Monkey Mailing Lists and Mind-numbing Stats

Finally set up a mailing list

Finally set up a mailing list

I’ve spent the last 24 hours catching up on all the internet-based work tasks I’ve avoided since about Christmas, when illness drove me away from Twitter and to the comforting arms of a good book.

My free promotion for Dragon Wraiths started at 8am yesterday and, in the hopes of making it more successful than my countdown deals (which resulted in one single, lonely, sale) I knew I would need to have an online presence.

There isn’t much you can fix in a day, but I did my best. I woke up my dormant twitter account, caught up on my writermummy facebook page and finally wrote the Goodreads reviews on all the lovely books I’ve read in the past few weeks (some of them, anyway, I still have a couple more to do).

The first day of my promotion has been okay, considering the lack of preparation. I even made it to number 1 in a category in France! You take success where you can! I don’t regret my six-week sabbatical from Twitter. I realised it wasn’t the platform for me: I got out much less than I found myself putting in. In the writer’s journey I’ve realised that I am happy with a slowly-slowly slightly haphazard approach while I concentrate on improving my craft and raising my kids. I intend to read the Kristen Lamb book I got for Christmas at some point, and I am implementing tips on sales and marketing I pick up on blogs and forums, but you can only do what you can do.

Reaching #1 in a category on Amazon.fr :)

Reaching #1 in a category on Amazon.fr 🙂

One thing I have finally got around to, however, is setting up a mailing list for people to sign up to if they want news on promotions and new releases. I’ve been meaning to do it for ages but was galvanised into action by realising that there are forty people on Goodreads who have marked Dragon Wraiths as ‘to-read’ and I have no way to tell them it’s currently free. I’ve been shy of creating a mailing list before, seeing it as a bit spammy, but now I can see there might actually be some people who want to know when I’m running a giveaway or when my next book will be out.

I’m still figuring out the ins and outs of Mailchimp, the provider I selected after a ten second internet search at 1am this morning, but I’ve tested the form and it seems to work (except it gives out my home address which I’m not thrilled about). If you want to add your email to the list, the link is to the right in the margin, or click on the image in this post, and I promise never to be spammy. 🙂

Now I’m off to see if I’ve reached the top ten in any more random categories on Amazon (I’m doing well in Coming of Age and Sword and Scorcery). It’s my favourite part of a free giveaway!

Half Term: Not For the Faint-Hearted

Decorating people at the library

Decorating people at the library

Phew. Last solo day of the school holidays survived. Half term is not for the faint-hearted. I think I’m going to have to build up some serious stamina before the long vacation in the summer, otherwise I won’t make it out alive.

It’s not like I didn’t have help today: a cuppa in bed from my lovely husband, after a night awake with the coughing son; a 9am drop off for the youngest at nursery (so civilised, especially with zero traffic); a trip to the cafe for a promised treat of cake; then craft at the library saw me through to 11am.

A quick dog walk / bike ride to the park, followed by a sandwich and an early collection of the little man, and we were on the way to friend’s house by 1pm.

Look what I made!

Look what I made!

Then five hours of fun and mayhem and shared parenting (the best sort), with a bit of discussion about politics and schooling thrown in, and I just about managed to stay awake to drive us all home after tea, bath and pyjamas. (Barney helped: the strident tones of singing dinosaurs in the dark will do that).

I didn’t fare so well with hubbie’s Friday Night movie, with not even the charms of Vin Diesel (as the slightly creepy Riddick) having the ability to keep my eyes from closing (although I did enjoy his deep sexy voice for a few moments before the world of sofa sleep enveloped me).

Five days of full-time Mummy and I’m exhausted. I’d give my right arm (on loan for a bit at any rate) for half an hour of Homes Under the Hammer and a hot cup of tea. Well, that’s Monday’s lunch break organised, all being well.

Anyway, sorry for another short and uninspired post. I’m off to dream up survival tactics for the summer hols. Night night.

P.S. In an effort to get a few more reviews I will be offering promotions on my books in the next couple of weeks. Dragon Wraiths is free on Amazon (all sites) for the next 48 hours. Links below (for the main sites I sell on). Please share with anyone you think might enjoy as fast-paced fantasy read. Ta. 🙂

Dragon Wraiths on Amazon.com

Dragon Wraiths on Amazon.co.uk

Dragon Wraiths on Amazon.com.au

Dragon Wraiths on Amazon.ca

Dragon Wraiths and Daughter Days

Iron-on Crayon Art

Iron-on Crayon Art

Phew, how do teachers do it? I spent the day with my daughter today, as my son was in nursery. It’s the only whole day I have with her this half term so we crammed a lot in. Swimming for an hour followed by shopping for new school shoes (how do they get so trashed?!), new waterproofs (why do kids grow so fast?) and new school socks (how can five pairs vanish in as many months?)

