Advice For Writing and Life

This is what I want to do today

This is what I want to do today

Okay, I finally admit it. I’m ill. I went to bed at 8pm last night and slept until hubbie came to bed at midnight. Then I popped a pill to make sure I’d get back to sleep. And didn’t. There’s nothing worse than your body being asleep when your mind is wide awake and all around you the house is coughing like every occupant smokes 40 a day. (We don’t. We’re all ill.)

I would have written a post then, but I was drugged so could only lie awake and worry about life and fume that I’d had a fourth failed delivery from the crap company I had the utter misfortune to choose to deliver my daughter’s new bed.

So this morning I’m taking time to be ill. After the school run I’m heading back to bed. So I am utilising the blog network for today’s post. Here are five great articles to help with writing and life:

1. 10 Foundational Writing Practices – Charlotte Rains Dixon: the importance of getting the basics right. My favourite three are Move your Body; Calm your Mind; Stay Positive

2. The Simple Joy of Slogging Through to the End – Speak Happiness: an old post on the satisfaction of finishing a difficult task. I’m hoping I’ll feel like that when (if) my daughter’s bed finally arrives and I’ve managed not to break anything or anyone in my anger at the company’s sheer incompetence.

3. “Days are Lost Lamenting over Lost Days” – another from Speak Happiness: this explores a quote attributed to Goethe. A very interesting read. The full quote is:

Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting over lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

4. Why Doing a Jigsaw Puzzle is a Bit Like Writing A Book – Debbie Young: looking at the ways assembling a jigsaw puzzle is like writing a book. As I’m in the difficult stage of redrafting Class Act, trying to make sure all the pieces fit together and the whole picture looks right, this struck a chord. Especially these points:

  • No matter how carefully you prepare the component parts – the corners, the edges, all the pieces with blue sky or Persian carpet or Delft tiles or pink flowers – the assembly of the puzzle never goes entirely according to plan.
  • When daunted by what seems like an insurmountably difficult section, you realise that if you only apply yourself, one piece at a time, you really can conquer the challenge.
  • Sometimes it works best if you switch your conscious mind off for a bit and let the subconscious take over.

5. In Defense of Pantsing – Jami Gold: because Pantsers can write novels too, as long as we remember to apply structure and story beats during redrafting. Enough said!

Right. Back to bed.

Finding Sense in Stories

Horrible headlines

Horrible headlines

Sat here on a Saturday morning, trying to think of something to write for my blog post, my mind was blank. After a night of The Raven Boys type dreams (always the danger of reading a powerful book at bedtime) I couldn’t pull together a story. I started flicking through my Reader, catching up on my favourite bloggers, like Miss Fanny P, looking for inspiration.

And then I came across a post that stopped me like a punch to the stomach. On Wednesday this week, over the border in Scotland, a three year old boy went missing from his first-floor flat, some time between bedtime and morning. The kind of story that twists inside you as a parent and makes you rush to hug your child.

I’ve been following the story with latent hope, as the people of Edinburgh poured out in their hundred to search for the missing boy. As is usual in such circumstances, we discussed whether our children could leave the house by themselves (they could) and whether there was more to the story than a boy running away from home (it seems there possibly was).

So, when I saw in my Reader this post by a resident of Scotland, whose children were involved in the search for the missing boy, I felt physically sick. We all want a story to have a happy ending. As an author (an author who lives for the HEA) I can’t bear a story that doesn’t end as I think it should. One that involves the death of a small child is the worst there is.

The Facebook appeal

The Facebook appeal

It’s not the only story that has wrenched at me this week. There’s the case of a child who died within hours of their first day at nursery, or Jordon, the autistic boy who locked his mother in the house and disappeared on 9th January.

The latter story, like the story of the missing three-year old boy in Edinburgh, was one I discovered first on Facebook. I always share missing people or pets messages because Social Media ought to be good for something. In the case of Jordon, the story had a happy ending, with the boy being found alive and well. But during my internet search to see if he was okay, I discovered another dozen stories of missing children found dead.

They haunt me, these stories. Not just as a parent, imagining something happening to one of my children (which I can’t imagine, or I’d never let them leave the house again). I think of the families blown apart. The scars that won’t heal. The blame, the recriminations, the guilt. Of all the people touched, all the people searching with hope in their hearts. The policeman holding back tears as he breaks the terrible news. The assumptions that will be made, as the authorities search for the truth.

Mostly I think about the mother (who is often the first one questioned). I no longer judge mothers. No matter what we see from the outside, we have no idea and we must not judge. I am sure there are evil people in the world, but there are just as many desperate, overwhelmed, frightened people and we cannot know the truth of their lives.

