NaNoWriMo Diary 1: Characters

This year’s NaNoWriMo is tentatively titled Preliminary Castings (I will find a better title for it). I’m swamped with it, so here’s the first installment of a (hopefully) three-part series of short entries about this weird novel I’m writing: Characters.

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Samuel Smythe

“It’s like being very connected to the universe.”

Clairvoyant. Failed Wizard. Tells the future by runecasting. Loves books, divination, learning languages.

Socially awkward puppy desperate for approval. Raised Catholic now agnostic. Hopelessly in love. Questioning. Cut adrift and seeking a new identity. Over-dresses and overthinks.

tumblr_nx7o81EMJa1qkzjnzo4_250Annabel Stuart

“Not nice, just different.”

Shapeshifter, probably autistic, aromantic asexual. Loves insects, spiders, worms, zoology. Only reads non-fiction.

Raised by her older brother. Bullied at school and learning how to trust again. Bespectacled. Blunt but never cruel. Loves having wings. Deeply self-conscious, simultaneously doesn’t care what anybody thinks. A contradiction and an enigma to everyone but herself.

tumblr_nx7nhv6IVX1qkzjnzo1_250Leo Adrei

“I don’t have feelings like a normal person.”

Mindreader, autistic, bookworm. Loves Shakespeare, space, the music of Queen. Hoards books, wears headphones 24/7.

Orphan. Grew up in care. Tries very hard to be a good person. Describes both gender and sexuality with vague wiggly hand gesture. Over-identifies with fictional characters, under-empathises with real people.

tumblr_nxh0emdB3a1qkzjnzo2_250Bridget Geddes

“I’m not cold. Am I?”

Healer, novice priestess, bisexual. Loves her friends, her culture, plants and the sea.

Studies too much. Polytheistic and deeply religious with it. Raised on a shrine by the sea. Stickler for the rules and more ambitious than she lets on. Teacher’s pet and irritatingly humble. Mostly just wants to help people however she can.

Up next: World.

 

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My Week in Writing (05/11/17)

statsWell, I’m officially underway on my eighth NaNoWriMo. I’ve been off work all week, so I decided to try and get ahead before I went back to work… and may have got a bit overboard. I need to dial it back or I’m going to exhaust myself – yesterday was apparently my ‘wordiest day’ of all time, at a little over 5000!

And that… really is most of what I’ve done! I’ve been to three meet-ups with my local group and met some nice new writers (plus caught up with some old friends) and I’ve reacquainted myself with some characters who might as well be old friends.

This year I’ve picked up where I left off in 2015. I’m hoping to get to the end of book two of this trilogy, though that might be optimistic. So far not much has happened, but I’m still very much in the relationship-building stage of proceedings. There’s going to be some more character drama to come and then, hopefully, some more action before the climax.

We’ll see how it goes! I re-read my 2015 NaNo and I left myself some intriguing threads to pick up. I’m not too worried, given my stats so far and how easy these characters are to write.

Also this week: I finished listen to 1963: The Space Race from Big Finish, which was an interesting one but ultimately disappointing. I reviewed Anita and Me on Goodreads. And I’ve been watching the new season of Stranger Things – behind everyone else, I know, but I don’t have the time for binge-watching.

And now I’ve done my words for the day, I’m pretty much just sitting here listening to fireworks outside. Happy Bonfire Night!

 

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Big Finish Reviews: A Heart on Both Sides & All Hands on Deck

Big Finish’s Short Trips Monthly range started up in January of 2015 and I’ve been a regular subscriber more or less ever since. And as of this year BF finally has a license to start producing New Series themed material.

Short Trips has always been an especially varied and creative range, so I was excited to see three special short trips blending new and old Who concepts; March/April’s The Jago and Litefoot Revival and for September and October a pair of stories sending two of Big Finish’s most popular companion characters into the Last Great Time War.

A Heart on Both Sides, featuring BF veteran performer Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, and All Hands on Deck featuring Carole Ann Ford as Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter and the original Doctor Who companion caused some high emotions amongst the fanbase when they were announced. Not because people thought they would be bad; it’s that Nyssa and Susan are both exceptionally kind and good characters, and Big Finish don’t you dare hurt them.