Then the obligatory trip to McDonalds (yes, I know, parenting shame. I don’t care, sorry!) followed by more shopping to buy another four birthday gifts to see us through March’s parties. An unexpected extra expense of school has definitely been the birthday parties. Although at least we rarely have to make weekend plans!

You’d think my daughter might have been tired when we got home? Oh no. I barely drank a cup of tea before she was onto the next activity: iron-on crayons that she got for her birthday. I didn’t mind, actually, as I like clever non-messy craft. And I knew those t-shirts I bought for her nativity would come in handy. It took a while to explain the concept of colouring a back-to-front design so it would be the right way round when ironed onto the t-shirt, but I’m pleased with our shared efforts. And I didn’t even interfere that much! 😉

Not Bad (and no unsolicited help. Well, not much! :)

Not Bad (and no unsolicited help. Well, not much! 🙂

A break then? Nah. Then we wrapped up a bunch of gifts (with my fast-dimishing patience put severly to the test. Gift wrapping is one of those things that I find it REALLY hard to leave to her: largely because I foolishly fear being judged as a bad wrapper!) There was just time for a quick sandwich before we had to pick up my son.

The day wasn’t over, as we still had an hour at the library to get through. The kids now want to play board games and I just want to crawl into bed. It’s only 6.30pm. I already had huge respect for teachers but the idea of multiplying today by 25 is just horrific. Give me struggling with character arcs and plot holes any day!

Talking of which, I woke at 4.30am this morning in a cold sweat having dreamed I was being chased by dogs. It was a convincing dream and during the hour it took to calm down (until my daughter woke at 5.30am) I had some great ideas for a sequel to Dragon Wraiths.

I’ve wanted to write a sequel since I finished it, but had so many dilemmas about viewpoints and plot. I’m still pretty vague but I feel a tiny step closer, including deciding that it has to be told by Leah again (my preference was to have it multi-viewpointed from the perspective of the new wraiths. But it felt like trouble!) Now I just have to get Class Act finished! But first, sleep. I’m taking my two terrors to the Space Museum on my own tomorrow: something tells me I’m going to need all my energy!

How Many Heads?

How many viewpoints in a novel?

How many viewpoints in a novel?

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

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

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

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

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

Class Act Cover

Class Act Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Publishing isn’t for the Fainthearted: 2013 365 Challenge #308

Smashwords Dashboard

Smashwords Dashboard

My unshaken confidence in my five-year plan to become an author that actually sells books took a serious wobble today. Due to dismal sales figures last month (each book only sold 6 copies) and the lack of any reviews on Baby Blues, I decided to drop the Smashwords price to 99p on both books for November. It ties in nicely with NaNoWriMo: my contribution, if you like, as I can’t participate this year. The first draft of Baby Blues was penned during NaNo 2011 (while I sat watch over my solo art exhibition) and it seemed appropriate to celebrate the fact.

However, when I dropped the price on Smashwords they put the book under review (even though I hadn’t touched the manuscript) and then booted it out of Premium Catalogue for apparently containing page numbers. It doesn’t. So instead of writing a decent Claire installment this morning, I spent two hours copying and pasting the entire MS into a new word document, relinking the hyperlinks and double-checking everything. Only to have the darn thing not load properly. I’ve tried three times today and it’s still ‘loading’. Grrr.

It’s very tempting to withdraw both my novels from Smashwords and re-enroll them in KDP Select, as I haven’t sold any copies through any other route. It feels a bit like moving to sit in the other end of the boat as it goes down though – I don’t think it’s going to make much difference to the result. There are just too many books out there to compete with. Free books. Books with glitzy covers. Racy books, thrillers, erotica. Things people seem to want to read.

A lovely review

A lovely review

So far I’ve had around 2,200 copies of the free Two-Hundred Steps Home downloaded, across the ten volumes. That’s thousands more than I’ve sold copies of my novel. So my glorious idea of writing THSH to hopefully cross sell Baby Blues and Dragon Wraiths clearly isn’t working. I did get a nice review on THSH Volume 10 today – my first review on anything in ages. (Don’t get me started on the reviews from friends and family that Amazon just won’t publish, even though they’re not at all sycophantic and are just genuine and nice).

I try so hard not to get disillusioned. I knew this was going to be a long slog. I could still be trying for an agent for Dragon Wraiths: instead I’ve sold nearly 100 copies. It doesn’t sound like much, but rumour has it even eighty-something percent of traditionally published books don’t sell more than 100 copies, so it’s something to be proud of. It’s just hard, spending 70% of my time on promotion, formatting, covers, social media, thinking up new sales ideas and 30% on actually writing more books. I can’t even squeeze in NaNoWriMo for the first time since 2008.

I have four unfinished manuscripts and two outlines for sequels and I haven’t been near them all year. I’ve loved doing THSH and publishing Dragon Wraiths and Baby Blues, but it’s hard not to feel discouraged when I see what little impact they’ve had. Writing the darn things is just not enough. The story of my life revolves around my inability to sell my stuff. Web design, paintings, books – you name it. I can do the graft, put in the hard work, but if no one buys anything it’s just so much clutter and hours wasted.

Anyway, sorry for the doom and gloom, I’m sure it’s the infernal cold talking and I’ll be back to my positive self tomorrow. That’s if Smashwords actually sees fit to publish my book anytime soon! Grrr

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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:

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Claire looked at the email and pursed her lips, trying to read beneath the business-like words. The message contained none of the usual friendly jokes or snide comments that they used to, before Sunday night ruined everything. With a frown she read the note again.

Claire

Thank you for sending through your initial findings, they appear satisfactory, although I have not had a great deal of time to peruse them. We are working hard on the Carnival and there isn’t much time to spare.

Regarding the Carnival: I need you to be back in town for that week. I realise that it isn’t part of your current job description to help out, but I’m afraid we’re short staffed. It’s an essential part of the region’s tourism, so I’m sure you’ll understand why we need it to be a success.

In the meantime I suggest you press on towards Cornwall: there is a lot of ground to cover and, as I understand you’re still in Dartmoor, you will struggle to get around all the major destinations in the time allotted.

Regards

Conor

The last sentence definitely sounded like a rebuke, although Claire couldn’t point to the exact part that gave her that impression. Did he know she was hiding, licking her wounds? Was he angry at her running away or ashamed at his behaviour? There was nothing to work with. It was as friendly and helpful as an email from Carl would have been.

Pushing her laptop away, Claire pulled out a copy of the hostel map and worked out her route. She’d decided to stick to the YHA hostels, after her experience in Torquay.

Although I’ll learn to call ahead.

Looking around the empty hostel at Bracken Tor, Claire wondered if she would be as fortunate to have an entire building to herself in any of the other hostels. It felt a bit spooky, with the gardener the only other living person in the area, but at the same time her soul yearned for the solitude.

When she’d arrived back at the hostel she’d decided to skip her planned activity and wander around the house and gardens, enjoying the silence. She’d read her book, eaten some toast and made endless cups of hot tea. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt at such peace with the world.

Still, Conor has put an end to that. Back to work.

With a sigh, Claire looked down the list of hostels and picked one to call. She grabbed her phone and keys, strode out the room and up the hill until she got a signal.

“Yes, hello? I’d like to book a bed for the night. Yes, tonight please.”

As she waited for the manager to check for vacancies, Claire looked around at the endless scenery, with no sight of the steaming heap of humanity Conor was so fond of. Aside from the hum of the main road, she could have been on a remote island, miles from anyone or anywhere.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

***

“Kobogeddon”

First WH Smith then all KOBO

First WH Smith then all KOBO

A couple of days ago I wrote about online retailers censoring self-published and indie books, referring to WH Smith / Kobo in the UK. Despite including this picture of the BBC news headline, “Kobo pulls self-published books after abuse row”, I didn’t really appreciate that there were two distinct (though overlapping) aspects to the scandal.

The first part, to do with censorship of erotica, I covered in my previous post. I personally don’t have a problem with restricting books that might be considered inappropriate (or ‘sick’ as one commenter defined them. Although I think these days sick means good, yes? I’m over thirty, I don’t know.)

The other element, that had passed me by, was the fact that Kobo blamed self-published authors for the whole affair. I caught up when I stumbled across the hashtag Kobogeddon on Twitter last night. UK-based author Rayne Hall started the hashtag to bring attention to Kobo’s hypocrisy and back-stabbing actions. Her blog posts on Goodreads here and here explain the full story, for anyone who doesn’t know the details.

