The Book I Wrote In a Month

Meet Esmerelda Smudge

Meet Esmerelda Smudge

This is a post about how NOT to self-publish – experts like Kristen Lamb and Catherine Howard should look away now.

My last post was all about how I wrote a first draft in four or five days, in response to finding out my Chicken House novel was a bit pants.

I came up with the idea of a girl called Esmerelda Smudge (in tribute to Esmerelda Weatherwax from the Discworld novels). I sketched out the character and most of the plot during a 30-min dog walk, and wrote 20,000 words over the next few days.

That was on 12th November.

On 17th November I sent my tweaked draft to an editor I’ve used before, who I love because she writes Children’s Fiction and has kids too. She edited Dragon Wraiths for the competition last year, and her insights were super helpful. Plus she charges proofreading rates! It’s Christmas, I don’t have much money to spare. I also sent Alfie Stanton The Half-Baked Hero to her (the ‘pants’ book) so I could work out from her comments which one to enter in the competition.

On 27th November (because, did I mention, she’s awesome?) my editor sent back the annotated manuscript, with excellent comments on character arc, dialogue, research and all that good stuff. I made the changes that week, while waiting to hear back about Alfie Stanton.

On 4th December I got back Alfie Stanton, with the view that – with some hard work on dialogue – it should be my Chicken House entry. So, being me, I ignored those edits and decided to publish Esmerelda instead!

My purchased iStock Image

My purchased iStock Image

I purchased a great set of composite artwork from iStockphoto for the princely sum of £8.40 and set about turning it into a passable cover design. Did I mention money is tight at Christmas? I bought the image because I knew I could cut and paste and adobe photoshop the hair to make three images of the same girl doing different things, things that Esme does in the novel.

I used an existing novel template (Moon Pony) that was already set up for CreateSpace to create my print document, just dropping the novel into place. I uploaded the files to CreateSpace on 9th December.

Yesterday, one month after first dreaming up Esmerelda Smudge, I ordered a print copy. And so did someone else! Don’t know who, which means I made my first sale. 🙂

This is obviously NOT how to self publish. I have several things that made this a smooth process: practice (I’ve written and published six children’s books this year), a willing and wonderful editor, and the urgency of a competition deadline.

The final cover doesn’t look quite right on the print copy and my new one doesn’t seem to have uploaded, although sometimes there is a lag on Amazon and the printed version will be fine.

Did I mention this is how NOT to do it – a proof version should always be printed before setting a book live. But the proof versions for me come from overseas and can take ages to arrive. So it’s quicker and cheaper to set it live and order my own copy. Except no one is meant to buy one in the mean time! 🙂

I spent a total of £51.99 including ordering a print copy. I won’t even make that amount back in sales unless something miraculous happens. But I released a fun, sweet, heartwarming story into the world for the price of a meal out for two.

For me, that’s how to self-publish!

You can find the kindle version of my book here for the bargain price of £1.98 (I haven’t checked the formatting on that either, that’s my next job, but hey it’s not expensive!)

Merry Christmas

 

 

Reclusive Paperback Writer: 2013 365 Challenge #271

Up at sunrise to write today

Up at sunrise to write today

How cool – my husband just bought a paper copy of Baby Blues off Amazon. I only made about 50p but that’s not the point! It’s there; a real book (free delivery, too, which is better than paying for proof copies to be shipped from the US.)

I’m much more nervous than I have been about anything to do with the self publishing journey so far. Not only is a paper book more permanent than an ebook, it’s also a much bigger investment from a reader (though less profit for me – I couldn’t bring myself to charge more. It’s already double what I’d pay for a paperback!)

I’ve been formatting Dragon Wraiths for print today and it was really tough rereading the book. I’d love to rewrite it, armed with 270 days of writing and editing every day. I feel I am a stronger writer now, and I want to bring my first novel up to my current standard. But if an author did that for every book, would they ever get around to writing any more?

As an aside, someone mentioned today that I seem a little like a recluse with my online presence. I was surprised because I feel like I spend half my life trying to increase my online presence. That said, I think it’s in the nature of a writer to hide in a cave. I guess that’s why social media can be a struggle.

