Friday, 20 September 2013

(Reblogged from Lisa Scullard)
Following yesterday's post Niche marketing - the psychology behind success I'll give you an example from my back catalogue, where I really was writing for a perceived 'niche market' as I saw it.
When designing your perfect reader, you have to realise that there is an element of caricature in the concept. Like for romance writers, their perfect reader might be the single city girl commuting, with her dog-eared, much-loved paperback copy of their book (not ebook, so that everyone can see what she's reading) in permanent residence at the bottom of her Chloé.
Have you noticed that bags and shoes aren't referred to as bags and shoes in chick lit anymore? It's all label this and designer that. Shopping-channel porn. Unfortunately, it also tends to date books quickly, due to fashion's fickle nature - you'll see what I mean in Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho novel, where Patrick launches into a loving and verbose description of the contents of his man-tastic living room.
Christian Bale in American Psycho
As such, lurid technology envy should probably also be avoided, now everyone and their two-year-old owns an iPad. As for cars, they go out of style faster than shoes - quite literally...
Digression alert! What I was saying, is that your planned 'niche market' is 'a character' as much as the people in your novel are also characters. So for the traditional romance/chick lit author, her ideal reader is the city girl commuting on the train, enjoying her favourite books en route, and usually sneaking them out under the desk and in her lunch hour too. She probably gets wobbly on a gin and tonic, and leaves parties early to curl up in her PJs and watch Bridget Jones for the umpteenth time rather than embarrassing herself instead. She'd never ask a guy out because she's too shy, but secretly would like to dance on a table just once in her life. Abroad. Where nobody knows who she is.
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
That's a caricature. It's a perception of a potentially real person or reader, but doesn't define or specify a completely real person or reader.
The romance author only needs to write their own book with his/her particular reader in mind. She/he doesn't need to try and target 'everyone' and include members of the House of Lords, prisoners on Death Row, Guatemala, Greenpeace activists, people who work on whaling ships, and the creepy guy that never talks but licks the library windows. Even though they can all read as well, most likely. What I'm saying is, don't announce that your book is for 'everyone' - try being specific, and see how your story, its cover, and the way you promote it stands up to your concept of who in the worldwide 'market' you are considering would appreciate this sort of book.
Here's my own example - chick lit/crime, 'self-help' fiction, Death & The City:
DATC hd cover
Other editions and covers available - see 'eBooks'
. Also in paperback print and hardcover.
Now I had only one reader in mind at first: Me.
But as I wrote, I realised there was an existing concept of women out there who might also enjoy it.
The ones who hadn't always managed to pick the right guy - or any guy. The ones who clung to the rails but spent most of the time off them, while they struggled with growing up, daily life, work and peer pressure.
Lindsay Lohan Daily Mail UK September 2013
The ones who saw everyone else's mistakes, but still couldn't make their own life work out perfectly...
Angelina - Girl, Interrupted
Somewhere inside them is always a seed of strength, whether it's that they know better, they know what's best for them deep down but other people always seem to get it wrong, or that they have already been through the 'worst case scenarios' on a number of occasions, and have come out the other side...
Britney at MTV Awards
They're a bit feisty on the surface, and never seem to take any crap, and are occasionally better survivors single than in a relationship - but that's only because they're protecting themselves, their sanity and their children first...
They don't 'need a man' but the right one will find them - eventually.
Katie Price 'Jordan'
And you know that the minute she picks up the ball and runs with it, she'll kick everyone's ass...
Angelina Jolie - Lara Croft
...So that's my caricature of a potential 'niche market' audience. It sounds quite specific. But when you read into it, and expand on it, you'll find that some of the characteristics you've given your 'specific reader' speak to a much wider audience than you first realised. Lots of people will identify with elements of it.
But you don't advertise that fact.
You stick to communicating your idea of 'one perfect reader' who will get the most from your work, take the best message it contains on board, feel it speaks to the best version of themselves, and leads them to further insights of their own.
Sounds idealistic, doesn't it? But niche marketing is all about selling idealism, that others will then want to be a part of. How or what you write is up to you, whether your intentions are good and it comes from the heart, or you only want to find the fastest route to making money. Either way, you still then have to promote it, whether it's to a publisher or directly to the public - and you need to say who you are writing for, not just why.
It's funny. I've never put together an actual pinboard of my ideal reader as above, and here it is. I carried the concept of my 'reader' and the various representations of that reader around in my head. But looking at them, and looking at my various covers, I think this is the best one so far:
Death & The City - Heavy Duty Edition hardcover
Cover for the Smashwords/Kobo/Sony/Diesel Ebooks/iTunes Bookstore version and Lulu hardback
The pink is more appropriate - but I still think it's not quite there yet. I'll need to make a bigger 'niche marketing' pinboard and see where that leads me...
Make your 'ideal reader pinboard' - it might surprise you :)

