Celebrating Success and Searching for Motivation

Achieving great rankings

Achieving great rankings

My Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes promotion ended this morning and it couldn’t have gone better. I had around 2,500 downloads and reached some great numbers in terms of ranking:

#8 in the Romance category on Amazon.com

#10 in Contemporary Women’s Fiction on Amazon.com

#39 on overall free downloads for Amazon.co.uk

#15 in Contemporary Romance on Amazon.co.uk

Now I know these numbers don’t mean a great deal. The majority of people who downloaded the book won’t read it, even fewer will leave a review. However to get that many downloads in two days, when the book only has one review in the US and none anywhere else (and virtually no promotion other than a few tweets and status updates) gives a little ray of hope that at least my blurb and front cover are okay (Though hubbie tells me the title makes people think the book is depressing.)

I see free promotions as more of a banner advert, getting my name in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise discover me and my writing, than a way to get new readers. I know myself that I download dozens of books I’ll never read. Time will tell whether it works as a strategy, but if nothing else it’s a nice feeling to see yourself on the first page of the bestsellers! 🙂

Making it on the first page!

Making it on the first page!

It also makes me see the benefit in loading a book up for preorders via Smashwords. If I could sell enough copies in the weeks prior to release, then that splurge of sales on day one of release would do wonders for initial rankings. Of course, I have to finish my next book for that to happen and, boy oh boy, am I struggling. I’m still tired and scattered from the medication, and I just can’t seem to pin myself down to the hard graft of revisions. I know if I’m not careful weeks will turn into months and, like the box of kids’ things waiting for me to sell on ebay, it will become an insurmountable task to get back to work.

I wanted to get my first draft to the editor by Easter, so I could take the two weeks off to clear my mind, ready to work on the revisions when they came back, and give the children my attention during the school holidays. Ho hum, that gives me five weeks to add thirty thousand words and fill all the plot holes AND get it to Beta Readers. Hmmm some mountains are too high. I think it might be that which is freezing my mind. Needing to work around the school holidays is adding a new dynamic to my already-fragile motivation! Oh well, every mountain is climbed one step at a time. I just need to write ten words today and it will be twenty tomorrow.

But first I might walk the dog!

My 500th Post and a Giveaway

Wow!

Wow!

How exciting! WordPress has just informed me that my last post was my 500th post! That’s not bad going in two years.

I wanted to pen a quick line to say thank you to everyone who follows this blog, reads my posts, likes them, comments on them, shares them and generally makes the whole thing worthwhile.

When I started Writermummy two years ago, I didn’t really know what I was doing or what a blog was for. I only knew that if I wanted to sell books I needed an author platform. I’m not sure Kristen Lamb would approve of my blog in that role.

The blog has become my therapist’s couch, my sounding board, my coffee shop where I hang out and chat with friends. My safe place, where I can vent on pretty much any subject and find someone willing to give advice or at least a virtual hug. You guys can’t begin to know what it means to me.

So, it might not help me sell books (it certainly takes time away from writing new ones!), but my blog is my soul. To celebrate reaching my 500th post I’ve decided to offer Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes for free this weekend (even though I said it would never be free!) The promotion should be live around 8am GMT on 1st March. I wish I could offer cake, but that’s a bit more tricky.

Here’s to 500 more posts. Thanks for listening. 🙂

Monkey Mailing Lists and Mind-numbing Stats

Finally set up a mailing list

Finally set up a mailing list

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

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

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

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

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

Reaching #1 in a category on Amazon.fr 🙂

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

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

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

Dear World; SAHMs and Writers Still Work, You Know

Reminding myself that I do work

Reminding myself that I do work

I took my children to a play date this morning and had a fabulous few hours watching them enjoy new toys, sunshine and company while I enjoyed a comfortable chat and plenty of hot tea. The talk, as often happens with parents you don’t know very well, turned to work.

The other three were teachers and when I explained that I was at home writing I got the dreaded response, “So you don’t work then?” followed by the embarrassed proviso of the working mum: “Except of course looking after these,” with a smile towards the children.

The funny thing was I was more bothered by writing not being considered a proper job than being a SAHM, even though looking after the children is much harder and takes up more of my time. There was another comment later, along the lines of, “You’re doing what we’d all love to be doing,” and again I wasn’t sure whether it referred to being able to pick my kids up from school, being about to do my hobby as a job or having endless free time to do laundry or, you know, drink coffee and paint my nails. 😉

I don’t know the other parents very well but I know they’re lovely people and it was clear that nothing was intended maliciously or even said with a great deal of thought. Much as I used to think being a teacher must be easy – short days, long holidays – before I spent any time with teachers and realised it’s the hardest job in the world and you couldn’t pay me enough to do it: we none of us have a blinking clue what’s really involved until it’s our job. And even then we all approach life differently.

Some of my light reading

Some of my light reading

I have to be working; I feel guilty if I don’t. So if I’m not writing I must either be cleaning, doing social media (which I don’t love) or reading (which I’m only just accepting as training for writers). It doesn’t feel like a hobby, but of course I do have a choice whether to work or be a housewife, which many don’t. I know I’m extremely fortunate.

Equally when I said to them that I loathed the school run (their children aren’t yet at school so they have that joy to look forward to) I’m sure they were envious that I have the luxury of doing it, as their children are in childcare all week. We all want what we can’t have.

There’s a lovely post on Facebook – two letters from a Stay at Home Mum and a working mum – which actually sympathises with the differences rather than finding reasons to hate. I’ve done a bit of both and I know they each suck in some way. (Incidentally, for a completely different take on the Facebook post, and why we parents should all STFU and stop moaning, read this). I preferred working (or, I should say, I preferred being employed, getting paid and knowing what I was meant to be doing from one minute to the next and not feeling guilty) but I only did it for a short time and before I had a child at school, so childcare was easier. Writing is a lot less stressful in many ways, of course, but it’s not always an easy way to spend your day. And the pay is lousy 😉

There’s another meme on Facebook – a quote from Katrina Monroe – that sums it up:

“Writing is like giving yourself homework, really hard homework, every day, for the rest of your life. You want glamorous? Throw glitter at the computer screen.”

Amen to that. You don’t get a day off, even when – like today – the only writing that gets done is on a phone in the dark while walking the dog at 6.15pm after hubbie gets home. You lie awake at 2am wondering what your character should do next or – as I have been lately after reading too many blog posts about how self-published authors are a scourge on decent literature – whether you should even be a writer. Can you call yourself a writer with a hundred sales to your name and more one star reviews than fives? (Well, almost. Hyperbole is accepted to make a point.) You’re never an aspiring teacher, no one ever called a teacher at home marking books ‘not working’. (Well, not to their face anyway!) I choose to be a writer, and to take all that entails, but it’s not a walk in the park (even when you’re walking in the park).

So, next time you’re chatting to a writer, or a SAHM, just nod and smile and maybe keep the phrase “So you don’t work then?” to share with your husband once you get home and vent on how the others have it easy. Much appreciated! 😀

Author Interview: Pat Elliott – All In The Leaves

All In The Leaves by Pat Elliott

All In The Leaves by Pat Elliott

Today I am thrilled to welcome Pat Elliott, author of All In The Leaves, which tells the story of Anna, nearly thirty, living at home and single. When a chance bout of tears leads to a tea leaf reading she is shown a wonderful future: new career, new home, new husband. All by Christmas. All she has to do is get on and make the necessary changes to ensure it happens. When calamity strikes, the battle for happiness begins.

Pat spent eighteen years of her working life in a magazine company, before becoming self employed as a reflexologist. She has had factual pieces published on reflexology and on adopting a dog. All in the Leaves is her first novel, with a second, Leaves for Chloe, currently being written. She has also written a volume of short stories, called At Sanctuary’s Gate.

Pat was born in the Alexandra Palace area of London and currently resides in the Essex countryside, with her husband and adopted terrier. She has a great love for dogs, and is delighted when a rescue dog gets a second chance in life. She also loves to paint in watercolour. Her blog can be found here.

I asked Pat a few question about life, writing and All In The Leaves. I hope you enjoy learning more about her and her novel.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you decided to write fiction, after a life working in magazines?

