Monthly Archives: August 2011

Size isn’t everything

Now, my lovely husband, like most men, does not read that much.  It’s a fact that most men just don’t really do books, they are more of a Sunday paper type.  When we go on holiday, I get through 4 books in a week and he manages 50 pages and the whole of the previous week’s Sunday paper (sports section).  Of course it’s slightly different if the book is football based, or he does like his biographies.  The Brian Clough story, the Damned United went down very well.

Anyway, I know that our book has a bias towards chick lit but it does have a male market, which Phil’s readers will support I am sure.  And, of course, a bloke wrote 50% of it so he must know his gender pretty well….though he’s telling me he’s getting this chick lit stuff more and more, and I wonder why he’s interested in my Grazia magazine (only joking!).

Anyway, the other half got hold of the newly printed and cover updated version of the book the other day.  He’s seen the other one but only as I have passed it on to one of my readers (and therefore lost in time as I’ve only got one back and that wasn’t read) anyway the comment that followed me down the stairs the other night was,

“Its not very big, is it?”

“Not very big, in what way exactly.”

“Well, you said it was 80,000 words, but this doesn’t look very much.”

Teeth gritted I responded, “What were you expecting?”

“Well, its only 226 pages and I was thinking more 400 ish.”

I did point out the print is abit small which might push it up a few, but the main response I held in but thought was “you try writing 80,000 words, mate.”

With this in mind I picked up some of the other chick lit books I’ve got a home and looked at the font size and number of pages.  And yes they vary considerably, but, ironically the one I am reading at the moment “Juliet, Naked” by Nick Hornby is actually slight larger font but…wait for it….246 pages.  Vilified, me?

So, my small book is now waiting for our next holiday for him to read.  It has been promised but we shall see.  Shouldn’t be hard, as it’s so small, should it?


Filed under Candice, Writing

Mr Kelly

Fish TieAndrew looked at the faces of the crowd before him. Everyone was a mixture of misery and defeat. Hardly surprising as he had just announced that the Horticultural Investigation Agency, the vegetable research centre where they all worked, was to close.

Phil: Last week, Candice explained how much of our book is a mix, albeit an exaggerated one, of experiences we have had working in various places. The same applies to the characters who will bear some relation to real people. Not partially close relationship most of the time (I should say that for legal reasons this applies especially to the bad ones), but creating a person out of thin area is impossible. You are bound to use elements of real people.

Andrew Livingstone is a good example. In the story he is head of the Horticulture Investigation Agency and as it opens, he is charged with telling everyone the government is going to close them down.

The scene is inspired by being stood in the crowd watching someone explain how our quango was to be closed down. The man doing the talking wasn’t the man we saw. It was Mr Kelly. Sort of.

Back in the dim and distant past, in an era before the Interweb was invented, I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I was the lowest of the low – you spoke to me about having your cows tested for TB or Brucellosis. Eventually, after a combination of hard work and being in the right place at the right time, I was the man you spoke to if your cow was a bit wobbly and you thought it might have BSE. I was truly a friend to the sons of the soil. (I didn’t just do cows, if you found a bat you called me as well but I just rang one of my contacts to get it taken away.)

Mr Kelly was the Divisional Veterinary Officer for our little office. He was a really lovely bloke. The sort of person you want to do your best for because he would appreciate it rather than because he would yell at you if you didn’t. Never obviously ambitious, he had ascended to the lofty heights of being in charge of our little office after a career in honest government service. With only a couple of years to go to retirement he had seen it all and spoken to most it too. If we had a difficult customer, he would deal with them and calm the situation. We didn’t need this skill very often but you never knew when it might be handy – an earlier occupant of the post had managed to leave a circus with a broken nose after getting off on the wrong foot. I suspect Mr Kelly would have sorted things out and probably been offered free tickets.

In my head, when I wrote Andrews parts, I pictured Mr Kelly. He would have been very upset to have to deliver the news and yet everyone would have felt for him even as he was telling them they were heading for the scrap-heap. It wasn’t his fault.

A character who is completely nice doesn’t make for interesting reading, so Andrew is also wily when required, just like his real life counterpart. He isn’t taking things lying down and has in a mind a way to fight back. As the plot progresses, his plan is revealed – although I won’t tell you if it is succesful, you’ll have to wait until we get published for that ! (Why not write to you MP demanding this ?). He also has to deal with a bit of transgression by the staff and instead of getting upset, takes the situation and uses it to his best advantage.

This last part caused a bit of discussion between us. Without giving too much away, something is found that shouldn’t be there. Candice assumed Andrew would have known about it and thus would be unhappy about its discovery. I knew that Mr Kelly would have been surprised and disappointed about it but since he wasn’t a control freak he would just put it down to young people doing what they do. However he would then have turned a potential disaster into a triumph. This would have been done very calmly and pragmatically.

So that is what happened.

What’s this got to do with the fish picture ? Well, as I say, it was a long time ago. Required to wear a tie in the office, I developed a taste for more unusual decoration. Mr Kelly saw this the first time I wore it and quietly asked that I brought it out again on his last day when we were due to have a retirement party. I wasn’t sure about this but did as requested. During his speech he ran through everyone in the office making some polite and complimentary comments about them. Getting to me he mentioned my lurid neckwear and something along the lines “…and judging from his latest tie, he appears to be joining the Fisheries division.”


Filed under fashion, Phil, Writing

Test reading: Round 2

Kate vs The Dirtboffins and orange juicePhil: I’ve just taken delivery of the second batch of printed books courtesy of The new editions have freshly polished text and the tractor’n’cupcake cover which looks pretty.

Resisting the urge to sneak the copies on to the shelves of a nearby Waterstones to see what happened, I met up with Candice to hand some over whilst enjoying some healthy soft drinks and a huge portion of very nice, but red-hot, pub chips. A balanced meal I’m sure you’ll agree.

She will be passing these on to more readers, one of whom lives in Wolverhampton, so it will be one of the nicest things to happen to him. I’ve already sent copies on to a couple of people who can be trusted to read and then tell me the truth. One (Hello Sarah) managed to get to page 80 in 24 hours which shows either commitment or speed reading skills. Looking at the book, this is the point where the story hots up with some giant cabbage action.

As an added extra, Neil is relaxing in 40 degree heat and reading an electronic version because I’m too stingy to post a copy out to his exotic poolside venue. That’s what happens when you are a prolific commenter on this blog. You have been warned !


Filed under Phil, Writing

Dead words ?

Phil: According to the Collins Dictionary experts, words such as aerodrome and charabanc are now extinct. They have monitored many sources and decided that no one uses them any more and so will be omitting them from all but the largest dictionaries in the future. A shocking state of affairs that nearly cause me to choke on the delicious rainbow cookie recently purchased from Moor…ish at Birmingham Moor Street Station.

I quite like the term “aerodrome” and would still employ it to refer to an airfield used exclusively by private planes. If you go on holiday by flying out from there and don’t get to hold the controls, you are leaving from an airport, otherwise it’s an aerodrome. Simple really and I can’t believe I’m the only one still saying this.

Charabanc is a bit different. Open top coaches are a bit of a rarity these days and the word itself seems to imply that the transport won’t be awfully reliable. In fact if you are heading out on a “charabanc trip”, in my mind you’ll probably spend some time pushing the thing up a hill. However, out of sheer bloody mindedness, I will be referring to all coaches as charabancs in the future, just so that such an interesting sounding word gets a bit of a dust off every so often.

All this stuff about words not being used and becoming extinct is a bit of a worry. At the same time as we lose these two, we gain “woot” and “lappy”. What gives ? As a writer, and one who still likes to put the apostrophe before the word ‘phone, I think we are being short-changed. English is a continually evolving language it’s true, but I wonder if it’s gradually descending into little more than a series of grunts. “Lappy” for instance isn’t a word. A nickname or contraction maybe but a word ?

