Art in August #1 – Loom-band Dragon

Loom-band Dragon

Loom-band Dragon

My first artistic endeavour in August had to be a loom-band creation. I have taken to the new craze like a hormonal woman to wine and chocolate. I particularly love the 3D creations and today I have made a bunny, two monkeys and a dragon.

Of course, for obvious reasons, the dragon is my favourite. I made it using this YouTube tutorial. I might have to figure out how to give it proper wings, and then I can do one in each set of colours for the cast of Dragon Wraiths.

This post is part of the Art in August challenge, as described on the Laptop on the Ironing Board blog.

P.S. There is a Giveaway going live on Goodreads this morning, to win a paperback copy of Class Act. If you haven’t read it (or you have but fancy a paperback version) do register your interest. Available in US, UK, Australia and Canada (but will ship to any country where it is available on Amazon!)

A Ramble About Life

Kids and their new go-kart

Kids and their new go-kart

I’m sorry about my recent silence; I’ve been in a strange world where I’m actually enjoying editing. What’s more amazing is that I’m editing Dragon Wraiths. You’d think that finding anything wrong with a book that’s been published for eighteen months would send me into a spiral of despair. Especially finding grammar mistakes and typos, rather than just poorly worded sentences. But surprisingly it hasn’t. I knew there would be some errors, especially as it’s the only book that I haven’t paid someone to edit, relying instead on family and friends.

(That said, my mum found a few glaring typos in Class Act and that was edited, so you can’t catch everything.)

I think I’m enjoying it because I know the book has received great reviews (and awful ones!) so I can read it knowing at least some people like it. But the main reason I’m enjoying it is because I can see how much I’ve learned about writing in the past year or two. I’m not changing the story but I am tightening the prose and it’s surprisingly empowering.

My original intention was to try and cut 35,000 words (30%) from the story so I could enter it in the Chicken House children’s novel competition. So far I’m only cutting 8-10% from each chapter. Unless I find half a dozen chapters that are redundant it isn’t going to happen. But I’ve decided that’s okay. Instead I’m going to try and get the book below 100,000 words and resubmit to agents. Who knows, I might have more success this time.

The nice thing about editing is that it structures my day. Aside from the two hours of school run mayhem in the morning, and the four hours of whining, crying, shouting and chaos from pick up to bed time, my days are calm and focussed. I carry my manuscript round and edit at the school gate and waiting for my coffee. Having a deadline of the end of term really helps keep me working. My only distraction is constantly checking for Class Act reviews!

On the trampoline

On the trampoline

This morning I wrote a response to a post on Helen Yendall’s blog about having too much to do and how much harder it can be to manage your time when you don’t go into an office to work. This was my (edited) response:

This is how my boss used to tell me to do to prioritise work: categorise things into ‘what will get me fired if I don’t do’, ‘what will get me promoted if I do it,’ ‘what do I enjoy?’ and everything else. It’s tough to do that when you’re self-employed, but for me I’ve roughly translated it as, ‘what has an immoveable deadline that will either make or cost guaranteed money’, ‘what will clear the biggest headspace most easily (usually niggly admin),’ ‘what will make me happy and therefore make everything easier’ and everything else.

Of course stuff like school run, cooking, dog walking, kids’ homework have to happen. But non-essential ironing, cleaning, Facebook, even the blog, go by the wayside in peak times. I’ve also found the routine of the school run and walking the dog can help. I constantly feel overwhelmed by stuff, too. Getting diagnosed with depression taught me to take better care of myself for everyone’s sake.

Writing it made me realise that it’s all true. Life has been tough recently, for me and for hubbie, and the routine hell of the school run that tops and tails my day makes me yearn for twelve-hour office shifts and getting paid. But I’m learning not to compare myself to others, or even to who I was before kids, and get on with it. My struggles are mine, no one else’s, and I’m certainly not the only person fighting to survive (as hubbie pointed out this week). Life is what it is and you have to make the most of it. If that means watching Queens tennis or drinking too much Waitrose coffee (it’s free! I come four days a week to work…) then why not?

As Lauren wrote recently on her blog BetweenFearAndLove, feeling guilty that you haven’t got it as hard as others is a useless emotion. I haven’t learnt that lesson yet but I’m working on it.

