Went the day well? NaNo day 1

In case you’re wondering, my title, ‘Went the day well?’ was from a 1942 film based on a story by Graham Greene, which was a quote from a poem:

Went the day well?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,
Freedom, we died for you.

John Maxwell Edmonds.

I’m using it about something far less important or significant, the first day of the 1917 National Novel Writing Month – the online challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November.

This is mu fifth year of attempting it, and in the last four attempts I was successful, although with a couple it was a close-run thing, completing the challenge a few minutes before midnight on November 30th!

I was all set up with what I was going to do; I have a character called Gus and I’ve written about him several times, and I decided I wanted to pull his story together and NaNoWriMo seemed the ideal vehicle for my attempt. So… I had a busy day yesterday, lots of things happened, some planned some unexpected, some good, some really not good at all.

I sat down first thin and opened a new document… and blank… Gus had wandered off… he obviously didn’t think he was ready to share his story. There would be no point in forcing it I knew, that way difficulty lies! I have so many other things I am doing at the moment, probably too many, that I knew Gus would prove recalcitrant and reluctant.

I did have a back-up plan; after I finish writing my novels quite often the characters’ stories continue in my head and I sometimes actually write down what happens next – this doesn’t develop into a sequel, but some of the ideas might lead to something new (what happened to the characters in ‘Farholm’ resulted in an idea which developed into ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov‘) However, when I tried to find a couple of these ideas I wanted to pursue I couldn’t locate them; I have an awful feeling that when I was doing my mass clear out and tidy that they went into the recycling bin)

So at eleven o’clock last night, I addressed the empty page. I started something completely new, something which had just been a vague idea floating around… I don’t know whether it will work, but it’s started and I managed to write 1076 words before midnight!!

I will try to keep you up to date with my progress… and will maybe share more about my idea later today… but definitely tomorrow!!

Here are links to ‘Farholm‘ and ‘Rosa‘:



… and here is a clue about what I’m writing about:


PS my featured image has nothing to do with what I’m writing, it’s just a picture I like!

The sea stood still

I have had the character of Gus on my mind for a while… in fact longer than I realised because I keep finding more pieces of writing about him! I’m beginning to see how his story might pan out… in the meantime, here he is, walking by the sea again:

The sea stood still, or so it seemed, just for an instant and then there was a lazy roll of water and the sound of the wave dragging the sand. The sea looked like melted metal, smooth, limpid, with a slow plasticity. It had a pewter quality, not quite grey. The sun had gone but dusk hung along the horizon waiting for night to shove it over the edge.

Gus tramped along the damp sand. He wondered what the ripples on the surface meant, was it a particular tide? Was it wind? Was it always like this and he hadn’t noticed? A hinged shell lay open, pink and like a tiny pair of lungs. He stopped to look at it. There was a thing shaped like a cigar but with a spongy surface – some piece of detritus washed raw by the action of salt and water or some strange sea creature, sea weed root perhaps.

He strolled on and watched a couple who walked quickly past him with a prancing border collie. They threw a ball for it and it raced after it and had to skid and change direction when it bounced at an acute angle. The dog raced back dropped the ball and the man kicked it so it arced away again. The dog ran after it towards where a gaggle of sea birds stood on the tide line, facing onshore. There must be a slight wind coming off the sea but nothing detectable to Gus.

The couple walked on and Gus stopped to look at the birds. He could hear the sound of an oyster catcher but could not see one. He thought they might be black-headed gulls but wasn’t really sure. He looked further along the shore and three herons stood at the edge of the sea. As he watched them they rose, one after the other and began their ungainly flap across the river mouth to the meadow beyond. In the water a fat duck like creature was paddling in circles, too big for a duck maybe… so perhaps a goose of some sort?

Gus turned to begin to tramp along the beach and his foot slipped as he reached the muddy part of the beach. Millimetres beneath the surface of sand were banks of grey mud. He tried to walk on but his shoes sank into the squelchy clay slime. He turned back and could see the line of the mud like a shadow on the sand. He walked back to where he could gain beach and then carried on along the firmer sand. It was churned up where cars had been turning.

He went past the yacht club up on stilts. It looked shut up and empty, no sign of life, he had never seen anyone standing on its little veranda or looking out of its windows. He supposed it must be used, he supposed the yachties must come down and socialise there, but they always seemed to be in the pub; there was one area of the bar which they seemed to claim, with pictures and photographs of themselves.

The land rose slightly towards the dunes held in place by blackthorn and sea buckthorn. Here was where the little dinghies were drawn up onto the sand above the tide line. Some of them had been there in the same place for years, never moving, and the sun and salty wind had peeled their paint away some had holes where the elements had vandalised them. Some looked smart and well-kept, but these were in the minority. Perhaps he should sit here one day and watch and see if anyone ever came and took these little boats and launched them into the sea.

