A Shift of Balance

It’s been a weird evening.

That book from NaNoWriMo 2013 still isn’t finished. It’s grown to over 100,000 words in First Draft, and I like the people in it and I want to reach the end of the story, but I’ve come to almost the furthest point of planning and I cannot see the next stage. It’s been slow going all year, because it’s different from the kind of thing I usually write, it isn’t flippant, or ironic, or implausible, or if it is implausible then that’s happening in places it shouldn’t.

I’ve been looking forward to when I can move on to something more in keeping with my usual fiction, an antidote to this slow-moving, slow-developing tale, juggling a couple of ideas. Some things are falling into place for the opening sequence.

Then two old friends that I haven’t really seen for a long time, who were long-standing companions of mine for more years than I care to think, stopped by for a talk tonight. A talk that was in many ways more serious than they’ve been before me. A conversation that lays open much of what will lie behind a story that I hope will be silly, thought-provoking, funny and desperate. What they spoke of, and what they didn’t speak of while speaking laid down a bench-mark .

Another book has begun, truly begun, not, not some opening lines, a format and a couple of rough ideas. But the heart that lies behind these things, the real thing that any book is about, has made itself known, and not only can I write this book now but I also have to.

So forgive me Emily, and Ilsa, and Pam, and Ed, but two old buddies have dropped in, and where these two go there’s usually a third one in the background, and I can feel a lot of fun going on….

Anniversary Time!: The Number of the Beast

If you’ve hung around me long enough, you’ll already be aware that, unlike most bloggers, I have an unusual method of counting off landmarks. I do not count in hundreds, but rather in Nelsons, and this little blog is my sextuple-Nelsonth post. Yay, me!

For those who are not avid cricket fans, and have missed any previous explanations from over here, Nelson is a cricketing term denoting 111 runs, or any multiple thereof. Why is such a score known as a Nelson? Because Horatio, Lord Nelson, had only one arm, one eye, one… well, we’ll not go further into that, shall we?

So, the mathematically minded amonst you will have already worked out that this must be my 666th post. Actually, technically, it’s more than that: a number of posts, usually in relation to expired Lulu offers, have been deleted, so this is actually only the 666th post accessible to you, my highly intelligent and much-valued readers.

Of course, there are those who will have drawn back, askance. For is it not written that 666 is the number of the beast? He that is Fallen, Lord of this World, Lord of Misrule, the cloven-hoofed one: Lucifer Morningstar, the Light-Bringer. When we celebrate his number, do we not call upon him, invite him to us?

No, we don’t. To us card-carrying Atheists, the Devil is as fictional as is God, the Creator. Though we have been known to relish his appearances in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and in his solo series as written by Mike Carey, about which I may one day be tempted to write.

I have no fears about this post, any more than I had about the 555th, or I will about the 777th (apart from the usual bemusement that I’ve a)actually had that much to say and b) that you’re still reading after that much verbiage here.)

As this is an off-shift weekend, I hope to be a bit busy this weekend and post another couple of things before work resumes plaguing me on Monday. I’m also still advancing, however slowly, with last year’s un-named NaNoWriMo novel. The first draft has expanded to just over 101,000 words and I’m hoping to finish on about 125,000. And by the beginning of November if I can, to at least give myself the option of entering NaNoWriMo 2014. So I gotta work.

Thanks for listening to my slightly self-congratulatory ramble: see you for the 777th?

Post NaNoWriMo: Day +80

Put like that, it’s a bit dispiriting: 50,000 words in 30 days, working to an externally imposed discipline that meant I had to write, and 80 days to produce what is not yet quite an additional 30,000 words.

Still, I have now moved one whole chapter into phase 2 and, more importantly, I finally have an outline for this next section of the story and a tentative ending. It’s all pretty vague so far, but then that’s how I write: I have certain points that fit together and the actrually writing will provide the words that turn these from inchoate notions into intact scenes, underpinned by the logic of the characters’ behaviours.

Two new characters are coming into the story at this point, one of them a major supporting figure who will change the nature of the book to a significant degree. At this point, this change is not going to overthrow the milieu that I’ve been working to establish, but then again Third Lead was only intended as a supporting character, and she muscled into the heart of the story with very little concern for her writer’s intentions.

I’ve added just under another 1,000 words today, and will look to at least equal that tomorrow. I’m on the easy half of my shift this week, so I’m going to try to take advantage of the time and mental energy to press forward.

On a not unrelated note, my 2011 NaNoWriMo novel, The Revenge of the Purple Puffin, is close to completing publication after being delayed over the issue of its cover. The first print copy was delivered today, and once I’ve proof-read it, I shall make whatever corrections are necessary, and then make the book generally available for purchase through Lulu.com.

At which point you’ll hear alllllllll about it here, complete with link, and any pertinent vouchers to encourage you to invest.

Post NaNoWriMo Update: + two more

The important thing to remember when you are writing a novel is that you are not in control of the story, the story is in control of you.
It’s one thing to announce that you’ve reached the end of phase 1, the furthest point of everything you’ve foreseen in your story, and that, as your story is now jumping forward some two months, you are taking an official time-out to get some ideas of where it will be going next. I mean, you can say that, but you can’t possibly make it stick.
By Wednesday, I was already missing the book, and its characters. It was like having constant companions who have suddenly gone off to the seaside without you.
I didn’t last the day. I started riffing on a couple of ideas,and I’ve spent a few hours today, sorting and organising the somewhat changed ‘reality’ for the second phase. I’ve outlined what’s been happening to Main Character between ‘then’ and ‘now’, decided on where to dip back into the story, and have started to envisage the structure of the first few chapters as I move around a bit in time, plugging in what needs to be known of the ‘in between’ events.
I’ve added a new character, who is going to be at least initially significant, though we’ll have to see whether he graduates from Major Supporting Character to Fourth Lead. I know exactly where and how to introduce Second Lead, although I’ve as yet no idea what she’s been doing during the break, nor how she’s involved with potential Fourth Lead.
In short, I’m already nearly at where I need to be to pick things up and resume writing.
You should always remember that you are not in charge, the story is in charge. And that, incidentally, is why J.K. Rowling was being foolish over whether she really should have married Hermione off to Ron, instead of Harry. Should she have gone with the stultifying and completely unjustifiable cliché, or with what she has described as personal reasons? No, Joanna, you went with what the story demanded, because the story is in charge.

Post-NaNoWriMo Update: + two more days

Ladies and gentlemen of my esteemed audience, I thank you for being silent but sturdy partners in my vow to complete the crucial quasi-conclusive chapter during my current shift-break: rather than the two days I allowed myself, the job has been done in one day, in three seperate sessions, producing a total of 4083 words.

I have now come to a break, beyond which I only have vague ideas of what will follow. the story so far has covered a continuous fifteen day period, from Monday to Monday two weeks later, and time is now needed to let the muddied waters settle, and allow new currents to begin to run. Two months will pass offstage, and I have to decide whether to acknowledge a certain major public event as having occurred near the end of that period, and be in the public mind when I pick up the story, or else to incorporate this incident as a ‘live’ thing that people have to respond to.

However, unless some bolt from the blue takes place, I’m now taking an official break from this novel, and suspending the clock on its first draft. I may have reached a foreseen, indeed crucial point that was clearly visible from November 1 2013, but I’ve gotten there through undreamt of territories, and I need to allow my three Leads to absorb and process what’s happened so far, so that they can indicate to me where they’re going with this.

Further bulletins when progress warrants.

(Incidentally, this is Post no. 500 on this blog. Just thought I’d mention it.)

