NaNoWriMo 2014, Week 4

It feels a tad fraudulent to hang this post on the NaNoWriMo title, because last Friday I had only 4000 words to go and over a week to finish. As it turned out, the miserable weather on Sunday meant I had some extra writing time and managed to complete the competition last weekend.
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Reverend Stocks hoisted himself up and vaulted over the top, landing with a thud the other side. The vicar had expected the back yard to be in darkness, but it was quite brightly lit from the small kitchen window at the back of the shop. He pulled back the bolts top and bottom, and Rufus squeezed past the dustbin and through the gate, looking into the kitchen. Although there were net curtains at the window, it was quite easy to see inside and he could make out the sink directly below him, the door to the shop and the other one leading up the stairs to the flat.
‘There’s nobody here,’ said Rufus as the vicar joined him.
‘What’s that?’
‘What?’ said Rufus.
‘Down there, on the floor, by the door.’
Rufus had to stand on tiptoe to see the floor.
‘It looks like a slipper, or a shoe or something,’ he said.
The vicar tried the handle on the back door, but it wouldn’t budge.
‘I’m getting a bad feeling here,’ he said. ‘Do you think we should break down the door?’
‘Or just call the police?’ replied Rufus. He didn’t want to get into any sort of trouble, not with them already half accusing him of theft.
The vicar had already decided though, and took a run at the door. The wood splintered easily around the lock, and the door flew open with the vicar stumbling over the threshold as it suddenly gave way.
‘Oh my God,’ he said. ‘There’s someone here!’
Rufus ran inside behind him. Myra was laying on the floor behind the shop counter, one foot showing through the door to the kitchen.
‘Myra! Myra! ‘cried Rufus, kneeling beside her and slapping her cheeks with the palms of his hands. ‘Paul, vicar, call an ambulance.’
The vicar picked the receiver up from the telephone on the counter and dialled 999.
‘Myra!’ Rufus kept saying, but she didn’t open her eyes. He felt her neck for a pulse, but there was nothing there so he put his ear to her half-open mouth. Nothing.
The vicar was watching what Rufus was doing as he told the emergency services where to come, and as soon as he finished he crouched down the other side of Myra.
‘She’s gone,’ said Rufus.
The vicar put his ear to Myra’s chest. He got up, slowly.
‘Poor Myra,’ he said. ‘Poor, poor Myra.’
‘What do you think it was?’ asked Rufus.
‘Maybe she died of a broken heart after losing Tom last week?’ said the vicar.
Rufus thought about the insurance policies he had seen in the flat. Myra didn’t seem particularly grief stricken when he was talking to her up there.
‘Perhaps she tripped over something and hit her head?’ said Rufus.
‘Could be,’ replied the vicar. ‘I guess the ambulance people will get the police involved.’
Rufus looked around the shop, but there was nothing unusual as far as he could see. Just the galvanised buckets with flowers in them, most of which had seen better days. Shelves with plant accessories, vases, ribbons and name tags, things that people buy when they buy flowers. A mug on the counter.
‘Looks as though she was having a mug of tea,’ said the vicar.
Rufus picked up the mug. He stared at its contents for a while, then took a small sip, instantly spitting it back into the mug.
‘She was having a drink,’ said Rufus wiping his lips with the back of his hand. ‘But it wasn’t tea.’

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Completing NaNo was exciting and brought much satisfaction, but not as much as receiving the result of my final OU module, U316 The Environmental Web, a week early. This was my third Level 3 module – you only need two for the BA(Hons), but I swung another one under the old funding structure – and it turned up trumps with a Distinction, giving me sufficient points to claim a First Class degree classification. So, that is the end of the Open University journey for me, unless (and this is highly unlikely) I go for a post graduate qualification. Watch this space!

There’s a new project on the table already. Stevenage has more than its fair share of ancient woodland, and in one of the woods where we walk the dogs there is a moat which apparently dates from around the 13th century. It is reported that inside this moat stood a homestead which, of course, is now long gone and the area looks much the same as the rest of the wood. I have been fascinated by the thought of this for many years. What would the homestead have looked like? What was life like for the family? How did they make a living? There appears to be very little information available, but I plan to track down what little there is and paint a mental image of life there 800 years or so ago. Wish me luck!

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NaNoWriMo 2014, Week 3

Week 3 already, and getting on much better than expected.

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Last night I hit 46000 words, which is well ahead of the writing target, and had hoped to finish off by this weekend. It’s not going to happen though, barring a minor miracle.

I had a wisdom tooth extracted on Monday. Cracked it on some Bombay Mix a few weeks ago, and my dentist took a look at the x-ray and reckoned it would be best to whip it out. Although I booked an appointment, I kept wondering whether to wait until after the mince pie season, in case something went wrong and I couldn’t enjoy my Christmas treats. But I left it too late to cancel, and turned up at the dentist feeling quite nervous. The last time I had an extraction was some forty five years ago, and although memory does play tricks over the years, I didn’t remember it being a particularly pleasant experience. It was an emergency visit to a strange dentist (I don’t mean he was odd, just that he wasn’t my regular one), and as it happens, he pulled the wrong tooth – top instead of bottom. I had to return the following day for the correct one to be taken out, and since then have had the first molar top and bottom right missing. This time it was fine though, no pain, and just having to be careful I don’t jam anything solid into the sizeable crater left behind.

Rufus rarely had drink in the house. Not because he didn’t enjoy the odd tipple, but because he simply couldn’t afford it. He knew that the local constabulary were well aware that he didn’t have much in the way of spare cash, and he supposed that was why they were keen to talk to him about the robbery. It made sense to Rufus, having been a copper, so it must have seemed highly likely to them too.

This, though, was a time when Rufus really could do with a lift. Probably for the hundredth time since the police had called on him, Rufus stared at the sliding glass panes in the top of the old walnut sideboard which had stood along the wall opposite his chair since he had moved in. It was a lovely piece of furniture, with walnut veneered doors and drawers, and one of the few items he had managed to rescue from his wife’s clutches when they split up their home.

Rufus walked over to the sideboard and slid open the right hand glass pane. He moved aside a miniature cup and saucer they had bought while on holiday one year, and a china cat another, and reached behind them to the back of the cabinet. The miniature bottle of VSOP brandy was undated, but he knew it had been in the sideboard for many years. Which is why he had been able to resist opening it before now.

Sitting back down, Rufus turned the bottle around in his hand, admiring the golden brown colour and the way the brandy seemed to stick to the side of the glass as he moved it. It seemed such a shame. Until now, when all of a sudden he could no longer see much point in hanging on to it.

‘What the heck,’ said Rufus to himself, and twisted off the cap.

He took a deep sniff of the contents. It smelled of a posh Edwardian drawing room. Oak wood panelling, cigar smoke, freshly laundered linen. It still seemed a shame to drink it after all the years it had sat patiently, hiding behind one trinket or another, waiting to be opened.

Another NaNo snapshot of progress to date:

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So, nearly there! The various plots and characters are all playing their parts well and coming together at the right pace, so I think the ending is going to work out. But of course, it’s perfectly possible that something unexpected will happen at the list minute.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it does!

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NaNoWriMo 2014, Week 2

Second week of NaNoWriMo and a bit ahead !

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Writing has been a bit of a struggle this week, and I’ve spent quite a lot of time staring at the screen on my PC churning the main plot over in my mind and getting not very far.  Then, on Wednesday, my writing buddy helped me out when she said she was using oodles of characters.  I only have four main characters, and a few minor ones to keep things swinging along, so decided to introduce a couple more.  This worked well, because to get them in, I had to introduce a new aspect to the main plot.

 Jane had lived on the farm all of her life.  Her parents kept a small dairy herd of about a hundred cows, which had to milked twice each day.  The milking routine was set in stone.  Six o’clock sharp, her father would walk down to the lower pasture and drive the herd back along the lane to be milked.  They would have a good mineral feed at the same time before being allowed to find their way back through the top field.  Around eight o’clock the truck collecting the twenty five or so churns of pre-treated milk would turn up to transport them to the dairy.  Then it would start again at four in the afternoon.  Every day, week in week out.  The only variation was if the winter was very bad, and the cows had to be brought into the barns for the season.

It wasn’t a life that Jane wanted, and she knew her parents were upset that she wasn’t interested in taking a part in the farm when she left school.  It was a wonderful place to live, to be sure, but Jane wanted much more from life than wiping down cow’s udders and collecting the hens and goose’s eggs that they sold from a rickety wooden bench at the end of the lane.

