You don’t understand being famous


Phil: This is the first blog post I’ve written whilst wearing a new pair of glasses. It’s very exciting.

We’ve discussed my deep joy at having to find a new pair of glasses on here before. It’s a reflection of the time we’ve been writing this blog that I’m changing them yet again. Another opportunity to pick a major facial feature. One that I only half got right as purely by chance my “everyday” pair turned out to be identical to the last design I’d picked a couple of years ago. Mind you, the ones in the photo are my “high days and holidays” pair so calm yourselves ladies…

Anyway, this time, there is an extra consideration. After my Aussie trip I’d wondered if some sunglasses might be a good idea. Then an advert planted the idea that some reactor lights lenses that automatically change would be a good idea. I love a bit of technology and don’t relish carrying glasses, a spare pare of glasses AND sunglasses around.

Fortunately, I discussed the idea with the optician and we hit a snag. You see, when I’m in the studio filming for a DVD, the bright lights in there will set off the lenses so I’ll be facing the camera looking a bit like Bono and no-one wants that.

How did being a celebrity become so difficult? Will there be other things like this to trip us up in our inexorable rise to A-list status?

You can laugh but just remember, when you watch Nativity on BBC2 Saturday December 20th at 4.45pm, La Nolan didn’t dominate the scene with Pam Ferris and the chocolate fountain without some serious hair dressing!

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What happened to Christmas spirit?

Candice: I have to say I’m finding the build up to Christmas a bit depressing this year.  It’s not just the fact that the days are getting shorter and shorter, or the fact I seem to have developed an insatiable need to eat chocolate constantly, or even the fact that I was woken up at 5.30am by the little person.

I think it’s because people seem to have forgotten that Christmas is fun.  I went to our office Christmas party the other week and had a great time.  It was paid for by the company and catered for everyone in the building.  However, the drop out rate was really  high, with people on the day saying “I can’t be bothered”, “I’m tired” etc etc.  Having worked in a few places over the years I think a paid for Christmas party is like manna from heaven find it really disappointing that people don’t see this as a good thing.

I then over heard someone talking about another office party on the phone the other day.  “I’m just going to drop in, I’m not up for a big night.”  Come on People!  Christmas is all about celebrating.  It’s the only time of year that EVERYONE is on holiday at the same time.  It’s also a good time to have some fun with your work colleagues, relax, enjoy each other’s company and remember that we are human beings not just robots.

I suppose fundamentally my attitude is different.  I enjoy going to work, I’m at it 5 days a week for 8hrs a day  so I think you might as well get the most out of it.  I’ve made so many friends over the years at work and done lots of other things because of them.

So come on people, put some tinsel up, wear your Christmas jumper, have a few shandies and photocopy your bum. I’m  off to another one on Friday at my old work, I’m going to see if they have more of a Christmas vibe, if not I’ll find it for them.


Filed under Candice, Writing

Be careful of Publishers – all may not be as it seems

Candice: I’m not a follower of ‘vloggers’ but I am aware there are a few out there who have a massive following for their You Tube films.  One is called Zoella and she mainly posts beauty blogs, but it seems she’s also written a fiction book. Or has she…

Released a few weeks ago and expected to be Christmas number one, the book about a being a teenager in the social media world has been warmly received. However, all is not as it seems, as Zoella has admitted that she didn’t actually write the book, she came up with concept and the team at Penguin put it together.

Now she wouldn’t be the first or last ‘celebrity’ to have help with a novel. Some of them can’t even string together a sentence, let alone 80,000 words.  But I think the hoo harr with this is whether she tried to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. She insists she mentioned this in her publicity but it seems that might not have been the case.  So she’s taking a break from the social media world for a while to deal with the backlash.

I’m in two minds about this story.  Part of me is pissed off with anyone who gets away with being published by doing no work at all.  It’s a bit like X Factor contestants or Big Brother winners.  They don’t really have a talent apart for promoting themselves, yet that allows them a level of celebrity. These are Phil’s personal bugbears (Tess Daly included).

