I’ve won NaNoWriMo!

Well, I did it! I wrote 50,000 words in a month. The exact official number is 50,143 words, but you can ignore that completely, because I hand wrote, and also hand counted, and given my propensity for mathematical errors the real number could be anywhere between 45,000 and 55,000 words.

Oddly, I’m not as excited as I thought be. Not even as relieved – though doubtless that will happen tomorrow when I realise I can spend train time reading and free time inanely clicking on refresh on twitter, just like before. Maybe I should have planned some kind of momentous event or at least champagne drinking to celebrate with friends. Well, there’s still time, so let me know.

I’m sure I’ll be musing about NaNoWriMo a fair bit in the next few weeks: why I did it (to prove to myself that I still had it in me to be self-disciplined!), whether I’d do it again (the jury is still out at this point),why I hand write, and what I learned. But for now I wanted to proudly display my winner’s badge:

I even got a winner’s cerificate that I could customise and print, but since I haven’t decided what to call myself or what to name the novel, I won’t add it here just here. It’s pretty fab though – those nice people at NaNoWriMo really have thought of everything. Almost everything. If someone could please design an app to count hand written words (so that you basically just point an iPad at a page), that would be wonderful.


Techniques for upping your NaNoWriMo word count

The end is in sight. 30th November draws near. How’s your word count doing? Scrabbling around for those extra few words? Here’s some tips I’ve picked up. 

1. Give your character a dilemma. 
That way things can keep going round in a circle, to illustrate said dilemma. Particularly if she’s also indecisive. Like, she wants him but she knows she can’t have him but she really does want him but she really can’t have him but… 
Indecisiveness in general is also good, since you can add things like “oh, I don’t know, I think I’ll have the cheesecake… no, the pumpkin pie. Oh, I don’t know. I’m so terrible at decisions. Help me, oh my hero, to make the right choice.” (You’ll be glad to know nothing like that appears in my novel, but you get the point.)
2. Have your character know something else well, and quote from it frequently.
Maybe she’s a Christian, and keeps using the Bible to make her arguments. Or maybe he’s a West Wing fan, and borrows Aaron Sorkin’s words frequently. (I resisted that particular temptation this time – in fact, it took me till page 133 to mention the West Wing at all, and that’s because I wanted my character to wear a suit and backpack, and didn’t feel like I could do that without a nod at Josh Lyman.)

3. Get your character to speak a foreign language from time to time.
That way, they have to saw everything twice: once in the language, and once in translation. 
4. Use circumlocution.
If he says, “no”, that’s one word. If “he shakes his head no”, that’s five. If he “explains”, that’s one word. Have him “say by way of explanation” instead, and get yourself some extra.
5. Show, don’t tell. 
Yes – at last some sensible writing advice that holds even if you’re not doing NaNoWriMo. What I mean here is this, though: instead of saying, “she was kissing him”, make it last: “she was kissing him, kissing him, kissing him”. If their arguments are going in a circle, show it by making your narration go in a circle too: “And so they were back. Not to Square One exactly, more like the “go” square on the Monopoly board, they went round and round and they kept ending up in the same places, and round and round, but each time was different as well as familiar”. There’s a sneak preview into mine. 
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Women’s Fiction: an insulting term?

I thought I was going to be irritated by the Women’s Hour piece on women’s fiction. I thought it was going to be one of those tired and tiresome discussions about how we don’t use the term “men’s fiction”, and how women’s fiction is what we would call literary fiction if it were written by men.
But I found myself agreeing.
For context: some customers complained to WHSmith about their shelving only fluffly, light, pink novels under “women’s fiction”, which seemed to imply that women only like that kind of writing. WHSmith responded by removing the label. Great customer service?
There is no doubt that a market for those novels exists, and those people, shopping in a hurry, want to be pointed to the kind of books they like. So removing the signpost is not particularly good customer service.
The thing is, though, that we have a label for the kind of book that the customers were referring t0: “chick lit”. Some women like those books, some women don’t.
“Women’s fiction”, however, is much broader than that. I think it’s a useful term. Where would you put The Time Traveler’s Wife if not there? I am a woman, and I like to read books like that. I have no problem with grouping them together so that I can find them.
But The Time Traveler’s Wife doesn’t belong in “chick lit”. Nor, for that matter, does Inevitable, but since Authonomy don’t have a “women’s fiction” section, I had to use the “chick lit” label and couple it, slightly oddly, with “literary fiction”. If it were marketed to be pink and fluffy and placed alongside Sophie Kinsella’s novels, I would be mortified. Or at least as mortified as I could be if my book were actually being published.
My plea is this: call chick lit “chick lit”, or “light romantic reads” if “chick lit” is going to offend some people, but please use “women’s fiction” for something broader than that. The label is useful, but only if applied correctly.

