An old pile of papers

“Mollie Salvers was lonely. Not alone, but lonely”
So starts a story I began on the 11th February 1995 – about the time when I was reading a great deal of Thomas Hardy and the Bronte Sisters. I never finished the story, but I did write a full synopsis, which I share here:

Mollie and Joseph (her husband) split up.
Mollie goes to stay with her Aunt Constance in Oxfordshire (“Aunt Constance was a strange creature of obvious wealthy ancestry. She was respected within her countryside village as one of the oldest and wisest residents and, as a young woman, had been courted by many a hopeful youth”).
She meets Adam, who she loved as a child. Adam is a recluse and has changed greatly since their childhood – his sister flung herself from a cliff after a failed love affair – he has never recovered.
Mollie still loves Joseph very much. She discovers she is pregnant. When she tells Joseph he is happy, but thinks it is better if they don’t get back together.
Mollie finds herself growing closer to Adam. She needs him, but he falls in love with her.
While on a walk on the cliffs, Adam admits he loves Mollie. She tells him she doesn’t feel the same. Joseph turns up – he has heard everything. He picks a fight with Adam. Mollie tries to stop them and is pushed away. She is hanging by one hand off the side of a cliff. Joseph turns to a nervous wreck but Adam helps her up.
Feeling useless that he couldn’t help, Joseph throws himself off the cliff.
Adam and Mollie live happily ever after.

That, there, people, is an Oster / Price masterpiece that will never be written…

On writing a Novel in Thirty Days

I haven’t blogged much in the last month choosing, instead, to save all my words for NaNoWriMo, which came to a close last night. I am writing these words as someone who has just written a 50,000+ word novel. I never thought I’d say that! I feel incredibly smug about having finished, not just because I reached the Sacred Word Limit, but also because I feel like the process of writing taught me a great many lessons.

Firstly, if you make an entire chapter of your book a conversation over email, you can spend a great deal of your words on the formatting of To, From, Date and Subject. But that’s cheating…

Seriously, it was a curious experience shutting myself up in my study every night after school and every weekend and just trying to get some words down. Some days it was so easy my fingers could barely keep up and I was averaging a thousand words every forty minutes. Other days, I thought I’d never be able to say anything at all and it was a real struggle to sit down and type anything. On a good day, the words seemed to be coming, not from my head, but from somewhere behind me – I was catching them as they flew past. Whole pieces of dialogue came to me from somewhere else, as though I was merely transcribing a conversation I was eavesdropping on. Some of the things the main character says about her friends and her husband, where so cruel I couldn’t believe I’d thought them up myself. Some of them were so funny, I wondered the same thing.
On days when the writing wasn’t coming so easily, I borrowed fairly heavily from real life. This is just one of the many reasons why I won’t be sharing the book with anyone I love.

Writing, they say, takes dedication. I always thought this would be the hardest thing about writing, I’m not a very organised person, and I find it difficult to commit to anything for a long period of time. But the times when I was writing, and writing well, were a real joy to me. I can write. I am a writer.

Throughout the month, the thing I was most bowled-over by, was the huge amount of support I received from the people around me. I’ve written before about why I felt the need to so publicly announce on facebook quite how many words I had, or hadn’t written each day. I needed to do it, at first, so that I might be spurred on by the threat of having to tell my facebook friends that I had caved and given in. But soon, the many posts I got from friends who were following my progress were the best thing about writing. It was beautiful to bask in their awe, their love, and I was really spurred on by them. Wordman came to make me tea as I wrote. The Husband cooked, cleaned, did my laundry and hugged me lots (he does all that anyway, even when I’m not working to a ridiculous deadline!). All the friends I saw over the month talked to me about my writing, suggested car chases and brutal murders, asked me what it was about. My tutor group, usually so lethargic and apathetic, asked on occasion how it was going. Without these people, I’m not sure I’d have finished as soon as I did.

Finding that you have over 50,000 words in your head that can be out down on paper is a truly incredible experience, and one which I recommend to anyone. I’d heard nightmare tales about losing my social life and staying up all night to meet deadlines. I didn’t find any of that I real issue, which maybe only suggests I don’t have a very exciting social life in the first place. I finished with days to spare and, whilst I can’t say that my mental health is unscathed by the incident, I feel a real sense of achievement.

As for the book, it’s a piece of cliched Chick Lit. But, in my humble opinion, it’s the best Chick Lit I’ve ever read…

NaNoWriMo. Day Seven.

Wordman tells me that he wouldn’t be telling people if he were writing a novel in 30 days, that he wouldn’t be updating his facebook status every thousand words, that he wouldn’t be sharing the day’s WORST WORDS with so many people. He says he’d be paranoid that by telling people, it would hex it somehow and the novel would never get done.
I do it for the exact opposite reason. The idea behind telling people the massive task I have decided to undertake, is that I will have to continue with it, even when (like today) I REALLY DON’T WANT TO. Because I have told them all I’m doing it, and I hate to look like an idiot.
This isn’t entirely true, however. The real reason I am constantly updating my facebook status to include all the words I have written that day is because I am doing nothing at all with my days but work and write, and because facebook is a fantastic way to procrastinate while still sitting in the study trying to prove to the Husband that I am writing.

Closed-door writing

Stephen King in On Writing, says that you should write the first draft of any novel in a quiet space, without interruption, and you should never show it to anyone until it is finished. So, in preparation for writing my Great First Novel, I have sorted out the space in the spare room so I can work there. It’s not ideal – it’s where P keeps all his clothes (clean and dirty) and also the home for all that stuff that has nowhere else to live. But it is a space, nonetheless, and now that I’ve personalised it a little more, with pictures from my Favourite Little Person and a noticeboard full of PLOT, it feels much much better.
So. I’ve done the hard bit, right? Now I can just sit down and happily write a bestseller. In a month. While working full time. Yes.

Three pages a week.

At the weekend, the Inventor (who lives on the Farm with my Mother-in-law-sister) started a conversation about my writing. “The poetry’s going well”, he said “By which I mean, you’re writing”. He asked if I wanted to write a novel, it’s something I’ve mentioned before. “Yes” I say, not entirely sure this is a conversation I want to have. “Then you will”. He asks me how long it takes me to write a page, when I tell him I don’t have the time to write my book. He asks how I spend the rest of my time, he asks what I do when I’m smoking, whether I watch TV, whether there are times in my life I could be using better. He understands, he says, that teachers are so often dead on their feet at the end of the day; but is there some way I could be making sure this book gets written? I admit that there are times I could be using better.
Three pages a week, he says. Write three pages a week, for six months, and you’ll have a novel. This is such an engineer’s way of thinking it makes me laugh. But, yes, writing is a job like any other. You do it, and you do it, and you keep on doing it, until it is done.
I promise him three pages a week, not yet knowing if I even have a story that will take more than three pages. But he has given me the rules, given me the framework, that the little girl in me needs if I’m ever going to get this done. He has given me – in that short instruction – all the support and “I believe you can’ that this neurotic child is looking for. And he knows, I suspect, that this is all I really need.
This is what I do, he says. Once, my Mother-in-law-sister told him she wanted to play in a band. Classically trained on the piano, she wasn’t sure she could play the Blues, jazz, all that modern stuff. So he made her practice, he helped her ignore that little voice in her head- that maybe said she couldn’t, and he found her a band.
This is what he does.

Check out my Mother-in-law-sister and the Inventor’s band here – they’re well worth a visit if you’re in the area:

New Writing App

To help me with my three pages a week, and to best utilise my time on the bus, and out for cigarette breaks, I have downloaded the My Writing Nook app on iPhone (Procrastinate? Me?)
I’ll let you know how it goes, but it looks pretty good – clean and usable. It synchs with Writing Nook on Google, and also gives you a very useful word count (good for NaNoWriMo, if, indeed, I ever get around to doing that).
Check it out here:

NaNoWriMo – I signed up for this.

National Novel Writing Month. 50,000 words in 30 days. Don’t expect to see me much in November. Or, expect me to be deeply ashamed of myself when I can’t write a word…
Any prompts, ideas or tips would be much appreciated – you can contact me on twitter (@sunshriek), or on facebook if you’re already a friend!
And don’t invite me anywhere (except that wedding, of course) for the whole of November!