I left the magazine world to set up my reflexology practice. I took up reflexology initially to help my husband, who had a back injury and suffered with subsequent depression. I feel that people who suffer injuries and depression are given short shrift in this world of ours – and if I can help them, I will. Living with injury and depression is not an easy road – either for the person suffering, or the one who tries to help. I see quite a few people who fall into this category. For the helper, it is paramount to maintain outside interests. With that in mind, I like to learn something new. I enrolled on an adult education course which attracted me – Creative Writing, Short Stories. This was such a fabulous course that I signed up for the follow up – Creative Writing, Novels. I was attracted to the fact that after initial instruction, you were out there on your own, getting on it with it. That fits my working life much better than something rigid.

It also means that I can be at home, yet still have an outside interest. The life of a writer can be one of any life they choose to write about. It’s a wonderful escape.

2. Your novel features dogs a great deal. Tell us about the dog(s) in your life

Pat and Missy

Pat and Missy

Yes, indeed. The love of dogs is a theme that runs in my novel. Anyone who owns a dog knows the unconditional love you get from these creatures. We are none of us so full of love, that we couldn’t do with a little extra.

My first dog was a jack russell, Spotty. She lived originally with my neighbours, but they were cruel to her. They’d split her head open by hitting her with a roofing tile – and then refused to take her to the vet. I took her. We spent our first night together under the duvet, on the sofa – after the vet had told us that her life hung in the balance. The first 24 hours were crucial. She lived, and stayed safe in our love for the next 16 years, until she passed, aged 18.

Once Spotty passed away, we went to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to adopt another, where we met the wonderful Missy. Still a russell, but long legged and long haired – the opposite of Spotty. That was important to me, so that we’d never compare the two. Missy was in Battersea for almost two years, waiting for a home. I have nothing but admiration for the care that Battersea took over her. She was 8 years old when we adopted her. She’s 16 now and still a cheeky little minx – but I like that in a dog.

3. All in The Leaves is about tea leaf reading and has sections that are very spiritual. Are these drawn from your own experiences?

There are elements of my own experiences in the story. I did indeed have an Irish relative who could read tea leaves and was surprisingly accurate. Being the daughter of a Irishman, there is great Celtic lore and spirituality in my genes – and this shows in my writing. I like to weave some of that into my stories. I feel it adds another dimension.

4. The novel explores the beauty of Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular. As someone who lives in Essex, is there a secret yearning to live over the border? 🙂

I do live in Essex, yes! Originally my family were from Waterford, then Wexford, Eire. When the work situation forced some of the younger members of the family to spread their wings, some moved to London and some to Scotland. So I feel quite attached to both. Would I live there? I’d certainly consider it, should the opportunity present itself.

5. All in the Leaves is the first in a series of novels. Did you always intend to write a series?

No, originally, I didn’t. I started to write All in the Leaves as part of my novel writing course. When I spoke to other book reader friends, they asked would it be a series? I quite like each book to have an ending, so that’s what I did in Leaves, but I also saw the possibility that there could be other tea leaf readings and other books. Each complete to themselves. That’s when I decided to make a series.

6. The next book will be about Chloe. Tell us a little bit about it; is it set after All in the Leaves (and will we see more of horrid Howard and adorable Angus)?

Leaves for Chloe is set after All in the Leaves. It charts what happens to Chloe in the year after the end of the first book. Yes, horrid Howard does appear a fair bit in book two, like a bad penny, he always turns up! The adorable Angus also returns, patient and kind as ever. Some may say pushover, but he does have a core of steel.

7. You self-published your first novel. Was that something you intended from the start? How did you find the experience?

All In The Leaves - about tea leaf reading

All In The Leaves – about tea leaf reading

Originally, I would have been thrilled to have an agent and a publisher. However, the more research I did, that route did not feel fine to me. The absolute decider was when I read about one poor man, who’d spent two years of his life writing his book, only to see it pulped after a few months on the bookshelves. It hadn’t performed as well and as quickly as the distributors wanted, so it was pulled.

I understand that they are a business, and shelf space is at a premium, but my heart went out to the man who’d lost his dream. I decided that if I self published, All in the Leaves could stay on the virtual shelves until it found its own market.

I chose to use ebook partners to convert and distribute my book. I couldn’t be happier with their service. I am not the person to spend hours over the computer, trying to work out how to format a book. Nor spend time dealing with different countries’ tax requirements. I much prefer to pay someone to do all that, so that I can concentrate on what I enjoy. Plus, they only take a fee. No percentage of your sales. That was a big plus to me, because it fit my idea of a professional service

8. You’re an artist and a reflexologist as well as an author; how do you manage your time? Do you find yourself torn between your different creative outlets?

