Write What You Know: This Is Where Stories Come From

Dear delivery driver

Dear delivery driver

Dear Delivery Driver

I’m sorry you had to see me in a teeny tiny towel as I ran to the door, dripping and confused, from the shower. I’m sorry you were confronted by a flabby 37 year old mother of two and a crazy barking dog, instead of a toned twenty-something beauty.

I’m also sorry you were so embarrassed you almost ran away without your pen and I had to call you back. Be glad you’d already fled, red-faced, to your van when I stooped to drag the heavy parcel in and almost lost my towel.

I hope your next delivery is easier

Writermummy

 

Blog Post Revisited: Using Life’s What Ifs

My Three Darlings

My Three Darlings

I finally sent a complete draft of Class Act to my fabulous Beta Reader yesterday, and found myself at a loose end. I know it needs more work but, quite frankly, I’m sick of the sight of it and am starting to doubt whether it even works as a story. Time for a change.

I want to start something new, rather than working on one of the three or four half-finished manuscripts I have on my laptop, courtesy of years of NaNoWriMo. But I’m a bit all chick-litted out, after Two-Hundred Steps Home and working on Class Act. So I got to thinking about other ideas I’ve had, and I remembered the Middle Grade Novel idea I had nearly a year ago. This is a bit on how it started.

A few days after writing that post, I wrote the one below. A little insight into where some of my writing ideas come from.

-––––––———

Writing out some of the background for my new novel today I realised I was inadvertently writing a ‘what if’ about my own life, or one tiny aspect of my life. I think sometimes that’s what writers do. They use their words, their imaginations, to explore different lives they might have lived. Mine is a little thing that might have been huge.

Close Siblings

Close Siblings

I was late for my period this month: second month in a row. Now, we’re careful. We have two beautiful children and I’m in my late thirties. My first child was born at 37 weeks, the second at 35 weeks. My pediatrician friend said that a trend to premature babies could easily continue.

So, even if we wanted more children (which we don’t – only when I get occasionally broody) the risks are far too high. And I KNEW I wasn’t pregnant. I’m more likely to be menopausal, as early menopause runs in the family. But, still, you start putting two and two together and making five. I was tired, grumpy, teary and, above all, late.

The protagonist in Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes gets pregnant against the odds. These things happen. I worried. I read up about menopause at 2am on my phone. And, being me, I re-planned my future with a third child in it. I needed to be prepared, just in case. I worked out the age gap, when the third would start school. I decided it would be nice for my son to have a play mate when my daughter starts school in September. I tried to decide whether I’d prefer a boy or a girl. I’m a writer: I wove stories.

Drove hubbie nuts.

Then I decided I ought to actually get a test and part of me was actually a bit excited (damn you, breeding hormones). I didn’t need the test, as it turned out. As if just buying it was enough, I knew before I got home that it was no longer required. In a tiny way I felt as if I’d lost a baby, even though no baby existed. Because I had made the scary future so plausible.

I wasn’t going to talk about it on the blog – it seems to come under the ‘too much information’ category. Until I started writing out my character list for the new book this morning:

George: 11. Two siblings, Ben (14) and Susie (16). George suspects he wasn’t planned. His sister tells him their mother used to say ‘I’ve only got two hands’ or ‘one of each, job done’. George feels unwanted and an outsider. Susie is academic, Ben is musical. They’re close. George likes football and computer games and being lazy.

My Little Bean

My Little Bean

I realised, half way through writing it, that George is my imaginary third child. The things I worried about at 2am were all there: that any other children born into our family would feel left out because my two are so close in age; that my eldest would remember me saying ‘one of each, job done’; that a third child would feel alienated, like my Uncle and my Mum – both the last of three kids.

The loss of my imaginary child, that hurt for a day, doesn’t hurt so much now. When I see the kids needing another play mate I do wish I had started my family earlier, so more children was a possibility. But now I can write them in to existence instead.

So much cheaper and no need for cots, bottles, stretch marks, swollen ankles and endless dirty nappies. Hurrah.

2013 365 Challenge: Some Lessons Learned

Conquering mountains

Conquering mountains

For anyone new to the blog (where have you been? *grin*) I spent last year undertaking a writing experiment I called the 2013 365 Challenge.

