What took you so long?

56 So Long

If you follow me on Twitter, or follow this blog, you may have seen over the last couple of weeks that I FINALLY finished the first draft of my first novel. I say “FINALLY” because in total it took me about 12 years to complete. Rather than just share my excitement at its completion, I also wanted to share why it took so long.

RoadAs a writer it is easy to be hard on yourself and to be intimidated by the successes of other writers when you see their books spring onto the shelves as if they came into the world ready formed and perfect. It is important that we don’t isolate ourselves from fellow writers (or anyone else, for that matter) as these insecurities bubble up. This is why I think it is so important for us writers to share all of our experiences – the struggles as well as the triumphs – to connect with and to encourage others in their writing journeys.

So this is my writing journey so far.

The Early Years

harry-potter-and-the-order-of-the-phoenix-5I have wanted to write novels since the age of about 13 when I caught the bug by imagining my own version of the last Harry Potter book while waiting for Book 5 to hit the shelves. Thus began my Fanfiction-soaked teen years (NB: my fanfiction work always aimed to remain close to canon and mainly centred around Stargate SG-1). As much as I loved writing fanfiction, I knew I wanted to develop my own ideas – my characters, my worlds – and soon started to come up with my own stories, but didn’t really know what to do with them.

Then came University.

In 2004, I started at Trinity College, Carmarthen, studying Creative Writing with English Literature, and graduated in 2007 with a 2:1 BA Honours Degree (that roughly equates to an A Grade in old money). It was around this time that I had the initial idea for what would become my first novel: The Green Stone In The Fire.

The Initial Idea

The Green Stone In The Fire is a Fantasy Adventure story. It centres around three characters – Simon, Aurelia, and Runcorn – all of whom come from different worlds. Runcorn is a gunslinger from the Requiem Valley and is tracking down the Outlaw who murdered his best friend and his lover. Aurelia is a young woman fleeing years of captivity in a foreign kingdom. She makes her way across the desert between Dunfinn and her home in Eruwall, only to become trapped in the mysterious castle, Idris, at the centre of the desert. Simon is a writer from London who is coming to terms with the sudden death of his twin brother. While he is on holiday with friends in the Utah desert, he, Aurelia, and Runcorn start crossing paths, pulling all of them into an adventure beyond any of their control.

That is what the story looks like these days, but the initial idea was actually very different.

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In its first incarnation, the story began with Aurelia as she ended up in Idris and then worked tirelessly to find her way out. In that version, it would have been several chapters before the reader realised that she was a story within the story, and that Simon was writing her saga, and (eventually) he would run up against writer’s block before being sucked into the action himself.

It took me quite a while to work out that it wasn’t really working and that it was missing something. That something turned out to be Runcorn. I discovered him after watching a lot of Clint Eastwood Westerns back-to-back over the course of a week or so and then sitting down to write a short story about a cowboy in a bar fight, only to have Aurelia creep into the background at the end. This intrigued me, and so the three-corded story that I described above started to take shape.

The Dry Patch

Of course, when I put it like that, it makes the whole initial-idea stage seem quite smooth and organic.

It wasn’t.

imagesI happened very slowly over the span of a few years, and in reality I wasn’t focused solely on writing straight after graduating from University. I had to take a little time to sort out trivial and annoying things. You know, like getting a job, paying my rent and bills, worrying if I had enough money for a decent meal, or whether it would be beans on toast again. I won’t go into my full CV, but the first few years after Uni were not the easiest, as I adjusted to being a full adult (not a pretend one I had been while I was a student).

All the while, this idea (and others) were pushed to the back of my mind, and other things took its place, including helping to run a Church Youth Group.

The Vocation Exploration

metal fish wall sculpture - Christian Fish Wall Art Wooden Christian Fish Ichthus ReligiousIn 2013, I moved back to Newcastle, having been in Carmarthen for nine years in total. Towards the end of my time in Carmarthen, I had started to explore my possible vocation as a Church Leader. My Christian faith is a very important part of my life and, through my time as a Youth Leader, a music-based worship leader, and an occasional service leader and preacher, I had started considering going into full-time Church Leadership.

All the while, my writing was on the back burner; and all the while I kept thinking, ‘It’s OK. When I’m a Vicar, I’ll have more time to write.

By this point, I had maybe 20-30,000 words of my book very roughly drafted.

About a year after getting settled back into life in Newcastle, I dived head-long into the Church of England selection process – a very long and probing process that makes you dig deep into your own faith and answer questions on every aspect of your life, with the purpose of discerning if you are the right candidate to go forward for ordination training. For me, the selection process took about 18 months.

In June 2016, after many months of soul searching (literally), several rounds of interviews, and a few months on placement with another church, I was ready for the last stage of the selection process: The Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP).

pile-of-books-in-shallow-focus-photography-264635BAP takes place over two days and consists of more interviews, an exam, a presentation, and a written exercise. In short, it is an extremely intense couple of days where you get to meet other potential candidates and find out what has brought them to this point as well.

