Bisous, Tilly

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?

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NaNoWriMo 2017: What Happened?

Oh, when I look back on that post I made in September, I can’t help but laugh.

I was so determined.

After missing NaNoWriMo 2016 (bit busy having a baby) and failing at Camp NaNoWriMo 2017 (bit busy being lazy), I wasn’t going to let myself fail again! No way. Never. I’d never failed a November NaNo and I wasn’t about to start.

To be fair, if I hadn’t had to move across the country in the middle of November, with all the resulting stress and sheer lack of time, I might have actually made it.

I managed a healthy 22,092 words. I didn’t start until the 4th November, and I rattled to a halt on the 13th November. I’d say that’s a pretty good total for such a short amount of time.

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Customary shot of the stats-graph.

I’ve used the word ‘fail’ a few times there, haven’t I?

But do you know what – I don’t feel like I’ve failed.

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Where Have I Been?

I know, I know, I’ve done it again.

Promised to be a good blogger and get my good old rambling in at least twice a month.

And as always, I’ve lasted a few posts then tootled off into the ether. Right at NaNoWriMo season too!

Well, I’ve got good reason. I’ve been using this blog to talk about good things, happy things. And to be honest, I’ve just not had the words to sit down and admit what’s been going on for the past couple of months. Properly sitting down and dissecting it has just seemed… exhausting. Time, to be honest, that if I was to find it at all, I wanted to spend writing other things, retreating into a proper fantasy world.

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NaNoWriMo Musings – WHAT ON EARTH AM I GOING TO WRITE?

Have a totally unedited ramble. I’m sitting in Starbucks waiting to go and see Marian Keyes talk about her new book, and get said new book signed. I am buzzing on far too many coffees, and the novelty of being out without a tiny Ted bouncing up and down in his pram trying to shout at passersby. If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in my head on a day-to-day basis, this is it.

RIGHT.

I am doing NaNoWriMo this November.

Correction. I am DOING NaNoWriMo.

I have failed a Camp and missed an actual NaNo because, you know, baby. I think of myself going into hospital on that final night, knowing that I realistically wouldn’t be leaving without a baby in my arms, packing a chunky notebook and some pens into my bag among the tiny hats and mittens. “I might be bored!” I thought, optimistically. “Surely I can at least get a few thousand words down while I’m waiting for my induction!”

(See Teddy’s birth story for the reasons why I found my notebook and pens three days later and laughed very darkly and bloodlessly to myself).

I tried to do Camp in April, but it was a bit of a disaster. I was far too unmotivated at the time – I started a whole new project as well as trying to finish some old ones, to deal with my current attention-span-of-a-gnat, but it didn’t help. I still didn’t get anywhere near 50,000 words.

But! November. November is coming closer, and I’ve got a good feeling about it.

Baby and childbirth and the like aside, November has always been a crazy month for me. It’s usually full of gigs, trips abroad, and work stuff. And yet I’ve never once failed a November NaNoWriMo, once I’ve started it. I’ve done 20k-days. I’ve done 10,000 words in three hours on November 30th. I’ve never failed. And I’m not about to start now.

And yes, it’s another crazy month. At least, the first bit of it will be. It’s Ted’s birthday on November 1st, and we’re going to be in Disneyland Paris for it. That’s the first few days of writing time essentially scuppered. Even though I haven’t got any gigs lined up for this year, there’s still going to be the usual Teddy routine of baby groups and play dates and walking round and round Chorlton in circles to get him to have a nap in the pram. He’s still going to be at the age where he needs constant supervision and entertainment: I’m not going to be able to sit in a soft play and let him run wild, or sit him down with some crayons while I type away on the laptop. Maybe next year. Realistically, that stage probably won’t come until the year after next. Or never: already I can’t quite see Ted being the kind of kid who will sit quietly with a colouring book!

It’s not going to stop me though. I’ve already booked in for my own private writing retreat: in other words, me and Ted are heading up to my mum’s house for a few days while Kev works. I’ll be throwing a delighted Ted in my delighted mum’s general direction while I scoot off to Durham to park myself in my old Caffe Nero haunt (without which I’d have never learned a single bit of German vocabulary, best working environment I’ve ever been in) and write like the wind. This will serve the dual purpose of getting me some writing time, and giving Mum and Ted some alone time. He already loves her, but I want them to get more time on their own together so they can build up to having Teddy and Grandma’s Excellent Adventures when he’s a bit bigger.

