Thursday, 3 December 2015

NaNoWriMo... complete!

All participants HAVE to write a blog post about their NaNoWriMo experience. It's the law! Isn't it? Yeah, it must be. No one will read it, but here goes anyway!

Final NaNoWriMo graph

First of all, I am really going to miss this graph! If you register on the NaNoWriMo site, then you can enter your word count each day and there's a graph that will show your progress. The brown bars show how many words you've done so far, and the grey line is your "par" line for the 50,000 word target.

And this graph is amazing!

For me, anyway, it was easily the strongest NaNoWriMo motivator (aka "tyrant"). If the bar graph was under the par line then I felt terrible! When I finally managed to get above the par line, it seemed to push me on.

If you feel the urge (!) you can click here to see my profile live on the NaNoWriMo site ... and if you're registered on the site then please do add me as a "buddy" - we all need more buddies! :-)

NaNoWriMo diary

This diary's just here for my own record. You're very welcome to read it if you wish, of course! :-)

13th Oct 4,583
I've written a few tests to try out some ideas. And everything seems okay so far, which means I've already got a manuscript word count of 4,583 words! Also, I've realised something: planning the novel has set my brain working, and so it feels dumb to wait for 1st Nov. After all, why would I stop myself writing when Brain is telling me it wants to write? I think I'll just crack on! :-)

15th-16th Oct 14,654
I did a test to see if I could manage to sit down and hammer out the requisite 1,667 words in a day. Two hours later, I'd added another 2,433 words to my manuscript and was feeling pretty pleased with myself! Nipped out to see Bumblywumbly Clunkersnatch in Hamlet ('twas good!), and then came home itching to push my day's total just a little higher. I really wanted to reach 2,500! 

Big mistake. 

Started just before midnight and kinda got lost in the writing. Being the wally that I am, I didn't stop until I realised my hands weren't responding any more. My wrists were literally collapsing on the keyboard. That was about 5:30am. Having struggled with M.E. for the last couple of years, this was a pretty dumb thing to do. So anyway, the word count is great (10,071)... but the late night completely wiped me out the next day and I got nothing done. D’oh. But it’s all good, because I'm really just testing to see what might go wrong in November. Lesson learned: remember to stop!

19th Oct 25,460
More words today! I'm starting to worry I'm shooting myself in the foot because by the time I hit November, I might have run out of ideas! Ah well, at least I'm writing.

Part of today was also taken up with a bit of (gulp!) programming. I wrote a VBA macro to calculate the word count of all my chapters so far. And - get this - it only counts the chapters! This means I can now safely have a ton of notes at the bottom of the file (things like "ideas", "chapter plans", "offcuts", and "rejects") without accidentally counting them towards the word count of the actual novel. Is that helpful? It feels helpful. Is it confusing? Maybe. But anyway, it's done!

I also managed to write a bit more. Not sure how long it took, but I had a really good day and produced another 12,599 words! However, that's including the notes, and from now on I'm ignoring the note sections at the bottom of the file... so if I remove the notes then the total novel-only word count today is 10,806. This means my current total is officially 25,460 words. Yay! *feeling pleased* :-)

20th Oct 28,127
Was away for a couple of days so thought I'd get nothing done, but did okay in the end. Me and my laptop found a quiet corner of Tooting Library. Two hours resulted in 2,667 words, so the novel total is now 28,127.

23rd Oct 31,870
Another successful day. Managed 3,743 words, which gives me a total of 31,870.

24th Oct 34,277
Another experiment: I tried writing in the morning! Brain never seems to wake up properly until the evening, so I wasn't feeling overly confident. And, as expected, it was like wringing blood from the proverbial stone. Have to admit though, I eventually did get going. The result was 2,407 words, giving me a total of 34,277.

25th Oct 39,473
Head was just not in the right place today... but I forced myself to keep typing and (just like yesterday) managed to (eventually) get going. Another 5,196 words! Total is now 39,473.

1st Nov 41,645
I think there's something about the concept of "and now you HAVE to do it" that kills the creative part of my brain! It was a real struggle today but I didn't want to miss the 1,667-word target on the very first day of NaNoWriMo! Final result was 2,172 words, giving me a total of 41,645.

2nd Nov 43,937
Another struggle, but a long break in the middle seemed to help. Managed to limp up to the 1,667 target in the morning session, then came back to it in the evening and pushed a little further, resulting in a daily total of 2,292. Total is now 43,937 words.

3rd Nov 43,937
Aargh, no words today! Had a bit of a blip! Got a bit sidetracked by a looming deadline on a flash fiction piece. In the end, the flash fic turned into a short story and kinda took over the day... so I managed to write 2,318 words, but none of them count towards NaNoWriMo, which means my total's still 43,937. Hey, at least I'm writing! :-) However, the NaNoWriMo site is extremely unforgiving: it now tells me I'm not due to finish my 50,000 words until 15th Dec! Oops!

4th Nov 46,720
Definitely feeling like the fun has been taken away from writing! I guess that's probably thanks to the pressure of knowing I have to hit 1,667 words per day. It's not a huge target, but there's something about knowing it's there which makes the creative side of my brain hide under a toadstool. Perhaps it's the difference between looking up at the top of the mountain versus looking down and concentrating on the next step. Anyway, I did get going eventually - admittedly via a lot of procrastination - and today's total was 2,783. Novel total is now 46,720 words.

5th Nov 54,544
Staying up all night destroys the next day but it really helps with the word count. Wrote from midnight all the way through to 6 a.m. and managed another 7,824 words. That means I've officially managed to hit 50k words in less than 30 days - woohoo! Shame the words written before November don't count towards the official NaNoWriMo total. Anyway, the novel is now 54,544 words long, and I'm back on track after my blip :-)

6th-7th Nov 55,473
The problem with an all-nighter is nothing gets done the next day! Or, apparently, the day after. Nov 6th and 7th have been two very "bitty" days - giving me 489 and 440 words respectively - so the total's now 55,473. And as a random point of interest, this means I've written exactly 16,000 words in November.

8th-9th Nov 56,590
A scrappy couple of days but I have an excuse: I was away! Managed 818 words on the Sunday before heading off, and then 299 very sleepy words on the Monday after getting back, giving me a total of 56,590.

10th Nov 58,738
Woke up feeling quite low because NaNoWriMo seems to be a bit of an uphill struggle. Pushed myself to crack on, however, and managed a very respectable 2,148 words! The total's now 58,738.

