Dear Blog

Dear Blog,

I’m sorry I haven’t spoken to you in a while. Don’t give me that sad puppy dog face – I still love you, honest. You’re great. It’s not you, it’s me.

Me and that Nano guy. I’ve been seeing a lot of him this month. Between him and end-of-year madness and the Carnivore travelling a lot, things have been rather busy around here.

I know you think I take you for granted, only seeing you when I feel like it. Not like that Nano guy. My God! He’s so demanding. It doesn’t matter what you do for him one day, he expects you to show up again the very next day and do it all again. And the next day, and the one after that … I tell you, I’m exhausted. I’ve come that close to breaking it off with him – not once, but several times. This year his demands seem so much harder than previous years. I really thought I couldn’t stick it out for the whole month.

So here we are, with only three days left in November. I know you feel neglected, but hey! Get in line! What haven’t I neglected this month? You’re no Robinson Crusoe.

Just. Can’t. Wait. For November to be OVER. I’m at just over 45,000 words tonight, so I’m pretty sure of getting my 50,000 words in. But AAARRGH!! I still don’t have a handle on this book I’m writing. Still blundering around in the dark. How can I be this far through the story and not really be able to say what it’s about? If I manage to get a coherent plotline out of this mess it’ll be a bloody miracle.

So, anyway, dear blog, I promise I’ll be back soon to lavish love and affection on you. We both just have to hang on for three more days and life will be back to normal. Kind of. Well, there is Christmas around the corner, you know, which on top of everything else involves every person I’ve ever met suddenly deciding they have to catch up with me before then as if they all think the world is going to end on December 25th.

So, yeah. Maybe “promise” is too strong a word, but you know I could never leave you. In the words of the immortal Arnie: “I’ll be back.”


And they’re racing!

No, not the Melbourne Cup, which ran today. I’m so uninterested in horse racing I forgot all about it till it was over. Still don’t know who won. Probably some horse.

No, I’m talking about the really important race that runs every November: NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Though really they should be considering changing it to IntNoWriMo, since it is an international event these days, with people all over the world taking part.

I was very tempted not to join in this year, through fatigue and general lack of ideas. But Drama Duck and Demon Duck were both keen to give the kids’ version a go again, and of course they wanted me to play too. Still I seesawed back and forth. The night before it started I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to do it. My idea was so weeny and had such gaping holes in it where there should be things like plot and character.

Yet there I was yesterday, typing like a demon. And I achieved a personal best – 4039 words in one day. I can still hardly believe it. If you’d asked me that morning if I thought I’d ever be able to write so many words in one day, let alone that day, with only my skeletal idea to prop me up, my answer would have been a resounding no.

Now it’s day 2, and I’m still going strong. Just waiting for the wheels to fall off. A story arc would be nice, maybe some character motivations – even a title. I’ll just have to put my trust in the process and hope that these things will come in time. So far they always have, but it’s damn scary when you’re on this side of the process, waiting for the magic to happen.

Just don’t ask me what it’s about, okay? I have Absolutely. No. Bloody. Idea.

Isn’t Nano fun??

Nano round-up

You may have wondered about the long silence here. No, I haven’t fallen into a hole. I have merely become incapable of stringing words together after my mammoth efforts in November.

I reached 50,000 words with three days to spare, which is a new record for me. Even better, I didn’t stop immediately, but managed to add another 3,000 words to the total, fulfilling my promise to myself not to miss a day of writing in the whole month. This despite Real Life throwing all manner of obstacles in my way towards the end.

The Carnivore needed me to edit the accounting training course he’s just written, which is painfully convoluted stuff for a non-accountant. Moreover I am now convinced that all accountants are complete whackjobs.

Drama Duck needed me to help her write her campaign speech for the elections for school captain next year, and design a poster for her as well. She finished Nano comfortably on the 22nd of November.

Demon Duck needed me to help her finish her Nano novel. She’d written 1500 words on her own but had given up. When she got home from school on the 30th of November I forced her to sit at the computer with me. She dictated and I typed and we got another 1500 words done, which was enough for her (revised) goal and finished the story off too. She kept saying how much fun it was to write this way – maybe I need a secretary too!

End result: I didn’t complete the first draft. One day I would love to finish the whole story in November, but this year it wasn’t to be. I have a broad outline of what needs to happen and I’m pretty close – less than 10,000 words probably. I’m a bit sad that I didn’t get there, but hey, that’s life. We have three happy, still more-or-less sane novelists in our house. We braved Nano and lived to tell the tale.

