Monday and Looking For Meaning

Fun at the farm

Fun at the farm

Getting out of bed this morning felt like climbing Ben Nevis (a not particularly happy experience for me, nearly a decade ago, when attempting the three peak challenge.) I had a fantastic family weekend, with no where we had to be and not too much rain. I had a marvellous night out with the girls on Friday, actually feeling part of the conversion for possibly the first time. Then hubbie and I pottered around, got the chores done and had a Chinese with my parents on Saturday, and spent a lovely day taking the children to the farm and catching a 1965 London Bus to the local steam railway on Sunday.

But this morning life still seems so hard. I ache all over, despite spending a chunk of the weekend in bed. Partly my new addiction to the iPad game Angry Birds Go is to blame. Hubbie is addicted and the children now love it too, so in an altruistic spirit, I put it on my iPad and worked through some levels so the kids wouldn’t squabble over hubbie’s version.

And now I’m hooked. It’s my way of being able to watch Game of Thrones, another new addiction in our house, but much too full of sex, gore and brutality for me to watch without a metaphorical cushion to hide the screen when necessary. But the game involves steering by tilting the iPad and I think it’s to blame for my stiff shoulders and aching back. And I suspect Game of Thrones is responsible for my bad dreams!

Joking aside, I do find it hard to find meaning in life at the moment. I read a terrible, moving, post on the Belle Jar blog recently, When Getting Better Is No Longer An Option, where the author described a life battling depression and suicidal thoughts. I can relate, although my depression is being controlled through diet and medication. I don’t actively want to end my own life but these days the future is a void of emptiness without reason or purpose. I’ve reached the top of the mountain, the view is uninspiring, and I can’t see the point in all the pain of climbing back down.

Our ride

Our ride

One of the ways I’ve sought to feel connected to life is by supporting causes, particularly environmental ones, or through championing things on social media. I love signing online petitions and hearing they made a difference, or contributing to worthwhile charities. But sometimes you get it wrong.

I shared a post over the weekend that turns out to have been causing a man terrible trouble, including death threats. I didn’t think it through, I just shared and now I see it was irresponsible of me. A friend pointed out the consequences and I immediately deleted my shared post, but it’s left me feeling awful. The problem with social media is there’s always a deeper story, a bigger picture, and I don’t always take the time to find out what it is. And now my urge to crawl back under the duvet is greater than ever.

But I won’t. I will make packed lunches, get the children to school, go to the supermarket, try not to load Angry Birds Go. I will edit Class Act and walk the dog. I might take an hour to nap or watch Homes Under the Hammer. I will keep looking for a reason to get up every day, to keep climbing. But, oh my, it’s hard.

(Sorry for a less than cheery post for a Monday. But, maybe if you’re also having a bad day, you won’t feel so alone! I also forgot the packed lunch and had to do a 12 mile round-trip to take it in to school, because I was so busy writing, so there’s a lesson for me to focus on what’s important and quit moaning!)

Reclusive Paperback Writer: 2013 365 Challenge #271

Up at sunrise to write today

Up at sunrise to write today

How cool – my husband just bought a paper copy of Baby Blues off Amazon. I only made about 50p but that’s not the point! It’s there; a real book (free delivery, too, which is better than paying for proof copies to be shipped from the US.)

I’m much more nervous than I have been about anything to do with the self publishing journey so far. Not only is a paper book more permanent than an ebook, it’s also a much bigger investment from a reader (though less profit for me – I couldn’t bring myself to charge more. It’s already double what I’d pay for a paperback!)

I’ve been formatting Dragon Wraiths for print today and it was really tough rereading the book. I’d love to rewrite it, armed with 270 days of writing and editing every day. I feel I am a stronger writer now, and I want to bring my first novel up to my current standard. But if an author did that for every book, would they ever get around to writing any more?

As an aside, someone mentioned today that I seem a little like a recluse with my online presence. I was surprised because I feel like I spend half my life trying to increase my online presence. That said, I think it’s in the nature of a writer to hide in a cave. I guess that’s why social media can be a struggle.

Gorgeous Day

Gorgeous Day

I think it’s time I got a copy of one of Kristen Lamb’s books on social media – We are not alone: The writer’s guide to social media or Rise of the Machines (her latest one). I’ve resisted so far only because I already have dozens of books I haven’t read on writing and marketing. Hers are meant to be among the best though, so a good investment of my time. Has anyone read either of them? Which should I get?

(As an aside, I went to Kristen Lamb’s blog to see how much Rise of the Machines is, and it’s not available to buy on her page as far as I can see. Isn’t that a social media fail? 🙂 )

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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: 

THIS POST CONTAINS SOME STRONG LANGUAGE

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Claire read the text message again and frowned, the movement exacerbating the headache she’d had all afternoon. Glancing up at the window, she saw only the reflection of the empty dorm room. At 8 o’clock in the evening in Queenstown, it seemed everyone was out partying.

I should be on a bus to Christchurch. My flight leaves in 24 hours.

She’d tried to get a bus to the airport as soon as the tiny plane carrying her from Milford landed, but it turned out all the buses left early in the morning. With no choice but to wait in the hostel, and with no iPad or money, Claire felt like she might burst.

