NaNoWriMo Musings

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November has gone and another NaNoWriMo is over. Time to think about what I discovered.

First some basic stats. This was my sixth year of NaNo and my fourth win, writing at least 50,000 words. Other wins were: 2012 – Wyrm Blood; 2015 – Fates Maelstrom; 2016 – Eagle Passage. I did write over 50k in 2011 but failed to validate that total in time. Although I fell short some years and didn’t start in 2014, I have completed the first draft of every ‘novel’ by the end of the year. My ‘lifetime achievement’ – NaNo writing – is 354,334 words.

My daily average for this November was 2,008 words and as a result, I reached the 50k target on November 22nd, in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with my US family – without feeling that I ought to be writing. By the end of November, I had written 60,264 words of Ruined Retreat.

On reflection, I realise that with perseverance I can write 2,000 words per day – if I know roughly where I am going. I did have to minimise the time working on emails, checking Facebook, getting distracted but I wasn’t a total bore, I hope.

Back to that outline: a rough one, sketchier than with previous ‘novels’ but with the advantage of being Book 3 in the Snowdon Shadows series, so I knew some of the characters. Now, as I return to the fifth draft of Fates Maelstrom, Book 1 of the series, I know even more about the characters and where they are going.

Previously, I had plotted my novels with intricate detail, almost scene by scene. The problem was that diversions were difficult even if the characters demanded them. The danger of a too-rough outline is having too many wild plot horses to tame – as with Spiral of Hooves which took thirteen years to complete.

 

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Photo of Dolbadarn Castle, Snowdonia by Etrusia UK on Flickr

 

This time, I used a mystery plot template from The Novel Factory at https://www.novel-software.com/ and the three-act structure proved ideal, especially when I discovered that Scrivener had a similar three-act fiction template when I created the Ruined Retreat file. Having merged the two ‘guides’ to create, my novel flowed out more easily and logically. On November 26th, I completed the first draft and spent the next four days reading through what I had written, changing the glaring errors and marking the phrases that needed to be worked on and developed.

An interesting side-note is the research for this novel. Some research was done while I roughed out the plot, although that was more like compiling links for later use. I also marked up keywords in the text with Scrivener – yellow highlights and red text – to remind me where research was still needed. However, I must confess that my research brain doesn’t always switch off and niggles me until I check a fact. But I do ‘favourite’ the site if there’s too much to check, then knuckle down to writing more words.

Okay, 60,264 words are not going to be the final total for Ruined Retreat, but it’s the first draft so something to build on. I have finished a first draft during NaNo before but in most cases that was the furthest stage reached, even if they can be developed. This time, I won’t get to draft two for a while, but writing Ruined Retreat makes the earlier books in the series more achievable in 2018.

So, once I’ve cleared some non-writing priorities – like getting a good US health insurance policy and my UK tax return –  will make finishing Fates Maelstrom top of my agenda. But I suspect I’m facing a tough task deciphering the copious notes that were meant to bring order to a writhing plot some months ago.

Or do I just ignore the stray sheep and write knowing where I’m heading – towards a ruined retreat in Snowdonia?

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Mal Sumnor: Bloodhound or Genius?

 

After learning something about Twyla Locke, Brogan Keyes, and about Sparkle Anwyl, one of the detectives, it’s time to meet the other key detective in “Fates Maelstrom”, my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel.

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Tom Hiddleston would make a good Mal Sumnor.

Detective Sergeant Mal Sumnor is with Bangor CID, part of the North Wales Police or Heddlu Gogledd Cymru, and he’s the senior officer investigating the suspected murder of Aubrey Locke.

Bangor is not exactly round the corner from Craig-o-Niwl. Weren’t there any closer officers?

Not ones that had the expertise to handle a murder investigation, and as you must be aware, the force is stretched at this time of austerity. Of course, the local uniform boys were first on the scene, but the case was passed to my team, as soon as the victim was identified. Aubrey Locke was a member of a wealthy and influential landed family.

So you must be concerned about the case. There must be a great deal riding on this, not least your reputation? What do you think is going to happen next?

The correct resolution is paramount, but I’m confident that I can attain that speedily. Restoring calm in the community, and demonstrating the abilities of the Heddlu Gogledd Cymru is essential.

I am pleased to say that the forensic team have gathered considerable evidence, and a key suspect was arrested. We have some reliable witnesses, so the case is straightforward, and I anticipate an early conclusion.

Straightforward? Why have you brought in an officer from another area?

