Nearly There: 2013 365 Challenge #364

My sister bought me this for Christmas!

My sister bought me this for Christmas!

Oh my goodness, here we are, my penultimate post of 2013. When I started the 365 Challenge back in early January, I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the end of the month, never mind the end of the year. By Day 4 I was just beginning to realise what was involved.

It wasn’t merely committing to writing 1,000 words a day (on average: some days a post can be nearer 2,000 when both parts are combined) but also finding time to edit and proofread those words; to make sure each post entry and each novel installment made sense; then adding photographs, tags, categories and getting it live.

I feel like I’ve come a long way.

When I began a year ago, I thought the daily novel would be the main part. I hoped to get blog followers from people who wanted to carry on reading what I was writing. That didn’t happen on the blog, but rather over on Smashwords, where the downloads across all volumes number in the thousands. Here on the blog, while the increase in followers hasn’t been massive, I feel more like I have made some really great friends. I’ve met fellow writers, artists and parents, I’ve discovered one or two amazing Beta Readers, I’ve felt – like Claire – that I’ve found my way home.

I’ve also grown as a writer. My confidence in my ability to write is significantly greater now, after the countless hours I’ve invested in Two-Hundred Steps Home. I know, now, that I can write and polish a 500-word blog post, or a 750-word scene in a novel, in under an hour.

Thank you to my amazing kids!

Thank you to my amazing kids!

I can research anything I feel the need to discuss, from a remote pub in New Zealand to what it really means to survive suicide. I can format and self-publish a novella in a few hours and get it through Smashwords’ Autovetter first time (although I haven’t resolved my issue with their Premium Catalogue!)

Best of all, I’ve learned how to edit my own stuff and Beta-read for others. When I began my journey I was trying to proofread Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes (or Pictures of Love, as it was back then). I couldn’t do it. Line-editing left me cold. Now I know that I have to do it in chunks, and then there is a delight in crafting the words and making the sentences flow.

Let’s not leave out that I’ve written 285,000 words of fiction this year, and will have published it as 12 separate volumes, each with a cover designed by me. On top of that, I estimate that I’ve written a further 200,000 words in blog posts. That’s nearly half a million words. In one year. If they were novels, I would have drafted out five. Five! During 2 or 3 days of childcare and lots of late night sessions.

I couldn’t have done it without my family. My husband has been amazing. He’s my best critic and my biggest fan. He’s taken the children when I’ve needed to write (I couldn’t have done the challenge if he hadn’t been had home for most of the year), he’s put up with me sleeping on the sofa then prising my eyes open at 10pm to tap out five hundred words. He’s put up with a dirty house and takeaway pizza.

My poor children have dealt marvellously with a tired and grumpy Mummy who constantly has her laptop open or is always taking pictures “for the blog”.

My amazing family

My amazing family

Their recompense is that they have this unique diary of a year of their lives. Reading back through my posts is to read through some of the highs and lows of being a parent (and a human being).

None of my posts are likely to see me Freshly Pressed: I may have learnt to write fast, but I haven’t learned to write profoundly. Still, it’s all been written truthfully and from the heart.

And so I thank you all for listening. Without readers, followers, this would all be me shouting into the wind. Knowing people cared about me, about Claire, about the story, has kept me going.

The support of people on this blog has also led to me releasing two of my novels this year also; something I still find incredible.

To anyone thinking about undertaking a writing challenge in 2014 I say, “Do it!” And, so you don’t quit, get out there and tell people. Get support. Face humiliation for failing. Because some days the only thing that got my tired body up and at the laptop was the fear of failure. Not that failing is bad. I love the Samuel Beckett Quote “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Don’t be afraid to fail. As I said to my daughter, when she threw a tantrum for losing at her second-only ever game of checkers this evening, “It’s not winning or losing that counts, it’s having fun along the way.”

And it’s been fun. Mostly. 😉 See you tomorrow for the final installment!

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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 could barely swallow the food. Her throat felt as if it was lined with grit. She put down her fork and sipped at her water. Across the table, Conor’s plate was equally full. They’d exchanged only pleasantries since arriving at the restaurant. The longer they sat, the harder it was to speak the words that hovered between them like a flock of hungry seagulls.

“Walk with me.” Conor’s eyes pleaded with her and she nodded. While she retrieved her cardigan and bag he went to pay the bill. They left the restaurant in silence and she followed him down through the high street towards the shore.

The sun had sunk below the horizon and streetlights cast shadows across the empty beach. Out on the water a few boats bobbed like ghosts, but it was a far cry from the crowds of the Carnival only weeks before. With the children back at school there was an air of ending about the town; a sadness that tugged at Claire like a riptide and pulled her under.

What must it be like to live in a seaside town, where the passing of the seasons takes a back seat to ebb and flow of the tourist trade?

She wondered if she would feel the same at the activity centre, but knew that she wouldn’t. Timothy planned to take children all year round, with summer camps in the long vacation and school trips for the rest of the year. While the nearest town was a tourist resort, it also had a harbour and a university. Different blends of life intertwining to provide a tapestry of endless change.

And where will I fit in, in that tapestry? She didn’t know the answer, but knew it didn’t matter.

They walked along the shore, to the mournful sound of the tide sucking at the stones only to fall away. Conor took her hand loosely in his and the touch of his skin sent sparks across her body. She yearned to turn and yield to his embrace.

“When do you start?”

Claire jumped as his voice came loudly out of the dark. She didn’t need to ask what he meant.

