Beat Sheets: 2013 365 Challenge #204

Coffee Shop Catastrophe

Coffee Shop Catastrophe

Apologies to anyone who received yesterday’s post without the Claire installment attached. Technical issues were to blame (combined with crawling to bed last night without finishing my Claire Installment).

On a Monday I often write the remaining part of my post in the coffee shop (because Sunday night is the hardest time to write). I have some of the post scheduled to go live if all else fails. This morning was the first time (I think) that it happened, only because the internet was down in coffee shop I chose to visit. I’ve learned my lesson! (I spent the morning wandering round town discovering which businesses have free WiFi!)

Today I have been looking at Beat Sheets and other planning tools. Following on from recent discussions about how hard it is to plan a novel if you’re a Pantser, I’ve been doing more internet research, specifically around planning romance novels (although most things seem to be quite generic). I came across the most amazing collection of resources on the website of an author of Paranormal fiction: Jami Gold. Jami has even written a post called A Pantser’s Guide to Beat Sheets. Perfect.

Even Pantsers can have structure!

Even Pantsers can have structure!

The thing I love about the post, and beat sheets, is that they can be used against a first draft, rather than (or as well as) for pre-planning, as a way to see how well the draft is structured. I spent this afternoon trying to map Baby Blues against Jami’s Romance Beat Sheet, with mixed results.

It would seem that (as suspected) my climax and ending fit the right pattern, but my opening third is way off beat. I also am not entirely sure what my inciting incident or first plot point is. I searched around some more to get a real definition of these, but haven’t reached a consensus of exactly what they are or where they should come in the novel.

I see my inciting incident as Helen finding out she’s pregnant and then leaving Daniel (apologies about spoilers!). In the Romance Beat Sheet, it suggests the inciting incident should involve both protagonists. Except Helen doesn’t even meet Marcio until a third of the way through the novel. One of my Beta readers did comment on this fact, but I admit I like the first third for setting Helen on her journey without it being about Marcio. Maybe it makes the book more Chick Lit than Romance (which is how I have categorised it anyway) or maybe it’s just plain wrong. Interestingly, both Baby Blues and Class Act originally started with the meeting between lead girl and lead boy, but I pulled the action back so that the backstory didn’t become overwhelming.

Pillow Talk by Freya North

I am looking forward to using beat sheets to rebuild Class Act and, had I had something similar before I rebuilt Baby Blues, I suspect it would be tighter. These things are all about learning. If I had used the sheets, though, would I have invented Sharni and given her so much air-time? She’s one of my favourite characters and I would hate to lose her.

I seem to recall that I was reading Pillow Talk, by Freya North, at the time of redrafting Baby Blues, and the structure of that novel may well have had an impact on me (as there are super-strong secondary characters and the love interest comes later). If it’s good enough for Freya North, then maybe it isn’t so bad!

What’s your view? Can you have a Romance/Chick Lit novel where the lovers don’t meet until a third of the novel has passed? Does it give you a chance to understand why they’re made for each other or would you have given up on the novel before that point? They say to write the novel you want to read, but that’s only going to work if others want to read it too!

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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 closed her iPad and looked out the hostel window. In contrast to the dark wood furniture in the dim room, the view that beckoned sparkled in the late evening sunlight. In the distance the sea reflected the blue of the sky, in a deeper hue. Behind the strip of water, a long barrow of land jutted out into the ocean. Claire could just make out fields falling into the limestone cliffs of the Jurassic Coast. Her research informed her there were several pleasant walks up from the National Trust car park near the Bankes Arms pub in Studland. If the sun continued to shine in the morning, she knew where she would be.

So far, her impression of Swanage matched Conor’s description. The faded seaside town showed glimpses of its former glory, in the amusement arcades and the long wooden pier. Rather than Victorian ladies promenading along its length, Claire met only blue-rinse grannies out for their afternoon constitutional. As she had driven around looking for the youth hostel, she had seen more signs for retirement complexes than B&Bs.

It would be a tough ask to increase tourism here. She knew that Purbeck included other towns, but Swanage was the main seaside resort.

There’s also a nudist beach, but I can’t see Jason signing off tourism promoting that particular asset.

She tried to imagine living in the town for any length of time. If she had envisioned an end to her wanderings, this didn’t seem the natural place. No Waitrose, no Starbucks, so mainline train, nobody under fifty. It’s not really selling itself to me. Poole or Bournemouth were marginally better, as far as she could tell as she came through. At least Poole had Waitrose and a Starbucks, as well as being the home of the Sunseeker luxury yacht factory.