But, if I read into some of these stories I think this 24 year old has been taken over by the corporate band wagon.  I’m sure she has some ideas in her head, she can’t have got 6 million followers for nothing, but I would think the people at Penguin saw money and said ‘Don’t worry love, we can put this together’ rubbing their hands at the thought of the sales.  Unfortunately, she’s the one who has to deal with the backlash.

We’ve spoken to Polly Courtney alot and she almost got sucked by the same thing when she had a traditional publishing deal, but being an older, stronger character she knew when she was being made a fool of.

My advice to Zoella is take this time to really write book two and prove everyone wrong.

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Opinions differ

nightrainbowPhil: I’ve just finished reading “The Night Rainbow” by Claire King. Not an obvious choice for me but it was passed to me with the suggestion I might find the voice it is written in interesting.

This is true – ish.

The story is written from 5 year old Pea’s point of view. She recalls, in the first person, her summer living in France. Mum is pregnant. Dad died in an accident a few months ago. She talks to her sister, Margot and adult friend Claude and his dog.

Now, I’ve never been a 5 year old girl and I’m not sure that this has helped my understand of what it would be like, even if I had wanted this.

Did I enjoy the book?

****Spoiler Alert****

Not much. Until you get within 3 chapters of the end, nothing happens. Even when it does, I didn’t feel it was worth the wait. The run-up, about 180 pages is like eating candy floss. There’s something slightly sickly there but nothing of any substance. I didn’t even feel a great deal of curiosity about the ending.

By writing as a 5 year old, the author cleverly hides stuff and we only, gradually work out what is happening. There’s a bit of a twist but it annoyed rather than shocked me.

So, not a good book then? Not according to me.

But, I am largely alone in my opinion. Checking out Amazon, I find it deep in 5 star reviews:

“I would be proud to have written this book, and feel much richer for having read it.”

“Beautiful and emotive story”

“Brilliant, just brilliant……”

So am I an uncaring idiot?

Quite possibly, but I suspect it’s just not my kind of thing. Everyone is different and so we all like different books. I might not have liked this one but lots of people really did and that can only be a good thing.

This is what I tell myself anyway as I look at our book with a view to trimming down part of the final scene.

Apparently it goes on a little too long and the reader got a bit confused reading it.

No problem I think, maybe we love it so much we’ve been a little indulgent. Perhaps a little fat trimmed away will improve the read even more.

But when I start, I have a problem. I love the scene. I love every bit of it. Trim anything significant away and you have to ditch the entire scene. That then screws up the story around it and (IMHO) doesn’t provide closure on one of the story strands. Take it out and we end with a whimper, not a bang. And everyone loves to end with a big bang don’t they?

So, I’m going to gamble that if I can’t love a book that so many other can, then the reverse is true about part of our book. After all, we all like different things don’t we?


Filed under Books, Phil, Writing

Killing off a main character

adriccoverjpgPhil: Being a bit of a Dr Who nerd, I was pleased to see buried away on one of the less fashionable TV channels, an abridged episode called “Earthshock” recently.

This is notable for a rare and major plot twist – the violent death of one of the main characters. Who aficionados will remember that the character concerned is Adric, best remembered as a whiny pain in the backside nobody liked.

Despite his unpopularity, it’s a big step to kill off a character in this way (slamming him into the Earth to kill off the dinosaurs since you ask). Up to that point, the Doctors assistants tended to leave with a bit of blubbing but generally quite happily.

Killing off one of your main characters is a tough thing for any writer to do. Whilst it will give your reader a useful shock, you might well alienate them by removing their favourite character from the story.

You’ll also make them wonder exactly who is safe. This can both put them on edge wondering what happens next, or make them lose interest in the plot since it’s obvious that the writer doesn’t care much about them. All stories call on the reader to identify and care about the characters. Those that fail to do this won’t engage the reader or viewer.

