Monthly Archives: October 2011

Think of the children ?

Phil: The theatre I work at has a cinema and this week we’ve being showing a film to amuse children on half term holidays. Thanks to this, I’ve had the “opportunity” to see the Smurfs movie.

Three times.

Anyway, I was feeling a bit blue but one scene did set me thinking. The (human) male lead has sent off an e-mail to his tyrant of a boss. Papa Smurf is looking through his star-gazer (telescope, he’s not trying to peer through Patrick Moore) to work out when the stars will align, he and his family can go home and I can get out of a room full of children. They are tense and so the lead decides, with a product placement that arrives with a thud, that they should play Guitar Hero.

Cue lots of gurning and flailing on a plastic guitar. Plenty of shots that when shown in 3D will have the audience vomiting up the popcorn (we showed the 2D version thankfully) and the Smurfs singing along to the song. Which is Run DMC and Aerosmith performing “Walk This Way“.

Now this is a film for kids. It’s not that bad for grown-ups but you really need to be around 4 to 8  years old to get the best from it. Which makes things interesting when the little darlings look up the song in the web and find the lyrics.

“Mummy. What’s a backseat lover ?”

“Errr. Someone who likes to sit in the back of the car while Daddy and Mummy drive ?”

“Daddy. What’s a classy kind of sassy mean ?”

“Classy kind of sassy ? I thought they said classy kind of chassis. It means, errr, someone who very nice, errr, shoes.”

“Muuuummmmy. What do they mean by ’til you’re down on her muffin ?”

“Oh ! I’m sure it’s something to do with not being very good at baking. Now isn’t it time for cebbie’s or something. You go and watch television while Daddy and I have a chat about the films he takes you to see.”

Now I know the trend is for kids films that have an extra layer for the parents to enjoy and also that when you are a kid you miss a lot of the double entendres that make adults wince, but I wonder how you work out where the line can be drawn. More to the point, is it really what the audience wants ? Roal Dahl seemed to have it pegged – children aren’t tiny little adults but individuals who think differently. Give them cruelty and scary stuff and they are happy. Grown-ups don’t get it in the same way. On the other hand, they are paying the money to go in or read the book so perhaps Dahl is out of date and bright colours, loads of action and product placement is what you need to supply.

I don’t get it. Can someone who understands writing for kids enlighten me ?


Filed under Phil, Writing

Becoming an ideas factory

Phil: Last week, Candice and I met up at Shakespeare’s birthplace to enjoy an over-priced jacket spud and pannini just across the road from where Willy S was born. Work on Book 2 has stalled and we need an infusion of imagination, inspiration and baked beans. The later came from the spud, the former from conversation. When we get together the ideas seem to flow so much more freely than when communication has to be by e-mail.

Maybe it’s just us, but while electronic chatter is good, it never seems to match the banter of face-to-face.

Anyway, the ideas we bashed around are for more short stories. We enjoyed writing Kate vs The Potter (have you read it yet, it’s free from the left hand side of this page !) and fancy honing our craft on a few more. Not just with the characters from the book either, the Grazzia story entry is going to be unearthed and re-worked considerably to be the tale we always wanted it to be. In other words, longer than the rules allowed. Hopefully this will allow it to breath a bit more. There are others too – I have what I think is a brilliant idea for a Dr Who episode – and since the look across the table wasn’t of the “you are mad Parker” variety, it might see the light of day.

Ideas are the writers stock in trade. Everyone who commits words to paper or screen needs to generate a constant stream of them. No ideas, no words, no work. That’s why we dread writers block.

The trouble is it’s either feast or famine. I write a column for a model-making magazine where each month I build something and illustrate the process step-by-step. This has been going on for nearly 3 years which means every month, without fail, I have to come up with a new project that fits the format. 6 weeks ago I was worried. I had run out of ideas. Without repeating myself I couldn’t think how to fill the pages. Then a chance find on a website, ironically of a photo I had taken, got me going again. A few days later I’d e-mailed my editor a list of possibles and since he sent me a parcel containing one of the raw materials I’d requested, I took this as an acceptance.

