Wishing You a Good Friday

Meeting the Easter Bunny

Meeting the Easter Bunny

At last, Easter is here! Two weeks into the school vacation I feel like the bank holiday is the finish line and I’ve more or less survived. We still have five days before the children go back to school/nursery, but at least there are some family members around to share the small-child entertainment that has left me exhausted.

We have been blessed, though, this holiday, with gorgeous sunny days every day. The kids have been able to run free with me just providing conflict mediation, hugs, plasters, food, drinks, craft supplies, cautions, rules, reward stickers and the occasional trip out for variety. Yesterday we went to play on the new indoor equipment at our favourite Farm, followed by a visit to the Easter Bunny. It was a great day.

One thing I’ve noticed this holiday is that the children have remembered how to play together. With my daughter starting school last September, they seemed to separate, with the age difference much more noticeable. My daughter had less time for her brother, and they squabbled more than cooperated. It’s been wonderful (and terrifying) to see them back to conspiring against me. For example when they decided to empty the sandpit into the paddling pool and across the decking, then fill the sandpit with water from the hose, breaking about five family rules in the process. I didn’t care, I just prayed they wouldn’t draw my attention to it, leaving me no choice but to tell them off.

When my daughter did finally come in saying, “Look, Mummy!” all proud of the carnage, I actually said, “You’ve broken about five rules, which are they?” and after she’d sheepishly acknowledged them, I said, “no matter, I’ll pretend I didn’t see, so long as you tidy up.” Which of course they didn’t, but it took less time to sweep wet sand than it would have done telling them off and finding them something else to do!

Sand Carnage

Sand Carnage

Rules and consistency are all well and good, but sometimes you have to be flexible. It was also another classic case of different parenting priorities as, when I posted my dilemma to Facebook, expecting people to laugh (because of course I wouldn’t stop them playing nicely just because of a bit of mess) I had a range of responses leaving me feeling somewhere between a dragon for having rules in the first place and a lazy parent for choosing to ignore them!

Anyway, this was just a short note to say hello, I’m still alive, and wish you all a happy Easter weekend. The forecast here is actually for rain, making me feel bad for all the working people who have been looking forward to their four days of freedom. But hopefully they’ll stay in and read a book, as I have Dragon Wraiths on a freebie promotion all weekend. If by chance you haven’t read it, do go grab a copy! (I’m trying out a new GeoRiot link, which is meant to take you to the Amazon site for your country, so do tell me if it works/doesn’t work. And thank you to Sally Jenkins for the idea.)

TTFN.

Chocolate and Cheeky Amazon: 2013 365 Challenge #91

Scattering grass seed with Daddy

Scattering grass seed with Daddy

I got my first five-star review today for Dragon Wraiths. And Amazon deleted it. It was left by a lovely lady who recently started following me here and on Twitter and who read the book without any prompting from me.

Unfortunately she’s also an author and apparently Amazon frowns on authors leaving reviews on other people’s books. Which is a shame because generally writers are avid readers (and eloquent reviewers) and they also know the value of reviews. I guess the system gets abused, as all things do. All I know is that five-star review might have brought me some much-needed sales.

Shadow Forest by Matt Haig

Shadow Forest by Matt Haig

On a nicer note we had a lovely peaceful Easter Sunday. I spent the morning feverishly uploading ebooks – my Volume 3 and the ‘Story so Far’ version, which contains all the posts since the beginning of January. Even though I’d done most of the formatting and the book covers etc it still took far too long and we were nearly late for lunch. People who think self-publishers are cheeky charging for their books without paying professionals to do the editing, proof-reading, formatting etc, don’t always account for how much effort can be put into these things by the author. The Story So Far represents about 300 hours of effort. I think selling it for the price of a cappuccino is fairly reasonable, especially as you can download the separate volumes for free!

I’m all full of cold and had a welcome break at my Father-in-Law’s today as he and his partner took the children and dog for a walk. I read my book (a great MG fiction called Shadow Forest by Matt Haig) and David watched The Mummy. Again. Children were tired-whiny after our long day yesterday so it was nice for all of us to have some time apart. Now all I have to do is try and ration the copious amounts of chocolate we have accumulated despite my best efforts. Even I’m sick of the sight of chocolate and I never thought that was possible!

Anyway, time to start Volume 4 of Two-Hundred Steps Home. Blimey. How did that happen?

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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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“Excuse me, is everything alright?”

Claire looked up at the concerned face trying to peer under her shield of hair. Her eyes met two sapphires sparkling amidst a sea of wrinkles.

“The school is closed today. Were you meant to meet someone?”

