How Many Heads?

How many viewpoints in a novel?

How many viewpoints in a novel?

When you’re reading a modern third-person limited perspective novel (he said, she said from inside a single character’s head – see this great post for an explanation on narrative modes in literature) how many heads are acceptable?

When I first wrote Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, which is written from two key protagonists’ perspectives, I switched from head to head without thinking about it, and would quite often jump into the head of minor characters. Strictly speaking that’s nearer third person omniscient, without that irritating ‘know-it-all-ness’ of an Eighteenth Century narrator.

I didn’t give it much thought, until a Beta Reader pointed out that head-hopping within a scene can be confusing and is generally avoided, and that it wasn’t a good idea to see inside the head of minor as well as major characters. It came as a surprise, because I didn’t really think about it as I wrote – the almost-omniscient style seems to be my default.

That probably reflects the literature I read: authors like Georgette Heyer, who write in what I suppose to be omniscient third person. Even though Heyer spends most of the time following one person’s viewpoint, she’s happy to hop into the thoughts of anyone relevant to explain the scene. Even though I’ve studied the theory and know the principles I still struggle when I write (and even when I read) to always know the difference. I read this great article today that helps to explain it.

That’s why Dragon Wraiths was refreshing – in first-person-present you only know what the main character sees, hears and feels. It adds other challenges to do with character development and so on, but you don’t have to worry about head-hopping.

Class Act Cover

Class Act Cover

I’ve just been through my first draft of Class Act and, like Baby Blues, it’s littered with head-hopping. That’s fine, I can fix that. But, also like Baby Blues, some of my favourite writing is inside the heads of secondary characters. I cut it all out in Baby Blues but now I’m wondering if that was entirely necessary. Maybe it’s just my voice, my style. Maybe I tend more towards multi-voice perspective or omniscient than tight third person (sticking to one head). Maybe I should embrace it rather than fix it.

I say this only because I’ve just finished The Radleys by Matt Haig and it reads like a soap opera script, seen from everyone’s perspective. I have to admit it added to my enjoyment of the novel rather than detracting from it. (Possibly because I love omniscient authors like Heyer.)

Now Haig is a much more experienced and talented writer than I am, and my execution is bound to fall a long way short, but that’s no reason not to try.

So, my question is, if you were reading a novel that took you on a brief trip inside the mind of the mum or the best friend, would that confuse or irritate you? I guess until I finish my revisions and send it out to Beta readers I won’t know. Here’s an example scene to show what I mean.

Daphne looked up, and her smile was like the sun rising over the horizon. She put the tapestry aside and rose to her feet, holding both hands out in greeting. Alex took two paces forwards and enveloped her in a bear hug, her scent infusing the space between them, bringing with it all the comfort and memories of childhood. He hadn’t been home for weeks, not since he’d started rehearsing the play, even though it wasn’t that far away. He felt terrible, but his mother of all people understood his need to carve his own way in the world, away from Sidderton.

“Alex, darling, how lovely to see you,” she said as she finally released him from the embrace. “Sit down. Does your grandfather know you’re here yet?”

“No, I came to see you first, of course.”

“You mean you crept around the side like a naughty school boy?”

His smile made him look every inch as she’d described him. “Maybe. I need to ask for something and I thought I’d ask your advice about the best approach.”

“You need money? I thought you’d got a handsome settlement when you left your last place of employment? Didn’t you talk of share options?”

“I don’t need money, and as if I’d ask Grandfather if I did! He’d roast me alive. No, it’s more complicated than that.”

“Then it’s about a girl. Have you got someone in trouble?”

“Mother!” Alex was genuinely shocked. “What do you think of me? Firstly, no, I haven’t got some poor girl pregnant. Secondly, this is the twenty-first century, not Downton Abbey. We don’t buy the servants and wenches off with money these days you know.” His tone was ironic and gently chiding. Sometimes he thought living here at the hall had confused his mother into believing they lived in the eighteenth century.

“You are partly right though,” he continued, “it is about a girl.”

“I thought you had decided girls were all fortune hunters out to ensnare you? Has one managed to catch you?” She looked worried, and he laid a hand on hers to reassure her.