Angelina Jolie talks about getting into character for Lisa Rowe in 'Girl, Interrupted'

Friday, 26 July 2013

'Cut to the Chase Edition' free on Amazon Kindle until midnight 30 July PST - and bonus parody novel on Smashwords...

Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition
Now available free through the next 5 days (promotion ends midnight 30 July Pacific Standard Time). Click below for regional product links:
Lara Leatherstone – not her real name, she got it from an internet Porn Star Name Generator…
…And Connor Reeves, also not his real name, as it turns out – how he came by his, is less clear…
Both are obliged to work their way through the To Do List of ‘Hollywood Hit-Men’ – a breed mostly preoccupied with gold chains, impressing barmaids, and shady contracts – erasing these unwanted pests with the minimum of paperwork. Or pay.
When she’s not under surveillance by Head Office, Lara spends her time juggling a night job in bar security, an only child with a zombie fixation, and what passes for a social life in the small hours in between. And the minor matter of ongoing internal scrutiny, by her own highly-self-monitoring personality disorder.
HOW THIS EBOOK WORKS: This version of Death & The City has been adapted for you to literally ‘cut to the chase’ and skip past Lara’s longer internal thought-processes. You’ll see the hyperlinked word SKIP in the right margin, which will take you into the next action segment. If you want to return to the top of the segment you skipped, the word BACK will take you there. So depending on your reader preference – for the times when you just want to stay in the action, and for when you want to know what’s going on in that mind of Lara’s – you can either jump ahead, or read the whole thing continuously – it’s up to you.
Death & The City (c) Lisa Scullard 2008
+Bonus - 'The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum' full-length parody is free for all devices on Smashwords until the end of July, with promo code SW100

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Free ebooks for London Book Fair 2013

(Free promo has ended, but there'll be more later in the summer)

Free on Kindle for London Book Fair 2013 (new covers) -  Death & The City Books One and Two free for 5 days only - psychological humour.

Having just been published in a contest anthology with Jeffrey Archer (my 100-word short 'Performance Car' gained an honourable mention and inclusion with the finalists and Mr. Archer, who inspired the contest), here's another treat for you all :)

You can also find 'The Jeffrey Archer Short Story Challenge Collection' permanently free on Kobo here:

Review by Jake Barton (on the combined Death & The City: Heavy Duty Edition, also available on Amazon) - "Fantastic romp, in every sense - Death and the City is one of those books that's difficult to place in a pigeonhole and all the better for that. I started reading and couldn't stop. The beautifully constructed and complex main character, a 'hit-woman' no less, has a life of epic highs and lows, eminently practical yet resourceful and deadly. Inner thoughts, interspersed with crash, bang, wallop action and a fascinating and well conceived plot carry the reader along at breakneck pace. I absolutely loved this and will be seeking out the author again very soon."

BOOK ONE (Chapters 1-20):

Lara Leatherstone - not her real name, she got it from an internet Porn Star Name Generator...

...And Connor Reeves, also not his real name, as it turns out - how he came by his, is less clear...

Both are obliged to work their way through the To Do List of 'Hollywood Hit-Men' - a breed mostly preoccupied with gold chains, impressing barmaids, and shady contracts - erasing these unwanted pests with the minimum of paperwork. Or pay.

When she's not under surveillance by head office, Lara spends her time juggling a night job in bar security, an only child with a zombie fixation, and what passes for a social life in the small hours in between. And the small matter of ongoing internal scrutiny, by her own highly-self-monitoring personality disorders. 

She is often distracted by her own psychotic train of thought, and analyses the dysfunctional relationships she sees in everyday life, because she’s never had one. 

When head office try to set her up in a team with a wingman, her main concern is they’re trying to manufacture a weakness that they can manipulate her with - not to mention once they agree on a working colleague, Pest-Control-sniper-turned-police-officer Connor, that he might be quite manipulative too...

BOOK TWO (Chapters 21-40):

Following on directly from Book One, ‘Death And The City: Book Two’ continues the ongoing bloody, moral, psychological and fashion dilemmas of professional hit-man’s nemesis and single working female Lara Leatherstone (her Porn Star Name Generator alias of choice), as she catches up with paid contract killers on the To Do List.

Which she fits in between the sometimes mundane requirements of her regular nightclub job, and the irrational fear of dating, all under constant self-scrutiny for ulterior motives. 

It’s been a while since the last Firearms Amnesty, meaning the collection scavenged from her targets is taking up more room in her kitchen cupboards than there is left for teabags. And threats of new technology mean that upgrades are now necessary all of the time - and not the kind she wants to park in her driveway or answer her mobile phone to any time soon. 

In the meantime, her targets and associates seem to have a lot of time on their hands for alternative escapist lifestyles and online fantasy worlds, blissfully unaware of as crossing over into her own quite real one. 

And her new wingman, Connor, has another agenda of his own. Rather than the one she’s concerned about, which is that head office are trying to gain more blackmail leverage. When they're not trying to get her to recruit more ‘Deathrunners’ or to send them photographs of herself dressed as Catwoman trying on shoes, neither of which she is keen to do, for various reasons...

Death & The City: Book One -

Death & The City: Book Two -

For USA/India:

Death & The City: Book Two -



Death & The City: Book Two -


Death & The City: Book Two -


Saturday, 16 March 2013

Goodbye to old friends, hello new...

I was quite fond of my earliest book covers, MS Paint vector-graphic cartoon-like computer colouring-book imitation things that screamed 'home-made' and didn't pretend to be anything otherwise. But like all the best nostalgia, I knew they didn't have staying power, weren't even intended to have lasted more than an unpublished author profile originally, and at some point would be at least half-relegated to history.

All books get revamped and re-launched and redesigned over time. You only have to look at the latest official covers for Arthur Conan Doyle and Jane Austen. They're not sticking with what they started out wearing.

So for this season, Death & The City will mostly be wearing:

Followed by...

Along with...

And of course...

And elsewhere...

Fashion is a fickle friend, but to me these combine just the right amount of creepy and crazy to keep me happy for the forseeable present ;)

L xxxxxx

Friday, 24 August 2012

August Bank Holiday 2012 Kindle Freebies - Come and Have a Go if You're Reading Hard Enough...

DEATH & THE CITY: BOOK ONE and DEATH & THE CITY: BOOK TWO by Lisa Scullard, are both currently free in the Amazon Kindle stores until the end of Monday 27th August 2012 (PST). Click the link/image above for more background info, yet another excerpt, and download links.

Death & The City © Lisa Scullard 2008
Rating: Moderate - no graphic or explicit content (suitable for all literary genre readers)

EXCERPT: From BOOK TWO - Chapter 26 - The Hollywood Method...

