Writing a Novel: Cutting Out The B.S

If you’re writing a novel, this is all very good stuff.

Sorry nothing from me this week. Am awaiting learning observation in… 40 minutes. Very scary! Ask any teacher.

Blog About Writing

The more I try to write a novel, the more I feel like I’m learning to write all over again.

I’ve got until the end of January to get the second draft done and sent off for a critique, so now I’m going through the first draft (which is as rough as a bear’s bum) and:

1. making a list of all the scenes (so many mad ideas! Some to be jettisoned, some to be expanded).
2. sorting out the ‘backstory’ and putting those pages into a pile of their own, clearly (and rather appropriately), labelled ‘BS’.

When I went on a novel-writing weekend last October, I was told in no uncertain terms, that my first 5000 words were (pah!) ‘backstory’ (ie: stuff that comes before the ‘narrative frame’ of the novel) and, it seems, that’s a typical rookie mistake.

Another delegate on the course confided that she’d had to…

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The Last Day of Christmas

Can’t stop long.  Am reading Anne Boileau’s Katharina Luther, Nun Rebel and Wife, which is amazing and I’ve got to finish it for book club on Tuesday afternoon, when the author herself is coming to deliver a talk on Katharina Luther and her book.  Actually we’ve all known Anne for a long time, as a member of the congregation of our neighbouring church and by another name – her real name.  It’s great to read a very local author.

January 2018, Together magazineIn the meantime – and on a much smaller scale – my article on church bookshops (Do We Need Bookstalls Inside Churches?) has been published in the January edition of Together magazine (Together being the journal of CRT (Christian Resources Together), which supports all Christian publishing.)  Of course, one and only husband found a SPAG, a word omitted – my besetting sin, since I started writing stories at junior school.)

Christmas decorations in bags, having been packed up.It is now the end of Christmas.  Today is 6 January, Epiphany, the last of the twelve days of Christmas.  First thing this morning, OOH and I took down the decorations and put the tree outside.  They’re all in bags now, waiting to go into the attic.  I do love watching the Christmas lights on our Christmas tree, but there’s something very refreshing about seeing the house uncluttered by cards and dangling Christmas lights with trailing electric leads.  The days have started getting longer and lighter, really, honestly… well, a bit anyway.  Not so nice is having to prepare my lessons Bags full of teaching materials, ready for work tomorrow.tomorrow.

So, it’s down to work and down to writing… I hope.  Dear Reader, you saw my writing schedule in my previous post.  First thing is I have to write a blog post for the Association of Christian Writers More Than Writers blog for Saturday, 13 January.  However, already every day life is intervening.  I’ve just had to pay £300 on my car.  I took it into my usual garage to get its indicators sorted out, only to be told, by the mechanic, that all my tyres were almost illegal.  Seeing as I will be taking my poor little car to the same garage for its MOT in a couple of months, I had to get it sorted out.  Ouch, says my poor old bank account.  Ouch.  When are you going back to work, it asks, and when are going to be able to feed me again?

Schedule for Writing and Publishing?

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The day has come… for the Insecure Writers Support Group.  This month, we are asked what sort of schedule we have in place for writing and publishing.  I sort of alluded to this in my previous post (about New Year Resolutions).  My biggest issue at the moment is that I’m teaching and doing other (paid) jobs, also I’m Competitions Manager for the Association of Christian Writers and involved in leading services and preaching at church.  Contrary to what everybody believes about teachers (‘You get your long holidays, don’t you?’ Snigger, snigger, snigger.  Btw, we don’t.  Not in the adult sector), we work very hard, preparing lessons and doing all the paperwork required by management.  Moreover, although I enjoy my role in the ACW enormously, it does take up a lot of my time, as does what I do in church.  So…. a very crowded life, even though I retired, once, from full-time teaching, and this year I’ve got to think about what has to go.  (Put it another way, what I can afford to go.)

Photo of your blogger.
Me, in author pose.

Last month, I did myself an Author Photo – using the selfie tool on my iPhone (see right).

My schedule so far (not necessarily in this order) is pretty ropey:

  1. Edit The Novel whenever I get a spare moment.
  2. On completion of 1, consider structure of The Novel and re-edit.
  3. Write article on rejection for Christian Writer (already pitched).
  4. Read books in later historical genres.
  5. Read and review books published by Instant Apostle (because I’m in their Facebook group and who knows… they might be interested.)
  6. On completion of 1 and 2, seek an editor (probably seeking advice of someone in ACW).
  7. By 1 November 2018, be in a position to start Nano with a new book!

… And I think that’s enough to be going on with. However ropey my schedule seems to you, Dear Reader, I certainly won’t get around to doing anything more.

