The Keeper of Stories

by Bonnie Meekums

I thought I had finally completed my second novel in 2020, but on sending it out to agents I received no actual takers (one did ask for a full manuscript, and even gave feedback, but the trail went cold when I resubmitted). It’s a historical novel, set in the Second World War. Quite recently, I had a lightbulb moment when I realised my pitch to agents has been very dry. What’s missing is an impassioned statement about why I needed to write this particular story. The novel is, in many ways, a homage to my mother, starting as it does with a mother trying to cope during the London Blitz. Whilst Lili’s experiences are sometimes different from the stories my mother told me about her experiences, they are richly coloured by those personal tales. 

Which leads me on to another literary itch that has been asking to be scratched. I have been thinking a lot lately about how the things we get attached to hold symbolic significance for us, because of the personal stories they represent (Think The Keeper of Lost Things). It’s my age. I don’t want to turn my toes up without letting my family know exactly why I have that little arrow in a box, or that lump of white rock with the green line running through it, or indeed that bit of brown pottery that looks like a chipped off piece of something. Each one of them could very well be thrown out on my demise (Yay! At last, we can clear out the batty old bint’s stuff she’s been hoarding!), unless you know that the arrow is in fact from an archaeological dig in the states, sent to me in a tiny box that was itself wrapped in brown paper bearing the address and appropriate postage, from a very dear friend called Bill who I had met on a British archaeological dig in the UK some years previously. I have known Bill since 1974. We still video call each other every now and then. My kids have met him. We have visited and stayed in each other’s houses over the years. It was on that first dig in Baldock, Hertfordshire, I dug up the brown bit of fired clay. It is, in fact, a bit of Roman Samian pottery. Not to be thrown in the bin. And the lump of rock? That is Iona marble, carried home by me from the remains of the quarry there, in 1968. 

And so, my writing tasks for 2021 include another bash at finalising my second novel, writing a slightly different and more personal pitch about a story that needed to be told, and consulting the Writers and Artists Year Book once more, for another round of queries. Sigh. 

But it is to memoir that I find myself increasingly pulled. It tends not to attract a lot of interest from agents unless you are already famous, but that’s not the point. The recent loss of one of my cousins has shown me how much people crave their parents’ stories after they have gone. Right now, no-one sits me down and asks me about my life, but that’s OK. One day, they might just want to know. And so, my joint childhood memoir with my sister, Jackie Hales, will be self-published in the spring. But there are many more personal stories to tell, some of which won’t ever make it into the public domain. Still, I might just enure they are there for my children and grandchildren to read, as they joyously ditch my stuff.

Juggling Balls

By Dan Forrester

I’ve never been able to juggle. It seemed safer to leave it to those who saw the point, while I could get on with more productive things. Things that would be less likely to cause accidents at home. Now I wish I’d learned.

As 2020 came to a close, my writing projects were looking very organised. Nice and neat. Two novels completed, and the opening chapter of the third novel down. I was awaiting a manuscript assessment for the first novel which, naturally, would confirm how great it was. Couple of tweaks, perhaps, but nothing major. All set for an ease-in to 2021.

The plan was to submit my second novel to agents in January, once the deluge of NaNoWriMo submissions had subsided, and would submit the first again once I had addressed those minor edits. Meanwhile, I could get on with drafting the third. Easy.

Or not. The manuscript assessment for my first novel arrived just after Christmas, and, as you will have gathered by now, suggested a lot more rewriting than I had expected. The editor clearly hadn’t read the memo.

As I set to it, my third novel niggled at the back of my mind. It was new and exciting; I had done all the prep and got those difficult first pages down, sending in the vanguard to vanquish those scary white pages. I was impatient to see it develop.

But there was also the second novel, languishing in my ‘Completed – Wow, You Really Are Amazing’ folder. I wanted to submit to agents, but researching and preparing submissions takes time. Time I couldn’t seem to find.

For the first time on my writing journey, I had a small glimpse of what it must be like to be a traditionally published author. Deadlines competing with deadlines. Editing, researching, planning; juggling those balls. 