A formality. My Detective Inspector suggested that we talk to the suspect, Twyla Locke, in her native language, although she speaks Welsh and English – as I do.

However, Detective Constable Meinwen Anwyl has been assigned as she is a Romani speaker, and as she knows the village. But I will show her how to run a flawless investigation. She has to realise that I’m the one with the Criminal Justice BA – with Honours – from Bangor University.

Don’t get me wrong. I like having a female partner, and I don’t mind that she’s a Goth, or even Welsh. But there has to be an understanding – a rapport.

So a University Education is essential to the police force? Not grassroots experience. Doesn’t policing start on the streets?

Both are needed, but, and I quote the College of Policing, the body responsible for setting the standards for police training – ‘all officers should have degrees’ as the job is now of ‘degree-level complexity.’ Times have changed, this is the 21st century and the world is now very hi-tech. We need a police force that can deal with anything – from tackling cyber-crime one day, dealing with child sexual exploitation the next. That demands something that only a degree can bring.

Won’t the cuts to services make that even harder?

At the moment, the situation might well get worse. Lesser crimes, like burglaries, will not be investigated, unless they are high-profile. Therefore, long-term the cuts will make the ability to detect crime more demanding. That is why we need more multi-skilled officers – trained to degree level. That might require more surveillance, but that might be preferable to more crime.

Is there something that makes you a good detective?

The ability to speedily separate evidence into obscure, circumstantial, misleading, and suspicious – and then knowing what to discard, starting with the obscure. It takes intelligence – and yes, that university degree. That education gives me access to invaluable techniques and experts. Despite what the media panics us into believing, the serious crimes don’t happen on the streets, but in that cyber world that we so readily accept. If a criminal runs from me, I can find him using those hi-tech tools – wherever he or she hides.

That is scary, and a reason to stay the right side of you. But why should we care about you?

Apologies, I’m coming over as the tough-no nonsense guy. I probably take my job too seriously, but then I aim to protect and serve the people. But off-duty, down the pub, or over a delicious meal, I can relax, smile, and tell a few jokes. Should I lie and say I have a dog? That’s not me. Give me a chance to prove that I am just a humble man with dreams.

Does that mean people misunderstand you? If so, what do they get wrong?

They see me as a humourless obsessive, who behaves like an authoritarian bully – even if I rarely wear a uniform. But fighting crime is serious work, and there is very little to laugh about. Once the crime is solved, the other side can come out to play – if you let me. Then I can drink with the best of you, and take off the suit and tie.

What about your parents? Do they support you in this dangerous line of work?

Very much so, since they are in the force. My mother is a Chief Constable in another Constabulary, and my father is a Detective Superintendent. Therefore, I was born to the force – yes, I realise that sounds like Star Wars, but isn’t that a plus point. Anyway, they have supported my career at every stage – and they have provided me with some invaluable contacts, as required.

Are you going to die in this story? Should you?

Is there a reason you ask? My intelligence has kept me alive this far. It helps to be able to detect things in advance of the criminals. Staying ahead of them is a challenge, and I don’t intend to be caught out in such a way that I get killed. Don’t forget, in Great Britain, the police rarely carry firearms, so gun crimes are far less than in other countries. And I wear a stab-proof vest.

What is your worst fear?

I try not to focus on fear as it impinges on my effectiveness. Nothing in my profession scares me to that degree. Yes, my adrenalin pumps when I have to deal with dangerous criminals – and some of my colleagues’ driving.

Perhaps, I have a fear of flying – or handing control to a pilot. But then, I know he’s trained so I ignore the sensation. Anyway, I never go abroad as there are so many great places in Great Britain, especially in North Wales. Next time you want to go somewhere special, come to Snowdonia.

Many thanks for your time, detective. I wish you success with the case and your career.

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#NaNoWinner2015

Yesterday was a momentous writing day for me. I passed the 50,000 work mark in NaNoWriMo 2015. which means that I am supposedly a winner. This meant that I got to tweet:

I reached 50,675 words to become a with my draft of Fates Maelstrom – and more words remain out there.

f443498f9932d9f1360c2f9945b0e896Of course, this is just a stepping stone to the next phase of a long but exciting process with “Fates Maelstrom. First, I have to finish this draft, and I estimate that it will come out at around 105,000. [(That’s the amount written so far + the amount in draft 1.a)

Before anyone accuses me of cheating, I haven’t  copied and pasted my first attempt into this one. That first draft was set on Dartmoor not in Snowdonia, had a different main protagonist, and the plotline was… different.

