Preparing a Farewell, For Now: 2013 365 Challenge #332

Vol Ten is only just arriving at B&N

Vol Ten is only just arriving at B&N

It seems ironic that the part of my country I most want to visit – Cornwall – is the part I haven’t been able to fully explore with Claire. I have an idea of all the places she’s been to with the boys – St Michael’s Mount, St Ives, Penanze – but the month of November slipped away from me and Claire needs to be back in Dorset for December’s volume.

The Two-Hundred Steps Home story has developed a languid pace to it which I quite enjoy, although I imagine if you read the volumes without realising how and why they were written it must feel like some 18th Century epistolary novel. A Tristram Shandy or a ClarissaStories where they got paid by the word. Unfortunately I need to try and increase the pace and the conflict if I want to get Claire’s journey to a satisfactory ending.

It’s going to be hard to step up the story to have a climax by New Year, though, particularly as I don’t know what that showdown will be. Thankfully, I’m pretty certain it will only be a hiatus until I find the time and energy to write the next, full length installment. I thought I’d be sick of Claire after 332 days, but I feel her journey hasn’t finished yet. In the meantime the Muse is still hiding her cards as to what the end of December will look like. I guess I’ll have to wait and see like everyone else!

On the logistical side, I tried to set December’s volume up for preorder, in case they aren’t taking submissions over the holidays (and to get into the Affiliates earlier as apparently they stop around mid December, and November’s volume is only just arriving at Affiliate sites) but unfortunately you can’t set up a preorder for a free novel. While I will probably stop giving the books away free from January (so I can load them all to kindle, if nothing else) it goes against the aim of the 2013 Challenge to have one of the volumes not free on release.

I feel surprisingly sad, now my crazy challenge is coming to a close, even though it’s been impossibly hard at times. I’ll miss Claire and dropping in on her every day. Maybe I’ll put the plan to finish Class Act on a back burner and start that sequel on January 1st. But, shhh, don’t tell my husband. Poor soul I think he’s looking forward to getting his wife back. He might have to have Claire instead.

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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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“Did you know this place was pretty much built by a single woman?” Claire said, fanning herself with her hand against the heat of the day. As she looked around the theatre she was blown away by the immensity of Rowena Cade’s achievement.

“It looks like it was built by the Romans or the Greeks.” Jack said. “We did the Romans at school last year. Did a woman really build this? Why?”

Claire laughed. “I have no idea. Because she could. Because it’s a beautiful location? Why don’t we buy a guide book and find out?”

Looking round, she suddenly realised she couldn’t see Alex, and her mind went blank. “Where’s your brother?” Jack shook his head, to indicate he had no idea. Claire scanned the terraces beneath them, searching for the familiar face in the milling crowd of people, all waiting until the last minute to sit on the stone seats for the performance.

Behind them, the terraces climbed up steeply, and Claire felt her head spin as she looked frantically round. The wispy clouds scudding overhead seemed to make the cluster of stone pillars loom towards her, as if they might fall and crush her. Dragging her gaze away, she span full circle, ignoring the beauty of the scene in her search for her nephew.

Damn you, child, where are you?

Then she spied him, threading his way through the throng. She inhaled, ready to yell at him for disappearing, when she noticed that he was carrying something. In his hands were three cardboard cups, and he had something else tucked under his arm.

“Sorry it took so long, the queue was a nightmare.” Alex offered a cup to Claire without meeting her eyes. “I went to get you a coffee. I thought you might like one, even though it’s been so hot. I didn’t think they’d let me buy wine.” He passed a cup to his brother and, before Claire could remonstrate, he added quickly, “I got me and Jack hot chocolate. And I got a programme. We’ve done some opera at school, but I don’t know Marriage of Figaro.”

Claire felt her jaw drop as she looked at her normally surly nephew. He’d made an effort that evening, putting on a clean polo shirt and smart, dark jeans. He looked older than his twelve years and Claire felt a swell of pride build inside, even though she could take no credit for the raising of this bundle of contradictions.

Robert and Francesca must have done something right.

“Thank you for the coffee, Alex, that was very thoughtful.” He flushed under her attention, and she turned away to conceal a smile.

Jack rifled through the programme, reading out details of how the theatre had been built up year after year.

A real labour of love, Claire mused, wondering what it might be like to have that kind of dedication to something. I guess at least you’d never be bored.

