Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

NaNo’s a-comin’…

Some of you may remember that, last year, I took part in (and ‘won’) NaNoWriMo. First time out, too. (Not that I’m bragging, or anything). I wrote about it in this fancy little article here, and this exhilarated post is the one in which I announced that I’d managed to bring the dang thing in on time, and under budget.

Image: patheos.com Sourced via Google Images

Image: patheos.com
Sourced via Google Images

I did promise y’all that NaNo 2013 wouldn’t be the last you’d hear of Emmeline, and I’ve made good on that. The book I wrote during NaNoWriMo last year turned out to be the one I’ve spent much of the last few months polishing, drafting, redrafting, editing, and tweaking, and it’s the one which made a splash in the world of querying, and it’s the one which convinced my agent to sign on the dotted line. And all this was done with an idea which I hadn’t even had this time last year. That blows my mind. When I think about Emmeline and Thing (the characters in my NaNoWriMo novel, which now has a much fancier title), I think about them in terms of always having been in my life. I can’t believe there was ever a time when I didn’t know and love them, and when their story hadn’t been told.

But there was, and it wasn’t all that long ago.

Today – hopefully, if my nerve holds – I’ll be sending back my book to my lovely, kind agent. It will be the fourteenth draft of Emmeline and Thing’s story. Overall,  it’s largely similar to the draft I wrote during NaNoWriMo last year – structurally, for instance, it has remained the same. One character has been removed by dint of blending him into another, and turning the two into one person (this was ridiculously easy, which shows very clearly that they should never have been two people to begin with). The opening three or four pages, which I wrote in a fit of furious scribbling, longhand, with a pen, have remained largely the same after fourteen edits as they appeared in the first draft. Thing’s voice and sense of humour have survived intact, and much of his dialogue appears now just as it did the first time I wrote it. Emmeline has been nuanced a bit more; for some reason, her logical, analytical and seemingly cold little persona didn’t come across as well as I wanted it to on the page, and so I’ve worked a bit harder on bringing her out a bit more, polishing her gently and making her shine, and now I think she’s fit to stand beside her fellow adventurer. I love them both.

However, I harbour a very deep fear that this book is the best one I will ever write, and that after this there is no more in the tank. This is despite the fact that I have drafts of three other books already written, and ideas for about six more, saved in my Scribblings file – but Emmeline’s tale is different. It has absorbed me like nothing else. It is the book I would tell people to read if they didn’t know me, and they wanted to find out what sort of person I am. It has everything I’ve ever loved in it, up to and including dogsleds. (Dogsleds!) It has given me more imaginative freedom than anything else I’ve ever done.

And it all came out of one spark of inspiration, one cold and dark October morning, nearly exactly a year ago.

If I hadn’t done NaNoWriMo last year, I may have written Emmeline’s story anyway, sometime. But who’s to say it would have turned out like this? NaNoWriMo made me write it, and write it fast, and get it out without over-thinking things, and I firmly believe that’s the reason it worked the way it did. I can’t say it would be like this for everyone who tries it – I suppose you’d need a particular spark of inspiration first – but all I can say is, NaNoWriMo worked wonders for me.

However – and I hate myself for saying it – I won’t be doing it this year.

Mainly, this is because of the rules of NaNoWriMo; you’re not permitted to work on an idea which you’ve worked on before, because the point of the exercise is to start from scratch and write a first draft, and I totally respect that. There’s nothing brewing in my ideas-tank that I feel strongly enough about to set off into a first draft with – what I want to do once Emmeline has gone back to my agent is work on one of my already-drafted ideas, and I won’t use NaNo for that. Having said that, I had no intention of writing Emmeline’s story until NaNo was upon me, so maybe an idea will explode into being that I simply have to write between now and Saturday – but I’m not expecting lightning to strike twice. I would strongly recommend you give it a go, though, if you’ve ever even considered taking part – it was challenging, and it was tough, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done, writing-related or not.

Here’s the link. Go sign up. Do it! And let me know how you get on…

 

Editing. What Larks!

So, yesterday I spent most of the day picking my way through ‘Emmeline’ with a fine-tooth comb, searching for inconsistencies and errors and repetition (boy, do I repeat myself, a lot), misplaced punctuation, frankly stupid conversations between characters (there were a few), scenes which were more ‘filler’ than ‘vital’ – there were a few of these, too, probably because the book began life as a NaNoWriMo project – and clumsy description. I’ve realised when I’m writing under pressure that I can be a huge fan of the old dangling modifier, and that my powers of description go out the window. Stupid metaphors and ridiculous similes abound, and I remind myself of Bambi on the frozen lake, skidding around doing my best to write something right, and succeeding only in ending up on my behind.

Image: myglassesandme.co.uk

Image: myglassesandme.co.uk

I didn’t get through the whole book, of course. Between Friday’s efforts and yesterday’s, I’m probably just over halfway, now. I’ve trimmed over 5,000 words from the total wordcount, which means the book is still far too long – but it’s an improving situation.

Image; aplusadminservices.com

Image; aplusadminservices.com

Strangely, I’ve discovered that the bits of the book which I thought would give the most trouble actually turned out to be the smoothest, and the parts I thought I’d be able to gloss over are the ones which have caused me the most eyebrow-raising difficulty. It’s funny how your memory works; I remembered certain parts of the book as being particularly thorny and challenging, and so I figured editing those bits would be a major hassle. Perhaps, however, the harder the scene is to write, the easier the edit – at least, that’s how it seems so far. Lots of ‘Emmeline’ just flowed out of my brain and onto the page, which felt great at the time, but it means that, on re-reading it, I’m left a bit stumped by my plot choices, or word choices, or character motivations. Nothing so far has been a deal-breaker, or a book-destroyer, and I’m hoping it carries on that way, but I’m a bit bemused by my own memory nonetheless.

