Thursday, 26 November 2009

Washing Away Words

Well, what a week it's been, since I last blogged. Anyone would think the Weather Gods had decided that Simon was not going to be distracted from working on his novel by nice weather tempting him onto the fells instead.

I'm sure many of you will have seen the devastating floods in the north Lakes at Cockermouth and Workington on the news, but the people in the South Lakes are suffering too.
The first picture here of the flooded road is my one and only road to civilisation. Just outside Hawkshead, Esthwaite Water had suddenly expanded over night in the early hours of last Friday morning. Nowhere was accessible by car. Luckily, I found a footpath, which enabled me to bypass the flooded road (passable only by tractors) and made it into Hawkshead. I needed bread and milk, and I wondered if the Co-op would be open, because it was currently undergoing a refurbishment.

I was therefore delighted to see that it was (although I think the refurbishment wasn't quite complete, but due to the flooding, the decision had been taken to open early.) The second picture is of the queue. It took over half an hour for me to reach the tills. In the meantime, people kept leaving their baskets in the queue and nipping to a shelf and picking up something else for their baskets. The locals kept joking with the manageress that this was all a cunning plan - just have one till open, keep the queues long, and the customers will keep topping their baskets up whilst they wait! Suffice to say that the Dunkirk spirit is alive and well. The third picture is of a house in Hawkshead that did not fair well during the downpour. Sadly, there are many other places in the south Lakes like this.

I don't know how many of you have been to the Lake District, but if you've ever seen the jetties at Bowness on Windermere, you may be surprised to know that yesterday evening (Wednesday), 6 days after the main weather event, those jetties still cannot be seen because they are under so much water. There are many businesses that will take years to recover from this.

More and more roads are becoming passable each day - I finally managed to get the car out on Monday, although, those roads that are not underwater are littered with branches and stones. At times it's like driving over gravel, so many rocks and stones have been washed onto roads. And many of the stone walls have been destroyed, simply by the force of the water washing them away.

The fourth picture here is of the current weather. If you listen to the weather forecast, Cumbria is having some respite from the rain. I suppose we are in a way - this is hail! Rumour has it though, that there may be some sunshine on Sunday. Wayhay!

So, what with the weather, literally, cutting me off from the rest of the world, how's it going with the novel, I hear you ask. Actually, not bad.

One of the reasons I'm doing this, is because I paid for a professional critique to be carried out on my text. Essentially, I was told two things - the novel was 30,000 words too long, and that the genre was not a particularly commercial one. (i.e. it isn't a crime novel!) but if I deleted those 30,000 words, I would have a novel of publishable quality. Another comment made was that there are no 'nice' female characters in my novel for female readers to empathise with.

I'd been thinking about this a lot, and decided that perhaps this was something I needed to rectify. So whilst I've been deleting words, I've also been adding more! I created a new female character and as I included her in more scenes, I really got to like her. I'd added her into about a third of the book and then I stopped and re-read what I'd rewritten.

I didn't like it. Whilst it wasn't 'padding' because I'd been able to slot her into the plot easily, and she'd enabled me to add some interesting twists to the plot, she had made an impact on the pace of the novel. It was much slower. I'd like to think that novel is a good old fashioned British farce, and therefore pace is important. I had a decision to make.

So, I put on my walking boots and went out (in the rain) and stretched my legs around the ever expanding Esthwaite Water. About an hour later, when I returned, I'd made my decision. My new female character had to go. I liked her, but she wasn't right for this book. (I'm sure she'll have an important role in my next one!)

I therefore spent the next few days deleting and rewriting everything I'd written and rewritten over the past few days. When I reread my text again, I was much happier. The pace was back. Doors are slamming once again, rather than being left ajar. (door slamming is important in British farce.)

What's this taught me? Actually, it's taught me to have more confidence in my text. In the professional critique, the main criticism was the length of the book. The female character for female readers to empathise with was more of a personal opinion of the professional reader, not a criticism of the novel's structure itself. Re-reading the critique reminded me that the plot works, it moves forward at a good pace, and my characters are appropriate for the genre.

In light of this, I'm back to simply cutting and honing my text. Sometimes, the errors I spot are embarrassing! For example, I had a character in a building on her own, and she mutters something under her breath. At the end of the sentence I'd used the phrase "she muttered to herself." Well, if she's in the building on her own, then who else is she going to be muttering to? The reader knows she's alone, therefore the reader knows she's talking to herself! Duh!

So, whilst a lot of the editing is the usual deleting of unnecessary adverbs, there's also a lot of 'common sense' deleting taking place too. It's surprising how often we writers repeat information.

Now, if you'll excuse me, the hail has stopped. It's raining once more. I'm going back to washing away some more of my words from my novel.

Good luck.


  1. Good to hear that you're ok, Simon, and that you're making progress with the revisions on your novel. It's also encouraging to hear that the Lakeland people are keeping their spirits up following recent events. I didn't realize that South Lakes (the setting for my own novel) is suffering too. Let's hope for some dry settled weather and a swift resolution to the problems the floods have caused.

  2. Hi Simon
    We have been all so worried about you! The weather was mad at our retreat too but not as bad as you have had it. Despite the drinking and party every night, I did loads and like you my critique feedback was brilliant. As a result of mine I am sending my children's book off to another publisher tomorrow. Hope you manage to get yours sorted despite all the worry of the weather and take care

  3. You must be a determined sort, to be working under such circumstances. Well done
    In retrospect, do you think the critique was worth the money? I'm asking because a friend of mine is finishing his first novel and considering whether to pay for one.
    Keep taking lots of photos

  4. I think I'd be distracted by the flooding and all the rain. I have friends in Barrow, I haven't heard how they're faring, but I know they're at least alive and well as we've been in touch about other stuff, just not the weather. Perhaps it hasn't stretched that far west.

    It happened to me last year (2008) when I went to Dent for Easter ... and we got snowed in and were advised not to go walking, even if we knew the area, were very experienced/fit, and had company. Locals were being airlifted to safety and one even died, so maybe they had a point. I was so distracted looking at all that lovely snow. Dent is quite self-contained, so it was actually quite an adventure.

    I'm amazed you're getting so much work done, though. I know I wouldn't, but I'm a lightweight.