Mr Gandy proves that people are more interesting than things

Phil: Another novel from the “heading to the charity shop” pile in our house, Mr Gandy’s Grand Tour has an interesting premise and proves to be a pleasant read.

Tim Gandy finds himself newly compulsorily retired from his graphic design job. His wife has no real interest in him, as do two of his three children. Just as he’s wondering what to do, the wife drops dead. You might think that this isn’t a great start to a story even from someone as warm and fuzzy as the countries favourite gardner, but it provides a catalyst for the rest of the book. Gandy decides to head off to Europe on a tour in the manner of aristocrats from years long past.

Along the way, he encounters lots of special people and has a few adventures – just the sort of thing you’d expect from a novel.

Gandy is a lapsed artist and propelled by his (deliberately) ancient guidebooks, he’s determined to see some of the great artistic treasures on offer. It’s here where the book bogs down a bit with little more than lists of “wonderful” things seen. I get the feeling that like many people he feels that art from hundreds of years ago is automatically beautiful whereas later stuff isn’t quite as worthy. I’ve been to the Louvre and while I agree the Mona Lisa is disappointing, it’s nothing compared to the miles of dreadful religious paintings that fill the corridors leading to it.

Anyway, when not looking at things, the story nips along with the sort of entertaining events that happen in novels but rarely in real life. I’d bet I could spend the rest of my life painting watercolour around Paris without being accosted by a beautiful chanteuse, although in this case, it’s probably a good thing.

Despite being retired, Gandy isn’t old, or at least not properly old so he can be useful and get around. He still wants to do things and not just reminisce. I’ve not read anything with an early retiree as the main character before and it’s slightly odd as you find this is just part of his life and things can and will change in it.

Fun? Yes. Did it make me want to follow in his footsteps? Not really.  Were I lounging on a sunbed (or in the room of a Holiday Inn which is where I read it) though, it’s pretty good.

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The Keeper of Lost Things

Phil: Meeting up with Candice on Monday for a chat through our edits, I shoved a book her way. All being well, she is on holiday as I write so I knew something for reading on the sunbed would be appreciated.

The author, Ruth Hogan, was at one of the Stratford Literary Festival sessions I went to earlier this year. At the time I wasn’t feeling flush enough to buy the hardback copy of the book, but the premise sounded really interesting so when the chance came to get a paperback, I did.

Let’s start with the description on the back:

Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

But the final wishes of the ‘Keeper of Lost Things’ have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

Basically, Andrew has collected lots of stuff, carefully labelled it, stuffed it on shelves and intends to find the owners to return it. He doesn’t, but leaves the task, along with his house to Laura. There is also a dead fiance to consider, hunky gardner and special child.

Yes, it sounds a bit rubbish when I describe it like that, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers.  Probably best I don’t write the elevator pitch.

One of the highlights is that for many of the objects, there is a short story attached. Apparently, this was what Andrew wrote to make himself a successful author. The trouble was he wanted to write pieces with an edge, his publisher prefered fluffy happy tales and eventually, they parted company. I loved these little tales and suspect that there is a real book to match the fictional one in them.

Ruth weaves a couple of major plot strands through the book and for a while I couldn’t quite work out how they related to each other but by the end, everything ties up neatly and you have a happy “Oh, that’s what was happening moment.”

I enjoyed the book but it’s not perfect, there is some supernatural stuff that I could have lived without as I felt it dented the real world the rest of the plot lived in and Andrew seemed to do that literary thing of just deciding to drop dead in his rose garden in an unexplained way too.

Ultimately though, the basic idea is novel and pretty strong which overcomes any objections. I certainly enjoyed the read and picked it up every time I had a few minutes, always a good sign. It’s a pretty light and fun story which I expect the Nolan will enjoy as much as the sunbathing.

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Let’s talk about cake…

Phil: Regular readers will have noticed that team NolanParker enjoy many meetings powered by slices of cake. Since it is National Cake Week, I think we really need to look into this further.

Anyone who looks at me will know that I’m not averse to a slice of cake. However, I didn’t get serious about this until I met the Nolan.

Up to this point, cake munching was a strictly amateur task. Once we teamed up though, and especially once we started this blog, cake eating became more serious. Every cake had to be photographed to appear on these pages.

This has spread to my blog.

Now, when I go to events, I have to include a photo of any cake consumed in reviews. Due to public demand.

This has been going on long enough that I’m now known for my views on cake. It’s got so serious that people now ask me about cake rather than the models I’m supposed to be writing about. I was even waiting for a meeting at a preserved railway a few months ago and a group of hi-vis jacket wearing people spotted me and asked, “Are you here to try the cake?”

Freinds have commented that my Facebook feed only seems to show cake and beer pictures, sometimes both at the same time. This is partly because I’m not a 12-year-old girl who spends entire evenings taking a hundred photos of myself and my friends. Nor am I the middle-aged bloke in the pub last week who spent about 15 minutes casually leaning on a wall posing for his mate to take a photo. There’s probably a story in there as to why he thought that was a good idea but I wasn’t going to ask.

Cheese on the left, chalk on the right.No, the cake is simply more interesting and more photogenic than me. Some people take pictures of cats, I take snaps of cake. I don’t even eat that much of it, but what I do, I generously share via social media. I’m sure this is what Tim Berners-Lee hoped for when he invented the web.

