Perfect Procrastination: 2013 365 Challenge #334

A potential front cover (though fonts are always a challenge)

A potential front cover (though fonts are always a challenge)

Sometimes I’m so easily distracted I think I’m no better than a three-year-old! Instead of getting stuck in to writing today, particularly important on a Friday to give me a head start for the weekend, I spent two hours designing a cover for a potential entire Two-Hundred Steps Home volume, even though I haven’t even written December’s installments yet, never mind getting November’s finished and up on Smashwords.

There is method in my madness.

Partly I thought it might be nice to produce a printed volume for my hubbie for Christmas. (He reads this post, so it won’t be a surprise even if I get it done!) It’s not likely to happen, though, because it would mean finishing December’s posts by around the 10th, in order to get it all uploaded and ordered. Hahaha, excuse me while I roll around laughing. I have no doubt that, despite the best intentions, the last installment will actually be written on New Year’s Eve, when the kids are in bed and hubbie is trying to drink in the new year with me.

The second excuse idea was that I could put the book out for pre-order, to see if there is any interest in buying the complete set of twelve volumes, even though you can download the individual ones for free.

More important, the cover for November

More important, the cover for November

It would be around 275,000 words, which is substantial for any novel, and of course would have to come with the HUGE disclaimer that it is a first draft and hasn’t been edited or proofread. I would hate people to buy it under any illusions. That said, I think a lot of the people who download the free copies don’t follow the blog, and no one has left me an awful review yet. (Ignoring the fact that I’ve only had a handful of reviews!)

Of course it would be lovely to edit it all and have it proofread, but part of me thinks that would defeat the point of the exercise, which was to produce something in installments without planning or the ability to go back and change things. Aside from the odd typo I’ve spotted (and once when I changed a character’s name in one installment) I haven’t gone back and amended anything. What you get in the downloaded volumes is what I wrote, day by day, through 2013.

Maybe, with a decent blurb and introduction, it would work. People might pay to have it all in once place, or as a reminder of the year, if they enjoyed it. Who knows, they might even recommend it to others. Certainly if I publish a sequel it would be handy for people to be able to catch up. Anyway, there’s my justification for two hours of my day wasted. And I’m sticking with that! 🙂

_______________________________________________________________________________

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:

_______________________________________________________________________________

Alex paced across the room, picked up the iPad, put it down again, then walked back to the window to stare out across the lawn to the sea, as if expecting to see his father striding across the grass.

“He’s late,” he said, without turning round.

“I’m sure his flight was delayed, that’s all.” Claire tried to be the voice of reason, concealing her irritation that Robert hadn’t even sent a text to confirm that he’d arrived at the airport. Keeping her voice level, she added, “He had to connect at Brussels and Birmingham to come down here, and then he’ll need to get a taxi from the airport. There’s a lot to go wrong.”

“He wouldn’t have been late if this was a business meeting. Even some minor client grossing less than ten grand a year would have ensured his punctuality. But for his sons, well, why bother?”

The tone of disgust in Alex’s voice tore through Claire. She wanted to tell the boy not to speak about his father like that, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. He had a point.

“He came to Cambridge when Auntie Ruth was poorly,” she said, instead. “He was brilliant at the hospital. I’m sure his delay is something outside his control.”

“Father probably only did that so he could feel important. You know, showing that he was better than you and Auntie Ruth. Or to get away from Mother for a week.”

The words were unanswerable. Claire realised she didn’t know her brother at all. Even during that awful week, when she’d thought Ruth was going to die, she had barely spoken to Robert. When he hadn’t been talking to the doctors he was on his phone, discussing business, or buried deep in emails. She wondered when her brother had become a stranger.

“I’m sorry we didn’t get to see Ruth and Sky,” Jack said, breaking into her thoughts. “I haven’t seen Auntie Ruth since I was little, and I’ve never met Sky.”

Guilt washed over Claire, as she realised that was true. Ruth didn’t have the money for travel to Europe, and it was years since Robert and his family had come home for the holidays. They usually went skiing.

I should have taken them up for the weekend, to see Mum and Dad and Ruth. It’s not that far away.

“Why don’t you ask your dad if you can go, before you fly back to Geneva? I’m sure your flights can be changed.”

Alex snorted, but said nothing, merely turning to gaze out the window again. Jack shrugged and picked up his iPad, and was soon lost in a game.

Claire looked at them both and felt helpless. Two weeks ago she didn’t know or care about her nephews. Now, though, they were real people; people she didn’t want to see suffer. Despite his eagerness to go, it was clear Alex only wanted to return to his friends and girlfriend. Jack had been subdued all morning, his silence speaking of his unhappiness far more than words.

I wonder if Conor would let me take a few days leave to run up to Cambridgeshire with the boys. I can’t see Robert taking them. She thought through the logistics, and suppressed a sigh. I guess it’s a bit late for that. Robert would have a fit if I suggested it, after he’s flown all this way to pick them up. Assuming he hasn’t forgotten.

Claire chewed at her lip and tried to concentrate on the book in her lap. The words blurred as her mind filled with thoughts too muddled to be processed. Behind her attempt at calm, a wave of anger was building: rage at her brother’s thoughtlessness, and remorse at her own previous neglect. Who was she to take the moral high ground? How often had she spent time with the boys or gone to visit them in Geneva?

Maybe we have no capacity to love, in our family. Perhaps that’s it. Maybe Ruth got it all, and is using it all on Sky. The rest of us: what do we know of family and loyalty and trust?

She closed her book and followed Alex’s gaze out the window, losing herself in the relentless blue of the uncaring sky.

*

The sound of a car pulling up the driveway echoed loudly in the silence of the dining room. Both boys turned to face in its direction, as if hoping to see through walls and confirm it was finally their father.

Tension twisted Claire’s stomach like the shift in pressure that heralded a storm. Shaking off the feeling, she rose to her feet and turned to face the door. She could hear voices in the corridor, as the manager gave directions to the dining room, as Claire had requested earlier.

Her brother’s form filled the doorway, and Claire could see a second person standing just behind him, clutching his arm.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”

Claire shot an angry glance at Alex, about to admonish him for his language. Before she could speak, she registered his white face and the pursed and bloodless lips. She turned back to the door to see what had made her nephew so angry. Hanging on Robert’s arm was a young woman, younger than herself. In her late teens or early twenties, Claire guessed. The woman clung on to Robert as if he were a life raft, staring up at him with wide brown eyes.

Claire wondered if Robert had brought the au pair to look after the boys on the trip home.

That would be like him. Can’t even look after his boys for a few hours.

That didn’t explain Alex’s outburst though, not really. From what she had gathered from Jack, the au pair was a sweet German girl, with limited English. Not someone to be treated with such loathing.

As realisation dawned, Claire felt the blood drain from her own face.

Not even Robert could be that stupid and cruel, surely, to bring his new girlfriend with him?

As far as he was aware the boys didn’t even know he’d met someone new. Even if they weren’t close to him or their mother, it was still neither the time nor place to introduce a replacement.

Robert stood motionless in the doorway, surveying his sister and sons, a faint sardonic raise of one eyebrow his only expression.

“Hello Claire, boys.” He nodded in their direction, as if stumbling across a casual acquaintance, rather than coming to collect his sons after a two-week absence. The girl hanging on his arm gave them a timid glance, before turning back to gaze at Robert. He seemed to feel her stare, because he pulled her into the room and put his arm around her.

With a broad smile he said, “I’d like you to meet Gabriella. My fiancée.”

Silence reverberated round the room like an aftershock. Then Claire sensed sudden movement to her left. Alex strode across the room to stand in front of his father.

Staring up into his face, he hesitated, then said distinctly, “You utter bastard.”

He pushed past his father and Gabriella and left the room.

***

October’s Cover Reveal: 2013 365 Challenge #304

October's Cover Reveal

October’s Cover Reveal

I struggled to choose a cover image for this month’s volume of Two-Hundred Steps Home. It’s indicative of the month I think, as the October installments have been written more in survival than planning mode.

For other months there has been a theme – September’s was depression, August was about freedom and escape. Or there has been a clear identity of place – Dorset, the Peak District and so on.

In the end I chose this picture because it seems to represent Claire’s realisation that she’s content in her own company. In contrast to those around her who need their support network – Ruth with Sky and now the church, Kim with Jeff and her mother, Josh and Fiona, Michael’s desire for a family and children.

Claire used to see work as her support network when she lived in Manchester but now she has come to realise work no longer defines her. She wasn’t happy being a tourist sheep; she’d much rather hike up a mountain and have the birds for company.

