Endings and Beginnings: 2013 365 Challenge #242

The Changing Faces of Time

The Changing Faces of Time

So, there it is. My daughter is no longer a ‘preschooler’.

She doesn’t seem bothered. I think the staff were more sad at her leaving than she was. I was just grumpy that they thought the 20 chocolate chip cookies I took in this morning were for the staff, rather than for the children. I mean, what did they think the flowers, cards and all were for? Sigh.

Still, thankfully another child was also leaving today and her Mummy brought in cakes, so my two didn’t notice the mistake.

I’m glad I waited until the last possible moment to take her out of nursery. Since we got home she has asked how many days until she starts school at least a dozen times. I might record it, so I have evidence for week two, when the novelty has worn off and she doesn’t want to go back!

That’s my ending. My beginning is my beginning as a ‘proper’ author, because I finally applied for my EIN today. Those non-writers following this blog won’t realise the significance of this, but it’s a BIG THING. I did actually even call the number in the States (plucking up courage again!), to apply on the phone and hopefully come away with the precious digits today. But the automated voice told me it was a minimum 30 minute wait, and – at 20p a minute or whatever our phone company charges to the US – I didn’t fancy it. In the end doing the paperwork to complete the SS-4 Form took twice that long, although it was less scary.

Mind-Numbing Paperwork

Mind-Numbing Paperwork

I have decided to fax the forms, as it’s supposed to take only 4 business days. That meant also finding an internet company to send and receive international faxes (I mean, who has a fax machine any more?) but, hopefully by next week, I’ll be able to tell you whether it’s all worth the effort! I wouldn’t have done it at all but Amazon sent me an email reminder, gently suggesting I get my tax forms sorted or they might take my books off sale. Funny how that motivated me when 30% of very little withheld in tax hadn’t!

I also spent today listening to my book on the laptop. It turns out that Adobe will ‘read’ out a PDF. It’s laborious and mostly done phonetically, which can lead to some odd pronunciations and virtually no correct cadence. But I’ve spotted several typos I wouldn’t have caught any other way, so I’m happy (except at the slow progress: I’m only 15% through).

The funniest part was the voice changing Mia (the lead male’s ex fiancée) to Missing In Action, every single time. She does go MIA in the novel, so it rather tickled me. A nicer proofreading experience than the five queries my hubbie found on page one, when I gave him a copy to check. Given his propensity to tear things apart I’ve had to insist that he keep his comments to typos only. I can’t face another huge rewrite!

Anyway, I’m submerged in a riveting book (Thanks, Rinelle), as well as wracking my brains for an August finale for Two Hundred Steps Home. As September’s only 2 days away, I need to come up with one soon! Best get on …

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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 stumbled as she exited the lift. Three more staggering steps took her to the door. Even though she had been on dry land for over an hour it still felt like the earth was moving beneath her. Catching at the door frame, she swiped the plastic card and cursed at the red light. After several more attempts the light shone green and she opened the door.

She vaguely registered an en-suite to her left before going through to the bedroom. Without bothering to shut the curtains or undress, Claire climbed beneath the covers and curled into the pillow. Within moments she was asleep.

*

When she woke, several hours later, her mouth ached with dryness and her body called its urgent need to pee. Claire rolled off the bed, just managing to get her feet to the floor before the rest of her followed in a heap. Feeling the worth of every penny it had cost to stay in the hotel, Claire staggered to the en-suite.

The face in the mirror looked like something from a zombie movie. Claire shut her eyes in horror and reached out to pull on the shaving light, before switching off the harsh overhead spotlights. Ten hours on a ferry had taken their toll. Eyes half closed against the still too-bright light, Claire brushed her teeth and drank some water. Her tummy rumbled but she guessed it was late in the night and her budget didn’t stretch to raiding the mini bar.

A piercing headache stabbed in the base of her skull, intensifying when she accidentally turned on the main lights. Turning them off again, Claire walked to the window and looked at the view of the harbour beneath her. The water appeared calm and, although the sky looked cloudy, it wasn’t raining. It was as if the hellish weather of the last twenty-four hours had ceased to exist, reinforcing the sense of it all being a bad dream.

I’m in Wellington instead of Picton; that alone tells me it wasn’t all some terrible nightmare.

Despite the refund on her ticket and the offer of compensation, Claire wondered how the ferry company could replace her stolen time. She needed to be on the South Island, ticking off tourist sites and making her way to Christchurch and a flight back to the UK. Although she hadn’t yet decided to accept Conor’s job offer, there was no doubt she couldn’t travel for much longer. Every time she used her credit card she waited with in held breath for it to be rejected. When that happened she wanted to be on the right side of a thirty-hour flight home.

Unaccountably wide awake, Claire located her iPad and tried to check her emails. The hotel WiFi was priced for business guests and Claire snorted at the cost. No expenses for her anymore.

I’ll have to wait until morning; go find a café with free Internet. It won’t hurt me to be disconnected from the world for a few more hours.

Claire looked around the large, pristine, hotel room and felt guilty for not offering the spare bed to Bethan. Her friend had opted to return to the hostel, when Claire had declared her intention to treat herself to a proper bed for the night. It had been on her tongue to offer, but a combination of tiredness and a yearning for silence and solitude had held her back. Now it seemed unnecessarily mean.

I’ll find her tomorrow, buy her breakfast.

Feeling her eyelids sinking once more, Claire changed into her pyjamas and climbed into the second bed, enjoying the sensation of clean, tucked in sheets.

***

Introvert Parenting: 2013 365 Challenge #238

Definite Extrovert

Definite Extrovert

A while ago on Facebook, my husband’s cousin shared this great comic strip about How to Live with Introverts, with the joke line “this has saved my marriage.” (I haven’t posted the comic here as I don’t know about copyright, but do go and take a look or this post won’t make much sense. Come back though, please?)

For those of you who haven’t just read the cartoon, it starts with the statement, “Introverts live in a  human-sized hamster ball” of personal space. It goes on to discuss how extroverts get their energy from being with other people, while introverts give energy to others and need to be by themselves to replenish it.

It then lightheartedly explains how to interact with introverts – who do like company, but don’t want to waste their precious energy on ‘bad’ company. It ends with some top tips including, “Don’t take silence as an insult – it isn’t!” and “introverts get lonely too.”

My favourite line is the last one: “Be sure to hug your introvert today! (with permission of course)”

I loved it so much, because it explains who I am in a nice way rather than in an ‘I’m an abnormal anti-social freak’ kind of way. It also explains me and my husband: He is both an introvert and an extrovert. He feeds off company, but needs time alone to replenish. He has his own personal bubble but he thrives off continual physical contact.

Possibly both, like her Daddy

Possibly both, like her Daddy

It also explains (possibly) why I find parenting so hard. I don’t know if this applies to all introverts, because actually I would guess most of my friends are extroverts, but for me it makes sense.

Being with children continuously, fielding questions continuously, going to baby groups, play dates, soft-play centres, with chatter and noise and stimulation, continuously, uses up all the precious energy. And there is no time to replenish.

I snapped at my kids today, “No more questions, please!” It’s been relentless recently, from both of them, and husband has retreated into his bubble, which leaves me giving out all the non-existent energy. I don’t often get a chance to read and replenish (or sleep and replenish) and so am constantly frayed and exhausted.

This is particularly bad when hubbie isn’t working. Much as I love him, I need space away from everyone – him included – to truly feel refreshed. Even if he’s pottering in the garage and I only see him at lunch time, that isn’t the same as being in the house by myself. The vibe isn’t the same. The battery doesn’t charge as well.

I feel, instinctively (without a shred of evidence) that the introvert/extrovert might explain some of the difference between the parents who write on Facebook about how much they love spending every minute of every day with their children (making me feel like a bad parent) and the ones who ask if it’s bedtime yet.

Are there any other introvert Mummies out there to help me prove or disprove my theory? Answers on a post card (or in the comments will do!) please. 🙂

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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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“Wait up, Claire.”

Claire turned, surprised to be called by name. She recognised the girl from breakfast at river valley, the one with the long black hair. Searching for a name, her brain threw up a card.

“Bethan. Hello.”

Bethan fell in alongside Claire as she walked from her room to the kitchen.

“You staying in the Windy City for the weekend, too? It’s the Queen’s birthday, so there’s bound to be loads to do. Shame about the poxy weather.”

Claire glanced over at the girl, trying to work her out. She looked to be about twenty and Claire guessed she must be from Thailand or the Philippines or somewhere in that part of the world, although she had a blended accent that was hard to pinpoint. Not having visited the East, except for beach holidays, she had a very loose understanding of the area. With a shrug she decided it didn’t matter: the girl spoke English.

Bethan gazed at her expectantly and Claire realised she hadn’t answered the question.

“Yes, I’m here for at least one more night. Why do they celebrate the Queen’s birthday here? I don’t think we even register it in the UK.”

“Oh, they’re big on the Royal Family in New Zealand. She’s still head of state, and they love all that pomp and ceremony. They laugh at them too, but they wouldn’t be Kiwis if they didn’t.”

“You sound like you know the country quite well.”

“I’ve been here for a few months; you pick up a lot travelling round.”

The girls arrived in the kitchen, and Claire searched her meagre supplies for something to eat. There never seemed to be time to buy food and the hostels didn’t always offer a cooked breakfast like they did in the UK. She watched in envy as Bethan located a frying pan and pulled out the ingredients for pancakes.

As if sensing her jealous observation, Bethan turned to Claire. “Do you want some? I got totally addicted to them while in the States and they’re dead easy to make when you’re travelling.”

Claire nodded, “Yes, please.”

Bethan turned back to the stove and Claire sought for a topic of conversation.

“How long were you in America?”

“Two years,” Bethan called over her shoulder. “I was studying for the first year, and then I stayed on to do some travelling.”

The information surprised Claire. Bethan didn’t look old enough to have been away from home that long, or to be travelling by herself. She felt a stab of emotion which, after a moment’s analysing, she realised was disappointment at herself: so many people had achieved great things before she’d even left university.

I’ve lived a safe existence. Good grades, good degree, good career, for all the good it did me. Where’s the adventure? Where’s the living life?

Bethan came to the table with a bottle of syrup and a stack of thick pancakes. She loaded several onto a plate and slid them across to Claire. The two girls sat munching in companionable silence until the plates were empty.

“What about you, Claire, how long have you been in New Zealand?”

Claire looked up from scraping the last of the syrup off her plate. “What day is it today?”

“Saturday. It’s the 1st of June.”

“What, already?” Claire’s eyes opened wide. “Then I’ve been here–” She did a mental calculation, “–nearly two weeks. Gosh, is that all? It feels much longer.” Then she realised how much further there was to travel and that she’d only planned to be away for a fortnight, and her stomach lurched.

With a sigh, she said, “I guess I probably shouldn’t stay in Wellington too long. I need to get home.”

Bethan looked sympathetic. “Have you got to get back to work? I’m so lucky I don’t have a job to go to.”

“Neither do I.” Claire didn’t feel that lucky. She wanted to ask Bethan how she afforded to travel without work, how many places she had visited, even how old she was. The young girl intrigued her. Her British reserve forced her to hold her tongue, and silence fell.

Eventually, Bethan stood up and went to wash the dishes. Claire grabbed a tea towel and while they worked, Bethan asked, “What plans do you have for today? The weather’s meant to be rubbish. I was going to go to the Botanical Gardens on the cable car, but I think I might go to the museum. Do you want to come?”

It felt strange, making her own decisions. Claire had got used to the bus driver telling her what the next activity to do or place to visit was. A museum sounded a bit boring, but at least they’d be out of the rain. And it would be nice to have some company.

“Sure, why not.”

***

Not an Aspiring Writer: 2013 365 Challenge #234

Staycation chez Martin

Staycation chez Martin

One of the challenges I’ve discovered with being a self-published author, or I suppose a writer of any kind, is expecting others to see it as a real job. After all it doesn’t pay well (or at all), you have no one imposing deadlines but yourself, and you spend all day dividing your time between gazing out the window, researching random things (skydiving in New Zealand anyone?), designing the odd front cover or giveaway bookmark, and playing on social media.

It’s all work, it’s done with purpose, but compared to a teacher, doctor, project manager or business director, it’s all a bit nebulous.

A friend recently asked my husband, while they were at a kids party together, if I get paid for doing the blog. Tee hee wouldn’t that be nice? I think it was because I couldn’t join my baby group one day in the café as I was racing to get my post live by my 10am deadline (which I’m going to miss today, unfortunately, due to a bout of insomnia). I probably should have missed my post that day and joined them for coffee. But, to me, the self-imposed deadlines, the deliverables, the targets, are all very important. I need to feel like I have a job, a career, or the sacrifices I ask my family to make would not be worth it.

No, I’m not getting paid, but my friend did seven years of university training to be a doctor without getting paid. This is my post-grad creative writing degree taken at the university of life. I’ve never been more serious about a career before or enjoyed one as much.

My creative daughter

My creative daughter

I often read posts on Kristen Lamb’s blog about the importance of not calling yourself an aspiring writer, (her latest is Are You a “Real” Writer? Is This Even the Correct Question?) . I am a writer; a published author. My sales are no fewer than the vast majority of even traditionally published books, which apparently rarely exceed 100, and I don’t think I’ve sold any to friends and family, so they are all genuine sales. (In 2004 c.80% of books sold fewer than 100 copies: The Ugly Truth about Getting Your Book Published. These figures might be out of date but I have read a similar figure recently, just couldn’t find the source!)

In a week or two my second novel will officially go live, in print and e-book format. Then I’ll start on revising my third novel, Class Act. Maybe I will rough draft the sequel to Dragon Wraiths during November’s NaNoWriMo if there’s a scrap of spare capacity. I’ll churn out my 1500 words of blog post and Claire instalment every day, with a couple of pictures, and I’ll answer every comment. I’ll squeeze in some social media and read a dozen posts from my online community sometime during the week. It’s a 40-hour week that drains me and leaves me exhausted.

Despite all of this, I’m never asked about my ‘job’ as a writer by people I know. It’s not taken seriously as a career. Thankfully my husband believes in me, as do my online friends. That’s why I love my blog. The daily challenge is one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. Every ‘like’, every ‘been there’ comment tells me I’m not crazy, tells me I belong somewhere, tells me I’m on the right path. I believe I’ll make an income one day, when I’ve written enough words, published enough books. I just have to keep working. I am a writer.

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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 climbed down from the bus and wandered a short way into the bush. After five minutes the pain was too great and she looked around for somewhere to hide with her book for a while. Every part of her body ached, as if she had spent the day before stretched on a rack rather than hiking through volcano country. When the bus driver had told them the morning schedule was for a two-hour walk to see the waterfalls, she’d nearly turned round and gone back to bed.

And as for river-rafting this afternoon, I think I might just opt for the horse riding or discover a love of golf.

It was a satisfying ache; the pain of a body pushed to its limits. But without a hot bath to sooth the muscles, she felt like a wooden puppet every time she tried to walk. At the hostel, some of the other travellers had gone to a natural spring in the river, and raved about the novelty of sitting outside in the autumn while soaking in hot water. It had almost tempted her to go herself, but the thought of the walk put her off.

I miss my car.

Pushing the thought aside, Claire searched for her place in the paperback she’d picked up at the last hostel, and allowed herself to be transported to a different world.

The trill of her phone wrenched her back to reality. Assuming it was either a nasty message from Carl, or a random text from Conor, Claire was tempted to ignore it. Only the vague hope that it might be from Kim made her put down her book and find her phone. The message wasn’t from a number she knew, and she frowned as she opened it.

Hi Claire, long time no speak. I caught up on the blog recently and saw that you’re in my neck of the woods. Are you planning a trip over to Oz while you’re here? It would be great to catch up. Josh.

Claire read the message several times, until the words no longer made sense. Of course she’d thought about him, but she had put all thought of seeing him to one side. Fiona wouldn’t like it, and some scars were best left to heal before they were put under any stress. Would he think it rude, though, if she fobbed him off?

Claire rested her head against the tree and closed her eyes, trying to analyse her emotions. It seemed that every time men became involved in her life it became uncomfortable and complicated. Easier to push on with her travels and concentrate on the blog. And yet …Yet what?

It’s not like I have so many friends I can afford to lose one. What harm a quick visit?

In the end she settled for a non-committal answer, carefully worded to leave her an escape route.

Hi Josh, lovely to hear from you. Yes, I’m touring NZ at the moment: it was meant to be for a job, but that fell through. Now I’m here, though, I thought it worth gathering things for the blog. I’m on a Kiwi bus for the next few weeks. Budget willing, I can fly home via Oz. Will let you know. Cx

She hit send and tried to pick up the thread of her book, but the words kept dancing on the page. With a sigh, Claire packed it away and walked back to the bus.

***

Blast from my Past: 2013 365 Challenge #233

My hiking buddy for the Tongariro Crossing

My hiking buddy for the Tongariro Crossing

I was looking through an old travelling journal this evening, hoping to find something on the Tongariro Crossing that Claire will undertake today.

Unfortunately I appear to have lost my journal from the North Island. However, I did find my South Island diary, and found it interesting to read bits of it for pretty much the first time in a decade.

I always assumed it would be dull or full of angst (as most of my diaries are), particularly as I was suffering the side effects of coming off antidepressants when I travelled round NZ, leading to panic attacks and low periods.

I  did some crazy things, though, and generally I have fond memories of the three months I spent travelling. If I had come straight home, rather than screwing up my head living with a Kiwi for nine months, I might have been saner and richer. But such is the twenty-twenty power of hindsight. And actually I don’t much regret that either. It all adds to life’s tapestry.

Anyway, this was the excerpt I found at random, written just after undertaking the Inland Pack Track on the West Coast. (I write it verbatim, including punctuation!)

The Inland Pack Track

The Inland Pack Track

27th March 2002

“Have taken to checking my phone for the date – I at least know it is Wednesday – 2 weeks since I arrived in the South Island and maybe 8 or 9 since arriving in NZ. I don’t know why that’s important – time has really ceased to have much meaning – especially out in the ‘sticks’ without internet & phone!

“Well, I completed my first overnight hike, footsore but triumphant. Actually if I had read a little more about the track itself I wouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole. But 40km in 2 days with a full pack, on a track I would grade medium, has proved to me that I can do it. I was going to write about the track now, but I want to do it justice so I guess it will probably wait until tomorrow, as I am heading off to an ‘all you can eat’ $3 bbq – and as I am going with a human being of the opposite sex, have inexplicably (or perhaps not) decided to ‘make a bit of an effort’ – despite said male seeing me sleeping in an orange survival bag, wearing a wooly hat and no shoes! Weird.”

I hope I can dig out the other journal. I find it hard reading too much of my naval-gazing words, but it is fascinating to pop in from time to time and visit the me from eleven years ago. I haven’t changed much!

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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 stretched out her stride and quickly left behind the others from her group. The early morning air that stung her face was welcome, after a pre-6 a.m. start and an hour and more on the bus with other sleepy hikers.

The bus driver had cautioned them about the mountain weather, especially in the autumn, and Claire reluctantly had her full pack, albeit without most of its usual contents.

If I’m going to do any more hiking here I might have to get a day sack.

The weather gods had decided to be kind; holding off the predicted snowfall. Claire gazed up at the empty blue sky and prayed the snow would stay away for at least another day. Getting stuck up on the mountain was not a welcome prospect, hut or no hut.

The forecast for the whole week was indifferent and Claire had faced the prospect of missing the ‘Greatest one-day hike’ in New Zealand or staying in Taupo an extra day or two, time she could ill afford.

Getting back on the bus with Neal today was not an option. Thank you, weather gods, for giving me the perfect excuse.

Chaffing at the slow pace of the hikers in front of her, who had come clad only in shorts and t-shirts and wearing trainers, Claire wondered whether to push past or stop to take pictures. According to the guide sheet, the hike should take at least six hours, and she didn’t want to be running for the bus.

Her dilemma resolved itself as the slow walkers stopped to take their own snaps. Claire wondered if she would see them at the finish.

They’re more likely to end up in hospital if that’s all the clothing they’ve got.

Claire resisted the urge to lecture them in mountain savvy: after all, she was still a novice and had made her own mistakes. Instead she pushed on, keen to stretch her calf muscles in a decent climb. It had been too long.

*

Tongariro Crossing

Tongariro Crossing looking back

Half way up the Devil’s Stair, Claire regretted her impetuosity. More of a scramble than a hike, the path up the cliff face was beyond steep, and littered with rock. Sweat dripped off her forehead, trickled down her back, pooled in her bra. Every muscle in her legs burned in agony as she forced herself to keep moving, however slowly. Stopping would only increase the pain.

At last, exhausted but triumphant, she reached the top of the evil climb and paused to admire the view. The desolate plains stretched out beneath her and it was easy to see why it had been the perfect place to film Tolkien’s masterpiece.

Mount Ngauruhoe loomed behind her, looking every inch the mountain of doom from the movie. A chirpy green sign invited her to climb to the summit but it took less than a second to decline the offer.

I might miss the bus, she thought with a smile. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

During the climb it had seemed that Devil’s Stair might be the worst of the ascent. It wasn’t. Claire groaned silently as she followed the path with her eyes, as it rose higher and higher. It was one thing knowing it was a high-altitude alpine route and another to see it stretched out before her.

With nothing to detain her, Claire pushed on, enjoying the solitude amidst the groups of people strung out in front and behind. It was comforting to see them. Despite the white markers and poles, she felt it would be easy to get lost.

After what felt like hours Claire reached the red crater. It was hard to absorb the sheer scale of the volcanic gash in the mountainside, full of rubble and undulating rock formations. Snapping a few pictures to appreciate later, over a strong coffee or a gin and tonic, Claire pushed onwards, wanting to crest the worst of the climb before lunch.

With a last push, Claire hauled herself out of the red crater and then reeled at the wall of stink. Beneath her, the emerald lakes twinkled prettily in the midday sun. The stench from their sulphurous content tingled in her nostrils and seared her throat. Panting heavily from the climb, Claire was forced to cover her face and take shallow breaths. She dropped back down into the crater and pulled out the picnic provided by the hostel.

It should have been lonely, sat alone in the land of Mordor as giggling groups walked by. Claire looked out over the endless panoramic view and felt her soul take flight. After all the nonsense with Neal, and the turmoil at home, there was a freedom to being somewhere no one could find her.

Replenished, Claire took a deep breath and tackled the descent past the lakes. She stared at her feet as she walked; partly to ensure a safe footing on the loose shingle and partly to avoid focussing on the steep drop beneath her. The descent was worse than the ascent. One false step and she would land at the bottom in a jumble of broken bones.

Gradually the scenery became softer and more welcoming, as green vegetation replaced the relentless red and grey rock. Entering the humid forest, Claire marvelled at the extremes of terrain covered in such a short time. The forest deadened the sound of the thousands of other hikers, allowing her a sense of seclusion. Despite the aching limbs, Claire felt energised.

You can keep your zorbing, bungy jumping and swooping. Give me a day pitting myself against nature and every cell comes alive.

The walk out to the car park was too long. Around her, smiles diminished and laughter disappeared. Weary walkers trudged the last few kilometres to their bus, longing for a hot bath or at least somewhere to sit. Claire barely noticed the lake or the hills framed by the setting sun. Dark clouds gathered behind her, promising the bad weather. At last the bus came in sight. Claire felt she might kiss it, but settled instead for a small cheer.

***

Guns and Swords: 2013 365 Challenge #226

My son with his wooden 'gun'

My son trying to impale his sister with his wooden ‘gun’

My children have reached that stage I’ve been dreading as a parent: gun role play. They must have learned it at nursery because we don’t let them watch anything remotely violent on TV (we even fast forward through big chunks of movies like Lion King and Jungle Book. Time enough for violence when they’re over five).

I hate gun play. It makes me edgy. I know that it isn’t guns that kill people: people kill people. But it’s a lot easier to do it with guns than fists.

So today, when I discovered my son ‘gunning’ his sister with a three-foot flag pole and laughing every time he ‘got’ her, I suggested they play something else.

My attempt to change their focus ended up in a game of knights and swords – the children love Mike the Knight (on Cbeebies: I think he’s a selfish, whining brat). I thought that would be safer than running around with a three-foot stick, as the ‘swords’ were light plastic and they were wearing their knights’ helmets.

I was wrong.

Swords. Wasn't much of an alternative!

Swords. Wasn’t much of an alternative!

Shooting siblings happens (mostly) at a distance, but you get up close and personal for sword play. Within seconds they’d whacked each other on the arms and both ran to me screaming.

I’ve suggested they make a den out of the climbing frame, and they’re cooperating for now, but I think some days they’re just out to hurt each other one way or another.

I feel like the kill joy. I feel like the meanie. I stopped a game on the chance that someone might get hurt (see the picture where my son’s trying to impale his sister on the pole) only to instigate a game where someone did get hurt.

I don’t know what to think about guns. We don’t live in a neighbourhood where gun crime is likely. Guns are used for shooting pheasants, and only hold two cartridges (although two would be plenty to hurt or kill someone). Not many swords around either, although I suppose there are knives. I don’t like to think about it. I want to keep my kids in the garden and protect them forever, though of course that isn’t possible.

What’s the answer? Suggestions welcome. Is gun play okay? Do I need to lighten up and buy them some Nerf guns instead? A sort of ‘if you can’t beat them, at least provide them with soft foam bullets’ sort of solution? Sometimes I wish I’d just had girls.

Son is happy because he 'gunned' his target

Son is happy because he ‘gunned’ his target

P.S. After I finished this post I looked for related articles and came across this great one: Keep Kids from Toy Guns – How one mother changed her mind. I have completely changed my view.

I love the thoroughness of this article – how it explores the necessity of role play and rough play for children (particularly boys) and the suggestion that depriving them might hinder their growth. It also explains that violent role play doesn’t mean the same to a child as it does to an adult.

A friend on Facebook suggested that forbidding gun play just makes guns taboo and exciting, meaning the children are more likely to seek them out. All great advice.

So I will try and ignore my son’s fixation with guns and just make sure he’s using something other than a three-foot flag pole!

P.P.S One of the schools we looked at for our daughter offered fencing lessons. I think that’s a great idea! Teach the right way of doing things. Might look out for a class if the school we’ve chosen doesn’t also offer it.

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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 followed the driver down to the beach, shivering in the evening breeze.

What am I doing in my swimsuit and a sarong at 6pm in autumn? Even if that is a New Zealand autumn and it’s probably as warm as a British summer.

The driver carried a bundle of spades and Claire hadn’t yet found the courage to ask what they were for.

When they reached the beach Claire felt like she’d arrived on the moon. The charcoal-grey sand was littered with dozens of craters, some tiny, some several metres across. Steam rose from the nearest ones and Claire could see scantily clad people lounging in the water as if they were at a spa.

“Okay, guys, grab a spade. Watch out, sometimes the water can get too hot, you know?”

Hot Water Beach

Hot Water Beach

With that the driver dropped the spades and sauntered off. Claire hung back as her fellow travellers surged forwards. As she’d hoped, there were soon no spades left and she felt able to wander down to the shore.

Claire walked along the sand, splashing her feet in the lapping waves, and staring out at the horizon. Behind her she could hear shrieks and yells as people jumped into hot pools or shoved their friends in. She heard someone call out, “That one’s too hot,” followed by a confident denial, then a loud scream. Claire smiled.

The night air brushed at her skin, raising goosebumps and making her shiver. It was no good, if she didn’t get in the hot water soon she would freeze.

Claire turned and walked back up the beach, hoping to find a small pool that had been vacated because it was not required rather than because it was scalding hot. As she made her way through the pools, avoiding eye contact and ignoring the giggles, someone called out her name.

She turned and saw a dark shadow lying alone in a large pool. Visible only by the whites of his eyes and his shimmering teeth, Claire recognised her nemesis and cursed herself for responding to his summons.

“Come and join me, Claire?” Neal patted the sandbank next to him in invitation. “Water’s lovely.”

Claire hesitated, but shivered again as the sun dropped lower in the sky, taking its warming rays with it.

“Chicken?” Neal’s voice dripped with provocation.

Not wanting to give him an opportunity to goad her further, Claire took a step away from the edge and scanned around for another empty pool.

“Come on, don’t be shy. I don’t bite. Not unless you want me to.” His deep chuckle rolled through the dark, doing strange things to Claire’s insides.

Realising she was getting strange looks from the people in nearby pools, Claire tugged off her sarong and slipped into the water as far away from Neal as she could. She sat upright, but the contrast of hot and cold made her shudder, and she was forced to slide in deeper.

It was bliss. Claire realised she hadn’t had a bath in months. Hostels didn’t have baths and when she was staying with her sister there had never been the time for the luxury of deep hot water. Kinks and knots in her back and neck shifted under the heat and she squirmed to find a more comfortable position.

Claire felt a pressure on the ball of her foot and kicked out in panic. Her action led to another deep chuckle, and she realised Neal was massaging one of her feet, his thumbs digging deep in soothing circular movements.

She wanted to pull away, to protest, to get up and leave the beach, but somehow she couldn’t. Not wanting to think about anything other than the heavenly sensation, Claire laid her head against the sandbank behind her and closed her eyes.

***

Harvest: 2013 365 Challenge #225

Tractors on the road (wasn't driving when took this!)

Tractors on the road (wasn’t driving when took this!)

It’s harvest time here in the UK. I love the harvest. Despite the late nights, the noise, the dust, the traffic, the “mummy, a tractor, look!” a hundred times a day, it’s a wonderful time of year.

I followed a tractor and trailer home this afternoon, driving at 30mph. Normally travelling at that speed would have me cursing, dithering as to whether I should try and overtake, especially on a nursery day, when time is precious. But because it was a harvest tractor I sat back, listened to the radio, and enjoyed the rest. Every half a mile we pulled over to let another tractor through – our country lanes not being wide enough for two cars in places, never mind two tractors.

The drivers smile, even though they’ve probably had five hours’ sleep a night this week. They drive into the dark; their wide headlights lighting the hillside.

You can spot a combine harvester by the dust. Even though it’s a common sight, it still makes me smile. There’s something so essential, so powerful, about watching the beast of a machine sweeping up the fields, leaving bareness behind and disappearing in a cloud of dust like a camel running through the desert (not that I’ve ever seen a camel in the desert. That’s how I imagine it might look, anyway.)

Fields with a haircut

Fields with a haircut

Soon the fields will be ploughed in; changing from wheat-yellow to dark brown. The dog will come home filthy and some paths will be impassable. It looks like a better harvest this year. Last year’s wheat, especially, was devastated by the floods. Farmers lost half their yield and the price of bread shot sky-high.

As the land is managed on a three-field crop rotation, we’ve had some set-aside and some oil seed rape in the local fields this year. Maybe next year it will be potatoes. My favourite crop is barley. As Sting famously sang, the fields come alive in the sunlight and wind, rippling like a bran-coloured ocean.

I can’t imagine living somewhere with no harvest. It marks the turning of the season like no other event. My step-father used to work on a farm and harvest time we never saw him. He would be driving until 2am and – in the days before mobile phones – my mum would go out armed with a field map and lunch box to take him his dinner.

It’s an energetic time. Activity everywhere. On the roads, in the fields, round the farms and the storage barns. Scurrying mammals bringing in the food before the winter. We’re all squirrels at heart.

Harvest means the end of summer, too. The end of the school holidays in sight. The year running away like sand in an hour glass. This year is particularly poignant as it’s the end of preschool life for us. Harvest reminds us that the seasons change, the year ebbs and flows, life goes on. Hopefully I’ll feel like that once school starts in September!

P.S. I used pictures from my NZ honeymoon to write today’s Claire installment so had to include them below. There might be other NZ pictures in Claire posts for the next few weeks! Any excuse. 🙂

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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 leant her head against the window in what was becoming her preferred position. A night spent back in Auckland had restored her equilibrium after the sand-boarding experience, although she had bruises on her bruises, and muscles she didn’t previously know existed still burned.

Amazing views, Coromandel

Amazing views, Coromandel

Outside the window rolling, undulating, forest views sped past too fast as the driver negotiated hairpin bends and steep drops. Claire was glad she’d slept rather than followed the others out drinking the night before. She suspected it might have otherwise been hard to keep food in her tummy with the swaying of the bus and the changes of scenery from green to blue, dark to light, forest to sea.

They arrived at the hostel all too soon and Claire reluctantly left her window seat to go and check in. Some of the group were leaving immediately to kayak round to a place called Cathedral Cove.

Deciding her muscles had received enough of a pounding for a few days, Claire had opted out. Gazing now at the blue skies still smiling above, she wondered it if was too late to change her mind.

“Any folks wanting a lift round to the Cathedral Cove, I’ll be leaving in a while. Come and meet me back at the bus after you’ve checked in, and bring your walking shoes.”

Claire gave the driver a smile and he grinned back, flicking his eyelid in a flirtatious wink. It had been a huge relief to get on the bus that morning and discover a new driver would be taking them down the east coast. Whatever had sparked the previous driver’s antagonism towards her, she obviously hadn’t made the same mistake this time. If anything, this one was too charming though she wasn’t going to complain about that. Not yet, anyway.

*

The view from the car park made Claire stare in wonder. Even though she’d watched the views out the window all day, nothing had prepared her for the brilliance of seeing it without glass. At first glance it was only sea and trees; but the depth of the colours brought out by the afternoon sun made the whole panorama shimmer.

They followed the narrow footpath down towards the cove. Every turn, every few minutes’ walk, revealed a new view. The sea changed colour continuously, from navy blue to steel grey and back to aquamarine. Islands lay scattered across the bay like Russian dolls.

Gemstone Bay

Gemstone Bay

A few minutes further and the scene changed again: this time, white cliffs could be seen between lime-green ferns. The water in the bay below shone turquoise, whilst further out to sea jet skis carved brilliant white crescents against the pthalo blue. Throaty engines echoed in the silence, but the roar of the machines couldn’t break her peace. Her heart sang.

Following sign posts, Claire took a detour to find gemstone bay. She came through the trees to discover a pebble-strewn beach lurking beneath a rocky bluff. The stones shimmered red and green in the water like the precious gems the bay was named for. Snapping some pictures, Claire returned up the path, groaning at the pain in her calf muscles.

Right. No more unnecessary detours.

Eventually they reached sea level. All along the beach, tourists stood with cameras ready, trying to capture the perfect image. The cathedral itself was a hole in the rock, like Durdle Door – on Claire’s list of things to visit in Dorset, before she’d decided to run away to the other side of the world.

Why do I keep comparing things to Dorset? As if anything that county has to offer can come close to the Coromandel scenery I’ve witnessed today.

Cathedral Cove, Coromandel

Cathedral Cove, Coromandel

Claire waited by the natural stone archway, trying to take a photograph with no people in sight. It took too long and eventually she settled for figures in the distance. Sometimes trying to take shots she could use for the blog tried her patience.

Ahead she heard the sound of laughing and splashing and she strolled through the tunnel to investigate. On the next beach, a group from her bus were paddling in the sea. One person had stripped off and was swimming out to a distant rock.

Claire kicked off her shoes and dipped an experimental toe in the water. It was freezing. She joined the others to discover who the crazy swimmer was. As he waved from the rock and dived back into the water, she watched his progress with a sinking certainty.

Neal. Of course, I might have known.

Not wanting him to catch her watching, Claire hurried back through the cathedral and made her way to the bus. Halfway up the walk, she paused to catch her breath. A strange impulse caught hold of her, like a shift in the weather. She took out her phone and tapped a text message, hitting send before she could change her mind.

Conor, it’s Claire. Just wanted to say hi and thanks for the text. I’ve just been to see a place that reminded me of Dorset. You’d love it. There will be pictures on the blog tomorrow. Sorry if this wakes you. Claire.

Without stopping to analyse her actions, Claire stuffed the phone back in her bag and continued her walk to the bus.

***

Running out of Words: 2013 365 Challenge #222

Shooting hoops in a makeshift basket

Shooting hoops in a makeshift basket

The challenge part of my daily blogging adventure is now starting to bite. Finding something new and interesting to write about every single day, then finding something new and interesting for Claire to experience, is proving tricky.

When my life is a monotony of childcare, writing, editing, housework and dog walking, it’s tough to find the new. I’m re-reading old familiar books (Pride and Prejudice at the moment) because I don’t have the time, energy or mental space to start any of the dozens of new books on my ipad. Between editing Baby Blues and staying on top off Two-Hundred Steps Home, I’m full.

It seems even I have a finite amount of words. Me! The girl whose mother still complains she talks too much, and now thinks the same of her children. Me, the girl who famously accompanied her father on a road trip from Sussex to Scotland (around twelve hours), talked non-stop and apparently didn’t repeat herself once. Until the day he died my father wouldn’t let me forget it. Ironic now that it’s my children’s incessant talking that drives me batty.

Football girl

Football girl

It seems strange that it took me so long to realise my career needed to be built around words, rather than numbers. Thousands upon thousands of words are always in my head, jostling for space, clamouring to be heard. But it seems that, finally, the well is dry. Maybe not of words but certainly of ideas.

It’s a common piece of advice for writers that the well must be replenished. Rest, holidays, reading, getting out and experiencing new things, are all essential to a writer to keep them fresh. I long to take a break from blogging, a break from Claire. But with Baby Blues clogging up my free days (it has to be finished by the end of August or it won’t happen this year) I barely have time to research each daily post, never mind getting ahead.

So apologies if this blogging challenge is dragging for you, too. I’ve reached the soggy middle, with 143 posts left to reach the end. I don’t regret starting it for a moment, anymore than I regret getting married or having children. That doesn’t mean that, sometimes, a break (or a full night’s sleep) wouldn’t be welcome.

Maybe it’s time to take a leaf out of Claire’s book and run away to a hostel for a bit. Call it research. Ah, if only! Still at least I can write about it and re-live the time I did just that.

