September – The Monday of Months

So happy to start, so quick to say it's boring!

So happy to start, so quick to say it’s boring!

Garfield (my childhood hero) calls February the Monday of months. I used to agree: it’s past the excitement of winter and January sales, but a long way from the warmth and hope of April.

But now I have a new Monday month: September. It truly stinks.

I thought that back to school would be something to celebrate – that seems to be what other mums do. You survive the summer holidays, pack the darlings off in their uniform and brand new shoes, and get back to work.

Not so much in the Martin household.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a ‘job’ to go back to. Writing waits until I find breathing space, because parenting comes first. So far this month I’ve finished a print proof of Will on the Water and started two submission packs for agents.

That’s it.

And I haven’t managed any cleaning, ironing, decorating, swimming, dog walking, or anything else I planned to do with all the ‘free time’ everyone thinks I have.

Of course this year is extra hard: My son has only done two short sessions so far, and won’t be full time for weeks. He’s tired and emotional and missing his dummies. His sister is grumpy and sensitive because school is ‘her thing’ and she doesn’t really want her brother muscling in on her territory.

But it’s more than that. Adjusting to new routines and people doesn’t come easily to any of us. My daughter finds breaking in a new teacher very hard: she cries every day at drop off and wants to be at home with me. I leave her clinging to a teaching assistant, saying, “I’m going to miss you so much Mummy.” But then when she gets home she’s horrid. Shouty, confrontational, bolshy. Me, basically.

And so the guilt starts. What am I doing wrong, that every other child sits down nicely and gets on with their work while mine sobs? What did I do wrong, that my daughter shouts and screams and picks fights with her brother, when in the summer they (mostly) play beautifully together. What am I doing wrong that I’m and exhausted to the point of falling asleep over dinner, when I’m not juggling all this AND a job, like all the other mums and dads?

I settled my guilt in the holidays. I felt like a great parent. We had fun and learned stuff and got along.

Now I feel like I’m living in a conflict zone (I hesitate to say war zone, conscious as I am of what that truly means, and how my problems pale into insignificance compared with refugees from real wars.)

I’m sure it will get better, easier. The sun is shining today, it feels less like November and more like the month I used to love: the month of pulling my jeans back on and walking in the long stretching golden rays of evening.

That was before school, before a child’s birthday fell three weeks into term (and said child refused to have an easy ‘soft play centre’ party this year!), before the endless ‘stay at home mummy’ guilt.

Until then, as hubbie said this morning, just keep swimming…

Reviews, Revisions and RSI

The coveted snippets

The coveted snippets

Septembers are shaping up to be crazy months for me. It doesn’t help that this is the second year in a row that hubbie has been between contracts in September, so added to the usual mayhem I have an extra child at home to feed and worry about 🙂

September marks the return to routine, but is exacerbated by a new school year – new lessons, homework, after school clubs, teachers, expectations – and the fact that my son’s birthday is three weeks in. Even though we opted for the easiest party ever this year, at a soft play centre, so no food prep, no painting giant sharks or making decorations, we still had invites, party bags and presents to sort, and sibling grief “when is it MY birthday?” to contend with.

I buy for all the family, as I know my son’s various requests best, so I have the added stress of sourcing gifts for grandparents and aunties. The party was a blast though – the first I’ve actually been able to enjoy – and he’s as happy with his toys as a four-year-old who watches too many TV adverts can ever be.

Cheeky monkey

Cheeky monkey

September is also my chance to return to writing. As I discussed in my previous post, that wasn’t as straight-forward as I’d hoped, after discovering my old manuscript was dire. I decided to stick with it but I’m more re-writing than revising, and the going is slow. Thankfully the story is coming together, with some help from my shelf of craft books. I don’t think it will hit my Christmas deadline but, as I’m hoping it will form part one of a trilogy, it’s more important to get it right than get it out.

That’s particularly the case after Class Act’s rubbish launch (I struggle to give it away!) To boost morale (and in the vain hope it might help Class Act sales) I ran a free promo for Baby Blues a couple of weeks ago. I had a whopping 8,000 downloads, mostly in the US. And while it didn’t result in as many residual sales as I’d hoped, It has led to some lovely reviews. I finally have enough reviews in the US to get the little snippets next to my rankings. I was disproportionately chuffed!

The final thing that’s made September crazy is my knitting obsession. I’ve moved on from cats to monkeys, at my son’s request. I can’t read patterns so I’m making things up as I go. It’s extremely liberating, after all that loom-banding when one tiny mistake resulted in a pile of bands instead of an amazing creation. The downside is, apparently, knitting gives me shocking RSI. My hands are numb, my wrists swollen and my arms sore. Gutted. To find a satisfying hobby away from the iPad, and then to have to keep stopping from pain is so frustrating. But I daren’t risk not being able to type!

Anyway, a rather prosaic update. I just wanted to say I’m still here, still alive, still plugging away, and shocked that September’s nearly over already. At least I’m never bored!

September to Remember: 2013 365 Challenge #244

In the crow's nest

In the crow’s nest

My goodness, is it September already? I only realised because my KDP books sales reports have gone from ‘not very many’ to ‘ugly brown bar that will make you miserable until you sell a book’. Hopefully I’ll manage to get Baby Blues finished sometime soon to boost sales all round.

This September will be one to remember. This is the month when my son – my baby – turns three. My daughter – my other baby – starts school. My second book, Baby Blues, goes out in the world, hopefully in print and ebook format. My hubbie (hopefully) finds a job, and I get to wear jeans again at last as we move into autumn. I love autumn!

It’s been a helluva year and September always feels like that month when things begin to wind down. Crazy, as there are still four months left of the year, but it still does.

Building dens

Building dens

I’m hoping this September will also be the month of reading: I just won a bundle of books in a Ebook Escapes Author Tour rafflecopter giveaway! I never win anything, so I’m very excited. What a great way to start the month.

Actually I started the month lying in bed for an hour next to a comatose husband, while the kids took themselves downstairs to play. God bless them. Hubbie has been away playing cars for two days, so he is exhausted. I took the children out to one of the farms we visit yesterday, with some friends, and we tried very hard to wear the children out.

Four hours at the farm, riding ponies, making dens, digging in the sandpit, and we went back to their house for more playing, trampolining, den building, and craft, finishing with a loud, noisy, splashy bath which thankfully their daddy was in charge of.

My smart boy

My smart boy

My children were finally home and in bed at 8.30pm and I crawled up an hour later, thinking I could write my post in the morning while they slept in. Only they were up at 6.30am. How do kids do that?

And instead of writing my post I started filling out my Smashwords author questionnaire, before realising I was writing all about Dragon Wraiths when it’s locked into KDP Select until the end of the month! Oops.

So apologies for the random ramble of a post this morning: I’m trying to get my brain into gear to write the first Claire installment of September. Always the hardest of the month, as it’s hopefully the grab for people to download and read the ebook. By the way, if you know anyone who fancies a gentle read in nice, easy to manage, 20-25k chunks, do send them to Smashwords, Apple or Barnes & Noble to download the Claire installments. Or send them here, of course! 🙂

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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 stepped back, her face burning. Afraid to meet Josh’s gaze, she stared at the floor, until she heard him chuckle.

“Well, that was some welcome. I didn’t need to worry whether you’d be pleased to see me then?”

Claire’s cheeks burned hotter and she turned to collect her rucksack; feeling a strong urge to keep walking to the door.

Really cool, Claire, really clever. Flinging yourself at a married man like he’s your long lost lover. What were you thinking?

Retrieving her bag, Claire concentrated on long, slow, breaths, to calm her hammering heart and cool her red-hot skin. After everything that had happened in the months since she’d last seen him, it had been more than she could do to keep herself under control.

He’s still married. Just because he’s come to New Zealand to find me, he still has a wife and three kids.

She forced herself to smile brightly, and walked back to Josh. “It’s always nice to see a friendly face when you’re a long way from home.”

Josh raised an eyebrow and Claire prayed he wouldn’t push it. For a moment they were still and something seem to pass between them, although Claire couldn’t decide exactly what. He seemed vulnerable, as if he also needed a hug, a friend. She remembered his email had said precisely that.

Then a mask dropped over his features, and he was the old Josh. “So, how are you liking being on the right side of the world? Plucked up the courage to bungee jump yet?” He linked arms with her and guided her to a seat.

Grateful for his light words, Claire sought to do the same. “I love New Zealand. No I haven’t thrown myself off a bridge with an elastic band round my ankles, but I have been white water rafting and sand boarding. You’d have been proud.” She flushed, as memories of him coaxing her to jump off a waterfall came to mind. He felt like her teacher in the life of the verb and that led onto other dangerous thoughts.

If Josh noticed he didn’t say anything. “Yes, I’ve seen some of it on the blog. You’ve come a long way, I’m impressed. And how do you like the tour bus experience?”

“Ah, not so much. You know I missed the bus? At Cape Reinga? It’s not the same as having your own car. But at least I don’t have to think.”

Beneath the veneer of their words, Claire could feel the tension, the shared memories of travelling around England in her Skoda, of hiking and getting drunk together. He bore little resemblance to the scruffy man who had taken her to an observatory in the snow three months before.

Looking at him now, she wondered if she would have recognised him if she hadn’t known it was him in the lift. There was no hint of the unwashed hobo. His hair was short and neat, his skin tanned. His clothes had no patches or home repairs, no stains or holes. He looked every inch the doctor on vacation, in his polo shirt and jeans.

She felt herself under a similar scrutiny and wondered what Josh saw. Could he tell that her clothes hadn’t been washed in a fortnight? Did she look like someone whose world had collapsed in the intervening weeks since their last meeting?

At least I had a shower this morning. Thank god he didn’t see me when I got off the ferry yesterday.

“You look … well. A tan suits you.” Josh said eventually, his words breaking the silence. “You’re thinner, though. Are you eating properly?”

His low voice burrowed into her tummy, leaving a warm glow. Claire became aware of every inch of her skin, every sound around her. The receptionist greeting travellers with a cheery hello. The barista in the bar whistling over the sound of the coffee machine. Chinking cutlery as someone laid the tables for lunch. She could smell Josh’s aftershave, although he no longer carried the scent of wood smoke. She wondered if Fiona disapproved of him smoking.

As if remembering her name brought Josh’s wife into the room, Claire jerked, feeling as if she’d been doused in cold water. With a shake of her head she tried to recall his question.

“Yes, I’m fine. Being stuck on a tour bus is a great way to diet. And I was on the ferry that got turned back from Picton yesterday.”

Josh’s expression changed to a more professional concern. “Holy crap, are you okay? No bumps or bruises? I heard that was pretty bad. Ten hours on a boat, poor chook. Have you had breakfast?”

She nodded, unable to speak. It had been so long since someone had worried about her – since she’d felt herself to be anything other than a nuisance – that the tears threatened to spill down her cheeks again.

Josh seemed to sense her distress. He sat up straight and smiled, although his eyes remained troubled.

“Let’s get out of here. Do you want me to drop your rucksack in my room? Then we can go exploring. Did you see much of Wellington? Have you been up to Mount Victoria? It’s worth the walk.”

Grateful for his understanding, Claire nodded. “That sounds good. I didn’t see much, the weather was awful.”

“That’s a plan then.” Josh leapt to his feet and picked up her bag. “Let’s go exploring.”

Knowing she would regret it, but helpless to resist, Claire followed meekly in his wake.

***

Harvest: 2013 365 Challenge #225

Tractors on the road (wasn't driving when took this!)

Tractors on the road (wasn’t driving when took this!)

It’s harvest time here in the UK. I love the harvest. Despite the late nights, the noise, the dust, the traffic, the “mummy, a tractor, look!” a hundred times a day, it’s a wonderful time of year.

I followed a tractor and trailer home this afternoon, driving at 30mph. Normally travelling at that speed would have me cursing, dithering as to whether I should try and overtake, especially on a nursery day, when time is precious. But because it was a harvest tractor I sat back, listened to the radio, and enjoyed the rest. Every half a mile we pulled over to let another tractor through – our country lanes not being wide enough for two cars in places, never mind two tractors.

The drivers smile, even though they’ve probably had five hours’ sleep a night this week. They drive into the dark; their wide headlights lighting the hillside.

You can spot a combine harvester by the dust. Even though it’s a common sight, it still makes me smile. There’s something so essential, so powerful, about watching the beast of a machine sweeping up the fields, leaving bareness behind and disappearing in a cloud of dust like a camel running through the desert (not that I’ve ever seen a camel in the desert. That’s how I imagine it might look, anyway.)

Fields with a haircut

Fields with a haircut

Soon the fields will be ploughed in; changing from wheat-yellow to dark brown. The dog will come home filthy and some paths will be impassable. It looks like a better harvest this year. Last year’s wheat, especially, was devastated by the floods. Farmers lost half their yield and the price of bread shot sky-high.

As the land is managed on a three-field crop rotation, we’ve had some set-aside and some oil seed rape in the local fields this year. Maybe next year it will be potatoes. My favourite crop is barley. As Sting famously sang, the fields come alive in the sunlight and wind, rippling like a bran-coloured ocean.

I can’t imagine living somewhere with no harvest. It marks the turning of the season like no other event. My step-father used to work on a farm and harvest time we never saw him. He would be driving until 2am and – in the days before mobile phones – my mum would go out armed with a field map and lunch box to take him his dinner.

It’s an energetic time. Activity everywhere. On the roads, in the fields, round the farms and the storage barns. Scurrying mammals bringing in the food before the winter. We’re all squirrels at heart.

Harvest means the end of summer, too. The end of the school holidays in sight. The year running away like sand in an hour glass. This year is particularly poignant as it’s the end of preschool life for us. Harvest reminds us that the seasons change, the year ebbs and flows, life goes on. Hopefully I’ll feel like that once school starts in September!

P.S. I used pictures from my NZ honeymoon to write today’s Claire installment so had to include them below. There might be other NZ pictures in Claire posts for the next few weeks! Any excuse. 🙂

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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 leant her head against the window in what was becoming her preferred position. A night spent back in Auckland had restored her equilibrium after the sand-boarding experience, although she had bruises on her bruises, and muscles she didn’t previously know existed still burned.

Amazing views, Coromandel

Amazing views, Coromandel

Outside the window rolling, undulating, forest views sped past too fast as the driver negotiated hairpin bends and steep drops. Claire was glad she’d slept rather than followed the others out drinking the night before. She suspected it might have otherwise been hard to keep food in her tummy with the swaying of the bus and the changes of scenery from green to blue, dark to light, forest to sea.

They arrived at the hostel all too soon and Claire reluctantly left her window seat to go and check in. Some of the group were leaving immediately to kayak round to a place called Cathedral Cove.

Deciding her muscles had received enough of a pounding for a few days, Claire had opted out. Gazing now at the blue skies still smiling above, she wondered it if was too late to change her mind.

“Any folks wanting a lift round to the Cathedral Cove, I’ll be leaving in a while. Come and meet me back at the bus after you’ve checked in, and bring your walking shoes.”

Claire gave the driver a smile and he grinned back, flicking his eyelid in a flirtatious wink. It had been a huge relief to get on the bus that morning and discover a new driver would be taking them down the east coast. Whatever had sparked the previous driver’s antagonism towards her, she obviously hadn’t made the same mistake this time. If anything, this one was too charming though she wasn’t going to complain about that. Not yet, anyway.

*

The view from the car park made Claire stare in wonder. Even though she’d watched the views out the window all day, nothing had prepared her for the brilliance of seeing it without glass. At first glance it was only sea and trees; but the depth of the colours brought out by the afternoon sun made the whole panorama shimmer.

They followed the narrow footpath down towards the cove. Every turn, every few minutes’ walk, revealed a new view. The sea changed colour continuously, from navy blue to steel grey and back to aquamarine. Islands lay scattered across the bay like Russian dolls.

Gemstone Bay

Gemstone Bay

A few minutes further and the scene changed again: this time, white cliffs could be seen between lime-green ferns. The water in the bay below shone turquoise, whilst further out to sea jet skis carved brilliant white crescents against the pthalo blue. Throaty engines echoed in the silence, but the roar of the machines couldn’t break her peace. Her heart sang.

Following sign posts, Claire took a detour to find gemstone bay. She came through the trees to discover a pebble-strewn beach lurking beneath a rocky bluff. The stones shimmered red and green in the water like the precious gems the bay was named for. Snapping some pictures, Claire returned up the path, groaning at the pain in her calf muscles.

Right. No more unnecessary detours.

Eventually they reached sea level. All along the beach, tourists stood with cameras ready, trying to capture the perfect image. The cathedral itself was a hole in the rock, like Durdle Door – on Claire’s list of things to visit in Dorset, before she’d decided to run away to the other side of the world.

Why do I keep comparing things to Dorset? As if anything that county has to offer can come close to the Coromandel scenery I’ve witnessed today.

Cathedral Cove, Coromandel

Cathedral Cove, Coromandel

Claire waited by the natural stone archway, trying to take a photograph with no people in sight. It took too long and eventually she settled for figures in the distance. Sometimes trying to take shots she could use for the blog tried her patience.

Ahead she heard the sound of laughing and splashing and she strolled through the tunnel to investigate. On the next beach, a group from her bus were paddling in the sea. One person had stripped off and was swimming out to a distant rock.

Claire kicked off her shoes and dipped an experimental toe in the water. It was freezing. She joined the others to discover who the crazy swimmer was. As he waved from the rock and dived back into the water, she watched his progress with a sinking certainty.

Neal. Of course, I might have known.

Not wanting him to catch her watching, Claire hurried back through the cathedral and made her way to the bus. Halfway up the walk, she paused to catch her breath. A strange impulse caught hold of her, like a shift in the weather. She took out her phone and tapped a text message, hitting send before she could change her mind.

Conor, it’s Claire. Just wanted to say hi and thanks for the text. I’ve just been to see a place that reminded me of Dorset. You’d love it. There will be pictures on the blog tomorrow. Sorry if this wakes you. Claire.

Without stopping to analyse her actions, Claire stuffed the phone back in her bag and continued her walk to the bus.

***