No, I’m never torn. Reflexology is my bread and butter. That time comes first. In any spaces between clients, I balance the other two. As a writer yourself, you know there are times that you could bang your head on a wall, in frustration at not finding the right plot or device. In those times, I paint!

9. You have also published a collection of short stories, At Sanctuary’s Gate; how is writing short stories different to writing novels? Which do you prefer?

Short stories are for me quick insights. A novel is more of a slow, developmental burn. My short stories are more observational than dialogue filled, my novel is more about dialogue and personal interaction. I like them both. That’s not a cop-out – they both fulfil a different need in the writer me.

10. Finally, what advice would you give to someone just starting out in their writing career?

Firstly, write! If there’s a class available, get some instruction. A good tutor will encourage, instruct and inspire. If there’s no class, find the resources online or in your library. Help is there, if you look for it.

You can find out more about All in the Leaves and purchase a copy here. Thanks for reading.

2013 365 Challenge: Some Lessons Learned

Conquering mountains

Conquering mountains

For anyone new to the blog (where have you been? *grin*) I spent last year undertaking a writing experiment I called the 2013 365 Challenge.

I set myself a tri-fold task: I would write a blog post everyday, I would include pictures in every post (mostly from what I had been doing that day) and I would write an installment of a novel every day. Not just serialise a novel already written, or write 10,000 words at the beginning of the month and parcel it up, but sit down every single day and think of something new to happen in my novel.

I set myself rules, too. I would try and post by 10am every day (which I mostly did!) I would collate each set of installments into a free monthly ebook and publish it by the last day of the month (which I mostly did). And, most importantly, I would not go back and change things (which I didn’t, aside from typos and spelling mistakes, which slipped through due to tiredness, and – once – when I accidentally changed the name of a character to one in the novel I was also editing at the time. I changed that for the sake of readers’ sanity. But I never changed more than a word at a time).

I think reaching the end of my challenge, the end of Claire’s (my protagonist’s) story, and realising I had written 285,000 words in a year and published them, counts as one of my greatest life achievements.

Me before kids (when I got sleep!)

Me before kids (when I got sleep!)

It isn’t Pulitzer Prize winning fiction. In some places it rambles. In many places I’m sure the lack of editing is obvious. But, still, hundreds of people read it and enjoyed it (as far as I can tell, by almost as many copies of the later volumes being downloaded as the first one). I felt like I reached the mountain top and the view was amazing.

Most importantly, I learned so much about being a writer that, even if I hadn’t had a single download, I think I would consider it time well spent. (Although, if I hadn’t had a single download I probably wouldn’t have made it past January, as knowing people were expecting the next installment was often the only thing giving me the motivation to write when all I wanted to do was sleep.)

I’m still processing all the things I learned from my challenge, but I promised in yesterday’s post that I would write some of them down. So these are the things that occur to me right now:

