Media

Catch up with what’s happening on our social media feeds, and find out about the latest authors to publish with The Book Guild… there’s also company news, the latest author events and a round-up of our latest reviews and media coverage.

Video introductions

Media

Catch up with what’s happening on our social media feeds, and find out about the latest authors to publish with The Book Guild… there’s also company news, the latest author events and a round-up of our latest reviews and media coverage.

Kindness and Books

Mental Health Awareness Week in 2020 runs from 18-24th May. This year, it has kindness as its main theme. Here, Operations Director Jane Rowland discusses the links between kindness and mental health, and how we can apply it to our everyday lives:

 

Kindness strengthens relationships, develops community and deepens solidarity. It is a cornerstone of our individual and collective mental health… But we also want to shine a light on the ways that kindness is already flowering at this time. We have seen it in the dancing eyes of 100-year-old Captain Tom Moore as he walked his garden to raise money for the NHS and in the groups responding to local needs. We want that kindness to spread further in every community in the UK. Mentalhealth.Org.UK

Kindness and mental health are interconnected – with just one act of kindness releasing up to three feel-good chemicals into the brain that lifts mood and happiness levels. And kindness is contagious, you are more likely to carry out a small act of kindness yourself if you’ve just been the recipient. All of this got us thinking, as writers and publishers, designers and marketeers, how can we bring kindness into our day-to-day work and lives?

Using kindness as an inspiration for a story. Kindness is transformative, what kind of changes can your characters’ experience even from just one act of kindness? There are many fabulous books where kindness offers redemption or is the catalyst for change – even if that message is much more subtle. Can kindness form part of your storytelling?

How about taking the theme of kindness during Mental Health Awareness Week as a writing exercise/practice and write freely about an act of kindness (real or imagined), a short story with that as the pinnacle? Or a poem, or even doing something more creative such as a drawing or a sketch that takes kindness as its theme? At the office, all of this week we’ve been sharing stories about kindness – given or received – which have all been uplifting and touching.

Kindness is often a key theme of young children’s books – embedded in an exciting story as a learning aid for little ones but acts of kindness can feature less often in young adult novels, where the worlds featured are often darker, more complex to navigate and bravery, strength and resourcefulness are more prominent traits. If you write in this genre, can kindness find a place?

Kindness is not just about being kind to others, it is also about being kind to yourself. This means silencing your inner critic and allowing yourself space and time to take pleasure in your craft. It’s easy to confuse ‘me time’ with selfishness, but we’ve been encouraging staff to take time to be kind to themselves. Perhaps, you can also give yourself a kindness treat this week? We’d love to hear what you got up to!

Kindness in the writing community makes a real difference – supporting, mentoring sharing with other writers is a great way to interact and learn and feel good about your craft. Even in lockdown, there are many online forums for sharing and support amongst writers. Jonathan White, our Sales and Marketing Manager, is currently part of the IPG (Independent Publishers Guild) mentor scheme, supporting other publishers by sharing his many years’ experience the industry, while Emily Dakin, Customer Service and Marketing Assistant, is mentored by a fellow marketeer in the BMS (Book Marketing Society) who shares her insights with us. These are just some examples of how this kindness can be shared, even amongst publishers.

Kindness is most beneficial as a practice – an ongoing part of our daily routine, not as a one-off hit, but what else can kindness bring to our writing lives? We’d love to hear your stories.

 

The Last Fairy – Chapter Five

The Last Fairy is a beautiful story by Andrew Goss, for children and their carers everywhere during the lockdown. Here’s the final chapter of this magical story:

Illustration by Christina Scholz!

Chapter Five

 NOTHING ever seemed quite the same again. Strange things were happening. Reports were coming in from all over the world that people were seeing fairies. People were beginning to believe in fairies. And wishes. And dreams. Even grown-ups!

And Zayd became a celebrity. His picture was in every newspaper. Everyone wanted to come to his school to see the little wand which was kept in a special box in the head teacher’s office. And for a small amount of money, people could even hold the wand to make their wishes come true. At least that’s what they liked to believe. Because the wand was still not working. But it didn’t seem to matter. So the school could buy lots of new books. And there were school trips. And Zayd was a star. Ayesha wasn’t rough with him again. She told everyone how awesome he was and that he was her best friend.

But eventually, life returned to how it once had been. The City school became its usual chaotic self once more. Even Ayesha started to be rough again. And sometimes she would tease Zayd. It was about this time that Zayd discovered another tooth was beginning to wobble. And each day it became a little looser in his mouth until once more it seemed to cling to his gum by a single thread.

He twisted it from his mouth, wrapped it in tissue paper and carefully laid it beneath his pillow. And there he lay, perfectly quiet, waiting in the stillness of the night. He was just about to fall asleep when suddenly he heard a buzzing sound he knew, more like the rapid beating of a butterfly’s wings than a fly. And he realised his little friend was back.

In a flash of light, the little fairy dropped onto the pillow beside Zayd’s face.

“Hello, dear Zayd,” it said in a tiny voice.

“I heard people have started to believe in fairies again,” Zayd whispered.

The little creature smiled broadly and its light grew so bright it lit the bedroom.

“I want to say a special ‘thank you,” said the fairy. “For saving the fairy city. And for bringing my friends back to life again. You’re famous in fairyland, you know.”

“Oh,” Zayd replied. “A similar thing happened in my world. Was I on TV in fairyland too?”

