Sleepy Thursday: 2013 365 Challenge #199

My new 'keep the kids cool' weapon

My new ‘keep the kids cool’ weapon

Ah hello Summer cold, we’ve been expecting you.

Little man coughed every 30 seconds for most of the night. I went and gave him milk, calpol and a cuddle on his new (child sized) sofa for as long as I could, to no avail. I thought he was asleep until he climbed into our bed ten minutes later and coughed and wriggled for the remainder of the night. Yawn. Pass the coffee.

At least the oppressive night-time heat broke like a fever around 2am, leaving a calm cool breeze washing through the open windows.

I was going to write today’s post about some old blog posts of mine I stumbled across yesterday, on how to write a novel with children underfoot, back in the day when I thought this would be a writing-advice blog, rather than a diary-cum-confessional. I will have to save that for tomorrow as I can barely keep my eyes open and I have an hour to get kids to nursery and write Claire’s showdown with Carl.

Even baby Annabelle's had enough (or is she drunk?)

Even baby Annabelle’s had enough (or is she drunk?)

These hot days are sapping more than my energy and good humour, they’re wiping away any remaining vocabulary left in my addled Mummy brain.

The thing I noticed most about my first posts on WriterMummy, written last March? They were penned with a sharpness of phrase I can only dream of. I don’t know how: I imagine I was getting less sleep then than now. Maybe only blogging every couple of weeks meant I stored up good phrases, or I was less self-conscious about my writing, knowing no one was reading it.

I also had more time to read other people’s posts back then – funny parenting posts, mostly – and that style of writing rubs of. It just proves the point that writers must read as much as write.

I think that might be my ‘homework’ today! I’ve just started reading a recommended book, Emotional Geology, which is reminding me of Virginia Woolf in style, as it’s quite stream-of-consciousness in the way it jumps about. Enjoying it though. Now I just need to tackle Carl, and consume some caffeine!

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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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Despite quivering limbs, Claire felt happiness bubble deep inside. The look in Carl’s eyes, as he gazed at her across the desk, reminded her of a hunted animal finally cornered and aware there is nowhere left to run. It strengthened her resolve and calmed some of the jitters.

“Hello, Claire. This is an unexpected pleasure.” Carl’s mouth worked silently, as if more words wanted to be spoken but were under restraint.

“Yes, isn’t it. How are you? Are you well?”

Carl’s eyebrows flickered up almost imperceptibly, flummoxed by Claire’s affable conversation.

“Yes, very well. The Birds Eye account renewed, and we’ve secured three new clients this month already.” He sat back in his chair, his elbows resting on the arms of the large leather seat that diminished his stature rather than enlarging it as intended.

Sitting forward, Claire glanced sideways at the door. A flicker only, but Carl detected it, and shifted uncomfortably. Claire watched him squirm with indecision. If he called Julia in to take a drinks order, he would be treating Claire as a welcome visitor, despite her impromptu visit. On the other hand, if he didn’t follow normal protocol, he would communicate to the rest of the office that she was not there at his bidding. Claire nearly laughed out loud as the thoughts waged war across his face.

You should take some lessons from your receptionist; she’s a much better poker player than you are.

After a moment that stretched to eternity, Carl leant forwards and pressed the intercom on his desk.

“Julia, can you come in, please?”

The door opened immediately, and Claire suspected Carl’s PA had been hovering with her fingers already round the handle.

“There you are, Julia. Coffee for me, if you will.” He tilted his head in question at Claire, and she turned to face her erstwhile tormentor.

“Hello, Julia. Earl Grey, thank you.” She smiled sweetly, keeping her expression neutral.

Julia’s mouth dropped open and she shut it with a snap, before spinning away. Claire took the opportunity to inhale deeply and rub her sweaty hands down her dress, while Carl was distracted.

“So.” Carl turned, resting his arms on the desk. “To business.”

“It’s always business, isn’t it.”

Claire reached into the bag at her side, before Carl could answer, and retrieved a pristine white envelope, which she slid across the desk.

“I think you’ll find this self-explanatory.”

Carl looked at it and the colour drained from his face. A sheen of sweat made his brow sparkle in the office lights.

“You’re resigning?”

“I thought you’d be pleased.” Claire frowned, her poise slipping for the first time. “Isn’t that what you’ve been striving for since February?” She closed her lips, unwilling to give any more away.

“Yes, well, no. Of course not.” Flustered, Carl stumbled over his words.

“Oh, come on, Carl. There’s no need to play the game any longer. Not with me. You’ve won. That should make you happy.”

