National Novel Writing Month in Review

This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series National Novel Writing Month 2017

November is dead.

Long live December.

The weather gets colder. The skies get darker. And tomorrow I will be putting up my Christmas tree even though my mother says it is too early.

I will also be spending at least the next month redrafting the book I wrote in October., so that’s exciting.

But irrelevant.

Today I’m here to talk about National Novel Writing Month. My thoughts on that and on the first draft I’ve just written.

I don’t know what I’m going to say yet, though, so this will all be a little informal.

Maybe even nonsensical.

So let’s do that.

NaNoWriMo

As I said in the introduction to this series, I don’t often go in for Nano month.

I’ve done it once before, but I am usually either not writing at all or halfway through a draft when it begins.

I’ve never seen the need to shift my schedule to match National Novel Writing Month.

If I’m honest (which I’m not) they should shift their month to meet me.

This year, though, the stars seemed to align.

I finished the first draft of Project Perry in October and planned to start Project House this month anyway.

So I thought, why not?

And it’s been good.

NaNoWriMo is a great way to get you focused and writing, even when you don’t fancy it.

This can be a double-edged sword, as I’ve said in previous blogs, but on the whole, it’s positive. Especially if you are not good at forcing yourself to write of a typical month.

I’ve never had a problem with that, myself. But I did like the stats based aspect of Nano. It enhanced the fun and gave me something to blog about, and extra incentive to get words done.

Sure, I had a couple of zero-days, and a couple of forgettable ones where I wrote less than a thousand, but mostly I did okay.

Averaging over 3,000 words a day, I hit the 50,000 word Nano target by day 18 and finished the book by day 26.

So that was pleasing, and from the stats in my local area alone, I can tell a lot of people found it as useful as me.

So it’s great to get you writing. But does this finished draft give me anything to work with?

The Draft

The dreaded first draft.

Most writers will say the first draft is their favourite, but I’m not sure.

I guess the best way to put it is that it’s the furthest from being my least favourite.

But ‘favourite’ as a word has too many positive connotations, and I’m not comfortable with that.

It’s always a mess, that’s the problem.

You do your plan, and that’s exciting. Then you start, hitting the ground running, and that’s brilliant.

Then, about 10,000 words in, we reach thorny territory.

Nothing is working. Your character isn’t right. The plot no longer makes sense.

Panic sets in.

Pens are thrown. Keyboards smashed.

People give up. Writers everywhere choose this moment to bin their mess of a start and run off crying until they have a new idea.

One that will actually work.

One that people will want to read.

Because no one would have read the first draft you were working on, would they?

Well, no, that’s the point, isn’t it?

Not that I was any different.

I chucked away hundreds of unfinished drafts for that reason. Like writers everywhere, I was missing the point.

First drafts are about discovery, change. Not perfection.

Think of it like Science (hey, remember Science?)

Your plan is your hypothesis.

This is what you expect to happen. How you expect the individual elements of character and plot to react together.

The first draft, then, is the experiment. You’re not sitting down to follow your plan but to test it. To get those words on the page and see if your hypothesis is correct.

Spoiler alert, it probably isn’t

We are bad scientists. We can theorise all we want but once that character hits the ground and starts making decisions… well, things are going to change.

The best way to figure out who your characters are is to start writing them. It’s in doing this that you will realise the best version of them.

It’s the same with the story, which may look great on paper but needs to be adaptable.

Use your first draft to test, and to tweak. To do a complete 180 if you need to.

DO NOT allow that plan to limit your creativity.

Change as you go, and never go back to change what came before.

By the time you’re done, that first draft will be a disastrous mess.

But that’s okay.

That’s what second drafts are for.

Take my NaNoWriMo Draft (which is what I’m supposed to be talking about anyway.) I went in with specific ideas. Ideas that began to desert me as I wrote.

I realised my main character needed to change. Realised she needed to change and, as I realised this, I also saw that the plot had to change too.

By the time I finished, the first and last act sounded as though they came from completely different books.

But that doesn’t matter.

I’ve worked it all out now.

When I come to do that second draft, I’ll be editing from a position of strength. I know who my characters are and what needs to happen. I can rewrite and tell the story in the way it needs to be told.

That’s exciting, and that’s the best thing about first drafts.

That’s why things like NaNoWriMo exist. Because in forcing you to get through this first draft it forces you to see the potential.

So if you gave up halfway through National Novel Writing Month because it wasn’t working.

Go back to it!

In the end, you won’t regret it.

Next Steps

Speaking of first drafts going their own way. I didn’t intend this blog to end up more instructional than reflective, but there you go.

National Novel Writing Month is over now. I hope anyone who took part enjoyed it.

For me, I’m going to stop trying to get out a blog every couple of days for at least the next month.

I need to focus on the redraft of Project Perry, so I’ll keep on doing my book reviews, but that may well be it.

But, sometime in the next few months, I would like to come back and talk more about my writing plans and how things are going.

I may even do another writing challenge.

Whatever, I’ll keep you updated.

So, see you then.

National Novel Writing Month: Victory

This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series National Novel Writing Month 2017

DAYS TWENTY-FOUR & TWENTY-FIVE

Written 26/11/2017 for 25/11/2017 and 24/11/2017

Yes. Another zero-day.

It was a Friday.

A real shit day actually. Not only was it my second zero-day but I didn’t even get any reading done in the evening.

So yeah, that was a real ‘cry yourself to sleep’ evening for me.

Yesterday was better. It had to be. I only needed to get one word. I did that and more.

Still didn’t get much reading done, so that’s not great.

But the words come first.

Estimated words to complete book: 92,000

Words for par, Day 25: 76,667

Words written: 3,547

Total words: 77,691

Words over Target: 1,024

Average per day: 3,107

Remaining: 14,309

Anyway, it’s Sunday now.

On Monday, when I did 4,000 words, I had dreams of finishing the book today, but I don’t see that happening now unless the book turns out to be much shorter than expected (entirely possible).

So, we’ll see how we get on, anyway.

I’ll let you know.

DAY TWENTY-SIX

Written 26/11/2017 for 26/11/2017

Okay, I smashed it.

Against all the odds.

Against my own expectations.

Here it is. The final count:

Final First Draft Word Count: 90,025

Days to complete: 26

Words written on final day: 9,048

Total words: 90,025 (assuming 3,306 words went missed along the way)

Average per day: 3,462

Okay so, first, let’s explain that 3,036 thing.

The final project is 90,025 words, but counting up the list of word counts I kept along the way, I’ve somehow, somewhere missed 3,036. Not sure how that’s happened, but let’s just accept it as a thing, shall we?

The important thing is I did it.

After a bad start, I didn’t think I would even get 50,000 words done, let alone the whole book.

But I smashed 50,000 words on day 18, beating the NaNoWriMo target, and went on to write another 40,000 words in the next eight days.

Pretty damn good considering everything else I’ve completed in November which amounts to:

  • Writing and scheduling 10 blogs
  • Finishing 5 books and getting halfway through a sixth, meaning a total of 1,903 pages read.
  • 150 hours of work
  • Two nights out
  • Two days travelling to and from Yorkshire
  • Visiting three sets of grandparents and one set of parents
  • A trip to the cinema
  • Several other social events
  • Having a full-time girlfriend

So yeah, I don’t want to say it, but you can.

I’m pretty damn amazing.

Now, it’s only ten to five on Sunday now, and I’ve got another blog to write, but I intend to post this tonight, then I’ll do a round-up of my thoughts on National Novel Writing Month and the first draft I’ve produced in a few days time (Dec 1st I imagine), so look out for that.

Meanwhile, everyone enjoy a drink celebrating me tonight. Go on, I’ve earned it for you.

National Novel Writing Month Days 20-23

This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series National Novel Writing Month 2017

DAY TWENTY

Written 21/11/2017 for 20/11/2017

My 10,000-word day got me into a better position than I had thought.

But you already knew that, didn’t you?

Didn’t you?

Anyway, it turned out I only needed to write 2,700 words to stay on target for finishing at the end of the month, so I aimed for 3,000.

The plan was to start at half seven, but I made that plan with a mouse so it didn’t work out.

(So many people are not going to get that joke)

In the end, I started at ten past eight, but did I let that hold me back from doing my 3,000 words by ten past nine?

What do you think?

Estimated words to complete book: 94,000

Words for par, Day 20: 62,666

Words written: 3,048

Total words: 63,923

Words over Target: 1,257

Average per day: 3,196

Remaining: 30,077

So it’s another good day.

If I can keep up these 3,000/day, uh, days, until Sunday and then on that day of rest knock out another ten thousand words I’ll go into the last few days of this challenge with very little left to do.

So, that’s exciting.

Onwards!

 

DAY TWENTY-ONE

Written 22/11/2017 for 21/11/2017

If there’s one thing I love – other than Eastenders, Eminem and Emma Stone (all e’s, huh, how about that?) – it’s challenges.

These can take a grand scale, such as my four year Man vs Bookshelf challenge, or a much smaller scale, like the one I undertook last night.

I started writing at eight pm on the dot and I thought to myself, I wonder if I can write 4,000 words in an hour.

It was, I admit, a hefty challenge, and I thought it might cost me some quality.

However, I’m not sure it did.

What certainly happened was that I became focused. I didn’t stop to take mid-session stats or to check my phone and I continuously ignored my girlfriend as she shouted through at me from the bedroom (sorry).

It was tough, and I was constantly hovering between making it and just missing it, which added a level of excitement that NaNoWriMo was not, alone, able to provide.

But did I do it?

Estimated words to complete book: 95,000

Words for par, Day 21: 66,500

Words written: 4,098

Total words: 68,021

Words over Target: 1,521

Average per day: 3,239

Remaining: 26,979

How’s that for tight.

Just over 4,000 and I didn’t cheat, either. I stopped exactly an hour after I started, and I was bloody pleased about it.

I might try it again tonight, but we’ll have to see.

I’ll let you know.

 

DAY TWENTY-TWO

Written 23/11/2017 for 22/11/2017

Look, I’m very busy today, so I really don’t have much time to talk.

