Baby isn’t so Blue: 2013 365 Challenge #158

I accidentally published a book today!

I accidentally published a book today!

I got Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes out of the metaphorical bottom drawer this morning and dusted it off. I hadn’t intended to look at it again this year, having decided it needs too much revision and knowing how dangerous it is to revise it along side writing Two-Hundred Steps Home.

Last time I worked on it I kept confusing the protagonist Helen with Claire from Two-Hundred Steps Home, even swapping the names at one point. They’re not that similar, although I suspect they have a similar voice, as I’m aware I write mostly in my voice. They’re both late twenties, but that’s about it.

Claire is slightly older, more worldly-wise. She’s an Associate Director. Confident, maybe a bit arrogant in the beginning. Her career is important to her and she would rather lose her man than have kids.

On the other hand Helen chooses to give up her man to keep her baby, when her fiancé tells her to ‘Get rid or get out.’

Helen gave up her career to be with her fiancé, working for him as his hostess and diary planner. She isn’t a strong person, particularly where Daniel is concerned. She learns strength through adversity and necessity. She yearns for a happy home like the one she grew up in and is therefore happier in a relationship than out of one.

The park when Helen first suspects she might be pregnant

The park where Helen first suspects she might be pregnant

Claire is cynical about love and relationships because she didn’t really have a happy family home. Her formative years were spent in boarding school, with her family barely staying in touch. She keeps people at a distance. While Helen embraces her new photography friends and then Marcio and his family, Claire keeps everyone but Kim at arm’s length.

They both have a personal journey, and of course both are parallel-universe versions of me, taking tiny parts of my life and exploring them further. They’re different enough in character, if not in speech, that I can’t work on both novels together, not even to edit one while writing the other.

When I got Baby Blues out, though, and began skimming it to correct a grammar fault I didn’t realise I was prone to (not putting commas around names in dialogue) I found it wasn’t as awful as I remember. I can see some wordy chapters, probably a bit preachy, that want trimming. I need to find someone who reads Spanish to validate my lovely Google Translator bits of text, but it’s not awful.

Helen's street in London

Helen’s street in London

The best part is I’d already formatted it for Smashwords so it only needed tweaking to get it passed the Autovetter. So, if anyone fancies reading it and helping identify the weaknesses, the woolly chapters, or if anyone speaks Spanish, drop me a line. It’s not live on Smashwords, as it’s not quite ready to be released into the wild. But if you let me know your preferred format, either in the comments or via email/facebook/twitter I’ll send you a copy.

Postscript: Oops! The book is live on Smashwords because I uploaded a version then went to get the kids from nursery, forgetting to ‘unpublish’ it. When I got home, 41 free copies had been downloaded. I want to keep it live in case anyone leaves a review (the ultimate Beta Reader experience) but I have put a price on it now, so I don’t expect to sell any copies until it is cleared for the Premium Catalogue. The above still applies: if you’d like a free copy, let me know.

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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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“Where are we going?”

Kim looked over at Claire, who had her eyes on the road. “You could at least let me drive. The doctor told you to rest your wrist for 48 hours. I can drive, you know. Just because we can’t afford a second car.”

Claire bit back a sigh. When did Kim start worrying so much about money? I’m driving a Skoda, not a jag. She kept the words unspoken. Who knew what hormone-induced turmoil was churning in her friend’s mind. Maybe all the stuff with the wedding and the baby has made her realise that money is important. I doubt Jeff earns a fortune working for a charity and I know the acting doesn’t pay. Well, at least there’s one thing I can do without hurting her sensitivities.

“So, where are we going?”

“You’ll find out when we get there.”

“You sound like my mother.”

Claire laughed. “You sound like Sky.”

Kim tilted her head to one side and said in a sing-song voice, “Are we there yet?”

Claire turned the car into a side street and killed the engine.

“Yes.”

Kim looked around the residential street, perplexed.

“And where are we, exactly? I thought you said this was exciting.” She pouted. “I don’t call visiting someone at 10am on a Sunday morning exciting. I could be reading the paper over coffee and croissants. Or toast at least.”

“Well, seeing as you’ve given me no notice of your impending nuptials, time is of the essence. Sharon was free to see us. Remember it’s early on a Sunday for her too.”

“But who is she?”

Someone I used to work with. Well, she headed up Compliance, but we got on well.”

“I don’t need a Pre-nup you know.” Kim went pale. “Jeff would kill me. Besides, neither of us owns anything. If I ever make my fortune on the big screen I’ll be happy to share.”

“She’s not in Compliance anymore, silly,” Claire said, as she led the way along a path of nodding daffodils to ring the bell.

“Well, what does she do?”

“You’ll see.”

“You’re being horribly cryptic.”

“I know.” Claire giggled. “I’m getting my own back for your little bombshell.”

“You fiend. I didn’t mean to keep it from you.”

“Well, you’re about to be put out of your misery.”

Footsteps could be heard approaching the door, which was opened by a fresh-faced woman with short dark hair. She was wearing an apron.

“Claire! Lovely to see you, you look marvellous. I’ve been following the blog, travelling suits you. And this must be the bride. Come in. Only two weeks to the big day? You must be excited. I do love a whirlwind romance.”

Kim raised her eyebrows at Claire, before following the chatty woman down a corridor. “Actually, I’ve been engaged for ages. Call it a shot-gun wedding.”

“Oh.” The lady turned to face her, eyebrows raised, and her eyes twinkled. “Do you need a christening cake too?”

“Cake?”

“I assume that’s why you’re here. I don’t do flowers.” She laughed at her own joke, while Kim scowled at Claire.

“What?” Her voice was a whip.

“You said yesterday you were going to buy a cake from Tesco.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Kim hissed at her friend. “They do three-tier iced cakes for thirty quid. I can’t afford anything else.”

“You don’t have to, this is my gift. Look, come and see Sharon’s scrap book. If you don’t like anything, you can have your supermarket cake. And I’m sure it will be lovely,” she added hurriedly, seeing Kim’s expression. “I’m not saying Sharon’s cakes are better, only more personal. I thought you could have something incorporating the theatre and birds, you know, unique to you and Jeff.”

Sharon, who had discreetly left the girls to their muted discussion, now came back in with a tray, laden with coffee, tea and pastries.

“At least have your Sunday brunch.” Claire smiled and Kim shrugged in defeat.

All through coffee she maintained a polite flow of conversation but Claire could tell she was itching to open the scrapbooks on the table. At last, Sharon passed them over, and Kim grabbed at them like a child reaching for a Christmas gift.

Sharon caught Claire’s gaze and winked.

***

Smashwords Fatigue: 2013 365 Challenge #151

Imagine I finally chose for Volume 5

Imagine I finally chose for Vol5

I’m all Smashworded out today. Not only have I been formatting the May volume of Two-Hundred Steps Home (including a lengthy and arduous search for a cover image), I have also been attempting to load Dragon Wraiths to Smashwords, now it is out of the KDP Select programme.

Arrgghhhh!

I think that about sums it up. Thank goodness I now have the iPad and can put a few more of the download versions through their paces. For example I discovered the ISBN I had for Dragon Wraiths was for the sample I put up in February, and so no longer appropriate. I discovered that the Contents File works fine in the Kindle App but not in the iBook app. I learned that Smashwords makes my 12pt Headers HUGE for no apparent reason. I also learned that it is much harder to get a 113k word file through the AutoVetter than it is a 20-25k word file (as the Two-Hundred Steps Home Volumes usually are.)