The words sank in through the fog in Claire’s mind. Closed? “The school isn’t open? But I was supposed to collect my niece. Ruth – my sister – she clearly said today at 3pm. I thought I was in the wrong place. But it’s definitely here. She’s going to be so cross, and she’s ill and I’m meant to be helping.” The words tumbled out until Claire’s voice broke and she sank her head back into her hands.

A gentle patting on her shoulder reminded Claire that the old lady was still standing in front of her.

“There, there, my dear. Don’t cry. Have you telephoned your sister? I am sure there has been some misunderstanding. I believe there is a training day today and therefore the children finished for the Easter vacation yesterday.”

Relief washed through Claire like a spring breeze, followed by an arctic blast of anger. That’s just like Ruth to scare the hell out of me. She must have Sky home with her: why didn’t she call me?

Claire looked up and smiled ruefully at the helpful passer-by. “I’m sorry; I don’t mean to be a watering pot. It was quite a struggle to get here for 3pm through the snow – I’ve come from the Derby Dales – and now, to find…” She shook her head. No point unburdening herself to a complete stranger.

The lady raised a hand as if to brush away Claire’s apology. “I quite understand. These things happen. Why not come with me to the café? You can settle your nerves before telephoning your sister. Everything will seem better after a cup of tea.”

Pushing herself off the wall, trying to ignore the numbness in her bottom from sitting on the cold stone, Claire smiled gratefully at the woman. “Thank you, I might do that. No need to come with me, I’ll be fine. I haven’t had lunch, that’s all. As you say, I’m sure I’ll feel more the thing after some food and a hot drink.”

The woman hesitated, as if unsure whether to leave Claire alone.

What must she think? I’m a grown woman, I shouldn’t be sat sobbing outside a primary school. Grow up and stop being pathetic, girl.

“I’m fine, really. I appreciate you stopping to tell me about the school. I know where the café is – I’ve been here before – and I don’t want to hold you up any longer.”

“Well, if you are certain?” Claire nodded. “Alright then, my dear. You take care.” The lady gave a little wave and walked away.

Claire filled her lungs with freezing air and brushed the hair back from her face. She knew she should call Ruth, to confirm that her niece was safely at home, but she was still too cross. That’s just like her, to have me race across the country on a wild-goose-chase without so much as a text message. She stomped towards the coffee shop, remembering all the times Ruth had let her down or forgotten to tell her something important. Just because I’m the youngest, doesn’t mean it’s okay to leave me out all the time.

She could almost sense her bottom lip jutting out as it had done twenty-five years ago, when such behaviour was just about acceptable.

It was only when she was tucked into a window seat nursing a cup of Earl Grey that it occurred to Claire there may be another reason for Ruth’s lack of contact.

What if she’s had complications and had to go back into hospital? What if she wasn’t able to call me and Sky’s been left with Dad?

Her empty stomach twisted in fear and the blood drained away from her face until she thought she might faint. Placing the cup down on the saucer, spilling her tea in the process, Claire pulled out her phone and selected her sister’s number. She listened to the endless ringing as she waited for the phone to connect.

Come on, come on, just pick up the phone.

***

Easter Craft and a Sunny Park: 2013 365 Challenge #79

Balancing boy 'All by myself'

Balancing boy ‘All by myself’

Today started slow after the slough of despond yesterday. Thank you to everyone who liked the post: it helped drag me back out the self-pitying doldrums. Sometimes I just need to grow up and accept that life is hard! Thankfully hubbie took the kids long enough for me to write my post and have a shower this morning so I started the day feeling half human.

It helped that the sun put in a rare appearance. I was able to chuck the kids outside to play in the sandpit and on their bikes and scooters. Daddy did gardening, so I could make some tweaks to my Dragon Wraiths book cover knowing the kids were being watched. It hasn’t resulted in any new sales but it made me feel better.

Easter craft (they ate the chocolate nests!)

Easter craft (they ate the chocolate nests!)

I took the children to a local preschool in the afternoon to do Easter craft. I wasn’t sure whether to go or to leave the children out in the sun, as the forecast for tomorrow is rotten, but hubbie made the decision for me by having the kids dressed and shod by the front door in record-quick time. I think he was ready for a few hours’ peace!

We spent a wonderful but hectic two hours making chocolate nests, chicks, bunnies and Easter cards. My children love craft but generally end up painting everything brown including themselves so it was lovely to have them follow instructions and make specific things. Although that always leaves the problem of what to do with their creations! I have drawers stuffed fulled of pictures and paintings but nothing is named or dated!

Hurrah no muddy dog to clean

Hurrah no muddy dog to clean

Aaron and I even made it to our village park this afternoon. I’ve missed our trips to the park. It’s only a short walk away and it’s a lovely one with slide, swings, playhouse, zip wire and climbing frame. I push the kids on the swing and throw a toy for Kara. We all get exercise and I don’t have to rub down a muddy dog.

For the last six months though it’s been far too wet with most of the equipment lethal or out of order. We walk to the park only to end up sheltering in the playhouse waiting for the rain to stop. It makes parenting harder than it needs to be.

The kids had a final mad run round the garden (they were ‘tidying up’!) when they were meant to be eating their dinner. I didn’t have the heart to call them in: with the forecast for wet and snow again tomorrow, who knows how long it will be before they can run around in socks and tops again?

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Claire lent against the door of the Skoda and gazed up at the dark building set against winter trees and leaden sky. I can imagine how this might make you think of Gothic horror and mad women in the attic. It’s pretty gloomy.

“Amazing building, yah?”

Claire jumped at the sound of the voice. She turned and saw a snow princess walking towards her. She blinked, wondering if her concussion was more severe than the doctor had suggested. As the woman strolled nearer she realised it was a beautiful blonde wearing cream snow gear, wrapped up against the chill. Claire looked down at her Helly Hansen jacket and wondered when it had become so shabby.

“One expects to see Mr Rochester doing a rising-trot up the lane, doesn’t one?” The woman smiled, dazzling Claire with her even white teeth. “Hullo, I’m Catherine. You can come in and have a gander if you like?”

“What? You live here?” Claire shook her head, gritting her teeth against the pain.

Catherine laughed, a cascade of chiming bells. “Wouldn’t that be super? No we’re here for the weekend for a wedding.”

Claire tried to imagine staying in the house. “I think I’d be worried about Bertha Mason setting fire to my bedroom while I slept. Is it very dark and spooky?”

Another tinkling laugh followed Claire’s statement and she felt the blood rush to her cheeks.

“Hardly. Come in for an espresso and see for yourself. You can park your car.” She looked at the Skoda, noticing it for the first time, and raised her perfectly plucked eyebrows. Claire’s cheeks flushed hotter and she turned away, letting her hair drop over her face. She listened mutely to the instructions on where to park before climbing into her seat.

I could just keep driving. I’m not that interested in seeing the Hall that inspired Rochester’s house. Does it matter if I am rude to a complete stranger? She looks like it would bounce straight off her super-ego. Claire thought about the blog, the chance to have something different to write about and sighed. Maybe I should accept. How hard can it be to be civil for half an hour?

 

Claire entered the building and stopped in the hallway. She felt her jaw drop and shut her mouth with a snap. “It’s tiny. I was expecting some rambling mansion. This isn’t Thornfield Hall.” She thought about the place she had imagined during A Level English. Her teenage dreams of being rescued from boarding school by a brooding stranger.

“Wait until you see the roof. Tell me then if you can’t envisage Bertha jumping off.” Catherine’s eyes blazed and she tugged Claire’s arm to lead her through the house.

Claire had an impression of dark beams and ornate ceilings before she was blasted by a gust of arctic air. Huddling into her jacket, she squinted against the wind and looked at the view.

“Wow.” The vista stretched all the way to the hazy-blue horizon, miles in the distance. In the space between hills huddled together beneath the grey winter sky, wearing trees like ruffled blankets. A low mist clung to the valley, like the smoke billowing from a crypt in a vampire movie. Claire shivered.

Catherine strode to the crenellations and peered over before turning towards Claire. “Come and see the lambs. They’re so cute, frolicking around like babies.”

Claire walked a step closer to the edge and felt her heartbeat quicken. I don’t know this woman from Adam. Why has she brought me up here? Images of the attack the day before swam into her mind. What if she’s crazy and wants to push me over the edge. She might be channelling Bertha’s ghost for all I know.

When she came no nearer, Catherine’s brows furrowed. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t like heights,” Claire responded, trying to keep the wobble from her voice. “I need to get going anyway. I have stuff to do.” She realised how rude that sounded. “Thank you so much for showing me round.”

The girl sighed. “That’s fine. It was super to have someone else to talk to. My family have gone fishing and I can’t stand it.” She pulled a face. “Slimy, wriggling things.”

Claire felt her heartbeat slow at the woebegone look on Catherine’s face. That damn mugging has me jumping at shadows. Maybe some people do just want to chat because they’re lonely. She looked at her watch. There was plenty of time to get to the hostel before reception closed.

“Did you mention something about coffee?”