11th Nov 60,925
Another 2,187 words means I've now written 21,452 words in November (i.e. that's my "official" NaNoWriMo total). The actual novel was started in October and is now 60,925 words long. I'm trying to feel pleased about the word count, but Brain is rebelling! It's telling me I'm barely even halfway through my plot, so there's hell of a long way to go! Anyway, am trying to stay positive. Also managed 1,000 words on a first draft of a short story today, so that's a bonus!

12th-13th Nov 67,417
A successful couple of days gave me word counts of 4,257 and 2,235 respectively, which brings me to 67,417 words. My November words (the tally shown on the NaNoWriMo graph) is 27,944, which means I'm now more than halfway to winning NaNoWriMo!

Unfortunately this whole exercise has made me realise that I'm not motivated by word count... I'd much rather aim to get the novel finished by the end of November (i.e. get the whole plot written, regardless of word count). So my actual target is "the whole book" ... yikes.

14th Nov 77,284
Today was one of the Swindon NaNoWriMo "write-in" days where we all meet up in Swindon Central Library to chat and motivate each other... as well as (hopefully) drive up the word count.

Unfortunately, Brain finds it hard to work in a chatty environment (silly, unsociable Brain!) so I ignored the novel for most of today and just enjoyed the social. It's great meeting more writers - Swindon seems to be full of 'em!

In the end I got about 3,000 words done during the write-in, and then I stuck around in the library for a few hours and managed another 3k. Feeling flushed with success, I carried on at home. Final total for the day was 9,867 words, which means my NaNoWriMo total's now 37,811 and my "novel total" is 77,284.

I'm still not finding this easy... which, I admit, has come as a massive disappointment because I was naively hoping for a magical moment where I realise this all just comes naturally and writing for a living will be a breeze. However I am proving to myself that I can rack up the words when I need to. It's just a shame I still seem to be dropping into my usual habit of working in fits and starts (i.e. not much gets done for a few days and then - bang! - I have a hugely successful day to make up for the bad ones). I was hoping NaNoWriMo would help me develop a sane writing habit (one where I sit down each day and carefully knock out a few pages without too much stress) but that doesn't seem to be happening. Oh well. I guess Brain will work the way it wants :-)

15th Nov 88,156
It seems my best writing time is officially between midnight and 3 AM. Ouch. Feel pretty awful after all these late nights, but the word count's going up very nicely. Spurred on by yesterday's success, I managed another 10,872 words. Am really close to "winning" NaNoWriMo (less than 3k to go!), and the novel total's now 88,156.

16th-18th Nov 105,028
Being in sight of the finish line made me stay up late for several nights in a row. And when I say late, I mean that I saw 4 AM each time.

Am now absolutely knackered, but have definitely been doing well at drumming out the words. Three very productive days gave me 5,227, 6,813, and 4,832 words respectively, so the NaNoWriMo total is now 65,555 and the novel total is 105,028.

19th Nov 108,574
Another 3,546 words has me at 69,101 (NaNoWriMo) and 108,574 (full total).

Feels like things are starting to slow down. Lots of scenes have been written out of order, so I'm now trying to join them up. Sometimes this is easy - just a couple of lines do the job - and other times there's some major hacking to be done.

It's all good though - the plot seems to have gelled in my brain and the story actually comes full circle... so hopefully when I start editing I'll be able to produce a decent book!

20th Nov 111,152
The NaNoWriMo site allowed validations today, so my green progress bar on the site is now pink. Achievements don't get much more exciting than that! :-)

Did another 2,578 words today, so the totals are now 71,679 (NaNoWriMo) and 111,152 (full manuscript). I'd like to reach 100k on the NaNoWriMo graph, but I'm pretty knackered and am definitely slowing down. Am considering starting a different project... after all, there's no NaNoWriMo rule that says you can only write one story in November.

21st Nov 115,281
Tonight was the "Night of Daring Words" - a NaNoWriMo writers' gathering that involved fancy dress, lots of manic typing, and far too many naughty snacks. Forgot my headphones yet again (so found it hard to concentrate) but managed to knock out 4,129 words which has pushed me over the 75k mark on the all-important NaNoWriMo graph. Word counts are now 75,808 (NaNoWriMo) and 115,281 (full manuscript).

22nd Nov 126,503
Was meant to go out to a pub quiz today but no - it's NaNoWriMo time, and no socials are allowed! Well, they are, but I was on a good run so didn't want to break it. Managed 11,222 words today, so am on 87,030 (NaNoWriMo) and 126,503 (full manuscript).

Am pleased with the word count but have realised that, according to my plan, there are *loads* of chapters left to write. The NANoWriMo site has a graph that's very motivating and, once that vanishes (in December), I'm worried I'll lose the will to finish. (Brain is now suggesting I write my own spreadsheet for the task, but I suspect Brain is just coming up with inventive ways for me to procrastinate!)

23rd Nov 130,078
Have broken the 90k barrier on the NaNoWriMo graph! Another 3,575 words takes me to 90,605 (NaNoWriMo) and 130,078 (full manuscript).

24th Nov 134,873
One of the NaNoWriMo challenges is to do some writing somewhere that you probably shouldn't; I think tonight qualifies. Was due to meet a pal at the pub, so I arrived early in order to hammer out my daily word count. But (oh no!) the laptop battery ran out! And could I find a plug to steal a sneaky charge? No, I flipping couldn't :-( But desperate times call for desperate acts, so I sneaked behind the bar (ok, it's a quiet pub so there wasn't too much sneaking involved!) and managed to find a socket. So there I am, standing at the bar, typing away, when the bartender comes over and gives me a funny look.

"My back was hurting so I'm just using the bar as a standing work station," I told him, while carefully trying to angle my body to hide the laptop lead.

Anyway, I got away with it and managed another 4,795 words. Now at 95,400 (NaNoWriMo) and 134,873 (full manuscript).

25th Nov 138,102
Had a bad day with life swooping in to cause a bit of grief. When that sort of thing happens, the creative part of my brain seems to shut down and it's incredibly difficult to get started again. However, in the end I managed to force another 3,229 words. Bit disappointed as I'd hoped to hit 100k on the NaNoWriMo graph today, but it's all right - I'm nearly there! Final word tally today is 98,629 (NaNoWriMo) and 138,102 (full manuscript).

26th Nov 141,399
The last few chapters are complete! The first chapters are written too! So it seems I'm attacking the middle of the novel in a sort of pincer movement. This could cause problems, but so far it seems okay.

Well, there was a slight disaster: I'd planned to kill a character in the middle of the book (no, the weapon of choice was not the traditional NaNoWriMo "shovel of death"), but suddenly realised I'd just written about him being alive in the final few chapters. So he was going to be alive, then get killed, then be alive again.


But it's a happy accident - the plot works better if he survives!

