Monthly Archives: September 2012

Is The Casual Vacancy beyond criticism ?

A Casual VacancyPhil: Today sees the publication of JK Rowling’s first post-Harry Potter book, The Casual Vacancy.

According to a recent interview, Rowling is in the happiest place for any author. She can write what she likes and not worry if it’s any good. That’s what making a billion from boy wizardry does for you. She also knows the work will be published and people will buy it. They will buy it by the bucket-load and some will like it and others hate it.

Rowling claims not to be to worried by this and I think I believe her.

When team nolanparker take criticism for our work we know it’s not personal. The comments are made in a vacuum. We arrive with no baggage. This has good and bad sides. On one hand we are judged purely on the quality of our output. The critic wouldn’t know us if we ran up to them in the street and slapped them across the chops with a wet haddock.

Unfortunately, not knowing us means we don’t come with a track record that will give us a free pass with any niggles in our story. Rowling could have cut’n’pasted a book full of Lorem Ipsum into the manuscript and the publisher would print it. To be honest, they know this is such a sure-fire seller that they probably didn’t bother reading it before giving production the green light. Lots of celebs get the same deal.

What Rowling doesn’t get is criticism free from baggage. There are plenty of hacks who wrote their review of this book weeks ago. They hate it, yet they have no more read a copy than the people rioting in the Middle East have seen the film that offends them so much. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the text, people like to read bad reviews in the newspaper and the literary desk doesn’t get the chance of a big sales boosting story very often. This book could be as great as Shakespeare, in fact it probably has a better storyline than most of his stuff, the literary critics won’t like it. And when you know this, you can’t take much notice of what they write.

Another point it, this won’t be “Great Literature”, it will be readable and (from the reports of those who have read it) good fun. Going back to Billy S from Stratford, his plays were popular in their time. Being adopted by the great and good is a relatively new proposition. Once upon a time, those who love him would have considered the work beneath contempt because the plebs liked it and the words weren’t in Latin.

I hope The Casual Vacancy is good. I’ll probably buy a copy myself, when I find it second-hand, as the synopsis sounds interesting. To be honest though, I think its very existence is A Good Thing since it shows the most succesful author ever really does write for the right reasons, because she loves to do it and has a story to tell.

Update: The BBC has summarised the reviews. Looks like I wasn’t far wrong. The things I hadn’t counted on were the political views of the newspapers concerned – this is a book about class and social mobility or the lack of it. Also the general ItsNotHarryPotterWhyIsntItHarryPotterIWantMoreHarryPotter from anyone who uses the word “Muggles” in a review.


Filed under Phil, Publishing

The Cathedral Killer (Part 2)

Sorry about this, we posted the first half of this short story back in July and have only just got around to putting up the second half of the tale.

You may want to re-read Part One unless you have an amazing memory…


7pm at Deansgate and she was on her own in a deserted street. To occupy the time she re-read the flyer her boss had dumped on her desk earlier. 

“The Gruesomest Ghost Walk in York” It screamed, with letters written in bright red that seemed to be dripping blood.  Detailing the meeting place and snippets on the tour, with a few juicy quotes from supposed impressed tourists, it didn’t seem any different from any other tour.  She couldn’t understand why he’d picked it over the multitude of others. 

Flicking over to the back, there seemed to be a new sticker positioned over some of the copy.  “Exclusive insights into the newest string of murders in York.  Get into a serial killer’s mind, as we walk you round the fresh sights of the famous Cathedral killer.” 

YORK MINSTER - 4Ah ha, she thought, that might explain it.  The City had seen a string of brutal killings over the last six months buy the now infamous Cathedral killer.  He picked souls from the tourists in the city, cut them up in gruesome ways and adorned tourist hotspots around the city centre with the leftovers.  The name had come as the first victim had been an American, found on the steps of the Minster so badly mutilated, they’d only been able to identify his nationality by the loud check trousers he’d been wearing.

The Police were baffled and the paper had been having a great time coming up with pun head lines.  She remembered the opening story, “ The First Cut is the Deepest.” She shivered, partly from the rain and partly the thought of most recent killing.

