Monthly Archives: August 2012

Thesaurus or Dictionary ?

ThesaurusPhil: Part of the subscription deal for Writers-forum magazine was that they would throw in a free Websters compact dictionary or thesaurus. All I had to do was decide which one I wanted. That and remind the guy who took my order on the ‘phone that he was supposed to ask but we’ll put it down to him having a bad day.

Do I need either ? Probably not. But if a freebie is offered, I’m going to take it. The sound of relatives spinning in their graves if I didn’t would keep me awake. Serves us right for burying them under the floorboards instead of a proper graveyard…

Dictionaries seem pretty useless in the age of the spellchecker. I know that we have to pay attention to its suggested versions of our mis-typed words but honestly, do you ever get a book out for this ? I know I don’t. Normally I know that a word is wrong (apart from it having a wiggly line underneath) but due to being a thicky I can’t tell how it should be spelt. Once I see the suggestions I reckon I can normally guess the right one. I have the same affliction with numbers – I can do maths (despite what my exam results suggested) but often use a calculator so I can see the numbers. If it gets them wrong though, I can usually spot it.

If I want to know what a word means, and if I do then I probably shouldn’t be using it in the text, then Mr Google is my friend. My typing is faster than my page flicking.

The same tool can help me with the tasks a thesaurus might perform. Type “cake synonym” into the search engine and I get results. Not, it has to be said, as prettily formatted, but the effect is the same.

In the end I went for the later. I only write on a computer and the spell checker tends to be built-in to the software but I aspire to work away from t’interweb occasionally so Google will be unavailable. I know there’ probably an App for this but I quite like the uncluttered layout of Websters thesaurus and was quickly able to look up my first word.


Synonym – Dictionary. Did I get 2 for the price of 1 ?


Filed under Phil, Writing

Bank Holiday Boredom

Candice:  You may noticed I’ve been a bit quiet over the last week or so.  You may have thought it was down to my decision to step away from the communications tools, but no, it was related to the Noro virus.  For those of you who don’t know what this is, lets just say 12 hrs of vomiting is not the best way to spend a Tuesday night.  And then to spend almost a week laid up from it has left me with the fidgets.

I hate being ill. It’s OK at first, but there are only so many Escape to the Country‘s you can watch, in between naps.  And when you can’t stomach any food or walk down stairs without being wobbly the whole thing gets rather depressing.  I am also some what of a gym bunny, and the first time I went for nearly two weeks was yesterday and even then I didn’t have much energy.  ARGH!

Then to cap it all its the famous English Bank Holiday weekend which equals … rain.  It’s not actually started yet but its due at any moment.  Now, yesterday was lovely but today makes you feel like getting your boots and thermals out.  In fact, I couldn’t believe the number of people walking round the shops yesterday, when the sun was out, in jumpers and boots.  It’s not over yet you know, that whole summer thing.   (Aside here, when people complain how crap the summer has been, but then insist on wearing winter clothes when it is nice, I have no sympathy for them).

So, really and truly this should be a good writing day, whole day, no work, rain… but ’cause I’ve been cooped up for the last two weeks I need to get out!  I’d usually hit the shops but with all the winter clothes in I’m not ready to buy anything yet, and we don’t need any thing for the house (mainly ’cause we’ve just put it on the market).  So what to do… well we are off to go and find a gold postbox.  And to find out what that means – click on the link!


Filed under Candice, Writing

Sci-fi short stories

Space 2 and all Asimovs Robot Stories.Phil: When Candice mentioned a couple of weeks ago that she’d met someone who write for Starburst magazine and that perhaps we ought to think about some sci-fi short stories, it sent me scurrying for my bookshelf.

While I own a huge number of books, very, very few of them are fiction. Those that are, are probably sci-fi because I like that sort of thing. Ignoring the complete set of Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy books (which I have as well as all the radio series on CD and the TV series on DVD but don’t mention the terrible film) this leaves three books, two of which you see in the photo.

Whatdayaknow ? They are all short stories. Space 1 and 2 are compilations of shorts and the fat book is a collection of all Isaac Asimov’s robot stories.

Which makes me wonder why. I’ve read proper fiction at book length, but I didn’t want to keep it. Chatting this over with the Nolan, we both have the same problem. Reading a book is a voyage of discovery. Once you’ve been through this, a re-read isn’t as much fun. Thus, the books are destined for the charity shop to be replaced with something new but for some reason, I kept these.

As far as science fiction goes though, I’ve never been into the big books. Asimov wrote many short stories but also his magnum opus, the Foundation Series. I tried to read this, but like Frank Herbert’s similar Dune series, I couldn’t get into it. Monumental fiction doesn’t grab me. I’m sure that when you get into it, you love it. I can’t.

It’s not just books either (God this post is making sound really nerdy) but TV too. Start Trek is fine. I can handle the Next Generation of the same. Each episode is a story. Move on to Deep Space 9 or Babylon 5 (I know the later is a different “universe” but the point is the same) with its massive story arc that provides fans with endless hours of internet chat and I really can’t be bothered. These guys aren’t just writing about worlds but entire star systems with a breadth of imagination that makes the Total Perspective Vortex in Hitchikers seem sensible. (For the non-geek, this is a torture device where the victim is shown how unimportant they are in the whole universe. It’s powered by fairy cakes, thus justifying its place on this blog). I prefer to stick to a single species in a story, maybe two if pushed.

Be warned though, giant sci-fi can catch you when you least expect it. As a youth, I dabbled with the Perry Rhodan series of pulp fiction books. I foolishly thought I could read the set but then discovered that this German (translated into English, I’m not that clever) series actually ran to more volumes than there are people on the planet. When you find number 136 on the shelf of a bookshop, you get the message that there is more to this than you thought. My excuse is that I was introduced gradually with some fun stories and found myself hooked…

Anyway, I’ve re-read some of the books and you know what ? They are pretty good. Not too geeky – good sci-fi takes a real plot line and simply transfers it to a fantastic location or time – and very interesting. If nothing else, all this has made me re-discover some excellent writing.

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Investing in my writing

Phil: Being quite happy with quality of the feedback we’ve received from Writers-forum for our last short story, We’re planning to submit another entry. It’s ready, edited, polished and perfect, or so we think.

Checking the entry details, to take part costs £6. This is cut by half for subscribers to the magazine – so, I wonder if it’s worth subscribing. After all, this is £36 or the money saved on twelve entries. Can you see my Scottish and Polish blood lines coming through ?

Anyway, a trip to WH Smith sees me the proud owner of a copy of said magazine. It’s got a nice shiny cover and decent quality paper (I do work with other magazines, trust me, this is important). Settling down with a mug of tea and a little cake, I start to read. You know what ? It’s really not bad at all. I know you can’t really judge a magazine by a single issue (unless my byline is in there, in which case it’s as good as you get) but I pretty quickly find a couple of pieces that set me thinking which seems like a good thing.

I also have the chance to read the winning short stories for September. These don’t seem anything like as good as ours, in fact I can’t get through the winner at all. The judges might think it “sucks them in” but I only agree with one of those words. It is useful to read other people’s work even if I don’t like it, the skill is working out exactly what I don’t like and trying to learn from their mistakes, or at least understand why I might be wrong (surely not).

Anyway, the website is down so I make a quick phone call and hand over my credit card details for a years worth of magazines. If I am serious about writing, and I am, then I need more input. Ignoring the money for a moment (I’ll get that back with 10 miutes worth of sales once The Book gets published) I need to make time  to read this stuff. You can’t learn by osmosis, the mag must be read from cover to cover every month, in many ways the investment is more in time than money. It’s certainly quicker than a college course in creative writing and cheaper too. Who knows what I might learn, or what opportunities will appear to be grasped ?

Writers-Forum website

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Needs some work but has potential

Gold starPhil: Can you take criticism on the chin ? The answer to this question divides the members of team nolanparker it seems.

We recently entered a short story into the monthly Writers Forum competition. For an extra fiver, you can request personal feedback and so, being keen to learn, we did.

The feedback arrived. An A4 (electronic) sheet with some suggestions. They liked the title, thought the presentation could do with work, didn’t feel the opening was especially compelling or that one of the characters was fleshed out enough. Also, the dialogue drove the story forward but could do more to aid the characterisation.  The conclusion was “Needs some work but has potential”

I read it and was impressed that someone really had taken the time to read and comment on the piece. I didn’t expect to win any prizes at our first attempt but you have to start somewhere and for a fiver, it was well worth it. I fancy re-working the piece and then putting it out there again. The comments seemed fair to me as we are aiming high, and not pointlessly harsh. We might think it’s a wonderful story but you can’t expect everyone to see this until you are mega famous at which point they don’t wish to look stupid by pointing out the emperor has no clothes.

My friend on the other hand, took it less well – “I read that straight away, thus putting a damper on an afternoon when they didn’t tell me we were the next JK Rowling.  If I hadn’t jumped to that email there and there I might not have ruined my afternoon!”

How can we be that different ? Am I too laid back ? Is Candice too thin-skinned ?

I’m not ignoring the comments – far from it – but I don’t take them personally. We aren’t JK Rowling yet (It could have been worse, imagine if the comment had been “You are the next E. L. James“, that would have caused a fuss !). No, feedback part of the learning journey. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger etc. etc.

But, there is a problem. It can’t be denied that Nolan is a far more succesful high-flyer than I am. Maybe I am too laid back ? Maybe I should take criticism to heart. Perhaps if I was wracked with distress it would fire me up to do better, or would it make me want to give up entirely ?

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Information overload!

Candice: Does anyone find the multiple forms of communication out there a little over whelming? I’ve found recently that I am struggling to deal with the number of ways people can contact me.  Currently I have:Stressed : stressed woman with telephones in her hands. isolated on white

  1. a Linkedin account
  2. Two business email accounts – for my company
  3. One work email account – for where I am currently working
  4. a Twitter account
  5. a Facebook account
  6. Text
  7. Mobile
  8. Home Phone

Writing it all out like that makes you realise just how many ways there are to be contacted or get in touch.  Help, I’m drowning in over communication.

Obviously I have a Blackberry to keep an eye on my personal stuff but have taken to emailing friends and family from work as I seem to be constantly keeping up with things – ‘have you answered that text/email?’  I get home from work and that last thing I want to do is answer the phone or log on.  And then, of course, there are the blog posts to maintain.  It’s hard because I am still maintaining my business while working this contract, as well as trying to keep my Twitter and Facebook life active (as marketing experiment as much as anything else) and keeping an eye on extra’s working coming through, ’cause if you dont jump on it quick you don’t get the job!

The other half even said to me earlier – I have to get BBM as my friend in Dubai only uses that else I cant keep in touch with him.  WHAT!

Phil and I have recently had some feedback on our short story submission (more details to follow soon) and I read that straight away, thus putting a damper on an afternoon when they didn’t tell me we were the next JK Rowling.  If I hadnt jumped to that email there and there I might not have ruined my afternoon!

So I’ve decided to take a bit of a sabbatical from the bleeping red light on my phone.  They used to be called ‘crackberries’ and I can see why. I also read somewhere that we are now struggling with a syndrome where we actually feel ill if we can’t look at an incoming message or text.  I know the feeling, I got one during dinner last night and you are itching to read it while eating your dinner.  How sad is that.

So I’ve decided when it comes to my personal emails that I am going to be checking them less often, lunch breaks and convenient times not all the time.  Twitter, well that’s more addictive than Facebook so I am dialling that down for a while too, else I seem to spend most of my evenings retweeting things.  The pull comes when someone answers your question – I find that little blue bird more addictive than the bleep or a text.

It’s all about self control I think, teaching yourself not to reach for the phone every time it makes a noise or the light flashes.  Otherwise, one will go slightly insane!

As the American’s say ‘Timeout’

How do you find it in the modern age?


Filed under Candice, Writing

Follow the golden brick road

Olympic medalsPhil: I promise this is my last attempt to jump on the Olympic bandwagon. Before I give it a rest, there were a couple of moments in the whole jamboree that gave me pointers for our efforts.

The first was an interview with Dave Brailsford, performance director of British Cycling and the man all Frenchmen hate. He explained why we Brits are better on two (especially round) wheels than anyone else. Put simply, he and his team broke a cyclists life down into tiny little chunks. Then they looked at each chunk to see how it could be made a just a tiny bit better. Although each improvement was very small, together they added up to a big improvement.

As an example – hand washing. You wouldn’t think this makes much difference, these are bike riders after all not surgeons and if you look at cycle couriers, they don’t look the most hygienic people in the world but seem to work the pedals OK. Apparently though, proper hand washing means less illness. Not big illness, but the sort of “under the weather” feeling that for most of us means hiding behind a computer at work but for the Hoys and Pendletons adds hundredths of a second to a lap and keeps them off the podium.

Translating this to The Book, that means going through each section of text and seeing how it can be made just a little bit better. If every page is tighter, faster and funnier, the end result is happier readers. Detail matters.

The second lesson came from Samantha Murray who won silver in the modern pentathlon’s post event interview.

“If you have a goal, anything you want to achieve in life, don’t let anybody get in your way because you can do it. There are so many people and so many things that are trying to set you back. Find a path that you want to take in life and follow it and stick to it. If I can do it, I’m a normal girl. Anybody can do anything that they want to do.”

‘Nuff said.

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Wasted paper basket ? No it isn’t.

Kit 47 in waste paper basket 4Phil: I’m glad to read that my esteemed co-writer still likes our book, as I’ve got bucket loads of ideas to improve it. My writing time since our last serious efforts in this direction hasn’t entirely been wasted, there are a couple of new attempts at the early part of the manuscript floating around and I know that a third is soon to be thrown in my direction.

We both agree with some of our test readers that the start of the book is slow. Having fallen into the classic new author trap of spending many pages setting up the story, it takes around a quarter of your reading time before getting stuck properly into the action. Obviously after this it’s a helter-skelter ride of thrills and spills but your average reader doesn’t want to know that if they stick at it good things will happen. They want it NOW !

All this means there is a lot of story won’t see the light of day. As writers, we need to get our heads around this and move on. Just because those words don’t appear in the final version of the book doesn’t mean it was wrong to write them. They are a necessary step along to the road to the perfect story (not that our story isn’t perfect, it’s just not everyone recognises genius when they see it), the base camp before scaling the mountain of publishing. The effort hasn’t been wasted if it helps us towards our goal.

Anyway, they won’t be lost. On my bookshelf I have two earlier versions of the book, one with scribbled in the margins (Thanks Sarah) each of which contain chunks of text since exorcised. One day, when we are famous, JK Rowling, Dan Brown and the 50 shades woman envying our sales figures (if not our actual figures, bloated from the endless promotional tours around the world) these will be worth more than Australia. After all (Olympic joke alert),there’s not much gold in that country ! We will still be able to enjoy them and perhaps even release a sort of DVD extras version of the book with everything ever edited out of it thrown back in.

Anyway, once we get back on track, there will be a new and exciting opener plus, apparently, lots more exciting plot. Best of all, since we both write on computers, the bin won’t need emptying !


Filed under Phil, Publishing, Writing

Retracing your steps

Candice: Things have been busy in the Nolan household that last couple of weeks, three weddings in the space of eight days.  So after another mad weekend we took ourselves to the Lake District for a mini break (in a Bridget Jones stylie).  It was actually also an excuse to revisit the place I went to University, as I havent been back in around 15 years.

