Getting Stronger: 2013 365 Challenge #154

Just keep smiling

Just keep smiling

Yesterday I received my first one-star review for Dragon Wraiths. Aside from being aggrieved at the effect on my average rating, because I still don’t have many reviews, I was okay about it because the reviewer said ‘not my style’. Fair enough.

But, as if one-star reviews are buses, low and behold there’s another one today.

And this one’s a proper attack from someone who has read the book (as they’re quick to point out, possibly in retaliation to the five-star reviewer who reviewed while still reading.)

I’m obviously a bit low about it, but only because I’ve inadvertently wasted hours of a person’s life (as they were also quick to point out!). I’m appreciative that they read my novel to the end – I certainly wouldn’t have done if I’d disliked a book as much. And I’m grateful for the honest feedback. I’ll particularly take note of the bit that suggests the climate change theme is preachy and inaccurate.

But I’m not devastated by the review.

Hard to be sad here: The Mill House at Sacrewell Farm

Hard to be sad here: The Mill House at Sacrewell Farm

Which isn’t like me at all. Lost keys or finding a typo can leave me sobbing. I’ve been trying to work out why I’m not upset. I think some of it comes from the fab support I got on my Facebook page in response to the first low review. There are other factors too: Partly it’s because I’ve come to believe in my writing, partly because I’ve thought books and films were awful and been in the minority, and partly because at least it got a reaction. At least someone bothered to tell me what they thought.

Surely every artist wants to know what the world thinks of their work, good and bad.

Not that I want every person who buys or downloads a free copy of my book to leave a one-star review. But at least this person bothered to give a reason, unlike some of my one-star reviews on Goodreads. Now that is annoying. I cannot learn and grow as a writer if I can’t accept criticism, and I certainly can’t learn what to fix if no one tells me what’s wrong in the first place.

Ironically I’ve never been strong enough to join a critique group, because my low self-esteem hears critique of my writing as an attack on me as a person. Having such an attack come from someone who doesn’t know me at all makes it much easier to keep the two separate.

Besides, I was also nominated for a Very Inspiring Blogger Award today, (thank you and, as an author, you take the good with the bad and Just Keep Writing…


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:


“Morning, sleepy head.”

Claire turned towards the noise and prised open sticky eyes. Kim was standing beside the bed, a cup of tea in one hand, a plate of toast in the other.

“I thought you might be hungry, as you said you didn’t eat dinner yesterday.” Kim slid the cup and plate on the bedside table, then perched on the edge of the bed.

“How are you feeling this morning? How’s the wrist?”

Claire wriggled upright, blinking her eyes into focus. “How are you so fresh and awake? What time is it?”

“It’s around 11am.”

“What?” Claire jerked, as if to leap out of bed. Kim held out a restraining hand, and smiled.

“Shhh don’t get up. It’s fine, you needed sleep. Sleep is the best healer.”

“Kim, I haven’t slept in until lunchtime in years.” Well, not without an incentive to stay in bed at any rate.

“You’ve had an accident, you need to rest.” She tilted her head, and grinned. “Besides, I need you awake to discuss wedding plans with me later. My concern is purely selfish.”

Claire looked up at her friend, noticing for the first time the blonde roots showing through the bright red hair. As if sensing her scrutiny, Kim put a hand to her head and smiled sheepishly.

“I had to stop dying it, when I found out I was pregnant. Looks like I’m going to have to wear a wig after all. Not sure what I’m going to do for the wedding. I can’t decide whether to get a blonde wig and look like me, or get you to pin it up so the roots don’t show.” Kim stopped abruptly. “Sorry, I’m wittering on again. I talked your ear off last night, when you arrived, didn’t I?”

Claire shook her head, hoping it seemed sincere. She reached for her tea, to mask any expression on her face that might give her away.

“I did, I know. I’m sorry. It’s just I seem to be bottling words at the moment. There’s so much going on in my life, in my head, and Jeff isn’t here all that much. We’re in rehearsals stage at work, so there’s no time to chat…” She trailed off, as if unwilling to explain her need to talk with yet more words.

“What about your Mum, can you talk to her? Not that it isn’t nice to talk to you.” Claire’s words slurred with tiredness, and she took another gulp of hot tea.

“I don’t really feel comfortable talking to Mum. I know she isn’t thrilled about the pregnancy, and the wedding being all rushed.”

“I thought it was Jeff’s parents insisting you get married before the baby arrives.” Claire cradled the mug and let the steam warm her face.

“They didn’t insist, we guessed. No one has really said anything, it’s all just dark looks and sharp intakes of breath.”

Claire tried to remember Kim’s parents. From what she could recall, Kim had a great relationship with them. Much more open and loving than hers. She remembered hearing Kim’s mother call, ‘I love you’ as Kim ran in to school. Kim would yell her answer over her shoulder, long hair flying, face bright with joy. I don’t think I’ve ever told my parents I love them, or heard them say it to me.

“Maybe you need to sit and have a good chat with your Mum. She doesn’t seem the disapproving type. Perhaps she’s worried about saying the wrong thing, or getting in your way, over-stepping the mark. It must be tough for her, too.”

Kim stared at the floral duvet cover, a crease between her brows. The girls sat silent for a few moments, the only sound the slurp of Claire’s tea.

“You’re right.”

Kim’s sudden words made Claire jump, and she was thankful the mug was empty.