Elsewhere I was shocked to discover the similarly subjected blog I write was heading for its 2000th post. In 6 years, I’ve generated lots of words and possibly even some useful information. More importantly, it has kept my creative engine running whatever else I’ve been up to. On leaving a “proper” job I set myself the task of writing a post a day. That process forced me to be creative and more importantly, got me writing regularly. And if you’ve ever stared at the blank screen wondering what to say, you know that the best thing to do is bang the keys and see what happens. You might just be recreating the infinite number of monkeys writing Shakespeare experiment but who knows where it can lead ? The best thing about blog posts is they are supposed to be short and you can just check them on the Interweb without worrying too much.

So, my advice (if you want it) is, if you are struggling to become an ideas factory, get a blog. Title it up as an experiment or writing dump and then set yourself a target of 3 posts a week. Stick to this and you’ll find other ideas bursting out of your frontal lobes. Or at least enjoy the fooling around.


Filed under Phil, Writing

Gestalt entity

Phil: Last week Candice was ruminating on names, and especially the nolanparker one we write under. Apparently I am supposed to remember the conversation that lead to this.

But I can’t.

What I do remember, is calling it a gestalt entity (i.e. something which is greater than the sum of its parts), a term I nicked from Wikipedia where it is used by Grant Naylor, the author of the BBC TV series “Red Dwarf”. Grant Naylor is the writing partnership of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. On the basis that this is good enough for the Beeb, then I don’t expect we will have any problems.

So, nolanparker it is. This signifies the blending process that produced our book. Hopefully you can’t tell which one of us wrote any particular paragraph, although you might make a stab at those which include fashionable names. Generally, even I can’t tell which bits each of us wrote and I was one of those wot wrote them !

Mind you, it would have been interesting to see how the story would have turned out if we’d each had a go on our own. I think the results would have been quite unlike the one we ended up with and I suspect, not nearly as good. There is something about working with a friend, but one who you can be honest with and will be honest with you, that can inspire comedy. Some of our more animated discussions would probably make popular YouTube clips with much arm waving and quite sureal ideas flying around.

For typography anoraks (there is at least one reading this) I like to use CentSchbookBT for the Nolan bit and @Gungsuh for the Parker (These are probably not the right names but that’s what Serif call them in the DTP package I used). The idea was to show that there are two people working as one. It’s probably going to be too subtle for our appearance on Top Gear though, Clarkson will get a real surprise when we both turn up for the “Star in a reasonably priced car” section of the program.

Anyway, the name sticks. We like it, unlike Hugh Fotherington-Simpson who had to become Andy McNab before they let him write those books and has whined about it ever since.


Filed under Phil, Writing

Not jealous at all!

I won!.


Filed under Writing

What’s in a name?

Candice: Now you may be wondering where the name Nolan Parker comes from. Now, obviously it relates to our last names, yes Dear Reader I know you are not that thick, but why not just put our two full names? Phil may be able to remember the conversation as it would have happened at some point during our sojourn at the quango, but I assume it had something to do with simplicity.

I wonder, when that fateful meeting with the Agent happens, if they will suggest another change, abit like JK Rowling who was told to make her name more masculine for a boy reading audience (ah little did they know). Is Nolan Parker chick lit enough?

I actually quite like the name as I am trading under false pretences at the moment, as my husband will tell you. Nolan is my maiden name and I’m proud of its strong Irish roots. There are two girls in this side of the family, and my Dad only had a sister so we are the end of the Nolan line. Hence my requirement to dig my heels in and keep my name. Back this up with the fact I am self employed and trade off people knowing my name and it’s an uphill battle for him. Make me famous and I’ll definitely be on to a winner! (Though I do think Cheryl Cole has a better ring than Tweedy).

However, here is another option, courtesy of deed poll. As this BBC article will tell you, a lot of people are changing there names for all kind of reasons. There are some lovely examples in there, which I will leave you to read, though I have to say one of the best I have heard is Kate Winslet’s new squeeze – Ned Rocknroll…. Need we say more?

But they also have this corker…

“Other reasons include …married couples seeking to combine their surnames. Michael Pugh and Rebecca Griffin merged their names by deed poll to become Mr and Mrs Puffin when they married last year.”

Hum, that would make me Swolan or Nift.

Thoughts? What might you be?


Filed under Writing

Writer’s Block

Candice:  I can’t think of anything to write….

Seriously this week my writing mojo has been off and I haven’t been able to think of anything to write about in the blog. I keep starting themes and then either forgetting the idea or not thinking I can find enough to write about.  I will blame this partly on my job which, after the recovery week post holiday, has got abit busy again this week.  I had to present to the big cheese on Friday and that was a bit daunting (don’t know why, she was lovely but people do like to pile the pressure on).

