It’s exactly 10 years ago today that I took the plunge and published my first novel. April 1st 2012 saw me press that big ‘submit’ button and launch The Silver Locketinto the world. A momentous moment about which I basically told no-one. So lacking in confidence was I back then that I published it under a pen-name.
I’d started bits and pieces of the book during the mid-noughties, but I hadn’t come up with anything very substantial. Then in April 2010, the ash cloud from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull delayed my flight back to the UK from a holiday in South Africa and resulted in me being AWOL from my job for a week. Rules around unauthorised absence in the council where I worked dictated that I must make up the time, leaving me a chained to my desk for 2 hours every day after everyone else had gone home for (I can’t remember how many) weeks.
It was not even as if I had sufficient work to fill the time. My risk management role had been scaled down due to governmental policy changes, and the work that I took over from other members of my team hardly filled the the normal working day.
So what to do? Twiddle my thumbs? Bring in some knitting? Nobody much seemed to mind as long as I made up that oh-so-important missing time.
And so I began to work on the novel which I’d been composing in my head during my daily commute. Apart from the time I happily spent chatting to our cleaner, there was only one occasion that I remember being disturbed. One of the field staff phoned and I was so wrapped up in my writing – see that quote at the top of the page – that it took me a minute or two to come ‘back to earth’.
Six months later, we’d emigrated to South Africa. It took us a little while to settle in, but soon I was back to writing a couple of afternoons a week between the various voluntary activities I’d signed up for. Fast forward a further eighteen months and my finger was hovering over that submit button.
I sometimes wonder whether I would ever have got down to serious writing had it not been for that volcano, but now I’ve been well and truly bitten by the writing bug and I’ve never looked back.
Five novels, three published as audiobooks, and one tiny short story collection later, what’s next? Well, here’s the nearest I get to an outline for a new novel:
Revenge of the Rain Bull, third in my Weskus Series, is about to begin…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Image credit for the unpronounceable volcano: National Geographic
On our literary tour this week we’re going on a little time-travelling detour. Let me take you back to my school-days when I deftly managed to avoid a week’s work experience by wangling my way onto a historical workshop run by a local theatre group.
There were about 10 of us from our all girls grammar school, and we were about to be transported to the time of the English Civil War, accompanied by a handful of enthusiastic actors, who were keen to recreate the correct conditions for our plight under the iron fist of the Royalists who held the walled City of York.
The historical details were somewhat lost on me, but the story was that our fathers, fearful for our safety, were sending us out of the city to an unspecified rural location, were we would conceal our identities as daughters of prominent Parliamentarians and assume the roles of farmer’s daughters.
There were various preparations including the fitting of period costumes and, for the sake of historical accuracy, being urged not to wash or wear modern undergarments (which of course we ignored). Then the following day, with minimal baggage and concealed toothbrushes, we were whisked away to the past in the theatre minibus.
We were undoubtedly too compliant for young ladies of the time thrown into such a situation, but eager to get into our roles we got down to work. There was much peeling to be done. I chiefly remember the potatoes and onions. The onion skins were boiled up to make a dye for some rather malodorous sheep’s wool, which was marinated overnight, and came up a vibrant shade of yellow the following day. We learned to card and spin wool. My spinning was woeful and I was sent to the kitchen to busy myself about the potatoes again. I learned to milk a cow which was brilliant, unlike the subsequent butter-making. Churning is absolutely arm-aching.
We were also shown the hayloft where we would hide should anyone in authority from the ‘wrong side’ come calling. Little did we know that the following evening we wouldn’t have time to hide.
The sun was setting and we’d finished our supper. We were all sitting together in the large room at the front of the farmhouse which looked out onto the yard. I chanced to look through the window to see a group of soldiers, wearing high boots and feather-plumed hats, marching towards the farmhouse. They were undoubtedly the enemy. Almost before I’d had time to call out a warning, they were hammering on the door.
They took the farmer into the back room. His wife followed. One soldier stayed guarding the door. We heard punches, screams and cries; furniture was being overturned. If we hadn’t been in character before, we certainly were in those few moments.
Then they emerged. The make-up was very realistic.
The soldiers moved on.
I really don’t recall what happened after that, but what an experience! One on which I was to draw on for a little piece, written about 30 years later, in a response to a writing group prompt: ‘A Scary Moment’. Revised and updated it became the first piece in my tiny collection of short fiction, released in 2018.
