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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.

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.’


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.



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:

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 !


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 !



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!


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:


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:


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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2014 and all that…

You know that thing when old people say they are happy just to wake up every morning?  Well, I felt a teensy bit that way on New Year’s Day.

As the years tick past, it’s difficult not to wonder how many more times you’ll spot Santa skidding across the night sky, wolf down haggis and neeps with a tot or two of Aberlour, open up the Summer House and wipe down the barbecue, swop the winter wheels on the car, fire off a few sky rockets and wrap up Christmas presents.

But, let’s not bother with all that tosh!

I’ve been taking a hard look at the ‘novel’ writing done last November in NaNoWriMo.  It looks like this, by the way…

30 days 1

(Actually, this is just the first few pages, but since you can’t read it anyway…)

It’s taken a good few days, but I think I’ve filled most of the plot holes, made some connecting pieces for the dead ends, and generally made things hang together (you can’t pay much attention to these things when you’re writing 50,000 words in a month!)  I downloaded Evernote Sticky Notes, and now have a sticky for each chapter with a summary on it, coloured either white (ditch it), blue (re-write it), yellow (make major changes or write a new chapter) and green (fine as it is).  For some reason, there are no green stickies.

Sticky Notes is a great piece of free software, but if you decide to try it out, be warned that you need to be on your toes not to be inundated by other stuff they try to install at the same time.

The book will have to take a back seat though in February, when I launch into the final final OU module (regular readers will know I’ve already had one final module but I’m still striving to move my 2.1 to a First!).  It’s U316, an environmental science module.  I’m very sceptical about claims surrounding man-made climate change, but hoping that maybe I’ll get some insight into the arguments.  Should make for some good essays!

Then in April, there’s the old age pension to look forward to!  That’ll be Bucks Fizz, and scrambled egg with smoked salmon every day for brekkies, then.  Not!  But it will seem odd being ‘properly’ retired after doing it early over seven years ago in 2006.

So, there will be some interesting challenges to come this year and I hope to have the time to share the highs and the lows on here.

A Happy New Year to everyone following my blog, and to casual passersby too!

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NaNoWriMo 2013 – Week 4

Made it to the NaNoWriMo target!

Fifty thousand one hundred words, and still a week to go!

The novel is far from finished, though, and like I said last week, there will be a great deal of re-writing going on over the next few months.  Not least because I was having so much fun, I just let the plot go to pot.

I’m not convinced of the value in measuring your writing purely by the number of words bashed out, but I don’t think that’s the point of NaNo.

NaNo is an excuse you can use to friends, family, bank managers and bosses that you simply don’t have time to do things for them because ‘I am busy writing a novel.’

NaNo is a way of bringing to life the oft-thought but rarely acted upon words that ‘One day I will write a book.’

NaNo gives you permission to write like crazy, not worrying about the quality of what you’re putting down, but writing from instinct.

NaNo allows you to turn off your internal critic and simply write, write, write.

But most of all, NaNo is challenging, entertaining and fulfilling.

Mind you, now that I’ve reached the target number of words I’m relieved to have a break before carrying on writing.

I need to spend a few days picking up on emails, letters, bills and everything else that has gone by the board the past twenty three days!

And finally, I would like to thank my very understanding wife for keeping my caffeine level up and just letting me get on with it!


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NaNoWriMo 2013 – Week 3

Only fourteen days of writing time left!

Just reached 35,000 words yesterday, so ‘only’ 15,000 to go and the NaNoWriMo target will be met.


screenshot.17-11-2013 09.30.09


That’s the good bit.  The bad bit is that it won’t be a novel.

Yes, there are oodles of words, subplots, twists and turns, characterisation and rise and fall of the action.

But because I’ve deviated so far from my original plan, it doesn’t hang together.  Following your nose and plotting as you write is fun, that’s for sure, but there’s a price to pay for all this blind excitement!


Looking both ways along the pavement, she walked up a short flight of stone steps and through the door.

I edged along the opposite side of the street and watched.  A light came on at a small window, and then went out almost straight away.  I assumed it was the landing to the first floor, where a larger window was shedding light through grey net curtains.

A shadowy figure walked past the nets, and although it looked like a woman, I couldn’t swear to it being Josie.  Until she came closer.

It was her.  I knew it was.  It was too much of a coincidence.

So, I knew where she was staying, but had yet to work out how that was going to help me find a thousand pounds in a day or two without Heather becoming suspicious.  If she didn’t check our account next time she withdrew cash, she would find out when the bank statement dropped on the doormat at the end of the month.


