Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Winter Song





Bright winter messages

Glisten on trees

Falling like wraiths

To tingle and tease.

Memories fly by

Lost in a haze

Of smoke and frost circles

From older days.

Take a hand, see a smile,

Touch the same face

That used to look up

In a child’s embrace.

Wait for the moment

Still close and dear

When love then and now

Shyly comes near.

This is the feeling

We wait all year for

Sit close and listen,

Stars, stories and more.



copyright Amanda J Harrington 2013

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Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Wedding.


The look, the touch, the warm embrace
The shining eyes, the loving face
How did we come.so far today
From when we met in Love's own way?

Did we know, then and there
That we had found our matching pair?
Did we dream the night before
Of the heart that waited at the door?
Were we lonely, right.to the time
My eyes met yours and yours met mine?

Today we step together, love
Our lives as one, our words will prove
This moment is for me and you
Our love is treasured, we are true.



copyright Amanda J Harrington 2013

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Friday, 20 December 2013

The New Daughters - free chapters from the First World War family story


In 1918, just before the end of the Great War, Thomasina and her sister Georgina are sent to live with their Aunt Ernestine. With their father dead and their mother turning away from the world, the girls have no choice but to become part of a new family.

Georgina is immediately at home and revels in their country life, but Thomasina is a lonely, determined girl who desperately misses her father and does not want to admit she needs anyone's help. Thomasina's letters to her controlling, narcissistic mother tell the story of how she grows into a strong young woman who finally realises she has a family it is safe to love.

The New Daughters is the third book in the historical fiction series, Hands Across Time. These are the first chapters in the book and link with the final chapters of Ernestine's War. This book is set in South Cumbria, which was still known as Westmorland at the time of the story.

The New Daughters is available on Amazon in the UK and the US.

Feel free to enjoy these chapters but please respect the copyright!

One

Dear Mamma,

When do you send for us? I have waited, as you said, and wondered why we are still here? Aunt Ernestine thinks we are to stay here forever! Please write to her and explain why that cannot be so. Does she not understand we have a home?

Yes, it is true that I turned up at her door ‘like a vagabond’, as you put it. What was the point of staying at school when I was not able to come back after break? I am an outcast there now and I wish I had been given some warning of the change.

I will not discuss what makes you ill, Mamma. I know you do your best and will have us home as soon as you are able.

Georgie is growing a little, though mainly outwards as far as I can see. Mamma, she is a glutton. When she is alone – or thinks herself alone – she goes into the pantry and finds what she calls ‘goodies’ and eats them, like an animal in its den. Mamma, I have explained she will be like a fat toad sitting on a sagging lily pad but she thinks it is funny and runs off. I told her she will not be able to run much longer, either, if she does not hold herself in.

I am glad you asked after my studies. Aunt Ernestine teaches us – it is like being in a different time. I am sure she was quite up-to-date when she was young but now she tries to make us learn things which I have no interest in - it is so far removed from a proper education. Yesterday, we were stacking logs and she tried to tell me it was educational! She said if we did not do it properly, the logs might fall and squash us and this is what she termed an education! I think she is being flippant in the hopes I will warm to her.

Mamma, do think about getting things ready for us. The landing window will not fix itself and I hope my room is not as damp as when I last came home. I am lonely here, without you.
Tommie

Two

Dear Mamma,

Georgie was sick today, after she spent half the morning with Mr Grey, eating anything he offered and then the other half of the morning in Aunt Ernestine’s pantry. She has eaten enough for three small girls for a week. I am afraid I had words with our aunt over it.

She will not see how bad it is to let a child like Georgie away with things. She says that Georgie is trying to – how did she put it? – test us. Well, I say, if she is testing us let her see what happens! If she had behaved like that at my school, she would have been caned and deserved every bit of it! I have no idea why Aunt Ernestine allows it. She tells me to have faith.

Uncle Giles looked today when I was shouting (I admit, I did raise my voice: I have apologised and promised to black-lead all the fires for a month). He is very strange. I do not know why they let you have a helper, Mamma, when you are only a little delicate and then let Uncle Giles wander around without anyone to watch him.

Randalf says that he watches and looks after his Papa, but he is a very small boy and did not know what I meant. I am not surprised to tell you that cousin Giles has kicked me in the shins four times in the past week. He is insufferable.

Let me know when the window is fixed, Mamma. I am quite happy to sleep on the old couch, if need be. My bedroom can wait.
Tommie

Three

Dearest Mamma,

Paul Jesserby came again today. He does the gardens and he takes people around in that old cart of theirs. Everyone here is so countrified! They think there is nothing wrong with climbing up into a rickety cart, with a smelly pony on the front and letting Paul drive them about. I have only seen two cars and I have been here a fortnight. And Mamma, those two cars were together! I do believe I could go weeks here without seeing any cars and goodness knows how long between them going by!

I will be so glad when we can come back down to London. People here are silly, but pretend always to be knowledgeable. I think they believe their knowledge is better than people who come from cities, as if living in a no-where-land somehow makes them more intelligent than people who see true life, every single day. They are fools.

I went to the top of Underbarrow Scar today and watched the world go by. It felt like I was moving when I looked at the clouds scudding past. Paul Jesserby told me the view was ‘grand’ from up there, and he was right. There was a big fuss when I came home as no one knew where I was. I did not expect it to take so long, though I am not sorry for going.

I feel aggrieved today that I am not even allowed into the garden and have been given more housework to do! Mother, I do believe Aunt Ernestine means to make a slave of me. She cannot afford a servant, so she uses me, a ‘big, strong girl’, as she puts it. Perhaps I am big and strong but that does not mean I have to be used like a domestic dray-horse!

If I came home next month, then we could make a start on the front room together. I would not mind being domestic in my own home, Mamma. I would do it, for us as well as just for you. Please reconsider. It is only a month or so until Christmas.

Tommie


copyright Amanda J Harrington 2013

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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Scraps


Scraps



A scrap of knowing
Flutters from above
Waving on the air as it falls.

Gently touches my face
Brushed away in my hurry
Lost again in the maelstrom.



copyright Amanda J Harrington 2013

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Sunday, 15 December 2013

Jump! into Literacy - Creative Literacy for Primary


This book is part of the Creative Literacy series which supports different stages of learning, from general literacy in Primary English through to GCSE literacy support.

Jump! into Literacy has a full and detailed set of comprehension activities, using one complete book, The Boy Who Broke the School.

Jump! into Literacy also includes creative writing and non-fiction writing exercises.

Bullying is covered in a lot of the exercises, as it is a major theme within The Boy Who Broke the School. There is also a separate discussion section which introduces different elements of bullying, helping children to think through the issues involved in it.




Jump! into Literacy is split into three main sections:

Comprehension: Comprehension, literary criticism and language exploration based around one fiction book, The Boy Who Broke the School, by Amanda J Harrington.

Discussions: This section explores the issues of bullying and includes creative writing, non-fiction writing and discussion points.

Original writing: Real life and fantasy writing ideas, designed to help the student practice and develop their original writing and English language skills.

This book is aimed at children aged 9 and over, including older students who need a helping hand with literacy

The free chapter is from the first section of the book and includes comprehension, critical thinking and original writing. Feel free to use this resource but please respect the copyright!

Jump! into Literacy is available in ebook and paperback from Amazon UK and US.


Later that night…

When Daniel gets home, he wants to forget all about meeting the imp (the little man). This extract sets the scene for when things get a little scarier, later in the book.

***

The light glinted off the shiny black surface of the grit the imp had given him. He quite liked the way it shone, like a tiny, sharp, black eye, gleaming at him from his hand. He smiled, then frowned. Had it been this size before? There seemed to be more of it now. That could not be right.

Daniel shook his head. He was not used to letting himself think about things for too long. He looked about the bedroom for something to do, and his hand put the grit back in his pocket without him knowing it.

That night, as Daniel lay in bed, there was a minuscule scraping sound in his bedroom. It was too small to wake him up, only a cat could have heard it, but there must have been something disturbing about it as Daniel began to frown in his sleep and mumble to himself. His dreams had turned bad but he could not wake up.

In the corner, where his trousers had been flung for the night, one pocket came alive for a moment as something moved about in it. The tiniest shape threaded its way out of the fabric and gleamed in the moonlight. It stopped for a moment and there was silence. Daniel relaxed in his sleep. Then it moved again, rolling and slipping across the floor, too quiet to hear, too nasty to ignore, until it reached the open wardrobe. Once there, it was lost in the darkness of Daniel's school clothes.

Daniel turned over in his bed and one arm fell over the side. Even in his sleep, instinct spoke to him and he pulled his arm back under the covers. A part of Daniel's mind that he never listened to did not feel safe in his room tonight.

***

1. Find the places in the extract where we begin to feel that there is something scary starting to happen.

2. In your own words, describe what the stone looks like.

3. Imagine you can see the whole of Daniel’s bedroom: using information from the text, describe what it might look like.

For instance, would it be clean and tidy? Would he have lots of nice things?

4. “It shone, like a tiny, sharp, black eye, gleaming at him from his hand”.

How does this sentence make you feel about the stone?

5. Describe what might have happened if Daniel had woken up while the stone was moving across the floor.

Try to write about him using what you already know of his personality. For instance, he is unlikely to hide under his covers and cry!

 
copyright Amanda J Harrington 2013

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Friday, 13 December 2013

Ernestine's War - free chapter from historical fiction series Hands Across Time


"How can I say, do not take him from me? How can I admit to such selfishness when other women already bear the pain of widowhood? Should I alone be allowed my gentle husband back with me, all in one piece, as if we deserved special treatment? And yet, I do pray for it, all the same. I pray for him here, with me; to hold his hand as we go through the doors and into the garden."

Ernestine is waiting, desperate for news as her husband fights in the War. It is the Spring of 1918 when Ernestine takes up her pen and confides in her diary, the only place where she does not have to be strong in the face of adversity. Here she talks about her hopes for the future, her fears for her husband and all the events, large and small, which overtake her family in the long, last year of the Great War.

Ernestine's War is the second book in the historical fiction series, Hands Across Time and the sequel to Letters from an Edwardian Lady.

Ernestine's War is available in paperback and ebook form in the UK and the US. I hope you enjoy this free chapter but, as usual, please respect the copyright!


Spring, 1918

One

How can I say, do not take him from me? How can I admit to such selfishness when other women already bear the pain of widowhood? Should I alone be allowed my gentle husband back with me, all in one piece, as if we deserved special treatment? And yet, I do pray for it, all the same. I pray for him here, with me; to hold his hand as we go through the doors and into the garden. His fingers covering mine, his wrist soft where my fingertips stray. His face, as I look up from his hand and find he has been watching me. Those eyes, so light and filled with that goodness which grows as a man ages into what he promised as a boy.

Here I am, a silly, thoughtless woman, wishing her husband safely home from a war against other husbands, our own and the enemy. They are all boys at heart, belonging to woman at some stage in their lives. They all looked up or down at a face that called them Love. Knowing there are many out there, alone in the midst of battle, I still wish for mine to come home to me.

There, I have admitted it. I will be wholly selfish here, if nowhere else. I will say what I never dare say in life: not when I pass the shop with Mrs Jesserby working alone, nor the cemetery, with little Mrs Hammond kneeling there, day after day. I will not say it to any other woman, wife, mother or sister, though I do not need to speak the words – our eyes whisper to one another and then we walk on.

What a terrible day this has been! And yet, it was like any other. I could not write here of any incident, large or small, that set my day off-kilter. I baked bread, as I have become used to doing and I went into the village for supplies. I passed the time with old Mr Grey at the corner, his eyes hooded with feeling as he spoke of his sons. I went into the shop and Mrs Jesserby was her usual self – how I envy her, the way she covers all, serving her customers. She would not let me pay in advance again, though I am able.

I came home and found that Randalf had returned before me and broken another vase. For a quiet child, he does ransack a house! It seems as if anything delicate or treasured is drawn to him, pulled into his current until, as they round a corner of the river, either Randalf or the break-easy changes direction and a collision occurs. This time it was the blue vase from Giles’ mother, which I hated, but still cried over.

With a sense of guilt, I sat and wrote her our silly news so that she might be cheered. I heartily wish she would come and live with us. She is alone, now, in their lovely house, with only two servants left and many tasks. Her home could be loved again, or looked-after at least: a local gentleman wanted to buy it for when his family joins him. She will not even rent it out at present, though I hope she changes her mind.

Then I watched in the evening, as Randalf and little Giles played in the far garden. Two small boys, bumbling about in the manner of all young creatures who have not yet found their grace. I can always tell them apart, from any distance. Giles Jnr is the one flailing his arms, cartwheeling, dancing, doing goodness-knows-what and any noises I hear from afar also belong to him. Then a figure nearby, joining in more quietly or standing, watching, is little Randalf. He seems sombre from afar and when I have some worry left, I use it on him and wonder if he is sad after all.

I stand alone and watch them sometimes, and it is myself who is sombre. There is no one here to be with me, as a woman, and call me by my name. In my life I am Mrs Mortimer, or Mamma, or ‘my Dear’ when Mother writes to me. Who is there now to call me Ernestine?

I am done for today. Tomorrow is a new chance to make it right, even though there is little I can do to affect anything. Perhaps this hopelessness is what assails me? I am a wife and mother and have so many powers within my grasp, but I cannot make it so that my husband returns to me and all is well. I am powerless.

Goodnight, little diary, I will go to sleep and dream of last year instead – and hope that next year will be its twin.

copyright Amanda J Harrington 2013

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Saturday, 16 November 2013

Winter Tales: Creative Writing for Kids 3

Following on from the popular Creative Writing for Kids 1 & 2, I decided the next one should be themed around Winter. This gives me the excuse to indulge my love of all things snowy and to have lots of fun with Christmas and New Year ideas too.

There are a mixture of exercises including story writing, poetry and general creative literacy, such as letter writing. There are also two full-length projects, The Christmas Play and The Journey to Winter’s End.

A lot of the exercises have example answers and advice to help children tackle the activities. The emphasis is on having fun, rather than treating it like school work.

All the exercises are flexible and can be used by children of different ages and abilities.

This book is suitable for children aged 7+.

Winter Tales is available in the UK and the US and will be out in paperback soon.

I have two extracts here. One is a short story-starter an the other is part of the book project, Journey to Winter's End. Feel free to use them and enjoy, but please respect the copyright!

Six line stories: Cantankerous Kittens


You are going to write a story in only six sentences. Using the ideas below, make a proper little story with a beginning, middle and end. And don’t cheat by making your sentences extra long!
Try to use at least three of the ideas below in your six line story.
Cantankerous kittens
No cat food
Broken house
Bells and baubles
A little bed
Naughty claws


Book Project: Journey to Winter’s End


We are going to write a book together, called Journey to Winter’s End. Don’t panic, you won’t be writing the whole thing!
Winter’s End is a big old house in the country. It used to be the local manor house but has been empty for a long time. Now it is being repaired and put up for sale. Your main characters go there, searching for proof it should really belong to them. They have to find the proof before Winter’s End is sold and lost to them forever.
Characters
Firstly, you need to create some characters. Think of two main characters then decide if they will be boys or girls. Choose names and start to think about what kind of personalities they might have.
Here is an example to give you some ideas. If you like, use this as one of your characters and then create another yourself.
Barney is 9 years old and very big for his age. He is clumsy and likes to play football indoors. He has messy brown hair and shouts a lot.
Do you see how I have described Barney in both looks and personality? Now you have a clear idea of what Barney is like and can imagine some of the things he might do!
Once you have two main characters, you can either write more about them or move onto the next exercise.

copyright Amanda J Harrington 2013

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Friday, 8 November 2013

Line



Big red phone,
Receiver heavy in my little hand,
Hard to hold steady,
Or understand,
The deepened, dark, night-time voice,
Was my grandfather.

How confusing for a small child,
To hear a much-loved voice,
Contorted by the line.

Stretched between here and there,
Linking what we know and what we remember.
These days, I'm too small to lift the receiver.
It rings in another room.



copyright Amanda J Harrington 2013

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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

It is only the wind




Here is a preview of one of the poems in my new children's book, Twisting Tails of Little Things, which will be out shortly.
The book is a mixture of short stories and poems, all with a scary theme and designed to be read aloud, as well as by yourself, making them very good for atmospheric parties!


It is only the wind

The wind calls my name
With a voice the same
As my own, from another room.

It wants me to leave
And listen to it breathe
It calls to me, ‘Come soon, come soon!’

Don’t answer the voice
Or listen to the noise
Of its fingers tickling the door.

It isn’t the wind as it sighs
Nor the storm, prattling by
It is the night, the moon, the roar

Of creatures we are never meant to see
Of dreams that were not meant to be
Faces rush by, hands reaching out.
Mouths open as you begin to shout,
Laughter, like rain, hair floating out.

Stay here, don’t peek
Don’t see a face, a nose, a cheek
It is just the wind, after all,
There is no night, no lonely call.
There is no step in the hall.



copyright Amanda J Harrington 2013

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Saturday, 19 October 2013

Child-Keeper


Here's an early blast of Halloween for you, which I might turn into a story or book one day. Sorry it's so dark, writing horror cheers me up! I may dress up as this character for Halloween too.


All the children come to me and I carry them,
Close and forlorn
In great, heaving sacks,
Split up the sides so eyes spill out
And hands, gasping for the air
Feel freedom and never touch it.

Small bags at my front
For tiny babes in arms
Whose screams are deafened by the weight
Of my care.

My old and weary body sways,
Stepping sideways, the path always rocky
As the children struggle and send me wide.

Sometimes they shake so that one falls away
And I lose it, even as I grabble in the long grass
Knowing this one finds its way home, safe.

I wonder if they choose the one to live
And combine their efforts to save it?
Watching through gaps with gleaming eyes
As the freed one leaps, limber and quick,
Out of my reach.

I leave it and travel on,
There are always more children.

copyright Amanda J Harrington 2013


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Sunday, 8 September 2013

Letters from an Edwardian Lady - free chapters




Letters from an Edwardian Lady is the first book in my new historical fiction series, Hands Across Time and tells the story of Ernestine, the editor of a magazine for Girls and Young Ladies. She receives a strange letter, addressed to her advice column and,slightly against her better judgement, she answers it. There follows the story of an unusual and heartfelt friendship between two women, separated by time but held together by the bonds they form through their letters.

Letters from an Edwardian Lady is available on Amazon in the UK and the US as an ebook, and will shortly be released as a paperback.

The next book in the series, A Lady's War, will be featured in my next blog post.

Here is the first part of the book, where Ernestine and Penelope begin their journey together. As usual, feel free to enjoy these chapters, but please respect my copyright!

Letters from an Edwardian Lady

Hands Across Time

Book One


Winter 1904

A Treasury for Girls and Young Ladies
A note about our advice column. Miss. E. Winters is the editor of this magazine and, as such, is a lady of some experience and organisation. Miss. Winters welcomes enquiries and requests from her readers: all advice given is with the best of intentions and consideration for your well-being, but may not be what you would wish to hear!
Please address your letters to the offices of this magazine in Hartlepool Street, making sure you write clearly and without undue hyperbole. As of January, 1905, we are unable to accept parcels at the offices, so do be aware that all correspondence must be in letter form.
December, 1904

2005

Dear Miss Winters,
I saw your name and address in one of the old books my Grandma left me. I was sorting through, trying to take my mind off everything and there it was. I didn’t know you had agony aunts back then! Anyway, I’m thinking it might help to write a letter. I know it’s mad, writing to somebody who doesn’t exist! Oh well, I might as well have a go.

First off, I’m really getting sick of not knowing when my mother is going to turn up and be doing the housework. I never asked her to come and do it (well, I did, but that was ages ago and I was busy at work). She’ll be here when I get home from work and sometimes she turns up when I’m just setting off out the door. I wonder if she spends her whole day here! And then there’s the notes: don’t use bleach down your toilet, think of septic tank: don’t stand on back steps for a bit, edges painted: make sure you put ornaments back on shelf, don’t leave out to get broken. It’s like being five!

I want some privacy! I’ve lived on my own since I was twenty one, so nearly three years and I think I know how to do everything by now. How many women work and have their own places, without worrying about someone coming in at exactly the wrong moment?

Ah, what’s the use anyway? Nobody’s going to read this letter and I wish I had a real friend to talk to about it all, somebody who’d be on my side, you know? I haven’t since Sue moved down country ages ago, it just isn’t the same when you have to make do with email.

So, bye to you, Miss Winter. I expect even if you could answer, you’d not understand. What would a woman from the 1900s know about my life?

Yours sincerely (very sincerely, haha),

Penny Lazonby

1905

My dear young woman,

I do not know how to answer you, though I feel I must reply as you are obviously in some great distress and in need of a friend. I want you to know, before I begin, that I see no reason to mark your letter so oddly or to sink into such strange and low vocabulary. Please, if we correspond again, refrain from these impulses and you will be the better for it.

To your main concern, as I see it: your relationship with your mother. I confess, my dear, I am at something of a loss here. If I have read your missive correctly, you have your own home and are of independent means but have little time to achieve those womanly duties of the home for which we should have most attention? If that is the case, I cannot see why you object to your mother giving you her well-meant, kindly assistance in the running of your household. I am assuming, as she does not live with you, that she must have her own home to organise and keep straight? She is either neglecting it for your benefit or has a trustworthy maid or housekeeper who is taking care of her own.

Do not underestimate the help we can glean from our older relatives, especially our mothers. All the tribulations we see as so important have also passed through their hands, even though we view our own troubles as monumental and wholly singular. You can be assured that whatever you are feeling and thinking now, your mother has considered it also and come through to be the woman she is today. Do you not see what a boon it is to have that wealth of experience at your fingertips?

Perhaps instead of croaking about your lack of privacy and need to do things for yourself, you could appreciate this elderly woman giving her time and limited energy to your home, so that it might be a comforting place for you to return each day. Perhaps she knows how much, in her youth, she would have loved to live more independently and not have so many household cares to keep her? Or perhaps she wishes to show you the fulfilment of running a home successfully? At present, she appears to be failing on both counts but I strongly suspect this failure is more your doing than hers.

Open your heart as well as your ears and take time to listen. Time, my dear, not a few minutes as you undo the combs from your hair or remove your daywear. Proper time, spent listening to what she has to say, showing her that she matters and so her confidences also matter.

One more little note: You sign your name Penny, as if we were known to one another. Please use your full name of Penelope. It is a lovely name, associated with a beautiful and faithful woman. Do not abuse it unnecessarily, be aware of how you are perceived when you shorten a good name. If you present yourself as less than you can be, then be sure others will do the same.

Yours, cordially,

E. Winters (Miss)


Amanda J Harrington

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Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Suffering from OCW



For a change it's not the OCD making life interesting, but the OCW - Obsessive Compulsive Writing.

Like a woman possessed, I have been writing my new series about an Edwardian lady. It started as a simple book of letters and has grown to become something else altogether. Up to press, I am ready to start on the fourth instalment.

I wake up thinking about it, I go to sleep early so I can wake up early, to start writing again. I hear the voice of Ernestine in my head and my way of speaking and writing has altered. I have started to take on her character traits and points of view. Possession is the right word.

Yet, it is a gentle sort of possession, more as if I am being dragged by the hand into a story she has been waiting to tell. I have made a new friend, and I do not want to leave her behind.

Real-life has been trying to get in the way, as usual. How long before I am forced to choose between Ernestine and life? I have a horrible feeling that everything else will be pushed aside while I sit, glazed and distant, my fingers racing, my mind completely absent.

In the meantime, I am just about managing to balance the needs of OCW with all my other tasks. Almost, but not quite. Sooner rather than later, I will have to either turn off the story or turn away from real-life.

And I think the choice has been made for me.

Amanda J Harrington

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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Hoping, not today




Watching as his wife lies still,
paramedics beside her,
already feeling lost.

They walked a few steps together
before she fell.

He's holding their bags, her bags,
he picked them up
from the bottom of the steps.

His breath held deep in his chest,
comforted by the close, knitted top,
she tells him to wear
under his jacket.

Not knowing if today
is when he goes home
without her.

Knowing it is always the way
these stories end,

and still
hoping, not today,
not her,
not now.


This poem came to me after I had been shopping for the day and, on our way back to the car, passed a sad tableau of an old man looking down as paramedics helped his wife. She was unconscious (or worse) and all he could do was watch, and hold the bags they had filled on their own shopping trip.

I didn't want to stop and stare, it was enough for him to have this painful time, but people went to and fro around him, as he waited on the steps, while his wife lay on the ground at the base of them.

They were a very elderly couple, and it struck me how many years they had probably been together and what it must mean for one to be left without the other. Even if she survived and recovered, there was that dread, that knowledge of one day being alone.

Such a sad image, and yet, at the heart of it a solid and lasting marriage that meant they spent many years in a more normal, everyday kind of love, one which must be familiar to many long-time 'marrieds'.

I never found out what happened and only have what I saw on the day. This one image stays with me, and I often think of them.

Amanda J Harrington

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Friday, 23 August 2013

Who knows not grief and merely sighs for love




If you must sit and sigh
And have the blues,
Why don't you try
To realise
That there are sighs and sighs
And blues and blues
From which to choose?
There's heavenly blues and blues of tranquil seas,
Both pleasant; if you have them, pray have these;
And, when you sigh, be like the turtle-dove,
Who knows not grief and merely sighs for love.
John Kendrick Bangs

I've been working my way through an old Edwardian book today, a compilation of magazines for women and girls. I came across this poem and liked the punchy, modern feel to it, mixed with an older style near the end.

It made me think about how close we still are to the Edwardian era, even though so far removed from it by time and harsh, worldly experience. How much they looked forward to the future, while struggling to hold on to the past they felt was so important to them!


These days, like in Victorian times, we rush headlong into everything new, while behaving as if we know what we're doing. I wonder how long it will be before we learn some of the introspection of the Edwardians?

Amanda J Harrington

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Sunday, 18 August 2013

Madness, just this way please




I know we're not meant to use all of our brains, but what little I do use is often dampened by lack of sleep or different stresses. My writing comes secondary to life a lot of the time, so if I'm suffering from low energy, then I have to use what I have to get through the day.

This impacts on my creativity in such an odd way that I was unwilling to admit it was true until this last week. My son had a casual job that meant starting at 6.30am. I'm a confirmed night owl and 6.30 is the time of the morning when I'd be comatose and with a few hours sleep still ahead of me.

We had to get up at 5.40am, so that I could give him a lift to work. Like good children, we all went to bed early - or early for us. Each day, our bedtime happened sooner and sooner, until by Thursday we had it right.

It still meant I only had about six hours sleep. I was waiting for the alarm some nights, as well as waiting for 'proper' bedtime. When I did sleep, I dreamed more than usual but with less nightmares.

My days were spent wondering how long til I could sleep again, but the longer days, with more time spent awake, also meant I got lots of things done that I usually ignore in favour of writing time. As for the writing, there was very little.

My brain was working as it should, even though I was tired. I felt more stable mentally, probably because I was too tired to get worked up about anything. Physically I had more energy. and yet, sitting down to write brought barely a word.

When I did write it felt like forcing a concrete block through a hole in the wall - it fitted where I put it, but the whole thing was an effort and I came away with scratches. By the end of the week, histrionics set in and I decided I'd have to choose between being a rested, rational human bean and a writer.

On Friday night, I slept and part of Saturday morning too. Then wrote some of my Scottish ghost story and it was a success. I even decided that some of what I'd written as a morning person was also a success. Perhaps that concrete block isn't so bad after all?

Strangely, I still feel I need to choose though. I could think clearly about what I wanted to write but without the buzz of 'I must do...' It's as if being fully creative requires me to be plugged in to some unhealthy power source where rational thought is a few steps down the hall from me.

Shall I be healthy and sleep well? Go to bed early and have normal dreams? Or shall I go to bed late, have nightmares and sleep late? Shall I drift through the day, with low energy, but write easily and quickly? Or should I be a grown up and learn how to write while still managing the rest of life?

I think a full-scale experiment is in order. I need more than a week of this morning business, to see if I can make it work. A month, shall we say? With regular peeks into how it affects everything else?

I'll end by saying one thing, before I get any helpful messages from early birds. Some of us function better at night, that's just the way it is. Even if it works and I start getting up soon and going to bed like a good girl, I won't be anything other than a night owl tucking in her wings. But if it means I can find some balance, I have to give it a go.

Can I really say good bye to the nightmares, though?


Amanda J Harrington

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Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Taking a moment




I've heard it said that you should consider throwing away your first chapter and start your book with the second. The assumption is that we all whitter away about nothing in our first chapter and only get down to the story 'proper' in the second one.

I admit this is possibly true, for me and many others. I've picked up books over the years which have a gentle, even slow, introduction to their main story. That first chapter takes you along, like a little boat on a wide, easy river. You drift, hand lazing in the water as you gaze up at the trees lining the banks.

Later, you might have more excitement and be taken on a journey of adventure and enchantment. Then the real action starts, with you and your characters battling all kinds of difficulties, barely able to draw breath until the end of the book.

You see how this approach assumes that stories must have action? That is the message I have always taken from the advice to start with the second chapter, that as the 'action' starts then, so should the book. And there we have a dangerous assumption.

We are assuming that all books have to be busy, that we need action and drama to keep our readers interested. We are not allowed to consider a book that takes us the full length of that slow river. We are supposed to appreciate action over relaxation in every story, even if the action is mental or emotional.

If you don't have this movement, this irritation of the senses, then your book will be too dull and quiet and readers will turn away, looking for something more stimulating.

How true is all this? I don't mean to suggest that readers want boring books, just that a quiet book can be satisfying and healing in a way that others cannot. When we pick up a book, we don't always want to be energised or swallowed up by a heart-rending tale. Sometimes, we just want our hand held, softly, while we sit by the water's edge.

If a book starts quietly, is it then at fault for not proclaiming, in the very first line, that there will be drama later? No, I believe not. Setting the scene or having a more melodic introduction does not mean there can't be cymbals.

At the heart of it, suggesting that we need to toss away these gentle openings is subscribing to the belief that all books are inherently similar, which then suggests all readers are similar too.

Improve your story to the best of your ability and make it speak to you and your readers. If doing that means changing it to a better shape, then do it, but don't assume that making it wilder or more willful will be to everyone's taste.

Sometimes, we need those extra moments to stand at the edge of the path, taking in the sights before we start on our journey. Those moments help us appreciate everything that comes after and let us know that today we are going to see something new.

Amanda J Harrington

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Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Multiplicity




Lately, I feel like I'm in a crowded room, full of people who look just like me but all want to talk about completely different things. Welcome to the world of the multi-genre writer.

Let me be blunt, so as not to mislead you. My heart belongs to fantasy and the gothic side of life, where turning down the wrong street can mean changing worlds. I base all my fantasy stories in solid, real-life worlds. I don't like talking about elves called Iaethian or Wombat World, where anyone who isn't a wombat has to wear a pink jumpsuit and sing when they talk.

I love writing about things which are close to me, that cross-over between the real and the unreal. So much of my own life seems unreal that most of this genre feels semi-autobiographical. And in the case of Cedar, the Ghost Killer, some of it is as true for me as it is for him.

There's also non-fiction, children's and adult fiction, poetry and short stories.

And then I decided to write stories for women's magazines, heartwarming tales where no ghost could tread, nothing horrible must happen and characters should find a way out of the darkness (which must not be so very dark that you cannot see).

This was a stretch for me. I had to put aside my impulse to write scary stuff and concentrate on the life-enhancing warmth of true friendship and family ties. I felt like I was living a double life.

Then, like turning against the wind, I went back to Cedar. One day I was writing about the start of a touching friendship, the next a voice was shrieking through time as water flowed backwards.

I think it's important for any writer to be able to live at least a dual life, where you can be one person in the flesh and another on the page. Many personalities make life complicated (I should know) but also help the writing to succeed.

What happens, though, when you start to feel crowded? Do you have a break? Or continue challenging yourself?

I'm going to carry on with the challenge. It's difficult to be so many people at once but it is entertaining. I move through scenarios in my head, not knowing where I'll end up next. It's rather like dodging your own imagination on a forest path.

When it gets too much, I'll have a day off and edit something soothing, like a blood-filled passage or a land of living ice. That should set me right. In th meantime, it's back to the heartwarming and the inability to know who I am when I wake up in the morning.

Amanda J Harrington

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Friday, 2 August 2013

The Planning Conundrum. To plan or not to plan?




I think myself and RT Teen represent the two sides of the Planning Conundrum.

RT's writing is complex, very descriptive with unusual and arresting dialogue. He plans voraciously, like a major tactician plotting his assault on the world economy. For RT, every eventuality is thought about and inserted into the plot at the perfect moment.

Characters are created, with great thought put into their looks, personalities, motivations, interaction with one another and, most importantly, destiny within the story.

Background characters are ranged, more than pawns on the battlefield, like a supporting cast, ready to bring the whole epic scheme to a grand finale.

Descriptive passages are designed with a deep love, as if RT walks through, creating each blade of grass himself. And then, the storyline itself begins. Eventually.

For RT, his writing exists in the planning stage, perhaps even more than it exists in the actual writing. He loves to plan and feels it's a fundamentally creative process.

Now I'm kind of wishing I'd gone first...

So, usually I have an idea for a story, either in a dream or as I'm drifting through the house, doing something else. The lightning bolt will hit me and I'll stop, amazed at the vista opening up before me. If I dream the idea, I'll often wake and quickly make a note on my phone before going back to sleep to add more detail.

The next day I'll rip the laptop away from either teen with feverish abandon. I must write it! I have to start it NOW before the story gets away from me because, if it happens this way, then the story is living alongside me and scenes are playing out before I've even reached the keyboard.

I'll have a strong idea of where it starts. Sometimes, I know how it'll end too. More often, I'll have the first two or three chapters creating themselves and then I start writing. I don't know what's going to happen after that and it's part of the fun to find out.

The mental anxiety that goes with this can be extreme, as it's a type of suspense, to be carried along with the story as if you are living it. Without that depth of planning, I'm almost as much in the dark as my readers and definitely on a par with the characters in the story itself.

Plot twists are often a shock for me, the interactions between characters can be a joy or a pain, depending on whether they get on - I won't be certain until they meet. Sometimes, clearly thought-out plot-lines will disintegrate as something else happens before I reach them. Like real life, my stories don't always turn out as expected.

I see why I can get lost and have to leave a book alone, moving onto another one until the first reasserts itself. If you work with little or no plan, you run the risk of being left adrift at a stage when a consummate planner would know exactly where they were going.

Which is the best way? There isn't one, it's as simple as that. Whatever works for you is the best way. Try both, try all ways, try everything. When you get that glimmer of excitement and the story takes off, then you probably found the right way for you.

I hate planning, I'll be honest and RT panics at the thought of just dropping himself into an unknown story and hoping for the best. Somewhere between the two is probably a good way to go - RT and I are extreme examples.

Fearfully, tentatively, I also admit it might be worth trying what doesn't feel right for you, to see if you can learn from it. Readers, watch this space as I'm going to try to completely plan a short novel. Then write it, after the planning and not while it's happening. Imagine!

I'll let you know how it goes. Until then, plan away or just dream it, but keep writing and have fun with it.

Amanda J Harrington

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Monday, 29 July 2013

Just Ignore Them




Just Ignore Them

I'm still crossing the playground, years later
Hoping for invisibility
Knowing the football
Already sails

The classroom breathes around me, heaving
Full of raised voices
Calling to each other
Until it's my turn

I know the long path, quick steps take me
Head bowed, face
Empty and blank
Safe in nothing

Mostly, I walk the long stairs to the top
Reaching the place
Where every day
I die a little death

Every moment burned forever,
Engraved by fire
In a piece of me
That won't die

Amanda J Harrington

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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Gently, in the dark night




I stood on the edge of my dark garden last night, watching the rain as it fell onto the steps below. Those moments, between being awake and asleep, in the middle of your everyday life and going to bed, are the sweetest for me. It's probably one of the reasons I don't always sleep.

I came in and went to bed, leaving my windows open to hear the rain. It was soothing at first and then irritating. I lay, waiting for sleep and stopping myself every time my eyes shut. I wanted to be calm, but it was no use.

I did drift a couple of times, waking with a start when I realised I had given in. Those moments, clutched at desperately each time, carried me through until almost 5am. At some stage after I glared at the phone screen at 4.45am, I fell asleep.

I woke at 7am, from a dream of fields and dogs and barriers that wouldn't keep anything out. Not a nightmare, for me, just enough to make me uneasy. Sleeping again, I entered one of those alternate reality dreams where you are another person, but still you.

I was writing marketing blurb, but not for myself. Someone else had written all my books and I was helping to promote them. In the dream, I laid aside all the heady, breathy, excitable prose common to book marketing these days and described a scene where my books were with you at ordinary moments throughout the day, to be read when you were happy and at ease with the world, on your way somewhere, ready for bed or starting the day.

When I woke, I lay there for a moment, forgetting that I had only had 3 hours sleep. I thought, 'This is a truth' and quickly wrote down the book blurb from the dream. Then I turned over and slept for another 2 hours. Bliss.

I haven't created a magic formula to sell books, or even written the best marketing blurb in the world. What I did, in the dream, was to express my love for those stories in a free and unselfconscious way. I separated myself the reader from me the author.

This was the great secret I learned as my mind drifted in dreams after a night of insomnia: see yourself and what you do as others, who love you, see you. Don't disparage yourself and don't be quick to criticise what you do.

There is no reason why anyone else should love my stories like I do, this is the other thing to remember, but I realise now it's not my job to sell my books; what I'm supposed to do is say to people, 'Read this and remember how you used to feel, when you didn't know the world was real'.

Amanda J Harrington

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Saturday, 27 July 2013

Living the darker life




I needed a break, I needed to sleep without feeling like something was waiting for me by the bed. A recharge was overdue. So I haven't written anything in Cedar since the 9th of July.

I diverted onto the sequel to The Dark Pathway, thinking that a semi-gothic children's adventure might be just the ticket. You know, not totally separate from Cedar and his ghost killing but more lightweight.

Immediately, I realised that The Winter Birds is not lightweight at all. It follows the gothic tones of The Dark Pathway and makes them more pronounced. It's still funny, you still want to cuddle the dogs and make Liam brush his hair but now it also feels a little scarier.

Was Cedar spilling over? Or was I naturally drawn to this sequel because I was feeling dark and knew it would give me an outlet?

Either way, I have been completely distracted by The Winter Birds. It has consumed me and the story has been in danger of rattling away without me. I've been running to keep up for over a week.

And, annoying but true, I've had more nightmares writing this than when I was ghost killing! For a few nights in a row I had chickens with teeth coming after me. Maybe sounds funny, but it wasn't!

Conversations, half-heard and full of spite, went on behind closed doors and I felt watched and trailed, as if I had gained other-worldly stalkers. And all this while writing children's fiction.

Then, today, I knew it was time for more ghost killing. Do I give in, or carry on with the sequel? Can I do both? Will I ever sleep again if I do?

I've more or less given up hope of the sleep. Nightmares seem to thrive while I create new worlds.

I give in to the chickens and the bed-time shadows. I accept the fear of a closed door and the dread of murmured conversations. I'll give myself to the whole of it and see what comes out at the end. What else can I do?

Amanda J Harrington

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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Interruptions!




Full of good intentions, I sat down with the laptop, to be put off from that first second by a horrible, awful stink in the air. I looked at the dogs, blaming poor Rupert who is usually the guilty party. The stink didn't die down so I went to light a smelly candle.

No matches. They'd been spirited away by IT Teen to make the Wii work (I don't know, ask a techy teen) and had been lost forever. I set about trying to light the candle with pieces of torn cereal box and a gas ring.

Whenever I'm stood there, burning off my fingers and eyebrows and watching the candle not light, I'm reminded of how burning rushes were used to get rid of horrible stinks in homes of long-ago. The theory is that the smoke and fumes of the rushes will chase out the smells. It does! Once you've burned the rushes, all you can smell is burned rushes and the hairs in your nose dying.

Finally, with candle lit and the sink full of dead cereal cardboard, I went back into the living room and sat down to work. But the smell still sank in from every corner. Glaring again at the dogs I suddenly noticed Tess had a 'muddy' foot. Yes, readers, it was not mud...

She had stood in poo in the garden and tracked it back in, wedged between her toes. It was on the sofa, her blanket, the floor and, mostly, the smell was in the air. I would have to clean her foot.

This is not easy. Tess is an old collie who has never liked being handled. She might fall getting into the car, but if she needs to she can take off like lightning in the opposite direction. Mind over matter you see.

IT Teen held her collar while I paddled her back leg in a bowl of soapy water. I explained to Tess that it was either this or a full bath but she didn't appreciate it. The poo came off, her foot shone in the sunlight and everything else was washed or stuck in the machine.

And again, I sat down with the laptop, by now feeling a bit hard done by.

Then the cat came in, wanting a snuggle. I diverted him into my cardigan on the coffee table. Back to laptop. The next thing I know, my legs are wet. His voluminous behind had spread as he settled and knocked my mug of tea all over me, the floor and the sofa. SIGH.

A few minutes later and I sat down again. Feeling vaguely hyper by this stage and aware of my time slipping away. Had just opened the laptop up when a 'clunk!' reminded me that I hadn't moved the blasted mug off the coffee table and it was back on the floor, splattering the last few drops of tea that had been saved the first time.

Cat and I look at each other, him over his shoulder, guilty-like and doing a sweet face so I won't move him off the cardigan. Tess woke up with the 'clunk!' and started moaning on about me having washed her foot.

By this time, readers, I'm ready to go out in the garden and risk birds, bees, next door's builders, the sun and my grass allergy. I didn't think working in the living room would be this difficult! And any second now, RT Teen will come down for his turn on the laptop.

I will try not to scream.

Amanda J Harrington

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Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Nonplussed in Cumbria: Marketing??




It can't just be me who is nonplussed, can it? I mean, generally, I go through a nonplussed status a few times a day anyway, so I feel it must be a strong part of my personality already. It's when I see all the things I'm meant to do to market my work that the nonplussdom really cranks it up.

When I was five, I started to write nice stories. When I was seven, I wrote even nicer stories to distract my teacher from making me do my maths. This worked, and was my first experience of writing being for something other than pleasure.

What I need to do now is use that early success with writing in the real world to help me understand how to sell myself. My teacher was a big fan (until I tried to burn down  the school, but that's another story), so I know marketing can work. I'm just bad at it.

I have this silly idea that my spare time should be spent writing. When I'm not writing, I'm editing what I've already written. When I'm not doing that, I'm blogging. And in the other moments, I'm creating book covers and social networking. Any spare time above and beyond this is usually spent with Darren Shan (not personally, before the rumours start).

So the thought of then flinging myself into a solid, well-organised marketing campaign makes me quail. I must admit, rather than my first reaction being, How can I do it? I'm actually thinking, What can I stop doing to fit it in?

Yes, if I was a traditionally published author, the publishing house would take care of this for me. Now, back to the reality of indie publishing - where do I fit it in?

At the moment, I'm fitting it into Darren's slot. I've foregone buying the latest Zom-B book and my reading time is now plotting time. I do feel it is form of plotting, to do marketing - it feels like a complex, world-domination technique that most other people have and I don't.

In my simple world, I write the books, publish the books and hope people like them enough to buy them. I talk about them in my blog, put them on Facebook and have small forays into pushing them in other areas.

I don't do much pushing. I tend to fall into the trap of writing the next book and becoming part of a new universe, rather than sticking around in this one and making sure the current books sell.

I do have a master plan for world domination, though. I plan to write as well as I can, as often as I can and hope the numbers game pulls me through. I have a feeling this is a temporary measure and that, sooner or later, I'll need to do a lot more marketing.

Readers, pity me as I face the possibility of having to learn the knack for selling things to people. I hate people selling things to me! There must be a place, somewhere in the middle, where I can tell the world about my books without jumping up and down in a panda suit in the middle of town, desperately clutching my latest offering?

If I find it, I'll let you know. Until then, I have some writing to do (I won't be long, Darren).

Amanda J Harrington

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A story somewhere