The fairy chuckled. “We don’t have that. We’re much too busy collecting children’s teeth and granting wishes. Especially at the moment. There’s a bit of a rush on. Which reminds me… I have been sent to grant you a special wish this time for all your help.”

Zayd hesitated.

“Anything you like,” said the fairy. “A million pounds. A castle of your own?”

Zayd thought for a moment.

“I want my mama and papa to be happy – to laugh and joke like they used to.”

The fairy nodded. “I understand. I’ve seen how seriously they take life these days… Do you know their problem? They’ve forgotten their dreams. That’s what often happens to grown-ups.” And the fairy looked sad.

Then she lit up again: “But I can fix that with my new wand,” she said, taking the magic item from a fold in her skirt.

The fairy then waved her wand and disappeared into a puff of golden dust. And Zayd sank into a deep and satisfying sleep even before he had even finished whispering ‘goodbye’.

When he awoke the next morning he was sure he had dreamed the whole thing. Or had he? The first discovery he made was five silver coins beneath his pillow. Excitedly, he hurried downstairs to find his parents already sitting at the breakfast table. And they were smiling at each other.

“I thought you’d already be at the shop,” said Zayd to his Papa.

“I decided to take the day off to spend time with the family. Perhaps we could go to the park after school.”

Zayd could hardly believe his ears.

“And then,” his father said, barely able to contain his own boyish excitement, “…then I would like us all to plan our next family holiday. A sunshine holiday somewhere far away with golden beaches and palm trees. The sort of place I grew up in as a boy, where we can forget about school and work and rainy days for a while. A sort of magic place we will always remember.”

And as he smiled again Zayd was certain he saw the twinkle of fairy dust in his father’s eyes…

The end

 

Andrew Goss is the author of The Humanitarian, a novel set against the backdrop of a devastating natural disaster – the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which killed 80,000 and left millions homeless. The paperback novel will be released in July this year, but Andrew has recently released a charity eBook edition of his novel to raise funds for “some of the most vulnerable in our society to help them come through this terrible time.” All the author’s proceeds from the eBook edition will be divided between Action Homeless in the UK and desperately poor communities in Pakistan, where he worked and drew inspiration for his book. Find out more about the charity eBook here.

Thank you for tuning in. If you’ve enjoyed reading this story, please do send feedback to Andrew via his website and be sure to pass it on for other children to enjoy!

The Last Fairy – Chapter Four

The Last Fairy is a beautiful story by Andrew Goss, for children and their carers everywhere during the lockdown. We’ll be posting a new chapter each day this week so tune in each day so see how this magical story will unfold:

Illustration by Christina Scholz!

Chapter Four

WHEN Zayd awoke the sky was already ablaze with the orange glow of the morning sun, peeping over the city rooftops. The familiar sound of the Blackbirds twittering outside his window nudged him from deep sleep into the new day. He raised himself in bed and stared bleary-eyed into the morning light which shone through the gap in the curtains. What a strange night it had been – and what a dream. It had seemed so real.

But wait. What about the tooth under the pillow? Had the tooth fairy really been? Quickly he tossed his pillow aside to look. His eyes widened. The tissue package in which it had been wrapped really was gone. He decided he had better go and see his mama and papa.

Zayd swung his legs out of bed but stopped as soon as he lowered his foot onto the carpet and felt a sharp little stab against his heel. And there it was, the tiny broken wand the fairy had left. Zayd could hardly contain his excitement. He’d show the wand to his parents and they would have to believe what had happened. That would surely mean another two fairies. And his sisters too. Another three fairies. That would be a good start to saving the fairy city above the clouds. He jumped out of bed to find his mama and papa. But their bed was empty. Must already be having breakfast, he thought and headed downstairs.

He found his mother in the kitchen preparing breakfast, as she always did, almost as soon as she got up every morning.
“Mama, Mama…” But before Zayd could say another word, his mother’s face was clouded by anger.

“What time do you call this? Your sisters have already had breakfast and are ready for school… and shouldn’t you be dressed?”
“But…” stammered Zayd.

“No ‘buts’… off you go…” and his mother had turned her attention back to the chapati on the pan.

Zayd’s bottom lip quivered in anger. Grown-ups never seemed to give you a chance to explain. They never listened. Zayd didn’t move. Instead, he asked, “Where’s Papa?”

“He’s had to go to the shop for an important customer… now go and get dressed Beta. Now please!”
Zayd ran upstairs, tears burning in his eyes. But he did not cry. He was too angry. Instead, he dressed quickly, ready for school, his throat so tight with emotion he could hardly breathe. It didn’t seem fair. No-one would listen to him. So, he hid the fairy’s wand in his school bag before returning to the kitchen, where his mother slapped another chapati onto the pan.

He would show Ayesha when he got to school. Ayesha was one of his friends and seemed very cool for a girl. Sometimes he even sat next to her, because, like Zayd, she was good at Maths. And she could read Arabic. Sometimes they even played together in the schoolyard, even though she could be quite rough. And sometimes she would tease him. But girls were like that. He knew from his own family and was quite tough, really, with three older sisters.

Yet if ever he was in big trouble and it really mattered, Ayesha was on his side. They stuck together, like peas in a pod. Zayd felt this was just such an occasion and could hardly wait to show her the little treasure the fairy had left with him. As soon as Ayesha saw the wand, she tried to grab it from him. But he pushed her away. And they began to fight. This was most unlike Zayd and Ayesha. The teacher quickly realised something was wrong.