A police uniform driver takes us back to Connor's place, and all he has to say about it is that he wishes he had bigger plastic covers on the seats. Most of the blood is drying on now, and my clothes feel stiff and tacky, adhering to me unpleasantly in places. It reminds me of the incident where a customer was bottled in the neck, and I went home and sat on the sofa alone with a cup of tea for nearly two hours without moving afterwards, with the tea going cold, and my clothes plastered onto me with blood.
Connor's not going to let me do that this time, because he's concerned that there's still a chance of catching something from the blood of Scarecrow Wolf boy Justin. He takes me straight into the downstairs shower next to the study, fully clothed, and turns on the water.
"Maybe I'll sober up as well while I'm in here," I say. He peels off his t-shirt and uses the back of it, which isn't bloodstained, to start cleaning up my face and around my eyes. "I can do that, it's okay."
"I can see better than you where the blood is. You just help by doing me."
The water pouring down isn't shifting the dried blood on its own. I squeeze some shower gel onto my hands and rub it into his neck and around his ears, helping the smudges dissolve and sluicing them down his arms.
"You need to wash your hair," he says, matter-of-factly.
"So do you." I try to rub caked-on blood from his eyebrows and jaw line.
"Take this off." He tugs the front of my t-shirt. "Don't be funny, come on. It's covered. Arms up."
I raise my arms obediently and he strips it off, dropping it on the floor of the shower. He rubs blood off my arms and neck, then reaches for the shampoo.
"Hold your hands out," he says, and pours some into my hands for me to use before starting on his own. "Tell me if I miss any."
I watch as he rinses his hair, scrunching shampoo through my own, feeling it clogged in the lengths.
"Nearly," I tell him, as he rubs water out of his eyes. "Just the back of your ears, I think."
He turns around so that I can check, and I find a streak left behind one ear, which rinses away as I wipe it.
"Need some help with yours?" he asks, turning back round. It's more rhetorical that he's asking, because he helps anyway, adding more shampoo to the ends of my hair, which came out worst.
"Smells of limes," I remark, looking at the shampoo bottle. "It's not helping me sober up. I'm just thinking about tequila instead."
"Yeah, I did think you'd had enough," he smiles, turning my shoulders gently so that my back is to him, and he can see the back of my head, which as he clicks his tongue sounds like it didn't miss out on the gore. He coaxes the tangles out by threading my hair through his fingers slowly, easing out the blood clots along with the shampoo bubbles. "Hopefully we won't have to do that again. I don't like working in a confined space like that. Not in public either."
"It's a bit Hollywood stereotype hit-man," I agree.
It goes quiet, as I get used to feeling his fingers comb through my hair, the only sound being the water drumming down onto us from the shower. I feel him squeeze the last of the shampoo out down the length of my hair, and his hands rub the backs of my arms briefly.
"Thanks," I say, turning back to face him. He's very close, studying me. "Has it all gone?"
"Think so," he nods. His hands move up to my shoulders and he kisses me. I don't think he intended it to be more than just one, but as we part and our eyes lock he moves in again. I feel a bit weakened and dizzy from alcohol, so as he goes further, an involuntary sound of protest escapes me, as I feel my back pushed up against the wall of the shower.
"Okay." Connor turns the water off, and pulls me away from the tiles into his arms, grabbing a towel and wrapping it around me. "Glad you didn't just switch the water on to Cold, but I get the message."
"Didn't know how to," I say.
"Wouldn't be right anyway. We've both had a drink this time. Having sex drunk is really last Millennium."

Sunday, 29 May 2011

An introduction to Death & The City

The author, Lisa Scullard - on duty, Ocean & Collins nightclub, Southampton 2008

NEWS: The individual, exclusive-to-Amazon Kindle ebooks of Death & The City: Book One and Death & The City: Book Two will be FREE on Amazon Kindle worldwide, on these dates:
December 25th and 26th 2011 (48hour free promotion, PST)
January 1st and January 2nd 2012 (48hour free promotion, PST)
Both books will be free in both promotion slots scheduled
Happy holidays!! :)

Death & The City - the story:

Lara Leatherstone - not her real name, she picked it from an online Porn Star Name Generator - is just trying to live in peace with her daughter 'Junior', with whom she discusses the everyday mundane aspects of life such as zombie console games, changes of identity, and occasionally, the best means of despatching unwary hit-men.

Her regular job as nightclub door supervisor - bouncer, if you're old-school - is the best vantage point from which to deal with contract killers as they pass through the hospitality industry. At least as far as her blackmailers, 'head office' are concerned. It's an amicable arrangement - she stops contract hits from being carried out, and they try to find out what her weak points are, now that her former dissociative psychosis seems to be wearing off. They've tried just about everything - offering designer shoes, plastic surgery, holidays, tree-houses, knitting vouchers - the fact that she already feels like a schizophrenic Barbie doll, with a wardrobe full of possibly knocked-off designer gear bought in online sales next to her uniforms and bar-crawl fancy-dress, means they're not getting very far with that. And it looks like they might need to start recruiting replacements pretty soon, if she can convince them she's fully capable of walking away from the job.

So they try a different tack, and give her a promotion and a wing-man to watch her back. She's not keen on their first choice - but once they agree on a second, it's not just head office's hidden agendas that she's concerned about...

DEATH AND THE CITY (Genre: romance/mystery/crime) is available in these formats - 'Tales Of The Deathrunners' 2-in-1 paperback & hardcover exclusive to, paperbacks from Createspace, Amazon and other outlets such as Barnes & Noble, and in the special extended DEATH & THE CITY: HEAVY DUTY EDITION eBook from Amazon Kindle, Kobo, B&N, Diesel Ebooks, or Smashwords for ePub/Nook/Sony.

(Amazon reviews)

For random excerpts, read on...

