Cramp

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Healthy work habits

If I continue the analogy that I used in a previous post, of this year being about swimming away from Mummy towards Amanda, I think it’s fair to say that I now have cramp.

I’ve always been a bit all-or-nothing. My therapist said it was the cause of my poor mental health, that I see everything and live everything in black and white.

January was no different.

As well as working on the project I managed to secure through Findaproofreader, and planning and executing my daughter’s 8th birthday party (you know, making a glitter ball pinata and glitter jelly and glitter ball cakes and a playlist and all that jazz), I’ve also been buying and selling furniture to get our house where we want it.

pouffe

Knitted pouffe

Oh and knitting my daughter’s pouffe for her birthday. And trying to stay on top of all the domestic stuff like cooking and ironing (yawn). So, in the end, there’s been no time for actual swimming.

It turns out proofreading someone else’s novel takes a hundred times more energy and concentration than editing your own. To begin with, I only managed a couple of hours a day before my head was ready to explode. Thankfully it’s a good story, and so I wanted to know what happened next. I sent the finished work off today, on time and on budget. Hurrah.

But what’s really giving me cramp? The juggling.

I have always known how very lucky I am not to be a working parent. But there is one thing knowing you’re lucky, and another living the other life for a while. Especially at a time the school decided to double the kids’ homework (grrr to homework full stop, but especially for six and eight year olds), never mind Beavers and Brownies and karate and clubs and parties and play-dates. Oh my goodness, I don’t know if it’s Tuesday or Easter (or whatever that lovely phrase is).

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Amazing space

But it’s also great. I love having work to do. I am living the saying, ‘if you want something doing ask a busy person,’ as I’m getting much more done in a day than I used to. And I’m managing to work for more than a couple of hours a day, as my brain adjusts. New glasses help! (Turns out my eyes are getting better – there had to be some compensation to getting older.)
The best bit is spending my wages on a new wardrobe for my daughter (although that caused its own drama), not just to make her happy, but to sort out her room to make me happy.

Of course I’ve probably spent my wages about eight times over, but that’s not the point! The point is I have wages to spend. And let’s hope there is more to come, because I’m so jealous of my daughter’s fabulous wardrobe, I want to do our room next!

But in the meantime, I’m actually glad it’s half term in a week. I could use the rest, and perhaps, finally, get a chance to go for a swim.

Perfect Procrastination: 2013 365 Challenge #334

A potential front cover (though fonts are always a challenge)

A potential front cover (though fonts are always a challenge)

Sometimes I’m so easily distracted I think I’m no better than a three-year-old! Instead of getting stuck in to writing today, particularly important on a Friday to give me a head start for the weekend, I spent two hours designing a cover for a potential entire Two-Hundred Steps Home volume, even though I haven’t even written December’s installments yet, never mind getting November’s finished and up on Smashwords.

There is method in my madness.

Partly I thought it might be nice to produce a printed volume for my hubbie for Christmas. (He reads this post, so it won’t be a surprise even if I get it done!) It’s not likely to happen, though, because it would mean finishing December’s posts by around the 10th, in order to get it all uploaded and ordered. Hahaha, excuse me while I roll around laughing. I have no doubt that, despite the best intentions, the last installment will actually be written on New Year’s Eve, when the kids are in bed and hubbie is trying to drink in the new year with me.

The second excuse idea was that I could put the book out for pre-order, to see if there is any interest in buying the complete set of twelve volumes, even though you can download the individual ones for free.

More important, the cover for November

More important, the cover for November

It would be around 275,000 words, which is substantial for any novel, and of course would have to come with the HUGE disclaimer that it is a first draft and hasn’t been edited or proofread. I would hate people to buy it under any illusions. That said, I think a lot of the people who download the free copies don’t follow the blog, and no one has left me an awful review yet. (Ignoring the fact that I’ve only had a handful of reviews!)

Of course it would be lovely to edit it all and have it proofread, but part of me thinks that would defeat the point of the exercise, which was to produce something in installments without planning or the ability to go back and change things. Aside from the odd typo I’ve spotted (and once when I changed a character’s name in one installment) I haven’t gone back and amended anything. What you get in the downloaded volumes is what I wrote, day by day, through 2013.

Maybe, with a decent blurb and introduction, it would work. People might pay to have it all in once place, or as a reminder of the year, if they enjoyed it. Who knows, they might even recommend it to others. Certainly if I publish a sequel it would be handy for people to be able to catch up. Anyway, there’s my justification for two hours of my day wasted. And I’m sticking with that! 🙂

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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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Alex paced across the room, picked up the iPad, put it down again, then walked back to the window to stare out across the lawn to the sea, as if expecting to see his father striding across the grass.

“He’s late,” he said, without turning round.

“I’m sure his flight was delayed, that’s all.” Claire tried to be the voice of reason, concealing her irritation that Robert hadn’t even sent a text to confirm that he’d arrived at the airport. Keeping her voice level, she added, “He had to connect at Brussels and Birmingham to come down here, and then he’ll need to get a taxi from the airport. There’s a lot to go wrong.”

“He wouldn’t have been late if this was a business meeting. Even some minor client grossing less than ten grand a year would have ensured his punctuality. But for his sons, well, why bother?”

The tone of disgust in Alex’s voice tore through Claire. She wanted to tell the boy not to speak about his father like that, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. He had a point.

“He came to Cambridge when Auntie Ruth was poorly,” she said, instead. “He was brilliant at the hospital. I’m sure his delay is something outside his control.”

“Father probably only did that so he could feel important. You know, showing that he was better than you and Auntie Ruth. Or to get away from Mother for a week.”

The words were unanswerable. Claire realised she didn’t know her brother at all. Even during that awful week, when she’d thought Ruth was going to die, she had barely spoken to Robert. When he hadn’t been talking to the doctors he was on his phone, discussing business, or buried deep in emails. She wondered when her brother had become a stranger.

“I’m sorry we didn’t get to see Ruth and Sky,” Jack said, breaking into her thoughts. “I haven’t seen Auntie Ruth since I was little, and I’ve never met Sky.”

Guilt washed over Claire, as she realised that was true. Ruth didn’t have the money for travel to Europe, and it was years since Robert and his family had come home for the holidays. They usually went skiing.

I should have taken them up for the weekend, to see Mum and Dad and Ruth. It’s not that far away.

“Why don’t you ask your dad if you can go, before you fly back to Geneva? I’m sure your flights can be changed.”

Alex snorted, but said nothing, merely turning to gaze out the window again. Jack shrugged and picked up his iPad, and was soon lost in a game.

Claire looked at them both and felt helpless. Two weeks ago she didn’t know or care about her nephews. Now, though, they were real people; people she didn’t want to see suffer. Despite his eagerness to go, it was clear Alex only wanted to return to his friends and girlfriend. Jack had been subdued all morning, his silence speaking of his unhappiness far more than words.

I wonder if Conor would let me take a few days leave to run up to Cambridgeshire with the boys. I can’t see Robert taking them. She thought through the logistics, and suppressed a sigh. I guess it’s a bit late for that. Robert would have a fit if I suggested it, after he’s flown all this way to pick them up. Assuming he hasn’t forgotten.

Claire chewed at her lip and tried to concentrate on the book in her lap. The words blurred as her mind filled with thoughts too muddled to be processed. Behind her attempt at calm, a wave of anger was building: rage at her brother’s thoughtlessness, and remorse at her own previous neglect. Who was she to take the moral high ground? How often had she spent time with the boys or gone to visit them in Geneva?

Maybe we have no capacity to love, in our family. Perhaps that’s it. Maybe Ruth got it all, and is using it all on Sky. The rest of us: what do we know of family and loyalty and trust?

She closed her book and followed Alex’s gaze out the window, losing herself in the relentless blue of the uncaring sky.

*

The sound of a car pulling up the driveway echoed loudly in the silence of the dining room. Both boys turned to face in its direction, as if hoping to see through walls and confirm it was finally their father.

Tension twisted Claire’s stomach like the shift in pressure that heralded a storm. Shaking off the feeling, she rose to her feet and turned to face the door. She could hear voices in the corridor, as the manager gave directions to the dining room, as Claire had requested earlier.

Her brother’s form filled the doorway, and Claire could see a second person standing just behind him, clutching his arm.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”

Claire shot an angry glance at Alex, about to admonish him for his language. Before she could speak, she registered his white face and the pursed and bloodless lips. She turned back to the door to see what had made her nephew so angry. Hanging on Robert’s arm was a young woman, younger than herself. In her late teens or early twenties, Claire guessed. The woman clung on to Robert as if he were a life raft, staring up at him with wide brown eyes.

Claire wondered if Robert had brought the au pair to look after the boys on the trip home.

That would be like him. Can’t even look after his boys for a few hours.

That didn’t explain Alex’s outburst though, not really. From what she had gathered from Jack, the au pair was a sweet German girl, with limited English. Not someone to be treated with such loathing.

As realisation dawned, Claire felt the blood drain from her own face.

Not even Robert could be that stupid and cruel, surely, to bring his new girlfriend with him?

As far as he was aware the boys didn’t even know he’d met someone new. Even if they weren’t close to him or their mother, it was still neither the time nor place to introduce a replacement.

Robert stood motionless in the doorway, surveying his sister and sons, a faint sardonic raise of one eyebrow his only expression.

“Hello Claire, boys.” He nodded in their direction, as if stumbling across a casual acquaintance, rather than coming to collect his sons after a two-week absence. The girl hanging on his arm gave them a timid glance, before turning back to gaze at Robert. He seemed to feel her stare, because he pulled her into the room and put his arm around her.

With a broad smile he said, “I’d like you to meet Gabriella. My fiancée.”

Silence reverberated round the room like an aftershock. Then Claire sensed sudden movement to her left. Alex strode across the room to stand in front of his father.

Staring up into his face, he hesitated, then said distinctly, “You utter bastard.”

He pushed past his father and Gabriella and left the room.

***

A Need to Read: 2013 365 Challenge #269

A fraction of the unread books on my Kindle

A fraction of the unread books on my Kindle

Apologies if this post is a little late today: I finally hit ‘approve proof’ on the print version of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes this morning, after ploughing through the online proofer (I can’t afford to get another physical proof).

I had a small scare last night, as I downloaded the PDF on my iPad as soon as I got the email from CreateSpace to say it was ready, and half the letters were missing. For example “William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116″ read ”  illi   Sh  ke  re, So    et 116″. I didn’t have time to fire up the laptop last night, so the first thing I did this morning was check it all on the big PC. It was fine. Phew.

However, all the weeks and months I’ve spent on editing and formatting recently has resulted in my creativity taking a holiday. Oh, not the creativity that formats book covers or designs bookmarks: that’s fine. But the right-brain creativity that lets me think up an ending to Two Hundred Steps Home, both for this month and for the entire year, is missing in action.

Books that gripped me

Books that gripped me

All the proofreading and editing I’ve done (including a couple of novels for someone else) has also resulted in me being unable to read a book without critiquing it as I read. Even with old beloved books (or maybe especially those, because I know the story), I find myself checking for typos or grammar errors, or rewording sentences that feature the same word twice. It’s no fun.

Reading used to be my downtime, my lifeline, my escapism. It also used to be the source of my creativity – filling the well of ideas that gets exhausted with writing thousands of words every week.

I have probably two dozen books on my iPad that I want to read, or that I’ve started and can’t finish. I don’t want to take books apart. I wouldn’t even mind if I was analysing them as I did as an English Literature graduate: looking for character motivations or themes. At least then I would still be immersed in the story. But questioning the word choice or the grammar and punctuation is just plain anal. And rude.

After all, who am I to judge someone else’s book when I know mine aren’t going to win any literary awards? I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe I need to read a paperback rather than on the kindle. Or maybe I need to read a fast-paced thriller, that won’t give me time to analyse because I’ll be desperate for the story. It needs to grip from beginning to end, but without any blood or dead bodies (I don’t do gore, even in books).

Any ideas? How can I put my left-brain back in its box and get back to enjoying reading once more?

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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 stared at the underside of the top bunk and searched her brain for ideas. This was harder than the worst pitch Carl had ever thrown her way. Harder than choosing an apartment or selecting which shoes to wear for Kim’s wedding. How to raise several hundred dollars in a few hours, so she could fly to Queenstown and catch the bus to Christchurch to get her flight home?

The list of people who might lend her the money was less than one. Those with the resources – Michael, Josh, her brother, her parents – were not the ones she wanted to approach in an emergency. The people who might take pity on her – her sister Ruth was the only one who came to mind – couldn’t afford it. Even if her best friend Kim was still speaking to her, their financial relationship existed on the fact that Claire was the one with a well-paid job and Kim, as the newbie actress, didn’t have two pennies to rub together.

How ironic that it’s me who is stranded in the back of beyond without the resources to get home, even though – assuming I do get back – I will have a salary coming in soon enough to clear the debt.

A tiny thought that Conor might advance her first month’s salary was quickly quashed. Not only had he already put his neck out for her by making the job a short-term contract, she didn’t want to start out beholden to her boss.

Come on Claire, think. There must be a way of raising some cash. An online loan, a new credit card.

The ideas came only to be dismissed. Even if she could get the internet to work, such things took time. And she wasn’t entirely convinced she’d pass a credit score anyway, with no home address or job and her credit card full to the max.

A dark lassitude crept over her and she had to push away the tears. Escaping to New Zealand had seemed the only option at the time: a chance to flee the mess her life had become and enjoy a fresh start. Instead had never felt so alone.

Through the black, a glimmer of light sparkled. Something someone had said to her in passing, a joke to be laughed off, crept into her mind. Something Bethan had said. What was it? Claire searched through her brain, wishing Bethan were there to come up with an amazing solution or fill the room with her endless optimism. Then it came to her. “Sell your fancy boots if you have to.”

I’m going home, hopefully, so what does it matter if I sell some stuff. I have boxes of clothes back home.

The thought made her uncomfortable, nonetheless. Could she sell of her second hand stuff to the other people in the hostel? Would they buy it? It seemed a bit icky. But what choice did she have?

Running through her possessions in her mind, Claire realised the thing of most value was her tablet. Selling it felt like cutting off her right arm, especially as it was full of data she wouldn’t be able to back up without access to a computer. Was it worth losing all her photos, her memories of the trip across New Zealand, to get home?

With a heavy sigh, Claire rolled off the bed and pulled her rucksack over. Searching through, she found the iPad and charger, some jewellery and her Helly Hansen boots. Ignoring the trembling in her hands, Claire gathered them together and left the room.

***

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.”

***

Running on Empty: 2013 365 Challenge #232

I want to do more of this...

I want to do more of this …

I read a great parenting post this morning, on the inspirational Orange Rhino blog, about Parenting on Empty. Not run down or depleted reserves but down deep, nothing left, red light empty. The author described the effects of running on empty:

Running on empty means I am shorter, snappier, moodier, grumpier, everything “-er” except calmer, friendlier, and happier.

It struck a chord. I’m not there yet (well, actually, looking at the above list of adjectives, I probably am!) but my fuel warning light is on.

With the extra work of editing Baby Blues, on top of the daily blog and social media (not to mention childcare and household duties!), I’m feeling stretched to my limits. I go to bed exhausted, I wake up exhausted, I cry over the smallest things (like getting locked out of my iTunes account and losing an hour’s editing time trying to fix it) and my children have stared using, “I’m just tired,” as their excuse for everything, I wonder where they learned that?

I can’t take a complete break, because of the daily blog challenge, but I think I can cut it down a bit. I’m forty pages from finishing this draft of Baby Blues and, even though the proofread has forced me to line edit at a level I haven’t done before and has revealed weaknesses in the novel I would dearly love to fix, I’m going to let it go. If I don’t I’ll either burn out or I will never finish it. Come what may, when I reach page 230 I will format for kindle and Create Space and hit approve.

... and less of this

… and less of this

So, I’ve marked September as my month off. With my daughter starting school oh so gradually and my son on a new schedule at preschool I won’t get much writing time.

I intend to continue with Claire, but I suspect the top half of my blog might diminish. I’m thinking of opening it to short (500-700 words), relevant, guest posts: if anyone is interested drop me a line.

I may also dig out some old poems and stories, maybe even some paintings, and give them an airing, get some feedback. It might work. It might not. All I know is I need to spend my dog walking time on Claire. So, this is a head’s up.

Hopefully October will be business as usual, although my sister is over from the States for two weeks, so maybe not! I ask for your patience! I’m off to the petrol station to fill up.

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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 looked at the man opposite her, and searched her brain for a topic of conversation. A week’s travelling had told her precisely nothing about him apart from his name. She couldn’t guess his age or occupation and only assumed London was his city of origin by his accent.

She glanced down at the menu, then turned her gaze across the road to the lake. The water had shone like blue silk when they first reached the restaurant, but storm clouds had piled overhead since their arrival, and now the surface was as leaden as the sky above. Claire shivered and pulled on her cardigan, glad of the activity.

The menu might as well have been written in Greek for all she could focus on it. Neal’s proximity pulled at her gut and set her nerves tingling. She’d never met someone with so much animal magnetism. If asked, she would have said the phrase was only for romance novels of a certain ilk.

Topics of conversation drifted into her head only to be dismissed. Opening lines such as, “So, how do you like New Zealand,” or “Where do you call home,” or even, “What activity are you doing tomorrow?” sounded too lame to be uttered. Opting to leave the opener to him, given that he had driven forward all their other encounters, Claire turned her attention back to the menu and searched for something easy to eat in public.

At last their meals were ordered – Neal had chosen the most expensive dishes on the menu – and they were left with the task of making small talk. Claire sipped at her gin and tonic and watched Neal with an indifferent expression. This was his bet, let him earn his dinner.

“So, Claire, how do you like New Zealand?”

Claire sniggered at Neal’s question and he frowned.

“What’s so funny?”

“That was going to be my opening gambit but I assumed you’d have some sarcastic response at its lack of originality.”

“It’s as good a place to start as any.” His face glowered darker than the storm clouds and Claire worried she had offended him. His reaction seemed out of character compared with the Neal she thought she knew.

“I like New Zealand very much,” she responded with as much sincerity as she could manage. “It’s a beautiful country, the weather is mostly gorgeous and the locals friendly.”

“Why, thank you.”

His response made her choke on her drink. After coughing for several moments, she furrowed her brow. “You’re a local?”

“That’s right. I’m on a VIP. Didn’t you know?”

“Well, no. From the accent I assumed you were a fellow Brit on holiday.”

“Well, one out of two ’aint bad. I am a Brit, as you put it, but I’ve been over here for four or five years now. I used to work for Magic.”

The waiter brought their starters; goats cheese for her, some form of seafood chowder for him. It was the most expensive starter. Now she knew he was a bus driver, rather than a GP or a City Trader, it made more sense.

“And now you work for Kiwi? Isn’t a bit of a busman’s holiday – literally – to come round on the tour?”

“Officially I’m here to learn the new route, although I know it already. I get to travel for free and I know people at every stop. It’s more like an extended family trip.” He forked a steaming heap of fish into his mouth and Claire looked away while he devoured it.

