Monthly Archives: April 2012

Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival

How to get published stagePhil: Yesterday evening, Candice and I wended our way to the Shakespeare Centre, next door to the Bard of Avon’s birthplace, for an event called “How to get published….or How we did it”. Along with around 30 other eager wannabee authors, we hoped to find the secret code or incantation that would take The Book from a file on our computers to the front window of Waterstones bookshops.

Hosted by Gareth Howard (CEO of, there were a panel of real authors: SJ Watson, Rachel Joyce and Julia Crouch. All had been through the process of writing, submitting, editing and then watching their book get published and the idea was that they could describe this to us and we would learn the tricks of the trade.

Each writer started with a little of their background and then a very short reading from their book. After this the chairman asked a few questions to get the discussion going and then threw it open for the attendees to ask thier own.

Sadly, none of the panel seemed to have a big pile of rejection slips from agents or publishers, pretty disappointing as the owner of such a pile myself, but we did get an insight into the process once you are accepted.

There was a lot of talk about the mountain to be climbed before getting there. SJ had reduced his full time job in the NHS to part-time to free up writing space. A couple had been through a very demanding Faber course where they’d been told to cancel all extraneous appointments for 6 months. Basically, writing is hard work was the message. Julia wrote the main part of her novel during NaNoWriMo, which is a serious commitment in itself and the first time I’ve heard of anyone getting anything out of this.

Once you get there published of course, it’s fabulous. I loved Julia’s description of the joy of seeing the book in print. I have a feeling it’s like the first time I placed an article in a magazine (I haunted WH Smiths for days around the date it was due) but times 100.

Funnest moment though, had to be either the loud “Oooof” issued by one of the audience when Rachel mentioned she was a mother of 4, or SJ’s advice on the famous Artist’s and Writer’s Yearbook.

The story goes, he was on a writing course and the tutor asked how many people had bought a copy. All the hands went up.

Then he asked, how many people still owned it. Half the hands went down.

To the rest, his advice was simple.

“Burn it. It’s full of dead people”

Not something the W&A marketing department would be entirely happy with but you can see his point. After all, you can just as easily look at the books on sale that you like, or your novel could happily sit alongside. Check out the agent details in the back and look them up on t’interweb. That’s 14 quid saved. Which allowing for the cost of entry, would go a long way to an after show drink.

Which is exactly what it did do. We sat and talked, the results of which we’ll be blogging in the near future. Watch this space – writing mojo has returned.


Filed under Phil, Publishing, Writing

How to get published…again

Candice:Last year, Phil and I went to an event called “How to get published.”  Organised by the esteemed publication, the writers and artist yearbook. We came away with lots of ideas about our writing style, what might work when writing to an agent, and how it’s all really a game as there are no right or wrong answers.  We also learned alot about our fellow writers, their thoughts, approaches and dress sense. (Nice Mulberry bag not essential but  a bonus).

Nearly one year on and we have a few more rejection letters under our belt, some more feedback from our readers and some suggestions for a rewrite.  In fact, I had another idea about an approach when I was out running the other day, but I am going to keep that between me and Phil for our next catch up.  So, we thought we have a dip into this how to get published malarky again, just to keep us fresh.

Tonight we are off to an event that is part of Stratford Literary Festival so see if some of the Bard’s success will rub off on us. We’ll let you know how we get on.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends….

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Touring the book

Phil: The writer life isn’t all excitement and cake. No, sometimes you have to do real and quite dull work. Today I have written a review on some 1:76 scale loft insulation. Yes, really.

But The Book is partly a dream. A dream that one day I can move on from model loft lagging to engaging people with stories. People who will want to come and see team nolanparker on stage talking about our tales. To this end, a blogpost by Science Fiction author John Scalzi is very interesting:

I can do all that. Candice can do all that. Come on publishing world, you just need to do the printing bit !


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Fashion for the gentleman writer

Jason KingPhil: If we want to make a big splash in the publishing world then we need an image. Or to be more specific, I need an image. Candice has fashion sense and knows what looks good. I don’t, so some inspiration is required.

