On the 2nd November I couldn't sleep. I was still up at 3am, mindlessly scrolling through the world of social media where nothing much was happening, until I saw some NaNoWriMo posts. I'd heard of it before but I'd never considered doing it. Writing a novel in a month? That was for pro's for sure. I'd already written a novel which had taken the best part of 3 years. A month just sounded impossible. But as I read the posts and tweets, I liked the community vibe and friendliness that was going on. It felt like an exiting, positive environment. With such a lot of creative people in the world I often expect more competition, but the more I delve into the writing world, online and offline, I realise how friendly and supportive it is. A friend in my writing group had decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, and suddenly it hit me (at 3am)...I should be doing it too. Yes, I was 2 days in, but I could catch up...right? I considered my month ahead, noting one weekend away but otherwise nothing to stop me from committing myself. I signed up to the NaNoWriMo website and explored, feeling more certain with every second that it was definitely what I needed to do.
Now, this is where I have to admit to my advantage. I already had a story, that's the only way I could do it on such a whim. I had already written a screenplay called 'Papercuts' which I aimed to write into a novel at some point, but I'd been putting it off. Another 3 years, like my last novel, just seemed so daunting. But, I thought, if I could at least get started with NaNoWriMo then it might give me some discipline and a routine. Even if I just did 25,000 words it's more than I would have done, so why not give it a go?
The first few days
I had to do a couple of days of binge writing to catch up, but I enjoyed it. I read each scene of my screenplay and just started writing, and the words pored out naturally. All the stuff I had in my head which had to be limited for the screenplay could come out and onto the page. My main worry was that the story I'd worked on for so long as a screenplay wouldn't work as a novel, or that it would change the story, but it didn't. All the same scenes happened, but I could slow it down and write all the little details around it. My characters could have longer conversations and get to know each better. The protagonist is a girl with a troubled past and lots of family issues, who travels to India and befriends an Australian monk. Their friendship became even more of a joy to write than the first time around in the screenplay.
I surprised myself by quickly getting into a daily writing routine. It wasn't at the same time everyday due to other commitments, but I always made space for it. This may sound sad, but I bloody love that table on the NaNoWriMo website. You can load your word count and it puts it into a graph and a table which tells you how much you've done so far (right). I loved updating it everyday and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as time went on. The theory is that, although 50,000 is not a novel, it a good chunk of one to get you started, plus it makes a manageable target every day of around 1,660 words. I found it much easier to stay on target that I imagined. When I started it was the 3rd November so I had to do over 10,000 in 2 days, and I did the same at the end to finish early. That felt like a lot, but I still enjoyed it. In fact, it's great to have those binges to get in 'the zone'. I was in my characters' world and could easily just get on a roll.
Little chunks everyday
So I kept going everyday for the first few weeks, and was still on target. I couldn't believe it. I started to realise that if I kept going, I might actually do it. I still didn't really believe it until I got close to the end of the month, I think that's why I did another binge at the end to make sure I definitely got there! It would have been a shame to get to the end of the month and only be 1000 words out. I got to just over 50,000 and allowed myself to feel proud, something I've often found very hard to do in the past.
Now, I know the ideal thing after NaNoWriMo would be to carry on at the same pace until the novel is finished (I was near the end but still not finished), but I had a busy week starting in December for my birthday. So I allowed myself the breathing space and had a very, very fun week: a meal out with my writing group, had a friend to stay, had a meal with other friends, and... (drum roll...) went to see one of my favorite bands growing up - Ash - and got a hug from singer/guitarist Tim Wheeler (who I've loved since I was 13! Best birthday present ever - call me sad, that's fine). Since then I've been busy getting ready for my trip to Vietnam over Christmas. I planned to work on the novel again in January, setting myself daily targets inspired by the discipline of NaNoWriMo, but I may even do a bit on the beach whist I'm away!
So what have I learnt from NaNoWriMo?
This is probably the stuff everyone says, but I realised that I can be disciplined if I really put my mind to it and have a clear target. I think it really works for me adapting from a screenplay (I'd hate to try and adapt the other way around!). I haven't yet decided what I prefer writing - novels, screenplays or short stories, or even what genre I like writing, I just like doing them all. I thought that 'finding my voice' meant finding the genre I write in, but that's not it. It's the words you use, the language and the style. I write simply, I don't use metaphors or similes and I don't use flowery descriptions. I used to think this meant my writing was rubbish, but now I realise it's just my style. I have't quite got to that confident point where I can say that my stuff is good (and I'm not sure I ever will!), but I've realised that it's not that bad, which is far from how I felt a few years back. In short, NaNoWriMo has really given me a confidence boost.