Before his mouth was entirely empty, he continued. “And there’s usually something to add a piquancy to the trip.” He raised his eyebrows in the way that normally sent her heart jumping. It didn’t have its usual effect.

A memory drifted into Claire’s mind from her conversation with Mitch, back in the UK. As well as having a rude name for the ‘other’ bus tour, he’d mentioned an acronym to watch out for, something to make sure she didn’t become. It had been a friendly warning and she had laughed it off. He’d said “Don’t be a DAF”. When she’d asked what it meant, he’d responded, “Driver’s Available …” and had winked suggestively. No need to ask what the F stood for.

She watched Neal, as he finished his starter with a look of smug self-satisfaction on his face, and she understood. Her appeal, over that of the youngsters, was presumably an ability to buy dinner. He must have seen her iPad, phone, clothing, and figured she was loaded.

That would be nice.

Just buying her flights and bus pass had maxed-out her credit card. Paying for extras like the expensive tours, the pricey meals, was eating into her current account faster than she felt comfortable with. Mitch’s throwaway remark that she could get work in a backpacker’s bar was looking like less and less of a joke.

Something clicked as the thoughts ran through her mind, one after another.

I don’t want to be a DAF. I don’t even want to finish dinner.

Coming to a sudden decision, Claire stood up and dropped her napkin on the table.

“Thank you for your company, Neal, and for the compliment, but I don’t want to be your DAF or your little piquancy on this freebie jolly. Nice to have met you.”

Taking a bundle of dollars from her purse, Claire dropped them on the table and left the restaurant, taking the wonderful image of Neal, slack-jawed and lost for words, with her.

***

Using a Thesaurus: Good or Bad?: 2013 365 Challenge #229

Can't have too many craft books

Can’t have too many craft books

Sometimes an idle reading of a blog post (or just about anything, to be honest) can lead me off on an hour-long internet search.

The post inspiring such a search today was Charlotte Rains Dixon’s post, Kaizen (Sort of) for Writers. I was drawn to the article because my husband used to have Kaizen days (Japanese for improvement or change for the better, according to Wikipedia) at a former place of work.

Charlotte’s post discusses ways that writers can introduce small changes for the better into their writing.

One of her suggestions was “Learn a few new vocabulary words” and included a link on ‘strong verbs’ which sent me off to read some of Charlotte’s posts from 2008 about improving writing using a thesaurus and a personal word book.

I use the online thesaurus in Word a great deal, mostly when I find the same word twice in a sentence (which happens often with something like ‘road’ – street/lane). As I edit my Claire instalments every day, and I am editing Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes at the moment, I seem to be searching for alternative words all the time. (And Word is often not much help!)

One of the many versions of Roget's Thesaurus

One of the many versions of Roget’s Thesaurus

Charlotte’s second post on the subject talked about a particular thesaurus called Roget’s International Thesaurus, which apparently arranges the words thematically (as Roget originally intended) rather than alphabetically. It sounded great, so I went off to find a copy to buy (not that I’m impulsive or need instant gratification or anything). There began my search, as that version appeared to be quite pricey and hard to come by in the UK. I started looking round for something similar, reading reviews to understand the differences.

Then I came across an essential review pointing out that International meant American. I already struggle with distinguishing between English and American spelling, spending too much time with a dictionary to ensure consistency in my writing. The last thing I need is an Americanised thesaurus.

So then I started looking for other versions of thesauruses, reading reviews which appeared to mostly complain that the type was too small or the book too huge. Kindle versions seemed a good idea until I realised they aren’t always searchable.

And then I came across an article on Daily Writing Tips called Hint to Writers: Use the Thesaurus with Caution. It discusses the dangers of using a thesaurus too heavily, resulting in over-complicated writing or the use of words that don’t quite fit (not all synonyms are created equal). The article mentioned Stephen King’s advice in On Writing (paraphrased, I’m guessing), that‘wherever your vocabulary is at today is fine.’

