Do You NaNo?

Well, we’re more than halfway through November, so, if you joined in this amazing writing fest, are you over halfway through the 50,000 words needed to win NaNoWriMo?

Thankfully, I’m over halfway. Phew!

When I decided to do it again this year my reasons were not pure. I have written a first draft of a novel every November since 2013 and I have published each one in due course the following year. Although I can usually write that first draft no problem in the month, it takes me many more months to edit, polish and publish each one.

This year, I didn’t think I could manage to do another novel, what with one thing and another, but I did have last year’s rough first draft hanging around, so I decided my challenge this year was to write the second draft.

The reason I decided to go for NaNoWriMo at all this year was because I couldn’t bring myself not to. The thought of breaking my seven year run was too much for me. So here I am, just over halfway through the month and more than halfway through the second draft. Yipee!

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens every November. It’s far from ‘National’ now. People from all over the world join in these days, tens of thousands of them. Many of them ‘win’. And that’s the thing about NaNoWriMo, everyone who completes the 50,000 word count is a winner. And can I tell you, that’s a great feeling.

Write every day, no matter the distractions!

The reason I do it every year is the motivation it provides to stick in and write every day. Before 2013, it could take me years to write the first draft of a novel, let alone the years that then went into editing and polishing it. By the third novel I wrote and published, I’d gotten it down to months, but still too many months, to write a first draft. And the reason it took me so long was simple. I didn’t write every day.

When you don’t write every day, in my experience, you lose the flow of the piece and each time you open the manuscript, you have to look back, sometimes all the way to the beginning and read yourself back into it. That takes time, sometimes a lot of time.

Writing every day, your story never quite leaves your consciousness and it is much easier to pick up where you left off. Especially if you stop in mid-flow, which is a trick I learned somewhere along my writing career.

Of course, NaNoWriMo has its critics. What doesn’t? There are those who say it’s not possible to write a book in a month, and I actually agree, with one proviso. I don’t believe it is possible to write a GOOD book in a month. It’s perfectly possible to write a good first draft in that time. In fact most of the first drafts I have written during that month have been well over the 50,000 word count. It’s possible to write over 100,000 words in a month if you have the time, a good outline, good planning, and the health and energy to write at least 3,334 words every single day. I know some writers can do that and more in a day. I’m afraid I can’t.

But it’s not the volume of words that make a good novel. It’s the quality. The quality choice of words, of sentence structure, and the quality of the story telling. And I doubt there are many writers who have published a GOOD first draft. I know far too many who have published a poor one. And that, unfortunately is what draws the criticism.

Again, I can only speak from my own experience but for me writing the first draft is the easy part. Taking on board the critique of Alpha readers, Beta readers, rewriting, editing, proofreading, these are the time consuming and work intensive parts of writing a novel. And I don’t believe they should be skipped. Even books published by mainstream publishers go through that process, so I don’t believe it’s a process that should ever be neglected. Not if you want to truly WIN NaNoWriMo.

But I’d welcome your thoughts on the subject.

All my novels are available on Amazon Kindle or as Paperbacks.

Let’s Open That Gate an Inch or Two

FINAL Front CoverIt was difficult to decide which part of my new novel to let you read. I didn’t want to let you peep too far into the gate and spoil the story for you. Nor did I want to show you the beginning, because you can read that on Amazon, can’t you?

So, what about this part? It is fairly near the beginning and lets you see how Mhairi is coping with the things that are upsetting her.


She could be going about her daily life, thinking of nothing more than the task she was working on, the meal she was planning, when a word, a phrase, a smell, a trick of light, and there, something was triggered in her head and she’d be taken back to that garden or to the life without it.
To the abyss of loneliness: overwhelming despair that had bowed her head and bent her back. To the void of hopelessness: deepening shadow that had darkened her eyes and destroyed her sleep.
It amazed her she had lived through it: shocked her she had been forced to.
Mhairi dragged herself from the brink again, as she had so many times over the years. Whenever she allowed herself, or was unable to stop herself remember those barren years, she came so close to losing her mind that it frightened her. Each time, it took a huge effort of will not to allow the past to drag her down into its morass of hurt and blame. Each time, she had to remind herself she had survived before, she would survive again.
Forcing herself to take a long, deep breath, she gathered her coat and keys and took herself out.
Driving into Edinburgh at this time of day didn’t take too long and she reached Holyrood Park in thirty-five minutes. Parking the car, she crossed the road and walked briskly to the bottom of the hill. At a slightly slower pace, sometimes walking the well trodden paths, sometimes scrabbling over rocky parts, she reached the top of Arthur’s Seat in not much more than two and a half hours. Breathless and elated, she stood at the top and gloried in her accomplishment. It got her every time. That hard push beyond thinking, beyond pain. No matter how desperate she felt, no matter the weather, climbing this hill imbued her with power. As long as she was able to force her legs and her lungs through the burning pain of this climb, she could believe there was hope that the past would not catch up with her, that she was strong enough to fight against its drag.
The wind was strong up here by the cairn, but Mhairi loved it. Sitting on the grass, she closed her eyes, leant back on her hands and offered her face, feeling the wind chill her skin and whip her hair, taking her breath and throwing it back at her with full force as it swirled. Not until it had whipped the last thoughts of the past from her mind did she open her eyes to look at Edinburgh lain out at her feet.
The city, the castle, the river, the hills: it was all set out before her like an architect’s model, with background views all round, full-circle: over the Pentland Hills; the city; the Forth Road Bridges; the Fife coast, and out to Bass Rock and the conical shape of Berwick Law. When she stood up, she had almost a complete three-hundred-and-sixty degrees of ever-changing view — all wrapped in blue sky with heavy white clouds hanging in it, undecided whether to release their load now or wait till later.
Autumn had already rushed in on the scene with a chill wind, ripping half-turned leaves from their branches earlier than they would have chosen to fall. Though there were no trees up here at the top of the climb, she could see them in the vista she surveyed.
Mixed with the peaty smell, there was the sniff of snow in the air and she filled her lungs with the sharp, freshness of it, loving how cleansing it felt.
The city looked very small: cars and buses moved along the grid like tiny ants, insignificant from this vantage point; people were no more than dots, too small to even bear the label ‘insignificant.’ What arrogance to think mere mortals were the pinnacle of creation. What were they but specks of dust on the surface of the planet: a planet placed in a veritable plethora of celestial bodies all moving in a majestic choreography.
What was her life compared to the vastness of the world around her? What place did she hold in the universe?
Yet there was something in her that clung to life, clung to the value of her own life. She spread her arms to the wind, turning slowly in a circle, embracing the sky, the hills, all of it. “I am here,” she told the world. “I am me. This is my place.”
No traffic smells, no traffic sounds, but the smell of snow and heather on the wind, the sound of the same wind in her ears, the distant mumble of the earth turning. Up here, she had space in her head to hear the hum of life. It was made up of insect noises and bird calls, human voices and the thrum of her own blood. Up here she could shut out the past and live in the moment, her only thought how to drink it in and hold its healing in her heart. Up here, she knew she was alive. Up here, she felt invincible.
“I am here. This is my time.”
There were always walkers on the hill, regardless of wind and weather. She acknowledged with a nod the one or two she passed as she walked round its crest, revelling in the rawness of the day and the bounce of the tough grass beneath her feet, pulling the crisp air deep into her lungs and holding it for as long as she could. Spreading her arms wider and lifting her face back to the sky, eyes closed, she spun slowly round and round, round and round until she felt as though the whole world spun on this axis, this was the centre of the planet, everything spun out from this point.
Other walkers smiled back at her, complicit in her pleasure. It was good to be here. Good to get perspective: to know that just as every blade of grass on that hillside added to the wealth of its beauty, so too, did each one of them have a part to play in the great drama of life. ‘I am here. I am me.’
Enough. It was enough. She was restored.
As she made her way to the car, she studied every part of the walk back down the hill as though she would be asked questions about it later. Was there much heather still blooming? Had the wind stripped the gold from the gorse? What about birds? Did she see many? Which ones? She was greedy for it all, anxious to store it for barren days ahead, when this walk might be denied her.
Enough? It would never be enough.



Available on Amazon:

Barnes & Noble, Waterstones

and can be ordered from bookstores.