The Christmas Train by David Baldacci

captureCandice: Phil lent me a book a while ago by an author that I like – David Baldacci.  I’ve read a few of his books and Phil found this on in the dark recces of a charity shop.  He picked it up because it had the mention of a train, I said I’d wait to read it because of the mention of Christmas.

So I picked it up last week.  December was almost here and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to crack it open.  To be honest I’d already had the Christmas tunes on for the little person.  She’s learning some songs for her Christmas play at nursery so we both needed some practice in remembering the words to ‘Away in a Manger’.

To start I wasn’t sure.  The book is about a chap taking a train from east to west coast America to spend Christmas with his sweet heart. Train travel isn’t that popular in the States, everyone flies or drives, but he’s been banned from flying due to an air rage incident so decides to follow the footsteps of his distant relative Mark Twain and take two trains that criss cross the country.

The book was written over 10 years ago and you can tell with some of the technology that is described, it initially distracts from the book, but then the plot gets going.

So, Tom was once a war reporter.  His long time girlfriend up and left him after one to many close escapes and he hasn’t heard from her since.  Who is on the train?  Eleanor, the once girlfriend. In the great tradition of all stories love does not run smooth and she hates him on sight as he still hasn’t worked out why she left him. Just as they are starting to come  together then his girlfriend arrives and friction pushes them to the limit.  Will they or won’t they get together?

There are other fun things happening on the train too.  A young couple have run away from their families to get married, a thief is stealing valuable items and a retired train engineer is watching the skies as he predicts a bad storm is coming. So just as things are calming down an avalanche hits the train and they all get stuck running out fuel and water.

Love conquers all as Tom saves his woman and the train but then the twist appears.  The girlfriend, the marriage are all a sham, set up by the film director employer of Eleanor who knows she is still pining for Tom and wants her to finally get her man.

Initially the book is much too detailed about trained, and I was thinking this was more Phil’s bag than mine.  But once we got over that its actually good fun and you want to know what happens.  Some of the characters are larger than life and it gives the story a nice Christmassy feel.  What doesn’t get resolved is the Mark Twain element which is a shame but all in all it gave me a nice introduction to the Christmas season.

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I bet JK Rowling doesn’t buy her own books…

amazonpackPhil: A few days, the postman delivered an exciting parcel to chez Parker. Inside was a rather excellent book ordered two days before.

The same day, my mother was dispatched to Waterstones to pick up a copy ordered a couple of weeks earlier.

“Why are you buying copies of your own book?” I hear you cry. “Is this an attempt to force it into the best seller charts?”

Not a bit of it. That would be cheating, underhand and also far too expensive.

No, all I wanted to do was make sure that the process of ordering physical copies actually worked. That and try to push the book into Amazon’s “People who bought this, also bought this…” section.

Anyway – buying from Amazon or Waterstones works. So what’s stopping you?

P.S. Signed copies also available. E-mail me.

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Watching people read our book

readingPhil: The Interweb is a wonderful thing that has changed all of our live, mostly for the better.

Authors like us can publish our book without recourse to the traditional gatekeepers of publishing houses. A few minutes work and your words can appear on Amazon available to all for purchase.

Working this way provides a completely new experience for the author – watching as people read your book.

I don’t mean looking over their shoulder as they leaf through the pages. That would be creepy and we’d probably get caught.

No, we can do this electronically. And no-one will know.

Anyone signed up to Amazon Prime can read books like ours for free and we are paid per page read. Yes, the more you read, the more money we make.

To provide results, there is a graph and it’s this that provides the entertainment. Every so often the line leaps into life and we know how many pages have been read each day.

The graph shows some action from last week. Total pages read, 475.

This is a bit odd as there are 313 pages in the Kindle edition of the book. Even if you lose the blank ones at the front and back, this is more than one read through but less than two. Not sure what is happening but we’ll not worry too much. What I do know if people do pick it up electronically and read our story, which is the point of the whole job. Every time the line surges skyward, I imagine a reader enjoying the story so much they can’t put the book down!

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Thought for day with the Rev Richard Coles: Cake is good.

Phil: Is there anything more middle class than going to Stratford-upon-Avon literary festival’s autumn season, to see a nice vicar because he’s entertaining on Saturday morning Radio 4?

That’s me. I ought to buy my clothes from the Boden catalogue (whatever that is).

Rev Richard Coles is an interesting character. He first appeared on telly as part of 80s band, The Comunards.

After stepping off the waterskis of fame (his description) there were titanic amount of drugs followed by finding a life within the Catholic church, conversion to the Church of England. He is now a parish priest in the diasis of Peterborough as well as Radio 4 regular.

He arrived on stage with his interviewer and a cake an audience member had baked for him. Cutting a slice, he munched through it during the enjoyable hours chat.

Reading up a little before the evening, I discover that life in the Communards was not always each. Jimmy Somerville was a natural at being famous and far more charismatic than his bespecled bandmate. Fans would flock to him, sometimes not even waiting for a completed autograph from the keyboard player. When you are the sort of person who has always tried to “nudge your way into the spotlight”, even while looking like a vicar trying to emerge from a pop star, this has got to be hard.

Is this the future for team Nolan Parker? Will the audiences only have time for one of us? And will it be the glamorous one, or the speccy bloke with the charisma of a tea towel?

Well apparently the pay is good and I’m sure taking the cloth isn’t necessary. I’m sure I’ll manage.

At least when you go to a literary festival, people bring you cake, and as Rev Coles says, it is good!

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Letting the book fly brings success

bookwithwingsPhil: Last week I gained a new Twitter follower. Pleasant enough, but there was a surprise attached.

My new friends last tweet was: “A very funny read: an horticulture agency, including plant pathology and redundancies!” along with a link to our book on Amazon.

I recognised the name as one of the scientists I’d worked with over 16 years ago in my days on the veg research IT helpdesk. Joana wasn’t one of our regular visitors (the one you remember with a shudder) so how had she found our book?

It turns out that it was all down to Leamington Spa railway station.

Platform 3 is home to a bookcase in the waiting room. People leave books and collect others, all free of charge. A few weeks ago, I’d dropped off a copy of Kate vs the Dirtboffins, complete with new cover in there.  When I checked a couple of weeks later, it had gone and I wondered if the person who’d got it was enjoying the read.

It seems she was.

Not only that, but she passed it on to her friend Joana who suspected that HRI where she works and HRA in the book might be related!

The book has continued on its journey and a signed copy has been bought and dispatched. Giving away copies of your book pays off it seems. Best of all, I keep hearing, “We can’t wait to see what happens next.”

So Nolan, we better finish book 2!

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We Heart Writing

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We’re guest posting over on the We Heart Writing blog along with dozens of really excellent authors. Head over there and see what we’ve been up to.

And if you’ve come from WHW, then welcome. Please dig around our ramblings. Best of all, please order a copy of our book, you’ll be pleased you did!

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Writers can learn from Star Trek

sptsPhil: Warwick Words literary festival has re-invented itself this year as a literary history festival. I went along to a few sessions and was fascinated by the life of Warwick Castle’s housekeeper and the local hiring fairs. I’m told that many of the other talks were brilliant, but some of us have to work.

One session that didn’t seem to fit the pattern was Marcus Berkman talking about Star Trek. This didn’t matter, I beamed in anyway. Only the day before did I realise that the TV show was 50 years old. That counts as history to me.

Marcus is a lifelong fan of the series, both in original and spin-off forms. The talk was based on his enjoyable book Set Phasers to Stun, both a history of the show and it’s production as well as a critique of many of the episodes.

This is proper nerd stuff. I loved it but then I can just about place most of the original series episodes from the descriptions thanks to repeated showings on TV. In Marcus’s book, there’s interesting trivia from behind the scenes, not a happy place to be it seems a lot of the time. Characters came and went as the series settled down and all the familiar elements.

As the book progresses through the various incarnations, Berkman identifies a huge problem faced by the writers – running out of storylines.

Even within the 79 original Trek episodes, there were plenty of very similar plots. Some blame Gene Rodenbury’s obsession that the cast had to be in terrible jeopardy every week, and he liked them to come up against god-like foes (this is one reason why the first film bears more than passing resemblance to the TV episode The Changeling). Berkman describes it as the “plant of the week” plotting style.

The followup Next Generation enjoys 178 shows which really did give the writers a problem. Basically, even with a team working on the series, you can’t avoid duplication, or at least your obsessive fan base spotting parallels.

It must be really tempting for TV and film executives to stick with succesful series. Witness the current trend for re-boots of both films (how many Spidermen do we need?) and re-hashing TV comedies.

We’ve had to consider this for our novels. There is a story arc, and the original plan involved 7 books. We’ve loped this back to 5 as sketching the basic plots out, we reckoned this was just enough to do the job. Any more and we’d be stretching the plot or repeating ourselves. It’s hard enough to avoid doing this and we’re only working on book 2!

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