Bringing Scenes to Life: 2013 365 Challenge #325

Satellite view of St Mawes Castle

Satellite view of St Mawes Castle

As part of my writing challenge this year, I have had to do a lot of research on the locations that Claire visits in Two-Hundred Steps Home, to make it plausible. Of course I could have made her journey entirely fictional, but that would have been considerably harder for me.

Because, while I can write dialogue in my sleep, I cannot visualise places. My brain, my imagination, doesn’t think in 3D or in colour.

Even when I’m reading a well-described fantasy novel, I struggle to picture the scene being described. And I’m okay with that.

I read for characters, for dialogue and stories and action. I’m not overly fussed about what a castle looks like, or how the armies are set out on the battlefield. Tell me a mystical city is beautiful and has spires and walkways, and that’s enough. No need to describe it in detail, I’ll only pull myself out of the story trying to build the picture in my mind, and get frustrated when I fail.

A house Claire could buy in Cornwall

A house Claire could buy in Cornwall

However, not everyone is like me, happy to exist inside a vague grey mist when they read. Some people like to be able to see the scene, to know the sea is visible in the distance, or whether the building is Georgian or Victorian or Modern.

Not only that; having characters exist in a three-dimensional space makes the action work. If a character is moving, even if it’s only drinking a glass of wine, it pulls the story forward.

My inability to visualise places used to be a major cause of writer’s block. I’d try and figure out what a character’s house looked like, and whether the phone was in the lounge, or if the post fell on the mat or into a box, and it would paralyse me.

Then I discovered the wonders of research and stealing appropriation, and I’ve never looked back. In the UK the main property website is Rightmove (although there are others). If I need a house for a character, I pop on Rightmove and find one.

Reviews on Tripadvisor

Reviews on Tripadvisor

I usually have an idea whether my characters live in a cottage or an apartment, what they might be able to afford, and I generally have a city or town or village in mind. When I’ve found the right one, (and pulled myself away from dreaming about cottages in Cornwall or houses in Wales) I print out the details (important because they disappear off the website when the house is sold, and are gone forever), and put it in a scrap-book.

In Finding Lucy, (my first, though still unfinished, novel), I have the floor plans and everything for Lucy’s grandmother’s house. I know where the TV is, and the telephones. I don’t worry quite so much about that level of detail now, although it is useful for adding depth to a scene.

For example, instead of “Lucy ran down the stairs to answer the phone,” I can write, “Lucy took the steep stairs two at a time, knocking her hip against the breakfast bar as she reached for the phone. She kept forgetting her grandmother’s cottage was so darn small.”

Another thing I’ve found useful is Google Streetview. Looking at a two-dimensional photograph of a location is useful, but it can be misleading. If you go to streetview, though, (assuming the location is covered), you can literally walk down the road and spin round for a 360 view. You can see that there is a cemetery across the road, or that the bus stop is dirty, or that there are cars parked all along the street.

Streetview of St Mawes car park

Streetview of St Mawes car park

You can even get an idea about the weather. For a recent scene in THSH, it had been sunny all day in the story. Then I “drove” the road out to the hostel, as Claire did in a towering rage, and the streetview photos had stacked clouds along the horizon. Hey presto, her rage is mirrored by the approaching storm.

Incidentally, for Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes, which is set in London, I actually visited the street where I had located Helen’s apartment. I walked her route to the tube station and sat in the park where she first thinks she might be pregnant. It added extra detail, such as the smells and sounds, and how close the buses got to the pavement. You can’t beat first hand research, but I’d have to put in a lot of miles to follow Claire’s journey around the UK!

Hostel Claire's in currently

Hostel Claire’s in currently

The final site I go to often for internet research is Tripadvisor, particularly for the places that Claire visits. I’ve never been to the Eden Project, Pendennis Castle or even Cornwall for that matter.

The YHA website has a few reviews and things to do, but for variety it helps to read a lot of different perspectives. Tripadvisor is how I found out that the Eden Project has a problem with queueing because of gift aid or how the English Heritage will ask you if you want to pay a thousand pounds for lifetime membership.

There isn’t a single activity that Claire has done, or a café that she’s visited, in the UK or New Zealand, that isn’t based on fact. I’ve even been known to check the opening times of the Starbucks and write the story around it! If you wanted to, with some planning, you could follow in Claire’s footsteps for about 95% of the story.

I try and get two or three reviews that agree before I write something (I’m always a bit worried about libel!) but it would be easy enough to make the place fictional, just to be safe. Reviews are brilliant, because they’re genuine and colloquial and so very varied. Two people can visit the same place, in the same week, and have completely different experiences, based on how easy it is to get in, the weather, who they are with, and their expectations. There’s half your story written, right there.

The world is at your fingertips, with a good internet connection and some patience. Sometimes it feels like cheating. But I prefer to call it research! 🙂

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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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“Hello, how’s it going? I thought I’d call and make sure you’re still alive. Or, more to the point, that your brother is. The look on your face when you left the restaurant was something to behold.”

