Tag Archives: novel

catch up – #WhatImWriting

September is here, the kids have gone back to school and – woo hoo! – #WhatImWriting is back!

After a summer without any of these sorts of writing posts I think a good catch-up post is in order… the problem is, my head is all over the place at the moment. Not in a bad way, but the summer was really full-on with all three boys at home, then the older two went back to school in the middle of last week and before I’d really had time to breathe I was off to York for a (fabulous) weekend at the Festival of Writing. I’m freshly returned from that and my head feels like it’s full to bursting with everything I’ve heard and learnt and with all the conversations I had with so many lovely people. I feel like I haven’t had proper time to think since July!

book spiral

So. This post is likely to be less of a perfectly-honed, shiny gem of a post and more of a roughly-hewn, chunk-out-of-a-limestone-cliff, sort of a thing. But maybe if I write it it will get me closer to working out where I am with my writing and what is next.

Right.

Um.

Ok, I’ll start with my limericks… in fact, wait a sec…. I’ll do this in an organised manner:

1) Limericks

I’ve been writing limericks for my blog for a couple of years, and have been wondering for a while now about publishing some in a book of some sort. I did have some published by Iron Press last year but I’m itching to do something a bit more substantial. Over the last few months a plan has started to take shape and I’ve been working on creating a limerick anthology for kids which I intend to have illustrated and then self-publish.

This summer I’ve been working towards this goal and have snatched every chance I can to write and edit limericks. I’m pleased to say I’ve nearly completed the collection. My plan is (or was) to request some beta readers this autumn and then start seriously looking for an illustrator and hopefully edit and hone and create a book that I can publish next year.

But then I went to the Festival of Writing which, although wonderful and inspiring, was also a bit of a reality check. Because I found myself in a room (multiple rooms in fact) surrounded by clever, talented people who share the same dream I do. Well, not exactly the same dream – I don’t think they’re all avid limerick-writers – but we were all there hoping to get published at some point and not only that, to ensure sales of those future books. I suddenly felt really aware of how stiff the competition was.

This very fact was also made very clear to us by the agents and publishers there. As the very funny (and sweary) David Maybury from Scholastic books said in a seminar (forgive the paraphrasing):

“All you lovely writers sitting there: you’re NOT going to get published. Oh f**k, I had that written down here and then ‘DO NOT SAY THIS’ written above it and now I’ve said it. It’s not true. Honestly. BUT it is really, really hard to get published.”

And he then went on to tell us about how, even if you did get published you might not sell many books and how it was all a gamble and people can get dropped by their publishers for not selling enough and… well… the reality of the marketplace did hit home.

But I then had a very positive one to one meeting with Jennifer Parker from Matador books (a huge boon of the festival is that you get one-on-ones with agents and publishers). Matador are a self-publishing company who I’ve heard good things about. They offer marketing and distribution along side other services and have various freelance illustrators they work with so lots to offer someone like me. They don’t automatically agree to you self-publishing with them so I was pleased to hear they’d be happy to work with me. Jennifer also had an illustrator she thought would fit with my limericks and encouraged me to submit my full set of limericks to them for a quote. If I choose to run with my self-publishing plan, this option clearly has potential.

But… I don’t know. It’s going to be expensive. Hiring an illustrator costs a lot. And the whole ‘crowded marketplace’ thing is really living with me. Do I want to do it this way? Do I want to do it at all? And most of all, do I have it in me to properly promote and market myself? Is it worth the risk and the pressure? I’m suddenly feeling completely unsure.

2) Picture books

I’ve been working on all three of my manuscripts over the summer. Millie Tweed (my first book) is now at a point where I plan on submitting her (her? definitely time to let go of that manuscript – she’s become real!), and Pete and the Aliens (my third book) is very nearly there too. Mr Magic (book no. two) however, has taken a turn for the worse and now needs to be ignored for a few weeks/months before being re-built.

