200 words

200Phil: A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that at the Writing West Midlands networking event, Liam Brown had given the best bit of writing advice ever. However, before passing it on, I wanted to test it.

The advice is: Write every day. Even 200 words is enough.

Simple, and brilliant.

Truth is, “write every day” is good solid advice for any writer. To get the book finished, you have to put in the time at the keyboard.

Like any journey, the hardest part is the first step and so it is with writing. But 200 words doesn’t seem that much. I can knock those out in a few minutes (I haven’t timed myself but for the purposes of motivation, I’ll retain the fantasy) and feel good about myself.

Of course, you don’t stop at 200, or at least I haven’t. Which means several chunks of our second book are fuller than they were. Meeting Candice for lunch yesterday, I checked through the work and while there’s lots to do, there’s quite a lot done too. Not finished, but blocked in 1st draft style. Every 200 words is a step in the right direction.

This post is 200 words long.

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Jurassic World

Candice: In my last blog post I talked about great summer reading.  The kind of book you can enjoy on a sun lounger and then leave in the hotel library without a care in the world because its not ‘War and Peace’ it’s just an enjoyable light read.

So that leads me nicely to the other thing we get over the summer months  – Blockbusters.  So named as they are the big film that can make or break a studio as they have to generate a big financial return.  They normally involve something child and adult friendly which doesn’t have a lot of plot.

The other week I went to see ‘Jurassic World’, a nice bit of big budget fluff.  I remember the other films when they came out 20 + years ago, I particular remember the first with some dramatic deaths – in a loo – and the stealthy velociraptors, a dinosaur I hadn’t even heard of before that film.

So we cut to a reboot as the film companies like to call it, roll in a new hunk and a new way that the dinos can cause chaos and you have a whole new franchise.  In fact the film pokes fun at itself with a theme park based around the animals where they are having to make them bigger and more dangerous to keep the crowds coming in, and a whole chase scene where the escapees are hiding in the stuffed toys and tshirts.

You know, even though I could drive a truck with a T-Rex on it through the plot, and it was obvious what would happen with the love interest, I loved every bit of it.  Two hours of complete and utter tosh that had me hiding behind my hands and chewing my nails to work out what would happen next (even though I really knew).  And that to me is perfect book and film fodder, absolute escapism that does not change the world but gives me a break from reality.

So, whats next on the cinema viewing list? Any recommendations?

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Finish with a flourish

DominionPhil: Meeting up for lunch a couple of weeks ago, I was sat outside the pub reading in the sunshine. When Candice arrived, after she’d taken the mickey out of my hat, commented that she’d read the same book and written it up on the blog.

’tis true. I half remembered this. In the back of my mind it’s why I bought the book. Well, that and it was for sale in a pound shop.

The book is Dominion by CJ Sansom. A thriller set in an alternate history where Britain didn’t fight very much of the second world war, instead coming to an arrangement with Germany that sees us living in a sort of hybrid British/Nazi world.

(Warning: Spoilers follow)

Plot: Frank Muncaster, a geologist, learns an important secret from his American physicist brother. The realisation that after a very short conversation he knows how to make an atomic bomb terrifies him and the book revolves around the resistance’s efforts to get him out of the country while the Germans try to capture him.

That’s nearly 800 pages distilled down for you, so here are the good and bad points:

Good

  • The book comes fitted with a ribbon to use as a bookmark. Yes, I know it’s daft, but I really liked this.
  • The atmosphere of a 1950s Britain is well done. Basically, it’s very similar to the world as it happened but with more televisions.
  • At the back there is a history section explaining how the author developed the world the story takes place in, extrapolating from history. History experts have pulled this to bits but much of it seems pretty plausible to me.
  • The Nazis are a little comic book but the idea that they would try to appear to work within the system doesn’t seem so far-fetched. This isn’t an invasion proper so there aren’t storm troopers in the streets.

Bad

  • The plot is daft. Muncaster is a geologist and yet learns enough from his brother before pushing him out of a window to be useful in developing an atomic bomb. Seriously? The Manhattan project was a massive undertaking with vast numbers of scientists working on it. If you were high enough up the chain to understand all the technical stuff you’d never be let out of the country on your own to visit an enemy state. Even then, the chances of explaining things to someone with no training in the field are slim even if you had plenty of time.
  • At the end of the fascinating history, there is a four page rant about the Scottish Referendum. Even if I cared what the author thought of this (I don’t) then a hardback book is not the place for it. With the benefit of hindsight, whoever left that bit in looks a bit silly now.
  • Once the “secret” is obvious, the ending falls a bit flat. If there’s one thing I learned from it, it’s that a book really needs a good, big, ending. I’m very glad we didn’t edit away any of ours.

This might sound like I didn’t enjoy the read but I did. The atmosphere carries you along and in the peasouper fog you don’t notice the holes.

