Tag Archives: fiction

Progress Report: One Million Words, June 2016

A bit of a slow down this month, thanks to a number of factors, from catching a cold (in June! Damn weather.) to being very busy and being stressed about what I am now calling The Event (and doing my darnedest to ignore now).

I managed 16,159 words in June, for an average of 538.6 words per day.

This brings my total to 228,500/1,000,000, or 22.9%.

If I can hit 25%, or 250,000 words, by mid July, I’ll be on track to complete the entire million words within four years. It’s a bit of a stretch as there’s more to go to reach that than I have written in most entire months, but it does show just how much I have done – and how much there is to go.

The Story

I’m still working on Horrible Monster, working through towards completion of the novel. I had thought, this time last month, that I was on the home straight, but the story has taken a little bit of a turn and I’m uncertain about whether I like the new character, whether the story is best served by his inclusion, and how his presence is going to affect the ending.

I am seriously wondering if I’ve muddied the waters with some of the plot lines and whether it is quite how I want to tell this story, but I can’t quite see how the “extra” plot lines could be cut without significant impact on the rest of it. On some levels I worry that the story is too simplistic, too serendipitous even.

But at the same time I wonder if I am just worrying over nothing, letting the self-doubt creep in, and if I just need to finish the novel before I can make a true assessment of its merits and weaknesses. After all, when I took part in long distance hikes – a local charity walk of 22 miles – it was always around mile 16-17 that the pain was worst, my pace at its slowest, but once I got to mile 21 and the end was in sight I always had more energy and better pace, and the pain seemed to fade into irrelevance.

Looking forward into July

I don’t know if I will finish Horrible Monster in July. It is possible, especially if I speed up in the final mile. I’m nearly at 70,000 words, and with the amount of plot that’s left it might end up around 85-95,000 words total, so it is entirely likely I will finish it.

I will shortly have a lot more time on my hands. Today was my last day at one of my two part time jobs, and I haven’t got another lined up to replace it yet. By about the end of next week a huge number of outstanding tasks that haven’t yet been completed, or in some cases started, will be done. If it takes me a while to sort another job, I’ll have a lot more time to write and to engage in the kinds of activities that assist writing, like going for walks, reading, and taking the time to appreciate the moment – which, I’ll admit, I haven’t done much of lately. Then there’s researching, learning and blogging too, all of which I’ll have more time for.

So it may well be that July ends up a particularly productive month regarding writing fiction, blog posts and poetry; reading, researching and studying; and maintaining my flat to a standard that would pass a landlord inspection.

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Progress Report: One Million Words, May 2016

I just can’t break this rate I’ve been working at all year so far. My May total is 18,123 words, for an average of 584.6 words per day.

That puts my total at 212,341/1,000,000, or 21.2% towards my goal. In the middle of May I also passed the 300th consecutive day of writing.

The Story

I’m well into Horrible Monster at the moment, but I’m struggling. The story is nearly at 55,000 words now – though some of that has been struck through, discarded. What’s being kept (at least for now) is probably closer to 50,000 words. Still, that’s quite a sizable length. I’m on the cusp of the major setback now, so things are about to get very difficult for my protagonists. I think once I get past that turning point I’ll write a bit faster, because from there it’s got some more momentum, more action.

I think part of the reason I’m struggling at the moment is some of the themes I’ve been exploring, including anxiety and depression. I’m not sure if it works within the story, to be honest, but I’ve got to try it to find out. They do say write what you know, and there are some very personal elements going into this side of the story. Set in the context of fighting for justice, I’m not sure if it’s too much. But then I can’t help but feel that one of the storylines is too much in the fight for justice side of thing. I’ll have to see when it’s all done.

I do know that there will be a lot more work to be done on this after I finish. Cutting, adding, rewriting, slimming down, speeding up. But what I have so far I’m reasonably pleased with, as a starting point to build upon.

Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

I think I made it pretty clear in my review of The Liar’s Key that I’m a fan of Mark Lawrence. That being the case, it’s difficult to remain objective. I’ve been excited to read The Wheel of Osheim ever since I turned the last page in The Liar’s Key, and I was fortunate enough to be given an Advanced Reader Copy – cutting short that wait by several weeks. There’s a danger with such anticipation that expectations might be raised to unattainable levels.

And yet Mark Lawrence’s writing manages to attain them anyway.

wheel of oshiem

Now thoroughly swept up in the great events of the empire, womaniser and coward Prince Jalan continues to find himself pulled this way and that by his friends, the manipulations of his royal grandmother, and his own desires. But as the boundaries between worlds decay, the Dead King has more power to send against Jalan to try to seize the Liar’s Key. Jalan’s keen sense of self-preservation and his desires drive him onwards, until there’s nowhere left to go but the titular Wheel – a mysterious force around which the barrier between worlds is thinnest and a man’s fears can take physical form.

The Wheel of Osheim is packed with danger and darkness, yet manages to alleviate it with Jalan’s witty self-aware narrative. There is a depth to the darkness in the world of the Broken Empire, where necromancers can make powerful weapons from murdered babies and raise fallen soldiers to fight against their own comrades. The humour is therefore much-needed, and well-judged.

In this final volume of the Red Queen’s War trilogy, Jalan’s personality is given more depth. For all his self-awareness about his cowardice and vices, he is slowly revealed to have a touching blind spot. His continued refusal to see this even through his own narration of the story shows Lawrence’s skill in portraying the human condition. And as the threat against the Empire becomes inescapable, Jalan comes to accept the duties he has spent most of his life avoiding. In The Liar’s Key, Jalan found selfish reasons to do the right thing; now, when self-preservation is reason enough, he finds himself acting out of duty. He’s grown, little by little.

One again Lawrence has triumphed in creating a compelling tale full of magic, danger and unpredictable twists and turns. He ends the trilogy with a fittingly spectacular conclusion – one which, in what is becoming a tradition with Mark Lawrence’s books, saw me reading far into the small hours of the morning on a work night. Again.

It is with no reservations whatsoever therefore that I rate The Wheel of Osheim 10/10.

A response to Graeme Whiting, the fantasy-hating headteacher

A number of the national UK newspapers have reported on a particular blog post from Graeme Whiting, the head teacher of an independant school in Gloucestershire, called The Imagination of a Child. In this post, Whiting rails against the alleged tendency of modern parents to allow their children to read inappropriate fiction.

I will not go into detail on the irrelevance of his account of his own school life, which he mentions but fails to tie into his point. Nor will I explore the message he has about therapy and mental illness, being as I have no interest or expertise in it. I will only say that I very much doubt Whiting’s expertise on such subjects exceeds my own.

On what Whiting has to say about fantasy, however, I have a great deal to say in response.

Continue reading A response to Graeme Whiting, the fantasy-hating headteacher

Progress Report: One Million Words, April 2016

In spite of Camp NaNoWriMo, my wordcounts did not go up during April. I wrote a total of 19,060 words, for an average of 635.3 words per day – slightly below March’s average. Still, it was nice to have others to chat to about writing.

At the end of April my total stood at 194,218/1,000,000 – 19.4%. I’m not far now from my next hundred thousand words.

Horrible Monster

I have continued to work on Horrible Monster every single day in April. I am becoming more focused on this now, particularly in the last week. Although some days it feels a bit like I’m writing filler, stalling while I work out where I’m going, for the main part things are moving forward at a good pace. I’m getting more deeply into the various plot lines now.

A problem I am consistently coming across is rushing ahead where I know answers but where it does not fit the plot to get to that point just yet. A few times in April I wrote scenes in which I revealed more or advanced the plot further than I was happy with, so ended up striking out paragraphs or even pages at a time and starting from an earlier point. (Though the words are still counted, for the purposes of my challenge – after all I did write them.)

I think I’m getting better at that now, though. It happened more earlier in the month.

On looming peaks

The only other thing I have written this month is the poem I posted a little over a week ago, plus a couple of haiku. I’ve been sharing the poem widely, reading it out to my friends (in particular those who went with me to Builth Wells for the wool festival). I’ll definitely be looking out for other opportunities to write more poetry.

