Evil word counting

Phil: Imagine a world very like the one we live in, but where women have no passports, money of their own, jobs – and are limited to speaking 100 words a day.

That’s how America looks in Christina Dalcher’s novel Vox.

The word limit is enforced by a wristband every female is fitted with at three months of age. Each word spoken is counted and when you reach 101, you receive an electric shock. Keep talking and the shocks become stronger until you “learn your lesson”.

All of this is enforced because of a new brand of “Pure” Christianity that has taken hold. Spreading from the bible-belt, it’s now controlling the White House and everyone else.

As you read, it becomes obvious that people are adjusting to the new normal. Jean McClellan is the main character and we see through her eyes as her sons tell her that according to their lessons at school, a woman’s place is in the home. Chillingly, her daughter wins a prize for not speaking at all. Women haven’t just lost their place in society, they have literally lost their voice.

I found this a scary read. OK, it turns into a thriller towards the end, but the scene-setting is very, very effective.

What makes it especially uncomfortable is that you can see how this sort of thing could happen for real. Vice President of the USA, Mike Pence, won’t eat alone with a woman and has been applauded for this by the religious right. His boss isn’t exactly known for his consideration towards women either.

Don’t think women would all stand up and fight – the rise of the #tradwife movement is sending women back to the 1950s and while they might not be queueing up to wear an electric word-counter, they love the idea that women should stay at home doing what their husband tells them they are allowed to do.

Like all good sci-fi, Vox is a commentary on the present day. It holds up a slightly distorted mirror to our lives and the reflection acts as a warning to things that could happen if we don’t pay attention.

Mind you, I think the Nolan acts as a perfectly effective word counter when we meet, there is a look far more potent than any electric shock that says, “Shut up Phil, and do some work!”

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Busy, busy, busy

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Candice: Phil and I have been busy, busy, busy in the last week or so.  We are so close to having a suped-up version of ‘Kate vs the Dirtboffins‘ ready to get out there.  And have been looking at other marketing options so that this time it can have a really good push.

However, Phil has been traversing the country at his train shows and I have been tied up in workshops in the project I am working on, not leaving a lot of time for anything else.

Ah, but this is the life of most writers; working around the full-time job, family, fighting off a cold etc. ( I am also doing that at the moment – though not Coronavirus mind!)

We took a day out last week to convene over tea and cake and then get those laptops fired up.  We have always found working in the local library is a good spot as it has a good cafe (though this time I used my free tea and cake voucher for John Lewis down the road) but it also means we have to sit and work and not chat all the time.  That is our biggest downfall, chatting.  Being a team of two is great for writing and ideas but terrible for getting down to work sometimes, too much chat!

Anyway, Solihull library has some great desks which you can work from looking out over a courtyard, but also have subdued chat and drink coffee at too.  It means we don’t get ‘shushed’ all the time but the environment is enough to make us concentrate.

Some quick editing and then matching across the two different versions we’d been working on and then we were off.

There are a few new Chapters to put in, to split up the copy better, some continuity errors sorted and some new content.  Its nearly there.

We are both proud of the book, but have always felt it wasn’t quite as polished as it should be.  Now it’s a shiny penny.  So by the end of this month that penny should be on Amazon again, ready to be read by all.

And then on to finish book three….

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Killer blurb

When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other..

Phil: When I read this on the back of My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite while browsing the new books shelf of my local library, it did its job, grabbing me enough I wanted to read the story. With three books in my hand, I left it but came back a couple of weeks later and searched for it on the shelves.

Set in Lagos, it tells the story of Korede who keeps having the clean up when her sister murders her latest boyfriend.

As a nurse with a cleaning compulsion, she’s ideally placed to help, but when the sister hooks up with a doctor Korede facies herself, things get complicated. She can’t tell anyone about this except a patient in a coma.

Through the story, we learn some backs-story about the girls’ abusive father and his death (not their fault, but they were present) and this might give an insight into Ayoola’s behaviour. That, and she’s a little princess who’s never heard the word “no”.

The book has won awards, but I wonder if this is down to a metropolitan art crowd being excited by a book set firmly in Nigeria and making good use of the rules and traditions of that country. You are immersed in a way no non-native could ever do and some of the characters’ behaviours are appalling by Western standards. If you think the British class system is bad, the Nigerian one is far worse. It troubled me that the “house girl” never seems to warrant a name, nor any consideration for her constant servitude by the main characters for example.