Thursday, 26 May 2011

A Rice By Any Other Name

Alice heads upstairs with her Ginger Latte and a cream Bath bun, and Connor and I follow presently, after a fight over the last chocolate brownie. He wins by rock-paper-scissors, meaning I get carrot cake instead with my Maple Syrup Latte. As we sit down in the window sofa as before, side-by-side, he splits both in half so we share equally anyway - and I realise he just enjoys winning a fight, over just about anything.
Alice is curled up in a huge armchair in the opposite corner like a Jackanory storyteller, the 'Kitty, Kitty' free Spring catalogue open on her lap. She's texting behind it, obviously adding to her own story with her latest inspiration.
"What did you get?" Connor asks, nodding towards my shopping bag. "And when do I get to see you in it?"
"Never mind," I say indignantly, not sure I can handle this level of conversation in public, under the circumstances. "Something they recommended."
Connor just grins, not in the least bothered. I think he likes seeing me squirm as well.
"You could wear it on our next proper date," he suggests, catching me out.
"Sunday," he reminds me. "I did ask already."
I nod, vaguely remembering something to that effect. I feel as though it was someone else having that conversation at the time. Connor watches as I peel off the biker jacket, and after I put it down, he picks it up and finds my wallet in the inside pocket, flipping it open and sliding out my cards and I.D.
"What are you looking for?" I ask, not in the least fazed by his curiosity.
"You," he says, finding my photo I.D. "Here you are. Recognise yourself?"
I glance at my driver's licence in his hand. My hair used to be dark, but it's still me. I have a weird feeling, sort of a settling sensation, as if I've been in an out-of-body experience all morning. Seeing the photograph of myself is the necessary grounding force to bring me back down to Earth.
"That's what I thought." Connor puts it away again. "Transference. Spend too much time focusing on someone else, you lose your own sense of self. Remote influencing acting on the observer, not on the subject. Like Flynn said, you're a psychological sponge. To be honest, I don't think this is the work direction they should be pushing you in, for your own sake."
I shrug.
"They think I'm good at it."
"Yeah, you are, because you forget yourself in the process. I think you should be doing something that reinforces who you are, instead of steals you from yourself."
"Maybe I don't want constant reminders of who I am," I remark.
"Too late," Connor smirks. "Because you've got me backing you up now."
As I look at him, with no idea of what to say, he leans over and gives me a kiss.
"I don't know who I am in this situation," I confide, before he moves away. "Only what I read in other people."
"Nobody knows who they really are," he whispers in return. "You just have to wait and see how you deal with your own reality, not try and predict it, by projecting how you'd cope in someone else's."
He sits back and rests his arm around my waist as he sips his black coffee, glancing out of the window. Now I find myself wondering how he does it. Apart from admitting to his own self-control issues. Even without that, he still has a stronger sense of his own identity than I do.
Also, I don't know how he seems to have all the answers to mine as well. It's as if I've been studied under a microscope. He seems to know fairly certainly what's me and what isn't, and how to keep what is me on the right track. And without all the peer counselling techno-jargon of the sort I'd get from either group therapy, or someone like Warren. Connor just cuts out all the social niceness and politically-correct preliminaries, and gets straight to the point.
"What do you suggest I should be doing instead, then?" I ask, more as a challenge than a concession. Connor smiles to himself and doesn't quite make eye contact.
"I've got a pretty good idea," he admits. "Been trying to talk you into it for a while already."
"Now I reckon you really are just brainwashing me," I tell him, and he chuckles and shakes his head.
"More than you were getting brainwashed before I turned up just now?" he says, looking at me. There's still a slight smirk on his face, but his eyes are saying something else I'm not familiar with. Before I can start trying to break it down into logical conclusions, my phone reminds me what I'm doing here with another update.
Out of the corner of my eye, Alice is now settled with her soup-tureen-sized coffee, gazing out of the window in a Hollywood starlet faraway-thoughts photo-opportunity pose. Probably at least half real, the other half part of her developing current secret life fantasy, acting how she wants to appear to others. Mysterious and thoughtful and aloof. Not empty-headed, gullible and suggestible. That would be me, if I put on any act. The dumb blonde reality would show me up every time. I can't even do cute and scatty, the generally accepted face of internalised self-denial. It's like Martha, adhering to her cultural background in the modern world - watching Alice hang onto her fantasy life in spite of the evidence to the contrary. I don't seem to have any tenacity in comparison. Too willing to let go of ideas, and self, and reality.