And then the text from Kim had arrived. Claire read it for a third time, but it still made no sense.

Sorry, Claire. I’ve been a bad friend. But it won’t matter anymore. Have a nice life. Kim.

Every time she read the words, Claire felt the knot tighten in her stomach. If it hadn’t been from Kim, she would have worried that it was a goodbye note from someone intending to do something foolish. But Kim was the most resilient person she knew.

The nagging worry continued to worm under her skin. At last Claire had to do something or go mad.

Hi Kim, lovely to hear from you. If anyone’s been a bad friend it’s me. I’ll be home in two days, please say we can catch up and be friends? I’ve missed you so much. Claire.

Claire watched the phone, waiting for a response. As the minutes ticked by, the tightness in her chest became unbearable.

“Damn it!”

Grabbing the phone, Claire strode from the room and down to reception.

“Hi, I need to call the UK, do you sell phone cards?” Claire looked at the girl behind reception sat reading a magazine. She turned her head slowly and gazed at Claire without speaking.

“Do you sell phone cards, please? I need to call England.”

The girl nodded, and reached into a box under the desk.

“Five bucks will give you twenty minutes to the UK, is that enough?”

Claire nodded. It would have to be; she needed to save every last bit of money to get to the airport and buy something to eat on the way home.

Tapping her foot, as the girl wrote something down in a book before handing over the card, Claire snatched it and span round to locate the phone. She spotted it in the corner, but it was in use. Judging by the body language of the girl curled around the handset it was likely to be in use for some time.

Claire froze. She was loathe to ask the girl on reception anything, suspecting any answer would take too long. Her mind felt blank with indecision. Looking left and right, as if a phone might materialise on the blank walls, Claire was about to run out into the street when she heard the phone click.

Hand outstretched, Claire reached the handset just as a teenage boy was about to pick it up.

“Please, this is urgent. I think my friend’s in trouble. I need to make this call?” She turned pleading eyes on the boy and he shrugged and wandered back into the lounge.

The instructions on the back of the phone card seemed impossibly complicated. Claire scratched off the silver paint to reveal the code, then typed in the long string of numbers and waited.

After a long pause, the phone began to ring. Each note of the ringing tone made her heart beat faster. The phone felt slippery in her clammy hand and she twisted the cord round and round.

“Answer, Kim. Come on. You only sent that text half an hour ago. Answer, Goddamnit.”

Ten rings, twenty, then the phone went dead. A metallic voice came on the line.

“You have four dollars twenty cents remaining. Do you wish to make another call?”

Scrolling through her phone book with numb fingers, Claire found Jeff’s number and dialled it in. Again the phone rang, five times, ten. Claire was wondering who she would call next when she heard a click.

“Yes?”

“Jeff? It’s Claire.”

“Claire. Cricky, how are you? I thought you were in New Zealand.”

“I am. Listen, is Kim with you?”

“No. She said she needed a night by herself, so I’m staying with mates. Why?” His voice rose slightly. “Have you guys spoken at last?”

“No. She sent me a text. Look it might be nothing, but it sounded like she was saying goodbye. You don’t think she’d do something stupid, do you? It’s not like her, but I’ve tried ringing and she’s not answering.”

“Fuck.” Jeff’s voice came out like a bullet. Then Claire could hear movement and panting, as if Jeff was running.

“How long ago did you get the text?” His voice sounded distant.

“Half an hour. Jeff, you’re scaring me. Why would Kim kill herself?” Claire fought the wave of nausea threatening to overwhelm her. She leant against the wall and held the phone with both hands.

“She’s had depression, since the miscarriage. Oh Claire, it’s been awful. I wish you guys hadn’t fallen out. She’s on medication but I’m not sure she’s been taking it. Look I have to go. Thanks for calling me.”

“Wait. Jeff. I’m sorry. Tell her I’m sorry.” The phone was silent, and Claire wondered if Jeff had gone, or if he thought she was too much to blame.

“It’s not your fault, Claire. We’ll sort it out when you get home. If I’m not too late.”

The phone went dead.

***

Delayed Gratification: 2013 365 Challenge #224

Thankfully it's not all screen time

Thankfully it’s not all screen time

I love technology.

I love that my kids are both watching the TV show they want to watch before bedtime, one on each ipad, downloaded from cbeebies (although I’ve just realised one of them is about to stop working because we don’t have the internet bandwidth to stream two programmes simultaneously. Poor hubbie, glad I’m walking the dog.)

I love that I listened to cricket on my ipad today whilst also reading a free copy of Pride and Prejudice. (Though I also have a paper copy for when the kids are using my tablet.)

I love that my children don’t watch adverts very often so, until they start school and see what their friends have, they’re not bombarding me with requests for toys, gadgets or trips out to expensive theme parks. I love that I can play Swashbuckle in the car and it’s the same length as the time it takes me to get to the supermarket, and I can bribe them back into the car with promises of more on the way home.

iPad art by Amber Martin

iPad art by Amber Martin

I love having access to blogs and emails wherever there’s wifi, often writing my post in a coffee shop or service station. It amazes me that I can Skype my sister in America and see her house, her kids, her office (though I rarely do, I’m ashamed to say, because I hate Skype. It’s almost impossible to have a conversation without sounding like a bad news report on a delayed satellite link.)

But I do worry about it all. I worry about my children’s need for instant gratification. They rarely have to wait to see their favourite TV show because if it isn’t on the sky plus box or iplayer it’s on YouTube. They don’t have to wait weeks for photographs to be developed and arrive in the post – often pictures are on Facebook within seconds of being taken. They don’t have the anticipation of waiting to see a movie or saving to buy a song on vinyl, it’s all iTunes and DVDs (or it’ll be on the TV in a month).

The same is true for publishing. My holy grail has always been a traditional publishing deal. It still is. I would feel I had ‘made it’ if I even got an agent never mind selling a book to a publisher.

Except you don’t get whopping advances any more, you still have to do all your own social media and marketing, you’re expected to have a near-perfect manuscript before you approach an agent, and – worst of all – you have to wait TWO YEARS sometimes to see your book on the shelves.

Two years? When Baby Blues is finished, it’ll take me two weeks to have a print and ebook version. Two days if I find the time. I’ve sussed the formatting so I only need to tweak it for any change in pagination after the final edit. I’ve had a print proof delivered already so I know what changes I want to make to the front cover. My marketing won’t be ready, but that’s because I’m spinning too many plates and probably shouldn’t be releasing Baby Blues until next year.

Shooting hoops

Shooting hoops

But there’s the rub. Like my children I’m used to instant gratification. I buy things when I want them, most of the time, second-hand where possible, thanks to eBay. I eat what I want when I want, mostly, thanks to supermarkets being open 24-7. I listen to music where and when I want, I check email anywhere there’s phone signal and I log on to Facebook anytime I want to catch up with my friends.

But there’s a downside, and I can explain it with chocolate. Chocolate used to be a treat. Now I can buy it when I like – and I refuse to diet so I eat it when I like – it’s lost its magic. It just doesn’t taste as good. Birthday’s too, aren’t that exciting because I don’t want for anything (I don’t generally, anyway, except the things money can’t buy, like time and sleep). The children also aren’t that excited because they don’t want big toys and they buy little ones with their pocket money.

Is anything exciting anymore? We have to search harder and harder for that sense of gratification that used to come after a long wait. I often eat chocolate and feel only disappointment. What about my children? Will there be anything left to thrill them by the time they’re ten?

By self-publishing, am I missing out on the excitement of reaching the end of that two-year wait and having a big launch? Maybe one day I’ll find out. For now the only delayed gratification I have is the wait to 9pm, when the kids are asleep and I can have a glass of wine, or 12am, when I’ve written my daily post and can finally have some guilt-free time reading my book before gratefully hitting the sack. Or the wait for the next nursery day, so I can get some editing done in peace. That’ll do for now!

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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 stood at the top of the dune and laughed; a bitter, snorting, you have to be kidding I’m going back to the bus, laugh that masked fathomless fear. One by one, her fellow travellers grabbed their three-foot boards of foam and launched themselves down the hill, leaving a trailing screaming sound in their wake. It did look fun. And insane.

“You going?”

Claire looked over at the guide, then down at the boogie board in her hands. No. Not in a gazillion years. It was hard enough climbing up this damn hill. Her thighs still ached from the ascent, with every step forward taking twice the effort as her feet slipped in the loose sand.

A thought popped into Claire’s brain: If I don’t slide down I’m going to have to walk. Bugger that.

She looked speculatively at the board in her hands and wondered if it was possible to sit on it. Amanda, Janet and Emily had talked of toboggans. That would be better. Sitting upright and holding onto a rope, with the illusion of being in control.

“Can I go down on my bottom, rather than my tummy?” Her face flushed as she waited for the guide answer.

As expected, he guffawed. “No, sweetheart, not on a shark biscuit. You need to do as the others are doing. Don’t be a coward.”

Claire bristled. I thought Kiwis were lovely and friendly? Trust me to get the arsehole. Glaring at the back of his head, as he turned to banter with the people climbing up for a second go, Claire wished she’d gone with the other bus company. Or hired a car. Or stayed in the UK.

While she stood watching, most of the group clambered up the slippery yellow dune and threw themselves down again. Laughter, swearing and panting echoed round her as she remained frozen by her thoughts.

Bugger it, why not?

Without allowing the thought to settle, Claire crouched down, placed the board beneath her and took a deep breath. With the guide’s advice to “keep yer bloody mouth shut” echoing in her mind, she pushed herself forwards and closed her eyes.

The sand whipped at her face as she plummeted down the slope. She could feel it scratching her knuckles where they gripped tightly to the front of the board. Risking a quick glance, Claire realised she was hurtling up behind someone else who had slowed down. With a roll of her shoulders, Claire avoided a collision but came off her board. Sand filled her nose and mouth as she continued down the slope with the board bumping along behind her.

At last the momentum ran out, and Claire ended in a crumpled heap, sobbing with adrenalin and relief. Everything ached and she felt like she’d swallowed a beach.

“Well, that was one way to do it.”

Claire looked up into the black eyes of the man she was starting to see as her nemesis. He held out a hand and, after a moment of hesitation, Claire reached up to take it. His grip was firm and he hauled her to her feet as if she were a child.

“Thanks.” Claire brushed the sand off her shorts, hoping the man would be gone before she looked up.

“Name’s Neal, by the way.” Forced to face him, Claire saw his hand held out in greeting. She shook it reluctantly. “Claire.”

“Well, Claire. Are you coming?”

Claire furrowed her brow. “Coming where?”

“Back up the hill.” He nodded past her at the people climbing back to the summit only to dive down again. Claire looked longingly back at the line of footprints in the sand, marking their route from the bus. Then she saw the glint of amusement in Neal’s eyes, and her hackles rose.

“Sure. Bring it on.”

***

Why Facebook is Mostly for Me: 2013 365 Challenge #216

My WriterMummy Page

My WriterMummy Page

Kristen Lamb recently posted an article about how Writers Building a Platform Have NO Private Life On-Line.

It was a difficult post for me to read, because I am naturally a very private person (I would guess most writers are) and it’s tough to learn how much we have to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. It was also tough for me, because she wrote specifically about Facebook and how writers shouldn’t have a Facebook fan page separate to their regular profile page.

Kristen says writers make the mistake of thinking that their regular page is for acting human and a fan page is “for the professional face and self-promotion.” She explains that, in reality:

The regular page is essential for connecting with people and creating the emotional bonds that will eventually translate into a vibrant, passionate author platform filled with readers. We connect talking about kids, laundry, missing socks, vacations, hard days at work and griping about the weather. All these everyday events are how we forge friendships.

She also says that you shouldn’t assume your friends aren’t interested in your writing. Friends read books and know people who read books, and so social media should be across all channels if you hope to sell books.

Practising skateboard at friends' BBQ

Practising skateboard at friends’ BBQ

Normally I fully embrace everything on Kristen Lamb’s blog, even if I don’t think I can implement it myself. And I have no doubt she’s right about this too. However it’s not right for me. Facebook is my sacred place. I am particular about who I accept as a friend on my profile page. Basically it has to be someone I’d happily show half-naked pictures of my kids in the paddling pool to.

Tonight I realised why Kristen and I are both right.

Family Martin went to a friend’s annual birthday barbecue, after a manic day which included Kara’s first Dog Show (more on that tomorrow) and a children’s party. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve made it to the summer barbecue and in many instances it’s the first time we’ve seen our friends in that time. But we didn’t need to catch up, because we follow each other’s lives on Facebook.

Our friends didn’t say “Look how much the kids have grown!” because they saw pictures of the kids in the paddling pool last week. They didn’t ask, “Why are you late?” but rather, “How was the kids’ party?” because we’d posted on Facebook that we were double booked and would be late.

Many evenings I trawl Facebook looking for something interesting, thinking I’m wasting precious writing time. In fact I’m really kind of down the pub with my mates, catching up on gossip and laughing at friends’ jokes. I share silly things the children have done and in turn commiserate with friends who are struggling with teething babies or boring jobs.

If I was constantly talking about writing, or if I knew I had an external audience, I would be more on my guard. I would protect the children more (I already feel I post too much about the kids on my blog). Similarly, if I had more friends that were people I didn’t know, my timeline would be even more cluttered than it already is and I’d miss more of the important stuff.

Not wanting to be outdone by her brother!

Not wanting to be outdone by her brother!

I know you can control that with lists – same as you can on Twitter. But I struggle with HooteSuite trying to see Tweets I want to see under all the promotional stuff. If that happened on Facebook too, I would lose my sanity. I would also lose my downtime at the pub. Actually, Facebook is more like a big private party than a pub. One where I know everyone by name and I know they all ‘get’ me. It’s a safe place.

But Kristen is right too (of course!) I do need to write a bit more about my books on my private site. I post some stuff but Facebook is selective about what it shows people.

Last night, a good friend who I last saw at my art exhibition two years ago asked, “How’s the art?” I had to explain that I’ve written and published two novels and seven volumes of a serial novel since then. Her response was, “How is it I haven’t heard about your writing?”

Hmmm social media fail!

The best moment of the night for me was finally meeting an old friend of my husband’s for the first time. For various reasons I haven’t met him in person in the 9 years I’ve known my hubbie. But he smiled as we walked in and gave me a huge hug as if I’d known him all my life. Why? Apart from being the most amazing person, he’s been my friend on Facebook for a year or two. He comments on my posts and photos of the kids and we share views on other things he posts. I felt like we’d always been friends and not at all like I was meeting him for the first time.

So, I apologise if my Facebook WriterMummy page is only updated once a day and mostly with stuff about writing, rather than silly pictures of the kids. I apologise if I’m alienating people by keeping my Facebook profile page closed. Maybe I’m not ready to be an author in the twenty-first century. That said, I am myself on my WriterMummy page, on Twitter and definitely here on the blog. Just maybe the me I’d be at a coffee shop, knowing strangers are listening, rather than the me I am after a glass of cider at a friend’s birthday bash.

And if that loses me sales, I’ll have to live with that. Some things are more important than money.

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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 shifted on the bed, wondering why her pillow felt lumpy. She swallowed and panicked as her airway felt closed with grit. Sitting up, she grabbed at the wall as her vision whirled and hot shards stabbed at her head.

