My #100kwords100days and Other Challenges, OR, Why Do We Do It?

Everybody has heard of NaNoWriMo, haven’t they?

writer cat

Chances are, your aunt’s neighbour’s cat is sitting in his basket right now, licking the end of his fountain pen and making notes on his kitty blanket for November 1st, because this year he gonna be prepared, damn it.

We’ve all heard of the Kindle, too, but Other E-readers Are Available. Well so are other writing challenges. Currently insane self, and at least 361 other writers who should know better, are taking part in #100kwords100days. Organised by the lovely Sally Quilford, the title’s self-explanatory, and I say ‘at least 361’ because that’s just the writers who have joined the Facebook group.

relaxed dog

100k badge

Obviously 100,000 words in 100 days is a more achievable than NaNo’s 50k words in 30 days.

What’s that? 100k in 100 days is too easy? Hmm, well, if you want to go to the other extreme…

For those who can put everything aside for an entire weekend – and I mean everything; either book yourself into a hotel room, or bind and gag every living thing within 20 metres – there’s NaNoWriWee. The brainchild of writers on The Kernel magazine, NaNoWriWee requires you to write 50k in a weekend. Yep, you heard me. Two 15 hour writing days. I’m guessing they named it NaNoWriWee because weeing is precisely what you won’t have time for. So perhaps book a home help, a colostomy bag and a catheter whilst you’re at it.  It sounds crazy but people are signing up. Hell, I’m even considering it. And seriously tempted by the hotel room option.

So why do we do it? What IS the magic lure of the writing challenge – and are there any downsides? Who better to ask than my fellow 100k100dayers…

“For me it’s the daily accountability,” Sarah Little says. “Many’s the evening the past week where my last half hour is scribbling out words just so I know I’ve done *something* for the day, whereas usually I’d have the excuse of ‘too tired’.” Gemma Noon agrees. “It makes me write. I have someone other than myself to be accountable to.” This pace-pushing has a great side-effect for Paula Martin. “It helps me ignore the inner editor that usually slows me down. I always spend ages revising, anyway, so this kind of challenge helps me get the words down, ready to revise later.” “It helps keep me on pace and working towards a goal, and on largely one thing rather than a lot of random little things.” says David Sorger, and this is something Tracy Enright finds a definite plus point;  “it makes me focus on one piece rather than flitting around like a butterfly brain. I get a real sense of achievement when I meet the target.” Ahh.. targets. But can’t targets be scary?

Apparently not. It’s the targets in these challenges that drag writers forward – and drags the work out of us.  ” NaNo makes me write – come what may! I have a ridiculously busy job and a family so it makes me focus, and I have three 70k novels because of it,” says Phoebe Randerson. And word meters hold no fears for Gemma Noon! “I like stats. I like having a target to work towards and I like knowing that I am making tangible progress.” Awen Thorber confesses: “I’m a deadline girl… I’ve procrastinated for years about writing my novels and thanks to NaNoWriMo I finally have the bulk of one done… and thanks to 100k I now have plots for more novels, research for one, and many thousands of words towards a few other novels. Challenges are my push to succeed and along the way I have found like minded friends and support that I wouldn’t have found on my own.

The support of others is something everyone pointed to as a pro. “There is an incredibly supportive network both on line and at write ins and I feel very motivated at the end of it,” says Tracy Enright. Tracy was the only person to voice a downside of writing challenges, although it’s certainly one that many writers (me included!) can relate to – “I’ve found other work tends to get left by the wayside, I go short of sleep and the kids get more quick meals!

David Sorger told me he’s been “enjoying the camaraderie and encouragement from my fellow writers and group members. It’s really motivated me to keep up at a thousand word a day pace.” It’s not only motivation that makes companionship important during the challenge though: “it is having people who will encourage me and share their experiences. It makes the whole process less lonely, ” Gemma Noon told me, and it’s this support Vikki Thompson feels is vital. “For me, the thing about writing challenges is knowing you’re not alone. That other people are trying to do the same thing, suffering the same fears, concerns, highs and lows of the challenge.


Hmm. This all sounds rather warm and fuzzy… almost, gulp, noble… oh come on! Am I the only one who thinks we night all be a bit nuts? No, I’m not. “Until NaNo, I’d thought of writing as such a solitary pursuit,” says Sarah Little. “It was fab to find out there was a huge bunch of like-minded loons!” Er, thanks, Sarah, for proving my point. I think…




The Next Big Thing (In My Dreams)

It’s Wednesday so I am duty bound to stand up and be counted as the Next Big Thing. Or possibly be a handy target for passing custard pies -always a danger when you stand up, particularly on a peak. That’s why I moved to Cambridgeshire. There aren’t any peaks 😉

I was nominated by the lovely Teresa Morgan, whom I have never met but, comfortingly, she sounds as batty as me when we chat on the Wonderful Wide Web. So if you haven’t read her Next Big Thing blog post, you’d better jolly well hop over there and do so. (No, not right now! Sit down and read mine first).

What is the title of your next book?

Oh no. Fallen at the the first hurdle. I haven’t decided on a final title yet; its working title is Tamsyn, because that’s the name of the heroine. However, it may well end up being called Watch the Wall, My Darling, which is from the poem mentioned below.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

In 2010 we went on holiday to Cornwall and I picked up a fascinating book about Cornish history, traditions and folklore. Then last year while studying one of my final year modules – Children’s Literature -for my Literature Degree, I came across Rudyard Kipling’s evocative A Smuggler’s Song in the poetry anthology. Bam! It sparked a plot for a YA novel based around smuggling in Cornwall.

I was drafting an outline and doing research for it when I happened to spend a lovely day in Chesterfield at a Pocket Novel Workshop run by the delightful Sally Quilford (highly recommended. Sally is very welcoming and very funny!). So when I came to write scenes, not surprisingly my head was filled with windswept fishing villages, smuggling, boats, tunnels and mysterious lights. Not all those things have made it into this book – although those that haven’t might still make an appearance. The book is likely to come up too short, as the outline was designed for the original Pocket Novel length of 30k and hasn’t grown much since. I need to create another Event, which will probably take two or three chapters, and some of what Teresa Morgan calls additing too 🙂

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical romance. Hopefully well-balanced between the two!

What actors would you choose to play the characters in the movie rendition of your novel?

I think Keira Knightley (above) might make a good Tamsyn. She does a believable feisty. Or perhaps Natalie Portman.  Simeon was quite fuzzy in my mind for a long while – he kept changing – but now he is definitely Emun Elliott.

He’s handsome but does the desperate haunted look very well! Simeon would have to be quite gaunt and ill-kempt at the beginning, and I think Emun could carry that off. See?

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A fiercely independent woman learns to compromise when she takes in a handsome lodger with a tragic past!

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Well I’m hoping it will fit into the Easy Reads Caress Line (Easy Reads were meant to replace My Weekly PNs), because although the original pocket novels are coming back (see Sally Quilford’s post on the return of pocket novels), the new flyer says Maggie Seed only wants Second World War onwards. As mine is set at the end of the 18th century, I don’t think it qualifies, sadly! A shame because I had the impression that the historical pocket novels were popular.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I’m still working on it! I started the first draft during NaNoWriMo last year but had to stop after a fortnight, at 18750 words. I hadn’t touched it again until this NaNo; I’ve spent about 8 days on it so far, and it’s up to 27993 words.

What other books would you compare this story to within the genre?

That’s a tricky one. I would love to say E.V. Thompson’s Cornish novels – such a massive loss to historical fiction when he died this year, he is a hard act for anyone to follow. And perhaps Jennifer Donelly because she writes very determined feisty women.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I love historical fiction and women who are capable, and as I said above, the initial spark for writing about smuggling was A Smuggler’s Song. And Cornwall because it’s a fascinating place with a wealth of smuggling history. I love hanging fiction on a factual framework, whether it’s a mere skeleton or a really detailed event or character (to my mind one of the finest examples of this is Tracey Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures).

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Hopefully, like the novels of the much-revered EV Thompson, my finished novel can deliver a real sense of place and history without overwhelming the story – so that the reader feels they have painlessly seen and learnt things whilst still being entertained. But then for me, that is the job of fiction: to broaden our horizons by taking us on an entertaining journey which never involves leaving our chair.

So that’s me. Probably not the Next Big Thing, but hopefully a slightly bigger thing than I am now (admittedly this could be achieved more easily by forgetting the writing and eating the custard pies…). The next Next Big Thing will be another Twitter writing pal, Sinead Fitzgibbon. Sinead describes herself as ‘Writer, blogger and lover of books, history, art and food!’ and is the author of four History in an Hour titles.

*Takes off crown and lobs it in Sinead’s direction*  Over to you! 😀



Spring Cleaning – thanks Adrian Magson and The New Writer!

It all started with Simon Whaley talking about my piles.
Ok, that’s not strictly true. I commented on Twitter that my dismantled study was in piles in my bedroom (building work loometh), and that amongst said piles I had to find a stack of not-so-sticky-any-more sticky notes: a scene-by-scene novel plan. I won’t tell you what Simon said about my piles, gentle reader, because your delicate ears don’t need to hear it. But by the time I’d retrieved those sticky notes I had decided enough was enough. I couldn’t cope a moment longer without a desk – I can write anywhere, but need one organised location for all my writerly bits. And I couldn’t cope a moment longer with my bedroom resembling the aftermath of a riot in WHSmith. either.

