Horace – A Working Title!

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It’s been a little while since I posted on this blog. I’ve had a break from my writing since my last self-published memoir – Discovering My Suomi Roots. Guess what? I’m itching to get started with another writing project!

Some time ago I started a fiction work but never finished it. I think the thought of a writing project approaching novel length scared me off somewhat. After all, previously I had only written short stories. And so that led me to embark on a “step by step” approach and build up my word count for my writing projects. Hence the three self-published titles I completed over the last 18 months.

So now it’s time to clean the dust off that old manuscript. I have a few ideas to change it slightly and maybe write it from a different viewpoint to the original partly finished draft.

What’s subject matter? Briefly it’s about a man called Horace who has just retired but whose retirement plans are turned upside down. It’s not a quasi-memoir, but I guess I can relate to some aspects of it having retired almost five years ago. The title? Well I haven’t figured that out at the moment but for now we’ll just use the working title of Horace.

Like my other projects I have set myself an initial timescale for completion of the first draft. Hopefully I can achieve this by the end of November this year. With the editing process I should be looking at a finished work sometime during H2 next year (2018). That’s the plan anyway!

I’ll endeavour to post some regular updates to this blog updating my progress. Wish me luck!

 

First Draft Complete – Now The Real Work Begins!

Finally I finished the first draft of Discovering My Suomi Roots on time (by a couple of days!). Now the real work begins!

The first draft I always find hard work. I’m more of a plotter than a pantser that’s for sure. But, despite all the  planning at the outset, I still find it hard working my way through to completion. Somehow I manage to plod along convincing myself it will all be worth it in the end.

My planned structure and content for a writing project always has to be flexible. As I am writing I find other detail I have overlooked for inclusion. Or ideas on how I might tell the story differently suddenly strike me. So there has to be some flex in your plan.

It is very tempting to look back and start rewriting parts of your writing that you know will have to be rewritten. Avoid this! Your focus needs to be aimed at completing the initial draft. Revision comes later!

Once completed, for me, the enjoyable part comes next. I find the revision process much easier. You have something tangible to work with even if you are working with a very rough first draft. My words and thoughts flow easier. I am much more relaxed as the story starts to come to life and take shape.

But without that first draft there can be no revision process!

 

 

 

Writing That First Draft

This is a major learning year for me. Up to the end of last year I had written a few short stories and non-fiction articles. Most of those being assignments for a creative writing course I was studying.

In 2016 I was determined to turn my hand to some larger writing projects and learn a little more about the craft of self-publishing. To date I have released a couple of short works – a personal memoir and a non-fiction title, both about 15000 words each. Not long writing projects by any means, but a big step for me.

Over the last couple of weeks I have begun my next writing project in earnest and I am 13000+ words into it – less than half way. When I started writing I read an awful lot of blogs and articles on the subject. I have tried to pick out advice and tips that work for me to help me along the way.

Here’s what I’ve learned to date about writing the first draft :

The Right Environment

Firstly you need to find the right personal environment to write. No matter what you are writing you need somewhere that suits you. I have learned that everybody is different and has different preferences. Personally, I like to take myself off into a quiet study room, when I am writing at home. No music, just peace and quiet. This helps me gather my thoughts. Either early morning or early evening is when I tend to do my writing, setting an hour or two aside to focus on it.

Planning

I’m a planner. I like to be organised and have structure. Even with a structure I can still be flexible with my writing but at least it gives me the comfort of a framework to work within.

I use Scrivener for my writing but you can use any writing software that you are familiar and comfortable with. I plan out the chapter structure using the cork board option within the program. Once I have completed that process I then plan out the content for individual chapters making notes on the subject matter I want to include. These are easily accessible and to hand within the Project file as is any research I have done.

You should have a basic idea on how long the writing project is likely to be in terms of word count. This is something you don’t necessarily have to stick to unless of course you are writing an article or story to specific word count guidelines. It will however give you an approximate guide of what you should be aiming for. If you have set yourself a timescale for completing your first draft you can then quite easily work out a daily word count target.

Set yourself a daily word count and stick to it. Any deviations should be exceptional. This certainly helps keep me on track to progress and finish the project once I have started.

With everything set up I am then ready to write.

Writing

Write until you finish the first draft. Do not look back on your work with the intent of revising any of it until you have finished. Doing so is fatal, as I have found. It just gives you an excuse to slowdown or stop the whole process of finishing your work.

Your ideas on individual chapter content might alter as you progress your writing. Rather than make any drastic amendments immediately I always wait until I finish the first draft. If need be I make any necessary notes to myself in the manuscript itself. I can always cut and paste chunks of text later into other chapters as part of the revision process.

Usually if I look back on what I have written I see a lot of obvious amendments I need to make. These may be areas where I could have used more or better dialogue, use of cliches, too much useage of particular words or phrases, etc. I leave any amendments until the second revision.

After The First Draft

Once I have finished the first draft that’s when the real work begins for me. Shaping and finalising the writing into a completed work. How many revisions does it need? I need to be happy that it’s as good as I can make it so I don’t set myself a revision maximum. However there has to be a limitation to the number of revisions you undertake to bring it up to an acceptable standard.

I have found writing to be a continual learning experience.

My Thoughts On Scrivener IOS

 

I use Scrivener on my MacBook Pro for my writing projects and have done for almost 12 months now. I probably don’t use it to it’s full capacity but I use the bits I need to help me organise my writing.

When I heard that Scrivener IOS was finally coming out I got really excited. At last I would have a copy of my favourite writing application running on my iPad. But how would it run? Would it be anywhere near as functional as the Mac version? What about the screen size?

I suppose the main reason for wanting a version of Scrivener on my iPad was for when I was away from home on holiday. I always leave my laptop behind and travel with my lighter iPad. At last I would have a seamless process to continue or start a writing project without having to manually swap files to Scrivener on my laptop whenever I came back home.

As it happens the IOS version was released just before I embarked on my Austrian summer holiday. So just in time to test out and as it happens I have started another writing project. I’ve brought my 9.7 inch iPad Pro with me together with an Apple Magic Keyboard that I use with my Mini Mac at home. It’s a nice keyboard and a much cheaper option than buying the proprietary keyboard that goes with the Pro.

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All set up and ready to go!

I’d just thought I’d give you a few impressions of the new IOS version. This is by no means a review as there are plenty good, detailed reviews out there – just a few thoughts.

  • Syncing through Dropbox I have found to be straightforward. Before I went on holiday I set up the structure of the project file on my laptop, added research files, etc and saved to Dropbox. With the app on my iPad I was able to pick up the file and sync everything perfectly to my iPad. I tested this a few times with different variations and found my laptop and iPad syncing without any issues. So for me, a trouble free easy process.
  • Screen size is not an issue at all. The screen certainly doesn’t look cluttered and I have found it a pleasant experience. In two weeks I am 10k+ words through my project which is on target with the word count I set. I think that alone is testament to the practicability of the set up I am using and the ease of use of the IOS release.
  • I like the fact that you can have your notes easily accessible on the left hand side of the screen without having to switch to another screen and therefore interrupting your creative flow.
  • Referring to recently accessed documents/chapters/research/etc is easily undertaken with the relevant menu button at the top of the screen. You can then use the same button to flick back to the document you’re working on.
  • Session word count against your target is available just like the laptop versions. The total word count of your particular writing project is also displayed.
  • Cork board is very user friendly and easy to use. I have found no issues with that.

I have explored all the various functions but, as with the laptop versions, you can customise the display screens, fonts, etc.

In summary I am enjoying using the iPad version. It really has been a godsend and I am sure I will use it even when I get back home. The price may be off-putting for some put I consider it to be well worth the money.

The developers have done a first class job with the level of functionality of this application. So don’t delay if you want the flexibility of writing on the move!

Car Park Misery

“I HATE this bloody car park!”

“You say that every time” my better half calmly retorted.

I was wound up tighter than the cork I had unpopped in that bottle of Beaujolais last night. What had started off as a routine Saturday morning trip was turning out to be another nightmare.

We had set off later than I`d have liked and the illuminated signs at my usual car park told me it was full – how do they know? Does someone sit there counting the cars in and presumably out again? I doubt it but I wasn`t going to take the chance of spending my Saturday morning going around in ever decreasing circles.

