EC was Here

eric clapton fretless bass

(750 words)

Profundity of expression wasn’t Brad’s strong point. “I don’t care if you don’t fucking believe me. Eric Clapton’s my mate and if I asked him to come and play here he’d fucking come and play here!”
Fred, the landlord of The Black Swan, coughed diplomatically. “Well I expect he’s a busy man.”
Brad ran a hand through his greasy, swept back grey-blond hair. “He’d still come and play – if I asked him to.”
“Bollocks!” said Billy, a large bald-headed man with tattoos down both muscled arms.
Brad looked daggers at Billy. I’d never noticed how much Brad looked like Dracula before. Give him a cape and the fangs and that look would have killed.
“All right, how much?” said Billy.
“What?”
“How much d’you wanna bet? I say you can’t get him. Five hundred?”
“I don’t want your fucking money!” snapped Brad.
“You bloody liar, you don’t know him at all!” laughed Billy.
“All right then, you’re on. I’ll give Fred five hundred quid tomorrow to look after. You do the same, OK?”
“All right,” said Billy. I’ll give you three months, till September. Eric Clapton to perform in this bar! Never!”
“I shouldn’t really allow betting,” said Fred.
“No-one’ll know if you don’t tell ‘em,” said Brad.
“All right,” said Fred, “just this once, as it’s Eric Clapton!” His eyes lit up at the thought of an interest free ‘loan’ of a thousand pounds.
So the weeks passed. There was a blackboard with the name of the musician or band playing that week. So far the letters ‘E.C.’ had been conspicuous by their absence. It was a touchy subject. Mention it to Brad and he was liable to fly off the handle or, at the least, return abuse. He’d been in the pop business for many years, once a kind of ‘pop star,’ now, long forgotten and unmissed, but a ‘mate’ of EC? The idea seemed preposterous.
Brad’s ‘squeeze,’ Jilly, likewise acted schtum. “I’m not saying anything. You’ll find out by the end of September,” she’d say, with an enigmatic smile and a shake of her curly red locks.
The second week of September I called in on Tuesday for the weekly pool match, on this occasion a home match against the ‘Tigresses,’ a ladies team from the curiously named Coach and Tiger in Thaxleby, an ‘easy’ match – in theory. With embarrassment I remembered our last meeting when the motley crew of elderly ladies had emerged victorious, their near eighty-year-old captain, Ada, winning the final game with a gloating expression on her wrinkled face, “Hard luck boys!”
Then my jaw dropped. The blackboard for the music that Friday indicated ‘Special Guest.’
Fred appeared. “D’you want a drink?”
“Is that who I think it is?!”
“Well, all I know is it’s Brad’s friend.” He raised his eyebrows.
Friday came and, burning with anticipation, I called in just before eight, surprised to find a meagre handful of patrons chatting and listening to an old man wearing a fedora, singing ‘I Walk the Line’ to an out-of-tune guitar. Lizzy, the barmaid smiled at me. “That’s Eric Clapton,” she said whilst pulling me a pint of Old Gravedigger.
“You’re joking!” I said.
“No, honestly, he showed everyone his birth certificate and driving licence, his name really is Eric Clapton!”
“Bloody Hell, what a swizz!”
“Just then Billy walked in. He took one look, then turned to Lizzy. “Get Fred in here, I’ll have my five hundred back!”
Brad appeared, having returned from the toilet. “I didn’t say it was the Eric Clapton did I?” he laughed. Jilly came over and hugged him. She turned to Billy. “No he never. He won that money fair and square!”
Brad and Billy stood a few feet apart, sizing each other up. ‘Eric’ had stopped playing and the bar was ominously quiet.
Fred appeared. “Calm down everyone. I’ve got someone else in to play.”
There was a gasp of amazement as a familiar figure strode through the door, carrying a worn hardshell guitar case and an amplifier. He put them on a table, adjusted his round glasses and ran a hand over his stubbly grey beard. “Hello everyone, just give me five minutes to set up. Fred’s asked me to start with Layla, I hope that’s OK?”
There was a cheer and more customers came through from the restaurant area. I turned to Fred. “I don’t believe it!”

He laughed, “It’s amazing who you can book for a thousand quid!”





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 160! 
 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

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Publishing the ‘Best of Your Blog’ is as Easy as 1-2-3!

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 10.21.01 Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 10.20.50

(3500 words)

  1. Introduction
  2. Self-publishing a paperback on KDP
  3. Self-publishing a Kindle eBook on KDP
  4. Creating an audiobook via ACX
  5. Links

INTRODUCTION

How would you like to hold in your hands a beautiful paperback with a selection of your best articles in it? Just a dream? No, it’s a reality, it won’t take you long and it won’t cost you a penny either!!

The steps are, One, go to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and register your name, book title and description. Two, upload your content and upload/design the cover. Three, set the price of your book and click the publish button! Your book will shortly appear for sale on Amazon’s websites, world-wide!

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I published the ‘best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, through KDP and if you can run a blog, then you shouldn’t have many problems self-publishing. Realistically speaking, allow a week or two for learning the process of designing and creating a paperback and/or Kindle eBook.

My book has a beautiful cover, the paper is cream and smooth, with little show-through, and the appearance is much better than most professionally published paperbacks! It is VERY different from any ‘print on demand’ type book you may have previously bought from Amazon.

This article covers the  publishing of a simple book i.e. table of contents and text, with KDP, in both paperback and Kindle eBook form, although you CAN also publish a range of other formats – comics, illustrated books etc. It is intended to be a brief overview to get you started, along with some tips from personal experience. Fuller details can be found via the links provided at the end.

Apart from a bar code and ‘printed by Amazon,’ you are solely responsible for creating the book content and cover. You also have control over many aspects of pricing and marketing. You can update the cover and/or the contents at any time, even after publishing, and it takes just a few hours for the new version to become active. You can also unpublish your book at any time.

Another self-publishing website is CreateSpace. I don’t have experience of that, but you may be interested to check it out. Some say they prefer it. All I can say is the quality of my KDP book is GREAT and it was relatively easy to do!

Remember, that self-publishing a book is NOT the same as selling a book! You are not going to get the publicity of a professionally published book with a publishing company behind you. However, whether you are aiming to sell a lot of copies or just to produce a book primarily for friends and family, the procedure is the same.

PAPERBACK PRODUCTION

Firstly though, do you have enough quality articles for a collection? The book doesn’t have to be large, it can be just thirty pages or so, or it can be as thick as you like. You have to be realistic here. Although it won’t cost you anything, you should aim to put a quality product out there. The feedback you get about your blog should be helpful here, as well as constructive criticism from knowledgeable friends.

Secondly, as you will be designing the book yourself, you need to know how to format and punctuate your work correctly. If not, you can research it or get someone who DOES know to help out.

So, the first step is to prepare the MS (manuscript). Depending on how you created your blog you will either assemble the content by combining documents already saved in your word processor, or by copying and pasting from your blog into a new document.

KDP provide downloadable templates, which you may wish to investigate. I didn’t personally use one, so I will describe how I did it myself.

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PAPER BACK ‘TRIM SIZE’

When you create a paperback, you will need to decide on the ‘trim size,’ or the actual size of the book. The default size on KDP is 6” x 9”. That is actually quite large. A more usual size is 5” x 7.75”. Once the book is published you CANNOT change the trim size so be sure you select a size you’ll be happy with. Having said that, the 6” x 9” size makes for a substantial book that looks very impressive!

To find the size options, you will follow steps one and two in the second paragraph of this article, entering your name and a provisional title. You don’t have to upload anything at this stage and can just ‘save and exit.’