Currently the only place for my large desk is in the corner of the riot-stricken bedroom. Cue large scale furniture moving and reorganisation. But it so happened that in this very week I had been rereading Adrian Magson’s Write On!, and had got to the section about Spring Cleaning, AND had found the The New Writer’s spring issue that I had somehow failed to read, featuring Nicola Daly’s article about…Spring Cleaning.

The Culprits

Both writers were urging me to go through my old work and spring clean my attitude to my writing too, as well as giving me a timely reminder that sometimes, as much as we love books, it’s time to let some go *sniff*.  I took their advice and a week later I am just about sorted. There is still paperwork to go through, but the desk is reassembled and reorganised and around 100 books have been decluttered, with those that remain (don’t be fooled, there are still hundreds!) reorganised on bookshelves that now have new homes. Despite my doubts, it seems my bedroom can be both haven and workplace.

But what was most useful was the looking back through old notebooks.
Adrian Magson says doing this can ‘make you realise that what you wrote in the past actually wasn’t all that bad’. But if like me, you have the memory of an inebriated goldfish, you can leave out the ‘wasn’t all that bad’; it can make you ‘realise what you wrote, full stop.

How can I have forgotten the beginnings and rough synopsis for a story I originally intended for the National Trust/Mills & Boon competition? (Looks like a good candidate for a My Weekly Easy Read submission). Or that when I started writing a pocket novel at Sally Quilford‘s Pocket Novel workshop last year, I based it around Cornwall and smuggling because I’d been researching those topics for the YA novel I had fully planned out? I had started far more, and got further along with far more, than I remembered. Great news.

Hopefully my new ‘writing home’ will produce good results. In the meantime, no hate mail please just because I forgot to take the ‘review copy’ sticker off Adrian’s book. I buy lots of books but occasionally am spared the expense of doing so by the perks of my husband’s job, and luckily he manages to bring home some Accent Press review copies (unfortunately someone beat him to Sue Moorcroft’s Love Writingso that is on the Christmas list…and if I found out who it was… my vengeance shall be mighty!


SUNDAY SITE SWEEP: Six Super Sites on Writing Dialogue

Writing dialogue is a tricky business. We want it to ‘sound genuine’ and not stilted, but we need realism without the everyday ums, ahs and errs. We want it to convey emotion, relay information, show character, move the story on…

Poor old dialogue! We ask a lot of it. And that’s without the scary task of indicating dialects or speech impediments, and ensuring that our characters sound different….aargh! Luckily some writers share their words of wisdom on how we can tackle these problems, so out with the notebook and see whose offerings ‘speak’ to you (all puns intended).

Speaking of Dialogue

A light hearted look at how to make dialogue sound real from Hugo and Nebula award winner Robert J. Sawyer.

A Few Thoughts About Dialogue

Novelist Janet Fitch’s views include the idea that you only need dialogue in your story if it’s showing conflict between characters. It’s a fair bet not everybody will agree with that one, but the post is well worth a read.

Writing Really Good Dialogue

A PDF guide to writing dialogue from NaNoWriMo, complete with exercises to try.

A-Z of Writing – D is for Dialogue

Light-hearted advice from the delightful Sally Quilford, writer of novels, columns and short stories.

Dialogue Techniques and Dialogue Tags

Essential info from the Crabbit Old Bat (her words, not mine!) Nicola Morgan

Dialogue Workshop

This is from author Holly Lisle. Well worth trying this on days when your brain is blank and you want someone to give you a random starting point, too (what do you mean, you don’t get those?).



Sharing The Blogging Love ;) or Things You Never Knew About Me

Crikey, I think all this writing romance has turned me all lovey-dovey 😉
The truly delightful Catherine Miller, aka Katylittlelady, awarded me a Verstaile Blogger Award a while ago, but there’s been so much going on that I haven’t had time to step forward and accept it. I shall do so now!

Ahem! Unaccustomed as I am to public sp- what d’you mean, I don’t have to make a speech (and who was that at the back saying ‘and please don’t!’ What a nerve…)

Fair enough. The rules of the Versatile Blogger Award says you must:

1. Thank the award-giver and link back to them in your post. DONE THAT!
2. Share 7 things about yourself. BELOW.
3. Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs you enjoy reading. I’LL TRY BUT MANY I WOULD PICK HAVE ALREADY BEEN GIVEN IT…
4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award. PROMISE TO DO THAT.

So here are 7 little known facts about me – and then I will run through my lovely nominees….

