Live review: Ruben Blades

Well, not so much a review as a collection of thoughts…

I’m on a 148 bus (hooray for smartphones! But on what planet do people say “hooray” when they really wanted to say “bootstraps”?), going home after a brilliant gig I went to mostly out of curiosity.

Ruben Blades has just come off the stage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire (I know it’s not called that any more, but I refuse to give free plugs to mobile phone companies), after treating a packed house to two and a half hours of sheer delight.  Salsa fan that I am, I’ve kind of always been aware of Ruben’s existence, but not as familiar with his work compared to that of other salseros. So when I heard he was going to have a gig in London, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to acquaint myself.

Well, even though I didn’t know much of his material before, I thoroughly enjoyed the gig. And in his band was someone I was familiar with: the ace trombonist and salsa dura maestro Jimmy Bosch, who did a few awesome solos and a great ‘duelling horns’ battle with one of the trumpeters. In addition to his own songs, Ruben covered hits by Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe and Jose Feliciano, throwing in the ‘Thriller’ intro before going into ‘Mack the Knife’ (the only English song of the evening). He paid tribute to Facundo Cabral (the legendary Argentinean songwriter, who was murdered in Guatemala earlier this month); to Colombian salsa star Joe Arroyo (who’d died just a day or two earlier) and to Amy Winehouse. Later on, he talked about the mass murder in Norway as an introduction to an anti-racism song.

The older I get, the more I appreciative I am of people who love full lives – and I found Ruben’s life story (or at least the little of it he shared with us) quite inspiring. Neither of his parents made it further than the sixth grade (someone has to explain to me what the British equivalent of that is), but “we were never poor, because poverty is something up here.” He went to university in his native Panama, but left the country before his graduation – and is proud of the fact that he never served as a lawyer “under a dictatorship.” Most inspiring of all (to me, anyway) was the fact that he’s getting ready to head back to college, to do a doctorate!

I learned a few other things as the gig progressed. I learned that Gabriel Garcia Marquez (whose Love in the Time of Cholera is sitting in my office, waiting to be read) is a musician as well as an award-winning author. Ruben told us about their friendship, then played us a song they’d written together. I learned that the volume at salsa gigs goes up gradually – and if you haven’t got earplugs in at the start, you’ll certainly need them by the end (but then that could just be the Empire’s acoustics). But above all, I was reminded that you’re as young as you feel, and you’re never too old to learn something new.

Yep – I had a great time tonight. I want Ruben’s leather jacket. And his trilby hat. And to look that good (and move that well) when I’m 63…

Boy, that was some expensive underwear…

(but it was in a good cause)

Last night I became the owner (note that I didn’t say “the proud owner”) of a piece of Hollywood memorabilia.

Some guys pay tens of thousands for a Batmobile, or for an Italian Job Mini Cooper. Others shell out equally ludicrous sums for the privilege of having Captain Kirk’s chair (or some other piece of furniture from the USS Enterprise) in their front room. Me – I paid a little over a hundred quid for… Borat’s ‘Mankini’ (signed by the man himself, I hasten to add).

No, I won’t be wearing it (and trust me, I have had loads of requests). And no, I didn’t particularly want it either. But rather than looking at this as a crazy impulse purchase, I prefer to see it as a donation to charity – which, actually, is what it was. I bought it at ‘Bidding for Hope’ – a charity auction in aid of the UCH Macmillan Cancer Centre.

The auction was organised by Dina Lazarus, a former workmate of mine. When I started at my current job, I was initially covering for Dina while she was off sick, having cancer treatment. When her sick leave ended, we both shared the job for a while. She decided she wanted to do something for the hospital where she’d had her treatment, and organised the auction with help from a few other people in the office.