Claire cradled the phone to her ear and looked across to see if the boys were listening. They appeared to be engrossed in some car show on the TV. Even so, Claire kept her voice low as she replied to her boss’s question.

“We’re all still alive. Just. Have you any idea how far you have to go to find a McDonalds in Cornwall? Robert’s gone back to Geneva.”

“With a flea in his ear?” She could hear the grin in Conor’s voice.

“I never understood that phrase. But if you mean did I let him know I was cross with him: I tried. Might as well attempt to chastise an elephant for all the good it did me.”

“And the boys? Do you think you’ll cope?” The tone of concern in his voice was almost masked by the humour, but not quite. It made Claire’s stomach twist and squirm.

“Jack will be fine. He’s a nice lad; open and enthusiastic, if a little eager to emulate his brother.”

“And the other one?”

“Alex. Hmmm. Let’s say he’s practising hard for his teenage years. If the chip on his shoulder gets any bigger he’ll fall out of his bunk at night.”

“Must be tough, not having a settled home at that age. He might even have girl trouble.”

“At twelve?” Claire’s voice rose, and Jack glanced at her before turning back to the screen.

“Oh, yes. Didn’t you say they were at boarding school? Is it mixed? Not that that matters. Twelve was about when I, well, never mind.”

“Twelve?” Claire felt the blood drain from her face. “Seriously?” She tried to remember how old she was when she first even noticed boys. Then she realised it wasn’t the conversation to have with her boss, and she coughed. “Anyway, if that’s it, I’m sure it will blow over. They’re only here for a fortnight.”

“Did you want me to come out with you guys tomorrow, help you ease into it a bit? I’ve got brothers and nephews; I might be able to help.”

The surge of gratitude warmed Claire from her toes to the tips of her fingers. Then she realised what impression it might give and the words of acceptance died on her lips.

“Think of it as a work assignment,” Conor added, apparently as an afterthought. “We can go visit a castle or something and take notes together.”

“Are you checking up on me?”

“Would I? No, you’d be doing me a favour, actually. I’m meant to be going to Mass in the morning, for the baptism of some random cousin in Birmingham. I can live without it. Mum thinks because I’m in the same country I should go.”

“Same country, yes, but Birmingham is miles away. Is that why you came to St Austell; to hide? You don’t have a work appointment at all, do you?”

“You’ve found me out, I confess,” he said, then fell silent.

Claire’s mind filled with conjecture. Escaping a Baptism seemed a flimsy excuse to drive all the way to Cornwall. She didn’t want to think about it too deeply, so she said, “Well, if you’re sure, that would be great. Thanks.”

They agreed a time and place to meet in the morning and hung up the phone. Claire curled into the corner of the sofa and let her mind wander.

*

Claire’s heart gave a little hiccup when she saw Conor strolling towards them. It had been a difficult morning already and it wasn’t yet ten o’clock. Alex and Jack had bickered non-stop over breakfast, and then Alex had refused to come with them to the castle, insisting he was old enough to stay at the hostel by himself. He tried to hide it, but Claire saw him with a phone clutched in his hand, and she began to suspect that Conor might have been right.

Damn him.

The boys had moaned all the way up from the car park and now, looking at the site from the outside, Claire thought they should probably have gone back to Pendennis Castle, on the other side of the water.

“Top of the morning to you.” Conor said in greeting as he approached, and Claire recognised the jovial Irish man act he’d put on for her mother, what felt like months ago.

She rolled her eyes at him, then gave him a meaningful look, trying to convey some sense of the morning they’d had. He gave a tiny wink, barely more than a crinkling of one cheek, and turned to face the children.

“Hello, I’m Jack.” Claire’s youngest nephew said brightly, holding out his hand. Conor shook it formally then turned to face Alex.

“And yer man must be Alex. Pleased to meet you.” Conor had the sense not to hold out his hand to be left hanging. Alex stood with his hands buried deep in his jeans pockets and stared at the ground. With a twinkle in his eye, Conor winked at Claire again.

“Shall we go in?” Claire said, leading the way to the entrance and trying to ignore Alex’s fit of the sullens. She’d hidden most of Robert’s money at the hostel, retaining enough to pay for their tickets and lunch. When she handed over the fifty-pound note to a suspicious cashier, Conor sidled up behind her.

“Big brother flashed the cash then? At least you haven’t got to pay for his grumpy kids as well.”

“You mean Alex? I think you might have been right,” she murmured. “He’s been clutching his phone like a lifeline all morning.”

“Ah, love’s sweet torment.”

She blushed hotly and she turned away in confusion. With a throaty chuckle, Conor moved to stand by Jack. She heard him ask about the boy’s home town and school, and felt able to breathe again.

Just what game is he playing?

Whatever it was, she wished she knew some of the rules.

***

YHA Not? 2013 365 Challenge #317

Girl on the beach Perranporth by Gary Rogers

Girl on the beach Perranporth by Gary Rogers

One of the unexpected side effects of writing Two-Hundred Steps Home has been learning all about the YHA and the many beautiful places you can visit in the UK. Even though I’ve lived here all my life, aside from a year in New Zealand, I’ve only visited a handful of places: the Lake District, Snowdonia, Dorset. I’ve lived in Manchester and Leeds and I’ve been to some lovely towns for weddings. That’s about it.

