Blog for budding Sheikhspeares entering National Novel Writing Month 2006

November 11, 2006


Well, I suffered a disaster. Somehow the entire text disappeared from my novel writing software, and I could not retrieve it. Fortunately I had been making back ups, but the only night I didn't was the night before it vanished. That night I had only written 500 new words, and I was able to paste back the excerpt I posted on here, but there were still other tweaks in chapters that I no longer have, as well as a bit that I was really happy with that is now lost for good.

It took ages to put it all back together, and try to rewrite the missing bit (which is a total mess compared to what I remember of the original) and several hours trying to find and download file recovery software, which couldn't find a thing. So I only managed to do 748 new words, and I am extremely pissed off about it. Total is 17, 525.

November 10, 2006

my update

SD is right: I went back to add in back story and descriptive narrative, and deleted loads of the original text.

Here's today's update:

Every nerve in Robbie's body was now starting to pay the price for Katie’s suggestion. There was a time when he was the life of every party, but that was before he’d started working for the devil incarnate. Now, work kept him up all hours of the night, and it was stress that was causing the dark circles under his eyes and the grey tinge to his skin, not a lack of vegetables and over-indulgence in spirits. He realised, with more than a touch of self-loathing, that he’d sold his soul in a Proustian pact.

Robbie had studied English at Oxford, spending as much time in various drama societies putting on plays as he did studying Beowulf in the original text. While he had been a student, from time to time, the newspapers picked up on the fact that one of his peer group had been selected for a role in a Kenneth Branagh production, or had a breakthrough role in a Bond film. With a long tradition of stars coming from the hallowed spires, such as Hugh Grant and Imogen Stubbs, it was a slowly dawning realisation for Robbie that non-speaking walk-on roles in Eastenders and The Bill didn’t equal true success.

(before anyone tells me, it's deliberately a Proustian pact, not Faustian)

The weekend is finally here

Sadly couldn't do 2k tonight, but will play catch up. 512, running total 16,777.

snow white managed twice as much as me - 1,000 - and is now on 14,155. She had to skip a previous day because of travelling. She also started revising her work, and deleted some of it.

Tonight's excerpt:

The Accountant walked along the street to his appointment, briefcase in hand. He was unremarkable in appearance: one of half a million Indian office workers in Dubai, with clipped dark hair and moustache, small-framed spectacles, and a neatly pressed shirt and tie. He was called the Accountant because he settled accounts. It was a source of some amusement to him that coincidentally he also worked as an accountant in his day job: a useful source of cover if not lucre.

His briefcase contained the tools of his trade. With every new commission he made a meticulous assessment of the most effective and efficient way to proceed with the project. He selected the appropriate apparatus and studied the rendezvous location ahead of time. He always arrived early to benefit from the element of surprise. The motive behind the projects was not the Accountant's concern, nor was their aftermath.

Today called for a one-metre length of piano wire. He arrived, waited, and proceeded. Then he returned to his car, a white Nissan Sunny, and drove back to his small bachelor apartment in Sharjah.

November 09, 2006

Plodding on in turgid fashion

Last night 2027, total 16265. Actually this is approximate, because I sometimes skim through a previous chapter (to check what a character has actually said or done) and I find myself changing stuff. Usually in horror at the drivel I had written. Excerpt:

"But you like it here?"

Mark hadn't really considered recently, if ever, whether he really liked Dubai. Relatives back home always what Dubai was like, and constantly inquired as to his safety, as though the United Arab Emirates was situated next to a nuclear armaments factory in the West Bank. But never whether he liked Dubai. His instinct was to say yes, as it was the polite, positive response, but he thought for a few moments.

"I like certain aspects of it," he said. "But overall, perhaps no. I feel that it's safe for my children, but they can't play outside for much of the year, and I worry that my wife gets bored."

November 08, 2006

So tired, so tired

2015. Total 14238. Excerpt:

"There's not many ways of having fun in this city." The man she was with rolled his eyes back as he took another drag, his mouth moving into a stupid kind of grin. If this is fun I'll take chess, thought Phoebe, then realised with a wince that she'd turned into her own grandmother.

Three women veiled head to toe in black entered the lift a couple of floors after Phoebe. She instantly swung back to feeling like a harlot in her western-style cocktail frock. She craved normality. She craved some ordinary person with the same expectations and value levels as herself to do something normal and average with, like go to a nice bar, or a club. She was starting to appreciate why expats cliqued together in the way the did, and felt miserable for it. She hadn't come to Dubai with some idealistic multicultural nirvana in mind, but neither had she expected this endless clash, this endless alien surreality.