I pass my phone to Connor and let him read the incoming update first, in case he considers anything in it hazardous to my allegedly ongoing identity crisis, or at least to allow him to pre-empt anything in it that is. He scrolls through, before handing it back.
"Reminds me of a documentary monologue by someone not otherwise known for their introspection," he remarks. "Reaching around for something deep and meaningful to say when you know they get their groceries delivered by Harrods and unpacked by their house staff, and all their laundry done by a hotel service. The most they see of a kitchen is when they go to look for a corkscrew."
I nod, familiar with that type of entertainment in the Media. Give a celebrity a camera and send them off to survive for a week in a Council flat, or working in a fast-food joint. Suddenly they come over all philosophical and philanthropist, not realising they're going to be showing themselves up as having thought nothing much about anything for the last decade or more. Other than their pole-position ranking on the red carpet, and their page number in the tabloids. But then the broadcasters probably don't see it either, being part of the same bubble. It's hard to say what is intentionally ironic in the Media nowadays. With so many people wanting to challenge the public perception of themselves, and ending up reinforcing it, it's no wonder there's an endless supply of it about. Running vicious circles around themselves as they try to stay in the public eye, and yet be more to the public eye than just eye candy. Exploiting anything of any humanitarian value within their own comfort zone, as if the rest of the world isn't aware of humanitarian issues, in order to somehow become more human themselves. There is something vampiric about it, eternal life by the suffering of others. I can't remember a time celebrity pressure ever changed the licensing laws at The Plaza, so why they think it should change laws and policies in foreign countries is a mystery. Probably easier to get public support for, than carrying no formal I.D, coked out of their heads, and drunkenly trying to bluff their way past a nightclub door supervisor (who's already having a crap night) into a gay strip bar.
Probably the reason they do it, I muse to myself, re-opening the file Connor has just browsed on my phone. Proving they're more than those sweaty alcoholics falling off kerbs and out of taxis in London's West End, where they're mostly known for wasting police time, and that getting on TV in places like The Gambia is better than being seen in Groucho's. As if central Africa is a posh yob's club outside of SIA and the licensing law's jurisdiction, where they don't have to adhere to a dress code and not swear. A combination of edgy open-air rock festival celebrity dive, and minimalist detox holiday for the rich. The opposites of Robin Hood, feeding their self-image and ego off the poor locals.
Connor was bang on the money in his response to her internet blog post. There's a lot of I feel that… opening sentences, fairly typical of someone with nothing real to say and a lot to speculate about. Speculating about the risks of underestimating the dangers that could be ahead, and keeping her identity secret, the thrill of a new challenge in uncharted waters, and the responsibility of such a task being given to her. And about what levels in society she must now be expected to mingle and familiarize herself with, whether her acting skills are up to standard in order to fit in, and not arouse suspicion. All acutely contrived clichés that could be applied to any new job, from Benefits Fraud Investigator, to Mystery Shopper, to Government Advisor On Education. She's got the skill of weaving stereotyped statements together vaguely enough to attract unqualified attention, not quite Mills & Boon standard, but definitely bored online bingo chat-room fodder, or Miss Haversham's Raffia Mafia audience. But still with nothing substantial or detailed or concrete enough to be termed a work of serious insight. More a fashion-victim of her own storylines, following whichever path she notes gains her the most attention. Maybe increasing her blog followers today by me and a couple of idle police monitors is spurring her on to write more about anything that comes into her head, fulfilling what she perceives is her public's demand.
Remote influencing by audience. Like offering a reward for information, but not specifying either the information or the reward. The speaker knows a reward is forthcoming for filling their airtime in a worthy way, and the Scheherezades all come out of the woodwork. Kiss and tell or kill and tell, it's all filling the same awkward silence there would otherwise be instead, if everyone kept everything about themselves confidential.
I put my phone away and lean on Connor as he pulls me towards him gently, my brain wearing me out as it tries to smash holes in anything that looks like a cliché in my own present situation. Even not saying anything, I'm glad he's here, because so far he's the only person who can listen to my silences and seems to understand them.
