writers who are being forced to give up doing what they love because they can no longer afford to do it. Don’t get me started on the continuing phenomenon of pirating books. One friend has done something I admire immensely, and has backed away from commercial publishing, and is producing limited edition, hand-bound books, available from her directly.


It satisfies the soul, and evades the risk of having your work scraped, pirated or plagiarised. I lack the skills to do so, but hats off to her.

The new book has been out a month and has now 7 fabulous reviews, but the initial burst of sales is dwindling, and I fear that before too long it will, along with all my other books that I cannot pay to advertise and will not even had I the money (because it’s clear authors are the cash cow of various industries), languish with only occasional readers.

I don’t have any answers. I try to pass on news about the books of others when I can, and appreciate those who have done that for me. We live in a world where filthy lucre is the only thing that seems to matter to the vast majority of the population; it makes me more and more want to retreat from it all, and not participate in this orgy of capitalistic nihilism.

O Christmas Tree!

O Christmas Tree!

(a slightly cynical short tale)

What am I bid for this lovely set of vintage, nay, antique, Christmas tree ornaments? Who’ll start the bidding at £10?”

She was never sure why she chose to bid that day; perhaps it was disappointment that the items she had been after had gone beyond her limit. Perhaps it was the chill outside and the few lonely flakes of snow drifting down; maybe the holly and the ivy dotted around the auction house put her in a festive mood. It may even have been the softly twinkling bauble that the auctioneer held up, twirling on a wisp of thread. Whatever it was, she found herself determined to buy something that day, and though she spent more than she intended, once she’d looked at the ornaments, she realised she’d got a bargain. Continue reading

‘Tis the season to be spooky…

…and I have some spooktacular* offers for you to enjoy.

I have (for the duration of the season and maybe beyond) made my shorter works a little cheaper.

This means that my novella The Hedgeway is now just 99p or whatever the equivalent is worldwide. Here’s the blurb to tempt you:

Leading from the overgrown grass and thicket of brambles were the distinct signs of feet passing: small, bare human feet.
A child had walked here, breaking the crisp coating of hoar frost, and had stood only yards from the kitchen window.
Cathy thought: They’re only footprints, so why do I suddenly feel so scared?
Daniel’s grandmother’s house seems only a few years from becoming a ruin but the roof is still sound and unlike his rented accommodation, the whole place is his. It seems the perfect time to ask girlfriend Cathy to move in with him and together they plan to renovate the house. But the old house has secrets that it wants to share with them whether they want to know or not.

Then there’s The Wild Hunt, also for 99p:

Six short stories of encounters with forgotten deities and demi-gods and otherworldly beings.
The Piper at the Back Gate ~ a woman discovers a primeval forest beyond her night time garden and waiting there is someone from her childhood days.
The Wild Hunt ~ a wakeful woman joins the hunt first as prey, then as hunter, in a frozen land millennia ago.
Snag ~ a man meets a strange girl who seems to know all about everyone, to great effect.
Snuggle ~ as a premature baby lies hovering between life and death, a girl sits spinning wool in the hospital foyer.
Snip ~ an arrogant young man fights a battle with post-operative infection and his conscience.
The Faery Trees ~ an angry child discovers why you should never fall asleep beneath the elder trees.

And finally, also at 99p is The Moth’s Kiss:

A collection of ten short stories to unsettle, disturb, chill or terrify. From the creeping unease of The Moth’s Kiss of the title to the eeriness of A Fragrance of Roses, the stories seep into the consciousness of the reader. Shivers down the spine and a need to check doors and windows are a probable outcome of reading this collection alone at night. You’ll never look at willows or mosquitoes the same. Or moths.

If you are not keen on the spooky stuff, but do want something that reflects the season somewhat, then Strangers and Pilgrims, a book many readers have found to be comforting and uplifting as well as enthralling, is set during the three days of All Hallows Eve (Halloween) All Hallow’s Day and also All Saints day. It’s not on offer at this time but at £2.99 for a full novel, that’s not a bad deal anyway. Here’s the blurb:

“My heart is broken and I am dying inside.” 

Six unconnected strangers type these words into an internet search engine and start the journey of a lifetime. Directed to The House of the Wellspring website, each begins a conversation with the mysterious warden, to discover whether the waters of the Wellspring, a source of powerful healing, can heal their unbearable hurts. 

A journey of self discovery and healing awaits them, but will the Warden grant them their wish? Invited to spend some days at the House of the Wellspring each of the strangers comes with the hope of coming away whole again. 