One of my major fears with this book was that the central third – the ‘sagging middle’ – would be too flabby and over-written and unnecessarily long. So far, I’m finding that it’s not as bad as I thought. That’s not to say whole chunks of text haven’t been excised – with plenty more lining up for their turn under the scalpel – but the plot moves along faster than I remembered, which is good. At this point in the book both Emmeline and Thing are on their own, separate, quests, and – when writing it – this was difficult. I was constantly switching between their viewpoints, writing one section in Emmeline’s world and another in Thing’s, trying to keep a certain balance between them and always thinking of ways in which their journeys could be linked or even contrasted, and – to me – it seemed to go on forever.

Luckily, however, it doesn’t really read that way. It seems that the harder a scene, or even an entire section, is to write the longer and more turgid it feels in your memory. This can be a surprise, come editing time.

I’ve also realised that I always, always write linearly. I know there are writers who write scenes separately from the parts that come before and after them, much like a filmmaker puts a movie together; a scene from the book’s opening can be written right at the end, and perhaps the author will write the middle third first, perhaps in an attempt to ensure it doesn’t get overblown and out of control. I admire this sort of technique, but it just struck me the other day that I have never used it myself.

Image: mathgoodies.com

Image: mathgoodies.com

The above isn’t a map of my writing process, but it could easily be. I don’t think I could function writing a scene from the end of a book before the beginning – my brain just isn’t flexible enough for that. I also edit the same way – from the beginning, straight through to the end. Once a square, always a square, I guess.

I’m beginning to wonder, though, if I should shake things up a bit and start editing non-linearly. Perhaps it would make things easier to see if I’m reading sections out of sequence, and it might make the book seem fresher and more surprising if I edited backwards, or from the middle out, or something like that. Anything which makes mistakes and excess and injudicious word choice stand out more clearly is a good thing when you’re hovering over your work with your editing hat on. Sometimes, other writers read their sentences backwards to check for spelling mistakes – as your eye is less inclined to see what it wants to see when the sentence is out of order – and so it makes sense that shaking things up when it comes to your editing habits can bring benefits. So, I think at least one of my runs of edits, this time, will be a non-linear one – and let’s hope I don’t end up like this in the process:

Image: menagerieofminds.wordpress.com

Image: menagerieofminds.wordpress.com

I also hope I’ll be able to bring the wordcount down to where it should be without causing myself, or the book, too much pain. Soon, it will be time to start printing out whole chunks of text and going at them with a pen, a process I always enjoy – I guess there’s a hint of a masochist in me, somewhere.

Stay tuned for updates from the editing coal face, and the results of my non-linear experiment (that sounds pleasingly scientific! *polishes spectacles*) – and, with any luck, the good news that ‘Emmeline’ is ready for querying, just as soon as possible.

 

Beep Bip, Bip Bip Beep…

Image: qualityinformationpublishers.com

Image: qualityinformationpublishers.com

Good morning, listeners! In today’s show, we’ll have old favourites like the Flash! Friday flash fiction contest, and a slight frisson of the loopiness that usually marks our Friday, but there’s also a teeny bit of news.

Are you ready?

(Audience gasping with anticipation)

Are you sure?

(Audience laughter)

Well, all right then! Here we go. Hold onto your neighbour, everybody, because…

*drumroll*

Yesterday, I managed to finish draft 1 of ‘Emmeline and the Ice-God’!

(Applause)

Yes, yes, thank you. Thank you so much!

(Sustained applause, cheering, stamping of feet, &c.)

Image: intermezzo.typepad.com

Image: intermezzo.typepad.com

Yeah, yeah, all right. So I’ll quit it with the playacting now. But – in all genuine seriousness – I am very, very glad to be the proud owner of a completed manuscript of the story of Emmeline this fine morning. It’s slightly awkward that I managed to finish it on the same day as I blogged about how it seemed to be going on… and on… and on, but I just got overtaken by a spirit of urgency yesterday, and I worked right through, all day long. I wrote over 6,000 words, and I brought that story to heel.

This means my brain’s slightly fried today, of course. I’m quite sure nobody will even notice, though.

I’m almost afraid to share the final wordcount, lest I cause some of you to have nervous and/or bilious attacks, but I guess I’ll take that chance. It came in, all told, at 93,500-something words – which, before you start pointing it out – I know is far too long. My brain’s been abuzz with ideas for pruning the beast ever since I placed the final full stop, and I’m pretty sure there’s an entire chapter near the beginning that can be entirely cut out. I’m pretty sure I can bring it down to around 80,000, or as close as possible to that figure. Like every first draft, there’s plenty of excess to trim.

Even though writing ‘Emmeline’ was no picnic, particularly in the last few weeks, I am so glad I did it. I’m glad I got a burst of inspiration that day in late October, and that a little girl with a know-it-all nose and a shock of curly hair decided to stroll into my head and demand that her story be told. I’m glad I got to accompany her on the adventure of a lifetime, and that I got to meet her friend Thing, who – if I’m being honest – I want to adopt as my very own. I’m sure if I’d gone with the idea I was supposed to use for my NaNoWriMo project, that it would have worked, too – but it probably wouldn’t have been as much of an exhilarating joyride.

I’m also very glad that I can say the following sentence: ‘In the last year – since January 2013, when I put aside ‘Tider’ Mark I forever – I have written three books.’ Three.

There’s a lifetime’s dream fulfilled, right there. Even if no other eye roams across a word I put on paper, I know that I have written, and that’s good enough for me. That’s not to say I won’t fight tooth and nail to have ‘Emmeline’ published, by hook or by crook, but that’s a fight for another day. My first job is to make the story as good as it can possibly be, and I’ll worry about the rest of it later.

And now – on to our other Friday feature. I’ve been getting into the habit of posting my entry for the Flash! Friday contest here on my own blog, for a few reasons: one, because I’d like to get some feedback on my flash fiction, and two, because it forces me to get my act together and produce a piece of writing. So, today’s no exception.

This week’s prompt image was as follows:

Tiger and Turtle Magic Mountain, Duisburg, Germany. Image: worldlandscapearchitect.com

Tiger and Turtle Magic Mountain, Duisburg, Germany.
Image: worldlandscapearchitect.com

We had to include a tiger, or a turtle – not just the word, this week, but the actual thing itself.

So. I made this.

The Tiger’s Mark

‘You’ll know ‘im by the tiger on ‘is jacket,’ Jez had said. ‘Idiot’s never without it.’ So I’d followed the flash of gold all the way up to the Whirligig, the tiger’s jewelled eyes starin’ me down with every step.

‘We’ll see who’s smilin’ in a minute, mate,’ I winked at it.

He jogged up to the viewing platform, me a shadow in his wake. The tiger seemed to nod, almost knowingly, as he went; I checked my blade, sweatin’ hard.

‘Get the job done, fool,’ I muttered.

I glanced at the CCTV camera; nearin’ the blackspot now. I picked up the pace.

Suddenly, he turned, flingin’ the jacket off. He was covered in long, thin scars, shinin’ silver. His mouth gaped wide, and I smelled it – hot, meaty breath. I heard the low rumble. I saw the yellow eyes like trapped suns, and the gold-black fur.

I never had a chance.

Screw you, Jez, I thought, as he pounced.

 

Emmeline and the Ice-God, Chapter 16

In this instalment of Emmeline and her adventures, we see Thing getting crafty, Emmeline getting pushed to her limit, and a glimpse at the Baddie who is intent on using her to further his own ends.

Enjoy…

Image: walldime.com

Image: walldime.com

Emmeline and the Ice-God

16

                ‘You ain’t leavin’ me behind!’ Thing’s teeth were set, and his eyes glittered. He clutched Emmeline’s satchel to his skinny chest like it was a lump of gold. ‘I ain’t lettin’ ya!’

‘Look, Thing, we can’t bring you with us! You have to understand!’ Sasha was busily packing away some sort of chart, so big that it would have covered a wall. Thing couldn’t read well enough to understand what was written on it, but a strange symbol near the top of the sheet caught his attention. It was like a large round eye with several wiggly ‘legs’ coming out of it. Something about it made him feel uneasy.

‘All I understand is that me, the only friend of the kid you’re all rushin’ about tryin’ to save, isn’t allowed to be part of rescuin’ her from whatever ridiculous situation she’s got herself into,’ snapped Thing, renewing his grip on the satchel. ‘I can help, you know! She trusts me!’

‘She doesn’t trust anyone, Thing,’ said Sasha, snapping the huge portfolio closed. She buckled it shut and slid it off the table and into a large case, along with several others. ‘She’s been raised that way.’

‘But she – she saved me, from that man –‘

‘She saved herself. You just happened to be there. Don’t you understand?’ Sasha turned and faced Thing, and placed her hands gently on his shoulders. She looked straight into his eyes, and Thing saw them soften and grow gentle. ‘I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, Thing. I’m sure Emmeline likes you well enough, but you’re not her friend. So, why don’t you go home and forget about all this, and let us take care of it from here?’

‘You’d like that, wouldn’t you,’ muttered Thing.

‘Pardon?’ said Sasha, confusion creasing her face.

‘Nothin’. Well, if you can’t bring me with you, will you at least tell me where you’re goin’?’

‘You know I can’t,’ said Sasha, straightening up and releasing her grip on Thing’s arms.

‘Does it ‘ave anythin’ to do with that weird eye-thing, on the map?’ said Thing, hazarding a guess.

‘What do you know about that?’ Sasha stood perfectly still, and Thing didn’t think he was imagining the look of frozen fear in her eyes.

‘Oh, you know,’ breezed Thing, improvising. ‘Only what Ems told me.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ snapped Sasha. ‘Emmeline is completely ignorant of anything to do with that map.’

‘Sure about that, are ya?’

‘Yes,’ said Sasha, but Thing saw a tiny twitch at the corner of her mouth that told him she was lying.

‘Interestin’,’ said Thing. Just then, Edgar came back into the room. Someone had rebandaged his arm, and given him some sort of pain-killing medication. His colour was back, and there was a sparkle in his eye.

‘Are you ready?’ he asked Sasha. ‘We’ll be docking within the hour, and we won’t have time to waste. We’ll need to get to – Oh. Hello,’ he said, finally noticing Thing. ‘What are you still doing here?’ He smiled down at him, and only his twitching fingers gave away his impatience.

‘I were just tellin’ Sasha ‘ere about Emmeline and the wavy eye,’ he said, straightening his back. ‘Nothin’ important.’

‘Emmeline and the what?’ he said, glancing up at Sasha.

‘The sun is warm,’ said Sasha, cryptically, focusing on Edgar.

‘But there is ice on the breeze,’ he finished, blinking.

‘Er – right,’ said Thing, into the silence that followed this strange exchange. ‘Anyway. We was discussin’ my role in the rescuin’ of Emmeline, actually, just as you so rudely barged in.’

‘Your role?’ said Sasha, snapping out of whatever spell she’d been in and staring back down at Thing. ‘You don’t have a role!’

‘That’s not what this says.’ Thing nodded down at the satchel in his hands.

‘That’s nothing! That’s simply Emmeline’s bag – all it has in it are her tricks, her gimmicks, her – her little means of keeping herself safe!’ Sasha frowned, throwing her hands up in the air.

‘Yeah, that,’ agreed Thing, ‘and also some very interestin’ papers on – ice.’ He felt his way into the next thought, very carefully. ‘Ice, and stuff what lives in it.’ Sasha’s eyes burst open like someone had slapped her on the back.

‘Are you – do you even – what are you talking about?’

‘Guess you’ll have to bring me along. ‘Sfar too much to explain before the ship makes landfall,’ said Thing, with a sniff.

                 ‘But – what about your parents? Your family?’ asked Edgar. He laid a strong, warm hand on Thing’s shoulder. ‘Won’t they worry?’

‘Shouldn’t think my parents’ve worried about me for about ten years or so,’ he said. Edgar blinked.

‘How old are you, Thing?’

‘Not sure, ‘xactly. ‘Bout twelve, there-thereabouts.’ He didn’t trust himself to look up, but he felt Edgar and Sasha share a look, one that was full of stuff that grownups did, tears and pity and disgust and all that stuff. Thing had long learned to ignore it.

‘Well – look. If we bring you – and it’s only an if – will you tell us everything that Emmeline discussed with you?’ Edgar’s words had sharp edges.

‘We need to see those documents!’ hissed Sasha.

‘Yeah, yeah,’ said Thing, his heart beginning to race again – not that you’d have known it to look at him. He kept his voice low and bored, and even chanced a yawn. ‘Whatever. Just let me come, yeah? I’ll be useful. Swear.’

‘Fine,’ said Sasha, trying to mask a yawn of her own behind her hand. ‘Come. But I’m not taking responsibility for you.’

‘That suits me fine,’ said Thing, who didn’t know what it felt like to have someone else take responsibility for him. ‘Now. Finally. Will someone tell me where we’re goin’?’

 **

                Hours were passing in Emmeline’s prison, but she had no way of knowing how many. All she knew was the cold was growing stronger, like a wild animal getting more and more enraged. It had started biting at her a long time ago, taking mouthfuls of her warmth away with it and devouring them, leaving Emmeline with nothing but her bare bones. An empty dish lay beside her, which had been filled with warm porridge-y gruel a while back – Emmeline had eaten it, but it hadn’t helped to take away the gnawing inside. She was in a constant state of half-asleep, never sure if what she was seeing or hearing was real, or dredged up out of the depths of her mind.

Vaguely, she heard a clatter, and a gust of bitter wind on her face.

‘Girl! Look lively, down there. The boss wants to speak to ya. Are ya decent?’ Emmeline didn’t reply, because the words didn’t seem to make any sense. The voice was coming from far away, bending and distorting as it travelled, until it reached her ears sounding hollow and twisted. It wouldn’t sit comfortably in her mind, so she ignored it. She was feeling tired, and just wanted to sleep. If she could only sleep, everything would be all right…

‘Woohoo! Girlie! Wakey wakey!’ Emmeline didn’t hear this, and so she didn’t move. ‘Here, Joe – she’s not doin’ anythin’. Give us a hand with this, willya?’ One of the men dropped down into Emmeline’s compartment, catching his breath at how cold it felt down there. For a split second he gazed at Emmeline’s small form, her bare legs beneath her grubby dress and her light jacket which didn’t even fasten properly, and shivered inside his heavy winter coat.

‘Get ‘er up here, Baker!’ called a voice from above, snapping him out of his thoughts. Quickly, he bent and picked Emmeline up, and within a few seconds she’d been handed out through the trapdoor and laid out on a couch in the body of the ship. Her skin was ice-cold to the touch, and her eyes were firmly fixed shut. The bits of her skin that could be seen were a uniform grey, and her breaths were shallow.

‘This is your fault, y’know,’ one of the men barked at another. ‘If you hadn’t insisted on getting started with that card game, we’d never have forgotten to check on the kid.’

My fault? That’s rich! Whose idea was it to put her in the fish store in the first place? I believe – and correct me if I’m wrong – that it was yours!

‘Now, look here –‘ began the other man, his face reddening, but he never got to finish his sentence.

‘If one of you fools doesn’t get that child covered up and warm, this instant, you’ll all be forcibly unshipped in Newfoundland without a stitch of clothing.’ Nobody moved. ‘And I will not be paying any of you so much as a red cent.’ Instantly, the cabin was alive with movement. Someone grabbed a blanket and wrapped Emmeline snugly in it while someone else started warming up the stove to make her some soup. A third dispatched himself to find some thick clothing, and a fourth threw some sticks into the furnace. Gradually, some pink began to creep back into Emmeline’s face and her eyes started to move, ever so slowly, behind her eyelids.

‘Gentlemen. I want you all to feel for this child as though she were your own,’ announced the pale-faced man, looking around at the scar-faced, tattooed, gap-toothed crew he’d gathered around him. ‘On second thought, actually, I will say this: I’d like you all to feel for this child as though she were the only, treasured daughter of your employer – which, in so many ways, she is – and I want you all to know that whatever harm comes to this child will be revisited upon your own persons, times ten. If she freezes to death, you will be encased in a glacier having first been whipped raw. If she starves, you will be force-fed snow until you burst. If a hand is laid upon her body with the intent to cause her pain, that man will lose all four of his limbs and be left on the ice – alive, mind you – as a snack for the next passing polar bear. Am I clear?’ The listening men stood to attention, each of them focused utterly on the weird white-skinned man they’d allowed to convince them to come north. At this time of year? some of them had scoffed. He must be mad! But he’d shown them all the colour of his money, and, one by one, they’d caved.

And now, here they were.

‘As ice, sir,’ said one. ‘Clear as ice.’

‘Wonderful,’ he replied. ‘Don’t disturb me again until she wakes.’

Sisyphus – I Feel your Pain, Man

It’s the twelfth of December. Say what?

Image: funnyjunk.com

Image: funnyjunk.com

Santa is, indeed, coming. So is the end of the year, which is a lot less pleasant to think about.

You may remember – mainly because I went on and on and on about it – that I completed NaNoWriMo this year. That means I wrote 50,000 words in less than 30 days. However, I’m beginning to wonder if I dreamed the whole thing, because it’s now been nearly two weeks since NaNoWriMo finished, and since then I’ve written about 9,000 words, tops. I sit down at my computer, and open up my document, and I scroll to the spot where I left off last time.

And I feel like this.

Image: scienceblogs.com

Image: scienceblogs.com

Getting through the work, day by day by day, is akin to strapping on a pair of cement boots and taking a brisk walk up the Matterhorn. It’s just so hard, and I don’t understand why.

Consider these points:

1. I have plenty of story left. I am nowhere near the conclusion of this book, and I know (in a broad sense) what I want to happen. It’s just a matter of getting there.

2. This feeling of mental block only happens when I’m actually at my desk. I was out for a walk yesterday, f’rinstance, and found my head filling up with ideas and enthusiasm and sheer delight at the thought of returning to my story, and so I galloped home. All that enthusiasm took a nosedive out the window as soon as the computer was switched back on, though. Does this make sense?

3. I really want to get this draft finished by the end of the year. I just can’t countenance the idea of bringing it over into 2014. Normally, when I am determined like this, I just knuckle down and get it done. Normally. But something – alors! – is not normal, these days.

It seems as though the story has become turgid, and floppy, and bland. It seems like my words are banal and meaningless and ‘seen it all before.’ Perhaps this is a side-effect of having had such a forced intimacy with the work for the past six weeks or so; maybe I simply need a break from it, and a change of focus.

But, at the same time, I don’t want a break from it. I want to finish it. I want to get through it, because I’m afraid that if I leave it alone too long I won’t ever see it through, and that would be breaking the first rule – the most important rule – of writing, which is: Finish Your Work. You can’t do a second draft of an incomplete first draft, so grinding to a halt now would be, in terms of Emmeline and Thing and their story, a disaster.

I believe there’s potential in this story. I really love the characters, and I like how the plot has, to a large extent, woven itself around them. It has taken a few unexpected turns, and ideas have suggested themselves to me as I wrote, which is an exhilarating feeling. But now I’m coming close to the End – I’m within 10,000 words of the conclusion to this story, by any rational calculation – and Endings have always been hard for me.

I read a book recently (a review will be posted in a couple of weeks’ time) which was a flight of extraordinary fancy. It did a few things which irritated me, namely introducing characters at the last minute who happen to have just the right power to get the protagonist out of a sticky situation, relying a little on coincidence and ‘extraordinary strokes of luck’ (my teeth go on edge when I read a phrase like this), but it did one other thing, which taught me – or perhaps, reminded me of – an important lesson. It demonstrated the power of a free and full imagination. This particular book went places which no other children’s book I’ve ever read has gone, and I found that refreshing and exciting.

It made me wonder why I constantly clamp down on my own imagination, telling myself that a scene in whatever I’m working on couldn’t possibly happen – it’s too far-fetched, and not realistic enough, and nobody would ever believe it.

Image: badideatshirts.com

Image: badideatshirts.com

But isn’t that sort of the point?

I’m not saying that child readers will believe any old rubbish, because – of course – I am passionately aware that isn’t true. But what they need are books which explore the limits of what a writer can imagine. They want to read things they’ve never read before, and they want to be surprised, and they want to be gripped, and they want to care about the characters. They want to be amused, probably more than anything else. They want descriptions which are good enough, and clear enough, that they seem effortlessly done; at the same time, these descriptions cannot be allowed to get in the way of their reading enjoyment, or stop them imagining themselves in the place of the hero. They want a world which is internally logical and consistent, which holds together and doesn’t break any of its own rules – but, after that, if you want to bring in talking elephants or pink trees or whatever it is, and they make sense in the world you’ve written, then there’s no reason why you should hesitate. Yet – when it comes to some of my own more ‘out-there’ ideas, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Why is applying the lessons I’ve learned from years of reading, enjoying and dissecting children’s books such a challenging thing?

Every day I sit down at this book, I spend the first hour or two unpicking most of what I wrote the previous day. Progress is painfully slow. I am getting there – and I hope I’ll make it before my ‘deadline’ hits – but I hope I’ll remember to give myself the space I need to let the story live. I’ll have to remind myself not to be afraid of where the story wants to go, and to give it the freedom to do what it wants to do. I have to trust myself to handle it.

Otherwise, I think the boulder’s going to start rolling back so fast that I won’t be able to stop it, and it’ll crush me to a pulp.

And nobody wants to see that, right?

Emmeline and the Ice-God, Chapter 15

I know, I know. NaNoWriMo is over, and so I shouldn’t really post any more extracts from my novel up here – but hey. That’s the beauty of being the Proprietor, isn’t it? You can sort of do what you like. By the way, I still haven’t come up with a better name for the book, so if anyone has any suggestions, you know where to fling ’em. Think ‘ice’, ‘creature’, ‘conspiracy’, ‘ancient’ – that sort of thing.

This week, we pick up shortly after Emmeline and Thing were spotted as they attempted to hide from the men who meant them harm…

Image: ebay.com

Image: ebay.com

Emmeline and the Ice-God

15

Whoop! It – whoop! – was so fast! I – whoop! – I couldn’t –‘

‘Yes, yes – that’s fine! Just calm down, please, won’t you?’

‘But we can’t – whoop! – just calm down! They’ve taken her! Or don’t you – whoop! – understand what kidnapping actually means?

‘Look, Thing – is Thing your name? – you’re not going to be able to help Emmeline if you suffocate to death. All right? Now, calm down. I mean it. Get your breath, and then tell us everything you remember.’ Thing nodded, trying to get his thoughts in order. He was still clutching Emmeline’s satchel to himself, and had refused to let go of it for any reason. The severed straps, hanging like broken arms at either side of the satchel itself, reminded him how important it was to get Emmeline back and return her most treasured possession, as soon as possible.

‘Right. Well – whoop – we were climbin’, right, up to the crow’s nest, like you said, when some fellas – whoop – lots of ‘em, just sort of appeared, yeah, and they turned this big light thing on, and they used it to – whoop – find us.’

‘A light? What sort of light?’ Edgar’s voice was calm, despite the fact that his left arm was a slab of agony. He’d been shot, and the White Flower didn’t have the time or expertise to patch him up properly. He’d been bandaged, and a wad of cotton placed tightly over his wound, and that would have to do for the time being. He glanced over at Sasha, whose face was white as a bone. Her every muscle was tensed, listening to Thing.

‘Dunno – a searchlight, I s’pose. Big round thing. Swivelled.’ Thing demonstrated swivelling with his free hand, just in case they hadn’t got the picture.

‘Okay, that’s fine. So, then what happened? In your own time.’ Sasha’s words were quiet and calm, but Edgar had known her too long to be fooled by that. Her eyes flashed, and her lips were drawn thin.

‘The blokes kept the light on Ems, yeah, and then they flung up some sort of – whoop – net, or somethin’, and they, like, dragged her off the ladder.’ Thing made a sucking sound with his mouth as he showed them, with a hand movement, exactly how Emmeline had fallen. ‘They caught her, and then they tied ‘er up, and they took this away from ‘er –‘ he gestured toward the satchel. ‘Then, they carried ‘er to the edge and just chucked ‘er off.’

‘Chuck – chucked her off?’ repeated Sasha. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Sure as I am that you’re all a bunch of – whoop – idiots who can’t understand plain English,’ muttered Thing.

‘Did she scream? Cry out? Anything?’

‘Nah. Tough as nails, is Ems.’ Thing blinked hard, trying to focus on the battered leather satchel. A few loose threads were fraying around one of its corners and he toyed with them until he was pretty sure his eyes weren’t going to leak, and he could look up again.

‘They must have had her in a harness, or something,’ said Sasha to Edgar, her voice low. ‘Surely? They wouldn’t risk – they couldn’t risk – actually losing her…’

‘I’m sure you’re right,’ murmured Edgar in reply. He placed his uninjured hand over Sasha’s and gently gripped her fingers, which were cold and stiff. He tried to rub some life into them.

‘So – what’s the story with all this?’ asked Thing. He looked first at Edgar, and then at Sasha. ‘I mean, why’s everyone after Emmeline? What’s she done? Only a kid, isn’t she?’

‘It’s not really something – well. It’s not something we can share, let’s put it like that,’ said Edgar, in a low dark voice. ‘She – or, rather, her parents – are involved in something big. The men who took Emmeline probably intend to hold her for ransom, or have been paid to bring her somewhere.’ Edgar was hit by a wave of agony and his words hissed to a halt. He clenched his teeth and grunted, his good hand flying up to the wound on his shoulder.

‘You all right?’ asked Thing, his eyes wide.

‘I’ll live. Now, can you tell us anything you remember about the men? What they looked like, sounded like, how many there were, anything like that?’ Edgar spoke quickly, his voice sharp with the pain he was doing his best to suppress.

‘Right – yes,’ said Thing, slowly. He closed his eyes and did his best to remember. A dim and indistinct picture started to form in his mind – men with bald heads, men with hats, stout and skinny men, all shouting. ‘There were a lot of ‘em. I can’t say how many. It was hard to see from where I was perched, you know? With the light, an’ all?’

‘Of course,’ soothed Sasha. ‘But please – you must try.’ Thing closed his eyes and screwed his brain into a knot.

‘There was one guy,’ he said, a memory coming to the surface like a rising bubble. ‘Tall, skinny fella with skin so pale it looked dead, you know the sort. He was either wearin’ dark glasses or he had the oddest eyes I’ve ever seen. Looked straight up at me at one stage, an’ I nearly lost my grip on the ladder.’

‘Why was that?’ Edgar was afraid to look down at his bandage, convinced he’d see blood seeping through. He focused on Thing, and tried to block out the pain. The cabin all around them was full of White Flower members, working to get their operation back on track, removing the dead and treating the wounded, and he let his suffering soak away into the hustle and bustle. Focus, he told himself. There’ll be time for self-pity later.

‘Dunno, really,’ Thing was saying. ‘It was like he was readin’ my mind, or somethin’, or gettin’ inside my head, more like. I felt, when he was lookin’ at me, that I was a lump of rock buried in the earth, cold and alone and forgotten, and that no matter what I did I’d never be able to change it.’ Thing stopped talking, his throat dry suddenly. He realised his heart was thudding inside his chest, like it used to do in the old days, before his family had… but he couldn’t let himself think about any of that. He shoved his thoughts away, putting them carefully in a box in the cellar of his mind, before locking the cellar door.

‘No,’ whispered Sasha. Thing was vaguely aware of her putting her hands to her face.

‘What is it?’ he asked, trying to clear his mind of memories.

‘It’s the worst we could’ve expected,’ said Edgar.

 **

                Emmeline had never been so cold, or so cramped, in her life. As well as that, she was dealing with the most severe seasickness she’d ever felt – which wasn’t saying much, really, as until the day before, she’d never set foot on a boat – and her stomach churned inside her, both with queasiness and a deep, bone-grinding hunger. If she’d eaten anything, she would have thrown it all back up again, but the men didn’t offer her any food. She thought, longingly, of the ice-cream that Thing had brought to her window. It seemed like ten million years since she’d seen him, but in reality it could only have been a few hours.

I hope you’re all right, she told him, inside her mind. I hope you found help, and that you’ve gone to the captain and explained everything, and that he immediately turned the ship around to follow me… Hot tears bubbled up under her closed lids as she realised that, whatever Thing had managed to do, it most certainly did not involve convincing the captain of the cruise ship to pursue her. For a start, how would he know where to go? The ocean was vast, and the ship Emmeline was now being held captive in was tiny by comparison. It was dark, and hard to see, and the weather was beginning to turn. It would be like looking for a teardrop in a lake.

‘Well, well!’ A voice burst into Emmeline’s mind, and a trapdoor into her tiny, frozen prison was lifted. Outside, she could see cold, sparkling stars and wind-blown spume, and the sound of raucous laughter trickled in through the gap. ‘Everythin’ all right in here with you, your ladyship?’

‘I – please! I need –‘ but the man was already gone. The trapdoor clacked back into place, muffling his laughter as he replaced the padlock. They had been doing this at regular intervals, Emmeline realised – looking in to check whether she was alive, and conscious, but not actually giving her anything or finding out if there was anything she needed. She was desperately thirsty and in terrible pain from being tied up. As well as that she really had to go to the loo again, but the thought of using it on a ship full of men like this made her shudder.

She tried to settle into a corner, doing her best to keep herself warm. Think of fires, and sunshine, and hot soup, she told herself. Think yourself warm! After a few minutes of this, however, she had to give up. Thinking about warm things was only making her feel colder – and she was starting to see her breath in the air like a tiny cloud, so she knew she wasn’t imagining it. Inside her prison, she was freezing.

Where are we going? she thought, fearfully, just before exhaustion took her under.

Emmeline and the Ice-God, Chapter 13

In this week’s thrilling instalment, we catch up with Emmeline and Thing after they’ve fought their way out of one sticky situation, only to end up in another, rather stickier, one. They’ve been rescued by some people who may – or may not – be friends, and they’ve been told to make themselves scarce while a battle is fought over who gets to kidnap them next. So, they flee the fighting, searching for a ‘high place,’ in which they are to rendezvous with their rescuers once the dust has settled… but, of course, because we’re talking about Thing and Emmeline here, nothing really goes to plan.

Image: savage-tide-campaign.obsidianportal.net

Image: savage-tide-campaign.obsidianportal.net

Emmeline and the Ice-God

13

‘What have I got myself into?’ Thing muttered as they hurried down the corridor. ‘Well done, you clever feller – see a young girl, all on her lonesome, figure she’d be good comp’ny on the way to Paree, bit of fun maybe.’ Emmeline felt the bones in her hand crunching as Thing tightened his grip on her fingers. He threw her a look, too, one that was full of ticking clocks and pots boiling over.

‘What are you looking at me like that for?’ said Emmeline, her breath catching and clacking in her throat. ‘It’s not like any of it is my fault!’

‘No? Oh, right. Sorry. Maybe it was another kid they were lookin’ for back there, then. My mistake.’

‘Oh, shut up.’ Emmeline’s feet hurt, and her head was still ringing from the explosion. Her dress was utterly filthy, and her stomach was threatening mutiny at any moment. ‘Where are you dragging me, anyway?’

‘Somewhere high, or didn’t you hear what Edgar said?’ They were approaching a corner, and Thing flattened himself and Emmeline up against the wall before peeking out, very carefully, and checking in both directions. Satisfied, he yanked her forward and on they went.

‘Yes, I heard,’ snapped Emmeline, trying to drag her fingers out of Thing’s sweaty grip. ‘That doesn’t mean I’m going to do it!’ Thing snapped his head around to face Emmeline, and they ducked into a wide doorway.

‘What? Why ever not, pray tell?’

‘Who says I have to explain myself to you? Let me go, will you!’

‘No chance. Now, tell me what your plan is, seein’ as it’s bound to be so much better than Edgar’s.’

‘You met him ten seconds ago!’ cried Emmeline. ‘How do you know you can even trust him?’

‘Well, let’s see. First, he saves my life by draggin’ me up out of a threatenin’ situation. Then, he saves my life by throwin’ me out of a threatenin’ situation. Then, he promises to come an’ help later, once the threatenin’ situation, the one he saved me from already if you remember, is over and done with. That enough savin’ for ya?’

‘But how did he even know I was on this boat?’ said Emmeline, her voice an almost-hiss.

‘Well, he – obviously, he –‘ Thing stuttered to a halt, looking confused.

‘Exactly. So, maybe he’s in on it?’ Emmeline watched as this thought settled in Thing’s mind like a stone settling onto the sea floor. After a few minutes he frowned at her, like she was a jigsaw piece he couldn’t find a place for.

‘You have some serious trust issues, y’know that?’

‘Yeah. Well.’ Emmeline sniffed, trying to straighten her dress and settle her satchel with her one free hand.

‘Explains a lot, actually,’ mused Thing.

‘What is that supposed to –‘

‘Never mind. Look. So what do we do, then?’

Emmeline bit her lip as she thought. ‘I suppose we could go to that high place, and wait for Edgar there. Be ready for him, if you know what I mean. Take him by surprise and then make him – I don’t know. Confess, or something.’

‘Right, yeah. And Plan B?’

‘We’re on a ship, Thing,’ said Emmeline. ‘It’s not like we’ve got a lot of choice about where to go.’

‘Fair point, fair point. Right.’ Thing’s eyes grew alert again as he stuck his head out of their hiding place. ‘Highest place I know of on a ship is the crow’s nest, right? ‘M sure that’s what Edgar was on about.’

‘This is going to involve climbing, isn’t it?’ asked Emmeline as they started jogging down the corridor. She couldn’t shake the feeling that there was someone right behind her. The satchel would give her a bit of protection, of course, but not a lot. If someone shot at her, she wondered if she’d even know they’d done it before she’d be dead, and then she wondered about how strange her life had become – a couple of days ago, she’d thought it was only her parents who were trying to make attempts to disrupt her continued existence. Now, it seemed, everyone was at it.

‘Right. Here y’go,’ said Thing, as they pulled up beside a narrow metal staircase which led, as far as Emmeline could see, into pitch black darkness and not a lot else.

‘What’s this?’ He shoved her onto the rungs with bony fingers, his quick eyes keeping careful watch.

‘’S a stairs, stupid,’ he said, only half-listening.

‘Where does it go?’ snapped Emmeline, already three or four steps up. She realised her footsteps made a faint clang as she walked, so she tried to step quietly. The darkness was getting thick around her, like someone wrapping her up in strips of soft, suffocating cloth. She focused on breathing calmly, trying to ignore her heart, which was drumming out a fast rhythm on the inside of her chest.

‘Upper decks, I reckon,’ said Thing, out of the gloom. ‘Hurry up!’

Like stretching out your aching muscles first thing in the morning, or feeling an unexpected breeze on an unexpected place, Emmeline realised that she’d reached the top of the stairs. It was still dark, but not quite as bad. Up here, a giant deck spread for miles and miles. Lights were spaced out regularly on the waist-high barrier all around, and muffled shapes in the gloom were probably benches, or places for the well-heeled passengers to take a rest and some shelter from the wind while they were up here getting the sea air. It was sort of peaceful up here.

‘This way. Come on!’ Thing jerked her out of her thoughts by pulling on her hand like a dog straining at a lead. She took a few uncertain steps toward the centre of the deck, where – as Emmeline feared – a very tall, very spindly-looking structure was to be found, lashed to the deck by a multitude of wires. A light burned in the tiny-looking cabin at the top of the narrow ladder they’d have to climb. Emmeline tasted sick in her mouth as she stared up at it.

‘Ain’t got time to waste,’ muttered Thing, jumping onto the lower rungs. ‘You follow me, yeah? Or d’you wanna go first?’

Emmeline’s stomach rolled over. ‘You go first,’ she said. Thing stopped climbing, and leaned over the side of the ladder to peer down at her. Emmeline was glad of the darkness.

‘You’re not scared, are ya?’ he asked, coming down a rung or two. ‘Not with that box o’ tricks on your back, and a brain like yours in yer head, surely?’

‘I don’t – I don’t like heights, really,’ said Emmeline, coughing to cover up the wobble in her voice.

‘No problem,’ said Thing, cheerfully. ‘I mean, it’s so dark up ‘ere you can barely tell it’s up so high.’ She could hear the grin in his voice, even if the darkness hid it. Like an athlete, or a monkey, Thing scampered up the ladder without a second thought.

‘I don’t like darkness, either,’ muttered Emmeline, wrapping her fingers round the nearest rung and taking three deep breaths, in through her nose and out through her mouth. ‘Emmeline Mary Widget, you can do this,’ she told herself in a stern tone. ‘The secret to why you’re even here and where your parents are lies – more or less – at the top of this ladder. And if Thing can climb it, so can you! Right?’ She nodded decisively, and grabbed another, higher, rung. She found footholds, and started to climb, telling herself that her knees weren’t wobbling – it was merely the movement of the ship. Slowly, slowly, she ascended.

‘Will you get a move on!’ Thing’s voice fell on her like a handful of iron filings dropped from a height. Shivering, she felt his words trickle all over her, poking and prodding and nipping at her skin. She clung to the ladder like a baby clinging to its mother’s finger, and allowed a rattle of terror to skitter through her whole body before she trusted herself to answer.

‘I’m coming!’ she whispered back, her voice hoarse.

‘Yeah, well – come quicker!’ insisted Thing.

Just then – like his voice had summoned it – a huge, searing light switched on a few feet away. Emmeline got such a shock that she almost lost her grip on the ladder.

‘Ems!’ she heard, through the pounding of the blood in her ears. ‘Now, now, now! Get up here now!’ Fear had made her hands and feet numb, but Emmeline moved.

‘Hands then feet,’ she muttered, trying to keep calm. ‘Hands then feet.’ The light was nearly as wide across as she was tall, and as she watched it started to sweep over the deck in great arcs, like it was searching for something.

It was searching for something, she finally understood. Her.

                ‘Please, Ems! Hurry up!’ Thing’s voice seemed closer, and she looked up to see him, just barely, hanging off the top few rungs of the ladder like a flower on a long, narrow stem. She could see the terror in his face, and his outstretched fingers were just too far away for her to reach…

Then, the light finally found her. It flicked in her direction, making her freeze in terror and making her eyes sting and water as she struggled to focus. Thing was yelling at her, and she felt the ladder shudder as he started to descend. Her brain screamed as it tried to understand what was happening. Then, something slapped Emmeline’s face, and grabbed at her outstretched arm. Almost like she’d been picked up by a huge, rough-fingered hand, she felt herself being plucked off the ladder and then, sickeningly, she was falling, right toward the deck, what felt like miles and miles below…