“You should have asked Conor to come,” Alex said suddenly, as he sipped his drink. Claire searched his face for any hint of ridicule or taunting but his expression appeared guileless.

“It’s a long way to come to go to the opera.” Claire said in a level voice.

“He could have flown down, I saw a sign for the airport on the way here.”

Claire wondered how to explain that not everyone had their father’s ready cash and that most people had to save up all year to afford even a cheap vacation.

“Besides,” Alex continued before Claire had managed to frame a suitable answer, “It would have been nice to say goodbye. I like him.”

Me, too.

Claire tried not to dwell on the unwelcome thought that her realisation had come too late.

*

Claire shifted in an attempt to relieve the numbness in her bottom. Beneath her the performers were taking a bow, to fervent applause. The sun had dropped below the horizon and the sea glowed opalescent blue behind the stage. A single yacht drifted in the bay, white against the dark embracing arm of the cliffs in the distance.

A cool breeze blew in from the sea, and Claire sensed the collective sigh of the closely packed audience, as the clapping died away. The weather had been hot all week and, even outside, she felt sticky and uncomfortable.

“Well, boys,” she said, as the audience began to stir, “what did you think?” She looked at their faces in the dusk, trying to work out if they had enjoyed it or were being polite. They all stood, glad to stretch their legs, and retrieved their cushions, ready to return them.

“It was amazing.”

Claire turned at the sound of Alex’s voice. “I didn’t really follow the story all that much, but the singing was cool.” Then, as if embarrassed at his candour, he hung his head and slouched off along the aisle to the exit.

***

Not NaNoing: 2013 365 Challenge #318

My bargain book! :)

My bargain book! 🙂

I decided, finally, not to do NaNoWriMo this year. Despite all my protestations that I had no intention of doing it, I think I secretly thought in the back of my mind that, if I could get a bit ahead with Two-Hundred Steps Home, I might try and tap out 20,000 words of something new.

I have so many ideas for projects – a sequel to Dragon Wraiths, maybe a sequel to Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, definitely a follow-up to Two-Hundred Steps Home – that I wanted to get stuck in to one of them. I’m advertising that Class Act will be out next year, and a Dragon Wraiths sequel really would need to be too, and yet one is half done and the other not even started.

Now, though, at 14th November, I have to accept that it isn’t likely to happen. And I’m okay with that. I’m not even reading all the NaNo motivational emails, as I would normally do, because I spend my spare time (such as it is!) reading the brilliant blogs I follow. Or at least as many of them as I can get to.

Why not visit Miss Fanny P?

Why not visit Miss Fanny P?

I’m particularly enjoying Miss Fanny P. Actually, enjoying isn’t the word, because she had some sad news: I think maybe supporting is closer. She feels like a Blogsphere friend and I want to support her. The dozen or so blogs I read and comment on regularly all feel like friends that I make a point of visiting as often as I can, just as I would if they were real friends. It’s important.

So, I’m not really missing NaNo. I mostly have the ‘thrill’ of hitting deadlines and churning out words by keeping up with the daily blog and Two-Hundred Steps Home. Although THSH is usually only around 22,000 words a month, the daily blog probably adds another 10,000 to that, so I’m two thirds to a NaNo total every month already. (Today’s combined post, for example, is only around 100 words shy of the 1,667 daily NaNo target.)

About the only thing I’ve done to celebrate NaNoWriMo this year is drop the price of my books. Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes was written as a first draft during 2011 NaNoWriMo, so it feels right to promote it during November. It’s currently a steal, because Amazon have picked up on my Smashwords price drop and are offering it for the bargain price of 75p (or $1.20 in the US)! You can’t buy a newspaper for that. So, if you haven’t read it and fancy a bargain read, do grab a copy. If Amazon stop price-matching, go over to Smashwords. As it isn’t in KDP, it will never be free, so this is the best deal. Who knows, I might even get a review or two if the offer takes off! 🙂 It all helps motivate me to keep writing. Bring on NaNo 2014….

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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 swore as she found herself in the one way system for the third time. Yanking the steering wheel round, she crossed a lane of traffic amidst blaring horns, and swore again.

What possessed me to take the SatNav out of the car? If I’d still had the iPad I wouldn’t have needed to use the SatNav to plan today’s activities. Why is it everything I do makes my life more difficult.

She shook her head at her own stupidity, peering out the window at the sign posts as she drove around the town.

Come on, Claire, it’s a castle! How hard can it be to find? And where are all the signs? Normally you can’t get within five miles of a tourist attraction without a plethora of brown rectangles telling you which way to go.

Mentally adding ‘sign posts’ to her report topics for successful tourism, Claire took a deep breath and tried to get her temper under control. At last she spotted a sign up ahead pointing to the castle, and then there it was, about a hundred yards from the sign.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Claire parked the car and grimaced at the long walk up to the castle entrance, wondering if the maritime museum would have been a better choice. Even with the sun warming her skin and the cool sea breeze caressing her face she couldn’t seem to shake the grumpy mood hanging around like a bad smell.

Her frame of mind didn’t improve when she arrived at the castle and an eager gentlemen tried to convince her that £1050 for a lifetime membership of the English Heritage was good value for money.

Look, if I can’t afford a few hundred quid to replace my treasured tablet, I don’t think I’ll be splashing out that much on a stupid membership and, funnily enough, I can’t see Conor signing that one off on my expenses.

She looked around at some of the other people also being pushed into taking membership.

And if I was over sixty and you were still trying to charge me £750 for lifetime membership I might ask if that constituted a sound investment? Although most pensioners I know have more money than I do. Which, to be fair, isn’t hard.

Trying to quash her surliness, Claire smiled sweetly, declined the membership offer and paid the entrance fee. She baulked slightly at the cost of the guidebook, wondering why it couldn’t be included in the ticket price, and decided to go on the free tour instead.

She walked into the castle behind a group of giggling children whose parents were also muttering about the price of membership and the slightly aggressive sales pitch. Claire made a note to review membership deals as part of her report, then tried to approach the venue as a tourist.

The views were spectacular, every way she looked. It wasn’t hard to see why they’d built the castle there in the first place. There would be no sneaking up the coast to invade. Claire wandered through the exhibits, enjoying the waxwork people and booming sound effects that brought the castle to life.

The boys would love this, all the noise and guns. Maybe I’ll take them to the one on the other side of the estuary; clambering all over a place like this for a few hours might wear them out.

Thinking of things to do with her nephews lessened the fear a tiny bit and made her feel like she might cope during their two-week stay.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t rain. I wouldn’t want to be here in a downpour: there isn’t much cover between the buildings. I must remind Robert to pack waterproofs.

Then she remembered they would be leaving in the morning to catch their flight, and pulled her phone out to send a quick text message. There was an unopened text that must have arrived while she was inside the castle, surrounded by firing guns. It was from Conor.

No problem with the nephews, although your family and friends do seem to take you for granted. Lunch tomorrow then? I’ll find somewhere suitable. Conor

She stood staring at the message, trying to understand the tone. It sounded much friendlier than his recent emails, but it was hard to tell in such a short note. She frowned and went to drop her phone back in her bag, before remembering the message she needed to send her brother.

Robert, make sure the kids have clothing for a British summer – shorts and waterproofs, you know the deal. I have a lunchtime meeting with my boss, so will catch up with you after that. Are you staying the night? I’ll be in St Austell for lunch or at the Boswinger hostel after that. I’ve booked beds for the boys. Let me know, Claire.

She hit send, put her phone away, then headed to the roof to take some photographs for the blog and to clear her head.

As she stood on the roof, enjoying the panoramic view and trying not to get too close to the edge, Claire overheard a couple behind her in heated conversation.

“I tell you, it’s perfect. What better place to get married than in a real castle.” The girl sounded close to tears. “Just look at it, it will be amazing.”

“I know, darling, but we can’t afford it. Do you want to be broke and living at your parents’ house for years, just for one day?”

“Oh, you don’t understand.”

Claire heard running footsteps, followed by a loud sigh. She smiled wryly. It reminded her of a TV show she saw once, where someone explained to a perplexed groom that girls plan their ideal wedding day all their lives and it’s the groom’s job to catch up with the dream and run with it.

Not me. I don’t remember ever pretending to be a bride. Actually, I don’t remember what I wanted to be when I grew up, or what dreams I had.

The thought made her sad for some reason. Feeling as if clouds had swept over the brilliant sun, Claire turned away from the wall and headed back into the gloom of the castle.

***

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?

***

E-Book Censorship – Necessary or a Slippery Slope?