The comments on this article were as informative as the original article and ranged from complete agreement to disagreement. Philip Dragonetti suggested that, “A Thesaurus is to be used only to transfer words from one’s passive vocabulary into one’s active vocabulary.” That’s exactly it: I know the words I want to use, but sleep deprivation and too much time spent watching Cbeebies, has reduced my vocabulary considerably since my student days.

One craft book I haven't read yet

One craft book I haven’t read yet

Another article that my morning of internet searching produced was called Is the Thesaurus Your Friend? This interesting post discusses how writers are divided over the value of the thesaurus (as I had already seen in the comments on Charlotte Rains Dixon’s post above).

The post’s author, K. M. Weiland, explains that, “Some consider it their secret weapon; others regard it as a crutch.” She goes on to cite Stephen King’s opinion from his 1988 essay, Everything you need to know about writing successfully – in ten minutes:

“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”

She explains that King believes the best word is the one which flows from our creative subconscious and if you have to look up a word you probably don’t know it well enough to use it.

I’m not sure I agree with that view, even from as celebrated an author as Stephen King. As I’ve already said, sometimes I know the word and can’t find it. My creative subconscious is working hard on the plot and story and isn’t too concerned with the words it uses to get the idea on the paper. As someone famously wrote (though my Google search has not revealed who – maybe even Stephen King!) A first draft is the version we write for ourselves.

I think Stephen King’s advice is about not using words we have never heard of, just because they’re a synonym for a word we do know. I would like to think writers wouldn’t do that, not least because if a writer doesn’t know the word, chances are the average reader may well not know it either, and so it ceases to function as a means of communication.

I’m still determined to get a paper thesaurus, although I might just wait until I find one kicking about in a charity shop. My sleepy brain needs all the help it can get. Besides, Stephen King probably has a much wider vocabulary than I do!

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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 sat at the front of the coach and chewed her lip.

This is ridiculous. I feel like a twelve-year-old on a school trip, wondering if the boy at the back of the bus will come and hold my hand while we both ignore each other.

Since the kiss that morning, Neal hadn’t renewed his attentions. She could hear him somewhere up the aisle, entertaining his fellow travellers with an anecdote about a Soho nightclub at 2am. She knew if she turned around it would look something like the sermon on the mount, as the teenagers hung off his every word, as much impressed by his experience as snared by his charisma.

I should be flattered that he pursued me through the forest, although I could wish that he hadn’t. She could wish it, but did she? There was no doubt that it was flattering to have a man like him chase her down. If only she could figure out what he was after. Surely there were easier conquests.

There are probably a dozen girls on this bus only too happy to massage his ego, among other things.

Staring at her iPad, Claire tried to concentrate on the notes she was compiling on the morning’s activities. After the walk around the Ruakui Reserve, they had stopped for breakfast before heading to Rotorua. She’d managed to stay out of Neal’s way at the farm show and during the zorbing. No one was going to get her inside an inflatable hamster ball and throw her down a hillside.

Carl and Julia would’ve had a field day finding activities for me in this damned country. Everybody seems hell-bent on killing themselves one way or another. If it isn’t jumping off something it’s dropping into a hole in the ground or flinging themselves down a hillside. Crazy people. Crazy country.

Their next stop wasn’t likely to prove any better. Agroventures Adventure Park. I don’t even need to read the brochure to know I’m going to spend the next few hours hiding.

The only provocation Neal had offered at the zorbing place was a raised eyebrow.

Maybe he’s given up on his Chicken crusade and has accepted that I am, in fact, a coward.

Even as she thought the words she felt the heat rising in her chest. Why was it so hard to let a man like him think she was afraid?

*

“Right, peeps, here we are. Knock yourself out. There’s the jet boat, the freefall, the swoop, you can bungy or you can take on a friend in the Schweeb challenge.”

