Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryPhil: At the Stratford Literary Festival “How to get published….or How we did it” event, each of the authors took turns to describe their latest novel to the assembled crowd. When it came to Rachel Joyce, she announced the name of her book, but it was so long that only the avid literary groupies desperately scribbling notes at the back could remember it.

The story concerned a man who suddenly decided to walk to see a friend at the other end of the country. Candice wasn’t sure she liked the sound of this but then she did exciting things like flying off to Mexico. Phil felt much more at home with the idea. Indeed, he wondered at the time what it took for someone to do something so completely out of character. He thought that perhaps it would be fun to do something completely different without thinking about it. On a whim. He thought he might enjoy reading about Harold Fry.

A few months later, he had forgotten all about the book but was reminded when he spotted a copy in the local Oxfam bookshop. According to the front cover, the story had the Sunday Express laughing and sobbing. That didn’t sound like much of a recommendation as the Sunday Express is a dreadful paper more interesting in pronouncing the end of the world or trying to shoehorn mentions of the late Princess Diana into every story. Despite this, the book was soon on its way home in his rucksack.

Reading had to wait for a trip to London that provided several hours train travel, Sat in the cosy confines of a Chiltern Railway seat, he began to turn the pages.

The story follows Harold Fry and his walk to see a dying friend. He convinces himself that she can’t expire until he has reached her and the best way to extend her life is to make the journey take as long as possible. In other words, he will walk from Kingsbridge in Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed. Phil liked the sound of this as the idea that you would believe that someone would live a bit longer if you undertook some irrelevant task sounded just like the sort of crazy notion he could fixate on. He liked the idea that Harold was completely unprepared. His journey crept up on him a post box at a time. He couldn’t go back home and buy proper boots to replace his yachting shoes or plan the best route because when you step outside your normal life you can’t drop back in for a few minutes. Return home and the door closes, never to re-open.

As Harold makes his way, painfully slowly, he meets lots of different characters. We also gradually learn the story of his life. His marriage. His son. His relationship with Queenie, the friend who he is walking towards. At one point, he passes close to where Phil lives and it amused him to think that the local paper was capable to playing a pivotal role by doing some reporting.

If there was anything that jarred, it was the speed of the journey. Harold might be old and not in the best of health but he seemed to be walking at around 1/2 a mile an hour on good days. Often, the rate of progress was considerably less than this. Phil couldn’t see the reason for this, but decided that with 4 children, the author spends so much time ferrying them around in a people mover that she hadn’t walked anywhere in years and considered 6 miles in a day to be quite a hike.

Apart from this, the book is a pleasant journey. There are twists and you probably won’t guess them in advance – there are some very deliberate red herrings placed – and the way all the characters related to each other made sense. They fitted. All the revelations made sense for the people they involved. As Phil closed the covers after reading the final chapter, it all fitted together like a well made jigsaw. Very satisfying he concluded.

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A rant on house buying

Candice: I’m going to go slightly off piste with today’s post, only because this subject has been occupying me for the last three months and it all came to a rather abrupt end last week.

August – put house on market, October – accept offer on house, November – have offer accepted on another house,December – apply for mortgage.  This is when things started to go somewhat awry.

I’m self employed, and in the current world of risk averse banking, that means I am a risk that some mortgage providers don’t want to take.  Fine, so I’ll find someone who will.

December 19 – apply for another mortgage via IFA.

Enjoy Christmas break….

January – spend whole month going back and forth with mortgage company and accountant. “Can we have your books in triplicate, signed by the Queen, and from 1787 onwards.”  Eventually supply everything after many phonecalls and lots of swearing.

Mid January – “You must complete by Jan 31st else we wont buy your house.”  OK, ultimatum from buyers as looks like we are dragging our feet.  However, house we want to buy is going through Probate and they have been late applying.  “You must sort Probate before Jan 31st, else we want compensation.”

January 21st, “Bugger off we’ll sort Probate out when we feel like it.”  Mad dash of trying to find a rental property so we don’t lose our sale.  “Sorry, we don’t take cats.”

Finally, we gave up after many tears and heart break, and me feeling like the world was falling apart as we tried to keep it all together to maintain the chain.

Is it me or if the English house buying process a bit f*cked up.  Where else can you spend thousands on searches and surveys and then it fall apart at the last hurdle?

I’m sure I’ll find a story in here somewhere but at the moment it is all too raw.

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Engineers are engineers. Writers are writers.

Pen and V-BlockPhil: One of the jobs I have involves book reviewing. You might think consider this a lovely way to make a living – settling down with a fresh publication in front of a roaring fire, spending a few hours reading it and then knocking up a pithy review for an adoring editor.

Well, that might be how it works for the broadsheet and literary press, but if the books in front of you feature lots of pictures of steam engines, your pithy review better fit in the sidebar of a magazine and it will only earn you enough for a working weeks worth of McDonalds Happy Meals, it’s not quite utopia.