Peering round the semi-dark room, memories flickered through her mind, as if she had looked upon the space several times, but each time it was slightly altered, like a spot the difference. In her mind the memories were sometimes of a dark room, sometimes of a sunlit space. Different bags by the beds. Voices, conversations, laughter, all blurred together like a dream-sequence in a movie.

The room was empty now, although rumpled duvets and scattered belongings suggested it was still fully occupied. Reaching behind her, Claire realised her lumpy pillow was actually her handbag. A quick check revealed nothing was missing. Her rucksack still slumped against the bed where she had dropped it, who knew how many hours before.

How long have I been asleep?

As the dark receded and the memories clarified, like a photograph coming into focus, Claire guessed she had been asleep on and off for a day or more. Looking down, she saw she was still wearing the clothes she’d put on Saturday morning, when she left her sister’s house. She tried to work out what day it was, but her mental calculations made the hot needles bury further in her brain.

Fumbling through her bag for her phone, Claire switched it on and searched for something to tell her what time and day it was, both in New Zealand and back home.

Well, it’s 5am back home. No wonder I’m tired. Checking the calendar, Claire stared at the neon words until they went fuzzy. Tuesday?! It’s Tuesday? What the hell? She sniffed, No wonder I stink. I’ve been wearing these clothes for three days.

Her phone beeped, as it picked up a local signal, and a text message trilled its arrival. Then another, and another. Claire’s hands shook as she realised the enormity of her actions.

I’m in New Zealand. I’m on the other side of the world! No one knows I’m here. I’ve been out of touch for days. Anything could have happened.

Her stomach squirmed with hunger and nerves as she flicked through the messages. Two were service messages, welcoming her to New Zealand. One was from Ruth, relaying her mother’s anger at the abandoned Skoda. One informed her of a voice message and one was from Kim. Heart pounding, Claire opened it.

Hi Claire, it’s Jeff. I’ve borrowed Kim’s phone. Just wanted to say, it’s not your fault. Kim needs you. Don’t give up on her, please.

Claire tried to swallow, and realised how parched she was. She stared at the message for several moments, then closed it. Time enough to work out how to respond later. If Jeff was using Kim’s phone she couldn’t reply directly to him anyway.

Hoping her work account was still active, Claire rang her voicemail to retrieve the message. I’d better add a new phone and contract to my to-do list, before Carl thinks to shut me down.

The message was from Conor, asking her if she’d had time to reconsider the job offer. Claire flushed guiltily as she remembered her promise to let him know on Monday. Vowing to send him an email, and remembering that she also needed to email Roger, she made a quick note before chucking her phone back in her bag.

Pulling out her wash-bag and some clean clothes, Claire stuffed her handbag back under the pillow and went in search of the bathroom.

Out of sight, out of mind, right?

***

The Dreary World of Self-Doubt: 2013 365 Challenge #78

Coffee Art

Coffee Art

Hello self-doubt how nice to see you again. I started the day with such positivity. I went to Costa to write my Claire installment and spent a splendid hour wedged into a comfy sofa drinking a rather artistic flat white (it seemed a shame to spoil it!).

Then I did the usual chores: a two-hour supermarket shop, dishwasher stacking, floor vacuuming and lunch preparation. Okay I didn’t really do the last one as we had pizza.

My wonderful husband tidied my larder which had got so cluttered with lid-less Tupperware and random party paraphernalia there was no room for food. Life was good.

Then I sat down to work on Baby Blues, after two hours of ‘social media stuff’ (tweeting, commenting on blogs, reading blogs, retweeting interesting articles etc). I managed thirty minutes of editing before giving up in disgust and taking the dog out for a walk.

My Writing Den today. Lovely

My Writing Cave today. Lovely

I have read so many blogs about how to write, how to edit, how to market, how to manage social media, what to do and not to do as a self-published author I’m ready to run down the road screaming. It feels like being a new parent all over again. You know, that time when you realise ‘parenting comes naturally’ is complete bollox and you consume every article you can lay your hands on searching for answers only to come back with more questions.

My biggest problem, as a parent and a writer, is that I like to be told what to do – within certain parameters. I want to be given a fairly detailed brief with clear goals and deliverables. Like at school: write this essay or this one, choice of two. You have your brief: deliver. I’m good at solving problems. I’m not so good with choices. Or weighing up conflicting advice.

A friend recently told me about a new TV show discussing ways to get kids to sleep better, because she knows ours have never been all that great at sleeping. And because I complain about lack of sleep a lot. But we’ve been through so many sleep training methods and none have worked. When the children are happy, physically tired, well fed and not ill, they sleep great. Usually that’s when worry or snoring keeps me awake instead, but that’s just god’s wicked sense of humour.

Gorgeous Hubbie tidied my larder today. Now that's love.

Hubbie tidied my larder. Now that’s love.

Unless I know something is definitely going to work better than what I’m already doing, I’m not interested any more. I’m going with gut feel and to hell with it. It’s taken four years and a lot of tears to get that self-confidence as a parent and it’s still pretty ephemeral. I’ll be wallowing in parental guilt and self-doubt within ten minutes of picking up the kids. [actually it was less than that.].

Now with the writing I’m back at the beginning. I don’t know what I’m meant to be doing. There is SO much advice but most of it merely serves to convince me I’m no more cut out to be a writer than I am a parent.

