More Amazing Milestones: 2013 365 Challenge #200

Top 200 words in Two-Hundred Steps Home

Top 200 words in Two-Hundred Steps Home

Today is a milestone day. Two-Hundred Steps Home reached 150,000 words and this is the 200th installment in my daily blog challenge for 2013. Wow.

It seemed fitting for Claire to receive some recognition, so I’ve given her a little pat on the back and sent her to a gorgeous-looking hostel that I quite fancy visiting myself! (I investigated, but it would be cheaper to stay in a hotel, although not the same as a Victorian Gothic Manor House!)

I’ve also been playing with Wordle: creating word maps of the most frequent words used in the novel (top 150 and top 200 words). I’m concerned that ‘like’, ‘felt’, and ‘thought’ are up there: a bit too much telling and not enough showing going on! Making word maps was a lovely way to spend an hour listening to the cricket when I should have been writing. I’ve found a breezy spot at the kitchen table, but the brain is still full of fog.

A time-eating exercise for a creative person

A time-eating exercise for a creative person

It seems fitting to use a milestone post to talk about my second-ever piece on this blog.

As I mentioned yesterday, I originally had the intention of discussing writing craft on Writer/Mummy. However I began following great blogs like Novels from the Ground Up (sadly no longer updated, but still with some great posts worth reading) and Daily Writing Tips, and a hundred others, and realised that I was in no position to preach.

Re-reading those early posts, though, I do think I had something to share. Many people want to write a novel but have a zillion reasons why they can’t. That was me, five years ago. The posts talked through how I turned that around. However, of my top tips for How to write a novel (with young kids underfoot), I only wrote posts on half, because it turned out I didn’t have enough experience to cover them all (even though I was teaching Creative Writing at the time!).

Playing with Wordle to celebrate 200th post

Playing with Wordle to celebrate 200th post

These were my top tips:

1. Throw away the excuses

2. Write what you know

3. Carry your story with you

4. Get Professional Help

5. Find fabulous friends

6. Finish, Finish, Finish

7. Put your critical hat on

8. Get it out there

As you can see, I only wrote posts on the first four points. When it came to writing about beta readers, critique groups or social media I hadn’t a clue. I was too scared to join a critique group and I didn’t have a beta reader, except my husband. The same went for finishing a novel (to final edit, not just the first draft), undertaking critical editing or getting to a point of releasing a book into the wild (either traditional route or via self-publishing).

Hard to choose my favourite (I have 12!)

Hard to choose my favourite (I have 12!)

Now I feel I can write about those things. Apart from critique groups: that fear still stands (and it’s harder to fit that in around a sporadic schedule than any of the other elements.)

It will be difficult not to reinvent the wheel, but at the least I can direct people to some of the amazing websites I’ve since discovered (like Catherine, Caffeinated: the self-publishing guru!)

I just have to decide whether to write them as standalone posts, on top of my daily blog, or cheat and combine the two! I think I’d prefer to do them standalone, and re-blog all five original posts as well, but that might be overkill: what do you think?


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


Claire made it back to the car without crumpling. Her hands shook as she tried to fit the key into the lock and, for the first time in weeks, she missed her Audi with its central locking fob.

Will they take my car back? Claire climbed into the Skoda and ran her hands around the sticky steering wheel. Loathe as she was to admit it, she would miss her little Stella.

Perhaps they’ll gift it to me as a leaving present. Her laugher filled the enclosed space. The idea that anyone would miss her was a joke. I haven’t heard from a single person in three months.

Although Claire had discovered how deep her work-friendships ran at her leaving party, it still hurt to realise she could vanish so completely from their lives without so much as an email to say farewell.

The adrenalin continued to rush through her veins, giving the sensation that she could scale a cliff face or run a marathon. Knowing the payback would be vicious, Claire pushed aside her emotions and shoved the gear stick into first.

Wandering around town earlier, Claire had toyed with the idea of staying the night in Manchester. Maybe Great John Street hotel, where she could lounge in the roll-top bath, safe in the knowledge that someone famous would be sleeping in a room nearby. By the time they saw her expenses it would be too late to challenge the cost.

Now, though, she had no desire to linger in her former home town. Her nose itched with the grit of traffic fumes and her temper frayed as she jostled with the sleek silver commuter cars heading for the suburbs.

