Formatting and Designing Covers (Again)

A possible cover for THSH the complete story

A possible cover for THSH the complete story

I spent today doing what I love best (ahem), formatting and editing a word document ready for uploading to Smashwords and Amazon. It frustrated me from the beginning of my 2013 writing challenge that I wasn’t able to put the Two-Hundred Steps Home volumes onto Amazon, because they don’t allow permanently free books.

It has therefore always been my intention to combine the twelve volumes into one book to put on Amazon. The dilemma is whether to spend time proofreading and checking for continuity errors and risk getting sucked into doing a full edit (which is not something I intend to get dragged into). Hubbie argues that the original instalments shouldn’t be altered (apart from fixing obvious typos as and when I see them or am told about them) as that was the purpose of the challenge: to write a first draft novel and publish as-is.

My compromise has been to put a short introduction at the beginning to explain the challenge. Writing that is also proving tricky: this is my first attempt:

Two-Hundred Steps Home was written during 2013 in daily instalments on Amanda Martin’s writermummy blog. She wanted to see if it was possible to write the first draft of a novel and publish it every day, much as a Nineteenth-Century Dickens novel might have been published.

Throughout a long year, with hours of painstaking research into the hostels and tourist attractions of UK and New Zealand, and with the endless support of her family, Amanda followed Claire on a journey of discovery from her life as a Marketing Director to someone searching for meaning on the beaches of Cornwall.

Unsure in the beginning whether she would complete her challenge, Amanda continued day by day because of the faithful followers on her blog. And so, 285,000 words, 365 posts and 12 novellas later, Claire’s journey reached the end.

This volume contains all 365 instalments, unedited and exactly as they appeared on the writermummy blog

One of the covers I'm considering

One of the covers I’m considering

It’s a work in progress! As is the front cover. After carefully choosing an image to fit with the theme of each volume, month on month, it has been impossible to come up with an image that sums up the whole of Claire’s journey. These are the two I’m playing with at the moment but I’m not entirely satisfied with either.

What I’d really love to do is have a proper cover designed by someone that knows what they’re doing, rather than me with some istockphoto images and Adobe Photoshop. But, again, it doesn’t fit in with the original challenge of doing it all myself and, besides, I can’t afford it!

When I think about it too much, I feel I should hold back on getting out a complete volume. Part of me wants to get something live this week, so I can get back to the proper job of writing when the children go back to school next week, while the rest of me knows that rushing into any self-publishing breaks all the rules and risks damaging an author’s reputation. But then so does writing a novel in chunks at 2am and publishing the first draft. However, 6,000 downloads later, it doesn’t seem to have done too badly.

My only other point of indecision is whether to call it “Two-Hundred Steps Home Volumes 1-12” or “The Complete Journey” to separate it from the individual volumes but also make clear it isn’t a sequel! I can write fast, but not that fast! 🙂 Ah well, knowing me I’ll make an impulsive decision at midnight and you’ll see something live shortly after. If no one buys it, I’ll come up with a Plan B.

Self-Publishing isn’t for the Fainthearted: 2013 365 Challenge #308

Smashwords Dashboard

Smashwords Dashboard

My unshaken confidence in my five-year plan to become an author that actually sells books took a serious wobble today. Due to dismal sales figures last month (each book only sold 6 copies) and the lack of any reviews on Baby Blues, I decided to drop the Smashwords price to 99p on both books for November. It ties in nicely with NaNoWriMo: my contribution, if you like, as I can’t participate this year. The first draft of Baby Blues was penned during NaNo 2011 (while I sat watch over my solo art exhibition) and it seemed appropriate to celebrate the fact.

However, when I dropped the price on Smashwords they put the book under review (even though I hadn’t touched the manuscript) and then booted it out of Premium Catalogue for apparently containing page numbers. It doesn’t. So instead of writing a decent Claire installment this morning, I spent two hours copying and pasting the entire MS into a new word document, relinking the hyperlinks and double-checking everything. Only to have the darn thing not load properly. I’ve tried three times today and it’s still ‘loading’. Grrr.

It’s very tempting to withdraw both my novels from Smashwords and re-enroll them in KDP Select, as I haven’t sold any copies through any other route. It feels a bit like moving to sit in the other end of the boat as it goes down though – I don’t think it’s going to make much difference to the result. There are just too many books out there to compete with. Free books. Books with glitzy covers. Racy books, thrillers, erotica. Things people seem to want to read.

A lovely review

A lovely review

So far I’ve had around 2,200 copies of the free Two-Hundred Steps Home downloaded, across the ten volumes. That’s thousands more than I’ve sold copies of my novel. So my glorious idea of writing THSH to hopefully cross sell Baby Blues and Dragon Wraiths clearly isn’t working. I did get a nice review on THSH Volume 10 today – my first review on anything in ages. (Don’t get me started on the reviews from friends and family that Amazon just won’t publish, even though they’re not at all sycophantic and are just genuine and nice).