“Well, I suppose I have been snared, but not for my fortune. She doesn’t know anything about it.”

“What do you mean? Does she think we are one of those impoverished families who spend every penny on their crumbling manor?”

Alex thought about the immaculate interior of Sidderton Hall – Mother had been an interior designer before she married – and laughed. The laughter lit his handsome face from within, like the sun breaking suddenly from behind storm clouds. Then the clouds drew across the light again, as he realised his charade was no laughing matter. He had to think of a way to make Rebecca love him despite his background. He had to get to the bottom of her dislike of the landed gentry – there had to be more to it than a few idiots being rude to their gardener. That was for another day. He was here to help her build her future, whether that included him or not. Acts of altruism were not part of his general make up, and he found he quite liked the sensation.

Daphne sat patiently whilst these thoughts played out across her son’s even features. She was used to her son’s internal dialogue and knew he would present his conclusions when he was ready. He shifted his position on the ancient and battered leather sofa that dominated the family room and she knew he was ready to speak.

“I need to get grandfather to agree to sell the old hay barn down in the south east corner.”

Whatever Daphne was expecting, it wasn’t that. She spoke aloud her first thought.

“No Sidderton has ever sold one inch of the estate, not even when they faced bankruptcy”.

Alex laughed suddenly as she said it. She gave him a bewildered look and he clarified: “That’s what the estate manager said to me, and I thought the same recently when I was talking with Rebecca about buying property. It must be a mantra that we’ve all been brainwashed with.”

“What makes you think you’ll convince grandfather otherwise, when you know it is so much against the family way?”

“Because I have to,” his voice was urgent, “Because it’s important. Just because that’s the way something has always been doesn’t mean that’s the way it always has to be. Because I want to help the woman I love, and – if I’m really lucky and dig myself out of the huge hole I’m in – it won’t be out of the family for long.” His words came out in a rush, as if to explain it all to his mother suddenly seemed both difficult and vital.

In limited third person the entire scene should be either from Alex’s or Daphne’s perspective, or there should be a scene break when it hops from Alex’s to Daphne’s head. But, to me, the scene works fine as it is. Maybe it’s the subject matter: there is an air of Heyer, or of nineteenth-century romance, about the novel. Should I have the same consistent voice across all my novels or is it permissible to shift it according to the needs of the novel. Answers on a postcard, please… 🙂

I Want to be a Dog

I want to be a dog

I want to be a dog

Today I envied my dog. She spent most of a rainy morning curled up in her bed or laid out on the sofa. The kids fed her biscuits and she even got her walk when hubbie got home. But mostly she slept, unmolested and alone.

I envied her because I am sick. Again. I’m not even sure I actually got over the last cold; they seem to have merged into one long month of misery.

After getting up and putting two bowls of dry cereal on the sofa and Cbeebies on the TV I crawled back to bed and tried to stay there. It lasted until hubbie left for work, when the calls of “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!” came up the stairs.

When that failed, the thunderous sound of approaching children thumped up the stairs in time with my headache, followed by voices too loud and too high, and hugs too short and demanding.

I got up, showered and struggled downstairs, only for them to disappear off to play happily by themselves for half an hour. Kids! It’s been like that all day. Like vultures circling a dying animal, the children seem to know when I’m at my weakest and dive in with claw and beak. They squabbled and fought, over toys, over me. They were mean to each other, provoking tantrums left and right. Such a change from my gold star Mummy day yesterday.

The worst part? Apart from opening my Class Act manuscript and realising it’s a pile of poo? The worst part is they go back to school/nursery tomorrow. My first day alone in nearly three weeks and I’m sick. Not even sure how I’ll manage the school run. Sigh. Never mind. As always in the blog universe, there are plenty of other Mummies sharing my pain. My favourite two posts from today are these:

Vanilla Housewife Lethargic Mama

Scary Mommy Finding Me

Enjoy.

Papier Mache and Puddles

Papier Mache Craft

Papier Mache Craft

We were stuck home today, as the car is in the garage, so I decided to introduce the kids to the concept of papier-mache. I must be mad!