Having left my trim size set to the default, I then set the page size in my word processor to these same dimensions i.e. 6” x 9”. I set a margin of 2 cm. top and bottom, 2.25 inner margin and 1.75 outer margin, and 1 cm. footer margin (for page numbers). I used Times New Roman 13 point with single line spacing to give a pleasantly sized, easy-to-read text. It also suited the length of my stories perfectly, fitting 200 word stories onto one page. You may well choose a slightly smaller font though. I also opted to keep the right hand margin unjustified, although it is more usual for this to be justified.

You can print out a couple of pages of 6 x 9, or whatever, onto A4 to assess the overall appearance, but later on you will be able to preview it on-screen in a realistic format.

WORD PROCESSORS

Now, if you have a PC, chances are that you will be working with Word, in which case you shouldn’t have many problems, it works well with KDP and their help-desk is geared up to it.

If you are using a Mac (as I was) then if you are using the current version of Pages then, unfortunately, you are out of luck! You will need to view the pages side by side to control the layout, the so-called ‘two up’ view, and the ‘new’ version of Pages doesn’t have it. It also doesn’t have the ability to set internal hyperlinks, which you will need for the Kindle contents page. (This is the so-called ‘upgrade’ BTW!)

I used the Pages ’09 version with very few problems.

THE MANUSCRIPT AND CONTENTS TABLE

So you will now assemble the MS (manuscript), keeping the layout user-friendly. In my book I started all two page stories on the left hand page, and also made sure that any pages with just one or two sentences fell on a right hand page. You want to avoid awkward page turns and you may wish to start all articles on the right hand page for example. You can look through a few books on your shelves to get an idea.

You will need to construct a TOC (table of contents), which is also helpful for keeping an eye on the order you put your articles/stories in. The actual page numbers can be filled in afterwards.

I made a TOC in a separate spreadsheet program (Numbers ’09), which copied well to the paperback MS. However, it didn’t work well with the Kindle version, so for that I used the ‘table’ feature in Pages. As there are 111 stories (!) in my book, that was a lot more work than most people are going to have to do. So you can use a similar ‘table’ or ‘column’ feature of whatever word processor you are using.

PRELIMS

The prelims or preliminary pages are the ones that precede the actual text. These include the title page, copyright notice, dedication, forward, etc. and TOC. These pages are numbered with lower case roman numerals. Normal numbering, starting from page 1, begins on the first page of actual text. To do this in my word processor (Mac Pages ’09) I had to learn how to split the MS into two sections. Then I numbered each separately using the appropriate number system. Not difficult though, once you know how of course!

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UPLOADING CONTENT

You don’t need to have finished your MS to upload content. You can have a trial with a preliminary version to see how the process works. Basically you export your MS as a PDF file (the preferred format, although there are others) and then, in the second page of the KDP creation screen, click on ‘Upload paperback manuscript,’ browse to your PDF file and click on ‘open’ (or whatever) to upload it. Depending on the size of the book this will take a few minutes.

Whenever you upload content it automatically replaces the previous content.

If there are any spelling errors you are taken to a screen where you have the option to ‘ignore’ them. Alternatively, you can exit, fix them in your MS and re-upload. You can click on a button at this stage to have a list of the spelling queries e-mailed to you.

COVER CREATION

Your book cover is obviously of paramount importance as this is what will be displayed on Amazon. You can either use a cover you have designed in an external program, or KDP have a cover creation screen, on the same page as the ‘Upload paperback manuscript’ button. Click on it and you will be given the opportunity to upload an image and to select a design from various templates.

There is a KDP image gallery but it is very poor. I used an image from Google Images for Bound in Morocco and an image from Pixabay for To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories. Pixabay is good as the images are high quality and free.

The only problem I found here was that the design I chose for To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories (multiple clocks and part of a lady’s face) is very ‘busy’ and I couldn’t find any text colour for the book description that worked over the image. Surprisingly, the program doesn’t have the facility to put a block of colour on the cover for the text to be placed on, so I had to put my book description on the first page of the prelims.

