Smashwords Stats: 2013 365 Challenge #243

Good news for me!

Good news for me!

I received an email from Smashwords this morning with some great information. I’m sure any authors reading have probably seen it, but if you haven’t had a chance to go through it, here are the highlights.

1. You can now complete an author interview on Smashwords (you don’t even need to have published a book, just to be registered with Smashwords).

I’d heard about this from Pat Elliott, who looked into it when releasing her short story collection, At Sanctuary’s Gate. However it was a useful reminder to me to get around to completing it. It’s now about #3 on my to-do list! (After finish August’s THSH and finish proofreading BBWS)

2. The results of Smashwords’ survey are in and they make interesting reading. The key points for me were:

  • $3.99 books sell better than $1.99 books (in numbers, not just revenue)
  • Longer books sell better than shorter books (115,274 words was the good average: Baby Blues and Dragon Wraiths are both around 113,000 words so this was good news, and against traditional publishing advice, which is to keep novels below 100,000 words)
  • The trend has moved away from 99c books but Free still does well. This is interesting in light of the discussion here on the blog earlier in the week.
$1-$1.99 not as effective as it used to be

$1-$1.99 not as effective as it used to be

3. You can now (or will soon be able to) set your self-published book up for pre-order. This is excellent news. The advantages of pre-order are many (see the link), but the key two are:

a) you can ensure your book has reached the premium catalogue before beginning promotion. It can take ages to get out to Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo (In fact, one of my Two Hundred Steps Home books still hasn’t made it to iBooks, which is annoying). Being able to do that in advance means it’s all in place

b) pre-orders go through as sales on release day for Apple and Kobo, meaning an influx of sales numbers all at once. This can be enough to put you on the bestseller list, at least briefly, and will really help rankings.

It’s too late for Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, as it’s already been live for a while (albeit it with the unproofread version. An error on my part that I won’t make again!) but, for Class Act, when it’s ready for publishing next year, I will definitely make use of it. I might even re-release Dragon Wraiths through Smashwords, and see how that works, next time my KDP Select expires.

So, there you go. The world of self-publishing gets better and better. I’m looking forward to seeing what Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes can do outside of the KDP Select Program. I am going to be more patient with this one and not enroll unless sales are at zero for several months. It’s all exciting stuff!

_______________________________________________________________________________

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: 

________________________________________________________________________________

Sunlight flooded the room, dragging Claire from sleep. The rays of light felt like needles entering her eyeballs and she pulled the duvet over her head with a groan.

You’re too late, sun. We needed you yesterday, not ten foot waves and the roaring forties in full swing.

She tried to ignore the call of the yellow glow and go back to sleep. But the light was insistent, urging her to leave her bed and go outside to explore. It was the first time she’d see the sun in the capital and after a few minutes she threw back the covers.

“Alright, you win. I’m up.”

The voice echoing in the empty room didn’t sound like hers at all. The rasping noise reminded her of her thirst and the long day spent on the ferry fighting nausea. Her tummy rumbled into the silence, recalling midnight hunger that had only increased while she slept.

A glance at her phone told her it was nearly time to check out. Surprised she had slept so late, Claire hurried into the en-suite for a shower. It seemed a waste not to take advantage of the facilities: to stand in the cubicle and not wonder who else had used it since it had last been cleaned.

Maybe I could stay another night. It was rather glorious to sleep in a proper bed.

Claire dug her fingers into her scalp, trying to wash away the memories of her ferry ordeal and the fact that she would have to go through it again soon if she wanted to continue her trip.

Maybe another night wouldn’t hurt.

Then she thought about the sunshine pouring in the window, telling of the beautiful day outside. If she was going to try the ferry again, today would be the day: assuming she could get a ticket. There were another two or three hundred people also on the wrong side of the Cook Strait after the events of the day before.

Deciding she could do nothing while in the shower, Claire rinsed her hair and quickly towelled herself dry. Pulling on the cleanest clothes she could find, and spraying them with deodorant to mask the smell, Claire stuffed her belongings into her rucksack and left the room.

First things first, it’s time for breakfast.

She asked the lady on reception where the nearest café with free WiFi was located, and tried to memorise the directions.

After wandering for twenty minutes she at last found the place and ordered croissants and coffee. There was a booth in the corner and Claire threw her bag on one seat before slumping into the other. It took a moment for her tablet to connect to the internet and Claire tapped the table with her nails. Eventually her email loaded and Claire wondered why she had been so eager to reconnect with the world. There was nothing of interest in her inbox: no new comments on the blog or messages from home.

I don’t know why I thought there would be. The only person who has even noticed my absence is my potential future boss, who I’ve only met twice.

Claire sipped at her coffee and flicked through the emails, pausing at a name that didn’t look familiar. When she opened the message, her hands shook and she plonked her cup back on the table with a clatter. As she read the words the room receded until the only reality was the email on the screen.

Hi Claire,

Sorry for contacting you again. I need to see you. I really need a friend to talk to. I saw on your blog that you were in Wellington and I really hope you still are. I know it’s a long shot, but there’s an event on over the Queen’s Birthday weekend that I’ve told Fiona I’m going to. I’ll be staying at the Travelodge. If you get this email, perhaps you could stop by.

Josh

Claire’s mind pitched and tossed like the ferry that had brought her back to Wellington. Josh, here? Was it fate? And the Travelodge: he’d been staying in the same hotel as her. If only she’d managed to read her emails the night before. Would he still be there?

She gulped down her coffee and quickly consumed the croissants as the words of the email replayed in her mind.

Really need a friend? Last time he said that he admitted to killing someone, albeit by accident. Now what? And telling Fiona he’s at an event, not that he’s come to meet me? More lies.

Even as she sensed the seeds of doubt forming, she pushed them aside. This was Josh. Of course she would see him; that went without question.

It seemed to take forever to get back to the hotel and when she arrived the sweat had soaked through her top and she knew she must stink.

Great. So much for having a shower this morning. This rucksack is too heavy for carrying around in the sunshine. The sooner I get back on the bus the better.

Even as she thought it she wondered what her plans would be now. Josh wasn’t about to come to Picton with her or travel around the South Island. How long would he stay in Wellington? He wouldn’t fly all the way from Australia just for a night, would he?

Her mind twirled with questions as she went to the check in desk and asked the same receptionist who had given her directions earlier whether Josh was still in his room.

She leant against the counter and chewed her lip while the woman called through to check. Her voice murmured too low to be heard and Claire held her breath until she hung up the phone.

“He’ll be right down.”

Claire exhaled and grabbed the desk for support. She wondered if she had time to go and freshen up. She shouldered her bag again and was searching around for a ladies sign when she heard the ping of the lift.

Turning in what felt like slow motion Claire stared at the lift doors as they opened. The person that stepped through was so welcome, so familiar, that Claire had to force herself not to run across the floor and fling herself into his arms. Instead she waited for him to make eye contact, and then she smiled.

His answering grin made her heart flip-flop in her chest and her skin tingle. She took two steps towards him before stopping, uncertain.

“Hi, Claire.”

With a sob she dropped her rucksack and ran forwards.

***

The Never-ending Edit: 2013 365 Challenge #241

Paper flowers (Mummy to the rescue!)

Paper flowers (Mummy to the rescue!)

Today is my daughter’s last day at nursery. A sad day for me, an exciting day for her.

We spent yesterday shopping for flowers for her nursery staff, writing cards and making tags. Little man wanted to get involved, so – after some frantic searching of the craft drawers and a few tears – we also made paper flowers for his key-workers, as he moves rooms now he’s nearly three.

Today also marks my last full nursery day, ever! Readers of this blog will know I view this with fear: I like my eight-hour days twice a week to have some head space and get my writing done.

Knowing this is the last one, I want to make it a productive one. Of course it won’t be. What I really wanted to do was finally to put Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes to bed. Hmmm not sure that’s ever going to happen.

Flowers and tags

Flowers and tags

In my two hours of preschool time yesterday, I finally finished going through the proof reader’s amends on the Baby Blues manuscript. Hurrah! you might think. Except it wasn’t. Because I’ve realised why you normally have an editor and then a proofreader go through your manuscript.

My lovely proofreader, Sarah Nisbet, actually did more of a light edit than just a check for grammar and spelling errors. As a result I ended up rewriting scenes. Which leads to more potential errors.

I happily loaded the new manuscript to Smashwords just as I was about to collect the children from preschool, only to immediately spot two typos. Given how tired I’ve been for most of August I’m sure there are plenty more. So now I have to read it through again and try to spot mistakes, which is fiendishly hard in your own work! I’m also scared to read the book through again, as I’ll want to change more and more things. I know this isn’t the best book ever written and, following on from the free book debate, I feel like I’m letting down every other self-published author if I publish a book that isn’t outstanding.

I long for the day when I can afford a structural edit, a final edit and a proof read, though I can’t see when it’s coming.

Shopping for flowers

Shopping for flowers

The general view on the cheap and free book debate was that it goes hand in hand with the poorly-edited mistake-ridden books of the self published author and how both are potentially career ending. Maybe I should have published under a pseudonym, thus giving myself the option of a fresh start should it all go wrong.

In the meantime I’m seriously considering having the book converted to an audio book so I can at least save my eyes when I run through it again. Has anyone ever done that? I’d be interested to hear your views. I have so many books I want to read right now, mine just isn’t one of them. I know how it ends for a start!

________________________________________________________________________________

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: 

_____________________________________________________________________________

All around was chaos. Children screamed, parents shouted and still the ship rocked. Claire dug her fingers into the arm rests and concentrated on not vomiting. She sensed Bethan looking round, calmly assessing the situation, trying to ascertain what was going on. A tiny part of Claire’s mind envied the girl’s calm, while the rest was grateful for it. At least one of them could stay together in a crisis.

Eventually Bethan got up and went to peer out of the window, gripping onto chairs for support as the boat pitched around like a fairground ride. Claire closed her eyes and waited for her new friend to return. When she felt a touch on her arm she jumped, and Bethan’s squeal made them both laugh.

“Sorry, you scared me,” Claire said through gritted teeth. “What’s happening?”

“We’re in Picton, as far as I can tell, but we haven’t docked. It looks like we might have hit the wharf. They’re scurrying around out there like rats.”

Claire glanced around the ferry. “Not much difference in here.”

She stopped talking as a voice came over the loud-speaker. Straining to hear the words above the hubbub, Claire groaned as they sunk into her foggy brain.

“We apologise for the delay. We are unable to dock due to some damaged sustained to the docking equipment. Please remain seated and we will keep you updated.”

Dropping her head back against the seat, Claire heaved out a sigh.

Great.

*

Two hours passed, and then three. The same announcement came across the tannoy, asking them to remain calm, informing them that every effort was being made to allow them to disembark. The children around them had mostly fallen asleep, or were plugged into iPods and tablets. Claire was surprised no one was handing out free drinks or food, not that she could have eaten anything. Despite its lack of forward motion, the ferry still rolled around until Claire had forgotten what it meant to be still.

When the tannoy crackled into life again, Claire barely heard the words, until one stood out.

“… Wellington. Once more we sincerely apologise for the inconvenience.”

The cabin erupted. All around her, adults began talking, gesturing, demanding to see a manager. People talked of missed appointments and events. The children, sensing adventure, came to life, adding their yells and screams to the mayhem.

Claire turned to Bethan for more information and saw the girl grinning. Is she ever bothered by anything?

“Why is everyone so upset?” Claire stretched, conscious of just how long she had sat in the same chair, without food or drink. “Aren’t we getting off? I need to pee.”

“No, we’re not getting off.” Bethan laughed, quietly, drawing frowns from the passengers around her. “We’re going back to Wellington.”

***

The Hardest Part: 2013 365 Challenge #212

Vol7 Cover, no feet but steps!

Vol7 Cover, no feet but steps!

And so another month ends, another volume of Two Hundred Steps Home goes live on Smashwords. Volume seven! Holy cow.

I found today’s installment the hardest to write. My hands were shaking by the end of it. It twists my stomach even thinking about it now. It took every ounce of willpower learned through 212 daily posts to sit down and write it, because I’m not sure I did the right thing. It is such a heavy blow for Claire. I tempered it from the original, with Jeff’s words, but I’m not sure if that’s enough.

I worry what it says about me (as a person and/or a writer) that what started out as a light-hearted story, with even a few laugh-out-loud moments (according to my husband) back in volume one, has turned so dark. I know I’m not a light-hearted person. Life is tough. And beautiful and amazing, even funny sometimes. But it seems to me that humour in Chick Lit is often at the expense of the protagonist.

And, just as I find it hard to be mean to Claire, I find it equally hard to make an idiot of her. In the early days it was easy. We didn’t know each other very well. She was a parody, a stereotype. We know each other better now.

I notice with my friends that they don’t laugh much with me, but when they are talking to each other they always laugh. I’ve listened to a few exchanges and much of it seems to be about taking the mick out of each other. I’ve never been very good at that. Even with people I know really well, I’m always worried I’ll overstep the mark and what I think is good-humoured jibbing will actually upset them. I used to spar with a friend of my father’s, because he was thick skinned, and my vicious sarcasm never wounded him. Since then, not so much.

Lovely reviews

Lovely reviews

I remember, growing up, that I didn’t like being teased. I took it all too personally. I couldn’t tell the insults from the banter. People soon learned not to wind me up unless they wanted to upset me. Even now, I only really laugh with the children (and then sometimes I have to remember not to get hurt by the blunt things they say).

What does this mean for me as a writer, though? Is Chick Lit my genre, if I can’t write funny? If I can’t stand to let my lovely characters embarrass themselves? Is my writing doomed to become morbid and depressing?

It’s noticeable to me that only the first three volumes of Two Hundred Steps Home have reviews. I’m grateful that no one has written anything nasty about volumes 4-6 but I do take the silence to mean they’re not as good as the earlier volumes.

Sigh. This writing journey is a toughie. I can only hope that I can edit humour in, much as I edit out adverbs. When I’ve finished my daily blogging journey, I hope to take the masses of raw material written about Claire and turn it into one (or probably two) full length novels. This is a first draft after all. In the meantime, sorry, Claire, for doing this to you…

_____________________________________________________________________________________

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 tried to convince her niece that it was time to leave, but Sky’s protests threatened to reach tantrum proportions. Not feeling up to a scene, Claire admitted defeat and suggested instead that they stay in their seats during the interval.

“But, Auntie Claire, I want to see Kim and Jeff. Kim was awesome! And the fairies were brilliant. I want to be a fairy.”

Sky rattled on, filling the half-empty theatre with her chatter. Claire wished she’d had the forethought to bring a flask of coffee or a can of gin and tonic. A hip flask of neat vodka would probably be of most use.

Remembering the look on Kim’s face, Claire bit her bottom lip and willed herself not to cry. We’ve fallen out before. She’ll come round. It wasn’t possible to be friends from the age of five and not have moments of disagreement. There were years when they hardly spoke, as their lives took different paths. They’d always made up and stayed friends, through boyfriends and jobs and university shenanigans. Even when she hadn’t spoken to Kim in months, Claire had always felt the benign presence of her friendship. The idea that it was gone left her shaking.

“Thank goodness you’re still here.”

Claire jumped at the voice in the darkness. The quivering returned to her limbs and she was grateful for the hard plastic beneath her. Jeff slid into the seat next to her, his face concealed in the gloom. He was about to speak when Sky noticed his arrival and jumped up, pushing past Claire to throw her arms around him.

“Jeff! I’m so glad you’re here! Isn’t Kim amazing? I’m so glad Auntie Claire brought me.”

“Yes, Sky, she is. I’m glad to see you too. Can I have a quick word with your Auntie?”

“Here, poppet, play a game on my phone for a moment. There’s a good girl.”

Sky seemed to pick up on the tension and, for once, didn’t challenge Claire’s request. She took the proffered phone and was soon engrossed, the light of the screen throwing stark shadows across her face.

Claire turned to look at Jeff, but she was unable to read his expression in the dark. Her throat contained no moisture and she sat mute waiting for her friend’s husband to speak.

“I saw Kim’s face, when Sky called out. I thought you might go home.”

“I tried to,” Claire managed to croak.

“Sky wouldn’t let you? Well, I’m grateful for her persistence. You need to speak to Kim, Claire. She’s got some terrible ideas in her head. She isn’t thinking straight. You need to talk to her.”

“What. Why? What’s going on, Jeff?” The quivering increased and Claire hugged herself in a futile attempt to control the shaking.

A bell rang loud in the silence. Claire jumped, and Jeff stood up. “I have to go. Kim needs me. Come and find her, after the show is finished. Talk to her. But don’t take everything she says to heart, please. Promise me.” When Claire didn’t respond he leant over. “Promise me?”

Claire nodded.

*

The clapping died away and Claire turned to see if Sky was ready to leave. Her niece was curled up in her chair, asleep. The sight raised a smile, although her facial muscles felt rigid and unresponsive. She wanted to scoop the child up and carry her to the car, but she wasn’t sure she would manage to take her that far. Jeff’s words remained in her mind. If he hadn’t elicited the promise, she would have left. His urgent speech had filled her with wild conjecture.

“Sky?” Claire gently shook her niece’s shoulder. The girl murmured and Claire was able to coax her upright. More asleep than awake, the girl allowed herself to be guided from the theatre into the cool night air.

As the chill stung her face, Claire stood motionless, unsure what to do. Jeff was right, she needed to talk to Kim. But now, after her successful opening night, and with Sky half asleep, didn’t seem like the right time.

Voices approached in the dark. It seemed Jeff had feared her resolution, and had left her no option.

“Come on, Kim, just talk to her. Please.”

Claire could see him pulling his new wife along like a naughty child. He caught sight of Claire waiting with Sky, and exhaled in obvious relief.

“There you are! Thank you for staying. Here, let me take Sky. Now, you two, talk.”

Jeff pulled Kim to stand directly in front of Claire, then scooped Sky up in his arms. He took the girl to a picnic table a short distance away, near enough to watch, but too far to listen.

Kim hung her head like an exhausted pit-pony after a twelve-hour shift. Claire’s heart lurched at the sight of the deep bags beneath her friend’s eyes. She wanted to pull her close, beg her forgiveness, but there seemed to be a barrier between them. Kim stared at the ground, one hand hanging loose, the other grasping tight to her elbow.

“Kim?”

After an endless moment, Kim raised her eyes and Claire felt their impact like a blow. Kim held her gaze for a moment, then dropped her head once more, as if defeated by the effort.

Claire reached out a hand, but it didn’t quite cross the distance between them.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry Michael guessed your secret from me, and blurted it out to everyone. Has the Director given you a hard time?”

She waited, unsure what else to say. The silence dragged like deep water and the snakes in Claire’s stomach writhed and twisted.

“Please, Kim, I don’t know what else to say. I can’t stand to have you mad at me.”

“It’s all about you, isn’t it,” Kim spat out suddenly. “Never a thought for anyone else. You didn’t wanted me to have the baby. You and your precious pact to never have children. Well, I hope you’re happy.”

The floor lurched beneath Claire. “What do you mean?”

“You always were slow on the uptake.” The venom in Kim’s voice felt like acid dripping into Claire’s heart.

“I don’t understand? Is the baby okay?”

“No, the baby’s not okay. Thanks to you, the baby’s dead. I hope you’re satisfied.” The last words came out on a sob. Kim curled her shoulders in, as if holding herself together, before running away, her cries of anguish trailing behind her.

***

Tears for Thomas: 2013 365 Challenge #182

Enjoying a tractor ride at Nene Valley Railway

Enjoying a tractor ride at Nene Valley Railway

Goodness me, it’s 1st July. I’ve made it through six months of my daily writing challenge. Last night, the sixth volume of Two-Hundred Steps Home appeared on Smashwords and has already had 25 downloads.

Baby Blues (Part One!) went to the proofreader last night too. It should have been all of it, but a crazy-busy weekend meant it didn’t quite happen. I hope to have finished editing the last 20 pages today, so the proofreader can have the whole manuscript, and I can get back to just worrying about Claire, promoting Dragon Wraiths (which will probably mean putting it back in the Select Programme, seeing as Smashwords has not produced additional sales), and catching up on some of the other projects that have been waiting for my attention.

July also means my daughter starts school in two months, and my son is ten weeks from his 3rd birthday. I know parenting continues to be challenging, but I do feel like I’ve survived a hurricane and can start rebuilding my house.

The penyy-farthing following us on the tractor ride

The penny-farthing following us on the tractor ride

Yesterday, visiting Thomas the Tank Engine, at the local steam railway, was a perfect example. We went to say farewell, as the little blue steam engine is going to hospital for his ten-year check up. The day was still tiring, still stressful, but oh so much easier than it would have been a year ago. No pushchair, no nappies (unfortunately it also means dashes to the toilet and forgetting to pack wet-wipes for the ice cream mess. Ah well.)

We watched the model railway, with James and Thomas, Emily and Percy (trains), as well as cameos from Postman Pat and Peppa Pig. (Photos will follow, when my computer stops being a pain). We sat in a cream and blue carriage while Thomas pulled us along the track and through a long tunnel. We went to a Victorian fair and had a tractor ride, sitting on straw bales. We had ice cream. We saw a man on a penny-farthing. A great day.

I watched mothers with pushchairs, with a toddler and a baby, and I wanted to help. I wanted to say, it gets easier. I wanted to reassure them it was worth the effort. I couldn’t, I don’t know how to do that without sounding patronising. But I hope they saw me with mine and saw a future where their children could both climb on the train unassisted and didn’t need carrying!

And now my daughter has tears for Thomas. She woke up crying last night, because she missed Thomas. This is a steam train we have visited maybe four times, which is going for a boiler overhaul and won’t be back for a year. My daughter’s capacity for empathy is bewildering and amazing in equal measure. One more thing to be thankful for, I guess!

