Get On Your Bikes, Gremlins!

When I announced at the end of September my intention to take a month off blogging and concentrate on doing an intensive edit of my latest novel, I might as well have sent out a party invitation to every gremlin in the neighbourhood.

Here was the gremlins’ idea of a party

  • Turned my landline into a homing beacon for international call centres.
  • Made sure that everything I needed to buy wasn’t available in the local shops, so I had to search for the items online, which, in turn, distracted me with things that I might like to buy in the future.
  • Compelled me to google for the perfect cure for being underweight.
  • Put the idea into my head to take fish oil supplements, which caused me the rarest side effects of insomnia and anxiety attacks.
  • Blew up my mobile phone charger with an almighty flash and bang.
  • Knocked out the speedometer and petrol gauge in my car.
  • Ensured no family chilling out time in front of the TV in the evenings by damaging the satellite dish.
  • Caused instant narcolepsy to anyone in the household trying to read a book after supper.
  • Then finally, as if this wasn’t enough, those darned gremlins decided to make Mister so ill I thought he was going to die. This necessitated him being admitted to hospital as an emergency and undergoing every test under the sun.*

[*It reminded me of an episode of House, whilst the team search for the cause of Mister’s symptoms like medical detectives, finally diagnosing the problem. I can’t praise them more highly. They’re my heroes. They are the reason he’s still alive. Thank you, NHS. You are a national treasure. May this Government and future ones always see it that way and provide the necessary funding.]

As you can imagine, I haven’t finished editing my novel but have only completed a third of the task. Neither has my son managed to complete the first draft of his novel as intended. Now we’re both working hard to stay below the gremlins’ radar to complete our missions, although, if I’m being realistic about it, I can only manage an hour a day of intensive work. On the plus side, I admit to achieving more in one hour than I sometimes achieve in four!

Please bear with me, my dear blogging friends, if my participation in the WordPress community is rather intermittent for a while longer (maybe until the New Year).

Next week, I will post a 5-star review of Sam Jordison’s most entertaining non-fiction work The Ten Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad, which, despite the title, is incredibly funny in places and helped me put my own trials in perspective.

Please note, that if you add the fact I haven’t finished editing my novel to the nine bulleted ingredients of the gremlins party, it equals TEN BAD THINGS – a most interesting coincidence, indeed.

So how did everybody else’s October go?            

Time Traveller Returns From 1967 #urban fantasy

Flower Power2

Hello everybody,

I’m back following a month spent in a posh boarding school for girls.

My time machine took me back to 1967, as instructed, but not to the right month or the right location. Instead of visiting San Francisco to participate in The Summer of Love, I ended up on the southeast coast of the UK in the Autumn, in time for some less than peaceful happenings at a girls boarding school.

By the end of 2015, you will all have a chance to learn what a close call it was for the world during that term of 1967. Meanwhile, try to imagine how Doctor Who must feel about all those occasions he has saved our world from destruction by unwelcome extraterrestrials or creatures from other dimensions.

Enough of that for now. I don’t want to jitter present students at the posh establishment upon which I’ve based my fictional school: well, not yet, anyway.

Wearing my serious face now, I completed the July on-screen edit of my urban fantasy novel Desiccation, as intended, arriving at the end — albeit, exhausted — on the 31st of the month. Next thing on the agenda is to do an out-loud read-through from hard copy, doubtless, driving my family up the wall. But the dog will enjoy it, I’m sure.

Apart from this, of course, I intend to spend some serious catch-up time over at your blogs. I have missed you all during my sabbatical and have had a mighty battle with myself to stay away from WordPress. Just as well my time machine wasn’t advanced enough to send messages into the future whilst sojourning in the past.

And for your enjoyment, I’ve brought back a top ten hit from the music charts of 1967 that is a personal favourite of one of the main characters in my novel. Unfortunately, I can only mention the song by title in the story, otherwise I end up in copyright territory, which can prove expensive. As a teenager, The Who were one of my favourite groups, so the least I can do is give them a mention in my fiction all these years later.

Wishing you all a happy and fulfilling August

With love,

Sarah x

 

Quote: “I’ve been disappeared”

SarahWriting

Question: Whose favourite expression is “I’ve been disappeared”?

Answer: The main character in my novel, Anna.

Next question: Why am I quoting him (yes, “him” not “her”)?

Answer: Because I have been disappeared, editing onward to THE END.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the work is over. Far from it. This Speculative Fiction novel of mine evolved out of a decision to stop second guessing the market and write something original. I even dared swim against the tide with a non-dystopian version of the future. Yes, the human race is threatened; no, the planet is not trashed beyond repair.

The project began on 1st January, 2013: what better New Year’s Resolution than a creative challenge? You can read a summary of my progress during that year here.

The next step was to throw my novel upon the mercy of three beta readers: themselves published, and one of them a freelance editor. Their verdict … beautiful prose, original, a few plot holes needing mending, too abstruse in places in an effort to avoid exposition, more dialogue tags needed, and greater differentiation required between character voices.

Back to the drawing board for four months, with the occasional cry of “not another thing to do!”. I admit to having felt annoyed with my beta readers at times, but that was because their constructive criticism was about 90% right. Of course, I’m eternally grateful to them for all the work they put into their detailed reports on my manuscript, considering they have such busy lives themselves and did it voluntarily in their spare time. Ultimately, I decided that if all three of them pointed out the same thing, then it needed attention.

