Posts Tagged ‘Pinterest’

Should You Waste Time on Pinterest?

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

pinterest-150x150Why should authors care about Pinterest? I considered this question as I stared at the blank Word document. Should I try to convince you that fifteen minutes a day several times per week pinning and interacting on the site could find you new readers for your work? I have always liked a challenge.

The last time I looked I had 1783 followers on the main page of my profile. This isn’t a huge number by Pinterest business standards. I am connected to pinners who have over fifty thousand followers. You must admit that is a big number. How did they gain so many followers? Are they celebrities? No, they are business people who recognized early on the unique draw of this social media site.

For authors, Pinterest provides the opportunity to add a visual aspect to the written one, and attract a new group of readers to your books. You can create a board that contains video and pins of places your characters visit. You can post the recipes they eat. You can use these boards to attract a different set of readers to your work.

Pinterest is like any other social media site. A new user needs to take a little time to understand what works and what doesn’t. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen on author profiles is having only one board, My Books, for example, with the cover of the book repinned every time the book is reviewed or promoted. At a minimum a main profile page should contain three boards so that the first line of boards is filled out. This is visually pleasing.

What type of boards are popular and will help an author’s pins to be repinned? On the main Pinterest page you can search under keywords and categories. Let’s say you are an accomplished photographer. You can create a board, Nature in My Backyard, and post your own photos. If you watermark them with your blog, and include a catchy description in the box underneath, you are on your way to gaining followers. Use no more than two or three hashtags in the description, otherwise it will look messy. I have seen a statistic that says eighty percent of all pins become repins, so make them count!

I wrote previously about pinning etiquette. I no longer “like” before I pin, but I have continued the practice of never taking more than five pins at a time from an individual board. I always follow a beautiful board and have never been concerned with the follower to follow ratio. The flow of pins on a board are a collection of that pinner, and to encourage reciprocity it is crucial to show appreciation and not steal their work. I have had people copy entire boards that I’ve created, and this is poor Pinterest form.

If you want to have a business account on Pinterest rather than a personal profile page, you need to decide what you will call your profile page. Although I have a food and lifestyle blog I decided to keep my name on the page. My thought process is that if I am trying to interest readers in my books, which are my product, they need to interact with me as a pinner and see what I’m interested in. I have a Culture and Cuisine Club board, which is the blog I have kept since 2009. I recently changed the wording next to my photo to direct people to my author page on Facebook. The follow number on Facebook, both my personal page and my author page, has begun to increase and this may be why.

I suggest that you have a photo of yourself on the profile page. A complementary photo of yourself, displayed where you interact with strangers who are potential customers, is part of your author brand. Please don’t leave the photo box with a red pin.

It is important to showcase other pinners while continuing to establish your own brand. I have had great success with this concept. As a proud indie author I established a board, Indie Extravaganza, where I pin many books. I am a reader as well as a writer. I am genuine in my desire to promote quality indie books, and I have met other pinners that way. I also have a group board called The Other Food Group, which features coffee and chocolate, and another called World of Bacon. I no longer join group boards because the Pinterest algorithm places them above my boards on my profile page and I need to manually move them.

One of the more comprehensive articles I’ve found on the ins and outs of Pinterest Business accounts is here. When I read this article I realized that although I was using Pinterest well, I hadn’t scratched the surface. I also have not integrated my blog fully. I have a list of personal to dos that will enhance and drive the platform I’ve already built. Let’s get into a few exciting benefits of creating a Pinterest business account.

Install the Pinterest app on your smartphone. This will help you avoid pin dropping, i.e. pinning all at once. Instagram is a great tool that integrates beautifully with Pinterest. As a business account you can set-up Pin Alert tracking and receive notifications when someone repins from your own or your competitor’s website.

Promotional pins is a benefit I am extremely interested in. Unfortunately, the business side of Pinterest is growing fast and there are times that the site cannot handle the traffic load. I tried to sign up for promotional pins and after filling out the online form could not get into the software. This happened several times. I have just begun to explore the analytics, and once I get a better handle on them I will report back. You can investigate what is offered here.

You can run promotions on Pinterest. They have specific rules on how you can interact with the pinners who enter your contest. The rules remind me of the Goodreads limitations a bit, but there is a great deal of opportunity for creative types. Call your contest a “Pin it to win” contest. You can also create a gallery of your most shared pins, but be sure to mark them as your most pinned pins, not Pinterest in general. They are very protective of their brand and you can find out more information here.