So all is well: my not-getting-killed character breathes a sigh of relief (not a huge one though as he now gets horribly scarred instead of killed), and I'm ploughing on with the writing! :-)

Today's word count was 3,297, which means the totals are 101,926 (NaNoWriMo) and 141,399 (full manuscript).

27th-29th Nov 156,393
Blimey, the final few days of November are just seeming to vanish. Word counts for 27th-29th were 5,222, 6,302 and 3,470... which has me heading into the last day with word counts of 116,920 (NaNoWriMo) and 156,393 (full manuscript).

30th Nov 176,744
Was hoping to hit 120k on the NaNoWriMo site graph, so I tried the "tell the world your plans" technique (i.e. "Hey world, I'm going to do X today"). Apparently the fear of having to admit that you failed is, allegedly, a great motivator! Here's what I put out there:

Apparently you're more likely to get stuff done if you tell the world you're going to do it. So here goes:

Dear Facebook (aka "The World"),

Today is the last day of NaNoWriMo and I'm going to write 4,000 words.

I will not look at any cute kitten videos.

Love and hugs,
Mark xx

So I said I was going to write 4k words... but actually had a brilliant run (seriously - I'm so chuffed!) and hit a personal best of 20k words in a single day :-) Pretty much wrote all day long and forgot to eat! Managed to do 20,351 words, and so the final NaNoWriMo word count is 137,271.

Other random numbers, just for the record:

Full manuscript is now 176,744 and the total word count of the whole document (including notes) is 185,623. I like Microsoft Word as an editor, but it's amusing to watch it struggle now the document has reached this size :-)

... and just for completeness, here's the actual word count figures from the NaNoWriMo site. Fascinating, eh? :-)

Word counts for 2015 NaNoWriMo

The story isn't quite finished, but there's only a few more chapters to write, and all of them occur in the middle of the book. I'm planning to relax for a few days (need to catch up on sleep!) and then finish the first draft. After that, I'll do a quick tidy-up edit before Christmas, then let the manuscript hibernate for a week or two... with the idea being that I'll come back to it with fresh eyes in the new year.

I've heard that quite a few NaNoWriMo novels get put aside and forgotten about... and this seems such a shame after sooooo much work! I'm determined not to fall into that trap! Things are quite manic at home at the moment (various health issues; selling the house; moving home etc.) but I'm going to get this book edited down to 90,000 words by March. There. I said it. It has to happen! :-)

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Grans & Ammo

Very excited to be Sanitarium Magazine's first chapbook publication!

The story's about Doris and Mavis -- a pair of batty old ladies who find themselves caught up in the zombie apocalypse.

Here's an excerpt:
Mavis trundled a few laps around the living room but Doris refused to take any interest and at last Mavis gave up and parked the Zimmer frame out of sight behind the sofa. Two cups of tea later, Doris stopped sulking and the two women spent a very pleasant morning together, discussing their respective crafts. Doris was an expert at cross-stitch and lace-making, and Mavis would have been world-famous had the Olympic Committee ever been sensible enough to introduce knitting as a competitive sport.

They discussed knitting patterns.

They ate biscuits.

They drank copious amounts of tea.

All in all, it was turning out to be a thoroughly enjoyable day.

And then the screaming began.

Lots of useful links:

Amazon US:

Paperback US:

Amazon UK:

Paperback UK:

Also available via the Sanitarium app (which comes with 30 free short story magazines!)

Apple Newsstand Edition:

Google Play Store:

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

NaNoWriMo book cover

A scary, scary, scary lady

I found a placeholder cover for my ‪NaNoWriMo‬ attempt!

Until December there will be be no more happy little dragons sitting on shoulders!

This book is going to be freaky and (hopefully) a bit scary!

The image is just grabbed off the web. I can't find the source, and so certainly can't use it for a proper book cover... but it's nice to have it in mind as it should help keep me motivated!

Monday, 12 October 2015

The Biology Lesson

Nebula Rift accepted my second sci-fi story! It's called "The Biology Lesson" and is available to buy from their site here: Nebula Rift Volume 3, No. 8 (and it's also available on Amazon).

Sunday, 11 October 2015

NaNoWriMo, here I come!

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual international event. The idea is to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November, which gives an average daily aim of 1,667 words per day.

To help me focus, I've signed up for a couple of support groups:

The first is a class run by the talented Jill Sharp at Swindon's Richard Jefferies Museum. There we'll be talking about novel plans (character profiles, outlines - that sort of thing) while also supporting each other as we attempt to make writing a priority throughout the whole of November.

Secondly, I've joined the local NaNoWriMo gang who consist of randoms (like me) along with lots of members of Swindon Free Writers (who are a writing group in Swindon that I've been meaning to join for some time). This group will be meeting in Swindon Central Library throughout November for useful things like writing sessions, mutual support and jelly babies.

I think I'll be okay for word count (I once tried the "write during every spare possible minute" game, and managed to produce 87,923 words in 17 days - go me!) but the main thing for me is going to be trying to write every single day. I often hear of this mystical "writing habit" that apparently every other writer has... and I've yet to achieve it!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Etiquette on the Modern Dance Floor

Another 50-word story is out. I borrowed this one from the best man's speech at a wedding! It's called "Etiquette on the Modern Dance Floor".

"May I Have This Dance?" by SarcasticLeaves

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

My first Amazon review!

Nebula Rift published my short story "The Bionic Teeth" in June and I've just discovered it's resulted in my first ever Amazon review. I realise this might not seem like a big deal, but to me it's HUGE! Exactly the sort of thing a new writer needs to help boost the confidence. Thank you, Briona, whoever you are! :-)

Friday, 28 August 2015

One Last Tale

"One Last Tale" is the third piece I've had accepted on Please let me know if you enjoy it!

The site is full of (yep, you guessed it) stories that are exactly 50 words long. It's a real challenge to write them. And it's fun!

'Bedtime Stories' by Richard S. Johnson

Added bonus: Here's an interesting article by Bob Thurber (master of the art) about how to write a compelling piece of flash fiction.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Improvising (Twitter Fiction!)

Twitter fiction is fun! It's quite a challenge to squash a story into 140 characters. I've been creating stories on my "Very Short Story" twitter feed and one of them won a competition to be made into a video. There's even an interview too!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015


The site has published one of my flash fictions! It's called Thrown and it's my second attempt at playing with the idea of a "melting angel" theme. (The first attempt is currently sitting hopefully in the submission queue for the Bridport prize!) I'm not sure what it is about melting angels, but for some reason the image seems to have stuck with me. Maybe that's something I should mention at my next therapy session?!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Mourning After

A happy discovery this morning -- Unbroken Journal have published "Mourning After"! It's a flash fiction piece about a man regretting his one-night stand.