Gonna die of sleep now. Exhausted.

November 07, 2006

Dubai Marina continues...

Behind schedule at 8000 words, but confident I'll catch up! My novel has become thouroughly technical and reads more like an economic digest, I'm afraid. One of the few more casual sections of narration in the latest chapter, Arabian Forasol reads as follows:
Abdul Rahim wrote me excitedly with the news that the piling contract had been awarded, something I was already aware of. This was, nonetheless news, and good news, for MAG 218 investors. In the months that passed since I began my journey into the world of construction and property development, I came to appreciate that the good stories were not limited to announcements of new and taller towers, exercises in groundbreaking or the awarding of contracts; nor were the good storeis always about good things. I came to appreciate more the human face of the building process in, if not the largest, then certainly the tallest and most built-up marina in the world.

One way to reach your word count!

see what i mean

I go to sleep with 12,136 words written at the end of day 6, and SD insists on writing just a little bit more. Again.

Crime pays

At university I attended a lecturer series given by a guest professor called Larry Beinhart on the subject of "how to write a crime novel." It wasn't part of my course, but it was one on the most useful things I went to. Two of his main points still stick in my mind:

1. The average novel never gets published, the average detective novel does
The reason for this is that there is a huge and hungry market for detective fiction, fans will easily read a novel a week. So they want more. Beinhart writes "hard core" crime novels, whereas I like the "soft core" variety (think Agatha Christie) but both types sell regardless.

2. Dialogue is action
I can't remember much more about this, I just remember this phrase.

I'm now thinking I should probably order one of his books.

Where's snow white when you actually need her?

So there you are, struggling away through your turgid verbage, and you come to a point where snow white's sole purpose in life (provider of smut and spice) is actually required, and she vanishes. She doesn't answer emails or texts or MSN or Google talk or her damn Blackberry, and you are stuck with something that looks like this:

secretdubai (02:38:07): how do you put your hand on someone's cheek to kiss them?
secretdubai (02:38:55): "he lifted his hand to the side of her face, his thumb moved/pushed/traced/smudged??? her lips. Then suddenly he kissed her, unexpected, sweet, fierce???"
secretdubai (02:38:56): HELP1!!
secretdubai (02:38:59): cannot do this shizzit
Jabber (02:45:31): snow white has changed status to Away
secretdubai (02:45:36): arrgh!
secretdubai (02:45:38): return!!!

So that, dear readers, is why there shall be no snippet tonight. Because Barbara Cartland is currently turning in her (doubtless pink-satin-lined) grave; any more and she will quite literally rise from the dead and wreak vengeance upon us all.

Tonight 2066, subtotal 12222.

November 06, 2006

Mean-spirited Secret Dubai!

The moment I finish for the day, SD beats it by a handful of words... but has been nagging me to post a couple of snippets from my prose, which I'm writing in between watching Strictly Come Dancing on youtube (go Mark!). I go through moments of enjoying what I'm writing, as well as moments of despair over how I'm ever going to pad it out to reach the magical 50k.

Extract I:

Mixing sambuca and the YMCA was always going to lead to trouble. Robbie was so tired, he felt like his eyes were going to explode. All he wanted to do was head to his bed and sleep for the whole weekend, but Katie had other ideas.

“You need to let off steam,” she said. “You’ve been cooped up in that hellhole of an office for far too long, living on nothing but caffeine and chocolate for days. You haven’t even had time to have a cigarette – and trust me, inhaling someone else’s tar just doesn’t give you the same kind of kick. Let’s go out and get really drunk, flail around on the dancefloor and fall over.”

Extract 2:

The girls in the office were the laughing-stock of the company. They hunted, shopped and bitched in packs, and turned up to work every day in floaty bias-cut dresses and brayed, “oh, do you think anyone will notice that this is last season?” Robbie couldn’t bear them – they were blonde, stupid, superficial, resembled horses but were allegedly less pleasant to ride, and, if he was honest, he couldn’t tell one from the other.

