Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

Nanowrimo 2013

November is rapidly approaching and with it Nanowrimo. Usually I’d be wittering on about nanowrimo long before now, discussing my novelling plans and preparation. The reason I haven’t is that I’ve decided not to do nanowrimo this year for the first time in 6 years.

The main reason is that I have too many half-finished novels that I’m trying to get into shape and at this point taking a month out of the year to add another to the pile is not the best use of my time. It also has to be said that my excitement for it has waned a little over the last couple of years so, if I take a year off, I may be able to recapture some of that next year.

I really value the focus nanowrimo provides though, so I’ve decided to do a variant on it as a personal challenge. Writing a 50,000 word novel in November takes me an average of two hours a day. This year I’m going to commit to carry out the equivalent of two hours a day on another writing project. 60 hours in total over the month. I’ll log my time on a chart in the same way I usually log my word count.

So what is the writing project?

Over the last couple of months I’ve been planning a big project that I aim to launch at the start of 2014. This 60 hours will contribute to the preparation of this.

I’ll write more about it in due course, but for now here’s a teaser picture…

The start of a new project

The start of a new project


The second draft

I’m at the early stages of writing the second draft of my fantasy novel.

It’s scary times. Like the moment the butterfly in its cocoon turns to mush. You look over this thing that has consumed so many hundreds of hours and wonder, is there actually anything worth keeping?

Everything is up for grabs. In a novel with the working title City of Djinn, I’ve even been questioning whether the djinn add enough to the story or whether they should be cut.

Most of this novel was written during the frenzied days of nanowrimo which, I suspect, makes it an even scarier beast than a standard first draft. I’ve heard nanowrimo novels refered to as ‘zero drafts’ – they’re not even good enough to be a first draft.

Last week I purchased Scrivenor, a software package designed specifically for creating large works such as novels and screen plays. Scrivenor comes highly recommended and, with a 50% nanowrimo winner’s discount, it only cost me £16 making it a no-brainer. It took me the better part of a week to struggle through the tutorial (I hate e-learning) and I’m now occupied importing my novel into it.

Scivenor’s strength is the facility to break long works into much smaller sections that can be easily moved around but this means I have to split what was formerly a single, 260-page Word document into its 50 constituent chapters and then each chapter into its individual scenes (of which there are between one and seven in each chapter). Plus I have to copy in all the notes and chapter metadata in addition to all my world building and character documents.

This structure and the software is going to be a real asset when I start editing properly, but it will probably take all of the Christmas holidays just to get everything properly stowed away. Until I know if a scene will stay in the novel and what its purpose is, there’s no point in rewriting the text. I just have to be patient.

Post-NanNoWriMo life

I’m currently in a post-nanowrimo ‘I love writing’ phase and feeling much more focussed. It’s strange for me to think that only six years ago I hadn’t written anything substantial for a few years and wondered if my passion for writing was gone for good. I was going through a divorce at the time and it’s fair to say the lustre had worn off a lot of things. Then along came my first Nanowrimo (in 2007) and I never looked back.

Last weekend I sat down and consolidated the two working documents my fantasy novel, City of Djinn, was lurking in. I now have 132,225 words in 50 chapters, split into three sections, filling 262 pages (Times New Roman, 12pt, single line spaced). It’s not quite finished and there are a couple of gaps to go back and fill in, so I estimate the first draft will come in somewhere around 140,000 words.

I’m now faced with the prospect of editing. It’s fairly intimidating. That’s a lot of words to fix. I need to go back and do all that world building and consistency checking I smugly said I wasn’t going to do for the first draft. What calendar do they use? What’s the season/climate like? What are the naming conventions? How are they ruled? What languages do they speak? What religions do they practice?

I also have to pin down the personalities, voices, motivations and story arcs of the many characters. Then there’s that big old convoluted plot with twists and turns galore. My brain aches just thinking about it.

50,138 words of something…

Nanowrimo is now over for another eleven months. This year I finished on 29 November, 3 days later than last year (and I blogged every day last year), but then I was unemployed so it’s hardly a fair comparison.

