Tips for NaNoWriMo: 2013 365 Challenge #285

My NaNoWriMo Baby

My NaNoWriMo Baby

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

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

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

NaNoWriMo Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

My first NaNo novel (not yet finished)

My first NaNo novel (not yet finished)

My NaNoWriMo Top Tips:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If only.

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

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

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

***

Quick Newsflash

I made a last minute decision this morning to drop the price of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes for this week, as I have a couple of free days running for Dragon Wraiths before I come out of KDP Select (maybe for good this time.)

If you’ve loved either book and want to tell others, or fancied a read but thought it a bit pricey, do please take the opportunity to grab a bargain. And thank you for your ongoing support!

And, of course, if you love either book, please leave a review (or if you don’t love it – I can take it, I have thick skin now).

UK Links:

Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes

Dragon Wraiths

US Links

Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes

Smashwords BBWS

Dragon Wraiths

 

Running on Empty: 2013 365 Challenge #232

I want to do more of this...

I want to do more of this …

I read a great parenting post this morning, on the inspirational Orange Rhino blog, about Parenting on Empty. Not run down or depleted reserves but down deep, nothing left, red light empty. The author described the effects of running on empty:

Running on empty means I am shorter, snappier, moodier, grumpier, everything “-er” except calmer, friendlier, and happier.

It struck a chord. I’m not there yet (well, actually, looking at the above list of adjectives, I probably am!) but my fuel warning light is on.

With the extra work of editing Baby Blues, on top of the daily blog and social media (not to mention childcare and household duties!), I’m feeling stretched to my limits. I go to bed exhausted, I wake up exhausted, I cry over the smallest things (like getting locked out of my iTunes account and losing an hour’s editing time trying to fix it) and my children have stared using, “I’m just tired,” as their excuse for everything, I wonder where they learned that?

I can’t take a complete break, because of the daily blog challenge, but I think I can cut it down a bit. I’m forty pages from finishing this draft of Baby Blues and, even though the proofread has forced me to line edit at a level I haven’t done before and has revealed weaknesses in the novel I would dearly love to fix, I’m going to let it go. If I don’t I’ll either burn out or I will never finish it. Come what may, when I reach page 230 I will format for kindle and Create Space and hit approve.

... and less of this

… and less of this

So, I’ve marked September as my month off. With my daughter starting school oh so gradually and my son on a new schedule at preschool I won’t get much writing time.

I intend to continue with Claire, but I suspect the top half of my blog might diminish. I’m thinking of opening it to short (500-700 words), relevant, guest posts: if anyone is interested drop me a line.

I may also dig out some old poems and stories, maybe even some paintings, and give them an airing, get some feedback. It might work. It might not. All I know is I need to spend my dog walking time on Claire. So, this is a head’s up.

Hopefully October will be business as usual, although my sister is over from the States for two weeks, so maybe not! I ask for your patience! I’m off to the petrol station to fill up.

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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 man opposite her, and searched her brain for a topic of conversation. A week’s travelling had told her precisely nothing about him apart from his name. She couldn’t guess his age or occupation and only assumed London was his city of origin by his accent.

She glanced down at the menu, then turned her gaze across the road to the lake. The water had shone like blue silk when they first reached the restaurant, but storm clouds had piled overhead since their arrival, and now the surface was as leaden as the sky above. Claire shivered and pulled on her cardigan, glad of the activity.

The menu might as well have been written in Greek for all she could focus on it. Neal’s proximity pulled at her gut and set her nerves tingling. She’d never met someone with so much animal magnetism. If asked, she would have said the phrase was only for romance novels of a certain ilk.

Topics of conversation drifted into her head only to be dismissed. Opening lines such as, “So, how do you like New Zealand,” or “Where do you call home,” or even, “What activity are you doing tomorrow?” sounded too lame to be uttered. Opting to leave the opener to him, given that he had driven forward all their other encounters, Claire turned her attention back to the menu and searched for something easy to eat in public.

At last their meals were ordered – Neal had chosen the most expensive dishes on the menu – and they were left with the task of making small talk. Claire sipped at her gin and tonic and watched Neal with an indifferent expression. This was his bet, let him earn his dinner.

“So, Claire, how do you like New Zealand?”

Claire sniggered at Neal’s question and he frowned.

“What’s so funny?”

“That was going to be my opening gambit but I assumed you’d have some sarcastic response at its lack of originality.”

“It’s as good a place to start as any.” His face glowered darker than the storm clouds and Claire worried she had offended him. His reaction seemed out of character compared with the Neal she thought she knew.

“I like New Zealand very much,” she responded with as much sincerity as she could manage. “It’s a beautiful country, the weather is mostly gorgeous and the locals friendly.”

“Why, thank you.”

His response made her choke on her drink. After coughing for several moments, she furrowed her brow. “You’re a local?”

“That’s right. I’m on a VIP. Didn’t you know?”

“Well, no. From the accent I assumed you were a fellow Brit on holiday.”

“Well, one out of two ’aint bad. I am a Brit, as you put it, but I’ve been over here for four or five years now. I used to work for Magic.”

The waiter brought their starters; goats cheese for her, some form of seafood chowder for him. It was the most expensive starter. Now she knew he was a bus driver, rather than a GP or a City Trader, it made more sense.

“And now you work for Kiwi? Isn’t a bit of a busman’s holiday – literally – to come round on the tour?”

“Officially I’m here to learn the new route, although I know it already. I get to travel for free and I know people at every stop. It’s more like an extended family trip.” He forked a steaming heap of fish into his mouth and Claire looked away while he devoured it.

Before his mouth was entirely empty, he continued. “And there’s usually something to add a piquancy to the trip.” He raised his eyebrows in the way that normally sent her heart jumping. It didn’t have its usual effect.

A memory drifted into Claire’s mind from her conversation with Mitch, back in the UK. As well as having a rude name for the ‘other’ bus tour, he’d mentioned an acronym to watch out for, something to make sure she didn’t become. It had been a friendly warning and she had laughed it off. He’d said “Don’t be a DAF”. When she’d asked what it meant, he’d responded, “Driver’s Available …” and had winked suggestively. No need to ask what the F stood for.

She watched Neal, as he finished his starter with a look of smug self-satisfaction on his face, and she understood. Her appeal, over that of the youngsters, was presumably an ability to buy dinner. He must have seen her iPad, phone, clothing, and figured she was loaded.

That would be nice.

Just buying her flights and bus pass had maxed-out her credit card. Paying for extras like the expensive tours, the pricey meals, was eating into her current account faster than she felt comfortable with. Mitch’s throwaway remark that she could get work in a backpacker’s bar was looking like less and less of a joke.

Something clicked as the thoughts ran through her mind, one after another.

I don’t want to be a DAF. I don’t even want to finish dinner.

Coming to a sudden decision, Claire stood up and dropped her napkin on the table.

“Thank you for your company, Neal, and for the compliment, but I don’t want to be your DAF or your little piquancy on this freebie jolly. Nice to have met you.”

Taking a bundle of dollars from her purse, Claire dropped them on the table and left the restaurant, taking the wonderful image of Neal, slack-jawed and lost for words, with her.

***

Beat Sheets: 2013 365 Challenge #204

Coffee Shop Catastrophe

Coffee Shop Catastrophe

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

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

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

Even Pantsers can have structure!

Even Pantsers can have structure!

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

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

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

Pillow Talk by Freya North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Heat and Time-Eating Hell: 2013 365 Challenge #191

We are so lucky to have these beautiful birds flying overhead

We are so lucky to have these beautiful birds flying overhead

CreateSpace approved my cover PDF yesterday (I wasn’t expecting them to). I am impressed, because they adjusted the spine width and the bleed area, at no cost, in order to approve the picture for print.

Unfortunately I spotted a missing full stop in the ‘blurb’ and I wasn’t entirely happy with their revised spine. But, boy oh boy, tweaking an adobe file EATS time. I spent so long working on it last night I didn’t get around to doing my post, so I’m desperately writing this when I should be making the kids’ pack lunches for preschool this morning.

(Pre-school drop-off takes so long I don’t get home until after my 10am deadline. Unless I get my Claire post written now, too, today’s post will be a tad late!)

Dive-bombing the paddling pool

Dive-bombing the paddling pool

My only complaint about CreateSpace vs Lulu (my preferred print-on-demand service) is I can’t seem to find a PDF template on CreateSpace. That’s not to say one doesn’t exist. And they do have detailed instructions on sizes. However, I followed those detailed instructions and still apparently got it wrong.

With Lulu, you can download a PDF template and include it as a layer in adobe, to build the cover on top of (sorry if this is too much boring information!). Ah well. The proofreader won’t be finished for three weeks, so I have time to play! I just have to be stronger-willed about when.

Sliding in super-fast

Sliding in super-fast

The heat is also frying my brain at the moment. I know, it makes people in proper hot countries laugh, because it’s only in the high twenties (C) here. But we’ve had eighteen months of rubbish weather, so I’m acclimatised to rain and jeans. I don’t have the clothing or the temperament for hot! Chasing kids with sun cream, hats and water is exhausting.

Thankfully, I am super-fortunate that there is a drop-in centre in town on a Tuesday where some lovely ladies from the Methodist (or Baptist?) church provide tea and coffee, toast and toys, so the children can play and the Mummies can chat.

Hot dog trying to stay cool

Hot dog trying to stay cool

My son doesn’t normally enjoy it, but yesterday the courtyard was open and they sat out having a picnic. Kids love picnics. Plus there was cake. Can’t go wrong with free cake.

Then we went to the pocket park and another picnic. Home for milk and quiet time (and more tea for Mummy to try and stay awake!). Why is it that hot weather is so exhausting?

In the afternoon we took the dog to the Farm, because it’s getting hard to walk her with all the fields overgrown. She enjoyed the fuss made of her by the staff, but she didn’t like that she wasn’t allowed to chase the ducks and birds. My kids spent an hour watching the staff feeding the ferrets, mice, rats and guinea pigs, and I spent the time convincing Kara that they animals weren’t her dinner!

Then home for paddling pool and tea. At least the kids found a way to stay cool, sliding into the paddling pool and covering the decking with water. I’m really impressed with how my daughter has overcome her fear of getting her face wet. At the weekend she swam for the first time without her float jacket on and last night, in the paddling pool, she was more adventurous than her brother! That’s a first.

The kites are loving the weather. We have two or three pairs of them that fly over the house. When the electricity cables are taken down later in the year, we’ll be able to entice them into the garden. I’m looking forward to getting some amazing pictures. Life is good.

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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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Ruth’s words haunted Claire. All during the evening, as she battled to put Sky to bed. During the night, instead of sleeping, the phrase Life’s too short echoed round her head. The lure of running away to New Zealand grew stronger, the longer Kim remained silent. Claire had sent her friend a grovelling text message, unwilling to intrude on the remainder of her wedding weekend by phoning. But Kim’s silence was deafening.

Would it be running away? Or running to? She tried to imagine what it would be like, being so far from home. No different to being on holiday. Four hours on a flight or twenty-four, it isn’t all that different. And how different could it be, staying in Kiwi hostels, compared with the UK ones? They looked a bit more informal, but some of the bunkhouses in the UK were pretty basic.

By the time the sun peered through the curtains, Claire dragged herself upright with a muggy head, no closer to a decision. Heading downstairs to make Ruth breakfast in bed, she was surprised to hear laughter coming from the kitchen.

Sky and Ruth sat opposite each other at the pine table. Sky was gesturing, telling some story from their trip to the Farm, and Ruth’s face was alight with amusement. When Claire caught the drift of her niece’s words, she flushed.

“Well, it was disgusting. I’m sorry, I had no idea a cow’s tongue is about a foot long and covered with slime. It slobbered halfway up my arm.” Claire shuddered at the memory of feeding the giant black and white beasts in the barn.

“I can’t believe you did it. I won’t go near them. Sheep, yes, they’re gentle. Even the goats are okay, if they don’t head-butt you. But those cows! Yuck.” Ruth giggled.

Claire blushed hotter as her sister and niece revelled in her discomfort. After a moment, she joined in. “I got my own back, anyway.”

“Yes!” Sky said, snorting with laughter, “You wiped your hands all over me.”

Ruth turned to raise an eyebrow at her sister, her smile slipping.

“Only her hands, and we washed them straight away.” Taking a seat at the table, Claire poured cereal into a bowl. “You’re both up bright and early for a bank holiday.”

“School hours become a habit,” Ruth shrugged. “Besides, I feel great today. You must have tired Sky out, yesterday, as she slept right through.” She shone a grateful glance at her sister.

“Glad to help.”

There was silence, as the three of them concentrated on their food. Claire was relieved to see Sky and Ruth both eating well. It was gratifying to see that her presence had a positive effect. The see-saw of indecision in her mind swung back down to staying put in the UK. Her job was to help her sister get better, not gad about on beaches and in rain forests.

“Where to next then, Claire?” Ruth looked up with genuine curiosity. Claire realised it was the first time her sister had shown any interest in her career.

“I don’t know. There are still loads of hostels in Wales I haven’t covered. Plus, of course the whole of the South of England, and a bunch I need to pick up that weren’t open when I was up north.” She said the last phrase in her best impression of a northern accent, and Ruth giggled again.

“It must be fun, seeing the country, getting to meet new people. I love the blog. You should write a book.”

With a stab of guilt, Claire thought about the job offer. She wondered if she should tell Ruth, ask her advice. It was so nice having a normal conversation with her, though, she was reluctant to spoil it. Ruth’s reactions could be unpredictable, particularly where opportunity and money were concerned.

“Maybe I will. Write a book. Lots of the people who follow the book are authors, with self-published books to promote. It seems quite easy, although I don’t know who would buy it, when all my adventures are there on the blog for free.”

Ruth sat forward, her hands clasped loosely round a glass of juice. “I’d buy it. There must be stuff you don’t put on the blog. Things that the YHA wouldn’t approve of?”

Claire thought about the unnamed Scotsman. Josh. The wedding show-down. Yes, there was plenty of drama. Perhaps that would be a better option than running away down under. She could head down to Cornwall instead, and lose herself in words.

“I’ll bear it in mind. Thanks, sis.”

***

Memoirs of a Geisha Moments: 2013 365 Challenge #187

Romance: all about yin and yang

Romance: all about yin and yang

I seem to have a writing tips theme at the moment. Apologies to blog followers who are not writers or interested in writing! It’s nearly the weekend, so normal parenting-chaos blog posts will resume!

One of the articles I read on Jungian Archetypes, after writing my post confessing I didn’t know what they were, talked about the use of archetypes in romance (where there isn’t traditionally an antagonist, in the way there might be in a crime or thriller novel).

On ArchetypeWriting.com there is a post on understanding the Anima / Animus Archetype to create riveting romances. The author, Carolyn Kaufman, explains:

Psychological research shows a mere three things are crucial to human happiness, and one of them is love (The other two are a/ satisfying work and b/ personality, most notably the qualities of high self-esteem, extraversion, and optimism.)

This, I suppose, explains why love stories are so compelling. Even in fantasy novels, thrillers and other genres, a love-story theme is often present, if not central. (I think about my favourite TV shows, Stargate SG-1 and NCIS: the interest comes from the characters, particularly the undercurrents of forbidden love, more than the specific story lines. I digress.)

Kaufman goes on to explain:

This basic human need for romantic, sexual, and marital connections is reflected in Carl Jung’s anima/animus archetype. In essence, Jung believed there is a psychological construct in males (the anima) that creates a strong draw to the feminine as it’s embodied in real women, and a matching construct in females (the animus) that draws them to men. One of the best visual metaphors for the concept is the yin-yang

My leading man, before we were married

My leading man (and nephew), before we were married

So far, so good. Romance is about ‘Losing and Finding One’s “Other Half”‘ or ‘Chemistry’. However, Kaufman warns of the danger of making the attraction too physical, too related to an expectation of the perfect man or woman, rather than understanding what draws protagonists together.

I know I’m guilty of this. I read a lot of Georgette Heyers, and there is an element of strong man meets quirky, vulnerable female. Or strong woman fights then falls for equally strong man. There isn’t much depth. (The good Heyer books are the ones where love develops unexpectedly, through friendship, humour and shared experience, like Frederica).

What all of this means is that, just like in real life, your characters should be attracted to their love interests for a reason. The potential love interest’s traits and behavior must resonate with your hero because they somehow make him or her more whole.

This idea of resonation has been in my mind since I read this. Trying to understand what draws my protagonists together. In Baby Blues, Helen is drawn to Marcio because he is a family man: he likes children and therefore stands in contrast to her ex, who told her to get rid of her unborn baby. However, their real resonation moment is early on, when they talk about their creativity. Helen is a photographer, Marcio a freelance journalist / author. Both confess that things don’t seem real in life unless they have either put words around it (Marcio) or photographed it (Helen). It gives them a shared view of the world that transcends their moment in time (the fact that Helen is pregnant and Marcio wants children).

