Waving a workhorse goodbye

Phil: Last week I said goodbye to a faithful companion. After years of service, it was time to upgrade my computer.

I’ve been putting this off for a long while. The old one worked OK and apart from a hard drive crash, did all I asked of it. I’m not exactly a demanding user, some wordy processing, photo editing and web browsing were all required. The operating system might have dated to the early part of this century, but at least it wasn’t the applaing, unusable Windows 8.

The silicon sands of computer time moved on of course. Gradually I found web browsers weren’t available and when even Firefox said they wouldn’t support Windows Vista any more, then I knew the game was up. To be honest, the camera card reading ports on the front were playing up too and for the work I do, this is serious.

A final nudge was a chunk of cash from work over Christmas arriving in my bank account. Off I strolled to the local computer shop I went to discuss some options. Mostly those that involved them, not me, transferring data between the two machines. Another barrier to upgrades was the anticipated “joy” of moving files and tidying up afterwards. Two days frustrating work normally.

Anyway, the day dawned and I dropped my old computer in. Our arrangement was that they would move the e-mail over (£10 well spent) and install the old hard drive in the new box in addition to a couple of others. On the experts advice, I have all my software on an SSD drive for whizzo performance and all the data on a conventional drive for easy backup. One of the benefits of using a trusted local store is that someone brighter than a sofa can advise me.

Leaving the old box behind, I couldn’t help feeling sorry. On this computer I have types millions of words. One and half novels, hundred of magazine articles and thousands of blog posts. There is no more important a tool available to me. Without it, I’m lost, unemployable and broke. With it, I can access the world and communicate. That old PC has served me well for years, day in, day out, and now it will be stripped for parts and recycled.

Yes, I know it’s only a machine. I just get a bit sentimental that’s all.

Now I have a new black box on the desk. It runs Windows 10, which I don’t hate but it’s not as good as Windows 3.11. The front ports work, boot-up doesn’t take 5 minutes and the desktop shows slides from past holidays. At the moment my life is like moving into a new house. I know everything is there, I just can’t always put my hand on the file I want straight away. Organisation is taking place and eventually things will be where I want them. Eventually old box will be forgotten.

For the moment though, thank you old friend.

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So THAT’S what the song is all about.

Phil: Last week, Candice was blogging about one of her earliest favourite albums – Phil Collins “No Jacket Required” and by coincidence, I was listing to a show on the radio about one of mine.

1985 saw the release of Suzanne Vega’s eponymous first album and to promote it, the first single “Marlene on the Wall” enjoyed heavy rotation on Radio 1. What I should have done is rushed out and bought the album, but in those days, my local library loaned proper vinyl albums out so I simply borrowed it and made a tape using my sisters record player and the tape recorder I used for my ZX Spectrum. Obviously this is bad so don’t do it kids. As they said at the time, “Home taping is killing music” even if the phrase “It tapes tapes” appeared on every stereo system in my mum’s catalogues at the time.

Anyway, while I liked the songs and the imagery, the inspiration for the lyrics was always a bit of a mystery. Until I heard Johnnie Walker’s Long Players last week. The program covered the album track by track with explanations of each from Vega.

Much of it was slightly disappointing, stuff about songs being something to do with whoever she was dating at the time but for pure weirdness, the track “Small Blue Thing” wins.

Inspiration struck when she saw the blue doorknob in a boyfriends apartment. In the centre of the knob (stop sniggering at the back) was the image of a blue eyeball. All of which inspired the opening lines:

Today I am
A small blue thing
Like a marble
Or an eye

Utter barking mad, but oddly, still sounds good today.

So, songwriter, get down to the ironmonger’s for your next hit. It just shows, ideas can come from anywhere.

Mind you, if you think this is oddball, I’m working out how to shoehorn a Lieutenant Pigeon joke into our latest book just to see if anyone spots it…

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In the air tonight

Candice: I have just finished reading Phil Collins’ autobiography.  I actually bought it for the other half for Christmas but had finished my previous book and was looking for something else to dive in to.  It was collecting dust on his bed side table so I took the opportunity to steal it.

Well I’m glad it did.  I like bios – either self written or by someone else, though the autobiographies are always better as they are closer to the truth.  I like to know how celebrities ended up where they are as its often a strange collection of happy accidents as much as their planning to get famous.

Phil’s is a bit of both.  He was determined not to follow his father into insurance, a family tradition, but also had a wandering streak so when presented with a drum kit at an early age decided he wanted to do something really different from an office job.  It did help that his mother got involved with a talent agency and he ended up performing in ‘Oliver’ at an early age, whetting his acting chops.  But music was his real thing and by his mid teens he was a jobbing drummer looking for a band.

Though contacts and coincidence he ended up  auditioning for ‘Genesis’ an up and coming band with an already tight knit group of players.  Phil passed the audition but struggled to fit in.

There is a lot of talking in the book about his relationship with Peter Gabriel, the original lead singer in Genesis.  The rumour mill insists he was pushed out by Phil, Phil says it was all for Peter’s personal reasons and he was reluctantly made the new front man when no one else stepped up to the plate.  Reading the rest of the book you find out what a driven man he is so I think this is six of one and half and dozen of the other.  Phil’s Genesis explored a different musical route so I also think this would have been an influence.

The rest of the story takes me to the time of Genesis that I remember, and also Phil’s solo career.  He is one of the few people to have run concurrent careers, which meant a punishing schedule of touring and writing for both projects.  It made him a rich successful man, but also lost him three marriages in the process.

And then he decides to retire, and falls of a cliff.  With no focus for each day, alcohol takes over and he quickly becomes an alcoholic. The stubborn person he is it takes a few goes at rehab and arguments with family and friends before he realises it was give up the alcohol or life. Hence why the book is called ‘Not dead yet’!

I really enjoyed it, especially when it was at his peak as each record mentioned brought back memories of different part of my youth.  I can remember playing ‘No Jacket Required’ a lot, especially round at my friend Kathryn’s house for some reason.  I will be going out and buying the ‘best of’ album.

However, Phil is an interesting character.  He is focused and ruthless, there is no other way for him to have got where he was.  The book is quite open and I don’t think he would realise how some of the things he says or did would make some of  us wince. The music always came first, and pity his children, wives or even sleep if they got in the way.  I think his brush with death made him realise that there is more to life than this, but only just.

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Research, research

m33

Phil: I’ve never been in the navy. In fact most of my ideas about our senior service are planted by listening to many episodes of The Navy Lark.

When writing “Kate vs the Navy”, it occurs to me that I ought to do a little more research to try to, if not be wholly accurate (this is fiction after all) at least base some of the story in reality.

As it happens, last weekend was my dad’s birthday and so the family went to the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth. Once there, your ticket allows access to all sorts of interesting places. Number one was the Mary Rose, which I remember watching emerge from the deep while I was at school. It’s now dried out and on display, although no progress has been made on restoring it so no chance of a trip around the bay…

storageRather more use was a visit to HMS M.33, a Monitor, or small battleship with a flat bottom and big(ish) guns. While not exactly the sort of ship we have in our book, it’s better than nothing and certainly more relevant than any ferry I’ve been on.

Wandering through the steel corridors and rooms, it all looked exactly as I’ve seen in countless old war films. Not welcoming in any way and with some interesting, and from a narrative point of view, useful places for those not in the navy to come unstuck.

This wasn’t the main useful nugget of information that came out of the visit however. Did you know that Portsmouth dockyard used to be home to 300 cats? No, we didn’t either, but now we do, ideas are flowing…

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Step away from the hovercraft…

Phil: Our latest luncheon meet-up was notable for a couple of things.

First, the queue for the cake was so long and slow-moving that I had to settle for a baguette that was delicious, but the same colour as my shoe.

Second, we came up with a significant new addition to the text that both fills a hole in the story and provides a chance to add more funny stuff. Because of that, writing the first draft falls to me. I’m researching at the moment.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading a book about hovercraft. I’m fascinated by them having managed to take a ride across the channel and back the weekend before they were taken out of service back in 2000.

From this, I discover there was a hovercraft development site not very far from the fictional island we’ve set Kate vs the Navy on.

This sets me thinking, can I include this in the story? There is a definite place for it if I changed a boat into a hovercraft. There would even be some logic to the change.

But then I realised that appealing as the idea was, I’d need to make more and more changes to the existing text and most of these would add nothing other than the chance to satisfy my love of hovercraft. That’s not a good reason to mess around. Worse, as hovercraft are much harder to control than boats, there would be a definite credibility gap at a crucial point. Not perhaps one that many people would spot, but if I were a reader, it would annoy me and you don’t want to annoy your reader.

I guess the lesson to be learned is that you can’t cram all the ideas you have into a book. The secret is to assemble the best ones and learn to put the others back in the box for another day.

Back to the stuff I’m supposed to be reading up on…

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No libraries = No Terry Pratchett

pterrylibrary

Phil: This week’s blog post was set to be something whimsical and lightweight. Then I sat in my hotel room on Saturday night after a couple of bottles of pomegranate and strawberry cider washing down a rather nice curry, and flipped on the telly.

Terry Pratchett – Back in Black tells the author’s life story. Paul Kaye plays pTerry (as his fans call him) and along the way we meet both famous and non-famous readers. We see how the literary establishment hated his books complete with a cringeworthy clip from a review show that those taking part will probably wish to forget, and later decided he was A. Good. Thing. Along with another clip of more literary people saying this.

I’ve tried but failed to read Pratchett. I ought to love it but I can’t find a way in. It doesn’t matter, the documentary is brilliant, affecting and a superb celebration of the man.

What struck me was that before he wrote, he read. Everything. Well, everything in his local library starting with fantasy and then history, “Blokes in helmets bashing each other” as he described it. Reading planted all the seeds for the character in his stories.

This week, I read in my local paper that our council is making more cuts. Headlines are those for old people or children but tucked away are libraries – again.

I’ve said before how my local library was essential for my development. I’m not going to compare myself with Pratchett but to lift a line from the documentary, I’m a human. He is a human. My poo stinks. His poo stinks. I loved my library. He loved his library. He is a writer. I want to be a writer.

Does it matter if we deny kids the chance to wallow in reading? Probably not. After all, do we need people with imagination?

Sorry, I’m ranting. Go and watch the programme on iPlayer while you have a the chance. Just keep some tissues handy…

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A Purrfect Love Story

Candice: In the last two weeks I have finished two books. That sounds like a lot but the first one took about six weeks to read and the other around five days. What does that say about the books ?

One was ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ a book in a series around the Jason Bourne character, though not written by the original author but someone writing in their style. It’s the first Bourne book I have read, though I have seen a few of the films which I did enjoy. They were a less stylish version of Bond with all the thrills and spills, plus lots of near death situations where the protagonist manages to escape. Why do the book take so long to read? Well there were so many plots and sub plots, led by characters with long and confusing names I totally lost track of who was who and what they were trying to do in the end. It doesn’t help when you only read a chapter a night but even when I managed a few hours on it I was still lost. Cut out a few sub plots and it might have made more sense.

That brings me to the other book I read. The other half had bought me ‘ A Street Cat called Bob’ for Christmas. I’d heard of the story but they had also made it in to a film last year that I had hoped to see and didn’t get there. The story is around a recovering drug addict who is befriended by a ginger tom. After finding that this cat seems to be homeless he takes him on as a pet and the story revolves around how, by having Bob around, he decides to really turn his life around, get off the methodone and try to find a proper job. Life isn’t easy on the way, Bob gets ill and other street sellers take offence when the cat becomes such a star in Convent Garden, stealing their tips as they see it.

I really enjoyed this book, though written more like a collection of blogs than a book the story touched a cord, especially as I am a cat lover too and can see how having one in your life could make a difference. Before my daughter came along my cat was my baby !  I romped through each chapter wanting to know what happened to Bob, not his carer. The book finishes quite abruptly leaving me having to buy the next to find out how they moved from street stars to big screen stars.

Learning…less is more.  Keep the story with some twists and turns but not too complicated or you will turn the reader off.

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