Happy Birthday WriterMummy! 2013 365 Challenge #64

It's my Birthday (well, WriterMummy's anyway)

It’s my Birthday (well, WriterMummy’s anyway)

WordPress has informed me that my blog is officially a year old today! And what a year it has been. I have journeyed from trying to promote writing tips, through realising I am not qualified to offer writing advice, to writing a daily novel and chatting about my family life.

Twelve months ago this point seemed impossibly distant and yet, little by little, here I am. I have 81 blog followers, I’ve posted 121 times and have had 3267 views. I’ve had as many views so far this year (4th March) as I had for the whole of March 2012. In my former life as a Data Analyst I would call that a good result with clear evidence of growth.

Of course I’m a long way from achieving the holy grail of 1000 True Fans but then I’m also a long way from producing a book worthy of them! I dug out Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes today, to see how far from finished it truly is. The first section is okay – I always start at the beginning when I do revision. I don’t always make it to the end. By the third and final section I was wincing in pain at the clumsiness and sheer awfulness of the prose. I’m embarrassed I asked friends to read it or thought it was ready for querying.

What I need is a plan.

The Crowden YHA - Photo by John Fielding

The Crowden YHA – Photo by John Fielding

When faced with a 116k manuscript the thought of detailed revision cripples me. Also I worry about story arc, character arc and all that stuff. However, if I assume the story is mostly okay (the friends that read it didn’t highlight anything terrible, they just didn’t enthuse, if you know what I mean?) and concentrate on tightening the prose then maybe that will be more manageable. I’m going to treat each scene (there are about 200) as a ‘Claire’ instalment and edit them as such, making sure they have a clear opening and a neat close. It feels a mammoth task but if I am methodical I might actually get to the end this time. So what if it takes another year, at least it won’t be awful. Guess I’ll be putting my self-publish cover away for a little while yet.

On the blog front my little boy has chicken pox, despite being vaccinated, so the posts might be a little bit sparse or rough this week. Today’s post is about grounding Claire back in the YHA hostels and introducing her to Derbyshire. She has about ten days before the Easter holidays (and Sky) so I might have her wander round the Dales for a while. We’ll see.

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“Just yerself is it?”

Claire nodded without raising her head.

“Dorm or private room luv? We’ve got a single room as it happens. Some lass rang in a cancellation this morning.”

Claire paused, pen hovering over the form, then resumed writing. “Dorm is fine, assuming you have single-sex?” I think I’ve had my fill of men this month.

The man behind the counter tapped at his computer and assured her they did. “Staying long in Glossop?”

“Oh no, just tonight thanks.”

The man nodded knowledgeably. “Pennine Way?”

His words drew a reluctant smile. “No, I managed one leg, up at the finish. That was enough for me. I’m heading south to collect my niece.”

She didn’t add that she intended to pick off as many Derbyshire hostels as possible en-route or that her primary concern was to get away from Manchester. After leaving the Airport she hadn’t returned to the city, despite having several hours to kill before she could check into the Crowden Hostel. Instead she’d taken a detour to a hotel outside Hyde that her iPhone informed her boasted a Starbucks. It turned out the hotel also had full leisure facilities and empty rooms. It was only by imagining the look of smug satisfaction on Carl’s face if he ever found out that she stopped herself checking in for the night.

“We’re the first leg, you could always do that and say you’d started and finished. No need to talk of the middle.” The receptionist gave Claire a wink and a grin. She frowned while she tried to remember what they were talking about, then grinned back. A cheater’s version of the Pennine Way. That’s my kind of thinking.

“I might just do that, if I can get it done tomorrow and still move on Edale.”

“Yer heading to Edale? Well that’s the start right enough. Walk from here to there and you’ll be done.”

“Walk with my pack? And what about the car? No thanks. Maybe I’ll wait until I’m in Edale and stroll up the first few miles. That should be plenty.”

“You’ll be spoilt for choice at Edale: Kinder Scout, Mam Tor. You won’t want to leave.”

“Believe me, one night and I’ll be off. I need to be in Cambridgeshire by next week.”

If the receptionist thought Claire’s plans strange he didn’t let on. She was about to leave for her room when he stopped her.

