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I wrote recently about the invasion that never happened and how it left its marks on Cuckmere Haven. Today I'm going to share with you a couple of small clues about WW2 from the roads around my home here in Meads, Eastbourne.
During the War there were several battalions of the Canadian army stationed here in Eastbourne. They were all from the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division and from three Brigades - the 23rd Field Regiment from the 4th Brigade, the 1st Battalion Black Watch and Le regiment de Maisonneuve from the 5th, and the Calgary Highlanders from the 6th. I suspect the evidence I see here in Meads traces from the 23rd Field Regiment, who were stationed in Meads between August and November 1943 and on and off over the following months between training sorties to Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plain and Peppingford Park, until they finally embarked in July 1944 for Normandy, post D Day, to relieve the British 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats) and push on into Holland.
The Canadians used to park their tanks along Upper Duke's Drive - which runs across the top of my road and leads one way to the coast at Holywell and the other to Beachy Head and Birling Gap - and also along Milnthorpe Road - a normal residential road in Meads. Rumbling the tanks to and fro from these sites to the Downs where they had an artillery range, played havoc with the beautiful Victorian red brick pavements throughout Meads. After the war, the town council decided that rather than privileging restoration in some roads and not others (budgetary constraints being as ever uppermost in their minds) they would split the stock of salvageable red bricks and restore the pavements on one side of the roads only, replacing the other side with paving stones or tarmac. While the red bricks are more aesthetically pleasing they get very slippery when wet so on rainy days I am always happy to walk on the ugly side!
This example is from Meads Village where the right hand pavement is red brick and the left a motley collection of paving slabs.
Another fascinating relic of the war is to be found opposite The Pilot pub in Meads Street. The Pilot was the favoured haunt of the 83rd Battery of the 23rd Field regiment whereas their colleagues in the 31st and 26th Batteries preferred The Ship – a couple of hundred yards down the street. The 83rd had their HQ right opposite The Pilot in what was then Holywell Priory, former home of the Countess of Nouailles – demolished in the 1950s. While the site is now a modern housing development, the retaining flint wall remains and has four embrasures – letterbox-like slits through which one could poke one's gun at the enemy. It is not known whether the Canadians were responsible for creating these or the Home Guard.
The good news behind all of this is that I am at last doing some writing – my fifth novel which has a working title, The Chalky Sea, is now underway and is set here in Meads during WW2. The officers' and sergeants' mess for the 36th Battery was in my own road. When I stare out of the window at the sea, devoid of inspiration, all I have to do is imagine those young men doing the same thing. Twenty-five of the men of the 23rd Field Regiment lost their lives when the 2nd Division finally saw enemy action.
I am indebted to Michael Ockenden's book Canucks by the Sea for his detailed research into the presence of the Canadian army in Eastbourne during WW2.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Cuckmere Valley during WW2 and its strategic role in the defence of the realm. Today I’m going to look at another of its claims to fame – as the beating heart of an enormous smuggling operation.
Smuggling was big business in Sussex and Kent in the early nineteenth centuries and Cuckmere Haven still shows the evidence of this industry today.
Back in the late eighteenth century huge gangs of men used to turn up on the beach at Cuckmere Haven a couple of nights a week to collect the contraband from as many as dozen vessels anchored off the coast – some of them parked up quite blatantly in daylight hours. It was little wonder that the smugglers were so fearless – it was regarded by many as a victimless crime and there were few people who didn’t benefit in some way from the illegal trade which had boomed in response to punitive taxation. It was far from victimless though – as the murdered and tortured excisemen and coastguards, who had fallen foul of the ruthless gangs, demonstrated.
The British government, determined not to forgo the revenue from import duty, was not slow to respond to the smugglers and despatched the Royal Navy and brigades of soldiers to back up the customs officers. After the distraction of the Napoleonic wars was out of the way they became determined to stamp it out and set up the Coastguard service in 1822 to stop the trade.
The Cuckmere wasn’t the only spot favoured by the smugglers – nearby Birling Gap and Crowlink in the Seven Sisters, as well as Eastbourne, Pevensey Bay and Hastings were all entry points - and in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were not the popular resorts they became later and were relatively isolated and unpopulated. Opportunistic local gangs operated on a small scale, while at Cuckmere Haven the flat, wide, shingle beach attracted the big organised gangs. Contemporary correspondence records as many as two or three hundred mounted smugglers galloping up to the beach at Cuckmere Haven and loading up their horses with contraband. Not even high stormy seas put the daring smugglers off. If the revenue men were present the smugglers tried to bribe them – and if that failed – often murdered them
The smuggling trade wasn’t just confined to the coast. The gangs of men were based inland in villages such as Mayfield, Roberstbridge and the home of the most notorious of all the gangs – Hawkhurst. The smuggling gangs used some of the most cruel and terrible methods, including torturing their victims in order to protect their fiefdoms. I used to live in an eighteenth century house in Mayfield with a large cellar which only lay under half the house and the rumours were that there had been another secret cellar compartment under the other half for stashing the loot. I was never able to find the evidence.
The remaining evidence of smuggling at the beach of Cuckmere Haven is the precarious presence of the coastguard cottages on the cliff beside the river. These are under threat from the encroaching sea and the crumbling cliff edge. They still perch there (thanks to defensive walls erected by the residents and then periodically destroyed by the sea and rebuilt) overlooking the beach. These cottages have featured in several films and TV shows: most notably the film of Atonement – which had a postcard of the cottages as the symbol of the life Robbie hoped to enjoy with Celia after the war – and recently the last series of Luther, where the detective was holed up in one of them ( I think number 5) in splendid isolation. The Cuckmere beach underneath the Seven Sisters was used for the opening sequence of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.
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Publication date is 9th May wiht the paperback to follow shortly afterwards.
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My teenage years were spent in Eastbourne, growing up in the shadow of the Downs, swimming from the beach and hanging out in the various hostelries of the town. Now that I've returned to live here I'm rediscovering the charms of the town and its surrounds.
One thing has surprised me - how ignorant I was about the history of the place. I knew its geography and topography well, thanks to doing A Level Geography and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which caused my friends and me to tramp all over the Downs. But despite doing A Level History, I knew little about the history of the town itself and have only now discovered the significance of its role in WW2. I suppose in the seventies it was still a bit too close to the end of the war and people didn't show a lot of interest (especially teenage girls).
Seven hundred bombs plus a good few flying bombs fell on the town – many of them dumped by the Luftwaffe after bombing raids on London before the return trip over the channel. Between 1942 and 43 it was a favourite target of “hit and run” raiders and was the most bombed town of the South coast. The town hosted thousands of Canadian soldiers from various regiments between 1941 and 1944. Around one hundred and fifty Eastbourne women were swept off their feet and sailed to Canada as war brides.
The first German aircraft to be shot down over the town was a Messerschmitt, which was escorting Luftwaffe bombers heading to attack RAF airfields around London, including Heathrow. As this plane flew over the Downs, it was engaged in a dog fight by a Hurricane and broke up in mid air – the pilot, whose parachute didn’t open, was killed when he landed on the roof of a local school. The rear gunner landed in the sea and drowned.
Today I've been to visit another nearby place of great wartime significance, the walk from Exceat to Cuckmere Haven. Back in the day, my geography lessons ensured I was well aware of the meanders and ox-bow lakes and the problems of coastal erosion, but I was ignorant of the importance of the Cuckmere valley in defending the country against invasion. This beautiful valley meets the sea next to the chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters. In June 1940 work began to construct coastal defences against German invasion. Before 1940 the Luftwaffe had conducted extensive surveys of the valley and it was a designated landing beach for the German 9th Army in the planned invasion of Operation Sea Lion, which never happened, as Hitler lost the Battle of Britain and turned his sights on Russia instead. That didn't mean that the area didn't see any action though – a U-boat shelled Exceat in 1940 and the whole area was under air attack many times. There is still much evidence of the strategic defence system today, although many of the children enjoying the Easter holidays there today may well be as oblivious as I was. Because the invasion never happened it's hard to imagine that it ever could have done, until you see places like this and realise how it must have seemed a terrifying inevitability at the time.
The defences included a large number of pillboxes and concrete dragons’ teeth tank traps. The topography of the valley was also used to advantage, with the anti-tank obstacles behind the sea banks and the various creeks and tributaries adding to the barriers for tanks. The Cuckmere River was also very heavily mined. One other ingenious element was the creation of decoy lights set out in the pattern of the lights of nearby Newhaven, with the aim of tricking the German airmen into turning inland too soon and protecting the strategically important port.
