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Attention, #NaNoWriMo Fans: No One Cares How Your F***ing Novel Is Going

Watching a person write is one of the most boring things in the world. Please don’t inflict your process on us.

Try staring at this for a while. It’s boring, isn’t it?
Photo: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s almost November, which means it’s roundabout the anniversary of when I last checked that I had muted the Twitter hashtag #NaNoWriMo and also its year-round ugly twin #amwriting. I just needed to be sure. I’ve just done this year’s annual check-up and yes – breathe a massive sigh of relief guys, wipe the sweat off that furrowed brow – they are still wholly blocked along with #NaNoPrep and also #NaNoWriMoPrep because I like to cast my dick net wide. To the best of my abilities I have ensured that the doors of my nuclear/NaNoWriMo bunker are shut tight for November, unless a Twitter technicality leaves me open to a torrent of inanity from everyone who thinks that peer pressure alone will be enough to make them finish their 50,000 word novel in the space of a month. I’ve got canned goods down here. I’ve seen The Road. I’ll be fine.

National Novel Writing Month is when 300k+ people sign up and swear to themselves/each other that they will write 1,700 thousand words per day, from 1 November to their final, juddering finish on 30 November. In one month they will go from being a primary school teacher or waitress or guy who fixes cars to novelist, which is a great thing. But over the next six weeks there will be a lot of people trying to help. There will be webinars hosted by people you’ve never heard of who have “novelist” and “writer” in their Twitter bio beside a black and white photo of them with their hand on their chin, wanting to teach you how to use a writing programme they designed to order to more easily organise your 50,000 words (accidentally set your novel in a shit place? Just do a universal Find & Replace and change it from Wigan to Paris! They’re basically the same, you don’t need to change anything else, this is a problem now solved – you can change this problem to a different colour on your problem chart). There will be blog posts telling you how to cheat your way to a great book (use the Snowflake Method! It’s like fractals but for stories! Here, let me explain fractals to you). There will be inspirational quotes to “unleash the novelist inside you”.  There will be articles about life-saving tips for writers written by previous NaNoWriMo participants, usually ranging from 5 to 12 tips, half of which are about believing in yourself. 

People will link to time-saving apps and spread the work about distraction-killing apps because while you are a person signing up to write a novel, clearly the last thing you want to do is actually write a novel. People will blog about the loneliness of being a writer, having been one now for three whole days. Others will talk about how they made themselves cry with a scene they just wrote, how they broke their own dumb heart. People will go into Settings and then Profile and delete “aspiring writer” from their bio and put instead: WORDSMITH. WORD DOCTOR. WORD ALCHEMIST. DREAMWEAVER. Plus actor. Or whatever.

All of Tumblr will be #writing the most politically correct book ever using all of their favourite hashtags (there will be no white people in these books, and if a white person is writing it they will be checking their privilege against everything that happens throughout, in footnotes). Some joker will bait the NaNoWriMo forums by posting an excerpt of Ulysses or Infinite Jest and asking for feedback, and they will be roundly rubbished on the boards for their rambling descriptions, superfluous words, and one helpful person will always suggest they pick up a copy of The Elements of Style by E B White to help them with the next few chapters.

Over on Twitter there will be thousands of these: “Bloody protagonist, taking the story in a different direction! Don’t they realise I’m on a tight schedule here?! #amwriting” and “Just realised why this novel isn’t making any sense. There’s a plot issue in the second arc. No sleep for me! #amwriting” and “what is another word for nervous? #amwriting”. Thesauruses exist. Other stuff to talk about exists. No one needs to know your process.

Because one of the most boring things in the world is watching a person write. They do not move. Their google searches are tedious; they google synonyms for words they just made up. If you ask a novelist how they wrote their book, it’s always “I researched a bit and then I didn’t get out of my pyjamas for properly ages.” That’s it. There was probably an exiting moment when a blob of apricot jam fell off a bit of their crumpet and they had to suck it out of the lapel of their dressing gown to avoid having to wash it properly. That’s it.

Don’t get me wrong – like everyone else with a Macbook and enough money to buy coffee, I sit in coffee shops and write my stupid novel. Pretty much everyone you know and love thinks they have a book in them, and pretty much everyone you know and love has roughly 3,000 words of it written in a dead file in the back corner of a hard drive three computers ago that they won’t tell you about. You are not special. No one cares how your novel is going. Maybe it’ll go somewhere, maybe it won’t. But the actual finished novel is entirely beside the point.

Just shut up and fucking write it.

Hayley Campbell writes for a number of publications, but then who doesn't. You should follow her on Twitter: @hayleycampbell.

ED THOMPSON / LUZ / EYEVINE
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"We’ve got things in common": why one of the EDL's original members quit

An early supporter of the group, painter-decorator Darren Carroll has had death threats since he left. But why did he change his mind about the English Defence League?

Darren Carroll is a slight man with bright blue eyes and an urgent need for redemption. A painter-decorator in his fifties, he has lived in Luton his whole life. He was one of the original members of the English Defence League (EDL), the far-right street movement founded by Carroll’s nephew Tommy Robinson.

Recently, things haven’t been easy. Four months before our meeting at a café near Luton Airport Parkway Station, Carroll had a minor stroke that affected his speech and vision. It was the delayed fallout from an attack in a pub across the road, his local. A stranger, who seemed to know a lot about him, started a conversation. “He showed me his arm. It was tattooed. There was a little bit of white skin left on the whole sleeve,” says Carroll. “He said, ‘Look at that.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘White is right.’ I said, ‘Nah, mate, I know exactly where you’re coming from. There’s nothing wrong with being white but there’s nothing right with it.’”

The man pretended to leave the pub, then walked back in and hit Carroll hard on the back of the head with his forearm. Afterwards, Carroll suffered persistent headaches. It caused a blood clot that set off the stroke. When we met, he had mostly recovered but was still unable to work.

It was not the first attack. Carroll has also had his front door kicked in. He and his children have received death threats. “This is since speaking up,” he says. “Not leaving – that’s different.”

Carroll looks uncomfortable when we discuss the early days of the EDL. “It was an organic thing,” he says. “Lots of people were involved at the very beginning for different reasons. Personally, I was not happy with the way the town was being run on a political level. Looking back, I was disenfranchised from mainstream politics.”

Luton has the dubious distinction of being a centre of both far-right and Islamist extremism. The EDL began here in 2009, in response to a demonstration organised by Anjem Choudary’s now banned extremist group al-Muhajiroun, which in turn was a reaction against an army regiment marching in Luton.

A counterprotest led to arrests and the EDL was born, with sometimes violent neo-fascist street protests spreading across the country. Robinson insisted from the outset that the EDL was not racist, but only “against the rise of radical Islam”. Carroll says it was local difficulties, rather than national issues such as immigration, that unsettled and motivated him – and he didn’t articulate the core problem as racism against white people, not even to himself. The EDL has never had a formal membership, but the think tank Demos estimated that there were between 25,000 and 35,000 active members in 2011, a loose coalition of football hooligans and far-right activists. Today, the numbers are much reduced.

Carroll’s family was closely involved and it was a while before he realised that the EDL was an extremist, racist group. He describes being at a demo in Birmingham soon after the first protest. “I looked at the other lads there and I didn’t like them. They didn’t smell right for me, as far as integrity goes. I thought, ‘I don’t want this.’” Carroll’s parents are Irish and he considers himself the child of immigrants.

It took several months for him to extricate himself from the group and stop attending demonstrations. “It’s a relationship breaker, so you’ve got to accept that things are broken for ever.” On building sites, he was known as the EDL guy. Work dried up.

Amid attempts to coerce him back into the movement, and concerned about damaging his family relationships, Carroll stayed silent for another year and a half, only starting to speak up a few years after he left the EDL. This triggered a new wave of threats. He reeled off a list of incidents: slashed tyres, smashed windows. “Last week, I got one on Facebook [saying] that I’m a ginger Muslim and I’m gonna get shot. That was someone I know privately, which I don’t take as a threat. Their particular problem seems to be that I’m on record saying I’d have a cup of tea in a mosque and sit down and talk to people.”

Carroll did so after seeing a Facebook post by a local activist, Dawood Masood. Masood had shared a video of an imam in Leicester speaking about terrorist violence, with a message saying that any EDL members were welcome to get in touch. Carroll met him and others from the Muslim community and they discussed ways to make Luton better. He told them that he wasn’t interested in religion, but invited them to what he considers his church: Luton Town FC.

“I had the idea it’s about setting precedents, because you never know who or what that affects,” he says. “I just thought, if I’m seen going to the football with them, it’s going to break a big piece of ice.”

As the EDL evolved largely from a football subculture, this was a bold step. They went to the match. “He’s Luton born and bred and he certainly don’t need his hand held. But I made him as comfortable as possible. Luton scored and he’s jumping up and down, loving it. At that point, I thought: ‘This is really Luton harmony. He’s cheering for the same thing and I’m cheering for the same thing. We’re both happy together at this moment in time. We’ve got things in common.’”

They have been to many matches since, Masood bringing his kids, Carroll his grandkids. Carroll has had a few threatening calls but remains undeterred. “The working-class Muslim lads are working-class Muslim lads. They’ve got all the same problems and social issues as us white, working-class people. It’s not just me or us. It’s everyone.” 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage