The Writing Bit
This is the last post that will mention NaNoWriMo (until next year!) So, it’s over! You have 50,000 words of story and a hangover from the champagne you’ve been knocking back in justified celebration. What do you mean, you haven’t had any champagne? As I pointed out in last week’s blog, NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty advised us to purchase champagne at the start of week 4 so it could be chilled and ready for when we crossed the finish line. If you haven’t had champagne yet, buy some now. It’s THE LAW!
For me, it’s been an enjoyable but intense month. It’s been pretty time-consuming; the house is a tip, the laundry’s piled up and I’ve been neglecting friends and family. (I really must phone my mother.) And apart from the less-than-riveting prospect of catching up with the housework and laundry, I’m aware of a very slight ‘down’ feeling, too, a bit of a sense of anti-climax. All that writerly camaraderie is over, and instead of the buzz and excitement that goes with the daily challenge of hitting the word count, we’re left with the reality – a very, very veryrough draft.
I don’t know about you, but mine’s a bit of a hotch-potch, a Frankenstein’s monster of a draft with lots of bits that might work in themselves but don’t necessarily go together. Between page 1 and page 109, I’ve changed the ages of the two main characters; I’ve changed their parents’ personalities; I’ve turned a nice experience one of them has in the early pages into an unpleasant episode later on, and on page 100, or thereabouts, I decided it might work better if my characters were sisters rather than friends – a change that will alter at least the first few chapters.
So basically, it’s all over the place, and the ideas are still coming – and changing. But I’m not going to be too disheartened by the problems with my manuscript. The process of writing a novel involves a massive amount of rethinking, reshaping and rewriting, and the great thing about having taken part in NaNoWriMo is that I feel I’ve taken a bit of a shortcut – I was always going to write thousands of words that would end up being changed or cut; I’ve just done it much more quickly.
My plan now is to print it out, read it through and see what I’ve created. I’ll use a highlighter pen to mark the bits I want to keep, then I’ll try to put them in some sort of order, even if it’s only ‘beginning, middle and end’. And then I’ll start the long, slow process of redrafting.
Did you take part in NaNoWriMo? How did you find the experience? And if you didn’t do it this year, are you tempted for 2012?
The Reading Bit
I heard M J Hyland speak recently at a writing Masterclass; she was incredibly generous with her insights into the writing process, and she was also enormously entertaining and good fun, so I bought her most recent novel, This Is How – I often buy books largely because I like the author!
This Is How is written in the first person, present tense, from the point of view of Patrick, a young man who arrives to start a new life in a seaside town after a broken engagement. Patrick is a loner, at odds with the world. Clearly much brighter than the rest of his family, he studied psychology at university, but dropped out after a year in order to become a car mechanic, something at which he excels. Patrick knows where he is with engines – they’re less complex than people. Although Patrick would like to have friends, he finds it difficult to engage with people and to express his feelings. Throughout the novel, he says one thing while feeling something completely different. Often what he feels is intense and even violent anger, but it’s a repressed anger. Repressed, that is, until one day when he commits a single, violent act, apparently not realising the magnitude of what he’s doing until afterwards.
The novel then follows Patrick as the consequences of this spur-of-the-moment act unfold. The prose is spare and there’s a lot of dialogue. Patrick’s observations are brief and straightforward. The complexity of his thoughts and feelings is shown by what he says and does, rather than by us being privy to his thoughts. I can’t say a lot more about the plot without giving too much away, but suffice to say that the closeness with which we follow Patrick has the effect of making him a hugely sympathetic character, even though he often seems strangely detached and emotionless. Despite his sometimes violent feelings, he is usually polite and courteous to everyone, and when he acts on his violent impulse, his regret and guilt are almost palpable. Hyland writes Patrick so vividly that we feel almost part of him; we feel the physical sensations he experiences, seemingly in place of emotions. We even feel the unexplained pains in his neck and shoulders that plague him throughout the novel – a subtle touch suggesting a character who is contantly burdened.
This is not a thriller or a ‘secret-to-be-revealed’ type novel, and yet I still found it an absolute page turner. Patrick is a powerful, heartbreakingly sad and brilliantly evoked character, and he will stay with me for a very long time.
The Food Bit
This section is where I tell you how I’ve managed to feed Vegan Husband in a reasonably interesting way over the past week. I occasionally still eat fish and dairy products, so I’ll talk about non-vegan food now and again.
Father-in-law coming for Saturday lunch, so we’re going to start with a spicy butternut squash soup, then veggie sausages and mash with red wine onion gravy, followed by baked peaches and vegan ice-cream.
For the soup: peel and dice a butternut squash, put in a roasting dish with a quartered onion, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, some fresh thyme and a sprinkling of chilli powder and salt. Pour over some olive oil and mix so that everything’s coated. Roast until the squash and onion are soft, then add about a pint of vegetable stock and whizz until smooth. Add more stock for a thinner consistency, check seasoning and serve.
For the sausage and mash: we love the Linda Mc Cartney veggie sausages. The trick is to make sure you don’t overcook them. For the mash: when the potatoes are cooked, add some unsweetened soya milk, a dollop of vegan sunflower spread, (or just some olive oil), and about a tablespoon of wholegrain mustard. Season to taste. For the gravy: slice an onion and fry gently in olive oil until soft. Stir in a little flour and cook for a minute or two, then add some strong vegetable stock, some red wine, a bay leaf, a good pinch of dried sage and a dessertspoon of dijon mustard. We’ll probably have some broccoli and carrots with this, or whatever veg is knocking about in the fridge.
For pud: cut a peach in half, remove the stone and fill the hole with chopped pistachios, hazelnuts or almonds (or all three). Sprinkle on some muscovado sugar and bake in the oven until soft. Serve with ice-cream or non-dairy ice-cream – Swedish Glace is very good.