NaNoWriMo Day 26: The Impossible Dream?

Given the recent terror threats in Brussels, and the ridiculous amount I’ve had on at work, I could perhaps be forgiven for falling behind with my NaNo novel. Nonetheless it’s frustrating to be four days away from the end of the challenge feeling uncertain as to whether I will manage to complete it. I’ve had a good bash at translating my idea into a story, but along the way, as so often happens when you lack a solid plan, I’ve wandered off, allowing my characters to do exactly as they please, often with most unpleasing results. Still, in its current form my ‘novel’ (and I use that term in the loosest possible sense) stands at a not unimpressive 37,397 words – which is precisely 37,397 words more than I would have written had I note decided to partake in the challenge again. So I suppose whatever happens from here on in I should at least be proud of that. But now I’m so tantalisingly close to crossing the virtual finish line I’m not sure I can let it drop. Maybe four days is enough to cram in almost 13,000 words. Maybe this dream is not impossible. Maybe…Just maybe…

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Day 11/Day 12: The Hangover/Recovery

My good intentions to spend the Belgian public holiday novelling furiously from dawn to dusk were put paid by an over-enthusiastic booze-up the night before with two ex-colleagues. In the face of good company and fine wine I am utterly powerless to resist temptation, especially when there is the very real prospect of a lie-in. Needless to say, when I woke up at ten o’clock the next morning with a dehydration headache I was somewhat (read: very) disappointed by my lack of willpower. But nonetheless, and in the true spirit of NaNo, I pulled myself together enough to battle through, still managing a surprisingly impressive 3,000 words before the day was out, taking me just over my target. I can’t say it wasn’t painful, but I did it, and that’s what counts, right?

Today was another matter entirely. After a long day in the office I wasn’t holding out much hope for a decent writing session tonight, but after getting home, banging my knee so hard on the cupboard door I think the neighbours might have thought I was being murdered, and doing a twenty minute pilates workout on YouTube, I sat down and wrote non-stop for over an hour, easily managing my daily workout, and then a few hundred words to boot. It’s funny how that happens on the days you least expect it. It wasn’t my best work, I think that’s fair to say, but it sufficed in nudging the plot along a little, putting my main characters in a touch of strife and bringing them closer together in the process. So I’m taking that as a win. And I’m delighted to say I’ve broken the 20,000 word mark. Hooray! Nearly halfway. Take THAT week two. And they say you’re the worst of the lot. Not for this old soak. Cheers!

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NaNoWriMo Days 7 & 8 – Back on Track

It’s late, so I will be brief. In short, I’m back on track for a November 30th finish! Have pulled victory from the jaws of week one defeat, just in the nick of time, after an uber productive writing group today. Phew.

In other, possibly-NaNo-related news, I’ve had a tremendously productive weekend in other respects too, primarily in terms of getting a new hair colour (not, I suspect, all that easily detectable to the untrained eye, but exciting for me nonetheless), buying some Christmas presents (groan) and organising a baby shower.

I say possibly-NaNo-related with regard to the above because I really am wondering whether NaNo has a positive effect in other areas of my life besides my writing. In the past week I have felt more positive and capable than I have for some weeks, and this weekend has been a really calm and focused time, full of rewarding pursuits and positive reflections about what I want to achieve in my writing and in life in general.

I suppose the learning is to always have a tangible and (relatively) immediate goal, to never stop striving for that goal and to spend time every single day working towards achieving it. A lesson I will endeavour to remember long after my sixth NaNoWriMo has ended.

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NaNoWriMo Day 5 & 6 Update

Fuelled by the complacency of (almost) hitting my word target four days in a row, I happily allowed myself a lighter writing session on day five (what? It was a long day, I was tired – excuses ad infinitum). Despite feeling justified at the time, I am kicking myself today. Because, the fact is, week one of NaNo is about getting AS MANY WORDS DOWN AS POSSIBLE. I KNOW this, because I’ve done it several times before. According to Chris Baty in No Plot, No Problem (the edited version of which I have started re-reading to aid me along this attempt at the challenge) Week One is the fun part, when all the words come tumbling out and your characters are romping away. Week One’s evil twin, Week Two, is the bitch of the family, and by cutting myself some slack now I’ve played right into her cunning little hands.