This was where the ferry used to operate, across the river, join the beach to the meadows beyond. The ferryman had spent more time in the pub than at his ferry and it had fallen out of use. It would be useful to be able to cross to the other shore; it was a twelve-mile journey to go by road in order to cross the river. There were a couple of walkways down to the water with notices forbidding use by ‘the public’ Again he had never seen anyone actually using them so why object to a casual visitor walking down the slippery wooden planks to the sea? He walked on to the end of the beach. Should he walk the long way round following the river, or should he cut across the field and join the path nearer the boatyard? He sighed. There was no joy in walking on his own. He dropped down into the field and followed the track worn in the grass up to the path along the bank of the river.


Gus has a fresh start…

For a while I have had a character without a story… I’m not sure exactly what his story is yet, but having written about him wandering aimlessly around his village, and taking walks along the beach and round the estuary, he now is connecting with people:

“Hey!” and someone tapped Gus on the shoulder.

It almost made him jump, and he afterwards thought it was the first time anyone had touched him at all for months.

He turned to see a woman who looked familiar beaming at him.

“Hey, Gus! You were so deep in thought, I’ve been shouting at you from across the road!”

He apologised and she laughed in a friendly way but he still couldn’t quite place her… she was, he guessed, maybe thirties, maybe forties, very smiley, dark brows maybe dark  hair but she was wearing a multi-coloured striped knitted hat pulled down round her face. She said she was going to the paper shop, and he obviously was as he had his foot on the bottom step so they went in together, he holding the door for her.

She had run out of milk, she said, he told her he was getting his newspaper… he got it every morning, a little routine he had developed to get out of the house, to try to meet people… and now he had met someone and he had no clue who she was, although she did look familiar…

She had mentioned milk, and when she opened the chill cabinet and took out a two pint bottle he said he needed milk too, and he picked up a pint… no point in getting more, it usually went off before he could dink it all… maybe he should start having cereal…

“Good morning, sir, how are you today?” it was a friendly little gnome of a man who always asked him how he was and then in return told Gus how he was. On this occasion, as Gus and the woman with the stripy hat stood in the short queue, the gnome didn’t list his own ailments but began to… well, to interrogate Gus. “I take it you’re not a holiday maker, sir, I’ve been seeing you every day for a month or more!”

“Um, no, I’ve moved here, moved in three months ago actually…”

The gnome told him he had been here twenty years – had moved here when he retired, it had been a dream to come here as he had visited every summer for a week’s holiday as a child.

“I didn’t realise you were a newcomer,” said the woman with the stripy hat. “I used to live in town but it’s only since I’ve moved into the village that I’ve been a regular at the quiz.”

The quiz! The pub quiz! She was not only one of the people whose team he had joined a couple of weeks ago, but she was one of the people who had rescued him from the mud!

He felt a little foolish, but as the gnome was now quizzing him further about where he had come from and where he was living, he hoped he concealed it. Fortunately an elderly lady had greeted the little man from the other side of the freezer and he was telling her about his appointment at Specsavers.

Gus tried to think of something to say to the woman in the hat… did he know her name? Had he forgotten that too? Since he had begun his solitary life his memory was shocking. He cast round for something to say, anything…

“Have you tried this apple cake?” he asked her desperately, pointing to ‘Granny Gibbon’s apple cake, locally made from local apples… and eggs!’ The label said.

The lady looked a little startled at the random question and gave him what seemed to be a saucy look, as if she guessed he was trying to make conversation. No, she hadn’t… she loved baking and made her own… there seemed to be a pause at the end of her comment, and for a silly moment Gus wondered if she was going to suggest something… drop round for a coffee, try my cake… But of course she wasn’t, and he felt an embarrassed blush of misery creeping across his face.

Then he was at the counter and paid for his milk and nearly forgot the newspaper until the man behind the counter, Bill, apparently told him to pick one up on the way out. He was trapped beside the elderly lady who talking to the gnome; she hadn’t seemed particularly big when she was on the other side of the freezer, but how he was trying to get down this side he realised she was… well, she was enormous from the waist down, and also had a pile of shopping bags around her ankles.

“Oh heck,” said the quiz team member behind him. “Ready about.”

This proved more difficult as the gnome was still at the counter talking to Bill.

“Bill’s been here since he retired,” the gnome announced.

“Yerp… left the old woman, told the boss to stick his boss, moved here, new beginning…”

“Excuse me, can we just squeeze past you…” and the hat woman actually put her arms round the gnome and moved him to one side, which amused him and amused Bill more.