Last night it arrived.

Watching a documentary on the 1970’s there was a writer. OK, a fictional writer but a writer nonetheless. He was considered dapper and a real style icon. Best of all, when not writing massively succesful adventure stories, he was a secret agent and wow with the ladies. Wikipedia describes him as a “dilettante dandy” A perfect match for me !

I am of course referring to Jason King, late of Department S.

I recon I could do the cravat thing. With a bit of luck I’ll not look too Nicholas Parsons, not that this is a bad thing. The moustache might take a bit of time but a falsie would do the job for the moment. I need more hair, or perhaps a wig. Thinking about it, that would be a good idea then I could go incognito when required and escape the paparazzi.

As with all plans, there are downsides. In common with most people in the 1970’s, King smoked, but at least he smoked a pipe. I’ve never been tempted but if I was I think pipe smoking would suit me. There’s lots of work involved with cleaning and packing the thing. Best of all you get to say you are nipping in to your favorite tabaconists for a good rough shag.

Jason King - or maybe Phil ?

King’s outfits were many and varied. So varied in fact, that I could turn out to be the colourful one in this partnership and probably need to the bigger trunk to carry the clothing on tour. Something tells me that isn’t going to go down too well !

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Ever bitten off more than you can chew?

Finish LineCandice: Each year I like to set myself a sporting goal.  It’s something to aspire to rather than just go to the gym week in week out with any other purpose (other than being able to eat more chocolate). It started with running the 5k race for life a few years ago. Then 10k race for life.  Last year it was a triathlon and this year, mainly because we will be away for the tri, I’ve decided to do a half marathon instead.

I’ve always wanted to do one but the Birmingham half, normally in October, often clashes with holidays or generally having crap weather.  I don’t do running in the cold.  As someone on twitter said to me when I mentioned this “you’d better start training”. So, for the last six weeks I’ve been running, getting up to around seven miles. But then the weather has changed and its gone cold again, and suddenly I’ve lost my mojo.  It doesn’t help that last time I did a long run I hurt my knee (or rather aggravated an old injury) and I am now frightened if I push it it will make it worse.  So, I’ve done the sensible thing and being to see my lovely sports massage guy, Wayne, and he’s told me off and given me a good rub down (oh er).  But twice since then I’ve decided to go for a long run and chickened out.  Tonight being a perfect example, where it went from doing 6 miles to 2.5 miles to the gym and then 2 on the running machine when I got there.

I need to get over this mental hurdle as the race is in 2 1/2 weeks!

Anyway, this reminds me of all the writing plans Phil and I have made this year.  Back in Jan we promised to get on with book two.  Then we’ve had some feedback on book one and I want to tackle that, mainly because it feels unfinished (and by that I mean unpublished!).  But with no deadline in sight, only one of our own making, and two busy jobs everything is just spinning our wheels. I’m not really sure what the answer is, but setting our selves deadlines only makes me feel upset when I promise to do something and don’t deliver.

I am going to blame a lot of this on the lack of home computer.  Comet have it back again after a third failure… I’ve now said to the other half at what point do we give up?  I might be buying myself an early birthday present soon.  But seriously, I can’t get to the book so it’s enough of a barrier to make me not write.  Its like this evening’s hail, it didn’t go on for long but I went “Oh I can’t run in that”.  But I have to, else I’ll be finishing the half in four hours,not two.  Can someone set me a deadline for publishing, I can work to that.



Filed under Candice, Writing

Writing in pictures

Pound CoinsPhil: Occasionally, for work, I have to count money. I do this by putting it in little piles. Mostly these will be piles containing a pound (US readers, I mean a pound sterling. It’s like a dollar but worth more) but sometimes larger amounts. I do this because it makes it easy for me to keep track of the total.

I am counting by using visual stimuli rather than numbers.

Which is a bit like how we both write and how I at least, read.

