NaNoWriMo 2015: THE END

FINALLY.

50, 508 words.

Well, I couldn’t bear to get to November 30th without 50,000 words under my belt. It would feel wrong.

It did hit me sometime mid-afternoon yesterday that I still had 10,000 words left to write… and I was lying in a bath feeling like a freshly reanimated corpse, only one more day left with that wordcount bar merrily open.

Then I rallied. At about 2 o’clock this morning, to be perfectly honest.

I’ll come out and say it right away: I’ve done NaNoWriMo every year since 2008 and this was the hardest one yet.

Things that have joined forces to sabotage my NaNoWriMo 2015

1) Moving house – my husband and I now live in a beautiful flat, so beautiful I actually want to spend time cleaning it and keeping it nice. It’s oh so easy to use it to procrastinate. Tricky chapter to write? Nope, can’t, I need to polish the stainless steel bin.

2) The Third Person – Fuck the third person. Fuck it into exceedingly sore oblivion. Admittedly, I’ve done a lot better with it than I thought I would. Even with the other procrastination, this has been a constant rock around my ankle. Every time I’ve been stuck before, in my first person stories, I’ve just been able to peer into my characters’ head and see my way around thing with their eyes. Having to keep to just one character’s prospective at the time has been somewhat exhausting.

3) Apocalyptica and friends – my two lovely friends came to visit this weekend and we went so see Apocalyptica play live at the Manchester Academy. It was such a good night out (we went right from headbanging to semi-clothed cello players to bopping along to Cher within twenty minutes) but I certainly didn’t want to spend any of it wrestling with my stubborn protagonists.

4) The common cold – I haven’t had a damn cold all year. Yesterday morning, I woke up after the great night out and thought “This is a weird excuse for a hangover”. It wasn’t a hangover. It was a fucking cold. It meant I didn’t write a word yesterday – I was far too sick and drippy to want to go anywhere near the laptop. Though it didn’t remain such a procrastination point…

5) 30 Rock – I’ve only just got into it and I love it. I need to be physically prised away from Netflix.

Anyway, last night – well, the early hours of this morning – thanks to the cold of doom, I couldn’t sleep. I tried to snooze in bed, but my nose wouldn’t stop running and I thought I’d drive my husband mental with all the honking into toilet roll. There was some truly attractive snorting going on. I couldn’t prop myself high enough off the bed to clear my chest, so I just gave up and pottered out to the living room.

(Just a point: in my old house that would have been impossible without finding a nice squishy slug trail to stand on in your bare feet, or maybe even an even nicer bit of mouse poo.)

I sat on the sofa, propped up with every cushion and pillow in the house, grumbled to myself a fair bit, snorted and honked to my heart’s content, and wrote and wrote.

I got over 3000 words done before I drooped and fell asleep, for a little while at least (I was up at five for work).

In true NaNoWriMo tradition, I’ve spent all day with the novel firmly in my head, determinedly spewing out as many words as possible whenever I could. I wrote a relatively impressive 9848 words today – not anywhere near my record, but not half bad. Though it wasn’t a single marathon; it’s come out in bits and pieces since 2 o’clock in the morning. And now with less than five hours to go, it’s done!

…the 50,000 words are done, anyway.

This book is going to be a monster. I’m 50,000 words in and I’m not anywhere near halfway through. Remember how I’m writing a time travel story? How my time travellers were going to spend the most significant part of their story enmeshed in the complex, dirty underworld of Victorian London?

They are nowhere near bloody Victorian London. My two protagonists are, for some reason that I’m not one hundred percent sure of, getting drunk in Manchester’s gay village.

So what’s next for my writing?

I hate to say it… but I’m not going to be carrying this story on for a little while. I have NaNoWriMo fatigue, and if I have to write about bloody Watchmakers for another five bloody minutes, I will find a pocket watch from somewhere purely so I can stamp on it.

Oh, I still love the story and I love my characters.

But my other books are yelling for my attention. I have editing to do. First person editing. I have two books that are finally, finally almost ready to get out into the world, and another one that isn’t anywhere near finished but makes me really happy when I’m writing it.

I’ll be quite happy to say goodbye to The Hummingbird and the Timepiece for a little while. I’ll go back to it one day… but for now, it’s not the project for me.

Now how about a final look at my stats graph… traditionally batshit as always.

stats 30.11

*taking my final bow from NaNoWriMo 2015*

NaNoWriMo 2015: the halfway point

…or, you know. Not quite.

My NaNoWriMo stats graphs are always a bit erratic – almost every year, I have a massive word-cushion-making couple of days right at the start, then do sod all for a few days before another giant jump upwards.

