FREE SHORT STORY: An Overheard Conversation By Charlotte Howard #freestory #shortstory

An Overheard Conversation

By Charlotte Howard

Click. Click-click-click. Click.

Clack. Clack.

Bang!

“Graham?” Sally hung her coat on the rack by the front door. She dropped her keys onto the coffee table alongside her handbag. “Graham? Are you home?” The cat purred and rubbed itself against the soft satin of her tights. Sally bent down, scooping the creature into her arms, and pressed her nose into his furry head before letting him jump back to the ground. She kicked off her shoes, adding them to the pile that grew and blocked the cupboard under the stairs. Leaning on the wooden rail, she tilted her to the ceiling and strained to hear any sounds.

Tap-tap-tap-tap.

Sally smiled to herself, and tip-toed towards the spare room. She stood in the doorframe, and watched as her husband continued to work. A heavy thump came from beneath the headphones that were glued to his ears. Sally walked over, and removed one. Graham spun around, eyes wide.

“Jeez… Sorry love. I didn’t hear you come in.” He looked at his watch. “You’re home early.”

Sally grinned and pressed her lips to the scratchy stubble of his cheek. “Oh Greg sent me to a meeting and it finished early. How’s it going?” she asked, scanning over the screen and not understanding a single word.

“Not bad. A client wants their website updating before this evening, so…”

“So you’re hiding away in your cave, and I will be an HTML-widow for the rest of the day.” She said it with a slight laugh, used to her husband choosing work over her. “I suppose it could be worse.”

Graham turned back to the screen. “Hmm?”

“You could be at the pub all night, or watching football,” she said, walking into their bedroom.

“Sorry what was that?”

“Nothing, love,” she called back, as she drew the curtains against the dying sun and the harsh orange light that forced its way through the clouds. She stripped out of her white blouse and knee-length black skirt, dumping them in the laundry basket in the corner of the room.

“Greg sent you to a meeting?” Graham asked, sneaking up behind and placing a kiss on the bare skin of her shoulder. “That’s a good sign isn’t it?”

“He had one with a client at lunch and it ran over, so he asked me to cover the one with the supplier.” She twisted around to face him, lifting a hand and sweeping her fingers through his dark brown curls. “You need a haircut,” she murmured, and pressed her lips to his. “I did overhear something today.”

“Yeah?” He wrapped his arms around her waist and they swayed from side-to-side.

“The girls at work were talking.”

“Girls tend to do that.”

Sally batted at his chest. “You know what I mean.” She pulled away from his grip, and walked over to her set of chest of drawers. Bending to the bottom one, she opened it up and took out a baggy T-shirt, tugging it over her head. She stared in the mirror for a while, and ran her fingers through her shoulder-length blonde hair. “They said that Greg was looking for someone to promote as his assistant.” She bit her bottom lip and turned to face him. “Do you think I’m in with a chance?”

“Of course you are love.”

Sally sat on the edge of the bed. She rolled down her tights and flung them so that they landed in a ball, on top of the blouse and skirt. “Do you think?”

“Yeah…” He knelt behind her and pressed his thumbs into the knotted muscles of her shoulders, circling and rubbing until she was moaning with delight. “He sent you to that meeting didn’t he?”

“Uh huh.” Sally closed her eyes and tilted her head up, groaning as Graham continued the massage. “There’s rumours of a takeover.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Greg’s being going to loads of lunch meetings just recently, and been really secretive. Head Office have been in too. Rachel thought that he was being fired, but he was in this morning, so Tamsin said it was probably a takeover or something.” She stopped and twisted to face him. “Do you think he might be getting a promotion and moving to HO? Perhaps… Oh don’t stop… Mmm… Perhaps they’re looking for someone to replace him. Oh wow. Can you imagine if I got Greg’s job?”

“That would be great.” He kissed each spot where his hands had been. “I need to finish work.”

“Sadist,” she teased, and stood up. Graham disappeared into the spare room. Sally breathed out a frustrated sigh. Ever since he’d left his job, he’d spent his whole time buried under a mass of wires and USB drives. It hadn’t been all that bad though. He’d picked up some freelance work as a web designer, and was much happier than he’d been working from someone else. And he wasn’t seeing her every single day anymore. But the regular paycheque had been sorely missed.

Sally opened her wardrobe doors and ran her fingers over the different fabrics until she found a pair of comfy yoga pants. “What do you want for dinner?” she called as she pulled the pants on. She scraped her hair into a messy bun, and checked out her reflection. Even dressed in what she referred to as ‘scruffs’, she was still looked pretty damn amazing.

“Oh I don’t mind…”

Sally leaned around the doorframe to watch her husband as he continued to work. “Takeaway?”

“Erm… yeah. Sure. Why not? Do you mind if I just…” He let his sentence trail, and gestured towards the screen.

“Yeah.” Sally exhaled a nasal breath. “Of course. Sorry.” She headed downstairs, and grabbed her phone, ready to text her best-friend about the frustrations of out-of-work husbands and overheard conversations. She sank onto the sofa.

Clatter. Bang. Clatter. 

“Everything okay?” she called up.

“Yeah,” Graham called back down. “Bloody cat sent everything flying.”

Sally frowned, and stroked the animal laying on her lap.

***

“Be quiet,” Graham hushed, peering out of the bedroom door. “She’ll bleeding well hear you. I’m sorry, okay, I didn’t know she would be home so soon. I thought she was working late again.” He pressed a finger to his lips.

“Are you sure?” Sally called.

“She’s in the living room. If you’re quiet, and quick, you can make it out the front door. I’ll… I’ll distract her.” Graham walked down the stairs and into the front room. “Cup of tea?” he asked his wife.

“Please.” Her forehead wrinkled, her eyes narrowed. “What was all that noise?”

“I told you,” he said. “The…” He looked down at the animal that she was stroking. “Cat… Shit. Sally, it’s not what you–”

“It’s her again, isn’t it?” The cat hissed as it was shoved to the ground. “Jeez… Graham, I thought we were over this. You promised. You said…” Sally pushed past Graham and stopped dead in the hallway.

“Sally, please. I can explain. I–”

Sally stared ahead. “Greg.”

THE END

Bio

 My career as a writer started when I was young, writing poetry and flash fiction for my friends and family. After a few minor successes of having pieces published in anthologies, and later on-line, I decided to have a go at writing a full-length novel. My first attempt was a bit of a disaster, but after years of practice, I finally got that coveted First Contract. Since then, I’ve written several more novels and short stories, and I don’t intend to retire for at least another 50 years.

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Christmas is coming, and so is a new book!

evernight-new_comingsoon

A Different Kind of Therapy will be published by Evernight Publishing in 2017

We’re on the final week before Christmas, I have a uni assignment due before the 6th January, we have a big family birthday coming up, and on top of all that, my latest novel will be published in early 2017. The last few weeks of 2016 are going to be hectic to say the least.

But I’m slowly getting there. The turkey has been ordered. Present shopping is done, with one side of the family all wrapped and ready to be shipped up to Lincoln. Christmas cards have been written. Cake has been decorated. Uni work is half-done, only 1,200 words to go and a round of editing. A Different Kind of Therapy is on its second round of edits, and has a cover being designed. We are getting there.

Right now, 2017 promises to be an eventful and interesting year. We just need to get 2016 done and dusted.

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Why I can’t sell for toffee

Just recently I have been inundated with requests and queries regarding the formats my books are available in. The majority of them are only available as an eBook, in fact the only book available in paperback is Taking Care of Leah, and even then, this is on a “Print on Demand” (or POD) service. I knew that my books had to reach a certain criteria before being available in print, so I emailed my publisher at Tirgearr Publishing what that criteria was, and she came back with a detailed and interesting response. It was pretty lengthy, but the gist of it was that each book has to sell 180 copies within a set period of time before it will be considered for print, and that we should all consider writing as a business, and treat it as such.. Absolutely fine, I understand that. But my problem (which I have blogged about before) is that I am a writer, not a saleswoman.

My college course was on Equine Business Management, meaning I  am qualified to run a riding school and livery yard. And the business management part of that course was limited – I essentially spent one day a week for two years, mucking out stables, clipping horses, and creating posters on different types of rug. Hubby however, is a salesman. And a damn good one. Unfortunately, he sells ink cartridges, printers and laptops. He does not sell books, and he hasn’t ever read a romance novel, so while he can give me a few pointers, he doesn’t have the contacts to really push. But yeah… pointers… How do you treat writing as a business? Particularly when you have a limited budget of like… zilch.