Using the YHA hostels as a framework for Claire’s travels was unintentionally inspired. The UK may not be a huge country but there is plenty to see (and write about). The difficulty is that there is no clear ‘route’.

When I travelled in Australia and New Zealand there was a general sense that you followed the coast round, or you hopped on an Experience bus that followed a preset route. I don’t know if there is an equivalent in the UK – having never been a tourist here – but I did meet plenty of people on my travels who thought Britain was just London, with maybe York, Edinburgh and Stonehenge thrown in for good measure.

Sharpitor, Salcombe by Graham Taylor

Sharpitor, Salcombe by Graham Taylor

If I were to travel around the UK, as I did around New Zealand, then I think the YHA hostels map would be a great place to start. They go to all the major destinations (although there do seem to be restrictions such as some are only available in the school holidays). In many cases the hostel is actually a spectacular building loaded with history, (if sometimes in need of some TLC, if the reviews are anything to go by).

When I have travelled in the UK it has never occurred to me to stay in a hostel – I’ve always opted for B&Bs or discounted hotel rooms – but I really wish I had. It’s almost too late now: the unfortunate thing about hostels is that they’re only really cheap when you’re travelling alone. With two adults and two children – once you add in breakfast – it can be cheaper to stay in a Travelodge, although infinitely lacking in soul.

Even so, I can see Family Martin fulfilling a long-held ambition of mine to visit Cornwall next summer. I think the hostels that Claire has recently visited will be high on our must-stay list, although I might think twice about the Eden Project, unless someone’s implemented Claire’s Gift Aid idea!

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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 looked around the bunkhouse with a smile. It wasn’t at all what she had expected. Her room was cosy, and she had been able to grab the proper bed in the corner, instead of one of the bunks. It would be nice to spend the night knowing no one was sleeping above or beneath her.

In the kitchen a cluster of small pine tables waited patiently for the next meal time. The farmhouse cottage feel enveloped her like a warm hug. In the courtyard a family sat eating a late breakfast, their bikes lined up ready for their day of activity.

Leaving her things in her room, Claire followed the advice of the bunkhouse manager and headed off to find the woodland walk into the village. The sun beat down on her bare arms and she thought it might be nice to be in the cool of the trees as the burning orb climbed up to the zenith.

Then lunch in the village, back to the hostel for the car, and off to explore the museum and the castle if I can manage it.

After taking a few sneaky hours to go surfing the day before, Claire felt a stab of guilt that she’d been slacking on work time. If she had to endure seeing Conor the following day, she wanted to make sure she had plenty to talk about. Even the woodland walk was a luxury, but it was difficult to know what to do with her time when she had such loose guidelines from her boss.

As she had hoped, it was cool beneath the trees and she made good time striding along beside the gurgling brook. All too soon the path left the shelter of the woods and came out in a residential road. Claire prayed it would be easy to find her way into the centre of the village as she paced along the path, her arms swinging at her sides.

Even as she walked, her mind clung persistently to the image of the hostel she’d just left. Something about the cottage atmosphere of the place wrapped itself around her, creating a hot sensation in her stomach that felt like yearning.

Oh good lord, I’m not getting all Cath Kidston, am I? I’ll be wearing a floral apron next, and be studying my Jamie Oliver cookbook to learn how to make bread. Oh how Polly, Molly and Sally would laugh. Maybe I’ll start watching Kirstie Allsopp programmes and make a stained glass window for my real oak front door.

The thoughts rang false, like a fake titter at a dinner party, and Claire realised she’d rather like to have a front door to make a stained glass window for. And if it was a little cottage with a scrubbed pine table, rather than a shiny modern flat with all the stainless steel mod cons John Lewis could provide, then that was okay too.

The realisation crashed over her like a North Atlantic wave. When this was all over, she didn’t want to return to her Manchester flat. Her dreams no longer involved Hobbs suits and holidays to the Maldives. Why travel all that way for perfect beaches when there were some right here?

Claire felt as if ice were sliding down the inside of her skin. She stopped suddenly, only vaguely aware that she had arrived at the harbour. She looked around in bemusement, registering the buildings and the harbour wall without really seeing them. It wasn’t a picturesque place, not like some she had visited, but the endless blue skies still shone overhead, lighting highlights in the whitewashed walls.

Suddenly Claire needed to escape. Turning quickly, she retraced her steps through the town and practically ran back through the woods to the bunkhouse. She wanted to lose herself in castles and museums, reports and recommendations, anything that would distract her brain from the images it insisted on creating. Images of a future she could no longer afford. Even a tiny cottage by the sea in this part of the world was far beyond her reach now.

Not unless I went back to work for Carl.

She shivered and ran on.