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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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The alarm rang through Claire’s pillow and she let out a groan. The barbeque had gone on until late the night before and, although she’d observed the shenanigans over the top of her iPad, it had been entertaining after a fashion; watching the bronzed and beautiful people from the bus slowly drink themselves out of their clothes and into the hot-tub.

She’d torn herself away when the spectacle threatened to become x-rated. Despite only drinking one or two stubbies, as the Kiwi’s called their small cans of lager, her head still felt like it was wrapped in bungee-cord.

Beneath her and across the room two more alarms set up their caterwauling. One a thumping beat of a pop song, the other a clanging bell. More groaning and fumbling around to silence the evil machines followed, and Claire smiled.

If my head hurts this morning, that’s going to be nothing to what those guys are going through.

Trying to remind herself why she’d opted for such an early start, Claire crawled out from beneath her covers and made her slow way down the bunk bed ladder.

Thank goodness I thought to pack last night.

She pulled on the clothes laid on top of her rucksack and stuffed her night things into a pocket. Within five minutes of her alarm waking her, she was outside the room and ready to search for coffee.

*

The queue for the bus was the sorriest sight Claire had ever seen. A dozen ashen faced, subdued, teenagers stood with heads low and earphones in. As she’d already consumed one coffee and was on her second, Claire was able to smile indulgently at their suffering. She was looking forward to the day trip: twelve hours of doing exactly as she was told sounded perfect after a night of little sleep.

Claire climbed on the bus and sat near the window, ready to be wowed by the scenery she had read so much about. Caffeine kept her eyes open, even though the motion of the bus did its best to lull her to sleep. Looking around, she could see that most of her fellow passengers were already snoozing.

What a shame, to miss out on so much.

At the first stop some people didn’t even make it off the bus. Claire walked past them to visit the forest where they were going to “hug a tree”. It seemed a bit hippy, but she’d given herself permission to be a tourist sheep for the day.

Walking through the forest, Claire felt the muscles in her neck straining as she continually gazed up at the enormous kauri trees towering above her. Their trunks stretched smooth all the way to the sky, forming a canopy of leaves high above. Behind her, she heard the guide tell them that hugging a tree would bring good luck.

I’m not hugging a tree; I’ll look like an idiot.

Glancing round, Claire saw people wrapping their arms around the giant kauri trees, their hands not even reaching halfway round the circumference. Soon, she was the only person not embracing the rough bark.

Oh, what the hell. I could do with some luck.

Claire stretched her arms wide and inched her fingers across the ridges in the tree’s surface. Closing her eyes, she rested her face briefly against the bark and listened to the sounds of the woodland. Behind the chattering of the tour group, she heard the busy silence of a forest living a life separated from people. She could almost feel the sap rising under her fingers and the pulsing life of the soil beneath her feet.

Surprised to find tears under her eyelashes, Claire pushed herself away and hurried after the group, who were already heading back to the bus.

*

At last they reached the Cape at the top of the peninsular: the place where the Tasman Sea met the Pacific. Climbing up to the summit, Claire felt as if she were ascending right into the heavens. The sea stretched all around, only slightly darker than the sky. A tiny white lighthouse and a signpost showing how far away they were from the places of the world, were the only evidence of human life.

Beneath them, the two oceans crashed and fought, one light aquamarine, the other royal blue. A long line of white waves marked the clash of their meeting and Claire could feel the power from where she stood, high above the sea.

Leaving the group, she walked towards the point where the grass fell away into nothing. Near the edge, a narrow footpath wound down the cliff side. It reminded her of the tiny path above Old Harry, where she had seen the family gather to say their last farewells to a loved one.

Something drew Claire’s feet forward and she inched her way to the edge, swallowing hard at the sight of the steep drop. She was about to walk further when she heard the sound of someone coming up from below. As she waited the English man from the bus came into view, pulling himself up with his hands on the grass.

“I wouldn’t go too far, it gets pretty lethal down there.” He smiled and, before she could respond, was gone.

Claire sat on her bottom and scooted down the path far enough to be out of sight of the cliff top. The man was right; she could see the dust and rubble of the path below her. Settling herself on the grass, Claire made do with her little place of seclusion. She stared at the sea and allowed herself to get lost in her own thoughts.

*

It was the silence above that alerted her. With a fluttering heart, she turned round and scrambled back up to the top of the bluff. The lighthouse stood alone and proud with no people in sight. Her heartbeat picked up, and she ran to the other side of the building and all the way down to where the bus had been parked. She looked frantically left and right, and ran a little further down the road. But it was pointless.

The bus was gone.

***

Depression and Parenting Doubt: 2013 365 Challenge #221

Sometimes I want to hide under a blanket

Sometimes I want to hide under a blanket

I had a debate recently, in the comments of one of my favourite blogs, that forced me to reevaluate my parenting style. Again.

It doesn’t take much for me to sink into doubt that I’m doing the right thing when it comes to motherhood. Do I have in place sufficient boundaries? Do I give freedom to grow and chances for my children to make their own choices but still give them the security of knowing I’m ultimately in charge?

I’m a peacemaker. I learned to apologise for the world and my place in it so that people wouldn’t be mad at me. I’m not great at being in charge.

Interestingly I read a masterful post of what it feels like to have depression over on The Belle Jar this afternoon and I could relate to every word, even though I feel I have my depression under control. So maybe I don’t.

Another blog post that came my way is this one by Becoming Supermommy, about the impossibility of ever being the perfect parent, called Dear Less Than Perfect Mom. (Read it, it’s brilliant). I know I’m not a perfect mother, I know I never will be, but just when I think I’ve wrestled my demons into submission I read something, or am told something, or something happens, that causes me to believe I’m doing it all wrong. That my depression, my tears, my indecision, my laissez faire parenting, means I’m not a safe harbour for my kids. That maybe my daughter’s insecurities are caused by too many choices and too few boundaries.

My children at nursery

My children at nursery

It makes me want to go back to work full time and leave the child-raising to the professionals. After all, my kids don’t have tantrums or breakdowns at nursery. As the school era approaches, I review the last five years with fear, much as New Year’s Eve makes you relive the preceding twelve months and realise you wasted them. That those pristine resolutions from the January before lie dead in the dust at your feet.

I was going to be the strong parent, the one with boundaries; the rock. Calm, patient, kind. I almost managed it when I just had one child. The second blew it all out the water.

I look back now and see parenting failure left and right. But I look back through a mind reasonably clear, in a body that actually had six hours of uninterrupted sleep at least once this month. I critically review the actions of a person I no longer am. Sleep deprived, hormonal, depressed. I judge her and find her wanting.

Even now, I evaluate my day with the hindsight of two sleeping children and a glass of wine, and judge who I was this morning with 8 hours work to fit into 3 and two hyper children to entertain. As the pain of childbirth can never be understood after the event (or you’d never have more than one baby) the body lives in the now, when the mind does not.

So I need to stop evaluating and second guessing my parenting because it leaves me confused, like the centipede that’s been asked which order it places its feet and as a result forgets how to walk. Is my daughter’s insecurity caused by my depression and lack of authority? Possibly. Do I need to be firmer and offer my kids fewer choices? Probably. Do I think I can do that every day when it’s not in my nature? Doubtful. Does it matter? Only time will tell for sure.

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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 turned her face to the window and allowed the sea breeze to caress her skin. Around her, people filled the tiny ferry; everyone eager to visit the nineteenth century sea port on the other side of the bay. She recognised one or two faces from the bus and nodded in greeting before swivelling her eyes back to the water.

Outside, the same tree-covered hills she could see from the hostel crowded round protectively. In some ways it felt like Swanage bay, although those cliffs were of grass and rock, worn away by years of weather.

Unsure what to expect, Claire searched eagerly ahead for a glimpse of the town, reputed to be the first European settlement, and once known as ‘The Hell-hole of the Pacific’. She couldn’t imagine anywhere in New Zealand earning that epitaph.

The town nestled into the hillside, buildings dotted through the trees like a herd of deer trying to conceal themselves, with only their antlers visible through the green.

The ferry pulled up alongside the pier and Claire joined the queue of people waiting to disembark. To either side, a long beach stretched in a line of copper sand, while boats bobbed about on the water like excited children wanting to play.

Armed with a map and some instructions she’d picked up at the hostel, Claire opted to walk up to Flagstaff Hill and take in the views of the islands. It felt good to be walking away from the crowd.

Within twenty minutes, Claire was glad it was autumn in New Zealand. Even the cool sun drew sweat and cursing from her, as she toiled up the hill towards the flagstaff. Maybe I should have taken the bus. If I was here in my Skoda, I could just have driven up. Who knew what freedom a clapped out car could bring?

By the time she reached the top, her face and throat burned. Claire stared up at the tall white flagpole and wondered what was so special. She reached into her bag for her water bottle and turned to take in the view for the first time. The water bottle fell, forgotten, back into the depths of her handbag.

“Wow!”

The view stretched all around: flat patches of sparkling aqua water surrounded by undulating hills, receding in shades of blue to the distant horizon. Beneath her, the pier bisected the bay she had walked along, prodding into the water; the only straight line in a scene of curves. Even the clouds served to enhance the vista, as their flat bottoms emphasised the horizon and marked the many miles visible from her standpoint.

Claire inhaled and spread her arms wide. She felt like she could swan-dive off the hill and swoop like a bird over the islands below.

Wandering away from the flagstaff, and the people snapping shots before getting back on their buses, Claire sought a peaceful spot to rest. As she settled on the grass, her phone trilled the arrival of a message.

Who can that be? It’s the middle of the night back home.

She only knew one person in the same time zone as her. Excitement fizzed along her veins. She quickly searched for her phone and opened the message. It was from an unknown number.

Hi, Claire. Hope you don’t mind me texting you. I checked it would be a good time. Your blog says you’re in NZ. I got your email, saying you were declining the job. I understand, but I hope you’ll reconsider. Have a great holiday and give me a call when you get back. Conor

Claire didn’t know whether to be irritated or flattered. She’d never been so actively and personally pursued for a position before. As the thudding in her chest subsided, a warm feeling spread through her. Annoying as he was, it was nice to know someone in the world cared if she ever went home again.

***

Proofreading Blindness: 2013 365 Challenge #218

Proofreading Pain

Proofreading Pain

Today I finally bit the bullet and opened my proofread manuscript. I’ve been putting it off, not because I’m scared of the contents, but because it’s been hot and editing gives me a headache. And I know there are around 3400 revisions to review.

By the end of the day, I managed to get through 35 pages out of 230 (and cleared 630 revisions). I can barely see straight! Laptop blindness.

Unfortunately I still have days of work left and only 7 nursery days before I lose them completely. My daughter finishes nursery in 3 weeks.

Once my daughter starts school full time in October (she’s only part time in Sept), the longest time I’ll have child-free at home on any given day will be around 5 hours, give or take school run traffic. And then only for 1 or 2 days a week during term time. I’m about to really and truly appreciate how spoiled I’ve been with my two 8 hour days to spend on writing (and walking the dog, household chores and all that other stuff).

As is always the case, I am already wishing I’d worked harder, appreciated my time more, over the last four years. The truth is some days I’m so tired I manage less than two hours’ work in an 8 hour day. Anyway, it is what it is. I will adjust.

I feel like these are our last carefree days

I feel like these are our last carefree days

Maybe hubbie will get another job soon and we’ll be able to afford for little man to do an extra day at nursery. In another year my daughter will be able to stay to after school club and I’ll be able to stretch the day. In two years they’ll both be at school, not that I want to wish that time away.

(Actually, I wish I could relive the first four years of their lives with the knowledge I have now and a bit more sleep!)

Maybe once they’re both at school, I’ll get so much sleep I’ll manage five productive hours and the words will fly from my fingers (as will the pigs across the sky!)

In the meantime I’m trying to juggle keeping up with Claire and getting Baby Blues ready for release. I really want it out by end of August, for obvious reasons (September-December are going to be HECTIC), but it’s looking unlikely. In the meantime I’m having fun looking over my old photo albums of New Zealand and hoping not too much has changed in ten years (apart from Magic Bus Tours being taken over by Kiwi Experience! Oops)

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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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“You wanna book on the Magic Bus? Not a good idea. Best go with Kiwi.”

Claire wondered if the lad behind the desk ever spoke in full sentences. She picked through his words and frowned as they eventually made sense. “I heard the Kiwi Experience wasn’t as good as the Magic Bus.”

The man shrugged, as if the relative merits of the two tour services mattered little to him. “Same thing. Or will be. They’ve bought them out. It’ll all be green bus from July, so you might as well start now.”

“I won’t be here in July. I’m only here for a few weeks.” Claire felt the panic rise again. She couldn’t remember much of what Mitch had told her, but something made her not want to travel with the Kiwi Experience. Wasn’t he a driver for Magic, though? Maybe he knew his job was at risk and that’s why he didn’t like the green buses?

Resisting the urge to dash back to her room, Claire looked the man in the eye and said, “I think I’d really rather go with the Magic Bus. It was recommended to me.” She didn’t add that the endorsement came from a random stranger in a bar who happened to work for the company.

With another shrug, the man tapped away at his computer. “Have it your way. Are you doing just North Island or South as well?”

“How far will I get in two or three weeks?”

“How far do you want to get?”

“I want to see everything. I don’t know; I only arrived yesterday. Or was it the day before?” Claire wanted to kick out at the desk. Am I being unreasonable? Is it me? Surely she wasn’t the only person to turn up without knowing why she was there?

“Why don’t I give you some brochures, so you can choose your pass?” He gathered up a selection of paper leaflets and passed them to Claire. She noticed that they were all green. Then he looked over her shoulder and made eye contact with the next person in the queue.

Claire turned round and saw five people waiting behind her at the desk. She scuttled past and almost ran back to her room.

*

Opening the door like a member of the bomb squad, Claire nearly wept with relief to find the room empty. She flung herself on the bed and pounded the pillow. It felt stupid to have a tantrum but she was too tired to cope with the feelings swirling out of control inside her body. Her emotions choked her too tightly to even allow tears to break through. She lay, face down, and waited for the surge to subside.

Eventually, conscious that her roommates might return at any moment, Claire sat up and looked at the leaflets in her hand. As suspected, they were all for the Kiwi Experience.

“Oh, what the hell,” Claire said aloud. “What does it matter which bus takes me around the damn country. I flew all this way for nothing; I may as well see some stuff while I’m here.”

She flicked through the leaflets, smiling at the names of the various tour options. Fush ‘N’ Chups, Buzzy Bee, Super Funky. As far as she could tell, they all went to the same places, although some were considerably more expensive than others. In the end she decided it might be easier to browse the website.

After twenty minutes of brain-numbing analysis, Claire decided to sign up for the Whole Kit & Caboodle pass. After the cost of her flight, what did a few extra hundred dollars matter? She could always tell Carl she’d changed her mind, and accept his lucrative counter-offer once she got back to the UK.

Not wanting to allow any time to talk herself out of the decision, Claire marched back to reception to book her ticket. A different person now manned the visitor desk and Claire smiled gratefully at the young woman. The pass was ordered in moments and Claire felt the chilly sensation of passing the point of no return.

“You leave in the morning for Paihia in the Bay Of Islands. It’s going to be cold – only about 18C – so you might want to take your winter woollies.”

Claire laughed, and realised it was the first time she’d done so in days. “I’m from the UK. We would consider 18 degrees to be barbeque weather.”