However on reflection there is a problem in that almost nothing that happens on the page matters. In the background, the most important story is Hitler’s death and what will happen to the regime when he goes. Nothing anyone does really makes a difference and that leaves this reader feeling a bit empty. There’s a nice epilogue to tie up all the loose ends but after nearly 800 pages I’d like to feel more satisfied.

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Summer Reading

summer-reading-ftr editCandice: Its that time of year, the schools have broken up, the roads are clear and everyone is off on holiday.  In the world of work it means that you spend your time trying to find a time for a meeting where everyone you want is working, and that can take the whole six week holiday to find a suitable slot.

It’s also is the time when the book charts will change as the summer holiday reads take over, a bit like the cinema where all the big blockbusters come out as the film companies capitalise on six weeks of bored children.  Jurassic World, Minions: they are all part of the summer push to get some money in.

So, if you look at the current top 10, it is a mixture of crime novels and holiday reads.  Some Marian Keyes with a Patricia Cornwell thrown in for good measure.  In the supermarket and at the Airport they will be lining them up ready for those last minute shoppers getting ready to jet off for a well deserved break.

An interesting comment Kate Long made at the Writing event we went to last week was that the Supermarkets rule.  She had to change the name and cover of her current book based on what the supermarket chain wanted.

Now, Phil and I are not precious about cover or name, we’d just like to be one of the options in Sainsbury’s for people to pick up.  I’d be happy if I saw our book in that line up being picked up by happy holiday makers to be read and discarded at a foreign hotel. In fact, if it 5 years time I found a battered copy in a hotel library I’d be ecstatic.  We not expecting to compete with Harper Lee and be the next English Literature read.

I’ve not another holiday planned until September and I’ll be looking forward to my reading for that break but for now I’ll dream about popping in to do the shopping and seeing ‘Kate vs the Dirtboffins’ next to the salad aisle.

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A writers guide to networking events

Phil: After our trip to the Writing West Midlands networking event last weekend, perhaps I might offer a helpful guide to others heading to this sort of event or literary festivals. As the introverted half of the team, I’ve studied the subject closely.

Short version: Go and talk to the authors. They are lovely people and if you are genuinely interested in how to write, they will be happy to explain.

Long version: After the short talks and Q&A sessions last weekend, I was struck by the actions of the 25 or so people in the audience.

Team NolanParker headed towards authors Kate Long and Liam Brown like a pair of networking seeking missiles. We chatted with Liam for a while and then Kate and Liam and then Kate while someone else collared Liam. We also chatted to Prof. Rod Griffiths from Black Pear Press.

The topics of conversation we generally about the non-writing stuff authors have to consider – marketing and promotion for example or the idea of a book as a product and not just a wonderful collection of words.

There was time to follow up some of the points made in the talks too. I’m fascinated by the timelines Kate draws and Liam dropped in the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard – which, if it works, I’ll blog in a week or two.

Everyone expressed interest in what we were doing and a thoroughly good time was had. Book people are generally really nice people.

I bought one of Kate’s books and would have bought Liam’s if I hadn’t run out of cash, but fortunately there is still Amazon for that. We were so engrossed that the free tea and biscuits were ignored. Good job there was cake afterwards!

So what of the rest of those present?

Well, for the most part they either left quickly at the end or chatted to each other. A few bought books but didn’t talk even when encouraged. Several of the people had obviously come as groups and at one point I looked back and those left were huddled in the seating. Hardly anyone joined us.

Surely this misses the point? You can network with people you know any time. Here we had authors who had taken the time and trouble to come and help us aspiring writers follow in their footsteps.

I see this at literary festivals a lot. Most of the audience only wants to sit politely and listen then buy a signed copy of a book. That’s fine – except when it’s a session for people who want to write a book. There’s lots of routes to publishing and I want to find out about all of them. Hopefully that way we’ll find the one that works for us.

Chatting to people at events can be daunting but the panel expect to be talked to and will be disappointed if they aren’t. Go for it, you never know what you will learn.

*

As an aside, one route to being published is simply to become famous. I leave you with this snippet from the Popbitch newsletter:

Everyone likes to scoff at Joey Essex (and we’re really no exception) but there’s no denying that he tries his very best to treat every experience as a learning opportunity.

For example, when he was in the pitch meeting for his book at Hodder and Stoughton, he decided to ask the literary experts around him a question that had been bugging him for ages.

“What is fiction?”

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Writing West Midlands Writer Networking Session

Writing CakeCandice: Phil and I took a tour away from our usual haunts and went to Worcester last Saturday to an writers networking event.  Organised by Writing West Midlands the day was a chance to listen to two published authors talk about their routes to publishing as well as ask them questions, on top of a chance to speak to some fellow local authors.

I was rushing to get there due to child care stuff and arrived just after it was kicking off.  Finding the venue was a mission enough, I thought I knew Worcester but had never heard of the ‘the Hive’ which is also the library.  Impressive building but a bugger to find.

Anyway, our two speakers were Kate Long, author of a number of comedy/romance books – with her first ‘Bad Mother’s Handbook’ a number one best seller.