Extract 3:

True to her word, Marie made an effort the next morning. Her freshly scrubbed peaches and cream complexion now had mascara, eyeliner and lip gloss, and she was wearing a particularly fetching mini kilt. All in all, she hardly looked a day over 16, which suited the Britney fan club in the IT department perfectly. Her target was the most extrovert of the geek squad, a young South African called Pieter. Batting her eyelashes, she asked Pieter to repair her laptop (as well as circumvent the proxy server and install MSN and Skype). By the end of the conversation, she had arranged to buy Pieter a drink after work and step one of the plan was in place. After all, you could always rely on a South African to respond to a short skirt and the offer of a beer….

Extract 4:

Over lunch with her best friends Caro and Libby, she confided the outlines of the plan. The trio, nicknamed the Three Disgraces, was like Alka-Seltzer: fizzy, bound to make you feel better but too much to take before 10am. All three had known each other since their teens. They’d gone through teen traumas together, including the break-up of Take That, and gone to university together and had graduated with good degrees from Oxford, despite having forgotten to do any work.

Libby, the oldest of the three by a few months, worked in advertising and had the figure of a real-life Jessica Rabbit – long hair and curves. Caro, who was a television news producer, looked like a Playboy bunny, but was fearsomely bright, while Katie changed her look every time she changed her job. At the moment, she was going through her “slutty secretary phase”, wearing glasses instead of her normal contact lenses, and stilettos.

They were always having adventures and could be guaranteed to have a story to tell. Men adored them, and they were surrounded by a group of loyal male friends – for some reason, women felt threatened by them. They shared a love of cheesy eighties pop music (though frequently teased Caro for loving the Spice Girls and Girls Aloud) and entertainment gossip, and their favourite night out involved vast quantities of sake and karaoke. In short, they were completely mad, but their lust for life was infectious.

The first bit

It's started to flow thanks to an inspirational experience yesterday morning. I've done about 2000, pathetic I know, but I can catch up when the spirit takes me. Here's a taster:

The red Jeep drove forty kilometers before pulling off the highway onto a sand-track. It was 2am and the sky was a black blanket studded with stars. A beautiful night indeed, the kind of night you only find out in the desert.

Passing a small camel holding, the Jeep slowly moved on, deeper into the dunes until it came to a sudden halt. A farmer, who had awoken to the sound of the vehicle, came out of his hut to see what was going on. As he looked into the distance, he saw the Jeep’s headlights dim and extinguish.

He hawked up some spit and returned to bed in preparation for an early start at sunrise.

Three hours later, as the sun rose and the air filled with distant prayer calls, the Jeep was nowhere to be seen. Not even tire tracks were left in the sand, a wind had covered them moments earlier.


One of the reasons I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction is because I can't stand a lot of references to pop culture. Six months after any work is published, they sound cringeingly out of date. I like the story to transcend its circumstance, not get buried in a myriad of brand names and celebrities. As a result I read a lot of fantasy set in indistinct "medieval" times or imaginary worlds. I like sci-fi because it reinvents reality. I like actual period drama, or novels from the distant past.

To explain what I mean: think of an Agatha Christie novel. Huge, global events like the wars are mentioned. But generally there are no real people referenced, no fashions, no brands, no car names. Except in rare instances, you couldn't easily pinpoint a work to 1933, or 1948, or 1964.

It's very hard trying to write about Dubai and make it somewhat timeless, because things are changing so fast. As a result, I'm avoiding a lot of details of construction, and there are no named projects such as Dubailand, or The Palm. Established icons such as the Burj Al Arab and the Creek get a mention (and possibly a nasty fate!) but generally only older place names get a look in. The aim is so when someone reads it, they can't fix a time, it could have taken place pretty much any time since the Burj was built. The characters don't work in named zones like Tecom, I deliberately situated them in Satwa and Karama.

I'm trying to do it in such a way that someone who left Dubai ten years ago could read it and not find a completely alien city, but also so that a new arrival in Dubai could read it, and not assume that I left ten years ago. It's tricky to do. I have to focus on things that were here when I arrived, are distinctively Dubai, and aren't likely to change or be destroyed in the next few years. So Jumeirah is in, National Paints roundabout is out. The Bastikiya gets a mention, the Madinat does not. Etc.



So, I've missed two days due to unforeseen circumstances. Not consecutive, but nonetheless, two whole days.

Which makes be terrified to pick up the laptop as I have sooooo much to catch up on.

Please feel free to mock me for falling off this hayride so soon. I am trying to get back on but it seems to be a slippery slope.

I will try and catch up tomorrow and the next day.