Rich pins are another benefit of having a business account on Pinterest. For example, people have communicated with me to ask for the recipe of something I’ve pinned. If it were my recipe, on my blog, I could enable meta data to share the specific ingredients and method directly under the pin. This would be a convenience to the pinner, but my goal is to get them to my blog. I’ll have to explore this further.

I am not surprised if you are cross-eyed at this point. Pinterest, and particularly a Pinterest business account, provides opportunities to interact with readers in new and exciting ways. To distinguish ourselves we need to think outside the box, and Pinterest is poised to help us do so.

This post was previously run on Indies Unlimited.

Much Ado About Marketing

Friday, January 18th, 2013

 

Courtesy of Majickal Graphics

I like New Year’s resolutions and setting goals. On New Year’s Day, while my husband and I recover from the previous night’s festivities, we watch football and I open the new desk calendar. It has become my tradition to sit with this calendar and copy, from the old one, the birthdays and other important events I will need to remember during the brand new year. I enjoy looking at some of the interesting things that I did during the past year. Then, I close the calendar and put it on the shelf with all the others I have saved. I am sentimental and not a little superstitious. Those who know and love me have used the appellation “hoarder”, affectionately.

Perhaps this is why I have gravitated to Pinterest. The collecting aspect of Pinterest interested me, a woman who has a climate controlled storage closet for thirty plus year’s worth of holiday decorations. (We found out quickly that in Florida one does not store blown glass ornaments in the attic. The paint melts.)

The ability to store things, and not need more closet space appealed to the collector in me. As I developed my boards and became familiar with the site, however, I realized that Pinterest has the potential to be so much more.

Along with the new calendar I will, for the first time as an Indie author, be writing a formal marketing plan for 2013. I wrote these for years when I was in telecommunication sales. The big difference is that whatever ends up on the plan will have to be largely accomplished by—me. I don’t have a team of sales engineers or designers to help me realize my goals. There will be a few carefully chosen support people involved, but my marketing and promoting is almost entirely up to me. This is both scary and exciting.

Kat Brooks recently wrote a post about the basic social media platforms all writers should be using. I would like to add one to this list, and it is, no surprise, Pinterest. There are several posts on IU about Pinterest, and I would suggest that you read them for details that I will not review in this post.

With regard to marketing on social media, I’m not sure that when an e-book sells we can definitively point to one place and say, “Eureka! I have found the key to advertising success!” This is why it is important to have a presence in a number of social media areas and to not advertise or promote in the same place all the time. What I like about Pinterest is that it allows you to show who you are to an unknown group of potential readers. It is a completely different network. It is not the writers you have known for many years, but a potentially important key to a more well-rounded social media presence. Please note the word potential. I have no definitive proof of beautifully curated, imaginative boards translating into sales. But, I will tell you about an experiment I ran on Pinterest.

If you look at my Pinterest profile you will see a board called, “Vampire Cocktail.” I created this board many months ago in anticipation of my new novel, “My Gentleman Vampire: The Undead Have Style.” My vamps drink fabulous cocktails and tango. I did not build this board in a day, a week, or even a month. It is a work in progress, as are the rest of the boards. Other than a brief update on my facebook page, I had not formally announced the book. I did, however, pin it on Pinterest with a brief statement that it was published. In 24 hours I sold ten copies. Some of the sales appear to be from a new group of readers, which I can tell by the “those who purchased this also bought” information on Amazon.

Before you rush to Pinterest to hastily throw together some boards, please consider this. These boards represent you, your interests, your hobbies, sense of humor, or maybe even your deeply held beliefs. Do not copy more than 5 or so pins from another pinner’s board in one visit. Do not copy a clever name of a board—make up your own. Show your individuality. Do check out my profile, follow me if you like, and watch how I pin. My board names are; Orchid Obsession, All Things Red, Black and White, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Let Them Eat Cake, My Style, Holy Handbag, Sublime Shoes, Tango With Me, and A Stylish Man’s Closet, to name a few.

