#Bookadayuk

October is by far the best month of the year.

There’s #stoptober to stop smoking, #soberoctober raising money for Macmillan Cancer Research, not to mention my birthday.

I’ve also just discovered Books Are My Bag, a campaign celebrating brick and mortar bookshops. They’ve come up with the fairly catchy #bookadayuk meme for October – and I’ll be taking part.

For October 1st – a book to curl up in front of a fire with – I am going to go for one of my all-time favourites: The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman.

What’s yours?

(Psst! Follow me on twitter @am_harte!)

bookadayuk

AND THEN I WAS YOU

She was waiting for him outside his front door, wearing one of his old hoodies she’d purloined in the early days of their relationship. Her hood was up, face in shadow, fingers curled into the sleeves.

“Hi,” he said, and even though he knew he should be angry he couldn’t help his tentative smile.

The blossoming jolt of relief froze when she didn’t look up. “We need to talk.”

Her voice was flatter, deeper than he remembered. But she’d been gone for so long that maybe it was his memory at fault.

He unlocked the door and waved her through, found himself staring at her slim black jeans and picturing the legs beneath. Remembered them wrapped around him. She led him into the kitchen — neutral territory — and leaned against the counter with her arms crossed, head down.

He decided to make her wait just to show that he could, and grabbed a can of Coke from the fridge before sitting at the kitchen table. He snapped open the can and for a long moment the only sound between them was the hiss of releasing pressure and the roar of passing traffic. Part of the joys of living near the M1: never-ending noise pollution.

“You’ve been gone weeks,” he said when she didn’t speak.

She still wouldn’t look at him. “I’m not sure how to tell you what’s happened.”

He took a long swig of Coke, wondered if it was the bubbles or the anger that was making his stomach churn. “You didn’t answer my calls. You just… disappeared. I went round to your house and your flatmate said you’d gone on holiday. Holiday.”

“I’ve been in hospital.”

“Yeah, and I’ve been in Canada.”

She sighed, turned to look at the raindrops dappling the window pane. Outside the sun was setting through a layer of uncertain clouds; English weather at its finest. But all he could look at was her, with her figure shrouded by the hoodie. He wanted her to take it off, wanted to remember the curve of her arms. When she turned back towards him he caught a glimpse of her cheek. It looked different. Paler.

“It started…” Her voice faltered. “It started,” she began again, “as a scattering of white flakes across my feet. I rubbed my heel, watched snowflakes of dry skin swirl gently to the floor. Thought nothing of it because I’ve always had hard skin.”

He opened his mouth to speak but she beat him to it.

“Then it spread to my legs. I began to moisturise, exfoliate. Every evening I’d peel off my jeans and watch a shower of skin drift to the floor.”

“I know, I remember,” he said. “What does this have to do with anything?”

She continued without missing a beat, her voice so measured it was riling him up. “When it spread to my chest I went to the doctor. He thought it was a severe fungal infection. He gave me creams — “

“I put those creams on you.”

” — but they didn’t work.”

He spluttered into his Coke. “You said it was getting better!”

Finally, her calm broke. “I lied, and a decent boyfriend would have noticed. It’s been the hottest summer in years and I’ve had to find excuses to wear long sleeves and maxi skirts, and yet more excuses to put you off the only thing you ever seem to think about.”

He stood. “I knew it. You’re always going to hold it against me, aren’t you?”

From the shadows of her hood came another sigh. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair. Can I just… finish what I need to say?”

“Hurry up.”

“When it spread to my face I was admitted to hospital.” Her voice was so small and quiet now he had to strain to hear her over the traffic. “I got sick leave from work, and told you I was going back home for a while. I didn’t think I’d be in there for that long, kept in isolation, tested and studied as every inch of my skin flaked off in ever-increasing chunks. Near the end of my infection, the entire top layer of my skin decided to separate from the rest of me. I was shedding, and as I peeled off the skin of my foot I decided I was losing my mind.”

Guilt constricted his throat. He sat back down, gestured for her to join him, but she stiffened.

“You’re better now,” he said. “You’ll be okay. I promise.”

“I am better. But I’m not the same.”