I mean, last year I practically embroidered my word-cushion, it was so substantial. The same thing the year before.

*blows loud raspberry at the word cushion*

For the first time since 2011, I am running behind with my NaNoWriMo.

Good lord, it's not been going well

Just look at that for a crock of shite!

Nah, honestly, it’s not that bad. I’m miles behind everyone else, but I just did 4000 words right off the bat in two hours before my shift today, so I’m not that crazily worried. I’ve got a day off tomorrow with nothing planned but writing and dyeing my hair, so I think I can catch up.

No; I know I can catch up.

I’ve not got any problems with the actual writing part any more, it’s just been finding the time to write, with all this house-moving and working business.

Yes, I’ve beaten this third person business down, now. I am on it with the third person. The third person is my bitch, etc etc etc.

And I don’t half love my characters.

I was worried at first that I was turning Lucian Ruby (my main dude) into a creepy creep rather than a charmingly naive anachronism. But he’s got there, he’s worked himself out (and I’ve worked him out) and I think I can now get his parts written without making him sound like he spends his spare time hiding in bushes with a pair of binoculars. He’s not going to kidnap anybody and keep them in his cellar.

Ooh, maybe I should give him a cellar. That would be useful for other plot points about his past, actually… *blog post vanishes so I can scribble maniacally in my big folder of notes*

Anyway. Yes, I’ve got over all my third person blocks now. I’m getting into my characters’ heads just as well as if I was writing in my usual first person format. Their thoughts are still getting across. And for the first time in a long time, it feels like I’m telling an actual structured story, rather than just haphazardly following a fictional someone around and letting them ramble about their eventful life.

I’m twenty thousand words in now, and time travel wise, my characters haven’t gone that far yet. One of them went back to a Merseyside suburb in 1999 to prove a point, and now the pair of them have just landed in Hyde Park on the morning of Princess Diana’s funeral. Not the most inspiring of times to visit so far, but they’re getting there. In the next couple of chapters, the real adventures are going to be starting.

Tomorrow is going to be a very fun day of writing for me, let’s just say that.

New Flat of Beauty and Joy (and broken toilets and ovens and washing machines)

Poor NaNoWriMo has been left a little by the wayside in the past few days: I’ve had other priorities. Namely, moving from the somewhat mouldy mice-filled slug-infested terrace into a beautiful, clean, shiny flat. I’ll get back to the writing in the next few days – come on, I’ve made up more ground than this before. Right now, this flat is the most important thing.

NewFlatCollage

“Christ on a bicycle, they’ve made it to the sofa!”

A couple of months ago, I stood in my living room and shrieked semi-coherently at the silvery slug-trails on my sofa.

While they’d kept to the floor and the floor alone, it had been just about bearable. I hadn’t gone barefoot in my own house for a good year, but hey – who needs chilly feet?

Then in the same week as the slugs gained new ground downstairs, my husband spotted a mouse sneaking down the side of the wardrobe in our bedroom. A somewhat screechy panic-buy of traps and bait later, we realised that enough was enough. We had to move.

You’d think we’d have realised that a bit sooner – the walls were so damp, we had multi-toned wallpaper. But the rent was cheap (as in, ridiculously cheap), and our landlord paid our council tax. We managed to kid ourselves for over three years that the place was OK, that we’d deal with the problems eventually.

We didn’t. And finally, a couple of months back we gave in to the inevitable and started looking for a new place.

Don’t get me started on house-hunting. Horrible experience. You need the killer instinct, the one that me and Kev are sadly lacking.

Finally, after being shafted at least once and shown around some absolute mouldy dives, we found our beautiful, shiny new flat. It’s only ten minutes from the old place, but it could be in a different city: there are trees! Green spaces! Nobody seems to have an old mattress in their garden!

The flat itself is in a modern block of ten, only about ten years old. It’s very secure – fob-gated parking, coded doors, video intercoms, the works. Our flat has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen-diner with a balcony (a proper balcony with a table and chairs, not just a little Juliet-balcony).

When we first saw it, the previous tenants were still in; a youngish couple with a toddler. The place was a bit of a mess, a bit cluttered, but I could see the potential.

Now we’re in there, and all our stuff has been put in and attacked with dusters and hoovers, it’s gorgeous.

Of course, the previous tenants had to leave their mark (and not just in the form of the giant fluffy toy husky who now has pride of place in our living room). They managed to break the oven and one of the toilets, and reduce the other toilet to a lottery as to whether it would fill without growling and shaking the building. They overfilled the expensive washing machine to the point where the drum has come loose and makes a terrific noise whenever it’s switched on.

But our new landlady is fabulous. It’s all been fixed already, except for the washing machine which will be done soon (it works; it’s just noisy). Our brand new oven is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Coming from the 70s-style oven with no window and a wonky gas supply, and only one properly-working ring on the hob, I barely know what to do with myself. I can cook again! My cakes will no longer be diagonal!

I’ve got all these marvellous ideas about batch-cooking and freezing and baking, immense domesticity that will probably never come to fruition, but hey, I’m going to try.

And don’t get me started on the sofa. Or the bed. Both of them came with the flat, and I’m in heaven. A king-sized bed with a beautiful wooden headboard and footboard. A leather L-shaped sofa that can seat six. Oh, I’m in heaven. Whenever I sit on that sofa, I never want to get up again.

It’s been so hard to get up and go to work for the past two days: I never want to leave the beautiful flat. I want to spend my days on my lovely sofa, snuggled into the quilt my mum made, working my way through the newly-unpacked shelves full of books.

Sadly, real life is calling…

NaNoWriMo 2015: the first two days

Oh god.

Oh hell.

What have I done?

Christ on a bicycle.

Using the third person has crippled me. I thought it would give me more freedom; getting out of just the one character’s head and into as many heads as I so desire.

Ha.

I’m barely in my own head. My characters can, frankly, whistle if they expect me to go exploring their craniums (crania?) right now.

Oh, I’m being too hard on myself. It’s not that bad, honestly. I’m getting to grips with the third person malarkey now; it’s finally starting to flow. Yesterday, November 1st, was frankly terrible. I had two main sessions of writing, one at midnight for a couple of hours, and one in the evening when I got home from a somewhat stressful shift at work.

It’s only been in the past couple of hours that I’ve really found any kind of rhythm, an actual voice for this third person narrator beyond “This happened then this so this but this blah blah blah”.

But the fact remains: it’s been two days and I’ve only written 6055 words.

6055.

My first day was 3760 words. That’s my worst first day of NaNoWriMo since I was at uni, and far more preoccupied with going out and getting plastered on Halloween than staying up for a midnight writing headstart.

Saying that, once again I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. My best November 1st ever was a heady 22,000 words, and let’s face it, I’d need a miracle to reach a number like that in one day again. Maybe later in the month when I’m not spending my days fannying about with packing for moving house, changing bills over to the new place, arranging for my beloved keyboard to go to a new home.

I should probably write this week off full stop.

No! That’s not the NaNoWriMo way. It’s not my NaNoWriMo way, anyway. If I write something every day, even just a little bit, then I’ll have succeeded.

And my first two days of NaNo haven’t been all doom and gloom and whining about third person. The procrastination has started already! And it’s fabulous.

I haven’t even written the book yet, and I have a perfect cover for The Hummingbird and the Timepiece.

Thanks to my lovely friend Tash for her photography/modelling/dressmaking skills (seriously, she made that outfit, how awesome?) I know what this book will look like if it ever sees the light of day.

If that’s not inspiration to carry on writing, I don’t know what is.

The Hummingbird and the Timepiece

The Hummingbird and the Timepiece

It’s just a matter of hours now until NaNoWriMo 2015, when writers everywhere will panic, procrastinate and caffeinate through November. And, hopefully, manage to write 50,000 words of whatever tickles their fancy. This is what tickles mine this year.

I should preface this by saying: I’ve never written anything like this before.

Shit’s getting deep, people.

The Hummingbird and the Timepiece is, above all, a story about obsession. It’s the story of what happens when one man tries to align both his passions, for a woman and for his self-appointed life’s mission, and how the two together destroy him.

Oh, and it’s also a story about time travel.

The idea for the story came to me while I was sitting in my usual writing haunt of the moment, Foundation Coffee House in the Northern Quarter of Manchester. I always sit in the window where the plug sockets are, and it’s a great opportunity to watch the never-ending parade of Northern Quarter hipsters strutting by. The hair, the fashion, the beards… it can be quite the show.

I started to imagine their stories, and being far too easily distracted (I was trying to finish another novel at the time) I started to throw some supernatural merriment into my imaginings. Then before I knew it, I was swaying along to Hole In My Soul by Apocalyptica, a plot almost entirely formed in my head.

Hummingbird Street is a practically an alleyway, too small for a car to pass through. But it’s just big enough for the dusty storefront of Hummingbird Watches, where the most hipster-esque of hipsters sits all day, tinkering with his watches and scowling at passers-by. His name is Lucian Ruby, and he doesn’t want to be friends. With anyone. He prowls into the Northern Quarter twice a day in search of caffeine, and that’s it.

Bethany Lovelace is a history student, bored with her life, working in a coffee shop and experimenting with Victorian cookery books in her spare time. She can’t stand most of her clientele – she’s not that keen on her housemates or her family either. When she meets Lucian Ruby, she’s certainly not keen on him.

Lucian Ruby, however, is captivated. This is the woman he’s been dreaming of for years – she must be the companion he’s been waiting for. An awkward family wedding throws the two of them together, and Lucian Ruby can finally reveal himself; not a hipster, but the genuine vintage article. Obviously, Bethany can’t help herself when Lucian Ruby’s handcrafted watches prove to be a lot more than simple timepieces – but is she really the companion he’s dreamed about for so long? And is he willing to give up the quest tearing a hole in his soul if it means he can keep travelling with Bethany Lovelace for just a little longer?

There’s my merry little blurb. I don’t think it gets across quite the hole I’m digging myself into this November – this is a monster of a novel. It involves travelling everywhere from Princess Diana’s funeral to the eerie asylums of Victorian Britain, from fifties greasers to the day before the Titanic sank. There might even be a brief foray into Civil War Atlanta, I’m still in two minds about that one.

This is going to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. Not just because of what I’m planning to do to my poor main characters – poor, poor Lucian Ruby, with whom I’m already a little bit in love – but because of the way I’m going to write this.

I’ve always been a first person kind of girl. I get into my characters’ heads and I stay there, speaking their words and rambling happily. This time, I need to get into multiple heads, look at things from multiple viewpoints. I need to keep secrets. I need big reveals.

I’m going third person.

As you can see from my clumsy blurb, it’s not my strong point. I haven’t written more than flash fiction in third person since I finished my first novel at sixteen, realising quickly that I worked a lot better when I could peep through a single character’s eyes and explore their world that way.

So long, comfort zone. Hello, omniscient narrator (who’s already getting on my nerves and I’ve still got nearly fourteen hours before we’re properly introduced).

Oh, and not to mention the built-in procrastination of the fact I’m moving house next week, and getting to 50,000 words will probably cease to be my priority, at least for a little while.

It’s definitely going to be an interesting November.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

I hope you all just saw the title of this post and now you have that song stuck in your heads.

And I’m not even talking about Christmas!

There are now less than two weeks to go until National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, aka the one month of the year I can be relied upon to actually write rather than procrastinate about it. Yay!

I’ve blogged many, many times before about why I love NaNoWriMo – an online challenge to write 50,000 words throughout the month of November that has grown enormously over the years, from just a few people in the US to thousands of writers worldwide.

I’m not going to go into the numerous reasons why it’s fantastic, just go to the NaNoWriMo website yourself to have a look around and judge for yourself. Just hear this: I’ve participated in seven NaNoWriMos so far, and written 497,512 words during the challenge months alone. It’s all there under my NaNoWriMo profile, check it out if you don’t believe me.

The point is, there are two weeks to go. Am I ready? Am I buggery.

But the Folder of Doom says otherwise.

  20151017_162126

Isn’t it beautiful? It was actually a much smaller, purple plastic folder up until very recently, but the poor thing couldn’t cope with the sheer volume of paper it was expected to hold. There are reams of close-lined paper; actual dividers to keep it all in order. I know, this is most irregular for typically-disorganised me.

Usually I do all my novel-planning on the computer, either in endless Microsoft Word documents or on Evernote. It’s the one way I can keep everything coherent without losing everything in my somewhat messy house and even messier head. But this year I thought I’d be different; let’s face it, I thought I’d like a break from having to find plug sockets everywhere I wanted to sit down and ramble for a bit. My poor little netbook isn’t so hot on the battery front nowadays.

To my great surprise, this whole ‘writing by hand’ business kind of stuck. My novel this year is going to be very different from my usual efforts – third person instead of first person, far more of a literary drama than a chatty chick-lit or young adult sci-fi. Meticulously plotting everything by hand, no delete button or cut-and-paste in sight, has really helped me actually think about what I want to say this year.

I’m not going in all guns blazing, firmly in the head of my main character and ready to shout my mouth off in literary form. This time I’m being more tentative, more careful; I’m going to use my own voice to tell a story. It’s a story about fictional people, yes, people whose minds I’ll be dipping in and out of like a creator has every right to. But I’ll be the one telling their stories: they won’t be telling it themselves.

