It’s that time of year again – Camp NaNoWriMo! I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo challenges in various forms for nearly ten years now (pause for a slight age-related scream of horror) and my last couple of efforts haven’t exactly gone to plan. My writing in general has hit a bit of a stall – I’m brimming with story ideas, but finding very little connection to the characters I’m coming up with, making writing from their points of view very difficult. So, for Camp NaNoWriMo this month, I’m not setting myself a strict wordcount challenge: instead I’m going back to a story I’ve been writing on and off for even longer than I’ve been attempting NaNoWriMo, and I’m pledging to get it finished once and for all. That novel has gone through several titles, but is currently known as… ‘Bisous, Tilly’.
I’ve been writing this novel for so long now, I know its main character, the eponymous Tilly, better than I know myself.
I know, I know, that sounds totally trite and cliché as all hell. But it’s true. I barely know which way is up in my own life at the moment, but Tilly? I know her inside and out, every inch.
You’ll have heard me talk about this book under its various titles throughout the years. It’s spent most of its time as ‘Etouffé’, but I thought ‘Bisous, Tilly’ might be a bit more appropriate. It’s the journal of a sixteen-year-old French girl as she’s uprooted from her cosmopolitan life in central Paris, and moved into her new stepmother’s house in the depths of the English countryside. Tilly has to deal with the major culture shock of suddenly being surrounded by horses, dogs, and wholesome blonde step-siblings, while navigating a posh new sixth form and the uncovering of some unpleasant family secrets.
I started writing in a fit of temper while I was an aupair in France – the house was attached to a riding school in the middle of the countryside, and the adorable blonde children I was supposed to be taking care of were tiny hellions, determined to get in the workshed and find a saw or a drill to play with. To a lazy teenager fresh off her first year of uni, aching for adventure, the idyllic countryside was a stifling trap that smelled like manure.
Over the years, the story evolved from just a direct self-insert rant, albeit one that had swapped countries and situations, into an actual plot. I kept thinking to myself, ‘what if?’. More and more situations kept being added onto Tilly’s life, and more and more characters. I did bits and pieces on and off, then did a radical rewrite for the 2014 Camp NaNoWriMo that got it to nearly 100,000 words.
Since then, I’ve been adding and adding to it, and now (after some brutal edits and a concerted effort alongside another unfinished novel for the November NaNoWriMo 2014) it’s hovering around the 150,000 word mark and I can finally see the end. My target for this Camp?
I know there’s a long way to go before the story is ready for anything other than my own perusal: it’s currently set in 2014, and I want to bring it up to the modern day. There are some situations in the story for which current social media would have a big effect – whether for good or for bad for the characters, they’d make a nicely huge impact in the actual narrative. Plus, my writing has matured a great deal since the biggest chunk of text was written, back in 2014: I have a lot of stylistic updates to do.
The bulk of the story, though? That can be finished. And it will be.
You might be aware I’ve been doing the #instawrimo challenge over on my Instagram. Well, today’s prompt is ‘Come As Your Character’. I’m hardly a teenage French girl, I hardly have flowing black hair, and I hardly have her fashion sense, but this is essentially how I’d cosplay as Tilly if it was required.
Good lord, I don’t recognise myself.
That’s Tilly all over though. A very filtered selfie, little bit of a pout, trying to get across just how hard-done-by she is.
I love Tilly, I really do. I think she’s quite possibly my favourite of all my characters. She’s spoilt, she’s narcissistic and she’s selfish… but she learns. She has a streak of compassion that runs close to the surface. And when she lets herself love, she loves fiercely: she’ll defend her loved ones with the same stubbornness that defines her.
Considering how much I love her, I really fuck with her in this story.
Anyway, that’s Tilly. And I’ll leave you with the blurb from her story – to be finished next month!
Half-French, half-English Clothilde (sorry, Tilly) has spent her life in Paris. Just her and her father, the way she’s always wanted.
But then eighteen months ago, along came Anita (awful) and her brood of perfect blonde children (clones). How did Papa get so damn smitten all of a sudden? And how could he ever think it was a good idea to move back to bloody England?
Countryside. Horses. Fresh air.
With the threat of the new school year at the world’s most stuffy school for girls hanging over her, Tilly needs to find solace somewhere. And it’s not going to come from boring Harrison, podgy Sophia, or the creepy Children-of-the-Corn twins… and certainly not from Awful Anita.
What Tilly doesn’t realise is the surprising form her solace will take – or that they year ahead holds a lot more in store for her than just step-siblings and slobbery dogs.