Lazy Day and Lego: 2013 365 Challenge #61

Lego: Lots of Adult Patience Required

Lego: Lots of Adult Patience Required

Had a lazy day at home today. I’m still struggling with awful insomnia, averaging 2-3 hours’ sleep a night. I’m taking St John’s Wort so hoping that will kick in soon and let me sleep.

Husband had work and DIY to do so I had planned to take the children into town (I have new paintings to drop at Art in the Heart) but Aaron was in full stomping NO territory and it just didn’t happen. I didn’t actually manage to get him dressed until 10.30am and then I forgot to make sure he was ‘pointing down’ in his nappy so had to change his entire outfit an hour later when he peed all over it at the lunch table.

The only thing I managed to do all day was pull together a 50-page partial manuscript to send to an agent who had requested it (for Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes ironically) and I only managed that by sitting the kids in front of the TV for an hour and ignoring shouts of “come sit with me Mummy.”

I feel like this is a good opportunity to reset the balance and fess up. In case anyone thinks I’m some kind of super-mum because my kids do craft and baking and go to the Farm and the Zoo: I only do those things to survive. I get bored if I can’t do something creative from time to time (hence painting and craft), I go crazy if I’m stuck in the house with them for more than two hours together (hence Zoo/Farm) and some days the only way not to yell is to be out in public where I’m likely to try harder to keep my mouth shut! Sometimes my kids beg to spend the day at home and I just can’t. I look at the clock and see twelve LONG hours until bedtime. Driving to the supermarket uses an hour up just in the car there and back. A trip to the Farm eats into three or four, maybe even five if they sleep on the way home.

From Here You Can Almost See The Sea - the picture I'm meant to be taking to the Gallery

From Here You Can Almost See The Sea – the picture I’m meant to be taking to the Gallery

Today, though, I was too tired to even drive. I lay in the paddling pool with them and read stories. I sat on the sofa with them for two hours after lunch while Aaron fell asleep watching Peppa Pig and Amber played on the iPad. I managed to crawl off the sofa and build Lego with Amber while Aaron slept some more (I never normally let him sleep for more than an hour as it makes bedtime hard, but today he slept for 2-3 hours). So, no super-mummy in this house! Just a normal SAHM getting on and getting by.

I went to bed last night without even starting my post. I think the insomnia might be partially due to using my creative brain from 8pm to midnight and then expecting it just to switch off. Also I’ve been working hard at Twitter and my mind flashes like a strobe light with all the snippets of information. Time to take a step back and let the brain rest.

Even so, I wrote two pages of notes just as I lay down in bed last night as I had the next post floating in my brain. Typical, as normally I have no idea what is going to happen to Claire next. I guess leaving her hanging off a cliff as it were does help the creative flow! Kids had me up every two hours between them so actually I needn’t have worried about setting myself up for a good night’s sleep! Thankfully it’s Saturday (hurrah!) and they’re watching TV with Daddy this morning so I can play catch up.


The Skoda closed in around Claire like a coffin. She looked out across the damp, grey Castlefield car park and wondered how far she could run before he caught her. This has gone from Miss Marple to bloomin Diagnose Murder. Her brain screamed Get out of the car before you’re next. Her body remained stubbornly glued to the plastic seat, all control over her muscles gone. Josh sat mute and still, the echo from his words still reverberating round them.

Claire inhaled slowly, filling her lungs with the scent of smoke and fear. It calmed the racing thoughts and brought her logic to the fore. Killed a child. Not murdered a child. An accident. Maybe he ran a child over or something. It doesn’t make him a bad person.

She wanted to ask but was afraid to hear the answers. She forced her head to turn and face him and the sight of his slumped body, of the tears dribbling down his stubbled cheek, drove everything but sympathy from her mind.

“Tell me.”

The words made them both jump; her voice sounded impossibly loud in the silence.

Josh began to speak, slowly at first, then faster and faster as the pent-up words rushed forth like a burst riverbank.

“It was a patient. A child. The same age as my eldest. The young children are the hardest. They’re so accepting of their fate. So cheerful. Uncrushable.” He paused as if trying to decide where to start. “I missed something. I should have ordered a test and I didn’t. I was cocky, I was sure. My Registrar overruled me and ordered the test but it was too late.”

Claire felt her stomach twist and her breathing speed up. She forced herself to listen without comment.

“The parents were so…. nice. Accepting. They’re worse than the ones that rail and rant. They thanked me. Thanked me. For doing everything I could to save their child. But I didn’t. I failed them. I missed something.” He ran his hand through his hair and sighed loudly. “There’s this fear, when you’re a doctor. It keeps you awake at night. Did I do something wrong? Have I done everything I can? It’s good. It keeps you on your toes, keeps you focussed. But I’d lost the fear. We had a new baby at home and there wasn’t much sleep.”

How many kids has he got, Claire thought but pushed the irrelevance aside.

“I was trying to help Fiona, trying to be a good father. Sick kids just make me want to hold mine tightly and never let go. But I keep thinking, was my judgement impaired? The inquest cleared me but, in my heart, eating me up like the cancer that killed that child, I’m to blame.”

“But if they cleared you?”

Josh turned suddenly, his skin mottled and red. He leant towards her and shouted, the words raking at her like claws. “You don’t get it. I blame me. Every night I see that tiny face, those enormous eyes gazing into mine. The mother looking to me for answers, certain she would find them. And I failed them. I let their child die.” He slumped back into the car seat and dropped his head into his hands. His words were muffled. “I had to leave. I couldn’t look at my own children any more. I don’t deserve them.”

