New rules

I’m working to new rules. Instead of plugging away at my novel and getting frustrated by other projects that beckon, and then avoiding my novel and getting frustrated at the slow progress, I’ve decided to focus on quantity rather than quality. That nano message is taking a long time to sink in, but I reckon that if I focus on refining ideas and building them up, instead of working linearly with narrow focus, then by the time I’ve drafted out a few complete ideas I’ll have a lot more idea what I’m doing, more stamina for longer projects and a good base on which to build.

So I’ve currently got Gods V Heroes on the go and nearly at a complete draft, there’s my new nano novel coming up, there’s the romance, there’s a couple more fantasies in the pipeline and there’s always babies which is still simmering nicely and waiting for my attention. Not to mention a couple of non-fiction projects that are on the go. With that selection, there should be something I feel like working on at any opportunity.

Let’s see how many complete novel drafts I can create by the end of the year, shall we?


Reconstructing the past

I headed out to Whitstable this morning, to do further research on one of the workhouse families. I’ve decided that a short story based on the story of one of the children will form my contribution to an anthology of short stories my writing group is intending to publish, and I’m looking for material to flesh out the story and bring it to life.

I walked around the town, finding the house where they used to live, walking alongside the harbour, and identifying the school she would have gone to, and then went round the local museum and had a look at the local history section of the library.

As I walked back to the car, I passed a pub, which had a notice outside: “Back in 2015”. I’m guessing it refers to their live entertainment, but it felt strangely fitting, as for those two hours I’d been back in around 1880, and it felt strange to return to the present day.

As I drove home, I started musing about the difference between writing historical fiction and writing fantasy. In historical fiction, I’m trying to keep as true to the facts as I can, and weaving a story around those facts. I have a lot of flexibility, but within a very tight framework. It’s so easy to make a simple mistake with facts and instantly alienate a lot of readers. I’m also aware that I’m trying to fill in very large gaps – it’s one thing to imagine what she might have done on her way home from school, but I’m not even sure what she would have called her parents!

In one way, writing fantasy is easier. I’m creating my own world, and nobody can tell me that I’ve got my facts wrong. But in another, it’s the same thing. I want my world to be credible, and so I’m trying to think about how societies change and evolve. How do three very different races start spreading out and co-operating, only to have relationships break down and become hostile? How does a town function? How does a religion spread? How does intolerance show itself?

Admittedly, on some of those points I only have to read the papers, and the current world situation is definitely feeding itself into my novel. But that feeling of power, of deciding policy, is very real. And the feeling that it’s got to be close enough to the truth, or in this case at least A truth, is still very strong.

I thoroughly enjoyed my morning, and will be repeating the experience, with more time. In the meantime, I’ve got a new draft of my short story to get on with, and a novel or three to get finished.


Rediscovering my spark

It seems like a long time since I really felt that spark of excitement. I’ve been plodding along, making progress at times and then slipping back at other times. I’ve reached the point where I say enough is enough, it’s time to really turn myself around and start being more positive.

And yet I know I’ve been at this point before. I’d look back through the blog, but I’m sure I’d only depress myself further with the number of times I’ve declared myself at that point, only to slide back again.

So what’s the problem? Where has that spark gone? and how can I get it back?

I was doing okay until the end of May this year, when I broke the 30 min barrier at parkrun. Having done that, I slacked off, and after being unable to run while on holiday at the beginning of July, I never really got going properly again.

I ran a 10k race yesterday, and while it was by no means my worst performance, it wasn’t my best either. I’ve got slower again, and that’s probably not helped by the stone (14 pounds) I’ve put on since the half marathon I ran at the end of March. So while it was an okay performance, I really want to get that sorted and improve.

So, how do I keep going? I can only think that finding my inner spark will help with motivation. I’m thinking of making a collage or scrapbook of images that will remind me of what I’m trying to achieve. I’m considering making a list of things that contribute towards a positive feeling, and sticking it up above my desk as a reminder. I’ve ‘fessed up to my food and exercise monitoring websites and need to focus on those.

Above all, I need to ensure that I’m writing regularly and exercising regularly. Both will help with my mental state, and the exercise will help with my physical state. I have a selection of races coming up over the next few months, and I always seem to exercise better across the winter than the summer. Nanowrimo is coming up, and I’m trying to get into an appropriate mindset for that, with a nano project lined up plus another to keep me occupied until then. And of course there’s still Gods V Heroes.

As to that, the next stage involves really upping the stakes in the novel. I need to dig deep and find the strength to write strong scenes. Those scenes are what the story is about, in my head; about the in-fighting and hatred I see around me, and putting that into a fantasy context. I need to get out of this comfortable rut I’m in, where I seem content to curl up and go to sleep, and I need to get out there fighting.

Above all, I’m not competing against anyone else; it doesn’t matter how many novels others have published, or how fast or far others can run; it’s about pushing myself. About knowing that I’m doing the best I can, and not just sitting back relaxing, while complaining that others are achieving things that I want for myself. And all that needs to start now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not when the cake has been eaten. Not when the race is over. Now.

