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Julia Crouch shares the secrets of her success with NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Monthis an annual novel-writing project that brings together writers from all over the world and challenges them to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Author Julia Crouch is one of NaNoWriMo’s success stories – her first book, CUCKOO, was a ‘NaNovel’, and was published in paperback by Headline last month. For those who are even the slightest bit tempted to have a go themselves, Julia has shared some hints and tips to help you on your way.

Julia Crouch

Julia Crouch, author

What to do after NaNoWriMo

You’ve ‘won’ NaNoWriMo? Congratulations! You’ve actually written a novel! You have done something that so many people mean to do and never get around to.

That may be enough for you, and if so, that’s absolutely fine. You can just feel that extra spring in your step and get on with your life again. But you may have a nagging feeling that it’s not over yet. If so, here are some pointers that may be useful in the months to come.

1. Don’t show it to anyone else! You need to glean your own critical feedback before you get anyone else’s. A NaNovel is only for the eyes of its creator on 1 December. However:

2. Don’t read it yet! Give yourself a bit of a breather: go about your daily life; reconnect with   the friends you missed for the past month; see those films you didn’t get to see (I’m up for Wuthering Heights and of course I have to ‘take my daughter’ to see the latest Twilight film);    enjoy the Christmas drinks.

While you’re waiting, you could do worse than to read a couple of books about what you’re embarking on. I heartily recommend On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, and the very practical workbook, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell.

3. On January 1, 2012, run a spell check on your NaNovel, just to satisfy your nitpickery, so the inevitable typos don’t get in your way. Then set it in 12-point type, double space it and print it out on one side only. (Use recycled paper, because, if you carry on with this writing lark, you’ll be getting through a lot of trees.)

4. Hide yourself away from family and, pen in hand, read it through, scrawling comments wherever you see fit. Don’t just crit the bad bits. ‘I like this!’ if deserved, is a great note to self. But be prepared to cringe as well. There will be execrable passages, pages even.

5. Give it a bit of a break, go for a walk, sleep a bit. Keep your notebook or voice memo thingamabob to hand for any Brilliant Thoughts that strike.

6. Then ask yourself the Big Questions.
a. Does the story work? (it probably won’t, not entirely). If it doesn’t, why not? What’s missing? What’s a diversion?
b. Have you told the story the right way – through the right character(s), in the right tense(s), in the right order?
c. What needs to be different – setting, characters, themes?

7. Fix your structure. There are many ways to do this. I like to write each scene of my novel on different index cards, colour coding them with dots, stars, different pens (bring on the stationery…)to differentiate between back and current story, different character points of view, pace, turning points, climaxes and so on. Then I lock the cats out of my shed and shuffle the cards/post-its around until I come up with something that works. This is my favourite part of the process – I can let my imagination really fly, using what I’ve already got as a starting point. The trick is to keep asking yourself what if? And don’t be scared of the answers you come up with. At this point it’s only a card. You can screw it up and toss it in the bin if it doesn’t work.

8. Then I write a synopsis, to really make sure the story works. Perhaps I’ll write a really short synopsis too.

9. Then I rewrite the whole novel, using my new structure. This is the bit that takes the longest. The second draft of CUCKOO took nearly a year (and then there was the third draft. And the fourth).I always re-write, using my first draft as a reference only. I never, ever, cut and paste.

So that’s it. By 31 October 2012, you should have something ready to show to someone else. And while you’re waiting for them to read it, you’ll have a new NaNovel to keep your mind occupied.

CUCKOO by Julia Crouch

(And keep me company. Follow the progress of my 2011 NaNovel on my blog).

CUCKOO is available now in paperback, and Julia’s next novel, EVERY VOW YOU BREAK, will be published in March next year.

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The Rugby World Cup and our man Jonny

As a supporter of England at pretty much anything (tobogganing, tiddlywinks, and that’s just the t’s), there’s one thing I’m used to: the classic pose of dejection. Down on his haunches, the defeated Englishman removes his gumshield, wipes the mixture of mud and sweat from his brow, shakes his head forlornly, and trudges off for the obligatory post-match interview.

But it wasn’t all bad, was it? A couple of things in particular stand out as highlights of what was a superb tournament:

Tonga beating France

Tonga’s 19-14 victory over France has roundly been described as ‘the biggest upset in World-Cup history’. What was so entertaining about their win was how much they seemed to be enjoying themselves. When I played rugby at school my main objective was to avoid touching the ball at all costs. If you touched the ball, you see, it was deemed perfectly acceptable for one of the 8-foot-tall, 37-stone giants on the other team to push you face first into the muddy ground, to be met by the roared acclaim of our tyrannical games teacher. By contrast, the Tongans launched themselves at their opponents as if they’d been told the French secretly carry money and cake about their person at all times.

The Fans

Unlike football followers, rugby fans seem to show their support their enthusiasm not in drinking their own bodyweight in lager and physically assaulting each other, but by launching into spirit-stirring songs and, if the mood takes them, wearing buckets on their heads as a show of solidarity.

Jonny: My Autobiography

Any words on England and the World Cup could not really be complete without mentioning Jonny Wilkinson. It would have been too good to be true, in what may be his last ever game for England, for him to have kicked us to victory, but he remains an absolute stalwart of professionalism, a genuine hero. The term ‘role-model’ is bandied about far too easily when it comes to sports stars, but Jonny is someone every youngster can look up to. Lest we forget, he’s also responsible for the greatest ever moment in World Cup history. This single swing of his right boot made my dad jump up and down on the spot, bellowing like an orch trapped in a tumble drier. And for that I will always be grateful. Prepare to get goosebumps…

Posted by Richard Roper, Non-fiction

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