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

My WriterMummy Page

My WriterMummy Page

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

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

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

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

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

Practising skateboard at friends' BBQ

Practising skateboard at friends’ BBQ

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

Tonight I realised why Kristen and I are both right.

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

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

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

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

Not wanting to be outdone by her brother!

Not wanting to be outdone by her brother!

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

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

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

Hmmm social media fail!

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

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

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

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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

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

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

How long have I been asleep?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out of sight, out of mind, right?

***

Don’t Force It: 2013 365 Challenge #185

Creativity in the garden

Creativity in the garden

This morning I read Kristen Lamb’s latest post about the Five common tactical errors in Self-Publishing:

I’ve read this before on Kristen’s blog, but it is always useful to have a refresher, and compare where I am against where I should be.

This is the list of common errors:

1. Publishing too soon (before understanding and honing the craft of writing)

2. No prepared platform (that is, author platform – blog/website/social media etc)

3. Believing that, “If We Write it They Will Come” (self-publishing doesn’t mean less work, but more)

4. Misusing FREE! (giving your book away for free without understanding the benefits)

5. Shopping one book to DEATH (instead of sitting down to write the next one. It usually takes 3 books to have any kind of success)

Giant paint pallet

Giant paint pallet

I agree with them all: Reading Class Act now, I can see why Mills and Boon rejected it. I sent it off way too soon. There’s so much back story at the beginning even I can’t work out what’s going on. I’m still working on the others, and learning painful lessons (like coming out of the KDP Select program with Dragon Wraiths and not selling a book for five weeks!)

The only bit I struggle with is a line she uses often (it comes here under point one): “Too many new writers do not properly understand the antagonist. They don’t grasp three-act structure, and most don’t have any idea what I mean when I mention POV, Jungian archetypes, or the phrase, “scene and sequel.””

Of course, I struggle with it because I have no idea about half those things, particularly the Jungian archetypes. I’m sure my writing would be better if I did (if I understood structure better, for example, I might be able to fix Class Act quicker). However, I think you could write a great novel without knowing what all these things are called. I know a reasonable amount about writing grammatical English but, until last week, I’d never heard of a comma splice. I have looked through my writing and, instinctively, I write to a three-act structure, I use scene and sequel and I at least understand POV, even if I don’t always use it well in my writing (Baby Blues is a prime example). 

Daughter's Masterpiece

Daughter’s Masterpiece

Before I get a hundred comments telling me I really need to understand these things – I know I do (there are some interesting posts on Jungian Archetype in the related articles below). I also accept what Kristen says, that self-published authors need to be better than traditionally published authors, to compete in the same field. I am working to get better, and I read as many writing craft books as I can fit in around my writing.

Another blog I read today, which reinforces point one (don’t publish too quickly), was over on Karen Woodward’s blog. Her post, Stephen King on Storycraft has a main message: Don’t force it.

When trying to pull a story together, wait until all the pieces click, rather than trying to make it work. I guess it’s the difference between learning scales and playing a concerto (Kristen uses music as an example of how you need to know the nuts and bolts of something to excel at it). You need to know the craft of writing, but you also need the story to flow (and these things, for me, can be mutually exclusive).

One of the great things about self-publishing is the ability to get a wide range of feedback on your novels, rather than waiting a year to find out why agents are rejecting it (assuming they even tell you.) So, yes, you can publish too soon, but you can learn from it too (I hope).

This evening I sat with a pad and pen, while Andy Murray played his nerve-wracking fifth set (I needed a distraction) and worked out an additional six scenes that should hopefully remove most of the pesky back story in Class Act. I’ve been musing on it all day and then it just clicked, without forcing it.

I don’t know if the story fits in a three-act structure or exactly who the antagonist is (harder in a romance than, say, a crime novel I think). I know it still needs a heap of work. But I really enjoyed reading it this morning: reminding myself who the characters are, and getting absorbed in the dialogue.

