Saturday 29 October 2011

Now entering the NaNoZone...

The Writing Bit
Ok, so everyone's blogging about NaNoWriMo this week, and I'm not going to  try and be different  because frankly, that would be weird.  If you've never heard of NaNoWriMo, let me be the first  to welcome you to our planet.  NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, and it involves pledging to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, the idea being that at the end of the 30 days, you have a rough draft or the bare bones of a novel. If you haven't signed up yet, here's the link It doesn't cost anything, it's great fun and it fosters a wonderful sense of camaraderie among the participants.

With only a few days to go, I'm frantically trying to prepare. Unlike many other seriously impressive NaNo-ers, I have singularly failed to write an outline for my novel, or even to come up with a title. I'm not sure where the story will start, and I only have a rough idea how it will end. I do know the characters though, because they've been milling around in the foyer of my brain for several months. I also know one or two of the themes, and I have at least three dramatic events lined up.  That's it, though. What I'm not sure about is, whether A is still pregnant or she's already had the baby; whether B is still alive; whether A & B are still in contact with C; whether C has ever forgiven B and whether any of them really understand the impact on them all of what happened to  D all those years ago...

So basically, I haven't a clue. But when I start writing my 1700 or so words a day, I now something will come out of it. I hope it'll be at the bare bones of my next novel, but even if it doesn't turn out to be a workable draft, at the very least I'll have something to work on. It may well be crap, but crap but be rewritten and rethought and reshaped, whereas a blank page is just a blank page.

And in order to prepare for this short bout of insanity,  I'm doing some practical preparation by cooking great vats of vegetable chilli, curries and cassoulets to put in the freezer; I'm doing a mega shop to so that I won't have to faff around going to the supermarket too often; I'm cleaning the house (a bit - don't want to take this thing too far) and I'm attempting to get all my lesson planning done in advance.  I'm having some physio to try and sort out my RSI (not a great way to start NaNoWriMo!) And  I also intend to tidy my desk and study before Tuesday, though realistically, that may not actually happen.

Finally,  I intend to spend a few hours immersing myself in what I do know about the novel by going through my most recent notebooks (the ones in which I've jotted down my thoughts about this novel) with a highlighter pen so I can mark anything I can use.  Then, in the last hours before it all kicks off, I will be having a jolly good think about where to start.  I've done it before, so I can do it again - and so can you! See you in the NaNozone!

The Reading Bit
Blackmoor by Edward Hogan is set against the backdrop of a close-knit community forced to abandon the Derbyshire mining village in which their parents  and grandparents grew up. The main characters are the Cartwright family,  George, his albino wife Beth, and their son Vincent.  In the first chapter, we learn that Beth Cartwright jumped to her death in Blackmoor when Vincent was a baby. It's clear when we meet Vincent as a young teenager that he's unaware of the circumstances of his mother's death, largely because George seems unable to even speak of his late wife, and is barely able to speak to his son. As the story flips back and forth between Vincent's toddlerhood and teenage years, the sad truth of his mother's life and death in Blackmoor is gradually revealed.

There's a lot to like about this novel: the prose is simple but elegant, the switches from past to present and from one viewpoint to another are smoothly executed, and there's a wonderful sense of place. I felt the blurb on the back cover was slightly misleading (though that's not the author's fault). The blurb mentions 'a series of bizarre happenings' in the village' and tells us that a decade later, Vincent 'stumbles towards the buried secrets of his mother's life and death in the abandoned village.' I expected the story to centre more around Beth, whose neighbours believe she is 'an ill omen', and her connection with the 'bizarre happenings', but instead I felt slightly distanced from Beth, and indeed from her husband George, although I think we are meant to feel distanced from him, perhaps so that we can better understand how Vincent feels shut out by his father. Vincent is a well-drawn and convincing character, and I enjoyed his sections the most. I did enjoy this novel, but I didn't engage as closely and consistently with some of the characters as I'd hoped to, and the plot never quite gripped me in the way that I thought it would.  Having said that, I'm glad I read it and I would certainly read more by Edward Hogan.