________________________________________________________________________________

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 dragged at the car handle, but it wouldn’t open. She aimed a kick at the tyre and immediately regretted it, as her toe stabbed through the skimpy sandals she’d purchased to go with her maid of honour dress.

Behind her, she could hear that the band had started their next song. Slowly, the conversation returned, almost drowning out the sound of approaching footsteps. They weren’t the light ones she wanted to hear, but the heavy tread of an unwelcome male. For a moment she hoped it might be Jeff, come to reassure her that Kim wasn’t really that angry. Then she caught a hint of aftershave on the night breeze, and hope died.

Praying she could escape into the dark, Claire scurried round the car and wove through the others in the car park until she reached a Range Rover. Without thinking, Claire ducked down in the shadow of the 4×4 and listened. The footsteps stopped, and she felt he might hear her heart thudding in the silence, despite the sounds of the party in the distance.

“Claire?”

Michael’s voice rang out, closer than Claire expected. She flinched, but stayed ducked low, trying not to dwell on how absurd her actions were.

“Come on, Claire. I saw you come over here. The Skoda’s locked. Why are you hiding like a child?”

Because you sound like an angry parent. Claire clenched her jaw, and dug her nails into her hand. She concentrated on keeping her breathing shallow. Go away, Michael. You’ve done enough damage. Let me skulk off in peace.

The footsteps came nearer, crunching the gravel underfoot. Claire tensed, ready to run. She wondered if she should remove her sandals, but they were preferable to running barefoot across the stones. Michael stood between her and the hostel entrance.

“What are you going to do, Claire? Hide out here all night? I’m going to go and wait in our room, so you’ll have to face me eventually.” He stopped, as if listening for a response.

“You’re being childish, Claire. So Kim’s angry, so what? She’s the bride and, from what you say, she’s pregnant. Tears and tantrums go with the territory.” His voice sounded amused, patronising. Claire wanted to fly at him and gouge his eyes with her pink nails.

What did I ever see in him? What a self-satisfied prig. Kim was right. Thinking about her best friend – and the look of anger on her face as she inadvertently revealed her secret to all her wedding guests – brought bile to Claire’s throat. Her head thumped with too much champagne and she swallowed hard against the urge to vomit. That would give her away for sure.

Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes. What a mess. She shivered, realising it was bitterly cold out in the car park, away from the heat of the hostel.  Come on Michael, go away! She wondered if he was going to stand there all night, cornering her until she had to break cover or freeze. Then she remembered his threat to stand guard over her bag and car keys. What a tosser.

“Okay, Claire. Have it your way. I’m going to sit in the warm and wait for you to come to your senses.”

She heard the sound of gravel crunching, fading into the distance, as Michael carried out his threat.

“Damn!” Claire whispered, when she was sure he was gone. She stood and stretched out cramped muscles, resisting the temptation to lean against the Range Rover in case it set off the alarm. “How am I going to get my stuff back, without facing him?”

She stood in the dark and brushed away the tears, as options ran through her mind. She could bribe a member of staff to distract him, or call the police and tell them Michael was harassing her. Or she could get the RAC to get her into the car, tell them she had dropped the keys down a drain. Or she could just face him, and get it over with. Get the hell out, and leave him and his self-righteous preaching behind.

Shoulders back, chin high, Claire strode towards the building.

***

KDP Select, Yes or No? 2013 365 Challenge #160

Smashwords

Smashwords

I’m thinking of putting Dragon Wraiths back in the KDP Select program. I came out of the program after my three months were up, because I wanted the book to be available for Nook as well as Kindle. I’m trying to be patient – it was only cleared for Premium Catalogue on Friday – but I’ve yet to find it on the Barnes and Noble site, which kind of defeats the point.

For those of you who don’t know, the KDP Select program allows self-published authors on Amazon to have a few extra benefits in exchange for exclusivity. Benefits include a higher royalty rate, the opportunity to offer the book free for five days every three months, and inclusion in the Amazon Prime lending scheme.

I had virtually no copies of my book borrowed in the three months I was a member. While I did have 1200 free books downloaded over the three months, it didn’t result in a mass of reviews or extra sales (unlike fellow author Rinelle Grey), and it doesn’t matter what royalty rate you’re getting if you don’t sell anything. So I opted out.

The depressing brown line

The depressing brown line

However, since doing so, I haven’t sold a single book. Not through Amazon or through Smashwords. Clearly there is some additional marketing or promotion that comes with the select program that is harder to quantify.

Sales aren’t about money for me at the moment. I pay more each month in National Insurance fees to be self-employed than I earn from book sales. But sales give me motivation. As long as I sell a few books each week I feel like a writer. The cost of childcare, the lost opportunity-cost of me staying at home rather than stacking shelves at Tesco, they’re all worth it.

Without those sales, though, I feel invisible. A wanabe. Darn you, Amazon, for catching me in your honey trap. I’ll give it to the end of the month. But if there are still only brown bars on my sales report I might have to rethink.

________________________________________________________________________________

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 hugged her friend tightly, feeling already that pregnancy was putting some welcome flesh on her thin shoulders.

“You take care. If there is anything, anything, I can do in the next couple of weeks, please call. It’s important you don’t overdo it.”

“I know: happy pregnancy, happy baby. Mum tells me that all the time.”

Claire hadn’t meant anything of the sort – it sounded like hippy nonsense – but she nodded. Kim and her mother were in a much better position to know what might affect a growing foetus. She’d merely been worried that Kim wouldn’t enjoy her wedding day if she was so tired she fell asleep at 9pm in front of the fire.

“Sorry I have to rush off. I would stay longer, but I’ll have Carl on my case if I don’t start blogging again soon. I’m heading over towards Ludlow, so I won’t be far away. Blogging about a wedding at a hostel is going to be my trump card to keep the bastard off my back for a bit longer.”

“Did you tell him about your wrist?” Kim looked in concern at the still-bandaged hand.

Claire shook her head. “It’s the weekend. Carl has to be home with the kids or his wife will divorce him. That’s why he works such long hours during the week. I’ll email him tomorrow, not that there’s much point. Except I suppose I can write a post on how not to hurt yourself when learning to snowboard.”

Kim reached forward and hugged her friend again. Something in the embrace brought a lump to Claire’s throat. There was too much understanding in her hold. Trust Kim to see beneath the façade. She always did, damn her.

“Where is your next destination,” Kim said, when she eventually let go.

“Stratford-Upon-Avon.”

“Claire, that’s miles away! In Sunday night traffic too. You’re crazy.”

“It was the only hostel with a bed. Besides, it’s only a couple of hours and, once I’m over in the west, or The Heart of England as the YHA calls it, there are loads of hostels to stay in. I’ll be fine. It was that or some eco lodge in the National Forest. I’ll take a lovely Georgian Mansion any day. Maybe they’ll even have a last-minute seat at the theatre.”

“Okay, now I’m a bit jealous. I’ve got rehearsals first thing, all I’ll be doing this evening is sleeping. Well, as long as Jeff lets me.” She gave a knowing smirk. “He’ll be home soon. I’m sorry you missed him.”

I’m not. The thought escaped before Claire could squash it. It wasn’t true, not really. She loved Jeff. She’d even come to terms with how gorgeous he was, and no longer had to have a cold shower every time she saw him. But ten minutes of happy families was ten minutes too much.

“I’ll see him at the wedding. Give him my love.”

She reached forward for a last, quick, hug, and shouldered her rucksack. Time to hit the road.

