Thursday, 1 December 2016

NaNoYesIDid


30 days, a massive sleep deficit, large quantities of rum balls, small quantities of creme de cacao, 17 chapters, at least one scene that was only there to get me over the word count, and 50,037 words. I did it!

Not only did I win NaNoWriMo, but I've completed a full novella this time. Being YA means the word count can be a little shorter than your average novel, though I might well expand it significantly when I come to edit it. I'm not touching it again until January, to give it a good long simmering time first.

I think some parts of it are actually quite good. Several people want to see it and/or the drafted bits and pieces of The Damn Novel, but I'm still a little scared to set them free. Maybe next year ;)

I think I'm going to go compose music and do Christmassy things for a few weeks, then I might just start working on The Damn Novel again.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Power

Once upon a time, there was a man who wanted to be in Power. He had some Power but it wasn't the one he wanted. His friend from school had the Power he wanted, so he was jealous and sad.

One day, the man came across a peaceful field in which a cart and a team of horses had been left. The horses were wearing labels, which read xenophobia, poverty, disengagement and class propaganda. The man looked at the horses and thought:
"I could drive these all the way to Power!"

So he gathered up his friends, and they stuck new labels on the horses, so they all said the same thing: LEAVE. It had to be in capitals, you see. Then they painted some lies on the side of the cart and set off towards Power.

The cart went slowly at first, but the horses were strong, and soon it was rattling along at an alarming speed. Up ahead, the gates of Power loomed.
"Are we sure about this?" asked a few small voices.
"Of course! We're nearly there!" cried the others.

In the middle of the night, with a startling crash, the man and his cart broke through the beautiful gates and into Power. The horses shook themselves free of the reins and started running around, trampling everything in their path. As they did so, the man and his friends looked around in dismay. Not even counting the damage that the horses had done, Power was not the luxurious land they had imagined. I fact, it was a miserable wasteland.

"What's happened here?" the man demanded of the only person he could see. It was his old school friend, who shrugged and climbed off his mouldering throne.
"It was fine until you lot got here," he said, and he wandered off out of the gates.

The man looked at the throne, but it didn't look quite so good any more, while the land outside the gates looked as green and pleasant as ever. With a resigned sigh, the man turned and walked back out of the gates again. Behind him, the throne cowered as his friends crowded around it, pushing and shoving each other and occasionally shouting at the horses.

As the man vanished back into the countryside, one last person got out of the cart. He patted the lie painted on the side affectionately, spent some time glancing between the throne and the green land, then made up his mind.
"I'm going too!" he shouted, but no one cared.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Palette

Recently, I've been treating myself to a re-watch of Babylon 5. I missed this iconic 1990s Sci Fi series on its first run, and was only introduced to it a decade after it first aired; this is the first time I've watched it since.

One of the things that struck me on this viewing was how much the colours and soundtrack reflect the ambience of the 1990s. Pan flutes and orchestral bell glissandi fill the background; the walls are a mottling of blues, purples and pinks; the technology is built around crystals.

It feels like being 16 again.

The New Age tenor of the 1990s was one that drew me in as a teenager. I remember the scent of incense in the air, whale song and pan flute relaxation music in the background, cheesecloth and stretch velveteen, crystal pendants, blue-purple paintings of fairies touching noses with dolphins under a mystic moon. Sun-drenched days when my friends and I would take the train to Fremantle, eat ice cream from waffle cones in South Terrace Piazza, and lose ourselves in the (often unattainably expensive) mixture of cute, eclectic, romantic, spiritual and mystic wares in The Pickled Fairy, Ark of Joan and Into Camelot. Back then, every shopping centre had its "crystal shop" packed with geodes and prisms, slices of dyed agate, figurines of every mystic tradition from Ireland to Peru and back again, candles and oil burners, books and CDs, and cheap silver jewellery. I bought it, too... I had candles galore, crystals at every window, Tony O'Connor cassettes, glittery posters, cheesecloth outfits. Perhaps mercifully, I don't have any pictures handy to prove it. Have a very 90s fairy figurine instead:

Given to me at Christmas 1992. Her name is Lilia. I
shouldn't really still know that, right?
Photo: CSF
It's easy enough to create a sensory experience when you have the senses to play with, but it's more challenging when all you have is words. In fantasy, it's so easy to fall into the sensory shortcuts that the reader recognises - the pseudo-Europe of cold stone castles and oak trees. The Kingdom of the Sunset Sea is no such place. It's a sun-drenched land of red gravel and eucalyptus, of hot thunderstorms and dust, of cubic plaster houses and domed turrets replete with geometric designs. Every time I edit, I see more places where I can hint at the palette that paints the ten-towered world.


Thursday, 26 November 2015

Not a win, but a drabble...

Some years, there's just nothing you can do.