Communicate with your readers

Sign up to every single bit of social media going. I’ve done that. I have a Facebook account that readers / writers are welcome to friend, a Facebook page, Twitter account, Linked In, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, a website, and obviously this blog. I’m active on Facebook (perhaps a little too active), and Twitter, and I try to keep this blog and my website up-to-date. I both loathe and love Instagram, but the rest of my social media accounts are hit-and-miss.

It’s also been suggested that I sign up to forums. Sadly, I’ve had a lot of bad experiences when it comes to forums, particularly those associated with Goodreads. One of which ended up with me being labelled as a “Badly Behaving Author” and having numerous blogs and posts dedicated to slating my name – all because one woman that I used to work with, got a bee in her bonnet because I quit my job before the company could go bust and leave me redundant. Plus, I get totally confused and forget what I’ve posted where. My small brain is not capable of living inside internet forums. I was a member of a chat room back in the late 90s / early 00s, and that ended up with me meeting some weird bloke, who I then married and had kids with. (We’re still married. I love him really.)

I also have the issue of connecting with my target audience. Apparently, my target audience is women between the ages of 25 and 50 years old, most of my readers will be married or separated, and have children. Apparently. Which is great – because that’s what I am! I read books, I’m married, I’m in my 30s, and I have children! Except I’ve always struggled to relate to women in my peer group. Even stood in the playground, I tend to talk to the dads more than the mums, or just stand in the corner, with my one friend having a moan about kids, money, and the weather. Introverts with anxiety issues do not socialise.

Network, network, network

As well as being active on Facebook, and being “friends” with hundreds of authors and hundreds of readers, I am a very active member of Yeovil Creative Writers, and have recently looked into joining a group a little bit closer to home. It’s all about networking. And it does work. If I hadn’t gone to the Festival of Romance a few years ago, I would never have met Lucy Felthouse, and in turn wouldn’t have thought about submitting to Tirgearr Publishing or writing for their City Nights series. I also wouldn’t have “met” all the people I have, or gone to the Smut.UK weekends and actually, physically, met some amazing writers. So networking does work, but it doesn’t necessarily result in sales.

Sadly, networking and attending events like Smut.UK, Festival of Romance etc. usually requires money for travel, hotels, food etc. And money is not something I have an abundance of at the moment.

It’s also very difficult to network as a contemporary / erotic romance author when there is still so much taboo around the subject of sex. I’ve personally experienced being disowned, ignored, and looked down on because I’ve mentioned the fact that I enjoy writing graphic sex scenes. I do feel stuck between genres. For erotica events, I am too contemporary. For romance events, I am too erotic. And then there is the fact that I can’t do book signings, because I don’t have any paperbacks to sign. Rock. Hard place.

Marketing, publicity and promoting

There are several companies that I would recommend using to marketing and publicise work: Writer Marketing, GoddessFish, BookBub,  and eBookSoda being a few of them. But, yet again, they cost money. BookBub in particular is quite expensive, although does result in sales. However, for most of these it is usually a good idea to reduce your book’s price to 99c / 99p, and unfortunately books sold that are on promotion do not count towards the 180 quota I need to get them into paperback. So while Seven Dirty Words did outsell the likes of Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series and EL James’ FSOG for a couple of days, it did so while it was on sale, and not at full price.

Facebook groups are obviously free to use, but how many of those actually result in sales? By my experience, not at all. And then there is the risk of being blocked and reported for spamming. (21 days in Facebook jail is not fun when you’re a FB addict!) But you can promote posts with both Facebook and Twitter. I’ve done this and feel that it was a waste of money. I may have reached over 1,000 people according to the statistics, but I didn’t sell a single book during that time.

SEO values and hashtags

There is a trick to getting SEO values and hashtags right, one I have not mastered yet. If I had, then my social media would be getting a lot more hits than they are! I’m a self-confessed technophobe. I know how to use popular areas of the internet, and Microsoft Word. I can’t even use Excel, never mind get to grips with ensuring that my website is attracting the correct traffic!

Money and socialising

That’s what it all comes down to. Having the money to push into titles to promote the hell out of them, and the ability to socialise and talk to actual real-life people. Neither of which I have.

Don’t feel sorry for me though. I’m skint because I have two small people who depend on me to provide them with food and a roof, and because my world revolves around them, I have the bad habit of spoiling them rotten. So the chances are that I will be skint until the day they leave home. (Ten years until university…)

Socialising, as I’ve mentioned before, is a problem for me, because I am not comfortable around people. I have qualifications in animal-related subjects because I can talk to a cat or a dog with ease, whereas people scare the living hell out of me.

So as you can see, I am doing my best as making my writing a business, but struggle on a daily basis, because, well… Yes, it is a business, it really is. I tried working in sales once, and got fired. For being crap at it. And when you get fired by your own husband for being unable to make money, then it’s probably safe to assume that sales is an area to avoid in the future! I am a writer, not a saleswoman.

 

 

Rules, and why I like to break them

How many blogs / posts / books have you read entitled “How to be a successful writer”? How many times have you read the same words, over and over again? There are several “rules” to being a writer, or more how to market and publicise your books. And I can’t abide them.

Have an active social media presence on pretty much every single social media site that exists and keep it professional

I have an account on FB (in fact I have two – one personal, one author). I am on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. But I don’t have time to update every single one on an hourly basis with links to my books and promos, adverts etc. Contrary to common belief, I do not spend all day on my laptop. I have a family, and a life outside of work – like most of you do I should think, and that is exactly what writing is. Work.

With regards to keeping it professional, I don’t believe that readers and fans want to be bombarded with my books over and over again. Twitter is generally book related. Facebook is a mix of both, but Pinterest and Instagram are there for my readers and followers to have a small look into my life. Yes, I post pictures of food and cats. Because I’m human, I’m a woman, and I like food and cats.

Sign-up, join, and contribute to as many web forums as you possibly can, especially Goodreads and Amazon

For the same reason I don’t post to Facebook and Twitter every single day, I do not contribute to forums. I get fed up of trolls – I’ve been the victim of one on Goodreads, where I was accused of being a “badly behaving author”, despite not actually having said a word. I was banned from groups for spamming, after being asked by the creator to put up a post for one of my books. And I did – just the one, but then she reported me for spamming the group. Go figure. These incidents left a bad taste in my mouth, so I avoid forums whenever I can.

Write on your blog every single day and keep it book-related, genre-related, and different

Again. I don’t have time to write on my blog every day, or even every week! I try to keep it book / genre related, but sometimes I like to put up something personal, so that my readers and followers can see that I am human and not some typing machine.

Build a website and keep it up-to-date, make sure you hit all the SEO values! Hire someone if you have to

I have a website, it’s up-to-date, but it probably doesn’t hit the SEO values, and I did it for free through Wix.com. It’s not great, but I can’t afford to hire someone to make it fantastic and noticeable.

Talk about your book to absolutely everyone who will listen. Go into bookshops and leave your bookmarks / postcards / business cards in someone else’s book. Create a street team

I have a low boredom threshold. When someone bleats on and on about their book, I get bored and move on, and will probably not buy their book because it is probably as boring as they are. So I won’t push my books on to other people either. If you want to read it, fab! If you don’t, well you can’t please everyone. And as for putting bookmarks etc into other people’s books in a bookshop… Well I spoke to a friend who works in a bookshop about this practice, and was told that in no uncertain terms is this acceptable. Yes, managers are often pleased to take bookmarks and postcards or business cards to hand out or put in carrier bags, but if you put them in other people’s works, and without the permission of either them or the manager of the shop, you are being just rude and are going to end up with a bad reputation.

And finally… Pay for marketing, reviews, and publicity

Again, I can’t afford it. I’ve written 6 books now, 5 published, one being edited. 5 books are selling, not badly but not well either – probably because I break all the rules – but it means that I do not have any spare cash to pay for marketing and publicity. I do occasionally pay for blog tours, release blitzes and alike, but I don’t like paying for reviews, and if someone offers me a guaranteed 5-star review, then I turn them down flat.