V.E. Schwab’s J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture at Pembroke College

Last week, I was fortunate enough to have friends who would indulge my blatant fangirling over one of my favourite authors enough to plan an entire trip to Oxford to indulge this whim. What am I talking about, you ask? Why, V.E. Schwab’s Tolkien Lecture given at Pembroke College, Oxford. Of course. An annual lecture, Pembroke College’s J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture series is organised by students of the college and based on the topic of speculative fiction (often, fantasy and sci-fi), it invites an influential person within the field to speak on the topic. Previous speakers have included Lev Grossman and Susan Cooper and, this year, it added V.E. Schwab to its growing ranks.

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NaNoWriMo 2017 | This Year’s Failure & What I Achieved

I don’t know if you recall from my NaNoWriMo 2017 post, but I fully intended to participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month by using the time to plan (and I mean properly plan and plot) my novel which I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) to write for the past couple of years/NaNoWriMos. Sitting somewhere between gaslamp fantasy and steampunk, it’s set in a Victorian-era London and focuses around mining and the dangers of the technology which was being developed amidst the setting of the Industrial Revolution. And there’s also a flying galleon, because duh. Oh and there’s magic… and a Kraken that people are scared of… naturally.

Unfortunately, unlike the savvy writers out there, I didn’t plan in October (no Preptober of any kind happened), and this affected my 2017 NaNoWriMo before it had even started. I actually made the conscious decision, going into November, that I wouldn’t “do NaNoWriMo properly”, but rather focus instead on plotting and planning and developing my novel, rather than worrying about writing actual continuous prose. I downloaded prep resources and watched many a Preptober video to get me in the mood for my slightly altered NaNoWriMo attempt.

Well, I hate to sound like a broken record but, guys, I failed once again. I can’t say I’m surprised by this point. I’m not even disappointed in myself. Because me failing NaNoWriMo seems like a foregone conclusion, even when I’m barely “doing NaNoWriMo” “properly”. For full disclosure of just how badly I failed, take a look at my not-so-regularly updated Twitter thread which charts my waning interest in anything to do with NaNoWriMo. Yes, I only made it to 6th November aka Day 6 (yep, we were still in single figures) when I dropped off the Twitter radar as far as NaNoWriMo was concerned. I ended up having a pretty great reading month, but that’s by the by. By all accounts, I failed NaNoWriMo… and quite spectacularly at that.

However, I don’t want to constantly be 100% negative about my various failed attempts at writing a novel, I want to look for the positives so here are some achievements that came out of NaNoWriMo 2017:

  1. I confirmed my sneaking suspicion that my novel, in fact, errs more on the side of gaslamp fantasy rather than steampunk.
  2. The story I’m trying to tell might actually be a duology?!? (Getting ahead of myself here, I know.)
  3. I decided to make it an alternate-history – it’s set in the early 19th century but in my story’s world the Napoleonic Wars are still ongoing as the Coalition didn’t defeat Napoleon at Waterloo.
  4. The addition of the ‘at war with the French’ element (which is apparently what I’m calling it now?) also helped me to flesh out my magic system and integrate this ‘kraken’ idea which I couldn’t get firm hold on during previous attempts at NaNoWriMo. Basically, the French have discovered how to harness magic, the British haven’t, so obviously it’s putting them at a disadvantage in warfare and the government is putting pressure on various factions to come up with a solution of how to mine and harness this magic effectively so that the British can hold their own in battle against the French.
  5. I worked out a hell of a lot of backstory for one of my male MCs which explained how he could be from a well-to-do family yet require him to have a profession of his own and be financially independent from his family. No spoilers but obviously his dad was involved in a shady scandal that sent the family name into disrepute.
  6. I decided I needed to entirely drop one of my male characters because he didn’t really serve a purpose.
  7. I fleshed out one of my French characters who is a journalist in England writing under a male pseudonym, obviously  – the additional of the whole ‘at war with the French’ element means I can do some interesting socio-political things with her too, or so I hope!
  8. My Pinterest board for ‘The Upper Deep’ got bigger, including a brand new board with an entirely different “Dark Queen” story idea which has been plaguing me ever since I saw this Paso Doble on Strictly Come Dancing last year.
  9. I allowed myself to write when I felt like it and not write when the inspiration well was just well and truly dry as sticks. This meant I unofficially “quit” NaNoWriMo for yet another year only 6 days in but, do you know what? I’m not even really that ashamed about it because I think I managed to achieve a lot more constructive progress this year that I have in previous years, despite what the lacklustre word count may suggest. This is what I will take from NaNoWriMo 2017 and hopefully into working on my novel more in 2018.

