NaNoWriMo : Where I Possibly Upset A Few Folk By Calling Them Tampons.

Write what you know.

It’s a piece of advice that crops up time and time again, and yet it bears repeating despite being so incredibly obvious.
Met an interesting woman behind the counter at the local chemist? Voila! You have your rambunctious Madam at Ye Olde House of Ill Repute and Clap Ointment Emporium. The spotty teenager who has the shelf-stacking job at the supermarket around the corner? He’s Patient Zero, fresh off the first commercial space flight ready to infect the Southern Hemisphere with a rather nasty epidermis-melting plague that rapidly decimates the human population. Except the Australians, obviously, cos they’re a hardy bunch.

Literally anyone can be lifted from reality, moulded by your requirements, and utilised to make you a crap load of cash. Some woman once met a hairy biker with a passion for urban horticulture down the pub, and decided a few years later to write about him in a bunch of books, and named him Hagrid. That turned out pretty well for her, so it’s good enough for me.

So the plan is:
1) Go out.
2) Meet interesting people.
3) Steal them.
4) Do a bit of writing.
5) Sit back, count money, move to tax haven.

Except…

I’m an introvert with social anxiety issues.
I kid you not.
I don’t really seem the type, do I? But like it or not, writing about what I know would end up being a 100,000 word monologue on the latest exploits going down in my fish tank.(The harlequins are a rather pleasant shade of pink, much like a freshly boiled prawn. Whenever I sit, nose pressed against the aquarium glass, I can’t help but wonder as they dart around exactly what they’d taste like dipped in cocktail sauce. In case you were wondering.)
It’s hard to write about people when you generally prefer to avoid them. I didn’t always.I dimly recall social interaction in my distant past, but what can I say? People can be bastards and I’d rather have a nice evening in with cats. And by “evening” I mean “rest of my life”.

People, to me, are like energy tampons. Some are heavy-duty and you just know from looking at them that they’re gonna suck and suck, others are moderately absorbent and you can hold out a bit longer. My Hubby, bless, is more of a pantyliner. He can be around all day and sometimes I need him, and sometimes I don’t, but he’s reliable enough to not potentially give me Toxic Shock Syndrome ( which, incidentally, comes second in the list of most embarrassing ways to die, directly after “death by much too large object being placed up your own bottom”) . He also doesn’t take it personally if I sneeze and accidentally pee on him… but I digress…

So what do you write about when you have to “write what you know”?

Day 3 : The enlightening self-help book.

Whilst I may seem to be the glowing poster girl for mental health, I am in fact just a smidgen mental. I flit playfully between “slightly eccentric” and “within spitting distance of psychotic”, but I’m largely just a big ol’ pain in my own arse, and that’s kept me out of the local nuthouse. Sadly, a lot of Borderliners can’t say the same. The stats for self harm and suicide are pretty depressing. We’re a damaged bunch and often a lot of hard work all round. I like to think I’m worth the effort, though the voice in my head says otherwise. ( The voice is me, by the way, not Jesus or Satan. I’m not *that* barking. But I do go on and on, one long derisory load of bull that makes me want to slam my head in the fridge occasionally ).

What life-changing advice could I possibly offer?
Here’s what I came up with :

1) You are not your diagnosis. All is not black or white ( though your nature may be screaming at you to see it that way ), and this is just a part of what you are. It’s no more you than that cracking pair of jugs you’ve got, or that genius IQ, or the propensity to ingrowing toenails, or that ability to roll your tongue. Those are you too, but they shouldn’t define you either. It’s not something to be ashamed of, you didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to let the cheese slide right off your cracker, it just is what it is.