The story as it unfolds

The story as it unfolds

Some worrying news has trickled through to me this week, through various sources, that Amazon, Barnes & Noble and particularly Kobo are censoring Self-Published/Indie Published books. As far as I can gather, from reading posts on Shannon Thompson’s Facebook wall – here and here – and through statements from Smashwords, the concern is specific types of erotica, such as incest or rape themed books, but may easily stretch into all Indie Publishing.

WH Smith, who sell Kobo books in the UK, took down ALL self-published books in response to criticism over some of the content they apparently unknowingly stocked.

Smashwords  also has this comment in their statement:

Going forward, I think we can expect this to become the new reality as major retailers set their sights on a global market where the cultural, religious or political norms in some countries will find certain categories of erotica too objectionable, or might find non-erotic categories that most western cultures consider mainstream as too objectionable.  This means we can expect more mess to come in the years ahead as the industry navigates ebook globalization [My emphasis]

Now I have to be honest, this isn’t a straightforward debate for me. My mind is surging with conflicting emotions. Paramount is the thought “Oh my goodness, if they start deleting Indie books, there goes my five-year plan. Amazon is already censoring reviews (I’ve had at least three reviews of my books deleted and lord knows how many more I don’t know about). I’ll have to give up writing and get a job.”

This might seem like an overreaction when I write books with no sex in them, never mind erotica. But, as Smashwords points out, this may well not just stop at erotica but might cover any area that’s considered taboo in a certain culture. Shannon points out on her blog that the legal age of drinking between the UK and the US is different, so might books featuring a teenager drinking be banned in the US?

First WH Smith then all KOBO

First WH Smith then all KOBO

Then of course comes the view that refusing to publish any kind of books is bad. It’s censorship, it’s against free speech, it’s harking back to the days of banning and burning books for not fitting in with the social mores of its time. As one commenter points out on Shannon’s blog, though, it isn’t actually against free speech, because these companies are businesses and have every right to sell what they choose. Even so, it still isn’t good news for Indie authors like me.

Ah, but then, a third voice pipes up: the voice of the parent. I’d happily see all porn banned on the internet: free speech or no. And if there are erotica books out there that favour or promote rape, then I am happy for them to be banned. (Remember this is only the parent talking, so no snotty comments about me being a bigot, thanks!)

I don’t want my daughter growing up in a world where people have had easy access to books promoting rape. There’s something about an idea being written down that gives it gravitas. You write about rape in a book, make it sound like a cool thing, and somebody somewhere is going to feel like that gives them a green light.

In an article on the Christian Science Monitor (which I found through Shannon’s blog) someone defends the erotica ebooks by saying:

“We outlaw snuff films, child porn and, increasingly, revenge porn, because actual people are harmed during their production,” wrote PJ Vogt on OnTheMedia.org.

“Erotic fiction concerns fake characters who don’t exist in real life.”

So it’s okay if it’s in a book, with fake characters? I should agree, yes of course. Except I’ve read books that have changed the way I think. They’ve actually rewired my brain to see the world a different way. That’s the power of fiction (as so beautifully argued in a lecture by Neil Gaiman recently:

When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

The On the Media article quoted above says that internet porn hasn’t increased actual instances of rape, and makes the assumption that literature won’t either. But if you look at Neil’s argument, the written word is more powerful than onscreen images, precisely because it happens inside the mind. It locates another ‘me’ in the world. Great if that widens the mind, not so great if it narrows it.

Neil also says, “We have an obligation [as writers] to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it” but that’s an entirely different argument against some of these books!

There is a petition on Change.org that I will probably sign, but I am having to think twice about it. The petition does say **This petition is NOT condoning non-fictional beastiality, incest, pediphilia or other things of such ‘extreme’ nature**. 

Non-fictional? What about fictional? Also, there are some views in the comments that I don’t agree with. For example someone says you need a credit card to buy the books, so you’re obviously over 18. Except what about the free sample? I’ve downloaded the first few chapters of plenty of books without having to pay for them, and many of them I wouldn’t want my daughter to read at any age.

It’s a difficult debate and I hate not knowing what side of the fence I sit on. If Amazon and other online retailers delete my books, I’m back to square one: trying to fight my way in through the agent/publisher route. And I believe we’ll all be the poorer for stopping the publishing revolution before it’s even got underway. However there is no doubt that there are books out there that ruin the image of self-publishing for all of us, never mind books I wouldn’t want my kids to have access to.