“Why? Why now, I mean.”

“I’ve had a better offer.” No need to mention she hadn’t even had an interview for the new role Linda had called her about. The potential had been enough to convince her of her next move.

“How much?”

Claire felt the heat rise in her cheeks at the audacity of Carl’s question. Refusing to rise to the bait, she crossed her legs, gazing coolly at him. “That’s all it is to you, isn’t it? Money. I pity you.”

Carl sat back as if she had spat at him. “If it’s not the money, why are you leaving?”

“Need you ask? You sent me on some fool’s errand, fit only for a manager at best, to force me to leave. No, don’t tell me that bullshit story of proving myself fit to the directors. We both know that was tosh.”

Carl shrugged. “The deal was real.”

“But the idea to send me was yours? Was I treading on your toes? Making you nervous? Well, you can relax. I wouldn’t have your job if you paid me double whatever exorbitant salary you’re on.” She paused, as Julia re-entered with their drinks.

The PA hovered, sensing the atmosphere and desperate to leave with some gossip. She glanced at the white envelope untouched on Carl’s desk, and Claire knew that was fuel enough for the rumour machine.

“Thank you, Julia, you may go.” Julia flinched at the icy tones, and scuttled from the room.

“What do you want, then, if not money? Prestige? A new car?”

“Nothing you can buy. In fact, I have to thank you. If you hadn’t sent me on that stupid assignment, I might still think cars and titles were worth something.”

It was Carl’s turn to sneer. “Oh, come on. You can’t tell me you’ve turned hippy. Look at you, still the heels and sharp suit. You haven’t changed. You’ve met some bloke, that’s it, isn’t it?” He jeered lasciviously and Claire crossed her arms, resisting the urge to throw her tea over him.

“No. No man, no money, no shiny car or bigger office. Just an opportunity to make a difference; to be me. To live a little in the real world.” She looked round his minimalist office, with the tinted windows obscuring the view outside. “You should try it sometime.”

Draining the last of her tea, Claire stood up. “I still have three weeks holiday, with what I carried over from last year. I’ll work to the end of the week.”

“What? You can’t. You’re on three months’ notice, and you took that week last week.” Panic raised his voice to a squeak.

“No. You gave me last week in lieu of the weekends I have worked, and if you check my contract I’m only on a month’s notice. I would like to say it’s been a pleasure, but I’ve had enough of lying.”

Leaving her boss gaping like a landed fish, Claire placed her cup on his desk, and glided from the room.

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‘The Extincts’: Resurrecting my Love of Reading: 2013 365 Challenge #69

Roelant Savery [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Roelant Savery via Wikimedia Commons

I was lucky enough to grab a free copy of a children’s book (MG I would guess) from our local book shop today, while taking the kids in to spend their World Book Day vouchers.

I always find it odd taking a free book and my daughter exclaimed in horror when I didn’t pay for it. Funny because I happily give my own books away for free. Maybe that says something about how I rate my writing or how I perceive the difference between an ebook and a paper copy.

The book, an uncorrected proof, is called The Extincts  and is by Veronica Cossanteli. The proof copy says it will be published in May 2013. When I got home I found it on Amazon here.Looks great.

I read some of the book this afternoon while Daddy took the kids to buy me a mother’s day gift (and after I’d ordered my mum a spa day and printed and laminated the voucher). I was hooked, as much as I have been by any book recently. I have three half-finished novels under my bed – Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, The Real Thing by Catherine Alliott and Rowling’s Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets which I’m reading because I’m finding the others too much at bedtime. I never used to leave books half-read and couldn’t understand how my husband would have three or four on the go but these days I have to be in the right frame of mind. When I’m not I re-read something that’s so familiar I can open it at any page. I feel I can happily read this book, The Extincts, to the end not just becuase it’s great but because it isn’t emotionally taxing.

My eclectic half-read pile of books

My eclectic half-read pile of books

Veronica Cossanteli’s book has the strongest opening and voice of anything I’ve read in ages. There are bits that don’t flow but partly that’s shifting pace to Middle Grade fiction after reading YA and Women’s lit. The pace, the language, the imagery and the plot concept are all great. It has reminded me how much I love Middle Grade fiction (probably one reason it is Harry Potter I turn to in times of trial.). MG fiction tends to be entertaining without being too close to home emotionally (like the Catherine Alliott book) or too challenging in subject matter (like the Blackman book).

