Monthly Archives: March 2015

Fingers crossed…

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Having run out of patience with myself last night and stayed up till past midnight to get the last bits done, the third draft of my novel is now winging its way to my agent. Yay!

I hope…

It’s hard to be entirely sure, you see, when these words and worlds and characters you have created have been seeping into every inch of your consciousness as you get deeper and deeper into the manuscript. But I definitely have less reservations about this draft than I did about the others.

I’ve reread the entire thing twice over the past week, each time changing less and less. By last night I was mainly mulling over the effectiveness of a handful of individual words, which is as good a sign as any that it’s time to let it go.

It feels more nerve-wracking this time round. I mean, everyone knows a first draft is meant to be rubbish, right? And with the second one I was experimenting with various things that I knew wouldn’t necessarily work out. But the stakes seem higher now. Which is why my fingers are tightly crossed that this draft reads as well as I think it does.

We shall see.

And in the meantime I have plenty to keep me occupied.

I might even let my mind wander back to that third novel I was getting so excited about before Christmas…

Though I should probably do some laundry first.

 

Muddled Manuscript

The gift

Pencils

She sat on the sofa, knees drawn up to her chest and arms stretched out in front of them holding her masterpiece proudly. It looked so much like him. It wasn’t just the physical features, although her graphite lines perfectly moulded the contours of his stately nose, those deep, dancing eyes, the lips turned tantalisingly upwards at their ends in a constant almost-smile.

More than that, she’d captured something of his very essence. It would be easy to sympathise with those who were afraid that a photograph might steal something of their soul if you saw just how uncanny the resemblance of this drawing was to her love.

She sighed and placed it carefully down on the coffee table. He would be home soon, and she couldn’t wait to give him his present.

She padded through to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of wine, hearing the insistent buzz of her phone as she returned.

Birthday drinks with Rob. Back by eight I promise. Love you. 

A cloud of irritation enveloped her, and she immediately chastised herself for being so unreasonable. It was his birthday, right? If he wanted to go for drinks she could hardly stop him. Besides, it would be eight in just over an hour.

She settled back down on the sofa and flicked on the TV.

An hour passed, and then another. The wine had definitely begun to go to her head, dulling her senses though it did nothing to dampen her annoyance. She’d texted him twice now, but of course she’d had no reply.

He stared up at her from the heavy sheet of cartridge paper that held his likeness. It had been the most expensive she could find, a dream to work with. As she stared back at him she realised that something was not quite right. It was hard to put her finger on exactly what: a shadow on his cheekbone, or maybe the angle of the underlying structure itself.

She stood and retrieved her tin of pencils from the bookcase by the window, pausing for a moment to check that he was not about to surprise her. The street below was busy as it always was on a Thursday night, but of him there was no sign.

Even as she made the very first line on the paper she knew it was a mistake. She was way too drunk for this. Yet once she’d started she had no choice but to continue.

She began gently, evening out the opposite side of his face to conceal her error, then adding weight to the lines around his mouth and eyes. Her anger seeped through her fingers, into the lead of the pencil and onto the page. She was angry with him, both the real him and this edifice that would not stop looking at her. But more than that she was angry at herself – for being an idiot once again, for having too much trust in him and none at all in her own judgement.

The solidity of the paper was satisfying as she scrawled deeper and deeper into it. He became monstrous, a parody of himself on his darkest days. His almost-smile became a leer, his nose a beak, the inviting pools of his eyes turning into terrifying caverns of infinite darkness.

She stopped before she had obliterated his features completely, investing the last of her rage into a tightly cross-hatched canvas to amplify the horror of what she had done.

The lead of her pencil snapped, finally giving in, and it brought her back to herself, to their flat and his imminent arrival home. Her hands were shaking as she stood, and as a final gesture she toppled her half-empty wine glass, spilling its blood-red contents across the remains of his gift.

It was then that she heard his key in the lock. He staggered slightly as he opened the door, taking three deliberate steps into the room before closing it behind him.

“Sorry I’m late.”

She didn’t know what she could possibly say, so instead she said nothing.

He didn’t seem to notice, pausing to kiss her clumsily as he stumbled to the sofa. He picked up the ruined drawing that lay in front of him, squinted at it slightly, and broke into a smile.

“This is really good!”

“Are you taking the piss?”

She couldn’t be doing with this now. A row she could handle, but she didn’t have the patience for his insidious sarcasm.

“Seriously, I mean it. Can I take it to the gallery tomorrow?”

Her mouth twisted in on itself, the only outward sign of the scream that was threatening to explode her chest.

“Goodnight. Oh, and happy birthday.”

He was gone by the time she woke up the next day. She figured he must’ve slept on the sofa. The portrait was gone too, and in its place was a note.