Emotions swam around Claire like darting fish. Gut-wrenching sympathy, confusion, panic at Josh’s outburst. Mostly she felt sorrow. Sadness for Josh and his pain. Distress for the family who lost their child. Grief at her own insignificant meaningless life. How could I ever stress about clients and deadlines, about Carl and getting sacked? It was all pointless. No one will die if I don’t do a good job.

She reached across and stroked the side of Josh’s hand, unable to find any words of comfort that wouldn’t sound paltry and pathetic. She wanted to tell him he would always be one of the good guys. That working to save lives, even if he didn’t always succeed, was a noble thing. That Fiona was lucky to have him for a husband and his children needed their Daddy back. Her throat remained closed and all she could do was send silent support.

She thought about Fiona, left with at least two children to care for, wondering where her husband was. Getting on a plane to fly half way round the world, just her and the children. And I worry about taking Sky in a hostel for a week. Honestly girl, you’re pitiful.

Claire dredged her mind for the right words. Her job was all about finding the right phrase but her brain remained blank. In the end there was only one thing to say.

“Let’s go get drunk.”


A daughter’s rejection and 2013 365 Challenge #22

Jungle Party Prep box

Jungle Party Prep box

So far I seem to be taking the agent rejection thing in my stride. I’ve sent out about ten submissions and had two or three rejections. That’s fine, I expected it. Occassionally if I really liked the agency I’m disappointed but I certainly haven’t taken it personally. However I have discovered a type of rejection today that does hurt.

My daughter’s.

I spent the afternoon painting props for my daughter’s Jungle party, which we’re having in our house this weekend. Nothing fancy just a giant palm tree, a pin-the-tail-on-the-zebra and some leaves for Musical Leaves (think musical chairs). I showed them to her after nursery and her first response was “that one isn’t quite covered. You missed some.” And that was it.

And it HURT.

Jungle Leaves for Musical Leaves

Jungle Leaves for Musical Leaves

I wanted to yell all sorts of rude things at her. Analysing my over-reaction afterwards I realised that I wasn’t (that) bothered that she didn’t like my jungle leaves. It was more that she was being exactly like me. When my husband does house DIY I’m much more likely to say, “what about this bit?” than “well done that’s amazing.”

Breeding a mini-me has forced me to come to grips with my worst habits and traits and it’s HARD. I’m also worried that she won’t enjoy her party because of something I haven’t managed to get right. She has talked about her birthday party pretty much every day since the last one and it’s become a big thing in her mind. Settling on having a zebra party (which I have expanded to be a jungle party) has put my ingenuity to the test. So far I have only failed to source a zebra cake (and I don’t do baking) so not sure what I’m going to do about that. Hoping I’ll find a store that will do one of those print-from-picture things.

Anyway, as today has been mostly party prep and a couple of query letters I haven’t done any research on Alnwick Youth Hostel. I’m trying to decide whether to send Claire to the castle or focus on her first night in a dorm. You’ll find out in a minute which I chose!


Claire put her key in the lock, opened the door,  and peered into the room as if someone might jump out and attack her. It was dark so she reached inside for a light switch, hoping no one was asleep. Surely no one will be in bed at 8pm?

A quick scan of the bunk beds showed them all unoccupied. Claire released a breath she didn’t realise she had been holding and stepped into the room. It looked like only one or two of the four beds were taken, as there were only two bags in the room. Relieved to be alone Claire shut the door behind her and had a proper look at the room. The walls were blue and cream and there were stripy curtains in similar colours.

It’s not about to win any décor or luxury awards but at least it’s clean.

She looked closely at the beds and realised that both bottom bunks had been claimed by the current occupants. Maybe I should have come straight to the room this morning, I might have been able to claim a bottom bunk. She didn’t fancy the idea of climbing up and down a ladder in the night. I haven’t slept in a top bunk since I was about eight and I got concussion falling out in the night. Thank god mum thought it was time for me and Ruth to have our own rooms.

The memory brought others to mind. How Ruth used to wriggle, shaking the bed as she shifted position every fifteen minutes. How her snoring that would resonate up through the mattress when she had a cold. Claire felt a chill prickle her skin. She hated sharing her space with people. Except Michael. The words entered her mind only to be shoved away.

Claire chose the bunk furthest from the door and tucked her bag in the corner. She removed her nightie and wash-bag from the rucksack and threw them on the bed to stake her claim. Then, with nothing else to keep her, she decided it was time to go and have dinner. She hesitated before taking her iPad from its position stuffed between cashmere sweaters. She had avoided having it on display in the hostel in case it marked her as different, but she needed to spend some time on Twitter and the other social media sites and it would prevent her from looking like an idiot by herself at dinner.

The hostel dining room reminded Claire of school dinners at primary school, before she was whisked away to join the same school her father had attended. Not that there had been girls there in his day. The dining hall there had been rather more opulent.

Claire chose a seat in the corner and prayed no one else would join her. There were a few people in the dining room but it wasn’t crowded. Claire ordered the most palatable thing on offer, then loaded up her blog and tried to think of something interesting to write. She had spent the day in a giant second hand bookstore – largely because it was warm and she didn’t have to walk anywhere. She wasn’t a big reader, but had found herself caught up in some silly romance with a bright cover. The book was in her bag upstairs. Purely for research purposes, so I can embody the backpacker spirit.

“Hello, may we join you?”

Claire looked up from her iPad to see two blonde girls standing in front of her holding trays. A swift glance confirmed what she already knew – that there were empty tables in the dining room. Claire hesitated. She couldn’t bring herself to tell the women no, feck off. But at the same time she didn’t fancy being crowded in by a couple of strangers. She noticed a flicker of consternation whisk across one of the girl’s faces and relented.

