NaNoWriMo 2015: Winner (just)!

Crikey, didn’t November fly by? One minute it was Halloween and we were all sitting in the Forum exchanging plots and twists and character bios for NaNoWriMo, the next it’s the eleventh hour, St Andrew’s Day, and I’m adding the last however many words needed to get over the line. But get over the line I did – 50,164 words in 30 days. Presenting cheesy grin!

So that’s all very nice. Even nicer was witnessing a lot of happy WriMos throughout various newsfeeds and write-ins, and a buddy’s page that was liberally peppered with purple ‘Winner!’ bars.

Nicer still, now NaNoWriMo is done, I don’t feel like taking Year Zero and shoving it through a shredder, or at least not yet anyway. Instead, I’m rather keen to keep adding to it. I’ll aim for 1,000 words per day, similar to when I was finishing The Floors, although this time I won’t be working to a silly self-imposed deadline. Again, feel free to crack the whip if you see me slacking.

I’m still none the wiser how long Year Zero will be. Given what I’ve written so far, plus the scenes I still want to write, not to mention the plot, lest we forget, the story could hit 225,000 words if I’m not careful (that’s in the region of 750 paperback pages, folks). I fear it could put Year Zero at risk of being junked unseen by agents or publishers. (Mind you, given some of the rates I’ve seen offered of late, I don’t imagine I’d have any problem finding someone out there to edit the thing!)

Luckily I have a number of red pens left over from editing The Floors. I’ve a feeling I might need them. Let’s get a first draft done before all of that, eh?




NaNoWriMo 2015

NaNo2015 ParticipantGoodness me, it seems like an awfully long time since I was last blathering up the blogosphere. What’s that? “That’s because it has been an awfully long time?” Yeah, well, try not to sound too pleased about it, because I’m back to befoul the cyberwaves again. You lucky, lucky people!

So why have I come back? Well, partly because WordPress renewed my domain name and it would be a shame to see $26 go to waste, and partly because there’s another NaNoWriMo on the way!

Now, if at this point you are wondering what the hell a NaNoWriMo is when it’s at home, then seek ye the National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo sees lots of people hunker down over their laptops and writing pads during the month of November, all feverishly trying to squeeze 50,000 words of a novel onto the empty page before the end of the month. That weighs in at just under 1,700 words every day, which is chickenfeed to seasoned pros like Alexander McCall Smith, who can push out 1,000 words in an hour, but often proves a little trickier for most mere mortals.

Now, your least humble servant, Mr Poll, here, did alright in the 2012 and 2013 NaNos, scoring just over 50,000 words in them both. (I was on hols for 2014’s NaNo.) 2012’s NaNo yielded my sci-fi horror novel, “The Floors”, which you can still see shamelessly plastered all over this blog. 2013’s NaNo brought about a solid chunk of a novel called “The Forum of the Dead”, which I then took around the back of the house and shot so as not to distress the kids.

Looking back, there was a big difference between my first and second attempts at NaNoWriMo. Back in 2012, the whole concept of “The Floors” was like some all-consuming forest fire sweeping through my mind. A maze of thirteenth floors? Bam! The idea had taken root, and it was more or less all my brain could think about until the book was finished, redrafted, edited, redrafted and put out there to buy. Sometimes, when that happens, the only thing I can do is to go along with it and try to enjoy the ride.

“The Forum of the Dead” was where things started to go a bit wonky. It started off as another simple idea: someone comes into possession of a laptop with a corrupt bookmark that, when clicked on, takes them to a web forum used by the dead. The whole thing was going to cover witchcraft and possession and the strange and valuable things squirrelled away in people’s attics, but by the end of 50,000 words I had barely scratched the surface of the story and, alarmingly, elements of it were beginning to resemble L. Ron Hubbard’s first draft for that whole Scientology thing.

Scrapping all of the effort that went into those 50,000 words – research included – wasn’t exactly a great confidence booster. Far from it. Since then, I’ve barely been able to finish anything fun and creative, which isn’t exactly spiffy.

So why am I going to put myself through all of that again? Several reasons. First and foremost, I need to get back into the writing habit again, otherwise what’s the point of this whole Lucian Poll thing? (Let me stop you there before you start.) I’ve had a story rattling around my head since “The Forum of the Dead” that I wouldn’t mind getting onto paper so I can go around thinking about some other things. I also hope that by getting back into the writing groove again I’ll start to enjoy my reading a little more. (It may just be that I’ve hit upon a string of duds on my bookshelves.) Last, but my no means least, I’m also keen to see who of my 2012 and 2013 writing buddies are taking part in this year’s event. If NaNoWriMo makes me dip more than the occasional toe into the murky waters of social media then maybe that would be a good thing too.