When engrossed in a book, I don’t see the words. I read them and see the scene in my head. I don’t entirely understand how this works but I know that it does. I don’t even think I really see the individual words, they swirl around on the page and go directly into my head. If they don’t and I really do see each one, then the story hasn’t gripped me. Trying to read “War and Peace” was like this. Words were read, but no pictures formed in my mind. I eventually gave up and sent the book to a charity shop.

The reverse of the process is the same but I have to pay attention to the typing and word stuff. My brain has watched all of the scenes like a film, or at least like a well made BBC drama series. I can sort of see the character but I can definitely see the action, especially when it’s the really funny stuff and a bit preposterous. The problem is trying to transmit that to a reader. This is a horribly frustrating process. I want to act it out, direct a movie, do something visual but I know that the best way is via the medium of type. Real film making is a slow and painful process with all sort of compromises.

Only words can set you free. I just hope the pictures in the readers mind are as good as ones I’m seeing.

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Cartoon characters in fiction

Phil: As Candice wrote on Tuesday, we have gone to some efforts to make our characters realistic. They are then set lose in our imaginary world, which itself has some basis in reality. Although some of the ideas are preposterous, we’ve tried to root the story in the real world so that you can really imagine the things in the book, happening in real life.

But is this the only way ?

I’ve been reading a bit of Tom Sharpe, specifically the follow-up to Porterhouse Blue; Granchester Grind. We both love a bit of Sharpe and much of our style of humour owes a bit to his writings. I’d not read him for a while until I tripped over a second-hand copy of the book and couldn’t remember it at all. As I read, I realised I had been this way before but still enjoyed the journey.

Like a road trip you make every day on the bus, each time to travel you notice different things. At first you concentrate on the route but eventually you take a good look at the scenery. As I read, I noticed something I didn’t the first time around – Tom Sharpe characters are unreal.

It’s not just the names, although Edgar Hartang and Lord Jeremy Pimpole are two of the more sensible and pronouncable in the book, but that they simply don’t behave like real people in the real world. What they do do is behave like  people in the world created by the author. This world is a cartoon version of the world we live in most of the time. Imaging everything turned up to 11 and you get the idea.

Thinking about it, all of Mr Sharpe’s books are like this. By varying degrees, every single character and every single situation is a cartoon. A very funny cartoon but a cartoon none the less.

It’s a litery equivalent of a Tom & Jerry film. Here, the mouse can hit the cat with a frying pan and watch his face change shape to match the pan. And then the chase continues. We know this doesn’t happen in real life but in “Tom’n’Jerry” world, all those pesky laws of physics are suspended and so you really can survive that plummet into the crevice.

So, is all our effort to give characters back stories for nothing ? I don’t think so because the full-on Sharpe isn’t our style of writing, but it’s certainly interesting to realise that he has a style and examine it.  As a writer, this is a bit like standing in the wings watching a magician at work to find out how the tricks are done. Great fun, but you should really go and watch the show from the cheap seats first to see the how it is meant to be enjoyed.


Filed under Phil, Writing

Delving into the past

Candice: I recently met up with my Aunt, who is the grand old age of 88. My parents have been doing some research into my Dad’s side of the family and wanted to know if my Aunt could remember anything juicy. My father’s family come from somewhere in County Cork, but we don’t know where, and Nolan is as common as Smith over there. We do know that some of our relies are on the war memorial in Birmingham but don’t really know much more than that.

Anyway, all this research made me think about how you construct a character for a book. When Phil and I started writing we just threw what ever words came to mind on a page. However,about half way through we realised we need to work out who these characters were, and why they would do what they do. And simple things like, did Kate have brothers and sisters, how had she got to where she was, how many men had Tracy shagged etc. So, we needed to give them a back story, even if it didn’t appear in the actual book. This is actually quite similar to creating a character as an actor. When I used to a lot of theatre, the method approach mean that you wrote a history for your character and it defined how your character behaved. I was never quite to that level, probably because I only had minor roles. But, even now when I do extras work, I try to think of my character’s motivation as it really does help you be a more professional character (and I like to think I give good extra!)