Did you participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo? What was your novel about and how did writing go this year? Did you achieve all that you wanted to?
Or, have you never tried NaNoWriMo or don’t think it’s really for you?
Comment below and let’s chat writing and story ideas!


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NaNoWriMo 2017 | This Year’s Approach

Well, my friends, November is on the horizon again which, for those of us who are so inclined, means only one thing – National Novel Writing Month. Yes, it’s that time of year when tens of thousands of writers get together online, all in the name of the ambitious task of writing 50,000 words – 1,667 words per day. It doesn’t sound like that many words, when you put it like that – after all, every great novel started with an author just putting one word in front of another, bit by bit, until they had told the story they set out to tell. In theory, it’s a very logical process; in practice, it feels like anything but.

Once again, I have decided (probably foolishly) to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo despite not having planned out anything of my novel. Well, that’s a lie – I am now on my third attempt of writing what I have tentatively called ‘The Upper Deep’ for the last two years, a story inspired by Tennyson’s poem ‘The Kraken’, so I have some ideas by this point. (Check out my Beautiful Books 2016 post if you’re curious!) But I have no plot, really. I have a concept and I have characters and you’d think that would be enough to be getting on with but, as previous years have proven, it really isn’t enough. Roughly speaking, NaNoWriMo participants describe themselves as ‘pansters’ or ‘plotters’, with the latter (lucky) group plotting out their novel ahead of November, probably with detailed chapter summaries and planned characters arcs and all sorts of snazzy things, and the former group winging it all the way and seeing what story comes out when they sit down to write on 1st November. Of course, as is so often the case in this world, there are also those who don’t fit neatly into either label – they are ‘plantsers’, a hybrid mix of the two camps and I suppose, to some extent, that’s what I must be.

So, what is my plan come 1st November? I will be writing, for the third time, my ‘The Upper Deep’ story but, as I wasn’t organised enough to do Preptober, November will basically (hopefully) be a mix of prepping my story and then writing some of it. I plan to properly invest time into prepping my novel, rather than just getting by on little snatches here and there when I remember in October, as I ordinarily do. So, every word I write of plot ideas, brain dumps, character profiles, and so on will count towards my total. Am I doing NaNoWriMo correctly? I don’t know, but at this point, I don’t really care – for me, NaNo stops being fun when I feel undue pressure to keep writing even though my writing isn’t going anywhere, and I want so badly to keep the fun up for the entire month, rather than throwing in the towel halfway through the second week.

With that in mind, fellow writers and/or NaNoWriMo participants – if you are reading this and have ANY kind of planning or plotting techniques or advice, please do share them in the comments below because I’m struggling to tease out a plot structure from my overall, overarching idea. I have the big picture, but none of the necessary little bits that will get my story from beginning to end. If you have resources or techniques or books that would help me to help myself work out this idea then I would be immensely grateful if you shared them with me. And in the meantime, I’ll be getting ready for properly working on my novel come 1st November because, in the end, that’s what NaNoWriMo is really about – allowing yourself the time every single day to work on a project you’re passionate about.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Please do say hi in the comments if so, and we can help cheer each other on throughout the month, or why not add me as a buddy on the siteAre you a plotter or a panster? And do you have any winning techniques to plot and outline novels? 


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Discussion | Finding Your Blogging Voice

Hi all, I bring you a semi-rare post today in the form of a discussion post. This time, I’d like to discuss the struggle of finding your own personal voice and blogging tone, as it has been something that’s been on my mind a lot over the last few months and it definitely affects how much I blog since it’s constantly playing on my mind.

First, let me explain what I mean. I follow some amazing bloggers who have such fun and engaging blogs. And, in an internet full of blogs (especially those about books), what distinguishes one book blog from another? Largely, it’s the tone, it’s the blogger’s personality coming across through the “voice” of their blog. My favourite blogs are the ones full of this voice, the ones where the blogger’s complete personality seems to really shine and engage their readers. I’m not necessarily talking about big personalities; there are more understated blogs and bloggers that just sound so distinct, so very much them, that it’s hard to resist automatically reading their latest post when it pops up in my Reader.

This is what I aspire to. Or not even that, but to have a more distinct voice. Because I feel a disconnect between my different writing styles and I’m not sure if my (attempted) amalgamation of them in this blog quite works to form one ‘voice’. You see, I am well used to adjusting my tone depending on the audience.

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On Giving Up [NaNoWriMo edition]

Sometimes in life, you have to let go. Sometimes in life, you have to accept that A Thing is categorically Not Happening.  Sometimes in life, you just have to admit that you’re not going to continue doing something because trying to do it is actually making you mildly miserable along the way. Sometimes in life, you have to give up.

