Formatting and Covers: 2013 365 Challenge #256

Manuscript Paper Planes

Manuscript Paper Planes

Phew. I have spent the last two days updating my Kindle and Smashwords files to include Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes under ‘other titles by’ and to add Twitter and Facebook links. I am formatting blind. I had to load each file half a dozen times, because I kept missing things. A case of more haste less speed.

Even now I know there’s an error in each of my Two-Hundred Steps Home files (a link that doesn’t work). I wasn’t going to reload them all, and start the ‘premium catalogue’ clearance again, except I’ve had to resubmit for clearing after linking all the books as a series (even though Smashwords said it wouldn’t affect premium distribution).

When I updated my kindle file for Dragon Wraiths, I also got the Facebook link wrong in that, and now I have to wait for Amazon to publish it before I can upload it again. They could learn a thing or two from Smashwords. My head is spinning with all the details, remembering what quirks Kindle has compared with Smashwords, and remembering to link to my other books on the right platform (Smashwords will reject a file for having Amazon links within it).

Spot the difference!

Spot the difference!

I also tinkered with the Dragon Wraiths cover today, to try and incorporate the dragon pendant from the first cover. I’m not 100% happy with it, but it needed to be done. The current one, much as I love it, doesn’t say ‘fantasy’ or ‘dragons’ enough.

What’s the point of this ramble? Not much, except to say I think writing a book is about 20% or 30% of the actual graft of being a self-published author. All the other stuff is so time-consuming. More than you think it should be. My ‘two minute’ job on the cover took two hours and nearly made me late to pick my daughter up from school!.

And you have to be super organised and logical and all those things I’m not to keep track of it all. At least I’m learning I guess. I could probably format a file for Smashwords in my sleep (and get no autovetter errors) and I’m not far off knowing how to do a Kindle file without referring to the notes. If the author thing doesn’t work I guess at least I could make money doing that! 🙂

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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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“What are we searching for exactly?”

Claire looked across the racks of clothing to Bethan, who was holding up various items against her and contemplating her reflection in the mirror.

“Fancy dress.”

“I gathered that. I meant, what are you going as? And what the hell can I wear?”

“The theme is anything beginning with P. So I thought I might go as a prostitute.” She grinned at Claire’s shocked expression. “Too much? What about a princess? You should do that, you look much more Disney than I do.”

“I don’t know, you could be Pocahontas.”

“She was Native American, not Thai.”

Claire blushed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you, it was a stupid thing to say.”

Bethan laughed. “That’s alright, I know you didn’t. You’re not likely to be up on the Disney princesses unless you have a four-year-old girl hidden about your person.”

The flush deepened. “Well, actually I did spend a few weeks with my niece recently, but all those princesses muddle together after a while. There was an Oriental one, now I think about it.”

Mulan. Chinese. Closer but still offensive.” Although Bethan spoke with laughter in her voice, her face looked brittle.

“Sorry.”

Bethan looked up and her face became more sympathetic. “Oriental is a racist term in America, is that not the same in England?”

Claire shook her head. “Not that I know of. Better than calling someone Chinese when they’re really from Japan or Thailand, surely?”

“In America you use Oriental for things, not people. Asian is a better word.”

Claire swallowed and nodded, feeling like she’d been told off. Wanting to change the subject, she ran through other fancy dress ideas beginning with P. “Right. Not princesses then. Pigs? Paupers? That shouldn’t be a problem; I’m going to be poor by the time this trip is over.”

She glanced at Bethan and saw a flicker of disapproval flash across her face.

Now what have I said?

They had been travelling together for a week and this was the first time Claire had sensed anything but happiness in Bethan’s demeanour. The moment passed and Claire searched her mind for a simple fancy dress costume that wouldn’t cost the earth or humiliate her. Not that there was anyone left on the bus whose opinion she cared about apart from Bethan, and she’d already offended her twice.

Bethan held up a sequin covered top and some sunglasses, all trace of censure gone. She grinned. “How about pop stars?”

*

“Do you want another drink?” Bethan yelled over the music.

Claire shook her head and then wished she hadn’t. “No,” she yelled back, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Bethan nodded, downed her drink in one, and grabbed hold of Claire’s arm.

