Monkey Mailing Lists and Mind-numbing Stats

Finally set up a mailing list

Finally set up a mailing list

I’ve spent the last 24 hours catching up on all the internet-based work tasks I’ve avoided since about Christmas, when illness drove me away from Twitter and to the comforting arms of a good book.

My free promotion for Dragon Wraiths started at 8am yesterday and, in the hopes of making it more successful than my countdown deals (which resulted in one single, lonely, sale) I knew I would need to have an online presence.

There isn’t much you can fix in a day, but I did my best. I woke up my dormant twitter account, caught up on my writermummy facebook page and finally wrote the Goodreads reviews on all the lovely books I’ve read in the past few weeks (some of them, anyway, I still have a couple more to do).

The first day of my promotion has been okay, considering the lack of preparation. I even made it to number 1 in a category in France! You take success where you can! I don’t regret my six-week sabbatical from Twitter. I realised it wasn’t the platform for me: I got out much less than I found myself putting in. In the writer’s journey I’ve realised that I am happy with a slowly-slowly slightly haphazard approach while I concentrate on improving my craft and raising my kids. I intend to read the Kristen Lamb book I got for Christmas at some point, and I am implementing tips on sales and marketing I pick up on blogs and forums, but you can only do what you can do.

Reaching #1 in a category on Amazon.fr :)

Reaching #1 in a category on Amazon.fr 🙂

One thing I have finally got around to, however, is setting up a mailing list for people to sign up to if they want news on promotions and new releases. I’ve been meaning to do it for ages but was galvanised into action by realising that there are forty people on Goodreads who have marked Dragon Wraiths as ‘to-read’ and I have no way to tell them it’s currently free. I’ve been shy of creating a mailing list before, seeing it as a bit spammy, but now I can see there might actually be some people who want to know when I’m running a giveaway or when my next book will be out.

I’m still figuring out the ins and outs of Mailchimp, the provider I selected after a ten second internet search at 1am this morning, but I’ve tested the form and it seems to work (except it gives out my home address which I’m not thrilled about). If you want to add your email to the list, the link is to the right in the margin, or click on the image in this post, and I promise never to be spammy. 🙂

Now I’m off to see if I’ve reached the top ten in any more random categories on Amazon (I’m doing well in Coming of Age and Sword and Scorcery). It’s my favourite part of a free giveaway!

National Space Centre, Leicester

Exciting exhibit at The Space Centre

Exciting exhibit at The Space Centre

I only have one word today. Shattered. Normal business will resume tomorrow.

The biggest attraction

The biggest attraction

Don't forget to look up

Don’t forget to look up

My little spaceman

My little spaceman

My space girl

My space girl

It's a small world after all

It’s a small world after all

Dragon Wraiths and Daughter Days

Iron-on Crayon Art

Iron-on Crayon Art

Phew, how do teachers do it? I spent the day with my daughter today, as my son was in nursery. It’s the only whole day I have with her this half term so we crammed a lot in. Swimming for an hour followed by shopping for new school shoes (how do they get so trashed?!), new waterproofs (why do kids grow so fast?) and new school socks (how can five pairs vanish in as many months?)

Then the obligatory trip to McDonalds (yes, I know, parenting shame. I don’t care, sorry!) followed by more shopping to buy another four birthday gifts to see us through March’s parties. An unexpected extra expense of school has definitely been the birthday parties. Although at least we rarely have to make weekend plans!

You’d think my daughter might have been tired when we got home? Oh no. I barely drank a cup of tea before she was onto the next activity: iron-on crayons that she got for her birthday. I didn’t mind, actually, as I like clever non-messy craft. And I knew those t-shirts I bought for her nativity would come in handy. It took a while to explain the concept of colouring a back-to-front design so it would be the right way round when ironed onto the t-shirt, but I’m pleased with our shared efforts. And I didn’t even interfere that much! 😉

Not Bad (and no unsolicited help. Well, not much! :)

Not Bad (and no unsolicited help. Well, not much! 🙂

A break then? Nah. Then we wrapped up a bunch of gifts (with my fast-dimishing patience put severly to the test. Gift wrapping is one of those things that I find it REALLY hard to leave to her: largely because I foolishly fear being judged as a bad wrapper!) There was just time for a quick sandwich before we had to pick up my son.