Let’s keep it brief.

I wrote for just under an hour.

My output was not what it was the day before.

I still hit 3,000 words but did not quite match what I would have liked to do.

Still, I’m on target. See below.

Estimated words to complete book: 94,000

Words for par, Day 22: 68,933

Words written: 3,000

Total words: 71,021

Words over Target: 2,088

Average per day: 3,228

Remaining: 22,979

Another chance to move the chains tonight (that’s an NFL reference).

Hopefully, it can be a big day.

Until then, goodbye.

I got blogging to do.

Other blogging.

 

DAY TWENTY-THREE

Written 24/11/2017 for 23/11/2017

I try my very best, always, to restrict my evening writing time to writing only.

The moment you start throwing other tasks in your time just disappears and you end up getting no words done and half a blog.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work in practice.

I try to blog before work and at lunch but recently I’ve been getting into work later than usual so I’ve had no time to do it then, and there’s not enough time at lunch to get everything I need to get done, done.

So last night, I had to do some blogging, and I was able to finish editing my latest Man vs Bookshelf review and schedule it (so look out that, the day after next). Then I set up this blog, putting in all entries except the one I’m writing now.

With all that done, I was left with a markedly short about of time to do any writing, and I had to go over my writing deadline to do what I want to do.

I’ll do a round up on this book when I’m dong and talk about a some of this stuff then, but it’s worth mentioning now that the final act is not coming together as I would have liked.

There will be large changes throughout whenever I do edit this book, but for the most part I feel that I have had a good starting point. Something to build on.

This last act has felt a bit like I’m writing for the sake of writing, and given how far I’ve come in terms of developing the idea of this series, it feels pointless writing what I’m writing at the moment.

It’s my fault, really. With the first draft I did last month I was constantly pivoting and changing direction as I went, adapting the story and the plan I’d written to fit new plans and ideas that inevitably arose as I went along.

It makes for a first draft that’s a nightmare to read and makes little sense, but it’s so much better for follow up drafts.

I haven’t done that here, sticking more religiously to a plan I’ve probably outgrown.

That’ll hurt later, I think, but hey, at least I got my words done for the day.

In the end.

Estimated words to complete book: 93,000

Words for par, Day 23: 71,300

Words written: 3,123

Total words: 74,144

Words over Target: 2,844

Average per day: 3,223

Remaining: 18,856

So yeah, I’m feeling a little lethargic, but there are positives.

I know where I want to change this story and where I want to take it.

That’s all good.

But for now, I just want to get this first draft done.

So let’s focus on that.

National Novel Writing Month: Pivot (day 19)

This entry is part 6 of 9 in the series National Novel Writing Month 2017

DAY NINETEEN

Written 20/11/2017 for 19/11/2017

Right, I talked about this in the last post.

I completed National Novel Writing Month’s 50,000-word target.

Now, it’s time to pivot.

However, the book, which is shaping up nicely in many ways (and is a fucking disaster in many others – such is a first draft) is not yet done.

With that in mind, I thought it would be silly to stop now when I still have every intention of finishing this book by the end of the month (gulp).

Now, moving past NaNoWriMo’s end goal means something of a change of strategy in terms of daily targets and the stats I present. Luckily, I have help on that front.

I use Scrivener to do all my writing (and you should too if you have a Mac, which you totally should) and this presents me with a number of handy stats, which I have supplemented with my own information.

Given a target word count and an end date, Scrivener will tell you how many words you need to write on any given day to finish your book on time. A word count, I might add, that automatically updates every day depending on how many words you have remaining.

Knowing how many scenes I have, I use a constantly updated word count, altering it after every scene by working out the average number of words I have written so far per scene and timesing this by the total amount of scenes.

So, check out yesterday’s stats for the following:

  • The current predicted word count of hthe whole book
  • The words count I needed to be at as of yesterday to be on track for finishing at the end of the month
  • The words written yesterday (spoiler alert, it was a good day)
  • The total words written in the projects
  • The number of words I am over the target total at that day
  • The average words I’ve written per day across the project
  • How many words are remaining.

Check it out

Estimated words to complete book: 94,000

Words for par, Day 19: 59,534

Words written: 10,365

Total words: 60,875

Words over Target: 1,341

Average per day: 3,203

Remaining: 34,466

It’s going well.

A big day yesterday. 10,000 words put me just over where I need to be as of yesterday, and it’s going to take at least 3,300 words today to keep myself there.

Being back at work today after a few days on holiday, this will be difficult, but let’s see how I get on

National Novel Writing Month? Completed it. (days 16-18)

This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series National Novel Writing Month 2017

DAY SIXTEEN

Written 17/11/2017 for 16/11/2017

After a zero-day, you have to rally.

It’s not enough to look back and say you’ve done loads recently, so it’s okay. Or even to say that you’re well over target, so it doesn’t matter.

It’s a psychological thing. Two bad days in a row and you start to struggle. Or at least, I do.

So I wanted a good day. I needed a good day, and I wasn’t sure I was going to get one. I’m still up North on holiday and I didn’t think I’d get the time.

But then, I did.

