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November 7, 2010

This is, unapologetically, a NaNoWriMo post. I would have begun with an apology to all those who are not taking part in NaNoWriMo, and especially to all those who actively dislike NaNo, since lately it appears fashionable to knock the whole endeavour.

But NaNo is a big thing for writers. It is a good way to start, for those who have never written before. It is a good way to focus, for those who are casual, sometimes distracted. And it is a good challenge for those who write anyway.

Rather than dismiss NaNo as something detrimental to the craft of writing, why not celebrate it as a means of awareness? Is AIDS research any less important for the other 364 days just because there is an awareness day for one day a year? Does one day of awareness harm the cause of research?

Of course not. So let NaNo be a form of consciousness-raising about writing. Yes, it is crazy for anyone to turn in their manuscript to a publisher on December 1st and expect it to be published. Yes, there ought to be a greater push towards revision and editing. But you know what? You can’t edit or revise, nor even submit anything, if you don’t write something first. And that’s the point of NaNo.

Here endeth the lesson.

Now, this post is entitled “beginnings”. And that’s what I want to share with you, and in turn I’d like you to share with me. The London NaNo forum has a thread entitled “what’s your first line”. Better than that, I’d like you to share your first 500 words or so. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter. Let’s hear what you have to say. Here’s mine.

“Where is the Duke?”

“Gone up to town sir, business at Parliament.”

Abberline stared at the body lying face down in the dirt, three large gashes running down the length of its back. Blood had oozed out of the wounds and pooled around the body, mingling with the mud to create a bloody quagmire that clung to the body.

“Hell of a mess, not sure what kind of weapon would do that…”

“Seen it before sir.”


“Canada sir, went across with the Duke when I were younger, touring his estates there. Went out hunting, found a deer carcass with cuts just like that on its flank. That’s a bear caused that, sure as I’m standing here.”

Abberline looked at the old man and shook his head. “A bear. Did this. In Isleworth.”

The old man took a pipe out of his pocket, and began to stuff it with some loose tobacco. “All I’m saying sir, is I seen that before. Three big nasty cuts, deep and ragged, one next to the other. Seen it before, and it were a bear did it.” He struck a match, and began to puff on the pipe until the bowl glowed. He blew the smoke straight up, and pointed the stalk of the pipe at the body. “A bear.”

“Mister…?” Abberline began to speak, but realised he didn’t know who he was talking to.

“Callum. Just Callum, that’s what everyone in the house calls me.”

“Callum. There haven’t been bears in England for five hundred years, I hardly think-”

“Now sir, I’m not telling you what did it. Only what it looks like. Maybe there’s a circus, maybe one of them down in Petersham has a menagerie and one got loose, I don’t know. But that’s what it looks like, and that’s all I’m saying.”

Abberline knelt down by the body. One arm was outstretched towards the gates of Syon House, the Duke of Northumberland’s London residence. Abberline lifted the head gently to reveal the face. He wiped the mud away from the face, revealing a face contorted in terror.

Callum sighed. “Ah Joe my boy, that’s a sorry end for you.”

“You know him?”

“Ay sir, that’s young Joe Parsons.”

“He have business at the house?”

“Ought not to have been out of the house sir, he’s one of the kitchen boys.” Callum puffed a few more times on the pipe, and nodded towards the road the body was lying in. “Must’ve snuck down to the Apprentice. Might have come back by the main road or…”


Callum pointed to a narrow track through a field. “Might have come back by Cut-throat Lane. Avoids the main gate see, less chance of being seen.”

“Then I suppose I’m heading to the Apprentice to make some enquiries.”

“When you’re there sir, make sure you speak to Jones the carpenter. He’ll tell you a few things about bears and Cut-throat Lane.”

“And I’ll find this Jones at the Apprentice?”

“Since his little fright, he won’t leave sir. You’ll find him there for sure.”

Paul’s NaNo 2010 project is called Copper, and is set in an alternate, steampunk London in the 19th Century. Some of the characters and incidents however are real. Jones the carpenter, and his “little fright” on Cut-Throat Lane (which is ten minutes walk from where I live) are very real, and crucial to the plot…
  1. November 7, 2010 5:18 am

    Love it Paul… drawn straight into the story. And you’ve created some interesting characters and a reader-worthy “What the hell happened here.” A bear indeed!

    Truth isn’t necessarily stranger than fiction…

  2. November 7, 2010 6:24 am

    All right, my first 500, which is lousy of course(yours is great, btw- just got drawn in into the world of the story):

    Actually- this adds up to 491 words. My work is urban fantasy.

    Name: Raka Chatterjee
    Date of Birth: 18th July 1990
    Location: Kolkata, West Bengal, India
    Occupation: Student
    Favourite colour- Blue
    Favourite gem- Diamond
    Favourite metal- Silver
    Preferred Heavenly Body: (What?!) The Moon
    Favourite Element: (really, now… *sigh*…Oh alright!) Water
    Fae Credits: ____

    My fingers paused over the keyboard as I turned around to face Aunt Maya. She was reclining on the single bed, fiddling with her long, elegant star-topped staff. Although her eyes appeared to be flickering round the room, resting sometimes on the books on the study table on the other side of the room, sometimes smiling upon the teddy bears and greeting cards on the shelves behind her, and often just vacantly staring at the lime green walls, I knew she was observing me, taking in every word I was typing.
    “Do I really need to do this?” I asked, for about the hundredth time since I had walked into her living room at her urgent summons, expecting to be treated to one of her experimental recipes and instead being ordered to create a networking account.
    Twirling a shining, curly lock behind her ear, my aunt took a deep breath, “My dear Raka,” she said patiently, “social networking is the order of the day. You can not ignore it if you want to move with the times.”
    “I am moving with the times,” I stated stubbornly, “I’ve got orkut, and facebook. Why do I need to be on FairyWeb all of a sudden?”
    “Because, Raka, you are a fairy!” She seemed astonished that I was asking her such an obvious question.
    I was, however, not going to buy it. Sounds of singing and chanting floated in through the open window- it meant that the evening assembly had begun at the ashram across the street. It was getting late, and all I had done this afternoon was signing up for a website where I was never going to log in.
    “Part Fairy.” I corrected her, “And I’m not bothered about my fairy genes at all. I don’t want to be friends with all the fairies of the world and boast of my fairy accomplishments. In fact, as you can see, I have no fairy accomplishments.” I indicated the blank space beside the ‘Fae Credits’ section in the sign up form on the screen.
    “And you should be ashamed of the fact.” Aunt Maya answered sternly, “A fairy 20 years old and not a single Fae credit to the name! Why, at your age I had already earned my first troika of courage badges!”
    “Mainly by bailing out college friends who had got into trouble bunking classes at your instigation.” I retorted. I knew all the stories from my mother.
    “Oh you’re so boring, Raka.You’re just like your mother. College is meant for bunking classes.” She sighed dramatically. “I don’t know how you can be so serious at your age. Tell me, how often do you go on your orkut and facebook?”

    [Synopsis: A Little Bit of Magic -urban fantasy

    21 year old Raka is a part-fairy who believes the age of fairy tales to be long past its utility. The problems begin when her fairy aunt gives her the temporary duty of guiding the latter’s neighbour, Reet- who also happens to be Raka’s classmate- while her aunt attends a Fae & Witches Convention in New Delhi. The nerdy Raka doesn’t really like the fashion-conscious Reet, and Reet is openly skeptical about Raka’s magical abilities.And family secrets can make everything much worse. Can the two girls rise above their secret dilemmas to together bring back a little bit of magic in every day life?)

  3. November 7, 2010 7:47 am

    Well… I can’t believe this blog isn’t inundated with responses to your generous suggestion. Paul – very accomplished and had me wanting more. Ruchira, loved yours, especially the humour. Ok so I’m going to post mine as a kind of inspiration (?) to ‘just write’ for those who want to do NaNo but feel they have to have a story/plot/characters etc. I hope it doesn’t fuel NaNo naysayers.

    One page of writing, as the night looms and my left bottom cheek hovers crookedly off the edge of its expensive ergo-dynamic cushion. I note that I have not set my paragraphs to double space. Already I feel weighted down, claustrophobic, nowhere to move about. I am squeezed hotly between those lines. It’s affecting my breathing. Should I stop and change it? Or will stopping cause me to give up altogether, since its taken a team of mighty and crazed elephants to get me here in the first place? I can’t continue. I have to at least have room to roll my shoulders back. There. Done. That wasn’t so hard. Now I can scamper about without bruising my head on the hanging bits of type. There’s a name for those bits, isn’t there, but my head is marvellously free of such encumbering facts. It wasn’t always this way. I used to know what those bits were called. In fact I have a Certificate, yes, capital letter Certificate, in what is called ‘Electronic Prepress Applications’. That was another life when I had a brain. A memory. A biker for a husband. Uh oh, there he is, cropping up again. I’ll move onwards into the looming night and my now numb bottom cheek and try to think of something else to say. The problem is this brain thing. They don’t do much good but they do think and if you don’t have one you can’t think. I’m thinking about this. So I lied. Tried to sound witty. I just scrolled down. I’ve managed to fill about three quarters of the page. Oh all that lovely white space. I could fall off the edge of a line into that white space and float gently down down down to the bottom, rocking back and forth as I land like a little shell on the bottom of the ocean. Is there a pearl in that shell? Not yet. But there is an uncomfortable bit of grit. My ergo-dynamic cushion is remarkably unpleasant to sit on. It has a divot in the middle that must be designed for enormous bottoms because my bottom can almost fit into the divot itself. I think perhaps I’m supposed to pull the cheeks apart and position them on either side of this canyon. Well that sentence brought me to a new page. I made a second page! Depending on if this is set for US Letter or A4. Probably US letter. I shall adhere to A4 regulations since I’m in Europe. Therefore I’m still only on one page. Are European’s wordier than North Americans? Is that why there is a different standard paper size? What do the Russians use?

  4. November 7, 2010 8:52 am

    And I am one of those, “Oh No! Not another posting about NaNoWriMo”. I usually delete right away and grumble something to myself about crutches and writing groups and crap… but this morning, seeing Paul’s name here, I thought I would delve. Paul almost invariably makes me smile or think or whatever. This time, he delivered the goods again.
    I loved your beginning, Paul. I’m hooked. I want to read the rest of is. Will I ever? I wonder.
    And Ruchira Mandal; you beginning caught me immediately. It was so elegant. I want to read the rest. I hope it’s going to be as beautifully well written as the taster.
    I should wait to see what else is out there, but now I’ve read Sandra’s and I’ve been there. I really have.
    But NaNoWriMo? Nah! I don’t think it’s me.

  5. November 7, 2010 9:00 am

    great post. i’ve been kind of lost on why the nanowrimo backlash; i guess i can understand some of the points of writers like laura miller, but that all of them can be answered with a “who cares? what’s it matter to you?” and thus aren’t really valid arguments against nano. I like the way you think of Nano as a sort of awareness raiser, for writing, & am looking forward to reading some of your other posts.

  6. Gary Kierland permalink
    November 7, 2010 9:20 am

    Thanks for letting us see what others are writing and sharing. Here’s mine:

    As he did most Monday mornings, Colonel Sergi Dreiksan entered the coffee shop shortly after eight. Today, he paused to hold the door for two women leaving with their coffees. As the women passed him, the Colonel swept his eyes around the shop. He noted the man at the window table typing on a laptop computer and the metal coffee cup perched at the front edge of the table. Colonel Dreiksan’s face showed no recognition as he moved quickly into line to order his coffee. Then he did what people did at every coffee shop around the world, he pulled his Blackberry out of his overcoat pocket and started checking his emails. As Dreiksan thumbed a reply to a message, he carefully typed a four key sequence while holding the delete button down. The Colonel went back to his emails.
    Bob Davis looked up from his laptop and took a sip of coffee. He managed to get a quick look around the coffee shop. Security was everything. Protect the asset above all. He was trained to break off the contact if anything looked or felt wrong. They could always attempt the dead drop at another time. At another location.
    Protect the asset because it would take years to replace him.
    Dreiksan’s phone had been modified by the CIA to transmit a scrambled Bluetooth signal on command. The phone took four seconds to transmit the five files stored on the SD memory card. When the transmission was done, the phone erased all evidence of the files.
    Davis looked out the window and watched the snow falling on the Moscow rush hour chaos. Again, he checked for anything that looked out of place. After a couple of minutes, he went back to working on an article he was writing for the Economist magazine. Another couple of minutes and a small window popped up on his screen alerting him the battery was getting low.
    It meant he message had been received, encrypted, and was ready to be forwarded to the next step in the chain.
    “Christ.” Davis dug in his briefcase and pulled out a power cord. He made sure he had the correct adapter attached and then plugged it into the electrical outlet along the window wall. The small pop up disappeared and he went back to typing. The computer recognized the transmitter in the power adapter and automatically sent the file out in a burst transmission lasting less than a second. The computer then deleted the file and wrote nonsense data over the sector of the hard drive.
    At the counter, Colonel Dreiksan picked up his coffee and left the coffee shop.
    It was nine minutes past eight.
    Three minutes later, another pop up appeared on the screen. “Your battery is fully charged.” Or, as Davis knew, the transmission had been completed.
    For the next thirty minutes, Davis worked on his article when his cell phone rang.
    “Mr. Davis? Minister Kranavov was wondering if you would mind if we moved your nine o’clock out to ten-thirty?”
    “Sure.” It was the same everywhere, Davis thought. Make an appointment, change the appointment.

  7. November 7, 2010 12:47 pm

    I hope you will get to read a lot more than this, eventually. I was a little hesitant to post any of it, because in truth I’m using NaNo as the motivation to submit a manuscript for a writing competition. I intended to write it over the summer, but illness, unemployment and a veritable tsunami of disasters hit, and I gave up at that point.

    The closing date is in January, but the prize is a publishing contract, and it is a contest set up by one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett.

    Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Syon Park and Syon House exist. They are close to where I live, which is Isleworth, the town mentioned. We are “fortunate” to have been one of the locations of an attack by 19th Century bogeyman, Spring-Heeled Jack. I am fascinated by the two Jacks of 19th Century London, Spring-Heeled Jack and Jack the Ripper, and have wanted to write a story about one, or both, for a while. For those who know the name Abberline, you’ll realise I’ve opted for both…

    Cut-Throat Lane in Isleworth was where Jones, a carpenter, was attacked by Spring-Heeled Jack. The Apprentice is The London Apprentice, a pub very close to where Cut-Throat Lane (now Union Lane) ran. Incidentally, Charles Dickens used to drink there, and the original Doctor Who, William Hartnell, lived opposite it!

  8. November 8, 2010 4:11 am

    you’ve no idea how wonderful it is to see you writing again Paul.. and I love NANO… just gutted I can’t be part of it this year.. am waving my flags and encouraging from the side lines.. go you good things!!!

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