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Fifty Thousand Words in the Month of November

Dearest friends, it has been so long since I have been able to write my Blog on a regular basis. I’ve missed this. I’ve missed not being able to share what I have been writing with you. The second half of this year has been very challenging. Grief is tough at any time. Losing someone you love is devastating.

I returned from London in August, and in September I threw myself into an intensive course which meant spending four weeks in San Francisco. I did the Cambridge University training program teaching English to Adults. The certificate will enable me to teach English as a foreign language in countries around the world. My primary teaching will continue to be in the field of creative writing. But watch this space for my future travel and teaching plans. Throughout my travels I will continue to work on A Great Place to Read a Book.

The CELTA (Certificate English Language Teaching for Adults) program was a very tough four weeks! For the first time in my life I was the oldest person in the class. Being the oldest was a fun experience. I got to hang out with a great bunch of very young people and a great bunch of very young but not so very much younger people than me. Living in San Francisco for four weeks was an interesting experience. For the first two weeks I lived in my friend, Jerry’s apartment. Jerry was exceptionally generous allowing me to borrow his beautiful home. During the third and fourth weeks, I stayed at the Sir Francis Drake hotel at a generous discount rate. I am grateful for that. The staff was wonderful. The CELTA program took my mind off my grief for a while. I don’t recommend trying to take a time-out from bereavement though. It can stunt your growth and recovery!

Continuing in my endeavor to avoid dealing with grief, I leapt from September’s CELTA into November and NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is a world-wide challenge to writers to write 50,000 words in the month of November. For some people it is a breeze. For others it is a challenge in every sense of each and every word. I pushed through and managed 50,001 words. I was determined to go over the limit. Go figure! The over-achievement thing again. While the goal of NaNoWriMo  is to write a short novel, other genres are also encouraged I chose to use this month to get a serious grip on Kippers on Thursday; Bombs on Friday, the memoir I’ve talked about earlier.

I found a lot of ways in which to procrastinate during November. If you need procrastination ideas while writing a book any of the following will get you off to a good start. They certainly filled my time!

  1. Make a list of all your favorite T.V shows as a kid and find episodes of them to watch on YouTube. This is a necessary part of research for the book you are writing.
  2. Make a list of all of your favorite childhood books, and re-read them. First, locate them, and buy used copies if you can. It helps spread the cost. Order them on line, and track the packages frequently. This too is an essential aspect of the research you need to do for the book you are writing.
  3. Search around on the internet to see if by any chance any of your favorite books were made into movies or T.V series, and if so, watch them, even if it means disturbing the cat who is curled up on your lap in the most adoring way, and getting out of your seat every 7 minutes to click onto the next YouTube section of the now ever so long mini-series. Again, this is really essential research, and you really need to see how the screenplay writers adapted that favorite childhood book of yours. After all, someone might try to adapt the book you have written this month for a movie.
  4. Develop an interest in spinning. Find a spinning wheel. Locate a sheep. Skin said sheep. Card the fleece and spin the wool. On second thoughts, scrap that. I’ve already done that while I was waiting to give birth to an overdue daughter. It is fun but a sheep isn’t that easy to find. At least, not one that is likely to cooperate.
  5. Determine that although your good buddy from your MFA program tells you it is okay to temporarily make up history and just get on with the creative writing for now and come back and revise history later,  you are a fiction writer too, she reminds you, you absolutely MUST trace your family tree. What you discover about your family will have a dramatic effect on your book. It is essential research at this very specific moment in time.
  6. Ignore punctuation.  This will delight Steve Heller, your MFA mentor, back in the day. You can correct that later. Change your mind and correct all of your punctuation now.  After all, you do teach English classes from time to time. Change your mind again and fill your manuscript with tons of punctuation errors and repeated words. Every word counts in November.
  7. Think about all the other families who are trying to trace their ancestry. Poke around the internet at the various sites available for this sort of research. Read a few of the other family histories, these families just might be related to yours somehow.
  8. Wonder of wonder, you discover that one of the families you’ve been snooping around at is in fact related to your family, so email them and ask if they can tell you much about yours.
  9.  Jump with joy when you get a response from the snooped upon family with a phone number of someone who just happens to live in the 8 house hamlet your great- grandparents grew up in, and phone the man.

10.  Jump even higher with joy when the man you phoned turns out to be your long dead grandmother’s nephew. He’s not dead, just the grandmother.

11.  Jump even higher when it is confirmed that two of your grand-uncles were in fact arrested and detained on the Prison ship Argenta in 1920 in Belfast Harbour. They were arrested under suspicion of being members of the then IRA, a different IRA organization to the “provisionals” of the 1960s on, whose violence will never be forgotten. Your joy is at having your own suspicion confirmed, not at what it meant for your uncles and how their internment would inflict extreme cruelty on them and how it would change their lives forever.

12.  You discover there has been a book written about the Argenta:  Contact Denise Kleinrichert, the author of Republican Internment And The Prison Ship Argenta 1922. You really need to know all about this now. After all, this prisoner experience is extremely important in understanding what makes your family ticks, or ticked, and this ticking thing, oh no not a bomb! But yes maybe it was a bomb! Is ever so important right now in order for you to be able to write with verisimilitude – an MFA word. Cool.

13.  Drink. Alcohol. Lots of good writers drink alcohol. Drink Irish whisky. A really really old one. This is particularly important when you are trying to connect with your ancestors in Ireland.

14.  Re-read that card you bought yourself in Trader Joe’s on November first. The card that says” I love deadlines. I love the swishing sound they make as they pass by.”

As you can tell, November has been a busy month. Despite the procrastination, I have written a lot. I have made serious inroads into Kippers and Bombs. I have done a lot of research, and left a lot of research still to be done. December is turning out to be a fun research month.

During November I have met a lot of people. I have met these people over the internet, communicated with them by email, and also via Skype. I feel I have been blessed during November for the new friends I have made. I am grateful to the new November friends who are joining me on the Kippers and Bombs journey. A real delight has been discovering and beginning to get to know my cousin Tony, and our Grand-Uncle Pat and Grand-Aunt Daphne.

I am also very grateful to Raymond, Elizabeth and Eileen, who responded to my letter to the editors of a group of Irish newspapers. I appreciate their help very much.

November brought a painful challenge to my arthritic hands and wrists. The last few thousand words were hard, not for the want of something to say (god forbid I should run out of things to say) but for the pain in the fingers. I’m using my voice-recognition software again now from time to time.

I hope to be able to share sections of my November work with you over the next several months. It is raw and truly in shitty first draft condition at present. December will be a month for revision as well as continuation. The biggest thing I got out of the intensive writing during November was the knowledge that I can write a significant amount every day. There is no reason why I should not write at least 1500 words each day. November also reinforced for me my firm belief that for each hour a writer writes, she should also read. Not having enough time for reading and research during November had a tole on me.

Thank you for taking the time to read this long update. My goal during the next several Blog entries is to keep you informed on the process and progress of writing Kippers and Bombs, rather than posting chapters from it. For those writers among you and for others too I’m sure, the process of writing is interesting.

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.