Ever wondered where dust comes from?

Inspired by a really bad find when I was replacing my old open bookcases with lovely new closed-back ones…

Kicking up a Dust

‘Oh, do come on! You’re messing about like there’s no tomorrow.’

‘Well, there isn’t.’

Bevli rolled her eyes.

‘It’s a saying, alright? she retorted.

‘Why do you say it then? You sound like one of the Big Ones.’

‘Now look here, Shaz—’

‘I’m Staz. She’s Shaz,’ the younger one pointed to an even smaller figure who was gyrating round the kitchen.

‘Well, you look the same to me.’

Staz drew himself up to his full eight-millimetre height.

‘I’m a him, she’s a her,’ he said, his voice full of offence. ‘And we work as a team. We’ve been doing this for two hundred years and know what we’re doing.’ To reinforce his point, he extended a skinny arm and threw a handful of tiny specks up into the air. They curved in a cloud with a tail, then separated, drifting down and scattering over the red tile floor. ‘See?’ he said.

‘Alright, alright,’ Bevli conceded. ‘You scatter well. But we’d better get on. We have five more rooms to do before sunrise.’

Bevli formed up her little troop of dustites into a loose group and ushered it towards the main living room. She sighed. This was a bigger house than their previous one and she’d had to accept some new members after the Great Disaster. And they’d had to make a long journey to get here. It had taken five of the Big Ones’ years. The major had assured her that it would be an easy billet and he trusted her to weld her group into a cohesive force. Their work was essential to the universe and absolutely essential to keep the Big Ones on their toes.

Bevli sighed again. All well and good for him to say that but these latest Big Ones had such massive weapons of strength that nobody had seen before. Her teams had learnt to run and hide from the big sucker that had taken all the eastern cohorts that time several decades ago. Now they cleared their personnel from any area a good hour before any of the Big Ones arrived. The next night they worked extra hard to leave a double coating.

‘Where shall we start, please, Miss Bevli?’ Shaz asked. Bevli peered at the little figure and thought that as the dustite was polite it had to be Shaz rather than the stroppy Staz. Bevli studied the room. It wasn’t in too bad a state. A film of dust covered most wood surfaces including the crossbars on the dining table and chairs by the window.

‘You hop up onto the window sills in the bay and start there. If you get a bit on the curtains it will be a bonus. They’re velvet and dust should stick nicely. Bit awkward they’re still open, but do your best.’

Shaz trotted off, with a hop and a skip on the way. Bevli thought she heard her humming a tune. Oh, well, nothing like a happy worker. And the moonlight flooding through the windows made such a difference. You could see exactly where to lay the dust and watch it sparkle as it fell. Staz was concentrating on the mantelpiece then jumped onto the television. Two others were tackling an old-fashioned sideboard. Bevli smiled to herself. Maybe the major was right. No Big One had lived here for a whole year since the last one had died so their dust was hardly disturbed as the days passed.

‘Scuse me, Bevli, but there’s a delegation from the spiders wants to talk to the dustite-in-charge.’ Hadlit, her deputy, broke into her nightdreaming.

‘Oh. Thanks, Hadlit. I hope it’s not one of those giant ones again. Frightened the life out of me.’

‘Yeah, something ten times bigger than you don’t make you very comfortable.’ He grinned at her. ‘But that last one turned out to be a dead softie, lisp an’ all.’

‘I know. Well, wheel him in.’

The arachnid was small, brown, with hair thin legs. She – Bevli was sure it was a she – danced towards them as if on tip-toe.

‘Greetings,’ the spider trilled and blinked.

‘Hello,’ replied Bevli, trying not to show how disconcerted she was by such a show of six eyes reflecting moonlight. ‘What can I do for you?’

‘There’s a few of us would like to move in, spin some webs and  hang out here. We wondered if you’d be okay with that?’

‘Thought you lot didn’t live in groups,’ Hadlit said and glanced at Bevli.

‘Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t,’ came the enigmatic answer.

‘As long as you don’t get in our way,’ Bevli said, not knowing which eye to look at.

‘Nah, you won’t know we’re here,’ the little brown spider said and shrugged all eight shoulders. She waved a leg in the air. ‘See ya, then.’ She turned and scuttled off leaving Bevli staring after her.

