An Unexpected Triumph

Hiya, people who read this! Today I’m blogging about general things in my life, because a lot has happened lately and because my exams begin on Tuesday (make what you will of that as a ‘reason’).

Firstly, last month I participated in CampNaNoWriMo. I took to Camp the novel I blogged about at Christmas, and haven’t had time to write as I’d hoped. Well, I certainly made time, because I wrote 42,000 words in April, a personal record. If I hadn’t gone away for a week (see flat bit on the graph below) I might’ve even got the 50k.

CampNaNoApr14

Can I take this paragraph to say how much I love my Camp novel? I’m totally shameless–sometimes I doubt I even wrote the plot. It’s so much fun to write! MC installs toads in water tank. Bakery gets sued. MC sent to my homeland (yay!), where she discovers all the quirks of being a Guern (hedge-veg, bombed tomato lorries, the fairy ring). Her uncle once wrote a sonnet comparing a pretty girl to a cabbage field, and in the now another boy imitates it, replacing cabbage field with toads. The only romance is between Flavie’s middle-aged uncle and his neighbour, and it’s very, very cute. See what I mean by fun?

And my cabin was awesome, so supportive and funny, and filled with Disney references. Why couldn’t even one of them have Twitter? *bemoans loneliness*

Here I come onto Pitch Slam. Some of you may know it. In short, it’s an online contest hosted by LL McKinney where you pitch your novel and, if you’re chosen, your 35-word pitch and the first 250 words of your MS are posted on the host blogs, where real life agents bid on them for queries and partials. But it’s the best kind of contest, because you get feedback and the chance to edit and resubmit prior to the agent round.

I’m not going to lie when I say I entered out of curiosity. The feedback on my 250 did not disappoint:

“If we were to divide the votes, there would be more of us who didn’t get the voice than those who did, but what we did agree upon was it was unique. Possibly so unique that it overshot the mark. … All of that said, we understood what was happening, the actions were clear, the writing was concise, we just had some trouble placing the voice.”

Unique, eh? That’s possibly the best compliment I’ve ever received, and it’s enough for me that some people ‘got’ it. And the second best compliment: ‘the writing was concise’. After the whole wordcount fiasco (plus I know I’m naturally verbose) that makes me so happy. (Update: after cutting countless scenes and characters, and totally wiping the religious theme, Drina’s wordcount is down to a smacking 89,863. I honestly don’t believe I’ll make it to 88k (two thirds of the original 132k).)

On the day of the Great Reveal of who got into the agent round, I logged onto a school computer, blog-skipped, sifted through titles. And then I saw: WHEN THE CLOCK BROKE. No, silly, that’s not my title. It’s Alex’s. I feel quite personally involved in WTCB’s fate by this time (oh my gosh, did I never post my review of it?!) so I logged straight off and phoned her in case she hadn’t seen (and interrupted some important revision in the process).

Later that evening I was traversing the Pitch Slam blogs reading entries, noting awesome things they did that must’ve got them in. And wow, I was thinking, these titles are so good. I came last to Team Electric hosted by Renee Ahdieh, and skimmed down the ‘band’ poster. SINGULARITY. Wha-? I read it again. SINGULARITY is the title under which I’ve entered Captain’s Paper in contests. Were there really two entries of that title? I’d have to go alias-title-hunting again.

TeamElectric

I clicked on the link, and to my tremendous surprise, saw not only my title, but my wordcount (the highest in my Team, I believe), my pitch, and then my crazy first 250. I can’t remember the last time I felt so surprised and gratified and invigorated.

Plus, I got an agent bid! Query and first ten pages. I did my research, polished the ten, wrote a query FROM SCRATCH, and sent. I’m not holding my breath over it, but it’s a massive step.

Someone got my ‘unique’ tone! Someone liked my conservative British concept!

That excitement pretty much destroyed my last days of CampNaNo, but I got my target and smashed my PR somehow.

Whew! I’m only halfway through the list of life-things (that you probably don’t care about) that I was going to talk about. The others being exams and universities (and a maths lecture at Cambridge last Saturday involving permutation cycles which got me VERY excited), I’ll leave them for another post.

Meantime, all the best for you in your navigating of this unmapped (figuratively, but peradventure oxymoronically) world.

🙂

campnanojuly13target2

 

 

 

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CampNaNoWriMo July 2013

(Again, a post less general and more personal to me [than some]. Factual/theoretical dissertations may resume shortly.)

Well, that’s done. You want some figures?

My first serious attempt at NaNo was in November 2011. I set my target at 33,333 words (two thirds of the full 50K, since I had school to contend with) and wrote 34,133.

My second serious attempt was Camp July 2013. I set my target at 25,000 words (half of the full 50K, because I knew I’d be away a lot of the time) and wrote 35,125.