***

Smashwords Fatigue: 2013 365 Challenge #151

Imagine I finally chose for Volume 5

Imagine I finally chose for Vol5

I’m all Smashworded out today. Not only have I been formatting the May volume of Two-Hundred Steps Home (including a lengthy and arduous search for a cover image), I have also been attempting to load Dragon Wraiths to Smashwords, now it is out of the KDP Select programme.

Arrgghhhh!

I think that about sums it up. Thank goodness I now have the iPad and can put a few more of the download versions through their paces. For example I discovered the ISBN I had for Dragon Wraiths was for the sample I put up in February, and so no longer appropriate. I discovered that the Contents File works fine in the Kindle App but not in the iBook app. I learned that Smashwords makes my 12pt Headers HUGE for no apparent reason. I also learned that it is much harder to get a 113k word file through the AutoVetter than it is a 20-25k word file (as the Two-Hundred Steps Home Volumes usually are.)

The outcome is I’m still not happy with my Smashwords Dragon Wraiths file, although I have left it live for now, as I don’t know how to fix some of the issues. I’ve dropped the price on Smashwords and Amazon to 99c so hopefully people don’t feel they’re being ripped off if they buy it and the formatting stinks. I’ll say this for Amazon, my html file turned into a perfectly acceptable .mobi file with minimal effort.

As far as the May Two-Hundred Steps Home Volume Five is concerned, it’s not my finest – that probably goes for the cover and the content. It was a bitty month, more about Ruth than Claire, and so there wasn’t really an image that pulled it all together. I had to Photoshop this one to remove an extra person on a horse in the river, and it’s almost what I was after, though not quite. With a tiny budget there are limits to my ability to fulfill my vision!

I’ve also discovered that Volume 3 isn’t available on iPad even though it’s meant to be in the Smashwords Premium Catalogue – that might explain my poor download numbers for 3 and 4. So much of self-publishing seems to be wandering round in the dark. At least I found a new source of free ebooks in my iBooks app, so the day wasn’t a complete loss.

________________________________________________________________________________

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:

________________________________________________________________________________

“Your wrist isn’t broken, Ms Carleton, but you do have a nasty sprain.”

Claire looked up at the A&E doctor and groaned. “How bad? You’re not going to plaster it, are you?” Carl is never going to accept another doctor’s note stopping me working, but I can’t drive with my arm in plaster.

“No, I think a bandage and a sling will be sufficient. You’ll need to rest it for several days, however. Do you work?”

And how exactly is that relevant? Claire glowered at the doctor, who continued to look blandly at her as if she was as interesting as wallpaper.

“Yes, I work. I’m a travel journalist.” Well, I guess that’s what I am these days. How odd not to know what my job title is.

“Well, no sitting at a computer for hours, and no driving until the swelling has gone done. You’re best to follow the PRICE routine.”

Claire looked at the woman blankly, waiting for her to elaborate. The doctor looked surprised at her silence, then seemed to realise she wasn’t speaking to a fellow medical professional.

“Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation,” she rattled off, as if listing the ingredients for a cake. Noticing the panicked expression in Claire’s widened eyes, the doctor handed her an information booklet.

“The main thing is no heat, alcohol, massage or strenuous activity. Rest, Ms Carleton. You’ll be fine in a day or so.” She began tapping words into the computer and Claire wondered if she had been dismissed.

“And the pain?” Two hours sitting in the Milton Keynes A&E waiting room, watching small children come in screaming and leaving sobbing, had numbed Claire’s pain to a dull roar.

“Over-the-counter medicine should be fine. Paracetamol for the first day or so, to let it heal. Then ibuprofen. Codeine if it’s severe. No alcohol.”

You said that already, you silly cow. I get it. No G&T to ease the misery. Great.

“How about food?” Claire had no idea what time it was, but it had to be at least mid-afternoon. The two-hour wait had been followed by a trip to X-Ray and a further wait to see the doctor.

“You can eat, if you feel like it. It’s only a sprained wrist, Ms Carleton. Book an appointment to see your GP if it isn’t improving after a week.”

This time the dismissal was clear. Claire thanked the doctor, gathered her bag, and headed out to the waiting room. The First Aider at the snow dome had sent her to A&E in a taxi, and she had no idea how to get back to her car or whether it would even still be there. Looking down, she realised she was still wearing the snow dome clothing and her things were in a locker at Xscape.

She stood motionless, staring blindly at the rows of faces sat like an audience watching the drama of A&E unfold.

I have to get the car. And get back to the hostel. Except I can’t drive and I don’t know anyone in this stupid town. For the first time in weeks, Claire felt defeated. Without caring who was watching, with no real thought at all, she sunk down into an empty seat and sobbed.

*

“Are you okay, Miss?”

Claire looked up into the kindly gaze of a young nurse, who had rested her hand on Claire’s shoulder. She tried to control her tears, but the warmth of the touch made them come faster, until she was gulping for air.

The nurse dropped down onto her haunches and looked into Claire’s face. “Can I get you anything?”

Aware of the snot threatening to leak from her nose, and the mascara tracking down her cheeks, Claire smiled through her tears and said, “A tissue?”

The nurse nodded and disappeared from view. She came back with a box of tissues, and sat in the now-vacant chair next to Claire.

Funny how quickly a weeping woman can be alone in a crowd.

The nurse handed over tissues, and sat silent while Claire mopped her face and blew her nose.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened. It’s only a sprained wrist, for goodness sake. Nothing tragic.” She thought about Ruth, and all the time she had spent in hospital with her. Crying over a bandage seemed selfish and uncalled for.

“Sometimes it’s the little things that break us. Do you have anyone I can call, to come and collect you?”

The words made Claire sob again, as she realised the answer was no. Her parents were fully occupied with Ruth, and Robert had gone back to Geneva. She thought about calling Michael, but dismissed the idea. He had finally stopped ringing and it wouldn’t be fair to reignite his hopes, just to get a lift.

She shook her head in answer to the nurse’s question, unable to speak.

“What about a friend, there must be someone?”

Kim. What about Kim? I wonder what it would cost me to get a taxi to her place? I’d have to sleep in the bath. I guess I could go back to the hostel now, and figure it out tomorrow. They’ll probably have towed my car away by that point anyway.

She realised the nurse was waiting for an answer, and gave a weak nod. “Yes, I have someone I can call. I need to get a taxi to my hostel though, is there a taxi rank near here?”

The nurse nodded and gave some directions, clearly relieved to have been able to help. Claire watched her leave, then went out to the lobby and dialled Kim’s number. Please be home.

“Hello, Claire. I was about to call you, you must be psychic. We need to talk about the wedding, I’ve got so many ideas and I want to pick your brains about hostels.”

“Hi, Kim.” Claire’s voice wobbled as she interrupted the flow of happy words, and she was unable to continue.

“Claire, honey, are you okay?”

“No.”

“What is it? Is it Ruth? God, is she alright?”

Kim’s words stabbed at Claire. What am I doing, feeling sorry for myself when my sister has cancer. She took a deep breath and tried to stop the shake in her voice.

“No, Ruth’s okay, as far as I know. It’s me, I sprained my wrist, and I guess I’m feeling a bit fragile. I wondered if you could cope with a visitor for the weekend?”

“Of course! Actually, that’s perfect. Jeff’s away, so we’ll be able to talk babies and weddings without driving him nuts.” She babbled on excitedly, and Claire tried to listen with patience.

