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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Monday, 22 July 2013

Insomnia and writing do work well together




It's amazing how good you can feel after three hours sleep. I know I usually feel like a chewed rubber duck on only a few hours but sometimes, if I hit it just right, I enter a state of euphoric time-travel.

On days like this, when the chemicals in my brains think I'm awash with super-human powers, I drift through the day feeling like everything is great. I move mountains as I cascade, bravely and beautifully, through every trial.

Today, I need to write. Yesterday I needed to write too. I was also tired then - insomnia has moved in for a visit - and I couldn't put my thoughts down until 7pm. It took the whole day to face the laptop.

Now, only halfway through the day, I'm raring to go. Like having a sugar-rush, I can feel the ideas waiting, spilling out, forming themselves, unbidden, into the right order. All at once, encased in this false high, I will be able to write the kind of prose that usually only come after a big rest and much reflection.

Today, instead, insomniac madness will take me to places normally visited in dreams. This is very useful as I need to describe surreal events and illogical nature, so feeling like this is extremely good timing. If there was ever a day to be detached from reality, this is it.

Tomorrow, hopefully wreathed in the comfort of enough sleep and a normal amount of euphoria, I'll have to look again at whatever I wrote today and hope it still seems okay. You know how your 2am ideas can be world-changing when you have them then be insane by morning? So can euphoric writing change from outstanding invention to a mishap sprawling down the page.

Wish me luck as I sit, smiling inanely to myself, finger zipping over the keyboard, with not an ounce of sense left to me for the rest of the day. Tomorrow, I might be grown up again but today I'm living under the sunlit cloud of insomnia. How lovely!

Amanda J Harrington

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Sunday, 21 July 2013

Part 3: Kasey and Penelope. How different children react to private tuition

This is a series of articles about different children and how they react to private tuition. Slightly tongue in cheek, but based on years of experience with lots of students. All likeness to students past and present is probably coincidental...

Kasey

Kasey is quiet, until you get to know her and then she's a chatterbox who has opinions on everything. She is kind, thoughtful but easy to offend. Kasey lives life on the high wire, a nervous little girl who is often popular but very easy to upset.

In school, Kasey will always have more than one friend and often be in the middle of girlish feuds. Her sociable nature, combined with a tendency to be quiet, means she makes friends easily but then has no idea she is in the middle of a 'situation'.

This focus on the social side of things has an ongoing effect on Kasey's school work. She does what she is asked, if she's not chatting at the back of the class, and she isn't afraid to admit she doesn't have a clue. She likes to have things explained a few times, not because she didn't understand the first time, it's just that her lack of self-confidence means she needs to make sure she has it absolutely right.

This lack of confidence follows her through to tests, where she is keen to doubt herself and not trust that what she remembers is the right information. This makes her panic and write anything, in the hopes that doing it quickly, without too much fussing, will bring the right answer.

Kasey will often be in a lower group than she deserves and may need the more structured approach of secondary school to lead her on the right path. She needs watching carefully before this, as she can fall behind quickly in class.

With a private tutor, Kasey will flourish. Sometimes all she needs is a set of reminder lessons, to boost her confidence. Other times, she needs to start from the basics and work her way back. The key to Kasey's success with a tutor is that she is able to ask, again and again, if she has it right? Is this the right way? Is this what I do now?

Over time, her confidence builds and she doesn't need to ask anymore. Kasey will be a student who learns to have faith in herself and her own knowledge and take her confidence in social situations into the academic world of school.




Penelope

Unlike Kasey, Penelope has bucket-loads of confidence when it comes to her work. always willing to have a go, never without something to put down on the paper. Penelope will go off like a shooting star, right across the table, out the door and up into the heavens.

Later, when the test results are in, Penelope will discover she was meant to be writing about Badgers not Badges and her three page essay on her badge collection will have been wasted time.

Penelope will be known throughout the class and probably throughout the school. Like Kasey, she is sociable and thinks she can be friends with anyone. Unlike Kasey, she won't pick up on the social cues that tell her when someone doesn't want to play or talk or even be friends. Penelope will spend an amount of time being confused and upset at how other people behave.

Penelope is very loyal and open to people. She won't get involved in any awkward situations because she'll be oblivious to them, or have caused them in the first place. Penelope is open about her feelings and prone to crying in class if she gets things wrong.

This emotional side is what drives Penelope forward. Whereas everyone else may be writhing in agony at having to write a full story about anything at all, Penelope throws herself into the task, using all her pent-up imaginative energy to create a full world on the page. She may be knocked back when her handwriting and spelling are criticised but Penelope knows her story is a good one and her inner confidence is untouched.

If Penelope can be tethered to the ground for long enough, she will learn what she needs and happily pack it away in her mental 'bag of stuff for the journey'. Penelope is always on the look-out for more things to pack in her bag and she is on a permanent journey of discovery. She may not know how to do long division or remember how to spell the weather/whether words, but Penelope can tell you the name and disposition of every dinosaur that ever existed. She also has a book of stories and pictures about them that she did herself, if you want to see?

In the educational world, Penelope can go off on a tangent and forget what she is meant to learn. She needs to learn self-control and rein in her brain when something has to be done. In the grand scheme of life though, Penelope is ready-made to go out and succeed. Her invincible confidence in what she holds dear will carry her through any amount of disapproval, rejection, obstacles. She will always pick herself up and look for another way to continue the journey.

Kasey and Penelope

Penelope and Kasey can learn a lot from each other. Kasey can show Penelope how to behave in social situations without it leading to tears and Penelope can tell Kasey why it doesn't matter what other people say, as long as you have faith in yourself.

Whether the shooting star or the gentle princess, these two girls are ready to learn and ready to understand how to help themselves. Unlike many students, Kasey and Penelope know how to listen to others, then use what they hear to believe in themselves.

Amanda J Harrington

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Saturday, 20 July 2013

First look at Winter Bird




Brand new, steaming hot off the press is Winter Bird.

As the countryside bakes in Summer heat, a small piece of Winter falls from the sky. A few flakes of snow, the cry of a bird, one lost feather. This is how it starts and soon Winter is living in the air, ready to take the ground into a long, slow dance.