“I need to call her. I don’t want to plan this wedding, or have this baby, without my Mum. Will you excuse me?”

Claire nodded, envious of Kim’s decisiveness. Her friend disappeared from the room, leaving Claire to eat her cold toast alone.


Chocolate and Cheeky Amazon: 2013 365 Challenge #91

Scattering grass seed with Daddy

Scattering grass seed with Daddy

I got my first five-star review today for Dragon Wraiths. And Amazon deleted it. It was left by a lovely lady who recently started following me here and on Twitter and who read the book without any prompting from me.

Unfortunately she’s also an author and apparently Amazon frowns on authors leaving reviews on other people’s books. Which is a shame because generally writers are avid readers (and eloquent reviewers) and they also know the value of reviews. I guess the system gets abused, as all things do. All I know is that five-star review might have brought me some much-needed sales.

Shadow Forest by Matt Haig

Shadow Forest by Matt Haig

On a nicer note we had a lovely peaceful Easter Sunday. I spent the morning feverishly uploading ebooks – my Volume 3 and the ‘Story so Far’ version, which contains all the posts since the beginning of January. Even though I’d done most of the formatting and the book covers etc it still took far too long and we were nearly late for lunch. People who think self-publishers are cheeky charging for their books without paying professionals to do the editing, proof-reading, formatting etc, don’t always account for how much effort can be put into these things by the author. The Story So Far represents about 300 hours of effort. I think selling it for the price of a cappuccino is fairly reasonable, especially as you can download the separate volumes for free!

I’m all full of cold and had a welcome break at my Father-in-Law’s today as he and his partner took the children and dog for a walk. I read my book (a great MG fiction called Shadow Forest by Matt Haig) and David watched The Mummy. Again. Children were tired-whiny after our long day yesterday so it was nice for all of us to have some time apart. Now all I have to do is try and ration the copious amounts of chocolate we have accumulated despite my best efforts. Even I’m sick of the sight of chocolate and I never thought that was possible!

Anyway, time to start Volume 4 of Two-Hundred Steps Home. Blimey. How did that happen?


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:


“Excuse me, is everything alright?”

Claire looked up at the concerned face trying to peer under her shield of hair. Her eyes met two sapphires sparkling amidst a sea of wrinkles.

“The school is closed today. Were you meant to meet someone?”

The words sank in through the fog in Claire’s mind. Closed? “The school isn’t open? But I was supposed to collect my niece. Ruth – my sister – she clearly said today at 3pm. I thought I was in the wrong place. But it’s definitely here. She’s going to be so cross, and she’s ill and I’m meant to be helping.” The words tumbled out until Claire’s voice broke and she sank her head back into her hands.

A gentle patting on her shoulder reminded Claire that the old lady was still standing in front of her.

“There, there, my dear. Don’t cry. Have you telephoned your sister? I am sure there has been some misunderstanding. I believe there is a training day today and therefore the children finished for the Easter vacation yesterday.”

Relief washed through Claire like a spring breeze, followed by an arctic blast of anger. That’s just like Ruth to scare the hell out of me. She must have Sky home with her: why didn’t she call me?

Claire looked up and smiled ruefully at the helpful passer-by. “I’m sorry; I don’t mean to be a watering pot. It was quite a struggle to get here for 3pm through the snow – I’ve come from the Derby Dales – and now, to find…” She shook her head. No point unburdening herself to a complete stranger.

The lady raised a hand as if to brush away Claire’s apology. “I quite understand. These things happen. Why not come with me to the café? You can settle your nerves before telephoning your sister. Everything will seem better after a cup of tea.”

Pushing herself off the wall, trying to ignore the numbness in her bottom from sitting on the cold stone, Claire smiled gratefully at the woman. “Thank you, I might do that. No need to come with me, I’ll be fine. I haven’t had lunch, that’s all. As you say, I’m sure I’ll feel more the thing after some food and a hot drink.”

The woman hesitated, as if unsure whether to leave Claire alone.

What must she think? I’m a grown woman, I shouldn’t be sat sobbing outside a primary school. Grow up and stop being pathetic, girl.

“I’m fine, really. I appreciate you stopping to tell me about the school. I know where the café is – I’ve been here before – and I don’t want to hold you up any longer.”

“Well, if you are certain?” Claire nodded. “Alright then, my dear. You take care.” The lady gave a little wave and walked away.

Claire filled her lungs with freezing air and brushed the hair back from her face. She knew she should call Ruth, to confirm that her niece was safely at home, but she was still too cross. That’s just like her, to have me race across the country on a wild-goose-chase without so much as a text message. She stomped towards the coffee shop, remembering all the times Ruth had let her down or forgotten to tell her something important. Just because I’m the youngest, doesn’t mean it’s okay to leave me out all the time.

She could almost sense her bottom lip jutting out as it had done twenty-five years ago, when such behaviour was just about acceptable.

It was only when she was tucked into a window seat nursing a cup of Earl Grey that it occurred to Claire there may be another reason for Ruth’s lack of contact.

What if she’s had complications and had to go back into hospital? What if she wasn’t able to call me and Sky’s been left with Dad?

Her empty stomach twisted in fear and the blood drained away from her face until she thought she might faint. Placing the cup down on the saucer, spilling her tea in the process, Claire pulled out her phone and selected her sister’s number. She listened to the endless ringing as she waited for the phone to connect.

Come on, come on, just pick up the phone.