Monthly Archives: October 2013

Blogging the dream alive

The dreamPhil: This time last week I was feeling blank.  If you read the post, you might have wondered why I bothered writing it. Perhaps Mark Twain was right when he said, “If you have nothing to say, say nothing”. Over at the bottleworder blog, there is discussion of taking a writing hiatus where the writer asks if it is good to take a break from writing.

You could argue that this is what team NolanParker has done. We haven’t written any fiction together for months. I don’t think that is what they mean though. We haven’t lost the urge to write, well as long as we can stay awake, life has got in the way of our writing. Were we to be transported back to the place we came from, an office with no work to do, we’d be on book 5 by now.

A break from the blog though?

Not such a good idea. While life might be getting in the way of writing, if we can both spare 20 minutes a week to knock up a blog post then we are hanging on to the dream. Each post is a flag that proclaims, “We are going to do this. One day. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But one day in the future.”

You could suggest it would be easier to give up. That’s true. It would. But we are proud of our efforts so far. Last week I was chatting to some old colleagues at a leaving do. There were new faces who I didn’t know but when I was talking to them, I mentioned the novel. Eyes widened and faces lit up. Telling someone you have written a book is still impressive. Obviously the effect would be greater if I could then regale everyone with tales of massive sales, a tour and all the accoutrements of the succesful novelist. For the moment I have to talk about approaching agents and investigating self-publishing. I talk with authority about the concept of book as product and marketing it this way. If they were feigning being impressed then it was good enough for me. They know that they wouldn’t have the commitment to do the same.

Truth is, at the moment, we probably wouldn’t either, but once upon a time we did and it seems a shame to waste that. So we blog on.


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Tiredness takes over

Candice: I’m not going to use this blog to talk baby – there are so many others out there that can do that.  However, I cant ignore the strange things going on at the moment which mean I don’t seem to be in total control of the large but erratic Nolan brain.

I’ve just returned from a lovely two week holiday in America: sight seeing in Washington DC and then chilling on the beach in Fort Lauderdale.  It was really nice to have a break from things put some stuff into perspective after the last few weeks.  What with house move, ever growing bump and work stuff its been all go.  In my blog before I mentioned about reading and having some down time well I did try…  however I have this slight problem at the moment in that every time I try and read I seem to fall asleep.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, works quite well when you have had a busy day and then need to fall asleep, but when you actually want to read a book its a real bummer.  I managed to get through one and a half books on holiday.  Yes, just that small amount when I had taken four with me, had three flights to fill and lots of beach time.

However, seven hour flight to DC – read about 50 pages of book one, watched a film and mainly chatted to husband.  Time in DC so busy, no time for reading.  Second two hour flight – read some more of book one but full of cold so just slept.  Beach week – read a couple of pages, snooze, read a few more pages, snooze.  Finally finished book one, ‘Buried‘ by Mark Billingham.  Nice police drama, good twist, enjoyed that one.  On to book two.

Well book two is a 700 page tome so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself but I’m only half was through and we had another seven hour flight to fill in the mean time.  Its not that its not a good book, its just I keep dozing off.  I will write a review when I have finished it – its called ‘Dominion’ by C J Sansom.

Ok, as its the night before this post goes out and 11pm, I’m off to bed.  Lets see if I can manage 10 pages before I fall asleep… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


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Phil: My mind is blank.

Twice a week we endeavour to post interesting and amusing content for your delectation and entertainment. I know the idea is that we write about how progress is being made bringing our book to market but that’s a bit stalled at the moment so I haven’t got a lot to say. Maybe in a couple of weeks when we’re both in the same country this will change but for the moment one of us is on holiday and the other is looking at a couple of flatplans with his name on them so really needs to think about some work.

My blankness isn’t being helped by my own actions. On the radio is some comedy and I’m half listening to that and the creative bit of my head is therefore occupied. I am a man, I can’t multitask.

I’m also drinking Diet Coke. To be truly creative, science has shown that we should drink alcohol. This sets the brain spinning, at which point you need coffee to provide the power to turn those great thoughts into something productive.

Perhaps I should reveal some exciting snippets of NolanParker history. Such as the time we shared a desk. Well, not exactly share, more I took it over but Candice hadn’t really vacated it so I enjoyed a few weeks unable to store all my stuff as there were lady products in there. Specifically, a pair of leopard print shoes with a kitten heel. Some things you just don’t want people to think are yours. I couldn’t even try them on as they weren’t my size.