After BAP, you wait nervously for a week to get a phone call to let you know if you are going forward for training, or not.

My call came. The answer was no (well, more of a not yet, than a no, but still, not what I had been wanting to hear) and I was devastated.

I remember vividly sitting in my room after that phone call wondering what on earth I was going to do next.

The Next Step

Fortunately for me, the answer came quickly, and consisted of two words:

GET WRITING

It was at this point, nine years after graduating with that 2:1 BA Hons. in Creative Writing with English, that I finally committed to writing my novel. I still had (and still do have) a full-time job to balance it with, but my feeling was that it was now or never. Writing wasn’t something that I was going to do in the odd spare hour I had here and there. It wasn’t something I would get around to while I was ‘doing life’ in every other way. I wanted writing to BE my life.

In July 2016, I started this blog and website as my online platform to accompany what I hoped would become my budding writing career. I also looked through the various story ideas I had, and chose to focus on drafting The Green Stone In The Fire as my first full novel project. I set out a chapter-by-chapter plan for how I saw the book going and worked out where in the story the bits I had already written would go. I then started writing from the beginning of the book, incorporating the existing scenes and chapters as I went.

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I also took some time to analyse my own writing process (hence the entries in Turning Ideas Into Words on this site) to get a better understanding of what I was doing and why. The more I did that, the more I wished I had done each step BEFORE I had started writing Green Stone. But that is the beauty (and the curse) of a first novel. In effect, it teaches you how NOT to write a novel, so that you can then do it differently (and hopefully better) the next time around.

The NaNoWriMo Experience

NaNoWriMo proved to be a big turning point for me. I had initially wanted to take part in 2016, but events conspired against me (click here for more on that), and I ended up putting it off until 2017 instead. And it was an eye opener!

NaNoWriMoBefore NaNoWriMo, I used to write and re-write chapters until I was 100% satisfied, before moving on to the next bit. In working like this, it would often take me a month or so to get just 5,000 words down on paper.

This made the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days all the more daunting to me. It meant that I would have to write quickly and then not look back. AT ALL. The onus of NaNoWriMo is to keep going, to let creativity take the lead and shut out whatever insecurities you have with your first draft.

I was over the moon when I hit my 50,000-word target on 29th November 2017 (yes, a day early!)

I was also exhausted and was in bed fast asleep by 8:00pm on Friday 1st December.

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The Last Two Years

So that nearly brings us up to date. NaNoWriMo had set me on the home straight (albeit a two-year long home straight).

I realised at some point over the last 18 months or so that Green Stone wasn’t really working. I tried to keep pushing on, to get through whatever barrier was holding me back, but what I really needed to do was take a step back from it and realise that one particular aspect of the story as a whole (Simon) was not properly developed and therefore couldn’t be fully realised on the page (again, click here to read about my breakthrough on that score).

red-leaf-on-book-3032049As soon as I went back and re-wrote Simon’s storyline, the whole thing flowed so much better. Simon became part of the story, and not just someone sat on the side-lines waiting for his turn to bat.

It was the last lesson I needed to learn to get my first draft finished.

And there you have it, my journey so far.

The one thing I haven’t really talked about here is the discipline aspect of writing. This is something I have talked about a lot in my earlier post, Creative Discipline, and is an ongoing struggle – the fact that as a writer I have to be self-motivated to sit down to write; that I have to set aside time and stick to it in order to get through to the end of a story.

Of course, I know now just how rewarding it is to get to ‘The End’. My main hope now is that it doesn’t take me another 12 years to write my next book!


Thank you for sticking with me to the end of this post (if indeed you have). It is somewhat longer than I usually post, but I felt it was important to share.

I hope this gets you thinking about your own writing journey. If you have shared your own experiences on your own blogs, please put a link to it or simply share the highlights below in the comments.

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#CharacterCharades

38 CharacterCharades

I am celebrating this week!

I have been struggling with one of the characters in my current Work In Progress, but I have finally had a break-through in his development and it has had a massive impact on the direction of my book (not to mention my mood).

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This guy (and I will get on to who it is soon) has been by far the trickiest character I have ever come up with; not because he has some sort of great and powerful lineage, but because he is just a normal bloke in the real world.

I’m a Fantasy/Sci-Fi writer for a reason!

9879559There have been times while working with this character where it has felt like I was playing charades with someone who had one hand tied behind his back. I was there making all sorts of guesses about what he was trying to put across, but nothing seemed to hit the mark. It was very frustrating.

And I figured, hey, why not make a game out of the whole thing?

So who’s up for a round of Character Charades?

