My Mini NaNoWriMo

Latest incarnation of Alfie

Latest incarnation of Alfie

I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year. I am desperately trying to get an entry together for the Chicken House/Times Children’s Fiction competition, so I’m all about the red pen, not the free-flowing first draft.


I gave the latest version of my Alfie Stanton manuscript to my husband, waiting for applause, or at least constructive feedback and got … Nothing.

The story is doomed. I started it two years ago, with a character called George. Resurrected it for Chicken House last year, but had the first chapter trashed by a children’s editor so shelved it and entered Dragon Wraiths instead. In fact, after being told by the editor that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be an author if I wouldn’t break my manuscript down to the smallest part, I nearly quit writing for good.

I don’t do ‘edit to death’. I find my work tends to get worse rather than better if I overthink it and let ‘analyst’ brain take the wheel. But anybody who’s anybody in the writing world will tell you to edit, edit, then edit some more. Even last year’s Chicken House winner gave that as her main piece of advice.

So this time I thought it was time to grow up and do it properly. I broke my manuscript down, looked at characters and themes, description, language, conflict. But mostly I got in a huge muddle and came to hate the story and everyone in it. The harder I tried, the flatter and duller my writing became.

It wasn’t a great surprise, then, when husband’s silence screamed, “this is shit!” although I thought it was just the first draft of anything that was meant to be that.

And do you know what, I think he’s probably right. By trying to be literary and funny and to incorporate all of Barry Cunningham’s advice, I broke my story.

What would once have killed me made me stronger. Seven days ago, I came up with a brand new character – Esmerelda Smudge. Six days ago I started writing, and two days ago I sent a 20,000-word lightly-edited brand new story to my (new) editor. 20k words in just over 4 days. That knocks the spots off NaNo.

Rough Cover

Rough Cover

Is it good enough to enter in the Chicken House competition? I’m not sure. I still think Alfie, for all his flaws, is more what they’re looking for, which is probably why I can’t quite get him right. My style has always been more mainstream than award-winning. But Esmerelda has a great story. I gave the first 14k words to hubbie to read, and he polished them off in an hour. Not that he’s the best judge, but at least he’s honest.

Maybe, instead of trying to follow all the advice, to force myself into a mold and mode of working that doesn’t fit, I should continue on my own deluded way. After all I wrote Two Hundred Steps Home that way and it’s proved popular. Dickens wrote in serial form – he can’t have analysed his story arc to death on every book.

And I do put in the work. When I’m drafting, my brain buzzes and sleep is scarce. I carry the story arc, character profiles, the motivation, the continuity and conflict and comedy, all around in my head and pour it into each chapter. But it’s written fast, with no time for fear. And, for me, it works.

Most of all, it produces books that I would choose to read. That at least is one piece of writing advice that I can follow!


Modern Parenting: Lying by Omission

The Bear Diary

The Bear Diary

We had the joy of a visit from the class bear this weekend: my son had a karate competition and wanted Spencer to come.

But you can’t take photos at karate, so it makes filling the precious diary slightly challenging.

I finally pinned my son down to complete the diary this evening, but it’s fair to say it was mostly a Mummy effort.

And it’s all lies. Well, not lies, but hardly a true reflection of our weekend. This is what it should really say:

“On Friday night Aaron got cross because Mummy wouldn’t help him with his Lego. On the way home he whined about not being allowed a snack, even though he’d had two cakes at the school bake sale. He forgot all about Spencer, and the bear would have slept with the dog if Mummy hadn’t taken him upstairs.

Saturday was torrential rain, and football was cancelled, so Spencer lay forgotten in bed while Aaron watched six hours of TV. Spencer ate more piada at lunch than Aaron did.

Spencer nearly missed the karate championships when Aaron was more interested in watching the end of his programme and hugging the dog goodbye. Aaron was first up at the competition and completely forgot his Kata. Aaron sulked because he didn’t win a trophy. Despite being super-brave and doing the group Kata, Aaron still didn’t win and did more sulking. Mummy lost her rag when he refused to get changed in the car.

Spencer had McDonalds for lunch. Mummy is desperately knitting a new scarf because his old one has been stretched to death being used as a karate belt.

Mummy printed the pictures, cut and stuck them and strong-armed Aaron into colouring a picture when he wanted to watch a fifth Power Rangers. Spencer will be glad to get back to school on Monday.”

Facebook, Blogging, and now the school bear’s diary: it’s all about how you spin the truth!

My NaNoWriMo Thoughts

Amanda Martin:

If you’re NaNoWriMoing this year (I’m not) here’s one from the archives!

Originally posted on writermummy:

It’s that time of year again when people kiss goodbye to their families, put the takeaway numbers on speed dial, stock up on coffee and chocolate, and launch themselves into NaNoWriMo.

This is my fifth year and most of my novels started life in November. For those of you who have never heard of it, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writers Month, and is about “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon” (or writing 50,000 words in the month of November, but that doesn’t sound as poetic or inspiring!) 

There are plenty of blog posts better than mine that will tell you how to structure your NaNoWriMo novel, or how to edit it when it’s all over. [Oh my, turns out there is actually a National Novel Editing Month, held in March. And I thought it was just my wishful thinking. Count me in!]

There are…

View original 525 more words

KS1 English vs Being an Author

VCOP Pyramid

VCOP Pyramid

We had our children’s learning conversations last night (parents’ evening for us oldies!). I’m proud as anything of my two babies but, being a worrier, I don’t just smile and move on.

Oh no.

This morning I ordered half a dozen workbooks on handwriting, grammar, comprehension, and spelling. They’re not for me, although they probably should be.

It turns out the new curriculum has new targets for grammar, punctuation and spelling and Year 2 (my daughter’s year) are having to play catch up.

I won’t get on my high horse about changes to the curriculum. I’ll save that for people more eloquent than me. And in principle I like that my daughter is learning grammar and punctuation. I wasn’t taught it once I moved schools (age 8) and have struggled ever since. When I started writing novels seven years ago, the first thing I had to do was learn how to use commas and what an adverb was.

My daughter comes home and tells me about adverbs. She ‘VCOPs’ her own writing (underlines the vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation – see picture). It is a level of sophistication in writing that I don’t see in some bestsellers.

But here’s the thing. My daughter is being taught to use adverbs (mostly words ending in ly) and alternatives to said (think shouted, whispered, argued, complained). These are two elements of my writing that I have fought against for the last five years.

Any book on self-editing tells you to kill the adverbs and just use ‘said’. The emphasis is on vivid verbs and simple dialogue with use of body posture and behaviour to show emotion.

Of course we’re talking about writing for six year olds that will understand ‘walked slowly’ rather than ‘ambled’. I love that they are teaching dynamic writing and my daughter loves it. But, as an author it hurts!

So I’ll read the books, I’ll learn the KS1 curriculum, and I’ll keep my views on adverbs (mostly) to myself! :) Who knows, if I print out the VCOP pyramid I might make my own writing stronger.

Raising a Reluctant Reader

Solving the Pumpkin Trail

Solving the Pumpkin Trail

My daughter is coming up for seven and she is amazing. She is caring, kind, thoughtful, beautiful inside and out. She rocks at karate and loves to draw. She can build complicated Lego sets and tell you every detail of what happened in the latest Sofia the First (and why).

But she hates reading.

As an avid reader, and an author, it’s the hardest thing for me to have raised a reluctant reader. I wonder what I did wrong. Did I spend too many hours playing on the iPad instead of curled up with a book? Did I set the wrong example?

We have read stories to our children every single night before bed. We go to the library several days a week. My daughter reads her homework book every morning, and reads with skill and expression. She is reading a year or two above her age, and can tackle the most complicated words. But ask her if she likes reading and she’ll say not really.

It causes me no end of worry. Raising a reader is seen as the parenting holy-grail. Reading allows you to experience a thousand lives that are not yours, get inside the heads of others, escape from life, be happy. As a parent I want that so desperately for my child.

Enjoying the Last of the Sun

Enjoying the Last of the Sun

But, here’s the thing. Maybe she doesn’t need to escape. When I was a child, reading was the main stimulation. I could travel off on the Faraway Tree, escape the mundane. I could hide from the rows inside the covers of a book.

Now, though, stimulation is everywhere. Computer games are like mini stories, with graphics so real you could be inside them. The right television shows (I’m thinking Cbeebies and Disney) are full of adventure and wonder, great characters, impressive songs, moral stories.

My daughter would rather write stories than read them (I wonder where she gets that from?) And she’s more logical and practical than whimsical and creative. She’d as soon read a book on Space Junk as a tale about fairies.

My son is different. He’s desperate to learn to read. He loves role play and creating stories with his superheros. My daughter builds the Lego and my son plays with it. So perhaps it isn’t me at all. Maybe my parenting isn’t lacking. Maybe it’s okay to be a reluctant reader.

And maybe my daughter doesn’t need to escape. We have a happy life (not saying I didn’t as a child). This half term we have done spooky Halloween treasure hunts, stately home tours, climbed trees, played in the water fountains, tried ten-pin bowling, drawn and painted, glued and sellotaped. We’ve had cuddles, and baked cakes. Life is good.

Hopefully a love of reading will come. There is such a wonderful world to be discovered in the pages of a book. But, if she doesn’t, perhaps it doesn’t matter all that much. She’s still amazing.

What I Wish Everyone Knew About Sylvia Plath

Amanda Martin:

Beautiful and fascinating piece

Originally posted on The Belle Jar:

Today is Sylvia Plath’s birthday. She would have been 83 years old today. Maybe in an alternate reality she’s living in a cottage somewhere at the edge of the cold, grey Atlantic where she paints and writes and keeps a hive or two full of bees. Or maybe that’s what the afterlife looks like for her, not that she believed in an afterlife. Is it wrong to wish something on someone if they don’t believe in it? Probably.

You don’t have to be much of a detective to figure out that I love Sylvia Plath. I mean, I named my blog after her only novel. I’m obviously a pretty big fan, but I’m a fan for different reasons than you might think.

I write a lot about mental health, and I think a lot of people assume that I love Sylvia because we’re both part of the Depressed Ladiez club. And it’s true…

View original 1,220 more words

Time for a Change

I was looking at the blog earlier, after writing my last post, thinking how stuffy the site looks. I have had the same theme for the last three and a half years!

It was okay alongside my books for adults, but now I’ve sneaked a couple of children’s books onto the page it all looks very boring.

I haven’t worked out how to integrate Amanda Martin and Mandy Martin yet. I don’t want two blogs (although I have two Amazon and Smashwords pages) but I would like to find a middle ground. Children’s books are where I’m at right now, and WriterMummy should reflect that.

So I’ve been playing with some different themes. It’s worse than changing the wallpaper or the front door! And as you’re all such a lovely smart bunch I thought I’d ask what you think. I have my favourites, but I’m saying nothing. I’ve stuck to themes with a similar layout, as I like having a side bar and the full blog post on the main page.

Anyway, all feedback welcome!





Dusk til Dawn

Dusk til Dawn