Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas Eve Miracle

A Happy Christmas to all my Lovely Readers both old and new.  Thank you for sticking with me this year, for reading and commenting on my mad and eccentric posts in such a lively and informed way, for all the support you have given this blog by voting for it in the Author Blog Awards, and for general amazingness.  I'm most grateful! I'm off for a break now, but I'll be back with you in the New Year.  Meanwhile, here's a Christmas story for you. I hope you like it. 
Christmas Eve Miracle
The room was very quiet. She could hear the hushed bustle of the night nurses in the corridor outside, but she knew they wouldn’t come in. She’d had her cocoa, had her pills. They’d leave her to sleep—or not—till early morning. There was nothing else they could do for her, after all. She looked out of the window where she could just see the cross on the rounded dome of St Paul’s, outlined against the festive glow of the London sky. She found it comforting. It had been there a long time, seen every kind of suffering, survived intact. She sighed. She was not going to survive, it seemed. But she’d bloody well fight anyway.

She remembered the morning, two weeks before, when she had walked into the oncologist’s office. The children and Daniel had been outside, waiting; a solid bulwark of love. But she’d wanted to hear this news on her own.

“I’m sorry, Glorianna,” he’d said. “It’s not good. It’s spread to your lungs and liver very fast.” She wasn’t surprised, and had said so. Her breathing hadn’t felt right for a while now, and even the kids had noticed the yellow eyes. She’d joked about eating too much custard, but they weren’t stupid. Not her kids. Then he’d dropped the bombshell of hope.

“There is a new treatment. It’s very experimental—from Canada. We don’t know if it will work. But it’s your only chance. It would mean being in Bart’s over Christmas though….”

Hope is a funny thing, she thought. Without it, you have no choices, everything is grey, and you just have to get through to the inevitable end as best you can. But with it—with even a tiny drop of it—the world of possibility wakes in full colour, and you can start to dream again in a way that makes your heart beat faster with maybes. She’d discussed it briefly with Daniel and the kids, not wanting to spoil what they all knew was probably the last Christmas they’d ever have together. But Daniel had been adamant.

“Any chance is better than nothing, love. You’ve got to go for it. We’ll just bring our Christmas to the hospital, that’s all.”

So here she was. Christmas Eve. She didn’t think the experiment was working, and the new drugs had made the tiny bit of hair she had left fall out, which was a bummer, because baldness was not in fashion this year. But she had to go on trying and hoping. It was the only weapon she had. The quarter bells of St Paul’s tolled out the time. Bingbong, bingbong, bingbong. Only fifteen minutes to go, and it would be Christmas Day.

The door opened softly, and closed behind the person who had come in. She couldn’t see him properly. The room was lit only by the light from outside, and the green glow of the monitors. But it appeared to be a man, dressed in white scrubs. His name badge hung down from the breast pocket, obscured.

“Hello, Glorianna,” he said. “I thought you might like some company.” His voice was very soft, gentle, accented slightly. Middle East somewhere, she thought. He came over to the bed and sat down on the end, careful not to joggle her battered, tender body. He had longish brown hair, tied tidily into a ponytail under his theatre hat, and a short, neat beard.

“Haven’t seen you before,” she croaked. Her bloody voice was going too, then. She cleared her throat, impatient with it suddenly. “You just on for the Christmas shift?”

“Yes, just for Christmas,” he said. “I like the peace on the wards. Is there anything I can do for you while I’m here?”

“What, apart from a Christmas miracle cure?” she asked. “That would be good.” She was proud of keeping her sense of humour. She found it helped other people feel better about what was happening to her.

He laughed. It was a nice laugh, made her feel more cheerful all of a sudden.

“It’s snowing,” he said. “That’s a miracle if you like. It never snows in London at Christmas. The bookies will be furious.” She squinted over at the window and gasped with pleasure. He was right. Big, fat flakes of proper snow were falling, fluffy and white against the glass.

“Take me over there,” she said. “Let me look properly. Please.” Manners were important, even if you were dying, she thought. He got up and fetched the wheelchair from the corner. Gently, he helped her sit up, swing her legs over the edge, moved the drip so she could drop into the chair without getting tangled up. “Ooh,” she said as his hands swam past her blurry vision. “What have you done to yourself?” The backs and fronts of both were covered in square, white gauze dressings.

“Just a little accident with some nails,” he said. “Doesn’t hurt anymore, just a bit messy to look at.”

He wheeled her over to the long window. It was a first floor room with a little balcony outside. They’d let her have a room to herself—it was a lonely luxury. The snow was falling faster now, and the ground below was already nearly covered with a white rug She looked and looked. It was beautiful.

“Did you know that each flake is different?” she asked him. “God must be pretty amazing to have thought that one up, don’t you think.”

“I do,” he said. “And He is.”

Suddenly a pigeon landed on the rail, then another, then another. Fast and furious they came, wings whirling in the snowstorm, until the rail was heaving with swaying bird shapes. Glorianna opened her mouth to speak, but then shut it again. The sparrows had started to arrive now, squeezing between the pigeons, chirping and squabbling, fighting like the warriors they were. Her visitor laid his hurt hands on her shoulders. She felt their warmth, like healing honey dripping into her bones. She closed her eyes, drinking it in. Then she opened them again, as she heard a muffled miaow.

Now it was the cats’ turn. Slinking and squirming, they lined up in rows, unblinking slanted eyes trained on the man behind her. Grey ones, tabby ones, tattered ears, scars, stripes, orange, white, black, and everything in between.

“Whatever…?” she stammered. But the pressure of those warm honey hands sent her back into silence, just as the mice and rats appeared. Bootbutton eyes, twitching whiskers, a sea of intertwined tails and noses, and sharp, yellow teeth sat on the windowsill. The cats didn’t move a muscle. Glorianna strained her eyes to look at the ground below. It was now covered with fur and a general wagging which sent the snow into joyous flurries of white. A puppy let out a single high yelp, but was cuffed by its neighbour immediately into silence.

BONG! BONG! Great Tom started to sound the hour of midnight from the south-west tower of St Paul’s. As the last chime echoed into stillness, the animals bowed their heads, knelt, worshipped. Glorianna too slipped forward onto her knees. It was physically impossible for her to do so now, in her weakened state, so she must be dreaming, she thought. But it was a good dream, a dream she didn’t want to end.

“Please,” she prayed fiercely. “Oh God, please.” It was a formless entreaty, made many times before, but this time, with those hands on her shoulders, she knew she was being listened to. She offered up her great love for every bit of her life on this wonderful, flawed, generous earth. The long journey from Jamaica with Mam and Pop. The first cold winter, school, her marriage to Daniel, the births of Jasmyn, Dillan and Joel. She offered her cancer, her anger, her fear. She offered everything and hoped it would be enough. Because now it was Christmas Day, and she’d already seen two miracles. Surely a third wasn’t too much to ask.

When she opened her eyes again, it was nearly daylight, she was back in bed, and her friend of the night had gone. A new nurse was standing there, replacing the drip bag.

“Happy Christmas,” she said. “Look, it’s snowed!” When she’d done what needed doing and left, Glorianna cautiously eased herself out of bed. The window seemed a long way to go on her own, but she made it by leaning on the dripstand. The balcony outside was empty now, but by peering hard, she could see a few feathers and tufts of fur in the snow. The whiteness was also pocked and marked with small prints and lines where tails might have whisked through it. Glorianna pinched herself. It hurt. She was awake. It had been real. And she was going to live. She knew that as certainly as if it was written on the glass in front of her.

“Thank you,” she whispered to the cross on the dome. A man in the courtyard below stopped walking and looked up at her. He had long brown hair and a neat beard. He raised a hand to her in greeting. The palm and back of it were covered in square white dressings. Then he walked around the corner and was lost to sight.

I was asked to write this story for Cancer Research, and it was first published in the concert programme for their 2008 fundraising carol service at St Paul's Cathedral. It is dedicated to the memory of my sister, Gloria, who died of cancer in December 2001.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Great British Books Challenge 2011

Some of you may already read The Bookette's blog.  If you don't I'm delighted to introduce you. Becky, meet Scribble City Central--Scribble City Central meet Becky.  See what a polite blog I run!
Here are three crucial Bookette facts:
  1. She's a UK school librarian (librarians are FAB!)
  2. She's addicted to YA books and reading in general. (And who here isn't?)
  3. She drinks A LOT of tea.  (Tea is the Elixir of Life to us Brits).
and here she is:

And now Bookette Becky has set up a booky challenge for us booky bloggers.  I like a good challenge, so I signed up at once to her
All I have to do is read and review ONE book by a British author once a month, thus equalling 12 books in the year.  How hard can that be?  So come January, look out for the first of my reviews.  I'm going to start by considering Marcus Sedgwick's vampire book, My Swordhand is Singing,

and then move on to John Dickinson's foray into sci-fi thrillerdom, WE.  After that, you'll have to wait and see, because I don't yet know what delicious YA and children's book Britishness awaits me next year. 
It's going to be fun, and I'm hoping to have some nice surprises for you...not saying any more than that now.  Possess your souls in patience, Lovely Readers!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Library Emergency - The Unkindest Cuts of All

'Who Uses Libraries?', asks Keren David in today's excellent blogpost over on Almost True.  And then she gives a hauntingly all-encompassing list which I urge you to read for yourselves.  In case you hadn't heard or noticed, the UK's libraries are under threat again from cuts.  As Keren says, 'there are those who think that libraries are a soft target', and there are also 'Government ministers who won't protect libraries...because budgets are easier to cut than bankers' bonuses'.  These things are indeed sadly true, but we don't have to accept them as final, nor give in to apathy and despair. 


