Monthly Archives: July 2013

The World’s End


Candice: I went to the cinema on Sunday to see the final film in the Cornetto Trilogy, The World’s End.  Written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright the three films explore a typically British approach to the world falling apart around your ears, just carry on and ignore it!

The three films are “Shaun of the Dead“, “Hot Fuzz” and “The World’s End”.  I wont go into detail on each one but the premise is always a central character trying to find their way while Zombies, a Masonic Cult or Aliens are actually trying to kill them.

To quote Wikipedia:

“Each film in the trilogy is connected to a Cornetto ice cream, featuring scenes in which one of the main characters purchases a Cornetto of the appropriate flavour. Shaun of the Dead features a red strawberry flavoured Cornetto, which signifies the film’s bloody and gory elements,Hot Fuzz includes the blue original Cornetto, to signify the police element to the film, and The World’s End features the green mint choc-chip flavour in a nod to aliens and science fiction.”

Though on another wikipedia page it says it’s because Cornettos are a good hang over cure!

Phil and are always getting comments on how do we write together.  I think this is more interesting when you look at TV or film, as it’s quite common for a pair or even group of people to write this type of media.

It seems it’s all about plotting in their world.  I suppose if you have a timeline for a film, which actually likely to be a lot shorter than a book, then you can easily work out where things are going and what is character will bring.  I’d say that’s harder with a book as we didn’t know where we were going until half way through writing it, though that will probably be different with future books as we have the experience under our belt.

I think it’s also a much more collaborative process as a whole.  You see rooms of script writers throwing ideas around for a half hour comedy as it has to be fast and punchy.  A book has time to develop, hence how Phil and I could write whole chapters on our own.

I enjoyed the film, but not as much as Hot Fuzz.  The ending left me disappointed, I think there is a point where it could have ended sooner and I would have been happier.  I won’t tell you when as it will give the game away, just think sunsets.

As an aside, one of my claims to fame is meeting Simon and Nick at the Birmingham premiere of Hot Fuzz.  It was interesting as they are two very different characters, and this came across in the Q&A after, with Simon being very serious about his art and Nick more enjoying going along for the ride.


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Will David Cameron kill Chick-Lit?

"Pwooorr" said David. I gotta ban this!Phil: You might well have read recently that David Cameron has announced that in the next few years, if you wish to view porn on your computer, you will have to opt-in for it.

At first, you might have though, “Thanks goodness for that, someone has finally thought of the children”.

But like most loudly trumpeted government policies, there are likely to be unintended consequences. One of these could be a big hit on the sales of chick-lit books.

Let me don my nerdy IT hat and explain. There are three ways that this can work. The first is that site on a banned “black list” are blocked by your Internet Service Provider. There are several international lists and most ISPs already block sites on them.

Next, the system can use what is called a “flesh filter” to try and work out what the images on the page are. These exist and can prove entertaining for your local IT department as photos of people on beaches and close up pictures of faces tend to have too many skin tones so find themselves blocked. This results in phone calls to hard-working Helpdesk staff to sort it out. Since most homes don’t have any hard-working Helpdesk staff to call and the ISP doesn’t want to provide them, you can bet this isn’t going to play a big part in the filtering. If it does, then I predict the death of Facebook.

No, the main method of stopping you getting to filth will be good, old-fashioned text filtering. You might not realise it but every search you carry out and every site you visit, is recorded somewhere. When I worked in IT, we used to check server logs for certain banned words. Anyone who typed them into a search would be found out. If those words were in the title of a website, the culprits would be investigated. Even with a few hundred staff we didn’t look very hard unless you were under suspicion. If you were stupid enough to print the page out on a network printer that was situated behind the Helpdesk, well it didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to lead to you being in big trouble with your boss.

I bet in our book, Kelvin from IT keeps a very close watch on the stuff Tracey does on-line. Poor lad, it’s mostly going to be shopping with a few work sites thrown in for when her boss Kate walks past, but I bet there are few juicy finds that will make him go goggle eyed when he has to check them out. I know how I reacted when I once had to visit (for official business) that sort of site at work…

Anyway, this is going to happen on a much larger scale. The ISP will be reading everything you download and comparing it against official government rudeness lists. I would love to be in the meeting that decides on these…

“So what”, you say, “I’m not looking at filth, so it won’t affect me.”