The outcome is I’m still not happy with my Smashwords Dragon Wraiths file, although I have left it live for now, as I don’t know how to fix some of the issues. I’ve dropped the price on Smashwords and Amazon to 99c so hopefully people don’t feel they’re being ripped off if they buy it and the formatting stinks. I’ll say this for Amazon, my html file turned into a perfectly acceptable .mobi file with minimal effort.

As far as the May Two-Hundred Steps Home Volume Five is concerned, it’s not my finest – that probably goes for the cover and the content. It was a bitty month, more about Ruth than Claire, and so there wasn’t really an image that pulled it all together. I had to Photoshop this one to remove an extra person on a horse in the river, and it’s almost what I was after, though not quite. With a tiny budget there are limits to my ability to fulfill my vision!

I’ve also discovered that Volume 3 isn’t available on iPad even though it’s meant to be in the Smashwords Premium Catalogue – that might explain my poor download numbers for 3 and 4. So much of self-publishing seems to be wandering round in the dark. At least I found a new source of free ebooks in my iBooks app, so the day wasn’t a complete loss.

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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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“Your wrist isn’t broken, Ms Carleton, but you do have a nasty sprain.”

Claire looked up at the A&E doctor and groaned. “How bad? You’re not going to plaster it, are you?” Carl is never going to accept another doctor’s note stopping me working, but I can’t drive with my arm in plaster.

“No, I think a bandage and a sling will be sufficient. You’ll need to rest it for several days, however. Do you work?”

And how exactly is that relevant? Claire glowered at the doctor, who continued to look blandly at her as if she was as interesting as wallpaper.

“Yes, I work. I’m a travel journalist.” Well, I guess that’s what I am these days. How odd not to know what my job title is.

“Well, no sitting at a computer for hours, and no driving until the swelling has gone done. You’re best to follow the PRICE routine.”

Claire looked at the woman blankly, waiting for her to elaborate. The doctor looked surprised at her silence, then seemed to realise she wasn’t speaking to a fellow medical professional.

“Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation,” she rattled off, as if listing the ingredients for a cake. Noticing the panicked expression in Claire’s widened eyes, the doctor handed her an information booklet.

“The main thing is no heat, alcohol, massage or strenuous activity. Rest, Ms Carleton. You’ll be fine in a day or so.” She began tapping words into the computer and Claire wondered if she had been dismissed.

“And the pain?” Two hours sitting in the Milton Keynes A&E waiting room, watching small children come in screaming and leaving sobbing, had numbed Claire’s pain to a dull roar.

“Over-the-counter medicine should be fine. Paracetamol for the first day or so, to let it heal. Then ibuprofen. Codeine if it’s severe. No alcohol.”

You said that already, you silly cow. I get it. No G&T to ease the misery. Great.

“How about food?” Claire had no idea what time it was, but it had to be at least mid-afternoon. The two-hour wait had been followed by a trip to X-Ray and a further wait to see the doctor.

“You can eat, if you feel like it. It’s only a sprained wrist, Ms Carleton. Book an appointment to see your GP if it isn’t improving after a week.”

This time the dismissal was clear. Claire thanked the doctor, gathered her bag, and headed out to the waiting room. The First Aider at the snow dome had sent her to A&E in a taxi, and she had no idea how to get back to her car or whether it would even still be there. Looking down, she realised she was still wearing the snow dome clothing and her things were in a locker at Xscape.

She stood motionless, staring blindly at the rows of faces sat like an audience watching the drama of A&E unfold.

I have to get the car. And get back to the hostel. Except I can’t drive and I don’t know anyone in this stupid town. For the first time in weeks, Claire felt defeated. Without caring who was watching, with no real thought at all, she sunk down into an empty seat and sobbed.

*

“Are you okay, Miss?”

Claire looked up into the kindly gaze of a young nurse, who had rested her hand on Claire’s shoulder. She tried to control her tears, but the warmth of the touch made them come faster, until she was gulping for air.

The nurse dropped down onto her haunches and looked into Claire’s face. “Can I get you anything?”

Aware of the snot threatening to leak from her nose, and the mascara tracking down her cheeks, Claire smiled through her tears and said, “A tissue?”

The nurse nodded and disappeared from view. She came back with a box of tissues, and sat in the now-vacant chair next to Claire.

Funny how quickly a weeping woman can be alone in a crowd.

The nurse handed over tissues, and sat silent while Claire mopped her face and blew her nose.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened. It’s only a sprained wrist, for goodness sake. Nothing tragic.” She thought about Ruth, and all the time she had spent in hospital with her. Crying over a bandage seemed selfish and uncalled for.

“Sometimes it’s the little things that break us. Do you have anyone I can call, to come and collect you?”

The words made Claire sob again, as she realised the answer was no. Her parents were fully occupied with Ruth, and Robert had gone back to Geneva. She thought about calling Michael, but dismissed the idea. He had finally stopped ringing and it wouldn’t be fair to reignite his hopes, just to get a lift.

She shook her head in answer to the nurse’s question, unable to speak.

“What about a friend, there must be someone?”

Kim. What about Kim? I wonder what it would cost me to get a taxi to her place? I’d have to sleep in the bath. I guess I could go back to the hostel now, and figure it out tomorrow. They’ll probably have towed my car away by that point anyway.

She realised the nurse was waiting for an answer, and gave a weak nod. “Yes, I have someone I can call. I need to get a taxi to my hostel though, is there a taxi rank near here?”

The nurse nodded and gave some directions, clearly relieved to have been able to help. Claire watched her leave, then went out to the lobby and dialled Kim’s number. Please be home.

“Hello, Claire. I was about to call you, you must be psychic. We need to talk about the wedding, I’ve got so many ideas and I want to pick your brains about hostels.”

“Hi, Kim.” Claire’s voice wobbled as she interrupted the flow of happy words, and she was unable to continue.

“Claire, honey, are you okay?”

“No.”

“What is it? Is it Ruth? God, is she alright?”

Kim’s words stabbed at Claire. What am I doing, feeling sorry for myself when my sister has cancer. She took a deep breath and tried to stop the shake in her voice.

“No, Ruth’s okay, as far as I know. It’s me, I sprained my wrist, and I guess I’m feeling a bit fragile. I wondered if you could cope with a visitor for the weekend?”

“Of course! Actually, that’s perfect. Jeff’s away, so we’ll be able to talk babies and weddings without driving him nuts.” She babbled on excitedly, and Claire tried to listen with patience.

Lovely. A weekend of happy families, love, nuptials and procreation. Just what the doctor ordered. She let Kim make arrangements and tried hard to hold back the tears.

***

EBooks – A Retraction: 2013 365 Challenge #136

My long-awaited copy of The Humans

My long-awaited copy of The Humans

A while ago I wrote a post about how I would always choose the paper book over an e-reader (such as a tablet, nook or kindle). I was wrong. I bought an iPad two weeks ago and since then have read several books, more than I would have managed otherwise.

My long-awaited copy of The Humans has just arrived – a great big chunk of hardback – and I’m wondering why I didn’t buy the kindle edition. I just don’t know when I’m going to manage to read it. It’s too big to fit in my handbag, I can’t read it at bedtime because the bedside light is broken, and, well, it’s too beautiful to besmirch with toast crumbs and crayon.

