Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

Excerpt two

Zoey ~

We ate our french toast sitting on the steps of the deck, plates balanced on our knees. The eggs had been relegated to Gavin and Tame, and for this reason I think they quite liked me. No one had made any mention of the fact that I tried to run, or made me feel in any way uncomfortable, but as each minute passed I feared more and more of being that girl. You know that girl, the girl who hangs around until four o’clock in the afternoon the day after a one night stand, despite repeated and increasingly obvious hints to feck off from both the boy and his many flatmates, who are keen to play some Halo without a girl sitting on the arm of the couch and asking them to teach her how to play. No, I lived in terror of becoming that girl.

We watched each other through askance eyes as we ate, passing the bottle of maple syrup back and forth between us. Neither of us bothered to make small talk, but the silence was nice, relaxing. Birds swooped from the hard grey sky, and my bare arms were cool in the morning air. Again I could smell the sea. As we ate Gavin and Tame left the lounge and retired to their respective rooms, I can only assume, to leave us in private. I couldn’t believe how civilised this flat was.

It looked as though there were families living either side of the house, I could tell by the trampolines and swing sets on the lawns. Either that or this was a raucous party neighbourhood, and if Lucas invited me out back I would be greeted by an over sized bouncy castle and a pool with an Audi parked at the bottom of it. Families were more likely, I thought.

We had been eating for a while before the taste registered in my brain. ‘This is good.’ I smiled up at him, to show that I really was genuine, and he laughed.

‘You sound so surprised. Didn’t you think I could cook?’

‘It’s just, unexpected, that’s all.’ I speared a piece on my fork and wiped it in the maple syrup. I brought it to my mouth and paused, a sudden thought slicing through me. ‘Do you cook french toast for all of your one night stands?’ I was genuinely curious. ‘Is this like, your thing?’ I used my fork to outline his face in the air, as though to physically demonstrate his ‘thing’.

He laughed again. He seemed to find me very funny, and it was quite gratifying.

‘No.’ He chewed his mouthful thoughtfully. ‘My thing is usually eggs. But since you screwed that up…’ He gestured to the plate. ‘This was the best I could rustle up. My one night stands don’t usually run out on me though.’ His eyes roved across my face, searching for a reaction, some clue as to whether or not he could joke about this yet.

‘That was very asshole-esque of you, you know.’ He chewed again, thinking. ‘One of my mates does that, to girls, usually.’

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Heya stranger

Snippets of writing, the sharp line of my pencil as it scratches, dancing across the page. Where did my passion go? Nowhere. It is huge and breathing, like a dormant expanse below the surface. It is always there, I just forget about it, cover it up with busy-ness. Times passes, suddenly three months are gone, and still I do not feel the itch, the crave for a pencil between my fingers.

Then it creeps in, slow, lazy. A warm afternoon, the comforting rasp of the couch against my book. The early morning, before the dawn seeps beneath the curtains. Suddenly that need, that excitement. As though I have something to share with the world, as though I am waiting for a gap in the conversation, my mouth opening and closing at each false attempt. I have an idea… so NaNoWriMo 2012, here we go.

so this is what it feels like

It’s finished. All is written and done, and all that is left behind is a slight echo of typing, a sweet nothingness. November has been amazing. Busy, wonderful and awe-inspiring.

We left Spain with its strangely rainy skies and overpopulated coast and caught the train up through France, to visit Nice and Monaco. We ate a baguette with camembert overlooking the beach in Nice, and shared an over sized beer, shivering a little in the weak sun.

I wrote thousands of words over thousands of kilometres, in speeding trains, on rickety hostel computers, in cold train stations and on pretty park benches. There were late nights filled with writing, and always, no matter how far we had come in a day or how many countries we had passed, I knew I still would have to write somehow. And so the words came, because they had to.

The story twisted and changed with each new place, if the sun shone, the sun shone in my novel too. If there was wind twirling around me, there was wind around my characters too. I made them clutch at scarves whipped away from their necks and pull at stray hairs stuck in glossed lips.