Hmmm. Do you read chick-lit? From my limited investigation, there’s some pretty graphic sex in much of it and Candice says I’m too innocent to read 50 Shades of Rumply-Pumpy. I’m only allowed the relatively tame stuff.

And do you own an e-reader? Do you plan to buy one?

Good-oh. So you intend to download your book with all the mucky bits intact through the official filters?

No chance. There’s a lot of words I recognise in there that would set off alarm bells in an IT department.

So, how will it all work? Will chick-lit readers revert to paper so they can get the proper mucky stuff? Will we see a new genre of wholesome chick-lit suitable for the government censors? Will it be Lady Chatterley’s Lover all over again with copies passed around illicitly between consenting adults?

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What’s in a name? (from another angle)

Candice: So waity Katie didn’t have to wait too long to pop out the royal heir. She’s in hospital at 7am and out it pops at 4pm.  Not bad really. I’m sure there were lots of massages, generally pampering and all the stuff you don’t get in an NHS hospital.

But now we know what sex it is, it’s now all about what it is going to be called.  Names are very important. Its something the child has to carry with them for the rest of their life so Chanel, Chardonnay, Prince and full stop are out (if you don’t believe me they do actually ban names in New Zealand and someone tried to call their child full stop !) Lets face it, Prince Prince would be a bit silly, almost as bad as Neville Neville.   The current bets are on George for a boy, which is actually what a friend of mine has just called her child.  It’s all about the old-fashioned names these days.

When it comes to creating names for characters it can be just as hard.  For our main characters, Kate was always Kate, and Dave always Dave.  Kate, I don’t know where that came from.  Dave because that was the name of the guy I went out with when I was in America.  We’ve struggled with some others, probably because when we have two writers putting together chapters independently they don’t always know what the other is doing, so we have ended up with similar names for two characters. We are still trying to come  up with an alternative for Gareth’s wife who is called Olivia, which is too close to Andrew’s PA Olive.  She needs to be posh and horsey.

But the name can often get across as much about the character as the story.  Kate -strong, sensible, to the point.  Tracey – slightly tarty, abit wayward, could be rough.  Kelvin – geeky.  My favourite is the journalist in the story – Sheldon Bull.  I don’t know where Phil got that from ( a type of beer perhaps) but its a great name for some one who spouts ‘Bull’

I don’t think the Cambridge’s will go too far from tradition, look at how she became Catherine not Kate when they got married but I’d love to see a Moon Unit Windsor on the throne.


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Richard Bachman writes

KingbookPhil: All the recent fuss over the outing of JK Rowling included a quote from a Waterstones spokesman, “This is the best act of literary deception since Stephen King was outed as Richard Bachman back in the 1980s.”

Which interested me as the day before this earthquake in the world of books, I’d just finished the final story in The Bachman Books, the collected series of stories penned by King under the name “Richard Bachman”. You might remember that when I first tried reading King, I wasn’t hugely impressed but several people pointed me at other examples, including Ms Nolan who spent her teenage years reading him. Her suggestion was to seek out the Bachman novels so when I tripped over a second-hand copy, I snapped it up and dived in.

Like Rowling, King wrote the books under a pen name as a test. Could his books sell just on the strength of the writing, or was he really able to put anything on paper and sell to an adoring fan base. The parallels are interesting – both authors sold but not brilliantly and both were outed by diligent research by readers.

Anyway, there are 4 books, are then any good?

The common theme is that of a journey, either a personal one or physical.

Rage – Nutty school kid takes his class hostage.

This one made me do something I never do, read the first few chapters and then turn straight to the end to find out what happened to decide if I was going to read the rest. I didn’t. Maybe I’m too old for teenage angst or maybe I’m just not sensitive enough but I didn’t care.

