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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.
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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 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 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.

 

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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

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).

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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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Book review – The Testament of Jessie Lamb

Rarely am I motivated to write about a book, but this is the most enjoyable novel I’ve read in a long time.

Some of the best science fiction stories are those that you can imagine actually happening in real life, and author Jane Rogers follows a cautiously trodden path between the credible and the scary with The Testament of Jessie Lamb.

I found the book provocative, stimulating, and well-engineered.  It’s a fair bet that if you start reading it, you’ll go all the way to the end.

For the full review, click on the Book Reviews tab above.

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A363 EMA, A Good Yarn is what’s needed

I really, really should not be writing this.  What I should be doing, is polishing the final A363 assignment until it shines like a button on a Grenadier’s uniform.  Trouble is, I need a button to polish, and all I have at the moment is a plastic popper.

TMA06 came back early in the week with a plethora of comments and advice from the tutor pinned to the 1000 word extract, which was very encouraging.  In fact, the whole piece has gone pretty much to plan.  Except that I am left with the crunch flashback.  The one that the whole point of the story turns on.  Been working on it all day, but it’s drivel.  Not just drivel, either.  Tripe comes to mind, as does hogwash, gibberish and twaddle.  The words simply won’t do what I want them to do.  I suppose that’s what being a writer is all about.  Moulding words into sentences so they reflect the image you want to paint.

Maybe it’s because the piece is life-writing.  Not just life-writing, either.  It’s a piece of family history where a course of events resulted in tragic consequences.  Because there are no surviving family members who I can talk to, much of the writing is fictionalised around facts I know to be true.  I confess to finding reading history as dull (not the history itself, just the books) as our weather has been for the past week.  That’s probably it.  I need to forget about the ‘life-writing’ aspect and just think about what would make a good yarn for the flashback.

Nothing back from the OU yet on my request to unlink A363 from my degree.  Maybe I’m not the only student who has woken up to the fact that they won’t get endless chances at achieving a good Honours class now that transitional funding expires once sufficient credits have been earned for a degree to be awarded.  OK, I know, I know…  I’m only doing this for fun.  But even so, I’d like to end up with a good class of degree at the end!

So, I’m off to try out that ‘good yarn’ idea…

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A363, After the Storm

Des:  Apparently the Gordon Craig Theatre didn’t sell out for the dick-a-Des-dum show last Sunday night, although there were only half a dozen or so seats left when I dropped our tickets off for resale eight days earlier.  I popped in the Wednesday after the show to ask if they’d managed to resell for us, but they hadn’t.  That was that, then. Fifty smackeroons down the proverbial.  Next time we’re unavoidably indisposed, I shall sell the tickets myself or simply give them away.  That would have been much more satisfying.

Oh, yes, A363:  Remember I sent off TMA5 early last week?  Well, it was actually due in Thursday, and I was casually checking out the A363 cafe Thursday evening when a post popped up asking how many words the ‘Commentary’ had to be, as they couldn’t get access to the course website.  (All the creative pieces have to be followed by a scholarly piece of writing to describe the technical ups and downs, reasons for decisions taken, etc).  ‘750’, came back the reply.

‘Nooooooooo,’ I shouted at the screen, ‘It’s 1000 words!’  And checked the assessment handbook.

‘Nooooooooo,’ I shouted at the handbook, ‘It is 750.’

Right.  I’d written too many words, which would have scuppered my marks completely for the commentary.  The assignment deadlines are mid-day, but there is an understanding that they will be accepted up until midnight in case of emergencies.  I have never edited a piece down so quickly in my life.  Knocking 250 words out of a 1000 piece doesn’t seem too difficult, does it?  But it is, if you want to retain the original flavour and feel of the original writing.  Surprisingly so.  Especially trying to do it in half an hour!  To be honest, although I read it through very carefully  a couple of times before re-submitting, I haven’t dared look at it since in case it’s pure gobbledegook.

Transitional Arrangements:  The OU emailed me back about the Transitional Fees and confirmed that if I ticked the BA box it would also cover any modules needed to make it a BA(Hons).  Thank you to Jaydin Starr for putting my mind at ease by leaving the comment to my previous post.

Finally, did you know you could get tennis elbow by using one of those ball launchers when chucking for the dogs?  Well, you can.  I know.  Although, luckily, I can hit the keyboard without a lot of pain, I can’t lift a teacup or squeeze the toothpaste tube.  And cleaning your teeth with the ‘wrong’ hand is harder than you’d think!

