Monthly Archives: October 2011

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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How’s your output ?

Phil: From the department of reading people’s press releases out on air, currently replacing BBC news, there is a bit of a fuss about NaNoWriMo or the National Novel Writing Month.

The idea is that during November, participants try to write a 50,000 word novel. That’s an average of 1667 words a day. Every day. For a month. Wow.

That’s a hell of a challenge. Kate vs The Dirtboffins is 83,000 words and took us around 8 months to produce and that’s with two people working on it. OK, so we both had jobs and other distractions and the result is a finished manuscript rather than the first drafts that NaNoWriMo will be aiming for, but it’s still a big mountain to climb. I have pondered the idea but even though I don’t have a proper full-time job at the moment, just can’t see how I could do it. I mean, don’t these people eat ? Do they sit in their garrets typing all day ?

So if you are having a go, I salute you. But please don’t send you efforts to a publisher on 1st December. I bet they aren’t looking forward to them and anyway, there are better things in the slush pile already !

Visit the NaNoWriMo website.


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Stylish, me?

Candice:  I managed to get an invite to the Style Birmingham Launch event the other week.  This is about the fourth year that Birmingham has held this kind of event and somewhere along the way I’ve been involved in some shape or form.  It’s an interesting premise that they have tried to get off the ground outside of Brum, catwalk shows and in store events over a weekend.  Its all quite exciting for the second city, which gets bashed on a regular basis as being behind Manchester on the style stakes.

This year’s was in the Town Hall, a rather sumptuous building designed by the same chap who created the Black Cab.  I could go on, as I did the reopening of it many years ago, but I wont bore you.  Just to say, as my sister and I sat down in the circle seating to watch the show I said “I’ve touched that ceiling,” and pointed 100 ft up.  It was an interesting experience for someone who doesn’t like heights!

Hosted by George Lamb, it was a chance to see what was going to be hot fashion wise and get some ideas for my two fashionistas, Kate and Tracey.  Their characters are very image driven and I need to keep up to date with new styles and brands to mention this in the new book and future short stories. I have to say, it was more high street than high end so not as many ideas as I’d hoped but I think my sister and I came out with a long list of purchases!

The biggest shame was the lack of after party.  After much primping, it was all over in an hour and then we went home.  The previously mentioned shoes did good though, surviving a 10 minute walk to and from the carpark.

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You don’t deserve books

Phil: I was going to base this post on the article in the Observer bemoaning the death of chick-lit. The premise is interesting and since we’ve written a novel that might be in this category, I ought to be really concerned that the market for the genre has dipped by 10%.

But then I read the comments. There I discover that Phud defines chick-lit as “Shoes, shopping and shagging. Turgid, whimsical bollocks written by middle-class, middlebrow, wine-sipping chocoholics.”

This has me worried. Am I a middlebrow, wine-sipping chocoholic ? If I am, should I care ?

Let’s start from the top. I am middle-class, in fact both of us are. There are a lot less working-class people in the UK than there are people who claim to be. If you are sitting in an office and sipping a coffee that didn’t come out of a jar marked instant, then you can stop pretending to be one with those toiling at the coal face or labouring in an ironworks.

Middelbrow ? I had to look this up since a brow in the middle of your face is probably a mustache. According to Wikipedia, the term middlebrow describes both a certain type of easily accessible art. Is this a bad thing ?

Wine-sipping. Not me. I don’t understand the stuff. Give me proper British beer. I won’t be mentioning Candice’s drinking habits, but if anyone else wants to in the comments…

Finally, chocoholic. Not me. Never touch the stuff. Honest.

So we probably are everything Phud hates.

Actually, if I want that sort of odium, then the Guardian/Observer message boards are the place to go, in the mainstream anyway. Left wingers are often portrayed as humorless miseries and a very small number of them do their best to fit the caricature. You can’t simply enjoy something, the pleasure has to be earned. It’s a bit opus dei for me. The pleasure is in the pain of the journey rather than the destination. Maybe if we insist readers flagellate themselves while reading, our book will be seen as a “good” thing.

Why is it that “hard” art and literature is seen as better than the accessible stuff ? Jack Vettriano is loved by millions but according to the art world, his output is rubbish. Surely there is a skill in making things easy for people ? No one ever tells you that a difficult to follow set of instructions is better than an easy to read version do they ?

Not being one to miss a marketing opportunity, if you feel that a book should be an agony to read, should you not only be a “glass half empty” person but a “glass half empty and what there is in there is a sprinkle of broken glass and a pile of puetird dung” person then please buy the special edition of ours. It’s will cost £5000 but I will personally come round and jab you with sharp objects as you read. And shout rude words. You don’t get the last 3 chapters either ‘cos you might enjoy finding out how it all ends. That way you can be miserable and happy.



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