“Monday.”

“So soon?”

She heard the pain and hardened herself against it. “The first school group arrived this week. They need me.”

“And what about me? What if I need you?” Before she could respond, he spoke again. “Sorry, that’s unfair. God knows you’ve done enough for other people this year. I don’t want to be another duty.”

He dropped her hand and ran his fingers through his hair as if trying to stop himself flying apart. She could just make out his face in the gloom and saw him give a wry smile.

“I tried. Really I did. I wanted to support you in whatever decision you made. But then it was so perfect, spending time with you, and I couldn’t imagine letting you go. I still can’t.”

He reached up to stroke her face, before letting his arm fall again. “Why?” The word hung in the dark and she didn’t know how to respond. “Why is it so important to you to go?”

She searched her thoughts for answers. “Honestly? I don’t know. All I know is that I have to do this. If it means losing you, being lonely forever, then that’s the price I have to pay.”

Once she started speaking, the words wouldn’t stop. They rushed on relentless, like the incoming tide. “I’ve spent my life living the role I thought was expected of me. At home, at school, at work. I have to find my own path, even if that means slipping down the odd cliff.”

She saw him smile at the memory; a sad, nostalgic smile as they both pictured a bedraggled woman covered in grazes. She tore her gaze away and looked over his shoulder at the ocean, glimmering in the dusk. Memories would only imprison her in a life she wasn’t ready to live.

As if answering a question he hadn’t articulated, or maybe a question from her heart, she continued, “Yes, it’s worth it. Yes I’ll sacrifice having an iPad and a shiny car, a career with prospects, even the man I love like breathing, if it means I can be true to myself.”

The word love reverberated around them. When he reached for her, she saw the longing in his eyes and felt herself waver. She had to escape before her resolve crumbled into dust, eroded like the limestone cliffs that anchored his heart in a town which would never be home.

Stretching up on tiptoe, she brushed a kiss across his lips, then turned and ran up the beach, before he could see the tears falling down her cheeks.

***

iBook Madness: 2013 365 Challenge #342

This greeted me this morning. Lovely.

This greeted me this morning. Lovely.

I woke this morning to a message from Smashwords, saying that one of my Two-Hundred Steps Home volumes has been booted out of the Premium Catalogue because of a link to a competitor site, which is frowned upon.

I had already been alerted to the issue through a ticket opened by Apple, saying I had a link to Amazon in my book. I’d only reloaded the offending volume (which had previously been approved for Premium Distribution) because Barnes and Noble weren’t pulling through the front cover. As I may have mentioned in the past, formatting for Smashwords could drive you crazy!

I couldn’t find any Amazon links, so I went through and removed all the links except my blog, Facebook and Twitter ones. Considering that the whole purpose of writing THSH this year, to the detriment of my other projects (not to mention sleep and sanity) was to promote the blog and hopefully sell books, I figured that was fair. I offer the books for free, after all.

Then I got this message from Smashwords telling me the link that had Apple in a tizz was the writermummy blog link because my blog has links to my novels on Amazon. I mean, seriously? That would be like telling me to remove my twitter and facebook links because I occasionally promote my books through these channels. Paranoid, much? I wouldn’t mind if I’d actually sold a single book through Apple when my novels were available there. I don’t even get many free downloads from them.

Volumes 10 and 11 missing from Apple

Volumes 10 and 11 missing from Apple

Unfortunately Smashwords doesn’t offer the ability to have different versions for Premium Distribution and their own store. I can take my books out of iBook distribution, but I have at least one reader I know who downloads from there and it doesn’t seem fair for her not to have access to the final volume. But taking off my blog link is absurd. The books are intrinsically linked to the blog.

I read around the subject this morning, after writing a ranty message to Smashwords (a shame in itself because I’ve been a huge advocate up to now) and it seems there is no other way to get free books into Barnes & Noble (my biggest source of downloads) other than through Smashwords. I hate being cornered like that. To be fair, I don’t think many of those 2,800 B&N downloads have resulted in blog traffic (I wish!) but it isn’t the point.

I don’t understand the paranoia (particularly about a free book). Either you have a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad. You will buy your ebooks through the route your device dictates. No one is going to rush out and buy a kindle merely because my novels aren’t available through iBook.

Anyway, I don’t have the time to change anything now. If that means all my books end up not available through B&N or iBooks, then so be it. If anyone wants a copy and it isn’t available, then you can download the volumes in all formats directly from Smashwords (or I’ll email you a copy!). I have a long memory, though. I’ve already unpublished from Kobo because of their stunt earlier in the year. One day these retailers will realise that, without authors, they have nothing. I won’t be missed but maybe, just maybe, an author with sufficient clout will become annoyed with them. Or perhaps I’m naïve and big business does call all the shots. What a shame.

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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’s head whirled as she downed the drink on the table in front of her. She remembered now why she hated pub crawls. It wasn’t just getting drunk too quickly, and trying to move in a straight line when the world was spinning, it was the bloated tummy and the sloshing sensation as yet another quantity of liquid was consumed too fast.

She reeled and felt a steadying arm wrap round her shoulders. “Whoa, there. You don’t have to keep up, you know. The real race is over. This is just the lads from the office now: no need for bravado.” The voice whispering in her ear seemed hardwired to other, more intimate, parts of her body. She focussed on staying upright and turned to him with a bright smile.

