NaNoWriMo Extract: 2016

I've found another way to avoid keeping up with my NaNo targets this month; writing about writing. For those of you who aren't aware, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual challenge in which writers from all around the world attempt to write 50,000 in a month. And that month is November. It's an average of 1667 words a day, and it's just as crazy as it sounds. So why am I doing it? Because the community, the pressure and the excitement might mean I actually finish a novel, for the first time in my life. If you're doing NaNo this year, too; hit me up! Hold me accountable. It's going to be a long 30 days.

I've also decided it's about time to put some of my creative writing out there. My NaNoWriMo project this year is about a woman accused of witchcraft in 17th Century Scotland, and it is inspired by the life of a very distant relative.  That's all I'm going to say for now. I have a pretty clear idea of where the story is headed, but who knows how much that might change over the next few weeks. In preparation for NaNo, I spent a lot of time working on my opening words, so that I knew I had a solid base to start from, and I want to share that beginning with you.

This is the first draft, so it is by no means perfect, nor absolute. Any constructive feedback is always welcome; in the comment section, via email, Twitter or owl post. If you like it, let me know, and sign up for email updates! I don't send emails around very regularly, but you'll get exclusive content, and first access to everything.

Content Warning: allusions to sexual assault.


I was 17 when the men came for me. Ma tied the white skirt around my waist. She said the dress looked as pure as the mountain snow, but when I traced my reflection in the window all I could see was my naked body enveloped in flames, reaching above my head like a drowning man grasping the empty air. I cried as we walked to the Church. After he had done with me that night, I dreamt of the village turned to dust. 

It’s been some time since I last looked at the dress. I don’t count the days anymore. Or the years since I wore it. When I hold the fabric in my hands now, I can no longer remember if the pattern of small, bleached specks were from the rain that came that night, or the tears that came after. Age has worn on the fabric with a quiet dignity, like old Maggie Stewart when the headsman was too drunk to cut her neck clean off, and it sits in my rough hands as wispy as the white gypsy flowers that grow on the bankside. 

I had no sisters to tell me how the first night would be. He was not a rich man, but we had the blessings of our fathers. From the bed, I could make out the outline of the old lantern clock he had brought back from the low lands in France. He did not speak to me whilst he took what was his, so I let the steady ticking flood my thoughts until I could no longer feel the flames of wrath scalding my cheeks. We soon fell asleep. My only other memory of that night is one I cannot know to be my own. 

In the cold winds of that September eve, I woke up on the threshold of the forest that separated the village from the highlands. I was walking, the thick trees disguised the horizon in a shroud of deceitful intimacy. My mind was not mine. I tread carefully as though a stranger in the same land I had lived all my 17 years. Through the dark, I tripped on the creeping roots of ancient pines and could no longer recall my bearings. I did not know which way would lead me back to his cottage, and which to the line of snow topped mountains that seem to frame our whole world, like ever-looming threat of the eagle’s talons; always about to close in on us. 

I do not know how long I walked, but I moved with intention. A storm had brewed, the rain bouncing off my face. The cold seemed to awaken me, and fear finally caught up. A spirit was leading me somewhere, but I did not have the courage to meet neither the face of God, nor the Black Man. Whichever awaited me at the end of the road. As I kneeled, face to the canopy of black shadows above me, a deep orange light bathed the blanket of leaves on the forest floor. I prayed for the first time that day. The light seemed to move westward, and I stalked it as swift as a nymph in a brook. When I found the next clearing, I saw that it was no human that had led me to safety, but that the wane of the moon had led me astray. It seemed closer than I had ever seen it, and it was coloured red as the first days of womanhood.  

Every creak in the wind pricked at my skin like icy needles. Across the clearing, something moved. Every bone in my body knew that this was the Black Man come to sign my name in his book. The sound moved closer and closer until, out of the thorny bush, a doe ambled onto the grass. It was as white as the wedding dress I had worn that day, and even in the dark I could see its almond eyes follow me as it asked itself; friend, or fiend? Its ears twitched, stretched out towards the sound of twigs snapping under my foot. I had never seen a creature of God more beautiful than this, a line of brown fur on its spine. I held back my tears, stretched out my hand and took a step forward. 

Before I could set my foot down, a hurricane of grey knocked the doe to its side, and I fell to the floor. Growling, gnashing, the wolf ripped the throat of the animal, and sniffed as blood trickled down the doe’s neck; an ornate choker of rubies and pearls. The doe twitched, still alive, and I whimpered in the shadow of a tree. The wolf turned her amber eyes to mine. It stalked closer, until I could see its cold breath on the wind. The wolf leant closer still. I could feel it panting, wet blood matted in her fur. If this was to be my fate, it was the design of God. I waited, whimpering still, but the wolf turned her back on me. She sunk her teeth back into her doe and, piercing me with her eyes once more, made sure I was watching as she dragged her prey back into the dark shadows of the wood. 

In all the years of his life, Philip swore he never knew me to leave the bed. But the wedding dress still haunts me when I cannot sleep. I see the storm-like flurry of stains on its skirt, and I cannot remember if they came from the rain that night, or the tears that came after. Even hidden under the dark confines of my bed, its burning white lace commands my mind like that white doe. Tonight, I will end its cold grip on my conscience. Tonight, I am the wolf. 

So what did you think? The book doesn't even have a damn name yet, but I'm super excited to continue working on it, and I can't wait to hear all about your NaNo projects too!


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