‘Blimey, she’s an odd one,’ Hadlit said. ‘They’re usually a lot snottier than that.’

‘Perhaps they’re a rebel collective or something,’ Bevli answered. ‘Keep an eye on them, please, Hadlit and let me know if anything disturbing happens.’

He nodded and marched off in the direction of the staircase taking another two dustites with him. Bevli looked round and spotted Staz lying down on the tabletop.

‘Shift yourself, young dustite,’ she said. ‘There’s all upstairs to do. No time to lie down on the job.’

‘But nobody’s been here to clean. Why should we keep laying dust on top of what’s there?’

‘First, because I tell you to. Second, the thicker the layer the better.’

‘But no Big One will come and live here again.’ Staz half-closed his eyes and gave her a challenging look. ‘They’re all dying.’

‘Oh, you’re now on the inside circle of news, are you?’ Bevli couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of her voice. ‘We made that mistake in 1348. They didn’t all die out. Only about a third of them. And look how many of them there were at the end of the second millennium!’

Staz sat up.

‘Was you there? In the Black Death?’

‘I was very young then, barely out of the shell,’ Bevli replied. ‘My dad said they knew better in the Roman times with the Antonine plagues. He and his mates had a great time, he used to say.’

‘Respect,’ Staz said. He glanced at her, then jumped down. ‘I’ll go and start upstairs.’

Bevli groaned inwardly. The young ones were so naive.


Rattling. A tinkle of glass. Bevli sat up abruptly in her corner behind the tall clock in the hallway. The sound of the door opening – the front door. She peered out from under the plinth of the tall clock. The thump of boots. Great dust motes in the sky! Big Ones. Boots, smallish feet, and a second pair half the size. It was a female and a youngling. The boots stayed still then after a minute, moved forward. Bevli shifted to the side of the clock plinth.

Clouds! They’d left footprints across the parquet flooring, crushing the layer of dust so carefully laid by her team. She went to follow them when an intense beam of sunlight shot through the hole left by the broken pane in the front door.

Bevli dived back under the safety of the clock plinth. She trembled. That was a near one. She was always warning inexperienced dustites about the sunlight burning them to a crisp and had tragically seen it happen to others. Now she’d been almost caught herself like a beginner. Idiot! She’d have to leave the Big Ones to wreak havoc now and they’d all have to work twice as hard overnight.

Bevli roused herself as soon as it was dark and went on a scouting trip. Her heart sank. The hallway and stairs had been swept, the youngling’s room was clean and the kitchen floor gleaming. Curse the female Big One. Well, she’d soon find out that dust could not be defeated. They’d been scattering for over a million years and they’d do it for the next million.

‘Bad is it?’ Hadlit. His voice was sympathetic. He must have realised how frustrated she was.

‘Not tragic. But we’ll have to look sharp. Can you get three of the agile ones to find any hair the Big Ones have dropped so we can make some really substantial dust-bunnies?’

Hadlit chuckled. ‘Going for the heavy stuff, eh?’

They worked tirelessly throughout the night, adding extra layers on the bookcases and sideboard. Exhausted herself, Bevli congratulated the wilting troop and sent them off to a well-deserved rest. The next night they had to do the same.

For Bevli, it became a battle of wills.


A week later, Bevli woke at the same time and went to check the cleaning devastation in the kitchen. She slipped through the gap under the door, but stopped when she saw the female Big One sitting at the little table. Strange – the woman was normally in bed by now. But she sat there, head in her hands, sobbing. Her tears were falling onto the oilcloth covering the table. Bevli thought a dustite would be stunned and then drown in one of those great lumps of water. But the Big One’s shoulders were jerking up and down in time with the tears. Bevli couldn’t remember such open distress for a long, long time.

‘Oh, God,’ sobbed the woman. ‘Why did we come here? I thought me and Jim would find a place to be safe. But it’s a bloody rubbish tip.’ She stood up  and fetched herself a glass of water. Bevli stretched her neck and looked up to see tears streaming down the woman’s face. Poor thing. The major said a lot of the Big Ones were fleeing from a plague and taking over empty houses. This female  must be one of them. It was a solid house and plenty of room for her and the youngling. So why was she so upset?

