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Nano-Wrangle: Week 2

Greetings friends!

So, Week 2 was always going to be harder than Week 1… I mean, for one thing it’s a lot longer than just two days!

Anyway, Day 3, I learned from Day 2 and knuckled down straight away to finish the 767 words to finish off Chapter 1. Something to check right off the list from the get-go.

Putting in that word-count straight away was a nice feeling; it meant I didn’t spend the day feeling anxious that I wasn’t achieving anything and also prompted the Nano website into giving me the badges I really should have got on Day 2:

Nano Badge - 2 day streak

This one I was expecting, though I’m still confused about why it waited until Day 3’s updated wordcount to ping up. The ways of websites are confusing, I suppose!

The one I had forgotten was a possibility was this one though:

Nano Badge - 5000 words

Sadly this meant having to sit staring at my plan for Chapter 2 and try to remember what I was thinking when I wrote the notes up. Even going back to the earlier more detailed notes didn’t help much. The motto of this mini-story is this: don’t write up your notes and think you can just pick the story up again six months later. No matter how detailed they are, they will still end up looking back at you as if a martian wrote them…

In general the middle of this week has been a masterclass in why I have never managed to finish Nano before. Work exploded into chaos, through no fault of its own, but sometimes things just happen, my drama group finally decided what they wanted for costumes, but had some very tight turn-arounds and of course at my ancient age, the days when sleep was an optional extra are long gone!

And this is both the good and bad thing I find about Nano, because having told all of you lovely people and my friends about how I wanted to do it, even though I didn’t make my target for the day, any writing I could do was a little bit of writing, you know? Some days I manged 255 words, or 200 words and that wasn’t a lot but it was something.

But on the other hand it also meant that I had insane days where I’d done a full day of work, worked straight through my lunch break while I was at it, then made costumes after work, arrive home very late and very tired, made myself dinner and rather than go to bed would sit up and start writing. And kids, let me tell you; that’s no way to go through life, not even temporarily. By Thursday I was dead on my feet and had to have a stern talking to myself in the mirror about how this was supposed to be a fun thing to do, rather than an endurance challenge.

Side note, I can’t remember if we had a daily counter graph in past years, but I wish there was a way to make it disappear so much…

No matter which form it’s in, there was nothing like this graph to make me feel bad that I wasn’t writing as much per day as I was last week. If you’re like me and you get stressed by not meeting totally imaginary targets, this graph? Don’t look at it. That’s a Top Nano Tip from the wyvern this year…

Nano word count 2

Anyway, Day 9 – being a Saturday – was much more successful! Having gone to bed early on Friday night, reasoning that burning the candle at both ends – during the academic term no less – was a quick way to make myself ill, I woke up with a lot more coherency, and decided rather than beating my head against the brick wall I was stuck on, to try a totally different bit.

And guess what? It worked!

I managed to churn out over 7000 words in one sitting before I looked up and realised that it was past lunchtime and I was still in my pjs! So the graph of failure looks a little bit more friendly!

Not to mention another badge was won without me expecting it (look, I’m bad at maths, so I never keep in my head how far along I am for total word count until a badge pings me:

Nano Badge - 10,000 words

So if nothing else, the detailed plan of details has proven itself to be a very useful bit of work after all! It doesn’t matter that I can’t do Chapter 2, because I could go for Chapter 7, which I can picture very clearly and tackle that instead and then fill in the blanks at a later date. Sure, there’ll be a few continuity and style issues from writing a story in such a disjointed fashion, but that’s what the second draft is for, right?

Also I am fully aware that this day is a total fluke; it’s not going to be my output for next week by a long shot and I have firmly promised myself that I will stop beating myself up about Nano targets.  Some days will be good days and some days will be bad days and it will all average out just fine in the end, and sleep is a non-negotiable feature of my life!

We’ll see what the next week brings, but despite everything we’re still a little ahead of where we should be, and the month’s nowhere near over yet!

Nano Progress - week 2

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Nano-Wrangle: Week 1

Week 1! Yes, I know it’s only been two days, but it is the end of the week, so I figured this was as good a place to start checking in with you all as any.

First, some unexpected good news that came just before Nanowrimo started! So I was out for the day with some friends and I was talking to them about how I wanted to take part in Nano again this year, and how I was really going to try my hardest to make it to the end for once. Now one of my friends asked what Nano was, and then suggested that she would like to take part in it too. Now, my friends are lovely people, very polite and kind ladies, so I just thought that she was being nice and encouraging me, and didn’t really mean it.

But of course I said how I thought that was a great idea and all that, because she’s such a creative thinker and I think she’d be a great writer…

And then, a couple of days later… I got a notice!

Nano - Buddy

So that was a huge boost for me! Thanks for taking the leap with me, Icklespan, and I hope that everything goes well for you!

Anyway… you can’t go all of Nano by just making friends (although if you are giving Nano a try, do please take every opportunity to make friends! It makes the whole thing a lot easier and more fun, I promise!) Sooner or later… you need to do some writing!

So it wasn’t the smoothest of starts: I made the classic mistake of starting writing first thing on the first morning, I haven’t had my first cup of tea, I’m still waking up… And I wrote 740 words before I had to dash out for the bus!

Which is great! Such a good feeling as I got on the bus and went to work…

And then I made it to work, had my tea, got on with other things. And then in my break I pulled out what I’d written already, just flicking through it … and the number one thought in my head was, ‘What on earthhave I written here? What is this rubblish?’

Now… I’ll be honest, this is my normal response to rereading my own writing. This isn’t new. But there’s a flavour to hating your own work, you know? Sometimes you can feel it’s just the sense that you could, obviously, do better somehow. But sometimes it’s the creeping suspicion that you’ve made a wrong turning somewhere and you’re taking the wrong path…

And I thought about it all through the afternoon while I did a frankly ungodly amount of photocopying…

(Side Note: Does anyone else find that they have some of their best ideas while babysitting the photocopier for fear the wretched thing will jam up again? Just me? OK.)

So I thought about it, because 740 words right at the start had felt like a great beginning, but if it’s just going to niggle away at me while I write, I’m going to get discouraged and lose momentum.Ch.23 - Plotting for Non-Super Villains

Do I keep going, leave all my misgivings for the editing stage, just ignore them and push forwards? Or… Do I scrap the thing and start over, while it’s still the first day, while I have the most energy I’ll have all month for writing? Fix it while I still care?

I rewrote.

I know, I know… but I really just couldn’t leave it and sometimes you just have to go with your instinct.

So I sat there with the old draft on one side of me, the detailed plan you’ve all seen before on the other and I started again from scratch, with a day’s worth of waking up and caffeine fuelling me! And I have to say that this was the right decision in the end. I’m not saying that the 2,993 words I wrote that night are the best ones ever. I’m not saying that they won’t need some heavy going-over later when November’s done. But I will say that they sparked a lot more interest and creativity in me than the first version did!

And as a bonus, I got my first Nano badge! Look, I went camping a lot as a kid, and my adult camp blanket is a monster of a thing. Basically, badges are very exciting for me!

Nano Badge - 1667 words

Day 2 dawned in a shower of rain and gales, which is always a bad sign for me when I want to write, because for some reason it’s impossible to concentrate when the wind’s having more fun running around than I am.

Also? You know on the Nanowrimo website when they talk to you about prepping for the month and they don’t just mean plotting things out or making sure you have enough post-its? When they talk about getting in food and cleaning everything down nicely so you won’t be distracted? Yeah…

In my defence, that’s a lot easier to do when you’re not working full-time and also buried under various other extra-ciricular activities. So a big chunk of the day was spent doing three loads of washing, buying food, tackling the fearsome Mount Washing Up that has been judging me from the other side of the room…

Serious adulting was accomplished that day, friends!

Still fortunately I have Icklespan only a message away to remind me that we are both mostly evening writers and that the day being spent doing productive things that will help me avoid getting distracted later on is a good thing. Thanks Icklespan!

In the end I stayed up late and kept plugging away at the thing. It was slow going and I imagine that editing the thing will be a complete and vicious nightmare, but that’s a December problem right there! What matters here and now in November is that 2655 words were in fact written, and I have shouldered my way through most of the first chapter. Phew!

