Inspiration Board

First of all, Happy Easter! I hope you all had a safe long weekend and didn’t eat too much chocolate 🙂

I’ve been in a bit if a slump lately and haven’t written anything for a couple of months. I’m hesitant to call it writer’s block, because I know I’ve written myself into a wall and haven’t planned this chapter very well. (See my post on this here)

So what do I do when this happens? I think about the scene and play with it in my mind until I have some sort of visual. I also find images help inspire me to get out of the slump.

Currently, Nika, Freyne, and their friends are in the Lorendian Desert, traveling across the Great Causeway. I have totally stuffed up the chapter, so I have been working on rewording parts to make it work. Instead, I have to scrap the entire chapter and start it again.

Here are some random photos I found online that have helped to spark the creative juices. This set includes different types of desert.

This set contains different stone bridges. The Causeway is one long raised bridge across the desert, with regular shelters to protect those who cross.

And of course, the Fens! The character who lives here is awesome, and I can’t wait to introduce you to him!

I’m also hung up on the name for one of my cities that my characters will soon be visiting. If you have any suggestions, leave it in the comments below!

Anywho, here’s hoping I can crawl out of my funk and get this finished in time for the June release!

Take care all <3

~AAC

What an Eventful Month

I thought I would share another quick update just so you know where I’m up to.

  • I’m still working on The Darkest Realm (thankyou to the person who has already pre-ordered a copy!).
  • I’ve plotted most of Between the Lines, I’m just figuring out the actual start of the story.
  • Podcast is getting loads of listens, I’m super impressed!
  • Participating in March on Soldier on Challenge to help raise money for Aussie veterans. I’m walking 96km during March which is the length of the Kokoda Trail. You can check it out HERE.
  • I’ve had a few tech issues with my iPad not syncing with Dropbox. I finally made the switch to a different cloud service until Microsoft fixes the Word apps, so here’s hoping I can get my productivity back on track!

It has been a crazy few weeks. Our car was written off (not our fault, thank god everyone is ok) which meant the stress of dealing with insurance and getting a new car. As of tomorrow we’ll have a nice Kia Cerato to hopefully last us a few years.

My mental health has not been good. I have PTSD from an accident just over 10 years ago, and although I wasn’t in this one, it did bring up a lot of painful memories, flashbacks and graphic imagery. PTSD sucks, and has its own stigma surrounding it. I have a great support system though, whom I love and appreciate. It’s ok to not be ok 💜

This week we are having a rain event here in Sydney / NSW, and today we are seeing lots of flooding in areas. The last time it flooded was in Feb 2020 – I posted about it HERE. During that time we had a visitor, Riley Tortopolous, who was washed up onto the road. Hubby brought him home, and I set him up in a quarantine tank to ensure he was unharmed. Once the flood waters receded, we released Riley back into his pond. I think of him often – such a gorgeous little guy!

Riley Tortopolous, a wild turtle who was rescued from the floods.
Riley Tortopolous

I have the next week and a bit off work, and hope to get some serious writing done. You’ve all been so patient, waiting for the next story, and I thank you so so much 💜

Now, I’m going to eat my pizza, and get some writing done!!

Much love,
~AAC

Where Do I Start?

One of the main questions I get asked by new writers is, “Where do I start?”
You have an amazing story idea in your head that you just KNOW is a best seller, and you’re dying to get it down on paper. But when you sit down at your laptop / computer / notebook, your brain freezes, and you have no idea how to proceed.

One of the first things to consider is whether you are a plotter or a pantser.

A plotter is someone who sits down first and plots out their story. You have a clear beginning, a middle and end, and each chapter mapped out. All you have to do then is sit down and actually write the story. This method is (in my opinion) important for genres such as sci-fi and fantasy where world building is a must. You need to know your backstory, your magic or tech systems, and if you’re a dick-head like me with characters over 1,000 years old, you need your timeline!

A pantser is someone who has an idea of the story, but sits down and just writes it as it comes to them. I used to be a pantser when I was younger, but as I started getting serious about fantasy, it ultimately led me to hitting a brick wall.

There is no right or wrong way. It is a topic that is debated amongst writers, but ultimately, we are all different, our brain processes all work in different ways. You do you.

Writing style alignments diagram.

What software or device should I use?

There are some great software packages out there that some writers swear by. Here are just a couple options to look at before you start.

Scrivener is popular as it allows you to organise characters, scenes, objects etc., but it does come with a price tag. It was primarily built for Mac, but it can be installed on Windows. It comes in at $77AUD, which might be out of some people’s budgets. I have never used it, but I have heard lots of people talking about it. Check out the website here.

yWriter is something I can only assume is similar to Scrivener. I dabbled with it for a while, and it is pretty cool, but I didn’t like that it’s not actually a word processor. I started organising my word count, characters and scenes, but after a while I grew tired of copy & pasting. But still, it’s free, so if you want something to help you stay organised, give it a crack. I do like this program, and will probably use it again in the future for a not-so-epic fantasy. Check it out here.

OpenOffice is a free package that is similar to Microsoft Office. This package by Apache is fantastic if you don’t have the luxury of Microsoft, but need something that is useful and powerful. I have used it many times over the years in workplaces and on spare PCs that didn’t have Microsoft. The UI is probably different, but it pretty much gets the job done. You can download it here.

Word is my go to. I am lucky enough to have a free subscription through my university, so I have the full package installed. This means I can log in on any of my devices and access my files instantly. I have my files stored in Dropbox, which means I can write some of my story on my laptop, save it, then go into the lounge room and open it on my iPad or phone and pick up where I left off. Good old Word is still (in my opinion) the most powerful word processor, and it will always be my go-to.

Dropbox? Why bother?

I am going to point out right now that you need to BACKUP YOUR WORK! At least once a week, I see writers have lost their entire book or collections due to catastrophic hard drive failure, fire, or theft. While I am still not 100% sold on cloud technology, I use Dropbox to keep up to date copies, plus I email myself my draft on occasion just in case. I also back up my work files to an external hard drive – this includes my book interior setup files, covers, artwork, and anything important. Some of these files are expensive, for example book covers, and if you lose them you may have to pay for a whole new one. So BACK UP YOUR WORK!

Ok, what now?

I’m not going to go into actually writing your book. That’s up to you. You will find that at first, your writing my be stiff and not flow as well as you’d like. Don’t worry. As you progress through your story, your writing will develop and you’ll get into the hang of things. Don’t do what I do and spend hours trying to edit one paragraph – if it doesn’t work, highlight it and move on. Eventually when you go back over it, you’ll be able to fix it up and make it amazing. Focus on getting that story written down, worry about fixing it up later.

I’ve finished my draft. How do I publish it?

There are a number of things you need to do from an admin perspective. Once you finish your manuscript, you need to go over it with a fine tooth comb and check that it’s ok. If using Word, do CTRL F and do searches for and and, to to, they they etc. Also do one for two spaces – you’ll be surprised how often we leave gaps in our work. When you are 100% sure it’s ready, it’s time to look for an editor.

Editors are expensive, but given the amount of hours they pour into our work, it is justified. However, it can be hard finding an editor within our budgets. I spent $200 on one on Fiverr, and that didn’t go so well. If you have read The Lowest Realm, you will see that first hand. I now have my amazing editor/ typo hunter going through it to prepare for a re-release.
You can ask around in writing groups or on Twitter, and most will edit 1,000 words for you so you can see how they work. But choose wisely. If you honestly think your writing is super good and doesn’t need an editor, skip this step for now. We’ll come back to it.

Beta Readers are like test readers. You may prefer to engage with betas before an editor, or after. I go with them before, so if there is a major issue, I can catch it before I waste the editor’s time. You can find betas on Facebook in dedicated groups, or on Twitter using the right hashtags. More recently, I’ve been working with readers who I have built up relationships with, so I get honest feedback from them.
Don’t ask your friends or family to do this! Friends and family think we are amazing, and no matter how crap our work might be, they will say it’s good. You need someone who will be honest and point out the plot holes and parts that don’t make sense.
This also brings me to another point: be prepared for negative feedback. You are a first time writer, not Stephen King, so be prepared to take on the feedback. This doesn’t mean all of it – I collate the feedback, then pick and choose which points I’ll change. I usually have around 3 betas, but the more the merrier.

Use these hashtags on Twitter to help find beta readers there.
Try some of these groups for recruiting betas. You will need to join the groups and abide by their rules.

If your beta readers point out some major issues, or even small ones, go back and fix them. Read your story again with fresh eyes, and make sure you’re happy with it. My number 1 hot top for this stage is to invest in a text to voice app, and spend time listening to your story. I use an app called Natural Reader (on my iPhone). It cost a few $$, but was totally worth the investment. I can catch any typos as they come through as weirdly pronounced words, and catch any double-typed words.

Once you have beta’d and edited, it’s time for a proofreader. Even if your typing is immaculate and you skipped the editor, I highly recommend you hire a proof reader. This is soooo important, a step I missed on my first book (hence why I’m doing it now). I have a friend who I hire for mine (whom I met on Twitter). You can find someone online or check out Fiverr, but make sure you vett them first and are sure you work well together. Be careful.

While you wait for your proofreader, it’s time to sort out admin and publishing options. I’m going to speed ahead and assume you are publishing ebook with Amazon, and paperbacks with IngramSpark. I don’t use LuLu or any of the others, but I highly recommend Ingram. Ingram (again, my opinion) are THE most professional self-pub option out there. Some writers don’t like the strict setup options, but if you want your books in the local bookstore, it’s the way to go. This is what you need:

  1. Your blurb. This thing is the most horrid thing to write, but you need to write it.
  2. ISBN. In Australia, buy them from Thomas Bowker. Get yourself a 10 pack, and DO NOT BUY THE BARCODES!
  3. Book cover design! I highly recommend thebookcoverdesigner for pre-made covers. You pick one you like, buy it, and the designer will work with you to add your title, blurb, etc. Check with them what attribution they will require (they should be credited on the copyright page of your book),
  4. Internal setup. If you are handy with inDesign, great! get yourself over to IS and download their file specs, and have your way with it. If not, you will need to hire someone to do it for you. There is so much to consider here, so check out this post for some design considerations. You can also contact me at my publishing page if you wish to hire me for this. The best way to contact me is via email. Once you have this file including your trim size, you can relay this information to your cover designer (along with your ISBN).
  5. Uploading files is where it might be a bit confusing. You need to create an account with IngramSpark and do your paperback there. DO NOT use their ebook conversion service, this was a $300 mistake I made. You will only upload your paperbacks here. Check to see if IS are running any promo codes at the time – sometimes they have free setup and/or free revising of files. There are enough video guides on doing this, I’m not going to post the how-to’s here. You will need to fill out tax forms and financial stuff too.
  6. For ebooks, you will need to create an account with Amazon KDP. There are lots of forms to fill out for tax purposes. I also recommend using a major bank account such as the Commonwealth so you are not charged transfer fees for royalties. Download the software called Kindle Create, and import your clean manuscript into the software. This will create your Kindle file for free. The file output is what you upload to KDP.

Congratulations! You’re now a published author.

The hard work doesn’t stop there. You will get some sales for the first month of publication, but after that, your sales will flatline. You will need to promote your work at all times to ensure people will see it. No matter how many times you post your links to your social media, your friends will rarely buy your work. You now have to start building your brand – you, as an author, are your brand (especially if you write under a pen name). You will need:

  1. Author website. Build it in WordPress and pay to upgrade to the $10 a month option (charged annually). This removes WordPress branding and gives you your own domain. The commercial option which I have for this website is closer to $300 a year so I can have my own web store.
  2. Social media. At minimum, Twitter, Facebook Page, and Instagram. Some writers have reported success on Tik-Tok, but that’s not for me. (Ok ok I have a Tik-Tok, but it will be used for booky-type vids and my maps.)
  3. Amazon Author Central profile. Make it here. This is tied in with your KDP account and is important to maintaining a professional image on Amazon.
  4. Jump on Goodreads and create a profile there as well. You will need to go to the author section and apply to be a Goodreads author. Once approved, you can then add your cover work and book details, so readers can find you and leave reviews. Hot tip: NEVER respond to reviews! It is poor etiquette and frowned upon in the community. Reviews are for the readers. You can use the feedback to improve your future work, but never confront a reader.

