Well, we’ve survived November (just a few hours to go) and I’ve crossed the winners line over at the NANoWriMo website so I feel all in all it’s been a successful experience! I’ve proven to myself it’s possible to write a long story and to make the plot work too. I’ve enjoyed discovering the unexpected ie the way some characters can take over! I didn’t reach the finish line begging for mercy nor hoping never to see a laptop ever again but instead I have ideas for new stories which is a real bonus. I don’t think I’d have managed any of these things without the NaNo challenge and the encouragement of buddies from the site or Mr A, my lovely husband. So thank you to all of you…
So, having said all that it’s time to close my blog with the two words that all writers aim for: THE END.
Writing a plan, however vague it seems in hindsight, worked for me. As did writing a fast first draft. Three or four hours every day for three weeks was all it took to produce a half-decent first draft of a novel-length story. Why had it always looked such an impossible task in the past?
Locking a first draft into a drawer and leaving it alone for a while won’t work for me. I can’t ignore it yet. I’ve not yet tired of the story or my characters. Too bad if they’re fed up with me!
I don’t care what other writers may say, my experience is that characters do have lives of their own! And they will dictate how big or how small their role will be in the story. Take Annie, for example. She didn’t feature anywhere in my plan but by the end of Day 1 she was a little old lady with a gash of orange lipstick who sat daydreaming over an empty coffee cup. I had no plans for her, she wasn’t important. I mentioned other people too but I had no plans for any of them either. Two days later, as I typed a scene, all the while wondering where it was leading, the little old lady tapped my hero on the arm. That hadn’t been in the plan! Any of the versions! But by the end of the day she had a name and a bit of a story and some important information to pass on but I had no plans to use her again. Annie seems to have had other plans because she popped up several more times in the story, always with a useful bit of information that moved things along nicely. And now I’m into the re-write/re-thinking stage and am seriously thinking about making Annie a much larger character in the next version, possibly giving her a Watson-like role! Perhaps that was her plan all along!
Reading and writing are essential parts of my life. I can’t imagine not being able to do either. And yet there are as many as a million adults in this country who can’t. In this country! Incredible!
A long time ago I read an interview with a famous novelist who revealed he wrote five or six drafts for each of his novels. FIVE or SIX! I remember feeling speechless not least because the finished item was always an enormous blockbuster! Reading one always felt like running a marathon so the idea that it hadn’t been delivered in a pristine condition on the first attempt was shocking! Unbelievable! Inconceivable! Scary!
Perhaps the strength of that memory explains why I’ve never attempted to write a novel sized story. Until now.
Today I’m proud to say that I’ve completed the first draft of a novel sized story and passed through the NaNoWriMo 50k challenge In the process. It’s such a thrill to cross off several of my own private writing challenges in one go but the bigger thrill is in realising that I’m actually looking forward to making a start on the re-writes! Wow!
As I can’t write about the book of my week (I haven’t managed to read anything longer than a blog post this week) how about we do this: let’s pretend that you and I have met up for a coffee and a catch up? We’re sitting comfortably in that nice coffee shop in town, I’ve a skinny latte and you’ve a frothy cappuccino with a chocolate heart sprinkled on top. You’re eating a goey danish pastry and I’m being truly virtuous! (Well, this is my blog! I can dream!!). And as it’s my idea, and I’ve paid for the coffees and your pastry, I get to go first…
Well, I’ve survived the much-talked-about second week of NaNoWriMo and am coasting through week three. Week two was a bit of an up-and-downer. There were some excellent bits when the writing flowed and characters stepped up and helped me out* and there were some glum bits when I wondered why the heck I was bothering. The challenge seemed to be getting in the way of the writing. But you know all this, I mentioned it before, didn’t I?
But here I am, still plugging away and feeling really pleased that I’ve managed to write every day while continuing to juggle everything else. I’ve discovered how effective even the smalled bit of plotting and planning can be and I realise now that creativity is a bit like that weird live bread starter that you keep in a bucket and add to every few days: you add to it and it becomes the basis for another yummy loaf. Or in writing terms, you add to it and another idea pops up which eventually becomes another enjoyable bit of writing. Which means that I’m collecting lots of lovely ideas which I’m jotting down for when NaNo is over.
Did I tell you my NaNo story is a cosy who-dunnit? A body is found in an allotment hut – the idea came during my daily walk which passes an allotment. It’s a story of smoke and mirrors, nothing is what it seems and when I began writing on 1 November I had the body, the sleuth and three other characters. I knew who and how and why but nothing else; I couldn’t quite joined the dots. My poor sleuth is recovering from a near-fatal heart attack and is meant to be taking things easy but he stumbles across a body. Coming close to death twice (one real and one almost) shakes him and he questions his life so far. But this is a who-dunnit not a ‘why did I do that?’ so of course while he’s thinking about the meaning of life he’s also collecting bits of information that will eventually reveal the truth about the body in the hut.
