The Hideaway

Phil: In the book tsunami from my writing friend is a new title – The Hideaway by Sheila O’Flanagan.

I can guess why she picked it. The front shows a sunny villa and the back cover talks about “the enchanting Villa Naranja in Spain”. This is sun-lounger reading in every respect. Opening it in winter is going to make you want to jump on a ‘plane for a bit of sunshine.

The story revolves around Juno Ryan, an Irish radiologist who discovers that her boyfriend is married. Worse, she finds out he’s married when he’s killed in an earthquake. Along with his wife and child.

For obvious reasons, this upsets her and she ends up taking up the offer of a few months unpaid holiday at a villa in Spain.

There is a pool, complete with Greek God style poll cleaners. Regular chick-lit readers won’t be surprised what happens there. It is not the end of the story though.

In fact, the book splits reasonably nicely into three parts and getting it on with the pool boy is in the early stages. After that, things progress and you see Juno start to recover and grow as a person. She conquers some of the demons that hold her back thanks to her family as well as those caused by her relationship with a married man who lied to her.

The story is deeper and far more involved than most sunlounger fiction. It’s light enough to be pleasant, especially the running cat story arc, but involving enough that you are pleased you are reading it. The ending isn’t quite what you’d expect from the first half of the book.

Summing up, the book is better than the cover would suggest. You can enjoy this while covered in suntan lotion, but it’s just as good while supping a warming cup of tea in the rain.

 

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Time hurdles

2013 Nevada NIAA HS Track & Field / Reed Sparks Rotary Invitational / South Tahoe - Brandon Cramer - 300m Hurdles WinnerPhil: My life is full of “time hurdles”.

Let me explain. I look at my calendar when I’m busy and think “It’s OK. After such-and-such date/event, things will settle down”.

Each date or event is a “time hurdle”. Once I jump over it, things will be different. Hopefully better.

Time hurdles are fixed points on the calendar. Sometimes I can’t see beyond them. Not literally you understand, I’ll still book other things in and in my rational mind, I know that there will be days after the hurdle, it’s just that everything after that date has an air of unreality about it. I know they exist, but in a slightly etherial way as though I know, but don’t believe.

There are especially big-time hurdles.  Holidays, hospital appointments, big/serious work meetings, new jobs, weddings etc. I imagine those to look like the massive walls found in some showjumping events. Beyond these, the view is distinctly misty.

Most of the time though, the hurdles are smaller. I’ve just taken part in a show that required quite a bit of preparation. Now it’s over, the next hurdle is some filming work I need to get things ready for.

After this, I believe the rest of the month should be plain sailing.

But will it? As the hurdle gets closer, I find it easier to concentrate. My focus becomes laser-like. I imagine a horse feels the same heading towards a jump. I actually achieve more.

The plain sailing bit is where you need to keep a foot on the accelerator (yes I know I’m mixing metaphors, get over it) and get stuff done while the next hurdle is in the distance. I look forward to this coasting phase but know there are probably things I should be delivering. Things the approaching hurdle has permitted me to ignore for a while.

Does anyone else look at the calendar and feel like this?

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Why can’t writing be fun?

Phil: For the last few weeks, the Nolan has enjoyed a break from the daily grind which has seen us meeting up on a weekly basis for chatting and in theory, writing.

Truth is, there has been a lot more talking than typing. We’ve done a reasonable amount of planning but progress on Book 3 has been limited.

Both of us have had things other than writing on our minds and since we are mates, we talk about them. Afterwards, we both feel better, not just through the effects of tea and cake either!

I suppose we should feel guilty about this, and we do. But not much.

Writing is great. We’re really proud of the books produced so far, and looking forward to seeing how the next ones work out. But it’s not everything to either of us. We have lives as well.

Does this make us bad?

Some authors take great pride in hitting daily word targets. Writing has, we are told, got to be a painful process. Only by travelling through the fire, can you forge a book worthy of the name.

Well, sorry, but no.

You can’t write light chick-lit fiction if your day is spent agonising over every word. Our style is humorous and if you analyse every single line to death then you’ll suck all the fun out of it. Worse, you’ll create something so convoluted that any reader will need another book just to explain the one they are reading. We don’t want anyone opening ours to have to suffer. I know that “proper” literature is all about this, but we’ll steer clear of that thank you very much. Editing and polishing is one thing, agonising is another and enduring it doesn’t make you a better person.

