Category Archives: books

I read it so you don’t have to: The Explosive Child

The Explosive Child by Ross Greene (not of Friends fame) is a parenting book I’ve heard recommended for ages, but had never got round to reading. My child isn’t really explosive, I thought to myself. Maybe a little volatile. Maybe prone to random violence. Maybe impossible. But not actually, you know, combustible. Not entirely composed of dynamite. Just, say, 60%.

Just read it anyway. Or read this and see if you’d like to read it. It provides a good technique for finding solutions to problems between two people, especially when one of them has not yet developed coping mechanisms for, you know, life as we experience it.

The subtitle is “A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children.” It’s not new any more, of course, since it was first published in 1998, (though this is the fifth edition, from 2014, that I got from the library), but it’s newer than spare the rod and spoil the child, or many other tried and tested (and failed) methods you may have heard of. If you’ve read How to Talk so Kids Will Listen , this complements what’s in there quite well. If you’re a fan of gentle discipline, forge ahead without fear.

Anyway, I’m going to run over the basic points here, in case you don’t have time for a whole book in between picking up the pieces and mopping up the detritus that your non-combustible child causes.

  • Children do well if they can. Your child is not making trouble to make your life hell, or getting into trouble because it’s fun. They’re doing it because they can’t do any better.
  • The reason they can’t do better is not because they’re spawn of satan. (I’m paraphrasing here, you understand.) They simply lack the skills to be able to. Mostly, this is because their brain is still developing. The part at the front of their brain that enables them to be patient, to roll with the punches, to have emotional fortitude, isn’t really online yet. Instead, their lizard brain at the back kicks in and they respond to frustrating situations with, you know, explosions.
  • Rewards and punishments don’t work with these kids because they’re not helping the kid solve the problem, they’re just focused on avoiding the result – the explosion. Instead, we need to help them learn to solve problems.
  • We need to do this collaboratively, not by telling them what to do. Telling kids what to do works with some kids, but with others – say, my not-entirely-made-of-TNT child – it just gets their back up and makes them more certain that they’ll do anything but that. So you need to approach it with them, as a team, and let them participate in coming up with the solution. The more practice they get doing this, the better they’ll be, and their front brain part (technical term) will grow.
  • It’s best to do this proactively, not in the heat of the moment. So the idea is that you identify problems, figure out what lagging skills are the root of it, and try to plan to fix that the next time it comes up.
  • There’s a website! If you go here you’ll find lots of stuff that goes along with the book – and you don’t really need the book to use it. You can use the ALSUP checklist and guide to help you find what skills your child is lagging in that are contributing to their meltdowns. You can use the Problem Solving Plan as a flowchart to help you have conversations that identify the problems and find solutions. The Drilling Cheat Sheet gives lots of scripts to help you find out what’s really going on. (If you’ve read How to Talk so Kids will Listen… or Siblings without Rivalry it all looks pretty familiar.)

And this is roughly how, ideally, a conversation is meant to go. Of course, it might not. The book goes into all the various iterations of what might happen and how you get it back on track, but very basically…

– I’ve noticed you have difficulty doing x. What’s up with that?

-Well, I hate y.

-So you hate y. Anything else?

– And it’s really hard because of z.

– Ok, so you hate y and z gives you trouble. Anything else?

– No, that’s it.

– Let’s think about how we can solve this problem. I wonder if there’s a way to avoid y and make z easier. Do you have any ideas?

Then you come up with some ideas, together. The solution has to be realistic and mutually satisfactory. If it turns out not to be realistic after all, you come back and find a new solution, as many times as it takes.

The more often you have these conversations and work together to find solutions, the better your kid gets at doing it, and so they start building those skills that they were lacking, and your life becomes inestimably better.

That’s the theory, anyway. It’s worth a shot. Let me know how you get on. I’ll be gazing into calming waters and breathing deeply.

Fountain

Calming waters, deep breaths

Self-publishing: the hard part

So you thought writing the book was the hard part. And then you thought editing your own writing was the hard part. And then you thought that getting it all through the various self-publishing engines that kept rejecting it for no apparent reason was the hard part. And then having to proof it one last time and then finding all those typos because you actually never did bother to run spellcheck…?

Yeah, none of that was the hard part. The hard part about self-publishing is the PR. You have to be your own marketing machine, and if there’s one characteristic that is conspicuously missing from the middle of the venn diagram showing the personalities of people who like to sit alone at home writing all day and people whose job is literally about developing relationships with members of the public (yes – PR doesn’t just stand for proportional representation), it’s um, well, it’s probably most things. If you even got to the end of that sentence intact. My point is that writers tend to be introverts who don’t like to call people up and try to sell themselves or the very precious and personal fruits of their labours.

But if you self-publish and you’d like more people than your best friend and your parents to buy your book you have to be prepared to blow your own trumpet a bit. This is what I’ve learned about that part, so far.

  1. Have a product you’re legitimately proud of, from the outside cover to the inside writing. You can’t sell your work to someone if you’re saying “Well, I’d have liked it to be a bit better…” You have to go all out. That’s easier if you really do love it.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask. Self-published is not a dirty word – many very well-regarded books are self-published these days. Many distributors take them on. Many bookstores sell them. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.
  3. Places that are not bookshops also sell books, and might be easier to get your book into. Depending on the subject matter, think outside the box about where you might offload a few. I have a friend who’s selling his book in the tourist information office in his town. My neighbourhood supermarket has a local authors’ display right by the shopping baskets.
  4. You can build a relationship with someone over the phone or email – you don’t have to be there in person. Be professional and friendly and don’t burn any bridges.
  5. Order copies for yourself and sell them to your friends. They save on shipping charges and you can sign them personally for them, just in case you end up famous. Your friends are lovely people who want to help you. Don’t give all your copies away.
  6. Christmas is a really good time to remind your friends that you wrote a book, because they can buy it again for someone else.

I know there are a million blogposts out there telling me how to market my book. And being me, I haven’t read any of them. I’ve purposely ignored them, because I hate being told what I should be doing. (Who me? Like my daughter? I don’t know what you’re talking about.) This is what I’ve done so far, since first publication in July. (Sure, snail’s pace. Don’t give out to me.)

  • I happen to know someone who works in the county library system here. She offered to give a copy to her colleague who chooses the books. Her colleague put that one copy in my local library. Score.
  • I emailed the person in charge of choosing books for the Dun Laoghaire library system in Dublin – where I would really like to see the book available, to kids who live where it’s set. She told me to contact their distributor, which I did. After a long wait and much to-ing and fro-ing it turned out that he’d like to carry it but his contract was being given to a UK multinational so he couldn’t. Then he might, but he doesn’t deal with CreateSpace. Then the lovely woman in the library said “Never mind, I’ve just ordered six copies from this other supplier we have.” Done and done.
  • I contacted several local bookshops in Dublin – small ones, not big chains – to see if they would carry the book. Not a simple matter. Very few bookshops are truly independent, it seems, and they all told me that the book had to be distributed by Argosy Books or Eason Wholesale in order for them to be able to sell them. I sent a copy to Argosy but they passed. Eason wants to know all about my launch and publicity plans – which really isn’t something I can do much on, not being in the country, so I don’t think that’ll take off. You really do need a PR machine to get into bookshops, it seems.
  • I sent a copy of the book and an article about writing and books and being an emigrant to the Books Supplement at the Irish Times. They haven’t selected it for review (yet) but they did run my article in the online edition, which was nice. I don’t know if it translated to any sales, but it gave me something to tell the distributors about publicity. I should try to do more of this with the other Irish papers.
  • I submitted a the same article, more or less, to Writing.ie for their Writing & Me section, and I think they’ll run it soon. They didn’t mind that it had already been published elsewhere.

Being in a different place from where my target market is definitely hampers me. If I was in Dublin I could try to set something up in person with the library and maybe some local schools, and that might translate into enough local interest for the Argosy people to change their minds. Maybe I’ll manage that some day. I still do suffer from impostor syndrome to quite an extent, and feel that I’d be professing to be something I’m not if I did all that.