2) It’s vital to have a happy place, physically and mentally, and I’d heartily recommend sensory aids. Mine are:
a) My cats. My cats are freakin’ awesome. They’re just regular cats who do regular cat stuff ( nap, leave fur everywhere, vomit under the sofa ), but who *like me best*. Being followed around the house makes me feel like some sort of cat whisperer guru. You just can’t buy that sort of self-esteem boost.
b) Ice cream. It’s a cliché , but it works. Not that cheap nasty crap though. Buy the stuff that cost 4 times the price and that you have to hide at the back of the freezer behind the frozen spinach to keep the kids from eating it. If they want some they can just bloody well go buy their own. Freeloaders.
c) My dressing gown. It’s fluffy, huge, and it loves me. When I’m at my worst I’ll even go to bed in it, like some sort of onesie security blanket. Hubby hates it and says that it occasionally smells like a dead dog, but he’s just jealous of what we have.
d) My filofax and stationery. So I like to stick pretty stickers of frogs on stuff… don’t judge me! My extensive selection of washi tape doesn’t, and neither should you.
e) The sound of rain, and sitting on the beach. It’s probably a white noise thing, but it’s soothing in a way that medication isn’t. Not that I’m anti medication. If that works for you, then by all means take those babies and do it without feeling like some sort of life failure. People in pain take painkillers, same for you. Just a different drug.
Some people include photos of their kids, I don’t. Instead I include pictures that my kids have drawn for me. The distinction is very clear. The photos are a cause of stress when I’m already pushed to the max because it tricks me into thinking that I’m letting these kids down. Pictures that they’ve made for me, however, highlight that I’m doing ok. In them everyone is always smiling and Mama is always pictured biggest with a heart for a face and lots of kisses. Apart from the one where I’m depicted as a big ball wearing a bra. Not quite sure how to take that one, but I make sure not to walk around in my underwear anymore, just in case. Which, ironically, brings me to my last point …

3) Yes, you can still be a parent. Whilst a lot of Borderliners are the product of bad parenting themselves, you can step up and procreate without fearing for the sanity of your offspring. You’ll need a supportive partner. You’ll need to take turns and sometimes you’ll have to be absent whilst you go stroke your dressing gown behind a locked bedroom door. And you will, on occasion, stumble. But guess what? “Normal” parents do that too. It’ll be fine. Have faith in yourself, it’s half the battle.

OK, so maybe just a short book then. Less time reading, more time on working on it and taking it easier on yourself. I can live with that.

Tomorrow I may take a bash at erotica. At the very least that should do my viewing stats the world of good.

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NaNoWriMo : The One Where, Against All Odds, I Haven’t Given Up Yet.

Today’s suggested genre is Western.
Western western western.
I’m just letting that sink in, because I hate westerns. Western books , western films, western tv series. Urgh. Though if it’s any help at all I really like horses. Not riding them, mind, cos those beasts are way too big for my liking. I refuse to mount anything larger than a sofa cushion. ( And cos I’m a nice girl I resisted the temptation to type “my Husband” in that last sentence ). However, I love the look of horses. I just don’t like the idea of the dirty, testosterone-pumped chaps-wearing cattle-hasslers that ride them. No offense to my probably non-existent cowboy readership… I’m sure you’re very nice and don’t have a spittoon full of sludge in your living room at all.
At a push I’d have to say that any interest I may have in the genre would purely be in the indigenous people, who …in the biggest instance of “surely you’ve got to be taking the piss” irony of all time… were often referred to as “savages”.
Yeah, I’m not touching that one with a 10 foot pole, thanks.
However, “Western” is my submitted suggestion, and writers don’t always get to write about what they want to. For some it’s a job rather than a calling from your deity of choice, so you just have to suck it up and put on your big girl panties.
Western.
Western western western.

Hold on one second…. is “Western” a genre at all? I’m not just saying that because I’d really like to sashay my way out of this one, it’s a genuine question. A western where the handsome hero saves the farm-owning widow from the dastardly black-suited property tycoon is a romance, surely? The western where the mistrustful cowpoke is nursed back to health after his horse bolts and proceeds to slam him face first into a suspiciously large but well hidden boulder by the tribe of exotic loincloth-wearing natives and he becomes one of their clan is a drama, isn’t it? The western with a lot of Jewish people in it? A Mel Brooks screenplay.

So, for the sake of argument I’ll make mine a western in the style of fiction. That’s nice and non-specific.

Day 2 : Western

It would start with a glorious introduction to the beauty of the Wild and Almost-Entirely-Not-Screwed-Up West. There would be grandiose descriptions of sweeping plains, leisurely sauntering wildebeest casually chewing as tumbleweed do what tumbleweed do best ie: exit stage left. As a side note, did you know that “tumbleweed” isn’t one particular plant, but in fact it could be any number of plants that have dried up and taken to tumbling around in a random fashion? I didn’t. I feel like my IQ has gone up 3 points just for knowing that fact, and for extra have-a-cookieness I get a shiny sticker for having done research! Writers do a lot of research, and as such I feel I am one step closer to my goal now. Hurrah!

Enter our plucky heroine, who isn’t seeking to avenge the murder of her parents on the ol’ homestead, and neither is she part of a travelling caravan of settlers looking for the right patch of green to settle down and raise some young’uns. She’s a regular gal with a regular life in a regular dusty town who just happens to be trotting around her neighbourhood on her below-average height horse.

She meets a native man who, amazingly, doesn’t even attempt to take the top of her head off, and in return she doesn’t run screaming to the local posse and end up being responsible for the deaths of his entire village. There’s possibly some light flirtation but it never goes anywhere. I’ve read Romeo and Juliet, and seen West Side Story, and In-Laws are a tricky enough thing to manage at the best of time, let alone when firearms are involved.

They meet up, purely by chance, now and then over the years, each learning to speak a bit of the other’s language. She meets a nice farmer-type and settles down. He finds his partner and they raise a family. It’s all good, everyone’s happy.
Alas, sadness attack! Plucky Heroine become Sickly Heroine and croaks. There are tears. And more tumbleweed, cos I’m really diggin’ that stuff now.
Native man attends funeral, weapon-carrying townsfolk act in typical weapon-carrying fashion. Husband steps in front of him, acting as a shield, and it becomes apparent that Recently Deceased Heroine told Nice Farmer Husband all about her friend and Native Man finally realises how much their friendship was worth. Warm fuzzy feelings abound.

The End.

I’m feeling good about this and I feel that I’ve learned a few valuable lessons, and not just about flora and fauna.
I’ve learned that it really does help if you write about what you love, cos otherwise it’s like being constipated and trying to pass a cantaloupe. Having enthusiasm and being able to genuinely transmit that to the reader really makes all the difference.
It’s so hard to write something that hasn’t been written a hundred times before, and with that in mind the vision you have in your head is *everything*.
I’ve also learned the importance of research. Can you imagine the shame of writing my novel only to be globally scorned by tumbleweed experts for my ignorance of all things dry weed related? It would make a mockery of everything! And folks really do focus on those sort of details, cos nothing makes a smartypants happier that being able to ridicule text that is out there for all to see. It’s part of the reason why the internet is so popular and swarming with folk that really could do with a good hard clip around the ear.

And on to Day 3. Are we having fun yet?

NaNoWriMo : Writing Novel Make Brain Hurt.

I’m pretty sure that anyone who has ever put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and written anything has at some point had someone say to them “Wow… you should totally write a book!” and if you like writing it’s a pretty good bet that you’ve given it some thought. Sure, why not? After all, you’ve read some ropey old novels in your time, surely you can do better than that…. So you sit down and you start.
Then you make some coffee.
Then you think about it a bit.
And finally you give up the idea and go get a “proper” job, because who’d have thought it… flowing narrative makes your brain hurt.
Every now and then the prospect nudges you again, and you entertain it, but much like an uncomfortable visit by your Aunty Edna and 2 unlikable cousins, you usher it out of the door at the end of the night and go to bed, leaving a random scattering of dry roasted peanuts on the sofa and 87 dirty mugs containing dribbles of tea in the sink.
Writing is hard for most people ( except in Finland, according to the BBC, who tell us that 1 in 10 people have a published novel there. What the…?! Finnish tv must be appalling. )and unless you’re channelling the spirit of Tolkien it’s something that’s going to take a lot of chocolate to get through.

I’m going to write a novel this month.
Well, maybe a novella.
Entirely more likely, a long-ish pamphlet.
Certainly more than a paragraph.

Great idea, huh?
All I need is a plot. And a genre. And inspiration. Stamina. Tea.

I gave my genre a lot of thought, and got absolutely nowhere. I knew very well what I couldn’t do… anything historically accurate, for starters, and asking friends for their input yielded a range of suggestions, most of which were extremely well-intentioned and moderately useless. This exercise taught me 3 things… 1) most people either don’t read, or don’t know the difference between “plot” and “genre”, 2) Everyone in the universe seems to have a plot floating around their head… except me. And 3) People will suggest EVERYTHING under the sun. Except porn. They’ll read it, no matter how dire it is, but they won’t suggest it.

So what’s a girl to do?

Try it all, that’s what. Hopefully at the end I’ll have written, if not a novel, maybe a novel lite. Or just a rough outline… that would work too. Day by day, word by word, inching my way across the narrow ledge of literacy, clinging to the rusting drain pipe of inspiration, hoping not to nose-dive to a squishy death of crapness. It’s a plan.

Day 1 – Sci-Fi.

“Of course, it wasn’t the first time I’d killed my husband. In fact, it’s not even the first time this week, and I really wouldn’t put it past myself to off him again a few times next month, depending on how plain annoying he gets.” is how I’d start my epic of modest proportions. I like the idea of being able to mercilessly beat about the head an annoying spouse on a regular basis without repercussions, and with an extensive array of blunt instruments. Anyone who’s ever been married for any length of time and has had a heavy frying pan in one hand knows what I’m talking about. Except those goodie goodie “nice people”. I’d fryin’ pan them too.
Then… they come back to life, good as new. Hurrah! No harm done! See, I’m not a kitchen utensil-weilding psychopath! Do I call them zombies or something more PC, like The Un-Expired? I like the ring of The Unperishables, but it does tend to make them sound like something you pop in the donation basket during harvest festival.
“We love the macaroni, 5 tins of beans and the packet of pork casserole mix, but we’re going to have to say ‘no’ to the re-animated corpse of your next door neighbour…sorry.”
And then there’s the issue of how did it all start? “Zombie Apocalypse” is such an over-used phrase and I’m more inclined to start small. There wouldn’t be any global nuclear catastrophe that brought back the recently expired, no genetically engineered virus that escapes a laboratory by hitching a ride on a accommodating monkey.
No… my global pandemic would stem from a dodgy burger from a unsanitary kebab van in Uxbridge. Never underestimate the shocking ramifications of expired mayonnaise.

The first few days after the initial infection would be modest and largely ignored, presenting as it did as “a bit of a nasty cold”. “Nasty” in this case would be largely relative, with the women mostly shrugging it off and going about their business, and the men retiring to the sofa with a wet flannel on their foreheads and sporadically whimpering. Nobody is any the wiser until one of the infected falls under a bus on the way to Boots for some Night Nurse, gets pureed, and who’s head sits on the curb complaining about how the hell it’s supposed to hold it’s beer now. Cue screaming, arm-waving in the air, and possibly some over-the-top military involvement because the military seem to do “over-the-top” so well.
Eventually these sort of shenanigans become commonplace, and death becomes something that now comes with a multitude of temporary options. Life just goes on as normal( except for the inexplicable rise in sales of frying pans amongst women with anger issues ), and the most grievous inconvenience of the whole situation is having to learn how to correctly spell “apocalypse”.

Unsurprisingly there are several pros and cons to the recurrently undead situation. For example, those providing funeral services got very grumpy at the slump in sales, however the air freshener guys were over the moon… It turns out that those clinging to existence by the thinnest of threads aren’t always minty fresh. In other respects though, the infected and resurrected aren’t that much different from anyone else. Sure, there will be a few hundred that’ll swear blind that they’re Jesus, but that randomly happens anyway. People are peculiar. The comedic value of several bearded non-corpses in sandals scrapping it out in a supermarket is an opportunity that can’t be missed. A narrative about Jesus 1 beating Jesus 2 about the head with a sliced Hovis is just too tempting, and has the possibility of potentially upsetting some overly sensitive Christians. A smattering of controversy never hurt anyone’s novel, though admittedly it did put a damper on Salman Rushdie’s picnics in the park for a while.

My Un-deadies wouldn’t be those shambling rag-wearing grey-hued mumblers, and neither would they be rabid red-eyed jet-fueled brain-munchers, they would be just like you and I. They’d face discrimination, losing out their employment to those with a pulse. Mothers would yank their dribbling offspring away from those whose only real difference is a slight greyness of skin tone and modest amount of visible necrosis. And there would be pathos… because who has never felt themselves to be an outsider, to be unwanted. Of course, not everyone will come back because not everyone will have been infected. There will be those who are desperate for what they see as a ticket to eternal life and will do whatever they can to infect themselves ( Zombie : “Will you QUIT licking me ?!?” ) and those who are really ticked off at having come back , who turn to insane sports as a means to fill their long days. #ExtremeDeading becomes a trend on Twitter and Instagram becomes flooded with rainbow-hued photos of the recurrently deceased hurling themselves off skyscrapers. Accordingly, iPhone release the iPlummet, the first phone guaranteed to survive high velocity impact.

Alas, the story draws to an end, as does the infection. Eventually everyone who has ever been contaminated in any way has finally passed, and the world returns to normal. There will be attempts to replicate the cause, because there will always be those for whom enough is never enough, but largely the earth’s population is left with a renewed feeling of “Carpe Diem” that hasn’t been experienced on such a scale since “Dead Poet’s Society” was released on DVD.

The End.

Of course, it needs to be fleshed out, but it’s a starting point. And as everyone knows, starting is the hardest part. Except for the middle. And the end.
If you want to buy this fabulous concept and turn it into a film I’m open to offers. In fact, at this stage I’d probably even be willing to sell all rights for a nice sandwich because it’s lunchtime and being a writer makes you extra hungry. I’m very glad I kept that in mind and, knowing I was going to do this, bought 2 pairs of trousers with a larger waistline yesterday. See, I did my prep work! I’m halfway there already….