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.

Except.

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!

 

Searching For The Next Novel Idea

A book of ideas

A book of ideas

I’ve decided to park Finding Lucy for now, as I need to start writing now to get back into the swing of things and the draft needs far too much analysing to write anything more on it yet. So today I ran through my scribbled list of projects looking for inspiration. I didn’t find it, even though the list is rather long!

Current Drafts:
Finding Lucy (needs too much work)
Bonds of Love (ditto, plus has overlap characters with Finding Lucy)
Annie and Phoebe (about a Georgette Heyer novel that isn’t in public domain, so a no go for self-publishing)
Dragon Wraiths part two (don’t have the energy to pick through the hot mess of the last few chapters)
Alfie and the Arch (don’t feel qualified to write kids’ fiction at the moment)

Pencilled in Sequels
Sequel to Two Hundred Steps Home (don’t have energy to re-read the 200k original to pick up the story thread)
Sequel to Baby Blues following Ben and Sharni (isn’t grabbing me, lots of cultural research required)

Totally New Ideas
The Pudding Club (an idea that floats around every time I catch up with my old colleagues – a novel or play written just through dialogue at regular catch-ups. Bit worried my friends will try out work out which one is them or take offence.)
Dad Starts Dating (a YA about a girl whose divorced parents start new relationships – based on personal experience; I worry I would end up offending my mum!)
Colony on Jupiter (YA? – one of the dream stories I actually wrote notes on rather than immediately forgot. A bit like the TV series 100, although my idea predates watching it, but where the space station is a functioning community with shops, school etc)

So far NONE of these is remotely grabbing me. I want to write something with a bit of pace; I’d love to write a series, to help sales and because I loved spending a whole year with Claire last year, and I’d love to write something fantasy/sci fi, even though that’s considerably out my comfort zone.

But a) I worry that straying from the stye of Class Act and Baby Blues will be a mistake (although I can’t give Class Act away, so there isn’t much to break) and b) I’m really not sure I have the imagination to pull it off without plagiarising something. It’s no coincidence that my characters are loosely based on me: my biggest fear is stealing someone else’s idea/style/world. I found it happened a lot with Dragon Wraiths, whereas it was easy to imagine the settings for Class Act and Baby Blues.

I feel like when I can’t decide on a new book to read, which ironically is also a problem I’m having. I have three or four good novels half-finished on the kindle and have reverted to the failsafe of Harry Potter just to keep reading. It feels like I poured all my creativity into loombands and knitting and art in August and now I’m empty (and have RSI!)

Arrgghh. Writers out there, where do you get your ideas from when you’re stuck? How do you choose your next project? I have been working on old manuscripts for so long I’ve forgotten how to start something new, and I’ve never started something without a glimmer of an idea from a dream or a character or an idea how the story ends. Maybe it’s time to get an early night and hope I remember my dreams!

Blog Post Revisited: Using Life’s What Ifs

My Three Darlings

My Three Darlings

I finally sent a complete draft of Class Act to my fabulous Beta Reader yesterday, and found myself at a loose end. I know it needs more work but, quite frankly, I’m sick of the sight of it and am starting to doubt whether it even works as a story. Time for a change.

I want to start something new, rather than working on one of the three or four half-finished manuscripts I have on my laptop, courtesy of years of NaNoWriMo. But I’m a bit all chick-litted out, after Two-Hundred Steps Home and working on Class Act. So I got to thinking about other ideas I’ve had, and I remembered the Middle Grade Novel idea I had nearly a year ago. This is a bit on how it started.

A few days after writing that post, I wrote the one below. A little insight into where some of my writing ideas come from.

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Writing out some of the background for my new novel today I realised I was inadvertently writing a ‘what if’ about my own life, or one tiny aspect of my life. I think sometimes that’s what writers do. They use their words, their imaginations, to explore different lives they might have lived. Mine is a little thing that might have been huge.

