Now for the test readers

Phil: Progress report. The book is ready for our carefully selected* group of test readers.

Over a long evening, I formatted the pages and uploaded them to Lulu.com. Then an order for a couple of copies was placed.

A few days later, the books arrived. Flicking through in the pub, I notced I could do to carry out a little more formatting in a couple of places, there is at least one chapter that starts half way down a page for a start, but it will be fine the task in hand. Having a paper-back looking thing is certainly easier for the our literary guinea pigs than endless A4 pages, and even at 9 quid a copy (including postage), quite a lot cheaper than Prontaprint.

We await results.

*selected because they understand that their job is to read and (hopefully) enjoy the story, not care about the grammar. I don’t care how good we are with prepositions and semi-colons, if the story is rubbish then our time has been wasted. Grammar will be fixed separately as we are also looking for a copy editor.

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Listening to music while writing

Phil: When team NolanParker meet up, we like a bit of cake. And quite a lot of chat. Sometimes though, we need to get some words on the screen and then everything changes.

Laptops out. iPods on.

The iPods are an essential piece of kit. For a start that stop us talking to each other. Mostly though, it’s all about blocking the rest of the world out and helping our concentration.

We have both spent years of our lives in noisy offices. Environments where you learn to tune things out. I know that I now can’t work in a silent room. The walls seem to close in on me and the lack of noise become oppressive. I like to use this as an excuse for my poor exam performance rather than admitting I’m just a bit thick.

Is this just a comfort thing though? It appears not. Reading this fascinating blog post by author and expert Nicola Morgan, there does seem to be science to back all of this up.

Most interesting is how the choice of music matters. It must be:

  • Familiar
  • Music you actually love
  • More than one song – an album or playlist
  • At a volume that doesn’t intrude on your thoughts

Which probably helps to explain why I get more done with the iPod on than the radio.

Even with over a thousand tracks on shuffle, it’s rare that anything surprises me. My memory for music isn’t bad.

The radio, on the other hand, will play tracks that I don’t know so presumably, part of my limited brain capacity feels the need to pay attention. Part of the historic response to danger we developed as cavemen, although more to avoid being eaten than exposed to something new by Harry Styles!

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All done. Now is it any good?

checkered flagPhil: As my writing pal proclaimed last week, our next book, Kate vs the Navy, is ready for test readers.

I’ve been slogging away sorting out the formatting. Indents for speech and chapter numbers are the main focus so it looks nice on the page. No doubt you, dear reader, will do all this sort of thing as you write but we’re messy in this respect. The creative juices get flowing and the tab key is ignored.

Candice has been through the text and added a load of scene setting phrases to break up long blocks of dialogue. Without this, it’s possible to lose track of exactly who is speaking.

There have also been a few extra sections of text added – which I promptly re-wrote. That’s how we roll. One will add in parts of story and the other will say, “I like that but now want to tweak it”. Generally we manage to do this without falling out over the changes. Quite how we manage is a mystery as we’re both pretty passionate about our writing, but we seem to manage.

Making the best use of some enforced reading time, I gave the text another polish while sorting out the formatting. Tiny little niggles but better dealt with. I’m sure there are many more but you have to stop at some point.

Anyway, the next job is to format the book for A5 pages (it’s wet up for A4 at the moment) and get some print on demand copies made up so we can hand it over to the test readers, one of whom is apparently “gagging” for it.

Then we’ll find out if the story hangs together. Both of us have read it to death and agree that it’s the greatest book written since our last one, but how will the rest of the world feel?

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Finished!

Candice: It is a momentous occasion this evening. After many years of hard work ‘Kate vs the Navy’ has been finished.

Apart from some proof reading and copy checking we’ll be read to launch book two of our series soon.

I can tell  you now – its a good ‘un!

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Reading is good for your child – FACT

Phil: I’m special.

You’d probably guessed that, but it’s true. Deciding to put in an appearance a few days before I was due to be born, I became part of a massive survey which has, and will continue to, influenced how you and your children live.

The 1970 “cohort” was a survey of all children born in an April week. Since birth we’ve been survey and interviewed every so often and the results have helped to shape science and government policy.

I didn’t know much about this, other than that I and my best mate Bod at middle school were part of all this. We got to sit tests every so often that asked things about how we felt and how often we went to the toilet. They told us it was science and everything sounded sensible, especially the bit about skiving off the odd lesson to be “special”.

Now, thanks to Helen Pearson’s book The Life Project, I know what was going on. We weren’t quite as special as we thought, cohort surveys have taken place in 1946, 1958, 1970, 1991 and 2000. Many thousands of children have been part of these and the results are fascinating.

Towards the end of this complex but very readable book, a story of the way life in Britain has changed emerges. Looking at these results over long periods allows trends to be spotted such as the link between mothers smoking and low birth weight. Even if, as was often the case, no-one isn’t sure why it seems to be a good idea to ask the questions at the time, later on looking at how various factors affect children’s development pays dividends.

You might think that this would be enough to sell the idea of running these to politicians, but the story of the cohort surveys is of dedicated scientists constantly having to fight for funding and support. Many real characters emerge, without whom much of this information would never have come to light.

One constant result seems to be that if you are born into poverty or a broken home, you’ll find life much harder than those with a more fortunate start in life.

However, the 1970 cohort, my lot, showed that children who read for pleasure tended to advance further in vocabulary, spelling and maths between ages 10 and 16. This mattered more than having a parent with a university degree.

So, don’t put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington, send her down the library!

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Who’s that Girl by Mhairi McFarlane

Phil: The moment you read that title, you heard the Eurithmics in your head didn’t you?

Well, I did. Presented with the book by Candice over cake, I wasn’t sure. It looked very chick-lit, but I know she wouldn’t be shoving anything rubbish my way so I gave it a go.

We first meet Edie at a wedding. During the day, just after the speeches, the groom decides to snog her. The bride spots this and things all fall apart.

Friends and colleagues not only abandon her, but thanks to the joys of social media (this is very much a book set NOW), they gang up and start bullying her. Leaving London for the family home in Nottingham, she has to face a father who has never really recovered from the death of her mother and a sister to hates her. That and getting used to not being in the capital.

The move north is partly engineered by her boss and involves ghost writing a celeb biography for the latest blokey hot totty from something that sounds a lot like Game of Thrones. He’s filming in the city, doesn’t want the autobiog written due to a secret in his past.

Basically, everyone has secrets (Edie wasn’t having an affair with the groom, but was flirting) and needs to take control of their lives. So much so standard. If I tell you any more, then SPOILERS.

What sets this apart is it’s a very modern book. We get loads of social media and also old-skool media problems. A row in a nightclub with the totty results in Edie being identified in the papers as a mystery woman attached to him. This gives her vile and bitchy workmates a chance to sell their stories. There are loads of communication channels, including an internal e-mail system that provides the chance for some blackmail and they all help to build the pressure on our main characters in a way that you don’t see in most books.

Even the ending, while leaving room for a sequel, is convincing and plays like grown-ups making decisions. Not very chick-lit at all, in a good way.

Not living in a metropolitan bubble, I found some of the workmate characters hard to relate to. They are bitchy and quite frankly, childish. Some of the actions are more playground bullying than proper adult behaviour – however, that’s because I live in a different, and probably considerably less well paid, world. That said, I enjoyed the book a lot. It’s a proper page turner with plenty of twists and turns along the way. The main characters all develop and change during the story and lots of loose ends get tied up in a way that satisfies the reader.

Lots of short chapters too which builds the pace and, as I found, keeps you reading. Not quite enough to persuade me to take that girly cover on a train mind you, even though by that point I really wanted too!

 

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Can grammar be glamourous?

Phil: Grammar. It’s dull, boring and essential.

Worse, it’s endlessly argued over by very dull and boring people who really need to get out more and take up and exciting hobby, like bus spotting.

You find them haunting on-line discussions, pouncing on minor infractions in someones posting, promptly dragging themselves up to their full height to denounce the criminal. Never mind the subject under discussion, they have nothing to add to this, no, all they want to do is show their superiority handling a preposition.

Sadly, grammar does matter when you are writing, which is why I pitched up to see David Crystal : Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar a couple of weeks ago.

David is described as ” the most famous name in English linguistics” although I’m not sure how much competition there is for that particular accolade. What I do know is he is marvelously entertaining.

Basically, grammar is all about ensuring your audience can understand you. And English is an evolving language. Things change over time and some of the rules laid down many years ago were arbitrary.

A good case is the Oxford comma.

Were I to be described by Cambridge University Press, I would be tall, dark and handsome.

Oxford University Press would say, tall, dark, and handsome.

See the extra comma before the and? Should it be there or not? I’m in the Cambridge camp here having been taught that you don’t comma before an and in a list. It’s the sort of thing that keeps grammar Nazis entertained for hours.

And what about starting a sentence with a proposition (e.g And)?

This rule dates back to the 19th Century when teachers decided children were doing it too often – so banned them from doing it at all. Sorry, who voted them in for the job? Perhaps they should be asked if it’s wrong, does that mean children should be exposed to Shakespeare, who writes, “And then it started like a guilty thing.in Hamlet. Yes Hamlet, that dreary play where everyone ends up dead. Basically, if starting sentences with And is A. Bad. Thing. Then the Bard can come off the syllabus.

For a potentially dull topic, this was a fun hour.  The Q&A at the end was especially entertaining as David punctured the balloons of some questioners who obviously had specific grammar crimes that really bothered them. A quick explanation of how each came about soon explained why this stuff isn’t life and death.

Me, I took away the knowledge that there are very few hard and fast rules. If the reader understands what you are saying, that’s all that matters. We’re writing a story, not a university text. Even if we were, would it be for Oxford or Cambridge? FIGHT!

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