There is so much more I could say, but for now I think I have covered the basics. If you want to learn how to market your work and make money, you can find the group 20Booksto50k on Facebook. They have some amazing tips on there, but be sure to do the readings first.
Other groups worth joining:
Writers helping Writers
Fiction Writing
Writers group Australia
Australian Self Published Authors

And of course, make sure you follow me on Facebook, my blog, Twitter, everywhere. I’ll be making more guides on writing soon, so stay tuned for more! if you have ANY questions, please reply to this blog or shoot me off an email (or message me on FB or Twitter).

Final note of the day: You are NOT an aspiring writer. You ARE a writer! Remember that, always.

Much love,
AAC

New Podcast

Howdy!
I came across a new feature of WordPress that allows me to convert my posts into podcasts. This is so cool from an accessibility stand point. So now people can listen to a robot ramble on and on instead of having to read it!

To celebrate this awesome (new?) thing, I have converted chapter one of Beneath the Grandstand – for free! Click the play button below to listen.

20 Years On Amy-Alex Campbell

This is my little tribute to the victims who perished in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the twin towers, pentagon, and world trade center. In this blog I talked about my own experiences of seeing this unfold on TV. I was 16 years old, an Aussie child in Australia, and this event shock me to my core.  I will never forget. This episode is also available as a blog post: https://amyalexcampbell.com/2021/09/11/20-years-on/
  1. 20 Years On
  2. Dealing With Writer's Block
  3. #WRITEboyslove – a new Twitter game for writers and readers of man loves man!
  4. The Darkest Realm Is Finished!
  5. Fantasy Maps and Seasons

I’ll update my site to have its very own podcast page. Meanwhile, you can also subscribe to it on whichever platform you choose to listen on:

Breaker, Google Podcasts, RadioPublic, Anchor, and Spotify.

Much love,
AAC <3

Market Day!

Today was the big day!
I dragged my butt out of bed at 4:30am, packed Davo’s car, and we headed off to market. Thankfully the roads are somewhat abandoned at 5:30 in the morning, so we were making good time.
Until I sent us the wrong way and we ended up on the M4 motorway heading towards Penrith!!

Thankfully we were able to get off at Wallgrove rd and back track, and made it to the market with plenty of time to spare.

I was most impressed by how well this market is run. There were signs out already, directing us where to go, and the staff were most helpful and organised. In no time, we had our space and were able to set up. I hired a marquee just in case it rained, and soon had our little stall ready to rock.

We went a little QR code crazy seeing as they are cool again, then sat back and waited.

And waited.

Sadly, there wasn’t nearly as much foot traffic as usual. Of the 138 pre-booked sites, only 55 turned up. The threat of rain was enough to warn off most stall holders and even visitors, not to mention Covid. The day ended up being hot as buggery and not a drop of rain. It was lovely that a few people dropped in to say hi and have a chat, but sadly we didn’t get the chance to meet many others.

This occasion has been a great learning experience. We now know the busiest days of the year, and have agreed that we need more signage to help pull customers in. No one could see our bundle deals from the walkway, so we’re looking into big signs that say ‘Meet the Author’ and ‘Meet the Director’. We also want a sign to say ‘support independent artists’.

From the walkway, it looks bland and uninviting. Next time we’ll add some red sale signs, and announce who we are.

For those who are worried about planning events and having no one show: there is always a possibility that you won’t get a single visitor or sale. Take a friend with you and turn the whole thing into something positive. There is nothing wrong with not drawing a single customer; this means you now have valuable market research data, and can analyse it to better target your audience.

We learnt today that the two main demographics were mostly non-English speaking folk, who were there to buy antiques and bargains, not queer books and films. We came at the wrong time of the year and didn’t stand out enough.

I’ll be uploading some hot specials to my store over the next couple of days. so keep your eyes tuned and don’t miss out!

Much love,
~AAC

Upcoming Event!

Now that Covid restrictions are lessening here in Sydney, my film director friend and I have decided that it’s time to host a meet and greet. Due to Fair Day being cancelled this year, we’ve had to look outside the box for ideas.