Quite a few other showbizzy things went under the hammer at Foyles Gallery last night, including a day on the set of New Tricks, and Rod Stewart’s platinum disc for his Tonight I’m Yours album. For film buffs, there were a couple of autographed film posters: one of Black Swan (signed by Natalie Portman) and one of Never Let Me Go (signed by Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and the author of the book, Kazuo Ishiguro). For the more sporty bidders, there was a Nike tennis cap signed by John McEnroe, and a Tottenham shirt signed by the entire team. A £425 voucher for creative writing classes at the Faber Academy went for just under £300. If you’d rather be written about in a book than write one, you could have placed a bid to have the ‘chick lit’ author Freya North include you as a character in her next novel. I was tempted, but very quickly outbid – as opposed to when Lot #14 went under the hammer, and everybody mysteriously stopped bidding after the third bid…  (which is how I ended up with you-know-what)

But hey, it was for a good cause. And even as I write, Mr. Baron Cohen is in LA somewhere, autographing the lime green undergarment which will soon be on its way to me. Altogether the auction raised £11,750 – £8,200 in sales of the auctioned items, and the rest in donations. Another small financial victory in the ongoing battle to kick cancer’s butt. Now, that can hardly be a bad thing…

…and no, I will NOT be posting any pictures of me wearing it. I’ve already said that a million times since last night…

POSTSCRIPT

Saturday 29 June 2013, 4.22pm

On Monday morning, we received the sad news that Dina passed away on Sunday. A handful of us from work attended the funeral on Tuesday afternoon.

In the last few months of her life, Dina would occasionally pop into the office. Now if you look at the comments at the end of this blog post, you’ll see that an old friend of Dina’s came across this post by chance (nearly two years after I wrote it!) and asked me to help her get back in touch with her again, which I did. The last time I saw Dina alive was the last time she popped into the office. She told me how this lady was an old friend of hers, and thanked me for helping her get back in touch with her. And those were the last words she said to me.

Rest easy, Dina. I only knew you for a short time, but that was long enough to see that you were a really loving, caring person.

Review: “The Man Who Committed Thought”

You’d have to be seriously brave (or just mental) to try to set all Africa’s issues straight in two hours. But that’s basically what Patrice Naimbana sets out to do in the one man show which won him an Edinburgh Fringe First award (on tonight in London’s Cockpit Theatre, as part of the Pentecost Festival).

The Man Who Committed Thought is utterly compelling. Playing multiple characters (a poor man whose cow is stolen from him; the corrupt politician responsible for stealing the poor man’s cow and more; the rebel who seizes power and the honest but flawed lawyer referred to in the show’s title, to whom the poor man turns in his quest for justice), Patrice talks us through the troubled history of a fictional African nation called Lion Mountain.

Well, I say fictional. The handful of Sierra Leoneans in the Cockpit Theatre knew all too well whose stories were being told here. The rest of the audience weren’t left out, either; the beauty of Patrice’s series of monologues is the way he keeps it topical and fresh by absorbing so much of what’s current and relevant to wherever he might be performing. so tonight there are references to everything from Bin Laden to Britain’s Got Talent.

Underneath all that, there are bigger questions being asked. Naimbana challenges his audience to look at all the grey there is in issues of social justice. There is a tension at the heart of the show; between the righteous anger at the Europeans who brought “Gonorrhoea and Jesus” to Africa (to quote Fela Kuti) and a respectful acceptance of the message of good news to the poor and dispossessed that that Jesus preached. Patrice packs enough humour into the show to ensure that it never gets preachy or sounds like an “angry brother” having a rant.

After the show, Patrice spent another half hour answering questions from the audience, during which time he told us about his father – a lawyer who took on many poor people’s cases for no pay, and whose stories were the inspiration for the show’s lead character. That was every bit as engaging as the show itself, and continued in the bar afterwards.

My “NaNoWriMovember”

November was an interesting month, to say the least. It did seem to fly by very quickly; I’m not sure how much of that was down to what I spent the month doing. And what was that, I hear you ask? Well, I mostly spent it writing a novel and growing a moustache. Let me explain…

Back in April, I’d spent the month doing the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge. That time, I only managed just over 29, 000 words (to be honest, I only really got going on day 23). Still, I learnt a fair bit from the experience – both about the novel-writing process and about myself.

