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October/November plans!

It has occurred to me that National Novel Writing Month is fast approaching.

Last November I was tied up with accountancy exams, and I did not NaNo.  The year before that I was tied up with my dissertation, and I tried to NaNo but I failed.

This year, I plan to have a go at it.  I did it in my third year at uni and hit my target word count and then some - although admittedly my life as a student was more flexible than it is now, and I was a lot more used to writing vast chunks of story at a time.  As such, I've designated October to be my warm-up month; I will write at least 500 words a day during the week (I can knock that out in half an hour or less if I use Write or Die, though admittedly the quality may be ropey) and at least 1000 words a day on the weekends.  Hopefully this will get me into practice, and the requisite average of 1,700 words a day will not come as such a shock on 1st November.

Anybody else planning to NaNo this year?  Let me know, and I'll add you as a writing buddy on the site!


 This has basically gone viral already, but in case anyone hasn't seen it:
St Andrews' talented male a capella singing group take on Lady GaGa...with a Royal twist.  Kate Middleton is back in St Andrews and breaking hearts.  All together now - "I want your loving, just get rid of the Prince, you and me could write a bad romance..."


I've been meaning to put this online somewhere for a while, ever since TMoA so sadly demised. 

Read more...Collapse )

Funny thing is, I was so proud of this when I wrote it last summer.  On a re-read there are a lot about it that bug me, although admittedly there are also parts I still like.  Weird.  Maybe this means I'm improving.  I can only hope...


Howling for a Blackbird

It's a precious thing, this coffee in the sunlight. I lounge on the sofa with Melissa curled up beside me, enjoying the tentative laughter that bounces between us.  We've had a tough time of it lately, Melissa and I.  First it was her parents - their car spinning on the black ice and off the road and into the tree, and the cool impersonal call from the local police force.  Traffic collision.  Both dead. 

I was on the phone to PC Sharon McIntosh, nodding and feeling like an idiot because she couldn't see me, but my mouth wouldn't shape words.  I could see Melissa shovelling snow in the driveway, framed by a cloud of her own breath.  I watched her for a while after I'd hung up, wanting her to have a few more minutes of her parents being alive. As far as she knew they were at home and happy together, enjoying a cup of tea in front of their cheap gas fire.  For her they weren't dead until I told her so. 
A week later she did a reading at the funeral – a poem, unremarkable but soothing, all about carrying on.  She seemed so detached up there in front of the congregation, like it was someone else's parents who'd died.  It’s a strange thing but I remember her makeup, the flawless sweep of her eyeshadow, the exact peachy tone of her foundation.  She was beautiful and as cold as the call from the police station.
Grey turned to green and spring arrived, but it didn't seem to agree with our spaniel Billy.  First he went off his food and lost weight, then he stopped wanting to go out for walkies.  We took him to the vets, thinking he might have a stomach upset, but they told us it was cancer.  Inoperable.  Kindest to put him down.
I thought that might be breaking point for Melissa, but no.  She stretches out next to me with her coffee in hand, her limbs long and toned and tan from the summer sun.  She stares thoughtfully at the dog bed we haven't yet thrown away.
"We could get another, you know," she says.

"We could."  I reach out and trace the rough curve of her knee with my fingertips.  "If you think it's a good idea.  If you're ready."
She shrugs.  "We'll see." 

I take a sip of coffee, then a hollow glassy thud sounds against the window and I jump, tipping the rest of the mugful down my white t-shirt. I swear; Melissa jumps to her feet and runs for the door; I follow, cursing the creeping brown stain and the blistering pain against my torso.
It’s a blackbird.  The sun streaks glossy-white along its coal-coloured feathers as the poor thing lies still, its outline stark against the pale wood of our newly-laid decking. 
"Oh."  She only breathes the word.
"It happens," I say as she crouches beside it and cautiously extends a finger.  "They see the garden reflected in the window and they just keep flying."

"It's alive."  She looks up at me and there’s a hard glow in her eyes, a skittering fire of enthusiasm that I haven't seen there for a long time.  "It's alive, Pete."
"Not for long," I say gently, but she doesn't listen.  She sends me back into the house with instructions, a list of things to bring back.  I don't want to upset her by arguing.  I'm by her side again in under a minute, armed with a ramekin dish full of water and a teaspoon. 
"It won't work."
"It will."  She drizzles the water over and around its beak, hunched and concentrating like a child over an art project.  "I've seen it work.  Mum and I used to do it when I was little.  They used to fly into the French windows at our old house."
I hold my peace and watch.
A minute or so later she gives a cry of delight and the bird feebly flutters its wings.  The sickness in my stomach eases. I want to laugh, wondering why I care about the fate of a blackbird likely to be killed by a cat tomorrow even if my wife saves it today - then I look at her face and I know.  Her tongue is trapped between her front teeth and the corners of her mouth are quirked into a smile.  She proffers the spoon again.  "Good lad," she coos.  "And again.  Go on.  You can do it."
Its eyes are open now, beady and as black as the rest of it.
"Good lad.  There we go."
It totters to its feet and rustles its wings again, testing its strength.  I'm smiling too, I realise.  The sunlight bounces bright off the decking and Melissa is giggling, ecstatic in her triumph.  The bird tries an experimental hop along the wooden boards, but then it stops and its eyes begin to droop and my throat closes.  Something in me knows. 
"That's it, take it steady."  Melissa spoons water into its beak again but there's a hitch in her voice, a wobble in the low vowel sound of the word, and I know that she knows too.  The blackbird's eyes close fully and its legs sink under it.  It's giving up.  Don't, I will it.  Don't die, keep going, keep trying.  But it lies black in the middle of a white pool of sunlight and it goes limp and its breathing stops.  Away in the hedgerow at the bottom of the garden other birds twitter, but they might as well be dead too.  I don't know that they aren't.  I can't see them.  For all I know they could be a soundtrack, a fake. 
"No."  Melissa has clenched her fists and rocks on her haunches.  "No."
She jerks away from the hand I lay on her shoulder, and she sinks as her blackbird sank, her legs giving way under her until she's curled on the decking like a baby and screaming. Just screaming, no tears.  I stroke her hair like I used to stroke Billy's head, and I caress her cheek and jaw, both hot and red with grief for an animal she had known less than five minutes.  Still she screams.  I go back into the house and retrieve a dishcloth to pick up the blackbird in, then deposit it gently in the hedgerow.  Melissa's screaming wavers and spirals into a howl, and she rolls onto her back and now the tears do come.  I kneel.  The ridges of the decking dig into my knees and they itch and tingle painfully, but I lift my wife's head into my lap and let her tears run clear over my fingers.  Periodically my thumbs brush at the corner of her lips to stop the salted beads escaping into her mouth.  I kneel there with her until my legs are dead from her weight, and I marvel that the woman who was so strong at her parents' funeral and who didn't even cry at the loss of her beloved dog now lies helpless on the decking, screaming and howling for a blackbird.


I just went a whole week without internet.

I made the reckless assumption that the cottage we visited in Northumberland this week would have a wireless connection.  It would appear not.

Oh well.  Nothing new, really; end of the Easter holidays, so I'm heading back to the Bubble tomorrow.  

Time for a catching up effort now, in between the packing.


Is there any song you'll never grow tired of hearing? If so, what is it, how long have you loved it, and why?

I did try to share this a few days ago, but after I'd spent ages typing in my various anecdotes, Livejournal got the cybermunchies and ate the entire lot...

Me, Myself and American PieCollapse )

Writer's Block: Name that tune

American Pie, by Don McLean.

I did have a massive long entry typed out about just why it means so much to me, but LJ went and ate it. Sulk. I'll rewrite it and post another time.

Writer's Block: Less is More

What is your all-time favorite, romantic movie scene? What about it speaks to you?

For me, it's the end of Brief Encounter.  Yes, I know, some people cite it as an example of everything that was wrong with the stiff-upper-lip British society of the early and mid-twentieth century - Alec and Laura felt so bound by the social niceties of their day that they couldn't and wouldn't give in to their love for each other.  But when he's leaving her for the last time, and their emotional goodbye is interrupted by Laura's garrulous, gossiping friend, it breaks my heart.

"We've still got a few minutes..."

"Laura!  What a lovely surprise!"

I wince every time.  And they're oh-so-polite and restrained - no hints that the irritating friend should leave, and not a sign given that anything had ever happened between them.  Except, of course, for his final squeeze of her shoulder.  Unobtrusive, subtle, but loaded with meaning.  And that's it.

I think because it's so far from the happy ending that seems to be obligatory in romance films these days that I like it - and because it shows that fate will screw you over at the cruellest possible moment.

I like to think, though, that one day they might see each other again...just maybe...


I went to the garden centre the other day to stock up on supplies for the menagerie, and in the pet department they were selling lobsters. I kid you not.

I was soooo tempted to take one home - I've heard of peeople keeping them before, but never seen them for sale in a mainstream pet shop. However, I restrained myself. For one thing, I've grown up being taught that you never buy a pet on impulse. For another, I know nothing about lobsters. Mainly, though, I think Mum might have left home if I'd given in to temptation; out of all our family, she's the least animal-loving, although she always seems to get overruled by me, my siblings and my Dad! Currently we share our home with a cat, a giant rabbit, a hamster, two guinea pigs, three mice, two tarantulas and a pond of fish. I was pushing it with tarantulas - I think a lobster might have tipped her over the edge.

They're now definitely on my To Look Into list for when I get my own place, along with a stingray, a boa constrictor and (more conventionally) a Shetland Sheepdog puppy. What about anyone else? Any fantasy pets?


Food for thought.

Something my little sister emailed me.

How could you?Collapse )

Copyright Jim Willis 2001.