It’s unusual for a second draft to end up longer than the first (62K words, grown to 90K), but I went for minimalism initially and then had to build on this. I did edit some things out, just because they didn’t fit with the characters’ voices as they developed. There was a degree of juggling around chapters, putting some back story  into real-time and, where this was impossible, turning back story into proper flashbacks.

This next week, I intend to print out my manuscript and check the plot hangs together after all the changes I’ve made. At the same time, I will do a full proof read as it’s so easy to miss mistakes when checking work on the computer screen.

Just as a closing bit of fun, does anyone remember that tagging game named Lucky Seven Time that did the rounds of WordPress a while back, where you had to post an extract from page 7 or page 77 of your work in progress? Having just looked back at my Lucky Seven post, I thought it would be interesting to compare my page 7 extract from then with a page 7 extract from my present version of the manuscript.

15th February 2013 version

“You’ve gone insane.”

“No, it’s you who’s insane for bringing me fish?”

You scowl up at the sky, as if there’s a cruel memory pinned to the stars. I look up. There are no stars. Only the face of a mother—the last mother on earth to have given birth. Your mother.

“She’s dead,” I remind you.

“She lied to me.”

Current version

“Oh, Anna, I can’t bear it. You’ll have to wear a hat until your hair’s grown back.”

We’re both spurting tears as Ka moves between hugging me close, pushing me away with the flat of her hand, or poking at me with a finger. I wonder whether it’s my bones or hers that will snap first. My arm bleeds, where she’s jabbed me with the scissors whilst wrestling them off me. I think I’ve cut her, too. Our blood and tears are smeared together.

“I love you, Ka, I love you. I really love you.” These words spill from my lips while I’m thinking, I hate you, Ka. I really hate you.

 

The Magnum Opus: Where Did that Year Go?

NovelWritingWinterTrees

Last January, I started work on a Speculative Fiction magnum opus as my project for Novel Writing Winter, 2013. My intention was twofold: to ward off the winter blues while completing a novel by the first day of spring.

NWWbeginsHow was I to know that once the story and its six major characters took hold of me, I would end up writing a novel of 83,000 words in length, instead of the intended 55,000?

Writer's Insanity#1Almost a year on, I’m proud of the novel but also frustrated as there’s still a fair bit of work to do. But submitting novels to literary agents prematurely is a bit like trying to sell a refurbished house before rectifying the snagging. So I must exercise patience.

Here’s my progress report for the year

  • I finished my first draft of 62,000 words at the beginning of August.
  • Did a read-through and basic tidy throughout the rest of August.
  • After much thought and further research, I did a total rewrite from September through to mid-November. This involved dumping the first chapter, adding and subtracting, cutting and pasting, and generally reorganising the story, which resulted in a longer novel of 83,000 words.
  • Late November, I threw my novel upon the mercy of two beta readers — one of whom, unknown to me then, was a professional freelance editor. Both readers loved the prose, but they picked me up some plot inconsistencies and problems with voice.
  • After feeling depressed for five minutes, I decided to focus on the fact that both readers thought I had a publishable novel there, if I sorted out the voice and plot problems (though not without a huge headache for me).
  • December started well, with me managing to revise the first 8,000 words to my satisfaction, but then the run-up to Christmas came along and the death of any chance of finishing the edit before the New Year.
  • So now my deadline is 31st January, 2014 and if sometimes I become unsociable, you’ll all know why.

Just to give you a taster, you remember the game of “Sevens” that was doing the blogging rounds? You can read my contribution to this here. The Pg 7 excerpt from my novel mentioned in that post now appears on Pg 66 of my revision, and the excerpt below on Pg 7.

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She’s right, but I don’t know why this is so. There’s something bursting to show itself; something Ka won’t allow. It’s to do with my pink-worm and sacs. She still refuses to talk about them, as if they’re an evil part of me best ignored, yet if I ask her about the animals, birds, trees, flowers, weather or seasons, her answers flow out of her with ease.

I sit with the hem of my blood-stained jute-skirt wrapped around the top of my legs and stare through my mother, imagining she’s made of glass that one day I’ll smash into a million pieces.

 

Time to Transform that First-draft Novel into my Magnum Opus

stepping outOn New Year’s Day, inspired by Novel Writing Winter, I leapt into the unknown and began writing my first  work of speculative fiction. Yes, I’d written four other novels before this one, but none of them quite made it to full publication despite a number of calls for full manuscripts from editors.

Studying feedback from publishers and agents is rather like gathering intelligence prior to action. Last December, I gave up footling with my first four manuscripts and shoved them in a drawer, classing them as learning exercises. At the same time, I decided to stop second-guessing the market, thus liberating myself to write the novel that burned within me and be damned if being experimental meant breaking rules.

The novel is character-driven, written from the viewpoint of six different characters in the first and second-person present, first-person past, as well as third-person past and present. It also includes poetry.

The working title, Eulogy to the Last Man was the name of the original piece of flash fiction upon which I based the story. However, as the novel progressed, new characters sprouted up alongside the original two and led me down unexpected paths, calling for me to change the title to Wightland.

In the first 81,000-word draft, I’ve concentrated primarily on characterisation and plot, but during its revision I might expand upon the story’s setting, turning it into a longer work. Whether I do this or not, depends upon my beta readers’ reaction to the approach I’ve used, which moves between minimalism and zooming in for bold, detailed close-ups.

I have total belief in this project and can’t wait for Monday to arrive, when the second draft begins.