This was actually published a couple of weeks ago, but I only found out today via a flash fiction mailing list.

And look at this cracking review that a nice lady wrote about it! :-)

Flash Fiction chosen by Grace Black.

"Mourning After" by Mark Farley via Unbroken Journal

This is the exact form of micro flash I consume for breakfast. Screw the food pyramid, this is flash built from the ground, layer by layer. Great read.

Thursday, 9 July 2015


Thank you to Your Daily Poem for publishing my fun little poem "Insomnia"!

Here's the text, in case the link isn't working:

Wide awake at 5 AM
And lo, the Brain is ticking
In the mind, a keyboard taps
And a mouse is clicking

Brain is doing overtime
It makes me want to weep
Brain is up and wants to work
When I just want to sleep

Go to bed, you silly Brain
Rest your weary head
You've been working through the night
While Body is in bed.

Brain trying to be helpful, by

Monday, 6 July 2015

First Assignment

Saturday Night Reader magazine have published my "First Assignment" story! It's about a woefully underqualified hitman who's waiting to perform his first job.

This is my second paid piece... and it's also the second acceptance I've had for something I wrote back when I was a mere teenager! That's two confidence boosters in one! :-)

Sunday, 5 July 2015

"Head Case" wins a prize!

Happy news! "Head Case" was chosen as "Story of the Month" on!

And there was a prize too! My first ever payment for a piece of writing! :-)

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Amazon's 'Author Central'

It's been really exciting to see my name appearing on Amazon as an author but I was a bit worried that when you click on my name you get a list of all the stuff other "Mark Farley"s have written (kids' books about spiders, and several naughty stories!)

Luckily there's a solution!

For anyone in the same boat, the problem is that when you click on an author's name, Amazon just runs a simple search... and so of course for me, all the Mark Farleys appeared in the same list. Chris Farley, Walter Farley, and Farley Granger were all there too -- quite prestigious company!

You can fix the issue like this: go to "Author Central" and create yourself an author page. Make sure to read the instructions first -- there's no "undo" button and there are lots of ways to muck things up!

It's quick and, most importantly, FREE!

You can add an author picture to the page, and link it to your twitter feed (not sure why that's necessary but I did it anyway). Once the page is created, you can go hunting for all your millions of published works (!) and "claim" them (which adds them to your page).

Here's my author page in all its glory: ... there's only one publication so far, but I'm hoping to achieve a lot more!

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Artist

Self-Portrait by √Člisabeth Louise Vig√©e-LeBrun

"The Artist" has been published -- thank you The Vignette Review! I'm really pleased with this piece because it:
  1. ... was written when I was just 15 (that's about three hundred years ago).
  2. ... has taught me what the word vignette means.
  3. ... appears in their DEBUT ISSUE! That's history, that is :-)

The second issue will have an autumn theme. Bring on the mists and mellow fruitfulness!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Bionic Teeth

Exciting moment - "The Bionic Teeth" (my first sci-fi story!) has just been published. An absolute bargain at $3.99 (that's about £2.50 in UK money).

Here's the link: Nebula Rift Volume 3, No. 5 (and it's also available on Amazon).

And here's a quote from the story that will naturally make you insanely eager to buy the magazine :-)

Technological upgrades were certainly the fashion these days. I already had Automagic lungs, a bionic knee, and a shiny green hoverbot that followed me everywhere, taking selfies in both pictures and video. The hoverbot was with me now; it moved around behind the doctor to take my photograph over his shoulder. I hoped the hospital gown wasn't too revealing; the bot often uploaded snapshots to FaceSpice without waiting for approval.

[EDIT: Very exciting moment here -- this story netted me my first Amazon review!]

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

How to organise your HUGE fantasy novel

This is a lonnnnng post!

Here's the TL;DR version:

Separate your notes from your actual writing. Create folders for each of your characters and locations, and break your story notes into separate files (one per scene).

And here's the long version:

I've been working on a fantasy novel for more than fifteen years. I don't mean continually of course. I've been writing it and planning it at the same time as all the normal stuff (education, work, life). It started as a minor hobby but now I'm taking it seriously!

When I started out, I wrote almost everything long-hand. Eventually I realised my efforts had resulted in nothing but a massive pile of notes. Here's what that pile looked like:

A terrifyingly huge pile of notebooks

The notes consisted of all the usual novel-planning stuff: scene ideas, character histories, NaNoWriMo attempts etc. Some of it had been typed but various screw-ups meant I didn't have the files any more. The whole thing was completely out of control and I desperately needed to type it all up. Or burn it.

Step One: Type up your notes! (Don't burn them!)

It took me six months to type everything. Six months. Ouch.

Things I nearly did but didn't:
  • Using a typing service. I decided against this because I was having more ideas while typing. Just reading my notes would spark off new ideas - it was great! Yes, it meant more typing, but it also meant I generated some useful stuff. I tried dictation software too, but that didn't work as well as plain old-fashioned typing (too many typos, and fewer new ideas).
  • Organising the notes as I went along. This was an insane idea and I abandoned it pretty quickly. It took far too long to read a line of my scrawly handwriting, then to hunt for the correct place to put that line. Much quicker to just type it all into a single file.

I typed everything up in a file called "Misc.doc". When "Misc.doc" got too big, I created "Misc2.doc" and carried on. Then came "Misc3.doc" and... well, you get the picture. When everything was typed, I ended up with several massive files.

I ran a word count and discovered I had over a million words.

A million words.

I couldn't believe it. The scale of the project was terrifying. It wasn't a single book -- it was a whole shelf! I put my head in a bucket of melancholy marmalade and cried for a while.

'Sad Orange' by leoveanul

After a few days of weeping, it was on to the next step.

Step Two: Organise your notes!

This is what worked for me, and I'm blogging about it just in case anyone else is buried in their notes and is in the nightmare situation where they don't know where to begin. I hope you find something useful here.

I needed to sort the contents of all the "Misc.doc" files into some sort of order. After a lot of false starts, I found the best way to organise my thoughts was to group everything in separate Word docs. It took ages but I eventually managed to organise all my notes into separate files. That took a lot of cut-and-pasting! It was essential to the writing, though. Until the notes were organised, they were all bouncing around my head and I found it impossible to just sit down and write a scene.

Here's the structure I ended up with:

I made a folder called "Novel" and created these subfolders:
  • Archive
  • Characters
  • Concepts
  • Creatures
  • Feedback
  • Places
  • Plan
  • Things to decide on
  • To use somewhere
  • Useful

In "Novel", I also added the "Misc.doc" files (my unsorted notes), along with lots of Word docs full of useful information such as writing techniques, characterisation ideas, and editing tips. There's also a file for inspirational quotes (these have come in very useful over the years... mainly when I'm feeling demoralised!)

