Calming Coffee Shops: 2013 365 Challenge #133

Starting the Day with a Latte, like Claire

Starting the Day with a Latte, like Claire

I love sitting in coffee shops to write. They are relaxing places: there is no housework, or staring dog begging for a walk. Sometimes I don’t get much writing done though, because I’m too busy eavesdropping on other people’s conversations.

This carries on from yesterday’s post on ‘Stealing memories’. Is it bad to eavesdrop on other people’s discussions and then steal some of their dialogue or mannerisms, filing them away for later?

I’ve been known to transcribe a conversation almost verbatim, so I could get a feel for the rhythm of the dialogue. I feel like a spy!

This morning I am meant to be writing my Claire post, having not had the energy to go near it last night, after a weekend of Farm visits and Children’s Parties.

Oundle town centre

Oundle town centre

In fact I went to bed at 9.30pm aiming for a good night’s sleep to try and staunch the endless tears of tiredness, which would have worked well if Hubbie hadn’t come to bed at 1am, Amber crawled into bed with us at 3am then woke again at 4am! So, I need to write about Claire, but I’m too rung out and tired and easily distracted. I’ve come to a different coffee shop to my usual one, because I knew this one would be quiet and more conducive to writing. Unfortunately it’s too quiet and the chatter is harder to tune out.

Instead of working, therefore, I am listening.

Directly opposite me, as I sit on the leather sofa with my laptop on my knee, there are two women, one with a small child in a pushchair. The women are talking about artificial flavourings in food and how they teach children to expect strong-flavours and not appreciate real food.

The women are German. I’m interested to learn that children don’t go to school until six in Germany, and that their children had never before had baked beans or jacket potatoes (I hadn’t realised they were such British things). I love details like that.

At a table in the window sit a couple of ‘old boys’ who have been to the market and are enjoying a drink together watching the world go by. The distinctive blue carrier bags used by the veg stall cluster round their feet. ‘Old boys’ make me a bit sad because they remind me of my dad. He never really got to be ‘old’, as he died before he reached sixty.

Sometimes, though, I see men and want to adopt them. Like the man who has just cycled into town to do his shopping at the market and discovered he’s forgotten his wallet. I want to drive him home to collect it.

View from the coffee shop

View from the coffee shop

I saw a man in a wheelchair at the Farm last week that made me think that’s what Dad would have looked like at eighty. He was having such a blast feeding the goats from his wheelchair, I felt a stab of nostalgia, although I wonder if I would have had the time and energy to push him round while caring for my young children. I did keep grinning at him, though. He probably thought I was nuts.

Outside the window the sun is casting shadows of dancing leaves against the pale yellow sandstone brick of the school buildings. Coffee shops can be such peaceful places. A little patch of calm and a microcosm of the world around, or certainly my tiny part in it. Part of me looks forward to the day when I can come to a coffee shop and just sit rather than busily typing away with my head down and my back to the world.

Right now, I’m trying not to listen to the German women talking about kids and food. I know my kids don’t have the best of diets – they spent the weekend eating rubbish for various reasons – but I’m just about okay with it. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty listening to how hard other mothers try to get vegetables in their little ones! Sometimes eavesdropping isn’t a great idea. Let’s get on with Claire!


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


Claire sensed trouble the moment she entered Ruth’s room. A whole day without Sky spilling the beans was apparently more than fate thought she deserved. Pushing aside the argument she’d just had with Julia, about booking a week’s holiday from work, Claire took a deep breath and entered the arena.

“There you are, Claire. Sky’s just been telling me all about her baby sister. Would you care to elaborate? At what point were you going to share this element of your expedition?”

Oh crap she’s gone all school teacher on me. Ruth’s school-ma’m manner usually irritated Claire but it was such a relief to see her sister back to her normal self she smiled. It was a mistake.

“You think it’s amusing, do you? Cavorting with my Ex and that…” She grasped for a PG-rated word. “That harpy.”

Great insult, Claire applauded internally. Sometimes she forgot how smart Ruth was and that she’d also studied the Arts. It was too easy to remember the big sister who mucked about and got into trouble.

“I wasn’t smiling at that, just glad to see you with some fight in you. And I don’t think she’s a harpy.”

Claire realised the idiocy of her words as she watched Ruth’s face lose any hint of ashen pallor and turn a dangerous hue of red. She struggled against years of habit and forced herself not to fight back. Instead she perched on the bed, prepared to be conciliating.

“Sorry.” She reached a hand towards Ruth, and dropped it again at the expression on her face. “All I meant was perhaps now isn’t the time to discuss the merits of the woman.”

Claire looked meaningfully over at Sky and almost laughed again at the mixture of shock and glee on the girl’s face. Her Mum and Auntie scrapping like school kids was high entertainment.

“The truth is I didn’t tell you because I knew this would be your reaction and I wanted to tell you when you were better. The meeting was accidental,” The first one at least, Claire thought guiltily, “And I gave Chris both barrels, I promise you. Then he produced the child. Sky should know her sister, particularly –” She stopped, unable to continue. Ruth’s face resumed the colour of milk and her eyes dilated in horror.

Claire felt sick. Oh God, that’s going to finish her off. The idea of Sky living with her Ex, the woman that betrayed her and their new baby is not something Ruth is strong enough to handle. Then another thought drifted into Claire’s mind. The kind of horrible thought that couldn’t be undone. Maybe this will give her what she needs to fight the illness. The knowledge that, if she dies, Sky will go to them.

Similar ideas appeared to fill her sister’s brain. Her face contorted as she processed too many unwelcome images. Pressing her lips into a tight line, Ruth glanced at her daughter then back to Claire.

“We can talk about it later.”

Claire had enough sense to recognise the finality in her sister’s voice and dropped the discussion. Sky didn’t.

“Does that mean I can see Daddy and the baby again, Mummy? Please. I won’t talk to the harpy.”

Claire stifled a snigger. She’s sharp that child. Either that or she’s vicious.

Cornered, Ruth just shrugged. “As long as I don’t have to bear witness.”

Claire wasn’t sure if that was a concession or a way of saying over my dead body. It was no longer a phrase to be thrown around lightly. Let’s hope it never comes to that.


Snowy, crafty day and 2013 365 Day #20

The Great Hall, Oundle School, in the snow

The Great Hall, Oundle School, in the snow

We’ve had a glorious family day today.

The kids got dragged around the job centre and supermarket yesterday so we promised them a new magazine, a trip to the coffee shop in Oundle, our local town, and sledging at grandma’s today.

And that’s what we did.

I have been cutting, sticking and colouring for about three hours this afternoon and I put a much happier little girl to bed tonight than last night.

Great fun magazine cutting, sticking and drawing. My little girl enjoyed it too...

Great fun magazine cutting, sticking and drawing. My little girl enjoyed it too…

I love how kids live in the present and don’t hold grudges. You get back what you put in, then and there. Wonderful.

Unfortunately I also got another rejection email today. A really nice one from Julia Churchill:

Thank you for giving us a chance with this. I’m sorry to say I don’t think it’s one for me.

While this has some nice points, when I take a new writer on I need to feel such a high level of conviction that I could sell their work, and I’m afraid I’m not quite there with this. Of course, it’s a really subjective business. Another agent may well feel differently.

Wishing you the best of luck with it, and a good 2013.

Sledging family fun. No hills round us so more pushing than sledging...

Sledging family fun. No hills round us so more pushing than sledging…

How lovely is that? As rejections go it actually left me smiling. Unfortunately I really liked the sound of the agency Julia works for, so I was disappointed.

What I take away from it though is that I really need to work on my query letter and/or synopsis for Dragon Wraiths. The response came back so swiftly I can’t help but think it was rejected off the cover letter. I have struggled to sell the story in limited words because it’s a four-part novel and it’s difficult to encapsulate it all in one or two paragraphs.

Cutting and sticking. Very theraputic, although not as much as colouring-in.

Cutting and sticking. Very theraputic, although not as much as colouring-in.

My husband still thinks I should self-publish Dragon Wraiths but I am reluctant. The more I read about self-publishing the more I’m not sure it’s for me. I really do need help in selling myself and my work and I can’t afford to hire an editior.