Claire let herself be towed through the writhing bodies, the music pulsing in time with the throbbing in her head and drowning out all attempts at rational thought. The dinner of steak and venison, delicious at the time, sat heavy in her stomach. She really didn’t want to see it again.

Outside, the music still filled the air but left some space to think. The chill autumn wind rushed over her bare skin, raising goosebumps and drying the sweat. Claire slumped against the wall and gripped her head with both hands.

“You okay?” Bethan squatted beside her and peered under the mass of back-combed hair that concealed Claire’s face.

“I think so. What time is it?”

Bethan checked her watch. “1 a.m. Apparently they’ll chuck us out at 2 a.m.”

“I’m not going to last that long. I need to go to bed.” Claire slid down the wall, ignoring the damp seeping through her tights as she sat on the floor. The events of the evening swam through her mind like a movie montage.

“Did I do a drinking game?”

“Yes. You were very good.”

“Snog the driver as a forfeit?”

“’fraid so.”

“Dance on the tables?”

Bethan shrugged. “It was Bon Jovi and you’re dressed as an ’80s pop star. I thought the balloon in a bottle as a microphone was an inspired touch.”

“Are there going to be pictures of us on the wall, like all the others?”

Bethan nodded and laughed as Claire groaned. “Look at it this way, who do you know who is ever going to come to this dirty motel in the middle of nowhere and scour thousands of Polaroids to find your embarrassing photo?”

Claire grunted in agreement but it was small consolation.

Bethan laughed again. “Relax, Claire. This is all part of travelling. You joined in, made some new friends, drank some shots. You won’t remember most of it in the morning and I promise not to remind you more than, ooh, once an hour?”

“Thanks.”

“Are you coming back in? It’s freezing out here and I’m starting to sober up. I need a drink.”

Claire gave a tiny shake of the head. As Bethan stood up, Claire risked raising her head to make eye contact.

“Bethan, can you do me a favour?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Can you show me where my bed is please?”

With a giggle, Bethan pulled her to her feet and led her to the dorm rooms.

***

Why Facebook is Mostly for Me: 2013 365 Challenge #216

My WriterMummy Page

My WriterMummy Page

Kristen Lamb recently posted an article about how Writers Building a Platform Have NO Private Life On-Line.

It was a difficult post for me to read, because I am naturally a very private person (I would guess most writers are) and it’s tough to learn how much we have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. It was also tough for me, because she wrote specifically about Facebook and how writers shouldn’t have a Facebook fan page separate to their regular profile page.

Kristen says writers make the mistake of thinking that their regular page is for acting human and a fan page is “for the professional face and self-promotion.” She explains that, in reality:

The regular page is essential for connecting with people and creating the emotional bonds that will eventually translate into a vibrant, passionate author platform filled with readers. We connect talking about kids, laundry, missing socks, vacations, hard days at work and griping about the weather. All these everyday events are how we forge friendships.

She also says that you shouldn’t assume your friends aren’t interested in your writing. Friends read books and know people who read books, and so social media should be across all channels if you hope to sell books.

Practising skateboard at friends' BBQ

Practising skateboard at friends’ BBQ

Normally I fully embrace everything on Kristen Lamb’s blog, even if I don’t think I can implement it myself. And I have no doubt she’s right about this too. However it’s not right for me. Facebook is my sacred place. I am particular about who I accept as a friend on my profile page. Basically it has to be someone I’d happily show half-naked pictures of my kids in the paddling pool to.

Tonight I realised why Kristen and I are both right.

Family Martin went to a friend’s annual birthday barbecue, after a manic day which included Kara’s first Dog Show (more on that tomorrow) and a children’s party. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve made it to the summer barbecue and in many instances it’s the first time we’ve seen our friends in that time. But we didn’t need to catch up, because we follow each other’s lives on Facebook.

Our friends didn’t say “Look how much the kids have grown!” because they saw pictures of the kids in the paddling pool last week. They didn’t ask, “Why are you late?” but rather, “How was the kids’ party?” because we’d posted on Facebook that we were double booked and would be late.

Many evenings I trawl Facebook looking for something interesting, thinking I’m wasting precious writing time. In fact I’m really kind of down the pub with my mates, catching up on gossip and laughing at friends’ jokes. I share silly things the children have done and in turn commiserate with friends who are struggling with teething babies or boring jobs.

If I was constantly talking about writing, or if I knew I had an external audience, I would be more on my guard. I would protect the children more (I already feel I post too much about the kids on my blog). Similarly, if I had more friends that were people I didn’t know, my timeline would be even more cluttered than it already is and I’d miss more of the important stuff.

Not wanting to be outdone by her brother!

Not wanting to be outdone by her brother!

I know you can control that with lists – same as you can on Twitter. But I struggle with HooteSuite trying to see Tweets I want to see under all the promotional stuff. If that happened on Facebook too, I would lose my sanity. I would also lose my downtime at the pub. Actually, Facebook is more like a big private party than a pub. One where I know everyone by name and I know they all ‘get’ me. It’s a safe place.

But Kristen is right too (of course!) I do need to write a bit more about my books on my private site. I post some stuff but Facebook is selective about what it shows people.

Last night, a good friend who I last saw at my art exhibition two years ago asked, “How’s the art?” I had to explain that I’ve written and published two novels and seven volumes of a serial novel since then. Her response was, “How is it I haven’t heard about your writing?”

Hmmm social media fail!

The best moment of the night for me was finally meeting an old friend of my husband’s for the first time. For various reasons I haven’t met him in person in the 9 years I’ve known my hubbie. But he smiled as we walked in and gave me a huge hug as if I’d known him all my life. Why? Apart from being the most amazing person, he’s been my friend on Facebook for a year or two. He comments on my posts and photos of the kids and we share views on other things he posts. I felt like we’d always been friends and not at all like I was meeting him for the first time.

So, I apologise if my Facebook WriterMummy page is only updated once a day and mostly with stuff about writing, rather than silly pictures of the kids. I apologise if I’m alienating people by keeping my Facebook profile page closed. Maybe I’m not ready to be an author in the twenty-first century. That said, I am myself on my WriterMummy page, on Twitter and definitely here on the blog. Just maybe the me I’d be at a coffee shop, knowing strangers are listening, rather than the me I am after a glass of cider at a friend’s birthday bash.

And if that loses me sales, I’ll have to live with that. Some things are more important than money.

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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 shifted on the bed, wondering why her pillow felt lumpy. She swallowed and panicked as her airway felt closed with grit. Sitting up, she grabbed at the wall as her vision whirled and hot shards stabbed at her head.

Peering round the semi-dark room, memories flickered through her mind, as if she had looked upon the space several times, but each time it was slightly altered, like a spot the difference. In her mind the memories were sometimes of a dark room, sometimes of a sunlit space. Different bags by the beds. Voices, conversations, laughter, all blurred together like a dream-sequence in a movie.

The room was empty now, although rumpled duvets and scattered belongings suggested it was still fully occupied. Reaching behind her, Claire realised her lumpy pillow was actually her handbag. A quick check revealed nothing was missing. Her rucksack still slumped against the bed where she had dropped it, who knew how many hours before.

How long have I been asleep?

As the dark receded and the memories clarified, like a photograph coming into focus, Claire guessed she had been asleep on and off for a day or more. Looking down, she saw she was still wearing the clothes she’d put on Saturday morning, when she left her sister’s house. She tried to work out what day it was, but her mental calculations made the hot needles bury further in her brain.

Fumbling through her bag for her phone, Claire switched it on and searched for something to tell her what time and day it was, both in New Zealand and back home.

Well, it’s 5am back home. No wonder I’m tired. Checking the calendar, Claire stared at the neon words until they went fuzzy. Tuesday?! It’s Tuesday? What the hell? She sniffed, No wonder I stink. I’ve been wearing these clothes for three days.

Her phone beeped, as it picked up a local signal, and a text message trilled its arrival. Then another, and another. Claire’s hands shook as she realised the enormity of her actions.

I’m in New Zealand. I’m on the other side of the world! No one knows I’m here. I’ve been out of touch for days. Anything could have happened.