The cold hit us when we arrived in beautiful, clean Switzerland (which deserves another post, big enough in which to convey my love for that wonderful country). We spent eleven happy autumn days there, dreaming of staying forever. We left through Liechtenstein, much to the confusion of the many train conductors who helped us. ‘But why do you want to go there?’ was a frequent question.

It turns out they were right, and the highlight of Liechtenstein was the ten metre stretch of crunchy leaves that we happened upon. We trained on through Austria, and Venice, and then up to Slovenia, a vastly underrated beautiful country. I wrote in an old prison in Ljubljana, maybe including a little too many symbolic trappings in my writing.

From Slovenia we travelled to Budapest, Hungary, and spent two days exploring the famous ruin bars of the city, and soaking in the amazing baths. We found a wonderful Christmas market and ate until we couldn’t anymore, and then just sat and watched the children ice skating beneath the millions of twinkling lights, hot steaming cups of mulled wine cradled in our hands.

And it was in Budapest that the glorious, long awaited day of November the 30th arrived. I wrote and wrote that morning, sitting on the rickety bed in our huge €8 room, pouring my entire heart into the story, giving my characters every emotion that I had. The intensity picked up and kept going, and I felt my heart racing as the word count jumped up, higher and higher, almost erratically.

Then, all of a sudden, it was done. The little word count on the bottom of the screen said Words: 50,003 of 50,003. I stared at it for a second, a deep flush of pride sweeping up from somewhere around my stomach. I had finished it.

When I was at primary school I was given an award for my writing. I was only nine, and the ‘story’ was just a few lines, but a few lines that I had poured my heart and soul into. I didn’t finish the story, and my teacher said as she was awarding it to me that I never finished my stories, and she wished that I would. I laughed it off like all of the other children, but that comment has stayed with me for the fifteen years since.

So when I saw the word count I paused, but only for a second. Because I wasn’t finished yet. And I realised something then which made me smile as I kept typing. I’ll never be finished. This is only the beginning.

excerpt three

‘Simon Holt.’

There is a crackle on the line, and then Annette’s familiar voice comes through, sure and disinterested, like always.

‘Hi Simon, listen, I’m going to Abigail’s tonight, her and Rachel are going over the seating plan for the meeting and I think I should be there. So you and Alice can just get takeaways or something, okay?’

He listens quietly, and responds as he knows he is expected to. ‘That’s fine honey, you enjoy your night. Thanks for letting me know.’ He knows what she will say, that she has already tuned out, focusing on something else now that she has said her piece.

‘Great. Say goodnight to Alice for me, I’ll be home late.’ The line goes dead, and she is gone.

Simon exhales as he replaces the receiver into the set, listening for the click. He revolves in his chair to watch the window. There are birds flying past, up here. Images from last night shower through his brain, ecstasy mixed with a frenzied thrusting, a scrap of black lace draped across the arm of a wooden chair, and those slim thighs, smooth and taut beneath his hands. He smiles to himself as he remembers, and rubs his jaw again as he watches the birds fly past, their wings dipping and catching, like sails in a high wind. He reassures himself that everything is fine between them, as though sex is the glue that will hold them together.

Annette is driving far below, two suburbs over, unaware that she is in Simon’s thoughts. She is speeding through the traffic, and it takes a while for me to catch up to her. Inside her small car it is hot, the sun beaming off the black leather interior. Her window is lowered just a few centimetres, and the music plays quietly through the front speakers. She is wearing a violet dress in the summer of the day, and the thin fabric flutters occasionally in the breeze. Her hair is up in a casual bun, loose waves threatening to escape.

There is a different energy coming from her today. She is vibrant, less disenchanted with the world. A blue sedan pulls out of a side street in front of her, and red brake lights loom up in Annette’s windscreen. Her reflexes are fast though, and it is less than a second before her hand is on the horn, her palm pressing against the black leather, angry blares issuing from under the bonnet.

It is clear from the energy in the car that she loves driving alone. She likes the space, the anonymity, the selfish recklessness of it. She maneuvers the car around the standstill blue sedan and her hand is on the gearstick, deftly cycling up through the gears, the engine revving anew at perfect intervals as she speeds through the city streets. In her mind she is celebrating something, but from all the surrounding energy in her space I can’t quite see what. She pulls up at a light and the heady sparks in the car drop to the ground, clearing the air. Her hair rests back against the seat, and from the backseat I get a sudden slice of her thoughts. She is also thinking about last night, relishing in her small victory. Alice wants to go to Jackson Hill. Although she may be unsure herself, Annette knows that she does. What twelve year old girl wouldn’t want to go camping with a boy that she has liked since she was nine?

Annette is smug in these thoughts, knowing that she has caused the right thing to happen, set the right wheels in motion. A hidden thought surfaces guiltily from the dark of Annette’s mind. A realization, or perhaps a premeditated motive, that the absence of Alice from the house may free up the weekend for other activities. This causes Annette to grin, her white teeth gleaming from under her lipstick. The man driving the Audi in the next lane catches her smile as he checks his side mirror, and snaps his head back in an obvious double take. He watches until Annette looks over, and tilts his head admiringly, his left eyebrow cocked with intrigue. She smirks back at him, biting her lip, as the light shines green and her foot pushes down on the accelerator, flooding the engine with petrol and shooting the car forward.

another excerpt

It is truly dark outside now, and the trees behind the window are swaying violently. It has not started to rain yet, but it will very soon. Alice watches the streetlight, waiting for the drops that will fall past it, whisked sideways by the rain. She loves the rain. Rain means comfort, and anonymity. Nobody looks in the rain. People only run, heads down and hands fending, to their next destination. Nobody stares, nobody watches. She knows because she has seen it, many times. Things get forgotten in bad weather. She remembers a time when Miss Edwards, her English teacher had forgotten a test that the entire class had been studying for. She had blamed it on the rain, that the information had gotten lost somewhere between running between the house and the car, the bakery and the staffroom, in the wet locks of hair that just one outstretched hand could not keep dry. Alice learnt how others were affected by it, how the rain could change the landscape of an otherwise normal day.

Around her the house creaked, and the shadows grew darker as the thick clouds blotted out the night sky. As the red digits of her alarm clock flicked to 10.33pm, the first drops began to fall. They began with a light patter on the black street outside, and then moved closer to the house, the drops thwacking onto the large leaves of the walnut tree. It changed in tempo, the soft taps becoming a thrumming beat, the sound of the wind swishing the drops against the window pane.

Alice closed her eyes, smiling. As she exhaled her body was flooded with relief, and she began to relax, into the soft crisp sheet of the bed. It had been too long since the rain.

Out in the kitchen Annette was putting the cake into the oven. It was a dark sticky mess, the brown mixture was lapping at the sides of the tin, just as the cookbook said it should. She frowned as she turned the dial to 180, rechecking the recipe as she did so. It was strange, how much work it was. She had been told that motherhood would come, that the instinct would take over, as soon as you have that baby in your hands. She had been told that the overwhelming love you feel obliterates everything else, that you care for nothing in the world the way you care for this baby in your arms.

And it was true, to a limit. Annette had cared. She had loved Alice intensely, so deeply that it felt almost painful. She remembered the yellow of that room, exuding calm and sure motherhood, as she watched Alice sleep in her crib. For hours she would sit there, a book lying untouched in her lap, just to validate her being there. But she would only watch. Alice’s tiny fingers lay curled against the smooth blanket, her shock of dark hair flat along her tiny head.

But Alice grew older, she stopped being a baby. She learned to think for herself, to draw, to use the bathroom by herself and to lace her shoes. And Annette found that there was nothing in her instinct arsenal that showed her how to get grass stains out of a uniform. She didn’t discover a sudden ability to bake perfect birthday cakes, like all of the other warm, laughing mothers in the P.T.A. could. She didn’t know the fastest routes to the school during peak hour, or the exact dates that the term began each year.

So she learnt. She bought cookbooks, aprons, baking dishes and crock pots. She bought each new object that a recipe required her to have, paring knifes, lemon squeezers, egg slicers. She bought laundry detergent, and Wondersoap. She listened zealously when the other mothers spoke about their problems, tips and advice, conversations that in a previous life might have sent her to sleep. All so that one day, she might be right. She might fit properly into this cookie cutter slot that she had been given.

Annette sat on the couch and listened to the rain as she waited for the cake. There was a bake sale tomorrow, she had read it on the school newsletter, so even though Alice had not told her, she would be prepared. The house was warm around her, the exposed wooden beams comfortable, not forcedly rustic. Simon was upstairs, she thought, although she couldn’t be sure. They rarely spoke anymore, only about Alice. But he was busy with work and she was busy with her things, so it didn’t worry her.

But right now it does. She feels a sudden anxiety, a dread at having to sleep beside him, in the same bed as this man who she does not speak to. He is so different, but yet just the same, and she cannot figure out which quality annoys her more. The things that she used to love about him she hates. His cautious worry, his glasses, his aloof distance. She tries to remember falling in love, but she can’t. Not with him. She remembers her love with Gary, a fifteen year old passionate affair, full of the back seats of cars and running in the grassy fields outside their town, shouting excitedly at each other, only to fall, intoxicated with this giddy infatuation, to the ground.

But she doesn’t remember Simon. She knows that he was there, knows it was him. But she doesn’t feel it. Just a tall character, a faceless, handsome stranger on the outskirts of the group, never involved, just there. She was intrigued by his solidity, his mystery, but never infatuated. There grew from that a solid, dependable love, which she had always been told was better, more long lasting, truer. But she wasn’t sure. If there were no memories of a windswept obsession, what could she dwell on in the evenings? Solid dependable love was perhaps the makings of great companionship, but not of great romance.

And as that love slipped away more and more, Annette wondered how she could grab it back, if she could not remember it. His constant worry irritates her immensely. Always Alice. Always where is she, who is she with, does she have enough clothes.

The wind howls and the wet trees are slapped against the window, startling Annette from her thoughts. The recipe book lies open on the floured countertop. It states that the cake must be baked at 180 Celsius for fifty minutes. Annette glances at the metal clock that hangs above the door. It is only eleven. She sighs and pulls a blanket over herself, gazing out of the window.

spanish sun special

After a week of ‘Spanish Sun Special’ up the eastern coast of Spain, we are almost ready to sleep in a bed again. We have been travelling from Malaga to Barcelona in a Wicked van, and have seemed to time it spectacularly badly. The Mediterranean was whipped into a frenzy this week. The usually placid, lapping waves roared, crashing onto the calm sand of the shores as though hungry for it. We drove for days with the rain, watching blue Autovía signs shimmer through the wet windscreen, the rain flecking incessantly at the dirty glass while we tried to navigate, frantically avoiding the toll roads. We fell asleep listening to the soft patter of the first drops onto the thin metal roof, feeling vulnerable and exposed underneath that tiny sheet of aluminium, under the vast expanse of thunderous sky.

We stopped in widely different places. The second night was a shaded corner at the back of a gas station, where we started in our sleep and I woke up each time a shadow fell across the curtain, certain that someone was trying to peer inside at our sleeping bodies. Another was in a glade of trees beside a beautiful river, moving lazily along, steadily towing gallons of water, fish and insects with it under that still slow surface.

I wrote in some beautiful places. On Saturday I sat on an abandoned balcony looking out at an empty beach shore, the entire stretch closed for the winter now that the sun and the tourists have gone. We washed our dishes at another beach on Friday, using sand to scrub the oil off the frying pans, and leaping like kittens each time the white water lapped too close. The palm trees were sideways and our feet were freezing as we ran back to the tiny shelter of the van, shivering and laughing at it all.

The first day we parked beside a city beach, beside a small roundabout and some stone steps down to the sand. It rained all night, the noise punctuating through to my dreams. When we woke it was still raining, and we opened the curtains to the day, the light an overcast sepia, water streaming down the windows.

It was a minute before we realized that the roundabout was full of water, and that the torrent was inching up the tyres of the car across from us. We started the van and drove, suddenly urgent in our delayed realization. The roads up to the Autovía were like rivers, white rapids bubbling and tripping over themselves as the water rushed down to the sea. We sent up wide arch’s of water with our tyres, hoping that we would make it to the top. We did, and some twenty minutes later we heard the sirens go off, slow and rising, signaling that there was a flood. We checked the map quickly and drove, without looking back.

These last few days we have begun to head inland, away from the coast with its commercial beaches and huge apartment blocks. The mountains are approaching, and with the travelling curiousity that mountains always seem to inspire in us, we have decided to make a slight detour to Andorra, before heading back through the orange groves to Barcelona. The rain has stopped now, I think we might have finally outrun it. The sun is back too, but watery, reminding us that winter is coming. I am still inspired and smiling, the changing landscapes constantly sparking new ideas.

All in all it was a good first week of NaNoWriMo.

excerpt number one

Chapter One

Alice had always known that she was different. The looks that her parents gave her were a little too long, a little suspicious. The children at school avoided her. They would not walk alongside her, afraid that she might catch their eye and turn them to stone. Their parents had told them, she knew. Whispers reached her through the quiet classroom, hushed voices trading dubious secrets in a breathless rush. But Alice had a long curtain of hair to hide her burning face behind, so the children did not know that she heard. They did not know what their spitting gossip did to her.

There was a wall, about six metres long and three high, at the back of the school, just behind the big oak tree. The wall was blank, a rough expanse of raw grey concrete. The ground below was bare, hard dirt and the odd tuft of sharp grass. Alice liked to sit there, under that wall, while she drew. Every lunch time, just after the bell had rang and its shrill rolling clang had sent the children running out into the empty yard, you could see her. If you were to stand just beside block three, to the left of the white weatherboards and right beside the dent in the old metal railings, you could see her. A distant smudge of dark hair, bent over her lap, left arm moving steadily, her small elbow sharp against the air. She would stay like that for the hour, unmoving except for that slender arm. If you were a little closer, say just beyond the oak tree, you could hear the scratching of her pencil against the thick paper. Quick, decisive strokes, sharp in their execution. And if you were close enough, say, to peer over her shoulder, you might be able to see what she drew.

It is a Wednesday, this day that we join Alice in her story. She is walking, as always, with her head down, her eyes following the cracks in the pavement. The road is empty, only the lifeless cars parked there glint in the afternoon sun. The trees above blow in the wind, their leaves shining in the watery light. There are dark clouds in the sky; it looks like it will rain. Alice notices none of this, for she is calculating how much longer she can walk for without meeting anyone. Jeffery lives on this street, she knows. His house is that big blue one, there, with the white shutters. Her brief look up shows her eyes, and we see that they are a striking green, light and almost transparent, like a tunnel straight to the soul. Maybe this is why she hides them so often.

Alice knows that Jeffery has piano lessons today. This gives her a little relief, and the corners of her mouth hint upwards. But on the next street lives Rebecca. Rebecca’s house is yellow, and her bedroom violently purple. She likes to sit on the deck after school, eating the cheese crackers and apple juice that her mother has laid out for her. She smiles a lot, Rebecca does, and her pigtails are always crooked, brown hanks of hair pulled the wrong way, fastened thickly with pink elastic.