Actually it’s a great craft for kids, involving all their favourite things – tearing paper, getting sticky, making a mess and creating something.

I researched making the paste and found a great website called DLTK’s Crafts for Kids, which had lots of hints and tips. I opted for the cooked papier-mache paste, adding salt (which apparently helps prevent mould) and cinnamon (to improve the smell).

So my ‘recipe’ was 1 part flour to 5 parts water (although mine was probably closer to 4 parts water, as my saucepan was too small) with a bit of salt and cinnamon. Bring to the boil and simmer for three minutes. I had to whisk it to make it smooth and it went pretty solid in the tray as we used it, but still worked fine.

Making papier-mache balloons

Making papier-mache balloons

When I did papier-mache as a child I always used long strips of newspaper, so that’s what I had the kids doing. But then I saw on another website called firstpalette, (where we went because of their penguin idea), the idea of using squares of paper and actually that would have been much easier.

The firstpalette website also suggested using different colours so you can distinguish between layers. The best I could do was separate coloured strips of newspaper from the plain text and, again, that worked quite well.

I’ve hung the papered balloons in the playroom, which has no heat source when the sun goes down, so I suspect it might take a week for them to dry. So much for painting them tomorrow! This might be a craft for the summer rather than the winter. I have to say, though, the kids did brilliantly. I patched up the holes where the balloons were still visible, while the children were in the bath, but they’d done a great job of getting the paper flat and in a criss-crossed pattern.

Braving the wind

Braving the wind

In the afternoon I dragged them out to walk the dog, against strong protest, particularly from my daughter. We almost failed at the first hurdle when I realised hubbie had left my son’s boots and waterproof in a wet puddle in the garage from their walk yesterday. Luckily I had my daughter’s old waterproof and boots so, with two little ones dressed head to toe in pink, we ventured out into the gales and up the hill.

They had a great time, wading through puddles and getting stuck in the mud. Even though the wind was strong enough to blow us over, and it was pretty chilly, they didn’t complain at all. Maybe our dream of taking them up Snowdon this summer might not be completely foolish.

I take a gold star for me, too, because I dread taking the kids out in bad weather, in case I end up having to carry one of them home. I love hiking but I’m not a huge fan of wind (I find the constant buffering more irritating than rain, snow or heat) so it took effort to be seen to be enjoying every minute of our walk.

In fact I take a few gold stars for today, with the craft and the games and the healthy food and for getting through four loads of washing and some ironing. I lose a few, too, for getting a bit shouty towards tea-time, but that’s just restoring balance to the world. All in all it was a nice way to spend our penultimate day of the holidays. I’m still looking forward to them going back to school, though!

Start as You Mean to Go On

The final cover for Two-Hundred Steps Home The Complete Journey

The final cover for Two-Hundred Steps Home The Complete Journey

There’s nothing like starting the year as you mean to go on! Publishing a book on Amazon on day four of the year, even if it is one I wrote last year, and one that probably should be proofread first, feels good. You can find it here: Two-Hundred Steps Home: The Complete Journey.

I have added the disclaimers and hopefully no one will buy it and trash me for finding the odd inconsistency or typo (of which I’m sure there are plenty). I am fixing the typos as they’re discovered (thank you hubbie, and anyone else letting me know about them) but a writing challenge is a writing challenge: I didn’t set out to write a Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel in 2013, just a novel that people might enjoy reading. Which, from the reviews I’ve had, it seems they did.

My only dilemma now is whether to take down the first volume from Amazon. It gets the occasional sale, but when you search for ‘Two-Hundred Steps Home’ it presents both books as versions of the same work, even though they have different ASIN numbers. Ah well. A small dilemma.

I’m also enjoying my new resolution to read more, both books and blogs, and write more comments (although I’m not sure I’m keeping up with that target quite as I should. I still feel jetlagged from holiday, illness and Claire!)