Really sorry about last night. I’ll make it up to you I promise. Love you.

She was too hungover to be angry, and just felt really stupid. All that hard work, those hours and hours of meticulous draughtmanship, and for what?

She fired up the computer before heading into the kitchen to make a coffee. There were too many deadlines to be met today for her to be able to afford another minute mired in regret.

It was just after three when the email came in.

It was from the gallery where he worked, but not from him. She recognised the email address as one which had borne news of many a rejection when she’d submitted her drawings in the past. This time though the mood was rather different.

Original, they said. So fresh and exciting. A total departure from her previous work. They were sorry not to have identified it before but she clearly had a real talent, a gift. They would be honoured if she would consider selling this piece for inclusion in their collection.

She had to read it four or five times before the words began to make sense.

Maybe she could forgive him after all.

 

mumturnedmom
Nikki Young Writes

 

The final chapter?

How long is a piece of string?

Despite a busy week of non-writing related things, including a trip to Brighton and some well-overdue catch-up time with old friends, the edit is continuing apace.

After getting to the end of the novel last week, I have now swept through it again – getting rid of continuity errors and unnecessary repetition, tightening up description and dialogue, adding in a few little layers of intrigue to the plot. Overall it is maturing nicely.

But as with so many of these things this ‘final’ sweep has thrown up more questions. Most significantly, have I organised it as effectively as I could?

I’m talking chapters here – how long, how many, where they begin and end. I thought I had that all figured out. I began the whole writing process with chapters after all – once I’d done my initial planning and a story had begun to take shape I neatly split it into 30-odd sections to structure the first draft. They weren’t all individual scenes, but they seemed to be the natural chapters – or so I thought. I gave all of these an identical word count target. I didn’t stick to it religiously, but they all turned out pretty uniform.

And I figured that was fine, until the bird’s eye view the latest read through afforded me made me doubt that.

I started to see chapter breaks elsewhere, and to link scenes in my mind that I’d previously separated. Some events seemed to warrant being surrounded by white space all of their own. And in general I found myself wanting to make the chapters shorter.

Ever the researcher, I did have a bit of a sniff around the internet to see what advice I could find. But the most common response to the question ‘how long is a chapter?’ seems to be ‘how long is a piece of string?’. There were a couple of sites that suggested readers prefer uniform chapter lengths so they can pace themselves more effectively and are more aware of what’s coming next. But then others that said a variety of chapter lengths was preferable, and these artificial divisions in the story should be governed only by the story itself.

The latter opinion definitely resonated more strongly with me. Everything I know about good writing from my years spent teaching it tells me that variety – as long as it’s not purely for the sake of it – is the way to go. This is borne out in the books I enjoy to read too, especially the ones that get me totally hooked. Thinking about it, I realised I like short chapters too. I hate the feeling of having pages and pages to go until I can easily take a break, and if I get to the end of a chapter then I’m more inclined to read on if it’s not going to be too epic.

I think this possibly makes me a bit of a lazy reader, but I figure I can’t be alone in that.

So there are considerably more chapters in my novel now. Most of them are shorter, some significantly so. And their length, and where they begin and end, is dictated by what the story and the characters need – and by default the things that are going to make the reader want to know what happens next.

There is one last thing I’m mulling over (well, for now anyway). And that is – how do I label these chapters? In the very beginning they had titles, but I ditched them fairly early on. Since then they’ve had numbers, but those are starting to feel a bit stilted as I navigate through the manuscript. I’m wondering if there is an alternative, or if in fact the chapters need any label at all. And then I’m wondering if I want to divide the novel into parts, to demarcate the different phases the story goes through.

What do you think? How do you like the novels you read to be organised? Or indeed what techniques have you used in your own writing?

I realise I’m possibly over-thinking things, and this is exactly the sort of detail that a publisher might decide to change if they ever get their hands on my novel, but in the meantime I may as well get things as close to perfect as I can, right?

 

Writing Bubble

Five signs that spring has (almost) sprung

Alongside everything I have been doing this week – creeping ever closer to a completed third draft of my novel, keeping up with Arthur’s ever-expanding social calendar, and supporting Leigh through another wave of deadlines – there has been the faint bubble of anticipation. The sense that, after weeks and months of the dark and the cold of winter, spring might finally, actually, be just around the corner.

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Arthur and I were at my parents’ place last weekend. Although they’re less than an hour away, and still on the sea (well, the estuary anyway), the environment there feels very different. They are surrounded by countryside, and there is no escaping the shifting seasons. So it was there I noticed spring first. It took me almost by surprise, but it has not disappeared since we returned to Brixham.

Flowers

Arthur has learnt the words for primrose, snowdrop and daffodil this week. He sought out the little patches of colour as we traversed the woodland, and I couldn’t help but notice the shoots beginning to seep from winter branches. Back home we saw that our own daffodils had finally burst out from their buds, trumpeting the promise of warmer, lighter days to anyone who cared to listen.

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Eggs

For the past few months my parents’ chickens have refused to lay. The flock was expanded at the end of last year, and ever since their nest has remained empty. In the past few weeks they have seemed to call an end to their strike. Looking at the beautiful eggs they are now producing in abundance it seemed way too coincidental to have nothing to do with the coming of spring: and on doing a little research I discovered that sure enough, the longer days have much to do with the chickens’ willingness to release their eggs into the world.

We travelled home on Monday with a collection of them, almost too lovely to eat.

I am pleased to report that they were delicious.

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Weather

One thing that spring can be guaranteed to bring is crazy weather, and this week has most definitely not disappointed on that front. On Tuesday, we were woken up by a hailstorm at three am – it was so insanely loud I thought for a while it might dislodge the slate on the roof. A few hours later, we woke again to pink skies reflecting off the sheen of an almost perfectly still bay, the only sound being the squark of seagulls and the distant drone of fishing boats heading out to sea.

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A text came through from a friend as I was getting Arthur organised to head out to his drama class, saying that we should make the most of the glorious day. Just as I was sending my agreement, the rain rolled in. Yet by the time we were ready to leave it was beautiful once again. Dark clouds gathered before the day was done.

The weather this week has most definitely been unpredictable, but not entirely unpleasant.

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Warmth

In the moments when the sun has come out, there has been no denying this week that it is starting to get warmer. There have been points when I’ve almost been able to taste those delicious summer days, children laughing as they play for hours in the great outdoors, parents watching over them whilst basking in the rays themselves,

We had music today at Lupton House, followed by the precious coffee and catch-up I’ve come to so look forward to. Afterwards us mums stood and chatted as the children played, tentatively exclaiming our delight at the warmth which filled the air.

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Hope

This is perhaps the least tangible of the signs that spring is on its way, but it’s no less important for that. I cope with winter better than I used to, but still during the past few weeks I’ve felt a little like I’ve been wading through treacle just to manage the tasks which make up the day to day.

But this week that sense of drudgery has been replaced with hope, with the anticipation of spring rolling into summer, of leaving the house without a coat and returning in the evening whilst it is still light.

I suppose deep down I love the seasons, all of them, for the contrasts they bring. But I cannot deny that I have my favourites, and spring is most certainly one of them.

My word of the week this week is spring.

The Reading Residence
mumturnedmom
Mums' Days

So I think I’m nearly done…

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I reached an important milestone in the edit today. I made it to the end of the novel. Again.

My manuscript now stands at 91,150 words, as opposed to 92,300, though rather more than 1,150 have been cut. I reckon at least 5,000 have been exchanged: unnecessary exposition for punchy dialogue, descriptions of actions for descriptions of emotions. I kind of wish I knew exactly how many, but I don’t suppose it really matters. It is interesting, though, how I find myself wanting to hang on to little things like word counts as a way of measuring progress.

The real progress has been in how much happier I am with the general mood of the novel. The first draft felt too cheesy, the second a strange combination of the banal and the melodramatic. I think I’m much closer to getting the vibe I’m after now – closer to knowing what that actually is. I think it’s darker, emotionally. And yet more hopeful too. Which makes the climax even harder to stomach.

It’s not 100% there yet. I had a bit of a breakthrough about halfway through this process, one where I gave myself permission to let go a bit with my description – to bring a bit more of myself into the world I was creating. That was important, because I’d abandoned some of the elements of the book that made it about me for the sake of making the characters more engaging. What I think I realised is that that uniqueness, that idiosyncratic way of seeing things, belongs more in the fabric of the prose itself than in the events in the story. I’d let go of that in a desire to make the story more accessible, but I think I’d got it all topsy turvy.

I have no idea if that makes sense, but it’s where I’m at.

Because that breakthrough happened relatively late, I want to go back to the beginning now – to look at the manuscript yet again through the new lens I have acquired. I jumped around a bit, adding things in and taking things out so I didn’t forget them, but I need to make sure I haven’t lost continuity in the process. And there are sections early on that might need more work too, just to make sure that I am saying all I want to say in the best possible way I can.

This is gong to be the hardest bit now I think. This final sweep through, attempting to keep every one of those 91,150 words in my mind as I make sure that each chapter, each scene, each exchange fits comfortably within them.

But I am nearly done.

I think.

With this edit anyway.

Wish me luck!

 

Muddled Manuscript