Art in August #3 – Clay Dragon

My dragon

My dragon

When my daughter asked to do modelling with clay, I knew what I wanted to make. A while ago, fellow author Rinelle Grey took a break from writing to make clay dragons. They are adorable. Her designs were based on the work of Becca Golins, aka Dragons and Beasties, who makes the most incredible dragons. I want them all…

Anyway, I’ve wanted to make one ever since seeing Rinelle’s post, especially as my first complete novel is all about dragons.

Unfortunately it turns out I don’t quite have the knack (oops, scrap that, one of the rules of Art in August is to not apologise for your art!) I think my first attempt is cute, in a timid sort of way. I wonder if it could be Ilaria.

Daughter's dragon

Daughter’s dragon

I must investigate what clay to use, as I don’t think painted white clay has the same impact (plus it’s really hard to paint!)

All good fun and, as with the clay dog yesterday, my daughter’s dragon was cool too. It reminds me of Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon.

This post is part of the Art in August challenge on the Laptop on the Ironing Board blog.

Reading is Working, Honest

A Doorstop of a Book

A Doorstop of a Book

I had a bit of a hiccup this morning; the first biggy since starting on the tablets a week ago. I had hoped the tablets would help reduce my insomnia, but they seem to have made it worse instead. I’m waking at 2am and 5am every night, unable to close my eyes. In retaliation I’m back to napping as soon as the kids are asleep which only exacerbates the issue.

I woke up fretful and panicked, with palpitations and a strong desire not to have to face the school run. I made it through the chattering and the tears and the “Mummy I’m going to miss you” but by the time I got home I was shattered and most definitely unfit for work.

Add to lack of sleep the presence of hubbie at home on a rare day off and writing just wasn’t going to happen. I find it extremely hard to write with someone else in the house, almost as if I feel guilty that I’m not doing something more productive with my time, like laundry or housework. It stems from childhood and it drives hubbie potty, not least because a lazy day on my part without guilt makes it much easier for him to do the same (not that writing is a lazy day).

Anyway, for a whole host of reasons I decided it was a day for reading. I’m ploughing my way through a doorstop of a fantasy book I found in my old bedroom at my mother’s house – The Curse of the Mistwraith by Janny Wurts. If I’ve read it before I blocked the painful experience from my memory. I’m not sure why it’s gripped me now because it’s a fiendishly difficult read. As opaque in language as The Raven Boys, but lacking Maggie’s poetry and passion, it’s dense and unfathomable but clearly with enough story to maintain my interest. I’ve given up on much easier reads.

The book sprung to mind when I read Rinelle Grey’s recent post on world building in Sci Fi and Fantasy (Is Simple Ever Better? My answer is yes!). The world building in this book is elusive and complicated, but promises unicorns and dragons so appeals to the fairy princess in my soul. And as I curled up in bed reading I suddenly found myself opening my laptop and tapping out 500 difficult words to get me to the next place in Class Act. Clearly just the act of reading can free up words in a muddled mind, connect those pesky twenty-six characters into something with vague meaning.

So, there you go, reading is working if you’re a writer. I have proof. I never need feel guilty again. (Though of course I will. Who wouldn’t feel guilty reading and calling it working for a living?) Next time though I might just choose something easier to read. Like War and Peace.

Filling the Gaps: Where’s the sex?

"Romance" covers show what readers want

“Romance” covers show what readers want

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

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

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

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

My Latest Read - lots of kissing!

My Latest Read – lots of kissing!

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

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

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

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

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

Defining the Climb

My Latest Read

My Latest Read

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

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

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

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

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

NaNoWriMo and The Stalking Muse: 2013 365 Challenge #277

To NaNo or not NaNo?

To NaNo or not NaNo?

Earlier in the week I wrote about the importance of writing even when your Muse is missing in action. Well, my darling muse seems to have come back from her spa break invigorated and enthused and is now stalking me, mostly in my dreams.

Twice this week I’ve woken out of an exhausting dream with a full-length story in my head. That has only happened once in my life before and resulted in me writing Dragon Wraiths. I’m grateful for the input but, really Muse, I don’t have the time to start two brand new novels just now. I think maybe my Muse knows NaNoWriMo, which I hadn’t intended to do this year, is just around the corner.

The first dream story was in the chick lit strain and all a bit predictable, to do with cheating fiances and manipulative best friends. I think there was even a gay friend: how many chick lit tropes can you get in one plot? Easy NaNo fodder, but likely to result in a lot of hard work to make it original.

Last night’s story, possibly as a result of being woken by my pumpkin son every hour, was a spectacular science fiction drama with explosions, space ships and more action than I could understand or describe this morning. I don’t have any intention of writing a science fiction novel – I struggled enough with the fantasy world building for Dragon Wraiths – but at 7am, if I could have done a ‘print screen’ on my mind, it would have been easy. Maybe reading Rinelle Grey’s blog, over on Coffee Time Romance, about writing scifi romance has rubbed off.

So, who is up for some NaNo this year? I have no idea how I will fit it in – I’m barely keeping up with the daily blog as it is. Not to mention how hard it would be to write two stories simultaneously. But I will have an extra few hours’ childcare, as our extra day comes into play at half term (the kids do more childcare in the winter to stop us all getting cabin fever) so it might just vaguely be possible. If only to keep my stalking muse quiet!

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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! What are you doing here?”

“Hi, Mum. Lovely to see you, too.” Claire dropped her bag at her feet and ignored the look of barely veiled horror on her mum’s face.

“And who is this?”

Her mother’s tone, a mixture of suspicion and approval, made Claire wince.

“This is Conor, he’s my new boss. He gave me a lift home from the airport.” She didn’t want to explain; to talk about Kim or her own dire finances or anything. She wanted to crawl into her own bed and sleep.

Raising weary eyes to her mother’s face, she released a sigh. “Can I stay? I know I haven’t given you notice. If you’ve got people visiting, I’ll sleep under the stairs. Or in the bath. I don’t really care. I can’t afford a hotel.”

Her mother looked over her head, presumably at Conor, and flushed. “Of course you can stay. You are always welcome. And does your friend want to stay too?”

Claire snorted at the blatant matchmaking, then flushed, worried that Conor would take it seriously.

“It’s grand of you to offer, Mrs Carleton, but I must be getting back. It’s a long journey I’ve got ahead of me.” He seemed to take it as his signal to leave. Walking forward, he turned to face Claire. “I’ll call you tomorrow, to discuss when you’ll be free to start work.”

Holding his hand out towards her mother, he said, “It was nice meeting you, Mrs Carleton. Bye Claire.” Nodding at them both, he turned and walked back down the path towards his car.

Claire felt as if a protective force had been taken away from her. Once he was in his car and driving down the street, her mother’s forced grin dropped from her face.

“What on Earth is going on? I don’t hear from you for weeks. Some men come and take away that rusty heap you left outside and now you’ve turned up out of the blue looking like death.”

“Can I come in, Mum? It’s a long story.”

Her mother stepped back to let Claire into the hallway, before closing the door behind her with a bang.  “And why did your boss pick you up from the airport? Are you sleeping with him? What happened to Michael?”

“Enough, already!” Claire’s voice came out louder than she intended and she heard her mother suck air in between her teeth.

“Sorry. I’m tired. I’ve been travelling for weeks, I haven’t slept for two days and I need a shower and some clean clothes. I’m sorry for not calling you first but I had– ” she hesitated, “–other things to deal with. I’ll explain it all tomorrow, okay?”

Without waiting for an answer, Claire picked up her rucksack and forced one foot in front of the other, along the hall and up the stairs. She reached her old room and paused in the doorway as she saw the suitcase by the bed, the perfume and make-up on the dressing table.

Claire walked numbly down the corridor to the spare room. With an in-held breath she pushed the door open, but the tiny room showed no evidence of being in use. Claire dropped her rucksack by the door, kicked off her shoes and crawled under the covers.

***

Friends are the Best Medicine: 2013 365 Challenge #263

Friends

Friends

It’s going to be a short post today, for various reasons, some good, some bad.

The bad is I have a stinking cold. I spent the afternoon trying to rest because I had dinner plans for my bi-annual catch up with my old work friends. The good is that I made it to dinner and spent a lovely two hours with good food and good company, catching up on the work gossip and not talking about the children (much).

It’s hard not talking about the kids but it is sort of an unspoken rule that we don’t, even though five out of six of us have children and the sixth has a puppy that is just as troublesome and gorgeous.

Even my friend who had her first baby seven weeks ago started the evening by saying “I don’t want to talk about babies.”

