Monthly Archives: August 2013

The first apostle by James Becker

Candice: I’ve been rather busy recently with work and house moves, so haven’t had chance to get down to a good read. I was working my way through Pip a few weeks ago, but gave up on it cause I knew what was coming.

Since then I have been reading the Sunday times magazine and that’s about all I have managed between reading homebuyers reports and solicitors letters.

So last week I popped in to the old faithful charity shop in Stratford and picked up three options. The first was ‘The First Apostle’ which sounded very Dan Brown esq in style and therefore my cup of tea.

Well I have to say it was a very good choice. Unlike Dan’s novels you didn’t have to suspend your disbelief too much to understand how these characters got themselves and in out of scrapes.

The story is of a British woman getting accidentally killed in her holiday home in Italy. Her husband’s best friend is rebellious police officer who gets roped in to find out why this has happened.

It relates to a carving found in the house walls that the Mafia and the Vatican both want to get hold of. The carving holds the key to the beginnings of Christianity, a story that no one wants to get out.

The main character gets his wife involved, helpfully she’s a historian, and off they go on their merry way.

The pace keeps things flowing, and tension mounts but there are not so many of the silly parts where they manage to escape by the skin of their teeth, hard to believe when it happens too many times.

I really enjoyed the book, it kept me distracted from the wood panelling in the lounge for a few more days ! Hopefully the other two I’ve picked up will be just as good.

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Libraries used to be simpler

Library CardPhil: According to my calendar, it’s time to renew my Library books. Specifically, it’s time to renew the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook that I’m supposed to be looking for publishing agents addresses in.

I am looking at the date because it was 2 days ago so I am now clocking up fines for not getting the books back on time. I am a bad man.

Now, in theory I can renew my books online. I know this because in a past life I was lightly involved in making this happen.  Now I’ve moved on, I can’t remember my PIN number so that’s another days worth of fines to clock up.

When I was a kid, libraries were a lot simpler. They had little card wallets with your name on them. When a book was borrowed, a ticket from inside would be slipped into the wallet to be retrieved when it was returned. Then new tickets with bar codes on were issued and books were scanned in and out. Both of these systems involved writing inside the book the return date.

Now we don’t get this. By the library entrance there are machines you put the books and your card in to. Some clever jiggery-pokery later and the details are recorded on your records and if you want to know the return dates other than on screen, it can print you a receipt.

All this is good for librarians. They used to hate the impression that most people had of them stamping books in and out. The profession is much more about helping the visitor find the right book or the right bit of information. They leapt on the Internet when it appeared, my first serious on-line experience was on the sole library PC, and most have a selection of publicly available computers along with staff to help you use them.

Elseshwere, there are events to get you reading. The entrance is home to regularly changing displays encouraging reader to try different books to the ones they normally look at. I’ve picked up a couple from here before so this works. Events for kids with story reading are regular features, especially during holiday times. I suspect I’d have loved these when I was a nipper. My Mum would have appreciated the chance to have someone else read to me too.

Anyway, another days of fines to come but that’s my fault. I think I’d rather pay them than explain to Ms Nolan quite why I still need the Yearbook. I’ll be done by next month. Honest!

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Peering over the Production Precipice

extinguished bluePhil: While the Nolan has been packing her life into boxes and moving into the 70s splendour of the new house, I’ve been slaving away doing a bit of publishing work which has taken me away from the job of submitting The Book to agents.

Editing a bookazine (it’s about trains so we will say no more about it here) has been an interesting and eye-opening experience. Compared to the one I wrote last year, I’ve had an awful lot more input on the project. Basically, it’s me, a designer, a proof-reader and the publisher.

All this has meant I’ve been brought face-to-face with the process taking words to a design that can be checked at the printers.

The main lesson learned is that everything takes a lot longer than I think it will. To be honest, I’ve always been hopelessly over-optimistic when working out how long it takes to do anything but this has hugely exceeded my plans.

The second is that you have to keep checking everything. I’ve examined every single page at least 3 times in addition to the initial writing and subsequent proof-reading. For 170 pages, that’s a lot of work. As an example, each of the 200+ photo captions seems to change at will. Not all of them at the same time but the odd one or two so you can’t relax.

Even on the final check, I came away with a list of 10 changes required.

Some of this is human error, ably assisted by the technology. Text previously fixed has reverted to faulty. Even the cover has been a problem, the first advertising poster design used an old version.