I think what I’m learning is that good writing might bring your readers back, but you have to set the machine in motion to get those readers in the first place. The distributors don’t read the book, I’m pretty sure: they look at it with a buyer’s eye – does it look professional (thanks to my awesome cover designer and CreateSpace, I have no worries on that front) and is there some buzz built up to get people to buy it.

This’ll have to be  more of a slow burn than a buzz. But it’s all part of the learning process.

One cat on a chair, one cat under the chair, bookshelves behind the chair

Cats and books and sunshine

The Picky-Eating Book – what you want to know

Well, I finished reading the book and I’m all fired up with renewed enthusiasm. I’m going to outline the basic plan from it in this post, and then I’ll write another post about what I’m thinking and planning and doing and how it’s going so far. (Very early days. But that’s why I have a “Best Intentions” tag.)

This is the book: Helping your Child with Picky Eating, by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin.Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating - cover of book

When I showed it to Dash he spotted the flaw in the title’s phrasing immediately, and said he didn’t need any help with picky eating. Indeed: he’s an expert. But I read it anyway. And it was good.

This book is entirely complementary to everything Ellyn Satter wrote in How to Get Your Kid to Eat (and, I’m sure, her other books; that’s the one I’ve read). It takes Satter’s principles of Division of Responsibility (DOR) and draws them out to show you how to work it for an extremely picky eater, or a child who has physical problems that make it hard for them to eat, or even a child who’s been fed by a tube and is transitioning to solids. (And I thought I had it bad.)

Division of Responsibility, if you’re not familiar with it and didn’t just follow that link, means that you are responsible for where and when eating takes place, and what food is offered. The child is responsible for what and how much they eat.

The whole premise of the plan is that you get your child to the table, and once they’re there you take all the pressure off. You make the table a pleasant place to be, not one where they’re bugged and hounded and stressed about what they should and shouldn’t eat. You put a bunch of food on the table and everyone takes what they want and nobody talks about who’s eating what or how much. And your child always has at least one or two of their “safe” foods available, so they don’t have to go outside their comfort zone until they’re ready to.

The first part of the book basically lays to rest most parents’ fears and guilt about their child’s eating. It’s not your fault, it’s not something you did, and we can help you fix this without pressure or anxiety or making your kid cry. It talks about how if the dinner table is a place associated with stress and fear, your child is very unlikely to want to eat or to enjoy their food.

There are a few key points to the plan:

  • You schedule “eating opportunities” at regular intervals, following the same principles for snacks as for meals (and maybe offering something more nutritious then than you might have thought of; chicken nuggets, anyone?) So if they don’t eat much at dinner, they know there’ll be another chance for food in a little while.
  • You serve meals and snacks “family style”, meaning that you put everything on the table and each person helps themselves, or is helped if they can’t manage.
  • You put one or two of your child’s safe foods on the table, always available. If they eat nothing but bread rolls for days on end, say nothing.
  • You put the dessert on the table too. They can eat it whenever they want. No bribery, no “do this to get this.” It’s food, just like everything else.
  • You don’t encourage anyone to eat anything. You don’t say “Mmm, try some of this,” or “Just take a bite,” or “You need to eat some protein” or “That’s not enough to fill you up.” Just don’t. You can talk about how you like your food, and you can ask them not to “yuck someone else’s yum” – that is, not to say something on the table doesn’t look good, but mostly you’re there to enjoy a pleasant time with family. The food is not the focus.

The book goes on to show how you can plan meals that everyone will eat (at least some part of), and offers suggestions for ways to manage if you don’t have time for cooking or don’t want to cook much yourself. It also gives lots of advice for parents of children who have physical difficulties eating, and discusses types of therapy that might be useful and how to approach these. They also talk about how to deal with eating out of the home – at a restaurant, with other family members, or with friends.

My favourite part was near the end, when they said you don’t have to do this all at once. It’s not an approach that’s doomed to failure if you don’t go cold turkey on your old, bad ways and turn over a new leaf that never turns back. It accepts that maybe you can only commit to one step at a time, and that things might backslide for a while, but that you can keep going and this will become your new normal and it will work. I also really like that this is a plan for the whole family, not just something you’re doing for (or with, or especially to) the picky eater in your life.

Sounds good, eh? Come back for the next post to see what’s happening in real life.

Sorry, Gene

I am a horrible person. I’ll tell you why. I don’t like Gene Wilder.

Even worse. I think the reason I don’t like him is mostly because he has curly hair. I don’t like men with curly hair.

I am the shallowest person on the planet, and I should suffer accordingly.

I also don’t like him because, in another unpopular move, I hate the Willy Wonka film. The first one, that he was in. Roald Dahl didn’t like it either, did you know, which is why it doesn’t have the same title as the book. When I first saw the film – randomly on television on a Sunday afternoon, I think – I was very excited to find a film of the book I loved so much that I didn’t even complain (much) when I got an extra copy as a tenth birthday present. I’d read it years before that. But the film was a betrayal. I was indignant at the liberties they took with the characters, the plot, the whole damn thing. It was awful. The cringingly seventies-ness of it all only made it worse – this was the mid eighties, you know, by which time we were all wearing fluorescent bat-wing sweaters and drainpipe stonewashed jeans and looking so much better than all those drab brown polonecks and curtain prints. We had spikes and mullets, not bowl cuts. So much better.

(It occurs to me just now that I think of them as curtain prints probably not because they were solely employed for curtains, but because clothes are cycled through much faster than home furnishings. All our houses probably still had curtains and sofas and carpets from the 70s when we were growing up in the 80s. Epiphany!)

(I did not have a fluorescent sweater, though I did have a blue batwing one. I did have jeans with zips at the bottom, but they were not drainpipe or stonewashed. I did not have a mullet, but I still had bad hair. But I still knew that the 70s were the epitome of stylelessness.)

Anyway, my Facebook feed is full of Gene Wilder right now and I feel very defensive about it all. I was actually fine with Young Frankenstein, which I found very funny, but I’ve sort of avoided his other films. I should probably (heaves sigh) do something about that. Blazing Saddles or something.

—–

In other news, we got steroids for Dash’s poison ivy and they are working miraculously. Second grade is still going fine though there was a very meta meltdown yesterday when Mabel had problems writing a paragraph about how she finds it hard to write a paragraph. (Paragraphs are specific things, as you might not know if you studied, say, my paragraphs. They have an opening sentence, three detail sentences, and a closing sentence. Except rumour had it that in second grade you needed five details. This was causing some angst. Also, openings are hard.)

And I am very busy with book sale things. For details I will refer you to past posts on the subject. Next week I will be delightfully free, except for that book I said I’d edit and that other book I have to market and the one I have to get to at least second draft stage. So, books all round.

Dash just ate most of a grape. He couldn’t eat the whole thing because he says they get too fleshy at the end.

See, closing sentences are hard too.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Penguin edition

This was the birthday-present one. 1984 edition.

 

 

Self-publishing – the basics

I wrote a book. And then I decided to self-publish it. So I asked a couple of friends who had self-published, and they gave me encouragement and pointed me towards some blog posts that had very comprehensive advice, and then I did it. You can easily google up such blog posts, so this will not be all the information, but it might be a start, if you’re wondering about it. This is as much for my own memory-keeping as anything else, since I forget stuff and I’ll be wanting to do it all again once I’ve got book two finished. It would be nice not to have to reinvent the wheel for myself.

First of all, self-publishing is pretty easy to do. You can do it. I don’t know if you can do it well, and it’s definitely a good idea to get expert help in a couple of areas, but you can do it. And everyone you know will be madly impressed if you do.

Ebook or physical book?

I originally planned to just make an ebook, because a print edition sounded much too real and scary and hard to do. It turns out making a print edition is not a lot more than an ebook, so my advice would be to do it anyway. There’s no upfront cost to publishing a print book with CreateSpace, and if you order physical copies and distribute/sell them yourself, you make more of a profit than you would on the ebooks.