The rules are below (together with my offering). I’d love to hear your take on this with your own character, so please leave your own answers in the comments below, or, better yet, share a #CharacterCharades post on you own blog/vlog/channel, whatever outlet you are using!

#CharacterCharades – The Rules

1: Name the character you have found most challenging to write. This could be someone in your current Work In Progress, or someone in a completed/published piece. If they gave you a headache at any point, I want to hear about it! Extra points if that headache was accompanied by a nosebleed.

2: Give a quick reason why this character was so challenging.

3: Using the above-named character, answer the following Charades inspired questions:

Book/Film/TV Show/Play – Give the title and a BRIEF description of the work they featured in. If it is a published piece, please don’t forget to include links to where it can be found. I’m sure we’d all like to know more. If it is a Work In Progress, link to any sites/pages where you have talked about it to any sort of length.

“The” – What is this character’s role in the story (the protagonist, the villain, the love interest, etc)? If they have a job, what is it?

Short Words – Use five words of no more than five letters each to describe this character.

Sounds Like/Doesn’t Sound Like – Can a comparison be made between your character and anyone else in popular culture? This could be another fictional character or someone who may have inspired this character’s creation. OR, is there someone that this character is the antithesis of?

One Syllable – Share one interesting fact about them.

Song – Share your favourite line of dialogue from your character.

4: Once you’re done, pick a couple of people to tag for them to participate as well. I won’t specify the number you should tag. I’ll leave that to you to decide.

And that’s it! Simple! Please feel free to be creative with this and, above all, have fun!

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So here are my own answers to get things rolling:

1: My character is Simon Locke.

2: He was particularly challenging because he is a ‘real-world’ character and I don’t tend to write those. I also found it difficult to fit him in with the rest of the story. He seemed to be on the side-lines for quite a long time (but not anymore!)

3: The questions:

Book/Film/TV Show/Play – Simon is part of my current Work in Progress, The Greenstone In The Fire; what will (eventually!) be my debut novel. I have talked about it to some extent here. To give you an overview of the book, The Greenstone In The Fire follows three completely separate characters, each living in their own world, but whose paths start to cross in unexpected ways when their lives gradually become intertwined and the boundaries between their worlds blur.

“The” – Simon Locke is The Protagonist of this story (or one of them, at least). He is a writer (I know, rule one, don’t write about writers – oops!) who quite literally loses the plot and gets lost in it at the same time.

Short Words – love, grief, twin, maybe crazy.

Sounds Like/Doesn’t Sound Like – I’m going to go with “Doesn’t Sound Like” for this one. Simon draws a lot of inspiration from Clint Eastwood in the book, but he is most definitely nothing like Eastwood himself!

One Syllable – Simon’s obsession with Westerns started at about the same time as his feelings for Naomi (i.e. as they met). It has been the main focus of his work ever since.

Song – OK, this was hard since I am going to be re-writing a lot of Simon’s part of the book but then I found… “You’re only crazy if the voices talk back, right?”

4: So, rather than tagging anyone specific, I would like to nominate anyone reading to have a go at this! As I said before, add a comment below, or post it in your own blog/vlog etc. Just don’t forget the hashtag #CharacterCharades, and if you feel like it, link back to here!

Have fun everyone!

I look forward to hearing about your troublesome characters!

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Dialogue 2.0

57 Dialogue 2.0

Just over a year ago, my best friend and fellow writer, Sarah Jayne Tanner, kindly wrote a guest post for me on the subject of Dialogue. It was such a good piece that I didn’t feel the need to revisit the subject in my own blog topics for a while.

If you haven’t read it, or if you struggle with writing good, natural-sounding dialogue in your own stories, I highly recommend you take a look at it.

39 Dialogue

So, what has made me want to go back to the subject of dialogue now? Actually, it was Sarah (although she didn’t know it at the time).

What you need to understand about the two of us (aside from the fact that we are both total geeks and bonkers with it), is that we have very different approaches to writing. In fact, we are pretty much polar opposites when it comes to our respective processes.

I am an underwriter, Sarah is an overwriter (if you don’t know what that means, click here). I am very much a planner, whereas Sarah can dive headlong into a new world and find it as she goes. I consider myself to have had a very good writing day if I have put down 2,000 words or more on paper. Sarah, on the other hand, is borderline hyper-graphic (my assessment, not hers) and most days she can churn out well over 2,000 words without breaking a sweat.

If I sound jealous, it’s only because I am.

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But I digress.

None of this has anything to do with dialogue, but it does serve to demonstrate just how different writing can be from writer to writer.

This was highlighted to me recently in a discussion I had with Sarah about writing dialogue. A discussion that went something like this:

ME: Do you ever write out the dialogue first before working on the whole scene?

SARAH: No, I don’t. Do you?

ME: Oh, so very much yes!

SARAH: You’re such a weirdo.

This conversation was over WhatsApp and it devolved quickly into a gif-war after that.