“Make sure you pop by Holmfirth while you’re with us. It’s where they filmed Last of the Summer Wine. Though I suppose you’re too young to remember it?”

Blimey, that takes me back. Uncle Jim must have watched every episode and rerun. Perhaps I will take a look, put something on the blog. It might make Uncle Jim smile wherever he is.

“I will. Thank you.” Claire dug out her brightest smile for the helpful man and pulled her rucksack up onto her back. She felt a decade older than she had twenty-four hours earlier. As she bent over to counter-balance the heavy bag, Claire thought she must look at least ninety.

Nora Batty eat your heart out. All I’m missing is the wrinkly stockings. She shuddered at the thought. At least it hasn’t come to that.

Dragging her lead-filled shoes towards the stairs, Claire tried not to pine for the Leisure Hotel with the Starbucks on-site.

It’s just the hangover wiping me out. I need to feed it carbs and water, that’s all. And then sleep.

***

Valentines Day Cards and 2013 365 Challenge #31

Valentine Day Card Production

Valentine Day Card Production

I can’t believe it is the last day of January and I have survived my first month of the 2013 challenge. I still have doubts about my ability to sustain it for a whole year but on 3rd January I’d have taken a month and been glad.

I have been making Valentines Day cards again today. It’s quite ironic considering my husband and I get the same card out of the cupboard every year with brownie points going to the person who remembers where the box is from the year before.

Actually, I’m about to go out to dinner – my bi-annual catch up with the girls I used to work with, who still work for a living. The rest of today’s post will be written in the morning. I just wanted to schedule something (even without the Claire’s bit) just in case I don’t manage to write any more tomorrow. Not because I’ll be hungover – I’m driving – but because I’m full of cold and going out to dinner might just finish me off!

P.S. I very much enjoyed my dinner with my old work colleagues, although I did feel like an Alien recently landed and trying to masquerade as a human being. From the moment I arrived the girls (all in their 30s and 40s) began discussing their latest fashion purchases, the films they had seen, books they had read, TV shows they follow and I didn’t understand a single world. They might have been talking Japanese. Usually there is some common ground when they talk about work or the kids but last night it was mostly films and books. I do read and I do watch movies but the books I read tend to be research (so Young Adult novels or contemporary woman’s fiction, not much literary stuff these days) and the TV I watch is all chosen by my husband. It tends to comprise Auction Hunters and Got To Dance with a bit of SG-1 or NCIS or Psych thrown in.

And we love it.

The characters are as familiar as friends, especially the judges on Got To Dance. It’s comfortable and fun, like going down the pub and listening to mates chat. I don’t have the emotional strength to watch harrowing movies or read heavy-going books. I’d rather do Disney Princesses and endless re-runs of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And don’t get me started on the cooking! They discussed meals and menus I had no clue about. We have Cottage Pie and Spag Bol and curry (from a jar). So I sat silently, enjoyed the conversation, chipped in where I could, and longed to get home to my husband, kids and blogs. Sad. When I did get home hubbie had had a shocker of a night with the kids so I felt a bit guilty. They’re not used to Mummy going out and they missed me. All in all probably good that it’ll be six months before we meet again!

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“Av-a-go-yer-mug, Claire!”

Claire tried to respond to the voice, her breath coming in sharp pants. The feeling was immense, overwhelming her. Her whole body quivered in anticipation. Just a bit more effort she thought between breaths.

“Wow! Ripper!” Josh’s voice was exuberant. Claire tried to share his joy but she felt depleted, her body soft and malleable, not to be trusted.

She pulled her bike alongside Josh’s and looked out over the view. She had to admit it was worth the exertion, although her breath still came in ragged gasps and a stitch tore at the left-hand side of her ribcage.

“You are unfit lady, look at you. When did you last do some true blue exercise?”

Claire bristled at the teasing tone. “I’ll have you know I go to the gym three times a week for spinning classes.”

“Pah, spinning. Stupid. Wasted sweat. Might as well go to a tart instead of taking time to seduce a beautiful lady.” His gaze rested marginally too long on Claire, bringing more redness to her already flushed cheeks. “I mean proper outdoors stuff, with real air in your lungs and a view worth the effort.”

“And real rain dripping down your neck, real blisters on your feet and a real two-hour bike ride back home?” Claire’s elated tone belied her negative words. She had to admit she felt amazing. She’d heard people talk about the feeling but had always thought that was just their way of conning you to join them in their misery, in the same way she liked to meet up with people on a Sunday morning over a Bloody Mary to share the agony of a hangover.

“Come on, when was the last time you were outdoors for more than the time it takes to walk to the car?”

“I walked the Pennine Way two days ago, thank you very much.”

Josh turned to face her, eyebrows raised. “Really, well I beg your pardon.” He mimicked her middle-England accent and Claire had to smile. “Alright, I was dragged out by some arse trying to score points with my boss.”

The eyebrows rose higher, almost vanishing in Josh’s sandy unkempt hair. His expression invited confidence so, while her breath slowly returned to normal and the pain in her side faded, Claire filled him in on the last few weeks of her life, omitting anything to do with Michael.

“He sounds like a proper dingbat that boss of yours. Why don’t you quit? It’s just a job and a shonky one at that. Get on a plane, go see the world before you get tied down with a husband and ankle-biters.”

Claire shuddered and bent quickly to massage her aching calf muscles. Josh’s eyes caught the movement and he chuckled. “Don’t fancy the whole wife-and-mother bit? I don’t blame you. Won’t catch me shackled for life. As long as the surf’s up somewhere and I can hitch a ride I’ll be there.”

It was Claire’s turn to be intrigued. “Does it ever get lonely?”

“Nah, why would it? There’s always blokes to chat to and chicks to keep you warm.” He winked.

“What do you do for money?” Claire realised it was a personal question and quickly added, “you don’t have to answer that. Sorry that was rude of me.”

“No worries, it’s fair enough. I work when I have to. Bar work mostly or fruit picking. Enough to get by. I only kip in hostels in the winter; mostly I pitch my tent somewhere for free. Or…” He stopped but something in his face gave the rest of the answer so Claire finished for him.

“Or find some warm sheila to give you a bed?” She flushed, thinking about their near-kiss the night before. Josh hadn’t tried anything since but then they’d been on this crazy bike ride since first light. When Claire had admitted, on the trip back to the hostel in the dark, that she’d not been on a bike since she was a teenager Josh had dared her to accompany him. Taking in the weak sun as it broke through the rain clouds to glint off the water, Claire was glad she had.

“At least the snow’s all gone.” Claire looked around, amazed at how quickly the snow had washed away in the overnight rain. “What’s your plan now?”

“Don’t have one.” Josh turned the bike ready to return to the hostel. “Don’t do plans.”

Claire tried to imagine a life without plans. It didn’t seem possible. Like trying to drive a road in the pitch black. Surely you have to see at least some of the way ahead?

“Well I do have a plan I’m afraid and I need to get going. The sooner I get round all two-hundred sodding hostels the sooner I can get my life back.”

“Is that all it is? Hard yakka? It’ll be a drag-arse year for you if that’s your view.”

“What other view is there? This is my job; it doesn’t have to be fun.”

“But it could be.” Josh pulled up alongside Claire and they mounted their bikes, freewheeling down the hill they had just climbed. Josh took his hands off the brakes and let the bike pick up speed.

His words floated over his shoulder as he sped off. “Just because you have to do something doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Let go and live a little!”

Claire watched his disappearing form and wondered if she could take her hands off the brakes too. What if she fell and hurt or humiliated herself? What if Josh laughed?

So what?

The traitorous part of her brain that often took over materialised with a sly smile. It prised her hands off the brakes one finger at a time. Until Claire, too, was flying.

***

Palm Trees, Donkeys and 2013 365 Challenge #26

Crazy Geese - one of them tried to bite the donkey causing it to buck.

Crazy Geese – one of them tried to bite the donkey causing it to buck.

I took the children to the Farm today (Sacrewell Farm: a great place where you can feed rabbits and goats, play on the indoor and outdoor climbing frames, go on tractor rides, stroke the horses and see the pigs. We go at least once a week.)

Normally we are there for several hours and the kids have to be bribed away with cookies. Today only the youngest one had to be bribed. My daughter was cold and has decided she’s all done with snow.

We lasted less than an hour and some of that was spent getting hats and gloves on.

I'm not sure if she's nervous about the snow or the peacock

I’m not sure if she’s nervous about the snow or the peacock

(Have I mentioned I’m more of a Spring/Autumn girl? Summer is all suncream and chasing kids to put hats on. Winter is about layers, wet gloves and I’m cold… said over and over in a whiney voice.)

The forecast is for more snow 😦 and then heavy rain 🙂 Even though it will mean more flooding I’ve never been so happy to see a heavy rain prediction.

Poor donkey not too happy about sharing his paddock with the crazy geese!

Poor donkey not too happy sharing his paddock with the crazy geese!

Today has been spent making poster-paint palm trees, assembling party bags and putting together Musical Leaf (think Musical Chairs) / Musical Trees (think Musical Statues) prizes. It’s gone bedtime and I haven’t started today’s post yet. I’m enjoying all the party prep but I admit I’ll be glad when it’s over. Next year I think I’ll suggest we hire out the nearest swimming pool and buy in pizza.

I’ve enjoyed my research today. I decided Claire needed to get out in the snow and do some hiking in her Helly Hansens (I still need to Google whether they’re even waterproof! – They are, apparently they’re snow boots. Perfect).

For the first part of my info-gathering I took the dog for a walk and wrote down as much as I could of the experience with my numb fingers. Then I stumbled across this great website detailing the Pennine Way one photo at a time: Bynress to Kirk Yetholm. I’m currently scrolling through it experiencing the walk without getting off the sofa. I wonder how much Claire is going to enjoy it?

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Claire looked around the dinner table at the flushed, shiny, faces of people who had spent too long out in a blizzard. The food was good but Claire couldn’t wait for the meal to be over. So much eager enthusiasm was putting her right off her spaghetti.

“So Claire, are you here to do the Pennine Way tomorrow? Rather unusual hiking by yourself at this time of year.”

Claire jerked her head up, so inured to the conversation wafting over her that she had ceased to pay attention.

“What, me? Hell, no.”

She laughed loudly but stopped when she realised no one else was smiling. She managed to swallow the next words waiting to spill out: Only sad freaks and single people go hiking. She wasn’t sure what category that put Michael and the darling Debbie in. She didn’t want to think about them. And after an hour of conversation she knew that these good folk certainly didn’t fit in either category. Jason and Fi were married and, when they weren’t hiking, spent their days working for a busy firm of solicitors. Jenny and Paul were engaged and both studied medicine. They’d all met at university and now went hiking together twice a year.

Claire had been conscious of a growing sense of unworthiness throughout the meal and was surprised that any of them had bothered to talk to her at all. She had introduced herself as a Marketing Exec and wondered afterwards whether they thought that meant she was at the bottom of the pecking order rather than the top.

“We’re out again tomorrow, why don’t you join us? It must be dull cooped up indoors by yourself all day.”

Jason’s grin had a spiky edge that Claire mistrusted. She wasn’t about to admit that the day had dragged like a Finance meeting. She had every intention of leaving in the morning for the next hostel, but something in Jason’s sardonic stare made her hackles rise. She looked back at him coolly and silently challenged him to continue.

“We’ll be walking out to Kirk Yetholm tomorrow to complete the Pennine Way. Well, we haven’t done all of it this time. Who has twenty days to spend travelling?” He raised an eyebrow at Claire and it was as if he knew everything about her.

Has he figured it out? Maybe he’s linked me with the Two-hundred Steps Home blog? Can’t imagine how, it’s only got three followers. Maybe he’s a friend of Carl’s sent to spy on me. After reading that Visitor Book yesterday anything is possible.

Thinking about the Visitor Book comment made Claire think of Debbie again. Before she was aware of it her mouth opened and she began to speak. “Okay, why not? I probably don’t have all the right gear with me but I should be able to manage a dozen miles.” Her traitorous brain seemed to have the wit not to add, how hard can it be?

Twenty-four hours later she was glad she was at least saved that humiliation.

Damn this streaming nose, when will it stop? Claire turned her head left and right so she could see if anyone was watching, then wiped her nose with her woollen gloves. Mental note to disinfect these when we get back to civilisation.