As for this year’s novel, it’s tentatively called “Year Zero” and, contrary to the zombie-esque title, will be a straight science fiction yarn. You may therefore see a… ah… rebranding going on here over the coming however-long. 😉 I feel I have a stronger grip on “Year Zero” than I did “The Forum of the Dead”, but it’s not burning a hole in my brain a la “The Floors”. I also reckon, should I win, 50,000 words won’t get me a huge way through the story, but I’m fairly comfortable with that. Science fiction and fantasy are a tad more forgiving of long stories than most other genres.

So, crises of confidence and life aside, you should find me at this year’s Norwich NaNo launch this coming Hallowe’en, where I’ll listen to the splendid story ideas of my fellow WriMos before stammering and blurting out mine.

If I get to the end of “Year Zero” then, with a bit of luck, I’ll have a story that fits this here blurb:

Welcome to Newich, a most unusual city.

In a strange and shapeless world, and surrounded by Erdd’s warm, blue-green oceans, there stands the makeshift metropolis of Newich, a four-hundred square mile patchwork quilt of a city. Except there’s a problem. Newich simply should not exist. Everything about the city is wrong, from its corrupted streets to its fused buildings, from its stuttering politics to its ten million lost and lonely inhabitants. But then the same could be said of Erdd itself, and the universe around it. Why else would the night skies blaze with the light of a billion, trillion stars?

No, something has gone very badly awry, something that has placed all existence on a knife-edge, and the root of it all lies somewhere in Newich. Inquisitor Eleda Paraczek is determined to unearth the truth, whatever the cost.

All she needs is the right confession.

Well, it’s early days.

In the meantime, keep your eye on the word count shown at the top of the sidebar, and be sure to crack the whip if you see me slacking. Especially given Fallout 4’s imminent release. (Come on, I’m only human!)


NaNoWriMo 2013: Winner!

It’s a short post this time around, folks, and one in which I shamelessly pat myself on the back for having gotten another NaNoWriMo under my belt.

I honestly thought I was going to fluff it this time. Last year I joked how Novembers tended to be dull affairs. This year it seems I’ve been made to eat those words! First there was the excellent World Fantasy Convention held in Brighton (my first con), then there was a cluster of birthdays (mine included), not to mention the day job rudely getting in the way, my shower blowing up, and, not insignificantly, the release of two major games consoles. Factor a lack of outline for the new novel into the mix and I was seriously considering easing up those NaNo reins this year.

But, thanks largely to the support from one’s long-suffering other half and the encouragement from my fellow local WriMos, I made it and ahead of schedule too. Even better, the story is taking shape rather well. I don’t tend to pants stories, but, so far, it’s working.

All this, of course, means there is another novel coming your way from yours pseudonymously. It’s early days yet – 50,000 words has seen me reach the end of part one, or around the 1/3 mark – but if you would like to read a little about “The Forum of the Dead” then please high yourself to my NaNoWriMo page, below.

NaNoWriMo page of The Forum of the Dead by Lucian Poll

To celebrate cracking another NaNo, I am holding another GoodReads giveaway of my recent novel The Floors. If you would like the chance to win one of three signed copies then follow the link below and sign up.

The Floors on GoodReads – win one of three signed copies

Alternatively you can purchase The Floors from assorted online bookstores for a couple of quid, or the paperback for a tenner. Click here for all the links you’ll need, plus a three chapter sampler of the paperback edition.

I’ll be back soonish with more thoughts on publishing The Floors, then who knows what blathering lies ahead? 🙂

Laters, ‘taters.

Things I’ve learned (#2)

With NaNoWriMo 2013 looming ever closer I’m taking the opportunity to jot down my thoughts on the year gone by, in which I wrote and published my novel The Floors. Self-indulgence aside I hope some of these discussions prove useful to anyone thinking of giving self-publishing a whirl, or, at the very least, raise a titter along the way.

In my last post I vowed not to hamstring my next book with a release date. In this post I’ll discuss:

Professional edits: why you’ll need one, and their pros and cons

One could argue the recent revolution in self-publishing has presented, to paraphrase Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times.

The best of times: in short, the shackles are off.

Yes, writers rejoice! No longer do they need to endlessly court agents and publishers! No longer do they need to clumsily alter uncool characters, or shoehorn their story into a different, more popular genre! No longer do they need to strip every shred of personality from their prose to fit the house style. They can finally write their story their way, dammit! Et cetera, et cetera, yada-yada-yada.

Readers rejoice too! They can better explore fiction outside the homogenous pool of sure-things and bandwagon-jumping drek spoonfed them by lazy publishers! They want improbably-libidinous vampires bedding anything that moves during the inevitable zombie apocalypse? They got it! They want to read Cthulhu bedding everything that moves during… er… the inevitable zombie apocalypse? Well, whatever floats their boat. And, look, the prices are dirt cheap! Everyone wins, right? Right? Hmm.

The worst of times: in short, the shackles are off.

No matter what you think about those lofty guardians of letters and words, when quality assurance is transferred from publisher to writer there’s an increased risk of inferior work resulting from it. Yes, some writers can squat down and curl 2000 words of award-winning prose before breakfast. Bully for them. Most everyone else will need a second, third, fourth pair of eyes over their work – self-publishers doubly so.