Thinking about doing NaNoWriMo in the future?
Plan, plan and plan some more. I think I only managed to bust out that many words because I knew my characters and the story so well. When I was planning the screenplay I had pages full of character details. I wrote a list of questions about favorite films, music, what kinds of socks they wear, what their experiences at school were like, and many more. I didn't necessarily use all this information in the story but I did it to get to know the characters inside out. I also wrote scenes on sticky notes and stuck them all over my wall. Even if you're a novelist, reading up on some screenwriting methods can be really helpful in terms of planning. Novels are so long that it's hard to keep track of where it's easy to get lost in it, so lots of planning can really help.
The thing I enjoyed the most about NaNoWriMo is the sense of community. Knowing that lots of people from all over the world are doing the same as you feels like a lovely connection to have. All these creative people all connecting through writing - it's so inspiring!
Give it a go one year, you've got nothing to lose! Even if you only do a few thousand words, it's better than nothing. Nobody fails at NaNoWriMo really, except for those people who have a novel in their head and never try it!
Happy Writing, and Merry Christmas!!
I've written a lot of words and I'm sure you'll understand why I don't want to write anymore today! But yay! More to follow after a bit of a rest. Phew.
Now, I'm doing NaNoWriMo so I don't have time for words on here. Here's a very, very short version of my day on Saturday (21st Nov)...
Snow in Staffordshire!
Snow buggered off. Thankful.
Broken down train.
Stress at Birmingham New Street.
Chris Fielden's Anthology launch at Cafe Kino.
Tequila (bad move).
Sleep and sleep and sleep.
And I think some people read some stories and I took some pictures. Hopefully people bought books too but if you didn't, you can here.
If you want to use these pictures please feel free, but please attribute to me:
That's right, I'm doing the dreaded write-a-novel-in-a-month thing that I said I'd never do. Hence why I won't write much here, I'll simply leave a badge with my progress so far! Follow me on Twitter for occasional updates about my ever-growing caffeine addiction @MCiavucco.
It’s been an exciting week for many people involved with the Bristol Festival of Literature, with all sorts of local events to stir the literary juices. Writing groups of Bristol came together to battle it out with 250 word stories at the Flash Slam at The Crofters Rights on Friday 23rd October. Don’t worry, everyone survived. We were mostly unharmed and there were very few blood splatters on the walls.
Stokes Croft Writers were poised and ready to give it our best of course. We picked out our best flash fiction and four of us – me, Chris, Leah and Christie - took to the stage. There were five writing groups in total, but please don’t ask me to name them all as they have really similar names: all I know is they have ‘Bristol’ in them. So, anyway…we didn’t win. There we go, got it out of the way. I know, fans, it’s hard to accept, but we’re okay…honestly. Bristol Novel Writers won. No, you don’t need to go and beat them up for us, we’re good sports.
For those of you who don’t know Stokes Croft Writers (pff, as if you don’t know us?), we’ve been together for about two and a half years now. We formed whilst on the run from another evil group which we do not speak of, and decided that our group would be the best in the world because a) we’re cooler than the rest, and b) we drink more (I don’t know why that last one’s a reason, but hey). 2015 was going to be OUR year; the year to get recognition and possibly even money (ha!) for our writing. The year we get ourselves known as a group. The year we all take the plunge and set up a storytelling night. To summarise, world domination was our mission and still is.
As you can probably imagine, hearing we didn’t win was rather problematic. Nikesh Shukla, our wonderfully shouty compere (he actually was really awesome), announced the two writing groups who would go through to the final…North Bristol Writers and Bristol Novelists. I was about to start my high-pitched wailing when Nikesh went on to explain the twist for the final round – they would have to write a new story in the 15 minute break, with a theme of ‘Bristol’. I was suddenly rather relieved that we wouldn’t have to attempt such a difficult task. If any of the other groups were like us, they probably held a few of their best stories back for the final. Sneaky Nikesh must have guessed. Well played, Nikesh, well played. I was secretly rather pleased to see the other groups squirm at the thought of having to write a story on demand.
But they did, and they did a very good job of it. Both read their stories, then the audience split onto one side of the room or the other to vote for which they preferred. Bristol Novelists (who run Novel Nights, a wonderful monthly event for writers) emerged as the winners. They were given goody bags. GOODY BAGS. Bet they were rubbish, those goody bags. Bet there weren’t any badges in those goody bags. Or booze, or chocolate, or cake, or condoms, or anything else of great importance like that, in those goody bags. Not that I’m bitter about not getting a goody bag. I’m not 12. I don’t want a goody bag. Really, I really didn’t want a goody bag anyway.*
Anyway, I’ll stop blabbering on. Here’s what you really want to see - more pictures!
