Tag Archives: first draft

One Girl Went to Mo, Went to NaNoWriMo…

Yes. The rumours you may have heard are true. I am, in fact, taking part in NaNoWriMo 2017. I’m currently way behind on my word count, naturally, because as well as being the mother of a toddler so energetic that, basically, by the end of the day I’m barely fit to sit upright in a chair, I’ve also been sick for the past three or four days.


I’ll be all right in a minute.


I don’t think it’s catching – hey! Come back!

Anyway. For those of you still within shouting distance, you can check out more about NaNoWriMo here. If you’ve never heard of it before, it’s basically a writing challenge for the month of November where people all over the world attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I took part in it before, back in 2013, and managed to complete the challenge; the novel I started then turned into what has become The Eye of the North. I’m far from being the only person who has turned a NaNo project into a published book – check out the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on Twitter, where other authors have talked about turning their fast-drafted first drafts into polished, publishable work.

So. Have I convinced you to try it yet? Check it out. 50,000 words sounds like a lot – it is a lot – but it’s basically 1,700 words a day for the entire month. And then? You have the bones of a finished book. It’s an amazing thing, to validate your novel and get marked as a winner – and even if you never do anything with your words, you’ve still managed to complete a challenge that most people will never attempt.

And maybe you’ll find yourself, in a couple of years, reminiscing about good ol’ NaNoWriMo as you sign your publishing contract with an artistic flourish. Who knows?

In any case, wish me luck. I’m going to need it. My NaNo project is titled – for now – The Leaky Witch, and you can read a bit more about it here. I’ll keep you all posted!



*Tears Out Hair*

So, I’m editing.

It would be brilliant, wouldn’t it, if we could just write and have done with it. If every word that spilled forth in our first drafts was the most perfectly crafted jewel, settling happily into place without a whimper. Sadly, however, this is not true of anyone (no matter what they tell you), and if anyone who wants to write is reading this and believes it to be true, then please allow me to dispel the notion.

Photo Credit: bsolah via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: bsolah via Compfight cc

Editing is what it’s all about. That doesn’t make it fun; far from it. But it’s unavoidable.

However – for the first time – I know that, right now, I am not the only person editing my work. As I labour away on the manuscript for ‘Web’ (not its real name), my wonderfully patient and hardworking agent is hacking through ‘Emmeline’ (also, not its real name), and I can’t help wondering how it’s going, whether she’s found any major clangers, and/or whether she’s now regretting with every fibre of her being that she ever offered me representation. I’m very lucky (and I know it) to be represented by an agent who likes to edit, who works with her clients to get their work as polished as possible before submitting it to publishers; as well as that, as an editor she has worked with the likes of Roddy Doyle and Frank Cottrell Boyce, which is simultaneously impressive and terrifying.

Roddy Doyle. Frank Cottrell Boyce. And me.

Anyway. It’s best not to think about these things.

Yesterday, I finished my first read-through of ‘Web’. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. I’m going through a bit of a crisis, actually, because I’m pretty certain that ‘Emmeline’ is a better book, albeit very different in style and tone; surely, one is supposed to improve from book to book, and a writer is meant to get better the more they write – right? Well, not if I’m anything to go by. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I am still very much wrapped up in ‘Web’; I’ve only just finished the first draft, after all, and the first read-through is still fresh in my mind. But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s my instincts telling me that ‘Emmeline’ was more original, more interesting, better structured and paced, and that ‘Web’ is far more pedestrian. Having said that, it’s reasonably interesting until about three-quarters of the way through, when it seems to fall apart a bit. I’m not sure why, yet, but I’m hopeful I’ll figure it out.

I am the kind of person who finds it hard to see other options when a first draft hasn’t gone the way I wanted – I’ve set the story down, now, and it’s a huge challenge for me to see that it can actually go in any one of thousands of other directions. It’s like my brain settles itself into a groove, like a river cutting through rock, and that’s it. Getting some distance from the text will help, but I am pretty sure that even if I left it alone for months I’d still manage to come back to it and fall into my old patterns again. This is why it’s so important to have someone else edit your work – it’s practically impossible for anyone, no matter how talented or good or experienced – to read their work the way an editor would. It’s even tough to read your own work the way a reader would. Distancing yourself from it is the best thing you can do, but it’s not foolproof.

