A Pantser Plans

Using Beat Sheets to plan my revisions

Using Beat Sheets to plan my revisions

The unthinkable happened today. I did planning. With beat sheets and notecards and everything. I’m a Pantser to the core: analysing a scene down to the tiny details paralyses me. Especially if I do it before I write, as I have done for the extra third of a novel I’m putting at the front of Class Act. But actually, do you know what, it wasn’t so bad.

I’m still working on some of the terminology, for example pinch points and black moments, although instinctively I have a shrewd idea what they are. I have done it before, actually, for all my seat-of-the-pants writing preference, and I’m always relieved at how much of the necessary detail I already have. Sometimes it just needs writing down to reassure myself I do know something (although a VERY VERY long way from everything) about this novel writing lark.

I had gathered much of the required information during my last craft session (the sporadic times when I read through a load of blogs and books to refresh or learn elements of writing craft.). My favourite resource is Jami Gold: as a Pantser and a romance writer, I feel she understands my pain. In fact her Beat Sheet for Romance Writers formed a large part of my morning’s work. She explains that if, like me, you can’t pkan in detail for fear of frightening off the Muse, you can use beats – points in the story – to make sure things are developing as they should.

I also used her posts based on a Michael Hauge workshop she attended to put more thought into my characters’ development, flaws and ultimate romance. The key ones I used were Are These Characters the Perfect Match and An Antidote to “Love at First Sight”. Both of these look at two elements of characterisation – a character’s Mask (the role they play, based on their longings, fears, wounds and beliefs: their emotional armour) and a character’s Essence (who they are inside, behind the masks, or who they have the potential to be). In a good romance, attraction will be based on Essence rather than Mask.

Planning Elements of a Scene

Planning Elements of a Scene

So, in Baby Blues, Helen was attracted to Daniel because his businessman forceful character Mask played to her career orientated Mask. But Marcio was her right love interest, because they both had the same essence underneath: a love of creativity and interpreting the world through their art, and a desire for home and family.

The concept really helps when a character moves from one relationship to another (as mine often do.) You don’t want the protagonist to look like an idiot because the previous relationship was flawed, and also you don’t want the previous partner to be a stereotype or a villain (although Daniel, in Baby Blues, is a bit of both!)

The other thing I’ve been trying to use is an Elements of a Good Scene checklist, which I also found on Jami’s Blog, the idea for which came from Janice Hardy’s blog. I feel exposed, using something like this, as I feel I don’t know the difference between “Plot point” and “action to advance the plot” or “how the stakes are raised” versus “reinforcement of the stakes”. I suspect that might be why I find it hard to write tense page turners! In my head, though, I’ve summarised it as “plot development”, “character development”, “conflict” and “backstory/theme/tone/foreshadowing”. As long as the scene has some of those that’s good. Well, it’s a start!

Of course, I was right – at the beginning when I said planning paralyses me. I need to start writing, before I spend so long on planning I’m fed up with the story or too scared to start. But it was a useful day’s work and hopefully, when I sit at my desk on Monday, I’ll be able to write some of the additional 45,000 words the story needs to get to a full length novel!

Anyway, hopefully now I have a plan this will be the last of the ‘I’ve forgotten how to do manuscript revision’ posts and I’ll get on to writing something more interesting for the non-writers who follow my blog! Thank you for your patience.

The Tricky Question of Backstory

Challenging my views of writing!

Challenging my views of writing!

Following on from yesterday’s request for advice and opinion, I need to ask about back-story. It’s the bane of my life, and Class Act is littered with it. Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes was, too, in the early drafts, and I solved the problem by starting the novel six months earlier.

That will work to some extent for Class Act, (lovely – another massive re-write! 🙂 ) but there are two incidents in the female protagonist Rebecca’s early life that impact on her current personality, and I don’t know how to integrate them. At present they’re written as flashbacks. Shudder. Unfortunately I actually like how they’re written so it’s easy to become attached to the scenes rather than put them in the bin where they should be.