Done - 2031

Running total 10,156. I only managed it because bloody snow white managed to get past the 10k mark earlier today, and that spurred me on! There's nothing like fierce rivalry to motivate oneself ;)

Tonight's snippet - The Oriental hotel, one of the non-human stars of the book:

If the set designer of a 1970s sitcom had been let loose on a five star hotel with a fairly generous budget, the final result might have looked a bit something like The Oriental. No hotel could have embodied "faded glory" more. Three decades ago it must have clashed even more violently against the tiny village building of Abu Wadi. Now, encroaching shabbiness made its pretentious exterior jar slightly less.


Nothing could have prepared Phoebe for the brown and orange psychadelic interiors of The Oriental, or the vast, yellowing, retro-futuristic chandelier that hung in hideously oversized fashion from its ceiling. Its dusty crystals cast only a sickly light over the darkly-furnished lobby, leaving it as dim as a gentleman's club.

November 05, 2006

It's working!

In the past two days I wrote more than I did in the past fifteen years, and I am enjoying it tremendously.
English being my third language, I find it at times extremely difficult to come with the right expression, and I am sure my grammar is catastrophic, but it doesn't make it any less fun.
I am working on a Sci-Fi story. (the Why is here ). I find it challenging as not only you need to invent completely imaginary settings and characters, but you also need to suspend the "disbelief" of a casual reader. Here are a few of snippets. Feel free to comment.

“The Invaders are coming.” Said the man in what was obviously the gravest tone he could produce. He was the only standing man in the half empty village community meeting room. Not that he needed to be standing to draw attention or be heard and seen. Clad in an immaculate turquoise high ranking government officer suite, his ridiculously long frame seemed too frail to support a disproportionately large head. It was hard to imagine this character in the role of the Governor’s personal assistant, as his credentials proved him to be.
“What follows is the message sent by the Governor to this village.” He scanned the room as if there were more people in it than the twenty farmers, whom constituted all of the Tildis village population.
“Fellow citizens of Meldis. Our planet stands in the way of a grave danger. A danger we can not ignore.” He paused for effect.
and this one from later in the same chapter:

For several long moments, the only sound in the room was a distant humming coming through the air vents. The Invaders. Annihilation. Evacuation in under fifteen days. What had always been considered by most to be old people’s night tales and legends had suddenly become very real. It was simply too much to take in for the young farmers.
“Is that all?” Asked someone from the last row.
“This is the message I was charged to deliver. As the Governor said, you will all receive individual instructions on how to proceed.” Answered the government official, obviously annoyed that he had to repeat himself.
Then, as if on cue, everybody in the room started asking questions at the same time. The cacophony that ensued would prove to be a real challenge for the automatic transcript system to sort out.

This last one from another chapter:

Commander Kapkin Notante was a small and fragile looking man, features that would have exempted any male of the Bulborg system from the duty of serving the ten years in the United army, was it not for his tenacious insistence with the recruitment officer to be enlisted. He wore a thin moustache that did nothing to hide his practically non-existing lips, a feature he inherited from the father he never knew his mother told him. He always spoke in moderate tone and seldom raised his voice. One could be easily fooled by the frail looks of the character and his nonchalant manners, was it not for those tiny dark eyes and the blood freezing looks they could throw...

The relief! 2076 words

Running total is now 8125. The sad thing is that writing should surely be about quality not quantity, but mine is certainly none of the former with this nightmare focus on word count.

Still, I'm enjoying it more than I thought I would.

I did have one disappointment though. This new software (it's so great - I really do encourage you all to try and find some for your computers) keeps a word count and a character count at the bottom of the page. Only I misread it, and at one stage thought I'd done 500 words when in fact that was characters, and I'd only done 99. That was some agony, I can tell you :(

Anyway here's tonight's snippet. It's an example of how I'm trying to work actual UAE history and events into my otherwise entirely ficticious story:

"Those are the Assiqassiri caves*," Dastan told her. "They're quite famous here. The local bedouin won't go near them, they believe they are haunted. There was a newspaper story not long ago about the caves making strange noises at night which the people claimed were djinns - genies - snoring. They even had government officials investigate. They decreed it was water moving underground, but the people weren't convinced. Supposedly goats have vanished there without trace. At one time they left offerings to appease the djinns, but the village imam found out and accused them of demon worship. People are very supserstitious here."

*these caves turn out to be highly significant. Arabic speakers will probably guess it in advance ;)