‘I’m so tired of running. If only I could get this place clean. God knows how it gets so dusty each night.’

She sat down at the table again and started to cry again, but more softly. The kitchen door swished open, knocking Bevli off her feet. The youngling stood in the doorway. His eyes were gummy and half-closed.

‘Mum? Where were you? Why are you crying?’

‘Oh, Jim.’ She pulled herself up and hugged him. Bevli could see the child’s white face. Could do with a good meal, she thought. She watched as he clambered up on to the mother’s lap and laid his head on her chest.

‘Don’t cry, Mum. I’ll help, Mum.’

‘You can’t, Jim. You must rest.’

‘What are we going to do, then? You said we wouldn’t go travelling no more.’

‘I don’t know. Perhaps it would have been better if we’d died like Dad.’

Bevli watched as they both wept. Great motes, they were in a right state, this pair. Needed a bit of perking up. She was thinking so hard that she hardly noticed Hadlit arrive at her side.

‘You alright, Bevli?’

‘Oh, hello ,Hadlit. Just watching the Big Ones. I think we have to do something for them.’

‘Have you fallen over and hit your head?

‘No, I’m fine, but—’

‘What?’ His eyes narrowed. ‘You’re not going soft, are you? Our job is to keep them busy and out of as much mischief as we can. We wouldn’t exist otherwise.’

She batted the back of her hand against him, but lightly.

‘I know that, you daft thing. But suppose, just for once, we didn’t scatter? Would the world really end?’


(Originally written for Helen Hollick’s blog series Ten Minute Tales)

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Distraction in the time of plague, or can you still write?

Lockdown sucks.

But you’d think as writers we’d glory in all this time. We don’t have to go out, nobody calls, the television is dull, dull, dull. We can’t run (generally pointless) errands, waste time drinking too much caffeine in coffee shops, or even go gallivanting off to literary events.

On that last, two of my events have been cancelled ☹️ and I’m spending ages getting flight and train refunds. All in hand now I’m happy to report.

So I should be able to get cracking on my new book. It’s like a mini NaNoWriMo when writers buckle down to write 50,000 words in a month.

Er, no. This isn’t happening.

My take is that we are all living in uncertainty, a rupture from normal and we don’t have a clue how or when we are going to come out of it. Humans are VERY risk averse and this ‘plague’ is high risk, stealthy and without a known cure or vaccine as yet. We are also separated, sometimes brutally, from our friends and family. Not interacting with anybody apart from the stressed-out food shop cashier is daunting, even alienating. We can’t shake somebody’s hand, kiss their cheek or hug them – very awkward and normally very impolite in France.

However tough, steady and balanced we usually are, we find ourselves behaving a little strangely – home-baking, mopping the floor every day, sorting bookshelves, doing the filing and other more physical or mundane things. Apparently, its underlying stress and it’s making us tetchy and tired.

And I for one feel guilty that I’m not producing much.

So what can we do about it?

  1. Stop beating ourselves up about our reactions – it’s normal to feel out of kilter when this kind of event happens over which we have no control whatsoever. And you are definitely not alone!
  2. Think of all the things you do have – technology can at least keep you in touch with people. Okay, Skype, or Zoom or Teamworks are nothing like being in a roomful of people, but they help.
  3. Rather than try to be super-creative, revise old pieces of work you meant to develop further – that writing exercise you did on a course, a short story that didn’t get placed in a competition, a dodgy scene in your current novel draft.
  4. Although we can’t get to bookshops, you can fill your ereader or iPad electronically. Apart from a heap of new fiction, I’ve been reading a lot of background stuff for my next novel. Yes, I know the fall of the Roman Empire isn’t for everybody, but I find it quite relaxing. Believe you me, we’re living in paradise in comparison with the late fourth and early fifth centuries!
  5. Watch films. If you feel guilty, you can tell yourself you’re researching plot structure and narrative thrust…
  6. If you have an email list, send a special newsletter and if you can, include a free short story. It doesn’t have to be a new one, but your readers might welcome a distraction.
  7. If you can, make a book temporarily free. As a “special” during this time of lockdown and to support #readingathome and #escapistbooks, I’m making INCEPTIO, the first of Carina’s adventures, free for a little while.  Amazon     Apple    B&N Nook    Kobo
  8. Don’t try to do stuff that is ‘worthy’ out of guilt, but try to have some kind of objective for each day, however small. Keeping to some kind of routine gives you structure and an element of control.
  9. Look ahead and make a list of things to do post-lockdown. They can be as simple as a coffee or glass of wine with a friend, or wandering round the shopping centre, clambering over a Roman ruin 😉 or a world trip. That last one might be difficult for a while, though.