Yay.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 16: 26,666

Words written: 5,681

Total words: 42,680

Words over Target: 16,014

Average per day: 2,668

Remaining: 7,370

So it sucks to have a zero-day, but the stats are good. In the last four days, I’ve had the zero, but then three days where I hit over 5,000 words.

I doubt I’ll get anywhere near that today, but I’d like to hit over 1,500.

I’ll see how it goes.

 

DAY SEVENTEEN

Written 18/11/2017 for 17/11/2017

Less than 5,000 words to go!!

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 17: 28,333

Words written: 2,523

Total words: 45,153

Words over Target: 16,820

Average per day: 2,656

Remaining: 4,847

Okay, I know I normally write a bit.

I know that’s what gets you through the week.

But it’s 20 past nine am now and I won’t be able to write after midday.

In fact, I’m leaving at midday and I’m not dressed and there’s breakfast to come.

Basically, I don’t have very much writing time today and I want to get as close as possible to finishing the 50,000 words if you don’t very much mind.

Thanks.

 

DAY EIGHTEEN

Written 19/11/2017 for 18/11/2017

Well NaNoWriMo has hardly been a ticking clock thriller for me.

I started badly and had a couple of rubbish days between then and now. Even a rare zero day.

But I’m still done.

NaNoWriMo 50,000 words complete as of 18th November 2017 with 510 words change.

Well done me.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 18: 30,000

Words written: 5,357

Total words: 50,510

Words over Target: 20,510

Average per day: 2,806

Remaining: -510

Now, despite ‘completing’ NaNoWriMo the book isn’t finished, and I would still like to do it in November.

It’s going to be tough, given I still have at least half to go with less than half the month less available to me, but I’m going to try.

It’s Sunday, bang on midday as I write this sentence.

I’ll get some done this afternoon and tomorrow, when I write Day 19, I’ll create a new set of stats to deal with the shifting nature of the challenge.

See you then.

National Novel Writing Month Days 6-10

This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series National Novel Writing Month 2017

DAY SIX

Written 07/11/2017 for 06/11/2017

I’m overextending myself.

I knew I would. I always do. I get too into it I love the writing and the blogging and the tweeting, so I just add more and more.

At the moment I write this diary thing when I get to work before I start. Then at lunch, I write for my Man vs Bookshelf blog (or read, if I need to). After dinner, I do my tweeting and FBing and write for my latest writing project, and then before I go to bed, I do my reading.

It’s too much; I know it is. If I get talking before work, or I go out to lunch at lunch, or I spend too long watching telly in the evening, suddenly, I’m behind. Even though I’m getting my Nano targets hit at the moment, I’m still never going to get the whole book finished this month, and that’s depressing enough.

But I don’t want to stop. I can’t stop. Stupid as it is I’ll keep pushing myself until it all collapses around my shoulders.

So, that should be fun…

But like I say, I’m still hitting my targets and yesterday, despite The Walking Dead being on, I managed to do it again:

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 6: 10,000

Words written: 1,795

Total words: 12,898

Words over Target: 2,898

Average per day: 2,149

Remaining: 37,102

Tonight I’m going to the cinema, so that’s fucked everything up.

I’m going to get home, have dinner, and try bang out another 1,800 words before I go. If I do it, fab, if I don’t, well, I’ll probably spend the whole film crying.

 

DAY SEVEN

Written 08/11/2017 for 07/11/2017

Last night was an adrenaline packed race against time.

It was like a Michael Bay film but with a story.

I arrived home from work at half six, and I had until seven forty-five before I would be picked up and taken to the cinema to see Thor: Ragnarok.

In that time I needed to prepare dinner, eat dinner, and do at least 1,800 words on my NaNo project.

A terrifying task, but I was ready.

I chopped potatoes like a madman. Sprinkled herbs and spices over them like I had an infinite supply. Chucked them in the oven like I was flinging a baby from a burning building. Then it was to the writing.

600 words before dinner was ready. Food and conversation with the girlfriend followed and then it was back to the keys, time slipping away like a bar of soap out of wet hands.

But could I make it?

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 7: 11,666

Words written: 1,831

Total words: 14,729

Words over Target: 3,063

Average per day: 2,104

Remaining: 35,271

In the end, I suffered a string of texts from my ride to the cinema, but I managed to get the words done, doing less than 50 more than yesterday, but also drawing slightly further ahead of the target.

It was always going to be tough, but I did it, and I’m hoping for at least 2,000 words tonight.

Before The Apprentice that is.

We’ll see how it goes.

 

DAY EIGHT

Written 09/11/2017 for 08/11/2017

I’m going to collapse.

I’m ploughing on. I posted my next Man vs Bookshelf blog yesterday, and I did my Nano words, but it came at a price.

I didn’t start writing till half eight; then I had to watch the Apprentice at nine. I got back to writing after but by the time I had done my words and tidied up etc. It was eleven o clock.

Eleven is the latest I like to be up, but I hadn’t even done my reading. By the time that was done, it was midnight.

Needless to say, I’m knackered today.

But at least I did my words, right?

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 8: 13,333

Words written: 1,875

Total words: 16,604

Words over Target: 3,271

Average per day: 2,075

Remaining: 33,396

What’s the target today? The last three days I’ve done a handful more words each day, so I guess let’s keep that going.

Today’s target is to get at least 1,876 words.

 

DAY NINE

Written 10/11/2017 for 09/11/2017

Oh, bugger.

I was supposed to write this in the morning. I always try to write my Nano update in the morning before I start, so I don’t forget the circumstances of what happened the day before.

But I was late to the office today, so didn’t get a chance.

And now I have actually forgotten.

So, um, bugger.

Luckily I write all my stats down the night before, so you can still enjoy reading those (you lucky thing), and I’ll get back to writing these things first thing tomorrow.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 9: 15,000

Words written: 1,926

Total words: 18,530

Words over Target: 3,530

Average per day: 2,058

Remaining: 31,470

 

DAY TEN

Written 11/11/2017 for 10/11/2017

I think NaNoWriMo can be a fantastic thing for writers.

I’ve said before how habit is vital for writers. The process of just getting words down day after day because, the truth is, the only way to get better is to keep writing.

You can read every book and blog going about how to become a better writer but, if you don’t start getting words down, it’s all for nowt.

So NaNoWriMo encourages this kind of commitment, but it also invites you to finish something, which is the other key to becoming a better writer.

In my years I have started over a thousand stories, novels and scripts and left them to die in the wilderness of my hard drive, and each one taught me a little more about writing. But, the problem with that is that no one publishes a first draft (I don’t care what Lee Child says, I’m not buying it).

Editing is vital to success. Reworking things that didn’t work in the first place.

It’s only by forcing yourself to this stage, however bad you might think the first draft is, that you finally learn to progress to a book that is good enough to be read.

So the habit NaNoWriMo brings is excellent, but I also think it’s worth being careful because Nano asks that you write at least 1,667 words a day, and this is where problems can arise.

Take last night, for example.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 10: 16,666

Words written: 849

Total words: 19,379

Words over Target: 2,713

Average per day: 1,937

Remaining: 30,621

I sat down after the England/ Germany game and pledged that I would write 2,000 words. I wanted to get further ahead of target, and I didn’t even want to think about giving up.

However, after about 250 words, it became clear it wasn’t working.

I couldn’t get into the right frame of mind, and I was pushing words out thoughtlessly. First drafts take a certain degree of free writing, but there comes a point – when you’re writing just for the sake of writing – that you’re doing more harm than good.

That’s what was happening to me last night, and it made me think.

I almost always cannot be bothered to start writing. It’s very rare that I’ll get in and want to get going. I start because I know I have to. Because I’m committed.

Despite this reluctance to start, once I’ve begun, everything tends to change. I fall immediately into the project, and I’ll just go, banging out however many words I can in the time allowed and not wanting to stop.

So, when I get to 250 words, and it’s just not clicking, even though that’s not very many, it is an obvious sign that something is not right.

I didn’t heed this warning last night, but I should have.

Luckily I came to my senses just after 800 words and realised I was wasting my time. I was tired, I was grumpy, and I was just junking out senseless nonsense to get the words done.

So here’s what I would say.

Promise yourself 250 words a night.

It’s nothing. It’ll take ten minutes, so you won’t be afraid to do it.

It’s because of this that you’ll almost always do more. You’ll smash targets, and you’ll be happier for it too. Keep writing as long as you feel good to keep writing, and you’ll easily make enough words on the on days to cover the days when 250 is about all you can manage.

I’ve been writing a long time, but it’s never too late to learn.

I’ll be holding this lesson close to me from now on.

The Morton family awaits

Hey, guys,

My book just landed on Amazon.

Joining literally billions of other books, all seeking your attention.

All trying to grab your money because the authors want to be rich.

Not me.

I don’t want to be rich.

I just want the Morton family to be heard.

 

Their lives are quickly tumbling out of control. They’re making bad choices left right and centre.

Blood will be spilled.

Honestly, you’ve got to see it.

So come on.

The Morton family awaits…

Here comes National Novel Writing Month

This entry is part 1 of 9 in the series National Novel Writing Month 2017

It’s that time again.

Tomorrow will officially mark the beginning of what many people are now calling “November”.

And, with the beginning of “November” comes more than just Christmas shopping, Christmas songs and lots of people crying about how cold it is.

November is also National Novel Writing Month.

(Woo).

For the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month is where loads of people write a novel in a month. Loads here being an official stat.

Myself, I always try to write my novel drafts in a month, but I’ve never gone in for NaNoWriMo before.

This isn’t because I feel utter contempt for other writers and loathe participating in anything that reminds me of their existence. Although there is that. It’s more because it’s never been convenient before. When November hits, I’m usually halfway through another project. That project being my first campaign in the new Football Manager Beta.

But this year is different.

The new Football Manager has changed enough to piss me off, and I finished my last writing project ten days ago. Now I’m looking for something to write while that first draft gestates (gestates?!)

NaNo has come along at the perfect time.   

As for the project itself, I don’t want to talk too much about it as it could be a long time before anything gets released.