Ignoring this, there is a bigger problem. Some of these books aren’t exactly great reads. I know as an author that each one represents a lot of work on someones behalf. Many hours of toil over a hot keyboard have been expended but that doesn’t mean they are any good and I feel a touch of guilt for pointing this out.

Good, in this context, means readable. For many of those who will be buying the book, getting the facts right and printing the pictures of trains properly is paramount. I am looking for more though, there should be evidence that someone has made a bit of effort to make the text read well. Occasionally they haven’t, and boy, it shows.

Years ago, I enjoyed the title “Corporate Webmaster” for a local authority site. This involved me spending time with “information owners” trying to translate what they were saying into words that the people who paid Council Tax would comprehend. To this end, I developed a maxim:

Don’t let engineers write web pages.

It’s not that I have a problem with engineers. Quite the opposite, people who know me realise I have an incredibly high regard for anyone who can properly call themselves an engineer (and Kevin from Coronation Street is NOT and  engineer, he is a mechanic, or at least was the last time I looked about 20 years ago). It’s just that having sat through several meetings about the contentious rebuilding of one of our town centres with people who thought that the public could be stopped from writing to the local paper by filling the Internet with information on pavement loadings and other technical terms, I appreciated their skill considerably more than they appreciated mine. It got so bad that the lady from the press office stopped turning up as she was fighting a losing battle with people who cared passionately about a subject but used language that might as well have been Chinese to her.

Subsequent discussions on a relief road did nothing to alter my maxim and when I used it in a conference presentation on web usability, the audience all chuckled in a way that said “Been there. Got the T-shirt.”

To be fair, it’s not just engineers. I was once told (bellowed) by someone that they didn’t need me to tell them how to communicate via the web as they had been a Social Worker for 35 years. Presumably that’s they were part of the team who had spent half a million pounds on a project used by less than 10 people in a year, which is why I had grudgingly been asked to the meeting…

Anyway, the bad books. It’s not that they are bad, just the facts are thrown at you as though they are hurled from a shovel. Splat, splat, splat. Each one hits you in the face like a clod of earth. Sentences fit together like parts from different jigsaws, tangents are taken and frequently the original topic is lost in a rambling haze (I know I’m setting myself up for a fall saying this, but you haven’t paid to read £14.95 to read this). At the editing stage, someone would have sat the author down and said, “Stick to the point”, crossed out the rambling and made then do it again.

Better still, they should have brought in a writer to tell the story. Writing is a skill that everyone thinks they have because they can put words in some sort of order. Sadly, this means that very few see any need to pay for it. How you can think this when you are about to publish several thousand copies of a book I don’t know. Maybe the projected sales aren’t enough to warrant the expense, in which case, would the paper be better left as trees?

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Well we’ve got part of this whole publishing thing right…

Candice: I spotted an interesting article about social media and ereaders on the BBC website   the other day.  Funnily enough Phil sent it to me too, if the husband knew we were this much on the same wave length I think he’d be worried!

Anyway, it is supposed be about the prevalence of ereaders, but actually its how the world of books is not coming to an end just because people aren’t buying ‘paper’ books.  Of the authors mentioned at least half of their books have been sold online. It also talks about how social media is getting the word out there, as well as on-line reviews helping to sell.

It also mentions how this is helping new authors, who don’t have to just rely on that small budget campaign when everything is put into publicising the new Dan Brown.

Another interesting point is how men are using ereaders to hide what they are reading.  No more hiding that dodgy chic lit book cover on the train, just load it on to your Kindle and you are off (Phil take note when doing your research)

So, we use social media – tick, we do our own marketing (you are reading it) and we have written a chick lit style book that will appeal to men as well as women that could just be downloaded.

Ah, one thing missing, the whole agent and book contract thingy. 😦

We will take heart in the first author in this article, as we met him last year as Stratford Literary festival., has done rather well.  SJ Watson did spend a lot of time talking about his job in the NHS but it sounds like his book has gone down rather well (Film deal and everything).  Well done to the Literary Festival, look forward to seeing who you have coming this year.

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Father Brown and the curious case of the television adaption

Father BrownPhil: The BBC has decided to fill part of the void left by shunting children’s programmes over to their own channel with some drama. Based on characters from G. K. Chesterton‘s books about a crime solving Catholic Priest, Father Brown, the first 10 are running in a post-lunchtime slot this week and next. Attractively shot in the Cotswolds, with a cast of people you probably half-recognise from other things on the telly, an extra in the background you will recognise from this blog, they ought to do very well. So well in fact that I wonder why they aren’t on in primetime viewing.

Being the sort of person who can find time during the day to do some work while half-watching the telly and a sucker for a well-filmed whodunnit, I tuned in for the first few episodes. I don’t know the stories except from a series of radio plays vaguely recalled from many years ago. The opening episode was entitled “The Hammer of God” and it gave me an idea. Digging through my library, I found a book of collected stories, one of which was the very same I’d just watched. The book has been in the “to read” pile for longer than I care to remember but now I had a reason to take a look.