Before the General Election, our current Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey was vociferous in his support for libraries and against the library closures he called 'cost-driven vandalism'.  Only last February, in a talk to the Society of Bookmen he promised that the Tories would commit themselves to providing 'a first-class library service'.  Where is his passion for libraries now?  In Oxfordshire alone (where Vaizey's Wantage and Didcot constituency lies) no less than 20 libraries are threatened with closure, and they are not the only ones. Libraries everywhere are facing the chop. So, it seems that Vaizey's passion has metamorphosed into a sharp and two-faced cutting axe.

All over Britain, more and more authors are speaking out in public with loud and angry voices about the importance of libraries and the idiocy of closing them.  We are blogging, writing articles, writing to newspapers and MP's, signing open letters and doing all we can to raise public awareness.  Books are a lifeline, an escape, an education--easy access to them via local libraries should be a basic right for all, and most especially for the next generation. 

So I urge you now, if you are passionate about books, reading, learning, education, then join us.  Spread the word.  Make your own angry voices heard in every arena.   Join the Campaign for the Book, run by the wonderful and tireless Alan Gibbons. Because if the libraries go, they won't return.  And that would be a tragedy for all of us. 

PS: For those of you on Twitter, there's now a brand new #CFTB hashtag for Campaign for the Book, and if you wanted to let @edvaizey or @Jeremy_Hunt of the Departure of Culture, Media and Sport know how you feel directly, then please use it to do so.  Let's make this a trending topic for the UK, people. 

Thursday, 2 December 2010

SCBWI Conference 2010 - How to Sell Your Book on the Internet (Part 4)

This is what I said about Part 4 at the end of Part 3....

"It will involve the first of the social networking bits of the 'selling-your-books-and-your- author-self' platform. I know this will be terrifying for a lot of people—and I should warn you now, it will eat your soul if you let it! Mwahahaha!" (Sorry about the demonic laughter--it gets away from me sometimes.)

Are you terrified yet?  Because I'm going to take you into the scary soul-eating area that is


If I had a pound for every person who's asked me ‘what’s the point of Twitter?’ I would be able to buy myself several designer handbags, and probably outfits and shoes to go with them. From my own point of view, I can tell you that I have made more contacts, got more author gigs and generally found more useful stuff on Twitter than anywhere else on the internet. There is a whole community of reviewers, agents, authors, illustrators, librarians, booksellers, publishers both digital and paper, journalists, parents, and readers all in a great, glorious global mix.  Here's what my bright and cheery profile page looks like. As you can see, the background is the cover of one of my books, Hootcat Hill.  Subliminal marketing, if you like.

But the real question you want me to answer here is:
does Twitter sell your books? 
Well, just think about this for a moment:
My Twitter account puts me in contact with people in all areas of the book world and beyond including those all important book buyers
That's a selling tool with pretty amazing potential, I reckon. 
So how can you capitalise on that as an author? There are really only two important rules to remember as far as selling your books on Twitter is concerned:
  • What Twitter is NOT is a direct marketing tool. So you can’t go putting ‘Buy my books Buy my books’ on it every day—the ‘me me me’ author is an absolute no no—you will alienate follower people immediately by doing that. So don't.
  • What Twitter is is a place for mentioning stuff casually, as in a conversation. I’ve bought lots and lots of books through Twitter recommendations or links—and I know I’ve sold many many copies of my own (including in markets like America and Australia where I’m not yet directly published with my current series) through just those casual mentions of something that I’ve been doing, or a review link, or a link to this blog, or just because someone is interested in me as an author. And for every person who has told me directly that they’ve bought a book, you can be sure there are others who are doing and not saying. Also, if you've liked another author's book, why not say so?  Goodwill generates goodwill...I'm a great believer that casting your bread upon the Twitter waters will return it to you a thousand-fold.
If you want to know more about the nuts and bolts of how Twitter actually works, I suggest you look at my Writing 101 Production about Twitter Wisdom, which has useful links for the techy stuff (like explaining why you should use Tweetdeck). And if you are a Twitter neophyte and want to start following some bookie people, you could do a lot worse than the lovely people who were on the SCBWI panel with me...

That's from left to right: @ninadouglas (who is hiding out of shot because she's shy like that), @MayhewJ @jabberworks  and (of course), me @lucycoats

Next up will be that sink of time-wasting, Facebook!  Betcha can't wait!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Help! This is a BlogSplash for The Hating Game!

Today I'm joining a big BlogSplash experiment and helping Talli Roland's brilliant new debut novel THE HATING GAME hit the Kindle bestseller list at and by spreading the word to all my lovely Scribble City Central readers. Even a few sales in a short period of time on Amazon helps push the book up the rankings, making it more visible to other readers, so if you fancy reading it, please click on the links.  It's already at No 27!
If you haven't got a Kindle, you can download a free app at Amazon for Mac, iPhone, PC, Android and more.
If you'd like to find out more about Talli, she's at

And here's all you need to know about THE HATING GAME:
When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she's confident she'll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she's perfected from years of her love 'em and leave 'em dating strategy. After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £2000,000 prize? Plenty, Mattie discovers, when it's revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes. Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end?

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