I set myself a tri-fold task: I would write a blog post everyday, I would include pictures in every post (mostly from what I had been doing that day) and I would write an installment of a novel every day. Not just serialise a novel already written, or write 10,000 words at the beginning of the month and parcel it up, but sit down every single day and think of something new to happen in my novel.

I set myself rules, too. I would try and post by 10am every day (which I mostly did!) I would collate each set of installments into a free monthly ebook and publish it by the last day of the month (which I mostly did). And, most importantly, I would not go back and change things (which I didn’t, aside from typos and spelling mistakes, which slipped through due to tiredness, and – once – when I accidentally changed the name of a character to one in the novel I was also editing at the time. I changed that for the sake of readers’ sanity. But I never changed more than a word at a time).

I think reaching the end of my challenge, the end of Claire’s (my protagonist’s) story, and realising I had written 285,000 words in a year and published them, counts as one of my greatest life achievements.

Me before kids (when I got sleep!)

Me before kids (when I got sleep!)

It isn’t Pulitzer Prize winning fiction. In some places it rambles. In many places I’m sure the lack of editing is obvious. But, still, hundreds of people read it and enjoyed it (as far as I can tell, by almost as many copies of the later volumes being downloaded as the first one). I felt like I reached the mountain top and the view was amazing.

Most importantly, I learned so much about being a writer that, even if I hadn’t had a single download, I think I would consider it time well spent. (Although, if I hadn’t had a single download I probably wouldn’t have made it past January, as knowing people were expecting the next installment was often the only thing giving me the motivation to write when all I wanted to do was sleep.)

I’m still processing all the things I learned from my challenge, but I promised in yesterday’s post that I would write some of them down. So these are the things that occur to me right now:

  • It really is important to write every day. That is probably more true for the blogging than the novel challenge, actually. I’m working on my current novel only three days a week (as I used to before the 2013 365 Challenge) but writing something everyday keeps the words flowing
  • You can write great prose even when you’re tired and uninspired (in fact, sometimes having half my brain worried about other things kept my conscious brain busy and left my creative sub-consciousness to get on with it)
  • Writing to a deadline sharpens the mind. Knowing you have to write something, anything, in the next hour, frees you from restraint.
  • Writing to a deadline can also cause terrible writer’s block. Knowing you have to write something, anything, in the next hour can make the white screen the most terrifying thing in the world
  • If the white screen scares you, turn it off and write somewhere else. Tap out a text message, scribble on an envelope. Once the words start flowing, it’s easy
  • Walking sets a great rhythm for dialogue. If I ever got stuck with a scene of dialogue, getting outside and walking the dog helped the words come. The conversation would run in my head in time to my footsteps and all I had to do was write it down
  • Research can spark off new and exciting ideas. Many of my best installments were triggered from a Tripadvisor review. Reading about other people’s experiences can set off a train of thought that leads to a new story, character, or source of conflict.
  • Keep your characters moving. If they must have internal dialogue or introspection, having the protagonist physically moving can give interest and momentum. Claire did some of her best thinking while hiking along cliffs or driving country lanes. It also makes it easier to match scene to mood: a lashing thunderstorm made a great backdrop for a moment of angst
  • Weather is important. It isn’t always sunny. Using Google StreetView to look at different parts of the UK also gave me impetus to write about different types of weather. Now I know to think about the weather and make sure it’s appropriate both for the time of year and mood of scene (see above)
  • Character arcs are fun. Having Claire change from a shallow work-driven career woman into a nature-loving, child-hugging, self-aware woman was very satisfying.
  • Nasty characters can be fun, too. When Claire’s brother turned out to be an utter git (which I hadn’t completely anticipated) I absolutely loved writing his scenes. We don’t often get to say mean things in real life and not feel guilty afterwards. Writing is cathartic
  • Your own experiences are a limitless resource. I used many things from my own life, including (but not exclusively) my time in hospital having my second child; my father’s cancer; my breakdown and subsequent depression; my year living, working and travelling around New Zealand; summers spent in Swanage with my father; hiking holidays in the Lake District, my time working as a Marketing Manager
  • Friends are also great resources. Two examples that spring to mind are when I used emotional anecdotes (not the details) from my paediatrician friend to get inside Josh’s mind, and an accidental conversation with a friend who used to live in the Lake District that greatly enhanced my Grasmere episode.
  • The mind is a well that can run dry. Whether I write 1,000 words a day for a week or 8,000 words in a day, my overall work rate stays fairly level. I just can’t generate the ideas to write more than 10,000 words in a week. The brain needs time to refill and replenish
  • Coffee shops and town centres are great places to refill the mind. Eavesdropping on conversations and watching how people interact can help to create stories
  • Reading is just as important as writing. Immersing yourself in a well-written book can fill the word-well in the mind and reinvigorate an exhausted muse
  • Formatting for Smashwords and Kindle are really boring but actually fairly straightforward. It helps to format as you draft, if it isn’t too distracting. I’ve learned to do it when I’m waiting for the next idea to come, or while watching TV
  • People don’t leave reviews for free books

