Monthly Archives: November 2013

Finding inspiration from the other side

V2Phil: Have all the stories been told? Do we all need to churn out variations on the same tale?

No, we don’t. It’s just that finding the setting for your novel that is both plausible and recognisable to the reader gets harder every time another book plops out into the world. Imagination of course is infinite and sometimes you just need to, as the main character in our book would say, think outside the box.

Candice reviewed Dominion on Tuesday and this provides a good example. Set in an alternative version of history where Germany won World War II, the setting can be both familiar and totally alien to us.

I live in a perfect example of this. Leamington Spa would have become the capital of Nazi-run Britian. This is historical fact – there are plenty of documents to prove it. Thus, I can walk past a town hall that would very likely have been festooned with red banners bearing the swastika. Familiar but very alien.

Sticking with this theme, one of the books in my library is V2 written by Major-General Walter Dornberger. This describes the development of the German V1 and V2 weapons at the Peenemünde Army Research Centre from the perspective of the man in charge. The account, translated by the Special Scientific Book Cub, is a dispassionate account of the process. You see the whole thing from the point of view of those we traditionally refer to as the enemy.

There is no attempt to justify any of the actions – it’s just what a senior army officer did. Maybe the translators have produced a more dispassionate account that the original text would have us read but it’s no less fascinating for all that.

Chapter 15, Flaming Night, is the most interesting in many ways. Assuming the reader has made it this far, they are seeing people normally portrayed as monsters at least as human beings. The chapter describes an air raid by the Allies in August 1943. Suddenly, the bombs dropping are heading for the writer. It’s a novel perspective an d slightly unsettling as you find yourself hoping that everyone is OK. That’s not right – these are the enemy. As we know, they were carrying out acts of unimaginable evil – yet it’s more difficult to be on the side of the attackers than I feel entirely comfortable admitting.

So, maybe there is scope to write from the perspective of the other side? Not to justify actions but because on both sides of any conflict there are stories to be told from the perspective of ordinary people unable to influence things but still suffering the consequences.

Another options is to consider how history would be different if that air raid had been more succesful.

V weapon research might have been halted. Wernher von Braun and the other rocket scientists are buried under the rubble. Operation Paperclip, the spiriting out of the country of scientists “useful” to the Allies never takes place. Rocket science is put back at least 10 years.

How is the world different? Is the Cold War based on tanks rolling across Germany rather than people lobbing missiles at each other? Presumably, the aircraft based systems we built stay in service for longer but does this make the situation better or worse? Would the Cuban Missile crisis happen? Do we ever walk on the moon?

There are stories out there, we just need to change our perspective.

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I just don’t like endings

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Candice: I have finally finished ‘Dominion’ by C J Sansom.  That makes it sound like it was hard work, it wasn’t that bad but 700 pages takes time to read when you are a) falling asleep all the time, b) struggling for time around painting.  I did take it to work last week to read in my lunch break, then someone found me in the coffee shop and that was my reading break gone!

Anyway, the premise of the book is not something new.  It’s 1952 and the Nazi’s won World War II so Britain is running under a treaty from Germany.  It’s a shaky rule as the Brits are struggling with their feelings about it all, especially when the German’s start instructing for all the Jews to be rounded up.

Our protagonist, David, is half Jew but has kept it quiet all his life.  He is also struggling with his relationship as he and his wife lost a son a child a few years before and it has driven a wedge between them.  These two reasons mean he has joined the Resistance movement and with a University friend they are set a task, to rescue their other University friend who is currently in an asylum.  Why?  Because he had a break down after his American based brother told him a secret that could win the war for the Brits/Americans.

I got half way through the book while on holiday and was getting quite into it.  I’m not a historian and couldn’t tell you who was in power at that time and the idiosyncrasies of the war. This probably didn’t help me get into the book but once I understand a bit about the history, I got into the story.  However, once I came home I just lost the thread by reading just 10 or 20 pages a night and by the time it came to the end I thought it was quite poor.  I just didn’t see what it was so important, and I found the characters annoying.

I’ve read another book in the same style, ‘Fatherland‘ by Robert Harris. In fact, I’ve read alot of Robert Harris books and really like his style.  I can remember reading the whole of ‘Pompeii’ on a flight back from Turkey.  I haven’t read anything by CJ Sansom but when I mentioned the name to a colleague she jumped at the chance to read this book as she really liked his other stuff.

So, I’m not going to write this off totally as I think my lack of enjoyment in the end was partly due to the fact I couldn’t give the story the time it deserved, and I also know I am crap at endings.  I find most books a let down as I like to immerse myself in the world and then when it comes to an end I get quite deflated.

