Relax: 2013 365 Challenge #339

Doggy comes to McD

Doggy comes to McD

Today has been a surprisingly restful day. It always starts well, when I’ve managed to get my post finished before the school run. Plus, too, it’s a nursery day, which means the little one is dropped off first. Amazing how much that reduces the stress, even if we have to leave the house earlier.

We had a slight hiccup when hubbie came down and asked if we could redo the bathroom and boiler system. I still have nightmares from having our kitchen redone three years ago and my answer was rather short and snappy (and my misdirected bad mood resulted in a crying child who had to be placated)

Apologies and hugs all round and tranquillity was soon restored. I left a smiling child at nursery and another one at school, then wandered down to the charity shop to get some books and puzzles as stocking fillers (knowing that quantity is as important as quality for my children, and they don’t mind if Father Christmas buys second hand!)

Sunny cafe

Sunny cafe

I managed to be home and writing by 9.30am, successfully ignoring the rubbish tip that is my house, the towering pile of laundry waiting to be sorted and ironed, and the hundred and one other chores all around.

Hubbie rang mid-morning and asked if I could run a favour for him in town. As the sun is shining today, it’s a good time to be out and about, and doing it to help out someone else stops me feeling guilty for not writing.

I rushed out to walk the dog first, because she asked me so very nicely, then headed off in the car, singing Michael Bublé at the top of my voice. I love driving in the sunshine, with blue skies over head and great music on the stereo. If I’m not in a hurry I’m quite happy to drive for miles.

Chore completed, I took the car to the car wash next door and finally got rid of the two inches of road dirt on my boot that the kids have been drawing in in the mornings. Well, to be precise, some lovely people cleaned it while I sat inside and read All in the Leaves by Pat Elliott.

Enjoying my Earl Grey

Enjoying my Earl Grey

Then a cheeky McD lunch, while I did some more writing and surfed the free WiFi; I even remembered to take a picture of Doggy in the café, as requested by my son this morning, when he asked me to take his favourite toy to work with me.

I decided to drive straight to town, rather than go home and come back for the school run. So I’m currently in the supermarket café drinking my free cup of Earl Grey and making up new adventures for Claire, while the sun slips slowly to the horizon outside the window. Shortly I shall head off and walk across town to school, rather than screeching in late having legged it round with the dog at a zillion miles an hour. This calm and organised lark is rather pleasant.

Ah well, normal chaos will resume tomorrow I’m sure.

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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’s stomach began to squirm as she drove the almost familiar road into town.  Conor wasn’t expecting her for two days and she wasn’t sure how he would greet her early arrival. When she’d finished her conversation with Kim she’d realised how stupid it was driving all the way to Cornwall only to have to travel back to Dorset two days later for the Carnival.

How did it creep up on me so quickly?

The fortnight with the boys had passed in a blink, despite each day feeling a hundred hours long. How did time work like that? Being both fast and slow?

She let her mind drift over the unsolvable problem, ignoring the mounting tension as she headed into the centre, wondering where she was going to find a room for the night. Her accommodation was booked for the Carnival week, but she had no idea if there would be space at the hostel for the two extra nights. The idea of telling Conor she had nowhere to sleep did strange things to her tummy.

The car park at the side of the hostel wasn’t full and Claire took it as a good sign. She’d forgotten how gothic the building looked, all grey stone and higgledy-piggledy windows. Looking around at the tired hostel, with the grimy details she hadn’t noticed on her last stay, she began to have second thoughts about arriving early. In her mind she saw the clean and bright hostels of southern Cornwall, with the crisp sea breeze and the rolling surf calling her out to play.

In the distance she could see Swanage Bay glistening in the afternoon sun, with the barrow climbing up behind. It reminded her of a phone call with Conor, what felt like light-years ago, when she’d hiked along that barrow into town. The day he’d called and offered her a job. With the knowledge she possessed now, would the outcome of that day been different?

*

Claire looked around the tiny room that would be home for the next week or so, and sighed, hoping she would be so busy with whatever Conor needed her to do that she wouldn’t be in the hostel all that much. The darkness of the building felt oppressive and it smelt like mouldy carpet.

As soon as she’d left her bag on the only available bed, Claire headed out into the fresh air and followed the long road down the hill to town, in search of coffee. She knew she should call Conor straight away, but her mind went blank every time she thought of it.

It felt strange, wandering through Swanage again. During her time travelling around the South West, she had remembered the town through Conor’s eyes; through his passion and sense of belonging. Coming again, unannounced and fresh from the very depths of Cornwall, the town felt small and dated. The endless grey stone hemmed her in and the shops seemed insufferably twee.

She tried to compare it dispassionately with St Ives or Penzance. The former was similar in a way, with the same steep, winding streets and small shops, surrounded by the beach and the ocean. If anything the streets were more narrow and the stone buildings just as forbidding in wet weather. But, inside, one felt welcoming and the other didn’t.

Without realising where she was going, Claire’s footsteps took her down to the shore near the pier. The sun dipped behind a cloud and a shadow fell over the concrete slip, where a father and two sons were pulling their canoe out of the sea. The air felt cooler by the bay, relieving some of the oppressive heat of the day. Claire ordered a coffee and sat on the picnic table staring out at the boats on the water.

Forcing herself to dial without thinking, she called her boss and waited for him to answer. Her heart beat loudly in her throat.

“Hello, Conor speaking.”

The deep Irish voice made Claire jump when it came suddenly on the line. She didn’t answer immediately, and felt foolish when Conor said, “Hello? Claire is that you?”

“Yes, sorry, hi Conor. I had a mouthful of coffee.”

He laughed, but it was a tight sound and he spoke again immediately. “Is everything okay? I’m rather busy.”

“Yes. Sorry to disturb you. I just wanted to let you know I’m in town. For the Carnival.”

“I thought you weren’t coming until Friday?” The flatness of the question drove Claire’s heart into her stomach.

“I had to take the boys to my mum’s house and it seemed daft to drive right past the door back to Cornwall.” Her titter made her cringe. “So, I’m here ready to help. What can I do?”

The line went quiet, and Claire sipped at her coffee. Her hands shook and she dropped the cup with a clatter back into its saucer.

Eventually Conor spoke again. “Great. That’s great. Listen, we’re not really ready for you. Can you hang fire and I’ll give you a buzz?”

Claire murmured her assent and disconnected the call. Wrapping her hands around the warm coffee cup, she shivered as she stared out across the sea.

***

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I Am Thankful: 2013 365 Challenge #333

Driving to the beach

Driving to the beach

Since my sister moved to the States a few years ago, and I linked up with my husband’s American cousin on Facebook, I’ve become more aware of the American holidays. Mostly we don’t celebrate them over here. Hallowe’en is only starting to take off, and Valentine’s Day was only significant in high school. Thanksgiving doesn’t happen at all, except on social media. But Thanksgiving is probably my favourite. I love the idea of a day to be thankful.

Christmas is one of my favourite holidays, but it’s always slighly marred by commercialism and the fact that I’m not particularly religious. But you don’t have to believe in God to be thankful.

Like saying “I love you” to my husband every day, rather just on February 14th, I do try to be grateful every day for what I have, although it’s easy to get wrapped up in the daily minutae of tedium and routine. Taking time to look around and acknowledge what is good is essential.

So, I am thankful. I’m thankful for my gorgeous husband and beautiful, clever, loving children. I’m grateful for my lovely house and my crazy dog. I’m grateful for a wonderful family. I’m thankful that my husband found work and we have enough money to buy the things we need. I’m grateful that I can write every day, and for the followers of my blog and the people who download my novels who keep me motivated. I’m thankful for sun and rain and fog, and being able to spend time outdoors everyday. For supermarkets and fresh fruit, chocolate and coffee. For my ipad and books and my car that lets me take my children out and about without hassle. I’m grateful for so much I could write and write. But maybe a few pictures will tell a thousand words.

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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 gazed out across the ocean and sighed. She could feel the entire country stacked up behind her, looking over her shoulder. She felt like she’d come a long way since her beginning in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, at the top of England.

“Are you alright, Auntie Claire?” Jack walked over to where she stood and hooked his arm through hers, his eyes dark with concern. The expression made him look much older than his ten years.

Claire patted his hand, touched at his surprising empathy. Two weeks ago she barely knew the boy, but they had become friends during their time travelling together in Cornwall.

“I’m fine, Jack, thank you for asking. It’s been a good couple of weeks, don’t you think?”

“The best! I can’t believe father’s coming to get us tomorrow. The time’s gone really fast. We didn’t even get to do everything. Did you know there’s a surf school here? Maybe we should go for just one last blast?”

Claire looked over to where Alex stood, his gaze on the phone in his hands rather than the amazing view from the end of the land.

“I’m not sure Alex would appreciate that. At least he’s happy that you’re going home.”

“He’s only happy because he gets to see his girlfriend again.” Jack put the emphasis of a ten-year-old on the word; clearly disgusted at his brother’s betrayal of all things male.

“That’s understandable. Two weeks is a long time when you’re twelve.” Claire smiled fondly at the moody boy standing along the cliff. She couldn’t claim to have broken through his tough barriers, but she had come to care for her eldest nephew more than she could have imagined possible a fortnight before.

“What about you, Jack?” She added, after a moment’s silence. “Will you be glad to get home?”

Her nephew stood silent for a while, and Claire wondered if he didn’t want to hurt her feelings by admitting he was looking forward to leaving. She was about to tell him it was natural to prefer his home and family and friends to an Aunt he barely knew, when he turned to face her. His cheeks burned red, and his eyes glistened.

“I’d much rather stay here with you,” he blurted out. “I don’t want to go home. Mother’s been wrapped up in her own little bubble since Dad left. She leaves us with the Au Pair and goes shopping or to the spa with her friends. And Father, well, that’s a joke. He’s so busy with his new lady friend I think he’s forgotten we exist.”

Claire raised her eyebrows at the news that Jack knew all about Robert’s new relationship.

I don’t know why I’m surprised. They’re bright boys and he’s hardly been discreet.

She wrapped her arm around Jack’s shoulder and pulled him into a hug, unsure what to say. The prospect of having the boys stay longer wasn’t anywhere near as terrible as it would have been two weeks earlier, but there was no doubt in her mind she was looking forward to some time by herself. It wasn’t even that the boys were an onerous responsibility – certainly not on the scale of caring for Sky – and they were good company, when they weren’t fighting. But, still, being responsible for someone else’s happiness took its toll.

“How about school? Will you be glad to go back there, after the long vacation?”

Jack shrugged. “I guess.”

Claire’s heart twisted at the empty resignation in his voice.

“Well, you’re welcome to come and visit any time. I have no idea where I’ll be, but if there’s a bed or floor for you two to sleep on, then it’s yours.”

She was surprised to discover that she meant it.

***

Bringing Scenes to Life: 2013 365 Challenge #325

Satellite view of St Mawes Castle

Satellite view of St Mawes Castle

As part of my writing challenge this year, I have had to do a lot of research on the locations that Claire visits in Two-Hundred Steps Home, to make it plausible. Of course I could have made her journey entirely fictional, but that would have been considerably harder for me.

Because, while I can write dialogue in my sleep, I cannot visualise places. My brain, my imagination, doesn’t think in 3D or in colour.

Even when I’m reading a well-described fantasy novel, I struggle to picture the scene being described. And I’m okay with that.

I read for characters, for dialogue and stories and action. I’m not overly fussed about what a castle looks like, or how the armies are set out on the battlefield. Tell me a mystical city is beautiful and has spires and walkways, and that’s enough. No need to describe it in detail, I’ll only pull myself out of the story trying to build the picture in my mind, and get frustrated when I fail.

A house Claire could buy in Cornwall

A house Claire could buy in Cornwall

However, not everyone is like me, happy to exist inside a vague grey mist when they read. Some people like to be able to see the scene, to know the sea is visible in the distance, or whether the building is Georgian or Victorian or Modern.

Not only that; having characters exist in a three-dimensional space makes the action work. If a character is moving, even if it’s only drinking a glass of wine, it pulls the story forward.

My inability to visualise places used to be a major cause of writer’s block. I’d try and figure out what a character’s house looked like, and whether the phone was in the lounge, or if the post fell on the mat or into a box, and it would paralyse me.

Then I discovered the wonders of research and stealing appropriation, and I’ve never looked back. In the UK the main property website is Rightmove (although there are others). If I need a house for a character, I pop on Rightmove and find one.

Reviews on Tripadvisor

Reviews on Tripadvisor

I usually have an idea whether my characters live in a cottage or an apartment, what they might be able to afford, and I generally have a city or town or village in mind. When I’ve found the right one, (and pulled myself away from dreaming about cottages in Cornwall or houses in Wales) I print out the details (important because they disappear off the website when the house is sold, and are gone forever), and put it in a scrap-book.

In Finding Lucy, (my first, though still unfinished, novel), I have the floor plans and everything for Lucy’s grandmother’s house. I know where the TV is, and the telephones. I don’t worry quite so much about that level of detail now, although it is useful for adding depth to a scene.

For example, instead of “Lucy ran down the stairs to answer the phone,” I can write, “Lucy took the steep stairs two at a time, knocking her hip against the breakfast bar as she reached for the phone. She kept forgetting her grandmother’s cottage was so darn small.”

Another thing I’ve found useful is Google Streetview. Looking at a two-dimensional photograph of a location is useful, but it can be misleading. If you go to streetview, though, (assuming the location is covered), you can literally walk down the road and spin round for a 360 view. You can see that there is a cemetery across the road, or that the bus stop is dirty, or that there are cars parked all along the street.

Streetview of St Mawes car park

Streetview of St Mawes car park

You can even get an idea about the weather. For a recent scene in THSH, it had been sunny all day in the story. Then I “drove” the road out to the hostel, as Claire did in a towering rage, and the streetview photos had stacked clouds along the horizon. Hey presto, her rage is mirrored by the approaching storm.

Incidentally, for Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes, which is set in London, I actually visited the street where I had located Helen’s apartment. I walked her route to the tube station and sat in the park where she first thinks she might be pregnant. It added extra detail, such as the smells and sounds, and how close the buses got to the pavement. You can’t beat first hand research, but I’d have to put in a lot of miles to follow Claire’s journey around the UK!

Hostel Claire's in currently

Hostel Claire’s in currently

The final site I go to often for internet research is Tripadvisor, particularly for the places that Claire visits. I’ve never been to the Eden Project, Pendennis Castle or even Cornwall for that matter.

The YHA website has a few reviews and things to do, but for variety it helps to read a lot of different perspectives. Tripadvisor is how I found out that the Eden Project has a problem with queueing because of gift aid or how the English Heritage will ask you if you want to pay a thousand pounds for lifetime membership.

There isn’t a single activity that Claire has done, or a café that she’s visited, in the UK or New Zealand, that isn’t based on fact. I’ve even been known to check the opening times of the Starbucks and write the story around it! If you wanted to, with some planning, you could follow in Claire’s footsteps for about 95% of the story.

I try and get two or three reviews that agree before I write something (I’m always a bit worried about libel!) but it would be easy enough to make the place fictional, just to be safe. Reviews are brilliant, because they’re genuine and colloquial and so very varied. Two people can visit the same place, in the same week, and have completely different experiences, based on how easy it is to get in, the weather, who they are with, and their expectations. There’s half your story written, right there.

The world is at your fingertips, with a good internet connection and some patience. Sometimes it feels like cheating. But I prefer to call it research! 🙂

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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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“Hello, how’s it going? I thought I’d call and make sure you’re still alive. Or, more to the point, that your brother is. The look on your face when you left the restaurant was something to behold.”

Claire cradled the phone to her ear and looked across to see if the boys were listening. They appeared to be engrossed in some car show on the TV. Even so, Claire kept her voice low as she replied to her boss’s question.

“We’re all still alive. Just. Have you any idea how far you have to go to find a McDonalds in Cornwall? Robert’s gone back to Geneva.”

“With a flea in his ear?” She could hear the grin in Conor’s voice.

“I never understood that phrase. But if you mean did I let him know I was cross with him: I tried. Might as well attempt to chastise an elephant for all the good it did me.”

“And the boys? Do you think you’ll cope?” The tone of concern in his voice was almost masked by the humour, but not quite. It made Claire’s stomach twist and squirm.

“Jack will be fine. He’s a nice lad; open and enthusiastic, if a little eager to emulate his brother.”

“And the other one?”

“Alex. Hmmm. Let’s say he’s practising hard for his teenage years. If the chip on his shoulder gets any bigger he’ll fall out of his bunk at night.”

“Must be tough, not having a settled home at that age. He might even have girl trouble.”

“At twelve?” Claire’s voice rose, and Jack glanced at her before turning back to the screen.

“Oh, yes. Didn’t you say they were at boarding school? Is it mixed? Not that that matters. Twelve was about when I, well, never mind.”