Gorgeous Day

Gorgeous Day

I think it’s time I got a copy of one of Kristen Lamb’s books on social media – We are not alone: The writer’s guide to social media or Rise of the Machines (her latest one). I’ve resisted so far only because I already have dozens of books I haven’t read on writing and marketing. Hers are meant to be among the best though, so a good investment of my time. Has anyone read either of them? Which should I get?

(As an aside, I went to Kristen Lamb’s blog to see how much Rise of the Machines is, and it’s not available to buy on her page as far as I can see. Isn’t that a social media fail? 🙂 )

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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: 

THIS POST CONTAINS SOME STRONG LANGUAGE

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Claire read the text message again and frowned, the movement exacerbating the headache she’d had all afternoon. Glancing up at the window, she saw only the reflection of the empty dorm room. At 8 o’clock in the evening in Queenstown, it seemed everyone was out partying.

I should be on a bus to Christchurch. My flight leaves in 24 hours.

She’d tried to get a bus to the airport as soon as the tiny plane carrying her from Milford landed, but it turned out all the buses left early in the morning. With no choice but to wait in the hostel, and with no iPad or money, Claire felt like she might burst.

And then the text from Kim had arrived. Claire read it for a third time, but it still made no sense.

Sorry, Claire. I’ve been a bad friend. But it won’t matter anymore. Have a nice life. Kim.

Every time she read the words, Claire felt the knot tighten in her stomach. If it hadn’t been from Kim, she would have worried that it was a goodbye note from someone intending to do something foolish. But Kim was the most resilient person she knew.

The nagging worry continued to worm under her skin. At last Claire had to do something or go mad.

Hi Kim, lovely to hear from you. If anyone’s been a bad friend it’s me. I’ll be home in two days, please say we can catch up and be friends? I’ve missed you so much. Claire.

Claire watched the phone, waiting for a response. As the minutes ticked by, the tightness in her chest became unbearable.

“Damn it!”

Grabbing the phone, Claire strode from the room and down to reception.

“Hi, I need to call the UK, do you sell phone cards?” Claire looked at the girl behind reception sat reading a magazine. She turned her head slowly and gazed at Claire without speaking.

“Do you sell phone cards, please? I need to call England.”

The girl nodded, and reached into a box under the desk.

“Five bucks will give you twenty minutes to the UK, is that enough?”

Claire nodded. It would have to be; she needed to save every last bit of money to get to the airport and buy something to eat on the way home.

Tapping her foot, as the girl wrote something down in a book before handing over the card, Claire snatched it and span round to locate the phone. She spotted it in the corner, but it was in use. Judging by the body language of the girl curled around the handset it was likely to be in use for some time.

Claire froze. She was loathe to ask the girl on reception anything, suspecting any answer would take too long. Her mind felt blank with indecision. Looking left and right, as if a phone might materialise on the blank walls, Claire was about to run out into the street when she heard the phone click.

Hand outstretched, Claire reached the handset just as a teenage boy was about to pick it up.

“Please, this is urgent. I think my friend’s in trouble. I need to make this call?” She turned pleading eyes on the boy and he shrugged and wandered back into the lounge.

The instructions on the back of the phone card seemed impossibly complicated. Claire scratched off the silver paint to reveal the code, then typed in the long string of numbers and waited.

After a long pause, the phone began to ring. Each note of the ringing tone made her heart beat faster. The phone felt slippery in her clammy hand and she twisted the cord round and round.

“Answer, Kim. Come on. You only sent that text half an hour ago. Answer, Goddamnit.”

Ten rings, twenty, then the phone went dead. A metallic voice came on the line.

“You have four dollars twenty cents remaining. Do you wish to make another call?”

Scrolling through her phone book with numb fingers, Claire found Jeff’s number and dialled it in. Again the phone rang, five times, ten. Claire was wondering who she would call next when she heard a click.

“Yes?”

“Jeff? It’s Claire.”

“Claire. Cricky, how are you? I thought you were in New Zealand.”

“I am. Listen, is Kim with you?”

“No. She said she needed a night by herself, so I’m staying with mates. Why?” His voice rose slightly. “Have you guys spoken at last?”

“No. She sent me a text. Look it might be nothing, but it sounded like she was saying goodbye. You don’t think she’d do something stupid, do you? It’s not like her, but I’ve tried ringing and she’s not answering.”

“Fuck.” Jeff’s voice came out like a bullet. Then Claire could hear movement and panting, as if Jeff was running.

