Pixie Cuts, Hot Days and Minecraft Mania

Not a good time to have black fur

It’s been a crazy month. For those not local to the UK, we have been enjoying an unexpected heatwave for the last few weeks. Positively Mediterranean!

Usually I wilt like lettuce in anything over 20C but fortunately this sweltering weather has been accompanied by a fresh wind, meaning respite is at hand. Unfortunately it doesn’t do much for the motivation and I haven’t achieved a great deal since I finished invigilating.

I have, however, finally cut off my pesky hair. I’ve wanted to do it since I turned 40, but the kids were rather anti (my daughter said she’d never leave her room again, but that has become a rather tempting prospect recently). Anyway the heat and an impending karate exam made me take the plunge. And I love it. Although, contrary to expectations, it’s no cooler. Definitely needs to be shorter still!

Oh yes, that’s another achievement – I passed my karate exam and am now a brown belt! Still only half way to black, but an amazing feeling nonetheless.

One final achievement is that Game Girl is complete. It’s been a labour of love, as I illustrated this one myself, but definitely worth it. Turns out having a Minecraft-themed storyline has done something no other book I’ve written thus far has managed – my children are actually reading it. I know, shock right? Not just that, but their friends want to read it too, even the boys, even with a unicorn! Such a great feeling.

If you fancy a gander, the paperback is available at cost (£3.99) until tomorrow, when it will go up to £5.99 (although for some reason it’s showing an earlier cover). I hope to finalise the Kindle version today.

So that’s me. There’s been sport too, obviously, but who wants to hear about that right? Even with a certain team breaking its penalty jinx last night! How are you surviving hot days, sticky nights, and endless football and tennis? With beer and good books I hope.

The Book I Wrote In a Month

Meet Esmerelda Smudge

Meet Esmerelda Smudge

This is a post about how NOT to self-publish – experts like Kristen Lamb and Catherine Howard should look away now.

My last post was all about how I wrote a first draft in four or five days, in response to finding out my Chicken House novel was a bit pants.

I came up with the idea of a girl called Esmerelda Smudge (in tribute to Esmerelda Weatherwax from the Discworld novels). I sketched out the character and most of the plot during a 30-min dog walk, and wrote 20,000 words over the next few days.

That was on 12th November.

On 17th November I sent my tweaked draft to an editor I’ve used before, who I love because she writes Children’s Fiction and has kids too. She edited Dragon Wraiths for the competition last year, and her insights were super helpful. Plus she charges proofreading rates! It’s Christmas, I don’t have much money to spare. I also sent Alfie Stanton The Half-Baked Hero to her (the ‘pants’ book) so I could work out from her comments which one to enter in the competition.

On 27th November (because, did I mention, she’s awesome?) my editor sent back the annotated manuscript, with excellent comments on character arc, dialogue, research and all that good stuff. I made the changes that week, while waiting to hear back about Alfie Stanton.

On 4th December I got back Alfie Stanton, with the view that – with some hard work on dialogue – it should be my Chicken House entry. So, being me, I ignored those edits and decided to publish Esmerelda instead!

My purchased iStock Image

My purchased iStock Image

I purchased a great set of composite artwork from iStockphoto for the princely sum of £8.40 and set about turning it into a passable cover design. Did I mention money is tight at Christmas? I bought the image because I knew I could cut and paste and adobe photoshop the hair to make three images of the same girl doing different things, things that Esme does in the novel.

I used an existing novel template (Moon Pony) that was already set up for CreateSpace to create my print document, just dropping the novel into place. I uploaded the files to CreateSpace on 9th December.

Yesterday, one month after first dreaming up Esmerelda Smudge, I ordered a print copy. And so did someone else! Don’t know who, which means I made my first sale. 🙂

This is obviously NOT how to self publish. I have several things that made this a smooth process: practice (I’ve written and published six children’s books this year), a willing and wonderful editor, and the urgency of a competition deadline.

The final cover doesn’t look quite right on the print copy and my new one doesn’t seem to have uploaded, although sometimes there is a lag on Amazon and the printed version will be fine.

Did I mention this is how NOT to do it – a proof version should always be printed before setting a book live. But the proof versions for me come from overseas and can take ages to arrive. So it’s quicker and cheaper to set it live and order my own copy. Except no one is meant to buy one in the mean time! 🙂

I spent a total of £51.99 including ordering a print copy. I won’t even make that amount back in sales unless something miraculous happens. But I released a fun, sweet, heartwarming story into the world for the price of a meal out for two.

For me, that’s how to self-publish!

You can find the kindle version of my book here for the bargain price of £1.98 (I haven’t checked the formatting on that either, that’s my next job, but hey it’s not expensive!)

Merry Christmas

 

 

Time for a Change

I was looking at the blog earlier, after writing my last post, thinking how stuffy the site looks. I have had the same theme for the last three and a half years!

It was okay alongside my books for adults, but now I’ve sneaked a couple of children’s books onto the page it all looks very boring.

I haven’t worked out how to integrate Amanda Martin and Mandy Martin yet. I don’t want two blogs (although I have two Amazon and Smashwords pages) but I would like to find a middle ground. Children’s books are where I’m at right now, and WriterMummy should reflect that.

So I’ve been playing with some different themes. It’s worse than changing the wallpaper or the front door! And as you’re all such a lovely smart bunch I thought I’d ask what you think. I have my favourites, but I’m saying nothing. I’ve stuck to themes with a similar layout, as I like having a side bar and the full blog post on the main page.

Anyway, all feedback welcome!

Vagabond

Vagabond

Wilson

Wilson

Dusk til Dawn

Dusk til Dawn

Fictive

Fictive

Chalkboard

Chalkboard

Wishing I Were Holly Webb and Busy Making Books

The Amazing Holly Webb

The Amazing Holly Webb

It’s Day 19 of the holidays and I’m still hanging on – just!

I’ve used up all my childcare days – the last one asleep on the sofa – but I have a plan for the final stretch. Next week we have day trips every day!

In the mean time I’m busy writing, when I’m not reading every marvelous book written by the amazing Holly Webb (and weeping slightly into my coffee).

I have to remind myself that she has written 100 books over eleven years, because my works pale in comparison. And it’s certainly true that her earlier books were not the masterpieces that her latest are.

Compare some of the early animal stories novels (think The Rescued Puppy) and they’re closer to what I am writing now than the gripping stories and characters of the Emily Feather books, or the Maisie Hitchins ones, or the Lily series. (As an aside I’m waiting for the library to open so I can get book 3! And the Rose series, which I probably should have read first.)

But it does worry me that she used to work as an editor for Scholastic Children’s Books. She had an ‘in’ (even if she did leave her first book on someone’s desk with a note attached, because she was embarrassed.)

My Favourite Cover Ever!

My Favourite Cover Ever!

I’m trying to find the in. I guess that’s the hardest part of being a writer, particularly for children’s books. I can self-publish my adult novels, and at least get some feedback. But I don’t see the point in self-publishing children’s books. You need an awesome illustrator (which I can’t afford) and a way in to book shops. My daughter does read on her kindle, but I think the books need to be in schools and libraries to be a success.

In the mean time I am having fun publishing my books on Smashwords, just so I can send copies to people. I do love designing covers! And there is a motivation seeing a book in a publishable format. There’s a danger too, though. A feeling that a book is finished as soon as it’s been turned into a .mobi file!

My strategy is to write as many children’s books as I can, so if I do find an agent I can say, ‘ta da! Look, multiple four-book series, all ready to go.’ Of course, if they hate my style, that’s a whole heap of editing! But I always say you can’t edit an empty page.

The books I’ve been writing this holiday are about boats and ponies. I really like my characters, Will and Jessica. Will (Willow Irvine) is a tom boy who lives on a narrow boat, but longs for a normal life. I’ve sent a copy to someone I know who actually lives on a canal boat, so I’m nervously waiting to hear if it’s any good! *Chews fingers*.

I adore my Will on the Water cover – I did the canal boat myself pretty much from scratch, and actually forked out for a decent font, rather than sticking with the basic ones on offer in Adobe. A £10 investment in the three images for this and the Moon Pony book cover felt like money well spent.

My First Pony Novel

My First Pony Novel

Jessica, the protagonist in my Moon Pony stories, is a nine-year-old girl who doesn’t like ponies.

I saw a cover on a pre-made cover site of a pony in the sea and my daughter loved it. So I decided to write a pony story. But I don’t know that much about horses and I’m certain you get caught out pretty quickly by those who do! Having a character who hates horses gave me an out.

The cover is not quite right – I couldn’t afford the pre-made one, so I did my own as usual. But ‘cutting out’ a pony frolicking in snow pushed my adobe skills to their limit. In the end I used one of the kids’ doodle programs to add stars!

So, anyway, that’s what I’m up to right now. I’m working on Will on the Water book 2 and Moon Pony book 2 (titles pending!). As usual, I’d love Beta Readers, so if any of them take your fancy, message me and I’ll send you a copy – with the usual caveat that these are early drafts!

And if you’re looking for a great but easy read this holiday, something you can focus on while the kids are driving you crazy, check out Holly Webb.

I’m off now – the library is open!

Art in August #24 – My Little Knight

Photoshopped Knight

Photoshopped Knight

I decided that there have been so many dragons on my art posts recently that we need a knight in shining armour. So for my ‘art’ today I opted for some Photoshop work on an ipad photo of my son in fancy dress.

A few years ago I studied digital photography with the Open University and the course concentrated heavily on Photoshop. I’d used the software before but without knowing what I was doing, so it was great to learn how to do stuff properly. I have to say, for just tweaking pictures, I still prefer Windows Live Photo, but if you want to do any major work then Photoshop is pretty cool.

Many people think Photoshopping photos is somehow sacrilegious. When it comes to airbrushing women for magazines, I agree. But I’m not adverse to pumping up the colour a bit in a photo (I do it all the time with the ipad shots because they’re usually so washed out) or erasing things that shouldn’t be there: telegraph wires, toys on the floor, litter, stray birds in the sky. It’s all part of the artistic process. Besides, it’s more fun than actually tidying the room first! (I’ve even airbrushed the hairs from my leg when I needed to take a photo of my ankle tattoo, once, because I couldn’t be bothered to shave them. Now that is lazy.)

Original Knight photo

Original Knight photo

The skills have come in handy for book covers: I’ve removed a whole person from one of the images (Two Hundred Steps Home Volume Five), and in others I’ve changed the colours (The dress in Two Hundred Steps Home Volume Six) or flipped the photo the other way around (the latest Class Act cover). I did the whole dragon pendant for the original Dragon Wraiths cover, using about five different images.

I’m a bit out of practice though (and ipad shots don’t have many pixels to work with) so this isn’t my best work. But it was fun remembering how to use masks and layers. For this photo I lassoed the image of my son and gave the background a Gaussian blur (so it looked like I’d used a wide aperture like an f4, not something you have a choice with on the ipad!) Then I erased the sippy cup from the floor, and a pack of cards from the recess in the fireplace; darkened the picture on the TV; pumped up the colour on the horse and the cape; and added a black border (which was meant to look like the Instagram borders I love, but sadly doesn’t).

I’m not entirely pleased, but it was good to have a go again. And doesn’t he look cute? (Worth remembering on days when all he looks is grumpy).

Art in August #18 – New Class Act Cover

New Class Act Cover

New Class Act Cover

I finally decided on a new cover for Class Act (because I’m impatient like that). It’s by the same photographer as the most popular of the six I posted before, although in this one the daisies and heart are a bit clearer. Yes it doesn’t have people on, and doesn’t really scream romance, and yes it doesn’t explain the title (Sorry, Rinelle, your advice was good and I did try to find my perfect shot, with paint brushes and theatre tickets and daisies and people holding hands, but after four hours I admitted defeat.).

It does at least have daisies and a heart, so hopefully says romance a bit more than the previous cover, and I think it sits nicely alongside Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, so it will do for now! It can’t do any worse than the current one, I haven’t had so much as a borrow this month, despite the new Kindle Owners Lending Library. The only question is whether to change my Goodreads Giveaway, or let it run with the original cover. I’ve had so few people sign up so far, I’m thinking of the latter.

That’s about it for the art today. It turns out my mum doesn’t have a virus, she’s just topsy turvy on sleep from watching too much sport (she says she’s regressed to being a teenager) so I have to accept I’m not ill either. Just stressed and all-parented-out. At least hopefully that means I’ll feel better when the darlings go back to school. Only nineteen days to go, not that I’m counting. 😉

Art in August #14 – Book Covers

Proposed new covers for Class Act

Proposed new covers for Class Act

I released my fourth novel, Class Act, at the beginning of June and to say the going has been slow is an understatement. I have struggled to even give the book away. When I ran a free promotion the numbers were a quarter of those for Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes. I put it down to having no reviews and didn’t panic.

But now, with a couple of good reviews (and a couple not so good!) I am running a Giveaway on Goodreads and still getting a fraction of entries compared with the Baby Blues Giveaway. I’ve decided that the cover and blurb must be failing me.

I’m not surprised. I mocked the cover up last year, when I decided on a new name for the novel (it’s working title was The Real Gentleman, as the novel was written as a modern day Georgette Heyer style romance) and I do like the design, especially the bold red paperback. Unfortunately the current cover doesn’t give anything away as to genre, all it does is explain the ‘act’ part of the play-on-words title.

I love the pastel covers of Joanne Harris books

I love the pastel covers of Joanne Harris books

So I’ve spent this week, in between making loomband pets and ignoring the children, looking at images on my favourite site istockphoto to find something more in the woman’s fiction/romance genre. I know that half-naked bodies is what the genre seems to dictate, but that really isn’t me. Besides, the novel isn’t at all raunchy, and I don’t want to set a false expectation.

When I designed the cover for Baby Blues I used the books of Joanne Harris as my inspiration. Her pastel covers are lovely and she is an author that I admire greatly. It also gave me a style that fit within my capabilities using Adobe Photoshop, as I don’t know any cover designers and my experience of hiring freelancers as an author hasn’t always been successful.

Another Joanne Harris

Another Joanne Harris

As I couldn’t find any images relating to the theatre and acting, I decided to focus on the two other ‘themes’ that I feel run through the novel: art and daisies. These are the covers I came up with (I only had an hour before little lady got bored, so I know the font doesn’t stand out well on some of them).

As an aside, these are all based on composites from istockphoto and I haven’t purchased the rights to use them yet, as they’re only mock ups. I will purchase the final image once I’ve made a decision.

So, do any of these stand out? And, for those of you who have read the novel, do any of these fit within your experience of the story? Do these set the right genre? I feel they’re all much more in keeping with Baby Blues (although I have had at least one reviewer say the title and cover put them off that novel! I guess it’s difficult to win without a big budget marketing department to do customer research!)

Once I have some feedback I hope to make the change and extend the giveaway, so hopefully I’ll see immediately if it makes a difference!

I Am A Writer

(Temporary) cover for hubbie's book

(Temporary) cover for hubbie’s book

Yesterday I took the day away from my latest WIP to do something I hoped would cheer up my husband: I published his children’s book, Max & Shady, on Smashwords. I spent the first three hours designing a cover for it, because (unfortunately) the one I did for him before used a photo I couldn’t find the rights to. Important note: if you grab an image for inspiration, make sure you know where it’s from. Unsurprisingly, hubbie preferred his original cover (I do, too) but at least this one is bought and paid for.

Then I dug out the word document I formatted for print as a present a few years ago (turning someone’s first draft into a readable document is quite a task!) I’m ashamed to say it was full of typos, despite it being me who proof-read it the last time.

The rest of the day was spent fixing the big stuff (formatting for Smashwords and inserting punctuation inside the quotation marks). By the time he got home from work (having had to hush the kids a few times to sort out the niggly formatting issues that always seem to crop up) the book was live.

It breaks all the rules. It’s a first draft so shouldn’t be anywhere near the light of day. It’s only been proofread quickly, mostly by Word rather than a human being. It’s probably full of inconsistenices and it certainly has pages of info-dump. No matter. It served it’s purpose. Hubbie smiled.

Two things came out of it that should give both me and hubbie a boost of confidence. Firstly, when I was researching covers and categories, I couldn’t find much in the way of space adventure in the middle grade market: that makes his book much more stand out than mine. So, if he ever finds the energy to write some more, on top of being the bread winner who is pounced on by two small children as soon as he walks in the door after work, there might be a new niche he can fill.

Secondly, I re-read my work-in-progress, after editing Max & Shady, and realised just how much I have learned about writing in the last two or three years. I can see my progress from what I would have written as a first draft (much as hubbie’s is – fun but flawed) to my current work: not perfect, but oh so much better. I got quite excited reading it and found it pleasurable rather than excruciating, as reading my own writing normally is (a bit like hearing your own voice on tape). I understand things like avoiding info-dump, developing a character arc, climax and lots of other useful / essential things, mostly from reading blogs on writing. All that staring at the iPad seems to have had an effect. Who knows, I might actually, finally, be able to consider myself a writer!

Now I just need to work out who the bad guy is in my children’s book, what the plot and storyline are, and I can get on and finish it. I might be a better writer now, but I’m still pants at planning!

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.

The End. For Now. 2013 365 Challenge #365

The Final THSH Cover

The Final THSH Cover

Hurrah. I made it. Claire’s journey is finished, for now. She’s found a new home and what I suspect will be only the beginning of fresh adventures. Already the new characters intrigue me. Timothy, for example: he’s Maggie’s gentleman friend but for some reason I think he might lean the other way. Eddie is going to be a real handful. And the quiet Kayla might surprise everyone.

You’ll have to wait though. I have other novels to write, sleep to catch up on, books to read, before I even think about picking up Claire’s journey again. I want to start immediately, but I think we all need a break. I’ll be making notes, though, and any feedback is of course always gratefully received.

If you enjoyed the series, tell your friends. I hope to pull the entire 365 installments into one ebook at some point soon, although I won’t be editing it (except for any typos that I discover). The raw first draft (albeit one that was line-edited as I went along) is part of the challenge and should stand untouched. I’m proud of it as it is.

So, what’s next? After the sleeping and the reading and the hopefully shifting this cold finally because I’ve had it for weeks? Well, Class Act needs work. It’s currently a 50,000 word romance that I have plans to extend into a full length novel. Then there’s Finding Lucy. And a sequel to Dragon Wraiths. And of course a continuation of Claire’s adventures in Cornwall. I’m going to miss her and Conor, although it’s good to miss people!

The blog might be quiet for a while. Or it might not. I think stopping blogging might be like coming off the Christmas chocolate: both a challenge and a relief. I’ll see you when I see you. Please hang about and if you see only this post for a while, please understand! Maybe I’ll have more time to read and comment on some of your blogs now. That said, as it has been raining for the last two days, and my head is fizzing with blog entry ideas, it might not be quiet for all that long!

Wishing you all an amazing New Year and here’s to a 2014 full of words.

________________________________________________________________________________

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:

________________________________________________________________________________

Her clothes filled the small wardrobe; her rucksack sat empty in the dark recess of the cupboard, tatty after its long journey. She could never have imagined, back when Carl had presented her with it as a leaving gift, that she could become so attached to a bag.

“We’ve come a long way, you and I. Time for a rest, for you at least.”

Claire laughed as she realised talking to an inanimate object was probably the first sign of craziness.

Maybe I am crazy. Do crazy people ever actually know that they are?

She thought about leaving Conor standing alone on the beach, and shivered. It had been two days and he hadn’t tried to contact her. She didn’t know if that made it easier or not. Dozens of unsent messages sat on her phone, taunting her. Her last words echoed continually in her mind, like a song stuck on repeat.

The man I love like breathing.

She considered it, as she walked across the tiny room to gaze at the ever-changing view of the sea. Was it true? Did she love him? Could you love someone on such a short acquaintance?

But it wasn’t short, was it? Four months is a long time, and he’s been there for me since day one. All the time in New Zealand and every time I needed someone since I returned.

Dwelling only intensified the pain. She cast one last look around her room and felt a glimmer of a smile through her grief. Her room. It felt good.

Downstairs, the children were finishing dinner. Claire hadn’t spent much time with them over the weekend. Timothy seemed to instinctively know she needed space to settle in, and had quietly assured her that she had no duties until Monday morning. She attended meals and sat in the shared lounge to read and think. Sometimes she nestled in the window seat she’d discovered along a corridor, overlooking the sea, and listened to the children giggling in their rooms. The sound of laughter rang constantly throughout the old building.

Outside, the sky hung overcast. She wandered through the bushes and trees until she reached the rolling lawn that led down towards the sea. Within minutes she had scrambled down the rocky path to the private beach.

A group of children clambered amongst the rock pools under the watchful eye of Eddie. He raised his hand in greeting and she nodded in return before heading to the other end of the sand.

Thinking she really needed to buy a surfboard, Claire found her favourite rock and climbed on it. Sitting with her arms clasped around her knees she stared out at the horizon and let the peace wrap around her like a blanket.

*

A tapping at the door roused Claire from a doze. She checked the time and was surprised to discover she’d been asleep for an hour. Thinking it must be Timothy wanting to remind her about something for the morning, she rolled off the bed and went to open the door.

She grasped the frame for support as her questioning gaze met a pair of familiar green eyes.

“Hello, Claire.”

“What? How did you know where to find me? How did you get in?”

“A bit of research found the centre and a chat with your man Timothy meant he let me in. Seems he’s a sucker for a romance.”

“You could be a stalker or a murderer.” She frowned, unsure how she felt about the invasion of her privacy.

“I showed him this.” Conor held up his phone to show a photograph of the two of them in bed, tangled in the sheets.

Claire stepped back into the room to hide the blood rushing to her cheeks. “You’d better come in.”

Uncomfortably aware that the room held only a bed, she waited for Conor to perch on one end of it, before going to stand, arms folded, by the window.

“Why are you here?”

“To ask why you keep running away from me without letting me speak, woman. I had something to add to your marvellous speech, you know.”

He stood up and crossed the room, coming to a stop only inches away from her. He leant in until his lips brushed the hair near her ear, sending flurries of heat across her skin.

“I love you, too.”

*

Claire rested her head against Conor’s shoulder and stared out the window at the multi-hued sky. They had talked long into the night, until the dawn light began to paint the horizon in stripes of silver and pink. Her head ached with the fog of missed sleep, and she knew her first day at work was going to be a disaster, but her heart felt like a bird floating on an updraft.

She looked around the tiny room, listening to the heartbeat and slow, sonorous, breathing of the man beside her. It wasn’t ideal, agreeing to a long-distance love affair, but she didn’t care. He loved her and she loved him; that was all that mattered. The rest was just geography.

As she lay in his arms and watched the sun rise, she realised she had finally found what she had searched for through two hundred long days – through a lifetime – something that wasn’t outside the window, or even in the room, but rather in her heart. A contentment; a sense of belonging and of peace.

She was home.

***