We’ve decided to book a stall at the Blacktown Drive-in Market!

Sunday
February2021
Market Meet & GreetCome and meet local author Amy-Alex Campbell and film director Davo Hardy. Copies of their work will be available to purchase on the day. Cash or Card accepted. This event is free, however you will need to pay to enter the market.

To drive in: $2 per person or $5 per car.
To walk in: $1 per person.

For more info, click HERE.
6:30am – 2.30pmSkyline Drive, Blacktown

To visit the Facebook event page, click HERE.

Oh, Crap.

Hello!
Now that work has finally settled down into a quiet normalcy, I have more time, energy and brain power to get some writing done. I’m pleased to say I’ve just passed 15,000 words in The Darkest Realm 3.0, and it’s coming along rather well. Better than the previous two attempts, that is.

I am currently working on Chapter 6 of TDR 3.0. This chapter is set in the desert city of Sepheren, which obviously doesn’t have a lot of water. Those who have read The Lowest Realm would have noticed that the cities on Kia-Mor all have running water and plumbed latrines. There is enough flowing water for that luxury.

In the dry arid lands of the Lorendian Desert, though, water comes at a premium. The people draw it from wells that reach deep into the bowels of the earth. Therefore, when building this city, I realised I couldn’t have the usual plumbed loos. I also didn’t want to make this city a cliche desert city – I wanted something different, that draws the reader into a fascinating new land. I do feel that I need to mention the different latrines in this city, seeing as Nika is from our world and won’t appreciate the open Roman model loos.

This is where research gets a bit shit (pun intended). My searching today has been ancient toilet systems, and methods for wiping. Honestly, I wish I could bleach my eyes from some of the images I came across! I toyed with the idea of having the public latrines outside and letting the turds dry in the sun, but that clearly wasn’t an option.

A screenshot of Google search bar asking: Does poo lose its smell if it bakes in the sun?
Today’s Google search. Sorry, Mum.

I’ve decided that I’ll go with the above Roman style systems, only instead of the ick being washed away or manually removed, it will have a free drop into the desert gorge that the city is built on the edge of. ‘Wiping’ will be a cloth rag which can be cleaned afterwards in vinegar. There is no sharing of such rags, we don’t want to spread germs like in Ancient Rome.

I know this is a gross subject, but for writers, we often have to think of things like this in order to keep our writing realistic. Using the restroom is a natural and essential function of our bodies, and we don’t always have flushing toilets available. I for one will forever be grateful of our current technology of flushing loos, and the marvel that is toilet paper!!

Take care all.
Much Love,
~AAC 💜

I Made A List!

Listen on Spotify logo

I woke up this morning to find that I’d been tagged in a post on Twitter. After checking my notifications, I was chuffed to read that Beneath the Grandstand was one of Kyler Warhol’s Top 9 fave books of 2020!

Click HERE to see their Top 9 Books post.

Here is their original review of BtG:

Does the synopsis sound interesting? You have no idea of what awaits within these pages, let me tell you! This story is powerful, moving, sexy and cute, but also had me about to collapse more than once. The topics included make it heavy and darker than you may expect. I admit I had my doubts about it before and thought it would just a romanticized story of loss and trauma, but it’s healthy and cute AF.

Reading was painful, and I couldn’t stop more than a bit just to catch my breath and keep going. I couldn’t handle the need to know what would happen, how everything would end, while the characters made me fall in love with them. There is every single type of people you may expect, not only the good ones but also the jerks and the ones you wish you never get to know.

The author has a great style that puts a spell on you from page one. The descriptions, the emotions, the feelings, the insight you get into Cameron’s head, his problems, his very soul and core makes it impossible not to love him! I just wish the ending had been a bit different, because while I loved that plot twist (you will never see that coming, never!) it was left a bit on the air. Just a few loose ends that I didn’t catch that much.. That aside, you need to read this, people!

Reading Beneath the Grandstand, by Amy-Alex Campbell, was a big experience. It is filled with drama, cuteness, a bit of kink, but lots of humanity and understanding. You will see homeless people differently after you are done with this book, because it’s a merciless attack to every single thing you think you know about them. It may be a bit idealized, if you ask me, but with an undenyable power.