So today’s goals are to finish filling in the couple of small gaps left in Chapter 1 – little chunks of conversations which on rereading I realise should probably exist, that sort of thing – and either jumping into Chapter 2, which is an entirely different POV, or skipping it in favour of Chapter 3, which continues the POVs of Chapter 1.

Also breakfast…

So yes, this week has seen plenty of ups and downs already, but on the whole I think it’s gone pretty ok. Hopefully we can keep this up for the rest of the month!

Wish me (and Icklespan) luck!

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Posted in Chronicles in Creation, Uncategorized

Spooky Scary Self-Imposed Targets…

Happy Halloween Everyone!

20191030_173138 (3)
Getting into the Halloween spirit is so much nicer with friends! Yes, Ivan has a fellow dragon-buddy, but that’s a whole other story!

I know it’s been quiet around here lately, but in truth it’s because I have actually been doing a lot of writing! I know, sometimes I even amaze myself!

Ch.23 - Plotting for Non-Super Villains
Part 1…

Anyway, I’m emerging from my writing hole to use the power of internet-based peer-pressure for good. I know one of the things the internet has become known for since it went mainstream is peer-pressure, but don’t worry! I’m too old and too grumpy to worry too much if people tell me that I suck!

Anyway, I am announcing properly that this year I’m having another run at Nanowrimo.

I’ve tried it before several times and usually RL gets in the way, or I come down ill or I just get stuck and lose my momentum and then I drop out. And I’m always very disappointed with myself, but once I’ve fallen behind it’s just too easy to give up entirely and let the month pass along without me…

20190206_170014

But not this year!

No, as those of you who have been following this blog for a while know, I have finished drafting out my plan, I’ve tinkered with it until I’m as happy as I can be with it, and now, it is time!

There are no more excuses.

Ch.23 - Plotting for Non-Super Villains
Part 2!

I’ve done all my writing practise drills, I’ve given myself a stern talking to about worrying that I’m a rubbish writer, because after all, everyone’s first draft is terrible, isn’t it? I’ve got my plan, got my favourite mug for tea, I’ve a fully stocked biscuit time waiting for me, and not least, I have all you lovely people too, haven’t I?

So this is me, properly telling you all that I’m doing this. I’ll be updating regularly with little notes about my progress, any stickers they send me, that sort of thing. More importantly, even though I know that I am but one person of many who do this every November, I will feel that you will all be very disappointed in me if I don’t finish this year.

I know my own weaknesses and motivations…

So here goes! Wish me luck!

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Ideas for Extras; Real-Life Shakespeare!

I’m very fortunate in my work, as I don’t just scribble away randomly on my own, I have a lot of friends who write in various genres and mediums too. And one of the things that we all agree is a lot harder to do than you expect is the writing of interesting and entertaining ‘extras.’

Ch.14 Making Men of Myths - Part 1You know, the tiny bit characters that may or may not even have a speaking line in your story, but need to be there so that your story doesn’t give the impression of taking place in massive empty halls? They might not ever do anything especially vital to the plot, but they help flesh out the world you’ve created and give a bit of colour and life to your story’s surroundings.

Of course, they can certainly do more than that. Shakespeare’s plays always have a little recurring cast of extras in the background, and while they serve the practical purpose of giving the principal actors a bit of breathing space to chance costumes or allow the stage hands to move scenery around a bit, they can also serve more thematic purposes. They can bring comic relief, yes, or deliver small but important messages, sure, but they can also reflect or satirise the actions of the principal cast and bring out extra nuances too.

They may even give a sense of stakes to whatever your crisis is too; when everything goes to hell in Harry Potter and Diagon Alley is affected, the best way J.K. Rowling could illustrate that was to say that Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour has closed because Fortescue has disappeared under suspicious circumstances. As readers, we knew exactly who Florean Forescue was, how he let Harry sit in his shop for hours and do his homework, how he would help him out with the answers. He wasn’t a major character, and he never affected the plot in any large or small way, but we knew him and were fond of him and his loss is real and tangible because of this.