She could see a few cattle in the top field, just released after being milked, so Jane knew she was a little late getting home.

‘Come on Jolly,’ she said,’ We’re almost there.’

‘Hello Jane!’

Jane looked over to the back of the milking parlour, and waved her arm.

Charles was the herdsman who helped put with the milking.  He’d worked on the farm as long as Jane could remember.  He wore huge wellington boots with baggy grey trousers tucked into their tops , and a ragged brown jumper under a duffle coat streaked with mud.  Charles had worn that outfit forever.

The farm house was on the right of the lane, a huge imposing building with ivy growing up its walls on each side except for the back.  A porch protected the front door, although nobody ever used that.  Just inside the porch, above the doorway, a double bore shotgun rested on a couple of brackets.  Jane didn’t remember it ever being used, but was kept there ‘just in case’.  She wasn’t sure what ‘just in case’ it was actually for.

 Here’s the NaNo bar chart showing progress to date.  Notice the blip in the middle of the week, Days 10 and 11 !

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So, I now know where I’m going with the story and have an ending in mind, although it may yet take a bit of a twist.  And with less than 20,000 words to go I’m hoping the next couple of weeks will be a smooth ride.

Watch this space !

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NaNoWriMo 2014, Week 1

My ‘novel in a month’ for 2014 is on its way, to the tune of 17,000 words!

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The writing has gone quite smoothly so far, probably because I have a plot outline and the first few chapters mapped out.  I decided to use Excel this year for the plotting, and it’s turned out to be quite useful.  It’s easy to move the cell contents about, keep a note of the various goings-on, and make comments to follow up later (when I’ve forgotten what I was planning to happen next!).

Rufus had been a good copper.  He’d wanted to be one as early back as he could remember.  Most of his pals had their sights set on becoming a train driver, a pilot, the captain of a ship.  They all thought he was mad.  Then, as soon as he was old enough, Rufus had joined the local police cadet unit.  He left school after failing his A level exams, but sailed through his police entry tests.

The two year probationary period had gone well, and Rufus enjoyed being on the beat, chatting with locals and helping out the community whenever he got the chance.  He had no interest in applying to work in specialist fields, or taking exams for promotion to sergeant.  He was happy just being an ordinary copper.

Only thing was, his wife was not so happy.  She wanted a bigger house, a nicer car, finer clothes.  She wanted friends to envy her lifestyle.  Rufus took an evening job at a local supermarket to make ends meet.  Whenever he had time off at weekends, he did odd jobs for people for extra cash.

But still the credit card bills mounted up.  A luxury spa here, a posh hairdo there.

Word count for the first week is a bit surprising, because I made the (usually fatal) mistake of going back and re-writing a whole chapter.  But I’m still well ahead, and in line to finish on time.

Here’s my handy bar graph supplied by the NaNo people:

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It rather looks as though lots of people in London started off this year, but the word count is slowing down now.  I think the same thing happened last year.  Isn’t it amazing that about 13 million words have been written in the first week alone!  Here’s the London chart:

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Although it’s still early on in the challenge, I have high hopes of putting together a half decent story (unlike last year’s rather random plot).  It’ll need a few months of rewriting I’m sure, but fingers crossed there will be something reasonable at the end!

Best of luck to everyone who is having a go this year.

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NaNoWriMo 2014

The final OU module is complete (results expected early December), and there’s a big hole in my schedule.  Well, there are plenty of things to be done but I am missing the intellectual challenge (people who know me will chuckle at that!).

Hang on, I just remembered I wrote a list of things earlier in the year:

  • Pye Black Box – Disaster struck, because I forgot the basics of noise pickup in an amplifier circuit and moving the volume and tone controls from the amp to the edge of the box has resulted in nothing but humming coming out of the speakers.  Back seat for that then.
  • Last year’s NaNoWriMo – I’ve carved it to bits and put it back together, leaving out all the obvious dross.  But it needs a lot of work.  Back seat for that, too.
  • Guitar playing clips on YouTube – I have been playing more lately, but got completely absorbed messing about with Christine McVie’s Songbird that I forgot the overall plan.  Back seat.
  • Book-selling –  just about everything I have on the shelves is for sale at Amazon for 1p.  Forget that then.
  • The old manor house at our local woods, and resident ghost?  Nope.
  • Photography project.  Complete lack of focus.
  • Editing my poetry for self publishing?  I wish I didn’t write lists.

