Saturday, 19 November 2011

NaNoWriMo Week 3

The Writing Bit

After my decision last week to swap what I’d written so far with something I wrote some years ago, I’m convinced that I made the right decision. (see my public confession in last week’s post!) I won’t say the words have been flowing easily – I’ve rarely had that pleasure – but I’m making steady progress, and I do feel more engaged with this novel, in spite of the fact that I know that much of what I’m writing now will end up being deleted.

I’ve been lucky this week in that I’ve been away on holiday, and am writing this in a tiny cottage in the Peak District. The village is so quiet that most of the time it seems deserted. Very occasionally, a car or a tractor goes down the street. Today, I’ve seen no-one but dog walkers and two women on horses, and yesterday afternoon, to my delight, a pig came trotting down the road. An anxious-looking man was in hot pursuit, and I wondered if the pig had come from the smallholding up the road that has a sign outside saying ‘fresh sausages’.

I found myself hoping the pig escaped; maybe it made friends with the golden retriever that was coming the other way. Or perhaps it found its way to another village where a widow and her lonely daughter took it in and kept it as a house pig, feeding it with apples from their orchard and lavishing it with affection for the rest of its life.

I digress. But allowing myself to invent a story for the pig reminded me that NaNoWriMo isn’t about agonising over whether that character would really do those things or whether that scene has any real relevance to the plot; it’s about being free to go where you imagination takes you, even if you don’t think what you’re writing is any good at the time. At the moment, my novel is ‘thin’, to say the least. But I’m allowing myself to go off at tangents, because sometimes that’s where you find themes, sub-plots and even new and interesting characters and storylines.

This week, I’ve tried to get ahead because I know that on my return, there will be emails to answer, phone calls to make, students’ work to read and comment on, and all the other things that make up ‘real’ life. So I’ve been having three writing sessions a day, aiming for a minimum of 700-800 words a time, and I’m roughly a day ahead now. Little and often is the trick!

Apart from that, my husband and I are relaxing in peaceful and beautiful surroundings, and doing nothing but reading, eating, drinking and walking the dog. But it's back to the real world soon.

The Reading Bit

Sister by Rosamund Lipton is a clever, fast-paced psychological thriller.  Beatrice, the first person narrator, has abandoned her English life and family for an exciting, designer-label life in New York. She remains close - she thinks - to her younger sister, Tess, but when Tess goes missing, Beatrice flies home, determined to find out what has happened. During her search for the truth, Beatrice discovers some uncomfortable truths about herself as she realises just how little she really knows about her sister's life.

The plot is intriguing and the storytelling is accomplished, keeping the suspense and tension at just the right levels. Unlike some thrillers, the book has some emotional depth, and I felt the musings on grief were particularly poignant. However, I didn't find myself engaging with the characters as much as I'd hoped, and I struggled to sympathise with Beatrice. I found her frequent references to the closeness between her and Tess rather irritating - at one point I said aloud, 'ok, I've got it!' and her equally frequent declarations of love for her sister were cloying rather than touching.

There is a twist at the end that works very well (I guessed it before it was revealed, but that was ok) and I finally found myself sympathising with Beatrice in the last few pages. To sum up, a damn good thriller, but the characters lacked emotional credibility.

The Food Bit

As explained previously, throughout NaNoWriMo, I'm posting meal ideas (mainly vegan) rather than recipes . Even if you're not vegan, believe it or not, these meals are actually very nice!

This week, we had:

Saturday: Sausages, sweet potato mash, onion and red wine gravy, broccoli.
Sunday: Soya mince with peppers, mushrooms and new potatoes, cooked in a sauce made from tomatoes, red wine, garlic and herbs.
Monday: Vegan 'meatballs' with spaghetti and spicy tomato sauce.
Tuesday: Mixed bean cassoulet.
Wednesday: Creamy mushroom tagliatelle.
Thursday: Curry night: aubergine and chick pea, sag aloo, aloo gobi, chapatis.
Friday: Tapas: (I'm quite proud of this one!) vegan 'paella',  patatas bravas, garlic mushrooms, aubergines with garlic and herbs.


  1. Wish I lived in your house! This food looks fab. (I live alone, on a variation of pasta and whatever-is-in-the-fridge).

    And the writing looks fun, too!

  2. Susan your week away sounds lovely and I hope the return to reality isn't too hard for you. Very interested to read your review of Sister which I also read on holiay recently. The author is obviously a very talented writer, I enjoyed the first half very much (although it really wasn't about what it said on the cover, was it, which threw me a bit)and thought the building of suspense and story etc was working very well. However the second half and in particular Beatrice's interactions with the medical profession were just too implausible for me - maybe it's because I'm married to a doctor ! And as for the twist, this seems to divide people where this book is concerned, I hated it ! I think I actually shouted out loud 'you can't be serious !' a la John McEnroe, and I remember stalking off to tell my husband, who had no idea what I was talking about, how annoyed I was. Like you I had smelt a rat (trying not to give spoilers) from early on about that thread of the story, and I felt almost insulted by it. Next I read Lasting Damage by Sophie Hannah who I think is a master of making almost unbelievable stories believable enough for me to 'buy it', which the other one didn't, in the end.

  3. Susan Elliot Wright19 November 2011 at 20:53

    Jo, pasta is great! And I quite like the 'whatever's-in-the-fridge' approach - I do it all the time, though it's slightly more difficult now Himself has chosen to go vegan!

    Isabel, really interested to read your response to this book. I did have questions about the plausibility, but was prepared to overlook that aspect because I'm always impressed by clever plotting. I guessed quite early on that things were not quite as they seemed. I did quite like the twist but this may be because it was the only point at which I had sympathy for the narrator - she got on my nerves much of the time! This book was recommended by a friend with whom I share very similar tastes, and she thought it wsa brilliant - isn't it strange how we all respond differently? I might try Lasting Damage. I read Sophie Hannah's Little Face and had a similar experience to yours with Sister - I loved most of it, but the ending was an insult. I hurled the book across the room in a fury. (I think I may have even stalked off to tell my less-than-interested husband, too!) Have you read that one? I'd be interested ot know what you thought.

  4. Ah yes, I was forgetting about that aspect of Little Face. Revealing at the very end that you have been in the company of an unreliable narrator without any sign along the way can really get on readers' nerves. I think 'high concept' is often code for 'wildly unlikely' and I'm just not very good at the suspension of disbelief you need to go along with these books, but I still enjoy reading them sometimes and evidently so do a lot of other people as it is the bestselling genre. It is slightly irritating for us poor writers of 'straight' fiction who have to keep asking ourselves if something is really believable, to realise that in other genres that rule doesn't apply ! Having said that, I couldn't write this kind of novel if my life depended on it.
    Have you read Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson ? Absolutely gripping and really disturbing - but I still had some of the same old issues with it...

  5. Susan Elliot Wright20 November 2011 at 12:37

    Absolutely! There we are, constantly striving for believability, and these writers are getting away with 'and then I woke and it was all a dream'. Well, almost.

    Before I Go To Sleep has been on my 'to read' list for a while. Such a brilliant idea that you sort of know there are going to be 'issues'. Oh well...