It doesn’t bode well for her and Conor – with his self-confessed need to be surrounded by the “steaming heap of humanity”. Maybe theirs will be a flash-in-the-pan coming together, or maybe they’ll find a middle ground and carve out a happy ever after. I don’t know: they haven’t told me how it ends yet. He’s a rather charming chap, though, yes? I like him.

________________________________________________________________________________

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:

________________________________________________________________________________

“Should you be driving? It’s pretty late and the road up to the hostel isn’t for the fainthearted. You can always kip on my floor.” Conor turned to face Claire as they reached her car but she couldn’t read his expression in the dark.

“Are you calling me fainthearted?” She pursed her lips into a pout that would make Sky proud, ignoring the last part of his suggestion.

“I wouldn’t dare.”

Claire raised her eyebrows at her boss, challenging his remark.

“Seriously.” He nodded emphatically. “You scare the bejesus out of me; you have since the day you walked into my interview like you owned the room and everything in it.”

“Now I know you’re winding me up. You and your bunch of suits sat there like the bloomin’ Inquisition. My knees shook so hard I thought I was going to crumple in a heap on the floor.”

“That would have been worth seeing.” Conor grinned and leaned back against Claire’s car. His shirt stood open at the neck and his hair looked dark beneath the hotel lights. Claire jingled her keys hoping he’d take the hint, but his pose suggested he had no intention of moving anytime soon.

“Do you regret taking the job?” he asked suddenly, making her jump. “I know you hated your old boss but this isn’t exactly your thing, is it? No glamorous board meetings or FTSE 100 clients here: just a bunch of boring old men in a sleepy backwater. I get the impression you’d rather not have come back from New Zealand.”

Claire wrapped her arms around herself and swallowed down irritation at her boss’s drunken loquaciousness. “I was more than ready to come home – even if I hadn’t run out of money. I’m not good at being a tourist sheep following the pack.”

Conor frowned at her words and she hurried on. “This is different: I see what you’re trying to achieve and I understand your passion.” She swept her arms wide to encompass the town and area. “This is a beautiful part of the world. I feel comfortable here.”

Inhaling the tangy salt air, Claire thought carefully before continuing. Conor might be drunk but that didn’t stop him being her boss.

“Yes, I can’t lie: part of me wanted to go back to having a regular job with a decent car and my own apartment. I miss having a bath! But this part of the assignment won’t last forever. I can settle down somewhere in a few weeks, when I’m done.” She imagined being stuck in the Dorset town Conor loved so much and shivered.

Conor pushed himself away from the car and came to a standstill in front of her. A heady wave of aftershave washed over her, making her legs tremble. He stood so close she had to stare up at him to avoid fixing her eyes on the top of his chest, peeping out from behind his shirt.

“I can’t wait,” he murmured, gazing intently into her face. His arms twitched forwards, then dropped loosely at his sides.

Claire contracted her brows in mute question and he added, “I can’t wait until you’re settled close by. I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.”

His voice crept in her ears and trickled beneath her skin, leaving behind a trail of heat. The only thing that existed on the whole planet was his body, inches away from hers. His eyes shone wide and vulnerable in the darkness, showing no trace of the brash ladies’ man.

In painful slow motion he lowered his face towards her and she could almost taste the heavy red wine on his breath.

“I’m drunk,” he said, as if in explanation, “but that’s only obscuring my good sense, not my feelings. I’ve wanted to do this since you swung your hips into my interview and blew my life apart.”

The air caught in Claire’s lungs and her ears felt muffled, as if a blanket had dropped over her. In the back of her brain a voice screamed, but the sound of Conor’s rapid, shallow, breathing drowned it out.

After a tantalising pause their lips met, and the world exploded.

***

Organised Chaos: 2013 365 Challenge #260

What's the time, Mister Wolf?

What’s the time, Mister Wolf?

I’ve always been grateful that, as a family, we’ve been able to get by without me earning an income: but never more so than today. Even with hubbie available to do one of the child-care drop-offs this morning, it was still a crazy day.

As it was our wedding anniversary, we met in the coffee shop at 9.15 – me having dropped our son at preschool a few miles away, making sure he had packed lunch, coat and slippers, and he having dropped our daughter at school round the corner, running the tears gauntlet I have thus far avoided.

In the coffee shop we sat side by side in the sunshine in virtual silence, hubbie editing his book, me finishing my post and trying to figure out why suddenly everything was in italics, whilst we both listened (not through choice) to two ladies discussing why one had been deselected as bridesmaid. I’ve learned to block out most coffee shop chatter when necessary, but having been deselected as bridesmaid the one and only time I was ever asked, I had some sympathy.

Laundry Mountain

Laundry Mountain

Once my post was written it was time to go home, chuck some laundry in the machine, and strike something off the writing to-do list for half an hour, before heading back into town, armed with a second packed lunch, to collect my daughter, who is still on half days at school for two more weeks. (Yes, I should have just stayed in town, but I didn’t think, and had to go home to collect her lunch).

Then, with no lunch for me because we ran out of bread, we headed to another nearby town to pick up my bookmarks and buy birthday gifts for my daughter’s friends. Finding the printers proved a challenge and the bookmarks barely worth the effort – poorly trimmed with tick marks still in evidence, though possibly my mistake when I sent the artwork.

Daughter insisted on doubling the party gift budget and would not be moved so in the end we left with giant gifts for the next two parties. Please don’t let her make too many friends at school or we’ll be bankrupt by Christmas.

Front of the Bookmark

Front of Bookmark

The rather busy back!

The rather busy back!

After a fruitless search for a shark cake or shark balloons for son’s party this Saturday we went to pick the boy up from preschool: 3pm and I was exhausted. Again thankfully hubbie helped a bit by taking son to the post office while daughter taught me my numbers and letters (!) and helped me prepare dinner.

Hubbie played What’s the time Mister Wolf? with the kids while I cooked tea, then I played with them while he crashed from exhaustion. After dinner he admitted to being poorly and disappeared off to bed leaving me to clean the kitchen, wash the lunch boxes and water bottles, and make sure daughter’s school bag is ready for the morning, before going out for another half hour of ball games.

Finally dragged hubbie out of bed twenty minutes before kids’ bedtime, so I could walk the dog. Collapsed on the sofa at 8.30pm with all my post yet to write! (I ended up writing the Claire part this morning, while hubbie did the school run, and little man sang “Bananas in Pyjamas” on loop.)

With extra help, and no job to go to, I just about managed to survive the day, having done a whopping 60 mins work (not including the 2-3 hours I’m about to spend writing this post!) Could I do all that and have a job? No way ho-say as my kids would say.

So, working mums, I salute you. Hubbie, I thank you (and who knew every cloud had a silver lining when you were laid off?). Dad, I miss you, but thanks for posthumously funding my Stay at Home Mum life. I hope you approve. As a stay at home dad and self employed mechanic, I’m sure you would have understood.

________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

________________________________________________________________________________

As Claire gazed at the scene in front of her, the early start seemed worth every ounce of effort. Like a mystical mirror, the lake stretched out flat to the horizon. Either side, dark trees framed the scene, both above and below the water’s edge, creating an expanding line of perspective towards her. At the vanishing point, the mountains took over; climbing away to the sky. In the distance, Mount Cook and Mount Tasman fought for brilliant in hues of grey, blue and white.

Mt Cook and Mt Tasman

Mt Cook and Mt Tasman

Claire breathed in the morning air, and watched the puff of cloud as she exhaled. She pulled her jacket closer around her as the icy air prized open her foggy brain. This far south, winter had the island in its grip and she was in no mood to linger, despite the beauty of the scene.

All around her, Claire heard the chatter of disinterested tourists. She could see one or two photographers desperate to grab the perfect picture of absolute stillness and reflected symmetry. She wondered how they could stand the influx of tourists, come to take their quick snaps and move on.

How many visitors accidentally snap the perfect shot, not realising others have waited hours and days for the privilege?

Claire looked at the picture on her phone. It probably wouldn’t pass a perfectionist’s eye, but it looked damned near perfect to her: a magical place.

Shame about the noise.

Unable to stand it any longer, Claire headed back to the bus and the travellers who hadn’t even bothered with the walk but were tucking into breakfast in the café. As she arrived at the car park, she saw a girl load her camera into her bag and climb into a rusty red hatchback.

The girl caught her eye and smiled, seeming to say, “Rather you than me on the bus.” She couldn’t disagree.

*

Autumn colours at Wanaka

Autumn colours at Wanaka

Claire climbed down the bus steps, grateful that it was for the last time that day. She felt like she’d done nothing but get on and off the bus, to marvel at one tourist attraction after another until they all blurred together in her mind. She had no idea how she would identify which was which in her pictures when it came time to write the blog. For now she was just happy that she had at least twelve hours before she had to get on the bus again. It felt like escaping from jail.

Wanaka town was bigger than she’d expected; a sprawling collection of buildings spread out along the lakeside. The lake itself shone beneath the blue sky, framed by tall trees still bearing the orange hues of autumn. Claire imagined it must have been spectacular a few weeks before.

A feeling of snow pervaded the air, and it wasn’t hard to imagine the town as a winter resort. It seemed odd that a few weeks earlier she’d been in her shorts: the difference in climate from north to south was much more than she was used to.

Dumping her rucksack in her dorm room, Claire declined Bethan’s suggestion to go for a drink, and walked in long strides down to the shore. Her shoulders itched with a need to get away from people. Following a cycle path, Claire walked around the edge of the lake, beneath the autumn trees, kicking at the fallen leaves beneath her feet.

The further she got from the town the lighter she felt until, at last, the buildings were out of sight and she felt like skipping. It was too cold to sit and admire the view so she kept walking, intent on nothing but solitude.

This is crazy. It’s the beginning of summer at home. Why am I freezing my arse off on the wrong side of the world? Yes, it’s beautiful, but so is Scotland or Wales or the Lake District. Why did I travel the UK in winter only to do the same a few months later here in New Zealand? It’s official; I’ve lost the plot.

Lake Wanaka at sunset

Lake Wanaka at sunset

Claire spotted a bench overlooking the lake. Perching on the edge she pulled out her phone and checked the itinerary she had downloaded for the bus trip.

Another ten days until we’re back in Auckland, although at least it will probably be warmer back in the north. She read through the schedule again. I wonder if I could fly home from Christchurch.

Suddenly getting home seemed more important than anything else. Even though she knew there was no one expecting her, no job or car or house to return home to, she needed to be back where she belonged.

Vowing to call the airline company in the morning, Claire jumped down from the bench and began striding back to town.

***

Formatting and Covers: 2013 365 Challenge #256

Manuscript Paper Planes

Manuscript Paper Planes

Phew. I have spent the last two days updating my Kindle and Smashwords files to include Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes under ‘other titles by’ and to add Twitter and Facebook links. I am formatting blind. I had to load each file half a dozen times, because I kept missing things. A case of more haste less speed.

Even now I know there’s an error in each of my Two-Hundred Steps Home files (a link that doesn’t work). I wasn’t going to reload them all, and start the ‘premium catalogue’ clearance again, except I’ve had to resubmit for clearing after linking all the books as a series (even though Smashwords said it wouldn’t affect premium distribution).

When I updated my kindle file for Dragon Wraiths, I also got the Facebook link wrong in that, and now I have to wait for Amazon to publish it before I can upload it again. They could learn a thing or two from Smashwords. My head is spinning with all the details, remembering what quirks Kindle has compared with Smashwords, and remembering to link to my other books on the right platform (Smashwords will reject a file for having Amazon links within it).

Spot the difference!

Spot the difference!

I also tinkered with the Dragon Wraiths cover today, to try and incorporate the dragon pendant from the first cover. I’m not 100% happy with it, but it needed to be done. The current one, much as I love it, doesn’t say ‘fantasy’ or ‘dragons’ enough.

What’s the point of this ramble? Not much, except to say I think writing a book is about 20% or 30% of the actual graft of being a self-published author. All the other stuff is so time-consuming. More than you think it should be. My ‘two minute’ job on the cover took two hours and nearly made me late to pick my daughter up from school!.

And you have to be super organised and logical and all those things I’m not to keep track of it all. At least I’m learning I guess. I could probably format a file for Smashwords in my sleep (and get no autovetter errors) and I’m not far off knowing how to do a Kindle file without referring to the notes. If the author thing doesn’t work I guess at least I could make money doing that! 🙂

________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

________________________________________________________________________________

“What are we searching for exactly?”

Claire looked across the racks of clothing to Bethan, who was holding up various items against her and contemplating her reflection in the mirror.

“Fancy dress.”

“I gathered that. I meant, what are you going as? And what the hell can I wear?”

“The theme is anything beginning with P. So I thought I might go as a prostitute.” She grinned at Claire’s shocked expression. “Too much? What about a princess? You should do that, you look much more Disney than I do.”

“I don’t know, you could be Pocahontas.”

“She was Native American, not Thai.”

Claire blushed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you, it was a stupid thing to say.”

Bethan laughed. “That’s alright, I know you didn’t. You’re not likely to be up on the Disney princesses unless you have a four-year-old girl hidden about your person.”

The flush deepened. “Well, actually I did spend a few weeks with my niece recently, but all those princesses muddle together after a while. There was an Oriental one, now I think about it.”

Mulan. Chinese. Closer but still offensive.” Although Bethan spoke with laughter in her voice, her face looked brittle.

“Sorry.”

Bethan looked up and her face became more sympathetic. “Oriental is a racist term in America, is that not the same in England?”

Claire shook her head. “Not that I know of. Better than calling someone Chinese when they’re really from Japan or Thailand, surely?”

“In America you use Oriental for things, not people. Asian is a better word.”

Claire swallowed and nodded, feeling like she’d been told off. Wanting to change the subject, she ran through other fancy dress ideas beginning with P. “Right. Not princesses then. Pigs? Paupers? That shouldn’t be a problem; I’m going to be poor by the time this trip is over.”

She glanced at Bethan and saw a flicker of disapproval flash across her face.

Now what have I said?

They had been travelling together for a week and this was the first time Claire had sensed anything but happiness in Bethan’s demeanour. The moment passed and Claire searched her mind for a simple fancy dress costume that wouldn’t cost the earth or humiliate her. Not that there was anyone left on the bus whose opinion she cared about apart from Bethan, and she’d already offended her twice.

Bethan held up a sequin covered top and some sunglasses, all trace of censure gone. She grinned. “How about pop stars?”

*

“Do you want another drink?” Bethan yelled over the music.

Claire shook her head and then wished she hadn’t. “No,” she yelled back, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Bethan nodded, downed her drink in one, and grabbed hold of Claire’s arm.

Claire let herself be towed through the writhing bodies, the music pulsing in time with the throbbing in her head and drowning out all attempts at rational thought. The dinner of steak and venison, delicious at the time, sat heavy in her stomach. She really didn’t want to see it again.

Outside, the music still filled the air but left some space to think. The chill autumn wind rushed over her bare skin, raising goosebumps and drying the sweat. Claire slumped against the wall and gripped her head with both hands.

“You okay?” Bethan squatted beside her and peered under the mass of back-combed hair that concealed Claire’s face.

“I think so. What time is it?”

Bethan checked her watch. “1 a.m. Apparently they’ll chuck us out at 2 a.m.”

“I’m not going to last that long. I need to go to bed.” Claire slid down the wall, ignoring the damp seeping through her tights as she sat on the floor. The events of the evening swam through her mind like a movie montage.

“Did I do a drinking game?”

“Yes. You were very good.”

“Snog the driver as a forfeit?”

“’fraid so.”

“Dance on the tables?”

Bethan shrugged. “It was Bon Jovi and you’re dressed as an ’80s pop star. I thought the balloon in a bottle as a microphone was an inspired touch.”

“Are there going to be pictures of us on the wall, like all the others?”

Bethan nodded and laughed as Claire groaned. “Look at it this way, who do you know who is ever going to come to this dirty motel in the middle of nowhere and scour thousands of Polaroids to find your embarrassing photo?”

Claire grunted in agreement but it was small consolation.

Bethan laughed again. “Relax, Claire. This is all part of travelling. You joined in, made some new friends, drank some shots. You won’t remember most of it in the morning and I promise not to remind you more than, ooh, once an hour?”

“Thanks.”

“Are you coming back in? It’s freezing out here and I’m starting to sober up. I need a drink.”

Claire gave a tiny shake of the head. As Bethan stood up, Claire risked raising her head to make eye contact.

“Bethan, can you do me a favour?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Can you show me where my bed is please?”

With a giggle, Bethan pulled her to her feet and led her to the dorm rooms.

***

My Day Off: 2013 365 Challenge #235

My 'out and about' paint kit: I didn't feel up to getting the big box out!

My ‘out and about’ paint kit: I didn’t feel up to getting the big box out!

I took the day off today. I didn’t really have any choice. Despite skipping writing my post so I could have an early night, I barely got any sleep. Instead I lay awake half the night, interspersed with having bad dreams (ironically stressing that I wouldn’t be able to finish my edit today – my second-to-last nursery day before school starts).

As a result I barely managed to write my post when I woke up, suffering from a splitting headache and eye strain. When I finally published it at 11am – an hour later than I aim for – I felt done in. I have no idea what I wrote about!

It seems I have spent too much time staring at a screen recently: reading on the iPad, editing, writing, even working on cover designs. My eyes feel like they’re being sucked out of my head by a plunger.

Rough title page

Rough title page

I tried to sleep. But I’m not very good at sleeping in the daytime. Even if I manage to nod off I wake feeling like I’ve got the hangover from hell. In the end I decided to do some more work on my sketches for the picture book I want to write for my son for Christmas.

After getting hubbie out of the office to find my paints in the loft, where they have lain unused for five years, I sat myself down in front Sense and Sensibility and had a wonderful, creative afternoon.

I think it will take a lot more work, but I feel like I might be able to come up with something passable as a gift. Now I just need to work on the words. This is my current opening:

Aaron and the Cow Pirates

Aaron walked along the beach kicking at shells. He was bored. It was the school holidays and there was nothing to do.

My son! :)

My son! 🙂

“Boring!” he said, as he looked across the flat blue sea. “Boring!” he moaned, as he stomped along the flat white sand. “Boring!” he muttered as he kicked at an old plastic spade lying abandoned on the beach.

“Oi! That’s my spade!”

Aaron turned to see who was shouting and jumped.

Peering at him from behind a rock, tears and snot running down his miserable green face, was a dinosaur. 

“Argh!”

“What?!” The dinosaur searched fearfully around to see why Aaron had screamed. “Are they here? Are they back?”

“Who?” Aaron recovered from his fright and took two steps towards the dinosaur.

“The Cow Pirates. They stole my bucket.”

The Cow Pirates and the Bucket

The Cow Pirates and the Bucket

The dinosaur, whose name was Jack, began to cry. Big, wet tears rolled down his cheeks and landed with a plop on the sand.

“Cow Pirates?” Aaron’s eyes widened. “Here? Nothing that cool ever happens here. It’s bor-ing.”

“The Cow Pirates aren’t boring, they’re scary. They go Yo Ho Moo! and steal stuff. They stole my bucket.” Jack said again, sniffing loudly.

“Then we will steal it back!” Aaron declared bravely.

“We?” Jack cowered behind the rock. “Not me. They make me wobble like a jelly.”

Jack the Dinosaur

Jack the Dinosaur

“I will get back your bucket.”

Aaron climbed onto the rock and looked out to sea. “Where did they go?”

“They wanted my bucket to carry their treasure. They said they were going to bury it at pebble beach.”

Aaron knew the way to pebble beach. He went there with his grandma and grandpa to look for crabs in the rock pools. “There’s no time to lose.” He climbed up Jack’s tail and sat with his legs around Jack’s broad neck. “Come on!”

Still sniffing and grumbling, Jack took Aaron along the shore to pebble beach.

Aaron jumping in fright and the cows at Pebble Beach

Aaron jumping in fright and the cows at pebble beach

“I hope they’ve gone,” Jack muttered. “I don’t want my bucket back anyway. I want my Mummy.” And he began to cry again.

That’s about as far as I’ve got. When I tell the story to my son, it tends to end, “So Aaron and Jack went to the beach and stole back the bucket, the end.”

He always introduces a character called “Berty Werty Pooey Berty” so I might have to incorporate that too. Let’s just say, the money I spent on the Writing Children’s Stories study course for next year was probably well spent! 🙂

________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

________________________________________________________________________________

Claire fidgeted with her wetsuit as she waited by the shore. The neoprene was getting rather intimate and the life jacket felt like an unwelcome hug from a frisky drunk. There had been too much time to regret her hasty decision, since signing up and arriving at the river. She blamed Josh. Ten minutes after a text from him and she had agreed to risk her neck in a crazy activity.

I could have been hacking across the hills, letting the horse take the strain. I must be nuts.

The way the guide had described it, the rafting seemed like a fun way to spend the afternoon, with a chance to see some different scenery and have a story to tell. She’d figured they wouldn’t let a tourist get hurt. The river apparently boasted grade five rapids, but the number hadn’t meant much to Claire. If anything, she had figured, on a scale of one to ten, five sounded quite mild.

Then she’d seen a sign in the literature describing what Grade Five meant.

 Very powerful rapids with very confused and broken water, large drops, violent and fast currents, abrupt turns, difficult powerful stoppers and fast boiling eddies; with numerous obstacles in the main current. Complex, precise and powerful sequential manoeuvring is required.

A definite risk to personal safety exists.

The words had made her feel sick, but it was too late to turn back. She could almost hear Neal’s hated voice whispering “chicken” in her ear. Besides, there were other girls there; women that looked less fit than she was.

If they can do it, so can I.

Standing next to the rushing torrent of the river, watching the other rafts drop over rapids and skim the jagged rocks along the canyon, she was swiftly changing her view.

Looking around, Claire realised she was the only woman in her raft. The five other crew members gathered by the bank were not all hulking athletes, but they were all men. She stood slightly separate from them, as they were given instructions by their guide.

In a bored voice the guide, who looked about twelve years old to Claire, explained what to do if she fell out, how to protect herself from the rocks, how to swim to safety, Claire’s nausea grew. She liked swimming but it wasn’t her strongest suit. Deciding that, if necessary, she would cling to the raft rather than paddle, Claire focussed all her energy on listening to the lecture.

Once in the raft, with her close-fitting helmet blocking out a chunk of the noise, the river didn’t seem so wild. The rushing water played a constant background accompaniment as the guide yelled out orders.

The first task was to discover how they all pulled together. The four of them at the back of the raft, with Claire in the middle on the right, pulled in unison. The two guys at the front, however, rowed to a syncopated rhythm all of their own. Claire sensed the guide’s growing frustration. Eventually he ordered Claire to swap places with one of them so that the weakest person was surrounded by strong oars.

And then they were off. Time lost all meaning and Claire had no chance to take in the scenery. Her whole world closed down to two things: following the guide’s commands to the letter and concentrating on staying in the raft. She dug her oar in on demand, she held onto the rope and ducked, she raised her paddle into the air and cheered.

During the brief respites between the swirling rapids, Claire drank in the scenery. Sometimes the banks dropped low, and she could see the dark hills all around. Other times the canyon walls closed in and it felt like they were drifting through a craggy, moss-encrusted tunnel. She could imagine she was floating on an Elven vessel along the Anduin river.

With still half of the trip to go, Claire felt she had found her stride. The oar fitted into the palm of her hand, her body seemed to understand what she was asking it to do. Despite the spray stinging her face and the wetsuit clinging to her body, her skin fizzed with energy.

A yell from beside her caused her to look across. The man next to her had dropped his oar, and a quick turn of the head showed it floating away behind them. The guide didn’t hesitate. He gestured to Claire to give up her oar, and told her to sit and enjoy the rest of the ride.

You stupid, misogynistic, chauvinist pig. I am pulling my weight as much if not more than him. How dare you!

All her enjoyment vanished in an instant. With a face full of freezing water and nothing to do but hold on and seethe, Claire felt every endless minute of the rest of the journey. Her face burned with anger and humiliation. She’d heard that Kiwi men had a tendency towards chauvinism. This was her first experience of it and it left her blood surging like the rapids of the Rangitikei River.

***

Books and Films: 2013 365 Challenge #227

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Swoon

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Swoon

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about books versus films. There seems to be a lot of chat about it on Facebook and Twitter – I guess it’s a perpetual source of debate. It isn’t a subject I have a clear view on. I’ve watched movies of books I adored and been disappointed. I’ve read books after seeing an amazing film and hated the written work. Some books – like ET or Abyss – are almost like study guides to the movie, adding in so much back story and depth to an enjoyable two-hour visual experience.

One thing that has solidified in my mind, if not always born out in my emotions, is that film and book should always be viewed as separate pieces of art and each be judged on it’s merits. I say not born out in my emotions because – as a former historian – I like accuracy. I like to know a piece of historical fiction is based on some level of fact. I hated that Memoirs of a Geisha was presented as truth and yet was entirely fabricated.

So when I watch a film of a book I know well – especially if I’ve read the book recently – I get irritated by what seem to be arbitrary changes. Re-watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this weekend, I remembered that Dobby helped Harry with the second challenge, not Neville Longbottom. However, since becoming an author, I found the change no longer bothered me (much). On the whole the conflict was the same. Harry couldn’t do the task and, at the 11th hour, was saved by a friend. The story arc was unaffected by the change in detail, and lots of unnecessary animation was avoided.

The old ones are the best!

The old ones are the best!

It can be much the same way when writing a novel: dialogue can be moved from one character to another, gender can change and even locations be shifted when revising a first draft and yet the original story remain intact. I’ve changed character’s ages, nationalities, hobbies, I’ve killed off siblings and parents, sacrificed no end to fulfill a story. (Today I had to change the details of Claire’s story when I researched glow-worm tours and found out they were done in a boat.)

To a certain extent such changes are inevitable from book to screen. You can’t cram five hundred pages into two or three hours – no matter how much a picture tells a thousand words – without changing something. Also books are unique in their ability to present internal motivation. Without the ability to see inside a character’s head, some elements have to alter to allow the character arc to be accountable.

The hardest thing I find when watching a movie version is casting. If it doesn’t match my mental image (or if they change white skin to black, Pelican Brief I’m looking at you) it’s too hard to process. I couldn’t watch the Twilight movies because none of the characters looked as three-dimensional as I had imagined them in my mind. (Sorry, terrible first book aside, I loved the whole series.)

The best of all worlds is seeing a movie poster before reading the book so the right people are in my head while I read. With big fantasy movies like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, watching the movie (a suitable time after reading the book, so the memory is flawed!) enhances my re-reading of the novels. I’ve never been very good at imagining big castles or battle scenes in detail.

No kisses in Jane Austen: adding them is good!

No kisses in Jane Austen: adding them is good!

The same goes for costume dramas of the long BBC sort. I’ve just finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice (finished it at midnight last night. Pass the coffee, please) and I enjoyed it all the more for the ability to visualise the rooms, settings and characters more fully than Jane Austen’s words ever offered. We don’t learn much about Elizabeth except that she has fine eyes and a muddy skirt. While I read, I had the lovely Jennifer Ehle in mind as well as the delectable Colin Firth. It’s the best of all worlds.

As ‘research’ for this post I got to watch the last episode on YouTube. I love the marriage and carriage scene at the end, with the beautiful chaste kiss. No such thing in the book, but who doesn’t love a wedding? The book and TV series combined to generate a deeper emotional experience.

As an aside, I’ve had people say my Dragon Wraiths front cover helps to visualise Leah and set the tone for the book. Maybe that’s why it’s such fun casting actors for your own works, so you can assist others in seeing what you see. For example Colin Egglesfield is Marcio in Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes. Oh yes.

________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

________________________________________________________________________________

Claire sat motionless, every nerve, every inch of her skin alert and listening. The dark closed in around her as her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Eventually a pinprick of light shone in the black. Then another, and another. She heard gasps around her, and craned her neck to see.

There, up above, like the stars being revealed by the setting sun, hundreds of tiny green lights blazed across the roof of the cave. The space was larger than she had imagined: the lights emphasised the vastness, as their eerie glow illuminated the contours of the ceiling.

The motion of the boat rocked Claire’s senses, calming her agitation. The walk through the cathedral cave had left her prickling with tension as she’d sought to keep her distance without giving away her unease.

Claire felt movement behind her and stiffened, waiting. She thought she could feel hot breath near her cheek. Resisting the urge to turn around, or brush at her face as if shooing a pesky fly, Claire gripped her seat and continued to focus on the glow-worms. Her ears filled with the sound of breathing, punctuated by the dripping of water. Waitomo. Water cave. Focussing on the facts, on what she would write in her blog, Claire casually leant forwards to get a better look at the luminous universe above her head.

As if the movement freed her, Claire felt the hoops release from around her lungs, letting in dank, stale air. Suddenly she needed oxygen. The boat became a prison. She wanted to push at the people around her, jump over the side and swim for the exit visible in the distance. Digging her fingers into the seat until it seemed her knuckles might cut through her skin, Claire concentrated on breathing in and out. She thought she could hear a chuckle behind her, but she refused to turn round.

At last the boat bumped against the shore. Claire scrambled forwards, not waiting for the guide’s offered hand. Almost tipping the boat in her haste, she gave a sob of relief as her feet touched solid ground. Without looking back, she strode up the slope and into the light.

*

Claire rested her back against the damp stone and gave a shaky laugh. When will you learn, missus? You should never have got into that pool.

The last twenty-four hours were a blur of panic and hiding. She’d fled from the beach pool as soon as the guide told them it was time to get back on the bus, draping her sarong around her tingling skin and practically running off the beach. If the driver had been surprised to see her sit at the front of the coach he didn’t comment, although she sensed something pass between him and Neal when the latter boarded a few minutes later. He’d chuckled as he walked past, setting her heart racing.

Claire had gone straight to her room at the hostel, not even leaving for the legendary fish and chips when the rest of them did. In the morning it was more of the same, and at the gold mine too. Constantly sticking near the guide, paying attention to the tour, taking notes and pictures. The perfect image of an enthusiastic tourist. All the while her brain had churned, trying to make sense of her emotions. That she was attracted to Neal was undeniable. That he was dangerous, equally so.

He’d beaten her in the tour; climbing into the boat when she was already seated, and taking a place just behind her. He had breathed one word during the journey, a whisper of a sound that she heard as, “Chicken.” His voice, more than the word, had set her pulse racing.

What do I do now? I don’t want to stay in this town longer than necessary, but that means getting back on a bus with him, checking into another hostel and knowing he’s sleeping down the corridor. Why me? I’m not exactly his type.

As she thought the words she knew they weren’t true. Neal had watched her since day one. Not flirting, not making advances. Just watching. Like a panther in the long grass.

Claire shivered. The caves had been cold and she’d left her jacket on the bus. Realising the rest of her tour had gone back, Claire hurried away, not wanting to be left behind again.

When she arrived at the bus it was full and the driver was just beginning his head count. A quick scan of the interior showed her there were only a few free seats. She took one at the front, next to a middle-aged man wearing glasses and a tank top. She could almost feel Neal’s smirk from his position towards the back of the bus.

Feeling like a cornered mouse, waiting for the pounce of soft and deadly paws, Claire pulled out her book and pretended to read.

***

Time and Taglines: 2013 365 Challenge #214

My new website (again!)

My new website (again!)

I recently wrote out the list of outstanding projects I want to finish RIGHT NOW and there were fifteen items, ranging from ‘send bookmark artwork to the printers’ to ‘finish Class Act and Finding Lucy‘.

Hmmm. It might be time for some realism and perspective.

The problem is I love my job. Not a problem, you might think, except I only work two days a week. You know how, when you don’t like your job, the weekend flies by and the week draaaaags? Well it’s like that for me, in reverse. Not that I hate spending time with my family. But I do love working on my writing projects, and two (separate) days a week just isn’t enough.

I mourn the days I was self-employed BK (before kids). All that time I spent and wasted, taking things easy, going on photo shoots, painting abstracts. Why didn’t I know, then, that I wanted to be a writer? How much more might I have accomplished? Except probably I wouldn’t have done.

There’s nothing like not having something to make you yearn for it, and that’s true for time too. The fewer hours available, the more we cram into the time we have. Mostly. Some days, actually, there’s so much to do I am overwhelmed by it, and I waste the day on a project that doesn’t need doing. Or I faff.

My refreshed website - still needs work but I was up til 1am getting it this far!

My website before the redesign

Today threatened to be one of those days. It was 33C and humid. I had my novel back from the proofreaders, but it was too hot to think (and there was cricket on the radio).

So I decided to try and be productive, and tackle something else off my to-do list. I opted to start on the marketing for Baby Blues, but I gave up writing press releases after twenty painful minutes, and decided to rebuild my website instead.

Perfect.

Or, it would have been, if technology had been on my side. Apparently my computer doesn’t like 33C heat either and was running sooooooo slooooow.

I don’t know how I didn’t chuck it out the window (except I didn’t have the energy.) Also I couldn’t find a template I liked through my service provider (MrSite) and, as I don’t write HTML, had to make do with what I had. I couldn’t fit a decent sized name and the images I wanted in the header, so it isn’t the best website redesign in the world. But it’s done!

I also tried to come up with a tagline for my writing. Another thing probably best left to a different day. I’ve been putting it off, because I write in a saturated market and many of the best taglines are taken or sound too clichéd (like ‘Let Love Take You Home’ or ‘For Love, Life and Friendships’ which were two of my ideas).

In the end I came up with ‘Seize Life, Trust Love, Cherish Dreams.’ I’m not sure I like it. It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue and isn’t that memorable, although it has all the elements I believe are in my novels: they’re not just about love and Happily Ever After, they’re also about finding your place in the world, choosing the right path, fulfilling dreams. I’m not sure if that applies to Dragon Wraiths, but it doesn’t exclude it at any rate. Like the header, it will do for now.

A productive day? I’m not sure. But a day survived, which sometimes is enough.

________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

________________________________________________________________________________

Claire stepped out into the roof-top garden and gasped as the air hit her like a wet flannel. After thirteen hours on an air-conditioned plane, followed by a long trek through the freezing, sterile airport, she had yearned for some fresh air to sooth her dehydrated skin and clear her lungs of stale air. Walking outside was as refreshing as putting her head in an oven.

At least it will put the moisture back in my skin: you could ring the air like a dishcloth.

Even though she’d visited hot and humid countries before, there was something about being in transit from a country in the early grips of summer to a country in deep winter that had left her unprepared for a tropical stopover.

Claire picked a spot beneath the sunflowers, dancing in the warm evening breeze, and pulled out her iPad to take notes. Writing posts for her blog might keep her mind off the craziness of her current actions. Is it still my blog? Who owns it, exactly? I suppose Carl will take all the credit, and all my followers too. Not yet, though, not until I decide whether to turn down his counter offer.

Trying to fathom out her work situation was one of the many things she didn’t want to think about, so Claire took some photos for the blog and began writing.

The sun was beginning to fall below the horizon and Claire prayed for a release from the humidity. A roll of thunder resonated around her and the wind began to blast like a hairdryer, stirring the sunflower leaves and setting the heads bobbing. Rain drops began to fall, hot and heavy, landing on the exposed parts of the ground with a splash. Despite the thunderstorm, the air still had the density of soup. Giving up on her post, Claire lay back on the concrete bench and closed her eyes.

*

Claire sat up with a start and reached for her bag. Relief flooded through her as she realised it was still under her hand, and still contained her tablet and phone. After a long, shuddering breath, a second quiver of alarm ran through her, setting her nerves jangling.

Did I fall asleep? How long for? Oh crap, don’t let me have missed my connection.

With shaking hands she pulled out her phone to check the time. Her heart thumped as she saw it was 2pm. I can’t have slept that long! She swung her feet round and stood up, grasping the railing nearby for support as a wave of dizziness swept through her. She inhaled deeply, the muggy air sluggish and heavy in her chest.

Wait a minute. It’s still dark. It can’t be afternoon.

With a groan at her own stupidity, Claire realised her phone was still set to UK time. What’s the time difference? Six or seven hours? It’s only around 9pm and my flight doesn’t leave until midnight.

She wondered how Darren was getting on. He’d opted to spend the stopover time going for a tour of Singapore. He’d tried to persuade her to join him but she couldn’t stomach sharing a tiny space with him for a second more than necessary. Just thinking about another twelve hours wedged between him and Mr Grumpy made her shiver, despite the heat.

Next time I fly long-haul, I’m booking early and getting a window seat.

***

Rainy Day Play: 2013 365 Challenge #213

Painting with feet. I said "feet" only!

Painting with feet. I said “feet” only!

Today I had the chance to remember what it is like to have two preschoolers requiring entertainment because of the weather.

They went to preschool this morning for a few hours (shorter than usual because it’s the school holidays) so I started formatting Dragon Wraiths for print. I’ve already done most of the front cover, but I think I need to put the brakes on because – if I’m going to ask people to spend all that extra to get a printed version (even though my profit will be much less) – the book needs to be in tip-top condition. Which means finding the money to have my proofreader go over it.

I got Baby Blues back from her today and I’m too scared to open the document. From the sample I’ve seen already, I have quite a lot of work to do! I know it took longer than she expected, so I anticipate her fee may increase significantly for the next one! 🙂

Bob the builder jacket as apron

Bob the builder jacket as apron

So, after potentially wasting several hours wrestling with Word Styles (a hangover from when Dragon Wraiths was written in multiple fonts) I had two hyped-up children and no energy.

We were meant to go and see the new calves at Sacrewell Farm, but I was still wearing a skirt, despite a change in the weather, and couldn’t quite face it. So I bribed them home with promises of baking and indoor painting with feet.

Big mistake, big, huge. With a thunderstorm lingering and humidity at 80% all I wanted to do was sit still and keep calm, not run around after two whirling dervishes hell-bent on destruction!

I learned the importance of the little things, too. Like having a stock of aprons. Trying to find two aprons so we could do baking took half an hour and all my patience, including a tantrum from little man (one of MANY today) when I said “well, you just won’t do baking then” because he was refusing to wear an old t-shirt of my daughter’s instead. In the end he wore his Bob the Builder hi-vis jacket back-to-front.

Indoor painting with feet. I said feet!

Indoor painting with feet. I said feet!

Indoor painting nearly ended in disaster, too. Despite repeated instructions to “Only use your feet”, little man painted his entire body. Again. Only this time we were downstairs in my kitchen, far too far from the bath for comfort.

So, as I have done many times this summer, I filled the paddling pool with bubbles and carried them both bodily outside, uttering the immortal words, “At least it’s not raining.” Big mistake, big, huge. The heavens opened. I put the kid’s picnic table over the paddling pool while I got drenched scrubbing the rest of the paint off them (I’d post pictures but feel funny putting nude pictures on the blog, even with bubbles protecting their modesty.)

Today I have read stories, built mega-block bus stations and towns, assisted in the creation of an alien, baked cookies, facilitated large-scale craft, alfresco bathing and puddle jumping, cooked healthy meals and played painful games of snakes & ladders and hide & seek. My reward? Endless tantrums.

Look what the postman brought!

Look what the postman brought!

Why is it the more attention you give the children, the more they push you and push you, until you want to go back to ignoring them while you design a CreateSpace front cover?

Little man was on a mission today to force me to be that kind of parent who follows through on their threats (See discussion on post #211 with Scottishmomus). He refused his lunch and his tea, despite his sister getting sweets and home-baked cookies for her dessert. (To give him credit, after the initial ten minutes of screaming, he took it well.)

At every opportunity he pushed it until he had a time out or a reprimand or a simple, “then we’ll put the game away,” which always ended in a bout of screaming and tears.

Normally this behaviour results in beautiful behaviour from the other sibling. Mostly it did. My daughter delights in being the good child. But by bed time they were both at it, until I felt like Mother Gothel in Tangled: “You want me to be the bad guy? Now I’m the bad guy.”

Sigh. The amazing thing is, it still felt like a great day. Because I know I gave the kids my attention, and I do that far less than I should (can’t imagine why!). Whatever they took from the day, I’ll take a gold star and go to bed happy. Besides, they’re at nursery tomorrow! 😉

_____________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Claire’s ears rang with a hum she heard through her skin rather than her senses. A background buzz, like white noise, that filled the cavernous space and turned the cacophony of voices into a dull roar. Airports always gave her a headache.

The plastic seat refused to provide any semblance of comfort, no matter how much she shifted. Eventually she stood and rested her shoulders against the wall. Time had lost meaning hours before, marked only by the intake of coffee and the necessary trips to the ladies’ room.

Against her will, Claire’s mind dredged over the events of the last twenty-four hours: a horror movie remembered in flashes despite the need to forget. Kim’s face held the strongest sway, filling Claire’s mind until she thought it must be imprinted on the inside of her eyelids.

She could still recall her own reaction: the blood draining from her brain, causing her to crumple. Jeff running to offer assistance and her shrill command that he go after his wife. Lying on the dew-damp grass, adding salty tears to the soil. If it hadn’t been for Sky, she’d probably still be lying there now. But Sky had woken when Jeff left her, and had called out in alarm, lost in the dark.

Funny how the cry of a child can bring you back from the deepest pit.

Claire remembered pushing against the ground with heavy limbs, stumbling to her niece and finding a voice in the desert in her throat. Somehow she had managed to get her niece home and to bed, before collapsing in exhaustion on her sister’s sofa. In the morning she’d smiled her goodbyes, driven the Skoda to her parents’ house and left it in the street without waking them. A taxi to the station, a train to the airport, and she had been here ever since. Waiting.

“Miss Carleton?”

Claire’s eyes snapped open and she peered through the fog to locate the source of the voice.

“Yes?”

“We think we have something. Please come over to the desk.”

Claire shouldered her rucksack and followed numbly, barely registering the young woman’s smart uniform. She was only conscious of the click-click of the woman’s heels, and followed the sound like a blind person.

“We think there might be a space on the next flight. It’s economy class, will that be sufficient?”

Claire nodded. She would have sat in the hold if that meant getting away from the white noise and the clattering thoughts in her brain.

“The flight changes at Singapore. You’ll have a six-hour stop-over, I’m afraid.”

Claire shrugged. Six hours was nothing. She’d spent twice that waiting already.

“Can I have your passport, please?”

A dart of alarm pierced the fog and, for a moment, Claire’s brain went clear. Then she remembered collecting the passport from her mother’s a fortnight before, the day after Kim’s wedding. Has it only been two weeks? Shaking away her disbelief, Claire retrieved the burgundy booklet from her handbag and slid it over the counter.

The woman told her the cost of the flight and asked for payment. Praying there was enough room on her credit card, Claire handed it over.

And then it was done.

“Your flight leaves in thirty minutes. I’ll need to take your bag now, so we can get it on board. Please proceed directly to the gate.”

After so much time waiting, the suddenness left Claire reeling. Her glacier-slow thoughts sped up, like a movie on fast forward, and she ran through the things she would need for the 30-hour journey. Grabbing her wash-bag, iPad, phone and clean underwear from the rucksack, she handed the rest to the helpful woman, and prayed she would see it again.

The button remained on fast forward as Claire scurried to her gate, clutching her boarding ticket and passport. The departure lounge was empty as she arrived, and the uniformed women at the desk ushered her through. Along a long tunnel and up and down stairs until she was aboard the plane that would be her home for the next twelve hours.

The hostess showed her to her seat. Claire’s heart sank as she saw her travelling companions; two hulking men either side of her middle seat, both with arms already spread over the arm rests. Beggars can’t be choosers. Hopefully I’ll sleep.

With apologies, Claire slid into her seat and fastened the belt. Only then did she allow herself to breathe. Her limbs began to shake, and she wondered if she might be sick. The plane felt hot and there didn’t seem to be any air. Claire fiddled with the air vent but nothing came out.

“They won’t turn it on until the plane is off the ground.”

Claire turned to face the man to her left. He smiled, white teeth shining from a dark face, and held out a hand.

“Name’s Darren. This your first time on a plane?”

Claire took the hand reluctantly, and shook her head. Not wanting to be rude, but equally not wanting to have a chatty companion for duration of the flight, Claire pulled out her iPad and opened a book. She felt the man hesitate, then went limp with relief as he turned back to his paper.

The tannoy reminded passengers to switch off their phones. Claire retrieved hers from her bag and noticed a text message. Her hands trembled as she opened it, hoping and dreading who it might be from. It was from her sister.

Mum’s noticed your car outside this morning, and wondered how long you’re leaving it there. Ruth.

Ignoring the glares and tutting sounds from the man to her right, Claire tapped out a quick reply.

Have gone away on a last minute business trip, will tell you more later. Tell Mum the car will be there for a couple of weeks, but I’ve posted the keys through her letter box so she’s free to move it. Talk soon. Claire.

She hit send, then turned off the phone and her iPad, as requested. Pulling the eye-mask out of the bag of freebies in the pocket in front of her, she blocked out the world and pretended to sleep.

***

The Hardest Part: 2013 365 Challenge #212

Vol7 Cover, no feet but steps!

Vol7 Cover, no feet but steps!

And so another month ends, another volume of Two Hundred Steps Home goes live on Smashwords. Volume seven! Holy cow.

I found today’s installment the hardest to write. My hands were shaking by the end of it. It twists my stomach even thinking about it now. It took every ounce of willpower learned through 212 daily posts to sit down and write it, because I’m not sure I did the right thing. It is such a heavy blow for Claire. I tempered it from the original, with Jeff’s words, but I’m not sure if that’s enough.

I worry what it says about me (as a person and/or a writer) that what started out as a light-hearted story, with even a few laugh-out-loud moments (according to my husband) back in volume one, has turned so dark. I know I’m not a light-hearted person. Life is tough. And beautiful and amazing, even funny sometimes. But it seems to me that humour in Chick Lit is often at the expense of the protagonist.

And, just as I find it hard to be mean to Claire, I find it equally hard to make an idiot of her. In the early days it was easy. We didn’t know each other very well. She was a parody, a stereotype. We know each other better now.

I notice with my friends that they don’t laugh much with me, but when they are talking to each other they always laugh. I’ve listened to a few exchanges and much of it seems to be about taking the mick out of each other. I’ve never been very good at that. Even with people I know really well, I’m always worried I’ll overstep the mark and what I think is good-humoured jibbing will actually upset them. I used to spar with a friend of my father’s, because he was thick skinned, and my vicious sarcasm never wounded him. Since then, not so much.

Lovely reviews

Lovely reviews

I remember, growing up, that I didn’t like being teased. I took it all too personally. I couldn’t tell the insults from the banter. People soon learned not to wind me up unless they wanted to upset me. Even now, I only really laugh with the children (and then sometimes I have to remember not to get hurt by the blunt things they say).

What does this mean for me as a writer, though? Is Chick Lit my genre, if I can’t write funny? If I can’t stand to let my lovely characters embarrass themselves? Is my writing doomed to become morbid and depressing?

It’s noticeable to me that only the first three volumes of Two Hundred Steps Home have reviews. I’m grateful that no one has written anything nasty about volumes 4-6 but I do take the silence to mean they’re not as good as the earlier volumes.

Sigh. This writing journey is a toughie. I can only hope that I can edit humour in, much as I edit out adverbs. When I’ve finished my daily blogging journey, I hope to take the masses of raw material written about Claire and turn it into one (or probably two) full length novels. This is a first draft after all. In the meantime, sorry, Claire, for doing this to you…

_____________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Claire tried to convince her niece that it was time to leave, but Sky’s protests threatened to reach tantrum proportions. Not feeling up to a scene, Claire admitted defeat and suggested instead that they stay in their seats during the interval.

“But, Auntie Claire, I want to see Kim and Jeff. Kim was awesome! And the fairies were brilliant. I want to be a fairy.”

Sky rattled on, filling the half-empty theatre with her chatter. Claire wished she’d had the forethought to bring a flask of coffee or a can of gin and tonic. A hip flask of neat vodka would probably be of most use.

Remembering the look on Kim’s face, Claire bit her bottom lip and willed herself not to cry. We’ve fallen out before. She’ll come round. It wasn’t possible to be friends from the age of five and not have moments of disagreement. There were years when they hardly spoke, as their lives took different paths. They’d always made up and stayed friends, through boyfriends and jobs and university shenanigans. Even when she hadn’t spoken to Kim in months, Claire had always felt the benign presence of her friendship. The idea that it was gone left her shaking.

“Thank goodness you’re still here.”

Claire jumped at the voice in the darkness. The quivering returned to her limbs and she was grateful for the hard plastic beneath her. Jeff slid into the seat next to her, his face concealed in the gloom. He was about to speak when Sky noticed his arrival and jumped up, pushing past Claire to throw her arms around him.

“Jeff! I’m so glad you’re here! Isn’t Kim amazing? I’m so glad Auntie Claire brought me.”

“Yes, Sky, she is. I’m glad to see you too. Can I have a quick word with your Auntie?”

“Here, poppet, play a game on my phone for a moment. There’s a good girl.”

Sky seemed to pick up on the tension and, for once, didn’t challenge Claire’s request. She took the proffered phone and was soon engrossed, the light of the screen throwing stark shadows across her face.

Claire turned to look at Jeff, but she was unable to read his expression in the dark. Her throat contained no moisture and she sat mute waiting for her friend’s husband to speak.

“I saw Kim’s face, when Sky called out. I thought you might go home.”

“I tried to,” Claire managed to croak.

“Sky wouldn’t let you? Well, I’m grateful for her persistence. You need to speak to Kim, Claire. She’s got some terrible ideas in her head. She isn’t thinking straight. You need to talk to her.”

“What. Why? What’s going on, Jeff?” The quivering increased and Claire hugged herself in a futile attempt to control the shaking.

A bell rang loud in the silence. Claire jumped, and Jeff stood up. “I have to go. Kim needs me. Come and find her, after the show is finished. Talk to her. But don’t take everything she says to heart, please. Promise me.” When Claire didn’t respond he leant over. “Promise me?”

Claire nodded.

*

The clapping died away and Claire turned to see if Sky was ready to leave. Her niece was curled up in her chair, asleep. The sight raised a smile, although her facial muscles felt rigid and unresponsive. She wanted to scoop the child up and carry her to the car, but she wasn’t sure she would manage to take her that far. Jeff’s words remained in her mind. If he hadn’t elicited the promise, she would have left. His urgent speech had filled her with wild conjecture.

“Sky?” Claire gently shook her niece’s shoulder. The girl murmured and Claire was able to coax her upright. More asleep than awake, the girl allowed herself to be guided from the theatre into the cool night air.

As the chill stung her face, Claire stood motionless, unsure what to do. Jeff was right, she needed to talk to Kim. But now, after her successful opening night, and with Sky half asleep, didn’t seem like the right time.

Voices approached in the dark. It seemed Jeff had feared her resolution, and had left her no option.

“Come on, Kim, just talk to her. Please.”

Claire could see him pulling his new wife along like a naughty child. He caught sight of Claire waiting with Sky, and exhaled in obvious relief.

“There you are! Thank you for staying. Here, let me take Sky. Now, you two, talk.”

Jeff pulled Kim to stand directly in front of Claire, then scooped Sky up in his arms. He took the girl to a picnic table a short distance away, near enough to watch, but too far to listen.

Kim hung her head like an exhausted pit-pony after a twelve-hour shift. Claire’s heart lurched at the sight of the deep bags beneath her friend’s eyes. She wanted to pull her close, beg her forgiveness, but there seemed to be a barrier between them. Kim stared at the ground, one hand hanging loose, the other grasping tight to her elbow.

“Kim?”

After an endless moment, Kim raised her eyes and Claire felt their impact like a blow. Kim held her gaze for a moment, then dropped her head once more, as if defeated by the effort.

Claire reached out a hand, but it didn’t quite cross the distance between them.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry Michael guessed your secret from me, and blurted it out to everyone. Has the Director given you a hard time?”

She waited, unsure what else to say. The silence dragged like deep water and the snakes in Claire’s stomach writhed and twisted.

“Please, Kim, I don’t know what else to say. I can’t stand to have you mad at me.”

“It’s all about you, isn’t it,” Kim spat out suddenly. “Never a thought for anyone else. You didn’t wanted me to have the baby. You and your precious pact to never have children. Well, I hope you’re happy.”

The floor lurched beneath Claire. “What do you mean?”

“You always were slow on the uptake.” The venom in Kim’s voice felt like acid dripping into Claire’s heart.

“I don’t understand? Is the baby okay?”

“No, the baby’s not okay. Thanks to you, the baby’s dead. I hope you’re satisfied.” The last words came out on a sob. Kim curled her shoulders in, as if holding herself together, before running away, her cries of anguish trailing behind her.

***

Marketing and Mummy’s Day Off: 2013 365 Challenge #201

Butterfly eggy bread recipe found in a magazine

Butterfly eggy bread recipe found in a magazine

Today I switched off. I took a day’s holiday. Unfortunately I had the children at home with me, so my timing wasn’t great.

I hope that, by sometimes leaving the children to fend for themselves, they will learn self-reliance, and come to appreciate the times I am present, and the days we do go on fun trips to the Farm or the Zoo.

Okay, who am I kidding? That’s just an excuse. I didn’t feel like being Mummy today. I wanted to curl up with my book (Emotional Geology – fab), listen to the cricket (nail-biting), stay out of the sun (too hot for me) and speak to no one (bliss).

I’m already feeling the effects of hubbie being at home this week. I don’t do well if I can’t have a few hours without responsibility for anyone but me. Even though hubbie is a grown man, I still have to take care of him when he’s in a ten-mile radius. I can’t help it!

Front of the Bookmark

Front of Bookmark

The rather busy back!

The rather busy back!

Anyway, the kids coped. They got fed, watched too many movies, made butterfly eggy toast for tea. They were finally allowed out into the sun at 4.35pm, they got to swim at grandma’s and fell asleep at bedtime, instead of an hour later as it has been recently. Not a bad day.

Best of all, I designed my free promo bookmark!

I’m getting quite excited about releasing Baby Blues officially. I should probably be drumming up a blog tour or guest posts, but I still struggle with book marketing. I can just about manage the occasional tweet or KDP free promo. But I come from a direct/offline marketing background. As a result I’m much happier with printed marketing (I used to control a million pound budget to produce junk mail!). Hence the bookmarks, I suppose.

Unfortunately paper marketing isn’t likely to sell digital books. For example, I can’t leave the bookmarks in my local bookshop or library, when the book isn’t available there (although I could donate a few paper copies of the book I guess).  I like print marketing; digital printing is amazing. To design something like this bookmark on my home computer, knowing I could hold it in my hand in a week, is great.

(I learnt my marketing trade in the time of four-colour plate printing, when digital print was in its infancy. I remember being dazzled by an agency showing us a personalised mail pack featuring that day’s newspaper. Incredible then, commonplace now).

Above all, I’m afraid I get seduced by pretty things. I enjoy the design process and I love having a finished, tangible, product. I’m a Luddite at heart! Time to go brush up on selling for self-published authors and forget my marketing past!

________________________________________________________________________________

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:

________________________________________________________________________________

Yellow light poured in through tall windows, dragging Claire’s eyes to admire the blue sky, just visible between the curtains. After the overcast skies of the previous day, the sun promised a new start. Resisting the urge to pull the duvet over her head, Claire pushed it back and swung herself round to sit upright. Her skull ached. Thoughts had tumbled and jumbled for what seemed like the better part of the night. Replays of the day, questioning her actions, planning for the future.

I didn’t even have a drink. I wouldn’t mind feeling this dreadful if I had.

Listening closely, Claire decided the room was empty. She used the bed frame to lever upright, and peered round at the other bunks. One contained the suspicion of a slumbering figure under the covers, so Claire tiptoed out to find the bathroom. A beautiful National Trust property it might be, but Ilam Hall wasn’t over-blessed with en-suite facilities. It no longer bothered Claire, as long as she remembered to take her key. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d had to loiter outside her room waiting for someone to come back.

Refreshed after her shower, Claire contemplated her long drive south. It seemed a tragic waste of a beautiful day, even with the excitement of what lay at the other end.

Excitement isn’t quite the word I’d choose, actually. Abject terror is probably nearer the mark.

Claire couldn’t remember her last job interview. The position at AJC had come through a headhunter and had been agreed over coffee.

While she drove, Claire’s thoughts chattered away in her mind as if she was eavesdropping at a party. Little snatches of sense rose to the surface before sinking beneath the general hubbub.

What is Carl going to do? He looked terrified. What about that odd phone call when he gave me the week off?

She’d thought it was because he was worried about a tribunal, but if that were the case, her resignation would have been a relief. He didn’t look relieved. Am I crazy, to quit before the interview?

No matter how she played it in her mind, the sudden impulse that took her to Manchester, with a resignation letter in hand, made no sense. But then so little of the last three months did. The important bits, the memories that made her smile, were about people, not things. You couldn’t fathom people, they fought categorization.

As she stopped for lunch and a Starbucks, Claire’s thoughts turned to Kim. It was opening night for Kim’s play, the day after her interview. She had her tickets already – she had agreed with Ruth that Sky could come, despite the late finish. Claire wasn’t sure of her plan, but if Kim wouldn’t talk to her maybe she’d relent for Sky. Even though they weren’t the type of friends who talked often, Kim’s silence nagged like a festering wound. Pushing aside the pain, Claire tried to concentrate on thinking through possible interview questions – and answers – for the morning.

At last the satnav announced her arrival at Salisbury. Claire looked at the villa, set amidst beautiful grounds, and felt a stab of fear. This is a mistake. I’ve only seen a quarter of all the hostels. So many amazing places yet to visit. She thought about Ruth, and the hostel manager from Gradbach, each eager for her next instalment.

Why do I want to get a proper job? Back to rules and schedules. Commuting and deliverables and staff depending on me.

She reminded herself she hadn’t got the job yet.

What if I don’t get it. Do I go cap in hand back to Carl? Carry on with the assignment out of my own pocket. And, what? Write a book. I guess there’s always New Zealand.

Slamming the car door, Claire tried to leave the noisy thought party behind and concentrate on the task in hand. Researching for her interview. Let me get the job first, and then decide what to do for the best.

***