Taking time to step back and look at what we are doing, we’ve worked out that for us, the journey is part of the fun. Yes, we’d love people to read an enjoy what we produce, but why shouldn’t it simply be a pleasurable activity?

Progress would be quicker if we knuckled down and got on with things, but maybe this isn’t everything. Perhaps the journey should be as pleasurable as the destination.

As it is, the weekly meet-ups are over. Candice has a posh new job and my work is going through one of its periodic explosions of demand. For the minute, tea, cake and finishing the book will have to be a dream, but, as Captain Sensible once said, “You’ve got to have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, how you going to have a dream come true?”

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Summer at Rose Island

Image result for the lighthouse at rose islandCandice: Phil and I love a good ‘sunlounger read’.  I.e. something that does not tax the mind but whiles away a few hours while taking you to another place. Pure escapism.

They are often the books that get picked up at the airport, just as you making your way to the plane and finally thinking about the relaxation you are going to get on that break (kids club anyone?).

You don’t want educational text, you don’t want War and Peace, you just want to be transported for a few hours to somewhere different and forget about the day to day drudge.  It’s ironic really that you often read these on a break, considering that you are somewhere that you should be escaping the drudge anyway. The Kate series is written with this in mind, something that you will enjoy reading, perhaps discuss with the other half but then give to someone else and moves on to the next one.

I’ve been raiding our local charity shop recently for books to read, I’ve got a bit more time on my hands which means I’ve been racing through a few more reads (probably when I should be writing!).  Poor Phil gets the remainders every time we see each other, good job he carries a sensible rucksack rather than my rather less sensible bag fair.

Anyway, in my riffle through the books, I came across this very chick-lit fair, “Summer at Rose Island”.  The story follows Darcey, who’s moved to a quiet Devon town to escape her disastrous history of jobs.  She has lovely memories of summering there with her Aunt, so hopes by running away to the town she can get away from her overbearing parents and the fact she seems to get sacked from every job.

On her first day, she swims over to the island surrounding the local Lighthouse, and is promptly shooed away by its owner, a burly but attractive American called Riley.  Of course, you can guess what happens next, she and Riley have a few run-ins and then fall in love.  Luckily that happens early in the book, else it would have been boring.

The main thrust of the story is more around the job she has come to work on, something this is not really aware of until she starts.  Recruited as Community Liaison, her job is to support the Council in knocking down the lighthouse, something that she has been trying to prevent in the two weeks before she starts her new job.  It is to be replaced with a luxury hotel as a new lighthouse has been built.  But it is also the focal point of the town and Riley’s family history, as his grandfather originally funded and built it.

Suddenly she is in conflict with him and the town and back where she started, about to be sacked from another job.

The most interesting part of the book to me is her insecurities.  What we actually get to the bottom of is that she trained as a Marine Biologist but left her favourite job due to a silly mistake.  Lacking in confidence as her parents and brother are all medical doctors and see her PhD as something frivolous, she bounces from one job to another.  We never understand why her parents feel like that but when she finally stands up to them it does make you do a little punch in the air.

It’s her marine knowledge that saves the day, in a slightly trite way but hey this is a chick lit book.

Both Phil and I raced through the book, what I actually enjoyed was the scenery as much as the story.  I love the seaside and the pictures in my head of a sleepy seaside town made me dream of where I’d like to retire to one day.

 

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The Lido by Libby Page

Phil: Dropping into my local library, I spotted an attractive book in the new items section. I’m not sure why it appealed – although a local fight to save a lido, or perhaps the Nolan’s requests for lido’s she could visit during last summer’s heatwave might have had something to do with it.

The story has two main strands;

Rosemary has lived in Brixton all her life, but everything she knows is changing. Only the local lido, where she swims every day, remains a constant reminder of the past and her beloved husband George.

Kate has just moved and feels adrift in a city that is too big for her. She’s on the bottom rung of her career as a local journalist and is determined to make something of it.

When the lido is threatened with closure, Rosemary rallies the local community and comes into contact with Kate, who champions their cause in the local press. Along the way, Kate grows in confidence and starts to find her feet in the local area.

There’s a third strand as we follow Rosemary and her husband in flashback, the lido playing an important part in bringing them together.

Said like this it all sounds a bit run of the mill, but the book sweeps you along to the bitter-sweet conclusion.

What I don’t understand is why I enjoyed it so much. The front cover describes it as “Joyous and uplifting” which it certainly is.

It’s not just me either. A quick renewal and for the first time ever I lent it to Candice and she quickly read and enjoyed it too. Then my mum read it and loved it.

This is not great literature. To be honest, you can probably work out the bare bones of the plot pretty early on but it really doesn’t matter. What it is is the sort of book people enjoy. Read on a sunlounger it would be perfect, but it’s just as good on a chilly winters day in front of the fire. Just the sort of book we have aspired to write.

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Pitch battle

Writing West MidlandsPhil: We’ve mentioned in the past that one of the trickiest stages in getting a book out there is working out how to pitch it. We know what’s on the pages and reducing this down so it can be explained in the duration of an elevator journey has always proved impossible.

We’re not alone. Nearly everyone who has completed a novel feels the same way. Which bits do you leave out?

Luckily, Writing West Midlands runs a day-long course to help. We both paid up and went along – two heads are better than one after all.

The 14 attendees first had to talk to someone else for two minutes about themselves. Not easy, but I managed it without boring my victim to death. Then we had to do it again. At this stage, the rules said no mentioning your writing.

Then we moved on to proper pitching. Pair up (Candice and I were deliberately and sensibly kept in separate groups) and explain your novel in 2 minutes. Repeat another 3 times to different people.

The repetition is important. Each time you find yourself modifying your pitch to pack more in, or to keep it under the time limit. Doing this several times in quick succession sharpens you up.

After lunch and a pep talk from the tutor, we were back at it again. This time there were another 7 attempts.

I felt I was getting better at this each time. My best effort was 1:53 and that seemed to be pretty good. I’d managed to get the start of the pitch down pretty tightly I thought and as I went around the room, the second half where I tried to include more details of our characters exploits was coming together.

Finally, it was time to pitch to the room. Speaking to the entire group was more of a challenge to most and pitches I’d heard earlier got a bit less focussed when faced with a crowd and no time limit. One thing became apparent as we went through this process, most people were writing literary fiction, not our commercial stuff. I guess that’s no surprise, Arts (with a capital A) organisations like “serious” material. There doesn’t seem to be anyone supporting those who just want to write fun stuff. Maybe there should be.

My effort seemed OK to me, but then Candice had a go and dropped the listener straight into the middle of our first scene. I didn’t feel so clever after that…

It was interesting that our efforts were more performance than a straight pitch. We were selling the book rather than just trying to distil the contents into 350 words. That might be something to do with our backgrounds and past experiences, or just that we are a bit more flamboyant than most. It’s possibly down to the type of book we are selling too. I don’t feel the need to take anyone through the wringer on my pages. That’s not to say you shouldn’t, a couple of the books sounded really interesting but not a light read, it’s just not our style. The tutor also suggested that our book was very filmic in style – something others have said to us. Perhaps we should be pitching a screenplay, but where do you start with that?

Anyway, as far as our pitches go, do we have the right approach? Apparently not quite but we got some pointers at the end and a few things to go and think about, but that’s why you go along to these events.

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Wondering about the war

Candice: I seem to have read a few books about World War II recently.  Not specifically by choice but its just the ones I have picked up.

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The first was given to me by my ex-boss as a Christmas present.  Its called ‘All the light we can not see’ and follows the story of two sides of the war.  One is Marie-Laure, a blind girl who is displaced, with her father, from Paris to the coast at the start of the war.  The other is Werner, an orphan living in Germany who has an uncanny ability with radios and mechanics.

The two stories run in parallel as Werner is spotted by the Nazis and taken off to a camp to be made into a perfect soldier, and Marie-Laure finds out why she and her father ran, as he has been entrusted with the safekeeping of a precious diamond from the Museum he works in.

The second is ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ and relates the story of Jack Rosenblum, German Jew who has traveled to the UK before the War and is desperately trying to find his place after the annihilation of most of his family and race at home, accompanied by the British nervousness around someone with a German accent.

In his pursuit of a perfect Britishness, Jack ups sticks from his London home and successful business and moves to Dorset to build a golf course, something that will make him an equal with his peers.

Two very different books you say, well yes, but undercut with the same dark story of the horrors of war.  The first does not shy away from representing the way that your take away someone’s humanity by drilling them everyday, and how this can create a world that would think concentration camps are a good idea.    Jack sees the other side as his wife particularly struggles to cope with the fact she will never see her family again, as they were unable to get visas.  How hard must have that decision been, who can leave and who can stay.

Neither were books I would normally read but I enjoyed them both, even with the dark subject matter.  Sometimes its good to step out of the comfort zone and read something other than the ‘sunlounger’ read.  And also, never to forget what happened in that war, so it never happens again.

 

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