I was in two minds about doing Nanowrimo after that; squeezing out two novels in a year seemed like a big stretch. But even though I had no pre-planned story idea and never really made the decision to do it until three days before kick-off, I jumped in on the first of the month and just wrote a load of stuff. There were a couple of days in that first week when I flagged a bit, but I basically just went with the “just write” advice and just wrote.

I started with a couple of characters just talking to each other – mostly over big dinners or very short chess games (very short because one of them was rubbish at chess and they’d both had a fair bit to drink). Various elements of people I’ve met began to click together to form new characters. After ‘freestyling’ for about a week and a half with three different sets of characters, their paths began to cross and a story began to develop – a story which became a bit more exciting (and totally daft) after I took a friend’s suggestion and wrote a certain reality TV character into the book! (Before I get sued, I should point out that the character in the book is only modelled on him. It’s not him!).

Anyway, to cut a long story short (and other cliches I’ve banned myself from using), I won NaNoWriMo. My word count clocked 51,725 on Day 30 – although according to NaNoWriMo’s word count verifier, it was only 50,056. Either way, that was enough to get me past the 50,000-word target.

Around the time I was twiddling my thumbs over whether or not to join in the exercise in total madness that is Nanowrimo, someone at work suggested that the men in the office join him in participating in ‘Movember’ – where men get sponsored to grow moustaches during the month of November, to raise money for the Prostate Cancer Charity.  Though not a big fan of either beards or moustaches, I thought I’d give it a go. After all, it’s a lot easier to do than writing a novel (if you think about it, it just involves NOT doing something – shaving – and so doesn’t really require much effort). And so I ended up with one seriously itchy caterpillar under my nose… and the campaign to kick cancer’s butt became £60 richer. Thanks to all of you who gave, and didn’t tell me I looked ridiculous.

There's one serious Mo', bro...

November was also special for reasons other than novel-writing and moustache-growing. Among the month’s other highlights, my dad turned 75 and we celebrated with an enormous meal in Rodzio Rico – a Brazilian restaurant in the O2. Two friends got married in a lovely wedding service in the City Temple. On a much sadder note, another friend died after a lengthy bout with cancer (the second friend of mine to die from that vile illness in as many years).

After all that, December’s looking rather unexciting. Still there’s Christmas to look forward to (do adults really look forward to Christmas?) and a few more mundane things to take care of – last year’s tax return being top of the list. Having not done any messing about with music in November, I plan to spend a bit more time working on stuff on the DJ front (expect a mixtape or two up on here before the end of the year).

And that was my “NaNoWriMovember”. It was fun, but I’m kind of glad it’s over.

Greenbelt 2010: Why I’m Excited…

And we’re off…

The 09:48 1st Great Western to Cheltenham Spa has just pulled out of Paddington. In about two and a half hours’ time, I should be searching for a nice accessible spot on Cheltenham Racecourse on which to pitch a tent. I’m still pondering whether to go and socialise or just lie in it and sleep once it’s up.

The tent will be home for the next few days while I’m at the Greenbelt festival. I hadn’t realised it before, but this is actually my 20th Greenbelt! All of a sudden, my DJ set tomorrow evening has a whole new meaning.

It’s been an interesting 20 years – in which I’ve gone from being the unsure rookie punter whose borrowed tent fell in on him on his first night in it, to a virtual resident of the press room. These days, I even get to inflict my choice of music on the other punters! Nice…

There’s a lot I love about Greenbelt. Back at the start of the 90s (and the start of me dabbling in this writing thingy), the writing workshops held at Greenbelt’s London HQ were key to my early development as a writer (thanks a lot to guys like Dave Roberts and Martin Wroe, who used to share their insights and expertise with us). The more I went, the more I realised there was more to Greenbelt than music. I’ve discovered an array of writers and thinkers (Caesar Molebatsi, Robert Beckford, Jim Wallis, Phillip Yancey and the late Mike Yaconelli, to name a few), and made lots of friends through my annual pilgrimage to Cheltenham (and to Castle Ashby and Deene Park before that). And of course, I’ve heard more great bands and singers than I care to remember.