I’m reading The Radleys by Matt Haig at present and really enjoying it. I won’t divulge anything about the story, as I’ll write a review post when I’ve finished it. What I am enjoying is how Matt Haig breaks the rules in his writing: there is plenty of head-hopping and change of perspective. I think there’s even a change from writing in the past to the present tense, but I’m trying not to analyse, just get swept up in the story. It might be hard to write a review without spoilers, which I hate, so I’ll have to give that some thought. Maybe read some reviews on other blogs and see how it’s done. What’s your view on reviews? Spoilers or no spoilers? Where do you draw the line?

The Voices Talk to Me

The reason I ignore the voices

The reason I ignore the voices

Back when I lived in Manchester, in a house of seven working professionals, we used to go to the local pub quiz on a Sunday evening. I’m utterly rubbish at general knowledge and was there to make up the numbers, although I did answer the odd random question like “When was the Salvation Army formed?” (not that I know why I knew it, or can bring the answer to mind now.)

We started out calling ourselves The Dolphin Friendly Tuna Fish Sandwiches but that was too much of a mouthful so we changed our team name to The Voices, in honour of one of our housemates’ favourite t-shirts which said, “You’re just jealous because the voices talk to me.”

What’s the reason for this rambling recollection? Right now, the voices are definitely talking to me. My head seems to be full of them. So much so that I wrote the following, at 5am this morning.

It’s part truth, part fiction, as much of what gets written at that time in the morning is. Particularly after a night of waking every hour stressing over something read just before bedtime. But it is a little window into my pre-morning psyche. Scary.

The voices have been chattering and pontificating in my head like a room full of inebriated dinner guests. I hate the voices, I wish they’d bugger off home and leave me in silence. I know they are what push me to write, to try and make sense of the noise, but they also drive me crazy.

One voice has spent the last twelve hours saying “I don’t want to live anymore.” It gets shouted down with drunken cries of “Nonsense, you’re just saying that for effect, for attention” and “Think of your beautiful family, you can’t leave them behind.”

Another charming soul has been regurgitating an article I read at bedtime, via the Kristen Lamb blog post on bullying, about how we can be affected by the experiences of our grandparents. I don’t pretend to understand the science, but the loudmouthed git in the corner is delighting in repeating all the bits about how stress in childhood causes children to grow up to be bad parents. So I’m continuing the cycle of generations of parents specialising in towering indifference and vicious temper. Lovely. As if I needed any more reasons to feel guilty.

The debating voices should allow for reason, but they don’t. There are so many of them there’s no perspective. Like my own experience, as a child and an adult, of trying to have an opinion that I can’t quite articulate and being laughed at or talked down to by my family and friends. If I don’t know how to be heard in my own head, what hope have I got in the world?

I want the voices all to finish their drinks and sod off before the lone voice that thinks permanent silent might be preferable stops trying to be taken seriously and takes action.

That’s as much as I wrote, before a small child climbed into bed and I had to put down my phone. Cuddling a sleepy son, his toy dog and plastic snowman, gives perspective in a way that the voices in my head never can. There’s something grounding about a small boy farting and then giggling in the darkness. And, now I’ve bought the kids some super-soft tiger onesies, they’re like giant teddy bears. (They’re also driving us nuts and we can’t wait til they go back to school, but that’s normal, right?)

Mummy and Daughter Day

Felt animals with buttons

Felt animals with buttons

Today I got to spend time just with my daughter, as the nursery opens earlier than school (thank goodness!) Normally one-on-one time with my daughter doesn’t go so well, because we are quite similar and therefore fall out pretty easily. But today we seemed to be on the same page.

It might have helped that we started with shopping, after I finally returned a faulty Christmas gift. She got to pick out ideas for her birthday present, buy an electric blue skirt in the sale and then choose a new dress for her party. I even managed to stay in River Island for fifteen minutes without once saying “I wish they’d turn that damn music down!” (Although I might have mentioned how much nicer it was in H&M, where the music was set to ‘ambient’ rather than ‘Friday Night Disco’.)

Using a magazine for ideas

Using a magazine for ideas

We failed to find shoes mutually acceptable party shoes in her size, but I did relent on the tiger onesie, even though they only had size 4-5 left and she’ll outgrow it in weeks. That was largely because I wanted to get one for my son! They have tails and ears and are sooooo soft. (I want one!)

After that we tried to go to a soft play centre, which turned out to be closed, so ended up in McD for a promised treat. I’d agreed to have a kids’ meal too, so I could get my son a toy as well, and the lovely lady went through and let us choose which toy. I have to confess, much as I hate to like a huge conglomerate like McD, they offer lovely service, and games and colouring to entertain energetic children while tired parents drink nice coffee and surf the free WiFi.

Magazine weaving

Magazine weaving

This afternoon has been all about craft and learning to sew and weave, as we worked our way through my daughter’s magazine of ideas. I think she’d be better off learning from my mum, who is a whizz at sewing and knitting, and I dearly wish hubbie’s mum was still with us, as she was an extremely talented dressmaker by all accounts. Still, I have the rudiments I learned in Home Ec classes, and we managed to sew buttons on our owl and butterfly without too much bloodshed.

The woven magazine basket was a clever idea, even if it’s probably held together more with sticky tape than skill. At last something to use up all the half-read magazines in the drawer! The craft would have continued, but all my energy and patience was depleted, so now we’re sitting together on the sofa while she learns phonics on one ipad and I write this on the other.

It’s been an encouraging day. My daughter is wonderful, caring and kind, but also bossy, demanding and thoughtless. We fight more than we are friends and I often worry what our relationship will be like as she grows older. I don’t have many close friends or family members and I long for the kind of mother-daughter relationship where we can shop and have a giggle together. Today we came a tentative step closer.

Formatting and Designing Covers (Again)

A possible cover for THSH the complete story

A possible cover for THSH the complete story

I spent today doing what I love best (ahem), formatting and editing a word document ready for uploading to Smashwords and Amazon. It frustrated me from the beginning of my 2013 writing challenge that I wasn’t able to put the Two-Hundred Steps Home volumes onto Amazon, because they don’t allow permanently free books.

It has therefore always been my intention to combine the twelve volumes into one book to put on Amazon. The dilemma is whether to spend time proofreading and checking for continuity errors and risk getting sucked into doing a full edit (which is not something I intend to get dragged into). Hubbie argues that the original instalments shouldn’t be altered (apart from fixing obvious typos as and when I see them or am told about them) as that was the purpose of the challenge: to write a first draft novel and publish as-is.

My compromise has been to put a short introduction at the beginning to explain the challenge. Writing that is also proving tricky: this is my first attempt:

Two-Hundred Steps Home was written during 2013 in daily instalments on Amanda Martin’s writermummy blog. She wanted to see if it was possible to write the first draft of a novel and publish it every day, much as a Nineteenth-Century Dickens novel might have been published.

Throughout a long year, with hours of painstaking research into the hostels and tourist attractions of UK and New Zealand, and with the endless support of her family, Amanda followed Claire on a journey of discovery from her life as a Marketing Director to someone searching for meaning on the beaches of Cornwall.

Unsure in the beginning whether she would complete her challenge, Amanda continued day by day because of the faithful followers on her blog. And so, 285,000 words, 365 posts and 12 novellas later, Claire’s journey reached the end.

This volume contains all 365 instalments, unedited and exactly as they appeared on the writermummy blog

One of the covers I'm considering

One of the covers I’m considering

It’s a work in progress! As is the front cover. After carefully choosing an image to fit with the theme of each volume, month on month, it has been impossible to come up with an image that sums up the whole of Claire’s journey. These are the two I’m playing with at the moment but I’m not entirely satisfied with either.

What I’d really love to do is have a proper cover designed by someone that knows what they’re doing, rather than me with some istockphoto images and Adobe Photoshop. But, again, it doesn’t fit in with the original challenge of doing it all myself and, besides, I can’t afford it!

When I think about it too much, I feel I should hold back on getting out a complete volume. Part of me wants to get something live this week, so I can get back to the proper job of writing when the children go back to school next week, while the rest of me knows that rushing into any self-publishing breaks all the rules and risks damaging an author’s reputation. But then so does writing a novel in chunks at 2am and publishing the first draft. However, 6,000 downloads later, it doesn’t seem to have done too badly.