Yes, my friends, once again I have given up on NaNoWriMo before I’d even reached the mid-way point.

If we’re being honest, I gave up last week, but I’ve been writing dribs and drabs of text here and there in order to be able to truthfully update my word count every day (gotta have that streak!). However, I’ve just reached a point where I am categorically Not Having Fun. And NaNoWriMo is meant to be fun, right? Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s also hard work – writing a novel is never going to be remotely easy – but the fun element is meant to be included somewhere in that, right? And when it genuinely stops being fun, why continue putting yourself through the slog every single day?

Why put yourself through the constant internal argument you have with yourself where one voice is saying ‘I can’t write, I’m not a writer, I’m not good at this, I don’t want to’ (this voice is the whiny one) and the other voice is saying begrudgingly ‘come on, just write 100 words, you can write 100 words in no time and you’ll feel better about it’. There’s only so long that second voice can continue to reason with the whiny brat that is the first voice.

When I do get into the swing of writing and everything is working and my characters are conversing of their own accord, yeah, okay, that’s a lot of fun and it feels great. Hey, look at me, I’m creating, I’m writing, I can write!!

But when I’m forcing myself (by way of snacks and treats) to just hit word count every day? I end up feeling like crap about myself, about my story, about everything around me. And that doesn’t sound like a very healthy mind set, does it? I end cranky and down on myself and then feeling like crap because writing (or, rather, procrastinating writing) is taking up all my time that I would normally spend reading and I haven’t read a thing all month etc. etc.

I’ve come to the conclusion that, once again, my NaNoWriMo attempt has been abandoned for another year at least. And I’m strangely okay with that. In fact, I feel something like relief, like a weight has been lifted. Because it’s dumb to put this much pressure on yourself if you’re just consistently Not Feeling It.

And I still love my story idea, I’m not giving up on that, it just might take me a little longer than 30 days to truly do it justice. That’s fine, that’s good, even. And, hey, I might start writing again tomorrow, I might start writing again next week, or next month, or next year, and that’s honestly okay. For the sake of my own mental health and self-esteem, that’s okay.


To all those amazing, amazing writers doing NaNoWriMo this year…
I salute you. I wish you all soaring word counts and delightful fun with your novel.
You can do it, go smash it.


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Beautiful Books 2016: Introduce Your Novel

Well, it’s November 1st once again… seriously, where the hell did October go? I swear I blinked and missed it! Since it is November (though I’m still finding that hard to believe), it’s that time of year again – the time when this foolish girl who was never much of a writer tries to write 50,000 words because a bunch of people on the Internet are also doing it. It’s NaNoWriMo time! In case you’ve somehow managed to avoid the phenomena that is NaNoWriMo, let me briefly explain. National Novel Writing Month is an annual event in which people pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days… or die trying… ok maybe not die. Roughly speaking this means writing 1,667 words a day, which doesn’t seem too difficult on the surface but when you haven’t written a single word for 5 days, well, those daily word goals stack up quite quickly. (I know this to be true.) The key with NaNo always seems to be making time – a novel isn’t going to write itself after all! And I’ll bet quite a lot of people would put “write a novel” on their bucket list. Well – now’s the time!

bb-redoneThis year I’m going to be attempting to turn last year’s failure into at least a half-decent attempt at a novel, so I’m reworking the same idea, but I’ve had a year to occasionally think about when I’m daydreaming on the train. And since it is the first day of NaNo and all is still optimistic and exciting, I thought I would share a little bit about my novel via the wonderful Beautiful Books link up at Paper Fury. I have answered a few questions below to help “Introduce My Novel” which all sounds rather grand!

1. What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

4 main things: I love the pirate bit of the Stardust film; I have a penchant for steampunk and gas-lamp fantasy (though I didn’t know that’s what it was called when I was reading and loving it); I enjoy the gritty-history/Victorian-y tone that seems to be popular in TV nowadays with the likes of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films, Ripper Street, and Peaky Blinders (yes I know Peaky Blinders isn’t Victorian but just go with me on this one); and I’ve always been fascinated with the Industrial Revolution’s effect on society. So I’m trying to smush all of that together, because clearly I’m interested.

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Thoughts from NaNo | The Perils of Pantsing

I feel as though every NaNoWriMo blog ought to include some kind of Ron Swanson gif and, since I seem to have unwittingly started some kind of pattern, I’ll somehow have to try to drop that in the middle of this summary of Week One’s progress.

