A great title WILL sell your book. To me anyway…

Phil: It’s my old editor’s fault. David and I are both VW campervan fans, and the conversions in our vans are by the Folkestone firm of Dormobile.

So, when he posted the cover of Tess of the Dormobiles on Facebook, I knew it was only going to be a matter of time before I read it.

The story concerns Theresa Finbow – a self-published author, and her plan to write the difficult second novel. She borrows a holiday cottage in a quiet area of Norfolk, the plan being to emulate her lead character Tess.

In Norfolk, a trip to the local pub brings her into contact with Billy, a local farmworker who has a mysterious and ominous past. Worse, his brother is the reason that Tess is on holiday without her husband.

Can Tess get her novel finished, survive contact with Billy and resolve the issues in her personal life?

Will Stebbings is a self-published author with at least five books to his credit. Tess of the Dormobiles is printed by Createspace, a print-on-demand house, and sold via eBay, which is where I bought it.

You might expect me to review this with 2 stars and tell you I’d been ripped off. And you’d be wrong.

OK, the text could do with the attentions of a copy editor. There’s too much nerdy detail in places. Both Will and Tess know Norfolk and relate some locations in a very blokeish way with road numbers. I also query what two chapters of the fictional Tess book add to anything.

But, as I read it, one word kept popping up in my head – fresh. The writing is fresh and enjoyable. The plot rolls along well and a few surprises are chucked in along the way, especially the twist at the end. It’s not the best book I’ve read, but a lot better than many efforts by names famous for things other than writing.

I’m pleased the title, which is explained in the story, sold me this book. Reading it was fun. Owning it is a bit of a laugh. Passing it on to La Nolan will be a pleasure.

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A little man with a big story

Phil: The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn takes place in 1625 and follows Nat Davy – a man who became “the Queen’s Dwarf”. Based loosely on a real person, Sir Jeffrey Hudson, it weaves a story around his life from being sold by his father and living as a plaything (initially) of Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles the first.

The book is an interesting and enjoyable historical romp. I suspect that if you are a hard-core history buff, you’ll we clenching your fists in a few places as fictitious versions of real events unfold, or at least versions that have been enhanced by imagination simply because there is no other way to do it.

I found it fascinating to read the tale of the English Civil war from the losing side. Nat is firmly embedded in the Royalist camp and even though he doesn’t rate the king highly, doesn’t disagree with the basic idea of someone with the God-given right to rule the country. This is a world, where you find yourself forced to fight, and die, for a cause that you might not believe in. Nat’s brother is enlisted to the Parliamentary side simply by being in the wrong place (at home) when they took over his village. He doesn’t want to fight and has no interest in politics – all that stuff seems a long way away from his rural village in the era before instant communication.

The Queen grows from a terrified 15-year-old the entire country dislikes (she is a Catholic) to a powerful force behind the throne that the country hates.

Nat is devoted to her, and becomes a trusted confidant. Both are outsiders, her because of her faith, him because he stoped growing at ten years old. She lives in a palace full of intrigue and suspicion where courtiers brief against each other and vie for the ear of the king. It all sounds very similar to politics today!

I’m not really one for historical novels, but this is a real page-turner. I’m sure history buffs will find much to criticise, but it’s not a school exercise book, it’s an enjoyable story which has a historical background. My limited knowledge means I didn’t spot any major issues – but the author has stuck to many established facts for the main events in the story. What she has intended is the stuff that wouldn’t be recorded anyway.

 

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I’m SOOOOOO Bored

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Candice: I don’t know about you, but I’ve reached boredom point with this whole home working/homeschooling/lockdown thing.

I think part of it is I looked at the calendar and thought – hey its the 8th Feb and then realised the earliest we are going to escape this is in four weeks time. FOUR WEEKS!

I’ve run out of ways to come up with interesting things to do at the weekend. The other week I did my tax return, then I did some touch-up painting where the walls were damaged in the hall. Getting up and putting a wash on, on Saturday morning, no longer floats my boat, because I can do it any day of the week.