And amidst all that, the plot I had planned for my third novel was busy changing beyond recognition. I took my eye off it for five minutes, left it simmering away in a quiet corner of my brain, and it decided to jump genre. But the idea is better; the plot and characters are stronger. It is back to planning, but I am more excited than ever to see where it goes.

There is work to do on the first novel, and I have had valuable support from the writing group, but the second is now out there, raising a hand for attention from the slush piles.

So, my goals for 2021? Hook an agent for my first two novels and finish the third so it is ready to join them. Then onto planning the fourth…

Oh, and learn to juggle. Possibly.

NaNoWriMo 2020 and Me

by Joy Mutter

This will be my second foray into the frenetic world of NaNoWriMo. I debated whether to take part again as I’m a full-time indie author who writes daily anyway. I decided to join in again as last year’s challenge concentrated my mind more than happened in the other eleven months. I’ve often been called prolific, almost as an insult and have never suffered from writer’s block. Even so, NaNoWriMo is not a stroll in the park. 

Reaching State Pension age on November 3rd means writing will be easier for me than those participants who must earn a wage as well as hit their daily word targets. I live alone hundreds of miles away from my family, so nobody prevents me from writing. Saying that, life can still destroy plans in various ways. For instance, I was busy writing one day recently when an author asked me to edit their book. A week of my writing life disappeared when I agreed.

Last November, interacting with the other local writers was informative fun. Stuck in this problematic COVID-riddled year, social interactions over Zoom during NaNoWriMo will be even more valuable to me, having left my house for only three hours since March 12th to have my Warfarin levels checked. Hardly fun outings.

I didn’t prepare for last year’s NaNoWriMo and began writing three days late yet still managed to write over 62,000 words of The Trouble With Trouble, published in April 2020. Since then, I’ve written and published book three, Trouble in Cornwall. Book four, called Troubled, is with beta readers and will soon join my other fifteen books on Amazon. 

For this year’s challenge, I planned to finish writing The Storms of Padstow as I’ve already written over a hundred pages of it. I’ve opted to write a second book of short stories and have broken my Pantser habits by making character sketches and plot outlines for each story. No endings are yet decided to prevent me losing the thrill of a story writing itself. The stories will be as dark as those in Her Demonic Angel, my first short story collection, published in 2015. Ideas for full-length books often surface while creating short stories and there are contenders among those I’m planning to write.

I could avoid the pressure of NaNoWriMo but rarely take life’s easiest path. I could ignore it and continue writing in isolation with no specific target, but I’d like to help make the event a success. The least I can do is add my word count to the total written this November by all the wonderful Oldham writers who I enjoy meeting regularly on Zoom. 

I’m eager to get stuck into this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge despite 2020 being more than challenging for everyone. Keeping a word count and giving myself a daily target will be a welcome distraction from the endless doom and gloom. Writing a book is a wonderful way to escape reality, immersing the author in an imaginary world populated by characters who only exist inside an author’s brain. I’ve never been so prepared to write a book and feel like a runner poised in the starting blocks listening for the bang of the starting pistol. I’m also looking forward to producing the artwork for its new book cover and promotional material, something I always enjoy doing as a former graphic designer. I even have a narrator in mind for the audiobook edition. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. 

How joining NaNoWriMo turned me into a published novelist

by Bonnie Meekums

I found out about NaNoWriMo by accident. I can’t quite remember how it happened, but I found myself turning up, at Oldham Library, in early November 2018, feeling a more than a bit nervous. 

I had drafted my first novel by the end of 2017. In 2018, I sent out my draft to what I, as an academic, called ‘critical friends’ (I now know they are called beta readers, in the biz) for feedback, then did my rewrites. And so it was, that by the time I walked through those doors and inquired at the desk, I had got to the point of thinking about trying to submit my novel to agents. I had even visited another library to scour the Writers and Artists Year Book, in search of appropriate names. I discovered that such begging letters are called ‘queries’, though at that point I was absolutely useless at writing one. I wasted a lot of valuable energy. 

Meeting Jacqueline Ward, who had set herself the mission of putting Oldham on the NaNo map, was so reassuring, and my nerves quickly dissipated. For someone who has been honoured by the Queen, and has an agent along with best-selling books to her name, I discovered she was refreshingly down to earth, and not a bit snooty. Plus, like me, she was from a working-class background, a feminist who had also worked hard and got herself a PhD. I could feel my shoulders getting somewhere nearer my chest, instead of hugging my ears. 