Her stomach squirmed with hunger and nerves as she flicked through the messages. Two were service messages, welcoming her to New Zealand. One was from Ruth, relaying her mother’s anger at the abandoned Skoda. One informed her of a voice message and one was from Kim. Heart pounding, Claire opened it.

Hi Claire, it’s Jeff. I’ve borrowed Kim’s phone. Just wanted to say, it’s not your fault. Kim needs you. Don’t give up on her, please.

Claire tried to swallow, and realised how parched she was. She stared at the message for several moments, then closed it. Time enough to work out how to respond later. If Jeff was using Kim’s phone she couldn’t reply directly to him anyway.

Hoping her work account was still active, Claire rang her voicemail to retrieve the message. I’d better add a new phone and contract to my to-do list, before Carl thinks to shut me down.

The message was from Conor, asking her if she’d had time to reconsider the job offer. Claire flushed guiltily as she remembered her promise to let him know on Monday. Vowing to send him an email, and remembering that she also needed to email Roger, she made a quick note before chucking her phone back in her bag.

Pulling out her wash-bag and some clean clothes, Claire stuffed her handbag back under the pillow and went in search of the bathroom.

Out of sight, out of mind, right?

***

Relentless Revision: 2013 365 Challenge #74

This is me when faced with revision...

This is me when faced with revision…

I’ve been revising Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes all day today.

Well, no, let’s be honest. I’ve been farting about on Twitter and WordPress and getting my head around Hotmail switching to Outlook, while thinking to myself I should be doing revision.

I’ve watched Homes Under the Hammer, dozed on the sofa and walked the dog. I’ve stacked the dishwasher, although I haven’t hoovered or cleaned the floor like I should have (just delegated the hoovering to hubbie but now I feel guilty because domestic chores are my job).

Have I mentioned before I hate doing revision on my novels? Probably once or twice. I’m fine for a page or two but then the sheer scale of the job overwhelms me, or I come across a scene that really stinks, and that’s it. Poof. All motivation evaporates. I really really want to stop working on Baby Blues (it will never be ‘finished’!) but if I release it into the world before it’s ready it will die and maybe take my (currently non-existent) reputation as an author with it.

On a happier note my wandering through the world of WordPress has introduced me to some great new blogs. I thought I should have a look wider than the parenting/writing blogs I tend to follow, and I’ve found some lovely photography sites and other more general ones. When I have time (i.e. when I’m meant to be revising again) I’ll pick out one or two to share.

Anyway, I think it’s time to have something different happen to Claire. I have an idea or two floating around so going to open my Word doc and see what falls on the page.

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Claire pulled her coat tighter and tucked her chin into the collar. After the heat of the pub the night air was bitter. She had stayed longer than intended, enjoying the open fire and the good wine, and now the sky had settled into a dusky shade of blue.

What a stupid idea to walk. I must stop listening to advice. Who cares if it’s only fifteen minutes, I got enough exercise this morning with those horrible brats and the oh-so-charming Pete.

The sun had set behind her and she knew the sky was laced with red and orange. Ahead it was dark, with only a faint glow highlighting the hills beyond the village.

I hope there are streetlamps up the lane. I didn’t think to bring a torch. Claire dug in her bag for her iPhone and used it to light the road ahead. I don’t want to step in anything nasty.

She walked on, concentrating on the pavement directly in front of her in case some careless dog owner had left something behind. These are the only shoes I’ve got that aren’t already crusted with mud. I’d like to keep them that way.

Ideas for her blog post drifted through her mind, floating on a glass of wine and settling into the rhythm of her stride. How am I going to write about this morning in a funny way without getting Pete into trouble? I guess I don’t have to name him. She thought about the weaseling trip and laughed, the sound echoing in the still night air. Too many pies. Cheeky bastard. Patting her tummy Claire thought that maybe her jeans were a little tighter than they had been a few weeks ago. It’s all these pub dinners. Why do they have to make the Fish and Chips look so yummy on the menu? Mind you, it was yummy. But it’s not exactly sushi or noodles. If there was any justice I’d be burning the calories doing stupid things like walking back to the hostel in the dark.

As if the words formed an image in her mind Claire became aware of just how dark it was. The pool of orange light cast by each streetlamp only seemed to highlight the darkness in between. Killing the light on the iPhone she tried to let her eyes adjust to the darkness. Her heart thudded loudly and she twitched at the sound of something scurrying in the hedgerow behind her.

What’s with all these looming walls and rustling trees? It’s spookier than a cemetery at Halloween. Come on girl, you’re not one to be afraid of a bit of black. Sheesh don’t add fear of the dark to your newly found phobias. Josh will piss himself laughing.

Claire opened her shoulders and raised her neck as if she was back in Madame Émile’s ballet class imagining a line pulling her head to the ceiling. It was as she was about to release the inhaled breath that she heard the footsteps. They were steady, unhurried, coming up behind her. She resisted the urge to walk faster. City life had taught her to ignore the approach of others, to remember that not every stranger on the street was out to kill you.

She strode the length of a long wall and saw the turning to the hostel driveway up ahead, past some houses set back from the road. The footsteps behind her seemed to be drawing nearer although their pace matched her own. It made her think it must be someone with a long stride. Or someone intent on catching me up.

Her heartbeat came faster now and the battered fish sat heavy in her stomach. She lengthened her own stride and glanced up and down the road ready to cross and turn up the drive. She deliberated whether to abandon the walk home and return to the safety of village. It was unlikely that the driveway had any lighting and she didn’t remember there being houses between the main road and the hostel.

Silly girl. Why didn’t I drive down for dinner? Or leave earlier. Somewhere between the thump thump of her footsteps and their unwanted echo and the timpani-pounding of her heart Claire knew why she hadn’t bothered. This is Hope Valley. People don’t get attacked out here. People get attacked in cities like Manchester. She thought about all the news stories she had seen with some poor soul sobbing, explaining that that sort of thing just didn’t happen round here. Claire felt the blood drain from her face at the thought that it has to happen somewhere.

The attack came from her right, not from behind. She had been so concerned with the footsteps she had failed to see the shadowy figure lurking on a park bench beneath the trees. Claire felt someone grab at her bag, trying to pull it from her shoulder. She swung out an elbow and let the bag slip free, knowing her phone was in her hand and her wallet in her back pocket. She’d at least learned that much. As soon as the bag was free she ran, hoping the man had what he wanted. She had forgotten about the footsteps, the fact that anyone following her would have seen her phone in her hand.

The first pursuer caught up with her as she crossed the road. Self-defence classes came to her aid and she jabbed the heel of her hand into his solar plexus before he could get a good grip. He crumpled, winded, and Claire span back to the driveway, wondering if her trembling legs would carry her the full distance before the second person arrived.

Her mind screamed at her to do something and without stopping to consider she yelled “Call Michael”. She heard her phone ringing in the pitch black of the lane. The screen lit up as the call connected.

Oh stupid girl.

The light shone bright in the darkness and the running footsteps came straight for her. Something sped through the air and she felt the impact against her temple, as a piercing pain stabbed through her head and blurred her vision.

A familiar voice rang in the darkness. “Hello? Michael speaking.”

Claire felt someone wrench the phone from her hand and then nothing.

***

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.

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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.

***

You’ll find me in the Kitchen: 2013 365 Challenge #58

I'm still a Luddite when it comes to Twitter

I’m still a Luddite when it comes to Twitter

I had my first real-time conversation on Twitter today. It feels like some sort of milestone, albeit a tiny one for the Social-Media Minded. I freely confess to being a Luddite where twenty-first century technology and communication is concerned. I love my blog and following other blogs. I love my personal Facebook account for seeing pictures of my niece and nephews and all my friends’ kids, holidays, pets, news etc. But the more hazy world of Twitter has always frightened and befuddled me. I used it merely for following one or two famous people I liked or getting a more frequent fix of funny from the various parenting blogs I follow. Some days you NEED funny!

My son refusing to eat his dinner. So cute...

My son refusing to eat his dinner. So cute…

It’s only recently, following the advice of Kristen Lamb, Jonathan Gunson and others offering advice on building an author platform, that I’ve ventured further into Twitter. I started by following agents and publishers, looking for hints and tips and competitions. Then I followed other bloggers and authors to see what they were saying. Too many were flogging their book every which way which I didn’t like.

Kristen (and others) tell us to think of Twitter as a cocktail party. You chat, you mingle, you share gossip and occasionally you might discuss work but not too often.I treated it like I would a real party: I hid in the kitchen by myself and eavesdropped on others who always seemed to be having way more fun.

Amber trying to cheer her brother up

Amber trying to cheer her brother up

Then today, yay, someone replied to one of my random parenting observations and we exchanged conversation. We made a brief connection. And I understood what Twitter could be if there weren’t so many people talking rubbish and bragging about their pay-cheque (if that metaphor stretches that far?)

Recently I’ve been trying to think of ways to tweet more often; to pick up followers and build my author platform. (Jonathan Gunson is full of great advice on his Twitter feed and Facebook page). But the only post on my blog this month that received no likes was the one featuring my Dragon Wraiths book cover and offer code. It might be a coincidence but I’m taking the hint. I don’t want to be the obnoxious one at the party being pushy, trying to sell my stuff. I’d like to sell some books but not my soul so until I’ve figured out how to do one without the other you’ll find me lurking by the fridge supping my G&T.

BTW: my son was being uber cute at dinner getting all grumpy and refusing to eat his sausages. He ate them in the end but I had to take a couple of pictures, especially as I knew I had no others for today’s post!

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“How come you’re staying in a hostel then if you come from Cumbria?” Claire cupped her hands round her mug and inhaled the scent of freshly-ground coffee. She watched Maggie through the rising steam.

“Oh I don’t live here now. I met my husband at school and we moved south. I come back while the kids are away, to indulge in nostalgia and stock up on gingerbread.”

“By yourself?” Claire didn’t mean to be inquisitive but the words were out before she could swallow them.

Maggie just smiled and brushed a stray hair away from her face. “Oh yes. Steve hates it up here in the spring. Too soggy. He says it takes him a month to dry out. I like the weather. Sometimes it’s nice to walk with the mizzling rain on your face keeping you cool. There are fewer tourists at this time of year too. You saw how busy the shop was today: imagine what it’s like in August.”

“Did you actually live here in Grasmere?”

“No, our place was out on the hills. I liked to come here as a child and wander through the graveyard. You know Wordsworth is buried near the Gingerbread Shop? The place is flooded with daffodils at this time of year. It’s beautiful, we should go there.” Maggie moved in her seat as if ready to flee the café and wander amidst wild daffodils for the rest of the day.

Please, God, no. I think I had my fill of Wandering Lonely as a Cloud during A Level English. She didn’t want to offend Maggie so she nodded absently as if the suggestion had been rhetorical.

“Has the place changed much?” Claire decided distraction was the best way to take Maggie’s mind off a tramp over the heads of a load of dead people.

“Well the Gingerbread Shop hasn’t changed but then it’s been the same for 150 years. As for the rest of Grasmere, it’s all got a bit posh to be honest. Not the place I knew when I was young, that’s for sure.”

Maggie chatted about growing up in Cumbria, about other local landmarks and famous people; Beatrix Potter and John Ruskin.

“I went to Brantwood,” Claire chipped in, feeling the same gratification she did when a question came up on University Challenge that she knew the answer to. “I bumped into an old school friend.” A frown pulled her face down before she felt it and forced her skin smooth.

“That’s the thing about staying in hostels, travelling around. You always bump into people you know in the most random places. I stayed in a hostel in New Zealand once and met a lad I knew from University. The hostel was out in the sticks, only ten beds in the place. We had to shoo sheep out the kitchen. You wouldn’t believe it if you read it in a novel.”

Claire nodded and was about to comment when her phone buzzed. The half-eaten scone from earlier dropped to the bottom of her stomach and her ears rang with rushing blood.

“Are you okay, you look pale?” Maggie reached a hand across the table and Claire jumped at her touch. “Was that your phone? Don’t mind me, you answer it.” Maggie sat back in her chair and gazed away as if giving Claire as much privacy as the busy café afforded.

She nearly dropped the phone as she picked it off the table and unlocked it. The buzz wasn’t a text message as she’d hoped but notification of an email. Claire was about to put the phone back next to her coffee cup when she noticed who the email was from.

What does he want?

Glancing up at Maggie she could see she was absorbed with her own thoughts. Claire quickly loaded her email and clicked open.

Claire, I need to see you. Are you still at Grasmere? Can you stay another night? J

“The cheek of him!” Claire only realised how loud she had spoken when the couple at the next table turned round. Her face flushed oven-hot and she dropped her head so her hair would shield her.

“I take it that wasn’t about your sister?” Maggie looked amused at Claire’s outburst.

“No, just some annoying bloke I met in Kielder. Being all cryptic and commanding.”

“Oh?” Maggie raised an eyebrow and dimples appeared in her cheeks.

Claire felt herself bristling at the expression, then she laughed. It felt good, like a spin class after a tricky board meeting. “It’s not romantic, if that’s what you mean. He’s a friend, as much as anyone is when you’ve known them a week or two. But he’s the most mysterious bloke. I wonder what he wants? Probably to cadge a lift somewhere. I’m pretty certain that’s the only reason he befriended me in the first place.”

“People make friends on the road for all sorts of reasons. The same as there are all sorts of reasons why people are on the road.” Her face grew distant and Claire wondered for the first time if Maggie had told her the truth about why she was travelling alone.

Honestly, I thought this was a simple work assignment. It’s starting to feel like an episode of Days of Our Lives.

She inhaled the scent of fresh coffee and banana bread and sat back in her chair. The sound of happy chattering and the splash of cars driving on rain-drenched roads outside the window wrapped around her like strands of pulsing life.

Still, it beats working for a living.

***

Kiddy Craft and Cheesy Poses: 2013 365 Challenge #49

Craft started with book making at 7,30am...

Craft started with book making at 7,30am…

It’s been a crafty sort of day. It started with sticking and glitter at 7,30am as the kids added photographs to their books. Then Daddy took them to Cambridge and on to Granddad’s for the afternoon so I was able to ‘glam up’ a bit and take some head-shot photographs to save me the cost of a photographer.

My remote switch and tripod are both broken so I had to make do with my mini tripod, a box and the ten-second timer. I’m rather red-cheeked in some of the pictures because it got a bit hot hopping down from a chair for each of the eighty or so shots I took.

It was fun doing photography again. I don’t get to use my big camera often as I’m either worried about it being broken again or it’s too bulky and obvious. The kids aren’t always happy to have their pictures taken and you can’t sneak up with a DSLR! I was rather chuffed with the results given the circumstances of my imprompt photoshoot. Well, until I shared the pictures with my friends…

Debate on Facebook has left me determined to leave photography to the professionals!

Debate on Facebook has left me determined to leave photography to the professionals!

I need a new head-shot for the About.me page that shows on this blog, a new one for LinkedIn, and one to send to the Nene Valley Magazine to go with my article. I found it tough choosing because I am both model and photographer and I also prefer more formal pics of myself. So (foolishly it turns out) I decided to put what I thought were the best twelve on Facebook for my nearest and dearest to comment on.

Apparently in most of the shots I look either regal (!), superior (?) or just plain mean. In one or two I look like I’m shooting people with my laser eyes. Actually I can see that: I had to focus on where the lens was to make sure I was in shot and sometimes I focussed a bit hard. It does seem I might have to succumb and hire a professional portrait photographer as I clearly haven’t captured ‘me’ or taken a shot that is sufficiently warm and welcoming to help me build my social media platform.

Still, it was interesting to photograph something other than the children, even if it had to be me (I don’t like being in front of the camera much either. The ‘regal’ or ‘death stare’ looks are really discomfort.).

...and ended with craft at 5pm

…and ended with craft at 5pm

I’ve also had fun playing with the final images with our new copy of Adobe Photoshop, purchased for book cover design but useful for many things.

When I first left my job as a marketing manager to follow more creative pursuits I took a course in digital photography that concentrated on the amazing things that can be done with Adobe. It was the best career decision I ever made as it has come in useful for a multitude of things, from designing logos and book covers to winning photography competitions and making montages for friends. Unfortunately it can’t turn a meanie into a smiley person but you can’t have everything! 🙂

The day ended on a nice note with a lovely craft session with the kids, making sheep and lentil pictures and caterpillars followed by some colouring with Daddy at bedtime. If I’ve learned anything today it’s to never put something out in the world that I’m not ready to have criticised. I hope I get less upset by my first awful book review than I did by the comments from my friends on Facebook!