Now on with the work so I can hurry up and publish! Assuming my three books need to be in the same genre, I’ll only have one more to go to find success 😉

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire looked at her mother over the top of her mug of Earl Grey and waited for the interrogation. Her mother’s restraint thus far was beginning to unnerve her.

Perhaps it’s too early for the Spanish Inquisition stuff. Or maybe she doesn’t care that her youngest child just turned up on the door step at 7am when she was meant to be at a wedding.

She tried to remember if her mother even knew about Kim’s marriage. As she’d only found out herself a few weeks ago, it seemed likely that she hadn’t told her about it. I seem to have told all the wrong people all the wrong things.

Claire sighed, and wondered why her mother was being so reticent. I guess there’s only one thing on her mind. Deciding that was as good an opener as any, she set down the mug.

“How’s Ruth?”

“She’s okay. A bit low. Sky wants to be outside playing – now the nights are getting lighter – and she doesn’t have the strength to keep up with her. I think the poorly-parent novelty has worn off.”

Claire tried to read through her mother’s words, searching for the accusations. If they were there, her mother was adopting a subtler approach than usual. The only impression Claire got was of a tired woman battling on with the hand life had dealt her.

“I’ll stop by later, take Sky to that farm she kept raving about.” Claire recalled that she’d promised to take Sky there with Kim and Jeff, and hoped Sky’s memory wasn’t as accurate. She didn’t want to think about them, not yet. She waited for her mother to start the questions, but she had disappeared back into her own thoughts, head bowed.

“Mum, is it okay if I stay for a night or two?”

Her mother glanced up, and nodded, without speaking. Claire felt wrong-footed. In the still of the kitchen, she listened to the clock ticking until it felt like the countdown of a bomb.

The silence stretched like a gaping void, pulling her in. Oh, what the hell, she’ll find out eventually, even if she clearly doesn’t give a toss.

“It was Kim’s wedding yesterday. We had a fight.”

Her mother nodded again, without looking up.

“I’ve had an offer of work, which will mean going overseas. I came home to get my passport, and to talk it over with you and Ruth.”

Again the silent nod. Claire swallowed down an urge to scream.

“Mum, are you listening? I said I might be flying halfway round the world. Do you even care?”

Her mother raised her head at last, and Claire saw that her mother’s eyes were red and circled with dark smudges.

“Mum, are you okay?”

Her mother dropped her eyes again, as if making eye contact were too hard. She gazed at the table and twisted her fingers.

“I think your father is having an affair.”

And then she let her head fall on her hands, and her shoulders shook with sobs.

***

Climbing and (Dreams of) Quitting: 2013 365 Challenge #66

Pavement chalks work better in the wet

Pavement chalks work better in the wet

I don’t have many words today (or at least no repeatable ones) so I’ll keep the top bit short.Actually I’ll share a couple of great blogs that I have read today, one about writing/life, one about parenting.

I follow some amazing blogs and get great inspiration from them. I received an award recently and have to nominate 11 blogs  when I come to accept it. It won’t be hard. The aspect of becoming a self-published writer that I love the most is reading loads of inspiring/funny/helpful/entertaining blogs. Not all about writing. Just blogs. Great ones. In fact I think I’ll do Claire’s post today on blogging just to keep with the theme!

Here’s my little roll call of interesting articles:

To Find Success, Learn to Embrace the Climb

This is from Kristen Lamb’s Blog. I quote her often, usually to do with writing or social media advice. However her post today (and the one before about Embracing the Meantime) have wider application than just writing. If you have any dream, any ambition, there will be the wait (the Meantime) and the climb.

Talking about her time at university, Kristen describes her awful newspaper delivery job and how she envied the ‘trust-fund’ kids who didn’t have to work a midnight-6am shift, 7-days a week in all weathers, to fund their education. She then explains how she discovered, years later, that many of those same kids didn’t finish university because, even though on paper they had everything, they hadn’t had to fight for it. They hadn’t had to live on hope.

Hope was all that kept me going, the sheer force of will that told me that, if I endured, if I hung on and didn’t quit, that life would be better. I had to climb the mountain. I wasn’t delivered by helicopter, and I was so much better for that.