The Day the Soldiers Came
I smile as I watch my mother play with my little brother Tommy on the hearth-rug. My father sits in his chair, still but alert. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I detect a movement in the yard. I turn to look. Soldiers, four of them! By the way they are dressed, I know them instantly as ‘the enemy’. My father has followed my gaze as I gasp in fright and immediately he’s on his feet, sweeping up Tommy in the same movement and shoving him in my direction.
‘You know what to do Annie,’ he says quietly. He nods urgently at me and I grab Tommy’s hand and propel him through the kitchen. I look through the window, checking our route to the barn. It’s clear, so I open the door and we slide through and dash into the slatted wooden building. Behind us, I hear the soldiers hammering on the front door, shouting.
Although Tommy’s only little he knows what to do. Just as we’ve practiced so many times in recent months, I help him up the ladder to the hayloft. He doesn’t make a sound as we creep across the creaky boards and hide ourselves in the straw behind the loosely baled hay. We lie there, waiting. We haven’t practised what happens next. Then I hear a scream; I know it’s my mother, although the sound is like none I’ve ever heard her make. Her pain and terror flood my head. I grip Tommy tightly; he’s trembling and sobbing silently. The minutes tick by; I wonder what’s happening in the house. My father is shouting, but I can’t make out what he’s saying. The shouting stops abruptly and I hear the back door slam against the outside wall of the kitchen.
Heavy boots march towards the barn; I bite down hard on my knuckles. A cold fist contorts my stomach as I realise I forgot to drag the ladder up behind us. I hear the soldier’s heavy breathing down below. He’s pulling things over, searching. He approaches the ladder and in my mind’s eye I see him grab the ladder and place his boot on the first rung. Sweat runs down my back. Tommy is rigid in my arms.
There is a loud call from the house: ‘Move on!’ I hear the sound of the ladder clattering to the floor. It settles and there is no sound apart from the blood pumping in my ears. Slowly I get up, my legs are shaking. I grab the rail at the edge of the loft and feel for the rope which we use as a swing when it’s too wet to play outside. Telling Tommy to stay where his is, I let myself down and run towards the back door which is gaping off its hinges.
Inside the house furniture has been overturned and one curtain has been ripped from the window. My mother cowers in a corner. Her blouse is torn and there is blood on her skirt. Father’s face is bruised and bloody. He reaches for her, but she turns her face to the wall.
A Sextet of Shorts is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
November is drawing to a close and another NaNoWriMo with it. Mine hasn’t been the all out marathon slog and final race to the finish as, once again, I’ve played by my own rules.
There’s one more day to go, but with that in mind, how have I done? Not bad. Not bad at all.
My target of 30,000 words won’t be smashed. But I’ll be close.
Twenty chapters? I’ll be a chapter short. Not a problem.
Have I enjoyed it. Certainly!
I have lots of flesh on the bones of my main plot and I’ve a couple of subplots bubbling away nicely. My characters have been chased up several trees and fires set under them. I still don’t know quite how it will end, but where would be the fun in that?
Now, like any good brew, I shall leave it to stand for a little time before launching into the second half of the book, which I hope to complete by next (southern hemisphere) spring. In the meantime, the novel I started last November, Song of the Sea Goddess, will be released in early January 2021.
My conclusion: November is a good month to start writing a novel.
Week 3 came to an end all too quickly but I’m still almost on track to achieve my personal target for this ‘dedicated’ writing month. I’ve dropped a chapter behind, but it’s not a train smash. The story is shaping up nicely and a few unexpected elements have emerged. I love these kind of surprises!
Meanwhile this week, I launched the ARC for Song of the Sea Goddess – do help yourself to a copy, there are still some left. Since it’s the sequel to Sea Goddess that I’m writing now, I’ve been truly immersed in my imaginary world on the west coast. It’s an exciting place to be.
Eight more writing days left to the end of NaNoWriMo2020. I wonder what further surprises lie ahead? Apart from a planned interruption to the electricity supply for the whole of Tuesday, which is really not going to help. Ah well, this is Africa!
Have a wonderful rest of the weekend – whatever you’re up to!
The first week is over – already! All is going well (so far). Words are flowing, characters are cooperating, and lo, I’ve even done a little bit of ‘panster planning’.
I’m embarking on the sequel to my soon-to-be-released novel and it’s certainly easier working with a core cast of fully-formed characters. New ones too, are appearing from the wings and it’s exciting getting to know them.
Here’s the mind map I’ve been scribbling, which is supplementing the jottings of my developing thoughts in a notebook. Don’t try to read my terrible handwriting. I blame it on years of note taking.
So, in summary, how am I doing? Five chapters (almost) completed 7169 words written (all of them good ones)
Verdict: Just a handful of words shy of my target. I’m happy with that!
Shall I? Shan’t I? This is what I’ve been asking myself over the past few weeks. I think I vowed not to do this again at the end of last November. I’d made hard work of it, although I didn’t need to; not that I signed up for the ‘real deal’, just a modest target of 30,000 words. However, in the end, I did get half a novel almost completed within the month.
So it was worth it!
That novel is now complete. Song of the Sea Goddess is due for release early next year and, in the meantime, I shall be offering advance reader copies to any of you who’d like to read it and review it. More about this soon.
So, NaNo again?
You bet! But on my own informal personal terms like last year and the year before:
– Target 30,000 words.
– Write at least 5 chapters each week.
– Enjoy it!
That won’t be a whole novel. It will be a good start.
Good luck to all NaNoWriMo participants! Especially those who have committed to doing it properly.
I was honoured to be interviewed by the wonderful author, reviewer, blogger, home-schooler (and so much more), Jean Lee! This is the outcome.
P.S. – make sure you vote for Jean’s short story – there’s a link at the end of the post.
Greetings, one and all! After a rough week schooling the kiddos at home (stay tuned for THAT post), it’s high time we celebrate Indie April with an interview with an AMAZING writer and reader, Chris Hall.
Let’s begin with the niceties. Tell us a little about yourself, please!
Nice to be here, Jean!
I was born, grew up, lived and worked in the UK until 10 years ago, when childless, in our forties and fed up with our jobs, my husband, Cliff and I upped sticks and emigrated to South Africa. We’d already met people here through a school exchange programme which Cliff was involved in, visited numerous times, and finally decided to come to a new country and do something different.
We’ve settled in a town about 30 miles from Cape Town, where we can almost see the ocean from our house. Our cat, Luna (after whom my blog…
‘I do like this new cover, Ms Hall.’ Cynthia opens the book and riffles the pages in front of her. ‘And I love the smell of a brand new book!’ She holds it out in a finely manicured hand and examines the cover again. ‘It conveys an air of romance, but without all those bulging biceps and bosoms like so many of the genre.’
Connor frowns. ‘I’d never really thought of it as a romance novel per se; it’s more gritty and down to earth, but with the elements of mystery and fantasy cleverly woven in.’
‘Oh, but Connor, it’s full of romance, right from the start. When Pierre sweeps Lucy off her feet… But you’re right; it has much more substance to it than a typical romance.’
For a moment I bathe in my characters’ praise.
Connor hands me a cup of tea, then picks up the whisky bottle from the sideboard and waves it in my direction. I shake my head. Connor shrugs and returns it to its place. ‘I hear you’re running another promotion*, Ms Hall; riding on the wave of Valentine’s month, so to speak.’
‘Romance Reading Month!’ exclaims Cynthia clapping her hands together so that the fine bracelet on her wrist jingles. I haven’t seen that before. ‘Charming idea.’
‘And you have a couple of interviews lined up, I gather,’ Connor continues. ‘You know, my few days at the Edinburgh book festival last year made such a difference.’ Connor sips his whisky-enhanced tea. ‘My agent’s got me an advance for another slim volume of my poems on the back of an interview I did.’
Okay, so my poet’s doing better than me. I did give him the agent though. And the gig at the book festival.
The final week shuddered to a grinding halt yesterday, with not a single word more written since Thursday. ‘Life’ got in the way.
The ‘life’ bit included trying to persuade people to help themselves to the free download of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ I’m pleased to say there has been some success so far, and the offerwill still be running for almost another 24 hrs.
Back to NaNoWriMo. I didn’t quite reach my hoped-for word count of 30K, but I’m beyond 25K and story-wise I’m reaching the mid-point, although there are a few blank spaces in the chapters I’ve written so far. Compared to last year, I’m about two chapters shy of where I got to with ‘Following the Green Rabbit‘, so I’m pretty satisfied.
Of course it isn’t all over. The story continues to drip forth. I’m hoping to have something approaching a completed MS by next Easter. Then comes the tricky bit. To paraphrase one of Mr Shakespeare’s characters: ‘To query or not to query?’
If you were participating in NaNoWriMo on any level, how was it for you?