I’m sure there are loads more things I’ve learned and I’m equally sure that some of these things only apply to me and not to all writers. Looking at the list, though, it makes me realise how far I have come as a writer and how much my confidence has grown. Turning up to work every day, whether I wanted to or not, moved me from “aspiring writer” to “writer”. I just need to make sure I keep it going! This year’s (unofficial) challenge is to build on my learning and concentrate on the craft of writing. Quality over quantity. I’ll keep you posted.

Write Now, Write Naked: 2013 365 Challenge #330

The Inconvenient Urge

The Inconvenient Urge

I’ve read several posts this morning with great writing advice in them, or posts about the importance of writing. The online blog community is a wondrous resource for all things writerly. Even if you aren’t a writer, these are still great reads.

So I thought I’d share the highlights of my morning reads (as a nice change from hearing all about me and my lovely children!)

The first post I read this morning was by Robert Benson, on his blog Ubiquitous. Quotidian, called The Inconvenient Urge.

The post discusses how the need and inspiration to write comes at the worst possible times:

“The urge to write often settles on me when there is too much to do at work. When there are already too many unfinished projects and too many dishes to wash and too many clothes to fold. The urge comes when family members are sick, when the child needs my attention, when things are already impossibly complex and there are too many things competing for my focus.”

Aside from the fact that it’s nice to hear a man also complaining about the laundry and the dishes (hurrah it isn’t just me!) it is also a feeling I can completely relate to. I went to write in the local Motorway Services this morning (it’s not far from preschool and I find if I go there, rather than going home, I get more done. Especially when the internet isn’t working!) Even though the WiFi was on today, meaning I wrote fewer than half of the 4,000 words I wrote last Monday, I still got engrossed enough in Claire’s journey to forget to get my McD breakfast before 10.30am. 🙂

I’ve been known to be late for the school run, or lose several hours of what is meant to be productive housework time, or forget to walk the dog, because I’m wrapped up in another world. As Robert Benson concludes, however, “the urge to write comes when it will. Be grateful. Be ready. It is always inconvenient.”

Thought Catalog Article

Thought Catalog Article

The second post I read today (via http://jeryder.blogspot.co.uk) was a list of great quotes on writing by famous authors, on the Thought Catalog blog. Entitled 21 Harsh But Eye-Opening Writing Tips by Great Authors, my favourites include these:

11. Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die. – Anne Enright

and

17. Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain

The final blog I read today, by the Write Practice, was called Write Naked, and it discusses a favourite topic of mine: writing what you know. Like the author of the article, I used to think that suggested you could only write about your personal sphere of experience: meaning I could only write stories about marketing managers who had been to New Zealand. (Well, actually, that does feature quite a lot in my stories! Ahem.)

Write Naked

Write Naked

But that isn’t what it means. It means writing about the sensations you can relate to. It isn’t the detail of the job you do that defines it, but the emotions you experience along the way.

So, even though Dragon Wraiths is about a sixteen-year-old orphan, and that wasn’t my childhood, I could still draw from enough experiences of my life growing up to write authentically about loneliness and not fitting in and the exhilaration of being outside in nature.

