Monthly Archives: November 2011

Friday fiction #3

(For some reason this wouldn’t post yesterday. If you’re looking for the NaNoWriMo peptalk, scroll down one post)

Since it’s Thanksgiving week, the Friday Fictioneers are quiet today, but I still wanted to write, so I went back in time to the picture inspiration from just before I joined them. Here’s what I came up with:


“Horses in the mist? That’s it?”

“What would you prefer?”

“Something more dramatic. Something…”

“Go on.”

“You do the names, I just paint them.” Hayley stepped away from the window to study her latest creation. The horses looked proud and unfettered; no one owned them.

“Better names need more commission.”

“More than 20%?”

“75% of something is better than 80% of nothing.” Fiona was used to getting her own way, even in her sister’s gallery.

Hayley picked up the card from the easel and took the pen. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll name it myself.”

Freedom was her biggest success.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

Chilling after a long day's writing

This year, Toronto’s NaNoWriMo region has a fantastic “adopt a day” pep talk thread. And today is my day. The only problem – overacheiver that I am, I’ve written two pep talks. If you’d like to read about my love affair with WriMos, head over to the forums and have a look at it here:

Otherwise, read on for a cat-centric version.

Nhjmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm                               -swwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww9                        

If you were a cat, you’d find NaNoWriMo incredibly hard. As you can probably tell, one of my cats, Max, is helping me write this pep talk, and he hasn’t got the hang of words at all. It’s possible that I’m wrong, and the above is a word in felinese, but if so, cats are even more hampered, because their words are long, the spaces all come together and the consequence for our poor CatWriMos (WriMews?) is that a lot of effort adds up to not a lot of word count. Not to mention that the ghosts in the bath cannot be left un-pounced for long.

Fortunately, you are not a cat. Whilst in other months, you may look at the life of the domesticated pet with a certain jealousy, in November, you should wake up every morning and spring out of bed grateful that you have fingers with which to type and a language where the average word length is just five letters.  You are probably not as interested eating the keys as Max is, or chewing the screen like Pepsi either.

But, in spite of all these advantages, right now, with just a few days of November left, you might find yourself struggling with NaNo. You may not be a cat, but your cat (possibly in the form of your significant other / roommate / job / housework / immune system) is reaching the end of its tether at a month of playing second fiddle to your writing and is starting to climb on the keyboard and demand attention.

It’s tempting to brush them off. Whether you’re behind on word count (and by behind, I mean for your personal goal, be that 2000 or 200,000; the more I do NaNo, the more I realise 50k is entirely arbitrary) or you might be OK on words, but nowhere near the end of your plot. Or, like me, you might be OK generally, but it’s nearly the end of the month and suddenly you want to make the most of November and not squander it on your real life.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes there are things in life more important than writing. (Yes, really). So I’m here to tell you to take a moment today to stroke that cat. Talk to the person who is missing you most, take the dog for a walk, have a lie in or a nap, lay off the coffee and drink a glass of orange juice, whatever it is, take a moment today to wave to your real life and remind yourself how cool it will be to get back to it in December.

Then WRITE. Write like the wind. Write like there are only five days left of November. Head to the forums for some dares or word count tricks if that’s your thing, or meet me in chat for word wars and off the cuff plot doctoring. Lock yourself in a room or dash out to a write in. Just make sure, wherever you are, you’re WRITING. Because whatever your target is, I believe you can get there, and when you do, your cat will be waiting.

I’ll leave the last word to Pepsi. I just hope she’s not smack-talking Atlanta again!

B                               wssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss6az


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Thanks for the Inspiration #3

A while ago, back in October when the trees had leaves and the temperature had a 2 at the front, Ivan gave me a suggestion for a first line. With apologies for the delay, I would like to present my response, below. As ever, your comments and constructive criticisms are all gratefully received, and if you have an idea for a first line, please leave it on as a comment on any blog post and I’ll post whatever I come up with.

(NaNoWriMo update – 35k and the fifth story almost done).

The Dream Catcher

It is said that in the night air there are good dreams and bad dreams, the Dream Catcher has a reputation for ensnaring the bad ones, letting only pleasant dreams slip through its web and into your sleeping mind. But dream catchers are made by the First Nations people, and they know a lot more about the world than we can ever work out with our machines and our science.

My Dream Catcher came from an old woman, whose long dark hair came almost to the ground where she sat. It was woven into two identical braids, and I found myself staring at them, entranced by the intricacy of their construction. These were not the casual, practical braids of a modern woman, but works of beauty, carefully knitted and held together by some invisible knot. When she handed me the Dream Catcher, I saw the same exquisite detail in its weavings and I hardly dared to touch it.

“Your dreams shape you,” she said softly, her voice several octaves lower than mine, and filled with the same spiritual depth I was sensing in everything around me. I wondered if I was intuiting all these sensations onto the place and the woman because of my expectations, built up by cultural stereotypes. Perhaps she was just an old woman trying to make a quick buck out of a credulous tourist.

“And now I will only have good ones. Does that mean I will be a better man?”

She laughed and turned away. “The Dream Catcher does not do your bidding,” she said after a moment.

The meeting ended a few minutes later, and I stepped out into the sun, admiring again the bright wolf fur which served as a door curtain on her little shop which was probably also her home. I wondered if doors made people like her feel too far away from the land they worshipped. But perhaps she just couldn’t afford a door, or it was out back on a couple of trestles having a paint job.

When I got home, I hung the dream catcher over my bed. That night I dreamed of hollering Indians and frantic horse chases, scenes from the cowboy movies I used to watch as a child. But in the dream, I was an Indian’s horse and the cowboys shot me. I woke up sweating, and almost in tears from the pain and fear I’d been experiencing a moment before.

The Dream Catcher spun in the moonlight.

My ancestors conquered this land and took it from the native people. I had spent a day poking and staring at them like a child pokes at a frog, waiting for it to jump. Or die. I thought about the woman’s smile and her words: “The Dream Catcher doesn’t do your bidding.”

It is said that in the night air there are good dreams and bad dreams, but maybe that doesn’t mean happy dreams and sad dreams at all, perhaps it refers to the lessons they teach.


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Friday Fiction #2

It turns out I got muddled about the different between pages and posts. hh, the joys of learning to blog. So anyway, my friday fiction posts will in future appear here, along with all my other musings. I hope you enjoy them and, as ever, please feel free to leave comments (good or bad).

This week’s inspiration, as ever from was this picture:


“I’m here to enrol my daughter into your class. I hope it’s OK, she’s got her own horse. They are inseparable.” Mrs Dray laid her purse on the desk.

“We do normally provide the horses here.”

“I know, but they’ve been riding together since she was a little girl. You see, Ginger is blind. Josie is her eyes.”

“Wow. A lot of people wouldn’t have bothered. It’s hard enough to take care of a horse as it is. A lot of people would have had Ginger put to sleep.”

“Ginger is my daughter.  Would they still put her to sleep?”


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NaNoWriMo Update

Since I last posted here (that is, since *I* last posted, as opposed to the automatic updates) I’ve travelled half way around the world and back, and a million miles in my subconscious. All of which did exactly as it was meant to do and gave me a new perspective on my life and life plans. However, there’s one thing that doesn’t change and that’s my love of writing.

So, even while I was away, I made a hand-written start on the year’s contribution to National Novel Writing Month – a frenzy of words and friendship that gets the creative juices flowing and, mercifully, has given me something fun to plough straight into as soon as I got off the plane.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my plan this year is just to write the minimum 50,000 words, as opposed to the last two years where I’ve aimed and hit much higher. It’s actually kind of hard to limit yourself to 1667 words per day when you’re in the flow of writing. Well, it is for me anyway. In that first week with a notebook and pen, I barely managed 8k because I was so busy with my travels, but I’ve already caught up and now i just want to keep going.

I’ve completed two of my seven shorts (and 17073 words) – one a fantasy piece about a fallen star and the other a sorry little tragedy about a vagabond in Vancouver. I enjoyed both, although I must admit there is a lot less fantasy in Stargazing than I would have liked. Must try harder on my genre fiction!

Now I’m working on a new story entitled Robin Hood, about one woman’s search for her father’s inheritance. It’s really stretching my creative muscles as it includes extracts from the Tales of Robin Hood book which she’s reading, and it’s also testing my literary knowledge as it includes references and memories of other classics such as Wuthering Heights and the Lord of the Rings (bear in mind I hated the former and haven’t read the latter!).

At seven thousand words each, the biggest challenge with doing these stories for NaNo is not to waste words. It’s easy when caught up in a word war (timed, competitive writing challenges) to just keep writing for the sake of getting something down on the page. But a short story is not like a novel. You don’t just fill the pages any which way; every word, every scene has to contribute something to the overall flow. In a novel, you can weed out or beef up the tangents at the editing stage, but with a short story (especially one with a target word count) there is less room for maneuver. It’s good practice and I’m genuinely loving being back in the writing groove, but it’s a very different challenge from the one most Wrimos are facing this month.

If you would like to keep track of my progress, you can check my profile at

Alternatively, just keep checking back here where I’ll be updating with word count and progress whenever I can.

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Naming Names Part 2

Writing last week’s piece about character names led to me thinking about another challenge for the author on the naming front (and I’m still ignoring the biggest of all naming challenges here, Titles).

In life, most of us know several people who have at some point in their life stopped being referred to by some common derivation of their first name, and instead become known by either another name, or a word not usually thought of as a name at all.

I, for example, have been known as all of: Big J, Sensibility, The Squirrel, Pen, Elmo, Auntie (though my brother has no children), Shylock … and a few things besides.

Because the thing about nicknames is they tend to be group-specific. Most of my friends wouldn’t know who Shylock is, but try persuading Antonio (not her real name either) to use anything else. When I named this blog, my writing pals didn’t bat an eyelid, but everyone else said “Who’s Elmo?”.

The other thing is, nicknames tend to arise organically. You start off calling someone by their given name, then shorten it a bit, then one day you make a mistake or you’re gently teasing them about some aspect of their personality/life/whatever and suddenly you are calling them The Squirrel.

When it comes to authors, we tend to jump in somewhere in the middle of the story. Apart from the odd David Copperfield type epic, we don’t start at birth (and even if we do, it’s only one character’s birth and there are other fully-formed characters to name), so we jump in where people have already acquired nicknames, pet names and terms of endearment with those around them. Somehow we have to find these names, use them and make them seem natural. We might at some point be forced (or allowed) to give the back-story, but equally we might not.

Even if we do, only his school friends will call David “Monty” so the reader is going to have to work out that they are one and the same guy and still get to know David/Monty at the same rate and intimacy we need for the story to succeed. If you’ve ever read Crime and Punishment, I think you’ll agree that having a character referred to by three different names at different times is confusing!

So, what do we do? Well, many authors just avoid the problem and stick to one name. Does anyone call Harry Potter anything other than Harry (or occasionally “Potter”)? No. In spite of the fact that anyone who has been within 5 miles of an English Boarding School knows you can’t survive so much as a term without gaining some convoluted and probably offensive nickname, noone in that series seems to come off with worse than a “nearly-headless” or “moaning” stuck in front of their real name. It’s artifice, but it saves confusion.

But I’m hoping there are ways to make it work. I’ve found it easier to slide terms of endearment into Eric than I thought I would, and as for nicknames and pet names, I suppose it’s a question of working harder on back-story. After all, if you get to know the character well enough, maybe you give him a nickname yourself!


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