Since mine is a children’s book, I feel like there’s more of a market for the print book than the ebook – and the print version is just nicer. You can do more with fonts and have more control over the end product – with an ebook you’re quite limited because the reader always has ultimate control over font and size.

Where does it go?

There are two places to put your ebook, so everyone tells me – you need to put it on Smashwords and also, separately, on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Amazon will sell the KDP one for Kindles, and the Smashwords version is vital for distribution for any other e-reader like the Nook or as an iBook.

To make the print version you use CreateSpace, which is affiliated with Amazon but is not the same company. People will be able to buy your print edition and your Kindle edition from the same page on Amazon.com and all the other Amazon sites worldwide.

(Of course, there are other ways you can do this. I’m just telling you what I did, but these seem to be fairly standard.)

How do I know how to set the price?

The websites will all tell you what sort of price point you should set your book at so that you make a profit but don’t price it so high that you scare customers off. You can look at similar books online to get a feel for the prices too.

Can I outsource some of the work?

You wrote a book. Of course you can get other people to do other stuff, because you want this to look professional, don’t you? You’ll have to pay them real money, though – none of this “exposure” nonsense.

Editing: You should get your book edited, or at the very least ask someone else who’s picky about grammar and notices that sort of thing to read it. (You can hire me to edit it, if you want. That’s a thing I do.) The more editing you get, the better your book will be.

Design: You’ll need a cover. For the ebook this is just a rectangle with a picture on it, but for the print version you need a spine and a back cover too. The whole thing has to fit certain specifications that you’ll understand if you have some technical design background, but otherwise this is something you might well want to farm out. Nobody will read your wonderful writing if the book cover isn’t appealing, so this is money well spent. (Mine was.)

Layout: And finally you have to set the whole thing up so that the various websites you upload it to will accept it. This is something I was happy to do myself, but it took some trial and error. If you’re terrified of it you can hire someone to do this too.

The websites will point you in the direction of professionals for all these jobs, or you can find someone you know and trust and want to pay. I like giving work to friends, because that’s what makes the world go round.

How do I format it?

Each of the three locations has slightly different requirements, but here are some basics:

  • You don’t need a fancy program – you can work in Word.
  • You’ll need to use the Styles feature, for Smashwords especially, so that your paragraphs all work properly.
  • Don’t use double spaces after full stops (or anywhere else for that matter), and keep your fingers away from that Tab key. Never tab or spacebar to move text across the page. Centre your text or use a style to set consistent tabs.
  • Run spellcheck at the end, even if you have the spelling checker turned off because it’s annoying. (It is.)
  • Follow the Smashwords style guide. It tells you everything you need to know and is easy to read. If you do this one first the others are easy to move on to.

Public relations

The last part, and maybe the hardest, is sales and marketing. For some people, just seeing their names in print is the final aim, but I think most self-published authors are hoping to at the very least break even and preferably even make some sort of profit, eventually – as well as just hanging out for the thrill of hearing that someone read your words and liked them.

Nobody will know about your great book if you hide your light under a bushel, so once it’s up and running you have to tell everyone, and get them to tell everyone, and encourage people to buy it and read it and leave you five-star reviews at all the online vendors. You have to be your own PR machine, which for many writers is exactly the opposite of their dream job.

I’ll let you know how that bit goes…

Faking it

I am fake-it-till-you-make-it-ing like crazy today. It’s the only way through. I don’t exactly want to call it impostor syndrome, but it’s a new way of defining myself, and I’m not entirely sure of it yet.

Technically, as of yesterday, I’m a published author now. I just have to resist the temptation to demur and dissemble, to shake my head and say “No, no, not really. Any fool can publish their own book, it’s so easy these days. It’s not like I have a contract with an actual publisher.” For one thing, many people don’t really understand the difference, and don’t care. For another, the difference really is becoming less important as self-publishing becomes more and more mainstream. For a third – I did the work, I really did write all those words – which still surprises me sometimes – and I put them all together and I fixed them up and then I formatted it all and uploaded it all in the tedious process that is submitting your book to the self-publishing machine.

I also paid real money for cover art and design. I have to confess that I didn’t pay real money, or even Monopoly money, for editing. I know the book could have been even better if I’d had it professionally edited, and as a professional editor myself that’s what I always tell people. But this is, when it comes down to it, a vanity project. I don’t expect to make any money off it, and I blew my budget on the cover instead. If I break even I’ll consider it a really great achievement. So I edited it myself, which is a terrible thing to do because it’s hard to take off your writer hat and put on your editor hat and read it as if you’ve never seen it before.

Then there’s the “It’s only a children’s book” self-put-down. A children’s book is also a real book. It’s 40,000 words long, so I think it counts. Someone told me today that it’s really hard to write for the 9-12 age group. I usually think of it as just channelling my inner immaturity, because it seems to come pretty naturally to me; but I’ll do my best to let myself take the compliment.

So there was this moment today when a friend posted my link to the book on Amazon in a Facebook group, and I realised that to anyone in that group who doesn’t know me personally, this is who I am now. I’m a person who writes books. And that therefore, it is the case that in real life I am a person who writes books – or at least, has written one, with aspirations to continue. It’s quite an adjustment, mentally, to think of myself that way, even though I’ve been doing this book-writing thing for quite a while now. I just haven’t been shouting about it, and now I have to shout about it – at least on social media – because that’s part of doing it.

That thing about the crack team of designers that my imaginary publisher would have provided me with – they would also have had a crack team of editors, from developmental to proofreading, and a crack PR team too, to publicize my book and send out press releases and all that jazz. Except, the way book publishing is going these days, authors who are signed even to very large and reputable publishing houses are expected to do a lot of their own – well, let’s call it “outreach”. And hey, I’m a top editor myself (in the vein of Bridget Jones’s “top, top people”), so all I have to do is get over myself and put the word out without being all sheepish and humble about it. Faking it like crazy.

And then I shall sit back and watch the pennies roll in. Maybe even two or three at a time.

Branch overhanging still water, and its reflection

Here’s a nice picture I took today that bears no relation to the text; feel free to interpret it metaphorically

By its cover

When you daydream about writing a book, you might sometimes think about how much fun it’ll be when you get the the part when you’re instructing your cover designers, a top-notch team on the payroll of your publisher, of course, in exactly how you think the cover should look. It’s like daydreaming about baby names when you’re trying to get pregnant – there’s quite a large element of “I shouldn’t even think about this because it’s just tempting fate,” but it’s so much fun you sometimes let yourself do it anyway.

When you decide to self-publish, you have to find your own crack team of cover designers, which puts all the power in your hands, but also shows you just how much you don’t know about this part of the process. I could have found someone from Smashwords (the website through which I’m publishing the ebook) or on some other freelancing website, but I’d rather give work to friends than to strangers, and I have a lot of talented friends. (Note: I didn’t say “sponge freebies from”, I said “give work to”.)

It takes a bit of time, though, especially when you’re as vague as I am about what you actually want in a book cover. I know what I like, when I see it. I even had some ideas about what my book cover could show. I needed help brainstorming, and I needed to see lots of possibilities. It took three people and several months, but I’m finally at the point where I have a cover I love and it’s almost ready to go.

The writing inside is irrelevant if nobody buys your book because the cover put them off. It might not be a bad cover, but it might not look the way they want their books to look. It might look too twee, or too brash, or – when you’re talking about children’s books – for the wrong age group. I never noticed how age-group-specific cover design is until I had a cover I thought I liked and my seven year old said it looked like a little kids’ book. Redo, redo, redo!

And did you ever consider how much the title’s font affects your decision about a book? Not the words, just the shape of the letters – such tiny differences, and yet so vital. I spent all yesterday morning trying out different fonts until I was googly-eyed, and even though I can stop now I keep noticing them everywhere. Children especially, are massively judgmental, and unwilling to even try something that doesn’t look the way they think it should look, no matter how much it’s recommended to them. Especially if it’s recommended to them, if they’re anything like my children.

(I remember how often my mother told me to read Little Women and how long it took me to look at it, purely because she said I should. Then one day I took it off the shelf and started reading, and thought the only way out was to be about halfway through by the time she noticed. I wonder where Mabel gets her contrariness from?)

Now I have a book cover that looks modern and quirky, interesting and fun. It stands out in a crowd – or as a thumbnail on a page filled with other book cover thumbnails – and I think it will appeal to the right demographic. You’d remember noticing it before, and think “I’ve seen that before; maybe this time I’ll check it out.” I love it.

(If you want to know more about my book, drop me a line at awfullychipper@gmail.com and I’ll send you the relevant links. I’m trying not to cross the streams, here.)

Six-minute update (with very important information)

I need a blurb. That’s what’s at the foremost of my mind right now. The things that make people buy a book are the front cover and the description on the back – that’s called the blurb, honest to god, it is, even though it sounds like a pretend word that someone used because they couldn’t remember the technical term. It really is the technical term.

“Why do you need a blurb, Maud?” I hear you ask. Because I’m self-publishing this darned book, so I am. I got the last – very kind, very nice – rejection from the last person I’d sent it to, and now I just want to get it out of my headspace and into the world, where it deserves to be no matter what those other people say, so that I can concentrate on the next thing, which is halfway written but starting to meander dreadfully in search of some excitement.

I have to say it’s immensely satisfying to be able to take control and do something concrete and immediate with my work, after all this time of sending it off and waiting months for a response, amending things, sending it off again… Doing the work myself to get it uploaded to the system is so much better. (I’m not designing my own cover, I’ve asked someone, so I do have to wait for that, but it won’t be long.)

In other news, Dash got so much in the way of gift tokens and straight-up money for his birthday that he bought an iPad mini. This was sort of my idea, in that I suggested it, because I couldn’t imagine what else he could possibly spend all that on. Now, of course, I’m remembering all those reasons I had for why he shouldn’t have his own device yet, and thinking that maybe just buying 57 green light sabres instead mightn’t have been such a bad idea.

Mabel is disgusted, of course. She shouted for a while about how it wasn’t fair that he was born first so he gets to have big parties and lots of presents and he’s ten, and then somehow she made me say that we might get a fish. She is now set on a fish and I don’t know how to get out of this. I have no interest in a fish, but I suppose that’s not the point, is it?

Time’s up. Ding!

But I wasn’t finished… other things…

We went to Philadelphia, which I’d never really been to and it’s lovely, we should go back. We spent a lot of time in a very fancy hotel, not waiting for Justin Bieber like some of the other people there but attending a wedding which was lovely, and for which the children actually dressed up, which I consider a bigger achievement on my part than my elegant yet comfortable shoes or the fact that I really liked my dress. On the last day we walked around and the sun came out and the kids climbed on possibly the best statue in the world (so many animals!) and it was quite breathtaking.

And now my to-do list has nothing on it. Just “Hit publish”.

Oh, I know what I wanted to say. You want to buy my book, right? You know lots of middle-grade girls who like reading and have access to an e-reader? You love YA fiction yourself, actually, especially when it’s set slightly nostalgically in Ireland in the 80s, yes? But I don’t want to give up my anonymity – such as it is – here by linking to it directly. So here’s the deal: if you’re even a tiny bit interested in knowing more about it, drop me a line – yes, an actual email, it doesn’t have to say much at all, just what you’re looking for – to awfullychipper@gmail.com and I’ll open the door to the mysterious other side – that is, I’ll send you the link to the website I just made for the book, where you’ll find all the info on how to order it when it’s available. And you can share that, and the FB page that goes along with it, to your heart’s content.

In fact, I’d be awfully grateful if you would. You guys are my ground zero, you know. No, wait, you’re my Typhoid Mary. My… what’s a non disaster associated way to say that? You’re the inner circle, that’s it.

You know what you have to do.

Dash and Mabel at City Hall, Philly

Philadelphia in the rain

Mabel on the statue of a bear under blue skies

And in sunshine

Without whom

I was pretty much dreading Friday. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, and if there’s one thing I try to avoid, it’s work. Especially of the moving-around, lifting-and-carrying kind. Also the other kinds, but mostly that kind.

Friday was the day when we had to take all the books that we’d spent the past five weeks collecting and sorting into boxes and piling up in the music room at school, and move them to the booksale site at the festival. You don’t understand how many boxes that is, how many books that is, how heavy they are, how I looked around the room and wondered how we would ever do it.

But you know you have amazing friends, and fabulous volunteers, and a wonderful community, when someone asks you what they can do, whether it’s finding empty boxes or piling up books, or something else entirely. When someone else says “I can’t be there in the morning but can I bring some cold drinks and fill the cooler with ice for you?” When ten parents show up to carry boxes of books instead of going to the gym (just as good a workout) or going home and enjoying their calm and child-free house, or even going to work.

We had hired a U-Haul to get the books on site. A 17-footer, I believe, which sounds more like a yacht to me. We filled it to capacity, twice. And unfilled it, twice. We had pizza in between runs, paid for by the PTA, as well they might.

And it was all done, with good humour and a lot of laughter. The sale was in place, and I had all the rest of the afternoon to string the lights and artfully place my pricing signs (hastily photocopied in the school the day before) and shoo away the book dealers who find out about these things and begin to circle like vultures more than an hour before you open, just in case they might be allowed to browse the stacks before we start taking the money. Hands off until 6pm but I couldn’t stop them walking slowly by those books that were uncovered and looking with their eyes, not their hands.

It didn’t rain yesterday or last night, and the forecast for the rest of the weekend is fine. If we get through without any downpours we are on track to do well. Even if it rains and all our stock is wiped out, it doesn’t really matter. We’ve made a profit, we have money in the PTA coffers, we’ve upheld the tradition of the booksale, which might possibly have been going for 50 years, according to sources in the local paper last week. And I was part of it.

At my first PTA meeting in the school, four years ago, the first thing that happened was a report on that year’s book sale. I looked in awe at the parent who had run it and thought that, while I was eager to help out, I would never be the one to take on such a responsibility.

Guess I can chalk another one up to “things I’ll never do” and be ever grateful for everyone else who helps, without whom it would not happen.

Boxes of books piled up on tables under a tent; people browsing.

One booksale, for your enjoyment.

Stuck

I keep starting and stopping posts. I have a cold that’s starting but won’t just get here, so I’m stuck with a giant tickle in my throat that turns into a coughing fit that is finally an enormous sneeze but sometimes it just makes me gag instead and then I blow my nose and my ear squeaks. In the middle of the night I lie there thinking that some insidious mould spore from old books has got stuck in my throat and I’m going to die of consumption or a bacterial lung infection any minute now, but mostly I think it’s just a thwarted cold.

Why would I encounter old books, you ask? Because I’m running the PTA used book sale, and my days are currently filled with collecting empty boxes and bags of old books from the neighbourhood and sorting the books into the boxes so that they can be all moved from the school to the festival location on the Friday before Labor Day and then browsed by the people of the neighbourhood who apparently need more books to fill all the gaps they just made on their shelves.

Boxes of books piled up.

A small proportion of the books sorted so far this year.

It’s really quite amazing. Every year I think that the people of our town must be out of books by now, but every year we get thousands of paperback mysteries and hardback self-help volumes and everything else in between, and more than you’d think get sold again at the end of it. It’s a great fundraiser, but it takes a lot of volunteer work.

(I wrote about it last year too.)

Anyway, then I read a blog post by someone whose husband had coughed to death, which didn’t really help my middle-of-the-night notions. (He had had heart surgery. I am unlikely to cough to death of a tickle. Right?) And Mabel’s acting like a banshee which is most probably because she’s starting first grade on Tuesday but could also be because she ingested a mould spore while helping with the books and will also die of galloping consumption any minute now.

So that’s where my end of summer has me. I have grand plans for September, once the sale is over and both kids are at school and I will take over the world. Or at least regain some serenity for myself.