I found that imitating the meter and other aspects of an already published poem – On Wenlock Edge by A E Housman – was helpful in giving me a framework to then insert the words and story of my own poem, so in the near future I anticipate taking a similar approach. Learning to walk before I try to run.

May’s plans

Going forward into May, I will continue writing Horrible Monster. I intend to keep going until I finish it. I definitely feel like I have momentum on this novel right now, even if my daily wordcounts aren’t all that great. I don’t really want to interrupt it at this stage, in case a short interruption proves fatal to that momentum and I stop working on it. But that would mean, at the rate I’m going, it might be several months before I finish it. And that will mean it’ll be months before I write anything else in prose, since I’ve never done well working on two different stories on the same day. Still, there’s nothing stopping me from writing more poetry. And perhaps as I approach the end my daily wordcount output will increase.

There are a lot of other projects I’ve talked about on my blog which have made no further progress for a long time. The Mountain Story, for example, still largely exists only in a handwritten notebook; Kell’s Adventures have seen no further notes or planning. I am very much focused on Horrible Monster at the moment, but perhaps once I finish it I should take some time to work on other projects – and relax my rules a little to count editing, typing up and making notes as writing activity that doesn’t break my streak – even if it doesn’t add to my wordcount total.

Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, week 1

Fairy tales are one of the roots of modern fantasy, and Hans Christian Andersen is one of the best known writers of fairy tales. With the start of a free online course by the Hans Christian Andersen Centre at the University of Southern Denmark on Futurelearn, I have the ideal opportunity to learn more about this influential genre of storytelling and examine its impacts on the development of fantasy.

My prior experience of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales is limited. I have been aware of many of his tales throughout my life, both as bedtime stories and as Disney movie adaptations, but was unaware until recently just how many of them were in fact written by Andersen. I was surprised to learn that stories including The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen (the inspiration for the hit Disney film Frozen) were all written by Andersen.

During this article series I will be commenting on the course content each week and analysing the stories examined in it. I will also seek to understand the influences these fairy tales have had on modern fantasy and examine modern adaptations including Disney movies and other film and television versions.

Week 1

The first week’s content sets up the context in which Andersen wrote his fairy tales. He lived in a period of dramatic technological advances and consequent social changes. After Andersen’s father, a soldier, died, Andersen faced a future in a factory. Instead he set off for Copenhagen and there managed to find patronage and an education that would have otherwise been barred to him, and later opportunities to travel around Europe. Besides fairy tales Andersen also wrote short stories, novels and poetry, and also drew and made paper cuts.

Just as Andersen himself managed to transcend social boundaries – having been born into the working class he gained a middle class education and ultimately became quite wealthy – so too do many of his protagonists. Characters who break the mould are a key theme in his fairy tales.

Andersen’s fairy tales draw upon folklore. Some of his stories are based on folk tales while those of original composition draw upon the traditional elements of folk tales, such as using settings which could be almost anywhere at a nondescript period in history, including magic, and choosing ordinary people for the main characters.

These stories also draw upon Andersen’s upbringing and the struggles he and his family faced living in poverty.

In this respect Andersen is very much typical of fantasy, drawing upon traditional stories as well as personal struggles. A century later, Tolkien did the same, using his research into Anglo Saxon history and culture in conjunction with his personal experiences of war to craft an epic tale.

Next week the course will look at a folk tale, The Blue Light, and one of Andersen’s earliest fairy tales, The Tinderbox. I will, I am sure, have plenty to say about these stories. I have already read the Tinderbox and made a few notes, but with the analysis and comparison that the course offers I am sure I will have even more to say.

Camp NaNoWriMo: a brief update and some thoughts

I’m 9 days into Camp NaNoWriMo and so far I’m a bit behind. I haven’t topped 1,000 words once – and I need to average that many words to meet my 30,000 word goal for the month. So I’ve got a bit of catching up to do. But I think things are starting to move now. I have a good idea of where things will be going for at least the next two or three thousand words, which is always helpful. And after that there will be plenty of excitement too.

