It seems ironic that the part of my country I most want to visit – Cornwall – is the part I haven’t been able to fully explore with Claire. I have an idea of all the places she’s been to with the boys – St Michael’s Mount, St Ives, Penanze – but the month of November slipped away from me and Claire needs to be back in Dorset for December’s volume.
The Two-Hundred Steps Home story has developed a languid pace to it which I quite enjoy, although I imagine if you read the volumes without realising how and why they were written it must feel like some 18th Century epistolary novel. A Tristram Shandy or a Clarissa. Stories where they got paid by the word. Unfortunately I need to try and increase the pace and the conflict if I want to get Claire’s journey to a satisfactory ending.
It’s going to be hard to step up the story to have a climax by New Year, though, particularly as I don’t know what that showdown will be. Thankfully, I’m pretty certain it will only be a hiatus until I find the time and energy to write the next, full length installment. I thought I’d be sick of Claire after 332 days, but I feel her journey hasn’t finished yet. In the meantime the Muse is still hiding her cards as to what the end of December will look like. I guess I’ll have to wait and see like everyone else!
On the logistical side, I tried to set December’s volume up for preorder, in case they aren’t taking submissions over the holidays (and to get into the Affiliates earlier as apparently they stop around mid December, and November’s volume is only just arriving at Affiliate sites) but unfortunately you can’t set up a preorder for a free novel. While I will probably stop giving the books away free from January (so I can load them all to kindle, if nothing else) it goes against the aim of the 2013 Challenge to have one of the volumes not free on release.
I feel surprisingly sad, now my crazy challenge is coming to a close, even though it’s been impossibly hard at times. I’ll miss Claire and dropping in on her every day. Maybe I’ll put the plan to finish Class Act on a back burner and start that sequel on January 1st. But, shhh, don’t tell my husband. Poor soul I think he’s looking forward to getting his wife back. He might have to have Claire instead.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
“Did you know this place was pretty much built by a single woman?” Claire said, fanning herself with her hand against the heat of the day. As she looked around the theatre she was blown away by the immensity of Rowena Cade’s achievement.
“It looks like it was built by the Romans or the Greeks.” Jack said. “We did the Romans at school last year. Did a woman really build this? Why?”
Claire laughed. “I have no idea. Because she could. Because it’s a beautiful location? Why don’t we buy a guide book and find out?”
Looking round, she suddenly realised she couldn’t see Alex, and her mind went blank. “Where’s your brother?” Jack shook his head, to indicate he had no idea. Claire scanned the terraces beneath them, searching for the familiar face in the milling crowd of people, all waiting until the last minute to sit on the stone seats for the performance.
Behind them, the terraces climbed up steeply, and Claire felt her head spin as she looked frantically round. The wispy clouds scudding overhead seemed to make the cluster of stone pillars loom towards her, as if they might fall and crush her. Dragging her gaze away, she span full circle, ignoring the beauty of the scene in her search for her nephew.
Damn you, child, where are you?
Then she spied him, threading his way through the throng. She inhaled, ready to yell at him for disappearing, when she noticed that he was carrying something. In his hands were three cardboard cups, and he had something else tucked under his arm.
“Sorry it took so long, the queue was a nightmare.” Alex offered a cup to Claire without meeting her eyes. “I went to get you a coffee. I thought you might like one, even though it’s been so hot. I didn’t think they’d let me buy wine.” He passed a cup to his brother and, before Claire could remonstrate, he added quickly, “I got me and Jack hot chocolate. And I got a programme. We’ve done some opera at school, but I don’t know Marriage of Figaro.”
Claire felt her jaw drop as she looked at her normally surly nephew. He’d made an effort that evening, putting on a clean polo shirt and smart, dark jeans. He looked older than his twelve years and Claire felt a swell of pride build inside, even though she could take no credit for the raising of this bundle of contradictions.
Robert and Francesca must have done something right.
“Thank you for the coffee, Alex, that was very thoughtful.” He flushed under her attention, and she turned away to conceal a smile.
Jack rifled through the programme, reading out details of how the theatre had been built up year after year.
A real labour of love, Claire mused, wondering what it might be like to have that kind of dedication to something. I guess at least you’d never be bored.
“You should have asked Conor to come,” Alex said suddenly, as he sipped his drink. Claire searched his face for any hint of ridicule or taunting but his expression appeared guileless.
“It’s a long way to come to go to the opera.” Claire said in a level voice.
“He could have flown down, I saw a sign for the airport on the way here.”
Claire wondered how to explain that not everyone had their father’s ready cash and that most people had to save up all year to afford even a cheap vacation.
“Besides,” Alex continued before Claire had managed to frame a suitable answer, “It would have been nice to say goodbye. I like him.”
Claire tried not to dwell on the unwelcome thought that her realisation had come too late.
Claire shifted in an attempt to relieve the numbness in her bottom. Beneath her the performers were taking a bow, to fervent applause. The sun had dropped below the horizon and the sea glowed opalescent blue behind the stage. A single yacht drifted in the bay, white against the dark embracing arm of the cliffs in the distance.
A cool breeze blew in from the sea, and Claire sensed the collective sigh of the closely packed audience, as the clapping died away. The weather had been hot all week and, even outside, she felt sticky and uncomfortable.
“Well, boys,” she said, as the audience began to stir, “what did you think?” She looked at their faces in the dusk, trying to work out if they had enjoyed it or were being polite. They all stood, glad to stretch their legs, and retrieved their cushions, ready to return them.
“It was amazing.”
Claire turned at the sound of Alex’s voice. “I didn’t really follow the story all that much, but the singing was cool.” Then, as if embarrassed at his candour, he hung his head and slouched off along the aisle to the exit.