Why? Well, for every wannabe writer you hear bemoaning how insanely difficult it is to break into the publishing world you can hear another reader bemoaning the shitty quality of a self-published book they’ve picked up. When that happens you know immediately that the writer has not treated the reader with the respect they deserve.

Few writers go out of their way to write a bad book, granted, but at the same time it is down to any author to make sure their work is clean of errors and a bloody good read to boot. It is not enough for the writer to shelter a poor grasp of English beneath their surefire bestselling idea – it simply undermines writing standards and literacy levels. Likewise it is not enough to eloquently describe in florid, painstaking detail the soul-crushingly boring lives of their flaccid characters – it serves only to shorten attention spans further.

When gauging quality, however, most writers will be a poor judge of their work. Commercial writers have their editors to keep their prose in check. If wannabes wish to be taken seriously, by agents and publishers or by the audience they hope to grow themselves, they’ll need a professional opinion too. They need someone to say where a story isn’t working. They need to know where sentences, paragraphs, or entire plots are flagging. They need to know when a typo, a homonym, or just a flat-out wrong word has slipped into the text. This is tough to do when emotionally invested in the work.

When writing The Floors I was determined to seek opinion from fellow horror fiction fans and a professional. I wanted to know how well the story fared in a cold read, and received valuable feedback from my test readers as a result. At the same time I wanted to know how well the story fared from someone who lives, works, eats, shits and breathes sci-fi, fantasy and horror fiction, and so I hired the editing services of a well-respected agent.

Having come out the other end of a professional edit I feel a little more qualified to discuss the experience, warts and all, so here goes.

1) A professional edit is costly
I mentioned the cost of mine in an earlier post. If you are serious about your work then you will see this cost as an investment. You are, after all, writing something to sell, be it to an agent, a publisher or direct to the reader. It pays to be professional.
Before you reach for your chequebook, however, know that not every investment succeeds. Some fail, and spectacularly so. Therefore, like all investments, you should only risk what you can afford to lose. If you and your family are going to go hungry while you chase your writerly dream it’s time to reassess your priorities.

2) A friend or loved one won’t cut it as an editor
You may not want to shell out for a pro edit, particularly if you don’t fancy your odds of success. Fair enough. You may have in mind a friend or loved one who has a solid grasp of the English language. Don’t go there. Hell, you may even know someone who works in the publishing industry. Still don’t go there. Why? Because that person is less likely to give you both barrels when you need it most in case they hurt your feelings. If you must do it on the cheap seek out an independent critique from a local writer’s group or from somewhere like Absolute Write, but be aware that sometimes your peers will pick holes in something just for the sake of doing so.

3) Establish early on what you can expect from an edit
So you decide to invest in an edit. Good for you. Before stumping up any cash, however, establish exactly what it is you are paying for. A good, professional editor will detail what he or she will do for you. Some will simply go through your manuscript, line by line, editing anything iffy they come across and emailing back the edited manuscript. Others will also add notes and explanations of what they have done. Some may even give you an appraisal of your work. I was fortunate enough to see several helpful notes and criticisms made throughout the manuscript following a line-edit of The Floors. It was an added bonus that gave me a real sense of how the story was panning out, and something I really appreciated, even when some of those comments really stung, which leads me to…

4) Do not anticipate sugar-coated criticism…
Put simply, you want to know where your story stinks before your readers do. It is at this point you would see a little less honesty from that friend or loved one I mentioned earlier. You need an impartial eye, someone who isn’t there to spare your feelings.
My editor warned me in advance that some of the opinions he’d expressed were a bit on the strong side. He wasn’t joking, and yet, however much his comments stung, they were a useful barometer of how he was feeling at various points throughout the story. For example, when The Floors tap-danced a couple of miles over the line of decency I knew from his comments that I would need to rein in the story’s excesses – especially as my bad guy was becoming so vile that readers would want to skip ahead.
No matter how annoyed you may feel, you must take any criticism on the chin and use it to improve your work. Don’t moan about being misunderstood, blah, blah, blah. Your story didn’t connect as well as you’d hoped. Improve it, otherwise you may find far harsher criticism when your book attracts online reviews!

5) …but do expect new, precious insights into your work
My edit wasn’t all bad news. Far from it. There were chapters in The Floors where I felt the writing had really flowed, or where I had done my best to grip the reader and get those pages turning, and I was delighted to see only a handful of words edited during these parts. There were also notes highlighting when I was doing something well, but perhaps not doing it often or early enough.
As my manuscript had been edited with “Track Changes” switched on it was clear to see those words that had clogged up a sentence, or those unnecessary sentences that had slowed up the story. Despite my best efforts to keep the story zipping along it was interesting to see those writerly tics that had nevertheless remained: words like “however”, “had”, “that” and “nevertheless”, which can often be removed from a sentence with no harm done.
On top of these were some really helpful pointers on things I would never have picked up on. For example, The Floors is told in restricted third-person, or “over the shoulder” mode, if you will, and I was criticised for occasional lapses in POV (point of view). For example, in the prologue, I had originally carried on the narrative a little after Clive dies beneath the gun turrets – something the character couldn’t possibly experience given he’s suddenly been shot to bits and all that. (A quick section break inserted and – boom – it’s fixed.)

