NaNo No


It won’t have escaped your notice that it’s November and the writing community, Twitter, blogs, Facebook even, are abuzz with tales of National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo).

Now, I am no stranger to NaNo; my favourite of my novels was born during NaNo in 2010 when I was 15, where I won NaNo, but then spent an additional three months trying to end the 50,000 words into 80,000.


<It might partly have been to do with the fact that I handwrote the entire first draft, and so spent a deal of my time after November copying it onto Word.>

Later that year, I presented for my English Language GCSE on NaNo and my teacher and I were pleased with my resulting mark.

After that, my other forays into NaNo were in July, as I had entered a state of education where I could not afford to spend my November with a head of scenes and characters. In fact, there is indeed a version of NaNoWriMo called CampNaNo. It is essentially the same set up, though writers are encouraged to produce their own wordcount goals. Even so, I stuck to 50,000, as that was NaNo to me.

In 2013, I spent the two weeks I was volunteering in Uganda handwriting in a sandy notebook the sequel of the novel written for my first NaNo. But it felt disjointed, and, though again I completed NaNo’s wordcount goal, I was left with a lot more to type up of a novel that I didn’t love. The characters were bland and the plot felt samey, and, although this was a character’s side I needed to tell, I wasn’t invested in her as I had been my other heroine.

For those of you who know them: I still found Zara a whiny teenager as I had in Aidelle’s story. Although Aidelle was blunt, she at least had class. Literally.

The next time I did NaNo was the following year, yes the July again, with the absence of a notebook and a new plot on my mind. It was my first year as an undergraduate student, and I was free from exams, at least for where it mattered in July. I had already scrabbled at some ideas for short stories, but none were forming as I’d hoped, and coming to birth as knowing I was a Steampunk (and it was that aesthetic that the past two NaNo novels had tried to emulate), I was really beginning to grow a new idea in my head. One of true dirigibles and Vesuvian tribes and a linguist hunting for her beloved. Perhaps it sounds familiar…

I left her for at least a year, I did, and I kept leaving her. But I have been making slow progress through the third draft of H and editing updates continue (see the main photo above).

I haven’t done NaNo since then, though not for want of trying. As it is with my literary status (minor published, unagented, student), I’m not sure I want to spend my time on new ideas, particularly as writing a larger novel in general hasn’t been coming to me, when I ought to be editing, polishing, and submitting what I already have.

Well, I have written rather a lot – it’s funny to think how much I am still affected by those novels I have not worked on for a bit. I did mention they were dear to me. However, I have yet to talk about NaNo as it stands this year, the original topic of this blog, and it’s getting late. Look out for part two tomorrow, where I consider how I can utilise National Novel Writing Month this year.


It’s been a while since I’ve worked on either of those favourite novels, but you can still read about the Time, Stopped trilogy over on my Novels page of this blog. 🙂

Extract: Zara’s Plan

In this extract of the first draft of DMWT for you today, Zara first realises that Maximillian isn’t as nice as he seems.


Mechanism_AlexB“Look at this,” Max announced. “What we have not-so-lovingly called a Temporal Generator. Alas, this greatest piece of technology even failed us in the previous experiments. Thus, here I have been confined by Zoey, fruitlessly repairing it amongst these domestic paraphernalia.”

Zara opened her eyes. The box had not changed, except for its aura. Indescribable. The word ‘temporal’ sent new chills down her spine. She’d read about those words, but no fiction compared to what real life tied in a glittering bow. Unless it had never been fiction.

A spark of hope flared in her chest. People had escaped before, yes?

Zara voiced this thought, but Max shook his head.

“You know not what this means, I…” He said nothing more of her theory.

Zara sighed. That annoyed her more. “If you say so…”

Max caressed the top of the box; his fingers found the lid and it hissed open. As she crept forward, irrespective of the copper tang of her bitter tongue, the intricate guts of the unnerving vessel gestured. Thin coloured tubes intertwining melted upward. These lines at the same time disconnected and their trails were painfully hollow.

Zara dropped a finger into the chamber as she shot Max a look. His eyes cast blank shadows at her actions.

“This generator used to be under the pressure of steam, but, since I have liberated it into the power of electro-conversion. I believe that you are somewhat familiar with it.”

Zara started. “You’ve been watching me!”

“The world, rather,” he said. “But the generator overloaded – our punching through time failed.”

“Wait.” Zara guided her fingers freely around the thin wires – hardly the copper masterpieces of her own world – before recoiling from only the thought of the magical power spiking up and kicking her, finger to brain. If she wasn’t careful, she’d lose her mind in an instant. She stole away her fingers and Max snapped shut the metallic box. On its front, tiny carvings dictated a circle.