Winter Bird is the sequel to The Dark Pathway (UK and US) and continues the story of Liam and Fran, as they struggle to stop the birds before darkness falls.

As usual, enjoy the extract but please respect the copyright!


Chapter One

The white wings swooped low, taking a breath of sky and letting it go again. The angled beak edged downwards, the man below like a speck on the edge of it. He waved and jumped, unseen and unheard in this vaulted earth where only feathers moved.

The bird grew, its body spreading to create more feathers, the wings thickening, extending, until it was the size of an eagle. The longest feathers shivered, adjusting to the new size and it swooped again.

A cloud hazed over the sun, briefly masking the intense heat of the day. The white head tilted as the bird swooped again, the dark eyes catching the sun and shimmering like oiled pools. It looked away, unaffected by light or heat and began its descent.

Letting itself fall, a long, quick drift to death, the bird twitched again, its whole body jerking. The fall was interrupted and it saved itself, catching the air and swinging back up. On the ground, the man was suddenly still, his face fixed as he stared upwards.

Gliding again, lower than before, the bird felt its body quiver, a pain passing though that it had to shake off. All the feathers grew at the same time, its body belched outwards too quickly and the bird exploded in mid-air.

No blood, not even feathers, rained down on the man below. For a long moment he stood, transfixed, staring at where the bird had been. Then, as the first flakes of snow fell onto his face, he let out a long, caterwauling cry of triumph.

Not waiting to see any more, Calum grabbed up his bags and ran off down the hill. He pelted down steep rises and over unseen obstacles, never losing his footing, in his mind only seeing his workshop at the farm and the next white bird.

On the mountain, the snow fell for only a minute, melting in the air before it reached the ground. The cloud moved away from the sun and it was blazing hot again. There was no sign of the bird or man, noting to show for what had happened, but that was the day the Winter Birds came.

Amanda J Harrington

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Part 2: Davey and Abigail. How different children react to private tuition

This is a series of articles about different children and how they react to private tuition. Slightly tongue in cheek, but based on years of experience with lots of students. All likeness to students past and present is probably coincidental...

Davey

Davey is a boy who tries his best and doesn't seem to get anywhere. To his family, he is a star and they don't want him to change at all. At school, he achieves little and progress is painfully slow.

His personality is calm and cheerful. He doesn't worry about things and if you asked him how school was going, he'd tell you about the football club or what he did with his friends today. If you pinned him down and asked him about his work, he'd probably shrug and say it was the same as ever.

Davey's family know he tries his best because they've watched him sit, hunched over his homework, tongue stuck out while he stares at the page. They talk him through it and do their best to help him, while he struggles with the kind of work the rest of the class seem to sail through.

No matter what lies behind Davey's problems - being left behind at a crucial point in his school past, or a special educational need or even a simple issue like his eyesight - Davey tries and still nothing happens.

Davey is almost the perfect student for private tuition. All this determination and hard work that seems to have got him nowhere so far can now be ploughed into one-to-one lessons. Davey can ask questions, he can explain what he doesn't understand. His tutor can watch how he does things and see where the problems lie and know that Davey will listen to the solution.

Daveys are wonderful people. They are the ones at the back of the class who do their best and never give in. Every success, however small, is a giant step for them. Whatever you teach them, once they have it, they never let it go.

After their school years, the Daveys are the ones who flourish in jobs which need a reliable, steady, genuine and willing employee. Davey will listen to advice and do his best. He will be the best apprentice in the group, the one valued for doing as he's told and asking when he doesn't know something.

Davey will be the one who could own his own business someday or be successful in his chosen job. The boy at the back of the class, the one ignored because he never seemed to catch on to the work, is also the one who takes every step and makes it count.

He will be there, every morning and every evening, doing things the right way, to the best of his ability. And he will never take success for granted.


Abigail

On the other hand, we have Abigail. This little girl has only just realised that school isn't a walk in the park. She is starting to fall behind the other students but when her parents try helping her, a volcano erupts.

You see, Abigail has discovered that you have to work harder as you get older. She doesn't work at home, so why should she work at school?

If she doesn't want to do something at home, she kicks up a fuss, or cries, or both and the thing is left undone. At school, she has to behave so instead of tears and tantrums, she does nothing.

Now, at the end of term, her parents find out she's not progressing. This means the unwelcome arrival of a tutor, there to help Abigail do the work she has avoided for months. This does not go down well.

The Abigails of the world are very, very good at getting what they want. If you are lucky, they do this by being charming, making sure they get their own way by being the nicest little girl ever. The other side of the coin are the Abigails who also get everything they want by being a beast.

The beast within isn't always obvious. It lurks beneath the surface, ready to appear when needed. If Abigal doesn't wanna, the lip quivers, the tears start, the head goes down and the eyes lift, clinically assessing the effect with lizard-like cool.

If the hated event is still happening, the stakes are raised and Abigail has a full-blown tantrum, designed to fluster and upset the opponent into giving in and either going away or comforting the crying child.

This works very well. In fact, most Abigails only need to redden their face and quiver their lip to get the job done. So, imagine the shock when tuition starts and an unknown adult, faced with this performance, carries on with the lesson!

The horror is such that Abigail thinks the tutor is unaware of her distress and explains she is crying, haven't you noticed? She's upset, don't you care? She feels sick, she's going to be sick (cue well-polished retching noises, accompanied by a Victorian melodrama).

All of this goes on and still the dreadful tutor waits, ignores, corrects, explains and the work re-starts. At this point, Abigail begins to hate.

Abigails very rarely benefit from tuition. They could, if they wanted to. Being this inventive means Abigails are quite clever, it's just that they use their brains for evil instead of good. Their work could be learned and completed in half the time it might take Davey. But it won't be done.

Abigails have developed a whole lifestyle based around doing what they like and being forced to sit down and learn for an hour a week isn't going to change that. They will make the hour as uncomfortable and aggravating as possible, confident that this method works with everything else in life.

Their work will improve, slowly, unless there are breaks in the lessons. Any breaks, even for just a week, will be followed by the kind of regression only seen after the long Summer holidays. More than a week between lessons and it can be like the tutor was never there.

In later years, school or work, Abigail will still expect people to do everything for her or suffer the consequences. She might come from a family of high-flyers, or an ordinary, hard-working family - either way, Abigail will not follow their example.

The only time this doesn't apply is if the Abigail can find something she really wants to do. This is the magic formula: if she falls in love with a way of life or an idea, then she'll use her determination and inventiveness to achieve that, rather than to avoid everything else.

Davey and Abigail

In the great scheme of things, Abigail should be the winner. She has more potential academically than Davey and less reason to fail. She's better at problem-solving and very good at getting out of trouble.

Davey, on the other hand, doesn't even try to get out of trouble. If he makes a mess, he cleans it up. If he causes a problem, he admits it and puts it right. If he can't work something out, he struggles until he understands it.

The light on behind the blinds at the end of the day is Davey. He's working his way through his latest project, his tongue stuck out like when he was little, finding the solution that makes sense for him so he can go home and know it was a job well done.

At Abigail's house, she's listening to her mother working in the kitchen and wishing she would hurry up and stop banging about because the noise is spoiling the videos on Abigail's new phone.

Somewhere along the line, they both have the potential to succeed but it is up to them whether or not they take it. Even as children, choices are made and paths followed.

Amanda J Harrington

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Friday, 19 July 2013

Part 1: Brian and Maisie. How different children react to private tuition

This is a series of articles about different children and how they react to private tuition. Slightly tongue in cheek, but based on years of experience with lots of students. All likeness to students past and present is probably coincidental...



Brian

Brian is a quiet, serious boy, verging on the introverted. At home, he can be a giggling tornado of energy - or at least, he used to be when he was nine. Now he prefers safer pursuits, like video gaming, playing the home DJ kit, poring over his stats on that mysterious website he set up last week.

What Brian doesn't want is a home tutor. He is intelligent and knows what he needs in life and where he has to go to get it. He's aware of his shortcomings but already works around them. Why try to learn more now, when he has all his plans in place?

Brian can be the hardest student of all. He is clever, he knows a lot of things, even if he won't share them with you. He is often gifted in certain areas and has a complete disinterest in learning about subjects which don't interest him.

Brian is the sort of child who will do everything a tutor tells him to do. A lot will go on under the surface, but on the top of it all, he is a calm pond, not a ripple to show for his seething resentment at having his spare time bitten into every week with pointless extra work.

Brian will always do what he needs to in life and you shouldn't worry too much about him. The same determination he shows in his spare time pursuits will be applied to the world of work when he's older. Eventually, he may realise how much the extra learning has helped him but I doubt he would ever say it was time well spent.

Maisie

As a direct contrast to Brian, we have Maisie. She's a sweet little girl who makes friends easily and will be happy to do what she's asked. She might have to be told a few times before she understands as the world of Maisie is full of butterflies, flowers, light music and the shiny trim on her dress. There is just so much else to think about, nice things that don't mean doing work, that Maisie finds it hard to keep up at school.

When Maisie grows up, she'll drift almost magically into a job where she deals with people every day. She's going to make them feel better, doing something that society at large doesn't see as very important. While Brian is solving the issue of plate-retrieval at light-speed rates, Maisie will be putting her hand on someone else's, as they tell her what colour flowers they want.

Or as Brian orders online so he can finish his deal-breaking project in time and buy a second home in France, Maisie will have forgotten to pay her gas bill because she stopped to talk to the old woman at the bus stop who couldn't seem to sort out her purse.

Maisies need tuition because school work is secondary to life. They are rare creatures, already aware of what is important - other people. They may frustrate and confound parents and teachers with their inability to remember how to spell key words, but the room is always brighter with them in it.

It should be mentioned that alongside all this prettiness is a streak of determination which makes everything else come together. Maisie will learn, if she really has to, but will then go on and do her own thing anyway.

What she has in common with Brian is a knowledge of where she is in the world and what she has to do to make it her own. Brian could explain this in words, if he tried. Maisie goes ahead and does it without explanation.

Amanda J Harrington

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Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Fisherman's Story

Today's offering is part of the old Fisherman's story.




The Fisherman is a widower, living alone near the beach. He has a quiet life, filled with routines which help him live without his wife. He is old and not as strong as he was, but survives the pain which has torn through his world.

In these poems, he is struggling to fight to his way back from the effects of the pain. He has lain unconscious for a while and now, as he rises back into the world, he is trapped in a strange reality, where his past exists alongside his present. The hardest thing for him at this point is coming to terms with still being alive.

The Fisherman is a character in Voices at the end of the World, part of the Darkened Lens series (UK and US). In the Voices book, a catastrophe has left most of humanity dead or missing and has affected most other living creatures too. The few survivors have to contend with intense physical pain, as well as with being alone.

As usual, please respect the copyright!

After the fall


When it's cold enough for frost
The old fisherman mends the fence
Leading down to the shore
Confident other jobs can wait
And tourists won't disturb his work

Lying on the floor
It feels cold enough for anything
Frost no exception
In his own world of pain
Not knowing the difference
Without or within
His boots beating the ground
As he fits
After the fall

Silence comes on a darkened night
The moon hidden from the earth
The smell of his last supper
Mouldering next to the stove
His slippers waiting on the cold hearth

Somewhere his wife calls.
She's been gone five years
And he blinks
Expecting death

He hears it again
As the calling of a crow
And he wonders
If she came back
Dressed in black
To sing him to sleep.

Pushing the barrow


A headache, thumping in the back of the mind, like a long, slow, bumpy ride up the hill
Next to Dad’s house when he still did everything and called to them from the top of the roof
With the chimney clasped into his hands, like he was measuring for curtains

The windows open to the day and the breeze in the house making the smell lift into summer
With the pure echoes of his mother singing, as she laid out bread for the last rise

All of it gone before and never left behind, always there, flowers bringing it to him each April

The rocks in the wheelbarrow clunked to the side as he tried to cover the last yards
Without dropping the lot
They tumbled out and he cursed, bending to reach them, then standing straight
Hand in his back

A yearning look behind, at the house, hoping Marl would come out with his dinner
And give him an excuse
To sit awhile

The door banging like the rocks, tumbling in his head and the door was shut
Then opened and it was dark inside, there was nothing and he was filled,
He was up to the brim with it
But couldn’t remember the word
Only the feeling

Pain came and it wasn’t the rocks or the broken road or any of the things which had come before
When he found life mellow or hoarse, depending

It had the voice of his first teacher, shouting across the room, hating them all,
Face filled with nothing but sneers and calls and the love of suffering
Until they had been there a week and he changed
Making them see how he could be
If they learned it well enough

He never trusted him again, no matter that it was years
How can you trust a man who changes himself
And then laughs it away?

The sound of his teacher blends into the rocks and the awful knocking of the barrow
As it tumbled away and he has to bend, nearly into the ditch, to rescue it all

Finally, it was the sound of Marl, tapping on the car window, smiling at him
Holding the bag with his dinner in it and waiting for him to wind down
So she could kiss him through the gap.

He bent up towards her and their lips met. As she moved away again,
The light behind her, making it hard to see, she whispered to him.

He reached further but she was moving away and still the knocking.
More effort, it hurts! but more effort and then he was out of the car
And lying on his floor, his eyes blinking tears and his hands
Clasping nothing.

She had told him to wake so he did, to the sound of nothing but the wind
Through broken glass and cold air feeling its way
Into his heart
With a memory of something that was not knocking, or banging, or his Dad’s hammer

Once more,  far away, too quick to tell where from,
A dog barked and then was still.

Lying on the floor, he cried, knowing he had to get up.


Amanda J Harrington

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Tuesday, 16 July 2013

At the mercy of technology




I'm going where every writer dreads - the past. My writing past.

I'm looking for a particular book I wrote years ago, before I was as computer savvy as I am now. At the time, I printed it all off and also saved it onto a floppy disc (yes, you can hear the doors of time just creaking). But now my computer doesn't have a floppy disc drive.

I either have to find my old book in the morass of books, part-books, ideas and what-on-earths in my private slush-pile, fork out for a floppy disc drive or wait until the teens go back to college in September and beg five minutes on a college computer (luckily, our local council is not as forward thinking as me and still has old tech).

The perils, though, of modern technology. In  days gone by, we writers would never have dreamed of mislaying a hard copy of our work. Everything had to be kept, just in case. No one hoards like a creative.

With the advent of computers, my first thought was - I'll lose it all! I have very traumatic memories of doing my college dissertation on an old computer and, three pages from the end, the whole file went into meltdown, repeating the first ten pages over and over, having wiped the rest.

So, when I started writing more on the computer, I printed it out. Then, when I was more trusting, I saved it onto floppy disc. That felt safe, you know, to have something in front of me that wasn't likely to explode or melt or turn to the dark side and delete everything.

Now I have a merry little box of diskettes in my bottom drawer. Rainbow colours, each one holding a different book, carefully labelled and stored away. I never gave upgrades a second thought. Once you feel something is safe, you kind of forget about it.

I think, having counted on my fingers, I have at least three full books on floppy discs, as well as two novellas and goodness knows what else. I remember saving the books because they were new. I also remember typing up some old stories and short books, so I'm hoping they are there. What I don't know is, if I can still access them.

Now that I'm worrying about it, I'm also worried that the discs themselves will be elderly. I've had them years, stored away. Is that what they like? Will they have gently bled out my work into the drawer around them? Are my stories now invisible memories, caught in the contents of my bottom drawer? Have I lost some every time I opened it and poked inside?

I may go into college early: appear, like a madwoman, clutching the least unsympathetic teen and asking to be taken to their oldest computer.

If that happens, readers, pity me. You can imagine the sorry sight as I open the box of rainbow discs, pull one out and, with shaking hand, feed it into the computer.

When I look at the screen, desperate for something to appear, it will be like all those years ago, staring at the computer and hoping against hope that my Genesis project had not been be-gurgled into nothingness.

It had, then. Cross everything that the rest of my work has not.

Amanda J Harrington

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Monday, 15 July 2013

How to handle a private tutor - a guide for nervous parents





This advice is intended as a guide only. Actual tuition may vary and teaching suggestions are optional. Amanda J Harrington takes no responsibility for the minority of cases where this advice is irrelevant.

Once you have satisfied yourself that your child's tutor is safe, responsible, legal and qualified, there are some other matters to consider. Please be honest if you think they apply to you as it makes it less likely you'll be tutor-less again.

1. If your child likes to bite, warn the tutor. Consider sitting in on the lesson, especially if your tutor is rather elderly or otherwise impaired.

2. If your child used to be a biter (now reformed), repeat step 1 until you're sure your child won't consider reverting.

3. Once you discover your child is a reverted biter, do not be tempted to blame the tutor or claim it never happened before.

4. A nervous parent is a thorn in the side of any tutor. Be present in the lesson if you wish, or leave the room and get on with something else. Choose one or the other but DO NOT waft in and out of the room, casually, as if you never in your life sit down for 5 minutes.

5. If still nervous, feel free to listen at the door. Every parent has done it, tutors expect it and if we were worried about being listened to then we shouldn't be tutors in the first place. Don't still be there at the end of the lesson, it's embarrassing when we open the door.

6. While listening at the door, don't be surprised if little Jonny or Janet is spilling the beans on all the family secrets. This is some kind of reflex action in children - if there is a bean, they will spill it. Tutors have to be trustworthy and this includes not making calls to the Inland Revenue or the local news office. Calls to the police are at our discretion, however.

7. Do not threaten your child outside the door. Both the child and the tutor will be aware of the threat and it means we have to pretend it didn't happen. If you need to threaten your child before lessons, do so before we arrive or in front of us, so there's no need to pretend.

8. If you threaten Jonny or Janet in front of us, don't expect us to join in. Tutors are on the side of the child in almost all cases, even though it's the parents who pay our wages. Yes, horrible, isn't it.

9. If Jonny has a nasty personal habit, some warning would be nice. I mean, really, it would. It's been a long day and that's the last thing I want to see at the end of it.

10. If Jonny says I made him go wash his hands for no reason, he's a liar. There is always a reason for me sending a child to the bathroom.

11. As you drift about near the lesson, don't be surprised if you hear laughter and joking. Being a tutor does not mean standing over Janet and making her work like Farmer Bob's dog. Every lesson has its lighter moments and we'll still get more done than half a day in school.

12. If you disagree with anything I do, please tell me. This is so much better than the chilly silences, awkward looks and non-offering of tea. And I'll find out anyway, because me and Jonny, we're best friends now.

13. Don't treat me like the boot polisher in front of your friends and do introduce me. I promise not to say anything astoundingly intelligent in front of them.

14. Don't pretend I'm your child's swimming teacher when your mother arrives. I really don't look like a swimming teacher and I'm a very bad liar. Also, it's hard to practice lengths on the dining room table.

15. If you're going to close the blinds to hide me from the outside world, please do not use energy saving bulbs. In a dimly-lit room, I'll be lucky to find your child, let alone see the work they're doing.

16. If your dog is a big nuisance, please restrain him. I love dogs but there's only so much drool my bag can take. Having it near small children every day is quite bad enough without the dog sitting in it too.

17. If your child has aspergers or other special educational needs, do tell me. Don't say Jonny is lively or Janet finds reading difficult. If Jonny is likely to ricochet off the walls like a squash ball or Janet has undiagnosed dyslexia, knowledge is power.

18. If your child is an absolute tick,, don't tell me they have special educational needs and expect to get away with it. The funny thing is, bad behaviour and SEN are two separate things, even if they go hand in hand some of the time.

19. Do offer me a drink. No, not vodka, even if I look like I need it. I talk for a living and have usually been out for hours, so a drink is very welcome.

20. If you never offer me a drink, I will hold it against you forever. Not against Janet or Jonny, just you.

21. Pay me.

22. If you have difficulty with number 21, expect me to mention it. Tuition is not just flower arranging with children, I work for a living. If you try to escape paying me, why would you do that? Does your boss do it to you? Do you reach payday and have nothing because your boss went shopping with your wages?

23. Please don't tell Jonny or Janet that I'm a scary lady who won't take any nonsense. I'm only scary when I have to be or with parents. I love children and think they get scared enough in life as it is, without me adding to it.

24. If Jonny or Janet won't work, I am not going to be able to force them. If they would rather sit, letting snot drip onto the paper, using their finger to make a slime trail, then they're not going to be very interested in great literature. Ever.

25. Please don't let the slamming door be my first clue you have fled the building. I'm a tutor, not a babysitter. If you need to pop out, at least wait until you know me better and have shown me where the kettle is.

26. Swearing children will be castigated. (Look it up). Swearing parents I can just about cope with, but if combined with 22, 23 and a little bit of 15/19, there may be castigation for you too.

27. Don't be surprised I have other students. This leaves me unsure whether you think I'm incompetent, doing it for fun or am so unlikeable you're amazed anyone else lets me in.

28. Don't be inappropriate, I have a very quick right hook and a network of interesting friends.

29. When it comes time to say good bye, just tell me. Don't let it become like the end of a bad relationship, where we stare balefully at each other for weeks before someone makes the first move. I won't mind if you say first.

30. Expect me to be sorry when we say good bye.

Amanda J Harrington

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Sunday, 14 July 2013

Finding the magic




I'm going back in time, to a little kid version of me, sitting on the big chair, swinging my legs as I look around for something to do. I play games on the computer, rifle through the fridge and eat all the biscuits. I make myself a drink and spill all over the floor, but leave it because, hey, life's not about cleaning when you're little.

I skip back upstairs to the computer and lift myself onto the big chair again. Right, maybe I'll write a story now? What should it be about?

The little me used to have magic in every story, often witches, sometimes flying dogs. The flying dogs stage lasted quite a long time. I guess having a terrier cross who looked like Gnasher from The Beano kind of helped. Terriers often seem like they're flying when they want to get somewhere.

I read voraciously and wanted to re-create the stories I loved, so the older me wrote about different lands and elvish folk. It was all fantasy and I saw it in the real world as well as in my head.

Now, these days, that little girl seems more interested in doing just whatever she pleases instead of writing stories. She likes to think of the stories but isn't too keen on the writing part. I guess when you're small, the stories are small too. There is something appealing about writing a story that will be finished in time for tea.

The trick is not to lose the childish enthusiasm. I still sit at the computer and swing my legs and, of course, I still rifle the fridge and spill my drink. In some ways I've never grown up.

Now, I have to apply this child-like feeling to my writing too. I need to open a book and see the magic spill out, dancing in the air around my head, just waiting to be drawn back down to become part of something fantastical.

Like all children, I need to do a lot of playing but even the small me knew when it was time to settle down and get the old typewriter going. Readers, I'll be back shortly. I need to open an old door...

Amanda J Harrington

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Friday, 12 July 2013

Facing the school bully




Imagine the scene: I'm about to start reading from my book. I haven't been doing school visits for very long so I'm still finding a friendly face in the crowd to make myself feel braver before I start. As I look around the room, I meet the eyes of the awful bully I just pulled off another child in the playground outside. He smirks and I begin to read.

This was probably the single worst moment of any school visit I have done. The book I was reading from was The Boy Who Broke the School, which is all about the school bully getting his comeuppance. I was badly bullied at school and wrote the book as a way of helping myself see bullies in a new way. It has also helped children reading it to talk about bullying. All of this is good.

However, having been bullied, going back into schools, even as an adult, can be difficult. This may sound silly to people who see school as a friendly place where children have fun (...), but I'm sure there are some of you who know what I mean. The sinking feeling in the stomach, the dry mouth, the feeling that you have broken a promise to yourself, never to be in danger again.

Years and years ago, the very small me was told to ignore the bullies or it was brushed off as a normal part of school life. Now, all these years later and schools still say the same things.

Being bullied is not something you can ignore. It is the victim who lies awake, wondering what will happen tomorrow, fretting over what went on today. The teacher and the bully sleep soundly in their beds.

So, although going into schools can fill me with the old fear response, I do it, again and again, because times have moved on and now I'm an adult who can help children who were in the same situation.

That's the logic out of the way. On this particular school visit, I might as well have been tossed back in time to my childhood self, face to face with the school bully. And, as usual, the bully was the one who looked at ease.

I arrived at school just as the children were coming out for their break. There were no staff about, the doors opened and a horde of children screamed into the playground. Most of them rushed to line up for drinks, a few meandered about, a handful suddenly stopped in the middle of the yard.

In the middle of this group, a little boy was pushed to the ground while three other boys stood round him. One of those bent down, got on top of the little boy and started banging his head up and down off the concrete playground. A few girls tagged on, telling the bully off and trying to stop it but no one else was there.

I looked around for help. No staff, only children as far as the eye could see. I was the only adult and all the bullies, though only eleven year olds, were as tall as me (the perils of being short). One of the girls glanced across at me and we shared a brief moment of understanding - on the outside, looking in at something we hated but couldn't stop.

Gritting my teeth, I strode forward and told the bully to get off him, right now. I growled it out and said a few more things, needing to make it clear I wasn't going to be ignored. The bully looked up at me, decided if I meant it, then reluctantly backed off. He threw a few insults at me and left.

The other boys scurried off and the victim hobbled off, hurriedly, refusing offers of help and still looking anxious. The little girls beamed at me, as only little girls do when seeing someone else getting what they deserve. They told me this boy was always hurting people and sighed, as if that was the way of the world.

I went into the school, met the teachers, settled in the classroom and all was as it should be, until the moment I described above. Looking up, there he was, front row, obviously waiting for me to notice him. The school bully, smirking, arms crossed, feet already kicking on the floor.

There was a moment when I wondered if my voice would quaver. After all these years, would the nerves still be there? The boy deserved being told off in the playground even if it shouldn't have been me doing it. Would this logical thinking help me through my reading and workshop?

No, of course not. What helped me do what I needed to, with a calm voice and ignoring the horrible boy, was the sight of one of the little girls from the playground. She was further back in the class and when I caught her eye, she smiled like we were already friends. She also did that little hunch and nod that people do, when they're encouraging you to 'go on'.

I had found the friendly face in the crowd and it was what I needed to help me do the reading. After so many years of leaving school yard bullies behind, it still took more than willpower and ignoring them to beat that implacable feeling of having no control. It took support and a friendly face.

Readers, judge me as a wuss if you like, but if after years of being an adult I still needed some help in this situation, think of how it feels from a child's perspective. I was there for a few hours, with teachers to help me in every classroom. Children have to go into school day after day and face their troubles, often without anyone helping them.

We all need a little bit of extra help, someone to give us the encouragement to carry on and know we have friends. Don't leave it to an unknown girl in the crowd. Be your own child's friend when it comes to school bullies. And don't tell them to ignore it.

Amanda J Harrington

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Thursday, 11 July 2013

The People Making Machine - first look at a new series for children




Here is the first chapter of The People Making Machine, my new series for children. Jake Starling has a habit of doing things which he thinks are great ideas, until it all goes wrong. In The People Making Machine, Jake drags his friends into an adventure where they find out exactly what it takes to make a person - and why it shouldn't be left to a power-hungry boy of eleven.

Enjoy this free extract but please respect the copyright and be nice readers who don't do naughty things with other people's work. Thank you!

The People Making Machine

Mr Thomason looked behind him and screamed, fighting his way through the fence at the bottom of his garden and running through the brambles as if he had legs of steel. Behind him the kitchen door opened and a long, slim arm came out, waving in the sunshine. There was no body attached, just the arm, flapping about on the end of a stick.

Mr Thomason screamed again and speeded up, falling with a thump into the bushes at the top of Bright Bank. He scrambled free, cuts all the way up his arm and chest, his glasses tossed off, finding their way down the hill before he did.

With one last squeal of terror, he threw himself down the Bank, losing his footing after a few steps and tumbling, head over heels, like when he was eight and everything still worked. He came to rest at the bottom, his face covered in dirt, his mouth open in one last scream.

Looking like he might start screaming too, Ben stood at the top of the Bank, staring down at his old neighbour. He wanted Mr Thomason to get up, give himself a shake and make his way home as if nothing had happened. He didn’t think that was going to happen.

He turned as Jake came out of the old man’s kitchen, still waving the arm about.

‘Where’s he gone?’ Jake asked, not really interested. He couldn’t take his eyes off the fingers. They were the best part. They even had little moons at the bottom of the nails, like a real person.

‘Heaven,’ Ben said, in a whisper.

Jake finally dragged his attention back to Ben. ‘You sure?’ he asked, looking surprised.

‘Pretty sure, he was a nice person.’

‘I don’t mean that!’ Jake pushed past him, laying the arm down on the grass near the top of the Bank. He looked down the hill at old Mr Thomason, lying still in the mud at the bottom. ‘Oh, hum, he does look a bit dead.’

Ben stared at him, his little hands grasping and ungrasping. ‘He’s not just a bit dead, is he?’ he managed.
Jake was distracted as his beloved arm started to roll down the hill, the movement of the fingers setting it off from the top. Before he could stop it, the arm was down with Mr Thomason, lying at the bottom of the incline.

The two boys stood, with the sun behind them, staring down the Bank. The only thing moving was the arm on a stick, twisting as if it thought it could get off and find a body. The only body spare seemed to be Mr Thomason, who wasn’t moving at all.

‘You killed a man!’ Ben breathed, taken over by what had happened.

Jake looked at him as if he was mad. ‘He ran off by himself!’ he said, indignantly.

‘Because of you!’ Ben plucked up the courage to poke the bigger boy in the chest. Jake’s lips quivered and he slapped the hand away.

‘Don’t touch me!’ he said, explosively. He stalked off down the Bank, stepping sideways so he wouldn’t slip and grabbed up the arm. He smacked it too, when the fingers waved towards his face.

‘I’ll put this away while you call the others. We need to move the body.’

‘Need to - what - are you?’ Ben couldn’t manage a full question.

‘Shut up and call the others,’ Jake came up next to him, holding the hand on the arm so the fingers wouldn’t reach for Ben. It liked reaching for people.

Ben shook his head. Jake glared at him and let go of the fingers, letting the arm twist on the stick, feeling its way through the air towards Ben’s face.

The little boy’s bottom lip wobbled and he stepped backwards. ‘You’re a bad person, Jake!’ he blurted out. Jake and the arm moved closer. ‘All right, I will! But you’ve got to admit it was you!’

‘I’m admitting nothing,’ Jake said, as calm as ever. He glanced back at Mr Thomason, then smiled at Ben, his teeth looking sharp as the sun glinted off them. ‘I’ll make it right, though.’

Ben backed off, ready to fetch their friends. ‘How?’ he asked, not sure he wanted to know.

Jake raised an eyebrow and stroked his hair with the wriggling hand. ‘I’m going to bring Mr Thomason back, only better.’

Not waiting to hear any more, Ben turned and ran, hurtling back through the old man’s kitchen.

On the edge of Bright Bank, Jake looked down at the figure lying below him. He hadn’t meant it to happen but it couldn’t have come at a better time. He needed a test subject and here was one, dead at his feet and fresh as anything.

His eyes glazed over as he plotted it all out so nothing would go wrong. Satisfied, he narrowed his eyes and looked towards Ben’s house. That was the only weak link in the chain. They couldn’t risk anyone seeing them move the body.

With a grim smile, Jake made his way to his friend’s house. It was time to have a word with Ben’s gran. Hopefully, she had more sense than her grandson did.


Amanda J Harrington

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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Melting brains




Oh, it's so hot and my brians have melted. I heard them in the night, a sad sound like an ice cream as it slops out of the cone and away onto the floor.

Sorry if this imagery is a bit gruesome when mixed with brains, but I just don't deal well with the heat. Coming from this high up in England means I'm accustomed to woolly jumpers and extra blankets, not having to dig out those weird things people down South wear (I think they're called shorts).

I'm grumpy, distracted, lazy, annoyed at the weather and my mind has switched off. The writing has come up against a wall of heat and needs to simmer down before I carry on.

I'm using the time for a Big Read Through. In other words, I'm sat there, reading the whole of the Ghost Killer, to help me bring it all together and start afresh when I'm not turning into a human puddle.

In my previous life, when I did proper work for a living, I used to wonder how other people came in, had a little moan about the heat, then got on with things. How did they work through the discomfort? Why did their brains still function?

I think it might be because other people can concentrate, whereas I'm just waiting for something, anything to distract me from what I should be doing.

This morning, desperate to write something but not having the willpower to actually think, I started doing all my Amazon reviews. I even found out I was a top reviewer (who knew?) and that spurred me on to review things I've ignored for months.

My handy interlude from having to write came to an abrupt halt when I realised I was using Amazon to avoid working....

So, here I am, back at the computer, moaning, too hot, considering cutting my toenails and determined, I say determined, readers! to do some work today.

And I will not be distracted by anything, once I get started. Promise.

Amanda J Harrington

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Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Sequels...facing the challenge




'Write the next book!' is the advice given to writers when they're having a moan about something. Online, real-life, the answer seems to be the same. rather than dwell on your problems, write the next book!

Yes, this is all very well. If, like me, you have the first book written, there is a good chance you can think of what comes next. I never want to leave my characters just where they are, I love having more stories for them and taking them further. Also, I miss them.

What I tend to do these days, with my brians in a fervour of writing and reading and editing and thinking and nightmaring and tea-drinking, is to have enough ideas for at least the first two books in a series. Before any careful writers out there feel that I'm going wild, having the ideas doesn't mean I have the book in hand.

The Boy Who Broke the School is a painful example. Not this book, this one was a joy to write. I sat there, night after night, writing by hand after my children had gone to bed. I loved writing Daniel's story. And, almost as soon as I had finished, I started on the sequel.

I was clear about where it was going: chapters were happening before I could write them down and it fairly powered along. I enjoyed writing it as much as its predecessor - more, perhaps, as I had a better idea of who my characters were, so it was like taking a day trip with old friends.

And then, ssssshHLUNK!!! I came up against a brick wall. In the last chapter.

I remember thinking, this is a blip. This book has practically written itself, I can hardly stop now.

I'm used to starting books that don't work out and they tend to fizzle out in the first few chapters. But to reach the end? No, it was just a bump in the road. I would leave it a little while and come back to it when I'd figured out what was wrong.

Readers, that was six years ago. The sequel to Daniel's adventures is in my room somewhere, in some fat notebooks, written in the sort of excited scrawl you get when your pen won't move fast enough for the story.

One of my tasks this year is to dig it out, see if I can read my own writing and find out what happens in the end. And you know what? If I can't figure out the end, I'm making it up! There, I said it! It will be finished, one way or the other.

The Dark Pathway and The Cat's Girl both have sequels waiting too. I've actually started the sequel to The Cat's Girl. It fell by the wayside just before Christmas (as many things do), but it's partly written in reality and mostly written in my head too. I'm not worried about that one, I have a feeling it will happen without me needing to be strict with myself.

As for the rest? Well, I've already written sequels to some of my non-fiction books, but that doesn't unsettle me the same way as a fiction book might. There are no beloved characters in my non-fiction and so the pressure is off. I can just write the books and not worry.

It's when you see your characters as real people that you suffer. Kind of like choosing a present for a close friend - you want to get it just right and will take much longer than you would choosing a present for someone you barely know.

Sometimes, the familiarity of your work can be what holds you back. You need to push aside the pressure to make it worth what came before and focus on enjoying the story again. That way, you and your characters can have at least as much fun as you did the first time around. And this time, you get to hold hands.

Amanda J Harrington

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Monday, 8 July 2013

Painting the future




"In the painted window, the garden of 1507 bathed, peacefully, in July sunlight. The new ponds had been filled and lilies flowered. The grass around the ponds was allowed to grow, to create a naturalistic scene. The pathway from the house led away from the old kitchens and towards the meadowlands.

Birds wheeled through the lazy air, sudden darts to catch insects looking like whirling dances across a deserted ballroom. The trees to the right were smaller than the ones in the distance, where a forest grew and stretched to border the old village by the church.

Inside the window, a small face, unused to sun or looking in ponds, surveyed the scene. Check and draw, check and paint. A mathematical process, with incidental talent to make the end result a thing of beauty.

Her task was to make a copy of what was needed for future times, for days and years when no one here would be alive or anyone who might remember them. It felt strange, if she hesitated to consider it, to be drawing something unknown eyes would examine and draw strength from.

Not her descendants, though. Her wizened little face, covered in what looked like age and suffering, belonged to a girl of 15, one who might have been light and pretty in another life. She had ash blonde hair, fastened in diamond clasps and her gown was a pale spring green, with yellow embroidery, to suit her soft pink skin. Her eyes were a light blue, another spring shade for a girl at the start of her life.

She bent over her work, concentrating on the bottom of the painted windowsill. She wanted to paint in the grain as clearly as she could, so that it might be painted again, quite successfully, in years to come. Everything she painted must be faithful in the extreme, each detail ready to be seen in an instant and copied over by the untalented.

Cassandra squinted at her windowsill, her face lightening as she pulled away. No one could have done it like she did and, just sometimes, she felt a flutter in her stomach at what might have happened if she had not been born. How could they then have controlled the doorway?

Leaving it for the day, desperate to rest her aching limbs, Cassandra crossed the room and lay down on her day bed. She sighed in tiredness, then again in despondency. This was the second time today she had needed rest and the painting was only half finished. What would happen if she could not complete it in time?

She shook her head a little, allowing her eyes to close as sleep took her. It was an easy battle to forgo and she smiled as she was swept, softly and unresisting, into her favourite dreams. She was almost there already, in that treasured place with no pain and no fear. Just a while longer, enough time to finish what seemed to have become her destiny and then she could rest forever."


In the present day, this painted reality exists as a testament to past strengths, when Cedar's family were numerous and honourable. Now, only Cedar and his parents remain, the last burst of life in their long history.

Cedar's father is addicted to the power of this old painting, his mother is lost in her own worlds and rarely leaves her room. Only Cedar carries on with their work, dispatching stray spirits from this world to the next.

Like in every family, there is a long, looping connection from what happened in the past to the present day. For Cedar and Cassandra that great loop is about to come full circle.

I have entered the next stage of the Ghost Killer.

Amanda J Harrington

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Sunday, 7 July 2013

Writing around other people...




It's a nice hobby, you know. You can sit down, when you've done all your jobs and get out the pen and paper. You don't need to put much effort into it, kind of like doing a word search, only with more words.

Yes, this is how most of the people you know will see your writing. Don't listen to what they say, this is what they really think. Not all of them, but most.

Actions speak louder than words, as the saying goes - this is the way to spot the doubters.

You sit down to write, having promised yourself you'll finally finish the story about Taragon the friendly Turtle for your niece's birthday, and what happens? You get interrupted by a family member who sees you sitting down and thinks you should be doing something useful.

How many times have we been stopped from writing by people thinking we've sat down for a rest and/or a play? How often are you asked to do something 'once you've finished', the something being a physical task which counts as proper work, as opposed to just sitting there, with a pen in your hand.

Or you closet yourself away, with the computer, knowing exactly where you're going with the Musician Chronicles this week, only to hear a step outside the door. You tense, waiting for it to pass and then the door opens.

Another interruption, just checking what you're doing, how are you getting along? All fake questions, designed to find out if you're doing anything useful (you're not, only writing) and how long it will be before you come out.

So, desperate to have some writing time, you limit yourself to an arranged time or day, with a block set aside just for writing. That ought to do it! You can tell everyone 'this is my writing time' and make sure they all know when it is. The phone is off, family are banned from your space and you can finally finish the early years of your life story.

Except, you probably can't. Even if the pressure of 'writing time' doesn't stop you from being able to write, the distant sound of vacuuming surely will, especially as it winds gradually closer. There is something about 'writing time', however much you plan ahead and discuss it with people, that seems to encourage noisy behaviours in the rest of the house.

In absolute frustration, you take your laptop or pen and paper out into the open. You hide in plain sight, in the middle of a park or in the car. You flee the house and everyone you know, just to get some writing done. Now, after all your trials, you can continue the exploits of Bernhardt the murderous electrician.

Then you get your writing done. You have the glorious experience of writing a proper amount, of moving forward with your work and building up your morale so that you can see how the rest of the book will work. You get enough done that, when you return home, you feel the book is worth the effort of trying to continue writing it.

In real everyday life, we just don't have the option to leave and write elsewhere, not often. If you can do that and it works, go ahead. For the rest of us, we're stuck with avoiding our nearest and dearest and their complex, underhanded, determined attempts to scupper our creative endeavours in the name of having something better for us to do.

This is why I mistrust people who say they support the writers in their family. It's not that they are deliberately ruining any possibility of written excellence - it's just that, by behaving normally, they put a spanner in any creative work going on.

They wonder why their loved one is so ungrateful when they've been allowed a full half an hour to write before the dogs need fed or the children need bathed or the hinge on the kitchen door needs fixing.

To the writers out there, it really won't matter what you say, you will still be interrupted. I recommend escape if possible, or a good, sturdy lock on the door. In-ear headphones are also good as you can pretend you can't hear the interruption, even if you are perfectly aware of the incessant voice, calling your name, outside the locked door.

Whatever it takes, you have to write and to write you need some space either side of the writing to help you think clearly. Achieving this space sometimes requires more creative thinking than the writing itself, but it will be worth it.

Amanda J Harrington

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A story somewhere