Happy New Year… But Spare Me the New Year Target-Setting

I don’t do New Year resolutions.  I have had enough of target-setting at work.

So don’t expect me, today, on New Year’s Eve, when I’m full of mince pies and Christmas cake and busy with family and social activities, to vow to eat less/ do a dry January/ join a gym/ read more/ do more in the garden/ spend more time with the cat… or even to do more writing.

Most targets at work are just bits of paper for your manager to wave in front of his/her manager.  So are too many New Year Resolutions.  Most New Year resolutions would dissolve in the fountain in Trafalgar Square (if we could muster the energy to get off our sofas, take a train to London and jump in).  Come the second week of January, we’ve forgotten about them (unless anyone’s joined a gym, in which case he/she will get an unpleasant reminder every time  receive his/her monthly bank statement).

What’s special about a new year?  If we’re serious about what we do, we consider what we want to achieve carefully and over a longish period of time.  We set our proper goals whenever, in any month, any week.  Most importantly, we give ourselves the necessary tools, because our goals are real and we believe in them.

Cartoon writerI am definitely not doing enough writing.  I’ve posted on ‘From Story Idea to Reader’ Facebook group that I want to finish editing The Novel. Also,  I know I should also be submitting short stories to likely markets.  But, as you know, Dear Reader, I’m visiting The Novel every Thursday (in term-time, anyway) and not submitting any short stories at all.  The tool I need is time.  So… I have got to think about ways to make more time to write.  This is not easy to get my head around and will not come quickly, seeing as a girl has to live as well.   And I want to do my stuff for church and the Association of Christian Writers.  I’m accepting entries for the ACW Historical Fiction competition at the moment, but I’m not promoting it in this post as the deadline is midnight tomorrow.

No quick New Year fix, I’m afraid.  …Maybe I should give up blogging.  It is very time consuming.

When my husband worked in the City, he used to buy the Private Eye annual every year and get it signed by Ian Hislop, in Waterstones.  Says my husband, “Well, Ian, another year.”

“Yes,” replies Ian Hislop.  “Another year, another pair of underpants.”

(And that’s a true story.)

Help Me Raise £250 For The Dogs Trust By Leaving Me A Link To Your Blog

Even this cat-lover says… The Dog’s Trust is a good cause.

Hugh's Views & News

The Christmas tree is up, but something is missing. There are no gifts under it, and I need your help to put that right.

#charity #appeal #christmastree #christmas

For this year’s Christmas charity appeal, I’m asking you to help me raise up to £365 for The Dogs Trust.

The Dogs Trust, formerly known as the National Canine Defence League, is an animal welfare charity and humane society in the United Kingdom which specialises in the well-being of dogs. Click here to go to their website.

Want to get involved? Here’s what you need to do.

  1. In the comments section of this post, leave the name of your blog and a link to it. This can be a link to your ‘about me’ page, a favourite blog post you’ve published, or the home page of your blog.
  2. If you’re an author, you’re also welcome to leave me a link to any books you have published. So, for…

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Writing Over Christmas

Take a break from writing to spend time with family, meet friends and celebrate.  That’s what romantic novelist and womag writer, Patsy Collins, is recommending in the From Story Idea to Reader Facebook group.  Too late, Patsy, I’ve already started.

My third favourite occupation (after writing and reading) is cooking.  Below is some of the food no family can do without over Christmas.

Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding
Christmas cake
Christmas Cake, iced my son-in-law.
Home made mincepies, using my friend, Julie's, mincemeat
Mince pies using my friend’s mincemeat.






Stocking your blogger made for her granddaughter.
Granddaughter’s stocking.

Last week, I relearned all my needlework skills (from over twenty-five years ago) and made my granddaughter’s stocking.   By the way, ‘relearning my needlework skills’ included remembering how to re-thread my sewing machine.

Photo of your blogger.
Me, in author pose.

Two weeks ago I had to submit a modern author photo to accompany my article in Together  (trade magazine for Christian publishers). Presentation is everything these days.  Sitting at home in my own living room one evening, I took about ten selfies on my iPhone.  I always look terrible in photos.  I really am not America’s Next Best Model as I can’t smile to order.  I eventually chose this one.

Lesson plan for maths class
My lesson plan for my maths class.

Last weekend I was preparing for a learning observation – of a maths class.  Bear it in mind, Dear Reader, that I haven’t taught maths for ten years and only restarted after the October half-term.   I was going out of my mind with nerves.  Then the observation was cancelled due to snow.

So, I will do more writing after Christmas.  Really, honestly.   We all will, won’t we?  In that slack week between Boxing Day and New Year, whilst eating turkey sandwiches and left-over sprouts, you could have a go at the ACW (Association of Christian Writers) Historical Fiction Competition.  (I can’t.  I’m not allowed to because of being ACW Competitions Manager.)   You need to write a short story (word count 1200 words) set in or before 1970.  (This accords with the Historical Fiction Society’s definition of historical being anything fifty years ago or beyond.)  The deadline is 31 December 2017, so you really will have to write during mince pie time.  More information on the ACW website.

Happy Christmas.  I doubt if I will have time to post next week.  I’ll be making the trifle.

Post-Brexit, Let’s Stop Using Euro Language

For some people it’s de rigeur to drop a morceau of francais into their conversazione.  If the plebs they are speaking to is not au fait with le francais,  they enjoy a sense of the old schadenfreude.  After all, we all need a bit of yin and yang, don’t we – if we know what it means.  (Probably not.)

Or maybe they’re into a bit of Latin.  They like ad hoc arrangements or  bore people ad nauseam or even ad referendum, which, despite sounding like Brexit-speak, means to the ‘point of reference’.

Or into Americana.  They go to the bathroom (other than to take a bath).  They own an SUV, which has a hood (and their car (sorry, automobile) would have a trunk if it weren’t an SUV. If someone offered them chips, what would they expect?

The usual reason given for using foreign words is that you achieve a more finely-tuned meaning.  Rubbish!  Put that in your poubelle… or your trash can…schnellpronto.  (Oh… no.  That doesn’t mean promptly, as it sounds, but is colloquial Italian for ‘Hello’.)  I would love to be able to justify my stand by re-stating the common belief that there are more words in English than any other language, but, alas, this is not true.  Whereas the Oxford English Dictionary lists 171,476 English words in common usage, that is nothing to the Koreans’ 1,100,373 words and, in Europe, we’re roundly beaten by the Swedes (600,000) and Lithuanians and Norwegians (500,000 each), even though it was the Danes (well down the list on 200,000 to 300,000)* who invented the word hygge

Hygge means enjoying the simple pleasures in life, and we could all do with enjoying the simple pleasures of our own language, even though I know that all languages are a mishmash of each other.  I’m also aware that languages are living things and develop all the time.  However, there’s a huge difference between using a foreign word for something that English-speaking people don’t encounter, such as tsunami or Perestroika, and substituting where there’s a perfectly adequate English word.

People may use foreign words to show off, like John Cleese’s character in The Dead Parrot sketch.   (‘I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.’**)  Or because they’re embarrassed.  (‘I wish to use the toilette.’)  And there is the danger of misunderstanding your non-English vocabulary and saying something you don’t mean, possibly something offensive.  In all these situations, people end up looking ridiculous.  The Academie Francaise carefully monitors all incursions into the French language.  We should do the same for ours.

* Ad referendum

**Ad referendum

IWSG: Regrets, Completions, What Worked and Didn’t Work

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This is going to have to be a very short post, given that it’s already eleven pm, and I’m knackered.  I’m writing to the IWSG prompts.

2.  What worked for me this year?  I worked, at the day-job.  Hence, very little writing done.  Today, I discovered I have a learning observation on Monday, so I’ve spent literally all day writing a lesson plan and presentation.

3.  What do I hope to achieve next year, in terms of writing and publishing?  Some more stories placed.  Well, let’s be brutally frank.  Stories can’t be placed unless they’re submitted.  Let’s make that more stories submitted.

4.  Special skills I’m interested in?  Improved social media skills.  I fear my posts are dead boring.  And I really must get into Twitter.  (However many times have I said that to myself?)

Cup of tea
My favourite cup.

5.  Personal life?  Yes, I do have one of those.  I have a lovely family.  I have friends who I love seeing.  I have a church who need my time and attendance too; I’ve just taken up preaching.  I need to strike a balance between all these things.

  1. What do I want to complete?  Some pieces of writing.

…I’m having a cup of tea and a biscuit, then I’m going to bed.

Why Do We Write? (999th Post on This Subject – Possibly)

It’s the mention we want, I think.

One of my nicer tasks as Competitions Manager for the Association of Christian Writers is to inform winners that they have won in our competitions.  First-place is awarded a book-token prize, and his/her story is published in Christian Writer, which is circulated to the ACW’s seven hundred members.  Second-place also receives a (smaller) book token, although third-place doesn’t, and the names of first-, second- and third-place are published in Christian Writer as winners.  What I find is, over and over again, that the most important thing to the winner is his/her story appearing in Christian Writer, not the book token, and, to the second and third-placed winners, seeing their name on the printed page.

This reflects the fact that very few of us can afford to write for a living.  Most of us have day-jobs or are retired,and this affects the amount of time, energy and head-space we can devote to writing.  Not a good thing.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get some sort of grant to write?  Take a look at the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writer’s Award, worth £10,000, for an unpublished writer.  You have until 13 December to apply.  (Thanks to Patsy Collins for this one.)

By the way – I have to slip this in – we have another competition, for historical fiction, this time.   All you need to do is to write a short story, where action takes place in nineteen seventy or earlier, and with a Christian element (perhaps a major character who is a Christian or a Christian setting, such as a church).  1200 words, please, and the deadline is New Years Eve.  Free to ACW (Association of Christian Writers) members and, for everybody else, £3 for first entry and £2 for second entry.  More information on the ACW site.  The prizes are £25 book token (first-place) and £10 (second-place).  And the winner will be published in Christian Writer.

Can’t think of any suitable pics for this post, so I’ve included some random flowers.  At least they’re pretty and autumnal/wintry.


Where to start…

  • A dodgy printer which won’t print black from my computer, but will from my husband’s machine.  From whatever source its print commands, there is a delay of about half an hour between each document, until the thing has generated an error message saying it can’t print the previous one, even though it has printed it… You are following this, aren’t you?
  • Half our long thin house being dead to wifi because it’s out of range of the router.

So we order a new laser printer (more expensive than we’d intended – as always) and a repeater.  On Wednesday, the repeater arrived in a neat box.  The printer didn’t… although I did receive a text message from the courier driver, stating he’d been unable to make a delivery because no one was in to sign for it.  He kindly provided a photo…. of a house 500 yards from ours.

Meanwhile I attempt to install the repeater.  I try the simple option, the one they wrote about in the reviews, involving a button on the router, but that didn’t work.  I try Option 1, Option 2, not the next option, because it requires an ethernet cable, which I don’t possess.  I have lunch.  Then I try to sort out the courier.  Ooh…  and I have to put my iPhone and iPad back on wifi, and my husband’s, as they’d all fallen off.

.On Thursday, I realise my iPhone isn’t receiving emails, and refusing to install an update.  Also all our Apple devices are still dropping off the wifi.  I’m on the Apple helpline, in Ireland, for most of the day, but,  by early evening, Michael and I have managed to sort it out.  Meanwhile, the courier sends me another text to say they’ve attempted a second delivery 500 yards up the road.

This morning, a third courier appears – wait for it – at OUR front door – AND – beside him is a box which… might… just contain a printer.  He has a special app, he says, http://www.essexhighways.org which can locate any house in Essex.   Phew!

And again, phew!

After he’s gone, my husband fingers the repeater.  He wants me to send it back where it came from.  I text my son to ask him if he’s got the ethernet cable.  He has, in his flat in London, and, although he was coming to visit us this weekend, for reasons nothing to do with computer-gate, he’s not now.  In the afternoon, I ring the the helpline.  Within seconds I’m redirected to an American single dialling tone.  “Hi,” says Lee.  “How can I help you today?”  He leads me through resetting the repeater – using my iPhone.  There I am squinting at the tiny iPhone screen with Lee telling me to type in dee passworrrd.  Now which password do you mean, Lee?  Do you mean the WPA.  The router password?  The row-der?  The repeater?  The extender?  No, no, dee passworrrd.  When we got to the point where the lights on the repeater/extender were all on, he was desperate to get off the line.  Good thing I kept him on, though, because the last bit of the installation wasn’t anything like the instructions.  But we got there.  I even got a signal in the kitchen.  I suppose I should really say thank you, Lee.

Then I installed the printer – by myself – following diagrams, and the two chunky manuals delivered with it.  Well, I used the ten or so pages in English, anyway.  One and only husband did the lifting, and made a cup of tea.  Not bad for a little woman, eh?

Now for the serious bit.  The amount, and level, of technical expertise that is expected of home computer owners is just ridiculous.  To the geeky people who build these devices, installation probably does seem very straightforward and that’s how they tell it in the marketing blurb.  PC reviewers are no better.  But it’s not like that for the poor customers.  Some of us muddle through, swearing, getting very stressed and getting their husbands stressed.  Others call in techy friends, taking up hours of their time.  Many older people call in grandchildren who are supposed to be ‘good with computers’; the grandchild will do all sorts of whizzy things to the device, leaving the grandparents not knowing what on earth they’ve done, and unable to use it.

Young people don’t know everything about computers… until they’ve done the appropriate training.   For twenty years, I taught IT to sixteen to nineteen year olds.  By the time, myself and my colleagues had finished with them, they did know about computers.   We home-owners should give those kids some work.  Instead of going through computer-gate hell, we should call in professionals.