Not that I could afford one, even if I saved every penny they’d be paying me for a dozen years. Still, maybe I could hang out with the rich and famous at Sandbanks and hitch a lift.

Claire sighed and reached for her tea. One sip told her it was stone cold, and she replaced the mug with a bang on the dark wood table. Assuming Conor wasn’t exaggerating his ability to influence Jason, and I wouldn’t put it past him to do so, I will have a job offer to consider by the weekend. Two, if you include New Zealand. So why don’t I feel better?

She thought about the imminent trip back north to see Kim’s opening night. Butterflies reared in her stomach and she discovered at least one cause for her unease. It was more than fear of facing her erstwhile best friend, though. Normally she would have a gut feel for whether a job offer was the right one. Now, there was nothing. Only confusion

If only Josh were here, he would advise me what to do.

The thought took hold in her mind and grew. With a quick mental calculation, she worked out how many hours before she could call him. Without pausing to consider the wisdom of her decision, Claire gathered up her things and headed to her room to wait.

***

My Problem with Pinterest: 2013 365 Challenge #161

My scrapbook for Finding Lucy. All images are from istockphoto © David Meharey

My scrapbook for Finding Lucy. All images are from istockphoto     © David Meharey

Last year I wrote a post about my love affair with Pinterest. I discovered it fairly late and immediately saw the potential for writers: a way to explore characters, connect with readers and a means to replace the scrapbook for storing ideas.

I quickly filled several boards with all the images I had on characters, locations etc for my novels. Then I started reading about people being sued for breach of copyright, And I got cold feet. The boards were stripped of all but photographs I had taken, or ones with a Creative Commons licence. I had assumed (wrongly) that, because Pinterest links back to the pinned source, copyright wouldn’t be an issue.

I was gutted, as it made scrap-booking much easier. No printing, copying, storing: just a quick click and a note and there it was for everyone to see. But, as someone who has worked in compliance before, the idea of breaching copyright terrifies me. So I went back to saving bookmarks and putting images in Word files. For a while I did post blog images on Pinterest (most pictures on the daily blog are mine or CC) but I’ve forgotten my logon and now my boards are dormant and bereft.

Cover and key story line of Finding Lucy

Purchased Cover Image and key story line of Finding Lucy

Then, today, I found the scrapbook I made for my first (unfinished) novel, Finding Lucy, and it occurred to me that Pinterest would never replace a decent scrapbook.

Instead of mourning a missed opportunity I need to stop being lazy and keep up with my scrapbooks. I look at the detail of my original scrapbook and realise having the same for all my other novels would be amazing. Because it’s all there.

All the stuff that ensures continuity and depth and three-dimensional characters. Birthdays, star signs, house layouts, what characters look like – not just one look but many different looks (stock photography is great for that. All the images in my scrapbook above are the same girl as my cover image).

When I get the time to go back and finish Finding Lucy, (the first draft was caught short by the early arrival of my second child), I won’t have to trawl through Word files to remember who everybody is. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m not 100% certain even how old some of my protagonists are for my later novels. For Finding Lucy their birthdays pop up in my phone like real people (It’s Andrew Finch’s birthday today – one of the leading men from Finding Lucy!). I do have notes and character maps for all my books, but they’re buried in Word files. You can’t beat flicking through pages, scribbling notes in the margin. Time to turn my back on digital and do it the old-fashioned way. Pass me the glue..

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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’s wrist throbbed by the time the Sat Nav announced her arrival. I had to sprain my left hand, didn’t I? It doesn’t really matter, these days, hurting the hand you write with. Who writes with a pen anyway? I can type as quick with both hands. Changing gear, though, that I can only do left-handed.

She curled her good hand around the swollen wrist and wondered if the hostel manager would be able to procure her some ice. What did the Doctor say? Something about rest, ice and elevation. Well, I’ve buggered the Rest part, let’s see what we can do about the other things.

Raising her wrist across her chest, Claire kicked the car door shut and headed into the building. As she took in the wide, white walls, the geometric lines and tall sash windows, Claire felt some of the pain ebb away. I might indulge myself and stay a day or two. What is it about these old buildings that exudes calm? Maybe I was born in the wrong century. I hope it’s as nice on the inside.

She walked through the door, and her soul lifted higher. It’s a refurb. God bless the YHA for investing in their properties. All through the building to her room it felt like a new hotel, not a Georgian mansion or a youth hostel. Everywhere she looked there were new fixtures and bright colours.

A bit too bright, she thought, as she headed for the bunk-beds, with their lime-green duvet covers and pillows. She gave the frame a rattle, as she claimed the last available bed. I’m glad I’m on top. It’ll be like sleeping on a boat, but I pity the poor person beneath me. This is going to shake like a bouncy-castle if I have a restless night.

With a look round the empty room, Claire decided it was time to ignore doctor’s orders and visit the bar. A whole weekend of wedding planning and baby talk had left her in dire need of a drink. At least it’ll help me sleep soundly. That should please the girl underneath.

 *

“What’ll it be?”

“Gin and tonic, please.”

Claire looked round the lounge, surprised to see it so full. “Busy, for a Sunday night?”

“It’s quiz night. Most of these are locals.”

Claire scanned the tables again and realised most people were huddled in groups, whispering together. A young Asian man caught her eye, and grinned. “Come and join our team, we could use some fresh blood. Then we might come better than last!”

There was a ripple of laughter from the surrounding tables, and Claire felt herself smile in response. She turned as the barman placed her drink on the counter and told her how much. As she retrieved some money from her purse, she tried to think of a polite way to decline the man’s invitation, should he renew it. For some reason her brain seemed unwilling to come up with an excuse.

Sure enough, as she turned, G&T in hand, the man gave a small wave and patted the seat next to him. Not for the first time, Claire’s feet moved of their own volition, and she found herself hovering in front of the man’s table. He was sat with two other men and a young girl who looked like she might faint if asked to speak.

“Hi, name’s Mizan.” The man who had invited her over half-rose from his seat and held out his hand.

Claire shook it quickly, unsure what to make of the greeting. Is he trying to chat me up, or just being friendly. Deciding it didn’t really matter either way, Claire perched on the spare seat.

She smiled round at the group and was relieved when the others nodded in greeting. Clearly inviting random women to join them wasn’t an unusual occurrence.

“What’s your topic then and, more importantly, what’s your name?” The man next to Mizan spoke, in the soft burr of the Scotsman.

With a flush, Claire ignored the heat generated by the sexy voice, and replied a little too loudly, “Claire, my name’s Claire. I don’t have a specialist subject, I’ve never been to a quiz night before.”

There was a babble of words as all three men exclaimed at her confession. She wondered if she would be ejected from the team, but her value now seemed to be as a curiosity, rather than a participant. Really, is it so amazing that I’ve never joined in a pub quiz? They don’t have them in wine bars and pubs aren’t really my thing.

She sat back, as the quiz master arrived at the front of the room, and supped her drink. The alcohol fizzed its merry way to her brain and spread warmly through her body, carrying with it a wave of contentment.

I won’t be able to contribute, but it beats talking about babies.

***

Stealing Memories: 2013 365 Challenge #132

Dad in Mount Vernon receiving chemo

Dad in Mount Vernon receiving chemo

As a writer it is difficult to know how much to borrow from the people around you. I often have stabs of conscience regarding writing about the children on my blog, particularly as I use their names (I’m not a big fan of calling them child 1 / child 2 or anything).

I rarely share stuff about my husband or friends, particularly not names or specifics. But utilising stories, that’s different. I need other people’s lives and experiences. I have a great set of my own memories to draw upon – I’ve had a varied and not always easy life – but there are also many things I haven’t done that my friends have.

I have a doctor friend, two teacher friends, a nurse. They share titbits about their lives that I end up weaving into stories. Never the exact tale, certainly never exact people, but definitely flavours. And it does make me feel uncomfortable. How else to find stories though?

My Dad how I like to remember him

My Dad how I like to remember him

Right now I am borrowing my husband’s memories, combined with my own, to write Ruth’s story in Two-Hundred Steps Home. My father suffered from cancer and eventually lost his battle (not specifically with cancer, but associated complications). My relationship with my father was rocky, though, and I live more with the guilt of not doing enough, than with the memories of caring for him. If I’m honest I could have done more and been with him more, but he didn’t want to burden us with how bad it really was and it was too easy to take him at his word.

My husband lost his mother to a brain tumour, a year or two before I met him. They were very close and he felt the loss deeply. He has spoken of it many times and the memories of his last few months with her are raw and beautiful.

I haven’t recreated either scenario completely in Two-Hundred Steps Home (or in the Nanowrimo manuscript I wrote last November, that also features hospital scenes), but I do ask Hubbie about details to make my stories authentic. It feels wrong, though, to ask personal questions just for the sake of my writing. When does it stop being acceptable and become a bit icky? I suppose that’s one of the many unanswerable questions that comes with being a writer.

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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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“Mummy, Auntie Claire says she’ll pay for me to go to ballet again, can I go, can I, please?”

Sky’s rush of words made Claire’s tummy squirm. She looked up guiltily at Ruth, remembering her thoughts about why the ballet lessons had stopped. Don’t say anything spiteful about the ballet teacher, for goodness sake. Then Sky is bound to tell you she met up with her father and said ballet teacher’s baby.  

The morning with Sky and Ruth had not been an easy one. Sky’s chatter, irritating at the best of times, came with the added burden of fear, worrying what titbit from her ten days with Claire she might toss out for Ruth’s entertainment. On top of that, Claire could see her sister was sagging under the weight of endless words, but didn’t want to let her daughter out of her sight.

Mouthing, “Sorry,” at Ruth, Claire fished in her handbag for the iPad. “Sky, poppet, would you like to play that word game I downloaded for you, so your Mummy can have a rest?”

Sky’s head spun quickly, her hair whipping Ruth across the face. She scrambled off the bed and climbed onto the pull-down mattress next to Claire. “Can I paint nails instead? Pleeeeease.”

Claire’s cheeks flushed red-hot in the stuffy room. Great, now Ruth’s going to blame me for letting Sky play silly computer games. This isn’t how it was supposed to go: I was meant to drop her back home and carry on with my assignment, not sit and listen to all my Auntie-Fails being revealed.

She studied Ruth’s face to see what level of censure it contained, and exhaled in relief at the sight of her closed eyes. Poor thing. I find Sky exhausting, and I’m not sick.

Silence spread through the room, punctuated only by the buzzing light and the whir of technology monitoring Ruth’s life-signs. Claire let her mind drift, wondering where Robert had disappeared to, and whether Carl had noticed yet that she hadn’t blogged a new hostel.

I’ll have to call in and book this week as holiday. I have no idea how long Ruth is going to be in here and it doesn’t seem right to dash off to whatever remote destination boasts the nearest hostel. Carl will just have to sod off.

Settling back against the wall, Claire shifted until she was vaguely comfortable, then she followed Ruth’s example and closed her eyes.

When Claire woke, Sky was no longer sat next to her on the bed. Heart hammering in panic, she flicked her gaze towards Ruth’s bed. Ruth was still sleeping, but her daughter wasn’t with her. Rising slowly, trying not to disturb her sister, Claire crept from the room and prayed her niece was out in the corridor.

Maybe she’s gone for a wee. Yes, that must be it. Claire trotted to the ladies and called out for Sky. When there was no answer, she went back to the nurses’ station and asked if they’d seen a blonde child.

“Yes, she went up to the canteen with the man that came in this morning. Mr Carleton? Is that Ms Carleton’s husband?”

Claire frowned, wondering if Chris had come to the hospital. How would he know? I can’t believe Ruth would have called him. Then the penny dropped. Mr Carleton. Robert, of course.

With a smile she shook her head at the nurse’s assumption. “No, that’s our brother. He flew in from Geneva this morning.” Another thought teased into her brain, scratching at her mind like a briar. Mr Carleton? Not Mr Carleton-Bise? Since when did he drop Francesca’s surname? I thought they loved that whole double-barrelled thing.

Claire’s mind whirled with conjecture as she walked the now-familiar route to the canteen. I wonder if everything is alright with him and Francesca. She recalled their conversation over coffee what seemed like days ago but in reality was only that morning. Now I think about it, he was acting a bit odd. It made the knots in her stomach tighten even more. Robert and Francesca had been together since she was a teenager. The idea that anything could shake their marriage gave her the shivers.

***

Snowy, crafty day and 2013 365 Day #20

The Great Hall, Oundle School, in the snow

The Great Hall, Oundle School, in the snow

We’ve had a glorious family day today.

The kids got dragged around the job centre and supermarket yesterday so we promised them a new magazine, a trip to the coffee shop in Oundle, our local town, and sledging at grandma’s today.

And that’s what we did.

I have been cutting, sticking and colouring for about three hours this afternoon and I put a much happier little girl to bed tonight than last night.

Great fun magazine cutting, sticking and drawing. My little girl enjoyed it too...

Great fun magazine cutting, sticking and drawing. My little girl enjoyed it too…

I love how kids live in the present and don’t hold grudges. You get back what you put in, then and there. Wonderful.

Unfortunately I also got another rejection email today. A really nice one from Julia Churchill:

Thank you for giving us a chance with this. I’m sorry to say I don’t think it’s one for me.

While this has some nice points, when I take a new writer on I need to feel such a high level of conviction that I could sell their work, and I’m afraid I’m not quite there with this. Of course, it’s a really subjective business. Another agent may well feel differently.

Wishing you the best of luck with it, and a good 2013.

Sledging family fun. No hills round us so more pushing than sledging...

Sledging family fun. No hills round us so more pushing than sledging…

How lovely is that? As rejections go it actually left me smiling. Unfortunately I really liked the sound of the agency Julia works for, so I was disappointed.

What I take away from it though is that I really need to work on my query letter and/or synopsis for Dragon Wraiths. The response came back so swiftly I can’t help but think it was rejected off the cover letter. I have struggled to sell the story in limited words because it’s a four-part novel and it’s difficult to encapsulate it all in one or two paragraphs.

Cutting and sticking. Very theraputic, although not as much as colouring-in.

Cutting and sticking. Very theraputic, although not as much as colouring-in.

My husband still thinks I should self-publish Dragon Wraiths but I am reluctant. The more I read about self-publishing the more I’m not sure it’s for me. I really do need help in selling myself and my work and I can’t afford to hire an editior.

I would take a punt on Dragon Wraiths if it was easy to get it kindle-ready but unfortunately I have four different fonts in the novel that are essential to understanding the story and my kindle software changes them all to one font! (Unlike bloomin Microsoft Word which has decided to change my novel document into about four different fonts when I copy it over to WordPress. I’ve had to retype the whole of today’s post while listening to my husband snoring upstairs. Not happy!!)

Anyway I haven’t had any time to do research today so not sure what Claire is going to be getting up to. I’m struggling to keep my eyes open already and my darling husband is cooking dinner while I tap away… I think I might chuck her out into Berwick and see what she finds.

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So, this is the northernmost town in England? Whoop-di-do. Claire looked around the high-street and sighed. There isn’t even a bloody Starbucks. Caffé Nero just isn’t the same.

Claire had gone back to her room after breakfast to type up the notes on her interview with Hattie. She’d been determined to spend the day in her room playing on the iPad, but the greyness had closed in until she was driven out to seek colour and coffee.

Before she left the hostel, Claire did a quick search on interesting information about Berwick. Her research threw up thrilling facts like Berwick meant Barley Farm. That seems about right. Stupid hick town. I wonder why Scotland wants it back?

Claire decided to explore Berwick in an attempt to discover what made people think hostelling was so amazing. As yet nothing had cropped up to recommend it. Her idea of a vacation was to bake on a beach and read airport-purchased paperbacks. She always did some sight-seeing but it was the normal tick-box stuff: pyramids, opera houses, mountains. As far as she could tell Berwick’s best offering was a few boring bridges.

What do Backpackers do all day? They can’t shop; they have no money. There’s no Sky in a hostel, internet is only available at £3 an hour unless you have a smartphone and what penniless student can afford one of those? How many times can you wander round places staring at the architecture?

After two hours of exploring Claire’s feet were throbbing, her back ached and her brain was numb. What am I going to tweet about? The number of arches in the Royal Border Bridge?

She remembered Hattie recommending a trip to some Priory on a nearby island that apparently was accessible by car at low tide. The old woman had raved about it so much Claire had almost been tempted until she’d checked it out on Wikipedia. It looked like a pile of old rock. She had never heard of Lindisfarne, and doubted anyone she knew had, so it didn’t count as a tick-box visit.

Spying a bookshop, Claire decided the best thing she could do was plan her route and get through it as swiftly as possible. I wonder if I can stay in more than one hostel at a time? The wind whipped round her as she crossed the street and ducked into the store. She paused beneath the warmth of the heater while thoughts churned in her mind. The brief didn’t say anything about having to actually spend the night. Maybe I could check in, make a cup of Earl Grey in the kitchen, and move on. Cheered by the thought Claire scoured the shelves for a map of Britain. She needed to plot all the hostels and work out the shortest possible distance to drive around them all.

In the back of her mind a nagging feeling tore at Claire’s new resolve. No matter how much she loathed Carl it was not in her nature to shirk a responsibility or put in a half-hearted effort. The happy feeling seeped away like a wave on the sand. I am going to have to do this properly or not at all. Not for them but for me, for my professional pride. Damn.

On the shelf near the maps Claire saw the colourful spine of a Lonely Planet guide to Britain. She grabbed it and took her finds to the till. The sky seemed a little more grey as Claire hobbled back to the hostel on blistered feet.

Claire spent the afternoon in the Bistro cross-referencing the YHA hostel guide, the Lonely Planet book and the map. When she finally collapsed into bed at 9.30pm she was almost smiling. At least I know where I’m going tomorrow. Well I know what it’s called anyway. I wonder what Wooler has to offer.

She was about to close her eyes when her mobile phone beeped. Two thoughts went through her head like lightning. Ruth’s got her results back, and Carl is texting to gloat. Reaching for her phone without turning on the light Claire held the screen up to her sleep-blurred eyes. She blinked until the words came into focus.

Hey Claire. How are things? I miss you. Can we talk? Michael.

Claire’s heart thudded beneath her cotton nightie – bought for dorm-sharing days. What the hell does he want? She tried to think dispassionately about Michael but couldn’t manage it. Instead her mind filled with the look of pain in his deep brown eyes the last time she saw him. As if she had reached around during an embrace, stabbed him in the back and yelled, “Speak hands for me!”

***

Silly Mistakes and 2013 365 Challenge #18

Dewar's Lane Granary (The Berwick YHA building prior to coversion) from Sallyport to Barbara Carr

Dewar’s Lane Granary (The Berwick YHA building prior to coversion) from Sallyport. Photograph by Barbara Carr

I made a basic error yesterday when sending out a query email. I have a track sheet with all submission guidelines (length of synopsis, how many chapters to send etc) for my shortlisted agencies and I spent three hours compiling a cover letter and pack for The Blair Partnership (I’m working through the list in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, approaching agencies that seem a good fit and will take email submissions). I hit send in time to go and collect the kids, feeling happy with a job well done. Until I started looking at the next name on the list and realised (oh no…) that I’d accidentally followed their submission guidelines for The Blair Partnership. So I’d sent a long synoposis and 3 chapters instead of a one-page synopsis and one chapter.

IDIOT.

What a waste of three hours. I resent my submission but I can’t help but feel that has plonked me directly in the reject pile. A tweet I read from an agent yesterday said

“Am ruthless when there’s loads of submissions to read: If they can’t be bov to read our guidelines, I might not be bov to read their book.”

Good advice which I tried very hard to follow today when I sent my next batch of query emails.

The quote was reweeted by someone I follow and I didn’t pay any attention to who wrote the original message. When I went to copy it into this post I noticed that the message was written by Julia Churchill of the Greenhouse Literary Agency. The same woman I sent a submission to earlier today! It’s a small world. I wish I’d noticed the connection, I could have mentioned reading her tweet in my submission and how it made me double and triple check that I sent her the right stuff.

Another missed opportunity.

It doesn’t matter how many blogs, books and articles you read on how to send query letters it’s still a huge learning curve!

This evening is all about researching the first hostel on my list – Berwick. I still haven’t received my YHA membership card so I can’t send off for a hostel guide. Google it is then. It has reminded me that Claire doesn’t have YHA membership so might incorporate that into today’s post somehow.

P.S. After three hours of wandering around the web I have an excessive amount of information about Berwick YHA in my head and on my computer. My brain is too full to write my post! This level of research is new to me and I am learning that you can know too much, it stifles your creativity. What I can’t find is a picture of the front entrance so I’m going to have to put Claire somewhere in the hostel… Right, let’s write.

Usual disclaimers apply – I haven’t visited this hostel, my writing is part fiction part research and no offence is in anyway intended.

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Claire peered through the dark at the place her sat nav had decided was her Final Destination. It looked like a small car park surrounded by an eclectic mix of buildings. Her ears rang with the silence of the evening as she pulled into a bay and turned off the ignition. Every part of her body ached.

I’m not going to have to worry about how to stay fit without my annual gym membership; this car is a workout all by itself.

Claire looked through the windows for the green YHA sign that she thought would greet her arrival but all she could see were cars and walls. She pulled out her iPad and loaded up the hostel page but there was no more information.

Bugger. I guess I’ll just have to wander around until I find it. Claire got out and looked around the car park. She didn’t welcome the prospect of staggering about in the dark. I wish I’d managed to get here in daylight. She turned and glared at the car.

“We would have done too if you hadn’t overheated three times in that traffic jam. Stupid car.”

She could hear a clock chiming the half-hour and realised she had no idea which hour it was. The last fifty miles had passed in a daze of exhaustion and misery. It was one thing travelling around the country in a modern Audi, knowing you were staying in a four star hotel when you got there. A bit different hauling this heap of shit three hundred miles up the country to stay in a flea-infested hostel.

Claire dragged her rucksack from the passenger seat, not willing to leave it in the car even though she barely had the strength to lift it onto her shoulders. Please God let this damn place be close by.

“Are you lost my dear?”

Claire looked round but couldn’t locate the source of the voice.

“Are you staying at the hostel, perhaps? The YHA one?”

Claire caught a faint scent of perfume, the kind her grannie used to wear. She looked down and saw a petit lady standing in the shadows smiling at her.

“I guessed by the rucksack. I’m staying there too, would you like me to show you how to get in? It’s easy to miss in the dark.” When Claire didn’t answer the lady walked a bit closer. “Do you speak English my dear?” She enunciated the words as if talking to someone hard of hearing.

“I’m English,” Claire managed. “And yes, thank you, I am looking for the YHA.” Claire was too tired to question why someone who looked the wrong side of seventy was staying in a Youth Hostel. I guess I don’t really count as youth either if it comes to it. She followed the lady a short distance to a building which loomed four or five stories above them, blocking out the star-spattered sky.

“I’m Hattie, I’m in one of the dorms. Are you staying long?”

Claire forced her scattered mind to focus on the voice. “Er, no, two nights.”

“That’s a shame. Lovely hostel this.” When Claire didn’t respond Hattie peered up into her face. “You look done in. Get yourself checked in and get some sleep. I’ll probably see you at breakfast?” She made the statement into a question but turned and scurried away before Claire could answer.

Claire let the rucksack drop from her shoulders and gazed around without seeing, unsure what to do next.

“Can I help you?” Another voice hailed her, male this time. “I’m the hostel manager. Are we expecting you?”

Claire turned and smiled at the man. “Yes, my name is Claire Carleton.”

“Ah yes, you’re booked into a twin room for two nights. Come with me I’ll get you checked in and you’ll be snuggled under your duvet in no time. You look like you could sleep standing up.”

Twin room? Claire’s mind latched onto the only part of the sentence that mattered. By myself? No sharing, no strangers snoring? For the first time in weeks Claire was conscious of a feeling of gratitude towards AJC. She stood waiting by her rucksack but the man didn’t offer to carry it, just walked off without checking whether she was following. Claire felt her cheeks flush red as she stooped to retrieve her bag.

The next ten minutes were a blur of forms and questions. Claire had a vague recollection of being shown a bistro which seemed just a sea of lime green. Very on-trend was Claire’s only thought. She was then ushered into a lift and escorted to her room on the third or fourth floor, she didn’t notice which. This doesn’t seem right for a hostel. I thought they chucked a key at you and handed you a sheet? They certainly don’t carry your bag. Claire felt the straps digging into her tired shoulders and gave up trying to make sense of it all..

As the hostel manager opened the door to her room Claire felt she might weep. It was bright and neat, if slightly like a posh prison with its grey wall and grey metal beds. Not a plush hotel by any means but the duvet looked thick and comfortable and she could spy an en-suite through another door.

The hostel manager handed Claire a sheet. “You’ll need to make up your bed and you can hire towels if you haven’t brought any. You’re booked in for breakfast and if you want dinner you can go down to the Bistro, or there’s a pub and an Indian not far away. I can’t imagine you’ll want to cook tonight but, if you do, the guest communal area is on the fifth floor.”

He stood for a moment as if waiting for Claire to respond. When it was clear she had no words he nodded a farewell, handed her the key, and left the room. Claire’s senses were overwhelmed by twelve hours of new experiences. Her body fought conflicting needs: a shower, coffee, dinner and sleep all seemed equally important. Half-heartedly flicking the sheet over one of the beds Claire collapsed full length and dragged the duvet over her head.

Sleep first, everything else could wait.

***