In an instant, he returned to the broken wheel.

“Max,” Zara said. “Why do you need to ‘punch’ a hole in time? I can think of a million different ideas to solve our trapped-ness.”

“It was Zoey’s idea. She’s an incredibly temporal scientist,” he muttered, a little pink in the cheeks. That might have been a side-effect of leaning of the wheel – or it might’ve been something entirely different, but Zara couldn’t tell.

Zoey. Zara had enough of hearing about her.

“As if she is so special!”

The hammering stopped. Zara swallowed.

“What are those million ideas you lie of?” He brandished the hammer high in her direction. “List them.”

She squeaked, hands above her head before she knew to fling them. Her voice had fled – her mouth tasted like the inside of sandpaper. She gurgled a word or two of defence, but Max was already throwing down the hammer. He glared at it alone.

Zara opened her mouth once— twice before the apology tumbled from thick lips.

“Don’t apologise,” Max said as he crossed his arms.

ClockInnards_AlexB“Max…” And why should she anyway? Only out of fear. “Okay – why punch? If time is a non-linear ball, it makes sense that we should be able to pull away the threads. So: pull time apart.

Secondly – and the idea I prefer for its non-aggressive nature – work backwards. I mean, applying the unlinear assumption, we could always attempt to rework the time through and rejoin ourselves to our destinations. I mean, that is what I know from my reading: threads and fabric. ”

Max wasn’t laughing now. Almost in slow motion, his lips parted and the mouthing became words. “You are a bloody genius. Maybe.”

Zara tossed her curls behind her shoulders, their soft curves reminded her of her goal.

“I’m glad,” she proclaimed, not entirely spitefully.

Yet, Max’s movement left wooden trails; he might have claimed to be convinced by her – persuaded by her theories, at least – but he wasn’t satisfied…and Zara wasn’t swayed that his arguments were less ad hominem.

Again, she spoke very little else, whilst Max bustled around her, dancing from side to side, the tool most in his hand the short-necked hammer. Occasionally, he switched hands and knocked a different utensil, sometimes rounded and blunt, sometimes sharp and lifting, onto the wheel. The temporal box shimmered out of view. If they harnessed its power, they would be kings of time. As Max fell back into his routine of hammer-smack-slide, Zara stood her ground – at least, metaphorically. Her plan was sound, grand even. If he found little to rebuke it, or said nothing in that direction, surely mastery of would conquer the doubts brooding in her mind. Right?

Zara spun and left the excuse for a workshop. She hoped Max would keep his mouth shut.

Lest he tell Zoey of Zara’s temporal mutiny.


What do you think? Does Max have an ulterior motive for thinking Zara silly or is Zara just taking his logical thinking too harshly? Do you think she will still implement her plan? Well, this is Zara we’re talking about. See the DMWT tag for more extracts of my WIP.

“Zara’s Face Was Boyish, with Elfin, Slanted Eyes”

Elfin (imagine the swirling script here) is a brilliant, yet underused adjective.

But what does it mean?

The four most common definitions of elfin include:

> Relating to, or of, elves (duh!)

> Strange or otherworldly (like an elf creature)

> Of mischief and charm (usually good-natured)

> Small and delicate of features. “Her black hair suited her elfin face” (thanks, Google, did you steal that image from me?)

It is this last definition that comes into play most important here.

Zara, Supporting Character, is one of my most interesting characters of my novel When the Clock Broke; she’s probably the most mysterious in her determination and novel goals, yet she bonds with MC Aidelle in a stronger way than I ever expected, even with my superior knowledge. In book2, Zara gets her own screentime, her own side of the temporal ‘fracture’. There, though – despite how she may try – her darker personality bleeds through a once-naive expression. She’s a tricky and sneaky character.

The first time we meet Zara, we understand her strangeness through not only her difference to Aidelle or her new actions – but through her appearance, something over which, of course, we as humans never have any control. Yet, Zara manages to creep out of the woodwork-pages with her looks:

A girl peered out: a young woman probably in her late teens. Her face was boyish, with elfin, slanted eyes, even if her other features were not, like the dark hair tumbling down her back in tamed waves. She’d stuffed a pilot’s cap over her crown, and attempted to tuck a strand behind her ear.

Whilst Google Imaging the word, I came across a certain picture. Of course, I’ve used actors (such as Lucy Hale) to capture the visual to my description, but pictorial evidence never really came to me. Then I found the picture. It accomplishes, in painted form, what Zara would look like were she really a) an elf and b) a boy.

