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.

***

Scootering and the School Run: 2013 365 Challenge #51

Glapthorn Road, Oundle in the sun (Photo by Peter Whatley)

Glapthorn Road, Oundle in the sun – but without the mass of scootering children! (Photo by Peter Whatley)

Another day when I’m glad of my deadline buffer. I normally write posts the night before but give myself until 10am the following morning. It’s currently 8am and I’ve only just opened my laptop. Gorgeous wonderful hubbie is downstairs feeding the children. I probably have thirty minutes before there is something urgent they have to ask mummy about… Best get on with it then!

The reason I didn’t start yesterday is because I had a day in the life of a Town Mum and by 8pm could neither stand, walk or speak I was so tired.

I’m used to driving the children everywhere because I live out in the sticks. I think I’m pretty fit but nothing tests your stamina like carrying a 14kg child for about a mile on the school run because he fell off his new scooter almost instantly and wouldn’t get back on. I think my left arm is twice the length of the right one now!

Scootering at the park is much easier than on the school run

Scootering at the park is much easier than on the school run

Thankfully when my wonderful daughter face-planted the pavement, after being flipped off her new scooter, and grazed her nose and chin she battled on bravely (after a most impressive screaming fit) and did the whole journey, dodging tree roots, uneven paving and about 100 other kids all spilling out from school, half of them also on Micro scooters.

I used to envy my friends for living in town but the school run was a whole new experience. And it was sunny and warm. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the snow and ice! Maybe I’ll stop dreaming up ways we can afford a house in town and stick to ferrying my kids around by car with trips to the park on the way home.

Actually the kids were amazing all day, and were suitably rewarded with ice cream and pizza for tea (in that order!) I ended up helping my friend with a piece of work on the computer for several hours while my two played with her daughter and they didn’t break anything. I found my (2 year-old) son tucked up in my friend’s bed with her daughter (she’s 4, same as Amber) and all they had done was tip water on the duvet. Given her make-up bag was right there it could have been much worse!

Spending too much time on social media and not enough with the kids...

Spending too much time on social media and not enough with the kids…

The only bit of the day that left me sad was reading a blog post by Allaboutmanners on how a working mum can stay present and focussed on her children rather than being distracted by technology all the time. I know I’m not getting the balance right at the moment. My kids are always telling me off for checking emails or “just doing this load of laundry” / “just feeding the dog” / “just running the hoover round”.

I used to get more chores done on nursery days (particularly when I had three days a week to do them) and now I feel they rarely get my undivided attention because there are always a zillion things that need doing. I read the blog post on my phone while watching the kids in my friend’s playroom so it caused the worst kind of guilt!

I’ve been thinking about it a lot since and the guilt has diminished a bit. I know I don’t have the balance right, but I also know it is very difficult to remain present for any length of time with toddlers and preschoolers unless that’s your vocation. If my children have my undivided attention they play up against each other, and there is always one that isn’t happy. If I drift off and do work sometimes they moan but sometimes they go and play beautifully together, like they did at my friend’s house yesterday. I may not always make them feel the most special beings in the universe but I do teach them that the world doesn’t always revolve around them and to find their own entertainment. Weighed up in the balance I feel it’s better than an artificial life of either 5-day-nursery-care or 5-day-Mummy-attention. Anyway, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it! 🙂

Ooh, it’s 8.29am, look at all my waffle. I’d better find out where I left Claire and move her on to her next challenge, whilst also trying to ignore the crying and screaming downstairs….

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Claire looked round towards the door at the sound of voices approaching the hostel. She knew that no one she wanted to see was likely to walk in and still she looked. Just because I’m still in the Lakes doesn’t mean he’s going to turn up. There must be at least twenty hostels in Cumbria and, besides, this isn’t Casablanca.

She turned back to the iPad and concentrated on finding something interesting to say about John Ruskin her trip to Brantwood

I can’t really put ‘bumped into catty old school friend in the most random place today and it turns out she hated me as much as I hated her. Isn’t life funny?’

What else to write though? It was hardly a high-adrenalin activity wandering round a museum or supping a latte in the café.

If I’m going to keep my job I need blog traffic. I can’t give Carl an excuse to call this venture a failure. She thought about making up an adventure but knew she’d get found out in a heartbeat. There might be only ten people following my blog but if I say I walked Striding Edge this morning and I didn’t you can bet they’ll know someone who was up there or I’ll get the weather wrong.

Claire gazed around the hostel lounge, taking in the stylish fireplace and soothing décor, and felt pleased with herself for stumbling across it in the guide book. She’d been flicking through trying to find a hostel that wasn’t a bunkhouse and her eye had stopped at what she thought was the Holy Cow hostel. Smiling she had thumbed back through the pages and was disappointed that it actually said Holly How. I prefer my version.

Claire heard voices outside the lounge door and the hairs on her arm rose. Just because it’s an Australian accent doesn’t mean anything. You’re worse than a teenager at a school disco. Give it up and write your damn blog.

Tapping at the iPad Claire wrote some purple prose about the views from Brantwood and included a couple of inspirational Ruskin quotes. The voices in the hallway grew louder and then diminished, as the new arrivals dispersed to their various dorm rooms. It sounded like a bus-load had arrived and Claire hoped only the quiet ones were heading for her dorm. It had been empty when she arrived and she’d had a sneaky hope that it might remain that way.

I knew that was too much to ask.

Claire bent her head over her phone, searching through her photos to find one suitable for the blog. She heard someone enter the lounge but forced herself not to look up.

The newcomer walked across the room and stood near the sofa without speaking. Still Claire refused to look up. She knew she was being rude, breaking some kind of hostelling rule by not welcoming the new arrival. She heard the stranger clear their throat, then laugh.

“Hey Claire. Saw the rust bucket outside in the car park. Not in Liverpool then?”

Heart thudding, Claire at last looked up and felt a surge in her chest that wouldn’t have embarrassed her teenage self. Her face spread in an involuntary grin as she gazed at the tanned skin and dirty-blonde hair.

“Hi Josh.”

***

Finally at Fifty! 2013 365 Challenge #50

Humpty Dumpty basking in the sun in our garden

Humpty Dumpty basking in the sun in our garden

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

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

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

Tthe sun is shining outside the window, hurrah!

The sun is shining outside the window, hurrah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Claire? Claire Carleton?”

Her tranquillity was shattered by the screech of estuary vowels.

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

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

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

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

“Your mother works here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need caffeine.

***