That’s not very exciting either. Still, we’ve learnt something today. If you want to be creative, drink a lot and listen to loud music. I’ll try to remember this for next time. Sorry.


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We really do all need a break

Book and bagPhil: While Candice is hanging out in the US of A, I’ve been spending the weekend in the slightly less glamorous setting of the Holiday Inn Express at the edge of the East of England Showground at Peterborough.

You might think this doesn’t sound like much of a break. During the day I was working at an exhibition, spending time demonstrating projects I’m producing to magazine readers with occasional excursions into the lecture theatre to entertain the crowd. Also the edge of a desolate showground in East Anglia is hardly a match for the delights of a capital city. As it turned out though, it wasn’t as bad as you might think.

The best thing about an anonymous chain hotel room is that it isn’t where I live. I work from home and so I can’t ever escape my job. Much as I love what I do, I hadn’t realised just how much I needed to get away from it. Fortunately you don’t have to go far to do this. In fact, being stuck with nothing to do was incredibly refreshing. I could check e-mail via my phone but nothing else and since it was a weekend, there wasn’t even much of this to read.

What I did have to read was a book passed on from the Nolan.

Wish You Were Here by Mike Gayle is (apparently) a male confessional novel. The story revolves around Charlie, recently dumped by his long-term girlfriend, he is taken on holiday by his best mate Andy who also brings along other friend Tom. They head off to Malia, party-capital of the 18-30 club crowd, the place Charlie met his girlfriend originally. Despite being in their mid-thirties they, or at least Andy, want to grab another dose of the hedonism they enjoyed a decade earlier. Each has a story to tell, with Charlie it’s the ex-girlfriend, Tom is awaiting a cancer diagnosis and Andy is heading for the altar but wants to grab a bit more life.

The story takes place over a week and in the time, they meet girls, Charlie falls for two women, Tom does some hiking, they drink a lot and lie in the sun.

I’m not best placed to tell you how realistic or otherwise it is having never been any of the characters in the book. That and the idea of an 18-30 holiday would have terrified me even when I was young enough to go on one. Despite this, I read the book in a couple of days, pertly because it was easy brian-off reading and partly because I had nothing better to do. My downtime consisted of iPod on, book out, lounge on the sofa in my room. To be honest, I was too knackered to do anything else but even if I hadn’t been, I was a happy Phil.

A couple of things struck me as I read. The first was how chaste it all was. Here were are in a world where both sexes seem to be “up for it” and yet there is no on-page shagging. Were it chick-lit the text would get pretty explicit and startlingly anatomical within the first few pages.

Second, there is some interesting morality going on. Andy’s fiance turns up half way through the book (she’s the “one girl” in the teaser text, the other 2 important female characters not meriting a mention) and (spoiler alert) Charlie has a one-off fling with her. When this is revealed, Andy blames Charlie entirely as though is fiance had no say in the matter. Presumably the author believes that as a woman, she will be so grateful that any man would point his todger in her direction she’ll be unable to resist his charms…

Despite all this, it’s good thinking free reading, the perfect holiday novel I suppose. Our book is more exciting though.

Sunrise over Peterborough

Anyway, Peterborough is a lovely holiday spot. Simply getting away from it all for a couple of evenings was very refreshing. It also turns out that I’m not the only one who gets this. In conversation with some caravan club members during the day, it turns out that heading off to rallies a few miles down the road is quite a common thing for shed-towing enthusiasts. I even know a couple who run a shop that they man 7 days a week who do this, commuting from the site to the job and back again. It just goes to show, you don’t need to travel half way around the world to get a break!

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Signed Books

Polly CourtneyPhil: ’tis true. I did acquire a signed copy of  “I don’t know why she bothers” as a bump present for my friend a few weeks ago. It seemed a nice thing to do.

Arranging this wasn’t difficult either. An e-mail to the author pointed me in the direction of a suitable bookshop. Two phone calls later and I’d established they still had a copy from a signing session and I could have it in return for my credit card number. I think the result was a happy Nolan.

Signed books are odd things. We get all excited that the author has scrawled some words in the front when the best bits are those printed inside. With most authors, they are both written by the same person after all!

I’ve managed to sign a few bookazines myself in the last year. Being asked to do your scrawl is wonderful (Hint: Make sure your pen will write on the paper the thing is publishing in). If you are at all nervous of approaching an author for their signature, don’t be. We love it in the same way a dog likes its tummy tickled. For a start, we know that you love us. More importantly, we know someone bought our publication. Yay!