Beyond not engaging the audience, there are other pitfalls. While the BBC happily killed off most of the main characters in the spy series “Spooks” over its run, When Hamish MacBeth’s dog was run over, it had to be replaced by the end of the episode. Humans can meet the reaper all you want but cute animals? Oh no – not on Sunday evening telly!

Mind you, there are ingenious ways to make the best of it. Returning to the sci-fi world, Star Trek killed of Mr Spock at the end of the second film, a major shock for the audience. Fortunately this allowed a third film where they got him back again – a result for the filmakers and accountants. Better still, in the JJ Abrams re-boot of the series, he reverses some roles and kills off Captain Kirk for a few minutes to the pleasure of fans, film studio and the accountants all over again!

Strangely, we’ve never thought about killing off one of our major characters. I did want to skewer a middle-ranking one once but Candice told me I wasn’t allowed, so for the moment they are all safe…

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Candice: Yes it’s almost that time of year again, where people start to put on silly hats and jumpers, hand out cards and then get stupidly pissed with their work colleagues.

I’ve had my first round of Christmas parties today with my new department’s Christmas Lunch.  It was a more subdued affair with some nice chat round a table for the seven of us, a small glass of wine and then all disappearing off to our respective homes (with a quick drop into House of Fraser for me)

Friday night is the big shindig, with a black and gold theme and an opportunity for people to get absolutely hammered with drinking games (according to Dave who I sat opposite on Friday).  He was suggesting I joined in, but my current 7am wake up calls plus terrible hangovers didn’t really make me feel that his table would be where I was on Friday.

Christmas parties are great ice breakers for someone new to a company I’ve found over the years.  Or a way to find a whole new group of useful people over the punch, ‘Ah you work in legal do you?’  That’s why when I wanted to create a big final scene in our book, I made it the work’s Christmas Party.  It opens with something that I can still picture, even though I wrote it 3 years ago.  Imagine, smoke wafting across the scene and four people back-lit as they walk forward, like super heroes coming out of the fog – well that’s how our KOD chums enter the HIA Christmas party.  It all goes down hill from there considering they’ve just spent the last few months closing the company down.

We spent some time with our publishers on Saturday and one of the things they want us to prune is a part of this big scene, but Phil and I were reluctant.  However, on explanation we now think we can see why, and are going to have a go at cutting some of the fat from it, to make it a lean, mean, fighting machine!

Now I just need to work out what I am going to wear on Friday… sorry Phil no writing until after that!

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Chop that plot!

The World's Largest AxePhil: One of the standard pieces of advice given to any writer is that you must remove anything that isn’t absolutely essential to moving the plot forward. This is certainly uppermost in our minds as we work through the suggestions from our publisher.

I’m inclined to suggest that it’s rubbish.

Yes, you need to remove pointless padding from the story. Keep things tight and the reader will be swept along by the text, but you can go too far.

Imagine this:

Boy is born, grows up, has a son and they defeat the baddies.

That’s all 6 Star Wars films in 13 words. If you’ve not seen them, I’ve saved you a lot of time. With the possible exception of the first 3, it wasn’t as much fun as seeing them was it?

How about:

Man meets old girlfriend. She leaves him.

Casablanca. None of that “Play it again Sam” stuff, just the plot.

I think reading a book is like eating a good meal. Yes, you can get all the nutrients from a single substance, but as the manufacturers of Soylent (not the one made from dead people) are discovering, eating is about more than just absorbing enough chemicals to keep you alive.

Likewise, reading is about going on a journey. Along the way you need twists and turns. Sometimes you need to stand and look at the scenery. Reduce a book to its bare bones and while it will be quick to read, the result will be a joyless affair.

Like a good steak needs a bit of fat, a good story needs a little padding. It’s just that both need only a soupçon of each.

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