“How long ago did you get the text?” His voice sounded distant.

“Half an hour. Jeff, you’re scaring me. Why would Kim kill herself?” Claire fought the wave of nausea threatening to overwhelm her. She leant against the wall and held the phone with both hands.

“She’s had depression, since the miscarriage. Oh Claire, it’s been awful. I wish you guys hadn’t fallen out. She’s on medication but I’m not sure she’s been taking it. Look I have to go. Thanks for calling me.”

“Wait. Jeff. I’m sorry. Tell her I’m sorry.” The phone was silent, and Claire wondered if Jeff had gone, or if he thought she was too much to blame.

“It’s not your fault, Claire. We’ll sort it out when you get home. If I’m not too late.”

The phone went dead.

***

99% Perspiration: 2013 365 Challenge #268

CreateSpace Formatting

CreateSpace Formatting (note the time!)

If genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, I’m definitely wallowing in the latter right now.

I spent five hours formatting various versions of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes this evening, having had the latest updated Smashwords version rejected for a stray page number.

When I uploaded the new version it seemed some of the paragraphs had smaller text than others, so I went through the file and found that half was in Style 2 and half in Normal (only interesting if you’ve spent a chunk of time formatting Word docs for Smashwords as I seem to have done lately).

I fixed the dodgy paragraphs, or so I thought, and then realised there were more issues. At the same time I was also formatting a Word doc for CreateSpace to hopefully, finally, approve my print version and get that up for sale. Not because I think there are many people who will spend £8-£10 on a book from an unknown author, but because I want some copies for giveaways! And because I think a book looks more ‘real’ if you can buy a print version too.

I have just downloaded version twenty of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes from Smashwords to check for errors, in kindle and epub format, and arrgghh I still have random blue words on the second page and chunks of text in a different font size. It’s currently 1.37 a.m., the dog is snoring, and I haven’t started my Claire installment. Do I go back and reformat another version of Baby Blues or do I go to bed? The kids will be up in a few hours, it almost doesn’t seem worth trying to get any sleep.

Anyway, as this is all very boring for those who haven’t lost hours and days of their lives to formatting ebooks, here’s another poem from the set about my father, just so this post isn’t entirely dull! 🙂

Swanage from the pier

Swanage from the pier

August

Along the bay, beach huts begin to fill
with plastic rings, cheese sandwiches and tea.
Their owners sit on stripy chairs at noon
and watch the promenaders passing by.
 
Amusement arcades call out, ‘Come and play!’ 
Electronic sounds and flashing clashing lights.
Sweet smell of popcorn, tuppeny cascade.
The favourite haunt for children of all ages.
 
Windbreaks and brollies march down to the sea
in rainbow ranks, a modern D-Day landing.
A whiff of fish and chips makes tummies rumble,
while raucous seagulls fight for fallen food.
 
The sand is cool and damp beneath my feet.
I watch as children brave the icy waves,
they dash and splash, come shrieking, running back.
My childhood overlaid there in the haze.
 
Red speedboats hum then roar across the bay,
creating frothy arcs, stark white on blue.
The ghosts of generations haunt the beach.
I face the cliffs and say my last adieu.

That’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll have something more interesting to talk about tomorrow! Right, back to Word.

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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 stared out the window at the rain and chewed the inside of her cheek. It sounded like there was a celebration going on behind her, as the stranded passengers made the most of their enforced stopover. Claire had never felt less like partying. A quick investigation had revealed the cost of flying to Queenstown to be almost as much as her flight back to the UK. Without venturing online to check her finances, she knew there wasn’t space on her credit card to pay for it, leaving no choice but to wait it out.

“This is ridiculous.” She pushed herself away from the window and went in search of the hostel owner. Forcing a calmness she didn’t feel, she tried to frame her question in a non-confrontational way. It wasn’t the manager’s fault that she was stuck.

She tracked the man down at reception, where he sat making phone calls. Claire leant against the wall and kicked her foot, idly listening to his conversation as she waited to speak to him.

“I’m calling about your booking tomorrow. Unfortunately, the Homer Tunnel is currently closed. … Risk of rock fall this end I’m afraid, due to the heavy rain. … No, I can’t say when it will open again. The best thing is to check the website for updates. … Yes, I’m sorry too, thank you.”

Claire’s limbs felt heavy as she walked over to the desk. There didn’t seem much point to her question, but she decided to ask it anyway.

“Sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing your call. The tunnel isn’t opening in the morning then? The driver was hopeful that it would open in the daylight.”

The man behind the desk looked up at her and smiled ruefully, laughter lines appearing at the sides of his eyes. “It isn’t looking hopeful, I’m afraid. We’ve had some problems recently with a large overhang of loose rock. There is some talk the tunnel might be shut for a week or even two while they sort the problem.”

“A week! My flight home leaves in two days.” Claire gripped the edge of the desk and fought back tears.

“I am sorry. You might be able to catch a flight to Queenstown, if the rain eases. They won’t fly in this weather.”

“I can’t afford a flight. Unless the government will evacuate us? Yes, they have to do something, don’t they? They can’t leave us stranded down here for a week?” She focussed on the man’s face, eager to see some agreement. He merely shook his head.

“They’ve never evacuated before, to my knowledge.”

“Has the tunnel remained shut for a week before?” Claire demanded.

The manager shrugged. “I haven’t been here all that long. It’s never been shut for more than a day or two. I’m sorry. I’m trying to find out what I can, but the rain plays havoc with communications I’m afraid. You’ll have to try to be patient.”

Claire inhaled through her nose and bit back a retort. There were many times in her life she would have loved to be stranded in a beautiful location, with nothing to do but read and relax. Now was not one of them.

She nodded at the manager and strode back to the lounge, where a noisy game of Monopoly was taking place. Unable to stand the good humour, Claire retreated to her room.

I’m just going to have to find a few more hundred dollars from somewhere and worry about it when I get home.

Wracking her brain for someone likely to lend her the money, Claire curled into her bunk and closed her eyes.

***

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.

***

Rainy Day Play: 2013 365 Challenge #213

Painting with feet. I said "feet" only!

Painting with feet. I said “feet” only!

Today I had the chance to remember what it is like to have two preschoolers requiring entertainment because of the weather.

They went to preschool this morning for a few hours (shorter than usual because it’s the school holidays) so I started formatting Dragon Wraiths for print. I’ve already done most of the front cover, but I think I need to put the brakes on because – if I’m going to ask people to spend all that extra to get a printed version (even though my profit will be much less) – the book needs to be in tip-top condition. Which means finding the money to have my proofreader go over it.

I got Baby Blues back from her today and I’m too scared to open the document. From the sample I’ve seen already, I have quite a lot of work to do! I know it took longer than she expected, so I anticipate her fee may increase significantly for the next one! 🙂

Bob the builder jacket as apron

Bob the builder jacket as apron

So, after potentially wasting several hours wrestling with Word Styles (a hangover from when Dragon Wraiths was written in multiple fonts) I had two hyped-up children and no energy.

We were meant to go and see the new calves at Sacrewell Farm, but I was still wearing a skirt, despite a change in the weather, and couldn’t quite face it. So I bribed them home with promises of baking and indoor painting with feet.

Big mistake, big, huge. With a thunderstorm lingering and humidity at 80% all I wanted to do was sit still and keep calm, not run around after two whirling dervishes hell-bent on destruction!

I learned the importance of the little things, too. Like having a stock of aprons. Trying to find two aprons so we could do baking took half an hour and all my patience, including a tantrum from little man (one of MANY today) when I said “well, you just won’t do baking then” because he was refusing to wear an old t-shirt of my daughter’s instead. In the end he wore his Bob the Builder hi-vis jacket back-to-front.

Indoor painting with feet. I said feet!

Indoor painting with feet. I said feet!

Indoor painting nearly ended in disaster, too. Despite repeated instructions to “Only use your feet”, little man painted his entire body. Again. Only this time we were downstairs in my kitchen, far too far from the bath for comfort.

So, as I have done many times this summer, I filled the paddling pool with bubbles and carried them both bodily outside, uttering the immortal words, “At least it’s not raining.” Big mistake, big, huge. The heavens opened. I put the kid’s picnic table over the paddling pool while I got drenched scrubbing the rest of the paint off them (I’d post pictures but feel funny putting nude pictures on the blog, even with bubbles protecting their modesty.)

