Week 3: the week it fell apart

This week has been characterised by pain, pyjamas and a paucity of writing, culminating in medication that makes me quite sleepy. Expect more of the same in the week just begun.

In the meantime spare a thought for OneMonkey and his admirable nursing skills, and I’ll see if I can dig out some posts I’d put aside for a rainy day to entertain you.


Week one of the writer’s life

I’ve drunk a lot of tea and I’m feeling free, as Ian Hunter never quite sang. One week into my season of writing and there’s not much more to show for it than a pile of teabags in the compost caddy and a vague aura of tranquility, though I’m enjoying the pre-breakfast walks and big rollneck jumpers of the new regime. I never did get used to the filtered air and unseasonal temperature of a mechanically-ventilated office.

I’ve had a rejection for a story I sent out in March (seven and a half months to read 350 words!), and I’ve sent out another story to a new magazine, but there’s been no step-change in my submission habits. NaNoWriMo carries on apace, but sadly that’s a snail’s pace and I’m averaging only about twice as many words as if I’d had to cram all my writing into my lunchbreak, as I used to do. If I was including all the notes I’m writing, however, I suspect I’d be nearer the mark (and I’m certainly doing better than last year). I have been doing a lot of poking around the internet and calling it research: Cumbrian folk songs, terraced houses to rent in small Yorkshire towns, maps of the north Pennines. Are you intrigued yet?

Thankfully I’m also finding time to read. I was a bit concerned that without that 40 minutes of sitting on a train with a book, I might fall behind. So far this week though, I’ve finished the Doctor Who novel (7th doctor, one of the Virgin New Adventures) I was reading for the last few days of commuting, read the first couple of chapters of a novel I’ll be reviewing for The Bookbag in a couple of weeks, and worked my way through chunks of two creative writing books (one fresh out of the library, one I own and have read before). And I’ve messed about on Twitter a bit. Obviously.

All in all not a bad start to a break from the 9 to 5. Further updates to follow.

End of the summer days

Where does the time go? One minute you’ve got 12 work-free days up ahead, ready to be filled with all manner of excitement, the next there’s a day and a half to go before you resume the day-job and the to-do list’s as long as your arm and you haven’t written so much as a blog post. Or is that just me?


This picture of a red squirrel from last week might give you a clue as to what I’ve been doing instead of writing. A day at the seaside, some walks on the moors, a lazy summer afternoon with my sisters, a birthday visit to Big Brother, lots of quality time with paperbacks on trains. And then there’s the small matter of redecorating the study.

The study had pastel candy-stripe wallpaper and cream floor to ceiling cupboards, a relic from the previous owner. In our usual make do and mend fashion we’d covered the lot with posters and got on with our lives for five years. Fuelled by tea and a stack of old cassettes (AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Coverdale Page and The Blues Brothers) it’s now got colourful cupboards, revealed hearth tiles (sadly no fireplace) and two of the walls are papered in carefully selected pages from an out of date children’s encyclopedia. Wall number 3 is largely bookcase which makes it a task for another time. As OneMonkey pointed out, the room needed renaming since neither of us actually study in here any more, it’s more of a creating space like a workshop. Ooh, or a shed! (Influenced by Joanne Harris, I suspect). Behold, The Shed:


So here I am, ensconced in The Shed with a mug of tea and good intentions. Best get down to some writing.

(And yes, the title was a Tyketto reference. You should know my questionable musical taste by now)

February? What was that?

Even with the leapday, February ends tomorrow and I’ve essentially failed to blog for the whole month. It seems a matter of moments since it was January, and the weather was weirdly mild and all major deadlines and events were ages away.

I had my usual winter excuse of illness for pretty much the first half of the month, so that didn’t help. For a week I was feeling utterly pathetic. I was even too tired to read for a while (I know – I could hardly believe it either). I did (slowly) read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, which I’d been attracted to in a charity shop because I’d enjoyed The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and this novel was about comic book creators. Wonderfully written, set largely during the second world war (and just before and after), it has some bleak moments but also delightful oddness and humour. And it’s full of excitement about the possibility of comics, which had me itching to get back to work on a couple of half-finished comic ideas.

Brainstorming and planning for both the York Festival of Ideas (storytelling with Alice, like last year) and the Chapel FM Writing on Air Festival has been limping along, with rehearsals planned and notes scrawled. I’ve also had a new review up at The Bookbag (1930s Italian crime fiction reprinted). You see, although I’ve been quiet I haven’t been totally inactive.