By the way, if you install DropBox and put "Novel" in the DropBox folder, then every change you make will automagically get backed up almost as soon as you hit save. Then, when your computer dies a horrible death in a ghastly blancmange accident, your beautiful novel plan will be safe.

Explanation of subfolders:


After all that typing, I refuse to throw anything away! Anything I want to delete is unceremoniously chucked into this folder. Sometimes I look through and find something useful, but mostly this folder just gets ignored.


In "Characters" I've created a separate subfolder for each of my characters. For example, one of my main characters is called Calvin, so I've created a subfolder called "Calvin", in which I have a single Word doc called "_Calvin.doc" (I use the underscore because it keeps the file at the top of the file list). There are a few images in there as well (pictures I've found on the web that remind me of what Calvin looks like).

In the "_Calvin.doc" file I have a long bulleted list containing all the notes about Calvin himself. Examples of this are:
  • Age 12
  • Slightly dopey but well meaning and good natured.
  • Brave to the point of being foolhardy.

It's surprising how much information can build up. Over the years, "_Calvin.doc" has grown to be twelve pages long. As well as the notes, the file also contains a monologue where the character talks in first person as if he's being interviewed (I find these types of monologue can be really useful for getting to know a character well).

I like to think that one day I'll organise the contents of all the character files. But, until then, they'll just stay as long, unorganised bulleted lists. It works fine for me -- I just scan through the file whenever I need a quick reminder of a particular character's personality/description.


In "Concepts" I've created a separate subfolder for each of the different abstract concepts that are being used in my story. Examples are:
  • "The Dragon Knights" (an order of knights who hunt demons)
  • "Human Magic" (a list of all the properties and limitations of human magical ability)
  • "Demon Magic" (a list of all the properties and limitations of demon magical ability)


In "Creatures" I've created a separate subfolder for each of the fantastical creatures that inhabit my world. Examples are:
  • "Demons" (Demons are the baddies in my world - they cause all manner of mess!)
  • "Dragons" (Dragons hunt the demons and frazzle them to cinders)
  • "Luddites" (Luddites in my world are weird fat slug-like creatures who ooze copious amounts of slime)

Just like the structure of "Characters", I have pictures in each folder, along with a single Word doc file of semi-organised notes.


I'm getting braver with my writing and have been sending it out to friends and family. Sometimes people are kind enough to send me files with comments and/or corrections. Thank you to all those people -- you are awesome! :-)

I put all these files in "Feedback". Usually I rename the file to reflect the name of the person who sent it. It's really useful to keep a record of this sort of stuff, because you can look back at it and think "hey, I write better than that now!" -- and that's always good for a confidence boost!


In "Places" I've created a separate subfolder for each of the different locations used in my story. These can be entire countries, or buildings, or even just a room. Examples are:
  • "Matterhorn-Sutter" (a country)
  • "King's Square" (a place in a big city that Calvin visits in Book Two)
  • "The Hospital" (a room in which Calvin unfortunately spends a lot of his time!)

Again, each subfolder will contain an appropriately named Word doc (e.g. "_Matterhorn-Sutter.doc") and a bunch of photos to remind me what the place looks like. If the picture collection gets to be huge then I recommend moving them out of DropBox (you only get a certain amount of space for free) and store them elsewhere, e.g. on Pinterest boards.

It's really helpful to draw a map of each location. You'll always be able to check if a character takes the correct amount of time to walk from one place to another! Maps also help with catching other inconsistencies (e.g. making sure a door always leads to the same room, rather than accidentally saying it leads to the bathroom in chapter one, and the living room in chapter ten).

The map is just a reference guide, so doesn't have to be a work of art -- after all, it's only you who's going to see it, and you're meant to be writing, not sketching! I scribble mine using a simple drawing tool (e.g. Windows Paint) and store the jpg file in the appropriate "Places" subfolder.


In "Plan" I've created a separate Word doc for every single scene. Over the years, this folder has grown to be HUGE! There are about 250 files in there, and most of them are about 30 pages long. It terrifies me to think about all those words... but then I remember that all I need to do is write a scene at a time, and I feel much better! If you break your novel into scenes then it won't seem quite such a scary task.

Each Word doc in "Plan" is named in such a way that Windows organises them in the correct order. I use this structure for the file name:

            "Scene <scene number> - <scene name>.doc"

Examples are:
  • "Scene 000100 - The Dark Forest.doc"
  • "Scene 000200 - Climbing Temple Hill.doc"
  • "Scene 000300 - Visiting the temple.doc"

The scene number, e.g. "000100", is there purely to ensure Windows keeps the files in the correct order. I've used 100 instead of 1 because this way I can easily insert a new scene in right place, e.g. by calling the file something like "Scene 000150 - After the Dark Forest.doc". The extra zeroes at the start of the number are there just in case things get completely mad and I end up needing thousands of scenes!

In the scene files, I put all the notes about what happens in each particular scene. Sometimes these are full scenes that need editing, and sometimes they're just single lines like "Remember the demon needs to eat a turnip".

The scene files also contain all the different drafts I've written of that particular scene. As an example, I had a lot of trouble with the "Dark Forest" scene, and so I've have nineteen different drafts in this one file. The file has ended up very big (65 pages long, 32,569 words) but it was all worth it because rewriting it over and over again helped me come up with a narrative voice.

I once sorted the files in "Plan" into subfolders called "Book 1", "Book 2" etc. This was a very bad idea because I didn't know how many words I'd need for each scene... and that means I didn't know how many scenes I could fit into 80-90,000 words (which is, I'm told, the ideal word count for a debut novel). I eventually realised the "Book 1" folder actually contains material for several books. Oops!

In "Plan" I also have folder called "Before" and "After". In "Before" I've put notes about things that happened before the novel begins (e.g. the dragons are very old so they've been up to all manner of shenanigans before the start of Book One). Similarly, in "After" I've put notes of anything that might happen after the main story ends (which means I have plenty of material for sequels if the series is successful!)

"Things to decide on"

In "Things to decide on" I've put all the stuff that I'm still trying to work out. Examples are:
  • "Money.doc" (I'm still trying to decide on the currency to use in my fantastical world, so this file contains all the ideas I've had so far on currency)
  • "Key - how does it work.doc" (At some point, Calvin is given a magical key and I'm still trying to pinpoint its properties)

"To use somewhere"

In "To use somewhere" I've put all the notes about stuff I think I'll probably use at some point, but at the moment am not sure where they belong in the plan. Examples are:
  • "Calvin’s confusions, calamities and clumsiness.doc" (Excuse the silly filename, but it seemed appropriate. In here I put notes about all the daft things Calvin might do at random points throughout the book)
  • "Weapons practice and training.doc" (In here I put notes about all the stuff I've read about training with medieval weaponry)


In "Useful" I store random files and notes that might be helpful at some point while writing the story. Sometimes these are tips on writing, but usually they're weird things like links to sites about dragons, or lists of flowers that purportedly have magical properties.

Step Three: Write your amazing novel!

Okay, so you've now sorted all your notes into "Plan" and "Characters" etc. Your plan is organised, and you know your characters pretty well. It's time to write your epic!

In the "Novel" folder, create a file called "Novel.doc". Herein goes your masterpiece!

Write a single scene at a time, and don't try to make it perfect otherwise you'll spend the rest of your life editing a single scene to perfection while the rest of your wonderful plan gets ignored. Ideally you need to keep writing scenes until you reach the end of your novel, then go back and edit to improve the text. That's the quickest way to write!

As you write, you'll have new ideas which might change your plan. That's great -- it shows your brain is working! :-) Make the changes as you go, and your plan will just keep getting better and better. Just rearrange your scenes (by changing their scene number), insert new scenes, or chuck old ones away into the "Archive" folder... keep honing it to perfection!

Personally, I try to keep "Novel.doc" reasonably tidy. Sometimes I add "to do" notes, but usually I find my confidence improves if the file actually looks good, with nice formatting and no messy notes.

The "sort me" file

Also in "Novel", create a file called "zzz - SORT ME.doc" (the "zzz" ensures Windows keeps it at the end of the file list, which is useful for when you want to find it quickly). Keep this file open while you're writing - it's a great place to note down all your random thoughts (you can sort them via cut-and-paste later). Also, you will probably have lots of ideas that will never quite fit into your novel. This file's a good place for them to sleep.

The "sort me" file is essential because while you're writing one scene, your brain will inevitably produce random ideas about other scenes... it'll go something like this:

ME: La, la, la, I'm writing that scene about the dark forest. Calvin walks along a path and--
BRAIN: Hey, you remember that weird scene with the pigs in Book Seven? Wouldn't it be great if all the pigs sat down at a dining table and had breakfast together?
ME: Shush, Brain. I'm trying to write about the dark forest.
BRAIN: But the pigs! The pigs! You need to think about the pigs!
ME: All right Brain. Hang on. I'll make a note. Okay, so I need to open the "Novel" folder... and then open "Plan"... and then find the scene about the pigs. Um, sorry Brain, I've forgotten what you said.
BRAIN: I can't remember now. You took too long to open the file.
ME: It was only a couple of seconds.
BRAIN: Yes, but that's all the time I need to forget. Hmm, I think it was something about pigs.
ME: Yes, I know that. But what did you say? Oh, hang on, you mentioned a dining table, didn't you?
BRAIN: Er, yeah, I think so.
ME: Okay, I've made a note and closed the file. Right, I was writing about the dark forest. Um, where was I?
BRAIN: I don't know.
ME: Great, now I've lost the flow. Sod it, let's look at Facebook.

Here's how that same interaction goes when you have your handy "sort me" file open and ready:

ME: La, la, la, I'm writing that scene about the dark forest. Calvin walks along a path and--
BRAIN: Hey, you remember that weird scene with the pigs in Book Seven? Wouldn't it be great if all the pigs sat down at a dining table and--
ME: And had breakfast together? Great idea! I love it! Okay Brain, I switched to my "sort me" file, made a note, and switched straight back to my novel. Calvin's halfway along the path when he bumps into a peacock.
BRAIN: Peacocks are awesome.

Okay, time to stop. This blog post is nearly as long as the novel. (Can you see how I ended up with a million words?) I hope it's been useful, and I hope you manage to organise your thoughts enough to allow you to begin writing your story. Personally, I found it very hard to write anything fun until I'd done the planning.

Best of luck with your book!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Knight of the Rocks

The perfect bait to catch a bigger rock

"Knight of the Rocks" has been published by Postcard Shorts! It's a short story about the start and end of a long-term relationship. If you're a soppy sod like me then it might tug at your heart-strings!

[EDIT: This story has now been recorded as audio release, here: Old Words Home]

Monday, 1 June 2015

Head Case

More exciting news! Today I had a new piece appear on the 50-Word stories site. It's called Head Case and it's weird in all the ways I think a story should be!

I'm really enjoying learning how to submit pieces for publication. So far I've managed to get nine acceptances which has really helped boost my confidence. Three of those pieces are already live (the rest are due out later this year).

[EDIT: Woohoo! "Head Case" was named Story of the Week!]

[EDIT: Woohoo again! The story also got named Story of the Month!]

Headless Skeleton by Lisa Zador

Friday, 29 May 2015

The Circus Comes to Town

I'm very pleased to announce that Verse-Virtual accepted my daft circus poem! Exciting! :-)

Recommended reading: the editor of Verse-Virtual, Firestone Feinberg, wrote the wonderfully random No Cow poem which makes me chortle :-)

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Hero's Journey

No matter what book you're writing, I think it's really useful to read up on "The Hero's Journey". It's a useful framework to work from, and it's interesting to research how closely big hits like Harry Potter and Star Wars conform to its structure. There's no need to follow it perfectly, but I found it helped me generate new ideas, and also helped me put my plot in a good order. Here's a great video intro:

A few useful links:

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Smaller than you: a 50-word story

I rewrote Flying Ants for Tim Sevenhuysen's 50-Word Stories site and it was accepted!

It's been tagged as "artistic" and "metaphor" which makes me feel quite posh!

Random info: the name of the story had to change because I'd removed the description of the ant swarm in order to achieve the 50-word target. I think this shorter version has a very different feel to the original story... the playful "friend" character has transformed into quite a menacing figure.

Here's the text, just in case the link isn't working.


My friend is a foot taller than me. That makes him the leader.

"They taste like butter," he says, showing me ants emerging from their nest. "Try one."

I grasp an ant as it takes its first view of daylight. I watch it struggle, small, helpless and lost in indecision.


EDIT: I'm even happier now! The story got named "story of the week"! :-)

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Generating ideas

Last night's writing class involved a brilliant idea-generating exercise! We had a big box of random objects and the idea was to pass each object in turn around the class. As each object arrived on your desk, you had to scribble down the first thing that popped into your head.

Some of the lines I ended up with are wonderfully surreal... here's a sample:
  • Tinkle like a gypsy bell
  • Bleach the skull of Jefferies
  • An English shade of blue
  • Hedgehog by air mail
  • Crushed beneath a marble shell
  • Call yourself when young
  • Snap the slate of life

After all the objects had been passed round, we all ended up with a lovely long list of random lines. We then chose one of the lines to use as a basis for a poem. I'm still a kid at heart, so I chose the item that generated the "Hedgehog by air mail" line, namely a tobacco tin bearing this picture:

Christmas hedgehog postman by Molly Brett

We then had to write a list of ten facts about the item we'd chosen. Here's mine:
  1. The postman is a hedgehog.
  2. The hedgehog is wearing a dark blue hat.
  3. Birds are perched all around, being nosy.
  4. The hedgehog is delivering parcels to a family of rabbits.
  5. There are three kids in the rabbit family.
  6. There are three parcels being delivered, so presumably that's one per rabbit kid.
  7. The hedgehog can drive.
  8. It's a bright sunny day.
  9. It's been snowing. Lots.
  10. The entrance to the rabbits' burrow is *huge*.

... and then we needed to write a list of five feelings we got from the item:
  1. Pleased for the young rabbits, because I'm assuming the parcels are their presents.
  2. Hopeful for the hedgehog that this is his last job of the day. (He looks a bit sleepy, poor guy.)
  3. Worried the rabbit children may bicker over their presents (e.g. the green parcel's a lot smaller than the yellow one, which might cause a bit of jealousy).
  4. Amused at the birds being so nosy.
  5. Impressed how the hedgehog has managed to drive his little van over a snowy field (there's no sign of a road).
  6. (Bonus feeling! 6 for the price of 5!) Worried the rabbit construction workers have not considered how easy it would be for a fox to fit through the massive entrance to that burrow.

The final part of the exercise was to write a little piece about what the item would say if it could speak. I forgot to do this bit (oops) but I'm sure Postman Hedgehog would be unable to speak as he climbed that hill - he'd be all puffed out. The rabbit children are, no doubt, squealing in excitement, and the parents are whispering to each other about how they're hoping Amazon hasn't screwed up their order.

So with all these facts and feelings and ideas, it was time to write a poem. Come on Brain, let's hear it! Give me assonance and alliteration! Give me consonance and rhyme!

Actually, no, not rhyme. We weren't allowed to rhyme. Sad face :-(

Brain rummaged in its poetry suitcase and decided it didn't know what to do. So it gave me this:

The blue hat
of the hedgehog
is dark.
Here is a line
Line breaks show you're good
at poetry.

Thank you, Brain. I will print that out and put it on the wall... as a reminder not to try and write poetry any more.

Brain then decided it wanted to rhyme (it really likes rhyming), so off it went and I was forced to follow along:

The postman is a hedgehog!
Imagine, if you can,
Him dealing out his presents
From his bright red van.
The rabbits in their burrow
Peer delightedly
Out at Mr Hedgehog
Coming round for tea.

Thank you, again, Brain. I asked for something deep and you gave me something daft. And why is the hedgehog postman suddenly coming for tea? Was that just to make the last line rhyme? Yes, I thought so. Sigh.

I think that's enough poetry for now. Brain, go back to sleep.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

I don't understand poetry

It's time for another writing class update! Tonight's lesson was an introduction to writing poetry. I've always assumed I'm only capable of producing daft poems (which are apparently better known as "light verse")... while posh poems (the ones that use clever words and imagery to talk about feelings) are probably not the sort of thing my brain can cope with.

One of the poem we read was "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams. It's very short, with lots of line breaks. Here it is:

So much depends

A red wheel

Glazed with rain

Beside the white

Whenever I read something like this, I imagine it must be full of deep, meaningful, wonderful things that I'm simply too dumb to understand. Other people think it's great so I can only assume I'm missing something. The poem's considered one of Williams' most important works. It has the honour of having its own wiki page (!) and was recently used as a title for an episode of Homeland so it obviously still resonates with modern writers. What I never understand about poetry like this, however, is why it's been picked out as something for literary types to point and nod intelligently at, while other poems (that sound similar, to my ears) are dismissed as "trite". In this respect, as someone in the class pointed out, poems like this are a lot like Jackson Pollock's splatter paintings: the arty types tell us they're amazing, but there will always be someone (probably me) standing there saying "a five year old could do that." Perhaps it only counts as "art" if you're the first person to get noticed doing it?

So what do I get from "The Red Wheelbarrow"? I'm not a literature student so I don't know what to say, but here's a few thoughts:
  • I can see the poem paints a very specific picture, and I'm guessing most readers will find their mind conjuring up much more than just the wheelbarrow and the chickens (because it's not a huge leap from that image to seeing the entire farmyard). Any writing that creates a strong image in the reader's mind is definitely doing a good job... but I can't help feeling it would be nice if something actually then *happened* with that image. What holds the reader's interest after he/she's looked at this pretty little farmyard scene? Is the wheelbarrow full of human skulls? Is one of the chickens hiding a Kalashnikov under its feathers? Where's the action?!
  • The line breaks are interesting, I guess... they change the meaning as you read, e.g. you see "the red wheel" and your imagination conjures that image, then you reach the next line and have to adjust your mental image to "the red wheelbarrow". But does that count as clever? Or is it just odd?
  • The first line is a good way of making you read on, and I suppose you're left wondering why the wheelbarrow is so important. So is that the secret to good poetry? Leaving everything open-ended so that literary types can sit and discuss meaning/symbolism for hours on end?

Anyway, the lesson was fun and I think I learned something... but I'm still very confused!

The chickens are confused too

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Austentatious and Eric "big balls" Hamilton (Mrs)

Mrs Mumbletoes and I had a fun time watching Austentatious last night (an improvised comedy play in the style of Jane Austen). The play is based on a title chosen from the audience's random suggestions. Sadly my title didn't get pulled out of the hat and used in the actual show, but I was very pleased to get mentioned as their "top unused title"! Does this count as being published?

[EDIT: It turns out the lady pictured, Alison Thea-Skot, is an old school friend... of the sister... of a friend... of my wife. Only Facebook could make such a random connection!]

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The random man's arse

I received some random text messages from a friend today:

A random man on the tube called me a f***ing smartarse this morning
This is very true
A random man on the tube called me a f***ing smartarse this morning
Because I touched his shoe

Maybe it's just me, but this sounded like a daft poem. My brain immediately decided it had to try and join in. I didn't really get a choice in the matter - my brain just seems to like daft poems.

The random man’s arse was not so smart
It hung below his knees
He swung it up between his legs
To give a cooling breeze
I asked him not to swing his arse
But he ignored my earnest plea
Instead he swung it round his face
And said he could not see
To try and stop that swinging arse
I grabbed a-hold his shoe
I tied it to its neighbour
With a clever knot I knew
He tripped and fell upon his arse
(still wrapped around his head)
He cursed and yelled and bawled my name
And me... I turned and fled.

Apparently the original messages weren't meant to be a poem - the repeated line was just my friend's phone screwing up. Thank you, friend's phone, your mistake gave me another daft poem to add to my collection. And that brings to mind a Neil Gaiman quote I kinda like:

I hope you'll make mistakes. If you're making mistakes, it means you're out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful. I once misspelled Caroline, in a letter, transposing the A and the O, and I thought, "Coraline looks like a real name..."

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

An introduction to playwriting

Shakespeare's autograph

CLARE: Hey Mumbletoes, are you still doing that writing course?

MUMBLETOES: (Brightly) Damn straight I am. It's good fun.

CLARE: What was tonight's subject?

MUMBLETOES: We were learning about playwriting. I've never tried it before. It's kinda fun. There's no need to fuss about with description which means you focus on the dialogue more.

CLARE: Sounds good. Did you write any plays?

MUMBLETOES: I made a few attempts. I'm not really sure about them though.

CLARE: Go on then, share.

MUMBLETOES: No. (Looks down at his hands) I'm shy.

CLARE: Oh go on. (Flutters eyelashes) Let's hear them.

MUMBLETOES: Okay then, but remember this is just a first attempt. 

  • SIMPKINS is a very small boy made of marshmallow. He is very nervous and tends to run away from anything even vaguely threatening.
  • MAVIS is a sweetshop owner. She regularly kidnaps marshmallow children by tricking them into following her to her shop.

CLARE: Hang on, that sounds really dodgy. Are you really sure you want to go with that?

MUMBLETOES: Good point. Okay, let's scrap that idea. Want to see my next attempt?

CLARE: Yeah!

  • DARREN is a writer stuck for an idea.
  • BORIS is a dancer who lives with Darren and enjoys helping to fire-up Darren's creative side.

Scene: Student bedroom. An early morning in summer. Sunshine pours in through the windows and the skylight. DARREN is sitting at his desk, looking stressed, his pen hovering over the paper although he hasn't written a word. BORIS enters, clad in bright pink Lycra, and spends the entire scene contorting his limbs into a series of bizarre stretches.

BORIS: (Full of the joy of a new day) Morning! (Starts stretching)

DARREN: (Irritably throws his pen into a metal bin making it clang like a funeral bell) Do you have to do that in here?

BORIS: What?

DARREN: Stretching. Can't you practise somewhere else?

BORIS: I like it in here. More sunlight. Sunlight makes me bendier. (Lifts one leg and puts it up against the wall)

DARREN: (Annoyed) Great. (Takes a new pen from the pen holder on his desk and holds pen ready to write, but doesn't write anything)


BORIS: What are you writing today?

DARREN: (Throws pen into the bin) Christ, Boris, I have no idea. We have to write a play and my mind's gone completely blank. (Takes a new pen from the pen holder and again holds it ready to write, but doesn't write anything)

BORIS: (Grunts as he sinks into a new stretch) Why don't you write about a butchers shop? You could have a mad old bat come in and get upset when the butcher offers her tripe.

DARREN: No, no, no. That's just the example we were given in my writing class. You're only saying that because you're a figment of my imagination and all your suggestions come straight from my memory. (Throws pen into the bin and puts head in hands) Just kill me. Kill me now. I'll never be a writer.

BORIS: Oh don't be ridiculous. You're just being fatalistic. (Sits on floor and reaches out to touch his toes) Surely you can come up with something?

DARREN: Like what?

BORIS: Anything, mate. Just start writing. That's how your brain works. You won't have any ideas until you start writing.

DARREN: OK, how about I write about... (Grabs a new pen from his pen holder) ... about... about...

BORIS: A pie shop.

DARREN: Pie? Why pie?

BORIS: (Leaps up and stretches as high as he can) Because pie is amazing! Everyone loves pie. That's a great way to draw your reader in. Set your play in a pie shop and straight away everyone's head will be filled with images of warm pastry crust soaked in rich brown gravy. (Licks his lips and holds his stomach) God, I'm hungry.

DARREN: Okay, pie it is. (Writes manically) How about this for a beginning? Pie shop. Interior. Arnold Clutterbucket stands behind the counter. He's wearing giant glasses, has a plaster over his nose, and he's holding a dead rabbit. In walks an eagle.

BORIS: Hang on. An eagle?

DARREN: (Still writing) Yes, an eagle. Do you want to hear this or not?

BORIS: One sec. (Moves to the door and uses the doorknob for support as he goes into a backbend) Okay, fire away.

DARREN: (Staring at Boris) That looks painful.

BORIS: Is that what the eagle said, or are you just talking?

DARREN: Just talking.

BORIS: Less talking, more reading. What did the eagle say?

DARREN: It makes a joke.

(PAUSE while Darren looks uncertain)

BORIS: Go on then. What's the joke?

DARREN: I don't want to tell you.

BORIS: Eh? Why not?

DARREN: You won't laugh.

BORIS: Yeah I will.

DARREN: Really?

BORIS: Of course.


BORIS: Well?

DARREN: It's been too long now. (Throws pen into the bin) There's been too much build up. The joke won't be funny.


CLARE: Aargh, you can't end it there! What was the joke?

MUMBLETOES: I don't know. I was hoping to come up with an amazing pun about eagles and pie shops, but I couldn't think of anything.

CLARE: Hmm, tricky. (Thinks for a moment) Something about rabbits, maybe? Okay, what else have you got?

MUMBLETOES: Just a short scene. This one has a joke. 

CLARE: A real joke? Not one that you just hint at and then never come out with?

MUMBLETOES: Yep. Well, it's not a great joke. It's a joke that would probably work best as a radio play.

CLARE: Let's hear it.

  • STANLEY is a mild-mannered employee.
  • COB is the intimidating boss.
Scene: Cob's office.

COB is heavy-handedly typing at his computer. STANLEY knocks timidly on the office door.

COB: (Irritably) Come in!

STANLEY: (Nervously peers around the door) You wanted to see me, sir?

COB: (Preoccupied with computer screen) Yes, yes, come in.

(Stanley comes in, knocks over a hat-stand, picks it back up again, then nervously hovers by the door.)

COB: Come in and sit down, Stanley, for Christ's sake.

STANLEY: Yes, sir. Of course, sir. (Sits down on the floor.)

(PAUSE while Cob realises he can no longer see Stanley)

COB: On a chair, Stanley. On a chair.


CLARE: Oh dear, poor Stanley. So, Mumbletoes, have you got any more playwriting attempts?

MUMBLETOES: I think that's enough for now.