“Of course, please.” She gestured to the empty seats and sat back so her iPad wasn’t taking up table space. There are two of them, it’s not like I need to make conversation. Claire resolutely stared at her screen, giving off her best Metro-travelling vibes, the ones that created an area of blank space around her even when the trains were crushed with commuters. It failed.

“Hi, my name is Ola, this is my sister Francis. We are from Sweden. The nice man at reception said you were staying in our room, so we come to say hello.”

Claire looked up and stifled a sigh. She couldn’t ignore them now, no matter how tempting it was to pretend she didn’t speak English. “Hi, I’m Claire, nice to meet you.”

“You are English yes? You travel long?”

The one Claire thought was Ola was clearly puzzled that someone would choose to travel solo round their own country in the middle of winter. Or that’s what I would think anyway. Who knows what she’s thinking under that beautiful Scandinavian mask. Claire tried to decide whether to come up with a story more interesting than the truth, but she couldn’t find the energy. She settled for a slight twisting of the facts.

“I’m a writer. I’m researching a piece on hostelling in Britain.”

The girl who hadn’t yet spoken, Francis, lit up at the words. “You write for Lonely Planet?” She spoke the words reverentially, as if Lonely Planet were on a par with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

“No, sorry, it’s an independent piece.” She finished speaking then gazed away, signalling that she had no more conversation. The girls took the hint and began talking quietly to each other in their own language.

I wonder if they’re talking about me? Claire eyed up the lasagne and garlic bread the girls were eating and wondered if it was too late to change her order.

If one of us is going to reek of garlic all night, I want it to be me.


Snowy, crafty day and 2013 365 Day #20

The Great Hall, Oundle School, in the snow

The Great Hall, Oundle School, in the snow

We’ve had a glorious family day today.

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

And that’s what we did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Silly Mistakes and 2013 365 Challenge #18

Dewar's Lane Granary (The Berwick YHA building prior to coversion) from Sallyport to Barbara Carr

Dewar’s Lane Granary (The Berwick YHA building prior to coversion) from Sallyport. Photograph by Barbara Carr

I made a basic error yesterday when sending out a query email. I have a track sheet with all submission guidelines (length of synopsis, how many chapters to send etc) for my shortlisted agencies and I spent three hours compiling a cover letter and pack for The Blair Partnership (I’m working through the list in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, approaching agencies that seem a good fit and will take email submissions). I hit send in time to go and collect the kids, feeling happy with a job well done. Until I started looking at the next name on the list and realised (oh no…) that I’d accidentally followed their submission guidelines for The Blair Partnership. So I’d sent a long synoposis and 3 chapters instead of a one-page synopsis and one chapter.


What a waste of three hours. I resent my submission but I can’t help but feel that has plonked me directly in the reject pile. A tweet I read from an agent yesterday said

“Am ruthless when there’s loads of submissions to read: If they can’t be bov to read our guidelines, I might not be bov to read their book.”

Good advice which I tried very hard to follow today when I sent my next batch of query emails.

The quote was reweeted by someone I follow and I didn’t pay any attention to who wrote the original message. When I went to copy it into this post I noticed that the message was written by Julia Churchill of the Greenhouse Literary Agency. The same woman I sent a submission to earlier today! It’s a small world. I wish I’d noticed the connection, I could have mentioned reading her tweet in my submission and how it made me double and triple check that I sent her the right stuff.

Another missed opportunity.

It doesn’t matter how many blogs, books and articles you read on how to send query letters it’s still a huge learning curve!

This evening is all about researching the first hostel on my list – Berwick. I still haven’t received my YHA membership card so I can’t send off for a hostel guide. Google it is then. It has reminded me that Claire doesn’t have YHA membership so might incorporate that into today’s post somehow.

P.S. After three hours of wandering around the web I have an excessive amount of information about Berwick YHA in my head and on my computer. My brain is too full to write my post! This level of research is new to me and I am learning that you can know too much, it stifles your creativity. What I can’t find is a picture of the front entrance so I’m going to have to put Claire somewhere in the hostel… Right, let’s write.

Usual disclaimers apply – I haven’t visited this hostel, my writing is part fiction part research and no offence is in anyway intended.


Claire peered through the dark at the place her sat nav had decided was her Final Destination. It looked like a small car park surrounded by an eclectic mix of buildings. Her ears rang with the silence of the evening as she pulled into a bay and turned off the ignition. Every part of her body ached.

I’m not going to have to worry about how to stay fit without my annual gym membership; this car is a workout all by itself.

Claire looked through the windows for the green YHA sign that she thought would greet her arrival but all she could see were cars and walls. She pulled out her iPad and loaded up the hostel page but there was no more information.

Bugger. I guess I’ll just have to wander around until I find it. Claire got out and looked around the car park. She didn’t welcome the prospect of staggering about in the dark. I wish I’d managed to get here in daylight. She turned and glared at the car.

“We would have done too if you hadn’t overheated three times in that traffic jam. Stupid car.”

She could hear a clock chiming the half-hour and realised she had no idea which hour it was. The last fifty miles had passed in a daze of exhaustion and misery. It was one thing travelling around the country in a modern Audi, knowing you were staying in a four star hotel when you got there. A bit different hauling this heap of shit three hundred miles up the country to stay in a flea-infested hostel.

Claire dragged her rucksack from the passenger seat, not willing to leave it in the car even though she barely had the strength to lift it onto her shoulders. Please God let this damn place be close by.

“Are you lost my dear?”

Claire looked round but couldn’t locate the source of the voice.

“Are you staying at the hostel, perhaps? The YHA one?”

Claire caught a faint scent of perfume, the kind her grannie used to wear. She looked down and saw a petit lady standing in the shadows smiling at her.

“I guessed by the rucksack. I’m staying there too, would you like me to show you how to get in? It’s easy to miss in the dark.” When Claire didn’t answer the lady walked a bit closer. “Do you speak English my dear?” She enunciated the words as if talking to someone hard of hearing.

“I’m English,” Claire managed. “And yes, thank you, I am looking for the YHA.” Claire was too tired to question why someone who looked the wrong side of seventy was staying in a Youth Hostel. I guess I don’t really count as youth either if it comes to it. She followed the lady a short distance to a building which loomed four or five stories above them, blocking out the star-spattered sky.

“I’m Hattie, I’m in one of the dorms. Are you staying long?”

Claire forced her scattered mind to focus on the voice. “Er, no, two nights.”

“That’s a shame. Lovely hostel this.” When Claire didn’t respond Hattie peered up into her face. “You look done in. Get yourself checked in and get some sleep. I’ll probably see you at breakfast?” She made the statement into a question but turned and scurried away before Claire could answer.

Claire let the rucksack drop from her shoulders and gazed around without seeing, unsure what to do next.

“Can I help you?” Another voice hailed her, male this time. “I’m the hostel manager. Are we expecting you?”

Claire turned and smiled at the man. “Yes, my name is Claire Carleton.”

“Ah yes, you’re booked into a twin room for two nights. Come with me I’ll get you checked in and you’ll be snuggled under your duvet in no time. You look like you could sleep standing up.”

Twin room? Claire’s mind latched onto the only part of the sentence that mattered. By myself? No sharing, no strangers snoring? For the first time in weeks Claire was conscious of a feeling of gratitude towards AJC. She stood waiting by her rucksack but the man didn’t offer to carry it, just walked off without checking whether she was following. Claire felt her cheeks flush red as she stooped to retrieve her bag.

The next ten minutes were a blur of forms and questions. Claire had a vague recollection of being shown a bistro which seemed just a sea of lime green. Very on-trend was Claire’s only thought. She was then ushered into a lift and escorted to her room on the third or fourth floor, she didn’t notice which. This doesn’t seem right for a hostel. I thought they chucked a key at you and handed you a sheet? They certainly don’t carry your bag. Claire felt the straps digging into her tired shoulders and gave up trying to make sense of it all..

As the hostel manager opened the door to her room Claire felt she might weep. It was bright and neat, if slightly like a posh prison with its grey wall and grey metal beds. Not a plush hotel by any means but the duvet looked thick and comfortable and she could spy an en-suite through another door.

The hostel manager handed Claire a sheet. “You’ll need to make up your bed and you can hire towels if you haven’t brought any. You’re booked in for breakfast and if you want dinner you can go down to the Bistro, or there’s a pub and an Indian not far away. I can’t imagine you’ll want to cook tonight but, if you do, the guest communal area is on the fifth floor.”

He stood for a moment as if waiting for Claire to respond. When it was clear she had no words he nodded a farewell, handed her the key, and left the room. Claire’s senses were overwhelmed by twelve hours of new experiences. Her body fought conflicting needs: a shower, coffee, dinner and sleep all seemed equally important. Half-heartedly flicking the sheet over one of the beds Claire collapsed full length and dragged the duvet over her head.

Sleep first, everything else could wait.


Brrrrr – 2013 365 Challenge Day #17

It's very cold here today but also very beautiful

It’s very cold here today but also very beautiful

We sent the kids off to nursery this afternoon. The youngest is teething, and the eldest is going through a period of nightmares, which means sleep is a rare commodity. With my husband looking for work it’s tough having clingy/grumpy/tantrumy kids in the house, so it seemed fairer to all of them to have them go play with their friends for the afternoon. I spent my bonus four hours sending out just one query letter (have I mentioned how long a process it is?) Hopefully it’ll be worth it one day.

I had a lovely surprise yesterday when I found out that someone wrote about my 2013 365 challenge on their blog. One Wild Word mentioned my challenge in relation to a post on a daily writing routine. I left a comment on the post about the writing routine that I am starting to develop and thought I’d repeat it here.

My writing routine has settled into starting the post as soon as the children are in bed, while cooking dinner for me and my husband. I then polish the writing during the evening (with my fingers in my ears if what’s on the tele is more interesting!). If I get it finished by bedtime I schedule it for the next morning (I work a day behind so I always have a slight buffer in case I don’t finish it). If I’ve had to go up to the kids two or three times during the evening I have the next morning to finish my post by my self-imposed 10am deadline. It’s kind of working so far, although some days my mind is blank after 10 hours of tantrums and I don’t really know what I’ve actually written! This is the first time I’ve ever written every day and it’s a very new experience. I think I actually prefer writing just on nursery days (2 days a week) but now I have committed to the challenge I must continue. There’s nothing like announcing something on the web to force you to get on with it…

Blyth Services in the snow. Spot the Costa sign. Photo taken on 06/12/2010 by Ian Sykes

Blyth Services in the snow. Spot the Costa sign.
Photo taken on 06/12/2010 by Ian Sykes

So, now you know! (You also now know that when I say things like “it’s been really cold today” that’s actually the day before because of my built-in buffer. As many of my readers are in the USA the time zones are all mashed anyway.)