The problem is I get defensive of my characters and want to explain why they have the flaws they do. But how much detail is necessary or desirable, and when should it be revealed? In The Radleys, by Matt Haig, the back story is cleverly integrated and is also overlaid with the character’s perception, so you start out with a half truth that colours your view of a character’s actions, and that view evolves and changes towards the climax of the novel. Masterful stuff. I’m pretty certain I’m not skilled enough just yet to pull it off without getting in a muddle.

The other problem is defining the novel’s inciting incident. Really, both bits of backstory are. Or the moment where the lead protagonists meet, which is where the novel currently opens. Baby Blues originally started with when the love interests meet, too, and after the rewrite that scene ended up a third of the way through the book. I like it, because you get to know the characters first, but then it blows wide open what the first turning point should be. We make decisions every day which, with hindsight, turn out to be inciting incidents. The job we take,   or the bus we catch that breaks down or gets blown up.

Incidentally, Jami Gold has a great post on the importance of getting these elements or ‘beats’ right in a novel and how defining them isn’t always straightforward! See Why Story Structure Matters. Unfortunately, even with her helpful Beat Sheets, getting the right elements into a story at the right time is (for me) the hardest part of writing.

So, right now my options are revelation through phone conversations with a friend (tricky), adding a prologue (generally advised against), or vague hints that might be missed or misunderstood. It was much easier with Claire in Two-Hundred Steps Home, as she didn’t really have a back story that mattered!

What are your views? Any great examples of how inciting incidents in childhood or early adulthood have been successfully integrated into a story? How much do you need/like to relive past experiences that have influenced a character? When do you need to know the details? Do you need to already care about a character, or do they help you care? Sometimes it feels like I’ve forgotten how to write a novel!

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… 🙂

Nearly There: 2013 365 Challenge #364

My sister bought me this for Christmas!

My sister bought me this for Christmas!

Oh my goodness, here we are, my penultimate post of 2013. When I started the 365 Challenge back in early January, I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the end of the month, never mind the end of the year. By Day 4 I was just beginning to realise what was involved.

It wasn’t merely committing to writing 1,000 words a day (on average: some days a post can be nearer 2,000 when both parts are combined) but also finding time to edit and proofread those words; to make sure each post entry and each novel installment made sense; then adding photographs, tags, categories and getting it live.

I feel like I’ve come a long way.

When I began a year ago, I thought the daily novel would be the main part. I hoped to get blog followers from people who wanted to carry on reading what I was writing. That didn’t happen on the blog, but rather over on Smashwords, where the downloads across all volumes number in the thousands. Here on the blog, while the increase in followers hasn’t been massive, I feel more like I have made some really great friends. I’ve met fellow writers, artists and parents, I’ve discovered one or two amazing Beta Readers, I’ve felt – like Claire – that I’ve found my way home.

I’ve also grown as a writer. My confidence in my ability to write is significantly greater now, after the countless hours I’ve invested in Two-Hundred Steps Home. I know, now, that I can write and polish a 500-word blog post, or a 750-word scene in a novel, in under an hour.

Thank you to my amazing kids!

Thank you to my amazing kids!

I can research anything I feel the need to discuss, from a remote pub in New Zealand to what it really means to survive suicide. I can format and self-publish a novella in a few hours and get it through Smashwords’ Autovetter first time (although I haven’t resolved my issue with their Premium Catalogue!)

Best of all, I’ve learned how to edit my own stuff and Beta-read for others. When I began my journey I was trying to proofread Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes (or Pictures of Love, as it was back then). I couldn’t do it. Line-editing left me cold. Now I know that I have to do it in chunks, and then there is a delight in crafting the words and making the sentences flow.

Let’s not leave out that I’ve written 285,000 words of fiction this year, and will have published it as 12 separate volumes, each with a cover designed by me. On top of that, I estimate that I’ve written a further 200,000 words in blog posts. That’s nearly half a million words. In one year. If they were novels, I would have drafted out five. Five! During 2 or 3 days of childcare and lots of late night sessions.

I couldn’t have done it without my family. My husband has been amazing. He’s my best critic and my biggest fan. He’s taken the children when I’ve needed to write (I couldn’t have done the challenge if he hadn’t been had home for most of the year), he’s put up with me sleeping on the sofa then prising my eyes open at 10pm to tap out five hundred words. He’s put up with a dirty house and takeaway pizza.