How do you find and keep your spark?


Writing books

I have a vast collection of books on the topics of writing and editing. I’ve been writing reviews of them on my business blog, and it struck me that regular readers here might be interested in them too.

This is my latest review. There are previous ones available on there too. Some are designed to help you structure your writing, while others are there to help you strengthen the writing and improve your range of description.



Show and tell

We’re always being told as writers to show the action rather than telling. Sometimes that can be a struggle. Well, I’ve just watched the first few minutes of Unbreakable, and that’s an excellent example. It’s a movie, so they can’t tell you “the relationship between him and his wife was on the rocks.” Instead, they show in a series of scenes – he removes his wedding ring and tries to talk to a young lady. She tells him she’s married and moves away. He puts his ring back on. He walks out into the hospital waiting area, and his son rushes up to him, while his wife moves more slowly. The kiss is tentative, forced. They start by holding hands as they walk out, but the hands soon fall apart, as though feeling unnatural. Those scenes tell you everything you need to know about the relationship.

So maybe, next time you struggle with showing and telling, imagine watching it on the screen. What could you see that would get that message across, instead of just giving the information?

Screenplays and novels are very different media, but comparing the two, and considering scenes from one told in the other form, can be really enlightening.



A few days ago, I went into a local shop and spent £4.50. I handed over a £20 note and was given £14.50 in change. I looked at the change in my hand. I looked at the receipt. And I walked away, even though I knew that I’d been shortchanged.

It’s been bugging me ever since, and I’ve realised why. I was in the right. I’d been done out of something that was rightfully mine. And yet I didn’t bother doing anything about it. I just accepted it as the way life is for me.

Why do I do that? Why do I take whatever crap life throws at me, and just accept it as what’s due?

So many times I’ve taken what’s given without questioning. Without standing up for myself. Without considering the fact that the other person is clearly in the wrong. As though it’s my lot in life to suffer the poor deal, the lack of consideration, the carelessness of others.

I want to stop. But how? For a start, I can stop sitting playing solitaire on my ipad, while feeling miserable that all around me are finishing writing projects and getting them published. I can stop feeling envious of those who spend time drawing, while I play games. I can start considering what I have a right to, and take steps to get it, rather than waiting for scraps to come my way.

I find it hard to put myself forward, to claim I’m good at anything, to say that I want anything. In my mind, there’s always someone better. Always someone who needs it more. Always someone who’s more willing to yell for their own needs.

I need to make a stand. The only one who can change this is me. Although it means doing exactly what I find so hard.

Suggestions always welcome.


Training myself to plan

I’ve done a draft or two of Gods Versus Heroes now (it’s hard to count just how many, because I don’t get properly to the end before starting on the next one, so each one gets a little further through before I go back to the start).

I’ve done a rough nano draft, and I’ve done a more careful draft. Now I want to really pull it apart and weave the storylines together properly, rather than allowing them to come piecemeal. I’ve got seven main characters, each of whom has their own story arc. There’s the story arc of the guild. There’s the story arc of the world they travel to, and the story arc of our own world. I make that ten arcs to manage.

I was thinking just now of how hard it all is, and how I’m going to manage to go through this every single time. And then I remembered when I first went into sixth form at school. Suddenly, instead of having homework to be completed the next day or the day after, I would have up to a week to complete a piece of work, or I would have ongoing work to do, in order to keep up with class. I found it really hard to keep track, and to remember what had to be in when.

So I invented a new kind of calendar. I had several sheets of paper fastened together, and divided into seven sections. Each day I would tear off a section, to reveal the day for the following week. I used this for a few weeks, so that I could always see exactly one week ahead, and then I found I didn’t need it any more, because I’d started to think ahead.

That’s what I need to do now. Yes, I need to pull everything apart and really go at it laboriously, and it will take a lot of time and effort. But the more I work at it, and the more frequently I do it, the easier it will become, until I have the method sorted and I can put it all together much more easily.

I need to train myself into the proper way to plan. That’s all. It will come.


Arguing with the voices

I’ve spoken before about two of the voices in my head – there’s Annie, my inner child, who is always looking for fun, and Betty, who’s my inner parent, always serious and stern and negative. As I woke up this morning they were both arguing with me, and both had the same aim in mind – to stop me from going out for a run.

Annie was complaining that she didn’t want to go, she’d much rather stay home and play computer games. Much more relaxing, much more fun. Betty was reminding me of the work I had to do. Wouldn’t it be much better to stay at home and get some of that out of the way? Time to relax later.

With them both ganging up on me, it would have been easy to give in, but I pointed out to Annie that games are much more enjoyable when they come in small doses, and going out for a run is fun too. Besides, it was long slow run day, so no time pressure. To Betty, I pointed out that if I don’t get enough exercise I work more and more slowly, until I grind to a halt. Much better to sharpen the metaphorical axe by going out for some exercise.

With both of them silenced for long enough to get me out of the door, I did settle down and enjoy my run, and am now working hard with the thought of a little gameplay over lunch to keep me going. But one thing I did realise during my run was that they were trying the same technique to stop me writing.

I’ve spent the past week or so going through my novel and identifying major weaknesses that need to be dealt with. Now Annie keeps complaining that it’s not fun any more, she’d much rather do something different rather than keep on with the same old thing. Betty backs her up by claiming it’s not likely to be any good anyway, even if I do manage to finish it.

So I’m now telling Annie that after the 1st October I’ll be working on the planning of a new novel ready for nanowrimo, and if she wants to do anything new before then there’s nothing stopping me doing that as well as the novel. To Betty, I pointed out that this novel started as a bit of fun, a training piece, and I’m surprised myself at how far I’ve managed to take it. It might not ever get to the point where I’m completely satisfied with it, but just like marathon training, it’s the endurance that’s the reward, and the final result is just a celebration of that reward.

I love the way that my writing and running play off each other, and how I can apply lessons from one in developing the other. And so hopefully, I’ve got the voices on my side for a while and can get back to making good progress.



Writing about war and hate

My current concern is that my novel needs to include more violence and hatred and religious intolerance. It’s never easy to think about those topics, and never easy to write about them, but in order to have the impact I want it to, my novel needs to push a lot harder into that area.

Sadly, I find I get all the inspiration and ideas that I need on the topic by reading news websites. We seem to be particularly nasty and intolerant as a society at the moment. It’s sobering to think that however much we protest about the holocaust, people are making similar comments about those caught up in the immigrant camps to those made about the Jews when the Nazis were in power. History is repeating itself, and those who are enacting it are either oblivious of the irony or don’t care.

One big topic these days is the phenomenon of white male privilege. How being born male and with a white skin gives advantages that these people are not even aware of, leaving others struggling in their wake. The privilege I’m seeing at the moment is one of being born in a developed country that’s fairly well off and fairly stable politically. That doesn’t make us better people than those who live in war-torn countries, or developing countries. Don’t we have a duty to share what we have, to make the most of our privilege to help others onto the same level?

Instead, we’re polarizing into us and them, friend and foe, judgement and condemnation. Any small act is publicised and either praised or condemned almost universally. We can’t make a mistake without it being held up for all to see and criticise. We can’t do some small kindness without it being lauded by complete strangers. We can’t see the true enemies because we’re too busy hating those we are told are enemies.

And so, as I struggle with my novel, one thing that keeps me going is the thought that maybe, in some small way, it might make at least one or two people think about what makes an enemy, what’s the purpose of war, and who are the true heroes.


The painful way

It’s partway through August. And that means there’s only about ten weeks until November. Since last November, I’ve been busy working on a novel, and I’m currently trying to finish it in order to get planning for this November, because, as surely everyone in the writing world knows, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Some people seem to think nanowrimo is a bad idea. Some people think it means a flood of badly written stories into the world. I don’t doubt that there are those who whack out 50,000 words in November and consider it ready to publish. I don’t doubt that some of them are even correct (those irritating people who can whack out a readable story in a month – gah!), while many more are far from finished, and many will be shoved in some metaphorical drawer and never looked at again.

So what’s wrong with that?

A friend wrote a blog post in support of nanowrimo, and as I read it, I was thinking that if it wasn’t for the yearly torture she was speaking about, I could live a peaceful life without struggling to finish my novel.

But then again, if I gave up running, I wouldn’t have to worry about how far to run or how fast to run or how fit I am.

Giving up running and writing would make my life a lot easier, a lot less painful. In the short term at least. But I’ve seen what happens when I stop running. I start struggling to maintain an even mood, I start getting stiff and uncomfortable, and I sit around doing nothing. Stopping writing has the same effect on me mentally.

So giving up, while it sounds easier in the short term, really isn’t. And so I continue the painful way, because the pain of being creative and the pain of physical exercise are nothing like the pain of stopping.

I’ve done nano for about 10 years now, just like Elizabeth Haynes. Unlike her, I haven’t made the most of the rest of the year, and I can’t speak of publishing contracts and best sellers. But I have learned a lot about myself and about the writing process, and who knows? Come back and talk to me in another 10 years and I might have a different story to tell.

In the meantime, I’ve got a fight scene to write for my novel. The one I thrashed out a first draft of last November. The one that’s grown from the original 50,000 words to over 85,000 words so far. The one that’s 1/2 to 2/3 complete. The one that represents the furthest I have ever got in a writing project.

The only reason I’ve got that far is the constant inspiration, support and encouragement that comes around each year in the form of nanowrimo and hangs around in the form of my writing buddies.

Nanowrimo isn’t for everyone. I totally get that. But for many people it provides the inspiration and the permission that the rest of the year withholds. They don’t need the negativity of those who don’t get it. If you love it, do it. If you don’t, then please let the rest of us get on with it.

As for the running, I’m giving up – on worrying about my speed. Who cares if I ever again run 5k in less than 30 minutes? If I’m happy running, and I’m happy covering longer distances, then that’s up to me.