It’s hard to get that into words (which bodes well for the actual writing part of the month, I know). It’s a departure for me, and although I have my reams of notes, I’ve got a lot of trepidation whirring around. This will test me as an author, and I may yet get one week into November and decide I need to give up and finish off last year’s effort (which is still, of course, clamouring for attention).

I’m so excited for it anyway.

And what exactly am I writing? I’ll just leave you with a title. A working title of course, but a title nonetheless…

The Hummingbird and The Timepiece

(see, I can totally be enigmatic when I want to be)

NaNoWriMo 2014

Once again NaNoWriMo is over. November has been my favourite month of the year ever since I found out that National Novel Writing Month exists – 50,000 words (at least) of a new novel, being done in thirty days… 30 days hunched over my laptop, pounding out words while surrounded by buckets and buckets of coffee. Absolute bliss. No matter what else is going on in my life, I always, always make time for NaNoWriMo.

I was a little bit of a rebel this year. I’d already written 10,000 words of this year’s novel, my young adult epistolary story, Étouffé. I ended up reaching 94,581 words, not including those first 10,000 – I’m counting that as a success. Actually, it’s one of my best years ever.

The story is, of course, nowhere near finished. Halfway through at the very most.

The idea for Étouffé came to me years ago. Actually it was… oh, bloody hell, it was six years ago. Now that makes me feel elderly. I was working in France over the summer as an au pair for three tiny children whose parents ran a riding school. It was the furthest I’d ever been into the middle of nowhere, and I quickly came to realise quite how much I hated the countryside, I hated horses, I hated everything about the farming life. Everyone was so wholesome. To my not-quite-nineteen year old mind, it was horrifying.

What’s more, I had no laptop, no internet, and an ancient phone that could just about manage to text, but nothing more. I did think I’d come prepared for the summer, dragging an entire suitcase of books with me on the train through France, but it wasn’t enough.

I started to take out my frustrations in writing, creating a teenage character not unlike myself, thrust into country living. I decided it would be the other way round from me, though – a haughty Parisian beauty dragged to the English countryside to move in with her new step family.

That’s about as far as I got, though, in a bright green exercise book with squared paper, bought from the only supermarket I’d seen in about a fifty mile radius. I scribbled furiously while my charges were asleep, hiding in my bedroom from a giant, slobbery dog called Basil whose one mission in life seemed to be to lick me to death.

Of course, very little of that first few thousand words has survived. The main premise is still there, and the basis of the characters, and my narrator’s somewhat traumatic backstory (of which she is mostly unaware). But over the years I’ve come up with a decent plot and structure, and a cast of characters who have really come to life in my head.

I’ve got to say, this project has had the highest level of planning of anything I’ve ever written before. I had 20,000 words of plotting, characterisation, settings and timelines before I even started. I got so immersed in Tilly, my main character, that I even started to act like her. Not a good thing – she’s a selfish, self-centred bitch for at least a third of the novel. All this crazy planning meant that right from day 1 of NaNoWriMo, I was powering out of the gate; for the first time in years, my stats graph isn’t littered with big blocks of nothingness, followed by the occasional spurt. This time it was steady, but still leading to almost double the 50,000 word target. In fact, I think I would have got to well over 100,000 words if the last few days hadn’t fallen at the start of one of my most stressful weeks of work since I moved to Manchester.

I’m going to credit part of my success this November to having an actual physical writing buddy – my friend Sara happens to be in Manchester for uni for a few months, and we could actually have our own little write-ins in the best Costa in Manchester. It’s awesome to actually have company, to be able to bounce ideas off one another, to laugh about our occasionally dimwitted moments of sentence construction and plot idiocies. So thanks, Sara!

Now might be a good time to actually throw in the typical stats-graph picture…

NaNoWriMo 2014

Look! A steady incline! Makes a welcome change from years past…

So that’s my NaNoWriMo 2014 story… with so much going on in my life at the moment, I have no idea what my 2015 November will hold. I’ve put aside Étouffé for now, purely because I have other things that should be a priority, writing-wise. But it’s been a lot of fun writing this first half (or third, or whatever) of it, and I feel it’s going to be one of my most entertaining novels.

In case you haven’t heard my spiel yet, I’d recommend NaNoWriMo to anyone who thinks they might have a book in them. With the support from the forums and the healthy competition between friends, it’s the best way to churn out that first draft; maybe it won’t be perfect, but you’ll end the month with 50,000 more words than you started it. The other eleven months of the year can be for the whole perfection part: November is for your brain dump. If I can manage to sit down for an hour or so every day and churn out 3000 words at a time, then anyone with two fingers and a computer is more than capable.