Sunday, 30 October 2011

Right, I promise this is the last time I'll mention it

OK then. You win. I give up. I'm going to have a go at this writing-a-novel-in-a-month thing. From Tuesday morning November is going to pass by in a flurry of creativity, stress and frustration as I try to conjure up the required 1,700 words every day. Several people have asked questions and I'll try to answer them here.

What are you going to do?

I'm going to do the whole NaNoWriMo thing and aim to write a novel of no less than 50,000 words in the month of November. I won't be alone - there are something like 250,000 people across the globe attempting the same thing?

So it's difficult, then?

I think so. I mean, I've never done it before. Mind you, I've never skied down Mount Everest, naked and clutching a rose between my teeth either.

Actually, forget that last bit. It's not a nice image for anyone.

Why are you doing this?

Two reasons:

a) To see if I can. Loads of people say they have a novel in them; fewer actually get down to writing it. Throwing away all inhibitions and just sitting down to write daily for a period of time is perhaps the way.

b) To raise some money for a good cause. I would like people to sponsor me to do this.

What's the cause?

Mind - the UK's principal mental health charity. They do great things - go read their website for more details.

Why should I sponsor you?

Several reasons. Firstly, it's a great cause and worthy of your cash. Second, you will add to my misery by piling on the pressure. And finally, I have a unique offer to make.

A unique offer?

Oh yes. The first ten people to sponsor me get a character in the novel named after them.


Indeed. But I get to choose what happens to your character. They might be a drug-dealer. They could be a raving idiot. They could perish in a freak yachting accident. Which would be odd, as I don't actually envision that sort of thing happening in the plot. Yet.

How do I sponsor you?

I'm very glad you asked. You can go here. Or if you know me in person, bend my ear a little.

Is there any guarantee we'll see a finished novel by 30 November?

No. I have to be honest with you. This will be hard. I've never done it before. (Remember the Everest-ski-naked-rose-teeth thing?) I make you no promises. Sorry, but there you go. I will have a bloody good try though.

It's worth remembering that even if I do finish, it's likely to be pretty poor, as far as polished novels go. Rushing around is not normally a good thing when it comes to things like this. But that's not really the point.

What's the book about?

Good question. Although I'm not allowed to write a single word of the actual book until 00:01 on Tuesday, I have an outline plot. There are some gaps. It's set in the modern day, with elements of fantasy, horror, humour, action and condensed milk.

How will you do this?

I will devote my waking hours to writing the necessary 1,667 words per day. Well, I say 'my waking hours'. The hours I spend at work will, of course, remain sacrosanct. In case my boss is reading this, I will continue to be fully focused on what, for want of a better term, I refer to as my career. I quite like having a job and the things that come with it. Like paying the mortgage, for instance.

I have got some days off in November, which I'll more than likely fill with catching up.

Who won the FA Cup in 1958?

Bolton Wanderers. It has nothing to do with the point in hand, but thanks for asking.

If you're successful, will I be able to read the final novel?

Really? You must be a sucker for punishment. OK then. But I might want to polish it a little first.

How will I keep up to date with your progress?

I'll put the odd update on here when I get the chance. Which kind of makes the title of this post a bit of a lie. So sue me. Or better still, sponsor me.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Do something that terrifies you 2 - this time it's literary

Last week I wrote a post about doing things that were out of your comfort zone. Taking risks, doing things to which you were unaccustomed. And I wrote this in the final paragraph:

Onto the next challenge. There's something else I'm thinking of doing in November that quite frankly scares the bejeesus out of me.
Since then I've been asked about this mysterious challenge by quite literally no people at all. Thanks. It's nice to be loved. Very well then, here we go.

Is it possible to write a an entire novel from scratch, all 50,000 words of it, in a single month? While doing the normal 'having a job and trying to live a normal life' stuff? I'm not sure, but I'm thinking I'd like to know.

For the last few Novembers I've done something called NaBloPoMo - National Blog Posting Month. Throughout the month you commit to write a brand new blog post every single day. It's quite a challenge; you need to think about something to write and find the time to write it every day. But this year I knew I would be struggling. The posts haven't exactly been coming thick and fast, have they?

So I had an epiphany. Why not just have one great big stonking idea and concentrate on that instead?

I know. If I do this I suspect we'll be looking back on that statement with laughter in the weeks to come.

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month and, during November, about 250,000 amateur writers worldwide commit to write a novel from scratch. The rules are quite simple. You can't start until 1 November. You must finish by midnight on 30 November. And you must write 50,000 words. That's actually quite short for a novel (anything under 40,000 is a novella, whatever one of those is), but still, it's quite a task.Just to give you an idea, you get about 250-300 words on a side of A4.

If I do this, I have to write 1,667 words every day. And just typing any old rubbish won't do. It really needs to have characters, a setting, plot, points of view, dialogue, etc. Typing the word 'Dust' 50,000 times really won't do, although it might get me into the Booker shortlist for 2012.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most stupid ideas I've ever had. And trust me, I've had a few. The helicopter-based challenge TV show set in Jerusalem, called 'Challenge Hannukkah' being just one.

But I think we can safely agree that I'm not one for physical effort. I can't climb mountains. I certainly don't do marathons. But writing? It's at least in the same postal district as my comfort zone. Hey, maybe I can even get people to sponsor me to do it and raise some cash for a good cause? You know, pledge cash and get a dedication, pay a certain amount and get a character named after you, that sort of thing.

But I'm still not certain. It's acually quite scary. Katie has been supportive. I mean, having me locked away in the spare room for a big chunk of next month is no laughing matter. But she hasn't said no, which I'm taking as support.

I need some opinions, people. Is this a silly idea? Should I just get it out of my system? Something you would support? Would you want to see the end result? (It would not be pretty - first drafts never are.)

Whaddaya think, loyal readers? The comment box is just there. Ahem.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Do something that terrifies you

I have a comfort zone the size of a pretty substantial town.  I must have, I'm very rarely out of it. Just about the only time I get a sense of fear nowadays is when I'm opening bank statements.

And I think most people could say the same. These days we very rarely have to face down the sabre-toothed tiger or fight off woolly mammoths on the rampage.  We're rather more comfortable. We have central-heating and sofas. Nothing there too scarey, everything just-so.

To get the adrenaline pumping, some people seek out danger. They throw themselves out of perfectly serviceable aircraft.  They might confront sharks in the wild.  Or they could order a doner kebab from that dodgy place on the High Street, prepared by a bloke with a suspiciously shiny complexion.

That's not really my approach. Well, the kebab is an option, but generally I leave the life-threatening activities to others. I have dabbled with physical activity, of course, but met with limited success. So if I need to step out of my comfort zone I'll have to do other things that terrify me.

That's why I was to be found earlier this week singing in an upstairs room with a bunch of strangers. I know. Me, singing.  I don't quite beleive it myself.  While I can hold a tune to a degree, my range is somewhat limited. It's not what you might call a pretty noise. But, my friend Rebecca (she of the breast pump) is a professional vocal coach and when she said she wanted to form a community choir, I was interested. She promised that we wouldn't have to sing anything you would  normally hear in a church.

I used to sing in a choir at school, ohmygod-number-of-years ago. We were blessed with an unconventional music teacher who realised that trying to get 17-year-old boys interested in Bach and Handel was going to be an uphill struggle, so the choir would do Queen numbers instead. We were enthusiastic. We sounded pretty good.

When I asked Rebecca, "I think my voice may be a little low.  Is there a place for me?" she said yes, I could just be the rumbling bottom.

I think that was deliberate on her part. My interest was piqued.

So on Monday I was gathered up with about 20 other people. There were only four males, one of whom hadn't actually intended to sing, only having come to drop his daughter off. My rumbling bottom was clearly going to be needed.

But I was still nervous about the whole endeavour.  What if I opened my mouth and a horrible noise came out? Would people point and stare, bewildered by my bullfrog call?

Actually, no. It was quite fun. Many of us had never sang out loud in public. But, with gentle coaxing from Rebecca, we managed to not completely ruin the song. It sounded quite good, to be honest.

It turned out that quite a few people wanted to fight their own personal sabre-toothed tigers that night.
So, comfort zone well and truly expanded. Onto the next challenge. There's something else I'm thinking of doing in November that quite frankly scares the bejeesus out of me. But that's the topic for a new post. Watch this space.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Age-related benefits

I know that "Age is just a number" sounds like one of those awful motivational phrases touted by colossally dull people. But I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that they may have a point.

Today we celebrated the 93rd birthday of Katie's grandmother. Lunch in a pub was the order of the day and I was placed next to the celebrant in question. She's really quite remarkable.

Maud is not quite what you would expect from someone ploughing relentlessly through their tenth decade. OK, so the body may not be as strong as it once was - she's not so steady on her feet these days - but in all other respects she's as sharp as a die. Unexpectedly so.