“I’m fine, Conor. I’m a bit out of practice is all. Not much call for getting drunk on your own. No good reasons at any rate. It’s been a while.”

Conor gave her back a quick rub, then dropped his arm. He didn’t move away, however, and Claire found his presence at her side comforting. She looked around blearily, trying to see who was still with them. She recognised most of the faces, although they all looked a little worse for wear.

“I think maybe I should push the wheelbarrow on the next stint,” she said to Conor. “If I climb back in, I might fall asleep.”

“My poor Claire,” Conor said with a smile. “You have been a good sport.”

“Well, after you went to all that trouble to find me a cushion I could hardly refuse, could I? Just please tell me there’s no photographic evidence.”

Conor raised his eyebrows and said nothing. Claire groaned. “Great. I guess that was inevitable. Maybe no one will remember who I am.”

Her boss let out a loud laugh. “Sorry, m’darling, not much chance of that. Your pouting and liberal blowing of kisses have been the highlight of the evening, although my personal favourite was your attempt at the iconic fanned skirt image in the pub before last.”

The groan was louder this time, and Claire dropped her head into her hands. “I thought I’d imagined it. Please tell me I didn’t really put their fan on the floor and stand above it? I didn’t even think I was that drunk.”

“You are and you did.” He grinned. “Kept your modesty quite well though. Until you fell over at least.”

Only the gentle affection in his voice stopped Claire from running out the room. In fact he’d been the perfect date: attentive, supportive and encouraging. There had been a hint of distance to begin with, but as the alcohol flowed and the eyes blurred that had dissipated. She felt the warmth of his body next to hers, through the thin fabric of her dress, and suddenly shivered.

“Are you cold? I can get your cardie, although it feels pretty warm in here. Would you like some fresh air?”

“I’m fine.” Something in his expression caught her attention. “Though yes, now you mention it, some fresh air might be a good idea.”

Conor grasped her elbow and led her from the room. She heard him tell their colleagues that she was going to be sick and their friendly laughter followed them out. It was on her lips to tell him she didn’t feel ill, when it occurred to her that he might be protecting her reputation, as the two of them left the pub together.

Ever the gentleman. Nothing like the man I took him for at my interview.

Claire shivered again as the cool night air brushed her skin. It wasn’t cold, although the oppressive heat of the day had eased with the setting of the sun. Despite the bustling noise of the pub spilling through the open doors and windows, it felt eerily quiet out in the night.

They were somewhere away from the High Street, having left the hubbub of the carnival behind. The race proper had finished much earlier and Conor had led his colleagues on a longer tour with the drinks on him, as a thank you for all their hard work. Above them, inky blackness stretched away, punctuated by thousands of pin-pricks of dazzling light. The sheer expanse of the sky made Claire dizzy, and she leant against the whitewashed stone wall for support.

“You’re not really going to be sick, are you?”

Claire shook her head, regretting it immediately. “No, I’m fine. You might need to push me back to the hostel in that wheelbarrow though; I can’t see me making it up the hill.” She looked around. “Not that I have any idea where I am.”

“We’re not that far away. We’re in the Muddy Duck. Swanage isn’t a big place.”

“I’m none the wiser. Besides, we’re in the Black Swan.” She gestured at the sign above their heads. “And you think I’m drunk!”

Conor leant back against the rail, propped up on his elbows, and smiled tolerantly. “Muddy Duck is what the locals call it. You know, a black swan is just a muddy duck? At least I think that’s where it comes from. I’m not really a local.”

“Don’t tell me, your kids’ kids would just about be accepted?”

“Not that bad, but you have the general idea.”

They stood together in silence, listening to the sounds of revelry from inside the building. People came and went through the door to Claire’s left, but they seemed to have a pocket of unbreakable stillness around them.

Claire felt tension build like an approaching storm. Suddenly all her senses were on overdrive: her ears picking up every sound, her nose taking in the scent of Conor’s aftershave and the stink of stale beer and cigarettes. Despite the gloom, she could see Conor as if he stood beneath a spotlight. He was watching her, his eyes and teeth shining in the darkness, competing with his brilliant white suit.

The silence took on texture. Conor pushed away from the railing, and the movement tightened the knot in Claire’s stomach and caused her heart to race uncontrollably, like the wheelbarrows had along the High Street earlier. Conor came to stand directly in front of her, looking down with a question in his eyes.

Claire raised her gaze to meet his. She flinched as his eyes narrowed slightly. He reached forwards and gently pulled off the wig, letting her hair tumble down around her face.

“That’s better.”

His eyes sought hers again, still asking the unanswered question. She didn’t need to search hard for a reply. It was a question she’d been waiting for. With a quivering smile, Claire gave a nod. At her response, the tension seeped out of Conor’s face, and he leant forwards slowly to brush his lips against hers.

Claire let herself sink into the kiss. Conor’s hands tangled into her hair, cupping her face and pulling her close. She wrapped her arms around him, running her hands over the contours of his back, feeling the lithe body beneath his costume. A gentle breeze blew up the street and across their skin, bringing with it the scent of night and the salty tang of the sea. Claire inhaled deeply and lost herself in the moment.

***

Perfect Procrastination: 2013 365 Challenge #334

A potential front cover (though fonts are always a challenge)

A potential front cover (though fonts are always a challenge)

Sometimes I’m so easily distracted I think I’m no better than a three-year-old! Instead of getting stuck in to writing today, particularly important on a Friday to give me a head start for the weekend, I spent two hours designing a cover for a potential entire Two-Hundred Steps Home volume, even though I haven’t even written December’s installments yet, never mind getting November’s finished and up on Smashwords.