Where do you sit?

___

Style hell Sunday: 2013 365 Challenge #273

A nice moody monochrome cover seemed right for Volume 9

A nice moody monochrome cover seemed right for Vol9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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

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

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

Please let NZ buses run punctually.

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

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

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

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

“Airport, please.”

The driver nodded and named the fare.

“How long will it take?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where do you drop us?”

“At the arrivals hall.”

“Damn. How far to departures?”

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

“My flight leaves in half an hour.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Formatting and Covers: 2013 365 Challenge #256

Manuscript Paper Planes

Manuscript Paper Planes

Phew. I have spent the last two days updating my Kindle and Smashwords files to include Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes under ‘other titles by’ and to add Twitter and Facebook links. I am formatting blind. I had to load each file half a dozen times, because I kept missing things. A case of more haste less speed.

Even now I know there’s an error in each of my Two-Hundred Steps Home files (a link that doesn’t work). I wasn’t going to reload them all, and start the ‘premium catalogue’ clearance again, except I’ve had to resubmit for clearing after linking all the books as a series (even though Smashwords said it wouldn’t affect premium distribution).

When I updated my kindle file for Dragon Wraiths, I also got the Facebook link wrong in that, and now I have to wait for Amazon to publish it before I can upload it again. They could learn a thing or two from Smashwords. My head is spinning with all the details, remembering what quirks Kindle has compared with Smashwords, and remembering to link to my other books on the right platform (Smashwords will reject a file for having Amazon links within it).

Spot the difference!

Spot the difference!

I also tinkered with the Dragon Wraiths cover today, to try and incorporate the dragon pendant from the first cover. I’m not 100% happy with it, but it needed to be done. The current one, much as I love it, doesn’t say ‘fantasy’ or ‘dragons’ enough.

What’s the point of this ramble? Not much, except to say I think writing a book is about 20% or 30% of the actual graft of being a self-published author. All the other stuff is so time-consuming. More than you think it should be. My ‘two minute’ job on the cover took two hours and nearly made me late to pick my daughter up from school!.

And you have to be super organised and logical and all those things I’m not to keep track of it all. At least I’m learning I guess. I could probably format a file for Smashwords in my sleep (and get no autovetter errors) and I’m not far off knowing how to do a Kindle file without referring to the notes. If the author thing doesn’t work I guess at least I could make money doing that! 🙂

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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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“What are we searching for exactly?”

Claire looked across the racks of clothing to Bethan, who was holding up various items against her and contemplating her reflection in the mirror.

“Fancy dress.”

“I gathered that. I meant, what are you going as? And what the hell can I wear?”

“The theme is anything beginning with P. So I thought I might go as a prostitute.” She grinned at Claire’s shocked expression. “Too much? What about a princess? You should do that, you look much more Disney than I do.”

“I don’t know, you could be Pocahontas.”

“She was Native American, not Thai.”

Claire blushed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you, it was a stupid thing to say.”

Bethan laughed. “That’s alright, I know you didn’t. You’re not likely to be up on the Disney princesses unless you have a four-year-old girl hidden about your person.”

The flush deepened. “Well, actually I did spend a few weeks with my niece recently, but all those princesses muddle together after a while. There was an Oriental one, now I think about it.”

Mulan. Chinese. Closer but still offensive.” Although Bethan spoke with laughter in her voice, her face looked brittle.

“Sorry.”

Bethan looked up and her face became more sympathetic. “Oriental is a racist term in America, is that not the same in England?”

Claire shook her head. “Not that I know of. Better than calling someone Chinese when they’re really from Japan or Thailand, surely?”

“In America you use Oriental for things, not people. Asian is a better word.”

Claire swallowed and nodded, feeling like she’d been told off. Wanting to change the subject, she ran through other fancy dress ideas beginning with P. “Right. Not princesses then. Pigs? Paupers? That shouldn’t be a problem; I’m going to be poor by the time this trip is over.”

She glanced at Bethan and saw a flicker of disapproval flash across her face.

Now what have I said?

They had been travelling together for a week and this was the first time Claire had sensed anything but happiness in Bethan’s demeanour. The moment passed and Claire searched her mind for a simple fancy dress costume that wouldn’t cost the earth or humiliate her. Not that there was anyone left on the bus whose opinion she cared about apart from Bethan, and she’d already offended her twice.