Somehow the conversation got round to money and she leant over to tell me how she remembered the Depression. No, not the ersatz one we've been going through since 2007. Not even the one we all shoulder-padded around in the '80s.

The Depression. The one with the capital D.

She told us about the Wall Street Crash of 1929, people losing their savings, jumping off skyscrapers, the whole shebang. It was still a vivid memory to her. (And yes, I'm well aware that there aren't that many skyscrapers in Stourbridge, but we must assume that Pathe News was doing its job at the time.)

And in a Black Country accent you could use to cut Brierley Hill crystal, she commented: "And it was all the fault of the banks. The bastards. You're better off keeping your money down your draws."

The rest of her family are clearly accustomed to Maud's pronouncements. But for me it was very nearly a gravy-out-of-the-nose moment. She returned to her chicken in a cheese sauce.

A few minutes later and the rest of us were talking about something else. Maud announced, apropos of nothing: "You know, it's possible to walk around in my garden in the nude, and no-one would see you."

I have no idea where that came from.

Then, as we were coming to the end of the meal, my mother-in-law ordered coffee. "I should warn you," said Katie's uncle, "the coffee here isn't great." He was right. It was an insipid beige liquid. To misquote Douglas Adams, it was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike coffee.

Or, to accurately quote my grand-mother-in-law: "That looks like a bowl of camel piss."

I know where Katie gets it from.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Indian summer 1 - English fashion sense 0

I'm not entirely sure how  to react to the unseasonable weather. More worryingly, a lot of wardrobes appear to be having the same problem.

Normally, by the beginning of October we're plummeting headlong towards Autumn. It's one of my favourite times of the year. Mainly dry, but cold. You can put on a sturdy coat and boots and go tramping through the fallen leaves, if you wish. Or, if you're like me, watch the mists and mellow fruitfulness through double glazing, preferably with soup nearby.

So the fact that we're seeing temperatures approaching 30 degrees is a bit of a shocker.

I mustn't grumble, however. It's quite nice. The other night I drove home towards a spectacular orange and red sunset. I sat there, gazing in wonder at the palette of colours, the sky a perfect unblemished bowl above my head, graduating to navy, purple and black.  I thought how insignificant I was.

Mind you, I also thought that the previous week, and it was raining.

But as I've been dusting off the air-conditioning unit in the bedroom, so have my fellow citizens been doing the same to their wardrobes. And I'm sorry to say this, but we're not very good at dressing for warm weather, are we?

This was brought home to me in no uncertain terms as I was out and about this morning, performing various chores. I won't bore you with the details, as you would find them, well, boring, but suffice it to say I was brought into close contact with many examples of the Englishman In Heat.

I say 'Englishman', because ladies seem to be pretty good at this sort of thing. Good choice of fabric, nice floaty items, it just seems natural. But us chaps? No, we're pretty hopeless. It's not for me to pretend to be some sort of fashion guru. My hot weather outfit is essentially the same as my cold-weather outfit, just without a coat. But there were some deeply disturbing sights out there today.

I saw men who had clearly raided their summer beach holiday wardrobe. Pale white legs poked bravely from under wackily-designed shorts. Fine if you're a 20-something surfer, heading out to hang ten off Malibu. Not so appropriate for the queue at Acocks Green post office.

I observed a number of bare-chested gentlemen. This is not a good look. Pigeon-chested, bony-ribbed, beer-bellies, lobster sunburn, dodgy tatoos, the whole gamut of guts was on display. And I hate to be a social commentator, but there's nothing that says "I'm not in regular contact with the mothers of my children" quite like a bare chest, baseball cap and shellsuit trousers, is there?

An attack of the shudders was brought on by the sight of sandals worn over socks. This is beyond cliche, men of England.

They have the right idea overseas. On those occasions when I've been in hot countries during the Summer, the locals put us visitors to shame. We'll be there in rather too much manmade fabric. T-shirts with designs paying tribute to surf clubs that don't exist. Those thongy flip-flop sandal things, in which I maintain it is impossible for any grown man to have any semblance of dignity. I include myself in this number. Forgive me, I know no better.

But then we'll be shown up by the waiter at the bar, the taxi-driver, the local business-man on his way to the office. They cope so much better than we do; OK, they're acclimatised, it's in their culture. But they do linen trousers in M&S, you know.

So while it's great that we have this one last hurrah for the summer, there's a part of me that can't wait for the colder winds to start blowing. After all, I've got a lovely coat that has a few more winters left in it.


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