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!


Starting with the village of Radwinter…

It’s exactly a week since I galloped my way towards and finally over the finish line of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. I have to admit that the week before I was looking at the possibility of not making it… I’d written every day but just not enough and I was very behind… however, I managed it, and completed it with an hour to spare and 53 words over the fifty thousand.

The story I was writing this time was about a mystery woman with a concealed past who starts living in shared accommodation in a small seaside town. This was my fifth year of taking up the challenge, and thank goodness, the fifth year of completing it… and as I finished I thought back to the other challenges.

The first year I did NaNo, 2013, I began a story which had been swirling round in my head for some time about a family of four brothers; I had a name for them, Radwinter, but little more. The story almost wrote itself, and I passed the 50,000 word eleven days early and went on to write over 73,000 words!

It wasn’t just my NaNo success with Radwinter, there was something about the characters, the situations, their dilemmas and difficulties reaching back into the past which intrigued me and if I had known on 30th November 2013 that I would write another five stories about them I would have been amazed, and no t a little disbelieving… Believe it or not, although Book VI is not quite finished yet, I began the opening scene for Book VII last night!

Radwinter is the story of a couple and their marriage, and a man and his family, and the history of that family explored through genealogical research…

Here is an excerpt from that first novel when Thomas Radwinter is finding out the origins of his family name:

I thought I’d start with Radwinter village… yes, I know, there are no Radwinter connections, but it just seems odd that our unique name is the same as a place… or maybe it is just a coincidence, or maybe Radwinter is a corruption of something else…

In Radwinter there is the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin and on the history site there are some wonderful photos of the reredos within the church, but it was bought and put there in the 1880’s; the church itself is over seven hundred years old. I’d like to go and visit and see it for myself; I’m not religious but I do like visiting churches… I wonder if Marcus would be interested as he’s a vicar? As well as the church it mentions chapels… are they different? I don’t know much about religion, despite Marcus… Primitive Methodists… what are they? Baptists… I really don’t know.

Looking at the history of the village it seems as if it was a busy place at one time; I really would like to go and see what is there now. According to the website there were blacksmiths, and many different shops including two butchers and two bakers (no mention of candlestick makers… stop it Thomas, don’t be silly… Rebecca is always telling me off for my childish sense of humour) there were sweetie shops, a fish mongers, general stores and even a tobacconist, and many different craftsmen such as cobblers and tailors and lots of other businesses.

No surprise that there are pubs, including the Plough and the Red Lion, and windmills… I guess it’s a farming area… Essex, that’s a farming county, isn’t it, and isn’t it by the sea too? I don’t know anything about Essex, apart from it being an overspill area for London, but it can’t all be like that. I’ve never been there… maybe I should look at a map… There were four windmills, it says… definitely a farming community, and a prosperous one too. Didn’t Constable paint pictures in Essex, or have I imagined that?

I’m onto the history page… Neolithic skeleton, bronze Celtic warrior, Roman roads and coins… medieval tile kiln and fishponds…  once it was Great Radwinter and Little Radwinter, perhaps that’s me, little Radwinter… 1066, Doomsday, a lord of the manor named Frodo… what? Really?

This page also tells me the village is near Saffron Walden and on the road to Haverhill, and on the River Pant… I must look at a map.

Onto the Radwinter Records page… a war memorial with no Radwinters on it, but how sad to see the same names cropping up, three men called Andrews, five men named Halls,  two Potts, two Ruses, three Swans and two Thakes… so sad… I don’t think I’m old but I bet they were younger than me… maybe some of them as young as my nephew Django… it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Radwinter seems an interesting place… I really want to visit… I wonder if Rebecca would like to go for a weekend there… probably not, she likes shopping and going on holiday to somewhere sunny.

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here is a link to my Radwinter stories:

An expert… an expert what?

Thinking about the ’73 challenge (writing a blog for each of 73 random topics or subjects) and working my way through it in the order of the list rather than randomly picking out favourite topics, I have arrived at ‘Expert Advice’. The list was one a friend found on another blog with these suggestions for different types of blogs which could be written, or which were written, it wasn’t suggesting that everyone could write all of them – but that’s exactly what we are attempting to do.

So expert advice… what have I expertise in? I’ve had to really puzzle over this…

  • writing – yes… but I’ve written so many of the blogs about writing and if as my friend and I hope we manage to gather these seventy-three together and publish them as a collection, then it would be a little boring… wouldn’t it?
  • cooking and baking… I’m a home cook and baker, and although I do share recipes and talk about what I make, I am definitely not an expert!
  • blogging… well, as you know, I do blog, but I am not an expert…
  • teaching… that was in my former life… it’s a long time since I did any, and I’m not sure any expertise I did have is still relevant in today’s education system
  • ….um….
  • ….er….
  • … pubs?

My daughter was just passing my room and I asked her what she thought… She suggested writing… and baking… and teaching… and blogging…

I might do or have done all these things, but I either never have been or am no longer an expert in any of them.

How about if I talked to my husband… he is an expert in lots of things:

  • drumming
  • making music
  • different genres of music
  • popular music in the past
  • ships and boats and their history
  • art – doing it, teaching it, knowing about it…
  • model making
  • beer

…and then my daughter said an interesting thing… If I was thinking about giving advice as an expert in some field, why didn’t I write about my experience as an older mum? I was an older mum when my children were born, I still am (an even older  mum of course) now they are adult and independent… What a great idea! Yes, that’s what I will do… I will write and share my thoughts over the next couple of days!

… another ticked off the 73 list!

… and here is a link to my other writing, my paperbacks and e-books:

2017 NaNo update… 50,053…

So the national Novel Writing Month draws to a close, and although I fell behind and at points thought I might never catch up… I did!! I managed to write 50,053 words during the month of November.

I am now going to put my story to one side for a while , and finish off some other things, but I will come back to it and I will finish it!

Here is something to celebrate with:

Does anyone still read Henry Miller?

This is something I wrote a couple of days ago:

Does anyone read Henry Miller any more? I first read him when I was too young to appreciate or properly understand, along with my friends for the ‘naughty bits’. In those days the only salacious imagery was what we imagined (not very well) from what we read; this was before the internet, before sharing anything other than actual photos or actual books was all there was.

Miller was an American writer born in 1891 and lived until 1980… this is what Wikipedia says about his amazing and varied life:

Henry Valentine Miller… was an American writer, expatriated in Paris at his flourishing. He was known for breaking with existing literary forms, developing a new sort of semi-autobiographical novel that blended character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, explicit language, sex, surrealist free association, and mysticism. His most characteristic works of this kind are Tropic of Capricorn, The Colossus of Maroussi, The Time of the Assassins, and The Books in My Life, many of which are based on his experiences in New York and Paris (some of which were banned in the United States until 1961), adding Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch while finally residing in Big Sur, California. He also wrote travel memoirs and literary criticism, and painted watercolours.

His rules for writing may not be totally applicable for all of us – we are own writers and although we can learn from others and other great writers, we still have to find our best (and sometimes only) way of working which suits our own lives.

Anyway… here are Henry’s rules:

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  3. Work according to the program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  4. When you can’t create you can work.
  5. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilisers.
  6. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  7. Dont be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  8. Discard the program when you feel like it but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  9. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  10. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

… and here are some observations…

  • other great writers juggled many writing balls in the air at the same time – not that we are necessarily great writers (yet) but maybe it suits us for different reasons to have different projects. However, dipping from one thing to another and never properly forming or  finishing anything probably isn’t a recipe for writing (or any other) success… unless you are extraordinary (which you probably are!)
  • working calmly… this isn’t always possible for everyone – if writing is squeezed into a busy life full of work and family commitments, calm might not e the way you feel – maybe focused is a word you could substitute?  Sometimes agonised writing produces great results – joy sometimes come when the page or piece is finished! … and recklessly – yes – go for it! Just write!
  • working to the programme… working to a timetable? It doesn’t suit all writers! Larks and owls, larks and owls…
  • ‘can’t create? then work‘ – if you come to a dead-end, the well of inspiration is dry, then go back to what you are writing, to what you have written and get into that. editing, checking, rewriting – it’s all part of the process and might start the tap running again!
  • Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilisers… a perfect metaphor
  • I’ve mentioned elsewhere the difficulty and sterility of working in a garret… even if your novel is some dystopian, futuristic fantasy you can still get inspiration and more from getting out into the real here and now world
  • sometimes you need draught-horses… but even draught horses work better if they have an occasional gallop round a field and paddle in a river
  • I don’t know the Programme Miller refers to – maybe it’s his own schedule, maybe he’s teaching and referring to the syllabus, maybe he and his audience were on a challenge like NaNo (see below) However, as with his other advice above, getting into the real work, having some playtime, restores and refuels!
  • You can’t be anything other than yourself when you write – even if you are writing as another character – you are essentially you, nor Miller, not Rowling, not Austen not whoever is your favourite writer – you write as you, be true!
  • you may not have a choice over this, commitments for ordinary people are commitments… however don’t let painting, music, friends, cinema, be an excuse for not writing

© Lois Elsden 2017

NaNO – the National Novel Writing Month – a November challenge to write 50,000 in thirty days

here is a link to my books:

The Heath Robinson onion skinning machine

I haven’t kept up to date with my NaNo diary here – I had imagined that as I worked my way through the 50,000 words which make up the National Novel Writing Month challenge, I would be adding a commentary here on my progress. I didn’t necessarily think it would be a daily thing, but I certainly thought I would keep up to date with my progress, my hurdles, my free-flowing runs of hundreds if not thousands of words.

This year, unlike some others, I have been working steadily and well, and with a firm purpose; I don’t necessarily know where the story is going (although I have a good idea) but nearly every day I have written something… however, and here is the big ‘however’, I have just not managed to meet the target of 1667 words a day, and I have been lagging further and further behind.

A few days ago I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it this year, and I still have doubts… however, I have worked, head down over the last few days, and although I am not on course yet (with only four days to go) it is, I hope manageable…

Here is an extract… my character Milla is thinking back over jobs she had when she was a student… this is actually what I did… worked in a pickle onion factory:

Milla worked on what the boss called his Heath Robinson machine. She sat on a bicycle seat with a treadle beneath one foot and a pedal beneath the other. In front of her was looked like a cog, but with curved teeth; the pedal opened and closed a big hopper beside her containing the onions. The treadle turned the cog and Milla’s job was to put pickling onions one by one onto the teeth as they fed down from the hopper. The onions would enter the rackety machine in front of her and two rotating blades would slice off the ends. Another circular blade sliced the onion skin lengthways as they passed beneath it. The top and tailed sliced onions would pass into an inner region where air was blasted to blow off the skins. The skins fell into a waste bin, the naked onions came out the other end on a conveyor belt.

The three women worked at the other end, checking the onions were properly peeled; they had small sharp knives to complete the job and once properly skinned they would be tossed into a large plastic brine tub.

The noise was phenomenal for a small machine. If the onions jammed in the hopper Milla would slap it or bang it with her shoulder to shift them. When the hopper was empty she got off her bicycle seat and went and got a new sack and emptied it in. The onions came from the Netherlands and once a Dutch onion picker’s knife tumbled out of the hopper onto her tray.

Milla began to use it instead of the knife she had been issued with, imaging the Dutch onion pickle who might be sadly wondering where his favourite knife was. When she left she took the knife wither.

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here’s a link to my published stories, e-books and paperbacks:


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!

and a link to the Moving Dragon blog: