Health, happiness and commentator’s curse: 2013 Challenge #36

The Twice Brewed Inn, Twice Brewed by Ian S

The Twice Brewed Inn, Twice Brewed by Ian S

Feeling pretty terrible as a Mummy today. I have spent much of the last few days falling out with my daughter because she hasn’t been listening properly, hasn’t responded to a question repeated several times or has asked me something I’ve told her many times already.

It turns out that she has (hopefully temporarily) lost the hearing in one ear. I want to take back the crossness and tears and wrap her in cuddles.

It terrifies me when things happen to the children because it feels like, in life, when I’m happy bad things happen. I generally try not to be too happy with my lot in case it’s all taken away. Things like when I had a car accident, found out my dad had cancer, discovered my dad had died in hospital, these things all came immediately after a period of intense happiness. Like Commentator’s Curse. You know the minute a commentator says “this batsman is on fire, he can’t hit a thing wrong,” that he’s going to be out next ball.

Hadrian's Wall - Sycamore Gap - photo by Xavier de Jauréguiberry on Flickr

Hadrian’s Wall – Sycamore Gap – photo by Xavier de Jauréguiberry on Flickr

It’s a silly superstition but one that feels real from repeated experience I know bad things happen and it’s how you cope that matters. But I can’t help but feel that if I hedge my bets rather than over-counting my blessings I can somehow prevent disaster.

My husband is taking my daughter to the doctor this morning.  I am waiting for them to tell me the results and I can feel the panic rise. Being unable to communicate with my children is one of my greatest fears. I have so much admiration for parents of children with autism or other things that hinder connection.

P.S. She has an inner ear infection. Nasty but treatable. Reading back through the post I wrote this morning I was tempted to delete it as it reeks of over-reaction. But it was genuine and real at the time and I think it’s interesting to read it with hindsight and see how things viewed through guilt and sleep-deprivation can seem HUGE.


The trill of the phone rang loud in the silent lounge. Claire and Josh had the place to themselves, having got back from their walk early in the afternoon. Claire twisted in her seat so she could retrieve her phone from her back pocket, only then becoming aware of the numb patch where it had been digging into her skin.

Claire, sorry to text again. I’m not stalking you I promise. It’s just I rang AJC and they said you’d left. I hope that’s not because of what happened at New Year. I’m sorry if it was. Forgive me. Michael.

Left? How dare they? What have they been saying to my clients? Claire felt the blood heating in her veins, surging up her neck to her face. She read the message again. And why did Michael ring work anyway? I don’t care what he says, it sounds like stalking to me.

Her mind twisted like tights in a tumble dryer. She wasn’t aware that her emotions were anything other than internal until she heard a snigger from Josh. She looked and saw him watching her with a questioning look on his face.

“I’ve never heard someone actually grind their teeth before. I always thought it was one of those things you read in bad novels when the author can’t think of a way to describe irritation better.”

Claire unclenched her jaw and forced her muscles to relax. “Just some seeds from my sandwich stuck in my molars that’s all.” She watched Josh with narrow eyes, waiting to see if he would contradict her. The sandwiches had been on white. He merely gave a wink and went back to reading a tattered paperback, holding it in one hand with pages turned over.

Claire put the phone down and pulled her iPad onto her lap. She opened her blog site dashboard with a sigh. The blank page of the “New Post” dragged at her like a cliff edge. A mind that could generate award-winning one-liners for Press Ads was bereft of words when faced with the challenge of penning something entertaining about her day. The best part had been arriving back at the hostel and wrapping her hands around a mug of tea. She’d even managed to ignore the chips and cracks and the teak-colour of the brew. Eight hours trudging in a ‘bracing’ wind had erased her fastidiousness for the moment.

Damn you Josh for convincing me to do a second circular walk when we finished the first one in five hours. Yes the Sycamore Tree was pretty but I could have lived without it. Although Cuddy’s Crags and East and West Crindledykes are going to make great Tags.

She looked at the two maps of her walks with notes scribbled on, barely legible because of cold, numb fingers. It was vaguely possible she could write something about the two circular routes that hadn’t been said before but it was still lacking in heart, whatever that was.

At least I have the photos of Josh to upload. He’s fairly easy on the eye: that should win some likes. She flicked through the images on her phone, trying to find the ones with most impact. It was a bit different to working with a lightbox in an editing studio. She chose a couple that made her heart beat a bit faster and set them to upload to the Cloud.  I should probably check with him before I publish them to the world. He might be in hiding or something although if he’s writing a blog back home they must have some idea where he is.

“Hey Josh, can I put a picture of you on the blog? That one of you up to your knees in the mud would be cool.”

There was silence from the sofa in the corner and Claire wondered if Josh had fallen asleep. The book hadn’t looked particularly thrilling. She glanced over and was surprised to meet troubled eyes peering around the pages of the upheld book. The expression on Josh’s normally carefree face jolted deep in Claire’s stomach and she was conscious of a strong urge to offer comfort.

“Er, sure, if you want. Or you could use the one of me on top of the wall.”

The one where the sun is on you and your face isn’t visible? “Maybe, although I’m sure you’re not meant to climb the wall so that’s probably not a great idea. Don’t worry, I’ll find something. I think you took one of me.”

She turned her head back to the laptop as if concentrating on her post. Out of the corner of her eye she watched Josh. His face remained focussed in her direction for a few moments before he sank back into his previous pose. Only the constant movement of his twisting feet gave anything away.

Kindle Delight and 2013 365 Challenge #33

My book on kindle (front cover needs some work)

My book on kindle (front cover needs some work)

I finally published something on Kindle! Okay it’s only the same stuff as is available here on the blog, but I still got to go through the self-publishing process at last. It was surprisingly easy although I haven’t proof-read the final product properly yet and I need to tweak the front cover. (I changed the dimensions of the front cover in ten minutes on the PC this morning while up to the eyeballs in cold and it doesn’t look right – I think I have the height to width ratio wrong).

The best bit was watching my husband type my name into Amazon and find my book. Worryingly, over on Goodreads, it seems I have written several other books including one about ancient egypt (!) so I need to investigate that some more. As I don’t intend to promote this book except as a tool on the blog for people to catch up, it can probably wait.

Next priority (apart from writing Claire’s next exploit) is to get this first volume onto Smashwords so I can offer it for free. I did Kindle because I thought I could offer it for free that way – I should have read the small print. You can only offer books free on Kindle through their Select programme (5 days free every 3 months I think it is) and then you can’t offer it anywhere else in any format. I thought they may not like that all the content is freely available on the blog so couldn’t sign up to that.

Unfortunately, having had a sneaky peak at the style guide for Smashwords I think I’ve got some reformatting work to do to get it right. I have to say formatting for Kindle, once I’d worked out what I wanted to do, was actually pretty simple. I had to take my 3AD Publishing logo out because that didn’t look right but other than that it seems to be doing what it needs to do. I’m just sorry that it’s not free. 77p or $0.99 isn’t a lot of money but then 27k words of first draft isn’t a lot of book!

This weekend will mostly be survival as husband now has the awful cold too. We have a couple of kids parties to go to and have promised our daughter we will take her swimming on Sunday so she can try out the “it really swims” doll grandma and grandpa bought her for her birthday. That should nicely fill the time until Monday (and how lovely is it that, for the first time in my life, I’m looking forward to getting to work on a Monday morning!)

Now, where did I leave Claire…


“God I’m so sorry.” Claire flushed as she grabbed Josh’s knee instead of the gear stick for the second time.

“No worries.”

Even in the dark she could sense his lewd grin. Blood flushed to her face and she turned to concentrate on the road ahead. She was still searching her whirling brain for a safe topic of conversation when Josh spoke again.


The serious tone made her glance towards him, trying to see his expression in the dark. She couldn’t and had to twist her head back quickly to concentrate on avoiding an on-coming lorry.


“Can I read your blog?”

Whatever Claire had thought Josh was going to say that wasn’t it.

“Oh. Sure of course if you want to. You can read it now if you like, there’s not exactly much going on out the window.” It was dusk and the weak Skoda headlights were picking out only the road ahead. The sky was a beautiful deep blue behind them but ahead a mass of storm clouds loomed on the horizon. Claire reached behind her and retrieved her iPad from the pocket of the rucksack.

“Go to the notes section, you’ll see the drafts there.” It could probably wait until they got to the hostel but Claire was eager for a second opinion. So far there had been no likes or comments on her posts and only a few visits. She knew she wasn’t trying as hard as she could to engage on Twitter and Facebook but she was still a little disappointed there wasn’t more response.

Josh stared at the black rectangle in front of him as if it was alien technology. “Um, how do I turn it on?”

Claire held back a laugh. I guess iPads don’t come your way every day when you’re on the road all the time. She conveniently forgot that, until Michael had given this one to her for Christmas, she hadn’t known how to turn one on either. She reached over in the dark, careful to touch only the iPad, pressed the button then swiped the screen. She described the icon he needed to tap and eventually he was immersed in her writing.

The breath seemed to stick in Claire’s throat as she listened to the silence. Eventually, after far longer than it should have taken to read a few thousand words, Josh raised his head and gazed out the window.


“Very informative.” Josh’s voice fell leaden into the waiting silence.

“You don’t like them?” Claire fought an unexpected desire to weep.

“There’s nothing to like or not like. It reads like a website.”

“Well, that’s what it’s meant to be.” Claire could hear her voice rising in the dark and fought to keep it level. “The brief was to write about the YHA’s 200 hostels and how they promote a healthy lifestyle. So that’s what I’ve done. All the information is there.”

“Yes, information. That’s the word. It’s just information. There’s no heart.”

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

“How many followers have you got? How many likes? I know this is the first week but how many people have visited your page?”

Claire found herself surprised at Josh’s knowledge of blogging terminology. She couldn’t find any words to respond.

“I’m sorry, I’ve offended you.” Josh’s voice was soft.

“No,” Claire forced out a laugh. “It takes more than that to offend me. I’m sorry you don’t like it.”

“It’s not that. I think what you’re doing is amazing. I write a blog for the folks back home when I get near a computer and it’s tough thinking of what to write. And it’s not my job.”

That explains how he knows more than I do. She found herself wanting to read his blog, to read about his life on the road.

“Maybe you could guest post on my blog, share your experience of travelling?”

“I can. But this is your blog. You need to write your story. People can go to the YHA website to find out opening times and local attractions. People want colour and texture. Write about hiking the Pennines in the snow. Write about falling off your bike and trashing your trousers. Talk about picking up hitchhikers and seeing the stars.”

“I’m not sure that’s what Coca Cola really want.” And I don’t want the world sharing my humiliations thank you very much.

“Bollocks. They want advertising. That’s all they want. They don’t care how they get it.”

“They will if it portrays their brand in a negative way.”

Josh laughed. “How is it negative that a girl from the city who hadn’t ridden a bike since she was a kid felt so alive the first time she freewheeled down a hillside that she thought she could fly?” There was something in his voice that Claire couldn’t quite place. It made her feel like melted marshmallow in a mug of hot chocolate.

She thought about sharing that part of her adventure on the blog. I guess it can’t do any harm. What does it matter if I humiliate myself? It isn’t my name on the blog anyway and no one I know is going to read it. Especially not Michael. She shook her head at the traitorous words. Michael, will you sod off out of my mind. It’s over and that’s the end of it.

Claire looked out the window as the Sat Nav warned her she was nearing her destination. All she could see was a square of tarmac on the side of the road and some buildings set back behind a line of trees.

“Looks like we’re here.”

She pulled into the car park, glad to have an excuse to finish the conversation. They dragged their bags from the back seat and went in together to check in. All Claire wanted to do was find a quiet corner, get out her iPad, and write.


Gosh February – 2013 365 Challenge #32

First pass at a cover for the YHA Novel (image is a bit small as I only had a couple of istockphoto credits left)

First pass at a cover for the Novel

I can’t believe it’s February already! Where did January go? Unfortunately I’ve entered the new month with a stinking cold. It’s been threatening all day but finally wrapped itself around me as we went to fetch the kids from nursery.

I have been making cards and mini paintings for the gallery today as well as trying to pull together January’s Claire instalments into an ebook. Unfortunately it looks like I won’t be able to offer the ebook for free but I’m still investigating how it all works for kindle: despite reading a dozen blogs on the subject I’m still a complete newbie when it comes to e-publishing!

I have found a cheap image for my front cover (unfortunately the image is tiny as I only had 2 istockphoto credits left so I’ve had to rescale it for the Kindle cover. Definitely work in progress) and I’m pummeling my brain for a better title than “two-hundred steps home” but nothing has come forward yet – suggestions gratefully received!

New mini paintings for the Valentines Display at Art in the Heart

New mini paintings for the Valentines Display at Art in the Heart

I had hoped to finish the ebook ready for anyone who wants to catch up from the beginning but doesn’t want to wade through 31 posts but it seems my word document has lost some formatting so I need to re-read it from the beginning. That’s going to be frustrating because I don’t intend to edit the posts at this stage (aside from any missed typos). I want to keep it true to the blog for now. I’m going to have to sit on my hands as I’ve already found one continuity error (on Day 7 I write about the street light shining through Claire’s window but later I say she has blackout blinds). There are bound to be others.

Anyway I need to fight this cold off for half an hour more and write something about Claire’s next experience…

P.S. My husband took the kids for two hours this morning so I’ve got some sort of version of the January e-book going through Kindle review process although I haven’t yet written anything for the post. I have thirty minutes to my 10am deadline and husband and kids are at the end of their tolerance so might be another short one today!)



“Stop being such a girl.”

“I am a girl and that hurts!”

Josh looked up at Claire and shook his head. “What possessed you to take your hands off the handlebars anyway? You said you hadn’t been on a bike since you were a nipper.”

Claire lowered her head so her hair fell over her face. “I felt like I was flying. I wanted to sit up and feel the wind in my face.”

“Dingbat! Only the pros take their hands off on a cross-country track.” Josh dabbed at the blood pouring from beneath Claire’s ripped trousers.

“Oh look at my GAP jeans, they’re ruined.” Claire’s wail at the state of her clothes was louder than the cry of pain as Josh picked gravel from the wound.

“Nothing a patch won’t fix.”

“I am not putting a patch on my jeans. I might be reduced to sleeping in a bunk-bed and driving a rust bucket but I am not walking round with patches on my clothes.”

“Find yourself a Thrifty then. What do you call them here? A charity shop. That’s where most of my stuff comes from.”

Claire shuddered at the thought of wearing something already used and abused by someone else. It might be time to dip into my wages again. I couldn’t do this backpacking thing for real. She vowed to find a Mountain Warehouse or whatever at the next decent-sized town she came to. I’ll be buggered if I’m going to wreck my good clothes for Carl’s sake.

Josh applied a plaster to Claire’s knee and wiped her other scrapes and grazes with an antiseptic wipe.

“You’re pretty handy at that first aid thing,” Claire said. “I can’t stomach the sight of blood, even my own.”

“I used to work in a hospital back in Oz.” Josh’s voice was closed, preventing Claire from asking the questions that pushed at her lips.

“So, what’s your plan for the rest of the day, Planning Lady?” He looked up brightly at her and then pushed himself to his feet to sit down next to her at the table.

“Move on to the next hostel. If I leave now I’ll be there before reception closes.”

“What is the next hostel?” Josh picked at some dirt under his nails.

“Well, the nearest one is a bunkhouse and I’ve decided to leave those until the summer – I have to come back for Wooler anyway – so I’m going on to Once Brewed.”

Once Brewed? That’s the name of a hostel? Awesome! Count me in!” He turned to face her, his face split in a grin.

Claire took in his expectant expression, like a dog sitting at the fridge. Oh crap he wants to come with me. What do I do? Claire had some notion that backpackers spent a lot of time hitchhiking but she hadn’t equated that with taking anyone along with her. Can I bear to travel with someone? What if I can’t get rid of him?

While her brain churned Josh sat staring, his eyes boring into the side of her face. Oh what the hell. I can always leave while he’s asleep. It might be nice to travel with someone who knows how this hostelling thing works. It’s not like we’ll have to share a room. Most of the dorms have been single-sex so far.

She turned to face Josh, grinning at the expression on his face. “Sure, why not? Can you be ready to leave in an hour?”

“You bet!” Josh jumped up and went to leave the room. He stopped at the door, walked briskly back to Claire and gave her a quick, odoriferous, peck on the cheek. “You’ve no idea how long I’ve been stuck in this damn place waiting for a lift out. You’re an angel!” He turned to leave again and Claire called out to him to wait. He turned anxiously.

“Josh? Take a shower.”