But where is the Warden they all longed to meet and where is the Wellspring they all came to find?


All books also available in paperback. I recently did the required migration from Createspace to Kindle Direct; it was easier than I feared though I did get very stressed about it. Most of the books are a little cheaper now than they previously were.

Shares very much appreciated. For all other Amazon stores, please change the dot co dot uk in the URL to whichever dot you need. Or put the title and my name into the search facility.


  • sorry about that. It’s also the season for very bad puns.

Mwah! Mwah! Kisses from a Moth and from me.

For the rest of November, as a special treat to lovers of spooky fiction, The Moth’s Kiss (ten tales of truth and consequences) is just 99p. That’s less than 10p per story. The price is equally low world-wide, so grab it as the nights draw in, darker and darker. I’d love to see some new reviews as well. (hint hint!)


For those of a nervous disposition, Strangers and Pilgrims has had a little price drop to comfort and cheer during the dark days before the Christmas lights go up.  It’s now just £1.99 (or whatever that converts to in $ etc). There are plenty of folks who have loved this book and reread regularly. I am working in a very roundabout way towards a sequel but that might take a few years; there are five other works-in-progress in various states of undress.


A Tale of Two Authors

Odd how things pop up, reminding you of things.

First there was this article from The Guardian, about Holloways, sunken lanes. Do take a peep at the pictures especially.  There’s more about the book mentioned here.

I’ve explored a lot of such places as a child and as an adult, they still fascinate me.



I’d like to tell you a story.
Once upon a time I was a bookish, somewhat geeky teenager with ambitions to become a writer who had her confidence and self-belief knocked back. I’d started writing very young and by ten had written my first novel. By fourteen, I’d written several more and I approached one of the English teachers at my school for feedback. Sometime later, he asked me to stay behind after school so we could talk about it. Needless to say, opening the discussion with the words, “How do you tell a mother that her baby is ugly,” wasn’t perhaps the best way, because for many years it was THOSE words rather than the much more constructive stuff that followed, which stayed with me. The rest of what he said was something that also stayed, but shoved away in a dark box somewhere in a corner of my mind, and I took it out and looked at it from time to time. I took comfort that he felt I was a born writer, but was troubled by the fact that he felt that my chosen genre at that time was not what he saw me writing. I loved detective fiction so that’s what I wrote. There’s some irony in the fact that the books published by J.K Rowling under the pen name Robert Galbraith are quite close to the plots I came up with as a teenager, writing about private detective agencies investigating weird and horrible crimes.
Anyway, some of his advice was to read and to read as widely as I could. This I did. A year or so after this, he organised a couple of visits to the school by authors of what might now be termed Young Adult fiction. I recall I met Nicholas Fisk and then John Gordon. For these events, we were asked to produce something to send to the authors. I really liked John Gordon and he spent half an hour with me after his talk (turns out I was the only kid who wrote anything for him!) and he gave me some very good encouragement and real kindness.
The story I wrote for him is lost, somewhere. It might be stuffed in one of the removals crates that I keep old MSS in, handwritten and fading. I don’t know. But when I moved house three years ago, a removal man dumped the contents of my desk drawers into boxes and I was obliged to sort it all out. And I found not that story but the one I wrote a year or two later, which was a kind of prequel to the tale I wrote for John Gordon. This one I had typed up on my old Brother portable and had sent it off to Woman’s Own when I was 21 and newly married. It earned me my very first rejection slip. Finding it again in my forties, possibly thirty years after I’d written it was odd, like a message in a bottle. The past is indeed a foreign country and they do do things differently there, but I found a whiff of who I once was and it heartened me. I could see I had a voice even then.
So two years ago, I took the elements of that story, plus what I could dredge up in my memory for the two other tales in that sequence, and I wrote another story. It came out as a longer short story or a short novella, and I published that a year ago.
It’s the tale of two authors: who I was and who I am.


PS. For a short time, it’s going to be a mere 99p or 99 cents, so grab it while it’s low.