How did they compare?

Well, I enjoyed the TV version. And I quite enjoyed the book version. They just weren’t the same.

OK, the title is the same. Some of the characters are the same. The era is the same. The murder is the same. Everything else is different.

The clue is in the caption “Based on GK Chesterton’s characters”. Now I know that books are adapted for television. A couple of years ago, I watched a talk by prolific adaptor Andrew Davies, where he explained the process. I can’t help feeling that what the BBC have done this time is more akin to fan fiction. The adaptor has taken the characters from the books and written a TV story to fit our modern expectations. This isn’t bad – personally, I think it’s been done very well, but one wonders whether they couldn’t have just invented the who thing from scratch.

Of course, this wouldn’t have provided a handy hook for viewers. People don’t like new things, especially the sort of people watching at this time of day. Tell them it’s all based on a book, even one they have never read, and it’s a much easier sell. This has been done before. Readers of James Bond books bemoan the films lack of similarity. Indeed, when I become Director General of the BBC, just after I’ve introduced a Dalek family to Eastenders, I think some discussions will be had to film faithful versions of each Ian Flemings story. There might even be a good case for this. Father Brown seems to solve cases around 2/3rds of the way through the story which isn’t how we do things on telly today.

Of course, the best thing is that people can buy and enjoy the books and watch the stories on TV and double their enjoyment. With 51 stories to work through, there should be plenty of books sold.

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Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect

Candice: Some times one needs something to cheer one up after a particularly sh*tty day.  Well on Thursday I went to the cinema with my Sis after exactly that kind of day.  She had suggested we saw a film called ‘Pitch Perfect‘, something, when we had seen the trailers, looked like Glee on acid.

The premise of the film is two competing a capella groups within a university.  The year before they had both got to the finals but in the performance the girl’s group had messed up (I wont tell you how in case you go and see it) and got laughed off the stage.  The Boys’ won.

So its freshers week and the girls are trying to recruit new members, to no avail because of their bad rep.  Well of course they get a mish mash of people including our protagonist, a reluctant student who wants to be a DJ and doesn’t really want to get involved in anything.  The boy who catches her eye on arrival joins the boy’s singing group. (really!)

Well after alot of infighting but the group still progressing through the ranks of the competition they come to the final.  By then our female lead has fallen out with the group, her DJing skills are being noticed and she’s fallen for and then broken up with her male counterpart (she’s not allowed to date him due to them being competing groups).

Stuck in the middle of this is the comedy value, otherwise known as Fat Amy.  She calls herself that because “you skinny bitches would call me it behind my back anyway.”  The actress is Rebel Wilson, an Australian stand up Comedienne, and she really added something extra to the film. There are alot of impromptu funny moments, some of which I think Rebel improvised as everyone around her seems somewhat incredulous as to what she is doing!

The Americans have some funny traditions, extreme singing competitions being one, which us Europeans all think are rather strange.  This film wouldnt work if it was just Glee moved to college,  they took the premise and the associated “cheese” and made it much funnier but making the whole film tongue in cheek.

My Sister and I loved it, as did the other two ladies in the cinema (yes there were just four of us). There was lots of genuine laugh out loud moments, something that really made my night.

So I’m not going to tell you what happens in the end but if you are having a shi*ty day too, go and see it now!

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The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

The Girl Who Loved Tom GordonPhil: A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d read Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King and not exactly been impressed. A couple of commentators pointed me in the direction of a longer novel, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, suggesting that it would be a better read.

My local Oxfam bookshop had a copy on the shelf so I picked it for a very reasonable £3.49. Nice clean hardback with no annoying scribble.

At 213 page, it’s not a long book. The story is handily divided into chapters too, which makes reading in several sessions easy. I hate taking a break part way through a passage but some writers don’t give you a point to pause at. Never mind how good the text is, sometimes a tea break is required! As it was, I read this in two sessions.

The story concerns a young girl (Trisha McFarland) who gets lost in the woods. Tom Gordon is a baseball player who appears in the book, but not really. I can’t say much more without runing the story.

I’ll admit to being impressed. For the overwhelming majority of the book there is only one character. In some hands, this would be a problem as the narrative would become leaden. Here, the story makes progress and you really want to make it to the end. In this respect, the length of the novel is an advantage. I doubt the tension could have been sustained any longer without introducing silly events. As it is, the build is entirely psychological and most importantly, very realistic. There’s been some painstaking research gone into the woodland setting. Some serious map-based planning too. If you were minded, I expect that you too could follow this book in real life.

Enjoyable? Yes, it was. I managed to avoid reading the end but it was tempting. I’m glad I didn’t as that would have spoilt things. As it was, the dénouement worked perfectly and tied everything up perfectly satisfactory.

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