When Alice reaches the corner, she lifts her eyes again and scans the street. Rebecca is sitting on the deck of her yellow house, kicking her legs and singing to herself. The sun is almost setting now, and this side of the street is in darkness. Alice looks to the left, down the street. There is a group of teenagers there, hunched and kicking at a ball in the dusk. She glances back at Rebecca once, and then turns left, towards the teenagers.

At home Alice’s parents are waiting for her. Her mother, Annette, is in the second sitting room, grunting on the floor as she finishes her sit-ups. Her waist is slim, her thighs toned. There are faint lines around her eyes, but you can only tell when you are less than a few centimetres away, for they are hidden by make up, the creases smoothed into a flawless mask. Annette’s hair trails across the floor, a chocolate stream against the thick white carpet. There are a few secrets about Annette. You can tell by the spark in her green eyes that she was not always a suburban mother.

Alice’s father, Simon, is upstairs. He is reading, though his eyes move slowly behind his glasses. He reads slowly when he is distracted, preoccupied with something. Usually is it work related, another big order, another difficult client. But something suggests that today is different. He uncrosses his legs often, adjusts his glasses, and peers at the window every few seconds.

He is worried today. Not about Annette, no, she barely crosses his mind, even less these days. I am trying to get closer, trying to see what it is. Flickers of colour, splinters of memories crowd his thoughts. I wade through them, casting aside the fleeting distractions provided by the book he’s reading, trying to find the focal point. It’s Alice. He’s worried about Alice. And from the familiarity of the anxiety, it is clear that he worries about her a lot.

He worries about her friends, her hair, her drawing, her schoolwork. His mind is constantly whirring with possibilities, solutions, quick fixes. One can only assume his manner of thinking stems from the years of problem solving, providing answers within a deadline. He loves her, that much is very clear. But he has trouble understanding her, and this scares him.

Simon is a sensitive man. He thinks deeply, and takes lighthearted comments to heart. In college he was quiet, reserved, but amiable enough to make friends. Annette gravitated to his solidity, his self-reliance. He had been shocked, flattered, and finally aroused, when she approached him at that dimly lit party, in the sitting room, surrounded by sepia photographs of her family. The red lamplight flickered off her brown hair, making it glow auburn red, a devilish halo around her angelic face. She had whispered to him constantly, things he had never known, never dreamed she would think. And when it was over, she was still whispering. About how they would be together always, their love would protect them, they would grow old together in this windblown world. He was swept up by it, her zealous dreams infected him, and three months after she had planted the seed, he proposed. They were married six months later, and the wedding photos show their smiling faces, on a bright, blustery day, embracing and looking hopefully at the camera, all the world before them.

Annette was pregnant then, and she knew that her baby would be a girl, and that she would name her Alice. Alice would live in a wonderland, carefully created by her parents. Cocooned by their love, she would live a blessed life, and excel in everything she did. Annette cooed to her everyday, constantly caressing her growing stomach, and beaming endearingly at all of her new neighbours.

Remembering this, Simon was smiling, the movement unfamiliar to his mouth. His eyes had stopped moving, the pages were no longer turning. He remembered her like that, so happy, unbounded enthusiasm and the convinced knowledge that everything would be all right. He remembered standing silently in the doorframe to watch her, his chest bursting with pride, a quiet smile on his lips, her hair trailing over the back of the bathtub, hands tracing loving circles on her bulging stomach. There was a baby in there. Their baby. It was blessed time before any of it had happened, before any of the sadness that tore them all apart, then threw them back together, as though they were to just slot back into their places, only to find that they did not fit. Their edges were all wrong now, and everything was backwards. As his mind settled on this Simon’s mouth moved downwards again, settling back into the sombre expression that felt, but did not look, more natural to him.

His eyes flickered to the windows again. The sky was almost dark now, and he had not yet heard the front door. He set down his book, and moved across to look out of the glass. The orange streetlights were on now, the leaves of the trees catching in them as they were blown around by the wind. Soon the rain would start, the streets would be wet, and it would be cold. He inhaled sharply at this thought, and left the darkening room.