Anyway on to today’s post. I have been Google-Mapping today to work out Claire’s journey to Berwick. Have found this useful site to help me decide which Services she might stop at. As one blog I follow puts it Have Internet, Will Travel(I also discovered that a large coffee at Starbucks is a Grande but at Costa it’s a Massimo. The things you learn doing online research!)


Claire looked at the white shape on the road and shivered. There had been a heavy frost overnight and the Skoda looked like an igloo recently teleported from the North Pole.

“Great. Just what today needed.”

She pulled her jacket tighter and scurried back to her parents’ house to get some warm water. This was beyond what could be battled with de-icer.

The house was dark and silent as she let herself in through the kitchen door. All goodbyes, such as they were, had been said the night before as Claire had gone up to bed. Her mother had managed a muttered “Good luck” and her father had told her half-heartedly to call. Not once in the two days she had spent at home had either of them asked what her assignment was. Of course she hadn’t wanted to tell them so that was fine by her.

At last Claire was inside the car staring out through the only part of the windscreen that hadn’t immediately refrozen. My Audi would have told me how cold it actually is out there, warned me to drive carefully and heated my seat for me. The Skoda seats were freezing and she couldn’t hold the steering wheel with her bare hands. Please start, Claire prayed as she yanked out the choke and turned the key. She raised her eyebrows as the Skoda fired up immediately.

I guess being designed for Eastern Europe must have some advantages. Who knew?

The sat nav was already programmed to take her to Berwick-Upon-Tweed so Claire stuck it to the windscreen and tried not to dwell on the five-hour journey time. The current estimated time of arrival was 11am but Claire knew it was going to be nearer twelve hours on the road by the time she had coaxed the car three hundred miles north.

Claire had been driving for nearly three hours when her gurgling tummy prompted her to take a break. The sat nav said she had travelled only a third of the distance to Berwick. Despite most of the driving being on the dual carriage way or motorway Claire was exhausted. Driving the Skoda was much more involved than driving the Audi. Remembering to turn on the fan when the engine got hot; pushing the choke back in when the car coughed and spluttered; trying to judge the gaps in traffic with wing-mirrors that moved out of position when the car went over fifty miles per hour; overtaking with zero acceleration. Claire sighed and began looking out for Services signs.

A sleek black BMW pulled up behind her in the outside lane and immediately began flashing his lights. Claire looked down at the speedometer: she was doing 72 miles an hour.

“I’m doing the speed limit you arsehole. Can’t you see I’m overtaking?” She looked left at the articulated lorry doing 56 in the inside lane. As she pulled ahead of the lorry it also flashed its lights and Claire wondered what he had to be grumpy about. Then she realised he was telling her it was okay to pull in. Her cheeks flushed hot as she swung her car in front of the lorry and raised a hand in thanks.

At last she saw a sign for the Services and gratefully took the exit. “Robin Hood Airport? I want to go there!” Claire smiled for the first time that day as she headed for the roundabout. She was tempted to drive into Bawtry and have a proper stop but she wanted to get nearer to her final destination before she relaxed. She followed the signs for the Services instead and heaved a huge sigh as a Costa billboard filled her vision.

“Coffee, hurrah.”

Claire sat at wobbly metal table, surrounded by harassed families and focussed business men. She looked at her phone and was shocked to see it was only ten o’clock. Hey, maybe I will be in Berwick by lunchtime.

She gazed out the window, her massimo skinny latte clasped between her hands for warmth. It wasn’t quite Starbucks, and there were more calories in a Costa, but after three hours of driving it was extremely welcome. A strange feeling settled over her. Claire tried to analyse it. It was a soft feeling, the kind associated with snuggly duvets and the Sunday papers in bed. She felt… relaxed.

“Oh my goodness, Claire? Is that you? What are you doing in this hell hole?”

Claire didn’t register the voice immediately. There was no reason for anyone to know her here. The hail was accompanied by the tip-tapping of heels across the polished floor. The voice spoke again, nearer this time.

“It is Claire, isn’t it?”

Claire turned and saw a wave of blonde hair surrounding immaculate red lips and an insincere smile. Her stomach plummeted as the snuggly feeling evaporated.

“Linda. How lovely to see you. Apologies, I was miles away.”

The woman adjusted the strap of her handbag and took a seat opposite Claire without asking. Stifling a sigh Claire hitched a smile on her face and tried to remember all the pertinent facts about the woman sat beaming in front of her. She was marketing director for an electronics company but the name of the business eluded Claire. I’ve never forgotten details like that before. What’s happening to me?

“So, what brings you this side of the country? I thought your stomping ground was Cheshire.” Linda looked Claire up and down, taking in her jeans and hiking jacket. “Holiday?” The sneer was palpable.

“In a manner of speaking.” Claire had no intention of giving anything away to this woman. It would be all over Twitter before her coffee got cold. Claire’s tone of voice would have silenced lesser beings but Linda was made of more impenetrable stuff.

“How… novel.”

Claire ground her teeth and tried to think of a way to get rid of the woman without being rude. Thankfully Fate intervened in the guise of Linda’s ringing phone. Signalling her apology, the woman got up from the table and trotted to the door to get a better signal.

I hadn’t factored in meeting people I know. I haven’t really thought this through at all. Even with a new Twitter Handle, Facebook page and blog, people are going to find me. This is so not cool. Carl I am going to make you wish your sorry arse never crossed my path.


Rejection and the 365 Challenge Day #16

This was actually taken a few years ago when I had time to do such things! It looked like this outside today though...

This was actually taken a few years ago when I had time to do such things! It looked like this outside today though…

I received my first rejection for Dragon Wraiths today. I’m quite happy about it. I’ve sent out about a dozen query emails for the novel (did I mention just how long it takes to research an agency, choose the right agent, pitch the query letter as close as possible to what they want and then send it?) and this is the first reply I’ve had. So it was a rejection, so what? Aren’t you meant to get about forty rejections before you’re accepted? So that’s one step nearer.

Our dog Kara enjoying the snow

Our dog Kara enjoying the snow

It reminded me of a bit in Clare Balding’s great autobiography My Animals and Other Family where she and her brother are told a jockey isn’t a real jockey until he’s fallen off his horse a certain amount of times (I think it was sixty but if I go and check I’ll start reading the book again and I already have no idea what I’m writing for today’s Claire post so that will scupper it entirely.) Anyway, the kids keep falling off their horses deliberately, in order to build up to the magic number. Their frustrated mother points out that it doesn’t count if you do it on purpose. I’ve sent out query letters before but I haven’t put my heart and soul into them. This time I’m doing it properly so this is my first genuine rejection. Only 39 to go.

IMG_9930 (2000x1333)

Taken in the field across from our house. I get to walk this every day (when my knee isn’t playing up as it is now!)

As mentioned above I don’t know what I’m writing about today for my novel. I’ve spent the last twelve hours with two fragile, screaming, over-tired preschoolers, taking them to play with their friends and then going sledging. My nerves are zinging and I’m only fit for bed. So I’m just going to write and see what happens. Apologies if it stinks! I have joined the YHA and am just waiting for my membership card in order to be able to send off for a guide to the hostels. Once that arrives I’ll be able to start my proper research, plan out Claire’s travel route and get on with the novel proper. Until then it’ll probably be another post introducing characters which hopefully won’t be as boring as it sounds.


“Please pass the salt.”

Claire located the salt pot amidst the silverware on the table and handed it to her father. He thanked her without making eye contact and returned to demolishing his lamb roast.

Chewing the slightly over-cooked meat, Claire looked up at her parents’ bowed heads and wondered when they got so grey. And boring. I remember when they used to talk at dinner. Maybe I’m making them feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t a nice thought. Claire was used to not getting a prodigal-son welcome when she came home but the constraint surrounding her at the dinner table that evening was suffocating.

“Kim’s dyed her hair red for a role in a Shakespeare play.”

“Hmmm.” Her mother speared a green bean and put it in her mouth.

“She looks great, like a life-size pixie.”

“Hmmm.” This time it was a baby carrot that felt the fork.

“She’s having her nipple pierced and leaving Jeff for the cleaning lady.”

“Hmmm… I beg your pardon?” Her mother’s face whipped up and she looked at Claire for the first time since they sat at the table.

“Joking. Just wondered if I was actually here.”

“It’s not healthy to talk and eat, it causes you to take in too much air. Your father suffers from heartburn so we have silence at the table.” She spoke the last words pointedly and returned to the massacre of the vegetables.

Sighing quietly, Claire focussed on eating her dinner as swiftly as possible. She had had plenty of time to regret coming to visit her parents in the two days since she’d arrived. She had barely shared three words with her mother and tonight at the dinner table was the first time her father had even appeared. She was shocked to see how old he looked.

Has it really been so long since I visited, or has he been aging in double-time since he retired?

Claire tried to turn her mind away from the mausoleum of the dinner table and think nice thoughts. Her future wasn’t exactly swimming in them. In the morning she had to load her hated rucksack into her loathed old banger and drive 300 miles to stay in a flea-ridden youth hostel. She had taken the decision to invest in a Sat Nav, having found it difficult to even get home to her parents’ house without the inbuilt one in her company Audi. It had taken until an hour ago for her to bring herself to plot in the route to Berwick and she was shocked to find out it was going to take at least five hours to get there when she left in the morning.

Probably six or seven in that stupid car, it only manages seventy-miles-an-hour downhill with the wind behind it. I’m going to have to leave at 5a.m. to get there by dinner time. She looked around the table at the chewing waxwork figures of her parents and gave a tiny shrug. That’s not going to be a hardship. I might not want to go to Berwick but I can’t wait to leave here.

As she tried to get comfortable in the z-bed her mother had deigned to put up for her, claiming the linen in the spare room was in the laundry, Claire mused that at least she’d had some practice sleeping in a lumpy bumpy bed. That was the only prep she had done for the big adventure that was due to start in a mere twenty-four hours.

It’ll be fine, she thought sleepily. I’m good at winging it.


Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it melt. Day #15 of the 2013 Challenge.

My husband and I had fun building this while the kids were at nursery

My husband and I had fun building this while the kids were at nursery

I’ve spent most of today trying to get back to editing Pictures of Love while watching the snow get steadily thicker outside. I need to monitor the snow to make sure it doesn’t get so heavy we can’t get to nursery to pick the kids up.

My kids looking very unimpressed to be out in the snow at 7.30am

My kids looking very unimpressed to be out in the snow at 7.30am

I took them out in the snow before we left this morning, in case it doesn’t hang around, and they were ready to come in after five minutes. They prefer a nice deep muddy puddle or a warm sandy beach I think. Daddy’s going to be disappointed – he’s desperate for them to be able to put their own gloves on so we can all go skiing.

It’s been hard getting back to Pictures of Love. I know it so well now I am truly sick of reading it (hence why the first chapters are so much more polished than the last. This is the fifth time I’ve sat down to edit it and I don’t think I’ve made it to the end once). My boredom makes me think I should just bin it and accept it’s never going to fly.

Somehow I can’t do that.

