E-Book Censorship – Necessary or a Slippery Slope?

The story as it unfolds

The story as it unfolds

Some worrying news has trickled through to me this week, through various sources, that Amazon, Barnes & Noble and particularly Kobo are censoring Self-Published/Indie Published books. As far as I can gather, from reading posts on Shannon Thompson’s Facebook wall – here and here – and through statements from Smashwords, the concern is specific types of erotica, such as incest or rape themed books, but may easily stretch into all Indie Publishing.

WH Smith, who sell Kobo books in the UK, took down ALL self-published books in response to criticism over some of the content they apparently unknowingly stocked.

Smashwords  also has this comment in their statement:

Going forward, I think we can expect this to become the new reality as major retailers set their sights on a global market where the cultural, religious or political norms in some countries will find certain categories of erotica too objectionable, or might find non-erotic categories that most western cultures consider mainstream as too objectionable.  This means we can expect more mess to come in the years ahead as the industry navigates ebook globalization [My emphasis]

Now I have to be honest, this isn’t a straightforward debate for me. My mind is surging with conflicting emotions. Paramount is the thought “Oh my goodness, if they start deleting Indie books, there goes my five-year plan. Amazon is already censoring reviews (I’ve had at least three reviews of my books deleted and lord knows how many more I don’t know about). I’ll have to give up writing and get a job.”

This might seem like an overreaction when I write books with no sex in them, never mind erotica. But, as Smashwords points out, this may well not just stop at erotica but might cover any area that’s considered taboo in a certain culture. Shannon points out on her blog that the legal age of drinking between the UK and the US is different, so might books featuring a teenager drinking be banned in the US?

First WH Smith then all KOBO

First WH Smith then all KOBO

Then of course comes the view that refusing to publish any kind of books is bad. It’s censorship, it’s against free speech, it’s harking back to the days of banning and burning books for not fitting in with the social mores of its time. As one commenter points out on Shannon’s blog, though, it isn’t actually against free speech, because these companies are businesses and have every right to sell what they choose. Even so, it still isn’t good news for Indie authors like me.

Ah, but then, a third voice pipes up: the voice of the parent. I’d happily see all porn banned on the internet: free speech or no. And if there are erotica books out there that favour or promote rape, then I am happy for them to be banned. (Remember this is only the parent talking, so no snotty comments about me being a bigot, thanks!)

I don’t want my daughter growing up in a world where people have had easy access to books promoting rape. There’s something about an idea being written down that gives it gravitas. You write about rape in a book, make it sound like a cool thing, and somebody somewhere is going to feel like that gives them a green light.

In an article on the Christian Science Monitor (which I found through Shannon’s blog) someone defends the erotica ebooks by saying:

“We outlaw snuff films, child porn and, increasingly, revenge porn, because actual people are harmed during their production,” wrote PJ Vogt on OnTheMedia.org.

“Erotic fiction concerns fake characters who don’t exist in real life.”

So it’s okay if it’s in a book, with fake characters? I should agree, yes of course. Except I’ve read books that have changed the way I think. They’ve actually rewired my brain to see the world a different way. That’s the power of fiction (as so beautifully argued in a lecture by Neil Gaiman recently:

When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

The On the Media article quoted above says that internet porn hasn’t increased actual instances of rape, and makes the assumption that literature won’t either. But if you look at Neil’s argument, the written word is more powerful than onscreen images, precisely because it happens inside the mind. It locates another ‘me’ in the world. Great if that widens the mind, not so great if it narrows it.

Neil also says, “We have an obligation [as writers] to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it” but that’s an entirely different argument against some of these books!

There is a petition on Change.org that I will probably sign, but I am having to think twice about it. The petition does say **This petition is NOT condoning non-fictional beastiality, incest, pediphilia or other things of such ‘extreme’ nature**. 

Non-fictional? What about fictional? Also, there are some views in the comments that I don’t agree with. For example someone says you need a credit card to buy the books, so you’re obviously over 18. Except what about the free sample? I’ve downloaded the first few chapters of plenty of books without having to pay for them, and many of them I wouldn’t want my daughter to read at any age.

It’s a difficult debate and I hate not knowing what side of the fence I sit on. If Amazon and other online retailers delete my books, I’m back to square one: trying to fight my way in through the agent/publisher route. And I believe we’ll all be the poorer for stopping the publishing revolution before it’s even got underway. However there is no doubt that there are books out there that ruin the image of self-publishing for all of us, never mind books I wouldn’t want my kids to have access to.