As a writer, I live these stories with full emotion. It isn’t just a news story, it’s life in all its messy detail. There aren’t heroes and villains, winners and losers. Just the complicated horrible terrible beauty and tragedy of life. And it’s why I write love stories, women’s fiction, journeys of self discovery. The world needs hope and Happily Ever After. It needs to make sense of life and wrap up the loose ends, to have themes and symbolism and resolution.

Because life doesn’t. Life has sadness and questions and fear. It has grieving families and worried parents. We’ll all hug our little ones just a bit tighter today, and maybe we’ll look for escape in a book. I know I will.

I Want to be a Dog

I want to be a dog

I want to be a dog

Today I envied my dog. She spent most of a rainy morning curled up in her bed or laid out on the sofa. The kids fed her biscuits and she even got her walk when hubbie got home. But mostly she slept, unmolested and alone.

I envied her because I am sick. Again. I’m not even sure I actually got over the last cold; they seem to have merged into one long month of misery.

After getting up and putting two bowls of dry cereal on the sofa and Cbeebies on the TV I crawled back to bed and tried to stay there. It lasted until hubbie left for work, when the calls of “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!” came up the stairs.

When that failed, the thunderous sound of approaching children thumped up the stairs in time with my headache, followed by voices too loud and too high, and hugs too short and demanding.

I got up, showered and struggled downstairs, only for them to disappear off to play happily by themselves for half an hour. Kids! It’s been like that all day. Like vultures circling a dying animal, the children seem to know when I’m at my weakest and dive in with claw and beak. They squabbled and fought, over toys, over me. They were mean to each other, provoking tantrums left and right. Such a change from my gold star Mummy day yesterday.

The worst part? Apart from opening my Class Act manuscript and realising it’s a pile of poo? The worst part is they go back to school/nursery tomorrow. My first day alone in nearly three weeks and I’m sick. Not even sure how I’ll manage the school run. Sigh. Never mind. As always in the blog universe, there are plenty of other Mummies sharing my pain. My favourite two posts from today are these:

Vanilla Housewife Lethargic Mama

Scary Mommy Finding Me

Enjoy.

Time Slipping Away: 2013 365 Challenge #356

Cobh Cathedral West Side by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

Cobh Cathedral West Side by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

I must apologise to regular Claire followers if this month’s installments are a bit jumpy and disjointed (and longer than usual!) I’ve never been much good at writing to a word count, and my darling characters do have a habit of wandering off on their own.

I always knew it couldn’t be a month of real time writing, with only a day covered by each installment, because I needed Claire to get to the end of her three month assignment by the end of book twelve. Having only covered four or five months since the beginning of the year, it was always going to be a tricky ask.

Then Claire had so much fun with her nephews in volume eleven that not enough time passed, and now I’m having to dip in on the story to make sure it doesn’t all drag on into the New Year. It’s only meant to be a 365 day challenge, not 400. Still, there are so many things I want to write about. The B&B she stays in with Conor in Ireland. The hotel in Plymouth. Her adventures with the Brownies in Exmoor. I still know everything she’s doing, most of the places she is going to. Does it feel rushed? If so, I’m really sorry.

I’ve caught myself out a couple of times, too, by speeding through – for example moving Claire on to meet Maggie before Conor had a chance to invite her to the christening – and it’s frustrating not to be able to change it. But I’ve always had a rule that, aside from typos, I won’t go back and edit a post once it’s live. What you read is what gets published every month.

I’m trying to pace it, to keep it authentic, to tie up all the loose ends. Ah but it’s hard! Especially as I’m full of cold and writing anything is taking twice as long as normal. I can barely remember my kids’ names, never mind how many siblings I might have given Conor earlier in the story. Ploughing back through 275k words, even with a search function, is time consuming to say the least.

So this is an apology. To Jane and Angela and anyone else reading along as I furiously scribble out an ending amidst wrapping paper and snotty tissues. If it isn’t the ending you hoped for, and deserve, I’m sorry. I hope there will be a sequel. This is only the start of a new life for Claire. And maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll find time to turn Claire’s story into what I believe it has the potential to be.

________________________________________________________________________________

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

________________________________________________________________________________

Claire felt the ground shift beneath her feet as Conor led her towards the church.

No, not church; cathedral. Nothing that big can be called a church.

She looked up at the spire stretching towards the clear blue sky, with the water and hills as a backdrop behind it. Painted buildings lined the streets, their colours vibrant in the afternoon sunshine. All around them, people in suits and smart dresses streamed towards the building. Claire looked down at the outfit she’d found in a charity shop the day before, and grimaced.

What is the point of the boxes of gorgeous clothes I’ve got sitting in storage, if they’re not accessible when I need them?

She’d thought about driving home to find a suitable outfit, but part of her didn’t want Conor to think she was making too much effort, and part of her didn’t want to give her mother another excuse for an ear-bashing.

The flight over to Ireland with Conor had been short and uneventful. The last time she’d flown with anyone, it had been to go skiing with Michael, and the memories jarred in her mind. Conor was the opposite of Michael. He seemed to enjoy the flight; looking out the window, paying attention to the safety demonstration, chatting to the people sitting around them. He had none of the air of jaded traveller that Michael had. She guessed Conor hadn’t been around the world much, although he didn’t talk about life before moving to Swanage.

The inside of the cathedral was equally overwhelming. Claire stared up at the ceiling that seemed to reach the heavens, then down at the Celtic patterns dancing across the floor. All around, the soft Irish lilt of a hundred voices filled the air like the sound of waves on a pebbly shore.

She leaned in to Conor and whispered, “These aren’t all family are they?”

“Oh no, would you imagine? No there’ll be three or four babies getting their heads wet today, plus the normal mass service.” Conor laughed as she pulled a face. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep you from snoring. Come and meet my brothers and sisters.”

As he led her deep into the building he added, “And don’t let them wind you up. They’re full of stories; most of which aren’t true.”

Something in his tone made her shiver. She pulled her shawl around her shoulders and trotted after him.

*

Time moved like treacle as Claire tried to follow the service. When Conor stood to take his part as Godparent it felt like someone had opened a door and let in an icy draft.

One of his numerous relations gave her an encouraging smile but it only served to remind her she still had the ordeal of the party afterwards to endure.

At last they were back out in the sunshine with kisses and laughter, greetings and photographs. They walked en-masse to a nearby hall that was laid out with buffet and dance floor. It was clear the party was intended to last well into the evening. Conor stood with his fingers laced through hers, as he responded to hails and answered questions in a broad Irish brogue she hadn’t heard since he’d tried to charm her mother.

Conor seemed to be able to morph from role to role without conscious effort and she wondered if even he knew who the real man was underneath. Feeling like a child on her first day at school, she hovered behind his shoulder and aimed for invisible.

She found it hard to follow the conversations, as hurried words flew over her head like a flock of startled starlings, impossible to grasp. After a while she went to find a plate of food and a chair and took her phone out to take pictures. A young woman in a two-piece navy suit came to sit beside her and Claire searched her brain for a name.

The woman took pity on her. “Laura. I’m Conor’s youngest sister. It’s so lovely to meet you. We were all surprised when he said he was bringing a date. You know, after–”

She stopped and seemed to realise she’d been indiscreet by the look of bewilderment on Claire’s face.

“After what?” Claire prompted.

Hesitant, but encouraged by Claire’s nodding, Laura said, “Well, you know, after his wife left him and went to America.”

She seemed to take Claire’s wide-eyed expression as interest, as she continued to talk, learning in towards Claire. “Everyone said they married too young. Not that I remember; I was only a child. They said she was only interested in being a director’s wife so when he refused to join the Board she found someone new.”

The room span around Claire as if she were drunk. It was worse than some lurid romance. The questions tumbled one over another and her face felt numb. She saw Laura look up guiltily and followed her gaze. Conor stood in front of them, but he didn’t look angry.

Reading his expression, Claire realised it was the whole reason they were there. Unable to tell her about his past himself, he’d let his baby sister do it. With her cheeks flaming and her hands in fists she stalked past him and left the room.

*

Claire sat in the dark hotel bar with her head in her hands. The ringing in her ears muffled all sound. In her mind she pictured a young Conor, hand in hand with a faceless beauty, wandering happily down the streets of Cobh. She found if she focussed on it, she couldn’t feel him sitting next to her, trying to explain: couldn’t hear his cherished voice trying to find justification where there wasn’t any.

“I’m sorry,” she heard him say for the fifth time, and ignored it with all the rest.

“It was stupid of me.”

When she didn’t respond he said in a louder voice, “Please, Claire, at least talk to me. Yes I was married, but it’s not important, it’s ancient history

“Then why not tell me yourself?” she hissed, conscious of the other people in twos and threes around them. The double gin she’d downed on arrival slurred her words and she regretted the need to drink it. It was hard enough figuring through the mess without muddled senses.

“What is it with you blokes and your secrets?” She spat, running her hands through her hair.

“Claire, I’m not a saint, I have a past, just as you do.”

“I’ve never been married.”

“What if you had? Would that change you as a person? There were no children.” He stopped and Claire wondered if that was a lie. She gave him a penetrating stare and he ducked his head. His words were mumbled but she heard them as if they’d been yelled.

“She said she was pregnant when she left, but that she lost the baby. We were divorced inside a year of signing the register.”

A baby, too.