Close Siblings

Close Siblings

I was late for my period this month: second month in a row. Now, we’re careful. We have two beautiful children and I’m in my late thirties. My first child was born at 37 weeks, the second at 35 weeks. My pediatrician friend said that a trend to premature babies could easily continue.

So, even if we wanted more children (which we don’t – only when I get occasionally broody) the risks are far too high. And I KNEW I wasn’t pregnant. I’m more likely to be menopausal, as early menopause runs in the family. But, still, you start putting two and two together and making five. I was tired, grumpy, teary and, above all, late.

The protagonist in Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes gets pregnant against the odds. These things happen. I worried. I read up about menopause at 2am on my phone. And, being me, I re-planned my future with a third child in it. I needed to be prepared, just in case. I worked out the age gap, when the third would start school. I decided it would be nice for my son to have a play mate when my daughter starts school in September. I tried to decide whether I’d prefer a boy or a girl. I’m a writer: I wove stories.

Drove hubbie nuts.

Then I decided I ought to actually get a test and part of me was actually a bit excited (damn you, breeding hormones). I didn’t need the test, as it turned out. As if just buying it was enough, I knew before I got home that it was no longer required. In a tiny way I felt as if I’d lost a baby, even though no baby existed. Because I had made the scary future so plausible.

I wasn’t going to talk about it on the blog – it seems to come under the ‘too much information’ category. Until I started writing out my character list for the new book this morning:

George: 11. Two siblings, Ben (14) and Susie (16). George suspects he wasn’t planned. His sister tells him their mother used to say ‘I’ve only got two hands’ or ‘one of each, job done’. George feels unwanted and an outsider. Susie is academic, Ben is musical. They’re close. George likes football and computer games and being lazy.

My Little Bean

My Little Bean

I realised, half way through writing it, that George is my imaginary third child. The things I worried about at 2am were all there: that any other children born into our family would feel left out because my two are so close in age; that my eldest would remember me saying ‘one of each, job done’; that a third child would feel alienated, like my Uncle and my Mum – both the last of three kids.

The loss of my imaginary child, that hurt for a day, doesn’t hurt so much now. When I see the kids needing another play mate I do wish I had started my family earlier, so more children was a possibility. But now I can write them in to existence instead.

So much cheaper and no need for cots, bottles, stretch marks, swollen ankles and endless dirty nappies. Hurrah.

Reblog: “All Retch and No Vomit”

Freedom: From the Alan Watts video

Freedom: From the Alan Watts video

Things are still hanging on by a feverish thread here in the Martin household, with little man peeling away my last layers of patience with his fractious, “Mummy, but..” “Mummy, can we just…” “Mummy, I’m bored / tired / miss Daddy” and “Mummy, I’m hungry…” followed by a refusal to eat anything, on eternal loop.

I  decided to look back twelve months to see if this is normal January/February stuff. It is. We need to holiday somewhere hot in the winter to avoid this annual decimation of the family health and happiness and to preserve my ongoing sanity.

In the meantime, as I have no words, I’ve decided to steal a post from back then, 9th February 2013 to be exact, to keep the blog alive in my absence. The title seemed very fitting, as it describes the coughing noise that’s become the soundtrack to my life! (Sorry, too much info!). Joking aside, the Alan Watts speech resonated with me back then and, listening to it again, now my daughter has started school, it has even more meaning now. This is the original post:

________

The Alan Watts video, What if Money Didn’t Matter?, came my way today via Facebook. It’s been around a while so I’m sure most people have seen it. If you haven’t, check it out on YouTube.

My favourite line (describing schooling and how we raise our kids to want the things we want) is

“it’s all retch and no vomit.”

You can’t beat that for an image with impact.

Actually the line that truly resonated was this:

“Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way.”

What if Money Didn't Matter?

What if Money Didn’t Matter?

Now I know if you have kids, responsibilities, mortgages and so forth, this is a difficult thing to fit into your life. Many of the less positive comments beneath the video are along the lines of “that’s all well and good but I’m a single mum / I have a mortgage / I have bills to pay, I can’t afford to do what I want.” Or my favourite, “what; do I tell my kids not to bother with their homework?”.

