A Manic sort of Day: 2013 365 Challenge #72

Mega Blocks Garages: a moment of calm

Mega Blocks Garages: a moment of calm

Phew. What a non-stop day.

It started at 7am when Dragon Wraiths went free on Kindle for my first promo day. There began a crazy 12 hours of tweeting, Facebook updates and madly checking my KDP Dashboard to see how many downloads I’ve managed. (124 as I write this).

It’s addictive, checking the KDP Dashboard every five minutes (125 now) and I can see why people have programs on their computer to disconnect the internet so they can get some real work done. Actually I was wondering today when I’ll ever get round to start/finishing a new manuscript. Between the daily blog, revising Baby Blues, and keeping up with Social Media stuff, there isn’t much time left to write.

I hope I haven’t overdone Twitter today. I do get frustrated by the clutter of promos in my Twitter Feed day in, day out. I know I follow a lot of self-published or new authors but there is often no actual human interaction and I don’t want to join that noise. That said, my increased Twitter activity is obviously paying off as I also reached 100 Twitter followers today. Not sure one of them would buy a book or retweet a comment – I think it’s mostly follow and be followed – but it’s a start and we all have to learn somehow.

Preparing for a possible return to Contracting

Preparing for a possible return to Contracting

Then came the next manic bit of the day: finding out I have an interview for a contract job tomorrow. I was really hoping they’d let hubbie take the contract but that hasn’t happened so I’m off to London.

I’m terrified.

Not of going to London, although it will be the first time in two years aside from a family trip to the Olympics. I used to go to Agency and Client meetings in the Big Smoke all the time when I worked for a living (said tongue in cheek of course!). Funny how four years at home with a couple of kids can erase all your confidence.

I know I can do this contract, whatever is involved (unless it’s databases: I hate databases) but the learning curve will be steep. I haven’t used Excel in two years except to keep track of Claire’s hostel visits and I haven’t put in a full working day in over a year. Thinking about concentrating for that length of time in a strange office with a new brief for a new company (my last contract was back at my old office) is making me feel more than a bit sick. But we’re in a recession and I can’t turn down work, especially not when I went cap-in-hand asking for it! So I will squeeze my post-pregnancy feet into my heels, and my post-pregnancy tum into my stretchy trousers and get on a train. Wish me luck! (Oh and if I get the contract there may be a few days a week when Claire will be ill in bed with the flu or reading a good book…. The contract is an hour’s drive away so there won’t be much writing time in the day!)

Talking of which, it’s bedtime and I’ve completely failed to write a Claire post after falling asleep on the sofa. Another favour from hubbie required to take kids in the morning then! Oops. Apologies if it’s a short one!

Morning Update: Was up most of the night because my brain was running a zillion miles an hour. I had 332 total downloads for my first promotion day. Wow! If only 1% read it that still means 3 strangers reading my book. Feels weird.


Claire ignored the twisting in her stomach and opened the email. How bad can it be? Then she remembered her leaving party and the things Julia had said. Okay, pretty bad. Then let’s get it over with at least.


Carl has asked me to collate a list of activities to inject some fun and humour into your blog. These are all near your current location in Castleton so you’ll have to pick the ones that are available. We suggest number five and/or six as they are activities more specific to the Peak District. If you can furnish me with your future itinerary I will find some other activities that have Carl’s approval.


1. Kayak and/or Canoe
2. Raft Building
3. Climbing/Abseiling
4. Mountain/Hill Walking
5. Weaseling
6. Caving
7. Orienteering
8. Rope Course
9. Search and Rescue
10. Archery

Future Itinerary? Does she think I’m planning that far ahead? Actually Julia probably plans her sick days. Claire thought about the list of hostels booked for her time with Sky. Oh I can at least look a bit organised, that will be nice. As long as she finds things I can do with a six-year-old girl. She remembered the kids on the Go Ape rope course and decided that Sky was probably more suited to adventure activities than she was. She scanned the list and laughed, relief flooding through her like caffeine.

What is Julia going on about? I’ve done half of these and the rest aren’t exactly High Adrenalin. I mean, Raft Building? I’m hardly going to get eaten by a crocodile or fall into shark-infested waters, however much she hopes I might. I guess her main desire is that I get wet and humiliate myself.

Checking Julia’s email again, Claire looked at the activities at number 5 and 6. Caving. I’ve been in the Blue John Cavern, isn’t that caving? And what the hell is Weaseling? Julia’s email had a link at the bottom to a website with more information. Knowing she would regret it Claire clicked on the link and scrolled down to Weaseling.

Weaseling is all about getting into a tight spot – and then getting out of it! This activity is very similar to rock scrambling, as the fun comes from low-level climbing. It’s also fairly similar to caving, with small, often dark spaces forming the perfect playground for intrepid weaselers, but it all takes place above ground level. Weaseling doesn’t require ropes as there are no big drops or climbs, so it’s great for younger children.

Great for younger children? Should be fairly easy then although I can’t say I’m that keen on the ‘dark spaces’ bit. With a sigh of resignation Claire followed the information and wrote down the phone number to book a day Weaseling.

I’ll remember this Julia, don’t think I won’t.


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…


“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.


Snow White and Stickers: 2013 365 Challenge #67

Son's creative stickering

Son’s creative stickering

Happy World Book Day (for yesterday).

Of course by ‘World’ I mean the UK. A bit like the World Series I guess. My daughter went to nursery dressed as Snow White (they were meant to go as their favourite book character but she’s a bit young to have a favourite). It was blissfully easy as my mum bought her the Snow White dressing up costume for Christmas (and Father Christmas made sure she had the book).

Incidentally if you’re a writer have a gander at the WBD website: they have some great storycraft videos. I haven’t watched them all yet (and it looks like they’re aimed at children) but there are some good names listed.

Little lad had to stay home from nursery today due to chicken pox. Frustrating when we paid for the vaccine but I guess nothing is guaranteed. It wouldn’t be so bad if he felt ill but he was full of bounce. I had to take him to the Gallery with me to drop off paintings, then to the supermarket, then have him help me clean and vacuum. He wasn’t very impressed. But then he’s just as grumpy at the Farm or the park so there’s no winning right now. One of the parenting phases where you keep muttering to yourself “this too will pass”.

Daughter's more precise stick application

Daughter’s more precise stick application

I bribed my daughter into nursery with a promise of stickers when she got home, as she didn’t want to go without her brother. It was interesting watching them both do their sticker sheets this evening.

My son piles the stickers up any which way, having fun and being creative (while I sit on my hands and try not to intervene). My daughter places them carefully and individually. She’s more like me.

Despite my writing and painting I’m quite OCD when it comes to things like colouring, sticking or block building. I can’t build a tower unless it is symmetrical both in design and colour. My daughter is learning to do the same. She has to copy a picture and do it precisely. It would probably be better if she learnt more from her brother. There’s a lot to be said for not giving them 24/7 attention, letting them do things their own way!

My own mother was very hands-off and it used to frustrate me as it felt like lack of interest. Now I appreciate it for what it was (mostly): giving me room to be my own person. Even if that meant wearing bright pink with red or a Garfield sweater and a pale pink puffball skirt.


Claire looked through the list she had compiled of possible things to do before checking in at Bretton Hostel and made notes against each one.

1. Eyam Village. Place that sacrificed itself to slow the spread of the plague. Might be a tad depressing, particularly as rain seems to have washed all colour from the world and flushed it down the drain.

2. Bakewell. Home of the pudding. Not exactly high-adrenalin stuff. Not sure Carl would approve (pudding sounds yummy).

3. Walk the Hope Valley. Like the hope bit, but not the walking. I hate this rain, it seeps in your skin and soaks you from the inside out.

4. Blue John Cavern. Is at least indoors. Not sure it counts as high-adrenalin either unless it turns out I’m as scared of being underground as I am of being high up. Apparently lots of steps so might be able to have a pudding after.

Claire read through the list again and decided it had to be the cavern. She could feel the rain hammering against the window, feel it splattering her skin and sinking into her bones even through the glass. This is proper Manchester rain. Who knew they got it in Derbyshire too, poor sods. I hope it’s warm in the cavern.

“Well good afternoon everyone, thank you for coming to Blue John Cavern. I hope you’ve brought good shoes and sturdy knees. There are over two-hundred steps down and back up so if you’re in poor health please let me know before we leave.”

Claire tuned out the rest of the guide’s introduction. Two-Hundred Steps echoed in her brain. It was weird to hear someone say the name of her blog, even if that wasn’t their meaning. This was a good choice then: at least I have today’s title sorted.

The guide beckoned them forwards and explained that he mined for semi-precious stones when he wasn’t working as a guide. Claire looked around, half-expecting to see something sparkly stuck in the rock face. She was still looking behind her as she shuffled forwards and nearly slipped on the wet steps.

A surreptitious glance took in the rest of the group. A couple with a little girl. Rather them than me. They’re so going to be carrying her back up the two-hundred steps. Bugger that. Next to them stood an older couple who, at first glance, Claire thought might be a bit old for such a physical tourist attraction. Then she spotted the well-worn-in hiking boots and the fleeces tied round their waists and she forced herself to revise that opinion. Look at Maggie. She could easily walk me into the ground and come back for a second bash. Claire looked around expecting to see more people and saw only one more couple, in their twenties, holding hands.

I thought it’d be busier. I guess it must still be term time, and I suppose it is quite a lot of money to spend wandering round a hole in the ground. Still, it beats wandering round outside in what is basically a giant mist-shower with all the hot water gone. Claire shivered and pulled her jacket tighter. As they descended deeper into the cave system she began to wish she, too, had an extra fleece tied round her waist.

They followed the guide in single file down a narrow corridor. The weight of the hillside pressed down on Claire’s head. She wondered if she did in fact need to add claustrophobia to her list of new fears. Behind her, bodies pushed her forwards; preventing her legging it back to the car park. She was trying to decide whether to squeeze past the canoodling couple when the confined space opened into a large cavern.

Claire gazed around in confusion. Where are the pointy things, stalawhatsits that they were always going on about at school? It looked more like a giant had sneezed inside a cathedral and sprayed every surface with multi-coloured snot. It was certainly cold enough to be a church.

She tuned into the guide’s voice but he was rambling about the history of the cavern and the intricacies of mining, so she zoned out and looked at the people. The young couple were standing at the back, whispering to each other and giggling. The older couple stood either side of the guide, asking intelligent questions and turning occasionally to take a photograph. The little girl had both her parents running as she tried to get past barriers and fall down holes. Her infectious laugh echoed round the room, until it sounded like a whole preschool of kids.

And so it went on. Claire oohed at a giant petrified waterfall, ahhed at a rock balancing like a ballerina and eventually was rewarded with her stalactites and stalagmites. She glanced at her phone and tried to calculate how long they had been underground. The tour was meant to be an hour long and it felt as if they’d been below ground for twice that. Shocked to see it had only been forty minutes, Claire wrenched her attention back to the guide who seemed to be telling them something. Then the room went dark.

What the hell?

Claire froze, scared to move a muscle even though she knew she was nowhere near any kind of drop. Her heart thumped out a base beat that seemed to echo off the walls around her. Then the little girl began to wail and the guide turned the lights back on with an apologetic laugh.

Ha bloody ha.

By the time Claire had climbed up the steep, narrow stairway to the surface, pulling herself up by the handrail, she felt like she’d completed a tough spinning class and a 10km run. The mother with the little girl came behind her, having climbed the whole way up with the baby on her hip. She was still smiling.

I hate her. They must give you extra muscles in the delivery ward.

Claire blinked as she returned to the car park, even the low grey cloud seeming bright after the gloom of the Cavern. In her mind she jumbled words around, trying to work out how she was going to turn the trip into something entertaining enough for Josh’s faithful followers.

In the interim, it’s definitely time for cake.