Post NaNoWriMo update – Day + too bloody many

It’s been two full months now since I ended NaNoWriMo 2013 with a ‘win’ and a wordcount in excess of 50,000 which, by the last time I updated on this blog, on December 30, I’d extended to 61,750. I estimated I was about one and a half chapters away from a massive revelation, to be followed by a big disruption and the effective end of the first part of the story.
Well, that chapter and a half has taken me from Chapter Nineteen to Chapter Twenty-Two, and from the end of last year until today to complete, to a current word tally of 72,032 (which is usually where my novels are usually wrapping up, but that’s nowhere in sight).
So, where the hell are we, and why is it taking me so long to get there? The whole of January has gone by without so much as an update.
A lot of this can be blamed upon my health. I had a fortnight off work, over Xmas and New Year, when I was diagnosed with bronchitis, and warned about not letting it develop into pneumonia (not a happy thought for someone who lives alone). It’s taken the best part of a month for me to regain my physical strength, but unfortunately, I’ve been severely depleted when it comes to the kind of emotional and mental energy necessary for extended writing.
But that feels like making excuses. When I do force myself to write, the work progresses, even if it’s often just a few hundred words. The issue is in disciplining myself to actually write. NaNoWriMo was ideal for that, but I now have nothing but internal deadlines which, on days when my head feels useful for nothing more than keeping my ears the regulation distance apart, is a problem.
That latest stretch to finally reach this momentous revelation was done at work earlier, when things were quiet and I could rattle away between calls. Tomorrow is my longest day of my shift fortnight, after which I have two (count them, two!) blessed days off.
I have things that need doing on those days, shopping, cleaning, haircut, laundry. But I am committing myself to finishing the next chapter during those two days, and reporting to you by Wednesday night that I have done so.
Or that I have an ultra-serious reason why not.
I expect you all to hold me to that promise: yes, you as well.

The Morning Side of Midnight

The best day of 2013
The best day of 2013

So far, it doesn’t feel any different. But then that’s not what New Year does. Nothing changes because you suddenly start typing 14 at the front of today’s Mutts strip, instead of 13. The change is not in the world, it is in ourselves. We create the border between years, the edge that is crossed, and we invest the year to come with significance. It’s a mental kickstart that we choose to give ourselves. Or not, as the degree of cynicism may be.

This is not a blog where I go into my personal issues. For one thing, I’m not willing to expose myself that nakedly, even if at times I’m tempted to give free rein to my feelings. I live alone, I suffer from depression, and loneliness, situations for which I am in very large part responsible, having had better things and lost them. I am not very different from too many others, in no way unique. My bed is my own, and I have accepted the responsibility of living with what I have created.

The other reason for not going into those issues is that they matter only to me, and I have no intention of being deliberately boring. Besides, when people ask how you are, all they want to hear is that you’re ok. They don’t want an honest answer. The problem is that, if I’m to keep going on, I have to be as honest as I can be with myself. At work, I’ve created a persona for myself, a downbeat, dry, self-deprecating persona that is not too far removed from my inner self, just emphasised in certain directions. It allows me to say how crap I feel, whilst letting people think I’m exaggerating for effect.

The self-deprecation is something I’ve used all my adult life, and longer. I figured it out at school. If you’re going to be the butt of jokes, get them in first, yourself. That way, not only are they laughing with you instead of at you, but if you’re defining the parameters of your comic existence, they’ll laugh at the things you choose for them to laugh at. People are lazy, in that respect. Give them a target with the bullseye painted prominently and they’ll aim for it. They won’t hunt out that loose scale in Smaug’s armpit where their laughter will really hurt.

So, what am I going to do to change things for myself now it’s a New Year? Sticking strictly to being honest, not a lot. The first thing I need is money: to pay off debts, to afford a better, larger place to live, to give myself the power of movement by being able, once more, to buy, insure and service a car. Until you’re dependant on public transport, you don’t realise how circumscribed your life becomes. The next thing I need is time: the shifts I work imbalance everything. One week I work seven days out of eight, six of those days finishing at 9.00pm, the other I work two shortish days out of six. One week I can do virtually nothing but work, the other I have to do a fortnight’s things in less than a week.