For full post visit: https://kylerbwarhol.blogspot.com/2020/11/book-review-beneath-grandstand.html?m=1&zx=d89ce4f5897d5996

I just wanted to say a big thank you to Kyler for both the review and the tag. Reviews are so important for indie authors, and each honest review is greatly appreciated 💜

Much love,

AAC 💜

A Year on… From Flames to Rain

Listen on Spotify logo

Seeing all my friends post their wrap-ups on 2020 on Facebook has put me in a somewhat reflective mood. Along with posting my own goals and achievements, I’ve been looking back at this time last year.

One of the photos that jumped out at me was a photo of my nephew and his cousin, both decorating a cupcake at a Lions Club stall. There are several bowls of sugary decorations and icing, that any of the kids can put their hand in, not to mention lack of social distancing. There are kids from different families, all just mingling and having fun. The virus was nothing but a news mention at that time.

Another thing that prompted my reminiscing was a comment I wrote in last year’s notes for work. Over the last couple of weeks (last year), we were facing a thick, choking, blanket of toxic smoke here in Sydney. The smoke was coming into the shopping center where I work, and was making me feel sick.

I vividly remember calling center management and telling them about the smoke. I told them I was feeling ill and my customers were complaining. I also made a call to my company’s health and safety team and let them know. After around an hour, the smoke finally cleared. I presume center management eventually turned on the exhaust fans. Seriously though, I never should have been forced to make that call.

Funny thing to add here. Yesterday, a year after that disaster, I received a memo stating an upgrade to those very fans will be taking place over the next few weeks. I guess it’s the old prepper saying: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

I went through my photos from December 2019, and found some of the ones I took of the smoke. Earlier, I went outside and recreated those images so you can see the stark differences. Last year we had smoke, heat, and bushfires, this year we have clearer air and rain.

Below, we have 2019 vs 2020. The images are 100% unedited – note the lack of birds and the sepia tones – this is how everything looked. Now, the air is clear and the birds are back with a vengeance.

We had bushfires, covid, lockdown, more covid, and in some areas, floods. Overseas, we’ve seen volcanoes, earthquakes, cyclones, explosions, conflict, and uncontrolled spread of covid. To say in the very least, it has been a challenging year for humanity.

Many people believe that 2021 will be the end of all that misery, but I for one will reserve judgment until I see improvement with my own eyes. It will be a long time until the vaccine has been tested enough to be deemed safe – as in for those on complicated and strong medications that haven’t been tested whether or not will clash with the vaccine.

It will be an even longer time until there is a cure for covid.

2021 is just another year, which will bring in a new set of challenges that we must face together. Maybe this will be the year of the mighty bin chickens becoming our bird overlords.

On that note, may 2021 be your year. Make it the year you want it to be. Be kind, be positive, and let’s all make the world a slightly better place. Together.

Much love,

AAC 💜

A Christmas Story

‘Twas six more sleeps before Santa arrived, to distribute all the material objects that seem to make children so happy. The shopping centers were filled with frantic folk, doing the last of their Christmas shopping, and buying up as much toilet paper as they could. Another Covid cluster, growing by the day, had people nervous and on edge.

For some, work is over for the year, granting them two weeks off to enjoy the season and their families. For those in retail, though, shit is just about to hit the fan. The last few days, with extended opening hours and more and more stressed customers, was less amusing than a boil in the butt crack. You see, while Christmas is magical and blessed for some people, for those behind the register, it’s a nightmare. Retail sucks what little magic is left from the soul, and leaves one feeling both exhausted and resentful.

This year was no exception. With the news of the fresh cluster and borders being slammed shut, she knew she would not get her one Christmas wish. For all she wanted this year was to see her family, to hug her parents and rekindle her love of the occasion.

Each and every day, she would hear customers’ plans for Christmas. Most of them were grumbles about seeing family and having to cook, or grumbles for going to so-and-so’s for Christmas day. Very few people seem to appreciate their family; for them, Christmas is about giving and receiving gifts, and eating a big meal. Whatever happened to the true – non-religious version – spirit of Christmas?

