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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Pye Black Box – Good Progress!

A couple of weeks on, there has been plenty going on with the Black Box record player project.

I decided that it wouldn’t be practical to find enough original parts to fill my empty box, so have taken the route where I just use whatever I can get hold of (so long as it doesn’t change the character too much).

Speakers – Originally, there was a 6.5 inch and 4 inch tweeter each side of the box, and I have gone for a dual cone 17cm each side, omitting the tweeter.  With modern speakers, this should be a reasonable solution.  I used a pair of Pioneer TS-G1721i speakers.

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Turntable – This would have been a Monarch or Garrard autochanger deck originally, but I found an old BSR one (DD3918/411, S51 SL7) for £15 on eBay and bought that.  It isn’t an auto-changer, but is in fair condition and looks quite ‘vintagey’.  The mechanism was gunged up, but a few squirts of WD40 sorted that out, and it seems to work fine.  The rubber turntable mat is a bit warped, but I can probably find a replacement for that.

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Amplifier – I discounted using a valve amplifier, because modern ones are very expensive to buy, and old stereo ones hard to get hold of.  I toyed with the idea of finding a couple of 60′s record players and stripping out the amplifiers, one for each channel, but that would have been a shame.

The main observation here, is that the amplifier needs to support a crystal cartridge input, and most modern ones don’t because they have no connection to a record deck.  I didn’t really want to mess around with a preamp.  But, Bingo!  Someone had listed a 1970′s Bush Arena A220 amplifier on eBay, brand new but not working, for £20.  OK, only 10 watts RMS each side, but that is plenty for my box!  It arrived yesterday, I fired it up this morning, and it actually works perfectly!

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Even better, now I’ve taken the amplifier out of its case, I can see it will easily fit in the bottom of the box with very little modification.

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So, that’s all the bits I need apart from a couple of vintage knobs.  I still have to make the plinth for the deck, and modify the amplifier so I can move the volume on/off and tone controls to the side of the box.  This will mean a bit of fiddling about, because currently there are separate bass and treble controls.  Not a major problem, though.

Just before writing this, I tacked together wires across my bench between the turntable, the amplifier and the speakers, and put on an old Dr Hook album (it had be an oldie, didn’t it!).  It sounded great, so that’s the green light for me to carry on with the project.

All together now – graphics-music-notes-171838

Sylvia’s mother says Sylvia’s busy, too busy to come to the phone….

 

 

 

 

 

(Thanks to http://www.picgifs.com/graphics/music-notes/ for the musical image)

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