Introducing George: 2013 365 Challenge #111

Planting Sunflower Seeds at Sacrewell Farm

Planting Sunflower Seeds at Sacrewell Farm

While lying in bed cursing the sore throat and stiff neck that have besieged me this afternoon, a germ of an idea planted in my mind and squirmed into the soil, like the sunflower seeds my kids planted at the Farm today.

I recently finished another great kid’s book and saw that, as with many of my other new finds, it was published by Chicken House. The name rang a bell and I realised it was the name of the publishers that were part of the competition I didn’t enter with Dragon Wraiths because the manuscript was too long.

I visited their website to see if they accept submissions and they’ve just launched the competition again, with a deadline of 1st November.

Ooh went my brain. It’s a long time to 1st November. There’s time to write something new. After all, I started Dragon Wraiths this time last year and had that finished by last November. And that was over 100k words. The maximum for The Chicken House / Times competition is 80k words. If I plan it out this time (at least a bit, I am a pantser after all) I could stay within word count.

On the Tractor Ride

On the Tractor Ride

Now of course this breaks all the rules of being a writer. You’re not meant to write for gain or fame but only for the love of writing. Thing is, I love writing but I need a goal and a deadline, at least to get me going. I’m proud of Dragon Wraiths and that was written for a competition (and ultimately prize money).

But I didn’t get up every nursery day and write 5,000 words just for profit (which would be a foolish aim anyway: everyone knows writers don’t make money). I wrote it to find out what happened to Leah, to find out how the story ended. But on dark days the thought of maybe winning £5000 did help keep me motivated.

So I lay in bed earlier this evening, feeling foggy and sore, and searched through my mind for a new idea. It felt a bit wrong, looking for an idea rather than waiting for one to arrive. But people who write hundreds of books must have to do that. I knew what genre at least: I’ve been aching to try my hand at a fantasy middle grade fiction since enjoying The Divide, The Extincts, Stone Heart, Shadow Forest, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, and now Ravenwood. And, after some throwing around of ideas, I tapped out the opening scene to a new novel. One I hope might generate characters that will survive to a sequel, since my favourite books are the ones with lots of volumes around the same central characters. I like characters to become my friends. My only dilemma right now is it might involve Time Travel. Again. According to some agents I follow on Twitter, Time Travel has been done to death already. Oh dear.

Penny the Chicken eating Lunch

Penny the Chicken eating Lunch

Is it bad, that I’m motivated by entering a competition? I hope not. I read Sally Jenkins lovely collection of short stories, One Day For Me, this morning because I couldn’t get the sequel to Ravenwood as an ebook. All of Sally’s stories were written for competitions. They’re still great. It’s accepted practice for short story writers to write for specific markets and hopefully financial gain. Why not novels? If it’s rubbish it won’t win so no one’s hurt.

Matt Haig, author of Shadow Forest, says otherwise and I respect his opinion but I hope there are grades of love versus money. Writing for love is a given or I wouldn’t have survived to episode #111 of Claire, through insomnia and flu and dearth of ideas. But bills need to be paid and everyone wants to think their novels might be read one day. Therefore, alongside trying to find new adventures for Claire, I’ll be creating George and his new world. Hopefully Claire won’t suffer (I’m actually hoping a new project will kickstart my imagination as I’ve been really struggling with Claire recently).

_______________________________________________________________________________________

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:

_______________________________________________________________________________________

“Auntie Claire, I don’t feel very well.”

Claire looked down at her niece and recoiled slightly at the green tinge of her skin.

“Are you going to be sick? Lean over the side for heaven’s sake. But not too close! I don’t want you falling in.” She looked around at the other passengers and prayed Sky didn’t vomit on any of them. Something of her reaction must have come through her voice, because a clammy little hand sought out hers. “Sorry, Claire. I don’t mean to feel poorly. I’ve never been on the sea before.”

Patting the frozen hand, Claire tried to remain calm. The white tips of the choppy waves weren’t helping. It hadn’t seemed that windy on the shore, but here in the harbour the small craft was rocked by gusting blasts that whipped the waves to froth. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea. I might have known Sky would get sea sick, especially as she’s still recovering from her fever. When she remembered Sky’s amazement as they first arrived at the coast, Claire couldn’t feel it was a bad move. Her mouth had dropped into a perfect ‘o’ of wonder at the grey sea spreading out before them to the horizon.

“It’s so big,” she had said quietly, her eyes wide and staring.

The tour guide called out, interrupting Claire’s thoughts. “You can see grey seals now, if you look towards the shore. There are still some youngsters playing if you look closely. We’ll get in as near as we can.”

“Look, Sky,” Claire said brightly, “baby seals.” Sea spray soaked her skin and she knew it was frizzing her hair to an impossible mess. Snuggling deeper into her jacket, she felt Sky’s hands and face to ensure she wasn’t getting too cold.

Sky raised her head to look at the slick grey animals frolicking in the sea near the boat. Her complexion was still green and Claire hoped the distraction would help her keep breakfast on the inside. I wonder if I dare get out my phone and take some pictures for the blog. If Sky is going to throw up I might not get another opportunity. The boat pitched suddenly and she felt her own stomach lurch. I might even be joining her.

“If you look closely you can see common seals as well as grey seals. The common seals are actually rarer than the grey seals so we’re fortunate to see both today.”

The Guide’s words rolled over Claire like the sea as she focussed on getting a few snaps before another gust of wind sent her or her phone overboard. Feeling a tug at her sleeve, Claire could sense Sky trembling beside her. Tucking the phone back in the safety of a pocket, she pulled her niece onto her lap and hugged her close.

“Alright, sweetie. Just keep breathing through your nose and concentrate on the seals.”

“Here, love, give her one of these.”

Claire looked up to see a kindly face peering out through a fur-lined hood. Glancing down, she saw a pack of polo mints nestled in the woollen glove reaching out towards her.

“Thank you,” she said with real gratitude. Pulling off her gloves, she retrieved a mint and handed it to Sky. She was rewarded by seeing the distress on Sky’s face ebb slightly, like the outgoing tide.

Flashing a smile at the stranger, Claire hugged Sky close again. “That’s it, poppet. You’re being very brave. Well done.”

After a few more days with me, the poor girl isn’t going to want to see her Auntie Claire again. Somehow the thought made her sad.

***

Maurice and Man-Flu: 2013 365 Challenge #104

Poorly Little Martin

Poorly Little Martin

Today is a day when I wish I’d done less cleaning on my last nursery day and remained a Claire post ahead. Because – although the clean house is nice – Family Martin has Man-Flu.

All of us.

We’ve never ALL been struck down simultaneously before. I’ve had to write drug distribution on the chalk board because my brain is fuddled. It hasn’t been divide and conquer so much as Divide and Survive.

Still, being the heroic one who took the kids to the Farm – after a quiet morning and some calpol meant they were too full of beans to be indoors – I got to go back to bed mid afternoon and finish my book. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. A marvellous book. I love Terry Pratchett. I love the sophistication of his world building and the insidious nature of his social commentary.

This children’s Discworld novel discusses morality and religion in a way that hasn’t affected me since Granny Weatherwax in Carpe Jugulum. I’m not very good at reviewing books because I can’t tiptoe around spoilers (and I hate spoilers). All I’ll say is this is a book I really hope my children read, as it approaches philosophical questions of what makes me me; ideas and beliefs, shadows and darkness, in an accessible and compelling way. It also deals with Stories: what constitutes a story, the difference between stories and the real world, including a ‘real world’ rather than ‘fairy tale’ ending. Terry Pratchett at his best.

I don’t think it gives anything away to include this quotation, which I believe encapsulates what religion should be about (as someone who isn’t particularly religious):

If there is a Big Rat [God], and I hope there is, it would not talk of war and death. It would be made of the best we could be, not the worst that we are. No, I will not join you, liar in the dark. I prefer our way. We are silly and weak, sometimes. But together we are strong. You have plans for rats? Well, I have dreams for them.

Love it.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

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:

_______________________________________________________________________________________

“Auntie Claire, look!”

Claire turned her head at the unexpected sound of Sky giggling. After an hour moaning in the car that the iPad battery was flat and twenty minutes of shoe shuffling and whining in the queue, Claire had forgotten that her niece could laugh. The decision to come to Merrivale Model Village already seemed a bad one, and they’d only been inside ten minutes.

We should have done Sea Life. I could have bought a coffee and left her to it knowing she couldn’t damage anything. If I leave her in here she’ll probably trample on the exhibits or start playing with them. Seeing her niece still waving and jiggling up and down, Claire swallowed a sigh and went to investigate.

“What is it, Sky?”

“Look!” She pointed at the scene in front of them. “That little woman is…” she lowered her voice to a whisper that probably carried to the edge of the village, “showing her boobies! See?”

Claire peered at the tiny model people. Oh god. There’s a half-naked woman being arrested at a football match. Seriously? Don’t these people know kids come here?

As if confirming Claire’s worst fears, Sky took a deep breath and said, too loudly, “why is she showing her boobies, Claire? What are the policemen doing? Did someone steal her clothes?”

Looking round wildly for assistance or guidance, all Claire could see were other parents trying not to smile. Avoiding eye contact, Claire wrapped her arm around Sky’s shoulder. “Don’t talk so loud, darling.”

“Why not?” Sky’s voice would have filled the O2 Arena.

“Other people are trying to enjoy their afternoon out, that’s all.” She hoped her niece had forgotten the interrogation about the streaker, but she was out of luck.

“Why didn’t she have a top on? Was she sunbathing? Sometimes Mummy sunbathes without her top on in the garden.”

“Um. I’m not sure. Why don’t we go and look at the train? Or the high street?” She pulled at her niece’s hand and led her away from the traitorous football match.

“Oh, look Sky, the hospital, let’s go there.”

The Whys didn’t stop: It turned out the hospital was full of realistic details, like some poor man having his leg sawn off. “Why are they cutting his leg, Claire? Is he poorly?” Then, “Why is there smoke coming from that house? Is it on fire? Why haven’t the firemen put it out?” Even the castle let Claire down. “Why does the princess have a pointy hat, Claire?” Unable to remember whether it was called a wimple or a hennin, Claire once more resorted to her stock phrase, “I don’t know, darling,” all the while cursing the quirky nature of the model village.

I guess you have to have a sense of humour to run a place like this. Claire looked at the Boggitt and Scarper builder’s sign and the Lord Help Us Hall and smiled. How much time does it take to put all these people in position? If you couldn’t have a laugh you’d go bonkers. Claire read a tiny sign declaring, “Keep off Grass, Guard Ducks Patrol this Garden, Survivors will be Prosecuted,” and laughed out loud. Maybe the sick humour is to keep the adults amused. God knows it must be boring to be a parent at a place like this. Or anywhere.

She tried to tune out the Whys, but discovered if she didn’t answer quickly enough, Sky’s voice became louder and more shrill. As the question was usually one Claire didn’t want to hear echoing amongst the milling families she had to respond swiftly and with detail. ‘I don’t know, sweetheart,’ had apparently lost its effectiveness.

Claire felt drained and defeated, as if she’d been wrangling in a Board Meeting for two hours, rather than wandering with a six-year-old for twenty minutes. In desperation she gazed round the site, longing for something safe to distract Sky’s inquisitive mind. She caught sight of a sign and her heart lifted.

“Oh look, Sky: A Penny Arcade, why don’t we go there?”

“What’s an arcade?”

Claire thought about the rare visits to Uncle Jim when she was Sky’s age. He would take his nephew and nieces to the amusement arcades, a bag of tuppences hanging heavy in their pockets, gleaming highlights in their eyes knowing their parents would definitely not approve. They would gorge themselves on candy floss and stand at the machines for hours, feet welded to the sticky floor, the smell of cigarette smoke in their nostrils from Uncle Jim’s rolling tobacco.

With her mind and heart full of happy memories, Claire shone a sparkling grin at Sky.

“You’re in for a real treat.”

***