Bethan held up a sequin covered top and some sunglasses, all trace of censure gone. She grinned. “How about pop stars?”

*

“Do you want another drink?” Bethan yelled over the music.

Claire shook her head and then wished she hadn’t. “No,” she yelled back, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Bethan nodded, downed her drink in one, and grabbed hold of Claire’s arm.

Claire let herself be towed through the writhing bodies, the music pulsing in time with the throbbing in her head and drowning out all attempts at rational thought. The dinner of steak and venison, delicious at the time, sat heavy in her stomach. She really didn’t want to see it again.

Outside, the music still filled the air but left some space to think. The chill autumn wind rushed over her bare skin, raising goosebumps and drying the sweat. Claire slumped against the wall and gripped her head with both hands.

“You okay?” Bethan squatted beside her and peered under the mass of back-combed hair that concealed Claire’s face.

“I think so. What time is it?”

Bethan checked her watch. “1 a.m. Apparently they’ll chuck us out at 2 a.m.”

“I’m not going to last that long. I need to go to bed.” Claire slid down the wall, ignoring the damp seeping through her tights as she sat on the floor. The events of the evening swam through her mind like a movie montage.

“Did I do a drinking game?”

“Yes. You were very good.”

“Snog the driver as a forfeit?”

“’fraid so.”

“Dance on the tables?”

Bethan shrugged. “It was Bon Jovi and you’re dressed as an ’80s pop star. I thought the balloon in a bottle as a microphone was an inspired touch.”

“Are there going to be pictures of us on the wall, like all the others?”

Bethan nodded and laughed as Claire groaned. “Look at it this way, who do you know who is ever going to come to this dirty motel in the middle of nowhere and scour thousands of Polaroids to find your embarrassing photo?”

Claire grunted in agreement but it was small consolation.

Bethan laughed again. “Relax, Claire. This is all part of travelling. You joined in, made some new friends, drank some shots. You won’t remember most of it in the morning and I promise not to remind you more than, ooh, once an hour?”

“Thanks.”

“Are you coming back in? It’s freezing out here and I’m starting to sober up. I need a drink.”

Claire gave a tiny shake of the head. As Bethan stood up, Claire risked raising her head to make eye contact.

“Bethan, can you do me a favour?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Can you show me where my bed is please?”

With a giggle, Bethan pulled her to her feet and led her to the dorm rooms.

***

Live at Last: 2013 365 Challenge #251

Playing with the all-important balloon!

Playing with the all-important balloons!

Today I broke a whole bunch of self publishing rules and published Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes on Amazon, even though I’m still doing a final read through and spotting the odd typo. I know I’m heading for the third ring of indie-publishing hell but I have my reasons.

Partly I need to keep moving forward. I reformatted the Smashwords version for kindle this morning, between writing my post and taking over childcare at 9am. I did then spot some odd pink paragraphs which I’ve subsequently (hopefully) fixed – in between making playdough snakes, facilitating home made pizzas, assembling giant pipecleaner craft, playing hide and seek and a taking a trip to McDs because Dobbies ran out of balloons (and, honestly, Mummy didn’t feel like cooking dinner!)

Pink paragraphs aside, the kindle version looks surprisingly okay for a first pass. I usually get to version five on Smashwords before I’ve ironed out all the kinks. If I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s how to use word styles to speed up ebook formatting. (Now I just have to work out how to make pretty chapter headers, like Rinelle Grey’s books have!)

Finally on Amazon

Finally on Amazon

My main reason for rushing ahead with publishing Baby Blues on kindle, rather than waiting for the paper version to be ready and loading both to Amazon together, is that Dragon Wraiths comes out of the KDP Select programme at the end of September. I can’t believe how quickly this three-month block has gone. I’m going to stay out this time and stop being so impatient: I don’t have the time or strength for decent marketing, so I’ve decided to focus on writing more and better books, knowing that Baby Blues and Dragon Wraiths will always be there as back catalogue.

I will run one last free promo on Dragon Wraiths (later this week, if you haven’t already read it) and that will be it, at least until Class Act is ready next year. The reason for one last promo, even though I don’t get as much return from them anymore, is that I hope it will possibly lead people to Baby Blues without me having to offer that for free to increase its rankings.

(Note to self: put free chapter of BBWS at end of Dragon Wraiths!)

