Travel broadens the mind, but is mine wide enough?

suitcase pilePhil: If there is one major difference between Candice and I, apart from the obvious one, it’s our attitude to holidays.

When we first met, she had just returned from a break in Australia. Since then there have been regular vacations. Usually by the time one is underway, the next has been booked. Every few months, friends are treated to more pictures from an exotic location via Facebook.

I, on the other hand, like the concept of a holiday as long as I don’t actually have to go on it. Travelling is something I’d like to have done, but not actually do. If you’ve seen the film “Total Recall” or read the original story “We can remember it for you wholesale” where an industry has grown up selling memories, you’ve probably got an idea how I’d like to operate. All the pleasant bits from a trip without all the hassle and inconvenience would make me happy. Looking at the Nolan photos, I envy trips to Cape Canaveral, but not enough to load myself on a plane and go.

Part of this is that I don’t like flying. Sitting in a tube an unfeasibly long way above the ground makes me nervous. I know planes (generally) don’t crash. I even have a pretty good idea why they stay in the air but it still all seems wrong to me.

More of a problem is that it’s so inconvenient. When employed in proper jobs, I have been actively encouraged by some bosses not to take time off. One would delight in suddenly producing something “that must be done” late in the afternoon on my last day. Alternatively I’ve found meeting booked into electronic diaries even when mine clearly states I’m not around. Meetings important enough that if I wasn’t going away, I felt I ought to come in for them.

There are a couple of years in my past when I didn’t take a single day of my annual leave entitlement. (Before you get the violins out, I was on flexi-time in both jobs and so earned odd days off, so I had time off but no longer than a long weekend). Looking back, I received no thanks for this and never expected any. It was just the way things were.

Even since joining the world of freelancers and contractors, my last proper trip away was in 2008 – that shocked me when I looked it up on the blog I set up in a fit of enthusiasm for a lifestyle change involving more getting away from it all. OK, there have been loads of days out and even a few nights away but nothing you can properly call a holiday.

Why do I mention this?

Well, next week I’m away for a few days on Isle of Man. Then later in the year I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Australia. You can’t spend that much time travelling for a weekend so I’ve booked a proper trip involving Adelaide, Sydney and a couple of visits to Hong Kong. Comitting myself to that was a bit scary if I’m honest. So I couldn’t bottle it, I told lots of people I was going. Needless to say, several, including Candice, have given me excellent advice and a list of places I should visit when I’m there.

I think I’m looking forward to it but already I can see work piling up and a voice in my head is telling me that it would be a lot more convenient not to go…

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We’re in the money

Candice: Once, a long time ago, I thought I’d be rich and famous by now.  I had aspirations to be an actor and dreampt of being set up in Hollywood, staring in many films  and rolling in money.  However, of course reality hit and then so did my 40′s and I realised that it just wasnt going to happen.

But then I got into this book writing thing and thought, ‘I can get to be as rich as JK Rowling’ .  But it seems that is all a falacy and I wont be getting as rich as I thought.  Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, has been saying that the ‘Rowling effect’ is giving people a false sense of what you can earn from being an author. Now that’s a bit of a shame.  Part of me wonders if this is sour grapes as she’s only had one film made from her books and Rowling has had eight.  Everyone must want to write that massive block buster series and it be made into a set of successful films, but that happens for so few.  I suppose its just as likely as winning the lottery.

But it seems the problem is more about the fact everyone wants something for free.  In the Music Industry artists branch out and do clothing or perfume lines to make more money.  For an author, this must be much harder as unless a film is made or they can tout themselves round lots of high paying chat shows I can’t see myself buying ‘Harry’ the new after shave.

So its seems we might all have to be part time authors, funding the thing we love with things we have to do to pay the bills.  At the moment I’m a full time working and can’t even call myself an occassional author, though I’d really like to be. But needs must with a baby to look after until she can starting earning herself….

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Farewell Michael Gove, the man responsible for our book

goveyPhil: If you’ve seen any UK political news this week, you’ll know that the Prime Minister has re-shuffled his cabinet. One of the main casualties is the education secretary, Michael Gove. This is a momentous moment for us as it to him we owe our career as novelists.

Back in the heady days of 2010, both Candice and I were contractors at Becta, an education quango. If I’m honest, we weren’t the biggest fans of the place but it paid well and with some careful booking of hot desks, we were able to sit opposite each other for banter.