Saying that, I do think it might be interesting to talk about my NaNo experiences themselves. That’s why I’m writing this. I’m going to take notes of my progress day to day and post them up here for all my readers to see.

I’m sure the three of you will be thrilled.

So, tomorrow is November, and my next first draft begins.

How exciting.

What a week (for writing)

Like the rest of you, I hate Monday mornings.

However, also like the rest of you, I knew that, as Monday rolled around (again) I had to drag myself out of bed and head to work because bills or something.

But that, I’m afraid, is where the similarities between you and me end. Because, while you sat at your desk and suffered in silence, not just on Monday, but all week, I had had enough.

“That’s it,” I said to my boss upon walking through the door. “I’ve had enough. I quit.”

And he said: “No.”

And I looked him in the eye, and I said: “you make some good points, Mr Boss, I retract my resignation. But I can’t hack it this week; I’m going home now.”

And he said: “also no.”

And I said: “Fuck’s sake, mate, can I at least have Tuesday through Friday off?”

And he said: “Okay, but only because you keep starting sentences with the word ‘and’ and it’s poor form, and I’m sick of it.

An- sorry, so I said: “Good enough for me.”

So I had a week off, and I told myself I was going to be productive.

I was going to cure world hunger, and if I couldn’t do that (which I couldn’t) I was going to write.

See I was 56,000 words into a projected 80,000 novel, and I thought, if I work hard, I can finish that book this week.

I did an’ all. But it’s better than even it sounds. Because that 80,000-word novel grew over the next few days and by the time I finished, yesterday evening, it had become 116,000 words.

I had just ploughed out 60,000 words in fours days. So I whipped my calculator out and worked out that’s 15,000 words a day.

Yes, a calculator, I’m a writer, not a mathematician.

It has been a whirlwind. Pretty much non-stop writing and I’m so excited to get to re-drafting it after “letting it lie” a while.

In the meantime, I’m going to be ploughing on with my Man vs Bookshelf challenge. (I’m meant to be writing my Lisey’s Story review for that right now, but it’s harddddd, so I’m doing this instead) and, come November, I”m going to writing a new first draft for National Novel Writing Month so I’ll be planning that over the next few days.

So thanks for reading this ego piece and look out for the product of this beautiful week (working title ‘The Thing About Luke’) next May. And, in the meantime, remember to get your copy of Poor Choices, my latest novel.

Honestly, you won’t regret it.

Unless you do.

Man vs Bookshelf: Horowitz Horror

This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

Last Thursday, when I began my Man vs Bookshelf challenge, I said I was going to start with Lisey’s Story by Stephen King.

This turned out to be a lie.

Not that I intended to be dishonest with you so early into the challenge.

I even had Lisey’s Story out ready to read.

Then I wrote my intro post and went through to my bedroom where I had left the book, ready to begin.

And I stopped.

There it was, back cover pressed against the bedside table and front stretching towards the sky. Almost touching the ceiling.

Okay, not that far, but it’s a big book, is my point. Some 667 pages (give or take) and I was afraid.

The point of this challenge is to do 210 books in 210 weeks, and I am not fool enough to think it will fall simply as that. Some books will take much less than their given week. Some (like The Stand or Game of Thrones) will take much longer.

Lisey’s Story, I knew, could well fall into the latter category. This is fine in principle, but not from the start.

I had visions of being down by week two, and how I might react. I hate losing and could see myself tearing down my bookshelf and setting fire to it. A much more dramatic end to the series but one less satisfying in the long run.

No, this series was going to be Sam Mendes, not Michael Bay.

So, leaving Lisey’s Story where it was, I returned to my bookshelf and looked for something I could read in a couple of days. Something which would earn me the time I needed to finish Lisey’s Story without falling behind.

In the end, I went for Horowitz Horror. By, surprise surprise, well known English author, Anthony Horowitz.

So, let’s talk about that, shall we?

Anthony and Me

Before I dive into my thoughts on the book, I’d like to talk about my relationship with the author. As an author that is, not as a person.

In short, it’s variable.

Like a lot of guys who grew up in the 90s, I’ve been reading Anthony Horowitz for a long time. His Alex Rider series began when I was 8 and ran through my teenage years. I read (but no longer own) the first six of those and always had mixed thoughts about them.

The plots were good. They were exciting. They always finished with a bang. But I considered them to sag a little in the middle. I’ve often found that in a Horowitz series, the descriptions can seem a bit slow and overwritten.

I remember one scene (and I no longer remember which Rider book it was from) when Alex spent a whole chapter walking around a boat doing not much.

I almost fell asleep.

Then there was the Gatekeeper series, which started in 2005. I loved the first of these (Raven’s Gate) but after that struggled with how slow they were. I think I got part way through four and quit.

But it’s not all bad. Recently I read The Switch, which was fast-paced, smart, and a great read all through.

And of course, we have the Diamond Brothers Series, the first of which came out before I was even born. These have been on my shelf for over a decade, and are still there now.

As they will become part of Man vs Bookshelf, I won’t talk too much about them. I will just say, they’re brilliant. Quick, clever, and funny, whether you’re twelve, twenty-five, or ninety. I’ll be reading and re-reading them my whole life I imagine.