Well, it’s too late to send the kids back and nor would I want to. But I might have to seriously consider if I can sacrifice another four years to find peace of mind as a writer. Do I really want to embark on a career that has no answers and the only way I will know if I’ve done a good job is if my 5-star reviews out-number my 1-star reviews? Jury’s out, but the feeling in the courtroom is no.

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“Michael? It’s Claire.”

“Claire, you’re okay. Thank god. I was so worried. Where are you? What happened? The police were going to call me back but they haven’t yet. I’ve been frantic.”

“Whoa, slow down.” Claire inhaled to calm her skipping heart. “I’m fine. I was mugged.” Michael made a guttural sound but Claire ignored him. She needed to get her words out and be done.

“The police found me just as I was coming round and took me back to the hostel. I’ve got a lump on my head the size of a duck’s egg and my hair is matted with blood, but apart from that I’m good. I was lucky.”

She wanted to hang up before Michael could speak again but he was already talking. “I’m so glad the police found you. When you called and then the phone went dead I didn’t know what to think.” He inhaled and released a shuddering laugh. “I thought. Well. Never mind. I’d seen on Twitter that you’d just left the pub and I thought you might be walking somewhere. You should take more care.” His tone took on the preachy note of concern that always set Claire’s hackles rising.

“I’m not a child and this isn’t exactly inner-city New York. I was unlucky, that’s all.” She thought about him tracking her every move. That’s a bit creepy. “What does Debbie think about you following me on Twitter?”

“It’s none of her damn business.” His voice scraped at the soreness in Claire’s head. She tried to puzzle through his bitter tone but her thoughts were still muddled. She shook her head and pain rattled through it like pills in a bottle.

“Ow!”

“What? Are you okay? Have you seen a doctor?”

Claire laughed. “Yes I saw a GP this morning. I’m fine. Mild concussion that’s all. It hurts to move.”

“Come home Claire. You’ve proved your point. Come back and have a proper sleep in a proper bed.”

The affection in his voice weakened her. She slumped against the side of the phone box and dropped her head. “I don’t have a home to go to anymore. Besides, it’s not about proving a point.” As she said it she realised it was true. Part of her was actually looking forward to having Sky for a week or two, to explore the East Coast with her and write about it on her blog. “And the beds aren’t that bad. You know that, you stayed in one of the hostels I’ve visited. With Debbie.”

“We’re back on her again are we? Let it go, Claire. There is nothing between us, there never was after I met you.”

“Ha!” Claire winced as her voice reverberated around the confined space. She lowered her voice. “So it wasn’t you and her I bumped into at the airport?” Swallowing down the metallic taste in her mouth Claire cursed herself for rising to the bait. I promised I wouldn’t discuss it. Why couldn’t I have just sent him an email?

“We were coming back from a wedding.”

Claire’s stomach dropped down to her shoes and the breath stuck in her throat.

“An old friend of Debbie’s,” Michael continued, as if his words hadn’t left Claire’s ears ringing. “Debbie didn’t want to go by herself and I said I’d go. As a friend.” He emphasised the last three words, as he might to a difficult child. “You know where my heart lives.”

There was silence on the line. Claire could hear her heartbeat dancing an Irish jig, could hear her breathing rasping, her breaths making wisps of vapour in the freezing air. Inhaling deeply through her noise Claire immediately wished she hadn’t as the scent of Saturday night bodily fluids floated up from the floor of the phone box. Switching to breathing through her mouth, Claire searched the fog in her mind for words.

A loud hammering on the glass broke the spell. Claire looked up into the face of an old man wrapped up in several dirty jumpers and coats. He had a small scruffy dog at his feet and he was gesturing at the floor of the phone box. Looking down Claire realised what she thought was a bag of rubbish was actually the man’s possessions.

“I have to go Michael. I’m in a man’s house.” She realised how bad that sounded but didn’t have the energy to explain. “Thanks again for the knight in shining armour bit. You always were good at that.”

She hung up the phone and pushed her way free from the tiny box, gulping in the fresh morning air.

***

A Manic sort of Day: 2013 365 Challenge #72

Mega Blocks Garages: a moment of calm

Mega Blocks Garages: a moment of calm

Phew. What a non-stop day.

It started at 7am when Dragon Wraiths went free on Kindle for my first promo day. There began a crazy 12 hours of tweeting, Facebook updates and madly checking my KDP Dashboard to see how many downloads I’ve managed. (124 as I write this).

It’s addictive, checking the KDP Dashboard every five minutes (125 now) and I can see why people have programs on their computer to disconnect the internet so they can get some real work done. Actually I was wondering today when I’ll ever get round to start/finishing a new manuscript. Between the daily blog, revising Baby Blues, and keeping up with Social Media stuff, there isn’t much time left to write.

I hope I haven’t overdone Twitter today. I do get frustrated by the clutter of promos in my Twitter Feed day in, day out. I know I follow a lot of self-published or new authors but there is often no actual human interaction and I don’t want to join that noise. That said, my increased Twitter activity is obviously paying off as I also reached 100 Twitter followers today. Not sure one of them would buy a book or retweet a comment – I think it’s mostly follow and be followed – but it’s a start and we all have to learn somehow.