The world lurched sideways. She tried to hold on to something. “You loved her,” she said, hearing the truth in his voice. “Laura pretty much said you’d been pining ever since.”

“Yes I loved her.” He emphasised the past tense. “And, no, I didn’t find anyone I liked half as much, or anyone I dared trust, until I met you.”

Claire thought of her doubts, of Maggie’s job proposal, and realised she had her own secrets. It wasn’t a comfortable thought. Now wasn’t the time to discuss it, but it did make her recall something else Laura had said. “And the Company? That you didn’t want to be a Director for?”

“The family business. Mum and Dad always hoped I’d take it on but it’s not my thing. I prefer something on a more personal level. A bit like you decided, when you turned down the counter proposal from AJC.”

“How did you know about that?” Claire glared at him, feeling wrong-footed by the revelation.

“Carl put something snide in the email when he sent your reference.” He looked at her as if to say, we all have secrets.

“That hardly compares,” she said, turning away from his green eyes.

“I didn’t say it did.” He sighed. “Please don’t be mad. I’m sorry; I made a mistake in not telling you myself. I just didn’t want anything to come up later that might break us. I couldn’t go through that again.”

She looked into his eyes, shining turquoise in the gloom, and felt the sincerity in his words. Reaching a decision, she took his hand. No more secrets.

“I might have a job in Cornwall after I finish your assignment. Nothing certain, but as we’re being honest, you probably should know.”

The pain welled in his eyes, turning green to black.

***

Colds and Craft: 2013 365 Challenge #351

My wonky sewing

My wonky sewing

Today I wanted to be in North Devon surfing with Claire and Conor, instead of walking in the rain all bunged up and shivery with a virus. It’s hard to even remember the heat of the summer, when I would have given, if not my right arm, then a chunk of a finger to be cold. Not that it’s cold out here in the rain, at a balmy 14C. But it is miserable.

It’s quite hard remembering to keep Claire in a hot summer. It was much easier writing back when we were still in the same season. If I had been organised I would have noted down the weather every day!

Sometimes I read tripadvisor reviews that are in the right week which helps, but often it’s one more layer of research I don’t quite find time for. Today I’ll be lucky if I get even a basic installment written. Any energy I had was used on vacuum cleaning upstairs and putting the shopping away.

I’m currently walking the dog in the slippery mud like a frail old lady. It reminds me of when I used to do this walk whilst eight months pregnant. It was more of a waddle, as I gasped for breath with a seven pound baby pressing against my lungs! If only the reason for my invalidity was so lovely. This time it’s just an end-of-term we’re-all-exhausted cough and cold.

One down, one to go

One down, one to go

So today I decided to strike something off my Christmas to-do list while watching Homes Under the Hammer, instead of writing as I should have been doing (especially with only two more child-free days until New Year and another fifteen posts of Claire to write! Eeek).

I’ve missed daytime TV, particularly Homes Under the Hammer. I love the characters. I can’t write with the TV on, like I used to be able to paint, so it’s been absent for a long time. But today I decided to start a proper being ill activity, if only for an hour.

A while ago, I bought some felt bags to replace the Santa sacks the mice ate last year. When I got them home, they were a bit dull so I thought I’d personalise them. Silly girl! These crafty projects always look better in my head than in reality. I’m not much good at sewing and I haven’t done blanket stitch since school. I only got one bag done before I had to walk the dog and go collect the children, but better than nothing. It’s the crafty bits of Christmas that take the time, but they’re also the bits that are worth the effort.

I did at least post some Christmas cards this morning, so that counts for something, right? Am I the only one who takes on silly projects when they should be working (or resting in bed to shift the cold?)

________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

________________________________________________________________________________

Kim glowed. Claire watched her from the other side of the room, as she flitted restlessly from bed to chair to bathroom, checking for belongings that would need to be invisible to have been missed on the previous three checks. Her skin seemed translucent in the afternoon sun spilling in between the curtains, and all the bitter lines had been erased by one simple conversation.

Good to his word, Jeff had called while Claire was still in her room pretending to work. When she’d returned to the lounge half an hour later, it was to find Kim alive with effervescent hope, chatting away to Conor about Jeff’s second job and the purpose of it. Claire had been greeted with joy, although not for the right reasons, and Kim had stumbled over her words in her haste to tell her friend the news. She was going home.

Jeff hadn’t only told her of the cause of his remoteness, he had pleaded with her to return to their apartment, so they could heal together. Kim would happily have jumped in the car there and then and driven straight to Cambridge without dropping Helena back first. It had taken the combined efforts of Claire, Conor and a quiet Helena to point out the late hour and the long journey.

“Time enough to drive Helena back to your Mum’s in the morning, then cut across country,” Claire had argued. Kim had reluctantly agreed and Claire wondered if she slept at all during the long night.

It was morning now, still early for a Sunday. Helena had gone for one last walk along the beach with Conor as gallant escort, allowing the friends to chat while Kim packed.

“I’m sorry I didn’t stay long,” Kim said, coming to sit by Claire on Helena’s bed. “At least you’ll have a few hours with Conor all to yourself.” She smiled; an unaffected genuine expression of joy that resonated in Claire’s heart.

“He’s a good man,” Kim continued, snuggling in next to Claire and resting her head on her shoulder. “He deserves you and you deserve a good man. I really hope it works out for you both. I want everyone to be as happily married as me and Jeff.”

Claire laughed. “Don’t marry me off yet: I’ve only been seeing him for a week. I’m not sure I’ll ever get married.”

“Of course you will!”

“I don’t know.” Claire felt heavy, but didn’t want to drag Kim down from her euphoric bubble. “Why would I choose to wash a man’s dirty socks and make sure he ate properly, when I could be footloose and fancy free, surfing the waves and writing about it?”

Kim pulled away from Claire and looked her in the eye. “Some men can do their own laundry, you know. Besides, it’s a small price to pay to share your life with someone. To know that even when you’re old and wrinkly, there’ll still be a person around who cares.”

Her expression became serious, and her brows pulled in together as she scrutinised Claire’s face. “Don’t fight it. If you’re falling for Conor, let it happen. I don’t know what took place between you and Michael, although I can guess. But they’re chalk and cheese. Michael wanted to control you: Conor just wants to love you. Why not let him?”

Claire shivered. It was far too soon to be talking of love and happily ever after. She was only just beginning to see the glimmer of a life of her own; she wasn’t sure if there was room in her dream for two.

*

She stood next to Conor as they waved off the sisters in Kim’s little car. Helena had said a subdued farewell; sinking into herself in proportion to Kim’s enthusiasm. Claire felt a pang for the woman, the spare wheel amidst two happy couples. Life was always hard for someone.

“So, what shall we do now?” Conor turned and slid his arms around Claire’s waist. “Indoors or outdoors?” He grinned, and Claire felt warm at the suggestion. It was a beautiful day, though, and she felt the need to walk along the cliff and let the wind blow through her mind.

As if sensing her hesitation, Conor said quietly, “Or I could go, if you want to be by yourself?”

The sincerity of the offer touched her, and she reached up to brush her lips across his. “No, don’t go. I just fancy a walk is all, and I know it’s not really your thing.”

“Then you’ll have to teach me. I didn’t do too bad on the surfing, now, did I?”

Claire laughed and fairness made her admit that it was true. He’d taken to the board like a duck to swimming.

“Okay, then, you’re on. Let’s go a bit further up the coast. There’s meant to be a beautiful walk, and I’m sure we can find a decent pub lunch along the way to send you back to Swanage in style.”

Conor looked for a moment as if he would happily forgo the lunch to find a reason to stay, but he remained silent. Thankful for his understanding, Claire led him by the hand back  into the hostel.

***

Self-Sabotage: 2013 365 Challenge #348

Origami Trees became giant snowflakes

Origami Trees became giant snowflakes

Why are Humans prone to self-sabotage? Or is it just me (and my husband!)? You know what I mean: picking at that dry skin on the edge of your nail, even though it’s going to hurt like anything and you KNOW it’s going to hurt.

Or being unable to sleep the night before an important meeting or exam, and staring at the ceiling stressing. Or (as was me this morning) waking up at 3.45am with a head buzzing with stuff and just not being able to get back to sleep. Even though both kids slept past 6am for the first time in weeks.

It always happens when I get anxious or overwhelmed and my brain is running at a hundred miles an hour in ten different directions. Christmas, Claire and now my car (which appears to be suffering from a terminal illness) are all taking up headspace. Little things like decorating a Christmas jumper for my daughter, or writing Christmas cards before the last posting date, run round in my head like escaped guinea pigs: irritating and hard to catch and cage.

So, on a day when I really needed to be productive, to write tomorrow’s post (we have hair cuts and birthday parties to fill our Saturday) I was utterly spaced, having finally crept downstairs at half five (desperately trying not to wake my daughter because I’d never live that down!) I tried to clear other irritants – messy house, buying final gifts – and hope that there would be time in the morning to get back to Claire and Conor, Kim and Helena.

My origami tree

My origami tree

But, again this morning, I was awake at 3.30am. Husband too. He went down to sleep on the sofa (although he didn’t sleep) and I lay in bed, with my brain like a toddler in a toy shop, running this way and that. Instead of trying to think through my next Claire post, my brain did this:

“I’d like some different lights in the garden this year. But I don’t want coloured lights as they won’t really go with our current white lights. A polar bear on the lawn would be fantastic. But they’re so expensive and I’ve already blown the budget this year. Oh yes, my step-dad’s brother made one out of willow. I could make one. I wonder where I could get some willow from.”

And before you know it, instead of writing posts or wrapping presents, I’m trying to work out how to make a bloomin’ polar bear. It happened with the Elf on the Shelf (after scouring the shops for two hours, instead of writing, and not finding an elf I thankfully gave up on that idea.)

And again, with my daughter’s Christmas party this week. I had agreed to print out some colouring sheets to keep the kids occupied. So, being the master of overkill, I had the bright idea of taking a craft activity for the older ones as well. A quick search of Pinterest revealed origami trees and before you could say “self-sabotage queen” I found myself spending an hour making trees, while my son watched TV, instead of doing something useful like cleaning. When we got to the party the trees were too hard to do, and they all became giant green snowflakes.

Production line making twelve trees

Production line making twelve trees

I’m like this all the time, particularly with writing projects. Signing up for a Children’s Book writing course, starting yet another NaNoWriMo novel, illustrating a book for my son, wanting to enter the Mslexia Chidlren’s Novel competition.

The daily blog has thankfully made most of these other ideas unworkable, but I dread to think what I’ll be like next year without it. There are just so many creative things I want to do, and tedious boring humdrum life gets in the way. To compensate, my brain seems to list all the possibilities and tell me they’re all doable. Now.

But, just like the toddler in the toy shop, more toys doesn’t mean more fun. There’s exponentially more pleasure to be had with one favourite toy, loved and cherished, than a room full of tat. (Which also puts pressure on my beleaguered brain to make sure my children get the perfect toys at Christmas, but that’s a whole other level of self-sabotage!) Just as there is exponentially more satisfaction (and use) in one finished project rather than fifty half done.

I don’t know what the answer is. If I had a boss it would be simple: I’d make them prioritise my to-do list and try to be good. Being my own boss? It comes down to a discipline I don’t have. And wanting to make polar bears. Sigh. Is it time for bed, yet?

_______________________________________________________________________________

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

_______________________________________________________________________________

Claire chewed her thumbnail and tried to concentrate on the screen in front of her. Attempting to write was proving futile, and she shut the laptop with a snap. Outside, the sun beamed down on the terrace and she let it lure her from the lounge. She felt fidgety and restless and longed to go down to the beach for a run.

After a blissful few days alone, wandering around the north coast of Devon, the weekend had finally arrived, bringing with it the anticipated arrival of her guests. Conor had texted to say he’d be there early evening. She hadn’t heard from Kim and her sister, but assumed they were due around the same time.

This is going to be a train wreck. What was I thinking? I should have gone to Kim’s house; at least I could have chatted with her mother or hidden in the garden. As their guest, I could do what I liked. Now they’re coming to see me, I’ll have to entertain them.

She leaned on the railing and looked out over Kipling Tor, shimmering blue in the hazy distance. If she left now, she could be walking up there in twenty minutes, enjoying the view of Lundy Island and the Bristol Channel. She’d done it at least once a day during her stay, and her feet could probably get there without her guidance.

Conor might just forgive me for not being here when he arrives, but somehow I doubt Kim will. She doesn’t seem to be in a forgiving mood these days.

Wishing she had a cool glass of gin and tonic in her hand, Claire perched on a seat and thought about her friendship with Kim. It wasn’t something she’d dwelt on before. It was a given, like having Ruth and Robert for siblings, or working at AJC. In the past few months all those things had shifted. Ruth and Robert weren’t the people she thought they were: her relationship with Ruth was much closer than it had been in years, while she wasn’t sure she’d cross the road to give Robert the time of day.

Where did that leave Kim? What did it mean to be friends, anyway, when you had known someone so long? Were they friends out of habit or to keep alive memories of childhood that only they shared. Until this year, they hadn’t been that close: catching up when Claire was in town, swapping stories of men and jobs while drinking a few bevvies.

Then Kim had got pregnant and everything had changed. Claire wondered if it was the first time Kim realised she didn’t have any close friends: only Jeff, and her fellow thespians.

A bit like me, really, discovering my work colleagues were more enemies than mates, and that Michael wanted some romanticised version of me.

She thought about the people she’d met during her travels: Josh, Maggie, Bethan. People she had little in common with, except the urge to be on the move. In her heart they felt more like friends than Kim did. The realisation hit her like a cold wave, and she gasped for air.

Her mouth felt dry as she realised she didn’t really want to be friends with Kim anymore. It felt like all give and no get. Kim needed her, she understood that. She’d had the most awful year; the ruckus at the wedding that Claire had inadvertently caused, losing the baby, depression and attempted suicide. Claire couldn’t leave her now but she didn’t know how to be the kind of friend Kim needed.

And what about me? I can’t talk about Conor; Kim sees it as some office fling. Maybe it is, but what if it isn’t. We’re not eighteen anymore. Claire rested her head against the railing and closed her eyes.

She started awake as something brushed her face. With hammering heart she opened her eyes, and saw Conor crouched next to her chair.

“Hello, sleepy head.” The smile he gave her made her catch her breath. She grinned back.

“Sorry, I must have nodded off. Have you been there long?”

He looked guilty. “A few minutes. You look adorable asleep, snuffling like a kitten.”

Blood rushed to Claire’s face and she covered her cheeks with her hands. “I was snoring? Really? God, I’m so sorry.”

“That’s okay. I already know you snore.” He grinned and she took a playful swipe at his arm.

“I do not snore. Not like you do.”

They fell still, suddenly, and Conor leant forwards to kiss her. She let herself sink into the embrace and, for a moment, the hurried voices in her head fell mute.

“Aw, look at the lovers. Why don’t you guys get a room?” Kim’s voice cut through their embrace. Claire pulled away and Conor rose languidly to his feet.

“Hello, Kim, nice to see you again. You’re looking well.” Conor was at his urbane best, holding his hand out for Kim to shake. Claire was looking at Kim’s face and caught a flicker of a frown cross her features before she flashed her teeth and shook the outstretched hand.

“You’ve been busy since I met you last,” she said archly. Claire winced at the confrontational tone, wondering what Kim’s problem was. With a sick feeling in her stomach, she wondered if it was too late to run away.

“I don’t think you’ve met my sister, Helena,” Kim was saying. She turned and gestured for her sister to come forward.

Claire hadn’t seen Kim’s older sister in a long time, but she hadn’t changed. She was still tall and willowy, with long straight golden hair. The only difference was the round stomach stretching her designer top. With a demure smile and glowing skin, she looked like a model in a maternity magazine.

Poor Kim.

Claire’s irritation vanished as she realised how hard it must be for her friend. She’d always competed with her sister, who was the more financially successful and, some argued, the more attractive of the two. Now she was also the one who could carry a child, when Kim couldn’t.

While Conor chatted to Helena about Hong Kong and the journey down from her parents’ house, Claire sidled up to Kim and put her arm around her.

“How are you holding up?” she whispered.

“I haven’t murdered her in her sleep, if that’s what you mean.” Kim’s voice was somewhere between angry and rueful. Claire caught a glimmer of her old friend, the one she used to have fun with, before life became complicated.

“Look at it this way: she’ll have saggy boobs and stretch marks, and will look fifty by the time she’s thirty five.”

Kim giggled and put her arm around Claire, pulling her close. “Thanks, I needed that.”

***

The Christmas Fairy: 2013 365 Challenge #341

My kitchen table is under there somewhere...

My kitchen table is under there somewhere…

I need a Christmas fairy. Not one on top of the tree, or even one who grants wishes. I don’t need a pretty dress, a pumpkin coach or a handsome prince. Some footmen might be nice, though. She can use the mice in the loft, and then they won’t eat through the Santa sacks, like they did last year, and nibble on the Christmas chocolate. (“Father Christmas,” we explained to my distraught daughter, “must have had nibblers on his sleigh.”)

What I need a fairy for is to be me, while I get on with the fun business of Christmas. For example, while I’m up from 5am tweaking photographs (one of my usual hair-brained Christmas things – photos make great gifts), the fairy could help find my kitchen table, ready for breakfast.

Or she could sit and supervise the children’s homework, because I’m all out of patience and actually had to go upstairs and scream into a pillow this morning because three hours’ sleep wasn’t enough to deal with the bickering. I also cried when I couldn’t get parked on the school run, because I had a red double-decker bus on my tail and I’m rubbish at reverse parking, but that’s not unusual.

The living room is not the relaxing zone it's meant to be

The living room is not the relaxing zone it’s meant to be

The fairy could waltz the children to school, singing silly songs, and wait patiently for ten minutes for them to go through their settling in routine. I’m managing it, but the smile is slipping.

Or I could send the fairy out when I get the call for another chore for hubbie. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind, and she could have the McD breakfast instead of me, to save my waistline. That would be a real plus.

A helpful fairy might help locate my living room floor, or put food in the fridge, or make the photos look better when I pick them up from the supermarket (the 5am two-hour stint was worth nothing because they printed so dark they’re unusable. Start again!)