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Clare woke to the sound of drums. The thudding noise filled every inch of space in the room around her. It was a few seconds before she associated the rapid rhythm with her own heartbeat. Slowly her senses fought the sound of the drumming. Her ears noted other noises: the rattle of water in old pipes, the swell of birdsong coming through the single-glass window. The pervasive odour of the room crept in her nostrils and reminded her of her location. Sticky eyes unglued and took in the dim glow of dawn seeping through the curtains. And still the drums pounded.

What the hell?

Claire tried to think what had forced her awake. The clatter of the pipes was loud but her earplugs were still half-in and she had become better at ignoring random noises in the night. The dawn light wasn’t bright enough to have dragged her out of sleep. Gradually the bass drum steadied into a regular beat and Claire was able to concentrate on her breathing.

She tried to recall her dreams, assuming they must have caused the thumping heartbeat and clammy sweat that she could feel freezing on her forehead in the chilly room. She grabbed at the images in her mind but they slipped away as if she had tried to catch a reflection and found only water. And still the sensations persisted. She wanted to crawl out of herself, to shed an itchy and hated skin.

The feeling of disquiet lingered like the bad smell still permeating the room. Claire plumped her pillow and fidgeted in the bed, trying to return to sleep. Every time she closed her eyes indefinable images swam in the dark and forced the lids open again.

What is going on? I didn’t have cheese for dinner. In fact I didn’t have dinner. No alcohol, no coffee. No reason for bad dreams.

Admitting defeat Claire rolled on her back and gazed at the underside of the top bunk, forcing herself to dredge the scattered emotions of her dream for meaning. She was conscious of fear and panic, as if she’d lost her phone or was late for a business meeting. No, worse than that. As if she’d lost her job.

Well, haven’t I?

Claire explored the thought to see if it was the cause of her unease. I haven’t lost my job, but maybe it is time to start looking for a new one, just in case. She rolled over onto her side, hoping the decision would calm her agitated brain and let her sleep. Still the jittering in her stomach continued. A bubbling sensation somewhere behind her belly button nagged at her. It felt like a scream building; a scream that would consume her if she let it free.

That’s enough now body. Get a grip. You are Claire Carleton, Melanie and Gerald’s daughter, Robert and Ruth’s sister. You don’t have nightmares or flights of fancy, they’re not allowed.

A word snagged at her mind as she gave herself a talking-to. Ruth. Suddenly a flood of images washed over her eyes. Ruth going to hospital, Ruth strapped to a white bed, Ruth watching terrified as a giant needle came towards her, her eyes wide and wild as she saw it approach.

Claire jerked upright, crashed her head against the top bunk and collapsed back to the mattress with a groan, tears stabbing her eyes.

My little sister. I’ve been such a cow. All I was concerned with was what she said about Michael, about how she envied me my perfect life. I should have been worried about her, facing this all alone, having to care for Sky and having no one care for her.

She rolled over and fumbled on the floor for her phone. 5.38am. It was too early to call. Claire tapped at the screen and wrote a text message, hoping it wouldn’t wake her sister but needing to connect.

 Hey sis. Hope everything goes okay today. Text or call to let me know you’re alright. Thinking of you.

Claire looked at the screen and felt the thudding resume in her chest. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t enough. She tapped at the screen again and typed out two more words before hitting send.

Love you.

***

Quick post about Milestones

I reached 60,000 words on Dragon Wraiths, my WIP, today.

Looking for other significant numbers I realised I have exceeded 30 blog posts here since I started. Many more than I thought I would manage. I even have 20 followers.

It might seem like tiny steps to other people, but I didn’t expect any of it and at last I feel like the hard work is slowly paying off.

All I need to do now is suss out Twitter, where I currently have one follower (my husband) and Facebook where my WriterMummy page has 7 likes and my Amanda Martin page has 6. Onwards ever onwards.