Preparing for a possible return to Contracting

Preparing for a possible return to Contracting

Then came the next manic bit of the day: finding out I have an interview for a contract job tomorrow. I was really hoping they’d let hubbie take the contract but that hasn’t happened so I’m off to London.

I’m terrified.

Not of going to London, although it will be the first time in two years aside from a family trip to the Olympics. I used to go to Agency and Client meetings in the Big Smoke all the time when I worked for a living (said tongue in cheek of course!). Funny how four years at home with a couple of kids can erase all your confidence.

I know I can do this contract, whatever is involved (unless it’s databases: I hate databases) but the learning curve will be steep. I haven’t used Excel in two years except to keep track of Claire’s hostel visits and I haven’t put in a full working day in over a year. Thinking about concentrating for that length of time in a strange office with a new brief for a new company (my last contract was back at my old office) is making me feel more than a bit sick. But we’re in a recession and I can’t turn down work, especially not when I went cap-in-hand asking for it! So I will squeeze my post-pregnancy feet into my heels, and my post-pregnancy tum into my stretchy trousers and get on a train. Wish me luck! (Oh and if I get the contract there may be a few days a week when Claire will be ill in bed with the flu or reading a good book…. The contract is an hour’s drive away so there won’t be much writing time in the day!)

Talking of which, it’s bedtime and I’ve completely failed to write a Claire post after falling asleep on the sofa. Another favour from hubbie required to take kids in the morning then! Oops. Apologies if it’s a short one!

Morning Update: Was up most of the night because my brain was running a zillion miles an hour. I had 332 total downloads for my first promotion day. Wow! If only 1% read it that still means 3 strangers reading my book. Feels weird.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Claire ignored the twisting in her stomach and opened the email. How bad can it be? Then she remembered her leaving party and the things Julia had said. Okay, pretty bad. Then let’s get it over with at least.

Claire

Carl has asked me to collate a list of activities to inject some fun and humour into your blog. These are all near your current location in Castleton so you’ll have to pick the ones that are available. We suggest number five and/or six as they are activities more specific to the Peak District. If you can furnish me with your future itinerary I will find some other activities that have Carl’s approval.

Julia

1. Kayak and/or Canoe
2. Raft Building
3. Climbing/Abseiling
4. Mountain/Hill Walking
5. Weaseling
6. Caving
7. Orienteering
8. Rope Course
9. Search and Rescue
10. Archery

Future Itinerary? Does she think I’m planning that far ahead? Actually Julia probably plans her sick days. Claire thought about the list of hostels booked for her time with Sky. Oh I can at least look a bit organised, that will be nice. As long as she finds things I can do with a six-year-old girl. She remembered the kids on the Go Ape rope course and decided that Sky was probably more suited to adventure activities than she was. She scanned the list and laughed, relief flooding through her like caffeine.

What is Julia going on about? I’ve done half of these and the rest aren’t exactly High Adrenalin. I mean, Raft Building? I’m hardly going to get eaten by a crocodile or fall into shark-infested waters, however much she hopes I might. I guess her main desire is that I get wet and humiliate myself.

Checking Julia’s email again, Claire looked at the activities at number 5 and 6. Caving. I’ve been in the Blue John Cavern, isn’t that caving? And what the hell is Weaseling? Julia’s email had a link at the bottom to a website with more information. Knowing she would regret it Claire clicked on the link and scrolled down to Weaseling.

Weaseling is all about getting into a tight spot – and then getting out of it! This activity is very similar to rock scrambling, as the fun comes from low-level climbing. It’s also fairly similar to caving, with small, often dark spaces forming the perfect playground for intrepid weaselers, but it all takes place above ground level. Weaseling doesn’t require ropes as there are no big drops or climbs, so it’s great for younger children.

Great for younger children? Should be fairly easy then although I can’t say I’m that keen on the ‘dark spaces’ bit. With a sigh of resignation Claire followed the information and wrote down the phone number to book a day Weaseling.

I’ll remember this Julia, don’t think I won’t.

***

Dressing up, Dog Walking and Self Doubt: 2013 365 Challenge #63

My proof copies and my craft books

My proof copies and my craft books

Today was a lovely Sunday of swimming, dog walking, family visiting and playing dressing up with Mummy’s wedding dress. (Not me, obviously, I can’t get it on any more!)

My little babies managed to walk all the way to the top of the field behind my parents’ house and back without being carried. That’s a first. We saw deer and rabbits and the kids and dogs had a great run in the sun.

Perfect.

It made up for getting to the pool this morning to find a Gala on. We had to drive to the next town and suffer an inferior swimming experience. At least we’ll appreciate our local pool all the more next time we get there, especially a dry changing room floor! It’s the little things.

Self-doubt came swooping down today, through the medium of Social Media. I read two things that reminded me not to get too cocky or over confident, although neither was intended that way or was even directed at me. (And I can’t imagine being cocky or self-confident in any universe).

The first lesson came from a thread on a LinkedIn Group I follow and it was about self-published authors not having their manuscripts properly edited. Lisa Tannier wrote:

I see so many complaints lately from Indie readers about lack of editing. It is like the author is in such a hurry to publish that they skip over a crucial part of writing the book.

Guilty! I can’t afford an editor and I know I should probably have done at least one more revision on Dragon Wraiths before I stuck it on Kindle. Lisa’s comment was followed up by one written by an Editor (although I did note it had a couple of I-wrote-too-quickly typos, which wouldn’t endear me to an editor!)  Caryl McAdoo replied:

And, thing about self published authors, many DON’T have a good story told from characters from their Point of View – their work is full of passive to-be verbs, attributions, too many ‘ing’s and ‘ly’s, and unnecessary prepositional phrases.

I confess I didn’t even understand all of her comment: my grammar is pretty poor and mostly I’ve focussed on getting my punctuation right. I know full well my writing is too passive and I don’t use enough punchy verbs, instead of littering ‘ing’s and ‘ly’s through my prose. It made me shiver to read her comment because I fear a slating review (though with only 4 Dragon Wraiths copies sold I don’t think anyone is going to bother writing one!)

My little girl growing up

My little girl growing up

The second chastening lesson came via a conversation with Charlene K Blackwell on Twitter. She mentioned that she’s reading Orson Scott Card’s craft book Characters and Viewpoint. I have a copy on my shelf, it’s a great book. But I haven’t read it in at least a year, possibly more. I bought my craft books when I taught Creative Writing briefly to an adult education class (much to my shock and terror as I never expected to get the job.) I also studied craft with the Open University while pregnant with my first child. I confess, though, that I rarely open a craft book these day. They sit on my shelf next to my print-proofs and that’s probably as close as they’ve got to each other.

The thing is, I’m impatient. Terribly, terribly impatient. And easily bored. I can cope with two, maybe three, revisions of a manuscript then I’m sick of the sight of it. Part of the reason I put Dragon Wraiths live was to get some critique on it because I don’t have the guts to join a critique group. How nuts is that? I don’t want honest feedback from a small group of fellow writers so instead I’ll put it out for any random stranger to tear it apart!

Actually I have spent more time editing and rewriting my Claire instalments than any of my manuscripts. I used to think I had to plough through a first draft and then edit it after the words were out. Now I suspect the new way is better for me. Write a little bit every day and then polish it until it shines because chances are I won’t have the patience to do it properly when the book is finished. It’s a lowering thought.

So my new aim is to start re-reading my craft books and to incorporate bits into my Claire posts. I’ll relearn the things I’ve forgotten and maybe I’ll manage to eradicate some of the passive verbs and ‘ly’s. Here’s hoping.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Claire paced through the milling crowd of passengers and tearful family members without registering them. At the back of her mind a nagging sense of loss itched like nettle rash. She patted her pockets for the fifth time, convinced she must have left her phone or keys in the café.

“Claire?”

The sound trickled through the hubbub of noise and brushed at Claire’s cheek. She half turned her head then carried on walking.

Even the memories are taunting me now. Thanks guys, impeccable timing.

“Claire Carleton?”

Stronger this time; more stream than trickling brook. It cut through the swaying trees of strangers and curled around her feet. Her heart stopped and her body followed suit, frozen in place by an impossible sound.

Not impossible though. Not even unexpected. He practically lived in this place when he wasn’t at mine.

Glacier-slow, Claire twisted her head to locate the source of the sound without giving away that she’d heard. Except of course her body had betrayed her by standing still. Stillness gave you away in a place of perpetual motion and Michael was by her side before she’d even had a chance to locate the direction of his voice.

“It is you.”

He stood too near for comfort but too far for touching. His hands hung loosely as if they had already reached out for an embrace and been repulsed.

Claire kept her head low, allowing a wall of hair to shield her. She could tell Michael was itching to reach forward and brush it behind her ear as he always did: to laugh as he always did when it fell forward again with the irresistible pull of gravity.

His breathing was fast, as if he had run across the Arrivals hall to catch her. A hurrying man with a case on wheels and a laptop bag pushed between them, oblivious to the tight cord his movement had severed. The wave of his passing swirled the scent of Eternity round Claire, weakening the joints of her knees and making her tummy wobble.

They smiled then, sharing a moment of humour at the severance of their precious moment. As always, his smiled jolted her heart and warmed her skin like summer sun.

Oh Michael. Damn you for being here. Now. When I desperately need a hug.

She raised a foot to step towards him, reached a hand to clasp his arm and lean in for a continental greeting. Another voice called out; spewing forth like a burst pipe.

“Michael? Where are you? We’re going to miss our train. Oh…” The voice approached and stopped short of where Michael and Claire stood face to face.

“Claire. How lovely to see you. Michael said you were in the Outer Hebrides or something.” The clipped tones could cut glass. Or hearts.

Claire heard only half the sentence: the remainder was drowned out by the roar of blood in her ears. She felt it rushing to her face, heating the skin until it glowed like blacksmith’s steel.

Michael’s face drained of colour in response, as if she now had all his red hue too. He opened his mouth to speak but Claire raised a hand to fend off his words. She blinked at the tears welling in betrayal and spun herself round before he could witness them.

As she stalked away she heard Debbie’s strident tones curling after her.

“How rude. She never did have much grace.”

Claire broke into a run, not caring who saw, the need to escape stronger than her sense of pride.

***