I used that old draft to create an outline, and then rewrote the scenes, or new scenes, as if that original was destroyed. Think Robert Louis Stevenson burning “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” to avoid salvaging it after his wife’s comments. Except in my case, my wife liked the first draft, most of the research – such as family trees – got used, and the original hasn’t been burnt – yet.

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Now comes the interesting part. I made a few changes as I went along. The original antagonist was one of three POVs, but I’ve dropped his maniacal thoughts. Result – more suspicions abound surrounding the other characters. Plus one of the characters has now seduced the wrong woman – in fact, the main detective. And a chase scene appeared that was never there, but it worked – as I was writing it. Where did that escape vehicle come from?

So today, I’m having to re-think where the plot is going… especially as I’ve decided to kill someone else. Supposedly, that can help if the book is sagging – or the writer. The daily word count will dip, but I have some great ideas brewing.

See you all in December.

P.S. It also gives me time to write next week’s interview with Detective Sergeant Mal Sumnor of the North Wales Police. He keeps thinking that he’s solved the case, but I believe in keeping him employed. Poor love.

Cunning Plan or Devious Plot?

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Time to look ahead and maybe concoct something. Now seeing that this is the UK and November 5th is creeping up on us, I was thinking something explosive and controversial. Fireworks?

Well there was a devious plot on 5 November 1605 that might have made headlines, if it was successful. But now it is remembered in a different way than intended. But what would have happened if Guido had succeeded?

On a serious note, our animals would be better off.

However my November is more likely to be more of “I have a cunning plan” – if all unfolds as intended. No I don’t mean the proposed return of ‘Blackadder’, although that could be more than cunning. What do you think??

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Individual screenshots, copyright held by the BBC

No, I mean NaNoWriMo and my chance to recreate “Fates Maelstrom” with my female Goth detective and in Snowdonia. I’ve almost finished the new character profiles and interviews, and there is a new detailed outline – a devious plot that Guido might approve of, and even a cunning plan that Baldrick couldn’t disagree with. And I have a blurb:

“Did Twyla Locke kill her wealthy English grandfather? Is the nineteen-year-old gypsy woman a schizophrenic liar that could kill again? Or is someone impersonating her, in an attempt to destroy her dreams?

Detective Constable Sparkle Anwyl believes the Romani girl is innocent, but her superior, Detective Sergeant Mal Sumnor, thinks that the forensic evidence against her is overwhelming. Why should he believe his offbeat Goth junior? She’s only needed as she understands Romani.

Then American investigative journalist, Brogan Keyes, produces photos that prove Twyla’s innocence. But why is he in the Welsh village of Craig-o-Niwl? Who is he? What is he hiding?

Sometimes the truth can lie hidden in the past, and some ghosts wield power in vulnerable minds. And some people have reasons to fear buried secrets.”

Although I am hoping that my preparations help me in November, I wonder if I can write 50,000 words in a month. Okay, I did in 2011, 2012, and 2013, but last year was a total zero. In 2014 I intended to write “Fates Maelstrom” Mark II but my total was zilch…nada. Perhaps because I hadn’t got my head around Sparkle Anwyl, or because my health intervened. Having just written 43,639 words in 100days – the 100k in 100 days Challenge – I know my limits, although that was all done ‘pantster’ style.

Or is the secret in the planning stage?

There are some good guides to that stage out there, like this one by Janice Hardy, who says for instance:

“If you like to outline, you might break down your 12,500 words into chapters to get a feel for pacing and structure. To hit your 50K-word mark, you’ll need to write 1667 words a day, so let’s say you’re aiming for a chapter a day. That would give you 30 chapters at the end of the month, a reasonable amount for your average 60-80K novel.”

So what’s my problem? Did Guido achieve anything? Would Baldrick do better?

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The Candle

There was a single twinkling candle on my chocolate fudge sundae. One candle for another year older, if not a year healthier. Friday August 7th 2015 was a turning point – well it felt that way for my stomach.

It churned and squirmed along with my head as we drove through the lush green Welsh scenery, across the mountains between Harlech and Bodnant. I hadn’t felt so car sick since I was a child – not physically sick, just feeling rotten. Is this because I’m into my second childhood?

But the journey was worthwhile as the food was delicious at the Bodnant Welsh Food Centre, which is “set in the heart of the Conwy Valley and surrounded by the stunning scenery of Snowdonia”. Best part was browsing their farm shop, and being tempted to buy some tasty treats from chili chocolate to locally sourced beef sausages. What happened to the vegetarian? Disgraceful – or not?

I did get to glimpse odd bits of the scenery on the way home. I needed to, as the fictional setting for “Fates Maelstrom” is in this locality, about 10 miles south-west of Bodnant and on the edge of Snowdonia. Through the mists of car sickness, I caught sight of some crags like the one above Crag-o-Niwl, my fictional Welsh village.

There's a crag in there somewhere! Craig Bwlch y Moch poking up out of a dense forest of rampant vegetation above Tremadog. Photo: Al Leary

There’s a crag in there somewhere! Craig Bwlch y Moch poking up out of a dense forest of rampant vegetation above Tremadog. Photo: Al Leary ~ http://www.groundupclimbing.com/newsitem.asp?nsid=185

So overall it was a good birthday, despite the childhood throwback, and a day that I won’t forget.

What next then? Well other than a birthday in Idaho on August 7th 2016. That depends on the emigration process to the USA, which entails many hurdles.

That candle also threw a light on one aspect of my writing future: where this Blog goes from here.

At the moment, I manage to blog once a month, in the IWSG monthly post on the first Wednesday. However, I feel that the posts should be more regular, for instance once a week – possibly on Monday or Tuesday.

If I go to that new schedule, then I need a new theme, as my intermittent ramblings don’t come up to scratch or muster.

There are three possibilities:

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  • Inspiring writers – a weekly blog about authors that have inspired me with their writing. The post would include my favourite books by those writers. I envisage choosing a crime/mystery writer one week, such as Dick Francis or Linwood Barclay. Then a SF/Fantasy writer the next. Like Charles de Lint or Roger Zelazny. I could intersperse these posts with interviews with published writers that I am online friends with. This is the simplest option, and more akin to the A to Z Challenge, but much more laid back.
  • Boise Skyline

    Boise Skyline ~ Copyright: http://www.visitidaho.org/photos/

    Moving to the USA – a weekly blog about the process that my wife and I are going through in trying to get to Idaho, USA. It could address the hurdles as well as the breakthroughs, and the prospects that await us. This would be more of a diary with a few suggestion for others undertaking the same expedition. I’m not sure that this would work as a weekly post, but with so many hurdles it could.

  • fd6a0b9306bea4eb33c76f2f4578481b (1)Living with Multiple Sclerosis – a weekly blog that is a chance for me to explain the condition, vent about the MonSter, and perhaps help others. Much more seat-of-the-pants than the other two, and also the disability gives me good days and bad days. Of course, I can’t help mentioning the MonSter in other posts, especially the American ones. Of course, my health is a key reason behind the move.

Of course, I could intersperse these and do one per week, choosing whatever I was inspired to write. Call it Pick-n-Mix.

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So what would you like to see me Blog about? Inspiring Writers, Moving to the USA, Living with Multiple Sclerosis, or ‘Pick-n-Mix’?

Plodding Towards Publication

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Today is the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group post and I am flip-flopping between positivity and insecurity.

I should feel positive having completed the 100k in 100 days challenge that began on January 1st, and then plunged straight into the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, completing that as well. I may be exhausted but I’m still writing, although not as frenetically.

However, my A to Z Challenge failed as my posts were too long – details on my last blog post here. And I still shuffle my way forward over getting something published. It should be ‘best step forward’ as I am productive, but there is too much unfinished and unresolved.

And how do I get the work published? I see better writers than me self-publishing, but I lack the means to do that – starting with the health to cope. I’ve been looking around at small presses but I fear that my writing is not suitable, and my promotion skills are lacking.

Snowdon by Juanita Clarke on Duskweald

Snowdon by Juanita Clarke on Duskweald

Or does “Storms Compass” fit into the new interest around novellas? I need to add an overarching plot that will weave the stories together, but the length might remain within the shorter length – and the tales have been professionally edited.

And if novellas are the future, what do I do with my plans for the Snowdon Shadows series? They will be full-length novels as they stand. Or do I trim them to the skeleton? Where do I go?

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Purpose of the IWSG day: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post our thoughts on our own blog. Talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. Discuss our struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with our fellow writers – aiming for a dozen new people each time

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG
The awesome co-hosts for the May 6 posting of the IWSG are Eva Solar, Melanie Schulz, Lisa-Buie Collard, and Stephen Tremp!