The worst thing about Nano being over is I now have no excuse to avoid The Christmas Conversation with my mother. She likes to start The Christmas Conversation about mid-October. Me, I’d rather chew my own arm off than spend two months fretting about what I’m going to get everyone for Christmas. Doing Nano gives me a convenient excuse to stick my fingers in my ears and go “la, la, la, not listening” every time she tries to have The Conversation.

Now, alas, my shield has been ripped away and the sound of the telephone strikes fear into my heart. But I must be brave.

And I really must start my Christmas shopping!

Three wells make a river

My grandmother used to say this all the time. Like clockwork, whenever anyone said “well, well, well”, she’d pipe up: “Three wells make a river!”

I introduced Baby Duck to this expression recently and he’s quite taken with it. But I’ve found something better than three wells: how about seven bongs?

No, not those sort of bongs.

Drama Duck has perfected the fine art of wordcount padding. I’m such a proud mother. So young! So gifted!

Her Nano novel is set in a high school. Every time the bell rings she writes “BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG!”

And it rings A LOT. I tell you, the child’s a genius.

Not that she needs the padding. Tonight she’s up to 4648 words out of 5000, and the story’s just getting started. Demon Duck’s on about 1600 words (out of 3500) and starting to wonder if she can change her goal to something smaller. She’s discovered that making up stories is harder than it looks. And also that middles suck.

I thought I wasn’t going to write a word today. Me and my new mate Phil are doing great as far as speed of transcribing goes. The problem is thinking of the damn words in the first place. I was completely dry this morning. Couldn’t think of a single place to take my story, and thrashed around most of the day trying all my usual tricks to jumpstart my creativity. I barely managed the minimum wordcount by introducing a new monster to attack the heroine’s party. When in doubt, bring on the monsters! Now the best friend’s been poisoned by a star spider and they’re stranded in the middle of the Sea of Stars with no ride home. How am I going to get them out of that?

That’s tomorrow’s problem. And, yeah, middles suck.

Delight, despair, delight, despair: lather, rinse, repeat

Or: when it’s good, it’s very very good, and when it’s bad it’s the most torturous way to spend your time ever invented. That’s Nano for you. A real rollercoaster ride.

Things I have learned on this year’s Nanoing adventure:

— I use the word “stuff” waaaaay too often, even for a novel featuring a pair of thirteen-year-olds. And “that”. My God, if I had a dollar for every “that” in this manuscript, I would be writing this post from a beach in the Bahamas. Or possibly the deck of my new yacht.

— If Nano isn’t challenging enough, new levels of difficulty can be created by inserting a character into your work who only speaks in rhyme. All I can say is, thank God for online rhyming dictionaries. Sometimes my brain is just too overwhelmed to come up with a decent rhyme.

— It’s a lot of fun to read each completed chapter to an appreciative eleven-year-old audience. She’s following the story with great interest, and I enjoy listening to her speculate on what’s going to happen next. (By the way, said eleven-year-old has passed 3500 words out of her 5000. Demon Duck is languishing on about 1000 out of 4000.)

— I’m beginning to suspect I don’t have a good enough imagination to be a fantasy writer. This in spite of apparent evidence to the contrary: I have space-going whales, a tree as big as a planet and flesh-eating pirates whose ship is made of organic balloons. Sounds like a good imagination, doesn’t it?

The trouble is, I find those parts difficult to write, and it seems to me they come out kind of flat. Whereas the “real world” sections have voice and personality and I zip through them with (comparative) ease.

The writers among you are now probably chanting “that’s what revision’s for!” and sure, I know this stuff is fixable (ten points if you spotted that “stuff” – I swear that word is following me around). But surely a fantasy writer shouldn’t have so much trouble with the “making stuf things up” part?

But still, in spite of these quibbles, things are going well (touch wood). Wordcount today is up to 29,528 words, which means I’m a little ahead of schedule for the month. Story-wise I think I’m about halfway through, though it’s hard to tell when you’re writing by the seat of your pants. My attitude to outlining is a little like my attitude to dieting. I can see it’s a good idea, but I never quite get around to doing it.

But probably the biggest news is my new technological best friend – a Philips Voice Tracer, purchased for me at great expense by the Carnivore, bless his little cotton socks. In the old days this would have been called a dictaphone; I’m not sure what the proper terminology is these days.

Regardless of its name, it’s made a big difference. I’m a very slow writer. It can take me five or six hours (or even more with bouts of procrastinating thrown in) to write the required number of words every day. I’m not sure why, but even trying as hard as I can I can’t write much more than 500 words in an hour.

Desperate for a way to reduce the hours I spend slogging away at the computer, I decided to try speaking the story and typing it later. I tried this once before, years ago, and found it unsatisfactory – I was too selfconscious. But, longing for some free time and a bedtime before midnight, I decided to give it another go. We only bought it on Saturday, so the jury’s still out on it as a long-term strategy, but so far I’m very pleased.

Last night, for instance, I couldn’t start writing till 9:30 – kind of late if it’s going to take five hours to get the wordcount. But with my new mate Phil’s help I knocked out 2000 words in two hours. True, the prose is a little uninspiring – a lot more “she went here, he said this” than when I’m typing directly, but that can be fixed, and if it gets the story out quicker I’m all for it.

Because after you’ve found out what the story is, you get the fun of revising it till it gleams. Maybe with Phil’s help I can finish the whole story, not just the first 50,000 words, by the end of November. That would really be something to celebrate. I could face Christmas with a clear conscience.

Aaarrgh! The dreaded C word! Just don’t ask me if I’ve started my shopping yet …

The universe conspires

Whenever I start a new book I find the universe starts throwing all sorts of useful things my way. Sceptics would suggest that it’s just that I’m more receptive to noticing related things when my mind is working on a subject, but I prefer to believe in the beauty of serendipity.

For instance: remember there was a lighthouse in my story? Guess what we visited on our holiday. There’s nothing like a location visit to get you in the mood. Then last Saturday there was a feature article about a very similar lighthouse with a gorgeous photo, so that got torn out and pasted into my novel notebook.

In my story the characters travel to other worlds on the sea of stars through a magical gate. I knew it was all dependent on tides and moon phases, so I had a great time researching those. I discovered tide clocks – too cool! Who knew such things existed? I know, probably everyone else but me.

Then I found a photo of a really beautiful tide clock and a few more pieces of story clicked into place.

I decided to use Fingal Bay, which I know well, as a basis for my imaginary setting. In looking up information about the lighthouse there I discovered that the present day sandspit used to be a permanent part of the headland till a big storm destroyed it.

Click click click. More ideas.

A photo of an actor in the paper – perfect for my villain.

In the travel section, a photo of a Japanese torii gate standing alone in the middle of the sea – wow. Gates, sea, lighthouses everywhere I turn.

On Tuesday I attended an author visit at the local children’s bookshop. The author was Martin Chatterton, who was very entertaining. No gates or lighthouses, but a very useful piece of advice – when he’s thinking about what he will write he likes to imagine scenes he’d like to see in a movie.

I don’t know why that struck me so much; it’s not a new thought. Lots of authors, including me, say that writing is like watching their characters act out a movie in their heads. I think it was more the “imagining what he’d like” angle, as if he were encouraging me to dream up the most colourful fantastical thing I could – and then stick it in my novel.

Which is what fantasy authors are supposed to do, I suppose, but I’d never thought of it quite like that. Maybe I get too bogged down in plot and motivation and mechanical-type things, and forget the whole “sense of wonder” part.

Whatever. My mind is open to all and any delights the universe wishes to throw my way. Bring it on, universe. I’ve written 10,000 words and I’m ready. At this stage of the game anything can happen.

And probably will.

3 … 2 … 1 … Nano!

And they’re off and writing! I achieved a respectable 2401 for the first day of Nano. Drama Duck managed a whopping 1010 (she’s only committed to writing 5000) and Demon Duck also did well with 300 (for a target of 3500).

Elsewhere in the household, the Carnivore did some actual paying work and cooked a lovely baked dinner, bless his little cotton socks. Baby Duck mooched around complaining he was bored. To which my reply was “well, go and be bored somewhere else – I’m writing!”.

He also explained to his father this morning how chocolate milk is made. His theory is that you take a bowl of Coco Pops and add milk. You then end up with chocolate milk plus a by-product of Rice Bubbles. Thinking all the time, that boy.

I’m reasonably happy with what I’ve written so far. You can read the first scene over on my page at Nano (under “Novel Info”), if you’re interested. I read the first chapter to Drama Duck tonight and she was eager to hear more – a good sign, I hope.

Anyway, I’m off to bed. I have a big day ahead, with plots to thicken and cryptic utterances to … um … utter. Wish me luck!

This is going to get ugly

This year’s muse bombs before: those little gifts from the subconscious. They start off as little details, mere window-dressing on a scene, but on reflection they morph into something huge and wonderful in the story. The closer I get to the end of Dragonheart, the more I can see how enormously these features have influenced the shape of my story.

They didn’t exist in the outline. Lots of things didn’t, of course; it was very basic. More importantly, they didn’t exist in my brain at the outset either, and I don’t think any amount of planning would have unearthed them. They grew out of the story as it unfolded, when I arrived at that place in the telling.

Another one appeared the other day. 83,000 words in, you’d think I’d know everything about my world. But a perfectly innocent sentence came out of a character’s mouth and I looked at what I’d just typed and went “Oh my God – how did I not see that before?”. My whole magic system got turned on its ear.

I know the plotters say that an outline isn’t set in stone. You can change it as you go along. But if you’re going to end up changing 90%, what’s the point of going to the effort of nutting it out beforehand? Dragonheart would be a very different story without the ideas that joined the party along the way, so I don’t think major plotting is the best way for me. Even though it might stop me feeling that my brain is going to explode out my ears.

That’s not to say that I won’t do any planning for Nano. I’m thinking that a happy medium might be to plan the first quarter of the book fairly tightly to get me off to a good start.

After that anything goes. And probably will.

Now I just have to find me a flame-retardant suit for when Demon Duck gets started.

Alas! she loves another

Dear Dragonheart,

We’ve been going steady for a while now, and I know we’ve had our ups and downs. I had a couple of flings with short stories, and there was that long separation a few months back. Things were a bit rocky there while we were getting reacquainted but then, I don’t know, I changed, or you changed, and suddenly we were in love again, just like that first flush of romance when it all began.

You were once again the only story for me, and I’m sure you felt the same. We were meant for each other, and it seemed that nothing could ever part us again. Only …

Don’t get mad. It’s not you, it’s me. Me and my BAD AS (Bloody Awful Deficient Attention Span). I just have this problem with commitment.

I’ve started seeing someone else. No, no, nothing’s happened yet. We haven’t even held hands. We’re just talking. But this new story’s so luscious, so full of ripe promise, that I’m all giddy and starry-eyed just thinking about it. It’s making it hard to honour those vows I made you, to see it through to the bitter end.

You’ve got to help me, Dragonheart. Be scintillating. Sweep me off my feet with the dizzying turns of your plot. Pull all those hanging threads together into an ending so wondrous that I can resist the lure of the New Story. Work with me here, baby.



Sooo. Remember how I decided not to do Nano again this year? Yep. I lied. Thought of the most splendiferously brilliant idea the other day, and now I just want Dragonheart to be over so I can go play with my shiny new idea.

Of course, I realise it’s only shiny because it’s new, and by the time I’m halfway through I’ll think it’s the most appalling drivel I’ve ever written, but still. Even knowing that, the first flush of romance is still exciting.

It may even be a good thing for poor Dragonheart. I’m at 82,000 words now, still struggling on, but the ending can’t be too much further, can it? I’m toying with my new idea, doing a little research, but only after I write every day on Dragonheart. I’m determined to finish it now I’m this close, and if I can manage it by the end of September that still leaves me a month to plan before Nano kicks off.

Besides, Drama Duck wants to do Nano this year too, so I can hardly leave her to do it on her own, can I?

The sacrifices I am prepared to make for my children …

Five things I learned on holidays

1) Holiday houses never have enough teaspoons.

2) Fishing is no fun if all you’re doing is baiting hooks and casting lines for children.

3) Children only enjoy fishing if they catch a fish in the first 30 seconds. Makes you wonder why you bothered baiting all those #@$?!*! hooks.

4) Going for a brisk walk along the beach every morning will only do pleasing things for your hip measurement if you don’t also spend the rest of the day lazing around eating cheese and biscuits and drinking wine.

5) Actually fishing is no fun full stop. I only know how annoying it is to take children fishing because the Carnivore told me. I was lazing on the lounge eating the cheese and biscuits while he was out suffering. Look, it was tough, but someone had to do it.

I should probably add a sixth point: I discovered I’m even lazier than I’d realised, hence there were no blog posts while I was away. I did a few pages in my art journal, but failed to finish any of the sewing projects I took, or read any of the books. I was a complete vegetable, though I did manage to drag myself off the lounge long enough to thrash the whole family at putt-putt golf. A most satisfying holiday!

So I’m back, all refreshed and ready to dive into the challenges of the new year. Baby Duck starts school on Monday, so once I get over the tearful goodbyes (mine, not his) it will be full steam ahead on Dragonheart, my fantasy novel which has been languishing since Nano ended.

And yes, I’m aware there was a fairly awful movie around a few years ago of that name. The best thing about it was that the dragon had a Scottish accent, since it was voiced by Sean Connery, who never bothers to alter his accent even to play a Russian sub commander. It’s only a working title. No doubt something stupendous and far more suitable will occur to me in the fullness of time. In the meantime I’d appreciate it if you kept the sniggering to a minimum, okay?