My husband was rather pleased with his snowman

My husband was rather pleased with his snowman

It isn’t just all the hours that have gone into writing it. It’s more the ‘not giving up’ ethos that I know goes with being a writer. Who am I to say it’s awful? Anything that’s familiar becomes ordinary no matter how beautiful it may appear to someone else.

I recently got back the critique of the first chapter I paid for as part of a competition and it was surprisingly enthusiastic. I’ve had the first chapter critiqued before and they basically tore it to shreds, finding nothing to commend it. I’m okay with criticism but you’ve got to have something to build on! This time, though, it was praised for its strong voice and humour – things I was worried it didn’t have.

So I’m not giving up, just plod-plodding along. I’ve decided to send out some query letters – the novel isn’t ready to be self-published so I may as well fill the time somehow. At least I know the first three chapters are polished! (By the way, how bloomin’ long does it take to write query letters and find people to send them to! I can’t believe how many hours I can lose and still only send one query…)

Enough rambling. Here is the latest installment of the YHA Novel.


“Claire, over here!”

Claire looked round the half-empty pub for a familiar face but nothing jumped out. She was casting her gaze back across the bar when she saw a hand waving from a dark corner.

“Kim, there you are.” Claire made her way through stools and tables to reach her friend. “Your hair! My God, I didn’t recognise you.”

She bent over to kiss her friend’s cheek before sliding in next to her. Her eyes fixed on the bright red points sticking up from her Kim’s head. “I don’t know what’s more dramatic, the colour or the spikes.”

“I know, wicked isn’t it? Mum hates it…” She giggled like a little girl.

“Kim, you’re not sixteen anymore you know: pissing off your mum doesn’t need to be your primary concern.” She laughed, but in truth she was shocked. Kim’s hair had always been a beautiful blonde. It was the reason they met.

Claire remembered it, even now. She had crossed the playground on their first day at primary school and asked if she could touch Kim’s hair. It had been soft, like a fairy princess’s. Claire had tugged at her own thick brown locks in disgust. Now Claire stroked her dark straight hair and marvelled at her friend’s bravery.

“Oh I didn’t do it just to annoy Mum, although that’s always fun. No, I’m in a play, it’s part of the costume.”

“Is it a wig?”

“Nah, they offered one but where’s the fun in that?”

Claire laughed at her friend. “Shall I get drinks?”

Kim nodded. It was an unspoken rule between them that Claire got the drinks. Kim had been an actress since University and had yet to secure anything that paid more than a pittance, while Claire’s work had always been well remunerated.

“So, what’s the play?”

Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’m playing puck.”

“Hey, that’s great. I thought puck was normally a boy?”

Kim smiled cheekily, looking every inch the playful character. “There’s no ‘normally’ in Shakespeare. You’ve got to remember they were all originally played by men.”

“Talking of men, how’s yours?”

Kim flushed and grinned. “Hot, hard, handsome.”

Claire felt a pain under her rib cage at the look on her friend’s face. Kim had been engaged to her fiancé Jeff for two years. They were waiting for more affluent circumstances before they got married. The girls hadn’t seen each other for months, not since Michael, although they were linked on Facebook. Claire tensed, waiting for Kim to start the twenty questions. She stared at her drink then flicked her eyes up to her friend’s pale pixie face.

“Your mum told me you were starting a new assignment.” Kim gazed at Claire over her glass and they shared a look which said they knew what wasn’t being discussed. Claire smiled gratefully then took a gulp of her G&T before taking in what Kim had said.

“Mum said that? Blimey, I thought she never listened to a word I said. Wonders never cease.”

“So, come on, what’s the assignment? What drags you out of Manchester mid-week to visit folks and old friends? Not that you rang me…” She raised an eyebrow in mock censure.

“Sorry Kim, my head’s been all over the place. I only decided last night that I was going to come home today.” Claire paused, trying to decide how much to say. Even though they had known each other for over two decades, she and Kim hadn’t been close all that time. When Claire had been sent to public school the girls had drifted apart. They’d got back in touch during their University years and caught up for drinks when Claire was in Cambridge, which wasn’t often.

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” Kim didn’t sound put-out, just genuinely as if she didn’t want to press her friend for information. Claire thought about the people at AJC she had regarded as friends. Maybe there’s more to friendship than sharing a taste in shoes and handbags. And hairstyles, she added, glancing at the pillar-box red locks shining above Kim’s face.

“They’re trying to make me resign.” It was the first time Claire had said it out loud as if it were fact. She was gratified to see the horror on Kim’s face.

“How? Why?”

“The how is easy, I’m not so sure about the why.” Claire took a deep breath before launching into the tale of her last few weeks, right up to buying her new boots. She angled her foot out from under the table. “Gorgeous aren’t they?”

“I’d rather have the £130 quid!” Kim laughed. “I could buy some fake Uggs for a tenner and pay two weeks rent with the rest.” She let her cheeks fall into an approximation of a serious expression. “So, you’re taking on the assignment then?”

Claire hadn’t told Kim about her Maldives plan. She didn’t want Kim to think of her as a quitter. “Yes, I’ll be driving up to Berwick on Friday.”

“Wow, you’re so brave. That’s about as far out your comfort zone as me putting on tights and heels and tip-tapping into your office to sit at your desk.” She grinned at the mental image and mimed typing at a computer. “Would it suit me?”

Claire laughed too, feeling some of the tension leave her face and shoulders. “You’d be brilliant. You could give Polly, Molly and Sally a run for their money.”

“What are they, the office cats?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Make sure you stay in touch. I don’t get to see much of the country unless it’s the inside of a theatre. Post pictures.”