We are going on holiday to Scotland next week and I know that The Humans will stay behind, even though I’m desperate to read it. It isn’t merely about packing room – although with two kids that’s pretty tight – it’s the fact that I won’t be able to read it discreetly while the kids are playing, or during the seven-hour trip in the car (for some reason I find I can read the iPad in the car, but not a paper book).

So, in all fairness, I thought I ought to confess my conversion and explain the reasons I love my iPad for reading:

  • I can read while still cuddling both children (with the occasional wriggle to turn the page)
  • I never ever have to find my place because the kids have removed the bookmark or it has fallen out. I turn it on and there it is – hours of reading time saved.
  • I can take it everywhere and read a bit while I’m waiting for a website to load or when the kids are asleep
  • The kids don’t notice me reading so much and so are less likely to bring one of their own books over to read (I didn’t say this was about good parenting, did I?)
  • I’ve already read at least one free book I would never have heard of otherwise. And it was lovely – not earth shattering or award winning but a lovely thought-provoking story
  • I can show people the books I’ve written when I tell them I’m an author, instead of explaining they’re not available in print
  • I can finally read all the ebooks I’ve downloaded over the last year
  • I can read at nighttime without waking my husband.
The Humans Kindle Version

The Humans Kindle Version

I also love the iPad too – for checking emails, taking pictures for the blog, entertaining the children (we’re busily downloading from bbc iplayer for the long trip north) – but that’s a different story!

I still find it hard to buy the kindle version when the paperback isn’t much more expensive. If I want to lend a book it has to be a hard copy. I continue to love borrowing books from the library and seeing books around me on the shelves. They are beautiful. But, here and now, the iPad rules! (Sorry)

And to prove how much I love my iPad, I’ve spashed some cash to buy the ebook version of The Humans. Problem solved. Matt Haig’s lovely book is coming to Scotland after all! Hurrah!

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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 was conscious of nerves as she waited on the doorstep. Things had been strained between her and Ruth since the revelations about Chris and the ballet teacher. Even so, it hurt to be saying goodbye to her sister and her niece. The week in the hospital, reading on the bed next to Ruth, entertaining Sky in the canteen or taking her to the park, had been strangely restful.

The week was spent encased in a cocoon of waiting: Ruth had responded well to treatment and the days were merely marking time until the doctors said she was strong enough to return home. Claire had enjoyed helping Sky complete the remainder of her homework. They had even written a letter to Sky’s father, although Claire had felt a stab of guilt, knowing she wasn’t brave enough to tell her sister about it.

Claire stood waiting for her mother or Sky to open the door. Even though she had stayed with Sky at her house for the week, now Ruth was home it felt impolite simply to walk in.

In the back of her mind she remembered the last time she had waited in the same spot, when she had come to look after Sky, the day of the hospital tests. Blimey that was nearly two months ago. In some ways it felt like only days before. In others ways, a lifetime had passed. She had experienced so much, travelling with Josh and looking after Sky. That morning’s conversation with her father still echoed in her mind.

How little we really know our family. Look at what I’ve discovered in a few weeks, that I hadn’t realised in nearly three decades: My brother and his perfect wife aren’t so perfect, Ruth’s ex isn’t a bastard but actually a doting dad, my father is writing a novel – a thriller for goodness sake – and hiding it from his wife. He hates golf. And Mum spends her time keeping up with the Jones’s to forget she used to be her husband’s secretary. You couldn’t make it up. We’re living an episode of Days of Our Lives.

Hearing footsteps thundering down the corridor, Claire braced herself for a whirlwind of blonde hair and beads. At least Sky hasn’t changed.

Claire held her sister tightly, aware only now of how awful it would be to lose her. She knew, too, that when Ruth was better they would never be quite as close as they were at this moment. Even the betrayal of introducing Sky to her half-sister was forgotten.

“Stay well, sis. Be strong. If you need anything, call me.” Claire spoke deep into her sister’s shoulder, where her hair would once have been. All that tickled her neck was the floral scarf tied tightly round Ruth’s head. Words that couldn’t be said face to face could be whispered cheek to cheek.

“You have an amazing daughter. Thank you for letting me get to know her better.” She stood back, tears blurring her vision. “I promise I’ll call more often, and I’ll stop by when I head south again. It won’t take long to get through the hostels on the east coast I didn’t get to with Sky.”

Ruth squeezed Claire’s arms, then let them drop as she reached for a tissue. “Thank you for everything, sis. Sorry I got upset about the whole Chris thing. I know you were in an impossible situation. And, well, if the worst does happen.” She stopped, unable to say the unthinkable words.

Claire was glad they remained unspoken. In the whole week she had spent in the hospital with Ruth, they had never talked about what might happen. While Ruth was responding to treatment it seemed like tempting fate to discuss the future.

“Try and enjoy your travels. I know it isn’t what you wanted, but you seem…” Ruth searched for a word. “You’re more alive, since you started the trip. When you looked after Sky in February you looked tight and tired and, I don’t know, somehow bitter at life. Now, well actually now you still look tired.” She laughed. They both knew what looking after Sky was like. “But it’s different. It’s a lack of sleep because my niece was up all night tired.”

The words seemed to run out and Ruth let them trail away. Even though the doctors had sent her home, she still looked exhausted. Claire gave her another hug, then turned to where Sky was snuggled up with Nana in the armchair, her face wet and blotchy.

“Come here, Sky, give Auntie Claire a cuddle.”

The girl hesitated, them scrambled down and ran across the room, sobbing.

“Don’t go, Auntie Claire. Please.”

“I have to poppet. I’m not ready to be fired just yet, and my mean old boss won’t let me take any more holiday.”

Sky clung tightly to Claire’s neck, and she was conscious of a warm sensation deep in her heart. She no longer wanted to shake her off.

“I’ll be back soon. You take care of your Mummy, okay, and do what Nana tells you. I’ll call and find out what your teacher thought of your story.”

Pulling the thin arms away from her neck as gently as she could, Claire took Sky’s hand and led her back to sit with Nana. Then with a quick wave and no more words, she hurried from the room, swallowing down the lump stuck deep in her throat.

***

My Love-Affair with the Paperback: 2013 365 Challenge #81

A random selection of books

A random selection of books

It seems ironic that, on the day when my second free promotion of Dragon Wraiths goes live on kindle, I visit the charity shop and purchase a random selection of paperbacks. These books cost the same as the average ebook for a self-published author – around the £2 ($3) mark. Yet it’s unlikely that I would buy an ebook from an author I had never heard of, particularly not without a review.

My buying process was the same – I liked the front cover and genre, I read the first few pages and the blurb, and I made a decision. Not the Wendy Holden of course, I’ve got a shelf-full. But the other two are a complete gamble.Yet, even though I’m trying to self-publish as an unknown author, these books feel more ‘real’.

Oh dear.

If I feel like that, and I genuinely know that self-published ebooks can be just as good as something that’s been accepted by a publisher, no wonder Dragon Wraiths has only sold 10 copies. It’s not even like I haven’t read some awful books that were traditionally published. Many of my random charity shop purchases remain unread or unfinished. And yet I still persist in being a paperback person.