Anyway, I was going back to Phil’s post about writing tools.  We had a lovely comment from someone who used to have a dictaphone by his bed but whispering in to it frightened the wife.  I can understand that but sometimes just being able to get that idea down when I’m on my way to or from the coffee machine, jogging on the tread mill or something would be good.  I have my trusty pad, lovingly covered with drawings of Ferragamo shoes, but its not always to hand.  But I have a Blackberry, which I believe has voice recording options, so I might have to give that a try.

I suppose it comes down to the fact I really want to get writing on book two. I’ve drafted the first chapter and I was really getting back into when I did that, but now it’s hard with everything else going on.  Phil mentioned a writer’s retreat, which I think is like a mini break without the passion. (Unless this is the one in the film Tamara Drewe ).  Me thinks that might have to be a consideration as this centres the mind and a week of pure writing would be lovely.  If not, we’ll have to find time to freeze in Solihull Library again!

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Read. The. Instructions. First.

Phil: We were looking at a list of links to writing competitions the other day. Scanning down I spotted one titled “Write A Story For Bedtime Competition” and thought it sounded interesting. Actually I thought “I’ve got an idea for that, I can win and be rich, rich, rich !”.

A few days later, my notepad had the basic outline of a tale called “The little toy train” in its pages and I was starting to flesh this out in my head. The basic idea has been rattling around in my brain for years and the competition seemed a good opportunity to release it and free up some grey matter for something more important. I like it when stories demand to be told, it means they are probably going to be good.

Anyway, as I flexed my typing fingers in the manner of a concert pianist about to commence performing a concerto, I took a moment to follow the link attached to the competition. Just in case there were any tips, I skimmed through the instructions. Rule 7 jumped out at me:

Apart from erotica and children’s stories, there is no restriction on subject matter.

Oh b****r I thought. But without the asterisks.

You’ll not be surprised when I reveal that “The little toy train” is a story to be read to children. When someone says “Bedtime story”, that’s what you think of isn’t it ? Well except for the people caught out by the start of the rule and their idea of a bedtime story is completely different. And they probably though the same as me and decided to add it into the text.

So, my story sits as notes on a page. Sometime soon I think I will turn them into proper text – the tale still wants to escape my head and I need the brain space. But as far as the competition goes, it’s back to square one.

Write a short story competition


Filed under Phil, Writing

I know that slush pile

Phil: While the BBC was reporting on NaNoWriMo, they inadvertently showed something fascinating – the “slush pile” at the Caroline Sheldon literary agency.

A slush pile is the mountain of unsolicited manuscripts received by literary agents and publishers. According to the report, this one agent is getting 1000 books a month sent through and from this they reckon to publish no more than one every year. It’s a pretty high attrition value. The pile is given to junior assistants to read and if they find something they like, it goes on to the next level where it’s read by someone who can make decisions.

Like most authors, I firmly believe that the readers involved with this pile are idiots. And illiterate. In fact blind, illiterate idiots who couldn’t find gold in a jeweler’s shop.  Blind, illiterate idiots who couldn’t find gold in a jeweler’s shop and probably spend the whole day struggling to count their fingers, drinking poncey coffee and texting their “bezzie friends” instead of paying attention to the work in hand.

My evidence ?

Well, “Kate vs The Dirtboffins” was in this pile in April. May arrived along with a nice e-mail that read:

Thank you for your recent letter and the material which we have now looked at.  As a small agency we take on very few of the many writers who approach us each year and, having considered your work, we do not feel we can effectively represent you.

We trust you will understand that the sheer volume of submissions to this office unfortunately prevents us from providing you with a more detailed and personal response.

May we take this opportunity to wish you success with another agent or publisher.

In other words no one realised what a great story they held in their hands. Or maybe they don’t like being in on the publishing phenomenon of the century. Perhaps they are scared epoch-shattering success.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

(Please note: If you are from the Caroline Sheldon agency, I don’t mean you personally, I mean the other idiots you have to work with. You know, the ones who do nothing all day while you are doing the hard work. Allow me to commiserate and offer you another chance to look at our manuscript. And some nice cake to go with it. And perhaps some tea.)