All has (crosses fingers) been fixed and the result looks fabulous. I’m certain that every other similar publication goes through the same pain too. I look at the magazine rack in WH Smith with a far better appreciation of the efforts behind each and every publication. OK, I’m not editing Vogue (yet) so no-one is going to make a film like The September Issue about me, but even on a small scale, the mechanics are pretty involved.

Which brings me back to The Book.

One option we are very seriously looking at is self-publishing. That’s going to see us taking control of the process of turning text on a screen into physical and electronic books. Having already dabbled in this and with the experience I now have, this is a much bigger hill to climb than it appears at first.

Newbies think, “You just press a button in Word and the book appears doesn’t it?”

No chance. Even from a little research I know that there are a bundle of e-book formats to content with. Physical books need the text flow checking to avoid pages with a couple of words on them at the end of a chapter. We are going to be very sick of reading our own story by the end of this.

Suddenly, the traditional route looks very appealing.

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Bereft without technology

George, Zippy and BungleCandice: I’ve just moved house and even though I am really organised, things have gone missing and I’m still playing catch up on letting people know- be they friends or gas suppliers. The thing that I have noticed the most is the lack of having Internet access and how this hampers you.

Luckily I changed my iPad at Christmas and bought a SIM card enabled one so we so have some access. But, there are lots of things you need to do on a laptop or PC. At least on line shopping isn’t hampered by a lack of Internet access, I’ve been doing a lot of that!

The house we have bought needs a lot of work on it, I’ve been describing it as 1955 house with 1970’s decor. It’s the house that time stood still as far as bathrooms and kitchens are concerned. However, we decided we wanted a project, and we need the room. Why, you cry? Well come January next year there will be an extra person in the Nolan household, and I don’t mean another cat.

Going back to that lack of Internet and TV,  part of me wonders if this is not a bad thing. Richard and I have been down to the pub, been to see friends, actually watched some of the DVDs we own in the last few days, along side the constant need for unpacking. Tonight might actually be the first night we sit down for more than half and hour as I’ve finally unpacked most of it, he has been to work today.

I could do some reading too but seem to be without books, so a trip to the charity shop in Stratford is called for. Hey, maybe we’ll save the extortionate amount we pay to Virgin and stay off the grid. Somehow I don’t think so.

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Writers – what is your “peg” ?

Story in Solihull NewsPhil: A few nights ago I found myself with time to read some of the articles in the Writers and Artists Yearbook. You know what? They are really interesting? Not just fillers between the lists of addresses we want but good solid information for aspiring authors.

Since I’m in charge of submitting The Book to agents, I was particularly taken by the piece written by marketing consultant Alison Baverstock called “Helping to Market your book”. It’s an area that is an anathema to most writers it appears, but one that Mrs Marketing and I have discussed over cakes many times.

One of the most important points is to provide a “peg” to hang your story on. Not the book, that’s a given, but that detail a journalist can use to base their article around. “I have written a book” isn’t it – we’ve all done that, go away and find something interesting to talk about. You need a story as well as your book.

Team NolanParker have a couple of angles we plan to work.

First, there is the (apparently) very unusual team writing aspect. Odder still, we are a man and woman writing together. People ask how this works (quite well), do we really agree on stuff (not always but we can stand criticism from each other and sometimes it produces new ideas), do we split the chapters up (yes but then we work on each others) and how did we come up with the story?

The last question takes us to peg number 2 – the “How we met up” story. Ours is a tale of unexpectedly finding ourselves sharing desk space and having no work to do while being part of a quango in a death spiral. We were in the middle of an age of austerity story and so we wrote an age of austerity book. With added love and buckets of laughs.

All this should give anyone interviewing us some material to work with. After all, the recession is till happening. People still like a laugh.

That’s our “peg”. What’s yours?

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Chick-lit for beginners: Pip by Freya North

Pip by Freya NorthShe always lands on her feet, but can she fall in love?

Phil: Spoiler – Yes she can.

Pip is the third in the trilogy that revolves around the McCabe sister. Previously, I dipped my toe in the chick-lit waters with Cat and Fen. At the end of Fen, I said I’d try to get hold of a copy of Pip then promptly forgot about it.

A chance find in a second-hand bookshop before a train journey delivered the chance to satisfy the completionist in me. An added bonus was that Pip is short for Phillipa (Phil – see) and her job is being a clown, and I love to juggle. It’s like we were meant to be together. In a literary sense of course.

The novel thing about this tale is that you know what is going to happen pretty much by the end of the first chapter. We’ve met both Pip and Zac. We like them a lot, or at least I did, and we know they will make a great couple. So far so good. 362 pages to go then.

This book is all about the journey. The course of true love never runs smoothly, or at least it doesn’t if you have a book to fill. Along the way Pip has a good and then bad time with a doctor. Zac seems to just have a girlfriend. Neither of them are able to talk to each other honestly. Both, for perfectly good reasons don’t see what the other is thinking.

Pip has an interesting job, part children’s entertainer, part clown doctor (Yes, they really do exist, I linked to them didn’t I?). There’s a lot of research gone on into this and it shows. The rounding of Pips character with this is very effective.

Zac is an accountant. This is less convincing. He works in London and earns loads of money. Fair enough. He is also described as “ripped” which I understand to mean the same as “buff”. Not out of the question except that at no point there is no mention of him going to the gym. The way the text is written, there doesn’t seem to be any time for him to be working out. Accountantcy isn’t a proffesion known for turning men into beefcakes. I’ve met accountants, it was only my complete incompetence that stopped me becoming one years ago. None were “ripped” or “buff”. “Pudgy” maybe. Perhaps “Skinny”, but not one of them had what could be described as an athletic physique. Freya is obviously confusing accountants with lumberjacks.

The biggest problem I had with the book was Freya herself.

There is a narrator who talks to both the reader and the characters. A lot. It’s not a good idea to sit on a train shouting at a book to “Shut up and let them get on with it!” People look at you like you are odd although at least you don’t have to put up with anyone sitting next to you.

Narrator interruption is a feature of both Cat and Fen as well. By this book in the series, I have a feeling she is so interested in the journey that she left out some of the plot that made Cat so enjoyable and replaced it with talking by someone who’s not supposed to be there.

The story takes place in the same time frame as Cat and Fen which is clever and well done. If they weren’t all planned together then it doesn’t show, the integration of the stories is seamless and taken as a set, the concept fascinating. In a way I wish I’d read them one after the other to enjoy the overlaps more.

Anyway, it’s chick-lit. It’s fluffy. It’s light, a bit raunchy in places (You don’t want to give a copy to your granny) and perfectly enjoyable to read.

Just try not to shout at it.

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The Proof is in the, er, Reading

Magnified (8/365)

Phil: Candice mentioned on Tuesday that both our manuscript and query letter had been through a professional proof-reader. We think this is a vitally important step towards getting published.

I’ve recently donned my anorak and have been working on a bookazine . When setting out the budget for this, a chunk of the money was set aside to pay for proof-reading services. I wasn’t going to go ahead with anything that will appear in front of a group of pedants as large as the intended audience without at least a little protection from my own stupidity. I am the man with a publication to my name where a mis-spelling of the word “diesel” appears on the contents page. In a large font. Ouch.

Anyway, my reader checked all the pages sent over and I think every single one came back with suggestions. Some were worse than other but I considered each bit of red ink and most of the time applied the change it represented. The result will be a much better read than if I’d ploughed ahead without the check.

Now, I’ve read internet forum discussions on proof reading and in every one, a contributor has huffed that “some of us can proof read our own work.”

I take great heart every time I read this, for a simple reason. That is one person out of the race to be published. One person who will undoubtedly submit a manuscript that doesn’t read well, contains spelling mistakes or simply isn’t as good as it could be. Proof reading is not optional. You are far too close to the words you have written and it doesn’t matter how disciplined you are, you can’t avoid reading what you want to read, not what is on the page. Possibly the biggest source of errors is editing. I am a terror for re-writing a sentence and accidentally leaving odd words from the older version hanging around. Wordy processors make text-fiddling easy and this type of error even easier.

Just as importantly, as we have discovered, you can write bits of story that make sense to you because you know your characters inside out, but aren’t clear to the reader because they don’t. The proof read, even by a friend or relative, will highlight these.

All this is so that once our words find themselves in front of someone who could change our writing lives, or are containing in a book that has been paid for, they will be as good as we can possibly manage. It’s been a lot of effort to get this far. The cost of the service isn’t too scary high. We don’t want to fail thinking, “If only we’d had the text checked”.

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