We’re not the only cake-powered writer either. If there is a constant among those we have met, it’s tea (not coffee) and cake. No-one bangs on about posh water and salad in the same way no-one ever has said, “Oh good, cabbage for tea.”.

To be fair, the other constant is running, but I’ve decided that I’ll leave that to Candice.

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Beriberi doesn’t cause diarrhoea. Try dysentery.

Phil: We’re hard at work on the Kate vs the Navy’s edits thanks to some really superb work from proofreader Catherine Fitzsimons.

All the way through the manuscript, Catherine has annotated changes and made suggestions. Working on these is a little like the days of handing your work in to a teacher and seeing what they have written at the bottom of the page.

We’d expected little more than a tidy up for the grammar and spelling plus some useful text formatting. What we have is far better. Catherine has read the book and provided all sorts of plotline advice. There are notes about references that appear later in the book, the sort of the things you only know when you have fully grasped the structure of the narrative. To be honest, I think she knows our book better than we do!

Along the way there are also technical points such as the sort of illness one of the characters could have suffered in the past, although Candice was glad to have read this AFTER eating her Warwickshire Rarebit lunch (It’s like Welsh, but with local ingredients since you ask).

Once you get over the idea that someone has criticised your work, then the process of applying many of the suggestions is great fun. For a start, we have to really think about sections of text, some of which require a bit of head-scratching. However, the result will be far better than we’d have managed on our own and makes the service well worth every penny.

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Lurning too use a spelcheker

DuncePhil: A news story that Brits rely on spellcheckers to stop them from making embarrassing mistakes!caught my eye this week.

In part, this was because of the line “Phil Parker vowed never to sign off his emails with “regards” after mistakenly writing “retards Phil” in an email to his boss.”. It’s not me, but I have been frustrated by autocorrection when posting from my phone or tablet in the past.

I’ll admit that I do like a spellchecker though. Yes, I should be able to spell perfectly and know my grammar inside out, but even if you are perfect (and if you are, you’re probably so smug people want to slap you) then you still make typos. I know I do when my brain is working faster than my fingers can rattle away on the keyboard.

Some words seem especially prone to problems – snadpaper and sodlering (sandpaper and soldering) are particular  bete noires of mine, along with obvioulsy. The wiggly red line appears time and time again, not because I’m stupid (mostly) but simply slow fingers.

Of course, not everything has a spellchecker. There are a couple of forums I frequent for work that don’t. This leaves me with a choice to either risk typo time, read everything to death, or write in a tool that does check spelling and then paste it into the forum. It kind of ruins the spontaneity (interesting that WordPress checker was happy with spontanayity), although sometimes that’s no bad thing!

Spurred on by adverts on YouTube, I’m now trying Grammarly which sits on my computer and checks stuff. The basic version is free for the moment, which probably means it’s reading everything I write and spiriting it away for a master criminal to read in his volcano lair. Sadly for him, I counter this by writing a lot about nerdy subjects, any master plan revolving around rather more juicy information!

So far, this is all pretty good. It doesn’t always switch itself on when I want it but that’s not too bad. The thing I hadn’t expected was a weekly results e-mail.  Apparently, I’m more productive than 95% of users with 12504 words written in the last week. Sadly, I’m only more accurate than 37% of users, and that score has gone up a little bit. I blame my prodigious output.

Did I say “prodigious”? Yes I did. That’s because, with 2734 different words used, I use more words than 98% of users.

Smug face on!

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Shut up and write something

Writers blockPhil: When you blog, it’s important (so I’m told) to do so regularly. That way you keep your readers interested.

Good advice, but sometimes finding a topic isn’t easy. Perhaps this should be called “Bloggers Block”.

BB is a syndrome similar to the sort of block affecting proper journalists. There is a deadline, I have to make a post today, but the screen is blank and so is my brain. Real journalists will have the same issue when the deadline for publication draws near. An editor will be hovering, wanting to know where the copy is. All I have is the Nolan nagging me – but she’s on holiday and unlikely to be reading this on the sun lounger.

I suppose I could give you another status report on Kate vs the Navy – the copy edited manuscript arrived this morning but I need more tea before I open that one up. Hopefully, this will all look good but it raises another issue – laying out the pages. In theory, I have the tools to do this properly now, let’s hope it’s quick and easy…

First, there is some work with glue’n’stuff in today’s programme of events as there is another editor waiting for my copy for work.  The stuff I get paid for, so I better do it.

And the sun is shining so I’d like to go out for a walk.

Oh well, perhaps another cup of tea will help. They say the solution to Writers Block is just to write something, anything. It seems that this also cures Bloggers Block, or at least fills up a little bit of the Internet.

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Do TV adaptions kill book sales?

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Phil: As I watched the final episode of Strike – The Cuckoo’s Calling, I wondered about the sales of the book it’s based on.

Obviously, JK Rowling (writing as Robery Galbraith) isn’t worried about the royalties, but I’d certainly be interested to see how the sales fare. Surely, most of the joy of any whodunnit is trying to work out who the criminal is, and once you’ve seen it on telly then the secret is blown. OK, you might still enjoy the read but part of your brain is always going to be shouting, “The butler did it!” as the characters bumble arnound trying to solve the crime.

Or does knowledge of the outcome allow you to get on and enjoy the story?

(Note to broadcasters – This isn’t an issue for Kate vs the Dirtboffins, there’s loads more to the book than the whosdoingit aspect, which is why any adaption will be so succesful the other channels will just switch off to save electricity. Please start the bidding war for rights now.)

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