Lovely. A weekend of happy families, love, nuptials and procreation. Just what the doctor ordered. She let Kim make arrangements and tried hard to hold back the tears.

***

April Finale: 2013 365 Challenge #120

A Slightly Different Format

A Slightly Different Format

I am so pleased to get to the end of April, from a Claire perspective. This has been a hard month for the daily blog. The 2 or 3 hours it takes every day to write the two parts of the blog, source pictures, check facts, edit, proof read and post, have come at a high cost. I know my family have been neglected, my house has suffered, my writing has suffered. If I hadn’t decided right at the beginning not to do any more editing after each post was live there is no way I would collate this month’s posts into an ebook. Some of them are so short they’re barely worth a heading. And the last two or three are reeeaaaallly long, as if making up for the overall fall in word count. Not intentionally. I think I just realised that I spent the month getting by and I needed some story to make it a stand-alone volume worth the purchase of a cover picture.

Anyway, today’s post is record length, to try and wrap up April, so I’ll keep the top half short.

There’s no cliff-hanger.

The allocation of days didn’t get me to my next cliff-hanger so I’ve tried to end on a nice upbeat note instead. I’ve also changed the front cover format to one that better fitted the photograph I decided on. That might mean a redesign of the others – all hampered by that first photo for January, which is only available in landscape!

As a small aside, if you are downloading the free ebooks and enjoying them, please do take time to rate them on Smashwords or even write a review if you’re feeling chatty. I know it isn’t award-winning literature that I’m writing – what first draft ever is? – but it would be nice to get some feedback on what has been done so far. There’s part of me that is tempted to put Claire to bed and start my new MG project instead. I could get a lot of first draft written in 3 hours a day, instead of researching youth hostels and children’s trips out!

______________________________________________________________________________

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 watched Sky lean over the glass barrier and reach down to stroke a seal. Her arms were too short and she nearly toppled over into the water. Concerned, Claire stretched out a hand, but the girl had already dropped back onto her feet. Her blonde hair streamed out as a sharp wind blew in off the sea. She had tried to convince Sky to let her tie it in a ponytail, but apparently she hadn’t the knack of it.

“Mummy doesn’t pull so much. You’re hurting me!” had been her response. Claire had decided a couple of hair grips would have to do.

She reached over and stroked the soft, golden hair. I wonder when hair stops being so silky-smooth. Or maybe she’s just blessed with beautiful hair. Not like my unmanageable mane.

Trying not to attract Sky’s attention, Claire carefully scanned the sea of faces surrounding them. She knew it must be past eleven, because the seal-feeding had started. Please don’t let me down. I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing.

Salty spray carried on the wind stung her eyes, making them water. The smell reminded her of long, carefree, holidays.

Not that Hunstanton on a Friday morning bears any resemblance to the South of France or Miami or any of the beaches I’ve visited in the last few years. I wonder what the Maldives smells like. I bet the briny tang there doesn’t have to compete with ketchup and hotdogs, cheap perfume and decapitated fish.

Claire watched as the woman in charge of feeding tossed several bloody carcasses into the water. The seals, so cumbersome on their platforms, dived gracefully and darted forward to retrieve their food. Claire’s mind drifted back to the day before, and the conversation in the car park of Norfolk Lavender.

As much as you can’t judge a seal by how it is on land, you can’t judge a break-up by the ranting of one person. There had been a look in Chris’s eyes that had made Claire believe his version of events. Besides, I know Ruth. That’s exactly what she would do. The only reason she has let me take Sky, and isn’t ringing every five minutes, is because the chemotherapy is taking all her energy. Even so, she received text messages from her sister several times a day, wanting to know where they were and whether her daughter was happy.

I wonder what Ruth would do if she knew about the phone call I had this morning. Chris had rung before breakfast, asking if he could meet up with Sky before they left the area. While her niece was occupied watching Dora Explorer on the iPad Claire had arranged for them to meet at Sea Life. It felt safe, a place where father and daughter could talk.

“Claire!”

The sound cut through the low hubbub of the crowd and a rippling revealed Chris’s location as he made his way through the press of bodies. It took a moment for Claire to realise he was pushing a pram. Oh god, he’s bought that damn woman and the baby. What an idiot.

Her face was thunderous as the man approached. He stopped and looked up, his face beneath Claire’s, as she stood on a platform with Sky. Eyes burning, Claire looked meaningfully at the pram and then over Chris’s shoulder, as if expecting to see the woman he left her sister for lurking in the distance.

“It’s alright, Bryony isn’t here. I wanted to bring Eloise. I thought Sky should meet her half-sister.” His voice was muted, but Sky was only an arm’s reach away and she turned at the sound.

“Daddy! What are you doing here?” Her face lit like a firework then fell dark as she remembered his behaviour the day before. Chris threw Claire a glance and she flushed, before raising her chin in defiance.

“No, I didn’t tell her you were coming. What if you’d decided not to show?”

Chris nodded, accepting her reason, and reached his arms up to Sky. She hadn’t noticed the pram and her father swiftly pulled her into an embrace before waggling his eyebrows at Claire. He nodded down at the pram then signalled to say he was leaving the child with Claire while he took Sky off to talk.

Claire felt paralysed with shock. What the hell? Her eyes tried to scream at Chris. You can’t leave me with your baby, for Christ’s sake! I know nothing about babies. She wasn’t sure about him going out of sight with Sky, either, but figured if he’d left his other daughter behind he was unlikely to abduct Sky.

As he carried Sky away through the huddle of people craning to watch the seal feeding, Claire stared down at the pram and swallowed the taste of sick swimming in her mouth. I need coffee. The café is by the door. If I wait there I’ll see if he takes Sky out the building.

Reluctantly, Claire walked round to the front of the pram and looked inside. The baby was asleep, its little face smooth and perfect in slumber. You sleep on, little Eloise, there’s a good girl.

    

Claire gulped down the hot coffee and ignored the caffeine as it buzzed through her veins on a direct path to her brain. It was her third cup and her hands were shaking slightly, like autumn leaves rustling in the breeze. She didn’t notice because she was too busy trying to stop Eloise from shrieking. The tranquil infant resting deep within the pram had lasted as long as her first latte. She had been forced to remove the infant and jiggle her on her knee while she drank the second. By the time the third arrived, Claire was ready to pass the baby to the next stranger who glared at her, and make a run for it.

“What. Do. You. Want?” She bit the words out quietly through gritted teeth, knowing full well Eloise couldn’t respond even if she understood the question.

Claire searched through the bag hanging off the pram, hoping for a dummy or a bottle of milk. Something – anything – to silence the screaming child. She found a bottle but it looked like it held only water. Peace descended briefly as she offered the bottle to the child, but it was replaced moments later with an ear-splitting yell, as the offending bottle was pushed away. Another rifle through the bag produced a tub of powder, but for all Claire knew it was teething crystals or talc for the baby’s bottom.

How dare Chris go off without leaving any instructions?

Abandoning the coffee under the growing ire of the other customers, Claire placed the baby in the pram and wheeled it back into the depths of the Sea Life centre. She could feel people staring as she pushed the wailing child through tunnels, past tanks of turtles and sharks, and out towards the penguins. I’m an idiot. I should have agreed how long Chris could spend with Sky and where to meet afterwards. His arrival with the baby had caught her by surprise.

Eloise’s cries dropped to a gentle roar with the motion of the buggy. Claire muttered soothing words in her general direction as she searched the crowds for sight of her niece. Panic fluttered in the pit of her stomach and she couldn’t decide what she feared most – not finding Sky again or being left with the baby.

She turned a corner and saw a giant pirate ship half sunk into the sand. A woman dressed as a pirate was standing with a group of children, handing out treasure. Claire caught sight of loose-flowing golden tresses and released her terror in a rush of air.

“Sky! Where’s your father?”

“Over here,” a voice responded, and Claire turned to see Chris watching the children, his face inscrutable.

“What the hell are you doing tucked round here? You’ve been ages. Your baby has been screaming for half an hour and I don’t know how to make her stop.”

Chris looked up, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand. “Oh, I figured you’d be fine. Women love babies.” He saw her expression and his face paled. “Don’t they?”

“Not this woman, thank you very much. We’re not all earth mothers you know. I understand more about a profit and loss ledger than I do a screaming infant.”

“Oh. Better pass her here then.”

Chris reached for the crying bundle of purple skin and snot and cuddled her against his shoulder, while deftly searching through the bag for the bottle of water and tub of powder. He held the bottle between his knees and unfastened it, then flicked open the tub of powder and tipped it in. Within seconds the lid was on, the bottle was shaken and a small amount applied to the back of his hand. Before Claire had time to sit down, baby Eloise was nestled in the crook of her Daddy’s arm happily gulping down milk.

“Okay, I’m impressed.” Claire smiled at Chris, feeling her anger drain away.

“I’ve had practice. Bryony couldn’t feed Eloise herself,” he shuffled uncomfortably, “… though she wanted to. We share the load. I could probably mix a bottle in my sleep.”

“So, have you and Sky had a chance to talk? She looks happy enough.”

“Yes. And thank you. It must be fate that let me bump into you yesterday. I have missed her.”

“Why didn’t you go and visit, when you thought the cards weren’t getting through?” Claire observed his profile as his eyes never ceased watching Sky.

“I didn’t want to rock the boat. I had no idea what Ruth had told her, about me and Bryony. And how to tell her about a half-sister she probably doesn’t want?”

“Have you told her now?”

Chris nodded, then looked down. The bottle was nearly empty. Claire was amazed at how quickly the baby had drained a full bottle of milk. As the last dregs disappeared, Chris raised the baby to his shoulder and gave her a practised pat on the back. A loud burp escaped the child, much to the amusement of the children nearby.

Sky turned at the noise and saw her father cradling the baby. Claire watched her reaction, ready to step in if need be. She looked shocked, then a smile spread wide across her face and she raced up to where they sat against the fence.

“Is that your baby, Dad? Yours and Bryony’s?”

“Yes, Sky. This is Eloise, your half-sister.”

Sky reached out and stroked the baby’s face, before turning to Claire, her eyes swimming with tears.

Oh dear. She’s just found out her father doesn’t hate her, and now she has to give him up to a new sister. Angry feelings squirmed in her stomach and she felt regret swarming up inside her, accusing her of causing Sky more pain by inviting Chris here. Then Sky reached forwards and planted a kiss on the baby’s forehead. Eloise giggled.

“I have a sister! Claire, I thought it would always be just me and Mummy. But I have a sister!” And the tears streamed down her face. Shining, happy tears.

***

Chocolate and Cheeky Amazon: 2013 365 Challenge #91

Scattering grass seed with Daddy

Scattering grass seed with Daddy

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

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

Shadow Forest by Matt Haig

Shadow Forest by Matt Haig

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

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

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

________________________________________________________________________________

Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

________________________________________________________________________________

“Excuse me, is everything alright?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

Addicted to Artwork: 2013 365 Challenge #60

I need to learn to finish a book before I design the cover! :)

I need to learn to finish a book before I design the cover! 🙂

Okay so I really need to either a) start a business designing cheap book covers for people or b) remove Adobe Photoshop from my PC.

I spent a precious hour today trying to find the right image for my next self-publishing adventure – even though I haven’t finished proof-reading/editing the final draft yet. It was originally called Pictures of Love (and I did a cover for it, with a picture of a camera). But I decided it didn’t sell itself or its genre properly in the tiny image you get on Kindle.

I decided to come up with a more genre-appropriate title and book cover. I settled on Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes although I’m not sure that’s brilliant either. My original concept for the cover was to have it as an illustration, with a picture of a teddy or rattle and some nice white shoes… Then I discovered illustrations are expensive to buy (and book covers designers are even more expensive when you’re starting out and have no budget.) I tried to create it myself but after spending an hour photographing my son’s teddy and trying to Photoshop it next to an image of wedding shoes I gave up. Maybe I’m not a book cover designer after all (unless you want a nice stock photo with some lettering on it – good at that!)

So anyway, this is my attempt. I like the image but I’m not entirely sure it goes with the title (the image seems quite serious, which fits the book to some extent, but the title sounds like Chick Lit). I need to tweak the lettering too, as it disappears into the shadows at the bottom.

The more I try and get my head around marketing the more impressed I am with people like Nicola May and Susan Buchanan. Their covers are eye-catching and they have a distinct brand. Incidentally three of Nicola’s books are free today (I discovered on Twitter – see, I’m learning how to use it at last!) so go and grab them for kindle if they sound like your cup of tea. I haven’t actually read any books by either author – I came across them on Twitter only this week – but they do look my kind of read.

Of course all this self-publishing stuff came today because I uploaded the second volume of Claire’s exploits onto Smashwords. I can’t believe I’m at 50,000 words including today’s post. I can see how addicted self-publishing can be and how tempting it is to put a book out before it’s ready. If I didn’t know that Pictures of Love/Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes needs a good polish I’d be formatting it for Kindle as we speak! And as for the three other manuscripts languishing on my laptop, when am I going to get back to those? The more I go down this writing path the more I have utter appreciation for the skills and talents of others! It’s not a journey for the faint-hearted.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Claire peered through the windscreen at the blue sign and swore. It was time to edge her way between the rows of traffic, to change lane and leave the motorway. Gritting her teeth Claire tried to see her mirrors through the lashing rain and cursed when she realised the wake of a passing lorry had pushed them out of position. She muttered a quick prayer and squeezed between two dirt-encrusted HGVs, wincing at the sound of horns as the rear one was forced to apply his brakes.

Her hands were shaking by the time she reached the exit and her temples ached. I’ve only been gone a couple of weeks. How can you forget how to drive like a normal human being in that time? Stupid car. I’d have been fine in my Audi.

She drove the familiar route into the city, relieved that the rain was beginning to stop. Even at midday the sky was dark, casting a gloomy light across the buildings and cars around her. Landmarks loaded with memories whisked past the window like luggage on a carousel. She exhaled. Not really the homecoming of the prodigal Marketing Director.

“Why the sigh?”

Claire looked at her passenger and gave a small shrug. “I didn’t think I’d be back so soon. Well, actually I did, but I thought it would be because Carl had changed his mind about trying to sack me or because I was booked on a flight to the Maldives, or…” She stopped.

Josh raised an eyebrow but she didn’t accept his invitation to elaborate. She wasn’t the one with explanations owing.

As the rain eased Claire was able to take some of her attention from staying on the road and apply it to the prickly problem sitting in her passenger seat.

“So, when are you going to tell me what this is really all about?”

Claire threw the words out there knowing they would fall on sterile soil. She’d tried to prise information out of Josh the night before, without success. Instead he’d introduced himself to Maggie and retreated back behind the backpacker persona. It had been the same at breakfast and during the two-hour rain-drenched journey to Manchester.

“Tell me why I am ferrying your arse to the airport to meet your wife when you won’t give me a damn thing.”

Josh hitched up his cheekiest smile and fluttered his eyelashes. “Because I’m a handsome Aussie bloke and you’re a swell Sheila who can’t resist me.”

Claire fought the grin but it crept across her face in betrayal.

“Ah ha see! No chick can withstand my charm.”

“And how are you going to explain that to Fiona?” Claire pictured their near kiss at the Observatory, thought about Beth and Chloe, and the anger returned.

“Your poor wife”, she bit out the words. “And children, I’m sure you mentioned children before you invoked your own Official Secrets Act.”

The smile dissolved from Josh’s face. Claire thought he was going to defend himself but he turned to look out the window. As she negotiated the busy streets into her home town she tried to ignore the growing tension. Do I push it or let him explain in his own time?

Angry words bubbled beneath the surface as she recalled the events of the previous evening. Josh’s highhanded summons, his shock revelation. Finding out he had kids after his avowed dislike of ankle-biters. Forgot to mention he had some of his own. Finding out he was married. What about all the women he’s come on to, for Christ’s sake, and done lord-knows-what with? What about me? How am I meant to face his wife at the airport? Just because nothing happened. It might have done. If he’d tried again. Which he hadn’t. Now she thought about it she had never actually seen Josh embracing anyone.

“You’ll have to talk to me eventually. You asked me to help you create a believable story for Fiona. I can’t do that if I don’t know the plot, or the key characters and their motivations.” She let her words hang in the air as she followed her Sat Nav to the hostel. She passed bars and shops that beamed like pictures in a family album.

I’m not here. No one can know I’m here.

Claire averted her eyes and gripped the wheel until her knuckles went white.  A stab of sunlight broke through the clouds as she turned the car into a wide street bordered by three-story Georgian houses. Something sparkled ahead and Claire looked up to see the looming monstrosity of the Hilton Tower dominating the skyline. She was glad when the Sat Nav sent her right, down a cobbled street, and she spied the green triangle of the YHA.

Pulling into a parking space she cut the engine and sat with her hands resting on the steering wheel, waiting to see if Josh would say anything before they left the private cocoon of the car to join the cacophony of a busy city hostel.

She was about to open her door and get out when she heard Josh inhale and sensed he was about to break the silence.

His words fell between them like rocks.

“I don’t want to tell you. How can I?” The sharp edges of his voice rent the air. “How will you ever remain friends with me when I tell you I killed someone? I killed a child.”

***

Seat of Pants and Insomnia: 2013 365 Challenge #57

Beans Coffee Shop, Oundle

Beans Coffee Shop, Oundle

I got yesterday’s post out by the seat of my pants after bumping into a friend in the coffee shop where I go to work. It was lovely to chat but I had scheduled my post to go live at 10.30 and she left around 10.10. As I hadn’t written a word of the ‘Claire’ section I had to tap something out super-speedy-fast. So apologies if it was a bit random. Today’s is going to be no different. I’m suffering from severe insomnia at present which means I can barely keep my eyes open once the children are in bed. It’s 9am and I’ve only just opened this post with no idea what is going to happen to Claire today. I’m only 2 days away from my February finale and I’m not sure it’s going to happen!

On a happy note I sold two copies of Dragon Wraiths through kindle yesterday, after I decided to chuck the manuscript on there while Smashwords were reviewing it for their Premium Catalogue. Just as well as it failed the review process by Smashwords due to ‘inconsistent formatting’. I thought it might. They’re very strict about the use of fonts and templates and I wasn’t able to reset the whole novel to ‘normal’ as they recommend because I would have lost track of who was talking in all the dragon dialogue scenes. It’s all part of the learning I guess. If I have a day and buckets of energy I might try and format it again, but for now it’s on Kindle (although I haven’t previewed it yet to see how awful the formatting is!) Anyway, on to Claire.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

“My sister’s having surgery today.”

Maggie looked up from her book and focussed on Claire as she spoke into the silent room.

“Oh my.”

Maggie paused as if unsure what else to say. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Claire sat motionless on her bunk considering the question. Did she? She wasn’t even sure why she’d blurted out the news to a stranger, except that Maggie seemed effused with warmth and kindness.

“No, not really. She’s having a brain tumour removed. I’d rather not think about it.”

Maggie snapped her book shut and pushed off the bed. “Well then, what you need is some fresh air and Grasmere Gingerbread.”

“What?” Claire reeled from the sudden movement, her sleep-deprived brain struggling to process the change of speed.

“Grasmere Gingerbread. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of it?”

Claire shook her head and swallowed the lump in her throat.

Maggie laughed gently and walked over to sit on the bunk next to Claire. She put her arm around her and squeezed, as if they’d known each other for years rather than hours.

“No need to look so crestfallen, it’s hardly a sin. We’re rather proud of our local shop, that’s all.”

“Oh are you from round here?” Claire considered Maggie’s Queens English. “You don’t sound, erm, Cumbrian?” She hesitated, hoping she hadn’t offended her new acquaintance.

“Haha no I don’t have the local dialect. My parents sent me to school in Leicestershire. So, how about it?”

Claire looked puzzled, trying to keep up. It felt like listening to the news from the bottom of a pond.

“The walk? To The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop?”

Claire nodded and let Maggie pull her up from the bed.

 

The air outside bit deep, cutting into Claire like a Sabatier knife. She huddled into her coat and tucked her chin into her collar. The landscape was flat and muted like a sepia photograph.

Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.

Maggie strode off, head high, arms swinging. Claire scurried after her and hoped it wasn’t a long walk. She felt like a small child trying to keep up with her mummy. Maggie seemed to realise she was walking alone and turned to see what had happened to Claire.

She laughed at the bundle of misery scuttling behind her. “Sorry Claire, I’m in hill-walking mode. I’ll slow down.”

“You walk across hills at that speed? Are you superhuman?”

“Just bred to it. My parents are avid hill-walkers.”

“My dad plays golf.”

 

The shop was dark and bustling with tourists browsing such delights as Kendal Mint Cake and Rum Butter. It felt like a sauna after the bitter wind outside. Claire soaked the heat into her bones and let the noise wash over her. She could imagine Sky in a place like this, jumping up and down to see over the counter and through the bodies of people queuing to buy their gingerbread.

Maybe I could bring her hostelling with me. At least she’d be company.

Maggie was explaining the history of the shop, how it was set up in the 1850s by Sarah Wilson a local lady. How she lost both her daughters to tuberculosis and her husband shortly after. Although said in a matter-of-fact tone, the words sank into Claire like lead-weights.

What if I lose Ruth? I barely know her. How much time have we spent together since we left home? Hardly any.

She felt the guilt surge up her throat and lodge in the back of her mouth. The heat of the room pressed in until she had to get out. She shouldered her way through the mingling people and pushed through the door. The winter air slapped her in the face, numbing her senses and causing her eyes to water.

Standing outside the tiny cottage Claire pulled freezing air into her lungs and stared around without seeing. She heard the click of the door behind her and felt an arm around her shoulders.

“Sorry, that was insensitive of me. I was so caught up in the history I forgot about your sister. You must be very worried. There’s a garden centre just down the road. Let’s go for a cup of coffee and you can tell me about it.”

Claire let herself be comforted. Let herself be led away like a lost child.

***