Tag: werewolves and gay yearning

This Year In Writing

For many people, 2020 hasn’t been a particularly productive year, which is entirely understandable. It’s hard to focus on anything when the world’s falling apart around you, and for those with kids suddenly at home 24/7… well, I’m not surprised to see a lot of writers tweeting about how many deadlines they’ve missed this year, and how difficult it’s been to get words on paper.

For me, it was a little different, and that’s not because I was having a great year (I wasn’t) — although I recognise that being furloughed with pay for several months and having no caring responsibilities did put me in a comparatively privileged position. For a few months there I had a taster of what it would be like to be a full-time writer, being paid to stay at home and work on books, and the result was that I wrote 236k in six weeks. But that wasn’t because I was lacking in anxiety — if anything, it’s because I was too anxious to stop. As long as I was writing, I wasn’t thinking, wasn’t checking the news, wasn’t seeing the Covid figures tick higher and higher, and it became my best method of preventing myself from endlessly doomscrolling on Twitter. So I just… wrote obsessively.

My seemingly productive coping mechanisms aren’t necessarily better ways of dealing with anything — avoidance can only take you so far, and I had a couple of months of doing nothing except lying in bed being a depression slug. (Because it turns out, after you’ve attended the livestreamed funeral of somebody less than a year older than you, it becomes a lot harder to pretend reality doesn’t exist anymore.) But they do look, from the outside, like I’m managing okay. I think that’s why I’ve been finding myself a little reluctant to talk about what I’ve achieved this year, in case it makes others think I’ve been unaffected by the chaos in the world, or gives off the impression that I’m looking down on those for whom quarantine wasn’t a productive experience.

Because I’m not. I’m well aware that everyone copes in their own way, and barring my summer of lying in bed doing nothing except feeling kinda sad and exhausted, this happened to be how I dealt with things. It worked for me, it wouldn’t necessarily work for anyone else, it is what it is.

So, I figured as a kind of recap, I’d tell you what I’ve been working on this year.

April-May 2020: Bard, draft 3

Bard is a YA sci-fi Arthurian retelling that I first wrote in 2016 and rewrote in 2018, set on a former prison colony in space. This third draft was a last-ditch attempt to see if it was salvageable, but after some thought, I’ve concluded that it probably isn’t. It clocked in at 134k and by the end of it, I just wanted it to be over. Don’t get me wrong — this book has potential. It has some characters that I love and some ideas that mean a lot to me, and I particularly enjoyed how strongly the pacifist vibes came through in this draft. But it would need a complete plot overhaul to be a functional book, it requires a level of worldbuilding I don’t think I’m capable of (I do not science), and frankly… I’m not sure I’m invested in it enough to put that work in. There are a lot of YA Arthurian retellings out there. I’m not sure the world needs mine enough to go to the effort of dismantling it and make it something functional. But I might raid parts of it for another book one day.

It’s about friendship and peace and very gentle revolutions and I wish I loved the book itself as much as I love the ideas in it.

May 2020: Moth 2, draft 3

At the start of May, I received an offer of representation for the first book in the Moth Trilogy, Butterfly of Night. During the two weeks that followed, as I attempted to keep my anxiety at bay while I waited for other agents to respond and so on, I wrote a very hasty redraft of its sequel, which I originally wrote in 2014 and haven’t touched since early 2015. It’s not that I thought I would need this any time soon — more that I wanted something to work on that would get my brain back in the right mindset to potentially tackle revisions of BoN. Mostly, this rewrite was intended to bring this sequel in line with book one in terms of continuity and worldbuilding, since major edits to the first book in the last five years meant that the existing draft made no sense. It still needs a bunch of work on a plot level, especially since some of those changes undermined the character motivations and weakened the existing arc, but it’s a vaguely book-shaped thing, and if nothing else, it was a good distraction.

Plus I enjoy this book solely for the fact that we have a deadly assassin working as a library assistant.

