#NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year when a young writer’s fancy turns to #NaNoWriMo…to be honest, a lot of veteran writers are starting to think about National Novel Writing Month too.  There’s something about trying to write 50,000 words in a month that appeals to lots of people.  It’s something that I thought sounded ‘fun’ the first time I heard about, but given how stressful April A2Z is, it’s not something that I’m going to be doing any time soon, I think.

There’s another Sean Bean meme that we can put in here too:

2iiip5

Everyone writes in a different way.  Some people say that you have to write everyday, others that it’s a good idea too; others splurge at the weekends when they have the time.  Some people write straight on to the computer, others write out a first draft longhand.  Some people plot, others pants.  Still, however you write, one doesn’t simply write 50,000 words.  1,667/day takes some thought, takes some level of planning, requires some preparation.

So are you #NaNoWriMo ready?

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Still, there is a flip side.

For the unsuppored writer, NaNoWriMo can be emotional dynamite. Whilst no less serious about their writing than others in the community, the message they receive from their nearest and dearest is their writing must not intrude on responsibilities and personal relationships. Their work will remain unread, there will be no offers of practical assistance to allow them writing time, there may even be eye-rolling, or worse. Watching others in the writing community being able to attempt this challenge can force them to face the reality of their situation.

People get caught up with #NaNoWriMo.  There is talk of winning, and if you can win, then by extension you can fail, and if you can fail, then there’s a good chance you’re going to feel like a failure – which you really, really shouldn’t.  Writing is hard enough at the best of times, and it is all too easy for life to intervene.  In some circles, Kipling’s not very popular at the moment, because he’s seen as jingoistic and racist, but this line from ‘If’ sums it up:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same…”

If you can get some words down on paper, you’ve won, whether that’s during NaNoWriMo or at any other time.

But, be prepared for the fact that there are a lot more steps to come.


© 2018, David Jesson & Debs

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The last tango

I love to dance.  I even took ballroom dancing lessons in my youth and though I spent most of them teetering around on high heels learning the steps, it was fun and great exercise – nothing that’ll come as a surprise in these days of Strictly being a big Saturday night TV hit.

But I’d never danced like that – not till I danced with him. He wasn’t what you’d consider typical sex symbol material either. Middle-aged, comfortably padded rather than rippling with muscles, and his hair had started to receed. But, my, could that man dance …

I’d always felt uncomfortably self-conscious doing the latin dances. But he taught me to tango properly, so it wasn’t about striding around looking silly. He did it by creating a mood – one where I felt sexy if not young, where I felt desired if not nubile, where I was dancing with him, for him – and him alone. And I was pretty good if I say so myself. I found my inner diva, and I lost myself to the music and to his arms.

But there’s no fool like an old fool is there? He’s dead now you see. He was dying all along, and teaching me to tango was his last hurrah.

I still dance, of course, just not the tango. I save that for my dreams.


© Debra Carey, 2018

#secondthoughts : Female characters

 

hidden figures 2

 

There’s no arguing with the fact that people are influenced by role models, young people especially. That influence can come from both real life and the made up one – you know, fiction, film, TV …

Whilst there are some excellent examples in the made up world, there does seem to be a preponderance of male characters, especially in terms of breath of character – strong or weak, kind or cruel, clever or stupid, successful or loser, straight, bi-sexual, trans-sexual or gay. Why aren’t we seeing the same reflected in female characters?

I believe there could be a rather big gap between indie and mainstream writers, for there are plentiful female – and varied – characters being written, but it’s rare they receive mainstream attention via traditional publishers and/or production on big or small screen.

One of the common reasons I’ve seen given for not depicting a similar quantity and range in female characters on the big or small screen is that art needs to reflect life, or it isn’t believable. Whilst there may be a tiny grain of truth somewhere in there, is it just me who feels it’s been used as an excuse? I’d find it more believable if writers admitted that they didn’t – personally – know enough examples of anything other than the limited range we see on screen, so didn’t know how to get it looking realistic. Before you think I’m defending that position, I said believable, not acceptable.

Let’s ponder on some of those extremes depicted in male characters.

Clever or stupid – unusually, the recent Oscar nomined film “Hidden Figures” had four central characters who were clever women. If it hadn’t been based on the true story of women working in NASA during the early years of the space race, would anyone have considered it believable enough to get it written, or published, or put on the screen?

Kind or cruel – whilst women are generally depicted both ways, they are expected to be kind. Because they give birth, their hormones are believed to make them better suited to the caring duties and professions – and when they don’t fit this stereotype, they’re often cast as cruel and unnatural.  In depicting this particular spectrum, is what we’re seeing real life … or societal stereotypes?

What about strong or weak? Strong female characters are rare (and if anyone suggests to me that Jane Eyre is a strong female character I may have to fall out with them), while strong and successful female characters are rarer still. Yet in the realms of the fantasy genre, they are a not infrequent scenario. It cannot be that all writers of such characters in fantasy are female (like Suzanne Collins of “Hunger Games” fame), so is there some reason why the usual excuse for the paucity of (and lack of variety in) female characters – that of art needing to reflect life – doesn’t apply in fantasy?

There’s a fair bit of noise about a current TV series on the BBC called “Bodyguard” where the central (male) character provides personal security to the (female) Home Secretary of the UK. Unusually, I’ve watched the first few episodes at the same time as the rest of the viewing public (I tend to be a box set watcher). Himself and I shared the same immediate impressions so, I was surprised to read the immediate response being an enthusiastic greeting over the number females appearing in traditionally male roles – railway police officer, police sniper, armed response team leader, head of police personal security section, head of police counter terrorism section, as well as the Home Secretary herself. And whilst that is pleasing – all but one of those characters are minor and their depictions largely just a sketch.

What is decidedly less pleasing is the plotline involving the Home Secretary – the second main character. The first episode sets her up as an ambitious, successful, determined (ball-busting even) professional woman, who’s taken a hardline over terrorism and deployment of the armed services. Then she gets a personal security officer who we’re told is good at what he does (more on that later) and she goes all gooey-eyed before leaping into bed with him. I don’t care how frightened she was to come under fire and get covered by the splattered brain matter that was once her chauffeur – she’s the Home Secretary – and a pat on the back/hug and a cup of tea/strong drink is the acceptable behaviour here. I don’t care if she’s single and has had a terrible shock, it just doesn’t ring true.

Even if we accept the presumption that sex sells, why didn’t the writer have her character simply use our bit of silent hot totty as a relief for the trauma, and then go back to ignoring him as normal? This isn’t the only aspect having me raise my eyebrows, there are plot holes a-plenty, but the only one relevant to this particular discussion is when the Home Secretary comes to the conclusion that the head of police counter terrorism caused the delay to the armed response unit coming to her aid … yet does nothing about it? Heads on pikes at the tower would be the right response.  You don’t get to be Home Secretary by being a fluffy-wuffy bunny.

I looked up the creator and head writer of the series and had to ask if he’s fulfilling that stereotypical male fantasy of a powerful woman needing a man to support her, preferably one of the strong silent type? For if we stick with the rationale of art imitating life, are we really going to suggest those senior female politicians (Home Secretaries included) we have had, went gooey-eyed and wobbly-kneed over their security officers? Whilst the press are trumpeting that it’s based on Amber Rudd (something she seems to be having a bit of fun with) even she states that although the relationship between principal and bodyguard is close, it’s not that close.

In a slight change of subject, that same day I read the account of a female author and writer of fantasy who was interviewed by readers at a recent ComicCon. Here are some of the questions asked of her by male readers – whether her husband helped with the writing, whether he verified her world building, if she’d had a predominantly male critique group to help her figure out how to write combat, and wasn’t her work really romance as that’s what women write? They also found it necessary to ask if she really did think up where her characters got their food from, where they got their lumber and clothing fibres, how they kept their water clean and how they managed sanitation. Really? Was she sure she didn’t need her husband to check that?

Now, I know that not all male writers and readers behave this way and my co-host here at Fiction Can Be Fun is an example of one who does not. Indeed, he created a strong and successful female character in our recent A-Z story, that of lady Michaela – engineer, inventor, gunsmith, clever, talented, and equal to her male cohorts.

I don’t believe that it’s entirely a gender-of-writer related issue. I believe David & I reflect what I see in the wider writing community. Neither of us feel the need to limit ourselves to writing about our own gender. We’re entirely comfortable writing strong women or weak men, and vice versa, depending upon the need of the storyline. That said, we both feel strongly that positive role models need to exist across both genders, and so do our best to provide them.

What we need is for mainstream publishers and producers to do likewise, rather than play to the current stereotypes surrounding women.


© Debra Carey, 2018

What happened here?!

Marion put her key in the lock, ruefully thinking of Mickey Flanagan.  She wasn’t sure whether she like the comedian or not, but she had been tickled by the ‘out out’ sketch that her daughter had shown her on YouTube.  It was perfectly apt for this moment.  She hadn’t meant to go ‘out out’, she had only popped out to take Phyllida, a couple of books and magazine articles, and then one thing had led to another.  Phyllida could be a bad influence like that.   They’d had a very lovely, spontaneous ‘ladies wot lunch’ kind of day.  She’d felt slightly guilty at leaving the newly retired Michael at home all day on his own, but she had texted to say that she and Phyllida were going in to town, and it wasn’t as though he couldn’t look after himself.  He’d probably just frittered the day away reading the paper and pottering around the garden.

She pushed the door open, and gave an involuntary gasp. Had there been an explosion?  Had they been burgled? Both?…Oh! Was Michael alright?  If there was a burglar, they might still be there.  Should she call the police?

Some details began to emerge from the mess: there was a certain pattern to things, it wasn’t just that coats and shoes and hats and scarves had been scattered everywhere.  Like some kind of magic-eye puzzle, she suddenly took in the form of a giant laid out on the hall floor. Had Michael gone potty?  She’d only been out for a day – what was the rest of his retirement going to be like?

She picked her way gingerly through the detritus to the living room.  For some reason the door was closed.  The door to the living room was never closed.  Curiouser and curiouser.  She tried to push the door open carefully, but something seemed to be behind it; she pushed more forcefully and whatever was behind the door moved, grudgingly, out of the way.  If she’d thought the hall was a scene of devastation, the living room was a set from some disaster movie, one which involved an aeroplane, a radioactive monster, an erupting volcano and a hurricane.  Thankfully, the tidal wave seemed to have been omitted.

The order emerged from the chaos and she realised that whilst all the books were scattered around, they were also the outer fortifications of a blanket fort.  All the toys in the box that they kept for the grandchildren were scattered around, although various stuffed toys were set up for a tea party, and the cars had been neatly parked up.  She came into the room and looking round the door she found that Michael was fast asleep on the sofa with a book spread-eagled on his chest.  Archie and Amelia were snuggled up into him, angelic (if slightly dribbly) in repose.

Marion left them to it and went to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea.

“Oh my God!”

*****

Later, after the children had gone home, Marion helped Michael put everything to rights, and she heard the whole story.  Not particularly coherently, to be sure, but all the essential details were there and she could piece it back together.  Shortly after Marion had gone to Phyllida’s, their daughter had arrived in a bit of flap: an emergency, she’d hoped Mum would look after the grandchildren for a couple of hours, but… No, no, Michael had assured his daughter, Mum’s only popped out, she’ll be back soon, I can cope until she gets back.  Except of course she’d gone out out and things had got out of hand.  The twins…well, if it wasn’t one it was the other – and frequently it was both.  They’d run rings around their grandfather, and being new to this game – some unexpected babysitting – he’d let them.  Hopefully lesson learned for next time, although Marion wasn’t hopeful.

“But why didn’t you ring or text me or something when I said that Phyllida and I were going into town?”

“Well at that point I thought that Judith was only leaving them here for a couple of hours, and I didn’t want to disturb you.  How was I to know that they’d end up here all day? Anyway, we coped.”

“Coped!  Have you seen the state of the house?  And I still don’t know why the kitchen looks like a bomb hit it if you only made them beans on toast for lunch.”

Michael, seeing the hole, wisely decided to keep quiet and stop digging.  Marion thought that Mickey Flanagan was playing nearby soon.  Perhaps she should get some tickets and go with Phyllida – they could have a laugh about Michael’s misadventure over pre-drinks.

© David Jesson, 2018

NB: If you’d like to see Mickey Flanagan in action, you can find the YouTube video that Judith probably showed Marion here.  I don’t know what the rest of his stuff is like, but this set conforms to the norms we try to maintain here at FCBF.

#FF Photoprompt

Liberty Tarn

The mouth of the tunnel was an orangey glow in the darkness of the night.  The first of the runners came out of the tunnel and started to circle the tarn: the tarmac of the road gave way to a smooth gravel pathway.  Portable lighting had been erected to guide the runners, to prevent accidents. The path came to an end: the bright white lights were set back from the end of the path to allow the end of the path to fall away into increasingly dense shadow.

As each runner reached the last light, they were handed an unlit candle.  Walking now, contemplative, they followed the path to the edge of the water, and lit their candle from a tiki torch that marked the start of a short pontoon.  Walking to the front edge of the jetty, each person knelt, floated their candle on the cold, inky water and bowed their head for a moment.  Five hundred candles had already been lit and floated in the centre of the lake; a light breeze, and the natural movement of the water, drew the candles to the the others, where they joined the lazy swirling gyre.  Each watched their candle drift off into the darkness before moving away to allow the next to take their place

The elite race, longer and over more rugged, although still taking in a circuit of the lake, had finished some hours before.  The weather had not been conducive to personal bests,  being too hot and humid, although the Canadian Paralympian Birt Davies had threatened the course record.  The competition though was besides the point: they’d had a good turn out for it, and Maisy Andrews, the organiser, was pleased that everything had gone well, but only in as much as the competition covered the costs of the event this evening.  There had been no dramas: even Davies and his arch-rival Carlos Xu had steered clear of one another.  Perhaps they sensed that their usual antics, played out for the camera, would not play well today.

Maisy handed over a candle to each runner as they came by.  Some she knew well: they had run this course every year since the memorial began.  Others were new faces, come to take over from someone who could not make the pilgrimage anymore, or who had found that they had a connection, or just that they felt they wanted to pay their respects.  There were fewer runners in the evening, and it did not take long for them to pass by.  Maisy didn’t know how long the event would continue, how long people would come keep coming up to the tarn; she only knew that she would continue to organise it for as long as she was able.  Certainly there were those who asked every year “You’ll be doing it again, won’t you?” anxious to be reassured that, yes, the memorial would continue.  Running the course herself was beyond Maisy, these days, although she had been one of those who had run up the mountain when disaster had struck.  But even if she were the only one to turn up, she would walk, and she would light the five hundred candles, one for each person who had died, and she’d do that every year that she could drag herself up here.

In the last few years, the observance had seen the addition of a party back down in the town.  A wake for a lost friend, not too raucous, but a celebration rather than a lamentation, with poetry, music, and dancing.  No doubt Ellis O’Neill would be holding court, following the annual declamation of his Lay.  These days, this was becoming the only overt reminder of the tragedy that had brought the lake itself into existence.

*****

Maisy and Mervyn, her brother, used to sit together and look at the moon.  He would tell her about the craters and about the Moon mopping up the meteorites that would otherwise have hit the Earth.  And then he’d tell her about the ones that snuck past, relatively small, but moving so fast that their energy, released into the crust of the Earth, created craters tens, hundreds of kilometers in diameter, created trillions of carats of diamonds with the heat and pressure of the impact.

Liberty Tarn was much the same, albeit on a smaller scale, although it was a significantly more recent addition to the geography of the Earth.   It was named after the Liberty space station that had been deorbited by Earth First terrorists.  They had planned to drop the station on a major city.  Mervyn, with two others, had managed to regain control of the flight deck.  They hadn’t been able to save themselves, nor anyone else on board, but then they hadn’t expected to.  Doomed, their last act was to control the re-entry of the station, as best as could be managed and prevent the E1 group from achieving their goals.

The station had come down in the mountains, wiping out a piece of road and severing the connection between two towns.  A small mercy, there had been no one on the road when the crater was formed.   The impact caused localised quakes, landslides, destruction.  Another small mercy, the impact site was relatively barren, with sparse wooded slopes and so the fires that broke out died as quickly as they started.  Another 5 miles further East and the vast forests surrounding the area would have caught alight, a veritable tinderbox after a long, dry summer.

Mervyn didn’t know that his sister was staying in one of the nearby towns, visiting a college friend before heading back for a new academic year.  Woken by the noise of the impact, she joined the group that went to see what had happened, driving into the mountains, only to find the road blocked.  They scrambled up over mud and rocks.  An engineer in the group insisted on checking the tunnel whilst the rest waited impatiently.  No one really knew what to  expect, coming out of the tunnel.  In fact there was little to see.  A big hole in the ground, small fragments of this, that and t’other.

*****

Maisy walked to the end of the jetty. She took off her walking sandals and placed them neatly side by side, and sat down next to them, trailing her feet in the water.  She watched the candles floating on the water.  She watched the stars flickering in the humid air.  Alex, her husband arrived and sat beside her, draping his fleece lined jacket over her shoulders, as the night cooled.  Together they watched the moon rise.

© David Jesson, 2018

#FF Photo Prompt

lanterns on water

We celebrate our second birthday here at Fiction Can Be Fun and this seemed like a suitable picture prompt to mark it. Enjoy!

No genre, no limitations other than the must not be NSFW.
Let the muse take you where you will …

Word count: 500(ish)
Deadline: 2pm GMT on Friday 7th September 2018

 


As always, please post a link to your blog in the comments below, or send your story to us via the contact us page and we’ll post it for you.