“Now, now, what’s going on with you two this morning?” said Mrs. Parker in a voice that was firm, but kind, standing over the two children.

“Ayesha’s being horrible to me,” Zayd replied. “She’s taken something from me.”

The girl realised the game was up and dutifully handed the tiny wand to the teacher.

“What’s this, then?” said Mrs. Parker, squinting at the delicate object. “It’s beautiful.”

So Zayd told her all about the fairy’s visit the night before.

“That’s an incredible story,” she told Zayd. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

The teacher was so excited she nearly fell over herself in a rush to leave the classroom to call Zayd’s parents. There was something very important she wanted to talk to them about.

Later that morning Zayd had to go to Mrs. Wheat’s office. She was the headteacher in charge of the school and usually, it was only naughty children who found out what her office looked like.

So when Zayd stepped into the head teacher’s office, he thought he was in real trouble. Especially when he saw his mother already waiting there, sitting with Mrs. Wheat, looking worried.

“Please sit down Zayd and tell us exactly what happened last night please,” said Mrs. Wheat in a kindly voice. So Zayd told them the whole story.

“Isn’t it marvellous,” exclaimed Mrs. Wheat excitedly. “We must tell the world – we’ll all be famous. We should invite all the news reporters to the school at once. What wonderful publicity for the school. The story will be in all the newspapers and on TV too. Nobody has seen a fairy’s wand before. Ever. What a discovery,” she said. “Fairies discovered by Leicester pupil. Wonderful,” she repeated, dancing from her office to organise a news conference to show Zayd’s wand to reporters.

And indeed, it seemed as though all the reporters in the world did come. First the local newspaper. Then came the radio and TV people. And Zayd told his story over and over again.

Later that day the BBC carried an important announcement – a news flash – which interrupted all programmes: ‘Fairies found at city school’. And then everyone wanted to talk to Zayd. People who spoke in strange languages from far away places. Even a reporter from Algeria. And, of course, they all wanted to see the tiny fairy wand…

Stay tuned for the final chapter tomorrow!

 

Andrew Goss is the author of The Humanitarian, a novel set against the backdrop of a devastating natural disaster – the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which killed 80,000 and left millions homeless. The paperback novel will be released in July this year, but Andrew has recently released a charity eBook edition of his novel to raise funds for “some of the most vulnerable in our society to help them come through this terrible time.” All the author’s proceeds from the eBook edition will be divided between Action Homeless in the UK and desperately poor communities in Pakistan, where he worked and drew inspiration for his book. Find out more about the charity eBook here.

The Last Fairy – Chapter Three

The Last Fairy is a beautiful story by Andrew Goss, for children and their carers everywhere during the lockdown. We’ll be posting a new chapter each day this week so tune in each day to see how this magical story will unfold:

Illustration by Christina Scholz!

Chapter Three

“WE’LL have to make our own magic,” Zayd whispered, gazing intently at the little fairy resting on the palm of his hand. The tiny creature stopped crying and looked into Zayd’s big brown eyes. Was a child capable of making magic? The fairy had heard such things were possible before children became too old and distracted to forget their dreams. The little figure rose to her feet and hugged one of Zayd’s fingers gratefully.

“Do you know any spells, then?” asked the fairy.

“Only spellings from school, I’m afraid. And I’m still learning those. But I have an idea to create a different sort of magic, which just might help. Starting with the tooth.”

The fairy wasn’t sure.

“You can have my tooth for nothing,” said Zayd simply.

The fairy shook her head. “Couldn’t possibly.”

“Take it,” Zayd insisted. “It will surely help to make the pearly city strong against the black clouds. You can have it. I don’t need it.”

But the fairy shook her little blonde head sadly.

“It’s not possible. If I can’t give you anything in return it makes me feel sad. And when I’m sad, I feel heavy. Then I’ll never get off the ground. Fairies beat their wings on a tide of happiness they create whenever they make a wish come true – like leaving silver coins under the pillow. That makes for a speedy flight!”

“Hmmm,” said Zayd thoughtfully. And then he had an idea. He carried the fairy over to his pillow.

“It would make me very happy if you just took the tooth,” he said.

“It won’t work,” said the fairy.

“Then why don’t you give me something in exchange?”
“But I can’t do the money magic with a broken wand.”

“Then give me the wand – it’s beautifully made and would make me very happy.”

The fairy thought for a moment. It was true she had a collection of many different wands back at the fairy city. But letting a child have a magic wand – even a broken one – might cause problems. Then again, it would create the necessary stream of happiness to allow the fairy to return to the city with the tooth. It was a tricky situation. But it might just work. And who would know? Yes, she convinced herself. It was the only way. She smiled and glowed so brightly the whole room was bathed in golden light.

“That would allow me to fly easily… if you’re sure it would make you happy.”

Zayd nodded. The fairy held out the tiny item, no bigger than a sewing needle and the little boy took it in his fingers, examining the delicate craftsmanship, as only fairies know-how. It was sparkling silver with little golden stars that glittered and still gave off a little magic dust.

“It’s a deal, then,” said Zayd and the fairy darted quickly beneath the pillow for the precious tooth.
“I must get this back to the city above the clouds immediately,” said the fairy, hovering in front of Zayd’s face with the tissue package wedge beneath her arm.

“Will I see you again?”

The little creature nodded.

“Next time you lose a tooth… as long as you still believe.” She sighed before continuing sadly: “If only there were more children like you. Then there would be more fairies and more magic in the world – and more teeth to make the fairy city safe against the darkest storm clouds.”

“More magic. What do you mean?”
The fairy sighed impatiently.

“Don’t you know anything? Fairies are responsible for granting wishes all over the world to help the Almighty. What do you think the pearly white city is for? It’s not just for show, you know; it’s the source of all fairy magic.”

Now Zayd began to understand.

“Wait,” he said. “You mean if the fairy city falls from the sky, no more wishes can come true?”

“No magic, no wishes,” replied the fairy. “At least not as quickly. He’s very busy these days, you know. This internet thing has made everything so much more difficult. People have to believe to create the magic that binds the universe together. Don’t you know anything?”

Zayd felt he did know quite a bit. But what the fairy said sounded sad.

“You see the problem,” the fairy added.

“So it all depends on people believing,” mumbled Zayd, echoing the fairy’s sadness. And he felt he knew it was true. The fairy nodded.

“Suppose somebody was able to make lots of people believe in fairies?”

“I’d grant them their fondest wish, that’s for sure,” said the fairy.

Then it reached out its tiny hand to shake Zayd’s little finger.

“I’ve got to fly now. But thanks for your help.”

The little fairy disappeared in a puff of golden smoke before Zayd even had time to utter the word ‘goodbye’ and suddenly found himself sitting in the dark. But he could still feel the tiny wand he held between his fingers. And Zayd had another idea. He smiled at the thought of what the next day would bring as he closed his eyes and fell into a deep and comfortable sleep…

Stay tuned for Chapter four tomorrow!

 

Andrew Goss is the author of The Humanitarian, a novel set against the backdrop of a devastating natural disaster – the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which killed 80,000 and left millions homeless. The paperback novel will be released in July this year, but Andrew has recently released a charity eBook edition of his novel to raise funds for “some of the most vulnerable in our society to help them come through this terrible time.” All the author’s proceeds from the eBook edition will be divided between Action Homeless in the UK and desperately poor communities in Pakistan, where he worked and drew inspiration for his book. Find out more about the charity eBook here.

The Last Fairy – Chapter Two

The Last Fairy is a beautiful story by Andrew Goss, for children and their carers everywhere during the lockdown. We’ll be posting a new chapter each day this week so tune in each day to see how this magical story will unfold:

Illustration by Christina Scholz!

Chapter Two

UNDER the covers Zayd pinched a small fold of skin between his fingers and squeezed firmly. The clock downstairs suddenly stopped ticking. He watched as the light came closer. What if the fairy should see he was still awake? He shut his eyes and kept perfectly still.

The greyness of his closed eyes became red, then bright orange as the light came closer. The flutter of tiny wings grew louder. And suddenly, they stopped. In the same instant, he felt a little pat on the pillow beside his face, as if a tiny object had suddenly dropped beside him. He opened his eyes slightly and found himself squinting at a little figure no taller than a matchbox, surrounded by the brilliant light that lit the room like a candle. It had its back to Zayd and was much too busy looking for something to notice he was awake, as it struggled to slide its tiny arms underneath the pillow, tutting to itself like an angry bumble-bee.

It was quite the strangest creature Zayd had ever seen. It was dressed in sparkling yellow clothing which consisted of lycra mini-skirt, jacket, shiny golden tights and tiny heeled boots. The little head was a flame of blonde curls, through which Zayd could see pink pointed ears. And as it wriggled it threw out a cloud of golden dust from delicate wings upon its back, which began to fill the room like a cloud of glittering light. Zayd felt a tickle on his nose and before he could stop himself shattered the silence with an enormous sneeze, sending his little visitor shooting across the bedroom like a firework across the sky, and into the far wall, sending sparks in all directions.

Zayd gasped. The little creature had fallen to the floor and its light had become weak and dim. What had he done? Curiosity overcame his sense of fear and he swung his legs out of bed and tiptoed towards the glowing light. The dazed fairy rubbed her eyes in disbelief at the large child approaching. And pinched herself.

“You’re not allowed to see me. You’re supposed to be asleep,” she said angrily in a squeaky voice barely louder than the quietest whisper.

“Sorry,” said Zayd in reply and the fairy put her hands over her pointed ears.

“Shhhh! You’re hurting my ears!”

“Sorry again,” whispered Zayd. “Are you all right?”

The fairy nodded.
“But I’ll have to put you to sleep right away,” she said, whipping out a magic wand from a ruffle in her skirt. “Before you hurt me.”

“But I won’t hurt you and I don’t want to go to sleep.”

“I’m not risking it. I’ve seen what big people do to each other,” said the fairy and performed a strange weaving motion with her wand. Nothing happened. She tried again, with a delicate sweep of her arm. The tiny wand was broken.

“Oh dear,” said the fairy and tapped the little rod against the carpet, as if this might suddenly fix it.

“See what you’ve done,” she added unhappily. “Now I simply can’t do the magic.”

Zayd smiled. “Good, because I want to see what happens.”

“You don’t understand, stupid. Not the sleep thing. Changing your tooth into silver coins. I can’t take your great white tusk without performing the money magic. Now I’ll never get the tusk back and without it, I can’t save the fairy city. And I am certain to become the last fairy.”

Zayd was puzzled. “The last one?”

So, the fairy explained…

Once upon a time, when Zayd’s Papa was a boy, there were thousands of fairies and children’s teeth were plentiful enough to build strong castles in the sky, high above the fluffy clouds where the great fairy cities floated on the four winds. Even above Africa. And especially above Algeria.

But a great tragedy had befallen the fairy kingdom. People had stopped believing in fairies. Children began to lose the magic of belief and give their dreams to new computer worlds. And their imaginations were being dulled by mobile phones. And every time a person stopped believing, a fairy dropped down dead. Great pearly white cities had fallen into decay and black storm clouds smashed the magnificent fairy castles. And the fairies were disappearing fast.

“Even when your older sisters stopped believing there were still many thousands of us. But now I fear I may become the only one. I haven’t seen a fellow fairy for quite some time. And the city…” She began to cry. “The last city is falling into decay, threatened by the biggest, blackest clouds I have ever seen.”

“Perhaps I can help,” said Zayd and took the little fairy gently in his hand…

Stay tuned for Chapter three tomorrow!

 

Andrew Goss is the author of The Humanitarian, a novel set against the backdrop of a devastating natural disaster – the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which killed 80,000 and left millions homeless. The paperback novel will be released in July this year, but Andrew has recently released a charity eBook edition of his novel to raise funds for “some of the most vulnerable in our society to help them come through this terrible time.” All the author’s proceeds from the eBook edition will be divided between Action Homeless in the UK and desperately poor communities in Pakistan, where he worked and drew inspiration for his book. Find out more about the charity eBook here.

The Last Fairy – Chapter One

The Last Fairy is a beautiful story by Andrew Goss, for children and their carers everywhere during the lockdown. We’ll be posting a new chapter each day this week so tune in each day to see how this magical story will unfold:

Illustration by Christina Scholz!

Chapter One

ZAYD lay perfectly still. He was waiting, listening in the semi-darkness, eyes wide open as he peeped over the covers into the shadows. Everyone was in bed and in the quiet of the night he could hear the sound of his own heart beating. Thumpity-thump, thumpity-thump…

Through the gap in the curtains, he could see the moon and the silvery light which shone into his room allowed him to see the shapes of his bedroom furniture. But the longer he lay there, the more sounds he heard. The ticking of the big clock downstairs grew louder and louder. And the quicker his heart began to beat. Some of the shadows in his room took on monster-like shapes so that he hardly dared look from beneath his covers. Yet he was determined to stay awake, on this night of all nights and pinched himself whenever he felt his eyes closing. Underneath his pillow lay the first tooth he had lost. It had ‘fallen out’ earlier that day and was now carefully wrapped in tissue paper, ready for the fairies to collect. He had first felt the tooth wobble several weeks ago.

“You’ll be getting a visit from the fairies soon,” his Papa Nabil told his son with a chuckle and had smiled to see the excitement fill the boy’s eyes.

“Do they really come out at night to fetch the tooth?”

“Of course,” his Papa had said with a smile. “But only when the children are asleep because they are frightened of big people.”

“Oh,” said Zayd. “Do you think I could see one if I stayed awake and was very still and quiet?”

“You could always try.”

And this is exactly what Zayd had decided to do. Particularly as his Papa had been unable to tell him exactly what happened when a fairy came. When he asked his father again about the fairies, he had barely looked up from the newspaper which he read from cover to cover in the evenings. He was especially looking for news of Algeria, a country very far away on the very northern rim of Africa, where his Papa had lived as a boy.

“About the fairies…” Zayd began to ask him.

His father sighed heavily. Suddenly he looked very tired.

“Well… erm… I think… I don’t really know. We can talk later. Run along. I’m busy right now, he had said with a furrowed brow.” He missed the country where he had grown up.

Zayd was surprised. His Papa usually knew everything. And he didn’t see him later. Instead, he frowned over the newspaper, sometimes sighing deeply and forgot all about the fairies. If he could only stay awake to see what happened when a fairy came, maybe his Papa would stop reading the newspaper. Perhaps he would stop working so long every day in the shop, where every day dozens of men and boys would come to have their hair cut. Perhaps he would stop looking troubled. Perhaps he would listen. And maybe he would smile. He used to smile much more. Now he often seemed sad and tired when he came home from the shop. His Mama was the same. But Zayd’s tooth was at the wobbling stage only. Perhaps his sisters could help. Sukaina was 13 and wouldn’t have anything to do with it.

“You’ll just have to wait until it falls out,” she said. She was already beginning to sound like a grown-up. His sister Hajer was more helpful.

“Stand still, Zayd and I’ll hit you in the mouth. I’ll do it quickly, so it won’t hurt.”

Zayd wasn’t sure about this idea but finally nodded in agreement.

Wham!!

“Ooouch!” Zayd screamed in pain and burst into a flood of tears. His Papa threw his newspaper down and stormed into the room.

“What is this?” he asked his children. He sent Hajer straight to bed without the usual supper. But Zayd thought the tooth was much looser after that and later smuggled a chocolate bar to his older sister. She was 11 and thought the idea of catching a fairy was pretty awesome. Only, she couldn’t be bothered herself. Besides, she was impatient to get back to her computer games. Worse still, she was beginning to show an interest in make-up.

Zayd, however, was determined and twisted the tooth a little more every day for a week until finally, it seemed to cling to his gum by a tiny thread. He went to find Hajer. One final twist and it was out! It hadn’t hurt. That had been this morning.

“Are you sure the fairies will come tonight?” Zayd asked his Papa as he wrapped the little tooth carefully in tissue paper.

“Hmmm?” his father replied as if he wasn’t really listening.

“Will the fairies come?”

“Sure they will. That’s what they say.”

