Life’s too short for dull books

Phil: I’ve an admission to make. When I resolved to read more earlier this year, I also resolved to do something that would make that easier.

I resolved to give up on books I wasn’t enjoying.

Yes, I know. Every book is the result of hundreds, nay thousands of hours work by an author. They have done their best and part of me says I ought to stick at it and see every book I open through from start to finish.

But, that’s not me any more.

No. If I’m not enjoying a book, it’s heading for the charity pile. I read for pleasure, not because “it is good for me”. I can’t see the point in struggling through a book, especially a book of fiction, if I’m not drawn back to it when I find odd moments free during the day.

I console myself with the thought that not every book suits every reader. The photo shows The Waiter by Matias Faldbakken. Initially, I quite enjoyed the first person perspective of a finicky character happily serving in the same hotel for years. He loves routine and rules and the slightly old-fashioned feel of the place. Then a beautiful woman appears as a guest of one of the regular customers and he falls apart. At this point, I gave up. He would have seen attractive people before, so why was he instantly serving the wrong food to people and collecting unordered drinks?

Reading reviews on-line, it seems I’m not alone. Others love the book and good luck to them.

On the same basis, I’ve just given up on Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. I tried, I really did. This is a classic and it would have been nice to have ticked that box. Sadly, I found it insufferable. To me, it’s a book you find funny because you are TOLD it is funny. Others will doubtless disagree.

As for Gulliver’s Travels – I can only assume it became popular because there was literally nothing else to read.

So, I will read what I enjoy. Does that make me a bad person?

 

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You gotta fight for your right to story!

Phil: Last week, we explained that neither of us (OK, mostly me) always get our own way when writing.

After the post, the discussion continued. I finished the first draft of the scene I was working on thinking it had been suitably adjusted to take into account my friend’s suggestions.

Apparently not. Or at least she fired back a few more. To be honest, I could see where she was coming from. The feedback made me ponder some aspects and we bashed a few e-mails back and forth. The details aren’t yet sorted out, but we both feel that fundamentally, the scene does what we need at that point in the story.

This might not sound fun, but I feel it’s an important part of our writing.

If you work on your own, the first useful feedback you’ll get will be from an editor. They will challenge you on plot points and the way the story runs. Then it’s up to you to fix things.

We don’t have this. For a plotline to appear in the book, it gets beaten around a bit. Some sections get more of the thrashing than others but the important part is we challenge each other, make each other think AND help with those thoughts. “I’m not sure about THIS, but what if we did THAT.” is a common phrase. We both present problems and solutions. Eventually, even we can’t tell who wrote each scene, which is how it should be.

Two heads are definitely better than one.

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Get the facts right

coockie

Candice: If you had been sat near Phil and I in Costa Coffee in Henley in Arden on Monday you might have wondered what was going on.  We’d had a disjointed meet up as it was – the first coffee house we’d gone to informed us that they were closing in an hour.  Ah, we thought, as I am on a drive to use local places, not chains, bang goes that idea.

So a quick cuppa in there and then down to the Costa, which was full of people with laptops (or having loud conversations with HMRC which is another story).  After an hour of writing, plus some coffee and cookie-fueled help, we passed our laptops over to see what each other had written.

I’d been focusing on the earlier story in the book.  My job recently has been to go back and check on what we have written: facts, continuity, stuff like that.  Phil has been very focused on one pivotal scene mid-book which pushes us towards the big finish.

Having read Phil’s scene there was one thing I wasn’t sure about. Would it actually happen like that?  I quizzed him.  He explained his thoughts.  But I still sat there going – ‘so what?’.

I know this is fiction but I don’t want something to be so glaring that it makes someone step out of the book and then lose their ability to suspend disbelief.  Saoirse Ronan had done that for me the other week as she chatted on Graham Norton about ‘Mary – Queen of Scots’.  A scene in the film shows Mary and Queen Elizabeth meeting – something that didn’t happen in real life.  I assume the writer wanted to bring out things that had been conveyed in their letters and this was the easiest way to do it on film.  However, when I watched the film yesterday I sat there at that point in the film thinking to myself  ‘this didn’t happen.’  It ruined to ending of a good film for me.

So for ten minutes, I pushed him on his logic, asking why the characters were doing what they were doing.  The man behind us in his business suit was doing his level best to pretend he was concentrating on his laptop but when we mentioned Councillor I’m sure he twitched.

We got there in the end, but I’m sure Phil wondered why I’d got such a bee in my bonnet. Well, its got to make sense.  Else its just going to annoy me and the readers – that’s why.

Phil: This story illustrates why we can write as a team so well.

I tend to let the story flow when writing the first draft, but having presented the words to my mate and been quizzed about the direction I was taking, we beat the idea about a bit. Eventually, I managed to work out where the story should be going in reasonable detail.

Having a sounding board is really useful and we’re pretty good at fulfilling this role for each other. It helps that we can both take a bit of criticism without flouncing off in a huff. It certainly saves time because we don’t need the re-writes you have to go through when working on your own when realising bits of the story don’t hang together.

 

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The Temperance – a writers retreat

 

Phil: With the NolanParker writing team back in action, we need to find places to meet. Places with Tea. And cake.

In the last few months, a couple of possible venues have opened up in Leamington Spa. One that caught my eye with its retro theme, is The Temperance.

I don’t believe in cluttering up coffee shops with laptops if they aren’t happy to be home to people spending hours working away.  We will buy drinks and food, but people who aren’t composing great works of literature will be quicker in and out and therefore more profitable.

A quick e-mail asking if laptops were OK was swiftly answered with the news that we wouldn’t be the first people bashing out a novel on the premises. In fact, at least one member of staff is an author!

Arriving on a cold Monday morning, we ordered tea and salad sandwiches. These were served in the sort of china my Nan would have approved of. The stuff you drink while holding your pinkie finger aloft!

The sandwiches were delicious, the only complaint being the cake selection was very limited, the previous batch having sold out and new supplies arriving the next day.

For an old-fashioned looking cafe. there were lots of laptops in use, and a couple of people using tables for meetings.

After a bit of chat, we got stuck in. I knocked out 1200 words and Candice started the job of making sure the current manuscript adhered to our timeline.

Very productive.

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New Year. New ideas. And cake.

Phil: We’re back!

A trip to a local farm shop cafe and we are stuffing our faces with cake, and talking about writing.

The thing is, our chat ranged far and wide – ending up with some new plans that now just need some polish. Candice has got her research head on and a page full of notes to look at.

Watch this space…

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I resolve to…

to doPhil: Since la Nolan provided some sensible advice on New Year Resolutions last week, I thought I’d better write mine down to see if they stick. 

1 – Do less work.

No, I’m not being lazy, it’s just that working from home in a job that is also one of my hobbies, the work can expand to fill the time available if I let it. Evenings, weekends, they can all disappear into a maelstrom of doing “stuff”. I need to be more disciplined – not just making sure I take breaks but when I am working, get stuff done. That means lots of planning, writing down clearly defined tasks and ticking things off once they are complete. I can be really focused, but can also drift hopelessly. More of the former and less of the later for 2019.

2 – Promise less

And hopefully, deliver more. Sometimes life can seem like an endless succession of spinning plates that you have to keep going. Jumping between projects is no way to deliver anything of quality and a quick way to disappointing everyone. I love the smell of a new project, it’s just that I’m hopeless at estimating how long it’s going to take me, or how I’ll fit it in with everything else. Better to say do a good job of a few things rather try to do everything and flounder. I’m even worse in my own time, there is a huge backlog of projects sitting in my store. Even if I gave up work completely, it would take years to work through them, but still, I’m “Ohh a shiny new thing” every time I go to a shop…

3 – Go out for more walks.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ll train for a marathon. That’s just setting myself up for a fall. I love walking and it’s good for me. I think I need to develop an appetite for podcasts to listen to as I wander.

4- Read more books.

I’m not too bad at this one so there’s a good chance it will stick. I’ve taken to my local library again in 2018 as I could be confident that I’d find books that suited my mood. There are some that come my way from friends and family, but if I’m not in the right frame of mind for them, I need to go and get the right book rather than not reading because I don’t fancy whatever is on the pile. I don’t really understand why, but if I have a good book on the go, I do seem to achieve more at the same time. Can anyone explain this?

5 – Read fewer magazines, or at least only those that I need to. 

It’s time to tackle the never-ending stream of magazines and periodicals that come my way. At a rough guess, I can see a dozen magazines a month. There’s no way I read all that lot. I need to flick through, read stuff that matters and bin the rest. That and cancel some of the subscriptions for publications that simply aren’t getting read at all.

6 – Sleep more.

Do I need to check Facebook just before I go to sleep? Probably not. Read a book for a bit until I’m properly tired and then get to sleep, that’s the best plan.  Things always look blackest in the depth of the night, so the less lying awake with my brain whirring away I end up doing, the better. Not just more sleep, but better sleep is on the agenda.

Hopefully, all this will allow me to write more novel – a project that I really care about and (mostly) thoroughly enjoy working on. I’m pretty sure a degree of flexibility will be required soon once the other half of this team gets back into the swing of things and we get back up to speed. I don’t want to get that look over the cake when I’ve not done my homework!

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Welcome to 2019

Image result for give up caffeine

 

Candice: I’m writing this blog post on New Year’s Eve, listening as the radio station tells me that NZ and Oz are off celebrating their new years already.  Always find that concept a little strange, though I have travelled to both of those countries, it’s still weird that they are on different time frames.

So 2019 is a new start for me.  I’m looking for a new job and it’s giving me the chance to sit down and rethink what I want out of work; the balance of money versus enjoyment being a big consideration.  I’m currently writing a list of what I really want and what my actual aim is to help with the application process.

I actually think that is a really good way to start a New Years Resolution list, so rather than writing the things that you never actually do – like join a gym and go regularly, lose weight etc, if you actually write your end goal and the pros and cons for it, it might make you work harder for it.

eg Lose two stone.  Hard to aim for, too big a number, just hanging over you waiting for you to fail.

Real aim – Feel more comfortable being me.  Does that actually mean the weight, or does it mean a different job, spending more time with friends?  Do you actually eat because you are bored at work, bored at home, unhappy at work, not getting enough fresh air, stuck in rut with cooking?  There are lots of reasons why those two stones won’t shift. Book a few nights out with the girls, arrange for the kids to have a sleepover with the grandparents once a month, walk to work/around the block after work and suddenly you might find you’ve lost a stone.

My big one for this year is to drink less caffeine.  Many years ago I cut down to one to two caffeinated drinks a day.  I did notice a difference in my ability to get up in the morning and also weight maintenance.   Since being a parent I’ve taken to having a cuppa first thing in the morning, and it just carries on from there. I end up having four or five teas across the day, even though if I am home, there are decaf tea bags available too.  Part of it is boredom, I use it as an excuse to get up from the desk and have a break.  But I do think it’s making me feel more tired, and impacting on my sleep (and the rubber ring round my waist). My real aim is not to be so tired and enjoy my job, and less tea drinking will come.

I have lots of other things I would like to do, most of them book related, but they are rolling year to year.  Again, need to knuckle down and work out what the real reason I’m not that bothered about marketing for my own books.  That’s a question for another blog.

Happy New Year all!

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