Some pleasures to look forward to afterwards

Essentially, don’t force creativity unless you have a desperately near deadline. Just try to do a little every day, even 3-400 words, or just a double-spaced page and it will start to mount up.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

At last! The paperback 'Writing Buddy' is out!

Order it from Amazon print, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Waterstones Online or through your local independent bookshop
Back in In 2011, I approached Sarah Berry, the founding editor of The Deux-Sèvres Monthly, the English language magazine covering everything that could interest the English speaker living in my part of rural France.

I offered her a column on writing and publishing as I wanted to pass on to other writers things I’d learnt since becoming a full-time writer. After a while, I had created fifty articles of bite-size information and advice. People were contacting Sarah about back copies as they wanted to re-read the articles.

With Sarah’s blessing, I compiled 25 of them into the first version of The 500 Word Writing Buddy, now updated to include 10 additional articles. Although I had some paper copies printed locally, I hadn’t got round to producing a paperback version for wider distribution on the standard retail sites.

Now I have! 😉 And it’s published today!

What’s in it?
This edition  covers five areas: writing your book; genres; you, the writer; publishing your book; and selling your book. Each section includes references for further reading and there is a useful contacts list at the back.

Why the title?
The column The Deux-Sèvres Monthly was, and is, around 500 words; hence the title of this book. Each chapter is a ‘quick ’n’ dirty’ introduction to each topic and intended to trigger further reading.

Alison with Sarah Berry

I was delighted by the reaction to the first edition especially when writers come and chat to me at events. There is nothing like getting together with other ‘scribblers’.

My thanks to editor Sarah for her support and to my critique partner Denise Barnes for her eagle-eyed checking.

Published by Pulcheria Press 9 April 2020
ISBN 9791097310264

Sarah now runs the successful and much acclaimed SBO web design consultancy.



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Debbie Young – 'Linguam latinam disco'

I’m delighted to welcome Debbie Young back to my writing blog, especially on subjects dear to my heart – Latin and learning languages! Debbie writes funny, feel-good fiction set in the English Cotswolds, where she’s lived for nearly 30 years. Her latest novel, Murder Your Darlings, the sixth Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, has fun with another branch of the classics, when Sophie, armed with a copy of Homer’s Odyssey and a Greek phrase book, joins a writers’ retreat on a small Greek island off Ithaca. Murder Your Darlings is now available in paperback and as an ebook in all the popular ereading formats.

Until recently Debbie was the commissioning editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors’ prestigious blog and is a general  independent fiction champion.

Over to Debbie…

No, linguam latinam disco isn’t a new dance craze – it’s evidence of my new hobby. “Disco” is Latin for “I learn”. Who knew? Not me, until this year, when I started learning more about this fascinating language that gave so much to my native tongue, English. If you’re wondering why I’m currently learning Latin at my age, blame Alison Morton! (Oops!)

In 2013, when Alison published INCEPTIO, the first in her Roma Nova series, and used a Latin word as its title, she planted a seed of regret in my mind that I’d never continued the Latin lessons I began at school. After taking evening classes in holiday Greek, (I spent a lot of time island-hopping in the Ionian,) I was enjoying recognising the Greek roots of English words. Surely Latin would offer similar rewards? Albeit it without the sun-kissed sailing trips.

I knew, like Greek, that Latin needn’t be difficult. In my teens, as a pupil at a girls’ grammar school in London, I’d expected Latin to be difficult, because we’d been streamed for our choice of a second language after the compulsory French. Although ostensibly invited to choose Latin, German or Spanish, it soon became clear that the more academic were directed into Latin, regardless of their preference. What I didn’t expect was that it would be fun and funky.

