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Category Archives: Progress reports

First Glimpse of a Whole New World

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First Glimpse of a Whole New World

Been working on a fantasy setting which I hope will form the basis of a string of short stories. I know this is a bit of a departure from my previous work, but I needed it.

I kept finding that I was too close to my characters, to their adversity, and it brought me a great deal of distress. I think, as different as fantasy and literary fiction are as genres, the same person can need them both at very different times in their life.

The Universe and Human Stupidity is still in the works. Make no mistake about that. But something else is coming; I’ll just let you know when it has a name.

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78 days to deadline, 68,392 words to go

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I’ve decided to blog about my writing in this format, counting down. It’s just going to get increasingly exciting as the numbers get smaller.

The last few days have been really hard for me, and my word count has been low. J is away, basically just watching his grandmother die, and that’s been tough. We always want to protect the people we care most about, and when we can’t do that, we feel a bit useless. Forget useless, I think “terrible” is closer to the mark.

Luckily, it’s been a very long time since I had to endure a death in my own family. It’s weird how, as writers, we see death, quite often, as just another plot device. In real life, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Even a single death has wide-ranging repercussions, even extending so far as to touch those who never met the deceased. Even though it’s inevitable, it comes out of nowhere, derailing everything.

I feel terrible guilt for just feeling upset about this situation. How dare I? J is suffering. Meanwhile, J cannot speak, because he feels far too much to communicate. He is focusing on supporting his mother and his aunt, who are losing their mother. He, too, is trying to put his feelings aside for another.

I also feel terrible guilt, because above all things, I want this woman who never met me (because she has dementia and it would have confused her), I want this woman to die. I want this woman to die, quietly, surrounded by her family. I want her to have that last singular lucid moment where she tells them something wonderful, then is at peace. I want her family to have closure.

My writer’s mind wants cadence for this story. I can only hope that nature obliges.

Deadlines

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Based on the original plan of 857 words written a day, and a target of 80,000 words for my novel, I have the following targets.

16,000 words – 1st May – Reward: large gin and tonic.

24,000 words – 11th May – Reward: tapas.

32,000 words – 20th May – Reward: another, even larger gin and tonic.

40,000 words – 29th May – Reward: art materials.

48,000 words – 8th June – Reward: amusing t-shirt.

56,000 words – 17th June – Reward: Civilisation: Beyond Earth.

64,000 words – 26th June – Reward: day trip

72,000 words – 5th July – Reward: Picnic and Pimm’s, with extra gin.

80,000 words – 15th July – Reward: Victory is it’s own reward. But probably also gin and a book.

Writing A Novel: A Terrible Idea

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I have a to-do list as long as my forearm. This was a terrible plan.

I’m moving to Manchester in September to start my Initial Teacher Training, which aside from the obvious problems such as finding a flat and packing up my stuff, presents a whole other plethora of unpleasant tasks which take precedence over novel writing, which is beginning to feel like picking daisies during an air strike.

I don’t know Manchester well. I don’t drive. So, I have to figure out where I’m going to live by spending a fortune on the train and guessing. Luckily, I have been contacted by a complete stranger who has asked me to move in with him and I am so daunted by the prospect of actually looking that I’m seriously considering it. I mean, I’ll probably meet with him beforehand to check for obvious signs of serial-killer-ishness, but for now I’m just dropping mild cricket references into emails in the hope he picks up. As far as I know, there are no serial killers who enjoy cricket.

There’s also the issue of paying for it. I’m currently skint. I cook one large casserole a week and freeze it. If I think I can probably live without a meal, I go without a meal. £540 deposit? Yeah, I’ll just pull it out of my arse, shall I?

Student finance doesn’t arrive until after I start my course. Knowing them, quite a long while after. Aside from the cost of moving, I’ll also need smart shoes, stationery, travel passes, deodorant that actually works, more than two pairs of trousers, more than one dress, and endless supply of tights to replace the ones I inevitably ladder with freshly-cut toenails, membership of a trade union, teaching resources, a new laptop- some urgent, some not so urgent, but all requiring money I just don’t have.

In order to get this money, I have to provide evidence that I’ve been financially independent of my parents for three years. I was at uni for two of them. I have wageslips, none of them very helpful or informative.

I spent a large portion of last summer being chased for £3000 I didn’t have, because of how financially independent I am from my parents. I’m so financially independent of my parents that my dad didn’t even fill in my forms for the last two years, leading to me being ineligible for any support in my final year, and to SFE retracting the support I had received in my second.

If I have to go through that again, I can’t envisage my surviving the next year.

On top of that, correspondence form the university seems to suggest that they wrongly believe me to be an international student. Making me ineligible for student finance and subject to higher fees. I don’t really know what else to say about that one only it needs fixing, now.

It’s a nightmare. It certainly wasn’t this hard last time I went to university. Back them I was in halls, had a bus to take me from my front door to my lecture hall every twenty minutes and had some sort of misguided confidence in my parents’ ability to reliably fill out a bit of paperwork. It was adventure.

This isn’t. Really. it isn’t.

So now, there are no wordcounts. I’m at the stage where leaving the house is considered an achievement. Suddenly, speaking to another human being is a rare and cherished opportunity. I have forgotten what a television is- seriously, I’ve not watched anything since the first week of June.

I still owe myself that coffee and cake. I did well to do 8000 words. But I’m not in a position to run myself ragged just because I want the doner kebab I’d earn for hitting 16,000. Right now, deadlines are out of the window. I love writing. But that’s all the way at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. When my access to food and shelter is endangered, I have no choice but to let my priorities shift.

Temporarily.

The Week Off I Never Wanted

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So. I went to a wedding and ended up doing no work on my novel for a week.

To be fair, in this heat, I would have been flogging a dead horse anyway. I don’t know if you feel comfortable working at 29C (84F), but I don’t. So, I probably would have sat miserably staring at an open word document while I sweated out all the electrolytes my brain needs to function, and punished myself for it.

As it was, I read, wrote a little when it suited me, ate outside, took walks along the Thames and played and watched cricket. It was quintessential English summer stuff, and I found it rejuvenating.

If I was the sort of writer capable of taking breaks without them turning into a sabbatical, the holiday I just had would be part of my compulsory routine. It was intensely social, and has made me want nothing more than to retire to my tiny Liverpool bolt-hole and write some more.

It’s well-known that writers ought to read, and I will be reviewing the books I just read imminently. It opened my eyes to various techniques- I returned to Catch-22 a few weeks ago, and it’s evident how it has shaped my writing. I fell that Larkin’s A Girl in Winter has helped with my most prominent weakness, physical description, while Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch reminded me that I don’t have to include every detail to make people care about the story.

It is less often said that writers ought to enjoy themselves, and I can’t think why. Too often, we see the writer as an isolated beast, hunched miserably over a desk, typing out words he instantly hates himself for.

It is more acceptable for artists or musicians to actually go outside, and search for inspiration. Writers sit inside and wait for it to happen, and it won’t. The resulting work will be clawed-out and insular. Yes, that work can be fixed, with endless redrafts and cuts, but the original will be bilge.

Save yourself some time, and go outside for a bit. I’m still too sticky to go outside properly, but I feel better about my novel than I did a week ago. As my greatest enemy when writing is self-deletion, that sounds like a step in the right direction. Doesn’t it?

Setbacks

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Well, much as I can dream of writing 1000 words per day, it doesn’t seem to be a reality this week.

Currently, I am staying with family in Oxfordshire. Green space and blue sky abounds, and my family cannot see why any sane person should wish to be inside staring at a computer screen, or scratching tensely into a spiral bound notebook.

It’s because, if I hit 16,000 words before a certain date, I will allow myself to eat takeaway. This is a rare and exotic luxury in my world, along with ice cream and white wine spritzers, which are in contrast rather commonplace in my family’s corner of Oxfordshire.

Hemingway might have produced his best while three sheets to the wind, but after two days here, I could do with a detox before attempting any more fiction writing. The thought of crafting so much as a haiku makes me want to weep.

Just writing this blog post has been a considerable strain on my resources. Incidentally, the cricket scores have not helped.

I shall try to proceed through the week sober, but it is a constant trial. For now, my word count targets are delayed. Real life 1, Parker 0.*

*If anyone can think of a cricketing analogue, I would be curious to hear it. I doubt that there is, mind.

SItrep: Writing Days 101-107

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I do hope I’m getting these numbers right.

In any case, I feel like I’m finding a rhythm of sorts. I reached my first milestone of 8000 words, and four days ahead of schedule, which means I can treat myself to a hot drink and a cake.

Even though I can’t currently afford a hot drink and a cake, the mere fact that I deserve a hot drink and a cake is motivating. When I finally scrape together the pennies to get that hot drink and cake, it’s going to be the best hot drink/cake combo ever consumed.

The poetry has suffered. It was never my first love, but as I’ve delved deeper into novelling, I find that I have little imagination left. It’s a finite resource, and even hot drinks and cake cannot replenish it.

To all the people out there writing their first novel, or trying to get their first novel published- well done for getting as far as you have. When I finally reach that golden, dreamed-of cafe, I will take my first scalding sip and dedicate it to the lot of us.