It’s actually rather lovely to forget you’re a parent for the night. I think parenting can be a divisive rather than inclusive subject for discussion. Everyone has different techniques and priorities, and there’s such a difference between age stages, from a baby to a pre-teen, as the age range is across our group. Plus the passing of the years are more noticeable when we talk about such and such starting school or big school. Without the kids to mark time, it only feels like yesterday that I left work rather than six years ago.

Work is always a safe topic. Even though two of us haven’t worked for the company in years, it’s still possible to follow along. Like an old school friend you haven’t seen in a decade, you can still talk about that shared experience. Incidentally the picture is one I drew of me and my two best friends at high school (a scary 20 years ago). The friend I gave it to emailed me a copy this evening, after finding it in a drawer. Happy days.

So, it’s off to bed for me, with the intention of writing my Claire instalment in the morning, after I’ve painted a shark. It’s been a lovely evening and I want to round it off curled up in bed with a lemsip, finishing Reckless Rebellion by Rinelle Grey (published on Amazon today!) Night night.

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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 out the window at the changing scenery and wondered if she’d make a mistake. It felt lonely knowing that Bethan wasn’t on the bus.

I would have had to say goodbye in a few days anyway. Travelling is all about meeting people and then saying goodbye to them, carrying them with us in our hearts.

She smiled at how corny that sounded, although no less true for all that. Bethan had begged her to stay in Queenstown for the extra day, but Claire felt no pull to stay in the famous town. Despite the lure of luging and drinking and other activities, she wanted to get on and get home.

I guess I could have missed out the bottom bus completely, but I really want to see the sea lions.

The brochure said she could do a wildlife tour in Dunedin and that had been enough to persuade her. Bethan hadn’t understood that she’d rather do that than drink shots out of tea pots.

I’m surprised too. I must be getting old.

She turned her attention back to the view, as the bus pulled into a town. She guessed it must be Dunedin, although it was nothing like she had expected. Apart from Wellington, it was the first really hilly town she’d seen, and the buildings seemed to be made of stone rather than wood.

As they drove through the streets, Claire peered out the window and felt a quickening in her tummy. It seemed familiar, as if she’d visited before in a past life. She soaked in the grey stone, the university buildings, the formal gardens and smiled.

I could be in any northern British town.

It felt like home

The bus pulled up at the bottom of what looked like a residential street. Claire wondered if they had arrived at the hostel, although it didn’t look like the centre of town, where she thought the hostel was located.

“Right, peeps. We’re at Baldwin Street. World’s steepest street. Climb to the top and back and you get a certificate.”

The driver finished his terse announcement, got out of the bus and lit a roll-up. Claire followed all the other passengers, glad to stretch her legs.

Outside it was raining, a light mizzling rain that hadn’t been noticeable as they drove through town, although it probably explained the greyness of the buildings. Claire looked up the street and wondered if she had the energy to climb it. It didn’t look too bad from the bottom, but she knew looks could be deceptive.

Some eager passengers started up the hill at a run, but soon dropped to a jog and then a walk. As she climbed, Claire marvelled at the buildings, where the road started at the lower floor window and passed somewhere near the upper floor. She took some pictures and kept on climbing, ignoring the burn in her thighs and the lack of oxygen in her lungs.

At last she reached the top and turned to survey the view. It was worth the climb. The road dropped like a child’s slide beneath her, a straight ribbon of tarmac. In the distance, tree covered hills hugged the little bit of town she could see. The sun had broken through the clouds on the other side of the valley, and its rays lit the fields like a spotlight. More than any place she had visited in New Zealand, the place felt welcoming; as if she belonged there.

With a sigh, Claire put her camera away and headed back down to the bus.

***

Learning to be Brave: 2013 365 Challenge #220

Picking strawberries

Picking strawberries

One of the benefits of parenting is learning to be brave. Yesterday I touched a moth (ugh!) as I had to remove it from a trampoline and flick it into the grass. I hate moths. Ever since I left the light on and window open in my bedroom as a child, and went up at bedtime to find the ceiling plastered with giant moths (I grew up in the country) I have hated them. But, being brave for my children, I must deal with my fears.

This is especially appropriate after reading a post on Rinelle’s blog yesterday, about applying for an EIN number as an indie author.

This is probably only of interest to self-published writers, but there is a great article on Catherine, Caffeinated’s blog about how to get this holy-grail number (needed to stop Amazon.com withholding 30% of profits in tax).

Where are those juicy strawberries?

