25,000 done, 25,000 to go!

You may be a person who looks at the title of this blog and knows exactly what I mean – or you may be baffled!

The 25,000 refers to words – since November 1st I have written twenty-five thousand (and 42) words as part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge… it’s an on-line challenge, there are no prizes except knowing you have completed the challenge and achieved the goal!

So I am halfway through, and as you may realise today is the two-thirds mark… so I have ten days to write the remaining 25,000 (well, 24, 958 to be precise) words… Can I do it? I hope so, but it will be head down!

The thing is, as well as writing my story – which is about a woman with a mystery past who arrives in the small coast la town of Easthope – as well as writing about my mystery woman, I am also writing here every day, and writing for the blog I share with two friends, The Moving Dragon Writes… plus other stuff as well, of course! To be truthful though, during this stressful and busy time (I’m also doing an on-line course on submarine archaeology) I have shared some blogs which I wrote several years ago, with introductions and added comments, but some of the things I’ve written have been quite long…

So supposing each thing I have shared here over the last month (sixty of them) and the ones I have shared on the other blog, (say ten of them) was on average 400 words long (a conservative estimate) then that make an approximate total of about 28,000 words… so if I added that to my NaNoWriMo total… wow! I’ve made it, 53,042!!!

Obviously, I am going to try to complete the challenge by writing 50,000 words about my mystery woman, but ti just shows how much i actually do write… No wonder i don’t have tome to do the dusting!!

If you want to read the fruits of my labours, I have published thirteen novels (one in paperback), three reluctant reader stories, one writing guide, an anthology with my Moving Dragon friends, then here is a link – I’m sure you will enjoy them, pleasae let me know what you think!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

and a link to the Moving Dragon blog:

https://somersetwriters.wordpress.com

We’ll be having some fun…

I’ve been writing this as part of my NaNoWriMo challenge; my character, Milla is using my memories as hers – maybe I’ll change it later, but for the time, this is what Milla – and I – remember from the summer at the end of our first year at Uni::

So in that wonderful summer, they had sat their exams and had received their results while they were still in college – maybe they were expected to be working on their dissertation or something, she couldn’t quite remember, only that unbelievable amazement and then pure joy that she had for once in her life come top in something, come first!

However… before the results were published, on the day of their final exam, the gang of her friends had come back to the room she shared with her house-mate, the lovely room which had been wrecked and the deposit lost, they had come back with bottles of wine for an impromptu afternoon party.

Suddenly they realised that it was raining and they had run out into the quiet road, bottles in hand, and danced barefoot  on the steaming tarmac. It seemed they had been drunk, not on wine, but on joy, exuberance, the wonderfulness of life. They were young, they were leaving their childhood behind, they were free, they had finished their exams they could do no more until next year!

They had galumphed about shouting, singing – maybe the window of their room was open and the music of the Drifters was pouring out from the record player.

Not the original… but still brings back so many memories…

School dinner goulash

Here’s something I shared last year; it has been a really bright but chilly day today, just right for a spot of goulash:

When we go on our family holiday, each family takes it in turns to cook dinner, plus we have sausages on the first night which is easy, and ham and leftovers on the last night, which is also easy!

This year when it was our turn, we decided to cook goulash, and it was delicious… I’m not sure what recipe my husband used, probably several put together which he thought would suit our likes! I didn’t think to look in the old school dinner recipe book my mother-in-law when she was in charge of a school kitchen! It actually sounds good… although the addition of pasta sounds unusual – but I actually don’t know that much about Hungarian food, so maybe it is traditional! The recipe starts off with 16-18lbs of beef… I’ve tried to scale it down, and here it is:

  • 2 lb stewing beef
  • ¼ lb onions, sliced
  • ½ lb carrots, sliced
  • 2 oz tomato purée
  • 1 oz paprika
  • 1 oz macaroni
  • 1 pint water
  • 2 oz flour
  • seasoning to taste
  • chopped parsley

mix for seasoning:

  • 1 oz salt
  • 1 oz pepper
  • 1 oz mustard
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ oz sage
  • ¼ thyme
  1. toss the meat in the paprika and seasoning
  2. fry the meat and vegetables lightly
  3. put in oven proof dish and add the purée and enough water to cover
  4. bring to boil and simmer for 2 hours
  5. add macaroni and cook for a further half hour
  6. blend the flour with the water and thicken the sauce
  7. garnish with chopped parsley

Trying to swim…

I’m making slow progress with my attempts to write fifty thousand words of a new novel in November – this is part of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. It’s my fifth year of doing it and although I think I am doing better in terms of what I’m writing, I’m getting too far behind for comfort. It isn’t that I don’t want to write, or can’t think of what to write – it’s just that, at the moment, time seems filled up with other things!

As usual I’m not sure exactly where my story is going… Milla is the main character and she is a bit of a mystery at the moment. In the episode I’m going to share, she has decided she needs to get fitter… and she isn’t working at the moment so needs something to do… so what better than swimming? Someone she has met has offered to teach her to surf next summer… so it’s in her mind to improve her swimming for that:

The changing room was crowded, there were no private cubicles, so she changed discretely in a corner, put her things in a locker, band and key on her wrist, through the showers and into the pool.

When she had come before it had been quite noisy, now there was an absolute din… She refused to be put off – she had paid her money, she didn’t want to waste it, nor waste the time spent actually getting here.

There was a dancercise class in one half of the pool up the shallow end, swimming lessons at the other end which involved a lot of shouting and whistles and screaming from the children, and there was an absolute turmoil of people in the half of the pool where the public were able to swim. There were two lanes, one seemed to have a lot of people walking in the water and standing, and the other, the faster lane was crowded with swimmers trailing up and down. Milla would have to go in this one.

There was music from the dancercise class, and the usual music from the pool’s speakers – wouldn’t you think one would be turned off? As Milla slid into the warm water, dodging out of the way of a man who was doing an ostentatious and actually quite dangerous tumble turn, she was beginning to compose a letter of complaint…

Well, she was here now, twenty lengths and then, unless there was a sudden exit of most of the other pool users, she would get out and grumpily change and leave.

It was not a pleasure; she had to swim too fast, or too slow, people ploughed past her or seemed to grab her heels as they caught up with her and wouldn’t overtake until she stopped and pressed against the lane dividers. When she got near the end, there was such a jam of people that she turned round and swam back without touching the wall. She wasn’t fit enough yet to keep on swimming without stopping and she felt buffeted and oppressed by the speedy swimmers…

She reached the shallow end and ducked under the divider into the slow lane. Here was a crowd of people all standing, so she stopped for a moment and stood too. This was annoying chaos, and dangerous too.

She would have one more go in the faster lane and then if it was still impossible she would have to make do with the slow lane. All her positive energy from the morning had disappeared… hmmm, getting fit to go surfing? Impossible if she ever came to the pool at this time of day again.

She ducked under the dividers for what she hoped would be the last time, and set off, front crawl up the pool. She almost swam over someone who had stopped dead in the water, and when trying to swim round her, the man with the tumble turn – she recognized him by his neon orange swimming cap, swam right over her so she was submerged and kicked in the shoulder.

Furious she apologised to the woman who was still standing there, complaining as if it was Milla’s fault, and set off in pursuit of neon cap. She reached the end without mishap, able to at least touch and turn on the wall, and swam back without incident…

She remembered swimming when she was young. She couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t been able to swim, at first in the summer at the open air pool, and later when the ‘new pool’ was built, almost every day. Her social life had been the swimming club, she had swum dozens of miles a week training – at that time she wouldn’t have been able to imagine another life when swimming a couple of lengths would wear her out… When she had come last time and swum without interruption, she had tired and had struggled…

She just got to the end and someone, not neon cap swam over her and she came to the surface coughing and choking, and furious – but the woman – it was a woman this time was speeding back up the pool.

Well, sod it, she would go into the slow lane and do a few lengths and then give up. Late Monday morning was not a good time to come, that was for sure.

The slow lane seemed wider, and she got into a train of swimmers slowly chugging up towards the deep end. Someone was perpetually touching her ankles – she was tempted to kick hard, but then breaking an old woman’s nose or giving an old fellow a black eye would not be wise… so she carried on.

There was a mass of people at the wall again, and she swam through them.

She reached the wall, turned and began to make her way through the others and suddenly she was under the water, pushed down… she was among a forest of bodies and legs and hadn’t taken a big enough breath before going under, not expecting to be steam-rollered over…

She tried to fight her way up but it was a nightmare of bodies and legs and feet she was coughing choking and pulling more water into her throat and lungs and… the strength seemed to be going from her limbs, there were black spots in front of her eyes

Then suddenly she was grabbed by the shoulder and heaved to the surface… she was almost fainting, almost unconscious and didn’t even feel pain as she was dragged up over the tiled edge and flung to the floor and… and … and…

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here is a link to my paperbacks and e-books:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

With the disheartened flowers

I guess that different times of year make some feelings more acute, and maybe autumn, when days grow shorter and skies are often greyer, and when the sun is shining there is often a bite of cold waiting in shadows, is a particularly difficult season for those who are feeling down, or lonely or alone…

Joseph Trumbull Stickney was an American poet who had a tragically short life, born in 1874 and dying when only he was only just thirty. He was born in Switzerland but travelled widely in Europe with his parents, Austin Stickney and Harriet née Trumbull. Joseph graduated from Harvard but also spent seven years at the Sorbonne studying for his doctorate. He wrote mostly sonnets, but here is a slightly longer poem…

Loneliness

These autumn gardens, russet, gray and brown,
The sward with shrivelled foliage strown,
The shrubs and trees
By weary wings of sunshine overflown
And timid silences,—

Since first you, darling, called my spirit yours,
Seem happy, and the gladness pours
From day to day,
And yester-year across this year endures
Unto next year away.

Now in these places where I used to rove
And give the dropping leaves my love
And weep to them,
They seem to fall divinely from above,
Like to a diadem

Closing in one with the disheartened flowers.
High up the migrant birds in showers
Shine in the sky,
And all the movement of the natural hours
Turns into melody.

Trumbull Stickney  1874 – 1904

 

Not quite my favourite dish… but nearly!

Many years ago, when I lived in Oldham, and when I used to go to a particular one of the many excellent Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi restaurants, I would always order a specific dish – even though it was an aromatic mild dish and I usually like fiery red-hot curries!

What it was now I’m not sure, because when I’ve tried dishes with the same or similar names in other restaurants it has never been as good, and quite often has been not nice at all – to my palate!

This recipe isn’t the dish, but it’s along the same lines:

 Chicken curry with pistachios and cardamom

  • 4 oz shelled pistachio nuts
  • I large onion, finely sliced
  • 4 tbsp  oil
  • 1 lb chicken breast sliced into strips
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 oz fresh chopped coriander
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 4 tbsps  yoghurt
  • zest of two limes 2 limes
  1. toast the pistachios at 170°C , 340°F, gas mark 3 for about 10 mins (check at 8 mins) until they are lightly brown
  2. fry the onion on very low heat, in covered pan for about 15 mins until soft but barely coloured
  3. while the onion  is cooking, brown the chicken for a couple of minutes
  4. add the spices to the onions and cook for a couple of minutes
  5. put onions, pistachios, yoghurt and fresh coriander into a blender – deglaze the pan with about half a pint of water and add that too
  6. blend until you have a pale green sauce with just flecks of the coriander
  7. return to the pan, add lime zest and chicken and heat through
  8. serve with whatever takes your fancy!!

 

 

Be subtle, hidden in plain sight!

Here is something I wrote for the blog I share with two friends:

We’ve been considering ‘rules of writing’… at the end of the day and when all’s said and done (I’ve just broken one of the universal rules of writing ‘avoid clichés‘!) you are your own writer and you make your own rules – but it is very useful to look at the way people you admire write, people who are generally respected write, and people who are successful write.

You may have your own rules – and you might be quite rigid with them, or quite lax, but it is worth considering what masters of the craft suggest.

Here are two very contrasting sets of writers’ rules:

First, Annie Proulx who has deservedly won many major literary prizes including the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Orange Award etc.  Her rules are looking at producing the best, most perfect piece of writing that you can, to polish and perfect, to work and rework and be the most critical critic your work will ever receive. Her rules are for the techniques of what she describes as good craftsmanship:

  1. Proceed slowly and take care.
  2. To ensure that you proceed slowly, write by hand.
  3. Write slowly and by hand only about subjects that interest you.
  4. Develop craftsmanship through years of wide reading.
  5. Rewrite and edit until you achieve the most felicitous phrase/sentence/paragraph/page/story/chapter

For many of us this would mean that we would never ever finish everything – for those of us with terrible handwriting, or who hand-write very slowly, the end would never be in sight. However surely we should aim to ‘take care‘, to learn through ‘wide reading‘ and to ‘rewrite and edit‘ to the best of our ability.

In complete contrast, and definitely with a very different audience in mind, is Billy Wilder. Maybe he is not well-known, or even known by younger people, but every film-buff will know and appreciate his great films Ninotchka, Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard,  The Seven Year Itch, The Spirit of St. Louis, Some Like It Hot, The Apartment and Irma la Douce – and that’s only a tiny selection!  He gave a lot of advice, a lot of insight into how he was able to produce successful film after successful film… and here is just a selection of his thoughts:Well, here are some of Wilder’s screenwriting tips:

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ’em by the throat and never let ’em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then—that’s it. Don’t hang around.

Wilder is writing about film but his rules apply to fiction (and some non-fiction too) – here is our interpretation of film writing rules for other writing

  1. there are so many books to read, so many other things to do, don’t let your reader put your book down and move on to something else
  2. your beginning has to engage your reader and keep them reading
  3. your main character (or characters) must be consistent and true to themselves
  4. know where the story is going (this maybe only when it is complete and you are working on it – you must have a clear path you are following)
  5. make sure everything is there so the reader will understand what’s happened in the end – but as Wilder says, be subtle, hidden in plain sight!
  6. if you’re struggling in one part of your story – the roots of the problem maybe in a different earlier part
  7. don’t be pedantic, don’t explain every little thing in minute detail
  8. show don’t tell
  9. sometimes the seeds of the conclusion are rooted in a much earlier part of the story (if they’re not, but just windblown into the conclusion your reader will not be happy!)
  10. the conclusion of your story must be satisfactory – it mustn’t just end as if you’re fed up writing/have run out of ideas/have run out of time. Once everything is concluded, tie the ends up nicely but don’t bore the reader with a long and unnecessary epilogue

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here is a link to Lois’s books, including her how to guide – ‘So You Want To Write‘ and our own anthology “The Moving Dragons Write’

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden