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Ring Them Bells: A Novel in a Month

by Jane Shortall


A fabulous month here in southern France, as the snow begins to fall on the high mountains, leaves cling to many of the trees, especially the mighty oaks, and the big winter chill is still far away, our worst weather being February and March, when temperatures can go to eleven below. But late autumn and early winter is a wonderful, uplifting, exhilarating time of year, with bracing air, colors ranging from gold to deepest bronze, dazzling sunshine and blue skies most days. It feels like being part of a huge picture postcard as we walk in the woods and still sit outside, a bit more muffled up, having lunch, taking advantage of this stunning place.

But I was to see very little of all this November beauty this year, except to look out of the window and then back to my screen, because I, like thousands of other crazies, had signed up for the National Novel Writing Month. I was to sit in my office and take on the challenge thrown down by the California based organisation, and write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Yes. Nothing but serious writing then, during the month of November. This was the grand plan.

The very idea of writing, in some sort of order, with a storyline that makes sense, 50,000 words in just 30 days, was mighty challenge to me. It seems so impossible that it is difficult not to attempt it, and see where the adventure takes us? I normally write factual articles of between 1000 and 1500 words, and over these efforts, I agonize for hours, eventually sending it off to an editor with a thought lurking in my brain, like an old school report that says 'could have done better if only had tried harder'...

That is not strictly the case of course and I do exaggerate a little, because in truth, I have an excellent track record of writing articles for various publications in three countries, and I'm not finished by any means; after my novel writing month, a New Lady Novelist may be ready to emerge!

For me, gathering facts and taking photographs of this magnificent countryside and the people who live here, is not at all difficult. Whether it be meeting the men who hunt the wild boar, or seeing the making of one of the many French cheeses, high in the mountains, made the same way for a hundred years, seems to me to be easy, as the things are already there. The boar hunters and cheese makers exist, I do not have to invent them, I am merely an observer, telling how wonderful, how timeless, how rich our life is here.

Pity then, my appalling, no, spectacular is a better word to describe my lack of creativity on the first day of November, the day the great project began, as I sat here with no story in my head and looked at the screen, waiting for inspiration to strike. Nothing. I wrote up some notes on various other things and with plenty of time to get something written before my dear friend Maggie's dinner party to celebrate her 75th birthday, I went upstairs, took out the full length white and silver affair bought in Egypt years ago, that I planned to wear that evening. I put it on, (why?) paired it with some very long ear-rings and walked around a bit. Lovely. Maggie had requested that everyone dress up and as I looked at the outfit in the mirror, I thought back to the trip, the heat of Egypt, the breath-taking beauty of the Nile.

I thought of other places I loved. North Africa of course, Italy, the very north of Norway with the northern lights, Dubai, New York, maybe I'll go back there in 2008? I thought of how amazing and vast the United States is and wondered if anyone had ever seen as much of it as they wanted? Probably not, I reckoned. My brother, when a student, spent almost ten hours crossing Montana. Wow. If we started in Dublin and drove west for ten hours we would be well out into the Atlantic, on our way to Boston.

I did not think of the screen, the keyboard, downstairs in the quiet office, waiting for me to begin. No, I was prancing around the third floor in party clothes, hauling up memories. Like hopping over to London — can it be thirty years ago? — to see the amazing Liza Minnelli at the famous Palladium. No one else would come. Did I care? I went on my own and loved every second of it, as she positively sizzled on that stage. I have expressed my admiration for Liza on other occasions I'm sure; I wonder if she would like to meet me, before we all get too senior?

I hummed the opening lines of the hilarious and witty 'Ring them Bells' and I was suddenly back downstairs in my office, still dressed as an Egyptian with dangling ear-rings, and in a trice it seemed, the first page of my novel was done. Long before I began to get properly ready for Maggie's party I had almost two thousand words written. I had invented my heroine, she was going on a trip, suddenly I was up and away with the project.

Ho hum, this is a wonderful feeling, I thought, as the next few days flew by in similar vein. My heroine met a man on the flight out of JFK. He had lovely eyes and knew about horses. What a scribe I am?

Then, on the seventh day of the great creative project, my notes read 'very bad novelling day. But did a massive clear-out of the ground floor.'

Then came a message to all us novelists from a professional writer, Sue Grafton, and out jumped the following words; 'at this point, a little note of doubt may creep into your consciousness.'

Sue suggested that after the initial rush of words, we may find something is amiss. She was right. I now found everything was amiss, my confidence down in my boots. A pair of dashing, 'Pirates of the Caribbean' type, high suede boots, which I had bought on ebay and, when they arrived, spent an hour trying them on with different outfits. Instead of trying to make my woman begin her adventure. I felt my heroine was a shallow, silly person, over concerned about her mother's attitude to her life, for someone well into her forties?

The following days were no better, and another note said 'Wine Fair Toulouse, excellent day, spent lots of money. Only 5,000 words behind now.'


Page Two of Ring Them Bells>>


Copyright©2007 Jane Shortall for SeniorWomenWeb
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