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!


“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.


Seat of Pants and Insomnia: 2013 365 Challenge #57

Beans Coffee Shop, Oundle

Beans Coffee Shop, Oundle

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

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


“My sister’s having surgery today.”

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

“Oh my.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The walk? To The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop?”

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


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

Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.

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

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

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

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

“My dad plays golf.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Ikea and Family: 2013 365 Challenge #56

The School House Hostel, Dargville NZ. More colourful (and less comfortable) than a UK YHA!

The School House Hostel, Dargville NZ. More colourful (and less comfortable) than a UK YHA!

Our strategy for survival today was to take the kids to Ikea. I don’t know why we thought that was a good idea on a Sunday but there you go. Ikea was heaving. I spent a large amount of time hiding in one of the kid’s rooms watching the kids pretend to go to sleep.

My hubbie’s Auntie and Uncle live near our local Ikea, about an hour away, so the day was made special by a lovely catch up and some cake. All topped off by a visit to grandma and grandpa on the way home. It was nice to have a day with a plan instead of sitting home and moping. Hopefully it will give us all strength for nursery drop-off tomorrow which has become tortuous recently (both kids sobbing). It makes me sob too because, even though I am working I’m not earning money and it’s hard to justify them getting so upset. Except we all need time apart and generally, once they’re settled, they have a great time doing craft and playing with their friends. Still I’ll be glad when one of us is earning some money. It isn’t going to be me anytime soon, certainly not with Dragon Wraiths. I knew it wouldn’t sell easily without marketing but no one even took up the free download coupon offer! Ha ha. Back to querying agents for sure!

The front cover for Two-Hundred Steps Home Volume 2

The front cover for Two-Hundred Steps Home Volume 2

On the Claire front, I have been very disappointed in Beth and Chloe. They were introduced into the story to help Claire bond with women, but they were too giggily, too loud, too young maybe. They soaked her on the kayak trip and excluded her at the hostel, almost causing her to lose Josh’s friendship too.

I wonder if Claire needs to meet someone new to travelling so she can have a sense of superiority. Not in a smug way – I think she’s beginning to learn her lesson on that front – but to show her that she has learned something on her journey already. She needs a buddy to support her while Ruth is sick and with Josh it’s complicated.

Alternatively she needs to befriend an older woman who can mother her and impart advice. Claire is the baby in her family and is used to coming last and not being heard. Her mother is distant and unemotional. Claire could meet a surrogate mother (maybe even a couple?) who will teach her what family love should look like.

I am actually planning a few days ahead for the first time – only because I’d quite like to end ‘Volume Two’ (i.e. February) with a bit of a bombshell. I’ve already done the front cover for the February Volume (did I mention I rather like designing covers?) and I think it would be good to have a hook so anyone reading it is drawn back to the blog. The first volume just reached 100 downloads today (yippee!) so I know the ebooks are worth the effort. It’s tough though because I find the idea of selling myself hard and I don’t want to do things just to get readers. Still, everyone loves a bombshell, right?

I’ve also discovered that I really want to take my family to stay in a YHA hostel. All my research has shown me what great buildings and locations are on offer and how much more appropriate it is as accommodation for us than a hotel. Being able to cook breakfast and dinner and have sofas for the kids to jump on. Besides it would be great research! I’ve yet to convince hubbie so I’m thinking of taking the kids on my own – get a feel for what Claire might experience if she ends up hostelling with Sky.


Claire caught her lower lip between her teeth and let herself into the dorm room. She had hoped for a private room so she could get her head straight and concentrate on Ruth, but the hostel didn’t have any left. At least it’s a single-sex dorm. Her last conversation with Josh rang through her mind. Men are more trouble than a room full of creative directors.

Peering round the door Claire thought for one hopeful moment that the room was empty. Then she heard strains of David Grey playing quietly and the happy bubble popped. Pushing the door wider she scanned the room, relieved to see only one bed with obvious signs of occupation. A grey-haired lady sat crossed-legged on a lower bunk writing in a journal of some description. The music was coming from an iPad on the bed next to her.

At least she isn’t a twenty-something Swedish girl. She doesn’t look like she’ll come stumbling in at 2am reeking of vodka.

The woman raised her head as Claire closed the door behind her. Her face lit up with a warm smile and Claire felt herself smiling in return. “Hi, I’m Claire.”

“Maggie. Pleased to meet you.” The woman nodded down at her iPad. “Will the music bother you, shall I turn it off?”

Claire’s eyes widened at the unexpected politeness. “No, it’s fine. I haven’t heard David Grey since I was a student. It’s rather nice.” She headed for the bunk tucked in the corner and kicked off her shoes. She needed to put something on her blog, even if just a paragraph, and knew she needed to get onto it before sleep dragged her down. Her eyes felt like a horde of partygoers were bouncing around inside them and prodding at the walls with their beer bottles.

Staring at the blank page Claire tried to remember what had happened that day. The kayak seemed a lifetime ago. All that resonated was the call from her sister and the implications. Without stopping to let her subconscious talk her out of it, Claire decided to write from the heart. Isn’t that what Josh told me to do. He’s a man of hidden depths. Maybe I should listen to him. David Grey’s voice swept through her, the words tugging at her stomach. “Life in slow motion somehow it don’t feel real, Life in slow motion somehow it don’t feel real.”

She began to type.

 Life in Slow Motion

I am sitting in Grasmere hostel listening to David Grey. The lyrics Life in slow motion, somehow it don’t feel real are resonating deep in my gut.

A hostelling life is a life lived in slow motion. Some days I don’t move more than ten miles from hostel to hostel. The highlight of my day is a smile from a stranger. I have left the speeding motorway of city life and I feel as giddy as if I’ve stepped too quickly off a travelator at the airport. I went kayaking this morning and watched, bemused, while larger-than-life girls splashed water at each other with their paddles. I found myself seeking a quiet corner of the lake to absorb the sound of bird song and admire the reflections of the hills broken apart by ripples.

Since starting this adventure I find I walk more slowly, breathe more deeply, sup my Earl Grey tea with appreciative pleasure. This blog is meant to record the excitement of a life lived outdoors; the thrill of hiking, biking, abseiling and rock climbing. What I hadn’t appreciated until today was the simple joy of silence. Having received some bad news I was grateful to climb into my basic little car, drive along quiet winding roads and let my mind be still.


Claire read through what she had written, unsure whether it made sense, fearful that it made her seem like a hippy. Her eyes itched with tiredness and unshed tears. The music had moved on from Life in slow motion to From here you can almost see the sea. The haunting melody took her back to university days – battling hangovers and fatigue to churn out essays so that she could go party with her friends. Back then she hadn’t appreciated David Grey, he sounded far too maudlin, but her flat mate had been a fan. Now, lying back on her hostel bed staring at the underside of the bunk above, she felt serene. A nagging thought that she was losing her mind whispered in her ear, but not loud enough to keep her from sleep.