Needless to say, I had some big expectations for these stories. Did they live up to them? Well, sort of.

heartA Heart on Both Sides by Rob Nisbet

A Heart on Both Sides dives straight on in. We find Nyssa and her new assistant crewing a hospital ship, the Traken, trying desperately to help as many people as they can while the Time War rages around them.

But when their arrival on a neutral planet is followed closely by a Time Lord attack, Nyssa finds herself the object of suspicion and tensions run still higher when her assistant is found to be a Time Lord himself…

Nyssa’s assistant is, of course, the Doctor (as played by Paul Mcgann). She doesn’t recognise him and he never reveals herself, which, surprisingly, actually works. This is a Doctor who is working hard to stay detached from events. He involves himself in Nyssa’s life only as long as is necessary to save it and then he’s gone.

The emotional stakes are high and on that level this story is a tense and often moving listen.

Unfortunately, the premise doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny. It’s a fairly ordinary war-time story but the trouble is, the Time War isn’t an ordinary war. As far as we know, the opposing side are the daleks. The whole concept of Nyssa having ‘a heart on both sides’ (as the Doctor claims) is puzzling to say the least and never really explained.

A Heart on Both Sides sets out to prove that the Time War was more ideologically complicated than it might seem at first glance, but unfortunately doesn’t pull it off. I’ve thought about it a lot and the only ‘two sides’ I can think of that make sense in this context are fighting against the daleks vs remaining neutral, but if that was the intention, it really ought to have been explained more fully.

handsAll Hands on Deck by Eddie Robson

I had a lot of expectations for this story. I did not expect it to open with a dalek machine spewing custard. Suffice to say this one was a surprise!

Susan has now helped Earth weather not one but two dalek invasions and lost most everyone she loves in the process. But she’s determined to help her adopted homeworld rebuild. Life goes on.

Then one day she finds herself dealing with a dalek machine spewing custard. An asteroid that disappears before it can hit the Earth. A series of curiously harmless crises. Almost like someone is playing games with her.

It’s the Doctor, playing a very clever and dangerous game indeed. His appearance late in the story where it would normally be a relief is here an unsettling twist. The Doctor is, very unusually, here the antagonist. A sympathetic antagonist but an antagonist nonetheless.

His goal? To keep Susan from realising that Gallifrey is trying to contact her… to draft her into the military. To fight in the Time War. This reveal when it comes is hardly a surprise but its consequences are gutwrenching.

All Hands on Deck is a study into Susan’s character and her relationship with the Doctor, who hasn’t been the world’s best grandfather. The climax harks back to the famous ending of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, wherein the Doctor locked Susan out of the TARDIS and out of his life for her own good, starting her new life on 22nd century Earth.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth has long been praised for its emotional weight and criticised for its sexist, paternalistic undertones in equal measure. Once, the Doctor took away Susan’s right to choose her on path in life. Now their positions are reversed, and now she takes it back.

The decision of have the Doctor play the villain for once was a very interesting one, especially in a story about Susan, perhaps his closest companion of all. And it’s equal parts carthartic and heart-breaking, especially for listeners of The Eighth Doctor Adventures who know exactly what Susan has been through to reach this point.

Verdict:

A Heart on Both Sides was more or less what I’d expect from a New Who based Time War story, which is to say, an enjoyable narrative but ultimately unsatisfying. I hope Big Finish does better in their Time War boxset (I haven’t listened to it yet!).

All Hands on Deck was not at all what I’d expected, and it’s brilliant. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s familiar with Susan’s character. It’ll break your heart.

 

 

 

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My Week In Writing (29/10/17)

20171029_135909.jpgAnd just like that, October’s nearly over…

I went along to the Edinburgh NaNoWriMo opening party today. Played some games, met some interesting writers and some NaNoWriMo newbies! I think I’ve officially achieved veteran status at this point, what with seven novels under the old belt.

I’m now in the process of creating my novel on the NaNo site. Slightly terrifying given how hard I found Inktober, but fingers crossed. I’ve got the first five days of November off work to get into the swing of it.

I was also out last night celebrating Halloween, so all in all this has been an odd weekend.

Speaking of Inkober, I’m up to date with 29 little stories written, including a couple of snippets from the world(s) of the novel I’m planning to write this November. Like I said, getting into the swing of it.