The truth is, my characters were romping away, getting themselves into all sorts of scrapes without my even having to exert any influence. But all of a sudden, after yesterday’s pithy seven hundred words, the well of inspiration has run dry. Actually, that’s not true. It’s not inspiration that’s run dry, it’s my brain that has decided to down tools and stop. Take now for example. It is telling me, quite clearly, that it is Friday night at 9pm and I should, categorically and without question, be curled up on the sofa with a LARGE glass of Cab Sauv watching some heinously terrible TV programme. It does not, and let’s make no bones about it, wish to be sitting at the same computer it’s been sitting in front of all week, trying to make up stories about fictional people. In short, it’s just not having it.

So you see my dilemma. And even as I’ve been ruminating on this blog I have been switching over to the WIP, limping along with a broken stream of uninspired words, wishing my way to the word count target for today. And, to be fair, I have at least crossed the 8,000 mark, which feels like a bit of a milestone (until you consider I started today at 7,004 words). But it’s not flowing and I want with every fibre of my being just to stop and veg the hell out. ARGH. This is torture. But I SHALL NOT be defeated. I shall pour myself a glass of wine (hell, it IS Friday. I’m not a bloody saint) and plough on for just a little longer….

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NaNoWriMo Day Four (Belated): Smooth Sailing on Fatberg Seas

When I started yesterday’s session I took solace in the fact my chapter headings and the words ‘The End’ would count towards my total word count, which gives you an insight into my level of conviction about being able to complete this challenge. But then, just like Chris Baty says in No Plot, No Problem!, something magical happened. I fired up the laptop, began typing, and a little over an hour later I had typed 1,900 words! Best of all, the majority of those words were about (weirdly) one of my favourite topics: Fatbergs. Yep, those giant balls of congealed fat, rotting food and sanitary wipes form a crazy amount of fodder for the stalling novelist, or so it would seem. And so, after sailing on a sea of fatberg-related sentences, I cruised right up to within 300 words of my day four word count target. Here’s hoping the rest of the month will be as plain sailing (something tells me it won’t..).

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NaNoWriMo Day Three: Finding Time

Every time I do NaNoWriMo it strikes me afresh how there seem to be more hours in a day in the month of November than in all the other months of the year. Clearly there are still almost never enough hours to fulfil my daily word count, or to do more than one important life task alongside said novelling challenge (wash self or wash clothes being a particularly tough dilemma), but still.

Take tonight, for example. I finished work at 6pm, went to the gym, sat down with the other half for dinner and  managed to bolster the word count up to a very respectable 4,441 words (taking me, I might add, to almost where I should be at this point – though still finishing, according to the doomsday NaNo counter, four days after deadline. Pah). All that before 10pm, leaving (just) enough time to squeeze in a cheeky episode of Sopranos before bed.

Granted, bedtime is later during NaNo month, but that alone doesn’t account for this feeling of extra time. When you’re up against the clock you are forced to use your time more effectively, pure and simple. The time I spend staring at inane posts on social media is, for example, vastly reduced in November. As is the time I spend staring forlornly at my ever growing to do list (because frankly there just isn’t time to do anything on that list this month, so I may as well not look at it).

So yes, this is a positive of NaNo and something I’d do well to remember the other eleven months of the year when I profess to be far too busy to do any writing at all. Tonight alone I’ve written 1,666 words as well as this blog. Proof it can be done. I might put a wash on to celebrate.

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NaNoWriMo Day Two: Return of the Speedy Dinner

Mondays are rarely, if ever, good days. So when you roll in from work at 8pm with 1,600 words to write until you hit your daily word count it can be disheartening. Until, that is, you realise for the month of November certain things are okay. It is, for example, okay to only make dinners that take under five minutes to prepare. It’s also okay to ignore the pile of washing in the basket, and to put your environmentally friendly leanings to one side and use the dishwasher. Tonight, employing these strategies bought me enough time to write 1,100 words. My NaNo dashboard is still somewhat depressingly telling me at my current rate I will cross the finish line a month and a week after the deadline. But not to worry, there are plenty more speedy dinners, unwashed clothes and dishwasher cycles to rectify that little oroblem…

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NaNoWriMo Day One

I’m pretty sure this is sixth time I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo. I know that because I wrote down the names of all the previous ‘novels’ I’ve written this afternoon – when I was meant to be getting my first day’s word count down.

And so it begins. A month of furious head-down-pedal-to-the-metal determination to succeed in the face of extreme adversity and near-total lack of self-belief. Fuelled by coffee and cake, we NaNo veterans hurl ourselves once more unto the breach, the sails of our stories flapping precariously in the force of our wayward imaginations.

Today I did at least manage to hit the daily word count. This bodes well, or at least would bode well were it not for the fact my first 1,500 words have already exposed a major plot flaw that I’m struggling to find a solution to before tomorrow’s session. But hey, this kind of thing is common in NaNo Land. We set sail in one direction only to find over the course of thirty days we have gone quite off course and are now heading in another altogether. Such is the life of the speedy novelist (and poor sailor). Worse things, after all, have happened at sea….

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NaNo 2013 Preview: Grief, Exposed – Chapter One

It’s the 25th November and, after a mammoth writing session today – during which I have somehow managed to write 8,000 words – I’m firmly on the home straight towards my fifth NaNoWriMo success. And what better way could there be to celebrate this most wondrous of occasions than by posting the first chapter of this year’s NaNo novel? (I hear you ask in breathless anticipation). Well, here it is….

CHAPTER ONE

It was dark by the time Scarlett reached the venue for her gig. Named with either deliberate irony or non-deliberate naivety, The King’s Arms pub was the polar opposite of anywhere an actual member of the royal family would choose to frequent. At first glance she wasn’t sure the place was even open, it’s grotty peeling exterior and two boarded up windows giving the impression of a derelict building that had long since closed down. But then the door swung open and a sliver of light proved that this was, in fact, an establishment doing current trade, albeit an uninviting one.

Scarlett shielded her eyes to identify the figure that had appeared in the open doorway and was now standing silhouetted against the light. “Jake?” The figure moved a step closer. “Who were you expecting? James Dean? If so I’m sorry to disappoint.” Scarlett took a playful punch at her friend’s arm and reached into the pocket of her house coat to find her tobacco. She pulled out the packet and pressed the pads of her slender fingers together to try and generate some heat. For the beginning of November it was still unseasonably clement, but her poor circulatory system was already denying her extremities the luxury of flowing blood.  “So what’s it like in there?” she asked, opening the packet and pulling out her rolling apparatus with the care and attention of a surgeon preparing for an operation. “Honestly?” Jake replied, relieving her of the packet so she could roll her cigarette. Scarlett shrugged in response. “I guess.” She took a generous pinch of tobacco and pushed it into the expectant rizla paper, noticing with disgust that she had once again bitten her nails down to the stubs. “Pretty horrendous,” said Jake. “A few coffin dodgers with one foot in the grave and a ropey looking hen party in the corner.” Scarlett rolled her cigarette and licked along its length with careful precision. She rested the finished creation between her lips and leaned into the warmth of Jake’s hand as he held up his lighter. “Great,” she said, inhaling deeply and watching as the smoke drifted out of her mouth and up into the crisp night air. “That’s just how I pictured my first gig in London town.” Jake’s boyish face screwed up into a frown. “Come on Scar,” he said, “don’t be like that. Everyone has to start somewhere.” It was true, she knew, but it did little to shift the feeling of disappointment in her stomach that had stamped all over the butterflies that had earlier resided there. She took two more long drags on her roll up, threw it to the ground and stamped it out with a studded boot. “Come on then,” she said, “show time.”

Jake wasn’t wrong about the clientele. Inside, the pub was little more appealing than outside, though it was at least warm. The tobacco-stained walls were adorned with equally yellow pictures of bygone – and, to Scarlett’s mind, also somewhat questionable – ‘celebrity’ clientele. The crimson shag pile carpet was matted in places and covered up by newer looking rugs in others. In the non-boarded up windows were dusty displays of fake flowers, and on each table a candle wilted wax onto the surface beneath. The bar itself was made of dark mahogany and bedecked with gold plated horse shoes and other paraphernalia that Scarlett assumed must have sentimental value, for it was entirely devoid of aesthetic value. Behind the bar a woman stood polishing glasses. She was nearly as brassy as the ornaments that hung above her head, her hair a tumbling cascade of bleached blonde curls and her ample bosom creeping above the confines of her tight white top. She looked up as Scarlett approached and flashed a wary smile, as if scoping out her opposition. Scarlett did her best to return the smile. “Stella,” the woman said, putting the glass down and holding out her hand. “Scarlett.” They shook hands in what felt to Scarlett an oddly business-like exchange. “Right,” Stella said, appearing to feel the same way. “So the stage, if you can call it that, is over there. The PA system’s all set up, mike, amp and all that jazz. That’s all you need, right?” Jake picked up his guitar case from the floor. “And this, obviously,” he said with a lopsided smirk. “Okay then,” Stella said with an over-elaborate clap. “I’ll leave you two to get set up.” She peered in the dim light at her diamante-encrusted watch. “There’s half an hour until kick-off. It might be quiet now but trust me, by eight o’clock all the regulars will be in and you’ll have a great audience.” Scarlett and Jake exchanged doubtful looks.