*If anyone has a goody bag they’d like to sell, I’m willing to pay good money for it.
Feel free to copy and use these pictures if you were at the event, but please do accredit me where possible – Mel Ciavucco, www.melciavucco.weebly.com
Saturday saw the closing ceremony of the Bristol Festival of Literature – the ‘speakeasy’ ie our very own Talking Tales storytelling event. Normally we do these events on a Monday night (a school night!) so it was great to have a good Saturday night knees up. The organisers could finally let their hair down with all the hard work over. We enjoyed some stories, plus a band - Long for the Coast. It was a fabulous festival, and they all did a wonderful job.
This is the soppy bit now. What? I can be sentimental at times! You can turn your sarcasm radar off. If there's one thing I've taken away from this weekend, it's the importance and strength of writing groups. Never I have I felt so proud, happy and accepted in such a supportive writing community, in my own writing group and beyond. Bristol writers are some of the best I’ve ever met, they seem to flourish in this city and I’m proud to be part of this buzzing creative scene. Thank you to my writing group who inspire, motivate and teach me new things every time we meet. Thank you to the organisers of the Bristol Festival of Literature who, despite having hardly any funding still manage to put on a wonderful festival. And finally, I’m thankful to all the wonderful writers and storytellers I’ve met in Bristol. You’re all brilliant and inspiring.
Ever wondered what short story competition judges are really thinking? I thought I'd share a few of my own experiences from being a judge for a comedy short story competition.
A year has flown by really quickly so I've just had the honour of judging Chris Fielden's 'To Hull and Back' competition again. As with last year, it was wonderful to be involved and it was great to see so much creativity and writing talent. I know this is what all judges say, but it's true. It was so hard to pick winners, but it was a lot of fun overall. As it's a comedy short story competition, I laughed my way through all twenty stories. The hard part is trying to conjure up that judgmental approach; trying not to just read and enjoy, but to think in terms of scores instead.
All the shortlisted stories will be featuring in the To Hull and Back Anthology which will be released on 31st October ('Hulloween'!) I'm already looking forward to reading them all again, and hopefully I'll get to meet some of the writers at the book launch. It's always fascinating to read a story before meeting the person who wrote it. I didn't know anything about the writers until Chris published their bio's on his website after we finished judging. I was pleasantly surprised to see some familiar names; some people who were shortlisted last year, and a Bristol local, Mark Rutterford (a wonderful regular performer at Talking Tales). Sometimes we form ideas of what the person might be like from the sort of thing they write, but the outcome can often be surprising. I was convinced that one of the stories, about a man's trip to Ikea with his nagging wife, was written by a man. It was a real eye-opener to see that it was in fact written by a woman, which I was pleased about as I'd secretly thought it was really funny despite it going against all my feminist principals!
Speaking with my fellow judges after the competition winners were announced, it seems we had very different preferences when it came to the 'best' stories. All the stories were of such a high standard that any of them could have been put in first place. That's what's so tricky about writing competitions, they just come down to personal preference. It's great that Chris runs his competition in the fairest way he can - with a range of judges all with varying tastes, preferences and opinions. In all honesty, I've often felt like some writing competitions give preference to more 'crowd pleasing' stories; often not funny or sweary or pushing boundaries or breaking rules. This is a shame because, for me, that's exactly what I'd look for in a story!
The judges stories will also be featured in the To Hull and Back Anthology so my story 'Wonder Woman's Birthday Party' will be in there. Hopefully, we'll all get to go to the book launch and drink our own body weight in booze.
In other news, it's the Bristol Festival of Literature soon! Talking Tales will be closing the week with a bang - on a Saturday night, wooooo (more drinking body weight in booze antics) - on 24th October. On the night before, there will be a 'Flash Slam', which may result in the deaths of a few Bristol writers. I'm a little bit scared. I've been writing lots of really short stories for it, less than 250 words, which is bloody hard! The writing groups of Bristol will be coming together to throw words at one another and fight it out to find out the ultimate question - which is the greatest writing group in the world? Just kidding.
Stokes Croft Writers are the best, obviously.
I've been rather busy writing posts for Freesized and Zusterschap, but thought I'd add a quick catch up post.
It was an interesting week, starting with Talking Tales on Monday 17th August. It was our third event and we still managed to draw quite a crowd despite it being August; a time when people may have been somewhere exotic or acting cool at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival instead. We had a great night with some regular readers and some newbies. You can read the full round-up here.
I was the compère, which in all honesty wasn't great. It's a lot of responsibility being a compère, you've got to pay attention, be around when people finish their stories to go and introduce the next instead of being blind drunk at the bar. I was also nearly losing my voice, which didn't help.
Compèring is a very different experience to performing a story. With a story, you just read and people listen, sometimes they laugh, then you relax and enjoy the rest. As a compère there's more pressure to be entertaining, to hold the show together, and I don't think my ranty-chuntery-so-bad-it's-good approach worked so well. It didn't seem to actually cross over into the 'good' part. Ah well, you live and learn. We can't be good at everything, right? I already have enough to practice with novel editing, screenwriting, story writing and blogging at the moment, so that's where I'd best focus my attention I'd say.
Show and Tell was on Thursday, and the theme was 'below the line internet comments', something I'd been researching on and off for a few weeks. I presented a funny-in-a-depressing-sorta-way case against Roosh V - the 'pick up artiste' who has recently been in the news for a) pissing off Canada and b) for his 'Bang' books - supposedly advice for men on how to pick up girls, when really they're misogynistic, racist, pro-rape propaganda. I have A LOT more to write about this, which I hope to post on Freesized. Follow me on Twitter for updates @MCiavucco.
So what's next? Let Me Tell You a Story, Jack are having a birthday bonanza in September, so I'll be heading to that. Until then, I'll be trying to get back to my screenplay, plus I'm adapting my story 'Wonder Woman's Birthday Party' into a short film, and I'm sure there will also be a healthy dose of ranty blog posts too.
This week brought another evening at Novel Nights in Clifton. I've only been to this event once prior to this week, but I've certainly been impressed by both! Novel Nights is a storytelling night, but in a different sense to others in Bristol like Talking Tales or Let Me Tell You a Story, Jack. It showcases local writers, dedicating the first half to readings of novel chapters or short stories, then the second half welcomes a professional speaker, hence the £5 door charge. The speakers I've seen - Nikesh Shukla (more details in a previous blog post) and this week, Kate Johnson, have been insightful, personable and enjoyable.
Let's put it this way, it's definitely worth spending a fiver if you're a writer.
This week's speaker was literary agent Kate Johnson from Wolf Literary Services LLC. As somebody who has battled over a novel for a number of years and attempted to send it off to a few agents who of course ignored me, I am likely to be one of the many writers who sees literary agents as some kind of demi-Gods. So an opportunity to have a Q&A session with one of these mythical creatures is pretty darned good. Kate was happy to answer all the audience's questions about getting an agent and the publishing industry, and it was clear there were a lot of keen novelists in the audience. If you missed it, here's a useful article I found about starting the uphill trek into literary agent land...How to get a literary agent without dying of old age.
Kate was kind, charming and positive, something needed in the writing world. Writers have to find a lot of faith in themselves to keep going through the rejection letters (though sometimes there're better than just being ignored) so it's refreshing to have somebody like Kate who was willing to listen and answer. She even stayed behind after to chat to people individually, and listened to me ramble on after a few wines about how my book really isn't sci-fi, honest.
Novel Nights presents itself differently to storytelling nights for this reason - it's primarily for writers to read or listen, but also to learn. It may not be the night that all your non-writer mates want to come along to, but for writers it's an opportunity not to be missed. This week saw THREE of Stokes Croft Writers - Christie, Nick and Steph, all reading the first few pages of their novels/novella, which is a pretty sweet opportunity in front of a literary agent! Nerve-racking for sure though, so I applaud them and the other readers, Susie and Judy.
I recognised Judy from a previous episode of Speechbubble, a BBC Radio Bristol comedy show which I recently preformed on too. My performance was on episode 5 which was broadcast on Friday 26th June, and will be available soon on iPlayer. I read a slightly shortened version of 'A Pocket Guide to Earth'. The original version is published on Zusterschap here. I also recently wrote another piece for them on Writing Inspiration which you can check out here.
When my segment on Speechbubble is available I'll post more info, but for now why not have a listen to Judy Darley.
One of the events I missed this weeks as National Flash Fiction Day, held yesterday at Foyles. Hope it all went well and look forward to hearing about it soon!
If you like flash fiction, check out Stokes Croft Writer's very own Andy Melhuish. He treated us to some of his flash fiction at the last Talking Tales - you can read some here.
So what's coming next?
This week's news: Nyphomaniac zombie quokkas, Cootie Catchers, and flogging, castration and mutilation.
It's an exciting week, folks! It kicked off with Talking Tales last night - our second Stokes Croft Writers storytelling event at Left Bank in Stokes Croft, Bristol. We heard stories from a few of the SCW team including Steph Minns, Leah Eades, Thomas David Parker, plus myself.
There were also performances from more of Bristol's talented writers - Angela Brooks, Mark Rutterford, Kevlin Henney and Joe Smith...or is it Bryron? Oooh the mystery!
Christie and Andy of SCW were co-compering, Andy delighting us with some of his flash fiction (it really is very good - read some here) between the acts, picking which flash pieces to read in a 'Cootie Catcher' inspired way.
At my school we called them 'Chatterboxes' I think, and they were all the rage for a while hence I've been able to make such a professional looking one so you know what I'm on about. They are indeed a hard thing to describe otherwise. In my experience they were mostly just used as a more creative way of insulting people. The 'you smell' in the picture was far preceded at my school by much harsher words.
I was sad enough to Google 'Cootie Catchers' and found out that they can also be called 'salt cellars' or 'whirlybirds'. 'Salt cellar' sort of makes senses as apparently if you turn it over you can put food items in each of the pockets, although I can think of much more sensible ways of storing salt. This may work for jelly beans though. Try it.
If you are still fascinated by Cootie Catchers (and why wouldn't you be?) you can find out more here, or watch this video to make your own. You know you want to. Moving swiftly on...
Back to Talking Tales. I performed a particularly niche story - a review of the film adaption of Zombies on a Boat, so only about 5 people could enjoy it. I suggest you listen to the last podcast before the next one comes out and hopefully it will make a lot more sense. For anyone who needs further clarification of what a quokka is (as if my explanation of 'if a possum shagged a kangaroo' isn't enough?), see here. Don't be fooled by the cute furry smile.
All of the performers got a Talking Tales badge, which of course they'll all still be wearing with pride. God forbid they took them off to go to bed! Talking Tales badges are like Blue Peter badges except you look ever so slightly less of a knob wearing one.
'Finish the Lines' was a success again, the winning line rewarded with the ultimate prize, you guessed it - a Talking Tales badge. The best will be published soon on the Stokes Croft Writers website. If you're not already, please follow us on Twitter on on Facebook for updates.
The next Talking tales is likely to be in September, as apparently people go on holiday in August...wankers. Oh, I'm just jealous.
In other news...
I'm going to be recorded on Thursday for BBC Speechbubble! It's a radio show which 'showcases the talents of local amateur comedians' - it's mostly stand-up so I've no idea how I've been able to get in there, especially being as they said they needed something 'clean'. My story, a slightly adapted version of 'A Pocket Guide to Earth', involves 'flogging, mutilation and castration' so I'm not sure how 'clean' it really is. We'll see how that goes down.
You can read a taster of the story on my new website - FREESIZED! This was called Embracing our Bodies as that was a bit pants it is now back and is bigger, bolder and brighter and ready to take on the the future. Check it out!
Just your average week, you know.
Monday was Talking Tales, our highly anticipated storytelling night set up by myself and my writing group - Stokes Croft Writers. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and hope everyone else did too! We seemed to have about 50 people, a turn out we were very pleased with for our first event. Roll on the next one!
We had readings from some amazingly talented writers including L.E. Turner, AA Abbott, Angela Brooks, Ellen Waddell, Mark Rutterford, Kevlin Henney and Pete Sutton. Thank you so much to all of them for coming along, performing and supporting the night. Christie was a wonderful compère, and she started off the evening with one of her own brilliant stories.
Chris Fielden and I read my story, Zombies on a Boat, which you can read in the 'To Hull and Back' Anthology. It went down an absolute storm and was such a joy to read. Thanks to everyone for making it so much fun!
The podcast will be coming soon!
The next Talking Tales will be on Monday 15th June 2015. Follow us on Twitter at @SCWriting and 'Like' our Talking Tales Facebook page!
Show and Tell
Next up was Show and Tell at Cafe Kino on Wednesday (15th April). My first attempt at something a little more like stand up, it's it's fair to say I was cacking myself a fair bit beforehand. But, I did it (with the help of a few wines!).
I managed to navigate a microphone, a laptop and my scrappy noted bullet points, and delivered my true story of my childhood pet...a psychotic, sexist, yet hugely entertaining, giant fish nicknamed 'Mr Blobby.'
But that's a story for another time...
Finally, a rather sleepy Mel managed to still make it along to Novel Nights on Thursday (16th April), for wonderful stories and experiences from Nikesh Shukla.
He sent a lamb chop into space. No really, he did...
I've bought a copy of his book, Meatspace, and am looking forward to reading it soon.
But first, I really do have to get some writing done and stop gallivanting...
Oh but the gallivanting is always so much fun!