How brilliant is this bookshop? I'm pretty sure anything you'd read in here would seem like the best thing in the history of the world... *resolves to track down said bookshop* Photo Credit: pedrosimoes7 via Compfight cc

How brilliant is this bookshop? I’m pretty sure anything you’d read in here would seem like the best thing in the history of the world… *resolves to track down said bookshop*
Photo Credit: pedrosimoes7 via Compfight cc

I hope that my feelings today are a combination of my natural tendency to be hard on myself coupled with the fallout from my ‘speed wobble’ earlier in the week, and not a consequence of my disimprovement as a writer. It would perhaps be better to remind myself that I have managed to bring a story seed to a complete first draft in little over two months, and that is something I should celebrate, not lament. It’s also good to remind myself, from time to time, that working hard, and fast, means that you don’t have a lot of time for reflection, and that it’s easy to forget that simply completing a book is a great achievement. If I didn’t have a first draft, I’d have nothing to work with at all. Second drafts and third drafts and published books can’t exist without first drafts, after all.

Also, as someone very wise reminded me last weekend, it doesn’t always follow that the book you, as a writer, love the most is the book your readers will love the most. I might feel that ‘Web’ is not my best work, but something about it could appeal strongly to someone else, and they might take something from it that I hadn’t even seen. Also, ‘Emmeline’ – which is my favourite of the books I’ve written so far, even though I know it’s not flawless – may never be read by anyone but my agent and me.

Gah. This writing business is tough, y’know? And not always for the reasons you’d expect. Lucky I love it, I guess!



Ghosts and Gods in the Machine

My brain is all a-scatter today.

Photo Credit: Neal. via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Neal. via Compfight cc

Focus has been a real issue for me lately. This could be due to tiredness, or anxiety over whether my current book is any good, or stress over the fact that I’ll be receiving edits on ‘Emmeline’ from my agent during the month of August (which will be painful), or it could be due to none of those things, or all of them. All I know is, I sat down yesterday with the intention of finishing my WiP, and it didn’t happen. I struggled to write half a chapter and eventually – my forehead burning and my brain in a knot and my mind and body shattered with exhaustion – I had to give up in the hope that I’d do a better job the next time I tried.

Well, today is upon me now. The ‘next time’ is about to begin. And I feel about as capable of completing the work today as I did yesterday.

I think that finishing a book is difficult, in and of itself, but what makes it more difficult is the fact that, by the time you’re writing your last few chapters, you have to keep a lot of stuff in your head. You’re trying to keep your characters consistent and pick up on the little ‘hints’ you dropped all the way through your story and remember the imagery you’ve already used so you don’t use it again (on this point, I read a book recently which used the exact same metaphor for something twice within a hundred pages, and I found it unspeakably annoying) and you’re trying to bring your plot to a satisfactorily interesting, unique and surprising climax. Is it any wonder that my brain is baulking at the prospect? What adds to my difficulty in this case is the fact that I’m writing a ghost story, which in some ways is cool and in others is ridiculous, because I’ve never written about a ghost before and I haven’t read very many stories about them. Also, I can’t watch films which feature ghosts or spirits for fear of losing what remains of my sanity. So, it’s safe to say I don’t know the genre in any great depth. It was somewhat of a disaster, then, when this story suggested itself to me and having a ghost in it was absolutely vital to its existence.

Booo!! Photo Credit: Shain Erin via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Shain Erin via Compfight cc

One thing writing this book has taught me, though, is the importance of rules when you’re creating a ‘world’ – and every story creates a world, whether you set it smack-bang in the middle of your own home town or on a far distant moon in the twenty-fifth century. Writing fantasy stories, of course, can involve more rules – the more elaborate and imaginative the world, the more rules you’ll have and the more important it will be not to break them – but even in a contemporary story (which my WiP is, to a large extent), you cannot break the rules once you’ve introduced them. Not if you don’t want your reader to rip your book in half, at least. Contemporary-set stories have to obey the rules of our world – people have bills and mortgages and jobs, and gravity works the way we expect, and people get sick, and accidents happen, and characters need to eat and sleep and go to the loo, and distances have to be crossed without recourse to teleportation or something which would make it any less difficult, and there’s time (which can be a major pain). Then, if the story has other elements – supernatural or magical, say – they have their own rules, which may interfere with the real world all they like, so long as they do it in a systematic, consistent and believable way. The upshot is you make the rules, whether in whole or in part; you’ve just got to remember what they are, and keep to them.

So. In relation to my story: I have a ghost in it. She has certain abilities, which revolve around water. She has a particular ‘realm’ in which she is almost all-powerful, and then there’s the ‘real’ world in which her abilities are limited (though she’s still scary). It’s very important for me to remember these limitations when it comes to writing the conclusion to the story. I’ve been relying on them all the way through the book, and so the worst possible thing at this stage of the tale would be to reverse that, or develop an ‘exception’, or something which is a blatant breach of the construction I’ve worked so hard on up to this point. Pulling the rug out from under your readers – if you’re a master of your craft – works well if you’ve foreshadowed it correctly through the book with just the right balance between blatant ‘Look! Look what is happening over here! My goodness but it is a Hint!’ and subtlety you’d need an electron microscope to spot; anything else just looks like the writer threw their hands up in despair and decided to go for broke. I’m not a fan of ‘deus ex machina‘ (‘God in the Machine’) type plot twists, unless they’re done with huge skill and intelligence – and if they bring something exceptional to a story, which often they don’t. In order to break my own narrative rules, I’d have to rewrite the whole book, which is something I’d really rather not do. There should be no need for drastic action like this if you’ve thought about your plot and characters and you know where you’re going with them.

Which, of course, I’ve done.

In any case, after I shut the computer off yesterday and went to do other stuff in a fit of temper, ideas as to how to bring the book to a conclusion began to trickle into my overheated brain. Some of them were useful, and most weren’t, but it proved once again that giving yourself a break once in a while can be the most useful thing you can do for your writing. Let’s hope that today’s effort flows more smoothly, and that the rules remain unbroken.

If not, I’ll write something like ‘And then a giant donkey fell out of the sky, braying as it came, and it crushed everyone flat until they were all dead and then they flew up into the sky holding hands and singing tralala and everyone was happy. The End.’

(Whatever I come up with, it can’t be worse than that – right?)


A Thor’s Day Miscellany

On this most Thursdayish of Thursdays, I greet you. The sun is shining, the sky is blue from ear to ear, and I can’t wait to get outside and let some of it fall on my pelt.

But not before, of course, sharing with you the contents of my mind’s miscellaneous drawer (which, actually, isn’t all that miscellaneous, really. It’s not like I’m going to start expounding on quantum physics and/or modern engineering principles, or whatnot. It’s going to be books and nerdy things and writing, and stuff).

I wish my mind was this organised... Photo Credit: Pensive glance via Compfight cc

I wish my mind was this organised…
Photo Credit: Pensive glance via Compfight cc

All right. First things first: I find myself in possession of an Unpopular Opinion relating to geekery and geek culture, and Thor’s Day is the most appropriate day to share it with you all. You have, I’m sure, heard that Marvel are planning to change their character Thor into a woman in an upcoming storyline: it has been hailed as a high water-mark of modern storytelling by most people, a Generally Good Thing in relation to making the Marvel pantheon more accessible to girls and women and a hammer blow (sorry, couldn’t resist it) to sexist depictions of characters in comic books.


I dissent!

Let me explain. It’s not that I’m not in favour of more female characters in Marvel’s world – in fact, that would be amazing. It would also be amazing if some of them were women of colour or short or differently abled or in possession of imperfect figures and breasts that didn’t, as the song goes, defy gravity, and – most importantly, for me – didn’t have to dress in skin-tight and/or revealing costumes. Marvel, to be fair, are reasonably good at inclusion – but most of their popular characters, the ones familiar to those people whose knowledge of the universe is restricted to the films and TV adaptations as opposed to the comic books – fall into the norms of comic book culture. In other words, they are women made to appeal to the (male, heterosexual) eye. That, in itself, annoys me. Also, Marvel’s press release states that ‘Thor’ is a title, and not a name, which I don’t agree with. It’s not an honorific that can be passed from person to person (even though I’m aware that the character of Thor has morphed into different forms during his existence so far, including a frog – but those episodes were temporary, and it was pretty clear that Thor himself was going to re-emerge sooner or later); Thor Odinson is a name. If this new female Thor picks up the hammer, is found worthy of it and therefore imbibes the power of Thor, I can’t see how she is Thor – is the name going to change to Thor Odinsdottir? Anyway.

I’m also, as an ‘ex-medievalist-but-really-always-a-medievalist’ upset with what Marvel are doing to a staple of Norse mythology and culture. Thor is a male god; he has always been thus. He does, to be fair, dress up as a woman at one point in order to claim his hammer Mjollnir back from the Frost Giants, but that’s not the same as actually becoming a woman. I know that Marvel have never stayed true to the mythology (because they couldn’t, really), but still. I reserve the right to be irritated.

I just can’t help wishing Marvel had created a new female character, one of equal power and status to Thor if they liked, which women and girls could rally round. Why not elevate Sif, a goddess of Asgard, to a greater role? Or even make Loki female, because Loki, as a character, is defined by his ability to shapeshift and change gender? I think it seems like a cynical marketing ploy to take one of the longest running and dearly loved characters and change him utterly, just to try to hook more women readers. I also find it annoying that the writers felt a female character, created from scratch, couldn’t possibly be as cool as an established male one which they’ve decided to make into a female one.

Even if, to be entirely fair, the art does look amazing. Thor, as a female, is badass.

Anyway. There are my two cents on the matter. I’m not even a big comics reader, so I probably shouldn’t be allowing myself to get so annoyed about this.

