Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, friends, fiends, octopi and anyone else out there who is sensibly sitting in with a quiet brew instead of braving the atrocious amounts of wind out there this morning.
As November begins to wrap itself up in shiny paper and tinsel and writers across the globe chew their knuckles to the bone and pull out the last of their hair and dissolve into soft pools of jelly on the floor I thought I would share what we here in the Bitter North (Mordor some like to call it) have been doing to celebrate National Novel Writing Month.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a novel as : A long printed story about imaginary characters and events.
Even if we lay aside all the comments we hear abut writers being turned down by mainstream publishing houses because their plots, characters, style or creative format is deemed ‘niche’ and therefore not all that profitable, there are still two words in that description which close off the world of baking and consuming novels to large groups of people – those words are LONG and PRINTED.
Those of you who only know me through the aetherweb are probably unaware that I have PMA (Persistent Migraine with Auras) with Alice In Wonderland Syndrome (cool huh? I thought so when I finally got a name for it!) This means that for as long as I can remember, I have seen an overlay of lights, colours and patterns on top of around and behind everything else. Sometimes there are sounds too and occasionally objects become very tiny and far away then grow big again. I was an early consumer of literature (by 2 I could stomach a short book and by 5 I was eating Narnia) and I recorded my first horror stories on cassette when I was 4 , but digesting long amounts of small printed text in identical format throughout has always been very difficult for me. I do it because I love stories. But it’s hard. It wasn’t until I discovered House Of Leaves in my teens that I realised a novel could be something else…
We live in an age where technology allows us to create interactive book formats, audio, braille, tactile books, stories that arrive in a series of boxes through the mail…
Our small storytelling group is fortunately blessed with some fabulous little (and big!) people who have a variety of ways of processing sensory information as well as attention, emotional, social and physical issues which render the classic format of a classic 80,000 word novel problematic. So this month we have been exploring different ways of creating and consuming works of novel fiction.
There is always a danger that when folks with what others might term ‘special needs’ (don’t we all have those?) attempt something like this the rest of society expects that we are lowering the bar or going to produce something substandard that everyone can smile at and say ‘awwww bless!’ So we also set ourselves some really tough challenges to make sure our stories were as tight and top notch as they could be, just presented in an alternative format.
I have already shared our tea books with you all. Here are some of the other things we have been up to…
Messages on bottles
Bottles, cartons, jars and tins or cylinders made from oiled paper all make lovely tactile surfaces for writing on. You can hold the physical object in your hands in a way that is great for those who need to fidget or find holding a heavy book or turning fiddly pages a strain on their joints (several members have hypermobility with arthritis and this can be a big issue). The beauty of light shining through the inked on words is enchanting and holds the attention of the reader and writing on the curves and small sections proved a very manageable and enjoyable task for those of us who struggle to attend to one thing for a long time. The containers can be painted first then inked with sharpies when dry, or left plain. We put LED candles inside ours but I would love to see them hung outside in summer where they would catch the light, or the glass bottles filled with coloured water.
These were surprisingly difficult to make well. We planned out our stories and then thought about a series of sounds that could be put together to convey that story to a listener. We tried using sounds we could make ourselves, such as footsteps or cutlery, doors etc. and soon realised that even the most obvious sounds don’t always convey the action we need them to. We later experimented with various apps to layer in music and other sounds and eventually ended up with some pretty good ‘sound stories’ but nobody was entirely happy with their finished pieces and so I think we will come back to this project again.
Everyone loved these – even the two year olds in the group had a go! – a series of photographs were taken to tell a story. See what you think of this one…
Stories Hidden Inside
Inside a bottle, an envelope, a box, a shoe… we carefully selected a series of objects that told a story, some collections were obvious, some needed explaining, some were extremely powerful, poignant and sad – it was amazing how as few as three or four objects, carefully chosen, could move us to tears just as much as 50,000 well chosen words.
Next week we will be turning one of our stories into code by choosing either coloured or shaped beads to represent each element or word in our story and then threading them into wearable novels. This is a follow on from an activity a few years ago when we made wearable story jackets, shoes and trousers which could be added to over time.