To their surprise, Stella had been right about the imminent influx of locals. Within fifteen minutes a steady stream of people had more than doubled the head count inside the pub, and though they weren’t quite the hip Camden crowd she longed to perform in front of, Scarlett was relieved to see that at least some of them were under the age of fifty and enthusiastic looking. Once they had set up the equipment they ran a brief sound check. “Testing, testing, one, two, three,” said Scarlett. “Yes, very testing,” someone shouted from a dark recess at the back of the room. Scarlett’s stomach contorted in sudden, naked fear. “Very funny,” she said into the microphone with a theatrical roll of her eyes. “That’s right love,” a second disembodied voice shouted from the same general direction as the first, “don’t let that miserable bugger put you off.” Scarlett returned the comment with a slow smile, then looked to Jake and nodded. On her cue he started to play the familiar first few chords of the new song Scarlett had composed especially for the gig. She leaned into the microphone, closed her eyes and began to sing. When, some thirty minutes later, she came up for air and broke out of her trance, the audience burst into spontaneous applause so loud it made her jump. She turned to Jake and he beamed back at her. “Wow,” she said into the microphone, finding her voice and turning back to the modest crowd. “This was our first gig since moving to London from Cornwall and, well, we weren’t sure what kind of reception we’d get. You’ve been amazing, thank you so much.” She slipped the microphone back into its stand as a second round of applause began to fade and walked over to her friend. “Great going kiddo,” Jake said with a wink. “You weren’t so bad yourself,” Scarlett replied, noticing for the first time he had replaced his normally scruffy attire with a new pair of jeans and a round-necked jumper from Gap. “New threads?” she asked, and Jake’s face flushed red. “I just thought it might be nice to smarten up a bit. First gig and all…” Scarlett leant closer and examined his head. “Have you had a haircut too?” she teased. “Okay, who are you and what have you done with my friend?” Jake took a swipe at her and she ducked out of his way. “Come on smarty pants, let’s have a celebratory lemonade. I’d say we’ve earned it.”

It was just past midnight when they returned to the flat they shared above a shop on the Old Kent Road. They picked their way through the detritus of leaflets, newspapers and empty kebab packets in the communal hallway that was also shared by three other flats in the same building and walked up to the second floor. As soon as they got in the door Scarlett kicked off her shoes and threw herself onto the sofa, which was so old it sagged under her slight weight. She surveyed the room with a sigh, its drab décor and peeling damp-filled walls dragging her spirits down from the level the gig had elevated them to. “Make me some toast will you?” she asked Jake with an eyelash-fuelled smile, “with Marmite?” Jake rolled his eyes and left the room. “And a cuppa?” Scarlett shouted after him. “Don’t push your luck,” came the response, though she knew he would do as she asked. Jake, her dear friend, without whose unswerving support she might never have had the confidence to move to London and make a go of a career in music. Jake, who had brought her back from the brink more times than she cared to admit, even to herself. Unwilling to pursue that line of thought further she sat up and switched on the ancient second hand television they’d purchased in Camden market the previous day for ten pounds. The picture flickered into life to reveal a programme about India, and Scarlett’s thoughts immediately turned to Ruby. It had been a month now since they had driven to the airport to see her little sister off on her travels abroad, and since then Ruby’s contact with her family had been sporadic at best. But then, Scarlett knew, Ruby was not the type to spend hours in an internet café Skype-ing her friends (Scarlett was not at all sure Ruby had many friends), nor was she particularly fond of lengthy telephone conversations. She was a tomboy in that respect, as well as in others. One of Scarlett’s earliest memories was of running barefoot along the beach of Trebarwith Strand in a flimsy cotton dress, arms outstretched like an aeroplane, while Ruby, clad in thick corduroy trousers, a hoodie and wellington boots, explored rock pools looking for crabs. It was true to say her sister was an introvert by nature. Bookish, was a term that was bandied around a lot when she came up in conversation. ‘That sister of yours is such a bookworm,’ old Mary in the bakery had said to her one day. ‘Always got her head in some complicated looking book or other – it’s a wonder she doesn’t bump into things.’ They had all been surprised when, over breakfast some months previously, Ruby had calmly announced her intention to go travelling before taking up her place at Cambridge where she had a place to study chemistry. Nobody, least of all Scarlett, thought she was the travelling type, but then she could well understand Ruby’s need to break out of the tiny community where they had lived all their lives and see something of the world. Scarlett herself was grateful to Ruby for providing a much-needed catalyst for her own departure from the sleepy Cornish fishing village she had called home for the past twenty three years. The thought of what her life might have been like if she had stayed there forever made her shudder even now.