  1. I’ve no idea who one of my great-grandfathers was. His name is missing from my late grandmother’s birth certificate, whilst the man her marriage certificate names as her father has the same surname as her mother’s maiden name…This is either a)fake b)a coincidence, because the surname is very common d)suggests incest as it is the name of a fairly close family member. a) is most likely.
  2. I’ve been to Albania. Back in 1995, when it wasn’t recommended. We booked a day trip there from Corfu through a company that was still running trips (our holiday company wouldn’t – too risky). Having hardly any money after lunch (because the day was meant to be all inclusive and wasn’t), we turned down the unexpected offer of an extra excursion and stayed in the town where we were due to catch the boat back. Very lucky for us – the people who did go on the trip were locked in the coach and the driver refused to drive them back until they had all ‘given him a tip.’ It was a fascinating experience (not least because we saw a whole herd of goats high up in a tree!)
  3. I once dispensed a prescription for Myra Hindley. She collected it in person accompanied by two prison officers, one of whom was handcuffed to her.
  4. I was nearly widowed 7 months after my wedding. My husband became ill shortly after we got married and 7 months later he was in Hammersmith Hospital in London having a rare type of adrenaline-producing tumour called a phaeochromocytoma removed. They’re more commonly diagnosed in post-mortems, so he was very lucky…
  5. When I was really into doing yoga, I could make my feet feel warm and cold at will, almost instantaneously. I can still do it now – sometimes – but it takes a little more effort.
  6. One of my grandfathers was a POW in the Second World War in Japan. I never thought to ask how he was captured; he was in the Navy and spent most of his time on subs. He escaped but broke back into the camp to rescue his friend, and was recaptured and tortured. He survived the war but was never in the best of health afterwards, dying when my Dad was only 16. Can you be immensely proud of someone you’ve never met? Apparently you can – because I’m very proud of the ‘granddad I never knew’.
  7. I don’t know any really famous people. Disappointing, huh. My friend Carole knew Gordon the Gopher. My husband knows the man who fixes Rory McGrath’s computer. I used to chat to the partner of Phil from Time Team on the Time Team forum. That’s as far as it goes (any other examples would be similarly sad). My husband, though, has rather more brushes with fame due to where he works, and properly famous bands come to play at his company’s Christmas parties. McFly, Olly Murs… sigh. He also gets to go abroad, whilst I work 8 minutes walk away!
So now to…DRUM ROLL!…my nominees! very useful and friendly blog of the talented writery lady Julie Phillips 🙂  I met Bee at Sally Quilford’s Pocket Novel workshop and have since wandered on to her blog where she talks about caring for her mother, and also about yummy food (she’s written a cookery book so she knows what she’s talking about!). I was pointed to Daphne’s immensely readable blog a few years ago and try to read it whenever I’ve got a moment. Daphne  runs an acting agency and is involved in role-play sessions to educate health professionals. A fascinating read. Very entertaining and often downright hilarious blog of a pig farmer-cum-heritage-centre-overseer on the remote island of Westray. Guaranteed to make you laugh, she is qualified to dispense useful tips on writing successfullyand on winning Deal or No Deal, both of which she has done. Honest. Val’s blog is full of musings on her life in Ireland and her gorgeous photos. There’s a reason she’s won prizes for them – take a look!


Pocket Novel Notes That I Left In My Other Pocket

I realised today that there were a few things missing from yesterday’s post!

Firstly, here’s Sally’s take on her Inaugural Pocket Novel Workshop, and a selection of her posts on writing pocket novels can be found here (this link will only display most recent – click on ‘older poosts’ at the bottom to go back and see her previous posts on the topic). Meanwhile you can find guidelines for My Weekly Pocket novels on Womag’s blog here, plus some animated discussion about the fees and new longer length.

If you want to subscribe to pocket novels, you can do so here directly from publishers DCThomson, although it may be worth shopping around the magazine sub sites.

And finally a shout for The Pocketeers, a new blog all about pocket novels (surprise surprise!) – a joint venture by Sally and fellow pocket novelists Cara Cooper, Chrissie Loveday, Noelene Jenkinson, Carol Maclean, Kate Allan, Patricia Keyson and Fenella Miller. Well worth following if the topic interests you.

Happy Reading!

And still I forgot something (she says, updating quickly). At Sally’s workshop I met Bea, who blogs very movingly about her life as a carer for her mother here, and also Keith Havers, a fellow 100 Stories for Queensland author who blogs here about his writerly adventures. Do pop over for a visit (or else, LOL). Oh and also visit the blog of Carol Bevitt, who made me giggle whilst I was there too (didn’t realise you blogged Carol, but just found you!)