As I sit here there are small snowflakes coming down on top of a light smattering of snow. More snow could be fun, but we’ve still done it all before. And hey, that will mean another trip over to the local park, the one we go to almost every day as its a five-minute walk from our house. BORED of it!

Phil and I came up with a creative way to chat the other week, to try and replicate our usual meets. I can walk to a coffee shop in 20 minutes so I did that, while talking to Phil on the phone, he did the same walking around his local area and found a new independent coffee shop that had opened. It was good to put the world to rights for an hour and a half, and clock up nearly 12000 steps. And Phil has found a new place to buy coffee and cake. But you can tell how people are looking for things to do, at 11.30am the queue for the drive-through coffee shop was out of their car park. And I bumped into two people I know while I was out which doesn’t normally happen.

I always find the winter months a bit harder, feeling contained by the cold and the dark nights. I haven’t been able to go out for a run as I’m an ‘above 5 degrees’ runner. And this snow means the bike ride I had planned will probably go out of the window.

I was doing my morning workout today; avoiding the sofabed, cat and small child while I was doing shuttle runs across the spare bedroom, and I thought – I need a new list. This is the time to finish off those other jobs around the house which will annoy me when I don’t have time. The dining room ceiling is desperate for paint. I also sat in front of a computer on Saturday and thought – let’s do some writing, and I drew a blank as I haven’t written for so long I don’t even know where to start. So I’m going to bully myself into starting on Saturday – when I have my three hours of child-free time and I am going to write. I also think it will make me feel better, having a purpose, and also enjoying myself.

 

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Stagecoach Drama saved my life

Stagecoach Performing Arts Bury - Posts | Facebook

Candice: You may have heard of Stagecoach. It’s a theatre school for children from four to 16, that teaches dance, drama and singing. My daughter joined up around 18 months ago. Initially, she was quite reluctant; it’s a big step to go into a large room full of children you don’t know while Mommy walks off. There were tears as she clung to me. We had been to a trial session which she said she loved so I wasn’t just dropping her off thinking “whey hey, child free time”. Well, I was, but I also knew she’d enjoy it.

My daughter has always been a drama queen. If I’d let her she’d have set up her own YouTube channel by now. She’s always asking me to video her, or pretending to make her own videos. I knew something like this would be perfect. I also know how much I loved drama growing up, and would have killed to do this.

So, along came a global pandemic, and no clubs, classes or going out. And we went on for the whole summer like that, with us parents coming up with the entertainment as we all fell over each other in the house.

Then someone realised that you can run some clubs remotely. Suddenly all these zoom lessons started popping up. And I’ve come to rely on the three-hour reprieve I get on a Saturday afternoon.

After a whole week living in each other’s pockets it the chance for the other half and I to get on with some stuff, without the whole ‘who’s turn is it to entertain the small child’ fight going on. Every parent out there will know this daily battle – you have things you want or need to do – it might be admin (I’ve spent this afternoon doing finance stuff!), it might be a workout, it might be tidying the loft. But all of these things are easier without a little voice telling you they are bored, need help etc. And you know you have three hours to do it. I end up shoehorning so much into that time I need a lie down after!

And in the lounge, one happy child is chatting with her friends while she learns to sing, emote and dance (her favourite part).

Like Phil’s involvement in Marian Keyes’s writing tutorial last week, we are all getting creative and actually finding some of these work. Sometimes it doesn’t, trying to run a disco where no-one can hear the music is a perfect example, but in a lot of cases, it can.

So, I’m going to savour every Saturday where I get my ‘me’ time. Hang on – I’ve got six minutes until she finishes, what else can I get done….

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Writing with Marian Keyes

Phil: We’re missing literary events. The chance to spend time in a room listening to someone talking about the writing process with the added bonus of being able to ask questions.

Luckily, the web has come to our rescue in these locked down times. Candice spotted that Marion Keyes was running a series of talks on Instagram, and we tuned in for an hour to enjoy the chat.

This week, she talked about many topics including timelines – the importance of which she emphasised. While you don’t need to write one at the start of a book, you will need to create it at some point to keep the story going.

Exactly what appears on the timeline matters too. In one book, she included a lot about the Trump election. Her publisher asked for this to be removed as it would “date the book” quickly. Not a fan of the orange one, Marion happily complied. I’m not so sure about this. If a book is set in a particular period in time, surely you mention the news to fix it at this point?

Anyway, it’s all very relaxed, just someone sitting on a sofa chatting and answering some questions thrown in by the audience of 1598 people also tuning in.

If you’d like to catch up, the videos head over to her YouTube channel:

Week 1. Plot and point of view, software and word count.

Week 2. The Fear! Your voice. Characterisation.

Week 3. Timelines, pacing, and sex.

This sort of thing is great. Maybe it will help us find our mojo.

 

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Don’t listen to Instagram

Phil: I love Instagram, but if I hit the magnifying glass icon and start strolling through the random picture feed, I wonder. Suddenly, among all the pictures of Amanda Holden (how does she find the time to do any work?), there are bits of cod psychology from people desperate to say something profound.

“Words are the worst form of communication” was exceptionally special.

For a moment, let us imaging I am heading into my favourite fast-food restaurant. I would like to purchase a Wimpy burger followed by a delicious Brown Derby desert.

How should I convey this information to the person behind the counter?

In the past, I would have said, “I’d like a Wimpy burger, a Brown Derby and cup of tea.”, but according to Instagram, that’s wrong.

So, should I try to convey my order through the medium of interpretive dance?

I don’t know about you, but I find playing Charades takes ages but if we aren’t doing words, that’s pretty much where we are. Heaven knows what happens if I decide to add a Bender in a Bun to the order!

Seriously, we’ve written two and a half books full of words and read thousands of books, also full of words. How could I be so stupid as to realise there was a better way?

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Are you exposing yourself to your readers?

Bear vs. Bare—What's the Difference? | Grammarly

I’m not sure if you have noticed but there is a term being used a lot across customer communications, notices and social media messages at the moment.  As we are all having a rough time of it, things are taking longer to do, so I keep being asked to BARE with people.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I won’t be sharing any naked shots with them, and I don’t expect them to do the same!

When I first started seeing this term I thought it might be me (I am dyslexic) that was seeing something that was wrong, but I knew the spelling of bare just didn’t feel right.  I think people opt for this one, rather than the correct term which is BEAR, as they perceive the second term as used exclusively for an animal.  But I looked it up and bear not bare is the correct way to ask someone to have some patience.  Now every time I see it, it drives me up the wall!

The use of correct terminology and spelling is something that a professional will add to your writing, whether that is a marketing document, book or blog.  Phil and I used a professional proofreader on our books, as their expertise does make a difference. I know that I am not the best speller, and when you write something you don’t always see your mistakes, but certain things will make me stop reading before I get to the end.  Using the wrong term is one of them.  In this world of asking people to hold fire while you work on something, then asking them to get their clothes off rather than be patient is probably the worst thing you can do.

The English Language is a wonderful thing, and having a junior reader in the house is making me even more interested in it (though when she asks me how to spell a word out loud I  do really struggle – how do you spell science?) as she is developing her vocabulary every day.  Using the wrong term is not a hanging offence but this is where the teaching and learning from an early age comes in, as does reading a lot.  My understanding of language and development of words is broadened by the number of books I read.  Though it’s probably better in chick lit and murder mystery terminology than others!

It surprises me when someone uses the wrong term, so if you are thinking of doing something professional, just check your terms if you aren’t sure, else you might alienate people rather than get your message across.

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Radio recommendations

Phil: OK, we’re back in lockdown. The message is “stay at home with a paper bag on your head” and the chances to go and sit in a cafe chatting over plot twists for your latest novel have receded into 2022. In the meantime, one of us has become a part-time teacher to her daughter, stealing away valuable writing time.

Anyway, books are a good way to hide from the gloom and doom. For a start, they don’t generally involve listening to Michael Gove, and there’s usually a happy ending. We’ve always recommended reading matter, but now I’m going to take another step and start looking at radio programmes and podcasts that are worth downloading to your phone for entertainment. I like to listen during my allotted hour of exercise – basically going for a walk being careful not to get within 2 metres of anyone not wearing a full-on gimp suit, and several miles of anyone who is.

Before we start, I recommend searching for the BBC Sounds App, it makes this sort of thing so much easier.

Can I talk about heroes?

We’ll start with a serious one. Vicky Foster looks at the way society creates heroes and the nature of heroism. At least that is what the description for the programme says.

The more interesting side is that her ex-partner was killed by the man who later made the news tackling a terrorist on London Bridge with a narwhal tusk. How do you explain to your children that the man who killed daddy is now being lauded by the Prime Minister as a hero?

Download “Can I talk about Heroes” (37 minutes)

 

Austentatious

Now for something funny, or at least it is if you can stand mock versions of Jane Austen, the famous author who died ay 41 fighting in a pigmy goat wrestling competition, without getting huffy about not taking things seriously.

The cast improvises a version of Pride and Prejudice largely based in a fish and chip where we find the usual women looking for a husband. The results are very funny, taking the mickey out of literary tropes, the social morays of the time, and we all like gossip about young ladies…

Settle down for Pride and Bread with this.

Download “Austentatious” (28 minutes)

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And that was 2020

2020 in the binPhil: So, there we go. 2020 is nearly over, and I don’t think it will be mourned by anyone.

Let’s be honest, it was rubbish. We’d all have been happier to hibernate through the whole thing, and the first six months of 2021 too, I suspect.

Team NolanParker can’t claim to have enjoyed any great success.

Early on, we tidied up both of our books, applied all the proof-reading and removed the typos. All good, but after that March happened, and it all fell apart.

While others were (they claim) learning a new language or developing the ability to make pasta, we just disappeared into the “joys” of ever more work, homeschooling and generally losing all our motivation.

Sadly, our writing mojo is still missing, but at least on a socially-distanced walk in the cold yesterday, we started to look for it. That’s another thing we miss – sitting in a cafe with tea and cake. I’m sure that strolling in the park is good for you, but you can’t use a laptop.

Will 2021 be the year we break through? Will we finally finish our third book?

Does anyone else have hopes and dreams for next year? Please share – you might inspire someone else.

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Party like it’s 2020!

Phil: Do you know what’s good about 2020?

No office Christmas parties!

No standing around awkwardly pretending to have fun. No wishing you didn’t have to drive home so you could enjoy a drink to dull the pain. No being stuck with colleagues who have partners picking them up so they can drink.

Yes, I know we’re all supposed to love this stuff, but some of us don’t. Can you just not go, leaving the party to those who enjoy it? No. Apparently, it’s the law that you have to turn up for the “fun”. It’s rude (I’m told) to explain that you didn’t choose to be with anyone you work with, it’s only being paid that keeps you in the same room as them. And only the threat of a tedious interview with HR that stops you murdering the lot of them. (I have worked in IT support. You have no idea how much we hated some of our users. No, more than that.)

But 2020 comes along and everyone is working from home. Parties are held via Zoom!

No dancing. Drinking if you want it because, well, you are at home.

And when it’s time to leave say something along the lines of “My Internet is playing up.”, switch the computer off and leave them to it.

In Kate vs The Dirtboffins, our IT nerd Kelvin has a neat party trick. He pretends to take an urgent phone call when he needs to get away. That wasn’t my invention, party monster Nolan came up with that, but if we are ever allowed into the same room as other people, I’ll remember it.

As it is, meet-ups via Zoom have worked very well this year. My circle of regular drinking buddies has grown now we no longer have to worry about geography. Yes, I miss visiting a pub, but even my annual nerds trip to London boozers has a virtual stand-in this year. It won’t be the same, but at least we won’t be jostling out on the pavement in the cold. And the beer is cheaper.

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