I don’t think Ian Rankin or Anne Cleeve need worry but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Everything else is good. The family’s fine, the TV was a bit dull (apart from the wonderful Borgen making a return last night – Yippee!!) so I’ve been re-watching the ‘In Search of Shakespeare’ series with Michael Wood. It’s one of my all-time favourite factual series so I watch it at least once a year and always find something new to enjoy. And I’m gathering a pile of books about me for when my reading brain returns. I’m still walking most days although the weather sometimes gets in the way. On the whole, things are pretty good.
Now it’s your turn. How about you?
* This week I read an interview with Val Mcdermid who said firmly that characters never dictate what happens in her stories because she’s firmly in control. I can believe it. But personally I’ve found the way a character can push forward and demand attention quite interesting. Each to their own. Thankfully.
Another flash story, this one as far away from murder and mystery as you can get…
There are girly giggles and running footsteps in the hall and doors opening and shutting noisily. I think I’ll stay here for a while longer. When I leave the seclusion of my hotel room I’ll be stepping into an atmosphere of excitement because today is The Big Day. Everything is organised, including me. I have a personal schedule and I’m not needed for another ten minutes so I’m relishing the peace while I can.
The schedule was planned and distributed by the bride. I wonder if the bossy gene skipped a generation? My mum was a bossy woman. She organised my wedding like a military tattoo leaving me feeling like a spare part. I didn’t even choose my dress. ‘This one suits you far better,’ she had said in her mother-knows-best voice. Mum liked everything to be perfect. Just like my daughter.
I was so excited when our daughter was born. Now I’ll get to plan her big day, I remember thinking when she was still tiny. But she’s like her Gran and has organised today down to the smallest detail. She says she wanted to save me the hassle. Maybe she did. There was no point in arguing but the truth is I felt unneeded. The mother of the bride doesn’t have much of a role, does she? The father of the bride is a whole different part. Her dad had been looking forward to this day too and would puff up proudly at the prospect of walking her down the aisle. He’d put on a serious face and say ‘I’m always going to be there for my little girl! I won’t let her down.’
‘Nor me,’ I thought with some indignation. ‘If she ever needs me, that is.’
Well, even the best laid plans can go awry. We’re having the worst winter weather in thirty years. The wedding hotel is now set in a beautiful winter wonderland but guests are calling with stories of ruined travel plans. We understand. It can’t be helped. The wedding will go ahead anyway. Even without the bride’s father. He’s stranded at an airport and kicking himself for missing her special day. One quick business trip, he had said. Back in 24 hours, he promised. But the look of panic on my daughter’s face when she heard the news was heart-breaking. All her plans were falling apart.
But I’m here, I said.
And so in ten minutes I’ll be escorting my daughter to her wedding. I’m beaming with pride. And why not? It’s my big day at last.
Yesterday was a bit wobbly. I broke the middle marker of 25,000 words and passed my own personal NaNo best in terms of writing days and word count but it wasn’t enough to make me smile. I want to meet the challenge and put down those 50,000 words during November so that I can say I’ve ticked that box. I also want to write a half decent first draft. One target seems to be getting in the way of the other. I’m resisting the urge to go back and rewrite various parts but it’s frustrating. And then there was the problem of the word count that suddenly didn’t add up and the heart-stopping moment when I realised a whole chapter was missing from my computer file! Why I didn’t scream remains a mystery but I was as silent as the grave!
Well, I found the missing chapter and sorted out my addled word count so ended the day feeling some satisfaction. But not much. The problem of meeting the challenge or writing a good first draft still rankled and made me slow to sit down and get started this morning. Of course the answer is obvious! Get on and write the remaining words as quickly as possible and then move on to the re-write! Duh!
So that’s what I did this morning. I’ve waffled a bit in one place but the up-side is that a totally new twist to my story has evolved in that magical way which is so fascinating. So now I don’t have to kill off the poor, harmless old lady just because she knows more than is good for her. And we can all sleep well at night now! That’s good, isn’t it!
It would have been so easy to choose one of the others, I considered Testament of Youth and All Quiet on the Western Front, both books that still move me when I remember them but instead I’ve opted for Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie. It isn’t about the war exactly but the war plays a significant part so is a fitting reminder that today shouldn’t only be about about guns, mud and bomb blasts.
Cider with Rosie is the first of Lee’s autobiographical trilogy and first published in 1959, after the ‘war to end all wars’ and the one that came after that! He was three in 1917 when his mother moved her children and step children into the Gloucestershire village of Slad. Lee’s father and uncles were in France, fighting in the trenches, so his early memories are of life shaped by the impact of war on a community hundreds of miles away from the front line. When it is all over his father chooses a life in London, deserting his wife and leaving her to raise all his children alone. Lee’s book records how life didn’t return to normal when the fighting was over but changed dramatically forever, for everyone.
Cider with Rosie was the book that made me want to write. I waited a long time to open its pages, deliberately resisting for reasons I hardly recall, but perhaps it was all the better for being the right book for the right time. Lee’s lyrical prose suited my mood and the themed approach to telling his story was new to me. I wept for his scatty mother and thought all the more of Lee for writing with such love about her chaotic ways. His description of Slad and its community, of his family and it’s place within the village is created with love and respect, with a gentle tenderness that makes re-reading this book such a pleasure.