The shop door was in sight but a woman negotiated her double buggy in blocking their way. Gus would have huddled against the magazine racks and waited in quiet irritation until his exit was clear, but the woman in the hat wasn’t having any of it.

“Excuse me, if you could just reverse so we can get out, and then you can come through this way!” she commanded in a firm but friendly voice.

The double buggy pusher wasn’t best pleased as Gus’s gran might have said, but she grumbled her way back out and Gus and the woman in the hat made it onto the steps to the shop… His gran… he hadn’t thought about gran for a long time…

He tried to think of something to say, some jovial remark, a see you next quiz sort of thing, but he’d lost it, lost conversation…

“Hiya Helja! Just going in or just coming out?” A very tall big-boned woman with a mass of very yellow hair looked up at them.

And then… and afterwards Gus couldn’t quite remember how it had happened, the blond woman had invited him and the hat woman for coffee… she’d just made a Somerset cider cake – and the hat woman had laughed about Granny Gibbon’s cake and introduced Gus by name… and he didn’t quite manage to protest of make an excuse, and the blond woman lived just opposite the shop… and suddenly he was walking into her house with the hat woman… Helja… was it Helja? Maybe it was Helen… And he was invited for coffee…

© Lois Elsden 2017

An imagined location… or a real setting?

I’ve been sharing some writing about a character I have called Gus. I first wrote about him four or five years ago… I’m not sure because I don’t remember actually doing it – I came across  part of a story about a man wandering over the salt marshes, lonely and alone and I couldn’t remember witting it at all, nor what I intended to happen to him or what his story was or might be.  He obviously was quite vivid in my mind because I found another piece I’d written, he was still wandering by the sea, but this time across some water meadows leading down to an estuary. Intrigued by him now, I wrote some more pieces, not filling in his back story, although mentioning an ex-wife, and although he began to get to know a few people in the pub in the village where he lived, the ‘chapters’ – or episodes maybe, were all along the same lines… wandering, watching other people walking their dogs, noticing the wild life, identifying plants and shrubs and trees he walked past…

I have been sharing these pieces, and they are beginning to come together in my mind now, and last week I wrote another episode – the first new piece of writing about Gus for about a year. In this piece, he was out walking, slipped, and slithered down the river bank to become stuck in the mud with an incoming tide. We live in a similar area to Gus, and the estuary mud, and the muddy beach is a real and constant danger – especially to silly holiday makers who don’t read all the huge warning signs. Last weekend we passed a situation – there was an ambulance, a fire engine, the coast guards’ hovercraft, a triage van and the coastguards Land Rover altogether, attending an incident; the firemen were hosing down a small child who was covered in mud from head to toe, and his father was in the ambulance having been in the mud up to his shoulders… they could so easily have lost their lives.

So I have my character (and some collateral characters in the pub) and I am beginning to have a few ideas for a narrative, and I also have my setting – or do I? Most of my books have been set in my imaginary small old-fashioned, seaside town of Easthope. It has a little bay with rocks on either side of a beach, a small river runs into the sea nearby; further along the coast in one direction are pretty little harbours and villages, and in the other direction a large town. The great thing about having an imaginary location is that if you need an extra church, or school, or village you can just invent one! I do take careful notes so my imaginary geography is always consistent. As well as writing about location like this being so flexible, it also means no-one can read it and think I am writing about real people with real lives and real events…

So Gus and location… his location is based on the village where I live. We have the beach, the water meadows, the marshes, the river running into the sea with a very muddy, dangerously muddy estuary, the little boatyard, the rhyne (drainage channel) the pub – above all the pub! But if I set Gus’s story here, will the people in the real pub, our pub start thinking they are the basis for my characters? Might there be some coincidental real life story which is the same as a plot line? Hmm… this is a conundrum I shall have to think about…


Here is a link to my e-novels and my recently published paperbacks:




Mud, mud, mud…

Gus is a character who has appeared in several of my stories… so far his loneliness has not been explained, nor his sadness and depression. He has recently moved to a small village by the sea, and most days he goes walking along the beach or across the water-meadows and marshes, or a circuit along the banks of the little rhyne which flows into the river, which in turn goes into the sea.

This was ludicrous… ridiculous to be stuck in the mud… It had happened shockingly quickly. Gus’s evening wander over the water meadows and down beside river was along the same route he always took… although he occasionally reversed it and started at the boat yard and wandered round across the meadows until he hit the path beside the river.