Stepping Back From The Brink

Not giving up yet

Not quitting yet, although putting this MS to one side

My psychotherapist once told me I see everything in black and white. The world is either coming to an end or it’s fantastic – there’s nothing in between. Unfortunately, true as it is, she didn’t give me a way to tackle it.

I have become better at keeping perspective, finding the positive, crawling away from the pit of despair (with a little medicinal assistance). But when I’m sleep-deprived and premenstrual all bets are off, drugs or no drugs. Then, a day or so later, I look back and roll my eyes. Get a grip.

And so it is this morning. When I think about my point of nadir yesterday – triggered by thinking I can’t write – I realise what went wrong. I took someone’s judgement of my first ever children’s book – and an early draft at that – as an indictment against ALL my writing.

Who did I think I was? Did I really think I could work on a novel for a couple of months – in a new genre – and it be anything other than pants? Particularly a novel written for a reason, rather than because the story demanded to be captured. My other novels took months, often with a big gap between first and second draft. The characters lived with me and demanded a voice.

So, I’ve eaten a snickers and stopped being a Diva. I got my first short but charming comment on Class Act today (“A very engaging romance”) after offering it free for a few weeks to get reviews. Phew! And I’ve come up with a new plan to fill my time until the end of term. It’s a crazy plan, but it’ll keep me busy.

I just wish I hadn’t involved the editor in my should I/shouldn’t I dramatics. I doubt she’ll ever work with me again, and she was really very good. I’m trying to remind myself of the phrase What someone else thinks of you is none of your business.

Hmmm. That one might need some work.

Losing My Mojo

By Amber Mart, aged 5

By Amber Martin aged 5

I have spent the last few months trying my hand at writing a children’s book, to enter into the Chicken House competition in October. I tried to start last year, but didn’t get past an idea and an opening. This year I managed to complete the first draft (including writing 30,000 words in two weeks).

Unfortunately my idea stinks.

I began to feel it during drafting, and it was confirmed as I started editing. Chicken House are looking for a fresh new voice and, in the words of the editor I lined up to help me, my writing is, “flat, almost formal, and not successful for Middle Grade fiction.” Apparently the tone is more Enid Blyton than J K Rowling. Much of that is because my fantasy world is dismal and boring, my baddies two-dimensional and my protagonists predictable.

It’s all very obvious. Just because I love reading kids books, from great picture stories all the way to young adult, doesn’t mean I have what it takes to write them. I could learn, of course.

The editor suggested I perhaps didn’t have the work ethic to draft and draft until I had the story I wanted. Maybe that’s true. It isn’t that I’m afraid of hard work, but I have to confess that extensive editing leaves me demotivated and exhausted. The more I work at something the more stilted it feels and the harder it is to remain objective. Eventually everything stinks, or everything is bland or derivative.

It happened to my paintings. The abstract my daughter did this weekend might be a bit whacky but it’s much more vibrant and original than mine these days. They used to be like that. But then I overworked them, trying to make them into something that wasn’t me, and they became so bland and boring I didn’t want to paint anymore. But I couldn’t recapture that unselfconscious freshness.

I feel the same with my writing. I used to write multi-pov stories that had a bit of whacky freshness, but I trained myself to write strict limited POV with accurate grammar and not too many similes. All the things that kill children’s stories. And now I can’t write anything else.

Working Hard

Working Hard

What’s the answer? Hubbie asked me, as I sobbed yesterday that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer, whether it is really what I want to do. I had to pause. What I want is a creative job that fits in with the school-run and might eventually make money. I hoped it was paintings – it wasn’t. I tried web design and marketing services to small businesses, but didn’t have the enthusiasm or skills.

Is writing one more fancy and unrealistic dream to avoid getting a real job? I’ve stuck at it much longer than the other ideas (though it’s made less profit) and have published half a million words. I’ve even sold 200-300 books (although not a single copy of Class Act!) But it’s not earth-shattering and certainly not a career.

Parenting is such a thankless, soul-destroying pass time (for me) that I need to feel good at something, to feel successful. Something to offset the endless criticism and contrariness of a three and a five year old. Part of that includes making money and getting positive feedback. Feeling like I’m actually good at something I enjoy.

To be honest I probably need an agent, a publishing deal. But if my writing is flat, formal, clichéd, I’ll never get one. And if I ‘m not prepared to tear a manuscript apart to its bones and rebuild it, am I just another delusional wannabe?

Don’t answer that.

Ebook Formatting Rant

Out now!

Out now!

Self-publishing is meant to be about control: you choose the cover, the content, the marketing and the final product. And mostly that’s true. But, when you publish ebooks, you have very little control over the finished article. Even with print on demand paperbacks you get some variances – I’ve had some printed beautifully and others not so hot. But at least the layout and pagination doesn’t change.

But today I spent eight hours fixing something – across all my kindle books – that possibly wasn’t even broken. I forgot to feed the kids and walk the dog. I was grumpy and horrible and teary. All because the books I downloaded to my iPad from Amazon kept losing their formatting, despite looking fine in the ‘look inside’.

I tried crazy things to fix it, like uploading the files to Smashwords and copying their mobi version to upload to KDP, rather than using an html file (Amazon’s recommendation), but that didn’t really work as Amazon and Smashwords have different formatting criteria.

It isn’t the first trauma I’ve had with formatting, particularly with my latest novel Class Act. It took 27 versions (that’s the actual number, not my usual hyperbole) before I got rid of a loose link in the epub version of Class Act which would then allow Smashwords to approve it for Premium distribution. It was a puzzle that even their tech guys couldn’t fix. And that’s just for one device. I can’t check Kindle or Kobo or Sony because I don’t have those devices. I preview online and it bears no resemblance to the downloaded version or the original.

I even bought copies of my own books today to see if that made a difference (At least I made one sale on Class Act! 🙂 ). One of them still had ‘draft’ on page one, despite the update going through days ago. Terrifying.

The worst part is the not knowing. Did 3,000 people download a free copy of Baby Blues  & Wedding Shoes and not read it because the text is all left justified and spaced out like in the version I see? When I use Kindle for PC it looks okay but how many people read on iPads like I do?

I try so hard to look professional without forking out money that I don’t have. I’d rather pay for structural editing than formatting. But if the formatting prevents people from reading, maybe that’s the wrong choice.

Anyway, I don’t know the answer, I just know it’s dampening my Hurrah that Class Act is finally live. It’s more a harrump! Now as well as praying for sales, dreading reviews and stressing over typos I have a whole new thing to worry about. Still, no one said self-publishing would be easy!

Writing Research and Pre-Holiday Blues

Birthday boy (a week early)

Birthday boy (a week early)

I’m supposed to be packing for holiday this morning but I am beyond exhausted. In the last two weeks I’ve written 30,000 words, done four hours of live art, spent a whole day arranging a fundraising site for a friend with much more on her plate than I have. I’ve had children home poorly from school, sourced an editor for my children’s book, had the edits back for Class Act and lost a day’s childcare to a ‘bonus trip to the zoo’ to which I had to escort my own child and pay to get in. (Don’t get me started…)

And to top it all off I spent Friday chasing prescriptions and getting lost when I was meant to be finalising my Montegrappa Scholastic competition entry and doing ten loads of laundry and ironing for the holiday. Saturday was out because we celebrated hubbie’s birthday a week early so the house had to be found under the weeks of accumulated dirt, and lunch for six needed cooking.

The only upside of the chaos was that getting lost was great research for my children’s novel. A large part of the action is set in an over-grown bramble-buried forest, and that’s not far off where I ended up for an hour on Friday. I only stopped to let the dog have a run. She’d had to sit in the car for an hour after I ‘popped in’ on the way back from the vets to get hubbie’s prescription and discovered it hadn’t been ordered.

Ready for editing...

Ready for editing…

I decided to try a new walk I’d seen before, that looked like a straight forward walk across fields into a wood. When I got there it was beautiful – all meandering tracks shaded from the hot sun, with bracken and woodland flowers. So off we went. But I have NO sense of direction and before long I was starting to panic. I headed in the direction I thought would take me to my car, but ended up at what looked like a disused quarry. Unlike Claire, in Two-Hundred Steps Home, I don’t have a smart phone with GPS. So I rang hubbie and he tried to work out where I was and to give me directions. Unfortunately he couldn’t work out my location (turns out he was looking at the wrong quarry.)

In a panic I hung up and decided to follow the dog in case, you know, she turned out to be Lassie or something. She led me towards the flooded quarry so I climbed a barbed wire fence and headed in. Of course I forgot she loves puddles and hates trees and her only motivation was to get out in the open. When we got in she jumped in a puddle and looked at me as if to say, ‘now what?’

The disused quarry looked remarkably like an off-road course and after I’d scrambled up and down a few sheer muddy tracks (in a skirt and sandals) I realised where I was. And it was a long way from the car.

Panic was escalating: being lost terrifies me, especially when I have a zillion things to do and the kids to pick up in three hours. So I ran back across the land-rover off-road course, having realised it was a dead end. I climbed through a bramble bush, catching my long skirt and nearly falling down the bank, and badly stinging my arm. I raced across a sheep field, realised I couldn’t get out, and walked the full length to the gate.

Being a field for livestock there was no way the dog was scrambling under the wire. So I picked her up – all 28kg of her (the vet told me off for her being overweight) – and I threw her over a four-foot barbed-wire topped gate. She landed on her back and for a moment I thought we’d be going back to the vets. Thankfully she was fine. We were about a mile from the car in 25 degree heat and inappropriate clothing. But we made it. My ‘quick walk’ took over an hour.

No wonder I find myself too tired to get out of bed and deal with the hyped-up mega whining children this morning.

I need a holiday.

A Bio, A Synopsis and The Danger of Distraction

Back at Nursery Today

Back at Nursery Today

My son went back to nursery today (hurrah!) and I was able to get back to work. Unfortunately a night of broken sleep has left me a little dazed and I’m finding it hard to concentrate. So, rather dangerously, I decided to do something different. I’ve just read Julie Duffy’s guest post on Charlotte Rains Dixon’s blog, about 15 Fixes for Your Worst Writer’s Block (worth a read!) I decided to combine ‘Work On A Different Part Of The Project’ and ‘Change Projects’. So today I’ve been working on the extra stuff I need to enter my WIP in the Independent’s children’s novel competition – the bio and synopsis – and I got out an old manuscript that I want to work on next.

It was a shock looking at the old manuscript and realising I started writing it in 2008, before my daughter was born. That’s five and a half years ago! Where did the time go? It’s also tough reading something that you remember as being quite good and realising your writing has come on some way since then. Which is of course fantastic – I’d hate to think my writing had got worse – but as I wrote the manuscript whilst also studying a Creative Writing degree course with the Open University, I kind of assumed it might be okay. Actually the writing might be – I didn’t get much chance to go into it – but the formatting and grammar are awful!

I spent the morning roughly reformatting it because I’ve programmed myself to write ready-to-publish documents, after doing Two-Hundred Steps Home last year, when everything had to be ready to publish at the end of each month. Formatting and layout, styles and chapter headings, all have to be to Smashwords standards (easy enough to convert to Kindle formatting). It did mean that I noticed things like how many bits of dialogue start with, “So…” Which is how I speak, but no longer how I write fiction. It’s nice to know I have grown a bit as a writer in half a decade.

I had to quickly put the manuscript away before it dragged me further in. It’s probably a blessing that it needs so much work: I’m not tempted to start that particular challenge when I have two big deadlines looming: finishing this children’s book by the end of next week, and getting Class Act out by the end of June.

So I wrote my Author Biography (see! I started another sentence with ‘so’!) It was rather gratifying. I was able to put:

Amanda Martin is a self-published author and blogger, with a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Her blog, Writermummy, has accumulated 550 posts in two years, and she has published four novels. Amanda’s women’s fiction novel Two-Hundred Steps Home was written in daily instalments and published in monthly volumes in 2013 as part of a challenge on her blog. A section of the novel has been selected to appear in a Cambridge University Press study book. Amanda’s Young Adult novel, Dragon Wraiths, was long-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel award in 2013. George and the Magic Arch is her first Middle Grade novel, although MG fiction is her favourite genre.

All of which should hopefully be true by the time I put in the competition entry, or at least by the time someone comes to read it! It’s nice to feel I’ve been doing something with my time at home these last five years.  I even managed to write a one-page synopsis which, although it will need tweaking, takes a weight off my mind. I hate writing synopses (if that’s the correct plural?)

Anyway, distraction time is over. As the children have been off sick this week I’m marginally behind on my 15,000 word target, although it’s still in sights. I definitely do better working to a target. I must remember that.