A Tale of Seeds


A tale of seeds

There was once a small collective of gardeners who banded together to buy their equipment and supplies. Tools and compost, fertilizer and weed killer all come cheaper if you buy in bulk so the four friends would split the costs and share the benefits.
One spring, as a free bonus with their order, their usual seed company offered a mystery gift. When it arrived they were eager to see what they had been sent. The gift came in a small cardboard box which, when opened proved to contain four small items. Each was about an inch long, dark brown and slightly wrinkled looking.
“They must be seeds of some kind,” said the oldest friend, turning them over in his hand. “Is there any information with them?”
A note fell out of the box, explaining that the seeds were part of a consignment sent to the seed company from an explorer who worked in far off places, collecting new plants and sending back their seeds. It seemed that the original label of the last batch had become detached from the parcel and the seed company did not know precisely what the seeds were for. “Grow them and see!” said the note. “And send us your pictures when you get them to bloom!”
“That’s no good,” said the second oldest friend. “How can we grow something if we don’t know what it is? What’s the point of that? I only have a small garden. I have to be careful of what I grow in case it’s too big for me.”
“And how can we grow it if we don’t know what it is?” said the third oldest. “Different seeds need different conditions. Some need to be frozen for two years before they grow. I’m not happy. Some free gift!”
The youngest said nothing but held the seed in her hand, and ran her fingers over it, stroking the ridged surface and trying to sense the life within.
In the end they agreed they would each take a single seed and nothing more was said.
The oldest friend took his seed home and spent many hours searching the internet to see if he could find out what it was and how best to grow it. He contacted all manner of experts before deciding that the seed must be new to science. He took many photos of it and sent it to a professor of ethno-botany at a university to study. The professor looked at it briefly, before writing back to say he didn’t know either but the letter and the seed got lost in the post.

The second oldest friend looked at the seed with suspicion. It looked like a nut so it would surely grown into a tree, far too huge for his little garden. Even planting it in a pot would take up far too much room and anyway, what use would it be? It wasn’t as if he was going to be able to eat the fruit from it; it would take many years before it grew big enough to fruit. He put the seed in an envelope and put it into the back of a drawer and forgot about it.
The third oldest took it home and after much thought, planted it in a nice terracotta pot and watered it, giving it a label that simply read ? Each week she came back and checked the moisture in the soil. After six weeks, she scraped the compost back to see if anything had changed. The seed remained hard and unchanged. She covered it over and watered it again. Every few weeks she pushed back the soil to see if the seed had begun to germinate. Eventually the seed began to crack and open and the thick tap root delved down into the compost, seeking purchase. “It looks like a bean plant,” she said, disappointed, but fetched sticks for it to climb up. When the first leaves began to appear, she changed her mind for there were no tendrils that indicated a climber. When it got to six inches high, she thought it must be a begonia and pinched out the growing tip to keep it nice and bushy. The plant withered and shrivelled and eventually died.

The youngest took the seed home and planted it in a pot, watered it and left it alone, whispering that small prayer every gardener has uttered, “Bless you, now GROW!”. Returning only to make sure the pot was moist enough, one day she saw that the seed had burst into a shoot, verdant and vital but still unrecognisable. She kept watering it, and every time the plant got too big for its pot, she moved it to a bigger one. With steady doses of sunshine and showers, the plant grew and grew until one day, a few years after it had been planted, it began to bloom.
Still no one knew what it was yet except the youngest gardener. Visitors to her garden would ask her what it was and she told them with a proud smile.
“It’s beautiful, that’s what it is, and it’s itself. That’s enough for me,” she’d say.

Angel Lights ~ a story for Christmas

Angel Lights ~ a story for Christmas

To have lived a hundred years is a remarkable thing,” Elspeth remarked to the girl who held her arm. “But it is a lonely thing, too. There is no one left who remembers me when I was young.”

The care assistant gave her arm a gentle squeeze for Elspeth was well-liked and as the oldest inhabitant in the home was cherished as much for her wisdom as for her venerable age.

Is there no one coming to see you this Christmas?” the girl asked and Elspeth shook her head, though she smiled as she did so.

No, they are all obeying my orders for once,” she said. “I said I did not wish them to disturb their day this time. So I have only myself to blame should I feel lonely today.”

The dining room had been decorated with so much tinsel and bright ornaments that Elspeth felt quite overwhelmed with the shining light that glimmered off every surface. The other residents were all seated, waiting for her as if she were the queen, and she was shown to her place and Christmas lunch began.

The merry atmosphere was added to by the playing of Christmas carols on the radio, and as she ate, slowly and carefully, she cast her mind back over her many Christmases. There was little to regret in a life as long as hers had been, but there were times, like today, when those who were gone, seemed to wave to her from her memories. She had outlived all but one of her own children, all her sisters, a beloved husband, dozens of dear friends and one grandchild. The friends she had today had never known her as a young woman, and there were times when that tugged at her heart. To be a hundred years old, and still mostly in possession of her wits and health was a gift she had never expected.