In the article, Sophie Novak says:

“Write naked. The raw can be a million times more powerful than the best polish. Do you know why? Because truth shines.  It can’t be beaten by invention. Just forget any inhibitions, and share the truth. Your truth. It’s quite scary, and absolutely worth it.”

Or, as Neil Gaiman puts it, “The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked…that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

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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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“Right, boys, get dressed, we’ve got a busy day ahead.”

Claire laughed at the groans emanating from the bunks as she stuck her head around the door. The hostel had been mostly empty when they arrived, and they’d been able to secure adjacent rooms. After sharing with the boys for a week at the previous hostel, Claire was glad to go back to her own, private, sweet-smelling space.

The only movement her words provoked was a pulling up of duvets, muffling the grumbling protests that it was too early. Claire thought there had to be a happy medium between Sky waking up with the birds, and these boys who needed a rocket under them to get them going in the morning.

With a sly glance she said, “I guess I’ll have to cancel the motor boat trip then, and we’ll go to the seal sanctuary after all.”

The duvets flung back and first Jack and then Alex sat up in bed.

“Motor boat? Are we going water skiing?” Jack asked, looking adorable with his tousled hair and sleepy excited eyes.

Claire’s smile drooped. “Ah, no. We’re going on a day out on the estuary.” She watched their excitement fade, and thought quickly. “But we’re taking the boat out on our own. Have you steered a motor boat before? And are you any good at map reading?”

Alex’s expression remained disgruntled, but Jack jumped up. “Bagsy I get to steer the boat first. Thank you, Aunt– I mean Claire.” He ran over and gave her an impulsive hug.

Claire returned the embrace, a little surprised at the gesture. The boys were not very tactile, unless you included thumping each other and wrestling on the bedroom floor.

“You’re welcome, Jack. Come on boys, get dressed. This hostel is self-catering, so we’re going out for a fry up.” She’d learnt that a hearty breakfast was essential. As with men, so with boys: regular feeding was a core requirement of good relations.

*

Claire looked at the tiny craft bobbing on the water, and thought better of her great idea. For something licensed to hold six people it looked tiny.

And very vulnerable, she thought, watching the boat pull at its mooring as the wake of a passing yacht stirred up the water.

“You boys taking your Mum fishing?”

All three of them turned to look over as a man approached them, his lined face split in a wide grin. “They’ll be biting today. It’s high tide around mid-morning, but you’re best to wait until the afternoon. Forecast is good. Did you want to borrow some rods? I’m sure I can find something.”

Claire shuddered, and hoped the boys were more interested in steering the boat than pulling slimy squirming creatures from the water.

“Can we, Claire, can we, please? I’d love to catch something. I’ve never been sea fishing before.” Jack’s voice rose high with eagerness.

“Doesn’t Robert take you?” As she said the words, she tried to imagine her brother, as she knew him now, attaching maggots to a hook. “Never mind. Er, yes, if you can borrow all the gear I don’t see why not. Just don’t expect me to touch them. If you catch something you’re on your own.”

The answering grin from both boys was electric. Claire hoped the friendly stranger was wrong, and the fish weren’t biting. Leaving them discussing the merits of various types of bait with the man from the boat yard, Claire wandered off in search of caffeine. It was going to be a long day.

***

You Are The Source: 2013 365 Challenge #303

Sunny morning

Sunny morning

One of the amazing things about being a writer, whether you pen children’s books or dark, creepy horror stories, is that you are the best source of information for your stories.

Lying in bed this morning, it was easy to imagine that I had been abducted by aliens. My body, heavy and unresponsive, sank deep into the bed as if I had been drugged or – like Leah, in Dragons Wraiths – as if I had no body at all, but was merely a collection of thoughts held together by habit. My head felt muffled and a whole section of my brain, somewhere above my aching eye sockets, felt as if it had been removed or filled with thought-numbing drugs.

I could imagine a powerful wizard suppressing my magical ability, ensuring I was incapable of drawing my will together to fight. The thoughts themselves ran scattered through my head, as if they were in the wrong brain and were seeking a way out. I couldn’t pull them into any kind of order: even thinking about writing this post became a feat too far. My throat burned, as if I had been yelling for days for someone to rescue me, or screaming into the darkness for salvation.

Watching the sun rise

Watching the sun rise

And what’s wrong with me? I have a cold. I’ve spent a couple of days fighting with the kids, my throat is inflamed from the virus and from shouting. I went for drinks with friends last night because I organised it and therefore couldn’t wimp out and go to bed. Even with only imbibing water and coffee I feel like I drank through the entire contents of the bar. A few extra hours of talking and not falling asleep on the sofa at 8 pm and I’m a wreck. My body, which hurts like I’ve run the Boston Marathon or fled from zombies, is actually only aching from fighting off a teeny tiny germ.

Right now I could imagine any fight or flight scenario and write the physical implications of it with a little bit of imagination. Well, I could, if there was any hope of gathering my thoughts into coherent sentences. Even this post is only half as effective as the one I dragged into being in my beleaguered brain half an hour ago. By the time I had escaped the warm cocoon of my bed and rolled my broken body out into the cold room to stagger down the stairs the thoughts had evaporated like mist. The slightly hallucinogenic feeling remains, as if someone else is controlling my body and staring out through my bleary eyes. If only I could capture all these feelings and save them for later! I guess that’s what writer’s notebooks (or daily blogs!) are for.

So, next time you’re struggling to bring realism to your stories, listen to your body. Especially your sick, hungover, stressed, exhausted body. It can give you all the details you could want and more. If only you can write them down!

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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 pushed the chocolate cake around her plate with the fork. It looked delicious, but she couldn’t face eating it. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d sat down to a three course meal and was surprised to find her ability to eat and eat had vanished.

“Not hungry?” Conor’s voice cut through her reverie. “I thought women had a separate stomach for dessert?”

Claire laughed. “Yes, normally. I guess I’m out of practice. There isn’t much call for fine dining when you travel by yourself.”

“I wouldn’t know.” Conor’s face became thoughtful. “I’ve never been anywhere by myself, unless for business, and then I usually eat with colleagues or clients.”

A memory trickled into the back of Claire’s mind. “Oh yes, didn’t you say you’d rather pull your teeth out than be alone?”

Conor’s eyebrows flew up into his sandy curls. “Impressive. I probably said it makes my teeth ache, but close enough. That’s why you’re so good, Miss Carleton, you’re as sharp as a tack.”

The look in Conor’s eye made Claire flush and she hid her reaction by taking a drink of her wine. The alcohol warmed her as it ran down into her body, and she had to remind herself she had a long and tricky drive back to the hostel. It wouldn’t do to be tipsy.

Conor maintained eye contact without speaking. Eventually Claire felt compelled to fill the silence. “So you’ve never been on holiday alone?”

Her boss shook his head. “No. I don’t really do holidays. Not since the family used to come to Dorset every year, when I was a kid. My job is one long holiday. I don’t really feel the need to sit on a beach to relax.”

“There are other kinds of holiday!” Claire thought about all the activities she’d done in the last few months. Then she recalled that, before beginning her assignment, beach holidays had been the only type of vacation for her, too. “What do you do when you’re not working?”

Conor took a long drink of wine, then wrapped his hands around the glass and looked contemplatively into the dark liquid. “There isn’t much time when I’m not working, to be honest. But I guess I like to go to bars and listen to the bands. Go to the cinema, that kind of thing. What did you do, in Manchester, before your boss banished you to the back of beyond?”

It was Claire’s turn to ponder. “Much the same as you.” She thought about her trips with Michael, and wondered if Conor ever dated. Back at the interview she had taken him for a ladies’ man, but the more time she spent with him, the more that didn’t wash.

“There’s no significant other, then?” she found herself saying, keeping her face on her plate and the patterns she had made with the ice cream.

“Oh, plenty of those, darling, don’t you worry.” His voice took on the brash Irish lilt she remembered from before and she looked up at him in surprise. A flash of bitterness crossed his face, to be replaced with the cheeky charmer expression that he’d worn after the interview, when she’d vowed never to be one of his conquests.

Not that I need have bothered. He’s not made any effort to conquer me, that’s for certain. She swirled the wine in her glass. And that’s a good thing, of course. With him being my boss and all.

She watched as Conor drained his glass and refilled it from the bottle. His eyes had the sparkling glitter of someone heading towards half cut, and Claire became conscious of an urgent need to escape.