It's been a very bad November here in the Seaforth Finch household. A member of the extended family became and remains gravely ill, the washing machine inflow pipe has developed a leak, we've found more woodworm in the floorboards, and we're still trying to paint the house.

I've written 10,000 words of NaNoWriMo, but there was just no getting more out of me this year. I've been out of spoons, and I've not been able to shut myself away and write - my need for connectedness has been too great. But still, I've been writing, and reading, and there will be other years.

I'm a great fan of the "On This Day" function on FB, and recently a post from 2009 came up in which I mentioned a piece of writing I'd done for an assignment that had creeped me out. After an extensive search of my hard drive and my emails I managed to track it down. I no longer found it that creepy, but amongst the collection of short stories, poems and journal entries that formed the assignment there was the cute little piece below. I have no memory of writing it, and suspect this is because it was done after midnight!

Apparently I was already thinking up ways to use this fairytale long before The Twelfth Princess Dances leapt into being in my head...

Alternate voice from the Brothers Grimm fairytale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”.

It’s not easy being the prince of a hidden underground kingdom.

I mean, think about it. There’s no sunlight. The fuel bills are astronomical. And if that’s not enough, some ancient treaty insists that we hold a ball every night to dance with anyone who stumbles down into our world. Every night. Never a decent night’s sleep, never dark or quiet . . . of course, the dancing is fun and the girls are pretty, but sometimes a bit of shut-eye would be nice, you know?

I remember this time a while back, when these twelve sisters used to come down every single night. The secret doorway to their world was on the other side of the lake, but did they bring a boat? Of course not! They were a pretty lot, but not the brightest. So every night we had to row across the lake, as if the dancing wasn’t already enough to wear us out.

Now, these twelve sisters . . . we used to ask ourselves, how did the king end up with twelve daughters old enough to go dancing, and none of them married yet? The youngest one, she was barely more than a child, and a silly giggling thing too . . . but the eldest must have been almost thirty. Wouldn’t any self-respecting king have offloaded a few of them by now? They were pretty enough, after all.

Anyway, these sisters used to come down every night to dance with us. The twelve princes, they called us. We weren’t all princes, of course, but how were they to know? They believed us! Every night they would come, and dance until they put holes in their shoes, and then back across the lake again to deliver them home. Beats me why they didn’t just wear stronger shoes and stay all night.

From time to time these girls, laughing and flirting, would tell us about the knights who were trying to win their hands. The king knew about the girls’ dancing of course, because the daft biddies didn’t have the sense to hide their worn-out shoes. The king wanted them stopped – I guess it’s hard to marry off your daughters when you can’t account for their whereabouts. So these men would volunteer to find out where the girls had been. Fools, said the princesses, drugged into sleep! And off with their heads in the morning when they couldn’t explain why they had slept through the excitement.

Heartless witches, really, these princesses. Seems a bit harsh. Surely they could’ve given those guys a fighting chance. I mean, I’m not the marrying type myself, but it can’t be all bad and it’s better than letting some poor sucker lose his head, right?

Well, as it happens, one day those princesses didn’t come. We waited in the boats, having a laugh, making jokes and so on. Hours late, the door opened, but only one princess slipped through, and she wasn’t wearing dancing shoes. I think she was the ninth, or maybe the tenth – can’t keep them straight in my head, these days – soft young face, red hair, nice … well anyway.

With a pathetic look, the chit told us that they’d been found out after all. The night before the latest knight had managed to follow them, and had dobbed them all in to the king. Darned if we could figure out how he’d done it, but that was that. The knight was marrying that eldest, and the king was moving the princesses to another part of the castle and bricking up the secret doorway first thing tomorrow. Silly fool should’ve done that in the first place. Didn’t bother us any – we had other doors of course.

We never saw the princess again after that. We heard about the grand ball they had, when the knight married the eldest. Grand affair apparently … not that we’d know, not having been there. You’d think after all the time they spent drinking our wine, eating our food and wearing away our ballroom floor that they could’ve sent us an invite!

But I guess if you’re running away from your father’s house to dance the night away with an underground prince, it’s the adventure that matters, not the man. We have other doors, and other princesses. We’ll dance on.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Flow

I'm very tired today, because I accidentally stayed up until nearly 1am on a work night, and had trouble getting to sleep when I did go to bed. The reason for this was that, for the first time in months, I managed to find my way into that precious state known as 'flow'. Several hundred words came tumbling out and I finally wound up the nth re-write of Chapter 1.

According to Wikipedia:
In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
I do love flow. It's why I read, and indeed for many years I simply could not sleep unless I'd achieved at least half an hour or so of reading flow. It's why I play musical instruments in ensembles when I can, for the magical moments that I used to describe as 'transcendence'. For a long time, though, it wasn't why I wrote. Experiencing flow in writing is a relatively new thing for me, that has started to occur as I've gained confidence and self-assurance in my writing. When it does happen, it's precious.