There is method in my madness.

Partly I thought it might be nice to produce a printed volume for my hubbie for Christmas. (He reads this post, so it won’t be a surprise even if I get it done!) It’s not likely to happen, though, because it would mean finishing December’s posts by around the 10th, in order to get it all uploaded and ordered. Hahaha, excuse me while I roll around laughing. I have no doubt that, despite the best intentions, the last installment will actually be written on New Year’s Eve, when the kids are in bed and hubbie is trying to drink in the new year with me.

The second excuse idea was that I could put the book out for pre-order, to see if there is any interest in buying the complete set of twelve volumes, even though you can download the individual ones for free.

More important, the cover for November

More important, the cover for November

It would be around 275,000 words, which is substantial for any novel, and of course would have to come with the HUGE disclaimer that it is a first draft and hasn’t been edited or proofread. I would hate people to buy it under any illusions. That said, I think a lot of the people who download the free copies don’t follow the blog, and no one has left me an awful review yet. (Ignoring the fact that I’ve only had a handful of reviews!)

Of course it would be lovely to edit it all and have it proofread, but part of me thinks that would defeat the point of the exercise, which was to produce something in installments without planning or the ability to go back and change things. Aside from the odd typo I’ve spotted (and once when I changed a character’s name in one installment) I haven’t gone back and amended anything. What you get in the downloaded volumes is what I wrote, day by day, through 2013.

Maybe, with a decent blurb and introduction, it would work. People might pay to have it all in once place, or as a reminder of the year, if they enjoyed it. Who knows, they might even recommend it to others. Certainly if I publish a sequel it would be handy for people to be able to catch up. Anyway, there’s my justification for two hours of my day wasted. And I’m sticking with that! 🙂

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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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Alex paced across the room, picked up the iPad, put it down again, then walked back to the window to stare out across the lawn to the sea, as if expecting to see his father striding across the grass.

“He’s late,” he said, without turning round.

“I’m sure his flight was delayed, that’s all.” Claire tried to be the voice of reason, concealing her irritation that Robert hadn’t even sent a text to confirm that he’d arrived at the airport. Keeping her voice level, she added, “He had to connect at Brussels and Birmingham to come down here, and then he’ll need to get a taxi from the airport. There’s a lot to go wrong.”

“He wouldn’t have been late if this was a business meeting. Even some minor client grossing less than ten grand a year would have ensured his punctuality. But for his sons, well, why bother?”

The tone of disgust in Alex’s voice tore through Claire. She wanted to tell the boy not to speak about his father like that, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. He had a point.

“He came to Cambridge when Auntie Ruth was poorly,” she said, instead. “He was brilliant at the hospital. I’m sure his delay is something outside his control.”

“Father probably only did that so he could feel important. You know, showing that he was better than you and Auntie Ruth. Or to get away from Mother for a week.”

The words were unanswerable. Claire realised she didn’t know her brother at all. Even during that awful week, when she’d thought Ruth was going to die, she had barely spoken to Robert. When he hadn’t been talking to the doctors he was on his phone, discussing business, or buried deep in emails. She wondered when her brother had become a stranger.

“I’m sorry we didn’t get to see Ruth and Sky,” Jack said, breaking into her thoughts. “I haven’t seen Auntie Ruth since I was little, and I’ve never met Sky.”

Guilt washed over Claire, as she realised that was true. Ruth didn’t have the money for travel to Europe, and it was years since Robert and his family had come home for the holidays. They usually went skiing.

I should have taken them up for the weekend, to see Mum and Dad and Ruth. It’s not that far away.

“Why don’t you ask your dad if you can go, before you fly back to Geneva? I’m sure your flights can be changed.”

Alex snorted, but said nothing, merely turning to gaze out the window again. Jack shrugged and picked up his iPad, and was soon lost in a game.

Claire looked at them both and felt helpless. Two weeks ago she didn’t know or care about her nephews. Now, though, they were real people; people she didn’t want to see suffer. Despite his eagerness to go, it was clear Alex only wanted to return to his friends and girlfriend. Jack had been subdued all morning, his silence speaking of his unhappiness far more than words.

I wonder if Conor would let me take a few days leave to run up to Cambridgeshire with the boys. I can’t see Robert taking them. She thought through the logistics, and suppressed a sigh. I guess it’s a bit late for that. Robert would have a fit if I suggested it, after he’s flown all this way to pick them up. Assuming he hasn’t forgotten.

Claire chewed at her lip and tried to concentrate on the book in her lap. The words blurred as her mind filled with thoughts too muddled to be processed. Behind her attempt at calm, a wave of anger was building: rage at her brother’s thoughtlessness, and remorse at her own previous neglect. Who was she to take the moral high ground? How often had she spent time with the boys or gone to visit them in Geneva?

Maybe we have no capacity to love, in our family. Perhaps that’s it. Maybe Ruth got it all, and is using it all on Sky. The rest of us: what do we know of family and loyalty and trust?

She closed her book and followed Alex’s gaze out the window, losing herself in the relentless blue of the uncaring sky.

*

The sound of a car pulling up the driveway echoed loudly in the silence of the dining room. Both boys turned to face in its direction, as if hoping to see through walls and confirm it was finally their father.