June 2020: concerto for two idiots, draft 1 [incomplete]

This is not this book’s actual title, but since it doesn’t have one, I’m referring to it by the joke title I gave its playlist. This book was my first attempt at a proper YA contemporary — a retelling of the story of Lancelot and Galehaut, set in a secondary school orchestra. While I loved writing these gay disasters and it was delightful to dip back into the musical world I inhabited as a teen, this book suffered from poor timing — as my depression got worse throughout June and into July, I found I wasn’t capable of writing what would otherwise have been the happiest book I’ve written so far, and eventually I stopped being able to write at all and put the book indefinitely on hold. I hope I can come back to it at some point, because writing contemporary was a new direction for me and I wanted to see where it could go, but I haven’t been in the right headspace for it. I think it also suffered from lack of planning — I jumped into it without really thinking it through, having already been writing nonstop for a couple of months. So, for now it’s 58k of a messy first draft.

By ‘messy’ I mean multiple characters are known only by initials and there’s a band called “Terrible Band Name”, but I had a lot of fun with it while it lasted.

September 2020: Butterfly of Night, draft 4096

Okay, it’s probably not draft 4096, it’s more like draft 8 (and 8×8 is 64 and 64×64 is 4096, so…). But after six years of working on this book, it feels like it! I revised Butterfly of Night during my 2-week quarantine after moving to Ireland, taking into account some feedback we’d received from editors as well as developing some ideas that would lay the groundwork for the rest of the trilogy. As I’ve said before, this book can stand alone and I’ve worked very hard to ensure that’s the case, but it’s always been a trilogy in my head, and the more I know about the later books, the more I can solidify the worldbuilding in book one to make sure the pieces are in place. These revisions involved changing the ending in a way that I haven’t done since I wrote the first draft in 2014, so that was wild, but now that I’ve done it, I can’t believe I let the old ending stand for so long. I did a subsequent round of line edits during October to smooth out some inconsistencies and tighten the prose, but the bulk of the writing happened in September.

Me attempting to plan my revisions: “Why does a book need a plot? Is it not enough for it to be about trauma recovery and friendship? And murder.”

November 2020: To A Candle Flame (Moth 3), draft 1

For NaNoWriMo this year, I wrote a draft of the final book in the Moth Trilogy. It’s a very self-indulgent project intended only for myself — it relies on the latest version of BoN, which only one person has read, and on a non-existent version of the second book, which I have yet to write and so exists only in my head. Which means I can’t ask anybody to read it through. Really, I just wanted to know how it ended, for the sake of my own curiosity. Having this on paper means I have a much clearer sense of the edits I need to do to make book 2 functional, though, and it was nice to write a first draft in this world for the first time since 2014. I did not, however, succeed in following through on this particular note from my planning, mostly because I forgot it existed:

So that’s a note for the next draft. Give Isabel a tiny cat.

(Also, I feel like the juxtaposition of moods in this screenshot really says a lot about how I plan books. It’s just a jumble of every thought and feeling I’ve had about the novel, and I talk to myself on paper until I figure out what I’m trying to say.)

November-December 2020: The Wolf and His King, draft 2

At the very end of November and going into December, I spontaneously decided to rewrite last year’s NaNoWriMo novel, a retelling of Bisclavret. This was in some ways a fairly superficial edit: I focused on prose, historical detail, and character development, and didn’t dig deep into plot or pacing. I’ve had some positive feedback from my beta readers and a couple of suggestions for improvements, and probably at some point there’ll be a third draft that involves pulling the book apart a bit more thoroughly, but mostly, I’m solidly proud of this one and it means a lot to me as a book because it feels very personal. It’s also a wildly different kind of book to the Moth Trilogy — it’s an adult literary novel with a strong romance element, so a sharp contrast to my YA thrillers with zero romance, but I like to keep things varied. I’m hoping 2021 will see this book taking a few steps further along the journey to publication, but we’ll have to see.

Beta reader feedback varied in style but I particularly enjoyed Charley’s approach of liveblogging her feelings at me.