Somewhere inside those 50,138 words is the germ of a decent novel. Like my other nanowrimo novels it’s fairly action-packed and the main character is moderately well-developed but the writing is very clichéd and it’s full of inaccuracies and strange goings-on because of the ‘no editing’ rule. Queen Victoria dies and has a funeral…and then  somehow she’s alive again with no explanation. (I decided I had more freedom with my character if she remained heir to the throne for the time being rather than becoming queen.)

Without planning it I also managed to end the story on some real cliff hangers. The three main female characters (including the aforementioned heir to the British throne) have just been kidnapped at the foot of the great pyramid in Cairo by Egyptian insurgents. Meanwhile in London the Scotland Yard Inspector has just discovered the forger who had faked the most famous specimen at the National Museum and uttered the immortal words – “Who was the man who paid you to produce this forgery?”

My main character is currently in hiding from several people who don’t wish him well, posing as a labourer on an archaeological dig in Egypt. Meanwhile, in his long running flashback sequence (from ten years previously), he has just been set up by his commanding officer (who has it in for him) and has been apprehended for desertion during the battle of Omdurman in the Sudan.

This gives me plenty to look forward to. The manuscript will now go in a metaphorical drawer until Nanowrimo 2013 when I’ll write the second half. Meanwhile I’ll return to working on my fantasy novel, City of Djinn.

I had done very little planning for this nanowrimo novel before starting it and it felt harder work than some of the previous nanowrimo’s I’ve done. I never achieved any really large word count days and I always felt I was chipping away at the plot, little by little, trying to uncover it.

For any stats freaks interested, here is the graph showing this years word count (in pink) alongside previous (blue). The ‘ideal’ line is in green – 1,667 words a day. Click to embiggen.


The Flip Flap

The Flip Flap sounds like something I might do when procrastinating over my nanowrimo novel (er…kind of like now then….)

Last week I was doing some research into the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition which has a prominent role in my nanowrimo novel. This large exhibition on a purpose-built 140 acre site in Shepherds Bush, ran for six months and saw 8 million visitors. It also hosted the 1908 Olympic Games, a relatively minor sporting event back in those days and far less famous than the ‘Franco’.

The star attraction at the exhibition was the Flip Flap, a steel structure with two viewing platforms that rose 200 feet into the air. The Flip Flap seemed somehow familiar to me, then I remembered I’d seen it on a postcard I own.

The Flip Flap at the Franco-British Exhibition (and Olympics Games), 1908

The postcard was written by my great grandmother’s stepbrother, Alexander in August 1909. The postcard shows the view from one of the Flip Flap’s platforms. In the background you can see the Olympic stadium with an event or parade taking place.  Alec would have been 15 when he wrote this postcard, presumably picked up on a visit to the exhibition. Did Alec ride on the Flip Flap? It looks rather terrifying to me, but then I’m used to rather higher standards of health and safety!

The card was actually posted from Dieppe in France, whilst Alec was visiting his aunt. Both Alec and my great grandmother’s parents were born in Europe – the family was an inter-cultural pot-pourri of French, Belgian and Polish-German. Alex wrote the postcard in French and all the family were bilingual.

Alec’s father and my great grandmother’s mother had married each other because they had both been widowed and, as my great grandmother put it, one needed a wife and the other a husband. It seems to have been a successful marriage and they had two more children together, bringing the combined family to ten.

Five years later, when Britain went to war with Germany, the nineteen-year-old Alec and his two brothers signed up to fight. Alec served briefly with the French Foreign Legion, before joining the Middlesex Regiment. He served in Ireland and the Mediterranean but it was in France on 26 August, less than three months before end of war, that he was killed.

Alec – on the left. I believe the three chevrons on his right sleeve are overseas service chevrons. You earned one for each year served overseas. They only came into use in June/July 1918, so this photo must have been taken within 2 months of Alec’s death.

Eleven other men from the battalion died on the same day as Alec. The battalion was being relieved and heading back for several days rest behind the lines. The regimental history records that they were under heavy barrage and it may have been these shells that killed Alec. He was 24 years old.

My great grandmother kept her stepbrother’s postcards along with many others she received and it was only after her death, 15 years ago at the age of 99, that I started to look through them and piece together these forgotten stories.

Greetings from the middle of Nanowrimo!

My lack of recent blogging action is partly because I’ve been trying to focus my free time on adding to my nanowrimo word count and partly because my main laptop got a Trojan virus 24 hours before nanowrimo started.

As I had a very busy first November week at work (a large project coming to fruition, a couple of evening events and a new person starting I had to train up), plus a Halloween party followed by my birthday, I knew I’d have precious little time for writing, let alone getting my laptop fixed, so I just used my little netbook instead.

The netbook had stopped connecting to our home wireless a year ago for reasons I’d never bothered to investigate so, while it hindered my ability to surf and write blog posts, it did reinforce to me just how distracting the internet is and did my overall word count no harm at all. I do need to invest in some Internet blocking software at some point.

I also managed to break my little toe playing football. I can’t exactly blame that for my inability to concentrate while sitting still at a desk, but I’ll still throw it in there.

The novel is coming along relatively well. As of last night I was at just under 30,000 words total, 447 words behind target for this point. Since day two, I’ve been running a relatively modest deficit, which at times had stretched out as far as 4000 words behind, so I’ve almost closed the gap. I usually start to speed up at this point in the month once the end is in sight. I do like a good deadline.

This year I’d set an unofficial target of finishing a day earlier than last year, which would make it the 25th. This only gives me until end of this week to finish the final 20,000 words and to make it harder I’m going to be away all weekend visiting an old friend. Still, it’s possible…

The plot and characters have been fairly giving and I’ve mostly had enough to keep me going. So far we’ve had a murder, a false accusation, conspiracies galore, a suspected fake early hominid, flash backs to the Mahdist war in Sudan, the release of flesh-eating flies, an anonymous warning letter, a prison escape and a gooseicorn.

I’ve also recently started using Pinterest to create mood boards/reference collections for my novels. I’ve added a button to my Pinterest boards on the navigation pane to the left and here is the one for this novel – Monstrorum Historia on Pinterest.

Getting ready for Nanowrimo – Research

Nanowrimo 2012 starts in just two weeks and today is official NaNoPrep Day.

I started thinking about what I wanted to write back in June and the ideas brewed over the summer. It came from different places: a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum where I work; an article on Piltdown man; another about an obscure reference book of monsters; photographs of the museum a century ago glimpsed in the archives.

A pair of main characters suggested themselves. I picked a time period, 1908, and thought about the kind of story I wanted to write :- alternative history/action/adventure/Sherlock Holmes meets Indiana Jones. Or something thereabouts.

I made myself wait until 1st October to begin the preparations in earnest. This is the third novel I’ve started in the last five years and I have a better understanding of what’s useful for me. I’m not a massive planner. I like to use the process of writing the first draft to discover what the story is about and to understand the characters.

First I bought a thick new notebook. Everything important in my life seems to provide an occasion to buy new stationary.

Next I wanted to carry out some research to get inspiration and ground myself in the time period. I talked to the archivist in the museum where I work and arranged to spend some of my lunch hours researching in the archives. All the museum archivists I’ve met have been extremely helpful, very knowledgable and keen to have their archives used more widely. I told her the kind of thing I was interested in (materials relating to the museum from around 1900-1910) and she made some suggestions and produced a trolley-full for me to peruse.

My trolley of delights…

I was looking for the little details that make a story come alive and, more importantly, ideas for the plot. Among the volumes was this book of letters sent to the museum. They can be a bit dry and include requests to identify specimens, offers of items for sale, requests to loan material etc.

Letters sent to the museum over 100 years ago. There’s one from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in this volume

One of my favourite letters opens with the line “By the time you get this I shall probably be on the road to Mandalay.”  I suspect that, even in 1909, it was a rather pretentious way to begin a letter.

Other materials included newspaper clippings, huge albums of black and white photographs, guide leaflets and minutes of the trustees meetings. Each provided a little more colour for my story and some intriguing leads.

Finally I bought (and started reading) a small number of books that I thought would be useful as general reference.