I quickly discovered I was a pantser – someone who can’t be bothered to plan her writing in advance, and just loves the thrill of finding out what will happen next, a bit like watching a box set over several weeks, except that I am the one with the keyboard in my hands. I was in awe of Jacqui, who is the complete opposite, and even shared her planning methods with us. It terrified me, but I thought I probably need to borrow a bit of that. 

I had completed my first novel, when it dawned on me that to turn my 30,000 words written as linked short stories into a full length novel of around 80,000 words, all I needed to do was write a thousand words a day (which I can rattle off easily). In not very long at all, I would have the 50,000 words needed. But to write 50,000 in a month would mean upping my game. Amazingly, thanks to Oldham NaNoWriMo, by the end of November 2018 I had my 50,000 words – the skeleton of a second novel. 

I found turning up each week, meeting other writers, drinking tea (very important!) and writing as we chatted gave me huge amounts of confidence. Writing can be a lonely business, but here was I, with a bunch of other people who were committed to using this time to write. 

What I hadn’t expected, was Jacqui’s determination to help each and every one of us, not just to turn up and write, but to learn about the business of being a writer. That included thinking about the possibility that we might actually get published. I think up until that point, I had been going through the motions, not actually expecting my debut novel to see the light of day. But Jacqui sewed a little seed. 

And so, began the rejections. Yes, folks, this is not a straightforward happy ending. I sent queries off to dozens of agents, and got as many rejections. And then, I was on twitter one day, when I saw an indie publisher (that means, not one of the big publishing houses, and crucially, not one that requires an agent introduction) stating they were open to submissions. I thought it was worth a punt, and so I threw a query out. What came back, was a fairly terse response, saying my query letter had been pretty rubbish, but (bless her), the proof is in the pudding, so please send more. I did. And then, silence. 

I was in New Zealand, visiting my daughter in early 2019, when, just after she said she was off to bed (my daughter has three small children, including twins), I opened my emails, and there it was: 

‘…[yadayada] we would like to bring your book to the reading public.’ 

OMG, as they say. Of course, I knocked on my poor daughter’s bedroom door, tears streaming down my face. I read out the email, we hugged (we were allowed to do that, in those days, remember?), and – well, the rest is history. My book was released on January 7th, 2020, the day I set foot once more in New Zealand, and this time I was there not only to see my daughter and her little family, but I was back in libraries once more – this time, Queenstown and Lakes District Council libraries, where I did a mini book tour. I still sometimes feel like pinching myself. 

And the second novel, the one I wrote at NaNo 2018? Well, that’s at the tweaking and querying stage. Wish me luck. 

In case anyone is interested, my debut novel can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Kind-Family-Bonnie-Meekums/dp/1950502074/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?keywords=bonnie+meekums+a+kind+of+family+amazon+uk&qid=1602523203&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmr1 

I also have some signed copies, for £10 including p&p within the UK. Email me if interested: bonnie.meekums@outlook.com.

Getting Ready For Nano2020

by Jennifer Joyce

I joined Oldham Writing Group a year ago, just as they were getting ready for Nanowrimo. I knew what Nano was. I’d even contemplated taking part year after year, but I was always in the middle of a draft or at the editing stage of a book. I’d already started the first draft of my latest project when I joined the group, but I decided to scrap the excuses and give Nano a go. By the time Nano2019 started, I was around 20,000 words into what would become my eleventh novel, The 12 Christmases of You & Me, so if I reached the 50,000 word goal during November, I’d be very close to The End. 

And I did reach the 50,000 word goal by the end of November. I still had a bit to go until I reached The End, but I’d managed to write a massive chunk in just 30 days. I was amazed and proud of myself, but I couldn’t have done it without the encouragement and support and the community spirit of Nanawrimo and my new writing group. I finished off that last part of the first draft and, in the new year, worked on it to make it the best I could before sending it off for a professional edit. The book will be published this month and I can’t wait to share the story I (mostly) wrote during my first Nano. 