The Food Bit
Ratatouille crumble - this is a versatile meal that can be easily adapted to suit vegans and non-vegans, kids and adults. (Basically, just use margarine and real cheese if you don't want the vegan version, and if you're making it for kids, just cut the vegetables into much smaller pieces). First, make the posh ratatouille: you need an aubergine, 2 courgette, one each red, green and yellow pepper, one red onion, two cloves garlic and one and a half tins chopped tomatoes. Slice the garlic and set aside. Cut all veg into largish chunks, toss in olive oil, grind some sea salt and black pepper over the top and roast in a hot oven for about 20 mins, then add the sliced garlic and roast for another 10 minutes. When cooked, add the chopped tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

To make the topping: put about 50g vegan sunflower spread and about 50g flour into a blender, whizz for a few  seconds at a time until it resembles breadcrumbs. Set aside. Tear up a slice of bread and put into blender with some parsley if you have any, a handful of nuts (anything will do - I used pinenuts last night) and some grated vegan cheese. Add some salt and pepper, then whizz until the bread becomes crumbs and mix with the flour and fat. Spread the crumble topping over the ratatouille and cook in a medium oven for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned. Serve with mixed leaves if you're feeling sophisticated, or baked beans if you want comfort food. This is enough for a family of four (or three big eaters).  I virtually guarantee this will be a hit - let me know if you try it!


  1. Good luck with NaMo - I'll be cheering you on from the sidelines.

    And the recipe - I live on my own, so it will have to wait until the phallanx of daughters visits. (It would amaze them if I produced something this wonderful!)

  2. Thanks Jo! Don't fancy it yourself? It's an amazing experience - exhilarating!

    Hope you have a go at the crumble - dead easy, healthy, and very comforting when you have it with baked beans! Freezes well, too.

  3. Hi Susan, I'm also gearing up to try the NaNoWriMo challenge (for the first time) and write a YA novel so good to know who else is having a go. I'm not so prepared with the frozen meals and worried my snacking will go through the roof - to compensate have bought a new teapot to encourage me to drink tea rather than nibble as I eat....
    Also as a veggie I loved the sound of your rat crumble and will definitely have a go at this.

    Tracy (The Literary Pig)

  4. Susan Elliot Wright29 October 2011 at 15:00

    Hi Tracy, good for you! You'll love it! I must admit, I also tend to snack a lot during NaNoWriMo - I keep telling myself I deserve it!

    Let me know how you get on with the rat crumble (I always call it this too) Note, people - it's not made with real rats!

  5. Good luck Susan, what an endeavour! I can't join in as I have to get on and finish the novel I've been writing for the last two years, but hats off to those who do have a go. For what it's worth, I thought your scenario with A, B and C sounded very intriguing ! (the real reason I'm not doing it is because I am usually most inspired to write when I'm not supposed to be, so I have a feeling that kind of pressure might produce a monthly no-write for me. Maybe a year from now I'll be a bit more disciplined...)

  6. Good luck with NaMo - I can't begin to imagine writing that much in a month (but maybe I could be cajoled into giving it a go!?!). Re RSI, you could always dictate your novel? :)

  7. Thank you both! Isabel, I hope you can have a go at some point, but yes, you need to be between projects, I think. It's good timing for me this year because I really need to start my second novel.

    Kathryn, it is quite hard going, but a wonderful sense of achievement when you get to the end!

  8. Have signed up - no idea how it'll go as I haven't got any plans in my head. Reminds me of a very able chap in my writing group who says he never has a plan anyway - it just writes itself! And even if it's a load of rubbish at least we'll have something to work on - so what's to lose?! :)

  9. susan elliot wright31 October 2011 at 23:27

    Well done, Kathryn! As you say, what's to lose? You can only gain - look forward to hearing your progress!

  10. Not NaNo-ing this month as I'm working on a novel revision, but I'm quite envious. I would love to be sitting down to write something new! Incentive to edit fast, I supposed. Great recipes and ideas for meals to put away -- wonderful Ratatouille crumble! Will definitely try!

  11. susan elliot wright1 November 2011 at 16:04

    Hi Julia, yes, it does need to come at the right time, doesn't it? Glad you like the recipes - do let me know if you try them!