“That’s part of the assignment. Not that I’ve given it much thought. I suppose I’d better think of a blog name, a Twitter handle, all that bollocks.” She took another swig of G&T. “What should it be? My boss is trying to hound me out?”

“How about Posh Girl Goes Camping?” Kim sniggered. “Not that it’s anything like camping. Most of the rooms are en-suite these days.”

“How about Around England in Thirty Starbucks?” Claire thought about her budget. “Not that I’ll be able to afford them anymore.

Have Helly Hansons, will travel?”

“Now you’re being silly! No, nothing’s really grabbing me.”

“You’re an Advertising Guru, surely you can think of something?”

Claire sighed. “Apparently I’m not a very good one. Advertising is all about promotion, but who wants to read about my slumming it in hostels for a whole year? I bet Coca Cola had nothing to do with it, it’s all just a sham cooked up by Carl.”

“What if it isn’t though?” Kim looked thoughtful. “I mean, Coca Cola, that’s huge. A horrid Corporate conglomerate peddling a disgusting unhealthy drink but, in your world, it’s big cheese. It might be your chance to get your revenge on your stupid boss.”

Claire considered Kim’s words. She’d forgotten Coca Cola. What if the assignment was for real?

Maybe I should start taking it a bit more seriously.


Reach for the prize

Cover of "Notes From An Exhibition"

Every year about this time I start thinking about writing competitions. More specifically the Bridport Prize.  I did the same when I was painting. The theory goes something like this: enter prestigious competition, win competition (or get shortlisted at least) and therefore have something to talk about in query letters when trying to sell my other work.

I never do enter though, not with my writing. With the abstract paintings I used to gamble the entry fee on the rare chance someone would connect with one of my pieces: art is even more subjective than literature. Not that it ever paid off, mind you. I spent a fortune in entry fees before I accepted the truth.

With writing, though, I always talk myself out of it. The usual litany of excuses: I can’t see my brand of frothy romance getting past the first round; I don’t have the time; I’ve never really been a short story writer (I’ve probably written half a dozen since I started writing again four years ago and they were all for my university course.)

This year though I felt something different.


For lots of reasons: I’ve just started thinking about short stories, after waking up with one in my head last week (see last entry). That one ended up in the post to Woman’s Weekly on Friday. I enjoyed writing it, but mostly – surprisingly – I enjoyed editing it. Working with a few thousand words instead of a hundred thousand meant I had the patience to think about every line, every word. Okay, mostly that was because I was cutting 800 words out to fit the Woman’s Weekly word count. But whatever the reason, I was forced to tighten up my prose and I felt pleased with the result.

So Bridport popped into my head again. Maybe this year I could read some award winning short stories, try and understand what it takes. Come up with a less frothy theme than my usual romance. Give it a go. I was further spurred on by noticing the short story judge this year is Patrick Gale, whose novel Notes from an Exhibition is one of my all-time favourite reads.

Then I noticed they’ve moved the deadline from end of June to end of May. Four weeks away. It also happens to be my husband’s 40th birthday, as well as being the week before we take our annual family trip to see the rellies in Italy.

I’ve basically got seven nursery days to sort out a birthday pressie for the man who wants nothing, buy new clothes for the kids, pack and all that jazz, plus read a hundred short stories, come up with an amazing concept, write a fantastic story and edit it until it glows.

Or I could just wait until next year…

I’ll keep you posted.

P.S In my Bridport frenzy I came across some interesting blog entries. See below, particularly the first one, which is a brilliant interview with a previous winner.

Writing a Synopsis

I spent last night searching the Internet for agents that accept email submissions (I don’t mind being rejected, but I’d rather not use a tree’s worth of paper doing it).

During my search, I came cross a great page of tips on the 3 Seas Literary Agency website, which included this advice for improving your manuscript’s chances:

Write a Great Synopsis

  • The synopsis for fiction works should include the beginning, the conflicts, the resolutions and the ending.
  • It must be written in the present tense.
  • A synopsis represents you and your work. Take your time, make it interesting, read it out loud, and wherever necessary, improve…improve…improve it, until you are happy with the final result.

(There are also great tips on writing a query letter, which I should also have followed!)

I’m sure there are other sites offering more detailed help. In fact, I’m sure I taught a lesson covering the same stuff. It’s not rocket science, but I particularly valued point three, the reminder to “improve… improve… improve.”

It’s amazing how quickly you can forget the basics, in a rush of blood to the head. I spent six months carefully crafting and re-crafting my novel. When I finally decided to be brave and send it to an agent, I spent about 90 minutes writing a cover letter and synopsis.

This wasn’t just the usual laziness, lack of time or child intervention. I found writing the synopsis harder than writing the novel. Also, foolishly, I didn’t see it as that important: after all, the agent has my first 3 chapters, surely if they’re hooked they’ll want to read more and if they’re not, what difference would a good synopsis make?

Silly really.

After all those weeks pouring heart and soul into my novel, surely I could afford to spend more than an hour or two trying to sell it? That’s when I realised the problem: I find it impossible to sell myself or anything I have created.

Before commencing my life as writermummy, I worked as an abstract artist – leaving my “proper job” to paint full-time. After six months, I had to return to the real world to earn a living, because I couldn’t sell my work to strangers. It turns out there is only so much art you can sell to friends (even lovely friends with a farmhouse in Luxembourg!)

Now I face the same barrier. I have to sell something I have created.

So my challenge, should I choose to accept it, is to find some objectivity and learn how to sell my own novel. If I can’t convince you, or an agent, or a publisher, to read it, then I may as well not have bothered writing it in the first place.

Any Synopsis-writing Tips gratefully received.