I try so hard not to get disillusioned. I knew this was going to be a long slog. I could still be trying for an agent for Dragon Wraiths: instead I’ve sold nearly 100 copies. It doesn’t sound like much, but rumour has it even eighty-something percent of traditionally published books don’t sell more than 100 copies, so it’s something to be proud of. It’s just hard, spending 70% of my time on promotion, formatting, covers, social media, thinking up new sales ideas and 30% on actually writing more books. I can’t even squeeze in NaNoWriMo for the first time since 2008.

I have four unfinished manuscripts and two outlines for sequels and I haven’t been near them all year. I’ve loved doing THSH and publishing Dragon Wraiths and Baby Blues, but it’s hard not to feel discouraged when I see what little impact they’ve had. Writing the darn things is just not enough. The story of my life revolves around my inability to sell my stuff. Web design, paintings, books – you name it. I can do the graft, put in the hard work, but if no one buys anything it’s just so much clutter and hours wasted.

Anyway, sorry for the doom and gloom, I’m sure it’s the infernal cold talking and I’ll be back to my positive self tomorrow. That’s if Smashwords actually sees fit to publish my book anytime soon! Grrr

_______________________________________________________________________________

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:

________________________________________________________________________________

Claire looked at the email and pursed her lips, trying to read beneath the business-like words. The message contained none of the usual friendly jokes or snide comments that they used to, before Sunday night ruined everything. With a frown she read the note again.

Claire

Thank you for sending through your initial findings, they appear satisfactory, although I have not had a great deal of time to peruse them. We are working hard on the Carnival and there isn’t much time to spare.

Regarding the Carnival: I need you to be back in town for that week. I realise that it isn’t part of your current job description to help out, but I’m afraid we’re short staffed. It’s an essential part of the region’s tourism, so I’m sure you’ll understand why we need it to be a success.

In the meantime I suggest you press on towards Cornwall: there is a lot of ground to cover and, as I understand you’re still in Dartmoor, you will struggle to get around all the major destinations in the time allotted.

Regards

Conor

The last sentence definitely sounded like a rebuke, although Claire couldn’t point to the exact part that gave her that impression. Did he know she was hiding, licking her wounds? Was he angry at her running away or ashamed at his behaviour? There was nothing to work with. It was as friendly and helpful as an email from Carl would have been.

Pushing her laptop away, Claire pulled out a copy of the hostel map and worked out her route. She’d decided to stick to the YHA hostels, after her experience in Torquay.

Although I’ll learn to call ahead.

Looking around the empty hostel at Bracken Tor, Claire wondered if she would be as fortunate to have an entire building to herself in any of the other hostels. It felt a bit spooky, with the gardener the only other living person in the area, but at the same time her soul yearned for the solitude.

When she’d arrived back at the hostel she’d decided to skip her planned activity and wander around the house and gardens, enjoying the silence. She’d read her book, eaten some toast and made endless cups of hot tea. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt at such peace with the world.

Still, Conor has put an end to that. Back to work.

With a sigh, Claire looked down the list of hostels and picked one to call. She grabbed her phone and keys, strode out the room and up the hill until she got a signal.

“Yes, hello? I’d like to book a bed for the night. Yes, tonight please.”

As she waited for the manager to check for vacancies, Claire looked around at the endless scenery, with no sight of the steaming heap of humanity Conor was so fond of. Aside from the hum of the main road, she could have been on a remote island, miles from anyone or anywhere.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

***

Style hell Sunday: 2013 365 Challenge #273

A nice moody monochrome cover seemed right for Volume 9

A nice moody monochrome cover seemed right for Vol9

Word styles are going to be the death of me. After all the issues with Baby Blues and Normal vs Style2, I’ve had problems today that made that look like child’s play to fix.

Dragon Wraiths came out of KDP select as of this morning, so I put it back on Smashwords, thinking I’d fixed all the formatting issues last month. Wrong. So at 8 am, when I should have been writing my Claire post, I was desperately trying to fix formatting issues. Then during the morning, between ironing uniform and doing laundry, I spent hours trying to fix the index.

Five versions later I admitted defeat and copied a working index in from an old file. Then, as we were about to leave for the in-laws’, I desperately tried to fix the tiny text-and-indenting issues.

Arrived at father-in-law’s to discover that hadn’t worked so spent the journey home fixing them on my laptop in the car. While cooking sausage and mash and folding laundry this evening I made one last attempt and – fingers crossed – it looks okay now. On iBooks at least. I’m too scared to check the other versions.

I tweaked a few other formatting issues too, so I’ll now have to upload a new version to Amazon and redo my CreateSpace version. Formatting never ends! I begin to understand why people pay companies to do it for them! Although there is a sense of satisfaction when it all comes good.

On a happy note, tomorrow is the beginning of October (scary, I know!), which means it’s nearly my birthday, my sister comes home for a visit in a week, and we survived the manic month of September! Hurrah

________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

________________________________________________________________________________

Claire jumped down from the coach and waved vaguely in the driver’s direction. She’d already checked which bus would take her to the airport and the driver had pointed out the stop.

If only the tour still stopped in Christchurch overnight, I could have booked a taxi to pick me up from the hostel. Bloody earthquake.