My only other point of indecision is whether to call it “Two-Hundred Steps Home Volumes 1-12” or “The Complete Journey” to separate it from the individual volumes but also make clear it isn’t a sequel! I can write fast, but not that fast! 🙂 Ah well, knowing me I’ll make an impulsive decision at midnight and you’ll see something live shortly after. If no one buys it, I’ll come up with a Plan B.

Terry Pratchett: Fact and Fantasy

Snuff - About Dickensian London

Dodger – About Dickensian London

Those of you who regularly follow this blog will know that I don’t generally write book reviews. In fact I subscribe to the view that it’s very difficult for a writer to review a book as a reader might.

However, partly because I want to carry on with the daily blogging, and partly through self-interest (as one of my most visited posts this year is a book review) I’m going to try and write a few on the blog in 2014. I want to concentrate on books where I have no connection to the author – those people I have met through the blog or who I have beta-read for – because I read those books differently. I don’t enjoy them less (probably more, actually) but I’m usually too close to be objective.

But books I’ve picked up at the library, or authors I’ve read for years, well I’ll happily pass on any observations that occur to me and we’ll see how it goes. I suspect it will be more a ramble than a review, such is my style! As a happy coincidence I’ve just finished two books by my favourite author of all time, Terry Pratchett, so that’s a good place to start.

Of the two books – Snuff, A Discworld novel, and Dodger – Snuff was by far the most enjoyable for me. I’ll admit I may not even have read Dodger if I’d bothered to check the blurb and seen that it wasn’t a Discworld novel. I’m glad I did read it, even though it was a struggle to finish, because it made me appreciate Snuff all the more. I also discovered that it isn’t just Terry Pratchett I love, but Fantasy as a genre; particularly his form of Fantasy.

Dodger is set in 19th Century London and includes characters such as Charles Dickens, Disraeli (former UK Prime Minister) and Henry Mayhew (a nineteenth-century English social researcher), based on their real life counterparts. One can then easily imagine that the lead protagonist is meant to be the model for the Artful Dodger and the story feels more about showing the inspiration for Dickens as a writer (at one point Dodger finishes his soup and asks for more), than exploring Dodger as a character, or what it really meant to live in Nineteenth-Century London.

For me, the novel lacked Pratchett’s usual flair for appealing characters, suspense-driven plot or great humour and dialogue. I struggled to finish it even though, as a super fan, I really wanted to like it. The novel felt like a vehicle for some ideas that had been bubbling in the author’s brain, that were then shoe-horned into a story. Or *shudder* like an Eighteenth-Century Bildungsroman novel, like Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. The book seemed to try too hard to be clever, with the references to historical figures and real places. But I may be biased in this view because, when it comes to blending fact and fiction in a novel, I hate it.

I consider myself something of a reluctant historian, as a result of doing both A Level and Degree History, despite discovering a real love for English Literature that resulted in me switching camps in my third year and then for my Masters. As a result I find historical fiction to be too much stuck in both camps. Do I suspend disbelief, as a reader and student of fiction, or do I concentrate on the factual representation, as a Historian? When I read books like this, I find the urge to check details and constantly ask “Is that true?” Or I feel ignorant for not knowing what is and isn’t historical fact.

Snuff - A Discworld Novel

Snuff – A Discworld Novel

Give me allegorical fantasy any day. Because the beauty of the Discworld novels is that they are also based on our society, albeit one that is viewed through some twisted prism (as a former Insurance Manager, the introduction of Inn-sewer-ants in Colour of Magic remains one of my favourites). Quirm for example is based on France, with it’s avec food and it’s rue de Wakening (read it out loud). Some of the best laugh out loud moments are due to recognising the parody, but the stories work without it and therefore don’t make you feel stupid.

That said, I found Snuff harder going than previous Discworld novels, and a bit darker and more heavy handed in the social commentary, focussing as it does on the race of Goblins, and whether they are considered sapient beings or vermin. This might be evidence of an author who despairs of the world, but it’s the social commentary in all the books that makes them so brilliant and poignant.