Much more attractive than a kindle

Much more attractive than a kindle

Perhaps it’s because I don’t own a kindle and reading books on a laptop, even a little one like mine, isn’t much fun. I did try my mother’s kindle but I couldn’t navigate it (it was the old sort with just a couple of buttons) and soon gave up.

I’m not dissing ebooks (that would be silly as I’m trying, badly, to sell one!). I would have loved a kindle when I was travelling, just as I would have loved an iPod. It would have saved me from days with no company (and from endless commercial radio!). A kindle/iPod combination when I was breastfeeding my kids at 2am would have been a lifesaver.

It’s just that I’ve had a paperback in my hand since I could read.

I often had an egg-sized bump on my head as a child from walking into lamp-posts because I had my nose in a book. I read everything from Mills & Boon to Gone With The Wind before I left Middle School. Reading was my life. Until I hit the real world. These days, more often than not, it’s my phone in my hand rather than a decent book, and blogs and twitter are my reading material.  

Funnily enough, I don’t miss CDs. We have boxes of them in the loft but I don’t feel bereft that the music is now all on the computer. Far from it. I love being able to mash my own selections together without having to copy and burn discs (or, even worse, sitting there with a tape-to-tape set up and a twitchy trigger finger).

With books it is different. They’re a visual medium. The font, the pictures, the creases, the chocolate stains, the warped pages where it got dropped in the bath. These are all part of the reading experience. Seeing which books end up at charity shops in droves. Seeing the ones that have hardly been touched and the ones that have been re-read a hundred times. It’s part of the book history (one of the best bits of my MA).

And so my love-affair with the paperback continues. I might be trying to sell an ebook but I’m not ready to sell-out to digital. Sorry.

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Claire looked up the location of the hostel she’d just booked and swore. “That’s miles from Hathersage and I’ve still got to back for the bloody car. Stupid YHA and their stupid school trips.”

She’d been phoning round the hostels for twenty minutes while waiting for the train home, her new phone sitting happy in her hand. It turned out that several of the Peak District hostels were only open at weekends and during the school holidays for non-school visitors. Not that I really want to stay with a bunch of school kids anyway. Eventually she’d found a hostel near Bakewell that had beds free.

I’m not sure I like the name Youlgreave. That sounds prophetic. What’s going to happen to me there? I’ve already been half-frozen, lost, wedged in a rock and mugged since I started on this trip.

Something about the words you’ll grieve made her think of Ruth. I haven’t called since last week. I’d best make sure everything is okay and Sky is happy to come on the road with me.

She pulled out her new phone, smiling at the unscratched screen and brand new cover. Then she remembered she had no idea what Ruth’s phone number was. With a sigh she delved in her bag for her iPad. I really should memorise some numbers. What if they’d taken my iPad too? I’d be buggered. I barely know my own number.

Eventually she located her sister’s number and was able to call.

“Hello, Sky speaking.”

“Hello Sky, it’s Auntie Claire.” She was about to ask to speak to Ruth when she realised she’d have to talk to her niece at some point. “Um. How are you?”

“Auntie Claire! Mummy’s poorly and Nana is looking after me. She picked me up from school today. We did numbers and PE and I learned how to do a cartwheel and then Susie was mean to me but we made up. And Nana let me buy a cake on the way home to cheer Mummy up because she’s sad. Mummy says you’re taking me to the seaside! When are you coming, is it tomorrow?”

Claire held the phone away from her ear and tried to follow the rapid-fire monologue, wondering which bits she was meant to respond to. She figured the last question would be enough.

“Friday. I’ll be there on Friday Sky.”

“Yippee. I can’t wait. It’s going to be so much fun. Will you paint my nails and do my make-up? Pleeeaasse?”

“Er, sure. Yes. We can do that.” Claire thought about her make-up bag. It must be in my rucksack somewhere. I don’t remember leaving it behind. She made a mental note to buy some child-friendly products before she got to Cambridgeshire.

“Is your Mummy there, Sky?” She held the phone further away from her ear as her niece yelled “Mummy!” She heard the phone clunk, followed by the sound of running. I feel bad for disturbing her now. Maybe I should have called Mum instead, although it sounds like she’s probably there too. A shard of guilt stabbed in Claire’s chest at the thought of her mother looking after Ruth while she swanned around taking pictures and writing for the blog. Not to mention getting mugged and sleeping in noisy rooms with total strangers.

The phone clicked and there was a shuffling noise. “Claire?”

Ice slid into Claire’s stomach at the sound of her sister’s voice. She sounded twenty years older. It has been only a few days? I haven’t disappeared into some new time zone out here in the sticks?

“Ruth? How are you?” She tried to make her voice cheerful but she could hear the wobble.

A low chuckle came down the line. “I’ve been better. I’m glad you’re taking Sky. I’m going to miss her, but I need some quiet. She tries, but her nursing me is worse than her being normal.” The words came slowly, like each one needed to rise to the surface before it could be pushed down the phone-line.

“It’s the least I can do. Look do you want me to come before Friday? Give you and Mum a break?”

“No. It’s fine. I think Mum’s enjoying it in a strange way. It’s giving her so much to be a martyr about. Actually.” There was a pause. “Could you come on Thursday? Sky will be off-the-wall hyper when she finishes school. I’m not sure I can bear it. You can stay here the night if you don’t mind the sofa.”

Claire quickly tried to evaluate which would be worse, staying in the Cambridge hostel with a small child or kipping on her sister’s couch. It might be nice to spend a night away from the hostels. Carl doesn’t need to know.

“Sure sis, I’ll come Thursday. I can collect Sky from school.”

“Okay.” The phone went silent. Claire didn’t want to hang up. The words you’ll grieve thrummed in her mind. But it was clear her sister was exhausted.

“Great. I’ll see you then. And sis… take care.”

***

Reviews, Hormones and Biscuits: 2013 365 Challenge #75

Buying a box of biscuits - big mistake!

Buying a box of biscuits – big mistake!

I’m due on tomorrow which means today was a day of being narky to everyone and then saying sorry. (More than usual, that is!)

Oh and a day of biscuits.

I made the mistake of buying a family selection box at M&S when we went shopping for socks. Family selection? Really? I let the kids have two each, but that was only to keep them quiet on the hour-long drive home. I’ve eaten about half the box. 😦

We had a lovely family day at a place called Springfields – one of these discount retail outlet places that also has a playbarn for the kids. We went a year ago and bought shirts for hubbie and I took them back because they were too small and impossible to iron. It’s taken a year (and the promise of contract work) to get us back out there again to spend his refund voucher on more shirts!

Running after Aaron like a hamster in a cage

Running after Aaron like a hamster in a cage

I always get the short straw when we go to Springfields. Hubbie spends the time shopping (because he has less guilt than me when it comes to spending money on himself) while I climb round the playbarn like a hamster with the kids.

Actually the playbarn was lovely today as it’s a week day: there were only three other preschool-age children and Amber went off with the eldest which meant I only needed to keep Aaron out of trouble!

At the weekend it is a battlefield of storming child-troops and shouty or indifferent parent-sergeant-majors

The only sad part is that it always rains when we go. It’s out in the Fens and I guess there’s nothing stopping the weather sweeping in and drowning the colour out of the place. I say sad because there are beautiful gardens full of dinosaurs and daffodils and we were looking forward to a walk. As the kids had soaked themselves in the outdoor part of the playbarn we had to just head to the car. Fun family day though.

I also got my first review for Dragon Wraiths today. It was three stars so I read it with shaking hands and thudding heart: even though I swore I wouldn’t care about bad reviews. As it turns out it was lovely (and makes me wonder what he didn’t like that made him dock two stars). Because it’s my first I have to repeat it here, but I promise I won’t bore on every time someone comments on something! 🙂

a gallop for the imagination, 14 Mar 2013
This review is from: Dragon Wraiths (Kindle Edition)

Entertaining, imaginative, romp with thoughtful characters and scenic descriptions. Fans of Anne MaCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern series should enjoy this tale.

Happy with that!

_____________________________________________________________________________________

The first thing Claire noticed was the cold. She felt as if she was floating on an iceberg in a choppy sea. That would explain the seasickness and the fact I’m freezing. But not the pain. Did I get walloped by a polar bear? And how the hell did I end up in the Arctic Ocean? She tried to remember but it made the pain worse.

The next thing she noticed was the siren, quiet at first but getting louder. Not quickly like a fire engine rushing to the scene but a slow rise, coming up from murky depths. Why is there a fire engine in the ocean? I wish it would bugger off: it’s stabbing straight through the hole that damn polar bear made in my skull. She reached up a hand and it came back sticky. A polar bear with a blunt object.

The siren came nearer and Claire’s head throbbed in time with the rise and fall of the wail. Blue light flashed at the edges of her vision and she closed her eyes, willing it to sod off so she could get back to sleep. Another noise joined the wail. A voice, deep and stern, like a hall-stalking headmaster. I’m not smoking or late, go away and leave me alone.

Then a word stood out in the wall of noise.

“Claire?”

Oh.

“Claire Carleton?”

The noise came with the purr of an engine and then dazzling white light shone over her.

That’s it, I’ve died. I don’t remember dying but at least I can see the light.

The engine hum went away but the light didn’t. A loud slam made her jump and she cursed at the stab of pain.

“Miss Carleton? Thank god we’ve found you, are you hurt?”

“Who are you and what are you doing on my iceberg?”

“She’s delirious.” This was said over the man’s shoulder. Claire heard a second slamming noise and footsteps.

A kinder voice said “We’re here to help. Your boyfriend said he thought something might have happened to you and that you’d Tweeted you were just leaving the Old Nags Head. We’ve been searching the route. What happened?” She hunkered down next to Claire and smoothed the hair away from her face. Immediately she pulled her hand back and examined it.

“She’s hurt. Best phone for an ambulance.”

“No. No more sirens or lights it makes my head ache. I’m fine.”

“You’re bleeding.”

“I think a polar bear hit me.”

“You’re not making sense love. Were you attacked?”

A flash of memory lit up as if illuminated by a search light. She nodded, then regretted it when the world twisted.

“They took my bag. And my phone, the bastards.” She sat up, then fell sideways against the woman, nearly knocking them both over.

“I’d be happier if you saw a doctor. Will you let us take you to A&E?”

“Blimey do you even have one?”

“The nearest is Sheffield, it’s about forty minutes.”

Claire thought about the drive, the three-hour wait, endless questions and more bright lights.

“Can you take me to the hostel instead? I’d like some dry clothes and a mug of Earl Grey.”

The police officers conferred and seemed to reach an agreement. Claire was raised to her feet and guided to the back seat of the car.

“One more thing, please?”

“Yes?”

“Can you turn off that damn siren?”

***

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.

Claire

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.

Julia

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.

***

Addicted to Artwork: 2013 365 Challenge #60

I need to learn to finish a book before I design the cover! :)

I need to learn to finish a book before I design the cover! 🙂

Okay so I really need to either a) start a business designing cheap book covers for people or b) remove Adobe Photoshop from my PC.

I spent a precious hour today trying to find the right image for my next self-publishing adventure – even though I haven’t finished proof-reading/editing the final draft yet. It was originally called Pictures of Love (and I did a cover for it, with a picture of a camera). But I decided it didn’t sell itself or its genre properly in the tiny image you get on Kindle.

I decided to come up with a more genre-appropriate title and book cover. I settled on Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes although I’m not sure that’s brilliant either. My original concept for the cover was to have it as an illustration, with a picture of a teddy or rattle and some nice white shoes… Then I discovered illustrations are expensive to buy (and book covers designers are even more expensive when you’re starting out and have no budget.) I tried to create it myself but after spending an hour photographing my son’s teddy and trying to Photoshop it next to an image of wedding shoes I gave up. Maybe I’m not a book cover designer after all (unless you want a nice stock photo with some lettering on it – good at that!)

So anyway, this is my attempt. I like the image but I’m not entirely sure it goes with the title (the image seems quite serious, which fits the book to some extent, but the title sounds like Chick Lit). I need to tweak the lettering too, as it disappears into the shadows at the bottom.

The more I try and get my head around marketing the more impressed I am with people like Nicola May and Susan Buchanan. Their covers are eye-catching and they have a distinct brand. Incidentally three of Nicola’s books are free today (I discovered on Twitter – see, I’m learning how to use it at last!) so go and grab them for kindle if they sound like your cup of tea. I haven’t actually read any books by either author – I came across them on Twitter only this week – but they do look my kind of read.

Of course all this self-publishing stuff came today because I uploaded the second volume of Claire’s exploits onto Smashwords. I can’t believe I’m at 50,000 words including today’s post. I can see how addicted self-publishing can be and how tempting it is to put a book out before it’s ready. If I didn’t know that Pictures of Love/Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes needs a good polish I’d be formatting it for Kindle as we speak! And as for the three other manuscripts languishing on my laptop, when am I going to get back to those? The more I go down this writing path the more I have utter appreciation for the skills and talents of others! It’s not a journey for the faint-hearted.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Claire peered through the windscreen at the blue sign and swore. It was time to edge her way between the rows of traffic, to change lane and leave the motorway. Gritting her teeth Claire tried to see her mirrors through the lashing rain and cursed when she realised the wake of a passing lorry had pushed them out of position. She muttered a quick prayer and squeezed between two dirt-encrusted HGVs, wincing at the sound of horns as the rear one was forced to apply his brakes.

Her hands were shaking by the time she reached the exit and her temples ached. I’ve only been gone a couple of weeks. How can you forget how to drive like a normal human being in that time? Stupid car. I’d have been fine in my Audi.

She drove the familiar route into the city, relieved that the rain was beginning to stop. Even at midday the sky was dark, casting a gloomy light across the buildings and cars around her. Landmarks loaded with memories whisked past the window like luggage on a carousel. She exhaled. Not really the homecoming of the prodigal Marketing Director.

“Why the sigh?”

Claire looked at her passenger and gave a small shrug. “I didn’t think I’d be back so soon. Well, actually I did, but I thought it would be because Carl had changed his mind about trying to sack me or because I was booked on a flight to the Maldives, or…” She stopped.

Josh raised an eyebrow but she didn’t accept his invitation to elaborate. She wasn’t the one with explanations owing.

As the rain eased Claire was able to take some of her attention from staying on the road and apply it to the prickly problem sitting in her passenger seat.

“So, when are you going to tell me what this is really all about?”

Claire threw the words out there knowing they would fall on sterile soil. She’d tried to prise information out of Josh the night before, without success. Instead he’d introduced himself to Maggie and retreated back behind the backpacker persona. It had been the same at breakfast and during the two-hour rain-drenched journey to Manchester.

“Tell me why I am ferrying your arse to the airport to meet your wife when you won’t give me a damn thing.”

Josh hitched up his cheekiest smile and fluttered his eyelashes. “Because I’m a handsome Aussie bloke and you’re a swell Sheila who can’t resist me.”

Claire fought the grin but it crept across her face in betrayal.

“Ah ha see! No chick can withstand my charm.”

“And how are you going to explain that to Fiona?” Claire pictured their near kiss at the Observatory, thought about Beth and Chloe, and the anger returned.

“Your poor wife”, she bit out the words. “And children, I’m sure you mentioned children before you invoked your own Official Secrets Act.”

The smile dissolved from Josh’s face. Claire thought he was going to defend himself but he turned to look out the window. As she negotiated the busy streets into her home town she tried to ignore the growing tension. Do I push it or let him explain in his own time?

Angry words bubbled beneath the surface as she recalled the events of the previous evening. Josh’s highhanded summons, his shock revelation. Finding out he had kids after his avowed dislike of ankle-biters. Forgot to mention he had some of his own. Finding out he was married. What about all the women he’s come on to, for Christ’s sake, and done lord-knows-what with? What about me? How am I meant to face his wife at the airport? Just because nothing happened. It might have done. If he’d tried again. Which he hadn’t. Now she thought about it she had never actually seen Josh embracing anyone.

“You’ll have to talk to me eventually. You asked me to help you create a believable story for Fiona. I can’t do that if I don’t know the plot, or the key characters and their motivations.” She let her words hang in the air as she followed her Sat Nav to the hostel. She passed bars and shops that beamed like pictures in a family album.

I’m not here. No one can know I’m here.

Claire averted her eyes and gripped the wheel until her knuckles went white.  A stab of sunlight broke through the clouds as she turned the car into a wide street bordered by three-story Georgian houses. Something sparkled ahead and Claire looked up to see the looming monstrosity of the Hilton Tower dominating the skyline. She was glad when the Sat Nav sent her right, down a cobbled street, and she spied the green triangle of the YHA.

Pulling into a parking space she cut the engine and sat with her hands resting on the steering wheel, waiting to see if Josh would say anything before they left the private cocoon of the car to join the cacophony of a busy city hostel.

She was about to open her door and get out when she heard Josh inhale and sensed he was about to break the silence.

His words fell between them like rocks.

“I don’t want to tell you. How can I?” The sharp edges of his voice rent the air. “How will you ever remain friends with me when I tell you I killed someone? I killed a child.”

***

Seat of Pants and Insomnia: 2013 365 Challenge #57

Beans Coffee Shop, Oundle

Beans Coffee Shop, Oundle

I got yesterday’s post out by the seat of my pants after bumping into a friend in the coffee shop where I go to work. It was lovely to chat but I had scheduled my post to go live at 10.30 and she left around 10.10. As I hadn’t written a word of the ‘Claire’ section I had to tap something out super-speedy-fast. So apologies if it was a bit random. Today’s is going to be no different. I’m suffering from severe insomnia at present which means I can barely keep my eyes open once the children are in bed. It’s 9am and I’ve only just opened this post with no idea what is going to happen to Claire today. I’m only 2 days away from my February finale and I’m not sure it’s going to happen!

On a happy note I sold two copies of Dragon Wraiths through kindle yesterday, after I decided to chuck the manuscript on there while Smashwords were reviewing it for their Premium Catalogue. Just as well as it failed the review process by Smashwords due to ‘inconsistent formatting’. I thought it might. They’re very strict about the use of fonts and templates and I wasn’t able to reset the whole novel to ‘normal’ as they recommend because I would have lost track of who was talking in all the dragon dialogue scenes. It’s all part of the learning I guess. If I have a day and buckets of energy I might try and format it again, but for now it’s on Kindle (although I haven’t previewed it yet to see how awful the formatting is!) Anyway, on to Claire.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

“My sister’s having surgery today.”

Maggie looked up from her book and focussed on Claire as she spoke into the silent room.

“Oh my.”

Maggie paused as if unsure what else to say. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Claire sat motionless on her bunk considering the question. Did she? She wasn’t even sure why she’d blurted out the news to a stranger, except that Maggie seemed effused with warmth and kindness.

“No, not really. She’s having a brain tumour removed. I’d rather not think about it.”

Maggie snapped her book shut and pushed off the bed. “Well then, what you need is some fresh air and Grasmere Gingerbread.”

“What?” Claire reeled from the sudden movement, her sleep-deprived brain struggling to process the change of speed.

“Grasmere Gingerbread. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of it?”

Claire shook her head and swallowed the lump in her throat.

Maggie laughed gently and walked over to sit on the bunk next to Claire. She put her arm around her and squeezed, as if they’d known each other for years rather than hours.

“No need to look so crestfallen, it’s hardly a sin. We’re rather proud of our local shop, that’s all.”

“Oh are you from round here?” Claire considered Maggie’s Queens English. “You don’t sound, erm, Cumbrian?” She hesitated, hoping she hadn’t offended her new acquaintance.

“Haha no I don’t have the local dialect. My parents sent me to school in Leicestershire. So, how about it?”

Claire looked puzzled, trying to keep up. It felt like listening to the news from the bottom of a pond.

“The walk? To The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop?”

Claire nodded and let Maggie pull her up from the bed.

 

The air outside bit deep, cutting into Claire like a Sabatier knife. She huddled into her coat and tucked her chin into her collar. The landscape was flat and muted like a sepia photograph.

Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.

Maggie strode off, head high, arms swinging. Claire scurried after her and hoped it wasn’t a long walk. She felt like a small child trying to keep up with her mummy. Maggie seemed to realise she was walking alone and turned to see what had happened to Claire.

She laughed at the bundle of misery scuttling behind her. “Sorry Claire, I’m in hill-walking mode. I’ll slow down.”

“You walk across hills at that speed? Are you superhuman?”

“Just bred to it. My parents are avid hill-walkers.”

“My dad plays golf.”

 

The shop was dark and bustling with tourists browsing such delights as Kendal Mint Cake and Rum Butter. It felt like a sauna after the bitter wind outside. Claire soaked the heat into her bones and let the noise wash over her. She could imagine Sky in a place like this, jumping up and down to see over the counter and through the bodies of people queuing to buy their gingerbread.

Maybe I could bring her hostelling with me. At least she’d be company.

Maggie was explaining the history of the shop, how it was set up in the 1850s by Sarah Wilson a local lady. How she lost both her daughters to tuberculosis and her husband shortly after. Although said in a matter-of-fact tone, the words sank into Claire like lead-weights.

What if I lose Ruth? I barely know her. How much time have we spent together since we left home? Hardly any.

She felt the guilt surge up her throat and lodge in the back of her mouth. The heat of the room pressed in until she had to get out. She shouldered her way through the mingling people and pushed through the door. The winter air slapped her in the face, numbing her senses and causing her eyes to water.

Standing outside the tiny cottage Claire pulled freezing air into her lungs and stared around without seeing. She heard the click of the door behind her and felt an arm around her shoulders.

“Sorry, that was insensitive of me. I was so caught up in the history I forgot about your sister. You must be very worried. There’s a garden centre just down the road. Let’s go for a cup of coffee and you can tell me about it.”

Claire let herself be comforted. Let herself be led away like a lost child.

***

 

Dragon Wraiths Dreaming: 2013 365 Challenge #53

New cover design for Dragon Wraiths - almost ebook ready

New cover design for Dragon Wraiths – almost ebook ready

I had an unscheduled filling in my tooth this morning so have spent my nursery day curled up on the sofa feeling pathetic. My dentist is 38 weeks pregnant and will be off for six months so she offered to fill the hole she discovered at my routine check up right then. Unfortunately I had breakfast early today (woke at 5.30am when the baby alarm went off because son’s bedroom was so cold) and the numbing injection gave me the shakes. Bless them they were rushing round trying to find me a glucose tablet. Note to self: eat fewer sweeties! (I eat all the ones the kids get in party bags and don’t like. You know, the sticky ones that you don’t want them eating anyway because they’re so bad for their teeth!)

Actually I’ve put my need to huddle under a blanket to good use by working on formatting Dragon Wraiths for self-publishing. I have had long debates about whether to self-publish it or not and in the end I ran out of reasons not to. I still want an agent and a publisher’s deal but in the meantime I may as well see if anyone actually wants to read it! Besides, I had a lot of fun working on the front cover. It isn’t perfect but better than my previous two designs.

The need to do the marketing has put me off in the past but if I’m not worried about it being an overnight success there is no pressure. If it sells a few copies great. If people borrow it from the libraries (I’ve set it as free to libraries) and are moved to leave feedback, well that will be marvellous. If nothing else it is all great formatting practice. Who knows, I might end up making my money earning $40 a time editing books for Smashwords (although I can think of easier ways to make $40!)

Anyway, as a result of my early start, aching jaw and editing frenzy, today’s post is likely to be another short one rather than my normal meaty nursery-day fare. I want to write some witty banter between Beth, Chloe and Josh for Claire to witness but I can’t recall any Canadian and Irish idioms so I may not manage it. I find it really hard writing dialogue in any other ‘tone’ than my own middle-class-white-English.

[Apropos nothing it turns out there’s a new Rolls Royce called a Wraith. Better than the Microsoft Office 365 that keeps appearing in my suggested related articles list!]

Update: Dragon Wraiths is now live, hurrah! Anyone interested in reading it can download it free for the next week, using the following promotion code:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/287131

Promotional price: $0.00
Coupon Code: NM53X
Expires: February 28, 2013

You have to sign up to Smashwords to download it I think but you can read the 20% sample without logging in.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

“Come on Claire, keep up.”

Claire glared at the V-shape of people in front of her as Beth, Chloe and Josh powered across the lake. Training hadn’t been so bad and Claire had been thrilled with how quickly she had mastered the art of propelling the craft strapped to her hips. Her bubble of happiness quickly deflated when they reached the open water and her so-called companions left her rocking gently in their wake.

Refusing to capsize through trying to catch up, Claire concentrated on getting her technique right and on ignoring the blisters forming across the pads of her palms.

“That’s it Claire, great, you’re getting the hang of it. For a first-timer you’re doing brilliantly.”

Claire turned to smile at the instructor and her paddle stuck in some weed. It wrenched sideways, nearly tipping her out of her kayak.

Eyes forward, Claire. Josh will pee his pants laughing if you take a dip in this freezing pond.

“This is grand!” Beth’s voice floated back across the water as she and Chloe prodded at each other with their paddles, each trying to put the other in the lake.

“Your friends seem a right craic, how long have you been travelling together?”

Claire looked back carefully, trying to locate the source of the new voice without tipping herself over.

“I’m not travelling with them. As far as I can tell they all met yesterday on the bus over from Keswick. I met Josh last week a bit further north.”

“Really? They seem like buddies from way back. That’s travelling for you, I guess.” The man deftly paddled forward until he was alongside Claire’s red kayak. He waved a salute and said, “name’s Charlie.”

“Claire.” She nodded in return and tried not to clash her paddle against his.

The void of conversation yawned between them, demanding to be filled. She didn’t feel like chatting but it was obvious that the man wanted to talk and, besides, Josh and the girls were too far ahead for anything but a bellowed exchange of words. She groped for something to say.

“Are you travelling with friends?”

“Nah I’m going solo. Just a month or three before I head back to Ireland to find a job. It aint easy right now, specially not in Dublin. Thought I’d have a bit o’ fun before I have to get me hands dirty.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a chef. Or leastways that’s what I’m trained fer. What I’ll be doing back in Dublin is anyone’s guess.”

“Is there not much work in catering?” Claire listened to her words and wanted to Eskimo-roll into the lake. No wonder the others have buggered off. Could you be any more boring?

If her new friend found her question obvious or dull he was either too polite or too shocked to let on.

“There’s not much work of any sort. Times is hard. Not a great time to be looking for paid employment.”

Claire shivered beneath her waterproofs. I hope that doesn’t apply to me. Her head was already full of images of starting a new job since her arrival at the activity centre with Josh and his mini-harem. Claire wasn’t sure how much more adrenalin-seeking, or rubbing shoulders with strangers, she could willingly do, no matter how much she wanted not to fail.

“What is it you do?” The man threw out the question between puffs as he paddled to keep up with Claire who had veering off to the left.

“I work in… marketing.” She hoped he hadn’t notice the tiny hesitation. Lord only knows what it is I do these days?

As often happened when Claire told someone in a vocational career what she did for a living, the man’s face went blank. His lips opened and shut slightly as he sought something interesting to say in response.

“That’s nice.”

Claire chuckled under her breath and held her paddle aloft as a wake from a passing boat rocked the kayak. I guess no one knows what people in marketing actually do, least of all people in marketing. Play with pretty pictures and read papers, I think that’s the general consensus. What about kayaking across a freezing lake in the north of England, or dangling from a tree suspended by a rope and harness? Abseiling down a waterfall? Sharing a room with five other women, some of whom have only a passing relationship with shower gel. Are they things I can puff-off on my CV?

The sound of splashing shook Claire from her reverie and she looked up just in time to get a face-full of water from Josh’s paddle as he swung round beside her.

“Thanks. As if I wasn’t cold enough.”

“Lighten up cranky, what’s eating you? You’ve been chillier than a penguin’s arse since we pitched up yesterday. If you really wanted to ditch me you should have headed to Liverpool like you said.”

“Would that be better? Am I cramping your style?”

“Ha, it’d take more than a jealous Sheila to cramp my style.”

“Jealous? I’m not jealous. If you choose to hook up with every woman under the age of fifty that passes your way that’s no concern of mine.”

Claire dipped her paddle in the water and pushed her craft forwards, concentrating on her technique so Josh had nothing else to sneer at. The sun shone overhead but didn’t penetrate the waterproof and life-jacket she was bundled in. Claire lowered her head and pictured the mug of hot chocolate waiting for her when they returned to the activity centre.

Josh paddled alongside her in silence for a few minutes before clucking his tongue and digging his paddle in deep. He was soon several lengths ahead and the sound of his laughter mingled with Chloe and Beth’s as the three of them splashed each other like naughty schoolchildren.

***

Finally at Fifty! 2013 365 Challenge #50

Humpty Dumpty basking in the sun in our garden

Humpty Dumpty basking in the sun in our garden

I can’t believe I have reached day fifty of my 365 challenge. There were days I didn’t think I’d get through the first month. Now I’m 42,000 words and fifty days in.