British kids - not so sunny today but still in the sand pit

British kids: raining today but still in the sandpit

It made me realise that, no matter how rubbish life is, someone always has it worse. Actually, I didn’t need to learn that as I am grateful every day for what I have and I know I’m pretty lucky financially and emotionally.

Kristen’s real lesson to me was not to rush the climb. I’m frustrated now that I can’t spend more time writing, that I can’t help with household bills because I’m not selling books. Instead I should see this time as great material for future books and, above all, a period that will make any future achievements so much sweeter. (The To Find Success Learn to Embrace the Meantime post was an even more important lesson about not being impatient. “Meantime is everything and if we don’t learn to enjoy it, we miss out on the largest part of life.”)

The second post I read today that made me smile was a parenting one. Now, before I post this I must add that the lady who writes the blog, Amber, is the funniest, best parent I know on the internet (I obviously don’t know her personally). The disclaimer at the top of her post is spot on: this is her on a really bad day. Don’t judge.

Parenting. I Quit.

When I’m at the bottom of the pit of despair (otherwise known as circling the drain) I daydream about quitting. I envision myself walking out the front door, down the front steps and onto the street. From there I hitchhike and somehow wind up backpacking across Spain. There are wildflowers and country villas and all kinds of lovely things. Complete freedom. Alone.

Oh yes please. 🙂

She also says:

People have long compared parenting to having a job. You hear quotes all the time like “the hardest job you’ll ever love” and stuff like that.

Well you know what? Parenting isn’t just hard.

This job sucks. I quit.

Ahhh, there’s the rub. You can’t quit. Ever.

I loved this post because it’s exactly the feeling that traps me some days. I’ve had god-awful jobs before, ones I wanted to leave, ones I couldn’t leave because rent/bills/mortgage needed to be paid. But ultimately there was a choice, even if it was a limited one. I could write resignation letters, I could dream up the big exit. With parenting there’s no out. 364 days out of 365 you don’t want out. But some days you would love to just say “I Quit”. And you can’t. Ever. But what you can do is read great blog posts like this that make you realise you are not alone and that this day, too, will pass.

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Claire woke from her snooze to find the lounge empty. The sun had dipped below the horizon and the sky shone pink and orange, like a child’s painting. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and prayed she hadn’t been snoring or sleeping with her mouth open.

I wouldn’t trust those kids not to put a spider in my mouth or something.

She shuddered and swigged some water from the bottle by her feet. A hollowness in her tummy informed her that it was dinnertime.

Bugger that. Nothing would entice me into the dining room if that’s where all the kids have gone. I’d rather drive back to Manchester for a McDonalds.

She could feel something digging into her hip and discovered her iPad was still stuffed down the side of the sofa. Pulling it out Claire groaned as she realised she hadn’t posted her daily blog update.

Better write something, even if no one is reading it.

She swiped the screen and loaded up her blog page. There was a flashing star in the corner and Claire clicked it, not knowing what it meant.

“Pingback? What the hell is that?” Her voice echoed in the empty lounge.

“It means someone’s mentioned your blog on theirs and linked with a URL.”

Claire dropped her iPad at the sound of the unexpected voice. Craning her neck she realised someone was curled up behind her reading a book. She could just make out a shock of purple hair in the gathering gloom.

“Jesus, you scared the hell out of me. Shouldn’t you be eating dinner with the others or something?”

“I’ve been sick so they’re letting me off dinner. Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you jump.”

“That’s okay. Thanks for the info.” Claire tried to work out if it would be rude to end their conversation there. The youth – she wasn’t completely certain if it was a boy or a girl – flashed her a smile then dropped their head back down to the book.

Claire returned to her blog to see who had pinged her or whatever the accepted verb was.

The Travelling Doctor. Who is that?

A twisting sensation in her gut that had nothing to do with hunger told her exactly who it was but she clicked on the link anyway to be sure.

The Travelling Doctor has a confession to make. My recent posts from Christie Hospital Manchester were, shall we say, slightly fictitious. I made an error of judgement shortly before I left Adelaide. A tragic, irreversible mistake that cost a small boy his life. I was cleared of wrongdoing but in my mind I was guilty. And I did the worst possible thing.

I ran away.

I left my beautiful wife and children and ran off with my tail tucked under to lick my wounds like a crook dingo. My return to sanity came at the hands of a crazy chick called Claire. She’s also running, although she never told me what from. Or who. She’s conquering her fears too, thanks to a wicked work assignment that has her visiting each of the Pommy YHA hostels inside a year. She also has to get up to high-adrenalin hijinks to build up her following.

Well I watched this plucky Sheila, who is afraid of heights, abseil a 50ft waterfall. She swore like a fisherman but, still, it doesn’t get braver than that. Except maybe swinging through trees at Go Ape by herself.

Anyway, please spread the word faithful followers. If it wasn’t for Claire and her trusty Skoda I’d still be running. Without her friendship and support I wouldn’t have gone back to my wife and asked for forgiveness. The least I can do is tell people about her long journey, Two-Hundred Steps Home.

Claire stopped reading and put her hands against her burning cheeks, glad the kid behind her was out of view. She browsed through the rest of Josh’s site. There were only a few posts written as if from Christie Hospital and they were pretty vague. Before that there were posts from all over Australia and other parts of the world. He’d worked in India and Europe, New Zealand and South Africa, where he apparently met his wife in a hospital.

Blimey. What an amazing life. How has he crammed it all in? I’ve barely left the UK and then only for beach holidays or business trips where the most I saw was the inside of a taxi.

Claire clicked back over to her site and thought she’d made a mistake. Her visitor chart had a spike like Cleopatra’s Needle and her followers had increased by two dozen. Wow. It must still be the middle of the night in Australia. What gives?

She clicked back to Josh’s blog and looked to see how many followers he had.

Nine-hundred-and-twenty-seven? What? How do you get nearly a thousand followers?

As Claire watched, her visitor stats climbed and she gained a handful of new followers.

Crap. Now I’m going to have to start writing something interesting.

***

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.

***

Day #4 of the 2013 365 Challenge…

My refreshed website - still needs work but I was up til 1am getting it this far!

My refreshed website – still needs work but I was up til 1am getting it this far!

Okay so I am finding this challenge more challenging than I expected. I did my initial calculations on wordcount and figured I could easily write a thousand words a day and post them. I didn’t take into account needing to ensure each scene makes sense by itself, or the time required to tidy up spelling and punctuation. Nevermind how long it takes me to choose an image, upload it, add tags and categories and format the blog post!

This is only my second day without the children and my time seems to have been eaten up by buying birthday gifts for my little one’s 4th birthday (which is actually not until the end of January!), finding a Baptism card (it’s all Christening cards here, I found one in the fifth shop I tried) and updating my website so it ties in with my new business cards for the Art in the Heart Gallery (read about it here).

What’s keeping me going (apart from stubbornness, an unwillingness to humiliate myself in front of an audience and a desire to learn more about Claire) is a blog post I read from the lovely Kristen Lamb about taking yourself seriously as a writer. The blog was fabulously called Lies that Can Poison Your Dreams–Don’t Eat the Butt in 2013 It included a great quotation from Stephen King:

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us get up and go to work. ~Stephen King

If I want to be a Writer and sell my novels I need to get on and write. So here is Day 4’s installment of my postaday novel. I’ll be scheduling Days 5, 6 and 7 today too (hopefully, although I have to go get the kids in under three hours) due to family commitments in Italy. I’ll be back in person next week!

_____________________________________________________________________

“Claire, it’s Ruth.” Claire held back a sigh and walked into the kitchen to put the coffee machine on. A phone call from her sister was never over quickly.