“Here you go, lazy cow,” said Jake, strolling into the room and handing Scarlett a plate of toast and mug of tea. She sat up and crossed her legs, folding her long skirt into her lap and pushing the multitude of gold bangles jangling at her wrist further up her arm so she could eat. She watched as Jake walked the length of the room and sat down on the armchair opposite. He had changed out of his new clothes into his old tracksuit bottoms and school athletics hoodie, and now looked more how she had come to think of her best friend; casual, slightly foppish with his too-long brown hair falling across his face. Jake went about his life in an unhurried way that Scarlett envied, exuding a quiet confidence that things would work out in the end, no matter how strenuous the journey. He was the only child of their neighbours in Port Isaac, Pauline and Nick. Nick was a fisherman with a similar temperament to Jake’s, which Scarlett supposed was where he got it from. When she was recovering from her illness she and Jake used to spend hours in their front room, looking out to sea and playing ‘spot Nick’s boat’ as Pauline kneaded bread for that night’s supper. When Scarlett first began to cut herself Jake wouldn’t leave her side, and he had been her protector and friend ever since. It seemed only natural when she moved to London that he would come with her, not least because they shared a musical ambition. Indeed Jake’s company was a stipulation of Scarlett’s being allowed to come to London in the first place, her mother feeling that she wasn’t strong enough to go all by herself. Not yet, she said. Not yet.

Scarlett took a bite of her toast and pulled her old Nokia out of the folds of her skirt. She hadn’t thought to check it all night – why would she? – but now she saw a number of messages, both text and voicemail, demanding her attention. “Turn it down a sec will you?” she asked, and Jake duly obliged with the remote. Scarlett put down her toast and held the phone to her ear. The first voicemail was from her mum. “Darling, it’s me, Mum. Can you call me back please?” That was odd, Scarlett thought, her mum’s voice had sounded shaky, unlike the normal cheery one she was used to. She pressed the button to move onto the next message. “Darling, it’s me again. I’m sorry to call so late but there’s something I have to tell you.” Scarlett felt a prickle of fear rise up inside her. “Everything okay?” Jake, as always, sensed her mood. He stared at her across the room, his brown eyes scanning her face for an answer. “Messages from Mum,” Scarlett said, keeping her voice as even as she could, “she needs to speak to me about something, urgently. I’ll call her back.” She punched in the numbers of her home phone and waited as it rang once, twice, three times. On the fourth ring there was a click and a man’s voice answered. “Hello?” It was Phil, her stepdad. “Phil? It’s Scarlett. I just picked up Mum’s messages. Is everything okay?” There was a moment’s silence on the end of the line. Scarlett pictured Phil’s time-ravaged face in quiet contemplation. “Let me get your Mum,” he said. “Hang on a sec.” Scarlett shrugged at Jake. He stared back at her, eyebrows knitted into a frown. “Scarlett?” Her mother’s voice came on the line. “Mum?” A strange choking sound emanated from the receiver. “Mum? What’s wrong?” Her mother cleared her throat in an attempt to compose herself. “Darling,” she said with considerable difficulty, “something’s happened – to Ruby.” Scarlett tried to suppress the panic rising up inside her. “What do you mean? What’s happened?” Her mother was crying now, sobbing uncontrollably into the receiver. “Scarlett,” said Phil’s voice, having taken charge of the situation. “Ruby’s gone missing in India. And they’ve found a body.”