Saturday, 23 November 2013

NaNoWriMo: The Way Forward

By Jennifer Young

Mary blogged last week on the subject of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo (hope it’s going well, Mary!) and I make no apologies for doing the same thing. I don’t imagine I’m the only person for whom the whole get-on-with-it ethos of 50,000 words in a month has taken on a life of its own.

I went at my novel knowing that I couldn't possibly manage 1,667 words each and every day and that my only hope was to get it done as soon as possible, preferably without neglecting everyone around me too much. And I’m pleased to say that I did – and that I even managed to feed and clothe my family and discharge my paid writing commitments at the same time, though perhaps some of the other household chores got a little neglected.

And once I’d typed those magic words The End and downed a celebratory glass of red, what next? Revision. Redrafting. Editing. Because when I read back over the first draft I was struck by the inevitable horrors. You know the sort. There’s the vegan tucking in to an omelette; the woman who starts the book without a husband and yet by the end has been married for twenty years to a man we never see; the character who (if you pay attention to the timescale) manages to be in two places at the same time. Worst of all, one of the major characters is so completely underdeveloped I can barely see him in my own mind – so heaven help my readers.

Hero just a cardboard cut-out? Oh dear!
Photo: Gage Skidmore (from Wikimedia Commons)
None of this would have happened if I wasn't driven by NaNo. I would have planned my timescale more carefully. I’d have plotted my characters in more detail. And I’d probably never have got beyond 30,000 words before grinding to a halt and moaning about how hard it is to write a novel. Of course this is the beauty of the whole project – as long as you can abandon the mind-set that drives you to get it right first time it helps you over the walls of must-go-back-and-fix or don’t-know-what-comes-next.

As it happens, I like editing. I like redrafting. It’s easier to breathe life into a cardboard cut-out when I know what situations he’s in. It’s easier, too, to see the flaws in the novel when it’s actually written than when it’s in the planning stage, though planning remains essential (and indeed, I wrote to a plan).

I have written a novel in a month. It’s 75,000 words long. It’s pretty terrible, if I’m honest – but at least I know why. And I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to picking up the red pen.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Indiscriminate reading and indiscriminate writing by Mary Smith

Last month the DH and I went to the beautiful island of Arran, often described as Scotland in miniature, for a holiday. I took along a pile of research material for the WIP (or maybe I should call it the ‘work nearly in progress’) and did not look at it once. Instead, as the weather was good – not only not raining but actually sunny and warm – we did a lot of walking and climbing.
On the summit of Goatfell I discovered the DH has no head for heights. It’s nice, isn’t it, when after twenty plus years of marriage you can still find new things about your partner? Even though, it turned out, we both forgot our wedding anniversary which was during our holiday. However, we enjoyed many delicious dinners out over the course of our holiday, so I guess we did celebrate it, even if unknowingly. I also enjoyed having plenty of time to read.

I read voraciously and, having abandoned the worthy research books I’d brought, I read indiscriminately, and it was lovely. I simply left my critical faculties on one side and didn’t think about structure, plotlines, what worked and what didn’t, or assess whether characters were sufficiently developed. I knew I was not going to discuss what I was reading with anyone – I just read.  I devoured J K Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy (39p on my Kindle!), New England Rocks by Christina Courtenay, Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro, The Mistress’s Revenge by Tamar Cohen (rather unpleasant central characters reminded me of Gone Girl), an Isla Dewar, title now forgotten found on the rented accommodation shelves, a M&B medical romance, both title and author’s name now forgotten also on the shelf and I started and abandoned a misery memoir in favour of Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups.

From indiscriminate reading to indiscriminate writing – it’s NaNoWriMo time. In case there is anyone out there who doesn’t know about NaNoWriMo it means National Novel Writing Month and the idea is that during November you sign up to write a 50,000 word novel – 1,667 words a day. You sit down, you write. You don’t edit, you don’t worry about plotlines going round in circles, or characters refusing to do anything, never mind not doing what you want them to do.

I have tried it in the past. In fact, I blogged about it a couple of years ago when I was feeling confident I was going to achieve the target, but I failed. I think it was the second or third time I had tried and given up and I felt so depressed by my failure last time I vowed never to put myself through such self-inflicted pain again. Last year I deleted all NaNoWriMo emails. This year I ignored them until the day before it was due to start someone emailed to say she would read my novel No More Mulberries, but not until December as she was doing NaNoWriMo. I wished her luck, explaining why I was never going to do it again. She suggested I give it another go and we could be NaNoWriMo writing buddies. Guess what, I signed up again!

I decided, though, to use the writing time for something which isn’t really a novel. For a long time I have been saying I want to write a blog about the situation with my father who has dementia and what that entails for me and my sister, especially as his wife has been in denial about his condition and hinders the care process every step of the way. I thought it would be a good chance to write up the material, the anecdotes, the arguments, the heart-breaking moments and the amusing episodes (quite often those two go together).

Past the half way mark and I have managed to keep the word count on target. If I can keep going I will have 50,000 words of a rough – very rough – draft of something which I hope I can edit, polish up a bit and post bit by bit as a blog. As my father lives totally in the moment, forgetting everything from who he saw to what he ate, within a couple of minutes I’m giving it the title of My Dad’s a Goldfish. I’ll let you when if it goes live.

Is anyone else taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? How is going for you?

Saturday, 9 November 2013

It just makes you think by Jenny Harper

I've just sent another book to my agent, Vivien Green. She loves it! Whoopee! Won't it be great if an editor feels the same way?

However, with my story coming out in the Truly, Madly, Deeply anthology in February, I've decided I really must have something up for my adoring fans to find when they go to Amazon to see what else I've written. So I'm editing a couple of novels – maybe even four – so that I can publish them myself. This is hugely energising and exciting, especially as I've also spent some time designing the covers.

I love graphic design. I did a lot of it in my job, so I'm not afraid of it. But what I found interesting by undertaking this process was that suddenly I 'saw' my books in a different way. Instead of being slightly dead things lurking in my computer, they have begun to spring to life. And I've seen them differently in other ways too – for example, as I searched for appropriate images for the covers, I realised that two out of four novels needed to be renamed, and the focus of one was completely wrong.

(This last is a bummer, because I'm having to rewrite large parts of it!)

I'm sorry I can't reveal the covers yet - they are still in visual form and I will need to purchase the images before I can use them. However, here's a couple of examples of how things have changed, and why.

The Suspicious Wife is about a wind farm engineer whose marriage is under threat. Meantime, she is coping with a difficult situation at work, and she meets a gardener who hates wind farms as much as she loves them. When it came to writing a strapline for the cover, I realised that the title didn't describe the main conflict. Now it will read:

Face the Wind and Fly She builds wind farms, he detests them. Can they ever find love?

The next book is about three friends who live in Edinburgh. The original title  – The Glass Ornament – came from a quote: 'Friendship is like a glass ornament - once it has been broken, it can never be put together in quite the same way.' I loved it, and my then agent Dot Lumley loved it too. But when I started looking for an image, it seemed to be too cold and inanimate. I came across a terrific image of a pair of man's shoes next to a woman's legs – quite sexy but leaving a lot to the imagination. Who is the man? Whose legs are they? And a new title came to me: Between Friends. 

Between Friends They thought he belonged safely in the past, but his return threatens the marriages, careers and lives of three friends.

I have finally seen the value of the 'elevator pitch'. It focuses the mind as well as sells the book! Maybe in future I'll design my own cover before I even start writing – it might save a lot of time in the long run ...

And now I can't wait to share my covers – and my books – with you all. Watch this space.

Sunday, 3 November 2013


Now, now...calm down. This isn't what you think! I'm not talking sex on the first date/in the first week/after three months when he's proved he's keen here. So bear with....:) If, like me, you're only 5' 2" in your stockinged feet I think it helps to know what it would be like for your romantic hero to be tall. Okay, so that might be a stereotype with a tall hero, but you don't read about heroines lusting after 5' 4" heroes who wear socks with their Jesus sandals, do you? Nothing wrong with either there, I hasten to add, because I'm sure your 5' 4" sock-wearing hero could be a very, very nice man. But most romantic heroes are tall, and I think it is especially important to have an idea of this, at least, if your 6' 4" hero doesn't have a point of view in your novel. Does he have to bend his knees to an uncomfortable position to see in your heroine's bathroom mirror? Does he have to be Houdini to get under her shower head? Does he have to stoop to get under doorways in your fictional house/gym/mansion/yacht? Could he see over the fence into next door's garden while standing at the kitchen sink, and if so what he could see that the heroine can't? And then there's the issue of shoes - what is it like to wear size thirteens? Do they fit on a stair tread the way your heroine's would, or would placing them make him walk downstairs in an ungainly manner? Hmmm...but knowing all this can bring authenticity to your writing. Liam Neeson (of Schindler's List fame)is 6' 4". David Hasselhoff, who got many a heart fluttering on Baywatch, is 6' 5". A quick trawl of 'tall actors' on Google and you'll find many that are 6' 8" and counting. Blimey.....what a crick in their necks they would get kissing shorter actresses - or actors....whatever floats their boats.
So, a little role play can be brought into force. A stool-step helps here. I have one my late father-in-law made for my children to access the top bunk easily. It is fourteen inches high - perfect for my needs. I wanted to know what it was like bending down to kiss the top of someone's head - a fave romantic action, that! Does the hair smell of shampoo, or traffic smells, or day's old cooking? All of those things, if you want to know, and it also tickles your lips like crazy - well, it did mine. Does a very tall man reach straight out for a door handle, or does he have to hold his arm down? Ditto shaking hands. And have you ever tried doing up shirt buttons the man's way? Not easy...I was all fumble-fingered.
I know someone who had a peripheral, male, character in a wheelchair, so she hired one for a day and got her husband to push her everywhere to see how it felt. She hated it because it made her feel invisible - people spoke to her husband and ignored her so she had to change the character in her story from being gentle and at one with his lot, to someone who was actually quite angry inside and it changed the story for the better. Which brings me neatly to my hero in GRAND DESIGNS, out now on Amazon Kindle.....for this one I actually went to the south of France, and I arranged a real, live, meeting with a baronet....shame he was already married!