The first phrase we learnt was “Salve, Magistra!” to greet our teacher, Miss Dowding, as she entered the classroom. This sweet, gentle lady exuded an old-fashioned air, but her teaching resources proved bang up to date when she handed out funky-coloured illustrated pamphlets instead of conventional text books –tangerine for the first course (well, this was the 1970s), azure for the second, emerald green for the third.

Rowan Atkinson a shoo-in for the role of Caecilius if it ever goes to Hollywood?

The brand-new Cambridge Latin Course was hailed by academics as revolutionary. Never mind grammar, they plunged us straight into story, with a high ratio of illustration to text. The narrative, though simple, smacked of reality, detailing the daily life of one Lucus Caecilius Iucundus, an actual citizen of Pompeii. Maybe knowing that Caecilius was about to buried under Vesuvius’s deadly ash was meant to add to a sense of excitement and urgency to our studies. Quick, learn the language before the volcano blows!

However, Caecilius was still alive and kicking when we parted company prematurely. At the end of my second year of Latin, my family moved from London to Frankfurt, where I joined Frankfurt International School, whose language curriculum was restricted to English, French and German. (I took all three.)

Over sixty nationalities were represented on the school roll, with dozens of native languages between them, but sadly not a single Roma Novan, although I think Roma Nova’s diplomats’ children would have been right at home in this European banking capital. (Ita vero!)

The only exercise my Latin had at FIS was on a history field trip, where I stunned my teacher, a native New Yorker, by casually translating the inscription on an ancient Roman arch.

Only recently did I find a way to fit Latin studies into my busy life, when my teenage daughter introduced me to the free Duolingo online app. She’d been using it to maintain her GCSE French, and to learn Italian, German and Gaelic (her father’s Scottish) from scratch. Other options include Esperanto, Klingon and whatever it is they speak in The Game of Thrones.

The little green owl, Duo, makes learning languages feel like an online game. Duolingo is highly addictive, its league table bringing out my competitive streak.  The lessons are short and simple, although the phrases taught are sometimes not the obvious ones you might need to get around ancient Rome.

Drunken parrots and dirty weasels feature frequently. For more bizarre examples of unlikely phrases in all its languages, follow the Twitter account @shitduosays, which makes me weep with laughter. (One of my favourites – Alison)

Fun as Duolingo is, I was still hankering after something more formal, so on a whim, I looked up my old school texts online, hoping a vintage books stockist might have one tucked away gathering dust. To my surprise, nearly fifty years since its launch, the Cambridge Latin Course is currently Amazon UK’s bestselling Latin book! It has become a classic. And that makes me feel about as ancient as a Roman.

Even more remarkably, when I posted about this discovery online, a friend alerted me to an episode of Doctor Who, set in Pompeii in its final days, featuring – you’ve guessed it – Caecilius and friends. Enjoy it on Netflix or sample the episode on YouTube

Now I’m finding opportunities to use my growing knowledge of Latin on an almost daily basis, whether understanding the origin of an English word for the first time, glad to know why phrases such as caveat emptor mean what they do, rather than just taking it on trust, or hearing Latin words and phrases on television programmes such as Upstart Crow, in which snobbish Robert Greene mocks Shakespeare for his lack of a classical education. (See Series 1, episode 6, from 1m43secs in for a prime example) 

I’m also discovering more Latin books to help me expand my knowledge, such as a beautiful hardback copy of Cicero’s Orations, stumbled upon in the Bookbarn. The Latin text has a parallel English translation, with alternate lines in original Latin and English translation throughout. An idea for a future foreign language edition of Alison Morton’s Roma Nova novels, perhaps?

Bring it on, I say! Or rather, quaeso, scriptor!

(Forsan et haec olim facere juvabit Debora!)


Connect with Debbie:
Website: www.authordebbieyoung.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorDebbieYoung
Twitter: www.twitter.com/DebbieYoungBN
Instagram: www.instagram.com/DebbieYoungAuthor

The ebook of the first Sophie Sayers adventure, Best Murder in Show, is currently free to download.


Read Debbie’s latest book

When Sophie Sayers joins a writers’ retreat on a secluded Greek island, she’s hoping to find inspiration and perhaps a little adventure. Away from her rural English comfort zone, she also takes stock of her relationship with her boyfriend Hector.