On the Greenbelt blog (see my blogroll), there’s a series of “Why I’m Excited” posts, in which people associated with the festival have been talking about what (or who) they’re looking forward to the most. Here’s my “Why I’m Excited” list:

Jars of Clay are playing! So too are Brownmusic, Gil Scott-Heron, Ty, Beverley Knight, Foy Vance, Courtney Pine and Greenjade. Just a few of the acts I don’t want to miss.

They’re screening Africa United on Sunday afternoon (check back here for a review soon after).

A couple of ‘must go’ workshops and panel discussions – including one on storytelling and one on the relationship between music and activism.

The comedy line-up’s brilliant: I have to see Jude Simpson, Milton Jones and Andy Kind (he’s recently been featured on Channel 4’s 4thought.tv – top bloke).

And did I mention that I was Djing? 7Pm on Saturday in the Blue Nun wine bar. Drop by just before Shed Seven on Mainstage…

“All for one, and one for all”

As I write this, we’re just seven hours away to doors open time at the IndigO2, for one of the most eagerly anticipated gospel gigs to take place in the UK – at least as far as I can remember.

Faith Child, Guvna B and Victizzle are just three of the wave of urban acts that have injected some much needed new energy into British gospel music (more specifically, the ‘urban’ rap/grime/garage end of it) in recent years. Tonight, they’re the joint headliners at the prestigious venue, performing under the collective moniker The Three Musketeers (T3M).

The closest I’ve come to making a new year’s resolution in recent years was my decision last year to “do one crazy thing every month”. I think it’s that part of me that admires these three men the most. For three young artists known for ‘Gospel grime’ (a niche within a niche, if there ever was one) to say to themselves, “Let’s put on a gig at the O2” – that’s crazy talk right there.

Crazy it might sound, but it’s certainly not an unreasonable ambition – or even a new one. Nine years ago, I spent a weekend in Holland and met a few Dutch gospel artists. I asked them what their aspirations were, and one of them said, “I would really love to see Dutch Gospel artists put on a concert in Ahoy.” (That’s the 10,000-seater arena in Rotterdam; the venue where Destiny’s Child’s Live DVD was shot, if you’ve seen it) Simply put, the aim of any artist – Gospel or otherwise – is to sing in front of as many pairs of ears as possible. If those ears are linked to hands that are willing to pay you for your trouble, even better.

A lot has been said and written about British Gospel music – and not all of it has been good. It’s the poor relation; the kid whose best has never been good enough for an audience that willingly gobbles up anything that comes from Stateside and bears the ‘Gospel’ label – regardless of whether it’s actually any good. In such an atmosphere, any artist who ignores the naysayers and steps up in such a big way deserves all the support they can get.

The guys’ choice of name speaks volumes too. In my years covering gospel music both in and out of the UK, I’ve always found the British gospel rappers to be the most shining example of a body of brothers (and sisters) working together in unity. I read The Three Musketeers in school, and was always struck by the Musketeers’ motto: “All for one, and one for all.” In my view, these rappers have been living the Musketeers’ motto all throughout their careers.

I bought my ticket a couple of weeks ago (Victizzle sold it to me in person, in the middle of Oxford Street. That’s how dedicated these guys are!). Tonight, I’m going to be at the ringside, blowing my vuvuzela and having a good time. Why don’t you come and join me?

My Mad Novel-writing Experiment

April has been a mental month. But it’s over now – and with it, so is my first attempt at writing a novel.

It kind of helps to know your strengths. However, knowing them too well can sometimes be a pain in the butt. And so it’s been with me where writing is concerned. Doing the non-fiction side of things: no problem. Writing reviews, biogs, reports and other journo-type stuff, I do that in my sleep. Don’t even need editing sometimes.

Writing fiction, however… hmm, now we have a problem. How do you go about devising plots? Giving names to characters? Putting words in other people’s mouths? Making stuff up generally? (and the first smartarse to say “isn’t that what journalists do anyway?” gets a slap) Have I really got it in me? Basically, I would love to write a novel or two (dozen), but just don’t know if I have that many ideas in my head!

And then I stumbled upon NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month): an absolutely mental competition held every November, in which the aim is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. A friend, Steve Lawson, entered it last year, keeping us all informed of his progress via multiple Tweets and Facebook status updates. I checked out the NaNoWriMo website and discovered a book whose very title spoke volumes to me: No Plot? No Problem! (a “low-stress, high velocity” guide to writing a novel in 30 days, written by Chris Baty – the guy who came up with the idea of NaNoWriMo). I promptly put in an order on Amazon; the book arrived three months later (That’s a story in itself. At least I got 3 quid off my next Amazon purchase because of the delay).

The month itself happens in November. I couldn’t be arsed to wait that long, so I went for the first 30-day month in the new year (that’s not to say I won’t do it again in November; in fact, this was a trial run for when the real NaNoWriMo happens). This was going to be my experiment; my ‘one crazy thing’ for the month (one of my new year ‘suggestions’ for 2009 was ‘do one crazy thing each month’). It was me daring myself. If I pulled it off, then at least I knew that the voice in my head saying ‘novel writing’s not for you’ was fibbing. And if not? Well, at least I’d have solid proof that I couldn’t, rather than just the thought that I couldn’t…

Chris Baty’s madcap approach to novel-writing helped in some major ways – the biggest of all being that it completely de-mystified the whole thing. You need that sometimes; you’ll never really master something if you’re totally in awe of it. It also stressed that the object is to write something regardless of how many mistakes you make, or how crap you think it is. Get it down and then after it’s written it can be re-written; advice which was reinforced by another novel-writing buddy, Mags Storey, whom I emailed for advice, saying I was attempting to write a novel in “the daftest way possible” (to which her response was: “What’s the daftest way possible? There’s no right or wrong way to write a novel!” Ta, Mags!).

So how did the month pan out? Kinda like this:

Day 1: Manage to write 27 words. Threw two street kids in a river and let them splash about. Came up with a derogatory name for petrol addicts.
Day 2: Crossed the 1,000-word mark and made a priest swear. More than once.

End of week 1: Word count hovering around the 2,000-word mark. But at least I now have some sort of plot in mind (it came to me as I was walking to the local Chinese buffet to have lunch with some mates from church).

End of week 2: Story’s still floundering. Haven’t really embraced the ‘just let go and write’ concept, methinks. Have overall plot, but not that many sub-plots and little episodes. And still not really sure how to push the characters out there. And I still only really have four characters. Could use a few more. Word count: 4,000-ish (according to the book, I should be in the 20,000 region by now).

Middle of week 3: A couple of crucial things happen that really kick-start the writing process. First I receive an email from Dieon (another writer friend), asking how one deals with writer’s block and such like when attempting to write a book. I have a good, long think and reply with some tips I believe will help her – then kick myself for not having taken my own advice much earlier!

Next, I have a “Sod it; if they say ‘just write’, then just flippin’ write” moment. I start just writing: chunks of dialogue (will assign them to characters later), describing parts of the unspecified town the action’s meant to be taking place in; describing random people who populate the place; giving the few characters I do have long internal monologues in which they just rant (a good way of exploring your own dark side, if you’re that way inclined). I try out the “jet pack” method of writing Chris Baty mentions in the book. Word count doubles in a day.

Day 19: I adopt the desperate (and rather naughty) tactic of sneaking in some novel-writing on the job. I open up a Word doc on my computer, into which I type a couple of paragraphs whenever I have a free moment (tea breaks, lunch, etc.). By the end of the working day, I have added 1,000 words to the novel. Even more shockingly, some of them actually move the plot along.

I also deploy a few more “time-buying” tactics; starting work an hour early, and taking the Tube home instead of the bus. Working from home tomorrow, so I will “jet pack” again…

Day 20: Never really got to do the “jet pack” thing properly, but still added a thousand-plus words to the word count – including a few bits written on the train to Cambridge, on my way to interview someone for the Latin Link CD. What with this, work and Latin Link’s CD to produce this week, I might as well be back at uni during one of those times when I’d have four essay deadlines at once.

Day 21: At work again today. I try a different tactic this time: coming in an hour early, but this time using the extra hour to work on the novel before starting work officially at nine. Again I add a few more words during breaks and other free moments. Add another 2,000 words to the word count – including a big EastEnders-style ‘duf-duf’ moment.

I take the lappy with me when I go PRS-ing in a pub in New Cross Gate later in the evening. It’s an all-metal Battle of the Bands show – and it. Is. LOUD. Strangely, the headbangy music doesn’t inspire me to write a brutal murder scene into the novel. Neither do I feel the urge to include a satanic sacrifice. I’ve already made a priest swear and knock a gangster’s gold tooth down his throat; that’s about as sacrilegious as I’m prepared to get, thanks very much.

Day 23: Decide I’ve sacrificed way too many items in my social calendar in the name of novel-writing. Today, my good friend Candy is having a little drink-up to celebrate leaving her job. No way am I missing that. So I go along to the Jugged Hare pub in the Victoria/Vauxhall area and have a good time.

I’m also supposed to be PRS-ing in the Ministry of Sound tonight, so I leave Candy’s do just before 10 and head to the Elephant & Castle. I arrive at MoS and discover that Miikz (another good friend) is running security. The DJs kick off at 10.30pm, and I haven’t got a clue what any of them are playing. But I do have an Access All Areas wristband, so I spend the duration of my visit sitting in the VIP lounge (or as I found myself calling it, the “Bloody hell, girl; did your Mum see you leaving home dressed like that? OMG, I’ve just turned into my Mum!” lounge), where I write another crucial scene, do major development on a new character I’ve recently added to the story, and beef up some of the other characters’ back-stories. I even tap out a couple of paragraphs on my Blackberry before packing it in as I have no means of transferring notes from my BB to my lappy (a download is in order methinks). When I eventually add the new material to the book, word count exceeds 17k. Good, but still needs a boost – and I still have Latin Link’s CD (and a radio show) to complete this weekend…

Still not happy about the fact that I find writing about writing the novel easier than writing the novel (if that makes any sense).

Day 25: I cross the 20,000 word mark. I have now written more than double my uni dissertation in less than half the time that took me. What does that say about me as a writer? Or, for that matter, about my degree? I may be reading way too much into this…

I’m still nowhere near on target, but I still believe this is possible. I just need to ‘jet pack’ every day this week to pull it off! But even if I do pack it in now, I think I’ve still proved to myself that novel-writing isn’t an impossibility for me (Pack it in? Where did that come from?). Bring on the self-imposed literary torture…

Day 26: Yesterday was long. What with Latin Link’s CD to finish, I ended up going to bed rather late. As a result, my body seems to have gone on strike (and my brain too). Manage to crib 1,000-plus words together in the office, between work work (did the same ‘come in early’ tactic I used last week). Brain absolutely refuses to do anything novel-related when I get home; in fact, I get an extremely severe case of the I-do-not-want-to-do-this-any-mores. I go to bed at 8pm. Wake up around 2-ish, and suddenly cannot stop writing. All sorts of stuff comes to me. If this keeps up today, it will be fantastic. I guess the moral here is that rest is as important a part of the process as work is.

I went for an early morning swim in the pool round the corner from home. One of the things I like about going swimming is that a lot of times when I’ve been writing something, it’s when I’m in the pool that it all falls into place in my head (back in the days before I took up swimming – when I had a gym membership – the steam room was where this would happen. Which is why I dubbed the steam room “the incubator”). That is when I’m writing non-fiction stuff: articles, blog posts, etc. It has never happened the whole time I’ve been writing this novel – until today. Suddenly, ideas start to flow. Random bits of dialogue I’d written to fill space have speakers and situations to go with them. People have back stories. I can see the order in which events are meant to happen. Major breakthrough for me.

Day 27: Apparently struggling again. Not feeling 100% physically. But struggle along and add a few things to a couple of bits I’d already written. Crossed the halfway mark. Finding time to write over the next couple of days is going to be really tough; what with presentations and other work commitments I had kind of forgotten about looming…

Day 28: Will have to do some major workload reshuffling if I am to get more writing in today. Got up relatively early (6am) and wrote for about 90 minutes.

Day 30: Final day of the experiment. Nowhere near the 50k target word count – but that really wasn’t the primary point of this exercise for me. Anyway, let’s see how much we can add on today, eh? I have reshuffled my workload so that I can devote the whole day to this (will do all the Meth House writing I was supposed to do today on Monday. There – that’s my Bank Holiday up the spout. I hate writing…)

The writing binge starts at 6am – even though I woke up at five. Spend more time tweeting than writing that first two hours (bad boy, bad, bad boy). After breakfast, I de-camp to Starbucks at 10am and settle down to write some more. Wi-fi in Starbucks not working. I take this as a sign that there is a God, and that he wants me to write this thing without any distractions. I’ve left the cheap headphones at home and brought out the noise-cancelling cans instead (special day, innit?). I stick some Paul Ewing on the iPod and get stuck in. About three hours (and two big-ass coffees) later, I have the book’s closing chapter and “Yoda moment” written (I have decided that all my novels will have what I call a “Yoda moment” – mostly because I find I enjoy writing “philosophical, worldly-wise old man dispenses wisdom to young Grasshopper” dialogues).

I get home from Starbucks, check up on email, do a little more writing and then go for a swim. Then write (almost) continuously from 8pm until midnight. Have vowed not to check the word count until midnight strikes. Feel myself flagging physically the closer midnight gets. I’ve been writing non-sequentially, so the novel’s beginning and end are already done. The middle, however, is all over the place. But that can be sorted out in the re-writing process, so no worries.

Final word count at midnight on Day 30: 29,231 words.

So, what have I learnt about novel-writing (and, more importantly, about myself) this mad month?

  • Well, I know now that I definitely can write a novel. That’s one voice in my head I won’t be hearing anymore…
  • I’m definitely a “morning person” when it comes to writing stuff like this. The earlier, the better.
  • Contrary to what girls say when they’re being sexist, us blokes can multitask – just as long as it’s doing more than one thing we actually want to do!
  • If you are going to write with a glass of wine in your hand (that nice, romantic picture people have the moment you say “I’m a writer”), then remember: the ‘drink in moderation’ thing still applies. Especially if you’re writing after a busy day at work, whatever your job is. People talk rubbish when they’re plastered – and guess what? They also WRITE rubbish when they’re plastered!
  • You probably know this already, but reading does wonders for your writing. I joined a book group at work, and we started reading David Nicholls‘ novel One Day. I’ve only read the first two chapters so far, but I have already picked up some brilliant ideas on how to get a story moving from it.
  • Also, we do like to keep our work in progress ‘under wraps’ and then make a big public announcement once it’s done. But occasionally throwing bits out while you’re working on it can be a good way of testing how it’s going, or even for picking up ideas. I posted a couple of quotes from the novel as Facebook status updates. They started some fun conversations, and even added a comic twist to one minor sub-plot (ta for that one, Sara-Jane!)
  • Daring yourself to try something new is a good (if absolutely mental) way of learning how to do it. The opening line of the book was “Here goes nothing!” because when I was learning to swim (something else I only learnt to do much later in life than usual) that’s what I would say whenever I decided to just jump into the pool and get on with it. “Just write” sounds like terrible advice – especially if you’re used to more methodic, factual writing. But it does work! Certainly in my case, the day I had my “Sod it; just write” moment in Week 3 was the point at which the book really started coming together. Sometimes just the act of writing opens up the mind. Ideas start flowing. So yes – one good way of fighting writer’s block is just to write! Dare yourself!

Well, the experiment’s over now. So what next? The book’s far from finished, but I am going to let it rest for a bit; a couple of months, at least. I already have another book-writing project that’s going to keep me occupied for the next couple of months (a ghost-writing gig – with a proper contract and for real money. Wahey!). I’ll come back to this once that is done, arrange it in some proper order, and see what I can do with it.

Yep – that was my April. How was yours?