I’m not sure the story every really gets going despite two deaths and a third close-call. The coma patient wakes up and remembers some of the stuff he has been told, but nothing happens with this.

The premise is really strong, possibly stronger than the book itself. Having said that, the setting fascinated me and I’m tempted to look up many of the foods mentioned. Maybe this is the best part – I was really taken to a new world, and that’s what reading should be about.

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Do you read reviews? I really should.

Phil: I’ve just come back from the Tutankhamun “Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh” exhibition in London. I shelled out good money to get in and for my ticket to travel. Sadly, by the end, I was disappointed and felt cheated.

We were promised 150 artefacts, many leaving Egypt for the first and last time. That much is true, but my motivation was to see the iconic golden mask of Tutankhamun – the thing everyone pictures in their mind’s eye when you say the name.

I gazed at many amazing and fascinating objects, gradually nearing the end. Turning in to the last room, I was faced with….a stone statue. An interesting statue with 3000-year-old paint, but not the golden mask.

Querying this with a steward, it became obvious that I’m not the first person to ask. The reply about the mask being “too delicate” to travel from Egypt came out very quickly and with much practice.

Looking back at the booking, I realise the organisers had never said the mask would be there. They had simply used an image of one of the other objects, a miniature version of the coffin used for holding some of the King’s internal organs. It’s beautifully made and from the picture, you wouldn’t know the thing was about a foot tall. I simply saw the picture and assumed, something the Daily Telegraph’s reviewer guessed would happen.

Now, if I’d taken the time to read some reviews beforehand, I’d have realised I wasn’t going to see the mask. On that basis, I’d have given the exhibition a miss.

This makes me think, I’m a bit rubbish at checking this sort of thing out in advance. I don’t generally read book reviews in advance either.

Is this just me?

Maybe authors can stop worrying quite so much about a bad review. Most people have better things to do than research a book in advance – a nice over and slick synopsis on the back probably sells more.

OK, there will be some who pore through reviews, probably looking for the bad ones. A slew of good reviews can’t hurt either, but maybe we can afford to be a bit more relaxed. And maybe, I need to be a little more prepared in future when planning a day out.

 

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Blue Monday?

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Candice: When I hear that expression I have to say I think more of the New Order song (which I hate) than the term that is banded around for the third Monday in January.

Monday, and this week, is supposed to be the most depressing point of the year.  Christmas is over, the days are still short and dark, and we don’t have anything to look forward to until the next big holiday which could be months away.

This Monday has turned into even more of a confusing one for me, my daughter seems to have decided it’s her blue Monday as she doesn’t want to go to school. At the age of six, they are already testing children at school, and she is in the middle of her first round of maths and reading checks.  I think it’s far too early, but that’s the way the world works.

What I don’t want this to do it take away from her enjoyment of school and learning, including reading.  One of the things that lifts me in the world of short, dark days is a good book or film, something to drift off in to so I don’t have the think about all the rubbish going on around me.

To me, you have to spin the concept of ‘Blue Monday’ on its head and find positive things to do to make this time of year better.  As much as I am sure my other half would prefer not to have a birthday at the end of Jan, its something I use to keep us going as I like to plan a day out activity so we all have something look forward to.   Birthday or not it’s good to have things in the diary so that you can go – ‘today was rubbish but I’ve got that trip to the theatre, cinema, day out in London’ – whatever it is that floats your boat, in the calendar.

Having a small person does help too as she always wants to find out new stuff, and I like taking her to new things too.  We were watching the ice dancing show last night and she said she’d like to have a go so we are going to plan a trip to the ice rink in a few weeks.  She’s never been so it will be an experience and there will definitely be falls, but it’s all new and exciting in her eyes.

My other ‘Blue Monday’ is the eternal battle with writing and time to do it.  Phil and I had a chat in a very busy Costa last week about plot lines, and then I didn’t manage to get to the edits off the back of that.  However, after beating myself up for most of the weekend about it, I’ve got my planning diary out and worked out when I might be able to look at it.  That makes me feel better.  It might not be until next weekend but now I feel more comfortable because at least I know when I will do, rather than constantly going when can I write.

If you are feeling blue, go and book in something that you will enjoy – a massage, drink with friends.  You might not be feeling motivated but once you do something you’ll find that the need to hibernate lessens and you’ll want to do more.  Now to sort out the six-year-old’s logic about school…..

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The worst Deus ex machina ever?

Deus ex machina: A plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived.