The downside of these characters: they can be surprisingly hard to create!Ch.14 Making Men of Myths - Part 3

I mean, it could just be me, but whenever I sit down to make some up I either put too much thought into them or too little. Too much effort and they end up trying to become main characters in places which have absolutely no need for them; ending up like the awkward creepers at a party constantly trying to slide into conversations no one wants them in and blissfully unaware that they have nothing interesting to say, and refusing to just go away. Too little effort and they never look the same twice and they just hover around not really doing anything; ending up like very badly written NPCs in a video game, standing stock-still in the back of the shot and very occasionally blurting out an odd out-of-context sentence or two.

Well, sometimes – gloriously – real life comes to the rescue with a bit of inspiration and just as I will doubtless benefit from this in future when having something for my background characters to do, so too did I want to share this with everyone.

So, on top of all the usual chaos that summer brings my workplace every year, we’ve been having building work done to the building I work in. It’s been … delightful. I’ve loved every crash and bang and clatter, and the days where I don’t have any windows in my office and there’s up to three men all standing on my window sill.

20190813_193559.jpg
It’s the plants’ scaffolding now, sorry. No take-backs allowed here!

And to give you an idea of how long we’ve had building work going on, this is their scaffolding right now (left).

Side Note: I’m kind of looking forward to the moment when they’re all done with replacing all the window frames, and they want their scaffolding back. Is it just me, and my slightly pagan concerns, or does anyone else think that they’re going to need to make some kind of bargain with the nature god that has gone and claimed the scaffolding frames as their rightful territory?

Anyway, for all the dust and the noise and the fact that my plants have all taken sick in protest to being showered with debris constantly, one thing has at least 70% made up for it all: The workmen!

These fine gentlemen could absolute be their very own BBC sitcom, and I mean that entirely seriously. Obviously, I can give you no details about them; no names, photos, not the name of their firm. But let’s be honest, the complete lack of context here is only going to add to the charm!

20190821_113215.jpg
The ideal stage for our brave performers, no?

Here are some of the highlights that have come through my window from the past few months:

[During the initial building process] “Look, whatever ‘appens, those balls have gotta come off, remember.” Also, same day: “There’s no hat-wearing on d*cks!”(At the time, I was halfway through a Very Serious phonecall, and I think I actually bruised a rib while trying not to laugh down the phone, sure that I could never explain any of this…)

I was working and couldn’t transcribe, but at one stage one of the senior builders literally stood on one of the upper-levels of the scaffolding, while all the others stood on the ground looking up at him while he delivered a whole TED Talk the socialising involved in building up a pliant workforce, combining themes of supply-and-demand, wage-fixing and the allotment of free-time/holiday hours. I was in no doubt that he knew exactly what he was talking about, but for a spur-of-the-moment topic of conversation, he was extremely eloquent and prepared to share his wisdom. I definitely felt as if I was in one of those supporting/illustrating scenes from the film, in which the side-characters provide on the nose commentary on the actions of the villains/anti-heroes. Like, this was meant to show how the plot affects the world-building or something…

Ch.22 - So You Want To Draw A Map - Part 2[Accompanied by the sounds of frantic rummaging around inside a van] “I’m not 100% sure what I’m looking for, but when I see it I’ll know.” Honestly? Same, mate. Same. Not sure it’s what I wanted to hear while they built scaffolding, mind…

One entire morning of music-less karaoke. The greatest hits of Britney Spears, Beyoncé and the Spice Girls particularly stand out in my memory. Eventually I gave into the inevitable and played whatever was being sung out through my computer speakers to join in. If you can’t shut out the noise, own the noise, right? (In the on-going play that is my working life, I guess we were singing to drown out the noise of the scenery being changed? I assume so anyway…)

One day there was a concert going on in a neighbouring music hall and the sound is wafting straight across to us, though primarily only the more bass-like notes. It sounds like it’s something big and classically epic. What promptly ensued was amazing to behold: Picture, if you will, five grown men in hi-vis vests, shorts and hard hats – and basically nothing else because it was so hot! – engaged in a massive and extremely heated argument about what film’s soundtrack they recognise the music from. As is to be expected, the lack of clarity in hearing the music only adds to the confusion and also the vigour of the … debate. Insults to parentage, cultural education and film-viewing are thrown around in the midst of all the arm-waving and foot-stomping. A particularly choice quote that I will never forget remains: “It were from f*cking Amadeus, you tw*t!” The last time I saw people get this involved in a film-debate, they certainly weren’t scaling scaffolding like Les Mis actors at the time! Once again, I have to take the minutes of a meeting and pretend I can’t hear this happening right outside the window, and there’s a terrifying moment when I think that the academics I’m minuting will actually abandon their Very Serious meeting to join in through the windows. What even is real life anymore?Ch.21 Hide and Seek MacGuffins