Where do you sit?

___

Quick Newsflash

I made a last minute decision this morning to drop the price of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes for this week, as I have a couple of free days running for Dragon Wraiths before I come out of KDP Select (maybe for good this time.)

If you’ve loved either book and want to tell others, or fancied a read but thought it a bit pricey, do please take the opportunity to grab a bargain. And thank you for your ongoing support!

And, of course, if you love either book, please leave a review (or if you don’t love it – I can take it, I have thick skin now).

UK Links:

Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes

Dragon Wraiths

US Links

Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes

Smashwords BBWS

Dragon Wraiths

 

F-ein-tastic!: 2013 365 Challenge #247

Mind-Numbing Paperwork

Mind-Numbing Paperwork

Hurrah! I got my EIN number today.

After a year of telling myself “I will call tomorrow” and never quite managing it, my “fax them instead” plan worked a charm. Just as they said it would, it only took four business days for my EIN to arrive by fax to my inbox.

Cue BIG GRINS!

For anyone else like me, who hates having to phone anyone, or who doesn’t want to spend a fortune on hold to an international phone number, here is a rough idea of what I did to get my number.

1. Read Catherine, Caffeinated’s blog post on applying for an EIN (especially read the bit at the top *Read this first* and the comments). Even if you’re going to fax rather than phone, this will still make sure you know all the answers to the questions needed to complete the SS-4 Form.

2. Download the SS-4 form (or here) AND the notes. You need to read the notes, although don’t be daunted. On page three of the SS-4 there is a chart titled “Do I need an EIN?”

Point 8 on this chart, where it says IF the applicant … Is a foreign person needing an EIN to comply with IRS withholding regulations AND Needs an EIN to complete a Form W-8 (…) explains which parts of the form need to be completed. These are: Lines 1-5b, 7a-b (SSN or ITIN optional), 8a, 8b-c (if applicable), 9a, 9b (if applicable), 10, and 18. 

3. Use the notes on Catherine, Caffeinated’s post, together with the Instructions Form, to help you understand what information is required for each of these sections. Heed the advice to fill everything out in full (no abbreviations). I completed my form in Adobe Photoshop, because I have it, and because there was no way I could fit my address legibly in the teeny tiny box by hand. It probably isn’t necessary but it certainly helps if you can type the form.

4. Ensure you have included a fax number for yourself in the bottom right-hand corner, and fax to this number:

International Revenue Service Center
Attn: EIN International Operation
Cincinnati, OH 45999
Fax-TIN: (1) 859-669-5987
 

4a. If (like me) you don’t have a fax machine, there are plenty of online companies who can convert a scanned document into a fax and send it for you. I used efax, signing up for their free 30 day trial (provided I remember to cancel it tomorrow!) They allowed me to choose my own local fax number and emailed me the response from the IRS. You do have to give your credit card details so make sure you cancel it within the 30 days.

5. Once you get your magic EIN number back, you need to complete the W-8BEN Forms for Amazon and Smashwords (if you have your EIN you can ignore most of the advice on the Smashwords page about the W7 form).

Again, Catherine Caffeinated’s blog has details on how to do this (although the postal address for Smashwords is out of date, so it’s worth double checking the information. The latest one is below.)

Amazon now have an automated system – the tax interview – whereby you complete your W-8BEN Form online. It’s worth doing this first, so you can copy their information to complete the Smashwords form (which has to be posted to this address:).

Postal mail us a printed, signed copy of your W8BEN form to:

Smashwords, Inc.
Attn:  Tax Compliance Dept.
PO Box 11817
Bainbridge Island, WA   USA  98110

NOTE: You have to include your Smashwords screen name (ie for me it’s writermummy) and account email address on the form before you post it to them.

6. Sell some books, happy in the knowledge that (in a month or two) you will no longer lose 30% of your income to the IRS.

Caveat: This is my experience of the process. I didn’t take many notes and I found it all quite straightforward, particularly after reading ALL of the Catherine Caffeinated post, including comments. If you have anything extra to add, or your experience was different in any way, please let me know in the comments below.

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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 felt a tap on her arm. Prising her eyes open, she stared blearily to her left. Josh peered at her with a sheepish grin on his face.

“Sorry, did I wake you?”

“No.” Claire yawned. She glanced to her right, but the seat was empty. Feeling slightly betrayed that Bethan had left her to her fate, Claire turned back to Josh.

“Yes, it’s just us.” His smile was too knowing, and Claire flushed at being caught. She already suspected that Josh had seen through her blatant attempts to avoid being alone with him, both at dinner the night before, and during the wait for the ferry that morning.

“Would you like to take a walk? We’re just entering the sound, and the scenery is breathtaking.”

Even though the ferry barely felt like it was moving – in strong contrast to her experience two days before – Claire didn’t feel like going on deck. But something about Josh’s expression told her he would pester her until she gave in, so she nodded and hoped it would be too noisy outside for conversation.

Josh led her through a heavy door, holding it open for her with a flourish. She smiled at his antics but it didn’t alleviate the lead weight tugging at her chest. As much as she was enjoying spending time with Josh, she found his behaviour unnerving: he watched her constantly, even when he was talking to someone else. It was more like being stalked by Neal than having her friend back.

I miss the old Josh.

With another yawn, Claire inhaled the fresh morning air and agreed that it was indeed beautiful. The grass-coated cliffs rose either side of them, forming a narrow tunnel for the ferry to chug through. The scenery had an other-world feel to it: too large, too green, too perfect. She felt like a mouse drifting along the riverbank on a leaf.

Josh leant on the railings, his face into the wind. She went to stand beside him and, for a moment, they contemplated the view in companionable silence.

“Claire–”

She winced, then changed it to, “Hmmm?”

“I never got a chance to tell you yesterday about why I came. The truth is, I’m thinking of leaving Fiona.”

Claire gasped. She couldn’t help it. Whatever she had imagined he might say; that hadn’t been it.

Stupid girl. It should have been obvious: the lingering glances, his coming all this way to see you.

She tried to analyse her reaction to his announcement. Wasn’t that what she wanted? Josh, free from Fiona and hers for the taking? Except somehow she didn’t want it anymore. The Josh she loved was a faithful, loving man, not someone who would walk out on his wife and children.

“Why?”

Josh released a sigh. “It’s too damn hard, that’s why. All she has time for these days is the kids. They come first in everything. We barely talk anymore, never mind, well …”

“But Lily’s only a baby; surely it will get easier when she’s a bit older.”

“Fiona said that after Lucas and Sophie and then Lily came along. She’ll probably want another one, as soon as Lily doesn’t need her 24-7. It feels like her way of avoiding being with me: having more and more babies.”

“I thought you loved the children.”

Josh ran his hands through his hair. “I do. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great kids. And Fiona. But a man has needs, you know? Oh not just the obvious ones.”

He turned to face her, and the bitterness in his expression made her catch her breath.

“Just once I’d like her to ask about my day, instead of handing me the baby so she can grab a shower or go to bed. I feel like we’re co-workers on a rolling twelve-hour shift pattern. I don’t remember the last time we had an uninterrupted conversation.”

Claire thought back to her time caring for Sky. She’d felt like that with only one child to look after, she couldn’t imagine what it must be like with three. And, even though her first reaction was to call Josh a selfish bastard for not being more supportive of Fiona, she had to admit he probably had a point. When they’d all been together in the hostel, Fiona’s attention had been consumed by the children.

“Shouldn’t you be talking to Fiona about this, not me?”

Josh hung his head and rubbed his hand around the back of his neck. It was the gesture of a beaten man. “I’ve tried. She gets all emotional: either accusing me of being selfish or telling me to clear off and find someone else to see to my needs because she’s too busy.”

Claire’s ears buzzed as she tried to think. She didn’t want to be having this conversation. Was she meant to be the someone else? Josh’s pain was her pain, but part of her could see how childish he was being. Parenthood was hard: you took the good with the bad.

If I were Fiona, I’d probably tell him to sod off, too.

Not knowing what to say, Claire absentmindedly rubbed his shoulder in support. As if the physical contact was all the permission he needed, Josh turned to her and seized her face with his hands. He kissed her, hard, his stubble grazing her face. Not like the soft brush of the lips of their first embrace.

She didn’t respond but, unlike the last time, Josh didn’t pull away. After several painful moments, Claire pushed at his chest and he broke free, panting.

She looked up at him, eyes wide. His expression was wild and it scared her. Then he seemed to control his features and smiled the lopsided grin that tightened round her heart like a fist.

“Sorry. Can’t blame a man for trying.”

He turned back to face the sea, as if nothing had happened. Claire stood motionless, except for the trembling in her limbs, her mind a jumble of thoughts and feelings.

Ah, crap.

***

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!

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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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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!

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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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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.”

***

Baby isn’t so Blue: 2013 365 Challenge #158

I accidentally published a book today!

I accidentally published a book today!

I got Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes out of the metaphorical bottom drawer this morning and dusted it off. I hadn’t intended to look at it again this year, having decided it needs too much revision and knowing how dangerous it is to revise it along side writing Two-Hundred Steps Home.

Last time I worked on it I kept confusing the protagonist Helen with Claire from Two-Hundred Steps Home, even swapping the names at one point. They’re not that similar, although I suspect they have a similar voice, as I’m aware I write mostly in my voice. They’re both late twenties, but that’s about it.

Claire is slightly older, more worldly-wise. She’s an Associate Director. Confident, maybe a bit arrogant in the beginning. Her career is important to her and she would rather lose her man than have kids.

On the other hand Helen chooses to give up her man to keep her baby, when her fiancé tells her to ‘Get rid or get out.’

Helen gave up her career to be with her fiancé, working for him as his hostess and diary planner. She isn’t a strong person, particularly where Daniel is concerned. She learns strength through adversity and necessity. She yearns for a happy home like the one she grew up in and is therefore happier in a relationship than out of one.

The park when Helen first suspects she might be pregnant

The park where Helen first suspects she might be pregnant

Claire is cynical about love and relationships because she didn’t really have a happy family home. Her formative years were spent in boarding school, with her family barely staying in touch. She keeps people at a distance. While Helen embraces her new photography friends and then Marcio and his family, Claire keeps everyone but Kim at arm’s length.

They both have a personal journey, and of course both are parallel-universe versions of me, taking tiny parts of my life and exploring them further. They’re different enough in character, if not in speech, that I can’t work on both novels together, not even to edit one while writing the other.

When I got Baby Blues out, though, and began skimming it to correct a grammar fault I didn’t realise I was prone to (not putting commas around names in dialogue) I found it wasn’t as awful as I remember. I can see some wordy chapters, probably a bit preachy, that want trimming. I need to find someone who reads Spanish to validate my lovely Google Translator bits of text, but it’s not awful.

Helen's street in London

Helen’s street in London

The best part is I’d already formatted it for Smashwords so it only needed tweaking to get it passed the Autovetter. So, if anyone fancies reading it and helping identify the weaknesses, the woolly chapters, or if anyone speaks Spanish, drop me a line. It’s not live on Smashwords, as it’s not quite ready to be released into the wild. But if you let me know your preferred format, either in the comments or via email/facebook/twitter I’ll send you a copy.

Postscript: Oops! The book is live on Smashwords because I uploaded a version then went to get the kids from nursery, forgetting to ‘unpublish’ it. When I got home, 41 free copies had been downloaded. I want to keep it live in case anyone leaves a review (the ultimate Beta Reader experience) but I have put a price on it now, so I don’t expect to sell any copies until it is cleared for the Premium Catalogue. The above still applies: if you’d like a free copy, let me know.

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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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“Where are we going?”

Kim looked over at Claire, who had her eyes on the road. “You could at least let me drive. The doctor told you to rest your wrist for 48 hours. I can drive, you know. Just because we can’t afford a second car.”

Claire bit back a sigh. When did Kim start worrying so much about money? I’m driving a Skoda, not a jag. She kept the words unspoken. Who knew what hormone-induced turmoil was churning in her friend’s mind. Maybe all the stuff with the wedding and the baby has made her realise that money is important. I doubt Jeff earns a fortune working for a charity and I know the acting doesn’t pay. Well, at least there’s one thing I can do without hurting her sensitivities.

“So, where are we going?”

“You’ll find out when we get there.”

“You sound like my mother.”

Claire laughed. “You sound like Sky.”

Kim tilted her head to one side and said in a sing-song voice, “Are we there yet?”

Claire turned the car into a side street and killed the engine.

“Yes.”

Kim looked around the residential street, perplexed.

“And where are we, exactly? I thought you said this was exciting.” She pouted. “I don’t call visiting someone at 10am on a Sunday morning exciting. I could be reading the paper over coffee and croissants. Or toast at least.”

“Well, seeing as you’ve given me no notice of your impending nuptials, time is of the essence. Sharon was free to see us. Remember it’s early on a Sunday for her too.”

“But who is she?”

Someone I used to work with. Well, she headed up Compliance, but we got on well.”

“I don’t need a Pre-nup you know.” Kim went pale. “Jeff would kill me. Besides, neither of us owns anything. If I ever make my fortune on the big screen I’ll be happy to share.”

“She’s not in Compliance anymore, silly,” Claire said, as she led the way along a path of nodding daffodils to ring the bell.

“Well, what does she do?”

“You’ll see.”

“You’re being horribly cryptic.”

“I know.” Claire giggled. “I’m getting my own back for your little bombshell.”

“You fiend. I didn’t mean to keep it from you.”

“Well, you’re about to be put out of your misery.”

Footsteps could be heard approaching the door, which was opened by a fresh-faced woman with short dark hair. She was wearing an apron.

“Claire! Lovely to see you, you look marvellous. I’ve been following the blog, travelling suits you. And this must be the bride. Come in. Only two weeks to the big day? You must be excited. I do love a whirlwind romance.”

Kim raised her eyebrows at Claire, before following the chatty woman down a corridor. “Actually, I’ve been engaged for ages. Call it a shot-gun wedding.”

“Oh.” The lady turned to face her, eyebrows raised, and her eyes twinkled. “Do you need a christening cake too?”

“Cake?”

“I assume that’s why you’re here. I don’t do flowers.” She laughed at her own joke, while Kim scowled at Claire.

“What?” Her voice was a whip.

“You said yesterday you were going to buy a cake from Tesco.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Kim hissed at her friend. “They do three-tier iced cakes for thirty quid. I can’t afford anything else.”

“You don’t have to, this is my gift. Look, come and see Sharon’s scrap book. If you don’t like anything, you can have your supermarket cake. And I’m sure it will be lovely,” she added hurriedly, seeing Kim’s expression. “I’m not saying Sharon’s cakes are better, only more personal. I thought you could have something incorporating the theatre and birds, you know, unique to you and Jeff.”

Sharon, who had discreetly left the girls to their muted discussion, now came back in with a tray, laden with coffee, tea and pastries.

“At least have your Sunday brunch.” Claire smiled and Kim shrugged in defeat.

All through coffee she maintained a polite flow of conversation but Claire could tell she was itching to open the scrapbooks on the table. At last, Sharon passed them over, and Kim grabbed at them like a child reaching for a Christmas gift.

Sharon caught Claire’s gaze and winked.

***

Bribery and hurrah for Funny Blogs – 2013 365 Challenge #39

Magazine-craft Aliens (made with Daddy)

Amber’s Magazine-craft Aliens (made with Daddy)

I managed to bribe my son into nursery today with promises of a buying a new magazine tomorrow (the kids love getting magazines, but they’re so expensive!).

He still didn’t quite manage not to cry. Poor wee man, my heart went out to him. We’re all so poorly at the moment none of us know where we are. (Turns out they’ve had Scarlet Fever at nursery and I suspect that might be what Amber had last week. Maybe even Aaron. Poor buttons.)

Luckily his big sister was there to help him settle today – goodness only knows how he’ll cope when she starts school in September. Hopefully by then he’ll be more confident, having survived the terrible twos. (I find the threes are the tiresome threes but that might just be me!)

Aaron's magazine-craft artwork

Aaron’s magazine-craft artwork

Talking of terrible twos I stumbled across a new blog today that had me laughing so hard I wept. I love those moments when you just can’t stop laughing and every new gem makes you laugh harder.

I only found the blog because the author liked yesterday’s post (and I lost the ‘like’ when I had to replace the post with the full one. I got caught out by scheduling a half-finished post and then not having internet access.) Anyway the blog is theclothesline.ie and these are my favourite posts (though I loved many more)

Things I am Banning from My House

I’m a Survivor – the Highs and Lows of Parenting a Two-Year-Old

Painting for a card commission

Painting for a card commission

Today has been about catching up with the blog, painting card stock and learning about Smashwords. I really want to get January’s posts up for free but I don’t think I’ve had enough sleep to read the style guide without nodding off (that is not an aspersion on the quality of the guide but due to my cold-drenched state!)

For once I’m actually looking forward to sitting down with the children tomorrow to do craft. I think that’s about the limit of my current mental powers.

Update: I did manage to plough through the Smashwords style guide and – hurrah! – the first volume of instalments is now available FREE on Smashwords. Just follow the link in the margin. It wasn’t a bump-free road. The style guide you can download is essential and easy to follow. However despite my very best efforts I still have a persistent blank page between instalments 23 and 24 which will probably stop the book being accepted into Smashword’s premium catalogue. I don’t really mind, it’s free after all so it’s not about making money, it’s just bugging me. I’ve uploaded five new versions but can’t seem to fix it.

Walk. Away. Walk. Away. Now.

Can’t.

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“Get me down!”

Josh grinned up at Claire from the gorge below and cupped his hands to his mouth. “That’s the general idea. Just do what the man tells you, you’ll be fine.”

His words were barely audible over the sound of rushing water and the thudding of Claire’s heart beneath the harness.

“Okay Claire, there is nothing to be scared of. You’ve seen the others do it and they’ve all been fine, haven’t they?”

Claire dragged her eyes away from the yawning space beneath her and looked at the owner of the voice. He seemed to expect something from her so she nodded, not trusting herself to speak without swearing or sobbing.

“So, what we’re going to do is talk you through it one step at a time. You trust me, don’t you Claire?”

His voice was safe, like a kind GP or a favourite Uncle. His rich Cumbrian accent washed over her and she found she could breathe again. Then her eyes were pulled to the drop beneath her feet and her lungs once more emptied of air.

“This is no different to the drop you did at the training centre. You just need to turn around and lower yourself backwards. You don’t even need to look down.”

“I don’t need to look,” Claire bit out through clenched teeth. “I can hear the sound of the damn waterfall smashing on the rocks fifty feet below me.”

Part of Claire’s brain wondered at what point Dave’s patience would snap and he would either push her over the edge or give in to her demands to be freed from the harness. The pep talk before they left the centre to walk down had informed them all that even those terrified of heights would be encouraged to descend the 17m drop into the gorge and that the thrill of abseiling down the side of one of The North Pennines’ highest waterfalls always encourages cheers and applause. Claire glanced down at the group of faces peering up at her from below.

I don’t want a sodding clap I want a drink.

She picked out Josh’s face from the crowd. He is not going to let me hear the end of it if I chicken out now. It’s his fault I’m here in the first place. Him and sodding Carl.

Claire let her mind drift back to the email she had received from Carl that morning, just after check-in at Alston YHA.

Claire, we feel your blog needs to be spiced up a bit. Coca Cola are concerned that you are not promoting the outdoors enough. Hiking and biking is all well and good but they want to see more adrenalin. Try for some rock climbing, abseiling, maybe a sky dive. Make sure you post pictures. Carl.

The swearing had gone on for some time but when she had shown Josh the cause of her expletives, he’d merely laughed and said “Good on him.”

She wondered now whether Carl and Josh were in secret collusion to maximise her humiliation.

“If you set Carl up to this Josh you can kiss goodbye to your free ride.” Claire’s words were lost in the spray from the falls. She turned back to face Dave and caught him exchanging grimaces with a colleague. He quickly smoothed his face back into a mask of patient concern but it was too late.

Roll your eyes at me will you, you silly old man? We’ll see about that.

Claire took a short step to the edge of the gorge, threw a glance at Dave’s mate to make sure he was gripping the rope, and tipped herself backwards. Her feet skidded on the slippery wall and all plans of walking slowly down the gorge vanished. Her stomach shot up to her chin as she fell down the cliff-face until she felt the harness catch under her bottom. The motion caused her to spin and her vision filled with alternate views of white water and dark gorge. Freezing spray drenched her and the roar of the rushing water rang through her head.

The world stumbled to a halt as Claire hung suspended from the bright yellow rope; the only primary colour in a field of muted greens and greys. The few seconds it took to lower her to the ground dragged by but eventually Claire felt her boots touch rock. Traitorous knees failed to support her and she landed in an ungainly heap on the wet stone as the rest of her group whooped and clapped.

“Good on yer, Claire.” Josh rapped his knuckles on Claire’s helmet and beamed at her.

She glared up at him for a moment before reaching up her hand. “The least you can do is help me up, you bastard.”

“Hey, it wasn’t my idea. You said you needed high-adrenalin stuff for Blog Fodder. Well, how’s your heart rate? Is she pounding?” He pulled Claire to her feet and leaned in close. “Nice arse by the way. Great view.”

Claire felt the blood heating her frozen cheeks. She considered pushing him into the water but decided she’d save her vengeance for later.

“I hope you got a picture of something other than my rear, I’m not putting that on the blog.”

“Aw, go on, that’ll get the punters coming for sure.” He winked. “No pun intended.”

It was only once she had trudged all the way back to the centre and handed in her gear that Claire realised what he had said.

“I’ll get you, Josh. Just you wait.”

***