Poetry

I’ve also started writing poetry again. I used to write poems constantly and obsessively, but I’ve lost the knack of it these last few years. Most years I manage a small handful, separated by months, but I’ve written around 20 so far in 2020 and the majority of them since the end of October. I’ve started trying to write poems deliberately, following prompts, rather than just when I feel inspired, and I’ve entered a few into competitions, mainly to give me a reason to finish them. It’s been nice, re-learning how to write poems, and I’m enjoying playing around with language. I realised I was using a lot of the same imagery in my novels and I thought maybe if I practised with poems, I would learn to vary those descriptions a bit more.

There’s still some time left in 2020, but I’ve promised to take a break from creative writing for a while. In 2020 I wrote 564,336 words of fiction across those two projects, which doesn’t account for those scenes I wrote two or three times, all the planning and worldbuilding notes I wrote both on paper and in Word docs, or anything academic. (I also wrote the openings for various other projects, which I do quite often, but again, I don’t count those unless they develop into something.) I think I would be right in saying I haven’t done that since my wrist injury in 2013, and what’s even more remarkable is that almost all of those words were typed (not dictated) — a reminder that although during pain flare-ups it doesn’t feel like it, I have recovered a huge amount since then.

Shortest complete novel: 71k. Longest: 133k.

For the rest of the year, barring a couple of oneshots I told myself I’d write as Christmas gifts for friends, the only things I’ll be writing will be my assignments. But it’s nice to close out 2020 knowing that despite this terrible year, I made words. A somewhat alarming number of words. (If I broke down the exact number of days spent writing and tried to work out an average, I suspect it would be the kind of number that makes physiotherapists give me the “not mad, just disappointed” look.) And those words helped me to get through this.

And whether or not you made any words at all this year, I’m glad you, too, got through this, and I’d love to hear more about anything creative that might have come out of this for you.

Eleven Novembers

November again. It seems to come around so quickly.

I think I’ve forgotten how to blog. I sat down with my lovely, empty site, and the knowledge that I could write whatever I wanted, in whatever style, and not feel like I was breaking with any kind of tradition. A new start! A clean page! And absolutely no ideas as to where to begin!

But hey, that’s kind of in keeping with the whole National Novel Writing Month thing, really. Start a brand new novel. Try and write 50k of it in thirty days. Ignore the inner editor and the self-doubt and the writer’s block and just give in to the sheer joy of creation — that’s what it’s meant to be about. And I’m usually pretty good at that. Writing fast is my entire modus operandi, and the only reason I’ve ever finished anything.

It’s just that apparently that doesn’t work on blog posts.

But in an effort to circumvent that particular kind of block, I borrowed these tag questions from Lorna @ Gin and Lemonade, and I’m going to give them a go.

1. How many times have you participated in NaNoWriMo? How many times have you won?

This will be my eleventh year tackling this particular challenge. I’ve done and won NaNoWriMo ten times, as well as a handful of Camp NaNos (a mid-year, set-your-own-goal more flexible NaNo challenge) and, back in the day, I even did Script Frenzy a couple of times. I’ve yet to ‘lose’ NaNo.

2. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I am absolutely a pantser. My first year doing NaNo was also the first time I’d ever written a novel in my life. I sat down on November 7th (having just heard about it, a week late) and began, despite having no characters, no plot, no genre — and no idea how to write a novel. Still hit 50k, with several days to spare. I’m obnoxious like that.

This year, I’m working on a retelling, so much of the plot is already done for me. But I’m winding it back a few years and exploring some of the backstory to the original story before I dive in, which means I still have to figure out some of it for myself. I did a bit of planning on October 31st, mapped out an approximate outline for that part of the novel… and have already deviated from it.