There is also a space for information about the author and for you to upload a photograph. The cover creation program is quite flexible in terms of the fonts, font sizes and colour combinations you can select. I found it fairly straightforward and was very pleased with both of my covers in the end.

BOOK PREVIEW

Once you have created a suitable cover and uploaded a MS you are ready to preview the book. You simply click on ‘Launch Previewer,’ at the bottom of the screen. The preview takes a few minutes to prepare, then you will see quite a realistic view of the book, where you can look through the pages to check the format, and even read the text, although it’s quite small. If you are not happy with any aspect of the book (quite likely!) you would exit the program here and either upload a corrected MS and/or go into the cover creation program to fix any issues there. 

When you are happy, you click on ‘save and approve’ and then ‘approve.’ However, you can re-upload a corrected MS and/or change the cover at any time, even after publication. In the latter case it usually takes less than a day for the changes to take effect in the published product. That’s a fantastic facility and one I hadn’t expected.

PRICING

Once you’ve approved the book as above you proceed to the pricing screen. The first time you publish on KDP you have to do a ‘tax interview,’ which takes a few minutes. As a non-US citizen I just had to mainly answer ‘no.’

Then you have to supply some international banking info. which can be obtained from your bank statement.

The way I priced my books was as follows. Firstly, I selected a paperback price that seemed realistic. Your royalty is 60% but the cost of the paperback comes out of this. To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, which is 256 pages, is charged at £3.30 to print a copy. The screen tells you how much you will earn per sale after deductions, VAT etc., so if you wanted to make, say, £2 per sale, you would adjust the price of the paperback accordingly to give this profit. You don’t want to set the book price too high but you don’t want to make too little profit either.

You choose a primary sales country (the default is U.S.A.), then all other prices are set from this, although they can be individually adjusted. Paperbacks have six sales zones and Kindle eBooks have 12. I left the primary sales country set to USA and then set a slightly different price for the UK, to give a more ‘rounded’ figure.

Finally, when all the above has been done, you are ready to hit the ‘publish’ button! Remember that your book will shortly be available for sale, so be sure it is a professional product. Although you can make changes, you don’t want anyone to buy it in the meantime and be unhappy, thus leaving a bad review! Also, that opens the ‘returns’ can of worms. There is no provision for proof copies so you will need to order a copy ASAP to check through it for errors. Then you will correct the MS and re-upload, as described above.

COPYRIGHT WARNING

You are likely to get an e-mail, warning you that your content has been found on-line (if you select some text from one of your articles and paste it into Google then it will likely come up in many places where it’s been cached). You are asked to confirm that you are the copyright owner (if it’s all your own work then you are). So, in this instance, you proceed to your ‘Bookshelf’ on the KDP site, go into the title in question, go through to page 3 (Pricing) and click on Publish again.

There are some restrictions about what you are supposed to display on your blog versus what is in your book, which you can read if interested!

KINDLE eBOOK PRODUCTION

An eBook is quite a bit easier to produce than a paperback as there is much less to design. You don’t have to publish a paperback at all of course, although I think most of us would love to see an actual physical copy of our work!

Firstly you copy your paperback MS to a new file or start a new one (as described above) if you didn’t make a paperback. Kindle doesn’t use page numbers so disable this feature. Because of the different look of eBooks on different viewers and with different fonts it’s hard to control the format, but you don’t want headers to come at the bottom of a page for example. So I went through the whole MS, putting in page breaks before every heading and sub-heading. I found it necessary to do a ‘carriage return,’ then to add a page break, to get the right on-screen appearance. Indent settings are preserved though.

That’s really all you have to do with regard to the MS, but you will likely need an active TOC (table of contents) or readers cannot easily locate chapters.

In my program (Mac Pages ’09) I had to go through the whole book, clicking all 111 story headings and creating bookmarks from each. Then in the TOC I created hyperlinks to jump to these bookmarks. Tricky at first but easy once understood.

With Word there is an easier way to do this I understand, for which info is freely available.

The cover is created in a similar way to the paperback, but even if you designed a paperback cover in their program, you have to do it all over again for the eBook. Also, there’s nowhere to display the book description (there is no rear cover), so you need to put that in the prelims.

Having prepared the eBook as above you are ready to upload the file and preview it. The preferred format is .doc or .docx but there are a number of others.  In my case I didn’t have the option to export to .docx and none of the other formats offered by my program preserved both italics AND the hyperlinks (aargh!). So I (eventually) used Zamzar, the brilliant free online resource, to convert my .pages file to .docx, which worked perfectly.

You can preview onscreen, or the way I prefer is to use the downloadable Kindle previewer app, which you can download from the Upload Manuscript screen. Then you will need to download an HTML version of your file, from the same screen. Then you locate this on your computer, unzip it and navigate to it from the previewer.

The previewer lets you simulate phone, tablet or Kindle and you can choose a wider variety of fonts than the on-screen viewer.

Once you are happy with the look of your eBook (and chances are you are going to have to modify your MS, re-upload and re-download another HTML version two, three or even more times!) you proceed to the Pricing screen, set your price and primary zone as discussed below, and click the Publish button. Again, you can easily make changes after publishing.

PRICING E-BOOKS

I found that Kindle prices vary wildly on published books. After a few false starts I decided to price my eBook such that I make about the same profit as for the paperback. This selling price will be considerably lower as you don’t have to pay for paperback production and the royalty can be higher too.

You have the option to join Kindle Select and to choose either 35% or 70% royalty. I couldn’t see any advantage to the lower rate, so chose 70%, leaving the primary sales zone set to USA and, again, adjusting the UK price to give a more ‘normal’ figure. Personally I couldn’t see any reason not to join Kindle Select either, which gives you additional revenue streams.

CHECKING SALES/GETTING PAID

KDP has a comprehensive online sales report page where you can easily track your sales and royalties. The first royalty payment is not made until 60 days after the end of the month in which your book first appeared for sale.

AUDIOBOOKS

Well, the idea of turning your book into an audiobook may seem like another pipe dream, but again, it is a realistic aim! The company you deal with is ACX, Audiobook Creation Exchange. There is a sizeable audiobook creation ‘home industry’ with tens of thousands of ‘voice actors’ registered. They are known as ‘producers’ as they usually produce the finished product too.

If you think a collection of your blog articles/stories would make a good audiobook (and there are guidelines to this on the ACX site) then you register your details and upload a few pages of your book. This is then searchable by prospective producers. If they like the sound of it they may choose to ‘audition’ it, i.e. produce an audio clip of them reading it. You can then listen to any auditions and, if you like them, contact the producer.

Alternatively, you can easily search the producers by genre/accent etc. and listen to samples of their readings.  It will say if they take on split-royalty work (see below) or not, and their hourly rate for up-front payments. Then you can click on a button to ‘make an offer’ for them to record your work. You indicate the date you require the audiobook to be completed and a time from one to three days for them to respond.

There are currently nearly 50,000 producers registered (about 5,000 of whom are ‘Audible approved) and only 1,750 books registered. So on the face of it the chances are good that you can find someone suitable to produce an audiobook for you.

The cost of producing the audiobook is charged by finished hour. So, for example, my book To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, is 256 pages long and would take about six hours to read aloud, according to ACX. The minimum charge is $225 per hour, so that would be about $1350 or £1050.

If you give exclusive rights to Audible, Amazon and iTunes, then you receive a 40% royalty on sales. If not, it’s 25%. Assuming you choose to do so (and why not?!) then you receive the full 40% royalty if you pay the producer upfront. Or you and the producer may agree to split the royalty, in which case you don’t pay anything up front. Then you and the producer both receive 20% forever. Bear in mind that most Audible audiobooks are sold for £8 or less, and, of course, the producer would have to be willing to gamble on producing an audiobook for an unknown author.

In a similar way to the book creation program, there are three screens to go through. When you get to the final screen you will be required (at some stage) to complete a ‘tax interview’ and provide international banking details. You have to do this even if you already provided the information in the KDP book creation program.

CONCLUSION

So I hope this article has been helpful in providing a useful outline of the self-publishing route. With the technology now available to print ‘on demand’ books of a very high quality at a realistic price, if you have the content, then there’s really nothing to stop you!

LINKS

Kindle Direct Publishing:

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help?ref_=TN_help

(You can contact the help desk via the button in the bottom left hand corner, then subsequent contact (if required) can be conducted by replying to their e-mails. They normally respond within 24-48 hours to the initial query.)

Creating a copyright page for your book:

https://kindlepreneur.com/book-copyright-page-examples-ebook/

Free file conversion:

http://www.zamzar.com/

Audiobook Creation Exchange:

http://www.acx.com/

http://www.acx.com/help/how-it-works/200484210

My KDP published books:

https://simonjwood.wordpress.com/books-by-simon-j-wood/

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One Man in His Time

keble-college-oxford-6-705x529
(650 words)
Rudyard Smith stood in his Oxford University office gazing at his companion, Professor Charles Elliot in disbelief. “Jackson Wilde, Jackson bloody Wilde.”
Charles flushed, “well it wasn’t my decision, you know that Ruddy.”
“The ‘people’s poet,’ Wilde by name, wild by nature, God, how could they allow him in here! Bloody Professor Smollet, it’s down to him!”
“Look Ruddy, calm down, he’s only coming for a week!”
“A week’ll be a week too long!”
Charles gestured through the small leaded windows and over the hallowed St. Mary’s College lawns. “Look, here he comes now!”
A tall black man with long dreadlocks came swaggering over the grass, ‘high-fiving’ occasional students, who had jumped up from lying on the grass in the sunshine, dozedly feigning interest in their copies of The Wasteland and Ulysses.
“Good God!” exclaimed Rudyard, seeing ‘Hugger’ Morris embracing Wilde. “One of the most outstanding poetry students here, encouraging that … that charlatan!”
“Come on Ruddy, he is in line for Poet Laureate after all!”
“Well, what does that mean exactly, I mean look at, what’s his name, Jack Bitumen, diabolical doggerel!”
Shortly there was a knock at the door, and without waiting for a ‘come in,’ Mr. Jackson Wilde strode in. “Yo man. How’s it hangin’?”
They both stood wide-eyed, as the tall dreadlocked man paced forward, hand outstretched, smiling broadly and whitely.
“Oh, very well,” said Rudyard, blushing with embarrassment, “thank you.”
Wilde plonked himself down in a red leather armchair without being asked. “So what gives bro?”
“I beg your pardon?” said Rudyard. “Cans’t not thy mother tongue speak?”
Wilde looked blank. Then the big white teeth smiled. “Hey, I ain’t no nonce, it don’t make sense, look at my bonce, I ain’t no ponce,” he rapped.
“What?!” exclaimed Rudyard.
Wilde began to rock in the chair. “I wanna be creative, a’feel like a goddam native, sometimes I is thinkin’ negative, need to get me turnin’ positive.”
Charles exchanged a worried glance with Rudyard, the latter seething at Wilde’s preposterous rhyme. Rudyard retorted, “how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes!”
Wilde stood up and began to prance around the room, his dreadlocks flailing. “Hey, listen to my sad cantata, missin’ you babe, just like a fermata. You asked me to write it down, now I feel like a lovesick clown.”
Rudyard’s voice grew louder. “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall!”
“Listen, you say my lyrics are crimes, don’t wanna hear no rhymes. Well, look out babe, here they are in common times.”
Rudyard’s voice became a shout. “Good Bye, Good Bye! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good bye till it be morrow!”
Wilde stopped. “Good Night, Good Night!”
“Yes I was paraphrasing,’ sighed Rudyard. “Look, I’ve had enough of these poetics, do you have anything sensible to say?”
Wilde laughed and sat down. In a normal voice, he asked, “Well, do you have an itinerary for me, how many lectures I’m required to give?”
Rudyard’s jaw dropped. Then Charles spoke, “Oh, sorry, er, Jackson, yes, I have a sheet here from professor Smollet, oh, and directions to your accommodation.”
Wilde nodded vigorously and both men gazed in astonishment. Jackson Wilde’s dreadlocks had become quite lopsided, no doubt exacerbated by his ‘prancing’ antics.
Seeing their faces, Wilde’s confident persona vanished. “Er, is there a bathroom here?”
Charles gestured to a small door below an ancient beam. “Just through there.”
“Er, thank you.” Wilde vanished.
Rudyard and Charles regarded each other, speechless.
A few minutes later, Mr. Jackson Wilde reappeared, his dreadlocks now perfectly symmetrical.
“Would, would you like some tea?” asked Charles, stammering.
Wilde smiled and bowed. “ ‘All the world‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.’ – yes please, white with two sugars.”