That’s the whole story. I’ve only tried it twice with a definite personal goal in mind, and both times I’ve been stinted by other commitments. Someday I’ll get 50K. I write at a quick enough rate… It’s just when it takes place in a month I’ve nothing better to do.

Oh, I complain. So many people with full-time jobs get well over 50,000 year after year. How hard can it be, if you’re truly motivated?

After all, on day one I wrote over 7,000 words! By day two that was up to 11,000. And then I got lazy… But these past few days I’ve been trying to make amends. I’ll snapshot my graph and you can all bear witness to my erraticness/erraticism/erraticity(?!). My ‘friends’ always chide me for inconsistency.

Mm, as you can see...

Mm, as you can see…

Yeah, my cabin wasn’t the best. Only two of us got past the 5K mark, and the other girl reached her target of twice that and didn’t continue. I am the proud contributor of seventy percent of my cabin’s words. Unfortunately I couldn’t get everyone else’s targets for them as well as my own.

In the past week I’ve experienced several surprise revelations—sudden unexpected plot twists and characters spiralling out of control. Does this always happen on first drafts? I’ve never noticed it before—but to be fair, I’ve always been such a pantser it hasn’t mattered.

This time, however…

To put all this in context, my WriMo novel is something of a detective story, with the relationships constituting the sub-plot, and elements of action, romance and mistaken paranormal thrown in for good measure. And the good old boarding school returns again!

For a start, there’s my foremost supporting character. In the first story, she was just another character thrown in for contrast and remote moral support. She didn’t even speak till the epilogue. Yes, it sounds amateur, but I’ve brought her back for a larger role in the sequel, to make her previous appearances just a big set-up.

And what a role! Her character has been the steadiest and least changeable of everything in my life this month. Before last Friday, I didn’t even realise quite how enigmatic she was. I thought she was shy or nervous, or incredibly self-conscious. ‘Insipid’, Drina calls her. (Very nice of you, Drina.)

Well, she’s not. She’s not at all. If she’s quiet, it’s because she has nothing to say. And that’s only deception, too! She knows things the rest of the cast would give anything to know, too. She never asks questions, and rarely answers them straight. She tells no two people the same things, but never lies. And she never ever tells the whole story.

Sims 3 doesn't have the right hairstyle, so I cropped out the one I was forced to give her.

Sorry I don’t have a better picture.

Much of the plot hangs upon both her silence and her words, and she is the source of most of the story’s revelations. Simply because nothing anyone else says affects how she communicates. She won’t be coaxed, threatened, tempted, trained…

She’s a strange character—one of the most interesting I’ve ever created. And she wasn’t even supposed to be interesting. Plus because she doesn’t express herself properly (and doesn’t care whether she does or not), I can do exciting and terrifying things with her relationships…

Secondly, my long-time lovers separated. And I never saw that coming. They’ve been engaged for four and a half years, and I thought they were so attached, ultimate soul-mates…

But the more gentle and compliant one of the two suggested it, and my MC was so surprised she just walked away. Sad, eh?

And the funny thing is, I scarcely even know how it happened. One moment they were all lovey-dovey and apologising for I-don’t-know-what; the next minute they’d parted. And all done so gently and shockingly I hadn’t an idea what was bound to happen before it actually did.

It’s so shocking I can scarcely say more about it. So I won’t. I don’t even know if they’ll get back together again. Fortunately I’m only halfway through the story, and though they won’t meet again till the end, if the rest of my plan decides to hold out(!), they’ve plenty of time to think it over.

campnanojuly13target2And thirdly, the crazy idea came to me to bring back to life a character who’s been dead twenty-five years (storywise). I’m not sure if I’ll actually do it or not…but my imagination presented it to me in such a way as to make everything else work perfectly. Hm, this requires no mean thought!

This next fortnight I’m back to editing. Wish me good fun!

Latin, Bagpipes and Blister Plasters

I am aware I haven’t posted since I first got the blog, and for that I profusely apologise. As I said, I’ve been away, and since I’m struggling for a post topic I can complete with little research (I have a lazy streak), I will dedicate this one to describing to you exactly where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing (well, not ‘exactly’, because that would become unnecessarily dull).

My first trip, mainly in June, it must be said, took me to Cambridge for my brother’s graduation. The ceremony was mainly in Latin, and was described by my parents as ‘unusual’ (I, never having been to one before, am not qualified to make a judgement).

The ceremonies at Cambridge take place from the Thursday to the Saturday, throughout the day, in the Senate House. There are thirty-one colleges in all, to date, and the students graduate according to college. The most prestigious three, King’s, Trinity and St John’s, go first, and are thereafter followed by the other colleges in order of foundation—Peterhouse, then Clare, then Pembroke, and so on.