“Ruth, darling. How are you?” As she waited for her sister to start spilling forth her latest disaster, Claire mulled over how much to reveal about her new assignment. Her family would have to be told something, of course. Not that they ever came to visit, or called her home phone, or sent her letters. Still, it seemed only right to tell them she was moving out for twelve months. Tuning back in to the phonecall, Claire realised she had missed some key information and tried to catch up with what her sister was talking about.

“So the doctor said it was probably lack of sleep. You know Sky is a bad sleeper and her nightmares have been worse since she started Year Two.”

Claire worked out that someone was poorly, but was unsure whether it was her sister or her niece. Probably Sky. Silly, spoiled, overly-dramatic child. As if having her father run off with her ballet teacher gives her an open-ended excuse to be a brat forever. Surely they outgrow that nonsense once they start school?

Claire thought about her own schooling. Her parents had paid for the best, obviously, although Claire often wondered whether that was to ensure their three children didn’t hamper their lifestyle, rather than to give their off-spring a good start in life. The school had encouraged independence and character but had no time for tears and tantrums. Claire had learned quickly to work hard and stay out of trouble. More than could be said for Ruth. It had been a constant mortification to her parents that, while their first and third children both achieved academic success, Ruth only acquired notoriety.

Ruth’s next sentence cut through Claire’s reminiscing like a knife through brie.

“The tests are week after next. That’s why I’m calling. Is there any chance you could come and look after Sky? It’s half-term and most of her friends are going skiing. Of course we can’t afford that…”

Claire inhaled deeply and forced herself not to rise to the bait. Ruth was always poor and begrudged Claire her success. Claire accepted that looking after a child on your own probably hampered your career options, but look at J.K. Rowling, it hadn’t held her back. She was convinced Ruth could help herself if  only she’d try harder. Claire’s irritation at the badly-veiled hint nearly overshadowed the first part of the sentence, but not quite.

“Have Sky? How long for? When?” Claire could hear panic in her voice and forced herself to breathe in through her nose. Once she was sure she was back in control of her emotions she said in a slow voice, “I start a new work assignment on 1st March, and I’ll … be on the road a lot. You know. Meeting clients.”

“Wining and dining on someone else’s credit card.” Ruth’s voice cut in.

“There’s more to it than that,” Claire responded quickly. Then, before Ruth could start the age-old argument, Claire inhaled through her nose again and consciously lowered her voice. “Tell me the day you need me to have Sky, I’ll check my diary.”

“Well, it’s two days, actually.” Ruth sounded embarrassed.

As well she might. I don’t want to look after her brat for two hours, never mind two days.

Claire had, thus far, avoided spending too much time with her niece, or with her two nephews Jack and Alex. Her brother and his wife lived in Geneva, so that was understandable. Ruth lived near their mother in Cambridgeshire, so her lack of involvement caused considerable friction. Kids just aren’t my thing.

Thinking about minding a six-year-old for two days made bile rise in Claire’s throat. She gulped down her coffee and wondered if she could use the new assignment as an excuse. There was something in Ruth’s voice, though, that made her pause.

“Can’t mum take her? I thought Mum and Dad were the perfect grandparents?” It seemed odd to Claire that two people who had no time for their own children could go dotty over someone else’s, even if they were their grandkids. Maybe they were going soft in their old age.

“Er, Mum’s coming with me, to the hospital.”

Ruth’s words slithered into Claire’s brain, freezing where they made contact. “Just what tests are you having exactly?”

“Weren’t you listening? I said you never listen to me, you and Robert, you’re both the same.”

Claire almost smiled at the petulant tone in Ruth’s voice. For a moment they were twelve and fourteen again.

“Sorry,” she admitted, saying nothing more.

“The headaches, the ones causing spots in my vision. The doctor thinks it’s tiredness but they want to be sure. I’m having a CAT scan or an MRI or something, I don’t remember the details. I’m not clever like you. That’s why Mum’s coming.”

Claire took the two steps from her kitchen to her lounge and sank into the white leather sofa. “CAT scan? Ruth, are you serious?”

“Of course I am. I wouldn’t joke about something like that. So, will you take Sky? I don’t think Dad could cope with her for two days on his own. You can stay at my place or at Home, whichever is easier.”