Today I have read stories, built mega-block bus stations and towns, assisted in the creation of an alien, baked cookies, facilitated large-scale craft, alfresco bathing and puddle jumping, cooked healthy meals and played painful games of snakes & ladders and hide & seek. My reward? Endless tantrums.

Look what the postman brought!

Look what the postman brought!

Why is it the more attention you give the children, the more they push you and push you, until you want to go back to ignoring them while you design a CreateSpace front cover?

Little man was on a mission today to force me to be that kind of parent who follows through on their threats (See discussion on post #211 with Scottishmomus). He refused his lunch and his tea, despite his sister getting sweets and home-baked cookies for her dessert. (To give him credit, after the initial ten minutes of screaming, he took it well.)

At every opportunity he pushed it until he had a time out or a reprimand or a simple, “then we’ll put the game away,” which always ended in a bout of screaming and tears.

Normally this behaviour results in beautiful behaviour from the other sibling. Mostly it did. My daughter delights in being the good child. But by bed time they were both at it, until I felt like Mother Gothel in Tangled: “You want me to be the bad guy? Now I’m the bad guy.”

Sigh. The amazing thing is, it still felt like a great day. Because I know I gave the kids my attention, and I do that far less than I should (can’t imagine why!). Whatever they took from the day, I’ll take a gold star and go to bed happy. Besides, they’re at nursery tomorrow! 😉

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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 ears rang with a hum she heard through her skin rather than her senses. A background buzz, like white noise, that filled the cavernous space and turned the cacophony of voices into a dull roar. Airports always gave her a headache.

The plastic seat refused to provide any semblance of comfort, no matter how much she shifted. Eventually she stood and rested her shoulders against the wall. Time had lost meaning hours before, marked only by the intake of coffee and the necessary trips to the ladies’ room.

Against her will, Claire’s mind dredged over the events of the last twenty-four hours: a horror movie remembered in flashes despite the need to forget. Kim’s face held the strongest sway, filling Claire’s mind until she thought it must be imprinted on the inside of her eyelids.

She could still recall her own reaction: the blood draining from her brain, causing her to crumple. Jeff running to offer assistance and her shrill command that he go after his wife. Lying on the dew-damp grass, adding salty tears to the soil. If it hadn’t been for Sky, she’d probably still be lying there now. But Sky had woken when Jeff left her, and had called out in alarm, lost in the dark.

Funny how the cry of a child can bring you back from the deepest pit.

Claire remembered pushing against the ground with heavy limbs, stumbling to her niece and finding a voice in the desert in her throat. Somehow she had managed to get her niece home and to bed, before collapsing in exhaustion on her sister’s sofa. In the morning she’d smiled her goodbyes, driven the Skoda to her parents’ house and left it in the street without waking them. A taxi to the station, a train to the airport, and she had been here ever since. Waiting.

“Miss Carleton?”

Claire’s eyes snapped open and she peered through the fog to locate the source of the voice.

“Yes?”

“We think we have something. Please come over to the desk.”

Claire shouldered her rucksack and followed numbly, barely registering the young woman’s smart uniform. She was only conscious of the click-click of the woman’s heels, and followed the sound like a blind person.

“We think there might be a space on the next flight. It’s economy class, will that be sufficient?”

Claire nodded. She would have sat in the hold if that meant getting away from the white noise and the clattering thoughts in her brain.

“The flight changes at Singapore. You’ll have a six-hour stop-over, I’m afraid.”

Claire shrugged. Six hours was nothing. She’d spent twice that waiting already.

“Can I have your passport, please?”

A dart of alarm pierced the fog and, for a moment, Claire’s brain went clear. Then she remembered collecting the passport from her mother’s a fortnight before, the day after Kim’s wedding. Has it only been two weeks? Shaking away her disbelief, Claire retrieved the burgundy booklet from her handbag and slid it over the counter.

The woman told her the cost of the flight and asked for payment. Praying there was enough room on her credit card, Claire handed it over.

And then it was done.

“Your flight leaves in thirty minutes. I’ll need to take your bag now, so we can get it on board. Please proceed directly to the gate.”

After so much time waiting, the suddenness left Claire reeling. Her glacier-slow thoughts sped up, like a movie on fast forward, and she ran through the things she would need for the 30-hour journey. Grabbing her wash-bag, iPad, phone and clean underwear from the rucksack, she handed the rest to the helpful woman, and prayed she would see it again.