In each ceremony, which lasts approximately twenty minutes, around sixty graduands graduate—in the case of Clare, two ceremonies were held in order to accommodate the graduations of a hundred and twenty graduands. It’s very quick, nevertheless–kind of walk in, walk out, all done, let’s go home kind of thing. Except we had a picnic instead with all the families of my brother’s friends–a strange thing, you can imagine, since he knew his friends so well, but none of the parents had ever met!

If you’re interested enough in the Latin and all the strange gestures involved, which have been going on in the ceremony every year for the past seven centuries, I suggest you visit another website. Not that I’m not interested, but to my sorrow I was never granted the opportunity to learn Latin.

Cameras were forbidden and I’m a rubbish photographer but let it be said that I tried.

CambridgeGraduation

My second trip away consisted of a weekend to the island of Sark/Sercq for the annual Folk Festival held there. And it is truly the best setting for a folk festival there could be! Why, they have dusty tracks instead of roads, and horsedrawn carts instead of cars. The Avenue, the Sark equivalent to a High Street, is possibly the dearest lane imaginable. And La Coupée, the causeway suspended between two cliffs several hundred feet up, is one of the most terrifying places I have ever been. But last year I was forced to ride a bicycle down it at midnight, with no lights on my vehicle, so this year I was grateful to be spared such an ordeal, and crossed it on foot in the daylight.

I have never seen a place quite like Sark—and never will, I expect. It seems so completely and utterly untouched by anything and everything that make up our poisoned society today. You think Guernsey’s primitive? From Sark it looks like a metropolis.

Sark

Yet the contradiction involves the Barclay Brothers, who own most of the island and are always hungry for more power. Many an ode to power hoarders was dedicated to the Brothers that weekend! Still, I pray the island remains as perfect as it seems; and if it were less impractical, in matters such as transport and shopping, I might consider living there in the future, if I ever had the means to set up as a professional author.

As for the festival, folk fiends will be jealous to hear that Seth Lakeman headlined. Personally I preferred Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson, and the bagpipes on Saturday night, the cider and the dancing…

Seth Lakeman

My third and final journey was to Snowdonia in Wales. And about this one I was frankly terrified. Not merely because to get there I was forced to take the overnight boat in a recliner chair, and a six-hour coach journey the following day, and, being an awful traveller, either of these things would be enough to strike terror into my heart.

No; because this was to be a weeklong camping trip, and I’ve never camped in my life, especially far from home. And because the aim of the whole trip was to walk fifty or sixty kilometres in three days with a pack on my back that weighed more than half my own body weight, and, on top of that, in heat of twenty-nine degrees, being used to less than half of that down South.

This was my Duke of Edinburgh Silver practice expedition. And I didn’t do Bronze. I had no idea what to expect beyond all this discomfort, and members of my group who had done Bronze doubted I could make even one day, due to my slightness of size and blatant lack of physical strength.

Yet as it turned out, even this, which I honestly thought would probably kill me, wasn’t the greatest of my problems last week. I am prone to blisters, whatever shoes I wear, and I acquired some rather spectacular ones before I was halfway through the journey. However, due to a multitude of reasons which would take several thousand words to tell sufficiently to make them reasonable, I told no one the extent of my affliction.

Such when finally we completed out expedition, and I took my boots off, my companions howled with revulsion and disbelief. My feet were coated (besides with several layers of Compeed) in a thick yellow pus that was described by one of my friends somewhat inelegantly as resembling earwax.

I was scolded for my reservation by teachers who, if they were at all impressed by my endurance, well concealed it, and transported directly to the Accident and Emergency section of the nearest hospital, where my plasters (and in the process, my skin) were ripped off by a kindly nurse, bathed in antiseptic, and dressed more carefully than I could do in the dark with everyone else asleep.

The next two nights were terrible, for once the adrenalin that had seen me through the past days began to wear off, my feet began to give me great pain. But that is trivial, compared to what I underwent over the course of that walk. And that trivial, too, when I think what others have undergone in similar situations. After all, I could’ve dropped out if I’d told anyone—would’ve been forced to do so, moreover.

In that event I apologise for how I rave about my own petty ‘achievements’!

But now everyone who was with me knows that I may be slight, spotty and shy, but for the first time I can be proud of something physical.

Sorry; down on good photos. If someone uploads a better one I'll swap it.

Sorry; down on good photos. If someone uploads a better one I’ll swap it.

And amid all this, I have been attempting to do CampNaNo! My goal is only 25,000, what with the fact I’ve spent three quarters of the month off-island and much of that with no time or means for writing, but it is a goal nevertheless, and one which I am determined to meet.

CampNaNo13

So that is where I have been and what I have been doing. If I have sounded very stilted in this post, I apologise (once again), for I have recently been lost in Austen, and she has a marked effect on my style.

I hope to get back into blogging after this, having fired my enthusiasm once again in writing this post. But then again, as I mentioned, I ought to be concentrating on NaNo so far as writing goes…