Kindle or weight-lifting? The perils of author ego.

Phil: On my reading pile at the moment are Still Me by Jojo Moyes and Make a Killing on Kindle by a shouty American.

Both are good reads and neither has accompanied me on a train, my favourite place to read. Why not?

Because both are stupidly heavy. 1.7kg in total.

Now, I love a proper book as opposed to an e-reader, but looking at these things makes me wonder if I need to change my mind. In electronic form, these would be lighter than a feather. I’d be able to take them anywhere. Reading could be enjoyed wherever I have a few minutes.

Instead, the Kindle book has been sitting around since Candice gave it to me at Christmas. I’m up to chapter 8. It’s not that it’s bad (a bit shouty perhaps) but A4 sized and weighing as much as a large cat, I’m just not willing to lug the thing around.

Still Me was read in 4 chunks at home – the story is engaging enough to make me want to charge through it, but I’d still have rather read it on the train. I’ve passed the book on to the Nolan having warned her to bring a big bag. It’s a good job she’s a bit of a gym bunny.

Why are these things so massive?

The American I understand. It’s all bigger and better from him.

The novel? Publishers or authors ego. “Look at me”, the book shouts from the shelf in the supermarket, “I’m a really luxurious product.” In this day and age, there’s no need for hardbacks. The words would be the same in paper covers. I’m assuming it’s a combination of prestige and I suspect, profitability driving this.

Publisher – please think of your readers! I can’t be the only one put off reading because of the weight of the book, can I?

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Discover your characters with Instagram

Phil: Why was I in London last weekend looking at posh products in St Pancras station?

It’s all down to Candice’s latest marketing wheeze. We’ve set up an Instagram account for our main character, Kate Smith.

On her account, Kate posts pictures of things she sees and likes. Along the way, she comments on the photos, mostly about how much easier life is without children, but there’s also been musing on Jane Fonda and the being able to enjoy chocolate cake after working out.

All this is great fun to do and it’s made me really get inside her head, especially for me as Candice is normally firmly in charge of Kate on the page!

On my trip to London (not just for this, I just had time to kill), I found myself walking around in Kate’s shoes (not literally, I don’t think I could manage high heels) looking at the goodies on offer in the posh shops section of the Eurostar station undercroft. I snapped away with my phone, sending the results to Candice to post on Instagram over time. She will add comments and hashtags to each before it goes up on the site. Or just deleting the picture if I get it wrong.

Hopefully, later in the week, we’ll be meeting up to write and chat and I’ll receive further instruction in “Kate thinking” – it’s all very educational and helps to give Kate an added dimension, at least in my mind. I suppose this is a little like “method acting” where you immerse yourself in a character. It’s certainly not the sort of thing I thought we’d be doing when we started writing our books, but then why not have some fun along the way?

Kate Smith on Instagram (katebooks)

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The Party by Elizabeth Day

Image result for the party book

Candice: After all of this talk of holidays I thought I ought to write a review of one of the books I read while I was away.

I picked up The Party as I liked the sound of the premise, not unusual but thought it would be a change from my usual police procedural.

The story is around Martin and Ben who met at boarding school, went to University together and are now about to celebrate Ben’s 40th.  They come from two different worlds, Martin from a single parent family of little means who managed to get a scholarship to the school, Ben from an old moneyed family.

Martin is an odd, isolated character, who displays almost psychopathic tendencies with some of his actions; as when he kills a bird that has fallen, injured into the school playground.  This gives an insight that all is not well with him.

By the time he meets Ben he is a boy very much on his own and Ben takes him under his wing, for no reason that I can see. Ben makes sure Martin is not bullied and takes him back to his house during the school holidays.  By the time they go to University Martin’s mother is doesn’t really feature in his life. But that’s Martin’s plan.  He can see opportunity in Ben’s family, and a life that he thinks he deserves, a life of money and privilege.

The book cuts back and forth between past and present, explaining how Martin met his wife as well as scenes at Ben’s spectacular party.  Now turning 40 Martin is a journalist who has just published a successful art book, Ben a stockbroker with an obscene amount of money. His party is being held in the grounds of his lavish pile in the Cotswolds with all the current celebs and political figures attending.

Their relationship is not as it was, Martin hero worships Ben but he starting to move away from him, neither of their wives like the closeness of their relationship too.

Intercut with Martin’s story is his wife’s, Lucy,  told to a therapist.  We discover she is currently in care because of something that happened at the party.  As the story unfolds we find a woman who lacks confidence and was swept off her feet by the silver tongue of her husband.  But she’s not that stupid and over the years had put two and two together that there is more between the two male friends.