***

En Guard! 2013 365 Challenge #298

Fencing Lesson

Fencing Lesson

I took little man to his first solo class for the first time today. Actually, pretty much his first class ever, aside from swimming lessons when he was a baby. It’s difficult to do activities with two children of different ages and temperaments. Now my daughter is at school, though, it’s time to stop being rubbish and let the boy have some fun.

I saw an advert for fencing lessons on the FB page of the school we were going to send our daughter to, until we opted to keep her with her friends. One of the plus points of the school, for me, had been the fencing lessons – given by a former champion. Turns out the children don’t have to attend the school to go to the classes.

I was nervous before the class, unsure how my little Mummy’s Boy would cope. Actually it was probably me who did the wrong thing to begin with. I sat too near and found myself acting as supplementary coach, reinforcing the teacher’s instructions. A gentle admonishment later, from the charming Kiwi instructor, and I took myself off to sit with the other mums.

Adorable Preschoolers

Adorable Preschoolers

More challenges for me there, as I got chatting about it being my son’s first class and had to endure the guilt of the mum next to me talking about all the things her daughter does. I have to remind myself that I made a conscious decision NOT to do loads of activities with the children. I did realise, though, that part of my strategy is flawed: I said I would only sign them up to classes for things they expressed an interest in. But how can they show interest in something they’ve never seen before?

I also made the tactical error of showing my son videos of children fencing, to set his expectations before the class. As a result he was a bit miffed to be led around on a wolf hunt, being surreptitiously taught the right way to move his feet and hold his epee, and kept running back to sit on my lap. Once they got to the ‘proper’ fencing, though, he was a happy boy. Who knows? He might be 2024 Olympic champion! Not that I’m a pushy parent, of course. 😉

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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. PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION AND, ALTHOUGH BASED IN AN ACTUAL LOCATION, IT DOES NOT FEATURE REAL PEOPLE OR OPINIONS. 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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“It’s beautiful here. You must be gutted that it’s closing down.” Claire looked over at the manager, then back out the window at the view. “The thing I love about the YHA hostels is that so many of them are in amazing buildings or locations like this.”

“Unfortunately some of those buildings are actually owned by the National Trust. If they don’t make money, then you can understand why they might decide to call it a day.”

The manager’s reasonable words didn’t fool Claire. She could hear the bitterness carefully concealed beneath the steady conversational tone.

“Your problem has to be access, yes?” Claire thought about some of the places she’d stayed in during her trip around New Zealand. “Why don’t you pick passengers up from the station? That’s what they do in the sticks in other countries.”

The manager smiled. “And who is going to do that? Or pay for the minibus or the insurance? All these things cost money.”

Claire gritted her teeth and forced a smile. “What about the coastal walk near here, what is it–?”

“The South West Coast Path?”

“Yes, that’s it. Could you set yourself up as a waypoint, with special offers for walkers? There’s a website that organises accommodation for walkers: you could speak to them.”

The manager’s smile lost some of its sparkle. “Luggage Transfers? We’re already on it, thanks.”

Claire flushed and turned away. All her research had filled her mind with ideas, but clearly it wasn’t her place to start preaching to random people. She also saw that part of her report would need to include ways of getting businesses to buy into her recommendations. Wading in, assuming they knew nothing, was not a good tactic. The need for Stakeholder interviews were starting to make sense.

“What changes would you make to enable the hostel to remain open?” She shone a grin at the man, and saw his frown ease a fraction.

“The place needs refurbishing, for a start. The company is pouring millions into doing up the city centre hostels, but what about here?”

Claire sat back and listened to the man spill out his grievances, wondering if it would be too obvious to make notes. As she listened to him talk, her mind ran through ideas for how the beautiful, remote, hostels could be kept open. In New Zealand, the bus tours took willing tourists to out of the way places, providing guaranteed visitor numbers.

Maybe what the UK needs is a Magic or Kiwi bus equivalent, linking these places together and making it easier for people to travel off the beaten track without a car.

She remembered Josh walking to the hostel with Beth and Chloe in the Lake District, relying on public transport to bring them over from Keswick. Her brain lit up like a beacon as the ideas rushed into her brain. While the manager talked on about all the things that could be done for his hostel, Claire’s mind pulled together a vision of the future that  left her skin prickling with excitement.

***

Getting Organised: 2013 365 Challenge #297

My beautifully organised boot box

My beautifully organised boot box

The sun came out this morning, so I decided it was a day to get organised. I started with writing a long to-do list, then clearing emails (almost making the children late for school and nursery – thankfully the other school is on half term, so town is quiet). When I got home, even before writing the post that was already late, I got stuck into getting back some order and control.

I started with my car. My car is my mobile house. It replaces my pushchair and baby bag. Usually I can find anything I need in my car. Recently the only things I’ve found are new life forms. When my sister was over, I failed to find plasters, clean socks or snacks – all things I normally have plenty of. I felt wrong-footed by my inability to save the day.

Car seat crumbs

Car seat crumbs

So, with grand plans of taking the car to the valet people, who clean it inside and out for a tenner, I stripped the car bare. I gingerly deposited mouldy things in the bin, recycled twenty plastic bottles and a ream of scrunched up kids’ drawings (shhh, don’t tell them!) I removed the car seats and tried not to flinch at the bucket of crumbs crushed into the seats. Thank God they’re leather. I carried everything in and sat to write my post.

As usual, moments after clicking publish, I had a ‘like’ from one of my favourite Bloggers, Miss Fanny P. I realised I hadn’t stopped by her blog in a while. Turns out it’s been weeks. I sat reading for two whole hours. Looking up, as I got to the end of the posts, I was horrified to discover it was no longer sunny but bucketing down. So much for getting the car washed, taking the dog on the long circuit, or any of the dozen other sunny-day chores.

Still, I sorted my boot box. Plasters (band-aids)? Check. Spare socks and pants? Check. Port-a-potty restocked? Check. I am, once more, calm and in control. It’s just a shame about the crumbs.

P.S. In a fit of super-organisation, above and beyond my usual energy levels, I vacuumed and cleaned the car myself AND walked the dog (though not the long circuit) in between rain showers. I give myself a gold star. 🙂

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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 looked at the neat stack of printed paper in front of her and smiled. Stretching her neck left and right she wondered what the time was. Her tummy’s growling suggested it was a long time since lunch.

“Excuse me?”

Claire turned quickly and winced as her tight neck muscles protested. Rubbing her hand against the pain, Claire looked in mute enquiry at the librarian she recognised from the front desk.

“I’m afraid the library’s closing now.” The woman’s expression was apologetic, as if the worst thing in the world was interrupting a studious person.

“What time is it?” Claire blinked, her eyes tired from their unaccustomed labour.

“Six o’clock.”

Claire stifled a swear word and thanked the woman, who walked off to gently alert the other people still working around her. Claire quickly gathered together her papers, glad the library had allowed her to write and print her notes. It felt good to be more prepared for meeting her boss the following day. Then her calmness evaporated as she remembered the rest of Conor’s call.

Damn I didn’t call the hostel. He really will despair of me if I can’t even get that right.

Hurrying out the building, Claire searched for her phone and tried to remember the name of the hostel Conor had suggested she stay in for the night. Her breathing quickened as her brain refused to come up with the information. Forced to load the YHA website, Claire hoped there weren’t too many hostels around Plymouth.

In the end it was easy, and she had the number. Deciding to call as she walked, Claire looked around, frowning in the afternoon sun, and tried to remember where she’d parked her car. With a brief prayer to her travel gods that it hadn’t been stolen or towed away, she strode off in what she hoped was the right direction.

“Good evening.” The deep voice startled Claire, as the phone eventually connected.

“Yes, hello,” she said breathlessly, slowing her pace. “I know it’s short notice, but I wondered if you might have beds available for this evening?”

“Yes, we have several. How many did you need?

“You do? Marvellous. It’s just for me.”

“How long will you be staying.”

“Just one night. Will I be able to get dinner as well?”

“Yes, that shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Okay, thanks. I’m just leaving Torquay so I’ll be there in however much time that takes.”

“Follow signs for the National Trust Overbecks, the road is quite steep I’m afraid, but you won’t have any problem parking as it’s after 5 pm.”

Claire thanked the manager for the information and hung up the phone with a sense of relief. Maybe the fiasco could be averted after all.

*

The water stretching out ahead of her sparkled in the evening sun, and white boats bobbed on the waves. Claire felt her mind drawn back to the sandy beach she had driven past, wondering if there was time to stop and take in the view. Her tummy gurgled and she decided to press on to the hostel.

The narrow lane wound up the hillside and Claire had to drag her eyes away from the scenery in order to stay on the road. Conor wasn’t kidding about the view, it was spectacular, overlooking the estuary and surrounded by mature woodland. Negotiating another switch back in first gear, Claire gave her new car a pat on the dashboard.

“Come on, you can do it. I know it’s steep; you’re doing great.”

The car grumbled in reply and Claire eased it around the bend, relieved to see the car park up ahead. Her heart felt lighter than it had in weeks, as she pulled her bag from the boot and went in search of the hostel entrance. Wandering along the path, through exotic trees and down endless steps, Claire thought ruefully that it wouldn’t be somewhere to come with small children, and then wondered what had made her think that.

At last the building came into sight, but Claire turned instead to face away over the water. It was idyllic.

What a shame that they’re closing it. I wonder if they struggle to get visitors: it’s not everyone who would struggle up that lane, and it’s not the most family-friendly location.

She imagined what it would be like coming with Sky; constantly worrying that the girl might have disappeared into the gardens or fallen down the stairs.

I guess a baby would be okay, as long as you had a sling rather than a pushchair.

Puzzled by the odd direction of her thoughts, Claire soaked in the last of the view, then went to check in.

***

The Zen of Cleaning: 2013 365 Challenge #192

My lovely clean kitchen

My lovely clean kitchen

I very much subscribe to the view that life’s too short for housework. Certainly life’s too precious, time is too precious, to be wasted on housework when there are more enjoyable or creative things to do.

Like writing, or designing book covers.

Unless it can be done when the children are playing in the garden, cleaning doesn’t happen. It certainly doesn’t take place when my children are at nursery. Paying ten pounds an hour for them to be looked after, just for me to hoover, is plain silly when I could hire a cleaner for £8 an hour*.

However, when I signed them up for a morning at preschool a week (much cheaper than nursery and too short a time-slot to really get into writing) it was meant to be designated house time. So far it hasn’t. I’ve been catching up on the blog or editing Baby Blues.

Today, though, I spent the morning cleaning and sorting. I have to admit, I feel refreshed even though I didn’t get much done. Two hours wasn’t going to make a dent in the carnage that is my home. However we no longer have a nursing chair in the middle of the kitchen. The dog hair tumbleweed has been sucked from the corners of the hallway, and the dolls house relocated to my daughter’s room, instead of behind the clutter under the stairs.

I confess to spending twenty minutes cleaning and arranging the dolls house furniture. What can I say? It was hot and I needed a breather.

Daughter's new hideyhole under the stairs

Daughter’s new hideyhole under the stairs

As if in some karmic reward, the children gave me 90 minutes to read my book and another hour to clean the kitchen when we got home. My daughter curled up on the nursing chair in it’s new location under the stairs (I can’t quite bring myself to sell it yet) and my son fell asleep in the tidy lounge.

Hubbie even noticed the unprecedented cleanliness when he got home. Brownie points all round. I’m amazed at how calm I feel, just knowing tomorrow’s writing day can be done in a (mostly) clean house. As long as I don’t go near the playroom or our bedroom!

I’d like to say this zen of calm will encourage me to become house proud and tidy but, sadly, I know myself too well. I shall just enjoy it while it lasts.

*We did have a cleaner, but we lasted three weeks before splitting by mutual consent. I couldn’t cope with the two hours pre-tidy that had to take place every Tuesday and she couldn’t cope with my overly high expectations of what could be achieved in two hours!

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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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“Are you coming to the May Day Fete at my school, Auntie Claire?”

Claire looked up from her coffee cup and gazed at Sky until her words penetrated the sleepy fog in her mind. After two nights of little or no sleep, all she wanted to do was go back to bed.

“Yes, do come, Claire. You can write about it on the blog. It’ll be fun. There’s an obstacle course for the children and craft and stuff.”

Sounds like torture, Claire thought. Out loud she said, “Sure, honey. What time?” Her sister’s words registered, and she added, “I don’t have to do the obstacle race, do I?”

Ruth and Sky laughed and shook their heads, the likeness between them emphasised by their matching smiles.

“No, it’s just for the little ones. Your role will be cheering from the side-lines. Although, having read about your space-hopper race, I would have thought you’d romp through an obstacle course.”

“Blimey, sis, you really have read all my blog, haven’t you?”

Ruth flushed. “I told you, it’s my only escape. I follow a few others, too. People further afield. There’s one woman who is travelling across America, hitch-hiking and staying on people’s sofas. I’m glad you’re not doing that, it would terrify me.”

She patted Claire’s hand, then rose from the table.

“Come on Sky, let’s let Auntie Claire have a moment’s peace while we get dressed. We don’t have to leave for half an hour.”

Claire sat in the silent kitchen with emotions roiling in her stomach. Even though she’d opted not to take up Roger’s offer, the idea wouldn’t leave her alone. Deciding she needed to focus on the next leg of her UK journey, Claire pulled the iPad out of her bag and loaded the YHA website.

*

“Come on, Sky, throw your heart over it, you can do it.” Ruth’s voice carried on the wind, along with those of the other cheering parents.

Claire looked across at her and was pleased to see the colour flooding her sister’s cheeks. It was good for her to be outside in the fresh air. Although it wasn’t warm, the sun was shining and there was little wind.

The May Day celebration was being held in a school playing field surrounded by a stone wall and cherry trees, coming into their pink blossom. It was a picturesque English scene, and Claire was surprised at how comforting it was. She realised she had been unconsciously comparing it to how she imagined New Zealand might look.

Stop it! Leave it be, brain, for goodness sake. I am not going.

Sky ran over and wrapped herself round Claire’s knees. “Did you see, Auntie Claire, did you see? I came second!”

Claire forced herself back to the present. Dropping to her haunches, she wrapped her arms around Sky and gave the girl a quick hug.

“Eugh, you’re all sweaty, Sky!” She laughed, to take the sting from her words.

“I’m hot, too. Can I have an ice cream, Claire, pleeeaassee?” She opened her eyes wide and hopped up and down.

“If your Mummy says you may, yes.”

Ruth nodded, and Claire led Sky towards the ice cream van parked in the corner. Sky’s hand warm in hers.

I’ll call Roger tomorrow. Tell him thanks, but no thanks.

With a sigh, Claire joined the queue for ice cream.

***

My Problem with Pinterest: 2013 365 Challenge #161

My scrapbook for Finding Lucy. All images are from istockphoto © David Meharey

My scrapbook for Finding Lucy. All images are from istockphoto     © David Meharey

Last year I wrote a post about my love affair with Pinterest. I discovered it fairly late and immediately saw the potential for writers: a way to explore characters, connect with readers and a means to replace the scrapbook for storing ideas.