I wonder if I could convince friends and family to give Christmas gifts early? I don’t need slippers or perfume or jewellery, but a cooked meal would be marvelous. A school pick up superb. A quick vac of the house would be a result for everyone, because I can’t be the only one tired of standing on toys and picking stickers and dirt off my socks.

I want to be writing my blog, and inventing adventures for Claire (it’s just getting interesting!). I want to be buying and wrapping gifts, and writing Christmas cards. At a push I don’t mind walking the dog, but the housework isn’t on the agenda until January, and who knows what the house might look like by then. Does anyone know where I might find a Christmas Fairy? If so, send her my way, please. I’ll pay in chocolate. 🙂

_______________________________________________________________________________

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

_______________________________________________________________________________

Claire looked in the mirror and pulled a face.

I look ridiculous. Why did I let Conor talk me in to this?

She tugged at the wig, which had slipped sideways, and pouted her bright red lips. She swished her skirt and struck a pose. “Happy birthday, Mr President…” she sang off key and laughed.

Fine; I’ll be Marilyn, seeing as the theme is Hollywood, but if there’s karaoke I’m out.

With a sigh Claire turned from the mirror and pulled on her cardigan. Despite the warm temperature outside there was no way she was walking across town without some protection.

As she strode down the road in her sandals, with her heels in a bag over her shoulder, Claire’s mind wandered over the events of the week. They were mostly a blur of phone calls and running across town to fetch and carry. She’d stayed awake for the fireworks on Wednesday, but had watched them from the hostel bedroom, not wanting to stand on the beach by herself.

Conor was still the elusive Pimpernel. She caught sight of him from time to time, hurrying to a meeting or helping out at an event. She’d been wrapped up in her own tasks, liaising with the shops over their storefront competition and doing a dozen other menial tasks.

Just when she was starting to think Conor was avoiding her, instead of simply being busy, he’d called out of the blue and asked if she wanted to take part in the Wheelbarrow Race on Friday night. Once he had reassured her that it was a pub crawl rather than a sports day event, she had reluctantly agreed. Then he’d mentioned the need for fancy dress.

“You’re kidding. I don’t do dressing up,” had been her response. Conor had only laughed. “You do now,” he’d replied with a wicked chuckle.

“Are you ordering me, as your employee?” She’d put on a prim tone, wondering if the banter was a wise idea, given his attitude all week. He’d paused for a fraction of a second before saying in a softer voice, “Of course not. I thought it might be fun is all.”

She’d had to agree at that point.

More fool me.

Her walk through the residential streets drew amused glances from passers-by, as she took the route into town, and she regretted not waiting until she got to the pub before putting on the wig. A group of lads wolf whistled from the other side of the road and she toyed between ignoring them and telling them to get lost. Instead she turned, bent forwards, pouted, and blew them a kiss. They looked shocked and then laughed; their appreciative chuckles drifted along behind her as she continued walking.

I guess I’m going to have to try and get in the mood.

She gathered that all of Conor’s colleagues – my colleagues, she amended – would be taking part in the pub crawl. It seemed strange to be socialising with people she hardly knew, and she wondered what they made of the woman Conor had hired against the Board’s better judgement.

Her footsteps slowed as it dawned on her what the evening would entail. Pub crawls meant getting drunk. Did she really want to leave herself vulnerable amongst strangers? The last time she’d been on a work do and under the influence she had heard things about herself she’d rather not have done. It was an experience she didn’t choose to repeat.

But it was too late now. She could see the pub up ahead; identifying it as much by the group of oddly dressed people milling outside. And by the wheelbarrows.

Bastard. He said there were no real wheelbarrows. I am going to kill him.

“Claire, you’re here!”

Conor pushed through the crowd and came to meet her. “You look amazing,” he said as he approached. “This gentleman definitely prefers blondes.” His tone was light but it brought the blood to her cheeks.

He came to a standstill too close for comfort and Claire concentrated on his outfit. He was dressed as Elvis, complete with white suit and big hair. It looked good. The words of anger died on her lips at the warmth in his expression and she dropped her gaze to stare at the pavement between them.

“Are you okay? Have you changed your mind?” Conor’s soft tone held too much understanding for her liking. Deciding the only course was to brazen it out, she threw back her shoulders and looked him in the eye.

“No, not at all. Bring it on.”

“That’s my girl.” His smile was swift and genuine. He looked like he was about to say something else, when a voice hailed him from amidst the crowd.

“Come on, Conor, stop hogging the fit bird and bring her over.”

It was Conor’s turn to look embarrassed. “Sorry, Claire,” he murmured, “Some of the lads have had a head start.”

“It’s okay, it’s nothing I can’t handle.” Claire took off her cardigan and draped it over her bag. In full costume she felt better able to enter into the spirit of things. Still, in the back of her mind she knew it was going to be a long night.

***