And in 2014, at the age of 58, suffering from type 2 diabetes, the abyss of unemployment, in this world of Cameron, Osborne, Smith, Shapps, Gove, Clegg and all the other criminal lunatics who compose this Government of the cruel and grasping, the malicious and hate-filled, scares the shit out of me.

2013 was better than 2012. Not by much, in the grand scale of things, and not that much was needed to improve upon the year before last, but it was better. That day above Ambleside alone was enough to make it better: to be back where I can truly live, the fells beneath my feet, the wind, the air and the simple sensation of being above the valleys. I was happy that day, and I have not been happy for a very long time.

That, at least, is one promise I can make myself. As often as I can afford it, I’m going to go back, to get rock under my feet again, to feel alive and in a place I love once more. To begin to replenish my inner resources, which have been drained too long.

The other is to write. As often, and as long as I can. You, my visitors, are few in number but you are at all times welcome and even the most solitary and inner-driven of writers warms to the thought of people reading their work. There are lots of things I want to have my say about, and that’s before anything new comes along to surprise, entertain or elevate. The third series of Sherlock starts tonight, and before I can collect my thoughts, I’ll no doubt be blogging my impressions.

And there’s the novel to finish, in first draft at least, and later to polish. And three possible ideas competing for what to turn to next. I have two books to complete piloting through the Lulu process, one a private project, the other the revised and finished Revenge of the Purple Puffin, the first draft of which, in its daily NaNoWriMo form, you can read in the Archives. Puffin only requires a cover. If anyone fancies stepping up (credit in the book but no money – I don’t make any), contact me through the e-mail address in About.

The thing about 2014, realy, is that it hasn’t yet been soured. All things are possible – and that means good things as well as bad. Today’s the time for committing yourself to trying to help along the one, and, if nothing else, roll better with the punches of the other.

Thank you for listening, and I wish each and every one of you the things you most need in this year to cross. And as many of the things you want as will make this year good for you. I hiope my postings will at least fall into the latter category!

Post NaNoWriMo update – Day +30

It’s taken a long time to get back on track, between physical and mental concerns, and the worry of a diagnosis of acute bronchitis a week ago today, with warnings about letting it develop into pneumonia, but I’ve finally recovered enough of my mental acuity to resume the NaNoWriMo novel, with a comfortable 1,100 word session that resumes the book’s course as far as the end of the next chapter.

That’s Chapter 19, and an ongoing total of 61750 words, to be almost precise. I estimate one more chapter to take me from where we are now: Main Character and Second Lead shopping in Stockport on Saturday afternoon, mildly prodding each other verbally, to the big revelation at the Library on Monday evening. After that, the big blow-up, which will be a chapter in itself and which will signal the end to phase 1: I’ve been experimenting with a rather rigid chapter length but this may exceed my common length, which is allowable here, where it will reflect the disruption of the story so far, as well as preceding a leap in time to the beginning of phase 2.

Which, at the moment, is something of a blank.

It’s good to be writing again, to see and feel the characters making their way forward, to re-enter that world that exists. To rediscover the momentum. I may return to the story later today: I have the sense of where to start the next chapter, the proper transition from the closing chapter line to later on and the effects of this scene starting to play out.

As an aside, I have an idea for another book. Ideas so often come in the juxtaposition of two unconnected efforts, as did this. I was daydreaming, thinking about an old friend I haven’t seen in years, who let me down, but who had gotten back into contact. In my datdream, she’d unexpectedly invited a mutual friend who I haven’t seen in decades, but who was the first girl I ever fell in love with.

Earlier that day, I had been reading a long short story by John Crowley, Great Work of Time. Don’t ask me to explain the connection between the two as it does not exist in any logical form, but the two ideas came together. A mysterious and intriguing situation arose from these two ideas, passing each other in this casual manner.

One more thing to store in my mind, perhaps as my next project after this one. It will be intensely personal when I write it, this much is certain. But first I must finish this novel. I had hopes of being done with the first drafter by Xmas – which, at NaNoWriMo rates, I had every right to expect – but now we’re looking at 2014. I shall have to up my productivity if it’s not to go over into February.


Post NaNoWriMo update – Day +9

Just so that you don’t think that I’ve forgotten, I am continuing with my NaNoWriMo 2013 novel, and have moved on to nearly 59,000 words after a session of just over 1,500 words this evening.

Though intially I found it easy to maintain the daily discipline of continuing to write – I have gotten myself caught up amongst my trio of characters and enjoy time spent observing them – the last few days have proved difficult. The NaNoWriMo discipline, the working towards a formal, external goal has been removed and requires replacing with a purely internal discipline that has no target date. Inevitably, there’s a certain degree of relaxation implied, not to mention an urge to be back to this blog on a more committed basis. Especially as my hits have, on average, nearly doubled over the last six weeks and I don’t want to disappoint all the new visitors.

There’s been some personal difficulties too: the Council replaced my central heating boiler last Thursday, a job that took nearly twice as long to complete as was anticipated, after which I had to hurry to the Post Office to collect an undelivered parcel. Having been more or less barricaded out of my kitchen, I ended up not eating until very late in the day which, given that I have Type 2 Diabetes, was not sensible. Result, off work on Friday and with sharply impaired levels of concentration until yesterday evening.

It hasn’t helped that I’ve reached a point where I need to do some on-the-ground research that I won’t be able to do until this weekend coming. I’ve been able to jump ahead a little, keep some momentum, leave a gap to be filled when I know what I’m talking about. But it doesn’t half feels awkward now, and a bit unstable, writing on when I don’t know the correct foundations for this scene.

You’ll recall my post about day 20, and the few minutes of thinking in the shower that provided a framework for the next section? I still haven’t reached the end of that yet! There’s some unplanned stuff to follow on the point I’ve reached then a revelation (the one I expected to reach ‘in the middle of next week’ on November 30) that will lead to a massive argument, shattering the growing set-up and bringing phase one to a conclusion. The ‘story’ will then leap forward two months and resume at a point from which I’ll once again be in the dark as to what will happen.

More updates to follow.

On Writing: NaNoWriMo 2013 – ‘Winner!’

Yes, boys and girls, I have today been certified a NaNoWriMo 2013 Winner, for having had my novel validated at 50,096 words.

Leaving aside simple issues such as whether I am actually more than half-way through the book as it will eventually turn out to be, it has been a weird experience, validating today.

Overnight, I needed only a further 809 words, which I duly wrote and more this morning. Wordcount on Open Office gave me a total of 50,226 so I went to validate. I copied and pasted the entire book so far, only to be told by NaNoWriMo that I was validated at 49,446 words. That’s a discrepancy of 780 words, and another 554 words still needed.

Fortunately, I was still in my equivalent of “The Zone”, so it was not too difficult a task to move on into the next chapter and write on, until Word Count confirmed I had another 600+ words (the whole document currenty stands at 50,854). When copied and pasted, this time I was validated, at the afore-mentioned 50,096 words. Go figure.

As a winner, I am now entitled to download my Winner’s Certificate, to go with the one from two years ago. Except that, where my name, the novel’s working title and my Final and Win Day tallies are not inserted, nor can I work out how to insert them as the site suggests I should. Is there anyone out there who’s done this bit of the process and can tell me what to do?

What matters most, however, is everything I’ve managed to write this month, whilst fitting in between shifts that are not at all convenient to this kind of thing. I no longer have NaNoWriMo to compel me, but I have sufficiently well-established myself in this story that I’m going to keep this rhythm going until the First Draft is complete (it could be still going on Xmas Day as far asI can tell at this point).

As there are those of you who seem interested, I will keep posting updates. I’ve a big revelation on the very near horizon, which I expect to get to sometime in the middle of next week. But the next one’s certainly going to be something a bit more ‘fantastic’ than this.