I have a job interview Tuesday! Which I really ought to have done some preparation for but I do have all day tomorrow so I’m feeling pretty chilled out.

And here’s the big news: my story has been longlisted for the Shoreline of Infinity Flash Fiction contest! Which means it’s going to be published in 2018 together with the other longlisted stories in a special anthology. I’m very excited – watch this space!

This week, I listened to Survival of the Fittest and Architects of History from Big Finish. I had some reservations about the trilogy but it turned out to be some really outstanding stuff and I’m looking forward to continuing the story with UNIT: Dominion. But mostly right now I’m just very pumped for The Morton Legacy.

I’m keeping up with the new seasons of The Good Place and Dirk Gently, both of which I have some mildly complicated feelings about and neither of which I can really talk about further without massive spoilers. Also, in both cases I really ought to wait for the season to pan out before casting too much judgement.

Up next, I’m going to start Stranger Things 2 and probably drink some wine.

 

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Here we go again: NaNoWriMo ’17

I can’t quite believe it’s that time of year again, but here we are: in seven days it’ll be November, also known as, National Novel Writing Month, also known as, why do I do this to myself.

And not only that: this year will be 10 years since I did my first WriMo! (Though not my 10th WriMo – more on that later).

I thought to celebrate the occasion – T minus one week! – I could take a look back at my previous WriMos, and see what, if anything, I learned.

I heard of NaNoWriMo some time around 2005 but I was reluctant, for a long time, to dive in. I was doing my GCSEs, I had coursework, I had homework, I was just like, super busy. But then one day I looked forward and realised… I was basically always going to be super busy. So come November 2007 I decided I’d just go for it:

NaNoWriMo 2007: ‘Untitled Novel’ 50,090 words

This was the latest in a series of attempts at the same novel I’d been attempting since I was about fourteen, and not the most successful one. I’m honestly not sure what I did with all those words, since best as I recall it was just magical teenager shenanigans, pages and pages of them. I think the idea was there was going to be plot, but I never got to it.

I finished on November 29th and didn’t have the energy to do another day just for the bonus words.

What I learned: the basics of NaNoWriMo; that I could commit to writing more than a thousand words a day; and also that I really love hitting targets.

NaNoWriMo 2008: ‘Summer’ 65,420 words

Now we’re talking! I had an almost entirely new project – I wrote the beginning of Summer in July 2008 – I had an actual plot and I had a determination to outdo myself.

Although if I’m going to be honest, I don’t remember much about writing this one. I suppose it’s just that I’ve revisted and re-writen Summer aka The Summer Masque so many times in the intervening 9 years that my memories of writing this initial, raw draft have been overwritten. I must have had a good time, though – look at that wordcount!

What I learned: how to write an actual novel, with a plot; how to improvise; how to worldbuild

NaNoWriMo 2009: ‘Autumn’ 80,250 words

Woof. I went a little crazy in November 2009. It was my first year of university, I was running my own affairs, my coursework projects… weren’t that important because you know, first year, and for the first time I had a local group to attend. I remember a lot of long hours in cafes, a lot of new friends, a lot of chips, a lot of cake.

The finished project was a mess that I’m still struggling to make sense of, but this remains my favourite WriMo. It was a truly great month and I don’t regret a moment of it.

What I learned: how to write and write and write!

NaNoWriMo 2010: ‘Phases of Being’ 50,000 words

Second year of university is when I learned how to actually be a student. I was taking my studies very seriously, I had a lot of coursework and was a lot more driven.

In the interim I’d made another more succesful attempt to write the Big Novel and I figured for WriMo I’d pick up where I left off. I wrote a 50,000 block from the middle of it and as you can tell from that, um, wordcount, I wasn’t putting in more time or effort than was necessary!

What I learned: how to manage my time, how to juggle projects, how to find & know my limits

At this point, I knew I wasn’t going to be writing any more WriMos for the forseeable future. Juggling second year coursework with a novel had been hard enough. Come November 2011, I made what was definitely the responsible decision and bowed out till I was sure I had the time… which was…

NaNoWriMo 2014: ‘Autumn (Redux)’ 70,034 words

Looking back, this one was a bit of a cheat. I was essentially just re-writing, from the ground up, my 2009 effort. But I don’t regret it. I got some good material out of it and it was a massive mental health boost.