So here I was at the car park from hell where half an inch between cars was a bonus. The sole aim of the proprietors seemed to be to squeeze as much metal and rubber into this place as possible regardless of the consequences! And, of course, there was the obligatory four-wheel drive parked breaching the yellow line next to me. I`d have to have the elasticity of Mr Fantastic from the Fantastic Four to even remotely have any chance of getting out of this car.

Reversing out, the car radar was like a hyperactive child with a constant warning tone filling my ears.

“Watch this side” barked my wife.

“I`m too busy watching this four-wheel monstrosity” I shouted. “Besides, the radar will warn …”

Too late, I could here the sound of scraping metal ringing in my ears above the high pitched noise of the radar warning. Having extracted myself from the space they called a parking bay, I got out the car to inspect the damage. Not a mark on his car but mine looked like someone had taken an electric grinder to it! That would cost a pretty penny to put right, I thought.

I got back into the car. My other half had that smug ‘I told you so’ look on her face. Nothing needed to be said. I quietly drove out of that metal graveyard vowing never to return but knowing full well there was every likelihood I`d be back again next Saturday to do battle again.

The Letter

It was hard for George to stir himself from bed on that morning of all mornings. To tell you the truth it had been hard for him over the last 3 months. He had felt nothing but an emptiness in his life. A great big void that refused to be filled.

It reminded him of the time his family moved house all those years ago. He remembered it all so well. Like yesterday. His father got moved with his job. It was difficult enough for him at that age but the long move up north meant he would leave all his friends be- hind. He protested with his parents for weeks beforehand but in the end he had to accept the inevitable. He found it hard to make new friends easily.

It was his first day at the new school. He felt so alone and vulnerable but tried not to show it for fear of upsetting his mother. She had waved him goodbye at the school gates. He stood there alone in the playground. The energy and noise from the other children re- verberated all around him. He wanted to find somewhere at that precise moment to hide and close his eyes until it was time to go home.

As he stood there his gaze met that of a young girl who stood with a group of friends. She had a round face with blonde unruly hair but otherwise was neatly dressed. Her eyes met his and it was if she understood his uncertainty in that instance. Even at that young age she had stood out from the other girls and had a smile which would always melt his heart.

She walked over smiling and gently said, “You must be the new boy. It must be a bit strange for you at a new school and all. Come and meet my friends and I`ll show where our class is when the bell goes.”

He was mesmerised by her right from the start. She stayed by his side and looked after him for the rest of the day making sure that he found his way to all his classes. She showed him where to go at break times. George did not want that day to end. To his de- light the same routine followed the next day and the days that followed. They formed a close friendship and he quickly forgot the friends he had left behind.

He remembered all the fun they had together during those innocent school days and the pranks they used to play on each other. That wicked mischievous smile remained with her throughout her life. They shared many laughs together over the years and into married life.

George knew from that first day at school that they would be with each other for the rest of their lives. He thought Ethel did too but she refused to admit it to him opting to keep George “on his toes” as she liked to call it. Usually followed by that smile of hers.

Now there was just emptiness in his life. She had been a fighter he remembered. In those last days he knew she had been in considerable pain but typical of Ethel she refused to show it. She was protecting him again from the reality of it all and would have called it “keeping a brave face”. Something she had always been good at.

The pain was still with him. Watching someone fight for their last breath was not easy. In the end she had to let go of her tenuous grip on life. He had cried so much during those early days unable to accept the final reality of it all. Why on earth had it happened to Ethel he had thought at the time.

Gradually a numbness settled over his life. He rebuffed any contact with family and friends. He preferred to mourn her loss on his own despite their best efforts to the con- trary. Finally, a reluctant but inevitable acceptance settled over him, and now there was only the void left which Ethel had previously filled.

Today of all days felt especially difficult for George. It was their wedding anniversary. A day they always looked forward to. The routine had always been the same over the years.

They would start by having breakfast in bed whist looking through their old wedding al- bum. George would arrange for a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to Ethel sometime during the morning from the local florist. Pink roses. She always liked pink roses he thought. George would then whisk her off to somewhere he had picked out for lunch. Out in the country, followed by a slow drive back home.

It would be different today but he decided he would keep to some of the old routine whilst having breakfast. He carefully took the album from the sideboard drawer. Apart from the formal photographs there were those from wedding guests tucked in the back of the album. No matter how careful he was when taking it from the drawer one or two pho- tographs always fell out. Today was no exception.

Amongst the fallen photographs on the floor his gaze focused on a white envelope which fell with them. His attention was on the handwriting which was unmistakably Ethel’s de- spite being shaky. The envelope was simply addressed to him and sealed.

George froze, knowing that he had not seen this when he had taken the album out last year. His upper lip visibly trembled as he bent down to pick the envelope up. He then sat down but could hardly dared open it. Emotion welled up in his eyes. Carefully he opened it. Inside was a letter in the same handwriting as on the front of the envelope. The letter

was written on two sheets of the pink floral writing paper he had bought Ethel for her birthday. Slowly he read it :

Darling George,

I know you will be reading this letter on our special day.

Forgive my handwriting but it is difficult for me to hold the pen steady. With each day that passes I feel I am slipping further and further away from you and thought it would be better to write this note to you now rather than leave it much longer.

You are probably wondering how I managed to slip this letter into the album. Well, you will recall I asked for one last look of our photographs towards the end. I knew that you would take them out and look at them today. Our day. You always were a creature of habit!

George I hope you are looking after yourself. You always took pride in your appearance even on that first day we met. I still remember the newly pressed school uniform you wore. So unlike the other boys, who looked as though they had rolled around in the mud. Come to think of it they probably had! I never told you George but right from that first day I knew that you were for me. A girl has to have some secrets from her husband!

You always were so different from the other boys. Kind and considerate with a genuine sense of fun. Life throws an awful lot of stuff at you and you have to have a laugh along the way. I felt I did with you George.

But life moves on. I know you will have found it difficult these last few weeks. You will have moped around refusing any help. I know you too well. You are a good man George and really deserve to live out the rest of your life with the same happiness that we enjoyed together.

It is hard for me to write this letter but I really do want you carry on with a full life. You deserve it. The memories and our love together, no one can take away. These memories and that love made us the people we are. You must continue to live on.

My love will be with you forever more as I know your love will be for me. But that love needs to continue in your life. You have friends all around you and I want you to enjoy the rest of your life George. I really mean it and I know this may even mean meeting a lady friend some time in the future. Bring her the same happiness you brought to me.

Only one small proviso – make sure she moves aside when your time comes to join me!

I will always love you.

Your darling wife Ethel

Tears slowly trickled down the creases in George`s face. Ethel had known she was near the end. Even then she had casts thoughts of herself aside and thought only of George. Looking after him again. Just like those early school days.

George spent the rest of the morning looking through the album and reliving the memo- ries caught on camera. He reread Ethel`s letter several times and carefully put it in the back of the album with the loose photographs. He knew he would get them out again next year no matter what happened. His memorial to Ethel he would call it.

Later that day he picked up the telephone and slowly pressed some familiar numbers.

“Hello,” the voice said at the other end.

“Hello Peggy, it`s Dad”

“Hello Dad?” There was a tone of surprise in Peggy`s voice.

“Is it okay if I come for tea next Sunday?”

“We would love you to come Dad … it`s been so long …” There was obvious emotion in Peggy`s voice. He could sense she was crying at the other end. George shed a tear or two also. Tears of joy.

When George had finished on the telephone he knew what he needed to do. He had to live his life. Ethel was right. He would remember her always but he needed to move on.

The Price of Love

He knew he should not have had that last pint. Typically Richard had insisted when the landlord had called last orders and Simon`s brain had tried to make the rationale choice but the lure of more alcohol easily won the argument. Still he had just managed to catch the last bus home and get back to his flat just after midnight.

That was the least of his concerns at this moment. For some reason he always booted up his laptop when he got back from a drinking session. It was force of habit and a need for him to do something before he went to bed. He had just pressed the enter button on the keyboard and he knew there was no turning back now. He could not believe what he had just done. Still the combination of the tiredness and alcohol meant that he was somewhat numbed to the implications. He decided he would go to bed and think about it in the morning. It was a work day the next morning and he knew he was going to have a hangover.

The next morning Simon was not wrong. He had the mother of all hangovers when he awoke. He dragged himself to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. He looked like hell. All he saw was a red bleary eyed image grimly staring back at him. He had looked better he thought. His hair was spilling out in all directions. Normally, with a little gel, there was a little semblance of order to the thick brown covering. Still a shower might help.

He felt a little better after his shower but his head stilled thumped a steady beat. After getting ready he drank a cup of thick black coffee with a couple of painkillers before he left for work. This was becoming his usual breakfast after a night on the beer. He barely took any notice on the commuter ride into the office preferring to catch up on the sleep that he had missed out on the night before.

It was only when he got off the train he thought back to the night before and realised what he had done. Now the worry and concern would set in. When really it should be excitement and anticipation. On the way to work he stopped at a newsagent to buy a copy of Rugby World. He might need this he thought.

When Simon arrived at the office Richard was already at his desk and knowing him had probably been there since 8 am. Simon knew that Richard`s powers of recuperation were second to none.

Richard looked up from his desk. His round freckled face grinned when he saw Simon. “Looks as though you had a rough night, Si!”

“Remind me next time not to go out with you on a work night again.” Simon replied as he made his way to his desk over beside a window.

Simon`s first priority was another coffee before he booted up his desktop computer. At the coffee machine he spotted Penny at her desk working. She was a nice dark haired girl who had moved into the area about 3 months ago. She was quiet but had a bubbly personality just under the surface he had discovered on the few occasions he had engaged her in conversation outside work. He liked her but did not have the courage to ask her out. Besides she still had a boyfriend in the South Midlands where she had moved up from.

“Er, how are you today, Penny?” he said, blurting out the first thing that came into his head. He could feel the blood rush to his facial area.

She looked up and studied him carefully. “Better than you look,” she said. A gentle smile spread over her face.

He liked her smile. His turn to stay something. Simon stumbled for his words. “Richard`s fault, leading me astray again,” he managed to force out looking in Richard`s direction and taking the attention away from his glowing face. He glanced and saw Penny smile again. That would help him get through the day he mused.

Simon went back to his desk with his hands tightly clamped around his coffee. His colour had returned to normal as he switched on his computer and saw Richard ambling over. All he wanted to do was try and get through the day with as little social interaction as he could he thought.

“We nearly scored with those two birds last night, Si?” He made sure he was overheard.

Simon thought we had as much chance of scoring with them as turning out for the England soccer team. Still he would humour Richard. “Shame their boyfriends were at the bar though,” he replied.

“I had some good chat up lines though, Si!” Richard liked to think of himself as a bit of a lady`s man. In reality he was as sad as Simon when it came to girls. He did have bluff and bravado on his side which is why Simon tagged along with Richard when he was out.

“You certainly were on tip top form,” Simon lied. They had a brief exchange of the highlights of the previous night before Richard wandered back to his desk.

Simon found it hard to concentrate on work. His thoughts were on last night and he visibly cringed the more he thought about it. He had been browsing an online auction website when he came across that advert. He had seen it two nights previous and knew he would look back to check out how it was going.

He could not really believe what was being auctioned. He had never seen the like of it before. Probably smacked of desperation he thought Not even worth a bid. Too risky and a complete waste of money.

When he had looked again last night he saw that there had been a lot of bidding activity. For and for some reason he had impulsively keyed in a maximum bid well above the most recent bid. He did not know why. Well, yes he did, a beer too many that gave him that extra bravado. Now he was the highest bidder, or at least he was last night. What if he won? He did not even know what exactly he was getting for his bid or whether he could pluck up the courage to go through with it. The auction finished at 8pm that night and that was the only thing on his mind. He just wanted to get through the day and watch the minutes tick down on the screen, not sure exactly what outcome he wanted.

At lunchtime he sat by himself trying to avoid conversation and reading the magazine he had bought on the way to work. Richard sat beside him briefly and asked why the sudden interest in rugby. Simon fobbed him off with some excuse and then went over to try to talk with Penny when he saw that Simon`s attention was elsewhere. Simon managed to get through the rest of the day.

On the way home he got himself a takeaway which he quickly consumed back at the flat before switching on his laptop. He navigated to the auction site to check on his bid. Simon did not know whether he was happy or not when he discovered he was still the highest bidder.

The clock was ticking away. He read the auction details one more time :

Hello potential bidders. I am female and 22 years old and live in Leeds. The successful bidder will be entitled to a blind date (hence no photo) with me at a public venue of their choice. They will need to pay all costs and expenses for the evening. As I am straight, this auction is open to males only in the age range 20-30.

Good luck with your bids.

Rugbygirl54

Sparse on detail Simon thought. Yet people had bid. He and they had no idea what she looked like. It all seemed a bit desperate. What sort of girl would subject herself to this type of auction he wondered. What must she look like? A multitude of questions buzzed through his mind. What about the bidders themselves including me? He tried to console himself with the fact he had not taken a girl out in 11 months. But that did not make him feel any better. It did sounded as if she might be into sport or rugby at least. Did that mean she was fit? His imagination shifted up a gear and was really working overtime now.

He looked at the auction clock ticking down. Two minutes to go. Someone was bound to put in a last minute bid. That always happened to him. Forty five seconds to go and then that fateful message came through – You have been outbid!

Simon felt some relief at first but then disappointment. He would not have to go through with it. Twenty seconds left – he decided quickly he would put in another bid. This would be nearly a months salary but what the hell it was only money. Quickly he keyed the amount in. Two seconds. He pressed the enter.

Almost instantaneously came the message – Congratulations, you have been successful with your bid!

He had done it now he thought, no turning back. He quickly made the payment through the auction site and did not have to wait long for an email to come through from the seller. It simply read :

Congratulations Macho-Man1534 on your successful bid. Thank you for your payment. I will leave it to you to arrange the details of our date and look forward to hearing from you.

Rugbygirl54

Of all the auction nickname he could of chosen, what possessed him to choose that one. Maybe it was the fact he was going to the gym at the time. So cheesy, but there must have been 1533 others he thought with the same idea. This offered him some reassurance.

He decided to reply straight away while he was on a roll. Quickly he typed :

Hi Rugbygirl54

Let`s meet in the Red Lion near the bus station in the town centre at 8pm tomorrow night.

Macho-Man1534

He pressed the enter button and then worried about how he would recognise her. He need not have bothered. The reply came back :

Hello Macho-Man1534

Perfect. I`ll be wearing a pink T shirt with black jeans. I will have a pink shoulder bag. So hopefully, recognisable.

See you tomorrow night.

Rugbygirl54

No backing out now he thought. He could not concentrate on anything else the rest of that night and at work the next day.

So it was now Friday night and he had just walked through the main door into the Red Lion bar with a certain amount of hesitance. He had forgotten how busy this place got on a Friday night. There were people all around him as he pushed his way to the bar.

He tried to peer past the melee of people but was finding it difficult and wished he had thought more carefully about the venue and picked somewhere more quieter. He heard the loud tones of what sounded like Richard off to his side near the bar despite the constant beat of the music all around. . Yes it was him, the last person he wanted to see. He knew if Richard saw him he would want to come over and see what he was up to especially as he had declined a Friday night drinking session earlier in the day.

Simon quickly veered off in the other direction. Was that Penny in another corner. He could not see who she was with but suddenly he went into panic mode. Too many people he knew here. He should of gone for a meeting place. Too late now or was it? In that instance he decided to head back towards the entrance.

He heard a voice above the crescendo of noise call out to him and turned around to see Penny making her way towards him. Too late he thought.

“Hi Simon, or should I say Macho-Man?” she said with a glint in her eye. Had he heard her right? Then he noticed she had a pink bag and it all became clear.

“It`s you, I mean Rugbygirl. How did you know it was me?”

“Well Richard does have a big mouth and I think he might have mentioned that nickname of yours when I first arrived. If you remember he was always trying to chat me up until he eventually got the message.

When I saw you reading that rugby magazine the other day I had a little inkling but couldn`t be sure.” she said.

“Right. So you like rugby?”

“No, I hate it. The rugby connection – well you know I`m from the South Midlands. Well our family home is in Rugby.”

Realisation suddenly sunk in for Simon. While he was on a roll he thought he had better ask that awkward question, “What about your boyfriend?” He winced as he spoke.

“It`s all right. We split up just after I moved here.”

Simon`s stance relaxed as Penny words came out. A big smile spread over his face.

Penny looked around and asked, “It`s a bit noisy in here Simon, besides Richard …”

“That would be a great idea,” Simon interrupted. “I know a place just down the road.” Definitely worth a month`s salary he thought as he gently reached for Penny`s hand and led her towards the door.