"I think she just likes the sound of her own voice, in any given format," he murmurs. "This is just the outlet she has when there's nobody in front of her to share it with. Share whatever fantasy she's currently living in."
"Speaking her internal voice out loud, like internet Tourette's Syndrome," I sigh in return. "That's why it's so weird. It sounds like someone thinking aloud, but not with anything genuinely on their mind. Clutching at straws for things to say."
"Do you have an inner voice like that in your collection?" he asks me.
"I have an inner narrator on constant watch whose job it is to wrangle all the others, so mostly I hear that one trying to keep track of everything, and who are the real people and who are the ones inside my head," I admit. "I'm sure I did have a voice like hers, when I was about four, and thought that the Christmas Tree Fairy was a real job prospect for the future."
Connor just grins.
"Aha," he remarks. "Christmas Tree Fairy."
"What about it?"
"Nothing. Just something I was thinking about earlier."
I get another text, this time from Niall Taylor. Fancy a drink b4 work 2nite? X
"Is it Thursday today?" I ask Connor. "I thought you lot were picking him up?"
Connor glances at the message, frowns and gets his own phone out, pressing Autodial on his last caller to ring head office. He keeps the speaker on Privacy due to the public surroundings, but considering the clamour of shoppers, and chatter of other people on mobile phones, there would be little chance of being overheard in the cacophony.
"What's the latest on Taylor?" he asks. He listens for a few moments and then hangs up without saying anything else.
"Girlfriend withdrew her complaint," he says, abruptly. "Doesn't sound good. Try to avoid him, unless you want to end up in his next photo album with her."
"Is he off the list, does that mean?" I ask.
"Unless he picks up a contract any other time he's bored, and looking for extra cash," Connor tells me, and drains the last of his coffee. "But when I'm bored, I can always pick him up for something minor and make him an appointment with the rubber-glove team. Along with the rest of those perverts you work with. Keep away from him."
He looks at his watch as he replaces his cup back on the table.
"I've gotta go, they want me back on site," he says. "I'll catch you after work tonight. Don't buy too many more shoes to go with that outfit."
He gives me a kiss and squeezes my hand, before he gets up and heads out.
"Yeah, be careful," I mutter to myself.
I put my phone away without replying to Taylor. I don't know whether I have any loyalties at all at the moment, never mind divided ones.
Alice starts texting again. On top of everything else, now I'm going to have to wade through more of her Twaddle looking for anything useful. At least this is where having been a blackmailer comes in handy. If anything has any leverage value, my past self will recognise it. But not necessarily for the reasons head office want me to.
I find the free catalogue in my shopping bag and flick through it idly, my rebel streak finding the shoe pages and skimming through them. Designer hi-jacked styles in PU and faux suede look attractively photographed but fail to thrill me much, seeing as most of what I've already collected is the real thing, and was cheaper on iBay and official sales than they're charging for their brand new plastic rip-off copies. Although I do get an idea or two for customising shoes, including corsage decorations and big satin bows, the kind of thing not suitable for work in any context. Sitting-down shoes. The most walking they do is between taxi and front door.
My phone vibrates again with the latest update, and I'm doubtful how long the battery will last under the onslaught of all the attention. It's a Tweak update.
I'm looking at my first assignment now. Tall, dark, attractive, Sicilian - possible Mafia connections. My heart is racing. He doesn't know he's being watched - just walking his Great Dane like he hasn't a care in the world. Not like I imagined a murderous crime lord. I'll have to keep my emotions cool and distant - otherwise I could be in a different sort of danger…
I look up at Alice quizzically. She too is perusing shoes in the catalogue, tapping her phone against her bottom lip and smiling to herself. She seems to have another idea and starts texting again, entirely in a world of her own.
Fuckanory, my inner teenage critic announces. She's not just a slightly brainwashed attention-seeker. She's a liar.
Head office must have something evident to want her followed, otherwise I'm on a pointless mission to read her FBI assassin fan-fiction while she sits blogging in coffee shops, like a younger Rowling planning to harvest the souls of a generation with her thinly-disguised Blyton meets Pratchett mash-ups. I text head office. CAN YOU BACK TRACE THE CASH SHE PAID IN KITTY KITTY? They reply immediately with: Will do at point of banking. I put my phone away and turn to the underwear pages, looking for a distraction. It's bad enough that I have my own alternate realities to contend with in everyday life. Now I'm going to have to deal with at least three more of Alice's - the reality, the brainwashed cult identity, and the escapist fiction...