In November 2014 I’d been unemployed for two months and was really struggling with job hunting, with motivation, and with general self-worth. Having a structured project to work on and twice-weekly socials to go along to was exactly what I needed.

And fortunately, come the start of December I started a work experience placement – and by January I had a job. It worked out okay!

What I learned: to believe in myself again, how to re-write, to re-revist.

NaNoWriMo 2015: ‘Here we are again (A Working Title)’ 61, 453

Would you believe… essentially the same novel as my first WriMo. Only this time, not a cheat. In 2015 I was stuck in a mindless job and really needed to dive straight into something, so I decided to go again and give volume two of the Big Novel a shot.

It got off to a slow start but ultimately worked out pretty good. I re-read it a few months back and it works pretty well! I’m considering picking up where I left off next week…

What I learned: to take the plunge, to take my characters further

NaNoWriMo 2016: ‘After My Mother Disappeared’ 70,484 words

Right up till the end of October I was undecided about which project to dust off… but then I had a dream, and in my dream were the bones of a YA fantasy. So here it is: my one and only entirely fresh start WriMo.

It was tremendous fun. I had very little idea where I was going with it, but I kept writing and in the end it came together beautifully.

What I learned: to take risks, to really write by the seat of my pants

NaNoWriMo 2017: ?

As you can see from the above: I’ve done NaNoWriMo 7 times and I’ve yet to lose. I take commitments very seriously and I can write fast, when I want to.

That’s why each year is always a little nerve-wracking: at this point, I don’t know if I could stand losing! I’d rather not try at all, which probably isn’t healthy. The fact that I’m struggling to stay on top of a goal of 100 words a day at present isn’t helping!

But I did it last year when I was working full time and I can do it again. It’s just a matter of making a decision:

Option A: pick up where I left off with 2015. Very tempting as I almost did this last year!

Option B: keep on going with Annique, my current project. Practical and responsible but I’m starting to hate it already so, maybe not.

Option C: start something new. I’ve been using Inktober to toss around some ideas for a sci-fi story based on a couple of short stories I’ve written. There’s some bones there. It’d be a risky move, for sure.

Well: the good news is, I have a whole week to make my mind up!

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My Week in Writing (22/10/17)

20171021_134918.jpgI’ve had an odd week, for reasons that to be quite honest, aren’t suited to this blog. Let’s just say I lost most of a night’s sleep and for the first time in several months one of my fridge shelves isn’t propped up with a pint glass.

My Inktober document is sitting just shy of 5k and I only have another 8 prompts to go. Written some excerpts of stories I’ve been throwing about for a while plus openings for various new things that I’m mildly excited about!

I listened to The Outliers, which I enjoyed very much and am planning to do a proper review of (perhaps when the season finishes, to avoid flooding my blog with posts about obscure Doctor Who stories) so I shan’t say too much more.

I also listened to A Heart on Both Sides and All Hands on Deck, Big Finish’s two Time War era stories pairing the Eighth Doctor up with classic series companions. A Heart on Both Sides was pretty good but All Hands on Deck really is a treasure and genuinely surprising.

And I listened to Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories, an anthology release starring Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant. I found the title story a bit so-so but the rest were really outstanding. An Eye for Murder was probably the stand-out, some truly chilling stuff.

I went to the Creative Salon on Tuesday, which was a low-key kind of mixer this month. Met some nice people, got into a strange and intriguing conversation about ghosts, left early.

I had my mother to visit! We went to the National Museum on Friday to see the Galloway Hoard – which they’re in danger of losing, go here to find out more and donate to help them by it. On Saturday we went up to Newport-On-Tay to see Generations of Colour, an exhibition of artworks by David and Callum McClure.

David was a good friend of my grandparents to my mum was very keen to see the show. We fortuitously managed to go on a day when Callum was doing a monotyping demonstration, so that was interesting! Fascinating process to watch.

Next week, I’m probably going to be doing more filing at work, which means I’ll be able to listen to some more Big Finish. Which is good timing because they had a 10% off everything sale this weekend, so I have a lot of audios to listen to. Otherwise, no plans.

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Review: Doom Coalition 4

doomHere we are: the final installment. Looking back, Doom Coalition represents an interesing Big Finish transition, as they got the rights to and, naturally, wholeheartedly embraced New Who. Here we have River Song, we have the Time War… we have the Weeping Angels.

Ship in a Bottle: Picking up from volume three’s nailbiting cliffhanger, the boxset gets off to a strong start. The Doctor, Liv and Helen are hurtling forward into the time vortex, into a future that no longer exists. They have the contents of their semi-functional escape pod. They have their wits. They have each other.

What follows is, perhaps surprisingly, volume four’s character piece. There’s never any real doubt in the listener’s mind that they’ll find a way out. The drama comes from listening to the characters grapple with their situation, from their at times starkly different ways of dealing with the horror of their circumstances. It’s ingenious and, ultimately, triumphant. I’d say this is probably my second favourite Doom Coalition story, after Absent Friends.

Songs of Love: River Song, left alone in the lion’s den, does the natural thing… teams up with the enemy. The Doctor is gone, Liv and Helen lost in a rapidly diminishing future; this is River’s story and for the first time in the series (IMO) she really shines, spectacularly conning the Time Lords while simultaneously grappling with her own heritage.

River visiting Gallifrey for the first time has a potential for character drama which isn’t lost here, even as the story stays as quick and action-packed as ever. River is not a Gallifreyan; she is not an alien. The Time Lords struggle to identify her, but she knows exactly who she is and what she’s doing, and she has the villain wrapped around her little finger. River Song at her heroic best.

The Side of the Angels: And now for something completely different. Tracking the Eleven, the Doctor lands in New York in the 1970s, where he finds more than one old enemy lurking. Reverend Mortimer, aka the Meddling Monk (played here by a deliciously camp and scheming Rufus Hound) has joined forces with the last free Time Lords to create a stronghold against the end of the universe. And to that end, they’ve recruited the Weeping Angels.

This is the point in the boxset where things start to get really complicated. I admit: I’d forgotten who Cardinal Ollistra was or why I should care, and between the main arc, Ollistra’s scheming, the Eleven’s counter-scheming, and the addition of the Weeping Angels, I got a bit lost.

That said, once you reach the inevitable carnage the story really comes into its own. Big Finish has done an impressive job of realising the Weeping Angels on audio, and you feel them here even if you don’t see them. Unfortunately the weak link in the boxset, but still a great ride.

Stop the Clock: Returning to Gallifrey to face down the Doom Coalition, the Doctor, Liv and Helen are working against the clock. The Doom Coalition have one chance to unleash their wave of destruction on the future. The Doctor has one hour to stop them. The race is on.

As with The Side of the Angels I got a little lost here, between all the returning characters and all the threads, but the characters ring very true. The Doctor, Liv and Helen haven’t had as much room to breathe as some other TARDIS teams but here the Doctor trusts both of them absolutely, letting both of them play vital and dangerous roles in his plan, and it feels right.

And what is, in retrospect, the true arc of Doom Coalition comes to a head, as Caleera AKA the Sonomancer. The two aspects of her character, the tormented, maligned young woman and the fearsome villain coming together for a conclusion that’s at once satisfying, tragic and straight up chilling.

Verdict: I do have to say, looking back I think Doom Coalition 3 was the strongest installment. It’s almost inevitable: with so many threads to bring together and tie up, the final installment of a series like this would be… unforgiving to write, to say the least.

That said, the highs are really high: Ship in a Bottle, the Doctor confronting the Monk for the first time post-To the Death, River at her best, another team TARDIS facing the Angels… Caleera’s reconciliatin with Helen and their ultimate face.

In retrospect, it’s blinding obviously what Caleera’s fate would be. I did find the handling a little lacking: given her insistance that she is not and was never a monster, I do wish the tragic irony of her becoming what she did had been dwelt upon. But it was a shocking and thrilling moment, nonetheless.

As I’ve said in previous reviews, I found Doom Coalition a little lacking in characterisation, but it more than makes up for it in excitement, drama and plot twists – oh, there are twists! – and when it slows down and focuses on its characters, it sings.

All four boxsets together are a tense, concisely-plotted ride and if you want a jumping in place for the Eighth Doctor, you could do a lot worse.

Up next for Eight is a four-part Time War boxset and as pumped as I am, I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Liv and Helen. Don’t leave us hanging Big Finish. Please?

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