And Zayd slipped the small package under his pillow and bounced into bed, watched by his parents.

“Goodnight Papa. Goodnight Mama.”

Then he yawned extra sleepily and turned onto his side, pretending to fall asleep immediately.

“Must be very tired,” he heard his mother mumble on her way out.

As soon as she had left the room, Zayd put his finger to his mouth, just to make sure it had happened. He was happy to feel the gap, rubbing his fingertip over the ragged gum where the tooth had been. It was still sore but had a reassuring numbness to it.

He wasn’t certain how long he lay there. He must have dozed off, for the next thing he knew all the lights were out and the house was in complete darkness. Everything was still, except for the ticking of the big clock downstairs and the thumping of his heart.

He poked his tongue into the gap in his teeth, just to make sure. Suddenly he stopped what he was doing and listened as hard as he could. He was certain he heard a humming sound, like the buzz of a fly. He listened harder. It wasn’t a fly. More like the quick flutter of a butterfly’s wings. His eyes opened wider, peering bravely from under the covers into the darkness.

And then he saw it. A tiny dot of golden light that seemed to hover in the corner of the room, like a little firefly. Zayd kept perfectly still, his gaze resting on the dazzling light, desperate to breathe as quietly as he could. He felt his heartbeat quicken with excitement…

Stay tuned for Chapter two tomorrow!

 

Andrew Goss is the author of The Humanitarian, a novel set against the backdrop of a devastating natural disaster – the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, which killed 80,000 and left millions homeless. The paperback novel will be released in July this year, but Andrew has recently released a charity eBook edition of his novel to raise funds for “some of the most vulnerable in our society to help them come through this terrible time”. All the author’s proceeds from the eBook edition will be divided between Action Homeless in the UK and desperately poor communities in Pakistan, where he worked and drew inspiration for his book. Find out more about the charity eBook here.

Staff Q&A: Joe Shillito

At Troubador, our team is made up of a mixture of talented individuals. We thought it would be interesting to share with you an insight into the lives of staff members who are writers and published authors. Today’s Q&A is with Joe Shillito, Senior Production Controller:

What do you write?

I primarily write fantasy. I’m currently working on the first in an epic fantasy series and completed my second draft last week, so I am currently knee-deep in pages as I work through the next edit!

How long have you been writing?

I have only really been disciplined with my writing since I started working at Troubador, around three and a half years ago. Surprisingly, once I had replaced my student lifestyle with a regular 9-5 routine, I actually found it easier to schedule a consistent time for writing. I did of course still write prior to working at Troubador, but less regularly and never with the end goal of finishing a book.

What is your writing routine?

Under normal circumstances, I have quite a busy life, trying to fit writing between work, playing in a local brass band (which takes a surprising number of evenings and weekends), exercise and, more recently, planning a wedding! This means I have to be disciplined with setting aside time for writing and sticking to it. I write every day at work during my lunch hour, and I try to fit another hour at the end of the day before cooking dinner, on days when we don’t need to rush out to a rehearsal.

What have been the challenges or advantages of lockdown for a writer, from your POV?

One big advantage is the lengthening of the day as a result of working from home and not needing to commute. For me, this means an extra hour of time which I can put towards the things that I want to achieve, and writing is high on that list. This can be a double-edged sword, though – with so much extra time during the day, it can be tempting to put off working on the book if I am not feeling ‘in the zone’. This is why it is so important to set a routine and stick to it (see below).

What is your one tip for writers during this situation?

The lockdown has the potential to play havoc with your normal writing routine, so it is important to set yourself a new one. For example, my fiancée starts work half an hour before I do, so I have committed to sitting at my desk and writing for that half hour before I start work. It may not sound like much, but those half hours add up. The important thing is to keep writing – it can be a nice break from the strange reality we find ourselves in!

Ending on a light note, can you tell us a literary-themed joke!

What would you find in Charles Dickens’s kitchen?

The best of thymes, the worst of thymes.

Staff Q&A: Sophie Morgan

At Troubador, our team is made up of a mixture of talented individuals. We thought it would be interesting to share with you an insight into the lives of staff members who are writers and published authors. First up is Sophie Morgan, Marketing Controller:

What do you write?

American romance – and yes, there’s a difference! English romances tend to focus on the heroine and her journey to the hero while American romances are more about the journey of the two as a couple. I have always written more paranormal romance but lately have been experimenting with contemporary romance as well.

How long have you been writing?

It’s the standard answer to say, ‘all my life’, but it’s true. I finished my first novel when I was sixteen and continued to write more, managing to get published when I was twenty-four. I am fortunate to have since had four books published. I always knew I wanted a career as a writer, but I never imagined how challenging it would be to juggle a full-time job with it!

What is your writing routine?

Because I commute 40/45 minutes to work every day, I have fallen into the habit of only writing at the weekends. I like to write in short bursts of time, setting myself a routine of an hour or so in the morning and the same in the afternoon, depending on what my weekend plans are. That way, it’s broken up, easier to approach, and doesn’t feel like a huge commitment when I might not be inspired to write.

What have been the challenges or advantages of lockdown for a writer, from your POV?

I think it’s very easy to think that because you work from home, it’s naturally going to mean you’ll have more opportunities to write. However, sitting in the same setting as where I do my writing then makes me feel keener to get away from the screen at the end of the day. I make sure to separate where I do my ‘home’ writing from my work so that I can close the workday. And because I am getting more time to spend time with my spaniel, watch TV and read in the evenings, I no longer see weekends as the sole time I can fit all of these things in. This makes me feel more energised to write and doesn’t make me feel like it is something I ‘should’ do. Rather, something I ‘want’ to do!

What is your one tip for writers during this situation?

I learned early on that you can’t sit on your laurels and expect the Muse to mosey along. Writing takes persistence, dedication and a little piece of your soul (joking…mostly). The most important thing is to write even if you’re not inspired to do so. Very often I will sit down, feeling like the prose I’m writing has a vivid hue of purple – then within the next paragraph, I’ll start getting my flow and it runs from there. In exercise, you warm-up, so I don’t see why it should be any different with writing. Don’t treat every word you write as if it can’t be erased. The most important thing is to write every day, warm up those muscles and remember it’s supposed to be fun!

Ending on a light note, can you tell us a literary-themed joke!

The Past, the Present and the Future walked into a bar. It was tense.

 

Check back again tomorrow for another Q&A.

 

 

 

Combatting Stress

With April being Stress Awareness Month, what better time to talk about how stress can affect us – and in particular, the stresses that writers can face? Digital Services Manager, Megan Lockwood-Jones highlights the importance of combatting stress:

Stress is something that many will experience throughout their lives – whether that’s in the workplace, in education or at home. In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, people all over the world are surrounded by worries. Taking time out to acknowledge what is causing our stress and which coping mechanisms and techniques can help, as well as realising which can hinder, can be very beneficial.

Writing as a career can be stressful – not only with the usual factors such as earning enough to live on (and writers’ earnings are always under pressure) but also with balancing the different needs of creativity with the business side of writing, family pressures, the self-imposed stresses of being the best writer you can, deadlines, searching for the next commission or idea… Being a writer can be all-encompassing.

At Troubador, we have three Mental Health Champions (myself, Chelsea and Jane) and we ensure that wellbeing is kept firmly on the agenda for staff to help improve mental wellbeing. But can any of the techniques we use in our workplace help you as a writer?

One of the exercises we’ve used focusses the mind on the immediate, solvable stresses – the ‘Stress Container’ exercise. Everyone has a stress container of a different size – think of it as a bucket that, once full, will overflow. However, if we have a ‘tap’ on the side of the bucket, we can release the pressure before it spills over (i.e. before stress overwhelms us). To do this, sketch a bucket on some paper, and in that bucket write down all the things that are causing you stress and anxiety; this could be a writing deadline that you don’t think you’ll reach, writer’s block, family dramas or financial worries, or more abstract concepts like fear of the future. After ‘filling’ the bucket with these worries, draw a little tap on the side of the bucket and write down the (positive) things you do that make you feel better and reduce your stress. This could be simple things like taking a walk, gardening, spending time with the family, watching a film; these are thing things you need do to manage the stress and stop it building. Next, go back to the worries you’ve put in the bucket, and consider the evidence you have to support your feelings; what things can you change? What can’t be changed and that you need to accept or deal with differently? What needs urgent attention and can be solved more easily? Can anyone else help, who can you talk to? What actions can you take to resolve some of the stresses? Sometimes you already know the solution but are not ready to tackle it. Also, think about what unhelpful coping mechanisms you use to deal with stress (too much wine, chocolate, avoiding situations…?)

We’ve used this stress container model successfully to help focus on the immediate, solvable stresses against those that may take longer to resolve. Acknowledging your feelings and taking the time to work out what can be changed, and how you can help yourself, is the first step to changing your relationship with stress.

Some more general (but some of the most important) things that we encourage are taking regular breaks, talking freely with other members of staff and getting some fresh air. A good chat over a cup of tea, or simply taking time out to gather your thoughts, can make the difference to your day. There is also a lot of evidence that controlling breathing can drastically help control stress – and these techniques can be easily learned and done while working.

Remember that some stress is beneficial too – without any stress we don’t develop resilience, and don’t push ourselves out of our comfort zones – but too much stress, or the wrong type of ongoing, unrelenting worry, wears us down and causes long-term health issues.

Most writers choose to write because they take pleasure and enjoyment from the writing process, but this can suddenly become its own pressure when it is no longer an enjoyable hobby.

So, some tips for managing stress for writers:

Organise yourself

Stress can make it much harder to maintain focus. Make a list of tasks, or plan the article or story, or come up with a time schedule for the work. We cope better with stress when we can break a complex task down into small, achievable lumps – so for the ‘big daunting projects’, see if you can break these down further into small tasks. This also cheats the brain into feeling a sense of achievement and giving us an endorphin hit once items are checked off the list.

Get outside

There is so much evidence about how being outside, in nature, helps reset our stressed brains – even 15-20 minutes outside makes a massive difference. When we get stressed, especially at work or with our writing, it’s easy to think we can’t leave our desks and must sit there and finish a job, but if we are being really unproductive at our desks, it’s far better to take a break.

Breathing

Gain control of your breath and you can gain control of so much more. We take short breaths when stressed and hold our breath, but slowing our breathing reduces the stress hormones in our body. When we lose control of our breathing we also can’t think straight, so everything seems so much worse. As a starting point, the NHS has some simple but effective breathing exercises for stress.

Writing might sound like the perfect occupation to outsiders, but if it’s your career it can bring stress just as in other jobs. With so many of us at home during the lockdown, some are finding opportunities for relaxation, creativity and renewal that the lockdown brings, but others are now trying to be the breadwinner, teacher, carer and creative genius too. Take a moment to think about your personal stresses and consider what impact stress has on your life.