Well Friday walking around Grizedale Forest was everything I remembered, great sculptures, no-one around and beautiful scenery.  Saturday we got up and went into Lancaster to see where I used to hang out.  Old house, check, still in a state and obviously still student digs.  Lancaster Castle, having a recreationists weekend so people walking around in 17th Century uniforms.  Lancaster town centre…. well, when I went to Uni here it was a nice, middle class town, with a smart high street and lots of pubs.  (Lots of pubs, great for pub crawls from house to Student Union).  But, the more we walked around the more I thought, oh how things have changed.  The town centre is full of pound shops and just feels a bit rough.  The pubs are all still there but it’s really gone down hill.  Rich and I stayed for an hour and then said, “Time to leave.”  What a shame, I know we all remember things with rose-coloured specs but this was a real blow for my memories.  I had a great time at Lancaster University, met some nice people and learnt a bit, in between pub crawls.

The Union is still there, within stumbling distance of the town centre.  Randomly called the Sugar House, I used to DJ there, when at Uni, ah those were the days on the decks…..

Re-reading parts of our book and other writing I wondered if I had applied the same memories to them.  But no, one year on since really attacking the book I still like it, I just realise where some of the holes are and perhaps how we should rework it, no rose-coloured specs here.  The trouble is I also want to write other stuff and find it hard to keep retracing my steps through something I have done so many times now, to try and make it fresh again.  I suppose it’s the difference between walking round Stratford, something I do every week, and going back to Lancaster, a old memory but exciting again cause its different. But there wont be any pound shops in my book!

Let’s be honest, if Phil and could afford it we’d get a ghost writer in to take the meat of what we have written and make it a polished book, ’cause we just don’t have the time with all the ideas we have.

But lets be realistic, we just need to find some time and we’ll be off again, I’m sure we’d struggle to let anyone play with our little story.


Filed under Writing

The unreal worlds of Usain Bolt and Bilbo Baggins

London 2012 Olympic Stadium

Phil: According to Twitter, in every Olympic event, alongside the competitors, there should be a normal person taking part to show just how amazing the athletes are.

Imagine the scene – Usain Bolt sets off in lane 4 for the 100 metres. In lane 9 (refered to as the “slow lane” by the press) I start running as well. 9.something seconds later, Bolt is jumping up and down on the finish line. 30 seconds later he’s swathed in the Jamaican flag and doing the lightening bolt pose while I’ve sat down on a tartan travelling rug half-way along the track for a rest and perhaps a refreshing cup of tea and cake. Wouldn’t that be a good idea ?

(Note: It has to be me being average. Candice could actually run that far properly and anyway would probably give Bolt a look before the starting gun that says, “Run faster than me buddy and you’ll need a rubber glove to retrieve your medal.)

The thing is, that without this “improvement”, all the runners exist in their own special world. You look into the bubble and don’t see unfit and chubby reality, just lithe, toned and healthy humans. It’s just like reading a book and being asked by the author to forget about the world outside the page. Tolkien painted The Shire so well that anyone immersed in the story is filling their heads with a mental picture. Should a reader be muttering, “There are no such things as goblins or elves.” than he or she isn’t going past chapter one.

If real people do wander into the story, such as in the Chronicles of Narnia, the plot relies on the imaginary world overpowering the real world like a gold medal judo player. Those kids had to quickly become part of the fantasy – mind you, entering the world via the back of a wardrobe is a pretty good start !

For a story to work, the unreal world has to exist. In a book, initially it is in the writers head. For the Olympics, it’s in a stadium. Both have a rarefied atmosphere that can’t exist outside its special container. Back in the real world, athletics is hard work and pain and training and sweat and early starts. Even Jessica Ennis goes to the supermarket. Outside a writers head, the imaginary world is merely scribblings in a notepad and (in our case) chats in pubs, cafes and occasionally offices but inside it, real people live eventful lives.

Both (hopefully) culminate in success and adulation, either with medals or a prominent place in a Waterstones window and best of all, the one I’m involved in doesn’t require wearing  Lycra.


Filed under Phil, Writing