***

We Are Stories: 2013 365 Challenge #286

Happy birthday, sis

Happy birthday, sis

Yesterday my gorgeous sister celebrated her fortieth birthday with a gathering at our parents’ house. As the rain poured outside, a dozen children from four months to fourteen years old played together, while as many adults mingled and discussed the passing of the years.

Two of my sister’s school friends were there with their children: faces I haven’t seen in twenty years but that haven’t changed much. I remember other parties, two decades ago, with the same faces. More music than kids cartoons, back then, and significantly more alcohol. But just as much fun.

As I watched the kids unite in a universal game of balloon fight while disparate groups of my sister’s friends chatted about life, and an old friend who lived in our house even before we moved to the area commented on the same tiles still being there in the kitchen, I could almost see the passing of time happening in that room.

Balloon fights

Balloon fights

Story arcs and character arcs played out in my mother’s kitchen. Our family’s journey, from the day we arrived in the house nearly thirty years ago, when it was all yellow walls and brown carpet. My sister’s journey, from shy school girl to entrepreneur, mother, wife, international traveller. My life, from early heartache to sitting with my children on my lap, happy and content.

I’m often asked how I come up with stuff to write about in my novels: people complain of having no imagination. I used to say the same, until I started my Creative Writing degree, and discovered NaNoWriMo. Then I realised my brain is chock full of stories.

Stories play out around us endlessly. Happy ones, sad ones, stories with no endings, stories only just beginning. The babies in the room yesterday will live an entirely different adventure in a different world to the one I grew up in. Already I can say the same for my children, as they swing from the same apple tree I fell from as a child.

Balloon fighting

Balloon fighting

For character development we need look no further than our own experience: from bolshy or shy teenager to confident or unhappy adult. Whatever our journey, there is a universal truth held within it. Other people have experienced the same emotions, undergone the same changes, albeit in a slightly different way. Like a handmade dress or a home-baked cake, no two stories are quite the same.

My sister and I had almost identical upbringings, as much as can be the case when you’re three years different in age. We’ve lived similar lives, our children could easily be mistaken for siblings. But some of our views on life are worlds apart.

And, by virtue of marrying an American, she now lives in the States. Tiny choices that have huge repercussions. I might have married my Kiwi boyfriend (unlikely!) and my life would have taken a completely different path. To write a story, all I need imagine is one of those what ifs. There are little bits of me in every story, because writing what you know is the easiest place to start. It can be fun, too, exploring the lives I might have lived.

They say everyone has a novel in them. I believe we have as many as we can find the time and energy to write down. All around us, weaving in and out of every day, there are stories. If you want to, go and find them, capture and tame them. Make them your story. There’s no time like 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 pulled into the car park with a sense of relief. Travelling in the car with Kim was beginning to stretch her nerves to breaking point.

I wonder if this is how Bethan felt, travelling with me around New Zealand?

With a guilty flush Claire decided that Bethan probably had more patience. Assuming her dark moods had been of equal blackness, and she suspected they had been, it was a bit like trying to run holding a fragile vase full of excrement. One careless step and the darkness slopped over the side, making everything awful. And all the while there lurked the constant fear that one misstep might shatter the vessel into a thousand pieces.

The town rose around them up into tree-lined hills where white villas sat majestically overlooking the bay. She’d never been to Lyme Regis before and her only knowledge of the town came from a TV adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

“Apparently Jane Austen loved this town,” she said, as Kim joined her on the pavement.

“I guess someone has to,” Kim responded, staring round with distaste.

Claire bit back a retort and looked instead for somewhere they could get a cup of coffee and some cake. She definitely needed cake.

*

After Kim had turned down the first two cafés for being too busy or too twee, they’d finally settled in a small independent coffee shop that featured a display of divine looking cakes.

Claire wrapped her hands around her mug and read the sign on the wall out loud; “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy tea which is the same kind of thing.” She laughed. “Substitute that for coffee and I couldn’t agree more.”

“I wouldn’t have thought you’d be laughing about money, if you’re as broke as you claim you are.” Kim’s voice cut through Claire’s happiness like a cheese wire.

