Birthdays

Because my birthday is so near the beginning of the year, somehow it seems like the actual beginning of the year! I reflect on the past year since my last lot of candles on the cake, and look forwards to the year ahead. I guess being January – named for Janus the god of gates and doorways, the two-faced god looking forwards and backwards, inwards and outwards, it is a time for doing that. It comes not that long after the solstice so already the earth is turning from winter towards summer.

Here’s something I wrote a couple of years ago about January:

The name of the first month of the year comes from the Roman god of doorways, Janus, who is traditionally depicted with two faces, looking back and looking forward. It maybe a cliché but the phrase, ‘when one door shuts another opens’, is so true, especially if we wait patiently for that door to spring wide and then step resolutely through! It is more than finding the silver lining inside the gloomy cloud, it is more active than that; firmly shut the door on what has happened (even if it seems as if the door slammed of its own accord) and then look in unexpected places for the next door to dance through. The Saxon name for January is Wulf-monath, wolf month… and doesn’t the name just conjure those long, grim wild creatures sloping off through the snowy forests in search of prey. It may be a lean time, but wolves are bright-eyed and strong, and fearless.

My daughter asked me what I wanted to achieve this year… Gosh! What a question… first answer, to finish my next Radwinter book, Saltpans, and then I have other writing projects to tackle, which I listed the other day, but here is a brief selection –

  • my character Gus has been wandering the water-meadows near his seaside home, and visiting the pub and attending quiz night with various people – it really is about time his story was finished
  • another of my characters, Theo, the half-Danish half-Swedish musician has also had more than enough of wandering around from job to job and crappy room to crappy room – and he has met a lady who is gradually falling in love with him! Their situation needs to be resolved!
  • I may not finish my autobiographical writing, but I need to get to grips with it – I have a title ‘And the River’ – maybe it will be finished in 2019!
  • I have another blog with two friends, The Moving Dragon Writes; we have published one anthology and hope to publish another this year. One of my fellow Dragons and I have also set ourselves the challenge of writing 73 blogs from a list we came across – we are about a quarter of the way through and very pleased(I hope not in a big-headed way) at what we have achieved. We hope that we will bring these seventy-three different blogs together and publish in three volumes… or maybe four, it depends how long the different ‘chapters’ are!
  • come November and it will be the National Novel Writing Month challenge which maybe I will undertake, for the sixth time. (I am going to leave 2017’s effort about a mysterious woman called Milla; I’ll come back to it when I’ve got my other unfinished stories complete!) For NaNoWriMo 2018 I may start the next Radwinter story, ‘Alone’.

So what else do I hope to achieve this year… travel, definitely! We don’t know Dorset very well, so maybe explore that lovely county, a return to the Tenby area where my family had a couple of very happy holidays, maybe visit Turkey – yes, I would love to go there! … and of course, a dream would be to return to Tasmania!

… and on a very mundane level… try and tidy the house and garden!!

Here are some links:

https://somersetwriters.wordpress.com

http://amzn.eu/9xZe2RA

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

… oh and also get fitter and lose weight!!

My 2017: November

November for me over the past five years has meant one thing… the National Novel Writing Month challenge – 50,000 words to be written during the month of November. I chronicled this pretty fully as I was writing, sharing my story, my anxiety about getting behind, my thoughts that this year I might fail, the growing sense that maybe I could push on and do it and then hurrah! 50,053 words!!

So how did that compare to previous years:

  • 2013: ‘Radwinter’  genealogical mystery. 73026 words
  • 2014: ‘Raddy and Syl’ – genealogical mystery: Thomas has traced his paternal ancestors to 1830’s war-torn Europe; he has followed his maternal line and found murder and betrayal. Now he needs to look closer to home, to discover the truth about the people who brought him up, Edward and Sylvia Radwinter, Raddy and Syl, in order to find out who he really is. 50,092 words
  • 2015: ‘Earthquake’  – genealogical mystery:  stalker stalked… maybe… 53030 words
  • 2016: ‘And the river’ – memoir: This is a meander, not sure where it is going or what will be seen, from it or in it… This began as a story of my life and that of my family, told through the rivers I have been connected with… as with real rivers, it went its own way and covered a lot of ground… and it hasn’t yet reached its end! 51282 words

And this is what I wrote on day 1 this year:

It’s November, and for some writers the  first day of the month is greeted with a mixture of excitement, dread and a sort of paralysing creative nervousness. This is the month that many of us challenge ourselves to write fifty thousand words, yes, 50,000 words in the thirty days of November.

