Half Term and Halloween

The closest I'll ever get to space

The closest I’ll ever get to space

I feel guilty that I’m not managing to blog regularly at the moment. With all the various things going on in my life, I don’t have many words. I have been pouring my creativity into other endeavours – knitting, playing the piano, photo editing and rearranging the furniture.

It’s also half term here in the UK and while ten days has been easier to manage than six weeks, I still find it drains me so that I just want to sleep. That’s been exacerbated by the clocks going back last weekend – our normally early rising kids have taken it to new extremes by getting up at 5 a.m. every day, and still not getting sleepy until 8 p.m. I wish I knew where they got their energy from. At least we have been blessed with some unseasonal gorgeous autumn weather.

So, in lieu of interesting words, here are some random family snaps to bore you instead! 🙂 Hopefully life will right itself sometime soon and normal service will resume.

First ever trick or treat adventure

First ever trick or treat adventure

Pumpkin Trail at Lyveden New Bield

Pumpkin Trail at Lyveden New Bield

Fishing in October

Fishing in October

Knitted brooches

Knitted brooches

Halloween cookies (made without cutters)

Halloween cookies (made without cutters)

Den building at West Lodge

Den building at West Lodge

Sand castles on halloween

Sand castles on halloween

Making potions in the garden

Making potions in the garden

Carving pumpkins

Carving pumpkins at Sacrewell Farm

Directing a space launch

Directing a space launch

Pony ride on cracker

Pony ride on cracker

Art in August #12 – Loomband Octopus

Loomband Octopus from an Izzilicious tutorial

Loomband Octopus from an Izzalicious tutorial

There’s something cruel and sod’s-law-ish about getting a virus in the school holidays where the only symptom seems to be chronic fatigue. I am only keeping the panic that I’ve got CFS at bay by the fact that my mum seems to have the same virus.

I took the children to the Farm today, after a lazy morning looming while they created chaos. Normally the Farm is an easy trip. We feed the animals, go on a tractor tour of the fields and have a picnic. Today we also got to watch a ferret race and have a cuddle with the elusive farm cat. We were there for three hours.

When we got home we had our usual hour watching TV. And then I went to plug the iPad in to charge, lay down and barely moved for the next two hours.

For the first hour the kids watched more TV, and yelled for me a bit. I couldn’t even get up to stop the noise. I heard my daughter say to my son, “just go upstairs and ask her,” so I knew it wasn’t serious. When he did finally come up, sobbing, it was to say, “but Mummy I didn’t want to watch that programme.” I think you call that a First World Problem.

Sick or school-holiday-itis?

Sick or school-holiday-itis?

For the second hour they came and wriggled in the bed with me and, when they’d had enough of being told to lie still, went off to play. It seemed to involve much shrieking, running and giggling, combined with, “he hit me!” “she pushed me” which I ignored.

I managed to go down for an hour to do some writing and numbers with them and play board games. But as soon as I’d cooked the kids’ tea I had to hand over to hubbie and come back to bed. Poor hubbie, he’s having a rotten time at the moment – he’s barely over his tonsillitis and he’s having to play tag-parenting like he did when they were babies. Only they were less annoying then!

He also informed me that he’s felt this exhausted for the last two years, which made me want to get up and stop being pathetic. But I couldn’t. So much for all our summer holiday plans, all the house projects I intended to get done.

It’s a weird sort of exhaustion. Not the kind where you’ve been up all night, or you’ve been digging in the garden all day. This feels like I’ve been drugged, like the tiredness is a heavy coat I must wear. Kind of the opposite of depression, which is a heaviness on the inside. Anyway, I just about managed to finish this octopus. Now back to bed.

[I moved this pre-written post a bit later out of respect for my previous post on Robin Williams]

Christmas Grump: 2013 365 Challenge #335

Jolly Joules, part of the Living Nativity at the Farm

Jolly Joules, part of the Living Nativity at the Farm

I love Christmas. It’s my favourite time of year. I love buying presents, wrapping them and putting them under the tree. I love decorating the tree, and Christmas lights and tinsel.

In the past I’ve made wreaths from scratch with fir-tree branches and pine cones. I’ve hand made Christmas cards and sent them to dozens of people with individual messages in each one. I agonise over gifts to get the perfect present and don’t really have anything I want for myself. Hubbie’s never been a great fan of the season, but Christmas is me to the very core.

Then I had my daughter, and the magic continued. I dressed my daughter up in a Mrs Christmas outfit, aged 10 months, and she was adorable. I made Christmas sacks and Christmas cards with hand and feet prints on them. Magical.

Father Christmas arriving by carriage

Father Christmas arriving by carriage

I had my son. And that Christmas was special too, if slightly stressful, as we hosted 13 to dinner in our barely finished kitchen. But my son was only three months old, and poorly, so I did very little on Christmas Day but make little felt stars and sit in the corner breastfeeding, surrounded by family. Gorgeous.

It all went down hill from there. The children started noticing Christmas. The pressure to get the perfect presents, to make it magical for them, too, increased. And my time diminished. I no longer had endless head-space to plan presents, or endless evenings to sew and make. My temper got shorter and my nerves tighter. Christmas started too early and went on too long.

This year has been the worst so far. It’s not even December for another few hours, and already I’ve turned into Scrooge. I’m trying, I really am. We went to see Father Christmas arrive at the farm today, as he pulled up in his white carriage drawn by shire horses, accompanied by Mrs Christmas. It should have been great. But his cushion had slipped and he didn’t say hello to my son, which made him sad.

Children's tree

Children’s tree

And the lies had to start. “Why can’t we see him and get a gift today, Mummy?” “Because it’s too early, because it’s busy, because, because…” The real reason is the Farm have two men playing Father Christmas, and we’ve always seen the other one, who I used to do Panto with when I was a teenager. He’s fab. He makes Christmas for us. But he doesn’t start until the 16th, and now my daughter’s at school that means we won’t see him until 21st December. That’s a long way off.

The lies are the hardest part of Christmas. You have to be alert to lie consistently and with conviction. I’m rubbish at it. And my children are smart. I’m trying to create the magic, but it doesn’t come with a handbook, and quite frankly I miss being able to get ready for Christmas in my own little magical bubble.

I can’t even share the pain with the hubbie, because obviously some of the gifts are for him, and surprising him is one of the few joys left. Because the other problem is, my children are a bit spoilt. Yes, I know; my fault. When my daughter got her bike, two years ago, she said, “Where’s the bell?”

She gets it from me. Because I want Christmas to be perfect, I do have a tendency to be a bit ungrateful when I get an utterly random gift that I think is a waste of money. I try to hide it, but did I mention I’m rubbish at lying? It’s a minefield.

The finished tree

The finished tree

Oh, and money, there’s the other stress this year. I dreamed I got caught shop lifting last night, and I think it was my psyche telling me that might be the last resort (joke!). It’s not that we don’t have the money, but because I haven’t earned a penny this year, I don’t feel like it’s mine to spend. I’d have to sell a lot of books to buy even one gift! Not like in the days when I earned proper cash as a contractor!

Anyway, I’m getting my grumble and gripe out now, before December arrives (even though you’ll be reading this in a few hours, when it is December!) so hopefully I can work on the magic. Try and stress less, do less, and concentrate on getting through a whole hour with the children without wanting to scream.

I did manage to let them decorate the tree earlier, and only ‘tidied’ it up a little bit, removed some of the tinsel and added the lights. (It helped that I’m reading a good book, so I kept my head down and didn’t watch!)

Please tell me it gets easier, though? The lying at least.


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:


“Leave him alone.” Claire’s voice whipped across the empty space, stopping Robert as he was about to follow after his son.

“I will not have a child of mine talk to me like that.” The urbane smile was gone, replaced by a dangerous red flush. “Two weeks with you and they’ve turned savage.” He pulled his arm free of the wide-eyed woman by his side, and once more turned to go.

“I said leave him!” Claire’s shout echoed off the white walls and glass doors. Robert turned slowly to face her, his eyes wild.

“Stay out of this, Claire. You’ve had nothing to do with the boys all their lives; don’t start playing Auntie now; it doesn’t suit you.”

“It suits me better than father suits you. When did you become such a monster, Robert? You were always a whiny child, but I don’t remember you being such a wanker.”

Jack sniggered behind her, and Claire flushed as she remembered there was still one of her nephews in the room. She looked over and gave him a rueful smile. “Jack, why don’t you go and see if your brother’s alright? I’m just going to have a chat with your dad.”

With a mischievous grin, Jack nodded and silently left the room. Claire noticed that he gave Gabriella a kind smile, and Claire wondered what the poor girl must make of her welcome. Judging from her bemused expression, Claire decided she probably didn’t speak very good English.

Just as well.

She dismissed her from her mind and turned her attention back to Robert. He stood with his hands on his hips, glaring at her, his chin jutting out pugnaciously. He looked ridiculous. Claire felt the anger drain away, taking all her vicious words with it.

“What possessed you to bring her here? As far as I can gather, the boys haven’t even met her yet, and you turn up two hours late to collect them and coolly announce you’re engaged. What planet are you on?”

“I don’t see how that’s any business of yours.”

“When you ask me to look after your children, while you’re off seducing a girl half your age, then you make it my business. Are you having a midlife crisis, is that it? A beautiful wife and two gorgeous boys not enough for you?”

“Francesca, beautiful? All this time alone living like a peasant has screwed with your brain. The woman’s a bitch. All she cares about are her vacuous friends and her spa treatments.”

Privately Claire couldn’t disagree. She didn’t know her sister-in-law that well, but from what she could remember of her at the wedding years before, she didn’t have many redeeming features.

“You married her, Robert. For better or worse. I was there.”

“Grow up, Claire. No one believes in that, ‘’Til death do us part’ crap anymore. I grew tired of her whining and her constant demands.”

“So you threw her over for a younger model, leaving your boys stuck in the middle. Very mature, Robert, very grown up.”

“I’m not going to take relationship advice from my harlot of a little sister, who can’t even keep a man for more than a few months.”

Claire reeled from his words as if they were a blow. With rapid breaths, she took three quick strides across the room and slapped his smug, arrogant, face as hard as she could. She smiled in satisfaction as his head snapped back, even as the numbness and pain shot up her arm.

“Get out, Robert. Now.” She pointed at the door, ignoring the throbbing in her wrist. “Go and leave the boys with me. You don’t deserve them.”

Robert felt his cheek with fingers, before looking up with hatred in his eyes. “Are you insane?”

“No, I’m not. I’m perfectly lucid. I will take the boys to Mum’s house and they can stay there until Francesca comes to collect them. Or they can transfer to a British school and come and stay with me in the holidays. Anything has to be better than having you hurt them any more with your towering indifference.”

She panted, as if she’d run up the cliff from the sea, but her mind felt clear. Knowing she would regret it in the morning, Claire stalked past her brother and went to find Jack and Alex.

“Boys, come and say goodbye to your father, he and Gabriella are leaving.”


I Am Thankful: 2013 365 Challenge #333

Driving to the beach

Driving to the beach

Since my sister moved to the States a few years ago, and I linked up with my husband’s American cousin on Facebook, I’ve become more aware of the American holidays. Mostly we don’t celebrate them over here. Hallowe’en is only starting to take off, and Valentine’s Day was only significant in high school. Thanksgiving doesn’t happen at all, except on social media. But Thanksgiving is probably my favourite. I love the idea of a day to be thankful.

Christmas is one of my favourite holidays, but it’s always slighly marred by commercialism and the fact that I’m not particularly religious. But you don’t have to believe in God to be thankful.

Like saying “I love you” to my husband every day, rather just on February 14th, I do try to be grateful every day for what I have, although it’s easy to get wrapped up in the daily minutae of tedium and routine. Taking time to look around and acknowledge what is good is essential.

So, I am thankful. I’m thankful for my gorgeous husband and beautiful, clever, loving children. I’m grateful for my lovely house and my crazy dog. I’m grateful for a wonderful family. I’m thankful that my husband found work and we have enough money to buy the things we need. I’m grateful that I can write every day, and for the followers of my blog and the people who download my novels who keep me motivated. I’m thankful for sun and rain and fog, and being able to spend time outdoors everyday. For supermarkets and fresh fruit, chocolate and coffee. For my ipad and books and my car that lets me take my children out and about without hassle. I’m grateful for so much I could write and write. But maybe a few pictures will tell a thousand words.


Photo3921Photo3922photo (32)


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:


Claire gazed out across the ocean and sighed. She could feel the entire country stacked up behind her, looking over her shoulder. She felt like she’d come a long way since her beginning in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, at the top of England.

“Are you alright, Auntie Claire?” Jack walked over to where she stood and hooked his arm through hers, his eyes dark with concern. The expression made him look much older than his ten years.

Claire patted his hand, touched at his surprising empathy. Two weeks ago she barely knew the boy, but they had become friends during their time travelling together in Cornwall.

“I’m fine, Jack, thank you for asking. It’s been a good couple of weeks, don’t you think?”

“The best! I can’t believe father’s coming to get us tomorrow. The time’s gone really fast. We didn’t even get to do everything. Did you know there’s a surf school here? Maybe we should go for just one last blast?”

Claire looked over to where Alex stood, his gaze on the phone in his hands rather than the amazing view from the end of the land.

“I’m not sure Alex would appreciate that. At least he’s happy that you’re going home.”

“He’s only happy because he gets to see his girlfriend again.” Jack put the emphasis of a ten-year-old on the word; clearly disgusted at his brother’s betrayal of all things male.

“That’s understandable. Two weeks is a long time when you’re twelve.” Claire smiled fondly at the moody boy standing along the cliff. She couldn’t claim to have broken through his tough barriers, but she had come to care for her eldest nephew more than she could have imagined possible a fortnight before.

“What about you, Jack?” She added, after a moment’s silence. “Will you be glad to get home?”

Her nephew stood silent for a while, and Claire wondered if he didn’t want to hurt her feelings by admitting he was looking forward to leaving. She was about to tell him it was natural to prefer his home and family and friends to an Aunt he barely knew, when he turned to face her. His cheeks burned red, and his eyes glistened.

“I’d much rather stay here with you,” he blurted out. “I don’t want to go home. Mother’s been wrapped up in her own little bubble since Dad left. She leaves us with the Au Pair and goes shopping or to the spa with her friends. And Father, well, that’s a joke. He’s so busy with his new lady friend I think he’s forgotten we exist.”

Claire raised her eyebrows at the news that Jack knew all about Robert’s new relationship.

I don’t know why I’m surprised. They’re bright boys and he’s hardly been discreet.

She wrapped her arm around Jack’s shoulder and pulled him into a hug, unsure what to say. The prospect of having the boys stay longer wasn’t anywhere near as terrible as it would have been two weeks earlier, but there was no doubt in her mind she was looking forward to some time by herself. It wasn’t even that the boys were an onerous responsibility – certainly not on the scale of caring for Sky – and they were good company, when they weren’t fighting. But, still, being responsible for someone else’s happiness took its toll.

“How about school? Will you be glad to go back there, after the long vacation?”

Jack shrugged. “I guess.”

Claire’s heart twisted at the empty resignation in his voice.

“Well, you’re welcome to come and visit any time. I have no idea where I’ll be, but if there’s a bed or floor for you two to sleep on, then it’s yours.”

She was surprised to discover that she meant it.


Pumpkin Carving: 2013 365 Challenge #301

Getting stuck into the pumpkin

Getting stuck into the pumpkin

Today was hubbie’s ‘day off” so, after taking an hour in the morning to write my post, I took the children to the Farm for some Hallowe’en half term fun.

Our local farm always has some great activities on during the school holidays. This time they had a room full of craft (great, considering a huge storm is about to hit the UK, so indoor activities are essential) as well as the spooky house tour and pumpkin carving.

We skipped the spooky house tour – I think I’d like an extra parent with me before attempting that with under fives – but the craft room was empty when we got there, so we had great fun making paper spiders and cobwebs, Hallowe’en masks and origami cats. We played spot the difference and did spooky word searches and Mummy had lots of fun doing colouring in! 🙂

After that we ventured outside into the sunshine and wind, to see the animals. The larger beasts all look a bit sorry for themselves, covered in mud and sheltering from the incoming winter. We were lucky though – apart from a wind strong enough to blow us away, the weather was lovely. It was so nice to be able to get outside for the first time in weeks.

Which face is more scary?

Which face is more scary?

The kids made sand castles, fed goats and ducks, and stroked the horses. We went to see the baby quail chicks – oh my goodness but they’re tiny (I didn’t have a camera, unfortunately): they’re a week old and still only about half the size of a kiwi fruit (you have no idea how long it took to come up with a size comparison that made sense either side of the Atlantic!)

Then came the pumpkin carving. This is the first year either of the children has been able to actually do any of the carving, although I noticed the delightful job of scooping out sticky seeds still came to Mummy. My son wanted to recreate his own face on his pumpkin, while daughter went for a cat. I have to say, they did a pretty good job! (Shame about the photos, but you get the idea).

After a lunch of chips and ice cream (The clocks went back last night, so they’d already had a decent brunch, thankfully!) we had one more trip round the animals before heading off to the supermarket. An hour of shopping and all three of us were exhausted. Unfortunately, I still had bath time to tackle when I got home. Poor daughter is ripping up her neck itching after her unwelcome visitors, so we took some Twitter advice and washed their hair in tea tree shampoo, (to much chorusing of “it stinks!” Hopefully the crawlers think so too).

An hour of Daddy tiring time and then to bed. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line I appear to have picked up a cold, so tonight’s post is a bit lacking in glamour. As it’s half term tomorrow and I get no childcare for a week, all the posts might be a little under par. I’ll do my best! 🙂 I’m off for a dinner of pumpkin soup now (shop bought, I confess) as I don’t have the energy to cook anything else and hubbie doesn’t really do cooking!


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:


Claire had no idea what time it was as she swung the car into the hotel car park. Her twenty-year old banger didn’t have a dashboard clock and the black rectangle of her phone had as much life as a house brick.

I really ought to invest in a watch.

Smoothing down her trousers, Claire locked the car and headed into the hotel. As she walked, she let her heavy hair fall over her face. It wasn’t going to pass close scrutiny, but she could live without the curious stares of strangers as they tried to work out if she was injured or deformed.

The hotel lobby echoed with the clipping sound of her heels as she paced to the reception desk. When she spoke to the woman behind the counter she was surprised to hear a wobble in her voice.

“Hi, I’m meeting someone for dinner. I doubt he will have made reservations, is there somewhere I can wait?”

“Are you Miss Carleton?”

Claire’s face grew hotter, and she gave a minute nod.

“I’m so glad. Mr O’Keefe said he tried to call you, to inform you that he was running late, but was unable to contact you. Please wait in the lounge, and he’ll come and find you when he arrives.”

Damn, damn, damn.

Claire nodded her acquiescence at the receptionist and followed her directions to the lounge.

I can’t believe he tried to ring me when my phone was flat. Now he really is going to think I’m incompetent.

Claire ordered a latte and chose a seat in the dark shadows at the corner of the room. She wished she’d brought a book, and vowed to replace her much-missed tablet with her first pay cheque, assuming one actually arrived and Conor didn’t sack her for ineptitude in her first week.

For want of something to do, she pulled out the notes she’d made at the library, and tried to cram the information into her beleaguered brain. The facts and figures refused to stick. Her mind buzzed with concern at her boss’s imminent arrival and her body yelled in pain every time she shifted in her seat.

She had taken to counting the bottles behind the bar by the time she heard a familiar voice calling her name.

“I’m over here,” she replied, raising a hand, and making sure her hair still hung low over her face.

“Claire, hi, I’m so sorry I’m late. Last minute hiccup. I tried to call you.” Conor strode over to where she sat, wheeling a small case behind him and carrying a suit bag over his shoulder.

“Sorry, my battery died while I was out walking today and I didn’t get a chance to charge it. You know smart phones; they only stay charged for about ten minutes.” She kept her voice light and hoped that honesty was the best policy.

“Beautiful day for a hike. Where did you go? No, wait, let me just run these things up to my room. Why don’t you go through to the restaurant and I’ll meet you there?” He waited only for her to signal her agreement, and then he was gone.

Claire felt strangely flat, as she watched him weave his way through the tables and back out towards the lifts. As he disappeared out of sight, she had to remind herself this wasn’t a date, it was business.


Sofa Saturday: 2013 365 Challenge #272

Sofa Saturday

Sofa Saturday

We let the kids have a sofa Saturday today.

Weekends haven’t figured much in our lives, certainly not for the last year, with hubbie looking for work and the kids only in childcare a couple of times a week. But now my firstborn is at school, Saturday comes back into its own.

I had to write my post (I’ve been struggling with story line recently, and it’s easier to come up with ideas in the morning), so I filled the lounge with cushions and let the kids watch TV while I searched my brain for inspiration.

I’ve noticed that my daughter is taking more time to be by herself since starting school. Not surprising really, as her joint class has over fifty children. For someone who has spent most of her life with just her brother to play with, the volume of kids is completely overwhelming. She starts full time next week and I’m actually thankful the teachers are on strike on Tuesday, just to let her have a day’s breather in what will be a long and tiring week.

We finally coaxed her out of her pyjamas after lunch, and dragged the family to the farm, dog and all. It was a bit of a waste, as she could barely keep her eyes open and little man – who has marched into the tiresome threes with passion – was in full back-chat, pushing the limits mode. We came home and collapsed exhausted. With all the emotional upheaval and sleepless nights of this week, I think we all need to take it easy.

So, an early night for the little ones, a glass of wine and some homemade lasagne for hubbie and I, a decent dose of Strictly Come Dancing, and it’s about the perfect Saturday. Now to go and make some more misery for Claire. Poor lass.


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: 


Claire stared into the darkness, aware that her alarm would drag her from sleep in only a few hours. The need to rest pulled at her but her eyes wouldn’t close. The phone on the pillow next to her face remained stubbornly still. She willed it to shine with good news. Or any news. The wait stretched her nerves until she felt she might snap.

Around her, gentle breathing indicated the other sleepers in the room. Claire envied them their peace. The last person had stumbled in an hour before, bumping and bashing the bunks before crawling under the covers and starting to snore. For the first time, Claire found the sound soothing. Normal.

Her heart thudded out time in her chest and she tried to imagine what might be happening around the other side of the world, where the sun was probably high in the sky.

Why hasn’t he sent me a message? Surely he knows something by now.

The thought that he’d arrived too late, and was too distraught to contact her, ran over and over like a stuck record. Claire fought the repetition with words of her own.

She’s not dead. She’s not dead.

At last the phone flashed bright light into the darkness. The hammering in Claire’s chest increased in tempo, booming into the silence. Her hands shook as she reached for the phone and it took a while for her eyes to focus.

We’re in the hospital. She’d taken all her meds, but the docs have sorted it. Hoping she’ll be fine. Thank you, you saved her life. Come see her when you land, I think she needs you. J

Claire slumped back against the pillows and let the adrenalin flow from her limbs into the lumpy mattress. Relief, guilt, exhaustion, swirled around like smoke. With shallow breaths, Claire allowed the news to sink in.

She’s going to be okay. She has to be.


The alarm tore through Claire’s troubled dreams. Vivid images of chasing across an endless field after a fleeting shadow danced infront of her eyes, even as she blinked to ground herself in the present. There was no time to think. The coach was leaving early and she had to be on it.

It should have been an amazing day; the perfect finish to her journey around New Zealand. The coach took them through a pass in the mountains and down into Twizel. Around them the alps stretched magnificent to a clear blue sky, the snow-capped peaks dazzling with their brightness.

Claire felt encased in lead. The beauty couldn’t touch her. Her body still trembled with spent emotion and she had to resist the urge to text Jeff every five minutes for an update. It was night time back home: if he was asleep he deserved the rest.

They arrived at Lake Tekapo and Claire looked across at Mt Cook in the distance. The iconic image of New Zealand was as remote as if she were viewing it from home. The tranquility clashed with Claire’s urgency to be moving. The coach was too slow, the passengers too relaxed – spending just another five minutes soaking in the view, just another five minutes finishing their lunch, taking one last photograph.

Come on, come on! I’ve got a plane to catch.

Wishing she’d found the extra money to take an Intercity coach, Claire made sure she was always first on the bus, hoping her punctuality would ensure their timely departure.


They drove into Christchurch after the sun had set. Claire couldn’t bring herself to check the time. She already knew she was cutting it dangerously close, getting to the airport in time for check in.

Staring at Christchurch out the window, part of Claire’s brain regretted not having time to explore the garden city. From what she could see, it was very like Cambridge, with the canals and the punts, all tied up waiting for the morning.

With any luck I’ll be in the real Cambridge the day after tomorrow. That’s what’s important.

Claire wrapped her hand around the strap of her rucksack, already on the seat next to her ready for her to dash from the coach as soon as it stopped. The coach seemed to be barely moving, stuck in the city traffic.

The knots tightened in Claire’s stomach as she tried not to contemplate what horrors awaited her if she missed her flight.


The Longest Day: 2013 365 Challenge #264

Say Cheese!

Say Cheese!

Today feels like it’s gone on forever. Uploading photos for the post, I saw a picture of the kids eating ice cream in the coffee shop and was shocked when I remembered that was lunchtime today. Daughter went to school for three hours this morning, and hubbie took son shopping for pyjamas, while I painted a shark (photo tomorrow) and wrote my post.

After school (only a morning session) we had lunch at the coffee shop (because Mummy has forgotten to buy food this week), home for quiet time, and then I took son to the Farm so Daddy and daughter could clean the house, ready for the birthday party tomorrow. There is still a lot to do.

It doesn’t help that I seem to be in a low point at the moment, and have been randomly sobbing for most of the day over trivial things, like not having any reviews on my book yet, despite asking friends who have read it to please at least give a star rating on Goodreads. I know reviews are as much a curse as a blessing, but for me a book doesn’t feel published until it’s had a review.

Enjoying the sun

Enjoying the sun

Then, of course, there are the dismal download numbers for my Dragon Wraiths free promo. I didn’t push it much, because I had other things to do today, but it’s still disappointing when you can’t even give your book away! Thankfully that’s the last free promo I need to worry about, as DW comes out of KDP Select next week, hurrah.

It’s frustrating the random things that seem to crash my brain when I’m already struggling. Stupid things, like worrying that the boys won’t like having pizza and chips for lunch at the party tomorrow, or the mummies will frown at its unhealthiness.

Or reading a blog post this morning about judgmental mummies and realising I can be a bit quick to judge by appearances, despite knowing how stupid that is.

All in all I probably feel about as good now as I did three years ago, when I sat eating fish and chips with my toddler, while hubbie was away in London on a work’s outing to a Dara O’Brien gig, and my waters broke – five weeks early.

Sand shark, sand boat

Sand shark, sand boat

My mum had to leave behind her half-cooked dinner and take me to hospital nearly an hour away – a hospital I hadn’t even visited, because my tour was scheduled for the following week.

I went in with a book to read and some clean pants, expecting to be there a few hours as was the case when my waters broke early with my first child, and I came home ten days later.

It’s the most surreal time of my life and quite possibly the start of my postnatal depression. There’s nothing like sending a control freak to hospital five weeks early and trapping her there to start a downward spiral.

Anyway, it’s been a long tough rewarding love-filled sleep-deprived three years, but I survived and I have a gorgeous boy to make it worth every moment of pain (as well as a beautiful daughter who is the best big sister in the world). Happy birthday little man.


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: 


Claire waved at the minibus and it pulled up beside her. A tanned man in his thirties beamed at her through the window, before jumping down and opening the door for her to get in.

“G’day, you must be Claire. Welcome to the tour.” He checked her name off against a clipboard, then ran back round the bus.

With a quick glance at the other passengers, Claire found a free seat and gazed out the window. There were only five or six people on the bus and she wondered if there were more people to collect. Her question was soon answered as the driver turned round to address the group.

“It’s just us today, folks, so should be a lovely quiet trip out to the peninsular. None of you are booked on the Albatross Experience, so we’ll spend a short time up at Taiaroa Head and see if we can spot some flying in. It’s the only mainland albatross colony in the world. Then we’ll head out to the beach and see the rest of the wildlife. Any questions just holler and I’ll try and answer them.”

As the bus pulled away, Claire revelled in the silence of a small group. It felt strange to be in a vehicle smaller than a coach, but it was great to be able to see the streets around her as they left the city.

Albatross at Taiaroa Head

Albatross at Taiaroa Head

Before long they were driving round a bay, heading for the Otago peninsular. The road hugged the coast as they made their way to the albatross centre. Overhead, blue sky blazed in between the pure white clouds scudding past.

At last the minibus climbed up a winding lane and arrived outside a long low building. The wind hit them like a wall as they headed for the bluff. Claire tugged her jacket closer and bent her head into the wind.

“Good weather for flying,” the driver yelled over the noise. “They need good lift to keep them airborne; they’re big birds. Keep yer eyes peeled.”

Claire gazed up at the sky, blinking away the tears dragged out by the wind. She wasn’t so sure she was bothered about seeing a giant seagull and wondered if the centre sold coffee. Tucking her hands under her arms to keep them warm, she stamped her feet and looked about to see what the other passengers were doing. She didn’t want to go inside and get left behind.

One of the couples were shouting at each other and pointing at the sky. Claire thought they were fighting, then realised they had seen something. Following the direction of their gesturing, she saw an enormous bird circling low before disappearing behind the building.

“Wow!” Even though she knew that albatrosses were big birds, nothing had prepared her for just how large.

“Keep watching. It’ll come back out shortly.”

Claire kept her eyes trained on the sky, while reaching for her phone to take a picture. As predicted, the bird re-emerged and Claire grabbed some shots, sure the bird would only be a tiny speck when she looked at the images later.

Buoyed by the experience, the passengers chatted together as they headed back to the bus. Claire wasn’t sure if the couples all knew each other, or were just being friendly. She didn’t feel like talking, so she hung at the back near the driver.

“Right, next stop sea lions. We’ll drive through the wetlands so you can see the sea birds and waders, but it’ll be good to get down to the beach fairly early, the weather often shifts later in the afternoon.”

Claire let the driver’s words wash over her, glad for once to follow along like a sheep. Despite the cost of the tour, this was the real New Zealand and she was happy to enjoy every minute.

The next hour passed in a blur of bird names and beautiful scenery. Claire realised how little she actually knew about any sort of wildlife, as the other passengers discussed this and that type of bird. She breathed a sigh of relief when they finally pulled up at the sea lion beach. This was what she had come for.

Hooker sea lions

Hooker sea lions

“Right. Just some rules before we reach the beach. These fellas are huge, but they won’t attack unless provoked. Don’t get between a sea lion and the sea and, whatever you do, don’t turn your back on them. If need be, run.”

Claire laughed, sure the driver was joking. He raised an eyebrow at her, and chuckled.

“We had an American tourist chased off the beach only last week. They move pretty fast for big creatures.” Seeing her grin, he added, “The sea lions. I couldn’t comment on the gentleman.”

The walk down to the beach tested Claire’s balance, and she tried not to think about how hard it was going to be to walk back up. Her muscles were already sore from the climb up Baldwin Street.

All this tour bus travelling is making me soft.

Suddenly a roar cut through the silence and Claire felt goosebumps rise on her arms beneath her jacket.

“Sounds like some of the young males are getting boisterous.” The driver’s voice came up the hill to Claire. “Should be good viewing.”

As they reached the beach Claire understood what he meant. Out in the middle of the sand, three or four giant beasts roared at each other, heads swaying, mouths wide. Claire shivered and turned her attention to the driver, determined to walk exactly where he did across the sand.

They made their way around behind the creatures, stopping at a hide to take some photographs. Then they were taken up to a grass covered sand dune, all of them following the guide into a wooden hut.

Penguins coming in at dusk

Penguins coming in at dusk

“It’s nearly time for the penguins to come in from the sea. As the sun goes down, they’ll come up the beach in groups; keeping a watch for the sea lions who might be after a tasty evening snack.”

Claire hunkered down to watch, ignoring the quiet chatter of the couples behind her. It was a magical place. She’d never seen such animals in the wild before. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d been to a zoo.

Watching the little penguins run in from the sea and make their way up the grassy hillside, Claire was conscious of a deep warmth within her chest. All the years she’d spent inside an office, surrounded by glass and steel, wires and technology, made no sense to her anymore. Here, shivering in a hut on a hillside, watching yellow eyed penguins scurry and scamper for their homes up impossibly steep terrain, seemed more real than anything in her own life.

She had no idea what the future held, but she was certain it wasn’t going to be in a concrete cage.


Waiting and Boredom: 2013 365 Challenge #231

Medi-ted in case of injuries

Medi-ted in case of injuries

I took the children to the Farm today to use up a few parenting hours and to return the favour to my husband for my morning off yesterday.

We turned up to find it was Teddy Bear’s Picnic weekend. For the first time in ages we didn’t have the kids’ bears in the car and no picnic (mouldy bread – bad housewife!) The same thing happened last year.

Luckily, as also happened last year, my rubbish tip of a car revealed two soft toys in its cluttered depths and we were saved the expense of having to buy one.

The lucky teddies got to bungy jump, raft across a pond to the pirates and even zip wire from the top of the Mill House.

Hiking Ted and Zippy bungy jumping

Hiking Ted and Zippy bungy jumping

Despite a distinct lack of communication amongst the staff and plenty of (mostly) patient waiting it was a great day. I’ve noticed that we parents are worse at waiting than the children. I found myself tutting at the slowness of some of the events and I wasn’t the only one. Yet the Farm does the event for free and it’s done by enthusiastic Rangers whose normal duties run to horse grooming and pet feeding, not going up in a cherry picker to drop teddy after teddy on the end of a piece of elastic. (Though they looked like they were having fun!)

I wonder why, as parents, we tut at standing in line even if our children are happy? Do we need constant entertainment more than they do?

There’s a virtue in boredom, especially for children. Mine are at their most creative and cooperative when I refuse to get out of bed in the morning or I ignore them in the bath so I can read my book. I feel guilty, yet they happily invent a game involving a jug, some bubbles and the creation of poo pie (thankfully not real).

When I first met my husband, and for too many years afterwards I’m ashamed to admit, I would berate him for laziness for just sitting. Although he would assure me it was valuable thinking time I would chafe at it, having been brought up to see it as sloth. My father liked to be busy and ensured we all followed suit. If we weren’t vacuuming or sweeping we were idle.

Zipwire ted (look for the little dot in the middle!)

Zipwire ted (look for the little dot in the middle!)

I can only rest if I’m reading. I rarely even walk the dog without writing my post as I am now. Yet I’ve discovered the importance of silence. I’ve learnt that the busy waters of my mind settle when left undisturbed, and deep thoughts rise from the depth.

For too long I worried about entertaining my children, making sure they had the right educational toys, the right activities, the right correcting input from me. Now I’ve learned they do better without all that. They fight less and make up quicker. They invent incredible games that only require a little advice from me (One at a time on the slide! After the third cracked head.)

I’ve been dreading school because Aaron will lose his partner in crime and I’ll be expected to fill the gap. But I’ve decided not to sweat it. He should also learn to sit and be at peace, to entertain himself, to be happy in his own company.

Meeting Baloo the bear

Meeting Baloo the bear

I used to think a first child got all the solitude, and never understood why I – as the second child – was happier in my own company than my sister. But now I think that, in the formative years from three to five, I was alone: my sister was at school for those three years. Whereas, for those formative years, my sister had me. Only a baby but company nonetheless. Someone to fetch and carry for, run around after, laugh with. Much as my daughter has had her brother, the never-ending playmate, and he only gets me. Poor sod.

Thankfully my daughter is pretty good by herself, though not often given the chance by an adoring brother. She will read stories, play with her dolls, make many colourful things out of pipe-cleaners and tissue paper. My son, so far, is not one for his own company.

Hopefully they’ll both learn new life skills when my daughter starts school in a few weeks. And Mummy can carry on reading her book!


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: 


Claire gazed into the gloopy mud, mesmerised as much by the sound as the sight. It looked like a giant vat of simmering soup; grey and reeking of rotten eggs. She’d tried to be impressed by the walk through the geothermal reserve, but it really did stink. All around her, steam rose from patches of muddy water, like a never-ending bog of eternal stench.

The Pohutu Geyser had been impressive. Thirty feet of water shooting into the sky against a backdrop of blue and green, like a fountain on steroids. The effect was rather spoiled by the heaving mass of tourists all around. Even though she was one of them, it was hard not to hate the chattering crowd of picture-snapping visitors that cooed over the sights and exclaimed against the smell.

The seven days since she’d started the bus tour felt like a month. So many sights and activities crammed into each day, there wasn’t time to process them. She longed to sit still and let it all sink in. Trying to absorb all the new experiences was like trying to memorise the phone book. Lovely as it was to squeeze the whole country’s key attractions into a few weeks, she wondered if maybe less was more.

A trilling noise from her pocket pulled her attention away from the hypnotic mud. She tried to calculate what time it was back in the UK, hoping it might be another text from Conor. Now and then over the last few days she’d found herself texting him the odd snippet from her travels; as if telling one person about them, as opposed to entertaining hundreds through the blog, made it more real.

Claire as you have not responded to my counter offer in the last fortnight I have to assume you are declining it. I must say I am disappointed and I think you’re making a mistake. I require the return of your laptop, phone and car. Julia will deal with the details. Carl.

Claire leant back against the railing and processed the words. Any temptation to accept the counter offer had evaporated with her fight with Kim and the subsequent need to get away and find a new future. Still, hearing that particular door clang shut unnerved her. What if Conor also rescinded on the job offer, while she gallivanted around expensive tourist haunts twelve-thousand miles away? She’d already failed to get funding from Roger. One by one the options evaporated, leaving her stranded.

My car too. My little Skoda. I can’t believe they’re going to take that back. It will probably end in a scrap yard.

In desperation, Claire tapped out a response to Carl, trying to buy herself some time.

Apologies for the lack of communication, I have been forced to take an unforeseen leave of absence. Would appreciate having the option to purchase the car from you at a reasonable cost. Will be in touch when I return to the UK. Claire.

She hit send, wondering if Carl had a single cell of goodness in him, or whether he would now have the car scrapped just to spite her.

At least I swapped phones already and had the sense to make sure the blog is in my name.

It was small comfort. Despite the heat emanating from the steaming pools, Claire pulled her jacket tighter and longed for a Starbucks.


Pretty Dog, Waggy Tail: 2013 365 Challenge #217

My beautiful girl

My beautiful girl

We’ve had a crazy weekend. Apologies if the Claire posts have been short: I should have done some writing prep last nursery day, instead of re-doing my website. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Saturday wasn’t meant to be so manic. (Can’t even remember what we did Friday, except we went swimming quite late!) Anyway, for Saturday I wanted something to fill the morning, to stop little man getting too excited about a birthday party at 3pm. So we took our dog, Kara, to our local Farm, for a kids’ dog show. A bit of a laugh, because she’s not trained and is quite scruffy. We didn’t even brush her, though she’d had a bath after rolling in fox poo!

When we arrived at the Farm, there were dogs everywhere. It was like taking Kara to a social. Lovely. We entered her for Prettiest Girl (Prettiest Bitch, but we reworded it for our under-fives!) and Waggiest Tail. Thanks to a marvellous body harness, the kids were able to walk her round, despite her weighing twice what they do. She was amazing! She didn’t jump or pull or try to play too much. Thankfully we’ve taken her to the Farm a couple of times before, so the goats and cows and bunnies didn’t distract her.

I held the lead with my daughter for the Prettiest Girl. And Kara won! I couldn’t believe it. We won a free grooming session with a mobile grooming parlour called Dapper Dogs. (I did wonder if she won because she’s the dog that most looked like she needed a free groom! Hehe). I got the impression that some of the more serious entrants were a bit put out by our victory. But it was a Kids’ Show. There were only a couple of child handlers there, so that many have helped too.

Isn't she pretty? :)

Isn’t she pretty? 🙂

Then we entered Waggiest Tail, and my husband let our son hold the lead by himself. Which of course produced tears from my daughter. So we entered her for Best Young Handler. Kara came second in Waggiest Tail (I’m not sure she had the waggiest, but she was certainly the happiest dog!) I was a bit embarrassed by that point.

Then we went on to Best Young Handler. I stayed in the ring, in case of emergencies, but my four-year-old daughter walked our 28kg Labradoodle round the ring by herself with ease. She had a piece of cheese in her hand and every time Kara got distracted, she waved it in front of her nose. I was the proudest Mummy/Dog Owner in the world! She came second (I thought she should have won!)

Of course then we had to stay for Best in Show (despite needing to leave because of the toddler party). I knew we wouldn’t win, because the judges were two of the people I talk to most when we visit the Farm. They couldn’t give us anything really. Just as well, because I think my daughter was starting to feel invincible and kept saying, “This is just too easy!”

It was a great experience. I felt bad, because our untrained scruffy dog shouldn’t have beaten the other beautifully trained, beautifully groomed pedigrees. That said, it wasn’t our dog that started a scrap in the Prettiest Girl competition, or growled at the other dogs. She was on her best behaviour and even remembering it makes my heart swell with pride. Well worth the exhaustion that had us like zombies yesterday! It just goes to show, you have to be in it to win it! 🙂


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: 


Claire read the email and felt the blood seep from her face. The glimmer of light that she’d been following for four crazy days fizzled out and left her in darkness. She read the words again, hoping to see a different meaning the second time.


Many thanks for your email indicating that you would like to accept my proposal of writing a column on the hostels of New Zealand. Unfortunately we have had a rethink and now feel this is not the most appropriate time to run the story. Our readers are considering holidays in hot countries and, as it is winter in New Zealand, it is unlikely to appeal to them.

Please do feel free to submit to us any articles that you produce and we will, of course, consider them alongside our other freelance writers.

I’m sorry I cannot be of more assistance in this case. Enjoy your stay in New Zealand, I understand it to be a beautiful country.




Claire felt the blood rush back to her face in anger, and then in mortification as she realised several people had turned round at her outburst. She ducked her head and fought the tears welling up her throat.

It’s only been a fortnight since I told him I couldn’t do it. How can he have changed his mind in a fortnight? And now what the hell am I going to do.

She thought about the price of her airfare, about the opportunities she’d given up by leaving the country without talking to Carl or Conor. I could be sitting on a beach in the Maldives, instead of stuck in this stupid hostel spending even more cash on food.

That was the big surprise. Claire had thought it would be cheap, travelling in New Zealand. But it was just as expensive as the UK, except now Carl wasn’t paying her bills.

So far she’d only left the supersized hostel to buy tea and milk. There wasn’t much need to go anywhere else, with the lounge and the bar on site.

I’m getting over my jet lag. That’s all.

When she had ventured outside, she’d felt like a child visiting New York for the first time, gazing up at the skyscrapers and blocking her ears against the noise. She knew Auckland was the largest city in New Zealand, but somehow she hadn’t expected it to feel like a city. The hostel was full of posters of things to see and do, like jump off the Sky Tower, or visit the harbour. Just seeing the posters made her want to hide under her duvet.

I need a hut on a beach and some peace and quiet. The sooner I get out of here the better. But how to do that, with no car? She felt immobilised by her lack of transport. I never thought I’d miss my little Skoda.

Her trip to the visitor information had been even more overwhelming: So many young people who knew what they wanted to do, from hitch-hiking or biking round the country to catching a lift with a stranger going in their direction. There was information on getting a job, on jumping off high places and swimming with large animals. Nothing that says, ‘Hey, new scared person, this option’s for you.’

Claire thought about her words. Am I scared? Really. After everything that’s happened this year. She sat up straighter in her seat, and looked again at the people around her. Seems like I have two choices. Make some friends or make a plan.

A thought tugged at Claire’s memory. Something she felt she had been told, or read about. Something important. Closing her eyes, Claire inhaled deeply and tried not to concentrate on the memory. At last it bubbled to the surface. A bar. A Kiwi. A driver. Of course! The Magic Bus.

Claire shut her iPad case and got to her feet. Friends, that was tough. She didn’t have a good record with friends. But now, at least, she had a plan.


Rainy Day Play: 2013 365 Challenge #213

Painting with feet. I said "feet" only!

Painting with feet. I said “feet” only!

Today I had the chance to remember what it is like to have two preschoolers requiring entertainment because of the weather.

They went to preschool this morning for a few hours (shorter than usual because it’s the school holidays) so I started formatting Dragon Wraiths for print. I’ve already done most of the front cover, but I think I need to put the brakes on because – if I’m going to ask people to spend all that extra to get a printed version (even though my profit will be much less) – the book needs to be in tip-top condition. Which means finding the money to have my proofreader go over it.

I got Baby Blues back from her today and I’m too scared to open the document. From the sample I’ve seen already, I have quite a lot of work to do! I know it took longer than she expected, so I anticipate her fee may increase significantly for the next one! 🙂

Bob the builder jacket as apron

Bob the builder jacket as apron

So, after potentially wasting several hours wrestling with Word Styles (a hangover from when Dragon Wraiths was written in multiple fonts) I had two hyped-up children and no energy.

We were meant to go and see the new calves at Sacrewell Farm, but I was still wearing a skirt, despite a change in the weather, and couldn’t quite face it. So I bribed them home with promises of baking and indoor painting with feet.

Big mistake, big, huge. With a thunderstorm lingering and humidity at 80% all I wanted to do was sit still and keep calm, not run around after two whirling dervishes hell-bent on destruction!

I learned the importance of the little things, too. Like having a stock of aprons. Trying to find two aprons so we could do baking took half an hour and all my patience, including a tantrum from little man (one of MANY today) when I said “well, you just won’t do baking then” because he was refusing to wear an old t-shirt of my daughter’s instead. In the end he wore his Bob the Builder hi-vis jacket back-to-front.

Indoor painting with feet. I said feet!

Indoor painting with feet. I said feet!

Indoor painting nearly ended in disaster, too. Despite repeated instructions to “Only use your feet”, little man painted his entire body. Again. Only this time we were downstairs in my kitchen, far too far from the bath for comfort.

So, as I have done many times this summer, I filled the paddling pool with bubbles and carried them both bodily outside, uttering the immortal words, “At least it’s not raining.” Big mistake, big, huge. The heavens opened. I put the kid’s picnic table over the paddling pool while I got drenched scrubbing the rest of the paint off them (I’d post pictures but feel funny putting nude pictures on the blog, even with bubbles protecting their modesty.)

Today I have read stories, built mega-block bus stations and towns, assisted in the creation of an alien, baked cookies, facilitated large-scale craft, alfresco bathing and puddle jumping, cooked healthy meals and played painful games of snakes & ladders and hide & seek. My reward? Endless tantrums.

Look what the postman brought!

Look what the postman brought!

Why is it the more attention you give the children, the more they push you and push you, until you want to go back to ignoring them while you design a CreateSpace front cover?

Little man was on a mission today to force me to be that kind of parent who follows through on their threats (See discussion on post #211 with Scottishmomus). He refused his lunch and his tea, despite his sister getting sweets and home-baked cookies for her dessert. (To give him credit, after the initial ten minutes of screaming, he took it well.)

At every opportunity he pushed it until he had a time out or a reprimand or a simple, “then we’ll put the game away,” which always ended in a bout of screaming and tears.

Normally this behaviour results in beautiful behaviour from the other sibling. Mostly it did. My daughter delights in being the good child. But by bed time they were both at it, until I felt like Mother Gothel in Tangled: “You want me to be the bad guy? Now I’m the bad guy.”

Sigh. The amazing thing is, it still felt like a great day. Because I know I gave the kids my attention, and I do that far less than I should (can’t imagine why!). Whatever they took from the day, I’ll take a gold star and go to bed happy. Besides, they’re at nursery tomorrow! 😉


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: 


Claire’s ears rang with a hum she heard through her skin rather than her senses. A background buzz, like white noise, that filled the cavernous space and turned the cacophony of voices into a dull roar. Airports always gave her a headache.

The plastic seat refused to provide any semblance of comfort, no matter how much she shifted. Eventually she stood and rested her shoulders against the wall. Time had lost meaning hours before, marked only by the intake of coffee and the necessary trips to the ladies’ room.

Against her will, Claire’s mind dredged over the events of the last twenty-four hours: a horror movie remembered in flashes despite the need to forget. Kim’s face held the strongest sway, filling Claire’s mind until she thought it must be imprinted on the inside of her eyelids.

She could still recall her own reaction: the blood draining from her brain, causing her to crumple. Jeff running to offer assistance and her shrill command that he go after his wife. Lying on the dew-damp grass, adding salty tears to the soil. If it hadn’t been for Sky, she’d probably still be lying there now. But Sky had woken when Jeff left her, and had called out in alarm, lost in the dark.

Funny how the cry of a child can bring you back from the deepest pit.

Claire remembered pushing against the ground with heavy limbs, stumbling to her niece and finding a voice in the desert in her throat. Somehow she had managed to get her niece home and to bed, before collapsing in exhaustion on her sister’s sofa. In the morning she’d smiled her goodbyes, driven the Skoda to her parents’ house and left it in the street without waking them. A taxi to the station, a train to the airport, and she had been here ever since. Waiting.

“Miss Carleton?”

Claire’s eyes snapped open and she peered through the fog to locate the source of the voice.


“We think we have something. Please come over to the desk.”

Claire shouldered her rucksack and followed numbly, barely registering the young woman’s smart uniform. She was only conscious of the click-click of the woman’s heels, and followed the sound like a blind person.

“We think there might be a space on the next flight. It’s economy class, will that be sufficient?”

Claire nodded. She would have sat in the hold if that meant getting away from the white noise and the clattering thoughts in her brain.

“The flight changes at Singapore. You’ll have a six-hour stop-over, I’m afraid.”

Claire shrugged. Six hours was nothing. She’d spent twice that waiting already.

“Can I have your passport, please?”

A dart of alarm pierced the fog and, for a moment, Claire’s brain went clear. Then she remembered collecting the passport from her mother’s a fortnight before, the day after Kim’s wedding. Has it only been two weeks? Shaking away her disbelief, Claire retrieved the burgundy booklet from her handbag and slid it over the counter.

The woman told her the cost of the flight and asked for payment. Praying there was enough room on her credit card, Claire handed it over.

And then it was done.

“Your flight leaves in thirty minutes. I’ll need to take your bag now, so we can get it on board. Please proceed directly to the gate.”

After so much time waiting, the suddenness left Claire reeling. Her glacier-slow thoughts sped up, like a movie on fast forward, and she ran through the things she would need for the 30-hour journey. Grabbing her wash-bag, iPad, phone and clean underwear from the rucksack, she handed the rest to the helpful woman, and prayed she would see it again.

The button remained on fast forward as Claire scurried to her gate, clutching her boarding ticket and passport. The departure lounge was empty as she arrived, and the uniformed women at the desk ushered her through. Along a long tunnel and up and down stairs until she was aboard the plane that would be her home for the next twelve hours.

The hostess showed her to her seat. Claire’s heart sank as she saw her travelling companions; two hulking men either side of her middle seat, both with arms already spread over the arm rests. Beggars can’t be choosers. Hopefully I’ll sleep.

With apologies, Claire slid into her seat and fastened the belt. Only then did she allow herself to breathe. Her limbs began to shake, and she wondered if she might be sick. The plane felt hot and there didn’t seem to be any air. Claire fiddled with the air vent but nothing came out.

“They won’t turn it on until the plane is off the ground.”

Claire turned to face the man to her left. He smiled, white teeth shining from a dark face, and held out a hand.

“Name’s Darren. This your first time on a plane?”

Claire took the hand reluctantly, and shook her head. Not wanting to be rude, but equally not wanting to have a chatty companion for duration of the flight, Claire pulled out her iPad and opened a book. She felt the man hesitate, then went limp with relief as he turned back to his paper.

The tannoy reminded passengers to switch off their phones. Claire retrieved hers from her bag and noticed a text message. Her hands trembled as she opened it, hoping and dreading who it might be from. It was from her sister.

Mum’s noticed your car outside this morning, and wondered how long you’re leaving it there. Ruth.

Ignoring the glares and tutting sounds from the man to her right, Claire tapped out a quick reply.

Have gone away on a last minute business trip, will tell you more later. Tell Mum the car will be there for a couple of weeks, but I’ve posted the keys through her letter box so she’s free to move it. Talk soon. Claire.

She hit send, then turned off the phone and her iPad, as requested. Pulling the eye-mask out of the bag of freebies in the pocket in front of her, she blocked out the world and pretended to sleep.