Claire rubbed a hand across her forehead, as if scrubbing away unwanted thoughts. “Of course I’ll come. Text me the dates. I should probably come home before I start my new assignment anyway, store some things in the attic…”

She thought Ruth might ask her about the assignment, but she didn’t. After another ten minutes elaborating on her headaches and trips to the doctors she said that Sky was calling for her and hung up the phone.

Claire slumped back into the sofa, cradling her iphone in her lap. Darkness seemed to engulf the room. A gloom that had nothing to do with the rain hammering against the window pane.

***

The Knife of Never Letting Go ~ All about conflict

I have just finished reading The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – part of the reason why I have been quiet on the blog for a while. That and I have been writing a guest post for Findingmycreature, which will hopefully be on her blog sometime in November.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a stunning book, one that drags you along from the first sentence to the last. I have learned a great deal from reading it, as it consolidated some of the lessons I have been taught through reading blog posts such as Kristen Lamb’s on the role of conflict and Annie Cardi’s on the importance of voice in Young Adult literature.

The voice of Patrick Ness’s main character, Todd Hewitt, is so well realised I almost wept with envy. It has made me revisit my Young Adult book, Dragon Wraiths, and realise there is little distinction between my voice and my lead protagonist’s voice, despite Leah being 20 years younger than I am. I have a lot to learn about creating the voice of a teenager and I may have to wait a decade until my daughter is one before I can recreate the voice as authentically as Ness has.

The book also has conflict in bucket-loads. There is conflict in every scene right through to the very last line. The pace is relentless and the story so compelling it made me sit up until 2am to finish it, even though I knew there was a chance the kids would then kept me awake the rest of the night (they did).

However the book also left me bereft and unsettled because (for me) there was too much conflict. Even when there was the occasional scene without conflict, I knew it was just creating the calm before storm, setting up the irony for when it all went pear-shaped again.

I’m a Libra, we like balance and harmony. My inner peace is wrenched apart by too much conflict. As a result, even though I accept the advice from people like Kristen Lamb about the importance of Goal – Conflict – Disaster, I find it very hard to write. My attempts either become terribly predictable: Oh look, my character is happy, let’s throw some crap at them and make them feel rotten, or I shy away from the places where I could ratchet up the tension and let my protagonist off far too easily.

Reading through Dragon Wraiths I found myself noting again and again – Make more of this, build up this scene, make it harder for Leah. When there’s a sentry in Leah’s way he doesn’t chase her for a league making her terrified and sweeping us up in her fear. Instead he’s distracted by his grumbling tummy and she sneaks past. Another security guard is conveniently on the floor above when she needs to avoid detection. She’s running from the authorities but not once is she approached by a policeman or gets accosted by some busybody in the street who has seen her face on TV. The entire book has less conflict than an episode of Noddy.

I guess the problem for me is that my life is full of enough (generally internal) conflict that I read to escape. At times in The Knife of Never Letting Go I found myself skipping ahead during the most tense and dramatic scenes, to find out the end result, because they were so drawn out I couldn’t sustain that level of suspense for so many pages. It was so expertly written, and I was so caught up in Todd’s exploits, particularly as a result of the very intimate first-person-present prose, that I had to metaphorically hide behind a cushion for some of the scenes. Only Doctor Who ever normally makes me do that (and the only characters in Doctor Who that have made me do that since I was eight are the Angels).

All that aside, Patrick Ness has written an amazing novel with a brilliant concept, 4D characters (my favourite being Manchee the talking dog) and enough things to get me thinking about my own characters’ voices and motivations to keep me re-writing Dragon Wraiths for a decade. It’s just a shame about the cliff-hanger ending. The characters were left in danger. I hate that. And I’m not ready to read the next one in the series yet. After a novel that edgy I need at least three Georgette Heyers to restore my equilibrium. Now, where did I put Friday’s Child?

Revision blues

I have revision blues. I was so excited about starting to revise my WIP but I still have no real understanding of how to go about it, and when I can’t do something it makes me sad. Not very helpful or grown up, I know. If my daughter said such a thing to me I’d tell her it just takes practice and it’s okay to ask for help. She’s three. It’s okay not to know how to do something when you’re three!

I like to think it’s the impossible deadline (combined with a killer cold) that has sucked my motivation, but that’s just an excuse. I’m good at excuses. If I’m honest (in a way you can only really be with yourself at 1am) the difficulty with revision is that it exposes how little I truly know about writing.

I hate being a novice.

I nearly sobbed in rowing today because the coach was telling me I was doing it all wrong. It was only my fourth lesson but I’d done so well the week before it was crushing to be told I was rubbish. No one is more critical of me than me and I get extremely frustrated at myself if I can’t do something. To the point that – like my stroppy three-year-old – I stomp my foot, yell “Can’t do it!” and chuck whatever item I’m holding across the room. (Did I mention I’m more of a child than she is sometimes?)

I read another instructive blog by Kristen Lamb this week, this one was about structure and how it separates the beginners from the professional writers. I confess I didn’t completely understand the blog which probably puts me firmly in the not about to be published anytime soon camp! I do at least own the Plot and Structure book she quotes from: I just need to read it.

So, as well as trying to polish a first draft in an impossible six weeks, just in case I’m shortlisted for the Mslexia award, I’m trying to learn how to write and how to revise all at the same time. It’s no wonder I’ve picked up Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom again. I’m already on Drowned Wednesday. I may not know much about scene and sequel or Goal – Conflict – Disaster but when it comes to displacement activity I’m a master.

The one positive I’ve had so far is discovering a useful revision summary by KittyB78. It doesn’t tell me how to revise but it does give some things to look for, such as scene flow and characterisation. I like the idea of highlighting different parts, like dialogue, internal thought, characterisation, in different colours. There are also some other great revision tips in the comments.

My biggest challenge this year might be resisting the urge to do NaNoWriMo again. I love it and several of my (unfinished) novels were born in November. However the last thing I need right now is another first draft to nag at me and distract me from actually finalising one of my existing manuscripts. Kristen Lamb is always talking about writers being distracted by the next new shiny.

That’s me!

Writing first drafts is so easy compared with revision and yet seems more like Writer work, so I don’t feel guilty for being unemployed as I do most days. If only they could do a revision equivalent of NaNoWriMo, to help and motivate you to beat a Nano first draft into shape. Now that I’d sign up to!

Anyway I think my darling son is finally asleep, despite the tap-taping of my mobile phone and the eerie sight of me up-lit in the darkness, so it’s back to bed for me. I haven’t revised more than a page in a week so must get a good day in tomorrow.

May the muse be ever in your favour.

Quick Post: Latest from Kristen Lamb: “More than Magic and Gadgets”

Lion Dragon Shinto Shrine by Sara F Fujimura

Kristen Lamb’s Blog is fast becoming my favourite place to get writing tips.

Kristen’s latest post is essential reading for anyone contemplating writing a sci-fi/fantasy/YA Paranormal novel.

Or any novel for that matter.

There is no point me re-hashing her post as it is all relevant. You can read her great advice here:

http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/more-than-magic-gadgets-taking-science-fiction-and-fantasy-to-another-level/

I’m off to revise Dragon Wraiths right now…

The Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Authors by Kristen Lamb

Spending more time on mummy than writer: As it should be when they’re this cute!

I was made aware of Kristen Lamb through findingmycreature, who kindly left a comment on my last post. She suggested I read Kristen’s best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer , after I discussed my confusion about where to start when it comes to social media.

The books look brilliant and when I have the pennies I shall buy them, but there is also lots of very helpful advice on Kristen’s blog (have a look if you haven’t been there before). I was particularly interested in her recent post The Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Authors. As someone who is keen to self-publish soon, I obviously read this closely. As a result, I may well delay self-publishing Pictures of Love until the new year, when I have had a chance to let the novel sit for a bit longer, re-read some craft books and then spent some more time on revision. (As an aside, every post of Kristen’s I read made me want to hit Delete on Pictures of Love and to rewrite it from scratch, only better.)

This is a summary of the five mistakes Kristen discusses, although I recommend visiting her blog to read the whole article.

Mistake #1 Publishing Before We Are Ready

The problem with the ease of self-publishing is that it is, well, too easy. When we are new, frankly, most of us are too dumb to know what we don’t know. Just because we made As in English, does not automatically qualify us to write a work spanning 60-100,000 words. […]

Additionally, too many new writers I meet do not properly understand the antagonist. They don’t grasp three-act structure, and most don’t have any idea what I mean when I mention POV, Jungian archetypes, or the phrase, “scene and sequel.”

At this point I decided I probably shouldn’t self-publish just yet. I have no idea what a Jungian archetype is or what the phrase ‘scene and sequel’ means. It was a humbling thought. At least my book has a three-act structure and I know what POV is!

[…] Self-publishing is suffering a stigma from too many writers publishing before they are ready. If you really want to self-publish, I am here to support you and cheer you all the way, but remember, we have to write better than the traditional authors.

This last point really hit home: yes I’ve read published novels that were badly written – but they were usually by already-established authors who were clearly trying to hit a deadline. They were forgiven. I will not be forgiven if my first novel is slated on Amazon.

Mistake #2 Jumping in Before Understanding the Business Side to the Business

I see a lot of writers rushing into self-publishing without properly preparing to be a small business, yet that is exactly what we are. When we self-publish, we take on new roles and we need to understand them. We need to be willing to fork out money for proper editing, cover design and formatting. […]  We can be told a million times to not judge a book by its cover, yet that is exactly what readers do

At least I feel reasonably happy with my book cover, but it won’t help if someone buys my book then doesn’t get past the first chapter.

Mistake #3 Believing that, “If We Write it They Will Come”

There are a lot of writers who mistakenly believe that self-publishing is an easier and faster way to fame and success. Yeah, um no. And those magic beans are really just beans. Sorry.

Self-publishing is A LOT of work, especially if we are starting out this way.  […] Not only do we need to write good books, but we need to write prolifically. We also need to work our tails off on social media.  […] This is one of the reasons self-publishing isn’t for everyone. We need to look at how badly we want the dream, and then ask how many hours are we willing to work? What are we willing to sacrifice?

This is my biggest problem – I am finding it hard to get the balance right between writing and all the other roles I have to fulfil. The mummy in writermummy is pretty demanding at the moment. Not to mention that, financially, I should probably be getting a job to earn money, rather than spending more money on a dream.

Mistake #4 Misusing FREE!

There are a lot of problems with giving books away for FREE! We shouldn’t be giving away our work unless it serves some kind of a strategic advantage. There are ways to effectively harness the power of FREE! but too few writers understand how to do this and they just end up giving away their art for no tangible gain. […]

I have read arguments for and against ‘free’ and it is helpful to have those arguments presented in the same place by the same person.

Mistake #5 Shopping One Book to DEATH

[…] One of the BIGGEST problems I see with self-published writers is that they publish one book and then they focus every bit of energy on selling THAT book. […] Here’s the thing. Self-publishing, in many ways, just allows us to accelerate the career path of the author. Even in traditional publishing, it usually takes about three books to gain traction. In traditional publishing, this takes three years because we are dealing with a publisher’s schedule.

[…] This is why it is critical to keep writing. Not only will writing more books make you a better writer, but once people discover they love your writing, they have a number of titles to purchase. Being able to offer multiple titles is how we make  money at self-publishing.  […]

This is one of the reasons I want to publish Pictures of Love – so I can move on to the next (hopefully better) book. I’m caught between the terror of abject humiliation and the need to move forwards.

Remember Why We Do This

[…] We are striving to be better writers, to be better entrepreneurs, to get better at organization and time-management and to write more books and better books. If we can learn from these mistakes and grow, then the future is ours for the taking.

Wise words. You can find Kristen’s blog here: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/