  • It really is important to write every day. That is probably more true for the blogging than the novel challenge, actually. I’m working on my current novel only three days a week (as I used to before the 2013 365 Challenge) but writing something everyday keeps the words flowing
  • You can write great prose even when you’re tired and uninspired (in fact, sometimes having half my brain worried about other things kept my conscious brain busy and left my creative sub-consciousness to get on with it)
  • Writing to a deadline sharpens the mind. Knowing you have to write something, anything, in the next hour, frees you from restraint.
  • Writing to a deadline can also cause terrible writer’s block. Knowing you have to write something, anything, in the next hour can make the white screen the most terrifying thing in the world
  • If the white screen scares you, turn it off and write somewhere else. Tap out a text message, scribble on an envelope. Once the words start flowing, it’s easy
  • Walking sets a great rhythm for dialogue. If I ever got stuck with a scene of dialogue, getting outside and walking the dog helped the words come. The conversation would run in my head in time to my footsteps and all I had to do was write it down
  • Research can spark off new and exciting ideas. Many of my best installments were triggered from a Tripadvisor review. Reading about other people’s experiences can set off a train of thought that leads to a new story, character, or source of conflict.
  • Keep your characters moving. If they must have internal dialogue or introspection, having the protagonist physically moving can give interest and momentum. Claire did some of her best thinking while hiking along cliffs or driving country lanes. It also makes it easier to match scene to mood: a lashing thunderstorm made a great backdrop for a moment of angst
  • Weather is important. It isn’t always sunny. Using Google StreetView to look at different parts of the UK also gave me impetus to write about different types of weather. Now I know to think about the weather and make sure it’s appropriate both for the time of year and mood of scene (see above)
  • Character arcs are fun. Having Claire change from a shallow work-driven career woman into a nature-loving, child-hugging, self-aware woman was very satisfying.
  • Nasty characters can be fun, too. When Claire’s brother turned out to be an utter git (which I hadn’t completely anticipated) I absolutely loved writing his scenes. We don’t often get to say mean things in real life and not feel guilty afterwards. Writing is cathartic
  • Your own experiences are a limitless resource. I used many things from my own life, including (but not exclusively) my time in hospital having my second child; my father’s cancer; my breakdown and subsequent depression; my year living, working and travelling around New Zealand; summers spent in Swanage with my father; hiking holidays in the Lake District, my time working as a Marketing Manager
  • Friends are also great resources. Two examples that spring to mind are when I used emotional anecdotes (not the details) from my paediatrician friend to get inside Josh’s mind, and an accidental conversation with a friend who used to live in the Lake District that greatly enhanced my Grasmere episode.
  • The mind is a well that can run dry. Whether I write 1,000 words a day for a week or 8,000 words in a day, my overall work rate stays fairly level. I just can’t generate the ideas to write more than 10,000 words in a week. The brain needs time to refill and replenish
  • Coffee shops and town centres are great places to refill the mind. Eavesdropping on conversations and watching how people interact can help to create stories
  • Reading is just as important as writing. Immersing yourself in a well-written book can fill the word-well in the mind and reinvigorate an exhausted muse
  • Formatting for Smashwords and Kindle are really boring but actually fairly straightforward. It helps to format as you draft, if it isn’t too distracting. I’ve learned to do it when I’m waiting for the next idea to come, or while watching TV
  • People don’t leave reviews for free books

I’m sure there are loads more things I’ve learned and I’m equally sure that some of these things only apply to me and not to all writers. Looking at the list, though, it makes me realise how far I have come as a writer and how much my confidence has grown. Turning up to work every day, whether I wanted to or not, moved me from “aspiring writer” to “writer”. I just need to make sure I keep it going! This year’s (unofficial) challenge is to build on my learning and concentrate on the craft of writing. Quality over quantity. I’ll keep you posted.

Start as You Mean to Go On

The final cover for Two-Hundred Steps Home The Complete Journey

The final cover for Two-Hundred Steps Home The Complete Journey

There’s nothing like starting the year as you mean to go on! Publishing a book on Amazon on day four of the year, even if it is one I wrote last year, and one that probably should be proofread first, feels good. You can find it here: Two-Hundred Steps Home: The Complete Journey.

I have added the disclaimers and hopefully no one will buy it and trash me for finding the odd inconsistency or typo (of which I’m sure there are plenty). I am fixing the typos as they’re discovered (thank you hubbie, and anyone else letting me know about them) but a writing challenge is a writing challenge: I didn’t set out to write a Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel in 2013, just a novel that people might enjoy reading. Which, from the reviews I’ve had, it seems they did.

My only dilemma now is whether to take down the first volume from Amazon. It gets the occasional sale, but when you search for ‘Two-Hundred Steps Home’ it presents both books as versions of the same work, even though they have different ASIN numbers. Ah well. A small dilemma.

I’m also enjoying my new resolution to read more, both books and blogs, and write more comments (although I’m not sure I’m keeping up with that target quite as I should. I still feel jetlagged from holiday, illness and Claire!)

I’m reading The Radleys by Matt Haig at present and really enjoying it. I won’t divulge anything about the story, as I’ll write a review post when I’ve finished it. What I am enjoying is how Matt Haig breaks the rules in his writing: there is plenty of head-hopping and change of perspective. I think there’s even a change from writing in the past to the present tense, but I’m trying not to analyse, just get swept up in the story. It might be hard to write a review without spoilers, which I hate, so I’ll have to give that some thought. Maybe read some reviews on other blogs and see how it’s done. What’s your view on reviews? Spoilers or no spoilers? Where do you draw the line?