She found herself pondering daily. Is retail really worth it? Is slogging one’s guts out for the company’s shareholders really that rewarding, when the only day we get off is Christmas day? Where’s our magical Christmas?

Thankfully, not all customers were horrible. There in Western Sydney, she was used to serving people from different cultures and religious backgrounds. With a smile, she remembered fondly a conversation she had with a customer a few years back.

“My family and I moved here from India a few years ago. While we still celebrate our cultural holidays and traditions, I make it a rule in my household to also celebrate Australian holidays and traditions. This is our home now, so we must become a part of the community. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

Meanwhile, an older couple, perhaps in their seventies, walked into the store. She watched as the man gazed around in arrogant wonder, before glancing at her behind the register.

“It’s so good to hear Christmas carols playing in a store!” This man looked as though he wanted a pat on the back.

“To be honest, the same three albums on loop are tedious after a day or two. The same songs every few hours. I wish could blend them with some other music.” She sighed.

“No, it’s good to hear the carols. Every other store is too afraid to offend anyone!!” He proclaimed.

She stared at him.

She looked across at the Muslim lady wearing a full covering, humming along to ‘Jingle Bell Rock’.

She looked at the Indian family picking out Secret Santa gifts.

She looked at the Bangladesh lady struggling to read a sign to determine what on earth the item was in her hands.

She looked back at the arrogant old white man before her, and stared at him blankly.

With a start of realisation, he turned around in a huff and dragged his wife from the store. Like, seriously?!

Before she could even shake her head at the stupidity of the man, the Bangladeshi lady approached the counter. She could not speak English, but made hand gestures to indicate that she wanted to know if the item was for boy or girl.

“This one for boy, it’s a lunch box. $24.95, after discount, $19.95.” She tried the explain.

The woman stared, the words clearly meaningless. Her eyes reflected her confusion, the dimness of misunderstanding within.

“Buy this one. Ten dollar. Better gift for boy,” she offered instead, pointing at a more appropriate gift. She could see that the woman was still confused, but smiled and nodded.

The woman paid and managed a thank-you.

There. Was it really so hard to be nice to people from other countries?

The next person in line looked purposefully at the other woman leaving, then plonked their items on the counter.

“How did you know that gift was more appropriate than the one she brought up to the counter?” They asked curiously. “I don’t mean this in a racist way, but I couldn’t understand her at all.”

“Mate. I have been in retail for 18 years. This is a kid’s store, so:

“A. She’s here for a kid’s gift. This brand is well known all over the world, even in her country. So she knows she’s in the right store.

“B. When you have been doing this job as long as I have, you learn the international sign language that indicates boy, girl, roughly how old they are, and so on. She was shopping for six year old boy for his birthday, but wasn’t sure if that lunchbox was right. She thought it was a pencil case, so I suggested a more suitable option.

“C. She may not speak English, but we were still able to communicate. Just because we don’t speak the same language, it doesn’t mean she’s stupid and can be taken advantage of. I treated her just as I would treat any other customer.”

“You can really tell all of that just by a few hand gestures?” The customer looked awed.

“Yep. Just like I can see that you are buying for a boy and girl, presumably around 5 or 6 years of age.”

“Oh wow, you’re good!”

“In that case, I have these balls here on special for $4 each. They are so much fun, you should get them one each. They’ll love playing with them.” Her eyes glinted mischievously.

“Oh ok, sure thing.”

The customer paid for their goods, and she packed them in two separate bags and handed them over with the receipt. The customer was oblivious to her sly upsell technique; anyone who works retail knows about KPIs an such.

“There you go. Have a Merry Christmas, and make sure you spread the kindness around. The world needs as much kindness as possible right now. Bye bye.”

As the customer left, she leant on her elbows on the counter and stared out of the doorway. Sure, Christmas sucked for her, but she would not be grumpy about it and spread bitterness amongst her customers. She knew that her own attitude, and the way she treats others, has the potential to make or break someone’s day. The least she could do was serve them with a smile, and give them the best experience possible. Maybe, just maybe, she could be the magic that gives someone a very special, merry, Christmas.