Claire inhaled sharply, and the words came out before she had time to think. “Give it a rest, Kim. Your life sucks, I get that. Mine’s not exactly rosy either. It’s not going to get better if you stomp around thinking your cup is half empty all the time.” She stopped, her face flaming, and immediately reached out her hand in apology. Kim stared at her through round eyes.

“God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean that.” She tried to lay her hand on her friend’s, but Kim snatched her hand off the table and crossed her arms.

“I’m not sulking, Claire. I’m not choosing to be low. I have depression. The doctor explained it; it’s an imbalance of chemicals in my head. I can’t control it. You wouldn’t ask me to just get up and walk if I had a broken leg.”

The heat continued to pound in Claire’s face as Kim’s words hit out at her. She hung her head. “I know. I understand, really.” She wanted to add that she felt the same; that the world had closed in around her in the past weeks, but suspected Kim wouldn’t appreciate her saying, oh yes, me too.

They sat in silence and Claire sipped at her coffee, more for something to do than out of any enjoyment.

This was a mistake. What was I thinking?

She tried to think of a way out, but nothing presented itself. The idea of travelling with Kim for even a few days, never mind the weeks it would take to get around Cornwall, filled her with dread. And she was meant to be working, not babysitting. How was she supposed to research the tourist activities and compile her recommendations – how was she even going to think straight – with Kim pouring her woe on them all the time. But she couldn’t send Kim home, even though they were in her car. She wasn’t sure Kim was safe by herself and it was a long way back to her apartment.

Claire felt like she was back in Puzzling World, stuck in the maze, lost and confused. Only now she couldn’t climb a tower and figure the way out.

Draining her coffee, she stood up and shouldered her bag. “Come on then, let’s get moving.”

One foot forward, that was the only way.

***

Life in Layers: 2013 365 Challenge #261

Driving to Wanaka - 2006/7 Honeymoon

Driving to Wanaka – 2006/7 Honeymoon

The problem with working on multiple writing projects is I end up living my life in layers. Part of my brain is on a beach with Helen and Marcio, searching for typos, while another part is flying with Leah, as I format Dragon Wraiths for print.

In the back of my mind I’m searching for a new life (and a new name) for Rebecca, as she deals with the death of her father. And I’m permanently in New Zealand with Claire, remembering the three separate times I visited; as an independent traveller, a tour bus sheep and a honeymooner.

By the way, did you spot the cameo in yesterday’s Claire instalment? To try and get my mind in the right place for writing amid the chaos I read some of my travel journal and came across this:

“I drove from Franz Josef Tuesday morning. The weather was beautiful but cold. I stopped at Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier, and walked round it: passed all the Magic Bus sheep which made me again really appreciate how great it is having my own car! I walked all the way round so I could go to the view of views: Mt Tasman & Mt Cook both reflected in the lake; but it was full of loud kiwis, so I left!”

As an aside, it’s funny how much you can dislike your former self – even more so when you realise you haven’t changed as much as you’d hoped. My journal from eleven years ago is full of me whinging about my fellow travellers and feeling like I’m a freak with no place in the world. I came across this nugget:

“The more I travel, the more I realise how little I have in common with people, how few people I like, and how few seem to really like me. No more turning into Dad [he hated the world and everyone in it much of the time] – I have arrived!”

Anyway, I digress. The problem with a life in layers is I am also living all the layers of emotion. As most of my novels are in some part based on my own life experiences, albeit transmuted and transformed, I truly live the events alongside my protagonists. I’ve been to the beach at the end of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, so I can imagine I’m there too. I’ve been to New Zealand several times in different roles. I keep flicking through photo albums to help me with my writing and ending up lost in the past.

Puzzleworld on Magic Bus Tour 2002

Puzzling World on Magic Bus Tour 2003

It’s all good for my writing, but not so much for my day to day life. I end up dreaming epic fantasy adventures with dragons and fight scenes where I also forget to pick my child up from preschool. Or I’m trying to figure out the details of my son’s birthday cake (he wants a shark – in the end we settled for a football) while also wondering whether Claire should meet some more people before she comes home from New Zealand. I’m cooking stew and writing a guest post on postnatal depression in my head. And we know I walk the dog while mentally or physically writing hundreds of words.

Sometimes I wonder if this is what it feels like to go mad. Certainly I don’t feel entirely sane. I feel like all the words and scenes and chaos in my head are seeping out. I couldn’t plait my daughter’s hair this morning because I was overwrought and my hands wouldn’t work. Why? Because the vivid scenes from my dream, where I healed the good queen only to have her turn into a wicked monster who made me miss a school pick-up, were still swirling round my sleep-deprived brain.

I guess the upside is I don’t have to worry about no one liking me anymore, or not being able to make friends: I have a permanent posse of people with me at all times. Unfortunately they’re all a version of me, so we don’t always make the best companions. Thankfully their male counterparts and best friends are usually rather good company.  Who needs a life when you can write one?

I wonder if you keep hold of all the characters when you’ve written ten books, or twenty or fifty? My head could become very cluttered place if some of them don’t go away! At least I’ll never be lonely.

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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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“Aren’t you coming into Puzzling World?”

Claire looked from Bethan’s eager expression to the building with the illusion tower outside that people were pretending to hold up, as if it were the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Except this wasn’t Italian architecture, it was a money trap for tourists.

“No thanks, this isn’t my idea of New Zealand, any more than tobogganing down a sand dune or racing round a track on an aerial bike. I’m exhausted by the endless ways we’re encouraged to part with our cash.”

“Oh, come on Claire, lighten up. You are a tourist, you know. You’re only here for a few weeks, why not experience as much as you can?”

“Because I’m skint, and I’m tired of being a sheep and it’s all a con.” Claire saw the smile slip from Bethan’s face and stopped her rant. “I’m sorry, ignore me. I’m tired. I was up late, thinking about stuff. You go on; I’m going to catch up on my email.”

Bethan shrugged and ran ahead to join the rest of the group. Claire felt a pang as she watched her leave. She’d meant every word, but she hadn’t intended to belittle Bethan’s enthusiasm.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. This is a trip of a lifetime and I’m being a complete grouch. What’s that kiwi song? Weather with you? We’ll I’ve certainly brought my black clouds with me.

Finding a bench in the weak wintry sun, Claire zipped up her jacket before loading her emails, expecting only blog comments and junk. When she saw Conor’s name her heart gave an odd lurch. He hadn’t texted for a while, and she only now realised the hole left by the absence of his happy messages. Her heart thudded uncomfortably as she loaded the email.

Hi Claire

I’ve spoken with my boss regarding my wish for you to join the company, knowing that you are reluctant to curtail your travels in order to take a full time position.

The Board have agreed to offer you a temporary contract that will also incorporate an element of hands on research. This will entail visiting hostels and tourist attractions in the surrounding counties to undertake a benchmark exercise on where Isle of Purbeck tourism sits at present.

At the end of three months you will be expected to prepare and deliver a presentation of your recommendations, including your vision for the future of Purbeck Tourism. The following three months will be spent drawing up implementation plans from your findings.

If this is of interest to you, please let me know as soon as possible. I understand that you are still travelling in New Zealand – perhaps there is something to be learned from their tourism and attractions also?

Extension of your contract will be dependent on your recommendations and implementation plans being accepted by the Board.

I look forward to hearing from you regarding this matter.

Conor

Claire read the message several times to ensure she had understood it correctly. Conor’s formal business language made it hard to grasp the full extent of the deal. At last she gathered that he was offering her everything she could want and more.

I get to continue travelling and get paid? The man’s a magician.

The idea that Conor was trying to impress her flitted through her mind, only to be dismissed. There was nothing in his demeanour or his communications to suggest anything other than a working relationship, albeit it a much more lighthearted and friendly one than she’d ever managed with her former boss. Claire tried to imagine Carl sending her jokes by text, and laughed at the absurdity of the thought.

Scanning the message one more time, Claire quickly tapped out a reply.

Hi Conor

How can I refuse such generous terms? I’ll be back home in a week. Jetlag aside, I should be able to start work immediately (I need the cash!)

Looking forward to hearing more about the contract. Off now to investigate one of NZ’s most popular tourist attractions.

Talk soon.

Claire

With a wide smile, Claire slipped her phone into her bag and strode towards the entrance.

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