Notice the brooding look, the ominous tilt-and-pout, and the strong hold of his stare. Although the colours aren’t quite Zara, the pose and expression – arguably more important in a character – are exactly her. Besides, we have to include some leeway for the elf genes to manipulate her exterior.

Writers – have you ever stumbled across a picture/photo that illustrates exactly what you’ve wanted to say, but from a twisted viewpoint? What parts of their personalities would your characters’ elf-selves have compared to their usual selves?

WTCB2 Teaser and Titbits

Although I’m not doing NaNo, this post is rather appropriate since I wrote the first draft of When the Clock Broke’s second book during CampNaNo this year. I felt in the mood for sharing a few titbits about the characters and the actors who have currently caught my eye, as if this post were another Next Big Thing.

In addition, it contains one of my favourite opening sequences for in media res beginnings, a skill at which I’m not superb:


Physics was confusing enough without adding a fifth dimension that Zara didn’t even believe in.

She slammed down the wall lever, eyes flitting over to the volt-barometer fitted beside the double-barred handgrip. A stripe of red zoomed past, and the hiss of the engine droned out. The experiment was over – and her lab-partner had already returned from the engine’s depths.

“84 MPH. Not bad,” Mairim read from the chart. She picked at the scarlet velvet of her knee-length dress. Zara blinked; she herself hadn’t even lifted her eyes to the vertical lines of numbers yet. Mairim had clipped back her dappled hair – as was expected of them – and the ends lapped short of her crimpled dress-shoulders. Zara suspected she herself looked scruffy in comparison. More than once, she had tripped over the long hems of her trousers; but it had been her choice in dressing that way.

“Not high enough,” Zara replied. “Professor Leigh said we need over 90 for a pass. Don’t forget that clause.”

“Don’t worry,” Mairim added. “You have only been here for a year.”

“That’s exactly why I should be achieving. Next time, let me be the one to operate the time-manipulator.”

Mairim wrinkled her nose. “You’re hardly strong enough to hold the driver steady against the second pulse – stop complaining, when, in a different world, we might not even be able to measure the output. Be grateful it works.”

“I am,” Zara grumbled.

She frowned and followed her lab-partner away from the volt-barometer. Already the disguised insult had set her mind into full flow. After all, Zara had held onto the idea ever since she had first laid eyes on her Main Project for the year.

“But if we didn’t need a phenomic driver, I could handle it. Think of how much quicker the manipulator would run.”

Mairim’s face went through three different flinches as each word took her off-guard. “Woaho! Keep it simple, Zara. This is Temporal 101, not Mechanics 305.”


Now for the main actors, in order of character appearance.

LucyHaleOf course, I’ll be sticking with Lucy Hale as Zara, though, this time, she is the Main Character. By 2056, Zara is at the end of her first year of a Physics Education. She wants to excel in her interest in time-travel, but, due to her lower-middle-class routes, she hits more than a few bumps. She has oppressors both within her family and without – and even through the time-streams.

Dakota Fanning (but with her posh British accent like in the film Now is Good and brown-blonde hair) as Mairim, Zara’s snobbish lab-partner. For DMWT, she only appears in two scenes, but she is, effectively, the catalyst for the incident point of the book, as she spurs on Zara’s determination to prove herself as good as the upper-class.

As Alec Legge in Poirot: “I’d like to see every feeble minded person put out. Don’t let them breed.”

Daniel Weyman (but with black hair) as Freidrich Costello. The last in the ‘official’ Costello line, that is, those who inherit the Mansion and the prestige following the name in public. Although more interested in work than love, Freidrich agreed to an arranged marriage like his parents; he is obliged to, anyway, since he is the only male in three offspring. However, Freidrich’s arrangement was somewhat unusual, in that he met a distant cousin of his mother’s, Gabiee, at his sister’s first wedding, and they themselves agreed to become engaged, rather than having been thrown at each other. Freidrich had not yet advertised his Selection, though he had told his father of his plans. In the end, Freidrich and Gabiee continue the line by four children, two boys and two girls, all named after classical literature.

Freidrich is like his grandfather, Dr. Costello, in many ways. Whilst Dr. Costello’s interest in biology was optics and treatment, Freidrich’s is in genetics and destruction. He likes being a high-class Costello, but hates the fact that his uncle Phillip married the odd-looking daughter of a Physics worker.

At the time of Zara’s disappearance, Freidrich is in his late forties and going grey. He and his new wife feature a lot more in the [plan of the] final book.

