Monthly Archives: December 2012

Twitter could kill TV storylines

Dr WhoPhil: I’m not really a Twitterer. I might have a user name (Practical_Phil since you ask) and 38 followers (14 less than someone else) but despite quite a bit of research, I still don’t get it.

Apparently, Twitter is all about conversations and the way you take part in these is to use the appropriate hash tag. I’ve been meaning to give this a go so on Christmas day, I watched the Dr Who special and tuned in to #drwho on my ‘phone.

What I found there was lots of moaning. 10 minutes in and people are pronouncing the episode a terrible failure. As we progress, they are commenting that of course the potential new assistant looks like a character seen in a previous episode because it’s the same actress. And so it went on.

Now the show only lasted an hour. That’s 60 minutes. You could watch the whole thing and even if you didn’t like it, you hadn’t really wasted much of your life. Not for the Twitteratti though, judgements had to be made instantly because their opinions were vital to the sum of human knowledge.

This is all fine. People love a moan and if it keeps them entertained, who cares. Except that despite being aimed at a slightly drunk audience with bellies full of the devils own Brussel Sprouts, the plot was a little bit more complicated than it appeared. Yes, there was the main story about killer snowmen to entertain Granny, but alongside this was a darker plot with an emotionally damaged Doctor finding the will to carry on after the “death” of his last companions.

It brought to my mind the book version of James Bond in “You only live twice”. This opens with Bond recovering from the murder of his wife and we first find him a depressed man in mourning, not unlike the Doctor at the start of his story. Like Bond, by the end of the show, he is back on form and we have a new mystery in the form of Oswin who we are told will become the new companion despite dying twice in two very different eras.

All good you might think. We like slightly convoluted plot lines, mysteries and twists in the end. Except that those hammering Twitter don’t. They want nice, sequential, simple stories that they can comment on and understand at every single point. Mystery, no thanks. They want everything served up on a plate. We can’t waste time building the plot – give it to us now ! They yearn to see behind the curtain and if the Wizard wishes to keep his secrets, the result will be a tantrum.

This might not matter except that the people who commission this sort of stuff read Twitter. They will remember the opinions of people who couldn’t wait until the end to make comment. Commissioners will demand ever simpler plots full of linear narrative. It will be a gradual process but slowly, the complexity of TV drama will fade.

Still, we’ll still have books won’t we? Surely no-one tweets as they read?

 

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Stop the Cavalry

A festive tale by nolanparker

Hey, Mr. Churchill comes over here
To say we’re doing splendidly

Alice turned over in bed. She couldn’t get the stupid song out of her head. Bloody Christmas tunes. Bloody Jonah Lewie.

If I get home, live to tell the tale
I’ll run for all presidencies
If I get elected I’ll stop, I will stop the Cavalry

Except you didn’t get elected did you Mr Lewie?, she thought. You didn’t get elected, you didn’t stop the cavalry and because of that, I’m lying on an uncomfortable mattress about to hear a rousing call to get up at 0600 hours.

The lights came on. Around the grey room there were the sounds from the girls she shared the dormitory rubbing their eyes. No one slept much but that didn’t make getting up any easier. For a moment, Alice stared at the bottom of the bunk above hers.

Mary Bradley waits at home
In the nuclear fall-out zone
Wish I could be dancing now
In the arms of the girl I love

He nearly got that bit right. This is my home and since the first attacks a couple of days ago, it’s under the nuclear fall-out zone. Sixty feet underground, encased in concrete.

For a moment her mind drifted back to the scene a week ago; fairy lights in the windows, a tree, last-minute present buying, Patrick.

Get up private Riley! This isn’t a bloody holiday camp!”

Sergeant Cross stood in the middle of the room. Everyone else was hurriedly pulling on clothes and stumbling towards the canteen. As she touched the floor her stomach lurched. Last nights rations splattered the sergeants feet. She looked up sheepishly.

What the hell?”, for a moment the officer was speechless, “What’s wrong with you Riley?”

Alice pulled herself upright. She had no answer.

Are you taking your PI tablets? They are supposed to stop this kind of thing.”

She nodded weakly. At the same time thinking of the unopened packet of pills buried deep in her bag.

Well get it cleaned up. Then get yourself on duty.” and with this, the sergeant turned on her heels and stomped out of the room.

Alice looked down at the pool of sick. For a moment she thought it was about to get a second helping.

A hand appeared on her shoulder. Rose from two bunks along looked at her with sympathy. Alice took a deep breath and tried to smile.

Don’t worry. I’ll sort it. Get yourself ready. Let’s face it, we’re none of us exactly ourselves at the moment.”

Thanks Rose. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

Think of it as a Christmas present.”

Christmas. Alice looked at her watch. December 25th. Not that it was going to be exactly festive. That song was still going around her head.