Caveat: I really enjoy this sort of marketing. This is not everyone’s cup of tea. Many people will see it as a waste of time, but I beg to differ. It is exactly the things that make you interesting in a non-threatening, laid back way that sell your product. People buy from people they like, or at least from those they find fascinating. Are you interesting? Then, go to Pinterest and let your readers see why. Cheers!

Platform Building With Pinterest

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

 

In my last post I talked about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and into a visible venue, someplace where your readers can see and meet you. There are so many different events where you, a published author, are seen as a rarity and even a bit of a celebrity. Here at Indies Unlimited many of us are published authors, and it is easy to forget how impressive this is to non-writers. Remind yourself every day that you have done something many people just dream about. Then, find those local events where you can strut your stuff.

Anyone who asks me about Pinterest will quickly realize that I am smitten. It is a brilliant concept based on the idea that one of the three founders is a prodigious collector. Pinning to your boards is like collecting in a virtual sense. I did research for this post in order to back-up my Pinterest obsession with solid facts and statistics so that you can understand why I spend any time on the site. I believe that time spent on Pinterest is an investment, and another creative way to build my marketing platform by branching out beyond the Facebook and LinkedIn groups I belong to.

Pinterest is now the third largest social media site behind Facebook and Twitter. It is, reportedly, 65% women and 35% men. This is a huge shift from January 2012 when it was over 90% women. I’ve found different numbers as to how many millions of pinners there are. Suffice it to say there are millions. And many of them are avid readers.

I can’t begin to list the diverse businesses I’ve located on Pinterest. The site is always going to have a large percentage of users who are pinning their dream wedding, home, or shoe collection. But, it is also a brilliant platform that can be utilized to communicate and intrigue those visually minded individuals who need a picture or a photograph to notice your novel or article.

For example, what would Pinterest’s value be in a newsroom and could it be useful in communicating hard-core or breaking news? Jeff Sonderman wrote in an article for the Poynter Media Wire that “Pinterest is about visual expression. It’s a way to show not just tell. It’s also another tool to curate the web, to gather images and ideas from many sources.” The article went on to say that Pinterest could be used to publish a series of photographs of current events in troubled areas of the world, rather than the one or two photos that the newspaper can fit on a page.

Some authors have jumped on the Pinterest bandwagon and successfully created profiles that make you stop to peruse their boards. The author Roberta Isleib has set-up a profile page that is a wonderful example of topical boards that are pleasing to the eye. Her pinboards represent her as a professional but also communicate her personality. I loved the idea of her book launch board. Because her books involve food she maintains a few boards on delicious recipes. Roberta showcases not only her novels, but also the novels of her friends. I can tell by looking at her boards that she is an interesting, fun lady, and I would love to sit down with her for lunch or maybe a cocktail. And, since we share food as a passion, I will certainly buy one of her books to see how she incorporates cuisine into her plot.

I would suggest, however, that your goal in joining Pinterest is not to focus on connecting with other writers. That will happen as a matter of course. You can, if you want, use the automated option to send invitations to all of your Facebook friends. This effort defeats the purpose of expanding your network. It does help Pinterest’s goal to expand the number of active users. Your goal should be to get new people to follow your boards by following boards that you find interesting, and by creating boards that “pop” and are intriguing.

This will be a slower build, follower wise, than just sending out those invitations and having all your friends follow you. I can tell, frankly, when someone has just moved an existing network over to Pinterest. The way you can encourage new followers is to like and comment on photos that catch your eye. If you like a board, always follow it, especially if you are going to repin. My own rule of thumb is that I only take five pins the first time I am on someone’s board. I will look to see where the pins came from and go to the profile page of that pinner. Then, I like and repin a few from there. This is my method, and may not work for everyone.

If you are going to enter the Pinterest world have at least four boards in your head, and have five pins per board. Otherwise, you will have empty boxes and this looks unfinished. Think of some creative titles for each board. Let’s say you were a writer who wrote dark stories and you rode a motorcycle. You might want a board that was called, “Dark Shadows”, and a “My Ride” board. Add a “Black Hats” and a “Fog City” board and you’ve got the basic set-up. I wonder who could use those ideas?

I recently created a board to allow any self-published author who follows my boards to post their book, one time per novel, on a shared board. It seems this is a growing trend, and I would like to offer this opportunity to those who are reading this post.

Please feel free to ask me any specific Pinterest questions you might have, and to let me know how your experience proceeds. Enjoy!  

 

Where Has All The Fashion Gone?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Runway ready at the Hunter's Green fashion show.

Greetings fashionistas!

I have not meant to abandon this aspect of the blog. I have not stopped studying fashion trends, shopping for the perfect shoes and handbag, or sold the archives to live naked on a south sea island. I have been crazy busy. A second book will be released before the end of the month. I am writing for an independently published writers site. My son started college.

And, I have been bitten by the Pinterest bug.

This is not a bad thing. Pinterest is a visual social media mecca where pinners can create their own bulletin boards and follow the boards of others. Better yet, pinners can repin a photo that they like to one of their own boards. It is a seductive and brilliant concept.

My fashion obsession resides, for the moment, on several boards under my profile picture. I spend a few minutes every day playing there, checking out what the pinners in my network are repinning. I need to limit myself on the time I spend there because it is easy to get lost.

What boards have I created to confess my current fashion obsessions? How about “Holy Handbag”, “Sublime Shoes”, “My Style” and “Jewelry”. If you are on Pinterest please look for me under my profile name Lois Lewandowski.

Meet you there!

With hairstylist Tava.

 

 

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Monday, May 7th, 2012

This post has appeared previously at Indies Unlimited.com.

Have you ever been intellectually robbed? Have you ever shared an idea with friends, only to see your inspiration copied with no credit given? I wanted to chastise you for feeling sorry for yourself, but a couple of my colleagues have already taken you to task. Are you awake and ready for a bit of ego building? I am happy to do it. Sip your cocktail of choice and relax. Here is my question: Why is it a good thing if people want to borrow your ideas or copy your style?

Babe Paley as photographed by Horst.

It is a hot and humid afternoon in Manhattan. Babe Paley exits La Grenouille, the luncheon appointment concluded and she exchanges parting pleasantries with a few ‘ladies who lunch’. The city air is completely still, and the heat that rises from the pavement is stifling.  She casually removes the scarf knotted loosely around her neck, and so as not to lose it, ties it around the handle of her handbag in a soft, elegant bow. That effortless gesture is copied within weeks by stylish women across the country.

It is a windy day in Germany as Jacqueline Kennedy sits on the podium listening to speech after speech, smiling her now famously enigmatic smile. A gust of wind threatens to lift her pillbox hat from her head, and in an attempt to secure it, she dents it. The style catches on like wildfire, an accident soon copied by women all over the world.

I have dozens of these anecdotes. They cross all the art forms – dance, music, painting and literature. Fashion is the one that comes most naturally to me. Both of these famous women had an innate sense of style and had the confidence to glide serenely toward their goals, never doubting that their choices would be placed under a microscope, and blindly copied. They accepted the immediate imitation as part of being who they were.

Ok, I understand that an indie author is not Jackie Kennedy. But if you don’t think ideas are stolen from the most humble origins, let me give you a personal example.

Several years ago I decided to start a blog. I was pretty clueless as to what I needed to do, but I knew I needed to write somewhere beside my own blog in order to get experience and exposure. There was an e-magazine that I discovered on the Internet with exactly the sort of brief posts I was interested in writing. I contacted the owner on Facebook and in several subsequent emails, offered my services for free. I never received a response. Undeterred, I proceeded to write on my own blog about food, fashion, books, my dinner club or anything else I fancied. I discovered an interesting pattern. Within days of posting the link on Facebook to my blog a similar post would appear in the e-magazine. When it was 6 times in a row, I contacted the owner and informed her I was blocking her. My research indicates that she has been accused of this at least once before by another e-magazine. She is a very successful female entrepreneur.

At first I was pissed. I am a newbie! I offer you my services for free, and you steal from me? (She sold a lot of advertising on her site). There was nothing I could do about it. My husband said she was picking the low hanging fruit, and I needed to move on. I went to pound tennis balls and work off some anger and frustration. It occurred to me, as I envisioned her face on the balls as I crushed them, that I was looking at this completely wrong. My ideas were good enough for her to steal. This successful woman stole from little ol’ me! The light bulb went off in my head. My creativity wasn’t going to leave me, and I was just starting to understand this writing gig. The physical exertion had cleared my thinking and I was suddenly happy as I realized her theft confirmed what I was just beginning to realize – that I could do this. Writing interesting blog posts that people would want to read, that was just the beginning. Could I write a novel, a life-long goal? Well, I did.

That’s my story, friends. The important point is what does this mean to you? Do you keep track of your ideas? Do you have a way to store them, let them percolate, ‘see’ them? I think Pinterest is good for this. I love to play there. My ideas float with the dreams of others, mixing and cohabiting.

My desk.

I also love post-it notes. This is my actual desk. Actually, it is my dining room table functioning as a desk. It allows me to spread out a bit, and keeps inspirational things close by. It seems to work.

Here’s the Lois twist: have people stolen ideas from you? Yes? Good for you! Celebrate that you are a creative thinker, a thought leader. I have embraced the fact that a side comment by me becomes a blog post elsewhere. It’s ok. The idea that a one liner inspires the thought process of another writer should give one tremendous confidence. I have learned, however, to keep those ideas for the next novel to myself.

I am not talking here about the theft of manuscripts and books. That is heinous. And if someone is making money from your ideas, that is wrong. What I am talking about is recognizing that you possess what it takes to be a thought leader. That you can become someone others will follow and attempt to emulate. Don’t you want that? This is a natural form of promotion, and a great way to sell your novel.

That was your ego boost for today, a little snack to munch while you enjoy your cocktail. Revel in your creativity and let it take you where it will.

“The Axe” A Short Story by Rosanne Dingli

Friday, July 8th, 2011

As my readers know I am interested in all types of writing be it novels, newspaper, magazine, etc. Recently, I have been fortunate to come across the work of award-winning Australian author Rosanne Dingli. By the author’s permission I have printed one of her short stories, “The Axe”. I enjoyed it immensely and think you will, too. “The Axe” is part of a collection of short stories called “The Astronomer’s Pig”. Take a minute to savor how the story builds as you imagine yourself sharpening the axe. Slow down and allow yourself to follow the rhythm of the story. Maybe suck on a humbug or other candy. Roseanne generously includes a recipe after each and every story. I’m going to try this one for sure. Enjoy!

The Axe

Today I sharpened the axe. I found a grey stone at the hardware store, found out about using oil. Eager to try it, I sat in the long grass and poured a few drops of sewing machine oil onto the grey oblong. It darkened, and absorbed oil at once into a dulled porous surface.

The axe was heavy, unwieldy. I sat with it in my lap and rubbed the dull rusty blade across the stone, holding the edge at an angle I thought was right, and rubbed it slowly at first, then faster and more rhythmically. It was a while before I found a comfortable position, with the stone in one hand, then stroked it with a circular motion on the axe blade, making a marvellous noise one would expect from a mechanical grinding stone on a lathe. I turned circles, keeping up the momentum, the rhythm of the noise. Sharp shiny marks appeared on the blade. I imagined it was the noise that made the circular scratches.

In an hour, I had made a difference. I turned the axe over only once, concentrating on doing the same thorough job on the other side of the blade. The grinding noise filled the air about me. In another hour, I made a greater difference. I could slide a thumb gingerly on the honed edge and feel potential in its sharpness. Only my arm had moved.

A pair of turtledoves watched from the power-line, heads nodding in unison. They flew off at exactly the same time and returned to the same spot twice. One of them cooed, but I could not be sure which, because raising my eyes from the blade made me miss a beat. I did not want to re-address my rhythm, to get it started again. So I concentrated, thinking only of the circular motion and the fine grating noise, which was making a difference to the blade edge.

It was as if I were alone in the world, watched from a great distance by birds. The feeling of being watched grew. I nursed the sensation, cradling fancy until I could toss my head without losing the grinding rhythm. I imagined someone could see my hair move in the sun. Long grass hid me from the house and it was as if I did not share it with two other women. I thought of the night’s argument in front of the fire.

‘Too big,’ Mara had declared, looking from underneath slanting eyebrows at the huge log I had just put into the blaze. Corinne tucked her skirt around her hips. She cocked her head and we all knew she would agree with Mara. So she said nothing.

‘The axe is blunt.’ I said it softly, the last T hardly sounding in the room where loud crackles from the dry jarrah log filled the silence. ‘I can split, but I can’t chop.’

‘So buy another axe.’ Mara looked at Corinne for approval.

‘So buy another axe … ’ Corinne repeated. She looked at me and pretended to sip from an empty mug. I jumped up and made more coffee for all of us, thinking of the dent the price of a new axe would make in the kitty.

At the hardware store, we wandered separately, coming back to the counter with tightly clasped objects. Corinne and Mara held identical axes. I put the whetting stone on the counter and the man said its price. It was under a quarter of that of an axe. I won, but it was not before Mara had her final word. ‘You do the sharpening,’ she said.

Mara and Corinne stood on the back steps blinking into the orange sky that was this day’s sunset. They did not see me. Theirs were not the imaginary eyes I felt, tangible on my back. Theirs was not the gaze I invented, a gaze that tunnelled through the noise, through the cooing of turtledoves, to my rhythmic movement in the grass as I ground and ground at the axe blade. Theirs were high voices, uncurious stares. I heard them talk about me: about the stone and about the axe.

‘She’s still at it, I heard the grinding noise,’ one of them said.

I heard the swishing of skirts as they turned back into the house. There was the scent of baking bread, of simmering soup. They baked together: substantial Irish soda bread left a patina on the teeth. Its taste stayed not only on the tongue, but also on the mind. I thought of their bread, then of the night and burning slivers of log in the big hearth.

Eyes watched my arm move, and my hair shine in the grass. I wondered if the palpable stare would follow me when I went to the chopping block. I thought of a lean man swinging an axe high over his head and splitting a log with a girth thick as Mara’s waist. I closed my eyes and brought his image into the long grass.

Resuming the rhythmic circular sharpening, bringing the noise back to sharpen the axe, I drew a lean imaginary man into the last slant of sun from the sunset and he sat with me. His sleeves were rolled back and he crossed his legs and planted each elbow on a corresponding knee. He tilted his head and smiled at my closed eyes. I smiled at my own musings. I made believe he pulled a crumpled paper bag from a pocket and offered me a humbug. In my mouth, it was huge; the sweet taste of black and white mixing quickly with the solid thirst of the afternoon’s work.

‘Go on,’ said my lean man.

So I continued, sucking the sweet and turning my arm in an automatic motion to make the noise that would sharpen my axe. I thought of the man taking the axe and chopping neatly into huge logs behind the house.

The turtledoves had gone. I knew without opening my eyes. I heard the women’s voices in the house. I leaned over slightly to feel the arm of the man beside me in the long grass. But he was not there, of course. I had sucked the humbug until it was a tiny sliver under my tongue. I had dismissed him from my imagination. The sun had gone down.

When I stopped sharpening, I looked at the rectangular whetting stone. It was black. Shreds and specks of black littered my green skirt, bunched in my lap. Both my hands were black. I imagined my tongue being black, from sucking the striped sweet. I looked around, half expecting my imagined man to jump up as I did, from the bent and fragrant grass. Behind the house, I chose a large log and rolled it upright onto the block. I closed my eyes and heard the last laughs from the kookaburras that lived over in the park.

The man was there again. With rolled up sleeves and smelling of the grass, he moved in next to me. Together, we lifted the axe and with a heavy plunge and thud, fairly bisected the log. Whack. It worked. I looked at the sharp edge of the axe in excitement laced with disbelief. The man’s approval radiated and bounced against my chest, against my forearms and tightened on my wrists, where my pulse was now palpable.

After a pause, I walked into the house with a basketful of jarrah splinters. ‘It works,’ I said.        

Mara peeped over my shoulder at the wood. Corinne was stirring soup.

‘You smell of aniseed,’ one of them said.

I laughed. ‘A man came and sat next to me. He gave me a humbug. Look. My tongue is black.’

‘Your tongue is fine and pink. It’s your hands that are black. And your skirt!’ They both raised their eyes with impatience, as if they spoke to a child.

‘Do I really smell of aniseed?’ I was curious.

‘You must have sat on it. There is a clump growing in the long grass.’ Corinne lifted the ladle. Thick soup ran back into the pot.

I was hungry. A savage thirst clawed at my tongue and throat. ‘A man popped a sweet in my mouth and helped me chop the wood.’

Sure. Then he put his arm around you, kissed you soundly and sent you inside with the full basket, right?’ They laughed together.

In the hearth, the wood spat and crackled. Heat radiated and reached the leather bound books in the shelves around the walls.

‘It worked,’ I said again.

‘Yes, but you were out there all afternoon. Didn’t the noise set your teeth on edge? It’s a horrid grating noise.’

‘The axe got sharp.’

‘She likes it, Mara,’ said Corinne. ‘She likes strange things like weird noise. She listens to kookaburras.’ She sneered in her effort to keep Mara on her side.

‘And turtledoves,’ I added, piling fuel on the fire. ‘Two watched from the power line.’ I bent my head over my soup bowl and caught its aroma. ‘ … And the man wore a checked shirt with rolled up sleeves. He pulled a bag of sweets from … ’ I looked up just as they cocked eyebrows at each other.

‘Today I sharpened the axe.’ I addressed both of them – neither of them – and was full of satisfaction. They just looked at me.

The wood ran out just before eleven. We were all warm from sitting in the big sofa, knitting and reading, with the old quilt thrown over our three laps. Occasional flashes from traffic on the highway blinked past the curtains and blind. The soft blue whirling lights of a police car passed our corner twice.

I went out and shivered on the back steps. I would not recreate eyes to watch me this time. It was too dark for fanciful diversions. I reached blindly for the axe, which leaned against the side of the house, as I turned the corner near the pile of logs.

An arm came out and grabbed my waist. I heard breathing.

I gasped, but kept silent. Did I hear the soft rustle of a paper bag in a pocket? My eyes were wide open but everything was black except for a lighter patch of sky over the highway.

‘I need to chop some more wood,’ I said foolishly into the darkness.

The arm tightened round my waist. I could feel a rough cheek against mine, warm breath on my neck. I reached a tentative hand and felt a rolled-back sleeve. He did not talk. He breathed deeply, and a lean arm squeezed my waist. I pawed blindly for the axe.

‘Leave it.’ The voice grated, like a whetting stone. He whispered, out of breath. ‘Leave it. Don’t even think of the axe. Who’s in the house?’

‘M-mara and Corinne … They want … wood —’

‘They will get their wood.’ Then, ‘You smell of bread.’

‘Soda bread – they made it today.’

He took me by the wrists: both my hands in one of his big fists. In my mind, I felt a cold hard sweet being pushed into my mouth. In reality, my throat swelled and I nearly panicked. Then I was pressed down to sit on a log and suddenly the loud thwack of the axe biting into wood split the night. Again and again, the axe rained chopping sounds into the darkness while I mentally sucked a sweet, its taste running down my throat until it was a tiny particle.

His hands were suddenly under each of my arms. He lifted me bodily until I stood on the back step. His mouth covered mine and in the dark, I was kissed soundly. My surprise had hardly taken before I felt the wood basket being pushed into my arms. ‘Bring me some of that bread,’ he said.

‘And soup?’ I whispered, surprised at myself.

‘And soup.’

Today I sharpened the axe. I listened to the whetting stone’s noise, to the kookaburras and the turtledoves. I conjured a pair of eyes to watch me as I sat in the long grass, as I made that jarring grinding noise, making the blade sharp. I sucked sweets and ate soup and bread. I chopped wood behind the house and took it in to be burnt. I listened to Mara and Corinne talking while I knitted a few rows in my green jumper.

Today I sharpened the axe and carried food to a man in rolled up sleeves, who told me not to turn on the porch light and not to tell a soul I had seen him. Perhaps he knew that Mara and Corinne would turn him in. Perhaps he knew they noticed the police car going past twice.

I still smell of aniseed.

*

Rosanne Dingli is the author of The Astronomer’s Pig, the collection of food stories from which this story is taken. She has been connected to publishing in one way or another since 1985, and has also worked as a heraldic artist, travel consultant and cook. According to Luke and Death in Malta are her two novels, published by BeWrite Books. Read more about this author and her work at http://www.rosannedingli.com

Irish Soda Bread

6 cups flour

2 teaspoons sugar

2 & 1/3 cups buttermilk

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons corn starch

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a baking sheet and set aside. Take all dry ingredients and mix together. When blended well, slowly add buttermilk, kneading until a good dough forms. Separate into two sections and form into loaves on the baking sheet. Prove for 10 minutes. Take a knife and cut three lines across the top of the loaves, and bake immediately for 45 minutes.

You can find Roseanne’s books here