The month before the election, the place entered a state known as “purdah”. All government bodies do this and put simply it means that we publish absolutely nothing during the election period so as not to influence the outcome. It’s all about stopping sudden newsworthy announcements boosting the incumbent parties fortunes. Work still carried on, we just didn’t do anything with it. I was still making web pages and Candice planning marketing magic, albeit with less oomph than before.

Anyway, the election happens, we sit around waiting for a government to be formed and when it is, the first thing the new education minister does, even before tucking in to the departmental tea and biscuits, is announce that Becta would be closed down.

Obviously this meant that our work was done. The permanent staff started to head in to meetings about the redundancy process. We contractors just sat around and chatted. Since we only got paid when we turned up and we liked being paid, we had to be in the office. There was just nothing for us to do.

This carried on for a month until the management board could meet and make decisions. Then we bumbled on until our contracts were terminated.

Chatting with other contractors one sunny lunchtime, we joked about setting up a “change management” firm to take on closing all the quangoes due to be shut. From this, the two of us started forming a story with this as the background. Some of the stuff we’d just been through made it on to the page in a fictional setting and we added and embellished other parts. Daytime was for chatting, mostly by e-mail as it was a bit off the wall although people wondered what we were laughing at sometimes. Every day, one of us would come in with some new words written the evening before.

Eventually, we were turfed out to find other jobs but by that point The Book was born and we weren’t going to stop there.

Would we have started without Mikey Gove’s actions?

If I’m honest, I doubt it. We’d probably have finished our contracts and gone our separate ways. Thanks to Facebook, we’d stay in touch but this common project unlocked the desire to write fiction in both of us. Now we spur each other on and will one day see our story out there.

So, farewell Michael Gove. You’ve gone off to whip the Tories. I suspect at the time, you were happy to punish a load of people for working for an organisation you didn’t see the point of. You couldn’t know that you cemented a friendship and lead to the birth of a book.


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Things I have forgotten

Candice: Since having Erin I am sure I have what is known as ‘baby brain’.  My memory for names is shocking and I seem to constantly double book myself for meetings and catch up’s with friends ‘causing lots of text messages or speedy journeys from one place to the next.

Phil has been chasing me for an appropriate time to meet up to talk through the comments we’ve had from our agency and just general writing stuff.  Work has been busy and my mind isn’t always in the best place when we meet for lunch, I’m still thinking about 9ft high wellington boots (another story). So I said to him did he want to get down to some serious writing at the weekend.  We plumped for a meet in Birmingham as Leamington had some fayre on and would have been a nightmare for parking.

Off I went on the train and we toddled up to Birmingham Library, after a stop off in the newly refurbished Edwardian Tea Room in the Museum and Art Gallery, to have some serious writing time. You may have noticed from previous posts that working in a Library seems to work for us.  No chance to chat too much in this quiet environment so iPods on and keyboards open for a productive time.

Well, we only wrote for just over an hour but we sorted out some plot issues, made Kate more rounded and came out the other side feeling satisfied with the results.  There was even cake to celebrate.

In the preparation for this I had been re-reading the first half of the book.  I’d sat down at a rainy morning on holiday and had another look.  The first thing I noticed was a continuity error and some typos, but I also reminded myself what a good read it is.  I never got past the part we’d talked about before I went so I haven’t re-read it all but I’d forgotten most of what we’d written. I can’t blame all of this on baby brain, but in the forgetting I did enjoy the re-reading.  Hopefully this means you will when you get to read it all later this year.



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Going in front of the camera

TVPhil3Phil: Once upon a time, authors could hide away behind their typewriters and word processors. We turned in our great words to someone who took them away and did the rest.

Times have changed. Even if you have a conventional publishing deal where someone handles book production and distribution, authors are expected to be front and centre in the publicity drive to sell copy. Even those of us in the magazine world find ourselves with a more varied career than just hammering a keyboard. Social media and blogging are one thing. Worse, you can be expected to appear on camera.

Now we expect that this is going to happen. In many ways we are looking forward to it. Writing is fun but selling the story is a task we really look forward to tackling.

If you look at the heading on this page, it’s pretty obvious that half of team NolanParker are TV friendly with years of extras work as well as a background in marketing and PR. The other half now finds himself having to take a crash course in not looking stupid on camera.

The magazine I work for has decided to produce DVDs where the team will illustrate some of the content on the page. Since I’m the “How to” article man, I’m going to have to feed on years watching Blue Peter presenters wrestle with sticky back plastic and double-sided tape to understand how to perform properly.

Step 1: Clean clothes and a haircut. Check.

Step 2: Turn up at the studio. Work out your “narrative” and get on with it.

The narrative is essentially the story you are trying to tell. In the film world, they will storyboard everything so you can see a visual thread running through the production. I just worked out what I wanted to do and the order I wanted to do it in my head.

Step 3: Try not to talk rubbish.

I’m not very good at learning lines and if I did, I suspect it would sound like I am reading from a page. When presenting to an audience, I use the slides as cue cards along with a few notes and make the rest up as I go along. Ten years of hospital radio presenting honed my skills but when a camera is involved, it steps up a level.

The closest I can describe my efforts is the radio panel game, Just a Minute. Contestants have to speak for 1 minute without any repetition or pauses. When I write, I’m very careful to avoid close repetition of words and phrases. This is fine on the page because I can edit away any problems. On screen, it’s even more important to avoid this but there’s not much you can do when you screw up except go for another take. Since I want the cameraman to like me, he’s also the editor and has ultimate power over how stupid you look in the final cut, it’s important to do this as few times as possible.

Anyway, I have now seen the final version of the film we made. 9 minutes of Phil for just over an hours filming. That sounds poor but I’m told is pretty good going. Candice tells tales of incredible amounts of time spent perfecting each scene in TV drama land. I’ll admit that I watched the TV through my fingers but I don’t think it’s too bad.

All this is useful because hopefully I’ll be fully practised when it’s time to tour the worlds TV studios to promote The Book!

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Super Food?

ChocolateCandice: Do you have things that make you write better?  I’m a fidget and have trouble settingly down to anything until I have surfed, emailed and generally got it out of my system.  I often find that listening to music takes away the need to keep jumping up and down, but it has to be ear phones, not just radio in the background as that doesn’t fill the space in my head that is working on 10 other things and distracting me.

Food is another thing, I am a terrible picker.  I’ve just been away for a week and lost some weight while I was there because my main focus was which book I was reading or when I was next having a dip in the pool, not trying to get down to something and there for need to pick at something as a distraction.

Chocolate is a major downfall.  I am still amazed that I managed to have pain au chocolat most days and still lose weight.  The chocolate must be low calorie in France.  But here is another option – raw chocolate - something that is supposed to be a super food.

What is a super food? Food with additional health benefits – antioxidants or extra vitamins.  A lot of brands sell off the back of this concept, though research suggests it is just a marking ploy.

Can it help with my concentration – who knows.  But I am willing to give it a try, as it is chocolate. Time for a trip to the shops – I’ll let you know how I get on.

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Can bad people write good books?

Burning a bookPhil: Here’s a dilemma. I own a copy of “Rolf on Art”. In the book, Rolf Harris describes his painting technique for the benefit of those who aspire to have a go at art, or are simply keen to find out how paintings are produced. It’s an interesting book with photos taken from the TV series the book accompanies showing the painting of several pieces in a step-by-step process.

The writer is described as having “a background in Fine Art and has exhibited at the Royal Academy. He attended the City & Guilds Art School in London during the 1950s. Later, inspired by the Australian impressionist Hayward Veal, he began to develop his own characteristic, free-flowing style. He was soon making a name for himself on his own live television series, effortlessly producing the huge paintings that have become his artistic landmark.”

As we now know, at the same time he was developing a taste for molesting young girls.

Which leaves me with problem. What do I do with the book?

Is it possible to separate the work (quite good) from the author (a filthy pervert)?

If I were to keep the book on my shelf, am I in some way condoning the authors behaviour?

As you can see from the photo, my bookshelf will soon have a little more space on it. Not a problem as I’ve plenty of others to fill the gap. I couldn’t even give the book away to a charity shop like others I pass on, that, to me, is as bad as keeping it. Besides, most charity shops will be inundated with the things. I can’t see out local Cats Protection League selling their copy of “Beastly Behaviour” in a hurry…


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