At the moment, I’m getting ready for my second go at Nano. I feel more prepared this year, more confident in my ability to get the words down, and I’m looking forward to the camaraderie of working towards that goal with the other Nano writers. Our meetings will be different this year as they’ll all be taking place on Zoom rather that at the library due to Coronavirus, but I’m sure the support and encouragement will be just the same. I’ll be starting Nano2020 with a blank Word document as I’ll be diving into a brand new project this time, and I’m busy plotting the book and getting to know my characters as much as I can before 1st November.

Death of a Dream

by Miriam Islam

Nanowrimo Is upon us once more. ‘Tis the season to be  writing tra la la la’ 
It’s the time for  literary champions and ‘pants on fire’ humans to rise again. Twas The occasion to make merry ;down the ink laden wine, and join  the characters under metaphorical mistletoe….
Please excuse all my poor Christmas puns-I’m trying to make merry amongst the literary abyss but, where was I in all this? I was, in principle, a fellow nano writer – physically and virtually attended the meetings-but where had my soul gone? 

I wanted to be part of it all so much; the pep talks, the tips exchange, raw drafting and furious scrawling, but most of all the unification of hearts like mine; a writer’s heart.  Nano meant I could finally be propelled into literary presence…complete my purpose. But it didn’t. I didn’t write anything, couldn’t seem to, or even want to. I no longer wanted to…  Why? I asked. It’s not enough to ask why;I had to explore it. 
There had been many losses to me; apparent and hidden, and the effect of it had drained away anything I had tried to create. It bought about a mindset within me that I couldn’t shake. 

I can’t write because I can no longer feel. I can’t write because I cannot attain what I write about. I can’t write because I would have to once again experience what loss feels like. 
I cannot write because too many memories are tied up with what I had been trying to convey.

I have lost my muse. I have lost the hope I had in my tale. What could I possibly add to something  I could no longer believe in. Why? Because I yearn for that which seems to elude me. 

I didn’t have any real concrete goals or solutions.  I convinced myself it didnt matter; just write anything for the hell of it…but I stuttered and stalled, because there was no wish to write how I felt.  And That’s what it was: the book somehow became about me. Me going through the character’s lives and their pain ,irrespective of being pure fiction! 
I should never have made it about me. 

And so, finally, I mused that if I could just be objective, and insensitive against my own soul, then perhaps there’s hope,and hope is always a good starting point to climb mountains.

Better Late Than Never

By Carolyn Crossley

I am so sorry to be late with this blog post, but here we are on the 15th September 2020 and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is looming on a lot of writers’ horizons we have only one and a half months to go until launch. 

If it wasn’t for NaNo I would never have finished my first novel which has taken me more years than I care to remember to do. 

Attending the Oldham Writing Group has led me to an epiphany. My mind was in a quandary. The questions I was asking myself were: 

1. Am I a novelist who writes poems? 

2. Am I a poet who has written a novel? 

I have come to the conclusion I am the latter. Now I have come to that conclusion, I have decided this year I am a poet who writes a novella. I am aiming to write 50,000 in November, which works out at 1,667 words a day. 

I think NaNo is probably best suited to the “pantster” method of writing. A word dump that you can re-write in the edit. So that is what I am doing this year, a new project. 

I have a vague storyline fermenting in my head, two main characters and a villain so what more do I need? 

Oh yes, just the wonderful schedule our NaNo leader, Jacqueline Ward has prepared and then it is poetry on the back burner and off we go, onwards and upwards!

Plan on Winning NaNoWriMo?

by Sue Cook

I joined Oldham Writing Group a year ago. I needed to find a local group with the same goals as me, and this fitted the bill.

The first Thursday I turned up to the meeting in the library I was shell-shocked. Some of the writers had agents and publishers. Others had self-published numerous books. All were utterly focused on getting their books to market and making sales.

The group formed for NaNoWriMo support. November was fast approaching. Already they were talking about their NaNo projects. Plot outlines needed firming up. Ongoing projects needed to be cleared.

Lord knows what I said about my plans (I had none). I was out of my depth and kept looking to the guys on the sofas, eating takeaways, drinking and sleeping. I’d have felt more at home there.

I’d never entered NaNoWriMo with any sort of plan. Probably that’s why I never finished. Thanks to the others, I discovered the NaNo website has planning pages.