You know how they say that once you’ve managed to save your first £1000, the next £1000 piles up faster?  And you know how they say that as you get older, the years add up more quickly?  And you know…

This doesn’t seem to be true of writing a novel.  The closer I’m getting to the end, the more difficult it is to maintain the pace for the reader and keep them interested in what’s going on.  It’s definitely feeling much harder work, and I’m putting that down to not having spent longer on the planning.

With a short story, I probably spend as long in preparation as I do in writing.  And then even longer pulling it apart, ‘murdering my darlings’ and re-writing.

The bottom line here is that I’m now fairly confident I shall have written up to the NaNo target of 50,000 words by the end of November, but also fairly confident that a further year or so will be needed to turn them into a readable novel!

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NaNoWriMo 2013 – Week 2

Well into the second week of National Novel Writing Month, and haven’t stalled yet although some days have been a bit dry.

So far I’m hovering around 20,000 words out of the target 50,000 and that’s comfortably above the line.

What line, I hear you say.

This one!

screenshot.10-11-2013 11.30.10

I read loads of advice on line before starting the challenge, but the one piece that stands out above all others is ‘Don’t look back’.

It is oh, so tempting to keep looking at previous chapters and wanting to rewrite them or put right some inconsistencies.  I have to confess have done that on a couple of occasions, but then panicked when I realised I’d used up almost a whole afternoon’s writing time!  Won’t do it again, but it’s difficult going against an instinct that pulls you back to write the best you can.

One thing that definitely suffers from just ploughing on regardless, is plot.

Mine has totally unravelled from the original plan, and I no longer know what is going to happen next.  It’s exciting, but I’m a bit uncomfortable not having a blueprint in my head to work from.  Apparently Stephen King writes by the seat of his pants, so it obviously works for some.

The Nano web site also shows how many words are being written around the regions, and in London it seems that writing has eased off a lot.  But it may just be that it’s the weekend and everyone’s having a rest!

Here’s the graph for London.

screenshot.10-11-2013 11.30.22

Yes, that’s nearly 15 million words!  Incredible, isn’t it?

There’s not really much point putting any of my writing here, but the blog entry feels incomplete without sharing some of it.

A list.  That’s what I felt I needed.  A list.

Whenever my mind is confused, undecided, stressed, in a whirl, a list usually does the trick.  You create the list, you control it totally.  Cross things off.  Add things on.  Move things up and down.  Unlike a befuddled brain, you are its master.  It does whatever you want it to do.  Without question.  Without judgement.  Yes, a list is a Good Thing.

I grabbed a few sheets of paper from the bureau, and rifled through the cutlery drawer for a pencil.  No idea why the pencils were kept in there.  It was a Heather whim, and out of habit I expect, that’s still where I keep them.

After half an hour of scribbling, I sat back and read my notes.

So many things.  So many things I still wanted to do.  So many things I wanted to do again.  Just so many things.  Too many for the time I could afford.

So, despite thinking I might, I haven’t given up the challenge.

Onwards and upwards!

Well, downwards really.

No looking back!


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NaNoWriMo 2013

Having chickened out for two years, I have signed up for the 2013 NaNoWriMo competition.  Well, not exactly ‘chickened out’ as I was busy both times with OU modules but in a way they were just an excuse.

Write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.

The rules are simples.  Start writing on November 1st and finish by November 30th (if only November had 31 days!).  Tomorrow is November 1st and I only have a scrappy plot, much of it in my head, and most of it as meandering as me trekking around eighteen holes on a golf course.

But I don’t think that matters, because this is NOT going to be a ‘proper’ novel, is it?  I expect it is possible for a writer to pen 1,600+ words a day for a month and end up with prose he would be happy to show the general reading public but I suspect such authors are difficult to find.

No, what I will end up with is seed corn.  Something to lick into shape by cutting, editing, adding then more cutting, editing and adding then more…  I’m hoping my plot will work out to be credible but not obvious until the end, and I’m hoping that my recent learning experience with the OU will show through in the way that I string together the words.  I’m also hoping that these are not forlorn hopes!

I’m not sharing the subject of the novel because it may turn out to be different when it finishes to how it starts out, but for NaNoWriMo you get to upload a cover, and here is mine (photograph was taken by me in Monks Wood, Stevenage last winter).


The race begins in about four hours.

If you are in it, then I wish you Good Luck.

If you’re an aspiring writer and not in it, why not go here and have a go!


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