The Long Walk – In the future a sporting event is help where competitors have to walk continuously until only one survives. Those who don’t keep up the pace, stop or try to escape “get their ticket”, in other words are shot by the accompanying soldier.

The first one I picked. It’s good but I wanted so much more. While we live the event through the eyes of one character, I didn’t find enough background information in there. What sort of world is it that enjoys this sort of spectacle? How did it start? How desperate does your life have to be to apply to take part in a competition with a 100:1 chance of winning and a 99:1 change of ending up dead?

I didn’t want less story, I wanted a couple more chapters worth of background woven in to the narrative. The world of the Walk didn’t appear that much different to ours but yet something had obviously happened to make the concept palatable.

Roadwork – Man obsesses about a road that will destroy his house.

A personal journey story where you either identify with the main character or you don’t. I did. Not perhaps the way he went about things but you were gently introduced to his pain. The backs-try built up with his wife and children. The tipping-points in his life were there and the conclusion logical if fairly well-signposted. It didn’t matter, I was keen to know how we got there.

The Running Man – Not much like the Schwarzenegger film. Man enters competition where all he has to do is survive for 30 days anywhere in the world with hunters sent out to catch him.

The best of the book. You understand the characters motivations, the world is realistic and the end satisfying. The scary thing is that everything that happens can be extrapolated from where we are now. The pollution. The hopelessness of great swathes of the public. The separation of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. The people who despite being stuck in the underclass, manage to live and survive on their wits. I couldn’t help thinking tha this is more prophetic than I’m comfortable with.

If there is one anomaly, it’s that the contestant has to record a video diary type tape twice a day and post it back to the studio. Back in 1982 when the book was written, this probably seemed logical but now it’s a great example of how technology changes can mess up your predictions.

Oddly, I also like the film despite it being a different beast. I think the novel still has an excellent film in it although perhaps the final scenes (spoiler time) of the contestant crashing a plane into the skyscraper that houses the TV company in charge of the games still won’t play well in the US.

Overall, an interesting read. I’m still not convinced by horror novels but I’m going to dip my toe in again in the future. What I do get is how the youthful Nolan lapped these up in the same way that kids nowadays drink in vampire novels. All the books speak of angst and personal change which are a perfect match for teenagers struggling to work themselves out or adults who miss that wild emotion.

I still don’t think any of these are horrific. Yes the plots and the worlds they are set in are horrible, the thoughts of the characters not nice at all, but there isn’t the splatter, gore or even the violence I was expecting.

It’s all in the mind. Maybe that’s the scariest place.

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What’s in a name?

Candice:  So it seems JK Rowling wasn’t just happy to publish a book that was different to Harry Potter, under her own name, just to see how that went.  She wanted to add more money to here ever growing coffers by publishing one under a pseudonym.

JK was outed by the Sunday Times, apparently a few weeks before originally planned, as the writer of a new crime fiction novel. ‘ The Cuckoo’s Calling’ was published a few months ago with no real fanfare, and sold 1500 copies before its famous author was discovered.  To quote the conversations on twitter – this is how it is in the real world, books are published all the time but without a big plug they never really come to light.  It seems shops have been struggling to keep up with demand since the announcement, as they had only bought one or two copies.

So what’s the big deal about keeping the name a secret?  I suppose part of it is the back lash that happened after A Casual Vacancy came out.  Not my favourite book by any means, I think that was the general feeling of book critics too.  However was that influenced by the name of the author or the quality of the story, its hard to tell when you are so famous.  British critics are famously good at bringing people up and then, when they peak, knocking them back down again.  So, when you have got to where JK has, how to do you get genuine feedback on what you have written?

I suppose it is like being a celeb.  Famous people, like Michael Jackson for example, surround themselves with ‘YES’ people, and therefore they can do no wrong.  But, these people don’t tell them that the plastic surgery looks crap, they are spending too much money, or that the new record sounds just like the last one.  The more famous you get, the harder it is to get true feedback.  So, this is a chance to step back into the guise of an unknown, of course with pots of cash and an agent on tap, to test out what it feels like.