Horowitz Horror

Given this breadth of enjoyment across Horowitz’s books, I went into Horowitz Horror (which I’ve not read before) unsure what to expect, but excited to find out.

In the end, I gave Horowitz Horror a 3/5 on Goodreads. It was an easy read. The pacing was good with nothing unnecessary thrown in.

The problem was there often wasn’t much substance. You can say it’s down to length but plots often felt rushed, and this isn’t the case in all short stories.

My other general problems with the series were that it wasn’t frightening, and was often predictable.

Maybe it’s not scary because it’s for younger readers, but I remember being 12. I would have wanted this book to scare me. As I wanted it to scare me as an adult.

As for predictability, each story ended with a reversal or twist. The problem was you could usually see these coming a mile off. Again, I’m an adult, but I’m not sure these would fool many 12 year-olds either.

But, I don’t want to put the series down. There were some decent tales in here and a couple of twists that did take me by surprise.

So, let’s get into it, starting with…

  1. Bath Night

We open with a story that is well written and paced. Two arguing parents buy an antique bath which turns out to be evil. Isobel (our hero) realises this and attempts to destroy the haunted object.

The story employs a well-worn horror cliche: an object haunted by a killer who once used said object when murdering his victims. How a killer has come to haunt an object they owned is rarely explained by horror writers. Horowitz is not an exception.

There is also the classic YA/Children’s fiction cliche on show here. The evil object only acts up in front of the child, never the parents.

In Bath Night, Isobel is bathing in blood but, when her mother enters the room, it’s back to water.

Dick move, bath. Dick move.

This doesn’t make sense from a plot point of view. The killer is a killer. He has no reason to torment only the child. However, you can understand why writers have so long been using this trick. It keeps the kid isolated, and helps build the suspense. If you can suspend your disbelief, it works well again here.

What doesn’t work so well is the lack of roadblocks the character faces. In fiction writing, they say you should put your character up a tree, throw rocks at them, then let them down. In Bath Time, and many of the stories in this collection, there aren’t enough rocks.

For Isobel, a couple of horrible incidents (including the above) are enough. She heads back to the shop where they purchased the bath and, lo and behold, the first shop assistant she speaks to gives her what she needs. No fight. No needing to check. No lies. He just tells her the bloody history of the bath and sends her on her way.

Of course, this is to keep the story short and helps to contextualise the climax that follows. A climax that, while exciting to an extent, offers little surprises or obstacles for Isobel.

All in all a good story but not much thinking necessary. Don’t expect this to change further down the line.

Out of the collection, this is our Bronze Medal story.

2. Killer Camera

Recently I read Goosebumps’ Say Cheese and Die (released six years before Horowitz Horror).

Killer Camera is in much the same vein as that and is as predictable.

From the moment our hero, Matthew, sees the camera, you know it’s going to be evil. It doesn’t take the seller of the camera saying the owner’s disappeared for you to know bad things will happen to the subject of any pictures.

Like the first story, this is fast-paced. The problem is we want to see the camera in action, and Horowitz goes to some lengths to avoid a human subject. To the point that it just doesn’t ring true.

When Matt first buys the camera and wants to test it out, he doesn’t pick a person at random to photograph; he picks a mirror (which promptly smashes).

When Matt then gives the camera to his dad as a present, the latter professes it is too dark to take a picture of younger son Jamie. This would be fine if not for the fact he then takes a picture of a tree in the garden and the family dog.

Is the tree filled with lanterns? Does the dog have a radioactive glow?

It isn’t explained why it is too dark to take a picture of Jamie but not a dog and tree, and it was a point I found jarring.

However, if you can suspend your disbelief (a common theme in this collection), then there is a lot to like here. Not least the well-executed race against time climax which sees Matt return home to find his parents and brother have gone out with the camera.

Desperate to save them, he races to find them, and the story ends with a nice twist which is clever, dark, and suitably surprising.

3. Light Moves

The first of two first-person stories. A lot here is the same as the first couple of stories. What’s different is that the object of focus does not appear to be inherently evil. In fact, it begins as downright useful.

This time our object is a computer, given to our hero (Henry) after it’s owner (a racing correspondent) has died at his desk.

Not being an axe murderer (Bath Night) or a satanist (Killer Camera) the possessed computer seems less interested in murder. Instead, the ghost of journalist Ethan starts spitting out the winner of one horse race a day.

Why does the columnist’s death give him precognitive powers?

Who knows, maybe the afterlife is timeless. It’s never explained, so we suspend our disbelief again.

In doing this, we have a story that rattles along. The tips work, but Henry is too young to bet. Because of this, he enlists the help of deranged older kid, Bill, to place the bets for him, splitting the winnings.

This, as Henry’s smart friend Leo warns him, is a terrible idea. It is clear from his first appearances that psycho Bill is not someone you want to do business with. But Henry, blinded by greed, is not apt to listen to the warning bells in his head, or to Leo.

Such disregard for the warning signs leads to a climax in which Bill comes to steal the computer. Not much happens here, and the disappointing thing is that our hero steps aside and lets it happen. All this to facilitate a twist we saw coming.

This story is not awful, but neither is it as good as the first two. It has a weak ending, and as in previous tales, some of the devices for moving the plot along are clunky.

How does Henry find out what the word ‘Casablanca’, the first to appear on his screen, means? He walks past two teachers, one telling the other he won money on the horse Casablanca.

Hmm, very likely.

4. The Night Bus

One of a couple of tales where the story is the twist and the twist very good.

Two boys trying to get home after a late night party jump on a night bus which is, alas, not the one from Harry Potter.

The story is nothing more than one of the boys – Nick – watching people get on and off the bus, each arrival further spelling out the twist we got from their first conversation with the conductor upon arriving at the bus.

As such, when this twist is finally ‘revealed’ by the mother, no one is very surprised or interested.

5. Harriet’s Horrible Dream

As above, we all know what’s coming here from very early on. This story has more substance but signals the first of three unbearable POV characters.

In a row.

Now, I’m all for an anti-hero, and characters we ‘love to hate’. Frank Underwood and Patrick Bateman immediately spring to mind.

This story, however, gives us Harriet. A spoilt snobby little girl who revels in getting her nannies fired and who is happy to leave her parents for a stranger the moment her father loses all their money.

The intention here, presumably, is to get us to hate Harriet for reasons that become clear at the end of the tale.

It works, but sitting in Harriet’s head for 18 pages is still an intolerable experience. Especially when we know where we are going the whole time and are not surprised when we reach the end.

6. Scared

The second of three stories with a thoroughly unlikeable main character.

This tale’s only saving grace is that we are stuck in Gary’s head for just 11 pages – making it the shortest of the book.

In those 11 pages, Horowitz treats us to a laundry list of terrible things our ‘hero’ has done. Ranging from being generally awful to his mother and grandmother, to opening a farm gate in the hope the cows will escape.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, Gary admits to having stolen his favourite jacket from AN OXFAM SHOP.

Yeah, Horowitz really wanted us to hate this one.

The story itself is about Gary getting lost after going for a walk. You may not see the ending coming, but neither is it enjoyable. There is no climax, no excitement. Just an underwhelming end.

I would give this tale the esteemed Worst Story Award.

7. A Career in Computer Games

The final (thankfully) hateful character. Here we have an idiot thief whose crimes include (but are not limited to) stealing from his mother and throwing a brick at a cat for no reason.

What a champ.

The story involves our ‘hero’ – Kevin – signing up to test a new game.

It’s evident from the get-go something dodgy is going on, but Kevin isn’t bothered. He hears two grand a week, and signs on the dotted line.

The story from here is as you’d expect. His life becomes a game, and this gives Horowitz the chance to have some fun. He treats us to the most action-packed plot so far as Kevin tries to stay alive against numerous faceless killers on foot, bikes and in helicopters.

There’s not much more to it than that, but the ending involved an enjoyable twist. Yes, he’s in a game, as you expected, but perhaps not in the way you expected.

Not a great story in all, but the action and the last lines bring it well above the two that preceded it.

8. The Man with the Yellow Face

The second of two first-person stories. A boy waiting at a platform gets some pics at a Photo Booth. Upon printing the photos, he finds the third of four pictures is not of him at all, but of an ugly man with a yellow face.

This story proves that lack of pages does not mean a lack of suspense. Horowitz foreshadows the climax brilliantly here, and my heart pounded as I read towards it.

The twist I guessed, but only moments before the reveal, and it was still satisfying.

This story proves it is possible to be clever and build suspense, even over only a few pages. Although the twist is not quite as good as the one to follow, this is still my favourite story.

Our Gold Award Winner.

9. Monkey Ear

A take on the classic tale ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ (which is referenced here, albeit attributed to Edgar Allen Poe rather than W. W. Jacobs) but with a nice twist.

The story starts with a family on holiday and not enjoying it. Looking for a taxi rank, they step into a shop. Here the shopkeep’s nephew sells them a Monkey’s Ear, saying it will grant four wishes.

At home father, mother and son, place three wishes, although they don’t believe they will work.

In a way, the ear vindicates their disbelief. Something does happen after each wish, but it seemingly has nothing to do with the request made.

I confess this one got me. I could not for the life of me see how we were getting from wish to result. It was driving me mad.

In the end, and for the first time in this book, I needed the hero to spell it out to me. And, when the child Bart obliged, having worked it out himself after three wishes, I was impressed.

And there was still one wish to go!

Now, with the trick behind the Monkey’s Ear revealed, there is one more surprise in store as father and son fight over who should get the final wish.

Here Horowitz ends on a high point, with the best twist of the series coming right at the end. And this story, following our Gold Award, wins the Silver Medal.

Verdict

Nothing here will linger in the memory for long. But the series was an easy read and at least somewhat enjoyable throughout.

An excellent way to start the challenge (I started this on Thursday and finished Friday morning) I gave it a 3/5 on Goodreads.

Up Next

Okay, this time, I promise, it’s time for Lisey’s Story.

As a big Stephen King book, I imagine this could be a world away from what I’ve just read.

We’ll just have to wait and see.