My poor children have dealt marvellously with a tired and grumpy Mummy who constantly has her laptop open or is always taking pictures “for the blog”.

My amazing family

My amazing family

Their recompense is that they have this unique diary of a year of their lives. Reading back through my posts is to read through some of the highs and lows of being a parent (and a human being).

None of my posts are likely to see me Freshly Pressed: I may have learnt to write fast, but I haven’t learned to write profoundly. Still, it’s all been written truthfully and from the heart.

And so I thank you all for listening. Without readers, followers, this would all be me shouting into the wind. Knowing people cared about me, about Claire, about the story, has kept me going.

The support of people on this blog has also led to me releasing two of my novels this year also; something I still find incredible.

To anyone thinking about undertaking a writing challenge in 2014 I say, “Do it!” And, so you don’t quit, get out there and tell people. Get support. Face humiliation for failing. Because some days the only thing that got my tired body up and at the laptop was the fear of failure. Not that failing is bad. I love the Samuel Beckett Quote “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Don’t be afraid to fail. As I said to my daughter, when she threw a tantrum for losing at her second-only ever game of checkers this evening, “It’s not winning or losing that counts, it’s having fun along the way.”

And it’s been fun. Mostly. 😉 See you tomorrow for the final installment!

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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 could barely swallow the food. Her throat felt as if it was lined with grit. She put down her fork and sipped at her water. Across the table, Conor’s plate was equally full. They’d exchanged only pleasantries since arriving at the restaurant. The longer they sat, the harder it was to speak the words that hovered between them like a flock of hungry seagulls.

“Walk with me.” Conor’s eyes pleaded with her and she nodded. While she retrieved her cardigan and bag he went to pay the bill. They left the restaurant in silence and she followed him down through the high street towards the shore.

The sun had sunk below the horizon and streetlights cast shadows across the empty beach. Out on the water a few boats bobbed like ghosts, but it was a far cry from the crowds of the Carnival only weeks before. With the children back at school there was an air of ending about the town; a sadness that tugged at Claire like a riptide and pulled her under.

What must it be like to live in a seaside town, where the passing of the seasons takes a back seat to ebb and flow of the tourist trade?

She wondered if she would feel the same at the activity centre, but knew that she wouldn’t. Timothy planned to take children all year round, with summer camps in the long vacation and school trips for the rest of the year. While the nearest town was a tourist resort, it also had a harbour and a university. Different blends of life intertwining to provide a tapestry of endless change.

And where will I fit in, in that tapestry? She didn’t know the answer, but knew it didn’t matter.

They walked along the shore, to the mournful sound of the tide sucking at the stones only to fall away. Conor took her hand loosely in his and the touch of his skin sent sparks across her body. She yearned to turn and yield to his embrace.

“When do you start?”

Claire jumped as his voice came loudly out of the dark. She didn’t need to ask what he meant.

“Monday.”

“So soon?”

She heard the pain and hardened herself against it. “The first school group arrived this week. They need me.”

“And what about me? What if I need you?” Before she could respond, he spoke again. “Sorry, that’s unfair. God knows you’ve done enough for other people this year. I don’t want to be another duty.”

He dropped her hand and ran his fingers through his hair as if trying to stop himself flying apart. She could just make out his face in the gloom and saw him give a wry smile.

“I tried. Really I did. I wanted to support you in whatever decision you made. But then it was so perfect, spending time with you, and I couldn’t imagine letting you go. I still can’t.”

He reached up to stroke her face, before letting his arm fall again. “Why?” The word hung in the dark and she didn’t know how to respond. “Why is it so important to you to go?”

She searched her thoughts for answers. “Honestly? I don’t know. All I know is that I have to do this. If it means losing you, being lonely forever, then that’s the price I have to pay.”

Once she started speaking, the words wouldn’t stop. They rushed on relentless, like the incoming tide. “I’ve spent my life living the role I thought was expected of me. At home, at school, at work. I have to find my own path, even if that means slipping down the odd cliff.”

She saw him smile at the memory; a sad, nostalgic smile as they both pictured a bedraggled woman covered in grazes. She tore her gaze away and looked over his shoulder at the ocean, glimmering in the dusk. Memories would only imprison her in a life she wasn’t ready to live.

As if answering a question he hadn’t articulated, or maybe a question from her heart, she continued, “Yes, it’s worth it. Yes I’ll sacrifice having an iPad and a shiny car, a career with prospects, even the man I love like breathing, if it means I can be true to myself.”

The word love reverberated around them. When he reached for her, she saw the longing in his eyes and felt herself waver. She had to escape before her resolve crumbled into dust, eroded like the limestone cliffs that anchored his heart in a town which would never be home.

Stretching up on tiptoe, she brushed a kiss across his lips, then turned and ran up the beach, before he could see the tears falling down her cheeks.

***

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.

Tips for NaNoWriMo: 2013 365 Challenge #285

My NaNoWriMo Baby

My NaNoWriMo Baby

Okay, confession time: I’m going to steal most of today’s post, from myself!

With my sister and her family over at the moment, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to write my Claire installment and find something to say for this top part (unless you want to hear how totally cute my niece and nephew are!)

So, today’s thoughts originally appeared back in October 2012 in this post.

NaNoWriMo Thoughts

It’s almost that time of year again when people kiss goodbye to their families, put the takeaway numbers on speed dial, stock up on coffee and chocolate, and launch themselves into NaNoWriMo.

For those of you who have never heard of it, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writers Month, and is about “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon” (or writing 50,000 words in the month of November, but that doesn’t sound as poetic or inspiring!)

Most of my novels started life in November. Two years ago, whilst also running my first solo art exhibition and looking after my two young children, I took part in my fourth NaNo and wrote the first fifty thousand words of what (eventually) became Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes.

There are thousands of posts written about NaNoWriMo every year (and chances are, if you’re not a writer or you’re not taking part, you’re a bit sick of hearing about NaNo already!) I’m not qualified to discuss how to plan your NaNoWriMo adventure so your first draft doesn’t become a hot mess. As a Pantser I don’t do much planning; although if I do find time to take part this year, I will definitely reread Jami’s post and take notes. It’s much easier to fix a first draft if it actually has a vague story or character arc to carry it through.

I guess everything to do with NaNoWriMo has been written about already, given what a phenomenon it is. However, for those that have no idea what NaNo is, or are contemplating trying it for the first time this year, I thought I would tap out my thoughts on how to get the most out of your thirty days.

My first NaNo novel (not yet finished)

My first NaNo novel (not yet finished)

My NaNoWriMo Top Tips:

1. Write something on Day One. Anything. Even if you’re a Pantser and your mind is blank, make up a character from five items in your work space and think of something awful that might be happening to them. The longer you leave it before getting words on the page the less likely you are to start at all.

2 Try and keep up with the word-count chart but don’t panic if you fall behind. Once you get some momentum you can do astounding things (I wrote something like 17k words in my last 36 hours last year.)

3. Do not re-read more than your last line (just to see where you got to) when you sit down to write. Even better, end your writing session with a couple of notes about what might happen next so you can start writing the minute you sit at your desk.

4. DO NOT EDIT. If you can handle it by all means leave spell check on and fix as you go. If that causes you to re-read, worry, and question the quality of your work, turn spell check off or – better still – write in Notepad or equivalent.

5. Engage with the community. Read some Facebook posts, follow on Twitter. If you can afford it, donate to NaNo and get all the motivational emails. They’re the reason I come back each year.

At the end of November you won’t have a finished novel. As most novels are nearer 100k than 50k you won’t even have a finished first draft. (If possible, carry on writing until you reach the end of your story, even if it means leaving out chunks to fill in later. If you don’t at least sketch out the ending while the NaNo momentum is carrying you, it’s much more likely to remain unfinished.).

Your fifty thousand words will represent an amazing achievement. Even if you bin half, or put the whole thing in a hidden folder on your computer, you will still have something to be proud of.