To me that has missed the point. It doesn’t have to be so black and white. We can knuckle down to hard work and try to direct that towards something we will love doing in the future. And if in some ways we are already caught in the trap, stuck in a career that’s more about money than happiness, it doesn’t mean we can’t try and pass a different ethos onto our children.

Yes kids still need to do their homework.

Having aspirations doesn’t mean it won’t take hard work to realise them. I think the message is to find something you love and put it nearer the centre of your career than the need to get rich.

When my husband first watched the video he realised he didn’t know what he would do if he didn’t have to earn money. That’s a sad realisation at forty. He’s given it some thought and come up with some answers but I think it’s important to know what you love doing even if it isn’t possible to do it.

I’m probably rambling making no sense: it’s been a long day on little sleep and too much coughing. I might revisit this topic when I’m feeling more lucid. In the meantime I love the first screenshot I captured, I think it encapsulates the journey Claire is on as she realises life is about more than earning enough money to buy the next must-have designer shoes.

P.S. Why did I never have Claire parascend into a cave? That would have been amazing! One for the sequel maybe…

Start as You Mean to Go On

The final cover for Two-Hundred Steps Home The Complete Journey

The final cover for Two-Hundred Steps Home The Complete Journey

There’s nothing like starting the year as you mean to go on! Publishing a book on Amazon on day four of the year, even if it is one I wrote last year, and one that probably should be proofread first, feels good. You can find it here: Two-Hundred Steps Home: The Complete Journey.

I have added the disclaimers and hopefully no one will buy it and trash me for finding the odd inconsistency or typo (of which I’m sure there are plenty). I am fixing the typos as they’re discovered (thank you hubbie, and anyone else letting me know about them) but a writing challenge is a writing challenge: I didn’t set out to write a Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel in 2013, just a novel that people might enjoy reading. Which, from the reviews I’ve had, it seems they did.

My only dilemma now is whether to take down the first volume from Amazon. It gets the occasional sale, but when you search for ‘Two-Hundred Steps Home’ it presents both books as versions of the same work, even though they have different ASIN numbers. Ah well. A small dilemma.

I’m also enjoying my new resolution to read more, both books and blogs, and write more comments (although I’m not sure I’m keeping up with that target quite as I should. I still feel jetlagged from holiday, illness and Claire!)

I’m reading The Radleys by Matt Haig at present and really enjoying it. I won’t divulge anything about the story, as I’ll write a review post when I’ve finished it. What I am enjoying is how Matt Haig breaks the rules in his writing: there is plenty of head-hopping and change of perspective. I think there’s even a change from writing in the past to the present tense, but I’m trying not to analyse, just get swept up in the story. It might be hard to write a review without spoilers, which I hate, so I’ll have to give that some thought. Maybe read some reviews on other blogs and see how it’s done. What’s your view on reviews? Spoilers or no spoilers? Where do you draw the line?

Formatting and Designing Covers (Again)

A possible cover for THSH the complete story

A possible cover for THSH the complete story

I spent today doing what I love best (ahem), formatting and editing a word document ready for uploading to Smashwords and Amazon. It frustrated me from the beginning of my 2013 writing challenge that I wasn’t able to put the Two-Hundred Steps Home volumes onto Amazon, because they don’t allow permanently free books.

It has therefore always been my intention to combine the twelve volumes into one book to put on Amazon. The dilemma is whether to spend time proofreading and checking for continuity errors and risk getting sucked into doing a full edit (which is not something I intend to get dragged into). Hubbie argues that the original instalments shouldn’t be altered (apart from fixing obvious typos as and when I see them or am told about them) as that was the purpose of the challenge: to write a first draft novel and publish as-is.

My compromise has been to put a short introduction at the beginning to explain the challenge. Writing that is also proving tricky: this is my first attempt:

Two-Hundred Steps Home was written during 2013 in daily instalments on Amanda Martin’s writermummy blog. She wanted to see if it was possible to write the first draft of a novel and publish it every day, much as a Nineteenth-Century Dickens novel might have been published.

Throughout a long year, with hours of painstaking research into the hostels and tourist attractions of UK and New Zealand, and with the endless support of her family, Amanda followed Claire on a journey of discovery from her life as a Marketing Director to someone searching for meaning on the beaches of Cornwall.

Unsure in the beginning whether she would complete her challenge, Amanda continued day by day because of the faithful followers on her blog. And so, 285,000 words, 365 posts and 12 novellas later, Claire’s journey reached the end.

This volume contains all 365 instalments, unedited and exactly as they appeared on the writermummy blog

One of the covers I'm considering

One of the covers I’m considering

It’s a work in progress! As is the front cover. After carefully choosing an image to fit with the theme of each volume, month on month, it has been impossible to come up with an image that sums up the whole of Claire’s journey. These are the two I’m playing with at the moment but I’m not entirely satisfied with either.

What I’d really love to do is have a proper cover designed by someone that knows what they’re doing, rather than me with some istockphoto images and Adobe Photoshop. But, again, it doesn’t fit in with the original challenge of doing it all myself and, besides, I can’t afford it!

When I think about it too much, I feel I should hold back on getting out a complete volume. Part of me wants to get something live this week, so I can get back to the proper job of writing when the children go back to school next week, while the rest of me knows that rushing into any self-publishing breaks all the rules and risks damaging an author’s reputation. But then so does writing a novel in chunks at 2am and publishing the first draft. However, 6,000 downloads later, it doesn’t seem to have done too badly.

My only other point of indecision is whether to call it “Two-Hundred Steps Home Volumes 1-12” or “The Complete Journey” to separate it from the individual volumes but also make clear it isn’t a sequel! I can write fast, but not that fast! 🙂 Ah well, knowing me I’ll make an impulsive decision at midnight and you’ll see something live shortly after. If no one buys it, I’ll come up with a Plan B.

The End. For Now. 2013 365 Challenge #365

The Final THSH Cover

The Final THSH Cover

Hurrah. I made it. Claire’s journey is finished, for now. She’s found a new home and what I suspect will be only the beginning of fresh adventures. Already the new characters intrigue me. Timothy, for example: he’s Maggie’s gentleman friend but for some reason I think he might lean the other way. Eddie is going to be a real handful. And the quiet Kayla might surprise everyone.

You’ll have to wait though. I have other novels to write, sleep to catch up on, books to read, before I even think about picking up Claire’s journey again. I want to start immediately, but I think we all need a break. I’ll be making notes, though, and any feedback is of course always gratefully received.

If you enjoyed the series, tell your friends. I hope to pull the entire 365 installments into one ebook at some point soon, although I won’t be editing it (except for any typos that I discover). The raw first draft (albeit one that was line-edited as I went along) is part of the challenge and should stand untouched. I’m proud of it as it is.

So, what’s next? After the sleeping and the reading and the hopefully shifting this cold finally because I’ve had it for weeks? Well, Class Act needs work. It’s currently a 50,000 word romance that I have plans to extend into a full length novel. Then there’s Finding Lucy. And a sequel to Dragon Wraiths. And of course a continuation of Claire’s adventures in Cornwall. I’m going to miss her and Conor, although it’s good to miss people!

The blog might be quiet for a while. Or it might not. I think stopping blogging might be like coming off the Christmas chocolate: both a challenge and a relief. I’ll see you when I see you. Please hang about and if you see only this post for a while, please understand! Maybe I’ll have more time to read and comment on some of your blogs now. That said, as it has been raining for the last two days, and my head is fizzing with blog entry ideas, it might not be quiet for all that long!

Wishing you all an amazing New Year and here’s to a 2014 full of words.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Her clothes filled the small wardrobe; her rucksack sat empty in the dark recess of the cupboard, tatty after its long journey. She could never have imagined, back when Carl had presented her with it as a leaving gift, that she could become so attached to a bag.

“We’ve come a long way, you and I. Time for a rest, for you at least.”

Claire laughed as she realised talking to an inanimate object was probably the first sign of craziness.

Maybe I am crazy. Do crazy people ever actually know that they are?

She thought about leaving Conor standing alone on the beach, and shivered. It had been two days and he hadn’t tried to contact her. She didn’t know if that made it easier or not. Dozens of unsent messages sat on her phone, taunting her. Her last words echoed continually in her mind, like a song stuck on repeat.

The man I love like breathing.

She considered it, as she walked across the tiny room to gaze at the ever-changing view of the sea. Was it true? Did she love him? Could you love someone on such a short acquaintance?

But it wasn’t short, was it? Four months is a long time, and he’s been there for me since day one. All the time in New Zealand and every time I needed someone since I returned.

Dwelling only intensified the pain. She cast one last look around her room and felt a glimmer of a smile through her grief. Her room. It felt good.

Downstairs, the children were finishing dinner. Claire hadn’t spent much time with them over the weekend. Timothy seemed to instinctively know she needed space to settle in, and had quietly assured her that she had no duties until Monday morning. She attended meals and sat in the shared lounge to read and think. Sometimes she nestled in the window seat she’d discovered along a corridor, overlooking the sea, and listened to the children giggling in their rooms. The sound of laughter rang constantly throughout the old building.

Outside, the sky hung overcast. She wandered through the bushes and trees until she reached the rolling lawn that led down towards the sea. Within minutes she had scrambled down the rocky path to the private beach.

A group of children clambered amongst the rock pools under the watchful eye of Eddie. He raised his hand in greeting and she nodded in return before heading to the other end of the sand.

Thinking she really needed to buy a surfboard, Claire found her favourite rock and climbed on it. Sitting with her arms clasped around her knees she stared out at the horizon and let the peace wrap around her like a blanket.

*

A tapping at the door roused Claire from a doze. She checked the time and was surprised to discover she’d been asleep for an hour. Thinking it must be Timothy wanting to remind her about something for the morning, she rolled off the bed and went to open the door.

She grasped the frame for support as her questioning gaze met a pair of familiar green eyes.

“Hello, Claire.”

“What? How did you know where to find me? How did you get in?”

“A bit of research found the centre and a chat with your man Timothy meant he let me in. Seems he’s a sucker for a romance.”

“You could be a stalker or a murderer.” She frowned, unsure how she felt about the invasion of her privacy.

“I showed him this.” Conor held up his phone to show a photograph of the two of them in bed, tangled in the sheets.

Claire stepped back into the room to hide the blood rushing to her cheeks. “You’d better come in.”

Uncomfortably aware that the room held only a bed, she waited for Conor to perch on one end of it, before going to stand, arms folded, by the window.

“Why are you here?”

“To ask why you keep running away from me without letting me speak, woman. I had something to add to your marvellous speech, you know.”

He stood up and crossed the room, coming to a stop only inches away from her. He leant in until his lips brushed the hair near her ear, sending flurries of heat across her skin.

“I love you, too.”

*

Claire rested her head against Conor’s shoulder and stared out the window at the multi-hued sky. They had talked long into the night, until the dawn light began to paint the horizon in stripes of silver and pink. Her head ached with the fog of missed sleep, and she knew her first day at work was going to be a disaster, but her heart felt like a bird floating on an updraft.

She looked around the tiny room, listening to the heartbeat and slow, sonorous, breathing of the man beside her. It wasn’t ideal, agreeing to a long-distance love affair, but she didn’t care. He loved her and she loved him; that was all that mattered. The rest was just geography.

As she lay in his arms and watched the sun rise, she realised she had finally found what she had searched for through two hundred long days – through a lifetime – something that wasn’t outside the window, or even in the room, but rather in her heart. A contentment; a sense of belonging and of peace.

She was home.

***