The day wasn’t over, as we still had an hour at the library to get through. The kids now want to play board games and I just want to crawl into bed. It’s only 6.30pm. I already had huge respect for teachers but the idea of multiplying today by 25 is just horrific. Give me struggling with character arcs and plot holes any day!

Talking of which, I woke at 4.30am this morning in a cold sweat having dreamed I was being chased by dogs. It was a convincing dream and during the hour it took to calm down (until my daughter woke at 5.30am) I had some great ideas for a sequel to Dragon Wraiths.

I’ve wanted to write a sequel since I finished it, but had so many dilemmas about viewpoints and plot. I’m still pretty vague but I feel a tiny step closer, including deciding that it has to be told by Leah again (my preference was to have it multi-viewpointed from the perspective of the new wraiths. But it felt like trouble!) Now I just have to get Class Act finished! But first, sleep. I’m taking my two terrors to the Space Museum on my own tomorrow: something tells me I’m going to need all my energy!

Dear World; SAHMs and Writers Still Work, You Know

Reminding myself that I do work

Reminding myself that I do work

I took my children to a play date this morning and had a fabulous few hours watching them enjoy new toys, sunshine and company while I enjoyed a comfortable chat and plenty of hot tea. The talk, as often happens with parents you don’t know very well, turned to work.

The other three were teachers and when I explained that I was at home writing I got the dreaded response, “So you don’t work then?” followed by the embarrassed proviso of the working mum: “Except of course looking after these,” with a smile towards the children.

The funny thing was I was more bothered by writing not being considered a proper job than being a SAHM, even though looking after the children is much harder and takes up more of my time. There was another comment later, along the lines of, “You’re doing what we’d all love to be doing,” and again I wasn’t sure whether it referred to being able to pick my kids up from school, being about to do my hobby as a job or having endless free time to do laundry or, you know, drink coffee and paint my nails. 😉

I don’t know the other parents very well but I know they’re lovely people and it was clear that nothing was intended maliciously or even said with a great deal of thought. Much as I used to think being a teacher must be easy – short days, long holidays – before I spent any time with teachers and realised it’s the hardest job in the world and you couldn’t pay me enough to do it: we none of us have a blinking clue what’s really involved until it’s our job. And even then we all approach life differently.

Some of my light reading

Some of my light reading

I have to be working; I feel guilty if I don’t. So if I’m not writing I must either be cleaning, doing social media (which I don’t love) or reading (which I’m only just accepting as training for writers). It doesn’t feel like a hobby, but of course I do have a choice whether to work or be a housewife, which many don’t. I know I’m extremely fortunate.

Equally when I said to them that I loathed the school run (their children aren’t yet at school so they have that joy to look forward to) I’m sure they were envious that I have the luxury of doing it, as their children are in childcare all week. We all want what we can’t have.

There’s a lovely post on Facebook – two letters from a Stay at Home Mum and a working mum – which actually sympathises with the differences rather than finding reasons to hate. I’ve done a bit of both and I know they each suck in some way. (Incidentally, for a completely different take on the Facebook post, and why we parents should all STFU and stop moaning, read this). I preferred working (or, I should say, I preferred being employed, getting paid and knowing what I was meant to be doing from one minute to the next and not feeling guilty) but I only did it for a short time and before I had a child at school, so childcare was easier. Writing is a lot less stressful in many ways, of course, but it’s not always an easy way to spend your day. And the pay is lousy 😉

There’s another meme on Facebook – a quote from Katrina Monroe – that sums it up:

“Writing is like giving yourself homework, really hard homework, every day, for the rest of your life. You want glamorous? Throw glitter at the computer screen.”

Amen to that. You don’t get a day off, even when – like today – the only writing that gets done is on a phone in the dark while walking the dog at 6.15pm after hubbie gets home. You lie awake at 2am wondering what your character should do next or – as I have been lately after reading too many blog posts about how self-published authors are a scourge on decent literature – whether you should even be a writer. Can you call yourself a writer with a hundred sales to your name and more one star reviews than fives? (Well, almost. Hyperbole is accepted to make a point.) You’re never an aspiring teacher, no one ever called a teacher at home marking books ‘not working’. (Well, not to their face anyway!) I choose to be a writer, and to take all that entails, but it’s not a walk in the park (even when you’re walking in the park).

