Slightly past halfway and I have 14.5 thousand words of my sci-fi noir novel for NaNoWriMo, which is not bad – I won’t get to 50,000 but I wasn’t really aiming to, and the novel is going fairly well (still enjoying myself). I hope anyone else out there still busily NaNo-ing is enjoying themselves too.
In the meantime, while I’m neglecting you all terribly (or leaving you in peace), why not read this gratifying review of KZine issue 6, which included my Self-Aware and Living in Bradford. It may even make you want to go read the magazine.
Ridiculous challenge warning: I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo again.
NaNoWriMo, for those who don’t yet know (and really, it’s getting harder to avoid) stands for National Novel-Writing Month. Except it’s international, and some people seem to write a collection of short stories instead. Anyway the point is you write 50,000 words during November and hope that enough of them will be good enough that you can call it the first draft. I’ve taken part once before, in 2011 (though I have also done the now defunct ScriptFrenzy which left me with a decent graphic novel script and a radio play I could have written better when I was twelve), when I wrote just over 22,000 words that I wouldn’t otherwise have got round to. For me, NaNoWriMo is an excuse to tackle something big that I’d normally put off ‘for when I’ve got more time’. This time it’s an idea from over a year ago, and I’ve spent October writing 60-odd pages of notes (filling up one of my Wallace and Gromit notebooks and getting a fair way through the next) on character, setting, plot. I’ve got street-plans, sketch-maps, a diagram of the main character’s apartment, and her family tree. I’ve still got a fuzzy grey spot where the main business of the plot should be though.
My tools of choice this November
For reasons of expediency I’m writing this novel longhand, thus adding hours to the total project time with the need to type up eventually, and frustrating OneMonkey every time I stop after a couple of paragraphs and quickly count the words I’ve just written. However, it does mean that if all I need is an A6 notebook and a biro (usually one I’ve picked up for free somewhere along the way) I can write on the train, for five minutes before dinner, at the interval in the theatre (and inevitably there are 2 or 3 things I want to see this month). On Day 1 this seemed to work brilliantly and I wrote far more than I expected. Day 2, however, when I was at home all day with little to do except write, my relative lack of wordcount completely cancelled out the achievements of Day 1. Lashing rain, thunder and lightning, scarily strong winds – you’d have thought it would have been the perfect day for curling up with a notebook and retreating to another world. Maybe the problem is that the other world is bone-penetratingly cold and in the grip of an energy crisis, full of corrupt officials and with not much hope in sight at the moment. Yes, not only am I attempting a detective novel this time, it’s a sci-fi detective novel. OneMonkey asked if it was going to be as good as Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch; no, I replied (still haven’t got the hang of this self-promotion lark). Not interested then, he said with a grin. I guess I’d better go get writing and aim a bit higher.
Sometime around October half-term 1993 I went to a car boot sale in a Cumbrian market town with my parents. It was a regular habit of ours in the few years either side of that time, and I rarely failed to emerge with an LP or a well-worn cassette. For whatever reason that weekend I bought a leather jacket.
It’s now too long ago for me to say for sure why it caught my eye – whether it was the only one I’d seen for sale at the bargain price of ten pounds or the vendor looked particularly worthy of my cash I can no longer recall. Whatever the reason, I stepped over and asked if I could make it mine.
It was too big when I was fifteen, it’s too big now, but a penchant for chunky jumpers has mitigated that to a certain extent. A minor detail like size was not going to put me off when I knew I’d found the biker jacket I was fated to wear for the remainder of my youth (and beyond). The man who wore it before me, whose features have faded from my memory at this distance, told me this jacket had already lived a rock ‘n’ roll life. It had seen Ozzy and Judas Priest, had beer spilt on it, accompanied him to major gigs. He told me to look after it and treat it well. Reluctant sale due to sensible wife.
In twenty years that already well-worn jacket has been to many more gigs. It’s been to Paris (and Newcastle) to see Iron Maiden, it’s seen the Damned more times than it might have appreciated, it’s been to rock clubs and the beach, supermarkets, libraries and my graduation (I had to take it off at the last minute to put the gown on). It’s had the very minimum of beer, snakebite and tea spilt on it and I’ve done my best to keep it away from people with lit cigarettes. It’s been photographed for my blog and painted for a recent portrait of me by my dad.
The story of my life, written in creased black leather and rusting studs. The lining, which used to be red, has a few splits in it and some stitching’s coming loose on one sleeve, but it’s still holding together. Will I still be wearing it in twenty years? Maybe not, but whatever happens I know I won’t have passed it on to a teenager I’d never met before. Though I’m glad that that anonymous Cumbrian man did.
It’s that time of year again, both the Morley and Ilkley literature festivals are on and West Yorkshire is abuzz with writers and their fans. In these days of media saturation when everyone has their photo on the web or at the top of their newspaper column (whose silly idea was that? It’s like DJs, my mental image is often more suited to their style so a photo of them looking too young, old, cheerful, grumpy, fashionable or tweedy only spoils things) I suppose I’m not literally putting faces to names. Seeing people in person is quite different though.
So far the famous names I’ve been to see are Jonathan Dimbleby (at Any Questions, a marvellous experience which left me bemoaning the lack of a modern-day William Cobbett. Again), Peter Snow (the enthusiasm of the man! An hour of him waving his arms around on stage could make me interested in almost anything) and on Wednesday, Louise Doughty.
Regular readers will have seen that name before, as she heads the fun (occasionally bonkers) community that is the Telegraph Short Story Club. Having been semi-regular there for over a year, when I introduced myself at the signing table she greeted me like she knew me, thus turning the tables on the sort of familiarity from strangers she must experience all the time. Having been to panel talks before when I’ve only had something (probably second-hand) for one person to sign, and having said to someone at another signing table ‘I read your book out of the library, it was good’ before moving on leaving us both slightly embarrassed, this time I excelled myself. Apple Tree Yard, the novel Louise was promoting, having only come out in hardback this summer, I’d joined the queue for the solitary library copy at the start of August, finally collecting it two days before the talk. Not only did I not have the book for her to sign, I’d only read the first 20 pages.
Of course, being a pro she happily signed my Wallace and Gromit notebook where I’d written the first draft of my response to this week’s SSC Friday Challenge. Next stop, Melvyn Bragg. I haven’t got anything for him to sign, either.
A few weeks ago I heard a snippet of an Irvine Welsh interview on BBC 6Music, in which he said that to create certain characters he immersed himself in the music they would listen to. I haven’t read any Irvine Welsh so I can’t comment on how successful this technique’s been for him, but it struck me as an interesting way of going about it (if I was doing it, all my characters would like some subset of my record collection – I’m quite musically narrow-minded).
Music is very important to a lot of people, myself most definitely included, and they often have internal soundtracks (mine is a mash-up of Symphony of Destruction and Sweating Bullets at the moment as I was listening to Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction earlier). It can highlight an extra facet to a character, for example with Kate Atkinson’s delightfully complex Jackson Brodie and his penchant for female country singers. He turns to these recorded women for solace frequently when the real ones in his life are proving troublesome, and it gives us a glimpse into the soft centre of this ex-army, ex-police, northern private detective.
When I wrote Wasted Years I didn’t immerse myself in the relevant music but I knew early on what Helena and Matthew’s musical tastes would be. Matthew the serious collector of 12″ singles, possibly a Factory completist, and Helena with her badly edited cassettes of the good bits from the Top 40 ‘until she gets bored with them’ (a concept Matthew can’t begin to fathom). As she grew older, I don’t remember mentioning it explicitly but I saw her as the purchaser of Ronan Keating albums, rom-com soundtracks or themed compilation CDs that she’d listen to for a while before chucking them in a charity shop bag.
Musical taste is an aspect of personality and anything that helps produce a more three-dimensional character is worth considering. Music can make you feel a certain way, and listening to someone else’s record collection might give you an inkling of what it’s like in their head. Be warned though, repeated listening to The Smiths and The Cure for reasons of research may lead to a feeling of beautiful melancholy.
For no particular reason other than it’s a bank holiday weekend and I’ve had no pressing concerns (read that as: I’ve nearly finished writing a novella and I’m putting off the serious business of the culmination of ideas), I’ve recorded a clip of myself reading Not Such a Cold Fish, which you can access here:
There’s no deep reason why I chose that story. It’s short, the after dinner mint at the end of the banquet that is The Little Book of Northern Women (the only part of that collection that was already available elsewhere), and as this post title suggests, this was something of an experiment. A couple of years ago I had concerns about trying an audio version of one of my fantasy stories (admittedly it didn’t come from a collection with the word Northern in the title) but OneMonkey has persuaded me to stop doing bad impressions of the Queen and embrace my normal speaking voice. He described an earlier take as sounding like a parody of Alan Bennett. Sometimes you just can’t win.
I had vaguely thought of adding audio tasters of various stories here, and I’d be interested to know what anyone thinks of that. In these multi-tasking times you wouldn’t even have to read the first page to decide whether you want to continue; I (or possibly OneMonkey if a Geordie accent works better) could read it for you while you’re clicking on tins of beans at an online supermarket or flicking through your holiday snaps.
I first encountered Mandy Sutter in 2005 and when I spotted a couple of years ago on her website that there was a novel in the offing I knew I’d have to read it when it came out. This summer it’s finally available and thanks to this video taster it shot up my To Read list and has now been devoured, with pleasure.
Jennifer Spendlove is 32, overweight, and lives with her elderly hypochondriac mother on the outskirts of Leeds. One of those gentle souls too nice for their own good, Jennifer gets taken advantage of regularly but instead of standing up for herself she seeks solace in snacks and the creation of papier mache sculptures. In between the regular ferrying of her mum to the doctor and the hairdresser, Jennifer is trying to sneak off for a series of dates, the result of a lonely hearts ad in the local paper. Of course, finding a soulmate – or even a decent boyfriend – was never going to be that simple, but her loss is our gain as she perseveres through a queue of unsuitable men. And all this while the new regime of efficiency at the cash-strapped factory where she works overturns her everyday world.
I mostly read Stretching It on the train, and mildly embarrassed myself when the laughter wouldn’t stay silent, or when tears prickled my eyes. It was a quick, easy read and I stayed up late to finish it, so it’s fairly safe to say I was caught up in it. I cared enough about Jennifer to groan at bad decisions and gasp at jeopardy, and I even formed a grudging attachment to her self-centred mother Alicia. On the whole the book is light and humorous so the two darker scenes later on particularly stand out and come as something of a shock; I actually felt bad for laughing at something that comes shortly after the second one. However, the mildly unsettled feeling soon passed and I enjoyed the rest of the novel, putting it aside with a warm glow.
I think anyone who enjoyed my first novel, Wasted Years,would probably like Stretching It (and hopefully vice versa); you could describe both as being about a young woman in West Yorkshire working her way through unsuitable candidates in the search for love, though Stretching It is more overtly comic than Wasted Years. I wouldn’t usually read anything described as a romance novel (see my review of Out of Time by Monique Martin), so if that applies to you as well, don’t be put off by the centre-stage appearance of Love – there is nothing soppy here.