This year I had fewer words in rough draft to build on when I started, but more idea of where the story was going (last year I had a beginning and an ending, but got bogged down with the middle and also with the back story).
This time I know what the back story is, and am forcing myself to keep writing forward and not stress too much over research details that I can check when I do my first editing pass (although I spent a little time on the train today reading up on the Open University after deciding it was what I needed to give my protagonist a little more depth).
I also gave up on the idea of having a timeline set in stone. There are one or two pivotal moments in the plot that have to take place in a particular month, but the timing for the rest of the story can be stretched or squeezed if necessary in my later editing passes.
I've been posting excerpts over at the LJ community, but thought I'd put them together here for completeness' sake.
It was noon when Linda left Coventry. She kept off the motorways and A roads, wanting to delay her arrival, and the inevitability that she would be arriving without Paul for as long as she could. Several times she found herself pulling into a lay-by, and waiting for tears that wouldn't come. Eventually she arrived in Ashbourne, and turned into the car park of the Rupert Peveril hotel.
She got out, slung her handbag over her shoulder, and walked around to the boot. Then she paused, unsure whether she really wanted to stay here. Paul had lived in the town as a child; it had happy memories for him, although he had no family here now. Would he have wanted to have been buried here, if he had known he was going to die so young? Linda supposed he would be buried in Coventry somewhere – or would he be cremated? Would Tracy know to bring his ashes up to Derbyshire and scatter them over the hills he had walked as a teenager?
Leaving her suitcase and bags in the car, Linda walked into the hotel, and through to the Public Bar. She ordered a white wine, and retreated to a far corner away from the old men who sat by the big windows overlooking the road. What to do now? Should she sign in after finishing her drink – the room was paid for after all? Should she walk around the town first – try to clear her head – and then decide if she had travelled far enough for one day? Should she leave her wine here, and just drive – keep going until she reached somewhere no one would ever think to look for her?
She was surprised to note that he was Australian. Or a New Zealander -- she could never quite keep the different accents straight in her head.
“How about a room for the night? Does anyone around here do Bed and Breakfast?” At this time of the year most places would be empty, save for the odd travelling salesman. There was a good chance the landlady of such an establishment would happily take a little extra money in return for cooking dinner. In fact that was probably what she did for her regulars anyway, Linda thought.
“Not in Lower Pemberley -- that's here if you hadn't seen the sign -- but you might get lucky in Upper Pemberley.” He pointed in a direction that was at a vague right-angle to the road outside. “Keep going as far as the church, turn right, through the gates and over the cattle grid, up past the big house, then another hundred yards and you're there.”
“I'm sorry, dear.” She folded the tea-towel, and slipped it into the pocket at the front of her – very floury – apron. “I wasn't expecting anyone today. Did you ring the bell?” She reached over and switched on the ceiling light.
Linda nodded, dazzled more by the vibrant orange and yellow sunflower wallpaper than by the light itself.
“You're not a Jehovah's Witness are you?”
“No I'm – ” an atheist? not a churchgoer? “ – I'm firmly Church of England.”
“We get them sometimes. Bussed out from Bakewell, I expect. Not that they're likely to convert anyone around here, but I suppose you can't blame them for trying.” She looked Linda up and down. You can't be here about the eggs, because it's not Tuesday...”
“You don't have to decide right now, dear.” The woman wiped her hands down the front of her apron. “I'm forgetting myself. I'm Elaine Ollerenshaw. Do you need a hand with your bags? There's just me, but I don't suppose you've got more than we can manage between the pair of us.”
On the way back to her car, and then up to her room, Linda learned that the guest house had formerly been the farm manager's residence, but the current incumbent of that position had a house in Lower Pemberley. The Duke, who at the time had 'just buried his father and brother', had kindly allowed Mrs Ollerenshaw to stay on in the tied accommodation providing she could find a way of paying the rent. 'Not that it's much rent, mind, but the money from paying guests does help to see that it gets paid regularly on the first of the month.'
And then the section that closes the first chapter:
What of that career now, though? Linda would go back to work in two weeks, and everyone would know. They would be sympathetic, of course, but there would always be talk. She would always be the DI who'd slept with her boss. People would wonder whether she'd got that promotion on merit – which she had – or if Paul had been pulling strings for his mistress even then. No matter how many times she would tell people that the affair had begun after her promotion, the whispers would continue. She was unlikely to make DCI now, not if she stayed in Coventry, possibly not even if she move to the other end of the country. The rumours would always follow her.
Those were all worries for another day. She would go downstairs, tell Mrs Ollerenshaw that she planned to stay for the whole fortnight, and then eat the roast beef that she could now smell cooking downstairs.
Linda sat up, wiped an arm across her eyes, and then set off to the bathroom across the landing to scrub the tear streaks from her face before dinner.
Linda was woken by the sun shining on her face. She stretched, took in the birdsong outside and the rose-patterned white wallpaper in the room, and slowly remembered where she was. A wave of grief hit her. Paul was gone, and she had never told him... anything really: they had talked, laughed, planned, but had they ever really known each other? She had expected all that to have come with time; time they had never had together.
She needed to do something to keep her mind busy, stop her dwelling on what she couldn't change. Wasn't that what Mum had always said?
Mum! Linda's mother would be wondering where she was, probably more so than Keith. The last thing Linda wanted was for people to be worrying about her, or worse yet for a missing person's enquiry to be opened into her 'disappearance'. She would have to phone at her usual time today, and let Mum know she was – if not all right, then at least still alive and in one piece.
Keith – if he was looking for Linda at all – would phone Mum, probably before he phoned any of Linda's friends. Mum could pass a message on to him as well, and save Linda the problem of actually speaking to him, of trying to tell him why she had left, and why she wouldn't be coming back: not now, maybe not ever.
She couldn't go back. Even before Paul, her life with Keith had been empty – a hollow shell of a marriage – for far to long. It was too late to fix it now. It had been too broken to fix long before she and Paul ever met.
Linda threw back the covers. She would have breakfast, that's what she'd do. Then she'd go for a walk around the village, find a phone box to call Mum from, and maybe see if there was somewhere to have a cup of tea away from the house this early in the season.
Most of the houses were smaller than that she was staying in, and many were in short terraces with a yard to the front and a long garden – often given over to vegetables, chickens, or in one case goats and a pig – behind. The village had a butcher's shop, a grocer, a newsagent, a sub-post office, an ironmonger and even a tiny bank – this last in what appeared to be an old prefab building. There was a church of similar age and style to that in Lower Pemberley, complete with extensive graveyard and a war memorial, a sturdy-looking village hall, with a small recreation ground behind it, and a primary school, where the two doors marked 'Boys' and 'Girls' both still appeared to be in regular use.
Keith wasn't a bad husband; he just had too little in common with Linda, and too widely divergent expectations of what their marriage should entail. He had never discouraged Linda from seeking promotion, or from enrolling on her Open University courses – which, after all, gave her something to do when he was on the night shift – but he had never encouraged her either. Keith had never wanted to talk about Linda's studies like Paul had, and had certainly never given more than one or two words in reply when she started to tell him what she had learned that week.
Mum had encouraged Linda in her studies, and Dad probably would have too, if he'd still been alive. It had been his death that had spurred Linda to finally fill in and post her application form. At the time she could see herself staying on in the force until she retired. Extra education was never a bad thing to have, though, to keep her mind active, to give her an interest outside the job, and to give her more of a chance of finding other work should something happen to make her leave the force. Incidents happened, in the line of duty – like Paul – or outside work, that made continuing as an active officer impossible.
“Come home, love. You shouldn't be staying with strangers the state you're in.”
“No, Mum, I'll be fine.” Linda swallowed. “I'm staying with good people – you'd like them – let me work this out in my own time.”
“Can you at least give me a phone number, in case I need to get in touch? I promise I won't ring unless it's an emergency.”
Linda started to flick through the Yellow Pages for Mrs Ollerenshaw's phone number, then put the book back under the telephone, and read out the number printed on the dial instead. Promising yet again that she'd stay in touch, and would come home soon, she said her goodbyes, and replaced the receiver. Then she laid her forehead against a cool glass pane, and let the tears come.
I've been trying to keep up with everyone else's progress on the various writing challenges this month, but feel free to tell me more about how you're doing in the comments and/or do you find you're more productive when surrounded by others working on similar projects of their own?