49 Followers and 2013 365 Challenge #21

Alnwick Castle. Photo by Aminimanda on Flickr

Alnwick Castle. Photo by Aminimanda on Flickr

I reached 49 blog followers today. I’m so excited. I have never actively tried to get followers so I always feel that each person who clicks ‘follow’ does so purely because they like my blog and not because I have visited theirs and been nice. Not to say I don’t read loads of blogs – it’s the highlight of my day. I’ve just been to sites where it seems the whole purpose of the blog is to get followers. While I might envy their 500 fans I don’t necessarily approve of their approach. So I am very proud and I hope everyone who follows my blog genuniely enjoys my ramblings!

Today’s post is a deadline-chasing one. I normally write the day before and schedule the post for 10am to give me a buffer. Yesterday I used that buffer and chose to watch Got to Dance, snuggled under a blanket, instead.

It is 9.51am as I type this so I have 9 minutes to hit my normal 10am post deadline. (I won’t hit it, I’m in a cafe, it will take at least that long to upload a photo and do a final proof-read.)

As always happens when you’re already late I hit a barrier this morning. Claire is due to stay at Wooler today as the next YHA hostel from Berwick. I thought I’d better check it’s open on 3rd March, which is what the date is in the novel. It isn’t. As far as I can tell from the online booking it doesn’t open until the end of March. So I was as flumoxed as Claire is, and had to send her to Alnwick instead. Which is a pain because I did all my data-gathering on Wooler yesterday. Such is the life of on-the-fly writing… Still, it did mean I could put a lovely picture of Alnwick Castle in my post!

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The drive to Wooler was not long enough. Claire felt the presence of her phone like a black hole, dragging her in.

I will not give in. I can’t do it. However much I’m hurting him now, it’s a fraction of what it will do if I answer now and leave again later.

Claire sat upright in the uncomfortable seat and stared at the road ahead. The pull of the phone on the passenger seat was like an itch in the corner of her eye. A chicken-pox itch. All consuming but laden with the knowledge that a moment’s weakness might leave a life-long scar.

All too soon Claire reached her destination. Wooler. It was bigger than she expected; a pretty place with amazing views over the hills. I must check what hills they are and write about it in the blog. Healthy living and all that. I’m sure I’m meant to recommend hikes or mountain biking or something. She looked down at her pristine jeans, spotless Helly Hansons and unchipped nails. As if.

She missed the YHA sign the first time and had to drive up and down Cheviot Street until she saw it next to a side road. Her expectations rose as she turned off down the lane but they crashed to earth when she drew up outside the building.

A bit different to Berwick. You don’t get further from a five-story former Granary than this… sheltered-housing bungalow.

It wasn’t just the building that was a surprise. It was the fact that it looked abandoned. Claire’s heart-rate picked up and she could taste bile rising in her throat. It hadn’t occurred to her to ring ahead and book. I mean, who stays in a hostel in March? She looked at the dark building in front of her. Apparently no one in Wooler.

Wanting to be proved wrong Claire got out the car and walked over to the low brick building. She peered through the windows and tried the door but she didn’t need to rattle it to know it was locked. Bollocks. It was freezing standing in the car park. Claire retreated to the car and got out her iPad. She tried to load the YHA page but couldn’t get any signal. Big fat hairy bollocks.

Claire sat back in her seat, frozen. Her brain kept bouncing between her current predicament and the message from Michael. She was conscious of a strong urge to call him. He would know what to do. She shook her head, hard enough to hurt, and put the key in the ignition. Her choices were to drive back to Berwick or to find another YHA hostel nearby that was open, but she couldn’t make the decision here with no access to the wider world.

Nearer the main road Claire’s iPad reconnected to the superhighway and she was able to find another hostel in Alnwick that said it was open all year round. I should have checked that last night. Stupid girl. Not wanting to chance it, Claire phoned the hostel and was brightly informed that there was plenty of space either in a dorm or a private room. Book a private room, bugger the budget. Pay for it yourself if you have to. Claire listened to the internal voice and spoke into the receiver.

“Can I book a dorm bed please? Yes, just for one night. Great. … Ten o’clock?” Claire checked her watch. “How long will it take from Wooler? … Okay, I’ll be there in half an hour.”

What the…? What possessed me to book a dorm-bed? And reception is only open until 10am, what’s that all about? Thank god I left early this morning to avoid Hattie.

Sighing at the betrayal of her brain, Claire tapped the post code into her sat nav and pulled back onto the main road. At least now she had more to think about than Michael. I guess I’d better check the hostel information and book ahead a day or two. She looked around the Skoda. This is not a car I want to spend the night in.

Claire pulled up outside the dark brick building and shivered. It didn’t look very welcoming. The information on Alnwick said the hostel used to be a court house. I can believe it. A quick check showed her it was two minutes to ten. Abandoning the Skoda on the single yellow outside the building Claire rushed in before reception closed.

Walking into the hostel was how Claire imagined it might be to enter the Tardis. As dark as it was on the outside it was bright on the inside. The interior was clearly new and although it was done in the cheap laminate and robust carpet of a dentist or doctors surgery at least it wasn’t oppressive. After staying at Berwick, Claire was getting used to the bland décor and barely registered it as she hurried to Reception.

“Ah you must be the lady who rang from Wooler. Did no one tell you it isn’t open all year round?” The man at reception grinned jovially. Claire felt the blood rush to her cheeks and replied in a small voice. “I didn’t think to ask.”

“New to this are you sweetheart? Best to book ahead even at this time of year. Lucky we had space.”

Claire felt as if she had been chastised. She filled in the forms, asked where she could park the car, and took the key to her room without another word. She wasn’t ready to view the dorm, or to discover who she would be sharing her personal space with that evening. With a short wave at the cheery receptionist she went back to her car just as a Parking Attendant stuck a ticket to the windscreen.

Bugger.

In a former life Claire would have rushed up to the man and attempted to charm, cajole or threaten him into taking the ticket back. Instead she waited a few paces away until he had walked off, then went to the car and ripped the yellow square off. She climbed into the driver’s seat, fighting back tears, and vowed to put the damn thing in the post to Carl.

They didn’t say anything about the bloody daily budget having to cover parking tickets.

***

 

Snowy, crafty day and 2013 365 Day #20

The Great Hall, Oundle School, in the snow

The Great Hall, Oundle School, in the snow

We’ve had a glorious family day today.

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

And that’s what we did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***