I am beginning to see a pattern between my mood and the posts, with the daily installments getting darker and duller recently as the cold/cough/flu thing that’s been dragging me down continues. I’m finally starting to feel better today – the sun has shone since Friday, I’ve had some time home alone and it feels like Winter might finally be on its way out.

Definitely time for a more light-hearted post. If I can remember how! Back in the beginning I wrote a post about Writing Funny and I haven’t found any more answers since then.

Tthe sun is shining outside the window, hurrah!

The sun is shining outside the window, hurrah!

My main question is why people like the posts they do: is it because of the Claire installment or my daily diary/diatribe?

My last post was reblogged (thank you allaboutmanners) and I wouldn’t have said either section was particularly entertaining. I guess it’s like the whole head-shot debacle (see previous post). We will never know what it is others see in us/our photos/our writing and it will always be something different to what we see ourselves.

I guess the trick is either not to care or to find Beta readers (or life’s equivalent) who share our world view! Thankfully my husband is mine. He wrote me a gorgeous email to pick me up from my head-shot funk. And he has rooted for Claire since the beginning (largely because he fancies her). He’s a few posts behind though, since started his job searching in earnest. Maybe that’s why I wonder what it is people are drawn to when they follow WriterMummy.

All Seeing Eye by Freeforms: Ideas for the Dragon Wraiths Cover

All Seeing Eye by Freeforms: Ideas for the Dragon Wraiths Cover

The flipside to reaching Day Fifty is that I’m ready for a new challenge. I have the attention span of a two-year-old and like to keep moving on. I don’t mean giving up the daily blog, I can’t do that. But I do need a new something.So I’m investigating trying to self-publish Dragon Wraiths. I’ve always dismissed the idea because the text relies on using several fonts and that isn’t very ebook friendly.

My challenge is to see if Smashwords will accept it as is and, if not, how it can be altered. Of course what I’ve actually done is spent the day looking at stock images of dragons for the front cover. You can take the girl out of marketing and design but you can’t take the need to create pretty pictures out of the girl! 🙂

Anyway, enough ramble. On to today’s post…

___________________________________________________________________________________________

Claire swallowed a yawn and commanded her eyelids not to close. The words washed over her, refusing to enter either ears or brain. If the smiling volunteer in front of her had requested one single fact from the short video Claire would have had to admit defeat.

Besides, who cares? I learned enough about Ruskin at Uni to last a lifetime.

She glanced round at the other avid viewers wondering if they, too, were just waiting for the moving pictures to finish. Her fellow tourists included a retired couple and a gaggle of students with their Tutor.

 I wonder if they’re Art, Science or Architecture boffs? She looked at them with a mixture of sympathy and envy. As long as they’re not in front of me when it comes to queuing for coffee I don’t especially care.

Claire gazed surreptitiously out the window, not wanting to be berated for her lack of attention but in dire need of something to stave off sleep. The restless night, coupled with an early start, was taking its toll. Maybe this wasn’t such a smart plan. At least if I’d been dangling by a rope 18m up I’d be wide awake.

Her early-morning internet trawl for ideas had thrown up only three options: kayaking around Coniston, Go-Ape, and a wander through John Ruskin’s pad. She’d decided to risk a short kayak on the morrow, when the forecast was for warmer weather. Go-Ape had been immediately dismissed. I’ve done enough monkeying around for this week. Maybe I’ll swing by later in my Lakes tour. She sniggered at her own puns and then decided she should stop before she went completely bananas

At last the video ended. Claire was free to meander round the old house and lose herself in the splendour of an earlier era. A soporific calm descended as she settled into the slow tread of the gallery viewer. It reminded her of college field trips and lazy Sundays.

This isn’t particularly thrilling blog copy but who cares. I’ll write something lyrical about the view. She glanced out the window at the lake, pewter-dark beneath cloudy skies. Hmm maybe not. She smiled. Despite the overcast day she felt at peace.

“Claire? Claire Carleton?”

Her tranquillity was shattered by the screech of estuary vowels.

“ Blinkin ’ell it is you. What’re you doing up ’ere in the arse-end of nowhere?”

Claire turned, heat radiating from her face. Please, no. I’ll do anything. Let it not be her. She raised her eyes slowly, as if allowing the universe ample opportunity to correct this terrible mistake. Her gaze took in sensible black shoes, tights, black skirt, and her heart lurched optimistically. Cherie would never wear such normal attire. Her head lifted to face the owner of the dreaded voice and hope died. Grinning cheerfully from atop a steward’s shirt and jacket was the face she knew and loathed.

“Hello Cherie, how lovely to see you. I hardly expected to see anyone I knew working here in the back of beyond or however it was you so eloquently put it.”

“I’m just helping out me ma for a week, she was left stranded by one of her staff.”

“Your mother works here?”

Claire had never met Cherie’s mother and had always assumed they were cut from the same cloth.

“Yeah she came up ’ere when pop died, couldn’t wait to leave Essex. Always said she’d made a mistake marrying ’im.” Claire looked over her shoulder as Cherie’s strident voice echoed around the room.

“Is she here? Won’t she be upset to hear you talking about her?”

“Nah she’ll be in the office. Besides we’re always ribbing her for her la-di-da ways.”

 This from the girl who spent ten years at a public school and still can’t pronounce the letter H?

Cherie looked Claire up and down and her grin widened. “You’re looking a bit rough. Times ’ard is they?”

Claire gritted her teeth and then forced them to relax into a smile. “I’m on a special assignment for Coca Cola. I’m an Advertising Director.” She squared her shoulders before swearing silently. Damn, she did it again. How does she do that to me? She could see by Cherie’s sparkling eyes that the woman had achieved her intention of winding Claire up.

She hasn’t seen me for, what, a decade and her first aim is to antagonise me? Silly cow.

Unwelcome flashbacks from school filled the space between them. Claire looked around for a neutral topic, not wanting to get into a fight and ruin her serenity. Her eyes alighted on a poster with a Ruskin quote on it.

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces up, snow is exhilarating; there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

The appropriateness of it made her laugh out loud, remembering her trudge across the snowy Pennines and the scramble through hail to reach the top of Skiddaw. No such thing as bad weather? Right.

“Still larfing at me then, Claire? You always did fink you were better than me; lording it over us when your folks are nah better than mine.”

Claire flushed with shock at the bitter words hurled from frost-pink lips that no longer smiled.

“Me laugh at you? I spent my whole school life trying to stay away from your vicious tongue. I’m surprised you can stand upright with that chip balanced on your shoulder. Not that it’s any business of yours but I was laughing at the Ruskin quote.” Claire indicated the poster to her right.

“Still trying to get one over on me aren’t yer? Laugh at this dry old trout’s stuff? Now I know yer talking bollocks. I’ve never read such a steamin’ pile of  poo in me life.” Cherie shook her head as if Claire’s words had merely confirmed her dislike. She threw one more spiked look at her erstwhile school companion and stomped from the room.

Claire stood motionless as the footsteps receded, unsure whether to laugh or weep. She became aware of shakes coursing through her body and a loud hammering in her chest. She nodded an apologetic farewell to Ruskin’s room and headed for the café.

I need caffeine.

***