By 7.10pm, she was starting to wonder if the tour guide had given up when a tall, slim man walked towards her. “Here for the tour?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “Looks like it might just be you and me.”

His dark eyes starred at her intently, she found it a bit unnerving and turned away embarrassed. 

“Yes, thanks, got a night on my own and I’m new to the area, so though I’d come along. “ She giggled nervously, at the lie. No point in letting on she was from the paper, he’d want to give her the third degree about when it would be coming out and would the photographer catch his best side. Anyway, her piece was supposed to be mystery shopping the experience not pandering to the vanity of a man wearing a frock coat and top hat.

“Haven’t I seen you here before?” The tour guide asked, Josie shook her head.

“Must be mistaken, anyway lovely girl like you shouldn’t be on your own,” he said, salaciously. 

Turning round, they realised that a few other hard core tourists had arrived, wrapped up in fleeces and ponchos.  One was already snapping away.

“Follow me, please, Ladies and Gentlemen, for a Ghost tour like one you have never experienced before.”  The guide, turned, raised his arm and began marching off down the street.

An hour later and Josie was rapidly loosing interest.  The tourists were really getting on her nerves, constantly asking questions and stopping to take interminable photos.   It didn’t help that the rain had returned, heavier than before. Some of the group had wandered off to find somewhere warm to have a medicinal brandy and the guide looked like he’d prefer to join them.

“Here we see the last resting place of Mary of Goves.  The story is that her ghost walks up and down this staircase, down where she was said to be pushed by her husband when he found out the child she was carrying was that of his brother.  Driven mad with grief after killing her, he is said to be see begging for her mercy at the foot of the stairs.”  

Josie looked, but all she could see were urine stained, moss covered steps to a long closed building.  Even though, the whole experience was giving her the willies.

As she turned around, she jumped out of her skin.  Behind her a tall creature, dressed all in black, seeming to be floating towards her.  Stifling a scream, she realised peeking out of the bottom of the black costume were a pair of white trainers. 

“Stop it,” she shouted at the figure as it began to lean in towards her.  “Woow WOOW.” It circled her.  Looking around she spotted the tour guide and two tourists giggling.

“Look, this isn’t funny,” she crossed her arms and stared at what she thought was the head.

One last round of wooing and the creature stopped and pulled back its hood.  Josie drew in a breath as the creature’s face was revealed.  Tousling a mop of surfer blonde hair, a pair of bright blue eyes bore down on her. “Gotcha!” The creature in-toned, in a voice with a touch of Australian. 

OMG, thought Josie, as she looked at the man, perhaps it was worth staying out after all.  He was drop dead gorgeous, and as the cape opened she could see a surfer’s body under a tight fitting t-shirt.

“Everyone, this is Brad, my Australian friend, he’s visiting town and thought he’d add an extra something to my tour.” The Guide said, with a slightly pained expression. “Sorry, Miss, he thought you might like it.”

“It’s OK, I’m fine, he didn’t bother me.”  Josie tried to cover her tracks, feeling slightly embarrassed.

“Right everyone, onwards ! It’s time for the new and exclusive part of the tour, the Cathedral Killer walk.”  He strode off towards Stonegate.

Brad fell into step with Josie.  “Hi. It was only a joke, you know.  Rolf has been having trouble getting enough people for his tour, so we thought we could add something different to get some hype.”

“Is that why you are doing the Cathedral Killer ? It all seems a bit recent and insensitive doesn’t it?” Josie queried.  She wondered how much they knew about the murderer and then shivered at the thought.

“Yes, that was my idea.” Brad explained, “I’ve been over here for about six months, I’m back packing round Europe. When we spotted the stuff in the paper and Rolf said he was struggling, I thought it would be a good twist.”

“How do you guys know each other?” 

“We met a few years ago, at a surfing event in Oz.  Rolf was travelling, and we got talking.  It’s the first chance I’ve had to come and visit him.” Brad explained.

“Surfing, and he ended up in York?”  Josie raised a puzzled eyebrow.