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Correspondent Trainers

Phil: With all this talk of shoes, I’ve been feeling a bit left out. I wear shoes, but like most men, my shoes come in Black and Brown plus trainers. We actually play on this in the book, describing Gareth as a man more familiar with the concept of not wearing brown in town than modern business practises. It’s a motto I subscribe to, for work my choice has been the classic 3-eye Doc Martin in black – for at least 12 years ! If you ordered Candice that she wear the same style of shoe for that length of time, the only black thing would be your eye…

As I pondered this glumly, I looked down and inspiration struck. Trainers. Not the sort da kidz wear, I’m far too old, and I flatter myself, sensible, to be told what to wear by Dr Nike. No I mean what I used to like to think of as my correspondent trainers.

I can’t remember when I bought these but it was a few years ago. They come from Lands End and were probably in a sale. I picked them because they fitted.

The colour is a sort of dark beige, probably refered to as “stone” which has mellowed thanks to wear and tear – they certainly aren’t “box fresh” but at least I don’t have to worry they will survive a ten minute walk in a car park. The welt extends up across the toe cap and heel giving them a sort of two colour look. Now, I read somewhere that two colour shoes are nicknamed “correspondent shoes” so I always considered these to be “correspondent trainers”.

Needless to say I got it wrong.

The term is actually Co-respondent shoes (Spectator shoe for American readers). A co-respondent is someone named in a divorce petition, in this case the sort of chap who can find himself labeled a cad or bounder. He probably has a moustache and drives an open top Jaguar. Such a despicable fellow will have a preference for the sort of flash footwear that your good honest, hard-working gentleman would consider beneath the pale. The shoes are easily remembered by hotel staff when left outside the room for cleaning while he and the object of his attention are inside doing the dastardly deed.

So my footwear are actually co-respondant trainers. All I need now is some top lip fur, a suitable open top sporty number and develop a raffish persona.

Which makes me think of characters for the next book. Perhaps not though, I think our two leading ladies would eat him alive !


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Yet another holiday.

Candice: As Phil is at regular pains to mention – I like my holidays.  So, I’ve just returned from another week reclining on a sunlounger in Corfu.  I would certainly recommend the place, though it is abit quiet out of season.

Anyway, the holidays always give me an opportunity to get some serious reading done, as the most I have to do each day is decide whether to tan the front or the back.  Thus I managed to get through the following:  Life’s a Beach by Lucy Diamond (made up name?), The Reversal by Michael Connelly, The Rabbit Factory by Marshall Karp and The Raw Shark Texts by Stephen Hall.  Did I mention I like to read – alot! Actually, you’d think that my hubby and I never spoke looking at that list but I did manage to pass the odd word between chapters.

Seriously, I’m the kind of reader that immerses myself in a book such that I some time forget where I am.  Has been true since I was little, hence why my parents bought a sculpture of a lady walking along reading a book and christened it after me. I like to do that, and books are one of the main places you can, even more than the cinema these days as they can be full of people texting and calling during the film.

The above selection managed this at different levels.  The Connelly I whipped through in a day and a half, easy to read and I dont really remember much of the story, but engrossing while I was doing it.  The Diamond was forgettable and abit annoying, I’m finding that more with Chick Lit, perhaps that is why it is dying??? However, the main character inherited a beach cafe in Cornwall and ended up living a life I would like to – waking up each morning to the roar of the waves.

The Karp was good, abit different from the usual Detective novel and I’ll be looking out for more of his.

And then we come to the Hall.  Ok so its got abit of a bonkers title.  I’ve just found out its actually meant to be a play on “Rorschach Tests” ie ink blots.  Its a book a friend of mine bought me a few years ago, I started it, couldnt get into it, and then left it.  However, I thought a holiday would be a perfect opportunity.  And I did get in to it, and then some.  Compared to all the ones above it took longer to read because it’s actually a complicated premise.  So much so, that when I read it for the longest time, on the plane home, I had to stop as it was giving me a headache!  I wont give the whole game away but its about a guy who loses his memory because his ideas are becoming real and being eaten by a conceptual shark.  Ok, so dont give up on it after that, but can you imagine what the “elevator” pitch must have been like to get it published!

Having done some web research, unsurprisingly, there are forums all about this book and some hidden texts on the web for readers to find out more about the story.  And its be optioned to be made into a film, god knows how.  Anyway, my post holiday recommendation is this – give it a go!

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