We hope that the above tips from Troubador’s Mental Health First aiders offer a good starting point.

 

 

The Humanitarian – a story of our times

Emergencies bring out the best and the worst in human nature. We see that with the Coronavirus pandemic, right here, right now. Here, Andrew Goss, author of The Humanitarian talks about his novel, its relevance today – and why he has launched a special charity eBook version to beat the lock-down and raise cash to support the most vulnerable.

There was a sudden, unexpected earthquake that struck northern Pakistan. Its arc of destruction ranged from the mountains of Afghanistan in the west, through the Himalayan sub-ranges into Kashmir and India to the east. That much is true.

It hit Pakistan hardest, where it claimed the lives of 80,000 and left millions homeless. Entire villages and townships were raised to rubble, including schools, hospitals and government buildings. Roads were torn from the slopes to which they clung and bridges were shaken into the valleys below. The entire infrastructure of the north-west was swept to destruction in less than 30 seconds that Saturday morning in October 2005.

Among the online reports I read at the time was the harrowing account from the town of Balakot, which lay close to the earthquake’s epicentre, co-authored by The Telegraph South Asia correspondent, Peter Foster. He recently commented: “It was the most brutal story I ever covered. Worse than the 2004 tsunami or either Afghan or Iraq conflicts. Just thousands of people left to die…”

I myself travelled to Pakistan to report for a local newspaper the first week of January 2006, when the region was still reeling from the catastrophe and the emergency response phase was in full swing. Many villages had still not been reached, such was their remoteness in what was then North-West Frontier Province and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Real events

And yes, there was a Black Mountain tribal area. It had not been reached since the earthquake, due to its remoteness, its autonomy and its history. Information on this area was therefore scarce, almost non-existent. But a map was discovered within the pages of Colonel Wylly’s 1912 account of the warring tribes and their suppression by the British Indian Army, more than a century before the earthquake. And it played a part in the aid distribution to the area following the disaster, which was eventually made possible.

The Humanitarian is a novel based upon real events. I will leave the reader to decide how much of the story documented within its pages is true and how much is fiction. It is fair to say that the central characters never existed. Yet the story is drawn from real people and situations witnessed first-hand.

Disasters bring out the best and the worst in human nature. But if there is one thing I have learned during my time as an aid worker and humanitarian reporter it is this: all of us share common basic human needs. We are essentially the same. And, when faced with catastrophe, our best chance of winning through requires us to step outside our immediate lives and pull together, drawing on the strengths we all have within us. And that includes compassion for others, regardless of status, race, or religion.

In this sense, The Humanitarian is true to its theme and those who were part of the emergency response at that time in Pakistan. But I believe there are lessons within its pages for all of us at this difficult time. And, sadly, those same desperately poor mountain communities featured in the book face a new crisis just as critical during the current pandemic with the loss of their livelihoods and income. They have a stark choice between COVID-19 and starvation. Or both.

In terms of the novel, it is a story. Shahbaz, the shepherd boy never existed. And yet there were thousands like him caught up in the aftermath of the earthquake. The same can be said of any number of Pakistani villagers portrayed in the novel, such as Shahida Bibi. Her life was typical of many female-headed households in the north-west and the suffering they endured – and still do.

Inspiration

As for the aid workers, that collection of ‘mercenaries, missionaries and misfits’ portrayed as part of the humanitarian community within the book. I have shared time with many of them across South Asia and West Africa. People as different as Jim Maddison and Gail Stevenson. And I acknowledge the debt of shared experience and of inspiration. For most of them do good work in extreme circumstances, often at great personal risk. My thanks, therefore, must go to Frank Lyman, to Syed Latif – and to Abdul Waheed Khan, who made the ultimate sacrifice for his compassion. A true humanitarian.

My own involvement in Pakistan was largely ‘accidental’. I had no intention originally of staying beyond the initial ten-day journalistic assignment I had embarked upon. As it happened, as it often does in life, things did not turn out as I had foreseen. What is true is that my experience in Pakistan changed my life. I hope for the better.

I had never experienced mass human suffering close-up. And yet I was impressed by the resilience of those who had literally lost everything. Insurance is a rare thing in Pakistan and there are no support mechanisms as we know them in the developed world for those who have fallen on hard times. Never had I encountered such kindness from those who were suffering so acutely. It was a truly humbling experience, which I will never forget.

Need

What of my own story? I ended up travelling to and from Pakistan for the best part of the next decade, spending prolonged periods working in the mountains or living in Islamabad. My son, Jalal was born in the federal capital and spent his first year in Pakistan before we relocated back to the Midlands in the UK. But a few years later, back we went, drawn once more to ‘the land of the pure’ and to resume the work which my then partner and I considered unfinished.

Of course, for most people who have experienced humanitarian work, and seen the need and circumstances of those held in the grip of poverty, the mission is never complete. There comes a realisation that whatever one achieves it is not enough. It is like a small drop in an ocean of need. Because the need is so very great – and the world so very slow to change in this respect.

I left Pakistan for the last time at the end of 2014. But it is also true that I think often of the people I came to know and love in the mountains. The time I shared with them had a profound impact on my own life. And the dream remains that one day I will be able to return.

The Humanitarian in eBook format is available now across the major platforms, with the author’s proceeds going to support the homeless in the UK and poor communities across the Black Mountain, Pakistan. Further details here!

The paperback for The Humanitarian will be released in July this year!