Tension twisted Claire’s stomach like the shift in pressure that heralded a storm. Shaking off the feeling, she rose to her feet and turned to face the door. She could hear voices in the corridor, as the manager gave directions to the dining room, as Claire had requested earlier.

Her brother’s form filled the doorway, and Claire could see a second person standing just behind him, clutching his arm.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me.”

Claire shot an angry glance at Alex, about to admonish him for his language. Before she could speak, she registered his white face and the pursed and bloodless lips. She turned back to the door to see what had made her nephew so angry. Hanging on Robert’s arm was a young woman, younger than herself. In her late teens or early twenties, Claire guessed. The woman clung on to Robert as if he were a life raft, staring up at him with wide brown eyes.

Claire wondered if Robert had brought the au pair to look after the boys on the trip home.

That would be like him. Can’t even look after his boys for a few hours.

That didn’t explain Alex’s outburst though, not really. From what she had gathered from Jack, the au pair was a sweet German girl, with limited English. Not someone to be treated with such loathing.

As realisation dawned, Claire felt the blood drain from her own face.

Not even Robert could be that stupid and cruel, surely, to bring his new girlfriend with him?

As far as he was aware the boys didn’t even know he’d met someone new. Even if they weren’t close to him or their mother, it was still neither the time nor place to introduce a replacement.

Robert stood motionless in the doorway, surveying his sister and sons, a faint sardonic raise of one eyebrow his only expression.

“Hello Claire, boys.” He nodded in their direction, as if stumbling across a casual acquaintance, rather than coming to collect his sons after a two-week absence. The girl hanging on his arm gave them a timid glance, before turning back to gaze at Robert. He seemed to feel her stare, because he pulled her into the room and put his arm around her.

With a broad smile he said, “I’d like you to meet Gabriella. My fiancée.”

Silence reverberated round the room like an aftershock. Then Claire sensed sudden movement to her left. Alex strode across the room to stand in front of his father.

Staring up into his face, he hesitated, then said distinctly, “You utter bastard.”

He pushed past his father and Gabriella and left the room.

***

Self-Publishing isn’t for the Fainthearted: 2013 365 Challenge #308

Smashwords Dashboard

Smashwords Dashboard

My unshaken confidence in my five-year plan to become an author that actually sells books took a serious wobble today. Due to dismal sales figures last month (each book only sold 6 copies) and the lack of any reviews on Baby Blues, I decided to drop the Smashwords price to 99p on both books for November. It ties in nicely with NaNoWriMo: my contribution, if you like, as I can’t participate this year. The first draft of Baby Blues was penned during NaNo 2011 (while I sat watch over my solo art exhibition) and it seemed appropriate to celebrate the fact.

However, when I dropped the price on Smashwords they put the book under review (even though I hadn’t touched the manuscript) and then booted it out of Premium Catalogue for apparently containing page numbers. It doesn’t. So instead of writing a decent Claire installment this morning, I spent two hours copying and pasting the entire MS into a new word document, relinking the hyperlinks and double-checking everything. Only to have the darn thing not load properly. I’ve tried three times today and it’s still ‘loading’. Grrr.

It’s very tempting to withdraw both my novels from Smashwords and re-enroll them in KDP Select, as I haven’t sold any copies through any other route. It feels a bit like moving to sit in the other end of the boat as it goes down though – I don’t think it’s going to make much difference to the result. There are just too many books out there to compete with. Free books. Books with glitzy covers. Racy books, thrillers, erotica. Things people seem to want to read.

A lovely review

A lovely review

So far I’ve had around 2,200 copies of the free Two-Hundred Steps Home downloaded, across the ten volumes. That’s thousands more than I’ve sold copies of my novel. So my glorious idea of writing THSH to hopefully cross sell Baby Blues and Dragon Wraiths clearly isn’t working. I did get a nice review on THSH Volume 10 today – my first review on anything in ages. (Don’t get me started on the reviews from friends and family that Amazon just won’t publish, even though they’re not at all sycophantic and are just genuine and nice).

I try so hard not to get disillusioned. I knew this was going to be a long slog. I could still be trying for an agent for Dragon Wraiths: instead I’ve sold nearly 100 copies. It doesn’t sound like much, but rumour has it even eighty-something percent of traditionally published books don’t sell more than 100 copies, so it’s something to be proud of. It’s just hard, spending 70% of my time on promotion, formatting, covers, social media, thinking up new sales ideas and 30% on actually writing more books. I can’t even squeeze in NaNoWriMo for the first time since 2008.

I have four unfinished manuscripts and two outlines for sequels and I haven’t been near them all year. I’ve loved doing THSH and publishing Dragon Wraiths and Baby Blues, but it’s hard not to feel discouraged when I see what little impact they’ve had. Writing the darn things is just not enough. The story of my life revolves around my inability to sell my stuff. Web design, paintings, books – you name it. I can do the graft, put in the hard work, but if no one buys anything it’s just so much clutter and hours wasted.

Anyway, sorry for the doom and gloom, I’m sure it’s the infernal cold talking and I’ll be back to my positive self tomorrow. That’s if Smashwords actually sees fit to publish my book anytime soon! Grrr

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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 at the email and pursed her lips, trying to read beneath the business-like words. The message contained none of the usual friendly jokes or snide comments that they used to, before Sunday night ruined everything. With a frown she read the note again.

Claire

Thank you for sending through your initial findings, they appear satisfactory, although I have not had a great deal of time to peruse them. We are working hard on the Carnival and there isn’t much time to spare.

Regarding the Carnival: I need you to be back in town for that week. I realise that it isn’t part of your current job description to help out, but I’m afraid we’re short staffed. It’s an essential part of the region’s tourism, so I’m sure you’ll understand why we need it to be a success.

In the meantime I suggest you press on towards Cornwall: there is a lot of ground to cover and, as I understand you’re still in Dartmoor, you will struggle to get around all the major destinations in the time allotted.

Regards

Conor

The last sentence definitely sounded like a rebuke, although Claire couldn’t point to the exact part that gave her that impression. Did he know she was hiding, licking her wounds? Was he angry at her running away or ashamed at his behaviour? There was nothing to work with. It was as friendly and helpful as an email from Carl would have been.

Pushing her laptop away, Claire pulled out a copy of the hostel map and worked out her route. She’d decided to stick to the YHA hostels, after her experience in Torquay.

Although I’ll learn to call ahead.

Looking around the empty hostel at Bracken Tor, Claire wondered if she would be as fortunate to have an entire building to herself in any of the other hostels. It felt a bit spooky, with the gardener the only other living person in the area, but at the same time her soul yearned for the solitude.

When she’d arrived back at the hostel she’d decided to skip her planned activity and wander around the house and gardens, enjoying the silence. She’d read her book, eaten some toast and made endless cups of hot tea. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt at such peace with the world.

Still, Conor has put an end to that. Back to work.

With a sigh, Claire looked down the list of hostels and picked one to call. She grabbed her phone and keys, strode out the room and up the hill until she got a signal.

“Yes, hello? I’d like to book a bed for the night. Yes, tonight please.”

As she waited for the manager to check for vacancies, Claire looked around at the endless scenery, with no sight of the steaming heap of humanity Conor was so fond of. Aside from the hum of the main road, she could have been on a remote island, miles from anyone or anywhere.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

***

“Kobogeddon”

First WH Smith then all KOBO

First WH Smith then all KOBO

A couple of days ago I wrote about online retailers censoring self-published and indie books, referring to WH Smith / Kobo in the UK. Despite including this picture of the BBC news headline, “Kobo pulls self-published books after abuse row”, I didn’t really appreciate that there were two distinct (though overlapping) aspects to the scandal.

The first part, to do with censorship of erotica, I covered in my previous post. I personally don’t have a problem with restricting books that might be considered inappropriate (or ‘sick’ as one commenter defined them. Although I think these days sick means good, yes? I’m over thirty, I don’t know.)

The other element, that had passed me by, was the fact that Kobo blamed self-published authors for the whole affair. I caught up when I stumbled across the hashtag Kobogeddon on Twitter last night. UK-based author Rayne Hall started the hashtag to bring attention to Kobo’s hypocrisy and back-stabbing actions. Her blog posts on Goodreads here and here explain the full story, for anyone who doesn’t know the details.

#Kobogeddon on Twitter

#Kobogeddon on Twitter

In summary, a UK newspaper pointed out to WH Smith that they had featured books on rape and incest alongside children’s books (I think we can all agree that something had to be done. Perhaps put an 18+ filter on all books containing erotica?). In reaction WH Smith took down their ebook website and their provider, Kobo, took down all UK books. (Not just UK authors, I believe US authors were affected, although their books are still available in the US).

Fine. They had to do something. I’ve worked in PR, I get that. But they only took down self-published books (and ALL of them, not just erotica): any traditionally published erotica is still available for all to see.

That was five days ago. As of now my books are still not available on Kobo, although I understand that books published directly through Kobo are starting to reappear.  Any of you who have read Dragon Wraiths, or Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, or any one of the Claire installments on this blog that I collate into free books, will know there is nothing racier than a non-explicit sex scene or the occasional snog. Hardly risqué, Kobo.

Yet when I type in “School of” (as suggested by a comment on Rayne Hall’s blog) I get this selection of books (picture below): notice the erotic books School of Spank and School of Discipline alongside the children’s book The Clumsies Make a Mess of the School.

Kobo search results for "School of"

Kobo search results for “School of”

When I look down the list of categories on the left hand side there isn’t even an erotica category listed (although if you click in the book they are labelled as erotica, so the tagging is there).

I have restrictions enabled on my iPad to stop the children coming across things they shouldn’t (including books). Shame it doesn’t seem to work on any of the online retail sites. Smashwords at least has an adult filter, although it seems not all authors are using it. Self-published authors do need to take some responsibility for correctly tagging their books.

But Kobo has got it all wrong. Indie and Self-Published authors are not the only problem. Even if authors are not correctly labelling their books as ‘adult’, it still only represents a proportion of all books. By taking down everything, with no explanation (unless authors are published directly with them) they haven’t just chucked the baby out with the bath water, they’ve thrown the cash cow over a cliff.

Like it or not, self-publishing is part of the future of the book industry and pissing off authors is a really bad idea. I don’t need Kobo. According to my Smashwords stats I haven’t had a single book downloaded from Kobo since the beginning (although I might be in trouble if Barnes and Noble decide they don’t want to publish my books). I have other routes to market. Do they?

Please spread the word, whether you’re in the UK or not. If possible, buy your ebooks from another source. Direct from Smashwords is best. Support your Indie authors! We thank you for it.

Style hell Sunday: 2013 365 Challenge #273

A nice moody monochrome cover seemed right for Volume 9

A nice moody monochrome cover seemed right for Vol9

Word styles are going to be the death of me. After all the issues with Baby Blues and Normal vs Style2, I’ve had problems today that made that look like child’s play to fix.

Dragon Wraiths came out of KDP select as of this morning, so I put it back on Smashwords, thinking I’d fixed all the formatting issues last month. Wrong. So at 8 am, when I should have been writing my Claire post, I was desperately trying to fix formatting issues. Then during the morning, between ironing uniform and doing laundry, I spent hours trying to fix the index.

Five versions later I admitted defeat and copied a working index in from an old file. Then, as we were about to leave for the in-laws’, I desperately tried to fix the tiny text-and-indenting issues.

Arrived at father-in-law’s to discover that hadn’t worked so spent the journey home fixing them on my laptop in the car. While cooking sausage and mash and folding laundry this evening I made one last attempt and – fingers crossed – it looks okay now. On iBooks at least. I’m too scared to check the other versions.

I tweaked a few other formatting issues too, so I’ll now have to upload a new version to Amazon and redo my CreateSpace version. Formatting never ends! I begin to understand why people pay companies to do it for them! Although there is a sense of satisfaction when it all comes good.

On a happy note, tomorrow is the beginning of October (scary, I know!), which means it’s nearly my birthday, my sister comes home for a visit in a week, and we survived the manic month of September! Hurrah

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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 jumped down from the coach and waved vaguely in the driver’s direction. She’d already checked which bus would take her to the airport and the driver had pointed out the stop.

If only the tour still stopped in Christchurch overnight, I could have booked a taxi to pick me up from the hostel. Bloody earthquake.

Standing at the stop, Claire tried to remember the last time she’d caught a bus. Back in Manchester she’d stuck to the trams, if public transport had featured at all. Mostly she used her car.

Please let NZ buses run punctually.

Claire chewed the side of her nail and stared along the road, willing the bus to appear amidst the traffic. She was surprised how many cars there were on the street on a Saturday evening.

I wonder if the Kiwis come into town for a night out. I wish I was heading to a bar for a double gin and tonic. Hopefully there’ll be enough money to buy one on the plane, assuming I get there.

Claire could almost taste the cool refreshing tang of tonic with a slice of lime, and she took a swig of water to wet her throat. Her tummy rumbled but she didn’t dare leave the stop to look for food. Plenty of time to worry about eating when her luggage was checked in and she had her boarding pass.

At last the bus appeared down the street. It seemed to take forever to reach her in the traffic. Claire jumped on almost before the doors were open.

“Airport, please.”

The driver nodded and named the fare.

“How long will it take?”

“Half an hour, assuming we don’t hit traffic. Don’t worry, chook, we’ll get you there for your flight.”

Claire took a seat, wondering how much panic was visible on her face to get a pep-talk from a complete stranger.

Outside the window, she was able to get a true sense of the devastation caused by the earthquake and began to realise the traffic was not caused by volume of people, but the need to negotiate streets still closed off by piles of rubble.

Gazing at the buildings along the central business district, Claire realised they were actually shipping containers, stacked up and painted. It made her sad to think of the once beautiful city in such a state of disrepair, however much it matched her mood.

As the bus drove along suburban streets lined with bare trees, Claire felt increasingly like she was on her way home.

It’s not winter there, though. How odd to go from spring to summer to autumn and back to summer again.

She tried to imagine travelling around Cornwall in the sunshine, back in her own car and in control of her travel plans. The thought raised a flicker of happiness deep inside, but it was soon extinguished by her concern for Kim and her need to get home.

At last there were signs to the airport and Claire felt her heartbeat quicken. Before they were even close to the building she rose and walked to the front of the bus.

“Where do you drop us?”

“At the arrivals hall.”

“Damn. How far to departures?”

The driver laughed. “Not far. It’s not exactly Singapore. You’ll be fine.”

“My flight leaves in half an hour.”

“Ah, you are cutting it close. No worries, we’ll get you there.”

Claire clung on to the nearest seat as the driver put his foot down. She wished she’d told him earlier that she was in a hurry.

I can’t imagine a bus driver in the UK going faster because I’m late for my flight. He’d be more likely to berate me for my bad planning.

“Here you go. Through there, you can’t miss it. I’d get a move on though. Good luck.”

With a wave, Claire jumped down from the bus, shouldered her rucksack, and ran.

She found the international check in desks and looked for her flight. All the signs were blank and she felt the panic begin to rise up her throat. One desk had a woman behind it and she ran towards her, bumping the barriers with her rucksack.

“Hi,” she panted, dropping her bag to the floor. “I need to check in for my flight to Sydney.”

The woman behind the desk looked up and frowned. “You’re too early, check in isn’t open yet.”

“What do you mean? My flight leaves in thirty minutes.”

The frown deepened. “Sorry, Ma’am, you’re too late to check in for that fight. I can put you on standby for the next flight, but it doesn’t leave until the morning. You’ll have to find accommodation for the night.”

“What do you mean I can’t check in? I’ve still got at least twenty minutes before the flight leaves. I can’t get one in the morning, I’m connecting to Dubai.”

The check-in clerk looked at Claire with a mixture of pity and frustration. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, you should have allowed more time to get to the airport. I can’t get you checked in and through security in twenty minutes. The gate is already closed.”

Claire stared at the perfectly made-up face, the immaculate hair, the clean and ironed clothing, and knew hatred. After everything she had been through to get here, to miss the flight because this woman wouldn’t let her through was too much. She wanted to scream and rant, to barge through and run for the gate. To do something desperate.

