Monthly Archives: September 2013

An answer on Birmingham Library

Nolans Big DreamsCandice: Last week Phil wrote a post all about the joys and down sides of Birmingham Library.  Can I just add I am NOT a brummie but I am proud of the City I live near and have worked in on and off for years.

Many years ago I worked for the Marketing Department of Birmingham City Council, a hard job you might cry, but my role was to make the people of Birmingham and surrounds use the City Centre facilities.  This involved some random occurrences with Councillors or Heads of Department being put in strange positions to make the best media photos.  It also meant I met alot of B and C list pop acts on their way up the charts – I have to say McFly were probably one of the nicest and Atomic Kitten the worst.

Anyway, this taught me alot about this big city.  Which came in very useful when I moved to my next job working in one of the most iconic buildings in the City: Selfridges.  15,000 spun aluminium disks, did you know?

I think Brum has alot going for me, and I have to say I find it quite offensive that people don’t rate in the same way as Manchester or London.  I really DON’T like London and find the people there very arrogant.

The first episode of a new BBC drama was shown on Sunday, By Any Means.  Filmed in Birmingham it is set in London.  Yes, they do some fancy cross shooting with scenes in Brum intermingled with those from London.  They did the same with Hustle.

Now the bonus is for me that I can get work on this show, as the extras are supplied by the Agency I am with. However, I am confused as to why it can’t be set in Birmingham.  It made me laugh as they chased a suspect down the A435 in Wythall and then cut to them driving round London to their base. The other half and I watch picking out places we know but I really don’t understand why this crack crime squad aren’t searching the streets of Birmingham.  Ah well, as least they didn’t upset the Birmingham City Fans like they did the Arsenal fans over their depiction of them all being thugs!

Phil: I’m going to jump in on Candice’s post to agree wholeheartely about By Any Means. In many ways it was just like watching an episode of The SainThis is supposed to be Londont from the mid 60s. One minute we were watching some stock footage of an exotic foreign location, next it’s the stuff with actors shot on the back lot at Elstree studios. Here we had stock London footage dropped in to scenes made in Birmingham.

Now I can’t claim to have ties as close as my friend to Brum but even I could recognise a lot of the landmarks. My favourite moment was when the teams van pulled away from its parking spot right next to a Birmingham CCTV and singpost pole – complete with the logo very visible.  Worse, the makers seemed to be obsesed with using very recognisable landmark buildings for major scenes. It’s not like the place is lacking anonymous buildings!

The thing is, why do we have to pretend to be in London at all? Are there no criminals outside the M25 (Insert joke about there being a whole Parliament full within it)?

We’re both quite proud to not be London based. Some of our pitches to publishers make a point of this. Our book contains only two very, very short scenes in the capital. Most people don’t live there so why should they be forced to watch and read about it all the time?

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Telling the story in different media

MarvinPhil: Last week I went to see The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show.

It was, quite frankly, brilliant. If you know the radio version and get the chance, go and see it. You don’t have to dress up in an Arthur Dent dressing gown (about half a dozen did) or take a towel (a few more) but it’s a great night out with the real cast. Apart from the ones who are dead obviously, but the replacements are very good although Miriam Margolyes was perhaps a bit to thespy for the book compared to the Peter Jones original.

What has this to do with writing books?

Well, Hitchikers exists in lots of different media. To date these are:

Each version of the story is the same. But different. For example, in the radio and book versions you can have characters that change shape on a spaceship. The BBC might have been able to solve the problem of a character with two heads in 1980, but they baulked at this so Douglas Adams wrote a version that was filmable within the budget and technical possibilities.

The terrible, terrible film is written by morons and we shall talk no more about it.

On stage, most of the effects you might require for a show aren’t possible. Space is Big, really big after all. So the adaptors cherry picked elements from the story and strung them together in a way that told the story but could be realised live. To be honest, doing as though the cast were recording a radio show but with special effects and costumes was a genius move too.

The computer games is probably the most interesting. Although it follows the main story, since you play the role of Arthur Dent (the main character) it behaves differently. You can explore the world in much greater detail than is possible in a normal narrative. For example, it’s important to look under the bed in the game but we never get to do this in radio, book or TV series. Of course if you are in control, doing this is interesting. On the page, who cares unless it is essential to the story?

What you have to do is make best use of the media to tell the story in the best way possible. The story is the backbone of everything, and if it’s rubbish no amount of budget, bells or whistles will make it better. Start with a good ‘un and you can’t go far wrong. Well unless you produce the second worst film in existence, but I said I wouldn’t talk about that.

Is this relevant to team nolanparker?

Maybe. At one of the places I work (portfolio career, I do lots of things now) one of the guys is a screenwriter. A proper one who’s been on courses and everything. He’s working on a secret screenplay at the moment that stands a good chance of getting him, what he describes as the Holy Grail, a credit on a film. Chatting in the pub a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that we had written a great book. I generously suggested that if he could bag us a film deal, the adapting credit was his.

I guess we just have to sit back and wait.

The thing is I can see how The Book would work on the screen. Both Candice and I write by imagining the scene in our heads. We have a pretty good idea what the characters look like. We even, after a little discussion a few weeks ago, have the perfect role for Michael Palin. So perfect in fact that I really want to make this happen before he gets too old to drive a tractor!

In the past we’ve even discussed a stage show. Like Hitchikers, we can’t do the thing as a play. Instead, we have an idea about starting with a reading of a few paragraphs and then getting on with the story of how we came to get into writing. There will be much banter at each others expense. One of use will make numerous costume changes and we’ll even have time for a bit of Q&A at the end before shuffling the audience out to do a quick book signing.

Maybe Douglas Adams started something. Is the future one story but spewed out over lots of media?

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Birmingham’s new library

Phil: Candice and I don’t agree on everything.Birmingham Library Our latest area of dispute is Birmingham’s brand new library building.

Posting on Facebook that I was, “Off to Brum for giving blood and seeing if that new library is as ugly on the inside as it is on the outside.”, within minutes I get a response, “Hey – I quite like it ! Certainly raises brums profile.” from our proud posh Brummie.

Dear reader, I leave it to you to decide who is correct here by reference to the picture on the right of this blog. The building is question is the boxy yellow and white one covered with horrid ironwork. Personally, I think the old library, a brutalist concrete structure, is far better looking. The new one would be all right if they left off the nailed on metalwork – it’s cuboid and that’s fine. Stop pretending it’s square, as Huey Lewis once said, this is hip. Be proud of it!

Anyway, this didn’t stop me having a look. Whatever I think about the design, this is a landmark building and it certainly raises the profile of the city in a good way. While everyone got very excited about the Bullring shopping centre a few years ago, I rather like the idea that the most impressive building in the place is a public one devoted to learning.

I remember visit the old library out of curiosity a couple of years ago. The interior was a bit confusing something made worse by the place being a lending and reference library supporting 3 nearby universities. Eventually, I found my way to the engineering section. Something drew me there and when I arrived, it was full of students who looked like they fitted the place. If you imagine a stereotype engineering student, then I was in a room full of them. You can bet there were plenty of journeys home being made later via Games Workshop or Maplin…

Book rotunaAnyway, I recalled the huge collection of Haynes workshop manuals on the shelves so when visiting the new place I decided to see if these had made the move, or been conveniently forgotten as not being suited to a world of iPuds and fancy coffee. For those not in the know, a Haynes manual is what you buy when your car gets poorly and you fancy having a go at fixing it. Their natural habitat is the garage, covered in oil and perused whilst drinking tea from a proper mug.

Heading into the new building, the entrance features a coffee bar, reception and an odd wooden building nailed together to host some sort of learning experience. To get into the heart of the building, you jump on a long escalator with light up sides. It looks space age.

Rising up, you enter the “Book rotunda” and circular room with shelves arround the sides. On these are lots of books that I suspect won’t be refered to much. City council minutes, that sort of thing. Lots of identical bindings but like a country house library, these are really for show. They look good though.

The real business is to be found in large rooms off the side of this. Miles of shelves radiate out from the centre. Beyond these are desks and tables for readers to work at with large windows providing a view over the city.

Greasey car fixing goodnessBest of all, right at the top of the escalator, the first books you find in the building, are the Haynes manuals! The city is proud of its engineering heritage after all (I know, fixing a car isn’t hard-core engineering but it’s not far off for most of us). 30 feet of shelves full of greasy goodness for automotive tinkerers.

Carrying on upwards, one of the exciting features is a balcony overlooking Chamberlin Square. Cleverly set up with space for a bar and even a footspa, while sitting amongst the plants will be lovely on a sunny day, this is an ingenious space that can be rented out in the evenings for product launches and events that will help to fund the building. After all, if you have a prestigious structure, why not squeeze the asset by renting it to people with cash to spend? I’m sure there will be puritans getting all poo-faced about this but to my mind if you can make the library a desirable civic building then that has got to be a good thing hasn’t it?

Anyway, above the balcony is more reference space, this time for photos, catalogues and maps. On the side of this is a Secret Garden, a smaller version of the balcony and offering (to my mind) superior views over the city. Being on the side of the building, you can see the hills in the distance as well and glimpses of the canals that are so much a part of the history.

At the top of the building is the Skyline Gallery, a glass walled room pointing at the city centre. A giant iPad thing can be sued to identify different buildings and look up some useful facts on each. Not just the old buildings either. Brum is rightly proud of more modern heritage such as the 1973 Alpha Tower and even very recent developments.

Shakespere Memorial LibraryThe jewel in the crown for tourists though, is the Shakespeare Memorial Library, a wooden panelled room that is in its second home in this new building. An odd inclusion in the midst of such modernity, the contrast is rather pleasing. I suspect it’s a bit of work in progress as the glass covered shelves contain various works by the Bard, many more books about the Bard and about 150 years of the magazine Punch.

Of course, there is more, but that was enough for one visit. I haven’t plumed the depths – there are a couple fo subterranean floors to explore. The place is only starting to get into its stride – you have to be escorted to the top floors as demand is so high (100,000 visitors in the first week and 10,285 books borrowed in the same time) at the moment. Give it 6 months and things will start to settle down.

The Library of Birmingham cost £189m. Had it not been signed off before the collapse of the economy, no doubt the result would have been a good deal less impressive. Despite the cost, TV channels carrying out vox-pops have found it harder than they had expected to find people who claim it is a waste of money.

Brum viewBrummies seem proud of their new library and well they might be. I still think it’s ugly on the outside but inside, where the action is, it’s fantastic. You can tell I’m not alone, the place was home to several people just wandering around in awe and wielding cameras as though they were at a major tourist attraction.

Birmingham now has two iconic buildings, the other is Selfridges store, but that is just a shop (I suspect this is another area we’ll disagree on but then I’ve never been part of that place, unlike Candice) and does the normal shop like things. With the new library, the architects have produced something stupendous. If you need an excuse to visit Birmingham, then this is it.

Who says libraries and books are old-fashioned and boring?

Visit the Library of Birmingham Website.

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The police procedural

Riozoli and IslesCandice: I like to read police based fiction as the main body of my reading matter, as well as watching it on TV too.

To me it is the toughest kind of writing, as I always struggle to work out how they come up so many different ways for people to commit a crime, with added twists and turns and red herrings. I know, during the writing of the book, Phil and I have created some side stories to make things more interesting but none of them involve having to know about police procedure or medical technical jargon. They just involve mad ideas that popped in to our heads.

When I read and watch these dramas I am just amazed at how they come up with the route to the end of the story, does the crime and culprit come first and then the padding of extra characters. How do they manage to find so many ways for people to seem like they’ve done it, when they haven’t ?

I love to work out who has actually done it before the end, I actually quite good at it, but it doesn’t mean I could write a story like that. So hats off to all you crime writers out there.

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Puntastic

Marvin - the proper one from the TV series.Candice: Phil, being Phil, fancies the Pun Run,  ”the only pun and wordplay-based comedy club in the UK”

Phil: M’writing friend is not wrong. I love a good pun. In fact, like most writers, I really enjoy wordplay.

Next week I’m heading off to see “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show” which means an evening spent enjoying the wonderful writing of the late Douglas Adams. He was a man who enjoyed messing with the language to amuse the reader. Who else could have described a space ship thus?

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

or the exchange

“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”

“Ask a glass of water!”

These aren’t jokes, but they are funny. Or at least I think they are.

Enjoying langauge is vital for writers and playing with it is an excellent way to get better at using it. In one corner of my life I spend my time trying to communicate to people the methods for making models. The problem with this is avoiding repetition. Sometimes you desperately strive to avoid repeating a word. In my head, using the same one twice in a sentence is a crime I’ll do my best not to commit. For this reason, I chose a thesaurus over a dictionary when offered the choice some time ago. I need more words!

I guess this might also explain my predilection for the Quick Crossword rather than the more elegant cryptic version. I can’t solve the later but really wish I could. As it is, the idea that I need to find a word that can replace the quick clue is irresistible, although I need practise to become any good and stand a chance of completing the grid.

Writers seem drawn to crosswords and other word puzzles. Maybe we have a larger vocabulary than mere mortals, I prefer to think it’s like muscle memory. If you exercise it, you gain strength and writing a book is hard work.

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Autumn is here

WW-Autumn-2013-Prog-FC.jpg

Candice: We’ve had a great summer in the UK and then all of a sudden, on the 1st of September, autumn has hit.  We are still getting lovely days but the nights are drawing in, it’s colder so I’ve had to put the heating on for a few hours each night.

However, this does bode to a time of year when more reading might be done as people draw round the fire, and have more time to sit as they feel less inclined to do things as it gets dark outside.  I was moaning the other week about not having had anything to read recently, well I’ve gone the other way and now have three books to read but don’t seem to have had time to read them so this might be a my chance.  Of course, come January I’ll had loads of time on my hand (!) to do lots of reading.

Well this weekend the other half and I having a well deserved break from the decorating and general house sorting for our five year wedding anniversary.  Thinking about the weather, five years ago it was absolutely throwing it down all this week but the sun shone on our day, then the UK had a heat wave while we were on honeymoon – so there is always hope for one last trip out for the shorts.

So, the other week I got an email from Warwick Words, another local literary festival.  Warwickshire must be a popular area for this, I suppose due to our Shakespearean roots?  Anyway, it’s a about their Autumn Festival, just a few events over the first weekend of October to whet your appetite for next year.  Phil, being Phil, fancies the Pun Run,  “the only pun and wordplay-based comedy club in the UK”, I also think this sounds interesting but it happens to be on a day when I am away.  However, if we want to keep up the comedy vibe then ” An evening with Mark Watson” is the way to go.  He’s not a comedian I know but it sounds like he is also a prolific writer so we could have a laugh and learn some stuff too.

Have a look, there might be something you fancy.

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Does your reader need to speak the lingo?

?Phil: According to the BBC, the work “Twerking” has made it in to the Oxford English Dictionary. According to them, it means, “to dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance”.

No, that didn’t help me much either. I understand that Miley Ray Cyrus did it at some awards show and apparently that is enough to get you an entry in the big book of words no one buys anymore.

Is it a problem if you use words in your book that exclude the reader?

What matters more – that the language is right for the scene, or that the person reading it understands it?

I ask, because while busy not knowing what Twerking is, I’m reading Feral Youth by Polly Courtney . Who says men can’t multi-task?

To help the reader, the book starts with a glossary of “street” terms as all the speech is written in the language the characters would really use. Obviously being down wid da kidz, I knew all this anyway, but I can see how it would help a less hip reader.

As I read, I am reminded of Anthony Burgess’s book “A Clockwork Orange“. Written from the main protagonist Alex’s point of view, the early chapters are in Nadsat, an English dialect that the author invented to keep the text from becoming dated. Had he used contemporary language from the time, characters would have probably being saying “Daddy-o” which would have nailed the period firmly in the early 1960s rather than a few years into the future from whenever you are reading it.

(I know Daddy-o is probably dated for London in 1962, the rest of the country tends to lag behind a little and the book was written in Hove which is permanently set to 1934)

Anyway, I remember really struggling with the language when I read it. To be honest, if I hadn’t read the book in that period from finishing answering the questions to being allowed out of the my Social Science exam, I might not have stuck with it. As it was, I always wondered if Burgess is partly responsible for my hopeless grade in the subject (CSE 2) as me being rubbish as the subject. I know I’m not alone here (with the language, not rubbish exam results) as others I’ve talked to about the book mention the same problem. The film noticeably tones the language down.

Now, we have Alesha and Co speaking their own version of English in Feral Youth, and again the readers will struggle initially, although not as much. It was probably a third of the way through the book before I stopped turning to the glossary every few pages.

Despite this, my instinct is that it is the right way to do things. I couldn’t believe in inner city youth yammering away on their mobile phones in received pronunciation any more than Alex and his droogs would have. If the reader wants to immerse themselves in the world of inner London “yoot”, they need to learn the lingo. Perhaps this is a case for reading the book twice, the first time to get your ear in and the second to follow the story. Maybe it’s an indication of how far I am from the world of Alesha and her “bredrin” but perhaps that is part of the thrill – being allowed entry into a very different space.

We’re still not putting Twerking in our Book though.

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