In other news, work on my WiP is going well, again. I have broken through a patch of extraordinarily hard writing (what I wouldn’t have given for Mjollnir over the past few weeks, eh? It would’ve made short work of my Gordian knot of plotting), and now, I hope, the rest of the first draft will flow, reasonably easily, into a conclusion I can be happy with. Then, of course, it’ll be time to leave it aside and focus on something else while it settles, and go back to it with a machete – but that’s a problem for a couple of months away. I think I let myself get freaked out by the idea that this is my fourth book – fourth! – and it was so much harder to write than the others, with the exception of ‘Tider’, which was hellish. I feel, at times, like it’s two steps forward and one step back with me. Progress is being made, but every scrap of it is a struggle.

Photo Credit: Darwin Bell via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Darwin Bell via Compfight cc

No excuse to get complacent, though. I’m going to lay down another 2,000 words today, come hell, high water or bright sunshine, and that’s that.

Thirdly, and lastly: I’ve had the pleasure of reading two very excellent books this week, both of them by Irish women; this simultaneously makes me proud, and scared. One of them you’ll be hearing more about on Saturday, and perhaps I’ll review the other one in a few weeks, if I feel like being good to you. This little country of mine is full of talented people.

So. On that note – go forth, good people, and have a Marvel-lous Thursday. Share your talents with the world (unless it’s for plaiting your nostril hair into unusual shapes or something like that, in which case you’ll have to choose your audience very, very carefully), and always remember to pursue happiness. I remain, your obedient servant, &c.


Woah, There – Back it Up

I’m going to admit something painful this morning, right out of the blocks.

Are you ready?

This is it.

I didn’t want to come to my office today, turn on the computer, sit at it and think. I really didn’t. It’s not that I wanted to do anything else, particularly – I didn’t have any kittens to rescue from trees or any particularly pressing household jobs to attend to (not now that I’ve cleaned the bathroom from hell, at least. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s an illustrative Tweet).


I just didn’t want to have to deal with my WiP today. And do you know why?

Because I’ve made a mess of it. Not a total mess – it’s not unfixable, I don’t think. It’ll take work, and unpicking, and reworking – but then I’ve done that for this book already, in quite a substantial way, so that’s okay.

*blinking hard*

Yup. Definitely fine. No pain to see here.

*cue dramatic, swelling music* I coulda been a contender... Image: gratisography.com

*cue dramatic, swelling music* I coulda been a contender…
Image: gratisography.com

This book has fallen into the ‘whoops! We went down the wrong road again!’ trap several times, and I’m not sure why. It’s not that I don’t know where I want the story to go, or that I don’t know the characters – but I keep making them react in unnatural ways to the things the plot throws at them. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m letting myself get too wrapped up in the book (in other words, my character reacts to an event the way I would, because – at that point – I am being a bad and silly writer), or because I am too concerned with getting things to happen, as quickly as possible, or a mixture of both. Maybe it’s because I’m overworking the text, a bit like dough; the story is turning tough and inflexible because I’m overthinking everything, and I’m literally going over it and over it without giving it – or my brain – a chance to rest, and prove, and rise.

I’m currently at 53,500 words with this project (though, after today, who knows?) and word counts are on my mind, too. I have an upper limit in my head which, instead of being a goal, has now become a barrier. I keep reminding myself ‘just write until the story’s done, and worry about making it ‘fit’ afterwards,’ but for some reason I’m finding that really hard to do this time – it used to just come naturally to me, before. While it’s hard to finish a book and see the word count is 95,000, or something like that (as it was with Emmeline), and realise you have a huge amount of work ahead of you to get it to fit into something more reasonable, writing Emmeline never felt like writing this current book. Emmeline is still too long, I would guess, though at least now I have some expert help in getting it to the appropriate length. For my current WiP, I’m hoping for a final word count somewhere around 65,000, but I’m just going to have to reconsider that once I get the plot shaken out.

One thing I am determined to do, however, is get this first draft finished. Then it can be left to settle and all its holes and stupidities and frankly illogical bits will rise to the top, where I can skim them off.

At least, that’s the plan.

So, I guess this is it. Time to dive back in, trace the threads of the story back to the point where my protagonist starts to make choices that are out of step with her as a character, and rip the text up from there. After that, it’s anything goes!

(Weird. That was supposed to sound positive and upbeat. Instead, it just sounds terrifying. Pray for me, dear people, to whatever it is you worship,* that the words behave for me today. I need all the help I can get!)


*Unless it’s Satan. I don’t really want his help. No offence, or anything.




Blooper Reel

Sometimes, I’m not surprised that people think writers are crazy.

*Klaxon* Crazed individual at work! Take appropriate caution! Image: New Old Stock, http://nos.twnsnd.co/

*Klaxon* Crazed individual at work! Take appropriate caution!
Image: New Old Stock, http://nos.twnsnd.co/

Not only do we spend all our spare time – or, in some cases, all our time time – stuck behind a desk having conversations with people who don’t exist, but we pour everything we have into these odd little encounters with the unreal. We get upset when our characters do; we feel their triumphs and their sorrows. We might be in the middle of having dinner, or watching a TV show, or a cosy chat with a loved one, when we’ll suddenly leap up, shouting something about plots, and knots, and unravelling, and we’ll have to go and find something to write on.

It’s probably a little like Archimedes, and how he felt the day he took that fateful bath.

When you’re working on a book, your brain is only ever partially present in your day-to-day life. Behind the scenes. it’s churning away at your novel, thinking out plot structures, working at textual knots, thinking about characters and whether that reaction is realistic or this conversation is too stilted – and it always picks the most inopportune moments to drop its findings into your lap.

Hey! Yo! I know you're tryin' to sleep, an' all, but this is your brain callin'! Yo! You payin' attention? Image: gratisography.com

Hey! Yo! I know you’re tryin’ to sleep, an’ all, but this is your brain callin’! Yo! You payin’ attention?
Image: gratisography.com

As well as plotting problems – you may remember my post the other day about my storyline resolving itself in the depths of the night and my patient husband’s forbearance as I disturbed his sleep to take note of it before it vanished – my writer’s brain is constantly on error-spotting duty, too. The other day, out of the blue, something struck me about the book I’m currently writing, and it was a mistake so stupid that I started to laugh.

I was in public, but nobody knew me. So, that doesn’t count. Right?

Anyway. I laughed aloud at my own silliness, and then dug out my overworked phone (if I ever happen to lose this teeny piece of technology, it will be an international crisis situation, because my entire life is on it), and made myself a short and not-so-sweet note. I reminded myself, using some quite colourful language, that this error needed to be fixed without delay and that I was a proper idiot for letting it happen in the first place.

The reason for all this? I’d written a scene earlier in the book where my protagonist has an accident and hurts her wrist, which ends up being bandaged. At that point in the story I’d even had the doctors put it in a sling, which obviously restricted her movement and left her only one hand to work with. It was all terribly sad and painful and dramatic and everything that goes with a sprained wrist in a modern hospital scenario, and that was fine. I was happy with my day’s work; I saved it, turned the computer off and went about the rest of my duties.

But the next day – in the very next chapter – I blithely re-entered my fictional world and wrote about my character tapping away on a laptop and carrying things in each hand and shuffling papers (hard to do one-handed – try it sometime), forgetting entirely about her injury.

So, I’m sure you’ll now understand my laughter, and my reasons for writing myself that terribly unflattering note. Because, of course, forgetting that you’ve injured your character, and that such injuries have consequences on them for the rest of the book, is very silly. Sadly, it’s something I do a lot.

Catching it early is important – something that can be helped by reading your work over whenever you sit down to add to it. Not the whole thing, perhaps, but the last chapter or the previous few paragraphs, just to reacquaint yourself with what’s been going on. I had neglected to do this, and so I’d managed to get a couple of chapters in, post-injury, waffling on about things that should have been impossible for my character to accomplish with one hand bound to her chest. Once it had been spotted, about twenty pages of unpicking to do – removing references to my character using her ‘hands’, adjust her clumsiness levels accordingly if she tries to do anything more complicated than hold a fork, be aware that she’s injured down one side and that if someone bumps into her, or tries to hug her, it might hurt. In the end, it wasn’t that hard to undo, and the day was saved.

But imagine the horror if I’d forgotten this detail for the rest of this draft. My heroine clambering across rocks, braving the heights of a ship’s rigging, saving her friends from fates worse than death – all without me remembering she has an injured wrist? If I’d managed to write the rest of the story while forgetting this detail, it would have been far worse. I’d either have had to remove the injury – and, therefore, lose an important scene – or rewrite every other action scene the heroine had in order to take her injury into account.

Or, of course, risk leaving the book as-was and hoping nobody else noticed – but that’s not very clever.

Luckily, however, all this has been averted. In future I think I’ll try to leave myself some more flattering notes – not ones written in all caps, full of exclamation marks and rude names – but I hope my brain will always remain on duty to remind me of these writerly slip-ups. Even if it does take a couple of days for the message to get through, it’s better late than never.


It’s amazing, isn’t it, how often a breakthrough (in life, in work, in whatever) is preceded by a breakdown – or, at least, what feels like one.

Last week was not a good week for me in terms of writing. I worked through a panic, during which I felt the story falling apart.  I had taken a misstep somewhere, and I wasn’t sure where, or how to fix it. That bad decision (both the misstep, and the idea that if I just kept on ploughing through it was bound to all come together in the end) meant that everything started to unravel, which deepened the panic, which lessened my ability to focus on what I was doing, which meant – of course – that it all got worse, and fast. Last week, I went through various stages of telling myself ‘You can’t do this writing thing’, followed by ‘How could you possibly think you had any hope of making a career of this?’, which segued neatly into my assertion that  I was nothing but a silly twit who’d never had a good idea in her life.

So. Not a lot of fun. Lots of befrazzlement and staring into space and interior darkness, but I think that’s sort of expected, when you write.

Then, the weekend came, and my very clever husband decided to distract me by bringing me places where I couldn’t think about the book. We went to hear a concert band playing, and we visited a craft fair, and we relaxed. We both needed it.

And on Saturday night – very very late – just as we were about to drift off to sleep, I suddenly started getting ideas. Breakthrough ideas. ‘Bring-it-back-to-its-last-known-good-setting-and-work-from-there’ ideas. I lay, listening to my husband’s quiet breathing, knowing he wasn’t quite asleep but almost, and thought. I made a plan for a new plot and went through it a few times, over and back, examining it from all angles like it was a diamond. It seemed to work; certainly, I was excited at the thought of putting it down on paper. It was dynamic, and fresh, and it connected the characters’ arcs in just the way I’d been looking for, and it was nicely sleight-of-hand in terms of diverting the reader’s attention. It was, in short, a possible solution to the knot that I’d managed to tangle myself up in.

Eventually, however, I dragged myself out of my head and realised I was lying in a quiet, darkened bedroom, where the slightest move would disturb my (by now) almost certainly sleeping husband. But I also realised that I couldn’t trust myself to remember the details of this new plot. I couldn’t face the idea of waking the following morning grasping at the threads of it, watching as it dissipated before my eyes like smoke from an extinguished candle. That has happened to me too often in the past. It’s not too bad when it’s an idea for a short story or just a general ‘idea’, to be used somewhere at some stage, but something like this? I had to hold onto it at all costs, and I knew it.

So. I think we can all guess what course of action I took. Here’s an apologetic dog, just to soften you up for what’s coming next.

Image: unsplash.com

Image: unsplash.com

I grabbed my phone and started to tap a note into it, whispering ‘sorry!’ to my blinking, confused husband. The light from the screen was bright in the gloom, and it dragged him up out of whatever dream he’d just been relaxing into. Luckily for me, he took it well, and settled back down again quite quickly.

My note, of course, was riddled with errors; between the fact that I was gazing at the screen out of one eye (due to the contrast between its glow and the darkness all around), the fact that I was tired and – most importantly – the fact that I was in a hurry to get this out of my head before I forgot it, I think about five percent of the words were spelled correctly. It’s a testament to my desperation that I didn’t linger over my work to make any corrections, and when I read it over the following morning I laughed at how some of my sentences had turned out. Luckily they all made sense, and I’ve even kept the spelling mistakes to remind myself how important it is to listen to the little voice in your head that suggests a way out of whatever issue you feel you’re irretrievably lost in, no matter what time of day or night it starts to speak to you.

Naturally enough, the following morning my beleaguered husband was glad I’d had this breakthrough and even gladder that I’d managed to write it down, but he did make a humble suggestion: why don’t you get a pen and paper and leave them by the bed, instead of using your phone? Perhaps I’d better listen to him. He did have the great idea to go away from all work at the weekend, after all; without that, I’d still be bunched, spiralling further into my panic-maelstrom.

It is a shame that we need to reach our lowest point before we can start coming up again, but it’s important to always have hope that this upward progression is possible, and that it will happen. No plot problem is ever insurmountable, whether we’re talking a plot you’re writing, or one you’re living. Take some time out. Breathe a bit. Go and see a concert band and watch some kids dancing, totally carefree. Hold the hand of someone you love.

The words will be there when you’re ready.


Creaking into Monday

Boy, oh boy. It has been a slow old morning this morning.

It seems almost too cruel to be under the weather on a Monday – as if the day wasn’t hard enough, you have to carry the extra burden of ill-health, too? – but one cannot choose these things, of course. I’m exhausted, and shaky, and my head is doing that weird swooshy thing that makes you feel like you’re on a roller-coaster*, and I’d love to be able to press ctrl+alt+del and begin again, but it ain’t happenin’.

So, what are you gonna do? Keep on keepin’ on, of course.

I was away from my desk this weekend, off doing happy things with my family, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have words on my mind. (Perish the thought!) I made contingency plans and arranged my work around my life – which, were I to be engaged in anything besides writing a book, would be a dreadfully bad idea, of course.

I'm not normally an advocate of bringing your work with you, but...

I’m not normally an advocate of bringing your work with you, but…

On Friday, before I embarked upon my weekend road-trip, I printed out my WiP, equipped myself with an array of writing implements and got myself ready to carry out an edit. I knew I’d have a few empty hours which I needed to fill, and I couldn’t think of a better way to occupy myself than ripping the guts out of my own work. I felt the book (even though it’s only partially completed) was substantial enough to stand a touch of dissection, and luckily I was right.

On this point, though, it’s useful to print out your WiP for several reasons; one of them, of course, is that you can bring your red pen out and slash it to ribbons (tough love, and all that), but another is that printing your book-in-progress allows you to see how much work you’ve actually done. It does a lot for your self-belief when you feel a little like you’ve run out of steam. My WiP – ‘Web’ – is only a little over halfway written, but I had been wondering whether what I’d managed to do had any value, or held together as a story. Printing and reading it as a whole allowed me to see it as one ‘thing’ instead of a random string of disconnected chapters (which is how a book appears when you’re creating it); it’s far from perfect or ready, of course, and most of it will probably end up either being junked or changed beyond all recognition before I’d consider it ready to submit to anyone, but at least now I know it does have a reasonable flow and it’s pretty much functioning as it should.

Which is more than can be said for my brain, today.

Another benefit of reading your work as a whole is that it can help you to sort out, even in outline, where you want the rest of the story to go. I was having a slight problem with ‘Web’ insofar as I knew, broadly, where I wanted the story to end up but the practicalities of getting things from A to Z weren’t entirely clear. Having an opportunity to read it through without interruption gave me a chance to map out a loose plan for the rest of the story; it reminded me of the small details and hints I’d planted in the tale’s foundations – little sparkling shards of story designed to flower into larger things as the book went on – which I’d forgotten about or had lost track of. So, in teeny-tiny handwriting, I now have a Plan for the rest of the story which I will begin as soon as I can. (Handy tip: perhaps make sure to use a different coloured ink for your planning notes in order to distinguish them from your editing notes. I know that in the heat of the moment, inspiration-wise, you don’t always pause to check your tools are present and correct, but it really is a good idea).

So, it’s shaping up to be a busy week; nothing for it but to creak on and get stuck in, I guess. Good luck with whatever’s on your plate today – I hope it goes smoothly, successfully and well.

Image: curiousweekends.blogspot.com

Image: curiousweekends.blogspot.com

*speaking of which, did you check out my story ‘Tiger and Turtle‘ which was published on Saturday as part of Flash Flood 2014? Feel free to share it around and/or leave a comment, if the mood strikes you…

Some More Friday Flash

Frosty Friday greetings to you all, compadres. How goes it?

It’s a cool day here, and there are dark clouds lurking. I’m waiting for the hailstorms to start. We’re sitting in a little bubble of calm – the calm that prefaces, you just know, the biggest downpour imaginable. It’s my kind of weather.

It doesn't look quite like this, sadly.  Image: layoutsparks.com

It doesn’t look quite like this, sadly.
Image: layoutsparks.com

Work continues apace on the dismemberment of ‘Eldritch.’ I’m down to something like 48,000 words now (from about 63,000), and – particularly over the past few days – the restructuring has been going really well. It almost seems easy, which feels dangerous. I have to keep reminding myself that the words I’m working with (from the old version of the book) are a fourth or fifth draft, so it would make sense that they’re reasonably okay. Because of the revamp job I’m doing, though, it feels like I’m working on a first draft all over again, and so I’m expecting everything to be nonsense. When it isn’t, it feels weird.

Does that make sense? Probably not.

Here, have a picture of Sherlock looking confused. You're welcome. Image: sherlockreactionimages.tumblr.com

Here, have a picture of Sherlock looking confused. You’re welcome.
Image: sherlockreactionimages.tumblr.com

I am losing so much of what I thought made the book unique, and it’s not easy to carve away at words I spent so long perfecting, and choosing, and polishing, and placing with such care. But, at the same time, the story is moving along so much more quickly now and despite everything I’m getting rid of, I’m managing to hold on to lots of the fun aspects of the relationship between my two main characters. Perhaps the reason that my carve-up job is working well is because this is the way the story was meant to be, all along; I should never have been afraid to get rid of the overarching narrative conceit I had been using. I now see that it was confusing and clunky and unworkable, and just because it allowed me to tell the story from the point of view of two characters simultaneously was no reason to keep it.

Sometimes, simpler is better. In fact, nearly always, simpler is better. It’s just unfortunate that this ‘simple’ change has meant the near-total evisceration of the book.


So, it’s Friday. Which means I woke this morning and the first thing I did was check the Flash! Friday website for today’s clues. (No, I’m not addicted. Why on earth would you say that?)

Today’s story elements were as follows:

The compulsory element to include was ‘Aging’ – as a concept, not the actual word itself. The distinction is, of course, vital.

The prompt image was this:

Image: wallartisan.com

Image: wallartisan.com

And so, after much panicked cogitation, I came up with the following small tale:

The Long Step

Pablo knew his time had come, at last. In truth it had come years before, but nobody had wanted to take his hand and lead him to the mountain.

Nobody wanted to say goodbye.