According to my flighty, frustrating brain, these are the conditions for flow state when it comes to writing:

1) It must be dark out.

I've always done my best work at night. I got my bachelors degree on the strength of essays written after midnight, and have become resigned to the fact that this is simply how I operate. This means - particularly here in the UK - that I write significantly more in the winter months than I do in the summer.

2) I must be uninterrupted.

Obvious, really. I can't get into flow state if people are nudging me out of it. This also means...

3) There must be no danger that I will be interrupted.

This one is significantly harder to achieve. Being alone in the house almost qualifies, but I've got to know when people are coming back, and that's not always enough. Better is for everyone to be asleep. You can see a sort of circular feedback starting to appear: do I write better late at night because it's dark, or because everyone else is asleep? Do I actually need the dark or do I like it simply because it means 'uninterrupted time' to me? Either way, I can't get into flow state if I'm on edge that someone may jolt me out of it.

4) I have to feel like my time is unlimited.

I can't get into flow state if I'm clock-watching. I'm in great envy of people who can get up early and write before work. I just can't... if I enter flow state I'll lose track of time, and if I don't, I just won't get anything done. And also:

5) I can't need to function afterwards.

This is also why I've banned myself from reading fiction before work. If I slip into flow state I'll be half-stuck in the book and unable to concentrate for the rest of the day: the pull of the story is too strong. The same goes for writing. Last night, even though all I had to do was drop off, the flow state was hanging around and left me dozing restlessly when I should have been sleeping. Before work, flow robs me of the ability to focus for the rest of the day. I find it hard enough to concentrate already!


My writing time is both precious and precarious. In the summer, with long bright evenings and a more wakeful family, it diminishes. Now, with autumn gathering and the nights growing longer, I can feel it expanding. I can start writing earlier, but I will have to be careful not to have too many nights like last night when flow makes me its own for hours at a time. I already walk a fine line of sleep deprivation, unable to shake the habit of, and desire for, my long quiet evenings. Hallowe'en is coming, and with it NaNoWriMo, and I feel the desire to slip into evenings of flow growing once again.

Post-reading daze, 1989. Photo: NR.
The book I am holding is Lynette Winters' "My Dog Eats Mangoes".


We've got two major family health crises unfolding at the moment (neither is me, I am suffering nothing worse than an autumn cold) and I'll admit that flow is a kind escape from thinking about those, too.

Monday, 5 October 2015

It's nearly time...

Today, like thousands of others, I sat with my cursor on the 'refresh' symbol, waiting for the NaNoWriMo site to relaunch.

Although I'm still in love with the thought of "The Twelfth Princess Dances", I've decided that finishing "The Roadkeeper's Daughter" comes first. 50,000 words will see it finished and ready for editing, so I'm going to blitz it and enjoy the feeling of having completed an entire novel again! I'll either work on "12th" in December/January while I'm letting "Roadkeeper's" settle, or I'll do it for NaNo next year.

I'm now all set up on the NaNo site, complete with a sleek new cover mock-up design. Feel free to add me as a writing buddy! Ready, set...


Cover design CSF 2015 using GIMP.
Image purchased from Dreamstime.com;
fonts are "Ringbearer" and "Beyond Wonderland".

Monday, 14 September 2015

Fourth, twelfth, who's counting?

So as the plot has drifted into place it's become clear that my NaNo will actually be called The Twelfth Princess Dances. Different princess, same general premise! I have the preface written in my head, but I'm not committing a single letter of it to print until November 1st, because that's the rules.


"A fairy-tale is told now, of an underground ballroom, a valiant soldier, and twelve dancing princesses. All tales grow with the telling, but this one grew from a seed of truth. I should know, I was there."
 Once the frightened youngest princess of the fairy-tale, Una of Alarta has a reputation to uphold. However, her body tires easily and her bones are weak, and the rumours are spreading... is the king's last daughter unfit for a prince? Outcast and lonely, Una finds her way back into the underground caves, where she uncovers a secret race whose very existence threatens the stability of the North Kingdoms. Will Una and the mysterious elf-girl Mellis unite their peoples before the Conqueror of the North falls upon them both?

I have so much plotting to do before this is ready to go! But I did spend several procrastinatory minutes making up a dodgy mock cover to go on the NaNoWriMo website.



I bought a new laptop last week, after my 6-year-old, much-rejigged Dell started to behave in worryingly idiosyncratic ways. The new one is an Asus, a little faster and much bigger in the storage department, with all new software etc. It's taken me a while to get it set up, complete with a battle with Windows 10 over file ownership (is it a bug or a feature? Opinions are divided...), but I'm up and running now. Let the writing recommence!

My plan is to keep going on The Roadkeeper's Daughter until the last week or two of October when it's going to be time for frantic planning for The Twelfth Princess Dances.

I'm hoping to make it to a London or Hertfordshire midnight write-in on the 31st of October... watch this space!