‘Gutted it wasn’t a true story’

In my notes I have written, “What is the ‘Memoirs of a Geisha Moment’ in Class Act?” This refers to a moment in my relationship with my husband when we knew we were destined to be together.

Early on in our relationship we were discussing the novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, which we had both read and enjoyed. However we said, at almost the same time, “Gutted it wasn’t a true story”.

That shared reaction was like a cartoon bell ringing: we understood something about the other person because of that moment.

I don’t know what that point is yet, in Class Act. My protagonists, Alex and Jenny (? I haven’t decided on a name yet. It was Rebecca, and then Katie!) are drawn to each other physically, (initially for Jenny, against her will). After that, they share an interest in literature. But I haven’t discovered their ‘Geisha’ moment yet.

Kaufman’s final point, that I need to take to heart, is this:

[T]he danger is that sometimes we’re actually creating love interests for ourselves rather than for our characters. We may assume that everyone would be attracted to the same things we are, and that little explanation is needed to justify why our heroes and heroines would fall for each other

Guilty! I adore Marcio. It’s the main reason I didn’t just bin Baby Blues when I got frustrated with it. Alex is very similar (physically, he’s almost identical). My protagonists (like my husband) all tend to be 6ft tall with dark hair and brown eyes (although Marcio’s eyes are blue). There are parts of Marcio’s dialogue which are almost verbatim to things my husband might say to me. But, then, most of the female protagonists are at least partly me, so that’s okay. I just have to make sure I explain why they love each other, rather than assuming it is obvious!

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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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“Yes, Carl, I know I took holiday at Easter to care for Sky. Now I’m asking for a few more days. I can continue with the blog – I have plenty of extra material – no one will even realise I’m not still on the road.”

Claire regretted answering the phone. What was Carl doing checking his email on a Sunday, anyway? And on a bank holiday weekend. Didn’t the man have a life?

“Just admit it, Claire, your heart isn’t in this project. You’re dashing round the country here and there, with nothing more interesting that castles to write about. That isn’t fulfilling the brief. If this continues, I will be forced to take action.”

Claire laughed. “What action, Carl? You don’t have the balls to do anything. If you did, you would have sacked me already. And good luck with that, by the way. I’ll have you in court for unfair dismissal before you can say ‘you’re fired’.”

After the words were out, Claire wondered if they were entirely wise. He was still her boss, after all. With everything that had happened recently, it was hard to take it seriously. What had once seemed so important – her career, her reputation – now felt like a shackle around her leg.

She heard the in drawn breath, and waited for Carl to begin his annihilation. The attack didn’t come. Something she couldn’t fathom was churning in her boss’s mind. When he did speak, his words didn’t make sense.

“Look, I appreciate this task has been challenging and I understand that you have some family issues. I’m willing to be lenient in the circumstances. You may take a week, in lieu of the weekends you have worked during the assignment.” He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice was sharp.

“But I want you back on the road immediately after that. And I expect you to continue your posts.”

Claire’s head reeled. What the…? She couldn’t have been more surprised, if Carl had told her she had won employee of the year. What is his game?

Realising the phone was dead, Claire dropped it away from her ear. Was Carl really concerned that she might take AJC to court? It had been an idle threat, she knew what legal action did to a director’s reputation. Not that I care about that much anymore.

For some reason the offer made by Roger Hazleton kept floating through her mind. Her explanation to her mother about why she had come home had been an excuse. It was an unrealistic dream, in the aftermath of the wedding fiasco. Yet still it tugged at her mind.

She thought about Ruth and Sky, and tried to imagine being a 24-hour plane flight away, should something happen. No, travelling to the other side of the world was not an option.

***

RUE (Resist the urge to edit!): 2013 365 Challenge #183

Cheeky Thomas

Cheeky Thomas

I finally sent Baby Blues to the proofreader today.

I like that sentence. Somehow it makes me feel more like a proper author.

Even though I know the person I chose is more used to working on business documents, I have every confidence that she will pick up all the typos and poor grammar in my novel. And, the bonus part? I don’t have to read it again and find another dozen things wrong.