One of the many dogs had come prancing along, over excited and friendly and for some reason Gus had stepped aside to let the creature past and his foot slipped on the sodden grass and his leg, then the rest of him had slid, carrying him still upright down to the mud where he plunged in up to his knees. He had laughed spontaneously with shock, terror, relief and a little hysteria. The suddenness of  the Chaplinesque decent, and its conclusion, trapped and unable to move in the silt and clay of the bank, set him giggling… but he bit it back… these days laughter could turn to tears in an instant.

His heart was pounding and he took a few breaths to compose himself before climbing back up the steep bank… except he couldn’t… he was held fast by the mud. He looked round for something to hold on to pull himself out but there was just the same slippery grass which had sent him down here in the first place.

This was ludicrous! Ridiculous! He was stuck in the mud and could do nothing about it. He had descended sideways so he was facing down stream and trying to lie flat to pull himself free and escape was impossible… if only he had twisted  so he could lie back and try to hitch himself out, or if he’d slipped  face downwards on the sloping bank so he was lying on his front and could drag himself…

“Help!!!” but his voice seemed to travel along the river and not up the bank. The dog’s owner must be around, there were never dogs without people.

“Help!! Help!!! Help!!!!”

All he could hear were the gulls and the rattle of the rigging of the boats in the yard.

He shouted again but there was nothing in reply. He cursed out loud… he was stuck in mud, in the dusk and the tide would be coming in and…

He shouted again… He searched his pocket for his phone… Found it… but there was no signal and somehow as he tried to find the light it spun from his hands and he actually heard it plop into the water below.

It was ironic… he had been so miserable, so utterly miserable, that at times life had seemed worthless, and not that he had considered any drastic solution to end his loneliness and despair, but now it seemed as if fate was intervening… He swore again and shouted again and swore and shouted.

There was a bark… a dog!!! Where there was a dog there was a person!!

“Help! I’m stuck in the mud! Help me!!”

“Hello? Where are you? I can’t see you!” a woman’s voice called back and she was shining a light across the river bank. She was somewhere on the path above and suddenly there was the sound of someone slithering down the slope… but not a someone, the dog…

The over-excited creature was barking and jumping at him, and he caught hold of its collar… but it was too small to pull him out.

He was blinded as a torch or phone flashed over him.

“Don’t come down here – it’s really slippery, it’s really dangerous – call 999!”

“I see you!! Wait there!!” she called… as if he could go anywhere…

He began to shake… the realisation of what had happened overcame him and he could have wept…

“I’m chucking this down to you!”

A lifebuoy came tumbling down the bank and he caught it awkwardly and then slipped it over his head… there were the sounds of more voices above another shout and then a sudden yank.

“Heave!!” shouted a man and was joined by others, and suddenly Gus was hauled out of the mud, with a terrible dragging sensation as if it was a living creature clutching on to him.

In a blur of joy and relief he was dragged up the bank and arrived on the path among a group of people… They had looped the rope round the post of the style, and between them… three of them they had heaved him to freedom.

The mud had claimed his shoes and socks and phone, but he didn’t care…

He was surrounded by the three rescuers who hugged him and cheered him and the woman kissed his cheek and they were all laughing. Someone replaced the lifebuoy and, barefoot but uncaring he walked back with them along the path. He was shaking, with relief and release, and he had his arm round the woman’s shoulder, her arm round his waist, supporting him. There was a muddle of explanation, of stories of similar happenings, of his thanks and gratitude – the whole thing was now a funny.

They reached the car park and the lack of shoes began to impinge… well, he would limp home, have a bath… but no, his new friends would walk with him, make sure he didn’t have any more dangerous adventures… the road led past the rhyne, they couldn’t risk him falling in!

As they reached the pub where he would turn to head home he suddenly couldn’t bear the thought.

“I’d like to buy you fine people a drink!” he exclaimed and the two men cheered.

“Don’t you think you should go home and have a bath and get warm?” the woman asked and with a shock he realised he still had his arm round her shoulder, was still leaning on her as he tottered along.

“He can get warm by the fire! He can steam gently and buy us beer all night long!” it was the younger of the two men, taller and with longer than fashionable blond hair – that much Gus could see in the orangey streetlight.

“That sounds like a plan!” he shouted, suddenly excited, and the dog barked in agreement!

“Pub, pub, pub, pub!” sang the blond man and they crossed the road together.

© Lois Elsden 2017

You can find my e-books here, and her recently published paperbacks ‘So You Want To Write‘ and ‘Radwinter‘:


It’s a bit chilly in here…

When we write we always try to convey our stories using not just what is seen, but what is experienced by the other senses, the sounds of the waves or the wind in the trees, the taste of the fog or stream from a volcanic vent, the smell of the air of a new place as you step out of the aeroplane door, the feel of the grasses on your skin as you walk through a meadow or the coat of a creature stroke… All of these add depth to our descriptions, and make the scenes we are trying to depict vivid.

However there are other senses we experience which might be linked to the five, for example the feeling of heat or cold… this is known as thermoception. We are unconsciously aware of it all the time, adjusting the temperature to what is comfortable almost without thinking about it – opening or closing windows, undoing or doing up buttons, putting on or taking off hats, scarves, woolly socks… But do we get our characters to do these things – or do we just describe them as feeling warm or cool – maybe adding details about the weather?

I admit it’s something I’ve not really properly thought about; however, without going to ridiculous extremes, I am going to try to bring this extra sense into my writing… I might try a little exercise where I write something specifically to try this… Recently I have had a character without a story, Gus, going walking on his own; so far there have been maybe half a dozen disconnected scenes, but I am beginning to feel a narrative coming on! As I pursue this I am going to consciously think about  thermoception and see if I can convey what Gus is experiencing as he wanders by the sea – possibly with an on-shore wind or a change in temperature as the tide turns…


Gus goes to the pub… again…

My hero without a novel, continues his wanderings by the sea, and begins to make very tentative plans…

The sea was out, far, far out, a mere silver sliver on the horizon beneath the clouds gathering round the setting sun. Gus surveyed it with a gloomy fatalism. He loved the sea, loved being beside the sea, but not this sea, this estuary flow of muddy salty water. He liked no he loved a clear sea, a bright sea, a moving sea, a sea which sang. He thought of the Antrim coast. The infinite variety of sea… blue, grey, black, soft, gentle, fierce angry, irate… he smiled. An irate sea, an amusing thought… but the humour died and he turned to plod across the damp sand.

The sea birds tonight had not settled, they were flying about, hither and thither, but silent apart from the odd squawk. Why did they not settle on the beach as they had the other night? A bee flew past, towards the sea and he called at it to come back, that it was going the wrong way.

He glanced around to see if anyone was near enough to hear his foolishness. The beach was deserted. he turned a full 360 degrees but there was no-one in sight and just as he was thinking how odd this was a couple with three dogs rounded the sea wall and a car moved into his line of vision.

Turning to trudge towards the yacht club he noticed another two couples walking across the sand. He sighed deeply and plodded on. Nothing was very interesting, the sky was a uniform grey, the clouds were just piles of fluff, the light was poor and the distant meadows fuzzy. It was not cold but there was mistiness in the air which was cold.

There were lights on in the yacht club tonight, and it had only been the other day that he had wondered whether anyone ever went there any more. He heard voices as he passed by, people chatting and laughing together.

He moved on and suddenly he was by the kissing gate. Somehow he had walked past the upturned dinghies, across the meadow, up the little bank, along the path by the river and here he was at the kissing gate. With no-one to kiss.

He stopped and looked across at the yachts in the boatyard. Some were on the bank of the river, ready to be launched, some were even moored in the river, and others were propped up in the yard. Would he like a boat? He didn’t think he could cope with all the ropes – sheets as they were properly called, and sails, and knots, and all the rest of the maritime gubbins.

To sit in a rowing boat and skull slowly somewhere, to paddle about in a canoe, to drift along in a put, yes how pleasant that would be… but a yacht… no, not for him.

A canal boat. Maybe he should sell up and buy a canal boat and live on that. It would be small, forcing him to sell or give away a lot of his junk. He would have to be neat, he would have to be tidy. He would live economically on baked beans and Worcestershire sauce. But he had met someone once who had lived on a canal boat. He had said it was cold and noisy…

Well, sometimes he was cold in his house by the rhyne, and quite often it was noisy. Maybe he would look up canal boats on the Internet and see how much they were… sell his house and become a water gypsy as his uncle called boat dwellers. He would have to pay mooring fees… and have to empty the toilet and buy water… but he did that already with rates, and refuse collection, and sewage and water rates… Yes, he would explore the possibilities.

He walked on with a more jaunty stride, knowing that really whatever investigation and research he did he would not do it… to sell his house would be making a decision, and the thought of trying to choose where, and how, and what… impossible.

In the pub, by chance one of the yachties, Jerry stood beside him at the bar and Gus asked him about the costs of a boat in the boatyard. Another Gerry joined in the conversation and the two men began to tell him about people who had lived on boats, it was not allowed apparently but they had some tales to tell, deviating off into other stories as they bought several rounds. Their girlfriends, partners as they were now called, Flip and Brenda joined them and they adjourned to a table and the talk turned to more general things and suddenly it was last orders.