So, next time you’re chatting to a writer, or a SAHM, just nod and smile and maybe keep the phrase “So you don’t work then?” to share with your husband once you get home and vent on how the others have it easy. Much appreciated! 😀

Parenting: Learning Not To Interfere

Mummy's more precise version

Mummy’s more precise version

I read a great post this evening, on the Miss Fanny P blog, about how hard it is to be good at something and watch your children struggle (either because they’re little or because they don’t have the same natural aptitude).

It struck a chord with me because I’ve always tended towards perfectionism, to the point of not even trying something I suspected I’d never excel at. I abandoned playing the violin – even though I enjoyed it – when it looked like I would fail the next exam (it’s not a good instrument for the tonally challenged).

My daughter has inherited that trait, getting super-frustrated and upset when she can’t do something first time (even if it’s doing somersaults on the trampoline or being able to spell ‘friend’ when she only started reading three months ago).

With craft activities, she likes to follow the instructions exactly (ahem, guilty as charged) and gets cross when it doesn’t look like the picture on the box. Even though I tell her that NOTHING ever looks like the picture (at the same time as trying to make my own creation as perfect as possible) she still throws in the towel and storms off sobbing.

I used to have to literally sit on my hands to stop myself from helping – straightening stickers, tidying up ragged cutting, that kind of thing. I still do, if I’m watching, but we’ve both learned that the most enjoyable way for her to do craft is if I’m busy doing something else.

My Daughter's Creation

My Daughter’s Creation

I remember the first time it happened, nearly a year ago. I’d bought a couple of discounted ‘dress your dolly’ kits, for my son and daughter. Only, when I opened the boxes, my son went into a teary meltdown because he wanted a toy dog instead. So I decided (for my eardrums’ sake) to sew one out of some felt I had in the sewing basket. For the next half an hour I sewed and my daughter decorated her dolly.

Oh my, when I saw the finished doll I nearly cried. But my daughter was sooooooo proud and hubbie, who always says the right thing, said it looked like a Vivienne Westwood creation. I realised then that I was stifling her creativity with my anal need for perfection.

I’d be lying if I said I have never interfered since that day, but I do at least try not to now. If all the paintings end up brown and the glitter ends up all over the floor and I have to nod and smile and say “marvellous” at something hideous, what does it matter? More than 70% of it ends up in the recycling anyway, after a suitable period of time has passed. I’m learning that it’s the process, rather than the end product, that matters. Learning and getting sticky and having fun.

In the comments beneath Miss Fanny P’s post, someone included the quotation:

“Never help a child with a task with which he feels he can succeed.” Maria Montessori

I can apply this advice to so many things (and sometimes do, mostly out of laziness!) I’m still guilty of a bit of surreptitious help, to make an end product ‘work’, like with the headbands we made today. But, hey, old habits die hard!

Medicate Me?

Looking for Life's Rainbow

Looking for Life’s Rainbow

I’m back in the eternal dilemma I’ve struggled with since having my second child. I know I’m (probably) depressed, but I don’t want to go back on anti-depressants. I’ve been on them once in my life, when I had a breakdown after three years in my first grown-up job. I needed them, as I wasn’t sleeping and could barely function. But they put me in a glorious bubble where the world couldn’t touch me. I left my job, my home, my friends, my guide unit, my family, and I barely felt it. No joy, no grief. And, when I came off them, I was introduced to the world of anxiety and panic attacks as an unexpected (as unknown at the time I guess) side effect. Since then I’ve been prescribed the same drug three times and each time I’ve carried the pack of pills home as a lifeline and refused to take them.

But now I’m spending more and more time in the dark place, where I am worthless, where I am a terrible mother who is damaging her children beyond redemption, where it makes perfect sense that they might be better off without me. Where I cry and cry and it never gets better. Or the rage builds, inflating like a balloon in my chest with every petty annoying thing the children do – every time they whine, or refuse to eat, or don’t listen, or ask and ask and ask, until I pop and the shouting starts.