Before discovering NaNoWriMo I was convinced I couldn’t write a novel because I had no imagination. I was wrong. I may not have the sharpest literary mind in the world but I can spin a yarn. I’ve discovered I’m more Pantser than Plotter and my main weakness is generating conflict. I know I can write good dialogue and that I can churn out 50k words of reasonable first draft in 4 weeks, even when it isn’t November. Without my NaNo training I would never have survived so far in my daily novel-by-installments challenge this year. (Each monthly Two-Hundred Steps Home volume is a half-NaNo, and that doesn’t include the blog post words written each day).

I may not take part this year. Something has to give in my busy schedule. But I still want to hear about everyone else’s adventures, so please stop by and let me know how you’re getting on. If you’re still dithering about whether or not to sign up: do it. What have you got to lose? You never know what might happen. In a year or two you might be looking at your novel, there on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and get to say, “I wrote that.” It’s a great feeling.

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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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“So, ladies, where will you be off to in the morning?”

As Conor smiled at them, Claire noticed that the wary expression was beginning to leave his face when he looked at Kim. Since their first introduction, an hour or two before, he had acted as if her friend were a bomb about to explode.

Kim had said very little through dinner, although Claire was relieved to see her eat some of her food. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

She turned to Conor to answer his question. “I think we’ll aim for somewhere in Devon, tomorrow. The weather is meant to get better, and it would be a shame to spend too much time in the car. I thought we might head along the coast to Exeter: then I can get a feel for some of the local Dorset towns before we leave the county.”

Conor nodded, but Claire got the impression he wasn’t really listening. They hadn’t talked much about the job during dinner. It unnerved her. A job was meant to come with a contract and a start date and, most importantly, a sense of how much and when she would be paid.

As if reading her mind, Conor caught her eye. “As I said before, we can’t do much in the way of expenses, but you will be getting paid. As it’s on contract for six months, I can pay you weekly if that would help?”

Claire nodded, wondering if it was so obvious that she was completely skint. It was hard to read her new boss. Sometimes, such as during her travels when he texted her, he felt almost like a friend or a benevolent uncle. At other times, like this evening, he was every inch her boss; keeping his distance and maintaining a flow of polite, neutral conversation. It made her feel like an idiot.

Did I imagine the tone of friendship in his texts, or read more into them? And what about picking me up from the airport: what was that all about? What on earth is it going to be like, working for him every day?

She shivered. For the first time she felt a sense of apprehension. In some ways it was easier to manage a boss like Carl, who made it his mission to keep her on her toes. What did you do with someone who seemed like your friend one minute and your master the next?

Claire glanced at Kim, hoping to be able to pick her brains later, to see what she made of Conor. Kim had her hands wrapped around her mug of hot chocolate and was staring into the dark liquid as if it held the secrets of the future.

If only.

Noticing the darkening bags beneath her friend’s eyes, Claire decided it was time to head back to the B&B. She had hoped finally sitting down with Conor to discuss work would leave her feeling more settled and sure that she had made the right decision. Instead it felt similar to waiting in the aircraft, trying to anticipate when the man strapped to her back was going to jump out and drag her with him.

Maybe I shouldn’t have burned my bridges quite so emphatically with Carl. Perhaps they’re right when they say better the devil you know.

She looked up and caught Conor staring at her, his eyes glittering in the low light of the restaurant. Her mouth felt dry. Reaching for her drink, she nearly knocked it flying across the table. Glad for an excuse to look away, Claire tried to ignore the hot flush rising up her cheeks.

***

World Mental Health Day: 2013 365 Challenge #283

logo2As part of the Claire instalment for yesterday, I needed to research the aftermath of a suicide attempt.

I wanted to know the practical things, like how long someone would have to stay in hospital, would they automatically be moved to a secure ward, would they be discharged etc. It’s a difficult thing to research; the NHS doesn’t have a page on ‘so you’ve taken an overdose’. I’m fortunate that no one I know has taken their own life, or tried to (to my knowledge). I hadn’t intended for one of my characters to do so, but sometimes the story writes itself.

The difficulty as an author is how much you delve into the research, what it takes out of you, and how much of the dark detail to share (what is appropriate for the story genre)? Writing about Claire’s depression hasn’t been too hard, because I periodically suffer from depression myself, albeit mild in the grand scheme of things.

