Being creative with the truth

Candice: We seem to have spent more time away than in our home in the last few weeks.  We’ve been on holiday to Cyprus, a brilliant break for all the family with just the right balance of parent relaxation and baby entertainment.  We’ve also been up to Sheffield for a family wedding and then visiting some friends afterwards.  I’m looking forward to some time at home soon!

When Erin was born we were given a teddy bear by my Brother in Law’s parents.  She wasn’t that interested at first but from around age 1 suddenly ‘Teddy’ became a very important member of the household. Teddy is well-traveled now, he’s been to grandparents, family friends, nursery and our previous holidays to France, Portugal and Cyprus.  So how did we manage to leave him in Sheffield?

He’d been brought in to my friend’s and then abandoned in lieu of Playdoh.  I made sure I picked him up and put him on the kitchen table so we wouldn’t forget him, and then we left in a rush and it wasn’t until we were on the motorway that I remembered!  ‘Argh, we’ve left Teddy’.  Worry then sets in as she is asking for him as she wants a nap in the car and Teddy is  the main things she cuddles to go to sleep.  What do I say?

All parents will know this, get a spare favourite toy. Her teddy is only available once a year part of a christmas offer.  The year after she got him I bought another one, but he isn’t quite the same.  So could I palm off this teddy to cover for the missing one?

So in comes my creative brain.  At bed time that day E was asking for Teddy, so I brought out ‘Eddie’, Teddy’s friend who Teddy had sent to look after her while Teddy was on holiday.  Initially she wasn’t sure but after two days Teddy free she’d think about giving Eddie a cuddle.  She’d look at him and say ‘Teddy is on holiday, Teddy back soon.’ I have to say I did feel a bit bad when I heard her say it!

Last night Teddy was back, courtesy of Royal Mail, and she carried him around for the rest of the night and then to bed.  She was still asking for Eddie though, and I make sure they hugged to say hi.  Fingers crossed this never happens again, but if so ‘Eddie’ is available as the back up plan.

 

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When God was a Rabbit. Great title.

rabbitgodPhil: If you want shelf appeal, your book needs a great title. “When God was a Rabbit” by Sarah Winman certainly has that. Who can look at it in the bookshop and not be intrigued?

The story revolves around Eleanor Maud who we first encounter as a young child and then follow through her life, or at least big chunks of it with a gap in the middle. Elly is a precocious narrator, quoting Nietzsche at age 7. We progress through various episodes in her life which I think are supposed to form some sort of cohesive whole. Trouble is, I’ve read the book and still don’t know what was going on.

Part 1 is quite pleasantly written. There are a few never explained anomalies such as her best friend pulling a 50p coin from the future from her arm or a hint of child abuse, but generally I followed the story of her family moving to Cornwall to set up a guest house courtesy of a football pools win. God in this instance really is a rabbit – specifically Elly’s pet.

It’s a nice read. I could suspend disbelief to handle the characters, despite several who seem to make little sense such as the gay film star aunt who is apparently always nipping off to star in some epic but doesn’t seem to be famous. Elly’s brother is gay (as is pretty much everyone else it seems), and every time he has a shag, his sister seems to catch him in the act. No wonder he’s a bit messed up in part 2.

And part 2 is more of a problem. We find Elly now a journalist but the sort of writer who flies around the world while not actually doing anything productive. She has a flat in London but often nips over to see her sibling in New York. Apparently you can fund this on a weekly newspaper column.

By the time the September 11 attacks were shoehorned in to the narrative, I was starting to lose patience. There was plot that didn’t fit the story and if I’m feeling unkind, could have been dropped in at the request of an editor demanding a longer page count. I imagine a wall full of Post-It notes with random sensational scenes (child dressed as baby Jesus killed in the nativity play?) on but no-one bothering to suggest picking the best and then linking them together. Instead, everything is crammed into the pages, everything except a plot.