***

Feelin’ the Positive Vibe: 2013 365 Challenge #68

You can never beat the good ol fashioned cardboard box

You can never beat the good ol fashioned cardboard box

La Maison chez Martin had a more positive day today. We got some sleep (until daughter wet the bed for the first time at 4am but, hey, you can’t have everything). An old friend/colleague got in touch to say he might have some contract work for me (or hubbie if I get my way!) and we went out as a family. It was only to the supermarket and Costa but sometimes that’s enough. I even managed to walk the dog without getting lost in the fog, although I didn’t manage to make a start on my Claire post as we bumped into a friend of Kara’s – a crazy boxer-labrador cross called Beamish. He likes to collect 12 foot sticks and carry them home so Kara didn’t get to run with him that much but it was nice to have company.

I guess all the positive has to have an opposite and today it’s the writing. I didn’t really like my Claire instalment yesterday – I couldn’t seem to create the cave scene with any authenticity. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited a cave and I haven’t been to the Blue John Cavern at all. I relied totally on their website and good old Tripadvisor. I’m also at a complete dead-end for today. Claire has about a week before she picks up Sky for her Easter break and things get interesting again but I’m stuck with what to do in the meantime. There are only so many day trips and hostel descriptions you can do before it gets boring!

The bliss of sleep

The bliss of sleep

The other part of writing that wasn’t great today was picking up Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes for the first time in six months and realising it’s crap. I mean properly rubbish. I haven’t looked at it since writing and editing Dragon Wraiths in an intense seven-month period (for the Mslexia competition) and since writing 56,000 words of Two-Hundred Steps Home.

Of course it’s wonderful that the two projects in-between have obviously honed my craft but it makes me feel sick to think I sent out queries for Baby Blues and someone asked for a partial. Even if they take 8 weeks to get back I’m not going to be able to knock the rest of the manuscript into shape by then. Of course it’s unlikely they’ll ask to see any more but I do know the first fifty pages are better because they’ve had a lot more revision. I don’t know how much better as I’m scared to read them! 🙂

What I need to do, but somehow can’t manage to make happen, is join a critique group and/or locate a Beta reader in the business. It’s all very well having friends read – they’re great at spotting typos and continuity errors – but they don’t have the knowledge or desire to tell me the honest and brutal truth. I KNOW that good critique and beta readers are essential to a writer’s business, what I don’t know is how any writer ever brings themselves to give their unpolished work to someone. You’d think I would prefer it to sending my manuscript to a brutal agent but an agent is just going to ignore it or at worst send a pithy one-pager.They won’t tear apart a year’s work line by line without hope. You see I’ve had a mixed experience of critique and it’s left me doubtful.

I received one critique of the first chapter of Baby Blues (my first ever critique) and they didn’t find a single positive thing to say. I was ready to give up writing for good: not because I’m thin-skinned (although probably that’s true too) but because I figured they knew more than I did and I was just plain rubbish. Then I had a second critique on the same first chapter and received a nice balance of constructive criticism and positive praise on what was working well.

The question is: was the first critique right or the second? Am I a writer or a doomed-to-fail amateur. If two people can read the same chapter and have two completely different responses how can I find a beta reader or critique group to trust? And, more to the point, how on earth do I find time to do critiquing in return? Arrgghh so many questions. If I thought being a parent was tough, with too much conflicting advice and no clear path, then being a writer is just as hard. Actually I guess the two are pretty similar. Maybe I’ll write a blog about that! 😉

Anyway, enough rant. Time to go and search the brain-cells for that hidden inspiration…

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“Ruth? It’s Claire.”

“Claire? Why are you calling: Is everything okay?” Her sister’s voice rose in agitation. Claire buried herself deeper into the armchair, trying to ignore the heat in her cheeks and the defensive words bubbling up into her mouth. Besides, how could you defend the indefensible?

“I’m sorry. I’ve been a rubbish sister. I called to see how you are. I didn’t want to phone so soon after the operation, in case you’re resting, but I haven’t been able to get hold of Mum. I was worried.”

“Mum’s here with me and you know Dad; he never answers the phone if he’s by himself in case, God forbid, he might have to talk to one of us for more than a minute.” Ruth chuckled then coughed. The sound made Claire shiver.

“You are okay though?”

“You mean apart from having a hole drilled in my skull and some of my brain removed?”

Her voice was hard to read. Claire felt goosebumps rise along her arms and huddled deeper into her jumper. Maybe this was a bad idea. She sat without responding, unable to find anything adequate to say.

“Sorry, Claire, I shouldn’t joke. It’s driving Mum nuts. You know how she is. She thinks I’m being unduly frivolous. What can you do but laugh though?”

Claire thought privately that she’d probably be curled in a corner sobbing and hoped no one ever had cause to find out.