#Kobogeddon on Twitter

#Kobogeddon on Twitter

In summary, a UK newspaper pointed out to WH Smith that they had featured books on rape and incest alongside children’s books (I think we can all agree that something had to be done. Perhaps put an 18+ filter on all books containing erotica?). In reaction WH Smith took down their ebook website and their provider, Kobo, took down all UK books. (Not just UK authors, I believe US authors were affected, although their books are still available in the US).

Fine. They had to do something. I’ve worked in PR, I get that. But they only took down self-published books (and ALL of them, not just erotica): any traditionally published erotica is still available for all to see.

That was five days ago. As of now my books are still not available on Kobo, although I understand that books published directly through Kobo are starting to reappear.  Any of you who have read Dragon Wraiths, or Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, or any one of the Claire installments on this blog that I collate into free books, will know there is nothing racier than a non-explicit sex scene or the occasional snog. Hardly risqué, Kobo.

Yet when I type in “School of” (as suggested by a comment on Rayne Hall’s blog) I get this selection of books (picture below): notice the erotic books School of Spank and School of Discipline alongside the children’s book The Clumsies Make a Mess of the School.

Kobo search results for "School of"

Kobo search results for “School of”

When I look down the list of categories on the left hand side there isn’t even an erotica category listed (although if you click in the book they are labelled as erotica, so the tagging is there).

I have restrictions enabled on my iPad to stop the children coming across things they shouldn’t (including books). Shame it doesn’t seem to work on any of the online retail sites. Smashwords at least has an adult filter, although it seems not all authors are using it. Self-published authors do need to take some responsibility for correctly tagging their books.

But Kobo has got it all wrong. Indie and Self-Published authors are not the only problem. Even if authors are not correctly labelling their books as ‘adult’, it still only represents a proportion of all books. By taking down everything, with no explanation (unless authors are published directly with them) they haven’t just chucked the baby out with the bath water, they’ve thrown the cash cow over a cliff.

Like it or not, self-publishing is part of the future of the book industry and pissing off authors is a really bad idea. I don’t need Kobo. According to my Smashwords stats I haven’t had a single book downloaded from Kobo since the beginning (although I might be in trouble if Barnes and Noble decide they don’t want to publish my books). I have other routes to market. Do they?

Please spread the word, whether you’re in the UK or not. If possible, buy your ebooks from another source. Direct from Smashwords is best. Support your Indie authors! We thank you for it.

Style hell Sunday: 2013 365 Challenge #273

A nice moody monochrome cover seemed right for Volume 9

A nice moody monochrome cover seemed right for Vol9

Word styles are going to be the death of me. After all the issues with Baby Blues and Normal vs Style2, I’ve had problems today that made that look like child’s play to fix.

Dragon Wraiths came out of KDP select as of this morning, so I put it back on Smashwords, thinking I’d fixed all the formatting issues last month. Wrong. So at 8 am, when I should have been writing my Claire post, I was desperately trying to fix formatting issues. Then during the morning, between ironing uniform and doing laundry, I spent hours trying to fix the index.

Five versions later I admitted defeat and copied a working index in from an old file. Then, as we were about to leave for the in-laws’, I desperately tried to fix the tiny text-and-indenting issues.

Arrived at father-in-law’s to discover that hadn’t worked so spent the journey home fixing them on my laptop in the car. While cooking sausage and mash and folding laundry this evening I made one last attempt and – fingers crossed – it looks okay now. On iBooks at least. I’m too scared to check the other versions.

I tweaked a few other formatting issues too, so I’ll now have to upload a new version to Amazon and redo my CreateSpace version. Formatting never ends! I begin to understand why people pay companies to do it for them! Although there is a sense of satisfaction when it all comes good.

On a happy note, tomorrow is the beginning of October (scary, I know!), which means it’s nearly my birthday, my sister comes home for a visit in a week, and we survived the manic month of September! Hurrah

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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: 

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Claire jumped down from the coach and waved vaguely in the driver’s direction. She’d already checked which bus would take her to the airport and the driver had pointed out the stop.

If only the tour still stopped in Christchurch overnight, I could have booked a taxi to pick me up from the hostel. Bloody earthquake.

Standing at the stop, Claire tried to remember the last time she’d caught a bus. Back in Manchester she’d stuck to the trams, if public transport had featured at all. Mostly she used her car.

Please let NZ buses run punctually.

Claire chewed the side of her nail and stared along the road, willing the bus to appear amidst the traffic. She was surprised how many cars there were on the street on a Saturday evening.

I wonder if the Kiwis come into town for a night out. I wish I was heading to a bar for a double gin and tonic. Hopefully there’ll be enough money to buy one on the plane, assuming I get there.

Claire could almost taste the cool refreshing tang of tonic with a slice of lime, and she took a swig of water to wet her throat. Her tummy rumbled but she didn’t dare leave the stop to look for food. Plenty of time to worry about eating when her luggage was checked in and she had her boarding pass.

At last the bus appeared down the street. It seemed to take forever to reach her in the traffic. Claire jumped on almost before the doors were open.

“Airport, please.”

The driver nodded and named the fare.

“How long will it take?”

“Half an hour, assuming we don’t hit traffic. Don’t worry, chook, we’ll get you there for your flight.”

Claire took a seat, wondering how much panic was visible on her face to get a pep-talk from a complete stranger.

Outside the window, she was able to get a true sense of the devastation caused by the earthquake and began to realise the traffic was not caused by volume of people, but the need to negotiate streets still closed off by piles of rubble.

Gazing at the buildings along the central business district, Claire realised they were actually shipping containers, stacked up and painted. It made her sad to think of the once beautiful city in such a state of disrepair, however much it matched her mood.

As the bus drove along suburban streets lined with bare trees, Claire felt increasingly like she was on her way home.

It’s not winter there, though. How odd to go from spring to summer to autumn and back to summer again.

She tried to imagine travelling around Cornwall in the sunshine, back in her own car and in control of her travel plans. The thought raised a flicker of happiness deep inside, but it was soon extinguished by her concern for Kim and her need to get home.

At last there were signs to the airport and Claire felt her heartbeat quicken. Before they were even close to the building she rose and walked to the front of the bus.

“Where do you drop us?”

“At the arrivals hall.”

“Damn. How far to departures?”

The driver laughed. “Not far. It’s not exactly Singapore. You’ll be fine.”

“My flight leaves in half an hour.”

“Ah, you are cutting it close. No worries, we’ll get you there.”

Claire clung on to the nearest seat as the driver put his foot down. She wished she’d told him earlier that she was in a hurry.

I can’t imagine a bus driver in the UK going faster because I’m late for my flight. He’d be more likely to berate me for my bad planning.

“Here you go. Through there, you can’t miss it. I’d get a move on though. Good luck.”

With a wave, Claire jumped down from the bus, shouldered her rucksack, and ran.

She found the international check in desks and looked for her flight. All the signs were blank and she felt the panic begin to rise up her throat. One desk had a woman behind it and she ran towards her, bumping the barriers with her rucksack.

“Hi,” she panted, dropping her bag to the floor. “I need to check in for my flight to Sydney.”

The woman behind the desk looked up and frowned. “You’re too early, check in isn’t open yet.”

“What do you mean? My flight leaves in thirty minutes.”

The frown deepened. “Sorry, Ma’am, you’re too late to check in for that fight. I can put you on standby for the next flight, but it doesn’t leave until the morning. You’ll have to find accommodation for the night.”

“What do you mean I can’t check in? I’ve still got at least twenty minutes before the flight leaves. I can’t get one in the morning, I’m connecting to Dubai.”

The check-in clerk looked at Claire with a mixture of pity and frustration. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, you should have allowed more time to get to the airport. I can’t get you checked in and through security in twenty minutes. The gate is already closed.”

Claire stared at the perfectly made-up face, the immaculate hair, the clean and ironed clothing, and knew hatred. After everything she had been through to get here, to miss the flight because this woman wouldn’t let her through was too much. She wanted to scream and rant, to barge through and run for the gate. To do something desperate.

Instead she stood, numb and defeated, and let the tears fall.

***

Reclusive Paperback Writer: 2013 365 Challenge #271

Up at sunrise to write today

Up at sunrise to write today

How cool – my husband just bought a paper copy of Baby Blues off Amazon. I only made about 50p but that’s not the point! It’s there; a real book (free delivery, too, which is better than paying for proof copies to be shipped from the US.)

I’m much more nervous than I have been about anything to do with the self publishing journey so far. Not only is a paper book more permanent than an ebook, it’s also a much bigger investment from a reader (though less profit for me – I couldn’t bring myself to charge more. It’s already double what I’d pay for a paperback!)

I’ve been formatting Dragon Wraiths for print today and it was really tough rereading the book. I’d love to rewrite it, armed with 270 days of writing and editing every day. I feel I am a stronger writer now, and I want to bring my first novel up to my current standard. But if an author did that for every book, would they ever get around to writing any more?

As an aside, someone mentioned today that I seem a little like a recluse with my online presence. I was surprised because I feel like I spend half my life trying to increase my online presence. That said, I think it’s in the nature of a writer to hide in a cave. I guess that’s why social media can be a struggle.

Gorgeous Day

Gorgeous Day

I think it’s time I got a copy of one of Kristen Lamb’s books on social media – We are not alone: The writer’s guide to social media or Rise of the Machines (her latest one). I’ve resisted so far only because I already have dozens of books I haven’t read on writing and marketing. Hers are meant to be among the best though, so a good investment of my time. Has anyone read either of them? Which should I get?

(As an aside, I went to Kristen Lamb’s blog to see how much Rise of the Machines is, and it’s not available to buy on her page as far as I can see. Isn’t that a social media fail? 🙂 )

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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: 

THIS POST CONTAINS SOME STRONG LANGUAGE

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Claire read the text message again and frowned, the movement exacerbating the headache she’d had all afternoon. Glancing up at the window, she saw only the reflection of the empty dorm room. At 8 o’clock in the evening in Queenstown, it seemed everyone was out partying.

I should be on a bus to Christchurch. My flight leaves in 24 hours.

She’d tried to get a bus to the airport as soon as the tiny plane carrying her from Milford landed, but it turned out all the buses left early in the morning. With no choice but to wait in the hostel, and with no iPad or money, Claire felt like she might burst.

And then the text from Kim had arrived. Claire read it for a third time, but it still made no sense.

Sorry, Claire. I’ve been a bad friend. But it won’t matter anymore. Have a nice life. Kim.

Every time she read the words, Claire felt the knot tighten in her stomach. If it hadn’t been from Kim, she would have worried that it was a goodbye note from someone intending to do something foolish. But Kim was the most resilient person she knew.

The nagging worry continued to worm under her skin. At last Claire had to do something or go mad.

Hi Kim, lovely to hear from you. If anyone’s been a bad friend it’s me. I’ll be home in two days, please say we can catch up and be friends? I’ve missed you so much. Claire.

Claire watched the phone, waiting for a response. As the minutes ticked by, the tightness in her chest became unbearable.

“Damn it!”

Grabbing the phone, Claire strode from the room and down to reception.

“Hi, I need to call the UK, do you sell phone cards?” Claire looked at the girl behind reception sat reading a magazine. She turned her head slowly and gazed at Claire without speaking.

“Do you sell phone cards, please? I need to call England.”

The girl nodded, and reached into a box under the desk.

“Five bucks will give you twenty minutes to the UK, is that enough?”

Claire nodded. It would have to be; she needed to save every last bit of money to get to the airport and buy something to eat on the way home.

Tapping her foot, as the girl wrote something down in a book before handing over the card, Claire snatched it and span round to locate the phone. She spotted it in the corner, but it was in use. Judging by the body language of the girl curled around the handset it was likely to be in use for some time.

Claire froze. She was loathe to ask the girl on reception anything, suspecting any answer would take too long. Her mind felt blank with indecision. Looking left and right, as if a phone might materialise on the blank walls, Claire was about to run out into the street when she heard the phone click.

Hand outstretched, Claire reached the handset just as a teenage boy was about to pick it up.

“Please, this is urgent. I think my friend’s in trouble. I need to make this call?” She turned pleading eyes on the boy and he shrugged and wandered back into the lounge.

The instructions on the back of the phone card seemed impossibly complicated. Claire scratched off the silver paint to reveal the code, then typed in the long string of numbers and waited.

After a long pause, the phone began to ring. Each note of the ringing tone made her heart beat faster. The phone felt slippery in her clammy hand and she twisted the cord round and round.

“Answer, Kim. Come on. You only sent that text half an hour ago. Answer, Goddamnit.”

Ten rings, twenty, then the phone went dead. A metallic voice came on the line.

“You have four dollars twenty cents remaining. Do you wish to make another call?”

Scrolling through her phone book with numb fingers, Claire found Jeff’s number and dialled it in. Again the phone rang, five times, ten. Claire was wondering who she would call next when she heard a click.

“Yes?”

“Jeff? It’s Claire.”

“Claire. Cricky, how are you? I thought you were in New Zealand.”

“I am. Listen, is Kim with you?”

“No. She said she needed a night by herself, so I’m staying with mates. Why?” His voice rose slightly. “Have you guys spoken at last?”

“No. She sent me a text. Look it might be nothing, but it sounded like she was saying goodbye. You don’t think she’d do something stupid, do you? It’s not like her, but I’ve tried ringing and she’s not answering.”

“Fuck.” Jeff’s voice came out like a bullet. Then Claire could hear movement and panting, as if Jeff was running.

“How long ago did you get the text?” His voice sounded distant.

“Half an hour. Jeff, you’re scaring me. Why would Kim kill herself?” Claire fought the wave of nausea threatening to overwhelm her. She leant against the wall and held the phone with both hands.

“She’s had depression, since the miscarriage. Oh Claire, it’s been awful. I wish you guys hadn’t fallen out. She’s on medication but I’m not sure she’s been taking it. Look I have to go. Thanks for calling me.”

“Wait. Jeff. I’m sorry. Tell her I’m sorry.” The phone was silent, and Claire wondered if Jeff had gone, or if he thought she was too much to blame.

“It’s not your fault, Claire. We’ll sort it out when you get home. If I’m not too late.”

The phone went dead.

***

Anniversary & 9,000 Likes Giveaway

I’m really pleased to be taking party in Shannon Thompson’s anniversary giveaway (US only, I’m afraid) to celebrate her amazing milestone of 9,000 likes.

Shannon’s blog is well worth a visit even if you aren’t eligible for the giveaway.

As a little additional bonus, I will be giving away an electronic copy of Dragon Wraiths and Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes to a person picked at random who leaves a comment on this post (from anywhere in the world!)

Shannon A Thompson

Today marks the one-year anniversary of ShannonAThompson.com!

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Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 4.14.12 PM

I wanted to thank everyone for encouraging me as I continue on this journey of writing and publishing. You might recall that I announced a GIANT giveaway to celebrate 9,000 followers, and it is now up and running:

a Rafflecopter giveaway (for U.S. residents only)

You can enter the raffle until October 9, so have fun and enter to win all of these fantastic novels:

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Dark Dreams: 2013 365 Challenge #267

Today's Claire post is about the beautiful Milford Sound

Today’s Claire post is about the beautiful Milford Sound

I had a dark dream last night; a full story one, like Dragon Wraiths but much more creepy.

When I woke I wasn’t scared although I hate scary or violent movies: I told hubbie off the other night for putting Three Kings on without telling me what it was like. The scene I saw – of soldiers aggressively stripping captured people naked – had me fleeing the room in distress. The image stayed in my mind for days, like it was burned into my retina.

Last night’s dream was a bit like that, but without the horror. I don’t remember dreams with much lucidity but I recall I was in a huge building, hiding out (I think that bit came from a news report on the awful terrorist attack in Nairobi, where they said people might be hiding anywhere in the shopping centre). Only this was a Bond-esque evil empire complex with some terrible purpose behind the bustling activity and the steel and glass.

In the end I was captured, hiding out in a disabled toilet of all places. Then it gets really weird. Because I’m sure I was assaulted and tortured. I definitely remember that they changed my face to make me hideous and unrecognisable. But, unlike my usual dreams, I didn’t wake up terrified. And although it’s stuck with me all day, it has done so in a detached way that’s very unlike me.

I didn't see much of the Sound when I was there!

I didn’t see much of the Sound when I was there!

I can’t help but feel my subconscious is trying to spill out another book. But I don’t write suspense thrillers. I don’t even read them anymore. When I had kids I grew soft and now I need happy endings (even to the point of redeeming the antagonist).

I thought Dragon Wraiths, which also came in a dream, was a long way out my comfort zone. Writing a story around this dream would be outside zones 1-6 and across into France.

I didn’t even intend to make notes on my dream, despite the vivid nature of the images in my mind.  But they won’t go away, especially the image of my warped tortured face.

Maybe there’s another message there entirely (possibly linked to discussions I’ve had with hubbie recently about whether I need to lose the 2 stone baby weight I’m still carrying. It’s not bothering me too much, and dieting turns me into a psycho, but my Mum’s been dropping hints.) Or maybe it was the steak I had for dinner or the fact that I got more than three hours’ sleep. Who knows?

What’s the weirdest dream you’ve Ever had? Do you incorporate dreams into your writing?

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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 memories of the south, she decided, would be memories of silence. The Catlins, Invercargill and now Milford Sound, seemed to give off an air of quiet confidence, as if there was no need to speak.

Despite the early start, Claire felt wide awake for the long journey to the fjords. The bus stopped again and again and each time the scenery became more impressive. Huge mountains towered above them, or glittered in reflection. Overhead, the skies shone blue and Claire thanked the weather gods for their parting gift. She decided she didn’t mind if it rained for the whole British summer when she got back home, in return for seeing the mountains all the way to the top.

And at least it didn’t look like they would get stuck the wrong side of the Homer tunnel because of snow. The tunnel had only just reopened after a rock fall, and she’d read it was possible to be snowed in for days, or weeks, if the weather turned, for those not fortunate enough to be able to fly back to Queenstown.

Please God don’t let that be my choice: I can’t afford to fly, but I can’t afford to miss my flight out of Christchurch either. It already cost a fortune to change it from Auckland.

Claire pushed her money worries aside and concentrated on absorbing the ethereal beauty outside the window. The bus slowed, and Claire saw a sign for the tunnel up ahead. Her stomach tightened at the thought of being stuck in the long snaking seven hundred and fifty metres of concrete. Soon it was their turn to go through. Claire rested her head against the seat and closed her eyes.

The darkness gave way to light and the tunnel disgorged them into the sun. Claire looked at the towering mountain walls as they drove away, and prayed she would be driving back through at sunset.

*

Claire sank back against the seat and craned her neck to see the top of the peaks surrounding her. By the time they reached Milford the sun had disappeared, leaving heavy clouds lurking above them. She guessed they wouldn’t see any seals or dolphins swimming alongside the boat today.

The view was still beautiful, as the peaks wore their fog shawls like a huddle of old women. It was disappointing not to see the Mitre Peak but Claire’s sadness lasted only until they reached the first waterfall and the guide explained that recent rainfall had made the water gush down.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

The boat pulled up close to the waterfall and they were able to reach out and fill glasses with the ice cold water. It tasted pure and refreshing. Claire tugged her waterproof around her face and let the spray of the waterfall cover her.

At the next waterfall, the boat drove right underneath the cascade. Claire thought about retreating inside, with the majority of the passengers. Something made her stay put, as the water poured over her and drenched her despite her raincoat.

Laughter bubbled up deep inside her as she stood with water dripping down her neck and running off her hair. Turning, Claire saw the bemused looks of the dry passengers and gave a little wave. A beaming child waved back, enjoying her mirth.

The boat pulled away from the waterfall, but the water continued to fall as the heavens opened. Claire watched the droplets hitting the flat sound, reducing the visibility even further until she could barely see the end of the boat. The world turned into a monochrome photograph: the slate grey water, the charcoal grey cliffs visible for only a short distance before everything else swirled into foggy white.

Shivering uncontrollably, Claire admitted defeat and went back inside the cabin, glad that she had her rucksack with her. There was something to be said for travelling light and not having a car to leave all her belongings in. Her hands trembled as she fumbled with the drawstring and eventually managed to retrieve some dry clothing.

An announcement came over the tannoy as Claire headed for the toilets to get changed.

“As you have probably noticed, it is starting to rain. The weather is as extreme as the landscape down here in the fjords, and the area can see up to 50cm of rain in just a few hours. The boat will return to Milford now, and you can continue your tour at the observatory. We apologise for any disappointment.”

With a shrug, Claire continued on her way to get dry. The rain hammered relentlessly on the cabin roof.

*

“What do you mean we’re stuck?” Claire glared at the driver and tried to ignore the fear gnawing at her innards. “I have to get to Queenstown: my flight leaves Christchurch in a couple of days.”

She felt the tears welling behind her eyes, and stopped to brush them away. Swallowing the painful lump in her throat, Claire turned away from the driver and listened as he talked quietly to the other passengers.

“Sorry, guys. The heavy rainfall has loosened some rocks near the tunnel. They won’t let us through in the dark. You will be given accommodation for tonight and we will assess the situation tomorrow.”

Claire heard a few groans, but mostly the passengers took the news calmly. If you were travelling for a whole year, what difference did an extra night make? It was all part of the adventure. Trying to find a similar fortitude, Claire followed the group to the bus and prayed for the rain to stop.

***