I also follow some amazing blogs written by people who suffer from depression or anxiety; courageous bloggers who offer up their story and share the hardest moments (Mummy Loves to Write, The Belle Jar to name just two). It is important to write about it, for me: to de-stigmatise mental health issues. But I do worry that my writing ends up too realistic, too dark and depressing, particularly the Two-Hundred Steps Home instalments, where I can’t go back through and edit some humour in to lighten the dark patches.

FoggyFieldBaby Blues and Wedding Shoes grew out of a need to be honest about the hard parts of being a parent, after finding myself surrounded by people putting on a brave face and telling me that I had to do the same (I had my mother, health visitors and doctors all tell me I was too honest. Thank goodness for blogging.) I did try and put in the funny stuff too, (Helen dropping her breast pad in the coffee shop was one of my experiences that I look back on and laugh) but the ‘baby blues’ part of the title is important.

As part of my research into suicide, I came across this on Reddit: Survivors of Suicide, what happens after you find yourself still alive? This was posted 20 days ago and there are 1857 comments.

Just reading through for an hour left me shaken and teary. My post ended up being three hours late because I became immersed in the lives of the people who had poured out their darkness onto the site. I deliberately skimmed through: I was emotional enough without getting dragged into the trolls and people who thought it was funny to be flippant. However I read enough to come away with a determination that, one day, I will write something about this awful subject. It won’t be chick lit. It might not even be publishable. But what I read left me so horrified I feel a need to tell somebody.

You see, what I came away with, from post after post, was how badly these people were treated. Either by the ambulance crew, who laughed at them or treated them roughly, or the hospital and psych ward staff, who treated them like animals. The friends who felt betrayed because they’d kept their depression a secret until it was too late. The people who said that suicide is the coward’s way out, or a cry for attention. So many stories of society’s failure to understand mental health illnesses and their repercussions.

BlueThere were uplifting stories too. One person wrote [sic]:

“The thing is.. if you talk about suicide people want to help you and talk you out of it. If you succeed they will talk about you as if you were the greatest guy on earth and they would’ve done anything to help you. If you try and fail… you’re nothing. A loser with a wish for attention. Or an ungrateful bastard wasting their time. Almost as if everybody’s angry for you failing to die.

I remember waking up the day after my half hearted attempt at roadkillness and realising that this would not have happened if I had died. That day I saw a nice show on TV. Later a movie came out that I really loved watching. I had sex, I stopped doing drugs, a girl told me I had a nice smile.. those little things did it for me. And still do.

I still think of ending it. Just end my meaningless speck of existence in a vast universe that will never know we were ever here after it all ends. Everytime that happens I try to think about something to do the next day. My boys waking me up, my wife hugging me naked before she hits the shower. Sometimes I look forward to a morning cup of coffee or a nice dinner. Weather forecasts are great, tell me the sun will shine and I want to see it.

I try to grasp those little things, because if I had succeeded that day, if I had tried harder, timed better or had less luck… I wouldn’t have lived those moments.

And God Dammit I love those moments more than I hate life.”

TheInvitation (2)How powerful is that? There’s a whole life there, in a comment on a forum. There were hundreds of stories like his. Other stories, too, about abusive relationships or ongoing problems. The physicality of taking charcoal to empty the stomach and the other things that are done when someone has taken an overdose. Or the difficulty of living with a mental illness when you are afraid the people around you can’t cope and so you don’t share it with them. Or having the people around you cut you off completely because they don’t know the right thing to say or do.

One commenter wrote:

“If you really love someone, don’t cut the cord. Go to NAMI support groups for people who love someone with mental illness. Read books. Go to therapy yourself if you have to. If you love them, don’t give up on them. And remember–no matter what a person is capable of, contentment with life is more important than any potential they’ve “squandered” by suffering from a mental illness.”

Today is World Mental Health Day. Last year’s focus was on raising awareness around depression and seeking to de-stigmatise mental illness.  This year’s theme is the positive aspects of mental health in later life. It was noticeable to me, reading the comments on the reddit forum above, that many of the people talking of having attempted suicide were young – teens and twenties. It comes as no surprise to me therefore that it says on the mental health website, “on average people aged 55 and over have greater life satisfaction than people aged 25-54”.

