Photo Inspiration for “The Bondage of The Soil”

“Progress is not an illusion; it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.” – George Orwell

(All photos © Margaret McGoverne 2017)

So, dear reader, I’ve published my very first work of fiction  and the truth of the Orwell quote above has hit me hard. Writing the story is only the first step; I’m busy with guest posts, building up reviews, and wooing local newspapers to bestow a couple of columns on my book.

thincovertbows5It’s a bit like having children; having brought my first book baby into the world, I now have to contend with gestating and giving birth to another one while the firstborn is still a very demanding toddler!

On the plus side, I have renewed vigour for my current work in progress; I suspect this is because, after endless rereads and edits and Kindle uploads and proofing, I’m thoroughly sick of The Battle of Watling Street!

The Bondage of The Soil is the modern-day Sci-Fi sequel to The Battle of Watling Street (which was set in 1st century AD Roman Britain) , although it was the first in terms of the idea coming to me. The inspiration was a lonely detour on my way home from  work, excavations for a new motorway junction, a steep hill, lots of local Roman and Celtic history and a very old, lonely church. So as a taster, here’s some pictures and the Google street view from the road (I couldn’t get a shot of the creepy pollarded trees that edge the church as there’s nowhere to park on the country lane.)

I hope to finish the first draft by the autumn; I’m excited by this one, it’s my first full length novel, and I feel I learned lots from The Battle of Watling Street, even though it’s a less than 20K words novella.

(If you’d like to read the first two chapters of The Battle of Watling Street for free, you can subscribe to email updates, or I’d be happy to arrange a free PDF copy for a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads)

“The Battle of Watling Street” is here! Calling Beta Readers…

thincovertbows5(Edited to add spiffy new cover design!)

At 3.30am this morning, while putting the finishing touches to the edited and expanded second draft of my first completed work of fiction, my laptop froze, and I lost 5,000 words of creative frenzy. Half an hour of despair followed until, predictably, a youngster rescued me and found the Backup files for the Kingsoft WPS programme; my wonderful son.

So after running the draft through every grammar and spelling checker known to man, as well as the Google docs consistency checker, I’m ready to release my 17K words historical fiction/Sci-Fi novella to the kind people who have offered to beta-read for me.

I’m so excited! And so proud of myself. As usual, I went into the project seriously underestimating the amount of research required; boy, this one was heavy going. The story is set in 1st century AD occupied Britain, and there was LOTS of fact checking, not helped by the cheeky Sci-Fi twist ending.

This story is actually a prequel to one of my novels-in-progress, The Bondage of The Soil; I had the idea of a back story, and thought it would be a good exercise in world building and an interesting teaser to the main story, as well as a good place to start my publishing journey. I plan to self-publish Bondage and this prequel, whereas I want to try the traditional publishing route for my other book in the pipeline, And the Buntings Flew

So this post is just to tell you all, constant readers, what a great feeling it is to have finished a 17k words work of fiction, and to ask for your help; if anyone is interested in swelling the ranks of my beta readers and reading a pre-publication copy of the story in return for some feedback, please do get in touch!

Margaret

Planning for your Writing Goals in 2017 and Creating A Personal Writing Contract

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My 2017 writing goals; my contract with myself

It’s January, dear reader, so of course, my thoughts turn to new beginnings, goals, and achievables; not for my fitness regime or healthy eating plan (recovering after a brief but brutal holiday tussle) but for my writing.

If you’ve read my last few posts you’ll know that 2016 wasn’t the most conducive year for my creative endeavours, but I’ve put that behind me; I want to achieve more this year, but I had a multiple choice of things I wanted to work on, both writing itself and tangential topics such as social media, this blog, etc.

In my day job (yep, I’m not actually a money-earning writer just yet), I’m a programme manager: I deal daily with forecasts, plans, deliverables, milestones and critical paths. For some reason, I haven’t properly applied this experience and knowledge to my writing, thinking maybe that my creative muse would frown on such quotidian tools to stimulate her.

But if I’m not writing simply for the pure creative pleasure of putting stories on a page, but with a goal of completing first drafts, editing them, and one day in the not-too-distant future looking forward to seeing them published, I need a plan, just as much as those projects do at work; arguably more so, because I don’t have the luxury of the systems, tools, and resources (people!) I have access to in my day job, to get the work done. This is all on me. I can use a bad personal year as an excuse for not feeling like writing, but I can’t claim to not have the tools to plan the best use of my time, to prioritise my tasks and to break down my target into less daunting, more manageable chunks or milestones.

The good news is that I do like a spreadsheet, for example, this early post on tracking wordcount and I’m comfortable using most MS Office or equivalent packages. So the intent is there, and I have the tools to map my goals and targets; great! Now what?

What was going on with me was conflating some issues around my writing; the will to create a novel was something apart from my day job, in fact, it felt like its antithesis. I didn’t want to wear my project planning hat for my beautiful fiction writing; I trusted to my creativity to write. And it’s there, true enough, but so is real life and all the delays and distractions it brings. That’s why we have an annual plan at work, with prioritised projects, and a monthly tracker for how we are doing for each deliverable against our forecast, which is a dynamic thing and often needs to change.

This is just the same with my writing, which is seen by many as a tolerable eccentricity or hobby (maybe even by me, too?), so it loses out quite often in the daily press of stuff-that-needs-to-get-done. I needed some suggestions and guidance; cue a very timely webinar I listened to at the weekend from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Joanna is an author who is also very active blogging articles, video, and webinars about writing and creativity, publishing options and book marketing.

If you haven’t already checked it out, I urge you to have a read of the Creative Penn site, as it’s a real treasure trove of ideas, suggestions, and content to boost your writing time with tangible suggestions. For example, I got the idea to create Pinterest boards for my works in progress from Joanna; it’s a great idea and not only to publicise your writing; it aids me in visualising locations, themes and period details for my works.

The webinar I listened to was Plan To Achieve Your Creative Goals in 2017 and although honestly none of the ideas were new to me, Joanna’s simple writing goals plan really inspired me to sit down and come up with the following:

A spreadsheet for each novel-in-progress where I calculate how many words I have to write weekly to hit my first draft target date; breaking it down made it seem much more achievable and structured, and I now have a (really simple!) weekly schedule, as suggested by Joanna.

The Spreadsheet Plan, Schedule, and Tracker

Screenshots of my writing schedule for The Bondage of The Soil below. Because I enjoy using spreadsheets, all I have to manually update on this file is the number of words I’ve written in the “weekly summary” tab; this then updates the “Calculations to complete first draft” tab, thus easily giving me a simple and powerful means of visually tracking my progress, and measuring if my word count is bringing the target first draft date closer or further away.

schedule1

schedule2

schedulepic

I’ve set two of these files up, one for each of my works in progress that will be my big-rock projects this year. Which leads me onto…

The Writing Contract: Big Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand for 2017

I’m sure many of us are already aware of the Big rock, pebbles and sand analogy, that makes an important point about stuff like time management, planning, not getting overwhelmed and prioritising the big stuff (big rocks) from the medium and smaller priorities (pebbles and sand).

Joanna Penn used this analogy in the above webinar, proposing that we need a jar for our creative endeavours for the year; the big rocks being the one or two Priority One projects that you really want to progress or complete; the medium pebbles being other bits you plan to do that aren’t as important, while the sand is the smaller stuff that can wait, and should be done if there’s any time left over. When I was looking for some pictures online I found one that added another layer; water, meaning those things that just don’t matter, as they will flow into, then out of your jar of priorities. I liked these ideas and sat down to create what I call my 2017 writing contract. The picture at the top of this post is a screenshot of the first page; I created this contract as a presentation so I can print it off and always have a copy to hand. It also makes the whole thing seem more professional!

The last element for me was visualising and writing down the critical path to achieving these big rocks (you can do the same for your pebbles and sand but I want to concentrate on my big goals) -for me the critical path is very simple; to complete a first draft of one of my novels by the end of August this year I have to write so many words a week; if you scroll back up a bit you’ll see that visualised in my writing tracker and schedule, and if I stay on target that’s not a big number!

This great exercise only took me a few hours, yet it brought renewed and clarified focus to my writing goals for 2017, and the concrete things I have to do (and refrain from doing) to achieve them. Bringing some structure to the goals helps me visualise them, and provides a  powerful tool to measure my progress and keep me on track.

If you think that either of these tools would help you define and plan for your writing goals, please feel free to get in touch and I’ll be happy to send you a copy; my 2017 writing inspirational gift to you!

Margaret

Happy New Year, And May Your Creative Endeavours Ever Increase!

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Christmas 2016, New Year 2017

I’ve been working on a Christmas post for the last few weeks – I didn’t finish it off in time (waste not, want not, it’s saved in my drafts and may be recycled for Christmas 2017), but I’ve been thinking about the essence of what I was trying to say in that post.

2016 was a challenging year, it felt, for nearly everyone, and although that feeling was exacerbated by the plethora of too-soon celebrity deaths (David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Lemmy and Rick Parfitt, thank you for the music), I do think it was a year of abnormal troubles for many. I wasn’t immune, and I struggled with some fairly momentous family issues; they haven’t gone away completely, but in 2017 I look forward to a new year with hope; I also struggle with extending that hope to the wider world, but it’s vital not to give up hoping for a better world, even in the face of the awful, latest atrocity in Istanbul on that dawning day of the New Year; that’s about the only thing I concurred with the priests and the nuns at my Catholic secondary school – the loss of hope, despair, is the only sin.

Getting back to my doomed Christmas post, I can distill what I wanted to say just as well here, in a New Year post; what I miss about Christmases past, and what gives me hope for Christmases and New Year’s in the future is people, good memories, kindness and the hope that I can and will make a difference for the better in this world, through my actions and hopefully through my writing, even if only in my own local sphere.

I may miss my parents and family and friends no longer with me, or estranged for whatever reason, but I am fortunate to have many more good people around me and to be in a position to follow (if only in my own time) my passion, which is to write; I have hope, and an ambition that I will work hard to finish at least one manuscript this year, and press on to publication, and I have the ability to change the world for the better, or at least to not make it worse. For years I’ve worked hard to be green and environmentally friendly in as many ways as possible, and to spread this message, long before it had the (rightful) exposure it now does; now more than ever we need to start with ourselves, our family, our house, our neighborhood and ask, what can I do, me, myself and I, to make a positive difference?

So, dear constant reader, to wrap up this brief, slightly preachy, but well-intentioned post, I’d like to wish you all a very happy, successful and creative New Year; take care, of yourselves and each other, and lastly I look forward to enjoying more of your creative labours, some of which have brought me such joy as has lightened my darkest days of 2016.

Margaret x

A Hiatus and HPL…

HP Lovecraft, 1934
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1934

I’ve had a tumultuous couple of months, and my writing has suffered; in fact my output nose-dived to zero. I keenly feel the truth of the (probably apocryphal) Chinese curse of living through interesting times. You may note, dear reader, the lack of any posts on here since July, but my hiatus is hopefully over, and I’m able to concentrate once more on the only thing that really matters.

In the meantime I’ve kept my hand in by reading and catching up on some recommended podcast listening; I’m currently working my way through the excellent HP Podcraft.com podcast, a literary treasure trove of all things HPL, as well as some excellent readings of Lovecraft tales. And now we’re in October, what better time to read of witch-haunted Arkham and the evil cults that worshipped and called back to earth the Old Ones?

Talking of Halloween, John Xero’s 101fiction.com is open for submissions of 101 word micro fiction; the theme is “Hallowe’en or unlucky thirteen or just something dark and chilling”  – head over there if drabbles are your thing, and keep your fingers crossed for me, I’ve just submitted an HPL-inspired tale!

Although I haven’t completed any serious writing for several months, I have written down a couple of short story ideas, and the plots for Buntings and Bondage have been simmering at the back of my head, so I hope to make quite a bit of progress on both drafts before year-end.

Last but not least on this brief round-up, I haven’t neglected my editorial duties at strippedlit500 – if you haven’t already read them , please take a look at the excellent short fiction I’m proud to present in Issue 2.

Happy writing!

My Second Work-in-Progress: The Bondage of The Soil

Church, Icknield Trail, Bedfordshire
Church, Icknield Way, Bedfordshire

I love reading spooky tales at Christmas; M.R. James is a firm favourite, and I usually reread H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Festival” to celebrate the Yuletide season. The idea for a short horror story in the tradition of these greats came to me last December when I was deep into my ghostly reading season; I have a new route to get to the M1 on my commute to work, and the idea was born as I drove past an unfamiliar, isolated and very atmospheric church (pictured above).

Having put together an outline, I found enough historical/geological weirdness in the location in which the story is set, which happens to be near my current home town, to write a longer story; the current outline is for a forty thousand word or so novella. Prepare to be unsettled. I aim to write this up quickly as an exercise in increasing my word count productivity, as the story needs considerably less research than And The Buntings Flew, so I hope to have a first draft by the end of 2016.

“The Bondage of The Soil”

Forty-five-year-old divorcee Stella Travis might be having a nervous breakdown. Her daily prosaic cross-country drive to the nearest motorway junction has taken a very strange turn. Can her visionary experiences be related to the new bypass being excavated from ancient green belt land that lies sleeping alongside Britain’s oldest road?

Brooding and suspenseful, spanning the ages from before the Roman invasion of Britain, the Iceni rebellion led by Celtic Queen Boudicca, the story stretches from the prehistoric earth to beyond the stars.

Why a Novella?

I originally thought of the story as a Horror/Sci-Fi tale, but having looked into these genres, I’m currently leaning towards describing the story as Sci-Fi, with perhaps an element of Low Fantasy, which I recently learnt about; Low Fantasy is usually set in the real world or a fictional but rational world,  but with elements of the fantastical or at least the ambiguous to leave the reader asking; what (in term of the fantasy elements) is reality and what is psychological in origin?

My favourite reading subjects/genres include fiction and non-fiction relating to ancient Rome and ancient Britain; I also love Sci-Fi and horror, and I wanted to incorporate all of these elements into one story, but imbue it with a contemporary feel and a bigger story ultimately about modern people and the challenges they face; dealing with change at an ever-accelerating rate, and finding your place in the world.

I’m in the middle of writing my longer novel “And The Buntings Flew“, and although it’s great to have two projects to work on and alternate when one gets tough, I decided that two full-length novels was a stretch too far for me. In addition, I think that this is at heart a simple tale with a fantastic premise, and a novella is the right vehicle to tell a story that deals with one, maybe two main characters and a single event; the story has a central vision that deserves more than a short story telling, but probably isn’t suitable for a full-length novel treatment. My article about fiction lengths has  a section about The Novella if you’re interested in the standard definitions for fiction based on length.

Where Did The Title Come From?

I read a poem at the end of last year by Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet who became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. The poem is from 1928 and is titled “Fireflies”; it contains the following lines:

Emancipation from the bondage of the soil
is no freedom for the tree.

Tagore’s poem is structured like a series of Japanese haiku; he had translated many haiku into Bengali and “Fireflies” reads like a series of epigrams and haiku dealing with the forces of nature and time as distilled by a wise observer. You can read the unabridged poem here.

I’m about 25% through the write up, and the plot and characters are all fleshed out. Watch this space for updates and news on publication, and the inevitable heartache before I get to that stage! I’ve included a link below to the Pinterest board I’ve created to showcase themes and locations in the story.