There is a different structure to Camp NaNo compared to the original November NaNoWriMo. In that one, you had access to busy forums that hundreds of other people were posting in every day. With the cabins, it’s quieter, more intimate.

I think I’ve got a pretty good cabin. Only about half of the cabinistas are active in the chat, so it’s mostly the same four or five people I’m talking to, but that works for me. Sometimes when there are too many people you can feel drowned out and insignificant. Especially when – like I often find myself – you’re in a different time zone than most people talking, so you miss the chance to get involved in discussions because they happen when you’re fast asleep. With this cabin, though, it’s quiet enough that I don’t feel the conversation all happens when I’m asleep, I feel involved, and that’s helpful. Even when the conversation isn’t about writing, it’s encouraging and self-confidence-building to simply feel part of something positive.

And I’m not just saying that because some of my cabinmates have started following my blog, I promise.

The chat format, though, can be restrictive. It’s a single feed, with a character limit. There’s a reply function which simply puts the name of the commenter who wrote the comment you’re replying to at the start of your comment, so you don’t get threads and digressions. The character limit forces conciseness (though I do sometimes post multiple comments in a row to say all I want to say; conciseness is not my greatest strength) and the single feed seems to have helped us keep on topic, for the most part.

But I do often find dedicated single-topic discussions helpful. The multiple-thread forum format from main NaNoWriMo and other writing boards allows more in-depth discussion, which the chat doesn’t really. It’s probably a good thing; talking about writing can be a massive time sink, a procrastination activity. Ruling that out is probably good for productivity (though of course it doesn’t stop me seeking it out elsewhere, so it’s not a silver bullet to procrastination).

I will say this: I am very glad I requested to be put in a cabin with people with similar goals and the same genre. It means we’ve got more in common, are more likely to be at a similar wordcount. In the past I’ve had writers around me – whether friends on main NaNoWriMo or cabinmates in the two previous Camp attempts – who have either soared ahead and churned out more words in a day than I can manage in a week, or who are taking a far more relaxed approach and only writing a hundred or two hundred words a day. Either one makes me feel discouraged. With the former, I feel inadequate; with the latter, unsupported. With similar goals I can look at what they’re doing and think “oh, she’s doing well, but if I push myself just a little more I can catch up”. Or “well, everyone’s having it tough right now so the fact that I only managed 700 words today doesn’t mean I can’t meet my goals in the end.”

It’s a lower pressure challenge than main NaNo, which I think is what I need right now. It’s less of a big deal. And yes that means my progress towards my million word challenge won’t be as rapid, but it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, to use an old cliche. This is helping. It’s motivating. It means I’m pushing just a little harder than I did in March and February. And that’s really what I need.

Progress Report: One Million Words, March 2016

March’s numbers ended up being only slightly more than February’s: 20,335. The month ended up a little slow due to a few busy days with limited writing time (on the plus side, I had a great time seeing some live comedy last night). My March daily average was therefore 656 words. Though I did have a few days over 1,000.

That brings my total to 175,158/1,000,000 words, or 17.5%.

Most of March’s words were on Horrible Monster. I’m working my way through it now. I also spent a few days on something else, a short piece that doesn’t have a title.

Continue reading Progress Report: One Million Words, March 2016

I’m feeling good about my writing so I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo

I’ve got some momentum with Horrible Monster right now. It’s going well and I’m feeling good about it. I’m getting into the meaty parts of the story now. So it’s just the right time for a writing challenge – and would you believe it, there’s one about to start!

Camp NaNoWriMo – a sister-challenge to National Novel Writing Month in November – sees writers setting their own goals and working on any writing project, not only novels but also screenplays, poetry, short stories and more. It takes place in April and July. Instead of big massive forums that every participant can access, writers are grouped into cabins of up to twelve. It’s like an online writing group, in which the cabinmates will cheer one another on.

I’ve set my goal as 30,000 words. That’s 1,000 a day – a little above my current average, but I did better than that in November so I should manage it. Two writing sessions a day will easily see it done.

It’s going to make it a busy April – I’ll also be picking up learning French again, in preparation for a holiday in September. I’ve also been thinking again about poetry. Specifically, I re-read one of my favourite poems yesterday – On Wenlock Edge the Wood’s In Trouble from A Shropshire Lad by A E Housman. It’s a great poem, very visual, and I’d like to draw it as a comic. I’ve not done much drawing for a while, but a small project like this – 5 pages, one for each stanza – would be a good first step, and good practice if I pick up other planned comics again.

2016 Reading update

We’re 10 weeks into the new year and I am soaring ahead with my reading goal. By now I need to have read 5 books to be on track; last night I finished book number 11.

The list so far

In my last update I mentioned I’d read (or had started reading):

  1. Cadfael: Monk’s Hood, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  2. Cadfael: St Peter’s Fair, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  3. Key Under Blue Pot and Please Milk the Goat, by Marie Sever
  4. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Cadfael: The Leper of St Giles, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)

Recent reads

Since then I’ve been on a bit of a Pauline M Ross binge – four of the six books I’ve read have been by her.

6. The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross

I reviewed this book here. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed it a lot. Enough, at least, that I bought and subsequently read the three remaining books in Ross’ back catalogue.

7. Cadfael: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)

I do like this series. For a murder mystery writer, Parteger seems to have had a fairly positive view of humanity. These are comfortable books, with nothing particularly distressing or emotionally challenging, and they all end up neatly concluded to the benefit of the characters who are nice or moral, and the detriment of those who are evil.

8. The Mages of Bennamore by Pauline M Ross

I didn’t end up reviewing this one but again I enjoyed it. Not quite as good as The Fire Mages’ Daughter, I think, but another charming story full of magic and romance. I’m really enjoying seeing glimpses of this world.

9. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah

After the softer books I’d been reading, this one really bored straight into my heart, via my tear ducts. I reviewed it here, but if you’ve not read the review, well let the fact that I reviewed a non-fantasy book on my fantasy blog clue you in.

10. The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M Ross

Ross described this one as her “ugly duckling book” in her blog post Launch report: book 5, ‘The Fire Mages’ Daughter’. I found it full of intrigue and well-paced. It provided a fresh look at another aspect of her rich world – a new country, a new type of society. It might have struggled because the first chapter throws the reader into the deep end of that new type of society a bit – there’s a lot to process – but once the story picks up it’s a true adventure.

11. The Magic Mines of Asharim by Pauline M Ross

After everything I’d already read from her, I couldn’t wait to get my teeth stuck into the last available book from Ross. Once more, this book sheds a light on a different part of the world, though this time we get to see several different societies, neighbours to one another, with their cautious truces and different cultures. Once again this is packed with intrigue, adventure and love. I particularly liked the protagonist, who felt like a real figure – shaped by her upbringing, capable of changing her views and feelings, with anxieties to overcome and complex relationships with the other characters in the story.

Up next

A little over a week ago I went into Much Wenlock and there visited Wenlock Books, a lovely little independant bookshop full of little treasures. Aside from some great old map postcards (including one of medieval Shrewsbury I’ll use as a bookmark next time I read a Cadfael book, to save me always flicking back to the map at the start) I picked up The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift – another book in my “locals” list – and a great little hardback collection, Best Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s got a cloth cover and a ribbon page marker and really thin paper for the pages and gold edging. An absolutely beautiful book.

So I’m going to make a start on Hans Christian Andersen next. I’ve been meaning to get to this. Fairy tales have been an inspiration for fantasy for decades, one of the roots of fantasy, so it’s about time I really delved into one of the definitive writers of the genre.

I’m also hoping to get back to the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O’Brian again soon, it’s been a while since I read the last one. I caught the movie approximation of the series (I wouldn’t stretch to call it an adaptation) on TV not long ago – Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World – which, now I’ve read both Master and Commander (book 1) and The Far Side of the World (book 10) I can safely say is not much like either of them, except in a few individual little scenes and lines.