On another, much calmer day, there was a Very Serious Indeed conference centring around Our Dave’s garden design choices. Apparently there was to be a pond and everyone’s thoughts needed to be contributed regarding it ideal placement and surroundings for full aesthetic appeal. The debate between ‘Natural Feature’ verses ‘More Modern, Like’ raged long into the day (with interruptions from work) and swayed frequently over into “What are you thinking of for the patio?! ‘Ave you not seen that rubbish they tried makin’ Mike’s out of?! Nah, mate, you need {unintelligible as I was printing at the time and therefore only vaguely listening.}” Dave’s brother was swayed in the end, I think. Certainly natural features was eventually judged to be the superior choice, as it will require less upkeep; a plus in the busy life of a working professional. I’m mildly convinced that the gardens at Kew had less planning and consultation involved in their making… Special highlight award going to the line “I ‘ate bloody topiary, if he sticks any of that in there, I’m setting it on fire!”

And finally, the day I all but screamed the place down as I carried my (full, naturally) mug of tea back to my desk while filing and listening to a favourite podcast, and then a body suddenly popped through my window to ask me what I was listening to and could he make a note of the link. I mean, I was happy to supply him with it, once I’d calmed down, but normally in order to appear through my window (unless you have feathers) you’d need a good ten feet of ladder, so this was not a Thing I’d prepared for at all!

Anyway, that’s enough random nonsense for today! Let me know if you’ve had a band of players in your life that would make excellent side-characters in the adventure novel of your life? I don’t know what story these fine gentlemen will be staring in yet, but they can only benefit whatever tale they do appear in, no?

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Lloyds of London, the Scottish Natural Heritage and the Loch Ness Monster…

Or: The Magic That Walks Among Us – Part 2

Ch.20 - The Magic that Walks Among Us

Author’s Note: This post was started months and months ago, and then ended up getting left on the wayside as I got tied up in other things. Now it has become more topical in the daftest, worst possible way, I thought I’d come back and finish it…

OK, so!

Ages ago I did a post on real-life experiences with magic, otherwise known as That One Time the city of Carlisle accidentally cursed itself and everyone just had to deal with it.

At the time of writing, I wasn’t really planning on turning it into a series at all, but then I stumbled upon a couple of comments on an internet thread, and did a bit more digging and low and behold I have another case study for us all to enjoy!

As writers, especially fantasy or science-fiction writers, we like to imagine that the discovery of a real-life example of magic would throw our whole world into turmoil. It would be a sensation! It would revolutionise everything!

For example, imagine some nice ordinary angler was fishing away, minding their own business, on the banks of the Loch Ness, in Scotland? And after a long day of not much happening – which I understand can happen a lot in fishing? – at last! There is a nibble on their line! And then there is an enormous tug! And another one! And finally with a great heave, up comes …

_107971293_nessie

The Loch Ness Monster!

Now, after what I assume must have been a … somewhat fraught few minutes, in which the angler in question apparently develops the kind of Herculean muscles necessary to haul up something of the estimated size and weight of ol’ Nessie, well… What happens next?

I mean, after he rings his wife up and panics to her, and she asks him if he’s been drinking again, and he finally assures her, presumably through a lot of camera phone photos that he really does have Nessie on the shore with him and she panics and all that.

What next?

Actually, it turns out, what comes next is that some lovely people from the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) Department will be wanting to have a Conversation with our unlucky angler immediately. It would also mean that this heroic, lone office that actually has it’s paperwork in order would swoop in to finally make use of those forms they’ve been sitting on for a while.

Because of course the first thing on the agenda is ‘Do we have the forms correctly filled out yet?’

Real life, it seems, has no time for our sense of dramatic tension. Go figure.

However, it does mean that we must now take a moment to sit down and truly appreciate the fact that back in 2001, during a period of very heightened interest in Nessie and the catching thereof, the heroes over at SNH sat down in a serious office, in their serious grown-up suits and seriously asked the question: “Wait. What if someone actually catches the old girl?”

Yes. That happened.

In fact, this has actually happened a few times over the course of recent history, and friends, I cannot tell you how much every single one of these conversations delights me!

NessieWay back in 1971, Cutty Sark (the whiskey manufacturer, not the boat) offered an award of one million pounds (because of course that’s the figure you’d pluck from the air as a reward) to anyone who could capture the Loch Ness Monster. But, and I can’t imagine why or how this happened, they began to get cold feet. Because I guess in the 1970’s it was starting to look like this might actually happen?

In fairness, back in the 1970’s there had been a lot, and I do mean a lot of interest, and there were a huge number of sightings coming in every year, and a (excuse the pun) boat-load of scientific expeditions trying to find any trace of Nessie they could find. Monster-hunter, the late Robert Rines, took an underwater photo (right) deemed so convincing that scientists at Harvard and the Smithsonian Institution expressed genuine and serious interest. (It was later connected to a strobe light, I think, and thus disqualified.)

So I suppose that at the time, it might have looked like there was a very good chance that the whiskey-men would have to actually stump up some serious cash any day now.

And that clearly hadn’t been the plan.

So the nice people at Cutty Sark asked Lloyds of London, the insurance people, to underwrite the contest. The insurance company actually agreed to this, but only on the condition that it would get to keep Nessie.

Yes, Lloyds of London wanted to keep Nessie.

I have… a few questions, number one being: What on Earth was Lloyds of London going to do with their very own folkloric sea-monster?!

Where would they even put it? Did they want her alive? Was an intern going to have to feed her and take her for walks, no swims? Were they going to feed under-performing managers to her?

Lloyds Nessie NewsprintNow, in fairness, initially Lloyds had apparently turned the Cutty Sark people down. Not, I  feel I should stress here, because someone in the board room said ‘Hey, Mike? This seems a little silly, and all. Maybe we have better things to do around here?’

Please!

Nope, apparently they also considered that the risk that they would have to pay out on this thing to be “too great.”

Yes.

People who were around in the 1970’s? Your world sounds like it was amazing, and I would almost like to move there…

Anyway, in true British fashion, Lloyds got called chickens for not wanting to stump up the cash on the off-chance of finding Nessie, and Lloyds said ‘What the heck? Let’s go for this crazy scheme.’ Again, the 1970’s sound like they were a whole fantasy novel on their own, and I’m mad I didn’t get to write it…

If you’re curious, the contract apparently went as follows:

“As far as this insurance is concerned, the Loch Ness Monster shall be deemed to be:

  1. In excess of 20 feet in length.
  2. Acceptable as the Loch Ness Monster to the curators of the Natural History Museum, London.

In the event of loss hereunder, the monster shall become the property of the underwriters hereon.”

Which also means that another development in this – frankly amazing – story would have been that some unsuspecting researcher in the Natural History Museum could have one day, out of the blue, received the single greatest phone call of their life. Again, just picture the scene!Ch.24 Loch Ness Monster

“Hello?”
“Ah, good morning, are you the person to speak to about sea-reptiles?”
“Yes, how can I help?”
“Oh good! We need you to come and identify Nessie for us.”
“…What?”
“It’s Lloyds of London calling.”
“This explains absolutely nothing, but thank you.”

Nowadays, thankfully, the question of what on earth do you do with the Loch Ness Monster once you’ve gone and caught her has been nicely cleared up by those lovely people over at SNH. There is, as is the way with government, a code of practice all drawn up to offer protection to any new species found in the loch, including a monster. It stipulates that a DNA sample should be taken from any new creature, and then it should be promptly and carefully released back into the loch.

Put that thing back where it came from or so help me, indeed.

So … Sorry, Lloyds of London, no pet sea-monster for you…

In the event that you feared that the insurance companies of the world have settled down about Nessie though, I am happy to report that a touch of magic still remains for us all.

Back in 2005, when Scotland’s biggest triathlon was happening in and around Loch Ness, the swimmers were all insured, for again no less than £1 million, per swimmer, against being bitten by the Loch Ness Monster. You know… Just in case?

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