Determined not to be the odd one out, I downloaded the worksheets and plodded through. After all, these guys were who I wanted to be. Taking my novel writing as seriously as they did must be the first step to publication.

For the first time, I entered November with a plan for 50,000 words. I’m not talking a scene by scene plan. I had the major plot points, the steps I needed to hop between.

After much hard work, Jacqui set up an Oldham group on the NaNoWriMo website, which encouraged us to write as much as we could to repay her efforts. For the first time, I did it. I wrote those 50,000 words. The group as a whole wrote well over half a million words!

It wasn’t easy. I hit walls. Sometimes I didn’t know what to write next. But I knew where I was going, so I wrote something just to get to that next place of certainty. It’s a bit like just heading north when you want to go to Glasgow but didn’t check the map before you set off. Eventually, you’ll see a sign that will put you on the right road.

‘Winning’ NaNo is a wonderful feeling. Of course, getting to 50K is just the beginning. It’s probably not even the end of that dreadful first draft. And when you do finish your first draft, the real hard work of editing begins. 

But you can’t edit what you haven’t written. So, start early. Plan your story out. Know where you want to be by the end of November. And ideally, join a group for added accountability.

It makes sense, it really does.

November

by Jacqueline Ward

November means Nanowrimo. National Novel Writing Month. The time when I write 50000 words in 30 days. Which isn’t novel length, and the length isn’t the only thing that’s different.

I really look forward to November. It’s just after my birthday, just before Christmas and it’s usually cold. So when I discovered Nano many of years ago (I go back to 2006!), I was delighted that I could be both competitive and fill up some almost winter days at the same time. Oh. And write. I tried to resist last year as I was also organising write ins for Oldham NaNoWriMo year, but at the last minute I gave in and opened a brand new Word document at midnight.

I fully expected to produce just over half a novel that first time, something that could be rapidly tied with a ribbon and placed in a lovely coloured envelope and sent off to a literary agent for immediate acceptance. How little I knew back then.

What I actually got was a download of my plot, a roughed-out stream of consciousness that was neither grammatically or structurally correct. But I liked it. I did the Artist’s Way around the same time, and loved the Morning Pages, which reminded me of my adolescent diary-writing, somewhere I could write about a person I didn’t quite know yet.

Nano gives me the space to get to know my characters, their hopes, their fears. The pace helps me to keep the action steady. Most of all, it makes me write every day for a month. I write every day anyway in some capacity, report writing, article writing, planning my diary. Shopping lists. But this is different. It’s a long project and it’s fiction. I can make it up and write it down – November is freedom to create. It’s like exercise time for my writer muscle.

There’s been some critique of Nano and I can understand how some people in the publishing world try to discourage writers from submitting 50k of hastily written prose on 1st December. I’m sure that some writers do this before they know the ‘rules’ of submitting to an agent. In reality, 1st December is when the hard work of the second draft begins. 

One of the main criticisms is that it pushes writers too hard and that those who write slowly get left behind. The target is too difficult. To which I say: change the target! It’s a guideline and I’m certain that longer and short pieces of work have been produced during NaNoWriMo – and that’s just in our writing group. Taking the 50k words too literally and not doing the writing just because ‘a novel isn’t 50k words’ is creating a barrier to creativity and why limit yourself? Use NaNoWriMo to get words down with others. Use the website to chat with other writers and find out more about different writing experiences. Access the resources. It’s all free. 

NaNoWriMo has a lot of good points. It helps to form good working habits, getting the words onto the page regularly, project management, time management. I’ve estimated that for every 90k I’m happy with, I’ve probably written four times that. I started my best-selling novel Random Acts of Unkindness in Nano, but it took six years and half of it rewritten before it was finally published, so I’m not getting over-excited about this year’s effort just yet!

This year I’m starting a new project. Inspired by a Facebook post, I reimagined it and thought about how it would fit into my current ‘uplit’ writing. I am determined not to over-plan or write anything at all, even character sketches, in advance. This is going to be a pure download of words that I can push and pull into a story. It’s exciting! 

So. Onwards and upwards, into another magical November and I know that by the end of the month I will have some more imaginary friends who have come just a little bit more real.