The Writer Who Wouldn't Write - 2

Writing prompt: Have your character cook something without a recipe.
My nano novel this year is purely based on writing prompts taken from the website or given to me through twitter.

Here is the second instalment.


Slightly denser and lumpier than he remembered, but he wolfed it down. He had missed lunch to make this wondrous dessert after all.

With the third fork-full half-way to his mouth, Alfredo’s eyes suddenly alighted on the clock. For a moment his brain did a double-take. It should be about 12.30 shouldn’t it? But for a funny minute, he had thought that the hands were the wrong way round. Ridiculous, it must be the sugar reaching his brai… six o’clock.

It was six o’clock. Not 12.30pm as he had been thinking. Where on earth had the time gone? He looked around the kitchen where the spent time lay scattered about like so many broken egg shells, used spatulas and egg whisks. Shell-shock also befuddled his senses. Absent-mindedly he picked up one of the discarded wooden spoons and carelessly licked some of the raw cake mixture off it. Then he realised that the fork was still half-way to his mouth with his other hand and finished its journey.

The lemony smell and sour taste brought him round.

So, that meant that he only had four hours to write forty thousand words. Ten thousand words an hour? Not even his sugar-laden mind could think that he was able to write 160 words a minute.

Or could he?

He stared down at the plate of cake in his lap, his thoughts beginning to congeal around an idea. It was not just a plate of cake. It was the plate of the cake. The whole cake, with eaten chunks removed which stared up at him accusingly. Could a cake stare accusingly? Apparently an Angel Food cake could. It was the strawberries, they looked like pointy eyes. Pointy insecty eyes.

Alfredo took out the piece of paper and wrote ‘pointy insect eyes’ on the back, underneath the words ‘orang utan’ and ‘last banana’.

It was a simple plan really. He would simply type whatever came into his head as quickly as he could for a minute and see where it led him. Who knows? It might just be the beginning of an enormously successful best-seller, which would make him a fortune.

Or not.

Five minutes later he gazed in despair at the words:

‘When orang-utans go out for picnics, they never forget to bring their Angel Food Cake with them because it reminds them of home. They live in jungles with a lot of insects and the strawberries look like pointy insecty eyes.’

Freddy groaned. Aaaargh! For twenty seconds he had stared at the screen. It ghostly blankness had crawled into his mind and taken root. There must be some kind of mind-numbing radiation coming out from it. Why else did it glow like it did? There was no reason for it.

Then for twenty seconds all he could think of was images of orange fur lolloping through jungles, swinging through trees and sitting on high branches throwing things at each other.

Then finally, for the last twenty seconds, he had frantically typed that.

That putrid two sentences which was all of… thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty words was not going to get a thriller written now, was it?

Alfredo tossed the paper aside in disgust. The cake was still staring at him smugly from where he had discarded it.

‘Oh, shut up!’ he said to it. But it remained inscrutable.

Tribute to Nanowrimo 2013

NaNoWriMo: The Novel. Introducing The Writer Who Wouldn't Write

My novel this year is called:

The Writer Who Wouldn't Write.

I am writing it as I go along, i.e. I'm going to look at writing prompts from the forums and NaNo website and then get my character, Alfredo Jones, to follow them.

Writing prompts so far:

  1. Make your character read his horoscope.
  2. Have your character cook something without using a recipe.
  3. Give your character a favourite article of clothing.
So far, he has done two of the three things.

If you want to see how I incorporate the writing prompts, then sign up to receive updates. I'll try and post regularly so that everyone can see how it goes.

There are also plenty of other bloggers who blog their complete nano novels online. I'll put up links here too.

So, back to Alfredo, the king of procrastination, a writer who won't write:

Here is the first installment of it, don't forget, there are not supposed to be any edits or corrections etc, so it is presented here in its roughest form.

The Writer Who Wouldn't Write.

Alfredo Jones combed his fingers through his floppy mop of curly brown hair and thumbed through the newspaper to the end. 
Hmm, let’s see, he thought, Cancer, Cancer, Cancer…
Pointing down the line of horoscopes one by one, he came to the one for Cancer and read it slowly to himself:
‘You’ve met some strange people recently. Some of them have been real characters haven’t they? It is likely that you will soon push through the noise and find someone to connect with. Stop feeling frustrated by a lack of an opportunity to let your creative muse come out to play. You could soon be reaping the benefits of what was sown last summer.’
None of this was true. As usual. Why did he even bother to read that thing every day when it never bore the slightest resemblance to anything that was happening in his life? Lack of opportunity? To let his creative muse come out? That was ridiculous! For the fact of the matter was that Alfredo had been trying to write a novel for the past five years and his creative muse had plenty of opportunity to come out.
In fact, it had been Alfredo’s only past time for the past five years and now it was coming to an end. His past had caught up with him and the end was fast approaching because his publishers and his editor had now issued him with a final, final, final ultimatum that he had to produce the book now. OR ELSE.
Somehow, Alfredo had managed to put off showing them even a single written word of his novel for months. Not just months, years. In fact, during that time he had taken out a 60 month loan and paid it all off too, using the advance from his publishers, rent from a couple of lodgers he had taken on and an income from a few odd jobs that he had done from time to time during the years.
But yesterday, Alfredo shuddered, yesterday, Jenny Langley herself had Skyped him, in person and had told him in some very anatomical terms to get his nether regions in gear and just send the document, however complete, in whatever form it took, straight to her email inbox by 4pm today.
Somehow, Alfredo had talked her round and managed to get an extension, but it was all of two weeks, which was all of not enough time to write a sixty thousand word novel.
“Look Freddy,” Jenny had softened at last, around an hour and a half in to the conversation. “You’ve got to give us something, or else they’ll want their money back.”
You. Alfredo thought miserably. You mean you will want your money back. It was no secret that Jenny Langley practically was Unicorn Publications all by herself. The other directors and high-ups were only tokens at the top. She was the main flag on this particular flagpole. Was that a good analogy? Fred pondered it. Maybe he could use it somewhere in his novel.
“Fred? Freddy? Don’t drift off now.” Jenny was still at the other end of the Skype, sounding irritated and puffing on the end of her pen. Her frazzled blonde locks had been smoothed into a half-elegant chignon for the afternoon. Fred was impressed at how easily the word ‘chignon’ came to the surface of his thoughts. But her bright red tipped talons still spoke to the eighties’ drama queen that she had been.
“Yes Jen,” he stumbled over the words. “Er, Jenny… Miss Langley. But the trouble is, I don’t want to send you any old gibberish. I want you to get the full, polished effect.”

“Freddy, I just want to see anything that you have written for us.”
He was not exactly trying to hide. But when she had said that she wanted to see his writing, he had dropped his pen in shock. As he bent down to pick it up, his carefully set up charade of having a cool space behind him was revealed to be the lie that it was. For two seconds, Jenny Langley saw behind the sheet he had draped over his chair and the full extent of a writer’s life. A writer who seemed to live on takeaways and ready meals and who definitely did not know where the recycling bin was.
She considered for a moment. “OK, listen. I’ll give you two weeks to polish that manuscript, but then that really will be the end. Do you hear? I just want to see anything. Just send me anything Fred.”
The screen went blank.
Freddy put his head into his hands with his fingers running through his hair desperately looking for straws to clutch on to. He rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands and then looked up, pulling his cheeks down with his fingers so that his eyes looked zombie-like and triangular and stared deeply into the blank screen, looking for inspiration.
“I can still see you if you don’t switch your camera off.” Jenny’s sharp, impatient voice rang out from his speakers in snappy stereo.
“Oops,” he smirked, is eye sockets pinging back into shape. As coolly as he could he smiled and reached out to his mouse and clicked on ‘End call’.

Another Chapter

What was the one thing that always cheered him up when he had writing to do? Yes.
If only he had a piece of his sumptuous Angel Food cake by his side, ready to egg him on with it’s delicious lusciousness, then he knew that he could probably get hundreds of pages done by, ooh, let’s say ten o’clock tonight.
Yes, that was definitely possible.
Delicious lusciousness, must write that down for later. That would definitely come in handy during some part of the actual writing.
So, let’s think. It was 11.30am now. So an hour to make the cake, 12.30. Then probably best to have fifteen minutes or so for lunch, because it would be next to impossible to work on an empty stomach, 1.30 (preparation and clearing away time).
Start writing at 2pm, because he was extremely superstitious about starting to write on the half hour. Absolutely certain to jinx any written work produced if he started writing at half past. That gave him eight clear hours until ten pm. Ages!
If he wrote two thousand words an hour, then that was sixteen thous… no, three thousand words, five. Let’s say five thousand words an hour, that would give him forty thousand words by ten o’clock tonight.
Now. About that cake.
Blundering into the kitchen by casually stepping over a pile of books which had been erected in the middle of the doorway to the living room, Alfredo rummaged around in the drawer which contained all of his recipes.
His beloved lasagne was right at the top from the last time he had invited Cheryl round for dinner. That had been a lovely night. Angel Food cake. Hmm. It had to be there somewhere. With the practised movements of someone who lives alone, Alfredo swung recipes away from him from out of the drawer like an orang utan looking for the last banana in the drawer. Then he stopped for a second and took out a pen. On the back of one of the recipes he wrote the words ‘orang utan’ and ‘last banana’ and carefully folded the paper and put it into the top pocket of his shirt.
Oh well, there was no recipe for his favourite cake. How hard could it be? Vaguely, he remembered that there were supposed to be lots of eggs in it, but beyond that, it was all a blank.
Never mind. He was in such a buoyant mood from working out that he might have his novel more than half way finished tonight, after years of procrastinating, that he decided to wing it.
So, taking a whole butter from the fridge, he unpeeled the wrapper and wodged the butter into his biggest bowl. Then he cracked a dozen eggs in with the butter and started to stir the mixture together furiously with a long wooden spoon.
Very good. This was exactly what he remembered was supposed to happen. Tiny lumps of hard butter swirled round the eggy mixture, but Alfredo persevered. He beat it hard with his wooden spoon until it seemed to form some kind of congealed mass.
Hmm. It looked the right colour – a pale cream colour. Now for the flour and sugar.
Alfredo felt that he was really good at this cake malarkey. Who else could whip up an Angel Food cake without a recipe and with only a hazy recollection of what he had done last time? This was great. Without thinking about the impending words he was going to have to write later that day, Alfredo carried on well into the afternoon, carefully baking and then frosting his Angel Cake. It did not really taste much like an Angel Food Cake, but it was a nice cake nevertheless.

Three, Two, One, Nanowrimo!

Its that time of year again.
November sees the start of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month for anyone who has been living in a dark cave for the past few years.

There is Nanowrimo for grown ups here,
and for younger people here:

The difference is that in the Young Writer's Program, there are cool tips, writing prompts, more pep talks and booklets which help you to get started creating your characters, plots and settings. Useful for older people too!

The basic premise is to write 50,000 words in the month of November, no editing, no correcting or going back to see what you have written. It can be meticulously planned or a 'seat-of-the-pants' thrill-ride to see what appears.

My first book, Norbert de Strangle and the Great Museum Robbery, was crafted during Nanowrimo 2010.

It is not an easy thing, most writing is a real labour of love, but Nanowrimo really helps to get you in the mood. If you join your local group, you can go along to meetings and talk to real live people. There are write-ins, prompts, and general support from all quarters.

This year, the Oxfordshire group have challenged Lexington, Kentucky to a word war which should be interesting!

This year it has been mentioned in The Telegraph newspaper, as well as blogs and newspapers around the world. Wattpad are sponsoring it and several other organisations offer special incentives to nano winners - those lucky few who manage to reach the goal of 50K words at the end.

I will write about offers and incentives in the next few days.

Not bad for 21writers who had first had the idea back in 1999!

Follow nano on twitter:


and its founder, @ChrisBaty

who tweeted yesterday:

Chris Baty @chrisbaty 1 Nov

Woke up to @Randomhouse tweeting NaNo encouragement and #NaNoWriMo trending on Twitter. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO WRITE WITH ALL THIS EXCITEMENT?

Good stuff.

THIS IS WATER by David Foster Wallace

Today I wanted to post about a talk by David Foster Wallace called 'This is Water'.

It was aimed at a group of students at a commencement ceremony at Kenyon College in Ohio in 2009.

It is an amazingly insightful piece of what can simply be described as theatre.

How Do People Sell 1p Books on Amazon?

A book that I have been wanting to buy for a long while suddenly become available for 1p on Amazon.

It must be in pretty bad condition, I thought, but no, it said it was 'nearly new' and a pristine edition arrived in the post. I can't find anything 'nearly' about it.

So it got me wondering how people can manage to sell 1p books on Amazon.

There are a few opinions about this. Apparently, because Amazon have a set price for postage and packing, some sellers can make a few pence in the profit from this. So, if they sell enough books then, eventually they will make a killing -  manslaughter at the very least.

But, in discussions in other places, it appears that this 'profit' is eaten up by Amazon's fees for sellers.

So, I'm still in the dark: Why do people sell books for 1p on Amazon?

Alex Bellos: Adventures With Soroban and Anzan

It was an absolute pleasure to listen to Alex Bellos yesterday in a keynote speech.

Alex is a Guardian correspondent, but with his background in mathematics, has recently been on his travels around the world to research his book:

Alex's Adventures in Wonderland.

He has obviously not lost his enthusiasm for the subject as he led us from the beginning of numbers in early India and China right to the present day.

And it true that in this country we have an attitude to maths that is thought of as nerdy. If someone loves maths then they are thought to be a little bit brainy or geeky. Whereas in other countries they seem to appreciate the beauty of numbers more.

Alex showed us some truly amazing videos of abacus manipulation in Japan.
The abacus itself is called a Soroban.

Bascially, all numbers are positional and 1 to 4 are represented by the lower counters and the counters in the upper row are lowered to mean 5.

A soroban master can manipulate numbers at lightning speed. I mean huge numbers, really fast.

In Japan a soroban master can be someone like this:

But, when the abacus is no longer needed, then the skill becomes truly outstanding. A master can imagine the abacus and perform incredible sums.
Obviously, Alex describes all this in his book, but briefly, here is a video of Flash Anzan, a mental arithmetic which is performed when the person merely visualises the sums at amazing speeds. It is now known that this actually uses a different part of the brain than when someone works out traditional maths sums in their head.

Uki Kurosawa, the All Japan Champion can add up ten sets of four digit numbers in 3 seconds.