OK, so I can avoid all of these things by doing NaNoWriMo again this year.  I have a few characters jotted down, and a loose plot idea, but there’s a way to go.  Luckily there are also ten days left before I need to start.

Having a clear plot is important to me this year, because last time my writing horse kept galloping off in the wrong direction.  It was having so much fun, it completely forgot that a book needs a  beginning, middle and end that kind of fit together, at least a little bit.

I’ve just read my NaNoWriMo stuff from last year a bit further down this blog, and wondering if I’m going to find anything different to say this year.

We’ll see!

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Book Review : The Hot Zone

Coincidentally, my bedtime reading this last couple of weeks has been The Hot Zone by Richard Preston.  I say coincidentally, because of the recent reports of a new Ebola outbreak in west Africa.  The book, written in 1994, is a true account of the time that Ebola infected a monkey house within a few miles of the White House in the United States.

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Preston takes the reader deep into western Kenya to Mount Elgon around 1979 with Charles Monet, to explore Kitum Cave, a favoured destination for mammals, reptiles, bats and insects over many millennia.  Seven days after his visit, Monet feels unwell and we are treated to a vivid description of what dying from Ebola is like.  To make sure we understand the horrors of death by a filovirus, Preston continues to present cases and uses these as a vehicle to describe the science behind Ebola.  He makes a good job of this, and never was I left feeling as though I needed a PhD in infectious diseases to understand what he was saying.

1983 sees the USAMRIID make an entrance, the US institute responsible for safeguarding against biological weapons and disease.  They are involved in carrying out experiments to create protection against diseases such as the Ebola virus.

Preston moves back and forth between the institute and the African rain forests describing more terrifying cases as he goes.  You would think by now the book would have become repetitive, but it didn’t seem like that to me.  I just felt as though something bad was building.

Suddenly, we are taken to a monkey house in Reston, Virginia, and the ‘something bad’ became apparent.  A new consignment of monkeys is flown into JFK International Airport from south-east Asia.  We are still not halfway into Preston’s work, but we know enough to work out that these monkeys are going to get sick.   This is where the book became a page-turner for me, the reason behind a few very late nights.

I guess the ending is predictable, although strangely the final part of the book, which takes us back to Kitum Cave, appears to take on a different genre.  We are treated to sensory descriptions, mental imagery and artistic metaphor.  Sufficient to give me goose-bumps, anyway.

After reading this book, you will be in no doubt that should Ebola wriggle its way into city populations that we will all be in trouble  Deep trouble.

The Hot Zone?  A chiller, for sure.

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Three months on…

I knew this would happen once I started the final OU module, U316 The Environmental Web back in February.  It’s taken over my life.

It was February that I made my last post here, and at the time was making great headway with the Pye Black Box project.  Progress?  None.

The novel I started to write back last November, 50,000 words during November when I took part in NaNoWriMo and which I was enthusiastically adding to.  Progress?  None.

The guitar playing video clips I was making to upload to YouTube showing my musical prowess.  Progress?  None.  (Probably just as well!).

Getting back into online trading after the Big Boys killed off my little book-selling business.  Progress?  None.

Researching the old manor and ghostly monastic goings-on in our local woods.  Progress?  None.

That photography project, where I take a snap of each letter of the alphabet represented by an everyday object.  Progress?  None.

Editing the short book of poetry and prose I have written on and off over the past few years, with a view to self-publishing it.  Progress?  None.

If this all sounds a bit depressing, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  The OU module is almost halfway through and is turning out to be one of the most interesting I’ve taken.  There’s still been time for drinking coffee with old friends, walking the labradors, trips around the local towns and villages, smartening up the garden and plenty of time to ‘stand and stare’.  Oh, you haven’t read William Davies’ poem, ‘Leisure’?  Here it is, just in case…

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare

 

Of course, my list of ‘things to do’ is also sitting there ready for when I’ve finished counting dragonflies, watching local wildlife, calculating statistics and generally saving the world from environmental disaster!

Expect some progress soon!

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