As the graph below visually shows, I was doing splendidly until Day 6/Friday, at which point I started to fall behind. Considering I was away all of Saturday enjoying a catch up with friends in Manchester, I’m not altogether surprised by this falling behind, but I had hoped to compensate for it before or after Day 7. Unfortunately I am better at making plans than I am at following through with them – story of my life, and part of why I’m trying NaNoWriMo at all!

nano stats 9

I was mildly surprised by how well the first few days of NaNo went for me. I should preface this with the reminder that, even at this point still, I don’t have a plot outlined. I don’t have a set of actions from point A to even point B. What I do have thus far is a series of random scenes and vignettes, 9926 words’ worth of them! My imagination is firmly the kind where it dreams up scenes and snippets of dialogue and a clever phrasing or two here and there, it isn’t very adept at sustained and coherent plot lines. This is most of the reason why I would never describe myself as a writer – I worry that a vague concept or idea isn’t viable as a narrative and so I never actually get around to fleshing them out into a timeline or chronology.

It was fine pantsing for Week One, but I’ve quickly realised, as the days have passed by, that this month would be so much easier on myself and my self-doubt if I did have some vague semblance of a chain of events to get me from beginning to end. Unfortunately, however, I am drastically behind – I’m meant to reach 15000 words by the end of today – so I feel like I don’t have the time to play catch up whilst also working on an outline. Of course, this is what I need to do in order to continue writing past this block I seem to have developed around the 9000 word mark.

Why, oh why, did I not decide to do NaNo earlier and so have plenty of time in October to at least cobble together some kind of outline? Curse you lack of foresight, curse you!

So, NaNoWriMo-ers, do share, do you have any tips and ticks for how to tease out a plot from a slightly anxious and overworked brain which is feeling less than creative (to say the least)? Nothing is too basic considering I don’t even have a synopsis or end-game for my novel!

Thoughts From NaNo | Quality, Quantity, and Discipline

Most of my writing thus far for NaNoWriMo feels a little lot like this. In many ways, the concept of quantity over quality which NaNoWriMo advocates is perfectly suited to my writing style which, you might have noticed, could be described as using far too many commas, lists of three, not-strictly-necessary descriptive asides, and words such as “quite” and “rather” when the sentence would function much the same without them. I tend to run-on quite a bit too. Which makes a daily goal of 1667 words sound not at all horrific to me. Still, despite the idea of disciplining yourself to meet a word count every day and so not worrying unduly over ever single word choice, some quality in writing would perhaps be advisable. I need to take more care over what I write.

However, as all great writers ever claim – the key to getting better at writing is (shock horror) to write. Writing has always been something on my periphery – something that I claim to love, and do indeed love when I get into the rhythm of it, but something which I rarely practice on a regular basis. In fact,  aside from essay writing, I don’t think I’ve ever written a solid amount of words two days in a row. Even forum rp (which I love) hasn’t seen me as disciplined as that because, due to time zone differences, I very rarely end up responding to an rp partner every day. So for all some kind of writing is involved in my day-to-day life (right now, for example, that’s a lot of job application writing) it’s never the focus of any given day in my life and I’ve certainly never sustained concentration on a single form of writing for this long, let alone what will hopefully be 30 days over the course of NaNoWriMo.

I’m finding I enjoy it though. I enjoy meeting the daily target – and that feeling is even better when I surpass it, even if it’s just by 20 words or so. What can I say, I’m a sucker for visualisations of surpassing someone’s minimum expectations, and that little daily stat graph is like a nice pat of the back after every evening word count update.

Speaking of which, it’s just gone midday on Day 3 and I haven’t written a single word today. I need to reach 5000 in the next 12 hours to meet target but since that’s 1245 words left to write, I don’t think that’s too bad. Getting ahead would be preferable, however, since tomorrow we look after a certain toddler who (unsurprisingly) doesn’t seem to care much for daily writing goals… or quiet of any kind. So we’ll see how that goes. I’m having fun just putting one word in front of the other and seeing where I end up. Sure, I’m likely to end up with shaky characterisation, mostly terrible dialogue and some convoluted plotting (confession: my plotting is non-existent at this point), but the point to this entire exercise (at least for me) is to prove to myself that I’m capable of sticking at something for 30 days without giving up because I decide my idea is terrible anyway so I might as well ditch everything and go back to doing nothing every day.

As far as the point of NaNoWriMo goes, I feel like that one will benefit more than just my writing in the longer term.

