Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo 2013

NaNoWriMo – Day 12 – General Despair

When I signed up for NaNoWriMo I knew that the chances were high I would become completely stressed out at one point or another. And I knew if that happened, it would be really bad (because for various reasons I’m not dealing with stress very well these days).

Well, guess what! I hit this point a lot earlier than I expected, namely on Day 10 of NaNoWriMo. Uh-oh. Lying rolled up on the floor and sucking my thumb would have been one possibility to deal with the situation. However, the floor is rather hard (no carpet) (well…I could have bought a carpet, I suppose) and the whole thing might have worried my family a tiny little bit (not to speak of the doggie sister! she might have been traumatised by seeing me lying on the floor, sucking my thumb!) (ah, well, probably not; most likely, she would have just licked my face…and then my ear…and then the inside of my ear…ugh!).

So instead of the floor-option, I took deep breath (figuratively and literally) and a step back (just figuratively) and thought about what I wanted from NaNoWriMo.

50,000 words, no matter how bad?

No, actually not.

I know that on the NaNo forums and in blog posts about NaNoWriMo you hear a lot about how the first draft is always crap. Well, here’s the thing: that’s simply not true. Some authors produce a first draft in a very short time and then go through several rewrites — and this works absolutely fine for them. Yet it just doesn’t work for me: I’m a slow writer, but to make up for that, my first drafts normally just need some tweaking instead of major rewrites.

So I’ve decided that instead of stressing myself out over my word count for NaNoWriMo, I will simply proceed at my own pace and try to write the best story I can. Moreover, I’ve found that stories sometimes need a bit of space to breathe during the writing process, especially when they are very emotionally charged. When I write such stories, I feel wrung out after each writing session. Well, and guess what kind of story I’ve picked for my NaNoWriMo project!

To illustrate my point, I’ll leave you with a snippet from a scene I wrote this weekend. It’s a chance meeting between the hero and the heroine (who know each other from their youth – it’s a second-chance-at-love story):

“It was very good of you to play the piano for us last night,” he said gently.

She threw him a quick glance as if wanting to gauge his intentions. “Not at all,” she said, hiding her face once more. “I wouldn’t have been able to dance anyway, what with being still in mourning.”

“Ah yes,” he gravely replied. “My condolences at your loss.”

Her head whipped around and glittering brown eyes bore into his. “You shouldn’t—“ she began almost angrily, but then bit her lip. For whatever reason, new streaks of red slashed across her cheeks.

She glanced away, yet perhaps driven by that same force that kept him rooted to the spot, she sought his gaze again after a few heartbeats. “You know it was no love match,” she finally said quietly. “I do not—“ She stopped, chewed on her lip. “I do not miss him,” she whispered. She looked across the shop, presenting him with her profile.

How thin her face had become, almost haggard.

“Did you ever meet him?” she asked softly. “He was rather … old.”

“How old?” he felt compelled to ask, his voice gruff.

She bowed her head. “More than thirty years my senior.”

NaNoWriMo – Day 9: Setting the Scene

The setting has always been an integral part of my books, and over the years many reviewers have remarked upon the descriptions of the setting in my novels. When my debut novel The Lily Brand came out in 2005, Robyn Roberts from Once Upon a Romance remarked:

Ms. Schwab gave such detailed descriptions of the estates, gardens and people that I felt as if I knew them myself.

And when Castle of the Wolf was published in 2007, Sandra Marlow from the Historical Romance Club wrote in her review that

Ms. Schwab’s writing has a flow that pulls you into her stories so subtly that you forget you’re just reading a book instead of actually interacting with her characters. I finally have visited the Black Forest of Germany.

Truly, there is no greater compliment for a writer than “I was right there with the characters.” (Well, “I stayed up all night to read this book” isn’t too bad either! *g*) I’ve always had this particular knack for descriptions – indeed, even when everything else about my writing was pretty much crap, I could pull of descriptions of the setting.

But how do you do it without overwhelming your reader with pages after pages of endless descriptions?

I tend to think of describing the setting as layering the scene, and I was reminded of this when I was working on one particular scene of my NaNoWriMo project this week. So I thought I’d share my process with you. Here’s what I started out with. This is the beginning of the scene that introduces the hero:

Alex entered the City through Temple Bar and was immediately enveloped by the hustle and bustle of Fleet Street.

Well… Nice, but a bit bland, isn’t it? It doesn’t evoke any specific images, instead what you get is a rather blurred view of a busy street. However, for historical fiction, I think it’s very important to take your reader into the scene and let him catch glimpses of that faraway, long-ago world your characters inhabit. So, let’s add a few things, shall we?

I like working with visual cues – that makes it easier for me to get a feeling for the setting and to describe things – so I started by doing a Google search for images of nineteenth-century street life. I also searched for period maps.

Depending on your setting, you can really find the most amazing things online, ranging from drawings, cartoons, and photographs of street scenes to beautifully detailed maps and descriptions in old magazines. Now that we’ve collected all this info, let’s work on our sentence and let’s start with Temple Bar (the online search yielded that it once separated the Strand from Fleet Street and was used in the olden days to display the heads of executed traitors):

Alex entered the City through Temple Bar, which had once been crowned by the heads of executed traitors. The only sightless heads staring down from it now where the two Charleses on their pedestals high up above the bustling street. Arrogantly, their stony eyes watched watched the efforts of carts, carriages, and pedestrians to press through the gates.

Much better, isn’t it? Now you get a glimpse of that construction the hero is passing through, and you also have this nice contrast between the immobile statues of Temple Bar and the movements in the street. Fleet Street was one of the main thoroughfares through the City of London, and as such it was prone to traffic jams. In one of Gustave Doré’s illustrations of London in the 1870s, you can see Ludgate Hill and rather horrid press of traffic:

In the middle of the foreground you can just about make out a horse-drawn omnibus, with passengers sitting on the roof, while in the background at the right a flock of sheep blocks the street.

A flock of sheep??? Now wouldn’t this be something! (If you’ve read any of my novels, you know that I’m often attracted to the weird and slightly ludicrous…. *g*) So, let’s give our readers some glimpses of what the “hustle and bustle” in the sentence from which we started out, actually refers to. And let’s add some noise to involve more senses:

A bleating flock of sheep blocked the path of an omnibus, and the driver swore a blue streak, waving his fist at the woolly [hooligans]. Passengers were hanging out of the windows, complaining about the delay, while behind the bus along line of carriages had become stuck. A hearse, going in the opposite direction to the Strand, tried to pass by and nearly ran down a boardman, sandwiched between advertisements of the latest fabric cleaner and hairwater.

Boardmen carrying advertisements were part of the fleet of poor people you could see milling about the streets of London. In 1870s photographer John Thomson ventured out to take pictures of these people, of the street sellers and beggars and chimney sweeps and shoe-blacks. Several of his photographs are featured in the book Dickens’s Victorian London and you can see examples of his work here. I’ve added the boardman advertising Renovo and the shoe-black to my scene as well as another kind of street seller featured in Henry Mayhew’s The London Poor. Oh, and I’ve also added smells (in the early Victorian Age, even several of the better areas in London had problems with their sewers):

The din reminded Alex of an Eastern bazaar, but as for the smell—

He wrinkled his nose.

It would appear that today Fleet Street was permeated by the poignant aroma of l’eau de sewer.

And that’s what an Englishman calls civilisation, he thought wryly. He stepped around a shoeblack, who huddled against a wall covered in advertising posters.

In the rise and flow of vehicles and pedestrians from all walks of life, nobody paid much attention to the tall, blond man, his face deeply tanned by Eastern suns. But then, how could they have known that here walked Alexander Crenshaw, a man whose adventures in America and in the Far East many a reader had followed avidly? Indeed, to his own surprise, Alex had found that in the seven years he had spent away from England, he had become something of a celebrity. Society hostesses vied for his attention, invited him to their balls and parties, and men were eager to talk to him, to invite him to their clubs.

A great bother, all of it, really, yet if it ultimately helped to bring in additional funds for Layard’s excavations, Alex would not complain. He owed the man a lot, and the least he could do was to properly prepare for Layard’s arrival in a few months’ time […].

Further down the street, across from St Dunstan’s, a muffin-man ran his bell vigorously and proclaimed his ware. As Alex walked past him, a whiff of warm muffins and crumpets rose from the street seller’s basket to tickle Alex’s nostrils.

See? Isn’t this so much better than “Alex entered the City through Temple Bar and was immediately enveloped in the hustle and bustle of Fleet Street”? While our starting sentence was rather bland and gave the reader only the vaguest impression of this Victorian scene, in the fleshed-out paragraphs the scene comes to life, and you allow your reader to experience the sights and sounds and smells of a Victorian street scene

NaNoWriMo – Day 7: Food for Thought (and for Your Characters!)

I love including references to food in my novels – after all I love eating (who doesn’t?) (okay, well, some people don’t). I have several research books on food (as an author one has to be prepared for everything and anything!):

  • Bruno Laurioux, TAFELFREUDEN IM MITTELALTER (about food in the Middle Ages; I’ve had this book for 14 years and have never once used it, but you never know!)
  • Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye, THE JANE AUSTEN COOKBOOK
  • Jane Pettigrew, A SOCIAL HISTORY OF TEA
  • Claire Masset, TEA AND TEA DRINKING (Shire Library book = always good, with many, many illustrations!)
  • Ivan Day, ICE CREAM (another Shire Library book)
  • Krista D. Ball, WHAT KINGS ATE AND WIZARDS DRANK: A FANTASY LOVER’S FOOD GUIDE (also quite interesting for the writer of historical fiction; includes such gems as: “My eighty-three-year old father has been hunting most of his life and he offers his advice to the hero wanting to hunt rabbits while being chased by orcs: go hungry.”)
  • Marcus Gavius Apicius, DE RE COQUINARIA (cookbook in Latin and German; have never used it either, but you never know!)
  • MRS BEETON’S BOOK OF HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT (two different editions, both sadly lacking the colour plates – hmph)
  • Gervase Markham, THE WELL-KEPT KITCHEN

In addition, I also own two books on the history of chocolate, but they are both on top of one of my kitchen cabinets (aka far away from my desk and my computer, and I’m really lazy right now and don’t want to get up and walk to the kitchen and climb onto a chair and fetch the books)

(Goodness! I do own a lot of books on food, don’t I? I didn’t know how many until I’ve just hunted them down in the research section of my home library.)

I also own various other books on tea-ware, on china (various books on china, in fact), and a history of Burleigh. Moreover, food is also mentioned in several other research books that are not specifically about food. (Survival guides are particularly good if you want to learn about skinning fish.) (Why would you want to learn about skinning fish, you ask? Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps in one of your books you have a  heroine who feels the urgent need to talk about skinning fish while dancing with the hero at a high-society ball. Just saying…)

The internet is also a wonderful place for doing research on food in the past – try looking on Google Books for old cookbooks! Personally, I really like Frederick Nutt’s THE COMPLETE CONFECTIONER. Bergamot drops for your hero? Nutt has ’em!

In the current chapter of my NaNoWriMo project, my heroine is attending a dinner party, so of course, I had to include at least some throw-away references to the food that is served at this party. And because I knew that Mrs Beeton is unbeatable when it comes to visual guides on how to present food in the nineteenth century, I did a search on Mrs Beeton and fowl and ended up with the picture above. Isn’t it splendid? Especially the way in which the roast partridges and pigeons and fowl are holding up their little roast feet! That was just too good not to use:

Fran stared at the roast pigeons on their splendid silver platter in the middle of the table, daintily stretching their little roast legs up in the air, and thought she might be sick.

NaNoWriMo – Day 6: Inspiration

And yet another way to get inspired for NaNoWriMo and to get past the dreaded mid-book blues: receiving a truly wonderful review for the novel you’ve just released! (Woohooo!)

Today I found the November edition of the German magazine LoveLetter in the mail. It not only includes an article by yours truly, but also a review of SPRINGTIME PLEASURES. It’s fair to say that the reviewer loved the book: she compares the banter between the protagonists and the humour of SPRINGTIME PLEASURES to those in Hollywood comedies and calls the novel a “small jewel of a story”.

Battling with the Muse has suddenly become much less of a hardship. 🙂

NaNoWriMo – Day 5: Abysmal

Words written today: 432 (squeezed in during a 35-minute lunch break)


But at least I’ve managed to torment my heroine for a bit (my heroine, the Dowager Lady Clifford, has just arrived at a dinner party & is announced by a footman) (excerpt that follows is rough – just so it can’t be said I haven’t warned you!):

The party, Frances saw with relief, was indeed a small one. There were no more than ten or twelve people present. In one corner of the room a small gaggle had formed around a tall, blond man, who stood with his back to the door.

Frances frowned. A small shiver of foreboding slid down her spine.

“—and the Dowager Lady Clifford.”

The man turned.

He was older, of course, and his face deeply tanned by the Eastern sun. There were new lines in his face that had not been there seven years ago.

Their gazes met and clung—for one endless, awful, wonderful moment.

Her breathing stopped, perhaps even her heartbeat. Oh Alex, she thought. Alex…

But the moment passed, and his eyes slid away, and he gave no sign that he knew her at all.

NaNoWriMo – Day 4: What to do when you’re stuck

Typically, when I reach Chapter 3 or 4 of any new project, the dreaded mid-book blues hits: that feeling that your story is crap, that it’s the worst thing ever written in the whole history of mankind, and where the heck do you want to go from here anyway?

Apparently, this is a perfectly normal process a lot of writers go through and doesn’t necessarily mean that your story is really so bad that reading it would have killed the dinosaurs (if they had been able to read, that is). The trick is to overcome this feeling and to continue writing (because, let’s face it, curling up into a ball and sucking your thumb helps neither with your story nor with your word count — not to mention that it makes you look rather ridiculous, too).

So what do you do when the mid-book blues hits? Here are a few ideas:

  • If you haven’t yet done an outline of your novel, do it now. This might help you to recognise themes and motifs in your novel (I’ll do a separate post on my method of outlining soon.)
  • Write a scene from later in the book (aka the patchwork approach to writing a novel)
  • If you have a writing buddy, phone her or e-mail her and talk about your project. A fresh pair of eyes might give you a new perspective on your novel.
  • Do a mock-up cover for your book – this typically gets me really, really excited about a new project.
  • Do some (light! at least during NaNoWriMo) background research on your setting — this might give you ideas for new scenes or ideas how to expand existing scenes
  • Go for a walk to “air” your brain. 🙂
  • What a film to let other people’s creativity inspire you. (I find Studio Ghibli films extremely inspiring. Watching those beautiful animated films always makes me want to sit down and write and create something myself.)
Happy writing!

NaNoWriMo – Day 3: Naming Your Characters

Coming up with names for your characters can be tricky, especially when you are writing historical fiction. After all, you wouldn’t want to give your nineteenth-century British heroine a name like Charlene (which is a twentieth-century name that is mainly used in North America and Australia), would you? But never fear: there are tools to help you!

A dictionary of first names is always a good investment. I have A Concise Dictionary of First Names by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges from Oxford University Press, which I love because it gives you a short explanation and history for each name, e.g.

Frances: Feminine form of Francis. In the 16th century the two spellings were used indiscriminately for both sexes, the distinction in spelling not being established until the 17th century.
Short form: Fran
Pet form: Franny

These days, however, I mostly use another book to find names for my characters, namely an 1833 edition of Debrett’s Peerage, which is basically an index of all the peers of the United Kingdom. Apart from titles and names, the book also offers some information about the family history: 

DUDLEY RYDER, Earl of HARROWBY, Viscount Sandon, co. Stafford, Lord Harrowby, of Harrowby, co. Lincoln, High Steward of Tiverton, D.C.L., F.A.S.; born 22 Dec. 1762; succeeded his father, Nathaniel, the late lord, 20 June 1803;  created, 19 July 1809, Viscount Sandon and Earl of Harrowby; married, July 1795, Susan Levison-Gower, da. of Granville, 1st marquess of Stafford, K.G., (by Susan Stuart, da. of Alexander, 7th earl of Galloway), and has issue, – 1. SUSAN, b. 20 June 1796, m., June 1817, Hugh, viscount Ebrington, eldest son of the earl of Fortescue, and d. 30 July 1827; – 2. DUDLEY, viscount Sandon, b. 7 May 1797, M.P. for Liverpool; m. at Berne, 15 Sept. 1823, Frances, da. of John, 1st marquess of Bute, and has issue, 1. Frances, b. Sept 1824; 2. Dudley, b. 5 Jan. 1828 […]

 As you can see in the image above, people would add handwritten notes with additional information, for example about births and deaths: the nineteenth-century owner of my copy of Debrett’s has added a “d” for died or dead in front of Susan Levison-Gower’s name. Thus, Debrett’s also has a way of confronting you with the harsher realities of life in the nineteenth-century: even in noble families many children didn’t survive past infancy; mothers died in childbed, young men were lost at sea.

What you also find is that fancy names were rather uncommon (at least among the upper classes). Men were given traditional English names such as William, John, George, Peter, Thomas, Henry, James, Charles, Robert, and sometimes Augustus or Nathaniel. A greater variation appeared to have existed when it came to women’s names: the most common of those were names like Mary, Maria, Emma, Caroline, Catherine, Anne, Sophia, Elizabeth, Susan(na), Jane, Charlotte, Henrietta, Louisa. But you can also find more exotic names such as Urania-Annabella (poor child) (in the Wallop family, Urania seems to have been a popular name as it pops up in several generations) or Meliora-Emily.

Moreover, I use Debrett’s for inspiration for last names and titles. Thus the entry I cited above inspired the name of a secondary character in my NaNoWriMo project: my heroine’s brother-in-law is called Nathaniel Ryder.

NaNoWriMo – Day 2: NaNoWriMo in Pictures

Day 1: 6:30 a.m.
NaNoWriMo starts

Day 1: 10:30 a.m.:
Successfully completed first leg of the challenge 

Day 2: 2:30 p.m.:
Bad planning: I spent the morning doing research
because I hate it when it don’t know where exactly my characters are 

Day 2: 4:50 p.m.
Things are proceeding slowly today on account of many descriptive passages.
Probably too many descriptions. We’ll see.

Springtime Pleasures & NaNoWriMo 13 – Day 1

I do apologise: I’ve been a bad blogger. *hangs her head in shame* I really do need to get back the hang of blogging on a regular basis. I mean, I didn’t even announce the publication of SPRINGTIME PLEASURES here. Argh! *head desk*

Yes, SPRINGTIME PLEASURES has come out and has already garnered some very nice reviews. The German LoveLetter magazine called it “a small jewel” and Mel from bookworm2bookworm wrote about the novel:

“If I was given one word to describe ‘Springtime Pleasures’ I would choose ‘cute’, but I’m so glad not to have to choose only one word because this is one of those books that will have you smile long after you’re done reading it.”

 “Cute” was also how Carole Rae described the story:

“Overall, this was a cute and fun and simply adorable. I simply loved the added letters. It really added a special-ness to it. I’m also so glad that Sandra Schwab made the HEA between Charlie and Griff a little harder to obtain. I shall recommend this to those that love HRs and for those looking for a book that will make them smile.”

Oh, I LOVE making my readers smile! 🙂

You can buy the ebook online from Amazon (a print edition will follow in a few days’ time), or you can enter one of several giveaways:

Good luck!


In other news: I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo 2013, i.e., National Novel Writing Month, when thousands of writers from all around the world aim to write a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. I start off my first NaNoWriMo as a NaNo Rebel because I’m not exactly writing a novel, but something else. A secret project. Shhhhh.

You can find my NaNo profile here – if you’re joining the NaNo madness, please feel free to add me as your Writing Buddy!

Today started quite well: so far I’ve written 2609 words and have already made my heroine almost cry. I will proceed to ruin my hero’s day tomorrow. 🙂

Here’s a snippet from today’s chapters (please remember that this is a raw, very raw, first draft!):

“Have you heard? Devil’s back,” said the men in the alehouses of London, with whom he had drunk and gambled and sometimes fought, ugly, brutal tavern brawls, not at all fitting for one of the house of Crenshaw. In the Cider Cellar, which could boast to have been his favourite haunt, they sang a raucous song in his honour, toasting the man who would laugh Satan himself in the face.

Stay tuned for further NaNoWriMo updates!