6) A professional edit is not “The End”
Don’t be tempted to think that an edited manuscript marks your finished copy. Far from it. If your editor has offered criticism of your work then you’d be a fool not to act upon it. You owe it to your readers, after all. And even if your manuscript is returned with nary a criticism in sight you need to take into account one crucial, indisputable fact, namely…

7) Your editor is a human being
As hard as that may seem, it’s true. You are dealing with someone who sometimes makes mistakes. We all make them. If we didn’t make mistakes then you wouldn’t need an editor in the first place and we’d all shit gold for kicks and piss the finest wines. Even if you’re facing the millionth readthrough of a manuscript you are thoroughly sick of reading, read it you must. You may find your editor has introduced errors of their own while attempting to iron out yours. You may also find an error of yours that slipped under the radar. (I found half a dozen when rereading The Floors.)
I would also stress the above point should you feel a need to express dissatisfaction at the edit, or if the thing is taking longer than expected to complete. Remember, your editor is probably a one-man/woman operation and shit happens. People get ill. Life gets in the way. Before you go off half-cocked, step back and see the bigger picture. And if that release date you put on your book a year in advance is getting too close for comfort then more fool you! 😉

8) You don’t have to agree with everything your editor says
I certainly didn’t, but, as I was always going to publish The Floors myself, I could wield more creative control and take more risks than a commercial author. If the book falls flat on its arse, then it’s on me. If you are gunning for a sweet publishing deal, however, then you’d probably be better advised digesting a lot more of what your editor says. You can still disagree – it’s still your book and one person’s opinion of it – but you might scupper your book’s chances of making the grade if you don’t heed the warning signs.

So there you have it. A monster post on pro edits. I hope some of that made sense! Having put The Floors through a professional edit I can honestly say the experience has been a positive one. The insights John Jarrold provided me will be valuable for my future projects.

Have my sales covered the cost? No, or at least not yet. 😉 But then I’m comfortable with Lucian’s folly. As long as I know my stories are the best I can make them, and, crucially, that they don’t take the piss out of the reader, then I’ll continue to be happy.

Right, that’s plenty ’nuff blathering for a while! I’ll be at the World Fantasy Convention next weekend, so, with luck, I’ll have a whole bunch of holiday snaps with which to bore… er… delight you! (In the meantime you may see a small promotional post here for the shindig.)

Thanks for reading. Do drop by again!

Things I’ve learned (#1)

So, with NaNoWriMo 2013 fast approaching, and the promise of an entirely new and exciting novel to work on, now is perhaps a good time to review the past twelve months and sum up what I have learned in getting The Floors out of my head and into your hands.

There may be a few of these posts over the next however-long, but I’ll keep the self-indulgence to a minimum if I can. Hell, you might even find some of these insights informative, or at least leavened with the occasional knob gag. Maybe.

Anyway, let’s kick things off with this little pearl of wisdom:

Don’t saddle yourself with a release date!

Release dates are funny old things. They’re applied to all sorts of products that seldom need them. Often it’s a bid to boost initial sales of a book, a video game, a DVD etc; a simple ploy to increase the cachet of a product by pushing it into a bestseller chart of some description. (We can argue the dubious value of the term “bestseller” another time.)

Then you have what I’ll call the vanity release date – chosen either because it has a tenuous link to the product in question, or because it simply looks cool on a poster. (Movies and TV shows have been flogging this dead horse for the last decade or so.)

With regard to The Floors, I couldn’t help it. Vanity got the better of me. A novel based around a maze of thirteenth floors demanded a 2013 release date. Sticking it out in the middle of 2014 would have just looked odd. Friday 13th seemed a natural date to use – the first in 2013 being September. For a story involving a ton of unlucky floors it made sense to choose one of the two unluckiest dates in the calendar. (We’ve another Friday 13th in December.) Bingo! I had my release date. My mistake was in announcing it a year in advance. I found adhering to it introduced a fair number of challenges.

The main challenge was in producing a book within a relatively short space of time. Not only are we talking about getting a 100,000 word story up to scratch, but all the ancillary bits too: producing a cover, creating the interior artwork, typesetting, proofing, designing adverts, creating artwork for the blog, Twitter and so on. You wanna know why books take so goddam long to come out? I believe I can field that question!

Another challenge was in managing the human element, and the slippage it sometimes introduced. I won’t cite specifics here as that would be mean of me. Besides, we got there in the end with no harm done. In some regards it worked out better than expected!