The button remained on fast forward as Claire scurried to her gate, clutching her boarding ticket and passport. The departure lounge was empty as she arrived, and the uniformed women at the desk ushered her through. Along a long tunnel and up and down stairs until she was aboard the plane that would be her home for the next twelve hours.

The hostess showed her to her seat. Claire’s heart sank as she saw her travelling companions; two hulking men either side of her middle seat, both with arms already spread over the arm rests. Beggars can’t be choosers. Hopefully I’ll sleep.

With apologies, Claire slid into her seat and fastened the belt. Only then did she allow herself to breathe. Her limbs began to shake, and she wondered if she might be sick. The plane felt hot and there didn’t seem to be any air. Claire fiddled with the air vent but nothing came out.

“They won’t turn it on until the plane is off the ground.”

Claire turned to face the man to her left. He smiled, white teeth shining from a dark face, and held out a hand.

“Name’s Darren. This your first time on a plane?”

Claire took the hand reluctantly, and shook her head. Not wanting to be rude, but equally not wanting to have a chatty companion for duration of the flight, Claire pulled out her iPad and opened a book. She felt the man hesitate, then went limp with relief as he turned back to his paper.

The tannoy reminded passengers to switch off their phones. Claire retrieved hers from her bag and noticed a text message. Her hands trembled as she opened it, hoping and dreading who it might be from. It was from her sister.

Mum’s noticed your car outside this morning, and wondered how long you’re leaving it there. Ruth.

Ignoring the glares and tutting sounds from the man to her right, Claire tapped out a quick reply.

Have gone away on a last minute business trip, will tell you more later. Tell Mum the car will be there for a couple of weeks, but I’ve posted the keys through her letter box so she’s free to move it. Talk soon. Claire.

She hit send, then turned off the phone and her iPad, as requested. Pulling the eye-mask out of the bag of freebies in the pocket in front of her, she blocked out the world and pretended to sleep.

***

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.”

***

CreateSpace Distraction: 2013 365 Challenge #190

First Draft Create Space Cover

First Draft Create Space Cover

I derailed my intended work schedule today by reading a blog post, by Chris McMullen, on why it’s worth having a print-on-demand edition of your self-published book as well as an e-book.

My main reason for not producing print versions for Dragon Wraiths and Baby Blues is largely to do with effort. It’s harder to create a professional-looking paperback, and print-on-demand books are expensive for the consumer. I might find people willing to spend £2 on an ebook from an unknown author, but £8 or £10 for a paperback? That’s a much bigger leap of faith. I would actually be embarrassed to ask someone to pay that much, and would worry much more about my lack of professional editing.

Chris McMullen discusses some interesting reasons why it’s worth bothering with the pain of creating a print-on-demand version (e-books are a doddle by comparison.) 

1. Some customers only buy print copies. (This is true: my friend Hugh keeps asking when he can buy a print copy of my books).

2. If you link your CreateSpace book with your kindle version, it shows the kindle price as a discounted price against the paperback list price. This may aid ebook sales as the ebook looks like a bargain.

3. Having a printed version allows you to do a Goodreads giveaway. (This is something that has been bugging me for a while: that you can’t do a giveaway on Goodreads with an e-book voucher.)

4. You can sell the paperback version in person (for example through independent bookstores or maybe a book-signing event at your local library).

Chris lists other reasons, such as it is easier to edit a print book; a paperback is a must for press releases; paperbacks are great marketing tools: (you can’t see what people on the bus are reading on a kindle); and people are more likely to remember to review a paperback, if it’s visible in their house.

I liked this quote:

 If you give away copies of your book to friends and family, give them paperback editions, especially if they are likely to read in public places (“Guess what: I’m going on a trip this weekend,” “Really? How would you like a free book?”).

Bookcrossing. Set them free

Bookcrossing. Set them free

I love the idea of handing books out to people to read and then leave lying around somewhere, like your own personal Bookcrossing. (Have a look at the link if you haven’t heard of it: it’s brilliant! It’s all about leaving books in public places, like coffee shops and on buses. “If you love your books, let them go.”)

So, as I’m easily distracted and easily influenced, plus shattered from a hot and emotional weekend (I’ve just re-watched the Andy Murray documentary, that has been updated already with footage from yesterday’s match. Hence it’s nearly midnight and I’m only just getting to my post), I have spent all day formatting Baby Blues for Create Space.

Even though the book is with the proofreader, it isn’t wasted effort, as it takes several (loads of) attempts to get the book uploaded with the right pagination, guttering etc. Also, with the cover design, you have to know how many pages your book is to get the spine the correct width.

I’m not sure if I’m 100% happy with my final design, but it came out better than I could have hoped at lunch time! I may even order a copy so I have an original to compare against my proof-read version. Did I mention, I just love doing covers?!

Anyway, before I turn into a pumpkin I must think of something to happen to Claire. I can’t write it in the morning, we have to swing by nursery as soon as it opens and retrieve my daughter’s comfort toy which got left behind. Oops.

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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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“Well done.”

Ruth smiled, as Claire trudged into the lounge behind a skipping Sky and winced when the girl shrieked her greeting to her mother.

“You survived, then. What did you think of the Farm?” The look on Ruth’s face hovered somewhere between eager inquiry and amusement. “It’s one of my favourite places to go. I call it ‘Farm Calm’ because I relax as soon as we go through reception.”

Claire considered the amount of times she had lost Sky, who kept disappearing up ladders and down narrow paths between buildings, and thought calm was a long way from her main emotion. Sensing her sister’s need for approval, Claire dredged up some enthusiasm.

“It is beautiful. I loved the Mill House, and the goats are funny. Nice coffee, too.”

Claire remembered Sky’s tantrum in the coffee shop, after she’d insisted her niece have a piece of fruit with her cake. “The staff were friendly.” They didn’t chuck us out, that’s a bonus.

Slumping down into the armchair, Claire began to feel the effect of missing a night’s sleep.

“You look shattered, Claire. Was Sky a handful?”

In her mother’s arms, Sky began to protest that she had been on her best behaviour. Ignoring the blatant lie, Claire shook her head.

“No, Sky was fine. I’m just tired, that’s all.” She sensed Ruth’s response, and held her hands up to stall it. “I know, you feel worse. I didn’t sleep last night, and it’s catching up with me.”

“Oh, why?” Ruth leaned forwards, eager for gossip. Claire was tempted to fabricate something, but if her story entertained Ruth for a few minutes, then the weekend experience wasn’t a complete loss.

“Kim and Jeff got married yesterday and I made the mistake of letting Michael come as my date. We had a big showdown and he blurted out in front of everyone that Kim’s pregnant.” Oh, damn. There’s another person I’ve told. At least Ruth doesn’t know any of Kim’s friends.

Claire glanced up from mentally mapping the stains on the carpet, surprised that Ruth hadn’t responded. She let out a giggle at the expression of shocked amazement on her sister’s face. Eventually Ruth managed to find some words.

“Woah. Wait a minute. That’s like five episodes of Eastenders all at once. I don’t know where to start. I thought Kim and Jeff weren’t going to get married for years, or have children for that matter. And you and Michael? No wonder you haven’t slept.” She raised her eyebrows at Claire in a knowing way.

“I haven’t slept because I stormed out at midnight and drove to Mum’s from the Welsh border.”

Ruth’s face dropped into a frown, like a parody of theatre masks, grinning and scowling alternately. Suppressing a sigh, Claire realised she would have to start at the beginning, with Kim’s visit to Hunstanton while Sky was on her Easter vacation.

“Let me at least go and make a cup of tea first. It’s quite a long story.”

*

When Claire finished her story with her mother’s revelation, Ruth tutted.

“What a mess. I don’t know who is more daft: Michael for refusing to take no for an answer, Kim for getting into a paddy, or Mum for being so foolish as to think Dad’s having an affair. He’s got some secret project on that he won’t tell me about, but I know it involves spending time at the library because Sky and I have bumped into him there half a dozen times.”

Claire forced herself to hold her tongue. If their father hadn’t shared his secret with Ruth, it wasn’t her place to tell. She was surprised Ruth took her side over Michael, especially after her comment about the two of them being great together.

“I thought you’d be rooting for Michael.”

Ruth shook her head. “It’s your life, your body. If you don’t want children, then Michael needs to accept that, rather than keep trying to change your mind. Life’s too short.”

Her words made Claire shiver. For most people it was just a phrase, a reminder to not sweat the small stuff. For Ruth, it felt like a prophecy.

***