Phil: I like nerdy reading. I like sci-fi. I like space ships and I love the TV show Thunderbirds. Not for the plots, which are mostly rubbish, but for the models and whizz-bang stuff. The twenty-first century doesn’t look as good as it did when Gerry Anderson designed it!

Anyway, I was browsing in an especially nerdy (even for me) shop and spotted book for a couple of quid.

Thunderbirds Lost World isn’t a novelisation of one of the TV shows. No, it’s a brand new (for 1966 when it was published) novel offering a thrilling tale.

Investing the disappearance of two airliners over New Guinea, Thunderbird One and pilot Scott Tracey find themselves crash landing after his craft is hit by a mysterious invisible force. After some escapades that would be impossible to film with puppets, he is rescued by Thunderbird Two.

Separately, a boffin is planning an expedition to the island. He disappears and Scott heads off to find him. They suspect International Rescue’s arch-enemy, The Hood, might have something to do with it all.

Spoiler Alert.

Anyway, it turns out there is a race of being hidden on the island who are using alien technology to do bad things and are planning to take over the world.

Things look sticky for our heroes – they are trapped in jail with no hope of escape or rescue.

Then there is an earthquake, the jail doors fly open, the baddies disappear and everyone gets away to live happily ever after.

Seriously?

Pretty much an entire novel-worth of buildup, the ground shakes and everything is OK?

How on earth did author John W Jennison get away with this?

I had wondered as the bookmark was nearly at the back and we seemed a long way off a plot resolution, but I didn’t see this coming. Can anyone name a more blatant ending thrown in because the author wanted to go down the pub or was just close to their deadline?

(Nerd note: If you have a copy with a dust jacket, it shows Thunderbird One flying over a dinosaur. There are no dinosaurs in the story.)

 

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Clever Marketing

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This Christmas has been a whirlwind of new sparkly, pink things. Not for me, but for the little girl in the household, who actually isn’t that little any more.

She is one of those people with a birthday very close to Christmas so we go through a very fast run of present buying from one event to another. She loves the excitement of having so many things together, but I find it hard 1) to be inspired so close together, 2) wondering how she will feel when she is older when she’ll want the two things further apart, as I have to say to her you can’t have anything else you’ve had your quota for the year.

This is partly driven by me being a June person. I’m used to having a good gap between the two so I have to keep reminding myself she doesn’t know any different. And also it’s not totally my fault as she was early!

Anyway, this year has been all about LOL Surprise dolls. For those of you have not experienced them, they are the “Cabbage patch doll” of this year, but without the fighting at the till. Why no fighting? Because you can get everything with a LOL on! Clothes, pants, drawing kits, hair bands, pens, games alongside the dolls themselves.

What is a LOL?

They stand about 6cms high and look like a combination of Betty Boop and a Manga comic. All big eyes and oversized head. They don’t do a lot but the fun comes from the opening. The creators have come up with a clever way to make you a) buy lots of them and b) keep you interested. They come wrapped up in a ball or other plastic container and you have to unwrap the layers, like pass the parcel. You don’t know what doll you are going to get inside and everything that comes with her is wrapped up in little packages. Each item, shoes, clothes, bag, is separately wrapped. It’s very clever as it builds the excitement not knowing what is in there and then constructing the little doll.

I have to say I get just as excited as her in the process, wondering what we are going to get, and I don’t even know what most of them are called though she seems to.

There are 100’s of dolls to collect, they keep bringing out new versions and types – glitter series, winter disco, OMG. So you want to keep adding to your collection. My daughter has about 12 of them, this is a small number compared to some of the children you see and hear, and at £10 plus a go that’s a lot of money.

As my sister in law said the other day, “I wish I’d come up with the idea”. They have taken the world by storm, seemingly by using YouTube as their platform for delivery. I’ve never seen an advert anywhere for them but my daughter found them on YouTube by watching the ‘unboxing’ videos. This has become a big thing, vloggers opening things they are sent to promote. Because of the format of the LOL they are perfect for this, and they have kids and adults drowning in excitement ready to open their next surprise. I know some kids have become rich with ‘unboxing’ and their parents posting the videos.

I have to say I think the dolls are harmless fun, as long as you don’t get pulled into buying them all. It’s not like sticker books where you bought a pack of stickers for a few pence and then swapped duplicates with your friends, you could spend thousands to get a full set with these. In that case, it’s all about control from the parents. But I do think that the world of marketing has changed so dramatically and this is a very clever use of the new media out there. I’d just like to know how to transfer that into bookselling.

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