But is wife had been gone so long that only the oldest children remembered her. The sickness had eaten her, and she’d chosen to take the Long Step early.

Pablo had no dependents now.

And so, one morning, he took his silent leave. He dressed simply, bringing only his stick. He slowly climbed the mountain road, savouring the air and the sky and the birdsong, the tang of sore muscles, the thump-thumping of his old heart.

Finally, he reached the end. The Long Step beckoned, out into eternity.

One final breath, and then…

Peace enfolded him, like a closing eye.

Surprised, the women at the mountain’s foot ran to catch the floating baby, newly reborn.

‘Who was due to Step today?’ they asked, but nobody knew.


Good luck with whatever the day brings your way, and remember: even if something feels like it’s not working out, or you’re afraid you’re doing something wrong, don’t worry. You could be just starting out on a larger plan, and everything is going to work out just fine.

Wait and see.



A Sharp Lesson

One of the things about myself which I may have kept under wraps – until now – is the fact that I make brilliant potato wedges. Or, if you prefer, oven chips (this makes them sound a little more appealing, perhaps.) Naturally, the process of making these carbohydrate delights involves me, a large knife and a big scrubbed spud – and rather a fine dollop of audacity.

Last evening, quite late, Husband and I were antsin’ for our dinner. I’d decided I was doing my oven chips as a treat, and so I got stuck in.

Now, *this* guy - he's got style and technique... Image: amazon.com

Now, *this* guy – he’s got style and technique…
Image: amazon.com

Normally, when I make these chips, my husband’s not home; they’re made in advance of his return in the evening as a surprise, for instance. So, I’m not sure he’d ever seen my – frankly – rather reckless way with a blade until yesterday. I was in a hurry, I was hungry, and that added a sprinkling of further foolishness to the situation.

I was chopping, at an angle, through the quartered potato, half paying attention to what I was doing and half to the rest of the dinner, when Husband walks into the kitchen.

‘Oh, mind your fingers!’ he said – being the kind, sensible, intelligent fellow that he is.

Instantly – instantly – the blade went awry, and my left ring finger came a cropper.

Now, the injury’s not bad. I’m fine. Dinner proceeded in the usual way, and it went down well. I’m typing here this morning without any discomfort or inconvenience. But it is amazing that out of the hundreds of times I’ve cut a potato in just the same (stupid) way with just the same knife, and just the same level of distraction, I have never once cut myself. As soon as someone else made me realise how dangerous what I’m doing actually is, suddenly the task became something else.

My husband did just the right thing, of course. If I’d seen him acting like a darn fool with a big knife, I’d have said exactly the same to him. But isn’t it rather strange that we, as humans, sometimes tend to ignore the dangers of something if there’s nobody around to tell us how dangerous it is, and to ask us to please take care?

Sometimes, perhaps, we should know better, instinctively.

Aaargh! I mean, *what*? Image: dailymail.co.uk

Aaargh! I mean, *what*?
Image: dailymail.co.uk

Sometimes the dangers aren’t so obvious. And sometimes we think we can take something on because we have a larger idea of our capability than is, perhaps, the case.

I’ve been working very hard for the past few months on ‘Emmeline’, and now that it’s done I feel a little drained. I started the edits on Friday (because reasons), and I intend to continue with that work today, but over the weekend I fell into a dark slump, a pit of despond, a cavern of desolation – whatever you’d like to call it. I tried my best to drag myself up out of it, particularly because there was a wonderfully happy family event to attend on Saturday, but every single second of the past few days has been a struggle. It has blindsided me completely; I finished my working day on Friday in excellent form, and woke up on Saturday feeling like someone had turned out all the lights inside me.

Perhaps I have overdone it. Perhaps I overestimated my own capability. Or, perhaps, the two events – my finishing the book and falling into a pothole – are unconnected. Whatever the reason, I wish I’d been aware enough of how I was feeling to tell myself to take care and to get more rest and to keep myself well – but if I’d done all that, I wouldn’t have made my own deadlines, or fitted in with the schedule I’ve worked out for myself. My life lately has been about relentless forward movement – always something else to be aimed for, always something else to do, always a new project on the horizon.

That’s all fine, of course, if you remember this: you have limitations. You’re playing with something dangerous, whether that be a sharp knife or your own relentless drive. You’re risking something important, whether that be your fingers or your mental health.

I am lucky to have loved ones to remind me to take care, but I need to remember to remind myself to take it easy, too. Perhaps next time it won’t take a bleeding finger – or a dark cloth thrown over my mind – to make me realise how important it is to go steady, be gentle and always pay attention to the potential danger in every innocuous-seeming situation.

And, of course, the real moral of this story is: now I need a new oven-chip technique, too.

Goshdurnit! Image: cowgirlgoods.typepad.com

Image: cowgirlgoods.typepad.com