We also did a lot of spoken word story telling in the form of roll-and-tell (or some prefered to roll-and-write which was fine. Here are some of the D6 games we played…
Roll a D6 and tell a story that begins with the word matching your number:
- Clunk 1.Sorry! 1.We
- Oh! 2.Violent 2.Perched
- Silently 3.Swish 3.Struggling
- Never 4.Five 4.Why
- You 5.Sand 5.Flames
- Falling 6.White 6.Bone
Roll a D6 and create a character that is like…
1. Glass 1. Marble
2.Autumn 2. Spring
3. Cider Apples 3. Evening
4. Chalk cliffs 4. A broken pot
5. Rain 5. Moss
6. A Utility knife 6. Lemon sherbert
Roll a D6 and create a setting that contains the word (or is inspired by the word) ….
1.Silk 1. cardboard 1. Smoke
2. Velvet 2. Pigeons 2. Laughter
3. Acrid 3. Bare 3. Luminous
4.Stale 4. Iron 4. Pin
5. Vivid 5. Air 5. Sickly
6. Crunch 6. Chestnuts 6. Close
Roll a D6 and tell a story (or add an event to your story) that begins “suddenly…”
- A monster 1. Sound 1. Breath
- Light 2.Pain 2. Droplets
- An animal 3. A person 3.The scent of
- A trap 4. Fatigue 4. Weight
- A person 5. Fear 5. Vibration
- The hand of god 6. Hunger 6. Memory
And here are the D20 challenges we gave ourselves for editing, improving, experimenting and tightening up… Roll a D20 then re-tell / re-write your piece as follows…
- Don’t use any colours or visual descriptions
- Don’t use sounds
- Only use descriptive words associated with taste and touch
- Don’t use weather or landscape to reflect the mood / atmosphere
- Use only dialogue
- Use no dialogue
- For every adjective, find 3 alternatives
- Use metaphors and similes that seem completely out of place
- Tell it from the perspective of three different characters or objects
- Don’t use the same word twice
- Write it twice, each at a different time of day
- Use no adjectives
- Sum up the whole scene in one word
- Choose a paragraph and remove as many words as you can
- Double the length of the scene or paragraph
- For every verb find 2 different ways of describing the action
- Choose a colour and make every adjective fit that colour theme. Repeat with a different colour
- Write a synopsis of your piece in one sentence
- Write or tell it in just 250 words
- Write or tell a synopsis of your story in one paragraph.
So we have been using this month to celebrate all that a novel can be and I have also been working hard on the very last novel that will make up the Smith and Skarry series – yes, yes, I know I haven’t actually published the first one yet and the second and third are only half done but that’s the way I roll I guess, it came to me how the thing should end and so I thought it best to write what was flowing. I say ‘write’ but as each book is meant to be a hybrid graphic novel / novella there’s a lot of story boarding too. It may well be a hopeless endeavour as I still haven’t found another illustrator and my own art skills are way too shabby but ‘hey ho’ it keeps me off the streets 😀
And now a lil ‘heads up’ that the next two months round here may be a little chaotic (because they aren’t already…) I am moving house and also at some point going to have an operation (no idea when yet) I’m scheduling as many posts for Dec and Jan as I can in advance but I’m not sure when I will have computer access over that time so if I don’t respond to your lovely comments / emails etc immediately please understand I’m not being rude, I’m just on my back getting high on opiates or something.
And now we must all take a huge calming breath and brace ourselves because next week I will publish my recommended steampunk Christmas reading list (email me if you want to be added to that) and after that…. WIZMAS! (Or Christmas as I think you call it? ) anyhoo it all translates as madness and I have to polish my spurtle , order extra oats, buy a new hat, brush up on my spuelling technique and get cracking on a new witch hunting wagon…
Biggest blessings on all your novel endeavours
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome back to Max and Collin’s gloriously ghoulish and curiously cat infested parlour located somewhere within the alimentary canal of that splendidly scenic city of Lancaster.
True our psychotic landlord may have banished us to this dank and dingy dungeon, but anyone who would be crest fallen by such a turn of events has obviously never stood in their night dress fighting off flesh eating Liver Birds with nothing but a teapot and a book of mostly awful poetry.
Hm? Yes I have a night dress…. well how the hell do you imagine an octopus can fit into trousers? Really! A-hem….
You find us this morning in outrage because our puppet mistress, Penny, is keeping a very dark and dirty secret. At least she thinks she is. But we know what is going on. Having been very loudly and vociferously against the notion of National Novel Writing Month since its inception, she has decided to turn traitor on us and sign up for this year’s event. She has told no one. She is hiding her evil nano-notebook inside a waterproof zip lock bag inside the toilet cistern, ready to fake daily bouts of dysentery in order to complete her ridiculous writing goals in secret. But she is fooling no one. Least of all us.
We should state that our collective objections thus far have been that, while there is no harm in a person trying to have a bit of fun and create something fabulous along the way, to stipulate what a novel can and can’t be is to cut a huge number of people out of the novel creating and consuming world. So why is she doing this? She has obviously gone mad through lack of tea.
Max has optimistically suggested that she is only trying a splash of espionage and has cunningly infiltrated the machine to bring it crumbling to the ground from within. But personally I consider even such a move to be highly treacherous, traitorous, untrustworthy and utterly unacceptable and I for one cannot bring myself to look her in the eye. Which is making the whole morning routine very difficult indeed.
But never fear! We in the parlour remain stoic to the cause and so, to combat this fever of driving oneself into an early tomb trying to write 50,000 words or more in a month, we will instead be exploring and celebrating absinthlutely everything that a novel can and should be other than a book of 50,000 words or so.
A lot of our time this month will be spent working with urchins who process audio and visual information differently from most other people, and helping them to explore and celebrate their own writing and story crafting, so we will be posting activities that are inclusive and open the world of ‘novel writing’ to a much wider field of participant and audience.
So to kick us off on our Nano-free-November, we give you ….
TEA BAG NOVELS
(didn’t see that coming now did you?)
These are teeny weeny tight little tales that can be stapled into a book using tea bags as pages (or if you are very clever, a single tea bag!) Dry out your used tea bags on a plate (different teas will give you a variety of coloured pages, strawberry -red, blueberry – purple, Matcha – green, Redbush – orange, apple – grey, turmeric – yellow)
When dry, cut along one edge with a pair of scissors, then carefully scrape out the dried tea inside.
Write your novel in fine line ink pen or ball point, being careful to use the perforated edge as a margin.
When you have finished, pile your pages on top of each other in the correct order and stitch or staple your book together along the margin edge.
Voila! Will be ding this today with our little Lancastrian urchins and so here is our ‘one we did earlier’ example…
And in case you can’t read the awful tentacular scrawl, here is the text…
We met under a gut-punched sky, the raindrops racing down the tight screen of slipped out breath that caught in the space between our two neon egos – spitting sparks in the downpour.
Through a fudge of boiled rice conversation, I reached inside your brine and found the chalk of you ; graffiti-scarred myself, in fingernail wounds, into your smoothness and laughed .
“Give me back my soul,” I said, “I dropped it into the amber jewel pool of your eyes, while I was playing with your innards.”
“That’s not your soul,” you said, “that is only the sun, a bright gold ball reflected.”
I called you, “Toad,” and ran. The grass, like bottle glass, cut my feet and you, Hunter, licked up that garnet trail all the slow way to my door.
You dined on my defeat. Delivered up on plates of gold: pomegranate, passion, fig all patulous ; ‘Cuisses de Nymphe a l’Aurore’.
Ever after then, you bound me in a forest of words, so that I lie now: Ophelia and inked-over by your own tongue.
I blink out, through the black-string bars of a story that I refuse, still, to claim and reach for each new princess as if, through her, I could regain a purchase on the world and stand again – under that bruised sky; a spectrum of spilled blood, pooling under porcelain…
If, then I would make my order quick – ‘Cuisses de grenouille’ – end you with a finger lick.
We wish you a fiendishly festive Halloween / Samhain / All Saints / Souls / Day / Night / Thing whatever it is you humans are celebrating right now (so confusing) and hope you survive the night and will join Mrs B in her soup kitchen tomorrow, until then
Please be always