For someone who hates committing to anything more than a cream tea – even that’s out of the question on this poxy diet – and, having made the colossal commitment (mistake?) of saying I would join in with both #JuNoWriMo and #CampNaNoWriMo, I have lately been quietly outlining, plotting up my novel and doing a little research. Yes, that’s why I’m quiet. I realise it’s a bit odd.
It’s been an interesting process. I took part in NaNoWriMo in November with a week’s notice and a barely scratched out graph line on a sheet of wallpaper stating my intended beginning, middle and end to the book. I hadn’t figured the details. They’d sort themselves out, I thought. Well, they did but I had to draw on reserves from personal experience and, somehow, in the end it was more a biography, and of the very worst times in my life, than a novel!
For this coming one, then, the one I’ve wanted to write for, like, ever, I’ve created characters who aren’t the faintest bit like me (okay, maybe some characteristics) although I’ve come across people in life who have a little bit of one and something of the other. This is pleasing and I’ve found the outlining and research process far more enjoyable.
Originally, I was going to set this novel in 2011. But a quick trip out locally, with Harry the Little Dog and a camera, showed me it could be a wise move to set it in 2012. There was, because of the Royal Jubilee (60 years of our Queen on the throne) bunting like the severest Bunting Prohibition was about to be introduced, and locals only too willing to talk about the daily minutiae of life I would normally overlook.
I found specialist shops in Ongar that I needed for this novel (and I need to call the owners to arrange an interview) and they were there on my own doorstep. These shops could only be known by some of my characters. As well as an eclectic assortment of houses in which my characters not only could but would live.
And further, I disappeared behind shops on the main stretch to find hidden gems, small businesses that were useful (oh so useful) to my story. My characters leaped into some of these places and pretty well inhabited some of these people’s lives. If they didn’t live there or work there, they might be best pals with the owners. My novel scenes were slotting into place.
The difference to a normal Monday outing with the dog was that I went along with the eyes of the writer, rather than seeing this local town as I usually would. I saw it in the way my characters would see it and use it, an alley became my Diagon Alley, a shop a vital emporium for one of my characters, a hair salon the crucial Friday appointment for another. I ended up taking around two hundred photographs; I had many conversations. And all because I wanted my setting to be tangible.
Normally, in that one village I might consider the library, the newsagent, the butcher, Sainsbury’s and the hall where I exercise the only useful places. This exercise, with my Muse behind the camera and asking the questions, showed me otherwise.
I had to pause at Jane Taylor’s blue plaque. When I focussed my camera, I saw that she was the author of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” – the song I had sung every single week, week in, week out, while playing guitar, at both Catford and Forest Hill Libraries and while running the Under Fives group.
I used to dread what the mothers of the children were thinking of my “performance” and it turned out that I (and my rendition) was fine. They loved me! (Yes, I’m laughing). I used to play and sing Nancy Cassidy’s version, which I doubt many people know. My fear, I saw, was always unfounded but I imagine Twinkle Twinkle is sung in library Under 5’s groups to this day. It could appear in my next novel now. But the great thing is: the field is wide open.
At the same time, i.e. over the last month, I’ve been learning Scrivener, an extremely useful program for writers that was offered at discount at the end of NaNoWriMo last November. I was encouraged by those I noticed on Twitter going great guns with it as well as other writers. Oh, I’d pussy-footed around with it but, in my impatience, got confused with new terms and wrote the last novel all the way with Word 2010.
What I see now is that Word will be amazing during the editing process but, in terms of organisation, it’s a wonder I wrote what I did, 70,529 words, at the time! Scrivener, once practised a bit, has turned out to be very useful. Happy customer here now. Because I can import my photos into Scrivener as well as any descriptions of character, setting and so on – and that means it’s all there in one place while I simply write.
I may be quiet but I’m a happy bunny right now. I have characters, I have plot (mainly – I’ll leave a few surprises for during the writing process), I have setting, I even have various props. Maybe I should write a play, a film script. But ha, I don’t want to tempt fate so I’ll just say I’m getting on with it. The pictures and research I’ve done so far with the aid of a simple camera, a dictation machine, notebooks and a modern phone help massively.
How do you outline? Do you make it fun, like I do? How do you research? Do you go anywhere? Take pictures? Or is it ALL imagined at your desk? I’d love to know…