Dub a dum dum dub a dub
Dub a dub a dum
Wish I was at home for Christmas

Suddenly, her mind filled with Patrick in the stupid festive sweater she had bought for him last year. He had opened the present, laughed and put it straight on. She could almost see the reindeer on the front as he danced around the room making her laugh.

Where was he?

She choked back the fear.

It was no good, they had all been ordered to the shelter. The call had come while he was at work. All she had been able to do was leave a message on the answerphone saying she’d be back in time to sit down with turkey and all the trimmings.

She tried to shut the thoughts out of her head. Everyone was in the same boat. No-one had thought that anyone would be stupid enough to use the bomb. Now as she reported for duty in the operations room there was a map showing the scale of the devastation. As she sat at her desk it was like the whole thing was some sort of game. She had wondered, hoped even, if it was just another exercise – the army liked pulling stunts like this – but everyone knew this was the real thing.

Around the room people were doing their jobs. Everyone operated with calm efficiency. Numbers were crunched. Reports typed. Details filed. It wasn’t that they didn’t care, it was easier to be on autopilot. The army had drilled them and now they fell back on the training. If you thought about what you were doing, what those numbers meant, what was in those reports, you would fall apart. Better then, not to think.

Most of the time it worked. They had only been in the bunker for three days. It had been two days since the sound had reverberated around the concrete walls. Terrible dull roars. They knew what the noise meant, but no-one dared talk about it.

There wasn’t time to talk anyway. Suddenly the wires were full of chatter. Teletype machines burst into life. For a moment it was like going back two decades – even the army hadn’t bothered updating the equipment. They hadn’t expected to need it. It was 1989 after all. The Cold War had reached stalemate. There was no serious expectation of anything flaring up.

Alice vaguely remembered watching the news. She didn’t really bother following events. There had been something In Hungary about people escaping to the West but it seemed to mostly be men in bad jumpers waving McDonalds burgers at cameras. People had been protesting at the Berlin Wall and someone in the East Berlin Government had ordered the army to stop them. Then the Americans protested. It was all a bit hazy after this. She didn’t know who had started shooting. It didn’t matter. The results were on the map.

Carefully pinned on the wall and covered in a shiny wipe-clean coating, the map showed their sector. During the exercises everyone had taken delight in trying to spot where they lived. Some messed around scrawling mushroom clouds on the football grounds of opposing teams. Sergeant Cross had given them a bollocking for that!

Alice hadn’t paid too much attention in the past. Now she stared at the where she thought her house was. Their house. Patrick and hers. The one with the little garden. The garden with bulbs they had planted a few months ago.

Bang goes another bomb on another town
While the Czar and Jim have tea.
If I get home…

The area had been coloured in red.

She stared at the map willing the ink to fade away. Suddenly her eyes began to prickle with tears. She swallowed them. No-one else was crying.

A deep breath. She was a soldier. Trained to deal with this sort of thing. Getting emotional wasn’t going to help anyone.

Another deep breath. Then the world went black.

Coming too, Alice found herself sat in a corridor. Beside her was Sergeant Cross.

That’s the second time I’ve had to wake you up today Riley.”

I’m sorry. What happened.”

You fainted.”

I’m sorry. Where am I?”

Alice looked around. Although the bunker wasn’t massive, she hadn’t explored it, you weren’t encouraged to walk around much.

You’re in the medical section. I want you back on duty so you’re going to see the MO. He’s going to fix you up and get you back into battle.”

Oh. I’m sorry.”

Stop apologising for feeling ill. We expected people to have problems. Provisions were made for it. What we hadn’t expected was you to be so unhappy with your food. Don’t you like it or something? The MOD even put in a new canteen recently.”

Sorry. Oh, sorry. What do you mean?”

Look Riley, if you don’t like your lunch then keep it away from my shoes. It’s the second time for that today too.”

Oh.”

The Sergeant tried what she hoped was a smile. Alice stopped shivering and smiled a little in response.

It’s just that. Well, I looked at the map.”

You’ve got someone out there.”

Yes.”

We all have. The best thing is not to think about it. There’s nothing any of use can do.”

Have you…”

Yes.”

Oh. I’m sorry.”

Thanks. Now, I think the Doc is ready for you.”

Walking in to the Doctors office, she saw the tired face of a man who couldn’t remember the last time he had slept. His dead eyes would once have been kind. Days of handing out bad news and dealing with patients on the brink of breakdowns had nearly broken his spirit. He was about the same age as her.

Private Riley”. He looked at her notes and sighed. “What seems to be the problem?”

She paused and tried to think what to say.

I’ve been told to report to you. I fainted. I’m having a bit of nausea too.”

Humph. Well, we’re all feeling a bit upset. Hardly surprising really.”