When lunch was done, she walked carefully back to her own room rather than go to the community room to watch television with the other residents. Inside, she could walk without the aid of a frame, using only a stick to steady her steps. Her room was a little oasis of treasures, the belongings she had chosen to accompany her to this home, and each held great meaning for her, for there was not a lot of room and they had been chosen with immense thought. There was a little fir tree in a decorated pot that her son (her youngest, and only surviving child) had brought for her, and around it were some packages in brilliant paper, decked with ribbons. The family brought small gifts in the week before Christmas, though the joke was often what do you buy for a woman who has seen as many Christmases as she had. She opened them carefully, gratefully, enjoying them. They were predicable, but well chosen: a lovely new nightdress, slippers, some books, some of her favourite soap. She smiled as she opened each, thinking of the donor.

One parcel had arrived on Christmas eve, hastily wrapped in stained brown paper and with an indecipherable post mark and a stamp that looked Arabic. She recognised the handwriting: her great granddaughter, not quite the black sheep but certainly the wandering one. Inside the parcel was a letter and two more roughly wrapped packages.

Grand-mère,” she read. “I had hoped to be home to see you but I think my parcel will be there before I am. I saw them both in one of the bazaars and thought of you. I hope to be in Jerusalem for Christmas so I will light a candle there for you and I will visit as soon as I get back.”

The first of the packages was tiny, and proved to be a vial of dark, viscous liquid that proved to be perfume, woody and musky and exotic and entirely unlike anything you would expect a lady of Elspeth’s age to wear. She dabbed a few drops on wrist and neck and sighed with delight. The second parcel contained a heavy length of raw woven silk in a celestial blue shot through with dawn pink and threaded with fine gold wire. It smelled of incense and mystery, and she wrapped it round her whole body. It felt as if her great granddaughter had somehow caught a whiff of her young self and Elspeth felt her heart race with delight.

The daylight was fading fast, and she had one more Christmas ritual to perform. From the top drawer of her bureau she brought out a little cardboard box, and painstakingly she assembled the device inside. Made from silver-coloured metal, the angel light held a carousel of dancing angels that were suspended from a canopy of slats. The heat from a candle below would rise and set the angels spinning, and their shadows and the glancing lights would pattern the walls and ceiling with their dance.

But naked flames were banned here and though she brought it out every year, it had been many years since the angels had turned. She set it on the window ledge, where she spent many hours sitting at the table, reading or thinking. Every Christmas Day since she had come here, she had brought this little toy out and wished that she might light a single candle and see the light and the shadow angels spin and flicker.

Rule were rules, and given the age and sometimes infirmity of most of the residents this was a sensible rule, that kept them all safe from fire. But this one day, she always wished to break the rule and give the angels their annual dance.

She turned on some music and settled to read one of the new books, wrapped tightly in the beautiful shawl, feeling the balance between contentment and wistful longing see-sawing this way and that. Her mind wandered from her book, and she wondered if her great granddaughter had indeed made it to Jerusalem for Christmas. It had always been her habit to light candles, since she knew that it was not allowed to her great grandmother any more. One day, the angel lights would go to her, perhaps.

The sky beyond her window had darkened to indigo, and she could see that a single star shone high above. On impulse she turned out her reading lamp and gazed out. As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she saw more stars slowly appear. A golden glow was reflected off the window glass and she looked down to see that where a candle would fit in the angel light, there was a flickering globe of light, so unlike a candle, that brightened and grew. The tiny metal angels quivered and began to shift, slowly turning as the carousel they hung from rotated smoothly.

The shadows on the ceiling spun too, amid the flashing, glimmering of the magical light and as she watched, her mouth dropping open in wonder, the room filled with the scent of lilies and she felt the brush of soft feathers against her face. She closed her eyes, but the glory of light still filled her eyes, and she knew she was not alone.

When her care assistant came an hour later, she could see from Elspeth’s face that she was happy and not lonely at all as she had feared she might be.

Is that one of your presents?” she asked, touching the shawl with tender fingers. “How lovely!”

From Istanbul,” Elspeth said. “My great-granddaughter was on her way to Jerusalem and stopped there for a short while.”

And some scent too,” said the girl, and picked up the bottle. She took a sniff of the contents and grimced. “Funny. This isn’t what I can smell. I’m sure I can smell flowers; this is musk and sandalwood, surely.”