“You’re very brave. I’d be scared witless.” The words were out before Claire could censor them and she immediately regretted her lack of control. Ruth didn’t speak and Claire wondered if she was realising for the first time that she ought to be scared. Then her sister sighed; a low sound like a gust of wind on a deserted shore.

“Of course I’m scared. Terrified. And I’m not brave. I have to be strong for Sky. She doesn’t really understand. All she knows is that Mummy is poorly and had to have her hair shaved off and that Nana is looking after both of us. It will be harder for her when I have the chemo and I’m properly sick.”

Claire felt a lump in her throat and shook away the image of her sister with no hair. Somehow it brought home the reality of cancer more than any words had done. She tried to make her voice matter-of-fact when she spoke.

“That’s why I’m calling. How do you feel about Sky coming travelling with me for the school holidays? Give you a chance to have some peace and quiet in the house. Well as much as you can with Mum fussing round.”

“Travelling where? She doesn’t have a passport.”

Claire laughed. “The Fens can be a bit different but I don’t recall needing a passport to go there.”

“Oh. What’s in the Fens? Isn’t it just endless fields of flat nothingness?”

Claire had no idea. She hadn’t thought that far. A glance at the YHA map had shown the nearest hostels to be around the east coast and she’d figured that small children liked the seaside. There were only a handful of hostels so they’d have to stay a few days in each or travel a bit further afield. It seemed hostellers were more interested in the Peaks and Lakes than the Fens.

“It’s got sea and sand and space, what more do kids want?” Claire heard the doubt in her voice and hoped Ruth didn’t notice.

She did.

“Are you sure you’re going to cope with a small child for two weeks? Sky is quite… full-on you know. Besides, I’m not sure about her being away. She’s only little.”

“She stays with Mum and Dad doesn’t she?”

“That’s different. It’s just down the road and she’s used to them.”

“I am her Auntie.”

There was a pause and Claire smiled ruefully as she imagined the thoughts going through Ruth’s mind. I haven’t been much of an Auntie up until now. She decided to get the attack in before her sister did. “Look, I know I haven’t spent as much time with Sky as I should have done. See this as my chance to make it up to her.”

“Well. If you’re sure. Have you booked? It’ll be rammed. And the first weekend is a bank holiday: The whole world will be off work.”

Claire felt a hollowness form in her stomach. She hadn’t thought to book. So far she’d stayed in whichever hostel had space: the hostels had all been clustered together.

“I. Er. It’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” She pulled out her iPad and opened a new note.

Book hostels for me and Sky ASAP.

Otherwise we’ll have to stay with Mum and Dad for Easter. Claire remembered last Easter, when she had taken Michael to her parents’ house for the long weekend. It had been a disaster.

They’re going to remind me of that every minute. Bugger that.

“Leave it with me. It’ll be fine.” She repeated the words, as much for her own benefit as for Ruth’s. Then she said her goodbyes, hung up the phone and pulled out her YHA guide. She began dialling immediately and prayed for a miracle.

***

Life vs. Writing Update: A New Beginning

Picture of a dragon

Okay, so sometimes sleep deprivation can have its advantages. After a week of broken nights I woke up yesterday, out of a deep three-hour sleep (a miracle in itself), with a complete novel in my head.

Unfortunately, since the new carpets were fitted, I haven’t got around to putting my notebook and pen back under the bed. Plus I had smallest child asleep on me, and eldest child wriggled into our room in her sleeping bag shortly after. Needless to say, by the time I’d got my mobile fired up and tapped out some of what was in my mind, I had lost most of it.

I remember the gist though, because it couldn’t have been further from my last four novels.

This one is going to be a young adult book. In the first person. A mystery, mostly in real-time.

Oh and it has dragons in it.

Not really chick lit or romance. Though it might have some romance. I haven’t worked that bit out yet.

I’m quite daunted about the whole thing. I’ve never written in the first person; I haven’t been a teenager for almost two decades (my kids are nearer being teenagers than me, how horrific is that? They’re only 1 and 3); I don’t have any writing skills or techniques for real-time, suspense or mystery, and I know next to nothing about writing fantasy.

Still, it certainly comes under the Option 2, try something new. (See previous post).

Anyway, with it being Easter and all, my next writing day isn’t until next Thursday. In the mean time, I’m trying not to think about the ideas too much, as I know from experience I need to start writing without thinking, or I’ll kill it before it’s born (I’m a master at self-censure).

I do know the first line (for now), I wrote it down in my phone before the vision faded.

“My name is Leah, and I know the time and place of my death.”

Well, that may well change, but my first lines rarely do, as they are usually the freewrite prompt for the whole novel concept. We shall see.

Exciting though.