I think we are supposed to travel through the series of only lightly constructed vignettes and find something profound about childhood and growing up, friendships and families, triumph and tragedy and everything in between. But I only know this because it’s written on the back of the cover. Mind you, “Includes extra material for reading groups” is also on the cover and that’s not in the copy I read.

What’s weird is that while I didn’t really like this book, I quite enjoyed reading it. Maybe that’s enough for the literary reviewers, or maybe they were dazzled by the authors work as an actress (2 years in Holby City! 3 years in The Bill!) but there are plenty of good reviews out there and the book has received 4 awards including the Newton First Book Award and Writer of the Year in 2011. Best of all, Richard & Judy picked it as one for their summer book club – a guarantee of bucket loads of sales.

Presumably I’m missing something very profound, but I would have liked an explanation of that 50p.

 

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Art imitates life at Wickham Hall

exbury trainPhil: A couple of months ago, Candice reviewed Wickham Hall by Cathy Bramley. Afterwards, as so often is the case, the book came to me to read. One of the many benefits of being a member of this writing team is that we share books and I’ve enjoyed many that wouldn’t normally have been my choice.

By chance, the day after I started it, I was due to take part in some filming at Exbury Gardens in Hampshire. Home to the Rothschilds, it’s very nearly a real life version of the stately home in the book. As well as the extensive gardens (the largest private estate until it opened to the public in 1955), there is a cafe, plant sales and shop. Exbury wins over Wickham with its miniature steam railway but apart from that, art is following life.

During the day, I chatted to quite a few of the staff and had a general mooch around. And you know what? The family feel of people who work at Exbury is very similar to that at the fictional Wickham Hall. They are proud of their world and I get the feeling there is a fair amount of “mucking in” to make things happen. The yearly events calendar can be seen on the walls of the engine shed with decorations for Halloween and Santa special trains.

Obviously I didn’t ask our contact Suzie if running off into the sunset with the heir to the hall was part of the job description, I’m sure that bit was pure fiction.

As my friend mentioned, one of the nice parts of the book is that it’s set near where we live. I know the towns mentioned although they have definitely benefited from the authors imagination – Henley-in-Arden library is tiny and it’s volunteer staff might love the idea of receiving a donation containing masses of archive newspaper but I suspect they would be forced to drop them in the recycler instead of mounting a major exhibition.

In the same way the Stratford Gazette (the Herald in real life) isn’t likely to have a fashion reporter, or if they do the role will be fashion/dog shows/grumpy locals reporter.

None of this matters. In the world of Wickham Hall, everything is a little sparklier and brighter than real life. Nothing really terrible happens at any point and this really doesn’t seem to matter.

Pure escapism and none the worse for it.

La Nolan is researching the competition on a sun-lounger at the moment, so she won’t notice I’ve put a picture of a train on the blog until it’s too late.

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Strictly between us by Jane Fallon

sbuCandice: SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this post if you are going to read this book, that means you Phil Parker, as I am going to give away the big twist that makes the book so interesting.

This book is the one I was talking about in my last post. I’ve finally finished it now and will be handing over to Phil to read as it is quite clever. Why, well it throws in something you can work out would happen but does it very well.

Tamsin is a successful TV producer with a best friend, Michelle, and a loyal PA called Bea. Tasmin does however have a touch of the Bridget Jones being mid 30s and still single. Michelle is married to Patrick, a charismatic producer for another TV company. Through the grapevine she hears he has a reputation for playing away. Not having enough going on in her own life she decides to stick her nose in and sends faithful Bea off to an awards ceremony to try and honey trap him into giving the game away.

Bea comes back having made a hash of it and when Patrick comes round to confide in Tamsin that he thinks Michelle thinks he is playing away some how they end up snogging.

This puts Tamsin on the spot. She is now sure Patrick isn’t a player as such but he’s just proved otherwise with her. Should she tell Michelle and ruin her marriage and their friendship.

And so you think you know where the story is going. But then Jane starts writing from the point of view of the other players in the book. Well Bea, she is a revelation. The bit that made we smile the most was when she talking about being Tamsin’s dogs body and saying she gets her full fat not skinny lattes (but not telling her ) and then loves to hear her complaining about how she can’t loose weight!

And the honey trap, well that went better than Tamsin thought as Patrick is a player, and Bea is his new beau. The snogging Tamsin, just a ruse to keep her from following him or telling Michelle.

So we follow the story through each person’s view as it twists and turns. The sneaky meet ups in hotels, the drinks with Michelle where Tamsin can’t tell her the truth. It all comes to a head with Patrick and Bea being confronted and Michelle’s world falling apart. Somewhere is this Tamsin manages to hide her part and keep her friend.

This could have turned into a four player story where we don’t like any of the characters. Tamsin is lazy and selfish but only falls for Patrick’s ploys due to alcohol and loneliness. It’s Bea and Patrick you want to hate as they have no problems pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes and then complaining and turning on each other when they get found out. Michelle is just soft and wants someone to have babies with.

I thought it was clever and well written with enough twists to make me wonder exactly where we are going and enough plausibility so that I wasn’t thinking that would never happen.   Note to us all, unless you are certain best to keep out of other people’s problems !

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Things that make me go…ARGH!

outitwcPhil: At our recent Lit Fest talk, Candice explained that one important feature of our books was a strong female lead. Read any amount of chick-lit and you’ll find women who are otherwise quite sensible yet go to pieces the moment a hunky bloke appears on the horizon.

When you are a normal, functioning female, this is apparently incredibly annoying. She tells me in no uncertain terms that the female population do not spend their days swooning and dropping into a dead faint at the merest hint of manlyness – and since this never happens when I’m around, I’m bound to agree.

Anyway, I too get annoyed by characters in the media. Sadly these are often real people.

I consider myself a practical type of chap. Give me a flat-pack piece of furniture and I’m confident that I can transform it into something like the picture in the catalogue with the merest hint of hitting things and swearing. I have a working knowledge of machinery and the contents of a toolbox.

Were I a proper media luvvie however, I would have to proudly proclaim my complete ignorance of anything remotely practical. Worse, I’d hurl snide insults at the sort of people who do have practical skills. It’s well-known that when the oil runs out, those well versed in media studies will rule the world, not anyone capable of constructing shelter or purifying water.

Douglas Adams was right when he wrote about the Golgafrinchan B ark.

Anyway, there I am reading Tony Hawks latest book, Once upon a time in the West Country. Unlike previous epics involving fridges and Moldovans, this isn’t about a crazy bet but an account of his meeting someone, moving out of London, settling in the West Country and having a baby. There’s also a few chapters involving a pig and cycle ride.

All the way through though, he bangs on about being completely unable to do anything practical. If it involves tools, ratchet straps or even plugging in the battery on an electric bike, Tony is out of his depth.

A couple of times, this would be funny but it’s a constant refrain. As far as I can tell, without his next door neighbour, he’d have high-tailed it back to London after a month having been unable to work the taps in the new house. This is especially frustrating as I enjoyed the other books, think Tony is an excellent comedian and undersung charity worker.

I found all this as exasperating as my friend finds swooning ladies. How did we get to the stage when an inability to do anything, or to stay upright at the first sight of a gentleman’s chest become something to be proud of? I’m going to write some top spanner action into future books. Perhaps, like Charlene in Neighbours, even lady wielding spanner action. That will confound the stereotypes!

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So much stuff

Candice: The family Nolan are off on holiday soon and I’m in the midst of lists and planning.  I enjoy going on holiday but I find the build up enjoyable/stressful especially since I now have to pack for an extra person.  I worry that if we forget something important we will have an very unhappy child for the whole holiday.   If we went without Teddy – there would be serious drama!

Anyway, there is a spare bedroom full of clothes and stuff ready for us to go.  OMG you have never seen some much stuff.  We have our bags, bags for the pushchair and car seat, baby food, toys, airbed for child (she’s too big for a travel cot and too small for a big bed).  We are now in the days of needing a trolley at the airport and meet and greet parking.

She’s very into Peppa Pig at the moment and there is one story about ‘Baby Alexander’.  When Peppa’s Auntie and Uncle arrive with Chloe and Alexander they start unloading the car.  Daddy Pig asks “Have you come for the week?”  Uncle Pig answers, “No, we just need all this stuff for the baby” as he lifts another box from the boot. How true this cartoon is.

One of the things I am trying to shoe horn into my bag is another  book.  I only have one so far and will be picking one up at the airport the way things are going.  However, I am three quarters of the way through finishing the one I am reading so have a quandary. Do I take it with me or leave it here?

If I take it, it will be finished within a day of arrival.  Not so bad you say, just leave it in the hotel library.  But I don’t want to as it’s a good book with a very clever twist and I want to give it to Phil to read.

I suppose with everything else we have to carry it’s not going to make that much difference!!

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Seeing the whites of their eyes

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Phil: Regular readers of this blog are probably a bit tired of our rattling on about the Stratford Literary Festival, I promise this will be the last time but I can’t resist telling the story from my point of view as you read Candice’s on Tuesday.

I arrived at the venue far too early, or so I thought. It was a cold and damp day and having perused the second-hand bookshops of Stratford, I decided to wander in to take a photo of the attractions board for the day. We were on it and I wanted a record of the fact in case it never happens again.

Seconds after I walked in however, a lovely steward called Gail asked if I was attending one of the sessions. I explained I was but as the bloke at the front. Suddenly I was hauled off to the green room. I protested that I really ought to wait for Candice but to no avail. There I was trapped in a room with cakes and wine – what could I do?

Anyway, there were official photos to be taken and the man with the camera used me to set up the lighting. That’s what he said anyway, it might just be that the dozens of shots were to find one in which I don’t look too stupid. Suffice to say the Nolan was only in the studio for a couple of minutes when she arrived.

My plan had been that we would run through our cue cards before the show. As it was, we got chatting to people and never quite managed this. Time came and were led down to the Drawing Room where we were to perform. As we settled at the front, I was received to see some people arrive in the audience. OK, not many but at least we didn’t have to scuttle off in ignominy.

Now, I’m used to presenting in front of people, but as was said last time, bigger crowds. When there are 50 people staring at you, it’s not possible to focus on a single person, unless they insist on sitting in the front row eating chocolate cake but that’s another story. With a small audience you can see all the reactions at once.

My plan had been to introduce our talk with a short (1min 32s – I timed it in advance) reading from the book that describes the scene where we were told the place was closing. As I did this, I felt myself warming up and had the terror that I was going bright red.

Eventually we settled down and the second problem appeared. The lack of cue card run through meant that neither of us knew when the other was going to stop. Add to that my ability to waffle for England and I had to keep reminding myself to let Candice get a word in. Fortunately, she is more than capable of interjecting and we quickly bounced between us, bantering like we do.

We’d thought that simply talking about us would be dull but as it turns out, people are interested in people. Our attempts to  stick in some stuff about writing as a team hopefully helped the lady who is struggling to complete a novel. Half an hour isn’t long once you get going though so we had to pack everything in. We wanted people to go away feeling they had value for money even though it was free.

Our small audience really enjoyed themselves and we handed out flyers to everyone – if you are reading this because of one, thanks for coming, you made our day!

Afterwards, it was back to the green room to collect our belongings and a bit more chat then we escaped to the HR Coffee bar, supplier of the excellent cakes for a calming cup of tea.

So, we’ve done it. A proper literary festival. They looked after us the same as any of the stars and for a few minutes we felt like real authors. If we one day make it big, part of this is going to be down to Annie and her team running the show. Oh, and Rupert Barnes who took the superb photos of us both in the green room and putting on a show – in which we actually look like real authors. We’ve got a taste for this, now we want more!

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