3. What are the titles of the projects that you have attempted/completed for past NaNos?

Oh, man, this is quite a list:

  • A Sky Full Of Stars (2009)
  • Beneath the Branches (2010)
  • Figurehead (2010); I wrote two novels that year
  • The Quiet Ones (2011); later retitled The Knight Shift after substantial edits
  • Weapons of Chaos (2012)
  • Recall (2013)
  • Bloodied Wings (2014); a redraft and the sequel to Butterfly of Night, which I’ve recently been editing
  • Folk Stories (2015); a series of short stories based on folk songs
  • Happy Gay Magical Novel (2016); never got a real title, never got a plot, never got to the end despite hitting 50k
  • Lie Down Below (2017)
  • To Run With The Hound (2018)

There were also a couple of years, like 2012, where I wrote half of a couple of other novels after hitting 50k early, like the overachiever that I am.

4. What are you working on for NaNo this year?

A retelling of ‘Bisclavret’, a lai by Marie de France. It’s a homoerotic werewolf story from an Anglo-Norman writer and I’ve been meaning to do a queer fantasy retelling of it for years, but somehow never got around to it. Since NaNo has apparently become the month where I write queer medieval retellings that I’ve been procrastinating on (or at least, that’s also what I did last year), it seemed like a good one to tackle.

It doesn’t have a title yet, so it’s on the NaNo site as werewolves & gay yearning. That’s more or less a summary, too.

5. What is one tip that you’d give to someone else that is participating in NaNo?

If you have ten minutes to write, write for ten minutes.

Waiting around for a chunk of sacrosanct writing time or the perfect conditions is only going to make things harder. You don’t have to do your day’s 1,667 words in one go if it makes more sense for you to do them in bits and pieces wherever you can squeeze in a minute. Give yourself that flexibility.

This goes for writing at any time, not just during NaNo. If you make it into A Thing that you have to do in big chunks, it becomes intimidating and hard to work into your daily routine. But it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

6. What was the inspiration for this novel? Do you remember when the inspiration hit you?

I don’t remember exactly when I decided that Bisclavret needed to be a novel, but I do remember getting set an essay on queer readings of Marie de France for a medieval French supervision with Blake Gutt (shoutout to Blake, who is still off doing cool medieval queer theory things), which was my first actual exposure to queer theory, especially in medieval contexts. My essay was over 4,000 words long and got increasingly sarcastic as it went on, as some of the critical articles I was reading were… very frustrating. But it lit some kind of spark.

7. Share the first sentence from your NaNo novel last year.

“He wasn’t a hero when we met.”

And hey, since it’s the second of November already so I’ve started writing, have this year’s first line:

“He isn’t a knight.”

Hmm, I’m sensing a theme…

8. What do you plan to do with your manuscript after NaNo?

Send it to a couple of betas, then leave it to moulder on my hard drive for a few months while I work on other things. I’m meant to be querying Butterfly of Night soon, and I want to edit To Run With The Hound early next year if I can, so those are going to take precedence over editing this one.

9. Are you prepared for NaNo? Are you nervous?

We’ve already started, but no, I’m not particularly prepared. I did a bit of planning on the 31st, as I mentioned, which helped; before that, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and felt like I’d maybe made a mistake to sign up this year. I just finished editing the latest draft of BoN on Monday, so I’m somewhat creatively exhausted. This happened last year as well, though; I finished something else right before NaNo and then dived straight in. Apparently I’ve never heard of taking a break.

Not particularly nervous, though. 50k isn’t an unattainable target for me; it’s actually slightly slower than my average writing speed when first-drafting, as long as I don’t have a lot of external stuff going on. But I feel less prepared than usual this year, and it’s my first time balancing NaNo with a full-time job, so part of me remains slightly nervous that I’ll break that winning streak.

But I need the creative outlet, especially as I’m off dance with an injury and have been for a couple of months, with no change on that front in my immediate future. I’m hoping this will be the distraction my brain needs.


Thanks for helping me past my blogging block, Lorna (and Natalia, with whom I think the questions originated). Blogging is a strange medium these days, when there are so many other forms of social media each with their own unique traits, and I’m still trying to get my head around how to tackle it. But I’ll get there.

In the meantime:

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Tell me about a project you’re working on, whether for NaNo or otherwise.