Where are those juicy strawberries?

I haven’t made any money from my books yet. Certainly not enough to go through the pain of calling the US to get an EIN number. I’ve had Catherine’s helpful article flagged in my inbox FOR A YEAR. Making that call has been on my to-do list for 12 months!

I hate phoning people that much.

In the UK, the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – in charge of tax etc in this country) have a phrase that says, “Tax doesn’t need to be taxing.” But it is. I always fill out my tax return at the 11th hour, even though, these days, there are no earnings and no tax to pay. The idea of calling the IRS and trying to get something out of them fills me with quiet horror.

After reading Rinelle’s post I decided to gird my loins, pluck up my courage, and make the call. I motivated myself by how great it would feel when I’d done it. How I could write a comment on Rinelle’s post thanking her for her encouragement. I could write a thank you comment on Catherine, Caffeinated’s post too. I could move forward and take this irritating thing off my perpetual to-do list.

Found one!

Found one!

I wrote out all the information I would need. I set up Skype on my iPad and found my headphones, ready to make the call (apparently you can be on hold for ages!). I loaded up the world clock, to see what time it was in Philadelphia, where I would be calling.

6am.

Bugger. I have to get the kids from preschool in twenty minutes. So, I won’t be making that phone call today, even though the adrenalin is still pumping and the knots in my stomach are still clenched tight. But I was nearly brave. That counts for something, right?

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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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As the bus stopped at yet another hostel to pick up passengers, Claire looked at the pack of papers the driver had shoved into her hand when she boarded. They included a check-in form for the hostel that evening, extra activities to add on, travel dates and so on. Claire groaned.

I have no idea. I just want to go back to sleep. It seemed that travelling by tour bus was a different beast to meandering around in her clapped-out Skoda.

I’m not used to people telling me what to do. Except Carl and Julia, of course, and they were easily ignored.

Claire tried to decide how many nights she wanted to stay at the first stop, Paihia. It looked like a pretty town, but she had a feeling now was not the time for long periods of idleness and solitude.

Best keep moving.

Forms completed, Claire rested her head against the juddering glass of the window and tried to find sleep.

*

She awoke to the hiss of brakes and the lurch of the coach coming to a halt. She looked around, trying to decide if they were finally there. They’d stopped so many times, to pick people up, or to allow for toilet breaks or breakfast, she didn’t want to get her hopes up. From the shuffling and clamour, she decided they had actually arrived.

Stifling a yawn, Claire gathered her things and joined the slow procession off the bus. She looked at the place she would call home for the night. It was a low-level building surrounded by palm trees. Over to her right she could see tree-covered hills, framed against a blue sky dotted with clouds. After the air-conditioned bus the air felt warm and smelt of the sea.

It felt bizarre, checking in with two-dozen other travellers. Her journey in the UK had been mostly solo and, though occasionally she might meet someone else at the reception desk, her check in had been swift and painless. Waiting in line for her turn, Claire listened to the bubbling conversation around her – happy teenagers planning their afternoon – and felt like a rock in a river, standing proud and alone above the noise.

From the chatter she discovered that the hostel had a rocking bar full of locals, a pool and a hot tub. Two girls behind her were giggling, assessing their chances of pulling fit Kiwi blokes during the evening barbeque, which came as part of their accommodation. Claire decided to make sure she had her book with her.

At last she was at the front, and discovered she was sleeping in an eight-bed dorm.

Thank god I decided just to stay the one night.

Claire took her key and wandered through the hostel, past a group of lads playing cards, and a bank of red sofas full of people ignoring the TV. Although the facilities were no different to the hostels she’d staying in at home, everything felt alien. Not unfriendly, exactly. But something made her skin prickle.

As she retrieved the things she would need for the afternoon, before stuffing her rucksack onto her bunk, Claire tried to put her finger on what felt wrong.

They’re all too young. That’s what it is. It feels like Fresher’s Week at uni, surrounded by people just released from the confines of home, looking for their next drink, shag or adventure.

The hostels back home had been mostly full of families, school groups, or couples. She’d met as many retired people travelling, alone or in pairs, as she had under-twenties.

I guess the UK isn’t really where people go for their gap year of fun before becoming proper grown-ups.

Beginning to understand where Mitch’s uncouth nickname for the green bus had come from, and conscious of a growing sense of homesickness, it was with a heavy heart that Claire left the hostel to go in search of lunch.

***