A book is never finished. But, having a deadline, giving it to someone else, that marks an ending.

I used to find the same with my paintings. Often they were better if I worked to a tight deadline, because I didn’t over-think or over-work them. In the end, my paintings became too bland, too safe, as I worried about giving them a professional finish. I think the same could happen with a novel. I merrily hacked out sections of Baby Blues, to both reduce the word count and resolve point of view issues.

I'm as happy as a little boy on a train!

I’m as happy as a little boy on a train!

Once you start hacking, though, it’s hard to stop. There were at least two chapters I thought about pulling but kept in, lest the story become too bare. Has the manuscript suffered from losing 7000 of mostly internal thought? Probably not, although possibly some of the depth of understanding about character motivation may have gone. Unlikely.

There’s an acroynm, a phrase, in editing. RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain. Trust your readers get it, without hammering it home with a mallet. The first time I edited BBWS, I wrote RUE all over the manuscript. It’s easy to want to make sure your readers know what you and your characters really mean.

I think that’s why so many scenes ended up with me presenting the internal thoughts of both protagonists (and I can also see how confusing that can get).

I really hope Baby Blues does well, but for now it’s out of my hands. Time to get back to Claire, back to the children, back to Wimbledon and walking the dog. What would I really like to do right now (it’s 5pm)?

Go back to bed!

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

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Claire strode down the corridor, hoping the surge of anger didn’t fade before she reached her room. In her head, she replayed Michael’s words, and pushed all thoughts of Kim aside. Time enough to worry about her friend when she had her things and was safely away from the wedding. She had no idea where she would go, but that, too, could wait.

As she stalked past guests, she caught occasional glimpses of their faces. Some merely looked shocked to see her striding past like the grim reaper. Others glared and made noises as if to berate her. She shook them off like pesky flies.

At last the bedroom door was in front of her. She hoped, for a moment, that Michael had been bluffing and had re-joined the party. It would be a relief to collect her things and leave, with no more words spoken. Then his voice echoed in her mind, as he called her childish. His smug, arrogant voice, as he’d explained how he intended to brow-beat her into submission.

Bastard.

Claire flung open the door and had the satisfaction of seeing Michael jump. Before he could gather himself, she swept in and began collecting her things together. Hot words filled her mouth, but she knew the shaking in her limbs would betray her if she spoke. If she could gather everything up before Michael had a chance to open his mouth, he could hurl whatever accusations he liked at her retreating back.

It was a vain hope.

“What are you doing?”

“Packing.”

“I can see that.” He leant back against the headboard. “I mean, where are you going? It’s nearly midnight. We’re miles from anywhere. You can’t leave.”

“Watch me.”

Michael sat up, narrowly missing head-butting the top bunk. He swung his feet to the floor and glared up at her.

“Claire, you’re being childish. Go and find Kim, apologise. We’ll sleep on it and everything will seem a hundred times better in the morning.”

“Apologise? I have nothing to be sorry for. It was you who blurted her secret out to the whole party.”

“And who told me that secret in the first place?” He raised an eyebrow at her, and she itched to slap him.

“I only said she wanted a baby. You put it together in your mind, because you’re obsessed. Honestly, Michael, what is it with you? I didn’t think men had a biological clock?”

She looked over at him, on her way to the bathroom to get her things, and saw something in his expression, a vulnerability, that made her hesitate. There was a reason behind his desire to be a dad. For a moment she wanted to know what it was. Then his face shifted and resumed the smug expression he had worn since the party. Resuming her journey to the en-suite, she spoke over her shoulder.

“I will apologise to Kim when she’s had a chance to calm down. I won’t encroach on her special day any further.  Walking back into the bedroom, she stood facing him, hands on hips.

“As for staying here tonight, I don’t think that’s appropriate, do you? I shall find a motel. Make yourself scarce tomorrow. You are not welcome, and I do not want to see you here when I return.” She stuffed the last of her things into her bag, enjoying the stunned silence.

Soon everything was packed, and it seemed she would escape without any more words from Michael. As she reached the door, he spoke.

“You’ve changed, Claire. You’ve grown hard. You never used to be this confrontational.”

She turned and smiled. “Well, more fool me. I haven’t grown hard, Michael, I’ve grown up. You should try it some time.”

With that she wrenched open the door and stormed down the corridor.

***