Don’t listen to Instagram

Phil: I love Instagram, but if I hit the magnifying glass icon and start strolling through the random picture feed, I wonder. Suddenly, among all the pictures of Amanda Holden (how does she find the time to do any work?), there are bits of cod psychology from people desperate to say something profound.

“Words are the worst form of communication” was exceptionally special.

For a moment, let us imaging I am heading into my favourite fast-food restaurant. I would like to purchase a Wimpy burger followed by a delicious Brown Derby desert.

How should I convey this information to the person behind the counter?

In the past, I would have said, “I’d like a Wimpy burger, a Brown Derby and cup of tea.”, but according to Instagram, that’s wrong.

So, should I try to convey my order through the medium of interpretive dance?

I don’t know about you, but I find playing Charades takes ages but if we aren’t doing words, that’s pretty much where we are. Heaven knows what happens if I decide to add a Bender in a Bun to the order!

Seriously, we’ve written two and a half books full of words and read thousands of books, also full of words. How could I be so stupid as to realise there was a better way?

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Are you exposing yourself to your readers?

Bear vs. Bare—What's the Difference? | Grammarly

I’m not sure if you have noticed but there is a term being used a lot across customer communications, notices and social media messages at the moment.  As we are all having a rough time of it, things are taking longer to do, so I keep being asked to BARE with people.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I won’t be sharing any naked shots with them, and I don’t expect them to do the same!

When I first started seeing this term I thought it might be me (I am dyslexic) that was seeing something that was wrong, but I knew the spelling of bare just didn’t feel right.  I think people opt for this one, rather than the correct term which is BEAR, as they perceive the second term as used exclusively for an animal.  But I looked it up and bear not bare is the correct way to ask someone to have some patience.  Now every time I see it, it drives me up the wall!

The use of correct terminology and spelling is something that a professional will add to your writing, whether that is a marketing document, book or blog.  Phil and I used a professional proofreader on our books, as their expertise does make a difference. I know that I am not the best speller, and when you write something you don’t always see your mistakes, but certain things will make me stop reading before I get to the end.  Using the wrong term is one of them.  In this world of asking people to hold fire while you work on something, then asking them to get their clothes off rather than be patient is probably the worst thing you can do.

The English Language is a wonderful thing, and having a junior reader in the house is making me even more interested in it (though when she asks me how to spell a word out loud I  do really struggle – how do you spell science?) as she is developing her vocabulary every day.  Using the wrong term is not a hanging offence but this is where the teaching and learning from an early age comes in, as does reading a lot.  My understanding of language and development of words is broadened by the number of books I read.  Though it’s probably better in chick lit and murder mystery terminology than others!

It surprises me when someone uses the wrong term, so if you are thinking of doing something professional, just check your terms if you aren’t sure, else you might alienate people rather than get your message across.

Leave a comment

Filed under Candice, Writing

Radio recommendations

Phil: OK, we’re back in lockdown. The message is “stay at home with a paper bag on your head” and the chances to go and sit in a cafe chatting over plot twists for your latest novel have receded into 2022. In the meantime, one of us has become a part-time teacher to her daughter, stealing away valuable writing time.

Anyway, books are a good way to hide from the gloom and doom. For a start, they don’t generally involve listening to Michael Gove, and there’s usually a happy ending. We’ve always recommended reading matter, but now I’m going to take another step and start looking at radio programmes and podcasts that are worth downloading to your phone for entertainment. I like to listen during my allotted hour of exercise – basically going for a walk being careful not to get within 2 metres of anyone not wearing a full-on gimp suit, and several miles of anyone who is.

Before we start, I recommend searching for the BBC Sounds App, it makes this sort of thing so much easier.

Can I talk about heroes?

We’ll start with a serious one. Vicky Foster looks at the way society creates heroes and the nature of heroism. At least that is what the description for the programme says.

The more interesting side is that her ex-partner was killed by the man who later made the news tackling a terrorist on London Bridge with a narwhal tusk. How do you explain to your children that the man who killed daddy is now being lauded by the Prime Minister as a hero?

Download “Can I talk about Heroes” (37 minutes)

 

Austentatious

Now for something funny, or at least it is if you can stand mock versions of Jane Austen, the famous author who died ay 41 fighting in a pigmy goat wrestling competition, without getting huffy about not taking things seriously.

The cast improvises a version of Pride and Prejudice largely based in a fish and chip where we find the usual women looking for a husband. The results are very funny, taking the mickey out of literary tropes, the social morays of the time, and we all like gossip about young ladies…

Settle down for Pride and Bread with this.

Download “Austentatious” (28 minutes)

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

And that was 2020

2020 in the binPhil: So, there we go. 2020 is nearly over, and I don’t think it will be mourned by anyone.

Let’s be honest, it was rubbish. We’d all have been happier to hibernate through the whole thing, and the first six months of 2021 too, I suspect.

Team NolanParker can’t claim to have enjoyed any great success.

Early on, we tidied up both of our books, applied all the proof-reading and removed the typos. All good, but after that March happened, and it all fell apart.

While others were (they claim) learning a new language or developing the ability to make pasta, we just disappeared into the “joys” of ever more work, homeschooling and generally losing all our motivation.

Sadly, our writing mojo is still missing, but at least on a socially-distanced walk in the cold yesterday, we started to look for it. That’s another thing we miss – sitting in a cafe with tea and cake. I’m sure that strolling in the park is good for you, but you can’t use a laptop.

Will 2021 be the year we break through? Will we finally finish our third book?

Does anyone else have hopes and dreams for next year? Please share – you might inspire someone else.

1 Comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Party like it’s 2020!

Phil: Do you know what’s good about 2020?

No office Christmas parties!

No standing around awkwardly pretending to have fun. No wishing you didn’t have to drive home so you could enjoy a drink to dull the pain. No being stuck with colleagues who have partners picking them up so they can drink.

Yes, I know we’re all supposed to love this stuff, but some of us don’t. Can you just not go, leaving the party to those who enjoy it? No. Apparently, it’s the law that you have to turn up for the “fun”. It’s rude (I’m told) to explain that you didn’t choose to be with anyone you work with, it’s only being paid that keeps you in the same room as them. And only the threat of a tedious interview with HR that stops you murdering the lot of them. (I have worked in IT support. You have no idea how much we hated some of our users. No, more than that.)

But 2020 comes along and everyone is working from home. Parties are held via Zoom!

No dancing. Drinking if you want it because, well, you are at home.

And when it’s time to leave say something along the lines of “My Internet is playing up.”, switch the computer off and leave them to it.

In Kate vs The Dirtboffins, our IT nerd Kelvin has a neat party trick. He pretends to take an urgent phone call when he needs to get away. That wasn’t my invention, party monster Nolan came up with that, but if we are ever allowed into the same room as other people, I’ll remember it.

As it is, meet-ups via Zoom have worked very well this year. My circle of regular drinking buddies has grown now we no longer have to worry about geography. Yes, I miss visiting a pub, but even my annual nerds trip to London boozers has a virtual stand-in this year. It won’t be the same, but at least we won’t be jostling out on the pavement in the cold. And the beer is cheaper.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Christmas Party but not as you know it

Candice: Phil told me I HAD to write the blog this week as I’d been keeping you all on tenterhooks talking about last weeks trip into the office.

Well, it was eventful. The whole experience was like starting the first day at a new job. I didn’t sleep well the night before as I kept thinking about what I needed to take with me, even though I’d packed it all and put it by the front door. I even cleaned my boots and laid out all my clothes for the next day, like I used to do.

In the morning I think it was the earliest that my daughter has been dropped off at school. I then got on the motorway and immediately remembered why I don’t like driving at ‘peak’ time, (though this was nothing like the usual level of traffic, just people being stupid because they were in a rush). However, I got there, Christmas jumper ready, flashing light badge on the go, tea and coffee ready to be made.

The day was a whirlwind of trying to work out how to work the new technology in the office (can you hear us, we can’t see you) and fitting in a whole weeks worth of work in one day. There was also a lot of food – everyone had bought something which had to be put in a central place and then we could dip it when we wanted (two metres apart obviously). It reminded me of being back in the office full time and being stuffed with too many chocs near to Xmas.

We went from back to back meetings to our virtual Christmas party – which was nice to do with a few key people around as it gave the event atmosphere. Though when we went to the quiz part we all had to disappear to different parts of the office so that we couldn’t hear each other team’s answers (not hard with social distancing), not that I am competitive at all.

By the end of the day, I was frazzled. I’d tried to solve our business planning problems and also a murder mystery too! I finished it off with the 5km run with my running buddy, our last before Christmas which was a really nice end to my sociable day.

Was this like a usual Christmas wind down? No.

Was it nice to go back in and see people? Yes.

Did I win the Christmas Jumper competition? NO!

Was I shattered that night and the next day? OMG yes. I have no idea what it will be like when we go back to travelling in on a regular basis, but I know it will be tiring initially!

I hope you all have a great Christmas and New Year and here is looking at a different 2021!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Candice, Writing

A Christmas Bonus?

Image result for christmas jumpers in covid

Candice: Today I will be in the office for the first time in nine months. The concept of going in was mooted in September but then didn’t happen due to a change in rules. At the time I was very excited as I would be able to see my work colleagues again and have some semblance of normality. Having it taken away felt like a real blow.

But since then, I’ve got used to my little corner of the back bedroom again, especially since I bought a new desk which has really helped to make the space work properly for me. I’ve got a cosy set up, often with a cat asleep behind me and regular tea on tap when I want it.

When it was suggested we went back in for a planning session the other day I did jump at the chance, but since then have probably had the qualms that a lot of us long time home workers have had – what will it actually be like to work in an office face to face (well two metres apart obviously)? I’ve also been planning what I have to take, funny because for years I’ve just picked up my bag in the morning and got on with it. But now that bag isn’t packed with the usual essentials – they are dotted around the house, around my desk or actually, I don’t know where they are.

Work pass and access fob – check – they are hanging up with my coat downstairs and have been for months. I can see some of my colleagues scrabbling around tonight trying to find those.

Computer – check – charging as we speak. Though there will be ones in the office I think I am happier to take my own.

Charging cables – check – don’t want anything to have a flat battery a long way from home.

Milk, tea bags, coffee, food, lunch – all the essentials – I need to pack a bigger lunch box than I do for my daughter

Clothes – what to wear? It’s our Virtual Christmas party tomorrow too so Christmas Jumpers are obligatory.

Hair and makeup – I’ll need to get up earlier in the morning to be ready!

Small child – being dropped off at school on the way. Haven’t done that in a long time.

I am looking forward to seeing some real faces, and meeting some people I have never met before (though worked with for months). But I’m also cautious as we will need to stay apart and wear masks, which is going to strange. Four of us in a large meeting room trying to do a planning session will be VERY interesting.

But it will also be nice to do our Christmas party with at least some human beings around, so the laughter is real and not echoing down the wifi.

I’ll let you know how we get on.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Candice, Writing

Lock-down reading

Phil: The Parker book pile was getting thin a few weeks ago. Somehow Divorced and Deadly ended up in it. Spying “Fast-paced and fun-packed” on the cover, I gave it a try.

The “story” follows the post-divorce life of Ben. He establishes himself as a narcissist almost immediately – the divorce came about when his wife caught him in bed with another woman, something he thought was “a bit of fun”.

Moving back in with his parents, including murderously crazy mother, he quickly moves out again to a flat with his best mate, Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants. Yes, that’s his name, and it’s repeated many, many times through the book. A joke that doesn’t get wearing at all…

Apparently, the book is based on a series of real stories that appeared on the author’s blog. It’s written in a diary-style with a series of incidents rather than a traditional narrative.

The result is a bit like a traditional British farce. Unbelievable situations escalate quickly and preposterously. Trousers fall down. Arses are exposed.

None of the characters make much sense. Some of them, such as his ex-wife who seems to devote her life to following him around and hiding in bushes (yes, really) don’t sound very grounded in reality. I’m not even sure why she’s in the book as nothing much happens with her unless you consider a “hilarious” hosepipe squirting incident.

I nearly gave up on this in less than a chapter, but with few other options, I stuck with it. To be fair, it is fast-paced but when you can’t connect with a single character, it’s a little difficult to care.

One for the charity shop book pile rather than the shelf of your library at home. Thank goodness a recent meet-up with the Nolan restocked my shelves!

(In case you think I’m being harsh, once I wrote this, I checked the reviews. Oh dear.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Are you Doomscrolling?

TwitterPhil: 2020 might have been rubbish for many things, but it’s produced a fertile crop of new words for us to make use of.

Ask me in 2019 what the “R Number” is, and like most people, I wouldn’t have had a clue. It’s the same for “T Cells”. “Furlough” is something to do with horse racing, “bubbles” are what you blow and talking of blowing, that’s what a “circuit-breaker” did in the cupboard under the stairs next to the electricity meter.

Suddenly, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, we have a whole new lexicon, and boy don’t we employ it? I wonder what our 2019 selves would think if they heard pretty much any conversation we have had this year.  Not for us the finer points of I’m a Celebrity, no, we talk about The Pandemic.

All. The. Time.

Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I talked to someone for more than about ten minutes without Covid rearing its ugly molecules in some form or another.

Which brings me on to my favourite new phrase – Doomscrolling.

This is the act of browsing the web looking for ever more apocalyptic news.

Humans are evolved to do this. Caveman Phil would want to be aware of the presence of danger, so he could do something about it. A new painting on the wall that said “Look out for the sabre-tooth tiger” would be useful.I would read this and my brain would give itself a little shot of dopamine to tell me I had learned something useful. Hopefully, not to hang around and be eaten.

Today though, we have mobile phones and Twitter. Endless hours can be spent searching out the latest bad news or getting annoyed at those who fail to see the sense of our position. If you want lockdown, there is always someone who wants a harder lockdown and is competitive about it. Think it’s all made up? Don’t worry, someone has an even better conspiracy for you to wallow in.

But this stuff is addictive. Every bit of terrible news provides the dopamine jolt and so we go hunting for the next gloomy prediction. Sadly, our brains can’t work out that this is bad for us, because they are enjoying the drugs.

What a problem this is going to be for writers in the future. How are you going to set a drama in 2020 and not bore the pants of people with endless virus talk? If you don’t, everyone will know just how unrealistic your words are – so you won’t be able to win either way.

And how will chick-lit survive? Maybe those furtive looks over the top of a mask are a start, but if your characters aren’t allowed within two metres of each other, the romance is going to fade pretty quickly.

She might find the man of her dreams, but can they get into each other’s bubbles?

1 Comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Can YOU judge a book by its cover?

 

Candice: I spotted the following quiz on the BBC website the other day asking if you can judge which book it is just by the cover?

So I did the quiz and got 6 out of 10. Not too bad I thought, but I did think some of the comments and descriptions were interesting. A lot of the covers seemed to have been revamped into a very stylised look which, to me, didn’t really reflect the content. And the descriptions attached to them were more like you would see in an art review – ‘peacock feathers representing pride’. Um, do they?

I like a simple title and cover that does what it says on the tin. I’ve written before about how, if the title or cover doesn’t reflect the inside then I get annoyed. I suppose it’s because I’ve taken the time to pick up this item and then I’m settling down to read it, I want it to be right, not sit there and go ‘this is awful, I need to find something else’.

As you will know if you follow this blog regularly, Phil and I have been through a few iterations of book covers. Certainly ‘Kate vs the Dirtboffins’ is on cover 3 as we have changed our style and view over the years as we have looked at who is reading it.

This is true of one of the biggest selling book series around, Harry Potter. When it first came out it was labelled a children’s book and so the covers showed that, then they realised that it was being read by adults too and so there were two versions floating around – Adult and child.

They say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, but we all do. I just like my covers to be simple and clear so I can get on with enjoying the reading.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Candice, Writing