Yes we are in the era of teh interweb but most of this is driven by idiots who don’t understand that even in an e-mail (note the e- as this is a contraction of electronic mail so it needs a hyphen. Yes it does.) you are supposed to use capital letters and full stops. At least most of them have stopped writing entirely in caps while saying it “saves time” wasted using the shift key. People going around to their house and punching them in the face sorted all that out. The other driver is the mainstream media and here there is a bigger problem – the BBC has given up reporting and its journalists just sit in the office reading Twitter. The character limit obviously imposes constraints on the writer so they will abbreviate. This, a lazy journalist will insert in their story with nothing more than copy’n’paste adding only “It says on Twitter” as though that means it must be true.

The only silver lining in all this is that it doesn’t actually matter what Collins or Oxford or any other dictionary publisher say. The same modern world that thinks “schmick” is somehow a word, doesn’t bother buying the things any more. They could be knocking out pure Dr Johnson as the 3 copies sold each year will sit on the shelf as decoration. The result of us have computers and will use aerodrome if we want to .

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Filed under Phil, Writing

The Office – but not the Ricky Jervais one!

Tangfastic: Kate regularly visits the shop in her home village of Bucklebury, Berkshire, to buy bags of Haribo sweetsCandice: As a contractor, I work in many different environments, often more than most people will work in in a lifetime.  I have to say, particularly in some of the places I’ve worked more recently, they just don’t get the whole “contractor” thing, and wonder why anyone would want to work anywhere else other than their lovely, safe, comfortable company. The thought of going anywhere else is quite a shock! However, to me that seems to breed a complacency and attitude where it’s acceptable to surf the net, tell everyone what you have been surfing for and then ring your husband on the office phone to discuss what you have been looking at…..
Anyway, the point of this blog is not to slag off the mainly hardworking people of the UK but to discuss the bit that keeps one going when in the monotony of an office – the book writing (and acting in my case and regular bags of tangfastics).
However, the office and idiosyncrasies of working with one are the bread and butter of our book. We think we have captured some interesting nuances from different offices which will have those people reading the book chuckling to themselves thinking, “Oh yes, I know one of those types of people, oh God so and so does that everyday etc.”  The place were Phil and I met (in a writing sense) was an education quango that had a mixture of people who had worked office jobs all their lives and those from an education background – which brought together two very different mind sets.  Add in around 40% contractors, who been and seen everything, and confusion reigned and sparks would fly.  The number of times I sat in a meeting going “what” as the educational types talked pedagogy and teaching nuances and I was like, aren’t we here to talk about a leaflet to schools?  But these colourful personalities flavoured the characters in our book, in fact some of our ex colleagues may find they are a character by name or personality.  But I shall leave them to interpret when they can finally read our published book…

Roll into that about 30 years of working for different companies in to the writing team’s experience and you have a book full of slightly embellished truths, and we hope it will all ring true with our readers.
Added to that, as we have put in our new improved synopsis, a strong female lead character who is a closer approximation of what female readers want these days.  (Bridget Jones – funny then but now don’t you just want to slap her). Then we hope we are on to a winner.

But it is for you to decide – so Phil – it is time to add a chapter of the book to the site so you can see what we mean?


Filed under Candice, Writing

Every author’s dream…

Our dream - a published book

Phil: Every time I see a poster advertising a book, I think “Why isn’t ours up there ?”. I know the publishers say advertising like this doesn’t boost sales (really ?) but it certainly boosts egos.

(Oh and if WordPress image display is borked on your computer, you can see the picture here.)


Filed under Phil

Tractorman tractorPhil: When did writing a book evolve into more than just sitting in my garret honing my prose ?

I’m about to sort out the latest paper versions of The Book so we can thrust the revised text under another group of friends noses, and hope they remain friends afterwards (actually, I’m hoping to recruit the girlfriend of a friend because I know she won’t spare my blushes when commenting on the story). This means more messing around on and hoping that I produce all the pages in the right order.

We’re also back on a marketing tack. While searching for a suitable tractor for the revised cover photo, I picked up some cheap plastic versions. Sadly I couldn’t find a cake big enough to balance them on but it seemed a shame not to use them for something. So, welcome to the nolanparker tractor ! A few minutes work with the printer has produced the sort of promotional give-away that everyone loves to collect at trade shows. Of course, we aren’t going to a trade show but it’s the thought that counts. At least we are prepared !