Before the Writing Festival I was planning on submitting to publishers and agents but now I’m thinking I’ll try agents as a first port of call. Having heard more about how the publishing industry works, I understand far more now about how incredibly useful an agent could be. The right agent can help you shape your writing career, edit and hone your work and point you in the right direction for future endeavours. Of course they can’t guarantee publication but they make it a lot more likely and a smoother process too. So my aim is to send Millie and maybe Pete out to them soon and see where we go from there. Having spoken to other writers I expect this to be a lengthy process but I have to start somewhere.

3) Novel no. 1

Remember that middle-grade manuscript I was writing? No? Well I hardly do either but I’d love to get back to it! I have 7000 words written and masses of notes. It’s calling to me.

4) Novel no. 2

I wrote 55,000 words of a psychological thriller last year. I’d love to finish it although having been to the festival I’m now even more aware of how crap what I’ve written is!

5) This blog

I love blogging but it takes up a lot of valuable writing time. My toddler has just dropped his nap so that time is now even more limited. Obviously I’m not going to stop blogging completely but I feel like I need to re-think things.
So that’s me now. Not remotely clear headed and, as I warned, this was a bit of a roughly-hewn post! I will attempt to write something clearer for next week. Hopefully a proper post about the Writing Festival – I learnt a lot and would love to share it.

I’m looking forward to reading about how your summers have gone!

Writing Bubble

character development

typewriter characterOne of the (many) things I’ve loved so far about our #WhatImWriting linky has been finding out about the ways other writers develop their work. Two recent posts by Sadie and Nicola described an interesting process where they had taken characters from their books and put them into different situations to see how they’d react. The idea with this is that you can learn more about your characters than you could just keeping them within the confines of your book. And the more you learn about them, the more real they seem in your writing which is a very good thing for the reader.

I’ve been struggling with my book recently so I thought I’d have a go at this exercise to see if it got me past the block. I decided to explore a scene in my main character’s past. Eighteen years into her past to be precise! It’s not an extract from my book but writing it has revealed things about my characters that I wasn’t aware of. Here’s what I wrote:

“Is it time? Do you want me to call them?” Sam’s anxious face was close to her own, his breath hot in her ear.

Irritably she swiped him away. “Just… wait.” She said through gritted teeth “It’s nearly… ” She exhaled and slowly stood upright again, rubbing the small of her back with both hands in a steady circular motion. “Right,” she looked at him, “how long was that between contractions?”

“Oh, um, I’m not sure, I lost count.”

“Sam!” She snapped “You had one job!”

He dragged a hand through his tousled blond hair and gave her a weak smile. “I know, I’m sorry. I’m not much good at this.”

Staring into his worried, brown eyes Ruth felt a flash of sympathy for him; she knew he felt out of his depth. He was normally so organised and together. ‘Sam the man with the plan’ was what she had teasingly called him in the early days of their relationship – he always knew exactly what was happening in his life and when. His marriage proposal was organised down to the tiniest detail: even the sun had come out on cue. But this was one area where his plans didn’t seem to count for much.

Of course they had a birth plan, just as they had done with Tilly eighteen months earlier. Ruth had painstakingly created it herself based on that experience – all natural if possible, no drugs, overanxious relatives to be kept at bay – and Sam had crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s before she’d placed it in her maternity notes. But, well, anyone would think this baby didn’t know about the plan, because here they were on day three of the painful, exhausting, stop-start ‘is it actually going anywhere this time?’ contractions and she was already thinking fondly of diamorphine.

“Now!” she barked more harshly than she intended and gripped the doorframe as she felt another contraction building.

“What? Now? Oh.” And he peered at his watch as though his life depended on it.

Ruth breathed her way through it. They were getting strong now, maybe this time it was going somewhere. As her muscles relaxed again she looked up at Sam questioningly.

“Forty-five seconds that time… and five minutes since the last contraction I think. Do you want me to call the midwife now?” He stroked her back tenderly and she leaned into him.

“Yes. Good idea.” She said wearily. She wanted to add an apology for snapping at him but the words wouldn’t come. They were tangled up with the heaviness of her limbs and the ache in her back. She had no energy for explanations, besides which, Sam would know she was sorry and he’d understand. Ruth smiled at him weakly as she watched him on the phone across the room. He was a good man, just perhaps not the best in an emergency situation.

She groaned and leaned forwards as the vice round her insides started to squeeze again. Then there was a sudden rush of hot liquid down her trembling legs. Dammit. “Sam!” she said urgently “Tell them to get here now!”

I wrote this in an hour or so yesterday and I’ve not edited it much so it’s still a bit clunky. Writing it was an interesting process though. I knew Sam was the highly organised sort and that he had an anxious streak but I didn’t think he’d react quite like this. I actually like him more now than I did before.

What do you think? How do you develop your characters?

Nikki Young Writes

from behind the sofa

20140922_104608Yeah so I’m hiding behind the sofa. I’ve lobbed the laptop out of the window and I’m hiding where no one can find me. Specifically where the laptop and the story can’t find me because the story needs to find someone else to write it and the laptop is full of drivel.

Urgh.

Yes, I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself. I thought I was making progress with the novel – another 2500 words written in the last few days – but then I read a bit back and oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Basically I’m floundering. I set off with an idea and a plan that – if I was writing a short story – would have been perfectly adequate but for a novel kind of leaves me high and dry. I’ve now written myself beyond the point where I had a plan and, although I know roughly where I’m going, I have lots of plot strands that I have no idea how to pull together. Honestly I’m starting to wonder if I have it in me to write a novel at all.

In contrast to this, I write quite a bit of flash fiction these days and one of the things I love about that is that the focus is small. You’re not trying to pull a zillion different strands together. You can go for simplicity and purity and intensity. You can work on the same couple of lines and hone them from a rough lump of rock to a smooth, gleaming pebble. I wrote a piece of flash fiction for my blog earlier this week. I didn’t work on it for long enough to get it smooth and gleaming (not even close) but even in the space of an hour I saw it go from an idea, to a rough outline, to a story that I thought was quite touching. And that was so satisfying, you know? And I compare that to how I’m currently feeling about my novel and it makes me wonder what on earth I’m doing. Maybe novel writing is not for me? Maybe I should work on improving my skills in other departments. I always did love a short story.

But then, I’ve come this far. I’ve written over 50,000 words. And I have other book ideas swimming round in my head too. I can’t just give up all my dreams of becoming a novelist now can I? Surely not. If someone could give me a hearty kick up the bum (metaphorically speaking, of course) I’d be very appreciative.

fifty thousand

fifty thousand

Whoo hoo – the first draft of my novel has reached fifty-thousand words! Obviously it’s all quantity rather than quality at the moment but I’m still pleased because I’ve had to run headlong at several writing barriers to get this far. The story is slowly getting there and I’m enjoying the way it keeps surprising me. True, when I read back bits of it I tend to wince at glaring issues with my writing style but those worries are for another day and a later stage. Today is for saying ‘hooray!’

Getting this far was part of the challenge I set myself this August and I’m pleased to say that with the flash fiction piece I posted on Friday and the limerick the previous week, I’ve achieved the other parts of the challenge too. I’ve still got a huge pile of stuff on my ‘to do’ and ‘to write’ lists though – watch this space for an exciting announcement coming soon (or check out Chrissie’s blog if you can’t wait)!

On that note, I’d best be off.

virtual blog tour

maddy

me

I was recently invited to take part in a ‘virtual blog tour’ which is basically a journey through the blogosphere stopping off at various blogs along the way. Each blogger answers a few questions about themselves and then invites and introduces another couple of bloggers who answer the same questions on their blog a week later, and so it continues. It’s a great way of finding new blogs and gaining an insight into why bloggers write what we do!

I was invited by the lovely Morgan Prince of Shaking Away the Cobwebs. I’ve been reading Morgan’s blog since last year when we both started regularly linking up with Prose for Thought to share our creative writing. She is a stay-at-home-mum who is working on a novel (and various other projects) and I can identify with a lot of what she blogs about. I really enjoyed reading about her creative process in her blog tour post last week.

So, on to the questions:

1. What am I working on?

My biggest project at the moment is my novel. It’s a psychological mystery (with a thriller edge). After an accident, its central character finds she has different memories of the last seventeen years than her loved ones do (in fact some of her loved ones are different people altogether!) The book follows her trying to figure out what is going on and what the truth is, while a growing threat to her safety lurks in the background.

My blog is my other big project. I started it as a place to record my experiences as I explored my ambition to become a published author but as time has gone by I have found myself posting more and more of my poetry and flash fiction on it. To begin with I found doing this terrifying, as I couldn’t bear for anyone to read my work (what with the self-doubt demon biting at my toes) but overcoming that fear has been massively beneficial. It’s given me the confidence to submit my work to various competitions and publications and I’ve even had a tiny bit of success that way!

2.  How does my work differ from others of my genre?

Hmmm. Well, I think every writer has their own voice and style of writing but really I’m still exploring what mine is. I very much feel I am on a voyage of discovery in this area (even though that does sound a bit pretentious!).

In a way I like to think that my book is different from other psychological thrillers because although it has threatening elements and a mystery to unravel it is really a story of maternal and familial love. On the other hand, the genre is a popular one at the moment so I think there’s something to be said for not straying too far from what readers expect and want when they pick that sort of book.

My blog doesn’t really fit into a box – I suppose it’s a writer’s blog but I’m not a published author, and I also blog a bit about parenting but it’s not a mummy blog. It’s also unique in that it’s full of my own pieces of fiction. Every blog is different though- that’s part of the fun.

3.  Why do I write/create what I do?

I write because I love it. It makes me happy. I constantly have stories running through my head and long to get them down somewhere. I get itchy fingers if I take too much time off writing and  this feeling has only got stronger over the past two years (since I started really making time in my life for creative writing).Writing de-stresses me – it’s my ‘me-time’, a time when I can disappear into my own little world and create what I like. (It also stresses me too when I set myself goals and then struggle to reach them but I enjoy a challenge so in a way that’s good too!)

I also write as a record. My blog is obviously this, but I have written poetry about how I feel about my children and about certain events and experiences. I wrote a poem about pregnancy as I wanted to remember how it felt to be heavily pregnant, and I wrote about birth (as a record but it also turned out to be very cathartic). So for me writing is a very important tool – I use it to capture, remember, imagine, create and even recover. These days I would feel lost without it.

 4.  What is my writing process?

I like to set myself challenges. I don’t have much free time to write so I find that setting myself weekly or monthly word count goals (as well as other aims like ‘enter a flash fiction competition’ or ‘write a poem on such-and-such a subject’) help me to use my time more effectively. For my novel, I’ve been setting myself monthly targets since May and I’m currently nearly 50,000 words into the first draft. Doing CampNaNoWriMo last month helped too!

Outside of the structure of my self-imposed challenges, there is a lot of ‘winging it’ that goes into my writing. I’m not much of a planner – I like to write and see how things evolve. I love it when characters surprise me (which they frequently do) and am always open to sudden changes in direction (the ‘thriller element’ of my book just appeared!).  Really my writing process is just me on the sofa, with a laptop and a drink, seeing how it goes.

I also have an ongoing limerick challenge where I write a limerick on a subject of my sons’ choosing and post it on my blog, so in that way my kids are very much a part of my process!

Lastly, I read a lot of fiction. This feels intrinsic to my writing. I love getting stuck in a good book!

So that’s me. Now I’m going to pass on the blog tour baton to two fabulous bloggers:

Be who you are... Dr Seuss

Mummy Tries’ avatar

I’ve been following Mummy Tries‘ blog since the start of the year when I happened across it on a linkie. At the time she (who shall remain nameless as she blogs anonymously!) was heavily pregnant with her third child and attempting to write a book. My third baby was ten months old at the time so I could identify! Since then she has become a loyal and supportive blogging friend.

I can throughly recommend a visit to Mummy Tries where she blogs about life with her hubby and three cherubs. She shares parenting insights, thrifty tips, what she has learnt while on the GAPS diet and lots of ‘free from’ recipes. She also takes the odd trip down memory lane to a dysfunctional past that is well behind her. She is currently writing a self help book and hopes to inspire others to break the ‘Cycle of Dysfunction’ like she did. I’m continually impressed by how often she blogs and how much she manages to fit into her life, especially with so little sleep. I’m looking forward to reading her Blog Tour post next Monday and finding out more about her book!

Chrissie's avatar

Chrissie’s avatar

The other blogger I would like to introduce is Chrissie from Muddled Manuscript. Chrissie is another fellow writer and mum-of-three who I met (in a virtual sense) early this year. Her blog focusses on her writing and right from the start I was fascinated by her insights into the novel-writing process. She has a lot of experience as she started writing her first book fourteen years ago (and she’s still younger than me)! She is a talented writer who also posts a lot of her own creative work – both poems and short stories – on her blog so it’s well worth a read.

Chrissie has been an inspiration to me as she has taken part in – and won – no fewer than eight NaNoWriMo’s, three of the November ones (where participants aim to write a 50,000 word novel in a month) and five CampNaNoWriMo’s (where participants can choose their own word target… but she has also written a 50,000 word novel each time)! It was Chrissie who encouraged me to take part in (and win) last month’s CampNaNoWriMo. She has been an excellent support to me with my writing for months and become a good friend in the process.

Well, I really enjoyed writing this post so thank you Morgan for inviting me to the tour.

Remember to pop over to Mummy Tries and Muddled Manuscript next Monday to read their blog tour posts – I’m looking forward to it!

camp catch-up

CAmp NaNo imageWe’re two-thirds of the way through the month so I thought I’d do a bit of a summary of my CampNaNoWriMo experience so far.

So… it’s been pretty good! I’ve just reached 12,000 words of my 15,000 word target so, even though school holidays have now started (which means my writing time is reduced), I’m fairly confident of making the target. Of course, writer’s block has an unhappy habit of appearing just when I need it least so the last 3000 words might not be easy to come by but let’s think positive – I’m determined to make it!

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am not a stranger to setting myself word count goals (I did 20,000 in May and 10,000 in June) and might be wondering – is Camp Nano is any different to this?

Well, the quick answer is ‘yes’. Why? Well, here are my top three reasons:

1) Community

Yes, as is so often the case in this crazy online world, the feeling that ‘you are not alone’ plays a large role. When you take part in CampNaNo you become part of something bigger than just being a solitary writer working towards your own private targets. For a start, you get placed in (or can choose your own) virtual cabin full of cabin mates with whom you can chat and swap advice and encouragement. I have a lovely group of writers in my cabin, all aiming for word counts similar to mine and I’ve enjoyed talking to them in our little private forum. I’ve also found a few new blogs and exchanged tweets with fellow campers through the #CampNaNoWriMo hash tag. This has been great for the inevitable moments of self doubt.

2) The incentive to win!

I’ve personally found that having stated my word count target somewhere outside of my own blog I feel even more determined to achieve it but – even better than that – with CampNaNo if you reach your target by midnight on the last day of the month you are declared a ‘winner’ and get a little winners badge to display on your blog! Ok, it’s hardly great fame and riches but for the *slightly* competitive amongst us (and if you saw my involuntary, two-handed victory air-punch (with accompanying roar) as my 4-year-old won the obstacle race in this year’s sports day you’d know what I mean) this a surprisingly big incentive!

3) Stats

Oh yes, that subject you hated at school really comes into it’s own with CampNaNo. At the start of the month you tell the site what your word target is and it calculates how many words you need to write per day to achieve that. It’s all displayed in a graph and as the days go by you can keep entering your word count (as often as you like) and your progress appears on the graph along with info about what your average daily count is, whether you’re on target etc. You can also see the stats of anyone else in the camp if you’re feeling interested/competitive/nosey. Feel free to take a look at mine here! I’ve found it really helpful and motivating. There have been days when I’ve not written at all and have felt like I’m not getting anywhere and then it’s been useful to look at the graph and see that actually I’m doing fine. I’ll miss it next month!

There are also other reasons to take part – for instance camp sends you daily emails with writing prompts and challenges which are helpful if you’re suffering from writers block. It’s a great idea but I haven’t read many of mine as I’ve been too focussed on writing!

So there you have it: for the first time in my life I’m enjoying camping!

has anyone seen the tent pegs?

2014-Participant-Twitter-Header-2CampNaNoWriMo starts tomorrow so preparations here are in full swing!

Although by ‘full swing’ I mean I’m sitting here thinking ‘I really must get organised’ while actually doing nothing at about it. But that’s pretty much how I start every holiday – I’m a last minute scrambler who’s much more likely to concentrate on writing a list of things to pack than actually getting anything in the suitcase.

Not that CampNaNo is a real holiday (and thank god for that, I hate camping) it’s just a virtual one:  “An idyllic writers retreat, smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life” is how it describes itself. I just have to write 15,000 words in a month and enter daily word counts onto the camp nano website. Easy.

Or perhaps not as I struggled to write 10,000 words this month and school holidays start in the middle of July so I’ll have even less free time. But I’m up for the challenge!

Anyway some things are sorted. For a start, last night I completed the 10,000 word challenge I sent myself for June so the first draft of my novel stands at just over 30,000 words now. So assuming I reach my CampNaNo goal it should have reached 45,000 by the end of July which is probably more than half of the draft. I say ‘probably’ because, due to not being a planner, I have no real concept of how long my book is likely to be. But my gut says 80,000 words (give or take the odd 10,000).

What I DO need to do before tomorrow though is sort out my characters as some of them are a bit hazy. And I could really do with working out where the next few chapters are going to be taking me. I’m currently following a ‘let’s see what happens’ approach which is quite fun (and surprising) but is a bit too ‘seat of the pants’ to be comfortable. And I need to be comfortable while camping don’t I? I’ve got to have an air bed and a camping stove and my own duvet at least!

Actually, sod that, what I’m after is a luxury yurt. So I’d better get started on my planning…

camping it up

summer tree cropEver heard of NaNoWriMo (Nation Novel Writing Month) ?

In case you haven’t, it’s an annual, online creative writing challenge to write a 50,000 word novel between the first and the last day of November. It’s been running since 1999 and attracts participants from across the world.

It describes itself as: “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing… for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.” Basically you write (crazily fast) throughout the month, entering what you’ve written into their secure site where the words are counted (but never seen by a human eye) and logged. If you hit the target by the end of the month you are declared a winner. And maybe you’ll be able to get your novel published at some point in the future – over 250 NaNo novels have been traditionally published since its inception… and counting!

Sounds fun? A bit mad perhaps? Well yes. I toyed with the idea of taking part in it last November (for all of two seconds before deciding: “Who am I kidding? I couldn’t possibly do that – I haven’t slept for nearly a year!”) and am vaguely considering doing it this year.

But then via my friend Chrissie who is a total NaNoWriMo enthusiast (I think she may have done seven of them… possibly more) I became aware of an offshoot of the main event: CampNaNoWriMo which takes place twice a year in April and July. This is a less pressured event that you can enter with anything upwards of 10,000 words (and you can write short stories and scripts and things – it’s quite flexible).

So, I’ve decided to take part next month! I’m all signed up with a target of 15,000 words. If I manage that (and if I hit my 10,000 target for this month) my novel will have reached 45,000 words by the end of July.

I’m quite excited! But it does mean I need to write fast to finish my target for this month. I also need to leave myself time before July 1st to do some preparation work because basically I’ve got to the point where I need to plan more of my book before I can write more of it. Yes, If you’re a fastidious planner you can read this and feel smug because my novel is barely planned at all. I only really have a vague outline and am mostly making it up as I go along. Tsk.

On that note, I’d better scarper.