I quickly filled several boards with all the images I had on characters, locations etc for my novels. Then I started reading about people being sued for breach of copyright, And I got cold feet. The boards were stripped of all but photographs I had taken, or ones with a Creative Commons licence. I had assumed (wrongly) that, because Pinterest links back to the pinned source, copyright wouldn’t be an issue.

I was gutted, as it made scrap-booking much easier. No printing, copying, storing: just a quick click and a note and there it was for everyone to see. But, as someone who has worked in compliance before, the idea of breaching copyright terrifies me. So I went back to saving bookmarks and putting images in Word files. For a while I did post blog images on Pinterest (most pictures on the daily blog are mine or CC) but I’ve forgotten my logon and now my boards are dormant and bereft.

Cover and key story line of Finding Lucy

Purchased Cover Image and key story line of Finding Lucy

Then, today, I found the scrapbook I made for my first (unfinished) novel, Finding Lucy, and it occurred to me that Pinterest would never replace a decent scrapbook.

Instead of mourning a missed opportunity I need to stop being lazy and keep up with my scrapbooks. I look at the detail of my original scrapbook and realise having the same for all my other novels would be amazing. Because it’s all there.

All the stuff that ensures continuity and depth and three-dimensional characters. Birthdays, star signs, house layouts, what characters look like – not just one look but many different looks (stock photography is great for that. All the images in my scrapbook above are the same girl as my cover image).

When I get the time to go back and finish Finding Lucy, (the first draft was caught short by the early arrival of my second child), I won’t have to trawl through Word files to remember who everybody is. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m not 100% certain even how old some of my protagonists are for my later novels. For Finding Lucy their birthdays pop up in my phone like real people (It’s Andrew Finch’s birthday today – one of the leading men from Finding Lucy!). I do have notes and character maps for all my books, but they’re buried in Word files. You can’t beat flicking through pages, scribbling notes in the margin. Time to turn my back on digital and do it the old-fashioned way. Pass me the glue..

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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’s wrist throbbed by the time the Sat Nav announced her arrival. I had to sprain my left hand, didn’t I? It doesn’t really matter, these days, hurting the hand you write with. Who writes with a pen anyway? I can type as quick with both hands. Changing gear, though, that I can only do left-handed.

She curled her good hand around the swollen wrist and wondered if the hostel manager would be able to procure her some ice. What did the Doctor say? Something about rest, ice and elevation. Well, I’ve buggered the Rest part, let’s see what we can do about the other things.

Raising her wrist across her chest, Claire kicked the car door shut and headed into the building. As she took in the wide, white walls, the geometric lines and tall sash windows, Claire felt some of the pain ebb away. I might indulge myself and stay a day or two. What is it about these old buildings that exudes calm? Maybe I was born in the wrong century. I hope it’s as nice on the inside.

She walked through the door, and her soul lifted higher. It’s a refurb. God bless the YHA for investing in their properties. All through the building to her room it felt like a new hotel, not a Georgian mansion or a youth hostel. Everywhere she looked there were new fixtures and bright colours.

A bit too bright, she thought, as she headed for the bunk-beds, with their lime-green duvet covers and pillows. She gave the frame a rattle, as she claimed the last available bed. I’m glad I’m on top. It’ll be like sleeping on a boat, but I pity the poor person beneath me. This is going to shake like a bouncy-castle if I have a restless night.

With a look round the empty room, Claire decided it was time to ignore doctor’s orders and visit the bar. A whole weekend of wedding planning and baby talk had left her in dire need of a drink. At least it’ll help me sleep soundly. That should please the girl underneath.

 *

“What’ll it be?”

“Gin and tonic, please.”

Claire looked round the lounge, surprised to see it so full. “Busy, for a Sunday night?”

“It’s quiz night. Most of these are locals.”

Claire scanned the tables again and realised most people were huddled in groups, whispering together. A young Asian man caught her eye, and grinned. “Come and join our team, we could use some fresh blood. Then we might come better than last!”

There was a ripple of laughter from the surrounding tables, and Claire felt herself smile in response. She turned as the barman placed her drink on the counter and told her how much. As she retrieved some money from her purse, she tried to think of a polite way to decline the man’s invitation, should he renew it. For some reason her brain seemed unwilling to come up with an excuse.

Sure enough, as she turned, G&T in hand, the man gave a small wave and patted the seat next to him. Not for the first time, Claire’s feet moved of their own volition, and she found herself hovering in front of the man’s table. He was sat with two other men and a young girl who looked like she might faint if asked to speak.

“Hi, name’s Mizan.” The man who had invited her over half-rose from his seat and held out his hand.

Claire shook it quickly, unsure what to make of the greeting. Is he trying to chat me up, or just being friendly. Deciding it didn’t really matter either way, Claire perched on the spare seat.

She smiled round at the group and was relieved when the others nodded in greeting. Clearly inviting random women to join them wasn’t an unusual occurrence.

“What’s your topic then and, more importantly, what’s your name?” The man next to Mizan spoke, in the soft burr of the Scotsman.

With a flush, Claire ignored the heat generated by the sexy voice, and replied a little too loudly, “Claire, my name’s Claire. I don’t have a specialist subject, I’ve never been to a quiz night before.”

There was a babble of words as all three men exclaimed at her confession. She wondered if she would be ejected from the team, but her value now seemed to be as a curiosity, rather than a participant. Really, is it so amazing that I’ve never joined in a pub quiz? They don’t have them in wine bars and pubs aren’t really my thing.

She sat back, as the quiz master arrived at the front of the room, and supped her drink. The alcohol fizzed its merry way to her brain and spread warmly through her body, carrying with it a wave of contentment.

I won’t be able to contribute, but it beats talking about babies.

***

KDP Select, Yes or No? 2013 365 Challenge #160

Smashwords

Smashwords

I’m thinking of putting Dragon Wraiths back in the KDP Select program. I came out of the program after my three months were up, because I wanted the book to be available for Nook as well as Kindle. I’m trying to be patient – it was only cleared for Premium Catalogue on Friday – but I’ve yet to find it on the Barnes and Noble site, which kind of defeats the point.

For those of you who don’t know, the KDP Select program allows self-published authors on Amazon to have a few extra benefits in exchange for exclusivity. Benefits include a higher royalty rate, the opportunity to offer the book free for five days every three months, and inclusion in the Amazon Prime lending scheme.

I had virtually no copies of my book borrowed in the three months I was a member. While I did have 1200 free books downloaded over the three months, it didn’t result in a mass of reviews or extra sales (unlike fellow author Rinelle Grey), and it doesn’t matter what royalty rate you’re getting if you don’t sell anything. So I opted out.

The depressing brown line

The depressing brown line

However, since doing so, I haven’t sold a single book. Not through Amazon or through Smashwords. Clearly there is some additional marketing or promotion that comes with the select program that is harder to quantify.

Sales aren’t about money for me at the moment. I pay more each month in National Insurance fees to be self-employed than I earn from book sales. But sales give me motivation. As long as I sell a few books each week I feel like a writer. The cost of childcare, the lost opportunity-cost of me staying at home rather than stacking shelves at Tesco, they’re all worth it.

Without those sales, though, I feel invisible. A wanabe. Darn you, Amazon, for catching me in your honey trap. I’ll give it to the end of the month. But if there are still only brown bars on my sales report I might have to rethink.

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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 hugged her friend tightly, feeling already that pregnancy was putting some welcome flesh on her thin shoulders.

“You take care. If there is anything, anything, I can do in the next couple of weeks, please call. It’s important you don’t overdo it.”

“I know: happy pregnancy, happy baby. Mum tells me that all the time.”

Claire hadn’t meant anything of the sort – it sounded like hippy nonsense – but she nodded. Kim and her mother were in a much better position to know what might affect a growing foetus. She’d merely been worried that Kim wouldn’t enjoy her wedding day if she was so tired she fell asleep at 9pm in front of the fire.

“Sorry I have to rush off. I would stay longer, but I’ll have Carl on my case if I don’t start blogging again soon. I’m heading over towards Ludlow, so I won’t be far away. Blogging about a wedding at a hostel is going to be my trump card to keep the bastard off my back for a bit longer.”

“Did you tell him about your wrist?” Kim looked in concern at the still-bandaged hand.

Claire shook her head. “It’s the weekend. Carl has to be home with the kids or his wife will divorce him. That’s why he works such long hours during the week. I’ll email him tomorrow, not that there’s much point. Except I suppose I can write a post on how not to hurt yourself when learning to snowboard.”

Kim reached forward and hugged her friend again. Something in the embrace brought a lump to Claire’s throat. There was too much understanding in her hold. Trust Kim to see beneath the façade. She always did, damn her.

“Where is your next destination,” Kim said, when she eventually let go.

“Stratford-Upon-Avon.”

“Claire, that’s miles away! In Sunday night traffic too. You’re crazy.”

“It was the only hostel with a bed. Besides, it’s only a couple of hours and, once I’m over in the west, or The Heart of England as the YHA calls it, there are loads of hostels to stay in. I’ll be fine. It was that or some eco lodge in the National Forest. I’ll take a lovely Georgian Mansion any day. Maybe they’ll even have a last-minute seat at the theatre.”

“Okay, now I’m a bit jealous. I’ve got rehearsals first thing, all I’ll be doing this evening is sleeping. Well, as long as Jeff lets me.” She gave a knowing smirk. “He’ll be home soon. I’m sorry you missed him.”

I’m not. The thought escaped before Claire could squash it. It wasn’t true, not really. She loved Jeff. She’d even come to terms with how gorgeous he was, and no longer had to have a cold shower every time she saw him. But ten minutes of happy families was ten minutes too much.

“I’ll see him at the wedding. Give him my love.”

She reached forward for a last, quick, hug, and shouldered her rucksack. Time to hit the road.

***