Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Breaking the rules

I discovered NaNoWriMo a few days before November 2005. Until then, I hadn’t considered writing a full-length novel because it seemed such a huge undertaking. I estimated it would take several years and, even if I did manage to complete a novel, there was no guarantee that anyone would want to look at it, let alone publish it.

Writing 50,000 words in one month seemed impossible, but a little voice was saying, Why not give it a try? The worst you’ll do is waste 30 days.

Because I’d never done it before, I looked to Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, for guidance. His one rule is that there are no rules. So, on the first of November, I sat down with a blank mind and stared at a blank computer screen.

Panic! I had to write something. But what?

I needed a character and grabbed a name – Judith – that floated up from who-knows-where. Who was she? I had a look round her house. I asked her about her past. I met her husband, children and best friend. I gave her a job and followed her to see what she did there. And all the time, because it was NaNoWriMo and not ‘proper’ writing, I found I was bashing out the words faster than I’d ever done before.

It wasn’t until I reached about 30,000 words, that I noticed what was wrong. My ‘novel’ had no plot. I knew the characters inside out but they had no story. What were they going to do? I gave Judith a problem to solve and stopped. It was the end of the month and I’d run out of ideas.

I’d failed to reach 50,000 words. I hadn’t produced anything resembling a novel. But I had enjoyed the experience, and it certainly helped me to write faster.

I saved what I’d written, but didn’t look at it again until a year or so later. I could see then that most of it was rubbish, but Judith leapt off the page at me. It was like meeting an old friend again. I remembered everything about her. I revisited her a few more times over the years and gradually re-wrote the first three chapters. I gave her some more problems to cope with and discovered what she was going to do at the end of the story, but there were still big gaps in the plot that I didn’t know how to fill.

In the meantime, I tackled NaNoWriMo several more times, using it to explore other story ideas and new characters. That’s what I would have done this year, if Judith hadn’t kept popping up to tell me it was time to tell her story. But to do that, I needed some rules.

Before NaNoWriMo 2014 started, I wrote a one-page summary of the novel I wanted to write, just mentioning the main plot points to keep me on track. Then, I spent the first two days of NaNoWriMo working out a more detailed plan for each chapter. This went better than I’d dared to hope because writing in NaNoWriMo mode meant I didn’t have time to explore all the possibilities. I wrote the first thing that came into my head and most of those first thoughts made perfect sense – to me at least!

So far, so good, except that now I’m working on the novel itself my writing rate has slowed right down and I’m well behind my word count target. My inner editor is having hissy fits. I have to keep reminding her it’s NaNoWriMo, so it doesn’t matter if I haven’t chosen exactly the right word or have spelt (spelled?) something wrong.

But I am getting better. Yesterday, I noticed a typo, went back to correct it and – left it! Naughty, but so exciting!

Do you have any writing rules you love to break?

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Endings and beginnings

The end of the year is nigh!

Just realised I’ve only got 66 days to complete all my 2014 writing goals. Don’t tell anyone, but I haven’t even started on half of them. I’m also way behind with my reading challenge. (I’m reading The River King by Alice Hoffman at the moment and can’t help lingering over every word.)

But, ever optimistic, I’ve finally decided it’s the right time to do something I wish I’d done many years ago – I’ve signed up for an online course on Illustrating Children’s Books. I’m pretty sure I’ve left it too late to have any chance of becoming a professional illustrator, but it’s a subject that’s always fascinated me and I’m hoping that learning more about the technical side of illustration might be useful for my writing.

My first published stories were for children and I’d love to get back into writing for them. I have some ideas for picturebook stories where a lot of the story is told in pictures so it would be helpful if I could show a publisher some sketches instead of trying to explain it all in words. But even if nothing publishable comes out of it, I’m sure I’ll enjoy doing the course.

Oh, yes, and I’m also going to do NaNoWriMo this year.

Perhaps I’ll prove the old adage, if you want something doing, ask a busy woman!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Been there, done that

I heard this time-management idea on the radio the other day and it certainly seems worth a try. Instead of having a long to-do list that only makes you feel guilty because you never cross off all the tasks on it, spend a few minutes each evening making a list of everything you did do that day.

  It works. Just look how productive busy I’ve been!

P.S. I’ve just received this Note from The Universe:

If you take your time, you'll have more of it.

Hmm, I wonder …

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Shall I? Shan’t I?

5 reasons to decline an invitation to a book launch

  • It’s too far to travel there and back in one day.
  • It’s not my book.
  • I won’t know anyone there.
  • I doubt it will be a bestseller.
  • They want me to read – out loud!

 5 reasons to accept an invitation to a book launch

  • What a great excuse for a weekend away.
  • It’s an anthology and my prize-winning story will be in it.
  • I’ll meet some new people there.
  • I’ll be able to buy a few copies to show people I’ve been published in a real book.
  • My first public reading – how exciting!

 So, yes, I’ll be in Worcester on 30 November for the launch of 'Fifty Flashes of Fiction’.
 Will anyone else be there?

Saturday, 20 September 2014


... and so our Little Princess married her Prince Charming

© C. Furlong 2014

in the enchanted castle.

I have a feeling they’re going to live happily ever after.

© C. Furlong 2014
 And after the three days of celebrations in the castle, the bride’s parents took themselves off to this little cottage that was touched by magic of a quieter kind.

 They are now back at home. Their feet haven’t touched the ground yet.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

I must fly

I’m off to take part in what I hope will be a real-life fairytale.
 See you in a couple of weeks!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

How this writer's mind works (4)

Thankfully, this year’s thunderfly invasion hasn’t been as intense or prolonged as in previous years, but whenever I see a spattering of little, black specks all over the windows I remember the story of my encounter with this character:

I read the paragraph I’d just typed and noticed a comma where a comma shouldn’t be. I moved the cursor up to delete it. The comma wriggled down to the next line. Odd. I peered closer. The ‘comma’ was a tiny insect. I tried to blow it away. I tried to sweep it off with a sheet of paper. It didn’t budge. I leaned even closer and saw that it wasn’t on the surface of the computer monitor but inside, underneath the glass.

A thunderfly.

I’d never encountered these little beasts until we moved here. Our house faces fields mainly used for growing wheat and barley, which is where they (correct name is cereal thrips) spend most of their lives. The locals call them thunderflies because they swarm in the kind of hot, still weather that triggers thunderstorms.

Fortunately, they don’t bite, sting or spread disease. Their big nuisance factor is their size – or rather, lack of size. It enables them to get everywhere. And now one had got into my monitor and I wanted it out.

“It’s got two choices,” said the resident computer expert. “It either finds its own way out or it’ll die in there.”

Poor little thing!
This was odder still. I hadn’t felt sorry for all the hundreds, thousands (millions?) of thunderflies I’d brushed out of my hair, shaken from my clothes, wiped away or sucked up the vacuum cleaner, but seeing a lone individual wandering around right in front of me awakened my caring instincts. Was it male or female? Was it trying to escape the strange environment it found itself in, or was it enjoying its exploration? Was it hungry? Thirsty? Lonely?

Suddenly, it was a complete character with a name, history and lists of likes and dislikes. I began making up his first adventure while I went to get a cup of coffee. When I came back – he was gone.

Now I was even more concerned. I searched along the edges of the screen. Had he escaped and rejoined his little friends? Had he wriggled deeper inside? He couldn’t have (gulp) gone to that big barley field in the sky, could he?

I kept looking but I haven’t seen him again.

So if you find yourself in a cloud of black dots that makes you feel itchy all over, please pause a moment before waging war on them. One of them might be my  thunder fly. His name is Timmy.