March will be more obviously active, with some book reviews here and at The Bookbag, and possibly some musings on the EU referendum depending on how much I feel like alienating the apolitical (or indeed non-European) parts of my readership.

Traditional festive ramblings

Owl cake

Christmas cake dressed as an owl, made by my talented friend

Although the weather might be making you think otherwise, it is very nearly Christmas. Mince pie consumption is nearing its peak, books of the year lists are everywhere you turn, and it’s almost time for the Doctor Who special. For those of us lucky enough to have a reasonable chunk of holiday it’s the last chance to read all those books we promised ourselves this year and it’s also a great concentrated writing slot.

Consider past years, weigh it up according to how well you know me, then answer the following questions:

  • How many words will I actually have written by January 3rd?
  • How many mince pies will I have eaten when I should really have been getting down to some serious editing?
  • At what point on Christmas Day will Big Brother and I dissect the Doctor Who special?
  • How many books will be given as presents in my immediate family?
  • How many of those will be second-hand?

Season’s greetings to all, and I’ll get back to listening to this Hives album, make another cup of tea, grab a mince pie, and try and finish reading The Establishment by Owen Jones before I’m overcome by festive lethargy.

Weekend creativity

Like those conversations in the pub that are full of great plans but never amount to anything, OneMonkey and our artist friend Mark and I have spent most of today drinking tea on the sofa and telling each other what to do, knowing 90% of it will be ignored. If we weren’t shy, if we had more confidence, if we were more organised, if we only had time to do this project justice… The excuses have been flying around, all of us about as bad as each other, but between us we’ve generated a few ideas that might pay off (not in terms of actual money, obviously, but maybe in terms of artistic satisfaction). It’s an interesting exercise having an outsider’s perspective (by which I mean I’m not a painter or illustrator, Mark and OneMonkey are not writers), asking the questions that are so obvious they’ve been overlooked.

So, in between all the book reviews I’m writing, all the books I’m reading, the 3 writing deadlines that are looming, and the continuing amusement of the interactive detective story I’m writing with OneMonkey (not to mention the art history MOOC I’ve just started and the philosophy MOOC I still haven’t finished) I’ll try following up on some of today’s suggestions. When was it I was supposed to sleep..?

Easter, lounging, and ripping up the to-do list

The Easter break looked full of potential, as it always does. I had 5 clear days without having to go to work, and apart from Sister Number One’s birthday gathering, very little in the way of plans. This time I decided to tackle it differently. Not for me the long list of tasks that would only be of use for self-flagellation when I hadn’t done any of them by the end of the holiday. I was going to avoid the avoidance tactics by not giving myself a list of things that (though most of them were things I actually wanted to do) needed avoiding simply because they were on a list. By this cunning use of reverse psychology I would clearly achieve great things.

Five days of mixed weather later I can chalk up the following:

  • Watching several films I had been meaning to see for ages or hadn’t seen for twenty years
  • Putting nail varnish on for the first time since Christmas (spring green, since you’re wondering)
  • Watching a sunbathing squirrel from the study window
  • Talking politics with Big Brother
  • Eating chocolate rabbits
  • Reading a crime novel I didn’t even enjoy, desperate to know how the plot worked out while being too well-behaved to simply skip to the last couple of chapters
  • Strolling by the river listening to birdsong and feeling unfamiliar warmth on my face

On the other hand, I can’t say I managed any of these:

  • Revising the sci-fi noir novel according to the excellent idea I had just as I was falling asleep one night last week, which now escapes me
  • Finishing the crime short story that I’ve been putting off writing (and therefore undoubtedly spoiling) the ending of for about two years
  • Finishing the novella about the young girl looking for her brother (who doesn’t exist)
  • Writing a small batch of blog posts to act as a buffer when I’m busy

But that doesn’t matter, because I never said I was going to.

Assorted creativity

I have a (flimsy) excuse for my long absence, I’ve been working on some exciting projects. As well as the continuing redrafting of the sci-fi noir, which is lurching along in fits and starts, I’ve spent a fair bit of time on preparations for a storytelling evening which may or may not happen this summer in York (you’ll be the first to hear about it if it does). I still need to write a sci-fi story to complete the package, which is looking like it will also contain myths, fairytales and one of my Luddite stories.

The other exciting news is that I should be starting to review books (and graphic novels) for the Luna Station Quarterly blog pretty soon. The moment the first one is up there, I’ll stick a link to it on here.

Love what you write

image of wooden heart

Yet again I’ve missed a week, my flimsy excuse this time being I was busy writing a valentine themed story for this month’s writing group meeting. Young love, music and misjudgement – their eyes met over a New Order cassette and life was never the same. Whether the story will ever see the light of day I don’t know but it was fun to write. Seasonal greetings to all of you who owe your biggest love stories to music in some way.

The disorganisation before Christmas

Does the fact that I’ve missed two Wednesday posts without noticing tell you how well-organised I am at the moment? My body clock is still set to October, and waking up to Christmas morning next week is going to come as something of a shock. Last Wednesday I got to within 3 pages of the end of a book on the way home and picked up a fresh one for the morning commute, thinking I’d read those last few pages later. I still haven’t, and memories of the preceding story are beginning to fade. That’ll be one more item to add to the list of things to do during my two weeks off work; it’s already physically impossible to fit them all in.

Shiny red Christmas hat and bowls of nuts

As I wander off to make another cup of tea, grab a mince pie and look for the list that tells me where all my lists are, I’ll take the opportunity to wish my readers (both the regular and the just-stopped-by) a Merry Christmas, or other winter festival of choice, in case I don’t get round to the next two Wednesday posts either. I hope you get all the books you wanted, or a book token, or a new friend with a well-stocked library (not as a Christmas present, I more sort of meant making friends at a party or during a long wait at a cold bus stop).

Shaking up and looking back

Has it really been almost six years since I started this blog? This is not the first but it is the biggest overhaul I’ve done (new theme, new pages, new layout). My publications list is grouped differently, to make it easier to find what you’re looking for. I have pages to showcase each of my books (and wordclouds to summarise each story in The Little Book of Northern Women). There is a page for comics I’ve done as part of Ostragoth Publishing – you can even download the comics for free so if you ‘don’t do comics’ you can give them a go without wasting anything except a tiny chunk of your time. It’s like sharpening all my pencils when I should be writing, only a bit higher tech.

While I was rearranging though I started reading back through some old posts and reminding myself what I’ve been up to since 2008. Mainly writing stories it seems, or reading, sometimes reading about writing. Occasionally listening to music or having a good old rant about politics or class. Or education (usually in relation to class but also gender). If you’ve taken the cue from my first post and been out to spot facts along the way, you may have picked up that I’m from Yorkshire, I’m a socialist, I listen to a lot of rock and metal (including what now gets called hair metal and I probably used to call glam), I’m opinionated and I’m fond of history.

I’ve posted over 50 book reviews, apparently – you can read them all via the book review tag in the tag cloud. There’s fantasy, science fiction, short story collections, graphic novels, history. Works in translation, e-books and physical books, books set in Yorkshire. Books I want everyone to read, and books I didn’t even make it all the way through. That will continue – I’ve already written a couple more reviews that I haven’t posted yet.

There are definite themes on this blog. My lack of organisation, for instance, which gets a mention back in November 2008, progresses to the use of a calendar in 2011, and yet we’re firmly back in disorganised territory by May this year (despite the pink diary I got for Christmas). Also accents, dialect and their rendering in print (usually in terms of someone having annoyed me. Maybe another theme is me getting annoyed about things). I’ve trumpeted my successes, bemoaned the odd failure (and the advent of the ConDem coalition) and indulged in bah-humbuggery each Christmas.

By far the most-viewed post has been the one I wrote in March 2011 about The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart (Yorkshire, class, education and history all at the same time!), though sadly the one I wrote in response to a poor BBC programme about culture in The North in 1960 has been largely overlooked.

So, whether you’re a regular visitor or this is the first time you’ve stumbled into my literary domain, have a look around – there’s plenty to go at. Leave me a comment, let me know what you do or don’t like on the blog, or come and say hello on twitter.

It’s that month again

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

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.

On the fleeting nature of existence, but not the naming of things

Last Wednesday, when I meant to sit down and write this post, the naming of things seemed a lot more topical than it does now (even I am aware of the Royal Birth). This is itself (possibly) an illustration of the fleeting nature of existence but what I really had in mind for that was my garden.

When OneMonkey and I moved here a couple of summers ago there was a large lawn which had gone a bit wild and was full of buttercups. Since then we’ve tried to turn it into a small wildflower meadow, with mixed results. Last summer being a total washout, this year is the first time we’ve had poppies in the lawn/meadow and it’s been a joy discovering the new floral landscape each day, because these poppies don’t seem to last. Whether that’s usual for field poppies or it’s just that petals are getting knocked off by overnight rain (which has been pretty heavy the last few days) so I only spot the freshly opened ones, I’m not sure. What I do know is that I keep seeing a couple of vibrant red poppies standing out in a sea of muted grasses and clover, deciding to take a photo as soon as I’ve… or after I’ve finished… by which time the light’s going, or it’s raining, and I leave it till tomorrow. And the poppies have gone.

The other morning I was out in the garden early and saw two almost translucent mushrooms rising from amid the woodchip sprinkled on the rose bed. That would make a good photo, I thought, and OneMonkey would be interested in those. So of course I carried on weeding, dead-heading and all the rest of it, went inside and had a drink, did something else entirely for a while then finally remembered to tell OneMonkey. They were right here, I’m sure they were, I said pointing to an unbroken woodchip vista. I had no idea fungus disappeared so fast, but apparently it can (though in this instance they could equally have been eaten by resident wildlife). So no photo, OneMonkey didn’t get to see them and I don’t know what kind they were.

Is there a point to all this, I hear you ask. Well, maybe. It’s yet another illustration of why I shouldn’t procrastinate or allow myself to get distracted and sidetracked, but it’s not as if I need all these illustrations – I know what I should (or shouldn’t) be doing, it’s a matter of sticking to it. On the other hand, it may be an illustration of how unimportant running for the camera is (though running for OneMonkey, who likes looking at mushrooms and toadstools, would have been a good idea).

What have I lost by not getting a photo of the flowers or the fungus? I can’t show you, but then I’m a writer so shouldn’t I be able to describe them to you? The jumble of tall grasses in shades of green and muted oaty brown, the poppies from a foot to eighteen inches high, some with pale red petals like tissue paper, others vibrant scarlet and thick like the velvet of a viola. The mushrooms camouflaged so well in the woodchip that I almost stood on them; six-inch stems thinner than a pencil, downy and grey, capped with what looked like a thin slice of tree-trunk the size of a ten pence piece. Add in the early-morning sunlight, just a hint of fresh breeze and the promise (or threat) of a hot day to come, the smell of clover and the feel of dew-dampened feet, with a watching cat sitting always just out of reach, companionable without getting too close. Without cameras we might not notice everything but we observe more, I think.

So it’s time to observe that the naming of things is best shelved for another day and a post of its own. I shall remain, relaxed, in my mental image of my early-morning garden.

Lazy Sunday afternoon

Let me invite you into the world of my weekend. Can you…

  • see the knee-high buttercups, the tall grasses and red clover with the freshly-strimmed paths through? The dark red dianthus and the magenta senetti whose flowers seem to glow on the edges of perception?
  • hear the chorus of bees like formula one behind a closed door? The magpie shrieks tearing the air, and the cat purring placidly in the shade of a bush?
  • smell the honey-rich white clover, the fresh-mown grass from the meadow paths, and the faint warmth of a dozen different roses? The strawberry scent of melting ice cream?
  • feel the warmth of long-absent summer on bare arms? The rough wood of home-made garden furniture and the texture of self-heal under bare feet?
  • taste the long, cool glass of apple and pear juice and the smoky air tainted by distant barbecues?

Welcome, and goodnight.

A constant drip wearing away the stone of literature

No, I am not referring to myself as a constant drip. The title is supposed to conjure images of gradually breaking down a formidable structure. Keeping on chipping away. Little and often. That sort of thing.

Since I got my e-reader for easier, lighter reading material on the daily commute, I’ve been leaving the doorstop books for reading at home. Except the daily commute is my main reading time, and for a while I wasn’t getting very far. Then I took to reading a chapter last thing before bed. Half a chapter while dinner’s in the oven. A couple of pages while OneMonkey’s left the room mid-conversation to let the cat in. Before I knew it, I was zipping through.

As ever I pounced on the lesson in there: this applies to writing, too. We can’t all write full-time (we wouldn’t all want to), but I’ve found before that it’s possible to get a surprising number of words on the page without it taking you away from other activities too much. Most of the time, I’m lucky enough to be able to write at lunchtime. If I’m quick about getting to the library I can get 45 minutes of solid writing in, without much in the way of distractions, and if I do it regularly so I can pretty much remember what I’d written last time, I can watch the wordcount grow quite quickly.