So, when I get rich and famous from the KOD series, who’s going to keep me in check?  Well, its Phil of course, and if not my Sister, who will have no problem telling me to get off my high horse.

We all need some critical appraisal some times, some of us more than others especially in  a world we can broadcast our every thought to everyone  (take note all those people who have verbal diarrhea on facebook) but we are all too frightened to be critical of others.  Perhaps it would be good to hear the corridor conversation slagging you off, it might help put things in perspective.

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It’s a man’s world by Polly Courtney

It's a man's worldAlexa Harris loves a challenge. So when she’s asked to head up lads’ mag, Banter, she doesn’t need much persuasion.

But life on the all-male editorial eam proves harder than she had imagined – and not just because of her ambitious targets. As Alexa battles with a testosterone-fuelled office, she decides to play the boys at their own game.

Dealings get dirty and Alexa’s forced to look at who she has become. Has she forfeited her principles in return for praise from the lads? And what price will she have to pay?

Phil: I guess I ought to start with an admission – I’ve bought roughly two “Lads mags” ever, possibly three. All of them were FHM which I think represents the classier end of the market. I don’t get the culture and wouldn’t miss the publications if they never appeared on the shelves again. I’m not sure if this qualifies me to properly understand this book or if I’m just some sort of Guardian readings, organic porridge knitting, leftie weirdo who will relate to all the wrong characters in the story.

Alexa Harris starts the book as the sort of person who you see on the later rounds of The Apprentice talking business bollocks. She is succesful and when approached to move from the posh old ladies magazine she has turned around to a failing Lad’s Mag, she looks at the job purely in terms of a challenge. The content of the magazine and the industry surrounding it don’t enter her calculations.

As the story unfolds, the implications of everything she has chosen to ignore start to hit home. All the “correct” business decisions, such as a tablet app that allows users to upload content, turn out to have consequences, most of them unpleasant. By the end of the book, Alexa has success but starts to question whether simple saving the magazine is actually a win.

Disguised by the publishers as chick-lit, this is in reality a very entertaining way of highlighting real issues. There are some very uncomfortable truths exposed along the way. Those expecting a good dose of man-bashing will be disappointed.

Questions are asked – is it empowering for women to use their bodies to garner some measure of success, as the unpaid models on the pages of the magazine seem to think? If you are a woman in the “testosterone-fuelled” office, do you play along with the banter in an effort to survive and even thrive in the business? Do magazines covered in tits’n’ass reflect society or are they driving it?

Anyone who has worked in a blokey office will recognise some of the characters on the staff. The men who don’t see anything wrong with the lewd comment that they think is a joke for example. Also the men who don’t think like that but find themselves stuck in a world where to speak out would invite ridicule. Many of these places have died out but if there is going to be one place where misogyny reins, it’s going to be in a world that relies on it for survival.

Alexa is gifted a couple of friends who act like the good and bad angels on her shoulders. Kate is an alpha female living in a world of high-finance, long hours and do whatever it takes to succeed. Leone teaches in the inner city and sees the young readers of Banter and how this influences their attitude to women. They make a good team, able to highlight dilemmas without the tone becoming preachy.

This is a good, but not necessarily easy, read. You care about the main characters although they do things that annoy you. Seeing the “big picture” you get an idea of just how complex the world is. Despite several of them, especially a feminist protestor, seeing the world in black and white, it’s not that easy. It’s a book you put down at the end and carry on thinking. What should be a heavy trudge through “Issues” marked in big, thick type are handled well in the plot. If you want to get people thinking, perhaps this is a better way than beating them over the head?

Ignoring the messages, It’s a man’s world is a good read. Treat it like a normal airport paperback and you will enjoy it. Just accept when you finally close the cover, its contents will stay with you longer than most.

It’s a man’s world at Amazon

Note: I know the rest of the world is talking about Feral Youth at the moment. We just like to be different. A good book is a good book no matter how long ago it was written or what the author has done since.

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Why do we blog?

netbookonpubtablePhil: According to the WordPress website, this the the 300th post on the nolanparker blog. Since I can’t think of anything better to write about, this seems an apposite time for a bit of navel-gazing. Why do we blog? Why does anyone blog? Why should you blog?

Well, we could say it’s all about publicity. We have 137 followers – a reasonable number who read everything we write. Add to this the numbers who spot us every time we throw another post out into the world. I’m pretty sure those numbers are on the low side. Being a nerdy web guy, I cunningly run an independent visitor counter on the site and it shows rather more visits than the ‘official’ one. If further proof was required, we’ve had a few days when two people have ‘liked’ a post, yet the counter claims no-one has visited. Hmmm.

We could say it helps us hone our writing skills. All those words. All that practise. Something good must come of it.

We could be honest and say that every time someone hits the ‘Like’ button, our egos get a boost. There is skipping and around and celebratory cake.

Truth is, the main thing the blog does, is keep us writing.

Twice a week, we are determined to add some nolanparker words to the repository of human knowledge and funny cat pictures that is the World Wide Web. If we didn’t do it, massive guilt would descend. The blog gives us a focus when writing the novel is going slowly. Sometimes we look for things to do that will provide meat for the blog meal.

Basically, it keeps us going. We can’t give up. Where non-blogging writers can stuff the book in a drawer and forget about it for a while, we don’t have that option. well, if we did, you lot would wonder where we’d got to.

Which makes it all worthwhile.

So, today’s moral is, if you want to get the book finished, tell everyone about it and then you can’t give up.


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Has everyone got the same idea?

World War Z poster.jpg

Candice: I went to the cinema the other week to see the new Brad Pitt movie, World War Z.  Now I’m not really a Brad fan, I’m more into George Clooney myself, and when Brad has long hair – forget it!  But my cinema buddy suggested a trip, so I thought I’d give it ago. However, Zombies in 3D was not part of my Friday night viewing plan!

Anyway, I’m not writing a review of the film, just the plot.  It seems there are common threads running around the psyche of writers at the moment, both novelists and screen writers: the idea of over population.  I can see why, we have been talking about global warming for years, we no longer have a real nuclear threat or cold war, so what do we make the bad guy these days?  Well, actually its us, the human race, as we are killing the world we live on by filling it with too many people.

Inferno, the Dan Brown book, was all about a mad man who thought that letting a virus into the world that would sterilise us all would help with this issue.  A few would be exempt and they would be able to continue the world’s population.

World War Z also has a virus but the suggestion is mother nature is generating it to get rid of the majority of us and start again.

It’s not just in 2013, if you go back to 2006 there was a rather good film called ‘Children of Men’ about women being infertile and the first pregnant woman being protected. And of course, WWZ is based on a 2006 book.

I watched episodes of two different TV programs last week – ‘Body of Proof‘ and ‘Bones‘ where in both cases, a virus had infected a member of the team and if the team didn’t identify it they would die.

I suppose we all get our ideas from what is going on in the news.  I when I say we, us lowly unpublished writers as well as those getting paid big bucks.  So these common ideas are bound to come out.  But is this why different ideas struggle to break through?  There are two White House disaster movies out this year, plus lots of sequels coming out.  If you go to the book shop or even Amazon, it’s all about ‘If you like this, you might also like.’  Recommendations are great, but we would never have had the Beatles if someone hadn’t picked up on their style and said I’ll go with that.

So people, please be a bit more receptive to other ideas and not just the run of the mill.  Else, we will be just churning out the same stuff over and over again!

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Musing on Polly Courtney

Candice: So another lovely author has given  us some key tips on how the get going in this tough world of publishing.  It seems it’s all about the self publishing.

Right, I’ll just go and pop down to the printers and get 5,000 copies made and then stick them on Amazon then.

Seriously, it’s not as easy as it looks.  Years ago this was called ‘Vanity’ Publishing, where you could get your book printed and bound to look like the real thing then hand it round to your mates – “Look I’m a published author“.  I met a man once who did this, telling everyone that he was an expert in acting skills off the back of his book.  You won’t be surprised to discover he was a con man.

So, how is this different?  Well look at Polly’s planning.  It’s more like the project management I have to undertake at work – marketing strategy, time line, launch plan – than just sticking a word document on an email and saying “print me some”.  The route to distribution compared to the old style of ‘Get agent, get publisher, get published’ might be different but the tools she uses are the same as they will.

What do we do with this information?  Well at the moment we are still looking at the conventional route; because we like the idea of being fawned over, taken to lunch and being invited to premieres.  But realistically, it looks like self publishing is the way forward.

But we wont be taking this lightly.  I refuse to send something out that hasn’t been properly edited, proofed, copy and grammar checked.  When it sees the light of day it will be a quality publication that won’t put people off due to its poor spelling.

Taking this route will also solve the pigeon-hole problem.  I think we will have the same thing as Polly as we are delving into a genre but not following a well-worn path.  “Where do we go in Waterstones?” Is what the marketer will cry – well I don’t know but that doesn’t matter on Amazon.

Now Phil and I just need to find some time to get that editing done!


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Self-publishing with Polly Courtney

Polly CourtneyPhil: Last week, we chatted with author Polly Courtney about the writing process. This isn’t the end of the process. While most writers dream of handing their manuscript over to a publisher who will take it away and sell the book, Polly choses to self-publish. How does author as publishing house work? We were eager to know…

Most new authors concentrate on producing a story but as a self-publisher, you appear to approach the book as much more than this. Does the book just become “product” to sell this way? Can the temptation to write something easy to sell ever change the content of the book?

Good question. It’s one of those things that’s very personal: some authors feel it’s compromising their integrity to think about the commerciality of their novel before they start writing. I don’t have a problem with it – although I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I change my intentions for a book based on its market appeal. I’m fortunate, in a way, that the subjects which get me going are also ones that other people find interesting. Would I write a book about a little-known issue that had never hit the news? Maybe – no, definitely, if I felt strongly enough about it. I’d just have to create the demand, instead of using existing interest in the subject.

Your books are famously not chick-lit but do they fit a genre? Does this matter if you don’t have to fit within the pre-conceived ideas of a publishers marketing department, or does it make it harder pitching the book to sellers?

I’ve never been good at fitting in a box (book-wise). It’s a problem for publishers, definitely. They need to be able to see where a book will sit ‘on the shelf’, but mine falls between shelves; it’s fiction, but it’s social issues-led. “What do we call it? Which author is it like?” publishers ask, in a panic. That’s why I was squeezed into the ‘chick lit’ mould when I was with HarperCollins: it was the closest recognised genre they were happy to work with. Frankly, I don’t need to put my work in a box; the main thing is that it’s well represented in a visual sense (i.e. title and cover) so that readers can tell what themes and styles are inside. That’s the beauty of online bookstores; the recommendations engines can provide suggestions for readers based on their reading habits. No need for shelf-based searching any more!

(These are the ‘on brand’ cover designs for my self-published novels, courtesy of the incredible Sinem Erkas):

Golden Handcuffs, Poles Apart, Ferel Yout

How does the planning work? Do you treat it like a project with charts, spreadsheets, budgets and all the related paraphernalia?

Oh, boy. You asked for it. I am anal when it comes to planning. Seriously, there are financial spreadsheets, Excel timeplans and lists – many, many lists. In the run-up to launch for Feral Youth, my boss has left me daily to-do lists with penalties for late completion. It’s tough, working for yourself (but I love it).

Ferel Youth plan

What advice could you give to new authors looking to promote their books? Since you have a new novel out and are re-releasing some old ones, presumably there is a plan, what does it involve?

Here’s some advice I would give any author or wannabe author (including my twenty-four-year-old self, a few years ago):

Take time to think about what you really want to write (style, content, themes etc.) and who might like to read it (demographics, attitudinal groups, etc.) and then think about the best way to publish, staying true to these two important things. For some writers, this might mean signing with a publisher (one that really understands your goals), but for others it might mean going it alone and retaining control over the execution of that vision. And remember: if it doesn’t fit in a box, that’s not a problem any more 🙂

Thank you again for your time Polly. Don’t forget, if you want to know more, visit


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