Listlessness

Listless:
adjective (of a person or their manner) lacking energy or enthusiasm.
e.g. “bouts of listless depression”
synonyms: lethargic, enervated, lackadaisical, spiritless, unenergetic, lifeless, vigourless, lacking energy, limp, effete

So… I’m particularly terrible at updating, it seems. Perhaps the prospect of writing 50,000 words next month was enough to make me consider conserving my words for them. Or maybe not. Maybe I just haven’t been doing a lot of reading or writing or anything resembling either. Maybe I have fallen into the listlessness of being alone in the house until 4 o clock every day. That sounds much more on the mark, to be perfectly honest.

Yet again I have been falling into the familiar trap of starting lots of little things but not actually finishing much. I have started applying for all manner of jobs (from administration stuff to digital marketing), started watching Netflix shows (Archer and How To Get Away With Murder, so good for such different reasons), wrote long overdue reviews for Harry’s Last Stand and The Rest of Us Just Live Hereset up a Pinterest board for my NaNoWriMo idea (though “idea” seems much too hopeful of a word for that vague concept), saw a film that quickly made me obsessed (Crimson Peak, no one is surprised to hear this), and started a few books (The Watchmaker of Filigree Street and The Name of the Wind, both excellent). However, I haven’t finished any of these things – except from watching Crimson Peak, but I wish I could just watch it on loop for the next month or so to be honest! Instead, I have half-assed everything and I really need to follow the wisdom of Ron Swanson on this one:

 

 

 

 

 

 

See, Ron-fucking-Swanson at his motivational best. (It also reminds me of how much I miss Parks and Recreation, season 5 needs to hurry up and air in the UK.)

There is certainly something to be said about finishing – about being able to tick off a completed item on a to-do list. Although I am very good at writing out to-do lists, as of the past week or so, I seem to be very inept at actually completing them. Considering NaNoWriMo is just around the corner I definitely need to get back on track with consistently completing what I set out to do for the day instead of listlessly pushing it back to tomorrow as I seem to have done all of this week. I’ve been in an odd mood in that way and I just hope NaNo will help me to discipline myself better on a day-to-day basis because something’s got to give!

NaNoWriMo 2015: Yay or Nay?

Well it’s that time of year when the one question on my own lips is: Am I doing NaNoWriMo this year? I certainly want to and I certainly have the time (hello unemployed graduate life), more so than I did last year when I tried and failed after one day, but I’m just never sure I have enough creativity. This has always been a problem for me sustaining any creative project – I worry my idea isn’t big enough or decent enough to see followed through to the very end.

I have forum roleplayed in the past (a lot at some points in my life) which means that the thought of writing 1666 words a day really doesn’t faze me at all because that’s like not even 3 posts and I know I can knock out a 600-word post in about 15 minutes. So timing-wise, I’m fine. But as I’m sure everyone knows forum rp is a very different beast to actually writing solo. With NaNo I won’t have someone to bounce ideas off, I won’t have someone else’s post to respond to and write back to, I won’t be able to message someone saying “I feel like making my character suffer a little today, do you want in?”. No, this all has to come from me and me alone – and I think that is what always concerns me, despite the fact I know I can create characters and voices and brainstorm plot ideas on the fly.

So this post is me tentatively stating my intention to participate in NaNoWriMo 2015. I will learn from my disastrous attempt in 2014. Last year I didn’t plot or really have any ideas fleshed out in the slightest so I ended up writing 1590 words during a word sprint in which I barely knew my characters or where I was going with the story, all I know is it was a story set in Whitby. I don’t even really recall how I managed to get to 1590 words before I failed quite spectacularly. I can only assume I wrote a conversation between two characters in the hope of getting to know them better, before I realised I had no clue where I was going or even wanted to go with the novel.

However, this year I will do better – this year, I will at least make it to 5000 words! (Yes, it’s the little goals that really count for me). At the moment I have two very vague ideas, I’m more at working out the tones of the two stories, I haven’t plotted or outlined at all and I’m just really hoping that in these remaining days of October I’ll sit down and work out what story I want to tell. After all, it’s all very well having characters and settings in mind but it’s something different entirely to figure out what story you want to tell with them! Still, starting 1st November with something is better than nothing so I’ve followed Elisabeth’s excellent process of creating Pinterest boards for reference, for idea 1 and idea 2. Not sure which genre/period or story I’m wanting to tell but hopefully I’ll settle on one in this coming week in time to get excited and energised for NaNoWriMo.

In the mean time I’m back to watch Lainey, Kat, Kristina, and Elisabeth‘s writing vlogs in the hope of picking up some tips and tricks ready for November. Speaking of which, if you’re planning on participating in NaNoWriMo this year or have any tips for a not so confident writer like myself, please please please share in the comments below! Or, if you’re participating, just say hey; I’d love to find some writing buddies to help keep accountable and to keep me accountable too!