The woman grinned and handed her a pack of information. “Hope you’re also good at early starts. Bus leaves at 6.30am.”

“That’s fine, I’m still on UK time. Thanks.” Claire smiled at the woman and headed back to her room to pack and to try and convince her body it was bed time.

Let the adventure begin.

***

Counting Blessings: 2013 365 Challenge #196

Vintage Buses

Vintage Buses

Yesterday I was urged to count my blessings, by a Londoner I bumped into while walking the dog. He was born in our county (Northamptonshire) but hadn’t returned for many years.

Walking across the fields, with the dotted rocks, natural ponds and long grasses (and too many cows for my liking), on a hot summer’s day, he said it was one of the most beautiful places in the country.

With my recent trip to Scotland in mind, and my various excursions to The Lakes or the Peak District, I struggled to agree. The land is too flat and domesticated for my liking.

The heat all too much for my little man

The heat all too much for my little man

But the particular walk we were on is lovely (I would go more often if it weren’t for the cows). There is a lovely brook I used to swim in as a child, where the dog will chase sticks for hours.

I could see my mum’s chimney from where we stood, and I pointed it out, to loud exclamations of envy. Then, when he asked if I was taking the dog to the river for a swim, I mentioned that I was, to be followed for a dip by me in my mum’s pool. He laughed, with more obvious jealousy, and said he hoped I appreciated how much I was truly blessed to live such a life. In the three days of his visit he hadn’t seen a policeman or heard a siren.

Needless to say, he was not one of the people you meet who think London is the centre of the universe!

Now, I love London, although I’ve never lived there. My various trips for work and pleasure have always been amazing. I have friends who live in beautiful parts of the suburbs, with glorious parklands close by.

A sign of things to come?

A sign of things to come?

But the city is wasted on me. I’m not bothered about going to bars, I hate shopping and I rarely have time or energy for theatres and museums. Walking the dog, though, enjoying silence, breathing clean air: these are things I am regularly thankful for. Having lived in Manchester for several years, and Leeds before that, I tasted enough of city life to know it isn’t for me.

Nor am I someone who needs to be told to count their blessings. I’ve lived in enough places, have played sufficiently different roles, to appreciate who and where I am. (I do occasionally miss my little terrace house, where I lived alone while dating my husband, but I think that’s natural as a parent of two!)

Inspecting the new uniform

Inspecting the new uniform

Yesterday I took the children to a vintage bus rally at the farm, including a free trip on a 50-year-old double-decker bus. We wandered around, saying hello to people we knew, visiting the new ducklings and playing hide and seek in the barn.

Then we stopped off for a swim on the way home, where both my little babies can now jump unaided into the pool and swim a little bit before sinking. Then we went home to tuck the children in bed, before going up oursevles without worrying about locking the front door (although I always do if hubbie is away!)

This morning I am writing this in a coffee shop in town, nodding to people I know, while hubbie takes our daughter for her last school taster session before the real thing (in her school uniform, too, so adorable!)

For all the trials and sleepless nights, the work worries and the endless toddler chatter, I count my blessings and they are many.

Life is good.

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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 heard a familiar voice as she entered the bar, and her heart skipped more than a beat. Her eyes raked across the room, even as she knew it couldn’t be him. Locating the source of the voice, Claire exhaled in relief and disappointment. Now she could see the speaker, she realised the voice didn’t even sound like his. Similar, but with more inflection at the end of the sentences.

The man lounged in the corner of the room, chatting to two young women, both of whom were clearly hanging off his every word. She judged him to be older than Josh, although with the same tan and laughter lines that suggested a life lived largely under the sun.

I guess there must be hundreds of Aussies backpacking round the UK, particularly as it’s winter over there.

Putting the man, and the memories he dredged up, from her mind, she went to the bar.

*

Claire sensed eyes on her and looked up. The man from earlier stood inches from her shoulder, looking down at the screen of her iPad. Claire bristled and flipped the case closed.

“Thinking of a trip to New Zealand?” The man’s accent added several extra vowels to the words.

“No, just researching a piece I’m writing.”

“Really? I could help ya, whatcha wanna know?”

He pulled up a stool without asking and sat next to her at the bar. Claire was torn between amusement and irritation. She glanced over her shoulder to where the man had been chatting up the girls, but they were gone.

Picking up on her glance, the man laughed. “S’alright, they weren’t with me. Just being friendly.”

Claire stared at him, unsure how to react. On closer inspection she decided he wasn’t all that attractive. On the shady side of thirty-five at least, although his skin was so weathered he could be anywhere between twenty and fifty. His relaxed air and easy confidence set up her British hackles, and her first thought was to tell him to get lost.

But he reminded her of Josh and, with Kim still refusing her calls, her parents getting more action than she’d seen in six months, and the memory of Michael red-hot in her mind, she decided what the hell.

With a glint in her eye she asked, “What part of Australia are you from?” She laughed at his disgruntled expression. “I’m kidding. You’re a Kiwi, right?”

“Ha Bloody Ha. If you’re planning a trip down under you’ll learn not to make that mistake.” His brow furrowed and she was surprised to see he really was put out by her joke.

“Oh come on, it must happen all the time. Could you tell what part of the UK I’m from?”

“Maybe not, but I don’t think you’re Scottish or Welsh and I wouldn’t ask you if you were a yank.”

“Australian is much closer to the Kiwi accent than English to American.” Claire was bored of the discussion but couldn’t think of a way to end it.

“Not to me, chook.”

“Fair enough. Sorry. What part of New Zealand are you from, then?” She wasn’t really interested, but politeness stopped her from turning back to her daydreaming.

“Dunedin. It’s in the south,” he added, “don’t suppose you’ve heard of it.”

“Between Christchurch and the Catlins?” Claire threw out the comment, before taking a drink of her gin.

The man grinned. “You have done your research. What are you working on? I’m Mitch, by the way.”

“Claire.” She nearly held out her hand but thought better of it. “I’ve been offered a writing job over there.” It felt good to finally tell someone. Mitch’s eyebrows lifted in interest and Claire found herself pouring out the whole story.

“But I’ve decided not to go,” she said at the end. “My sister’s recovering from cancer, I need to somehow mend bridges with my best friend before she has her baby, and I don’t want to give my boss the satisfaction of not having to sack me.” She took another gulp of her gin and tonic and wondered why she had spilled her guts to a stranger and, more to the point, why he hadn’t legged it.

He didn’t even look bored. Instead he had a thoughtful frown on his face.

“I see your dilemma. Crappy time to visit New Zealand anyway, unless you like skiing?”

Claire laughed at his response. “Well, I do like to ski, but I hardly think I could afford it on what they’ll be paying me.”

“There’s always work for those that need it. I can see you pulling pints in a backpackers bar.” He winked and Claire wasn’t sure if it was an insult or a compliment.

“What are you in the UK for, holiday?” She didn’t want to dwell on the potential of going to New Zealand, not now she had decided to stay.

“Yeah, not much work in the winter. Thought I’d come see what all the fuss is about.”

“What do you do, in New Zealand?”

“I’m a bus driver for Magic.” Claire raised an eyebrow in enquiry. “Thought you’d done your research? It’s one of the tour companies that take backpackers round to all the sights. Kiwi Experience is the other one, although we have a different name for it.” He told her and she blushed, much to his amusement.

“That’d be the way to do your writing dead easy. Two or three weeks, everything booked and sorted for you. What do you Brits say, A doddle?”

She laughed at his attempt at an English accent. A yawn caught her unawares, and she covered her mouth with both hands.

“Sorry, I think I’m going to have to say good night. It was fun talking to you, Mitch. Enjoy your travels.” With another yawn, she picked up her iPad and headed to her room.

***