But scarcely has the writing course begun when bestselling romantic novelist Marina Milanese disappears on a solo excursion to an old windmill. First on the scene, Sophie is prime suspect for Marina’s murder. When a storm prevents the Greek police from landing on the island to investigate, Sophie must try to solve the crime herself – not easy, when everyone at the retreat has a motive.

As she strives to uncover the truth about Marina’s fate, Sophie arrives at a life-changing decision about her own future.


Buy Murder Your Darlings:
Download the ebook for any ereader: https://books2read.com/u/mZKZDJ
Order ebook or paperback via Amazon: viewbook.at/MYD


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Is doing your highlights in time of crisis important?

Hair highlights kitWe are scared. We feel unsafe. Our routine is shot. Our friends are distant. We can’t hug our children, parents or friends who live in other houses. No trips to the restaurant, pub or club. Not even a quick coffee with a friend before getting on a train to a meeting or show. And research trips and conferences are off. We won’t even be able to see our first grandchild (due early May) in the UK until it’s all over.

Gods, it’s dismal, isn’t it?

Which begs the question: why did I put a packet of hair colourant in my trolley when I ventured out for an authorised foray to buy food in the supermarket? The cashier gave me an odd look when I placed it on the conveyor belt at the checkout among the apples, courgettes, chocolate and loo roll. She didn’t say anything; she looked too tired to care much, poor soul.

Yes, we all want to present our best side to the world, but who is seeing us now part from during the odd Zoom or Skype session? And relatives and true friends won’t care if your roots are showing.

Some theories

The lipstick effect is the theory that when facing an economic crisis consumers will be more willing to buy less costly luxury goods. Instead of buying expensive designer clothing, for example, people will buy expensive lipstick. The underlying assumption is that consumers will buy some level of luxury goods even if there is a crisis, but goods that have less impact on their pockets. People may not afford a holiday in exclusive resorts, but they can still manage a night out at an affordable place.

Well, a packet of hair dye is definitely cheaper than a visit to the hairdresser, however pleasant the hairdressing experience is. But mine shut two weeks ago with the lockdown, so it was Hobson’s choice. I’m pretty sure he’s going to tut when he sees the results…

Data collected by Kline & Company, a market-research group, showed that lipstick sales sometimes increase during times of economic distress, but have also been known to grow during periods of prosperity. In other words, there is no clear correlation with that particular product.

In a 2012 study by four university researchers, the effect is attributed to evolutionary psychology: “This effect is driven by women’s desire to attract mates with resources and depends on the perceived mate attraction function served by these products. In addition to showing how and why economic recessions influence women’s desire for beauty products, this research provides novel insights into women’s mating psychology, consumer behavior, and the relationship between the two. … Although the lipstick effect has garnered some anecdotal lore, the present research suggests that women’s spending on beauty products may be the third indicator of economic recessions—an indicator that may be rooted in our ancestral psychology.

Hm, so they think it’s a ‘lizard brain’ reaction to attract the best mates when the species is threatened with extinction.

In a 2017 Guardian article, Toby Clark at Mintel reported that in the last downturn home baking goods sold well, even though it can be more expensive to make a cake at home. “In many ways, home baking is a luxury purchase but you don’t just get cakes” Clark added. “You get an experience, the satisfaction of making something and family time. Even if you spend more than you would on a tray bake from the local supermarket you feel you get more bang for your buck.

Alison after having done her highlights

Post highlights at home

So it seems we are not only looking for reassurance that we can still access the little extras of our previous way of life and in a way ‘deny’ the harsher time we now live in, but also that some aspects of our normal life will continue, including our self-presentation and self-image.

The lizard brain is in full steam, instinctively pushing to prioritise our attractiveness to others so they will like us and protect us.

And even though we have to buy sugar, flour, fat, eggs, etc. perhaps baking cakes also reassures us in two ways: harking back to safer times when we created something earlier in our life in the kitchen with mother, and feeling the nostalgic wartime spirit of our parents.

Me and the hair dye?

Probably a combination of all of the above, a wish to cheer myself up plus a dollop of vanity.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.