The pillboxes and concealed artillery batteries were operated by various regular army regiments plus the redoubtable Home Guard. Once the threat of invasion was passed, Cuckmere Haven was the site of coastal defence and artillery training, including by the Canadian army. After D Day it was the departure point for cross channel communication cables, which had been cut at the start of the war.
Walking this beautiful walk down to the sea, it's hard to imagine what it must have been like when under the threat of imminent invasion. The whole of the shingle beach would have been covered with barbed wire and wire scaffolding. Mines were everywhere. Although Sea Lion never took place, several men lost their lives on this beach laying mines and straying into the danger zone. For which I must today be very thankful as I enjoy the countryside, the egrets and Canada geese and the beautiful coastline.
Clare's latest novel, The Green Ribbons, will be published later this month.
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Image By Kate Greenaway (1846–1901) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In honour of Valentine's Day I thought it would be fun to share some extracts of first meetings from my novels. In each instance are you able to tell how it will end? Love and marriage? Unrequited love? Unhappy marriage? Friendship? Enmity? Disillusionment? I've removed the names of the characters except where essential for sense.
In no particular order:
1. "A young woman was standing in the shadows, partly hidden by the coat stand, her voluminous skirts giving her presence away. He stepped forward, then hesitated. Was it polite to offer to shake a young lady’s hand? She moved into the light of the gas lamp. Her dark hair was lustrous but with a small streak of premature grey at the temples. Her features were strong and pale as if sculpted from marble." (from Letters from a Patchwork Quilt)
2. "He was tall and loose- limbed, with an effortless elegance, like a panther. His hair was greying at the temples and his face had deep wrinkles like a rhinoceros. There was nothing about him that fitted my mental picture of an artist. He was certainly not the type who went out and about in paint-smeared overalls and starved in a garret. Every inch of him, from his cavalry twills to his silk cravat, spoke privilege and entitlement." (from Kurinji Flowers)
3. "Although little more than a boy, about sixteen or seventeen, he was tall and quite broad around the chest. His hands looked as though they had already seen a lifetime of labour. Bright white teeth and shaggy blonde hair contrasted with the warm tan of his skin. He wore a checked shirt and dirt-encrusted overalls." (from A Greater World)
4. "It was the first time I had shaken an Indian's hand. His grip was firm and his skin was smooth. He looked at me with a curiosity I thought was brazen. I wasn't used to Indians looking me in the eye. They were more deferential. I'm not saying they should have been. Just that's how they were. He was certainly not deferential. Not even close." (from Kurinji Flowers)
5. "His thick hair was weighted down with seawater and rain and he kept brushing it back nervously. The steward arrived with a towel and the man jumped to his feet and moved away to dry his hair, embarrassed at doing this in front of the two women. She took advantage of the moment to look at him. He was tall, lean, but strongly built, as though accustomed to physical labour. His clothes were of cheap cloth, poorly cut, but he had a natural elegance that needed no help from a tailor. " (from A Greater World)
6. "He smiled at her with a big beaming grin, then removed his spectacles and carefully polished them with a small cloth to remove the sea spray that had clouded them. The wind blew his hair, overlong and in need of a barber’s attention, up on either side of his face, giving him the aspect of Zeus or Poseidon." (Letters from a Patchwork Quilt)
7. "He spoke in a voice that sounded as though it had been dried hoarse by the Australian sun. His face was like tanned leather and covered in fine wrinkles, testament to an outdoor life. He held his hat in his hands, exposing a head covered with cropped, steel-grey hair. His legs were slightly bowed, as though he spent more time in the saddle than on his feet."
(from A Greater World)
By Luigi Rosa (Flickr: Zeus -Museo di Iraklio / Heraklion museum) via Wikimedia Commons
8. "The man who stepped out from behind the screen caused her heart to skip a beat. He was somewhere between her own age and about thirty: tall, with long legs encased in riding breeches and leather boots. His blue eyes fixed upon her." (The Green Ribbons - to be published spring 2016)
9. "He was probably the best-looking man I'd ever seen. He struck me as an outdoorsy type, with a tall, muscular build, blonde hair, tanned skin and the bluest of eyes. He had lots of finely drawn, white lines where he must have habitually screwed his eyes up against the sun. When he sat down beside me, I felt very small. He was unlike the pallid young men I was used to, with their drawling, bored voices, their brilliantined hair and their pre-planned conversational gambits." (Kurinji Flowers)
10. "He looked at the woman, her skirt tucked under her and the wind blowing her dark hair out of the loose bun she’d tied on top of her head. There was something about her that reminded him a little of Eliza and he felt that familiar stab of pain at her memory. It wasn’t that she looked like her – this woman was not pretty like Eliza and was as dark as Eliza was fair, but there was something in her manner, the way she spoke or held her head – he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Rather than walk on, he hesitated a moment, trying to place what it was exactly that stirred the memory."
(Letters from a Patchwork Quilt)
The Annunciation Barthélemy d'Eyck (fl. 1444-1469) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
11. A young woman, about his own age, entered the room. She was small, slightly built, with light brown hair and enormous brown eyes. As she stood in the doorway with the afternoon sunshine behind her, he was reminded of a vision of the Virgin Mary, bathed in light." (Letters from a Patchwork Quilt)
12. "He had a shock of thick reddish-blond hair and a friendly countenance, notable mainly for its rash of freckles. Perhaps she had met him before as he had been Papa’s student – but if she had it was not surprising she didn’t remember, as, freckles aside, his face was nondescript. Pleasant enough but unremarkable." (The Green Ribbons - to be published spring 2016)
How evident is it whether or not love will bloom in these examples? Please let me know what you think!
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By Jim Linwood (Flickr: St. Nicholas' Church, Chiswick - London.) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Finding appropriate and memorable names for characters in my novels is a fun challenge. My favourite method – as I write historical fiction – is to have a wander round a graveyard. I’ve always had a weird fascination with cemeteries. I haunted Père Lachaise when I lived in Paris and the Cimetero Monumentale when I was living in Milan and now I’m ten minutes walk from St Nicholas churchyard in Chiswick. It is there that you can find the tombs of William Hogarth, James McNeil Whistler (but not his mother!), and Italian poet, Ugo Foscolo. Il Signor Foscolo's grave is now empty as he was reinterred in Florence at the request of the King of Italy.
Whistler's tomb By Patche99z (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Also buried at St Nicholas is The Honourable Thomas Walpole, MP, nephew of Robert, Britain’s first Prime Minister, who lived nearby in Walpole House on Chiswick Mall. Barbara Villiers, 1st Duchess of Cleveland, Lady Castelmaine, mistress of Charles II and mother to five children by him lived at Walpole House before it was so named after Thomas and is another deceased resident of the churchyard.
Oliver Cromwell is rumoured to be interred under the church – his daughters are said to have retrieved his body from the burial pit at Tyburn after his posthumous execution and secretly buried him in the family crypt. When the church was restored in 1882 the vicar opened the vault and found one extra coffin that was unaccounted for. Fearful that if he let the word out that Oliver Cromwell was resting there, the church would be over-run with curious tourists, so he had the vault walled up and it is still lost to this day. The ghosts of Cromwell’s two daughters are said to haunt the graveyard, distressed that their family burial plot is now unmarked and unknown. There are many other places which claim to be the home of the Lord Protector's remains, so it's far from certain that Chiswick has the rightful claim.
Another inmate of the churchyard is a former resident of my road, one Frederick Hitch VC, hero and survivor of Rorke’s Drift. His tomb is topped by a stone pith helmet. After his discharge from the army with severe wounds he struggled to make a living on his disability pension of only a tenner a year. He produced eight children and eventually became a cabbie. He was buried in St Nicholas graveyard with full military honours. Another military man is Trumpet Major Henry Joy, who was the bugler who sounded the charge of the Light Brigade for General the Earl Lucan at the battle of Balaclava.
But it is the graves of ordinary people who are the source of interest to an author. My personal favourite names from the Chiswick graveyard are Aylett Larkman, Theodora Cork, Eliza Belcher, Murgatroyd Northrop and Cyril Bunce. There is also scope to mix and match! As yet I haven't deployed these – but give me time!
By Trounce - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=846135
I used the Bible to source the name for the protagonist of my soon-to-be-published next novel, The Green Ribbons – Hephzibah Wildman. I wanted her to have a biblical name – in contrast to her agnostic beliefs. Hephzibah appears in the Book of Isaiah and is the wife of King Hezekiah. The name means “my delight is in thee” and fits my character well. I’ve since discovered that there is a Hepzibah in Harry Potter – but she has dropped the H.
If I can’t find inspiration among tombstones I check the online baby naming sites. I've used this by nationality as well - sourcing the name for a character in Kurinji Flowers (Hemanga, which means golden skinned) from an Indian baby name site. It’s also been useful for Irish names. For my soon to be published book, The Green Ribbons, I found the first name Merritt, which struck me as unusual, but also fitting for a clergyman - then paired it with Nightingale, stolen from a chap called Mr Nightingale (not sure if I ever knew his first name) who worked in the same office as me years ago. As a rule I avoid using names of friends and family as I don’t want them thinking I’ve based the character on them as well!
La Joven Madre by Arturo Michalena (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Old census returns are also happy hunting grounds. I've found some cracking names on there. I’ve also used them to find local names for different regions. I loved the surname Cake – a Dorset nameso when I later decided to relocate the book from Dorset to Berkshire I just had to hang onto the name as it was spot on for the character, Abigail Cake. The monosyllabic word cake with its double unvoiced consonants give it a hard sound which perfectly counterpoints its sweet meaning.
Of course the master of unusual and memorable names, that perfectly summed up his characters, was Charles Dickens. The loathsome, creepy Uriah Heep, the convict with a heart of gold Magwitch, Mr Bumble, Lady Deadlock and of course Ebenezer Scrooge – all highly memorable and instantly recognisable – and Scrooge has even entered the language.
What's your favourite character name?
Clare Flynn is the author of A Greater World, Kurinji Flowers and Letters from a Patchwork Quilt. Her next book, The Green Ribbons will be published in spring 2016. To get advance warning of the book's release - including special pre-launch pricing, a free short story and other offers sign up to Clare's newsletter
Location is always a vital part of my novels. I think of the setting as another character in the books. My work in progress, tentatively titled The Green Ribbons is set in a small village in Berkshire at the turn of the twentieth century. Sometimes I stick with real places and names - especially for large cities - but when it's a smaller place I like to rename it to give myself more licence to make up stuff.
I borrowed heavily from a place I once lived in when creating the village of Nettlestock. It's called Kintbury and is on the Kennet and Avon Canal in Berkshire. The picture above shows the cottage I used to live in – it dates from the sixteenth century and was originally an open-hall dwelling – one room with a hearth in the centre and a hole in the roof for the smoke to escape. In the second half of the sixteenth century a chimney was added and an upper floor constructed. What was then a single dwelling house was divided and in the nineteenth century another house was tagged on the end (on the left hand side of the photo above) so it is now a row of three joined cottages. The cottage must have held many secrets. Alas it doesn't feature in the new book!
Kintbury also has literary connections – Jane Austen frequently stayed in the village – in the previous vicarage on the site of the current Old Vicarage (built in the 19th century) when her sister Cassandra was engaged to the vicar's son. The Old Vicarage, a splendid Gothic creation on the banks of the canal, is now home to author Robert Harris (Pompei, Fatherland, The Ghost, Imperium etc).
It was in my cottage in Kintbury that my two laptops containing the manuscript of A Greater World were stolen – forcing me to sit down and start all over again! I sold the cottage about seven years ago – after the burglary I never felt the same about the place.
Ingleton Hall in my book is very loosely based on Barton Hall in Kintbury – now the home of Sir Terence Conran, the designer and creator of the Habitat chain of stores and the Conran Shop. In the book it is the home of the local squire. Barton Hall was the family home of the Dundas family. Mr Charles Dundas was a member of Parliament, Chair of the Quarter Sessions and a man at the heart of local affairs. He was also Chair of the Kennet and Avon Canal Company.
Kintbury Lock © Copyright Pam Brophy and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
The characters in the book often walk along the canal towpath. This was created in the eighteenth century - right at the end of the garden of The Old Vicarage - so Jane Austen would have witnessed the navvies constructing it. At the time of my novel it had fallen into disuse by most commercial traffic in favour of the railway. Nowadays it is busy with barge-dwellers and holidaymakers, keen to travel through southern England by water. When my nephews were small boys they loved helping open the lock gates to passing boats.
Kintbury had traditionally been the home to two important industries – the production of whiting, used for powdering wigs and faces and later as an ingredient in talcum powder. The Kintbury works involved open-cast mining of chalk, and the whiting was shipped from the Kintbury factory to London and Bristol by barges on the canal. With the advent of the railway this method of transportation died out. The whiting works were closed sometime during the second world war. Kintbury's second key industry was silk production. This had already ceased by the time of The Green Ribbons in 1900 – the factory closing in the 1840s, due to cheap imports of silk from the continent. So in 1900, when the book begins, Kintbury/ Nettlestock was more or less reliant on agriculture – itself suffering due to cheap American and Russian grain imports. Many of the villagers left the area in the nineteenth century and headed for the factories and mills of the prosperous Northern cities.
I am delighted to be a guest on the Indie BRAG Christmas Blog Hop this year - and am proud to tbe the holder of two BRAG Medallions for A Greater World and Kurinji Flowers.
What is a Christmas tradition you and your family have?
This will (all being well) be the last Christmas I spend in my lovely home in Chiswick in London – as in January I will be moving to the seaside. My Christmas morning river walk by the Thames on Chiswick Mall will be replaced with a stroll past the bandstand on the seafront at Eastbourne - where they always have a band playing on Christmas morning.
Another family tradition is the Boxing Day walk along the Hamble River down in Hampshire. This involves a long walk, a short ferry crossing and lunch in a pub. A couple of years ago we had to retreat halfway along the walk due to flooding - we didn't miss out on the pub though - we took the car and drove around to the other side.
What is or was your favorite stocking gift(s)?
When my siblings and I were small, my mother always protested that we shouldn't waste our pocket money buying Christmas gifts for her. Her request was that all she wanted was "a 50pence piece and a handkerchief". One year we decided to take her at her word and we all carefully wrapped up hankies and 50p coins. Since then it has gone into family history and we often threaten each other with that as a gift or say "I've just got you 50p and a hankie".
The other tradition which must trace to the second world war when fruit was scarce in Britain and citrus non-existent (I was born in the decade after the War) was for Santa to leave a satsuma orange in the toe of everyone's Christmas stocking. As kids we were all very disdainful of this - leaping instead on the chocloate coins and other goodies.
Have you ever taken a Christmas Vacation somewhere? If so, where?
I have only twice spent Christmas outside the UK. The first time was when my father took the whole family (Mum plus 5 kids) to Southern Spain to celebrate his retirement. It felt very strange lying on the patio in the sunshine while the turkey was cooking. The small oranges for our Christmas stockings were actually growing on the trees.
A few years ago I spent 6 months living and working in Australia and enjoyed Christmas in the hot humid climate of Brisbane where my brother and his wife and four children live. It was delightful to spend Christmas with them - but I will never get used to temperatures in the high 40ºs C at Christmas. Sorry, but it's just weird!
Egg Nog or Cocoa?
Neither! It has to be Prosecco on Christmas morning while opening presents.
What is your favorite part of Christmas day?
I love Christmas lunch - turkey and all the trimmings. I've been trying to get my family to try a goose one year but they all look at me in horror.
What's your favourite Christmas Movie?
I will be spending Christmas with my younger sister who is a member of the British Academy of Film and TV Awards (Bafta) and she gets an enormous pile of DVDs to view and judge in the run-up to Christmas so, if I'm lucky, I'll get to watch a couple of the newly released or about-to-be-released movies with her.
The next stop on the tour is with Derek Birks today https://dodgingarrows.wordpress.com
and then tomorrow with EM Kaplan at http://justtheemwords.com and Lorraine Devon Wilke at http://afterthesuckerpunch.com. Do take a look and leave a comment.
And here is the full blog tour
Tuesday, December 1 : G.Egore Pitir
Wednesday, December 2 : J.D.R. Hawkins : Martin Crosbie
Thursday, December 3 : R.A.R. Clouston
Friday, December 4 : Helen Hollick
Saturday, December 5 : Judy Ridgley : Karen Lobello Judy Voigt
Sunday, December 6 : David Penny
Monday, December 7 : J.B. Hawker
Tuesday, December 8 : Vinnie Hansen : N.W. Moors
Wednesday, December 9 : Cheri Gillard
Thursday, December 10 : Clare Flynn : Derek Birks
Friday, December 11 : Emily Kaplan : Lorraine Devon Wilke
Saturday, December 12 : Valerie Biel : Charlene Newcomb
Sunday, December 13 : Martha Kennedy : Annie Daylon
Monday, December 14 : Debrah Martin : Helena Schrader
Tuesday, December 15 : Maggie Pill : Cassi Clark
Wednesday, December 16 : Pauline Barclay : Karen Aminadra
Thursday, December 17 : Alison Morton
Friday, December 18 : Amber Foxx : Malcolm Noble
Saturday, December 19 : Anna Belfrage
Sunday, December 20 : Janet Leigh : Maria Grace
Monday, December 21 : Joe Perrone Jr.
Tuesday, December 22 : Prue Batten : Diana Wicker
Wednesday, December 23 : V.L. Thurman
Monday, December 28 : Lisa Brunette
Tuesday, December 29 : Carrie Beckort
Wednesday, December 30 : Jackie Weger
Thursday, December 31 : Anna Castle
Well I finished NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month, a day early and a thousand words above target. While at times it was a hard slog and I had to drag myself kicking and screaming to the computer, it was overall a fantastoc experience and a very different way of writing for me.
Usually when I am stuck over what comes next I give myself time to mull things over and move at a more leisurely pace until the solution presents itself. I couldn't afford that luxury with NaNoWriMo. I found myself waking in the middle of the night with ideas and trying to dictate them into my ipad or phone while still half asleep. Sometimes I found it hard to go to sleep because I was churning the possibilities around in my head.
One of the things most people claim to love most about NaNoWriMo is the social aspect - with meetups, parties and write-ins taking place all over the world, and virtually, during the course of the month. I didn't get involved in any of this because I had too much else going on (I was selling my house!) and I'm used to the process of writing and know I can work better in splendid isolation. I did however find several writers I know who were participating and the NaNoWriMo website enables to track your buddys' word count. When I felt myself lagging, a quick look to see how Debbie, Patsy and Helena were doing, was enough to spark my competitive spirit. Patsy didn't quite make it - but there are no losers in NaNoWriMo - she now has almost 35,000 words of a new novel she wouldn't have had so quickly otherwise. Congratulations to Helena Halme and Debbie Young who both made it across the finishing line. Looking forward to reading their books (A Marriage Adrift and Best Murder in Show) when they come out some time next year.
Well the lava keeps flowing – I'm now half way though NaNowriMo (National Novel Writing Month - in which you commit to producing 50,000 words of a novel within the month of November) and I'm more than half way to my target -YAY!!!! Here's my progress (NaNoWriMo is full of motivational tools and gizmos).
So far I've averaged 200 words a day above par – but that has varied from days when I've managed just a few hundred words, to days when I've significantly exceeded my quota. The important thing for me is that I've managed to write something –even a short paragraph – every single day.
What I've learnt from this is that on the days when I've been in danger of falling behind the curve and racing to catch up with my targets (anyone who knows me well knows I'm very competitive) I have allowed myself to just let it all flow – I have gagged my inner critic.
When I've been stuck – for example in a research hole – I just type a bit in capitals to flag that I need to look something up. There are a lot of people and places in my manuscript temporarily named XXX.
The most important learning for me is that where I would normally say to myself "mmm – need to mull that one over and think about it some more" I have instead just plunged in and let it happen. I don't know whether this is a better or worse approach but it is very different for me – and at least I will have something concrete to re-read and edit/ reject, instead of just vague ideas floating around in my head.
This afternoon was a classic example: I was writing a sex scene and normally my hidden editor would jump out and tell me "you can't write that!" - but I just wrote it – it may all end up on the cutting room floor – but I have a feeling it won't...
So if you want to write a lot without your usual self-imposed constraints and if you like putting yourself under pressure sign up for NaNoWriMo next year. I'll definitely be there again!
Brief updates from me on my writing.