Formatting and Designing Covers (Again)

A possible cover for THSH the complete story

A possible cover for THSH the complete story

I spent today doing what I love best (ahem), formatting and editing a word document ready for uploading to Smashwords and Amazon. It frustrated me from the beginning of my 2013 writing challenge that I wasn’t able to put the Two-Hundred Steps Home volumes onto Amazon, because they don’t allow permanently free books.

It has therefore always been my intention to combine the twelve volumes into one book to put on Amazon. The dilemma is whether to spend time proofreading and checking for continuity errors and risk getting sucked into doing a full edit (which is not something I intend to get dragged into). Hubbie argues that the original instalments shouldn’t be altered (apart from fixing obvious typos as and when I see them or am told about them) as that was the purpose of the challenge: to write a first draft novel and publish as-is.

My compromise has been to put a short introduction at the beginning to explain the challenge. Writing that is also proving tricky: this is my first attempt:

Two-Hundred Steps Home was written during 2013 in daily instalments on Amanda Martin’s writermummy blog. She wanted to see if it was possible to write the first draft of a novel and publish it every day, much as a Nineteenth-Century Dickens novel might have been published.

Throughout a long year, with hours of painstaking research into the hostels and tourist attractions of UK and New Zealand, and with the endless support of her family, Amanda followed Claire on a journey of discovery from her life as a Marketing Director to someone searching for meaning on the beaches of Cornwall.

Unsure in the beginning whether she would complete her challenge, Amanda continued day by day because of the faithful followers on her blog. And so, 285,000 words, 365 posts and 12 novellas later, Claire’s journey reached the end.

This volume contains all 365 instalments, unedited and exactly as they appeared on the writermummy blog

One of the covers I'm considering

One of the covers I’m considering

It’s a work in progress! As is the front cover. After carefully choosing an image to fit with the theme of each volume, month on month, it has been impossible to come up with an image that sums up the whole of Claire’s journey. These are the two I’m playing with at the moment but I’m not entirely satisfied with either.

What I’d really love to do is have a proper cover designed by someone that knows what they’re doing, rather than me with some istockphoto images and Adobe Photoshop. But, again, it doesn’t fit in with the original challenge of doing it all myself and, besides, I can’t afford it!

When I think about it too much, I feel I should hold back on getting out a complete volume. Part of me wants to get something live this week, so I can get back to the proper job of writing when the children go back to school next week, while the rest of me knows that rushing into any self-publishing breaks all the rules and risks damaging an author’s reputation. But then so does writing a novel in chunks at 2am and publishing the first draft. However, 6,000 downloads later, it doesn’t seem to have done too badly.

My only other point of indecision is whether to call it “Two-Hundred Steps Home Volumes 1-12” or “The Complete Journey” to separate it from the individual volumes but also make clear it isn’t a sequel! I can write fast, but not that fast! 🙂 Ah well, knowing me I’ll make an impulsive decision at midnight and you’ll see something live shortly after. If no one buys it, I’ll come up with a Plan B.

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 Teaches you to Ship: 2013 365 Challenge #355

None of this would have existed if I'd given up in January

None of this would have existed if I’d given up in January

I’ve discussed before about the importance of learning to ship. It’s a term I’ve learned from Kristen Lamb‘s blog. As a writer (or any kind of artist) you can’t stress over a piece of work forever. At some point you have to release it into the world, because otherwise you never start on the next project. This is so true for me.

This time last year, I was waiting to hear if Dragon Wraiths had been shortlisted for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition. My life was on hold. Having been long-listed, there was a part of me that really believed I would get shortlisted (because what is life without a pipe dream?) When I wasn’t, everything crashed in for a moment. Not because I thought Dragon Wraiths would win – I wasn’t that deluded – but because the shortlisted authors got to meet agents.

After the initial mourning (which wasn’t long) I decided to seize the moment and send out queries to as many agents as possible, while my belief was still high. I know myself so well. Of course none of those queries resulted in anything – I didn’t really expect them to, because the slush pile is huge, my opening chapter weaker than it should be, and my query letter dull. That was why I’d pinned my hopes on getting shortlisted, because getting an agent to pay attention is the hardest part of writing.

Without self-publishing, Dragon Wraiths would still be this

Without self-publishing, Dragon Wraiths would still be this

Then I started the daily challenge, and had other things to think about. I kept writing (part of the reason for doing the challenge). My family encouraged me to self-publish Dragon Wraiths and, as my belief in the book was still high, I did.

Best decision ever.

Even though it’s had some bad reviews, and sells only a handful of copies, it gave me the impetus to get Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes self-published too. That hasn’t had any reviews in the UK and only one in the US and has sold even fewer copies. But it’s out there.

The important thing with writing is to keep writing. I could not have done that if I was still trying to get an agent for Dragon Wraiths. My brain would have been on hold. I would have spent all my energy and used up all my fragile confidence sending out queries, waiting for replies, getting excited, getting depressed. It would not have suited me at all.

Yes, I think the ability to ship is too easy with Self-Publishing. Books are released too early, when perhaps they’re not as good as they could be. But I don’t really think it matters (as long as, you know, they’re not awful. With no grammar and full of typos. There has to be a minimum level!)

Lovely reviews make it all worth while

Lovely reviews make it all worth while

I believe you can over-work something: I definitely did with my artwork, towards the end. Made my paintings into what I thought others expected them to be, rather than just going with the artistic flow. My pictures became bland and lost their edge.

I’m not saying my novels wouldn’t be better for a strict edit, for going through the write and rewrite process of being traditionally published. But they might not be my books anymore. And, knowing me as I do, my faith in my writing might not survive the journey.

Besides, we live in a throwaway culture. I’m not writing books to last forever. If someone reads my book, shrugs, says “meh?” and moves on, so what? I do that to traditionally published books all the time (even books by favourite authors like Terry Pratchett. More on that in another post). At least they haven’t spent a fortune on it.

And for every person who leaves me a one-star review that says I wasted hours of their life, there will be someone eagerly hanging on my next release. And there will be a next release, because of those people.

I would have given up on Claire months ago, if I didn’t know people were reading it. I would have given up after three months of querying Dragon Wraiths and gone searching for a day job, if I hadn’t had enthusiastic reviews. I certainly wouldn’t have thought about writing a sequel.

Self publishing isn’t for everyone. I read for and against arguments all the time (usually by interested parties, arguing for their own chosen route!) But, for me, it has been a salvation. Reading posts like these (Are you waiting for permission?) about the waiting and worry of the traditional route, I know now that I would have given up too soon. My self belief was a tiny spark in the dark and, with nothing to fan it into life, it would have died out completely.

Only time will tell if I will make it as an author. All I know is, without my blog, without self-publishing, without getting some kind of positive feedback, I wouldn’t have come even this far. Everyone knows the key to becoming a better author is writing more books. What they forget to say is that you need to ship them 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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“How do you like the south west?”

Maggie’s question sounded innocent enough, but Claire frowned at her, wondering if she had somehow picked up on her dilemma: Dorset or Cornwall?

“It’s a beautiful part of the world,” she replied in a noncommittal voice. “I think of all the places I’ve been too, Cornwall feels most like home.”

Maggie’s face became wistful. “I was like that with the Lake District.” Then she brightened. “You can always find a new home, though.”

Claire wondered at her meaning and a memory surfaced in her mind. “I thought you hated moving away from the Lakes? Didn’t you say you moved south to be with your husband – Steve, was it? But you went back to the Lakes whenever you could.”

Maggie’s eyes opened wide. “You have a good memory! Yes, that’s true, I missed the Lake District. Kent is pretty, but it lacks the drama of the northern counties. Cornwall has its own drama though, as I’m sure you’ve discovered.”

With a nod, Claire took a sip of her Earl Grey and tried to understand the change in Maggie. There was a radiance about her that she didn’t remember from before.

“Tell me about your friend and her activity centre. It sounds like a big project?”

“His.”

“Sorry?” Claire looked puzzled.

“My friend is a he.” Maggie flushed and looked down at the table, her hands cupped around a steaming mug of teak-brown tea.

Claire stared at Maggie and a suspicion began to seep into her consciousness. But how to ask? Suppressing a smile she said nonchalantly. “So, he is opening this activity centre. Where do I come in?”

“Like I said, Timothy needs assistance with the marketing and promotional side of things. He’s done all the set up and renovations himself. You should see the place, it’s amazing.” Her eyes glittered with enthusiasm. “It really is a wonderful thing he’s doing. He has lottery money to help get him started, but there is so much to do.”

“And are you helping too?” Claire drew circles on the wooden table with one finger.

“Yes, I go when I can. I still have commitments at home.” She seemed to realise where the questions were leading and looked up sheepishly at Claire, who wondered if she was brave enough to pry.

Trying to pour all her curiosity into her gaze, Claire rested her eyes on Maggie and waited.

“Oh, alright then, if you must!” Maggie exclaimed, as if Claire had spoken. “Steve and I broke up. I couldn’t take it anymore. Then I met Timothy, and he told me about his dream.”

Claire sat back and listened as Maggie explained all about her new romance, about how amazing it was to have something to pour herself into, now her children had left home. How Steve had seemed relieved when she ended their thirty-year marriage and how she felt they had never really understood each other.

Claire thought about Conor. Who hated silence, who would rather be in a crowded bar listening to loud music than striding across empty hills. Conor who had invited her to a weekend in Ireland for a family celebration, a thought she was desperately trying to forget. There was nothing like going to a church to give an eager man ideas.

Eventually Maggie seemed to sense Claire’s lack of attention and her flow of words trickled to a halt. “I’m so sorry, wittering on like this. You must be bored stiff.”

With a stab of guilt, Claire sat forward. “Sorry, Maggie, I am listening. It’s just I have a new man, too, and he’s invited me to a Baptism on Saturday. In his home town, near Cork. My mind wandered for a moment, because I don’t know if I should go.”

And it all poured out. Everything that had happened since she’d last spoken to Maggie. About Conor not wanting to leave Swanage, and her urge to stay in Cornwall. How she didn’t want to work for him, and wasn’t sure they had enough in common to be together.

“My goodness,” Maggie said, when Claire had finished. She looked as if she was about to say something else when a general commotion around them heralded the arrival of the Brownies for afternoon tea. With a look that said, we’ll talk later, Maggie rose and went to serve juice and cake.

*

“Hey gorgeous, are you all set for the weekend?”

Claire heard the hesitation in Conor’s voice, as she cradled the phone to her ear and tried to block out the sound of endless chatter from the room next door.

“Where are you?” He added before she could answer; his tone somewhere between amusement and frustration. “I can barely hear you.”

“Sorry, I’m staying with Maggie at the hostel in Exmoor National Park. Don’t you remember? I said I was coming up here to pick her brains about the Guide Association. The children are currently getting ready for bed, if you can call it that!” She laughed. For all her initial horror, she’d enjoyed spending the afternoon with the Brownies. They were at a nice age, between childish dependence and teenage sass.

“Yes, I remember. Will you be back to catch the flight on Friday night? Only the service is Saturday afternoon so we need to be there in time.”

Claire chewed her cheek. Conor had mentioned the Baptism in passing on Sunday, before he returned to his apartment. It hadn’t sounded a big deal, more an excuse to go away together for the weekend. She wasn’t sure she was ready for it, but didn’t have a good excuse to say no. Now, though, he sounded anxious.

“Am I missing something?” She asked, deciding honesty was the only way. “The last time your family tried to get you to go to a Baptism you chose to take two boys out to a castle instead. I thought you avoided these family affairs?”

“That was some distant cousin. This is my niece and I’m one of the godparents.”

Claire gasped. “You didn’t mention that on Sunday.”

There was silence followed by Conor clearing his throat. “I was afraid to. I thought you wouldn’t come if you knew we’d be right in the middle of it. My family can be a bit full on. But I’ve been thinking about it, and it didn’t seem fair to spring it on you when we got there.”

He sounded like a small boy explaining the muddy footprints on the white carpet. Claire was forced to smile, although she still felt sick.

“I don’t have to do anything, do I? As your guest? I thought godparents were usually couples?”

“No and not always. You just sit in the pew and try to stay awake. You might want to wear a frock.”

Claire slumped back on the bed and groaned. A formal meet the family affair, two weeks into a new relationship. Just what she needed.

***