Please allow me a tiny bit of bragging…

I’ve been kicking around the addictive world of Authonomy for a couple of months now, and my book is currently hovering at number 101. People seem to like it, even guys, and here’s an eloquent, thoughtful and positive comment I got today, from someone whose book is highly ranked, and deservedly so.

Pretty chuffed!

What initially attracted me to this was the languages aspect, and the teaching thereof. Being a language teacher myself and an avid learner, I have a soft spot for any book that deals with foreign tongues. Inevitable certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front. Not only is there an entertaining representation of the language learning process but there is also an exploration of that sometimes strangely intimate relationship that develops between teacher and student during one to one lessons, where the teacher veers unexpectedly into the waters of friend and psychologist. It’s an idea I’ve often thought about exploring in a novel myself so it’s both interesting and satisfying to see it so well realized here with Kate and Brad.

That being said, this is not something I would necessarily read were I to find it in a book shop, the chick lit tag marking it as something outside of my usual comfort zone. That I enjoyed reading this as much as I did then speaks to the quality of the writing and the story. This is very ambitious storytelling, moving as it does from past to future, from relative obscurity in Belgium to the corridors of power in Washington. From the pitch, I might have thought this too ambitious but any such fears are quickly allayed by the very authentic feel that the future political aspect has. The relationships between Kate the politician and her aides feels well researched yet natural and her recounting of her political career is incredibly interesting. And I very much enjoyed the idea of looking back from the future to the present. It gives an interesting slant to the POV. Given that The West Wing features in the story I had to wonder whether another US TV show, How I met Your Mother, was at all an influence in this particular regard.

What else? This very up-to-date in a way that I can’t remember many other books feeling. Ipods, The West Wing, Obama etc. This definitely struck me as a keen use of observation. It may not seem a particularly remarkable achievement at first but I’m often irritated by TV shows and books that seem to ignore the contemporary world to suit their storylines, e.g., a set of characters tries desperately to get hold of another character but not a one of them has a mobile phone for some reason. So the contemporary observations were something I enjoyed. My only slight worry for the book as a whole, however, stems from the same issue. Will setting a lot of it so much in the here and now, with contemporary references, make it date quicker than most books? I hope not and it’s certainly not a major fear since so much of the story takes place in the future. This is more just me thinking aloud and nitpicking at something since there seems nothing else for me to crit.
Hmm, so not much useful in this here comment I imagine. If this is chick-lit then the sometimes snidey pronunciation utilized when invoking the genre should be removed for Inevitable is a very classy, innovative and mature piece of work.

Life after the novel

Nobody prepares you for life after the novel.

Nobody prepares you for the emptiness.
I have an idea for my next one. That’s all it is for now: a gem of an idea. But that’s all Inevitable was until I sat down with exercises from the Five Minute Writer and my characters leapt to life. I could do it again. I could sit down and flesh them out.
But I’m not ready.
I’m not ready, partly, because I’m scared.
What if the next one isn’t as good?
What if the voice I found for Kate only works for Kate, and I can’t find a different one which is also still me?
What if all my characters are carbon copies of Kate, with her love of books and coffee and grammar and politics?
What if I don’t know enough about the themes I want to explore, and I make a fool of myself, or worse, offend people?
But those aren’t the main reasons. The main reason is that I can’t let go of my first novel.
And that is partly a good thing. Although I have proclaimed it finished, posted it on Authonomy, drank numerous glasses of pinot grigio blush in its honour, I know it is not, actually, finished. There is tweaking to be done. There may be scenes to rewrite, or – oh, the pain – to delete.
And how can I immerse myself in that world again to make those changes if part of me has moved on to another one already?
I may be walking down the street or listening to a political podcast or reading a book, and a new idea may present itself that would work well as a sub-plot or an extra scene. Granted, this hasn’t happened in a while, which was one of the signs to me that it was, in fact, finished. But I don’t know how to have an idea and not make it part of Inevitable.
And I miss it.
I miss looking forward to a Saturday which starts with coffee and a writing prompt and ends in new pages or better sentences.
I miss the process, and I miss the writer’s high.
I miss hanging out with my characters, and I am afraid of being unfaithful to them if – as I must – I fall in love with a new cast.
But how to move on? And how to keep writing? And what to keep writing, when I’m not ready to let go of my first novel?
Nobody prepares you for this. I really wish they would.

A survey on books and personality types…

I would like to conduct my own little non-scientific survey.

Well, actually, if we’re talking wishes, I’d like to spend three years being funded to study this scientifically, but since that is -sigh – unlikely, I’m going to need you to help me out by answering the following questions:
1. Do you know your Myers Briggs personality type? What is it?
2. What are five books that you really, really like?
3. Do you have a favourite “genre” of books?
4. What do you think of the idea of someone never quite getting over someone, to the point where they are never able to be happy in any other relationship? Is it unrealistic?
I’ll outline my theories in a later post…

How you can help me get published…

You know the novel I’ve been yabbering on about for months? Well, a sneak preview of is now available!

If you wanted to drop by and read anything from a paragraph to 15,000 words – please feel free!

If you want to comment, back, or rate me, it could help me get published too, so needless to say I’d really appreciate that… and if you’re feeling like you want to be super helpful you could post the link to your Facebook wall too.

The site is run by publishers HarperCollins, so it’s totally legit – no worries there! They ask you to register but it only takes a minute, and you don’t get spam.

Advert over!

Limping to the finishing line…

I have written a novel.
It’s finished!
So my question is this: why am I not punching the air?
I am thinking about marathons. I have never run anything close to one, nor do I ever intend to. (I know I once said this about going to America, but Aaron Sorkin is unlikely to write a gritty drama about running. If he does, then I expect I’ll be buying a pair of trainers.) So to those of you who have, a question: after you finish, how do you feel?
Do you feel euphoric, or do you drag yourself to the finishing line and then collapse in a heap and beat yourself up for not doing it better, faster?
How about the next morning? Do you ever want to run again?
Because, it’s strange, but I feel a little deflated.
What if after the marathon, someone had said, oh, well done, but now you have to climb this big mountain? Would you have been up for the challenge? Because agent hunting feels like that mountain to me.
And, here’s the thing: I am a little bit afraid.
Of feedback, because I can’t bear the thought that there might be more weeks, more months of work ahead.
Of reading, because I am in love with beautiful prose, and I know that mine does not come close to the standards that I admire and aspire to: I fear that literary fiction will punch me in the gut.
Of writing, because, what if I suddenly get new ideas for this novel, this novel which is supposed to be finished? Or, worse still, what if I get ideas for my second book? Because I just don’t think I can face that yet.
But maybe that’s okay. Maybe that would be like asking a Marathon runner to do it again the next week.
Marathon runners, any thoughts? How about writers?

Could it be that the book is finished?

I’ve written before about how I don’t believe in writers’ block. I may have spoken too soon.

For almost two years now, scenes for my novel, Inevitable, have been popping into my head. Sometimes with frightening regularity. Sometimes sporadically. And even when they have not, usually if I have sat down with paper and pen for long enough, an idea has come. Not always a great one. Sometimes one I have later cut. But an idea, nonetheless.

But here is the thing now: I brainstorm. I write from prompts. I read about DC. I teach the guy who is the inspiration for my main character. I mostly still take the long train/tram journeys during which scenes used to come to me, randomly but often. I do all the things that used to work – though admittedly I haven’t watched any West Wing in a few weeks – and yet inspiration does not strike.
I spent yesterday depressed about this: I’ve been so looking forward to six whole days hanging out with my novel. And then it occurred to me – the reason might well be a good one. The reason might be that there’s nothing more to say. That the book is finished. So instead I am reading through, editing bits and pieces, cutting scenes, finding synonyms for beautiful and deleting instances of the word “suddenly”.
And getting ready to post a triumphant Facebook status update.

Apostrophes: a basic guide

It’s National Grammar Day in the US, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a related blogpost (and a plea to my fellow countrymen to institute such a thing on our shores).

I’ve noticed a few of my Facebook friends have issues with using apostrophe’s* and so in a spirit of helpfulness (and not at all because a misplaced punctuation mark reminds me of the sound of nails on blackboard) I thought I would write a no-nonsense guide to using them. I’m still trying to decide if I should tag the culprits in a you-need-to-read-this kind of way. What is the etiquette? Has anyone found a way of gently, lovingly yet a little forcefully pointing out that the person in question really does need to have a quick read of this helpful little blogpost?
I’m not going to go into all the complexities. There are three main points you need to remember.
For example, he can’t, instead of he cannot. I don’t, instead of I do not.
The king’s speech.
The girl’s bicycle.
If the thing you are talking about is plural, ie if there are two girls and two bicycles, the apostrophe goes after the s, like this:
The girls’ bicycles

Sometimes, it’s not massively clear that there is a possession, for example in two weeks’ notice or last month’s meeting. In cases like this, substitute one: one week notice doesn’t sound right; even with one there is an s; so the s is not a plural. That means you put an apostrophe there.
If you need to say there is more than one of something, you never, ever (unless you’re writing in Dutch) add an apostrophe. Sometimes, you have to change the spelling a little:
When something ends in a vowel, like potato, you need to add an e: potatoes.

If a word ends in a y, like country, you have to change the spelling thus: countries.
But you knew that already, didn’t you?
(*this is me attempting to be funny. Because we never pluralise with apostrophes. Never!)