Choosing the route south, Claire ran through the map of hostels in her mind, trying to decide the nearest one that she had yet to visit.

I don’t think I stayed in all the Peak District hostels round Buxton. If I have to work to the end of the week, I may as well stay somewhere pretty.


Claire pulled up outside Gradbach hostel, glad to finally come to a halt. The drive had taken twice as long as it should have, due to rush hour traffic leaving Manchester. In front of her was a building that looked like an old mill, nestled deep in the trees. Drinking in the clean air as she might a chilled glass of rosé, Claire felt the space and silence surround her, and smiled.

The reception desk welcomed her with polished wood and bright lights. A smiling lady, with a smart dark bob and glasses, approached with a question on her face.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m hoping you might have a bed for tonight?” Claire’s tummy rumbled and she remembered she hadn’t eaten since breakfast, twelve hours earlier. “And somewhere to eat?”

The woman’s face fell and she shook her head. “I’m so sorry; this hostel isn’t open to the public during term time. School and group visits only. We have a group in at present.”

As she said the words, Claire heard the sound of chatter coming from deep within the converted mill. Disappointment dragged at her limbs and she grasped the reception desk for support.

I could be lying in a bubble bath, looking forward to a rare steak and a gin and tonic.

With a sigh, Claire raised a smile and directed it at the hostel manager. “Can you tell me where the nearest hostel with beds is, please? Or do you have internet so I can get online?”

With a nod, the woman began tapping away at a computer. A frown pulled down her dark eyebrows, and Claire felt ice slide into her stomach.

“Hartington Hall has a vacancy?”

Claire shook her head. “I’ve done that one. And Ravenstor, Yougreave, Eyam.”

Her words brought a puzzled smile to the woman’s face. She turned, as if to speak, but seemed to realise it wasn’t her concern. “How about Ilam Hall?”

It didn’t ring a bell. “Hang on.” Claire pulled out her iPad and looked down her notes. “No, I don’t think so.”

“There’s nothing showing on the website, but I’ll give them a ring. They sometimes reserve a bed or two for emergencies, or someone might not have turned up yet.”

Claire flicked through her guide book to find Ilam Hall. She took in the pictures of the Victorian Gothic manor house, with the double-height windows and sunny, beautifully decorated, rooms. It knocked spots off Great John Street hotel, which she had felt was a bit dark, the one time she had stayed there.

This is why: This is what it’s about. Gorgeous, undiscovered properties. Who knew they were here, or that you could stay in them for a small amount of money? Okay, they’re not all like that, but enough. Who needs the Maldives, or New Zealand, when there are such gems right on the doorstep?

Claire held her breath, as the hostel manager began talking to someone on the phone. Please have space. My soul needs this.

As the woman smiled, Claire felt her heart lift and began to breathe again.

“You’re in luck,” she said, as she hung up the phone. “They’ve had a couple of girls call up to say they’re staying in their current hostel a further night. It’s only a dorm room bed, but I assumed you would take it, given how late it is.”

Claire looked out the window, surprised to see it had gone dark. “Oh yes. Will I still be able to get dinner?”

“I should think so. I’ll call and tell them you’d like to eat when you arrive.”

“Thank you, and thank you for your help.”

The woman hesitated, then spoke in a rush. “I have to ask. Are you the lady writing the blog? About the hostels? Only we’ve really enjoyed it and I wondered when you might come here.”

Surprised, Claire nodded.

“Will you come back? We’re open in the school holidays for families and other travellers.”

Claire thought about her meeting earlier with Carl, and her interview later in the week. “I don’t know. I am thinking about doing something different for a while.”

The manager’s face fell, but she nodded. “I understand. It must be exhausting, moving every day. Let me know, if you do decide to come. We’ll make sure you get a nice room.” With a shy smile, she added, “I understand you probably stay anonymous. Otherwise how could you write a fair review? It’s been great learning about what the other hostels are like. I haven’t been to many. I don’t have time!” She gestured at the mill around her and laughed. “Anyway, I’m detaining you. I’m sure you’re ready for dinner and bed. Do you need directions to Ilam?”

Claire shook her head. “No, I have satnav. Thank you, though, for reading the blog. It’s nice to know the words aren’t just disappearing into the ether.”

With new food for thought, Claire made her way back to the car.