A Bonus Day: 2013 365 Challenge #172

Offa's Dyke Path, Hatterall Ridge by Philip Halling

Offa’s Dyke Path, Hatterall Ridge by Philip Halling

Today feels like a bonus day. My daughter was quiet yesterday, and up in the night, and I thought she might be sickening for something. I confess I view it with dread if it seems my children might be too ill for nursery. A combination of the cost, the hassle of trying to leave one child without the other, and the knowledge of precious writing time lost, leaves me selfishly irritated.

When she woke this morning full of life and ready to play I admit I was overjoyed. Particularly as, a) I hadn’t written today’s post, and b) I am fully involved in editing Baby Blues, slashing adverbs and fixing point-of-view mash-ups.

It’s satisfying working to a longer deadline for a change, instead of my 10am one for the daily post. At the same time, though, the longer project makes it harder to put it down for three days at a time. I want to keep pressing forward, reducing that word count and getting the book better-ready for life in the wild.

I discovered that Baby Blues is now live on Barnes & Noble , so I’m doubly keen to get it done. I don’t know how long it will take for the new manuscript to feed through so I can start promoting it properly. With Dragon Wraiths not selling (although I got my first royalty payment today. I can afford a coffee, woohoo) I need something positive to focus on.

I’ll take my bonus day, tired as I am (I fell asleep on the sofa earlier – back to the old days of editing), and just be happy if I finish this dog walk before the heavens open and deliver the promised rain.

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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 swung her arms and tried to find a rhythm. The rucksack sat heavy on her back and she could already feel the beginnings of a blister forming on her left heel. It hasn’t been that long since I went hiking, surely the body doesn’t forget that quickly? The sky spread low and grey above her head, making her want to duck. It was odd to feel claustrophobic out in the open.

She looked at the map and traced out Offa’s Dyke, trying to work out her exact location. She was still a bit shaky at map reading but the hostel manager had assured her it was impossible to get lost. That sounds like a challenge, Claire thought wryly, glad her phone signal was still strong.

She followed the path along a stone walk, where sheep huddled in its shelter, watching their lambs gambol in the grass, feet flicking behind them. Claire envied them their energy and decided she had more in common with the matronly mothers, or the wild ponies, standing with their faces in the wind, hair blowing wild.

At last her steps settled into a rhythm, leaving her mind free to wander. Overhead, buzzards wheeled and screamed, causing shivers to trickle down Claire’s neck. It felt like the setting for a horror story.

If this were a movie there would be a portentous sound-track, with a heavy beat and the full string section in crescendo.

Her phone rang and the noise made her jump, in turn causing the sheep to shy and flock together. She checked the screen and answered with a sigh.

“Dammit, Michael, you scared me and the sheep. Why aren’t you at work?”

“I am, I just wondered if you’d had a chance to speak to Kim?” As if realising he sounded too eager, he quickly added, “I need to know if I need a suit or to book accommodation.”

Right, of course. Claire wasn’t fooled. She knew she should be flattered by Michael’s eagerness but in truth it irritated her.

“You spend your life in a suit, Michael, and if you saw news of Kim’s wedding on Facebook, you know it’s at a hostel. Accommodation is not a problem.”

“I didn’t want to presume,” he murmured and Claire found herself thinking, Well that’s a first.

“If you meant you didn’t want to presume about us sharing, you’re quite right. You’ll be in a bunk, same as the rest of us, and – take it from me – it’s not the place for frisky business.”

She realised the implication of her words and blushed, glad Michael couldn’t see her face. Her heart thudded uncomfortably as she tried to decide whether she cared if Michael understood.

She could hear his breathing in the silence. Eventually he gave a brittle laugh.

“I’m sure. So, am I invited? I promise to let you choose top or bottom bunk.”

He was a beaten dog whose tail still wagged. Claire frowned, annoyed rather than impressed by his tenacity.

“Yes, you can come. Any affair of Kim’s should probably have a grown-up in attendance. I’ll email you the details.”

She hung up the phone and concentrated on her footsteps, making sure she avoided the gifts left behind by the sheep. The path opened out and began winding round the side of a steep slope. Claire felt herself dragged towards the drop as if there might be peace in oblivion.

***

Editing Frenzy: 2013 365 Challenge #162

A busy day editing and scrapbooking

A busy day editing and scrapbooking

The lovely Pat Elliott has made me doubly happy today. She has reviewed Dragon Wraiths, over on her blog, saying – in her candid way – “There are a few minor editing errors, but you know, they didn’t stop me loving the book. I’d definitely read another by this author.” Big grins.

Pat has also, very kindly, read my chick lit novel Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes, and provided feedback. Despite having no intention of spending time on the novel this year, it galvanised me to work on it today, incorporating the suggested changes (unsurprisingly mostly to do with grammar.)

The frustrating part, for me, is that all three of the main formatting changes suggested by Pat involve reverting back to the way the text was before I began editing it last year! One is to do with commas: I know I don’t really understand commas, so I purchased a book on punctuation and learned as much as I could. As a result I removed a whole heap of the little buggers, figuring it was better not to have them than to put them in the wrong place. Pat’s main formatting suggestion? More commas!

I never quite found the right image for Helen

I never quite found the right image for Helen

The second one is to do with layout: putting *** where the text breaks and there is a shift in time or location. I did that originally, but it looked messy, so I took them out and left just a paragraph break.

I’ve spent today putting them all back in.

They are more important in an ebook, as you have no idea what the pagination looks like. With a print book you can put them in only where it isn’t clear that there has been a shift, such as over a page break.

The third grammar point has me puzzled. Pat informed me (and I trust her judgement) that modern publishing no longer uses double quotes for dialogue. Apparently standard form is now to use ‘ rather than “. This poses a problem. Partly because that, too, would involve changing the entire manuscript back to the way it was originally – before an early Beta Reader told me to use double quotes (preferably smart quotes), as that was standard form.

Sharni, Derek and Maggie

Sharni, Derek and Maggie

It also poses a dilemma for me personally, because I have come to prefer smart/double quotes. A quick flick through the other ebooks on my iPad showed most of them to still use double quotes.

I Googled it, but still haven’t discovered a definitive answer. The best I can tell is that it is a UK/US thing, with the UK using single quotes and the US double quotes. As the majority of my sales are in the US, I think I will leave the double quotes. (Plus, that means less work!) I’m definitely going to keep Googling for publishing standards, though, as Pat raised a point I hadn’t previously considered. Self-publishing is full of hidden pitfalls and, thankfully, lots of lovely people with maps and compasses to help guide the way through!

The final style point was that my writing has too much internal thought in italics. I agree that such is probably the case, and I spent a chunk of today toning it down. It does make me worry about Two-Hundred Steps Home, though, as it’s probably 20% in italics! I’m not sure where it came from as a writing style, but if it is mentioned by other Beta Readers I’ll have to train myself to write a different way. This is the amazing thing about good Beta Readers – they don’t just help you with that novel, but with all your creative endeavours!

All this has a) given me a headache and b) reiterated that I need a copy editor. As I can’t afford to pay for one, that takes me back to my original plan: trying to find an agent to publish traditionally, so I get that stuff as part of the deal. In the mean time, it’s back to the Penguin book on Punctuation and some paracetamol.

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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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The steel light of dawn crept in through the curtains and lit the room. It took Claire a moment to realise where she was and what had woken her at such an ungodly hour. Loud, rasping snores resonated through the room. They sounded as if they were coming from behind her, which wasn’t right.

The acoustics in this place must be crazy. That woman needs to consider getting a single room; I feel like something’s sawing at my skull.

The next thing Claire noticed was how narrow the bed was. She felt precariously close to the edge of the bunk, with only a short rail separating her from a four-foot drop. The third fact permeating her foggy brain, seeping through the thudding pain, was the arm around her waist.

Bugger.

Like a movie on fast forward, the events of the previous evening sped past her eyes in brutal clarity. The gin. The quiz. The random questions she’d got right, to much applause. The congratulatory hugs from the group when they came third.

The Scotsman.

Bugger.

The weight of the arm pinned her to the bed. Claire tried to work out if either of them were naked. As far as she could tell, she was still wearing her t-shirt and pants from the day before.

Phew, that’s something at least.

A brush of warmth against her back informed her that the Scot wasn’t so well clad.

Oh, Christ. This is a single-sex dorm. I’m going to be in so much trouble.

Claire lifted the heavy arm and slid it behind her, holding her breath as the man murmured something unintelligible and rolled over to face the wall. Claire clung on to the foot of remaining bed, not wanting to fall in a heap and wake her room mates.

She peered over the bunk, looking for the ladder, and saw a girl asleep on the floor.

What?

Remembering how unsteady the beds were, Claire flushed as she imagined being in the bottom bunk with any sort of shenanigans going on above.

Crap. Poor woman.

Fully awake, adrenalin pushing the alcohol from her fuddled mind, Claire surveyed the room below. She hadn’t unpacked, so that helped. All she had to do was climb down from the bunk and retrieve her bag and clothes, without waking the girl on the floor or the naked man hogging most of her bed.

With the stealth of a ninja, she moved, one limb at a time. A loud creak filled the room and she stopped, breath held, listening. Ever nerve zinged like a live wire under her skin. She felt she might hear a mouse breathing or the trees growing outside the window. No sound of censorious women could be heard.

Deciding all or bust might be the better option, Claire flipped down from the bed, narrowly missing the sleeping woman. In one movement she grabbed her jeans, handbag, rucksack and shoes. Anything else would have to be marked up as lost through misadventure.

Cheeks flaming and ears ringing, Claire fled the room. Pausing only to pull on her jeans and shoes, she strode along the clean, silent, corridors and headed for the car park.

So much for an extended stay.

With her phone confessing that it was only 5am, Claire was behind the wheel and on her way.

***

Feelin’ the Positive Vibe: 2013 365 Challenge #68

You can never beat the good ol fashioned cardboard box

You can never beat the good ol fashioned cardboard box

La Maison chez Martin had a more positive day today. We got some sleep (until daughter wet the bed for the first time at 4am but, hey, you can’t have everything). An old friend/colleague got in touch to say he might have some contract work for me (or hubbie if I get my way!) and we went out as a family. It was only to the supermarket and Costa but sometimes that’s enough. I even managed to walk the dog without getting lost in the fog, although I didn’t manage to make a start on my Claire post as we bumped into a friend of Kara’s – a crazy boxer-labrador cross called Beamish. He likes to collect 12 foot sticks and carry them home so Kara didn’t get to run with him that much but it was nice to have company.

I guess all the positive has to have an opposite and today it’s the writing. I didn’t really like my Claire instalment yesterday – I couldn’t seem to create the cave scene with any authenticity. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited a cave and I haven’t been to the Blue John Cavern at all. I relied totally on their website and good old Tripadvisor. I’m also at a complete dead-end for today. Claire has about a week before she picks up Sky for her Easter break and things get interesting again but I’m stuck with what to do in the meantime. There are only so many day trips and hostel descriptions you can do before it gets boring!

The bliss of sleep

The bliss of sleep

The other part of writing that wasn’t great today was picking up Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes for the first time in six months and realising it’s crap. I mean properly rubbish. I haven’t looked at it since writing and editing Dragon Wraiths in an intense seven-month period (for the Mslexia competition) and since writing 56,000 words of Two-Hundred Steps Home.

Of course it’s wonderful that the two projects in-between have obviously honed my craft but it makes me feel sick to think I sent out queries for Baby Blues and someone asked for a partial. Even if they take 8 weeks to get back I’m not going to be able to knock the rest of the manuscript into shape by then. Of course it’s unlikely they’ll ask to see any more but I do know the first fifty pages are better because they’ve had a lot more revision. I don’t know how much better as I’m scared to read them! 🙂

What I need to do, but somehow can’t manage to make happen, is join a critique group and/or locate a Beta reader in the business. It’s all very well having friends read – they’re great at spotting typos and continuity errors – but they don’t have the knowledge or desire to tell me the honest and brutal truth. I KNOW that good critique and beta readers are essential to a writer’s business, what I don’t know is how any writer ever brings themselves to give their unpolished work to someone. You’d think I would prefer it to sending my manuscript to a brutal agent but an agent is just going to ignore it or at worst send a pithy one-pager.They won’t tear apart a year’s work line by line without hope. You see I’ve had a mixed experience of critique and it’s left me doubtful.

I received one critique of the first chapter of Baby Blues (my first ever critique) and they didn’t find a single positive thing to say. I was ready to give up writing for good: not because I’m thin-skinned (although probably that’s true too) but because I figured they knew more than I did and I was just plain rubbish. Then I had a second critique on the same first chapter and received a nice balance of constructive criticism and positive praise on what was working well.

The question is: was the first critique right or the second? Am I a writer or a doomed-to-fail amateur. If two people can read the same chapter and have two completely different responses how can I find a beta reader or critique group to trust? And, more to the point, how on earth do I find time to do critiquing in return? Arrgghh so many questions. If I thought being a parent was tough, with too much conflicting advice and no clear path, then being a writer is just as hard. Actually I guess the two are pretty similar. Maybe I’ll write a blog about that! 😉

Anyway, enough rant. Time to go and search the brain-cells for that hidden inspiration…

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“Ruth? It’s Claire.”

“Claire? Why are you calling: Is everything okay?” Her sister’s voice rose in agitation. Claire buried herself deeper into the armchair, trying to ignore the heat in her cheeks and the defensive words bubbling up into her mouth. Besides, how could you defend the indefensible?

“I’m sorry. I’ve been a rubbish sister. I called to see how you are. I didn’t want to phone so soon after the operation, in case you’re resting, but I haven’t been able to get hold of Mum. I was worried.”

“Mum’s here with me and you know Dad; he never answers the phone if he’s by himself in case, God forbid, he might have to talk to one of us for more than a minute.” Ruth chuckled then coughed. The sound made Claire shiver.

“You are okay though?”

“You mean apart from having a hole drilled in my skull and some of my brain removed?”

Her voice was hard to read. Claire felt goosebumps rise along her arms and huddled deeper into her jumper. Maybe this was a bad idea. She sat without responding, unable to find anything adequate to say.

“Sorry, Claire, I shouldn’t joke. It’s driving Mum nuts. You know how she is. She thinks I’m being unduly frivolous. What can you do but laugh though?”

Claire thought privately that she’d probably be curled in a corner sobbing and hoped no one ever had cause to find out.

“You’re very brave. I’d be scared witless.” The words were out before Claire could censor them and she immediately regretted her lack of control. Ruth didn’t speak and Claire wondered if she was realising for the first time that she ought to be scared. Then her sister sighed; a low sound like a gust of wind on a deserted shore.

“Of course I’m scared. Terrified. And I’m not brave. I have to be strong for Sky. She doesn’t really understand. All she knows is that Mummy is poorly and had to have her hair shaved off and that Nana is looking after both of us. It will be harder for her when I have the chemo and I’m properly sick.”

Claire felt a lump in her throat and shook away the image of her sister with no hair. Somehow it brought home the reality of cancer more than any words had done. She tried to make her voice matter-of-fact when she spoke.

“That’s why I’m calling. How do you feel about Sky coming travelling with me for the school holidays? Give you a chance to have some peace and quiet in the house. Well as much as you can with Mum fussing round.”

“Travelling where? She doesn’t have a passport.”

Claire laughed. “The Fens can be a bit different but I don’t recall needing a passport to go there.”

“Oh. What’s in the Fens? Isn’t it just endless fields of flat nothingness?”

Claire had no idea. She hadn’t thought that far. A glance at the YHA map had shown the nearest hostels to be around the east coast and she’d figured that small children liked the seaside. There were only a handful of hostels so they’d have to stay a few days in each or travel a bit further afield. It seemed hostellers were more interested in the Peaks and Lakes than the Fens.

“It’s got sea and sand and space, what more do kids want?” Claire heard the doubt in her voice and hoped Ruth didn’t notice.

She did.

“Are you sure you’re going to cope with a small child for two weeks? Sky is quite… full-on you know. Besides, I’m not sure about her being away. She’s only little.”

“She stays with Mum and Dad doesn’t she?”

“That’s different. It’s just down the road and she’s used to them.”

“I am her Auntie.”

There was a pause and Claire smiled ruefully as she imagined the thoughts going through Ruth’s mind. I haven’t been much of an Auntie up until now. She decided to get the attack in before her sister did. “Look, I know I haven’t spent as much time with Sky as I should have done. See this as my chance to make it up to her.”

“Well. If you’re sure. Have you booked? It’ll be rammed. And the first weekend is a bank holiday: The whole world will be off work.”

Claire felt a hollowness form in her stomach. She hadn’t thought to book. So far she’d stayed in whichever hostel had space: the hostels had all been clustered together.

“I. Er. It’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” She pulled out her iPad and opened a new note.

Book hostels for me and Sky ASAP.

Otherwise we’ll have to stay with Mum and Dad for Easter. Claire remembered last Easter, when she had taken Michael to her parents’ house for the long weekend. It had been a disaster.

They’re going to remind me of that every minute. Bugger that.

“Leave it with me. It’ll be fine.” She repeated the words, as much for her own benefit as for Ruth’s. Then she said her goodbyes, hung up the phone and pulled out her YHA guide. She began dialling immediately and prayed for a miracle.

***