Instead she stood, numb and defeated, and let the tears fall.

***

99% Perspiration: 2013 365 Challenge #268

CreateSpace Formatting

CreateSpace Formatting (note the time!)

If genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, I’m definitely wallowing in the latter right now.

I spent five hours formatting various versions of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes this evening, having had the latest updated Smashwords version rejected for a stray page number.

When I uploaded the new version it seemed some of the paragraphs had smaller text than others, so I went through the file and found that half was in Style 2 and half in Normal (only interesting if you’ve spent a chunk of time formatting Word docs for Smashwords as I seem to have done lately).

I fixed the dodgy paragraphs, or so I thought, and then realised there were more issues. At the same time I was also formatting a Word doc for CreateSpace to hopefully, finally, approve my print version and get that up for sale. Not because I think there are many people who will spend £8-£10 on a book from an unknown author, but because I want some copies for giveaways! And because I think a book looks more ‘real’ if you can buy a print version too.

I have just downloaded version twenty of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes from Smashwords to check for errors, in kindle and epub format, and arrgghh I still have random blue words on the second page and chunks of text in a different font size. It’s currently 1.37 a.m., the dog is snoring, and I haven’t started my Claire installment. Do I go back and reformat another version of Baby Blues or do I go to bed? The kids will be up in a few hours, it almost doesn’t seem worth trying to get any sleep.

Anyway, as this is all very boring for those who haven’t lost hours and days of their lives to formatting ebooks, here’s another poem from the set about my father, just so this post isn’t entirely dull! 🙂

Swanage from the pier

Swanage from the pier

August

Along the bay, beach huts begin to fill
with plastic rings, cheese sandwiches and tea.
Their owners sit on stripy chairs at noon
and watch the promenaders passing by.
 
Amusement arcades call out, ‘Come and play!’ 
Electronic sounds and flashing clashing lights.
Sweet smell of popcorn, tuppeny cascade.
The favourite haunt for children of all ages.
 
Windbreaks and brollies march down to the sea
in rainbow ranks, a modern D-Day landing.
A whiff of fish and chips makes tummies rumble,
while raucous seagulls fight for fallen food.
 
The sand is cool and damp beneath my feet.
I watch as children brave the icy waves,
they dash and splash, come shrieking, running back.
My childhood overlaid there in the haze.
 
Red speedboats hum then roar across the bay,
creating frothy arcs, stark white on blue.
The ghosts of generations haunt the beach.
I face the cliffs and say my last adieu.

That’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll have something more interesting to talk about tomorrow! Right, back to Word.

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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 stared out the window at the rain and chewed the inside of her cheek. It sounded like there was a celebration going on behind her, as the stranded passengers made the most of their enforced stopover. Claire had never felt less like partying. A quick investigation had revealed the cost of flying to Queenstown to be almost as much as her flight back to the UK. Without venturing online to check her finances, she knew there wasn’t space on her credit card to pay for it, leaving no choice but to wait it out.

“This is ridiculous.” She pushed herself away from the window and went in search of the hostel owner. Forcing a calmness she didn’t feel, she tried to frame her question in a non-confrontational way. It wasn’t the manager’s fault that she was stuck.

She tracked the man down at reception, where he sat making phone calls. Claire leant against the wall and kicked her foot, idly listening to his conversation as she waited to speak to him.

“I’m calling about your booking tomorrow. Unfortunately, the Homer Tunnel is currently closed. … Risk of rock fall this end I’m afraid, due to the heavy rain. … No, I can’t say when it will open again. The best thing is to check the website for updates. … Yes, I’m sorry too, thank you.”

Claire’s limbs felt heavy as she walked over to the desk. There didn’t seem much point to her question, but she decided to ask it anyway.

“Sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing your call. The tunnel isn’t opening in the morning then? The driver was hopeful that it would open in the daylight.”

The man behind the desk looked up at her and smiled ruefully, laughter lines appearing at the sides of his eyes. “It isn’t looking hopeful, I’m afraid. We’ve had some problems recently with a large overhang of loose rock. There is some talk the tunnel might be shut for a week or even two while they sort the problem.”

“A week! My flight home leaves in two days.” Claire gripped the edge of the desk and fought back tears.

“I am sorry. You might be able to catch a flight to Queenstown, if the rain eases. They won’t fly in this weather.”

“I can’t afford a flight. Unless the government will evacuate us? Yes, they have to do something, don’t they? They can’t leave us stranded down here for a week?” She focussed on the man’s face, eager to see some agreement. He merely shook his head.

“They’ve never evacuated before, to my knowledge.”

“Has the tunnel remained shut for a week before?” Claire demanded.

The manager shrugged. “I haven’t been here all that long. It’s never been shut for more than a day or two. I’m sorry. I’m trying to find out what I can, but the rain plays havoc with communications I’m afraid. You’ll have to try to be patient.”

Claire inhaled through her nose and bit back a retort. There were many times in her life she would have loved to be stranded in a beautiful location, with nothing to do but read and relax. Now was not one of them.

She nodded at the manager and strode back to the lounge, where a noisy game of Monopoly was taking place. Unable to stand the good humour, Claire retreated to her room.

I’m just going to have to find a few more hundred dollars from somewhere and worry about it when I get home.

Wracking her brain for someone likely to lend her the money, Claire curled into her bunk and closed her eyes.

***