The second was Liam Brown, a recently published author, who’s book ‘Real Monsters’ is about what impacts on you, real and imagined, with a slant towards the military.

After the usual intro both Liam and Kate talked about their different writing styles; and how different.  Kate taking the more school teacher approach (probably related to her background as an English Literature teacher) with work plans right down to when she is going to write each section and how many words.  Liam was much more take it as it comes, just sitting in front of the computer until an idea came and literally writing himself into a corner in his current book.

I think Phil and I are much closer to Kate’s style, though we do like a good post it note!

Liam had a good round in boxing related metaphors:

“Each rejection letter is a slug in the jaw or a jab in the kidneys.”

“It can make you feel like throwing the towel in.”

all related to the journey he’d taken before getting published.

Kate had her chat down to an art after eight published books and, obviously, a regular round of attending these events.

So what did we get from the event?

Competitions seem to be a good way to get in to the world.  Both had entered a number and got short listed which had then opened doors for contacts for them.

Character questionnaires are a good way to make your character as rounded as possible.  Phil and I have looked at these before but not filled them in as we know our characters quite well – but as we write further into book 2 we are coming across things we can’t answer so these would definitely help.

The importance of regular writing.  Both Kate and Liam talked about making notes on anything and everywhere, and not to be satisfied if they don’t put pen to paper in some shape or form each day.  Now, this is my 500 words of writing for one day and I think that its harder for Phil and I to do as we are some times waiting for comments back from the other but I am going to endeavor to be more regular as I had some inspiration last week and wrote around 1500 words over two days but have now lost my mojo again.

A lot the other questions were from those earlier in the process than we, asking about covering letters and how it all works. But it’s still interesting to hear another view point.

Both Liam and Kate seemed genuinely nice people and gave their realistic views on being an author; they aren’t JK Rowling and still have full time jobs. But they enjoy their craft and with Liam particularly, still excited by the idea of being a published author.  That’s a feeling I can’t wait to have !

So, over two nice cakes Phil put the world to rights and did some idea planning based on what we’d heard, so well worth the trip (plus the free key ring for me and new reading material for Phil!)

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Everyone’s gone to the moon

MoonBooksPhil: I love a bit of sci-fi. Not the heavy stuff with sprawling stories that span aeons, the more focussed tales where we crack on, have a bit of action and not too much psycho-babble. A series of recent train rides gave me the chance to indulge myself thanks to a couple of very different books picked up in Housemans excellent second hand section.

Kings of Space by “Biggles” author Captian WE Johns was published in 1954 and is typical of it’s time. A test pilot and his son are out hunting deer in Scotland when they see a flying saucer. Taking refuge in a nearby manor house it turns out they have stumbled upon the lonesome professor who has solved the problems of space flight by powering his ship with cosmic rays rather than all that pesky rocket fuel.

Our two heroes, the prof and his butler embark on a series of adventures visiting the moon, Venus and Mars in quick succession. Very quick as the whole thing is over in 175 pages and it takes nearly half a book to leave the Earth.

Each landing brings them face-to-face with alien creatures, worms on the moon, dinosaurs and prehistoric man on Venus and a dying race on Mars. All standard fare for this era of sci-fi.

If I’m honest, Johns could have strung this all out a bit. With the Biggles series behind him, I’m sure his publisher could have been persuaded that each planet warranted its own book. As it is, we land, see some creatures and then make a hasty exit.

Much more involved is Ascent by Jed Mercurio published in 2007. We have the life story of Yefgenii Yeremin, and orphan abused in Soviet era homes who works his way through flight school, the Korean War and finally into the Russian space programme.

The story is really about the abuses committed by Communism – Yeremin is the greatest fighter ace in Korea but wiped from history and posted to an Arctic wasteland to hide the Soviet involvement in a war they never officially took part in.

Eventually he is recruited into the space programme as part of the moon missions, being a man who will risk everything for Mother Russia.

Mercurio had taken real history and tweaked it to fit his story. Air combat involves close contact with many famous astronauts, the Americans recruited from those ranks after all so it’s plausible if a little contrived.

There’s also mention of the failed Russian moon programme and again, this is partly based on fact. There really was a plan to beat the Americans to the moon but no-one was actually launched in that direction due to technical problems with the rocket. As it is, elements of the Apollo 13 story are taken and woven in to the text, transferred to a fictitious Russian spacecraft.

This is much more modern sci-fi. Using a futuristic background to tell a real life story. Our “hero” suffers greatly at the hands of the state. Anyone who knows a little of this history will recognise many of his trials are perfectly accurate.

Two very different books then. The older one is a bit of a children’s book, simple story with plenty of daring do, just right for the audience it was aimed at. I quite like a bit of pulp sci-fi so I enjoyed it. Ascent is a very grown up book that isn’t comfortable reading at times. You’ve got to stick with it and if I’m honest, I didn’t care anything for the main character but then the removal of the personal to be replaced by the state was how the USSR worked, so maybe that’s how I was supposed to feel.

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