Then when we’re home there’s also the fact I’m back at work two days a week. You’d think that would be an impediment to writing time but it’s actually helpful: I can go into town a couple of hours before my shift, hole up in Starbucks, and crack out a couple of thousand words.

It’s all perfectly doable.

If. IF.

If I can think of something to write.

Oh my goodness, I’m so uninspired. I’ve got two giant projects that desperately need finishing – The Hummingbird and the Timepiece, my last successful NaNoWriMo project, is crying out to be finished, the main characters left in a limbo-esque loop of unrequited love. I’m 50,000 words into it and I still haven’t introduced one of the focal characters. Much writing and editing is waiting for me there.

My diary-type novel from the point of view of an uprooted French teenager is coming to its end after no less than nine years of being in some form of progress, but the main character has currently shut me out of her head and I can’t get back in. The new book I started for Camp, about a twenty-two-year-old unwilling to grow up and forget her obsession with Disney, is languishing somewhere on my hard-drive, the main character tossing her hair and pretending not to know me.

Throughout all my works-in-progress, there have been guest appearances from a metal band of my own creation: Karin Cluster. In some books they’re just mentioned in passing – say, a secondary character has a one night stand with the keyboard player and the main character has to watch them run past in their underwear in the morning, or even just that there’s poster of them on a character’s wall. In others, they provide a big plot point – a MAIN character sleeps with one of them and causes all kinds of repercussions. There’s a tiny voice in my head saying they deserve their own story.

Maybe this is the year for that.

Karin Cluster actually came about when I was trying to write something for my best friend: we’d just started our heavy metal jaunts around Europe, and I wanted to make up a funny little story about what could happen to us if certain coincidences happened to happen. All names changed, an entirely new band created, of course, that band being Karin Cluster.

Then, funnily enough, the events of the story I wrote… actually happened. Not everything, not every single detail. But enough that I was freaked out and shut down the project, a bit scared of what I could conjure up. It was just too creepy: my main characters (expys of me and my best friend, of course) were invited onto a tourbus by a roadie. The roadie even had the same name as the roadie who actually invited us onto a tourbus a few months later. That wasn’t the only similarity, but it was the weirdest.

Throughout my other projects, I’ve hinted enough about Karin Cluster that the bare bones of their backstory has formed in my brain, and I’m pretty sure I could get an actual novel out of it. One that’s not quite so autobiographical, at any rate. But can I put enough passion into it that I can get a full fifty thousand words out of it?

I think this calls for some planning.

And do you know what planning calls for?

NEW NOTEBOOKS!!

…I sense a trip to Paperchase in my future.

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A Week In The Life: Part 2

Ooh, look at me actually sticking to a blogging-resolution for a second week running!

First of all – massive congratulations to the new Mr and Mrs Buchberger! My dear friend Monica got married this week in a gorgeous fairytale German castle – I wish I could have been there but finances couldn’t stretch to it, sadly. It looks like they had an amazing day and I wish them the greatest of happily ever afters.

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Me and Monica in the German sunshine a year ago

Right, onto my life. Well… not a lot has gone on this week, to be honest.

Teddy and I are turning into a right pair of creatures of habit. Same pattern of baby groups, coffees (for me, not Ted, though he has a good go at getting the cup out of my hand), and tearing round the house on a mission to get every single cupboard bare by the end of the week (Ted, not me).

This past week marked the end of Camp NaNoWriMo for 2017. And, um, I failed.

I know. I failed a NaNoWriMo. First time for everything, I suppose. I’m not counting November 2016 – I never started. Bit busy having a baby on November 1st, you see. I was determined to make up for it by doing Camp, which I very rarely do. I thought “Oh, this’ll be fine. Ted naps. He sleeps through the night. Plenty of time to do some writing.”

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Look at that shameful stats graph.

I could make plenty of excuses. I’m not inspired while Ted’s asleep. I went back to work and that took a lot out of me. I have to use the time while Ted’s sleeping to clean the house and do other things.

All valid-ish, I suppose.

But in reality, I was just too lazy. When Ted’s asleep – like when I do most of my blogging, I wrote most of this post in my local Starbucks – I want to chill out. I started writing a new book; I was too lazy to put the effort into properly establishing the characters. I went back to an old one; I was too lazy to get back into my main character’s head and sort out her problems. I tried another old one; I was too lazy to deal with the two main characters and their romantic entanglements and unrequited love situation.

I only managed 15,494 words in the end. I’ve never dipped below the 50,000 word mark before, even in 2011 when I wrote over 10,000 words in about four hours on the last night.

Maybe by the time proper NaNoWriMo comes around in November I’ll be a bit more disciplined. Though I’m not going to count on it; we’re in Disneyland Paris for the first three days, for Ted’s birthday. Not exactly a NaNoWriMo-friendly environment!

Anyway, in other news, Ted turned nine months old – I’ve done a whole blog post about his various triumphs and increasing big-boy-ness. He really is speeding towards toddlerhood; he even did some standing unsupported the other day. Admittedly, he didn’t know he was doing it – he was very distracted by some singing at the Waterstones baby group. But I was very proud anyway.

He’s been doing a bit more ‘walking’, too. He’s been walking while holding things for ages, pretty much since he started crawling at about six months old. He used to like holding out his hands so I’d grab them, and he’d toddle along towards me. But since he decided he’s a fully independent grown-up baby, he’s refused to do that. If it wasn’t his precious VTech walker, he wouldn’t walk across the floor, only holding onto the sofa or shelves (or the wall, or the door, or a table…) but this week we hit some kind of breakthrough. He’ll walk holding my hands, or Kev’s hands… as long as he’s going away from us. Which leads to a very inelegant shuffle from me as he powers along on his little legs.

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Here’s a picture of my wonderfully daft child playing with a spoon and a candle. Because apparently they make the most beautiful music together. I would like to point out I did not give him either of those objects. Niffler.

Other than that… I shall freely admit that the high point of my week was Game of Thrones. Yes, every week I get up at two o’clock in the morning and watch it ‘live’, as it were – streamed at the same time as in the US at any rate. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start spoiling things all over the place, considering it’s literally just started its normal-time stream here in the UK but… wow. Just wow. It’s not really a Game of Thrones spoiler to say that there’s a battle scene, but it was a bloody immense battle scene. And one of my favourite characters (hint: not Robson) had a major part in it.

Oh, it was glorious.

Usually the big awe-inspiring moments of Game of Thrones tend to come in the penultimate episode of each season, with the last episode reserved for mopping up. I can’t wait to see what those episodes hold this season, if that was only episode four.

Anyway, that was my not-so-exciting week. Hopefully this coming week will be a bit more lively – we’ve got a few things planned, including – drumroll, please – Ted’s nine month check-up with the health visitor! Told you it was going to be thrilling. I bet you’re all on the edge of your seats.

Semi-Annual Life Update

Oh look, I’m back again!

God, I’m a terrible blogger. Two posts then off I go again.

I believe the last time I wrote I was six months pregnant, home from a lovely – if sweaty – trip to Germany for a pounding heavy metal festival. I was sunburnt, knackered, but excited for my impending maternity leave. And, obviously, my baby.

He’s here.

Obviously, he’s here. It’s been a year. A year!

Edward Albert Peter Robinson. Known as Teddy. My boy Ted.

He came into the world on November 1st, 2016 (somewhat reluctantly, but that’s a story for another time) and instantly turned all our lives upside down.

I know, I know, terrible cliché. But it’s so, so true.

In the space of a minute, my world refocussed on its axis. I don’t revolve around the sun anymore. I revolve around this tiny tornado of a little boy.

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Teddy at six months old – isn’t he a stunner?

Teddy is eight months old now – nearly nine months, actually – and I know, I know, I’m his mother, I’m biased, but isn’t he just the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? He’s a proper sturdy little boy; when he was born he weighed nearly ten pounds, and he likes his food. He’s never been one to go in for weight loss, just like his mother.

He’s always been fabulous when it comes to anything physical – he rolled over before he turned four months old and was full on crawling just before six months. Now he pulls himself up on the furniture and scoots along on his feet, and can toddle along if he’s pushing something in front of him. He won’t hold my hands and do it, though – he’s somehow fiercely independent at the same time as being quite a clingy mama’s boy.

He’s a right little mischief already. He loves to climb, and sometimes when I’m sitting on the floor I think he’s come over for a lovely cuddle… Nope, he wants to use me as a ladder to get up onto the sofa and thus onto the desk to play with the computer mouse. Or onto the windowsill to try and knock the lamp onto my head. He’s worked out which button on the DVD player makes the tray come out and will stand in front of it for ages pressing it over and over again. If I let him, he’d spend half his life watching the toilet flush, chewing on some toilet roll at the same time, of course.

Doting mama, much? Of course I am.

How have I spent my maternity leave?

It’s been quite a blur, actually. Those hazy newborn days, where I was scared to sleep in case Ted stopped breathing in his Moses basket. They seem like so long ago, now. Years, not months. I got through the entire series of The Crown on Netflix before Ted was two weeks old, and I couldn’t tell you half of what happens.

Ted’s always been such a good baby, though – I couldn’t breastfeed, but he took to the bottle immediately, has been weaning gloriously, and has been mostly sleeping through the night since around six months – I really don’t have anything to complain about. Maternity leave, which has just come to an end, is going to be forever in my mind as a peaceful, happy time. I just wish it could have lasted forever!

Kev has been absolutely amazing, he’s an incredible dad. Right from when we got back from hospital and he cooked me a ridiculously expensive steak to keep my iron levels up after a haemorrhage and a blood transfusion, he’s been hands-on and fabulous. Teddy adores him and now I’m back at work two days a week, he’s over the moon to have his ‘boy days’.

I’ve been so well supported, and had such a good baby, I feel like I really should have been more productive on maternity leave. I’ve been writing, almost non-stop in fact. Ted’s never had a problem snoozing in his pram in coffee shops while I scribble away. In fact, that’s exactly what he’s doing now, while I type.

I went off onto my leave with the grandiose idea that I’d end it with at least one book finished. Well, I kind of achieved that. At least, I finally finished editing my Guernsey-based leap year story… but I’ve hit a massive block, trying to make the synopsis work before I send it out. My other two giant projects… I’ve delved into them from time to time, but the inspiration keeps running out and they both remain unfinished. I wrote pages and pages of notes for two new writing projects, only for the impetus to bugger off as soon as I actually started the writing process. I even tried vlogging for a while, but the pressure to look human enough to film was a bit much, especially with Ted’s napping time decreasing by the day.

All in all, though, I’m not hugely bothered by the fact I’ve not technically ‘done’ much on maternity leave. I’ve not finished a book; I’ve spammed everyone on Instagram with countless baby photos instead. These nine months might not have been productive, but they’ve been precious. I’ve got to know this adorable, daft, cuddly little human that Kev and I somehow managed to make, and it’s been the best nine months of my life.

So what about this blog? Am I going to write this and then trot merrily off into radio silence once again?

It’s entirely possible. But I have a whole massive list of things I’m dying to write about, and this is the place for them. Oh, I might be a baby spammer now, but I’m a chatty one. And, frankly, I think people are getting sick of me rambling out loud. So it might have to go on here; far easier to tune me out in print than in person!

I’m going to end this post with a couple of collages of Teddy-pictures. You know, just in case anyone reading this happens to have avoided my Instagram for the past eight months. You’re not escaping the baby spam that easily.

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52 Weeks, 52 Books

As I may have mentioned before, I’m not doing any of those New Year’s bullshit resolutions this year. I can’t remember what mine were last year, and I don’t particularly want to check, because I don’t fancy being confronted with my own failure.

I am the master of burying my head in the sand.

Seeing as the only concrete resolution I can come up with is to get a Tolkien-related tattoo at some point this year, I’ve decided to set myself the 52 Weeks, 52 Books challenge instead.

Obviously, it’s exactly what it says on the tin. I read 52 books in 52 weeks. Lots of people already do this challenge on Goodreads and Reddit and various other places, but I’m just setting my own rules on this one.

I’m running Sunday to Sunday on this, so I’m starting my first book today. I am obviously allowed to read more than 52 books, but once I’ve set myself a particular book (to be documented in The Notebook) it has to be finished within the week. At least one of the books each month has to be something completely new to me. Not necessarily new as in newly published, just something I’ve never personally read before. I can choose these books by trotting into Waterstones or just browsing on the Kindle store, and they can be expensive hardbacks or free eBooks, it doesn’t matter.

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The Notebook. Where many things shall be written.

The whole point of this challenge is to make me actually think about what I’m reading and not read the same books over and over again. I want to actually analyse what I’m reading, really get my old English Literature head on. My brain is starting to feel like it’s stagnating in a big puddle of coffee, and I need to fine-tune it. Well, give it a good whack with a wrench at any rate.

I’m really looking forward to this. I’ve always been a big reader, and I’m interested to see if I really do read as much as I think I do – or if it’s more. This challenge might turn out to be really easy. Or it might turn out to be cripplingly hard. I genuinely don’t know, and I’m excited to find out.