If you’re prepared (by which I mean, have suitable writing materials to hand and have thought a bit about what you want to say next) you can write a paragraph while you’re waiting for the kitchen timer. Or sitting outside your child’s after-school activity (or if they’re older, outside the party they swore they’d be ready to leave at ten). Or in the doctor’s waiting room, at the bus stop, during the interval at a theatre, in a long post office queue, or in the last fifteen minutes before bed. Each time you write, it might not seem like much. Eventually though, it could become a novel.

Welcome to the fastest week of the year

So, it’s Christmas week again. How did that happen? Today is already the second day of my long festive break and I haven’t done any writing yet. Thus the guilt begins. Looking at it positively though, I have made one submission so far (I’m aiming for a few more before the year finally sputters to a halt) and I’ve been reading (and enjoying) Castle Waiting vol 1 by Linda Medley, a hardback graphic novel that was a touch on the heavy side so didn’t get taken along on the commute. Once I’ve finished that I’ll probably move on to one of the hefty paperbacks that’s been waiting around for similar reasons, maybe Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

I have mixed views on the Festive Hiatus. No going to work till early January, all routines disrupted, and the chance to do what you want. On the other hand all routines disrupted includes writing routines, and then there are the family gatherings, seasonal films that absolutely have to be watched this week, attempts at baking, boxes of inviting chocolates… Distractions aplenty and no particular inclination to resist them. While I wouldn’t miss out on ridiculous conversations with Big Brother for anything, there are aspects of the festivities I could do without. I’ll be the one in the corner with a notebook during that long aftermath to Christmas dinner, when half the family’s asleep and not much is going on.

Time off for good (writing) behaviour

I’m halfway through a 10-day break from work, and as usual not getting half of what I wanted to do done. I’ve been wittering away and writing bits and pieces at the Telegraph Short Story Club. I’ve been entering writing competitions and submitting to magazines (and, gratifyingly, I’ve had a ‘you made it through to the next round of consideration’ email already, which has given me a much-needed boost). I’ve been reading a very good book (fantasy noir) which I’ll probably tell you about when I’ve reached the final page. I’ve also been reading books on writing.

Yet again, I’ve borrowed Writing Crime Fiction by Janet Laurence from my local library to try and get to grips with some technicalities for the second detective novel, which stalled in May at about 42,000 words. However, I’ve also just finished reading (also from the local library) Writers’ and Artists’ Guide to How to Write, by Harry Bingham, which is a great chunk of a book intended for novelists and writers of narrative non-fiction. While very little of it specifically deals with crime writing, most of its advice is widely applicable and it goes into various aspects of the craft in depth, some of which I haven’t seen tackled elsewhere. It’s all very readable and between How to Write, and Writing Crime Fiction, I feel like I’m equipped to tackle the stalled novel and get it back on track. We shall see.

In between all of that (and buying a new shed) I’ve dipped into a couple of short story collections, from which I’d like to recommend a few (all from the 1980s, I think, unless I’ve noted otherwise). They’re all what you’d call ‘literary’ and I hadn’t read anything by any of the authors before so I can’t say how representative they are, but if you enjoy reading a well-written (non-genre) short story they’re worth checking out, and if you’re trying to write one, they’re invaluable.

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, is about a small group of US soldiers in Vietnam. Its central event is the death of one of this group, but it circles around it, and shows us characters and circumstances largely via lists of what each man carries with him. The lists cover tangible items, but also the intangible: bandages, and shameful memories; rations, and fear.

Bullet in the Brain, by Tobias Wolff is essentially about someone getting shot dead, but it explores the man’s surprising final memories and the contrast between his youthful potential and the man he became.

A Father’s Story, by Andre Dubus contains pages of slow, atmospheric description. What will a principled man do or forsake because of his love for his daughter, even if (especially if?) he wasn’t around as she was growing up?

A Rose for Emily, by William Faulkner (1930) has a most unexpected denouement. It’s written in such a way as to draw the reader in as part of an intimate circle and it seems like it’s going to be a straightforward, almost cosy, provincial vignette – the death of a reclusive spinster in a small town and what that reveals of her life. It takes a strange turn, though.

Staying focused in a frantic world

How do you stay focused? It’s a good question and one that’s open to many interpretations, but let’s pretend we mean keeping one’s mind on the task in hand. Namely, writing.

The short, honest answer for many (myself included) is I don’t. OneMonkey will argue that there are times when I may as well be in another universe for all the response he gets to perfectly simple questions, and those are the times I probably am in another universe of my own creation. Those times are not the problem. However, there are times when I’m in the final paragraph of a story, I can practically hear the satisfied sigh of a job well done, and yet…

An hour later I’m still in the final paragraph of the story but I have a tidier desk, I’ve changed the title of a story I finished two weeks ago, and I’ve jotted down 3 new ideas for endings for the story I want to write next. My mind is sliding off the task in hand and falling upon all sorts of other (no doubt laudable) occupations. I want to finish the story, I need to concentrate. What to do?

For me at least, there is no magic bullet. Sometimes I put music on to drown out the rest of the world, and that’s enough. Sometimes if I put music on I end up sitting back and listening to it. Sometimes I’m starting to get hungry so I promise myself a snack when I’ve finished the paragraph. Sometimes I have to give up because then all I can think about is what to spread on my toast.

Coincidentally, after I started writing this (told you I didn’t stay focused) I came across an article on The Guardian Books Blog about staying focused while writing. Specifically, the use of software that starts deleting what you’ve already written if you take too long over typing the next word. I have a feeling that after a few days you’d get into the habit of absent-mindedly tapping a key while you were thinking, then every first draft would have a string of jjjjjjnnnnnn every so often which you’d have to weed out (finding your wordcount was nowhere near as high as you thought). Personally, I’m with dogboytim, one of the commenters, who suggests “a cup of tea and a biscuit and turning the modem off”. There is little in life that can’t be improved with the addition of a cup of tea and a biscuit, so you’ve nothing to lose by this approach, and I for one would be distracted away from the plot less often if the Guardian Books Blog was not so handily in reach. Excuse me while I flick this little switch marked Wireless, and go put the kettle on.

Easter evaluation

It’s April: Script Frenzy month but I’m not taking part this year, I’m still catching up from the challenge I set myself for March. You may recall I arbitrarily decided to attempt a story a day for a month, well I seem to have managed a little over 19,500 words  (plus many pages of notes) spread across 23 stories. Not strictly sticking to the rules, but still quite an achievement, if I say so myself. That’s a few complete first drafts to polish (one has already been polished and sent off, in fact), a lot of half-finished pieces that will remain that way for months if not a couple of years, and a couple of abandoned items that have at least served to put to rest an idea that seemed good but had no mileage in it (not even the hundred-yard-dash of flash fiction).

This being the Easter weekend I’m playing catch-up. As it approached I put aside various things to do over Easter, but now I’m about halfway through the long weekend and reality is kicking in – I will be left with a whole pile of things to do once this break is over. The astute will note that I missed 2 Wednesdays of my posting schedule, and here I am posting on a Saturday; no excuses, I just lost track of time. Twice. The second time I figured I’d better post while I remembered or I could go on like this for months.

This being the Easter weekend I’m also trying to spend some time with friends, family, and OneMonkey who I guess counts as both. It mainly seems to involve watching films and eating. Fun, but it doesn’t get the crime novel written (I’m at the difficult crowbarring in the scenes I’ve now realised are necessary to set up later events stage, so I’m more prone than usual to procrastination). So, looks like it’s time for me to finish this and get back to that novel. Or I could take a chocolate egg and a mug of tea to OneMonkey and watch a DVD.

A plan which I may come to regret

Early this month I had a bright idea – it does happen occasionally. To make up for all the time I’d spent on crime novels in the latter half of 2011, I thought I’d concentrate on short stories for a while, predominantly fantasy and sci-fi. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Then I thought why not give myself some arbitrary deadline or harmless little challenge to try and encourage perseverance. Then, I don’t know, maybe I got a bang on the head that I don’t remember, because I somehow decided to write a story a day during March.

I could just have kept quiet about this, filed it under Insane Ideas I Have Had, and never thought about it again. But part of me – the part with delayed concussion, obviously – still thinks it has some merit. I admitted early on that I wouldn’t write a full first draft of a story every day – some days I’ll be pushed for time, and some stories will demand more words than I could reasonably write in a few hours – but at the end of March I reckon I could have a dozen pieces of flash fiction ready to be tweaked and polished, and a dozen promising beginnings with sketched-out plots and endings. That still allows for a few that never got off the ground.

To cut down on the procrastination time, I took my own advice from last year and went through my bits file, pulling out ideas that sounded promising, and things I’d written a paragraph of then never gone back to. I’ve assembled them in easy to use text files of their own and I have more than 20 of them ready to delve into and start writing. Now I’ve announced it in public there’s no going back. I’ll let you know how it goes, and I’d love to know if anyone out there feels like joining me.