“We’ll yes, Rolf always says he was born in the wrong city. I’m just hanging at his house, getting some bar work, you know, before I can continue travelling.”

Josie realised they’d come to the next stop on the tour, and suddenly she was really enjoying herself.  Don Draper he might not be, but she wasn’t averse to a bit of Neighbours.  The wind whistled down a back street so she pulled her coat tighter.

They had stopped at the side of the Minster. “Are you cold?”  Brad put his arm round her shoulder, “Would you like my cape?”

“No, no, I’m fine thanks.” Josie felt herself melting.  Pull yourself together girl and stop thinking with your knickers, she thought, you are here to do a job.

College Street, YorkAfter the Minster, the next stop was College Street. Victim two had been found slumped on the bench under the sundial, head hanging over the edge of the seat where it had nearly been severed. At the Post, they had been able to get a photographer there before the body had been moved. Putting that picture on the front had lit up the letters page for a couple of weeks with people whining about insensitivity.

Josie was shivering again and finally accepted Brad’s cape. As she wrapped it around her his imperviousness to the weather momentarily annoyed her. Was he cold blooded? The wet t-shirt was nice to look at though…

Monkgate next. At least there was some cover this time as victim number three had turned up under the arches. Well nearly. The Police thought he’d been running from his attacker and tripped and fallen, with the killer just finishing him off where he lay. The anorak-wearing tourist had been last seen coming out of the toy shop and the murderer had positioned his victims purchase, a toy train, emerging from a tunnel where his liver had been. 

BILE BEANSFrom there it was a short walk to the Bile Beans sign for the next victim. Rolf’s description of the scenes got ever more lurid. One of the crowd was looking decidedly

unhappy with this. Josie wondered how long his stomach would hold as yet another spurt of blood was re-enacted. Listening carefully, she realised that a lot of these descriptions didn’t seem to have appeared in the paper’s coverage.

Passing the University for victim five, the group made it to Gillygate and after a trudge that was mercifully free of stops, arrived at the Art Gallery. Josie recalled from the now sodden flyer that this was the end of the tour.

Rolf stopped to sign the Japanese couple’s guidebook. Brad laughed at this.

“He thinks he’s some kind of celebrity. I think he hopes that one day some big-shot producer will turn up on the tour and discover him.”

She giggled. “Yeah, one day it’s trudging around a soggy city telling ghost stories, the next it’s the bright lights of LA”

“At least it won’t be raining” replied Brad. “Listen, shall we go somewhere a little bit warmer?”

Josie considered the proposal for a second.  This wasn’t some B-movie, she knew her way round the city and wouldn’t be taken down a dark alley by mistake.  All that talk of murder had unnerved her slightly, but Brad smiled and she found herself nodding.

He lead the way. Along Swinegate. Across the square and down through the Shambles. It was late, dark and getting wetter. “I know a great bar down here,” said Josie, getting fed up with Brad’s wandering.

Brad was looking less surfer and more drowned rat. “Oh, OK,” he replied, slightly disappointed.  Perhaps a drink might make his idea of continuing to his flat for some fun more likely though.

Now it was Brads turn to be unsure where they were going. Skating on the cobbles of Foosgate, he could see the city walls at the end of the road. She stopped on a small bridge and looked over the edge.

“I’ve always liked this bit of the city. It’s for the real people, not the day trippers.”

“Nothing wrong with day trippers love. They pay mine and Rolf’s rent”

“I know. Smug bastards. Always getting in the way. Never think of themselves. Not real at all.”

She pointed at something along the river. Brad strained his eyes to see what she was indicating, pressing up against the balustrade. The blade came out of no-where, cutting across his neck.  Hand over the pumping blood from his throat, he fell, turning to see Josie poised, a large kitchen knife in her hand. 

“York’s MY City, remember that you bloody tourist.” 

Turning away from his dying body, Josie wiped the knife on Brad’s cloak and threw it in the river. The weapon was stashed back under her coat. She hoped just killing the City’s visitors would have put off the tourists, but no, some of the tour providers would need to be attended too as well.

Twisted smile on her lips, she began the long walk home in the rain pondering, I wonder if Rolf will like the new stop for his tour ?


We entered this in a short story competition and recived some feedback, which will be shared with you next week.

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Rumours by Freya North

Rumours by Freya NorthCandice: After a spell of not reading anything other than the Sunday Times Style magazine, I found an interesting book in the charity book shop in Stratford.

Phil and I had both liked a book called Cat by Freya North, you’ll remember.  So when I saw another by her I thought, I’ll give this a go.

If you remember Cat was a strong female character and her book was as much about the Tour de France, as it was about her finding a man.  Well, Rumours is on similar lines but without the bikes.

The premise of the story is a woman, Stella, who has had a bad break up and is now working in a job she doesn’t want to do to pay for her and her son.  Her job is as an Estate Agent and she gets the biggest sale possible, the local country seat Longbridge Hall.  In the mean time, the Lady of the Hall is trying to assist the help’s son (Xander), as he has also had a bad break up… can you see where this is going?

Well I won’t give the whole game away but with abit of tooing and frooing Stella and Xander end up happily ever after, but certainly without any serious farce type ‘will they won’t they’ stuff.  Thinking about how Cat is written, I can tell the way that Freya’s life must have changed in the last x number of years.  Cat’s character was young, free and single, Stella is nearly 40 and has a child.  I know we all write from our own experience but I expect this is what has been going on for the author.

Like Cat, and Freya’s own description on her website of her writing style, the female character is strong and independent but able to let someone in.  I have to admit if I had read this before meeting my Husband I would have poopooed it a bit but now I am all married up, I can see both sides.

I wouldn’t say this book is as good as Cat, the premise of the tour kept me more hooked than the idea of selling a house, and there are some situations where characters seem to appear and then disappear for no real reason, the Lady’s daughter for one.  But I enjoyed bouncing along with it for a few hours.

Ironically, I have since discovered it is her most recent book, came out in June, so thanks to the bookshop for being so up to date!

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Getting your facts right

Liseuse de microfiches Micron 355Phil: I performed a little bit of research for my old job a couple of months ago. Proper research involving a trip to the library to look at books and even use the microfiche machine to view old newspapers. Just like people used to do in the old days.

After a happy couple of hours I returned to the office with some scribbled notes and terrible quality printouts. An hour later the early history of the theatre was ready to go off to the framers and be part of our 40th Anniversary celebrations. I managed to distill the early days into an accurate and hopefully slightly humorous page that you could read and enjoy despite the effects of any free wine you may have consumed. Better still, there was enough material left out to give me the basis of a short article for the local history society.

People tend to forget libraries but the resources found within the walls are often not to be found with a quick Google. Sometimes you gotta do the leg work.

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Doctor How?

Candice: I had a jolly day on set on Friday, filming for BBC Doctors.  You know, lunch time drama, 1.40pm Monday – Friday, filmed in Birmingham.  You don’t?

Well to be honest, you wouldn’t be the only one who hasn’t heard of it.  Up North – Shameless, Hollyoaks, Emmerdale; Cardiff – Doctor Who, Casualty; Bristol – Trollied, the Cafe…. Birmingham – Doctors.  It’s a shame for us extra’s based in Brum and for those at BBC Birmingham because they really don’t seem to be giving much to the Midlands.  Up until last year there were a few things filmed locally, Hustle etc.  So I didn’t mind the odd stint on Doctors in between being in something my working friends actually watch.  But now, I have to travel to be in something I might have any chance of people ringing my parents to say “Did I see Candice in…” as happened when I was in Casualty last year. Not that I want to hog the screen or anything but I’m just saying…

However, there is one show I really want to get on and so far have had no luck – Doctor Who.  Really I should have joined the Agency that does extra’s for it years ago but I never timed it right as you can only register once a year.  But now I am, but my requests for a position as second cyborg on the left fall on deaf ears.  I think I have finally worked out why, they think I am a Whovian.  Ie a super fan who is desperate to get on set and play with the Doctor’s tardis (oh er).  But I’m not, it’s just a cool programme and I’d like to say just once I have been on.

However, watching this weeks episode I think I have worked the other reason why (and it’s not because I’m a red head and would clash with the Pond).  They really don’t have any extras on the show.  Unless I’d wanted to play a robot or a dinosaur, this weeks episode had the sum total of five extras.  With over 1000 people on their books, I’m unlikely to get a job I think!

However, I am determined to give it a good go so will back off a bit in my requests and hope that they forget my desperation and give me a go.  Last job I did in Cardiff, the guy I sat next to said, ” I did Doctor Who last week and I’ve only been doing this a month.”  There was a lot of teeth gritting!

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Points of reference

Parker and his bossPhil: I was chatting with Candice via the e-mail the other day. Obviously neither of us were exactly engrossed in our work and for reasons that are unimportant at this juncture, the subject revolved around Rolls Royce cars. In a moment of madness, I rashly cast aspersions* on her “lively” driving style:

Camera in back of car. Short trip around town. Voiceover, “If your chauffeur drives like this, adopt the crash position until the car stops.”   😛

and received the reply:

I’m a very good driver” – said in a slightly stilted voice.

Thinking I had just about got away with it but worried in case the tone was that of a hitman about to go to work, I tried for a bit of humour with the reply:

Of course, it IS the 21st Century and we are talking a Rolls Royce so if Thunderbirds are to be believed (it was a documentary right ?) then it should be me in the front.

I’ll get me cap….and say “Very good M’lady”


The response:

Um no – it was from Rain Man 

But I like the idea of M’Lady – please continue using those terms

Is this how team nolanparker will look in a few years ?

You’ve got to be so careful when quoting from films and TV programmes that the person you aim them at gets the reference or it all falls a bit flat. I’ve seen Rain Man and even read the book (both good but book better) but missed the quote by a mile.

Obviously my friend was never a fan of Thunderbirds – hardly surprising I suppose as neither of us was born when the series came out or likely to want to build a Tracey Island when it became fashionable  again in the 1990s. Only nerdy people were into it in the intervening years, which is why only one of us uses the characters as references or drives a long distance to get a look at some of the props…

Anyway kids, todays lesson is match your media references to your audience. If you want me to read your story, skip the TOWIE references. If you want gurls to buy the book, Tom Baker Dr Who quotes are out.

*For comparison, my style behind the wheel is more “Driving Miss Daisy” with Miss Daisy shouting at me to get a move on or the bingo will be over by the time we get there.


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Candice: Yes that says gold, not Goal for those of you in to football.  Think in more of a Spandau Ballet stylie (speaking of which, have been dragged to see them twice and actually had quite a good time but always full of people older than me trying to relive their youth. lots of air punching and arms round shoulders)

Anyway, I posted last week I was on the look out for a gold box postbox.  Well as you can see I found on in Alcester, just down the road.  It’s the box of Nick Skelton, Olympic horsey type person.  Apparently there has been abit of a ho ha about this box, as it’s near Skelton’s house but the town he was born in, Bedworth, Cov, kicked up such a fuss they have one too.

We pulled up on a damp afternoon in the town, nipped out, did the honours and then turned round to find four other groups queuing to do the same.  Hum, I know we are trend setters, but….

According to my friend, this one looks like a gold Dalek.

I then went home and painted my nails in a gold stylie with added crackle effect. So I was really feeling the GOLD rush post Olympics.

Let’s be serious, I wasnt really, I was doing what everyone does.  Procrastinating.   We all do it, and some of us could win an Olympic gold at it.  I have to say I’m not great at getting down to things if I have too much time on my hands.  One small job can fill a day.  But, if I’m busy, I get 10 things done.

There are some great stories in this article on the BBC website, entitled “Epic tales of time wasting“.  Discovered whilst trying to be busy at work (actually not by me I must add).

Ask any writer what they did today, and if they were faced with a lie detector test most would say, “Procrastinated, mainly”.  So here’s to us all finding time to fill the day, and now I’m off to weigh the cat….

PS:  My husband has actually done this while working from home. and emailed me to tell me.

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