Samuel Vimes – the lead protagonist in Snuff – is a wonderfully complicated protagonist. Having read all the Discworld novels, I feel I have tracked his progress from a mere Captain of the Watch in Guards! Guards! to Commander Vimes, Sir Samuel, Duke of Ankh, married to Lady Sybil (also a brilliant character) in this book. Alongside my other favourite Discworld character, Granny Weatherwax, Vimes is fascinating for his level of self-awareness and his inner turmoil. Both are characters who battle with personal demons constantly and defeat the bad guys because they know (or at least fear) they’re no different underneath.

Although it took longer to get going, once I was immersed in the story I was swept along to the finish. Some of it was a little predictable (when you’ve read eight or nine books featuring the same character you do learn how they work) but being allowed inside Vimes’ head as he battled his past and his instincts resonated with me. Powerful, brave stuff.

Terry Pratchett has a writing style that doesn’t spell anything out. The nuances are there for the alert, and sometimes that can be frustrating (when you’re not alert, running on a few hours’ sleep!) As a writer, though, I feel it’s an important lesson in treating the reader as someone smart or, as one of my writing books puts it, Resisting the Urge to Explain (RUE). It also means you can interpret the characters and their actions, and be left wondering if you really know them all that well (particularly a character like Vetinari, the tyrant of Ankh-Morpork).

I find the Discworld novels always stay with me after I’ve finished them, with questions and challenges and difficult subjects (something I didn’t feel at all with Dodger). Snuff may not have been up there with the best, but it was still a rollicking good read. Bring on Raising Steam!

Back Again

Big Ben

Big Ben

Good morning and Happy New Year! I hope you all had lovely celebrations last night.

I saw in the new year as I’m sure many mothers of small children did: sleeping on the sofa from 9pm until 11.45pm, waking up for a glass of Baileys and a mince pie, watching the spectacular fireworks on the TV, then crawling in to bed.

Our daughter came in an hour or two later, after having a nightmare and, because it’s been a hectic week, I let her spend the night with us.

It seems appropriate that I spent the first few hours of 2014 in the position I suspect I will occupy all year: jammed between husband, children and my need to write. I lay awake thinking about what I really wanted to be doing – apart from trying to sleep in a space the size of a park bench – and I knew I wanted to be writing.

I have spent the last few days cleaning and being a (grumpy) parent. Tiredness and PMT have guaranteed the grumpy bit. It wasn’t really the best time to have extra children in the house, but my daughter was missing her friends so I duly invited some over. I tried to stay out of their way and do cleaning, which mostly worked. It’s wonderful to have a clean and tidy house, miraculous even, considering she had two friends for a four-hour playdate, almost immediately followed by another friend for a sleepover, and the rest of his family the next day for lunch. The phrase “Shovelling snow while it’s still snowing” springs to mind.

The ten-minute firework display is amazing

The ten-minute firework display is amazing

And now the new year is here. The house is clean (for now), the friends have departed, and it’s time to figure out what I want to do with the time I get in the week to ‘work’. Will that be housework or will it be writing? I suspect that, without the driving force of the daily blog and Two-Hundred Steps Home, it will be even more of a constant juggling act between want and need, duty and desire.

Last year, the blog and Claire became my duty, with a daily deadline to fulfil. That made it much easier to ignore the housework (and the family!) This year I won’t have that excuse. It will be interesting to see if I am strong enough to keep writing anyway.

So it seemed important to get up this morning and write. Even this little blog post is enough to keep the fires burning, I hope. I’m not sure what I’ll blog about. Looking at my most visited posts of 2013, it looks like book reviews and articles about self-publishing (with a little bit of kids’ craft thrown in) are what attract visitors. Not the writing and parenting posts that fill up 90% of this blog! So maybe a few more reviews and a bit less whinging. We’ll see.

What resolutions and plans do you have for 2014? How will you make them happen? I’m thinking some hard and fast commitments, written down, will help. So, I will publish two more books this year. And I will (try to) continue to blog daily, but without killing myself or neglecting my family (too much). There, it’s said. No going back now!