Standing at the stop, Claire tried to remember the last time she’d caught a bus. Back in Manchester she’d stuck to the trams, if public transport had featured at all. Mostly she used her car.

Please let NZ buses run punctually.

Claire chewed the side of her nail and stared along the road, willing the bus to appear amidst the traffic. She was surprised how many cars there were on the street on a Saturday evening.

I wonder if the Kiwis come into town for a night out. I wish I was heading to a bar for a double gin and tonic. Hopefully there’ll be enough money to buy one on the plane, assuming I get there.

Claire could almost taste the cool refreshing tang of tonic with a slice of lime, and she took a swig of water to wet her throat. Her tummy rumbled but she didn’t dare leave the stop to look for food. Plenty of time to worry about eating when her luggage was checked in and she had her boarding pass.

At last the bus appeared down the street. It seemed to take forever to reach her in the traffic. Claire jumped on almost before the doors were open.

“Airport, please.”

The driver nodded and named the fare.

“How long will it take?”

“Half an hour, assuming we don’t hit traffic. Don’t worry, chook, we’ll get you there for your flight.”

Claire took a seat, wondering how much panic was visible on her face to get a pep-talk from a complete stranger.

Outside the window, she was able to get a true sense of the devastation caused by the earthquake and began to realise the traffic was not caused by volume of people, but the need to negotiate streets still closed off by piles of rubble.

Gazing at the buildings along the central business district, Claire realised they were actually shipping containers, stacked up and painted. It made her sad to think of the once beautiful city in such a state of disrepair, however much it matched her mood.

As the bus drove along suburban streets lined with bare trees, Claire felt increasingly like she was on her way home.

It’s not winter there, though. How odd to go from spring to summer to autumn and back to summer again.

She tried to imagine travelling around Cornwall in the sunshine, back in her own car and in control of her travel plans. The thought raised a flicker of happiness deep inside, but it was soon extinguished by her concern for Kim and her need to get home.

At last there were signs to the airport and Claire felt her heartbeat quicken. Before they were even close to the building she rose and walked to the front of the bus.

“Where do you drop us?”

“At the arrivals hall.”

“Damn. How far to departures?”

The driver laughed. “Not far. It’s not exactly Singapore. You’ll be fine.”

“My flight leaves in half an hour.”

“Ah, you are cutting it close. No worries, we’ll get you there.”

Claire clung on to the nearest seat as the driver put his foot down. She wished she’d told him earlier that she was in a hurry.

I can’t imagine a bus driver in the UK going faster because I’m late for my flight. He’d be more likely to berate me for my bad planning.

“Here you go. Through there, you can’t miss it. I’d get a move on though. Good luck.”

With a wave, Claire jumped down from the bus, shouldered her rucksack, and ran.

She found the international check in desks and looked for her flight. All the signs were blank and she felt the panic begin to rise up her throat. One desk had a woman behind it and she ran towards her, bumping the barriers with her rucksack.

“Hi,” she panted, dropping her bag to the floor. “I need to check in for my flight to Sydney.”

The woman behind the desk looked up and frowned. “You’re too early, check in isn’t open yet.”

“What do you mean? My flight leaves in thirty minutes.”

The frown deepened. “Sorry, Ma’am, you’re too late to check in for that fight. I can put you on standby for the next flight, but it doesn’t leave until the morning. You’ll have to find accommodation for the night.”

“What do you mean I can’t check in? I’ve still got at least twenty minutes before the flight leaves. I can’t get one in the morning, I’m connecting to Dubai.”

The check-in clerk looked at Claire with a mixture of pity and frustration. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, you should have allowed more time to get to the airport. I can’t get you checked in and through security in twenty minutes. The gate is already closed.”

Claire stared at the perfectly made-up face, the immaculate hair, the clean and ironed clothing, and knew hatred. After everything she had been through to get here, to miss the flight because this woman wouldn’t let her through was too much. She wanted to scream and rant, to barge through and run for the gate. To do something desperate.

Instead she stood, numb and defeated, and let the tears fall.

***

99% Perspiration: 2013 365 Challenge #268

CreateSpace Formatting

CreateSpace Formatting (note the time!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swanage from the pier

Swanage from the pier

August

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

_______________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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! 🙂

________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

________________________________________________________________________________

“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.

***

Rainy Day Play: 2013 365 Challenge #213

Painting with feet. I said "feet" only!

Painting with feet. I said “feet” only!

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

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

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

Bob the builder jacket as apron

Bob the builder jacket as apron

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

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

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

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

Indoor painting with feet. I said feet!

Indoor painting with feet. I said feet!

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

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

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

Look what the postman brought!

Look what the postman brought!

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

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

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

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

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

_____________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

_____________________________________________________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Miss Carleton?”

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

“Yes?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I have your passport, please?”

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

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

And then it was done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

CreateSpace Distraction: 2013 365 Challenge #190

First Draft Create Space Cover

First Draft Create Space Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I liked this quote:

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

Bookcrossing. Set them free

Bookcrossing. Set them free

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

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

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

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

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

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

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:

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

“Well done.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

***