The I Wasn’t a Good Mom letter that I included in The Parent I am and The One I Aspire To Be post has a whole heap of supportive comments underneath. But the one that stood out, when I re-read them this week, was the one which said your poor daughter, you need medication, she will remember these days and be scared for life by them. And it raised the endless debate that wars away in my brain.

Should I medicate?

Will it take away the extremes of temper and grief? Will I lose me or find me? What if the shouty ranting person is me? Or what if I realise I’m a hundred times better on medication, and I’ve been battling all these years – making the children’s life, hubbie’s life, my life awful – for nothing?

Happy Food my Son Refuses to Eat

Happy Food my Son Refuses to Eat

The bit that’s stopped me in the past is the part in the information leaflet that tells you it gets worse before it gets better. I’m not sure there’s any capacity for worse.

I remember, also, that last time I slept and slept. I don’t have that luxury now, who would run the house? Who would take the children to school and pick them up? What would I miss?

And then I realise there are whole chunks of the kids’ lives I don’t remember because of the sleep deprivation (did you know you only write the events of the day to your long term memory if you reach second-stage sleep? Like that ever happens in this house). So what difference would it make?

The biggest challenge is finding someone to talk it through with who understands. The last time I saw my GP she blamed everything tangible, refusing to accept that I might be depressed. She even suggested I send my husband in to ‘fix’ his snoring because clearly that was the cause of everything. A factor, occasionally, possibly, but hardly a major one. Might as well tell me to give up being a wife and mother completely, because husbands and kids cause sleep deprivation and therefore mood swings. That makes about as much sense as my sister’s doctor prescribing her prozac for PMT. my psychiatrist said it sounded like I was overwhelmed, rather than depressed, and I just needed to take more time for me. (I take half the week to do my writing, how much more would it take?)

It’s true that it’s got a lot worse since my daughter started school and I lost both my long nursery days – which gave me time to reset – and my freedom to manage our week as required. Quiet days at home to nurture, days out to recharge. Which terrifies me. I always thought it would get better, as the kids slept better, as my time became my own. The opposite is true: my time is so much more squeezed, my chores have increased, with extra ironing, packed lunches, assemblies, home work, and my self-doubt increases with every day nearer to adulthood my children get.

How many mothers need medication to survive the school run? It makes me feel selfish and pathetic. But every time my daughter sobs hysterically for no reason, I take the blame that she’s learning it from me, and it eats away at me. I remember my own mother battling with depression as I grew up. I read somewhere that children who grow up taking care of their parents end up missing out on their childhood and spend their grown life adrift and unable to connect. I could relate to it and it hurts me each time my son pats my shoulder and asks “Are you okay, Mummy?” as I sit sobbing. He’s three. It should be me comforting him, not the other way around.

Sigh. I wish life, or at least parenting came with an instruction manual. Or a crystal ball. Something, anything, to give you a hint about the right path to take. Until I find one, I guess I’ll muddle on through, getting it right and wrong and never knowing which is which.

Filling the Gaps: Where’s the sex?

"Romance" covers show what readers want

“Romance” covers show what readers want

I’ve been working on Class Act today, hurrah! After too many days lost to sickness (me and the children) it was nice to get back to it, even if I didn’t make as much progress as I’d hoped. I had a pretty rough day yesterday and it is hard to write, for me, when I’m emotionally drained.

So I spent the time I had looking through my current draft of the novel to spot areas that needed expanding. As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to write the highlights in my first rough draft, and then have to go back and fill in the gaps during revision.

One thing I’ve noticed that I leave out a lot is the sex. My books are fairly chaste, particularly by modern standards. There isn’t much nookie, even though Baby Blues starts with a sex scene (which was originally more detailed than the final edit). I find it’s not something that gets added in unless I think of it. Maybe it’s because I grew up reading (and loving) Georgette Heyer novels. (Class Act definitely has elements of a Heyer story). Maybe it’s because I’m a mother of two small children, generally too exhausted to give much thought to nookie in my own life (sorry hubbie!)

It’s certainly unusual. Most of the chick lit books I grew up reading (aside from Heyer) have at least one or two sex scenes, from the sweet, to the implied, to the steamy. I enjoyed reading them in my teens and twenties, although I’m not a fan of erotica or books that have sex as the main focus. But it is generally a natural part of relationships and therefore plays a role in the character and plot development, so why do I leave it out?

My Latest Read - lots of kissing!

My Latest Read – lots of kissing!

I am noticing, as I read Twin Curse, that there’s lots of kissing and physical contact (and I’m sure eventually sex). And I wondered, is that why my books don’t sell well and don’t get reviews? In the days of Fifty Shades of Grey, am I not fulfilling the need for a bit of action? Certainly if you search ‘romance’ books on Amazon, the covers suggest that bedroom action is a key selling point. When I write my novels, my aim is usually to explore characters at life-changing points in their lives: change of career, change of priorities, change of heart. They fall in love, but that’s only part of the story. The demons they battle are in their minds and in their past. But, to make the relationships genuine, there has to be some physical attraction.

I remember watching an episode of Bones once (a TV show about a forensic anthropologist who is also an author). The lead protagonist is proud of her books, particularly the scientific aspects of them, but her fans buy and read them for the sex. She actually has a friend of hers help her with that aspect of the stories and eventually gives her friend a percentage of the book royalties because she realises it is the sex that is selling the books.

I suppose the phrase “sex sells” didn’t come about by accident. But it feels awkward for me to go through the story and inject sex scenes where there are none. Particularly in Class Act, where the physicality of the relationship is a core part of the story. I was shocked to discover I’d got to the climax scene in the first draft without the couple ever ending up in the bedroom – even though it was a core part of the story! (The same happened in Baby Blues but at least she had the excuse of being pregnant / a new mother!)

And then of course there is the issue of how steamy to be. I prefer implied action, because what is a turn on for one maybe a complete turn off for someone else. I remember reading Mills & Boon as a teenager and giggling over the “throbbing member” type descriptions. Focusing on the sensations and the emotions is probably more my style. But there is a danger that it all gets too introspective and unrealistic: people don’t typically have internal dialogue when they’re in the clinch of passion.

Anyway, I don’t really have the answers, but I was intrigued when I realised how unromantic and chaste my romance novel is in its early drafts. Maybe I should stick with writing YA or move into MG fiction. I’m obviously more interested in plot points than pants! But, for now, I need to fill the gaps. I’m sure hubbie will be happy if I do some research and inject some sex back into things! 😉

The Parent I Am and the One I Aspire to be (reblog)

Forgiving son as we finally did baking

Forgiving son as we finally did baking

Today has been a pig of a day, from a half-five start with my up-with-the-lark daughter, through yelling at my son because he wanted my attention when I was trying to restore order in a filthy house, to losing it entirely and sobbing for a whole evening after the dentist told me my three-year-old has two cavities (does parenting fail get any lower than knowing you didn’t control sweets/juice/teeth brushing enough in two short years to stop him having bad teeth like you?)  finishing with an evening staring blankly at a su doku trying to numb my brain because I just don’t want to be me anymore.

Hubbie has watched me like a hawk to make sure I don’t do anything stupid and all I can think is I don’t want such love because I don’t deserve it.

Was this worth yelling for ten minutes because I'm sick of being the only one who cleans anything?

Was this worth yelling for ten minutes because I’m sick of being the only one who cleans anything?

So, as I often do, when happy words for the blog won’t come, I hit ‘random post’ to reread an old blog entry for inspiration. And I found this one, from 7th April last year. Seems appropriate (If slightly worrying that I have these days so often).

I don’t have many words today.

Lack of sleep and residual illness has turned me into at least four of the seven dwarfs. I’ll let you figure out which.

Instead of waffling on as usual, I’d like instead to share two thoughtful and beautiful posts about being a parent: both written as letters to a child.

One describes the parent I’d like to be, the other the parent I am far too often. Again, I’ll let you decide which.

It won’t be hard.

An Open Letter to My Son:

Like some poor, naïve fairytale mother, I’m trying to help you navigate your way through a forest that’s by turns enchanted and haunted. The path is familiar, as if I walked it once years ago, but different, too; overgrown and seemingly impassable in some parts, and unexpectedly clear in others. And as we pick our way through the undergrowth, as we do our best not to trip on twisted roots and sharp stones, I try to remember the lessons I’ve learned from all folktales I used to know.

For example, I won’t make the mistake that Sleeping Beauty’s parents did when sending out invitations to her christening. Unlike them, I’ll be sure to invite the dark fairy godmothers as well as the good ones, because I know that they’ll come anyway, slipping in through back doors and lurking in corners where you least expect them. I’ll let them give you their murky gifts in broad daylight, so that I can look them in the eye while they do so. Then I’ll smile and thank them, recognizing that I have to let life give you the bad as well as the good.

And when I send you out into the world alone, as I know that I will someday have to, I’ll give you something more substantial than bread crumbs with which to find your way back home.

And I won’t make you go to your grandmother’s house alone until I can be sure that you can tell the difference between an old woman and a wolf in a nightgown.

I Wasn’t a Good Mom:

Dear Daughter,

Today, I wasn’t a good mom. The morning came too soon after a long and exhausting night. I rolled out of bed and put pants on an hour before you normally woke up. When I came into your room you were ready for me, your hair tousled and your smile crooked. “I up!” You said reaching your arms out to me. “I pay wif toys!”

I didn’t smile, not because I don’t love you, but because I just needed more sleep. And then the day came and you stuck stickers to the couch and I grumbled under my breath. You tried to play tag and kicked me in the chest and I yelled, “BE NICE TO MOM!” I realize now, I wasn’t yelling that at you. I was just yelling at the world. But how could you know that? You couldn’t, and I’m sorry.

And when I went upstairs to go to the bathroom and you said, “NO MAM GO PODDY!” And I said, “Shut up!” It wasn’t my finest hour of parenthood.

I’m sorry I cried when you ate my lunch. The lunch I bought for both of us to feed my feelings. Because my feelings needed chicken nuggets, but apparently so did you. And I’m sorry I put you in time out when you made your plate do a little dance on the table. I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you when I put you down for nap, choosing instead to run away and lay in the guest room bed and just dwell in some silence.

These are only extracts of the posts. I encourage you to read the full version, and to follow these inspiring blogs. They get me through many hard days as a mother and a writer.

Defining the Climb

My Latest Read

My Latest Read

I finally started reading Twin Curse by Rinelle Grey this evening, having decided I’m ready to go back to kindle reading after a month of library paperbacks. And I realised, after my self-deprecating discussion of my own writing recently, that there is a place for all types of reads.

Not to suggest that Rinelle’s writing is anything other than great, because I love her work (I feel I’m digging a hole here. Bear with me!)  but, after the flowery dense descriptions of Maggie Stiefvater, it’s refreshing to get to grips with a standard format book, with clear limited third-person perspective, relatable characters and a promising storyline.

I started it for five minutes before bed (after mooching Facebook all evening because I’m between books and feeling poorly) and I’m already 14% through. I might never write the awe-inspiring prose I admired in The Dream Thieves, but if I can learn to spin a riveting yarn, then that’s good enough for me. (Again, I feel I’m unintentionally comparing Rinelle’s books unfavourably to Maggie’s. It’s not my aim. Sigh. Moving on.)

As I just got another low rating on Goodreads for one of my books (without a text review to explain why) I clearly still have some way to go. But a mountain is climbed one step at a time, and maybe sometimes it’s worth accepting that Ben Nevis is fine, and we can’t all conquer Everest.

And maybe sometime soon we’ll all stop being ill and I’ll be able to get back to climbing my mountains without poorly husband and child in tow!

Descriptions That Breathe – Bringing Writing to Life

The Dream Thieves

The Dream Thieves

When I write, both in my blog and my novels, I know that my language is straightforward – no deviation between signifier and signified. No real stretch of the imagination necessary to obtain meaning. I gently lead the reader by the hand as they wander through my stories without minimal effort required on their part.

Thinking about it this morning, I’ve decided this is due to three things: My inexperience as a writer of fiction, my background as an analyst and academic, and my constant lack of sleep. Taking those in order, this is how I see it:

1. My inexperience as a writer means I lack confidence and bravery. I over-explain to make sure the reader understands my story, knows what my characters are thinking and feeling. I dread “I don’t get it” and as a result probably get “I don’t feel it.”  Any tendency towards being different is slashed so that I can find acceptance. Any flowery description is deleted as ‘purple prose.’ (The person who edited Baby Blues crossed-out half the similes, saying, for example, “Or just ‘he slept'”)

2. Similarly, my business and academic background have kept my language uncomplex. Actually, that isn’t true of the academic writing: what that did for me was ingrain the passive tense as an acceptable form of language usage. “One could argue that …” is a historian’s stock phrase.

But marketing was all about saying what you meant in easy words. There’s a phrase in marketing, summarised as the acronym KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. One of my jobs working in Internal Comms was to take complex business documents and ‘translate’ them into briefings for the staff. I was good at seeing through difficult ideas and getting to the essence of the message.

It’s a useful skill as a parent of young children. I am constantly trying to break abstract ideas down into basic language. Unfortunately, nothing kills vocabulary quicker than not using it. Oh, apart from lack of sleep.

3. I can barely remember the colours of the rainbow on fewer than six hours’ continuous sleep and I hardly ever get anything near that these days. I remember at university, when I would pull all-nighters to complete essays: I’d stumble into the communal kitchen at 7 a.m., bleary eyed, and ask my housemates, “What’s another way to say Stalin was pissed off?”

Bereft that I've finished it!

Bereft that I’ve finished it!

Why am I writing this defence of my unsophisticated prose? I finished The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater last night, and was as blown away as I was by The Raven Boys (and slightly less put out at the ending, having braced myself with the knowledge that it’s a quartet of books.)

Maggie Stiefvater’s writing is beautifully rich. Meanings have to be wrestled from the often dense and opaque prose. Motivations, character’s feelings, and even the basic plot, are often hard to fathom, despite the novel being written in omnipotent third person. It is not a passive read.

What I love most is the way the language is mixed up. I’m struggling to describe it (for all the reasons listed above!) but the closest I can come is to say the descriptions are alive. Just as Death is anthropomorphised in the Terry Pratchett novels, so is everything in The Dream Thieves. It seems appropriate, in a novel where the trees speak Latin and half the characters are psychics, that you can have an “ardently yellow” polo shirt or a “desolate” washing line (pp 7 and 57 respectively. All references taken from the paperback version, UK, 2013.)

Some of the language reminds me of my favourite poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was known for stringing words together, like “dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding | Of the rolling level underneath him steady air” (from The Windhover.”). Compare Maggie’s description of one of the characters visiting the family house:

“When Ronan opened the door, the car was immediately filled with the damp-earth, green-walled, mould-stone scent of home.” (p147)

All the senses invoked in one description, without apparent effort. You don’t have to analyse what the character feels, smells, sees, because it’s all there.

For the first time I wish I’d read the book in e-form, as I’m struggling to locate some of my favourite phrases. But here are a few (none of which, I hope, give any story away):

“Adam’s hand glided over her bare elbow. The touch was a whisper in a language she didn’t speak very well.” (p9)

“Gansey’s furiously orange-red ancient Camaro.” (p21)

“Blue Sargent was pretty in a way that was physically painful to him. He was attracted to her like a heart attack.” (p60)

“Then the engine expired … The engine ticked like a dying man’s foot.” (p122)

“Declan looked shocked and poisonous. He was always so alarmed by the truth.” (p411)

“The past was something that had happened to another version of himself, a version that could be lit and hurled away.” (p221)

“Cicadas sang madly from the trees. It was so impossibly summer.” (p340)

“She smiled at him. It was a tiny, secretive thing, like a bird peering from branches.” (p360)

“The crowd, drunk and high and gullible and desirous of wonders, screamed their support.” (p432)

“It was deadly like a cancer. Like radiation.” (p434)

It would be disingenuous to write in Maggie Stiefvater’s style. It is so clearly and unequivocally hers. But reading books like this stretch my vocabulary muscles and build up their strength. They encourage me to be braver and self-censor slightly less. Above all, they transport me to a place where words are everything, reminding me of their power. A place where emotions aren’t described as “her heart thumped like a hammer” (there are a lot of thumping hearts in my prose!)

To read is to learn and to learn is to grow. Bring it on.