I would take a punt on Dragon Wraiths if it was easy to get it kindle-ready but unfortunately I have four different fonts in the novel that are essential to understanding the story and my kindle software changes them all to one font! (Unlike bloomin Microsoft Word which has decided to change my novel document into about four different fonts when I copy it over to WordPress. I’ve had to retype the whole of today’s post while listening to my husband snoring upstairs. Not happy!!)

Anyway I haven’t had any time to do research today so not sure what Claire is going to be getting up to. I’m struggling to keep my eyes open already and my darling husband is cooking dinner while I tap away… I think I might chuck her out into Berwick and see what she finds.


So, this is the northernmost town in England? Whoop-di-do. Claire looked around the high-street and sighed. There isn’t even a bloody Starbucks. Caffé Nero just isn’t the same.

Claire had gone back to her room after breakfast to type up the notes on her interview with Hattie. She’d been determined to spend the day in her room playing on the iPad, but the greyness had closed in until she was driven out to seek colour and coffee.

Before she left the hostel, Claire did a quick search on interesting information about Berwick. Her research threw up thrilling facts like Berwick meant Barley Farm. That seems about right. Stupid hick town. I wonder why Scotland wants it back?

Claire decided to explore Berwick in an attempt to discover what made people think hostelling was so amazing. As yet nothing had cropped up to recommend it. Her idea of a vacation was to bake on a beach and read airport-purchased paperbacks. She always did some sight-seeing but it was the normal tick-box stuff: pyramids, opera houses, mountains. As far as she could tell Berwick’s best offering was a few boring bridges.

What do Backpackers do all day? They can’t shop; they have no money. There’s no Sky in a hostel, internet is only available at £3 an hour unless you have a smartphone and what penniless student can afford one of those? How many times can you wander round places staring at the architecture?

After two hours of exploring Claire’s feet were throbbing, her back ached and her brain was numb. What am I going to tweet about? The number of arches in the Royal Border Bridge?

She remembered Hattie recommending a trip to some Priory on a nearby island that apparently was accessible by car at low tide. The old woman had raved about it so much Claire had almost been tempted until she’d checked it out on Wikipedia. It looked like a pile of old rock. She had never heard of Lindisfarne, and doubted anyone she knew had, so it didn’t count as a tick-box visit.

Spying a bookshop, Claire decided the best thing she could do was plan her route and get through it as swiftly as possible. I wonder if I can stay in more than one hostel at a time? The wind whipped round her as she crossed the street and ducked into the store. She paused beneath the warmth of the heater while thoughts churned in her mind. The brief didn’t say anything about having to actually spend the night. Maybe I could check in, make a cup of Earl Grey in the kitchen, and move on. Cheered by the thought Claire scoured the shelves for a map of Britain. She needed to plot all the hostels and work out the shortest possible distance to drive around them all.

In the back of her mind a nagging feeling tore at Claire’s new resolve. No matter how much she loathed Carl it was not in her nature to shirk a responsibility or put in a half-hearted effort. The happy feeling seeped away like a wave on the sand. I am going to have to do this properly or not at all. Not for them but for me, for my professional pride. Damn.

On the shelf near the maps Claire saw the colourful spine of a Lonely Planet guide to Britain. She grabbed it and took her finds to the till. The sky seemed a little more grey as Claire hobbled back to the hostel on blistered feet.

Claire spent the afternoon in the Bistro cross-referencing the YHA hostel guide, the Lonely Planet book and the map. When she finally collapsed into bed at 9.30pm she was almost smiling. At least I know where I’m going tomorrow. Well I know what it’s called anyway. I wonder what Wooler has to offer.

She was about to close her eyes when her mobile phone beeped. Two thoughts went through her head like lightning. Ruth’s got her results back, and Carl is texting to gloat. Reaching for her phone without turning on the light Claire held the screen up to her sleep-blurred eyes. She blinked until the words came into focus.

Hey Claire. How are things? I miss you. Can we talk? Michael.

Claire’s heart thudded beneath her cotton nightie – bought for dorm-sharing days. What the hell does he want? She tried to think dispassionately about Michael but couldn’t manage it. Instead her mind filled with the look of pain in his deep brown eyes the last time she saw him. As if she had reached around during an embrace, stabbed him in the back and yelled, “Speak hands for me!”