In short, a release date introduced unnecessary pressures into the project. That said there were positives to be had too, chief among them a real focus in getting the job done. A deadline gave me a good idea what it would be like to write professionally, or, given that writing pays dick these days, writing to a contract alongside my day job. It proved to me that I could do it, I’m just not entirely sure I would want to. (Wave a contract in my face, of course, and my heart may say otherwise! 😀 )

But there was another reason why I needed The Floors published sooner rather than later, and one that didn’t hang on any particular date: I simply needed to get the story out of my head. And, as wanky as it sounds, I would stress the word needed. I’ve mentioned a few times how this story was burning a hole through my mind. I wasn’t joking. It was getting to a point where I couldn’t sleep. If my mind strayed into anything to do with The Floors then that was it: I’d lie awake until 3 or 4 in the morning while my brain buzzed over plot details, scenes I had planned, cool new scenes to add in, and so on. Not good with a full working day lying only a couple of hours ahead!

If my next story possesses me to the same extent, so be it – I’ll take it as a good sign – but I won’t chew my fingernails to the bones with worry if it doesn’t.

So with my next project you won’t see me announcing its release anytime soon. I have a deadline in mind (Halloween 2014), but I won’t be putting myself under the same kind of pressure to meet it.

That’s enough blathering for now, folks. Next up, I’ll have some words to say about  professional edits. Are they worth it? What can you expect from one? That kind of thing.

Thanks for reading. Do drop by again, whydoncha?

First draft: so long, and thanks for The End!

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way, shall we?

It has taken, by my reckoning, 11 weeks of fairly intensive writing, but after stringing together 102,750 words I have finally completed the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel. I make that around 360-370 pages of a regular paperback in old money.

Lucian Poll's First Draft Feeling
That completed first draft feeling!

And, boy, do I feel all the better for it. You don’t believe me? Well, take a look for yourself…

It’s like I’ve undergone an exorcism, albeit one where the priest hands me the demon in a lovely bottle as a keepsake.

The overriding sensation is one of relief that I have finally gotten this story out of my head and onto paper, but, of course, the job is only really half done.

Few writers, if any, get things right first time. Those that do are liars. Hemingway, ever the writer’s go-to guy for memorable quotes, once declared that “The first draft of anything is shit.” There is, if you will forgive the pun, a ring of truth to that.

If, as it happens, you are a literary wunderkind that can get everything right first time, like some Anthony Trollope incarnate, then bully for you. For the rest of us mere mortals the first draft of a novel is going to be prone to all sorts of stuff guaranteed to make the writer’s skin crawl.

Such embarrassment doesn’t necessarily stop at typos, stilted dialogue and clunky prose, however. In a first draft you may find that you’ve dragged out an action sequence for too long, or you have scenes that seemed like a good idea at the time but no longer fit into the overall story, or you might find certain characters acting out of… erm… character. You may find that your authorial voice changes between the start and the end, or that your writing style relies too much on a phrase or sentence structure that jars the more it is noticed.

These latter problems can only really be hit upon by following a simple, albeit counterintuitive rule.

When it comes to redrafting a work it is often said that you should first put it away for a month or two and do something else in the meantime. (Stephen King is a great proponent of this approach in his book, ‘On Writing’.) That way your brain can recharge and give you the necessary distance to revisit the work with a more critical eye. You can then pick up the piece and read it in one go, making it easier to detect its weaknesses.

So that’s the plan. Doing nothing is going to be hard, though, as I’m itching to improve the story now, dammit, and I have a list of things that need beefing up or tightening. On the other hand, being a lazy bastard of some standing (but mainly sitting), doing nothing does have its charms.

Arm = twisted.

As there has been some slippage I have had to rejig my schedule of Things To Do. Easter weekend now marks the start of the second draft, which I hope to complete by the end of May. That then gives me 3 1/2 months to get a professional opinion on the manuscript, as well as placing it under the noses of a few test readers. Save for any massive failures in the story, I should then be able to knock out a final draft ready for Friday 13th September 2013.

In the meantime I’ll get busy with Inkscape and GIMP. There’s the new banner up top, for example, to tease you with. Next up is the rear cover (for the print-on-demand version I’ll put through CreateSpace) and adverts for possible placement in magazines or on flyers.

Oh, and there’s always another story to write!


NaNoWriMo: The best laid plans…

Pinky and The Brain issue 1 cover.
Come on! With a post headed ‘The best laid plans…’ what did you expect?

Previously on the NaNoWriMo theme I gave myself a hearty slap on the back for hitting the 50K mark a couple of days ahead of schedule. Up went the hurrahs, and far-flung were strewn the smileys.

What do they say about pride?

Yes, well. Ahem. Perhaps I should have kept quiet because the supposed easy bit – the final act – hasn’t been quite as forthcoming as the first 50,000 words.

So what went wrong? Basically December happened. I forgot that December is that most wonderful time of the year where time itself disappears into a black hole. (The kind of black hole where the event horizon is helpfully decked in lovely, red-shifting tinsel.) Another major real-life factor that slipped my mind was W-O-R-K, but then most everyone would like to forget about that.

Nil desperandum, though. While there has been a lot of jingle belling and real life-living and other such distractions, December has still seen a fair amount achieved in the world of Lucian Poll, just not a vast amount on the novel.

For example, a fair chunk of time was spent crafting and honing a 5000-word short story called “Flood Warning” to submit to Cemetery Dance magazine. As I type this here post the submissions window is still open, but you’ll have to be quick. They’ve got 20 story slots open for 2013 and they’ve already received hundreds of stories for consideration. Here’s a link:

Cemetery Dance magazine open for short story submissions

(For those of you with longer ones, they are also accepting submissions for their eBook line.)

As you may have seen from earlier posts December has seen me continue my quest to become one of those self-publishing author things. As far as blogging goes I admit it does make for a dry read, but I hope my experience helps others, and that it will be a worthwhile endeavour in the long run. Either way, my W-8BEN forms have since been accepted by Amazon, so there’s a nice uplift in royalties of nearly 43%.

(As an aside, I was delighted to find a spike in my blog hits in December. It turns out my guide recently ranked all top three spots in Google searches for “removing US withholding tax”. I’m not sure how long that will last, or how localised the results may be, but I don’t care. Hello, world!)

But now December is out of the way, and with it all recent distractions. The admin stuff is done – I’m now on Uncle Sam’s books. The story for Cemetery Dance is done – whether they like it or not! Christmas is done – and with it most of the skin around my nose thanks to a rotten cold.

What remains is the unfinished novel. It continues to scratch and scald the back of my mind and I need to get it out of there sharpish. Why? Well, the observant among you will have noticed that we’ve hit 2013. (All contrarians flapping their Julian calendars at me can piss off for the moment, thank you.) You may have also sensed that the number 13 features rather prominently in the novel: warnings issued to triskaidekaphobes, for example, or little updates saying how my story is jinxed. Even this blog was started on the 13th of the month. The release date for the novel is therefore very deliberate, and so I must work hard to meet it. To go and release the thing on a wet Tuesday afternoon in the middle of 2014 would be a bit silly.

So Friday 13th September 2013 it is.

That gives me just over 8 months. The only way I’m going to do this is to keep to a schedule. Having a schedule worked so well during November, even those days when I was at work, and so I must try to repeat that. Therefore here is my challenge:

January: finish first draft, minimum 1500 words per day.
February:put the novel to bed for a month; scope out advertising rates in assorted horror and sci-fi fiction magazines; create artwork for rear cover and promotional material; query respected manuscript editors for lead times on their services.
March:begin second draft
April:complete second draft; final readthrough and edits
May:submit manuscript for professional review and pace the house; start promoting the novel where I can; submit adverts where lead times are long
June – August:more promotion; tighten up novel in line with professional opinion; umpteen readthroughs until I’m sick of the sight of the novel
Friday 13th September 2013: time to release the beast! And then pace the house again.

How close I keep to the schedule remains to be seen, though at least it gives me something to work towards. Do drop by every now and again to see how I’m getting on.

In the meantime I should be writing.

P.S. Comic nerd moment: I’ve actually got that issue (#1) of Pinky & The Brain up there. Terrifyingly I think it is almost old enough to legally drink. Tempus fugit.

P.P.S. Okay, now I should be writing. Laters!

NaNo: Winner! Only another 30K to go! Wait, what?

NaNoWriMo 2012 Winner's Badge
Lucian wins the battle, but will he win the war?

So here we are at long last: 50,000 words have been recorded and I am delighted to report that your ever humble servant, Mr Poll, is now officially a NaNoWriMo 2012 winner.

Yeah!!!! How about that, huh?!?!? You want to fire another 50,000 at me? Bring it on!!!! Woo-hoo!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Okay, so much for the humble part. In truth if I attempted to rattle out another 50,000 words (in what turned out to be 27 days) I think my brain would push on the ejector seat button and blow me a kiss as it arcs into next door’s garden.

But look, there it is. The winner’s logo in all of its Venn diagrammy glory. If I’ve gotten the widget right on the main page of this here blog then you should also see something in the sidebar to prove it.

Not wishing to sound too arrogant, pride always coming before a fall and all that, but I had a good feeling I’d hit the 50K mark. I’d fleshed out a story with enough plot to keep the word count ticking over and, crucially, I stockpiled a lengthy spell of holiday at work, giving me a stretch of 19 days’ continuous story-writing at my disposal. Sadly only one day of this holiday remains and then real life swarms in from all sides to stem my horror writerly flow. 😦 So what am I going to do with my spare day?

Yes, that’s right. I’m going to keep on trucking with (Title Withheld), because while I’ve hit the 50,000 word mark I still have plenty of story left to write. By my reckoning I am two-thirds into the novel, so there’s around another 30,000 words to come, and I really don’t want to be typing up the grand finale over Christmas. I’d risk missing the Doctor Who Christmas Special, and clearly that’s poor form.

So it’s looking like I won’t be typing “The End” for a couple of weeks yet, but I don’t mind as I’m gearing up for the big white-knuckle ride finish. I can’t wait!

In the meantime here are some other things that NaNoWriMo 2012 has taught me, continuing from my previous post:

6) All of a sudden I can’t write when there’s music playing
This, to quote the inestimable Eric Cartman, sucks donkey balls! When I wrote my drawer-bound novel years ago I had all sorts of music playing to get me in the mood: Louis Prima, Henry Mancini, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone and so on. (It was set a while ago.) Now I find I sing along to whatever song is playing when I ought to be typing (and Dog forbid I subliminally inject lyrics into my prose). It gets even worse when there are no lyrics as my typing fingers magically float up from the keyboard, as if magnetically opposed to the keys, and, somebody help me, they start conducting. I type that with utter, utter shame.
It’s a pity as I had a cool playlist of great angsty, creepy or dark tunes. I’ll keep it handy for when I’m doing the cover art.

7) Aiming to publish this story on Friday 13th September 2013 was simply asking for trouble
Not only did Microsoft Updates snip the neocortex of my laptop, neatly and immediately guaranteeing my no-show from every NaNo write-in since, but then my gas boiler got itself shut down following its annual service. Some such excuse about it “not being safe”, which might explain my blackouts.
I can clear something up for you now: any visions you had of a writer holed up in a cold house tapping words into a lunking great tower PC whilst almost sitting on top of a fan-heater are infinitely more romantic than the real thing. In short: not fun.
You will also see why I’ve been #askingforit when I do the big reveal on the novel next year.

8) I really, really, really like making things up
Going back to work after all this is going to be a massive ball-ache. I think you might have gathered this by now.

9) I can’t wait to get started on NaNo novel #2
One of the replies I made to Eric’s kind comments suggested that I have a novella in mind once (Title Withheld) is done and out the door. After mulling over the story idea some more, however, I strongly suspect this will be my next NaNo novel.

10) Having a very patient Better Half is key
In my situation I have a long-suffering and very understanding Better Half who has given me the encouragement I need whenever I needed it, has re-tweeted my witterings to her followers whenever they have slipped out of me, and hasn’t yet dumped my sorry arse regardless of the enormous timesink writing has become.
Of course, if she ever reads some of the stuff in my first 50,000 words I could be on my Jack Jones in record time, perhaps with a restraining order for good measure.

So with three days of NaNoWriMo left I hope my fellow WriMos have enjoyed it as much as I have and are either well on the way towards their target or basking in the warm, radiant glow of 50K.

Here’s to the next 30,000 words!

NaNo, NaNo, only 30K to go…

An awesome Numskulls figurine from the ComicVine website
Lucian’s head, yesterday. Except with less hair.

…with a laptop and a pint and a story outline, NaNo, NaNo-NaNo-NaNooooo. Yes, I know what you are thinking: “Oscar-winning song-writing there, Lucian. Top hole!”

Yes, yes, yes. First of all I’d like to thank the Academy…

Anyway, hello you! As the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is in full swing I’ve spent rather a lot of time recently hammering the first 20,000 words of my novel into this here laptop and thus keeping abreast of the dreaded daily word count. (Just.) Some of these 20,000 words, I’m happy to report, even form sentences.

My teenage horror fan self seems satisfied with the yucky bits and my (rather pronounced) puerile self has rubberstamped his seal of approval on the industrial-strength language thrown around liberally by my bad guy. Please be warned, however, that my smartarse self, the one that came up with the tagline to this blog, not to mention the lion’s share of the story, is also fairly pleased with himself. You can give him a slap if he gets too annoying. (All this talk of assorted selves reminds me of The Numskulls cartoon that appeared in The Beezer and, later, The Beano. Ah, memories…)

Anyway, so far, so spiffing, and there are only another 30,000 words to get down before I “win”. Or collapse. One or the other.

In my previous post I mentioned how the launch meeting for NaNoWriMo was something of an eye-opener, and the revelations continue now I’m 40% into the word count. For example:

1) A 10,000 word plot outline doesn’t necessarily make NaNoWriMo any easier
I’ve lost count of the times my characters have deviated from the plot outline I feverishly hammered out over the summer. Either way I’m taking this as a positive: either the characters have developed minds of their own, which will hopefully then resonate with the reader, or my characters’ original actions weren’t so well-realised, so the story benefits from a little tightening up as a result. Luckily the structure of my plot is fairly modular, so my characters’ actions should not affect the overall story arc, but I’m not sure I’ll be so lucky when I come to write NaNo novel #2 next year.
What a detailed outline has allowed, however, is for me to plant a smattering of in-jokes and other stuff into the narrative for those having a second read-through of the novel. See, you already want to slap that smartarse self of mine, don’t you?

2) Aiming to writing a chapter a day was naïve
It sounded good at the time but my chapters are turning out to be longer than 1667 words, often double that. As a result I’m unlikely to complete a first draft of Title Withheld by the end of the month, but should be most of the way there, and definitely more than 50,000 words through. I could be looking at 300+ pages, though I hope not many more. That said I’m now off work until the 29th (happy, happy, joy, joy!) so let’s see if I can’t eat up some of these stray chapters.

3) Missing two days’ writing is terrifying
I woke up yesterday with 13,250 words and had to somehow finish today on 20,000. Yikes! I guess I’ll have to move my birthday for next year’s NaNo.
I feel I ought to put this into context, however: 3,375 words per day for two days doesn’t seem so bad when compared to the regime professional novelists place upon themselves. US horror legend Stephen King claims in his book “On Writing” (very much recommended) that he gets down around 2,000 words a day, every day, without fail, however many hours it takes (usually a morning). UK horror legend Shaun Hutson goes nuts if he can’t get down his ten pages each day – by UK book standards that’s around 2,500 words. So for me to bemoan 3,375 is perhaps a little precious.

4) My main character kicks arse!
Now that my main character is walking and talking and getting stuck in I’m growing to like her a lot more than I thought I would. Looking at my plot outline it’s such a shame that she… well, you’ll have to read the story, won’t you?

5) It costs just over £20,000 to buy a full-page advert in The Sunday Times’ Books section.
Ah. Perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself here…

The important thing is that NaNoWriMo continues to surprise and delight (even if it does sap precious moisture from my eyeballs), because for me that means it also continues to be interesting and worthwhile. If you are taking part in NaNoWriMo then I hope the ideas are flowing from your fingertips, or you are at least engaging with fellow NaNo-ers through the write-ins, forums and Facebook groups.

Finally, if you would like a sneaky preview of Title Withheld I have pasted a short excerpt here:

(10 Lucian Poll points to anyone that spots the goof. Don’t worry, it’ll come out in the second draft.)

Laters ‘taters.

NaNoWriMo: under starter’s orders

The NaNoWriMo coat of arms
It’s NaNoWriMo time! (Ish.)

November is a funny old month. It’s too close to winter to be autumn and too far away from Christmas to be festive. It marks the beginning of Really Crap Weather (as opposed to the government-issue Crap Weather we usually enjoy in the UK), and it marks the end of daylight in general. It’s too early in the football season for it to be interesting and it tends to leave the country twiddling its thumbs and looking for something to do.

But, being them human beans, we are an inventive lot. It’s taken a few million years but in the last decade we’ve finally cracked the big question of What To Do In November?

If you are one of them British gentleman types then November now tends to mean Movember: a tremendous endeavour that has men up and down the country growing silly facial hair in aid of testicular cancer charities. I often refer to it as ‘Bollock Relief’, but sadly it’s not catching on. Either way I’m certain some amazing moustaches have made for interesting passport photos.

I already sport silly facial hair, however, as intimated in my calling card, so for me these follicular festivities are out. Instead I’m taking part in that other marvellous and recent November development: NaNoWriMo a.k.a. the National Novel Writing Month.

Yesterday saw the launch of NaNoWriMo for the Norfolk chapter. The hellish weather would have gotten a passing mention in The Bible and nearly convinced me not to go, but I’m very glad I took the plunge. (My shy side must have been having a lie-in.) The event was friendly, constructive and something of an eye-opener.

Meeting fellow participants revealed a variety of reasons for giving NaNoWriMo a go: not only to scratch a creative itch but also as a means to help with healing and recuperation. The brainstorming exercises revealed angles in my story that I hadn’t previously considered and gave me a taste of the plots and creative processes of other NaNo-ers. The launch event also demonstrated a proportionate popularity of NaNoWriMo among women (around a 75%:25% split), and, perhaps surprisingly, a large penchant for the fantastic: out-and-out fantasy, paranormal entities, mass-contagion, science fiction, horror… basically all of the shelves Waterstones keeps at the back of their shops now that porn is in (and out and in and out and in and out… you get the idea).

This was backed up by a quick scan through NaNoWriMo’s genre forums after the event. Fantasy is very much the big thing by a large margin (perhaps it has always been thus – I am a NaNo noob after all). After that: historical fiction, sci-fi and horror. Past and present literary fads don’t get much of a look-in. There’s not much being written on the clit-lit front post-Fifty Shades – not when people can clog Smashwords with it every day, anyway. Chick-lit? Not a wealthy beau to be seen. Misery-lit? Barely a sniff. Even crime, an erstwhile literary favourite, doesn’t feature. Perhaps I’m too much of a cynic, but it did surprise me.

But I digress. The upshot of this post is to say if you have a story in you and are tempted to give NaNoWriMo a try, DO IT! Sign up now, now, now, and get involved! Go to these get-togethers, knuckle down at the write-ins and chat with fellow NaNo-ers. You’d be amazed how quickly the ice breaks, and to have someone say they like your story idea and would love to read it is incredibly reassuring. And if you can’t make a get-together, hit the forums, get some writing buddies and bounce ideas around.

So now, under starter’s orders, with fingers itching to begin typing, I’ve just got to wait for the gun. And a pair of parangs. (It’s a horror story after all…)