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Friendly banter aside, writing the dialogue before anything else in a scene has saved me on more than one occasion.

The technique is simple and is particularly helpful when writing a scene with a lot of exposition, or if the scene is some sort of turning point for your characters, and what they say to each other is crucial for the overall story.

dreamstime-l-6934926_origYou just forget about everything that is going on around the characters. No description of what the room is like, what they are wearing, or eating or doing.

Everything is stripped back to just the characters talking. When I do this, I essentially write a script of what the characters are saying (much like the brief exchange above between myself and Sarah).

I may occasionally add a few directions in brackets, like [pause] or [impatiently], to help orient myself as I go, but nothing more than that.

In doing this, I find that I can navigate the conversation more naturally, and I can steer it where it needs to go and change parts of it without having to redo great swathes of narrative at the same time.

mic-mic-stand-microphone-64057Once I am happy with the conversation itself, I will start the scene afresh, this time working on the narrative itself, setting the scene, getting into the head of whichever character holds the point of view for that scene and working in the dialogue I have written as I go.

What I have found doing this is that the dialogue will change slightly as I put it in the full context of the scene, but the essence of it remains unchanged. And most importantly, the scene itself flows more freely when I don’t have to stop every few minutes to work out what is said next – because I’ve already done that.

This technique has helped me write myself out of a corner on several occasions and I highly recommend it to anyone who is stuck on a particular scene for any length of time.

Sarah might think you’re a weirdo because of it, but to paraphrase the Cheshire Cat:

We’re all weirdos here.

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Welcome Back To rachfarrimond.com!

55 WelcomeBack

Hi everyone! I’m back.

Whether you’ve missed me or not, it is good to be getting back into the Blogosphere.

It has been roughly six months since I last posted anything on here, and there has been a very good reason for that: I have been diligently working away on the first draft of my first novel. Some of you may recall that around this time last year, I set myself the challenge of completing my manuscript by June 2019. It started off well, but as so often happens, life (and by ‘life’ I mean work, and writing fatigue, and the final season of Game of Thrones, and Netflix) got in the way.

Still, I was determined to see it through and, at the very least, enter 2020 with a completed draft.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to announce that…

I DID IT!

Yaaaas

The first draft is finished as of 1:00am (yes, AM!) on Saturday 26th October 2019. It stands at 347 pages (A4), 152,109 words, and about as many typos.

IMG_20191026_192001_347Anyone who has ever written a novel (and particularly those who have toiled for a long time to do so) will tell you it is an immensely satisfying feeling to complete a draft.

And I don’t just mean the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing something that I have been working on for a number of years (more on that side of things next week).

I was pleasantly surprised (and relieved) to find that the end of the novel itself left me with a feeling of closure, not just for myself but also for my characters. I felt I had led them (or perhaps more accurately followed them) to the right place and that this was a suitable point for us to part ways.

Now, the irony is not lost on me that I am here today, on 1st November 2019, talking about finishing my novel, when many writers around the world are just starting theirs; taking part in NaNoWriMo 2019. For anyone reading this who is taking part in NaNoWriMo, either for the first time or as a seasoned veteran, or who is currently working on their first novel, the only advice I can give you is DON’T GIVE UP!

pexels-photo-1232594It will seem like a completely insurmountable task at times. I have written on here several times about my own struggles with writer’s block, self-motivation, and even realising my own shortcomings in relation to things like characterisation. If you ever need convincing that you are not along in your struggle as a writer, check out some of the articles in Turning Ideas Into Words in the menu above.

Whatever your struggles are as a writer, please believe me when I say that ‘The End’ is definitely worth getting to.

Of course, the first draft isn’t the ultimate end of a manuscript’s journey on its way to becoming a book.

So what’s next?

Well, for me and my first draft, the next few weeks will be a break. That also means I won’t be taking part in NaNoWriMo again this year, but will be offering support and enthusiasm from the sidelines for anyone who is taking part. Check the link at the end of this post for my tips on surviving NaNoWriMo, and also follow me on Twitter @RachFarrimond for a daily dose of encouragement!

57b6b9be-a21e-11e9-bf03-06551cb39bc6I intend to let my book simmer for a little while. More than anything, this is to let my brain rest for a bit (and give me more time for things like blogging and working on other projects). It is also a good idea, or so I have been told by other writers, not to jump straight into editing/re-drafting without allowing a bit of breathing space first.

After that, the first round of editing will begin. It is my intention to go down the traditional publishing route (again, more on that in a couple of weeks) and I want to make sure that when I do get to the querying stage, my manuscript is in its best shape possible. This will mean several rounds of editing before I even think about drafting a letter to Agents/Publishers, and will also entail giving the book to several beta readers for feedback.

As I have posted quite a bit on here about my planning stages (again, see Turning Ideas Into Words in the menu above) I will also share my progress with the editing stages and let you know what techniques I find helpful, and I’ll let you know how I get on with querying Agents when I get to that part.

Basically, I’ll take you with me every step of the way!

In the meantime, happy reading everyone! And happy writing!

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Taking in part in NaNoWriMo 2019? Here are my tips for making it through to 30th November with a shred of sanity intact!

43 NaNoWriMo 2018

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Kevin

short stories

A little while ago, I wrote about choosing a Narrative Voice for your story. One of the aspects I looked at was person, with 1st and 3rd person being the most commonly used in fiction.

In my first year at University, one of my tutors set out the possibility of writing a story using 2nd person perspective. It was something that sounded like an interesting exercise and as a result, I put together the short story that is now called “Kevin.”

Second person is a tricky voice to use as it implies you are talking directly to another person (much as I am now). I’m not sure it could be sustained for an entire novel, but playing with it for this short story was a lot of fun, as essentially the character I created talks to himself throughout as a continuous “pep talk.”

Follow the link below to read the full story, and then please do come back and leave a comment below with your thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think of the story itself, and your ideas of using 2nd person as a narrative voice.

Kevin

Copyright © Rachael Farrimond 2019

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Challenge Update: One Month To Go…

53 Challenge Update

Previously on rachfarrimond.com

I set myself a challenge in October to complete my novel (the first draft of it at least) by June this year.

For the first couple of months, things looked really positive. I was productive and on target for where I wanted the book to be by the end of November.

Then Christmas happened (a happy distraction, don’t get me wrong), but then New Year came and went… and so did Easter.

challenge-update1As you may have gathered, I am currently NOT on track to finish the first draft by the start of June as I had hoped. At my current rate, I won’t even get it finished by the end of June. It’s not that I haven’t written anything at all over the last few months, it just hasn’t flowed as I needed it to, to get back on track and stay there. We all have those days where the computer screen (or blank lined paper) wins. I’ve just had quite a few of those stacked on top of each other recently.

Anyway, I did not come here to wallow in self-pity about it. I also didn’t come here to wave the white flag and let you all know that I’ve given up entirely.

So, the draft won’t be done by June. As annoying as that is, it isn’t the end of the world. I’m adding on an extra three months to my original goal, hoping that allowing the extra time over Summer will see me through to the end of the project.

On a More Positive Note…

I now know how the book is going to end!

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One of the things I have been doing over the last few months is really looking at the story itself and where it is going. I have put quite a few posts on here about planning a novel and things that come before you start writing (they can be found here if you want to take a browse).

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That is mainly because with this, my first novel, I did not do most of them and as a result, it has made writing the book extremely difficult. I have had to plan things retrospectively. I have had to re-write big chunks that just didn’t fit with the main flow of the story. Arguably, that is what the second draft is for, which is a lesson I am sure I’ll remember for future books. At this point, with quite a way to go, but knowing the end is in sight, I can definitely say that this has been a labour of love, with the emphasis firmly on the LABOUR!

When I do finish the first draft (hopefully by August/September), I’ll be doing at least one post on here looking back at the process, going into detail of what I have learned from the experience and what I will/won’t do next time.

Coming Soon…

So where does that leave the blog for the next few months while I continue toiling away on the novel? I still have some short stories to share with you (the first of those will pop up next week), and of course there will be plenty of Geekery and thoughts on writing to keep us going for a while. I can’t promise to post every week, but will do so as much as I can until the book is done!

And then of course, I’ll be able to tell you all about the novel itself! I can’t wait to share it with you all.

Coming Soon

In addition to all of that, I’m also working on setting up a quarterly Newsletter with extra goodies for subscribers. I don’t plan on releasing that until September, so more on that later.

In the meantime, Happy Reading!

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#7BooksChallenge

52 7BooksChallenge

I’ve just completed my run at the #7BooksChallenge. If you haven’t been aware of this on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, its quite a simple challenge to take part in. You simply post a picture of a book cover every day for seven days and nominate someone each day to take part. When you post, don’t add a comment or review of the book. Just post and let everyone draw their own conclusions.

Well, I’m about to break that last part because I’m going to share with you why I chose each of my seven books.

I was nominated on Saturday for this challenge by Sarah Jayne Tanner, and my first question to her was “How do I pick only seven?” There are so many amazing books that I have read over the years and that have meant something to me at different times.

I eventually narrowed my choices down the to the seven I ended up posting and here’s a rundown of my chosen seven.

Of these seven books, I have read five of them, am currently reading one, and have the last one on my To Read list.

Day 1: 1984 by George Orwell

1984This was one of the first Classic books that I read for my own pleasure. I wasn’t studying it at school or University. I just picked it up off the shelf to enjoy for myself.

Now, you mat be thinking that ‘enjoy’ is not necessarily a word you would associate with 1984, but I did. I enjoyed it in an utterly chilling and terrifying sort of way. To this day, I count it among my all-time favourite books.

Day 2: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis

NarniaIn fairness, I could have spent all seven days posting each of the Narnia books. But I limited myself to one – my favourite of the seven. One of the main reasons this is my favourite of the Narnia books is Reepicheep. How many mice (or men for that matter) do you know of that would willingly offer to engage a dragon in single combat?

Day 3: Defiance by Sarah Jayne Tanner

Sarah nominated me for this challenge and, aside from being her best friend, I am a huge fan of her work. For anyone who hasn’t heard of or read Defiance, you should! The novel follows Noah, a street fighter from the slums of a dystopian city who is kidnapped and trafficked into a programme that uses his body to fulfil the whims of the rich and powerful. Defiance is available on Amazon Kindle. Go check it out!

Defiance

Day 4: Cress by Merissa Meyer

CressAnother book taken from the middle of a series, Cress is my favourite of Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, which takes well known fairy tales (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White), and translates them into a futuristic, cyberpunk setting. When I first discovered the series, I read the words ‘fairy tales’ and ‘cyberpunk’ in the description and was instantly drawn in. These are fun, well written, and very clever books that take the fairy tales as a jumping off point and take them to new heights. Cress (modelled after Rapunzel) is the brilliant third instalment. I highly recommend it.

Day 5: The Body by Richard Ben Sapir

BodySo, this is the one I haven’t actually read yet, but am very much looking forward to devouring. The Body is based around an archaeological dig in Jerusalem that uncovers the body of a man who was crucified around the first century AD and whose circumstances in burial raise the question of whether he is in fact Jesus Christ, not risen from the dead as the Gospels proclaim.

If that premise seems familiar, it may be because the book was adapted into a film of the same name in 2001, starring Antonio Banderas as a priest sent by the Vatican to investigate the discovery. I absolutely love the film and can’t wait to see how it measures up to the book.

Day 6: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

HeartlessI was in two minds about posting two books from the same author, but as I struggled to choose between this and Cress on Day 4, I thought it was worth featuring Meyer twice. Heartless is an origins story for the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I read this book last year and all the way through, I kept wondering (dreading) just how Meyer was going to reconcile her presentation of Catherine, the sweet, caring, and forward-thinking young woman, with Lewis Carroll’s original character of the Queen of Hearts – a ruthless, ill-tempered woman, prone to outbursts of “Off with his head!”

It is one of the few books I have read and felt utterly exhausted by the end.

Day 7: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

RiversThis is my current read. I only started it a few days ago, so I’m not far into it yet, but it is a book that was recommended to me by several friends and members of my family. Everyone I talked to about gave it rave reviews and commented it was ‘right up my street’, so it seemed like the right time to delve into its pages (or whatever the Kindle equivalent is). You never know, if I like it that much, I may be adding my own review into the mix soon.

So that was my week of the #7BooksChallenge. If you haven’t participated yet, please do. It was a lot of fun and undemanding time-wise. If nothing else, leave a comment below here with what your seven books would be. I’d love to hear about them!

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Happy New(ish) Year!

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Right. So, January happened.

I don’t know about you, but I always find it hard to get going in the New Year. For me, ‘Dry January’ had nothing to do with abstaining from alcohol for 31 days, but is more to do with the fact that at this time of the year, I really struggle to put one word in front of another.

Anyway, my brain seems to be catching up with the rest of the world now, so what does 2019 have in store?

challenge-update1.jpgWell first of all, I am still very much determined to finish the first draft of my novel by June. If you missed me launching this personal challenge, you can read about it here. In October, I set the target of 4,200 words per week (600 per day) with the aim to draft my novel by the beginning of June 2019. The target date has not changed, but as I have not written anything since the middle of November, my daily/weekly target has been adjusted to compensate.

My new year challenge (I refuse to call it a resolution, as I invariably fail those) is to get through 5,000 words per week.

Wish me luck! It is likely to test my sanity!

In other news…

In fairness, I am being a little harsh on myself saying that I haven’t written anything since November. It’s true I have not worked on my novel in that time, but I did work on some short stories. As part of a Christmas Present for my family, I asked them to name their favourite fairy tale (or Disney film). At the time, I didn’t tell them why I was asking them for these. Fortunately, my family is used to me asking them random questions at odd times. I then used their answer as a jumping off point for a short story.

The stories were very well received (much to my relief), and I hope to share them on here eventually.

With that in mind, I have done a bit of re-arranging in the menu. There is a new section there for Short Stories.

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When I write short fiction, the stories tend to come in at around 2,000 words (underwriter, remember). They also tend to be more than a little bit off the wall. Take this first offering as an example.

As I have spent the majority of January procrastinating, it seemed appropriate that the first short story I share with you be the product of just that: procrastination.

I wrote this a couple of years ago on an evening when I was doing my level best to avoid writing my novel.

I am sure this is a subject that is close to the hearts of many writers. In fact, I know it is, as not a week goes by when I don’t see (and sympathise with) a post on Twitter from a fellow writer bemoaning his/her own procrastinatory* tendencies.

*Yes, this is an actual word.

It is re-assuring to know that I am not alone in this respect. This story serves as a possible answer to the question of “What if procrastinators were organised enough to form a group?”

I had quite a lot of fun imagining this particular answer, and hope it brings a smile to the faces of all you like-minded procrastinators and writers.

Just follow the link below to have a read. I am always open to any and all feedback (preferably constructive), so please take a moment to leave a comment with your thoughts.

The 29th Annual General Meeting of the Procrastinators Anonymous Society

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The Muppet Christmas Carol

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Christmas was (almost) dead to begin with. That is until Mr Dickens came along in 1843 with his tale of good will and redemption (and ghosts) that just happened to be set around December 25th.

downloadA Christmas Carol (I am sure you are aware) centres around one Mr Ebenezer Scrooge, a shrewd Victorian financier whose only love and comfort in life is money. He begins the story as an old, embittered man and wins himself no friends with his callous attitude towards the poor and needy. That is, until he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him to be more caring and charitable to those around him, otherwise he will be doomed to wander the earth after death, weighed down by chains forged by the misdeeds of his life.

Scrooge is then visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet To Come, and over the course of the novel he is confronted with the reality of the life he has made for himself.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how the story unfolds, but did you know that when A Christmas Carol was first published, it single-handedly revived the festival overnight, and helped shape it into what we know and love today?

victorianchristmastreeWell, I say “single-handedly,” but actually Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had rather a lot to do with that as well, together with the German traditions that Albert brought with him (including Christmas Trees).

My point is that without A Christmas Carol, Christmas would be celebrated a lot differently than it is now. Make of that what you will.

Certainly, my own memories of Christmases Past would be very different without it, or a version of it at least.

For a very long time (pretty much since it was released on VHS – yes, I remember that far back!) The Muppet Christmas Carol has been a part of my Christmas celebrations. It is, without a doubt, my favourite Christmas film. Ever.

the-muppet-christmas-carol-1-posterIt is one of those films that I can quote wholesale (as can my entire family), and it never fails to put a smile on my face. I have watched it every year for as long as I can remember, and intend to keep doing so for many years to come.

Believe it or not, the Muppets’ version is actually remarkably close to the original book. I read A Christmas Carol for the first time this year and was amazed at just how faithful to the book it is as a film; to the point at which I could hear Gonzo as the narrator in my head (I naturally added Rizzo’s commentary in there as well) and read each of Scrooge’s lines with Michael Caine’s voice in mind.

As the book is very short (just under 29,000 words), it lends itself well to adaptation on screen. This should not come as a surprise, given that it has been adapted more times than most people care to count. But what I like most about The Muppet Christmas Carol is that, for a family film, it does not shy away from some of the darker aspects of the original – namely the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.

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I remember being terrified of him as a child (something about the too-long arms and large, grey hands is just plain unnerving). And I remember repeatedly shedding a tear when Belle leaves Scrooge and when Tiny Tim dies in the vision of the future Christmas.

28_midiOf course, what helps to soften some of these moments is the reaction given by Gonzo and Rizzo as the film’s narrator and chorus respectively. They offer an immediate response to what is happening that helps to re-assure younger audiences and serve as a reminder that this is, after all, a work of fiction.

If this film is not on your ‘To Watch’ list this year, then it should be! It will make you laugh, make you cry, and make you sing along. Who could ask for more in a Christmas film?

_92929928_bbc_presentsAll that is left for me to say is Happy Christmas to all! I won’t be posting next week as I will probably be too busy losing rounds of Phase 10 with my family, so Happy New Year as well. See you in January!

And so as Tiny Tim observed…

Merry Christmas, and God bless us, everyone.

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The Flint Street Nativity

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140048-cool-christmas-nativity-scene-wallpaper-1920x1200-for-tabletNativity plays are a seasonal staple in the UK. Every play group, school, nursery, church and amateur dramatic society will have at some point or another dressed everyone up as shepherds, angels, and wise men to act out the birth of Jesus. I, myself, recall being cast as an angel in a play at nursery school (yes, I know what you’re thinking – type-casting), and as Mary in a church production as a child.

With these plays being so prominent at this time of year, it is only natural for the British to stamp their own brand of humour on to them in the form of a TV film.

250px-The_Flint_Street_Nativity_DVD_coverThe Flint Street Nativity is an homage to every school Christmas play you have ever seen, or ever starred in (no matter how enthusiastically or reluctantly that may have been). It has been fairly near the top of my favourite Christmas films list for a very long time.

The film itself features a primary school class (elementary school to our American cousins) preparing to stage their own nativity play for their mums and dads (and in some cases, their social carers). It follows the children both on stage and off, and delves into the dark realms of classroom politics as friendships are strained and tested by the casting choices made by their teacher, Miss Humphries.

By the way, all of the children are played by adults and the classroom/stage sets are scaled to make the actors appear to be under four and a half feet tall, as eight-year-olds would be.

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Each of the characters is memorable in his or her own very special way. From a disgruntled Angel Gabriel who desperately wants to be Mary, to the uninterested Joseph; from the moody innkeeper with a soft spot for Mary, to the cynical shepherd who has her own clear views on the overall story.

maxresdefaultAnd who could ever forget the Wise Man with a sibilant lisp, who is tasked with presenting the baby Jesus with “Frankinthenthe”?

If you haven’t seen this film, I strongly urge you to seek out a copy. It will have you rolling about laughing and will also bring a tear to your eye for its more poignant notes.

Afterall, this is British comedy; we are known for throwing heart-wrenching moments into the middle of side-splittingly funny scenes.

I am sure that any parent or teacher will be all too familiar with most of the characters in this ensemble piece. And I am sure that this film will remain a firm favourite of mine for many years to come. There really is nothing else like it, and certainly no other Christmas film I know of that makes me laugh so much.

Well, maybe one… More on that next week.

_92929928_bbc_presentsSo, what films make you laugh at this time of year?

Leave a comment below with your favourites, or Tweet me @RachFarrimond to let me know!

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Miracle on 34th Street

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This is not a film that I watch consistently every year, but it is one that warms my heart each time it makes it way out of the DVD case. For those who have not seen this film (either the original 1947 flick, or the 1994 remake), be aware that SPOILERS will follow!

MPW-89672Miracle on 34th Street is about a cynical little girl who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, but who makes friends with a kind old man who claims to be the big man himself. At first, she is sceptical, but as he is put on trial and tasked with proving who he is, she, along with the rest of the world, starts to believe.

It is one of the few films that I actually prefer the remake to the original. Usually (to me anyway), remakes feel like they are trying desperately to live up to the original’s reputation. And nine times out of ten, they manage to fall short. They either go for a filming-by-numbers approach and spend too long trying to hit the same story beats as their predecessor; or they go too far in the opposite direction and lose the story in the process.

Miracle doesn’t do this. The 1994 film is very similar to the 1947 original, yes, but manages to offer a smile-inducing twist towards the end that lifts the whole thing in a way that the original never achieved.

This twist comes in the resolution of the Court case.

hqdefaultIn the 1947 film, the Court rules that Mr Kringle must be who he says he is because the US Postal Service redirects all of Santa’s mail to the Courthouse. There is a scene in the Post Depot in which the workers in the sorting room read about the case in the New York Times. They have a chuckle to themselves and conclude that if Santa is at the Courthouse, then they finally have somewhere to deliver all the Christmas letters that otherwise pile up in the corner; so they forward everything addressed to Santa to the Court. It is played off as a joke, but essentially leads to Mr Kringle’s exoneration when the Defence uses it to argue that if the US Postal Service say he is Santa, then it must be true.

In the 1994 remake, the film plays out pretty much in the same way right up until the Judge is about to issue his ruling in the case. At this point, there is no crate full of letters delivered. There is no sudden flash of magic from Mr Kringle, and for a moment the Judge looks very uneasy about what he is going to say next: his decision seemingly that Mr Kringle is mad and that there is in fact no Santa Claus.

But before he raises his gavel, Susan Walker (the little girl who was so serious and cynical about Christmas from the start, played beautifully here by Mara Wilson) approaches the bench and hands him a Christmas card. Inside the card is a dollar bill with some significant words circled on one side:

“In God We Trust”

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He then tosses away the verdict he was about to give and explains if the US Treasury (backed by the Government and the People) can make a declaration of faith on the nation’s currency and not demand physical evidence or proof of God’s existence, then by a similar act of faith, he can declare that Santa Claus does exist and is in fact Mr Kringle.

It is the verdict that everyone in the Courtroom (apart from the prosecuting attorney – bah-humbug) was hoping for and much merriment and cheering ensues.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware that this is a rather over sentimentalised portrayal of the US Judicial system. But it’s Christmas. We’re allowed to be sentimental at Christmas.

What makes this film special to me is the fact that a Court case (something that by its very nature relies on hard evidence and irrefutable proof) is settled by an act of faith – something that can, at times, be somewhat under appreciated in our society.

Thank goodness we have Christmas films around to remind us it’s OK just to believe.

_92929928_bbc_presentsSo, what films warm your heart at this time of year? Leave a comment below with your favourites, or Tweet me @RachFarrimond to let me know!

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