I will, at some point, run a competition to celebrate finally finishing Baby Blues – with a prize hamper including a print copy and probably some chocolate – but it’s going to have to wait a little bit, as I don’t have a print copy available yet. I’ll probably figure out the final details of the comp and post about it some time this week though: I guess I can always have it run for a few weeks, until I get a paper copy of my book. The competition will definitely feature parenting stories or other tales of humiliation, in honour of some of Helen’s experiences in the book. If you know any parenting blogs who might like to feature the competition let me know.

As I put on my Facebook page this morning, publishing Baby Blues is feeling more like a sneak than a launch. But, hey ho, life vs writing and all that. At least it’s finally out there.

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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 sat, awkwardly holding Josh’s hand, staring at nothing out the window. She hoped he had fallen asleep, but she didn’t want to check in case she caught him staring at her again. If she had to endure the soppy, tear-filled gaze one more time she thought she might vomit.

I don’t understand women who go for the new man, in touch with his emotions. Give me some British stiff upper lip any day. It’s not like I was going to drown in three feet of water with the tour guide right there.

In fact, their guide had laughed at Josh’s panic, forcing Claire to play down her own fear. She suspected more than one nightmare in the future might revolve around drowning and being trapped underwater: not experiences she wanted to repeat. But even she could see, in retrospect, that she wasn’t in any real danger.

Someone should tell Josh that I’m not a sick child he needs to save. The only people he ought to be concerned about are his wife and kids.

And yet she still had his sweaty hand clasped in hers. It had seemed cruel to spurn him: like kicking a cat. But she didn’t need Bethan’s sniggers and eye rolling to tell her she’d made trouble for herself.

“Hey, Claire.”

As if hearing her thoughts, Bethan called to her across the coach aisle.

“You won’t be sharing a dorm with us at Westport, then?” She grinned, as Claire flushed beetroot.

“Pack it in. I take it he is asleep?” Josh hadn’t moved at Bethan’s words, and she hoped he wasn’t feigning slumber.

Bethan nodded, and leaned nearer. “He is rather scrummy. Why don’t you just sleep with him and be done with it? The wife need never know.”

“I’d know.” Claire was surprised at the fierceness in her voice. As Bethan recoiled, she immediately said, “Sorry, that came out sharper than intended. You forget, I’ve met his wife and their children. She isn’t some faceless entity with no feelings. She even looks like me, although that’s where the comparisons end. She’s a doctor, and a brilliant parent. I wouldn’t hurt her for the world.”

“And yet he would. Some fella you got there.”

Claire had to agree, although she felt driven to defend Josh. “He wasn’t like that when I knew him in England. He had some kind of breakdown, I think, and it’s still affecting him.”

“You mean he isn’t just a selfish twat that never grew up, who has run away because life got a teensy bit hard?”

It was Claire’s turn to be shocked at the sarcastic sneer in Bethan’s voice. It reminded Claire that she knew little about her new friend’s history.

Biting her tongue on a retort, Claire was forced to smile. “Show me a man who has actually grown up and I’ll show you a boring bastard who takes life far too seriously.” She thought about Michael and his pompous preaching.

“So, what are you going to do? He did save your life.”

Claire opened her mouth to deny the suggestion, then saw the twinkle in Bethan’s dark eyes. “You cow! It’s so hilarious, sat over there. You try sitting in this seat.”

“Don’t mind if I do!”

“Well, why don’t you seduce him then? Get him off my hands.”

“And break the poor little wifey’s heart? I can’t do that. Why don’t you call this woman and tell her you stumbled across her husband at the lost and found. If she really wants him, she’ll come and collect him.”

“Poor Fiona. She did that once already: flying halfway round the world with three kids in tow.”

Bethan pulled a face. “She sounds like an angel. Too good for him.”

Claire privately agreed. It was clear that Josh had fixated on her as the way out of his humdrum life, but Claire knew it was no more than it had been the first time they met: She resembled the wife he used to know, before children had eaten into their lives.

Not that I can blame him for wanting to evade the responsibility of raising children: it’s not something I’m in a hurry to do. But it seems Fiona does all the work.

She couldn’t deny he came across as selfish and pathetic however which way she viewed it. The sooner she sent him back to his wife the better.

Prising her hand free from his, Claire turned her back on the sleeping figure and tried to ignore the weight of his head resting against her shoulder.

If I let a man into my life again, it will be one who can stand on his own two feet.

***