It’s like the TV my husband and I watch these days: it has to be safe, preferably funny, definitely non-emotional and (for me) non-violent. We have enough struggle in the real world, our entertainment is a time to escape. We couldn’t even watch the nature programme on penguins recently because the chicks were being attacked by cormorants.

I was drawn to the Cossanteli proof because the publisher is Chicken House, who ran a competition I wanted to enter last year. Funny how life can throw you random choices that have significant results. The book has entertained me, broken my dry-spell of reading and reminded me that reading can be fun as well as challenging and stretching. It brought to mind a quote I read on Twitter the other day:

“One must own that there are certain books which can be read without the mind and without the heart, but still with considerable enjoyment.”
― Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader

It’s also reminded me that I would love to write Middle Grade fiction if only I had the imagination for it. Maybe one day.

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Claire dumped her rucksack on a bottom bunk and went to stand at the bay window. There were bars in front of the glass, presumably to stop small children falling out. Claire opened the window wide and leaned out as far as she could. She was in the turret at the front of the hostel and the hillside dropped away, falling down to Eyam village. Weak rays of sun prodded through the heavy cloud and highlighted buildings beneath her. She turned and looked at the bunk where her rucksack lay, conscious of an urge to lie down and close her drooping eyelids. She’d barely slept after her frantic evening ringing hostels trying to arrange her two weeks with Sky.

The door opened and the hostel warden poked her head round. “Not really meant to let you stay, love. Checking in isn’t really til five.” She smiled apologetically.

“That’s okay. Thank you for letting me in to leave my bag. I’m trying to decide whether to walk into Eyam village or drive to Chatsworth house.”

Eem Miss.”

“Sorry?”

“It’s pronounced ‘Eem’ not E-yam’. E-yam sounds like a cheese.”

Claire flushed. “Oh. Sorry.”

“That’s alright. Southerners never get it. Walk into the village, it’ll be pretty when the sun breaks through. There’s a nice bakery and a tea room.”

Claire thought privately that it was a bit early in the day for tea and cake. She didn’t want to offend the woman so she merely nodded and went to get her things from the rucksack.

“If you’re wanting to walk into the village take the path rather than the road. It’s real pretty, winding past a llama farm. Comes out behind the church.” The lady shone a bright grin then ducked back out, closing the door behind her.

Eem it is then,” Claire said to the empty room. She let herself out and followed the signs for the footpath.

Halfway down the hill Claire regretted her decision to walk. Down is fine but I don’t fancy the climb back up.  The sun’s attempts to break through looked like they might be scuppered by the surly clouds and Claire could feel moisture gathering on her hair.

By the time she reached the village Claire was sweaty and irritated, knowing she had the return climb to contend with after whatever delights Eyam had to offer. The footpath took her into the village past the church. She turned right and stopped at a sign proclaiming the ‘Plague Cottages’. I thought the whole village suffered from the plague, not just a few cottages?

A dark green sign promised illumination and Claire stopped to scan it. The notice told of Mary Hadfield, who lost her sons, aged 4 and 12, early on in the plague and her husband nearly a year later. Just when she must have thought the worst was over. I can’t believe she lost thirteen relatives in total. Claire felt the grey of the day seeping into her soul.

I don’t think I even have thirteen relatives, never mind that many all living within the same clutch of houses. She tried to imagine living that close to her parents and Robert. I don’t know what’s more depressing: that she had them or that she lost them.

Claire took a quick snap with her phone then walked on towards an impressive high stone wall and black cast iron gate on her right. The board said it was Eyam Hall, Historic House and Craft Centre. Whatever it is, it’s closed. Clearly they don’t expect many visitors in March. Can’t imagine why.

She wandered on past a Post Office and some more cottages, following signs for the museum. May as well get some facts for the blog, then I can get out of here and go somewhere less depressing. Like maybe a morgue.

The museum looked like a school house or a village hall, hulking opposite the car park and public toilets. When she got closer she could tell it, too, was closed.

Seriously? No wonder they had no problem separating themselves off from the world. Who the hell would want to come here? It’s dark and dreary and half of it isn’t even open.

Claire spotted a map urging her to ‘Discover Eyam at a Glance.’ I think I’ve done that. It wouldn’t take more than a quick peek. Having located the YHA hostel on the map Claire realised it was a short walk up the road from the museum. For a second she contemplated heading into the village for an early lunch and a better look around. Or I could walk back to the hostel and drive to Chatsworth for some civilisation. Her eyes scanned the featureless museum building staring blankly at her and decided on Chatsworth House.

That’s assuming it’s open.

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