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

How to Eat a Peanut

peanuts

(500 words)

“Become one with the peanut!”
I looked at a small salted peanut sitting on a blue china saucer before me. “How exactly do I do that? “I asked Shinzen, my ‘guru.’
“Imagine it growing underground, in the dark, from a tiny seed, forming in a shell with its companion.”
“I thought they grew on trees, like spaghetti!”
Shinzen ignored my attempt at humour. “Now imagine it grown, being pulled from its hiding place and exposed to the sun and the air. Feeling the warmth of the sun for the first time in its life, seeing the sunlight penetrating through its thin shell.”
“Peanuts can’t see!”
“You must imagine!” he said, adjusting his round, silver-rimmed spectacles and brushing a hand over his bald pate, as if trying to remember what hair felt like. “Now, after drying in the sun for a few days, it is harvested. See it being spun in huge drums, the shells splintering and the nuts dropping down onto conveyor belts.”
“I didn’t know they did that. I thought it was starving kids, allergic to peanuts, who de-shelled them.”
Shinzen sighed. “Be serious now Stephen, imagine YOU are that peanut!”
That was kind of difficult to do but I didn’t want to spoil his fun, so I kept schtum.
“Now imagine huge ovens roasting mountains of peanuts. Can you smell that smell?!”
I closed my eyes and visualised enormous ovens, tended by black men in straw hats. I had no idea why. But I could smell roasting peanuts, an earthy, pungent, oily odour. Then the nuts on conveyor belts, salt sprinkling onto them from chutes, pouring into boxes. More men in straw hats loading the boxes into trucks. The vehicles roaring off down sandy roads, throwing up clouds of dust. I heard them shouting. “Hey Pablo, how’s Maria?” “She’s fine man, another one on the way!” “Another one man, you should have that operation!” Raucous laughter, the men slapping each other on their faded blue denim backs…
Shinzen brought me back to the room. “Now examine the peanut. Look at every line in its surface, see the tiny grains of salt clinging to it. Regard its shape. Except for the little nub on the end, almost perfectly oval.”
I did so, feeling a new respect for the humble nut.
“When you are ready, eat it!”
I looked at the peanut closely for a while, then, eyes closed, reverently put in my mouth, feeling its shape and size and weight with my tongue. The salt tasted tangier than I ever remembered. Finally I crunched down and my senses were overwhelmed with earthy, wooden, plasticky, oily flavours. I chewed and chewed like a man possessed as it turned into mush and I swallowed it bit by bit. Finally I opened my eyes. “Wow!”
Shinzen beamed. “Now wasn’t that the best peanut you’ve ever eaten!”
I laughed. “YES!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d done the exact same exercise with a raisin five years earlier…



Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
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