With the party coming to a close Ben and his trophy wife break the news to Martin and Lucy that they need to stop seeing them.  Ben is standing to be an MP and Martin carry’s a dark secret,  at University they were involved in a car accident where a girl died.  What Ben’s wife doesn’t know (but Lucy has worked out) is that Martin took the fall for Ben, mainly to tie himself even more closely to his friend.  Ben’s family has been funding Martin’s lifestyle ever since.

I was disappointed with this book.  I read it very quickly, interested to know how it panned out though I had an idea that something like the accident would have happened.  But how disappointing was the ending?  To me Martin gives up at the end, he is just left living on his own talking about making a plan to get back to Ben but that feels weak.  Lucy is the strong character as she separates from him and also shows her anger at Ben and family by lashing out at them, hence why she is seeing a therapist.

So worth a read but prepare yourself to fall off the edge at the end.

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Holidays why bother…


DSCN1663Candice: 
Phil’s told me I should respond to his blog post about holidays.  I definitely NEED to respond to it or else a lot of holiday companies will be shutting their doors over the next few weeks as people start to question the reason for having a break.

I think my writing partner has missed the point of a holiday,  but that might be because of the type of holiday he takes.

Phil: working holiday, lots of photos and films, sometimes talking about trains, lots of exploring, not really enjoying the whole flying thing.

Candice:  and relax….. beach, pool, sunbed, sun, a round of breakfast, sun lounger, lunch, sun lounger, dinner, cocktail and then bed before doing it all again the next day.  There definitely has to be sun, books that I can spend time enjoying, sights to see but not too many that it takes away from the relaxing.

There is one change to the Nolan holiday in the last four years, the inclusion of kids club and mini disco.  The second is almost more important than the first for the family addition, it’s the first thing she asks for when we get on holiday.  The funny thing is we’ve been to Cyprus and Mexico in the last six months and they have played mainly the same songs!

I suppose my need to have at least one booked comes down to a few things.  There is more to life than work and my holidays are my release from the constant round of nursery drop off, work, meetings, gym and week upon week feeling the same.  I love the heat and get terrible SAD so need to know I’ve got a chance to get some sunshine under my belt when the UK doesn’t comply. And I always like to get something new out of these trips, visit somewhere I haven’t been, have an experience I haven’t done before. You cant see Chichen Itza in the UK.

And yes there is the whole build-up to the event: packing, planning, dieting but I have the luxury of working for a big company so don’t have quite the same pressures as Phil (i.e. someone to cover my role), and then there is the full inbox on return, but I wouldn’t give up having a holiday for anything, there’s more to life than those emails.

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Are holidays worth all the bother?

SuitcasePhil: Meeting up a week or so ago, team NolanParker didn’t get down to discussing our writing, instead we caught up on each others holiday stories. Both of us had been away and were keen to fill the other in on the details of our time away.

Holidays are one of those areas where we have completely opposite views. Candice loves them and usually has the next trip booked up the moment her plane lands.

Me, I’m not so sure.

Don’t get me wrong – I had a great time away in Canada. I saw loads of fantastic things, took lots of photos, met many interesting people.

It’s just that the run-up involved loads of pressure to make sure all my work was done. On my return, there was lots of catching up to do. My plans to write the trip up (it was part work, part holiday) on the Bank Holiday Monday fell apart through a combination of jet-lag and a full inbox. Tuesday dawned and the guys in the office returned, and the phone calls started. Work on the article actually started at Wednesday lunchtime.

Since then, I’ve been chasing my tail and only now, a fortnight later, feel I’m where I’d like to be. I was only away for 10 days!

And that means I’ve done no book writing for nearly a month. Arghhh!

Holidays are best, for me, in retrospect. I seem to need a few days for my brain to process what I’ve done, filing things away in my memory. When I’m back in the “real world” is when I can enjoy where I’ve been. That’s not to say I’m not happy wherever I am, I just seem to be happier to be back to normal.

As I write this, I know it sounds crazy. Or maybe not. Does anyone else sometimes wonder why we rush to go away and then come back saying “I need a holiday to get over the holiday”?

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Selling books and meeting readers with Pauline Hazelwood

Phil: Last week, Pauline Hazelewood of Saddletank books told us how she goes about writing train-based children’s stories. This time, she moves on to the exciting (for prospective authors) task of selling books and meeting authors. As I said, Pauline has been a memorable presence at a number of exhibitions I’ve attended and gets out and about to meet her readers in a way many authors need to consider if they want to sell copies.