Having supervised a few book signings in a local theatre, I have watched the skilled author at work. A queue 2 dozen long can be despatched in half an hour. Every person gets a few words in both print and speech and they go away happy. The “star” gets a warm feeling of appreciation and the knowledge that the next book will find some readers.

Mind you, you do have to wonder sometimes. The picture shows Polly Courtney’s signature from the front of a copy of “Golden Handcuffs” I picked up in a charity shop. For a pound. Looking at the state of the spine, the book was unread. Well, both of us have fixed that, even if one of us wasn’t in mind when it was written…

Anyway, for the moment, you’ll have to put up with our signed website. One day, we’ll be behind the table with a big stack of books ready to be defaced.


Filed under Books, Phil

We all need a break

Orange junce@Pool sideCandice I’ve had an interesting few weeks trying to do too much in one go. It all came to a head yesterday at which point I decided I needed a break.

When Phil and I met the other week he had got me a copy of Daisy Waugh’s book, ‘ I don’t know why she bothers.‘ Signed no less. It was a really nice surprise especially as he also had a note from Daisy for me.

The title has really made me think about what has been going on and how we all push ourselves too much these days, we have to have cleaners and take out car to the car wash because we never have the time. Daisy’s book is all about working moms and how they are up baking cakes for little Tarquin’s school fete at 3am rather that saying ‘I don’t have the time, I’ll just buy one.’

So everyone, give yourself and break and go and have a nice afternoon with a good book, I certainly plan to.


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An airport novel or a supermarket book?

TescoPhil: On Tuesday, Candice concluded “We just want to appear on the holiday read stand at the airport” because we don’t aspire to being “literary” authors, we’re in this to get a story out there and entertain people. As the one sitting beside a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ yearbook which is currently costing me over 60p in library fines, targeting the publishers who supply to the airport bookstand is apparently my job.

Never mind that next week it won’t be me passing through an airport on my way to  Yankee Doodle Bloomingdales land. Apparently research on the way to check-in is impossible for security reasons. Something to do with jotting down lists of publishers in the departure lounge is a well know terrorist activity that could result in a free flight to the state (Good) but wearing an orange jumpsuit (bad, orange is so 2006).

So, I’ve been thinking about a quick trip to the local airport. I’d get a ride on the cable-tram thingy (good) that replaced the maglev (better) and then I can look over the branch of Waterstones to see what they stock.

But. I was wandering around my local Sainsbury’s supermarket a couple of days ago and happened across the book section. I’ve not really taken much notice but this time I was struck by the price. A quick check revealed that rival Tesco is the same. £3.85 for a paperback? Seems like a bargain to me. I’m not paying much less than this for second-hand books in a charity shop. If you are rubbish at returning loans, it’s not much more that library fines!

Anyway, this makes me wonder if our target market is people flying off on holiday, or casual shoppers?

Maybe the airport is more glamorous but unless you are my friend, trips there are for most an annual event. If we want sales, we need our book chucked in to the trolley with baked beans. It’s easier to do my research too as the publishers details are on the web site and I can Google the authors to find out who their agents are. Ignore the celebrity titles and I reckon I can narrow the search down to half a dozen. Even I can manage to write that list.


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A night with Mark Watson

Mark Watson

Candice: I spotted a month or so ago that the Warwick Words festival was returning.  In the line up was a night with Mark Watson, a comedian I did not know but who is also an author, it sounded an interesting variation our usual writing/author nights.

Toddling up to meet Phil I realised we had not seen each other in at least a month as I have been up to my eyeballs with work and house stuff.  The whole concept of writing and book publishing has been bottom of my list, but I was looking forward to a change from this other treadmill.

Settling in I wondered what we were to expect.

Mark opens with a plug for the book and a joke – sounds like a good start to me.  In fact the opening reflected the rest of the show, a bit all over the place as it became half comedy and half book talk.  However, this wasn’t a negative thing as I enjoyed having my funny bone tickled.

Mark was very honest, “My first two books were shit, I’ve got better.”  “This evening I’m going to fly by the seat of the pants.”  I could already see how Phil and I could make our turn to do this kind of event more interesting with comedy patter as well as book readings.

At one point he even suggested the audience didn’t listen any more and just thought about questions for the end.

My favourite part was the famous Elevator pitch: “In Eleven there’s a bloke who has a secret and in the end it’s fine, in The Knot it’s not fine !”

Then on to the reading. Interesting, his writing was very wordy, not really my style but then Mark proceeds to self criticize some of his writing as his style has moved on in the five years since he wrote that book.  The second reading is better, more my cup of tea.

Then on to questions, Phil asks the same question I was going to ask. “If your first books were so bad how did they get published?” It seems Mark has a publishable style but he doesn’t believe that the concept or content was good. They lack soul.  His first two books didn’t really sell so he was worried that he was finished before he begun. He then went off a developed a comedy career and came back to writing.  Getting a publisher the second time around wasn’t the easiest as the first part wasn’t as successful. He said, ” I’ve had two separate careers, you want to get it right the first time or it could have a really negative impact.”

On the way out Phil and I had an interesting discussion about how commercial writers need to find commercial publisher.  Mark has a degree in English so we can understand how he probably got published easier as Agents were looking for some one who reflected their own style and inclination to aim for the Orange Prize.  We just want to appear on the holiday read stand at the airport and don’t mind if we get thrown away afterwards.  I said we need to find someone who is an Agent for this style only else we’ll never get picked up.

To be honest I think we knew this, but when we ever get round to sending those inquiry letters out again, there will be more focus.

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How to publish a bookazine

Modelling British Railway Diesel Locomotives on the shelves in WH SmithPhil: My latest publication, Modelling British Railway Diesel Locomotives has hit the bookshelves in WH Smiths. In deference to Candice, who I can already hear rolling her eyes, I won’t go on about its anoraky goodness but instead blog about the hard realities of producing something like this.

Having successfully pitched the idea to a magazine publisher I work for last December, the challenge for me was to write short (250 word) histories of 58 different types of railway engines. Next, source lots of photos to accompany these, find out how you could acquire miniatures of each and finally, present them to a public consisting of people who would love to find error or moan that they have “seen all those picture before”.

Of course, I had a deadline to hit and budgets to stay within.

First up, like every publication out there, you have to work out what you are trying to say. Since the emphasis was on making models, anything that didn’t affect the appearance of the locomotive could be ignored in the history. That saved me digging through interminable technical bumf on engine and electrical equipment variations. If you want this sort of details, you need to find two things: More books and A life.

The cover was part of the pitch (I pitched to the publishers, they took it to WH Smith for approval, you don’t go ahead if they won’t take it) so an early version was mocked up. As it is, we ended up with two versions, with and without the “Exclusive to WH Smith” green blob. The mock-up also hit the web about the time I started writing to get the pre-order process going. The finished version differs in detail but then that’s why there was a caveat on the bottom of the page mentioning this. We’d worked out a few promotional points at this stage but since the content wasn’t finalised, some of the brighter flashes were no more than a designers idea.

It’s amazing just how long the writing process took. A deadline move bought me an extra months work – serious relief as at one point I was facing researching and writing 5 histories a day. Don’t anyone say that it should be easy to produce a small number of words. If anything it’s harder to boil down all the information and extract the important stuff. Some of the published information sources contradicting each other didn’t help much either. I did hit the 5 a day a couple of times but most days if I managed 3 I was doing well.  Thank goodness for my proof reader – he saved me from a few cockups along the way.

Pictures turned out to be fun too. I promised a comprehensive set and that means talking to photo libraries. Not the big boys like Getty but specialists. Some were excellent and other work like it’s 1932. I needed to say, “Send me what you have on Class 33” and receive thumbnails the next day followed by the full sized versions, all by e-mail. Working with someone who posts out a pack of prints from which you select a few and then return the others with a cheque just takes too long. Having to scan these prints in isn’t great either especially when the standard 6X4 will be blown up to 2 or 3 times that size on the page. Every hour spent tidying up photos was an hour I could have been writing, eating or sleeping.

Modern technology did come to my rescue with a couple of new faces making pictures available on Flickr. There I could select my pictures and grab them straight from the site. All the owners had to do was await the cheque for payment. Of course, I could have just nicked them without telling anyone, this is why my on-line shots are always too small for print publication, but apart from the legal aspect, morally the concept pains me as I don’t like it when people do this to me.

As it is, the final photo tally worked out at 223 picture of real locomotives and 139 of models. The later were “fun” as I had naively assumed that model manufacturers would be delighted to supply pictures that they would have in stock to publicise their products. The large firms such as Hornby were fine. A quick e-mail and I soon had what I need. A lot of people supporting the hobby are cottage industry manufacturers though and the results were far patchier. Even when all I wanted was a hi-res version of a shot on their website, extracting wisdom teeth would have been easier than getting the picture. Sometimes you wonder if they really want to sell their products…

Unexpected problems can trip you up – one source of photos was on holiday in France. Despite many e-mails, the appalling WiFi he had prevented any images being sent over much to both of our annoyances. Holidays generally were a nuisance, don’t do anything over the summer if you have a deadline!

While all this was going on, I worked with a designer putting the pages together. The deadline meant we didn’t get to produce as many mock-ups as I’d have liked which left planning the flat-plan (A publishing term. The magazine is laid out pictorially so you can see every page at once. If you are at Vogue, there is a room with every page produced full size and fixed to a wall. The rest of us make do with an A4 PDF with titles on each page) rather more flexible than is ideal. I think we ended up on version 4 because I kept moving things around depending on the amount of information available for each locomotive. Changing the page count wasn’t an option and allowance had to be made for contents, introduction and some advertising.

MBRDL Flatplan

The designer allocated to me, Nikki, turned out to be brilliant. The results are punchy and full of life – not an easy task with this subject matter. Modern communications allowed me to see PDF files of each page. From this I was able to comment and have stuff moved around. Here again, the lack of prototyping caused me a few worries – in some cases I had sourced (and paid for) more images than I really needed. It’s important not to use photos too small for this market, they moan like crazy if the tiny details aren’t visible. Fair enough really, that’s why they bought the thing but it does lead to some serious thinking along the way.

Even the binding caused a headache. Initially, some of the photos were reproduced as double page spreads – this looks lovely on the screen but when Perfect Bound, a strip of the picture disappears down the spine. Now you can leave a gutter in the middle and split the photo but this relies on the printer getting every page perfect and I wasn’t willing to gamble on this. We compromised with a few full A4 photos where the contents could justify it and I particularly liked the picture.

MBRDL inside pages

Needless to say, this all came together eventually and I eagerly awaited the result. Seeing it on-screen is one thing, on paper a whole lot more exciting. Just to entertain me, the first I knew that it was out was seeing a forum post by someone who had a copy. Typical – the pre-orders were hitting people’s doormats before mine! It turns out that a certain courier service had managed to lose my box sent out a week earlier. A replacement followed quickly and I then moved on to sending out the contributors copies along with cheques for payment. As someone who has been on the receiving end of this, I know how important it is to do this bit quickly.

Now all I have to do is wait. My job is done apart from some social media promotion efforts. Sales will be what they will be. Initial feedback is promising. The only person who has critiqued it heavily did this in good spirit and proved my point about short histories being difficult. His comments on one type of locomotive ran to twice the space I had for the initial words.

Technically, it all worked well. None of the people involved ever met and we rarely telephoned each other. Photos were generally swapped by e-mail. Larger files by None of us worked conventional hours – Nikki would stop mid afternoon to collect her kids from school and then hit the keyboard again later in the day. I dropped in whenever I needed to so some days were long and others less so. 20 years ago you couldn’t work this way but now, with so many people freelancing, it’s the way we work. If we were all in an office I suspect things wouldn’t have been that different.

Modelling British Railway Diesel Locomotives is available from good branches of WH Smith until the end of the year and also from

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Murder Mystery Nights

Candice: Has anyone been on a murder mystery night?  I’ve been on one a long time ago for a Hen do.  To be honest we drank too much and couldn’t really keep track of what was going on.

However, Friday night I went to an amateur one, amateur performers but a professionally written play performed by them. The proviso was a wedding where the whole family were there and suddenly in the middle of the performance someone keeled over and died.  It was our job, as a table of 8, to work out who done it.

The deceased was the father of the groom, an obnoxious man who told everyone what he thought of them before keeling over. The rest of the wedding party then came round each table and you were able to ask questions about what you had seen or heard.  This turned into a bit of a bun fight as everyone on the table wanted to ask questions at once (and got progressively worse as they drank more Crabbies Ginger Beer).  At the end we had a conclusion…however it wasn’t the same conclusion across the table!

After a vote we decided on the answer but I didn’t agree, it seemed too obvious to me.  The murderer was supposedly the wife of the deceased, killing him for being cruel to her.  Well, the fact she had her arm in a sling was a bit of a give away.

However, that was the consensus and we went with… and we were right.  Or rather the table was.

But to me it did not ring true.  In my world of plotting, she was too much of an obvious subject and I thought it was some else, some one more subtle.  However, in all my reading and watching these kind of programmes perhaps I am looking for the red herring before the actual culprit.  This show did not break off 10 mins before the end to have an advert break before announcing who the real killer was, which messed up my usual lines of deduction.

So, am I not as good as I thought I was?  Perhaps I’m just better as murder dramas for TV or film, not for entertainment on a Friday night in the local community hall.  Good show though!

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