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Busy week on A363, Advanced Creative Writing

Should have been at the theatre in half an hour (remember, dick-a-dum-dum?), but since they haven’t phoned to say they’ve resold our tickets I guess there’ll be two empty seats.  Hope he doesn’t take it personally.

This has been a busy week on OU stuff.

TMA4 was returned on Monday, and not only was the EMA plan acceptable to the tutor, but it also shows up on the score record as 100%!  Such a shame it doesn’t count when aggregating the bottom line.  Mind you, the tutor did point out that I had bitten off quite a big challenge with the life-writing I want to do, but I think I’m up to it.

TMA5 whizzed off to the OU via that awful submit button yesterday.  Not due until next Thursday, but last night I cracked the thing that had been bugging me for weeks.  It was in the villanelle.  Although using the strict form the refrain gets repeated throughout the poem, I really really wanted to give it a subtle variation the final time it appears on the penultimate line.  Changing punctuation would have worked, and I changed it, changed it back, changed it again (get the picture?), but I wanted more than that.  At last, I found that simply swapping two words around did the trick and I suddenly felt this huge sense of relief.  So I wrapped it up and sent off my 105 lines.  Even if doing poetry turns out to be a huge mistook, I’ve absolutely enjoyed writing it, especially those foody sonnets!

Last night, I noticed a message on my student home page about transitional fees.  Apparently we have to indicate now, which qualification we are going for under the transitional arrangements.  Easy for me, because I’m now just one (but a big one) module away from my BA(Hons).  So I clicked confidently on the button to register, but the only choices open were BA or ‘Something Else’, no BA(Hons).  Now, the rule for the TFs is that they allow you to complete your undergraduate qualification under the existing fee structure (for me, £700 instead of £2500).  So now I’m wondering if the TFs only last until the ordinary degree is complete, and the Hons year isn’t covered.  Email sent, awaiting reply, biting fingernails.

A clear path to the A363 EMA, then!  TMA6 is the Mk2 plan, due in on 5th April, and the final EMA submission has to sent by 17th May.  I’m about halfway through and currently have brain block, but there’s loads of time and this is a piece of fictionalised family history I want to write for me, never mind the EMA, so all will be well.

Like I said, a busy week!

 

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A363 – Pantoums and all that

Definitely a better week for the creative writing, although once again I was unable to make the tutorial in St Albans.  Just hope no-one thinks it’s because I don’t care!

Finished a couple of villanelles, one of which might just be suitable for TMA5.  So, with the themed set of five sonnets, I have 5×14 + 19 = 89 lines of poetry ready for a severe redrafting.  The TMA needs 80-100 lines, and 89 is about whack in the middle.  So why did I think it’d be a good idea to add in a pantoum?  The form doesn’t really work with less than four stanzas (and they need to be quatrains) because of the line repetitions, so that will take me up to 105 lines.  But that’s OK, with the 5% leeway which is allowed in length.

I found writing pantoums to be great fun.  Maybe it’s the engineer in me coming out, but they seem a bit more technical and not completely ‘arty’ like most poetry.  It’s a simple set of rules: The second and fourth lines of the first stanza become the first and third of the second; then the second and fourth of the second stanza become the first and third of the third, and so on (as many as you like) until the last stanza.  This follows the same rules, except in addition, the third and first lines of the opening stanza become the second and fourth lines of the closing one.  So the first line is repeated as the last.  The scheme sounds complicated but isn’t.  The difficulty is getting the lines to make sense in different contexts while also making the rhymes turn out correctly.  See what I mean about engineering?

TMA5 is, of course, getting well ahead, although I have to confess to jumping on to the poetry section in the course book.  I think I wanted to do something different for a couple of weeks, and feel sort of refreshed by deviating a bit.

No result yet for TMA3, the 1000 word critique.  Good marks or bad, it was an interesting exercise and I think it helped me pick out a few points about my own writing which should lead to an improvement.

Still reckoning on life writing for the final EMA, although haven’t made any further progress on the plan (TMA4).  It needs to be in by 16th February, so just over a week to getting it finished if I want to upload it with a few days to spare.  Best start doing some more work on it.

The nice man has taken away our dining table and chairs for repolishing, and we’re using the patio set.  Inside, that is, what with all this snow about!  It should be back next week sometime, and fingers crossed it will look a million dollars.  Well, eight hundred quid’s worth at least…

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