Claire’s hood was pulled up as high as it would go, and her coat was zipped to her chin, reducing her vision to the patch of snow directly in front of her. Her face was so numb her nose could be chopped off by a cosmetic surgeon and she wouldn’t notice. There may be something in that. Freezing as a form of anaesthetic. Why not?

She dug her hands deeper in her pockets and tried not to whimper. Her thighs burned from keeping her balance in the deep snow. The sound of her own sniffing was driving her nuts. Little other external noise made it through the hood; only the rustling of her clothing, the scrunch of snow and the wind whooshing past her hood. Her eyes ached from the brightness of snow. Funny, it didn’t occur to me that I might need my damn sunglasses in March. Claire mentally catalogued the pains: Hips sore, feet sore, skin dry, lips chapped, face frozen, knees creaking. This must be what it feels like to be ninety.

They crouched in the lee of a low stone wall to get some food. Claire perched on her rucksack and stared longingly at Jason’s flask of coffee and foil-wrapped warm pasty. She bit into the sandwiches provided by the hostel and tried not to expose more skin that necessary. They didn’t stop for long. Even the cheery Paul had fallen quiet as they neared their destination.

Claire dropped into a metronomic one-two one-two beat just to keep her feet moving. Jenny called out names like Black Hag and Old Halterburn. They sounded like insults but she guessed they were points on the map the others all carried.

Claire’s heart began to thud in her ears as something dark loomed out of the snow. She wondered whether she should alert the others, but they were a few paces ahead, leaving her to trudge at the rear. None of them seemed concerned by the hulking shape. Claire watched it nervously as they approached, before realising what it was. It’s a damn tree. I think that’s the first one I’ve seen. Where do the birds live up here? Maybe they don’t; maybe they have more sense.

Occasionally the ground beneath the snow was solid, like a path. Her legs were grateful for the respite from uneven terrain until she felt her boots slipping and realised it was even more treacherous than the unpaved earth. Paul had mentioned something at dinner about it being a shame about the snow because he’d bought his gaiters deliberately for some bog hopping, which was still possible in places between the boardwalks and the paving slabs. Claire had no idea what he meant, picturing bed-hopping with more dirt. Now she felt the snow might be a mercy.

On the ridge Claire’s entire world contracted to the focus point of Jason’s blue ski jacket in front of her. Ski jacket! It hurt to see it and think of the snow trousers, Degree 7 snow jacket, snood and gloves currently sitting in a storage facility somewhere near Manchester. The hiking jacket sold to her by the tasty man in Blacks, combined with her cashmere and as many t-shirts as she could fit on, was keeping her warm on top but it was not the weather for jeans. They clung like a blanket of thin-sliced liver to her legs and dragged her down with every step.

Jason had sniggered to Fi when Claire joined them in the hallway ready for departure. He had smoothed the smile from his face and suggested alternative trousers might be more comfortable. When Claire had explained she had nothing else he just shrugged. Fi looked troubled and said something to him in a low voice but he just shook his head. Feeling the numbness in her thighs, Claire wished Fi was the kind of woman who stood up to her man and helped the city girl. Not that I’d have accepted help then. I’m glad I went back and put tights on underneath. I might be sweatier than a clubber at 4am but I’m not getting frostbite. At least her Helly Hansen snow boots were coming into their own, even if the snow was over the tops most of the time.

They walked past some more trees and some pathetic-looking sheep huddled into the scanty shelter afforded by a wall and Claire felt the mood of the group lift. Her brain processed the information that they were reaching the end of the ordeal. Her steps became more brisk and she raised her chin for the first time in hours. There was a footbridge at the bottom of the valley and at last they were off the snow and onto a paved road. Claire swung her legs from the hip, trying to stretch out tired muscles. All she could think of was a hot shower and a cup of Earl Grey.

Her muscles tightened as she felt the road begin to climb. You bastard, I’m done. How could you just have one more hill?

And then it was over. They were all tucked into a warm car with steamed up windows heading back to the hostel. The two couples chattered excitedly about the walk, about having finally completed the Pennine Way, about getting some certificate or other. Claire rested her head against the vibrating freezing glass and dreamed of tea.

***