The driver grinned at them as they gathered in the car park. Claire felt like punching him and wished she’d paid more attention to the details of the tour before signing up. Surely there was a trip around New Zealand that didn’t involve being guilt-tripped into crazy adventures every five minutes. The old fogies tour or something. Although some of the people she’d seen climbing into the plastic zorb balls earlier that day hadn’t exactly been spring chickens.

“So, Claire. You and me on the Shweeb, how about it?”

Claire felt hot breath on her neck and shivered as the low voice penetrated into her gut. She drew air deep into her lungs before turning round. Neal stood far too close and she took a step back, causing his eyes to crinkle in amusement.

“I don’t even know what a Shweeb is. I don’t think it’s something I want to do with you.”

The primness of her tone made him chuckle and Claire cursed. That damned chuckle was going to be her undoing. It made her legs wobble.

“Come and see, fair maid. No contact required: just a straight fight, you and me. The loser buys dinner.”

He grinned and Claire felt a responding flutter deep in her stomach.

“Or if your muscles aren’t up to the challenge, you can always come swoop with me.”

Claire had seen the swoop. Plunging to earth in a sleeping bag with her arm wrapped round Neal’s was not going to happen, ever.

She wanted to walk away. The urgent message to her feet wasn’t getting through; they remained stubbornly stuck to the ground as Neal turned on his most sardonic stare.

“You’re the type of girl who does Spinning, right? An hour in the gym before work? This should be a doddle.”

Claire bristled at the accuracy of his barb. So, the Shweeb was a bike? How hard could that be? A quick glance down at Neal’s legs revealed the contours of an athlete.

The look didn’t go unnoticed and Neal put his hands on his hips before turning in a slow pirouette. “Like what you see? Think you can beat me?”

No. But, after all, it was only dinner. What harm in that? And she had to do something worth writing about on the blog. A bike ride sounded easy enough.

*

Claire looked up at the suspended monorail pods hanging like giant fruit on a silver vine.

Crap.

She traced the rail with her eyes, noticing the curves and corners and shuddered. Numbly following the chattering group into the launch area, she allowed herself to be guided into the glass pod.

“Your handle bars are there. The gears are here, click up and down. Stay in a low gear or you’ll burn your muscles beyond the point of recovery. Lean into the corners and good luck.”

Claire listened to the instructions as best she could through the buzzing in her ears. Glancing to her left she could see Neal grinning at her through the window.

The cage shook as someone slammed the door shut. Then she felt a shunt as she was pushed out towards the exit.

“Three, two, one, go!”

Claire almost forgot to peddle, but the forward momentum kick-started her legs without applying to her brain for permission. Clinging onto the handle bars she peddled furiously, muscles burning in reminder of the months since her last spinning class.

Just as she was about to relax and enjoy the physical sensation the pod swung out sideways, leaving her stomach somewhere behind on the curve. Claire swallowed the nausea and focussed on her breathing. She didn’t dare try and locate Neal, although she sensed the pods crossing over each other as the monorails weaved and twisted. Even though she knew there was no chance of beating him, Claire dug in as hard as she could.

Claire had lost all sense of how many laps she’d done, until she saw a flag waving to indicate it was her final time round. Dropping into a lower gear she pushed hard, determined not to be humiliated. She pictured the smug expression on Neal’s face were he to win and pedalled harder.

As the pod slid into the finish point, Claire let her legs drop from the pedals. Someone opened the door and Claire turned, relieved to be able to escape her torture chamber.

“Here, let me help you.”

Claire looked up into the face of her nemesis. His skin glistened, but there were no other visible signs of exertion. He’d finished in enough time to come and help her out her pod.

Bastard.

Ignoring the outstretched hand, Claire climbed out of the machine. Her knees buckled and she felt Neal’s arms around her, keeping her from falling.

“Good effort,” he breathed into her ear. “I believe you owe me dinner.”

He waited until she was standing upright, then brushed his hand down her sweaty back; leaving it lingering on her bottom.

Before she could protest he stepped away and was gone.

***