Friday Fictioneers – The Train

PHOTO PROMPT © Jennifer Pendergast

It never stops. The long segmented worm trundles round the tormented globe, zipping it back together. We patch the rips from which poison oozes and make the world whole again. That’s what this machine is for.

 I was born on the train and I will die on it. Behind our clanking passage, land heals, seed stirs. In my dreams, I slip from the footplate and tread the mulch, weed the crop, harvest food. But we have a job to do. The train never stops.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Backdoor

dolphin_01
PHOTO PROMPT © Jean L. Hays

There’s always a backdoor—you just need to know how to find it. In Roxy’s case, the way-in was animals. She adored them, specially dolphins and whales.

I’d never have got through the iron gates and security cameras at the front, where her fans and the paps waited. But tomorrow, when I take her to the aquarium, I’ll go down on one knee and she’ll be mine.

The snap of Rover’s leg in my hands still haunts me. But he’ll be running around soon. The break was clean and Roxy ensured he had the best vets money could buy.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Objet d’Art

palettes
PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

I felt daring. And noble. This was a grand thing I was doing, an act that would render me immortal.

Yet my face flushed as I reached the plinth and let the flimsy robe slither off. It made a silken hiss as it fell like a shed skin. Through the forest of easels, the zephyr of a collective sigh. Cool air caressed my bare flesh.

The gentlemen peered, squinted, grunted, as they began my slow transformation into art.

The movement behind the easels grew more frenetic, and the grunts louder.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Strangers

the-gate
PHOTO PROMPT © Jean L. Hays

Up to the edge of my hedge, I am safe. I stare out into the empty road—no cars, no people, only increasingly bold foxes.

Then there, at the bottom of the lane, a figure silhouetted by the early morning sun. It walks towards me, as if out of a dream. Another person. Tentatively, I raise my hand.

“How do,” it says, stopping at my gate.

Stranger danger! Who knows what the creature carries?

I run inside and bolt my door.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

139. What would you pay? Pricing a book

Oscar Wilde said that a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Oscar Wilde

Setting a price is an art, not a science. But it’s not all guesswork. As a trip round any shop will confirm, pricing at one penny under a round number is a common ploy to lure the consumer. So my price was going to end in 99 pence.

Price

Set a level too low, and readers will perceive it as having no value, set it too high and nobody will buy. Amazon (the premium book retail site) offers 70% return to the author on prices between £2.99 and £9.99, providing a range within which the sweet spot should lie.

The average cost of a fiction title in 2018 was £3.23, but the important thing is to pick a level in relate to comparable titles, which takes a little research. Looking at some comparable authors, I located a price point at around £7.99 to £8.99.

You also need to set a price that will cover your production costs. The print on demand cost for a single copy of my book is around £5, but costs come down as the number increases. A print run of 500 copies brought my unit cost down to under £2.

Finally, you need to factor-in discounts for wholesalers and retailers. Assuming 45% discount on a paperback and 30% on e-books, I calculated that a price of £7.99 for the paperback and £3.99 for the e-book would give me a return of £1.20 and £2.79 per copy respectively.

pricing strategy

Friday Fictioneers – The system

anonymous-kitchen-photo
PHOTO PROMPT © A. Noni Mouse

If I told him once, I told him a thousand times–cups go on the left, plates and pans on the right, cutlery underneath. I cook, clean, and mend. It really shouldn’t have been hard for him to manage the washing-up.

There has to be a system for everything. Left-overs go to the hogs. No need for acid baths or body parts in freezers.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

138. Scenarios for the world after Covid

One thing is sure—we’re going to need new stories. Stories help us make sense of the world. And our world now is turned upside down in a way we haven’t seen for generations. How do we go forward from our lockdown societies?

covid street

That’s where storytelling comes in. Scenario thinking accepts we can’t predict what’s going to happen. Instead, it looks at the forces that are driving change and constructs several alternative visions of what the future might look like. This allows us to rehearse what we might do in each of these futures. It may also allow us to make better choices now.

So, I built four scenarios of where we might end up. These feature in my book, The Scheherazade Code, about the power of story-telling.

 

Drivers of change

The first step was to identify the drivers of change.

Political ·         A mixture of nationalist competition and globalist cooperation. In some countries, leaders make use of the pandemic to introduce greater measures of control and surveillance

·         An increased awareness of who we depend on and support for a new dispensation. There is growing pressure to improve the wages and conditions for agricultural workers, nurses, care workers, delivery drivers, cleaners, and retail staff. This is strongly resisted by the corporations. In the end, expectations of cheap goods provide an easy lure to accept only token changes in wages. There is a much stronger support for decent social care and welfare systems.

·         Citizens’ acceptance of a more interventionist role for the state may be enhanced, though this is counter-balanced by growing distrust and opposition to restrictions

·         The EU will be further weakened by the beggar-my-neighbour initial response, though this may be mitigated by sharing of the pain on the route to recovery

·         Geo-politically, China emerges stronger and more expansionist from the crisis. This may make the US more bellicose and Russia more adventurous

Economic ·         Short term very sharp economic decline (worse than any previous crisis). Best outcome would be a V-shaped recover with a quick rebound. Equally possible is a U-shaped recover. Since there were no major underlying problems, an L-shaped curve is unlikely

·         The long period of the “new normal” favours sectors of the economy which don’t require mass gatherings (such as home entertainment). Mass communication technologies receive a huge boost, including in education. Much more retail goes online, spurring growth in delivery and logistics systems. Much more working from home in office jobs, though the renewed emphasis on national self-reliance also boosts industrial investment in critical areas

·         In the developed world, any hint of return to austerity is unacceptable. Higher levels of national debt and taxation are accepted

·         A renewed focus on national self-reliance in key areas such as food, energy, and critical technology

·         Countries that locked down on time and engaged in testing and tracing emerge early and have a competitive advantage. The US suffers long-term decline.

Social ·         A sense of social solidarity from the pandemic persists afterwards and demand to properly reward those we depend on leads to a new social contract

·         Conversely, a growing distrust of strangers provides fertile ground for nationalism and racism

·         A sense of guilt at that the way the elderly and the poor were abandoned. But also the young, ejected from the economy in the recession, form a lost generation. Age politics grows, as the young refuse to bear the burden of recovery.

·         A sense of pride at having come through the crisis by collective effort

·         Possession and wealth are no longer the mark of status and there is less celebrity culture and more celebration of ordinary people

·         A renewed respect for expertise and wider dreams among children of becoming a scientist. An increasing understanding that “the science” is a state of enquiring mind, not a definitive yes/no answer that politicians favour.

·         An awareness of the need to take care of the future and prepare for future threats. A willingness to debate more long-term issues.

Technology ·         Rapid growth in communications and distribution technology

·         Enhanced decline of the high street with long-term closure of pubs, restaurants, cinemas and gyms

·         A resurgence of some engineering industries

·         Enhanced public-private investment in epidemic preparedness

Environment ·         Dramatically reduced carbon release during the pandemic, cleaner air and environment, rebound of the natural world.

·         The valuing of nature and the belief that collective effort lead, especially among the young, to a willingness to take on the challenge of confronting the climate crisis

Health ·         Covid 19 is not eliminated, though societies learn to coexist with it by developing better systems of health surveillance. Poorer countries remain breeding grounds for the virus.

·         Treatments will become available, lessening the threat of the virus

·         Though there are positive signs that a vaccine could be developed (say by mid-2021) lasting immunity is not characteristic of other coronaviruses

·         Lasting mental health challenges and physical health complications

 

Key uncertainties

Analysing these drivers allows identification of the key axes of uncertainty about the direction the future might take.

These are:

Globalism             versus              Nationalism

Social change        versus              Business-As-Usual

Combining these leads to four possible futures:

 

Four futures

Post Covid Futures

Spur is a world in which the pandemic has prompted a sense of interdependence and cooperation, rebalancing values. The coronavirus response showed that rapid action is possible to decisively face challenges. There’s a renewed focus on the welfare of people and of the planet. Preparation for future pandemics us underway, as are efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Introduction of a universal basic income grant in many developed societies means nobody goes hungry, while international aid is helping to build a more equal world. This is a kinder, greener world.

Fortresses is a divided world. Walls that went up during the pandemic stay up. While there is a greater emphasis on social welfare within national boundaries, fear and distrust remain. There’s little international cooperation beyond that necessary for trade. There are only token attempts at tackling the environment crisis. This is an “I’m alright, Jack” world.

Return to Normality is, as the name suggests, a world in a hurry to return to things as they were. The welfare of capital takes precedence in efforts to get the economy restarted. The free market benefits the rich, leaving the poor behind. This is the world most like the one we left in 2019. It’s as if the pandemic never happened.

Beggar Thy Neighbour is a world based on fear. In an upsurge of new populism, autocratic rulers in many parts of the world have used the pandemic as cover for introducing tighter social control. Dissent is seen as “unpatriotic” and heavily policed. This is a devil take the hindmost world in which most of the benefits accrue to elite.

Of course, the real world may turn out to be a patchwork of all of these tendencies.

Which future will you opt to live in?

 

Friday Fictioneers – Captaining

delayed-green-naama-yehuda
PHOTO PROMPT © Na’ama Yehudah

“Go! Go! Go!” he captained us.

The cry was imperative, and we were trained. Legs strode, hearts pumped. Rifles in hand, we dashed. He was dashing too, in his starched uniform with the yellow braid. So captainly.

“Go! Go! Go!” Again.

“Yes, Sir.” I snapped off a salute. “But go where exactly?”

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Dragons

eggcelent-from-todd-foltz
PHOTO PROMPT © Todd Foltz

I set my ear against the curve of the giant shell. This is a ritual every time we come to the palace. The police guards stiffen to attention because it’s odd. Harve looks panicked because it’s his friend who’s being odd. But it’s a thing I have to do.

“You know they’re not real eggs, right?” Harve always asks. “Those are decorative barriers against truck bombs.”

Nobody knows except me. Inside these eggs, dragons are sleeping. And when the country’s in peril, they’ll scream forth into an angry sky. Inside the shell, I hear a tapping.

 

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here.

Friday Fictioneers – Second Story Man

the-view
PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Mary woke to find a man crawling in through her bedroom window. She lay absolutely still as he wriggled through and plopped onto her bed.

“Oh, bugger,” the stranger said.

“Just what I needed,” Mary said, wrapping him in a bear hug. “Do exactly what ask, and I won’t call the cops.”

Bernard, who had come to plunder, was ravished. He remained ravished for the next four months until Mary tired of him.

 

Lest you think this is a male fantasy, it’s based on a real event. Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here