Reasons to Smile

Smiling Knight

Smiling Knight

The blog has dried up since I started on my SSRI medication. Not only have I spent the last week feeling sick (and now have another bloomin cold. Grrr) I’ve found that I don’t have the constant stream of voices in my head, worrying, analysing, stressing, debating random subjects. I walked the dog yesterday and all I thought about was racing the large rain cloud that was hiding behind the house when I ventured out without a coat. Normally my brain switches into ‘blog-writing mode’ as soon as I start walking. Now? Nothing.

I have wondered whether to force myself to think of something to write, like I did last year when I was keeping up with the daily blogging challenge but, having decided not to worry so much about it this year, it feels foolish to write rubbish just to tick a box.

But today I have something to share. Following on from my free promotion for Baby Blues, I have sold some books. That deserves being in bold: I’ve never sold more than a few books a month since starting on my self-publishing journey. I don’t do enough marketing or work hard enough to get reviews. I know this. In my mind I’ve decided to get three or four books under my belt, pay someone to design me a gorgeous set of matching covers, and then go large on marketing and promotion (as both children will be at school).

So, waking up this morning to have sales of Baby Blues in double-figures over night, to have reached #2794 in PAID ranking on Amazon.co.uk, is like winning the Pulitzer Prize. The book is only £1.54 in the UK – you can’t buy a coffee for that – so it isn’t about the money. The ranking, though? That feels great. I don’t know what happened, whether I made it onto an Amazon email or something, but it shows that visibility is the key.

The writing blogs tell you the importance of spending thousands on structural edits and line edits, but I’m starting to think a decent cover and some marketing is probably a better use of cash! Mind you, when I start getting terrible reviews I might change my mind… For now I’m enjoying my reason to smile.

Nearly There: 2013 365 Challenge #364

My sister bought me this for Christmas!

My sister bought me this for Christmas!

Oh my goodness, here we are, my penultimate post of 2013. When I started the 365 Challenge back in early January, I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the end of the month, never mind the end of the year. By Day 4 I was just beginning to realise what was involved.

It wasn’t merely committing to writing 1,000 words a day (on average: some days a post can be nearer 2,000 when both parts are combined) but also finding time to edit and proofread those words; to make sure each post entry and each novel installment made sense; then adding photographs, tags, categories and getting it live.

I feel like I’ve come a long way.

When I began a year ago, I thought the daily novel would be the main part. I hoped to get blog followers from people who wanted to carry on reading what I was writing. That didn’t happen on the blog, but rather over on Smashwords, where the downloads across all volumes number in the thousands. Here on the blog, while the increase in followers hasn’t been massive, I feel more like I have made some really great friends. I’ve met fellow writers, artists and parents, I’ve discovered one or two amazing Beta Readers, I’ve felt – like Claire – that I’ve found my way home.

I’ve also grown as a writer. My confidence in my ability to write is significantly greater now, after the countless hours I’ve invested in Two-Hundred Steps Home. I know, now, that I can write and polish a 500-word blog post, or a 750-word scene in a novel, in under an hour.

Thank you to my amazing kids!

Thank you to my amazing kids!

I can research anything I feel the need to discuss, from a remote pub in New Zealand to what it really means to survive suicide. I can format and self-publish a novella in a few hours and get it through Smashwords’ Autovetter first time (although I haven’t resolved my issue with their Premium Catalogue!)

Best of all, I’ve learned how to edit my own stuff and Beta-read for others. When I began my journey I was trying to proofread Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes (or Pictures of Love, as it was back then). I couldn’t do it. Line-editing left me cold. Now I know that I have to do it in chunks, and then there is a delight in crafting the words and making the sentences flow.

Let’s not leave out that I’ve written 285,000 words of fiction this year, and will have published it as 12 separate volumes, each with a cover designed by me. On top of that, I estimate that I’ve written a further 200,000 words in blog posts. That’s nearly half a million words. In one year. If they were novels, I would have drafted out five. Five! During 2 or 3 days of childcare and lots of late night sessions.

I couldn’t have done it without my family. My husband has been amazing. He’s my best critic and my biggest fan. He’s taken the children when I’ve needed to write (I couldn’t have done the challenge if he hadn’t been had home for most of the year), he’s put up with me sleeping on the sofa then prising my eyes open at 10pm to tap out five hundred words. He’s put up with a dirty house and takeaway pizza.

My poor children have dealt marvellously with a tired and grumpy Mummy who constantly has her laptop open or is always taking pictures “for the blog”.

My amazing family

My amazing family

Their recompense is that they have this unique diary of a year of their lives. Reading back through my posts is to read through some of the highs and lows of being a parent (and a human being).

None of my posts are likely to see me Freshly Pressed: I may have learnt to write fast, but I haven’t learned to write profoundly. Still, it’s all been written truthfully and from the heart.

And so I thank you all for listening. Without readers, followers, this would all be me shouting into the wind. Knowing people cared about me, about Claire, about the story, has kept me going.

The support of people on this blog has also led to me releasing two of my novels this year also; something I still find incredible.

To anyone thinking about undertaking a writing challenge in 2014 I say, “Do it!” And, so you don’t quit, get out there and tell people. Get support. Face humiliation for failing. Because some days the only thing that got my tired body up and at the laptop was the fear of failure. Not that failing is bad. I love the Samuel Beckett Quote “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Don’t be afraid to fail. As I said to my daughter, when she threw a tantrum for losing at her second-only ever game of checkers this evening, “It’s not winning or losing that counts, it’s having fun along the way.”

And it’s been fun. Mostly. 😉 See you tomorrow for the final installment!

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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 could barely swallow the food. Her throat felt as if it was lined with grit. She put down her fork and sipped at her water. Across the table, Conor’s plate was equally full. They’d exchanged only pleasantries since arriving at the restaurant. The longer they sat, the harder it was to speak the words that hovered between them like a flock of hungry seagulls.

“Walk with me.” Conor’s eyes pleaded with her and she nodded. While she retrieved her cardigan and bag he went to pay the bill. They left the restaurant in silence and she followed him down through the high street towards the shore.

The sun had sunk below the horizon and streetlights cast shadows across the empty beach. Out on the water a few boats bobbed like ghosts, but it was a far cry from the crowds of the Carnival only weeks before. With the children back at school there was an air of ending about the town; a sadness that tugged at Claire like a riptide and pulled her under.

What must it be like to live in a seaside town, where the passing of the seasons takes a back seat to ebb and flow of the tourist trade?

She wondered if she would feel the same at the activity centre, but knew that she wouldn’t. Timothy planned to take children all year round, with summer camps in the long vacation and school trips for the rest of the year. While the nearest town was a tourist resort, it also had a harbour and a university. Different blends of life intertwining to provide a tapestry of endless change.

And where will I fit in, in that tapestry? She didn’t know the answer, but knew it didn’t matter.

They walked along the shore, to the mournful sound of the tide sucking at the stones only to fall away. Conor took her hand loosely in his and the touch of his skin sent sparks across her body. She yearned to turn and yield to his embrace.

“When do you start?”

Claire jumped as his voice came loudly out of the dark. She didn’t need to ask what he meant.

“Monday.”

“So soon?”

She heard the pain and hardened herself against it. “The first school group arrived this week. They need me.”

“And what about me? What if I need you?” Before she could respond, he spoke again. “Sorry, that’s unfair. God knows you’ve done enough for other people this year. I don’t want to be another duty.”

He dropped her hand and ran his fingers through his hair as if trying to stop himself flying apart. She could just make out his face in the gloom and saw him give a wry smile.

“I tried. Really I did. I wanted to support you in whatever decision you made. But then it was so perfect, spending time with you, and I couldn’t imagine letting you go. I still can’t.”

He reached up to stroke her face, before letting his arm fall again. “Why?” The word hung in the dark and she didn’t know how to respond. “Why is it so important to you to go?”

She searched her thoughts for answers. “Honestly? I don’t know. All I know is that I have to do this. If it means losing you, being lonely forever, then that’s the price I have to pay.”

Once she started speaking, the words wouldn’t stop. They rushed on relentless, like the incoming tide. “I’ve spent my life living the role I thought was expected of me. At home, at school, at work. I have to find my own path, even if that means slipping down the odd cliff.”

She saw him smile at the memory; a sad, nostalgic smile as they both pictured a bedraggled woman covered in grazes. She tore her gaze away and looked over his shoulder at the ocean, glimmering in the dusk. Memories would only imprison her in a life she wasn’t ready to live.

As if answering a question he hadn’t articulated, or maybe a question from her heart, she continued, “Yes, it’s worth it. Yes I’ll sacrifice having an iPad and a shiny car, a career with prospects, even the man I love like breathing, if it means I can be true to myself.”

The word love reverberated around them. When he reached for her, she saw the longing in his eyes and felt herself waver. She had to escape before her resolve crumbled into dust, eroded like the limestone cliffs that anchored his heart in a town which would never be home.

Stretching up on tiptoe, she brushed a kiss across his lips, then turned and ran up the beach, before he could see the tears falling down her cheeks.

***

Redeeming the Antagonist? 2013 365 Challenge #266

First trip in Daddy's little car

First trip in Daddy’s little car

I had an interesting discussion with my father in law this weekend about the end of Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes. He read the story, back when it was called Pictures of Love and still needed a lot of work. When I showed him my Baby Blues proof copy and said I’d rewritten chunks of it, he said “I hope you rewrote the ending.”

It had me intrigued, because when he read it he’d said nothing about the actual story, only pointing out the typos. When pressed further to explain what he didn’t like about the ending, he said there was a character who didn’t get the comeuppance he deserved.

Without giving too much away, in the epilogue we discover the antagonist has been redeemed by love despite being a nasty piece of work throughout the book. It seemed the right thing to do, although to explain why would give too much of the story away. My father in law says I should rewrite it and give him a sticky end (pulling out his fingernails was suggested!) because his actions are unforgiveable.

I guess to me we all make mistakes and we’re all are capable of redemption. But it made me wonder if it makes the book less satisfying, and the protagonist’s victory weaker, by redeeming him. It’s hard to discuss it without spoilers. I guess at the very least it gives a couple of great book club questions about whether his actions are forgiveable, to go with the other parenting ones I’ve started writing to add to my website when I find five minutes!

Is it okay to redeem the bad guy in the end? Have you compiled book club questions for your book? Is it a pretentious thing to do, or a genuine resource to offer? I found a great link for generic book club questions, if it is something you’re considering but don’t know where to start.

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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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Darkness pressed around Claire when she woke and she could hear the soft breathing of the other occupants of the dorm. The fresh air and exercise of the day before had resulted in heavy sleep for all of them.

Far more effective than drinking games until 2 a.m. No snoring either: bliss.

Feeling wide awake for the first time in ages, Claire crept out of bed and pulled on her jeans, careful not to spill coins all over the floor as so many people did when trying to dress quietly. She couldn’t see anything through the curtains, but she guessed it was before dawn.

Padding through the silent hostel, Claire felt like the only person alive in the whole world. She wandered through the lounge, smiling at the memory of the sheep who had called in for coffee the night before. She let herself out the back door and stopped to pull on her boots, then stood and stretched, inhaling the cold morning air. Her exhaled breath created a patch of white mist, and Claire contemplated going back for her jacket. Unwilling to risk waking anyone, she pulled her cardigan tighter and stepped out into the morning.

In the distance, a pale line of blue splashed across the horizon: a streak of colour against the dark sky. As she moved away from the hostel, her ears filled with the sound of birds echoing from the forest beneath her in the valley. She walked a short way towards the trees, until the sound wrapped around her and smothered all other thought.

Light seeped into the sky almost imperceptibly; more blue, then pink and yellow, like a rainbow dispersed in swirling water. Claire’s nose tingled with the cold and her cheeks burned, but she only heard the rising crescendo of song and saw the spreading canvas of colour.

In the background, another noise trickled in around the dawn chorus. It took a while for Claire to identify it as the hush hush of waves caressing the shore, out of sight behind the forest.

Unwilling to move and break the magic, Claire stood for what seemed like hours. Her legs stiffened and her skin ached with cold. Gradually, glints of gold appeared between the trees, as the sun pushed its way above the horizon. As Claire watched, a ray of light pierced the forest and shone out like a beacon. The day had arrived. She continued to watch as the sun rose higher, feeling like a pagan worshiper at midsummer, although it was nearly winter here.

At last, human sounds joined the mêlée as the hostel came to life behind her. As if it released her from the spell, Claire moved and stretched her arms. A wide grin spread across her face, and she felt she could skip back to the building for her breakfast. Here, at the bottom of the world, she had found peace.

*

“Morning. You were up early.”

Claire smiled at the blonde Aussie, recognising him as a fellow passenger on the bus. She returned the greeting, as she pulled out her box of food and poured a bowl of cereal.

“Yes, it was beautiful out. I went to watch the sunrise.”

“You don’t strike me as the communing with nature type: I thought you were a city chick?”

Claire looked at the man in surprise. “What makes you say that?”

“Dunno, really. You look too–” He flushed, and his embarrassment surprised her. “–Too polished, I guess. Like your hair and clothes and stuff are smart.”

He dropped his head to his toast and missed Claire’s look of confusion. The guy had noticed a lot of things about her, considering they’d only been travelling together for a day.

She sat at the table opposite him and thoughtfully chewed at her food. “So, if I’m wearing nice clothes and I brush my hair, I must be a city chick, as you call it?”

The man said nothing, and Claire took pity on him. “I’m not offended, just surprised. I’ve barely worn a scrap of make up this whole trip and my clothes haven’t seen a washing machine for weeks. I thought I looked like a tramp.”

“Nah, that’s not possible,” the man blurted out, before resuming his red-faced silence.

Claire smiled, prepared to accept the compliment. As they continued to eat without speaking, she contemplated the man’s words. What made a city chick or a country girl? And which one was she now? Six months ago she would have said city girl, unable to live more than a mile from a Starbucks. Now she wasn’t so sure.

Either way, I don’t have a home to go to, in the country or the city. I don’t even have a car, unless Carl accepted my offer, which I seriously doubt. I’ve only got Conor’s word that there is a job waiting for me.

Sitting at a scrubbed pine table in the middle of nowhere, with a tongue-tied bloke and a flock of sheep for company, Claire wondered why exactly she was rushing home at all.

***

 

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.

***

The Never-ending Edit: 2013 365 Challenge #241

Paper flowers (Mummy to the rescue!)

Paper flowers (Mummy to the rescue!)

Today is my daughter’s last day at nursery. A sad day for me, an exciting day for her.

We spent yesterday shopping for flowers for her nursery staff, writing cards and making tags. Little man wanted to get involved, so – after some frantic searching of the craft drawers and a few tears – we also made paper flowers for his key-workers, as he moves rooms now he’s nearly three.

Today also marks my last full nursery day, ever! Readers of this blog will know I view this with fear: I like my eight-hour days twice a week to have some head space and get my writing done.

Knowing this is the last one, I want to make it a productive one. Of course it won’t be. What I really wanted to do was finally to put Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes to bed. Hmmm not sure that’s ever going to happen.

Flowers and tags

Flowers and tags

In my two hours of preschool time yesterday, I finally finished going through the proof reader’s amends on the Baby Blues manuscript. Hurrah! you might think. Except it wasn’t. Because I’ve realised why you normally have an editor and then a proofreader go through your manuscript.

My lovely proofreader, Sarah Nisbet, actually did more of a light edit than just a check for grammar and spelling errors. As a result I ended up rewriting scenes. Which leads to more potential errors.

I happily loaded the new manuscript to Smashwords just as I was about to collect the children from preschool, only to immediately spot two typos. Given how tired I’ve been for most of August I’m sure there are plenty more. So now I have to read it through again and try to spot mistakes, which is fiendishly hard in your own work! I’m also scared to read the book through again, as I’ll want to change more and more things. I know this isn’t the best book ever written and, following on from the free book debate, I feel like I’m letting down every other self-published author if I publish a book that isn’t outstanding.

I long for the day when I can afford a structural edit, a final edit and a proof read, though I can’t see when it’s coming.

Shopping for flowers

Shopping for flowers

The general view on the cheap and free book debate was that it goes hand in hand with the poorly-edited mistake-ridden books of the self published author and how both are potentially career ending. Maybe I should have published under a pseudonym, thus giving myself the option of a fresh start should it all go wrong.

In the meantime I’m seriously considering having the book converted to an audio book so I can at least save my eyes when I run through it again. Has anyone ever done that? I’d be interested to hear your views. I have so many books I want to read right now, mine just isn’t one of them. I know how it ends for a start!

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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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All around was chaos. Children screamed, parents shouted and still the ship rocked. Claire dug her fingers into the arm rests and concentrated on not vomiting. She sensed Bethan looking round, calmly assessing the situation, trying to ascertain what was going on. A tiny part of Claire’s mind envied the girl’s calm, while the rest was grateful for it. At least one of them could stay together in a crisis.

Eventually Bethan got up and went to peer out of the window, gripping onto chairs for support as the boat pitched around like a fairground ride. Claire closed her eyes and waited for her new friend to return. When she felt a touch on her arm she jumped, and Bethan’s squeal made them both laugh.

“Sorry, you scared me,” Claire said through gritted teeth. “What’s happening?”

“We’re in Picton, as far as I can tell, but we haven’t docked. It looks like we might have hit the wharf. They’re scurrying around out there like rats.”

Claire glanced around the ferry. “Not much difference in here.”

She stopped talking as a voice came over the loud-speaker. Straining to hear the words above the hubbub, Claire groaned as they sunk into her foggy brain.

“We apologise for the delay. We are unable to dock due to some damaged sustained to the docking equipment. Please remain seated and we will keep you updated.”

Dropping her head back against the seat, Claire heaved out a sigh.

Great.

*

Two hours passed, and then three. The same announcement came across the tannoy, asking them to remain calm, informing them that every effort was being made to allow them to disembark. The children around them had mostly fallen asleep, or were plugged into iPods and tablets. Claire was surprised no one was handing out free drinks or food, not that she could have eaten anything. Despite its lack of forward motion, the ferry still rolled around until Claire had forgotten what it meant to be still.

When the tannoy crackled into life again, Claire barely heard the words, until one stood out.

“… Wellington. Once more we sincerely apologise for the inconvenience.”

The cabin erupted. All around her, adults began talking, gesturing, demanding to see a manager. People talked of missed appointments and events. The children, sensing adventure, came to life, adding their yells and screams to the mayhem.

Claire turned to Bethan for more information and saw the girl grinning. Is she ever bothered by anything?

“Why is everyone so upset?” Claire stretched, conscious of just how long she had sat in the same chair, without food or drink. “Aren’t we getting off? I need to pee.”

“No, we’re not getting off.” Bethan laughed, quietly, drawing frowns from the passengers around her. “We’re going back to Wellington.”

***

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.

***

But, Therefore: 2013 365 Challenge #205

My Mammoth Research Session

My Mammoth Research Session

In my mammoth research session yesterday into plotting and planning, I came across this great article on Janice Hardy’s blog, The Other Side of the Story.

Janice shares the two tips on plotting that she wishes she had written, both to do with cause and effect. The first one particularly made an impact on me because it helped me identify what I know to be a weakness in my writing.

I don’t want to rewrite Janice’s whole article – she has written it far better than I ever could – but the essence is about how to know you are moving your story forward with every scene.

Summarising advice from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, she writes:

Every scene in your story is connected, and how you connect them will determine whether or not they’re moving the story or just showing stuff happening. If you can say “and then” between them, they’re not advancing the story. If you can say “but” or “therefore” then something happens that forces a conflict or a decision and the story advances.

This really brought home to me why Baby Blues lacks punch, particularly when compared to Dragon Wraiths. Because Dragon Wraiths is written in the first person, and starts In Media Res (albeit it with back-story in the form of diary entries), the scenes are linked far more with But and Therefore, rather than And Then.

12-year-old Leah does a lot of running away

12-year-old Leah does a lot of running away

For example, in the diary segments (where most of the action sits at the beginning), it is Leah’s 12th birthday. She wants art supplies, therefore her family take the car rather than the train to town, therefore their enemies are able to attack them on the way home. Her mother tells her to run and keep running, therefore Leah leaves her behind and runs, but she collapses from exhaustion. Her goal is thwarted by her weakness. Therefore she ends up in hospital, but she doesn’t tell anyone who she is, therefore she ends up in care, but her mother told her to keep running. The story progresses because of Leah’s decisions, or the machinations of her unseen enemies.

In Baby Blues, on the other hand, the scenes are much more ‘and then’. Helen hosts a dinner party, and then sleeps with her boyfriend, and then realises she’s late for a photography shoot. Or maybe that’s a ‘therefore’? She stays up late because of her duty to Daniel, therefore she is nearly late for a photography shoot. However she isn’t late, so there is no cause and effect. No conflict. If she had missed her photography shoot and her career had been blighted by it, her resentment of Daniel might have been greater and the first third of the novel have more punch and pace.

As you can see, it can be tricky to identify the ‘but’ and ‘therefore’ points. Janice offers some key things to remember with this technique:

  • When you’re identifying your but, make sure what happens is in conflict with the character’s goal or action.
  • When you’re identifying your therefore, make sure it’s a choice made in response to what has just happened
I want happy smiley protagonists, not conflict

I want happy smiley protagonists, not conflict

It all comes down to conflict. I hate inflicting conflict and pain. I actually find it painful to watch a TV show where a bad decision leads to people dying. I don’t sit on the edge of my seat, I rue the What If and wonder how the character (albeit a fictional one) lives with the guilt.

As a result my writing is pretty and descriptive and explores the inner character of protagonists, but it doesn’t speed along. Janice Hardy even has a post about it: Do you Suffer from NWS? Living with Nice Writer Syndrome. Er, yes, that would be me!

I’ve accepted that it is too tricky to change the way I’m writing Two Hundred Steps Home, as building in cause and effect every single day would probably stretch my ability to keep up with the story (unless I have England attacked by blood-sucking aliens. Now there’s an idea!).

But as I tackle Class Act, I will have this advice in mind. Time to get tough.

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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? It’s Carl.”

Claire paused in her walk along the bay and perched on the stone wall, gazing out to sea. I knew I shouldn’t have answered the phone. After believing her boss was trying to force her out for months, it was hard not to be confused by his sudden terrier-like behaviour, now she had finally resigned.

“Have you had a chance to consider my offer?” Carl spoke into the silence.

“What offer?” Claire watched as a couple wandered along the sand, fingers entwined. Behind her the amusement arcades advertised their wares with raucous music and flashing lights. The air smelled of salt and candyfloss.

“I sent you an email.” Carl’s voice sliced through her reverie.

“I’ve been busy. Catching up on the blog and collating my notes together to pass to my replacement.”

Carl didn’t respond immediately, and the scream of hungry seagulls rent the still evening air. Claire envied them their freedom of expression.

When Carl spoke again, his tone was nonchalant. “I merely emailed you with a counter-offer, as is standard procedure when someone resigns in the middle of a critical project or contract negotiation.”

Claire wasn’t fooled by Carl’s insouciance. Sitting up straight, she narrowed her eyes and glared at the arm of fields stretching into the sea, as if embracing the bay.

“And are we? In the middle of contract negotiations? With whom? Happy Cola? The YHA? Both? That would have been rather pertinent to our conversation earlier this week, don’t you think?”

“So, you’ll reconsider?” Claire imagined his tail wagging furiously. “Both accounts are more than pleased with the early results of your social media activity. The YHA have seen a marked increase in bookings at the hostels you’ve written about and Happy Cola have cited a significant increase in the healthy associations of their brand in recent regional market research.”

He sounded like Sky explaining why she should be allowed ten minutes more on the iPad, or a second chocolate bar. Claire felt her cheeks twitching in a smile, while her head reeled with possibilities. Her fingers itched to load her email and discover exactly how big Carl’s counter-offer was. Not that it’s actually a counter-offer, unless I am offered the Purbeck role, but he doesn’t need to know that.

Claire was swept up in a tide of emotion. From being the outcast black sheep of the organisation, she belonged again. No more nasty challenges from Julia, or scrawled queries on her expenses forms. If she was the king pin securing two important deals, the world was her oyster.

Although a grin stretched her cheeks, Claire forced her voice low and doubtful. “I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it. The job here is a fantastic opportunity for me to make a difference.”

“Promise you’ll think it over? Look at the counter-offer. It’s not set in stone.”

Glee surged through Claire as she heard the panic in her boss’s voice. She could imagine the strain on his face as he rehearsed the conversation with the Board that centred on granting her a significant pay increase.

Blind to the beauty of the orange sun sliding across the sky, staining the sea blood-red, Claire said farewell to Carl and loaded up her emails.

***