Weaponised fish custard and the Brontë legacy: The NaNoWriMo novelling phenomenon taking over Yorkshire

The NaNoWriMo logo – Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

By Tania Jacquier

HUNDREDS OF people in Yorkshire are preparing to put their lives on hold for a month as they tackle a marathon 50,000 word novel-writing challenge.

Last year, nearly 1,000 people from the region took part in National Novel Writing Month, penning over 16 million words between them, making Yorkshire the most active region in the UK outside London.

Local organiser Sam Widdowson said: “Yorkshire has a notable history of inspiring keynote writers – Bram Stoker at Whitby, and the Brontë sisters. Maybe a little of whatever infected them has crept its way into the bones of writers today.”

Claire Simpson, who worked on the event from 2006 to 2016 said: “There’s that good Northern stubbornness that keeps the writers sticking at it!”

The novel writing month, known as NaNoWriMo, is a global phenomenon which began in America in 1999 with just 21 writers. By 2016, there were 384,126 participants across six continents.

Grant Faulkner, executive director of the programme, said: “It takes courage, grit, resilience – and wild imaginative leaps – to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month. Our stories determine the future of our world.”

There is a huge network online of novelists supporting each other through the challenge, including on the official forums, on Twitter, and through the site’s blog, which features pep talks from guest authors.

A NaNoToon from 2016 – a typical scene at a ‘write-in’; coffee, laptops, and bizarre, book-related conversations. Copyright of Errol Elumir.

NaNoToons’ and ‘NaNoWriMo: The Musical’, both the brainchild of veteran participant Errol Elumir, 46, are also part of the NaNoWriMo phenomenon.

He said: “I had never written a musical before: what better way to do it but during NaNoWriMo, about NaNoWriMo.

“With NaNoToons, I know a lot of people during NaNoWriMo use it as encouragement to get them through the month.”

Fitting writing around home life can be a struggle. Mr Widdowson said: “My friends understand they’re not going to hear from me during November. Everything non-essential goes on hold while I write my novel.”

For Mr Widdowson, it was a Write-in organised by Ms Simpson which got him through his first NaNoWriMo. He said: “I’d never have finished if I hadn’t experienced the heady excitement of a room full of writers taking turns between socialising and sprint-writing. Once I’d experienced that, I felt I had to belong.”

He admits that his first attempt was ‘a baptism of fire’, but it had him hooked. He said: “The home stretch is my favourite period, I’m eat-sleep-breathing my novel. This is what keeps me coming back. It’s the point when I feel like I’m reading this awesome novel, that’s got everything in it I love, except that I’m writing it.”

This year, he is writing children’s fiction, a series of pirate adventures he told his daughter as bedtime stories. He said: “As it’s for fairly young children the characters are an odd mix of people and animals, and actual violence is replaced with weaponised fish custard.

“The custard is disgusting enough that anybody would give their treasure over to avoid being doused in it more than once.”

To anyone thinking of signing up for the challenge, he says: “Do it. Cancel your plans for November, get onto the site right now and sign yourself up. You’ll make new friends, experience something new and you’ll be glad you did.

“I know I am.”

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