I’ve met you at several railway events, and you list more on your website. How many do you attend and what sort of events do you attend each year?

I thought I’d try to do one a month. I need to see people and find out what they think of the books, but I am a bit swamped with the other work that I do. I like meeting the enthusiasts that go along to the railway events. You meet genuine, kind, interesting people, often very knowledgeable.  I do a few model railway events, some steam fairs and of course my annual trip to Bala Lake Railway, where it all started with the book on Alice.

The kids are very cute and entertaining. It’s a lot of fun with the props that I take along. My model railway and soft sculpture steam engine entertain and draw people in. I often pretend that the model engine is voice activated. The kids will shout ‘GO!”, and ‘STOP’ to the engine while I work the controls out of sight. Sometimes a deluded adult will believe  it too, which is a hilarious.!

This is a lot of effort. Do the sales at an event justify the travel, or are there more reasons to get out there?

I don’t generally travel that far or that often, but this book business has introduced me to some fantastic people and places. Actually on reflection the research part is definitely growing and becoming more exciting.  the sales events are a different thing.

I’ve done quite a few art shows and the camaraderie is part of the fun. You always feel that the circus is back in town. The steam fairs draw a fantastic relaxed bunch of enthusiasts that aren’t  so commercial and are so knowledgeable about history and mechanical engineering. And there’s often a beer tent and music, crafts and so on. I love it. It’s fascinating.

Feedback and meeting the public is great too. I sometimes wonder if it’s worthwhile carrying on with the books and what have I got myself into, but the positive feedback from total strangers amazes me and encourages me to  do more. People actually enjoy reading them to their children, just as I’d hoped. Some kids know the words by heart from some of the books. I re-read one that I was sending out the other day to sort of remind myself what it was like and I liked it.

You’ve built a strong brand with products beyond the books and this extends to your costume on the stand. Was all this planned or did it evolve? Where did the hat come from?

I love dressing up! I think that when I put on an outfit the show is on. You need to stand out a bit from the people buying. I like that steam punk look. Bowler hats are so cute. You know the ladies of Bolivia wear them because the British Railway workers went there to set up the railway. They must have swapped a few favours to get their hands on them. Nowadays they’re actually made in Bolivia.

I’m glad that you think it’s a strong brand. Perhaps that’s just because it’s only me working on it and I  just do what I like all the time. I have some very lucky breaks. The very smart expensive stand that I now use I found in a skip! I can’t believe my luck with that. The display company near my studio was filling a skip with loads of brand new display stuff. I can’t bear to see things not being recycled so I and another mad lady kept climbing in and we filled the boots our cars with all sorts of new things.

This links up with the products in a way, as I’m keen to get everything that I sell, made in Britain. The books, magnets, bags, etc are all made here and there will soon be an eco friendly, british made, non plastic, wonderful little toy engine on sale too!

How important do you feel it is for authors to go out and meet readers?

I suppose it depends on the individual, but I love it. It’s great to meet all the children. I run occasional art classes for kids, it’s good to show them the roughs of the books, so that they can see how a book is developed. and it’s fun chatting with people. I want girls to see that the railways aren’t just for boys, that mechanical engineering is an option and that painting and drawing engines is fun for anyone to do.

I’m  also learning Welsh because I go to Wales each year. I love learning languages and you can download podcasts of Welsh from the ‘say something in Welsh’ website. I already speak Spanish ( my mother is Gibraltarian), and some French, so I enjoy practising with people who can speak those languages.

When I do art demos for  art societies, it’s a performance. I paint a picture and tell funny stories at the same time . I like making people laugh and I like sharing skills and tips, passing on ideas, so it’s very much the same thing.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Don’t forget, you can find Pauline’s books here.

 

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Taking the train through Pauline Hazelwood’s writing

Phil: I’ve met Pauline Hazelwood a few times at model railway exhibitions with her Saddletank Books stand. She has written and illustrated a series of children’s books using steam locomotives as the main characters, with historically accurate stories. Readers not only enjoy both the words and pictures, along the way they learn a bit too.

Having badgered her to agree to an interview, we’ll be running this over two weeks. Part One covers writing and storytelling. Part Two, promoting yourself as an independent author and actually selling copies.

Your books feature wonderful illustrations as well as a story. Do you write the book first and then produce the illustrations or do they evolve side-by-side?

I’m an artist foremost. I usually create the stories at the beginning in sketch books. I work round the images in my head. They inspire the words. I see everything in pictures and I love drawing people. I sketch a lot, especially when I’m travelling. I have lots of sketch books full of drawings, little studies in watercolours too. They build up a library in my head so that when I go to sketch a scene, it’s there.

Quite a few of the pages come from events that have happened around me, they get mixed into the story line of the engine. Or I get inspired by something, for example the scene from the auction in the second book, is very loosely based on the painting by Norman Rockwell’s.’ Freedom of speech‘, it was such fun to use as a basis because it was the right period and really had all the elements in my mind , to go with the story. Norman Rockwell used the ‘Thinker ‘ sculpture for one of his pictures of an American football player.

Each book is historically accurate. How much research does this entail to find a suitable story?

The choice of each engine story has just naturally evolved as I’ve visited different railways and met owners of engines and railway enthusiasts. There are fantastic engines everywhere, and so much history that I want people to know about. I enjoy the research. I love finding out little incidental things about the people and time, to humanise the whole thing and make it more than a mechanical engineering history. The enthusiasts often have loads of information to pass on and will disregard some elements but if I ask lots of questions I can usually find a lot of things that interest me and hopefully interest the reader. I might have a theme in mind of friendship or including animals or showing how hard the work was , whatever it is, I dig around till I find enough to support the theme or end up finding another exciting path to follow.

How long does it take to write/draw each book?

There isn’t a fixed time. it depends on what other work is on and how busy I am in life generally ( as I run some art classes and paint in oils and watercolours which  I love. I also do painting demos for art societies. )… sometimes I mull over things for quite a while, rehashing the text. I sketch out a vague outline, and carry it around with me all the time and sketch and write bits in cafes, or wherever. Sometimes it flows and is really quick.and at other times, odd ideas and suggestions from other people add to the whole thing too.

The illustrations appear hand drawn. Most writers just use a laptop, but I’m thinking that your “tools” are rather more varied.

My illustrations are very much hand drawn, I start with soft pencil drawings, slightly larger than the finished book. I create a detailed pencil drawing of every page and solve every problem before tracing it onto watercolour paper. The pencil stage is the most creative bit and the pencil drawings to me often seem nicer and more expressive. I’ll make prints of some of them, some time, to sell.  I then do pen and wash paintings of the whole book which then doesn’t take that long. I’m quite particular about which pens, paper and paint I like to use. Teaching watercolour helps a lot. I know my materials well and even though they are cartoons, I’m using the same ideas that I teach in general watercolour work. With a children’s book I have to put as much of the information into the pictures, not the words, which suits me..

The elephant in the room for books about steam engines with faces has to be Thomas the Tank engine. How do your books differ from the Rev Awdry’s?

Awdry’s books were irrelevant for me. My three sons never liked the books but they did watch the videos and loved playing with the toys along with other toy trains. His books were written in a very different way, based on the Isle of Sodor and the facts that were used, were put into a different context. I absolutely love Edward Ardizones’ illustrations, whimsical pen and wash. He illustrated the Graeme Green book about an engine and Colin McNaughton books and style of illustration, I loved reading to my sons. We used to get loads of books from the libraries and buy quite a few too, always full of illustrations and I loved the fantastic writing in some of them, that appealed to adults as well as children. You could tell that the writer had thoroughly enjoyed writing them . And I enjoyed putting on silly voices too, big time, so I had to include those in the books.  I also love alliteration and the sound of certain words. I have favourite letters and I like long words too. I have to stick to the facts at the end of the day though so this provides a nice  framework for me.

Any hints for people aspiring to write children’s books?

After I started doing these books I remembered that when I was a child, I used to tell my older sister bed time stories that I made up each night as we lay in our twin beds.  I wrote quite a few little story books for fun for myself. I lived in a daydreamy fantasy world as a child and when I played with the chess set, I gave each piece a character and voice. If you want to write a children’s book, you probably are already writing, you just haven’t found the right subject or idea to share with the world so far.  I don’t know whether writing a children’s book is something I aspire to do. I wanted to share some amazing things that I had discovered.  I feel as if I’m uncovering a whole load of stuff that is kept hidden because it’s tucked away in boring manuals and boring history books, but if you tell it through pictures, people like me, that are too busy or lazy to read those books, will find out about it.

You can find visit Pauline’s Saddltank Books website here.

I reviewed Polar Bear and Sealion here.

Next week, we look at marketing books and getting out to meet the readers.

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