…like that, but blonde.

Zoey. Still not sure about this one, as each actress I have in my head carries a component of Zoey’s personality, but not its entirety, be it age, appearance or style. It doesn’t help that Zoey, like Zara, could have an American accent, though she doesn’t in the books.

For now, I’ve gone for Gemma Arterton, but with blonde hair. She’d have to dye it well, but I think that would work, since, although natural, Zoey’s hair is so light it’s almost bleach blonde.

Lily James is another close candidate, but she’s a little too girly for my liking…

Back to the bio… Zara’s instant dislike of Zoey often peppers her judgement of her actions, but is she correct in thinking that Zoey has a secret plan of her own? A gifted temporal scientist, Zoey was, however, denied the chance Zara got to enter the Physics Institute because she was born to unmarried servant parents. But it’s not revenge she exacts in her personal study.


MV5BMjMwMzI5NjY1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDMzNTI5OA@@._V1._SX640_SY915_Freddie Highmore as Maximillian Folster, a middle-class mechanic from Phillip’s generation. Although I originally envisioned the character to be Zara’s support throughout the novel, Max took his personality into his own hands and became more of jerk, mocking her more than once. In fact, in the final book, Max’s takes their ruse of master and servant further than Zara would have liked. Max has a secret crush on Zoey and she uses this to manipulate him.

Gary Carr as Linacre George. He was last seen playing Jack Ross in Downton Abbey (so no surprise about my choice there ;)), and he’d have to drop the American accent, but it’s difficult to find young black actors, since a lot are stereotyped. Linacre is an upper-class of Dr. Costello’s generation, but he worries about losing his land and name, since a similar prejudice presides over coloured people in this world.

Wowed over by his “melted chocolate” looks, Zara’s attraction to Linacre ultimately leads to a romance between them. However, what Zara’s head and what her heart wants are two different desires, and the relationship explodes out.

Want to know more? The tag ‘WTCB…’ encompasses all my chat about my bigger fiction trilogy, including other little pieces from the second book – found under the ‘DMWT’ tag, too. In addition, sections of my worldbuilding WIP, The Continental Almanac, are on the blog.

WTCB September: Zara, More Substance than Symbol

Recently, I was editing the chapter in which Zara first turns up in When the Clock Broke, and it occurred to me of the differences between the idea I once had of her, the shape of mechanic beauty, and the elfin, boyish features I have written for her now. She’s changed into a different sort of visual character to the one I first created, though I have no problem with that.

170px-Audrey_Hepburn_screentest_in_Roman_Holiday_trailerShe was always different, but now she’s a different kind of different. A gaminic girl.

Characters that come to mind are those played by Audrey Hepburn, for her sprightly (or, perhaps, spritely) leaping around our screens, as well as her wistful appearance, and the character (or, at least the depiction of hard on my copy of the book) of Holly Blue in the Faerie Wars Chronicles.HollyBlue

But, as the title suggests, Zara is more about a modern society, a – dare I say it? – dystopian woman, who, although she is given more roles and more freedom, would rather be a man. This is what makes her so much of Aidelle’s foil as well as her companion.

However, this may be where Zara’s symbolic presence ends. Of course, as I did with all of my characters, I did not create Zara as a specific charactorial archetype; unlike the other characters, she has not so much shaped her way into an archetype as Peter or Aidelle or Rion have. Then again, she has her own stories with which to deal.

If any symbolism occurs, it is in Zara’s participation as a secondary character – she is there to help, to introduce Aidelle into the world of a frozen time-stream and a broken future, but also to grow as her own person. From the rude, somewhat lonely girl who’s willing to risk her life, she unconsciously transforms into the one who’s more family-centred.

Yet, it is for family that she has acted anyway. (You can see where my puzzlement at her character comes. I wouldn’t say she doesn’t grow, but she is more enigmatic than the simple changed character; she has more secretive pockets than the others, and, because of the exact nature of her character, she changes and changes back.)

In a way, Zara’s lack of symbolism makes her one of the most ‘normal’ of characters; she reminds me of other teenage girls in other books.

Thinking that, however, her mysterious side gives her some kind of symbolism – she is the product of her parents, and, although they, as adults, are very nearly insignificant in the trilogy, their – or rather, her mother’s – genes are vital:

Zara is some kind of conglomerate of other characters; she even has some resemblance to the villain because he is her uncle.

