The ghosts of NaNoWriMo past. 2019


Welcome to the latest of this year’s retrospective NaNoWriMo posts. Today, I’m telling you all about 2019

The novel that came from that challenge was The Hitman and the Thief.

The idea came from my workshop, a course that I occasionally run at literary events. I called it World-Building 101, its function was to briefly give people my ideas on how to construct a believable universe to set speculative fiction in.

The workshop used to go down quite well, over time I expanded it, largely because I figured that it might help people avoid all the mistakes I had made. I had talked to people who had great ideas but were discouraged from writing by the thought of creating a world to base their stories in. I wanted them to see how easy it could be. My workshop has now become a textbook, which is something that I never thought I’d write.



As part of the workshop, I used this brief passage, written to illustrate a point about back story. I wanted to show how you could fit it into action without slowing the pace of the narrative.


The shot rang out and concrete was chipped by my head.

“Come on,” gasped Lydia, grabbing my arm, “run!”

I was dragged down the street, in and out of the shadows cast by the flickering lights, “keep your head down Dan,” she said.

“It’s just like on Gallix,” I managed to wheeze as, bent double; I followed her around a corner. Out of sight for a second we dodged into a dark alleyway. There were no more shots, but we could hear running feet and shouts.

“When we had to get away from Kalindra and her boys,” she finished while I tried to fill my lungs. “I had to save you then.”

“I thought that I saved you?” I replied.

“In your dreams.” We stood in the dark and tried to get our breath back, shrinking into the darkness as two men, guns held in front of them, ran past us. The blatant show of weapons reminded me that I was out of my depth here, far from my old stomping ground. They probably had the local law in their pockets, we were the outsiders.

I was getting angrier and angrier with Fliss Bauer, back on Gallix. ‘It’ll be easy,’ she had said, ‘just get in and do this for me, it’ll wipe your slates clean’.

And we’d believed her.


I digress, although it was never intended to be much more than a conversation piece in my workshop, ideas about what happened before (and after) those brief paragraphs started making their way into my head.

I decided to tell the rest of the story.

It was a change to how I usually work. Instead of starting at the beginning, with no idea where I would go, I had a passage from somewhere in the middle of the story and had to lead up to it, as well as progress past it.


This was what I came up with.


Assassination can be a messy business, especially if you’re having a bad day.

Dan Jones is the ultimate problem solver, the hitman for crime boss Fliss Bauer.

Fliss has a rival, Kalindra Dallin. She runs a particularly unpleasant planet. Dan is told to arrange her demise. It’s just another job; until a random event means that it all goes horribly wrong.

To save his skin, Dan is forced to try again, only this time he has to work with a partner. He doesn’t want to but it’s the only chance he’s going to get; if he wants to put things right.

Can the hitman and the thief get the job done, more importantly, can they keep each other alive?



Here’s an extract from near the start. In it, Dan (the hitman) is about to assassinate a gangster called Kalindra. He’s waiting for her in a hotel room.


The room was in darkness, I turned the light on, pulled the package from my waistband. I unwrapped a short-barrelled revolver, it looked like something from a museum. Where was my Restra? My weapon of choice was a marksman’s pistol, nine shots in the magazine and one in the chamber, a hair-trigger and super accurate to about fifty yards. In my hands, I could choose which eye to put my shot through. This was a piece of junk, with a range measured in feet.

I’d have to get up close, I guess I knew that already but with only six shots it wouldn’t help me discourage pursuit. There was no spare ammunition, not that I could reload it easily under fire anyway. I was cursing my luck, wondering whether Hesta was right and I was being set up to fail; when I heard a noise from behind the couch.

I swung the pistol in an automatic gesture and turned the lights off. I had seen enough, been here enough, to find my way around. Keeping to the dark side, away from the thin curtains at the moonlit window I crept along the wall, past the closed door that I knew led to the bedroom; until I was level with the couch. I picked a book from the shelf in front of me and threw it across the room.

A shadow detached itself from the dark area behind the couch and moved towards the door. I pounced on the shadow and we wrestled for a while in silence. There was something strangely erotic about the feeling of my opponent as I tried to subdue the twisting body. I grabbed at the head and felt thick wavy hair spill from some sort of clip. My hand was over the mouth, the lips felt full and soft, no trace of stubble on the top lip. What was a woman doing here?

“Stop it,” I whispered, we had made enough noise to bring unwanted attention. In response, she struggled some more.  

I placed the pistol at the side of her head, pulled the hammer back with a loud click. That stopped her thrashing. “No noise, nod if you understand,” I whispered, willing her to comply before things went even more wrong. The head gave a small jerk. I released my grip.

“Who the hells are you?” I asked. There was silence, just her heavy breathing. “Answer me, are you one of Kalindra’s mob?”

“Who’s Kalindra?” It sounded genuine to me, there was no pleading, no hesitation. If she had been, surely she would be shouting for reinforcements at this point?

“Are you hotel security?” she asked, “I’ve paid off Thorsen, check with him.”

“I’m not security, let me guess, you’re a thief?”

“Yes,” she said, “and you’re on my turf. Get lost.”

Oh, this was great, I’d found a burglar, just when I was about to assassinate someone. She would have to go as well. It was a shame but this was no time for sentiment.

“Sorry,” I said, “but you’re in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”


The Hitman and the Thief was published in September 2020, here’s a review.



I hope that you’re enjoying this tour through my NaNo projects past and present. If you’re attempting the challenge this year, I hope it’s going well so far.

Here’s a list of all the NaNo posts this year

NaNo 2014

NaNo 2016

NaNo 2017

NaNo 2018


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