I’ve noticed as I get older that my ability to find perspective, to find the positive, and to be confident enough to enjoy life, is growing. Maybe if I do write a book on suicide, it will be a young adult one. Does anybody know of any books that have covered this subject? Sorry, this has turned into a rambling post. Thanks for listening.

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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 strode across the car park, muttering prayers under her breath. She could see Kim still slumped forward on the picnic bench and thanked the gods that at least she hadn’t run off or stepped in front of a lorry.

Pulling on her last reserves, Claire hitched on a smile and forced herself to walk slowly for the last few paces to her friend.

“Here you go,” she said brightly, hoping Kim couldn’t hear the fake smile in her voice. Kim glanced up to see what was being offered.

“I can’t drink caffeine,” she said, the words falling like autumn apples to smash on the floor.

Claire inhaled deeply. “It’s not coffee, it’s a hug in a mug.” She sat next to Kim and pushed the paper cup towards her. “Go on, you know you want to.”

Kim turned and stared suspiciously at the cup. Then the frown lifted and her lips turned up slightly at the edges.

“Hot chocolate? I haven’t had one in years. Hot chocolate is for kids.” But she took the offered cup and wrapped her hands around it, as if they were in the grips of winter rather than basking in a pleasant summer’s morning.

“It’s full of sugar and warmth and memories. It will make you feel better.” Claire took a gulp of her latte, burning her mouth.

Serves me right for suggesting depression can be fixed with a hot drink. Idiot.

The girls sat without talking. Claire saw from the corner of her eye that Kim took a sip of her drink and then another. The green pallor in her cheeks faded as the warmth and the sugar got to work. Claire felt one knot of tension unravel: it wasn’t much, but it was a start.

After half an hour, Kim sat up straight and looked around, as if surprised to find herself in a service station car park.

“Where are we?”

“Toddington Services.”

Kim managed a laugh. “I’m none the wiser.”

“Sorry. We’re on the M1, about a third of the way to Dorset. What do you want to do? Are you okay to go on, or do you want to go home?”

Kim released a pent-up sigh; puffing the air out from her cheeks as if she were trying to blow away the dark clouds.

“Fuck knows.”

The emptiness in her voice made Claire flinch. Without thinking, she put her arm around Kim’s shoulder, gripping her tightly and ignoring the unusual feel of bone under her hand. The shoulders began to shake, and she realised Kim was crying.

“Shhh. It will be okay, I promise. We’ll figure it out.”

“How?” Kim’s voice shot out through the tears. “How will it ever be okay? I can’t have kids. You don’t want children: you can have no idea what that means.” And she pulled away from Claire’s embrace.

“I’m trying to understand, Kim. And I don’t know about the kids anymore. A lot has changed for me, too.” She wanted to continue, but managed to hold the words in. Instead she tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t fan the flames of Kim’s grief.

“There are other ways. You could adopt: there are babies all over the world who would love to have you for their mummy.”

“But they wouldn’t be my babies.” Kim’s sobs grew stronger, her slender body shaking like a leaf in the wind.

“What about surrogacy, then?” Claire had no idea whether it was possible, but she wanted Kim’s tears to stop. They made her feel helpless.

“Jeff and I don’t have the money for something like that; we’re not rich like you.”

Claire laughed bitterly. “I was never rich. And now; now I don’t even know how I’m going to pay back the credit card company, before they try and find something to repossess. I’m broke.”

Kim looked over, one eyebrow raised in disbelief and Claire bit back the sudden desire to yell at her friend that she wasn’t the only one with problems. Her financial predicament was of her own making and paled into significance next to Kim’s woes.

“I’m serious,” was all she said. “I’d barely cleared my debts by the time I decided to pack in my job and fly to New Zealand. Those weeks as a gullible tourist, spending money left and right, has maxed out both my credit cards. If I don’t start work for Conor this week I’m totally in the shit.”

Kim’s eyes narrowed, as if she found the concept of a poor Claire too hard to fathom. Then she wrapped her arm around Claire’s waist and squeezed.

“Then we’re both in the shit together. We’d best get shovelling.” And she smiled.

It’s true, Claire thought wryly, as she returned the embrace, misery does love company.

***

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.

***