Things I’ve found useful about Zara, applicable to general Supporting Characters:

  • She acts as a trigger towards the MC, an introduction into the new, ‘special’ world of the novel. SCs are helpful for writers in this way, in that they can divulge information to the lost head of the MC.
  • She’s a foil, and thus gives variety to the cast. Having characters of the same mind can be dull for a reader, so it’s useful to have someone with whom the MC can constructively disagree.
  • Conversely, the SC provides a “you go, MC!” when the MC is feeling down. They can act as someone to glare at the villain beside the MC, and, often, a reader may empathise more with a Supporting Character than a Main Character, simply because they cast the same support onto the MC that the SC does.
  • Thus, SCs provide a level head to a fiery one and a flair character to a plain-headed one.

But, in this case, what stands out to me is, to sum up this post, that Zara is a visual element of the novel, as opposed to a meta-visual one. For all her ‘symbolic’ parts, she’s a character first and foremost.

Sadly, her part as a main character in the last two books adds to my issue that they lack the symbolism and great ‘thinking’ (if I may say…) of the first.

What do you think? Do all characters need an archetype or a symbolic background, or are they better with no relevance even in their name? Writers: how have your characters’ symbolic sides come out in various drafts?

WTCB September: WIPpet Wednesday (sort of)

Okay, since this is not actually a weekly post segment, I’m not going to follow the actual rules of WIPpet Wednesday of a relevant number of paragraphs for the extract. Instead, I present an extract that came out of chronology, though, technically, it belongs to the last book in the Time, Stopped trilogy.

Zara, intending to find a way to reverse her time-breaking in the middle book, tries to contact various people over the collection of time-streams. These include her great-grandmother in 1980 and her second cousin, two years after Zara was meant to have gone missing with vital papers to destroy her family.

I’m quite proud of this for a work in progress, so enjoy!

‘Dark Bed’, photo credit ~kittiquin on DeviantART

Dreams of Zara

Gabiee Costello awoke with beads of sweat plastering her thin fringe to her eyes. Scraping them away, Gabiee panted – though she had been unaware, in sleep, that her breath had been catching, sharp.

But now Gabiee’s lungs ached, and she wanted to smack her head against the headboard to clear it of its ghosts.

Beside her, a cool snort erupted from the slumbering figure. Gabiee swerved a flying arm and protectively shielded the part of her belly that strained against her tight nightdress. Two weeks ago her figure had been as flat as her untouched breasts…but now.

The snort folded into a sigh, and, in the pitch-black, a voice caressed her, “Gabiee, are you awake?”

“I am, Freidrich.”


A hand found her thigh oppressingly. Gabiee squirmed and slid her bare legs along the satin sheets. Five months ago, this luxury had been blissful. Now all Gabiee thought about was the life inside her she wanted to keep safe by withholding her womb from her husband.

Four months pregnant and she still hadn’t told him. She had told his mother, of course, but nothing was kept from Mrs. Costello Senior. Besides, Aimee was her mother’s aunt’s cousin, and Gabiee owed her something.

Her toes touched down on the floor, plush fingers coating them in a purple invisible in the lack of light. Gabiee sat on the edge of the bed and waited for her eyes adjust.

“Gabiee. What is wrong?”

Edge of Life“Simply a dream I had,” she told Freidrich. Even when the light filtered through her lashes, the definite figure remained, black hair and wide, blue eyes begging. But who was that? And why did her form shape so familiar? The memories faded, in and out, pulsing to match the erratic throb of Gabiee’s heartbeat.

“Would it be bizarre of me to ask you about what?”

She clasped her trembling hands within themselves. “It might. What would be more bizarre, however, would be my revealing of the odd dream.”

His voice edged closer, filling with that tone he used to seduce women. At least the calls were temporary. Gabiee didn’t mind…as long as he didn’t fall in love with one of them.

“Go on. Fill me with your tales of the impossible, and I can fill you—”

“Freidrich!” she squealed and pushed his hands away from her thighs. She sprung from the bed and spun in the darkness. “Freidrich…”

“What has been the matter with you lately? We agreed—”

“I dreamt about Zara,” she cried.

The bed creaked as Freidrich eased to his feet. A wave of black hair towered above her. “Zara? Zara is gone.”

“And yet you still wonder why I wake in a frantic sweat?”

One hand found hers; he already saw better in the dark than she. “Zara is gone, Gabiee. She shall not return in any moment.”

Gabiee turned, heading for their en-suite. She grabbled at the oil-control and that sickly, pregnant face swam into view in the mirror over the sink as the light hummed on. “Yet, she is haunting me. Riddle me that, Freidrich.”