“Twelve?” Claire felt the blood drain from her face. “Seriously?” She tried to remember how old she was when she first even noticed boys. Then she realised it wasn’t the conversation to have with her boss, and she coughed. “Anyway, if that’s it, I’m sure it will blow over. They’re only here for a fortnight.”

“Did you want me to come out with you guys tomorrow, help you ease into it a bit? I’ve got brothers and nephews; I might be able to help.”

The surge of gratitude warmed Claire from her toes to the tips of her fingers. Then she realised what impression it might give and the words of acceptance died on her lips.

“Think of it as a work assignment,” Conor added, apparently as an afterthought. “We can go visit a castle or something and take notes together.”

“Are you checking up on me?”

“Would I? No, you’d be doing me a favour, actually. I’m meant to be going to Mass in the morning, for the baptism of some random cousin in Birmingham. I can live without it. Mum thinks because I’m in the same country I should go.”

“Same country, yes, but Birmingham is miles away. Is that why you came to St Austell; to hide? You don’t have a work appointment at all, do you?”

“You’ve found me out, I confess,” he said, then fell silent.

Claire’s mind filled with conjecture. Escaping a Baptism seemed a flimsy excuse to drive all the way to Cornwall. She didn’t want to think about it too deeply, so she said, “Well, if you’re sure, that would be great. Thanks.”

They agreed a time and place to meet in the morning and hung up the phone. Claire curled into the corner of the sofa and let her mind wander.

*

Claire’s heart gave a little hiccup when she saw Conor strolling towards them. It had been a difficult morning already and it wasn’t yet ten o’clock. Alex and Jack had bickered non-stop over breakfast, and then Alex had refused to come with them to the castle, insisting he was old enough to stay at the hostel by himself. He tried to hide it, but Claire saw him with a phone clutched in his hand, and she began to suspect that Conor might have been right.

Damn him.

The boys had moaned all the way up from the car park and now, looking at the site from the outside, Claire thought they should probably have gone back to Pendennis Castle, on the other side of the water.

“Top of the morning to you.” Conor said in greeting as he approached, and Claire recognised the jovial Irish man act he’d put on for her mother, what felt like months ago.

She rolled her eyes at him, then gave him a meaningful look, trying to convey some sense of the morning they’d had. He gave a tiny wink, barely more than a crinkling of one cheek, and turned to face the children.

“Hello, I’m Jack.” Claire’s youngest nephew said brightly, holding out his hand. Conor shook it formally then turned to face Alex.

“And yer man must be Alex. Pleased to meet you.” Conor had the sense not to hold out his hand to be left hanging. Alex stood with his hands buried deep in his jeans pockets and stared at the ground. With a twinkle in his eye, Conor winked at Claire again.

“Shall we go in?” Claire said, leading the way to the entrance and trying to ignore Alex’s fit of the sullens. She’d hidden most of Robert’s money at the hostel, retaining enough to pay for their tickets and lunch. When she handed over the fifty-pound note to a suspicious cashier, Conor sidled up behind her.

“Big brother flashed the cash then? At least you haven’t got to pay for his grumpy kids as well.”

“You mean Alex? I think you might have been right,” she murmured. “He’s been clutching his phone like a lifeline all morning.”

“Ah, love’s sweet torment.”

She blushed hotly and she turned away in confusion. With a throaty chuckle, Conor moved to stand by Jack. She heard him ask about the boy’s home town and school, and felt able to breathe again.

Just what game is he playing?

Whatever it was, she wished she knew some of the rules.

***

YHA Not? 2013 365 Challenge #317

Girl on the beach Perranporth by Gary Rogers

Girl on the beach Perranporth by Gary Rogers

One of the unexpected side effects of writing Two-Hundred Steps Home has been learning all about the YHA and the many beautiful places you can visit in the UK. Even though I’ve lived here all my life, aside from a year in New Zealand, I’ve only visited a handful of places: the Lake District, Snowdonia, Dorset. I’ve lived in Manchester and Leeds and I’ve been to some lovely towns for weddings. That’s about it.

Using the YHA hostels as a framework for Claire’s travels was unintentionally inspired. The UK may not be a huge country but there is plenty to see (and write about). The difficulty is that there is no clear ‘route’.

When I travelled in Australia and New Zealand there was a general sense that you followed the coast round, or you hopped on an Experience bus that followed a preset route. I don’t know if there is an equivalent in the UK – having never been a tourist here – but I did meet plenty of people on my travels who thought Britain was just London, with maybe York, Edinburgh and Stonehenge thrown in for good measure.

Sharpitor, Salcombe by Graham Taylor

Sharpitor, Salcombe by Graham Taylor

If I were to travel around the UK, as I did around New Zealand, then I think the YHA hostels map would be a great place to start. They go to all the major destinations (although there do seem to be restrictions such as some are only available in the school holidays). In many cases the hostel is actually a spectacular building loaded with history, (if sometimes in need of some TLC, if the reviews are anything to go by).

When I have travelled in the UK it has never occurred to me to stay in a hostel – I’ve always opted for B&Bs or discounted hotel rooms – but I really wish I had. It’s almost too late now: the unfortunate thing about hostels is that they’re only really cheap when you’re travelling alone. With two adults and two children – once you add in breakfast – it can be cheaper to stay in a Travelodge, although infinitely lacking in soul.

Even so, I can see Family Martin fulfilling a long-held ambition of mine to visit Cornwall next summer. I think the hostels that Claire has recently visited will be high on our must-stay list, although I might think twice about the Eden Project, unless someone’s implemented Claire’s Gift Aid idea!

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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 around the bunkhouse with a smile. It wasn’t at all what she had expected. Her room was cosy, and she had been able to grab the proper bed in the corner, instead of one of the bunks. It would be nice to spend the night knowing no one was sleeping above or beneath her.

In the kitchen a cluster of small pine tables waited patiently for the next meal time. The farmhouse cottage feel enveloped her like a warm hug. In the courtyard a family sat eating a late breakfast, their bikes lined up ready for their day of activity.

Leaving her things in her room, Claire followed the advice of the bunkhouse manager and headed off to find the woodland walk into the village. The sun beat down on her bare arms and she thought it might be nice to be in the cool of the trees as the burning orb climbed up to the zenith.

Then lunch in the village, back to the hostel for the car, and off to explore the museum and the castle if I can manage it.

After taking a few sneaky hours to go surfing the day before, Claire felt a stab of guilt that she’d been slacking on work time. If she had to endure seeing Conor the following day, she wanted to make sure she had plenty to talk about. Even the woodland walk was a luxury, but it was difficult to know what to do with her time when she had such loose guidelines from her boss.

As she had hoped, it was cool beneath the trees and she made good time striding along beside the gurgling brook. All too soon the path left the shelter of the woods and came out in a residential road. Claire prayed it would be easy to find her way into the centre of the village as she paced along the path, her arms swinging at her sides.

Even as she walked, her mind clung persistently to the image of the hostel she’d just left. Something about the cottage atmosphere of the place wrapped itself around her, creating a hot sensation in her stomach that felt like yearning.

Oh good lord, I’m not getting all Cath Kidston, am I? I’ll be wearing a floral apron next, and be studying my Jamie Oliver cookbook to learn how to make bread. Oh how Polly, Molly and Sally would laugh. Maybe I’ll start watching Kirstie Allsopp programmes and make a stained glass window for my real oak front door.

The thoughts rang false, like a fake titter at a dinner party, and Claire realised she’d rather like to have a front door to make a stained glass window for. And if it was a little cottage with a scrubbed pine table, rather than a shiny modern flat with all the stainless steel mod cons John Lewis could provide, then that was okay too.

The realisation crashed over her like a North Atlantic wave. When this was all over, she didn’t want to return to her Manchester flat. Her dreams no longer involved Hobbs suits and holidays to the Maldives. Why travel all that way for perfect beaches when there were some right here?

Claire felt as if ice were sliding down the inside of her skin. She stopped suddenly, only vaguely aware that she had arrived at the harbour. She looked around in bemusement, registering the buildings and the harbour wall without really seeing them. It wasn’t a picturesque place, not like some she had visited, but the endless blue skies still shone overhead, lighting highlights in the whitewashed walls.

Suddenly Claire needed to escape. Turning quickly, she retraced her steps through the town and practically ran back through the woods to the bunkhouse. She wanted to lose herself in castles and museums, reports and recommendations, anything that would distract her brain from the images it insisted on creating. Images of a future she could no longer afford. Even a tiny cottage by the sea in this part of the world was far beyond her reach now.

Not unless I went back to work for Carl.

She shivered and ran on.

***