It sounds at the outset as impossible… 1,667 words a day? Is anyone able to do that? Yes, yes they are, and yes, yes they do.  It is an on-line challenge, there are no prizes, only the satisfaction of knowing you’ve completed it – and if you don’t manage, well at least you tried, and if you don’t manage to write a single word, well at least you thought about it and probably ran through a few ideas in your head before dismissing them all. Those ideas might come back to you one day!

The challenge is called The National Novel Writing Month – the original idea was to write the first fifty thousand words of a new novel; however because there are so many different forms of writing, and the whole point is to inspire people to write and not put them off, it has been somewhat relaxed, and now it is fifty thousand new words.

The idea is that once you start writing,. Like in a timed exam, you just don’t have the time to worry about detail, you just have to get those words on the age – so if the main character’s eyes are blue or brown, or the farm is called Greenvale or High Trees it really doesn’t matter, all those little things can be sorted later, and with the challenge completed the decision-making may have been made without you noticing.

I have taken the challenge four times, plus a ‘Camp Nano’ and I am going to try again… I don’t know if I will make it this time… but I am going to try!

I really recommend it as an exciting challenge – have a go, you might surprise yourself – I certainly surprised myself!

 

A writing list

A writing chum told me has made a 2018 writing list – things he intends to tackle next year… I’ve got some priorities in my head, but as for a list, well, I hadn’t thought of it… so what would be on my list should I make one?

I think it goes without saying that I will continue to write here, sharing my thoughts, ideas, memories and my writing. I must also get back seriously or seriously get back to finishing my next Radwinter novel, which has been marooned three-quarter way through since the beginning of November when I tackled the national Novel Writing challenge of completing 50,000 words in a month. So finish Thomas Radwinter’s next story provisionally entitled ‘Saltpans‘, and I have an idea for another for later on in the year probably called ‘Alone‘. On the Radwinter front, I also want to publish as paperbacks at least two of my e-books, ‘Magick’ and ‘Raddy and Syl‘, and if all goes extremely well, then also ‘Beyond Hope‘.

In January and February I must prepare for a talk and two workshops I’m giving in February; the talk is on writing about family history, as I mentioned yesterday, and the workshops are on the process of writing and blogging.

I also have my unfinished stories – ‘Gus’, ‘Dancing in the Road’, ‘And the River…’, ‘Hamazasb and the Missing Shoe‘, and a couple of other bits of writing I started. There is also the story I began this year for NaNoWriMo, about Milla. Of those, I think there’s only a couple which I might actually tackle, others are very much on the back burner, as well as some I wrote many years ago which would need a total re-write.

I have completed five NaNoWriMo challenges, every year since 2013; they have been a great way to really get to grips with a new story, but they are also a great drain on time… the idea is also quite additive, though, will I be able to resist the challenge? Or maybe should I use it to get to grips with ‘Alone’? That actually is a good idea!!

I mentioned at the start my commitment to writing here; I also share another blog with two writing friends (which is actually open to anyone to contribute to!) From that we published an anthology last year and are hoping to publish a second next year. That is more a case of pulling together already written pieces rather than creating anything new but it still involves work. On our other blog we have challenged ourselves to write about subjects from a list we discovered with seventy-three suggestions of topics. We are doing really well with it, and have had a thought that maybe they could be edited and published – in three volumes!! There would just be too many words for one book!

So that I guess is my writing list… but then of course, something new, a whole new story might bob into my mind!! Inspiration happens in the most unlikely places and with the most unexpected ideas!

So, maybe like my friend I should write a list… should it be a calendar/diary/timetable?

  1. January – finish first draft of ‘Saltpans‘, prepare for family history talk and writing workshops. Begin to edit ‘Magic’ for paperback publication
  2. February – deliver family history talk and writing workshops, work on editing ‘Saltpans‘, also continue to edit ‘Magick‘ as a paperback – this takes much longer than you might think!
  3. March – prepare and publish ‘Saltpans‘, prepare first draft of seventy-three blog anthology, book I.
  4. April – work on ‘seventy-three’ maybe start thinking about next story for me – perhaps ‘Dancing in the Road’, but maybe something new will spring into my mind! Publish ‘Magick’ as a paperback’ and start of paperback editing of ‘Raddy and Syl’.
  5. May – publish ’73’, continue work on whatever new/old thing I’m writing
  6. June – writing, writing, writing, publish ‘Raddy and Syl‘ paperback, start preparing ‘Beyond Hope’ as a paperback
  7. July – more writing, writing, writing, continue with ‘Beyond Hope‘ paperback
  8. August – as for July but publish new paperback
  9. September – complete whatever I started new in April (maybe it will have got to the editing stage by now) Begin to look at second anthology with my two writing friends, to publish November/December
  10. October  – ditto September
  11. November – new Nano challenge, but also some light editing and pulling together of the April book, publish anthology II with friends
  12. December – maybe publish new book? Maybe continue what I started as Nano?

Writing it down like this makes 2018 look a massive challenge – however, a lot of it is editing and working on old things. This year I have felt that creativity has been pushed into the corner by other stuff I’ve been doing; I really want to make sure it isn’t the same in 2018. It’s all about balance.

2017 has been a great year, and I’ll write about in the next few days, but if I have any resolution for next year, it is what I mentioned above – find balance!

So many words a day

One of my favourite writers posts a daily word count on Twitter… I wonder if he has a target or  if he is just keeping track… Maybe I should ask him.

I don’t keep track of how many words I write, I just write! if I did keep track, would I also count the words I write here, or only the words I write for whatever story I am working on? At present I am writing the next Thomas Radwinter story, provisionally called ‘Saltpans’ and I don’t have a finish date in mind either. I think it should be finished in the first draft by halfway through September – I had hoped for the end of august, but no, other things have interfered. When there is no-one else involved like an editor or agent or publisher, there is only me to keep cracking the whip. Maybe best-selling writers have people to clean their houses, do the washing and ironing, take care of the garden, go shopping… well, I just have me and my husband. I’m not complaining, I’m fine with it, but that’s the way it is!

Going back to word count; the only time I do keep track of my words is November, the National Novel Writing Month, a thirty-day challenge to write a new novel. Does it help me, is it something I should adopt? Well it is actually quite stressful, especially if unavoidable things happen, like visitors, or days out or weekends away, but I do manage to maintain that 1,700 or so words a day for those thirty days… Well, I have for the last four years, but could I maintain it for more than thirty days… I am sure I could not. So would I be able to sustain a lower target, say a thousand words a day? Maybe – but how would I take account of the work I do re-writing, researching, writing background or support material which won’t go into the actual story?

Maybe instead of setting a target I should just keep track of my story word count – just so I know what progress I’m making… Maybe I will do that. Maybe I’ll start that today and report back next week, next Monday – no next Tuesday afternoon!

In the meantime, here are links to the books I started for the national Novel Writing Month, and finished and published:

2013 – Radwinter – published 2014:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B00IFG1SNO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502118569&sr=8-1&keywords=LOIS+ELSDEN

2014 – Raddy and Syl – published 2015:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADDY-SYL-RADWINTER-Book-3-ebook/dp/B00WAN0YD8/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1502118569&sr=8-12&keywords=LOIS+ELSDEN

2015 – Earthquake – published 2017:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1502118569&sr=8-2&keywords=LOIS+ELSDEN

2016 – And the River – to be published (2018/19)

 

Last word on NaNo… (for now!)

This is the fourth year I have attempted the challenge of writing 50,000 words in the month of November. I didn’t decide till the last minute, for several reasons – I was three-quarters way through another book I’m writing, I seemed to have hit a bit of a slough with writing anyway, I had an empty head – empty of any ideas.

I was undecided up until the last moment, the actual day the challenge started, November 1st and then I plunged in. The challenge is supposed to be a new novel, but I only had half-started ones, so I went for an idea I’ve been playing about with, of writing a sort of memoir, sort of family history, but using my imagination to make it more interesting and detailed than if I just tried to remember particular things from my childhood.

The connecting thread running through my stories is the River… the River in actual fact is many rivers, the Cam from my early years in Cambridge, the Mersey, the Irwell and the Medlock from living in Manchester, the Axe from living in Somerset, the Bann and the Bush from visiting Ireland so many times. I wrote quite a few stories about the Cam and my experiences, by it, on it, in it, and also its own story, where it comes from, what it’s like, where it goes and which other rivers join it on its way. I returned to the Cam with memories of it freezing over in years gone by, and from there I explored skating on the Cam and other fenland rivers and waterways, and became intrigued and involved with the story of a party of skaters in 1903 who had a tragic accident.

I started to write about the Irwell in the same way, but I got side-tracked by the actual river, and there is not much about me and my time in Manchester… something to go back to… ditto the Medlock and the Mersey.

I felt sure that since I am now living by the River Axe, a few hundred yards from it in fact, that I would write a lot of my own story; in fact I got involved in someone else’s life story, a man who died nearly sixty years ago, drowned in the Axe while trying to save someone else. While researching him, I came across a distant cousin of his, who also drowned at a similar age but in a river round he other side of the world, the  Campaspe in Victoria state,  an inland intermittent river… however in my writing the river played a very small part, I was  more interested in the life of the man before he sadly died. In turn I became interested in the pub his father owned for a few years, and then the man who built and started the pub thirty years previously – a long way from rivers, and from my own life story!

Of all the rivers I have loved the one which has featured most and in most of my novels has been the River Bush; I wrote about it, but again it was more the factual side of it… and so to with the bann, and then somehow St Brenadn was brought into my mind, St Brendan who is supposed to have gone on an amazing voyage of adventure… and suddenly I was writing about him and his companions and their experiences on the sea in boats, retelling his story. This in turn made me think of Nicholas of Lynn, a priest and monk who also went on great voyages – or so he wrote! Lynn is King’s Lynn, not far from where the skating accident happened…

Nicholas of Lynn

Somehow I moved away from English rivers to the Mighty Amazon,and my grandfather who went up it to Manaós in the early part of the twentieth century…

What a muddle it all seems looking back… a muddle but if I unpick it and reknit it in a more ordered pattern, maybe I might make something out of it all!

  1. the Cam, in it, on it, by it
  2. the Cam its composition and history and geography
  3. skating on the frozen Cam
  4. tragic skating accident in the Fens in 1903
  5. the story of the young people before and after the accident
  6. the Mersey, the Irwell and the Medlock
  7. the Axe
  8. Edwin Clogg of Looe, Cornwall
  9. Edwin Clogg of the Camberwell Hotel, Victoria
  10. the Camberwell Hotel and George Eastaway
  11. George Eastaway of Bristol
  12. Edwin John Clogg
  13. Arthur Parker the billiard marker
  14. Arthur Barker the farmer
  15. David Hoy the ship builder
  16. The  Bush and the Bann
  17. St Brendan and his voyage
  18. Nicholas of Lynn and his voyage
  19. Reginald Matthews and his journey to Manaós
  20. The Bush and my novels
  21. coracles and curaghs
  22. my writng

 

 

A sad story

When I started the 50,000 word novel-writing challenge, I was very hazy as to which way it would go, how it would go and whether it would go at all! I really don’t think I am going to complete, but it has been an interesting journey.

I started with the idea of an imaginative memoir, being creative about things I couldn’t remember or didn’t know, but creative in a realistic and not anachronistic way. I used rivers I have known and loved as a way of travelling though my memories and reminiscences, and like with all rivers they wander and flow, sometimes disappearing to reappear unexpectedly… and trying to find the source is always tricky and mysterious.

I started doing a little research about the actual rivers, as well as about my family, and I’ve already mentioned the tragic skating accident of 1903 when a young woman drowned. Now in researching a different river, the Axe which comes out into the sea in our village, I found another tragedy, but which led me to explore an interesting life. The Axe winds its way through the Somerset countryside, and the nearest village to us that it passes through is Bleadon; an elderly man drowned in 1957 trying to save a young lad who had got into difficulties. This man came originally from Cornwall and it seems that he was a conscientious objector during the first war – which must have been hard and a courageous stand to take. I am now looking into his family history, and seeing what more I can find out about him. There is a gravestone for him in  Bleadon churchyard which I will have a look at – if it ever stops raining!

Here is a link to my other books, some of which were started in previous novel writing challenges:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_3_6?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+e%2Caps%2C184&crid=15AKCGVY53IRD

A lesson learned!

I think I have to admit that I am not going to reach the 50,000 word target of the National Novel Writing Month this year; it was unrealistic of me to even enter it and that is a lesson learned!

However, it has not been a failure, and I actually think that may be part of the whole point of it. It hasn’t been a failure because:

  • I have started writing something new and different which I have been thinking in a wobbly way about for some time
  • it has given me a focus and a structure to write about my history and my family history
  • it has given me a way to draw the different strands of these very different stories together, and I hope, if it isn’t too pretentious, that the title and main theme – ‘And The River…’ and the theme of rivers, reflect the stories and the way they flow in and out, divert, deviate, find new courses – and reflect the way life happens!
  • co-incidentally, by researching various things, I have ideas for other stories – particularly the skating accident story (a real tragedy from 1903 when someone fell through the ice while skating on a frozen river) but also the mysterious death of a school teacher – probably or possibly at the hands of a young deaf and dumb boy
  • I have learned a very valuable and rather annoying lesson which I should have already known – there is only so much time to write, and writing too many different things at once mean none of them progress as they should, as they would if I did one thing at once – I am no good at juggling, I should know this!
  • I won’t make my 50,000 words but I will have done a lot of valuable writing
  • if/when I do this next year, I will clear the decks first and focus on the challenge!

So… I won’t reach the finishing line but I will have achieved!