“I don’t understand.”

“When I was in the final stage of infection, the doctors noticed something strange. The skin underneath wasn’t raw or damaged. It was new. And it was different.” She edged forward, taking great care to sit without exposing so much as an inch of herself. “As the old skin fell off I began a patchwork of skin tones, brown and white.

“I could feel my face peeling so I asked for a mirror. They wouldn’t bring one at first but I begged and begged… The one they brought was only tiny, a handbag mirror barely the size of my palm. I could just about see half my face at any one time, and most of it was still covered in old skin. When they weren’t watching, I picked at a corner and tore off the old skin, and… and — “

She reached up and pushed back her hood, letting it fall to her shoulders. ” — and then I was you.”

There Be Pirates!

The other day I came across the following forum post:

Where to download above ground a m harte?

I have been looking for a reliable way to find and download this book for free, but I so far I got nothing solid. [...]

I am looking for specific titles, and usually they are not classics, like Dorian Gray or Wuthering Hills, but new literature of fact, like above ground a m harte?

So, is there something I am missing, or is there no reliable way to find such interesting books to download for free?

My initial reaction was annoyance.

How could someone want to steal from the “little guy” – the indie author? How could someone want to steal at all?

Buying Above Ground will set you back all of £2. It’s cheaper than a Sainsbury’s meal deal. Come on.

But the calming effect of time has given me a different perspective.

People are working hard to pirate my book, and there is nothing I can do to stop them. While it’s unfair that they want to enjoy the fruits of my labour for free,  they do want to read my novel. Is that not the tiniest bit flattering?

So to all you pirates out there, I say this:

Torrent Above Ground. Heck, ask me for a free copy. I’m glad you want to read it.

But if you can’t — or won’t — pay for my books, then I ask for your support instead.

Post an honest review of my book on your blog, Goodreads, Amazon… anywhere. However long, however short. Just spread the word.

It’ll cost you nothing, and will make a difference to me.

There be pirates, yes. But pirates can have honour too.

Signs You’re Procrastinating

Procrastination affects the best of us — but how can you tell if you’re under its dreaded curse?

This post is for any writers seeking a diagnosis on their procrastination levels. If this sounds like you, please call a doctor immediately.

Are you procrastinating?

You sit at your desk to write, and then…

  1. You find yourself reading nail polish ingredients.
  2. You examine everything else on your desk except for your laptop and/or notebook.
  3. You realise the messiness of your desk is a distraction and tidy everything away.
  4. Making tea or coffee is all of a sudden essential.
  5. You may as well do the dishes while the kettle boils.
  6. You decide that now is the best time to clean your keyboard. With a toothpick.
  7. You finish your tea and make a sandwich.
  8. You look up the origin of sandwiches on Wikipedia.
  9. Twitter is somehow open despite a personal promise not to use social media.
  10. You spend several minutes reading a blog about procrastination.
  11. You write this post.

Oops… guilty as charged.

(Psst! I shall be without internet for a couple weeks, so if I don’t reply don’t get offended!)

LOUD DREAMS

They woke her every night, those dreams, so loud she was sure her eardrums would shatter.

She’d open her eyes and the ringing was deafening, the tinnitus whispering memories of sounds she could no longer remember.

Every night her hand would tremble in the dark, grope desperately until it found either her glasses or the light switch. (She preferred glasses first; hunting for glasses with the light on forced her to confront her blindness.)

She was lucky tonight: her fingers closed around a cold metal frame. When she slipped her glasses on, the shadows in the room took shape. There was the light switch. There her dresser. With the tinnitus still ringing in her ears, she took comfort in the familiarity of her surroundings.

One flick of the light switch and she crawled out of bed, slipped her feet into the slippers waiting loyally by the bedside. A moment’s pause to catch her breath, then she shuffled across the room.

Nestled in a padded box on her dresser was her second most prized possession: her hearing aids. She stood in front of the mirror and gently wrestled them into place. The tinnitus vanished, replaced by a deafening silence that slowly evolved into a gentle tick tick tick.

On the bedside table was her first most prized possession: a large wristwatch that had belonged to her husband. The sound had driven her mad in her youth, and now was the only thing keeping her sane.

When she crawled back into bed, she propped herself up against the headrest and fell asleep upright, lulled by the ticking of silence.

Inspired by musical ear syndrome.

Putting Pen To Paper

I come today with a statistic:

You will write a novel 50% faster using a computer, but will be 85% more likely to finish if you write longhand.

Here’s another one:

42% of statistics are invented.

Regardless of the evidence behind a statistic, their real beauty is in making us think. Do I actually write faster with a computer? Should I be considering writing longhand?

It turns out that I am far from the first to have these questions. I found a case study examining how people’s writing environment affects the way they write (via Livia Blackburne).

Participants were asked to write two reports, one on the computer, and one with pen and paper. They were given the same amount of time and preparation for each; all that changed was their writing implements.

The study observed that those writing on a computer took half the time and wrote 20% more. However, their writing style was more fragmented, with frequent pauses mid-sentence. Those writing with pen and paper would only pause between sentences or paragraphs, however their pauses were longer.

More interestingly (for me), revision methods differed between typers and writers: those using a computer made 80% of their revisions in the first draft, whereas the pen-pushers only made 50%.

If you write with pen and paper, you’ll spend less time fussing over the first draft and just get on with it.

Yes, you’ll have to do more revision later on. But coming from someone who’s struggling to get a first draft finished, the old tools of the trade are starting to look oh-so-appealing.

Who knew that the infernal inner editor I’ve mentioned before could be put off so easily? You can’t easily move paragraphs around on a piece of paper, and the inner editor is far too lazy to get involved.

What are you waiting for? Let’s put pen to paper.

GUN GIRL

“This was NOT what I agreed to.”

Chris had already settled deep into the sofa, controller in his hand, video game loading. “Come on, Susie. I said we’ll talk, so we’ll talk. We’ll just play video games at the same time. My time’s precious, you know. Multi-tasking is where it’s at.”

She sat reluctantly into a crease made by another bum. A bigger bum, she decided snarkily, wiggling to get comfortable before the I’m-a-bitch guilt could kick in.

(Ex-girlfriends are fair game, she sternly told her conscience.)

“This game is incredible,” Chris said, handing her the console. “I’m utterly hooked.”

How it differed from any other point-and-shoot game was beyond Susie, but she smiled and nodded. When Chris wasn’t looking, she wiggled further across the sofa, doing her best to iron out every trace of his ex.

“So,” she began, “how’ve you been holding up?”

He tensed, wouldn’t look at her. “Fine. But about this game–“

“You haven’t left the house in a week, Chris. People are worried. I’m worried.”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. It’s not because of…” He couldn’t even bring himself to finish the sentence. “It’s this game, honestly. It’s largely formulaic, until it’s not, and then it’s–“

Time to change tactics. She aimed at the approaching zombies. “Firing laser gun! Poi poi poi!

“–WOW. Wait a minute.” He hit pause, stared at her. “Laser guns do NOT go poi. They go… umm… pew?”

She raised her eyebrow. “Mine’s a Japanese model. It’s the best of the best.”

“Whatever they do, it’s not poi.”

“You know what? I’ll forgive you for not knowing the truth.” She put down her controller and turned to face him. “Laser guns are mostly used in deep space, where no one can hear your gun go pew. But if they could, they’d know that you’d bought a Chinese rip-off.”

He rolled his eyes. “Surely Chinese guns go pong.”

“Now you’re just being racist.”

He cracked a smile, then, the first genuine smile since she’d arrived.

The silence between them stretched, held.

“You couldn’t have known she was a fake,” Susie said gently. “But you’re better off without her. You deserve the best.”

His smile trembled. “Poi poi poi from here on out.”

“Exactly,” Susie said, before hitting play and killing more wide-assed zombies.

THE STRANGE FAMILIARITY

The love is gone.

When she looks at him, striding towards her across the busy square, she is looking at a stranger. Even the pigeons disown him, scattering from his every footstep.

In the intervening months his hair has grown longer than she’s ever seen it before. But even though it is he who has been off travelling the world, she is the one who has changed.

The kiss he drops on her lips is impersonal. How much of that is in her mind and how much of it is him?

“I missed you,” he says.

“I missed you, too.” The you she remembers, not this man before her. The strange familiarity of his scent disconcerts her; when his fingertips brush her arm she feels vulnerable.

She lets him take her hand because that’s what they used to do, and walks with him through the crowds of tourists and cajoling street vendors. The air is hot and heavy. Perspiration beads on her upper lip.

They turn down a narrow side street lined with canopies. Tucked away down an alley is their usual cafe, too small and grubby on the outside to attract  tourist attention. It has no AC either; the fans swinging in lazy circles overheard are barely more than decorative.

Months ago they’d agreed this place served the best coffee in town. Now she sits opposite him grimacing through each sip and wonders what else has changed.

He speaks at length about his travels, the things he’s seen and the people he’s met. His speech is as slow and measured as she remembers, his gestures as grandiose. But their familiarity has passed the threshold of affection. His every character quirk is now another aspect to dislike.

When he presents the gift to her, with a flourish, she wonders how many others he has bought.

He finally notices her expression and says: “You know.”

Her neck stiffens, but she manages to nod. “How long…” The question isn’t worth finishing.

“I’ll be moving in a month… and you know how I feel about long distance relationships. They don’t work.”

She stares. This isn’t the answer she’s expecting.

“Look,” he says, “I know I should have told you months ago, but… You knew I wouldn’t stay in this town forever. We’ve still got a month left. Why don’t we enjoy it, and worry about the rest later?”

“You’re moving.” The words are flat and hard and not the slightest bit shaky. “I didn’t know.” Now she can truly see how much his familiarity has blinded her. She pulls her hands out of his reach, folds them in her lap.

Finally she has the strength to say the words that have burned inside for months: “Have you told all the other girls you’re stringing along, or am I the first to know?”

ACRIMONIOUS

It started slowly, his cheeks reddening, his eyelids twitching with the pressure. Droplets of sweat rolled down his forehead, beading in his eyebrows.

The air was hot and sticky, the glass table between them an iceberg. Louise lay her hands on the table and stared at him until the cracks began to show.

His cheeks pushed together as if an invisible band was wrapped around his head. His eyes bulged, his wheezing breaths grew laboured, and the musky stench of fear rolled off of him in waves.

There! A hairline crack on his forehead as his skin began to tear. Another crack, and another–

–and then his head imploded.

Only his lower jaw remained intact as blood and brains spattered across the room, painting polka dots across the table.

Her lips were salty with blood.

“What are you staring at?”

Snapped out of her daydream, Louise smiled coldly and stared at her husband straight in the eye.

“Nothing,” she said. She picked up the a fountain pen and signed the divorce papers with a flourish.

How To Start Writing Again

I’ve been thinking about how to rediscover the joy of writing.

How do I recapture that feeling, that nervous excitment as the words flow, that sense of urgency?

The answer escaped me until I sat down to write this post. Because right now, I’ve recaptured that feeling. I’m enjoying writing this post in a way I haven’t enjoyed writing my novel.

So the real question isn’t how to rediscover the joy of writing, but how to rediscover the joy of writing my novel.

What is it about this blog post that makes it so fun to write?

What is it about my novel that makes it so hard?

The other night I had a cathartic rant about my recent burn out, and Steve Green replied with the following:

“[When] you are writing for yourself, for the sheer love of writing, then the payback will be all positive.”

I think back to the days when my productivity was highest and realise it’s when I wrote Above Ground, when each week I posted a chapter online with no further expectations.

Yes, the first draft was appalling. Yes, I rewrote it twice before “properly” publishing it. But a first draft isn’t meant to be perfect; it’s meant to capture the joy of writing that particular story.

This blog post is so fun to write because I don’t expect it to go anywhere other than my website. Because it doesn’t matter whether people love or hate it. Because I am writing just for myself.

Rediscovering the joy of writing only takes one step.

Kill your infernal inner editor — the one heaping expectations on your WIP — and write for yourself. For the sheer love of writing.

Someone get me a gun.