So, we created character sheets for our main characters (and some minor ones), which helped drive the story, and make sure that Phil and I wrote the same things about out characters. It’s no good me saying Kate went to public school and Phil has her going to a comp in the next chapter.

At our writing peak, I could tell you exactly what Kate would do in any situation, they were that well rounded.

For any budding writer out there, I recommend you do this as part of your planning.

Image created by Phil, by the way !

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Finding happiness in small things.

LollypopPhil: The publishers response (blogged last Thursday) caused some discussion at our airport cafe lunch venue. Rather more than the sandwiches which were, to be honest, a little stale.

Maybe the unseasonably warm weather had something to do with the state of the bread as well as our good spirits. If so, then all is forgiven as sitting outside watching the ‘planes go by was lovely. Both of us felt the same way, even “You can give me criticism and I’ll give you a knuckle sandwich” Nolan who was more concerned with trying to get as much of suntan as you can in 45 minutes while wearing work clothes.

The reply was disappointing but there were hints of promise too. Like a jump lead for our enthusiasm, it has revved up the nolanparker creative engine and some serious fiddling with the manuscript is apparently underway by my co-writer. I await the results with a mix of excitement and trepidation.

WordPress provides another measure of our progress. A week or so ago, we were awarded a badge for breaking the 20 followers barrier. Apparently this is a new feature designed to encourage all of us bloggers to follow each other until no one has time to write anything because we’re all too busy reading blog posts. I suppose that someone in WordPress headquarters has decided we all need little prizes to encourage us to keep hammering the keyboard, hence the new badges which you can read about here. Don’t just look at visitor numbers, although Robin Coyle seems happy doing this, you get a badge. Woo hoo.

They say good things come in threes and as you can see from the photo, and the real reason for this post, it does. Dear reader, feast your eyes upon my first ever prize for a sporting endeavor.

As you might guess from our headline picture, I’m not very good at sport. Look up “Last to be picked at school for any team” in the dictionary, there is a picture of me. In fact I can confidently claim to be utterly useless at any sport. You might laugh at Eddie the Eagle, but he’s Franz Klammer compared to me. Candice has medallions for running – apparently putting one foot in front of another lots of times and traversing a distance without the aid of St Johns ambulance is something to be reward with a medal, even if you’d probably prefer a Mars bar. Me. Nothing. I don’t think I even got a swimming certificate.

Sometimes this isn’t for want of trying. Every month I go Ten Pin bowling (yes, this is a sport, just like darts) with a group of friends. For at least 3 years this has been happening most months. Enough time for some of the practise to bear fruit you might think. No chance. I’m actually getting worse !

Sometimes though, even I get a break. On the score screen last night popped up a promise that if you got a strike on the next throw, a prize would be awarded. No one in our group has won this, not even Dave who is so keen that he has his own ball and shoes. Not until last night, when I lobbed the ball down the alley and knocked every pin down ! Expecting a triumphant presentation, perhaps with some champagne spraying and pretty girls like they get in Formula 1, I waited.

And waited.

For quite a while. Until we’d nearly finished the game in fact. Maybe they were busy setting up the ceremony I thought.

Eventually, I couldn’t bear it any longer and wandered over to the shoe swap counter to ask.

“You get a lollypop.” said the man in charge of shoes and shoe spray, “But I haven’t got any.”

Thwarted. I returned to the game but my heart wasn’t in it. I mean, the Olympics this year had better be more organised. “I’m sorry Mr Bolt, we forgot to order enough medals. You don’t mind do you ?” won’t go down too well.

Eventually they realised that I wasn’t a man to be trifled with and by the end of the evening, the prize had arrived. No champagne or eye candy, but hey ho, it’s not much but I’m proud of it. A plinth is under construction along with a trophy cabinet. At least I don’t have to polish it.

Little things.


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