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You may have seen my brief post yesterday about the Awesome Indie Authors launch party. If not, you can find it here:

I put the post up just before bed, having exhausted myself with the lethal combination of a 6K run, a hot bath, a big meal and a glass of wine, and as a result I didn’t really take the time to explain about AIA or the launch party. If you’re familiar with all of that, scroll down for a link to some fun flash fiction, and the longer version of my entry.

Basically, the idea behind AIA is that independently published novels have a bad reputation with a lot of people. And it’s hardly surprising – there are huge numbers of indie books out there, and some are them are utterly awful. Some, however, are just as good as their traditionally published rivals. Awesome Indies tries to track down and promote these self-published works.  I was delighted to come across Awesome Indies a couple of months ago, and even more delighted to have Oxford Blood and Screaming Spires listed on the site. 

This week, the website is having its official launch. As I mentioned yesterday, many of the books (Oxford Blood included) are reduced to 99c (around 77p if you’re English like me) so it’s a great opportunity to pick up some quality books at a cheap price.

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As well as the offer though,  the site has got various fun things going on. Today, the authors were invited to watch a great video of a piano playing dog and then write a very short story about what he was up to. You can see the video and check out the entries here

Much as I love working on The Cavaliers, it was great fun to stretch my imagination and write something else for a change. My original story was about three times too long and I had to cut it down for the official blog, but I’ve copied the full version below.

WHY IS THE DOG PLAYING THE PIANO?

There had been a time when everyone had said that Thomas was the greatest piano player the world had ever known. He’d responded in the same way when the compliments came from professors of music at the finest universities as when they came from awe-struck pretty girls at his recitals: a modest smile, a shake of his head. Inside though, he’d thought they were all entirely correct, maybe even not going far enough.

Ever since he’d been tall enough to reach the keys, he’d improved on the natural gifts he’d inherited from his parents with hours of practise and a ruthless perfectionism. As he’d grown older and the performance requests  had come flooding in, he’d agonised over choosing the perfect songs for each occasion and rehearsed until his performance was flawless.

As time passed, however, he’d slowly begun to realise something : most people could tell the difference between a bad player and a good one, but not between the good and the great. He could sacrifice some of his rehearsal time for an evening with one of his adoring fans and the cheers would be just as loud at the next show.

By the time he was invited to play at Baron Jackson’s 50th birthday party, he’d grown utterly complacent. He’d heard strange stories about the Baron, but he didn’t concern himself with rumours, and Jackson seemed like a pleasant enough man. He was certainly visibly delighted to have Thomas on the bill.

Thomas had been invited to spend the weekend at the Baron’s estate to settle in and familiarise himself with the castle’s antique piano and the acoustics of the great hall. Instead, he’d spent the weekend familiarising himself with the castle’s vintage wine collection and the sounds of the Baron’s more attractive guests. The night of the performance, he had been over-drunk and under-rehearsed, but it hadn’t worried him in the slightest. Neither the expectant, noble crowd nor the imposing grandeur of the hall could dint his confidence. He’d sat down and he’d played well. Not brilliantly, but undoubtedly well. The hall erupted in applause. Every person in the room was delighted. Or at least, everyone but the Baron.  Jackson sat there in stony silence, then dismissed him with a wave of his hand.

Feeling suddenly nervous, Thomas had returned to his palatial room. Clearly, the Baron had a more discerning ear than he’d credited him with. When the Baron knocked in the early hours, Thomas had been  expecting a dressing down, perhaps even to be dismissed from the castle without pay. What he hadn’t expected was for the Baron to take place a hand on his shoulder in a fatherly manner. His words had been permanently engraved on Thomas’ mind ever since.

“You have natural talents and you are squandering them because you don’t have to try hard to play tolerably well. But I didn’t hire you to play tolerably well; I hired you because I heard you were the best. I’m afraid I’m going to make it rather harder for you to play, force you to re-learn the virtues of patience, practise and dedication.”

For a moment, Thomas had thought he was going to cut off one of his hands or break some fingers. Once again, he thought of the strange stories he’d heard about the Baron. Instead, Jackson had touched his forehead to Thomas’ and everything had gone dark.

He’d awoken to find himself like this. Stumpy paws, unwieldly claws and an inability to sit properly or to stand on two legs. But his human mind was intact, as was his innate understanding of music.

The Baron had stroked his fur in an amused manner. “You’ll be treated perfectly well, I promise. Your own quarters, plentiful human food and a free run of the castle and its grounds. All I ask in return is that you practise. I dare say you’ll find it rather harder than you’ve been used to, but with your natural talents and your perfect ear, I have no doubt that with enough dedication to your craft, you’ll be playing better than most men before too long. I expect you to perform last night’s repertoire at my next birthday and I expect you to meet my standards. If you do, I’ll give you your body back. If you fail, we’ll keep trying until you get it right.”

That was three months ago, and in the weeks since, he’d practised harder than he ever had in his life, harder even than  as a child under his virtuoso father’s watchful eye. He was getting better each day. Everyone said he played astonishingly well for a small dog. But he was horribly conscious that it would be a long time before they said he played well for a man, still longer before anyone would claim he was the best piano player the world had ever known.

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