So, certainly give Dominion a go but do try Robert Harris if you are into historical drama, both are a good read.

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Doctor Who – a response

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Candice: I was going to write a review of the book I have finally finished reading – Dominion – tonight.  But after Phil’s Doctor Who rant the other day I’d like to put my two peneth in.

He’s right about Saturday night, but I really have got my anorak out, as one of my friends who is more into Who than me has booked us all tickets to see the episode in the Cinema.  Its funny, ’cause the other half and I have been planning to go for weeks to see “The Butler” after our American experience but as I keep mentioning decorating gets in the way.  So instead we are off to see this at the movies, and will have to fit the film in another time.  I am dying to see who is there, how many people dressed up as the Doctor and other characters.

I have to say I think my mate and I got off lightly when we went to the Experience in the summer.  It was mainly us and a big group of school children.  We let them play with the interactive stuff in the walk through experience part but we did have to have a go at the ‘sound like a dalek’ voice altering machine.  Phil does my description no favours as it was all quite fun but I suppose, partly because I have been behind the scenes of where they film and seen some of the stuff in action the whole part about make up and special effects wasn’t new to me.

But I have to agree with him on the sonic screwdriver.  I don’t remember it so much from the David Tennant episodes (too distracted by him) but I do think the same with Matt Smith.  I don’t feel that the episodes this year have been as strong as earlier ones, and I dont mean back to Tom Baker and the long scarf, I mean more recently.  I have also always been unsure about him as the Doctor.  Anyway, lets see what Saturday night brings, and if there are any interesting characters I’ll take photos!

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I love Dr Who, but hate the sonic screwdriver

Dr Who?Phil: It’s no secret that Team Nolanparker are Dr Who fans. Over lunch last week I was quizzing Candice about the finer details of her trip around the Dr Who Experience in Cardiff.

Apparently the first part is really good where you take part in an “interactive experience” after which you go through the “more anoraky” display of props and costumes, which sounds more fun to me but then I am the more anoraky half of our team.

Anyway, we are both looking forward to the 50th Anniversary Episode this weekend. There will be no painting or kitchen fitting going on in one Solihull household from ten to eight on Saturday. Sadly, I’ll probably be on the train back from the NEC so I’ll have to record it, but this doesn’t greatly worry me. I have reservations about the thing.

In the good old days of Tom Baker (the best Doctor obviously), stories were long, 4 to 6 episodes, and the plot cerebral. The Doctor plotted and schemed his way out of trouble.

Modern Who fans want everything tied up in 45 minutes with lots of flashing lights, noise, a bit of tonsil hockey with the companion and the thud of a story arc landing. That doesn’t leave much space for plot so the writers have taken to employing a deus ex machina in the form of the sonic screwdriver. From a rarely used prop (Jon Pertwee was the first to have one but you hardly saw it), the thing is now brandished like a Wands up!magic wand. It unlocks doors, boost mobile phone signals, scans bodies and anything else that needs to be done without all the trouble of coming up with a convincing way of doing this. Basically, we get 35 minutes in, out comes the screwdriver and hooray, after a little more running down corridors, we’re all done.

Which brings me to “The Day of the Doctor“. Trailers show David Tennant and Matt Smith brandishing their screwdrivers at an advancing army. All I think when I see this is “it’s bloody Harry Potter”.

The Doctor doesn’t need a magic wand. He needs brains and cunning and ingenuity. He’s a clever man with 900 years of experience to help him get out of trouble. In the good old days, and even some of the modern ones, he thought his way out of a scrape. For the modern era, two of the best episodes are Blink and Dalek and in both the screwdriver stays in the pocket.

Duh cter WhoOf course, the world has changed. Modern viewers (apparently) can’t handle a storyline running across 4 episodes. Everything really must be wrapped up in 45 minutes. Harry Potter was massively popular so turning your main character into a sci-fi wizard works well for an audience educated at Hogwarts. And it’s only a telly programme so I should stop being so grumpy.

I’m sure the 50th anniversary episode will be worth a million X-Factor shows. I’m really looking forward to “An Adventure in Space and Time“, a drama about the creation of the series. Re-runs of old episodes were a much better option for Friday night telly than Children In Need last week too. More to the point, it’s great that we can still produce big-budget drama that doesn’t involve miserable cockneys. Best of all, it appeals to all age groups, something very rare nowadays.

But you’ll have to excuse me if I wish the Dr would learn to use a lock pick. Or even just blow the bloody doors off.

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Write with passion or not at all

PASSIONPhil: I’m in the process of trying to extricate myself from a project at the moment. It’s all under discussion so I can’t say more on the specifics other than it’s a big project and would involve much writing.

I took it on over a year ago as it seemed like a good idea at the time. The problem is I really can’t get in to the job. After producing about a third of the text the rest seems like a mountain far too steep to climb. Planning sessions in the pub haven’t helped like they usually do – even with a list of sections to complete I sit at the screen with paralysed fingers. Honestly, I’ve never been so stuck.

All this has taught me something about myself.

Firstly, I need colleagues for sizable projects. I couldn’t have written The Book without Candice. We spurred each other on. Ideas were bounced around and imaginations fired. That’s what keeps the interest going. How anyone completes a novel on their own is beyond me.

Second, I need to care. Writing can’t just be work – plodding away poking the keyboard for a few hours won’t do the job. I’ve been told that you can tell how I feel about a project by reading the way I write it up, some just have a certain joie de vivre and sparkle that others lack. None of the work is bad, just some communicates a joy that others don’t.

This is why, despite a slight hiatus, I still bang on about The Book. We wrote it because the story was strong and the characters became friends. I can still read bits and marvel that I wrote them, even if it was with help. We wrote this with passion and therefore it is good. I look forward to the day when time will allow the rest of the series to be written. I want to see how things work out.

Sometimes writing is hard. At that point you should probably stop – the results will at best be leaden. When writing is easy, when words tumble from your head like Smarties from an upended tube.

That’s when the good stuff is created.

That’s what the readers will enjoy.

They can read dull stuff all day long – it’s what spreadsheets were created for.

What they want to read is passion on a page.

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Warning: Men at work

Candice: We are currently having our kitchen re fitted – not a small job as it involves the removal of a chimney before they can start installing the kitchen.  It is now the start of week two and they have just starting putting the units in to what still looks a lot like a total mess to me.

Unfortunately this means most of my house looks like a building site as the workmen have been traipsing through with muddy boots and walking their mess and the brick dust through out the house.  Being a chimney removal, they are working upstairs as well as down which means you walk out of a ‘safe’ room into the mess in of the hall in the middle.

However, watching parts of this at work you realise it is all a craft.  They would struggle to understand what I do all day sat behind a desk or in meetings and I wouldn’t be able to skim at wall to to save my life.  But we all needs these parts to make a whole.  I didn’t realise just how many trades would be working in the house for a simple kitchen job.

It does make you think though as we all have a trade of some kind, and writing can be one of them.  To explain to someone outside of writing that you can be creating something productive by sitting in front of a screen for days on end could be hard.  But, unlike a plumber or electrician, it’s less tangible but just as worth while.  While they may be putting in my sink, sorting my light sockets and building me a new place for cooking which makes my life easier, then writing a book gives a different kind of pleasure.  I was talking to my swimming buddy yesterday about how I use the lengths of the pool to switch off from day to day, and going for a swim can often sort a problem I can’t solve if I sit and think on it too hard.  Well reading a book can solve another one of those issues we all face, stress, rather than the stress of cooking dinner every night.

So if you ever feel your writing is not a worth while cause think again,  it may not leave you with a freshly plastered wall or working dishwasher but its just as useful to people in other ways.

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Suspending disbelief

CronePhil: On Tuesday, Candice wrote about a film where both the plot and reality broke loose. This is a concept that exorcised me this week.

I was watching the film “Drag me to Hell“. It was on. I was in front of the telly. My of need was for some entertainment to stop my brain whirring rather than a conscious decision to view although I remembered reading about the film when it was released so I was a bit curious.

The plot revolves around a bank teller who, trying to prove she is tough enough for promotion, refuses to extend a home to loan to a wizened old crone. Said crone gets upset (she’s losing her house) and curses the teller. There’s a fight in a car park and lots of shouting and mystic stuff. You’ll not be surprised that it’s a romcom horror flick.

I got bored and switched it off after half an hour.

I’ve read horror but it’s not a genre I can really get in to. My problem is, I can’t suspend my disbelief sufficiently.

This is weird, because the other film I’ve caught up with this week is Star Trek: Into Darkness. I really enjoyed this even though it’s set in the future and there are space ships and it’s a “reboot” of a much-loved franchise. I don’t have a problem with this even though there is next to nothing familiar on-screen.

Perhaps it’s easier to accept a completely fantasy universe then a story based in reality where really strange things happen.

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