I think Sergeant Cross was just upset I puked on her shoes”

Just the hint of a smile appeared on his face for a moment.

So the problem isn’t sickness, just your aim?”

She smiled. For a moment they looked at each other.

Well. I suppose I have to ask. Have you been a good little soldier and taken the potassium iodide tablets like we are all supposed to? They should stop you ruining the good sergeants efforts with the shoe polish.”

She bit her lip and thought.

Well?”

No I haven’t.”

Why not?”, he turned and picked a pack of pills from a pile, “Take these and you’ll soon be fine. Well, as fine as we can be down here.”

Alice shook her head weakly. “I don’t want to.”

Why not?”

She touched her stomach. For a moment he paused, looking at her fingers.

How long.”

About 6 weeks. It’s going to be a summer baby.”

Oh.”

Please don’t tell anyone. It’s all I have. Of…”, her voice tailed off. Patrick’s face filled her thoughts. The moment she had told him.

The doctor smiled. Colour returned to his face. The dead eyes sparkled.

Well, I think in a little while, everyone is going to work it out for themselves. But I won’t say anything.

Thank you.”

It’s the least I can do. How does the song go? You know, the one they play as soon as the tinsel gets unwrapped.”

Dunno. I’ve had that Jonah Lewie thing going in my head around since I woke up.”

Wrong one. You need some Slade.”

She thought for a moment. “You mean…”

Look to the future now
It’s only just begun

He put his hand gently on top of hers.

Yes. It’s Christmas!”

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Full Dark, No Stars

fulldarknostarsPhil: The last couple of short stories that have flown at me from the Nolan direction have been a long way from the expected chick-lit. They are tales of horror. I queried this and discovered that while most young girls were reading “Jackie”, my friend was immersed in James Herbert and Stephen King novels.

Until recently, I had never read either Herbert, King or Jackie but if this was the direction we are exploring with our writing then I felt it was time to make up for the omission. Doing a little work on another project in my local library, the opportunity was taken to brose the shelves for a suitable first book. Spotting that this once contains four short stories, I reckoned it would be a safe bet. This way, if I didn’t like anything, there wasn’t an entire book to work through to find out what happened.

According to the dust jacket blurb, all four stories are on the theme of retribution. Two of them (Big Driver and A Good Marriage) cover a victims revenge or that of a wife who discovers her husband is a murder. King claims to be trying to put the reader inside the mind of someone and examine what they might do in the same situation.

Fair Extension involves a man given the opportunity of recovering from cancer as long as someone else takes on his misfortune. It’s interesting as the expected finale where the protagonist doesn’t get his comeuppance.

The only story I’d really consider “horror” is 1922 in which a husband who has killed his wife, recounts his life as a form of confession. The whole thing is properly gory, spooky and unsettling. It’s also got a cracking twist right at the end.

To be honest, I’m still not sure. Maybe I need to try another book, but apart from 1922, I’m pretty certain that we could have produced stores as well-written and interesting. Give us a bit of time and even 1922 could be matched. This is a pretty recent book, first published in 2010, and so the author has sufficient success behind him that the publisher knows they can put out anything with his name on the front and it will sell – you can tell this from the cover design. I think I need to go and find an earlier book, and have another go. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the book, far from it, I rattled through each story pretty much in a single sitting, but I didn’t feel the horror.

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Bah! Humbug!

Candice: I really like Christmas but the reason for my tardy post today is the lack of Christmas feeling in my current environment.  Did I only come back from holiday three weeks ago?

My work place feels like it has taken everything up about three gears from the usual pace because, come Friday, every one disappears until the 7th January!  My diary is back to back, my phone doesn’t stop ringing and I feel constantly frazzled.

I’d really like some down time, after not feeling inspired to write in a while, I managed to find a short story in my brain which has now gone into the Nolan Parker writing pot.  Phil has written a cracking Christmas story, to be revealed next week, but I need to do some editing before it goes up…. um when?

It might be Christmas party on Thursday, and the decorations might be up in the office but I am not feeling the vibe anywhere else.  Some one said to me today, “I haven’t got Christmas lag yet, it’s great.” Well in my world that’s poor.  I really like Christmas in the office normally; lots of cheap, ugly decorations from Poundland, crap reindeer ears and lots of bad food everyday.

Well, where I am now seems to have forgotten its Christmas.  We have decorations but are lacking in the spirit.  I don’t know if it will change at the party, I suggested going for a dance after our drinks reception and got a very poor response.

So I say, Bah Humbug to the lot of you.  I’m going to enjoy myself, find my flashing Christmas badge, dust off the santa hat, and throw some shapes to Mariah Carey and Shakin’ Stevens.  Come on, if you can’t let you hair at Christmas when can you?

I will not be photocopying my bum though… well, depends how many wines I have…..!

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Ideas for SALE.

BOGOFPhil: Picking up on the news that Wilbur Smith has signed a £15m deal to co-author 6 books, I have a counter offer for his publishers HarperCollins.

For £12m, you can hire the NolanParker writing team. That’s saved you 3 million quid straight away. I would suggest that any executive who grabs this offer ought to see half of this in his or her Christmas bonus, and you can have that in writing.

For your money you get not one but two authors – twice as good value. To put it in supermarket terms, we are a BOGOF and everyone loves a BOGOF.

Two authors equals a whole lot more great fiction too. As well as The Book, you can have the 6 planned sequels (a total of 7, or one more than Smithy is offering) plus any short stories we come up with as well over an agreed period. Since there are four being bashed around at the moment, you can see what an amazing deal this is.

For the money, we will sit in a nice office coming up with ideas. We’ll happily write chunks of them ourselves or personally instruct ghost authors who will do the actual writing. Don’t think we’ll go all prima donna on you either. If there is media work to do, we’ll not shirk at turning up at the interviews, as long as they are after 10:30 in the morning. When the inevitable film deals kick in, at least one of us would be willing to take on the onerous job of appearing on-screen too.  We’re even happy to make our own coffee and fetch our lunches. Never let it be said that team NolanParker are difficult. On the contrary, we are possibly the nicest people you could ever wish to hand a large amount of money to.

Publishers – This is a genuine offer. Please get your cheque books out and form an orderly queue.

(Note: I haven’t actually run this by Candice yet but I’m pretty certain she’ll be OK with it. If not, I’ll wear a wig every other day to work and collect her share)

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Holidays, Holidays, Holidays…

 Candice:  As I mentioned in my last blog I been doing my favourite thing, swanning off on holiday.   I LOVE going away, partly because the weather in the UK is crap, but mainly because it’s a break from life/work and the general treadmill of life.  For 1 or 2 weeks, I don’t have to work out where the cash is coming from, check my bank balance, pay any bills, feed the cat, deal with emails or phone calls or even look at the web, if I don’t choose to.

I am amazed at some of our friends who don’t go on holiday, or holiday at home.  I can’t understand how they can’t survive with out a switch off.  I suppose it is because I run at 100 miles an hour when I am at home so I need the total escape from everything.

One of the books I read when I was away was Kiss Heaven Goodbye by Tasmina Perry.  I’ve read another book by her recently, which I enjoyed, so I thought this would make a good holiday read.

The premise is a group of friends who do something stupid at the age of 21 which then follows them through their lives and impacts on their life choices.  Two come from a rich family and the others from middle class or work class lifestyles. They all go off to have successful careers in business, fashion and music but have major flaws and can’t forget this incident. It reminds me of a Jackie Collins in some ways as its a bit of a ‘bonk buster’ too.

I have to say I didn’t really sympathise too much with any of the characters because they were all nasty pieces of work.  I suppose the one I liked at all was Alex, the boy from the North who became a successful musician but then drank himself out of a job.

I always struggle a bit with books written about people with amazing lifestyles as I can’t relate to what they are doing, though I suppose this is meant to be escapism, not making me jealous!

However, it does romp along at a good pace and jumps from year to year in such a way that you are dropped into the person’s life at salient points, but effectively covers 20 years.  And there is a good twist at the end, which I did work out but only just before it is explained to the characters. Actually, it’s probably very close to the kind of thing I’d be writing if I had publishing contract!

Out of curiosity, I had a look at Tasmina’s website  before writing this article, and I have decided, sod escapism, I want her life!  She is an ex-journalist who now writes books and then travels the world writing travel articles.  Can you see the resemblance?  I’m going to contact her and see if she wants an assistant….

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The 25th? Oh, it snuck up on me again…

CrimbobearPhil: Over lunch this week, I mentioned a Christmas based story I’d knocked together while my tanned friend was busy toasting herself and admiring the towels in foreign climes. It’s not been passed over for a bit of tweaking and pummeling to get it into some sort of shape before it appears in front of you.

What I’d like to do is enter it in a writing competition. Trouble is, that it really is a Christmas tale and I don’t think there is any point launching it into battle in the new year. Let’s face it, you’ve been eating sprouts and wearing a paper hat for two weeks, the last thing any judge wants to be faced with is anything that reminds them of this, no matter how elf-free the story.

Yet again, I’ve been caught out. In the magazine world, Crimbo was done and dusted months ago. Shops are focused on how quickly they can tear down the baubles and what bastard picked the CD of festive tunes currently on repeat over the sound system. From my days in food licensing, I know that the big chocolate manufacturers are rolling out Easter eggs right now.

The lesson is, if you want to write for a specific season then work has to start at least 3 months and preferably 6 before the big day. Maybe we’ll remember this next year. I’ll put it on my new calendar once Santa delivers it.

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