However, if you work for a publishing house or agent, drop me a line and I’ll send one over. It will look lovely on your desk. And would you like a book too ?

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Filed under Phil, Writing

Writing what you like, when you like it

Phil: No cake this time, instead a photo from the early days of our book writing. This is what about a third of the manuscript looked like the first time it was printed out and spread before us.

As mentioned previously, the story was written in chunks with us making it up as we went along. In fact we wrote what we wanted when the mood took us. Obviously this isn’t how you are supposed to do it, there are narrative arcs and stuff to consider if you are a real author, but I don’t think we did a bad thing. Good writing comes from the author enjoying themselves. After all, if you don’t like the words then is anyone else likely too ? Anyway, at this point it was as much about entertaining ourselves as other people. It wasn’t work, this was supposed to be fun !

So we wrote sections of story and eventually knew they had to be stitched together. A trip to Prontprint and about 7 quid saw the file containing all the text turned into paper. It was an impressive pile too which we spread all over Candice’s dining room table. Over a couple of hours each section was numbered and given a short of chapter title. From this we got an idea where the holes were and what we needed to do to fill them. The story became more defined – in the same way that a statue becomes more defined if you chip away at it with a big hammer and chisel.

And now we are looking at book 2. This time we are working properly and have a pretty good idea of the story, or at least the major moments, and so hopefully the chunks of text will be better targeted. Some of those you see in the picture needed quite a bit of editing to fit the jigsaw puzzle of plot. Of course we could consider a “DVD Extras” style fold out section in the back for all the lost text. Or we could put it online. Or sell those old pages for a vast fortune.


Filed under Phil, Writing

More cover ideas

Phil: After my post where I mentioned changing the book cover, Neil commented “Trying to get to grips with tractors, dirt and boffins and chic lit. Have a couple of cover ideas would like to e-mail you.”

Now Neil is a proper graphic artist – check out his website – unlike me, so I was a bit chuffed that he’s taken the time to come up with some ideas. A quick affirmative e-mail resulted in a couple of sketched up suggestions.

Aren’t these great ? I wish I could draw like this and produce casual sketches that look great. Mind you I also wish I could play a musical instrument, play a sport competently and loads of other things !

Anyway, good as they are, Neil is correct in that the ideas of tractors, Dirtboffins and chick-lit are an odd mix. What we need to do is make him sit down and read the book whereupon everything will become clear. We’ve just finished a quick re-polish of the text so this is likely to happen soon. In real life, the art department doesn’t get this luxury, they have to work from the synopsis, or the fevered imagination of someone in marketing.

Mind you, that suggestive second cover does remind me a bit of one section of the narrative – Neil’s closer than he realises there…


Filed under Phil

Lost in Translation?

Candice: Another day, another film set – this one over in Wales, pretending to be Welsh.  Easy to do when you don’t have lines!

Anyway, it got me thinking about what happens when you translate books into different languages and the impact that has on the story.  For example:  I go back to the old faithful Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, translated from Swedish to English.  Now, somethings I think were definitely lost in translation there, as well as a need to give you an insight into Swedish politics and history that wasnt really necessary.  I think I spent the first 100 pages of this book going “What ?” to the high level of detail.  Some words and expressions don’t come across well either, or dont work in a different country.

And that brings me to the lovely Yanks, who will bugger about with everything.  Speaking of the Girl with.. books, I nearly bought one when I was in the US earlier this year, but stopped as I know what they are like with really dumbing down things.  Instead I bought a nice bit of chic lit fluff about a girl running a finishing school in London.  Very rapidly I realised that it been Americanised for the audience; the school had an elevator and the school kids wore pants (and not under their trousers).  The final nail in the coffin was the description of shoes as pumps – oh that one winds me up!

But why do we or they feel the need to change things so much. I can understand a certain amount of editing when its not relevant to the country but to make something based in the UK and then have them talking American seems abit silly.  Is this the same reason Cheryl Cole got booted off American X Factor, or was that just the need for subtitles due to accent?

So, with that to ponder I am going to remember the lovely banoffee pie picture , which filled a hole in filming quite nicely.



Filed under Writing