Elspeth smiled at the girl.

Heavenly, isn’t it?” she said.

A moth of mythic proportions(or a myth of mothic proportions)


A moth of mythic proportions(or a myth of mothic proportions)

I grew up with a brother who was obsessed with butterflies and moths, and bugs in general so I learned early not to show fear or I’d find something in my bed. In time, I stopped being terrified of spiders, and now rather love them, but I have been surprised by the number of people who while loving butterflies, loathe and even fear their nocturnal cousins, moths. But then, I think knowing a lot about something tends to dissipate fear.

At one time staying with my brother might mean sharing a bedroom with Indian Moon-moths, as the spare bedroom was the hatchery. Ghostly, pale, furry wings six inched across would flap slowly across the room, lit by the lights from the street outside. They didn’t bother me. It was better than his room which was lined with tanks of various species of tarantulas. They still have the power to make me wary.

So when I was writing The Moth’s Kiss, I asked him about the moth that is said to drink tears, assuming it was a myth of a moth. “No, it’s very real,” he said, and sent me links to it. This is a moth that derives its nutrition from the tears of sleeping animals and people. More than that, it pokes the eyes to make them water. “It also spreads dangerous diseases,” he said, and then added, “Isn’t it marvelous?”

I shuddered. The idea of such a thing coming to you in the night, unseen and unfelt was horrifying but there was a certain frisson of ghoulish wonder about it. Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.

The Moth’s Kiss was written as a side exercise, while I was writing a novel, a sequel to The Bet. The novel required that the main character become aware that he was being observed, stalked, not just by one person but by several, and to help me focus this idea, I wrote a number of extra sections, from the point of view of those stalkers, knowing that while I would not include those in the novel itself, they would deepen the experience for me. There’s nothing quite like building back story; it’s like method acting for writers. But when I wrote The Moth’s Kiss, I saw it could stand alone and unsupported because it touched on deep fears many of us share.

All of the stories in this little collection are intended to tap into those collective fears, that primeval jolt of terror, that is beyond the rational and yet even for us today still hold the power to unsettle and disturb us. We might not believe in ghosts, or demons or black magic, but most of us still have fears we’re not aware of till the hairs on the backs of our necks stand up on end, and rationality runs out the door.

I’ve encountered many experiences over my lifetime that might well be dubbed paranormal and spooky, and on the occasions I’ve been persuaded to do some live story telling, there’s been few listeners who haven’t at least enjoyed a frisson of fear.

Anyway, the collection of ten stories, some that have appeared here and some that have never seen the light of day can be found lurking in the darkest corner of Amazon, here and here.

I’d advise reading them in daylight, if you are of a nervous disposition. 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Moths-Kiss- ebook/dp/B00CPLPYJY/ref=pd_sim_kinc_3 or for USA: http://www.amazon.com/The-Moths-Kiss-ebook/dp/B00CPLPYJY/ref=pd_sim_kinc_3

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Bet-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/ref=pd_sim_b_3   or for USA: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Bet-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/ref=pd_sim_kinc_3


A mothy guest post…

Yesterday I was guest at Marc Nash’s blog http://sulcicollective.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/guest-post-vivienne-tuffnell.html

Do check it out. I detail some of the inspirations behind The Moth’s Kiss, my new collection of short stories. https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/the-moths-kiss-goes-live/

The Moth’s Kiss goes live!

The Moth’s Kiss goes live

Yesterday, with my usual trepidation and anxiety, I pressed ‘publish’ for my new collection of short stories, The Moth’s Kiss. Some of the stories have appeared here, but with over 700 posts to wander through, they’re not easy to find. Some are completely new, unseen to all human eyes (except for a few kind friends who have read them for me to make sure they come up to snuff).

As a collection, the stories are united in being creepy, scary, ghostly or paranormal in theme, but a deeper theme runs through most if not all: consequences. Nothing we do is without ramifications, no choice we make is locked in a vacuum. Karma, if you like. Things come back to bite us on the bum.

The stories delve into some of my own deepest fears, and I suspect they may make most readers shiver a little at least. Some may not want to read them alone in the house at night…

The collection is available from Amazon, here for the UK and here for the US.  . (There’s a party over at Facebook this evening too if you fancy dropping by for a few virtual drinks https://www.facebook.com/events/265724816897530/ so pop over, say hi and nibble some snacks)

Moth's Kiss cover